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Should ethics apply to other conscious animals?

 
 
NickFun
 
  1  
Reply Tue 12 Oct, 2004 09:20 pm
Kristie wrote:

At least he didn't let it suffer. One time, I hit a squirrl and I was on the phone with my mom. I saw it twitching in my rear view mirror and my mom laughed at me when I said "should I run it over again to make sure he's dead?" Sounds really bad but the alternative is worse. Just letting that poor animal lay there and die a slow horrible death.


I did the same thing with my ex-wife - er - forget I said that.
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Bella Dea
 
  1  
Reply Wed 13 Oct, 2004 07:01 am
Laughing some ex's deserve it...
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djbt
 
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Reply Thu 17 Mar, 2005 11:56 am
Re: Should ethics apply to other conscious animals?
val wrote:
To apply ethics to other animals?
Sure, if they are able to behave ethically. For instance, lions should stop eating zebras.
You see, when you ask "what distinguish the person from the animal", the answer is: the fact that you were able to make the question, and other animals are not.
When we talk about ethics for non human animals, we are talking about ourselves, not animals - they have no notion of any ethic.
I agree we should not be unnecessarily cruel to animals, but that's all.


Hello there, new to this game, sorry if I'm bringing up an old discussion, but this comment interests me.

My questions are:

(1) Is it necessary to have a notion of ethics in order for ethics to be applicable to you? What does a 'notion of ethics' mean in this context?

(2) Do you have to behave ethically in order to have the 'right' to be treated ethically, as the comment about the lion implies? If so, by what standard do we judge whether behaviour is ethical or not? Or is it not behaving ethically that is important here, but the ability to behave ethically?

(3) I agree that the ability to ponder philosophical questions seems to be a uniquely human attribute (although as I side point I wonder if any brain specialists out there could describe to me the difference between thinking and thinking philosophically). It seems to me that this ability (where it is present in humans) is due to humans having greater intelligence. The quote above seems to be saying that ethics applies to humans, but not too other non-human animals, because humans are more intelligent. Is this a fair summary? If so, how does this work? If I were to come up with a scale for measuring intelligence (or use IQ if it could be made to apply), would it be that there is a certain value, say x above which it is relevant to apply ethics to an entity? If so, how is this value chosen? Or is it graded? Could I say that ethics gradually start to apply more and more the higher the intelligence? Is ethics most applicable to the most intelligent human in the world, and least applicable to the least intelligent being?

(4) (Hoping this doesn't sound facetious, it is a genuine question...) What does 'unnecessarily cruel' mean? How does it differ from necessary cruelty? Can something be called cruel if it is necessary?

Looking forward to an interesting discussion.

David
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cicerone imposter
 
  1  
Reply Thu 17 Mar, 2005 11:58 am
No is the simple ansswer.
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cicerone imposter
 
  1  
Reply Thu 17 Mar, 2005 12:01 pm
Should ethics apply to humans? The reality is, that'll never happen. We can describe what it is, but the human condition is similar to all animals. Ethics is a human definition that is not achievable by our species.
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cicerone imposter
 
  1  
Reply Thu 17 Mar, 2005 12:15 pm
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djbt
 
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Reply Thu 17 Mar, 2005 01:18 pm
Hi cicerone imposter,

Are you saying that because we are incapable of behaving with perfect ethics (whatever they might be...) that it is fruitless to attempt to behave ethically? Yes, ethics is a human construct, they don't 'really exist', but then you could say the same of Newton's laws, but they are useful nontheless.
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cicerone imposter
 
  1  
Reply Thu 17 Mar, 2005 01:24 pm
djbt, No, I never applied my ethics thesis to the singular; since we are comparing it to "other animals." What I am saying is that the human animal as a whole will never achieve "ethics" as defined in the dictionary - irregardless what societal standards are established. Humans learned this lesson very early, and that's the reason they/we had to establish laws to protect the masses.
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djbt
 
  1  
Reply Thu 17 Mar, 2005 01:50 pm
Please bear with me, I'm still having difficulties fully understanding your arguement. I guess that some of the terminology you are using is standard, but for the benefit of a newbie, could you clarify what you mean by:

'the singular' - do you mean an individual?
'the human animal as a whole'- do you mean all of humanity?

To what definition of ethics do you refer, and what form (where it possible) would achieving them take?

It seems to you are saying: As a collective, people will never behave 'ethically', only in accordance with social standards, hence the need for laws. I tend to agree with you, if this is your position.

So, outside of compliance with the law, are there any factors which should shape our behavior, in relation or humans or non-human animals? And what reasoning would we use to decide/change a law?
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cicerone imposter
 
  1  
Reply Thu 17 Mar, 2005 01:56 pm
yes and yes. Ethics is the standard established by the society in which one lives. Most cultures have different ethical standards - which can vary in minor or major ways depending on one's own outlook.
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Thalion
 
  1  
Reply Thu 17 Mar, 2005 02:34 pm
According to the Categorical Imperative, yes, maxims of morality must apply to all conscious beings. Moral maxims lie in reason itself; they are not contingent upon any a posteriori arguements. Therefore, the characteristics of a specific conscious being do not affect its law of morality.
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cicerone imposter
 
  1  
Reply Thu 17 Mar, 2005 02:40 pm
Moral maxims are established within the society in which one lives. In that respect, all of us are expected to live within those moral maxims.
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cicerone imposter
 
  1  
Reply Thu 17 Mar, 2005 02:40 pm
Moral maxims are established within the society in which one lives. In that respect, all of us are expected to live within those moral maxims.
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djbt
 
  1  
Reply Fri 18 Mar, 2005 03:30 am
But society doesn't pull these maxims out of thin air, does it?

While I don't agree that 'moral maxims lie in reason itself', nor does it seem to me that they exist only in the arbitrary conventions of a particular society.

I would suggest that constructs like ethics are fueled by three aspects of our make-up:

(1) That we experience. By this I simply mean we are conscious of our surroundings, we 'feel' things - I don't mean experience in a 'learning-from-experience' kind of way.

(2) That not all experiences (feeling/sensations) are equally 'enjoyable', we can make distinctions between pleasurable/positive/good experiences and painful/negative/bad experiences.

(3) That, as a result of our evolutionary history, our brains are, in some way 'wired' so that different actions on our part, as well as things affecting us from the outside, evoke these different feelings.

So, to over-simplify (sorry if I offend any socio-biologists, or others), if someone hits me, I feel bad. If I were hit a child of mine, I would probably feel bad. On the other end, seeing a child of mine happy and healthy is likely to make me feel good. None of this requires either a priori imperatives, or cultural baggage.

From re-application/mis-application of these many, varying, sometimes contradictory feelings, different moral systems emerge in different places. It seem to me that this is how things are. It doesn't follow that this is how things should be.

Which is where, for me, points (1) and (2) above become important. There are experiences (not objects/abstracts etc.) that for me are in some sense 'positive' (that I would, assuming I were capable of desire, wish to experience again), and others that are 'negative' (that, presuming I am capable of fear, I would hope not to experience again).

I would find it difficult to deny that these experiences are important to me; I cannot be indifferent to them. While of course in practice they are often muddled together, mixed up, applied to all sorts of strange things/ideas/behaviors/people, nonetheless, to simplify, I want the positive ones and not the negative ones.

What I would call 'ethics' comes into play when I try to decide whether or not the experiences of those other than myself (experiences that I do not experience) are also important. Possibly because they are mis-applying evolution's hardwired tendencies to benevolence towards children, many people seem to consider the experiences of a selection of, or perhaps even all, other entities to be relevant. It seems to me that is a small, and fairly reasonable set of logical leaps to say that 'I know my experiences are important', 'it would seem(although I cannot prove it) that others aside from myself also experiences', and therefore 'the experiences of others capable of experience are important'.

So, in a rather rambling, roundabout way, I come to Ray's question: 'Should ethics apply to other conscious animals?'. Well.... 'should' is always a dodgy word, but I'll say:

If it is thought that the experiences of anything other than myself (me, djbt, not you reading this) are important, it would seem that this is for the same reason that my experiences are important; that is, that it can experience them, and that some are 'positive' and some 'negative'.

So the question becomes: Do non-human animals experience, and differentiate between experiences, as I do? (NB experience, not speak, think, deduce, create, walk on two legs, tie shoe-laces or any other quality)

I can't say I'm sure that the answer to this is yes. I am no expert in this (or indeed any) field. However, I'll stick my neck out, and say that it seems to me that Darwin answered this question for us with a 'yes', and most, possibly all, research agrees. I would go as far as to say, I am as sure that non-human animals experience as I am that other humans experience.

So that's a yes from me, Ray.
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joefromchicago
 
  1  
Reply Fri 18 Mar, 2005 10:05 am
Thalion wrote:
According to the Categorical Imperative, yes, maxims of morality must apply to all conscious beings.

To whose "categorical imperative" are you referring?

Thalion wrote:
Moral maxims lie in reason itself; they are not contingent upon any a posteriori arguements. Therefore, the characteristics of a specific conscious being do not affect its law of morality.

How is, for instance, being a cat an a posteriori argument?
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joefromchicago
 
  1  
Reply Fri 18 Mar, 2005 10:10 am
djbt wrote:
If it is thought that the experiences of anything other than myself (me, djbt, not you reading this) are important, it would seem that this is for the same reason that my experiences are important; that is, that it can experience them, and that some are 'positive' and some 'negative'.

You've missed a step here. You've made the case that experiences are "important," but you have not made the case that experience has any kind of moral importance. Just because something is valued doesn't mean that it has a moral component. You need to explain how the experience and morality are linked.
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cicerone imposter
 
  1  
Reply Fri 18 Mar, 2005 10:21 am
Quote, "But society doesn't pull these maxims out of thin air, does it?" Usually not. It does look at actions that may be determined to be harmful to the whole, and create moral maxims against such practices. A good case in point; gift giving during negotiations to transact business. In some cultures it is expected, but in the US, it is considered a bribe.
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djbt
 
  1  
Reply Fri 18 Mar, 2005 10:33 am
I don't want to fall in semantics here... but I'll try to answer.

I don't know what 'morality' means. I don't know what 'moral importance' means.

I do know that my own experience (no s) is important. My arguement follows from that.

Someone might say that, because my arguement relates to the way we should act, treat others, etc. that it is a 'moral' arguement, or an arguement that concerns 'morality'. They might even define 'morality' as 'concern for the experience of others'.

I'm not convinced that what something is called is hugely important. To sum:

(1) I experience.
(2) I know my experience is important.
(3) I assume that others experience
(4) I take a logical leap and say their experience is also important
(5) I try to act as if I think the experience of others is as important as my own experience.

This may, or may not, be called a 'moral' position.
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cicerone imposter
 
  1  
Reply Fri 18 Mar, 2005 10:36 am
djbt, Mass murderers think their experience is also important.
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joefromchicago
 
  1  
Reply Fri 18 Mar, 2005 10:49 am
djbt wrote:
I don't want to fall in semantics here... but I'll try to answer.

I don't know what 'morality' means. I don't know what 'moral importance' means.

Then you shouldn't be making arguments that are, in effect, based on morality.

djbt wrote:
To sum:

(1) I experience.
(2) I know my experience is important.
(3) I assume that others experience
(4) I take a logical leap and say their experience is also important
(5) I try to act as if I think the experience of others is as important as my own experience.

This may, or may not, be called a 'moral' position.

I can't tell. If you are suggesting, in step 5, that you should act as if the experiences of others (including sentient animals) is as important as your own, then you are laying down a moral position. If, on the other hand, you are merely describing how you do act, then you are setting forth a factual statement.

If it is the former, then it is a prescriptive position that is worth exploring. If it is the latter, then it is a descriptive statement that is singularly uninteresting. I'll leave it to you to tell us whether it is the former or the latter.
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