On Animal Consciousness… and Animal Welfare

The simple fact of asking the question testifies to the incredible revolution in mentalities in terms of animal ethics. For a long time the West remained under the influence of the thought of the philosopher René Descartes, who erected a border between humans, endowed with a soul and capable of thought, and other animals, like machines and driven by automatisms. . “After Descartes, in the West, it was long assumed that animals did not suffer, takes offense at the neurobiologist and philosopher Georges Chapouthier. But it must be said that it was also the case for babies, that we operated without anesthesia until the 1960s.

European legislation is certainly more protective than ever, but that which applies to farm animals is fragmented and only concerns mammals.

At the very end of the 19th century, scientists began to take a closer look at the behavior of animals. With the behaviorists, who refrained from speculating on a human or animal inner life, behavior has become a succession of conditionings: a positive experience reinforces certain attitudes, a punishment leads to avoiding them. And we had to wait for the arrival of the naturalist movement in the second half of the 20th century for the question of the feelings of animals to arise, and for us to begin to observe them in their natural environment. The testimony of scientists who have lived with animals, such as the British ethologist Jane Goodall with chimpanzees, then upsets public opinion.

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“We realized that animals do not react blindly, they go towards objects that have meaning for them, explains Florence Burgat, philosopher at the National Institute for Agricultural Research. This intentionality is an indicator of a psychic life. ” Admittedly, there is no “formal” proof of animal consciousness. The fact remains that in many of them, the various studies have indeed made it possible to highlight behaviors manifesting an experience lived in the first person.

It is this reasoning that led a group of scientists to write, in 2012, the famous Cambridge Declaration. This stipulates that “Humans are not alone in possessing the neurological substrates that produce consciousness. Non-human animals, including all mammals and birds, and many other creatures, including octopuses, also possess these neurological substrates.”.

Cognition: the challenge of animal intelligence

The manifesto called society to a deep questioning. Because to recognize a conscience in animals is also to pose a moral problem, to oblige oneself to respect their physical integrity, to worry about their well-being. This trend has operated: today, 69% of French people believe that animal welfare is an important issue, according to an Ifop poll. At the same time, legislators feel social pressure to extend this respect to increasingly varied forms of life. “Animal welfare is increasingly taken into account attests Sonia Desmoulin-Canselier, specialist in animal rights at the University of Nantes. In 2010, the European directive on animal experimentation notably included cephalopods in all animals benefiting from special protection, thus integrating them into the category of protected beings, reserved until now for vertebrates. ”

Except that for the specialist, the gap between societal sentiment and the implementation of legislation remains significant: “We can’t say that today the animal condition has changed a lot. European legislation is certainly more protective than ever, but that which applies to farm animals is fragmented and only concerns mammals. Fish or insects are never mentioned. ” Whatever the breeding conditions, the Canarian octopus farm will therefore not break any rules. And too bad for their dreams of freedom, if they exist…

Animal welfare in French legislation

Centuries before being considered sentient beings by French law!


The Civil Code classifies animals in the category of “movable property”.


The Grammont law, the first animal protection law, criminalizes the public mistreatment of animals. The fine is set at 2 to 15 francs, which may be accompanied by one to five days in prison.


The Penal Code recognizes the offense of acts of cruelty towards animals (domestic, tamed or in captivity), thus differentiating the latter from objects, contrary to the Civil Code.


Animals are characterized by article 515-14 al. 1 of the Civil Code as “living beings endowed with feeling” . However, they remain subject to the property regime.

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On Animal Consciousness… and Animal Welfare

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