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THROW OUT THE DOG? DEATH, LONGEVITY, AND COMPANION ANIMALS

Christine Overall

Philosophers have devoted much thought to whether or not death is bad for human beings, whether death should be postponed, whether or not a longer life is a better life, and whether or not our human lives should be extended. These important questions can also be asked about nonhuman animals. In this chapter I investigate whether, in regard to our animal companions, especially cats and dogs, a longer life is a better life.

I first make some general remarks on the idea of death that is relevant to this question, an idea that is necessarily tied to the concept of longevity. Then I evaluate and reply to three arguments purporting to show that, for animals in general, a longer life is not a better life: first, that death is not bad for animals; second, that death is bad for animals but not as bad as it is for human beings; and third, that merely having some life is good enough for animals, so that premature death is not bad for them. I argue that all of these arguments are unsuccessful, and hence that we have good reasons for believing that, for companion animals as for human beings, a longer life is a better life. I conclude with some brief remarks about the practical implications of this argument for our responsibilities toward companion animals.

 
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