Intuitions about animals Was: Moral Complexity
Mon, 16 Feb 1998 12:55:38 -0800 (PST)

On Sun, 15 Feb 1998, Peter C. McCluskey wrote:

> >Animal rights discourse seems intriguing to me, but pretty flawed. As a
> >rule I simply try not to inflict pain knowingly and unecessarily on beings
> >capable of experiencing it. It does seem to me profoundly disrespectful
> >to recognize that the pain experienced by the beings we instrumentalize as
> >food (etc) is real but simply doesn't *matter*. I want to respect as wide
> >a range of beings as I can.
> Making the ability to experience pain an important basis for respecting
> rights bothers me because the difficulty of figuring out what beings
> dissimilar to us experience makes it easy for people who rely on this
> rule to rationalize almost any treatment of those beings that happens
> to be convenient. How does your moral system handle these:
> - fish
> - clams
> - humans genetically engineered so they say they feel no emotional
> reaction to things that would be painful to us
> - uploaded humans
> - AIs
> These last three are probably the areas where different moral systems will
> have the most important differences in results in the next century.

All excellent points. I'm still not sure whether I think we should regard
another's pain as a kind of "rights" claim. I think it may be disastrous
to extend the rights framework in this way. Part of the problem with
treating pain as the ethical ground-zero disvalue is that it suggests we
might achieve utopia simply by anesthetizing the world. Clearly, pain
stands in too complicated a relation to pleasure, achievement, and
flourishing to reject it out of hand. Further, there is something
patronizing about carping constantly about the suffering of others,
without speaking about their capacity for joy and self-reliance.
Nevertheless, I think *indifference* to suffering is crippling to the
spirit. Sometimes (as with medical experimentation) it may be necessary
to value the benefits of nonhuman animal exploitation over our sensitivity
to their pain -- however, I think it is a kind of blindness to the rich
range of possible values to treat this state of affairs as one without
costs both to the exploited animals *and to ourselves*.

> My idea of a moral rule that can handle these better is based on the
> ability to agree to respect each others rights. However, I'm still
> dissatisfied with the difficulties in dealing with beings who can't
> communicate well with us.

Me too. It is only in articulating my intuitions here that I realize how
unsatisfied I really am about these issues and how best to think them
through. Best, Dale