Have you ever looked over at your dog and cat and wondered, “Are they happy?” If you’re like me, you probably have. But have you ever asked deeper questions, like are they fulfilled, how do they view themselves in relation to the world, and do they consider life after death? I have, but I think it was 4 am on a Tuesday morning and I’d been up for 23 hours.
But that’s what ethicists do, sometimes: they ask hard questions. And Dr. David Peña-Guzmán asked one that I have in all honesty never even considered: can nonhuman animals commit suicide? As an ethicist and associate professor of humanities and Liberal Studies at San Francisco State university, it’s David’s job to ask those questions, which he addresses in his paper Can nonhuman animals commit suicide? What he may not have been prepared for was putting his brilliant paper on the subject in front of me, then dealing with me peppering him with questions for over an hour. And some of these questions: not my best. But Professor Peña-Guzmán put up with them all and we spent more than an hour discussing his paper, the implications of increased awareness in the realm of animal cognition and sentience, and a whole bunch of rambling from me. It was a ton of fun – David even said so in a follow up email that I choose to believe was in no way sarcastic.
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