OneKind talks animal ethics with Andrew Linzey

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21 June 2011

Reverend Professor Andrew Linzey is one of the world's leading lights on animal ethics and our relationship with the other animals with whom we share this planet.

Andrew Linzey

Andrew's groundbreaking work is underpinned by the fact that animals are sentient beings like us. In 2006 Andrew established the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics which aims to centre aims to encourage research into, and improve public debate on, the issues surrounding animal-related ethics. Having written many books, his latest venture for animals is to establish the world's first ever academic journal dedicated to the issue of animal ethics.

I was delighted that Andrew agreed to a short interview with OneKind to celebrate the launch of the new Journal of Animal Ethics.

Why do you believe animals other than humans are sentient?

There is now ample evidence in peer reviewed scientific journals that some animals (especially mammals and birds) can experience pain and suffering only to a greater or lesser extent than we do. It is important to grasp that animals don’t just experience pain (understood as an adverse physical stimuli) but that they can suffer, i.e. they experience mental pain, including fear, foreboding, anticipation, stress, trauma, and terror.

Why is this important?

Well, it means that these animals have complex systems of cognition and awareness. They can be harmed in ways that other beings cannot. They are – in the words of Tom Regan – “subjects of a life”. Such sentiency means that it is illogical not to extend moral consideration to them.

Why do you think peoples’ behaviour affecting animals is not always in line with their attitudes to animals?

Well, sadly, I do think that most people’s behaviour IS in line with their attitudes. Most people, I fear, have simply not grasped the full range of animal complexity. They don’t appreciate the variety of ways in which we can harm animals. Yes, most understand cruelty, but they don’t see that we can harm animals by depriving them, for example, of their freedom to perform their natural behavioural activities and to live in their own social groups.

How can we improve our behaviour towards other animals?

In my book Christianity and the Rights of Animals (1987), I argued that we need a programme of progressive disengagement - both individual and social - from injury to animals. I haven’t changed my view. We need to encourage and support people to move towards less violent and cruel lifestyles, and we need new legislation and institutions that embody that vision of a cruelty-free world.

What inspired you to create the new Journal of Animal Ethics?

The Journal of Animal Ethics is the latest project of the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics. The aim of the Centre is to pioneer ethical perspectives on animals through academic research, teaching, and publication. The Journal is part of the Centre’s aim to put animals on the intellectual agenda. It is devoted to the exploration of progressive thought about animals. It covers theoretical and applied aspects of animal ethics -- of interest to academics from the humanities and the sciences, as well as professionals working in the field of animal protection.

What do you hope the Journal of Animal Ethics will achieve?

A few simple ideas have governed our view of animals, e.g. they are here for our use, they can’t suffer like we do, and they don’t have any real moral status. These ideas have been vastly influential and still justify a great deal of abuse. We can’t change the world for animals without changing our ideas about animals. We have to move from the idea that animals are things, tools, machines, commodities, resources here for our use to the idea that as sentient beings they have their own inherent value and dignity. That requires a monumental intellectual change. The Journal is one step towards the new ethical thinking required.

If people want to help animals, what simple advice would you give them?

Read. Think. Study. Advocates need to make sure they know both the facts and the best ethical arguments. That can only come about by careful reading. There are now a wide range of books on animal ethics. Also, be prepared for a long haul with many disappointments. One needs to find much courage and inner Zen. Trying to change the world for animals isn’t for the fainthearted.

The Revd Professor Andrew Linzey is Director of the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics and a member of the Faculty of Theology in the University of Oxford. He has published more than twenty books, including Creatures of the Same God (Winchester University Press/Lantern Press, 2007) and Why Animal Suffering Matters (Oxford University Press, 2009) (see right).

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