Do regulators of animal welfare need to develop a theory of psychological well-being?

The quest for a ``theory of nonhuman minds'''' to assessclaims about the moral status of animals is misguided. Misframedquestions about animal minds facilitate the appropriation ofanimal welfare by the animal user industry. When misframed, thesequestions shift the burden of proof unreasonably to animalwelfare regulators. An illustrative instance of misframing can befound in the US National Research Council''s 1998 publication thatreports professional efforts to define the psychologicalwell-being of nonhuman primates, a condition that the US 1985animal welfare act requires users of primates to promote. Thereport claims that ``psychological well-being'''' is a hypotheticalconstruct whose validity can only be determined by a theory thatdefines its properties and links it to observed data. Thisconception is used to contest common knowledge about animalwelfare by treating psychological well-being as a mentalcondition whose properties are difficult to discover. Thisframework limits regulatory efforts to treat animal subjects lessoppressively and serves the interests of the user industry.A more liberatory framework can be constructed by recognizing thecontested nature of welfare norms, where competing conceptions ofanimal welfare have implications about norm-setting authority, asit does in other regulatory contexts, e.g., food safety. Properlyconceptualized welfare should include both the avoidance ofdistressful circumstances and the relationship between ananimal''s capacities to engage in enjoyable activities and itsopportunities to exercise these capacities. This conception ofanimal welfare avoids appropriation by scientific experts.
Keywords animal welfare  primates  psychological well-being  regulation
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DOI 10.1023/A:1011317314315
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