Expanding Empathy to Non-human Animals

Throughout the past few months, I have been exploring empathy and ethics through discussions, scholarly readings, fictional novels, social media, and other digital media, including images and film. I have given myself ample amounts of time to gain a descent understanding of not only what the terms “empathy” and “ethics” mean, but also how they are used in society.

I tend to hold a non-anthropocentric view of society, allowing society to encompass not only humans, but our non-human animal neighbors as well. I am interested in researching the empirical studies behind empathy (human to human, human to non-human animal, even non-human animal to non-human animal) and using that, along with animal rights ethics (philosophical arguments and theories) to answer the critical question “can empathy be expanded to non-human animals, or is it an inherently human trait?” and also explore subsequent questions such as “if so, what are the pros and cons of expanding empathy to non-human animals?”, “What role does empathy play in defining and shaping our morality, and how does this role change when expanding morality to include non-human animals?”, and “How can empathy for non-human animals be compared and contrasted with other feelings, such as sympathy, or compassion?”.

I plan on setting up a foundational argument explaining empathy and ethics and restricting the scope to purely humans, as to prepare readers for subsequent arguments for expanding both to non-human animals. I have already found many useful scholarly articles both in support of my position, that empathy can and should be expanded to non-human animals, and contrasting my position, offering valuable counter-positions to explore and use to further support my position. I already see an issue with attempting to argue my position on a purely empirical basis, considering the research available is limited and has problems of its own, so I am going to examine current ethical theories (animal rights theories and other theories of morality) to create my own informed philosophical argument. I want to take a more persuasive argument approach, highlighting the benefits of expanding empathy and ethics to non-human animals, to advocate for animal rights, a well-informed belief that I hold strongly.

Potential Scholarly Sources

Aaltola, E. “Skepticism, Empathy, and Animal Suffering.” JOURNAL OF BIOETHICAL INQUIRY 10.4 (2013): 457-67. Web.

Angantyr, M., J. Eklund, and EM Hansen. “A Comparison of Empathy for Humans and Empathy for Animals.” ANTHROZOOS 24.4 (2011): 369-77. Web.

Kasperbauer, T. J. “Rejecting Empathy for Animal Ethics.” Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 18.4 (2015): 817-33. Web.

Kielland, C., et al. “Dairy Farmer Attitudes and Empathy Toward Animals are Associated with Animal Welfare Indicators.” Journal of dairy science 93.7 (2010): 2998-3006. Web.

Prguda, E., and DL Neurnann. “Inter-Human and Animal-Directed Empathy: A Test for Evolutionary Biases in Empathetic Responding.” Behavioural processes 108 (2014): 80-6. Web.

Rothgerber, H., and F. Mican. “Childhood Pet Ownership, Attachment to Pets, and Subsequent Meat Avoidance. the Mediating Role of Empathy Toward Animals.” Appetite 79 (2014): 11-7. Web.

Works Cited

“Empathy You’re Doing it Wrong” Image: http://img.scoop.it/IM8L4-Knr_NFX4YRbcH4XDl72eJkfbmt4t8yenImKBVvK0kTmF0xjctABnaLJIm9



8 thoughts on “Expanding Empathy to Non-human Animals

  1. Question: “can empathy be expanded to non-human animals, or is it an inherently human trait?” I think this is a good question that can be explored and debated.
    For key terms, I think that defining empathy is important. I feel like empathy and sympathy could be confused with your topic, so I would make that distinction. I think that the topic is specific enough and also broad enough, especially with the smaller questions that you include. I definitely think that it is a debatable question, as someone could argue that empathy is purely a human trait or they could argue that humans can empathize with animals.

  2. I really like your research topic! It seems like you are really passionate about it and have a lot to say. I’m a little concerned that this may be too much for a 10 page paper, especially since you want to talk about human empathy in addition to animal rights with scholarly evidence and philosophical theories. Also, I was a little confused as to how you will talk about human empathy before animal empathy – what kinds of issues or aspects of empathy will you cover? Question: Can empathy be expanded to non-human animals, or is it an inherently human trait? Your sources include arguments for and against your view that empathy can include animals, so the topic is debatable. Some key terms are morality, philosophical theories, other feelings such as sympathy and compassion, and rights.

  3. I think your overall argument and idea is very interesting, as many forget that animals have a wide range of emotions and behaviors that closely relate to that of humans. Your key question I think is definitely specific enough, especially with the addition of the other questions you mention. Your topic is also very debatable, and I’m sure you could find a wealth of sources that could support both sides.

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