Debate:Biocentrism

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Proposition[edit]

So the idea of biocentrism, which I'm going to contest, is that life, and individual living things in particular, has substantial inherent value.

Why life has value[edit]

1. Uniqueness

As far as observational science goes, almost every organism is at least a little distinct from all others if not genetically, then at least a little bit phenotypically. And unique things cannot be replaced. Once gone, they're gone. That implies a kind of value.

2. Self propagation

Life itself seems to indicate a desire to exist by the fact that it creates more of itself. This naturally suggests a worldview where that apparent desire is respected. Or one where the actor accepts the universes' mechanics as implying the naturalness of that continuity.

3. God given

I don't care much for this line of thinking, and I'm not particularly compelled to expound on it. It's self-explaining.


Why contest the idea[edit]

1. Life is inherently and unstoppably in conflict.

Life eats life to get by. Naturally and freely. Not all life, you might point out, but even photosynthesizers like trees will overshadow other plants in competition for the same sunlight, killing them. Charles Darwin showed scientifically how this naturally progresses, and nothing but literally unlimited free energy or the perfect homeostatic end to evolution could ever stop it from being so. To value some life is inherently to value other life at least a little less.

This is not to say that life has absolutely no value. Just that by necessity, you cannot expect to hold all life equally.

Of course. Neither you nor I argue that life has equal inherent value. I argue only that all living beings, defined here as homeostatic, self-preserving entities such as trees, have some non-zero value. Similar to Kenneth E. Goodpaster in his article, On Being Morally Considerable, I argue that all living beings possess moral standing, to say nothing of moral significance, in that all other moral theories prove inadequate which draw the line anything short of all living things. For example, sentiocentric moral theories, which appraise the emotive capacities of organisms, afford trees little if any moral consideration. (We assume here the latter option, as is customary, that trees are NOT sentient, though they are sentient, however dimly.) Such a theory fails to account for the "welfare interests" of the trees, and therefore little informs our behavior concerning trees. The value of trees could be understood instrumentally, but such a theory fails to account directly for the trees themselves. Following this dialectical progression, the realm of moral considerability therefore terminates at its furthest, non-arbitrary point, that of all living things. Of course all life is not equal. I merely elaborate and affirm as you said. But I would like to emphasize that I do not argue for the equal standing of all living things within biocentric theory.--Animalian (talk) 17:33, 18 March 2015 (UTC)
"Fails to account for the trees themselves" is an interesting tidbit. You have to make a case as to why we're accounting for the trees themselves. If we're accepting the notion it's intuitive that not all life is equally valuable, what's to keep me from pinning the value of a tree at 0.0000000000001 humans? There has to be a reason to accept a tree as better than a bacteria. I don't think here you've made this case at all. I have my own reasons, but as the one proposing the point, hearing yours is more important. ikanreed You probably didn't deserve that 18:16, 18 March 2015 (UTC)
If all life has a subjective value, no matter how high or low, why can't people place a value on it themselves and judge how to treat it according to that value instead of using your subjective scale of value? -EmeraldCityWanderer (talk) 18:44, 18 March 2015 (UTC)

2. It's absolutely necessary for people who make decisions about right and wrong to kill things

For my own basic continuity as someone answering questions of ethics, I need to take antibiotics that kill bacteria, eat plants grown on a farm (and often meat too), boil foods to eliminate bacteria, destroy bug colonies that threaten our livelihoods, and on rare occasions, kill larger animals that threaten us. To suggest that this course of action calls for remorse seems almost intuitively wrong.

Since we have already established that not all living things possess equal inherent value, let's establish some loose proxies. Let us assume that the rational, autonomous human being reigns as the supreme ethical being, the most sentient, self-aware being we presently know to exist. Let us assume that viruses and bacteria rank, in terms of ethical standing, far below that of humans. Why we should make this distinction between humans, viruses, and perhaps the "lower" animals, as worms and frogs, is a question of compelling, fundamental importance. But presuming as we do that life exists along a hierarchy, it naturally follows that the death of an insect, extraordinary circumstances excepted, is not on par with the death of a rational, autonomous human being. It would, indeed, be intuitively wrong to regret the death of a fruit fly in a standing tray of water or the ants who drowned upon a light midsummer drizzle. The reason you make this point, I believe, relates to your belief that the fetus is insignificant, no different from a fruit fly and potentially dangerous. I, however, make the distinction that the fetus has the potential to become a synapsing person which the fruit fly never possessed, at least not to any realistic degree. Though all too obvious, it was nevertheless prudent to remind ourselves of the point you make above.--Animalian (talk) 17:44, 18 March 2015 (UTC)
You know what else has the potential to be a person? Every sperm and egg. Every stem cell, with the right environment. You're making a case for "potential" people at the expense of real people. Your equation has to answer for why you're not being forced to have as many children as you can right now. Otherwise you're denying potential humans that you could create life. Sorry, but that potential for being a human hits zero when an abortion happens. Poof, no more potential, and no people impaired. You just don't like the notion that human decision making can influence potential. Well, too bad, it does. ikanreed You probably didn't deserve that 18:16, 18 March 2015 (UTC)

3. A refutation of uniqueness as a source of (great) inherent value

Lots of things are unique. This sentence here is quite possibly totally unique. The world would only face a trivial and minor loss if it were gone, replaced with something else. Perhaps greater distinction from other things confers greater value, but this actually undercuts the notion of life being inherently valuable. Because life surrounds itself with similar things (called family) by its nature, leaving only rare or almost extinct life as being the most valuable.

I could believe this particular line of reasoning, but only valuing "different in some way" doesn't raise a distinction between a rock and a virus versus bacteria and a chimp. Valuing unique DNA is even more suspect, because that DNA could be saved as easily by being sequenced and stored on a hard drive as by letting it grow into a living thing. To some extent or another, value from uniqueness needs to be measured in degrees not as a binary checkbox.

My last response perhaps not satisfactory, I will delve immediately into discussion of that which I find most relevant. First, I do not argue that uniqueness, genetic or otherwise, is cause for the attribution of value, with one exception--that of the subjective experience. I value those beings which experience pain or pleasure, whose lives can fare well or ill for them, including trees, to a far more limited degree. I value subjects of a life. I value dogs, humans, and the like because life is or, at least, can be inherently rewarding, because they value their lives. And valuing the lives of all is an altruistic good. I recall, toward the end of Blade Runner, the scene in which the replicant, hunted to the death, spares the detective just before the detective slips, falling to death. For in his final moments, the replicant valued not only his life, but the lives of others, even the life of the man who had killed his compatriots. Life, particularly of sentience to such degree, I value. Since life of some sort is a prerequisite to this sentience, and the whole world which it brings into focus, I value life for that capacity alone. Naturally, some lifeforms I value less, but I value the lives of dogs, humans, and even the fetus because we have a brilliant sentience before us--and the seeds for it.--Animalian (talk) 17:56, 18 March 2015 (UTC)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NoAzpa1x7jU--Animalian (talk) 18:05, 18 March 2015 (UTC)
You're anthropomorphizing dogs, and I can't agree to the absurd notion that life is automatically a prerequisite to sentience. Your example in the same paragraph involved non-living sentient beings. I simply assert that this whole paragraph fails to deliver on its thesis. ikanreed You probably didn't deserve that 18:25, 18 March 2015 (UTC)

4. A refutation of self-reproduction as a source of value

By writing intent onto self-reproduction, we are anthropomorphizing. We are valuing an imagined rational being making an informed choice as if it were the same as a natural process unfold. An oncoming boulder has momentum, and thus appears to desire to move forward, but interfering with that process towards an end you have decided is ethical isn't unreasonable. It's natural and sensible.

To sum up my objections[edit]

I don't hold that life is inherently valueless, indeed some of the arguments for biocentric ethics are reasonable, but instead they seem to undercut other sources of value that may place human minds as more valuable than just life. Ikanreed (talk) 00:37, 12 February 2015 (UTC)

"Value?" What's that?[edit]

This discussion will have rough going unless "value" is defined, or at least assigned some characteristic marks. That moving boulder could have value to someone who wants to redirect the course of a stream, towards which it is rolling. Someone else might not fare so well if they lose access to water the stream formerly provided. The ethics of each situation will be different, perhaps depending on who's evaluating them.

Uniqueness of genetic material such as DNA or RNA is tough to defend as giving value in and of itself to individual scraps of life. To take an example related to recent news, it should be difficult to find smallpox genes in the wild. A case could be made for the "value" of preserving cultures of viable Variola virus. The obvious benefit has to do with the world being a big place, with possible undiscovered reservoirs of V. major, just waiting for a vector to bring the pox back into people. The obvious risks of that preservation are left as an exercise for the reader.

The value of any activity may be turned on its head by considering it from the point of view that there are too many people on the planet, a view which some people have been proclaiming with more or less vehemence for at least forty or fifty years. Alec Sanderson (talk) 01:18, 12 February 2015 (UTC)

It's the subjective association with inherent meaning that people commonly ascribe to things, for the purposes of this debate. We certainly can mince more about it if you think it's relevant. Ikanreed (talk) 01:26, 12 February 2015 (UTC)
Of course it's relevant. If it is subjective, what's the point of discussing it? Even if we had a guaranteed accurate snapshot of what people "commonly ascribe," and even if it covered the wide range of human cultural perspectives (there's that TWIAVBP thing again) it would only amount to a fine-grained ad populum. Without first agreeing on the various things that can be called "value," I foresee this debate spiraling into the realm of unsupportable assertion. Avoiding that is a good thing, in my book. Alec Sanderson (talk) 01:38, 12 February 2015 (UTC)
Of course you can take subjective inputs and make rational deductions about them. And of course there are going to be unsupportable assertions at the core. That's natural. What you can do, however, is find what those disagreements are by working backwards. That's actually far more settled than the approach of trying to generate everything from one core set of ideas that have little overlap. I assert the value of defining things precisely only when a disagreement is apparent Ikanreed (talk) 01:49, 12 February 2015 (UTC)
OK. How about a preliminary draft layout of where value may reside? You've made a start in the initial proposition and following subsections. Let the teasing-apart of strands commence! Alec Sanderson (talk) 01:57, 12 February 2015 (UTC)
LMAO@Ikanreed 1.227.149.64 (talk) 11:07, 12 February 2015 (UTC)
Because I feel it's a bit of a tangent and represents a rather substantial debate all on it's own and I was hoping to discuss this specific matter with a specific user. As to the BoN, I'm gonna level with you: you're a moron. Ikanreed (talk) 14:09, 12 February 2015 (UTC)
Yeah, hope I wasn't butting in too much. I'll save my thoughts regarding a useful balance of synthesis and analysis for another time. Ciao for now, Alec Sanderson (talk) 14:33, 12 February 2015 (UTC)
It seems really simple to slap an "ignosticism" label on this debate and move along, but for the fun of it I saw something previously that could be relevant. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/a-new-physics-theory-of-life/ seems like a fun read Trick (talk) 14:54, 12 February 2015 (UTC)

That reminds me of this SMBC comic. Not that I'm actually objecting to the idea. Ikanreed (talk) 14:56, 12 February 2015 (UTC)

Wouldn't it immediately strike anyone with a room temperature IQ that defining "value" was critical here? 125.61.100.2 (talk) 01:58, 13 February 2015 (UTC)
"As far as observational science goes, almost every organism is at least a little distinct from all others if not genetically, then at least a little bit phenotypically. And unique things cannot be replaced. Once gone, they're gone. That implies a kind of value."
That dump you took this morning was distinct. Why did you flush it?
"Life itself seems to indicate a desire to exist by the fact that it creates more of itself. This naturally suggests a worldview where that apparent desire is respected. Or one where the actor accepts the universes' mechanics as implying the naturalness of that continuity. "
No, life happens to create more of itself by defintion and any desire is a product of this. Your understanding of evolutionary theory is upside down and ironically weak. Your thinking is similar to creationists.
"3. God given
I don't care much for this line of thinking, and I'm not particularly compelled to expound on it. It's self-explaining. "
There is no need to list all of the bad arguments, or what in your mind are bad arguments, since all of the arguments you present are bad. In fact your question is undefined and meaningless and your whole post is not even wrong.

125.61.100.2 (talk) 02:00, 13 February 2015 (UTC)

You're an idiot, BoN. Addressing a notion another editor raised means honestly(not perfectly) describing it. That means accounting for common extractions of the idea. I know how fucking evolution works, thanks. ikanreed You probably didn't deserve that 18:21, 18 March 2015 (UTC)
BoN is more than an idiot. He's a well known white supremacist/racist troll, who's too disgusting for Metapedia. I wouldn't give him any energy. Marlow (talk) 18:27, 18 March 2015 (UTC)