Why/When is Killing a Harm or Wrong

(Hettinger speculations/considerations)

Adapted from Clare Palmer, Animal Ethics in Context (2011) and Peter Singer’s ideas



2.      Self-conscious beings with sense of self as existing through time

         a.      Can have all three types of desires below

         b.      Such beings are not replaceable (according to Singer)

3.      Simple creatures; no sense of self as existing through time; moment to moment beings with no psychological continuity through time

         a.      Can only have desire type (3) (see below)

         b.      Singer believes simple beings are replaceable

         c.      Consider: The pain of such creatures can be real and serious, but since they have no sense of self existing through time, they can’t have the feeling that accompanies having what seems like endless pain



5.      It is wrong to kill a being:

6.      (1) If it frustrates a desire to keep on living

         a.      To have this desire a being must have an understanding of what it is to be alive, to be dead, and a sense of self (being self-conscious): “I might no longer be alive”

         b.      Frustrating this desire is a serious harm

7.      (2) If it frustrates a desire to carry out long term life projects (have children, become an architect, protect the environment)

         a.      This desire also requires a sense of self (being self-conscious) and an understanding of the future

         b.      Frustrating this desire is a serious harm

8.      (3) If it frustrates a simple want to continue doing something (like chewing one’s cud or finishing one’s bowl of food)

         a.      Frustrating this desire is not nice, but is not a serious harm

         b.      If killing only frustrates these sorts of desires it does not seem to be a serious harm

         c.      It is no more wrong to painlessly kill a being who only has these desires than it is to take a bowl of food away from a dog

         d.      Simple creatures have at most these sorts of desires

         e.      So killing simple creatures is not a big deal



10.    Argument:

         a.      While simple creatures have no desires for the future that killing frustrates, they have a valuable future that we take away from them when we kill them and this is why killing them is a serious harm

11.    Reply:

         a.      But since such beings have is no psychological continuity through time (they are moment to moment beings), we are not depriving them of their future, for they have no future. Since there is no psychological continuity between the being now or the being later, the being later is a different being. To make it so this being does not exist is simply to prevent some other being from existing later, and so killing them does not deprive them of a valuable future that they would enjoy.

Study Questions on Hettinger When/Why Wrong to Kill

1.      Distinguish between different types of future oriented desires and explain why if a being only has a certain type of future oriented desire that it might not be a serious harm to kill that being (painlessly).

2.      Why might the “its wrong to kill a being because doing so deprives it of valuable future” argument not apply to simple creatures?