Monday, July 20, 2015

Value of species membership

We generally think that humans have a dignity that non-human animals like dogs lack, even when the humans are so disabled that their functioning is on the level of a dog. While Kant rightly insists that dignity does not reduce to value, nonetheless dignity seems to imply a value. Perhaps the point generalizes so that it is better to be a member of a spiffier species even if one personally lacks those features that make the species spiffier.

This isn’t clear, however. I wish I had the amazing mathematical abilities of a Vulcan like Spock. I don’t really wish to be a mathematically disabled Vulcan, whose mathematical abilities are no greater than mine. And if the choice were between being a deficient Vulcan with mathematical abilities slightly weaker than mine and being what I am, I would prefer to be what I am, at least bracketing non-mathematical features of the two species. Thus whatever value there is in being a member of a species with much greater normal mathematical abilities seems easily outweighed by the value of actual mathematical abilities.

But now consider a somewhat different choice: that between being a human like me and a highly deficient Vulcan whose mathematical skills are nonetheless somewhat better than mine. Suppose, too, that in my chosen way of life only the mathematical skills would matter: nobody would make fun of me for having pointy ears, I wouldn’t feel sad at being a deficient Vulcan, etc. It seems quite reasonable to want to be such a deficient Vulcan. This suggests that either the small improvement in actual mathematical skills is ample compensation for being highly disabled, or being a Vulcan counts for a lot.

Being a Vulcan doesn’t seem to me to count for a lot. When I reflect why I’d rather be the deficient Vulcan with mathematical skills somewhat better than mine, neither the deficiency as such nor the Vulcanness as such count for much.

It seems of much greater value to be a deficient human than to be a normal dog, keeping actual abilities the same. But it doesn’t seem to be of much greater value to be a deficient Vulcan than a human, even if normal Vulcans were equal or superior to humans in all respects. Maybe this is because only a dignity-relevant difference between species makes a value difference between species, and Vulcans, even if they are superior, do not have greater dignity.

Or it could even be that the dignity difference doesn’t imply a value difference.


SMatthewStolte said...

This sounds right, provided that it makes sense for me to prefer to belong to a different species. In all the essential respects, though, Vulcans are humans. What you are really doing when you run the thought experiment is trading in pretty inessential features—the color of your blood, the shape of your ears, the historical events that led to your existence, the truth value of certain sentences such as “I am a Vulcan,” and so on. I guess that’s fine for testing the Spiffiness Hypothesis.

Alexander R Pruss said...

I am inclined to disagree that in all essential respects Vulcans are humans, at least if by "essential" one means "modally essential" (x has P modally essentially iff it's impossible for x to exist without F). Even the normative shape of the ear may be an essential respect, in the sense that it may be an essential property of a Vulcan that he is such that his ear ought to be pointy--plausibly it's necessary that a Vulcan with a non-pointy ear is a disfigured Vulcan.

But if by "essential" one means "important", then there is much to your remark.

Dagmara Lizlovs said...

In one barn where I used to board my Thoroughbred, we would refer to the horses, or the other animals in general, as four legged people and the stalls as cubicles. If you are a female horse owner, you are at times considered your horse's mommy. My Dad used to refer to our Irish Setter as a canine person. On the other hand, you are considered your cat's human and he owns you. To my cat, I was at best another cat, at least a possession to be jealously guarded. These links show the value of species membership:

Orchestral conductor Herbert von Karajan wanted to belong to a different species. As a practitioner of Zen Buddhism, he wanted to be reincarnated as an eagle:

Dagmara Lizlovs said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dagmara Lizlovs said...

Let us look again at the value of species membership. I already mentioned that orchestral conductor Herbert von Karajan desired to live his next life as an eagle. During his human lifetime, he was a highly accomplished pilot flying just about anything including jets and helicopters. However, mechanical flight can never be what natural flight is. Does this mean that von Karajan was a deficient eagle as opposed to a highly accomplished human?

Once I put on an Icelandic wool sweater. My Thoroughbred/Quarter Horse cross, Storm, couldn’t figure me out. The bottom part of me was human, the top part was another animal. He was acting towards me more like I was another animal rather than a human. Did Storm see me as an enhanced animal or as a deficient human?

Let's take a look at this picture here:

The jaguar is begging like a dog. It is beneath the dignity of felids to act like canids. The animal in the picture is obviously a felid. This particular felid is behaving like a canid. Because it is beneath the dignity of felids to act like canids, the jaguar in the picture is being a deficient felid and not an enhanced canid.

Cattitude – it’s a way of life.