There have been some posts about animals lately, for instance here and here. While normative assumptions about the treatment of nonhumans played an important role in the articles and were debated at length in the comment sections, I was missing a concise summary of these arguments. This post from over a year ago comes closest to what I have in mind, but I want to focus on some of the issues in more detail.
A while back, I read the following comment in a LessWrong discussion on uploads:
I do not at all understand this PETA-like obsession with ethical treatment of bits.
Aside from (carbon-based) humans, which other beings deserve moral consideration? Nonhuman animals? Intelligent aliens? Uploads? Nothing else?
This article is intended to shed light on these questions; it is however not the intent of this post to advocate a specific ethical framework. Instead, I'll try to show that some ethical principles held by a lot of people are inconsistent with some of their other attitudes -- an argument that doesn't rely on ethics being universal or objective.
More precisely, I will develop the arguments behind anti-speciesism (and the rejection of analogous forms of discrimination, such as discrimination against uploads) to point out common inconsistencies in some people's values. This will also provide an illustrative example of how coherentist ethical reasoning can be applied to shared intuitions. If there are no shared intuitions, ethical discourse will likely be unfruitful, so it is likely that not everyone will draw the same conclusions from the arguments here.
What Is Speciesism?
Speciesism, a term popularized (but not coined) by the philosopher Peter Singer, is meant to be analogous to sexism or racism. It refers to a discriminatory attitude against a being where less ethical consideration i.e. caring less about a being's welfare or interests is given solely because of the "wrong" species membership. The "solely" here is crucial, and it's misunderstood often enough to warrant the redundant emphasis.
For instance, it is not speciesist to deny pigs the right to vote, just like it is not sexist to deny men the right to have an abortion performed on their body. Treating beings of different species differently is not speciesist if there are relevant criteria for doing so.
Singer summarized his case against speciesism in this essay. The argument that does most of the work is often referred to as the argument from marginal cases. A perhaps less anthropocentric, more fitting name would be argument from species overlap, as some philosophers (e.g. Oscar Horta) have pointed out.
The argument boils down to the question of choosing relevant criteria for moral concern. What properties do human beings possess that makes us think that it is wrong to torture them? Or to kill them? (Note that these are two different questions.) The argument from species overlap points out that all the typical or plausible suggestions for relevant criteria apply equally to dogs, pigs or chickens as they do to human infants or late-stage Alzheimer patients. Therefore, giving less ethical consideration to the former would be based merely on species membership, which is just as arbitrary as choosing race or sex as relevant criterion (further justification for that claim follows below).
Here are some examples for commonly suggested criteria. Those who want may pause at this point and think about the criteria they consult for whether it is wrong to inflict suffering on a being (and separately, those that are relevant for the wrongness of killing).
The suggestions are:
A: Capacity for moral reasoning
B: Being able to reciprocate
C: (Human-like) intelligence
E: Future-related preferences; future plans
E': Preferences / interests (in general)
F: Sentience (capacity for suffering and happiness)
G: Life / biological complexity
H: What I care about / feel sympathy or loyalty towards
The argument from species overlap points out that not all humans are equal. The sentiment behind "all humans are equal" is not that they are literally equal, but that equal interests/capacities deserve equal consideration. None of the above criteria except (in some empirical cases) H imply that human infants or late stage demented people should be given more ethical consideration than cows, pigs or chickens.
While H is an unlikely criterion for direct ethical consideration (it could justify genocide in specific circumstances!), it is an important indirect factor. Most humans have much more empathy for fellow humans than for nonhuman animals. While this is not a criterion for giving humans more ethical consideration per se, it is nevertheless a factor that strongly influences ethical decision-making in real-life.
However, such factors can't apply for ethical reasoning at a theoretical/normative level, where all the relevant variables are looked at in isolation in order to come up with a consistent ethical framework that covers all possible cases.
If there were no intrinsic reasons for giving moral consideration to babies, then a society in which some babies were (factory-)farmed would be totally fine as long as the people are okay with it. If we consider this implication to be unacceptable, then the same must apply for the situations nonhuman animals find themselves in on farms.
Side note: The question whether killing a given being is wrong, and if so, "why" and "how wrong exactly", is complex and outside the scope of this article. Instead of on killing, the focus will be on suffering, and by suffering I mean something like wanting to get out of one's current conscious state, or wanting to change some aspect about it. The empirical issue of which beings are capable of suffering is a different matter that I will (only briefly) discuss below. So in this context, giving a being moral consideration means that we don't want it to suffer, leaving open the question whether killing it painlessly is bad/neutral/good or prohibited/permissible/obligatory.
The main conclusion so far is that if we care about all the suffering of members of the human species, and if we reject question-begging reasoning that could also be used to justify racism or other forms of discrimination, then we must also care fully about suffering happening in nonhuman animals. This would imply that x amount of suffering is just as bad, i.e. that we care about it just as much, in nonhuman animals as in humans, or in aliens or in uploads. (Though admittedly the latter wouldn't be anti-speciesist but rather anti-"substratist", or anti-"fleshist".)
The claim is that there is no way to block this conclusion without:
1. using reasoning that could analogically be used to justify racism or sexism
2. using reasoning that allows for hypothetical circumstances where it would be okay (or even called for) to torture babies in cases where utilitarian calculations prohibit it.
I've tried and have asked others to try -- without success.
Caring about suffering
I have not given a reason why torturing babies or racism is bad or wrong. I'm hoping that the vast majority of people will share that intuition/value of mine, that they want to be the sort of person who would have been amongst those challenging racist or sexist prejudices, had they lived in the past.
Some might be willing to bite the bullet at this point, trusting some strongly held ethical principle of theirs (e.g. A, B, C, D, or E above), to the conclusion of excluding humans who lack certain cognitive capacities from moral concern. One could point out that people's empathy and indirect considerations about human rights, societal stability and so on, will ensure that this "loophole" in such an ethical view almost certainly remains without consequences for beings with human DNA. It is a convenient Schelling point after all to care about all humans (or at least all humans outside their mother's womb). However, I don't see why absurd conclusions that will likely remain hypothetical would be significantly less bad than other absurd conclusions. Their mere possibility undermines the whole foundation one's decisional algorithm is grounded in. (Compare hypothetical problems for specific decision theories.)
Furthermore, while D and E seem plausible candidates for reasons against killing a being with these properties (E is in fact Peter Singer's view on the matter), none of the criteria from A to E seem relevant to suffering, to whether a being can be harmed or benefitted. The case for these being bottom-up morally relevant criteria for the relevance of suffering (or happiness) is very weak, to say the least.
Maybe that's the speciesist's central confusion, that the rationality/sapience of a being is somehow relevant for whether its suffering matters morally. Clearly, for us ourselves, this does not seem to be the case. If I was told that some evil scientist would first operate on my brain to (temporarily) lower my IQ and cognitive abilities, and then torture me afterwards, it is not like I will be less afraid of the torture or care less about averting it!
Those who do consider biting the bullet should ask themselves whether they would have defended that view in all contexts, or whether they might be driven towards such a conclusion by a self-serving bias. There seems to be a strange and sudden increase in the frequency of people who are willing to claim that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with torturing babies when the subject is animal rights, or more specifically, the steak they intend to have for dinner.
It is an entirely different matter if people genuinely think that animals or human infants or late-stage demented people are not sentient. To be clear about what is meant by sentience:
A sentient being is one for whom "it feels like something to be that being".
I find it highly implausible that only self-aware or "sapient" beings are sentient, but if true, this would constitute a compelling reason against caring for at least most nonhuman animals, for the same reason that it would pointless to care about pebbles for the pebbles' sake. If all nonhumans truly weren't sentient, then obviously singling out humans for the sphere of moral concern would not be speciesist.
What irritates me, however, is that anyone advocating such a view should, it seems to me, still have to factor in a significant probability of being wrong, given that both philosophy of mind and the neuroscience that goes with it are hard and, as far as I'm aware, not quite settled yet. The issue matters because of the huge numbers of nonhuman animals at stake and because of the terrible conditions these beings live in.
I rarely see this uncertainty acknowledged. If we imagine the torture-scenario outlined above, how confident would we really be that the torture "won't matter" if our own advanced cognitive capacities are temporarily suspended?
Why species membership really is an absurd criterion
In the beginning of the article, I wrote that I'd get back to this for those not convinced. Some readers may still feel that there is something special about being a member of the human species. Some may be tempted to think about the concept of "species" as if it were a fundamental concept, a Platonic form.
The following likely isn't news to most of the LW audience, but it is worth spelling it out anyway: There exists a continuum of "species" in thing-space as well as in the actual evolutionary timescale. The species boundaries seem obvious just because the intermediates kept evolving or went extinct. And even if that were not the case, we could imagine it. The theoretical possibility is enough to make the philosophical case, even though psychologically, actualities are more convincing.
We can imagine a continuous line-up of ancestors, always daughter and mother, from modern humans back to the common ancestor of humans and, say, cows, and then forward in time again to modern cows. How would we then divide this line up into distinct species? Morally significant lines would have to be drawn between mother and daughter, but that seems absurd! There are several different definitions of "species" used in biology. A common criterion -- for sexually reproducing organisms anyway -- is whether groups of beings (of different sex) can have fertile offspring together. If so, they belong to the same species.
That is a rather odd way of determining whether one cares about the suffering of some hominid creature in the line-up of ancestors -- why should that for instance be relevant in regard to determining whether some instance of suffering matters to us?
Moreover, is that really the terminal value of people who claim they only care about humans, or could it be that they would, upon reflection, revoke such statements?
And what about transhumanism? I remember that a couple of years ago, I thought I had found a decisive argument against human enhancement. I thought it would likely lead to speciation, and somehow the thought of that directly implied that posthumans would treat the remaining humans badly, and so the whole thing became immoral in my mind. Obviously this is absurd; there is nothing wrong with speciation per se, and if posthumans will be anti-speciesist, then the remaining humans would have nothing to fear! But given the speciesism in today's society, it is all too understandable that people would be concerned about this. If we imagine the huge extent to which a posthuman, or not to mention a strong AI, would be superior compared to current humans, isn't that a bit like comparing chickens to us?
A last possible objection I can think of: Suppose one held the belief that group averages are what matters, and that all members of the human species deserve equal protection because of the group average for a criterion that is considered relevant and that would, without the group average rule, deny moral consideration to some sentient humans.
This defense too doesn't work. Aside from seeming suspiciously arbitrary, such a view would imply absurd conclusions. A thought experiment for illustration: A pig with a macro-mutation is born, she develops child-like intelligence and the ability to speak. Do we refuse to allow her to live unharmed -- or even let her go to school -- simply because she belongs to a group (defined presumably by snout shape, or DNA, or whatever the criteria for "pigness" are) with an average that is too low?
Or imagine you are the head of an architecture bureau and looking to hire a new aspiring architect. Is tossing out an application written by a brilliant woman going to increase the expected success of your firm, assuming that women are, on average, less skilled at spatial imagination than men? Surely not!
Moreover, taking group averages as our ethical criterion requires us to first define the relevant groups. Why even take species-groups instead of groups defined by skin color, weight or height? Why single out one property and not others?
Our speciesism is an anthropocentric bias without any reasonable foundation. It would be completely arbitrary to give special consideration to a being simply because of its species membership. Doing so would lead to a number of implications that most people clearly reject. A strong case can be made that suffering is bad in virtue of being suffering, regardless of where it happens. If the suffering or deaths of nonhuman animals deserve no ethical consideration, then human beings with the same relevant properties (of which all plausible ones seem to come down to having similar levels of awareness) deserve no intrinsic ethical consideration either, barring speciesism.
Assuming that we would feel uncomfortable giving justifications or criteria for our scope of ethical concern that can analogously be used to defend racism or sexism, those not willing to bite the bullet about torturing babies are forced by considerations of consistency to care about animal suffering just as much as they care about human suffering.
Such a view leaves room for probabilistic discounting in cases where we are empirically uncertain whether beings are capable of suffering, but we should be on the lookout for biases in our assessments.
Edit: As Carl Shulman has pointed out, discounting may also apply for "intensity of sentience", because it seems at least plausible that shrimps (for instance), if they are sentient, can experience less suffering than e.g. a whale.
I agree that species membership as such is irrelevant, although it is in practice an extremely powerful summary piece of information about a creature's capabilities, psychology, relationship with moral agents, ability to contribute to society, responsiveness in productivity to expected future conditions, etc.
Animal happiness is good, and animal pain is bad. However, the word anti-speciesism, and some of your discussion, suggests treating experience as binary and ignoring quantitative differences, e.g. here:
This leaves out the idea of the quantity of experience. In human split-brain patients the hemispheres can experience and act quite independently without common knowledge or communication. Unless you think that the quantity of happiness or suffering doubles when the corpus callosum is cut, then happiness and pain can occur in substructures of brains, not just whole brains. And if intensive communication and coordination were enough to diminish moral value why does this not apply... (read more)
I fully agree with this point you make, I should have mentioned this. I think "probabilistic discounting" should refer to both "probability of being sentient" and "intensity of experiences given sentient". I'm not convinced that (relative) brain size makes a difference in this regard, but I certainly wouldn't rule it out, so this indeed factors in probabilistically and I don't consider this to be speciesist.
This is pretty much my view. You dismiss it as unacceptable and absurd, but I would be interested in more detail on why you think that.
This definitely hits the absurdity heuristic, but I think it is fine. The problem with the Babyeaters in Three Worlds Collide is not that they eat their young but that "the alien children, though their bodies were tiny, had full-sized brains. They could talk. They protested as they were eaten, in the flickering i... (read more)
Your view seems consistent. All I can say is that I don't understand why intelligence is relevant for whether you care about suffering. (I'm assuming that you think human infants can suffer, or at least don't rule it out completely, otherwise we would only have an empirical disagreement.)
Me too. But we can control for memories by comparing the scenario I outlined with a scenario where you are first tortured (in your normal mental state) and then have the memory erased.
You're right, it's not a big deal once you point it out. The interesting thing is that even a lot of secular people will at first (and sometimes even afterwards) bring arguments against the view that animals matter that don't stand the test of the argument of species overlap. It seems like they simply aren't thinking through all the implications of what they are saying, as if it isn't their true rejection. Having said that, there is always the option of biting the bullet, but many people who argue against caring about nonhumans don't actually want to do that.
jkaufman, the dimmer-switch metaphor of consciousness is intuitively appealing. But consider some of the most intense experiences that humans can undergo, e.g. orgasm, raw agony, or blind panic. Such intense experiences are characterised by a breakdown of any capacity for abstract rational thought or reflective self-awareness. Neuroscanning evidence, too, suggests that much of our higher brain function effectively shuts down during the experience of panic or orgasm. Contrast this intensity of feeling with the subtle and rarefied phenomenology involved in e.g. language production, solving mathematical equations, introspecting one's thoughts-episodes, etc - all those cognitive capacities that make mature members of our species distinctively human. For sure, this evidence is suggestive, not conclusive. But the supportive evidence converges with e.g. microelectrode studies using awake human subjects. Such studies suggest the limbic brain structures that generate our most intense experiences are evolutionarily very ancient. Also, the same genes, same neurotransmitter pathways and same responses to noxious stimuli are found in our fellow vertebrates. In view of how humans treat nonhumans, I think we ought to be worried that humans could be catastrophically mistaken about nonhuman animal sentience.
How certain are you that there is such a qualitative difference, and that you want to care about it? If there is some empirical (or perhaps also normative) uncertainty, shouldn't you at least attribute some amount of concern for sentient beings that lack self-awareness?
I strongly object to the term "speciesism" for this position. I think it promotes a mindkilled attitude to this subject ("Oh, you don't want to be speciesist, do you? Are you also a sexist? You pig?").
Speciesist language, not cool!
Haha! Anyway, I agree that it promotes mindkilled attitude (I'm often reading terrible arguments by animal rights people), but on the other hand, for those who agree with the arguments, it is a good way to raise awareness. And the parallels to racism or sexism are valid, I think.
Haha only serious. My brain reacts with terror to that reply, with good reason: It has been trained to. You're implicitly threatening those who make counter-arguments with charges of every ism in the book. The number of things I've had to erase because one "can't" say them without at least ending any productive debate, is large.
I don't think that's a "but on the other hand;" I think that's a "it is a good way to raise awareness because it promotes mindkilled attitude."
I would prefer to see posts like this in the Discussion section.
Since grandparent received so many upvotes, I'm going to explain my reasoning for posting in Main:
Rules of thumb:
(At least one of) LW's primary goal(s) is to get people thinking about far future scenarios to improve the world. LW is about rationality, but it is also about ethics. Whether anti-speciesism is especially important or useful is something that people have different opinions on, but the question itself is clearly important because it may lead to different/adjusted prioritizing in practice.
A generic problem with this type of reasoning is some form of the repugnant conclusion. If you don't put a Schelling fence somewhere, you end up with giving more moral weight to a large enough amount of cockroaches, bacteria or viruses than to that of humans.
In actuality, different groups of people implicitly have different Schelling points and then argue whose Schelling point is morally right. A standard Schelling point, say, 100 years ago, was all humans or some subset of humans. The situation has gotten more complicated recently, with some including only humans, humans and cute baby seals, humans and dolphins, humans and pets, or just pets without humans, etc.
So a consequentialist question would be something like
Note this is no longer a Schelling point, since no implicit agreement of any kind is assumed. Instead, one tests possible choices against some terminal goals, leaving morality aside.
I feel like you're saying this:
"There are a great many sentient organisms, so we should discriminate against some of them"
Is this what you're saying?
EDIT: Sorry, I don't mean that bacteria or viruses are sentient. Still, my original question stands.
This strikes me as a very impatient assessment. The human infant will turn into a human, and the piglet will turn into a pig, and so down the road A through E will suggest treating them differently.
Similarly, the demented can be given the reverse treatment (though it works differently); they once deserved moral standing, and thus are extended moral standing because the extender can expect that when their time comes, they will be treated by society in about the same way as society treated its elders when they were young. (This mostly falls under B, except the reciprocation is not direct.)
(Looking at the comments, Manfred makes a similar argument more vividly over here.)
If we use cognitive enhancements on animals, we can turn them into highly intelligent, self-aware beings as well. And the argument from potentiality would also prohibit abortion or experimentation on embryos. I was thinking about including the argument from potentiality, but then I didn't because the post is already long and because I didn't want to make it look like I was just "knocking down a very weak argument or two". I should have used a qualifier though in the sentence you quoted, to leave room for things I hadn't considered.
Vanvier, do human infants and toddlers deserve moral consideration primarily on account of their potential to become rational adult humans? Or are they valuable in themselves? Young human children with genetic disorders are given love, care and respect - even if the nature of their illness means they will never live to see their third birthday. We don't hold their lack of "potential" against them. Likewise, pigs are never going to acquire generative syntax or do calculus. But their lack of cognitive sophistication doesn't make them any less sentient.
That's a common fallacy. Let me illustrate:
The notions of hot and cold water are nonsensical. The water temperature is continuous from 0C to 100C. How would you divide this into distinct areas? You would have to draw a line between neighboring values different by tiny fractions of a degree, but that seems absurd!
"If all nonhumans truly weren't sentient, then obviously singling out humans for the sphere of moral concern would not be speciesist."
David Pearce sums up antispeciesism excellently saying:
"The antispeciesist claims that, other things being equal, conscious beings of equivalent sentience deserve equal care and respect."
If one takes "other things being equal" very seriously that could be quite vacuous, since there are so many differences in other areas, e.g. impact on society and flow-through effects, responsiveness of behavior to expected treatment, reciprocity, past agreements, social connectedness, preferences, objective list welfare, even species itself...
The substance of the claim has to be about exactly which things need to be held equal, and which can freely vary without affecting desert.
A fine piece. I hope it triggers a high-quality, non-mindkilled debate about these important issues. Discussion about the ethical status of non-human animals has generally been quite heated in the past, though happily this trend seems to have reversed recently (see posts by Peter Hurford and Jeff Kaufman).
Also, standard argument against a short, reasonable-looking list of ethical criteria: no such list will capture complexity of value. They constitute fake utility functions.
The biggest improvement to this post I would like to see is the engagement with opposing arguments more realistic than "humans are a platonic form." Currently you just knock down a very weak argument or two and then rush to conclusion.
EDIT: whoops, I missed the point, which is to only argue against speciesm. My bad. Edited out a misplaced "argument from future potential," which is what Jabberslythe replied to... (read more)
DISCLAIMER: the following is not necessarily my own opinions or beliefs, but rather done more in the spirit of steelmaning:
There seems to be a number of signs that the deciding factor might be the ability to form long term memories, especially if we go into very near mode.
It seems that if we extrapolate volition for an individual that is made to suffer with or without memory blocking in various sequences, and allowing it to chose tradeofs, it'll repeatedly observe clicking a button labelled "suffer horrific torture with suppressed memory" follo
While I was writing this comment, CarlShulman posted his, which makes essentially the same point. But since I already wrote it a longer comment, I'm posting mine too. (Writing quickly is hard!)
In practice we must have a quantitative model of how much "moral value" to assign an animal (or human). I think your position that:
Is wrong, and the reasons for that fall out of your own arguments.
As you point out, ... (read more)
Does it have to be the case that "the properties that X possesses" is the only relevant input? It seems to me that the properties possessed by the would-be torturer or killer are also relevant.
For instance, if I came across a kid torturing a mouse (even a fly) I would be horrified, but I would respond differently to a cat torturing a mouse (or a fly).
People get anaesthesia before undergoing surgery and get drunk before risking social embarrassment all the time.
Why should there be a "correct" solution for ethical reasoning? Is there a normative level regarding which color is the best? People function based on heuristics, which are calibrated on general cases, not on marginal cases. While I'm all for showing inconsistencies in one's statements, there is no inconsistenc... (read more)
I've read the first part of the post ("What is Speciesism?"), and have a question.
Does your argument have any answer to applying modus tollens to the argument from marginal cases?
In other words, if I say: "Actually, I think it's ok to kill/torture human newborns/infants; I don't consider them to be morally relevant" (likewise severely mentally disabled adults, likewise (some? most?) other marginal cases) — do you still expect your argument to sway me in any way? Or no?
 Note that I can still be in favor of laws that prohibit infant... (read more)
Typically human xenophobia doesn't single out one attribute. The similar are treated preferentially, the different are exiled, shunned, excluded or slaughtered. Nature builds organisms like that: to favour kin and creatures similar, and to give out-group members a very wide berth. So: it's no surprise to find that humans are often racist and speciesist.
“Why even take species-groups instead of groups defined by skin color, weight or height? Why single out one property and not others? “
I am not sure if this is accurate answer but I feel like bringing this up: in some cases we should single out some properties over the others based on their function in regards to our interests. Obvious example: separating men and women in combat sports.
Another important detail is that in ideal world we could evaluate everything on case by case basis instead of generalize. So in general it wouldn’t be fair let men and women ... (read more)
In the past, the arguments against sexism and racism were things like "they're human too", "they can write poetry too", "God made all men equal" and "look how good they are at being governesses". None of these apply t... (read more)
This objection doesn't work if you rigidify over the beings you feel sympathy toward in the actual world, given your present mental capacities. And ... (read more)
I think this is runaway philosophizing where our desire to believe something coherent trumps what types of beliefs we have been selected for, and the types of beliefs that will continue to keep us alive.
Why should there be a normative ethics at all? What part of rationality requires normative ethics?
I, like you and everyone else, have a monkey-sphere. I only care about the monkeys in my tribe that are closest to me, and I might as well admit it because it's there. So, nevermind cows and pigs, if push came to shove I'll protect my friends and family in pre... (read more)
For selfish reasons, if I had a say in policy I would want to influence the world greatly against this. Whether true or not, I could easily get a disease in the future or go senile (actually quite likely) to such an extent that my moral worth in this system is reduced greatly. Since I still want to be looked after when that happens, I would never support this.
This doesn't refute any of the arguments, but for those who have some percentage chance of losing a lot of brain capacity in the future without outright dying (i.e probably most of us) it may be a reason to argue against this idea anyway.
If there were no intrinsic reasons for a feather to fall slower than a rock, then in a vacuum a feather would fall just as fast as a rock as long as there's no air. But you don't neglect the viscosity of air when designing a parachute.
Here's an argument for something that might be called speciesism. though it isn't strictly speciesism because moral consideration could be extended to hypothetical non-human beings (though no currently known ones) and not quite to all humans - contractarianism. We have reason to restrict ourselves in our dealings with a being when it fulfills three criteria: it can harm us, it can choose not to harm us, and it can agree not to harm us in exchange for us not harming it. When these criteria are fulfilled, a being has rights and should not be harmed, but otherwise, we have no reason to restrict ourselves in our dealings with it.
If some means could be found to estimate phi for various species, a variable claimed by this paper to be a measure of "intensity of sentience", it would the relative value of the lives of different animals to be estimated and would help solve many moral dilemmas. Intensity of suffering as a result of a particular action would be expected to be proportionate to the intensity of sentience, however whilst mammals and birds (the groups which possess neocortex, the parts of the brain where consciousness is believed to occur) can be assumed to experien... (read more)
Many arguments here seem to take the mindkilling form of "If we had to derive our entire system of moral value based on explicitly stated arguments, and follow those arguments ad absurdum, bad thing results."
Since bad thing is bad, and you say it is in some situation justified, clearly you are wrong, with the (reasonably explicit) accusation that if you use this line of reasoning you are (sexist! racist! in favor of killing babies! in favor of genocide! or worse, not being properly rational!)
But, on the other side, there's no way to reinforce the argument to prevent it from going the other extreme: what negates the interpretation of an amoeba retracting from a probe to call it "pain"? It is just the anatomical qual... (read more)
Hmm, maybe I didn't read the argument carefully enough, but it seems that the argument from marginal cases proves too much ., non-US citizens should be allowed to serve in the army, some people without medical licenses should be allowed to practice as surgeons and many more things.
I think at the core of the debate is a misunderstanding of what life is, the example you use of the broken chain of ancestors is a good illustration of this. Life is struggle for perpetuation of self, the whole point of evolution and why there is a chain and not only one species is because we each fight as groups to survive amongst or against each other. this philosophy of life where violence and struggle could disappear is utter non-sense to me. life is death, without it, without constant struggle at all levels, there is no evolution and no life.
so yes it... (read more)