The Four Cs of Modern (Neuro) ethology and Neuroethics: Cognition, Complexity, Conation, and Culture

Publication Type:
Book Section
Year of Publication:
Simon Gadbois
Neuroethics and Nonhuman Animals
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Most of the modern arguments for or against the use of animals in research have a tendency to focus on animals’ cognitive and metacognitive abilities or seem to make consciousness and self-awareness prerequisites for an argument for the ethical treatment of animals. In the age of animal well-being (as opposed to their mere welfare), a modern neuroethological and post-cognitivist perspective on the animal mind may be fruitful. Unfortunately, the popularization of science (a strong venture in animal behavior and neuroscience) often weakens potentially good arguments and disfigures the science, the data, and the facts, adding only confusion to the issues at hand and creating myths that stall the progress of the ethical matters being discussed. We will discuss four main points: (1) cognitive perspectives in animal behavior emerged in ethology and comparative psychology and may have sidetracked some of the most salient issues relevant to neuroethics; (2) complex behaviors can emerge from simple brains, bridging the “mind gap” between human and nonhuman animals; (3) a conative approach to the behavioral sciences and neurosciences (already historically well established) is relevant to animal well-being and welfare in defining what animals want; (4) social neuroscience, behavioral plasticity, and the emergence of an understanding of animal culture narrow the divide between what we always assumed was uniquely human (species-specific behavioral flexibility and diversity).


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