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Richard Dawkins - Science and the New Atheism
Posted: 22 October 2008 04:02 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 91 ]
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erasmusinfinity - 21 October 2008 05:41 PM

As I said before, in modern developed societies I see no legitimate moral grounds for slaughtering cows.  Thus I do not eat cows and I do not use most other cow “products” such as leather or gelatin.  But if one were starving and a cow were the only food source that were readily available then I think that it would not be immoral to slaughter and eat it.  Or at least, the justification for doing so would outweigh the meaningfulness of the immorality of the act.  Such as would be similar to the matter of stealing medicine, if one were forced to, in order to save the life of one’s child.

It is difficult to decide what to do and what is morally justified in desperate situations.  The instinct to protect one’s life is very strong. On the brink of death by starvation, I am sure that some prisoners of Nazi concentration camps have done immoral acts such as stealing bread from other starving prisoners.  But can we blame them for it? What would we do if we were in their shoes? 
I think it is best if we exclude such situations from this discussion and focus on morality in more normal circumstances.

erasmusinfinity - 21 October 2008 05:41 PM

How do you define sentience? 

Sentience is the ability to experience sensations such as pain, pleasure, touch, sight, hearing, smell and taste.

erasmusinfinity - 21 October 2008 05:41 PM

Are there not varying degrees and forms of sentience?

Yes, there are varying degrees of sentience, but we don’t need to be concerned about this when discussing rights. The degree of sentience varies even among humans, but we don’t deny any human basic rights unless that human has no sentience at all (humans in vegetative state, early term fetuses).

erasmusinfinity - 21 October 2008 05:41 PM

Some animals do care and some of don’t have the capacity to care.  I have little doubt that cows, pigs, sheeps, cats, dogs, etc. do care.  I find it highly unlikely that sea sponges or mosquitos care about much of anything. 


Obviously a chicken does not have the same cognitive abilities as does a chimpanzee, but that does not give us a right to eat a chicken. A chicken has sentience, and that is all that is needed to be eligible to have a basic right not to be used as a means to an end.
If sea sponges or mosquitos have any sense organs and brains capable of processing the information, then we can conclude that they have sentience.  What would be a better use of sentience than to protect an individual from harm and death?  It would seem to me that individuals who cared whether they lived or died would be naturally selected for.  The others would be getting themselves killed left and right before they even had a chance to reproduce, and would eventually die out. 
The fear of death and the will to live seems to be common throughout animal kingdom.  Animals caught in leg hold traps often chew off their own paws to get free. Even insects can be seen struggling fiercely to get out of a spider web or other dangerous situations. Darwin talks a lot about insects in “The Origin of Species”. He even suggests that they have the ability to think rationally.
I think that whenever in doubt, we should err on the side of sentience.  It is better to assume that an individual is sentient even if in reality he isn’t, and respect that individual’s basic right, than to make the mistake and violate the right of an indeed sentient individual.
(continued below)

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Posted: 22 October 2008 04:05 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 92 ]
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erasmusinfinity - 21 October 2008 05:41 PM

Certainly, they care nothing of whether or not they are being used as means to ends. 

If they don’t know, that means their life in not being disrupted.  If we use bees for pollinating our crops, but we don’t disturb them in any way, and they just go about doing what they naturally do, then I don’t see that as immoral.

erasmusinfinity - 21 October 2008 05:41 PM

I also think that some humans do not care.  Namely, fetuses and some human “vegetables.”

I agree.  Fetuses and humans in vegetative state don’t have sentience and they cannot be considered persons who have rights. Fetuses develop a functioning brain at some point, so they probably have some small degree of sentience, but they are not autonomous, and that disqualifies them from having rights.

erasmusinfinity - 21 October 2008 05:41 PM

If beings are not capable of projecting upon their future then they need not be considered to possess a ‘right’ to much of anything, as far as I see it, apart from a right not to suffer.  And in cases where they can not be meaningfully said to suffer, we need not even be concerned about that.[

I can’t say I agree with the above.  Take severely retarded humans.  They cannot project upon their future, but we don’t take away their basic right not to be used as a means to an end. We don’t use them in experiments (painless experiments), and we don’t kill them (painlessly).

erasmusinfinity - 21 October 2008 05:41 PM

I do have a few problems with the notion that you express that “the principle right is the right not to be used as a means to an end.”  Does this principle also apply to beings that don’t know or care about being used as so-called means to an end?  Does it also apply to situations in which beings are used by others as part of reciprocal relationships?


See my answer above about using bees to pollinate our crops.
Reciprocal relationship can only be between consenting parties.  Non-human animals don’t have the ability to give consent.
On that point, several years ago Peter Singer wrote an essay arguing that it is justified for humans to have sex with non-human animals. And yes, going by the utilitarian theory, as long as utility is maximized, it is justified. But from the rights theory perspective, it is wrong.  Non-human animals cannot give consent.  Their right not to be used as a means to an end is violated.  Singer took a lot of heat from the animal rights movement for his stance on this issue.

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Posted: 22 October 2008 04:09 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 93 ]
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Chris Crawford - 21 October 2008 06:03 PM

A small item on the issue of animals caring about death: the awareness of death is a uniquely human trait, a side effect of consciousness. The ability to step outside yourself and look at yourself from the outside seems to be part of it. Another indicator is the ability to recognize oneself in a mirror. There are only a few species that can do this. Chimpanzees are one. Elephants are another. Interestingly, elephants have also shown behavior suggesting that they are affected by the deaths of others.

I don’t know whether we can say why an individual wants to avoid death, but fear of death (or of harm, which can lead to death) seems to be common throughout the entire animal kingdom.  It would seem to me that the best use for the brain and senses would be to avoid harm.  It would seem to me that individuals who don’t care whether they live or die, would not try hard to avoid danger and death, and would be dying left and right (considering how difficult the survival in the wild is).  They would die before they even had a chance to reproduce.  Using the logic of Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection, these individuals would not be selected for.  They would die out without passing on their genes.

I am not sure exactly what you mean by awareness of death.  Do you mean that we are aware that we are going to die or that we are aware of what death is?  I don’t know how the awareness of one’s eventual death fits into the discussion about rights.  I am sure there are humans who are not aware that they are going to die, for example very young children and the mentally retarded. But we don’t deny basic rights to these individuals.  As far as the knowledge of what death is, IMO, there is no more delusional species than Homo sapiens.  Most people think that death is not the end but a passage to some other world.  Many are not even afraid to die and even sacrifice their lives. I don’t see how that is better than some ignorant little monkey who has no clue and just lives her life and avoids dangers that may cause her to die.

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Posted: 22 October 2008 05:14 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 94 ]
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BaIB - 22 October 2008 04:02 PM

Yes, there are varying degrees of sentience, but we don’t need to be concerned about this when discussing rights. The degree of sentience varies even among humans, but we don’t deny any human basic rights unless that human has no sentience at all (humans in vegetative state, early term fetuses).

I think that we do need to be concerned about sentience when discussing rights.  What good is a “right” to any being who doesn’t care about having it?  “Rights” depend upon more than basic sentience, in terms of the capacity to sense or feel things.  They depend upon a higher level of perception that includes an awareness of oneself, the ability to reflect upon those sensations or feelings and the ability to project on the impact of such things upon one’s future.  The sorts of things outlined in The Universal Declaration of Human Rights fundamentally matter because they matter to those persons involved.

I actually don’t think that a being needs to be capable of these sorts of things in order for us to have a moral obligation with regards to it’s welfare.  But then we are no longer talking about animal “rights.”  We are talking about “welfare” as something different from “rights.”

BaIB - 22 October 2008 04:02 PM

Obviously a chicken does not have the same cognitive abilities as does a chimpanzee, but that does not give us a right to eat a chicken. A chicken has sentience,

I agree.  I don’t eat chicken.  I would like the human practice of eating chickens to end.

BaIB - 22 October 2008 04:02 PM

I think that whenever in doubt, we should err on the side of sentience.

I basically agree with this statement.  But I also think that there is much that we can tell.  Sea sponges clearly aren’t sentient in any meaningful sense.  Neither are mosquitos.

You must draw lines somewhere because there is such a fine line between what is life and what is merely a chemical process.  If you are really going to assign the same rights that you grant humans to animals on the simplistic basis of whether or not they are being used as means to ends, then you must also extend the same identical concerns for plants or the crystals that form on panes of glass or the waves in the ocean.

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Posted: 22 October 2008 05:43 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 95 ]
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erasmusinfinity - 22 October 2008 05:14 PM

I think that we do need to be concerned about sentience when discussing rights.  What good is a “right” to any being who doesn’t care about having it?

A right gives a being protection from being tortured, imprisoned, exploited, and killed.  Sentient beings care about all of these things.  They care about personal security.  They care what happens to them.

erasmusinfinity - 22 October 2008 05:14 PM

“Rights” depend upon more than basic sentience, in terms of the capacity to sense or feel things.  They depend upon a higher level of perception that includes an awareness of oneself, the ability to reflect upon those sensations or feelings and the ability to project on the impact of such things upon one’s future.  The sorts of things outlined in The Universal Declaration of Human Rights fundamentally matter because they matter to those persons involved.

Mentally retarded people, babies, mentally ill people do not have a higher level of perception.  So are you saying that they should have no rights?  We can exploit them and use them for medical research?

erasmusinfinity - 22 October 2008 05:14 PM

I actually don’t think that a being needs to be capable of these sorts of things in order for us to have a moral obligation with regards to it’s welfare.  But then we are no longer talking about animal “rights.”  We are talking about “welfare” as something different from “rights.”

What is welfare?  Exploiting them humanely and killing them painlessly?

erasmusinfinity - 22 October 2008 05:14 PM

I agree.  I don’t eat chicken.  I would like the human practice of eating chickens to end.

And yet you seem to be arguing that non-human animals don’t deserve rights.  Then why should we not kill chickens if they have no rights?

BaIB - 22 October 2008 04:02 PM

I think that whenever in doubt, we should err on the side of sentience.

erasmusinfinity - 22 October 2008 05:14 PM

I basically agree with this statement.  But I also think that there is much that we can tell.  Sea sponges clearly aren’t sentient in any meaningful sense.  Neither are mosquitos.

Why is it so clear?  It is not clear to me. If they are animals (as opposed to plants), they must have some degree of sentience.

erasmusinfinity - 22 October 2008 05:14 PM

You must draw lines somewhere because there is such a fine line between what is life and what is merely a chemical process.  If you are really going to assign the same rights that you grant humans to animals on the simplistic basis of whether or not they are being used as means to ends, then you must also extend the same identical concerns for plants or the crystals that form on panes of glass or the waves in the ocean.

I never said that everything that is alive should have rights.  I said only beings who have sentience should have rights.  Plants have no sentience, therefore, they should not be granted rights. All animals have sentience, therefore, all animals should be granted rights.

I never said that non-human animals should have the same rights as humans.  Non-human animals don’t need a right to education, a right to vote, etc. Non-human animals only need a right not to be used as a means to an end.

Why in the world would we grant rights to plants and crystals?  Are plants and crystals sentient?  Is that what you are saying?  You are saying that mosquitoes and sponges have no sentience but crystals and plants have?  That seems to me completely absurd.  You need to explain this.

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Posted: 22 October 2008 06:43 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 96 ]
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BaIB - 22 October 2008 05:43 PM

Sentient beings care about all of these things.  They care about personal security.  They care what happens to them.

Again, this depends on how we specifically define “sentience.”  There are degrees.  This term generally refers to an ability to perceive or feel things to unspecified degree.  A being can feel things without caring about them.  To “care” one must “know.”  To “know” one must have certain cognitive faculties.

erasmusinfinity - 22 October 2008 05:14 PM

Mentally retarded people, babies, mentally ill people do not have a higher level of perception.  So are you saying that they should have no rights?

That depends on the specific nature of their retardation.  Moreover, it depends upon their cognitive faculties.  I don’t believe that the answer to your question has to do with membership in kingdom animalia any more so than it does with membership in the species homo sapiens.

erasmusinfinity - 22 October 2008 05:14 PM

What is welfare?  Exploiting them humanely and killing them painlessly?

Providing welfare to animals means that we don’t cause them suffering even if we don’t grant them what are commonly referred to as rights.  It means that we take on a responsible role as their stewards.  That is not exploitation.

erasmusinfinity - 22 October 2008 05:14 PM

And yet you seem to be arguing that non-human animals don’t deserve rights.  Then why should we not kill chickens if they have no rights?

I am distinguishing between “rights” and “welfare” because I feel that it is important to recognize what should be granted to particular beings based on what they actually are.  They are not all the same and ought not be treated identically.  To confuse this causes great harm to the causes of animal rights and welfare in terms of establishing credibility.

I suppose that I am arguing largely in favor of Peter Singer’s positions and contra Tom Regan’s, just as you have been arguing the converse.

BaIB - 22 October 2008 04:02 PM

Why is it so clear?  It is not clear to me. If they are animals (as opposed to plants), they must have some degree of sentience.

Although they are animals, sea sponges are invertebrates and do not have brains, spinal columns or even nerve cells.  Many plants have photo-receptors and other responsive cell tissues.  Why would an invertebrate animal species have a greater capacity for suffering than a plant?  I don’t think that it is meaningful to draw an absolute line for sentence between plants and animals.  Maybe Singer’s notion of ‘speciesism’ could be extended here.  Maybe we could call this “kingdomism.”

Like Peter Singer I think that there are discernible varying levels.

erasmusinfinity - 22 October 2008 05:14 PM

Why in the world would we grant rights to plants and crystals?  Are plants and crystals sentient?  Is that what you are saying?  You are saying that mosquitoes and sponges have no sentience but crystals and plants have?  That seems to me completely absurd.  You need to explain this.

I am not saying that plants and crystals are sentient.  I am saying that not all animals are sentient, and that there are varying degrees of sentience amongst different beings.  By the same token that you feel it is absurd to consider plants and crystals sentient I think that it is absurd to regard some animals as sentient and I think that it is absurd to regard all species that have some sentience as identically sentient.

A big part of the problem of human cruelty to animals lies in the matter that many people do not properly regard the sentience of cows, sheep, pigs, chimpanzees, etc.  Perhaps if we could show them how certain animals can suffer from pain and feel torment about their deaths and the uncivil conditions to which we subject them then we may help raise peoples’ consciousnesses about treating animals more humanely.

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Posted: 22 October 2008 08:49 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 97 ]
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On the fear of death among animals: yes, there is definitely something very similar to fear as far down as the reptilian brain. However, it is not like sentient fear in humans: there is no larger awareness. It’s very much a Pavlovian reaction to stimuli.

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Posted: 23 October 2008 05:19 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 98 ]
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erasmusinfinity - 22 October 2008 06:43 PM

Again, this depends on how we specifically define “sentience.

I already defined it.  See above.

erasmusinfinity - 22 October 2008 06:43 PM

There are degrees.

And I said that degrees are irrelevant to the discussion about rights.

erasmusinfinity - 22 October 2008 06:43 PM

This term generally refers to an ability to perceive or feel things to unspecified degree.  A being can feel things without caring about them.  To “care” one must “know.”  To “know” one must have certain cognitive faculties.

What being doesn’t care about his/her own pain or pleasure?

Re: Mentally retarded people

erasmusinfinity - 22 October 2008 05:14 PM

That depends on the specific nature of their retardation.  Moreover, it depends upon their cognitive faculties.  I don’t believe that the answer to your question has to do with membership in kingdom animalia any more so than it does with membership in the species homo sapiens.

Are you saying that you would deny rights to certain retarded people depending on their specific nature of retardation?  Are you saying that it is morally justified to use retarded people for medical research, for example?

I asked the question because you want to exclude all non-human animals from having rights, but include all humans.  I want to know how are you going to do this.  What criteria for the eligibility for rights are you going to use?

erasmusinfinity - 22 October 2008 05:14 PM

Providing welfare to animals means that we don’t cause them suffering even if we don’t grant them what are commonly referred to as rights.  It means that we take on a responsible role as their stewards.  That is not exploitation.

I suggest you stop reading the bible and pick up Darwin.  Stewardship?  That is straight from the bible! Are you a theist? If you are, then that clearly explains why you argue the way you do.  Only humans were made in the image of god.  God gave humans stewardship over all the plants and animals.  Let me ask you this: who kept stewardship over the animals for the millions of years before humans got on this planet?  How did the animals manage without us?

Animals don’t need our stewardship.  They don’t need us to give them welfare.  They need us to leave them alone and let them live their lives in peace.

erasmusinfinity - 22 October 2008 05:14 PM

I am distinguishing between “rights” and “welfare” because I feel that it is important to recognize what should be granted to particular beings based on what they actually are.  They are not all the same and ought not be treated identically.  To confuse this causes great harm to the causes of animal rights and welfare in terms of establishing credibility.

Either non-human animals deserve the basic right not to be used as a means to an end or they don’t.  There is no middle ground.

We don’t need to treat any animals in any way.  We just need to leave them alone.

erasmusinfinity - 22 October 2008 05:14 PM

I suppose that I am arguing largely in favor of Peter Singer’s positions and contra Tom Regan’s, just as you have been arguing the converse.

No, you are not.  Peter Singer applies his utilitarian theory to all.  You discriminate between humans and all other animals. And also, if you advocate Singer’s philosophy, then you also don’t have rights.  If it would be beneficial to experiment on you and kill you in order to save 100 people, the utilitarian theory says it is OK to do this to you.
(more below)

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Posted: 23 October 2008 05:20 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 99 ]
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(continued)

BaIB - 22 October 2008 04:02 PM

Why is it so clear?  It is not clear to me. If they are animals (as opposed to plants), they must have some degree of sentience.

erasmusinfinity - 22 October 2008 05:14 PM

Although they are animals, sea sponges are invertebrates and do not have brains, spinal columns or even nerve cells.  Many plants have photo-receptors and other responsive cell tissues.  Why would an invertebrate animal species have a greater capacity for suffering than a plant?  I don’t think that it is meaningful to draw an absolute line for sentence between plants and animals.  Maybe Singer’s notion of ‘speciesism’ could be extended here.  Maybe we could call this “kingdomism.”

I said, if a being has a brain, then we can conclude that that being has sentience.  Plants don’t have brains.  Even if they are able to collect information, that information is not sent to the brain.  I do realize that even biologists have a problem with certain species.  They are not sure whether some species belong to the animal kingdom or to the plant kingdom.  And I said, if in doubt, err on the side of sentience.  After all, what do you want to do with sea sponges?  Why can’t you just leave them alone and let them be?

Also, because of sea sponges and other such species, you are willing to deny rights to the entire animal kingdom with the exception of Homo sapiens.  How is that fair?  Is it the elephants’ fault that there are sea sponges in this world?  Why should elephants be denied rights because of the existence of sea sponges?

erasmusinfinity - 22 October 2008 05:14 PM

Like Peter Singer I think that there are discernible varying levels.

Yes, there are, but that is completely irrelevant. 

I know what you are trying to do.  You are trying to find a level where you can say: individuals above this level have rights and below this level have no rights.  And you think by picking a specific level, you are going to include all humans and exclude all non-human animals.  Let me tell you that you won’t succeed. There will be some humans below a certain level and some non-human animals above it.  Also, how would you even measure the level of sentience, and you would have to measure each individual, not just representatives of a species? Furthermore, such drawing of a line would be immoral because all characteristics (sentience, brain complexity, physical strength, etc.) exist on a continuum throughout the animal kingdom.  There are only two logical places where a line can be drawn: at the beginning of the continuum or at the end of it.  In other words, either all animals (including humans) should have rights, or no animal (including humans) should have rights.

erasmusinfinity - 22 October 2008 05:14 PM

I am not saying that plants and crystals are sentient.  I am saying that not all animals are sentient, and that there are varying degrees of sentience amongst different beings.  By the same token that you feel it is absurd to consider plants and crystals sentient I think that it is absurd to regard some animals as sentient and I think that it is absurd to regard all species that have some sentience as identically sentient.

And I did agree that some animals have a very small degree of sentience, and some it may even be doubtful that have any significant degree at all.  But I said that when in doubt, err on the side of sentience.  Why is that so difficult to do?  If you are swimming in the ocean and you find a sea sponge, instead of harassing or killing the sea sponge, just leave the sea sponge alone.

erasmusinfinity - 22 October 2008 05:14 PM

A big part of the problem of human cruelty to animals lies in the matter that many people do not properly regard the sentience of cows, sheep, pigs, chimpanzees, etc.  Perhaps if we could show them how certain animals can suffer from pain and feel torment about their deaths and the uncivil conditions to which we subject them then we may help raise peoples’ consciousnesses about treating animals more humanely.

All of the above named species of animals are capable of suffering.  I think the great majority of people know that.  But the great majority of people think that humans are special, that humans are above other animals, and that humans have a god-given right to do with other animals as they please. Your position is not helping to eradicate that attitude, and in fact, I think you share that attitude.

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Posted: 23 October 2008 05:21 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 100 ]
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Chris Crawford - 22 October 2008 08:49 PM

On the fear of death among animals: yes, there is definitely something very similar to fear as far down as the reptilian brain. However, it is not like sentient fear in humans: there is no larger awareness. It’s very much a Pavlovian reaction to stimuli.

As I replied to erasmusinfinity above, some animals have a low degree of sentience, and some it is doubtful that have any significant degree of sentience.  I said that when in doubt, err on the side of sentience. 

There are many people who have no larger awareness (mentally ill, mentally retarded, very young children).  Are you saying that it is ok for us to deny them rights?  And there are people who are not afraid of death because they think they will go to heaven.  Is it ok for us to kill them?

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Posted: 23 October 2008 06:07 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 101 ]
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BaIB - 23 October 2008 05:19 PM

What being doesn’t care about his/her own pain or pleasure?

Perhaps a plant???  You seem to draw a line there.  I would include a sea sponge and a mosquito.

BaIB - 23 October 2008 05:19 PM

Are you saying that you would deny rights to certain retarded people depending on their specific nature of retardation?  Are you saying that it is morally justified to use retarded people for medical research, for example?

I would not consider the granting of compassionate welfare to a human being who is severely retarded to be the same thing as granting him/her rights.  If a person was not capable of appreciating “rights” I would not see the value in granting them.  This does not mean that I would perform medical experiments on them any more so than I would most animals.  Again, it is not a “rights” issue.

BaIB - 23 October 2008 05:19 PM

I asked the question because you want to exclude all non-human animals from having rights, but include all humans.

No.  In general I include other great apes and I do not include many humans, such as early term fetuses and the severely mentally retarded.  I base the entitlement to rights upon a beings interest in having them.

BaIB - 23 October 2008 05:19 PM

I suggest you stop reading the bible and pick up Darwin.  Stewardship?  That is straight from the bible! Are you a theist?

I am not a theist and I see nothing particularly religious about the idea of stewardship.  I think that it is a matter of responsibility that more powerful beings treat less powerful beings with decency and respect whenever possible.

BaIB - 23 October 2008 05:19 PM

Either non-human animals deserve the basic right not to be used as a means to an end or they don’t.  There is no middle ground.

I don’t see it as so black and white.  I believe that most all sentient beings deserve to have their welfare taken into consideration and that some beings deserve certain rights.  I don’t see why the matter of using beings as means to ends is an issue.  I am often used by other persons as a means to an end.  I am even used this way by my cat sometimes.  I have no problem with this.

BaIB - 23 October 2008 05:19 PM

We just need to leave them alone.

What about the ones that we have already raised to depend upon us?

BaIB - 23 October 2008 05:19 PM

No, you are not.  Peter Singer applies his utilitarian theory to all.  You discriminate between humans and all other animals. And also, if you advocate Singer’s philosophy, then you also don’t have rights.  If it would be beneficial to experiment on you and kill you in order to save 100 people, the utilitarian theory says it is OK to do this to you.

I don’t think that you are accurately representing Peter Singer’s conception of Preference Utilitarianism.  It sounds more to me as if you are referring to a more traditional sort of utilitarianism, such as that of John Stuart Mill.

Are you aware of how much work Peter Singer has done and is doing on behalf of animals? 

I also don’t discriminate between humans and animals.  I discriminate between levels of sentience and cognition.

BaIB - 22 October 2008 04:02 PM

Also, because of sea sponges and other such species, you are willing to deny rights to the entire animal kingdom with the exception of Homo sapiens.  How is that fair?  Is it the elephants’ fault that there are sea sponges in this world?  Why should elephants be denied rights because of the existence of sea sponges?

I am not denying them their welfare.  I am denying them certain specified rights.  No being should be unnecessarily made to suffer.

BaIB - 22 October 2008 04:02 PM

I know what you are trying to do.  You are trying to find a level where you can say: individuals above this level have rights and below this level have no rights.

Haven’t you already done that by stopping with plants?  Also, I am not interested in establishing a hierarchy.  I am looking at different qualities.

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Posted: 23 October 2008 08:56 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 102 ]
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For what it’s worth, I’ll offer my take on this. I do not consider there to be any such thing as rights, especially with respect to animals. This does not mean that I consider it acceptable to make animals suffer. Rather, I believe that each person extends a sense of identity to include those animals with whom that person can have some sort of emotional relationship. In other words, we perceive dogs as very much like people, not in an anatomical sense but rather in an emotional sense. We extend this sense to many other animals, often for reasons that may seem arbitrary. Baby animals attract particular interest because women are programmed to love babies (I believe it’s based on the ratio of eye size to head size). Soft and fuzzy animals attract more of this sense of identity than slimy animals. But we extend this sense right down to the smallest bug, in lesser degrees.

Now, when harm is visited upon such animals, we internalize their pain. The same empathetic mechanisms that are part of our social reasoning process give us a sense of pain when the animals suffer pain. This has nothing to do with any rights the animals are claimed to have—it is a strictly emotional process. But the fact that it’s emotional doesn’t deny it reality. When a man tortures a dog, every person who learns of that act suffers some pain. And it is entirely proper for society to criminalize that act, not because of the dog’s pain, but because of the people’s pain.

So I think that the appropriate way to handle this question is to ask “to what degree does a particular action outrage the sensitivities of the people?” The answer to this question changes over the decades. A hundred years ago nobody felt the slightest pain upon the death of many animals. Nowadays people have greater sensitivity to this and we already have some laws criminalizing certain injuries to animals. With the passage of time we can expect to see such laws expanded.

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Posted: 24 October 2008 03:14 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 103 ]
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BaIB - 23 October 2008 05:19 PM

What being doesn’t care about his/her own pain or pleasure?

erasmusinfinity - 23 October 2008 06:07 PM

  Perhaps a plant???  You seem to draw a line there.  I would include a sea sponge and a mosquito.

I agree.  This is what I have been arguing. I don’t consider plants beings.  They are things.  Living things.

BaIB - 23 October 2008 05:19 PM

Are you saying that you would deny rights to certain retarded people depending on their specific nature of retardation?  Are you saying that it is morally justified to use retarded people for medical research, for example?

erasmusinfinity - 23 October 2008 06:07 PM

  I would not consider the granting of compassionate welfare to a human being who is severely retarded to be the same thing as granting him/her rights.  If a person was not capable of appreciating “rights” I would not see the value in granting them.  This does not mean that I would perform medical experiments on them any more so than I would most animals.  Again, it is not a “rights” issue.

Explain what you precisely meant by “welfare”.

One does not have to have a very complex brain to appreciate a right to life, a right to freedom, a right not to be tortured.  Some individuals may not understand what rights are, but they surely know when their rights are being violated.

You say you would not experiment on most animals.  On what animals then would you experiment and why?

BaIB - 23 October 2008 05:19 PM

I asked the question because you want to exclude all non-human animals from having rights, but include all humans.

erasmusinfinity - 23 October 2008 06:07 PM

  No.  In general I include other great apes and I do not include many humans, such as early term fetuses and the severely mentally retarded.  I base the entitlement to rights upon a beings interest in having them.

What sentient being has no interests in having basic rights? I don’t understand. Please explain.

BaIB - 23 October 2008 05:19 PM

I suggest you stop reading the bible and pick up Darwin.  Stewardship?  That is straight from the bible! Are you a theist?

erasmusinfinity - 23 October 2008 06:07 PM

  I am not a theist and I see nothing particularly religious about the idea of stewardship.  I think that it is a matter of responsibility that more powerful beings treat less powerful beings with decency and respect whenever possible.

I see stewardship as having everything to do with religion.  This kind of thinking assumes that humans are above all, above all other animals, above nature, that humans need to manage nature or else all will fall apart.  There is no rational basis for such a belief.  Humans are a part of nature.  Humans are just one of the animal species.  If we disappeared from this planet tomorrow, nothing would happen to the planet (at least nothing bad).  Life would go on as before, as before we got here.

BaIB - 23 October 2008 05:19 PM

Either non-human animals deserve the basic right not to be used as a means to an end or they don’t.  There is no middle ground.

erasmusinfinity - 23 October 2008 06:07 PM

  I don’t see it as so black and white.  I believe that most all sentient beings deserve to have their welfare taken into consideration and that some beings deserve certain rights. 

Again, I don’t understand what you mean by “welfare”.  Why do you say that some beings deserve rights and some don’t?  What criterion are you using to exclude a being from having rights?

erasmusinfinity - 23 October 2008 06:07 PM

  I don’t see why the matter of using beings as means to ends is an issue.  I am often used by other persons as a means to an end.  I am even used this way by my cat sometimes.  I have no problem with this.

I doubt that you are being used purely as a means to an end.  Please provide an example. 

I think you must be getting something in return or else you would not enter into the relationship.  You are a person.  You are not a property.

It can be argued that it is you who are using your cat as a means to an end.  What choices did the cat have?  You are the one who chose to take the cat and have him/her live with you.  The cat is totally dependent on you.  You most likely are getting something out of it (affection, companionship, etc.). 

When it comes to laws, your cat is definitely your property.  If you wanted to have the cat euthanized tomorrow, you can do it and it would be perfectly legal. The cat has no rights what so ever.  The cat is only a property.

This is what I am after.  I think it is immoral to treat sentient beings as if they were things, or property.  They should be persons, and the law should recognize them as persons.
(continued below)

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Posted: 24 October 2008 03:15 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 104 ]
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(continued)

BaIB - 23 October 2008 05:19 PM

We just need to leave them alone.

erasmusinfinity - 23 October 2008 06:07 PM

  What about the ones that we have already raised to depend upon us?

We created domesticated animals by artificial selection.  We made them the way we wanted them.  We selected for the traits we liked, not the traits that would be most advantageous to the animal for survival.  This is why domesticated animals are cripples compared to their wild counterparts.  To take an extreme example: domesticated turkeys.  We have messed them up so badly by artificial selection that they cannot even mate on their own.  Domesticated turkeys have to be artificially inseminated.

BaIB - 23 October 2008 05:19 PM

No, you are not.  Peter Singer applies his utilitarian theory to all.  You discriminate between humans and all other animals. And also, if you advocate Singer’s philosophy, then you also don’t have rights.  If it would be beneficial to experiment on you and kill you in order to save 100 people, the utilitarian theory says it is OK to do this to you.

erasmusinfinity - 23 October 2008 06:07 PM

  I don’t think that you are accurately representing Peter Singer’s conception of Preference Utilitarianism.  It sounds more to me as if you are referring to a more traditional sort of utilitarianism, such as that of John Stuart Mill.

Yes, there are different versions of the utilitarian theory.  My point is that, no matter what version you use, the utilitarian theory allows, and even recommends, violating individual rights in certain cases. The utilitarian theory is a very good theory for economics, but not for ethics.

erasmusinfinity - 23 October 2008 06:07 PM

  Are you aware of how much work Peter Singer has done and is doing on behalf of animals? 

Yes, I am aware of his work.  I am also aware of the damage he is doing to the animal rights movement.

erasmusinfinity - 23 October 2008 06:07 PM

  I also don’t discriminate between humans and animals.  I discriminate between levels of sentience and cognition.

But how can you precisely measure the level of sentience and then say that if one is above this level then one has rights, and if below then one doesn’t? And why is the level of sentience the criterion? We don’t discriminate among humans depending on their level of sentience or intelligence.  Why take such discrimination to the level of species?  After all, no one has a choice of what brain one will be born with any more than one has choice of gender, sexual preference, or species.  We are lucky to be born at all.  And we all should have a right to make the best of our short lives, and to seek happiness and fulfillment, whatever that may be.

BaIB - 22 October 2008 04:02 PM

Also, because of sea sponges and other such species, you are willing to deny rights to the entire animal kingdom with the exception of Homo sapiens.  How is that fair?  Is it the elephants’ fault that there are sea sponges in this world?  Why should elephants be denied rights because of the existence of sea sponges?

erasmusinfinity - 23 October 2008 06:07 PM

  I am not denying them their welfare.  I am denying them certain specified rights.  No being should be unnecessarily made to suffer.

Not understanding what you mean by welfare, I don’t see how one cannot suffer if one has no rights.  If one has no rights, one is treated as property, which means one can be used as a means to an end.  Elephants are used as means to an end.  We exploit them for entertainment in circuses and zoos. If elephants had the status of persons, then we would not be able to exploit them.

Re: suffering

If I had a choice of either being beaten up or painlessly killed,  I would choose being beaten up (with the hope that I will recover and continue my life).  Non-human animals exhibit a similar choice, as for example, when animals chew off their own paws to get out of a leghold trap.  They make themselves suffer to preserve their life.

BaIB - 22 October 2008 04:02 PM

I know what you are trying to do.  You are trying to find a level where you can say: individuals above this level have rights and below this level have no rights.

erasmusinfinity - 23 October 2008 06:07 PM

Haven’t you already done that by stopping with plants?  Also, I am not interested in establishing a hierarchy.  I am looking at different qualities.

Yes, I did stop with plants, and I think I gave a rational reason why.  You are establishing a hierarchy by judging beings by the level of their sentience.  I can’t see that as moral.  After all, sentience is depended on the complexity of the brain.  And what is a brain but simply a tool for adaptation to the environment.  Just because not all species evolved in that direction, does not mean that they don’t have any rights.  No one species had a choice of how evolution will shape it. And who is to say that a complex brain is a better tool than say the ability to procreate fast?  Only time will tell.  We will see who will become extinct first: humans or rats.

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Posted: 24 October 2008 03:19 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 105 ]
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Chris Crawford - 23 October 2008 08:56 PM

For what it’s worth, I’ll offer my take on this. I do not consider there to be any such thing as rights, especially with respect to animals. This does not mean that I consider it acceptable to make animals suffer. Rather, I believe that each person extends a sense of identity to include those animals with whom that person can have some sort of emotional relationship. In other words, we perceive dogs as very much like people, not in an anatomical sense but rather in an emotional sense. We extend this sense to many other animals, often for reasons that may seem arbitrary. Baby animals attract particular interest because women are programmed to love babies (I believe it’s based on the ratio of eye size to head size). Soft and fuzzy animals attract more of this sense of identity than slimy animals. But we extend this sense right down to the smallest bug, in lesser degrees.

Now, when harm is visited upon such animals, we internalize their pain. The same empathetic mechanisms that are part of our social reasoning process give us a sense of pain when the animals suffer pain. This has nothing to do with any rights the animals are claimed to have—it is a strictly emotional process. But the fact that it’s emotional doesn’t deny it reality. When a man tortures a dog, every person who learns of that act suffers some pain. And it is entirely proper for society to criminalize that act, not because of the dog’s pain, but because of the people’s pain.

So I think that the appropriate way to handle this question is to ask “to what degree does a particular action outrage the sensitivities of the people?” The answer to this question changes over the decades. A hundred years ago nobody felt the slightest pain upon the death of many animals. Nowadays people have greater sensitivity to this and we already have some laws criminalizing certain injuries to animals. With the passage of time we can expect to see such laws expanded.

There are several problems with the above.  You definitely discriminate based on species (“especially with respect to animals”).  Please justify morally such discrimination.  How is it different than discrimination based on gender, race, sexual preference or mental or physical handicaps? 

There are no rational reasons why some humans have no personal identity with members of other animal species.  Those who don’t have this identity either have no clue what evolution is and/or are highly religious. If they thought rationally and had some knowledge, they would know that all animals are our evolutionary sisters and brothers.

Where did you get the idea that humans are compassionate toward other animals?  We imprison them in concentration style factory farms.  We torture them.  We kill them by the billions just because we like the taste of meat.  And people do not seem to be particularly bothered by all this.

Regarding dogs, the situation is not much better. We use dogs in wars (thousands have died).  We put them in danger such as when we use them for police work.  We breed them in concentration style puppy mills, where dogs are kept in small wire cages and just made to produce litters one after another.  We use them in horrible medical experiments. We kill them by the millions in shelters because we have bred so many that we can’t provide them all with homes. So I don’t understand how you came to the conclusion that we treat dogs with any compassion or respect.  We simply don’t. We treat them as disposable consumer products and tools.

One’s rights should not be dependent of the way others think of one. Individual rights should be based on the inherent value of the individual, regardless of his/her value to others or feelings that individual evokes in others. Since the beginning, men have claimed to love women (see all the literature thought centuries that deals with the subject).  Yet men treated women like property.  It is only recently that women got their rights, and we got it be fighting for them.  No one handed them to us on a plate.

You ask, “to what degree does a particular action outrage the sensitivities of the people”.  I guess it depends on the person.  I am greatly outraged by what we humans do to other animals.  If it were up to me, all this exploitation would be criminalized immediately.  But unfortunately, I am in a minority.  To pass such a law would require a majority to share my view.  I believe in moral progress.  I believe, to quote Leonardo da Vinci, “The day will come when men such as I will look on the murder of animals as they now look on the murder of men.”  But this is not going to happen by itself any more than slavery, oppression of women, and child labor, just disappeared on their own.  Someone has to fight for what he/she believes is right.  Someone has to raise consciousness.  This is what I am trying to do, even on this forum.  I want people to think critically.  To reexamine the way we have been treating animals, to apply our advanced knowledge of evolution, and to draw new conclusions.

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