Animal Rights, Specifically RE: Human Use - VeggieBoards
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#1 Old 05-28-2011, 05:51 PM
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I'm having trouble understanding a particular argument and am hoping some kind souls would be willing to discuss it with me.

I've read here and elsewhere that among the many rights animals have (or should have) is a life free from being used by humans. The domestication of animals, regardless of circumstance or welfare, is perceived as immoral as killing the animal for food because animals do not exist for us to use. The argument as often expressed above is presented as a moral absolute, that is, the act is immoral, regardless of whether or not the animals is living in perfectly human conditions.

I'm curious about the principles upon which this argument is founded. What makes you believe that domesticating animals, even under the most perfectly humane conditions, is still immoral?

To me, the evidence in the natural world seems contrary. Some of the most beneficial relationships between different species are the ones characterized as symbiotic, no? Are there not animals that actively engage in mutualistic and commensalist interactions with other species? These are not judged as immoral, are they?

If not, why would we describe humans as being immoral for engaging in similar behaviors (given a hypothetical situation wherein humans could engage in mutualistic or commensalist interactions in perfectly humane conditions)? Are humans not animals, subject to the same measures of behavior that other animals are? Is not to judge humans differently than other animals an example of a speciesism (albeit an atypical type)?

Additionally, if the domestication or use of animals for our own gain--regardless of whether or not the interaction may be beneficial for the other animal--is immoral, is not keeping pets immoral? If using animals for their by-products to be used in turn for resources is immoral is not using animals for companionship also immoral? In other words, if one were to raise, keep, and care for a chicken in perfectly humane conditions for eggs, how is that different than raising, keeping, and caring for a cat in perfectly humane conditions for companionship?

[As always, I ask in earnest and out of an honest inquiry into the nature of these things. I mean no disrespect nor do I intend to inflame anyone here. But since I've come across this concept, I've been mulling it over in my head. I haven't been able to come to any conclusion on how I feel so I'm not judging the moral rectitude of either side of the argument.]

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#2 Old 05-28-2011, 10:11 PM
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I've read here and elsewhere that among the many rights animals have (or should have) is a life free from being used by humans. The domestication of animals, regardless of circumstance or welfare, is perceived as immoral as killing the animal for food because animals do not exist for us to use. The argument as often expressed above is presented as a moral absolute, that is, the act is immoral, regardless of whether or not the animals is living in perfectly human conditions.

I'm curious about the principles upon which this argument is founded. What makes you believe that domesticating animals, even under the most perfectly humane conditions, is still immoral?

Well, I don't subscribe to that position as you describe it, as I wouldn't express it in quite so strong terms as you did, and as I certainly don't think keeping an animal without causing suffering or killing him/her is as immoral as killing an animal for meat.

But I find it problematic to have animals around primarily to get their secretions from them. This makes sentient beings essentially a resource, which is not the proper way to relate to them.

I am also skeptical about how well and humanely humans in general will ever treat animals who are kept for instrumental reasons (for providing food, clothing or maybe even just companionship). If the societal/cultural practice exists of keeping animals to obtain animal products from them, then it makes sense to also sell some of those animal products to others. But money and keeping animals is a bad combination; I guess primarily because humans being humans, their greed will sooner or later always win out over the animals' interests.

There is also the issue that by keeping animals, we are making them essentially dependent on us for everything and controlling all aspects of their lives, which might not be the ideal balance of power. Gary Francione has argued that companion animals (and, I would say, domesticated animals in general) exist in a "netherworld of vulnerability", where they're not really in the non-human world and not really in the human world, but stuck somewhere in between.

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To me, the evidence in the natural world seems contrary. Some of the most beneficial relationships between different species are the ones characterized as symbiotic, no? Are there not animals that actively engage in mutualistic and commensalist interactions with other species? These are not judged as immoral, are they?

It wouldn't make sense to judge them as immoral, because most non-human animals either are not moral agents at all, or at least can't really be held accountable for their actions in relation to any human standard.

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If not, why would we describe humans as being immoral for engaging in similar behaviors (given a hypothetical situation wherein humans could engage in mutualistic or commensalist interactions in perfectly humane conditions)? Are humans not animals, subject to the same measures of behavior that other animals are? Is not to judge humans differently than other animals an example of a speciesism (albeit an atypical type)?

No, non-humans are not subject to the same standards as humans. No one (some weirdos from the Middle Ages excepted) want to take wild animals to court, or will be offended by the fact that chipmunks don't wear clothing in public. And it's not speciesism because it's not based on the taxonomic category of 'species' at all, but on the fact that non-humans lack interest in human norms.

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Additionally, if the domestication or use of animals for our own gain--regardless of whether or not the interaction may be beneficial for the other animal--is immoral, is not keeping pets immoral? If using animals for their by-products to be used in turn for resources is immoral is not using animals for companionship also immoral? In other words, if one were to raise, keep, and care for a chicken in perfectly humane conditions for eggs, how is that different than raising, keeping, and caring for a cat in perfectly humane conditions for companionship?

A lot of what I said above applies to companion animals as well. And I feel very much at unease about the practice of breeding animals in order to have new animals for humans to be used for companionship. It's like a factory production line to me (even if in a very abstract and very small-scale sense). Animals should be rescued from shelters, however, and they deserve caring human homes, now that those animals are already here.

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#3 Old 05-28-2011, 10:23 PM
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This is basically asking for a summary of the animal rights perspective. Sevenseas has a good, brief answer but I would recommend reading Peter Singer and Tom Regan for starters. You'll get better answers than anyone will have time to give here, as what you're asking for deserves a highly detailed response. Richard Ryder and Joan Dunayer are less famous but very important to read too.
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#4 Old 05-28-2011, 11:46 PM
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I'd skip bothering with the Singer. He is not an advocate of animal rights, and doesn't see a problem with humane use.

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#5 Old 05-29-2011, 08:09 AM
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First, I don't think other non-human animals outside human animal influence control the symbiotic relationship to the extend human animals do. For one, human animals instigated the symbiosis where, outside human animal control it happens more naturally in a relationship of mutuality (well, for the non-parasitic symbiots, at least). Second in order to do this human animals had to control non-human animals reproductive systems and allow them to mate with only certain animals with desirable traits. That is immoral, analogous to the way female slaves or women in overtly sexist cultures were denied control over their reproductive systems. That is immoral.

However, since these animals are already here we do have a duty to take care of them.

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#6 Old 05-29-2011, 08:13 AM
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It wouldn't make sense to judge them as immoral, because most non-human animals either are not moral agents at all, or at least can't really be held accountable for their actions in relation to any human standard.

I disagree. Non-human animals are moral agents inasfar as they can recieve information about something and make a decision based on that information... in which their is ample evidence of non-human animals doing this. Furthermore non-human animal altruism and moral disgust (such a Jane Goodall witnessed with a family of cannibalistic chimps) has also been documented. Non-human animal moral agency, however, does not imply they should be held to standards of human animal morality, which you agree with:

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No, non-humans are not subject to the same standards as humans. No one (some weirdos from the Middle Ages excepted) want to take wild animals to court, or will be offended by the fact that chipmunks don't wear clothing in public. And it's not speciesism because it's not based on the taxonomic category of 'species' at all, but on the fact that non-humans lack interest in human norms.


"It is far better to be happy than to have your bodies act as graveyards for animals. Accordingly, the apostle Matthew partook of seeds, nuts and vegetables, without flesh"- Clement of Alexandria
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#7 Old 05-29-2011, 08:37 AM
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Non-human animals are moral agents inasfar as they can recieve information about something and make a decision based on that information...

I don't even think I myself am exercising moral agency simply when I "receive information and make a decision". If I receive the info that it's raining outside and decide to take an umbrella, I am not exercising moral agency. I am, rather, exercising moral agency when my actions are at least partly influenced by my awareness of, and subscription to, moral norms -- norms which take the form of the "moral ought", and can be expressed by such words as 'just' and 'unjustified'.

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#8 Old 05-29-2011, 11:22 AM
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if one were to raise, keep, and care for a chicken in perfectly humane conditions for eggs, how is that different than raising, keeping, and caring for a cat in perfectly humane conditions for companionship?

First, take a look at any assumptions you may have that may bias your thoughts. For example, when you think of the word "chicken" do you think about the species or just one sex of the species? That is, in a world filled with only "humane farmers" who keep chickens for eggs and treat their chickens kindly, where are all the roosters? What happens to them?

Next think about what you know about chickens. Is it based on wild chickens or domesticated chickens? That is, if chickens were allowed to live relatively free lives, would it be easy to collect and eat their eggs? What is the likelihood that the eggs would be unfertilized?

Now think about the situation in which vegans (generally) approve of caring for cats. Are those cats who are purposely bred for human use? Were those cats purchased at a pet store? Do those vegans refer to those cats as "pets," generally, or do they prefer other terms like "companions" or "fur-babies"? Is their relationship more accurately described as "pet ownership" or is it more of a rescue type of situation?

OK, so now supposed you've thought about all of that and you're specifically interested in eating the eggs from rescued hens. Personally, I think that's fine so long as you don't call yourself vegan. And I think it's important to acknowledge that even in that situation there is likely a better "use" for those eggs than to feed yourself a food you don't really need. That better use would probably be to feed them to carnivorous animals...

...like cats
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#9 Old 05-29-2011, 11:55 AM
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I don't even think I myself am exercising moral agency simply when I "receive information and make a decision". If I receive the info that it's raining outside and decide to take an umbrella, I am not exercising moral agency. I am, rather, exercising moral agency when my actions are at least partly influenced by my awareness of, and subscription to, moral norms -- norms which take the form of the "moral ought", and can be expressed by such words as 'just' and 'unjustified'.

You don't need socially constructed moral norms in order to be a moral agent. Moral agency is the ability to distinguish (and hence choose) between actions which harm others and actions which are beneficent towards others.

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#10 Old 05-29-2011, 12:01 PM
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Moral agency is the ability to distinguish (and hence choose) between actions which harm others and actions which are beneficent towards others.

I disagree. Some actions that are harmful towards others are seen as moral (self-defense for instance); some actions that are beneficial towards others are seen as immoral (religious fundamentalists can perceive sex acts that give others pleasure as immoral). Clearly, then, perception of harm/benefit is not equivalent to "perception" of right/wrong -- rather, right/wrong is an evaluation of harms and benefits. (Namely, an evaluation in terms of moral principles/norms.)

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#11 Old 05-29-2011, 12:15 PM
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I disagree. Some actions that are harmful towards others are seen as moral (self-defense for instance); some actions that are beneficial towards others are seen as immoral (religious fundamentalists can perceive sex acts that give others pleasure as immoral). Clearly, then, perception of harm/benefit is not equivalent to "perception" of right/wrong -- rather, right/wrong is an evaluation of harms and benefits. (Namely, an evaluation in terms of moral principles/norms.)

That's not really a question of morality... that's a question of whether such actions are justified. The morality or immorality of the act remains the same... however self defense, an immoral act, is justified in view of self preservation and extra-marital sex for the fundies would not be justified despite the beneficiary aspect of the act.

"It is far better to be happy than to have your bodies act as graveyards for animals. Accordingly, the apostle Matthew partook of seeds, nuts and vegetables, without flesh"- Clement of Alexandria
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#12 Old 05-29-2011, 12:22 PM
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morals are not definitive
morals are not definitive
morals are not definitive
morals are not definitive
morals are not definitive

oh wait....*scoots off to the nihilism thread*

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#13 Old 05-29-2011, 12:43 PM
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Non-human animals are moral agents inasfar as they can recieve information about something and make a decision based on that

Human babies and severely mentally handicapped people can do this too. Are they moral agents?

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#14 Old 05-29-2011, 12:47 PM
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Human babies and severely mentally handicapped people can do this too. Are they moral agents?

Just what I was gonna ask.

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#15 Old 05-29-2011, 12:53 PM
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Human babies and severely mentally handicapped people can do this too. Are they moral agents?

Yes. Doesn't mean we hold them accountable for their actions in the same way we do an abled adult.

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#16 Old 05-29-2011, 01:00 PM
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Yes. Doesn't mean we hold them accountable for their actions in the same way we do an abled adult.

Isn't that the definition of moral agency? Being held responsible for your actions?

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#17 Old 05-29-2011, 01:50 PM
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That's not really a question of morality... that's a question of whether such actions are justified.

You don't think questions of justification are questions of morality? That's like saying "This is not a question of aesthetics... this is a question of whether this painting is beautiful".

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The morality or immorality of the act remains the same... however self defense, an immoral act, is justified in view of self preservation and extra-marital sex for the fundies would not be justified despite the beneficiary aspect of the act.

This is your particular moral view, not a statement that would accurately reflect how people use moral language in general. Many people would say that self-defense is morally acceptable, morally right and morally justified, all expressions pretty much amounting to the same thing.

Also, I fail to see how the distinction between justification and morality supports your earlier claim that simply distinguishing harm and benefit means moral sensibility/agency.

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#18 Old 05-29-2011, 01:57 PM
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Isn't that the definition of moral agency? Being held responsible for your actions?

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Moral agency is a person's responsibility for making moral judgments and taking actions that comport with morality[citation needed].

A Moral agent is "a being who is capable of acting with reference to right and wrong"[1]

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moral_agency

That isn't moral agency, that is mens rea a legal doctrine that attributes legal guilt or innocence (responsibility) based on a person's knowledge of what they are doing and making deliberate choices based on that knowledge. Moral agency, on the other hand, is the ability to act with reference to right or wrong, or, as Singer might put it, with reference to increasing suffering or decreasing suffering. Children and the neuro-atypical cannot be held legally responsible for their actions, but this doesn't mean that they cannot act with reference to right and wrong (as say a sociopath would not be able to) but that they merely cannot have an intent or knowledge that their actions would result in a crime. To be legally responsible for a crime one must know first that the deliberately chosen action they are undertaking is a crime. This is totally different from knowing right and wrong which is not based on legal (socially constructed) definitions but on whether a particular actions benefits or causes harm to another.

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#19 Old 05-29-2011, 02:03 PM
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Moral agency, on the other hand, is the ability to act with reference to right or wrong, or, as Singer might put it, with reference to increasing suffering or decreasing suffering.

Well, to be precise, I doubt Singer would put it like that, because that implies the view you've maintained, that simply being able to evaluate harms and benefits is sufficient for moral agency. Singer maintains that the morality of an act is to be determined by how it advances the preference satisfactions of the totality of sentient beings affected by the action, but from this it does not follow that to understand harms and benefits is, as such, to understand moral norms or act in accordance with them.

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#20 Old 05-29-2011, 02:10 PM
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You don't think questions of justification are questions of morality? That's like saying "This is not a question of aesthetics... this is a question of whether this painting is beautiful".

No justification falls in the realm of ethics

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This is your particular moral view, not a statement that would accurately reflect how people use moral language in general. Many people would say that self-defense is morally acceptable, morally right and morally justified, all expressions pretty much amounting to the same thing.

Also, I fail to see how the distinction between justification and morality supports your earlier claim that simply distinguishing harm and benefit means moral sensibility/agency.

That is my particular ethical view, that is true, but so is the moral relativism (derived from societal norms) you espouse. My point is that non-human animals exhibit actions that are moral, that show some understanding of the difference between right and wrong. A certain chimp hides a newborn baby from being eaten by a cannibalistic chimp family... a sea gull whose friend has been injured by a hunter risks her life to pull her friend farther out to sea where the hunter cannot get him. These are moral actions and so therefore we must make the conclusion that non-human animals are moral agents.

"It is far better to be happy than to have your bodies act as graveyards for animals. Accordingly, the apostle Matthew partook of seeds, nuts and vegetables, without flesh"- Clement of Alexandria
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#21 Old 05-29-2011, 02:20 PM
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Well, to be precise, I doubt Singer would put it like that, because that implies the view you've maintained, that simply being able to evaluate harms and benefits is sufficient for moral agency. Singer maintains that the morality of an act is to be determined by how it advances the preference satisfactions of the totality of sentient beings affected by the action, but from this it does not follow that to understand harms and benefits is, as such, to understand moral norms or act in accordance with them.

Why? Advancing the preference satisfaction of the totality of sentient beings affected by the action in a positive direction is beneficial and reductive of suffering and doing all that in a negative direction (that is to say, advancing one's own preference satisfaction above that of the totality of sentient being affected by that action) is to increase suffering and to do harm. And understanding moral norms is secondary... it is acting we are concerned with, the question of moral agency not moral knowledge.

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#22 Old 05-29-2011, 02:21 PM
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No justification falls in the realm of ethics

'Ethical' and 'moral' are often, even if not always, interchangeable:

"I think capital punishment is justified". Moral justification or ethical justification? Either; both.

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That is my particular ethical view, that is true, but so is the moral relativism (derived from societal norms) you espouse.

I'm not sure why you are attributing moral relativism to me, although it's true that such an attribution could be made on the basis that I don't believe in "external morality" (i.e. moral norms that would exist independent of society). But the views of mine which could be called relativist (in the sense above) are not particular ethical views, they are particular meta-ethical views (= views concerning the nature of morality, moral language, moral claims etc.). Saying that something is wrong but is still justified, however, does not seem to me like a meta-ethical view.

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#23 Old 05-29-2011, 02:31 PM
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Isn't that the definition of moral agency? Being held responsible for your actions?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moral_agency
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]Moral agency is a person's responsibility for making moral judgments and taking actions that comport with morality[citation needed].

A Moral agent is "a being who is capable of acting with reference to right and wrong"[1]

That isn't moral agency, that is mens rea a legal doctrine that attributes legal guilt or innocence (responsibility) based on a person's knowledge of what they are doing and making deliberate choices based on that knowledge.

Well I guess I am confused then, because what I said is almost indentical to the Wikipedia definition, as far as I can tell. I didn't say a thing about legal issues, as they rarely have any basis in morality.

I can't say I am very interested in Peter Singer's interpretations of moral agency though.

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#24 Old 05-29-2011, 02:35 PM
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Well I guess I am confused then, because what I said is almost identical to the Wikipedia definition, as far as I can tell. I didn't say a thing about legal issues, as they rarely have any basis in morality.

I can't say I am very interested in Peter Singer's interpretations of moral agency though.

Holding someone accountable for their actions is a legal issue. The Wiki definition I provided doesn't say anything about responsibility or accountability. Moral agency is about acting with reference to right and wrong, harm and benefit...moral responsibility, on the other hand, is something different and not n necessarily connected to moral agency.

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#25 Old 05-29-2011, 02:57 PM
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Why? Advancing the preference satisfaction of the totality of sentient beings affected by the action in a positive direction is beneficial and reductive of suffering and doing all that in a negative direction (that is to say, advancing one's own preference satisfaction above that of the totality of sentient being affected by that action) is to increase suffering and to do harm.

It's the same with aesthetics. If someone says: "I think the Empire State Building is very beautiful", that doesn't imply that to be able to visually recognize something as the ESB is to make an aesthetic evaluation.

Neither the person saying that ESB is beautiful, nor Singer (I believe), is making a statement of identity of meaning (ESB=beautiful or beneficial=moral). Therefore, it would be fallacious to assume that to understand ESB is to understand beauty, or that to understand benefit is to understand "morally right".

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And understanding moral norms is secondary... it is acting we are concerned with, the question of moral agency not moral knowledge.

I disagree. I think to act in accordance with moral norms -- in relation to right and wrong -- is to have moral principles, namely principles that frame certain actions/things in moral terms.

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#26 Old 05-29-2011, 02:59 PM
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Holding someone accountable for their actions is a legal issue.

You can't seriously believe this. If Johnny breaks Mary's toy and is held accountable for it by Mary, are you saying that's a legal issue as well? Obviously, responsibility and accountability exist beyond the law. Namely, there is simple causal responsibility (which is morally neutral), and then there is also moral responsibility.

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#27 Old 05-29-2011, 03:13 PM
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The immediate problem of breeding animals for pets is that so many people are greedy, see an opportunity to make money from breeding purebreds or designer animals, and create far too many of them to meet whatever demand might be out there. (There are also those who are perhaps not greedy, but are too ignorant or selfish neuter a pet and prevent unwanted offspring).

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#28 Old 05-29-2011, 03:16 PM
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You can't seriously believe this. If Johnny breaks Mary's toy and is held accountable for it by Mary, are you saying that's a legal issue as well? Obviously, responsibility and accountability exist beyond the law. Namely, there is simple causal responsibility (which is morally neutral), and then there is also moral responsibility.

If you take law here in the narrow sense such as that segment of society that creates, enforces laws and judges us according to those laws in the courts with lawyers and judges, etc; then yes. I agree with you. This excludes, however, common law which is the societal, diffused, everyday sort of accountability we are held to by our friends, family, peers and strangers.

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#29 Old 05-29-2011, 03:34 PM
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Holding someone accountable for their actions is a legal issue.

No it isn't.

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#30 Old 05-29-2011, 03:38 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by SomebodyElse View Post

No it isn't.

I disagree, see my post above yours for clarification. Anyways, holding someone accountable is about moral responsibility. That is not moral agency. They are two different things, and aren't necessarily connected.

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