Monday, November 24, 2008

The Moral Status of Animals

This is the Stanford Encyclopedia entry.

31 comments:

T'sinadree said...

Since this topic, and those related to it, have unfortunately received little attention in theistic literature, I thought I'd recommend two excellent books that some might find of interest:

1 Wennberg, R. N. (2003). God, humans, and animals: An invitation to enlarge our moral universe. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

http://www.eerdmans.com/shop/product.asp?p_key=9780802839756

2. Murray, M. J. (2008). Nature red in tooth and claw: Theism and the problem of animal suffering. New York: Oxford University Press.

http://www.oup.com/us/catalog/general/
subject/Philosophy/Religion/?view=usa&ci=9780199237272

Ilíon said...

Considering that the author assertes the foolish idea that animals can make moral claims upon us, why waste any moe time with the article.

In truth, only persons can make moral claims and only persons can have moral oblications.

nickysam said...

The idea that non-human animals have significant moral status is comparatively modern. Arguments for a reassessment of the moral status of animals have also given support to vegetarianism. If animals have rights, or are entitled to have their interests given equal consideration with the similar interests of human beings, it is easy to see that there are difficulties in claiming that we are entitled to eat non-human animals .
--------------
Nickysam
Viral Marketing

Ilíon said...

Goodness, Nickysam, things have moved on past that! The tres chic humans now have a new cause -- "plant rights."

Joe said...

I am currently working on a paper where I try to support animal rights yet articulate a yummieness exception.

Heres a thought: if God didn't want us to eat animals, then why did he make them out of meat?

Clayton said...

Do infants make moral claims on us?

RD said...

Right on, Joe. Let's apply that form of argument elsewhere. If God didn't want women to have abortions, he wouldn't have allowed the Roe v Wade judgment.

Why so much resistance to ascribing some limited kind of moral status to animals? It's a fact that many of the animals used as a source of food by humans have relevantly similar brains and nervous systems compared to us. They can, to a certain extent, suffer. In light of this, an argument for why we don't have any obligations to treat them a certain way is required. Surely many of our obligations to other humans have something, although probably not everything, to do with our capacity for pleasure and pain.

Ilíon said...

Clayton "Do infants make moral claims on us?"

Yes, Clayton. As even you are aware, it is in very the nature of human beings to make moral claims upon one another and to have moral obligations to one another.

=============
Joe: "Heres a thought: if God didn't want us to eat animals, then why did he make them out of meat?"

Considering the irrational and highly emotional response, I think you must be on to something.

=============
RD: "Why so much resistance to ascribing some limited kind of moral status to animals?"

Because it isn't true.

RD said...

ilion, I have a serious question for you:

Is everything you write intended to be satirical?

Ilíon said...

You are a fool ... no satire at all.

Joe said...

Sheesh
Try to be funny and people think you must be on something. Ok my comment must not strike others as funny.

RD
I guess I'm not really keen on the notion that there is a moral status of things. (people or animals) I think more in terms of moral status of actions. But I recognize that many philosophers are fine with that notion and I think I understand sort of where they are going so I think I can play along.

RD said: "It's a fact that many of the animals used as a source of food by humans have relevantly similar brains and nervous systems compared to us. They can, to a certain extent, suffer. In light of this, an argument for why we don't have any obligations to treat them a certain way is required."

Here is my view. Christianity provides a moral philosophy. What certain Professors are trying to do is keep the outward appearance and conclusions of what we know is right and wrong but completely gut and rebuild the foundations. It’s at best wrong headed and, at times, likely disingenuous.

They make claims like the reason bestiality is wrong is because it’s cruel to the animal. But this isn't so. They are trying to *make up* some new foundation that jettisons religion and yet is based on logic to support our deeply held beliefs. But it doesn't work.

Human life is sacred. That does not hold for other creatures in the animal kingdom. Yes other animals will have certain things in common with humans. And to the extent they have certain traits they will *appear* to be similar. The closer you get the easier it is to be confused. That is not to say some confusion on this is always unhealthy. I mean I would agree that one shouldn't torture a cat. But ultimately my reasoning really has at least as much to do with what is going on for the human as it does with what is going on to the cat.

From a Christian perspective, if you had to pick out the trait that is most important it wouldn’t be the structure of our nervous system or our ability to feel pleasure or pain, but our ability to love. That is what we are commanded to do.

RD said...

ilion, is that the best you can come up with? An insult that wouldn't have phased me in elementary school? I pity you.

Joe, I'll grant that your explanation for the source of morality and why it doesn't apply to non-human animals is fine for those who are already Christians, but whether you're a Christian or not, you have to admit that there are conscientious objections to Christianity's conception of morality. It might be true, but there are good reasons for rejecting it. So, you need to provide an argument for non-Christians.

Do you really know that philosophers who study ethics are at least misguided and at worst disingenuous?

Joe said...

RD

By certain professors I was actually referring to *very* few professors. I think, for example, Dr. Singer is somewhat fork tongued but in general I hold philosophers in extremely high esteem. I consider myself an amateur philosopher who studies ethics - although most of my interest is in metaethics. So I am definitely not anti-academic or anti philosophy.

I don't really think there are good reasons to reject Christian morality. If I did I suppose I would reject it.

But if you mean that by agreeing with Christianity you are agreeing to a much larger package with various perceived pros and cons then yes I would agree with that. Its not something we could work out in a few comments in a blog. :)

I do not think I or anyone else in philosophy is *required* to provide any argument. But that said, I do enjoy talking about certain philosophical issues.

I think I explained what I believe respecting animal rights. If you think there is good reason for me not to believe what I do I am interested. If you have any questions as to why I believe certain things, I will be happy to answer them.

Let me ask you something, if you don’t mind. Do you think our moral obligations lie more in A) maximizing pleasure and minimizing pain or B) loving others?

They are of course not mutually exclusive but there is a difference in emphasis.

RD said...

"I don't really think there are good reasons to reject Christian morality. If I did I suppose I would reject it."

One might hold some reasons for rejecting it, but at the same time hold overriding reasons to accept it. Atheists, people of various different religious backgrounds, and others might have some reasons to subscribe to Christianity, but other overriding reasons to reject it. These could come in the form of a philosophical argument, religious experience, and so forth.

"I do not think I or anyone else in philosophy is *required* to provide any argument."

You are if you want to be taken seriously by someone who has a conscientious objection to your position.

"Do you think our moral obligations lie more in A) maximizing pleasure and minimizing pain or B) loving others?"

Some of our moral obligations might lie in pleasure and pain, depending on how those terms are understood, but I'm not sure what you mean by "loving others." Is it the human capacity to love others, whatever that may mean, that grounds our moral obligations? If so, are you sure this excludes animals from the purview of our moral obligations? Are non-human animals incapable of love? Moreover, why should our ability to love determine our moral obligations? Does a human infant have a greater capacity to love than an adult chimp? Not obviously.

Ilíon said...

Is whinging the best you can do? THat was a rhetorical question.

Ilíon said...

What extremely odd "rights" animal have! And they don't even know they have them. Simply amazing!

They neither ask for (nor demand, if one prefers that word) nor expect their own individual "rights" nor respect the "rights" of other animals. Nor respect the rights of humans, who do have rights. Nor does anyone expect of any animal that it respect the "rights" of any other animal, nor even respect the actual rights of humans.

They don't have the right to life -- which is, after all, the fundamental right upon which all other rights hang. But they do have some quite vague "rights" -- because some human claims that they do. Until he claims that they don't, and then they don't.


Still, one can see that animals' "rights" align with with the secularist vision of "human rights," under which no human being (especially the tiny ones and the feeble ones and the ones out of favor with the secularists) has any actual right.

Ilíon said...

Nickysam: "The idea that non-human animals have significant moral status is comparatively modern."

Indeed, it is. The idea is, in fact, a corollary of the growth and acceptance of the perverse and pernicious idea that humans are nothing special and have no distinct moral status. The idea that animals (and now plants) have "significant moral status" is a natural outgrowth of the denial that there exists morality.


Nickysam: "If animals have rights, or are entitled to have their interests given equal consideration with the similar interests of human beings, it is easy to see that there are difficulties in claiming that we are entitled to eat non-human animals ."

Bingo!

Just because humans deny the actual existence of real moral obligations incumbent upon themselves (or, from the other direction, deny there exist rights others may morally demand for themselves) doesn't ever mean that they give up the "right" to impose obligations upon others.


"Rights for me, but not for thee" is effectively the watchword of those who deny the realy existence, objectivity, and transcendence of morality.

Ilíon said...

Isn't is just too amusing that someone:
1) who made his debut here on Mr Reppert's blog with a personal attack (against me, but that's pretty much incidental);
1a) seems not to miss the opportunity to try (allow me to emphasize "try," as he lacks both the standing and the ability) to insult me;
2) and who made his initial post in this thread with a personal attack ("yer a moroon!") as his response/reaction to someone else's joking reductio with respect to the absurdity of the concept of "animal rights;"
3) and who bundled that personal attack together with question begging and attempted shifting of the burden of proof ("Why so much resistance to ascribing some limited kind of moral status to animals?")
4) and who bundled that personal attack and that question begging and that attempted shifting of the burden of proof together with the denial of the existence of actual objective and transcendant morality and the denial of the actual distinct moral status of human beings ("Surely many of our obligations to other humans have something, although probably not everything, to do with our capacity for pleasure and pain.")
5) and whose first statement in this thread directed specifically at me was to assert that nothing I say is to be taken seriously ("ilion, I have a serious question for you: Is everything you write intended to be satirical?")
then dares to pretend to have the moral standing to be outraged that I treat him as he wants to be treated?




I wonder ... will fools ever admit to themselves that I treat them as fools precisely because they behave as fools?

RD said...

Ilion, setting aside your long-winded personal attack, let's consider what you've said:

"What extremely odd "rights" animal have! And they don't even know they have them. Simply amazing!"

Is also it amazing that human infants have rights given that they don't know they have them?

"They neither ask for (nor demand, if one prefers that word) nor expect their own individual 'rights' nor respect the "rights" of other animals. Nor respect the rights of humans, who do have rights. Nor does anyone expect of any animal that it respect the "rights" of any other animal, nor even respect the actual rights of humans."

Do human infants ask for or demand their rights?Do human infants "respect" the rights of others? Does anyone expect of any infant that it respect the "rights" of any other human?

Interesting. Apparently Ilion doesn't think that human infants have rights.

Ilíon said...

It's not at all interesting that someone should imply he does not know the meaning of "personal attack."

It not at all interesting that someone should "misunderstand" what I've written by attempting to strip it of its context.

For, after all, someone makes it a habit to do such things.

Joe said...

I said: "I don't really think there are good reasons to reject Christian morality. If I did I suppose I would reject it."

RD responded:
"One might hold some reasons for rejecting it, but at the same time hold overriding reasons to accept it. Atheists, people of various different religious backgrounds, and others might have some reasons to subscribe to Christianity, but other overriding reasons to reject it. These could come in the form of a philosophical argument, religious experience, and so forth."


Yes I agree with what you said. At first I thought "good reason" was vague. I wasn't sure whether you thought in order to be a "good" reason to reject something it had to be an overriding reason. I think yes when we make it clear there can be a good reason to reject some idea it isn't necessarily an overriding reason, then yes I agree here and understand your point.

Joe said...

RD thanks for the comments I'll try to respond to most.

I said "I do not think I or anyone else in philosophy is *required* to provide any argument."

You said “You are if you want to be taken seriously by someone who has a conscientious objection to your position.”

Well maybe. I mean I may do the same to their position. In which case, we both might remain in ignorance. I don’t think I could rightly blame the other person for my ignorance. Instead I think we are responsible for developing our own views.

But ok the above was a minor quibble. That aside I do think I gave an argument as to why human life should be treated as more important. I didn’t spell out the premises but I can. They would more or less be like this:

1) Human life is sacred
2) Animal life is not sacred
3) We have higher moral obligations to protect sacred things than we do to protect that which is not sacred.
4) We therefore have a higher moral obligation to protect human life than animal life.

Now an atheist might say “Well this argument doesn’t work for me because I don’t accept the first premise.” For example he or she may say well I don’t believe in God or religion, and from that it follows that I don’t accept that anything is really sacred.

Well ok there are a couple of different ways we could go from there. For one I could then try to devise arguments based on alternate premises (acceptable to the atheist) for why we should value human life more than animal life. I might believe that there are other reasons, that the atheist would accept, why human life is more valuable than animal life. Then again I might not. If I do not really think there are good reasons to say animal life is less valuable but nevertheless I start spewing some out in order to convince you, I would be disingenuous.

I think this is done by Singer but in reverse. He tries to claim his way of looking at morals is the right way to do it. But when it logically leads to moral conclusions that no one accepts he tries to dance around and make up lame arguments of how his way of looking at morals could allow one to still hold acceptable conclusions. (more on this below)

Now the fact is if I did not believe in God, as I do, I would likely be an error theorist when it comes to morals. (Although, I’ll grant it’s always hard to have certainty when it comes to such counterfactuals) That is I would think the world view that I would then hold if I did not believe in such things as the reality of God would likely mean that I would not believe in the reality of such things as moral truth. Or I might allow that moral truths may exist but think we have no way to reliably access what those truths are. Hence without belief in a Christian or at least some sort of a “fair God” that would inform us of morals I would think that these various ethical views are … well … a bunch of BS. So it’s hard for me to be intellectually honest and come up with reasons why an atheist should think killing human’s is worse than killing animals.

I think the error starts, and pretty much ends, with the person’s inability to see the truth in the claim that human life is sacred.

That said, let me give you some other reasons why I think a Singer like view of ethics is bunk.

Imagine a dentist who after he puts girls under and fixes their teeth would then molests them before they wake. Now assume he gets sexual pleasure from this like no other thing he could do. Also assume that whatever he does, the girls never know. No one ever knows other than the dentist. Now further assume that the dentist is a sociopath. That is he doesn’t feel guilty about things. He feels just fine in what he is doing. On the whole, it’s hard to see any pain outweighing his pleasure. So does this mean what the dentist does is really morally required? I think one who adopts a Singer type utilitarian stance is hard pressed to deny this.

As for the love versus pain consider this:
Let’s say someone is a pain doctor. Further assume he is brilliant and has invented great pain medications that have relieved allot of people from pain. But let’s also assume he did not do this because he cares about people. He became a doctor for the money and the prestige. In fact let’s say he really doesn’t like his patients and thinks of them all as contemptible idiots. Is this doctor any sort of moral role model?

As for whether infants are more capable of love than chimps let me say a few things. Just because people are meant to do something that does not mean their rights necessarily stem from that ability. I think that is a basic non-sequitur. There are three distinct categories:

1) Things/properties/activities we can do better than other creatures (or even things we alone can do)
2) Things/properties/activities we are morally obligated to do.
3) Things/properties/activities that imply we have rights.

There is no obvious reason to think these three categories should have *any* relation to each other. Yes we are morally obligated to love. However this does not mean if we can’t love we have no rights. People may be the only creature who can lie. That does not mean we are morally obligated to lie. Nor does it mean the more or better we can lie the more rights we should have.

So I don’t think that if an animal can love it must have the same rights as people. Nor do I think that to the extent a chimp exhibits love more than an infant it means that the chimp should have more rights than an infant. I think this line of thinking is a non-sequitur.

RD said...

Ilion:

You suggested that rights are contingent upon three things: (1) the ability to understand one's rights, (2) the ability to assert one's rights, (3) the expectation that one will respect the rights of others.

This is exactly what you said. Nothing was taken out of context. Re-read your own post if you don't believe me.

Using a counterexample, I showed that your conception of rights is obviously false.

While I'm at it, I'll lend you a few more counterexamples:

1. An 85 year old man in late stages of dementia whose brain has deteriorated to the point that he cannot speak or even understand notions like "humanity" or "rights" doesn't meet any of the three above conditions, so on your view, we'd be committed to denying he has rights.

2. A 30 year old woman lying in a hospital bed in a coma doesn't meet the three conditions. I don't think we want to say that she's got rights only if she starts to reason consciously again.

The point is that, contra your position, rights cannot be contingent upon one's ability to understand and assert them and respect the rights of others, since that excludes many people at many different stages of life from having rights.

Joe:

I appreciate your well thought out response.

Concerning your argument, I don't deny (1) that human life is scared, although non-Christians will certainly have a different understanding of that idea compared to Christians. Why not deny (2) instead? I'm inclined to think that a secular moral system is perfectly capable of accepting (1) and holding that animal life is sacred as well.

I'll grant that human life is more valuable than animal life, but it doesn't follow that animal is not valuable or that there are no human obligations toward animals. Might we just have more (or more stringent) obligations to humans than animals?

It seems odd to say that if you didn't believe in God, you'd be an error theorist about morality. There are plenty of secular systems of moral realism that aren't obviously wrong. At least it's not a settled matter whether they've arrived at the truth. Why must moral truth depend on God?

If you think the error starts and ends with one's inability to see the truth that human life is sacred (again I think atheists can see this; it's just that it doesn't depend on theism for them), then you're probably committed to some kind of intuitionism. If that's true, then you may be right any argumentation would simply involve you and your opponent talking past each other. At that point, it's difficult to know how to proceed. Perhaps one might call into question the metaethical position on which your intuitionism is based.

Concerning your example involving the libidinous, unscrupulous dentist, I think utilitarians would argue that you're distorting their position. Playing the utilitarian's advocate, I'd argue that molesting the girl, although neither she nor anyone else ever finds out, is wrong on the grounds that it doesn't actually maximize utility and in fact diminishes it. Take a look at chapter two of J.S. Mill's "Utilitarianism" for the distinction between higher and lower pleasures. Mill assigns to the exercise of higher pleasures like "the moral sentiments a much higher value...than to those of mere sensation" (Utilitarianism, p. 8). So by treating the girl simply as a sex object rather than a moral agent, the dentist is foregoing a higher pleasure for the sake of a lower one. That would be wrong according to Mill.

I didn't mean to suggest that if chimps have a greater capacity for love than humans, then they're more important morally. I took you as saying (and please correct me if I'm wrong) that rights depend on one's ability to love. It's not obvious that certain non-human animals do not have any capacity for love. If they do and the capacity to love confers rights, shouldn't animals have SOME rights?

Joe said...

Thanks for the comments RD.

Let me give you my thoughts on your comments in chunks.

You say:
"Concerning your argument, I don't deny (1) that human life is scared, although non-Christians will certainly have a different understanding of that idea compared to Christians. Why not deny (2) instead? I'm inclined to think that a secular moral system is perfectly capable of accepting (1) and holding that animal life is sacred as well."

Just a couple of points. First yes its true “a secular moralist” might not accept any of the 3 premises to my argument. In that case I would have to find new premises which support them as conclusions. Indeed I might even have to find "better known" premises to support them as conclusions *if* I am to prove this to a person who rejects the premises.

Here is an interesting side point. I may not be able to find premises that are better known *to me* than that human life is sacred, but that doesn’t mean I can’t find premises that are better known *to them*. If someone rejects the premise then I can try to look for some other premises that they might agree with which entail that human life is sacred. Or I can just take a different track. But again I’m not sure I can in an intellectually honest way take a different track here. Because I doubt I believe alternate explanations hold water.

Whether an argument is sound or not is an objective thing. However *proving* something is a subjective thing. You can utter all the sound arguments you want but if the listener doesn't accept your premises (despite their truth) you are not going to “prove” anything to them.

Its for this reason that I generally do not argue/discuss with hypothetical positions that one might take. This would include “a secular moralist.” I really only like to talk about ideas that the person I am discussing this with actually holds. Otherwise the discussion is not really relevant to the people who are having it. Now if someone really isn’t sure about whether to accept certain premises then I can go along. But trying to provide a proof that will work for *every* animal rights proponent or *every* hypothetical “secular moralist” is wishful thinking.

Nevertheless I believe the argument I set forth is sound and the premises may be acceptable to some and therefore it might provide some proof to them.

Now I picked on the first premise really as just an example and because I know Singer would reject it. I didn’t really know who I was arguing against.

If you accept the first premise but reject the second then in order to convince you I would need to delve into why you think animal life is sacred and why I don’t think it is. And your right we would need to make sure we understand what we mean by sacred. If you understand the word sacred as something different than I do then the question is whether the difference is material to this discussion.

So I think sacred means, more or less, holy. I think human life is sacred because we are made in the image of God and it is against God’s command to kill humans. Moreover we are told God loves us. It’s not a violation to kill animals nor are we told that animals are made in the image of God or that God loves us. So these reasons don’t apply to them. These are a few reasons (I could probably think of others) why I think human life is sacred. Yes they are based on my religion and what the bible teaches. But my religious beliefs are part of my noetic structure.

Why do you think animal’s lives are sacred?

Note: I’m not trying to be difficult but I think as we go along we will soon see the lie in a certain notion that many people hold. That is the notion that we can choose to believe or not to believe in God and the only difference it will make in our noetic structure is one noetic structure holds “God exists” and the other can be identical but just not hold that single belief. This belief is not nearly so marginalized. In my view how one looks at the world is vastly different (especially when it concerns the most important questions like “what should we do?”) depending on whether you believe in a God or not.

Joe said...

RD said “It seems odd to say that if you didn't believe in God, you'd be an error theorist about morality. There are plenty of secular systems of moral realism that aren't obviously wrong. At least it's not a settled matter whether they've arrived at the truth. Why must moral truth depend on God?”

Ok I do not think its impossible to conceptualize how morals can exist without God. I actually discussed with Ilion why I think objective morals can at least be theoretically possible without God here:
https://www.blogger.com/comment.g?blogID=10584495&postID=8099769500685353440

I think it’s possible to see how morals truths can exist without God but if they did there would be no reason to think we could access those truths.
The bottom line is I’m sympathetic to the views from Mackie, Richard Joyce and this paper from Sharon Street. http://bioethics.as.nyu.edu/docs/IO/1177/DarwinianDilemma.pdf

My views are quite close to Dr. Street’s in this paper although I do part ways in some respects. I actually think her argument can be put more forcefully.
Richard Joyce in his book “evolution of morals” does maintain that appeals to the supernatural do not help the realist. However he uses Occam's razor. Although I think Occam’s razor is useful in some rare situations this isn’t one of them. Its in part my views of meta-ethics that lead me to believe in God. Richard Joyce and mackie can look at the strong evidence against morals and apparently say “well morals don’t exist.” You have to love the intellectual honesty. I on the other hand can’t quite get myself to believe that. I mean really I think its impossible. So in some sense I think it might call for drastic measures – the supernatural. I think Dr. street adopts some sort of antirealist view of morals. I don’t buy those for other reasons.
I really like reading both Richard Joyce and Mackie. They are both very logical, creative, and enjoyable to read IMO. Richard Joyce does a great job addressing the various arguments suggesting that evolutionary theory actrually supports morals. He puts his finger on the problems quite quickly and effectively. I would be very interested in talking with him sometime. Specifically I would like to ask him what he means by “belief.” I like a description that was given by Quine:
"Let us consider, to begin with, what we are up to when we believe. Just what are we doing? Nothing in particular. For all the liveliness and fluctuation of beliefs, believing is not an activity. It is not like scansion or long division. We may scan a verse quickly or slowly. We may perform a division quickly or slowly. We may even be quick or slow about coming to believe something, and quick or slow about giving a belief up. But there is nothing quick or slow about the believing itself; it is not a job to get on with. Nor is it a fit or mood, like joy or grief or astonishment. It is not something that we feel while it lasts. Rather, believing is a disposition that can linger latent and unobserved. It is a disposition to respond in certain ways when the appropriate issue arises. To believe that Hannibal crossed the Alps is to be disposed, among other things, to say "yes" when asked. To believe that frozen foods will thaw on the table is to be disposed, among other things, to leave such foods on the table only when one wants them thawed.

Inculcating a belief is like charging a battery. The battery is thenceforward disposed to give a spark or shock, when suitably approached, as long as the charge lasts; similarly the believer is disposed to respond in characteristic ways, when suitably approached, as long as the belief lasts. The belief, like the charge, may last long or briefly. Some beliefs, like the one about Hannibal, we shall probably retain while we live. Some, like our belief in the dependability of our neighborhood cobbler, we may abandon tomorrow in the face of adverse evidence. And some, like the belief that a bird chirped within the earshot, will simply die of unimportance forthwith. The belief that the cobbler is dependable gives way tomorrow to a contrary belief, while the belief in the bird is just forgotten. A disposition has ceased in both cases, though in different ways."

From “The Web of Belief” second edition W.V. Quine and J.S. Ullian. Pages 9-10.

Ok so he perceives belief different than Hume who draws the sharp distinction between action and belief. I agree with Quine. Beliefs are more or less dispositions to act a certain way. If someone says they think they will go to hell if they don’t attend church on Sunday but never goes to church I have to question whether they really believe that.
So what of moral error theorists like Joyce or the late Mackie. Are they denying that they have dispositions to act a certain way based on what they view as right or wrong? Or are they saying yes I hold those beliefs/dispositions but acknowledge that they are irrational. I would like to ask questions of Joyce in this neighborhood. I do think the end of Joyce’s book is quite weak in this regard. He tries to sort of say well “don’t worry even though I think morality is a bunch of bs I won’t steal your silverware if you have me over for dinner” but I’m not convinced what he wrote really plumbed the full consequences of his metaethical view. What he wrote at the end seemed sort of an add on that maybe the publisher wanted. But I suspect he has deeper ideas there that he didn’t write about.

Joe said...

RD said:
"Concerning your example involving the libidinous, unscrupulous dentist, I think utilitarians would argue that you're distorting their position. Playing the utilitarian's advocate, I'd argue that molesting the girl, although neither she nor anyone else ever finds out, is wrong on the grounds that it doesn't actually maximize utility and in fact diminishes it. Take a look at chapter two of J.S. Mill's "Utilitarianism" for the distinction between higher and lower pleasures. Mill assigns to the exercise of higher pleasures like "the moral sentiments a much higher value...than to those of mere sensation" (Utilitarianism, p. 8). So by treating the girl simply as a sex object rather than a moral agent, the dentist is foregoing a higher pleasure for the sake of a lower one. That would be wrong according to Mill."

Was mill considering the actions of a sociopath? Sociopaths don't have the same emotional tugs of conscience we have. They just don't get it when it comes to morals.

So for the sociopath dentist he simply doesn't get the same pleasure we do from doing the "right thing." Nor does he get the negative guilt we do when we do the "wrong thing." Yep it’s a bummer in Mills view that he can’t experience this higher pleasure but it appears that for some people that is a fact. So to the extent the sexual pleasure counts *at all* then on the whole he is getting more pleasure from the molestation than he would without it. So under a pain/pleasure based utilitarianism the moral thing to do is molest the girl.

Moreover, I wonder how what mills said works. I thought we were defining morals as bringing pleasure (or “happiness” which can, at least according to Singer, take the form of sexual pleasure) or pain. So then we define morals that way and then ask what brings about the highest happiness/pleasure? We get the answer well acting morally does. But acting morally means bringing about the most pleasure instead of pain so the Dentist will act morally by molesting the girl. Hence the dentist will achieve the highest pleasure by molesting the girl. I think were getting in some sort of loop here but I’m not sure Mills is helping the utilitarian. It seems Mills is punting to some other moral basis.

Joe said...

RD said:

"I didn't mean to suggest that if chimps have a greater capacity for love than humans, then they're more important morally. I took you as saying (and please correct me if I'm wrong) that rights depend on one's ability to love."

Let me correct you but take the blame for the need to correct you. That is not what I meant to say. But I can see why you may have thought that in the context of some of my earlier remarks.

That is why I delineated the three different categories and said they really don't seem to have any relationship to each other. So no I did not mean to say that our rights depend on our ability to love. Our right to life depends on the sacredness of our life. The lives of people who are so consumed with hatred there is no room for love are still sacred IMO.

Joe said...

"If you think the error starts and ends with one's inability to see the truth that human life is sacred (again I think atheists can see this; it's just that it doesn't depend on theism for them), then you're probably committed to some kind of intuitionism. If that's true, then you may be right any argumentation would simply involve you and your opponent talking past each other. At that point, it's difficult to know how to proceed. Perhaps one might call into question the metaethical position on which your intuitionism is based."

I think you see that I am not technically an intuitionist. An Intuitionist like Huemer would not say killing is wrong because human life is sacred. He would say something along the lines of “we believe killing is wrong and most of our beliefs tend to be true so its probably true.” Oh well I'm sure he wouldn't agree with my characterization. Richard Joyce actually did a nice review of Huemer’s book and its posted on his website. I agreed with allot of what Joyce said. I’m not a fan of intuitionism either.

Clayton said...

Empirical research suggests that infants cannot make moral claims as they lack moral concepts. But, that's research carried out by scientists so that's best ignored in favor of Ilion's apriorizing.

Ilíon said...

Did nothing of the sort, RD.

RD said...

You know what else you haven't done, Ilion? You haven't provided a positive view of rights. You haven't said what rights are in the first place or, for that matter, why they're unique to humans. Of course, given your posting history, I'm not surprised.