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Part II: Morality, Reason, and the Rights of Animals 
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Post Part II: Morality, Reason, and the Rights of Animals
Part II: Morality, Reason, and the Rights of Animals
by Peter Singer

Please use this thread for discussing Part II: Morality, Reason, and the Rights of Animals, by Peter Singer, found on pages 140 through 158.



Sat May 02, 2009 12:52 am
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Peter Singer agrees with Korsgaard and Kitcher that de Waal overestimates the contribution to morality of social instincts we can observe in other primates. Singer says de Waal is wrong because, by the words"morally evolved," he means that our morality needs no other contribution but that of these basic social emotions. Singer believes that without the ability to reason--for all intents and purposes a human ability-- we could not have morality, however we might argue that the social emotions must underlie it. Since reasoning is also a product of evolution, in that sense, then, it is true that we are morally evolved.

However, Singer then states what I find to be plausible, that morality itself was not, strictly speaking, a product of evolution. That is, it was not morality that was selected for any reproductive advantage it gave us, but rather it was reasoning ability that most definitely was selected. Morality comes along for the ride.

"Though a capacity to reason helps us to survive and reproduce, once we develop a capacity for reasoning, we may be led by it to places that are not of any direct advantage to us, in evolutionary terms. Reason is like an escalator--once we step on it, we cannot get off until we have gone where it takes us" (146).

Reasoning ability gives us our ability to override messages from lower parts of our brains and do what we think is right.


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Mon Jul 13, 2009 8:09 am
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I find Singer's quote more in line with what I believe. There's another variable in all this that is somewhat difficult to pin down. It's not a direct result of reasoning, though it wouldn't exist without reasoning. Doors, for example. After having created them, we are then subject to their influence in a moral fashion. We should open them for other people! Well, I'm being a bit over expressive here, but I can't really make this point well without reading a book by Richard Dawkins.

In one of his books, he mentions the extended phenotype. A phenotype is an observable characteristic of an organism. An extended phenotype is a bit more than that; the organism's influence on his environment. A beaver, for example, has it in his genes to build a dam in a specific way. The dam is part of the extended phenotype for those genes, even though it's not part of the organism, if you follow.

I'm not sure if the same concept applies to us and our engineering marvels(I don't think it does). What Dawkin's book will clarify for me, I hope, is the distinction between extended phenotype and product of human reasoning. What is the best way to explain the difference between a 20 foot tall ant tower and a human skyscraper.


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Mon Jul 13, 2009 12:20 pm
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It's an amazing thing to contemplate, the beaver having the directions for dam-building in its genes. Is there some level of learning, though, from parent to offspring? Humans have nothing like ths inborn, specialized ability, so, like you, I don't think a skyscraper can be seen as an extended phenotype. This seems to be entirely a cultural acheivement, dependent on a long succession of discoveries that have been set down in writing. Is morality, though, an extended phenotype? Maybe. See if Dawkins has a idea.


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Mon Jul 13, 2009 7:29 pm
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DWill wrote:
It's an amazing thing to contemplate, the beaver having the directions for dam-building in its genes. Is there some level of learning, though, from parent to offspring?


Thanks for pointing that out, Will :). I decided to conduct some research on this. The actual definition for what you said is instinctive behavior. After about 30 minutes, I came up with two paragraphs on the study of instinctive behavior; how it came to be, and how it maintained over time.

[align=center]A Short Article on The Study of Instinctive Behaviors
Written and Edited by ILuvBookz13[/align]


A common question among the human race, how are animals capable of doing things that they have never done before, as if based off of complete instinct and no experience? It is quite fascinating, actually. The physical constructive system, also known as a part of the brain, contains information hand-me-downs from the animal's ancestors. Over time, the animal has discovered a way to adapt to its surroundings, learning to survive and thrive in that land. This links into many things-why certain animals are incapable of living in certain areas, and why certain foods do not or do appeal to that animal's tastebuds, and an array of other things. This relates to the creation of life forms on this planet, which is another topic completly.

So, it leads to this; how has the genetic influence maintained over centuries of evolution and reproduction? This has stunned many professionals, as the mere thought of genetic capabilites flowing over evolution so easily is a wonder in itself. Genetics are a marvel; they are one of the many mainstreams that allow life forms to thrive and adapt to their surroundings with ease-but not all good comes from this. Due to evolution, as well as lengthy periods of dependance on certain areas and certain proficioncies, it has caused the offspring to become codependant on only a few things. Over the years they have become accustomated to certain things, forcing their species into helpless narrow-mindedness. They have become overdependant on the items their ancestors utilized, a major flaw in the wonder of reproduction and evolution.


So to answer your question DWill, the beaver building a dam [just one of the many examples] is not learned behavior; it is entirely constructive thinking that has been formed by their ancestors, passed down through genes.

I thank Amanda Maclay for providing the article, Instinctive Behavior http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/biology/b103/f02/web1/amaclay.html for my much-needed notes and queries.
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Wed Jul 29, 2009 12:24 pm
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It's interesting that you mention instinctive behavior. This phrase encompasses a broader array of behaviors. When such instinctive behaviors affect an organism's environment, they are considered an extended phenotype of that organism's genes. For example, both building a beaver dam and fattening up for hibernation are instinctive behaviors, but one is an extended phenotypic behavior, and the other is not. Fattening up for hibernation is an instinctive behavior which affects an organism's phenotype(applies directly to the organism), rather than his environment. This is why the idea of an extended phenotype is so amazing. It is more than just instinctive behavior, it is coding in genetic material that affects our environment vicariously.



Wed Jul 29, 2009 7:13 pm
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Quote:
When such instinctive behaviors affect an organism's environment, they are considered an extended phenotype of that organism's genes


This statement is in the assertive form, and therefore requires a citation.

Quote:
This is why the idea of an extended phenotype is so amazing. It is more than just instinctive behavior, it is coding in genetic material that affects our environment vicariously.


I agree with this because it is preceded by the term “the idea ... of an extended phenotype is so amazing.” I gather that humans have extended their original phenotype by embracing instinctive natures that originate (in the less constructive sense) in abuse, mental fragmentation, psychosis, paranoia, narcissism, violent lust, irrational anger and the like. We’ve ‘enhanced’ our phenotype through conscious means that eventually enter the genes (assuming your assertion (as yet without citation) is acceptable) and become irresistible. Apparently anger, madness, psychosis and violence are a very important part of survival. The question might be ‘in what era?’ (I'm not sure if the evolution of your thought actually examines that, but I'm curious.) Also, that somehow behaviors that did not formerly exist take on a new existence as instinct? Or is there another explanation. Likely but I don’t know.

Further and more to the point is the assertion that the mental states of a set or subset of a species are able to affect our environment. Quantum Physicists are keenly aware, as is any electronic technician, that observing a thing changes the outcome to a greater or lessor degree. Because I doubt that you are a paranormal thinker, I gather that you mean that what we do effects others and, eventually, everything in our environment. So abused children beget abused children and so on for generations - an assertion made in the writings of the Bible (Old Testament). It would seem that anecdotal reporting has some merit and agrees with you at some level.

It would also seem that you are suggesting that there are forces so powerful that we, as conscious individuals, are powerless to defend ourselves from them - that all of consciousness, by extension, is nothing but instinct. It’s not that I’d hold you in disrespect if you believed in that. However, it reeks of a form of scientific religion - that our genes are our God and that nothing is within our power to change things. This may be a false assumption, I’m not sure. But I have a suspicion that one of the characteristics of the human mind is bifurcation of thought. We might just have a tendency to abuse logic and emotion, thus possibly coming to an era of conceptually thwarting physical evolution and supplanting it with purely intellectual notions.

Please remember that I offer these thoughts and rebuttal as a sort of Devil’s Advocate. It’s the only way to explore foreign thoughts.



Wed Jul 29, 2009 11:35 pm
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I greatly appreciate you playing devil's advocate. This thread delved into the tangent of the extended phenotype when I mentioned the book by Richard Dawkins with that name. Anything I posited is based on scarce information, with the point being that we should discuss that book to further explore the topic.

I'm sure much of our collective knowledge is free from most evolutionary influence. Though, we have many biases and are limited to a single cognitive vessel, so this knowledge even in it's purest form not without some influence from what we've evolved to become. The gradation from purely evolved behavior(unbridled fear response) to mostly pure cognition based behavior, whatever an example here might be, is most likely weighted toward the cognitive end. I see no good way to find a point of demarcation between the two, since the areas each classification covers overlap and intertwine so much.

The best example I can think of at this time of night for an instinctive behavior that affects our physical environment is a mother soon to give birth who is 'nesting'. I'm sure there are much better examples. We each play a part in the great social causal chain, but this isn't what I was referring to with the extended phenotype. In any case, I'll have to read the book to clear up this speculation.

I had a thought the other day, of what we may eventually become. There will no longer be any need for the lust of sex, we can choose to have children rather than be influenced by neurochemicals to mate. This would do away with rape and a lot of assault. Most people would find such a situation too inhuman to consider, and lacking of a lot of what makes us enjoy life. However, would we know the difference? Perhaps there are also ways in which we can slowly weed out aggression and territorial behavior. Maybe we can even come to have such an abundance of love that we love even strangers, before we meet them. This is to assume that there are components of love that are based on neurochemistry and therefore able to be tweaked. I'm not sure if such things will ever happen, but it's interesting to ponder.



Thu Jul 30, 2009 12:34 am
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Frans de Waal confirmed for 9:00 pm tonight so please be there everyone. I'm always nervous before these live author chats. I don't know how many will show up and I don't know if people will have prepared some decent questions. I sure some of you have some questions.



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