An audio reading of this short story is available here.
Adabelle awoke on the cold concrete floor and struggled to her feet. She was young, barely 3 years old, and without a scrap of education was unable to express her thoughts in what we would call words. But she felt.
The room was damp and cold, and her bones ached like one many times her age. The white slabs of her bed were caked with the dried blood of yesterday. There were no toilets, and the room smelled accordingly. She shivered and huddled in the corner. She had no clothes to speak of. Around her she could hear the others beginning to stir.
She had been torn from her mother at a monstrously young age, and truth be told she did not remember her, only the dim recollection of a scent and a kiss. Her tormentors had taken her to a government experimentation complex hundreds of miles from where she was born, and it was all she knew.
A shrill whistle sounded as the doors opened, and the occupants of the room cried out in terror. A man in uniform strode confidently towards Adabelle’s cell and stopped before it. “This one.” The man’s smaller assistant rattled with a pair of keys and opened the stiff, aging door. He grabbed Adabelle roughly by the neck and threw her out, where she fell awkwardly and scraped her knees. “Move!” Adabelle did as she was told, and hobbled towards the main door. She had quickly learnt not to express her pain through sound. The men loved it, and would kick her again and again to hear her despair.
The day usually began with Adabelle being restrained on a metal bench and given a sedative before other substances were injected; all while a man stood taking notes and a camera recorded the scene. Adabelle couldn’t know, but they were testing a new drug with potential for accelerating brain functionality in their own race. Today though, the sedative wasn’t applied, and Adabelle immediately knew something was different. She was terrified, but kept silent, lest they hear her beating heart.
The uniformed men swapped stories and jokes as they tied her down. “Can you believe Franz passed out when I was showing him how to perform artificial insemination yesterday? What a baby.” Satisfying themselves that the restraints were taut, they turned to a spectacled man in a white coat. “What are we doing with this one today, sir?”
The man looked up from his clipboard and squinted at Adabelle. “New combat gear just came in from HQ, state of the art. This helmet is supposed to defend against supersonic projectiles, even fired at point blank range.”
The larger guard, already sweating a little in anticipation, gave a smirk. It was usually his job to carry out the experiment while the other man stood by as back up. “Think it’ll win us the war, sir?” He said.
“If it’s as good as they say it is. Which I guess we’ll find out by the end of the day, courtesy of our friend here.” The men roared with laughter, and the big guard landed a punch in Adabelle’s ribs for good measure. It was only her head they needed today. As she regained her breath, Adabelle was dimly aware of something being strapped to her head. The men put on ear protection, and one of them grabbed what looked like a long metal rod.
“Clear!” Before Adabelle could react, a deafening sound erupted through the room as a pneumatic metal slug collided with her head. She couldn’t think, and she let out a weak grunt. “Clear!” Again the slug hit her head. This time she felt it less, and the edges of her vision started to cloud and darken. If she knew numbers, she would have lost count of how many times she heard that cacophony.
Hours later, she felt herself stirring, ears still ringing.
“Aw shit sir, I think we went a little too hard. She’s toast.” A bright light filled her vision as the spectacled man looked down at her, torch in hand. The helmet was removed, and she felt rough hands touching her bruised head. Forgetting herself in the moment, she let out a short squeal of pain and was rewarded with a swift punch.
“Success. But I guess not even a German helmet can protect a soft, weak head like this.” A thumb pressed down on Adabelle’s skull, and the men laughed. “I think she’s done. Take her outside with the others.”
Adabelle passed in and out of consciousness as she was dragged outside by her legs. The guards grabbed and threw her into the back of a truck. With a start, Adabelle noticed she was in a cage with more of her people of different ages, all bruised and defeated in their own way, and that she had lost sight in her right eye. The truck shook to life and began moving. A short time later, it pulled up at another facility, where everyone in the truck was thrown out and forced up a ramp into a building. The building was full of machinery and technology reminiscent of where she had spent her life, yet somehow different. It smelled of… death.
“By damn I love technology!” The driver cried out as he drove his prisoners up the ramp. “Who would have thought we could kill a thousand in an hour? Unthinkable!”
“The gas chamber isn’t working today.” Said another man in uniform. “Take them to the killing floor.” The driver’s face fell.
As Adabelle entered the building, she looked up with her good eye and could see dozens of people observing the procession from a gantry. Many were in uniform, some were in white, and a few were in civilian clothes. There was a range of expressions from amusement, to hatred, to indifference. Only one man looked as though he might be outright sad. A single tear rolled down his cheek. His lips began to move, and if Adabelle could speak, perhaps she might have been able to make out what the man was mouthing.
“You poor souls. We have learned nothing. To you and all the others, we are Hitler.”
The guards in the room had whipped themselves into a frenzy and were kicking, punching and prodding the prisoners along with whatever they could lay their hands on. They were rounded into a small, long pen in the middle of the room where they couldn’t turn around. A man came along with the same metal rod and began firing slugs into the unprotected heads of the cows in front of him, whistling as he walked. “I’m gonna get you, I’m gonna get yoouuu.” Thunk thunk thunk. Adabelle’s turn came, and in a panic she angled her head away. The slug only glanced her skull, and the man walked on, still singing his tune. Adabelle felt the slug still stuck in her skull, and the warm rush of fluid down her face. She knew in that moment the meaning of hell.
The sound had ended, and the floor tipped to her right as the bodies slid down the slick floor to a lower level. One by one they were strung up and raised off the ground. Many were paralysed but completely aware when the final blow was dealt and their life left them in pulses. In that moment, Adabelle wished death on her tormentors, just as they wished death on her and all of her kind. And they gave her just that.
You can see my previous animal rights focused short story here, Salvation and Salivation.
38 thoughts on “I live in Nazi Germany – A short story”
You are disgraceful!
In order to even begin to compare animals with a 3-year-old human you obviously have cut yourself off from the real world. But to do it in such a way as to transfer what the Nazis did to Poles, JWs homosexuals, Gypsies, Jews, the disabled, children…to dumb animals, you are obviously well on the road to losing the entire plot.
Advice: Get a real job, learn what it means to be human, gain wisdom, learn what kindness is…and lose that self-righteousness.
Shame, shame, shame on you!
Hi Markus, thanks for your comment.
I never compared non-human animals (don’t forget humans are animals) with a 3 year old human. If by reading this story you assumed for most of it that I was referring to a 3 year old human and not a 3 year old cow, then that’s on you, and you should be upset at yourself for making the comparison. Indeed, that’s kind of the point – there is little morally relevant difference.
Again, I never made such a comparison, but it’s interesting that you make it. I only meant to suggest that, for the non-humans we exploit, harm and kill en masse, life must surely feel like living in Nazi Germany felt for people exploited there.
“Get a job” is such a common rebuke to those who don’t discriminate against other species that I’d like to drill down on what it is you mean. I’ll give you the benefit of assuming you actually checked what my job is. Why is a PhD candidature not a real job? Why would not having a ‘real job’ make any difference? Convince me that this isn’t an ad hominem attack.
How do animals ‘feel’ and how would you know? What is wrong with killing animals en masse with prior stunning, or very quickly, if it feeds people who would otherwise die, be malnourished or just hungry? You seem to anthropomise animals without justification.
Well, the entire fields of psychology (human and non-human) and cognitive science support the notion that humans and non-humans are capable of experience suffering. If that weren’t the case, there would be some weird and arbitrary cut-off point somewhere between human and chicken. Why, and where is it? Between humans and apes? Between apes and pigs?
There is solid evidence for even chickens and fish being capable of felt experiences and emotions, albeit granted to a somewhat lesser extent than human animals. See this for example.
Morality is not more complicated than I think – it’s just plainly complicated for someone who thinks that animals and humans are on the same (moral) level.
I’ve never claimed that human animals and non-human animals all have the same capacity for suffering. Perhaps you don’t believe that capability for suffering is the morally relevant trait of sentient minds (if so I would argue you are wrong, see this), in which case we will inevitably be talking past each other. The more ‘stuff’ you bring in, e.g. existence of a deity, the idea that some races, genders or species are more valuable than others simply because they are different, the more misguided the ethical framework.
“Adabelle awoke on the cold cement floor…” Cement is a dry powder, or a jell paste. I think you must mean concrete. Concrete is an artificial stone composed of cement, water and usually both small and large aggregate (sand and stone). Sometimes it contains admixtures: plasticisers, bonding agents, hardening agents, etc.
Saying ‘a cement floor’ is like saying you had flour and tea for supper, when you meant cake and tea.
Right you are, thanks for the correction.
1. Audience member: “If you were aboard a lifeboat with a baby and a dog, and the boat capsized, would you rescue the baby or the dog?” Regan, “If it were a retarded baby and a bright dog, I’d save the dog.” Tom Regan, “Animal Rights, Human Wrongs,” speech given at University of Wisconsin, Madison, October 27, 1989.
Notice how Regan believes “retardation” is a stand-alone threshold justification for the death sentence. Notice how he proudly believes in the genetic superiority of his group/species. Nice chap!
In another world scenario…
Audience member: If you were aboard a lifeboat with a chicken and Tom Regan, and the boat capsized, would you rescue the chicken or Regan?”
Me: “I’d save the chicken and when I was hungry, eat it.”
2. “If an animal researcher said, “Its a dog or a child,’ a liberator will defend the dog every time.” “Screaming Wolf” (pseudonym), A Declaration of War: Killing People to Save Animals and the Environment (Grass Valley, California: Patrick Henry Press, 1991), p. 14.
My response: Yep, these are the guys you want nearby when your house is burning down and your children are trapped inside.
This strawman is ludicrous and warrants no response.
If my house were burning down, I’d rather have the person who doesn’t feel justified killing 300 sentient humans/non-humans per year to satisfy their primal urges which they can’t seem to control (taste buds).
No, Michael, I took it as an animal. However, you were trying to blur the line between an animal and a human so as to (falsely and without an iota of metaethical justification) plant the seed of moral equivalency.
On what metaethical basis do you grant moral rights to a future T-bone or lamb rack?
Playing on emotions is not philosophical justification; it’s a really poor substitute for that.
And if doing a PhD = job, then doing 4 subjects at an undergraduate level and getting Austudy is a job too.
No metaethical justification? You haven’t been paying attention. Human animals suffer, and so are worthy of moral consideration. Non-human animals suffer, and so are worthy of moral consideration. Rocks do not suffer, and so are not worthy of moral consideration. You might disagree with part of this, but that doesn’t mean there is no metaethical justification. Many philosophers have already fleshed this out completely.
This is excellent. Those claiming the lack of connection between a three year old human and a non-human animal seem to have little understanding of non-human intelligence. Most animals have the recordable intelligence level of a one to six year old human. If this were a case of saving the most intelligent, the human child would be the one sacrificed. Yet nobody is saying you have to choose between non-human animals and humans – both can live as equals.
Speciesism is the first form of prejudice we are taught. Time to rise above it. Good work Michael.
Thank you Elliot! I agree, non-human animals are more intelligent and capable of feeling pain than we often think, and any comparison to humans should be elevating them, not lowering humans.
I am by trade a mind-reader. Here’s my amazing trick just for you.
[Drum roll] Elliot, you do not have any children.
And if you have any thought of having any, please don’t.
“Most animals have the recordable intelligence level of a one to six year old human. ” What a nonce!
It certainly depends on how one defines intelligence, but in many areas of intelligence, many animals (pigs and dogs come to mind) perform at levels comparable to humans several years old.
One doesn’t need to have children to come to this conclusion, just like one doesn’t need to know someone of a particular demographic or culture to read about them. Why, I myself was once a child.
Yep, yet another armchair “expert”.
And another person without children lecturing people who do.
BTW, I can tell you everything you want to know about Antarctica. Never been there, but I sure as hell have read a mighty lot of travel guides about it.
Your “argument” is surely self parody, isn’t it?
No one is lecturing people with children, but it’s interesting that you came to that conclusion. Do you feel that stating the relative intelligence levels of humans and non-humans in certain cognitive categories is lecturing?
Your comment about Antarctic travel guides doesn’t really hold. There is a difference between a travel guide and a scientific report. If you read a journal paper on the flow behaviour of ice in Antarctica, I’d expect that you could tell me some useful things about it. Knowledge doesn’t require physical observation when others have done the work for us. It’s even less accurate when you consider that I have met children and non-humans.
Childless Michael, you ARE lecturing people with children! You agree with Elliot that certain animals supposedly display behaviours equal or even superior to children up to 6 y.o. Parents know things about children generally, theirs specifically, that make arguments like those so cold and bereft of logic.
You know Michael, I sat in a Ferrari a few times and even had a drive of one once. I got to polish it, even read a few car journals about the model. So, bolstered with this amount of knowledge I took on its owner, who just happened to be its mechanic, and taught him a few things or two about his car specifically, and the brand generally.
Yep, I was so confident in my knowledge I could even present an argument to him why it was morally better to destroy his car and save an eagle’s life because eagles fly quicker than Ferraris race.
More importantly than arguing with someone who not only hasn’t seen the forest, hasn’t even seen the trees…yet…is your silence on Elliot’s comment that a child should be MURDERED and an animal’s saved if forced to choose and that that decision has some sort of (unstated) moral warrant.
You vegans posit your flag on some delusional moral highground but the emperor’s clothes are well missing mate.
It’s people like you who really should find your own planet to live on because apparently we are living in two different moral universes.
Your comment was so full of logical fallacies and misrepresentations that I don’t even think I’ll respond, except for to link this video.
“Your comment was so full of logical fallacies and misrepresentations”
BTW, I’ve already seen the video.
Let me state again, what is so utterly disturbing Elliot’s (not unique) choice to murder a child and save an animal is your silence. That, Michael, speaks loudly about your true character.
The irony of veganism, with all its hype about the animal “killing fields”, is that when it comes down to the fundamental metaethic, its adherents promulgate just another thanophilic “morality”. You guys want to save the world, make it a better place, yet will choose an animal over a human baby because the latter can’t stand, or root around for food, or recognise another or doesn’t have an equivalent IQ (or is a Jew, Black, homosexual…). You’re no better than you know who!!
That’s not actually what they said though.
Which of the points made by that video do you disagree with?
Michael: “That’s not actually what they said though.”
Elliot: “Most animals have the recordable intelligence level of a one to six year old human. If this were a case of saving the most intelligent, the human child would be the one sacrificed.”
Let me break that down for you, Michael: “If this were a case of saving the most intelligent, the human child would be the one sacrificed.”
No, Michael, that’s exactly what was said! Murder the baby, save the animal on the basis that the animal is more intelligent than that baby.
Your (and Elliot’s) moral decision maker is ‘intelligence’. That’s wholly arbitrary and has no intrinsic epistemic warrant. It is merely the caprice of whatever authority controls the conversation (or society). It thus can be swapped for any distinguishing attribute, like skin colour, sexuality, race, age religion, height, disability or lack of…
Scenario: Most Africans have the recordable intelligence level of a one to six year old European. If this were a case of saving the most intelligent, the African would be the one sacrificed.
Spot any difference? I can’t.
No, it’s not. I don’t know how you’re interpreting it that way. Can you see the “if” at the start of that sentence?
He’s saying that we don’t have to make that choice. The choice we have each day is not between saving a non-human and a human, it’s between not killing either for our own pleasure. That’s the whole point.
He’s saying (if I understand Elliot correctly) that someone who suggested that it’s about intelligence (Zeus forbid) might make this suggestion if they were logically consistent. Neither Elliot nor I are suggesting it’s about intelligence. It’s about capacity for suffering, which non-humans have (and may have an even greater capacity for suffering than humans, since they rely more on their senses than us).
Out of interest, why do you think intelligence is arbitrary, race and gender are arbitrary (I presume), but species is not?
“Scenario: Most Africans have the recordable intelligence level of a one to six year old European. If this were a case of saving the most intelligent, the African would be the one sacrificed.” I mean, if you want to lie you can make any statement you want. But you’re not even arguing the point that we made. This whole train of thought for nothing.
I stand corrected…although Elliot didn’t make it thoroughly clear he was applying the intelligence criterion as a weapon back on the meat-eater. I – it seems now in error – took him to mean that he was responding to a Tom Regan boat dilemma where a choice had to be made between a child and an animal. Apologies.
With that out of the way, it seems to be that vegans have raised veganism as the default moral position and asking meat eaters to morally justify their eating preference. Just setting that aside for a moment, let me ask you on what meta-ethical basis do vegans erect the principle that it is morally wrong to eat meat?
No problem John.
Personally, I don’t see veganism as ‘moral baseline’ in a meta-ethical sense. I do think we should promote it as a social norm though, in the same way we promote other social norms like not killing humans for pleasure.
To answer your question, I can again only speak for my own meta-ethics. I’m sure many people arrive at veganism from different meta-ethical frameworks. The short version is that I’d describe myself as total hedonistic utilitarian (pain = bad, pleasure = good), but I’ll expand on that below.
In my view, the only conscious experiences that sentient minds truly care about are suffering and wellbeing. Most people have intuitions that other things like their rights, feelings, experiences and complex thoughts also matter. I would contest that we only care about these other things because having them satisfied tends to lead to more wellbeing or less suffering, whether we realise it or not. We are culturally and evolutionarily evolved to want these things. If this is the case, then the only two things that can matter ethically are suffering and wellbeing. Of these two, suffering is ‘bad’ rather than ‘good’ because we are wired to not want it. Suffering is at the end of the day a tool evolution developed to keep us alive to propagate genes, but stuck with this genetic hardware as we are, it is therefore good for our felt experience to avoid this.
Now to non-humans – having established that only suffering and pleasure matter (you may disagree, fine), we can see that other animals also experience suffering and pleasure. Therefore, their suffering and pleasure matter. Some may argue that non-human suffering is sufficiently different that it doesn’t matter at all, or that they are machines and can’t suffer (I agree with Cosmic Skeptic’s video I linked above explaining why these arguments fall flat, so I won’t rehash here). I disagree based on what I’ve read, but I’d also argue that the burden of proof is on them. Our common evolutionary origin is such that it seems strange for humans to have developed the ability to suffer and be conscious in the last few million years of our development, let alone hundred million years. Finally, it’s possible and even likely that, just as dogs have a greater sense of smell than humans and eagles a greater sense of sight, some animals may have a greater sense of touch, pain and pleasure than humans. I do not take it as given that humans are superior in this particular sense to all non-humans.
Note, throughout here I’m talking about intrinsic value, as in the relative value of one unit of pain for a human vs a non-human. The question of ‘save 1 human life or 1 non-human life’ is very different to this, since humans tend to live longer, have more effect on their surroundings, etc.
From all of this flows my desire to not harm animals for what I see as pleasure but consuming animal products.
I want to pick apart your most recent response to me. I had previously seen the video and so much of what I am to say here will be apposite to that. I’ll quote you and then add my response. Many of the responses will be repetitive and although I would not under most circumstances do this, I believe it is important here to do so because of the clear weakness of the vegan meta-ethic.
1. “I do think we should promote it as a social norm though, in the same way we promote other social norms like not killing humans for pleasure.”
Your inclusion of the modal ‘should’ clearly begs the question of there being a justified moral default position. It has been added in order to obtain some moral traction that would normally be missing or incapable of being rationally established. I don’t believe you’ve done it consciously but nonetheless the end result is the same, namely, you’ve assumed the very ethical epistemic you’re meant to establish by argument.
A social norm carries no intrinsic moral property and they certainly are not synonymous with morality qua morality. A social norm’s moral attribute, if indeed any do possess such, is obviously transmitted from without and I am unable to see how you could establish any inherent universal character.
Furthermore, it should be pointed out that there is a certain cultural myopia demonstrated here; after all, cannibalism has been a normal practice for many other groups. I am reminded of the Aztec, the Texan Tonkawa, Columbian Ancerma, Fijian, Maori and Polynesian Marquesans, and the West Sepik Bimin-Kuskusmin tribal norms and their appreciation for human flesh. (May I suggest reading Edgerton’s ‘Sick Societies: Challenging the Myth of Primitive Harmony’ and Keeley’s ‘War Before Civilization: The Myth of the Peaceful Savage’.)
As to your implicit argument that the promotion of a norm is what justifies the norm’s moral worth, surely history is replete with innumerable instances of norms which are well-established in a society which, by virtue of your own moral values, you would roundly condemn. And this is surely a strong argument against any pretence to universability.
2. “The short version is that I’d describe myself as total hedonistic utilitarian (pain = bad, pleasure = good)” In my view, the only conscious experiences that sentient minds truly care about are suffering and wellbeing. We are culturally and evolutionarily evolved to want these things. If this is the case, then the only two things that can matter ethically are suffering and wellbeing.”
G.E. Moore quite rightly complained when people presented ethical arguments in this form. Labelling pain and pleasure ‘bad’ and ‘good’ respectively commits a double sin.
The words ‘bad’ and ‘good’ do not possess any intrinsic moral value; they are clearly dependent upon an instrumental value for their meaning. ‘Pain is harmful because it hurts’ is not a stand-alone moral proposition; it is just a natural tautological fact of what pain is.
To justify your argument that pain is morally wrong you either have to (i) inject (and this is exactly what you have to do because there is no intrinsic moral property to pain qua pain!) a moral component or (ii) somehow demonstrate how ‘bad’ can be cashed out in terms of moral properties without question-begging them into existence.
The first alternative will be confronted with Hume’s Guillotine. How can one from a fact about the world (i.e. pain and people suffer when they experience pain) deduce a normative principle that one ought not to unnecessarily allow someone to experience pain? Many have tried but all have failed!
The second fork exposes itself to Moore’s criticism. He made the point that the Good, no matter what you do to it, does not in the least resemble pleasure and thus is its own disparate commodity. The two are very different animals. He argued that ‘Good’ was what ethics was really about and that “ethics aims at discovering what are those other properties belonging to all things which are good. But far too many philosophers have thought that when they named those other properties they were actually defining good; that these properties, in fact, were simply not other, but absolutely and entirely the same with goodness. This view I propose to call the naturalistic fallacy.” Any attempt to cash out the property ‘Good’ into natural properties commits the Naturalistic Fallacy because it cannot but be nonnatural. (For a more thorough explanation and the problems associated with your meta-ethic justification see his ‘Principia Ethica’.)
3. “Of these two, suffering is ‘bad’ rather than ‘good’ because we are wired to not want it. Suffering is at the end of the day a tool evolution developed to keep us alive to propagate genes, but stuck with this genetic hardware as we are, it is therefore good for our felt experience to avoid this.”
Here you’ve compounded your error by making the claim that what keeps us alive and what promotes differential reproduction is ‘good’. All you’ve accomplished is to show that survival is an instrumental good, not a moral one. Again, instrumentality contains no intrinsic moral properties. And you have certainly failed to demonstrate how someone else’s survival is of any absolute moral value. If you complain that it would be of moral value to them, so what?
And as Sharon Street pointed out, when it comes down to particular normative principles, how does one know that what evolution has captured as ‘good’ is really good? If evolutionary forces have influenced and shaped our moral beliefs how do we know that evolution has not distorted these truths that we believe are moral? To merely reply that what promotes our survival is what is moral is hardly a justification. Furthermore, it stands as no epistemological correction to a sociopath’s demands that her demands, and only hers (of course, if anyone else’s fits in with hers, all the better!), is the good.
4. Re your application of your moral epistemic to animals fails for the same reasons I outlaid above, so I won’t revisit them.
Peter Singer: “The only acceptable limit to our moral concern is the point at which there is no awareness of pain or pleasure, and no preferences of any kind. That is why pigs count, but lettuces don’t. Pigs can feel pain and pleasure. Lettuces can’t.”
My Response: “The only acceptable limit to our moral concern is the point at which there is no awareness of right or wrong, and no moral preferences of any kind. That is why humans count, but pigs don’t. Humans can understand right and wrong. Pigs can’t.”
Does this not imply that baby humans don’t count, and we can inflict whatever suffering we wish upon them?
I think we are just disagreeing on what ethically matters. I will hold that only pleasure and suffering can matter ethically.
You need to respond to my earlier post where I set out the case that you fail the tests laid out by Moore and Hume. Ignoring their arguments doesn’t make them disappear or make yours any more convincing.
Merely claiming that you “hold” that pleasure and pain are synonymous with ethics is, among other things, question begging. If you’re unconcerned that you are unable to pass these tests then I can’t see how yours is a rational argument.
Re pigs, lettuces and babies, pigs, like lettuces, will never demonstrate that they are capable of ethical discourse, whereas it is the sine qua non of human nature to do this from a very, very early age.
My criticism of Singer was that he (i) arbitrarily took the lack of pain and the existence of pleasure as synonymous with the Good (ii) provided no rational argument why pleasure and pain are what ethics is about.
Singer, and apparently you as well, believes that an enthymematic bridge premiss of equating the lack of pain and the existence of pleasure with the Good does the trick. My argument removes the (misplaced) requirement for that premise and argues that, with respect to pigs, lettuces and humans, the property of being able to do ethics cuts to the chase. After all, if the pig can’t do maths, why give the pig a calculator or a geometry text book.
Vegans have yet to provide any argument that actually addresses the logical hiatuses omnivores have exposed. Vegans must offer up something that at least makes some effort to make it all hang together in a way that so far they have failed to accomplish.
Apologies John, either I missed your other comment or it wasn’t showing up before. I see it now. However, given the nature of how you debate, I see that there is no point continuing a discussion with you.
“As to your implicit argument that the promotion of a norm is what justifies the norm’s moral worth, surely history is replete with innumerable instances of norms which are well-established in a society which, by virtue of your own moral values, you would roundly condemn.” I so clearly didn’t say this that I think you are either being deceitful on purpose or just not reading what I’m saying. Either way, I will wish you all the best.
Michael said: “I do think we should promote [not eating animals i.e. veganism] as a social norm though, in the same way we promote other social norms like not killing humans for pleasure.”
I responded with “As to your implicit argument that the promotion of a norm is what justifies the norm’s moral worth, surely history is replete with innumerable instances of norms which are well-established in a society which, by virtue of your own moral values, you would roundly condemn.” I then provided widespread examples where tribal cannibalism was a social norm, the point being that a norm has no inherent moral warrant.
Michael then accused me of “being deceitful on purpose or just not reading what I’m saying”.
My argument was an invitation to you to explicate the moral warrant you assume is intrinsic to or clearly visible (and thus requires minimalist justification) in veganism. Instead, you accuse me of bald-faced dishonesty or ignorance. Either one of these imputations, I would have thought, laid an explicit moral obligation upon you to explain to me why you regard these as a fitting conclusion to a conversation about the ethical warrant of veganism. You’ve failed to achieve anything resembling justification.
Apparently, Michael, we live in two very different and separate moral and philosophical universes.
You’re arguing with yourself. I didn’t say the promotion of a norm is what justifies the norm’s moral worth, and I do think cannibalism is bad. Even from that quote I can’t see how you got there.
1. As I read you now, veganism qua veganism holds no moral value and cannibalism is neither morally right nor wrong. We should be vegans and not cannibals because of the “Oh, Yeh” and “Oh Yuk” factors?
2. Define ‘bad’ as you have used it?
3. So why should we not promote killing people for pleasure, morally speaking?
1) No, because one reduces suffering, and one increases suffering
2) Net increase in suffering and/or net decrease in pleasure
3) Because it generally doesn’t lead to a net increase in pleasure/suffering tradeoffs.
I looked at your link and what you’ve written on this thread and I’ve now understood that I inadequately spelled out, and you’ve failed to appreciate, the world of difference between categories and examples of action-guiding normative ethical theories (e.g. deontological and utilitarianism) and the non-normative area of meta-ethics proper.
My whole argument begins in a far more fundamental and exigent philosophical area of debate than the one which you’ve been arguing from. My aim – and I am sure I did not lack any apposite quality here – was to bring light to the vegan’s lack of any justification for pain and suffering necessarily being the thermometer of something’s being morally bad or good.
You (and any vegan I’ve encountered), on the other hand, presuppose there is some direct relationship. From a meta-ethical perspective any a priori insistence of this nature suffers fatally from begging the question. One can’t just entertain suffering is a moral wrong and its opposite the moral right as the default position: one has to clearly set out that synonymous relationship, if indeed there is one.
So let’s recap:
1. You’ve claimed that veganism rightly holds that eating animals is a moral wrong on the basis that increasing suffering is a moral wrong.
2. When I’ve asked you to justify this you’ve said that something’s being morally bad is morally bad because of a net increase in suffering and/or net decrease in pleasure.
One thing I keep returning to, and which is notable by its absence, is the epistemic explanation and warrant for the vegan’s putative relationship between a naturalistic fact, pain or pleasure, and their (very much non-naturalistic) moral disapprobation or approval.
As I have said, until vegans address this extremely important but missing element to their philosophy, veganism will continue to lack epistemic warrant for the proposition that eating animals is a moral wrong.
With respect, you are ignoring what I wrote in my link, since it directly addresses your entire argument.
1. You began discussing meta-ethical theory, rapidly left it behind, and then category jumped to normative ethical theory. That was your first mistake. Let me explain why.
As far as I am aware, there are only 2 categories of meta-ethical theory: Realism, sometimes called Cognitivism, and Irrealism, sometimes called Non-Cognitivism. As you correctly stated, the former holds that moral statements make truth claims. They also convey descriptive information whether something is true or false and thus have ontological significance. Irrealism denies all of this.
With this difference in mind, I do not understand what “an intermediate version of moral realism” could possibly entail. As demanded by the Law of the Excluded Middle, either there are moral facts or there are not.
Next, in a sudden shift, you begin a discussion on normative ethical theories. Meta-ethics and normative theories diverge on what their goals are, and, I would maintain, don’t overlap in any significant way. The former is descriptive and deals with, inter alia, analysing what is going on in ethical discussions (e.g. the meaning of ethical terms and the logical structure and justification involved in ethical argument), while the latter is prescriptive (e.g. formulating and defending moral principles and systems).
My erstwhile criticisms were directed to your failure to explain and provide a warrant for the meta-ethics upon which you derive your knowledge of right and wrong. More on this subsequently.
2. “Consequentialism is [where] action is defined as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ based on its outcome.”
a. If ‘good’ and ‘bad’ here involve some sort of instrumental calculus, say, majority vote or pain vs pleasure, and if you mean that such a cashing out of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ necessarily incurs moral prescription, then you’ve failed to successfully prosecute your argument. Here’s why.
Let’s examine your utilitarian theory as applied to a vegan philosophy and let me suggest an appropriate working syllogism to analyse it.
• Eating meat causes pain and suffering to the animal. (Premise 1) [For my anti-vegan argument to progress I will concede this, though I would, with a different goal in mind, suggest it is moot and raise substantial doubt it has any meaningful metaphysical and physiological reality behind it, for all sorts of reasons.]
• Since eating animals for food causes pain and suffering to the animal it can be avoided because there are non-animal sources of food available. (Premise 2)
• Therefore, eating meat is unnecessary (Conclusion 1)
• If someone’s action has negative consequences which outweigh any potential positive outcomes, and that act can be avoided, then that action should (in a non-moral modal sense) be avoided (Premise 3)
• Meat eating has negative consequences which outweigh any positive contribution eating meat can deliver. (Premise 4)
• Meat eating can be avoided. (Premise 5)
• Meat eating should be avoided because it is morally wrong. (Conclusion 2)
• A vegan lifestyle is the appropriate moral option. (Conclusion 3)
Note what has happened here. My second syllogism (and I suggest yours too!) begins with a series of factual non-moral claims but ends with a moral conclusion. For no explicit reason a concatenation of ‘is’ statements was at a fillip transformed into a modal ‘ought’ claim.
As it stands the argument is in dire need of revision or augment. Either you have to supply one or more bridge premises to provide relief to the enthymematic nature of your argument or you have to beg the question that causing pain to animals by eating them is essentially and intrinsically an immoral act. The first will suffer from the criticism that the bridge premise(s) will either be a non-moral one, and hence the problem will remain, or, will be a moral one and you once again question beg its moral warrant.
b. On the other hand, if by ‘good’ and ‘bad’ you mean that any action an actor attributes these assessments to is merely describing what (non-morally) ought to be done in order to, for example, avoid social unrest or to decrease pain, then by definition there is no imperative in your argument for someone to be persuaded that that is what they (morally) should do. (It is exactly equivalent to my telling my son he ought to practise his violin for an hour each day because he won’t pass his grade examination next month.) If this is the case, then veganism has no persuasion on moral grounds except for the mistaken belief by its adherents that it does have.
c. To make this clearer, let me say that pain and pleasure have no intrinsic moral value. Pain and pleasure can be cashed out in terms of neuronal activation, desire or lack thereof, or possibly secondary actions which are a spin off from them. But no where can one say that pain qua pain possesses any moral component. We may attribute a moral aspect to it but we have to justify that it naturally adheres, absolutely. Warrant is the key and vegans have unsuccessfully provided any justification which surpasses their merely claiming it is wrong to eat animals.
3. “I would like to propose that a consequentialist code of ethics that seeks to maximise the amount of wellbeing and/or minimise the amount of suffering of sentient minds in the universe (or some slight variation of this), is the best possible code of ethics”.
Again, your argument fails to provide any warrant for the claim that “maximis[ing] the amount of wellbeing and/or minimis[ing] the amount of suffering of sentient minds in the universe” is a moral argument. You’ve assumed it is but no where in this proposition am I able to identify any instantiation of an ethic, let alone one with legs. Let me underscore the deficiency by the following illustration.
Joe says to John that the maximising individual freedom and minimising government interference is the best possible code of ethics by which to run a society. Being well acquainted with David Hume’s work, John is perplexed because he’s unable to see any modal ought in Joe’s proposition, that is until the word ‘ethics’ is placed at the end. John thinks to himself that Joe has slipped in the word ‘ethic’ as a surrogate for any substantial moral argument. John remonstrates to Joe that he must first clearly demonstrate how individual freedom has intrinsic moral value and that he just can’t throw it in at the end as though it intrinsically possesses moral quality in any meaningful sense free of any question begging.
4. “utilitarianism…is the only code of ethics that actually includes the felt experiences that sentient minds care about…Lying is bad because being lied to feels bad, and it creates societal norms that result in bad consequences (suffering). Killing humans is bad because a societal norm of killing people for no reason causes suffering.”
So lying is not morally wrong because it is morally wrong but it is “bad”(??) because someone discovered they had been lied to and that made them feel “bad”(???).
First, you’ve used “bad” equivocally. On its first instantiation, ‘bad’ carries a moral character, whilst on its second it has everything to do with emotional affect and nothing to do with its moral ontology.
And exactly what non-tautological ethical authority could one derive from the following unpack version of your claim, the one which I think was really lurking behind the reduced proposition: Lying is morally bad because being lied to feels morally bad? It certainly seems to present as circular, and if you feel it doesn’t, I say, ipse dixit!
Second, if someone were to discover they had not been lied to, why then would that be “bad”, both in its first and second uses?
The barrenness of your epistemic is perhaps noticed when you think about how many Germans didn’t feel “bad” about Jews being killed by the Nazis. How do you fairly calculate the feelings of one side and then the other? Just to claim that someone’s suffering – the Jews’ – necessarily outweighs the pleasure of the Nazis is surely begging the question that there is an absolute standard always readily available to step in when the utilitarian calculus is not up to the task.
5. “However, if animals care about anything at all (and I think they do), it’s avoiding suffering and having pleasurable experiences.”
What on earth do you mean by animals ‘caring’? They may avoid suffering and “seek” pleasurable experiences, but ‘caring’ presupposes the possession of a rather sophisticated set of ontological machinery that you’d have to demonstrate an animal has before enlisting it in your defence of veganism.
6. “It doesn’t make sense for humans to impose our construct of rights or deontology on them.”
I can’t make sense of what you mean by “make sense”. Do you mean logically or morally you can’t make sense of it?
7. “rights for animals are useful because it will probably mean we can’t exploit some 80 billion land animals each year for food, causing much suffering in the mean time.”
Do you mean that the granting to an animal of a right for that animal not to be eaten by a human is ‘useful’ because it will eliminate that animal’s “suffering”? Yes, I can agree that it may be useful but ‘useful’ doesn’t automatically translate to its being moral. All it means is that if vegans obtain legislation removing the right of humans to eat animals, then that will necessarily obviate animal “suffering” by virtue of animal “suffering” being eliminated. But that doesn’t prove that animal “suffering” is morally wrong. It just proves that that piece of legislation was sufficiently effective to remove the right of humans to eat animals. And that, it would seem, is highly tautological.
Furthermore, and arguably more importantly, the claim in no way establishes any moral warrant for a person to be morally condemned for eating an animal because there is no moral language inherent in the word ‘useful’. It may obtain if and only if there is some sort of moral bridge premise but, as I have said previously, its inclusion would instantly be yet another case of question begging.
8. “I argue you should be utilitarian, otherwise you are applying values that no sentient mind actually cares about intrinsically, and that’s selfish at best.”
This statement attempts to hijack some normative force but in fact is purely descriptive. Plenty of people may care about all sorts of things, but that doesn’t entail or ascribe any moral quality to their desires. One may find great pleasure in a multicultural society; another may find this objectionable for all sorts of rational reasons. Tell me who is morally right on the basis of utilitarian considerations alone. I don’t believe you could.