A surge in animal rights advocacy has been observed in the recent decades but little do we know that the struggle is going on for nearly a century. Among the brave and courageous examples before us, stands another unflinching example.
Elisa Aaltola is one of the most spirited animal activists with her unwavering goals translating into her life choices. She is a Finnish philosopher, who specializes in animal philosophy, moral psychology, and environmental philosophy. She is a research fellow at the Turku Institute for Advanced Studies.
“Animals are my friends, and I don’t eat my friends.”George Bernard Shaw
Where It All Began?
Born in 1976 in Petäjävesi, Finland, Elisa always had a strong connection to animals. She grew up surrounded by dogs, cats, and rabbits which eventually led her to choose veterinary medicine as her career path.
She was just 7 years old when she began to observe the daily injustices that innocent animals had to suffer through.
On one occasion, while she was having dinner, she was served a meal that included meat that had been severed from a cow’s head. What disturbed her, even more, was the fact that it was the same cow from their farm, she had petted lovingly multiple times.
This traumatic event led Elisa to take a bold step forward, along with her family’s encouragement to opt for a vegetarian and later a vegan lifestyle.
Further Into Her Life
While Elisa always felt an affinity for animals, she did not set out to become an animal rights activist right away.
Beginning of her journey
She completed her Master’s degree in animal welfare science at the University of Edinburgh, UK, before starting her Ph.D. studies at Lancaster University in 2014. Her doctoral thesis was titled “Animal welfare science: what does it mean?” This question was based on her own experience and discussions with colleagues from academia and industry who were unsure about what animal welfare meant or whether there was even such a thing as an animal welfare science.
During her studies, her philosophy professor used battery hens to explain immorality.
Elisa spoke for those animals used in different experiments with no regard to their physical and psychological wellbeing.
During her time at university, Aaltola served on a commission that regulated the regulations and procedures for animal experimentation on her campus. She became aware of several errors and began to speak up about them. Eventually, she left due to a suggested experiment with 36 beagles that might negatively impact them.
She decided to alert Animalia, a Finnish animal rights organization, about the prospective experiment. This, however, was a very contentious decision that enraged many of her former committee colleagues, with some even threatening to ruin Aaltola’s academic career as a result. This story made headlines, and the increased attention resulted in the proposed experiment being canceled.
Though Elisa Aaltola never expected to make it her career, she’s now been a veterinarian for 16 years, not looking back. She quickly realized that animal protection is essential and wanted to positively impact their lives. “Of course, we need to treat sick animals, but if we don’t change how we interact with them,” she says, “we’re missing the bigger picture.”
About The Unbound Project
The unbound project of the We Animals Media Initiative is a project built to reshape the narrative around animals and animal care to increase public support for preserving animal welfare for their own sake.
Elisa Aaltola was a prominent speaker at the 2015 International Animal Rights Conference in Luxembourg. The team of unbound projects recognized she’d be an excellent fit for The Unbound Project.
Accomplishments Of Elisa Aaltola
Elisa is an appointed lecturer at the University of Eastern Finland and the University of Turku. Moreover, She is currently working on her first monograph on human-animal relations from a feminist perspective.
Aaltola’s philosophical work on animal ethics
Her research has focused on animal philosophy and normative moral psychology.
Her prolific writing skills came in especially handy when Aaltola published eight books on these topics, including Varieties of Empathy: Moral Psychology and Animal Ethics (Rowman & Littlefield 2018), Animal Ethics and Philosophy: Questioning the Orthodoxy (co-edited with John Hadley, Rowman & Littlefield 2014) which is also available in edited volumes, and Animal Suffering: Philosophy and Culture (Palgrave MacMillan 2012).
She is also the author of over 35 peer-reviewed papers, along with a number of Finnish monographs and three edited volumes on animal philosophy.
She is currently working on a book about “ineffable, non-lingual ways of understanding nonhuman animals,” and has two books about to be published—one on how empathy and moral psychology function within the framework of animal philosophy, and one on what she terms “omnivore’s akrasia,” which is an exploration of the philosophical tension that arises when a person does something that conflicts with their better judgment.
Aaltola cites female philosophers Simone Weil, Simone de Beauvoir, and Iris Murdoch as her greatest inspirations.
Elisa Alatola has undertaken different roles and responsibilities to promote the well-being of these animals. Her legacy mentions her ideology and how she advocated for animal welfare as well as animal ethics.
After all the disasters and animal suffering, all she asked for was for others to ensure their moral and physical safety. Following in her footsteps, we, as human beings, too can hope to disband the ignorance regarding the moral psychology of animals and step forth into a safer and more respectful future.