Buddhism and Animal Ethics

Co-edited book by Bronwyn Finnigan (ANU) & Geoffrey Barstow (Oregon State), (currently under review)

Animal ethics is increasingly emerging as a significant focus of philosophical inquiry. Philosophers debate whether animals are sentient, whether and what might ground their moral significance, what are our responsibilities towards protecting and promoting their welfare, and what do answers to these questions entail for how they should be treated, in various respects. Given the increasingly global scope of these issues, there is value in considering global perspectives. This book critically examines Buddhist perspectives on animals.

Animals play important roles in Buddhist philosophy, narratives, and lived Buddhist lives. But Buddhist attitudes towards animals are complex, at times contradictory, but always deeply enmeshed with a commitment to the truth of the Buddha’s teachings. Few pre-modern Buddhist thinkers theorized about animal ethics in a clear and overt way. Yet what they have said about animals reveals a variety of moral and ethical approaches towards their moral significance and treatment. This book explicates some of this range of Buddhist approaches to animals and critically examine arguments and assumptions about their moral significance and how they should be treated. Its chapters consider animals and their place in Buddhist thought from a range of methodological perspectives: philosophical, historical, lived, and affective. Some chapters focus on explicating competing attitudes and tensions in historical Buddhist views about animals and historical arguments regarding their treatment. Some chapters demonstrate how these tensions currently emerge in lived Buddhist communities. And some chapters develop original philosophical arguments to adjudicate how contemporary Buddhists should treat animals. Some chapters critically examine underlying Buddhist assumptions about the capacities and moral status of animals in comparative dialogue with empirical science and other Western moral theories. And some chapters identify or explore the psychological benefits that may arise from adopting stances towards animals that both imaginatively and critically emphasize our similarities. The methodologies adopted by these chapters thus range from the kind of close textual engagement best exemplified in Buddhist Studies to the kind of philosophical challenge and original argumentation best exemplified by analytic Buddhist philosophy. What unifies these chapters is a shared exploration of how Buddhists have—and should—interact ethically with animals.