To speak on behalf of those who cannot


12:23 am  |  It’s kind of interesting. I’ve been sort of scratching my head over this for a couple hours… Well, Scanlon poses this question on page 179: “According to contractualism, the scope of the morality of right and wrong will include those beings to whom we have good reason to want our actions to be justifiable. What answers does this suggest to the questions I have just posed?”

And he also gives a list of 5 characteristics that describes the sorts of beings “to whom we have good reason to want our actions to be justifiable” to.

When I look at the list, and I think about the question, I think that the only answer that’s completely satisfying to me is: the self. But even that is vague. What would answer Scanlon’s question would have to be a certain aspect of my self — the conscious being of my self.

Another thing that worries me a little, is that he seems to think that being who are “capable of judgment-sensitive attitudes” necessarily have a capacity for language. But this could go a number of ways, depending on what is considered to be “language” and what it means to have a “capacity” for it (eg, is it enough to be sensitive/responsive to such “language,” or must also be in command of speaking/producing it?). Furthermore, there is the question of whether responsiveness to reasons is sufficient evidence as being “capable of judgment-sensitive attitudes” in general, or whether one must prove this beyond a doubt (presumably, by means of a sufficient degree of linguistic mastery). If the latter, then mightn’t this rule out many actual adult humans?

So that’s one worry about what he means.

Also, I get the sense that he means to include domesticated animals — like cats and dogs — in the category of qualifies in receiving our moral consideration — even if we aren’t required to justify our actions to them. But what about livestock?

Now if the latter are to be included in the beings who are to receive our moral considerations, then there is a worry here as well. Unlike pets, it’s a fact that we intend for some livestock to be killed quite prematurely. And when they’re intended for food, they’re bred to be a certain sort of way. So, is it fair to judge them for being the products of our own decisions and actions? For instance, if we were to intentionally breed pigs (whether via genetic-modification or other artificial selection) so that are not responsive to “judgment-sensitive attitudes” — or even, for that matter, simply to feel pain and to be responsive to pain — then does the fact of their actually being that way thus make it right for us to treat them as beings who lack these capabilities?

Taken at another level, this question also applies to humans. Is it right to judge persons, given that they may be products of their environments? In particular, environments that were artificially created by society? Should we consider such judgments to be fair and truthful?


3:18am  |  Scanlon writes: “Consider, then, the view that while it is morally wrong, in the broad sense of that term, to be heedless of the suffering of creatures who fall outside group (3), we do not stand in the further moral relations to them that underlie the part of morality that my contractualist account describes. Are there reasons for finding this view unsatisfactory?” (p.182)

I take this question as a challenge.

Intuitively, I suppose I empathize with the creatures who would fall outside of Scanlon’s group (3), and into the lower groups. [Group (3) being those who have preferences and are sentient, but also are capable of calculating and prioritizing their preferences, and otherwise capable of holding “judgment-sensitive attitudes.] I suppose that in general, I have experienced being in a situation where my intuitions and views were not respected, and yet I know that even after much time, and much education and much contemplation, that though I had many faults, still I see that I was not wrong in that moment of “pure intuition.”

And so, I empathize with a being who might be seen as being in that state — whether it is a nonhuman animal, an insect like a bee, or a plant even. And so I find this view unsatisfactory. But, do I have a reason other than that I empathize? I don’t know. It’s possible that it’s simply the matter that I empathize, and so I feel the memory of my own pain of being wronged while in that state, when I look at other beings who are said to now be in that state. In this way, I identify with the being who is in that state. And I think that this is the only “reason” that I can come up with at this time, as an answer to Scanlon’s challenge. I don’t have some further account/justification.

The question is really something like this: what if I saw you as a category (2) being, regardless of whether you truly were or not? On the Aristotelian view, isn’t that what would make you a category (2) being — at least, in my world? On the Aristotelian mindset, so long as I am not privy to your “secret life,” you are simply whatever I judge you to be — even if I judged that you were nothing more than a “living tool.” I would have absolutely no reason to think otherwise — if I were operating on an Aristotelian wave-length. Thank goodness that I am not.

Perhaps Aristotle might say that I empathize too much with the “victim,” the “Other.” But then again, perhaps, this is the proper benefit of tragedy. (And not the so-called “katharsis.” The lesson is not to learn that I am glad not to be the victim.) Perhaps this is the function of human-kind in the larger scheme of the cosmos. We are to be ambassadors of sorts, speaking on behalf of those who cannot, by being able to make critical connections with those who cannot by means of transcendence (eg, abstractions), and thereby producing justifications for truth as often as we can (since all truth deserves justification). And if this were true, then does my answer suffice to meet Scanlon’s challenge?

Or, is the only person who might understand what I’m saying here be one who is already dead?

I can tell that I am tired, and should rest.


9:34 am  |  Reading where I ended up going last night, I can see that I probably went too far — though, I certainly made some good points along the way. For instance, I might think that a virtual character in a video game is just an empty image and does not feel pain when I slash a virtual sword at it, and I’m probably correct in having these beliefs. Also, it makes no sense to “throw pearls to swine”; the finer points should be reserved for those who are fully capable of appreciating them. And finally, I should probably stick to speaking for myself, rather than speaking for those who cannot speak. It is the more grounded thing to do.

That said, I was speaking for my self, I think. And others like me, of course.

I think the conclusion is more like this: if I treat nonhuman animals and nature with respect and gentleness, it is because I am (at times) an emotional and sensitive being who empathizes deeply with the world and the beings that I encounter, and I am reminded of my own pleasures and pains by encountering others and the world. It is for the sake of my own self then, that I treat nonhuman animals and nature with respect and gentleness, even though I have no certain proof of their inner-world. But let this writing be proof of my own inner-world for the doubters to witness for themselves.

But, perhaps there are moments when I wish to feel connected with even the rocks and the rivers, and to expand my self so that I encompass the whole of the entire universe, transcending space and time — and in order to do so, I must identify with all these. And it is best if I should have as little reason as possible to want to “wall myself off” from with these.

Maybe this is what Buddhists or some Native Americans do, and for the reasons that I’ve just mentioned.


10:45 am  |  I am at the edge of my seat. Scanlon writes: “They do engage in goal-directed activity, but, apart from the distress it may cause, interfering with this activity does not seem in itself to raise moral objections. So this aspect of this notion of a creature’s good does not seem to provide grounds on which a trustee for nonrational creatures could [emphasis added] object to proposed principles.” (p.184)

I think that this is untrue. And the possible moral objection is this: if the project of democracy is one of actualizing truth in the world (as I think that it is), and if this truth is of any value independent of humanity — ie, whether it is the truth that is in humans or in nonhuman animals or even plants — then it can be morally objectionable to interfere with any genuinely self-directed activity, since it is these genuinely self-directed activities, ie the ones which are produced in the absence of coercion (eg, activities motivated by love rather than by fear), that are each a manifestation of the truth and also of the universe.

And so, the trustee could raise moral objections. Whether the trustee actually does so or not, is another matter. Therefore, Scanlon is mistaken to say that the objection isn’t possible, just because it actually isn’t now raised. This is faulty logic.

But I also want to account for what I think that Scanlon likely means to say. I suspect that the moral objection is actually there as a given, as a prima facie moral objection. I think that the more interesting question is, what overrides it? Since, obviously, there are occasions when it does — and likely, it is quite often (though, not necessarily always). Presumably, what overrides it is our own reasons and goals. If our own reasons and goals also come from nature and are genuine, then our own reasons and goals deserve at least the same respect and consideration as that which is accorded to any other attempt at manifesting the truth. And insofar as we each are sovereign individuals and are a cosmos in ourselves, our own reasons and goals are owed more of our personal commitment than any others’ reasons and goals, since our very first duty and task is to be each our own guardians. (Well, what if the “I” were then expanded to encompass the greater universe? Then, wouldn’t the greater universe itself become my very first duty and task?)

The duty and task [for me at least] comes from this fact: each cell of my body has attached itself to me, out of love. Thus, I am the center of this universe of love. Each cell regards me as the supreme Good; I am the object of their love. And for their love, I owe them my guardianship. I owe it to my cells that I am at least conscious of them, though I owe them much more than this. Ultimately, I think that I properly owe them Beauty and Truth. The sort of thing that Achilles felt that he owed Patrokles’ love (not Patrokles himself) in the Iliad.

To put it into “religious-talk,” it is what God owes to her creatures. And therefore, God must act in ways that are “justifiable” to humankind. In short, God must be good. (But I myself am a polytheist, of the Greek Pantheon strain, and believe that there are as many Gods as there are stars in the universe.)

Wow, it is barely noon now, and I have just given an essential account of the mind and nature of God. That’s good work for a day, isn’t it?


2:10pm  |  Towards the end of the chapter, Scanlon hints at something closer to my own views. He says: “It seems, then, that contractualism draws us toward the second of the three alternatives I listed: the beings whom it is possible to wrong are all those who do, have, or will actually [emphasis added] exist.” (p.187)

If “actually” means what I think that it means, then the only person that one can wrong is the self.

There seems to be a kind of pattern… He’s always hinting at something that is closer to my own intuitions/views at the end of the chapter. But it’s never explicit.


2:46pm  |  Scanlon writes: “For utilitarians, however, what makes an action right is having the best consequences; justifiability is merely a consequence of this.” (p.189)

I take this to mean that for utilitarians, justification/accounts are unnecessary. To put it crudely, for utilitarians, justification is essentially nothing more than a rationalization. Rights and wrongs must therefore be self-evident, to some extent. Or to put it less crudely, it is the rightness or wrongness of an action that allows it to have an account at all; the fact of there being an account is somehow evidence of the action being right. And so, justification is a symptom or indication of an action’s rightness.

The less crude version worries me. There’s obviously something wrong with it… I mean, there’s obviously lots of counterexamples where explanations exist — very full ones sometimes — for false beliefs. To use an analogy, I think that there’s just as much a road to Larissos, as there is a road to Larissa. Just because there’s a road in front of you, doesn’t mean that this road must lead to Larissa.


3:37pm  |  I’ve started on Chapter 5 now. It’s about the structure of Contractualism. It looks like Scanlon’s view differs from “similar” theories in that Scanlon’s view is motivated by the fact that we are inherently social beings, rather than that we are inherently “rational” beings.

For Scanlon, the point is that we want to be connected to one another — and so, we want to have friends, and we want to build a world together. And, it’s not so much that there’s a mutual benefit to be had in having connections and friends and shared worlds — but rather, it’s just the way we’re built, biologically speaking. For instance, our “biologies” are such that we actually feel real pleasure at being connected to one another in certain ways — eg, sharing something of ourselves with others similar enough to us but perhaps not actually us, who could still see us and appreciate us — whether it benefits us in other ways or not. If it does benefit us, it’s likely that there’s a biological story behind it.

Ah, now I see how this connects to the comment he made in chapter 1 about being amazed at the universe, and his point about third-person perspectives.

I’ll just take a moment to appreciate this moment.