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personal identity

Philosophy Posted on Tue, May 06, 2014 21:50:38

personal identity One way of attempting
to undermine *libertarianism is to question whether continuing
personal identity makes proper sense, either scientifically or *philosophically.
For if it does not, then anti-*individualistic *moral and *political
conclusions might be, and on this basis have sometimes been, drawn as regards the
redistribution of assets (see *equality)
and praise and blame (see *freedom and responsibility; *justice; *restitution).
Only a very rough outline of the arguments can be attempted in the short space
of this entry.

Two important general arguments go as follows. 1) The cells
of the body are replaced to a considerable degree, if not quite completely, on average
every seven to ten years (except possibly, and perhaps significantly, the
neurons of the cerebral cortex, but also the inner lens cells of the eye and
perhaps the muscle cells of the heart). Thus we eventually become a more or
less completely different material object that merely looks approximately the
same and has the illusion of being a continuous being that itself has had
certain experiences and undertaken certain acts long in the past. We are almost
like the ship of Theseus that has been replaced piece by piece until no
original part remains. 2) There is also the, analytically separate, possibility
that all of one’s *opinions or memories or character traits change so
radically that one can no longer be regarded as the same *person that
one once was. Many philosophers have used introspection to arrive at the
conclusion that some collection and continuity of conscious experiences is all
that the self as a continuing thing can really be.

Two brief answers are as follows. 1) Biology seems to show
us that a human being that is a particular person simply is a continuing body
that is capable of being a person (though not necessarily continuously, as when
temporarily unconscious). That is, we who are particular persons are *animals that
both mature and later decay and also that early on evolve, and in the end
eventually lose, the characteristics of personhood. The fact that almost all of
our cells are replaced molecule by molecule, even if we assume that this process
is total, does not make us a different thing. The biological and genetic aspect
of this process makes the continuing organism a single *natural thing
in a far more cogent way than the ship of Theseus. 2) Still less would the
change of all of our opinions, memories or character traits make us a different
entity, as these are only contingent aspects of the particular person
(biological body plus personhood) that we are. The drastic loss of too many of
these might well cause others, and even ourselves, to describe us as a
‘different person’ as regards what we were formerly like. However, the very fact
that something that is a person is acknowledged to persist throughout to carry
the differences, thereby indicates that the identity of a particular person qua
particular person is not lost. Introspection can only give us subjective
answers. But there is no reason to suppose that the continuing person is
inherently subjective.

In other
words, most problems can be solved once we accept that both the unchanging and
the psychological conceptions of personal identity are simply mistaken. Thus
various other paradoxes and puzzles along the same lines can also be answered
with this theory of personal identity. To step into a ‘matter transporter’ that
disassembles you at one end and then reassembles ‘you’ exactly but from
different matter at the other end is really to die as a continuing organism while
being copied in order to create a new person, who has the mere illusion of
being oneself. It is not to be ‘transported’ at all. And to be disassembled
while having all of one’s opinions, memories, and modes of thought somehow ‘uploaded’
onto a computer that then becomes a conscious person, also with the illusion of
being oneself, is also to be destroyed. And any brain transplant would move the
key part of the body that is both the person and part of the animal,
maintaining personal identity with that part but leaving a human shell behind.
A transplant that halved the brain such that each half developed separate
consciousness in a different body would mean that the original person was now
in two places and had become two, but presumably less complete, persons.
Strange and not a little unlikely, but not paradoxical in any way (viz.,
against logic, the facts or even *common sense). The myriad nice variations on such thought
experiments cannot be tackled further here. Suffice it to say that sufficient
physical discontinuity or damage to the organism that has personhood will
eventually seriously compromise and then break the chain that constitutes a
particular biological person. But there is not sufficient physical
discontinuity or damage if we only bear the normal wear and tear of
everyday life.

All that
said, however, even if this theory of personal identity were false, it would
not follow that we ought not to treat human beings generally as though it were *true. For
it does not appear practical to flout the view that we are continuing
individual persons, just because it is so natural and persistent to see ourselves
that way and no good would seem to be promised by attempting to deny it. Our behaviour
continues to be the same, and *economically productive, regardless of the ‘illusion’.
And even if it is an illusion, we will always be more closely related to the
persons that we are due to become, and so we have more *self-interested
reason to be concerned about ‘them’ than other persons (which is not to deny
the reality of *altruism).

A Dictionary of Libertarianism


Philosophy Posted on Tue, May 06, 2014 21:45:20

person There is an important intellectual, and *moral, sense
of being a person that, intuitively, is not conceptually linked with being a
human being. A human being need not be a person (if a foetus or brain-dead, for
instance) and a person need not be human (any sufficiently sophisticated conscious
being would qualify). But what makes a person a person in this sense, and why
does it matter?

Self-consciousness cannot in
itself be a sufficient criterion, as is sometimes thought (oddly, it might not
even be necessary; although consciousness or sentience is). *Animals probably
have some degree of self-consciousness even at quite primitive levels: in order
to distinguish between themselves and their environments for survival purposes.
An aspect of *language usage appears to be more relevant. Many animals
use language at the lower levels, to express emotions and to signal (sometimes dishonestly)
and describe (even bees, in their way, describe directions to pollen by the ‘dance’
that they do in front of the other bees in the hive). Only human beings use
language critically, or argumentatively, and theoretically. This *critical-theoretical,
or meta-theoretical (in a sense, *philosophical), function of language enables typical
human beings to rise above their immediate beliefs and desires and enter an
intellectual realm that has a content that extends beyond their consciousness.
If we consider the ‘three worlds’ of Karl Popper (1902-1994), loosely but
mnemonically, 1) matter, 2) mind, 3) *memes (here meaning intellectual products of the mind
as encoded in matter), then we can add the relevant and anterior realm 0) modes:
the realm of all possible theories (including *facts). Being
able to enter this realm critically is an intellectual sense of being a ‘person’
and may be what distinguishes typical human beings from beasts. Being a person
appears to involve simply achieving this critical-theoretical ability; which is
not to imply that one ceases to be a person if temporarily unconscious (just as
a scientist is still a scientist when not engaged in science). One does not
become more of a person as one becomes better at this. Other things being
equal, however, one’s life might become more valuable to oneself.

Consider a chimpanzee that
can talk in sign language, as some that have been taught by humans can do. If
it could count objects up to ten, or say “walk” when it wanted a walk, or “food”
when it wanted food, then we would be impressed but still consider it a sort of
beast. But if it started to express and critically assess theories (as no
chimpanzee has yet done), with testable and manifest understanding, then we
should think of it as beyond a mere beast.

Being a person is so
important that most persons would judge, along with J. S. Mill (1806-1873) that,
“It is better to be a human being [i.e., a person] dissatisfied than a pig [i.e.
a beast] satisfied”. (Mill continues, “better to be Socrates [i.e., a philosopher]
dissatisfied than a fool [or,
presumably, any person of more limited intellectual faculties] satisfied. And
if the fool, or the pig, are of
a different opinion, it is because they only know their own side of the
question. The other party to the comparison knows both sides.” Utilitarianism, 1863) The state of being
a person is thus qualitatively different from being a beast. Persons have more
intrinsic moral importance than beasts, just as beasts have more intrinsic moral
importance than plants (which is not to say greater moral importance in all
possible circumstances). And there are things that it is permissible to do to
the latter but not to the former in each case. Thus mere hedonistic *utilitarianism
is refuted. Therefore, *libertarianism is not arbitrary in focusing on *liberty for
persons, rather than beasts. And persons can defensibly value liberty, even to
err, more highly than *paternalism that aims at making them more hedonistically
satisfied, even if that paternalism could be guaranteed to be uncorrupt and
efficient at achieving its goals (both of which are highly unlikely).

It is clearly possible to
have theories without putting them into language (symbolic representation).
Most daily thoughts are non-linguistic: experiences and inclinations, etc.
Language is mainly used as a mnemonic for oneself and to communicate with
others. But it is not clear that it is possible to enter the
critical-theoretical realm of personhood without language. Would telepathic
persons, qua persons, think in linguistic symbols or only images? This theoretical
sketch of intellectual personhood need not attempt an answer.

See *personal

A Dictionary of Libertarianism

animal welfare

Philosophy Posted on Tue, May 06, 2014 21:30:23

animal welfare If people object to cruelty to animals, then
the history of preventing the worst excesses of this is better exemplified by
the influence of the *market, as people choose to withdraw their custom from
the businesses that do not treat animals humanely (witness the ‘beauty without
pain’ campaign in the cosmetics industry) or buy, or own by first capture, the
animals they wish to protect (including hippopotami, elephants and, one day,
whales—maybe with radio-wave security tags), and *charity; animal
charities often being more popular than human ones.

The *state has
often maintained or even promoted animal cruelty such as the introduction of
compulsory animal-testing for various products, which often serves no useful
purpose (especially when, possibly paid, human volunteers would otherwise be
available and more relevant if allowed). That said, there is a danger of
anthropomorphism and sentimentalism with respect to beasts, especially where
there is no actual pain involved though some experiment looks or sounds
gruesome (such as sewing a kitten’s eyes closed). These errors are also muddled
with the views of *egalitarian statists who partly use them as pretexts
to attack (upper *class) fox hunting, shooting and fur wearing but not
(lower class) rabbit hunting, fishing and leather wearing. When vested interest
groups can lobby for *legislation on these grounds, then the state can
overprotect beasts at the expense of *persons.

A beast has little
conception of its own future or its own death, and certainly no life plan that
can be frustrated. Neither has it, usually, friends and relations that will
grieve severely and long at its death (though these things are sometimes less
true of the higher animals, which approach being persons and so might merit
more considerate treatment). Many animals only exist, in such numbers or at
all, because we like the products we can get from them. And if we continually
replace, say, older sheep with younger ones, in a humane way, then there will
be more animal *welfare than if we instead allowed the sheep to die of
old age, and considerably more than if we did not breed them at all (as we
largely would not if we could not *exploit them). By contrast, to kill a person is to
destroy a higher being with a unique biography and life-plan and mind
(intellectual life), and probably a network of similar friends and relations.
Any systematic killing is also likely to be known about and thus give rise to a
general fear and even terror that would undermine human welfare considerably.

So people that are sincerely
interested in animal welfare should be championing the humane exploitation of
animals rather than denigrating all animal use and likening them to persons.
Where there is a clash between people in terms of the treatment of animals,
both *liberty and humaneness would seem to suggest that it
is better to allow the different groups to go their own ways (though *free
speech, *boycotting and, not least, purchase remain to persuade
the other side) rather than that either side uses systematic *aggression,
paid for by *tax-*extortion if statist, to impose its preferred, and
highly debatable, option on the other.

A few topical issues follow.
Foxes are vermin that cannot practically be allowed to breed unchecked. Fox
hunting appears far less cruel, if seriously cruel at all (the fox is used to
fleeing and the death is usually near instantaneous), than allowing the fox to
inflict many more deaths by its own hunting (and as foxes are partly tolerated
for the purpose of hunting, many foxes enjoy a life only because hunting
exists). Shooting, poisoning, or trapping foxes often causes death after much
suffering; often to other animals in error. There is no, necessary, cruelty
involved with fur farming; and releasing the farmed animals would cause cruelty
to them, in a much harder life, and their prey, in a much harder death. Bear-baiting,
where a de-fanged and de-clawed bear is attacked by dogs, simply tortures a
higher animal. This appears qualitatively different from dog or cock fighting; where
there might be very little pain felt in the excitement of the fight, and death
soon follows for the badly injured.

A Dictionary of Libertarianism

animal rights

Philosophy Posted on Tue, May 06, 2014 21:28:22

animal rights *Libertarianism is only for *persons.
Human persons are also animals, of course (a species of primate). ‘Animal
rights’ refers to those animals, sometimes known as beasts, that are not

A *right is
normally understood as a *legitimate claim by one person against other people.
It would be clear to say that someone whose money was stolen by another person
had had his rights infringed. It would be odd to say that a dog that bit a man
had itself, rather than its owner, infringed that man’s rights (and a mere joke
to arrest the dog and try him). This is because rights are normally understood
against a background of some sort of, tacit, *social
contract whereby we bind ourselves to behave toward others in certain ways as
long as those others accept to be relevantly bound toward us. In other words,
rights imply reciprocal, but not necessarily identical, *duties
and must be understood—or at least understandable—by the parties involved.

Other animals cannot have
clear duties (though a dog might have some inkling of what behaviour is
expected of him if he is to receive his dinner). It might be thought that a
human baby has a right to be cared for but no duties, but there is no right to care
as it is not yet a person. Young *children have rights, but then they have certain
duties as regards behaviour as well. Even completely dependent persons are
likely to have some duties as regards their behaviour (or maybe to have had
some duties before they contracted into care, which contract gives them the
rights now; otherwise we have no libertarian right to be provided for by

It is part of *rights
inflation that other animals are sometimes held to have rights even though they
cannot have duties (and some animal rightists have even called some other
animals ‘persons’ and asserted that they have *‘nations’).
So the ascription of ‘animal rights’ looks to be some combination of *propagandistic
hyperbole and a category mistake. One thing that is clearly irrelevant to this
debate—and it is, ironically, a form of speciesism to assert that it is—is the
genetic relatedness, particularly of certain apes, to humans. Being a person is
what matters to (libertarian and other) rights, and that is not necessarily
related to a species. If cruelty to some other animals is inherently bad and
immoral, this is not because of animal rights any more than it is wrong to
destroy a great work of art because of great artwork rights.

See *animal

A Dictionary of Libertarianism

A Moral Defense of Meat-Eating

Philosophy Posted on Tue, May 06, 2014 20:25:26

moral case for vegetarianism has been made by some philosophers and has become
popular among a small group of people not noted for their reticence. The most influential of these philosophers is
Peter Singer. Singer’s argument is that
it’s immoral to cause suffering, that the suffering of non-human animals has
equal weight with the suffering of humans, that you can’t eat meat without
patronizing and encouraging the inflicting of suffering on animals, and that
therefore it must be immoral to eat meat, except in cases of dire necessity.

I think this argument is mistaken,
and I will now give you my chief counter-argument. My counter-argument contains a lemma—an
intermediate conclusion that I can then use as a premiss for my final
argument. To keep things short and
simple, I’m not going to argue here for the lemma (though I am going to briefly
explain the point of it), since I believe that most people, if they think about
it even briefly will agree with it. I’m
just going to state the lemma and then move on from there. (Although I say “my” counter-argument, I
don’t mean to imply that there’s anything original about this. I’ve heard something similar to this before,
though I have no idea who first came up with it. After all, it’s pretty obvious.)

We’re not under any moral obligation to act so as to reduce the total amount of
animal suffering below what it is in the wild, or below what it would be if
humans didn’t exist. In other words, if
the immorality of eating meat is dependent on humans causing animals to suffer,
then it can’t be immoral to eat meat if the production of meat for human
consumption does not increase the suffering of animals above what it would have
been in the absence of any human intervention.

of the lemma:
In the absence of human intervention, animals like deer and
oxen would be eaten by non-human predators.
When humans eat meat, they’re competing with other meat-eating animals,
such as lions and wolves. If the
predators disappear, this may lead to overpopulation of the former prey animals
and consequent unwelcome environmental effects such as deforestation followed
by soil erosion. The situation is not
changed in principle if we move from hunting to the raising of livestock: the
morally relevant issue is whether the cows or sheep we’re raising would suffer
more, or less, or the same, if they were in the wild and being eaten by lions
or wolves.

The lemma allows the possibility
that some ways of treating animals may be immoral, but the lemma rules out the presumptive immorality of all cases of treating animals in such a way that their situation
is no worse than they would face in the wild.
In the case of hunting, this is clear enough. Anyone who knows cats knows that they love to
keep their prey alive and toy with it before finally killing it, and this
causes more suffering than would be caused by a quick kill with an arrow or a
bullet. So human hunting causes less
suffering than hunting by at least some other predators.

Could it be argued that by hunting
deer, humans are causing suffering to lions and wolves by taking away their
prey? This doesn’t look like a promising
line of argument. Humans are hunters by
nature, and it’s not clear why we would feel obliged to let other species of
hunters have prey that we could have. A
lion whose potential prey is killed by a human is no worse off than a lion
whose potential prey is killed by another lion, and in either case the total
lion population adjusts to the availability of prey for lions, with marginal
lions always dying or otherwise failing to reproduce because of competition.

As we move from hunting to raising livestock,
no important new issues of principle arise.
Do farm animals suffer more or less than animals in the wild? It’s not clear that they suffer any more, and
it seems likely that they suffer a lot less.
The day-to-day life of a cow munching the grass and chewing the cud has
less excitement than that of the wild ox, continually fearful of sudden attack
by a predator, but I doubt that the cow would get a thrill from dangerous
adventures the way some humans do. When
death comes to the cow, it does not seem to cause any more suffering than death
in the wild—and if we ever found out that it did, we could adjust our techniques
of slaughter, without abandoning the practice of killing animals for food. My argument is not that all and any ways of raising
and killing animals for food are morally acceptable, but merely that some
feasible ways are morally acceptable, and therefore morality does not require

Some people may feel that the life
of an animal in the wild is in some way better than that of a farm animal, even
though the farm animal experiences less actual pain and fear. Well, we observe, as real incomes rise, that
there is a growing interest in both recreational hunting and in the demand for
game animals, animals killed in the wild, in preference to farm-raised animals.
The meat of game animals is leaner and
tastes better. This trend is merely the
tip of a broader movement towards free-range raising of animals. Suppliers of meat can charge more for meat
that has been produced in a ‘more natural’ way, partly because of superior
taste and partly because consumers feel better knowing that what they were
eating was produced in a more natural way.
As our incomes rise, we spontaneously move away from factory farming
toward free-range farming, and then ultimately to preferring meat from animals
that have been hunted in the wild.

If we accept the lemma, then the
mere fact that some suffering occurs to animals when they’re raised for meat
production is not enough to show that this is immoral. Instead, we have to show that they
necessarily suffer more than they (or corresponding animals, which might be a
bit different in a hypothetical alternative world) would suffer, if the human
population were much smaller and the populations of lions and wolves much

Although I’m not offering arguments
for the lemma, I do want to look at three possible ways of rejecting it. Someone could maintain that our obligation is
simply to stop suffering wherever we can.
One way to stop the suffering that comes from animals being harvested as
prey would be to wipe out those animals.
Thus, we could kill all oxen (including beef cows). At the same time, we would wipe out all the
predators, the animals that would have eaten the oxen. This would mean wiping out virtually all
animal species, including insects, birds, and fish, for all these animals are
either predators or likely prey. Some
folks would feel sad that all these species had disappeared, but they could
console themselves with the thought that being extinct means you never have to
suffer, whereas being extant means you do have to suffer.

we should extend this to humans: they should be killed off, and then no human would
ever suffer again. (Just to keep an eye
on things and make sure everyone follows the rules, I’ll be the last one to
go.) If allowing suffering is decisively
immoral then every sentient living thing, including humans, should be made
extinct, because this and only this guarantees no more suffering.

Another person might, however,
approach the issue a bit differently.
Instead of killing all animals, we could take over and manage the entire
animal kingdom, transforming it into something very different from the way it
has evolved, intervening with birth control drugs, factory-produced food,
analgesics, and anesthetics. The former
predators could be fed substitute foods made in factories from soybeans, or
even directly from industrial chemicals.
Since they would suffer somewhat from not being able to hunt, we would
have to provide them with robotic imitation-prey, so that they could continue
to experience the activity of hunting. Herbivores
could be left to graze the wilderness, but fed fertility-reducing drugs to keep
their populations stable. There would
still be some suffering: accidents do happen, and every animal has to die,
though we could try to limit this suffering by infiltrating the natural world
with robots using analgesic and anesthetic dart guns, watching all the while
for any impending pain or anxiety.

There are various aspects of this
scenario which may not be very appealing.
Be that as it may, it is not feasible right now, and won’t be feasible
without a huge investment over many decades, if not centuries (think about the
difficulty in ensuring that every fish in the oceans is guaranteed never to be
eaten). So, even assuming that this
ambitious intervention is morally required, we’re stuck for a while with the
choice between a certain amount of suffering in the wild and a certain amount
of suffering (probably the same or a bit less) down on the farm. And therefore, if we accept the lemma, we
must reject the case for vegetarianism on grounds of the suffering caused by

Of course, most vegetarians will reject those two approaches and go for a third approach: simply have humans abstain from meat-eating. But what the lemma helps to bring out is that this option has an arbitrary quality. Turning humans into herbivores means excluding other herbivores from a large area of land, reducing the world’s populations of non-human herbivores. So the third approach is a kind of partial and inconsistent version of the first approach. Either we have an obligation to reduce animal suffering every chance we get, or we don’t have such an obligation. Eschewing the first two approaches means admitting that we have no such obligation.

can kill animals for food without adding to the total net suffering in the
animal kingdom, and this is morally okay.