Bioethics Blogs

Philosophy and animal experimentation: Animal ethics workshop with Christine Korsgaard.

By Dominic Wilkinson @Neonatalethics


On the 3rd December, as part of the Uehiro lecture series, the Centre for Practical Ethics held a workshop on Animal Ethics at the Oxford Martin School.*

The workshop included first a short summary of her Uehiro lectures by Professor Christine Korsgaard, and then a series of responses by invited guest speakers from the University of Oxford and elsewhere including Professor Jeff McMahan, Professor Cecile Fabre, Dr Mark Sheehan, Professor Valentin Muresan, Dr Emilian Mihailov, Dr Caroline Bergmann and Dr James Yeates.

Professor Korsgaard started her summary with a provocative thought experiment:

A fifth great Ape species has been discovered: the Krell. The Krell share many features with other great apes, but they are possessed of greater rationality, self-consciousness and intelligence than humans. They think about cooperativeness and equality but do not regard us (humans) as their equals. They find amusing and bemusing our emotional nature, and the silly mental errors to which we are prone. They do find some value in humans, however. We are of use to them for employment in certain ways. Our biological similarity renders us highly useful in scientific research. And we are somewhat tasty.

Is there anything in this description of the superior capacities of the Krell, asked Korsgaard, that would make it morally permissible for them to use us in these ways – as research subjects, convenient slave labour and food?

Conventional accounts of the ethics of animal experimentation weigh up the harms (to non-human animals) of experimentation against the potential benefits (to human animals) of those experiments.

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