Humans are the only living organisms with the potential to wield the sword of intellectual power in determining who is worthy of moral status. We are in effect the kings of the road with the power to decide and what ever we desire all life on earth will be forced to abide. In defining if any other entity is worthy of moral status the central issue deals with asking the question, is there anything of intrinsic value beyond human beings and if so what kinds of beings ought to be considered in our moral deliberations. The life approach argues the case that all life is the single criterion, which is necessary for full moral status. I will critically examine the life approach to see if it can practically hold up to close scrutiny as a moral theory.
What are the characteristics of life, what does it mean to be alive and what are life’s determinates. The question of trying to define the criterion of what ought to count, as a living thing is unclear. I will now try to paint a picture of defining a living entity; these entities are what the life approach view try’s to attribute moral status to.
Critically Evaluate Essay Sample
Living things are entities made up of individual parts, which when grouped together complete a being; this being is what we usually attribute to having moral status. In other words cells organs and tissues and the parts that make up a living organism are not assigned moral status individually but given moral status when working together with other cells organs and tissues. Some individuals have argued that organs can have moral status when you recognize that they have a good of their own. However when you harm an individual organ of an organism you would not say the organ has been wronged but that the individual as a whole has been. Also no one would sensibly doubt that it is right to remove an organ to benefit the whole organism, for example removing the tonsils to improve the overall health.
Critically evaluate the ‘life approach’ in regards to moral status Critically evaluate the ‘life approach’ in regards to moral status Critically evaluate the ‘life approach’ in regards to moral status
We can ask the question here, what does it mean to be and take to be an organism? It’s been suggested that the world of even the universe could be one giant organism. However this essay will discuss whether moral status should be attributed to actually individual organisms. This essay will not deal with how or whether they work together in a higher structure, which could be regarding moral status to things such as ecosystem or an entire planet but this essay will concentrate on whole beings that may contribute to an overall system.
Living things are not inanimate or dead. Inanimate things have never been alive while dead things can no longer be alive. However there is some debate to the question of when does something cease to live, for the body of organisms can die at different rates. The boundary of life is a controversial question shrouded in mist.
Living things have characteristics in common which we can use to make up a criterion of life. These criterions of life for organisms are that they ingest food, produce energy, grow, reproduce and maintain their own internal states. However these principles cannot be a necessary or sufficient condition for life, they can only be used to look for signs of life. These criterions cannot be necessary conditions because there are organisms that don’t need to hold to these principles and it cannot be sufficient because there are recognized inanimate objects such as crystals that do hold to these principles.
It is thought of as unacceptable to define living things as a spiritual entity or a soul, due to their being no empirical proof in biology. However Biology is incapable of defining if there is a spiritual side and souls to organisms. This is because it would need to go beyond the empirical observation that science can give us. However science is a tool, which tries to gain harmony with the truth and not a thing that declares truth. If something is beyond the scope of its capabilities it is obviously impossible for it to declare it.
We only have to look at the history of science to determine it is not an accurate landmark for truth and instead is in constant flux.
Paul Taylor defined living things as teleological and therefore goal orientated which seemed to be a useful explanation of why living things are different from dead and inanimate objects. By the term teleology he means that life strives to preserve itself, reproduce itself and maintain itself through time with both its internal and external functions being goal directed with the organism trying to realize its potential. However just like the criterions of life mentioned earlier teleological organisms are not necessary or sufficient conditions for life
Therefore when trying to differentiate what the criterion could be which can be used to define life, we are left with uncertain conclusions. As I have discussed it isn’t totally clear what can count as an organism and what the boundaries of life are. Trying to define life in terms of having a soul, being teleological or just listing the criterion of life all run into problems and are not satisfactory explanations. Instead at best we can only use the criterions for life mentioned above as a guide.
Schweitzer in his ‘reverence for life’ view believes that there is no need to try to distinguish exactly what the criterion for life should be and he instead believes that moral concern should be extended to all living things. He believes their no dividing line that distinguishes between more or less valuable life and that all living things have a ‘will to live’. He believes all life should be treated equally, as Schweitzer says ” if I save an insect from a puddle, life has devoted itself to life.”
Schweitzer argument for the ‘will to live’ is weak. To ‘will’ for humans is a conscious mental activity; he seems to be placing human experiences on what we consider unconscious life and presuming that they also ‘will to live’. However there is no empirical evidence that point to this being the case. However Schweitzer could argue that living things live in such a way that make it impossible for us to observe their conscious experiences they are in fact having. This line of reasoning is impossible to argue against but you can suggest that it is unwise to put your faith in something you can’t prove and that evidence points against.
Under his ethic moral agents have to make a subjective decision and decide when harming life is necessary. Therefore this ethic allows no scope for moral guidance to do what is right and wrong. We can’t possibly make distinctions between ethical views or even have debates because every decision in this ethic is about damage limitation and what counts as that damage is subjective.
Schweitzer’s ethic makes it impossible for moral agents to act morally because in their daily life they will be unavoidable harming life. In a world that feeds on life acquiring moral guilt is inevitable. However it makes no sense to say people ‘ought’ to do something when in fact they can’t do it. If you can’t possibly do something you have no obligation to fulfill that request. Ruth Barcan Marcus suggests blame and guilt may be appropriate for unfulfilled obligations, which could have been avoided through the re-arrangement of a particular situation.
This feeling of blame and guilt is what may be the catalyst, which spurns the individual into changing their attitudes that got them into the situation of feeling guilty. If feelings of guilt do motivate behavior under Schweitzer’s view it could have a detrimental effect, if upon the realization that whatever happened guilt would follow it could motivate worse behavior. On this view therefore the guilt of killing trillions of microbes on a Sunday afternoon would make the holocaust look like a picnic and take away the sickening aspect of this atrocious event.
There is also a major problem that guilt has in affecting the individual. The feeling of guilt is an emotion that we feel. An individual would have to be seriously disturbed if he felt just as guilty after killing millions of microbes as he would after accidental killing a human being. However Varner defended the guilt problem by suggesting that it is better to kill desireless organisms than desiring ones. Therefore it is worse for human beings to kill themselves than it would be to kill a plant or microbe.
It could be argued that the killing of organisms could be justified if they had lived a good life and were killed humanely. However on the premise that all life is morally equal and if for example humans could be killed on the judgment of a happy past then it could be argued that this approach is not against the killing of humans. If killing is wrong because it is killing it makes no difference whether your justifying the killing on the basis of a good past because the very act of killing is what is wrong and the act can’t be justified by a reference to a good past.
The impracticality of enforcing Schweitzer’s view in the judicial system of society means this view is surely a dangerous mind-set which instead of putting forward an ethical theory actually proposes a set of rules which leads to unethical lifestyle. Humans could be the only entity which could be condemned for killing too much life because the rest of nature would be oblivious to this moral theory and just get on with their day to day lives. Giving a life for a life is only possible if you accept the assumption that it is right to give a life for a life, other entities are unable to reason this way and therefore give their life for the greater good. Even if Schweitzer was to argue it is subjective decision that each person has to make about what life will be killed it would seem impractical to uphold in society.
I could argue people’s hearts could be hardened against killing life under this view, because if you continue to act in a certain way or expose yourself to certain lifestyle you can get habituated into certain mindset. Therefore compassion may be reduced to a low level as killing moral life turns out to be unavoidable this in turn may reduce respect for sentient and other life.
Nature is brutal pace full of killing; it would be impossible anyway for us to uphold the natural tendency of nature to kill and put are selves as the natural policeman. If all life does have moral worth then as well as doing are best personally to having ‘reverence for life’ we should do are uppermost to unsure that other animals and life forms are killing as least amount of life as possible in their circumstance. This would lead to dramatic changes in our ecosystems as we for example force tigers to eat grass, this would be practically impossible to uphold.
The “blind watchmaker theory’s” (theory of evolution) premise relies on death and destruction in order for the individual organisms to evolve which suggests our planet mechanism is of such that is of contrary to the “life approach”. This is because planet encourages death and destruction and survival of the fittest in order for progress to be made. Schweitzer could respond and say that the highest point, which something could evolve, is to evolve into an entity with the ability to appreciate life and therefore to become a lover of life. The problem here is what standard is this theory reflecting from. It proposes that it has reached an absolute or some sort of meaningfulness but who can say the next step of evolution is not for us to evolve in to a higher organism, maybe a human with wings that is able to fly round the universe.
The point is there is no reason or way that Schweitzer is able to claim that this moral is the highest point in the evolutionary scale and as I have discussed it seems to go contrary to the way life actually does work.
Schweitzer’s argument however from “will to life” is weak, the theory suggest no way of moral guidance, there is no way to act morally in anyway under this approach and feelings of guilt the theory demands could push people into depression making them even more destructive as they become insensitive to the value of life. I also pointed out impractical reasons this theory upholds that make it unrealistic.
Singer puts forward a powerful criticism against the ‘life approach’. He points out advocates of the life approach use language metaphorically and then assumes that this language is literally true. They use words such as “seek and “pursuing” their own good which seems to illustrate a conscious purpose for a life form such as a plant. These words can create the illusion that they do in fact have a ‘will to live’. However realistically they are just responding to conditions, with the different conditions affecting the plants in different ways.
Plants therefore are not acting intentionally when they “seek” water but just responding to conditions they’re faced with because plants are not conscious. Therefore because they’re not conscious they can’t have the capacity for the emotions found in conscious beings. To articulate a plant as “seeking” water would be identical to stating a river is pursuing its own good by striving to the sea. Here Singer is distinguishing between a physical process and a conscious decision because a death of an entity that has desires is worse than the death of one that does not.
Therefore there seems to be a distinction between conscious desires and biological automation. Plants therefore seem governed by only physical processes and it seems illogical to base moral worth on physical processes, which are their to control the growth and decay of all living things just as they control all physical aspect of nature.
The life plus is a direct attack on the life approach; it refutes the moral equality of all living things that the life only view advocates. The life plus view argues that there are other criterions such as sentience, which can add dimensions that increase the moral worth of entities and therefore states that life is only sufficient for only some moral status.
Schweitzer argued that the life plus view is too anthropocentric. He argued that we are judging life by our own standards subjectively and therefore there is elements of human chauvinism in are distinctions. However some human centeredness is inevitable for a moral theory made by humans for humans to live by. Humans are not infallible so therefore can only base a moral theory on what they know. Our moral theories also generally cover what we care about because morality is there for our own protection and usefulness to know how to live.
Most ethical systems will inevitably be biased to humans because we are the only entities capable anyway of upholding our own theories and it is impossible to extend moral concern to every living thing.
Schweitzer also put forward the slippery slope argument to refute the life plus view. He stated when distinctions are made the next step may involve labeling certain life as worthless and therefore destruction of the worthless life will occur without a second thought. However Schweitzer’s problem here is in fact that there may well be distinctions between life anyway. Therefore saying that it is a problem when distinctions are made when in fact there are distinctions between life, and those distinctions remain whether we acknowledge them or not. Practically observing a bacteria (under a microscope) and a human being together without reference to an ethical theory, a distinction is evident for all to see.
There is however other criteria’s that can act as guides to moral status such as moral agency and sentience which would stop the slippery slope of inferiority to other humans
The life plus view therefore reduces the criteria of life to only sufficient for some moral status. This is important distinction to make because their does intuitively to humans seem something intrinsically valuable in living organisms. For example if we were left with a choice of choosing between a desolate planet or a planet thriving with life of a non conscious variety, it seems a sensible decision to choose the planet thriving with life. The only explanation why this could be done is that it just feels better. Maybe the reason why we would choose that planet has nothing to do with morality but rather to do with human interest in scientific investigation because we have the capacity to be interested.
Human centeredness seems to be something inescapable for us, which is intrinsic in our nature, whatever your society or species before you can look after anyone else you have to have made sure of the well being of yourself individually. If a monkey or cow could somehow make a decision they would probably take the planet thriving with life because it would be more likely be useful to them in terms of food. I could argue therefore that there seems to be an illusion in this argument. We only pick the planet thriving with life because we have the potential to appreciate through our senses and it seems more appealing to our senses. Without moral agents it is impossible to have anyone to demand that the planet thriving with life is more valuable because maybe the value stems inherently from us as we impose our opinions on it.
Maybe the value is just living in us and calling it out to us and this valuable ness in our mind satisfies us.
Therefore there is a problem with the life approach in distinguishing a criterion for life, which can act as a guide to what should count as life. It seems the advocates of the life approach are dieing men like us, all desperate to hold on to and give respect to dieing life and simultaneously being unaware of their own depravity in their individual essence.