Animal Rights Zone

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What do you think? Is it possible to live as a vegan whilst eating other animals? This essay from Tim Gier may present a perspective many of us haven't considered before. I think he raises some difficult issues, and I invite ARZone members to discuss their thoughts, and consider some of the questions raised in this essay. 

possible and practicable veganism

 

The Vegan Society, in their Articles of Association, explains that “the word ‘veganism’ denotes a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude – as far as is possible and practicable – all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.” They go on to say that “In dietary terms it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals.”

One may choose to read these two statements as presenting something a conflicting message. The former clearly allows that veganism isn’t an absolutist position: that’s why it includes the emphasized caveat “as far as is possible and practicable.” The latter appears to ignore this caveat, claiming that veganism requires dispensing with “all products derived wholly or partly from animals;” this appears to be an absolutist position. However, given that the former statement is the more inclusive of the two, encompassing veganism in all its aspects, I believe that any fair reading of these two statements will acknowledge that the latter implicitly assumes the caveat of the former. In other words, I take it that the Vegan Society means to say, ”In dietary terms veganism denotes the practice of dispensing with – as far as is possible and practicable – all products derived wholly or partly from animals.” This makes sense and tracks well with what most vegans believe.

For example, I believe that most vegans would accept that, just in case the organic granola they might have eaten for breakfast contained some unintended and negligible amount of dead insect matter, they would still be vegan while eating it. Indeed, it’s commonly held within the vegan community that the unintended killing of field mice and other animals in the production of food crops doesn’t render those crops “non-vegan”. Given then that it’s not possible or practicable to remove every trace of every other animal from one’s diet – or to eliminate every instance of killing in the world – vegans accept that perfection isn’t possible or practicable. In terms of defining veganism then, so far is so good: Absolute perfection can’t be required. However, there is a problem that arises out of this line of reasoning; the following example should illustrate what that problem is.

Suppose that there is a young woman who fully understands and accepts the arguments made for veganism. She believes and wants to act on her belief that other animals should not be treated as mere commodities for human use and consumption. Unfortunately, she’s married to a man who is both physically and psychologically abusive to her. It just so happens that he is also an avid hunter who not only refuses to respect the woman’s beliefs, but who demands that the woman cook as well as eat the dead animals he brings into the home. On threat of torment and violence, the woman has little choice but to comply. As far as is possible and practicable for her, even though she identifies as a vegan and would abstain from all consumption of other animals if only she could, veganism for her includes the regular consumption of other animals.

Now, what are we to make of this?

On the one hand, given that she seeks to exclude – as far as is possible and practicable – all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose, this woman is vegan. On the other hand, vegans are not likely to want to admit – because she regularly eats other animals – that this woman really is vegan. But then, what is the point of the definition of veganism including the caveat “as far as is possible and practicable”? If the definition is to mean what it says, then considering the circumstances this woman unfortunately finds herself in, she must be vegan. Otherwise the caveat doesn’t mean ”as far as is possible and practicable” but means little or nothing instead. That is, if in effect the definition means “as far as what other people determine is possible and practicable” then no one has the opportunity to live as a vegan on the terms that are possible for them, but only on the terms forced on them by others. But it must be the case that a person who lives in a city with no options to purchase 100% veganically grown plant-foods, for example, can’t be held to the same standards as one who lives in a self-supporting vegan commune. What is easily possible and practicable for the latter may not be at all possible or practicable for the former.  It must be the case, then, that each person must be able to claim – for themselves – what is possible and practicable for them in their practice of veganism.

Therefore, it must be the case – as it would be in the case of the abused young woman – that there are circumstances (however unlikely and infrequent they may be) in which a person can regularly consume other animals and yet correctly claim to practice veganism, as far as is possible and practicable for them. If it must not be the case, then the definition of veganism is meaningless.

tim gier

http://timgier.com/2012/07/02/possible-and-practicable-veganism/


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Hi Madeleine (et al),

Thanks for your comments. Yes, communicating a message the way one understands it so that others understand it perfectly the same can be a challenge.

What if technology were developed whereby only one mouse was killed in the harvesting of enough rice that could feed 100 people? Would that be more problematic than intentionally killing some number of grass raised cows to feed the same number of people? More problematic than harming and killing some untold number of bees for honey? What if it were 3 mice or 10 mice instead? Is this simply about numbers to you? How do you even know that mice are sentient but that bees aren't?

The way I see it, there's an order of difference between intentional requisite killing and unintentional, unessential killing. Humans are incredible in at least two important ways....we are, as a species, immensely creative and resourceful. That means that hypothetically we can devise a system of growing rice for example in which no mice are killed. But we can not, no matter how much we tried, not kill the animals that we choose to consume.  Those who eat rice do not choose to kill mice but those who eat the flesh of farmed animals choose to have these animals killed for their choice.

I suppose we see some things differently. I doubt that I will ever be convinced that the intentional killing of farmed animals or the intentional exploitation of farmed bees is no different than the unintentional or accidental killing of mice.

Warmly,

Louie



Madeleine Longhurst said:

Hi Louie, It's probably the limitations of communicating in print that's caused the confusion that I mentioned above. I thought some folks - who were protesting that you couldn't eat fish and call yourself a vegan - had thought I was saying my non-dairy/meat eating husband was a vegan because, although he eats fish he does so because he doesn't think fish are sentient . I never meant to imply that someone who eats fish can call themselves a vegan (and, because I'm not sure about honey myself I can't call myself one either!).  

  On the subject of field mice, sorry again if I didn't make myself clear. I think that if someone knows that field mice are chopped up or drowned in the production of their plant-based diet then to say that  the animal-suffering caused by the consumption of said plants is unintentional and therefore in a different category from intentional  harm seems disingenuous to me (same goes for animal-bone organic fertilisers). Of course I know that field-mice suffering 'can't be helped', but that doesn't make me morally less culpable, I feel.  I can't, morally, see any difference between eating honey knowing that it's stolen from bees and eating soya beans  knowing that field mice have been killed and injured to produce them. Well - having read it I've come back to edit this! - actually I can see some difference, because, as I'm not at all sure bees are sentient, I think it is ethically more problematic to eat soya beans than to eat honey.

Kind regards,

Madeleine 

Hi Tim,

You write "...while we can never test directly whether or not a being has a subjective experience of pain..." and I believe you have previously written more than once that we can never test sentience in other beings. Is that true?

You also write "unless another person was willing to act in the absence of evidence too, there would be no reason for anyone else to act as though sponges were sentient and had rights. " The same argument could be used for dolphins, dogs, and chimps.

So my question is where, and more importantly, why might you (if you do) draw a line between dolphins, dogs, or chimps and insects? This is the part that has me confused about your position.


I have not conducted formal triple blind quadruple somersault studies on bees, no, but I have taken many hours to closely observe roaches reacting to tasks I have forced upon them when I was in my late teens. I know this isn't exactly rigorous scientific testing but it certainly counts for something important in my understanding of what might be causing insects (roaches in this case) to behave as they do. Further, you haven't given any explanation, except what I see as a very vague possible explanation (mindless "adaptation"), as to the very complex behaviors of many insects. Care to expound significantly on this?

I get your point about using, whenever applicable, methodical scientific research in general quests of understanding and knowledge but if sentience in other organisms can never be ascertained or proven (which I see as your contention), why even suggest methodical scientific research to try to determine sentience?

Incidentally, here's an article which I find contains some interesting points:  http://www.aps.uoguelph.ca/~rmoccia/RDM%20articles/Perspectives%20o... . I'm wondering your opinion on this.

Warmly,

Louie


Tim Gier said:

Hi Louie,

When you speak about what you have seen evidence for, do you mean that you have taken part in methodical scientific research on the behavior and cognitive abilities of other animals or do you mean that you have witnessed events having to do with other animals as part of some other project or endeavor?  The reason I ask is that, in my readings on these matters, I am led to believe that researchers go to great lengths to devise tests and experiments designed to isolate particular aspects of behavior in order to try to understand exactly which cognitive processes would need to be involved to produce such behaviors. For example, perhaps it is the case that, if a being was capable of having an idea such as "There is something and it is causing me pain" then there would be certain actions or behaviors that it would only be able to perform or engage in because it was capable of having that idea. In other words, while we can never test directly whether or not a being has a subjective experience of pain, we may be able to test whether a being can act in certain ways that would only be possible if it could have such a subjective experience. Have you conducted any such tests or read about any?

My final paragraph dealt with giving others the benefit of the doubt. I apologize that my meaning was not clearly expressed. I will try again.

Let's assume that we don't owe anything to those who are not sentient - they have no interests that we need to respect. For example, I take it that sponges, even though they are animals, are not sentient. Because we don't owe anything to those that are not sentient then we don't owe anything to sponges.  Maybe we have other reasons to let sponges live as sponges do, but it wouldn't be that sponges have any rights or that there are any duties that we would owe directly to sponges.

Now, let's suppose that someone else claims that, even though most people believe that sponges are not sentient, they have doubts about the matter - they claim that they think it may be that sponges are sentient. They also claim that they are going to give sponges the benefit of the doubt and they are going to respect sponges just as if sponges had the same rights that others think dolphins should have. There would be nothing wrong with them doing that, but, unless another person was willing to act in the absence of evidence too, there would be no reason for anyone else to act as though sponges were sentient and had rights.

Without any evidence that sponges are sentient, any person who did think sponges had rights would have no grounds from which to challenge the morality of others who didn't think that sponges have rights. Moreover, if a person is going to act as if creatures are sentient when there isn't any evidence that those creatures are sentient, then where would he draw the line? If there's no evidence that sponges are sentient and one acts as if they are anyway, then why should not one act as if all other living things are sentient too, even if there's no evidence that they are sentient either? No one has a moral obligation to act in the absence of sound reasons and good evidence. We may choose to act when we haven't any sound reason or good evidence, but when we do we are going above and beyond the call of duty and we can't complain when others won't go there with us.  

If we are going to claim that others have moral obligations, then we must be able to back up those claims with sound reasoning and good evidence, otherwise people should be free to ignore or accept our claims according to their own conscience and we shouldn't complain whatever they do. We can't expect others to be obligated to give anyone the benefit of the doubt that only we have. Therefore, to return to the example of the sponges, only I can choose whether I should give sponges the benefit of the doubt, and since I have no doubts about the non-sentience of sponges, whether anyone else has doubts about the matter is none of my concern.

Of course, if one is going to live well, and try to act morally, then one mustn't be cavalier in one's judgment about matters that affect the lives of others. One must make a serious and well-considered attempt to understand how one's actions affect others and whether and how one's actions matter to others, for others.

I've been thinking about sentience quite a lot for about 30 months and I've been considering what the lives and minds of insects might be like for longer than that. Other people may think that the jury is in and that we know that insects are sentient beings. I believe that the jury is still out. As I go through my day, I do what I can to avoid harming insects and I choose to not eat honey or wear silk. But that's because I've decided that, in the absence of evidence, I will give insects the benefit of the doubt whenever I am able. If others choose to do the same, I think that would be great. But if others choose to make a different decision, I have no grounds from which to say that they are acting immorally. 

One last thing: I believe that I'm not splitting hairs on the subject of consciousness. It's an incredibly complex phenomena such that we may never adequately understand it. David Chalmers, a philosopher who has invested years of study on the subject, says that there are "easy problems" of consciousness - questions about such things as: the ability of an entity to discriminate, categorize, and react to environmental stimuli; or the focus of attention; or the difference between wakefulness or sleep. When it comes to these sorts of questions Chalmers is confident that we will find good answers for them in a relatively short time - that is in 100 to 200 years from now! As to the "hard problem" of consciousness which involves questions about such things as the ability to experience the felt qualities of emotions, or to ponder the beauty of a picture that is only in one's mind, or the something it's like to be someone, Chalmers is not at all so optimistic. It's possible that we may never solve the hard problem. If it appears that I am splitting hairs when talking about consciousness, it is only because all of the information I read on the subject attests to how seemingly impossible it is to not split hairs.

Thanks for continuing the discussion,

tim

Hi Louie

Yeh I take your point about not knowing that field mice are sentient , but as in the definition of 'sentience' that I'm using - able to feel pain and suffer psychological distress - I'm making an educated guess that they are, as I'm assuming their nervous systems are much like pet mice ( I had pet mice as a kid) which certainly react to painful stimuli like a dog/cat/person/pig does. The numbers don't matter to me - so one field mouse death is as inexcuable as 100. Yes, it's different from killing animals to eat, I do agree - perhaps there should be a word equidistant from 'intentional' and 'unintentional', as, yeh , it's not so intentional to kill field mice as it is to kill pigs, but it's not unintentional either - it's like smart bombs...which always kill civilians as well as intended military targets - the powers that be get away with it by saying the deaths of civilians are unintentional whereas the rest of us can see that's a cop out - because they knew civilians would be killed (smart bombs just ain't that accurate) just as vegans know field mice will be killed. I'm not likening the killing of field mice to warfare BTW, just trying to delve into the meanings of unintentional and intentional . I'm all for finding ways to avoid killing any field mice, and am not making an argument that equates imprisoning, torturing and murdering pigs with killing field-dwelling animals. I am saying that killing a couple of field mice is worse than disrupting the lives of thousands of bees, because I don't think the bees are aware that they are being disrupted, having their honey stolen, or even that they are being killed.

Hope some of that makes sense - it's late at night here :)

Kind regards, Madeleine 

Hi Madeleine,

Do you realize that insects have nervous systems and a brain or complex nerve ganglia (for some invertebrates)? I mentioned this previously in this thread. When you get a moment, see here:  http://insects.tamu.edu/continuing_ed/bee_biology/lectures/password... .

What specifically leads you to have little or no sympathy for insects that are faced with significant disruptions of their lives, threats, and severely noxious stimuli....sometimes leading to them being killed? Because all those situations are faced by honey bees in the commercial collection of honey....even on the smallest family apiaries. Why do you draw, what to me logically is a completely arbitrary line, between bees and mice or bees and dogs or between bees and chimps? I really would like you to be as specific as you can because I'm trying hard to understand how that line is being drawn by you.

Thanks in advance for being candid.

Warmly,

Louie



Madeleine Longhurst said:

Hi Louie

Yeh I take your point about not knowing that field mice are sentient , but as in the definition of 'sentience' that I'm using - able to feel pain and suffer psychological distress - I'm making an educated guess that they are, as I'm assuming their nervous systems are much like pet mice ( I had pet mice as a kid) which certainly react to painful stimuli like a dog/cat/person/pig does. The numbers don't matter to me - so one field mouse death is as inexcuable as 100. Yes, it's different from killing animals to eat, I do agree - perhaps there should be a word equidistant from 'intentional' and 'unintentional', as, yeh , it's not so intentional to kill field mice as it is to kill pigs, but it's not unintentional either - it's like smart bombs...which always kill civilians as well as intended military targets - the powers that be get away with it by saying the deaths of civilians are unintentional whereas the rest of us can see that's a cop out - because they knew civilians would be killed (smart bombs just ain't that accurate) just as vegans know field mice will be killed. I'm not likening the killing of field mice to warfare BTW, just trying to delve into the meanings of unintentional and intentional . I'm all for finding ways to avoid killing any field mice, and am not making an argument that equates imprisoning, torturing and murdering pigs with killing field-dwelling animals. I am saying that killing a couple of field mice is worse than disrupting the lives of thousands of bees, because I don't think the bees are aware that they are being disrupted, having their honey stolen, or even that they are being killed.

Hope some of that makes sense - it's late at night here :)

Kind regards, Madeleine 

Hi Louie, Thank you for the link. I can't see anything there that shows that bees do, or don't, feel pain. I read about a bee brain being a small number of cells, and that the automatic nervous system is in ganglia in the spinal cord, hence a decapitated bee can still walk. I don't have a scientific background so I'll have to ask folks who do to explain what the implications for sentience are, in bee anatomy. So I'll have to get back to you on that.   As for my arbitary distinction between bees and mice/dogs/pigs - I'll be specific as I can - I distinguish between beings that can feel pain and suffer from psychological distress (mice/pigs/dogs) and insects, who can't feel pain and suffer from psychological distress. So, say, if I were to shout at my dog for doing something 'wrong' (I don't by the way!) she would put her ears back, and maybe even cower (if she had learned that she would be smacked). Hence I can see that she is suffering psychological distress. Now someone might legitimately say that bees similarly exhibit signs of distress but they are so different from us that we can't see it. But so far as my experience with insects goes, I haven't noticed anything that looks  remotely like reactions to pain or distress. Hope that explains 'where I'm at',

 

Kind regards

madeleine

Hi Madeleine,

So....dogs and bees have complex social lives, both exhibit commitment to their pack / hive, and both have a nervous system and a brain that can handle the duty of the complexity of their lives but because you can not see a bee react when you shout toward her, somehow you draw the big line of distinction. Hmmmm, fascinating, truly fascinating.

Warmly,

Louie



Madeleine Longhurst said:

Hi Louie, Thank you for the link. I can't see anything there that shows that bees do, or don't, feel pain. I read about a bee brain being a small number of cells, and that the automatic nervous system is in ganglia in the spinal cord, hence a decapitated bee can still walk. I don't have a scientific background so I'll have to ask folks who do to explain what the implications for sentience are, in bee anatomy. So I'll have to get back to you on that.   As for my arbitary distinction between bees and mice/dogs/pigs - I'll be specific as I can - I distinguish between beings that can feel pain and suffer from psychological distress (mice/pigs/dogs) and insects, who can't feel pain and suffer from psychological distress. So, say, if I were to shout at my dog for doing something 'wrong' (I don't by the way!) she would put her ears back, and maybe even cower (if she had learned that she would be smacked). Hence I can see that she is suffering psychological distress. Now someone might legitimately say that bees similarly exhibit signs of distress but they are so different from us that we can't see it. But so far as my experience with insects goes, I haven't noticed anything that looks  remotely like reactions to pain or distress. Hope that explains 'where I'm at',

 

Kind regards

madeleine

Hi Tim,

I'm curious....do you eat any animal products at all, anything that is derived from or is a byproduct of animals or parts of an animal's body? If yes, could you tell me more about this. If no, can you tell me why you choose to eat this way?

Thanks for being candid.

Warmly,

Louie

Hi Louie,

While we can't directly test to determine whether another is sentient, we can probably test for various abilities that others would be unlikely to have if they were not sentient. We can also make judgments about which conclusion will best fit the available evidence. For example, it seems to me, based on what I've read and thought about the matter, that the conclusion that best fits everything we think we know about Great Apes is that they are subjectively conscious in the world in ways very much like humans are. We can't prove it, but it seems to me to be something we can believe with a high degree of confidence (I accept that I could be wrong about this). I believe that it's not the case that the conclusion that best fits what we think we know about insects is that insects are sentient (and I accept that I could be wrong about that as well). 

Thanks for the article on fishes. I've glanced at it quickly and will spend additional time reading it. I agree with the closing sentence of the paper: "A sound assessment of the probability that conscious states occur in fish species will require expanded knowledge of their forebrain neuroanatomy, an understanding of how such structures mediate behavioural responses to environmental challenges and an analysis of that information within the context of contemporary theory on the evolution of consciousness." 

I'm vegan because I believe that most other animals are the sorts of beings who ought not to be harmed, killed or consumed by humans. So, I avoid as far as is possible any product made from or produced by other animals. I don't eat honey and I do avoid harming and killing insects whenever I can, but to be honest, I can't say that I have a very good argument why; when it comes to insects, I base my actions on how I feel and not really on what I think.  

tim


Louie Gedo said:

Hi Tim,

You write "...while we can never test directly whether or not a being has a subjective experience of pain..." and I believe you have previously written more than once that we can never test sentience in other beings. Is that true?

You also write "unless another person was willing to act in the absence of evidence too, there would be no reason for anyone else to act as though sponges were sentient and had rights. " The same argument could be used for dolphins, dogs, and chimps.

So my question is where, and more importantly, why might you (if you do) draw a line between dolphins, dogs, or chimps and insects? This is the part that has me confused about your position.


I have not conducted formal triple blind quadruple somersault studies on bees, no, but I have taken many hours to closely observe roaches reacting to tasks I have forced upon them when I was in my late teens. I know this isn't exactly rigorous scientific testing but it certainly counts for something important in my understanding of what might be causing insects (roaches in this case) to behave as they do. Further, you haven't given any explanation, except what I see as a very vague possible explanation (mindless "adaptation"), as to the very complex behaviors of many insects. Care to expound significantly on this?

I get your point about using, whenever applicable, methodical scientific research in general quests of understanding and knowledge but if sentience in other organisms can never be ascertained or proven (which I see as your contention), why even suggest methodical scientific research to try to determine sentience?

Incidentally, here's an article which I find contains some interesting points:  http://www.aps.uoguelph.ca/~rmoccia/RDM%20articles/Perspectives%20o... . I'm wondering your opinion on this.

Warmly,

Louie



Thanks for your response Tim,

Based on what I've read, seen in documentary films, and observed myself, insects are indeed sentient individuals and insects can process ("feel") pain. I believe the evidence that I am familiar with more strongly supports my position than any other position on this specific issue.

Are you familiar with this article Tim?   http://www.bbsrc.ac.uk/news/research-technologies/2011/110603-pr-fo... 

"...most other animals are the sorts of beings who ought not to be harmed, killed or consumed by humans." Why to you believe this Tim? Which animals ought to be harmed or perhaps, which sorts of animals ought to not be afforded the same considerations as those that ought to not be harmed, killed, and consumed? You can be as specific as you like or you don't have to respond at all if you wish.

Thanks in advance.

Warmly,

Louie



Tim Gier said:

Hi Louie,

While we can't directly test to determine whether another is sentient, we can probably test for various abilities that others would be unlikely to have if they were not sentient. We can also make judgments about which conclusion will best fit the available evidence. For example, it seems to me, based on what I've read and thought about the matter, that the conclusion that best fits everything we think we know about Great Apes is that they are subjectively conscious in the world in ways very much like humans are. We can't prove it, but it seems to me to be something we can believe with a high degree of confidence (I accept that I could be wrong about this). I believe that it's not the case that the conclusion that best fits what we think we know about insects is that insects are sentient (and I accept that I could be wrong about that as well). 

Thanks for the article on fishes. I've glanced at it quickly and will spend additional time reading it. I agree with the closing sentence of the paper: "A sound assessment of the probability that conscious states occur in fish species will require expanded knowledge of their forebrain neuroanatomy, an understanding of how such structures mediate behavioural responses to environmental challenges and an analysis of that information within the context of contemporary theory on the evolution of consciousness." 

I'm vegan because I believe that most other animals are the sorts of beings who ought not to be harmed, killed or consumed by humans. So, I avoid as far as is possible any product made from or produced by other animals. I don't eat honey and I do avoid harming and killing insects whenever I can, but to be honest, I can't say that I have a very good argument why; when it comes to insects, I base my actions on how I feel and not really on what I think.  

tim


Louie Gedo said:

Hi Tim,

You write "...while we can never test directly whether or not a being has a subjective experience of pain..." and I believe you have previously written more than once that we can never test sentience in other beings. Is that true?

You also write "unless another person was willing to act in the absence of evidence too, there would be no reason for anyone else to act as though sponges were sentient and had rights. " The same argument could be used for dolphins, dogs, and chimps.

So my question is where, and more importantly, why might you (if you do) draw a line between dolphins, dogs, or chimps and insects? This is the part that has me confused about your position.


I have not conducted formal triple blind quadruple somersault studies on bees, no, but I have taken many hours to closely observe roaches reacting to tasks I have forced upon them when I was in my late teens. I know this isn't exactly rigorous scientific testing but it certainly counts for something important in my understanding of what might be causing insects (roaches in this case) to behave as they do. Further, you haven't given any explanation, except what I see as a very vague possible explanation (mindless "adaptation"), as to the very complex behaviors of many insects. Care to expound significantly on this?

I get your point about using, whenever applicable, methodical scientific research in general quests of understanding and knowledge but if sentience in other organisms can never be ascertained or proven (which I see as your contention), why even suggest methodical scientific research to try to determine sentience?

Incidentally, here's an article which I find contains some interesting points:  http://www.aps.uoguelph.ca/~rmoccia/RDM%20articles/Perspectives%20o... . I'm wondering your opinion on this.

Warmly,

Louie



Hi Louie:

Thanks to the link to the article about bees; I will try to find the time to read the study it refers to. I am currently reading two very recent and comprehensive books on cognition and behavior in animals, so I'm sure that I'll find the study informative. However, even without reading the study I think that there's something particularly important to our discussion in the article. The article notes that the study's authors say that their findings do not show that "bees consciously experience emotions in the way that we do. On that point, the jury is still out." The article also quotes the author's study as saying "If some scientific research on emotion could be conducted in insects, this would lead to a reduction in the numbers of sentient vertebrate animals used in research. Thus our research potentially has important implications for animal welfare." Taken together these two statements seem to me to indicate that whatever the study may say about the cognitive states of bees, it appears to be saying either that bees are not conscious in the world as are the sentient vertebrates now used in research or that the harms that might be done to bees and other insects in research would be lesser harms than those currently being done to sentient vertebrates. I'll have to read the actual study in order to know for sure what the authors say they've determined.

In an earlier comment you expressed dissatisfaction with my response regarding adaptation through natural selection as the best explanation for much of the behavior of non-sentient beings. In the context of this thread I may have misspoken. I did not mean to imply that the natural processes of evolution work only to create the complex behaviors observable in non-sentient beings. Rather, it is almost certainly the case that all animal behaviors - both non-sentient as well as sentient (and even higher-order self-consciousness) - are the result of the entirely natural processes described by evolutionary theory. That is, humans possess the self-conscious mental states that we do as a result of the same adaptation through natural selection that operates throughout all of nature. I believe that the evidence for and reasoning behind evolutionary theory is at least as compelling as that which we have for any theories of natural science and I believe that evolutionary theory is the best explanation there is for the diversity of life on this planet.

Bees are able to navigate to and from the hive because the ability to do so is an adaptive advantage - they need not be conscious of that ability any more than any one of us is conscious of our body's ability to regulate its internal temperature.  Bees may be conscious of their ability to navigate, but it's not necessarily the case that they are. So far (as far as I have been able to determine anyway) we haven't any conclusive evidence that any known behavior of bees would only be possible if they possessed phenomenological consciousness (i.e. sentience). That doesn't mean that bees and other insects are not sentient, it just means that there's no evidence that they are sentient. 

Now, it seems quite obvious that most vertebrates, including all the mammals and many birds, are conscious. That is, they are almost certainly the sort of being who have experiences in their lives that matter to them, for them. There is something that it is like for them to be in the world. Their experiences in the world can be either good or bad for them. To cause harms to, or the deaths of, conscious creatures would be bad for them. The way I see it, when interference in the life of another would be bad for them, unless one has a good and compelling reason to interfere in that way, then one ought not to. Since, in most cases, I believe that the benefits I would receive from harming or killing others do not provide me with good and compelling reasons to do what is bad for them, I believe that I should avoid harming and killing others as much as it is practicably possible to do so. Since I can very easily avoid causing harm or death to conscious beings (to do so requires almost no effort on my part and costs me almost nothing), then, whenever I have a choice and insofar as it is practicable, I choose to avoid causing harm or death to other conscious beings. I also think that, all other things being equal, it's not enough for me to simply avoid causing harm or death when I am able to avoid doing so; I must also do what I can when I can to make the lives of others better. It's much tougher to make the lives of others better than it is to simply avoid making those lives worse, but I do what I can anyway.

tim


Louie Gedo said:

Thanks for your response Tim,

Based on what I've read, seen in documentary films, and observed myself, insects are indeed sentient individuals and insects can process ("feel") pain. I believe the evidence that I am familiar with more strongly supports my position than any other position on this specific issue.

Are you familiar with this article Tim?   http://www.bbsrc.ac.uk/news/research-technologies/2011/110603-pr-fo... 

"...most other animals are the sorts of beings who ought not to be harmed, killed or consumed by humans." Why to you believe this Tim? Which animals ought to be harmed or perhaps, which sorts of animals ought to not be afforded the same considerations as those that ought to not be harmed, killed, and consumed? You can be as specific as you like or you don't have to respond at all if you wish.

Thanks in advance.

Warmly,

Louie

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