Friday, October 9, 2009

14a Is it allowed to eat other creatures?

Do we have the right to eat other creatures? A question that has all kinds of effects on our thoughts and feelings. Maybe we are even not too eager to talk about this subject after a dinner with a superb steak.

However, the issue of animals and ethics is a philosophical issue mainly due to the fact that common sense thinking is deeply divided on it. Animals exist on the borderline of our moral concepts.

When we hear that there is dogmeat on the menu we are upset and when we hear that cows are kept in doors for all their life, never see a meadow, we say "They are just animals and those stables are very comfortable".

This disparity of thought gives rise to a philosophical question: what place should animals have in an acceptable moral system?

On this line of thought, if one kind of being regularly eats another kind of being, then the first is said to be higher on the food chain.

If one being is higher than another on the food chain, then it is natural for that being to use the other in the furtherance of its interests. Since this sort of behavior is natural, it does not require any further moral justification.

This would conclude our discussion. We just refer to the 'laws' of nature. Kant saw the fact that we can make a moral choice of yes or no to follow our desires, while an animal only can follow its instincts, as the clear borderline.

So animals have no specific value in a moral sense. That doesnt mean that we can treat animals as we like. Also in Kant's days people abhored cruelty to animals.

But this was not because of the animal and a possile right on decent treatment, but because thew cruelty and seeing such cruelty had a negative on people. It would deteriorate feelings of compassion etc.

Descartes discared of animals with the argument that animals are automata and had no consciousness. So animals are not a subject in a moral discourse.

Also contemporary philosophers follow this line of thinking. For instance Carruthers (1992) notes that the difference between conscious and non-conscious experiences is that conscious experiences are available to higher-order thoughts while non-conscious experiences are not.

(A higher-order thought is a thought that can take as its object another thought.) He thus concludes that in order to have conscious experiences one must be able to have higher-order thoughts.

However, we have no reason to believe that animals have higher-order thoughts, and thus no reason to believe that they are conscious.

What makes questions like our present one so interesting is, that at first glance you think...oh, cant be too difficult to answer that one.

But after some research and reading a few texts you all of a sudden are almost caught by a tsunami of intricate questions and new insights.

For instance, when we say consciousness is the demarcation between man and animal, which means that an animal has no moral status, then we have to answer the next question:

what about a person in coma, or a severely mentally handicaped person, or a newborn baby? They all have no "hihger-order" thoughts.

Or take this. Both Kant and Carruthers agree that my torturing my own cat for fun would be wrong. However, they believe it is wrong not because of the harm to the cat,

but rather because of the effect this act will have on me. Many people have found this to be a very unsatisfying account of the duty.

It is unsatisfactory because when one knows clearly the difference between humans and animals, where animals are the lower creatures, why should torturing or killing animals brutalize him and make him more likely to harm or kill persons?

Animals are just 'objects' we manipulate and it makes no sense to invest them with human like qualities. I hear people talk to their dog for instance. You dont believe it understands what you are telling, do you?

This is just the beginning of a philosophically and ethically very difficult discourse. And to add something more: do animals have RIGHTS?

We are the first ones to stand up and say : it is MY RIGHT to ......bla bla...... Have you ever thought about the question, how I can claim rights? Where do they come from? Are they simple conventions, or derived from laws of nature, or intrinsic in the meaning of life?

I thought....oh I read the chapter in The Philosophy Gym of Stephen Law and I write a nice lecture on it. However, the chapter deals with the issue a little too superficial and I wanted more info.

And in no time I got lost in the many ramifications of our question of today. So I would advise you for next Tuesday. Do some reading on subjects as rights, animal rights, animals and ethics and Peter Singer. You will be astonished about what you will find.

The Discussion

[13:24] herman Bergson: Peter Singer is the writer of the book Animal Liberation, the 'bible' of people who go on the barricads for animal rights
[13:25] herman Bergson: So still a lot to do ...but we'll save that for next Tuesday:-)
[13:25] herman Bergson: If you have any questins or remarks...?
[13:25] Frederick Hansome: I believe that the premise that animals have no consciousness is faulty in the extreme
[13:25] herman Bergson: Your dog maybe?
[13:25] Abraxas Nagy: AH HAHAHAHA
[13:26] herman Bergson: Yes, Frederick , I am not happy with that point of view too
[13:26] oola Neruda: there was a time... greece/rome... early america... all through history... when people have taken slaves or considered other people as inferiors... and use the same kind of arguments
[13:26] Gemma Cleanslate: well it is hard to accept that since we share the planet with rightful owners which are animals that they have no rights
[13:26] Frederick Hansome: and if they do have a certain level of consciousness, they have "rights"
[13:26] oola Neruda: they are not bright or whatever
[13:26] herman Bergson: Animals have a clear experience of pain and pleasure
[13:26] Myriam Brianna: it depends on what animal we are speaking about and what we mean by consciousness, of course
[13:26] Gemma Cleanslate: true oola
[13:26] Repose Lionheart: I think I saw recently on that dolphin had been shown to have higher order thoughts...
[[13:27] herman Bergson: Yes oola good point
[13:27] Repose Lionheart: days ago...the research report would still be there
[13:28] Frederick Hansome: could we spend a semester or two on "consiousness, what is it?"
[13:28] Gemma Cleanslate: lol yes
[13:28] Gemma Cleanslate: good idea
[13:28] herman Bergson: Absolutely
[13:28] Abraxas Nagy: interesting
[13:28] Myriam Brianna: a lot of birds (ravens and raven-like), primates, monkeys and sea mammals show self-recognition, when presented with a mirror. Also the ability to show behaviour that speaks of thinking in advance how another creature will react to their doings
[13:29] herman Bergson: With brainscans we can see that certain areas in the animal brain are activated by its experiences of pleasure or pain...just like it is with humans
[13:29] Gemma Cleanslate: some birds use tools
[13:29] Abraxas Nagy: some monkeys are trained to use computers
[13:29] Myriam Brianna: sophisticated, in some cases. Like bending a wire to fish for a treat in a bottle
[13:30] Gemma Cleanslate: no one trained the animals to use tools
[13:30] Repose Lionheart: Koko
[13:30] Gemma Cleanslate: they learned by themselves
[13:30] Abraxas Nagy: but how can u learn if your not conscious
[13:30] herman Bergson: Chimps can behave "immoral" by murdering or mutulating a fellow chimp out of jealousy
[13:30] oola Neruda: yes repose... koko
[13:30] Gemma Cleanslate: that is what i am saying
[13:31] Repose Lionheart: Do the chimps feel guilt, do you think?
[13:31] Abraxas Nagy: I know they do
[13:31] herman Bergson: So what is clear here is that the old fashioned consciousness/no consciousness is not a tenable stand anymore
[13:31] Abraxas Nagy: uummnn know=think
[13:31] Gemma Cleanslate: probably no more than a serial killer
[13:31] herman Bergson: We dont know Repose
[13:31] Myriam Brianna: yes, that line is very blurred
[13:32] Repose Lionheart: Sounds like moral behaviour to me...
[13:32] herman Bergson: The argument in support of the claim that animals have direct moral status is rather simple. It goes as follows:

1. If a being is sentient then it has direct moral status.
2. (Most) animals are sentient
3. Therefore (most) animals have direct moral status.
[13:32] Repose Lionheart: oh...well, maybe not...
[13:32] Gemma Cleanslate: hmmm
[13:32] herman Bergson: Sentience” refers to the capacity to experience episodes of positively or negatively valenced awareness.
[13:33] Myriam Brianna: but the "most" reads wrong. Descartes was wrong to say that every animal is a mere automaton, but it still holds true for insects and the like, I'd say
[13:34] herman Bergson: Another argumentation is that animals cant have rights... because rights entail duties
[13:34] herman Bergson: When you have the right to live it is my duty to preserve and protect your life
[13:34] Gemma Cleanslate: ever watched an army of ants socially looking for a new home??
[13:34] Abraxas Nagy: is it?
[13:34] Repose Lionheart: Maybe their duty is to be what they are
[13:34] Gemma Cleanslate: ah yes repose
[13:35] Frederick Hansome: I am of the opinion that Descartes was wrong in everything he said or did (except his mathmatics)
[13:35] Myriam Brianna: sure. But what 'appears' to speak of sentience must not be identical with sentience
[13:35] Gemma Cleanslate: contributing to the chain of life
[13:35] herman Bergson: there are ants that sacrifice their lifes to close the entrances of the nest from the outside. They freeze to death.
[13:35] Myriam Brianna: yep
[13:35] Gemma Cleanslate: ah yes
[13:36] herman Bergson: You could say that indeed Frederick :-)
[13:36] Gemma Cleanslate: every simple little thing we talk about here becomes so complex!
[13:36] Myriam Brianna: everything good and fine, but take a very sophisticated chat-bot to test, speak "with" it and for a while you may think that there's another sentient being
[13:36] Myriam Brianna: that it appears so doesn't make the bot sentient
[13:36] Repose Lionheart: the hard thing is simplicity, i've heard...
[13:36] Abraxas Nagy: layers of complexity are everywhere
[13:36] herman Bergson: true, but it doesnt make it a living being either
[13:37] herman Bergson: Yes Gemma....
[13:37] Myriam Brianna: exactly
[13:37] herman Bergson: But I think it is more the case that what seems obvious and simple isnt such at second thought :-)
[13:38] Repose Lionheart: true
[13:38] herman Bergson: I myself thought that this would be a 'simple' issue...
[13:38] Gemma Cleanslate: :-)
[13:38] herman Bergson: What a mistake that was.....^_^
[13:38] herman Bergson: Just take the concept of 'Right" have rights....
[13:38] herman Bergson: what does that mean?
[13:39] herman Bergson: and another
[13:39] herman Bergson: my car is my property....but my it property too?
[13:39] Frederick Hansome: what is complex about the issue once it is accepted that animals have a level of concciousness? and therefore some rights?
[13:39] Gemma Cleanslate: that changes so quickly according to the times
[13:39] herman Bergson: yes...
[13:39] herman Bergson: I can smash my one will object to that....
[13:40] herman Bergson: my property...
[13:40] herman Bergson: so can I smash my dog too?
[13:40] Repose Lionheart: !!!
[13:40] herman Bergson: without people objecting?
[13:40] herman Bergson: And if my dog is not my property what is it then....sort of property?
[13:40] Myriam Brianna: nope, you (luckily) cannot
[13:40] Frederick Hansome: that would be a grevious violation of your dog's rights
[13:41] oola Neruda: i believe that many people (especially mothers) feel that those weaker than ourselves should be taken care of... and perhaps responsibility for
[13:41] herman Bergson: That is the car has no rights of being....I can crush it whenever I like
[13:41] oola Neruda: be it elderly, babies, handicapped or ... animals
[13:42] herman Bergson: Yes oola.....those categories have rights, but cant perform any duty...
[13:42] oola Neruda: but animals fit that description too'
[13:42] herman Bergson: so there is not an absolute relation between right and duty
[13:42] herman Bergson: as Kant thought for instance
[13:42] Repose Lionheart: So...dogs are dependents?
[13:42] Frederick Hansome: the duty of certain animals may be to provide noruishment for those higher on the food chain
[13:43] herman Bergson: dependents?
[13:43] Gemma Cleanslate: any pet you keep is dependent
[13:43] oola Neruda: one shut up in a cage or tied with a rope...yes
[13:43] Gemma Cleanslate: yes
[13:43] herman Bergson: No frederick.....
[13:43] Gemma Cleanslate: wild animals now ... they have rights also i think
[13:43] herman Bergson: Performing a duty is a moral choice...I also can neglect my duties
[13:43] Abraxas Nagy: but isnt a house a sort of cage to?
[13:43] Gemma Cleanslate: eys
[13:43] Gemma Cleanslate: yes
[13:43] Frederick Hansome: Why no, herman?
[13:44] herman Bergson: an animal in the foodchange just has its place there...that is all
[13:44] Myriam Brianna: I cringe when a descriptive term like "food-chain" is brought in contact with a moral one
[13:44] herman Bergson: it is not its choice or decision
[13:44] oola Neruda: when you have power over someone...or thing.. they are dependant on you
[13:45] Repose Lionheart: or when they are weak and small and need your help, maybe
[13:45] herman Bergson: But most of the animal world is completely independent of us.....
[13:45] Repose Lionheart: true
[13:46] herman Bergson: so the dependent / independent quality does not lead to animal rights
[13:46] oola Neruda: independent...yet dependent..that we leave habitat and do not poach
[13:46] Frederick Hansome: if theyare only a marker on the food chain (sorry for the term, Miriam), what rights do they have?
[13:46] Gemma Cleanslate: :-0
[13:46] herman Bergson: I think that our next step is to analyse the issue of animal rights
[13:46] Gemma Cleanslate: :-)
[13:47] Gemma Cleanslate: yes
[13:47] Myriam Brianna: who says they are only a marker on the chain?
[13:47] herman Bergson: First we have to know what a right is, how it is justified
[13:47] herman Bergson: next we have to see if it applies to animals too
[13:48] herman Bergson: We all seem to have an intuition that animals have rights too
[13:48] Repose Lionheart: we are sometimes eaten by tigers
[13:48] Myriam Brianna: (btw, we are of course also dependent to most of the animal world. And food is really a small issue there. Reason enough not to crash into ecosystems we do not understand at all)
[13:48] Repose Lionheart: perhaps we are part of the food chain too
[13:48] Myriam Brianna: we are super-predators, yes
[13:49] Gemma Cleanslate: accidently i hope
[13:49] Repose Lionheart: if so, our rights exist independently of the food chain
[13:49] Gemma Cleanslate: part of teh food chain that is
[13:49] herman Bergson: I dont think that the food chain has anything to do with the issue of rights
[13:49] Repose Lionheart: i agree
[13:49] Myriam Brianna: err, yes. Food chain is a descriptive term, not a moral one
[13:50] herman Bergson: exactly
[13:50] oola Neruda: Myriam is right about the ecological implications
[13:50] herman Bergson: Actually the classic step Frederick took
[13:50] Myriam Brianna: and there's no relation between the natural-ness or un-naturalness of something and ethic problems, imho
[13:50] Frederick Hansome: which was?
[13:50] herman Bergson: To deduce from a descriptive term (foodchain) a moral concept - duty
[13:51] Myriam Brianna: the naturalistic fallacy
[13:51] herman Bergson: yes..a classic one
[13:51] Repose Lionheart: oh...makes sense...
[13:51] herman Bergson: You can not deduce an OUGHT from an IS :-)
[13:51] Myriam Brianna: very wide spread. The Vatican loves it
[13:51] herman Bergson: Oh yes...
[13:52] herman Bergson: Well I think that we have made the issue clear --- or complex to quote Gemma
[13:52] herman Bergson: at least for a start
[13:52] Repose Lionheart: !!!
[13:52] herman Bergson: It IS a complex issue
[13:53] herman Bergson: So I suggest we'll discuss Animal Rights next Tuesday :-)
[13:53] Repose Lionheart: I'll be here!
[13:53] Abraxas Nagy: me to
[13:54] herman Bergson: Ok...that is one :-)
[13:54] Frederick Hansome: Will be very interesting
[13:54] Myriam Brianna: third
[13:54] herman Bergson: Unless you have something to add to the discussion I think we can end the debate for today
[13:55] Gemma Cleanslate: very much to do for homework
[13:55] herman Bergson: Yes Frederick....I think so too....
[13:55] Repose Lionheart: Thanks you, Professor
[13:55] Gemma Cleanslate: yes thank you
[13:55] herman Bergson: Good articles in Wiki and IEP
[13:56] Myriam Brianna: and when it comes to Singer ... *searches her hard-drives*
[13:56] Gemma Cleanslate: ok
[13:56] Gemma Cleanslate: Thank Youuuuuuuuuu!!
[13:57] Gemma Cleanslate: see you tuesday I hope
[13:57] herman Bergson: Yes...Singer is one of the popular spokesmen
[13:57] Frederick Hansome: good night all
[13:57] herman Bergson: Thank you for your participation :-)
[13:57] Abraxas Nagy: good night professor and thank you
[13:57] Myriam Brianna: has a lot of stuff on the debate that raged around him and his views. Some of it in English, iirc
[13:58] herman Bergson: ok Myriam...thnx
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