PHILOSOPHY: Self Awareness and Legal Protection

David Musick (
Tue, 14 Jan 97 02:26:20 UT

Michael Bowling said, "I say self awareness in any being presupposes and
necessitates legal rights and protection.".

What do you mean by "self awareness"? What are your criteria for "self
awareness"? Is a dog self aware? Why or why not? Are plants self aware?
Why or why not? As you're thinking about this, are you deliberately arranging
the definition of "self awareness" so that it applies only to humans?

One could argue that a plant is self aware, because it adjusts its internal
functioning according to it's needs, so the plant is aware of itself (it's
needs) to some extent.

Does "awareness" mean 'responding to stimulii'? If so, then "self awareness"
would seem to mean 'responding to self generated stimulii'. This definition
of "self-awareness" would cover many, many types of organisms. Should these
organisms receive legal protection?

Why should legal protection be based on how *conscious* a system is? Why not
on how beautiful a system is or on how much it weighs or some other property?
(Typically, it's based on how similar the system is to those granting legal
protection.) If a conscious or even sentient system is unable to defend itself
from injury or destruction, do other conscious systems have an *obligation* to
protect it if they are able to? Why or why not?

These issues are important to think about. Providing legal protection can be
very costly, and we should carefully consider our stand on when it should or
should not be provided. Do we prosecute someone for killing a tree because we
believe the tree was "self aware" and deserved our protection? How about an
animal, such as a dog or a cat? How about a human fetus? How about an infant
or a child? Or an adult human? How about a very advanced AI?

- David Musick

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