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The Pleasure Principle: Promoting Animal Happiness

Birds do it. Chimpanzees do it. Even fishes in seas do it. They seek joy, rapture, jubilation, and countless other states of pleasure. And humans have a moral obligation to allow animals to experience these rewards. So how can we reconcile practices—such as laboratory experiments—that deprive animals fulfilling, enjoyable lives? The Pleasurable Kingdom author answers that question in his latest paper.

chimp“We decisively can’t,” says Jonathan Balcombe, Ph.D., PCRM research scientist and author of Pleasurable Kingdom. “Our current treatment of animals is profoundly out of step with what we now know about animals’ awareness, sensitivity, and emotion.”

In his new paper, “Animal Pleasure and Its Moral Significance,” published in the May issue of Applied Animal Behaviour Science, Dr. Balcombe continues to explore how the expression of positive feelings in creatures other than humans has important ethical ramifications for both science and society.

Like humans, nonhuman animals express an array of complex emotions, and Dr. Balcombe provides rigorous evidence—along with remarkable anecdotes—of how different species seek pleasure through play, food, sex, and touch: Herring gulls play games using clams, iguanas indulge in lettuce, dolphins engage in orgies, and rats show mirthful responses to tickling.  

He also proposes that there are moral repercussions when we deny animals pleasure through captivity and death. “When we keep animals in impoverished conditions—such as factory farms, laboratory cages, and zoos—we deny animals the opportunity to express euphoria, exultation, and excitement,” says Dr. Balcombe. “And when we kill animals we cause harm by denying them the opportunity to experience rewards that life would otherwise offer them.”

His findings are especially timely as Congress prepares to consider two pieces of legislation.

The Great Ape Protection Act would end invasive research on the chimpanzees remaining in laboratories—and release federally owned chimpanzees to permanent sanctuaries.

“Chimpanzees and other primates experience a wide array of complicated emotions, from delight and devotion to profound despair,” says Dr. Balcombe. “The paper’s findings strongly support the proposal to end experiments on chimpanzees, a species that shares 98 percent of its genes with humans.”

And revisions to the Toxic Substances Control Act could shift toxicity testing away from animals toward modern, human-relevant methods. “If we stopped using mice and rats in toxicity tests, it would eliminate a great deal of suffering,” say Dr. Balcombe. “And that’s a very desirable goal.”

Visit PCRM’s Great Ape Protection Act Web page to urge your U.S. representative to co-sponsor the Great Ape Protection Act, sign up to persuade Congress to reform chemical testing, and learn more about Dr. Balcombe’s research on animal pleasure.

Jonathan Balcombe, Ph.D., M.S.
Jonathan Balcombe, Ph.D., M.S.

PCRM Online, May 2009

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