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Reply to DeGrazia

Do we now have a good reason for thinking that, although (contrary to Velleman) animals can accumulate a large quantity of pleasures in their lives, nonetheless, death is not as bad for them as it is for adult human beings ? There are three reasons for rejecting psychological investment or unity as a criterion for evaluating the degree of badness of death.

DeGrazia himself provides the first reason for rejecting it. In the course of evaluating and discarding putative reasons for believing that death is less bad for the dog than for an adult human being, he rejects an objective-list approach—the view that autonomy, accomplishment, and deep personal relationships enhance one’s wellbeing (whether one desires or enjoys them or not), and that nonhuman animals lack the capacity for these objective goods (DeGrazia 2007, 62). DeGrazia’s reason for rejecting the objective-list approach is relevance. He suggests that the features that may well be objectively good for human beings just may not be relevant to nonhuman animals, and therefore “this approach owes us some plausible account of what capacities or conditions have special weight across species and why they have special weight” (62). He also points out that founding claims of qualitative superiority on an objective-list approach is so “convenient” as to “invite[] reasonable concerns about dogmatism” (62).

Insisting on psychological investment and unity as the criteria for the evaluation of the degree of badness of death in sentient beings such as companion animals is similarly “convenient” and invites concerns about “dogmatism.” For the badness of death for dogs and other companion animals then turns out to be lower than for human beings mainly because they are not (like) “normal” human beings. But it is inappropriate for the degree of value of death for nonhuman animals to be assessed solely by reference to criteria that, like worldly accomplishments, have little or no connection to their lives. If animals are inherently incapable of x—despite being inherently capable ofy and z, which contribute importantly to a good life—it is unfair to suppose that only the possession of x makes death bad, but not the possession ofy and z. While dogs may have a low degree—if any—of psychological investment in and unity with their own futures, they do have capacities for enjoyment of life and repeated indulgence in pleasures, however simple, and the forging of connections with human beings or other animals. It is the termination of these capacities that makes death bad for them.

A second objection to DeGrazia’s reason for regarding death as less bad for animals than for human beings is that in lifeboat cases, it would justify us in first throwing out the dogs and cats, then throwing out the infants, and then, in order, the one-year-olds, two-year-olds, and three-year-olds.4 Even a six-year-old, compared to an adult, may have a smaller proportion of mental life sustained over her lifetime, and may have fewer memories, less developed anticipation of future experiences, and fewer intentions with regard to the future, all of which are part of what DeGrazia means by “internal reference between earlier and later mental states” (2007, 66). If the criteria that justify throwing out the dog also justify throwing out the infant, followed by any toddlers on board, then there is some problem with the criteria that purport to justify throwing out the dog. The prospect of tossing a three-year-old human being out of a lifeboat in order to save the “normal” older humans is surely a reductio ad absurdum of the claim that death is less bad for sentient beings with lower degrees of psychological investment and unity. Hence, we should have further doubts as to whether psychological investment and unity are the sole appropriate and adequate criteria for evaluating the badness of death for all sentient beings.

The third reason for rejecting DeGrazia’s criteria is related to the locus of evaluation. What validates the TRIA, according to DeGrazia, is simply the fact that it explains “our considered judgments about the harm of death” (66). To whose judgments is he referring? Who exactly are the people who are giving “our considered judgments”? Presumably only adult human beings, not young children or nonhuman animals.5 It is suspiciously convenient that those who are claimed to be less harmed by death are precisely those who have no input into the lifeboat decision about whom to sacrifice.

Moreover, although I am, presumably, a member of the category of “normal human being,” I do not accept DeGrazia’s “considered judgment.” I regard all the potential deaths in the lifeboat case with horror, and would be unwilling to throw any of the passengers overboard. I only hope if I were ever in those circumstances that I could find the personal strength to volunteer to jump overboard myself. The question is whether I am the only person who would reject the judgment that the dog (followed by any available babies and toddlers) should be tossed from the boat.

I doubt it. The reality is that even “normal” persons in the lifeboat would have different reactions to the deaths of an infant, a two-year-old, a ten-year-old, a twenty-five-year-old, and a dog, and this fact is significant. Must we discount their opinions? Are we to say, because they do not share DeGrazia’s considered judgment, that they are irrational or simply mistaken, or that their lives are emotionally and morally impoverished?

People’s judgments about whom to sacrifice would not necessarily be based on the extent of psychological investment and unity of each individual. Unlike DeGrazia, some might not dismiss the importance of the length of life, along with the opportunity for positive life experiences that is usually but not always associated with the length of life, as a possible criterion for the badness of death. Others might decide whom to throw overboard based on their concern for or relationship to the individuals. Just as some people might have a closer concern for or relationship with an infant or a two-year-old than to anyone who is older, some people would feel—and have—a stronger concern for or relationship to the dog than to any of the people in the boat.6

DeGrazia claims that an extraterrestrial would share his judgment about the expendability of the dog (2007, 58), thus suggesting that there is a god’s-eye or objective view of what is right in the situation. I am not convinced. Given that people’s “considered judgments” about whom to toss from the lifeboat are not likely to be unanimous, and that people do not necessarily use psychological investment or unity to ground their judgments about the harm of death, DeGrazia may be assuming what he ought to be trying to prove: that the dog and the infant are harmed less by death than is the twenty-five-year-old. He calls it a “considered judgment,” but his treatment of it makes clear that it is foundational for him, and that if it is contradicted by other criteria—such as the desire- satisfaction account of the harm of death, or the theory that the harm of death is a function of lost opportunities for valuable future experiences, both of which are relevant to companion animals—he is not willing to abandon his foundational belief about who is less harmed by death. It is always those beings with lower psychological unity (DeGrazia 2007, 67).

Perhaps, then, what underlie the views of people like Velleman and DeGrazia about the value of death for human and nonhuman animals are their fundamental feelings about human beings of various ages and about nonhuman animals of various kinds. According to DeGrazia, “[i]f one snake were to die before reaching his natural life span and another with equal prospects for a decent snake life came into existence, that state of affairs would not seem significantly worse than for the first snake to have survived without another coming into existence” (2007, 65). It may seem to DeGrazia that all snakes are alike and interchangeable, but—even though he lacks self-awareness—for the snake, his life is not substitutable with others. Death happens to unique individuals.

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