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Okay, this is an odd question probably but something about interacting with a

Okay, this is an odd question probably but something about interacting with a dog makes me feel strange and kind of awkward. There is a consensus that dogs aren't conscious in the way humans are because they don't have "self-consciousness" or at least that is what people believe. So when I am around a dog I am thinking why should I even pet this dog? The dogs seems to want me to pet him/her presumably because they want affection but is that motive even possible if they don't have self-consciousness? In human interactions affection has a subject-predicate relational structure of I- (like,want,love,want to touch)- you and you couldn't conceive of affection without some idea of at least two separate and self-aware selves. So maybe it is the same for dogs? Maybe the whole idea that animals such as dogs lack self-consciousness is disproved by the mere fact that they want you to pet them? But it is awkward because I feel like I'm around a being that society and general consensus says shouldn't be granted the...

This is an interesting question. It's related, in a way, to a famous objection to Descartes's "I think, therefore I am". The objection was: What's with the I? Why not just: Some thinking is happening? So maybe the dog can be thinking: Petting would be good. Eating is good. Baths are bad! Frisbee is good! Etc, etc.

Another important point to make is that one doesn't have to think that dogs have the same worth or dignity as human beings to think they have worth and dignity, even that they have quite a lot of worth and dignity. Personally, I'm more of a cat person, and, whether or not my cats are self-conscious, they are sophisticated social beings, with each of whom I have a complex, individual, and mutual relationship. There are no doubt limits to their mental capacities. But there are limits to our mental capacities, too. And I think it would definitely go too far to say that they have no appreciation at all of the difference between minded and unminded things. There are lots of things they do that suggest rather strongly to me that they have some understanding of that distinction.

Why are the lives of plants not considered ethically relevant, when there are

Why are the lives of plants not considered ethically relevant, when there are more than a few people who think the lives of all animals, including the simplest insects, are? Plants, too, can whither and die. What's the difference between the ethical value of an apple tree and that of a termite?

You would probably appreciate this recent column in The New York Times on whether it is ethical to eat peas (and other plants): http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/04/28/if-peas-can-talk-should-we-eat-them/

I didn't. I thought it was pretty stupid. Why? Because the sort of "communication" that plants may be capable of does not seem relevant to being an object of ethical concern (which is not to say that we may not have ethical duties to protect the environment, including animals and plants).

I'm not sure you are right that more than a few people think insects have ethical value. Heck, given the way we treat and eat factory farmed animals, I'm not sure many people think mammals and birds (other than their pets) have ethical value or deserve ethical consideration.

Personally, I think people are wrong about the mammals and birds, probably right about insects (and maybe fish), and certainly right about plants. Why? Because for me, the main reason (and minimal threshold) for a being to deserve our ethical concern is that it can suffer. And all current evidence suggests that suffering requires having a complex enough nervous system to experience pain and other aversive feelings (such as fear and sadness), and that mammals and birds can experience such feelings, while insects probably cannot, and no way peas can. I'm talking about having conscious experiences here, not just showing aversive response behavior (so the wriggling of the worm is not sufficient evidence). We may have end up having ethical duties to robots (or even virtual beings) in the future if they are able to experience these feelings. In my view, the ethical facts here will depend on the facts about the functional capacities of the minds of the relevant creatures--not easy facts to discover.

There may be further reasons to worry about our treatment of some animals--e.g., pigs are damn smart and so the suffering they experience in pork-raising factories may even involve distress over severed relationships or over future mistreatment. And the capacity to suffer is not the only thing that matters when it comes to ethical value--humans deserve much more ethical concern than animals, in part because of other capacities we have, such as the capacity to consider moral value, to construct life plans, and to form particular relationships with each other.

Finally, there may be other reasons we should avoid destroying insects and plants (e.g., we have lots of reasons not to destroy endangered species, rain forests, etc.). But I don't think those reasons include that those living beings are individually proper subjects of ethical concern.

Peas can be raised for slaughter. Pigs cannot.

Can someone help me with this basic argument.I just want it to make sense and

Can someone help me with this basic argument.I just want it to make sense and than I will look at the major tweaks later. I believe I need to fix the conclusion because when I get around to writing the paper about it I will be proving P2 and have nothing to say by P3 because it is the same thing.I'd appreciate some help thank you very much. (P1) If animals can critically interpret similarly to humans, it makes sense to assume they understand the feeling of pain as well. (P2) Most people agree it is morally unjustifiable to intentionally afflict pain on those who can feel it, especially in cases that are not of self defense. (P3) Animal cruelty is not a case of self defense, therefore animal cruelty is morally unjustifiable.

Looks very promising! You might want to adjust the first premise. First, you might want to refer to "some nonhuman animals." The notion of "critically interpret" seems a little awkward. Are you here asserting that some nonhuman exercise reason or that they involve higher order evaluations of some sort (e.g. they not only interpret situations but they critically do so)? I am on your side in this matter with respect to some nonhuman animals; great apes and dolphins seem to have higher order thoughts (they can recognize themselves in mirrors for example and have some powers of communication that is very close to language). If you are trying to reach P3, perhaps all you need in P1 is that some nonhuman animals suffer, and that thesis would seem to be supported on the grounds of analogy with humans --their brain and nervous system and ostensible pain-avoidance behavior is similar to our own. In P2 you might need to claim that it is not just morally unjustified to inflict pain (or suffering? some distinguish pain and suffering) but cruel unless there are overriding reasons for doing so. Minor additional point: self-defense may be a licit reason to inflict pain, but sometimes we think it is permissible to inflict pain in a person (or animal) if that will prevent much worse pain.

Good wishes in your filling out this argument. Peter Singer may be a helpful resource or the work of Tom Regan.

I read somewhere that a human being's DNA is almost the same as a rat's. (I

I read somewhere that a human being's DNA is almost the same as a rat's. (I think the percentage of similarity is 90%.) In other words, we're animals. If I saw a group of grey squirrels killing a group of brown squirrels in a park, I wouldn't judge the actions of the grey squirrels as "immoral." I would just wait for a biologist to give me some explanation. (There is a limited supply of nuts in the park; the grey squirrels have a mutation in their brain that makes them overly aggressive; etc.) So when one group of human beings commits genocide against a different group of human beings, why do we label it as "immoral" when we wouldn't do the same for squirrels (considering that humans are merely animals in the end.)

The knowledge that human beings are animals didn't, of course, await the discovery of DNA. We've known it for millennia. But your question puts enormous weight on our being merely animals: the word "merely" is being asked to do all the argumentative work. I take it you're suggesting that anything that's merely an animal can't act immorally. It's open to someone to reply that either we're not merely animals or else some mere animals can act immorally. Indeed, if there's anything we know of that can act immorally, it's an animal -- rather than a plant, bacterium, or fungus. The capacity to act immorally arises from ongoing self-awareness, rational agency, the ability to reflect on one's actions, and the like -- features possessed by some animals (including but probably not limited to our species in this vast universe) and lacked by other animals (such as squirrels). On Earth anyway, the ability to philosophize seems to be restricted to human animals. Why not, then, the ability to act immorally?

Can animals hope or anticipate?

Can animals hope or anticipate?

Yes, because we are animals and we can do both. But as for non-human animals, the answer depends on whether they're like us in relevant respects. In the case of anticipation, the answer at least seems to be yes. Think of a dog getting visibly excited as you get the can of food from the cupboard, for example.

Hope is more complicated because to hope, the animal would have to represent something as possible, want it, and also represent the possibility that it might not be forthcoming. Whether there are non-human animals with that kind of cognitive sophistication is not clear, and it's also not clear for animals without language what sorts of experiments or observations would help us figure it out. However, it's an interesting question, and psychologists are generally much cleverer at designing experiments than philosophers are. So perhaps some day we'll know.

As an argument against bestiality, it is often said that animals are not able to

As an argument against bestiality, it is often said that animals are not able to consent to sex. If this is the case, though, wouldn't that mean that every instance of two animals mating is an instance of rape, since presumably neither of them are able to consent?

Well, if someone is struck by lightning is it murder? A necessary condition for the commission of a crime is that the candidate criminal be an agent. Arguably, non-human animals are not. So, just as they can't consent to sex, they are incapable of rape or murder. Concepts of moral or criminal propriety just don't apply to non-human sex. One reason one is tempted to think otherwise is that non-human animals have moral standing. That is, they are the proper objects of moral consideration, and one can act morally or immorally towards them. But not everything with moral standing is a moral agent. Now, having said that, I do think there are other reasons for your justly wondering about this question. The sexual congress of plants and microbes doesn't raise this question. You aren't likely to wonder whether bees rape flowers. But the sexual activity of animals more closely related to humans seems strikingly similar to our own conduct, as do many non-human ways of eating. Moreover, non-humans close to us can be trained to behave in all sorts of ways in conformity with our own rules of conduct--e.g. dogs can be trained not to defecate in the house. Plus the sexual activity of other primates seems to involve something like rules of propriety as well as violations of those rules (e.g. deceptions and infidelities). And, perhaps most of all, as anyone who's spent a lot of time with non-humans will know, a good deal of sexual activity engaged by non-humans close to us resembles rape, as it commonly involves the violent subduing of females by males. But still the question must be asked whether non-humans can come to grasp and self-regulate using norms of sexual conduct that would include prohibitions against rape. Dogs can be trained not to hump the legs of humans. Can they be trained to gain consent before engaging in sexual conduct? My guess is that the concept of consent or anything approximating the concept of consent is beyond them. Non-humans that live among humans and possess a sufficient level of intelligence and tractability may be capable of acquiring less violent forms of sexual activity, but without consent (both given and understood) the concept of rape just won't apply.

Many meat-eaters get angry when they feel that vegetarians are criticizing their

Many meat-eaters get angry when they feel that vegetarians are criticizing their lifestyle. "Feel free to abstain," they say, "but don't tell me what to do." I understand the appeal of non-judgmental vegetarianism, but I'm not sure it really makes sense. Suppose that I adopt vegetarianism for ethical reasons--that is, because I believe that eating animals is wrong. Doesn't it make perfect sense for me to criticize meat eaters, then? After all, the point of ethical vegetarianism is precisely that eating meat is wrong, not just _for me_, but for anyone. Imagine someone who said, "I think murder is wrong; but that's just my personal view, I wouldn't insist that others abstain from murder." This would be ridiculous! Obviously, meat-eating cannot be as serious a crime as murder. But why aren't these two cases analogous, nonetheless, with respect to the legitimacy of criticism?

You've got it right. If one believes meat-eating is wrong and has reasons and arguments for that view, then one should offer those reasons and arguments to others to try to convince them to stop doing something wrong. The reason meat-eaters respond this way is presumably that they do not think they are doing anything wrong or they think that vegetarians' reasons for avoiding meat are subjective (e.g., they don't like the taste or feel they don't need it) or, more likely, they are trying to avoid confronting reasons, facts, and arguments that would make them have to give up something they like doing. Conversely, some vegetarians might not want to confront meat-eaters because they don't take their position for ethical reasons or because they think the harm involved in meat-eating is minimal enough that they don't need to try to change the world, even if they do think it's wrong enough that they don't want to engage in that practice. The latter view seems difficult to pull off consistently.

I say all this as a half-hearted vegetarian, one who simply makes efforts to avoid buying or consuming factory-farmed meat (especially chickens and pigs) and who makes little effort to convert others to this position. Hence, I am likely failing to consider or internalize some good reasons to adopt a more consistent and stringent vegetarianism (or veganism), and I am not doing what I should to convince others to change their behavior. It's hard to do the right thing. It's at least as hard to argue against the majority. I'm very interesting in the "moral psychology" of all this--how can we get ourselves and others to do what we believe is right.

It is said that animals cannot behave immorally because they are incapable of

It is said that animals cannot behave immorally because they are incapable of discerning right from wrong. But why is this relevant? Chimpanzees murder one another on occasion, for example. If murder is inherently wrong, what does it matter that the chimps don't know it? Surely, we wouldn't allow moral ignorance as an excuse when a human commits murder. (Not to mention the fact that chimpanzees probably shun other chimpanzees who've committed murder, so how can we really be sure they don't have any moral sensibilities?) The only way I can think of this being relevant is that morality actually has nothing to do with the actions themselves, but rather has to do with how human beings relate to these actions. If murder were wrong because of features inherent in the act of murder, than chimpanzees who kill others would be just as morally guilty as humans who do so. Murder must be wrong because of features inherent to humans (as we are the only candidates for moral agency we know of), and the way we...

A man points a gun and pulls the trigger. The gun fires, and the bullet strikes another man in the head, killing him instantly. Was it murder? Anyone who thinks they can answer the question based on what's been said so far doesn't understand the word "murder." Did the man who pulled the trigger do something wrong? Anyone who thinks they can answer the question based on what's been said so far doesn't understand what it means for something to be wrong. Whether what happened was a murder, and whether anyone did anything wrong depends on a lot that's been left out, not least a lot about who intended to do what and who knew or believed what.

Scenario #1. The man who pulled the trigger is a hit man. The person shot was an otherwise innocent witness to a crime. The person who hired the hit man wants to be sure the witness can't testify. This murder and the man who pulled the trigger (as well as the one who hired him) did something deeply wrong.

Scenario #2: The man who pulled the trigger is a police officer, and his job is to protect a witness from being killed to keep him from testifying. The man who was shot is the hit man, and had the officer not fired his weapon, the witness would almost certainly be dead. That's not murder and it would take considerable arguing to make the case that the officer did anything wrong.

Scenario #3: the man who pulled the trigger is an actor. The gun was supposed to be loaded with blanks and has been on every one of the many previous performances of the play. But someone who wanted the victim dead tampered with the gun. This is a murder. But the murderer isn't the man who pulled the trigger, and that man is not to be blamed for what happened.

All of this is legal and moral common sense. It would be easy and might be instructive to add a bunch of other scenarios. But these few will do. Whether a bit of behavior is an act of murder depends on what was in the mind of the person whose behavior is at issue. It may not depend only on that, but it depends at least on that. The same goes for whether a bit of behavior amounts to moral and not just legal wrongdoing.

So now we come to the monkey. (Yes, I know: chimps aren't monkeys. But it sounds good.) For a monkey to commit murder would take a lot of understanding and intending that's quite likely beyond the capacity of a typical simian. We can agree that the death of the monkey is a bad thing, and that this is because of something about what it means for a creature to die. We can also agree that the death of the man in any of our other scenarios is a bad thing -- that it would have been better if no one had ended up dying. But both in the human case and the animal case, whether it's murder or whether it's a case of moral wrongdoing depends on knowledge, intent and in general what's going on inside one or more minds.

None of this gives us any reason to think that morality is mutable, shifty or culturally relative. Related points apply to behavior that doesn't raise moral issues at all. Whether a waving hand is a greeting or a signal to the waiter to bring the check or an involuntary spasm depends on what's going on in a mind or minds. If we focus on mere raw behavior and ignore what's going on in minds, we won't understand action at all, let alone actions like murder.

Animal welfare regulations require that pain killers be administered to

Animal welfare regulations require that pain killers be administered to experimental animals subjected to painful experimental procedures even if the animal is subsequently killed. From the point of the animal, is there any utility in this requirement? Assume that there is no utility if the animal is killed immediately after the pain since it will no longer have a memory of the pain when it is dead. Then, it would seem the regulations are misguided (if their intent is only to protect the animal) and it would be ethical to not administer a pain killer. With this assumption, is there some interval in which it would become unethical? If it is concluded that it is impossible to define an interval since for every interval the animal would no longer have a memory of the pain at the end of the interval when it is dead. If this is the case, then would it always be ethically acceptable not to administer pain killers, since all animals will die eventually.

You seem to be assuming that the only bad thing about pain is that it will be remembered. But is this right? I think not. One way to argue against the assumption is by analogy: if the assumption were correct, then presumably the only bad thing about memories of pain would be that they will be remembered. And so on up. So long as all sentient beings die eventually, there would then be nothing bad (or good?) about their experiences because all memory of them would eventually disappear.

Rejecting what you assume, we would say that pain itself is also distressing and therefore bad. In fact, without that distress of pain itself it's hard to understand why memories of pain should be distressing.

If pain itself is distressing and bad, then it makes sense to avoid and alleviate pain. And this is in fact what we routinely do when we offer palliative care to a patient who would otherwise die in great pain. The case of the animals you describe is essentially similar. Just as it is less bad if the last few hours of a dying patient are pain-free rather than full of pain, so it is also less bad if an animal soon killed in some experiment is pain-free rather than in agony during its last hours.

One argument I've often heard in favor of vegetarianism is that we don't have to

One argument I've often heard in favor of vegetarianism is that we don't have to kill animals in order to survive. What if we, for biological reasons, were forced to eat other animals? If we couldn't digest plant matter, it would seem we wouldn't have a choice. By the logic of the argument, wouldn't that mean it would be less ethically problematic to kill other animals in order to feed?

But I think you have what philosophers call the "dialectic" of the argument here somewhat backwards. I take it that the argument for vegetarianism is suppose to be something like this: (i) The lives of animals are of moral significance, which is to say that one cannot permissibly kill an animal without good reason; (ii) The need to eat would constitute good reason, but (iii) as a matter of empirical fact, most of us, at least in developed countries, do not need to kill animals to eat, so we do not have such reason; (iv) Mere preference for animal flesh over plant-based foods does not amount to sufficient reason to kill an animal; (v) So we fortunate people living in developed countries ought not to kill animals for food. So the argument is not really that we do not need to eat animals to survive.

It should be clear that the argument does indeed grant that, if one has to kill other animals in order to survive, then that would be morally permissible. But even so, this does not mean that killing those animals has no moral significance under such circumstances. It is simply that other moral considerations are in play. And it does seem that how bad it is to kill an animal depends in some way upon one's reasons for doing so and, indeed, upon how one does so. But none of that seems to undermine the argument.

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