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Nicolas Delon (Université de Picardie, CURAPP) "Animal ethics goes experimental"

Nicolas Delon (Université de Picardie, CURAPP) will be our next speaker. He is currently doing a PhD under the supervision of Sandra Laugier, working on animal ethics.

Title : "Animal ethics goes experimental"
Date, Time, Place : 08/02/2013, 4pm, Salle de Réunion du Pavillon Jardin

Abstract : Animal ethics, like most other subfields of normative ethics, routinely appeals to readers’ intuition concerning either real or fictitious cases. However, those appeals have usually had two main shortcomings. First, they often used thought experiments purporting to show that some "speciesist" biases were unwarranted, by using supposedly analogous cases involving humans or alien species. Unfortunately, those cases often display several important disanalogies. Secondly, the intuitions that animal ethics has been relying on haven’t yet, as far I know, been properly surveyed. Except for psychologists and sociologists who have already surveyed people’s views and behaviors with respect to animals, there’s little to be found about the specific responses of the so-called "folk" to the philosophical treatment of human-animal relations.
These shortcomings led me to design a series of experimental studies in order to assess how our conceptions of the moral status of nonhuman animals vary according to different factors (relational, spatial, categorial, species-specific, contextual...). The core hypothesis of this work is that, in contrast to a view that is held to be commonsense by many animal ethicists themselves, moral status is not univocally a function of an entity’s intrinsic properties, hence, that extrinsic factors affect judgments concerning the wrongness of some treatments of some animals. The upshot of the survey is not, of course, normative. The most prominent contemporary animal ethicist, Peter Singer, famously rejected the use of (empirically uncovered) intuitions as, at best, irrelevant to morality. But these intuitions are interesting in their own right nonetheless, and, as they’re often implicit in animal ethics, it’s important to test them. I believe, moreover, that those intuitions should play some role in the assessment of our obligations, if only because we have to know what they are in order to know how to revise them.
The study that I wish to introduce is part of the Experiment Month initiative, sponsored by the CogSci department at Yale University. It has not been launched yet, so I won’t have any results to discuss. For the time being, I’d like to present my hypothesis, the design, and the methodology of the study, and to discuss the broader issues of 1) the relevance of intuitions to ethics ; 2) the revisionary or conservative use of probing intuitions."