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Human Beings and Giant Squids

  • David Cockburn (a1)
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A television nature programme a year or two ago contained a striking sequence in which a giant squid was under threat from some other creature (no doubt a human being with a video camera). The squid responded in a way which struck me immediately and powerfully as one of fear. Part of what was striking in this sequence was the way in which it was possible to see in the behaviour of a creature physically so very different from human beings an emotion which was so unambiguously and specifically one of fear.

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1 Peter SingerAnimal Liberation(New York: Avon, 1978), 1011.

2 See Mill J. S., An Examination of Sir William Hamilton′s Philosophy, 6th ed. (London, 1889), 243244.

3 In the hands of philosophers, though hopefully few others, the shakiness may issue in doubts, or denials, that animals feel anything at all. See, for example, Peter Harrison, ‘Do Animals Feel Pain?’, Philosophy 66, No. 255 (January 1991), 2540.

4 This implication is drawn out in Peter Harrison′s paper: ibid., 38–9.

5 For a highly illuminating discussion which is relevant to this point see Raimond Gaita, Good and Evil (London: Macmillan, 1991), 158–65.

6 Assuming that it is true. Part of my point in all of this could be put by saying that most of us probably have very little idea to just what extent it is true. I should note here that when I speak of a ‘description in geometrical terms’ I am concerned with any form of description which it is plausible to suppose that someone could be compelled to accept no matter how sceptical he was about feelings in other races or other species. I make no judgement on the question of whether geometrical description is really the most plausible candidate for that role.

7 Closely related points may have an application to the following passage: ‘An adult male, reclining in the shade after a good meal, reaching benignly to play with an infant or idly groom an adult female, is clearly in a good mood. When he sits with bristling hair, glaring at his subordinates and threatening them, with irritated gestures, if they come too close, he is clearly feeling cross and grumpy. We make these judgments because the similarity of so much of a chimpanzee′s behaviour to our own permits us to empathize.’ Jane Goodall, Through a Window (London: Penguin, 1990), 14. It is the last sentence which is suggestive of a mistake.

8 Just where would one place a human shaped mouth on a spaniel′s head if instructed to place it at the same point as it occupies on a human head?

9 Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, Anscombe G. E. M. and R. Rhees (eds), trans. Anscombe G. E. M. (Oxford: Blackwell, 1968), *281.

10 See, for example, Zettel *134: ‘Do not say “one cannot”, but say instead: “it doesn′t exist in this game”.’ Ludwig Wittgenstein, Zettel, eds Anscombe G. E. M. and von Wright G. H., trans. Anscombe G. E. M. (Oxford: Blackwell, 1967).

11 In the paragraph following that which we are considering Wittgenstein notes that people do ascribe pain to things which do not behave like human beings; his example, which is rather different from mine, is the ascription of pain to dolls. He comments: ‘this use of the concept of pain is a secondary one’ (op. cit. note 9, *282). Oswald Hanfling has strongly urged me to accept that this brings out that Wittgenstein does not face the difficulty which I am pressing. But is not the claim that this use of the concept of pain is ‘secondary’ simply the claim that this use is dependent on that in which pain is ascribed to human beings and what resembles them: that the former use derives its character from the latter? And that is hardly the claim that pain cannot be ascribed to things other than human beings and what resembles them.

12 Philosophical Investigations, op. cit. note 9, p. 178. I presented the following line of argument in more detail in ‘The Mind, the Brain and the Face’, Philosophy, 60, No. 234 (October 1985), 477–93.

13 I am assuming that there are such people, and that their tendency to see sense in such ascriptions is not simply the result of misleading philosophical pictures–as talk of ‘time travel’ may be primarily the result of misleading philosophical pictures. But the latter assumption may raise quite delicate issues.

14 Philosophical Investigations, op. cit. note 9, *284.

15 I am suggesting only that it could be put this way round with as much justice as it can be expressed in Wittgenstein′s own formulation. Connected with this is the fact that I am far from clear how much anything that I have said should be taken as a criticism of Wittgenstein. It will be clear that my ‘criticisms’ have drawn heavily on the general spirit of Wittgenstein′s work; and Oswald Hanfling has tried hard to convince me that there is no need to take the remark which has been central to my discussion in a way which lays it open to my objections.

16 I do not mean here to rule out the possibility that we might be able to place limits of some kind on the type of creature to which such states might be ascribed. For example, it might be argued that ‘living and mobile’ is such a limit. But to say that that is a condition which something must satisfy if it is even to be a candidate for ascriptions of, say, fear is to say nothing about the patterns of behaviour in such a creature which we could see as expressive of fear, and on which our ascription might be based.

17 At least, we can do this no more than we can place limits in advance on where we might be able to see redness, or, rather differently, beauty. Presumably we cannot rule out in principle the possibility that scientists should discover some physical feature shared by all patterns of behaviour in which we are capable of seeing fear or pain. But such a condition, if it existed, would not be a feature of the sense of our talk.

18 Jane Goodall, op. cit. note 7, 166

19 In her paper ‘Eating Meat and Eating People’ Cora Diamond writes: ‘We cannot point and say, “This thing (whatever concepts it may fall under) is at any rate capable of suffering, so we ought not to make it suffer.”.’. The Realistic Spirit (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1991) 325. I owe a large debt to this marvellous paper.

20 I am very grateful to Oswald Hanfling, Elizabeth Wolgast and Maureen Meehan for extremely helpful comments on earlier versions of this paper. I am indebted in a more general way to staff and, especially, students at University of Wales: Lampeter for discussions which have helped to stimulate the ideas in this paper.

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Philosophy
  • ISSN: 0031-8191
  • EISSN: 1469-817X
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