11 de octubre de 2014

Kant for Humans. Bentham for Animals. Voltaire for Priests. The Philosopher's Stone to Solve the Spanish Ebola Crisis.

[Since the Spanish ebola crisis is a global issue, I wrote this post in english with the illusion of being read by people around the world, although it might be just that: an illusion. I think the world deserves to know what young writers from Madrid think about the situation, instead of hearing once again the wishfull thinking from intellectual globettroters such as Javier Marías. Thus I encourage my fellow bloggers to follow my lead, to write about this topic in the global κοινὴ, although I am not 100% sure whether those fellow bloggers really exist at all. We will wait and see.]

i. Anonymous philosophy. An atheist from the 19th century, whose name I have no desire to recall,* said that if he had to debate with a philosopher about the existence of God, he would need Kant’s Kritik der reinen Vernunft in order to win the debate, but if he had to do it with a priest, Voltaire’s Traité sur la tolérance would be enough to win the very same debate.
A moral thinker from the 20th century, whose name I have no desire to recall either, said that animals and humans should not be treated equally, since the average human has dignity (or moral responsability) while the average animal doesn’t,** and therefore humans should be treated acording Kant’s standards while animals acording to Bentham’s.

(*) We parody here Samuel Putnam’s translation of Miguel de Cervantes from 1949. For other versions, see Larry Lynch, «Comparing Translations of Don Quixote de la Mancha».
(**) Just for the sake of the argument, if we want to claim that animals and humans should be treated unequally regarding certain properties such as dignity or mental capacity, we will normally talk about the average human and the average animal in order to avoid the argument from marginal cases, acording to which there is no moral property shared exclusively by all humans, since marginal cases of our species, such as people with the Down syndrome, have the very same properties of other primates. The problem with talking about the average as a moral standar is, roughly speaking, that it average is always pretty shitty. See more problems in P. Vallentyne, «Of Mice and Men: Equality and Animals», Journal of Ethics, 1964, 9, 403-433.
ii. Kant for humans. The anonymous atheist and the anonymous thinker seem to agree that Kant works quite well for rational beings, both in the logical and moral sense of the word ‘rational’, and thats why Kant is neither for priest nor for animals, because they cannot think for themselves, but according respectively to the authority of Nature or Church. My duty here is not to dispute this claim, which seems as disputable as schematic, but to see how it applies to the Spanish ebola crisis.
Pretty easy: If Ana Mato, the Spanish health minister, is morally rational in the kantian sense of the term,*** and therefore she acts on a maxim that she wills to become an universal law, and she has brought ebola to Madrid knowing that the Spanish health system cannot cure the disease, then I suggest that Anonymous (or whatever hacktivist that might read this) should reveal Ana Mato’s adress so that an escrache of potential ebola patients pay her with her with her same coin. Kant would be definitively for it:

«The penal law is a categorical imperative; and woe to him who creeps through the serpent-windings of utilitarianism to discover some advantage that may discharge him from the justice of punishment, or even from the due measure of it, according to the Pharisaic maxim: “It is better that one man should die than that the whole people should perish.” For if justice and righteousness perish, human life would no longer have any value in the world.  [...] But what is the mode and measure of punishment which public justice takes as its principle and standard? It is just the principle of equality, by which the pointer of the scale of justice is made to incline no more to the one side than the other. The undeserved evil which any one commits on another is to be regarded as perpetrated on himself. Hence it may be said: “If you slander another, you slander yourself; if you steal from another, you steal from yourself; if you strike another, you strike yourself; if you kill another, you kill yourself.” This is the right of retaliation (jus [lex] talionis); and, properly understood, it is the only principle which in regulating a public court (as opposed to individuals’ private judgement), can definitely assign both the quality and the quantity of a just penalty. [...] The equalization of punishment with crime is therefore only possible by judicial sentence extending even to the penalty of death, according to the right of retaliation. This is manifest from the fact that it is only thus that a sentence can be pronounced over all criminals proportionate to their internal wickedness; as may be seen by considering the case when the punishment of death has to be inflicted, not on account of a murder, but on account of a political crime that can only be punished capitally» (I. Kant, The Metaphysics of Morals, part II, translated by W. Hastie)

(***) Just for the sake of the argument, we assume that Ana Mato is morally rational, but you might dispute whether she has any mental capacity at all, especially after regarding her criminal records, full of things such as not noticing that her corrupt husband has a new Jaguar the automovile, not the wild animal— but someone knowing about the ownership and existence of the car, which sounds like being really stupid, and you are right: we cannot kill Ana Mato because politicians, like priests and animals, neither think nor are they responsible for their actions. Which leads us to
iii. Bentham for animals. This week, the government of Madrid sacrificed Excalibur, the dog of the first ebola patient, and the arguments (the pros and cons) were the following. Against the decision of the government, philosophers such as Eze Paez and Catia Faria argued that Excalibur is a sentient being whose biological and subjective interests should be taken into account before making any decision.
Moreover, I would argue that a dog has greater subjective interest in being alive while having ebola than a human with the same moral properties in the same biological situation (say, a two year old child) since, according to the famouse article published in Emergin Infectious Disease in 2005, dogs are asymptomatic. They dont show any symptoms and the illness eventually clear from them.
On the contrary, the life of a two year old ebola patient could actually become so unbearable (constantly suffering from fever, diarrhea, headache, vomiting, and internal hemorrhages) that if the illness didn’t kill him, and all experimental treatments do fail, we might actually consider sacrificing him for his own good.
There you have your Godwin law resumé, you little speciesist hater: if I had to decide whether to sacrifice Excalibur or a two year ebola patient, I would ceteris paribus choose the later. And so would do also Bentham:

«The day may come, when the rest of the animal creation may acquire those rights which never could have been withholden from them but by the hand of tyranny. The French have already discovered that the blackness of skin is no reason why a human being should be abandoned without redress to the caprice of a tormentor. It may come one day to be recognized, that the number of legs, the villosity of the skin, or the termination of the os sacrum, are reasons equally insufficient for abandoning a sensitive being to the same fate. What else is it that should trace the insuperable line? Is it the faculty of reason, or perhaps, the faculty for discourse? But a full grown horse or dog is beyond comparison a more rational, as well as more conversable animal, than an infant of a day, or a week, or even a month, old. But suppose the case were otherwise, what would it avail? The question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?» (Jeremy Bentham, Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation, chapter XVII, section 1.)
    iii. Voltaire for priests. In favor of the decision of the government, contrarian facebook opinators like Daniel Arjona, who were pro the repatriation of Manuel García Viejo, the hospitaller who brought the disease from Sierra Leona, after recognizing that such a repatriation was a mistake (Arjona said: «My bias was to play in the contrarian mode in which one locates himself when seeking independence. To abuse of skepticism as an ideology rather than a prevention. To rethorically invoke the scientific method, to loose afterwards its track while defending a brouhaha trench in this bloody social network»), he went back to that “brouhaha trench” by writing: «Those who didnt want to save the priest are crazy for saving the dog. I am even gonna sleep better».
Although he apologized once again, Arjona is an example of the catholic political thought, so common among the Spanish intellectuals, always asking for public pardon after following Rosa Luxemburg’s exactly opposite principles: (i) always against the people even if they are right; and (ii) freedom is always the freedom of those who agree with us. In conclusion, when I claim that Voltaire works pretty well for priests, I am not claiming that we shouldn’t repatriate terminal ebola patients from Sierra Leona because they belong to the Order of Hospitallers, although I think that we shouldn’t repatriate them because they are terminal and the Spanish health system cannot cure them, but what I really want to defend here is that we should squabble with this catholic intellectual priesthood with that classic french touch.
And that’s all folks: have a nice weekend and écrasez l’infame (hastag: #ecrlinf). 

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