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Old 02-12-2018, 05:00 PM   #1
Mew The Gato
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Mew The Relative Worth of Human and Animal Life

This might seem like an odd question, but, to put it bluntly: do you believe that human life should be regarded as being more important than animal life?

First, I would like to establish right away that this question is to be taken purely from a rational perspective; while your religion, for instance, might assert that humans are inherently more valuable than animals, or vice versa, I would request that it is not considered for the purposes of this question. Equally, I also request that no expression of moral superiority or inferiority is made between those who participate in this debate. From my own perspective, I value human life over animal life (though I am concerned with conservation of animal life and the environment). I eat fish and I like it. However, I have not been able to personally find a moral justification for considering human life more important than animal life. This, for me, gives rise to some cognitive dissonance.

Now, to specify the parameters on which this question is based: let us right away eliminate from the equation animals that pose an active threat to humans (such as mosquitoes), or animals that might be compromised for the sake of scientific advancement, as these would complicate an already nuanced question in an unnecessary direction.

Additionally, it should be noted that the question does not refer to the personal, subjective value that one sees in something or someone. For instance, one might value one's friends and loved ones over strangers, but they are ultimately no more important (by default, assuming nothing is known about their personalities or actions) from an objective point of view. Certainly, it is only natural to consider one's friends and loved ones more important than strangers, one's own species more important than others. But it being natural does not necessarily mean it is correct; it cannot be used as justification for a position that humans are more valuable simply by virtue of being the same species as us. I would argue against it on the same grounds on which I would argue against nationalism or racism. That is, I would argue against moral myopia. Self-centered morality is not formulated from an objective standpoint, and it is thus invalid.

If my thinking runs correct here -- and if not, do correct me -- the question would then come down to a matter of whether humans have some intrinsic quality that renders them more valuable than other animals. Else there could exist no moral justification to value human lives more.

A quick answer would be that humans are more intelligent. They are capable not only of rationality but also of morality. Animals are not as self-aware as we are; identity is not as strong a concept for them. After all, very few animals ever pass the mirror test for self-recognition. Animals are lesser beings not just for not possessing our intelligence, but also because they are immoral. If they would not show morality towards us, why should we show them the same?

However, this argument is undermined by the fact that even among humans, intelligence is not equally distributed. Some individuals are more intelligent than others. At the same time, some suffer from mental illnesses, through no fault whatsoever of their own, that could inhibit their rationality. These people should not face any discrimination, especially as they are generally harmless. Even those that do commit serious crimes can seek the insanity defense (although "empirical research reveals that the insanity defense is seldom used and is seldom successful"), so the concept that those who are inhibited morally or rationally should be held less accountable for their actions extends to the legal system. If this is the case between humans, I see no reason why it should be any different for animals. Then, can it really be said that animals should be considered less valuable than humans on grounds of their lesser intelligence, even though it is a matter of their circumstances of birth and not their own fault? That could only be true if more intelligent humans are also considered more important than less intelligent ones.

You would note that it is here that the point about excluding actively dangerous animals such as mosquitoes becomes relevant. It accounts for the point that less intelligent beings could potentially be dangerous, and thus keeping them in check is simply a practical means of minimizing damage.

Similarly, I would find it hard to digest a possible argument that suggests that the demonstrated ability of humans to dominate other animals is itself proof of their superiority, just as I cannot agree that humans who dominate other humans are automatically superior to them.

But if indeed animals were given rights equal to those of humans, that would raise an entire slew of questions. Would it mean that humans should give up farming animals for food? And if the difference in intelligence indeed does not matter, would that not mean that plants (who in fact do show some "self-awareness" in the case of certain species to the point that they can recognize family members* and exhibit some "intelligence" not only in their complex chemical-based communication but also in their ability for memory and learning by association) should also be granted the same? What is the logical conclusion of such an approach that disregards intelligence as a criterion for value? Would fungi, protista and monera then also deserve the same value?

In fact, can "animal life" even be grouped together in such a manner? Surely some animals are seen as more valuable than others. A dog or cat is certainly seen as more valuable than, say, a snail; a horse more than a fly. But is this appropriate, only a reflection of the gradation of animal intelligence, intrinsic worth and self-awareness? Or is it merely an arbitrary distinction that is based only on humans' selfish desire to see other animals in terms of how useful they are to humans, one that bears no grounds in morality?

This question becomes more complex when one considers that most would do more for their pet dog than poor strangers on the streets -- that is, in that case, an animal is being favoured over a human simply by virtue of emotional proximity. On the other side of the coin, there are indeed some cases I can think of where a mentally competent person would be actively selected over someone less so. For example, in case of limited resources, it would only be Utilitarian to use them to help an injured but mentally sound individual than one who has sustained enough brain damage to be rendered little more than a vegetable, as the latter's life would not be a good one and they would not be able to appreciate being alive as much as the mentally sound person could. Is it that intelligence does matter, but only to some extent?

It is in this light that I reiterate my question. Is the fact that human lives are granted greater import than the lives of other animals, and moreover that some animals are considered more valuable than others, merely a product of our selfish attachment to those who are close to us? Or is it grounded in practicality, with animals being far too useful to us for them to be granted an equal standing? Or, perhaps, is it possible that there could indeed be some moral basis for this along with the other two factors?

Please state your views.

-----

* - In addition to the contents of the article, as seen in this documentary, this recognition of siblings is based on active communication, not something that is constant, set-in-stone once activated. This can be demonstrated by the fact that if the communication between two neighbouring siblings is blocked, they will almost immediately start behaving as if the other plant is a stranger, ramping up root growth.

Last edited by Mew The Gato; 02-12-2018 at 05:08 PM.
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Old 02-12-2018, 07:36 PM   #2
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I'm going to twist your question a bit before presenting my answer (spoiler: I value animal and human life as equally sacred):

There is a new type of meat called Impossible Meat. I read in SNR a week ago that a new restaurant selling burgers made from impossible beef will open in Downtown Sacramento. Impossible Meat, unlike laboratory-derived meat using animal tissue to begot animal tissue, is structurally recreated to resemble animal proteins but is built from plant material.

This is notable because the first debut of Impossible Meat was a disaster. The vegans invited to the trial refused to sample the meat, believing the entire event was a conspiracy to get them to eat meat.

The incident was interesting to me because, while there are certainly many philosophies behind veganism, one of them is animal welfare. Why would people react so strongly against eating meat if their MO was philosophical? That kind of strong rejection is more in line with the spiritual kashrut adherence, which seems anathema to what most vegans are.

So what about normal people? If you had the choice between a fake, otherwise indistinguishable burger and a burger made by brutally killing an animal, it would only make sense to go for the veggie burger, right? Most humans would go for the animal because the former "isn't natural". Which tells me that humans, on the whole, do not value life that highly.

Truly a violent, sexist, destructive race, no?
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Old 02-12-2018, 10:36 PM   #3
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The closer an animal is to an automaton, the less inclined I am to consider its life as sacred as a human's. The closer an animal is to a human, the more inclined I am to consider its life equally sacred as a human's.

Automaton examples: earthworms, sea jellies, silverfish
Human examples: primates, felines, canines, birds

The less sapient the animal is, the closer it is to a Roomba than a person, the less inclined I am to value its life. I'm not haunted by YouTube videos of Roombas smashed to pieces by bowling balls dropped from great heights for people's amusement on YouTube. I'm haunted by the stories I heard second hand from friends frequenting 4chan back in the mid-00's of sick fucks in China (disturbing, so boxed)

Spoiler: show
crushing rabbits and gerbils to death beneath panes of thick sheet glass by sitting on the upper pane and crushing the trapped animal underneath.

Of course, there's a lot of gray in the middle. Yours is not an easy question with easy answers. I can hide in the extremes and say, "I'd rather we blended up this poor innocent sea jelly than execute this shoplifter," but it becomes a bit harder, a bit more uncomfortable, for me to reflect on my position regarding most arthropods. Take grasshoppers, for example. My kneerjerk reaction is "Grasshoppers aren't sapient," "Grasshoppers matter much less than people," ... but I would still be unable to defend someone who tears off a leg from a grasshopper, not only because the person is behaving sickly but because even if I want to say the grasshopper is little more than a chitinous Roomba he's still flailing and squirming about in such apparent "anguish" that it challenges my use of the air quotes just there -- for how can I be certain that it is not very real anguish, felt by a very real and very distressed cognizant being?

tl;dr animal cruelty bites and people who mock pet owners who treat their pets as genuine members of the family can piss off, but it's hard to defend why it's okay to kill some dogs (cows) but not others (actual dogs).
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Old 02-15-2018, 01:25 AM   #4
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Alright, full answer.

I consider all life sacred, even automaton-like insects. Though there is a general hierarchy of vertebrates > invertebrates > plants > microbes. But there's no around it at times. Everytime you swallow you're probably killing some environmental microrganisms. Your immune system has to kill septic bacterial for you to survive. And you need animal protein to now have your own body break down.

Looking at this from the extreme religious POV - Commandment #5, "thou shalt not kill" - it applies to everything, not just "murder" or whatever that the Protestants twist it as. Given the audience of the ten commandments, it clearly refers to murder, but I don't think God was big on retrospective original intent. He spoke for the ages. The spirit of the law needed to be always upheld because God uses metaphors, so people of today following the commandments can't use the Sinai context when applying those rules to their own lives. So, in today's terms, unnecessary killing, to the eventuality of all killing, becomes sinful.

In that sense I don't make a distinction between killing for pleasure or for food. I don't have strong opinions against cannibalism, though I do have a ritual respect of the dead. Killing is bad under all circumstances. But, someone who kills for pleasure is a problem in my book, because they're killing more than someone who kills only for food.

So do I not make a sapience distinction? In sharp contrast to Talon, I think being sentient is a responsibility. Dumb animals or automatons by default at innocently, according to their own programming. They're completely incapable of evil or knowledge of wrongdoing. But the more intelligent animals, that exhibit a capacity for empathy and sadism, the more onerous the burden to demonstrate a respect for life. Sentient animals that refuse to value life, in my view, forfeit their right to life.

I don't have any qualms about barbecuing murderers in electric chairs or cutting up killer whales into steaks. Or, fighting terrorists and violent insurgents. If it's sinful to kill these creatures, by doing so you're preventing them from killing far more.

Additionally, if given two options, it is morally correct (sinless) to pick the option that involves the least killing, and the l until the day when options exist for foods that don't involve killing at all. That is only a dream, but I think sacrificing plants over animals is a lesser evil, so things like lab meat and Impossible Meat are things I support wholeheartedly.
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Old 02-15-2018, 01:47 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Doppleganger View Post

I don't have any qualms about barbecuing murderers in electric chairs or cutting up killer whales into steaks. Or, fighting terrorists and violent insurgents. If it's sinful to kill these creatures, by doing so you're preventing them from killing far more.
Why though? If you want to send the message that "killing is wrong" then maybe you can justify killing a terrorist in a war because you are killing 1 person for the sake of preventing him from killing 100 people (arbitrary number) but why the murderer? Wouldn't it be more just to put him in prison for life? He isn't in danger of killing anyone anymore, so you get a +1 profit of death prevention vs executing him.

There's also the possibility of wrongfully convicting people and then executing them. This is the biggest reason why I'm against the death penalty. Of course, it's also no picnic for a wrongfully convicted person to spend life in prison, but at least there's always hope that new evidence will emerge down the road that will exonerate him. The other reason is that if, as a society, you want to send the message that killing is never okay (barring self defence or other valid reason) then it's hypocritical for the state to execute people.
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Old 02-15-2018, 04:21 PM   #6
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Why though? If you want to send the message that "killing is wrong" then maybe you can justify killing a terrorist in a war because you are killing 1 person for the sake of preventing him from killing 100 people (arbitrary number) but why the murderer? Wouldn't it be more just to put him in prison for life? He isn't in danger of killing anyone anymore, so you get a +1 profit of death prevention vs executing him.
There is a positive feedback loop for pleasure killing, which is something I don't want to encourage. Since the rewards/punishment system of the brain is very basal, pleasure killing goes beyond merely self-destructive activities like drug addiction and gluttony.

It's easier to prevent gluttony/drug addiction in the first place than to rehabilitate someone who is psychologically and/or physiologically addicted, and I equate pleasure killing to the same.

Someone who lacks empathy is a much harder scenario to evaluate, and is probably a case-by-case basis. But by and large, someone who cares little for life beyond their own logically wouldn't kill unless they had to fearing lawful punishment. So, powerful punishment is necessary to force them to behave. I don't think life in prison is a strong enough deterrent, death is the ultimate deterrent.

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There's also the possibility of wrongfully convicting people and then executing them. This is the biggest reason why I'm against the death penalty. Of course, it's also no picnic for a wrongfully convicted person to spend life in prison, but at least there's always hope that new evidence will emerge down the road that will exonerate him. The other reason is that if, as a society, you want to send the message that killing is never okay (barring self defence or other valid reason) then it's hypocritical for the state to execute people.
Justice and the priorities of the government are distinct from the values of the individual. I'm strictly speaking from my own philosophy, but I'm willing to compromise somewhat as a concession to live and operate in this society. If I wasn't, I would be in a Buddhist monastery right now, raking a rock garden.
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Old 02-15-2018, 05:14 PM   #7
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There are conflicting studies on whether the death penalty prevents murder or not, but the general consensus seems to be that it doesn't. See this for example:

https://deathpenaltyinfo.org/deterre...r-murder-rates

That's not conclusive proof of anything because maybe states without the death penalty have lower murder rates simply because they're more pleasant places, but most criminologists don't think the death penalty helps in any way. The simple reason is that most criminals don't believe that they're going to get caught. Let's face it, the reason why states/countries have the death penalty isn't for deterrence. It's because they want vengeance.
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Old 02-15-2018, 06:10 PM   #8
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This topic has a bit of future-proofing built in, though: like I said with the "impossible meat" example, things that would have been impossible just 50 years ago are becoming reality now. It's possible to eat something that is almost identical to meat, but isn't sourced by killing an animal.

Consider all the feared biometric data built into phone software now, that monitors and measures everything you do to create a digital profile. One day when everything is on-grid, it will be impossible to hide crimes. So logically motivated criminals wouldn't be willing to act on premeditation, the only murderers would be those blinded by emotion (second degree), those intentionally wanting to be martyrs, or those who do not fully understand the consequences of their own actions (else they be sorted into the "logically motivated" group).

As things currently are, I don't think prisons are the worst thing in the world. But they're a crutch, ultimately a transitional tool for a state where fear of punishment leverages lawful behaviour almost absolutely.
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Old Yesterday, 11:10 PM   #9
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There are conflicting studies on whether the death penalty prevents murder or not, but the general consensus seems to be that it doesn't. See this for example:

https://deathpenaltyinfo.org/deterre...r-murder-rates

That's not conclusive proof of anything because maybe states without the death penalty have lower murder rates simply because they're more pleasant places, but most criminologists don't think the death penalty helps in any way. The simple reason is that most criminals don't believe that they're going to get caught. Let's face it, the reason why states/countries have the death penalty isn't for deterrence. It's because they want vengeance.
^^^^^^

Humans are not motivated or deterred by the size of the punishment (up to a point) - the real question in our minds is "how likely are we to get caught?"

Your chances of getting caught speeding go up if there's a cop car nearby, so you slow down - don't want to get a ticket, even a $10 ticket! If your car could detect speeding and you would then receive a ticket in the mail, speeding would disappear completely overnight.

Cutting down on roadway deaths often involves just putting more officers on the road. If you see a cop car, you go slower because you don't want to get punished.
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