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Animal suffering

  1. May 8, 2009 #1
    Is it less immoral to torture animals than to torture humans?

    When thinking about the moral status of animals, the question is not "Can they reason?", nor "Can they speak?" but "Can they suffer?". I the ability of animals to feel pain and pleasure puts them on a plane of moral equivalence with us. Whether or not animals can express their feelings with worrds, or solve differential equations, they, like us, feel pain, and we therefore have an obligation not to cause them needless suffering. All forms of "speciesism" is wrong, and exposing animals to unnecessary suffering is not any better than other forms of discrimination, like sexism or racism. We shouldn't believe that we can exploit animals merely because they do not belong to the species homo sapiens.

    That's my opinion as an utilitarian. What's your opinion?
  2. jcsd
  3. May 9, 2009 #2

    Math Is Hard

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    It's hard to zero in on exactly what you're arguing because first you use the word "torture" and that's a very strong word. In my opinion, the deliberate torture of animals is always wrong. Torturing animals is probably viewed as wrong/immoral by the majority of people because we have laws against animal cruelty (at least in my country).

    "Needless suffering" probably needs a bit more clarification. Is it needless suffering when we use animals for food or medical research? This is more difficult, because I find myself answering "maybe" and "sometimes" to these questions. Sometimes medical research on animals leads to advances in veterinary medicine as well as human treatments. I mention this because it may be relevant for a utilitarian argument that extends to all species.

    The final word you use is "exploit". This one gets really nebulous for me. There are some animal rights extremists that would extend exploitation to owning pets, even though I see it as a mutually beneficial situation.
    Last edited: May 9, 2009
  4. May 9, 2009 #3
    Pain is a biological reaction to damage or potential damage to the organism. ALL organisms have similar responses though they may not come in the same form as they do for us as humans. So if it is wrong to be "speciesist" with regard to the morality of inflicting pain, that is damage, upon another living thing then what of plants? Should we not hurt or damage plants? Is is cruel to pick and stab at a pile of still living (and slowly dying) matter sitting on your salad plate?
  5. May 9, 2009 #4
    But the laws are not arguments on their own.

    Food: Yes, if the animals suffer. Medical research: Maybe, but if it is OK, research with humans should also be OK.
  6. May 9, 2009 #5
    That's too cheap. This thread is not about plants. I'm asking what's the difference that makes it more justifiable to expose animals than humans to suffering. Plants don't suffer, as far as we know.
  7. May 9, 2009 #6
    I think you'd need a clearer definition of torture.

    This boils down to intent however. Is it immoral to walk into a field and beat a cow with a baseball bat? Of course. Your intent is strictly to harm the animal and inflict pain. Is it immoral for a cow to be processed into food? Of course not, while harm and pain will come to the animal the intent is quite different.

    The seperation between man and animal comes from the fact that man serves no "processed" purpose while animals do. If we were to start a human factory to harvest organs I would personally find no immorality with it whatsoever. They were created with specific intent and the side effects of harm and pain are merely that, side effects.

    But again, this all boils down to morality which is a very relative concept and by it's very nature cannot be shoehorned into neat categories of right and wrong.
  8. May 9, 2009 #7
    Does the intent matter? Not according to utilitarianism.

    You're more extreme than I thought, lol.
  9. May 9, 2009 #8
    In the discussion of morality it does. Even in utilitarianism one must consider consequence. While consequence is a direct result of action, the consideration of consequence is based on intent.

    <shrug> You say extreme, I say very well grounded in reality.
  10. May 9, 2009 #9
    Its a bit cheap, a bit rediculous, and a definite slipery slope. That's intentional.

    My point is that people bring up speciesism, saying we should not treat animals differently simply because they are not like us, to promote their idea of why animals should be treated equally but seemingly ignore or do not care about the fact that they only invoke its protection in the case of living things that are more like us than not. Its hypocritical (and illogical) to say that we should not treat an animal differently just because it is not like us but say it is ok to treat bugs differently because they are even less like us.
    As for suffering we come right back to the issue of "how different" we are. Pain and suffering as I pointed out are biological responses to damage or the threat of damage. ALL living things have biological responses to damage or the threat of it whether it is similar to what we experience or not.

    So what I ask for is simple intellectual honesty. I have concern for the welfare of an animal due to the perceived similarity to me, not despite the perceived differences from me. All things being equal I also generally have more concern for a human being than an animal due to the humans similarity to me. There is even a proportionate adjustment in concern depending on how alike I perceive an animal is to me versus another. I have more concern for dogs than beetles. I have more concern for monkeys than dogs. This seems logically consistent and I find nothing wrong with this manner of thinking.
  11. May 9, 2009 #10
    Even? Why even? Consequences are alpha omega in utilitarianism. Intent and consequences are different things. If you intent to rid the world of suffering by exterimating all jews, that doesn't legitimate your actions.
  12. May 9, 2009 #11
    Do morals have degrees of severity? Cannot something simply be moral and another not moral? Then we can say "no" it is not less moral because both are not moral. But, if there were a cosmic choice to made between a human and an animal being tortured then I would choose the animal. In fact, animals are tortured (if you call experiments torture) everyday to advance the sciences. It would appear that society has already decided that it is ethical to apply extreme discomfort and death to animals provided there is an educational benefit.

    And, philosophically speaking, "suffering" is not necessarily a bad thing. If we never suffered then we could never benefit from the experience that suffering can provide. If you haven't suffered in anything then you haven't succeeded in anything in a genuine way (this sentence is just my opinion). A life full of suffering is generally better than death according to those who are experiencing the suffering and continue to live.
  13. May 9, 2009 #12
    Don't you see the difference between treating differently and exploiting? Certainly, we shouldn't allow animals to vote or drive. Animals are not like us, but it is what they have in common with us that matters in this case: their ability to suffer. If they do have the same ability to suffer as humans do - and I see no reason not to believe so - we're wrong to expose them to more suffering than we are willing to expose humans to. Of course it's natural to feel more concern for species that are more similar to humans, but I'm not yet convinced about the argument that what is natural is naturally right.

    As for the plants, you are right that suffering are biological responses to damage, but that is not saying that all responses to damage are suffering.

    IF there is no difference between their level of consciousness and ability to suffer, it is just as wrong as having more concern for white people than for black.
  14. May 9, 2009 #13
    Of course. There are situations where you have to choose between two evils. Killing two innocent people and killing one are both immoral, but if you had to choose, the answer should be simple.

    Me to, but that's irrelevant. The question is, are there rational arguments to back up this choice?

    That's not an argument in this case more than it was for the nazis who killed jews. I'm talking about unnecessarily suffering, of course. The nervous system is there for a reason.
  15. May 9, 2009 #14
    I did not say it is ok to torture animals. I am saying I would generally have more concern for the torture of humans than for the torture of animals.
    Whether or not this is necessarily a "moral" stance I can not say. Of course I have issues with the term "moral" and tend not to use it since it often seems to imply some sort of absolute and I obviously don't go in for moral absolutes.

    Suffering is simply what you refer to your response as. You see a similar response in similar organism and you identify so you call it suffering. You see an entirely different response in other organisms and you do not identify so you do not call it suffering. Again, it all comes down to identifying with similarities. If you are not convinced that such an attitude is necessarily right then why do you continue to use it in your logic?

    I do not know what difference there is in an animals level of consciousness (since I am not even certain how to define consciousness) or their ability to suffer. I only know how alike to me I perceive them based on what little knowledge I have of them and so can only base my level of concern on my level of ability to feel empathic for them. As I have already pointed out I do not see any logical difference between the suffering of an animal and the "suffering" of a plant other than my ability to identify with that "suffering". I do need to eat though and if I gave all living things equal concern I would starve to death.
    I knew that black and white would come into this. I do not personally perceive any striking difference between myself (being white) and a black person. Its only superficial, not substantive. Similarly I perceive no difference between a white cat and a black cat.
  16. May 9, 2009 #15
    Should white people pass laws that punish murder of white people harder than blacks, beacuse - after all, they're different from us?

    "As I have already pointed out I do not see any logical difference between the suffering of an animal and the "suffering" of a plant "

    OK, that's incredible.
  17. May 9, 2009 #16
    I find your implication in regards to racism a distasteful ad hominem. I very clearly stated that I see no difference between black and white people that is not superficial. "Superficial" as in "unimportant" incase you were unsure of my usage.

    You don't seem to have read my post very closely. You even leave out the important part of that quote.

    If you disagree please provide me a description of the difference that does not rely on our ability to identify with the animal. You might refer to the "consciousness" or "awareness" of the animal over the plant but that is only another way of indentifying with the animal. And they are poorly defined parameters aswell.

    Perhaps you somehow consider my "identification" argument silly? The capacity to "identify" or be empathic is rather important to psychology and many philosophies. It should be considered a fairly profound rule of measure rather than some frivolously constructed argument. Or is my inability to concern myself as much with, say, a mole rat as opposed to a human somehow disturbing to you?
  18. May 9, 2009 #17
    Legitimacy of intent is irregardless to the fact that you must have intent in order to discern consequence from your actions.

    It's that very intent that dictates morality.

    I've already given a very easy to understand example and regardless of your philosophical musings there is little argument to be found here.
  19. May 10, 2009 #18
    If you're saying that the only problem with 'torturing' or harming animals is that they suffer, and that you feel animals should have the same rights not to be harmed as humans and all other species, do you think that it is acceptable to kill either an animal or a person if the act is carried out under anaesthetic, so they can't suffer.
  20. May 10, 2009 #19
    I am going to have to agree with The Statutory Ape on this. As I see it, I have no moral responsibility to care about the suffering of animals I do not identify with. I care about dogs because I am fond of and to some degree identify with them, I don't care about chickens or cows because I see them as vastly different from me. Cows and chickens are worth more to me dead and turned into meat than they are alive, where as dogs are not (dogs provide companionship, entertainment, and other valuable things while they are alive). I am also able to develop empathy for dogs and other more intelligent animals who's behavior in some ways remind me of my own. This is not to say I would go around killing and hurting every animal that I cannot identify with; there would be no point to such behavior, and generally this kind of cruelty to animals for its own sake is an indicator of fairly severe psychological issues.
  21. May 10, 2009 #20
    When I was a kid I would sometimes take my magnifying glass outside and find anthills. Then I would burn ants with it. I knew the ants were dying, but I didn't know I was doing anything wrong.

    One day I was outside the neighbors house and I was doing this. After I was done I kicked the anthill. Mr. Kelly came out of his house and yelled at me, "How would you feel if someone did that to your house?" I didn't know how to respond. I felt embarrassed. I apologized. Then I stood there watching the ants come out and start to rebuild their home. Eventually I got bored and left, but it did make an impression on me. Hurting things for my own pleasure is wrong. Cruelty is wrong.

    For me it wasn't about the suffering of the ants. I don't know how ants feel physical pain, and I doubt they suffer emotionally from their hill being destroyed. The point was that I had some concept of that being an unpleasant thing for myself, so it was wrong for me to do. It had nothing to do with the physical differences of the organisms in question. It's a matter of the realization of the nature of my own self awareness.
  22. May 10, 2009 #21
    As far as ants go, their brains function like little simple computers. They do not "think", and it is doubtfull that they feel pain other than to say they recognize physical harm and seek to avoid it. There are no emotions or feelings in the ant world, to say how would you feel if your house was destroyed makes no sense because you would feel nothing, you would simply observe that your house is in disrepair and begin the act of fixing it. I would say that destroying ants on a large scale is not something one should do, as it could have adverse consequences on the ecosystem, and i would also say that if i had a child that was obsessed with burning or killing ants or other bugs i would be concerned, but i would not object to killing ants or bugs on a moral basis.
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