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Should ethics apply to other conscious animals?

 
 
joefromchicago
 
  1  
Reply Mon 21 Mar, 2005 09:52 am
djbt wrote:
For this reason, even seduced as I am by moral relativism, I still think experience (at least, mine) is of central, universal importance. This is why, I'm sure, that neither you nor I are confident my position is a moral one.

On the contrary. I'm quite sure that your position is a moral one, or at least a moralistic one. Whether your position is the correct one, however, is another question entirely.

djbt wrote:
It becomes a moral system one when I say I should take others experiences into account, but here it becomes vulnerable to the attack of moral relavativists... I wish I could convincingly argue that, for some reason, everyone must believe as I do, but I cannot. I'll keep trying though... If you have some good arguments against moral relativism, perhaps you could help me with this?

Yes, your position is open to attack from moral relativists. Fortunately for you, those attacks are without any foundation. For my position on moral relativism, see this post and the related thread.

djbt wrote:
The other reason I depart from moral relativism is, as I said, to do with the self-consistency of a moral position. If a morality is based on assumptions of fact that are false, or contains contradictions, I would say that it is a less strong morality that one that doesn't. I guess I'm saying that I can't say whether a knife is better than a fork, but I can say both are better than a broken spoon!

An unavoidable dilemma for the moral relativist.

djbt wrote:
joefromchicago wrote:
Would you say, then, that we owe no duties to something that is incapable of having experience?


Yes, I would say this.

So we would owe no more duties to a comatose person than we would to an amoeba or a cactus?
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djbt
 
  1  
Reply Mon 21 Mar, 2005 10:20 am
joefromchicago wrote:
So we would owe no more duties to a comatose person than we would to an amoeba or a cactus?


Here my medical ignorance may show up. I was under the impression that a comatose person did experience, although of course that experience would not involve some of the elements that you and I enjoy - sight, hearing, logic etc. I expect (any experts out there?) that there are a number of ways of being comatose, each having different types of experience.

My position does not 'grade' types of experience, so a comatose person would be owed the same duties as everything else that can experience. That said, obviously the need for the duty will change (we probably wouldn't worry about whether or not the comatose person could vote, for example...); the kind of duty would differ due to the kind of experience, as always.

The bottom line is: if it can experience 'pain' (by which I mean both physical and emotional - if there is a difference) it shouldn't, if it can experience pleasure (again, any form) it should. It is my understanding that a comatose person can do both these things, to some extent.

I am unsure about amoebas, and I am confident cacti can't experience.

Thank-you for the link to the moral relativism discussion. I will go through it, and see if I have convinced by your position.
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cicerone imposter
 
  1  
Reply Mon 21 Mar, 2005 10:43 am
Okay, David. But I'm not sure why you can't seem to grasp the idea that everybody doesn't have the same moral standard that you think you have. I'm sure you've heard about those suicide bombers in the Middle East. They think and truly believe by their own experience and religion that to kill themselves for Allah will make them into martyrs, and the reward is heaven. They really think they are moral people to die and kill their opposition. In this scenario, it would seem to most of us observing these "killers of the innocent" that the opposite is true; they will end up in hell. Who's right? The individual or the larger world community?
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djbt
 
  1  
Reply Mon 21 Mar, 2005 11:00 am
cicerone imposter wrote:
I'm not sure why you can't seem to grasp the idea that everybody doesn't have the same moral standard that you think you have.


I have no difficulty whatsoever in grasping this. I totally agree with you on this point.

cicerone imposter wrote:
I'm sure you've heard about those suicide bombers in the Middle East. They think and truly believe by their own experience and religion that to kill themselves for Allah will make them into martyrs, and the reward is heaven. They really think they are moral people to die and kill their opposition. In this scenario, it would seem to most of us observing these "killers of the innocent" that the opposite is true; they will end up in hell. Who's right? The individual or the larger world community?


I, personally, am unconvinced of the existence of both heaven and hell, so I would say both these positions are incorrect. By my moral standard, the suicide bombers are behaving wrongly, but as I have said, it does not seem to me there is a universal moral standard by which this could be objectively judged. I hope I am wrong.

This 'larger world community', does this consist of all the people in the world now, or all the people who ever have or ever will exist? I do not think we can rely on the opinion of the 'world community' now or in any period of time.

In general, though, I think you may be misunderstanding my point. I am not saying that my moral position is important (well, OK, I guess I am by talking about it, but it is not my moral position that my moral position is important!), I am say my experience, my consciousness, my feeling, my ability to feel pain and pleasure, is important.
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cicerone imposter
 
  1  
Reply Mon 21 Mar, 2005 11:13 am
Quote, "I, personally, am unconvinced of the existence of both heaven and hell, so I would say both these positions are incorrect." But can't you see that "those" people think and believe otherwise? Your personal experience has no impact on them, because they are going by their own moral imperative. Since I'm an atheist, I don't believe in heaven or hell, but that's not to say that most Americans are Christians, and they believe otherwise.
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djbt
 
  1  
Reply Mon 21 Mar, 2005 11:18 am
I agree with all of this.

They have their own moral position, and my experience is irrelevant to them, yes. Their experience is still relevant to me. I am just saying what my position is, and why I think it should be everyone's position. I am not saying that it is everyone's position.
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cicerone imposter
 
  1  
Reply Mon 21 Mar, 2005 12:16 pm
David, But to expect everybody else to conform to your moral imperative is UNREALISTIC no matter how much you believe in yourself.
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joefromchicago
 
  1  
Reply Mon 21 Mar, 2005 12:23 pm
djbt wrote:
Here my medical ignorance may show up. I was under the impression that a comatose person did experience, although of course that experience would not involve some of the elements that you and I enjoy - sight, hearing, logic etc. I expect (any experts out there?) that there are a number of ways of being comatose, each having different types of experience.

Well, we can get all clinical here, but suppose it's a person in a persistent vegetative state rather than a run-of-the-mill coma. A person in a PVS, I think we can safely assume, has no experience of any kind. Does that mean that no one has any moral duties toward that person?
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djbt
 
  1  
Reply Mon 21 Mar, 2005 04:29 pm
I would have thought that to 'have no experience of any kind' a person would have to be dead. Any amount of brain activity, even 'vegetive' activity, implies the possibility of experience, and certainly the benefit of the doubt should go this way.

However, I'll go along, and imagine a hypothetical alive-but-non-experiencing person. In this case, we do not owe any moral duty to this person. In my system, no action has a priori moral status, only the affect on a being's experience is morally relevant. An action's moral status depends entirely on the context the act takes place in. With a non-experiencing being, no action could possibly have any affect on them, therefore no action can have any relevance to them whatsoever (although something done to the non-experiencing person might have a affect on an experiencing person, and that should be taken into account).
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djbt
 
  1  
Reply Mon 21 Mar, 2005 04:34 pm
cicerone imposter wrote:
David, But to expect everybody else to conform to your moral imperative is UNREALISTIC no matter how much you believe in yourself.


That is true, as it is of all moral imperatives. The best I can hope for is that some are persuaded by it, preferably ones who are in positions where their decisions and actions will affects the experience of many beings!
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joefromchicago
 
  1  
Reply Fri 25 Mar, 2005 10:21 am
djbt wrote:
I would have thought that to 'have no experience of any kind' a person would have to be dead. Any amount of brain activity, even 'vegetive' activity, implies the possibility of experience, and certainly the benefit of the doubt should go this way.

"Vegetative activity" is an oxymoron, along the lines of "compassionate conservatism" or "rap music." A person in a persistent vegetative state has no experiences of any kind.

djbt wrote:
However, I'll go along, and imagine a hypothetical alive-but-non-experiencing person. In this case, we do not owe any moral duty to this person. In my system, no action has a priori moral status, only the affect on a being's experience is morally relevant. An action's moral status depends entirely on the context the act takes place in. With a non-experiencing being, no action could possibly have any affect on them, therefore no action can have any relevance to them whatsoever (although something done to the non-experiencing person might have a affect on an experiencing person, and that should be taken into account).

Why should that be taken into account? If experience is the only moral criterion, then it is indifferent to me (and to everyone else) whether I stab a cactus or stab a brain-dead person.
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cjhsa
 
  1  
Reply Fri 25 Mar, 2005 11:16 am
I love animals. They're delicious.
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Thalion
 
  1  
Reply Fri 25 Mar, 2005 12:57 pm
Moral Maxims are not derived from societal dictates but rather from pure reason.
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cicerone imposter
 
  1  
Reply Fri 25 Mar, 2005 01:01 pm
Logic is a tough mediator.
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cjhsa
 
  1  
Reply Fri 25 Mar, 2005 02:02 pm
I ask that anyone who ponders a question like this get involved with hunting and fishing, or even farming (just not factory farming). It will help reconnect you to the real world and the cycle of life.
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djbt
 
  1  
Reply Tue 29 Mar, 2005 08:14 am
joefromchicago wrote:
Why should that be taken into account? If experience is the only moral criterion, then it is indifferent to me (and to everyone else) whether I stab a cactus or stab a brain-dead person.


Is this your position, or are you suggesting that it stems from the position I outlined? I'll assume the latter, in which case you are incorrect, this conclusion does not stem from the position I outlined. I'll take it step by step, for clarity's sake:

My position only takes what I've called 'experience' (for want of a better word) into account, here we agree (on what my position is, not whether it's right...). The hypothetical brain-dead person has no experience, therefore does not need to be taken into account.

However, stabbing this non-experiencing person may affect the experience of other people. They may feel it to be disrespectful, a symbolic action on themselves, whatever. This may even be the affect the action as intended to have.

My position says that there is nothing a priori 'wrong' with the action of stabbing a non-experiencing person. What may be 'wrong' is the affect it has on those that do experience. My position states that people should agree with the position that only affect on experience is morally relevant. My position does not state that everyone does agree that only affect on experience is morally relevant. It does not say that if a person shouldn't be affected by an action on a non-experiencing person (as they wouldn't be if they whole-heartedly agreed with the position), that means they aren't affected, or that this affect isn't morally relevant.

Any affect on experience is morally relevant. The fact this this affect wouldn't be present if the person agreed with the position I outlined is irrelevant, if there is an affect, and it is still relevant. We would wish to persuade the affected person that there is no need to be upset by the stabbing of a non-experiencing person, but my position would not assume that they are not upset, or that their being upset is unimportant. It is their upsetness, not the act itself, that is wrong.

This seems to me to be simple enough. Where it gets complicated, of course, is where an action that has 'good' affects on experience will upset (have a bad affect on) a person who disagrees with the position. Here the balancing act begins. Would you like to discussion this aspect of my position, or are your problems with it elsewhere?
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djbt
 
  1  
Reply Tue 29 Mar, 2005 08:17 am
cjhsa wrote:
I ask that anyone who ponders a question like this get involved with hunting and fishing, or even farming (just not factory farming). It will help reconnect you to the real world and the cycle of life.


What do you mean by the 'real world' and the 'cycle of life'? Do you mean 'nature'? Do I sense the spector of the naturalistic fallacy here...?
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joefromchicago
 
  1  
Reply Tue 29 Mar, 2005 09:48 am
djbt wrote:
Is this your position, or are you suggesting that it stems from the position I outlined?

The latter.

djbt wrote:
I'll assume the latter, in which case you are incorrect, this conclusion does not stem from the position I outlined. I'll take it step by step, for clarity's sake:

My position only takes what I've called 'experience' (for want of a better word) into account, here we agree (on what my position is, not whether it's right...). The hypothetical brain-dead person has no experience, therefore does not need to be taken into account.

However, stabbing this non-experiencing person may affect the experience of other people. They may feel it to be disrespectful, a symbolic action on themselves, whatever. This may even be the affect the action as intended to have.

You run the risk of confusing two very different types of "experience" here. On the one hand, you've taken the position that the ability to experience is a prerequisite to being a moral entity (i.e. things that are capable of experiencing are the subjects of morality). On the other hand, here you're saying that act of experiencing has moral consequences. I don't necessarily disagree, but we need to be careful not to confuse the two types of "experience."

djbt wrote:
My position says that there is nothing a priori 'wrong' with the action of stabbing a non-experiencing person. What may be 'wrong' is the affect it has on those that do experience. My position states that people should agree with the position that only affect on experience is morally relevant. My position does not state that everyone does agree that only affect on experience is morally relevant. It does not say that if a person shouldn't be affected by an action on a non-experiencing person (as they wouldn't be if they whole-heartedly agreed with the position), that means they aren't affected, or that this affect isn't morally relevant.

I'm not sure I follow you here, so let me offer a few observations that may or may not be apropos.

Certainly, my stabbing of a non-experiencing person may have unwelcome repercussions. But then my stabbing of a cactus may likewise have unwelcome repercussions. The question, however, is not whether my action in stabbing has any repercussions -- I assume that it will, regardless of who or what I stab. The question is: what moral difference does it make whether I stab a non-experiencing person or a non-experiencing cactus?

One thing that hasn't been mentioned here is the concept of duty. It is possible that I have a duty to a non-experiencing person that I do not have toward a non-experiencing cactus, such that my stabbing of the former is, in moral terms, qualitatively different from my stabbing of the latter. Without adding the concept of duty, however, I find it difficult to understand why the two stabbings are of different moral qualities.

Now if you, djbt, think that the concept of duty is relevant here, you need to connect it to the concept of (the ability to) experience in order to show that stabbing a brain-dead person is morally objectionable whereas the stabbing of a cactus is morally neutral. If, however, you do not think injecting the notion of duty into this debate is relevant, then you'll need to do a better job of explaining why the brain-dead person and the cactus enjoy different moral statuses.

To bring this discussion back to the original premise of this thread, we also need to ask if we have duties toward non-human animals. Is a cat more like a brain-dead person or a cactus? Do I owe a duty to a dog because it can experience or because my acts in relation to the dog may have unwelcome repercussions on others who can experience?

djbt wrote:
Any affect on experience is morally relevant. The fact this this affect wouldn't be present if the person agreed with the position I outlined is irrelevant, if there is an affect, and it is still relevant. We would wish to persuade the affected person that there is no need to be upset by the stabbing of a non-experiencing person, but my position would not assume that they are not upset, or that their being upset is unimportant. It is their upsetness, not the act itself, that is wrong.

Now you've totally lost me. If I shine a light in your eyes, that affects your experience. Does that make it a morally relevant act? And why is "upsetness" wrong? Is it wrong as to the person causing the upsetness or to the person experiencing it?

djbt wrote:
This seems to me to be simple enough. Where it gets complicated, of course, is where an action that has 'good' affects on experience will upset (have a bad affect on) a person who disagrees with the position. Here the balancing act begins. Would you like to discussion this aspect of my position, or are your problems with it elsewhere?

I seem to be having problems with all aspects of your position, so it doesn't much matter where we start.
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cjhsa
 
  1  
Reply Tue 29 Mar, 2005 10:47 am
djbt wrote:
Do I sense the spector of the naturalistic fallacy here...?


WTF is that supposed to mean? Are you saying you are so well educated that nature doesn't apply to you any longer? GMAB.
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djbt
 
  1  
Reply Tue 29 Mar, 2005 11:24 am
joefromchicago wrote:
You run the risk of confusing two very different types of "experience" here. On the one hand, you've taken the position that the ability to experience is a prerequisite to being a moral entity (i.e. things that are capable of experiencing are the subjects of morality). On the other hand, here you're saying that act of experiencing has moral consequences. I don't necessarily disagree, but we need to be careful not to confuse the two types of "experience."


Sorry to be unclear. Using the word experience is liable to lead to confusion. For clarities sake, can I suggest that we use the following:

abcde= A thing that experiences.
vwxyz= The ability to experience.

So, if something has vwxyz, is it therefore an abcde. Abcdes are morally relevant. Experiences affect abcdes, and how they affect them determines whether they are neutral, positive, or negetive is that particular instance.

joefromchicago wrote:
Certainly, my stabbing of a non-experiencing person may have unwelcome repercussions. But then my stabbing of a cactus may likewise have unwelcome repercussions. The question, however, is not whether my action in stabbing has any repercussions -- I assume that it will, regardless of who or what I stab. The question is: what moral difference does it make whether I stab a non-experiencing person or a non-experiencing cactus?


None. Only the repercussions for abcdes are morally relevant, and as you say, either act, indeed any act, will have repercussions.

joefromchicago wrote:
One thing that hasn't been mentioned here is the concept of duty. It is possible that I have a duty to a non-experiencing person that I do not have toward a non-experiencing cactus, such that my stabbing of the former is, in moral terms, qualitatively different from my stabbing of the latter. Without adding the concept of duty, however, I find it difficult to understand why the two stabbings are of different moral qualities.


I could phrase part of my initial position: “I have a duty to all abcdes”. I have no other duties, none to non-experiencing people, none to non-experiencing cacti. The two stabbings are not of different moral qualities.

joefromchicago wrote:
Now if you, djbt, think that the concept of duty is relevant here, you need to connect it to the concept of (the ability to) experience in order to show that stabbing a brain-dead person is morally objectionable whereas the stabbing of a cactus is morally neutral. If, however, you do not think injecting the notion of duty into this debate is relevant, then you'll need to do a better job of explaining why the brain-dead person and the cactus enjoy different moral statuses.


To clarify, I do not say that they enjoy different moral statuses. Both have no moral status. By the way, the choice of an acronym for my username was a heat of the moment error. Please call me David.

joefromchicago wrote:
To bring this discussion back to the original premise of this thread, we also need to ask if we have duties toward non-human animals. Is a cat more like a brain-dead person or a cactus?


The evidence seems to suggest that a cat, like most, if not all, animals, has vwxyz, and so is an abcde. I don’t know for sure that a cat has vwxyz, but then I don’t know for sure that any human other than myself has vwxyz, the evidence for both seems comparable. That a cat is an abcde is an assumption, but a reasonable one. It is therefore morally relevant, in the same way, and for the same reasons, as a human.

joefromchicago wrote:
Do I owe a duty to a dog because it can experience or because my acts in relation to the dog may have unwelcome repercussions on others who can experience?


The former certainly, the latter most probably.
joefromchicago wrote:
If I shine a light in your eyes, that affects your experience. Does that make it a morally relevant act?


The affect on an abcde is morally relevant. That affect may be positive, negative or perhaps neutral, depending on things like how close the light is, how bright, and what the ‘you’ in question is.

joefromchicago wrote:
And why is "upsetness" wrong? Is it wrong as to the person causing the upsetness or to the person experiencing it?


“Upsetness”, or emotional distress, is a negative affect on an abcde, as is physical pain. I understand that both affect the brain in the same way. It is certainly wrong as to the person experiencing it, and may well be wrong to the person causing it (if it upsets them to be upsetting someone), although they might enjoy causing suffering, in which case it would be a positive affect on them as an abcde (don’t misunderstand though, it may well have negative affects coming up soon… again getting into the balancing act here).

joefromchicago wrote:
I seem to be having problems with all aspects of your position, so it doesn't much matter where we start.


We should deal first with more fundamental problems, the debate over weighing positives and negatives can only happen if we’ve temporarily agreed that a positive affect on an abcde is right or good, and a negative affect on an abcde is wrong or bad, and that nothing else is relevant. If you still have problems with that position, we should deal with them first.
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