The Emotional Lives of Animals by Bekoff

Bekoff, Marc. The Emotional Lives of Animals: A Leading Scientist Explores Animal Joy, Sorrow, and Empathy—and Why They Matter. Foreword by Jane Goodall. Novato, Calif.: New World Library, 2007. Hardcover, xxiv + 214 pp.

Bekoff, a professor emeritus of biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder, has studied animal emotions for over thirty years. In doing so, he had to face the sometimes vicious criticism of fellow scientists who held the dogma that nonhuman animals could not possibly feel emotions.

The evidence for emotions in nonhuman animals is overwhelming, as any dog or cat owner knows from firsthand experience. This pioneering book contains a number of touching illustrative stories, but its real merit lies in a careful review of the facts.

As Bekoff and a few other sensible scientists are arguing, nonhuman animals share with us the primary emotions of fear, anger, surprise, sadness, disgust, and joy, which are hardwired into the brain. Many would additionally argue, as does Bekoff, that they also share secondary emotions, notably empathy and compassion. Some animals, notably chimpanzees, bottlenose dolphins, and elephants, “have passed tests that demonstrate they possess self-awareness.” Bekoff further states: “Some might experience a sense of awe, and some might even be moral beings who know ‘right’ from ‘wrong’” (p. 13).

When we acknowledge that animals are not thoughtless, feelingless automata but sentient beings, who feel a range of emotions, there are consequences for how we relate, or ought to relate, to them. Bekoff, true to his discoveries, took the essential step of becoming a vegetarian. With Jane Goodall, he founded Ethologists for the Ethical Treatment of Animals ( He writes: “I decided to become a vegetarian solely for ethical reasons. I didn’t want to be part of the chain of inhumane treatment that slaughters sentience and characterizes the factory farming of beings from cows to pigs to chickens to fish to lobsters . . . One day, I figured that I should start practicing what I preach. I realized I could no longer abide the killing of any animal, no matter how humane the process, simply for it to become my meal. It was actually an easy decision, and it hasn’t changed my lifestyle or my cycling one bit. In fact, it immediately made me feel better” (p. 150).

This exemplary behavior is true science, true philosophy. It puts to shame all the unfeeling, “thoughtless,” and often brutal behavior of so-called objective scientists and the meat industry, which is responsible for so much senseless pain and suffering in the animal kingdom. Meat eaters ought to seriously reconsider their preference for an omnivorous diet!

Copyright ©2007 by Georg Feuerstein. All rights reserved.
Reproduction in any form requires prior permission from Traditional Yoga Studies.

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