Why keep a dog and bark yourself? Making choices for non-human animals

James W. Yeates*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)


Animals are usually considered to lack the status of autonomous agents. Nevertheless, they do appear to make ostensible choices.This article considers whether, and how, I should respect animals’ choices. I propose a concept of volitionality which can be respected if, and insofar as, doing so is in the best interests of the animal.Applying that concept, I (we) will argue that an animals’ choices be respected when the relevant human decision maker’s capacities to decide are potentially challenged or compromised. For example, it will be best to respect the animals’ choice when the human decision maker: (1) lacks accurate knowledge of the animal’s subjective experiences; (2) does not know what will lead to desirable experiences or allow for the avoidance of undesirable ones; (3) is biased; (4) is less aware of the animal’s specific situation; (5) cannot appreciate all elements comprehensively, including considering any (content-neutral) value to the animal being allowed to make and implement a choice, such as where a lack of control or liberty would be unpleasant or where an animal would usefully learn from the process of choice-making; and (6) when the animal’s choice is achievable. This additionally suggests that we may often beneficially choose to set up situations that empower animals to make better choices.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)168-185
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Applied Philosophy
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2018


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