Friday, April 28, 2006


(1) I'm working on a major re-write of the thought-experiments paper with Ben. This stuff is hard work, but I think it'll be rewarding. I should be able to put a draft online soon. The challenge we take up is to provide a naturalistically unobjectionable account of how we use thought-experiments to gain knowledge, while maintaining certain central features of standard philosophical methodology: in particular, we want the relevant intuitions to be a priori and necessary. I think our view will work. (Then again, if I didn't, it wouldn't be our view...) (2) Headline: Italy restaurant fined for "cruel" lobster display. There are all kinds of funny things about this story. Take this quote from the restaurant owner: "They said that the lobsters, laying on the ice, suffer... They compared them in court to other animals, like cats and dogs." The implication, apparently, is that this comparison is inappropriate. Why? The story does not develop this line. There seems to be nothing at all crazy about the idea that making an animal die by slow suffocation is an infliction of suffering. Sadly, the article seems not to take the issue at all seriously. It appears in 'Oddly Enough' Reuters, and the end of the article compares this complaint to some rather frivolous animal rights causes. (3) Monopoly. I just heard on NPR that Hasbro has decided that Monopoly needs to be modernized. They're replacing the Atlantic City location names with famous American landmarks. If I could stop this from happening, I would.


  1. re (3): Ugh. Me too.

  2. nice, lets buy and sell america!

  3. Hi Jonathan,

    Re (2): That article is pretty interesting, and you're right: the issue deserves much more serious discussion than is found there. Obviously, the issue is extremely complicated. But I want to try to gesture (and only gesture!) at a response to one of the questions you raise.

    You ask why the comparison with cats and dogs is inappropriate. I take it that you want to know why we should think that we don't have moral obligations to lobsters of the sort that we have to cats and dogs. Part of the answer may have to do with the fact that cats and dogs are more biologically sophisticated than lobsters in a morally relevant way. Plausibly, our moral obligations to non-human animals are primarily grounded in their ability to feel pain (or, as you put it, "suffer"). There are reasons to think that cats and dogs feel pain. But there may be reasons to think that lobsters cannot feel pain. So, there may be reason to think our moral obligations to lobsters are not of the same sort as our moral obligations to cats and dogs.

    Now, this argument is really sketchy, I know. So, I'd recommend endorsing this line of reasoning with extreme care. For one, the nature of pain is the subject of heated debates. Second, it's not obvious that there are reasons to think that lobsters cannot feel pain.

    That said, there *may* be reasons. Assume for a moment that lobsters have about the same level of neurophysiological sophistication as fish. (I could very easily be wrong about this, but it seems like a reasonable assumption.) Well, the neuroscientist James Rose has recently argued that fish do not have the sort of neurophysiological set-up required to feel pain (see, e.g., Rose's position is not uncontroversial (see, e.g.,, and responsible philosophers of mind will be a bit skeptical about whether neurophysiological and behavioral evidence can settle the matter. But one might reasonably maintain that Rose provides at least prima facie reason to think that animals like fish (e.g., lobsters) can't feel pain, and so differ from animals like cats and dogs in a morally significant way.

  4. What John said.

    Also, putting lobsters in the freezer (or, on ice, which would probably have a similar effect) is part of the accepted humane method of killing them. Doing this before tossing them into a boiling or steaming pot numbs them so much that they don't feel a thing when they actually kick the bucket, according to cooking experts who have presumably heard this from lobster nervous system (or lack of one) experts.

    So yeah, they don't have much in the way of pain receptors or a central nervous system to process such signals, and this may actually lessen anything they feel (if there's anything at all).

  5. John: Yes, it seems very plausible to me that there might be good arguments why ideal legal protections for lobsters would be different than ideal legal protections for cats and dogs. My point was just that to accuse the people making the complaint of "comparing lobsters to cats and dogs", with no follow-up, is not meaningful at all. They might as well have said, "punishing us in this case is inappropriate", and left it at that. (Again, there might be a good argument to that effect, but it's not given.) This would've been better, actually, because it wouldn't have carried the implicature that this was an argument. Complaining that they're comparing lobsters to pets suggests that such a comparison is obviously inappropriate -- so obviously that we needn't specify what makes it so. This, I say, is wrong.

    Jen: no, I wish I knew what it said. I don't know how to look up Italian statutes, or I'd check. A little Googling turned up nothing.

    Mandy: Huh. That seems very relevant. I don't know what to make of that. If they'd said, "actually, this practice doesn't cause the lobsters suffering", that would've been an appropriate response. They're not quoted in the story as saying that, though.