08 January 2004

Do Fish Feel Pain?

I received the following letter:
While I admire Richard Swinburne a great deal as a philosopher, he probably needs a fact checker when he speaks outside his discipline. Fish brains are like human brains only in the most basic of senses. For Swinburne to say that fish feel pain is simply not something that is strongly supported by science. This year's study by the Roslin Institute and the University of Edinburgh is the first I know of to even suggest that fish may feel pain. Yet this study follows on the heels of one by James D Rose, a professor of zoology and physiology at the University of Wyoming, published in the American journal Reviews of Fisheries Science, which concluded that awareness of pain depends on functions of specific regions of the cerebral cortex which fish do not possess.
To which I replied:
David DeGrazia summarizes the research on pages 108-12 of Taking Animals Seriously: Mental Life and Moral Status [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996]. "To conclude," he writes, "given the convergence of various kinds of evidence, it is parsimonious to attribute pain, and consciousness generally, to most or all vertebrate species and probably at least some invertebrates such as cephalopods" (page 111). I think Swinburne, who, by the way, studied philosophy of science for ten years before doing philosophy of religion, comes to the same conclusion.
Make up your own mind.