McMahan’s piece is rich and challenging, raising a lot of important issues. He questions, for example, whether ‘species’ is a morally relevant category: “The claim that existing animal species are sacred or irreplaceable is subverted by the moral irrelevance of the criteria for individuating animal species.” With this, I agree; we talk about animal species as a convenient way of carving up nature and organizing our biological knowledge, but it doesn’t seem terribly important to morality. (This isn’t to deny anything about human exceptionalism; I would think that if anything makes humans special morally, it’s not something that depends essentially on our species membership. That is, you can still think humans have intrinsic dignity even if you don’t think that that dignity depends on our being a member of Homo sapiens.)Why doesn't species, kind, or type count for morality? The idea seems to be that members of the species homo sapiens might have special dignity, but they have this because of their individual properties, not because they are members of that species. Is that it? But then it becomes hard to argue for human rights rather than, say, the rights of rational beings. And what if all the heavy metal in the world disappeared, or all the late medieval art? Wouldn't that be a shame, and not only because this song and that song and this painting had gone? Wouldn't the loss of the kinds be a bad thing? If the Welsh language disappears, is that not a shame just because the line between Welsh and,say, Cornish is blurry or somewhat arbitrary? Some French people look French. Is it irrational to think it would be a shame if that kind of face disappeared? For that matter, is the identity of an individual (a complete set of rabbit parts, for instance) not just as arbitrary as the identity of a species? I don't get it.
Tuesday, September 21, 2010
All the heavy metal in the world
There seems to be something I'm not getting that everyone else gets. Matt at The Consternation of Philosophy (which looks like a good blog) writes: