Empirical Methods in Animal Ethics

K. Persson*, D. Shaw

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


In this article the predominant, purely theoretical perspectives on animal ethics are questioned and two important sources for empirical data in the context of animal ethics are discussed: (mostly qualitative) methods of the social and (mainly quantitative) methods of the natural sciences. Including these methods can lead to an empirical animal ethics approach that is far more adapted to the needs of humans and nonhuman animals and more appropriate in different circumstances than a purely theoretical concept solely premised on rational arguments. However, the potential tension between lay people's moral judgements and ethical theory must be handled with care. The thorough analysis of qualitative data can lead to a deep insight into e.g. ethical problems with the application of laws and guidelines, practicality issues with ethical theories, personal ambivalence, and cognitive biases. The interaction between animal ethics theory and empirical findings can lead to both a more context-sensitive and applicable ethical theory and a less arbitrary folk moral system. Findings from the natural sciences can also contribute valuable information to animal ethics theory-the more we know about the properties and preferences of nonhuman animals the better we can respect them. Here, however, it is vital not to justify invasive procedures for the sake of "ethical progress". It might be ethically required to forego some scientific findings about nonhuman animals if it is not clear how much a procedure would harm them. Only with robust empirical methods will light ultimately be shed on the nature of our moral relationship with animals.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)853-866
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Agricultural & Environmental Ethics
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2015


  • Animal ethics
  • Qualitative research
  • Quantitative research
  • Human-animal relations
  • Empirical ethics
  • PAIN

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