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Study information

Animal Minds and Animal Ethics

Module titleAnimal Minds and Animal Ethics
Module codePHL3118
Academic year2024/5
Module staff

Dr Celso Alves Neto (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Module description

How smart are non-human animals? In this module, we investigate this question by considering whether and how non-human animals exhibit consciousness, inferential reasoning, communication, social behaviour, and moral norms. To examine these issues, the module brings together scientific and philosophical literature on both human and non-human cognition. This examination leads to another type of question, namely: how should we treat smart non-human animals? The module is highly recommended for interdisciplinary pathways, and it is suitable for non-specialist students interested in animal studies broadly construed, the philosophy of mind, and primatology. 

Module aims - intentions of the module

In this module, we will engage in the most important debates around the mental and cognitive capacities of non-human animals and their ethical consequences. We will examine how traditional philosophical questions about the nature of consciousness, rationality, and moral norms apply to non-human animals. To conduct this examination, we will also rely on empirical studies from different sciences, in particular primatology. Hence, this module is highly interdisciplinary and enables students to gain comprehensive knowledge about the empirical and conceptual problems around animal minds. Students will learn to assess positions and arguments in this debate, connecting this debate with ethical issues on animal rights. Moreover, students will develop the ability to apply their knowledge to current affairs (e.g., policies on animal rights), to conduct responsible research, among other valuable skills for future employment. 

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. Identify and discuss key issues in the contemporary debate around the nature of animal minds
  • 2. Distinguish and critically evaluate the central positions and arguments concerning the nature of animal minds
  • 3. Articulate the connection between positions in animal minds and animal ethics

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 4. Demonstrate an excellent understanding of philosophical distinctions, concepts, and how they apply to real-world cases
  • 5. Demonstrate competency in critically evaluating philosophical positions, arguments, and methods

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 6. Demonstrate clear and concise writing
  • 7. Demonstrate very good competency in integrating, synthesizing, and applying new knowledge
  • 8. Engage in independent research, within a limited time frame, to develop original positions and arguments

Syllabus plan

Whilst the module’s precise content may vary from year to year, it is envisaged that the syllabus will cover some or all of the following topics:

  • Animal Consciousness: What is it like to be non-human?
  • Reasoning, Concepts and Beliefs: Do Non-Human Animals think?
  • Mindreading: Do non-human animals know each other’s beliefs
  • Communication: Do non-human animals have a language?
  • Moral Norms: Do non-human animals create rules?
  • Animal Ethics: How should we treat smart non-human animals?

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled Learning and Teaching activities22Weekly 2-hour lectures/seminars or 1 hour lecture + 1 hour seminar.
Guided independent study83Private research in preparation for essay writing and presentation with slides. Instructions will be given via ELE.
Guided independent study45Private study: reading the assigned material for classes and complementary readings.

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Essay PlanDraft outline: 500 words1-8Oral/written

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Video Presentation with Slides207 Minutes of recording1-8Written
Research Portfolio (5 discussion questions and one essay) Essay 802,000 words (5 X100 words for discussion question and 1,500 words for essay)1-8 Written

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Video Presentation with Slides7 minutes of recording1-8August/September reassessment period
Research Portfolio (5 discussion questions and one essay)Research Portfolio (5 X100 words for discussion question and 1,500 words for essay) 1-8August/September reassessment period

Re-assessment notes

Re-assessment takes place when the summative assessment has not been completed by the original deadline, and the student has been allowed to refer or defer it to a later date (this only happens following certain criteria and is always subject to exam board approval). For obvious reasons, re-assessments cannot be the same as the original assessment and so these alternatives are set. In cases where the form of assessment is the same, the content will nevertheless be different.

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Andrews, K. (2014). The animal mind: An introduction to the philosophy of animal cognition. Routledge.

Andrews, K., & Beck, J. (Eds.). (2017). The Routledge handbook of philosophy of animal minds. Taylor & Francis.

Stegmann, U. (Ed.). (2013). Animal communication theory: information and influence. Cambridge University Press.

Key words search

Cognition; mind; animal studies

Credit value15
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites


Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date