Hedonic Ethology!

Now there’s a field I’d love to get into!

In today’s New York Times, Katherine Bouton reviews what sounds like a truly marvelous book: “The Exultant Ark” by Jonathan Balcombe. “Hedonic ethology” is the study of animal pleasure, a term coined by Balcombe.

According to Bouton, Balcombe bases his conclusion that animals feel pleasure on three arguments: it makes sense in terms of evolution, we know of at least one animal that feels pleasure for sure (us), and since it’s clear that they feel pain, why not pleasure as well?

Of course animals feel pleasure. That’s so obvious. One look at my orange tabby’s face as she purrs her heart out while kneading the bountiful tummy of her stepbrother tells me that.

Silver (left) and Minnie (right): Love and hedonism

An older family member of mine used to insist that “it’s all instinct” and that animals weren’t capable of feeling pleasure. His conviction came from his religious faith, which (to his understanding) asserted that humans are so special that we have little in common with animals. And some philosophers insist that it’s anthropomorphism to attribute to animals forms of interiority that we ourselves have experienced: an anthropomorphism that they consider both inappropriate and disrespectful of the animal’s own experience.

But to me it sells animals short to believe we don’t share with any of them this fundamental capability. It also sells us short, since that belief deprives us of a meaningful opportunity to empathize and perhaps even learn from animals about pleasure.

Still, as obvious as Balcombe’s thesis seems to me, I can’t wait to read this book. Hedonic ethology, here I come!

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One response to “Hedonic Ethology!

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