Bekoff, Marc (1997) Deep Ethology. In: Intimate Relationships, Embracing the Natural World. (eds) M. Tobias and K. Solisti


Intimate relationships, embracing the natural world
M. Tobias and K. Solisti (eds.)
Department of Environmental, Population,
and Organismic Biology
University of Colorado
Boulder, Colorado 80309-0334 USA

Please send all editorial correspondence to:

Marc Bekoff
296 Canyonside Drive
80302 USA

Tel: 00-1-303-443-6857
Fax: 00-1-303-443-2275
e-mail: Marc.Bekoff@Colorado.EDU
"At the onset of electric shock the [naïve] dog runs frantically about, defecating, urinating, and howling until it scrambles over the barrier and so escapes from the shock. . . . However, in contrast to the naïve dog, it soon stops running and remains silent until shock terminates . . . it seems to 'give up' and passively 'accept the shock'." (Seligman, Maier, and Geer 1968, p. 256)
"In one set of tests, the animals had been subjected to lethal doses of radiation and then forced by electric shock to run on a treadmill until they collapsed. Before dying, the unanesthetized monkeys suffered the predictable effects of excessive radiation, including vomiting and diarrhoea. After acknowledging all this, a DNA [Defense Nuclear Agency] spokesman commented: 'To the best of our knowledge, the animals experience no pain'." (from Rachels, 1990, p. 132; my emphasis)
"From a humane point of view, there is no question that the lucky animals are those that are killed by people, whether it be by humane (sic) slaughter, a hunter, a car accident, or euthanasia by a humane organization or researcher. (Howard, 1994, p. 202)
"Actually, we lack evidence that game feel much initial pain when shot with a gun or arrow anymore than has been reported by many human military casualties or other traumatic injuries. Also, animals do not suffer as much mental trauma as people." (Howard, 1994, p. 204; my emphasis).
"I study foxes because I am still awed by their extraordinary beauty, because they outwit me, because they keep the wind and the rain on my face . . . because it's fun." (Macdonald 1987, p. 15)
It's a privilege to study nonhuman animals, and let's not forget it!

The first four quotations make me ill -- the fifth make me feel good. I continually ask myself how in the world can anyone who has any -- even minimal -- grounding in the world, write so coldly and objectively about the pain and suffering that they produce in nonhuman, not subhuman, animals (hereafter animals), or be so arrogant as to make claims like those of Professor Howard, a biologist who often appeals to his lifelong work with animals to motivate his positions on animal welfare. How are they able to detach themselves from themselves and the animals about whom they are trying to learn. Research should be fun; are they really having fun? And, if so, then how can producing pain and suffering be fun? Respecting all individual's lives and treating them with dignity should direct every single one of our interactions with the animals with whom we share the planet. Within a traditional scientific milieu, unfortunately, these are often taken to be radical notions. After reading one of my papers on animal welfare, a colleague asked "Hey, are you trying to put us out of business?", to which my reply was "Of course not -- I'm just trying to get you to think, even if you disagree with me." While some of my colleagues may conclude that I am trying as hard as I can to end my career as a scientist and also to hamper their own work, I would like to assure them that this is not the case at all.

I am an ethologist with strong interests in classical ethology1, cognitive ethology and philosophy of mind2, behavioral ecology3, and animal welfare and moral philosophy4. I believe that ethology and different areas of philosophical inquiry reciprocally inform and motivate one another in the quest to get as many humans as possible to consider equally the interests of as many individual nonhumans as possible. Simply put, boundaries between disciplines should be semi-permeable. For disciplinary arrogance will delay making progress on important issues, as might the fear of making mistakes.

I consider myself lucky and privileged to have been able to have made the intimate acquaintance of many and diverse animals -- to be touched by their essence and by their presence. However, in some instances, they were not as lucky or as privileged to make my acquaintance, as I certainly had a negative influence on their lives. The animals' collective influence, that has resulted from their unselfish and intimate sharing of their lives with me -- I am sure that in some instances they were watching, smelling, hearing, and studying me as closely as I was observing them -- is clearly reflected in my views on the nature of animal minds, on animal well-being, and on the business of science. These include: (1) taking the animals' points of view; (2) putting respect, compassion, and admiration for other animals first and foremost; (3) erring on the animals' side when uncertain about their feeling pain or suffering; (4) recognizing that almost all of the methods that are used to study animals, even in the field, are intrusions on their lives -- much research is fundamentally exploitive; (5) recognizing how misguided are speciesistic views concerning vague notions such as intelligence and cognitive or mental complexity for informing assessments of well-being; (6) focusing on the importance of individuals; (7) appreciating individual variation and the diversity of the lives of different individuals in the worlds within which they live; (8) using broadly based rules of fidelity and nonintervention as guiding principles; and (9) appealing to what some call questionable practices that have no place in the conduct of science, such as the use of common sense and empathy. Although I have always been concerned with animal well-being, I have not always applied the same standards of conduct to my own research. I have done experiments on predatory behavior in infant coyotes in which mice and chickens were provided as bait (Vincent and Bekoff, 1978) that I would no longer do. I also question why anyone else might engage in these sorts of endeavors.

What I mean by the phrase "I am sure that in some instances they were watching, smelling, hearing, and studying me as closely as I was observing them" is simply, but surely not trivially, that while observing these wonderful and amazing carnivores, I can recall feeling their presence and curiosity about who I and my field team were and what we were doing. When we encountered our first wild coyote, I remember having the same feeling that I had when I saw my first Adélie penguin in Antarctica -- "what in the world am I doing here and what am I doing to these animals who never asked for my to come here in he first place." With the coyotes, their eyes were open wide and piercing, their noses were help upright and clearly they were taking in our odors, and their ears were erect and moving around -- they wanted to vacuum us up into their different and well-developed senses and learn about us. They were keenly curious. When we left an area where they had been, they would come and investigate it, and they watched our every move. I often thought then, as I do now, that if these animals could record their findings, then knowledge about human behavior would be markedly increased!

I also want to stress how important are broad, comparative, and evolutionary studies of animal behavior. These types of endeavors will help us to learn more about individual animal's worlds and allow us to apply standards of conduct that are more in line with the needs of the individual members of the diverse taxa that are studied -- for example, how they live and use modalities other than vision. Humans are strongly visual animals and perhaps we need to pay more attention to the fact that animals can be both helped and harmed by exposure to, for example, auditory or olfactory stimuli. I also reject the notion of speciesism, in which animals are treated according to the biological species to which they are assigned. I prefer the view that the moral consideration of individuals (see Rachels', 1990 discussion of "moral individualism"; Bekoff and Gruen, 1993) is of paramount importance in any debate about how humans view and treat their animal counterparts (as well as other humans). Human activities that result in the loss of individual lives must be given serious attention, for there seems to be little (but on my view there should be no) question that animals are a vulnerable class of individuals deserving protection.

Having it both ways and giving animals the benefit of the doubt

If some of what I write seems naive or "unscientific," this is how I really feel when I let my hair down and allow myself easily to become detached from the strong constraints of supposedly objective, value-free science. Scientists rarely expose publicly their deep thoughts about human-nonhuman relationships and the world in general. Perhaps the business of science would be more respected nowadays if more people who did science also showed that they think deeply about what they are doing and claiming. I like collecting anecdotes and numbers, doing statistics, making tables, and drawing graphs, but I also greatly enjoy being intimately connected to the animals I study.

While some of feelings might seem to cast me as severely "schizophrenic," I truly have no doubt that one can have it both ways -- they can do "good science" and also respect and form intimate relationships with the animals with whom they work. I also assert that it is almost always wrong for humans intentionally to cause harm to any human or nonhuman animal or purposely to kill any human or nonhuman animal who they may assume want to go on living, including sea horses, ants, bees, worms, rats, mice, birds, cats, dogs, chickens, cows, and primates. While this may seem to be a very strong statement, I believe that if it is used as a guiding principle, then it will force those who are in the position to use and to abuse animals to think deeply about what they are doing everytime they make a decision to use an individual. Nonhumans, like humans, may be harmed behaviorally, anatomically, or physiologically and not show overt responses until irreversible damage has been done. It is essential that all people who use animals know their subjects well so that they are able to assess if any harm has been done even though it is not overtly obvious. There is no substitute for careful observation and description of what are considered to be "normal" or typical individuals. Intentionally causing harm and possibly certain death in self-defense or to reduce further interminable suffering may be justified in certain circumstances. In general, when there is no reason to believe that human interference will lead to the cessation of further pain and suffering as a result of death or for other reasons, it is immoral to cause harm or to take a life and we have a prima facie duty not to do so.

I also maintain that when in doubt about the negative effects of intentional human action directed toward nonhumans, whether for purposes of research, education, amusement, or food, we should err on the side of animals. If we are not certain that an individual will not suffer when exposed to a given situation, we should not expose that individual to the given situation until we are certain that it will not suffer; we should presume the worst scenario and proceed from there. Some similar suggestions have also been offered for humans. For example, with respect to pain in infants, Fitzgerald (1987) claims that the question "Do infants feel pain?" is unanswerable and unhelpful when taken at face value. She notes (p. 346) that it is "Better to assume that they do, take a step sideways and ask the question 'Can we measure pain responses in infants and are these measures sensitive to analgesics?'" The study of facial expression in infants seems to be one of the most promising measures of their pain responses

The joys of anthropomorphism

In my own studies I am freely anthropomorphic, and wonder why some of my colleagues view anthropomorphism as a disease. For example, John S. Kennedy (1992, p. 167) writes that we can be confident that anthropomorphism will be "brought under control, even if it cannot be cured completely. Although it is probably programmed into us genetically as well as being inoculated culturally that does not mean the disease is untreatable." Kennedy is typical of critics who write as if the only alternatives are an unconstrained, fuzzy-minded use of anthropomorphism on the one hand, and the total elimination of anthropomorphism on the other. But there is a middle position which they ignore. Anthropomorphism can be useful if it serves heuristically to focus attention on questions about animal behavior that might otherwise be ignored. Anthropomorphism might be used in a rigorous way to assist theory construction and to motivate empirical research projects. Furthermore, anthropomorphism can be useful for getting closer to and embracing intimately the animals who we study. For example, I recall knowing that the remaining members in a pack of coyotes missed the female who was both a mother and wife when she voluntarily left the group. When she left for forays of increasing duration, various individuals would look at her curiously and some would follow her. When she returned they would greet her effusively and lick her muzzle -- they had missed her when she was gone. One day she left the pack and never again returned. The pack waited for days and days. They traveled in the direction she had gone, sniffed where she might have been, and howled as if calling her home. For more than a week some spark seemed to have gone out of them. They missed her. I know that sounds anthropomorphic, but that doesn't bother me. I know that coyotes have deep and complicated feelings.

Of course, it also is essential to make serious attempts to take the animals' point of view, and to try to discover answers to the fascinating question of how nonhumans interact in their own worlds and why they do so - - what it would be like to be a particular individual from her own perspective, not merely from our anthropocentric view or from typological thinking about members of the same or closely related species. Being anthropomorphic does not, on my view, ignore the animals' perspectives. Rather, this position allows us to make accessible to us the behavior and thoughts and feelings of the animals with whom we are sharing a particular experience.

Some personal reflections: Minding animals and breaking loose from traditional mindsets

"At that point I was working with squid, and I think squid are the most beautiful animals in the world. And it just began to bother me. I began to have the feeling that nothing I could find out was worth killing another squid." (Ruth Hubbard, as quoted by Holloway, 1995, p. 49)
"They were two human primates carrying another primate. One was the master of the earth, or at least believed himself to be, and the other was a nimble dweller in trees, a cousin of the master of the earth." Preston (1994, pp. 56-57). I recall years ago seeing a bumper sticker carrying the message: "Join the Army; travel to exotic distant lands; meet exciting unusual people and kill them." I remember thinking that one could make a similar statement for some scientists: "Do science; engage in exciting research; travel to exotic meetings; meet wonderful animals and kill them." According to my parents, I have always "minded animals." In a nutshell, the phrase "minding animals" means respecting them, caring for them, feeling for them, and attributing minds (mental states and content) to individuals. Although I was not raised with animals, I used to ask about what they might be thinking or feeling as they went about their daily activities. Since I began working with animals, I have always spent a lot of time pondering nonhuman-human relationships. Now I often find myself obsessed with the terrible things that humans do to other animals with whom they share this planet. I recognize fully that most people who harm nonhumans for purposes of research, education, or amusement also might bring some joy to some animals at other times. That nonhumans do not always suffer at the hands of humans seems to me to be a given that requires no elaboration. I find myself focusing on horror stories not because I am a pessimist whose glass is always half-empty, but rather because I think that it is more necessary to call to attention the incredible amount of pain and suffering that nonhumans experience at the hands of humans rather than to remind people of the good things that are done by humans for nonhumans' benefits. No rational humans, I hope, would ever want to curtail activities that benefit animals, whereas, many, I fear, do not see the necessity for curtailing activities that produce pain and suffering and wanton disrespect.

As time goes on I find myself growing more and more "radical." I place the word radical in scare quotes because it also strikes me as perverse that to some, "radical" means giving animals the benefit of the doubt with respect to their capacities to suffer and to experience pain, rather than referring to more permissive attitudes concerning the use of nonhumans by humans. I often think it absurd that we should actually need laws to protect animals from humans.

My early scientific training as an undergraduate and a beginning graduate student was grounded in what Bernard Rollin (1989) calls the "common sense of science," in which science is viewed as a fact-gathering value-free activity. Of course, science is not value-free, but it took some time for me to come to this realization because of the heavy indoctrination and arrogance concerning the need for scientific objectivity. I am thrilled to have been given the opportunity to break the reigns of unemotional austerity and to form close partnerships with the animals who have entered my life and have allowed me to enter their lives. With respect to the plight of the nonhumans who were used in classes or for research, there was little or no overt expression of concern for their well-being. Questions concerning morals and ethics rarely arose. When they did, they were invariably dismissed either by invoking what I have come to call "vulgar" or "facile" utilitarianism, in which suspected costs and benefits were offered from the human's point of view with no concern for the nonhuman's perspective, or by simply asserting that the animals really didn't know, care, or mind (or whatever word could be used to communicate the animal's supposed indifference to) what was going on. Only once do I remember someone vaguely implying that something beneficial for the animal might come out of a research project.

After I took an undergraduate degree emphasizing anthropology and biology, I enrolled in a Master's degree program in biology. I was interested in learning and memory and wrote a thesis on this topic. While pursuing this degree two things happened that forever changed my perspective on how I should interact with animals. First, while taking a physiology course, it became clear to me that reductionist-mechanistic explanations of animal behavior were extremely narrow; flowcharts and input-output diagrams were too simple and impersonal. They also seemed to provide excuses for people to do the things that they were doing to animals in the name of science. Second, one afternoon one of my professors calmly strutted into class announcing, while sporting a wide grin, that he was going to kill a rabbit for us to use in an experiment by using a method named after the rabbit himself, namely a "rabbit punch." He proceeded to kill the rabbit by breaking his neck by chopping him with the side of his hand. I was astonished and sickened by the entire spectacle. I refused to partake in the laboratory exercise and also decided that what I was doing at the time was simply wrong for me. I began to think seriously about alternatives. I enjoyed science but I suspected that there were other ways for doing science that centered on incorporating respect for animals and allowing for individual differences among scientists concerning how science is done in the first place.

Because of my developing interests in animal behavior, a field that was considered by most at the time to be a soft science, and my interests in neurobiology, I entered into a graduate program in which I could tie together these two fields. I realized that I would have to kill (some would say euthanize or sacrifice) animals as part of any research in this discipline, but for some reason that I can not clearly recollect at the moment, I decided to put that out of my mind and enroll in this program. My research centered on vision in cats. I truly enjoyed and was challenged by trying to figure out how cats saw their world. However, once the killing of experimental animals began, I also truly hated having to kill the animals to localize lesions that were made in various parts of their brains. For one reason or another I became a good executioner, and wound up killing others' cats as well.

One morning I woke up very disturbed about the whole thing and decided that I could not continue to kill cats. I was especially tormented by thinking about the eyes of the cats as they were being prepared to be killed. They stared at me and I felt that I had betrayed their trust in me. What an undignified end to a life. How selfish I was. I simply didn't want to kill any animals as part of my research. I simply could not justify this murder using any form of utilitarianism. I also refused to partake in some physiology experiments that used dogs, and to my amazement, I was excused without prejudice from doing so, although the distinguished professor couldn't understand why I didn't want to kill the dogs; he asserted that they would have died in an animal shelter anyway. To his credit, though, he remained true to his word and I applaud his permissiveness and his open-mindedness. At the end of the term, despite these reprieves, I left this program because I could not do the research that I wanted to without killing animals or otherwise being responsible for their death.

While I was looking for another graduate program I came across work on the development of behavior in various canids (coyotes, wolves, dogs, foxes) that Michael W. Fox was doing at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. After long talks with him about animal behavior and also my concerns for animal welfare and the cold, unemotional views of so many scientists, we began working together on a variety of projects, one of which became the subject of my doctoral dissertation. Mike and I continued to have numerous serious discussions about animal behavior and animal welfare. A question that haunted me then as now is "How can people do the terrible things that they do to nonhumans?" Being a child of the 60's, one easy answer was that given that it was so easy for humans to kill other humans, especially those who lived in foreign lands, how could one reasonably think that animals would be spared this wanton abuse. I also pondered "What kind of person could detach himself or herself from an animal that is obviously suffering, and why a person might choose to do this?" I believed then, and still do, that people have a choice as to what types of research they are going to pursue, and that for some, harming and killing animals simply is not disturbing enough to the point that they will stop doing what they are doing. Even in my own research I came to the realization that I was doing things that I could no longer tolerate. For example, after I did some studies in which I intentionally allowed coyotes to kill chickens and mice in staged encounters, I stopped when I realized that there was something grossly inhumane about the work. I would not do this type of research again. If I have to forego learning something because to do so entails killing animals, then so be it.

After completing my doctoral dissertation and doing some post-doctoral work, I joined the faculty position at the University of Colorado in Boulder and had an opportunity to do some research in Antarctica on the behavior of Adélie penguins. In 1975 I began a long field project on the social ecology and behavior of coyotes (summarized in Bekoff and Wells, 1986). I also wrote some papers in the mid-1970s concerning animal behavior and animal welfare (Bekoff, 1976) and a book review (1980) that, on reflection, showed me that I really had been thinking about these issues for a long time. In this essay my deep feelings and incredulity about humans' treatments of animals came forcefully irreversibly out of the closet.

My personal notes from my days spent in Antarctica and in the field studying coyotes and birds consistently contain thoughts questioning what types of research, including field studies of behavior and behavioral ecology, could be justified. I recognized that field work, like behavioral research on captive animals, could be a significant intervention into their lives, although some field workers are very chauvinistic about how their research is less disruptive than is work on captive animals. I thought about how trapping and marking individuals, and just being there, influenced the lives of the animals who we were studying (Bekoff, 1995d). My thoughts on these matters were incorporated into my long-term study of coyotes. While doing this research we took all necessary precautions to minimize harm when trapping and tagging coyotes, but we still had one serious injury that we could assign to our trapping efforts. I would find it difficult to justify doing this again, although I know that in order to answer the questions in which we and others were interested, trapping and marking were necessary.

My laboratory and field experience showed me that all behavioral research is interventive, even that which appears merely to be simple observation. This fact must be taken seriously by all researchers. As I continued my empirical studies I found myself more and more interested in how my interests in evolutionary biology and cognitive ethology could be tied together with my interests in moral philosophy, philosophy of mind, and animal welfare. Because of recent accusations by prominent scientists concerning the presumed intentions and characteristics of those who are interested in animal rights and animal welfare, it is essential to stress that I am not (and have never been) anti-science, nor an anti-intellectual nor a Luddite, and I certainly do not want to halt all animal research, at least not right now. In one essay concerning how scientists are supposedly being selectively targeted by proponents of animals rights, it is interesting to note the combative tone of the subtitle (Nicoll and Russell 1990; "Ammunition for counter offensive for scientists") -- you'd think they were fighting a world war. Well, maybe they think they are, and this is too bad, for they are not.

My close relationship with a number of philosophers showed me that it really was possible for one to do science, to question scientific practices, and to consider animal welfare seriously. One does not have to be anti-science or anti-intellectual to question how science is done; it just seems to be an unwritten rule of science that mandates that scientists should not question science. One of my first goals was to come to terms with many different and extremely complex ideas in moral and ethical theory. I needed to understand differences and similarities (if any) among schools of thought favoring contractarianism, various types of utilitarianism, rights, and other moral systems. I also had to learn what terms such as "rights", "duties", "obligations", and "interests" meant to the people using them

One thought that I continue to wrestle with concerns that of moderation with respect to the use of animals by humans (Finsen, 1990). Is it a cop-out? Is a moderate view a hybrid view that is doomed to failure? A moderate view can easily become a self-serving compromise, for when I conclude that something is permissible it is because I have entered the figures for costs and benefits into a utilitarian calculus, for example, and I can make it come out just about anyway I please. Correctly assigning costs and benefits is usually tenuous at best. In most cases we can only make educated guesses, and these might not really tell the true story with respect to animal suffering and pain and the use of whatever kinds of data are collected.

So, should I take a stronger position that centers on stringent prescriptive codes of conduct? Difficult issues rarely are so cut-and-dry, but perhaps if we are to make serious attempts to stop animal abuse, hard-and-fast rules need to be used. Right now, I simply do not have an answer. I consider myself to be a moderate with respect to the use of animals in research, although I favor very stringent restrictions. My moderate stance permits some animal research to be done after it is rigorously scrutinized. However, I also believe that some types of research should not be permitted at all, including, but not limited to, the use of inescapable shock, various forms of social deprivation (see Stephens 1986), various types of physical restraint, extreme sensory deprivation, extreme starvation, artificially staged encounters to study aggressive or predator-prey relationships especially those in which animals are unable to escape from one another, some experimental studies of infanticide, some studies in which animals are castrated or are rendered unable to vocalize, to see, to hear, or to feel, and cosmetic testing. Now, having made these claims about some lines of research that I think are extremely difficult to justify, I want to stress here, as I have before (Bekoff and Jamieson 1991, p. 26) that reasonable people can disagree about some particular lines of research. However, reasonable people cannot disagree about the necessity for reforming our practices with respect to animal use and the changes of outlook that may be required to do so. Furthermore, I do not want to be prescriptive -- I do not want to legislate morality for others. Rather I think that it is high time that everyone rethinks their position on these matters and be forced to justify their decisions. A moderate stance can take a hard line, and no one wants to be told that their or their colleagues' work is immoral. Of course, people with good intentions and character can do what is wrong.

Thinking about my position still keeps me awake at night, for there are problems with it. Maybe the passage of time will result in clarity on at least some of these difficult issues. While space does not allow me to go into details, I have found Gary Francione's (1994) discussion of the contrasts between legal welfarism, which, among other things characterizes animals as human property and permits conduct that maximizes the value of animal property, and legal rights views that do not, to be very stimulating. Francione worries that (p. 770), " . . . as long as animal 'interests' are being assessed with a system that accords legal rights to humans but not to animals, then animals will virtually always lose any purported 'balancing' of human and animal interests." Would the situation be better for animals if they were granted rights, but not as extensive as those that, for example, Tom Regan believes they have?

Another problem that raises its ugly head concerns consistency. This is especially troublesome when one considers where to draw the line between what type of animal use is permissible and what is not. When I think about ethical and moral issues and how humans and nonhumans ought to interact, I find it very difficult to come up with a consistent train of thought. Sometimes I find myself concluding that all animal research should be terminated along with the use of animals in education and for amusement and for food. At other moments, when, for example, I think about research that can benefit animals as well as humans, I retreat back to my principled and highly restrictive moderate stance that centers on (1) accepting that it is almost always wrong to harm other animals, (2) assuming that all individuals, regardless of species, suffer to some degree unless there is incontrovertible evidence that this is not the case, (3) using observations of self-regarding behavior in which an individual avoids either what we would call a noxious stimulus or avoids a situation that we call noxious based on what we know about the animal's sensory or social environments, (4) using as few animals as possible only when there are no alternatives, (5) using the most humane methods known, (6) being certain that the well-being of all animals is given serious attention after they have been used, (7) telling all potential readers of scientific papers how animals were negatively affected by the research so that others could avoid making the same mistakes, and (8) recognizing that humans are necessarily anthropocentric and that the animal's point of view can never be totally assimilated into the utilitarian calculus regardless of how right-minded are individual people. These strictures mandate that animals should be used only as a last resort -- in the best of all possible worlds, animals would not be used at all. Limited time, money, and energy and motivation are not excuses for using animals when alternatives are available or can be developed.

Toward a deep ethology: Naming and bonding with animals

"One of the great dreams of man must be to find some place between the extremes of nature and civilization where it is possible to live without regret . . . " (Barry Lopez, quoted by Bill McKibben, 1995, p. 80)
"Certainly it seems like a dirty double-cross to enter into a relationship of trust and affection with any creature that can enter into such a relationship, and then to be a party to its premeditated and premature destruction." Johnson (1991, p. 122)
Let me emphasize once again that studying nonhuman animals is a privilege that must not be abused. We must take this privilege seriously. Many principles have been proposed that perhaps could guide us in our treatment of animals: utilitarian ones, rights-based ones, interests-based ones, and so forth. Scientists often operate on the basis of implicit principles and guidelines that are often not discussed. All of these principles need to be brought out into the open and explicitly debated. First and foremost in any deliberations about other animals must be deep concern and respect for their lives and for the worlds within which they live -- respect for who they are in their worlds, and not respect motivated by who we want them be in our anthropocentric scheme of things. As Paul Taylor (1986, p. 313) notes, a switch away from anthropocentrism to biocentrism, in which human superiority comes under critical scrutiny, "may require a profound moral reorientation." So be it.

Naming and bonding with the animals who I study is one way for me to respect them (Bekoff, 1994c; see also Davis and Balfour, 1992). Although some believe that naming animals is a bad idea because named animals will be treated differently -- usually less objectively -- than numbered animals, others believe just the opposite, that naming animals is permissible and even expected when working closely with at least certain species, especially with the same individuals over long periods of time. It is interesting to note that early in her career, the well-known primatologist, Jane Goodall, had trouble convincing reviewers of one of her early papers that naming the chimpanzees she studied should be allowed. Professor Goodall refused to make the changes they suggested, including dropping names and referring to the animals as "it" rather than "he" or "she," or "which" rather than "who", but her paper was published. It seems noteworthy that researchers working with nonhuman primates and some cetaceans usually name the animals they study; we read about Kanzi, Austin, Sherman, Koko, Phoenix, and Akeakamai and see often see pictures of them with their proud human companions. We also read about Alex, an African gray parrot who Irene Pepperberg has studied extensively. Yet most people do not seem to find naming these individuals to be objectionable. Is it because the animals who are named have been shown to have highly developed cognitive skills? Not necessarily, for these and other animals are often named before they are studied intensively. Or, in the case of most nonhuman primates, is naming permissible because these individuals are more similar to humans than are members of other species? Why is naming a rat or a lizard or a spider more off-putting than naming a primate or a dolphin or a parrot? We need to know more about why this is so.

It is well known that increasing the distance between themselves and nonhuman animals is a common practice among scientists and nonscientists. Among the devices used are objectifying animals by referring to them with "it" and "which," and using terms such as collecting, euthanizing, sacrificing, and culling to refer to killing. For those who want to learn more about animals' mental states, it seems reasonable to treat animals as subjects rather than objects.

The context in which animals are used can also inform attitudes that people have even to individuals of the same species. For example, scientists also show different attitudes toward animals of the same species depending on whether they are encountered in the laboratory or at home; many scientists who name and praise the cognitive abilities of the companion animals with whom they share their home are likely to leave this sort of "baggage" at home when they arrogantly enter their laboratories to do research with members of the same species. Based on a series of interviews with practicing scientists, Mary T. Phillips reported that many of them construct a "distinct category of animal, the 'laboratory animal,' that contrasts with nameable animals (e.g., pets) across every salient dimension . . . the cat or dog in the laboratory is perceived by researchers as ontologically different from the pet dog or cat at home."

One area that needs much more detailed study concerns the bonds, and the effects of the bonds, that develop between field researchers and the animals they study. A combination of information from studies on captive and wild animals is needed to come to a fuller understanding of the many different aspects of scientist-animal interactions.

Because studies of animal minds and cognitive ethology inform matters of welfare, I also ask why some people apply a different standard for research in cognitive ethology than they do for other sciences? Why do some people dismiss the likelihood that many animals have rich intentional lives or suffer because it is hard to perform studies that produce solid results? How can one deny that a dog has some beliefs about what it is doing, even if its beliefs are not like ours? Biologists do not agree on fuzzy concepts such as adaptation, fitness, or even on evolutionary mechanisms. But they do not dismiss these ideas because they are difficult to study. We readily accept evolutionary continuity in physiology and anatomy, why not in studies of animal behavior and animal minds? Can we really believe that we are the only species with feelings, beliefs, desires, goals, expectations, the ability to think, the ability to think about things, the ability to feel pain, or the capacity to suffer?

We also need to talk to the animals and let them talk to us. Surprises are always forthcoming concerning the cognitive skills of nonhumans and it is essential that people who write about animal issues be cognizant of these findings. I do not see how any coherent thoughts about moral and ethical aspects of animal use could be put forth without using biological/evolutionary, ethological, and philosophical information. Ethologists must read philosophy and philosophers must not only read ethology but also watch animals.

I believe that a "deep reflective ethology" is needed to make people more aware of what they do to nonhumans and to make them aware of their moral and ethical obligations to animals (Bekoff and Jamieson, 1991a). I use the term "deep reflective ethology" to convey some of the same general ideas that underlie the "deep ecology" movement (Tobias, 1988), in which it is asked that people recognize that they not only are an integral part of nature, but also that they have unique responsibilities to nature. Most people who think deeply about the troubling issues surrounding animal welfare would agree that the use of animals in research, education, for amusement, and for food needs to be severely restricted, and in some cases simply stopped. Our unique responsibilities to the world mandate, in my view, that a noninterventionist policy should be our goal in the future. Accepting that most nonhuman animals experience pain and do suffer, even if it is not the same sort of pain and suffering that is experienced by humans or even other nonhumans, and rigorously determining just how invasive most animal studies are necessary. Books in the popular press also are helpful in getting across messages concerned with animal welfare to a wide audience (e.g. Hiaasen, 1991; Quinn, 1992; McQuillan, 1993; Tobias, 1994; Preston, 1994; Hall, 1995).

While arguments about rights and duties and obligations certainly are essential and highlight the important and complex issues that surround discussion about animal welfare and protection, shedding philosophical robes and adopting a common sense approach to many of the issues, especially how we view not only the cognitive skills of nonhumans but also their pains and suffering, will make this a better world in which humans and nonhumans can live compatibly. Of course, our common sense intuitions about pain, suffering, and animal cognition must be combined with reliable empirical data, of which there are plenty. This is not to be anti-science -- perhaps "science" needs to be redefined to include subjectivity and personal feelings. What one believes about the cognitive capacities of nonhumans informs how he or she thinks about animal welfare -- different views dispose a person to look at animals in particular ways. Ascribing intentionality and other cognitive abilities to animals is not moot if there are moral consequences, and there are. Nonetheless, in agreement with the philosopher Jeremy Bentham, I maintain that pain and suffering and not cognitive abilities should be the major issues guiding the use of nonhuman animals by humans (Bekoff, 1994a).

Those who are now students will live and work in a world in which increasingly science will not be seen as a self-justifying activity, but as another human institution whose claims on the public treasury must be defended. It is more important than ever for students to understand that questioning science is not to be anti-science or anti-intellectual, and that asking how humans should interact with animals is not in itself to demand that humans never use animals. Questioning science will make for better, more responsible science, and questioning the ways in which humans use animals will make for more informed decisions about animal use. By making such decisions in an informed and responsible way, we can help to insure that in the future we will not repeat the mistakes of the past, and that we will move towards a world in which humans and other animals may be able to share peaceably the resources of a finite planet. Perhaps we need to redefine science to include subjectivity and feelings. This is not to be anti-science or to abandon science.

The problems with which we are faced concerning animal welfare are very complex and also novel, and keeping open minds, and more importantly, open hearts, is essential. Facile attempts to dance or to shuffle around difficult and unsavory situations "in the name of science" or within the constraints of "the scientific method" -- as if there is one method -- are not going to work in the future. We need to bite the moral bullet -- the moral truth is often a bitter pill to swallow.

Despite the fact that there still is a long road to travel, change is in the wind. We and the animals who we use should be viewed as partners in a joint venture. We can no longer be at war with the rest of the world, and no one can be an island in this intimately connected universe. As Nobel laureate, Barbara McClintock, notes, we must have a feeling for the organisms with whom we are privileged to work. Thus, bonding with animals and calling animals by name are steps in the right direction. It seems unnatural for humans to continue to resist developing bonds with the animals who they study. By bonding with animals, one should not fear that the animals' points of view will be dismissed. In fact, bonding will result in a deeper examination and understanding of the animals' points of view, and this knowledge will inform further studies on the nature of human-animal interactions. If we forget that humans and other animals are all part of the same world, and if we forget that humans and animals are deeply connected at many levels of interaction, when things go amiss in our interactions with animals, as they surely will, and animals are set apart from and inevitably below humans, I feel certain that we will miss the animals more than the animal survivors will miss us. The interconnectivity and spirit of the world will be lost forever and these losses will make for a severely impoverished universe.


1Bekoff , 1972, 1977a, 1995a; Allen and Bekoff, 1995a,b

2Allen and Bekoff, 1994, 1996; Bekoff, 1995b; Bekoff and Allen, 1992, 1996; Bekoff and Jamieson 1990a,b; Jamieson and Bekoff, 1993

3Bekoff, 1977b, 1995c; Bekoff and Wells, 1986

4Bekoff and Jamieson, 1991, 1996; Bekoff et al., 1992; Bekoff, 1993a,b, 1994a,b,c, 1995d,e; Bekoff and Hettinger, 1994; Jamieson and Bekoff, 1992


I thank Carron A. Meaney and the editors for their helpful comments. Parts of this essay are excerpted from my "Minding animals, respecting individuals, and hearing myself: Reflections on responsible non-human-human interactions" (In L. A. Hart [ed.], 1996, Responsible conduct of research in animal behavior. Oxford University Press). Please see this paper for additional references and acknowledgments.


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