Ethical understanding - Page 2 - VeggieBoards
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#31 Old 06-21-2008, 02:23 AM
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Sevenseas, ajax, SomebodyElse, and sarahjayne have all made excellent points.



I'm not going to demonize people who eat meat/dairy/eggs. But I am going to say that I think it's wrong to do so. Yes, point out that people have different reasons for consuming animal-derived products, and that such people are not evil. But there's no reason to tiptoe all over the place trying to refrain from criticizing anybody for any reason.



To say, "nobody is wrong" does a real disservice to children. What kind of moral grounding can they hope to establish if we refuse to delineate right/good/compassionate from wrong/bad/selfish?



Trailmix, why do you refrain from harming animals, anyway? (I think that's how you put it, showing compassion and refraining from harm) Is it just a personal preference, one that you shouldn't encourage others to adopt? Or do you think harming animals is mean?



Also, on the subject of the difference between a human killing an herbivore vs. a carnivore killing an herbivore: yes, it's the same to the herbivore. The herbivore's right to life is violated no matter who is doing the killing. But in order to protect his/her own right to life, the carnivore must violate the herbivore's right to life. That killing is justified. In the vast majority of cases, the human does not need to violate an herbivore's right to life in order to protect his/her own right to life. That killing is not justified. (Why is that so hard for people to comprehend?)



As for people believing that they need to eat meat/dairy/eggs to survive, that is equivalent to slaveowners believing that they needed slaves to survive. or people in Nazi Germany believing that they needed to kill Jews to survive. Understandable, possibly true in individual circumstances, but is that a good reason to refrain from saying that slavery or killing Jews is wrong? No.
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#32 Old 06-21-2008, 01:09 PM
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Thanks for clearing up some of my muddle, Panthera. There is such endless argument over the concepts of rights and who has them and who does not, that I begin to feel fatigued.



You make very good points. The carnivore's right to her own life directly depends on her killing prey, determined by her biological requirements. And surely nonhuman animals (unlike many humans) live under real necessity. Other food choices are rarely available to them, or if they are, they are probably not aware of them. Their situation in the world is desperate enough so that they must kill and eat what they first come across. Of course, truly desperate humans do the same.



Still, many humans would protect their "pets" from predation, even though the predator's right to life is no less than our pets'. Many people are, of course, in a close relationship with their "pets". A real problem comes in, though, when a person starts to feel close to the entire nonhuman world. How would we begin to pick sides? The best we can do is allow, and sometimes help, nonhumans to live a life that befits their natures, and to not take from them the little they have?
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#33 Old 06-21-2008, 01:54 PM
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Originally Posted by cooleastmarket View Post

After staring this discussion, I'm amazed at the deep philosophical concepts we have gotten into. Thanks everyone for your amazing insights and suggestions.

Thank you for being patient with us while we work out our own ethical understanding! Its the job of a lifetime.





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Another thing I have been thinking about since initiating this topic is what my parents told me about animals when I was a child. I was concerned about a group of cows standing outside huddled in a snow storm in a cold blinding wind. They said that animals don't feel pain the way we do. Even then I thought - well, how do we know what they feel? And later, I came to see that kind of thinking as a way of justifying to ourselves what we know deep down is wrong.

Yes, I started thinking about things like this when I was very young, under five years old. That's why I think it is important not to "dumb down" the way we teach ethics to children. Sometimes they can actually teach us more about ethics simply through the questions they ask.



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Also, on the subject of the difference between a human killing an herbivore vs. a carnivore killing an herbivore: yes, it's the same to the herbivore. The herbivore's right to life is violated no matter who is doing the killing. But in order to protect his/her own right to life, the carnivore must violate the herbivore's right to life. That killing is justified. In the vast majority of cases, the human does not need to violate an herbivore's right to life in order to protect his/her own right to life. That killing is not justified. (Why is that so hard for people to comprehend?)

I agree, and I would only refine this a little bit by saying that non-human animals really don't need to justify predation, because they do not have moral obligations to each other. A gazelle, for example, cannot be said to have a right not to be killed by a lion, nor does the lion have a right to kill the gazelle. Human animals, on the other hand, do have moral obligations to other animals, partly because we do not need to kill them in order to live ourselves, and partly because we have the capacity to recognize and define what morality and ethics actually are.

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#34 Old 06-21-2008, 05:22 PM
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this has been a great discussion. I like how different people have come at the issue from different angles, all with compelling thoughts, to arrive at the same conclusion. And of course, I'm hoping that others will also come to that conclusion!





After a few years of wondering when to show my nephews any pictures, I finally showed them a few minutes of "Meet Your Meat." Partially to explain why I wasn't cooking them eggs. I think they're 6 & 8 or something like that, maybe older? Anyway, they were bored. I asked if they had learned anything, and the older one said that he hadn't known about the beak trimming. The younger one didn't look up from his gameboy to answer.



They're so easy to scare (don't like seeing the evil stepmother in Snow White, for instance), I thought it would be majorly traumatic! Maybe it was too grainy and on a small screen or something. Plus we were all in a hurry.
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#35 Old 06-21-2008, 07:54 PM
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...I agree, and I would only refine this a little bit by saying that non-human animals really don't need to justify predation, because they do not have moral obligations to each other. A gazelle, for example, cannot be said to have a right not to be killed by a lion, nor does the lion have a right to kill the gazelle. Human animals, on the other hand, do have moral obligations to other animals, partly because we do not need to kill them in order to live ourselves, and partly because we have the capacity to recognize and define what morality and ethics actually are.



Not to send this thread into perpetual motion, but this matter is too important for me to pass up. I'm skeptical that some nonhumans are this cognitively different. For better or worse, I don't think it's this simple. Social animals can recognize and sometimes assist the old and the injured, and this action is not always limited to members of their own group, or even species. It seems they can have impulses of cooperation and affection. I don't say any nonhuman species is capable of moral deliberation in the way humans are, but to limit the concept of morality to "moral reflection" seems a bit restrictive. This certainly doesn't mean I suggest policing the nonhuman world, but I don't see morality as completely exclusive to our species.



If my point seems pedantic, it should be known that my reasons for emphasizing it include the realization that there is no great gulf between humans and nonhumans. And this, presumably, includes our moral actions. Not that any nonhuman can approach the level of blame that we feel justified in assigning to humans, but to think that all nonhumans are completely morally bankrupt seems... bizarre to me.



I also think we do better when we don't see nonhumans as the equivalent to human infants. I don't think this view is quite fair to nonhumans. Not that infants are morally less significant, but that the attitude humans often display towards infants is one of complete superiority. But nonhumans are often very capable of living out their own lives without human intervention. And their independent ways of life may include some forms of property recognition, assistance, and cooperation. I think these actions could very well show the seeds of morality.



I think it's also important to remember that "nature" is not completely "red in tooth and claw" - there is affection there as well.
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#36 Old 06-21-2008, 10:20 PM
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Not to send this thread into perpetual motion, but this matter is too important for me to pass up. I'm skeptical that some nonhumans are this cognitively different. For better or worse, I don't think it's this simple. Social animals can recognize and sometimes assist the old and the injured, and this action is not always limited to members of their own group, or even species. It seems they can have impulses of cooperation and affection. I don't say any nonhuman species is capable of moral deliberation in the way humans are, but to limit the concept of morality to "moral reflection" seems a bit restrictive. This certainly doesn't mean I suggest policing the nonhuman world, but I don't see morality as completely exclusive to our species.

No, I don't mean to imply that morality is exclusive to humans. But we must realize that cognitively different does not mean inferior. We may be able to discern some behavior in other animals that resembles what we consider moral behavior in humans, but we must be careful to remember that we really shouldn't be evaluating what appears to be their morality on our own terms.



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If my point seems pedantic, it should be known that my reasons for emphasizing it include the realization that there is no great gulf between humans and nonhumans. And this, presumably, includes our moral actions. Not that any nonhuman can approach the level of blame that we feel justified in assigning to humans, but to think that all nonhumans are completely morally bankrupt seems... bizarre to me.

We ultimately can't know how capable a non-human is of understanding morality, and while I don't think this, or anything else I have said, equates to characterizing non-humans as morally bankrupt, I think it would be highly problematic to hold non-humans accountable for what would be considered moral transgressions in humans.



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I also think we do better when we don't see nonhumans as the equivalent to human infants. I don't think this view is quite fair to nonhumans. Not that infants are morally less significant, but that the attitude humans often display towards infants is one of complete superiority. But nonhumans are often very capable of living out their own lives without human intervention. And their independent ways of life may include some forms of property recognition, assistance, and cooperation. I think these actions could very well show the seeds of morality.

I don't doubt for an instant that non-humans have these potentials. But in equating them with human infants, I see that not as evaluating their moral significance, or any other aspects of their intelligence, so much as their moral responsibilities to others. By claiming that I can't hold the lion morally responsible for violating the gazelle's right to life, I am not establishing a sense of human moral superiority over the lion, I am claiming that as a human, I can't impose my own sense of morality on the lion. If he has one, it is his, and I can't replace it with a human one. The human sense of morality needn't be considered superior to all others, it must simply be considered appropriate only for humans. And in maintaining that we cannot hold non-human animals to our own moral standards, it doesn't mean they have no morals at all, it just means that theirs are not ours, and we shouldn't see them as such.

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#37 Old 06-22-2008, 11:40 AM
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I can see that our viewpoints are a bit different here concerning what it's like to be a nonhuman. Not that any human will ever know what it's truly like to be a non-human, but I think we can witness some nonhuman behavior, even perhaps what could be considered moral behavior, and not be guilty of too much anthropomorphism.



Again, either humans are wholly (or partial?) aliens in this world (only humans have souls, or have rationality?) or we share comment descent with all the other creatures on this planet, in both body and mind. I think seeing it this way is just being realistic about who and what humans are. It doesn't mean that there aren't significant differences between species, in their ways of life and their social structure. But all species share common goals of survival and security. To accomplish these ends often means cooperating with others, not just competing. I can't see why this requires interspecific moralities to be radically different. However, I do see that, in comparison to human morality, nonhuman morality may be "underdeveloped". But I stress that I'm not implying that their moralities are therefore inferior. For all I know, nonhumans' ways of life are often less wasteful and more respectful to others, in the long run, than human morality.



So, on a practical level, I completely agree that judging nonhumans with a human morality yardstick is highly problematic, and maybe even close-minded. We don't know enough of what it's like to live their lives to cast judgement on them. And we most assuredly don't understand what it's like to be them. Yet having admitted all of this, my present conviction is that at least many nonhumans share enough of our human natures to justifiably view them as our kin, our long distance cousins. They are not robots or aliens from another dimension, they are organic, feeling creatures as we humans are. Because of this, their goals in life, and how they achieve them, are not that dissimilar from our own.



ETA: Having reread your post SomebodyElse, it's now a bit clearer to me that whatever difference we have on this subject is not that great of one. I'm a bit slow sometimes, so, you know.
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#38 Old 06-22-2008, 11:16 PM
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I'd just like to say that I really appreciate the contributions you make, ajax13, as well as SomebodyElse (who already knows). I find them very thoughtful and considerate, besides which I usually agree with them!



I've always thought it strange how "animal lovers" insist on lumping all non-human animals together in saying how they're all pure and full of nothing but devotion, loyalty, and love. Well, at least for dogs. But even for other species, they seem to thing that they are all noble creatures with no character flaws.



That seems patronizing to me. Reminiscent of "noble savage" mentality, which denies the individuality of each person. I'm with you, I find it's more reasonable to assume that there's a spectrum of moral behavior in non-human animals, just as in human ones.



While SomebodyElse makes an excellent point about our not being able to understand the morality of other species, I agree with you that there's no reason to think that it's not fairly close, in some instances.



If I were a chimp, there are definitely individuals I would much rather have in my group than others. Aren't there dogs & cats who are much more mean-spirited and sneaky than others? Some just seem to have beautiful, generous spirits. Of course there are probably elements that of which we're completely oblivious. But some of them seem common to ours.



I think of it as comparable to the physical senses, some of which are shared, some of which we only have intimations of. I'm pretty sure most non-human animals see, hear, smell, feel, and taste. There's a vast difference in how they do these things, but basically, they seem to be there. A lot of dogs, though seem to know when their people are coming home, or when someone is about to have a seizure. How do they do that? Elephants seem to recognize the bones of long-dead family members. These may be extensions of smell, or they may be different senses altogether.



I believe there's a similar thing going on with morality.
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#39 Old 06-22-2008, 11:35 PM
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However, I do see that, in comparison to human morality, nonhuman morality may be "underdeveloped".

I wouldn't call it "underdeveloped", as that implies a comparison to human morality that I don't think is valid. As I am so fond of saying, that a non-human values his own life as much as I value mine, a non-human has a moral sense that must function for him as mine does for me, so in that case, you could say that a non-human's moral sense is as developed as he needs it to be.



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Yet having admitted all of this, my present conviction is that at least many nonhumans share enough of our human natures to justifiably view them as our kin, our long distance cousins. They are not robots or aliens from another dimension, they are organic, feeling creatures as we humans are. Because of this, their goals in life, and how they achieve them, are not that dissimilar from our own.

Well, I hope I have not given the impression that I disagree with this view, as it is something I have always felt intuitively to be true, for as long as I can remember.



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I think of it as comparable to the physical senses, some of which are shared, some of which we only have intimations of. I'm pretty sure most non-human animals see, hear, smell, feel, and taste. There's a vast difference in how they do these things, but basically, they seem to be there.

I tend to think that if there were not already a precedent in non-humans for most of what we are able to think and feel as humans, we wouldn't be experiencing them. I think its important to both recognize what we all share, and acknowledge that when we differ, one way is not better than another.

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#40 Old 06-23-2008, 02:36 PM
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I'd just like to say that I really appreciate the contributions you make, ajax13, as well as SomebodyElse (who already knows). I find them very thoughtful and considerate, besides which I usually agree with them!



Thank you very much panthera. I could create a new post extolling the virtues of SomebodyElse. I have rarely come across a person with such a relentless spirit of fairness and decency.



Quote:
I've always thought it strange how "animal lovers" insist on lumping all non-human animals together in saying how they're all pure and full of nothing but devotion, loyalty, and love. Well, at least for dogs. But even for other species, they seem to thing that they are all noble creatures with no character flaws.



That seems patronizing to me. Reminiscent of "noble savage" mentality, which denies the individuality of each person. I'm with you, I find it's more reasonable to assume that there's a spectrum of moral behavior in non-human animals, just as in human ones.



Exactly. I think some "animal lovers" romanticize the innocence and virtues of nonhumans just a bit too much. And this doesn't make me care for them less, quite the contrary - it makes me feel more similar to them.



I'll try to respond with more detail later.
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#41 Old 07-03-2008, 06:07 AM
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Stepping away from the philosophical piece of this thread for a moment, and whether or not individuals choose to use terms like 'wrong' or not, and back to the practical things:



It seems to me that when the kid just wants a hamburger or hotdog, etc., that's a good opportunity to give them a meat alternative (like a veggie burger or Tofurkey hotdog) and explain in a positive way how they can enjoy these foods in a way that doesn't hurt any animals. It might even be a way to show them how by even just choosing a different brand (veggie burger over hamburger) the animals get to live/aren't killed. The kid gets to eat the hotdog, learns practical ways to apply compassion, learns something about ethics, and the animals live.
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#42 Old 07-03-2008, 01:58 PM
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The kid gets to eat the hotdog, learns practical ways to apply compassion, learns something about ethics, and the animals live.





I like that. Positive. Everybody wins!

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