Scientists are often challenged with the so-called marginal case argument.
We are asked to spell out the criteria that make our experiments justifiable in animals but not in humans with comparable abilities and therefore comparable interests. These criteria, we are told, must be evaluated for each individual separately (so-called moral individualism). The resulting argument against animal research consists in pointing out that no matter what criteria are selected, it is always possible to find some humans (e.g., the senile, the cognitively impaired or the comatose patient) who should also be candidates for invasive research. According to this line of reasoning, logical consistency demands that we conduct experiments with these human patients along or instead of using animals. If we are unwilling to do so, then we must be guilty of speciesism.
Let me bring up a few objections to this argument.
First, it seems clear (to me at least) that the intrinsic properties of an individual cannot possibly be all that matters in assessing moral status of living beings. If such properties were all that mattered, then we should feel comfortable granting a rock, a dead cat, and human remains the same moral consideration since they can all be classified as inanimate objects with no interests of their own. And yet, while nobody will object to a child playfully kicking a rock, most will not feel comfortable with him kicking a dead cat for his or her amusement or using human remains in an art project for school. The suffering such acts will inflict on others must count as well. Thus, we must reject moral individualism. Once that premise is gone, the entire marginal case scenario falls apart.
Second, even if for the sake of argument one accepts moral individualism, the resulting moral theory is impractical. Are we prepared to evaluate every single individual we encounter in life to decide on his or her moral status? Should we assess the cognitive abilities of the child now crossing the street? The dog walking with her? The squirrel that just rushed in front of our moving car? On one hand, consistency demands that we do so, but applicability demands that we come up with a more practical approach. Indeed, our ability to function in daily life is aided by organizing the world into different categories (or kinds) of living beings and making broad assessments of their interests and moral status. Our brain’s ability to quickly recognize species membership facilitates this. It enables us to determine that the squirrel running in front of our car is a living creature and to swerve to avoid running it over—unless doing so would endanger the child crossing the street. In most situations, we can assess the interests of living beings based on the normal life of the members of that species. We have no need to assess the specific interests and moral status of this particular squirrel and this particular child.
Third, the marginal case scenario is nearly always posed by using an impaired human and a non-human animal, rather than a normal human and a non-human animal with super-natural abilities. Why? Because there is a clear difference between these two situations. On one hand, should an ape appear in front of us, such as in Kafka’s “Report to the Academy”, speaking in fluent English, asking to be treated as a peer, it seems difficult to think we could refuse on any grounds, even if it represents an extraordinary case. On the other hand, when human patients are impaired from their normal state, in most cases, we have no absolute certainty the condition is permanent. A cure for Alzheimer’s or autism may possibly be developed in the future and their mental capacities restored. Moreover establishing the lack of cognitive function with confidence may be more difficult than we have anticipated, with new studies showing that patients in vegetative state may retain some cognitive function. And, as I mentioned earlier, even in cases were science tell us there is no hope for recovery on the horizon, harming these patients would cause suffering in others that must also be taken into consideration.
Finally, there is also a scientific objection: Even if one were to accept on principle the suggestion by animal philosophers and activists that if we experiment on animals we ought to be experimenting on impaired human patients, that population would not be best suited for scientific studies. Patients with pre-existing conditions have a wide range of abnormalities and individual differences that would make it extremely difficult to conduct properly controlled scientific studies. Thus, in addition to moral considerations, there are valid scientific reasons to reject the proposal of using impaired humans rather than animal subjects in most studies.
34 thoughts on “Objections to the Marginal Case Argument”
I’m glad this post has been resurrected after a whole year, because it’s something I keep returning to. I think the argument from marginal cases goes to the heart of the debate and it’s an extremely powerful tool in helping us to define what obligations we owe to non-human animals. Firstly though, I’d like to say that after reading this excellent blog I fully support animal research and it has allayed all of the fears that I had about the welfare of animals used in research. I think research scientists care deeply about animal suffering, and that there are very stringent oversights in place that regulate research in the EU. So thank you for speaking out and clarifying the issues.
However, this one post bothers me and I disagree with the moral implications that have been drawn from the argument from marginal cases. Firstly, by arguing against moral individualism, you are siding with some very strange political bedfellows. Religious fundamentalists believe in the so-called sanctity of human life, and they would also say that human suffering is more important than any other kind of suffering regardless of what capacities that being has. Taken to its extreme, speciesists would place more value on an insensible piece of embryonic material than a fully grown adult chimp, so clearly mental characteristics are important and species membership is not the only thing that determines how a being’s interests should be valued. Merely being human is not relevant, and if we redefined our notion of species so that chimpanzees were given the classification of Homo, then we’d then be in a very curious situation where a semantic definition was the basis of our moral attitude towards animals, they would after all be the same ‘species’ as us. It has to go deeper than that, and I’m surprised that intelligent people hang onto traditional conceptions about the specialness of human life regardless of individual capacities.
I think that in regard to AMC you have to bite the bullet and say that, in principle, you would be prepared to perform research on human beings with the same mental abilities, assuming the subject had no relatives and no further adverse consequences arose from it etc. The argument from marginal cases does not preclude animal research as Animal Rights activists suggest, but it does show very powerfully the seriousness of animal suffering. I think any attempt to maintain that humans are more special than non-humans regardless of any other consideration, is just question-begging.
Also, regarding your point that individualism must be wrong because we have to take into account the interests of others, that is a quite bizarre thing to say. If you look at individualism on Wikipedia (the fount of all knowledge of course) it’s compatible with a whole range of moral stances, including utilitarianism which would say that it’s wrong to desecrate a corpse because this would cause suffering, not to the corpse, but to others in the form of emotional distress. You can believe in moral individualism and be a utilitarian.
To clarify — I do not deny that the cognitive/mental properties of an individual matter, what I deny is that it is the only thing that should be considered. Singer’s notion of “equal consideration”, it seems to me, calls to consider only the intrinsic properties of the individual.
It seems to me assumption must go beyond having no relatives… what has to be considered is the human suffering of us doing such experiments, even in persons not directly related to the subject under consideration.
And yes, I understand this opens the door to many murky issues — One may ask: Shouldn’t the suffering of those that feel for the animals in lab count? The bottom line is that I think yes, it does… and if the vast majority of the public felt the same way as animal rights activists we would probably not be doing scientific research with animals (let alone eating them.)
Given that this issue us originally the fault of agri-scientists and factory farmers I dunt feel that my rules of morality, in which this would probably never have happened, should be expected to provide a solution ‘my world’ would never require.
It is precisely the same attitude of ‘manipulate everything for human benefit’ as that found in animal research that has resulted in this problem. From that perspective the birds are, yet again, just innocent victims.
However, reluctantly one would have no choice but to put this down to self defence I suppose, but with the clear understanding of doing so only in order to clear up the mess of those whose morality promotes manipulating animals for human gain. Without wishing to sound pompous, the moral rules in which I believe would not have allowed this to happen in the first place so it’s not really fair to expect me to comment on the consequences of someone else’s immorality. I would suggest that the makers of that mess employ whatever solution their morality advises.
I cannot be held responsible for resolving the of the very immorality I would not have allowed in the first place.
Regarding the jews, I would see violence as acceptable on self defence grounds given that the violence was directed only towards those who are themselves violent moral agents (i.e. the nazi aggressors) and no innocent parteis were intentionally harmed.
We also differ in the scope and extent with respect to the subjects-of-life for whom we acknowledge autonomy independent of us.
I believe that taking life is just the same as taking anything else. If I stole your car because I believed I needed it more than you do (even if maybe I had an important journey to make and genuinely did need it more), I would consider that immoral of me because your car is your property no matter how great my need.
We would probably agree on this. However, life itself (for non-humans) is not seen by you as the property of the individual living it (otherwise you wouldn’t be able to justify stealing it). For me that is bizarre because it is tantamount to respecting ownership of an object (car) more than respecting the ownership of the life of each (every) subject-of-a-life individual.
Do you really respect my ownership of my car (no mater how much you think you or another human would benefit by stealing it from me) more than a mouse’s ownership of his very life?
To me this is madness. Don’t you think the mouse holds his life in higher regard than I hold a mere car? And yet you count stealing the former acceptable and the latter unacceptable.
I can’t imagine having this’ back to front’ sense of values.
Flu existed well before the industrial revolution, as did many other diseases that are still around today. If you think you can plan your actions to prevent future moral dilemmas… well, yes, you are sounding rather pompous.
If you (reluctantly) put the culling of of birds to prevent a flu pandemic under “self defense”, why not put our fight against cancer, AIDS, and so on… under the same rubric? What’s different?
Finally, your notion that organisms “own” their life seems a little bit strange to me. Life is property of an organism, not something it owns. An organism is alive the same way that a tomato is red. The only difference is that the former property is morally relevant as to how we (humans) decide to treat others. You appear to be trying to articulate the fact that, in your view, all living beings have the exact same right to live their lives without human interference. If so, I think we disagree deeply.
To be honest I’m getting way of hammering home a meagre to which I don’t think your actually listening and not only that but even twisting what I’ve said.
It’s soooo frustrating to let you get that last word with twaddle like your last post but I haven’t got the time energy or patience to just keep going around in circles.
There really is a tonne of stuffi could say in response to your last post but you’ll just have to take my word for it, or not if you prefer whichever. .
I will just say thereis a world if sieve been picking up the pieces of someone else’s immorality by song what must be done with no choice on the one hand, and adopting a policy of systematic abuse against one party for the benefit of another.I think you know this, if you don’t you should.
We are also not taking about flu in general you asked me about ‘this action’ and linked to that specific issue. Make Up Your mind as to what the question actually is you want answered.
Ultimately ‘objection to speciesism’ fails in my view because it doesn’t even deal with the issue of living species to start with it simply says that because we have an unrest in promoting a harmless interest in the symbolism (remains) of humans above an inanimate object it must be ok to cause suffering in living individuals based on a subjective human interpretation on who matters most. It’s clutching at straws and is frankly insulting to the subject of how we deal with actual suffering back in the real world where both sides of the argument have their lives at stake (unlike a stone or a pile of bones). Again I suspect that you know this deep inside, if not it’s truly worrying.
This is my last post. I’ll leave you to have the last word if you like, but they won’t change the truth that humans are without any justification except their own sense of self importance.
If your article helps you to minimise your guilt in being at the heart of that suffering creation process fine, but that’s the only relevance I can see for it.
Finally, you asked me my opinion about the nazis and I said that I agreed with violence against them because. …
… they were moral agents persecuting moral patients who are SUBJECTS-OF-A-LIFE (a recognised term you chose to ignore in your replies over and over again) to further their own interests for which they believed themselves entitled due to their perceived superiority.
I’m done here. You’ll have to continue your obtuse self justification without me.
Sure, you can have the last word… Just remember to act according to your own beliefs next time you are sick… Have a have a healthy and long life.
my apologies for any typos in my posts.
It might also be interesting to ask ourselves…
if another species who were more “mentally aware” and more popular, on their own larger planet were doing this to us and our children for there “greater” benefit would we be discussing our own fate so intellectually and with such tie taken to get to every grain of truth while our own species suffer.
Would we? I think we all no the answer to that…
Can’t see how moral consideration can be based on anything other than ability to suffer, surely. Most people here are overcomplicating things by far (with an agenda to legitimising the continuance of current behaviour?)
And for it being a binary state or not. It probably is, but not the same result in each case. For example…
For the human….
Human’s preferences are more important = yes (1)
Mouse’s preferences is more important = No (0)
For the mouse…
Human’s preferences are more important = no (0)
Mouse’s preferences is more important = Yes (1)
To differentiate more than that is probably beyond the mouse so is not universally and consistently applicable; a requirement of good moral practice. Thus the binary form is the only one with which the needs of both can be compared and contrasted in a way which doesn’t compare apples and oranges..
We know with sufficient certainty now that an individual can suffer without being human. Surely the presence or absence of mental abilities beyond that level is academic with respect to moral consideration. You don’t have to be able to write Shakespeare to suffer so the ability to write Shakespeare is irrelevant. Bentham pointed this out hundreds of years ago. Splitting hairs beyond that is just obfuscating the real issue.
Even if we did need to include “degree of awareness” as a criteria for whether or not to inflict suffering, it could then be argued that “averagely mentally aware” humans, like me, would be fair game as research objects if used purely and solely for the benefit of super intelligent humans especially if much more valued by society for whatever reasons.
In other words if Einstein got sick it would be ok to experiment on me to get him well again. Or what about me vs a famous sportswoman or celebrity who although not that mentally “aware” was idolised by her whole country?
Given that most people would appreciate the absurdity of such a line of reasoning (I hope) why is it any less absurd to apply it across species, given that all the same morally relevant issues apply.
And yet with interspecies relationships we disregard the absurdity of the above scenario. We are happy to move the goal posts (excuse the pun).
Another point that’s missed here is that life is the property of it’s owner. My life is mine. Your life is yours. Isn’t the mouse’s life his?
As the feminist author once wrote “We do not see things as they are, but as we are”
Just as the average human will see their life as more important than anyone else’s (and we respect that in them). The mouse will also see his life as more important than anyone else’s, whether consciously or not
Morally speaking our obligation is to evolve to a position in which we can respect the mouse’s desire for a life free from pain as being no different from the average human’s desire for a life free from pain, for the sake of moral consistency, as in Kant’s moral test of the universalizable imperative. It’s a bitter pill to swallow, but it is the morally objective one.
Just as Einstein’s superior “awareness” and his arguable greater value to society would obviously not excuse him attempting to priorities the continuance of his life over mine, against my wishes to continue living my own life, so it between any one of us and the mouse.
Further analysis is entirely missing the point while the suffering continues. I’m not against academic discussion, but the degree of analysis to which it takes place here is irrelevant at best and perhaps even counter-productive and diversionary at worst. While the suffering continues.
I doubt the mouse ever asks the question if his preferences are more important than those of the human. After all, they live in our homes and did not bother to ask. I agree that the mouse may exhibit behavior that suggests he has a preference for his own well-being and that it can suffer. But the question is if we owe the SAME moral consideration to a mouse and a human, in particular when there are conflict of interests.
mmmh! He may not “ask” it in language or conscious thought but there is every chance that via the programming of evolutionarty survival he “wants” it just as badly.
lol – makes an interesting comparison with us building our houses on “his” field. did we ask?
Statistically there’s as much chance that we imposed on him first. Land obtained by a method which we invented for only human use as it incorporates processes only we can understand – exclusion by virtue of intelligence. Sounds familiar.
Objectivity is key :)
We certainly ask for environmental impact when we consider new developments… and I think we certainly should ask how is that our actions affect the life of other living beings. And clearly, it is only us, humans that ask such a question. You still did not answer my question — do you think we owe the SAME moral consideration to a rat and to a human being when there are conflicts of interest?
Sorry I didn’t intentionally ignore your question, just an oversight in my reply.
You’re not gong to like my answer but the reality is that I am not qualified to decide that because no matter how hard I try I can never be truly objective. No human can as far as i’m concerned.
Because we are not qualified to decide we are not entitled to, by strict moral protocol, so we should never try to.
When the is chicory all we can do is opt out of deciding which effectively means we must leave the status quo for each party as it is.
I told you you wouldn’t like it.
Opt out from making decisions? Thankfully, others decided to face the ethical challenge and not simply walk away… That’s why probably your life is being protected by vaccines developed with the use of animals in research. You have much to thank those that decided not to opt out.
You’ve misunderstood again, although in fairness I was in a hurry when I wrote that and may not have been clear. I did not mean opt out from the decision I meant opt out of the situation, as in either do not initiate the conflict in the first place or having seen a conflict developing back down from it, or more to the point back down from any immoral part of it (I.e. causing suffering).
Conflict that is unintended is, by definition, blameless. The mouse invading your house fits this category. Us building on his is minimisable at worst and sometimes totally avoidable at best. As moral agents we must always accept blame for every single conflict that initiates from our actions. It must be so. You can’t blame a moral patient for their actions, the agent in the other hand knows full well the conflict is there.
However we are not qualified to handle judgements over conflict (the same conflicts for which only we can be blamed as above) because we are an ‘interested party’ in the same sense as being our own judge in a legal enquiry for example. We cannot be objective and will always, at the final analysis, put our own interests first (one of the most serious breaches of good moral conduct).
So, firstly we must take the blame for all conflict between ourselves and an unknowing moral patient and secondly even if we try to rationalise that blame away to ourselves it CAN BE only to ourselves and so can never objective.
For these two reasons conflict must be avoided wherever it is optional. The only exception to this would be DIRECTLY defending one’s own life, and by that I mean personal self defence, research doesn’t count that is just mass slaughter for possible and occasional group-wide gain, similar to war in that respect which is clearly immoral.
It’s undeniable that all sorts of amazing things have resulted from medical research and many people, myself included, have benefited. By of course life is full of situations where someone had exploited someone else for their own benefit, infusing humans. We would all see that as wrong even if, as I previously pointed out, the humans involved had different levels of awareness.
Why do those same commendable goal posts get moved when the species changes.
For a moral agent to knowingly transfer their own life and death problems onto to an innocent moral patient can never make sensible morality, and the greater the gain for doing so the more selfish the motive (by definition) and so the greater the immorality.
Excuse any of words in this post, my phone sometimes puts them in by mistake.
Evolution resulted in humans developing brains that can understand nature through science and use the resulting knowledge to alleviate suffering for both human and non-human animals. It is in our interest to do so. Sometimes, like in the use of animals in medical research, our interests conflicts with theirs. We cannot be blamed for the outcome of evolution, but we ought to confront the ethical dilemmas it created for us instead of walking away from them. Not doing anything is not harm-free. It has a moral cost that you need to justify as well — https://speakingofresearch.com/2012/03/09/the-morality-of-inaction-reframing-the-debate/
But that’s exactly the point. I don’t need to justify what evolution has caused (eg death through inability to fight illness) because I’m not responsible for it, but I would need to justify actively manipulating someone else’s life in order to give me an advantage, which is what medical researchers do, because I would be actively responsible for it.
I would be forcing conflict on an innocent party rather than dealing, or not dealing, with my own problem and leaving the innocent party out of it.
Perhaps you can answer me a question this time. ..
If you consider that those with little or no mental capacity can be expendable for those who have more why does your policy just happen to fit so neatly into a ‘one species vs all the other species’ scenario.
Why do you not advocate saving the lives of intelligent chimps by developing medicines using human severe retards whenever scientifically suitable.
The point is that you are capable of alleviating suffering and choose not to do so and walk away… and yet, you are happy to benefit from the work yourself.
As for your question, here is an answer — https://speakingofresearch.com/2012/04/12/objections-to-the-marginal-case-argument/
No. .. the point is that if you have to create suffering somewhere to alleviate it somewhere else you are very obviously not alleviating it at all, you are just TRANSFERRING it. And not only that but also assuming the authority to decide where it is to be transferred, inevitably thus must also be done without the (physically impossible) agreement of the individual you are transferring it to.
Alleviating suffering where it can be done in isolation is a very moral act. Choosing a ‘favourite’ and making someone else suffer for that favourite’s benefit is a very immoral act.
As far as benefiting from what has already been discovered I should think it highly immoral not to given the amount of suffering that has taken place to provide it. There are many examples in history of immoral periods from which we are all still enjoying the benefits. That does not mean they should continue.
Slavery made parts of the Western world very rich and some of that wealth is still around today even at national and international levels. It doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t have stopped simply because the benefits from those immoral ‘old days’ are still in existence.
Because we have ill gotten gains from the past, it means the suffering experienced for those gains needs to be justified by using them. It sites not mean we can continue behaving badly note that we (should) know better.
No, it is not simply transfer… Consider for example we are the verge of eradicating polio from the face of the Earth with the help of the oral polio vaccine —
https://speakingofresearch.com/2011/02/01/the-monkeys-who-gave-summer-back-to-the-children/ The vaccine was developed with the use of animals in research, but it will benefit countless individuals… and by countless I mean… countless. All future generations will benefit from the work.
Your argument to continue benefiting from animal research does not stand scrutiny. You would not buy a product from a company that you know exploits its workers, because doing so would help perpetuate a practice you consider immoral. Similarly, you should not benefit from animal research (which you consider immoral) because doing will perpetuate its practice. Your example does not apply, as our present benefits are not perpetuating a practice that has long been abolished — slavery.
We live in a world populated with moral dilemmas by the mere fact that we share the planet. Examples abound. Here is one this week — http://uk.reuters.com/article/2013/04/05/uk-birdflu-idUKBRE93402H20130405 According to you people should sit still and let the flu pandemic happen… Right?
sorry I meant to say when there is conflict all we can do is opt out…stupid phone.
1) But here you are invoking relational properties, such as “being attached to well being.” If you accept this then one could simply state (and I believe this to be true) that humans suffer more when other humans are harmed rather than when animals are harmed. This may even be the case when these humans are marginal cases.
2) Here I am talking simply about assessing the degree of moral concern we owe to other living beings. By “individualism” I mean that some theorist believe that our moral concern should be based only on intrinsic properties of that living being. Thus, to the moral individualist it does not matter that a mentally disabled child is someone’s son or daughter. S/he will argue that if we are ready to experiment on a mouse, we should also be able to experiment on such a child with similar mental capabilities.
3) I think we agree on when a living being has moral status. The question is if such status is a binary property (all or none). Does a worm and a human child have the same moral status?
4) An interesting theoretical possibility… but, you see, we can wake up patients from comma today. The possibility of curing mental illness is concrete and real. Making a dog recite Shakespeare is not. The possibility of causing harm by asking scientists to stop researching on animals is real. The likelihood that a mouse will find a cure for cancer is zero.
I think you’ve misunderstood the whole argument from marginal cases.
(1) The argument say that humans in general (including the marginal cases) don’t have any property that distinguishes them from animals. When you talk about rocks, dead cats and dead people, we actually have a property that distinguish them – the property of being attached to general well being. In fact, if the kid was kicking a “sacred rock” from some peaceful religion, you would say that the kid is doing something wrong, because this rock in particular is attached to general well being. The general position that the argument is trying to support is utilitarianism, i.e., if something promotes more general well being than it’s opposite, then we ought to do this. Once animals are attached to general well being, they count as moral patients, and we ought to promote animal welfare.
(2) Moral individualism must be, at least in some degree, true. For else would be now way to distinguish where a person is moral or immoral. If moral status does not depends on individual, but rather in something completely exterior to the individual, then the only meaningful statement about moral status would be one that talk about this exterior component, and not individual. So, if moral individualism is wrong, statements like “this person is immoral” should be meaningless. That’s not the case.
(3) It’s easy to evaluate where a being has a moral status or not. Like I said, if that being is attached to general well being, then this being has a moral considerable status. A kid or any animal crossing the road is obviously attached to general well being. When this is not much clear, then we say that we have an ethical problem.
(4) You fail when you say that marginal cases are considerable and animals not because marginal cases are potentially non-marginal cases in the future, i.e., that we can found a cure for him. What about the possibility of a high tech for generating rationality in animals in the future? Since both the cure and this possibility have both unknowable probabilities, they’re justified in the same degree.
I think it’s unlikely that there is a quick or simple answer to this that also manages to be complete.
Thinking on it, my general rule of thumb seems to be “capacity for experience.” While it’s interesting that some sort of brain activity could be ongoing in a person in a vegetative state, unless that person is able to experience things happening to them I can’t see it carrying much moral weight. In particular, I think moral consideration starts to really come into play when a being has the ability to experience happiness, pleasure, or pain/suffering. Might be at least a little easier to measure than the more generalized and even harder to pin down “consciousness,” I suppose, though still fairly difficult… In lieu of direct verbal communication the best measures we have of it right now are probably behavioral and chemical in “borderline” cases like animals and less-responsive/communicative humans of various stripes.
monkey at university: we were/are denying women or people of different colors access to universities.
by focusing on experiments only, some really nice arguments for not eating animals were displayed.
Interesting reading,though I think that a reading of Eva Kittay’s essay “At the margins of Moral Personhood” that you link to above would be very helpful to anyone wishing to get a better grasp of these issues. Her discussions of social relations and the issue of misfortune in relation to species norms are particularly interesting.
Click to access fulltext.pdf
Wow! You refuted both the argument for marginal cases and the entire theory of moral individualism in less than one paragraph. Amazing! I suppose James Rachels and Jeff McMahan were not keen enough to anticipate and answer your objection in their books and articles on these subjects. Congratulations!
Your sarcasm aside… what’s wrong with the argument? If it is so obviously wrong, I assume there is a simple explanation. What is it?
Here it is. Your first objection. ..
Granting human remains higher status than a rock does not have any moral consequences with respect to suffering; it is a win win situation, and can be morally justified on those grounds alone. Any outcome in which ALL those with moral status benefit (in this case all or any humans) is good morality and so is missing the all important moral dilemma that applies to speciesism in living creatures. It does not matter to be biased with our interests of human remains over the rock because the indulgence does not harm the rock. In short only one of the parties has moral relevance to begin with.
Promoting human remains over a rock is an indulgence which harms no one. Specialisms in living creatures is not, so the comparison sites not apply.
Second, the issue of impracticality. ..
Firstly our inability to make perfect choices with respect to the meal status of individuals in relation to each other does not justify making no effort at all.
Secondly, if the amount of time and money that is currently spent on immoral medical research was spent instead on developing mental tests to assess this it probably would be a lot more practical than it is now.
Thirdly, it may be argued that any situation in which we actively cause (create!), the suffering of an individual in order to satisfy or own preferences is sufficient immorality to preclude doing so, making the issue of practical assessment for such purposes irrelevant.
Finally, I am puzzled as to why you appear to have interpreted the argument made using marginal case in only one direction?
You always state that those who support moral individualism suggest that if it’s ok to experiment on the monkey it will be ok to experiment on the retard. You will find that those who support the rights of non-humans advocate the opposite. We say that because it would be unacceptable to experiment on the retard it is equally unacceptable to experiment on the monkey.
There is a world of difference, especially if you are either the retard or the monkey, or indeed any other human or monkey who has affection for them.
I can see nothing in your objection that succeeds in contradicting the logic of speciesism.
“Granting human remains higher status than a rock does not have any moral consequences with respect to suffering…”
What if you have someone that enjoys (derives pleasure from) playing with human remains? Would you allow it?
I think where we obviously differ is that you seem to adhere to an absolute moral principle of “do no harm” except for the case of self-defence.
What about this action? — http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/04/05/us-birdflu-china-idUSBRE93201G20130405
Was the use of violence to release Jewish concentrations camps also unjustified? What is your position on abortion?
No matter how marginal a particular human may be, he or she will always be human. And I accord rights to my fellow humans, no matter how marginal they are.
Moreover, it’s simply the case that an enormous segment of biomedical research could not be conducted on consenting humans, at all. A straightforward example comes from the study of knockout or knockin animals (in which a gene has been deleted or inserted, respectively). Today, the majority of what we know about how particular genes regulate cells and our body (both when they work properly – in health – and when they do not – causing disease) comes from the study of genetically modified mice, zebrafish and invertebrates. How could such a study be conducted on a human? It could not, without creating a sentient, usually mentally capable person as a consequence of the research.
That research that can be done on consenting humans, is. An enormous part of all biomedical research involves human subjects. Sometimes the consent of the participant is not altogether clear (such as in cases where they might participate to get money they need to survive, or in cases where their doctor is involved in the study and they want to please him/her, or in cases where they are mentally ill and have difficulty making “normal” decisions). In each of these cases, as in the case of animal research, an independent body (and IRB or an IACUC) helps to make the decision on the part of the participant – evaluting the potential for gain and the potential for harm.
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