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The Discovery of Animal Consciousness: An Optimistic Assessment



What can we know about the conscious mental states of (nonhuman) animals? Faced with statutory requirements to assess animal welfare, this question has taken on practical importance for researchers and agriculturists (Bekoff 1994, 1998). But the question cannot be answered without first saying something about the sense in which "consciousness" is being used. The term "consciousness" is ambiguous in English (Wilkes 1984, 1995; Nelkin 1993). It is applied to the distinction between being asleep and awake, to the distinction between responsiveness and unresponsiveness to environmental features, to the distinction between deliberate and reflexive behaviors, to the fact that some neurological events "feel like something" to their subjects while others have no associated phenomenology, and to the distinction between self-awareness and the lack of self-awareness. The application of the term "conscious" in the first two senses ­ being awake, or being responsive to certain stimuli ­ is uncontroversial when applied to animals. The third and fourth senses are controversial. It has been disputed that animals have the capacity for reasoned, deliberate action (see Carruthers 1992), and that their experiences provide them with a qualitative feel, or phenomenology (Carruthers 1992, 1996; Bermond 1997, this conference). The fifth sense ­ self-awareness



Journal of Agricultural and Environmental EthicsSpringer Journals

Published: Oct 1, 1997

DOI: 10.1023/A:1007716908222

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