René Descartes: "animals have no mind, torture them all you want"

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arjand
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René Descartes: "animals have no mind, torture them all you want"

Post by arjand »

René Descartes (1596 - 1650) was a French philosopher and mathematician whose articulate reasoning about the nature of animals was and still is widely held by many people, to the detriment of animals.

Descartes held that only humans are conscious, have minds and souls, can learn and have language, and therefore only humans are deserving of compassion. According to Descartes, animals are like a 'clock' and you can torture them as you like.

http://www.animalethics.org.uk/descartes.html

Animal ethics/morality is a flourishing branch of academic philosophy.

(2019) Animal Ethics: an important emerging topic for society
Another reason for scientists to engage with the philosophy of animal ethics is that it might help them confront topics that have been traditionally off-limits: in particular, the notion of animal minds. While minds are difficult enough to talk about in humans, this difficulty is exacerbated when it comes to non-human animals.

... animal minds and consciousness have been consigned to a “black box”, an entity too complex or confusing to delve into, but whose inputs and outputs become the object of study.
https://cosmosmagazine.com/society/anim ... and-ethics

How is it possible that a profound philosopher like René Descartes held a view on animals that reduces them to meaningless humps of matter?
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Re: René Descartes: "animals have no mind, torture them all you want"

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From the top of my head, I would say it was Descartes's religiosity, the belief that humans were divine and animals not. He and his peers have been responsible for untold unnecessary and gratuitous suffering.
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Re: René Descartes: "animals have no mind, torture them all you want"

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arjand wrote: December 14th, 2020, 7:04 am...
How is it possible that a profound philosopher like René Descartes held a view on animals that reduces them to meaningless humps of matter?
Greta wrote: December 14th, 2020, 4:19 pm From the top of my head, I would say it was Descartes's religiosity, the belief that humans were divine and animals not. He and his peers have been responsible for untold unnecessary and gratuitous suffering.

Yes, that is it. Only humans have souls (being made in the image of God), and therefore only humans can actually feel pain and are conscious. It is all based on his religious beliefs, and is not derived from any examination of experience.

For a contrast on that, see what Hume had to say about animals, as he took an empirical approach. You can see both discussed here:

https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/cons ... ss-animal/


Rationalist approaches to philosophy can easily end up with things that have nothing to do with the real world. As in this case.
"A wise man ... proportions his belief to the evidence." - David Hume
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Re: René Descartes: "animals have no mind, torture them all you want"

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arjand wrote: December 14th, 2020, 7:04 am How is it possible that a profound philosopher like René Descartes held a view on animals that reduces them to meaningless humps of matter?
As a philosopher, Descartes held very questionable views, as dualism, for example. Since he needed to advance his religious views of the division of material body and spiritual, incorporeal soul, and give the latter its mystical interpretation, animals could only have the former. He was wrong obviously, not because animals did have incorporeal souls too, but because no one does.
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Re: René Descartes: "animals have no mind, torture them all you want"

Post by evolution »

Do none of these human beings who write this stuff YET KNOW that human beings ARE, themselves, 'animals'?
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Re: René Descartes: "animals have no mind, torture them all you want"

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arjand wrote: December 14th, 2020, 7:04 amHow is it possible that a profound philosopher like René Descartes held a view on animals that reduces them to meaningless humps of matter?
It could be due to his rationalism, regardless of his religious affiliation.
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Re: René Descartes: "animals have no mind, torture them all you want"

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baker wrote: December 15th, 2020, 9:56 am
arjand wrote: December 14th, 2020, 7:04 amHow is it possible that a profound philosopher like René Descartes held a view on animals that reduces them to meaningless humps of matter?
It could be due to his rationalism, regardless of his religious affiliation.
Could a religion or rationalistic conviction explain an urge to torture animals? Would a philosopher need an act of violence or the infliction of pain to achieve understanding about the world and in specific consciousness and (animal) mind?

Descartes Dissected His Wife’s Dog To Prove A Point

French philosopher Rene Descartes didn’t believe animals had souls. To test his theory, he nailed his wife’s dog to a board and chopped it open while the poor thing was still alive.

By his own account, Descartes happily sliced open dogs and stuck his finger into their still-beating hearts, marveling at how the valves opened and closed around his knuckle. But the madness doesn’t stop there. According to some biographers, his first vivisection was an attempt to discover once and for all if animals had souls. And the animal he chose to practice on was his wife’s dog.

Taking a hammer, Descartes nailed the creature’s paws spread-eagled to a board and proceeded to chop it to pieces, utterly unfazed by the “appearance” of pain. Whether he really was looking for the soul or not is a fact that’s been lost to history. All we know is that the dog died shortly afterward in unimaginable agony. How Descartes’ wife reacted to finding out her husband mutilated and murdered her pet to prove an obscure point has sadly not been recorded.


Source: https://knowledgenuts.com/2013/09/29/de ... e-a-point/
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Re: René Descartes: "animals have no mind, torture them all you want"

Post by Steve3007 »

To test whether my car is firing properly on all cylinders, I have in the past unscrewed a spark plug from the engine block while the car was running and touched its body against the engine block to see whether it was sparking. While doing that the poor car's engine struggled to run smoothly. It also struggled to run properly when I adjusted the timing by rotating the distributer while the engine was running.

I guess Descartes considered himself to be doing something similar.

It's difficult to even imagine that one could cause extreme pain to a dog like that without feeling empathy and great distress at the dog's suffering. But I guess it goes to show that social conditioning is a powerful force.
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Re: René Descartes: "animals have no mind, torture them all you want"

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Steve3007 wrote: December 15th, 2020, 10:20 amIt's difficult to even imagine that one could cause extreme pain to a dog like that without feeling empathy and great distress at the dog's suffering. But I guess it goes to show that social conditioning is a powerful force.
Look at China, for example, and the way they treat animals there.
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Re: René Descartes: "animals have no mind, torture them all you want"

Post by baker »

arjand wrote: December 15th, 2020, 10:12 amCould a religion or rationalistic conviction explain an urge to torture animals?
They can certainly explain an indifference toward other beings, be they plants, animals, or humans.
Would a philosopher need an act of violence or the infliction of pain to achieve understanding about the world and in specific consciousness and (animal) mind?
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Re: René Descartes: "animals have no mind, torture them all you want"

Post by arjand »

baker wrote: December 15th, 2020, 11:03 am
Steve3007 wrote: December 15th, 2020, 10:20 amIt's difficult to even imagine that one could cause extreme pain to a dog like that without feeling empathy and great distress at the dog's suffering. But I guess it goes to show that social conditioning is a powerful force.
Look at China, for example, and the way they treat animals there.
Yes, that is interesting as well. Is Chinese philosophy or religion the cause of animal cruelty?

As it appears, animal cruelty is not supported by one of the primary philosophies in China, Confucianism:

Philosopher Mencius, the next great Confucian theorist after Confucius, said that by no means were human beings exempt from treating animals with respect and regard. It is certainly a good thing to treat animals with kindness, and, like Confucius, Mencius would likely have looked down upon a blatant recklessness toward animals and would have regarded the wanton, indiscriminate taking of nonhuman life as senseless.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Animal_we ... s_in_China
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Re: René Descartes: "animals have no mind, torture them all you want"

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The belief that empathy is a weakness seems to be spread widely across the world.
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Re: René Descartes: "animals have no mind, torture them all you want"

Post by Jack D Ripper »

arjand wrote: December 15th, 2020, 10:12 am
baker wrote: December 15th, 2020, 9:56 am
It could be due to his rationalism, regardless of his religious affiliation.
Could a religion or rationalistic conviction explain an urge to torture animals? Would a philosopher need an act of violence or the infliction of pain to achieve understanding about the world and in specific consciousness and (animal) mind?
...

The reason you don't understand is because you are not paying attention to what is being stated. Descartes would say he was not torturing animals. He did not believe he was causing any pain in anything at all. He believed that non-human animals did not have consciousness and did not experience pain. That they are machines, just like that car engine that Steve3007 tinkered with in this post:

viewtopic.php?p=374041#p374044

The sputtering of the car's engine did not make Steve3007 believe that he was causing any pain at all.


To go back to Descartes. He believed, due to believing in Christianity, that humans were created differently than other animals. The Bible is the source of that idea. And because humans are made in the image of God, and not animals, humans have souls and animals do not. He believed that souls were immaterial things that are attached to some bodies (humans). Consciousness, he believed, was due to having a soul. So, non-human animals, according to this theory, experience no pain at all and are just machines.

It might be easier for you to think about it this way. Imagine that someone makes a computer, that is not conscious, and sticks it in a robot of a dog. Imagine that the program and robot is designed to simulate a dog, so if you kick the robot, it yelps like a real dog. You might kick it without any concern, because you believe it is not conscious and it does not experience pain. That is what Descartes believed he was doing.


Additionally, Descartes was not an empiricist. He was a rationalist. This means that he believed that one can learn truths about the world just by thinking about the world, without bothering with experience. So that is how he approached the question of whether animals feel pain.

If he had been an empiricist, trying to discover what has a soul by consulting experience, he may well have noticed, as David Hume did, that non-human animals react very much like humans, and so the reasonable thing to suppose is that they, too, are conscious and experience pain and etc. Here you can read a sample of what Hume had to say about animals reasoning:

https://davidhume.org/texts/e/9


So, because Descartes was a "good Catholic", he believed the religious twaddle that that superstition promotes. And because he was a rationalist, he did not let actual experience alter his opinion on this, believing that just thinking about things (like his silly religious beliefs) would get him the truth about the world. So the dog acting like it is suffering meant nothing to him.

Here we see the true value of religion.
"A wise man ... proportions his belief to the evidence." - David Hume
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Re: René Descartes: "animals have no mind, torture them all you want"

Post by arjand »

Jack D Ripper wrote: December 15th, 2020, 1:20 pm The reason you don't understand is because you are not paying attention to what is being stated. Descartes would say he was not torturing animals. He did not believe he was causing any pain in anything at all. He believed that non-human animals did not have consciousness and did not experience pain. That they are machines, just like that car engine that Steve3007 tinkered with in this post:

viewtopic.php?p=374041#p374044
What name could Descartes potentially have given to the act of nailing down a dog to a wall and then cutting parts off of it while it is in great agony, just to test the idea that the dog has no soul?

I was inspired to start this topic after listening to a podcast on Partially Examined Life: Episode 6: Leibniz’s Monadology: What Is There?

At 0:38:01:

"Whereas Descartes said: only people have minds. Animals don't have minds, they are just matter. So they appear to be in pain but they are not really in pain. Animals are just like a clock so you can torture them all you want, because, they don't feel anything, they do not have an inner life."
If life were to be good as it was, there would be no reason to exist.
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Re: René Descartes: "animals have no mind, torture them all you want"

Post by baker »

arjand wrote: December 15th, 2020, 4:15 pmAt 0:38:01:

"Whereas Descartes said: only people have minds. Animals don't have minds, they are just matter. So they appear to be in pain but they are not really in pain. Animals are just like a clock so you can torture them all you want, because, they don't feel anything, they do not have an inner life."
Not that long ago, people had a similar view of children and the poor. Some still do.
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