Morality in Animals

Postdoc research by Judith Benz-Schwarzburg, 2012-2014

Building on the findings of her PhD thesis (where she had explored culture, language, and theory of mind in animals and their ethical relevance), Judith Benz-Schwarzburg extended her research interests from 2014 on to the area of morality in animals. Under this label, abilities like empathy, (altruistic) helping, fairness, cooperation/social interaction and inequity aversion in animals come into focus. It is time to link new empirical findings on such abilities in animals with philosophical discussions, e.g. with the debate about moral agents vs. moral subjects or the discussions on personhood and animal rights. From a scientific as well as a philosophical perspective, the central question seems to what extend we can speak about morality in animals in a meaningful way. Dealing with this question requires an understanding of studies from comparative cognition, but it also requires the philosophical skills to provide a valid interpretation of such studies with reference to moral theory.

Judith Benz-Schwarzburg’s research was embedded in the MFI pig cognition project that started in 2014. Within this project she investigated the ethical relevance of the social and cognitive capacities specifically for pigs 1. The preparatory phase of research on morality in animals and the research done during the pig project greatly helped to submit a Stand-alone Project to the Austrian Research Fund (FWF), which was approved in 2018. The subsequent project started in September 2018.
Link to the FWF project 2



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