The Boston Atheists Meetup Group Message Board › Peter Singers Definition of Suffering

Peter Singers Definition of Suffering

Brian M.
user 42361012
Waltham, MA
Post #: 65
“A utilitarian would say that racists start with the assumption that the utility claims of people in their group are worth more than the claims of others.”
This is something I never did. I don’t claim they are worth more. Nor did I use the silly term ‘utility’. Interests are not utility. You don’t understand the full breath of my thinking. You are trying to cram my ten dimensional hypercube through your two dimensional round hole. It will not fit. You will break it and then complain it is flawed.

Utilitarians think simplistically. You have to if you think you can reduce the complexity of the world down into simple numeric measures of utility. From my perspective, utilitarianism is laughable. I have not even scratched the surface on how laughable. The kind of quantitative reductions that utilitarians want to do are impossible.

How to weigh a baby’s tear against a drunk’s pleasure, in fluid ounces or micrograms of neurotransmitters? Don’t worry, utilitarians have a formula, and you can just plug in the numbers.

I mock because it is quite ridiculous, but I will go to the trouble of explaining why.

I in fact claim that human and animals interest are mostly incommensurate at an individual level, and therefore a group one. I think that should be clear from a re-reading of all my writings here on the topic. Lions and Zebras have, for the most part, incommensurate, subjective interests and perspectives. I also, clarified, adding a dimension of complexity, that actually no group truly makes valuations on interest, only individuals do.

The very fact that you are reading this means that some animals have died. Their individual interests are opposed to yours, and that is true even if you are a vegetarian. Vegetarians have to clear animal habitat to grow their food. The second anyone plants one grain of grass, and exclude an animal from eating it, they have conflicting interests with the animal. Most animals (excepting my dog to a small extent) do not understand human property rights, and in fact, do not benefit from respecting them. There is no way I can strike a bargain with the deer in the forest that I won’t take their land if they don’t come on mine.

Even if they don’t plant they still have to pick that blueberry, and in doing so value themselves above the other animals who could have benefited. How many robins could survive on the diet of a human? How many mice?

I would give a completely different answer from a racist, if asked, instead of having words put in my mouth, the question “Are the utilitarian claims of blacks superior or inferior to the utilitarian claims white people?”

In this context I would first point out that black’s interests are incommensurate with racist interest for the most part. Sure they both might enjoy a low price on lobster at the supermarket, but on other issues they are diametrically opposed. Secondly, this is not true of white people in general. Whites and blacks share all kinds of interests like, an interest in seeing justice done, property rights, a strong defense against invaders, and so forth. I would also point out that utilitarian claims are unethical in the first place. Even if the racists could claim there would be more utility in getting rid of all blacks it would not be ethically binding on blacks. Even if, killing all blacks would reduce “suffering”, the racists are not acting ethically to do so.

The nature of ethical rules, are not as utilitarians believe. Ethical rules are about interests. Blacks have no interest in being exterminated. So they would never agree to the kind of rule that would do so. They have no duty to abide by such an ethical rule. Utilitarians can squawk that they ran the numbers and this would never be the result but that is hypothetical. No one has or can “run the numbers”.
Brian M.
user 42361012
Waltham, MA
Post #: 66
” Which leads us to the "dichotomy". It's central to Singer's thought in Animal Liberation. And isn't "false". It's a logical, exclusive-or choice. You have two doors to choose from.
Look, I’m an expert in logic, and I make quite a good living at it. You are dead wrong. This is about as stupid as those Cosmo magazine articles where they claim there are only six types of lovers, but in this case there are only two kinds of ethicists.

Your first mistake is that your two categories a) and b) do not describe exclusive nor opposite states. It might make sense to claim “You either believe a) or don’t believe a)” but it makes no sense to even bother describing b) once you have described a) and expect the categories to be exclusive in terms of belief. Your claim is about what I must believe. You’ve already got supposed opposites with belief or not belief.

I just got done telling you that I don’t believe in either a) or b).

I do not believe that a) “Human beings, as a species, have a "special" moral status that permits us (among other things) to treat animals in a way that maximizes our utility.”

I do not believe that b) “Human beings, as a species, have no "special" moral status, and therefore our utility has no more value than the utility of other species.”

Also a) and b) are not opposites. You can add the “no” in front of the word special to make a different sentence but it’s not an exclusive opposite. Your sentences have a very complex structure and there are many different ways to insert the negative operator to get to opposite statements. What you cannot do is make multiple changes, like you did. You didn’t even preserve the opposite nature of the conclusions, or retain it as a conclusion.

You’ve got structures a) “X Y that permits Z” and b) “X not Y and therefore Q”.

There is only one single negation operation allowed to get to an “opposite” statement, and what an opposite statement is opposite on matters. There are actually four variables here X,Y,Z, and Q. In a multidimensional boolean type graph there are not merely two states for four dimensions. There are 16 possible states. You can only reduce that to 8 states if you can show that the statements Z and Q are dependent on Y and X.

In fact, you aren’t even dealing with booleans. The X in this case is “Human Beings” and I might just be an Egyptian cat worshipper and think “Cats have a special moral status …”

Unfortunately, even if you were to stick with only a) and drop b) you cannot claim “You either believe a) or not a)” because belief does not follow binary logic. There are multiple states for that too. One can be ignorant, fail to understand a valid statement, be presented with improperly defined terms, not have made up one’s mind, and so forth. Which is why is really bad form to have a discussion where you make claims about what others have to believe.

I didn’t even begin to unpack the logical mistakes here.

Get off this kick. You are wrong. You are making errors in logic. Which is why you have no problem with Singer, and I do. I see the error. You don’t think I looked him up and found out he was a utilitarian, and immediately thought “Oh, that twattle”? Is it possible he fixed the inherent problems of utilitarianism? Maybe, but it is doubtful since that a heck of a lot of error to clean up.

It gets worse for your claim that I must believe this or I must believe that. I don’t even believe that the word “utility” as used by utilitarians makes sense, logically. It is as incomprehensible as the idea of an “all loving” being. I don’t have any experience with “all loving”, only the normal kind of loving. I can’t comprehend what it means to slap the concept of infinite onto an emotion. The concept of a utility is similarly flawed, and is a misuse of words. It is also ignorant of a whole area of economics that deals with utilities (and how they are incommensurate).

A least with love I have personal experience with what it is. With a utility function that is absolutely not true. I do not, like Spock, figure out my utility function so that I can decide what to do every day. Let’s see, I could be eating ice cream, instead of typing, but there are so many flavors, yet some supermarkets have some flavors and some don’t, and they are at different distances, then again I could book a trip to the Amazon, where I would be presented with a whole new array of complex options, there are millions of species of bugs to eat here, … an so forth. How the hell can I create a utility function out of that? What weight do I put on the variables, and do they change depending on the time of day? Do they diminish linearly or as the square or cube? I can not do that even for one or two options.

Individual humans do not operate based on utility functions. It is not in their nature.

It is even more hopeless to do this on a social level. As hard as it is for me to assign numbers to my subjective values, it is even worse to try to compare two different subjective systems. It is in fact impossible at the individual level, and worse at the group level. I cannot even combine the utility functions of one zebra to one lion. First they don’t use utility functions to make decisions, and if they did then it is quite clear they wouldn’t arrive at the same decisions.

I’m not even arriving at the same decisions as you in this discussion. How do we come up with a utility function to weigh your claims against mine in order to “do the right thing”? I didn’t even use a utility function to come up with my answer. How does one generate a utility function from a non-utility function?

The problem I have with Singer is that he is a poor logician, and therefore a poor philosopher. He’s misleading his followers as to the certainty of his proclamations. No you can’t deduce that it is bad for me to eat a fish via utilitarianism. That he tells you that is as shady as any priest telling you that you should stop me from eating fish on Friday.

All I know is that Singer sure makes people feel good about themselves, just like a priest. He tells people what they want to hear. People who subjectively value animals higher than other people do sure like to hear that their subjective biases are based on objective logic.

It’s no wonder these crazy animal activists feel justified in their acts of terror. They have all the moral certainty of an Islamist flying a plane into a building. One of the advantages of understanding that there are competing fallible moral systems is that you don’t ever get to this point of moral certitude. Which is not an argument that racists use.
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