Animal sentience in the moral maze

- MELANIE PHILLIPS - JULY 22, 2021 - Melanie Phillips -

Michael Buerk, in the chair on the Moral Maze

On BBC Radio’s Moral Maze this week, my co-panellists and I discussed animal sentience. A bill on that topic currently working its way through parliament would provide the first formal recognition in law that animals can experience feelings, including pain, joy and fear.

If the law is passed, the government will establish an animal sentience committee to scrutinise policy. Many hope it would offer animals greater protection from ill-treatment. Some want the bill to go even further by including invertebrates, which, for example, could ban the practice of boiling crustaceans alive. Critics of the proposals believe current legislation is sufficient to protect animals against pain and neglect, and worry about the unintended consequences of the bill not least for farming, fishing and countryside sports.

Is it time to think of some animals as occupying the same moral universe as humans? Or is this part of a long-standing attempt to ascribe to animals characteristics that define human beings alone and distinguish them from the animal kingdom, all in order to knock humanity off its pre-eminent perch? And will that create a kinder, gentler society — or will it undermine respect for other people and open the way to barbarism?

My co-panellists were Matthew Taylor, Tim Stanley and Mona Siddiqui. Our witnesses were Clare Bass, executive director of Humane Society International; Jim Barrington, animal welfare consultant for the Countryside Alliance; Steve Cooke, lecturer in political theory at the University of Leicester; and Nick Zangwill, philosopher and honorary research fellow at University College London and the University of Lincoln.

If you can access the BBC website, you can listen to the show here.


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