« The Weak Inside View | Main | Cheap Wine Tastes Fine »

November 18, 2008

Comments

Ugh. Good article, except for the dodge about the value derived from animal experiments. And when I say dodge, I mean this:

"Since many people are apparently convinced by this argument, they must therefore believe that scientific progress is something worthwhile—that, at the very least, its value outweighs the suffering of experimental animals. And yet, at the same time, we are regularly confronted with the conflicting realisation that, far from viewing science as a highly valuable and worthwhile pursuit, the public is often disillusioned and exasperated with science."

Research on animals that aims to cure cancer or Parkinson's disease can hardly be compared with research into the forming of knots and the swatting of flies. These two have nothing to do with each other, which leaves you with one leg short of a well-supported argument. You address the easy issues - moral equivalence, yes, blah blah blah - but you do not address the difficult question: do animal experiments, infact, help us, or could we obtain the same benefits in some other way?

I do not know the answer to this, but if the answer is that animal experiments are indeed crucial to progress in important areas - if they are crucial to research that will improve human health and longevity in a matter of decades - then you will not gain sufficient support for your argument, because no matter the moral equivalence:

(1) animals don't look like people, they don't talk, don't get organized against oppression,

(2) most people believe in God and that there's a chasm between humans and animals,

(3) cynical people who know there's no difference don't give a rat's tail, because they know that they aren't going to be subject to such experimentation, but it may benefit them.

This is a case of strong vs. weak, and as long as half the human population are lying cynical sociopaths, which they are, you aren't going to get anywhere with it. The world can only be accurately imagined as beautiful when it has only "beautiful" inhabitants. Our world does not. In a world populated with selfish creatures fighting for their own benefit and devil take the rest... that's what takes place. This is us.

The fact that scientific research is regarded as indispensable even as some scientists are criticized for focusing on "silly" things does not strike me as particularly contradictory.

The rest of your point is well received.

That said, the animals are no better. They're built to kill each other all day. The cats that suffer would have hunted mice and birds and would have played with them before maiming and eating. That's how things work in nature. We can separate ourselves from it, say that we are morally above it, and we could be. But it will still take place.

@denis

Your point about research is well made, and I agree with it.

You don't, however, address the fundamental point: is it Right to allow ourselves to torture and kill animals in the name of science?

You address whether animals would be similarly kind, and whether the argument will ever be successful among humans, but not the fundamental question at hand.

"morally acceptable, or just the way things always have been?"

Not sure where the 'just' comes from. "The way things always have been" comes close behind "what those with the most entrenched power want" in making things "morally acceptable". That isn't "biassed morality". That is morality itself. The question makes no sense to me.

(Bill) You don't, however, address the fundamental point: is it Right to allow ourselves to torture and kill animals in the name of science?

A far better question. I'm going with 'yes', but I feel bad while saying it. That's an answer of sorts.

Bill Mill: There is no ought, people who want will do, and people who don't want will avoid.

Should we strenthen legal, society-wide animal treatment standards? First and foremost, what for? We cooperate because we gain from it, we nurture peace among humans because we're better off this way instead of fighting. But there doesn't need to be peace and tolerance where someone is clearly and absolutely winning. With animals, we're clearly winning. So why handicap ourselves?

The only reason we might do so is if idealists prevail, and enforce their preference for not abusing animals on people who want to abuse animals. But people who abuse animals are just another animal themselves. Preventing people from abusing animals is much like going out into the sea and preventing bigger fish from eating smaller fish. Hello big tuna fish, why don't you try our processed soy extract instead.

For what it's worth, I wouldn't mind the idealists winning this one. I don't like animal abuse. If there's a way to get to the same medical discoveries in a similar timeframe without torturing creatures, I'd prefer that. If we could all decide we're not going to eat meat, I'd stop. Then we could all walk around with our noses held high above the uncultured, uncivilized creatures around us, who kill each other instead of cooperating like we do.

But that is all a matter of preference, of personal comfort, not a matter of moral necessity. The moral fact of the matter is, humans abusing animals are just another animal abusing another animal, and it's nothing new in the animal world.

It is important to remember that very few things are discrete and binary. We are very quick to lump things into categories to make them easier to understand. Take for example your dismissal of "seemingly trifling" research. Often the popular press will report research as if it were answering a yes/no question: "Do people spend more when using credit cards than cash?" In reality, good research rarely answers yes/no questions; it answers "how much" questions. "How much more do people spend when using credit cards than cash?" The answers to 'how much' questions are usually very not obvious and useful. Knowing how much more people are likely to spend when using credit cards allows us to compare credit cards to gift cards, cash, travelers checks, debit cards, bank transfers, foreign currencies, and other forms of monetary exchange. This will tell us if credit cards are significantly worse than these other forms, or if they are pretty much the same as cash. It tells us how much we might save by moving to cash. These questions are non-obvious.

In a very similar way, the morality of animal research is not a yes/no question either. There is a continuum. Is research on primates OK? Canines? Squid? Trees? Algae? Bacteria? Is behavioral research OK? Non-deadly medical research? Non-pain-inducing medical research? Claiming to have a single answer that covers all of these is what leads to the extremist "animal rights activists" being looked down upon.

The morality of experimenting on humans is also not a clear-cut yes/no question. Human subjects research is permitted, but limited. Right now the US at least has an infrastructure to deal with the morality of human subjects research known as "Institutional Review Boards (IRB)". IRBs try to ensure the ethical conducting of research by balancing the harms and suffering done to human subjects and the potential benefits to humanity of the research. Highly beneficial research (curing cancer for example) is allowed to involve more risk to subjects. Research that causes lots of suffering or has high risk of death is not allowed.

Personally, I am in favor of extending our existing ethical research infrastructure to include experiments on animals. It would be possible to have an IRB for animal research that tries to make these case-by-case tradeoffs. I know at some universities, there is an IRB or IRB-like ethical oversight of animal research already in place.

Rick, do you think that the overwhelming majority of people are "extremists" because they deny that it is every permissible to experiment with nonconsenting human animals? And do you think people who look down upon "extremist" animal rights activists would answer 'yes' to that question?

Pablo, we currently conduct research with non-consenting humans all of the time. At least, we conduct human behavioral research (which is what I do) without full consent frequently. Any research study that involves "deception" (quite common in psychology at least) is a research study where at best the subjects are not consenting to the study, or are consenting to a different study than they one they are participating in. I have also seen a number of studies where no consent was ever obtained because such consent was either almost impossible to obtain (some field studies) or would strongly bias the results and mess up the study. Such studies are more difficult to get permission to do from the IRB, but are not uncommon. The IRB would never let you do a study with serious personal harm risks without consent, but research studies that are low-risk happen all of the time without consent.

To answer your questions, I don't think that an "overwhelming majority" of people would agree that all human subjects experimentation with nonconsenting humans is bad, since it happens every day and there is very little uproar about it -- much less than the uproar over animal experimentation.

There are different types of animal research. It is quite possible to do behavioral research experiments on indigenous animal populations that most people would probably think are quite ethical. It is equally possible to give apes cancer, kill them, and dissect them. Those two types of research should not be lumped into the same "ethical" bin -- one treats the animal much worse than the other. Of course, the knowledge it generates might also be more beneficial to both humans and animals in the future. I think there are tradeoffs that always need to be made, and trying to talk about it as an all-or-nothing ethical dilemma is misleading at best.

@denis

> There is no ought, people who want will do, and people who don't want will avoid.

If you're going to posit complete relativism, why post in a thread about morals at all? Morals are the "ought", no?

In an infinite amount of time, science will learn everything there is to know, with or without animal experimentation.

The only thing animal experimentation does is to accelerate our learning and bring future knowledge into the present sooner. Likewise, doing human experimentation on retarded and near comatose people would also accelerate our learning -- in fact, it would radically improve on whatever we could learn via animal experimentation.

The question then is what wrongs (since most of us think torturing monkeys, dogs, cats, etc. is generally wrong) we are permitted to commit in order to save time (and thus save some human lives).

@Rick Wash

> there is very little uproar about [human behavioral experimentation] -- much less than the uproar over animal experimentation.

I think that people, intuitively, draw a thick line between behavioral research and "physical" research. The morality of running rats through mazes and examining the results is not the same as that of opening up their brains while they're still alive and popping them with electricity to see what happens.

The line between the two types of research is, granted, extremely fuzzy, but I think that "an overwhelming majority" of humans do, in fact, feel that nonconsenting humans should not be experimented on *physically*.

I agree with you that it's not necessarily an all-or-nothing argument. However, I don't think the base of your argument stands. I see you as arguing "we allow nonconsenting research on humans, and animals are below humans, and therefore we should allow at least some nonconsenting research on them".

If you seperate behavioral research from invasive physical experimentation, though, we consider it immoral in all circumstances that I am aware of to perform nonconsenting invasive physical research on humans, so we can't make a similar argument for it.

This ... this would have failed in my junior year ethics class.

False dichotomies. Strawman arguments. Red herring rhetorical questions.

This might have failed my first year writing class. Please either extrapolate from a premise, or build to a conclusion. You ask an opening question, and then don't answer it. Then you ask more vague, rhetorical questions with assumed answers. And, frankly, the truth tends to be completely opposite or irrelevant to your leading questions.

The most cost efficient way to reduce the amount of harm humans inflict on animals would probably involve ignoring the fate of research animals but instead improving the living conditions of the pigs, chickens and cows we will eventually eat.

Rick,

The kinds of experiments that animal rights activists object to are not the experiments that you claim routinely take place in humans. It is experiments in the former category that raise the most serious ethical issues, and it is these experiments that Rebecca's post was referring to. Assimilating the experiments that take place with human beings to the highly morally problematic ones that are only permissible in nonhuman animals by exploiting the nuances of human language strikes me as an attempt to dodge the issue, and divert attention towards trivial verbal disputes. You may as well insist that people don’t really oppose slavery since many of them condone “wage slavery”. This is really a silly reply, even if it turns out that the term ‘slavery’, in some of its senses, can be extended to cover capitalist acts between consenting adults.

Still, if you insist in taking that line, you may simply substitute 'do the kinds of experiments on human beings that animal rights activists typically object to when done on nonhuman animals' for 'experiment with nonconsenting human animals' in my question above.

The crux:

> Animals may be different from humans in many respects, but it is their similarity to humans in a particular respect—their capacity to suffer—that grounds the ethical debate surrounding animal experimentation.

What constitutes suffering? Is it the same across all species---does the word "suffering" mean the same thing when applied to a fruit fly, a fish, a bird, a mouse, a monkey, a human? Should we care about the analogue of suffering in all these species equally? Does higher mental faculty affect the character of suffering or the degree to which a human should care about it?

It feels like you haven't explored any of the real questions in this post, just presented a polemic.

As to the analogy between "racism" and "speciesism," it's ironic that this appears just a few posts after Eliezer's (most recent) attack on reasoning by surface similarity. What are the deep similarities, and what's surface? Do we only care about racism because humans can suffer? Break all this out carefully in six well-reasoned posts and we might get somewhere.

There is absolutely nothing hypocritical about people's attitudes toward nonhuman animal experimentation. Almost nobody claims to care about "preventing all suffering" they care about "preventing human suffering" and especially "preventing my friends and family members' suffering"(for the obvious evolutionary psych. reasons). People don't care very much about nonhuman animals, and would rather 100,000 mice die than one cute little boy.

And just because people think some research is pointless does NOT mean that people are "exasperated" at science (and people are especially positive about biomedical research).

Is it ethical for a starving human to kill an animal in order to survive and feed his family? I would say yes.

If we could have a regulation agency, like an FDA for animal testing that forces scientists to prove that their experimentation would lead to helping humans, wouldn't it then be ethical to use animals? It would just be like the starving man who needs to feed him family.

I have always been perplexed by argument like this that talk about "cruelty to animals."
I have a simple question. What carries a higher sentence, murder or torture of a human? When we are clear that murder is a strictly worse offense, I find it perplexing that the same ordering should not extend to animals. This article lists that about 200 million animals are used a year in scientific tests. The number of animals killed an eaten a year would easily be 2-3 orders of magnitude higher!

As a society we seem to take little issue with the fact that probably 100 billion animals are slain every year for food, when it is the case that meat eating only erodes the world's grain supply (the grains consumed by animals if fed to people could probably feed 10 times as many people), and obviously inefficient from an energy perspective. And to top it all, the marginal benefit is merely the fact that humans have more variety in their food options, as opposed to scientific experiements where the bang for the buck in killing each animal is way greater.

So if we want to reduce discrimination on the basis of species, the first place to start would be to wean away humans from meat eating.

Once we have achieved that goal, it might make sense to debate whether the value attained for humans is worth the suffering that animals have to undergo in scientific tests.

It perplexes me no end that I have heard few others make this argument.


I think it's not ok to simply waste an animal's life for sport or sadism, but it is ok for something worthwhile like food or scientific research.

We must remember that animals (with the possible exception of higher primates) do not have the ability to perform the same kind of conceptual abstraction we do. This means that while they can think (the wordless equivalent of) "I am in pain" or "I am happy" or "I am hungry," they can't take all of those moments and abstract out the common "I" and become self aware.

If they can't conceive of "I" (as apart from what they're doing or feeling at a given moment), then while they can feel physical pain, they can't feel the kind of deep mental anguish a human would in the same situation. That doesn't make it right, it just means that if you care about their pain, the main thing you should focus on is physical pain.

@Ian C.

Thanks, that is exactly what I think.

I am afraid we have to draw a line somewhere - think about all those small insects and bacteria we accidentally kill and torture all the time.

Link styles got mixed by this post, changing colors on the whole front page. Section "Style Definitions" in the post source needs to be removed or commented out.

Ian C. :

How can you say that animals don't have the ability to perform conceptual abstraction? Can you read their minds? The fact that animals can't talk (in a way we understand, at least) does not give as the right to conclude that their thought processes are somehow below those of humans.

Second point: what is the "deep mental anguish" of a human anyway if not a derivative of pain, stress, frustration, fear etc.? Are you seriously suggesting that animals do not feel those emotions in addition to physical pain? It doesn't make any sense to suggest that animal suffering is somehow "less" than human suffering because allegedly the mental processes of animals are somehow below ours.

Vijay: I always think the same thing. How can it be acceptable to kill and eat animals and unacceptable to stick needles into them? Is everyone on this thread who is anti-animal experimentation also a vegan?

Thanks to everyone here for reading and commenting. I respond to the objections below. In the interests of brevity, I’ll ignore exchanges between commenters that don’t appear to be directly addressed to me.

Denis Bider: ‘Ugh. Good article, except for the dodge about the value derived from animal experiments.’ (Jsalvati makes a similar point about the public attitudes paragraph.)
I disagree that the paragraph about the public’s views of science is a ‘dodge’. No part of my argument depends on it, and it could be omitted from the post without interrupting the flow. It was, rather, an aside that aimed to highlight something I’ve observed about disparities in popular views of scientific research: that a public who often seems to despair at the sort of things that scientists spend their time is often nevertheless happy to believe that animal experiments are worthwhile. Of course, I’m generalising here: the sort of people who despair at science may not the the same people who believe that animal experiments are worthwhile, but it’s still surprising that we don’t encounter more comparisons between the two in the form of comments like, ‘Well, as we can see from research projects X, Y, and Z, what scientists believe to be worthwhile projects may differ markedly from what the rest of us believe to be worthwhile, so why should we believe them when they insist that their animal experiments are worthwhile?’
You also say, ‘You address the easy issues - moral equivalence, yes, blah blah blah - but you do not address the difficult question: do animal experiments, infact, help us, or could we obtain the same benefits in some other way?’. You seem to think the moral equivalence issue is not worth addressing. In fact, it’s crucial to the relevance of the question, ‘do animal experiments help us?’ If experimenting on animals is no more justifiable than experimenting on humans, then—assuming we don’t believe it to be acceptable to experiment on humans—we should not be experimenting on animals regardless of the benefits.
And: ‘In a world populated with selfish creatures fighting for their own benefit and devil take the rest... that's what takes place. This is us.’ (And in a later comment ‘There is no ought, people who want will do, and people who don't want will avoid.’) That there are so many selfish creatures in the world is exactly why it’s important to work out what is right and wrong, and in many cases, to legislate to discourage or prevent people from doing what is wrong! Having said that, I’m sure (I hope!) that people who knowingly act unethically are in a small minority. It seems to be the case that many people who act unethically do so because they are able to convince themselves that they are acting ethically. Debating the ethical issues at stake, and exposing bad ethical justifications as such, makes it more difficult for them to do this. As such, I’m optimistic that having this sort of debate is worthwhile in that it encourages people to question their behaviour and do the right thing.
In your next comment, you say, ‘the animals are no better. They're built to kill each other all day. The cats that suffer would have hunted mice and birds and would have played with them before maiming and eating’. (And in your later comment, ‘The moral fact of the matter is, humans abusing animals are just another animal abusing another animal, and it's nothing new in the animal world.’) The argument that, since animals often treat each other cruelly, we are justified in treating them cruelly is a popular but nevertheless very bad argument. Nobody would endorse it when applied to other humans rather than to animals. Consider that, very often, young children go out of their way to try to hurt one another—and yet nobody seriously entertains the possibility that it is therefore acceptable to try to hurt them. Rather, we view them as incapable of forming and acting on the sort of ethical judgments that adults form and act on. We don’t take ethical guidance from watching how young children behave, and neither should we take it from watching how animals behave—the issue is how we, as adults capable of forming and acting on moral judgments, should behave.

Cameron Taylor: ‘"The way things always have been" comes close behind "what those with the most entrenched power want" in making things "morally acceptable". That isn't "biassed morality". That is morality itself. The question makes no sense to me.’
‘Biased morality’ is often what people are talking about when they talk about ‘morality’, but it isn’t true that there is no distinction between what is moral and what people think is moral. People can believe that something is moral for all sorts of reasons, which very often have little to do what what is in fact moral.

Rick Wash: ‘It is important to remember that very few things are discrete and binary. We are very quick to lump things into categories to make them easier to understand. Take for example your dismissal of "seemingly trifling" research. Often the popular press will report research as if it were answering a yes/no question: "Do people spend more when using credit cards than cash?" In reality, good research rarely answers yes/no questions; it answers "how much" questions.’
I agree! I wasn’t dismissing (or trying to simplify) the scientific research in question, I was merely observing that others often do so. It was the perceptions of science that interested me, regardless of how accurate those perceptions were. As you say, this is largely thanks to the media.
‘In a very similar way, the morality of animal research is not a yes/no question either. There is a continuum. Is research on primates OK? Canines? Squid? Trees? Algae? Bacteria? Is behavioral research OK? Non-deadly medical research? Non-pain-inducing medical research? Claiming to have a single answer that covers all of these is what leads to the extremist "animal rights activists" being looked down upon.’
Again, I agree with you. But I don’t think we can find satisfactory answers to these questions without first addressing the question of what the moral status of various animals is. As for extremist ‘animal rights activists’: often, it seems that what is frowned upon is not merely that the actions of a small minority of such people are as morally reprehensible as the actions of those whom they protest against, but that they are perceived as being 'too emotional' about the issue. We are constantly reminded of the importance of being peaceful and reasonable. But, whilst being peaceful and reasonable can often be the most productive strategy for making others listen to our views, it’s important to remember that reacting with strong emotion to morally repugnant acts is very much a part of having a strong moral sense. For example, I think that most people would have misgivings about the moral character of anyone able to read about the appalling Baby P case, which has recently dominated news reports in the UK, without responding with strong emotion. But for some reason, those who respond with similar emotion to learning of animal abuse are often dismissed as sentimental.

Purple: ‘The only thing animal experimentation does is to accelerate our learning and bring future knowledge into the present sooner. … The question then is what wrongs (since most of us think torturing monkeys, dogs, cats, etc. is generally wrong) we are permitted to commit in order to save time (and thus save some human lives).’
Yes, focusing on timescales is one way of framing the issue. But your claim that animal experimentation accelerates our learning is controversial: quite aside from the ethical issues, many argue that it hinders our learning and that we would progress faster if we pursued other methods. I’m not qualified to assess the extent to which that is correct, but there are some links in my post (in the paragraph beginning, ‘A pervasive view …’) to information about why animal experiments are unreliable.

Ben: ‘This ... this would have failed in my junior year ethics class. False dichotomies. Strawman arguments. Red herring rhetorical questions. This might have failed my first year writing class. Please either extrapolate from a premise, or build to a conclusion. You ask an opening question, and then don't answer it. Then you ask more vague, rhetorical questions with assumed answers. And, frankly, the truth tends to be completely opposite or irrelevant to your leading questions.’
I concede that a good essay on this topic would contain a level of detail that, in the interests of remaining engaging, a blog post must omit. I would be happy to provide such detail here in the comments, but you have not attempted to specify the points at which you have found it wanting.

James D. Miller: ‘The most cost efficient way to reduce the amount of harm humans inflict on animals would probably involve ignoring the fate of research animals but instead improving the living conditions of the pigs, chickens and cows we will eventually eat.’
I’m all for improving the living conditions of those animals too, but I wonder whether the most cost efficient method might involve addressing both issues together: by examining our attitudes to animals in general, and by introducing appropriate measures to improve their treatment however they are used.

Talisman: ‘What constitutes suffering? Is it the same across all species---does the word "suffering" mean the same thing when applied to a fruit fly, a fish, a bird, a mouse, a monkey, a human? Should we care about the analogue of suffering in all these species equally? Does higher mental faculty affect the character of suffering or the degree to which a human should care about it? It feels like you haven't explored any of the real questions in this post, just presented a polemic. As to the analogy between "racism" and "speciesism," it's ironic that this appears just a few posts after Eliezer's (most recent) attack on reasoning by surface similarity. What are the deep similarities, and what's surface? Do we only care about racism because humans can suffer? Break all this out carefully in six well-reasoned posts and we might get somewhere.’
I am under no illusions about the fact that, in seven paragraphs, I can succeed only in weakly scratching the surface of this issue—even ‘six well-reasoned posts’ would barely get us started. Perhaps some background is appropriate here: despite the fact that the new animal lab is now completed in Oxford, and that it forms part of the University, staggeringly few Oxford University academics are publicly addressing the ethical issues. The lab is running a couple of ‘briefing sessions’ which seem to be directed at reassurance rather than engagement with the ethics. The impression one is left with is that the ethical issues are best left to the protesters, and ignored by serious academics. I wrote my post in a modest attempt to start the debate, not in an attempt to wrap it up.
I accept your point about different kinds of suffering: humans are capable of suffering in certain ways that other animals are not, and as a result some ways of treating humans are unacceptable whilst comparable ways of treating animals are acceptable. I think that even most people who make efforts to treat animals very well recognise this, at least implicitly: for example, my 13-year-old cats are confined to my flat, and their amusements are restricted to chasing toys, scratching the carpet, eating, and sleeping—plus the occasional instance of laptop-smashing and toilet-roll unravelling. It would hardly be appropriate to restrict the movements and behaviour of a normal, 13-year-old human in this way, since such a human would be likely to experience psychological problems that do not occur in my cats. Having said that, the suffering of animals who undergo the sorts of experiments I’m concerned with in this post (some of which I mention or link to information about) is undoubtedly real, and in many experiments—such as those that aim to investigate pain—the assumption that the animals suffer provides the very motivation for the experiment. It seems to me that the issue of different kinds of suffering is likely to be most relevant in the case of experiments that we might call ‘borderline cruel’: for example, those that have rats spend most of their lives running around in mazes or pressing levers. The suggestion that rats don’t suffer (in whatever sense of ‘suffering’ we take to be morally significant’) when they spend their lives running around mazes is likely to have more mileage than the suggestion that primates don’t suffer when they undergo surgery to create brain lesions, or that cats don't suffer when they have electric currents applied to their nerves.
Despite my limited coverage of it here, there are relevant similarities between racism and speciesism. One of those centres around the capacity to suffer (or, in recognition of your other point, the capacity to suffer in certain ways). Some (notably Bernard Williams, in a posthumously published paper) have argued that racism and speciesism are importantly different, but that view is controversial—Julian Savulescu critiques it in a paper in a soon-to-be-published book about human nature, edited by him and Nick Bostrom.

Kevin: ‘There is absolutely nothing hypocritical about people's attitudes toward nonhuman animal experimentation. Almost nobody claims to care about "preventing all suffering" they care about "preventing human suffering" and especially "preventing my friends and family members' suffering"(for the obvious evolutionary psych. reasons). People don't care very much about nonhuman animals, and would rather 100,000 mice die than one cute little boy.’
True, but the question is whether dismissing animal suffering is any less morally reprehensible than dismissing the suffering of, say, Jews. Most people are disgusted by the latter type of discrimination—as attitudes to the Holocaust demonstrate—and unless there is good reason not to view the former type in a similar way, it would indeed be hypocritical to claim that one type is acceptable whilst the other is not.
You are right that people in general care less about animals than people, but that is a description of the way things in fact are—I’m concerned here with examining how things ought to be.

Matt: ‘Is it ethical for a starving human to kill an animal in order to survive and feed his family? I would say yes. If we could have a regulation agency, like an FDA for animal testing that forces scientists to prove that their experimentation would lead to helping humans, wouldn't it then be ethical to use animals? It would just be like the starving man who needs to feed him family.’
I’m glad you raise this, because it’s an issue I have often thought about. I'll respond with two points. First, if it is indeed ethical for a starving human to kill and eat an animal in order to survive—and to make the ‘starving’ part relevant, let’s assume that it’s not acceptable to do so under normal, well-fed circumstances—then its being ethical seems to depend on the human in question having no other option (because, to paraphrase Kant, ‘ought to have done otherwise’ implies ‘could have done otherwise’). But that doesn’t tell us much about how the treatment of animals compares to the treatment of humans. Consider the question of whether a starving human is ethically justified in killing and eating a fellow human. Comparing the two cases just pushes questions about animal vs human treatment back one step: it invites us to consider how we should treat humans/animals in desperate situations rather than in normal situations.
Second, if testing on animals to find cures for diseases is comparable to killing an animal to avoid starvation, then it needs to be the case that we have no other option but to test on animals. Now, I don’t know whether or not we have other options, but if a society is to endorse testing on animals on this basis, then it really ought to be making a lot of effort to investigate alternative methods. Continuing to test on animals whilst making insufficient effort to explore alternative methods strikes me as comparable to killing and eating a human in the living room without first going into the kitchen to check whether there’s a loaf of bread available.

Vijay Krishnan: ‘I have always been perplexed by argument like this that talk about "cruelty to animals." I have a simple question. What carries a higher sentence, murder or torture of a human? When we are clear that murder is a strictly worse offense, I find it perplexing that the same ordering should not extend to animals. This article lists that about 200 million animals are used a year in scientific tests. The number of animals killed an eaten a year would easily be 2-3 orders of magnitude higher! … So if we want to reduce discrimination on the basis of species, the first place to start would be to wean away humans from meat eating.’
This is a really interesting point! I have to admit that I have never thought about it—but I’m going to do so. Intuitively, I would prefer to see an animal raised and killed humanely than to see an animal tortured and allowed to survive (at least, in cases where the torture is of a certain severity or duration), but I will think further about this. One initial thought: I’m not sure that in all cases we view killing as worse than suffering—consider the case for euthanasia, which embodies the belief that it’s better to die than to endure certain levels of suffering. But perhaps murder is relevantly different …

Ian C.: ‘I think it's not ok to simply waste an animal's life for sport or sadism, but it is ok for something worthwhile like food or scientific research. We must remember that animals (with the possible exception of higher primates) do not have the ability to perform the same kind of conceptual abstraction we do. This means that while they can think (the wordless equivalent of) "I am in pain" or "I am happy" or "I am hungry," they can't take all of those moments and abstract out the common "I" and become self aware. If they can't conceive of "I" (as apart from what they're doing or feeling at a given moment), then while they can feel physical pain, they can't feel the kind of deep mental anguish a human would in the same situation. That doesn't make it right, it just means that if you care about their pain, the main thing you should focus on is physical pain.’
You are making some wild claims about the relevance of conceptual abstraction! As others (such as Peter Singer) have pointed out, the sort of things you say here about animals also apply to human babies—and I take it that nobody would find it acceptable to experiment on babies. As for your point about different types of pain, I addressed this point in my response to Talisman, above.

Luzr: ‘I am afraid we have to draw a line somewhere - think about all those small insects and bacteria we accidentally kill and torture all the time.’
There are some things that we do that we stand little chance of being able to avoid. That doesn’t entail that we ought not to try to stop doing unethical things when it is in our power.

I'll bit the consequentialist bullet; it is acceptable to experiment on people when learning benefits are large enough. Of course in such cases it will usually be best to achieve this situation via paying those people to voluntarily accept becoming experimental subjects.

Rebecca:

It is certainly in our power to stop killing bacteria and small insects. The only thing it requires is to remove humans from the planet - and it is certainly in our power to do so.

IMO, either we are allowed to exist and affect the universe around us or not. When we are, we have to draw the line about what is acceptable and what is not. And not that without humans, all the suffering of animals will stop ever. The universe has all the power to torture and kill beings in inovative ways above all our imagination and wildest dreams. Just think about those global extinction events in the past.

I believe that there is some basic inherent bio-genetical 'moral principle' that drives us to survive as species (because simply those species that do not follow that moral principle no longer exist). On the very basic level, anything else is irrelevant.

And now one politically incorrect comment: I wonder how much of our "animal rights" tendency is caused by our preprogrammed instict to protect babies. I guess that any 'animal advocate' had rather started with feelings induced by this image:

http://www.voicespread.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/04/cute-little-cat.jpg

rather than this:

http://www.adamlyon.com/gallery/v/Vacations/maui2005/exploring/wIMG_0641.jpg.html

(but in reality, both creatures are alive, so if you are about "not doing unethical things", they should be protected equally).

I'll bit the consequentialist bullet; it is acceptable to experiment on people when learning benefits are large enough. Of course in such cases it will usually be best to achieve this situation via paying those people to voluntarily accept becoming experimental subjects.

That's interesting. As many people would be willing to take part in at least some of the experiments that are currently conducted on nonhuman animals provided sufficient money is paid to them, your way of biting the bullet in fact provides an indirect partial argument against animal experimentation.

To Rebecca w.r.t Ian C reply:

But human babies

a) are humans, the same species

b) have highly promising prospect of becoming fully sentient adults.

Are there any animal rights organisations that encourage calm and rational debate? I would be interested to hear what they have to say. Unfortuneately, popular organisations like PETA have a reputation for insanity.

Robin: Well, that would at least give experimental subjects a choice, and in that sense is preferable to animal experiments. Ideally, though, it would be good to find experimental methods that don’t require humans or other sorts of animals, since even in the scenario you suggest there would be a risk of unfair exploitation—it would, for example, raise similar issues to those raised by the purchase of organs for transplant from living donors.

Luzr: ‘I believe that there is some basic inherent bio-genetical 'moral principle' that drives us to survive as species (because simply those species that do not follow that moral principle no longer exist).’ What evidence do you have for this belief?! agree that we are biologically programmed to want to survive, but the idea that this biological programming is somehow moral is incredible.
I don’t think that your suggestion that the desire to protect animals may stem from the desire to protect babies is politically incorrect, and as a biological explanation, it may well be true.
In response to your second comment: why is it relevant that human babies are human? Whether that is indeed relevant is exactly the issue at stake. As for your point that they have the potential to become fully sentient adults, it’s far from clear that, if X has the potential to become a Y, then X has the same moral status as a Y: consider Peter Singer’s observation that most people would judge it unethical to drop a live chicken into a pan of boiling water, but not unethical to drop an egg into a pan of boiling water, even if the egg is fertilised and has the potential to develop into a live chicken. If you’re still not convinced, substitute my reference to human babies in my reply to Ian C. with reference to human babies who are retarded such that they will never progress beyond their current level of mental sophistication. I would expect most people to deem it unethical to experiment on such babies (although some have argued that it would be acceptable).

Tom: ‘Are there any animal rights organisations that encourage calm and rational debate? I would be interested to hear what they have to say. Unfortuneately, popular organisations like PETA have a reputation for insanity’.
Very many do so, it’s just that the less calm and rational ones get the coverage. For example, there’s an organisation here in Oxford that campaigns perfectly reasonably for ethical research. As for the PETA site that you link to, I don’t find that insane—in fact, if you can get past the initial incredulity, it’s rather clever! It’s making the point that, despite the fact that we don’t find certain animals cute and cuddly, they may nevertheless be worthy of consideration. That certainly seems to be a point worth making.

(luzr) And now one politically incorrect comment: I wonder how much of our "animal rights" tendency is caused by our preprogrammed instict to protect babies.

Interesting. I had assumed (with little thought) that our moral propensity to protect cute animals was an instinctive hack to preserve the future food supply. It discourages us from killing bambi just for the heck of it so we can eat her when we're really hungry.

Rebecca, others have already pointed out the logical fallacy of your fourth paragraph. So I will restrict myself to other things.

You say "However, the view that it is acceptable to inflict suffering on animals in order to spare humans is a particular application of the more general view that it is acceptable to inflict suffering on one type of being in order to spare another type." The thing is, that latter view is indeed perfectly acceptable in a large range of circumstances. I don't see anyone having moral qualms about prescribing or taking antibiotics on the basis that this kills off billions of bacteria to spare a single human. Similar for remedies that kill plasmodia, intestinal worms, etc (note that intestinal worms are in fact "animals" in a taxonomical sense). Similar for keeping down mosquito populations to prevent the spread of malaria, yellow fever, and other diseases. Of course in all of these cases there is a direct benefit to humans from killing these creatures, and we view this as worthwhile. So I wouldn't say the general principle is widely reviled. Certainly not outside very narrow academic circles, and I'm not sure it is even there.

It seems to me that the broader principle is in practice one that's considered acceptable within some areas of application by any reasonable person. The problems come, as usual, with defining the limits of applicability.

My gut feeling is that you're defining "animal" in the colloquial "cute and fuzzy mammal" sense. You say:

but it is their similarity to humans in a particular respect—their
capacity to suffer—that grounds the ethical debate surrounding
animal experimentation

This seems to imply that one important question to answer should be how to define suffering and determine whether a creature is capable of feeling it. Can an amoeba feel suffering? A bee? An earthworm? A mouse? Where is the boundary? The real answer is that suffering isn't a binary thing but rather a reflex response of varying complexity (until you get into self-awareness and hence awareness of the suffering and of the possibility that it could be absent). No clear-cut boundary exists here.

In practice, I think the principle that you describe as "widely reviled" is a good (and further, necessary) one, if applied carefully and with a careful weighting of benefits to costs. Unfortunately, people are not very good at being careful, leading to the excesses you describe. But heck, why go so far afield? There are similar applications closer to home. Athletes are cut from teams (inflicting suffering on them) so that the teams will have a lower chance of losing (and hence suffering the shame of loss). Plenty of other examples like that around. We apply this principle all the time, usually unconsciously, and I doubt that a human society is possible without such application. Most people realize that the world is not black and white.

(Ian C) We must remember that animals (with the possible exception of higher primates) do not have the ability to perform the same kind of conceptual abstraction we do.

I love that reasoning. Will the judge accept it after we go ahead and apply it to our fellow humans? That would solve all sorts of problems!

Rebecca:

Well, I guess maybe my moral system is different from yours:)

Personally, I believe that one posible moral system emerges from nature and natural laws. Hence my indea that the basis of human moral system might be derived from 'survival of genom' instincts. Or at least be compatible with them. (Well, now thinking about it more, this is not exactly what I think, but I guess it is a good start).

Anyway, reading your reply, my only resulting feeling is that by discussing it, we only make all these things more and more relative. In such case, is not it just better to accept the 'status quo' that your are so angry about? If nothing else, it has worked well for much longer time (by magnitude) than there was even thought that animals have some rights...

denis bider: "There is no ought, people who want will do, and people who don't want will avoid."
Bill Mill: "If you're going to posit complete relativism, why post in a thread about morals at all? Morals are the 'ought', no?"

I'm posting in a thread about morals to get the point across that there are no objective morals. It's a power play. Morals are damage-minimizing rules among entities who have power to hurt each other. Animals don't have power to hurt us. QED.


Rebecca: "If experimenting on animals is no more justifiable than experimenting on humans, then — assuming we don’t believe it to be acceptable to experiment on humans — we should not be experimenting on animals regardless of the benefits."

The very supposition that there is such a thing as objectively "justifiable" or "acceptable" is the core fault of your logic. So far as we know, there is no authority that will come down from heavens to admonish us for our cruelty to other animals. The animals likewise will not revolt to hurt us. Even the people who do believe that there's a heavenly authority, believe that this authority allows people to exert a degree of cruelty on animals - killing them for food, at minimum.

You are mistaking a concept (morality) at which we have arrived for pragmatic reasons (minimizing conflict amongst humans) and misplacing that concept by applying it universally. There is no universal application for it. It's just feel-good mental masturbation.

You are ignoring what actually happens in nature, which is that no authority comes down from above to smite a tuna fish for eating mackarel, or a fox for maiming a rabbit.

Your counter-argument is this:


Rebecca: "The argument that, since animals often treat each other cruelly, we are justified in treating them cruelly is a popular but nevertheless very bad argument. Nobody would endorse it when applied to other humans rather than to animals."

Again, this objective "justified". There is no objective need to justify.

Any human can imagine themselves falling victim to human-on-human violence, so it is obviously in our interest to discourage this, starting with children like you described. This does not change the fact that there is no objective "should" behind it; it's just our pragmatic preference. It is a wise preference, as it minimizes our suffering.

But the only way it makes sense to extend this to animals is if you think we're all likely to reincarnate as laboratory dogs in our next lives. Otherwise, you're missing the point of why we developed "ethics". The point of ethics is pragmatic, we have ethics because they help us. We don't have them for the purposes of some confused idealism.

Thanks for the swift reply, Rebecca.

Can I ask for a clarification? Are we supposing that animals have certain inviolable rights, making it naturally a crime for humans to harm animals, or are we seeing this from a consequentialist perspective - that reducing harm to animals reduces suffering in general (which is good)?

Both points of view run into problems when we think about animals harming other animals, because both points of view imply that it is wrong for a fox to kill a rabbit (for example). You can argue that the fox has diminished responsibility because it doesn't understand what it is doing, but that doesn't change the fact that the rabbit is being harmed/its rights violated. By comparison, if a mentally-ill human harms other humans, we allow that the mentally-ill human has diminshed responsibility, but we do not allow that person to retain their freedom. Consider all the rabbits that a fox kills in its lifetime, and the suffering they experience as they are eaten, and how much good could be done in the world by taking simple, ethical preventative measures against allowing foxes to continue these behaviours. If we are honest, carnivores are a major factor in Earth's status as a big green torture chamber, but probably less important than parasites and non-biological sources of suffering (the weather, starvation and so on). This line of reasoning seems to imply that we should be reducing the suffering and protecting the rights of herbivores (who outnumber carnivores) by killing or imprisoning every carnivore on the planet.

I think everyone's concerns about animal welfare would be ameliorated if we simply passed a law saying that fuzzy cute animals, and animals having IQs that are too close to ours for comfort, have certain rights which prevent them from being experimented upon. There is no objective need to pass such a law, but it appears that most of us, aside from a few who utterly lack compassion, are sickened by the thought of suffering kitties and bunnies. If the suffering is inflicted only on chicken and worms and roaches and fish and other types of creatures for which we have no compassion, the animal rights issue would be pretty much forgotten. I mean, is anyone in favor of outlawing the suffering and extermination of, say, home-invading fireants and roaches? I somehow doubt that, if Rebecca had a vermin infestation in her place, she would spend a lot of time contemplating animal rights before reaching for the poison.

It's the cute and fuzzy animals that give us headaches, and it's not because of anything objective; it's because they are similar enough to us to cause our compassion circuits to fire, and this causes unease which wants to be alleviated.

Tom: "This line of reasoning seems to imply that we should be reducing the suffering and protecting the rights of herbivores (who outnumber carnivores) by killing or imprisoning every carnivore on the planet."

It does seem so, doesn't it. But don't forget that, once we do so, we also have to continuously neuter most of the herbivores remaining, so they don't overmultiply, crowd each other out, and suffer massively from starvation. Then we have to monitor evolution of new species over millennia to prevent new carnivores from evolving.

Then, once we have done so, what are we going to do about all the other ecosystems, on other planets? If PETA has their say, I guess there is no choice but to develop an AI that will go into space and spread across the universe to eliminate herbivore suffering on each and every planet.

But, gosh, what about planets that are already out of our light-cone? How are we ever going to reach those? Even the strongest AI cannot violate physics... Oh, Dear God Almighty, we have failed! We cannot fix it! Suffering will remain in the universe...

;)

Denis,

It doesn't make sense to say that 'we have ethics because they help us' if you don't believe in objective morality. Morality concerns itself with right/wrong, good/bad. As Sidgwick said, ethics is the study of what one has most reason to do or want. If you don't think there's an objective fact about what one has the most reason to do or want, that's inconsistent with thinking that anything will 'help us'.

To follow up on my earlier comment, I think my main point is that the fundamental question here is badly posed. The correct question is not "Is animal experimentation morally acceptable?" but, for each experiment to be performed, "Is this particular experiment on this particular kind of animal morally acceptable given these possible pieces of knowledge that could be derived from it?"

Note that the second question is in fact asked for animal experiments. Animal experimentation typically requires review by some sort of oversight committee before being allowed to proceed, at least in the U.S.

Hi Rebecca,

I think you argument has the same basic weakness that all of Singer's do, namely you start with some unexamined assumptions about what is not OK to do to humans, and then try to defeat distinctions. But you have no underlying argument about why, taking your example, it is wrong to kill Jews. You just say, whatever the reason, it applies to animals too. If I want to test whether that reason does apply to animals, it helps to know what the reason is.

I think the reason you do this is because it is easier to go negative attacking others' moral arguments than to make your own. At least, that's the way it was in high school debating. But that trick doesn't convince me to drop my support of animal testing, or stop eating them.

I personally follow the teaching that God created all humans in the divine image, and commanded us not to murder them. I can't prove this contention, I have assumed it on the consequentialist ground that societies that have assumed it have been far more successful than those that haven't.

What is your reason why we shouldn't kill people? If you can articulate a decent one then I will consider adopting it. If you can't explain why we shouldn't kill people then I don't think I'll bother with your thoughts about why we shouldn't kill animals.

best, John

Rebecca: Yes, focusing on timescales is one way of framing the issue. But your claim that animal experimentation accelerates our learning is controversial: quite aside from the ethical issues, many argue that it hinders our learning and that we would progress faster if we pursued other methods. I’m not qualified to assess the extent to which that is correct, but there are some links in my post (in the paragraph beginning, ‘A pervasive view …’) to information about why animal experiments are unreliable.

What I meant is not that all animal experiments as currently practiced are a net benefit, but there are at least some animal experiments that have greatly accelerated our learning. I don't think this claim is controversial, since even if most animal experimentation is unnecessary, and such experiments were eliminated, there would still be some few questions that could most quickly be answered by studying animals with near identical physiologies in the relevant respect.

From your first link regarding unreliability, the crux of the scientific objection is:

The scientific objections to animal experiments are based on the problem of species differences and the artificiality of the diseases induced in them, meaning that results from animal experiments may be of dubious value to humans.

Note the word may. The objection is not that they are always of dubious value or that we never learn anything of value, only that this is sometimes (or perhaps usually) the case. Animal experimentation advocates could concede this point, and as long as we are able to identify when experimentation is likely to be of value, they could restrict animal experimentation to that 0.001% of current experiments in which a disease occurs naturally in the other organism and is nearly identical to the same disease in humans and results are very likely to transfer to humans. In this regard, as reprehensible as I would find it, experiments might only be done on certain primates, since they have physiologies that are similar to and sometimes nearly identical to our own.

What I am trying to say is that if we grant that animal experiments can at times (even if only in 0.001% of current experiments) save us time and accelerate learning in a way that will save human lives (and animal experiment advocates will probably never concede this point), it gains us little, as we are still stuck with having to decide what sorts of things that are wrong in general suddenly become not wrong when they save time in some way that will result in some lives being saved. What is the general criterion that says animal experimentation becomes not wrong but experimentation on comatose people or severely retarded people or human beings genetically engineered to be perfect subjects remains wrong?

@Purple

>>What is the general criterion that says animal experimentation becomes not wrong
>>but experimentation on comatose people or severely retarded people or human
>>beings genetically engineered to be perfect subjects remains wrong?

As long as you go by an ethical theory, it's a fairly easy question.

For a Kantian, you just need to show that humans are 'morally considerable' and other animals are not. Kant granted this because (according to his metaphysics) he believed humans are unique (on Earth) in having free will, and that's the basis of moral considerability. You can then just apply the categorical imperative.

For Utilitarians, this question is pretty much unsolvable. You need to draw some lines for moral considerability, without any underlying metaphysics to guide you. You either set the bar for utility at 'pleasure for humans' or 'pleasure for thinking things' or 'pleasure for life forms' or whatever, and then anyone who disagrees is simply making different assumptions and there's no way to disagree without getting into a dispute about metaphysics. In the case of Christians (most Westerners), the distinction is usually pretty simple. There's an underlying metaphysics that tends to say that only humans are morally considerable.

For virtue ethicists (like myself) the morally relevant consideration is what impact an action has on my own character. This clearly makes torturing things that look human far worse than torturing things that don't, regardless of what the things actually are/feel/think. Torturing a cat would probably make me into a bad person (promote bad habits in myself), while torturing an earthworm (assuming torture means anything for an earthworm) would probably have relatively little impact on my character.

I am additionally curious about one point, given that I am a vegetarian. What stance would do you think is most common among meat eaters?
1. We consider animals as no more than resources and don't consider beheading an animal any more "wrong" than cutting down a plant. Given that we don't talk about "cruelty to plants", no point talking about "cruelty to animals".

2. Somehow fantasize that most animals killed for meat are killed humanely (whatever that means; I assume it means that the animal is given an anasthetic so that it loses consciousness before being killed). Simultaneously hold the view that whipping an animal is wrong, scientific experiments on them are potentially wrong but however that murder of animals for food is okay.

It is much easier for me to to understand people having a view that looks like (1). That seems pretty internally consistent. A good deal of my friends as well as some folks here seem to have views that look more like (2) which perplexes me no end. How on earth could one stay with the contradictions in (2) for long. I would imagine that they would soon move either to (1) or turn vegetarian, but I don't see that happen much in practice.


@Thom

The Kantian idea that humans and only humans have free will just doesn't hold up in the modern world. I realize that traditionally some philosophers thought all non-human animals were essentially mindless automatons that just appear to experience pain, make choices, etc., which makes it easy to consider them as being as morally considerable as a rock, but do any philosophers still hold such a belief given what we know now of the neural underpinnings of experience and choice in human beings and other higher mammals? I also specified severely retarded people and genetically engineered people for a reason, since severely retarded individual people exhibit less free will (etc.) than healthy higher (non-human) primate individuals, and the class of genetically engineered (to not have free will or whatever) people exhibits less free will (etc.) than the class of healthy higher (non-human) primates.

For the virtue ethicist, are you saying that if one has an aberrant psychology such that torturing people would improve one's character, then it is permitted for that individual? Suppose you torture 10 people in order to learn about torture and about yourself. It turns out that the net result of torturing them with respect to your character is improvement, since you have much greater empathy for the pain of other people, you have had to overcome terrible psychological obstacles in order to do the torturing, you are motivated to become a campaigner against torture and other horrific human rights abuses, you absolutely will never torture anybody again, and you come to be a much more ethical person in general. Does this make it right? You might answer that you not wired this way and would never have your character improved in this way, but there are lots of aberrant minds, and it is plausible that at least one of them might be so improved. Does that make it right for that person? (Let us hypothesize too that there is some way of determining beforehand whether one is such a person or not.)

Hi Rebecca,
Can you justify how suffering in non-sentient beings is comparable to the kind of suffering we refer to in humans? If an animal is not aware of its suffering, then i am tempted to consider it as merely the unconscious executer of a particular evolutionary strategy according to the stimuli it is given. Can you still characterise this as suffering? I would say the awareness of suffering is the important consideration, which would then mean the argument you have made is only applicable to certain animals, amongst them the higher primates that Purple refers to.

As for the comparison of our treatment of the mentally retarded vs higher primates, the best argument i can think of is that treatment of people according to their mental capacities would desensitise us in our treatment of humans in general, and expose us to fallacious "the ends justify the means" kind of logic. With that said, some of our treatment of higher mammals is probably down to species discrimination and indicates we haven't outgrown our evolutionary origins

Thom Blake: "It doesn't make sense to say that 'we have ethics because they help us' if you don't believe in objective morality. Morality concerns itself with right/wrong, good/bad. As Sidgwick said, ethics is the study of what one has most reason to do or want. If you don't think there's an objective fact about what one has the most reason to do or want, that's inconsistent with thinking that anything will 'help us'."

Given how people usually use the word, my impression is that morality implies some greater good or bad which exceeds mere benefit or cost to the decision-making subject. If this is what you mean by morality, then yes, in some sense morality does exist as a loose, deficiently defined set of guiding principles which we have found useful in drafting laws in our search to maximize the outcome for members of our group.

By saying 'loose and deficiently defined', I mean that this set of principles is nowhere near as absolute, as beneficial or as universal as some who swear by it would have people believe. Basically the "moral principles" are heuristics that kinda work fine much of the time - such as, say, "do not kill" - but they also tend to cause a lot of trouble when people misunderstand these guiding principles as absolute and divine, rather than mere heuristics that often fail.

This leads to suggestions that "do not kill" should be applied also to all animals, not merely humans (long live the roach!); it leads to censorship of any part of a female breast that might appear on TV. In even more boneheaded societies, it leads to oppressive female dress codes, to stoning of raped girls because rape is considered "adultery", and so on.

If more people realized that what they think is divine morality is actually just a set of error-prone heuristics, then we might all be a bit better off for it.

But being aware of morality as error-prone heuristics does make this rather ill-suited as a foundation for an argument against abusing animals, doesn't it?

Vijay:

As meateater, I vote for (1). That of course does not mean that you have to treat animals with cruelty etc...

I also believe that "killing plants" is important point too.

The final point is - we humans are not able to sustain just on sunlight and soil. We have to destroy life to survive. The only question is where you are going to draw the line. You can limit yourself to kill only plants, but that does not seem to remove the issue.

On the positive side (if there is any), domesticated animals are the most successful species on earth :) In fact, I would go to the point that there is some sort of symbiosis, at least at evolutionary level. They need us to prosper and breed, we need them (well, that is relative :) to get meat.

In fact, it surprises me that vegetarians do not quite consider simple fact - more vegetarians means less animals...

That said, we need to draw the line between 'resources' and 'beings'.

I suggest using self-awarness as the line. To my knowledge, that would make monkeys, elephants, dolphins and magpies out of limit... Why not.

Other possible 'line': sophonts are able to understand rules we have created for treating THEM and they are able and willing to apply these rules back to US.

Maybe, you could use the first line to identify animals that are not 'resources' and cannot be used for food. Use the second one for sophonts whose killing is regarded as murder.

Of course, I am not aware about any animal satisfying this second criterion, so we can reserve it for E.T.s and AIs :)

The comments to this entry are closed.

Less Wrong (sister site)

May 2009

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
          1 2
3 4 5 6 7 8 9
10 11 12 13 14 15 16
17 18 19 20 21 22 23
24 25 26 27 28 29 30
31