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Animal Welfare and Social Decisions: Is It Time to Take Bentham Seriously?

Journal article
Authors Olof Johansson-Stenman
Published in Ecological Economics
Volume 145
Pages 90-103
ISSN 0921-8009
Publication year 2018
Published at Department of Economics
Pages 90-103
Language en
Keywords Animal welfare, Anthropocentrism, Welfarism, Ethical preferences, Cost-benefit analysis, public-goods experiments, redistributing income, experienced utility, preferences, behavior, economics, selfish, choice, foundations, cooperation, Environmental Sciences & Ecology, Business & Economics
Subject categories Economics and Business


This paper analyzes and questions the standard welfare economics assumption of anthropocentric welfarism, i.e., that only human well-being counts intrinsically. Alternatives where also animal welfare matters intrinsically are analyzed both theoretically and empirically. The general public's ethical preferences are measured through a survey of a representative sample in Sweden, and the responses from a clear majority suggest that animal welfare should indeed carry intrinsic weight in public decision making. Current legislation in many countries is consistent with this. A brief review of moral philosophy on animal welfare indicates that a large majority of philosophers believe that animal welfare should count intrinsically. It is moreover demonstrated that it is theoretically and practically possible to generalize welfare economics in order to give intrinsic value also to animal welfare. The paper concludes that there are strong reasons to (sometimes) generalize welfare economics in order to take animal welfare into account directly, i.e., in addition to effects through individual utilities. The practical implications of doing so are likely to be more important over time as the scientific methods of measuring animal welfare are gradually improving.

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