Why/when is killing wrong or a harm?

(Some speculations/considerations)

Adapted from Clare Palmer, Animal Ethics in Context (2011)



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

                   i.       Can have all three types of desires below

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

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

                   i.       Can only have desire type (3)

                   ii.      Singer believes simple beings are replaceable

                   iii.     Fish?

                   iv.     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



3.      (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

4.      (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

5.      (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 not a serious harm

         b.      If killing only frustrates these sorts of desires it does not seem to be a serious harm–it is no more wrong to painlessly kill these beings than it is to take a bowl of food away from a dog

         c.      Simple creatures have at most these sorts of desires



7.      Argument: 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

8.      Reply: 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 end this being 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.