Jonathan Balcombe, Ph.D., on Pleasurable Kingdom
In laboratories, animals are treated essentially like medical supplies. They are shipped in, studied, and disposed of. But increasingly, scientists are coming to understand the complexities of animals’ psychological and social lives. PCRM ethologist Jonathan Balcombe, Ph.D., has been on tour discussing his new book Pleasurable Kingdom: Animals and the Nature of Feeling Good, which explores animals’ capacity for happiness.
Pleasurable Kingdom focuses on an aspect of animals that science has neglected: pleasure. Dr. Balcombe provides rigorous evidence, along with detailed anecdotes, of different species showing a wide array of emotions and behaviors.
Dr. Balcombe introduces his readers to the dichotomy between evolution and experience. Science tends to look at animals through an evol utionary lens, he says, but needs also to recognize their experiences.
“There may be evolutionary reasons why a dog wants to play, but the animal isn’t thinking about genes or natural selection as he enjoys a game of tug or fetch,” Dr. Balcombe says. “He is simply acting based on his cognitive experience and taking pleasure in his activity.”
Dr. Balcombe notes that pain in animals has become more widely recognized in recent decades. Animals continue to suffer tremendously in laboratory experiments and on factory farms. “I don’t believe we are under the obligation to provide pleasure for animals,” Dr. Balcombe says. “But we do have the obligation to not deprive them of the ability to seek their own pleasure.”
When animals in a laboratory or on a factory farm are denied social contact, exercise, enjoyable food, or the ability to act on their natural instincts, Dr. Balcombe explains, we have deprived them of basic pleasures that are critical to their well-being.
Dr. Balcombe encourages scientists to think more about animal emotions and is bringing this issue to the scientific community. “I hope that Pleasurable Kingdom makes people see animals in a richer way,” Dr. Balcombe said. “And I hope it also transforms our behavior toward other species.”