Can Animals Commit Suicide? Professor Peña-Guzmán's New Research Explores

Tuesday, January 09, 2018
Photo of David Pena-Guzman

PSYCHOLOGY TODAY -- In "Can nonhuman animals commit suicide?" published recently in the journal Animal Sentience, David Peña-Guzmán, a Philosophy professor from San Francisco State University, lays out a very strong case that nonhuman animals can and do engage in self-initiated behaviors that bring about self-harm or death and that there is no good scientific or philosophical reason to think these are different in kind from what occurs among the human species. (The article is worth reading in its entirety.)

To begin, Peña-Guzmán takes up some of the reasons why animals might not be capable of suicidal behavior. For example, he explores whether the current empirical database supports the claim that only humans have the kind of reflective, self-conscious subjectivity that is thought to be necessary for suicide. It does not. Instead, research suggests that human and animal minds are far more alike than they are different, and that all animals (human and nonhuman) exist along a cognitive continuum. Animals, like humans, possess “at least three different types of subjectivity . . . [which] crisscross the animal kingdom in elaborate and nonlinear ways.”

Photo courtesy of Academic Technology