Re: A Bioethical Foundation for Human Rights

From: Smigrodzki, Rafal (SmigrodzkiR@MSX.UPMC.EDU)
Date: Wed Nov 07 2001 - 11:05:03 MST

Anders Sandberg <> wrote:

But what about the cat trying to escape being locked in the same room as
an angry dog? It will try different escapes and escape strategies. The
same goes for the rat in the corresponding situation, although with
perhaps less behavioral flexibility.

### I think we have reasonably good understanding of mental states at both
ends of the present-day complexity continuum - we know from basic science
that the nematode doesn't have a mental state worth mentioning, and we know
from introspection that we have a sense of self. Our knowledge of the vast
area in between the extremes is rather inadequate. As a gut feeling I would
tend to think that the cat is not aware of his precious feline self, it's
not worried about its future - it reacts to the immediate danger of the
moment, with some flexibility, just like a good game AI. Resolution of this
particular issue (where exactly in the animal kingdom does "real"
self-awareness arise) might have to wait until we develop better methods of
exminining their brains.


> Does this mean that you are allowed to shoot sociopaths whenever you feel > like it? It does advance the life-wish of innocent humans. > > #### If there was a highly reliable method of diagnosing sociopathy (for the > sake of this discussion let's define it as a stable lack of concern for the > survival wishes of other people, despite being fully aware of them) then it > would be perfectly reasonable to pre-emptively control such persons, > especially by preventing them from ever being in a position of force without > direct supervision.

OK, this is a reasonable position I can agree with. An increased risk is handled by adding a commensurate safeguard. But I don't see *why* you soften your initial position here?

### Just political expediency - while I retain a lack of moral concern for the life of such persons, I am willing to adapt the implementation of my moral principles to the political situation, where pre-emptive control without pre-emptive termination is more likely to be accepted and would bring almost the same survival benefits as the original proposal.


> >However, the commision of murder(=killing of an innocent > >self-aware entity against its wishes) or even a verifiable willingness to > >commit murder, is reason enough to lose the right to live > > If you were an anti-abortionist this would be a great argument for killing > abortion doctors and pro-abortion people, wouldn't it? The biggest danger of > your argument is that it can be interpreted so broadly. > > #### Anti-abortionnists do not define murder as I do - they have > epistemological difficulties leading them to erroneously conclude that > embryos have human rights. So, their ethics might be unimpeachable (they > want to kill those who initiate violence against defenseless children) but > their knowledge of the world is poor, therefore they make wrong decisions. I > don't think that my basic argument can be abused any more than other > principles. After all, "striking back" can also be very broadly interpreted.

The problem here is that it might not just be epistemological differences, but simply a different definition of human.

I once met a girl who greeted me with "Hi, murderer". She had heard of my interest in uploading, and considered it murder since at the end of the process you end up with a disassembled (dead) human and a non-human simulacrum. A consistent position I disagree with, but understand. But if she subscribed to your view of when it is allowed to initiate force, she would not just be right in killing me when I tried to upload someone, but also in killing me *now* because I would gladly upload a willing test subject if it was possible - and hence show my disregard of (deluded) human life from her position.

### This is an amazing example, and it goes to show that with sufficiently different ideas of self, and reality, understanding might be impossible in principle - after all, you could meet a person believing that strangling you with a scarf (as in thuggee) might not be killing - just sending you to a different better reality, a noble service you will come to appreciate on the other side. Two parties have to maintain at least some rudimentary areas of agreement to be able to have a meaningful discussion. If there is none, all that remains is the use of force. But in this case, if the girl subscribed to my basic moral tenet, "Innocent wish to survive may not be thwarted" (let's call it the Life Principle), then she would not initiate force here - since the disassembled human wished to be uploaded (or in her reference frame - wished to be dead in an unusual way), your action in helping him would not be wrong - nobody's life-wish is thwarted here, despite having a dead body. Helping a person commit suicide is in my opinion acceptable. ----

Exactly. And it might be reasonable to try to get the person treated or supervised. But if you attack him without him attacking you first, he would have a moral right of defend himself regardless of how twisted he was.

#### Now, I specifically exclude entities which do not accept the Life Principle (whether in thought or in deed) from the protection afforded by this principle - such persons have in my moral system a priori no rights, hence they do not have a moral right to defend themselves. As you might notice, this is somewhat self-referential but somehow I am not worried about it.


> #### By the way, correct me if I am wrong, you agree that the right to live > might be revoked for actions, right?

Only for initiation of force, and even then only to a minimal extent. I do not, for example, believe that executions are ethically acceptable.

#### Insistence on the initiation of force *only* in response to action leads to the following - it means that innocent human lives have to be first endangered or lost before a coercive action can be undertaken. Even if reliable information is available, predicting that a particular person will with 99% probability kill a random passer-by, you may not initiate force against that person - if you are strict about what it means to initiate force, you cannot even detain the prospective killer, or take away his gun. A malign observer might even say that you demand a sacrifice of fresh innocent blood on the altar of justice (I am not saying that, of course).

---- The problem is that some information is subjective to a degree that no amount of brain scan can give it to us. If we have different philosophical views of what it means to be a human, then we might want to kill each other as being clear menaces to human life but a judge could not do anything other than rule on what definition of humanity the legal system accepts - none of us can ever be shown wrong.

### The legal system does implicitly and explicitly incorporate such definitions, they are the basis for example for the laws regarding organ donation. My modest proposal does not pose any new problem here. Even if you want to restrain yourself to responses to "force", you need to define what entities are to be deemed worthy of being protected. ----

Detecting potential killers this way is a great idea - but I think killing people for a virtual action (even if they thought it was real) is not just excessive but immoral. No crime has been comitted: I view crimes as bad things actually done to another being with rights, not just a one-sided action - it is an interaction between two ethical subjects. When you punish (severely) non-crimes, the whole scale of justice tilts.

### I am glad you like the idea. What if instead of killing those who fail the test, we just detain them until they can pass the test? This is still initiation of force without being provoked by an action, but it's not irreversible, and as a bonus, fewer innocent bystanders would first need to lose their lives, with all the potential killer being locked up before they kill. Actually, there is already a law in the US, allowing any two physicians to commit a person involuntarily if they believe this person is a menace to others. The procedure is frequently called "302", from the name of the form you have to fill out.


The greatest risk is that your right to life is suddenly entirely in the hands of the government (or whoever runs the testing). What happens when a mistake is done, or some malicious person(s) forge data? You can never appeal if you are dead.

### Here you name the strongest argument against capital punishment - the risk that innocent lives might be taken. I have no moral qualms against the death penalty but this one argument is enough to soften my position considerably. I still think that this punishment is acceptable in absolutely certain cases, when you have somebody who kills hostages in a bank heist on camera, leaves his DNA and skin flakes in the wounds he inflicts with his knife, is apprehended while still dripping with their blood, and boasts about how much fun he had. However, if there is the slightest doubt about the defendant's guilt, I would agree with you on the practical level and be more comfortable with life imprisonment. For the pre-emptive justice case, it means non-punitive detention, with option of using deadly force only if absolutely necessary to apprehend the sociopath. Non-punitive detention means being in an institution with as little unpleasantness as reasonably possible.


A deeper problem is that when you start to take away the most valuable thing there is - life - then there is less resistance to take away other valuable things. If people can't make informed political decisions, why allow them to vote? People who can't manage their economy, shouldn't more competent people take their money and use it wisely on their behalf? If you think so, maybe you should move to us in Sweden ;-)

#### The slippery slopes exist whenever there are no strong moral convictions. It's difficult to extend the Life Principle to voting rights, wouldn't you think?

It appears that even though our basic moral principles differ, both of us would be comfortable with a remarkably similar set of legal implementations, allowing a severely limited initiation of force (in my case - less limited and more deadly) against persons objectively dangerous to their fellow humans.

And how did you guess that I'm against universal franchise? :-)

I think that parliaments should be selected by a random drawing among volunteer citizens (demarchy), with an IQ test being administered, splitting them into the upper house (intellicracy), allowed to write laws, and a lower house, allowed to refuse their passage.

Rafal Smigrodzki, MD-PhD

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