Dateline: 1968. Cleve Backster, inventor of the polygraph, attaches lie detectors to some house plants and proceeds to yell at them. When his polygraphs register responses from the plants, Backster publishes a paper in the International Journal of Parapsychology (second only to “Weekly World News” in its academic rigor, I’d imagine) declaring that plants have perceptions and feelings. Thus do I have to waste at least fifteen minutes each semester explaining to students why plants don’t factor into utilitarian calculations. Thanks, Cleve.
Forty-four years later, the New York Times publishes an essay by philosopher Michael Marder in its “Stone” opinion column wherein the author insinuates that peas can ‘talk.’ Wonderful: there goes another fifteen minutes out of my virtue ethics lecture (1).
In the decade following its publication, Backster’s research into plant “primary perception” was very thoroughly (if not shockingly) debunked. Nevertheless, Marder helps himself to some suspiciously similar ideas towards the end of arguing against a clear moral distinction between eating plants and eating animals (2). The impetus for his argument is a recent finding (by Falik et al.) indicating that pea plants share stress-induced chemical signals through their root systems, thus triggering defensive responses in unstressed plants. Also, didn’t you see that adorable little peas-in-a-pod doll in Toy Story 3? Put down that can of pea soup, you monster.
I will admit that last part was a rhetorical flourish (Marder’s essay never mentions Toy Story 3, the latter of which has a more plausible narrative). Rhetoric is a dangerous tool when used towards ill effect, either intentionally or otherwise. It’s only fair, then, that we should look at some of the rhetoric at work in this latest round of pea-hugging.
Summarizing the original research, Marder describes plants as capable of “processing, remembering, and sharing information,” able to “draw on their ‘memories’” and engage in “basic learning.” Going back to the journal article to which he refers, we find that peas “eavesdrop” on their neighbors “in ways that have traditionally been attributed to higher organisms” (3). Can anyone be blamed for concluding, as Marder does, that “plants are more complex organisms than previously thought” in ways reminiscent of Backster’s “primary perception” research?
Honestly: no. That plants employ complex signaling systems and information storage mechanisms goes against many of our intuitions regarding the distinction between kingdoms Plantae and Animalia, from which derives Aristotle’s claim that animal telos includes sense perception where plant telos does not. This research is surprising in that respect, so it stands to reason that our intuitions should be adjusted in light of this surprising data.
Of course, the same idea was “unexpected” in 2008, when scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research found that walnut trees emit chemical signals that induce stress responses in their neighbors. It was also unexpected in 1990, when E. E. Farmer and C. A. Ryan found that tomato vines engage in “interplant communication.” It was probably also unexpected in 1935, when it was found that the concurrent ripening of all the fruit in a basket may be induced by a single fruit’s secretion of the gaseous aging hormone ethylene. This of course begs the question of why our intuitions need to be adjusted now, but didn’t eight decades ago.
As we say in this ‘biz, one man’s modus ponens is another man’s modus tollens (4). If chemical signaling in plants warrants re-evaluation of our moral attitudes towards plants, then such a re-evaluation would have been appropriate in 1935. But it wasn’t appropriate in 1935, so chemical signaling shouldn’t warrant any change in ethical attitudes now. Adam Kolber summarizes what I take to be the appropriate response to Marder’s moral argument here.
Still, the language used in Marder’s essay — to say nothing of the research paper that inspired it — is awfully suggestive, isn’t it? You wouldn’t want to eat something capable of basic learning and memory, would you? But that’s the real problem: plants aren’t really capable of any of those things. Only a crackpot (or an editor of the International Journal of Parapsychology, it seems) would suggest that peas actually talk or learn or remember in the sense that a human, or even a puppy, talks and learns and remembers (and, to be fair, Marder seems to admit as much). Chemical signaling in plants may resemble those activities in some important ways, and so we can use the terms “talk” and “remember” and “learn” to draw analogies with familiar concepts. The danger in drawing such analogies, and the fallacy in Marder’s moral argument, lies in overextending those analogies.
Every analogy has a breaking point. Life is like a box of chocolates in that it’s far more expensive for some people when Valentine’s Day rolls around; however, life is unlikely to have originated in Kansas City, Missouri. Similarly, animal communication and plant chemical signaling have in common the basic properties of signaling systems; however, those similarities only extend so far, and necessarily end where the animal nervous system comes into play.
Plants don’t have nerve cells, much less centralized clusters of those cells. Consequently, plants “talk” to each other only in the same strained way that we might claim that water communicates its deep-seated hatred to oil by keeping away from it. These are very basic chains of cause and effect determined entirely by fundamental physical properties of the signaler and the receiver. Once we throw a central nervous system in between the signaler and the receiver, things become a hell of a lot more complicated: we then have to consider questions of plasticity and cognition (5). And this is just for animals generally; we haven’t yet said anything about how fundamentally different animal cognition may be from human cognition. Any analogy between plant and animal communication must be very limited indeed.
I don’t mean to suggest that Marder or the authors of the original research paper are being disingenuous. We’re dealing with some high-falutin’ concepts here, and we only have so many words to work with. Referring to chemical signaling between pea root systems as “talking” may be strictly incorrect, but the reference does convey an essential property of the signaling system in a quick, close-enough sense. There’s certainly philosophical precedent for using everyday terms to refer to less-familiar scientific concepts.
But we have to be careful: science isn’t in the business of confirming our intuitions, and so our everyday terms may not be adequate to capture the weird, wild, wondrous things that science finds. It’s fascinating that peas can send warning signals to one another, but that doesn’t mean that those peas are talking, even if “talk” is the term that most easily describes what the peas are doing (6). Once we lose track of our linguistic limits, we fall prey to the dangers of rhetoric.
So don’t worry about peas. They don’t have any good feelings for you, but they’re certainly not talking about you behind your back, either.
(1) In developing his virtue theory, Aristotle employs the method of logical division in order to determine the unique human function. Rationality separates humans from other animals, but even before that cognitive activity must separate animals from other living things, i.e., plants. Of all the shocks that I’ve received in my years of teaching, one of the greatest is my students’ consistent opposition to that latter claim. Hell, the Mythbusters even covered it!
(2) The point of this essay isn’t to argue for or against any particular dietary choice, but I will disclose my own preferences: I’ve recently adopted vegetarianism, much to the dismay of my hamburger-loving tastebuds. Nevertheless, I don’t see anything wrong with eating meat per se; instead, the problems I see are with the production and distribution of most meat and the epistemic complications that arise from finding the meat that is ethically produced and distributed. Since I’m not willing to raise and slaughter my own livestock, vegetarianism seems the safest way to sleep soundly at night.
(3) I live according to a number of principles, including the following: always cock your eyebrow at a modern biologist who uses the phrase “higher organisms.” You’re in trouble as a biologist if both Stephen Jay Gould and Richard Dawkins would write dismissive essays about your ideas.
(4) Some people envision philosophers as socially awkward nerds. Can you believe it?
(5) You might argue that even a central nervous system is entirely determined by fundamental physical properties, but our illustrious host might have some words for you if you do.
(6) Obligatory dinosaur reference: it’s awesome, in a “grade-school-level-hilarious” kind of way, that sauropod flatulence may have contributed to an increase in global temperatures 150 million years ago, but that increase in global temperatures isn’t the same thing as the climate change phenomena we face today.
There is physiological evidence for both "plant perception" and "plant intelligence."ReplyDelete
Also, Charles Darwin considered the "radicle" to serve as the plant's brain.
"Charles Darwin studied the movement of plants and in 1880 published a book The Power of Movement in Plants. In the book he concludes:
It is hardly an exaggeration to say that the tip of the radicle thus endowed [..] acts like the brain of one of the lower animals; the brain being situated within the anterior end of the body, receiving impressions from the sense-organs, and directing the several movements."
(source: Wikipedia: Plant intelligence)
On the materialist view, intelligence reduces to information processing and is expressed in terms of chemical signaling. So, the difference between different forms of intelligence in nature must be one of degree not of definition. And if you disagree, then you have to explain why a SENTIENT "stimulus responses system" (i.e. an organic robot WITH intelligence) was naturally selected over INSENTIENT "stimulus response system" (i.e. an organic robot WITHOUT consciousness). Why? Because your argument implies that consciousness is simply an "epiphenomenon" and therefore causally inert. And it is not possible that a causally inert attribute could have conferred any survival benefit.
Sentience was selected so that it could produce robots. Not, but that makes as much sense as your 'explanation.' You designed your comment to somehow compare materialism to the lacking of consciousness as its intelligent component. Meaninglessly missing whatever point this rather silly article was otherwise meant to make.Delete
I don't see any explanation.
"Bacteria Are More Capable of Complex Decision-Making Than Thought"Delete
Why wouldn't materialists accept that bacteria are optional choice makers? You seem to be confusing materialism with neo-Darwinism.Delete
Materialism includes the doctrine that consciousness and will are wholly due to material agency. It doesn't seem to hold that bacteria are not aware of their calculative processes. Or that they are not at least minimally conscious of sensor perceptions. (I'm not necessarily a materialist, but they're not completely bonkers, are they?)
If you're ascribing sentience to bacteria, then you're flirting dangerously close with panpsychism.
"But, as we have seen, the point of view of a conscious observer is not identical to, but a sophisticated descendent of, the primordial points of view of the first replicators who divided their worlds into good and bad. (After all, even plants have points of view in this primordial sense.)"
(source: pg. 176, "Consciousness Explained" by Daniel Dennett)
Bacteria are able to perceive and feel things. Dennett should get used to it.Delete
Dennett went further than you. He ascribed sentience (or a "point of view") to the first molecular replicators in the so-called primordial soup.Delete
I think you are profoundly misreading Dennett. But we've had this conversation before, and I know neither of us is going to move from our positions...
Dennett's "Consciousness Explained" was nothing more than a bloviated exercise in equivocation. Either he was proposing "panpsychism" or "eliminative materialism."
Why not cut to the chase and tell us what your explanatory version of consciousness really is? I suspect it's something that has elements infused from the future. Am I wrong?Delete
Do I detect some sarcasm in your response?Delete
I don't have a problem with panpsychism. I simply have a problem with individuals who masquerade around as materialists while tacitly espousing a view that smacks of panpsychism - especially when those same individuals ridicule parapsychology.
It seems most of the "quantum mind" theories of consciousness (e.g. Bohm's, Penrose/Hameroff's, and Stapp's) presuppose panpsychism (a form of panpsychism that is typically based on Whitehead's process metaphysics).
Whitehead did not endorse precognition. Do you?Delete
I believe we have scientific evidence for precognition.
And I don't. Sequential change will only go in a continuous direction.Delete
Precognition doesn't violate any known law of physics.Delete
"Time-reversed human experience: Experimental
evidence and implications" by Dean Radin
That's ridiculous. (And personally, I've found Radin to be less than a proper scientist.) The physics of causation requires that all changes are sequential, and even when symmetrically reversible, must reverse in sequence. The prospective future, for example, if it could somehow, in some cockeyed causative directional theory, circle back to the present, it could only do so in what had by then become that future. The future only exists in our anticipation, not in physical reality. It's odd that this segment of our parapsychologist researchers don't understand this, but somehow they've deceived themselves that nothing is necessarily that uncomplicated.Delete
"People like us, who believe in physics, know that the distinction between past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion." – Albert Einstein
The bottom line is that it doesn't violate quantum mechanics.
"Retrocausality has also been proposed as a mechanism to explain what Albert Einstein called "spooky action at a distance" occurring as a result of quantum entanglement.
Retrocausality has also been proposed as an explanation for the delayed choice quantum eraser and for quantum interference in general.
(source: Wikipedia: Retrocausality)
Retrocausality as a thought experiment is just that. All causes and effects are merely sequences of change. There is no actual present that's not both our past and future at virtually the same time. There is no absolute stillness in nature, quantum entanglement, etc., or not. You are just throwing out words here that no-one admittedly understands the full meaning of. But tellingly, you've apparently never heard of or considered sequence as one of the immutable elements of any evolving universe's nature.Delete
People like Radin and apparently yourself are true believers who act on the principle that anything is possible if it preserves their dogmatic intuitions. Good luck with that. It's not science. It's your version, truth to tell, of materialism.
> Retrocausality as a thought experiment is just that. <
It's not just a thought experiment, it's actually a scientific experiment that is presently being conducted by physicist John Cramer.
"Time-travel physics seems stranger than fiction: Physicists say future tests could tell whether we can change the past"
A scientific experiment with a false hypothesis unless, like parapsychologists, they rig the 'evidence' just a tiny bit. Ironically, without sequence, no experiments could be fashioned at all, nothing could be built to last a second, nothing would be predictable, and there would be no mathematics that these very somewhat delusional physicists need as their primary assessment and predictive tool.Delete
Reminds me a bit of Krauss, who, in spite of the fact that he could not establish the existence of a former nothing, changed the definition to fit the results of his mathematical conclusions.
Also, the "Libet experiment" has been interpreted as suggesting backward causation. This is actually funny because the Libet experiment is typically employed by materialists (e.g. Daniel Dennett and Jerry Coyne) to discredit free will.
For the record: In Freedom Evolves, Dennett criticizes those who interpret the Libet experiment as counter-evidence to free will.Delete
Wow, the Libet experiment has not demonstrated anything of the kind. And if Coyne and Dennett want to discredit indeterminism, may luck be with them. You like truly backward causation? Drop your cup of tea a few thousand times and maybe in the end it will jump up and refill itself.Delete
You're coming to this game a little late. I have already exposed Dennett as making a not-so-tacit case for panpsychism in his book entitled "Consciousness Explained."
I second Massimo's statement above: "I think you are profoundly misreading Dennett. But we've had this conversation before, and I know neither of us is going to move from our positions..."Delete
> For the record: In Freedom Evolves, Dennett criticizes those who interpret the Libet experiment as counter-evidence to free will. <
Just for the record. Massimo criticized Dennett's interpretation.
"Why this has anything at all to do with free will is a puzzle. Not even Libet himself took his experiments to show that people don’t make conscious decisions."
(source: "Jerry Coyne on Free Will" by Massimo Pigliucci)
> I second Massimo's statement above: "I think you are profoundly misreading Dennett. But we've had this conversation before, and I know neither of us is going to move from our positions..." <
Okay. Then please explain to us why consciousness was naturally selected. (Keep in mind that consciousness, on the materialist view, is considered to be an epiphenomenon and therefore casually inert. As such, it cannot possibly confer any survival benefit. In fact, I suspect that is the reason which lead Dennett to posit that the first replicators had a "point of view" (his words, not mine)).
Don't keep us waiting.
If I may interject a thought, it would be that consciousness was not naturally selected at all. It was the aspect of awareness in all of nature's processes that allowed any selection be possible. But carry on, and when you have the time, give some consideration to how consciousness could not exist without the intelligent effects of sequentiality.Delete
Don't be coy, Roy. Enlightened us. What exactly is this "aspect of awareness" that's in all of nature's processes?
I believe DaveS has already touched on that below. But nature's processes are anticipatory, and I doubt that anything can anticipate without awareness of the necessity to do so. It's a predictive necessity since we CAN"T do more than predict the future with anticipation and the awareness of its changes.Delete
Are you espousing some form of panpsychism? (Bohm's interpretation qualifies as a form of panpsychism.)
Sorry, I don't think it terms of other people's isms.Delete
Well, if you can't give a verbal expression to your worldview, then there is nothing left here to discuss.Delete
I'll stop beating my wife as well.Delete
amusing thread..in a dumb sense (no-sense actually)..you are all invited to my water-mellon marrying my neighbours' a giant cucumberDelete
Hola, hola. (Since English is not my native language I hope to make myself clear as much as possible).ReplyDelete
I found very interesting this sentence in the last paragraph: "science isn’t in the business of confirming our intuitions". Why is it? I mean, is it because our intuitions are built in a different set of words and concepts? Maybe because the vocabulary we use in the internal expressions of our intuitions (to ourselves) differs from science's vocabulary? In my case, I've been more trained in science than in other matters, although I found philosophy extremely interesting (especially logic and let's say mathematical coding language), therefore I am a bit confused when there's the conclusion that science is not about confirming intuitions. Especially considering than my original approach was to confirm my intuition as a research question and through scientific methods. Very interesting!
All the best from Colombia and gracias for putting on the table this topic! Muchos saludos.
This has got to be one of the worst articles posted on this otherwise quite thoughtful blog... I'll just pick two things to disagree with.ReplyDelete
First: "But it [re-evaluation of our moral attitudes] wasn’t appropriate in 1935, so chemical signaling shouldn’t warrant any change in ethical attitudes now." Are you serious? The sheer weight of fallacy in this argument is nauseating. From the fact that people didn't re-evaluate their moral attitudes towards plants in 1935 *absolutely nothing follows* about whether we should re-evaluate now.
Second: "plants “talk” to each other only in the same strained way that we might claim that water communicates its deep-seated hatred to oil by keeping away from it". But the whole point of the kind of research Marder was drawing from is that this isn't true. There's a lot more to say about plant communication, and broadly speaking, it required a lot of evolution to achieve. Water and oil: always gonna separate.
I love philosophy, but seeing bad philosophy (though I haven't actually read the Marder peice) taken down by bad philosophy... well, its sorta pointless.
sorry about your disappointment, but I really don't understand your objections at all. The first point that you object to is perfectly reasonable, and doesn't fall into any logical fallacy I ma aware of.
On the second point, I think you are way off about the value of the research in question.
I somewhat agree with Evan's first point.Delete
Actually, re-presentation of scientific findings similar to old ones IS appropriate for re-evaluating moral stances, if a society is more receptive to the science findings than it was 50 years ago, or whenever.
A partial counterexample comes to mind in that it took decades of scientific comment to the end that many people with low IQs (setting aside all the issues with IQ tests in general) were that way because of social circumstances, not genetics, and that, therefore, among other things, we ought to stop sterilizing them.
That's not to say some of the NYT author's column couldn't have used "scare quotes" around some words.
That said, there is one good sidebar to the original NYT column. Even with allowance for its metaphorical license, it serves well to undercut the moral smugness and superiority that many vegans may try to inflict on the surrounding world.
as muff puts it below, the moral question concerns pain, and there is no reason at all to think that plants feel pain, which means that vegans still get to keep the moral high ground in that respect. Sorry.
...vegans still get to keep the moral high ground in that respectDelete
I'm not so sure about that, Massimo.
I mean, yes, I agree that many vegans* (and, for that matter, Buddhists) are motivated by the goal to minimize the pain that they cause to sentient creatures.
But, as the saying goes, "the road to Hell is paved with good intentions", and in the end it's an empirical question which lifestyle choice is, in fact, the most effective in that regard (e.g. once we've done an apples-to-apples comparative analysis of the hedonic effects of expanding human agriculture to feed a vegan population vs. those of reforming the livestock industry so as to conform to best/most-humane practices).
* That was certainly the case for me during the year or so that I adhered to a vegan diet.
I didn't mean that vegans automatically have the higher ground. I am not vegan myself, but I think my dietary habits stand pretty well in terms of ethics. But I was making the Eamon-inspired comparison between a vegan and someone who eats animals regardless of pain and suffering...
Meant to post this comment in the thread here ...Delete
Is there in part a linguistic issue here, with the "feeling" of pain being linked to sentience? Related to the food issue, especially, one could follow the Jains and say that plants have senses, albeit not as many as animals, and at least lessen vegans' claims to moral high ground.
Ergo, the Dutch, or whomever, first create meat from a petri dish, if they use raw chemicals and not just plants, will have a moral leg up on vegas.
Anybody has a moral leg up on "vegas'. It's not called "Sin City" for nothing! :-)Delete
Adriana, I of course meant vegans, but, it is true with vegas, too!Delete
If you liked Marder, you'll "love" Daniel Chamovitz over at Scientific American. Boy, talk about pulling out the rhetorical stops: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=do-plants-think-daniel-chamovitzDelete
All we are saying is give peas a chance.ReplyDelete
I'm surprised you didn't start with L. Ron Hubbard "auditing" house plants after he "discovered" the e-meter. I understand that auditing your potted palms was quite the rage in the 1960's, but is now considered some sort of heresy.ReplyDelete
Well done. I was contemplating a response to that article as well, along similar lines.ReplyDelete
Leonard: Any analogy between plant and animal communication must be very limited indeed.ReplyDelete
Given the moral overtones of this topic, the question that comes foremost to my mind is: Can plants feel pain? [I assume here that pain (or if you prefer, suffering) is a morally significant (albeit, not morally exhaustive) criterion.]
The quick & easy answer is: Of course not! Since (as you put it) "Plants don’t have nerve cells, much less centralized clusters of those cells." But what if experience doesn't require a nervous system? or even a body? or a physical substance of any kind?
Mind you, I'm fairly confident that all experience (painful or otherwise) occurs within - and only within - embodied nervous systems (at least on our world, thus far). But then I'm also fairly confident that the vast majority of people alive today (not to mention in the past) believe otherwise, which greatly limits the appeal of such neurology-based moral arguments.
> Similarly, animal communication and plant chemical signaling have in common the basic properties of signaling systems; however, those similarities only extend so far, and necessarily end where the animal nervous system comes into play. <ReplyDelete
My point still stands. The difference here is only one of degree, not of definition. On the materialist view, all communication reduces to "chemical signaling." And it should be pointed out again that Darwin himself considered the "radicle" to serve as a plant's brain.
Why does the ability to experience pain confer moral consideration? Certainly there are actions I could take toward another human being which would be morally blameworthy which do not cause pain and there are actions I could take which may cause pain but which are not morally blameworthy. Re the former, I could kill someone with a toxin that does not cause pain whilst they slept: No physical pain and no mental anguish. Why would that be immoral? Re the latter, a lover might want me to cause her pain (to some degree) in bed.ReplyDelete
It seems to me whether we have violated one's will is a far better measure of moral blameworthiness.
Clarifying addendum: I should have wrote: "Why should we consider the ability to experience pain sine qua non for moral consideration?"Delete
Eamon: Do the words "I assume here that pain (or if you prefer, suffering) is a morally significant (albeit, not morally exhaustive) criterion." really connote to you the claim that the ability to experience pain is the "sine qua non" for moral consideration? Because they do not to me, and I certainly didn't intend that meaning.ReplyDelete
That said, do you mean to suggest that pain is never morally considerable?
In other words, in the scenario where Jack tortures his puppy simply because he derives pleasure from doing so, is it your contention that Jack is morally blameless? or, if not, that he is morally blameworthy only because he violates the puppy's will?
Nope. Which is why I did not address my comment to you specifically. I made my comment because I find that, amongst vegans and vegetarians especially, the ability to experience pain is deemed a necessary and sufficient condition for moral consideration.
Re: That said, do you mean to suggest that pain is never morally considerable?
On this I am agnostic. Though I can say I find pain to be in general secondary to considerations of will.
Re: Jack tortures his puppy simply because he derives pleasure from doing so, is it your contention that Jack is morally blameless?
Eamon: Then you and I must use moral language very differently.Delete
Suffice it to say: I strongly believe that Jack's will should be violated in this case.
How are you using moral language? I suspect you 'strongly believe' Jack's will should be violated, but whether this belief of yours is rational or not is a different matter, no?
Suffice it to that I think you are committing yourself to some pretty messy metaphysics in your use of moral language.Delete
> It seems to me whether we have violated one's will is a far better measure of moral blameworthiness. <
Why? How is that more (or less) defensible than being concerned about pain?
> Re: Jack tortures his puppy simply because he derives pleasure from doing so, is it your contention that Jack is morally blameless?
Really? You do realize that most people would consider Jack a sociopath, yes?
Re: Why? How is that more (or less) defensible than being concerned about pain?
For the reasons intimated: It conforms better to our moral intuitions and, I would argue, has a firmer rational foundation.
Re: Your latter point.
Torturing animals for pleasure may be considered a symptom of some pathology but I suspect why we find people with such pathologies worrisome is because of their tendency to violence towards humans, not puppies per se. So, I suspect that if sociopaths only tortured puppies, the FBI would not invest so much time and effort into researching the tendencies of deviant psychology.
Let me add: In the examples I gave showing that pain is not a necessary (let alone sufficient) condition for moral consideration, the violation of one's will was. So, e.g., if one wanted to die peacefully in one's sleep and asked me to kill him with a painless toxin while he slept, now the scenario is no longer morally blameworthy. Why? Because I did not violate the other's will.
Here is a challenge for you: Locate a scenario where one's will is not violated but yet is deemed morally blameworthy on the basis of pain.
Eamon: ...but I suspect why we find people with such pathologies worrisome is because of their tendency to violence towards humans, not puppies per seDelete
It is indeed worrisome, but even if we were to modify the scenario in such a way as to render Jack harmless towards humans, I would still hope to see Jack's will thwarted and the puppy removed from harm.
I can't imagine what "messy metaphysics" that position entails, but then I'm not sure that I really care one way or the other.
Good. Content yourself with your yuk reactions and remove yourself from any rational assessment of them. But if insist on maintaining your gut feeling on this matter you must observe that you have no grounds upon which to criticize any other's gut reaction.
Eamon: How do you define "rationality", such that it's "irrational" to condemn puppy torture as a form of entertainment?Delete
Or is it only the will to act on that condemnation (e.g. to intervene on the puppy's behalf and thereby frustrate Jack) that you define as "irrational"?
Please observe that I do not return the same accusation to you. In other words, I do not judge your indifference to the puppy's experience to be irrational, but then I suspect that my conception of (ir)rationality may be more instrumentalist (or passion-driven and motivated) than yours.
> It conforms better to our moral intuitions and, I would argue, has a firmer rational foundation. <
Moral intuition? How is that better than moral feelings? (I think there actually is a strong link between the two.) And why is it more rational to respect an individual's will rather than avoid suffering? And who said the two are mutually exclusive?
> Here is a challenge for you: Locate a scenario where one's will is not violated but yet is deemed morally blameworthy on the basis of pain. <
Very easy. if you asked me to inflict high and sustained degrees of pain on you I would refuse on the ground that you are insane, and give you a nice pill to keep you quiet instead...
Your response was inadequate.
I apologize if my last reply to you came off as abrasive.
I would like to say two things in response to you. First, I am not indifferent to non-human animal suffering. However, not being indifferent does not entail that therefore hold that non-human animal suffering warrants moral consideration.
If you hold to a Humean view of morality, you are irrational. Jeremy Bentham summed up Hume (and Adam Smith's) position on morality thus: if you hate much, punish much: if you hate little, punish little: punish as you hate. If you hate not at all, punish not at all: the fine feelings of the soul are not to be overborne and tyrannized by the harsh and rugged dictates of political utility.
Differ as I do with Bentham (and subsequent, more sophisticated utilitarians), morality simply cannot rest upon the whims of one's passions. Though this is not to say that moral intuitions and feelings are to contribute nothing at all to the moral equation. But if you expect to defend your position and in the same way critique those positions of others you will have to undergird your moral philosophy with something more than base Humeanism
Not only did you fail to locate requested scenario, your reply conforms to my contention: You would refuse to comply with my request to experience copious amounts of pain because you would infer that I was not exercising my will (ergo your bit on me being 'insane'). But this compels the question: ceteris paribus, if I were in full control of my mental capacities and I requested someone to inflict pain upon me, that someone would not be morally blameworthy.
Eamon: I can abide by the idea that my interest in the puppy's welfare is emotional, and not rational (assuming, for argument's sake, that these mental processes can truly run independently of one another, which the cognitive sciences raise serious doubts about) - in which case, rationality is of limited use in morality - say, as a means for reconciling conflicting moral sentiments and for achieving morally desirable ends.Delete
What I cannot abide by is the idea that Jack is morally blameless, and your assertion to the contrary, on the basis that the scenario lacks a violation of (human) will, frankly strikes me as perverse.
And please do not take offense, but I find your defense of your ethical views to be much too anemic and more akin to the types of defenses I hear from the religious regarding vast swaths of their commitment to their beliefs. (Again, I do not mean this comment as an ad hominem or insult.)
Eamon: Why all the "defense" references? As far as I can tell, neither of us have defended, so much as asserted, our views here.Delete
But, as far my share of the burden goes, I admit that no amount of rational dialogue seems likely to succeed in filling the different kinds of emotional deficits that permit Jack to torture puppies and others to defend his right to do so. (I also do not intend that as an insult - merely as an inference to the best explanation for why such sharp differences in moral sensibilities are possible - even among thoughtful, intelligent people.)
I didn't fail at all, you just don't want to admit that your position is no more rational than mine, and that rationality is only instrumental to ethics. On this, I guess I'm becoming a Humean (you know, "reason is and ought to be..." and all that).
> ceteris paribus, if I were in full control of my mental capacities and I requested someone to inflict pain upon me, that someone would not be morally blameworthy. <
Ceteris paribus it would seem reasonable for me to conclude that you are insane, and it would be ethical for me to get you treatment, not to give you the pain you relish.
Massimo: It's exchanges like these that help me to see how philosophy is continuous with the sciences - in this case, with psychology, in particular.Delete
Also, the more that I learn about Hume, the more that I appreciate what an important link he is/was in that continuum.
Morality is a system devised by humans and at least some animals to establish common behaviors and some mutual trust that commonality will prevail. We don't have any reason to establish rules of commonality with plants. They serve our purposes as food, and secondarily as decorations, etc. In fact we must surely serve their purposes by having grown them for our purposes. In the end we all serve each others purposes by dying - also not meant to be a painless process. (Although some trees take their sweet time in conforming to the dying moral.)ReplyDelete
Is there in part a linguistic issue here, with the "feeling" of pain being linked to sentience? Related to the food issue, especially, one could follow the Jains and say that plants have senses, albeit not as many as animals, and at least lessen vegans' claims to moral high ground.ReplyDelete
Plants, rocks, people, telephones, and countries are entities that communicate with their environment via signals both emitted to and received from other entities. There is absolutely no reason communication between John and his pet rock cannot be substantially more sophisticated than communication between Mary and her hairbrush if only because of the effort John and rock put into it.ReplyDelete
Leonard, have a good read of Wheeler, Bohm, and other physicist/philosophers who conclude universal connectivity, and how wrong it is to focus on matter, and not information passage or movement between entities.
To the extent that we are stuck with the language of 2012 while living in 2012, we cannot easily explain how some of these communication channels work, even if the science is crystal-clear.
Only a crackpot (or an editor of the International Journal of Parapsychology, it seems) would suggest that peas actually talk or learn or remember in the sense that a human, or even a puppy, talks and learns and remembers .....
I am very proud of Obama's statement of support for gay marriage, maybe by 2112 we will have similar statements supporting the unbalanced, those people who are first to be laid off, first to to lose custody of their kids, first to be kicked out of class, and so on. first to come up with the new ideas, and so on. While in today's world there is no easy answer to the question of how best integrating your crackpot back into the world of academia, or the problem employee into the workforce, it can be done, and it starts with a change in language.
> Leonard, have a good read of Wheeler, Bohm, and other physicist/philosophers who conclude universal connectivity, and how wrong it is to focus on matter, and not information passage or movement between entities. <
That's a good start.
No strategies without sequentiality either.Delete
Are you familiar with Einstein's "block universe?"Delete
Yes, and I suspect it's irrelevant to precognition. Tell me however where it's relevant to some form of asymmetrical reversal of sequential change.Delete
One way we can get somewhere on the determinism issue is to imagine events in our world as products of other events in every possible temporal direction. Now, only one direction is obvious, but if one imagines an event the same way one imagines a particle as a mountain peak of energy, then its clear that we can get to that peak from a variety of directions. More importantly, there is enough information on each path to get us there.Delete
Agreed with most that this does not translate into hard science yet, but it is a philosophy that I think makes much more sense than one which postulates a one-way world simply because it feels that way.
In matters of health, they say "Listen to your body." when it comes to making decisions about affecting one's health, overeating, over-exercise, etc.. Similarly, it is important to listen to (but not necessarily act on) all your senses. With so much anecdotal evidence for precognition, how can it be 'wrong'. Even if the forecasted event does not take place, does it not count that somebody saw something?
Causation goes in all directions and (I'd argue) has to have been essentially indeterminate for the universe to evolve in any logical sense at all. But it's not my purpose to make that my argument. All of the things that move in all of those directions do so in an irreversible sequence of change.. They can change directions and change their very substance, but cannot change the sequence in which all of this occurs.Delete
The argument for this seems similar to the one for determinism, but is radically different. Sequences don't determine choices, and determinism is all about the decreasing, if not entirely absent, effectiveness of choice.
And as to precognition, no, it does not count that somebody was able to accurately predict what they think was the result of having seen it in what we imagine is the future. And no precognition experiments have proven otherwise.
It does not necessarily refer to an "asymmetrical reversal of sequential change." It may refer to a "synchronistic" event. Jung defined synchronicity as an "acausal connection." Synchronicity may also be defined in terms of final causation (teleology), rather than efficient causation (the type of causation that is typically employed by science and that provides the basis for the mechanistic worldview).
"Synchronicity reveals "a universe that unfolds according to a hidden, dynamic order.""
(source: pg. 23, "Synchronicity: The Bridge Between Matter and Mind" by F. David Peat - physicist)
Einstein's "block universe" has striking parallels to the Buddhist concept of the "Dharmadhatu" (the "field of all events and meaning"), Bohm's "Implicate Order," and the Christian idea of how God perceives the world (what Whitehead referred to as the "primordial vision of God").
I'm quite familiar with Jung and his 'shadow' world, and with Whitehead and his more believable prospectus. The mechanistic worldview obviously asks insufficient questions as to why things have a need to happen. It doesn't follow that such questions will have to have unscientific answers. Science is after all a particularly logical aspect of philosophy.ReplyDelete
There is little doubt that we're searching for some so far hidden dynamic operational order to the universe. Order implies logical, and logical implies we're operating within the range of the possible to the probable. Bohm with his implicate order of the elements would have to agree.
But sliding from all this into the essential foolishness of Dharmadhatu won't wash. It's not a particularly logical aspect of our philosophy.
Now if you want to argue that since our scientific logic is at best probabilistic, we can't say that anything is true to a certainty, then I'd have to agree. But to then ascribe a reliable degree of certainty to our most extreme examples of improbability requires a most unreliable stretch by any of our forms of logic.Delete
Lastly, I'll offer this: Two concepts that seem unfalsifiable are the propositions that our somethings could not have come from nothing and that all these somethings must change in a sequential order.Delete