Science - November 13, 2014

'Take animals seriously as individuals'

Roelof Kleis

Ethics on the farm have the best chance of flourishing through developing new technology together with animals, says Philosopher Clemens Driessen.

Philosopher Driessen, the man behind the pigs’ game Pig Chase, was awarded his PhD cum laude last week for his thesis on Animal deliberation, the co- evolution of technology and ethics on the farm. Resource had a few questions for him.

Animal deliberation sounds like talking to animals. Is that what you mean?

‘The title is provocative. Deliberation is a term from political philosophy. Deliberating is seeking the best solution for everyone in dialogue based on arguments, and adjusting your own insights as you go along. For some people this is the height of democracy. In relation of animals it refers to sincere interaction. Taking the animal seriously as an individual, as a subject. The title is also a bit of wordplay. Animal Liberation is a famous philosophical book about animal

You studied the milking robot as an example of this kind of co-evolution of technology and ethics. Can you explain that?

‘The introduction of the milking robot meant that the cow could decide for herself when she wanted to be milked. The cow went from being a herd animal to being an individual. That was a mutual learning process. In a way the animal gained freedom and autonomy. The robot cow is a new kind of cow. At the same time, the robot farmer has changed too. The farmer had to learn to relate to the cow in a new way. He was not the annoying man who comes to milk you anymore, but the overseer who makes sure the autonomous process goes to plan. This norm of individual freedom is reflected too in the new barn designs, in which the cow can decide for herself whether to stay indoors or go outside.’  

You say that the real conclusion of your thesis is the design process for the computer game pig chase, a game for humans and animals. What do you mean by that?

‘Pig Chase is a way to bring humans and animals together. Pig Chase creates a new perspective on the pig. Some people called it ‘playing with your food.’ But who is playing with whom? The game raises questions. What does it mean to play with animals? Does it lead to a friendship? The project Pig Chase is an example of a pragmatic ethic, which does not look for certainty and definitive answers, but creates experiences in which the public can see existing practices in a new light.’

You were awarded your phd cum laude. Does that mean anything?

‘It’s nice for your mum and dad. No, but seriously: it is a very nice mark of appreciation. I tried to combine new things. I knew it was original. A lot of people find Pig Chase amusing. But it is not just there for the fun of it, it stands for something too. The support of experts is something very special.’