@CriticalRationalist (CR) on Twitter took the time to respond to my post here http://www.bretthall.org/humans-and-other-animals.html with his own here https://thecriticalrationalist.weebly.com/philosophy.html CR is a good thinker and writer and his site is certainly worth reading.
Let me quickly state my position for those who tl:dr my own page above. “Suffering” as we understand the term (so as the word applies to us) is categorically a bad thing. My position is that to “suffer” entails being able to create some explanation about why you are in pain. But although all suffering begins with pain and is caused by it, not all pain is suffering. Pain is morally neutral for humans without some accompanying explanation. For more on this, read my post. (An example of “good pain” might be the injection that you know will cure your illness at the doctor. But better: things like the pain of exercise that many of us learn to enjoy or the pain from a fun but scary bumpy ride at a theme park, etc).
Now this is not quite the same as saying “All pain that is not suffering is good”. There could be kinds of pain we as humans do not yet have access to, or understand, that is nonetheless bad. My explanation of the subjective conscious experience of other humans rests on what my own is like. A problem here is that I cannot do the same for other animals. I don’t know what it’s like to be a bat.
I say in my piece at one point “The philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein famously remarked that “If a lion could speak we could not understand him”. He did not mean that the lion could not speak English: he meant that the internal workings of the *mind* of the lion may have been so far removed from our own as to have no analogue that could be captured by our own vocabulary.”
I also wrote “I guess animals experience pain but I also concede in saying this that though they experience something (we call pain), it might not be like what we experience as pain - at all. “
I don’t know what that pain might be like. It cannot be suffering of the sort we experience. It also cannot be “pleasurable” either for the same reason. It might be neutral - but because “what it’s like” to be a lion or bat or cow isn’t something we know yet (because we have no explanation of consciousness) I say that causing pain to animals is bad.
But CR says “He (That’s me) argues that meat eaters do not face any ethical dilemmas.”. This is not quite right. They do. If they didn’t, my post would have been far more brief. I don’t think animals eaten for meat should (ideally!) experience any pain because of our farming, etc because we do not know what the quality of that pain is, yet. I don’t know what “fear” feels like to a cow. I guess it must feel like something. I don’t know if it would be “bad” but because I cannot know, for now, I withhold judgement and I argue to not do evil (like cause unnecessary pain of a kind we don’t understand to a creature whose internal subjective state we do not know about.) Now my explanation is that their pain cannot be suffering. And whatever it is, it cannot be bad in the way it is for us. Does it have a moral valence at all? I simply don’t know. But I guess it’s neutral. But that’s all I have. My argument is also that some vegans claim to have a positive explanation that non-human animals actually suffer. I’m arguing they are actually wrong (for the reasons outlined in my post and summarised here and by CR). On the basis that “animals suffer therefore eating meat is wrong” I am saying is false. There might be other reasons not to eat meat from animals - but I’m yet to hear it and I won’t make those arguments for a vegan.
CR writes: “Consider, for instance, why people think animals suffer in the first place: people think animals suffer because the behaviour of animals seems to indicate a subjective experience to us. This should strike a thinking person as odd; most animals did not evolve their facial expression for the purpose of communicating to humans how they feel.” CR also here summarises my position about how not all pain is suffering because some - like the pain of a workout if you’re after massive gains or whatever at the gym - is pleasurable. And yet those people who work out (experience the pleasure of pain) have weird facial expressions too. But it doesn’t signify suffering. So I am not moved here by CRs reply. If the “understanding” that CR writes about because of our co-evolution with animals is to stand, there must be a way to distinguish between “suffering” facial expressions vs “just in pain” facial expressions. Is there? (This reminds me of an old Adam Sandler sketch: “Having sex or working out?” - it was just recordings of people moaning and, of course, you can’t tell what they’re up to. Similarly facial expressions don’t tell us much about how a thing feels inside. Facial expressions probably evolved to scare other animals away. If damage is being caused here’s my facial expression: run away. Whether that signifies suffering or not - well that just returns me full force to the original problem.
I think CR’s argument here demonstrates that animals experience pain. But this was never in dispute. I agree with him that “If animals turn out to suffer, i.e. if they have subjective experiences that are morally bad, then the factory farming of today must be evil.”. But I don’t think they do. What someone needs to show myself or someone who holds my position, is how suffering can be divorced from requiring “explanatory knowledge creation” (it requires that you can *understand why* you are in pain) and this seems to require “universal knowledge creation” - universal because there must be the potential to understand the cause of *any* pain). And the only being we know of that is a universal knowledge creator is an human being - a person. I don’t think animals sharing some facial expressions with human beings is at all relevant, let alone decisive in the question about how similar their internal subjective states must be much less their ability to generate explanations about the sources of pain that give rise to those facial expressions.
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