I, Thou, and Meat Robot

http://www.uncommondescent.com/intelligent-design/the-myth-of-the-continuum-of-creatures-a-reply-to-john-jeremiah-sullivan-part-two/

For a duty towards an animal would have to be directed at someone, and if the lights are out and there’s no-one home, then any talk of duties or obligations is meaningless. To be sure, a magnanimous person, motivated by a disinterested ethic of reverence for all living things, might still wish to alleviate the feelings of pain occurring in animals, even while recognizing that these feelings belonged to no-one. But it would no longer be possible to maintain that animals are morally significant “others.” The most we could say is that insofar as they are organisms, animals have a biological “good of their own.” If we adopted this biocentric view, then we would deplore any wanton harm done to animals, just as we would the felling of a Californian redwood tree. But the notion that animals belong on a psychological or moral continuum with us would be forever shattered. For if animals have no “selves,” then they are not “they,” and their pain doesn’t warrant our pity.

VJ Torley has posted an interesting argument regarding animals’ ability to suffer and the ethical implications of various interpretations of animal consciousness. Although VJ has his own conclusions, his post seem to invite discussion rather than agreement or disagreement. He emphasizes the limits of science rather than simply attacking science. I would suggest he also demonstrates some limits to philosophy.

Mapou helpfully sets up the main line of discussion:

Why beat around the bush? Science cannot even prove that humans are conscious, let alone animals. There is no experiment that can directly detect consciousness. It is a subjective phenomenon. We may know that we are conscious but we can only assume that other humans are equally conscious.

Mapou goes on to say that he considers animals to be meat robots and outside of any consideration of their welfare. I would argue that we draw our lines of demarcation on some basis other than evidence or logic. I personally think this problem of demarcation cannot be solved by reason.

I think we as individuals draw the line between creatures that merit ethical consideration and those that don’t, and I think we do this for purely emotional reasons. Some of us see someone home behind the eyes of non-humans.

 

128 thoughts on “I, Thou, and Meat Robot

  1. William J. Murray: I didn’t claim mine were better than yours. You, like others, are making the ongoing mistake that I am arguing for some particular morality. I am not.I am making the case that the premise of objectively existent morality is rationally necessary for normal behavior and for a rationally consistent worldview for anyone who is not a sociopath.

    I infer from this that we agree that there is no one objective morality If there were, I assume you’d be arguing for it.. Instead, your argument is that, even if there is no objective morality we should still assume the existence of one, as a convenient fiction, because it has beneficial consequences. The problem is that it doesn’t really help. There is still the need to decide which of the existing flavors of morality shall be the objective one and, whichever one is chosen, there will be a lot of unhappy supporters of the losers demanding to know why they were not chosen. As I see it you don’t have a satisfactory answer for that.

    The other quibble I have is with this insistence that some form of authoritarian command morality is the only alternative to moral relativism which inevitably descends into nihilism. Another possibility is that all societies tend to evolve some sort of morality to regulate the behavior of their members and protect their interests. These will differ in detail but, given that their function is to protect interests that are common to all humans, they should converge on a mean given enough time, although I suspect we are still a long way from that happy sate of affairs.

  2. I infer from this that we agree that there is no one objective morality If there were, I assume you’d be arguing for it..

    You infer and assume wrong. I’m just not interested in trying to make a case for any moral specifics beyond the one self-evidently true moral statement I use in my argument. I explain why I don’t bother with such arguments later in this post.

    Instead, your argument is that, even if there is no objective morality we should still assume the existence of one, as a convenient fiction, because it has beneficial consequences.

    Not just beneficial consequences; it is the only premise that explains and justifies how we actually react, act, think, and feel when it comes to morality, including moral obligations and authority.

    The problem is that it doesn’t really help.

    That would depend on what you think needs help. It helps in that it provides a sound basis for what we actually experience in life, for one thing.

    There is still the need to decide which of the existing flavors of morality shall be the objective one

    Why does one need to that? Because I admit that there must be an objective source of morality doesn’t necessarily mean that there exists on Earth a perfect or accurate description of moral truths, or even that such a linguistic description is possible.

    and, whichever one is chosen, there will be a lot of unhappy supporters of the losers demanding to know why they were not chosen. As I see it you don’t have a satisfactory answer for that.

    You seem to be thinking of this in very narrow, conventional terms. Under my view of objective morality, there is no need to write laws against any moral behavior; laws are only for engineering a functioning society – the question of morality is left out of laws as much as possible, leaving people free to choose to do whatever they want as consenting adults. That some consider prostitution or drug use or homosexuality “morally wrong” would be entirely irrelevant to lawmaking.

    If morality is truly an objective commodity, the consequences of moral/immoral behavior are inescapable – there is no need to legislate morality, no need for me to condemn what I think is immoral and no need for me or anyone to “punish” behavior for moral reasons. The nature of existence and reality (if morality refers to an objective commodity) will inescapably generate the proper consequences of moral and immoral behavior. I don’t have to lift a finger.

    Which is why there is no reason for me to attempt to convince anyone else what I think is moral. People can figure it out with their own conscience and the nature of existence will sort out the results.

    Laws should be as secular as possible, and people should be free to act as moral or as immoral as they wish given the secular laws.

    The other quibble I have is with this insistence that some form of authoritarian command morality is the only alternative to moral relativism which inevitably descends into nihilism.

    Authoritarian command morality is no better than subjective morality; if something is moral one day because god says so, and immoral the next because god says so, that is nothing more than might makes right writ large. No, for objective morality to make any sense, “good” must reflect an intrinsic aspect of god – something god itself cannot change, and so it is necessarily woven into everything god creates and is an absolute condition of existence.

  3. It would be hard to construct a moral system based on the one self evident truth offered so far.

    I have no interest in attempting to argue for a “moral system” other than that any such system needs to be based on the premise that morality refers to an objective commodity. That is why I only need the one example.

    I assume you have a functioning conscience; now with the sound premise that morality refers to an objective commodity, discover/figure out a proper moral system on your own. I’m not trying to sell you mine.

    You see my interest is not solely a justification for the authority to impose one’s moral system on another but also the manner in which the actual moral system is derived. Whether the premise that “there exists an objective moral code ” is useful in the code’s determination.

    You’re a smart fella. You can certainly find more self-evidently true moral statements, then use logic to derive from those some necessarily true moral statements (IOW, given the truth of those self-evidently true statements, then some other related statements are necessarily true), some conditionally true moral statements, and some generally true moral statements.

    Use conscience to observe the moral landscape and logic to examine, interpret and categorize that which the conscience observes, always humbly aware that we can err and that we have the power to willfully deny even the obvious.

    If morality refers to an objective commodity, I don’t need to worry about what you are doing unless it’s egregious or harming me in some way – natural law will take care of meting out consequences.

  4. Now suppose that you and I both feel that child abuse is wrong. According to you, you are morally entitled to intervene to prevent child abuse, but I am not.

    No. My intervention is logically justified. Yours is not – unless, of course, you justify the intervention under the principle of might makes right, which I doubt.

    What is the difference? You are entitled to intervene because you have assumed something that you do not know and do not even pretend to know.

    Many fundamental premises cannot be known to be true; they can only be assumed, such as the premise that this is not all a delusion of mine. Some are necessarily assumed. I don’t claim to know they are true, but I do believe them to be true, and for good reasons. And yes, those fundamental premises justify the intervention logically, whether they are true or not. I can only logically justify treating other people as if they are independent, sentient creatures if I assume this is not all a delusion; I cannot know it is not a delusion, and I do not pretend to know it is not a delusion, but I have good reasons for the premise that it is not a delusion.

    Your moral authority derives from an assumption that you yourself admit is baseless.

    No, I didn’t admit my assumption was baseless. I said that there is no way know that the assumption is true. Like the assumption that this is not all a delusion, there is good reason for the belief – there’s just no way to “know”. Similarly, there’s no way to “know” that morality is an objective commodity, but since we must act and think and react as if it is an objective commodity, I have good reasons to believe/assume that it is.

    It’s the height of irrationality.

    Quite the contrary; it’s the essence of rationality to develop grounding assumptions based upon experience that in turn can produce sound and consistent belief and behavioral models that coincide with and compliment that experience.

    You have to defy what experience screams at you from every angle and jury-rig rube goldberg rationales to maintain the view that morality is entirely a subjective commodity.

  5. William,

    My intervention is logically justified.

    No, because your intervention depends on the unjustified assumption that you have reliable access to objective morality. Your own words show that this assumption is groundless:

    I don’t pretend I have such access, nor do I know I have such access…

    You continue:

    Yours [intervention] is not [justified] – unless, of course, you justify the intervention under the principle of might makes right, which I doubt.

    My intervention isn’t justified by my might — it’s justified by my subjective morality. Others, who hold different subjective moralities, may disagree. That’s fine. There is no contradiction there. There can be many subjective moralities, and they need not agree. That’s why they’re subjective and not objective!

    Many fundamental premises cannot be known to be true; they can only be assumed, such as the premise that this is not all a delusion of mine. Some are necessarily assumed.

    The existence of absolute morality is not one of them, as I and others have shown. For example:

    1. My subjective morality tells me that gratuitous child torture is wrong.
    2. I choose to obey my subjective morality.
    3. Therefore I do not torture children, I do not condone the torture of children, and I would intervene to prevent someone else from torturing children.

    There is nothing inconsistent or irrational about that reasoning.

    I don’t claim to know they are true, but I do believe them to be true, and for good reasons. And yes, those fundamental premises justify the intervention logically, whether they are true or not.

    I’m still waiting to hear what those good reasons are. As far as I can tell, the only reason you’ve offered is that it’s somehow necessary to assume that objective morality exists. My example above shows that it isn’t.

    I can only logically justify treating other people as if they are independent, sentient creatures if I assume this is not all a delusion; I cannot know it is not a delusion, and I do not pretend to know it is not a delusion, but I have good reasons for the premise that it is not a delusion.

    You don’t need to assume that it is not a delusion. You can acknowledge that it might or might not be delusory. You can try to assess the likelihood that it is a delusion. You can decide to play it safe and treat others as if they are independent, sentient creatures, though you might in fact be wrong.

    No, I didn’t admit my assumption was baseless. I said that there is no way know that the assumption is true.

    Or even that it is likely to be true. Sounds pretty baseless to me.

    Like the assumption that this is not all a delusion, there is good reason for the belief – there’s just no way to “know”.

    You haven’t given any good reasons for the baseless assumption. And as I have shown, it isn’t necessary to make that assumption.

    Similarly, there’s no way to “know” that morality is an objective commodity, but since we must act and think and react as if it is an objective commodity, I have good reasons to believe/assume that it is.

    We don’t need to think and react as if morality is an “objective commodity.” Treating it as subjective works just fine and leads to no contradictions.

    Quite the contrary; it’s the essence of rationality to develop grounding assumptions based upon experience…

    What experiences can you cite to show that objective morality exists and that you have access to it? None. It’s an arbitrary, ungrounded assumption, and yet you depend on that unwarranted assumption to justify your moral interventions.

    It’s emotional reasoning pretending to be rational.

    You have to defy what experience screams at you from every angle and jury-rig rube goldberg rationales to maintain the view that morality is entirely a subjective commodity.

    What is experience actually “screaming” at me from every angle? That individuals, groups and societies differ in their moral judgments. That there is no objective standard we can use to adjudicate these differences, which is why they persist after millennia. That the morality that people actually use in making their moral decisions is subjective morality. That’s what experience screams to me.

  6. Finally, after much development, the Objective Morality Channel was operational. Naturally, the first question was “What is Immoral?”

    “Torturing Babies For Pleasure”, it intoned.

    “What, always?”

    “Yep. Well, I can construct ridiculously convoluted scenarios where it might prevent a greater harm, but I can’t make you find it pleasurable if you don’t. But if you do find it pleasurable, don’t do it, because it’s Wrong. Anyone you find doing it, tell ‘em I said so. They’ll respect that; it carries more logical weight than your opinion. You can’t rationally intervene if you don’t like it; only if you think I don’t”.

    “Really? Why’s it not rational to take action when something strikes one as wrong?”

    “Just isn’t. It might strike someone else as right. I can arbitrate”.

    “So if I think it’s wrong to hog the middle lane, it would be irrational to persuade someone to switch, because they might like it there?”

    “That’s different. We’re talking about morality. Different rules. Diversionary tactic.”

    “No, it’s … Alright, do you know if we do something?”

    “Nope. Er … I mean yes. Yes. I’m Always Watching. I Know Your Every Move. Don’t try any funny stuff.”

    “Can you do anything to us if we do?”

    “Nope. I’m just a Natural Law. Knowledge may be Power, but I have neither. Er … I mean yes, yes – there will be Consequences”

    “What kind of Consequences?”.

    “Dire Consequences”.

    “O….kay then … Anything else we need to watch out for?”.

    “Nope. That’s it. Lay off the babies. Work the rest out for yourself”.

  7. No, because your intervention depends on the unjustified assumption that you have reliable access to objective morality. Your own words show that this assumption is groundless:

    No, the assumption is entirely justified and grounded; it’s just not provable. There’s quite a difference. You might as well say that the assumption that I am not living in my own delusion is groundless and not justified, and therefore no other belief that relies on that assumption being true is rational. Your claim is easily seen to be false.

  8. Quoth the Arbiter:

    Lay off the babies. Work the rest out for yourself.

    Even worse, the Arbiter appears to be saying that the rest doesn’t matter.

    Here’s how I put it six months ago:

    Ironically, your theistic approach is more likely to undermine morality than atheism is. Consider:

    1. We know that our moral sense is fallible, because sincere people disagree on important moral issues.

    2. If our creator God is perfectly good and all-powerful, then a) he wants us to behave morally and b) he is perfectly capable of conveying to us exactly what we are supposed to do.

    3. Because there is sincere disagreement on certain moral issues, those issues must not be important to God. If they were important, he would have communicated clearly and carefully to the people involved.

    4. Therefore, even though those moral issues may seem important to us, they are not important to God. We can safely ignore our consciences.

    5. Of course, a better conclusion would be that even if these issues don’t matter to God (or if he doesn’t exist at all), they do matter to us, and that’s reason enough to heed our consciences.

    Here’s William’s reply:

    Whether or not one’s moral choices are important to god is irrelevant to the point of necessary consequences.

    So according to William, God can’t be arsed to tell us whether adulterers should be stoned to death, but Woe to those who make the wrong choice!

  9. Time seems to be frozen for William and his moral argument. This refutation from six months ago is just as appropriate now as it was then:

    keiths on April 29, 2013 at 5:37 am said:

    William,

    Your moral system rests on the assumptions a) that God is perfectly good, and that his morality is The Objective Morality; b) that God shares a “mental architecture” with us; and c) that this shared mental architecture is correct when it indicates that something is “self-evidently” moral or immoral.

    As you admit, you cannot provide evidence for (a) and (b). You simply assume them without evidence. We know that (c) is wrong, because if it were correct, sincere people would never disagree about what is self-evidently moral or immoral.

    The fact that (c) is wrong already invalidates your system, and your lack of evidence for (a) and (b) puts the nails in the coffin.

    You also argue that “Darwinian” morality, by which you really mean atheist morality, is incoherent and meaningless.

    To show that something is incoherent, you need to show that it leads to a contradiction. You haven’t done this, and you apparently can’t. Therefore neither you nor we have any reason to take your claim of incoherence seriously.

    As for meaninglessness, the very fact that atheists find their morality to be meaningful disproves your claim.

    You came here to show that “Darwinian” morality was incoherent and meaningless, and you failed. Along the way you revealed that your own moral system is invalid, being based on two baseless assumptions plus a third that is known to be false.

    Isn’t it time to take a breather and think things over? You can always come back if and when you are able to come up with a better argument that you think will withstand critical scrutiny.

  10. William,

    No, the assumption is entirely justified and grounded; it’s just not provable.

    Not only isn’t it provable — there isn’t even any evidence for it! You could just as easily assume that objective morality doesn’t exist, or that if it exists, we have no reliable access to it. Your only “justification” is, in effect, “because I want it to be true, even though I have no evidence for it.”

    You might as well say that the assumption that I am not living in my own delusion is groundless and not justified, and therefore no other belief that relies on that assumption being true is rational.

    I can make a rational argument that solipsism is unlikely to be true, though I can’t rule it out entirely. You have yet to provide a rational argument in favor of your objective morality assumption.

  11. It seems to me that if William’s claim that there are object moral commodities and that said moral commodities have associated inescapable consequences, this is discussion is rather moot. We need but one example of an inescapable consequence to end the discussion. Is there such an example. In specific, is there an inescapable consequence for torturing children?

  12. petrushka:
    Examples are hard to come by in the world of philosophy.

    Examples are easy to come by in philosophy, if one is doing it right.

  13. Kantian Naturalist: Examples are easy to come by in philosophy, if one is doing it right.

    But I was unable to elicit a clear example of philosophy being used in a practical way.

  14. petrushka: But I was unable to elicit a clear example of philosophy being used in a practical way.

    Now I’m confused — I thought you were asking William for an example of a philosophical concept, not for an example of philosophical thinking being used in some other context. Those are completely different things.

    On the second point, I pointed out several cases of philosophers of science collaborating with scientists and also of philosophers working on applied ethics. But it seems you want something more than that — an argument to the effect of, “without the philosophers, we wouldn’t have discovered _______!” And I have no such argument. Nor do I think that the value of philosophy depends on its practical benefits.

    Philosophy is intrinsically valuable, much as art is. A world in which no one appreciated Shakespeare, or produced no new novels or paintings, would be a poorer world than ours — likewise for a world in which no one appreciates Plato and produces new works of philosophy that advance the project of human self-understanding.

  15. How can anything be of more practical use that using philosophy to change one’s outlook on life and benefiting from it – becoming happier, more satisfied and fulfilled, becoming a better person & more productive citizen? A change in philosophy can mean the difference between suicide and a long, productive, happy life.

  16. William’s assessment of his earlier work seems to have… evolved:

    CS @ #9: No, I’m not that guy. Unfortunately, I’m the author of the books Anarchic Harmony and Unconditional Freedom. I don’t recommend them.

  17. William J. Murray,

    A change in philosophy can mean the difference between suicide and a long, productive, happy life.

    I do endorse that sentiment, even with the equivocation over the term ‘philosophy’. A close relative, for example, suffering from emotional anguish, has turned to the church. I don’t believe any of it myself, but respect, love and support her. It is nonetheless never quite clear which kind of change would be beneficial in any particular case – towards or away from the spiritual. Examples exist in both directions. I don’t think I ever try to persuade anyone that their core philosophy is wrong. But this seems to be what you’re about. I argue to defend mine, rather than attack others’. I think atheism and theism are both rationally justifiable, though clearly I have plumped for the former. It does not lead inevitably to nihilism, nor does the latter inevitably lead to happiness or a more caring attitude towards one’s fellow man.

  18. Philosophy is intrinsically valuable, much as art is.

    I have consistently agreed with that, and in fact I compared philosophy with art and music.

    But when art and music and non-empirical thinking get in bed with politics, the result is propaganda.

    I started this thread because I saw someone (on DU) who calls himself a philosopher argue that non-human animals are excluded from ethics. Paraphrasing someone whose identity escapes me, the boy ain’t wired right.

    It makes no sense to try to make objective values.

    Our values are embedded in what we are (regardless of how we got that way). Whether we enjoy causing pain or whether we enjoy being helpful are not qualities we can bring into existence by reason. They are built in (or not).

  19. A point on art and intrinsic value. The value is co-produced with the viewer. We give things value.

  20. Richardthughes:
    A point on art and intrinsic value. The value is co-produced with the viewer. We give things value.

    I’m not sure we have any effectual language for discussing how value arises. One thing is fairly certain. There is nothing comparable to peer review or consensus of experts in philosophy, nor much evidence of convergence over time.to me, the notion that one could use philosophical reasoning to deny that there is any ethical concern over causing pain in animals, is in itself a matter of concern.

  21. William J. Murray,

    How can anything be of more practical use that using philosophy to change one’s outlook on life and benefiting from it – becoming happier, more satisfied and fulfilled, becoming a better person & more productive citizen?

    Is that a self evident truth?

  22. KN:

    Philosophy is intrinsically valuable, much as art is.

    Is science intrinsically valuable?

    But it seems you want something more than that — an argument to the effect of, “without the philosophers, we wouldn’t have discovered _______!”

    How about, without philosophers we wouldn’t have discovered logic? I would think the list would be endless.

    But it seems you want something more than that — an argument to the effect of, “without the philosophers, we wouldn’t have discovered _______!” And I have no such argument.

    But if scientists are in fact philosophers…

    Nor do I think that the value of philosophy depends on its practical benefits.

    Does the value of science depend on it’s practical benefits?

  23. Mung:
    KN:

    Is science intrinsically valuable?

    Yes.

    How about, without philosophers we wouldn’t have discovered logic? I would think the list would be endless.

    Yes, but not quite on point. Just because some philosophers have done valuable things in the past doesn’t by itself justify the continued existence of philosophy now. Besides which, these days logic is its own specialty, and there’s not much contact between logicians and other philosophers. Though there is a great deal of interaction between logicians, mathematicians, and computer scientists.

    But if scientists are in fact philosophers…

    Since I don’t think they are and see no reason why they would be . . .

    Does the value of science depend on it’s practical benefits?

    No.

  24. William J. Murray,

    I have no interest in attempting to argue for a “moral system” other than that any such system needs to be based on the premise that morality refers to an objective commodity.

    That is not my interest either, it is how one gets from the premise that something could exist to actual mechanisms by which it comes to exist. After all a system based on the existence of an objective moral code provides no moral authority to a subjective moral code, unless one can prove that subjective moral code essentially identical to the objective.

    And kindly you provided that mechanism ” that it is immoral to torture a baby for pleasure” and since one self evident moral truth dictate exists, objective morality exists, therefore objective morality can be approximated by using self evident truths.I hope that is accurate.

    You’re a smart fella. You can certainly find more self-evidently true moral statements,

    Being smart should have nothing to do with it, if it is self evident any blockhead anywhere, anytime should find it self evident. It should be so universal that its source must be objective morality itself. Is that correct?

    then use logic to derive from those some necessarily true moral statements (IOW, given the truth of those self-evidently true statements, then some other related statements are necessarily true), some conditionally true moral statements, and some generally true moral statements.

    If I provided you with a non sociopath who would believe that statement is not self evidently true would you supply a replacement?

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.