Question from Naomi Scheman
Cognitive Disability: A Challenge for Moral Philosophy; Stony Brook, NYC campus; September 18-20, 2008.
Transcript: Theres so much that has been going on at this incredibly wonderful conference, and I think one of the things that, at least for me is emerging, is just how deep these problems go and how fundamental they are, not just to moral thinking, moral theorizing, but to ontology. I mean what kinds of things there are.
And I think were trapped in overly simply pictures, or we demand overly simple pictures, that moral considerability is going to be determined by what kind of thing one is, as though thats a fact about this thing taken in abstraction or isolation. And I think if we pick up the strands that have been running through the conference, and most recently in Evas remarks about how deep relationship goes. I mean, my, it isnt just that Eva cares about Sesha differently than about an animal; I care about Sesha. Ive never met Sesha. Sesha is Evas daughter. Everybody is somebodys son or daughter.
Its a deep and important fact about human beings that they start out inside the body of another human being. Our moral lives would be utterly different if people were created in test tubes and raised in laboratories. I cant speculate about how theyd be different. Im a Wittgensteinian, I dont do that kind of thing. But I dont think we should do that kind of thing because our moral imaginations need to be enlarged by the lives that we actually live, the relationships we actually enter into, and the kind of enlargement of moral imagination that leads us to take non-human animals more seriously, to care about their pain and their suffering. Its extraordinary. And its deeply important. And there are people who are helping to push me in that direction. As a carnivore, its hard but Im being pushed, but Im not being pushed by people who analogize cognitive capacities. Im being pushed by pictures, by images, by stories, by the enlargement of sympathies.
The other thing about relationship is Ive adopted a feral cat. The ontological status of that animal has changed. Its not just that you cant do things to her now that you could perhaps when she was ferral because it would hurt me. Shes a different kind of being because of that. When Duchamp took a urinal and stuck it on the wall, he changed the ontological status of that urinal. I mean, the ontological status of things does not inhere in them as separable individuals. Its all of it relational. And that means that we live in a world of relationship, of stories, of enlargement of moral imagination. And the idea that we can replace that hard, embodied, relational work with thought experiments I think doesnt , it just leads us astray.
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