In debates about animal sentience, the precautionary principle is often invoked. The idea is that when the evidence of sentience is inconclusive, we should “give the animal the benefit of the doubt” or “err on the side of caution” in formulating animal protection legislation. Yet there remains confusion as to whether it is appropriate to apply the precautionary principle in this context, and, if so, what “applying the precautionary principle” means in practice regarding the burden of proof for animal sentience. Here I construct a version of the precautionary principle tailored to the question of animal sentience together with a practical framework for implementing it. I explain and defend the key features of this framework, argue that it is well-aligned current practice in animal welfare science, and consider and reject a number of influential counterarguments to the use of precautionary reasoning in this area.

Author Biography

Jonathan Birch is Assistant Professor in the Department of Philosophy, Logic and Scientific Method at the London School of Economics and Political Science, specializing in the philosophy of the biological sciences. He has written on numerous topics in the philosophy of biology, including innateness, teleology, animal signalling, the “major evolutionary transitions,” and the evolution of altruism. He is currently interested in, among other things, the evolution of sentience and the relation between sentience and welfare. http://personal.lse.ac.uk/birchj1/





Article Thread

Birch, Jonathan (2017) Animal sentience and the precautionary principle. Animal Sentience 16(1)

Stauffer, Jay R., Jr. (2017) Cautions about precautions. Animal Sentience 16(2)

Brown, Culum (2017) A risk assessment and phylogenetic approach. Animal Sentience 16(3)

Adamo, Shelley (2017) The “Precautionary Principle” – A work in progress. Animal Sentience 16(4)

Marks, Joel (2017) Changing the subject. Animal Sentience 16(5)

Reber, Arthur S. (2017) What if all animals are sentient?. Animal Sentience 16(6)

Mallatt, Jon (2017) Shoring up the precautionary BAR. Animal Sentience 16(7)

Rollin, Bernard (2017) Raising the moral consciousness of science. Animal Sentience 16(8)

Klein, Colin (2017) Precaution, proportionality and proper commitments. Animal Sentience 16(9)

Mather, Jennifer (2017) Support for the precautionary principle. Animal Sentience 16(10)

Woodruff, Michael L. (2017) Scientific uncertainty and the animal sentience precautionary principle. Animal Sentience 16(11)

Browning, Heather (2017) Anecdotes can be evidence too. Animal Sentience 16(13)

Brown, Rachael L. (2017) Not statistically significant, but still scientific. Animal Sentience 16(14)

Jones, Robert C. (2017) The precautionary principle: A cautionary note. Animal Sentience 16(15)

Leadbeater, Simon (2017) Will the precautionary principle broaden acceptance of animal sentience?. Animal Sentience 16(16)

Irvine, Leslie (2017) Animal pain and the social role of science. Animal Sentience 16(18)

Carder, Gemma (2017) A preliminary investigation into the welfare of lobsters in the UK. Animal Sentience 16(19)

Birch, Jonathan (2017) Refining the precautionary framework. Animal Sentience 16(20)

Elwood, Robert W. (2017) Assessing negative and positive evidence for animal pain. Animal Sentience 16(21)

Seth, Anil K. and Dienes, Zoltan (2017) The value of Bayesian statistics for assessing credible evidence of animal sentience. Animal Sentience 16(22)

Birch, Jonathan (2018) On crabs and statistics. Animal Sentience 16(23)