AR Philosophy > Morality Index

Why animal rights?

"People should treat all animals as well as they treat their pets," say some ALF members. They don't see much difference between a pig and a dog. 

"That is an emotional response that can't be trusted," some respond, and yet they are emotionally attached to their stuffed animals and pet rocks.

The few aside, many people believe that animal activists simply take animals too seriously. They lack a sense of proportion.

"We value life over property," say some ALF members. "If you could save a life by destroying non-living, physical property, wouldn't you?" The defense of innocent life, whether by legal means or not, is not only the right of every conscious and just person, but their responsibility. The ALF must break the law in order to be effective in what they do. But, if you approached a lake and saw a person drowning, would a "no swimming" sign keep you from saving that persons life? No."

A common argument is that the ALF has no right to destroy another's property. History tells us the contrary. The holocaust carried out against the Jewish people by the Nazis during World War II was only ended through war. What right did we have to interfere in that situation? Another darker part of history occurred in our own country - slavery. At that point black men, women, and children were seen as property, just as animals today are. Yet, there were those who chose to follow their hearts and take part in the Underground Railroad, despite what the law told them was right, and helped slaves find their way to freedom. In retrospect we can see that the laws of the day, or an abusers right to carry on their oppression unimpeded, mean nothing when compared to the lives that are on the line.

It's not that people believe gratuitous cruelty to animals is morally defensible. All but the amoral, sociopathic or philosophically bewitched are likely to grant that wanton animal-abuse is best discouraged. Instead, the pervasive assumption is simply that animal suffering doesn't really matter much compared to the things that happen to human beings - to us. They are, after all, only animals. Animal consciousness is minimal and uninteresting.

Contrast one's likely reaction on learning that the toddler next door is being abused for profit. In such a case, one's intuition is likely to be that the suffering of the victim has to be taken very seriously. One has a duty to prevent it. We acknowledge that the interests of the child take precedence over the wishes of the abuser. And any failure to act on our part is what needs justifying. To treat lightly the suffering caused by child-abuse would be to show a sense of disproportion.

Here lies the crux.

A huge and accumulating convergence of physiological, behavioral, genetic and evolutionary evidence suggests an appalling possibility. That hundreds of millions of the non-human victims of our actions are functionally akin - intellectually, emotionally and in their capacity to suffer - to very young humans (or very old, or mentally disabled, etc). In the light of what we're doing to our victims, the consequences of their also being ethically akin to human babies or toddlers would be almost too ghastly to think about.

When we're confronted with such an emotive parallel, all sorts of psychological denial and defense-mechanisms are likely to kick in. Undoubtedly, too, animal-exploitation makes our lives so much more convenient. Not surprisingly, in view of what we're doing to them, there is a powerful incentive for us as humans to rationalize our actions.

Numerous pretexts and rationalizations aimed at legitimating animal exploitation are available; most of them seek to magnify the gulf between "us" and "them". However, they prove on examination to be surprisingly thin.

Some of the alleged differences between "them" and "us" are entirely spurious: humans alone have souls, we are asked to believe, or enduring metaphysical egos. There are the dissimilarities of gross physical appearance; the neuroanatomy of Broca and Wernicke's areas; the capacity of humans to define allegedly reciprocal notions of right and duty; or perhaps the elaborate network of social relationships.

We know we don't give rights to humans based on intelligence, because we give rights to mentally handicapped and none to a Pentium chip. We know rights are not granted because we need to have "contracts" with other humans to protect ourselves, because we protect some things, like an unborn fetus, that can't hurt us.

Do humans get rights because they are good bowlers? I hope not, or, boy, I'm in deep trouble.

Whatever we choose, we might think about what George Bernard Shaw said: "If aliens landed on earth that were as superior to us -- in whatever way -- we feel we are superior to animals, would we aliens the rights over us that we now take over animals?"

Most people agree that rights stem from the fact that humans can suffer, feel pain, be harmed, etc.

Once one accepts that inflicting readily avoidable suffering per se is morally wrong, then it is hard to see how the differences [between human and (at least) advanced vertebrate non-human beings] are morally relevant differences.

This argument isn't likely to sway the radical skeptic about animal consciousness. For in trying to appraise the sentience of other living beings - even one's adult fellow humans - it is notoriously hard to prove anything at all. There's simply no logically compelling ground - just Santayana's "blind animal faith" - for believing that anything exists beyond the contents of our current frame of consciousness. Yet one wouldn't, for instance, let a toddler drown in a pond on the grounds of one's rational incapacity to penetrate beyond the veil of perception, devise a satisfactory theory of meaning, or prove the veridicality of memory, etc. Nor would one let the toddler perish because one intellectually believed value-judgments were subjective and ethical claims truth-valueless. For when the consequences of being wrong are so terrible, then ethically one just has to play safe.

To stay within my allotted time today, the more radical forms of philosophical skepticism about mind - though not about ethics - will be set aside. If one were the proverbial brain-in-a-vat etc, then no harm would come from acting morally; albeit no good either.

A less counter-intuitive and naturalistic metaphysic will simply be assumed. Reality is indeed outlandishly weird in some of its properties. Yet there actually is a mind-independent world populated by embodied fellow subjects of experience; if there isn't, then one is harmlessly talking to oneself. Within the mind-independent world, there are fellow creatures who suffer, sometimes quite horribly. And granted merely that functionally equivalent young humans do sometimes suffer intensely, it seems overwhelmingly probable that the non-humans we treat as disposable objects of our convenience suffer horribly from what we do to them as well. If it can defensibly be argued that it's inherently morally wrong to roast small children, then by parity of reasoning it is morally wrong to roast functionally equivalent non-human victims too. To argue otherwise, it would be necessary either to dispute the premise, or to show that there are morally relevant differences between any human and any non-human which license our inconsistent attitudes and behavior towards them.

One might still hope, usually on unspecified grounds, that the neurochemical substrates that mediate pain, anxiety and terror in humans may mediate a providentially different texture of experience in our fellow vertebrates - or perhaps some sort of low-grade sentience which we don't seriously have to bother about. Once again, one can't prove that they don't. Perhaps the astonishing evolutionary conservation of neurochemical pathways which underlie nociception construed in a narrowly physiological sense - involving serotonin, the periaquaductal grey matter, bradykinin, ATP receptors, the major opioid families, substance P etc.

Yet assumption of this difference is self-serving and radically non-Darwinian. The existence of some sort of constancy of natural law is an assumption on which any non-skeptical account of human knowledge - or even mutually intelligible discourse - depends. So the onus of proof is on someone who seeks to deny some such basic uniformity - or makes an ad hoc exception just in the realm of the organic physiology of consciousness - to explain why the principle allegedly breaks down precisely at the most morally expedient place for homo sapiens.

Now the idea that our treatment of the creatures we hunt, butcher, factory-farm can compare to the abuse of human infants is - to typical Western scientific minds at least - intuitively absurd. At face value, it just isn't credible. Animal-abusers and child-abusers occupy radically different categories in our scheme of things. Yet this hypothesized gulf rests fundamentally on an intuition; not on argument. Over the millennia, it has been genetically adaptive for us to exploit other creatures. Using them as expendable objects has helped strands of human self-replicating DNA leave lots more copies of itself ("maximize its inclusive fitness"). The very "naturalness" and adaptiveness of animal-exploitation, however, serves as a reason for us to trust our moral intuitions and their verbal rationalizations less, not more. For the wells of rationality have been poisoned from the outset. Our capacity for fair judgment is biochemically corruptible and genetically corrupted. Other things being equal, genes promoting a capacity for self-serving rationalization will tend to get differentially favored over those promoting impartial detachment. The literally self-centered nature of our individual virtual worlds - for we each live in a self-assembled neuronal VR world grotesquely focused on one egocentric body-image - attests to the technically defined selfish character of DNA-driven consciousness. In consequence of this inbuilt distortion, the 'reflective equilibrium' sought after by fans of ethical common-sense neglects the massive and systematic genetic biases coded into the mechanisms by which our intuitions are formed. Such biases leave our intuitions, and the consequences we extract from them, even less dependable than intuitive folk-physics. Ethically, we simply can't be trusted; or trust ourselves.

For if several hundred million human toddlers or babies were abused and killed each year - for food or scientific curiosity - then the compelling moral urgency of the animal issue would be undeniable. We'd find it hard to dispute the moral crisis - unless habit had made us so wholly desensitized  to what we were doing that the mass-slaughter of human youngsters, too, had become "natural". In fact, our intermittent moral anguish over the surgical abortion of embryos/foetuses/unborn human children shows we are not always blind to the interests of the weak and defenseless; and our victims within the womb are neurologically and psychologically far less developed than the victims of our last meal. Perhaps the best hope of a revolutionary change in human attitudes to the victims of our ongoing animal holocaust is a dawning recognition on the part of many millions of people that our current ethical stance to non-humans isn't just morally wrong, but intellectually incoherent.

Even videos cannot evoke the felt horror of what takes place from the perspective of the victim.

If we the abusers could apprehend the horrors we perpetrate on the abused as fellow subjects rather than ill-conceived objects, we couldn't be remotely so complacent about what we're doing. But the victim's viewpoint isn't a perspective with which most of us even try to empathize.

To a large extent, we are deliberately shielded from what we're paying for. Our willing complicity - and sometimes willful failure of the imagination - doubtless contributes to the still prevalent sense that what we're doing to other life-forms doesn't in truth matter all that much.

Factory Farming

Since World War Two, traditional family farms have largely gone out of business. They have been superseded by what's blandly known as factory-farming. Factory-farms seek to raise as many animals as possible in the smallest possible space in order to maximize profits. The single-minded pursuit of profit has the corollary that animals are nothing but meat-producing objects. This is the fate of 100 million mammals and 5 billion birds slaughtered annually in the USA alone.

"After hatching, broiler chickens are moved to enclosed sheds containing automatic feeders and waterers. From 10,000 to 75,000 birds are kept in a single shed, which becomes increasingly crowded as they grow at an abnormally fast rate. Crowding often leads to cannibalism and other aggressive behaviors; another occurrence is panic-driven piling on top of each other, sometimes causing suffocation. Concerns about the possibility of aggression have led many farmers to debeak their chickens, through sensitive tissue. By slaughter time, chickens have as little as six tenths of a square-foot apiece. There is typically little ventilation, and the never-cleaned droppings produce an air thick with ammonia, dust, and bacteria."

"Laying hens live their lives in "battery" cages made entirely of wire. Cages are so crowded that hens can seldom fully stretch their wings; de-beaking a common practice to limit the damage of the hens' pecking cagemates. For hours before laying an egg, a hen, deprived of any nest, paces anxiously amid the mob; at egg laying time, she must stand on a sloped, uncomfortable wire floor that precludes the instinctual behaviors of scratching, dust bathing, and pecking for food. Unnatural conditions, lack of normal exercise and demands for high egg production cause bone weakness. Some hens undergo forced molting, stimulated by up to twelve days without food. When considered spent, hens are stuffed into crates and transported in uncovered trucks for slaughter; during handling and transport, many (over two thirds in one study) incur broken bones. Laying hens and broiler chickens have the same fate; They are shackled upside down, fully conscious, on conveyor belts before their throats are cut by an automated knife. (Hens' brothers have short lives due to their commercial uselessness. After hatching, they are dumped into plastic sacks and left to suffocate, or ground up while still alive to make feed for their sisters.)"

"Hogs, a highly intelligent and social species, have virtually nothing to do in factory farms except stand up, lie down, eat and sleep. Usually deprived of straw and other sources of amusement, and separated from each other by iron bars in small crates, hogs appear to suffer greatly from boredom. Sometimes they amuse themselves by biting a tail in the next crate. Industry's increasingly common response is to cut of their tails - a procedure that, like castration of males, is usually done without anesthesia. Hogs stand on either wire mesh, slatted floors, or concrete floors - all highly unnatural footings. Poor ventilation and accumulated waste products cause powerful fumes. Hogs are often abused at the loading and unloading stage of transport, particularly at the slaughterhouse. Rough handling sometimes includes the use of whips and electrical 'hot shots'."

"Veal calves are probably worse off than other farm animals. Shortly after birth, they are taken from their mothers and transported considerable distances - often with rough handling, exposure to the elements, and no food or rest. At the veal barn, they are confined in solitary crates too small to allow them to turn round or even sleep in a natural position. Denied solid food and water, they are given a liquid milk replacer deficient in iron (in order to produce the gourmet white flesh), resulting in anemia. Because it is drunk from buckets, rather than suckled, the liquid food often enters the rumen rather than the true stomach, causing diarrhea and indigestion. The combination of deprivations sometimes result in such neurotic behaviors as sucking the boards of crates and stereotyped tongue-rolling."

"Like their veal-calf siblings, many dairy cows, as calves, never receive colostrum - the milk produced by their mothers which helps to fight diseases. More and more they are confined either indoors or in overcrowded drylots (which have no grass). Unanesthetised tail docking is increasingly performed. In order to produce some twenty times the amount of milk a calf would need, dairy cows are fed a diet heavy in grain - as distinct from the roughages for which their digestive tracts are suited - creating health problems that include painful lameness and metabolic disorders, which are exacerbated by confinement. About half U.S. dairy cows at any one time have mastitis, a painful udder. Many cows today are given daily injections of Bovine Growth Hormone to stimulate additional growth and increase milk production (despite a surplus of dairy products). Although their natural life span is about twenty to twenty-five years, at about age four, dairy cows become unable to maintain production levels and are transported for slaughter. Most processed beef comes from them."

"Cattle raised specifically for beef are, on the whole, better off than the other farm animals already described. Many of the cattle get to roam in the outdoors for about six months. Then they are transported long distances to feedlots, where they are fattened up on grain rather than grass. Craving roughage, the cattle often lick their own and other cattle's coats; the hair that enters the rumen sometimes causes abscesses. Most feedlots do not confine intensively. Their major sources of distress are the boredom likely to result from a barren environment, unrelieved exposure to the elements, dehorning (which cuts through arteries and other tissue), branding, the cutting of ears into special shapes for identification purposes, and unanesthetized castration (which involves pinning the animal, cutting his scrotum, and ripping out each testicle)."

"Transporting hogs and cattle for slaughter - which can entail up to three days without food, water, or rest - typically results in conspicuous weight loss and other signs of deprivation. The slaughtering process itself is likely to cause fear. The animals are transported on a conveyor belt or goaded up a ramp in the stench of their fellows' blood. In the best of circumstances, animals are rendered unconscious by a captive-bolt gun or electric shock before their throats are slit."

Industrial Slaughter
    Large numbers of animals are slaughtered rapidly in an assembly line. Chickens are lifted by their legs when they are fully conscious. Their heads are immersed in water to make electrical contact, but some flutter and are not stunned. Chickens and pigs are subjected to scalding water to remove their feathers and hair. When stunning is not done properly or exsanguination has not progressed enough, a significant proportion of animals is burnt before going unconscious.

Ritual Slaughter
    Halal and shechita are both widely used in Britain. The animals are not stunned either by percussion or electrical current. Their necks are exposed, and their carotid arteries and jugular veins cut rapidly with a sharp knife; they die by exsanguination. The restraint and sudden exposure of their necks must be stressful, and the neck incision must be painful. Those who practice this method justify it on the grounds that: (a) their religions and holy books have sanctioned it for centuries; (b) cutting with a sharp knife is not painful; (c) the animal becomes unconscious immediately; (d) other methods are also cruel; (e) animals do not suffer pain, or it does not matter.

This horrible suffering occurs, one has to remind oneself, primarily because we enjoy the taste of meat.

1. Worlds That Matter

"The day may come when the rest of animal creation may acquire those rights which never could have been withheld from them but by the hand of tyranny...a full-grown horse or dog is beyond comparison a more rational, as well as a more conversable animal, than an infant of a day, or a week, or even a month old. But suppose the case were otherwise, what would it avail? The question is not, can they reason? Nor, can they talk? But can they suffer? Why should the law refuse its protection to any sensitive being? The time will come when humanity will extend its mantle over everything that breathes..."

Jeremy Bentham PRINCIPLES OF MORALS AND LEGISLATION

'First generation' work on animal ethics was written by utilitarians. most notably Peter Singer (Animal Liberation 1975 rev. ed. 1995); and animal rights theorists, most notably Tom Regan (The Case for Animal Rights; Berkeley: University of California Press; 1983).

'Second generation' scholarship, characteristic of authors such as Mary Midgley (Animals and Why They Matter Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1983) and S.F.Sapontzis (Morals, Reasons and Animals Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1987) abandons system-building and previous efforts to ground ethics in reason-derived ahistorical norms. Also forming part of this 'second generation' scholarship are Rosemary Rodd's scientifically sophisticated contribution (Biology, Ethics and Animals: Oxford, Clarendon 1990); and, rather incongruously, philosopher Peter Carruthers' The Animals Issue. Carruthers advances the thesis that the mental states of animals are all non-conscious.

Third generation aims to explore the mental life and moral status of animals in an empirically-informed manner. Many kinds of animals do - and many don't - have moral status. The crucial but disastrously ill-named principle of equal consideration of interests for animals means; that "giving as much moral weight to human interests as we give to relevantly similar human interests does not entail: identical rights for humans and animals a moral requirement to treat humans equally the absence of any morally interesting differences between animals and humans.

I want to discuss the principled grounds on which morally relevant similarities and differences can be identified in potential bearers of moral status. A very diverse range of animals have feelings, desires and beliefs. A whole repertoire of mental properties, and even language, are not, as many non-Darwinian-minded philosophers have claimed - all-or-none properties peculiar to humans.

With plenty of complications and some exceptions, modern research suggests that the distinction between vertebrates and non-vertebrates - by itself, under such a description, an ethically trivial distinction - may in fact serve as a rough-and-ready marker for much more profound and morally important differences altogether.

As it happens, however, the neo-Darwinian synthesis confirms the fact that human and non-human vertebrates are similar where not type-identical in the category that matters most. This is the category that grounds, and gives rise to, our very notion of mattering in the first instance - the pleasure-pain axis. A universe without any kind of feelings in its ontology would be a universe in which nothing mattered or had any importance.

If we could apprehend the real first-person agonies of a member of another species, or even acknowledge that such agonies are part of the real ontology of the world, then we might be less callous in our treatment of non-humans. Unfortunately - doting pet-owners apart - we find cross-species empathy very hard; and for the sake of our victims, if not always perhaps good ethological method, it might be better if we actually "anthropomorphised" more, not less. Although not logically sound, the best way to promote the desperately needed revolution in our treatment of other life-forms may well be to convince people that in the relevant respects non-humans are just like "us" - or possibly reshape our notions of just who we are. This mode of persuasion is more likely to be effective simply because it consists in forcing us to think through the full implications of what we already believe. It doesn't ask us to revise our basic values and presuppositions. This would be a far harder task altogether. Precepts such as "act so as to minimise needless suffering" are, for sure, infuriatingly imprecise. Yet their unexceptionable woolliness helps to command assent and lays out a minimum of common ground needed to take the argument forward.

Ethical utilitarians explicitly focus on our shared capacity for pain and pleasure: the sovereign nice-nasty axis construed in the broadest sense. It is the quality and intensity of feeling which determines whether - and how much - anything actually matters to anyone at all.

So it's worth briefly exploring the biochemical substrates two particularly distressing modes of aversive experience. Where are they found, and where are they absent, within the phylogenetic tree? How should their absence or prevalence lead us to re-examine our traditional ideas of the moral status of members of other species; and, crucially, to the way behave towards them?

2. Fear and Anxiety

With a few exceptions, nearly all the anxiety-mediating agents (e.g. the beta-carbolines) found to date have as their site of action the benzodiazepine receptors (TAS; p 121). Beta-carboline ligands which bind to the benzodiazepine receptors induce in humans

"...intense inner strain and excitation, increased blood pressure and pulse, restlessness, increased cortisol and catecholamine release, and stereotyped rocking motions. The administration of anxiety-producing beta-carbolines to primates caused piloerection (hair raising) and struggling in the restraint chair, increased blood pressure and pulse, increased cortisol and catecholamine release, and increased vocalization and urination." (TAS p121)

Again with a handful of exceptions, the anti-anxiety properties of alcohol, the barbiturates and the benzodiazepines (the 'minor tranquillisers': Valium etc) can be tied to a large, single, multifunctional receptor complex. This single neurochemical substrate includes a barbiturate- and ethanol-binding site, a chloride ion channel, and a binding site for neurotransmission. It has been shown that there are high-affinity saturable and specific receptors for the benzodiazepines in the vertebrate central nervous system. Following the landmark study of Nielsen, Braestrup and Squires (Evidence for a late Evolutionary Appearance of a Brain Specific Benzodiazepine Receptor, Brain Research 141 (1978) 342-466), persuasive evidence has accumulated that all vertebrates - including the bony fishes - have these receptors. Such receptors were found to be absent in all the invertebrate species tested (originally the woodlouse, earthworm, locust, lobster and squid); and also from the cartilaginous fishes.

Inevitably, the full story is messier. As DeGrazia notes, the discovery of peripheral benzodiazepine-receptors with a presumably non-anxiety role [and also the development of 5HT1a mixed agonists such as buspirone with anti-anxiety properties], means the intricacies of the evolutionary story are vastly more complicated than any lightning sketch can show. Yet overall, there is strong evidence that all vertebrates, and some invertebrates, suffer anxiety and fear.

3. Pain

"Every particle of factual evidence supports the factual contention that the higher mammalian vertebrates experience pain sensations at least as acute as our own. To say that they feel pain less because they are lower animals is an absurdity; it can easily be shown that many of their senses are far more acute than ours. Apart from the complexity of the cerebral cortex (which does not directly perceive pain) their nervous systems are almost identical to ours and their reaction to pain remarkably similar, though lacking (so far as we know) the philosophical and moral overtones. The emotional element is all too evident, mainly in the form of fear and anger."
            Richard Serjeant

This contrast needs stressing. Consciousness is sometimes claimed to be the prerogative of the higher vertebrates, or even of humans alone in view of our superior cognitive prowess.

"Pain seems to be a development of consciousness in creatures endowed with a highly developed response system known as nociception. Consciousness may have developed as a free-rider on certain inherited gene groups that included relatively complex information processing; or it may have evolved as a way of focusing an organism's attention to those areas of information processing that are most valuable at a given time. Either way, pain was apparently the new conscious companion of responses to potentially harmful situations in the animals in which consciousness emerged."

Insects lack the extensive processing-mechanisms implicated in pain-perception among vertebrates. The locust, for instance, keeps on eating while being devoured by a mantis. It's hard to imagine a vertebrate animal retaining any semblance of equanimity while meeting such a fate. Whereas the startle-reflex would confer survival advantage similar to acute pain, insects with short life-spans and modest learning needs would derive negligible advantage from it. There would be little or no selection-pressure favouring a neural capacity for any such experience.

This issue is actually more problematic than it sounds. The difference between 'little' or 'no' selection-pressure is huge from an evolutionary perspective. Even a 1% reproductive advantage conferred by a capacity to experience phenomenological pain would allow natural selection to get to work over millions of generations. Nonetheless, it seems unlikely that organisms without a single central nervous system possess a unitary experiential manifold - let alone a unitary sense of self to which moral status could readily be attached. Even if the multiple ganglia of a locust each feel a rudimentary kind of aversive experience the mantis-devoured locust's feeding head doesn't participate in it - whereas a "toothache", for instance, seems to penetrate to the very heart of our whole existence.

All vertebrates are endowed with the limbic and autonomic systems which contain the basic biological substrates of pain, anxiety and fear.

It should be stressed that this conclusion doesn't, as it stands, mean that morally speaking we can do anything we like to invertebrates. If the idea that the only reason we should avoid cruelty to animals is that such practices corrupt the character of agents and make them more likely to behave badly toward humans - might still be adapted and enlarged so that "we" is taken more broadly than it does now. Working within this sort of framework, the frivolous killing of invertebrates, such as stamping on a fly for the sake of it or through mere irritation, might still be discouraged. It should be deplored on the grounds that the attitude of mind underlying such actions promotes cruelty to morally important vertebrates too. Yet the conclusion that - simplistically - vertebrates are special enables us non-arbitrarily to avoid treating a fly or a worm with the same consideration we should accord a fellow vertebrate. It's a dreadfully crude division; but it's a very useful start.

This involves the capacity to suffer, or rather the capacity to undergo experience imbued with significance and located on a broadly-defined pleasure-pain axis.

Non-humans demonstrably possess greater acuity in many of the "special senses", notably olfaction, hearing and vision. What grounds have we for supposing that no such heightened sensitivity is found to pain elsewhere in the animal kingdom? One must hope that it isn't; pain is vile enough to "one of us" as it is. We simply don't know enough about the pain-centers of a whale or an elephant, for instance, to establish whether approximate equality of biological propensity to anguish is really the case.

Greater encephalisation of emotion most likely does extend the nominal range and nuances of things one can be unhappy 'about'; though in the case of vertebrates with acute special senses, it may well be humans who are comparatively obtuse in our lack of discriminative power, perhaps fortunately so. Yet it's not clear that encephalisation by itself can intensify aversive experience in the absence of limbic structures to mediate any such additional nastiness. The assumed role of intelligence is a link that too many accounts of possible candidates for moral status presuppose.

If suffering really is the gene-driven out-of-control evolutionary nightmare the evidence suggests, with no higher purpose to dignify it, then there's no indication of any mechanism by which it could ever be checked simply because it felt unspeakably bad. Perhaps the most that can be hoped is that the substrates of a pain so all-consumingly bad that it sapped the capacity for thought and (genetically) adaptive behavioral responses would - other things being equal - get selected against. Less optimistically, it is generally assumed that pain's adaptive motivating force is in some degree proportionate to its intensity. The worse the pain, the greater the greater the incentive to escape it. This perspective has grimmer and more sinister implications altogether.

So just how bad can pain be? In view of the great weight here being placed on the parallel between small children and non-human animals, it's worth asking if children suffer as adults and to the same degree. At least when cortical myelination is complete, then young children may well suffer as intensely as adults. Indeed, it's not perverse to raise the possibility that youngsters sometimes suffer more. On the crudest level, children literally have more (irreplaceable) brain cells of the kind that mediate emotional experience. Moreover, efficient brains use less energy and do things more "automatically" - and less consciously. Further, as one ages, the mind/brain progressively loses nerve cells - even though their loss may elicit a compensatory sprouting to repair any functional deficits, and even though physical cellular shrinkage rather than cell-death may account for much well-attested cerebral weight-loss. Certainly, many older adults report they feel things less intensely than they did in their callow but emotionally tempestuous youth.

The evidence of a direct causal connection between intellectual prowess and intensity of feeling, then, is still to be found; and perhaps never will. Furthermore, as pain gets worse, one's capacity for abstract thought, and capacity to exhibit one's vaunted intelligence however it's defined, diminishes. The suffering one undergoes doesn't thereby matter less.

If intelligence could be used as a marker for the intensity of emotion and the biochemical creation of significance, then IQ might at least serve as a useful yardstick for something that inherently mattered. If it can't be so used, then one might as well argue that a Pentium Pro is morally superior to a Intel 386. The right answer is surely that processing power and moral status are simply incommensurable categories.

Even here, we must be careful with our terminology. The term "intelligence" itself is too riddled with covert value-judgments about what does and doesn't rank as even cognitively important to be very useful. Its shifting usage reflects shifting power-relationships; not the carving of Nature at the conceptual joints. Yet if some value-neutral sense of intelligence is salvaged, and if the argument that relative IQ is morally relevant is taken seriously, then we would also have to accept that ultra-smart Mensa masterminds matter more in ethical terms than less intellectually agile members of our own species. It's not clear why this should really be the case. Perhaps high-powered intellects might still potentially matter more, in a merely instrumental sense, if they were more creative of socially useful inventions - though such comparisons are usually invidious and probably best avoided.

Moreover, to add another complication, acknowledged genius does seem to have some kind of limited positive correlation with a tendency to manic-depression. This tendency might be morally relevant because people with "bipolar disorder" do tend to feel things more intensely, and its soft-bipolar forms are linked to unusually high creativity. So if one is trying to press the issue, then I suppose one could even make some sort of case that manic-depressives do inherently matter more because things matter more to them - for only in the naive third-person ontology of scientism do things that matter have to be observer-independent any more than tickles have to be observer-independent.

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