Telos and the Ethics of Animal Farming



The concept of animal welfare in confinement agriculture—and an ethical theory based upon this concept—necessitates an idea of what kind of being it is that fares well and what “well” is for this being. This double-question is at the heart of understanding and adequately defining welfare as qualitatively embedded in the experiencing subject. The notion of telos derives (philosophically) from Aristotle and is a way of accounting for the good life of an animal from the unique speciesness of the animal in question. The first part of the article will address the contemporary philosophical and ethical analysis of animals based upon this Aristotelian idea (Rollin in Animal rights and human morality (1st ed. 1981). Prometheus Books, New York, 2006b). Telos is here employed to illustrate the dimensions of what matters in welfare assessment and ethical evaluation. The second half of the article addresses some of the welfare problems in modern animal agriculture and how they relate to the telos concept. Two main examples are dealt with: Boredom (Wemelsfelder in Mental health and well-being in animals. Blackwell Publishing, Oxford, 2005) is argued as being the suffering of choicelessness in animals that are inherently beings that choose—and loneliness is the suffering of social isolation in animals for whom standing in active relations to others is part of what they are.


Animal ethics Animal welfare Telos Farming Boredom Loneliness 



I wish to thank Dr. Ulrik Becker Nissen at the Centre for Bioethics, and Nanoethics, Aarhus University and senior scientist Birte Lindstrøm Nielsen from Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique (INRA) for comments and constructive criticism on the drafts for this article. Furthermore, I wish to thank Distinguished Professor Bernard E. Rollin from Colorado State University for his sharp and helpful reviews of the earliest versions of the article.


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre for Bioethics and NanoethicsAarhus UniversityAarhus CDenmark

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