Animal Ethics

REL960
Fall 2016
T 8:30am - 10:20am
Area: 
Area V
Professor: 
Permission Not Required
No Limit to Enrollment
Course Description: 

What are animals and what are our ethical responsibilities to them? This course introduces students to the major ethical questions in animal ethics and explores a variety of philosophical and religious ways of framing human-animal relationships: Is it ethical to eat animals, experiment upon them, or to keep them in zoos or as pets? Do animals have rights? What does the Bible say about animals and what does the Christian tradition teach us about compassion and mercy towards animals? Do all dogs go to heaven? How does animal ethics challenge and expand traditional models of religious ethics? 

Students will engage with and compare a wide range of questions and insights from animal ethics, animal studies, animal science, art and culture, and environmental philosophy to understand human relationships to animals. We will also examine how religious traditions, most notably Christianity, transmit and inform contemporary views and ethical frameworks that guide our treatment of other living things. In light of this, the course is organized around three basic categories that pose ethical challenges in animal ethics:

  • Problems of knowledge: Since animals communicate and live their lives in ways that are difficult for us to understand, our ability to decipher the intellectual, emotional, and social capacities of animals is inherently limited. This limitation poses problems for ethical decision making in that our understandings of animals are always “constructed” in some way. Science and religion, as ways of knowing animals and constructing views towards them, are therefore central concerns for animal ethics. 
  • Problems of experience: Human relationships with animals are informed by personal experience and filtered through religion and culture. Moreover, encounters with animals (both “real” animals and symbolic, mythic, and imagined animals) have long played a central role in religious experience. Ethical possibilities with other animals are therefore complexified by the extraordinary diversity and richness of personal and religious experience and interpretation.    
  • Problems of practice: Contemporary science and technology grants humans a great deal of power and control over animal lives. Ethical relationships to animals are therefore illuminated and shaded by considerations of justice, dynamics of power, and ideology.

No prior experience in ethics is required. To enhance learning, students in this course will have face-to-face encounters with real animals, multiple guest speakers will visit the class to share their work, and students will also engage in active learning through art at the Yale University Art Gallery. Students in this course are encouraged to be exploratory, critical, and creative in their thinking. 

Background Expected: 

None

Course Requirements: 

-  15-20 page Research Paper. (55% of final grade).

-  Animal Experiences and Reflection. (15% of final grade).

-  Reading of books and articles as demonstrated through Film Responses. (15% of final grade).

-  Reading of books and articles as demonstrated through active participation in class discussions. (15% of final grade).

Basis of Evaluation: 

-  15-20 page Research Paper. (55% of final grade).

-  Animal Experiences and Reflection. (15% of final grade).

-  Reading of books and articles as demonstrated through Film Responses. (15% of final grade).

-  Reading of books and articles as demonstrated through active participation in class discussions. (15% of final grade).