Humans were once a tiny minority surrounded by millions of other species. Other animals inspired different emotions in us ranging from fear to awe, empathy, and even friendship. We admire the beauty and intelligence of animals, and many people claim to love them. Unfortunately, we have also drastically reduced the number of existing species, and moved from eating the occasional animal prey to building factory farms that support a meat-based diet, which besides causing enormous suffering to animals, has disastrous consequences on the environment, the global disease burden, and world hunger. In addition, we use animals for entertainment and in all sorts of experiments, including tests performed for trivial purposes.
At the same time, humanity has made enormous progress in ethics. We have gone from thinking that we should not strike or work slaves or women too hard, to rejecting slavery, and advocating gender and racial equality. We have come to realize that it is not only our tribe that matters, and begun to see that some ethical principles have validity across nations, generations and even across species boundaries. And whilst among Ancient philosophers only some far-sighted individuals argued in defense of women and animals, nowadays hardly anyone denies that animal suffering matters, or claims we can disregard an individual’s interests merely because of species membership. Animal ethics is now taught at leading universities around the world, and is a growing field not only in philosophy but also in politics, sociology, psychology, communication, ethology, evolutionary biology, literature, education, and law, particularly since the 2009 Lisbon Treaty recognized the legal relevance of animal suffering to European legislation.
Despite our best efforts, we still suffer from sexist and racist unconscious biases, and are prey even more frequently to anthropocentric or speciesist bias. Such ideological biases remain at work not only in the ways we perceive the world and design institutions and moral doctrines but even in the way we speak, teach, and report the news. Detecting the anthropocentric and speciesist biases in different fields and understanding the different effects of our animal-based industries in diverse areas like health, poverty, or sustainability requires a multidisciplinary approach. The UPF Centre for Animal Ethics aims to facilitate such confluence of fields so that universities can help society become more humane and more sustainable.