Cultural variation, animal welfare and telos

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The effect of varied cultural traditions on concepts of animal welfare appears to be a novel issue, growing out of recent societal concerns with globalisation, multi-culturalism, and diversity. In more imperialistic times, Western culture cared little about such issues. Upon reflection, however, it is apparent that this is not a new issue, as even within our culture the concept of welfare has been variously defined, based on differences in values in general and ethics in particular, varying enormously with different views of the moral status of animals. A most dramatic example of this can be found in production agriculture’s view that (to paraphrase) ‘the animal is experiencing good welfare when it fulfils the human (production) purpose for which it is kept’, as expressed in the Council for Agricultural Science and Technology (CAST) report of 1981. Clearly, an animal welfare advocate opposed to confinement agriculture would have expressed a very different view. If the concept of animal welfare is both intra- and cross-culturally varied, how then does one resolve differences? The answer may be found in what I have termed the ‘new social ethic for animals’ that is fairly uniform across Western societies, as I explain in this paper. In essence, the new ethic focusses on satisfying animals’ needs dictated by their telos or biological nature. Insofar as Western democratic societies dictate to the rest of the world, which is economically dependent upon them, we will see this animal ethic achieve global hegemony, much as the notion of human rights has become globally ubiquitous as an ideal.