There are strong moral reasons against harming or killing human beings. What grounds these reasons? Perhaps a property unique to human beings. Perhaps that's at least part of the grounds for the relevant moral reasons. In addition to containing a number of questionable claims, this line of reasoning obscures our topic. Intuitions about the moral significance of human beings may track a wide range of properties, and may thus mislead us here. Call the first way indirect , the second direct.
I discuss the direct route in Section 3.
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Before I do, I discuss various arguments that seem to follow the indirect route. What I wish to do in this section is discuss these arguments with an eye to one thing they seem to me to share. Or so I will argue. For various philosophical reasons, the capacity to token such states is very interesting. But it is not clear that this capacity is functionally very important. Christopher Peacocke argues that this capacity could be widely shared throughout the animal kingdom. The difference between the mental lives of a squirrel, an octopus, and a human does not prevent them from sharing literally the same type of de se content.
What is common across the contents of the mental events of those very different creatures, when those events each have a de se content, is that each such content has a correctness condition that constitutively and fundamentally concerns the subject of the event in question. There is no ambiguity of type as between your nonconceptual de se and that of the octopus. They are identical in type. The differences lie rather in what the various creatures represent as holding of themselves. What is critical is not just the relevant capacity, but interactions between this capacity and a wide range of additional cognitive capacities, including abilities to represent various things as holding of oneself.
Some have argued that the capacity to token states with de se content does come in at crucial places for cognition. Pollock and Ismael , for example, have argued that this capacity is important as part of a broader operation of practical reasoning concerning the implementation of goals in unpredictable environments.
I do not wish to disagree with either proposal here. But we should question whether such talk is as accurate as moral theory needs it to be. Perhaps this capacity really is functionally important. Even if so, however, it is likely that its importance is strongly mediated by the development of a wide range of capacities.
Short of such a justification, it seems we should be discussing the significance of cognitive sophistication generally—of the whole tapestry. Consider, for example, the following passage from Peter Singer's Practical Ethics. Their conscious states are not internally linked over time. If they become unconscious, for example by falling asleep, then before the loss of consciousness they would have no expectations or desires for anything that might happen subsequently; and if they regain consciousness, they have no awareness of having previously existed.
Even so, many of the claims in this passage are questionable. Maybe these kinds of claims are all Singer has in mind. But this is not what he says. Without these things, it would be difficult to understand how an animal learned anything, or carried out any plans that involved components lasting longer than a few seconds.
Consider, for example, the Western Scrub Jay.
This bird gives behavioral evidence of knowing what, where, and when food was stored, as well as evidence of planning for the future. Evidence in favor of the first claim stems from experiments involving the caching of two types of food—more preferred, quickly perishable wax worms and less preferred, less perishable peanuts see Clayton and Dickinson Four hours after caching the worms and peanuts, the birds usually look for the worms first. Evidence in favor of the second claim stems from experiments that asked whether the birds could cache food based on expectations about future hunger as opposed to current hunger.
In these experiments, the birds were trained to expect breakfast in one compartment and not another. After training, the birds were given food to cache. This is what happened: a result that suggests the birds can in some sense anticipate their hunger and plan for it. So we know that Western Scrub Jays have relatively sophisticated capacities for episodic memory, and for planning.
For example, it is possible that the birds' behavior is explained by their tokening of mental states such as beliefs about the past and future location of food, desires of various strengths about the past and future location of food, and by the interaction of these beliefs and desires.
These beliefs and desires have content about food, location, and time, and that's all. The birds need not represent their own hunger as their own in order to desire food. And they need not represent the future as their own future in order to believe that, e. The same lesson can be drawn from a different direction.
Consider human adults with extreme cases of retrograde and anterograde amnesia. Oliver Sacks writes of one such patient, Clive Wearing, whose memory was profoundly affected by an infection of the brain.
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According to Sacks, Wearing was left with a memory span lasting no more than a few seconds. As a result, of course, Wearing was extremely cognitively limited. What he lost were capacities for forming memories and integrating ongoing experience with the knowledge he did retain. Is this of any moral importance? On the contrary, it is very plausible that the particularities of an entity's ongoing mental life will be structured in part by past experiences.
This is a mistake. In order to properly examine the moral significance of some feature or property of an entity, we need to get a grip on the feature or property.
We need to know what it is we are examining. But that is a possibility that deserves philosophical attention separate from our current concern. Tooley : Here is how Tooley initially argues for this claim. First, he asserts that the only individuals that possess rights are conscious individuals. So if an individual desires to continue to live in this way, then that individual is a person—they have a right to life. The problem is that this argument is not sound, as many commentators have convincingly argued e.
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So the second step is dubious. Without this step, Tooley's argument collapses. Presently, however, I am less interested in Tooley's premises, and more interested in the thinking lying behind them. Whether or not this kind of thinking lies behind Tooley's argumentation, it seems to lie behind a recent attempt to resuscitate it. They go on to claim that newborn human beings are not mentally developed enough. Those who are only capable of experiencing pain and pleasure like perhaps fetuses and certainly newborns have a right not to be inflicted pain. Retrieved Critical Perspectives on Accounting.
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