Moral issues of uplifting

Technotranscendence (
Sat, 4 Dec 1999 22:09:00 -0800

Sorry if you've received more than one copy of this. This is my fourth try at sending it!:(


On Friday, December 03, 1999 9:56 AM Glen Finney wrote:
>> As for if it would be coercion, we have to ask what exactly is coercion.
>> That's a very big issue and I subscribe to the Randian/Objectivist
view --
>> viz., coercion is basically violation of an individual's rights. Inside
>> that view, the only organisms which possess rights are those with a
>> (volitional) mind. (See Rand and Branden's _The Virtue of Selfishness_,
>> which is a very brief book -- about 150 pages -- for more on this.) If
>> agree with this, then it would appear octopodes have no rights.>>
> Depends on whether you think octopodes have no volition.

Until the free-will-o-meter is invented, I'd just have to hazard a guess. Nope.:)

> Obviously, they
> have some as they don't simply engage in preprogrammed behavior.

There is more to behavior than just "preprogrammed behavior" and volition. I assume by "preprogrammed behavior" Glen means stuff that is unlearned, i.e., stuff that's in there before experiences. I bet most of us associative conditioning -- the Pavlovian stuff. Pavlov's dogs were not "preprogrammed" to salivate, but were trained to. Yet it did not seem to require volition. I think, for the most part, octopodes are mostly the same.

Of course, trying to pin down volition is a difficult (I do NOT believe it's impossible) thing. So, Glen might be right that octopodes have volition yet not for the reason he gives above. (Granted, going beyond "preprogrammed behavior" is a necessary condition for volition -- at least, for volition that has an impact on behavior. If volition does not have an impact on behavior, then I have no idea how to test for it.:)

> How much do
> they understand about what they are doing, and how different is their
> understanding from our own are both important questions to answer. If you
> say their understanding is quite limited, then you must rely on
> judgement.

I agree with the first statement. I gather the way to test understanding is to present the organism with puzzles of the sort that it will want to solve, such as mazes to get to food or mates. (Yeah, giving them essay questions on 19th century literature might be more indicative, but then we have to watch that they don't get the Monarch notes.:)

>> In this context, does this mean that we can do as we wish with them?
>> qualifying with "in this context" because there might be a better view on
>> this issue. I'm just trying to stick in this one since it seems to be
>> best I know of.) That's another matter all together. Just because
>> something doesn't have rights does not, to me, seem to justify any action
>> it. E.g., though I don't think cats have rights, I do not think it is
>> to go around torturing them.
> I think that things begin to accrue moral rights when they begin to care
> about things. I am still trying to work out where to draw the line on
> For example, does a trophism count as "caring"; how about a withdrawal
> reflex? I think that the ability to care about what you care about is the
> highest form of life. This ability to engage in reflective caring is
> probably the most important type of caring.

I disagree. The definition appears too ambiguous. In any discussion on rights, the first thing to ask is Why rights? Why not do without them? The answer inside Objectivist and some libertarian and classical liberal circles is that rights are the means of defining individual autonomy in a social sphere so as to allow freedom of action. For instance, my right to property allows me to do what I want with my stuff regardless of what others want -- provided, of course, I don't use my property to violate their rights.

Now this does not answer the question either. It merely defines fuzzily what rights are for. Why would we need them? gets closer to the mark. We need them because we need to live socially, materially, and long range, and also since we are rational beings. (Dogs, too, are social and require material stuff to live, yet they've not reached the point of drafting a constitution and the like. Why? Because they are not rational -- at least, not in the sense of a having a conceptual consciousness like ours.)

Does caring fall under this? I think it's easy for a being which is nonrational to care. Territoriality (caring about something like one's nest, food cache) and kinship/mate affection (caring for relatives and mates) seems well demonstrated in many animals.

We could retreat to "reflective caring," but that does not help us, since we need to know how to test for reflection. I submit that once we have reflection, caring or no, we will have sentience.

Also, I submit that individuals have rights even when they don't exercise their abilities. Thus, a guy who has the ability to be rational could own property, be free to do as he pleases even though he is irrational -- provided he does not violate anyone else's rights.

>> That said, uplifting does not seem to be a form of torture. The goal is
>> not
>> pain or sadistic pleasure. It's not even exploitation -- unless one
>> considers having another intelligent species around a form of
> This is true. It would seem to us that uplifting would be an absolute
> benefit to the species in question. But would that species think so?

The species itself does not think. Members of it do. However, asking them beforehand is impossible -- unless they are already sentient, in which case uplifting would be redundant. Asking them afterward doesn't matter, since we won't be able to undo the uplift and each on of them will be free to change his/her/its brain if he/she/it wants to. I'm not sure that the uplifting party has an obligation to undo the uplift, though I would suspect not.


Daniel Ust