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» Hatrack River Forum » Active Forums » Discussions About Orson Scott Card » Sentience and Morality - "A Pig Who Sang to the Moon" *Spoilers*

   
Author Topic: Sentience and Morality - "A Pig Who Sang to the Moon" *Spoilers*
DDDaysh
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Has anyone else read this book? I'm listening to it right now. It is interesting, in some ways, but definitely evident of someone who is writing with a definite bias. Strangely, he seems ignorant of all the basic assumptions he's making when trying to convince people that eating meat is bad.

I've heard, on the other side of the forum, that the book or Mormon says meat should only be eaten in times of need. However, I never really saw that in anything Card wrote; and in general, few religions forbid eating animal flesh. However, the author of this book says that it is immoral to eat animals because they have emotions, and are therefor sentient. He takes the position that intelligence is not relevant to sencience, and thus taking any animal life is wrong.

In "Earthborn" Volemak is talking to the Angels about their prowess with their new blowguns. The Angels talk about how they are now safe from the Diggers because they can hunt panthers. Volemak responds that Diggers are smarter than panthers, and the angels say, "Yes, but Angels are smarter than Diggers." Volemak then goes on to explain that what he meant was that since Diggers are smarter than Panthers it is wrong to kill them because Diggers are sentient. It seems to me that here Card is saying that intelligence is crucial to being considered a sentient being.

I know personally that in many ways I agree with that view. For example, I have a much harder time eating pork than beef. Honestly, while I'm not a vegetarian on principal, I don't eat much meat because I don't really like the idea of eating animal flesh, and it doesn't taste that great to me. Still, eating pork is particularly difficult for me because pigs are so smart and cows are not. I've raised both animals, and find bonding with a pig quite easy, so it's much harder to eat them. However, using intelligence as a qualification for sentience does bring us into some areas of difficulty. What about extremely mentally handicapped humans? Are they LESS sentient then, than say some apes or dolphins, or even pigs? If so, why is it still murder to kill one of them, but not to kill a chimp? Obviously, the fact that they are human means we declare them of automatic value even if they cannot be considered "sentient" in the intelligent sense.

However, I am at a loss for how else you can actually define sentience. I disagree whole heartedly that all animals are sentient, because if they are, why aren't plants. Several "scientific" studies have shown that "loved" plants grow more quickly than those that were not shown such devotion, even when all physical elements were the same. Therefor, couldn't we conclude that plants are also capable of feeling emotion? If killing animals is amoral, why is it ok to chomp down on plants?

So where DO you draw the line for sentience?

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Cyronist
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sentience:
1. The quality or state of being sentient; consciousness.
2. Feeling as distinguished from perception or thought.

sentient:
1. Having sense perception; conscious: "The living knew themselves just sentient puppets on God's stage" T.E. Lawrence.
2. Experiencing sensation or feeling.

By the first definition, sentience is qualified by consciousness, IE the idea of whats right and whats wrong. As far as I know, animals (or plants for that matter) don't have any idea about what is right and what is wrong.

I believe sentience doesn't just come down to emotions, or even intelligence. I think it comes down to having a view of whats right and whats wrong.

But that does bring up the case of mentally impaired humans. Are they sentient? I don't know.

Theres the humble view of a freshman in high school.

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Dagonee
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quote:
By the first definition, sentience is qualified by consciousness, IE the idea of whats right and whats wrong. As far as I know, animals (or plants for that matter) don't have any idea about what is right and what is wrong.
"Consciousness" has nothing to do with knowing right from wrong. It's used together with the word "moral" sometimes to reflect the sum of someone's moral thoughts and perceptions, but that's a qualifier. One can be conscious without having a moral sense.

People often use "sentient" when they mean "sapient." Sapience is the ability to act with judgment; knowing right from wrong is a form of sapience.

All these definitions are, of course, very incomplete. Defining these words is the subject of many long articles and texts.

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lynn johnson
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Animals certainly do know the difference between right and wrong. My dog knows it is wrong to eat off the counter, and occasionally she sins and does so, especially if someone leaves a delicious roasted chicken. She ate every scrap, including all the bones. Then she hung her head and skulked around.

I will look for the Pig book. I raised and ate a pig once, and I don't think I would ever do it again, for the reason 3D says above. At least I would have to be pretty desperate.

The mormon meat doctrine comes from the "Word of Wisdom" where we are advised not to drink coffee or tea, not to drink alcohol or use tobacco, and it says that meat is to be eaten, but the Lord is pleased if we use it sparingly, and only in times of cold or famine. One of our prophets said it is a sin to kill birds for sport, and that killing animals is for when we need the food. At the same time, the same source (Doctrine & Covenants) clearly says those who command to abstain from meat are not ordained of God.

Is it this book that I just found on my library search?

The pig who sang to the moon : the emotional world of farm animals / Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson.

There is NO evidence at all that vegetarians live longer than carnivores, and a vegan couple were recently convicted of manslaughter for killing their newborn by feeding it only soy milk and apple juice. It starved to death.

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Puppy
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quote:
... the Lord is pleased if we use it sparingly, and only in times of cold or famine.
To clarify, given the definition of the word "only" in the early 1800's (which was closer to the word "except"), the counsel from God is to "eat meat sparingly except in times of winter". So you can eat it sparingly as part of your normal diet, and then eat it in abundance when you need to for some reason.

Luckily, my natural tastes fall right in line with that counsel, so ... I rarely think about it. Like the caffeine issue. I don't believe that the Word of Wisdom prohibits all caffeinated beverages (as some Mormons do) ... but since I don't actually like any caffeinated beverages, it's a moot point for me [Smile]

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King of Men
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If you substitute 'except' for 'only' in that sentence, it no longer makes sense:

quote:
the Lord is pleased if we use it sparingly, and except in times of cold or famine.
'And except'? Also, this is the first time I've heard of this archaic use of 'only'. Do you have, perhaps, any other examples where the meaning is clearer from context? Is it possible you are indulging in a bit of folk etymology here?
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Cyronist
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quote:
Originally posted by lynn johnson:
Animals certainly do know the difference between right and wrong. My dog knows it is wrong to eat off the counter, and occasionally she sins and does so, especially if someone leaves a delicious roasted chicken. She ate every scrap, including all the bones. Then she hung her head and skulked around.

I will look for the Pig book. I raised and ate a pig once, and I don't think I would ever do it again, for the reason 3D says above. At least I would have to be pretty desperate.

The mormon meat doctrine comes from the "Word of Wisdom" where we are advised not to drink coffee or tea, not to drink alcohol or use tobacco, and it says that meat is to be eaten, but the Lord is pleased if we use it sparingly, and only in times of cold or famine. One of our prophets said it is a sin to kill birds for sport, and that killing animals is for when we need the food. At the same time, the same source (Doctrine & Covenants) clearly says those who command to abstain from meat are not ordained of God.

Is it this book that I just found on my library search?

The pig who sang to the moon : the emotional world of farm animals / Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson.

There is NO evidence at all that vegetarians live longer than carnivores, and a vegan couple were recently convicted of manslaughter for killing their newborn by feeding it only soy milk and apple juice. It starved to death.

I don't know if your dog has a sense of right and wrong- correct me if I'm wrong, but the way you train animals not to do something is if you do this, then there will be a consequence. Your dog knows that you will be angry at her if she eats of the counter, and your dog probably doesn't like seeing you angry, therefore it doesn't eat off the counter. Not because it thinks its wrong, but because it doesn't like seeing you angry.

We could also discuss what knowing right from wrong is, but I'm not sure I want to go there =P

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lynn johnson
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I got the Pig Who Sang book and am about 1/3 the way through it. Evocative, and a bit over-the-top. I have been around animals, and I think Masson is generally right - animal emotions are the same as human emotions. I don't want to be a complete vegetarian, so his book causes me some agony.

A dog has a limbic system, which is the "location" of conscience anyway, so there is no doubt the dog felt guilty for eating our food. YOu raise the old question of whether I am attributing human emotions to animals. On the contrary, since I am basically somewhat Darwinian, I believe we have the same emotions as animals.

Maggie had not seen me angry about her eating off the counter, but her skulking around was a tip-off that she had done something she felt was a temptation that she gave into. So I naturally imagined she had done something she felt was wrong and with a bit of investigation (Hey, where's the chicken you got from Albertsons?) we discovered it.

I am never angry with her. She is the sweetest dog I have ever had. I forgave her immediately. So I think your suggested classical conditioning paradigm wouldn't really hold. <IMHO>

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DDDaysh
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Well, the "pig book" is VERY over the top for me. I've thought about it more and more since then.

As "puppy" says, it used to be less of a problem for me because there was very little meat that I actually liked to eat, and I haven't liked eggs since I found a baby chicken in one once as a preschooler. However, I do eat baked goods (made with eggs) and like dairy products. I've also started to eat more meat lately (though I have to smother it in stuff to make it TASTE like something else usually) because I simply cannot get enough iron into my diet without it.

Still, alot of things he says in the book just really don't ring true for me. For instance, while pigs (and dogs) may have emotions, I have a hard time seeing what he does in chickens. I don't think he's lying, you'll find the rare individual in every species, but honestly chickens are rather nasty little creatures and I've never really seen any sense of emotion from them. Similarly, I've seen dairy cattle on a regular basis, and while yes, they are seperated from their calves more quickly than normal, I've never seen it happen as quickly as HE says, nor do I notice in them any of the deformities he mentioned. I'm sorta obsessed I guess, but I actually drove out to two different dairies nearbye and checked. The cows seemed to walk just like any other cow I've ever seen, and none of them seemed to be in any particular distress.

Yet I have to wonder if the book is working on me in more ways than I realize. I had a very disturiging dream last night. I can't recall exactly what the point of it was, but I know it involved a need to constantly go back into a huge cooler full of corpses. It reminded me very much of when I was little and went to work with my grandmother (and later as a teenager when I was 14 and really worked there for a semester) at the family meat market. I used to HATE having to go in the cooler for anything. It was this huge room, with whole and partial carcasses hanging from meat hooks in the ceiling, and shelves full of tubs of organs, hamburger, sausage and the like. In the dream, it was very much like that, except, no meathooks, it was all shelves, and none of the bodies was skinned or dismembered or anything, but there were hundreds of them, human corpses lined up on shelves, and piled on the floor or on carts when there wasn't room. It was hard to walk through without brushing up against them. Very creepy... So maybe part of me believes the "pig book" more than my consciousness thinks.

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lynn johnson
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I did raise chickens for a while. One of them was nabbed by a hawk, and the next few days, the other hens were jumpy and upset. Grief, I would allow them that. One of them lived a long time and was pretty affectionate, but nothing like Masson seems to see.

Stories in books like this could be wildly exaggerated. Maybe the pig wasn't actually singing to the moon, maybe he was just calling to other pigs, things like that. I think chickens are somewhat charming creatures and I like to eat eggs, and the hens didn't seem interested in sitting on the eggs. In that, Masson seems totally over-the-top. He sounds too Marxian to take seriously, that we are exploiting these animals.

Also, he cites Temple Grandin. In one of her books, she says she considered becoming vegetarian, but absolutely cannot function without meat, so she has devoted her life to making the slaughter process more humane. He treats her a bit disrespectfully, in my opinion. She is really a remarkable person.

A friend of mind raises grass-fed beef. Her beef have really great lives and the meat is much healthier (google "grass-fed beef"). I think I will buy a half a beef from her this fall. They have good lives and live about twice as long as beef in usual feedlot conditions.

I sometimes - no, often - wish I could be a vegetarian, but my wife has no patience with that. Maybe I can get her to read the book. When I eat meat, I feel some grief and appreciation, as if the animal volunteered to give its life for my sake. It is probably a foolish thing to feel.

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DDDaysh
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Hmmm... I've never heard of "grass-fed" beef as a type. The "beef" around here eat grass most of the time, as long as there's no drought because that's what's cheap. Why pay for corn when you can just sew a patch of alfalfa?
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lynn johnson
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Actually, beef eat grass for a year and a half and then they are shipped off to feed lots where they are fed grain. That shifts their fat composition from Omega-3 to Omega-6. They get fat really fast, and their fat fat flesh tastes better, but it is bad for us. That is called "finishing" a beef.

Grass fed beef is beef fed on grass for about 28 - 30 months and then slaughtered. They never eat corn and grains. Their flesh is high in Omega-3 EFAs.

eg: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grass_fed_beef

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