Bovine Prospection, the Mesocorticolimbic Pathways, and Neuroethics: Is a Cow’s Future Like Ours?

In L. Syd M. Johnson, Andrew Fenton & Adam Shriver (eds.), Neuroethics and Nonhuman Animals. Springer. pp. 73-97 (2020)
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What can neuroscience tell us, if anything, about the capacities of cows to think about the future? The question is important if having the right to a future requires the ability to think about one’s future. To think about one’s future involves the mental state of prospection, in which we direct our attention to things yet to come. I distinguish several kinds of prospection, identify the behavioral markers of future thinking, and survey what is known about the neuroanatomy of future-directed bovine beliefs and desires. I suggest, in conclusion, that instead of asking whether a cow’s prospection is conscious, ask whether it is like ours—with “ours” understood to include all human beings.

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Gary Comstock
North Carolina State University


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