Consciousness and Moral Status

A group of scientists recently gathered at the Francis Crick Memorial Conference and issued the following declaration which as been widely covered in the media:

The absence of a neocortex does not appear to preclude an organism from experiencing affective states. Convergent evidence indicates that non-human animals have the neuroanatomical, neurochemical, and neurophysiological substrates of conscious states along with the capacity to exhibit intentional behaviors. Consequently, the weight of evidence indicates that humans are not unique in possessing the neurological substrates that generate consciousness. Non-human animals, including all mammals and birds, and many other creatures, including octopuses, also possess these neurological substrates.

Their good intentions duly noted, this is not a declaration of a scientific fact.

The truth is that we have no idea what a “conscious state” is.  We do not know what neural substrates “generate consciousness”.  We do not know how to recognize what is “intentional behavior” and what is not.  We do not know if consciousness if a property that arises only in biological systems. Nor do we know if consciousness is a binary or graded property. These are all open questions. Any assertion that non-human animals are capable of exhibiting “conscious states” as those experienced by humans is at best a working hypothesis based on vague concepts that need to be clarified.

Note that if we truly had the scientific knowledge and understanding to back up the declaration we should be able to answer the following simple questions.  Is a fly’s escape behavior to a swat intentional or a mere reflex?  What about single-cell organisms that follow up gradients of nutrients?  Are they conscious?  Is their movement towards the food intentional?  The authors must surely have a way to answer these questions to have decided to include the octopus in their list of conscious animals, while leaving the salmon out.  But they do not really have an answer.  If we had one we could also offer a resolution to one of the biggest problems in philosophy — the problem of other minds.  PZ Myers already offered a similar criticism of the declaration and I hope other scientists will jump into this debate as well.

Of course, there are animal activists that had already reached the conclusion that animals are conscious simply by staring into their eyes, they mockingly applaud the new recognition by this group of scientists, and move on to suggest the following:

Some of the conclusions reached in this declaration are the product of scientists who, to this day, still conduct experiments on animals [...] Their own declaration will now be used as evidence that it’s time to stop using these animals in captivity and start finding new ways of making a living.

Is this so?  Can the declaration, assuming it is scientifically valid, be used to argue in such a way?  This may be possible if and only if one accepts the following assumptions.  First, that the declaration means that consciousness is a binary property — either you have it or not.  Thus if animals are conscious they are conscious to the same degree as a normal human (thereby denying the possibility graded levels of consciousness). Second, that consciousness is the only morally relevant property that determines the moral status of a living being.  If one accepts these two assumptions the moral status of human and non-human animals ought to be the same. But both assumptions are wrong.  Not even the scientists involved in the declaration would agree with the first assumption.  People do not think we owe the same moral consideration to the serial killer and to the Dalai Lama, although both are equally conscious. Similarly, we reject the notion that the moral status of a patient in a minimally conscious state is the same as that of a worm. Thus, consciousness alone is insufficient to establish the moral status of living beings.

Opponents of animal research continue to insinuate that the only reason for scientists to experiment on animals is because it supports our livelihood.  No, this is not the real reason. The reason for this work is that humans have ability to reduce and eliminate suffering from the world by means of their scientific work.  Due to current limitations in technology, in some cases, medical research cannot move forward without access to living organisms at the level of single cells and even molecules. Scientists acknowledge that we owe moral consideration to other living beings, but not to the same degree as human life.  We do confront this moral dilemma by carrying out the work while minimizing the number, pain and suffering of animals subjects.  Opponents of animal research, on the other hand, readily ask us to stop the work, but fail to provide a moral justification.

22 responses to “Consciousness and Moral Status

  1. Most animals are conscious and many are more conscious than humans with cognitive deficiencies. There is no (good) argument for the justification of experiments on animals that doesn’t also justify the same experiments on humans with major cognitive disabilities (or abandoned babies).

    The practice is absurd. People with major illnesses would try many of thew drugs, let them do it. They can give consent, others can’t. We have enough medicine, ENOUGH!

    • As I’m sure you’re aware and are choosing to ignore, new medications ARE tried on human volunteers BEFORE the drug is approved for general use. It’s not an either/or proposition. And what about research into medications for animals? Should those too be tested on humans instead? Not all research using animal models is done to develop medications for humans. How do you suppose they came up with the treatment for heartworm in dogs? It’s also a complete fallacy to think that all animal research is only done to develop new medications. If this is what you believe, then you need further education. A vast amount of the research done has nothing to do with developing new medicines. Much of it has to do with simply understanding how the body works. There’s still much we don’t understand.

  2. We discussed this before…

    http://speakingofresearch.com/2012/04/12/objections-to-the-marginal-case-argument/

    But I agree with you that patients that are facing certain death should be allowed, in some cases, to give consent for experimental treatment without a prior requirement of animal research.

  3. Ringach and I agree on one thing – that the Declaration itself is a rather strange beast. But the reasons for our opinion are vastly different. He is under the impression that the Declaration was made without any empirical basis. Also, he incorrectly claims that all animal rights advocates draw their conclusions from “looking into the eyes” of the animals. I am a neuroscientist at a major research university and have studied self-awareness, intelligence, brain anatomy and cognition in other animals for over twenty years. My conclusions and those of many other scholar-advocates are based upon the corpus of accumulated scientific evidence demonstrating that many other animals possess elements of self-awareness and cognition shared with our own species. The author appears to be dismissing decades of peer-reviewed research in an effort to support his notion that we cannot ever know about the minds of other animals and, can, therefore, skirt around our moral responsibilities to them. This is clearly wrong and flies in the face of the empirical and experimental scientific tradition. I am not suggesting that we have all of the answers for all of the animals. There is still much that is unknown about the psychology of other animals – as there is still much unknown about human psychology. But to throw up one’s hands and claim that we know nothing is, in fact, an anti-science stance.

    Ringach is also mistaken in his assertion that this Declaration has ethical dimensions if and only if consciousness is binary. This is not a conclusion that draws logically from the animal advocacy position. Intelligence and other complex properties of living beings are dimensional and continuous. There is nothing about the assertion of consciousness in other animals that requires it to be binary. Furthermore, the morally relevant property at the center of this debate is suffering. To the extent that awareness, consciousness, and sentience allow for a being to suffer, these are absolutely morally relevant characteristics. The author makes the comparison between the Dalai Lama and a serial killer but the incomparability of our moral responsibility to these two individuals has everything to do with our human-based system of ethics and laws. These issues do not apply to other animals and so the comparison doesn’t apply.

    Ringach falls back on the usual tired arguments from the pro-vivisection community that a) research on other animals is necessary to help humans, b) we already do consider other animals by minimizing pain and suffering. These are weak statements. First, we do not know if research on other animals is necessary. We’ve never, as a culture, tried it any other way. And those who argue from the position of necessity start back-pedaling furiously as soon as one points out that the best research subjects for human treatment are – humans. No one, including myself, would ever condone such exploitation of humans. But the necessity argument, then, does not lead to the conclusion that other animals must be used. Ringach should consider the argument that even if there was strong evidence that vivisection of other animals helped humans there are some of us who do not think that it is a good enough reason to cause them to suffer for exactly the same reason we do not condone experiments on humans. One cannot have it both ways. So which is it? Second, anyone who knows anything about IACUCs and the vivisection industry knows very well that there are loopholes in these “protections” large enough to drive a six-wheeler through and that many animals, particularly the ones used the most frequently in vivisection, rats and mice, are conveniently excluded from legal protection.

    If Ringach wants to be viewed as scientifically-minded then he needs to provide empirical support for his statement that we owe moral consideration to other beings but not to the same degree as humans. Just as he has criticized the Declaration for lacking in scientific support (which is wrong; it has plenty) his own “declaration” lacks the same support. He needs to do better than this if he wants to be taken seriously.

    • I don’t buy that you’re a neuroscientist at a major research university or that you actually know anything about animal research. You’re comment that “rats and mice are conveniently excluded from legal protection” proves your ignorance. They are exempt from the Animal Welfare Act that’s true, but if you really knew anything about animal research you’d know that the Animal Welfare Act is not the only regulatory document used by researchers. You’d know about the Policy on the Humane Care and Use of Laboratory Animals and the Guide to the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals which both include rodents. You’d also know that the only mice and rats excused in the Animal Welfare act are two specific species of mice and rats, not all rats and mice. But you don’t know these things so i call BS on your entire post.

    • Lori,

      Thanks for your comment.

      “He is under the impression that the Declaration was made without any empirical basis.”

      I believe there is no empirical basis as to the specific issue the declaration is about — consciousness. Nobody can doubt animals can perform complex cognitive tasks, but the notion that this implies they must have the same mental states (including states of consciousness) does not result form such data.

      “… he incorrectly claims that all animal rights advocates draw their conclusions from “looking into the eyes” of the animals.”
      No, read carefully. I wrote “there are animal advocates” and I cited one that wrote exactly that. I never said all animal advocates.

      “My conclusions and those of many other scholar-advocates are based upon the corpus of accumulated scientific evidence demonstrating that many other animals possess elements of self-awareness and cognition shared with our own species”

      But those elements are very similar to what you would observe here:
      http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg21528785.900-robot-learns-to-recognise-itself-in-the-mirror.html
      What would you conclude for this robot? Is the robot conscious?

      “The author appears to be dismissing decades of peer-reviewed research in an effort to support his notion that we cannot ever know about the minds of other animals and, can, therefore, skirt around our moral responsibilities to them.”

      Absolutely not. Where did you read this? I wrote many times that animals are living beings worth of moral consideration — but just not the same moral consideration we owe fellow humans.

      “But to throw up one’s hands and claim that we know nothing is, in fact, an anti-science stance.”

      I never said “we know nothing”, but we know close to nothing when it comes to the precise topic of consciousness and the scientific basis for the assertion in this declaration. You write the declaration is a “strange beast”. What do you mean exactly? If the declaration a scientific fact or not? If it is intuition or a working hypothesis based on prior experience then state this is exactly what it is.

      “To the extent that awareness, consciousness, and sentience allow for a being to suffer, these are absolutely morally relevant characteristics”

      True, but not the only ones. Human cognition allows them to suffer in ways other animals cannot. A human mother contemplating death due to cancer will suffer not only physically, but will suffer to think she will be leaving their children alone, that she will never see them grow up, marry, have children of their own, and accompany them through life. A female mouse in the same situation will not suffer in such a way.

      “…we do not know if research on other animals is necessary.”

      Certainly they have contributed to advancements in medicine and human health. If they are not necessary you could easily point out how exactly we can gather the information we seek in animals in humans and enlighten us.

      “We’ve never, as a culture, tried it any other way. “

      Patently false. There is much human research that goes on in parallel.

      “Ringach should consider the argument that even if there was strong evidence that vivisection of other animals helped humans there are some of us who do not think that it is a good enough reason to cause them to suffer for exactly the same reason we do not condone experiments on humans. “

      I did consider it in detail. The reason for your position is that you believe that all living beings have the same basic rights to life and freedom. That we owe the same moral consideration to a mouse than to a child. I consider your reason and I rejected it.

      “…he needs to provide empirical support for his statement that we owe moral consideration to other beings but not to the same degree as humans”

      I do not understand… do you mean to imply you provided empirical support that we owe the same moral consideration to all living beings? What is that “empirical evidence” for such a moral theory?

      “… his own “declaration” lacks the same support.“

      You are confused. I have made no scientific statement at all. There was no declaration on my part but the rejection of a statement of fact form a group of scientists that has no scientific basis.

      Science can certainly help guide ethical debates, but you should not let your ethical theories influence your science. This declaration fails in this respect.

    • “And those who argue from the position of necessity start back-pedaling furiously as soon as one points out that the best research subjects for human treatment are – humans.”

      That’s a straw man argument if ever I saw one! Why do you think humans are the subjects in the clinical trials used to obtain regulatory approval for a new treatment. It’s not a question of non-human versus human research, the vast majority of scientists and medical professionals recognize that both have a crucial role to play at different – and often overlapping – stages of therapy development.

      Actually, one of the basic facts that is often missing from discussions of the morality of non-human animal versus human research is that for many areas of research, particularly basic research and the early stages of applied research, humans are for purely practical or scientific reasons (as opposed to moral or financial reasons) not the best research subjects – and in most instances would not be practical research subjects at all. You frequently see precisely the same considerations at work when bacteria, yeast or nematode worms are used rather than amphibians of rodents.

      One of the main reasons for the increasing popularity of GM animal studies alongside human genetic techniques such as GWAS is that the techniques complement each other, studies may often involve both (and usually a variety of other) techniques but neither can be regarded as an alternative to the other.

  4. Ringach, You’ve made countless unqualified assertions in your response to Lori (see 1a, 1b, 1c)

    (1) – (a) “True, but not the only ones. Human cognition allows them to suffer in ways other animals cannot”. (b) “A human mother contemplating death due to cancer will suffer not only physically, but will suffer to think she will be leaving their children alone, that she will never see them grow up, marry, have children of their own, and accompany them through life. A female mouse in the same situation will not suffer in such a way”.

    To this last point (b), if a mother doesn’t care about her children in the way that you’ve described, or has no children or no friends for that matter, should her life now be seen as “usable” for research?

    Most assertions made about what it’s like to be animal __x__ is impossible to back with empirical studies. There are underlying intuitions and assumptions doing a lot of the work and those need to be solved before making the ethical claims about their use. Same can be said of humans who cannot communicate effectively, for whatever reason. I recommend the article “What is it like to be a bat?” by Thomas Nagel.

    I guess a fundamental question you should answer tat would circumvent any worries and prevent people from talking past each other should be; Why should human beings be morally considered? Why do we have an IRB? I think we have an IRB because we think human beings are morally considerable, but, this is taken as a given. What about them makes them morally considerable? I’d argue that nearly any criteria you give will also force you to include other animals.

    You’ve suggested a sliding scale of moral consideration; “I wrote many times that animals are living beings worth of moral consideration — but just not the same moral consideration we owe fellow humans.”

    What gives them less? And, if you’re going to appeal to some trait than do humans that exhibit that same trait more than others deserve more moral consideration as well, if not why? For example, someone with a higher IQ, or any ability that you plan on appealing to that grounds moral consideration deserve more gov’t support or better working conditions, etc. You see where I’m going with this.

    You appealed to experiments that have, according to you “Certainly they have contributed to advancements in medicine and human health”.

    Other unethical practices have also contributed to a positive outcome. Nazi Germany and slavery contributed to benefits for society.

    Slavery contributed to the advancement of the U.S economic strong hold over the rest of the world when it was allowed. Hitler and his absurd scientific studies on Jews and others have contributed to advancements in science as well. Surely, because we can “advance” in a certain way it doesn’t follow that we can take any means to get there. This seems to be your suggestion.

    You said “If they are not necessary you could easily point out how exactly we can gather the information we seek in animals in humans and enlighten us”.

    We don’t need to do this sort of science anymore in order to flourish as a society. We can get by just fine. We have advanced to the point where many diseases are curable and most of the rest are preventable. Inflicting pain to cure pain seems absurd to me. We need to do science surrounding how to prevent the pain in the first place and this can be done by analyzing the habits of existing and past humans. When pain can’t be avoided we have tons of medications that deal with it quite well already. Perfect? Absolutely not, but why should we seek perfection at the cost of downplaying and abusing animals? This gets us back to my initial questions. What makes a humans qua humans more morally valuable than other creatures?

    In closing you said “but you should not let your ethical theories influence your science.”

    Yes you should! It should influence what you see as a palatable experiment by gauging the harm done by the experiment. Are you suggesting that the IRB is useless and should be done away with?

    • I’m not going to comment on most of this rambling response, however I can’t let such a grossly inaccurate comment about history go unchecked. The US did not have an economic strong hold over the rest of the world while slavery was instituted, The US was a minor player on the world scene at the time. We didn’t really become a powerhouse until WW2, about 80 years later. I know it’s not the thrust of your ramblings, but when you make such wild claims it makes the rest of your post suspect.

  5. “To this last point (b), if a mother doesn’t care about her children in the way that you’ve described, or has no children or no friends for that matter, should her life now be seen as “usable” for research?”

    No. I would mostly agree with Kittay:

    http://www.stonybrook.edu/commcms/philosophy/people/faculty_pages/docs/Kittay_Margins.pdf

    We, the human family, would care and suffer for this patient.

    “Why should human beings be morally considered? Why do we have an IRB?”

    I am not sure I understand the question. We have IRBs for both human and animal research. Humans are full moral agents participating in society who engage in societal rules and contracts. Part of that contract is that we do not harm each other without a good reason and/or consent. Animals are cannot participate in a moral community of equals.

    “What gives them less?”

    See:

    http://ringachlab.net/lab/Welcome_files/ringach_ajms.pdf

    and come back…

    “Other unethical practices have also contributed to a positive outcome.”

    I agree, I am no utilitarian. I never said the ends justify the means.

    Animal research can only be equated to slavery or the holocaust under the premise that we owe equal moral consideration to all living beings. I reject this view.

    “We don’t need to do this sort of science anymore in order to flourish as a society. We can get by just fine.”

    Really? This is nonsense. I guess you do not visit the hospital often or that you buy the notion that if you eat carrots you will not develop cancer.

    “Yes you should! It should influence what you see as a palatable experiment by gauging the harm done by the experiment.”

    Ok… you are right. But you have to gauge the harm and the potential benefits. What I really meant is that you should not let your ethical theory make you over-interpret the data. This is what seems to be happening in this declaration.

    So going back to “evidence”. Explain to me on what grounds you will deny the robot that self-recognizes on the mirror self-awareness.

  6. Is Lori or Justin going to tell us if the robot is self-aware or not? And why?

  7. Equating black slaves to mice? Nope! Re-read what I had to say, that comment is insulting!

    I described my use of history both in my response to you and in my response to Simon (regarding slaves).

    Unfortunately, half of the comments in reply to me had me re-read old blog posts. If you have a position you should state it, not send me on a wild goose chase (Read a 32 page article on someone elses position?). I’ve said what I’m saying to you to many others that share your incoherent position. I’ll keep saying it, I won’t link my old conversations or someone elses publication. I read arguments for a living, as a philosopher I must. But, since you’ve posted on a particular ethical position you should be able to articulate that position without needing to link a 32 page article saying “read that”, that’s my view.

    From what you’ve WRITTEN HERE it seems that you’re basing moral consideration on social interactions? Not all humans can interact in the same way (some FAR LESS than other animals), what is it about the interactions that grounds moral consideration? Babies can’t socialize, no more than animals can (far less in most cases). Are you basing their moral consideration on their potential to socialize? This commits you to an anti-abortion position, right?

    You’re position is still quite vague to me. You’re gung-ho saying that animals don’t meet the criteria but you fail to give a CLEAR criteria. And, I am quite confident that any criteria you give will purposefully be vague so you can link me to something else in order to circumvent having to deal with the criticism. The fact is that you want your cake and eat it to. Your social interaction model doesn’t account for babies and humans that cannot interact like the rest of us.

    I’ve been in hospitals, I’ve worked in one. I’ve had loved ones die. We are all going to die, deal with it. We live longer than we ever have. The testing is unnecessary! Plain and simple. We’ve tortured enough sentient beings to give us the life we currently have. Most disease and cancer could be prevented by eliminating meat and animal products from mass production. The answer isn’t trying to fix the disease once it’s here it’s to prevent it in the first place. This band-aid approach to health is bankrupting our country and causing unnecessary harms to animals that feel pain.

    • Justin,

      My position has been stated elsewhere but I have no problem trying to summarize it here for you.

      Animal rights activists justify their opposition on the belief that our moral consideration for the interests of all living beings must be equal. Given this premise, they conclude it would be morally wrong to experiment on a mouse to cure cancer for the same reasons it is wrong to experiment on a human being to do so — both have the exactly the same basic rights to life and freedom.

      I am unsure which position you hold. You appear to have been offended by the suggestion that you were comparing a mouse in a Lab to a human slave, but that’s exactly what many prominent animal rights philosophers have concluded.

      Is this notion tenable? Must we really give equal consideration to the life of a mouse than a human being? I do not think so. Why? Because the same things are not at stake when we put the loss of human and non-human life on the balance.

      On this specific point, Peter Singer writes, ” [...]to take the life of a being who has been hoping, planning and working for some future goal is to deprive that being of the fulfillment of those efforts; to take the life of a being with a mental capacity below the level needed to grasp that one is a being with a future — much less make plans for the future — cannot involve this particular kind of loss.”

      Tom Regan concurs “[...] the harm that death is, is a function if the opportunities for satisfaction it forecloses, and no reasonable person would deny that the death of any [...] human would be a greater prima facie loss, and thus a greater prima facie harm, that would be true in the case [of] a dog.”

      Exactly. That’s my point… well made by two prominent animal rights philosophers.

      What are they saying? That human’s cognitive abilities allow them to suffer in ways other living beings cannot. Such suffering is morally relevant.

      So does the unequal moral status of humans and animals mean that we can do with animals whatever we want? Absolutely not… but it does imply animal research is morally permissible. Note I am not saying the work is morally right and that we can use animals as any other piece of lab equipment. There is no denying the work involves facing an ethical dilemma — one that others simply prefer to deny it exists by asserting that all life deserves equal moral consideration.

      And as for the marginal case scenario you keep bringing up… I also explained why I feel relational properties are also morally relevant. I accept your intellectual laziness in not wanting to read what I (or other moral philosophers I cited) had to say, but I do not really have the time to repeat my answer to every single argument in the comments…

      I am sure you understand.

  8. Thanks for stating your position, I appreciate it.

    With regards to my laziness, my apologies. I’ve read Singer and Regan in their entirety while getting my B.A in Philosophy. I’ve read countless other arguments regarding moral status for my M.A in Philosophy and I continue to read detailed arguments in Philosophy while working toward my PhD. Admittedly, the past few years I’ve been consumed more with moral responsibility and free will, but, I feel confident in discussing ethics. I teach it and I’m aware of most of the claims being made in the realm of moral obligation and personhood. I write/read (blogs) and comment in my spare time. So, to blog about a topic and make a string of claims about what we ought to be doing with other living things that have moral value (even you admit this), then link me to 32 page articles where I can pull numerous points that you may not be alluding to is a waste of my time. You might see it as lazy, but, I see your move as lazy. I suppose we’ll have to agree to disagree here

    With that said, I do understand how frustrating it can be to keep saying things over and over but it seems as though you spend a decent amount of time responding already, and, I appreciate that. But, why not state the crux of your position when responding? Since most of your argument seems to be riding on how you ground morally obligatory and morally permissible actions it seems pertinent to be clear on how you ground them. I figured I’d give you my thoughts regarding why I was asking you to state your claim clearly for me. With that said, I’d like to briefly discuss what I take your view to be. First, let me make sure I understand it before criticizing.

    In reference to a run-of-the-mill animal rights activist position that argues for equal moral consideration you said; “Is this notion tenable? Must we really give equal consideration to the life of a mouse than a human being? I do not think so. Why? Because the same things are not at stake when we put the loss of human and non-human life on the balance.”

    The “same things” that are not at stake are “That human’s cognitive abilities allow them to suffer in ways other living beings cannot. Such suffering is morally relevant”. This raises the “stakes” for you and by raising the stakes, you mean that humans deserve MORE moral consideration, right? This doesn’t mean that animals get none, but they should get less. Ok, I think I got it. Here are my worries, again.

    I’m stating them again because you haven’t provided a rebuttal to the cases I’ve mentioned. For instance, babies.

    Why is it worse to harm a baby than it is a dog? What “human cognitive ability allows them to suffer in ways that other living being cannot”? I think there is a difference, personally, but we’re not discussing my view, we’re discussing yours. When you ground moral consideration in one’s cognitive ability it gets messy real fast. Again, that’s what you’re doing right? Because humans have more cognitive abilities than other animals you want to say that they deserve more moral consideration, right?

    Abandoned babies have no relations, other than being a member of the species (Singer mentions this at length). Their parents are gone and they are left at a door step. (BTW this still happens, I worked at a res group home that had a number of abandoned children left there every year). So, why shouldn’t we use these beings to experiment and do research on? Cognitively, adult pigs, dogs, and a slew of other animals have more ability than humans at that stage in their development. Given your commitment to cognitive ability it seems as though we could justify using them for research, right? Further, people that have cognitive disabilities that cause them to have less cognitive ability than many animals that we test on also seem to be game for experimental research under your model. What prevents your model from saying that such people should not be tested on? This sliding scale of moral consideration based on cognitive ability seems problematic. It also seems to be quite unintuitive. Take this case for example.

    There are 2 people drowning. A man can save only one person(for the sake of argument neither can swim and both will die), one is an adult, one is a child (3yrs old). The adult (80 yrs old and with it mentally) has more cognitive ability, does this mean that the man should save the adult because he has more moral consideration? I’m inclined to think that many would choose to save the child. If this is true then cognitive ability isn’t as potent of a driving force behind moral consideration as you may have thought. There are countless others but I should stop the thought experiment there as this is already long-winded.

    So to be clear; can humans that do not have the cognitive ability you speak of (babies, humans with cog deficiencies, etc.)be experimented on because they lack the cognitive ability that raises them above animals. Also, let’s assume that these people do not have family members (relations) willing to take them in or that would be pained by their loss. How can you argue against using such humans (you can call them marginal if you’d like but I’d say that this could account for millions of people, it’s surely lots) for experimental research?

    I reject using cognitive ability as a moral consideration. What about those who have a really high IQ? Are they more morally valuable, or, to use your words, should we grant them more moral consideration than someone with an average IQ? If you’re appealing to DNA to ground the relation you speak of then what is it about the DNA that grounds moral consideration? That it usually results in the cog ability you hold so dearly? What about when it doesn’t result in that cognitive capacity? And, if you’re grounding it in potential then what do you say about embryos and stem cell research? Seems inconsistent to appeal to DNA in one arena and not in others. Sorry for the length but I do believe that this response is quite appropriate to the discussion. Correct me if I’m wrong.

    • “Why is it worse to harm a baby than it is a dog? “

      Because there is a human family that cares deeply about the baby in ways that it does not happen for the dog.
      Why would it be wrong for me to burn your house down? After all a house is nothing but an inanimate object.

      The answer would be the same – I would be causing indirect suffering to you.

      Intrinsic properties are not all that matters.

      “Abandoned babies have no relations”

      Maybe you don’t care about abandoned babies. I do. Society does.

      So I think it would be difficult to pose a scenario where there would be no special relations whatsoever.
      In the hypothetical case that an Alien lands on Earth to find only one human baby (the rest of the population gone) and only one chimp, both with equal cognitive abilities, then I would say there is no difference.

      “I reject using cognitive ability as a moral consideration.”

      It is because you fail to see the link between cognitive ability and our ability to suffer.

      • No, I clearly see the link. But, I care about babies AND animals (as many do!)

        Can’t I say the same to you regarding animals? You say that families are harmed, but I devised cases (real life) where babies did not have families. You then said that you would be harmed because you care. Well, then, are millions of animal lovers harmed in the same way? Many of them care just as much for animals as you and I do for babies. For instance, my human family cares about the harm done to animals. Indirect suffering occurs to all those that love animals (many in “society”)… If we’re gauging harm of the human population then it seems many are harmed by the unethical treatment of animals, right?

        It seems that I can justify not harming animals on the same grounds that you justify not harming babies. That harming animals indirectly harms the human family (millions of people).

        • “Can’t I say the same to you regarding animals?”

          Yes, of course you can, if this is truly how you feel.

          “For instance, my human family cares about the harm done to animals.”

          Mine too. But does your family care equally about the harm done to animals than harm done to you?

          If so, your family is in a very small minority.

          Does it mean your suffering does not matter?

          Of course not, it does matter.

          But moral judgements by society cannot be based on the suffering of a few individuals alone.

          Clearly, if everyone felt like you we would not be doing any animal research nor eating animals.

          However, as you probably know, less than 2% of the population is vegan, which shows your sentiment is a rather unique one.

          It seems to me that suffering (and thus our sense of ethical behavior) has a strong biological component. We evolved as a social species that care about each other. In order for our own to survive, we have evolved a brain that suffers more when exposed to harm done to a member of our species than another. Our brains are hardwired so we protect each other and it may be difficult to use reason to overcome such biological constraints.

          “If we’re gauging harm of the human population then it seems many are harmed by the unethical treatment of animals, right?”

          Yes, including to those that do the work — believe it or not.

          However, you are leaving an important part out of your moral calculus here: the human and non-human suffering that would be caused by not doing the research.

          There is nearly unanimous agreement among scientists that many areas of important research would come to a full stop, preventing the development of new therapies and cures, which will in turn cause much harm to future generations.

          Think of the harm caused if we had not developed a vaccine for Polio because of successful opposition by animal rights activists.

          By asking us not to do the research your are asking us to cause much harm — to both human and non-humans alike.

          How do you justify that?

        • Did I answer all your questions now?

          What is your own personal position?

          You stated you oppose the use of animals in scientific research, but not why…