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Towards welfare biology: Evolutionary economics of animal consciousness and suffering

Abstract

Welfare biology is the study of living things and their environment with respect to their welfare (defined as net happiness, or enjoyment minus suffering). Despite difficulties of ascertaining and measuring welfare and relevancy to normative issues, welfare biology is a positive science. Evolutionary economics and population dynamics are used to help answer basic questions in welfare biology: Which species are affective sentients capable of welfare? Do they enjoy positive or negative welfare? Can their welfare be dramatically increased? Under plausible axioms, all conscious species are plastic and all plastic species are conscious (and, with a stronger axiom, capable of welfare). More complex niches favour the evolution of more rational species. Evolutionary economics also supports the common-sense view that individual sentients failing to survive to mate suffer negative welfare. A kind of God-made (or evolution-created) fairness between species is also unexpectedly found. The contrast between growth maximization (as may be favoured by natural selection), average welfare, and total welfare maximization is discussed. It is shown that welfare could be increased without even sacrificing numbers (at equilibrium). Since the long-term reduction in animal suffering depends on scientific advances, strict restrictions on animal experimentation may be counter-productive to animal welfare.

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I wish to thank S. E. G. Lea, F. M. Toates, and anonymous referees for very helpful comments. I have also benefited from the peer discussion of a preliminary version appearing electronically inPsycholoquy.

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Ng, YK. Towards welfare biology: Evolutionary economics of animal consciousness and suffering. Biol Philos 10, 255–285 (1995). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00852469

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Key words

  • Animal
  • Biology
  • Consciousness
  • Economics
  • Evolution
  • Natural Selection
  • Suffering
  • Welfare