::  Posts  ::  RSS  ::  ◂◂RSS  ::  Contact

The Argument From Marginal Cases

July 25th, 2013
veg  [html]

The argument from marginal cases claims that you can't both think that humans matter morally and that animals don't, because no reasonable set of criteria for moral worth cleanly separates all humans from all animals. For example, perhaps someone says that suffering only matters when it happens to something that has some bundle of capabilities like linguistic ability, compassion, and/or abstract reasoning. If livestock don't have these capabilities, however, then some people such as very young children probably don't either.

This is a strong argument, and it avoids the noncentral fallacy. Any set of qualities you value are going to vary over people and animals, and if you make a continuum there's not going to be a place you can draw a line that will fall above all animals and below all people. So why do I treat humans as the only entities that count morally?

If you asked me how many chickens I would be willing to kill to save your life, the answer is effectively "all of them". [1] This pins down two points on the continuum that I'm clear on: you and chickens. While I'm uncertain where along there things start getting up to significant levels, I think it's probably somewhere that includes no or almost no animals but nearly all humans. Making this distinction among humans, however, would be incredibly socially destructive, especially given how unsure I am about where the line should go, and so I think we end up with a much better society if we treat all humans as morally equal. This means I end up saying things like "value all humans equally; don't value animals" when that's not my real distinction, just the closest schelling point.


[1] Chicken extinction would make life worse for many other people, so I wouldn't actually do that, but not because of the effect on the chickens.

Comment via: google plus, facebook, lesswrong

Recent posts on blogs I like:

How Fast New York Regional Rail Could Be Part 2

In my last post about New York regional rail schedules, I covered the New Haven and Harlem Lines of Metro-North and the Main Line and Hempstead Branch of the LIRR. I was hoping to cover more lines tonight, but due to time constraints only the Hudson Line …

via Pedestrian Observations October 17, 2019

Strong stances

I. The question of confidence Should one hold strong opinions? Some say yes. Some say that while it’s hard to tell, it tentatively seems pretty bad (probably). There are many pragmatically great upsides, and a couple of arguably unconscionable downsides. …

via Meteuphoric October 15, 2019

What do executives do, anyway?

An executive with 8,000 indirect reports and 2000 hours of work in a year can afford to spend, at most, 15 minutes per year per person in their reporting hierarchy... even if they work on nothing else. That job seems impossible. How can anyone make any im…

via apenwarr September 29, 2019

more     (via openring)

More Posts:


  ::  Posts  ::  RSS  ::  ◂◂RSS  ::  Contact