I read posts here that call different things, "harmful to humanity."  Others call something, "good" or "bad" or "evil."

A very simple question, who gets to decide the definition of  "harmful to humanity" and what is there critieria? The same for "good," "bad," and "evil?" These are not material terms. If everything is material isn't there just "is" and not these moral declarations if one is being thoroughly atheist?

Help me understand your position so I am fair and honest about the views. Thanks.

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Thank you archaeopteryx hilarious!

In my experience, good, bad, evil, and "harmful to humanity" - these definitions can be subjective and individual, or the individual may defer to another to decide on the definition for you.

Where there is secular law, we have legal and illegal, and the definitions of good and bad may have been factored into the making of these laws to some extent. In these societies, good and bad are individual, though society will have an impact on the individual's ideas.

Where religious law is in force, such as with sharia law, there may be someone who is called upon to make these judgements for the individual.

So that's the "who".

The criteria? As diverse as the indviduals making the decisions, though their criteria is informed by the society they live in to some extent.

I personally understand "evil" as a religious concept - "against god."

The concepts of good and bad are tricky. In the question of abortion, is it good or bad? Circumstances count for a lot here, but even when you get to the specifics, you'll get differing opinions because people's priorities are different.

I think "good" is "reducing suffering", "bad", "creating suffering", to be very simplistic, as not even that holds in every circumstance. Is it bad to upset someone by telling them the truth? Hard to say without detail.

"Harmful to humanity" - more or less everyone gets to decide, each of us weighing in on the discussion to a greater or lesser degree. There is no one person or group who has the final say, there.

I agree that causing unnecessary suffering is wrong. Causing harm is wrong. On what basis would anyone restrict their ethical considerations of harm and suffering to just their own species? Seems arbitrary to me, speciesist. We can judge what is harmful based on outcomes. Does it promote happiness or misery?


@archaeopterix

Then again, it could be that your definitions of sentience differ - the dictionary defines sentience as being, "able to perceive or feel things," but I've known those who view sentience as possessing self-awareness, such as being able to recognize onesself in a mirror. I've known cats bristle at the "cat" in the mirror, and seen birds (OK, one --) fly into a mirror, thinking they're going to hook up with the one they're flying toward.

A little thought tells one that "sentience" was originally meant to mean "having senses." Well, just about all life has some form of sense. Even jellyfish, who have no brain. Even protozoa, who lack even a nervous system. They can gravitate toward food and light. Yes, and even plants, who react to light and fight wars amongst themselves for space, light, water and other resources in the forest.

Taking a strict definition of sentience, almost nothing edible is left.

Your right to clarify terms. Of course the definition you made up would not lead to almost nothing being edible. I am concerned with harm, pain and suffering. I am not aware of any credible evidence that plants suffer. Even if they did, and they don't, to minimise suffering it would still be better to eat plants rather than animals as to raise animals, they must be fed plants.

Again John, I'm really not in this, but I'm a big plant person - I mean, plants are important to me, not that I'm a giant rhubarb - and I can't say it's pain, but plants been documented to have registered on an electroencephalograph when their branches have been clipped.

Hey Archy I would agree with you it's not pain. How could it be when it has no brain, nerves or central nervous system. I suppose it makes sense. That plants do react in some way to damage, they evolved to survive too. The stuff in the book, The Secret Life of Plants, was thoroughly debunked.

"Suffering" is a word with a variety of applications. If I don't water my plants sufficiently, they wilt, and I've even heard people refer to underwatered plants as suffering from underwatering.

If my definition leads to almost nothing being edible, that's not true for me. It's just true using YOUR concepts, which is a good enough reason to find them specious. I just follow terms and definitions to their ultimate logical conclusions to see if they become absurd or untenable.

I think self-awareness is relevant when one can be aware of and anxious about one's own future. I.e., it's probably not relevant except for humans, because only humans are aware that one's future can be influenced by the way humans treat other humans around the world.

As for defining sentience, are we just complicating the more relevant question of "how much can an animal suffer"? I.e., it often doesn't take much more than one's own empathy to determine if another animal is suffering, which (imo) is the real issue.

Paul, totally agree. Animal suffering is the issue. Does it the capacity to suffer give the non human animal moral significance? Those who disagree that animal suffering is a moral concern lack the necessary empathy to discuss the issue in a productive way. There can be no meeting of minds.

Self awareness is very important for the reasons you gave, it heightens the capacity to suffer. I just don't think it should be the determining factor in deciding the moral significance of a creature.

The capacity for suffering of other animals, particularly vertebrates, seems Reasonably straight forward to me. They have a similar psysiology us, they behave in a similar way (screams, withdrawal etc) and pain is useful for survival of the species (they can run away if hurt). Finally, given this, it is I think ethical to give animals the benefit of the doubt given what is at stake.

That nothing should suffer is a stipulation you are making, whether based on evidence or emotion. It's not a law of the universe and it CERTAINLY isn't a law of nature here on earth that nothing should suffer. Quite the opposite actually, if a law is involved at all.

I don't really know how to apply the concept of "necessity" to suffering, but without that the concept of "unnecessary suffering" doesn't make a whole lot of sense. I mean, is ANY suffering necessary or is it all merely incidental?

There's no way to quantify how much another creature can suffer because the suffering of another is something one imagines. Empathy is based on imagination. Our own suffering is the only real suffering we shall ever know. The suffering of others is imaginary, even should it be real to others, a situation for which there will never be proof.

To believe in the suffering of others and act on same requires faith as well as imagination, so believe in the suffering of others if you like, but in doing so be aware what you are doing and on what basis.

The consciousness of others is something of a Shroedinger's Cat of psychology, except that it's a cat that forever remains boxed. (An imperfect analogy but I hope you get my drift.) It is largely what Ludwig Wittgenstein's later philosophy was about, and he might have been the deepest epistemological thinker of the 20th Century. It's hard enough to know if a man feels pain or is really feeling pain. What about a lobster?

Can't pretend to understand quantum physics, but I thought Schroedinger's cat was a thought experiment to show how the quantum universe had an application in our view of the world - the cat being both dead and alive at the same time. I'm not sure your meaning, you will have to explain some more please.

"that nothing should suffer is a stipulation you are making"

Where did I say that. We can't get away from suffering. It's part of life. I think we agree here.

I agree too that I cannot prove that you feel pain the way I feel pain. But, my humble position is based on what I believe is common sense. I know I feel pain. I know how the body senses pain. I know you body is similar to mine (less ripped though) and so I imagine you feel it the same way I do. To support this, I know we are the same species and evolution equipped us with the ability to feel pain. You also report pain in similar sitUations, perhaps stubbing your toe. All in all, in am very confident that we feel pain similarly. I extrapolate this to other similar animals as per my previous post.

The degree of suffering again is just imagined. But, with similar nervous systems, pain receptors and pain reactions, it is reasonable, and certainly ethical, to assume similar sensations. It could be argued, with no evidence, that because we have higher cognitive functions, we can make more sense of pain and take the necessary action to avoid it. Other animals perhaps need a sharper physical experience to achieve the same result. Who knows?

Philosophy and ethics must not, I believe, be treated as chess problems. To be puzzled over, debated and the tossed aside in the ultimate recognition of their lack of worth. Ethics and philosophy should inform us and guide us to live the life we want to live. So, to keep the discussion worthwhile, when I talk about unnecessary suffering I will use an example from the real world rather than live in the hypothetical.

Chickens have been selectively bred to grow quickly for economic reasons. This causes them to put on more weight than their skeleton can support, often leading to painful deformities. They are crammed together in barns, deprived of the possibility of displaying instinctive behaviours. They become stressed and this manifests itself in cannibalism. To stop this, they are debeaked. Part of their top beak is chopped off. They live in ammonia filled barns with no daylight until they are taken away to,be slaughtered.

The chickens are treated like this so they can be eaten. They suffer in the process. We do not need to eat chickens. Therefore, their suffering is unnecessary. It is not incidental.

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