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Of dogs and men

PostPosted: July 5th, 2017, 1:38 pm
by wolfhnd
There is a meme in the form of a question that has become fairly popular. It goes something like this.

If your dog and a stranger were drowning would you save your dog or the stranger?

After long consideration I think I would save my dog. I feed, house and give medical care to my dog now that are resources that could save humans and few people find that immoral. The original question I believe was an attempt to show how narcissistic and degenerate society has become. I know however from having been raised under a severe code of service to others that the original question has a strong theological underpinning. The Western tradition to the extent that it has developed under Judeo Christian ethics considers animals to be soulless . Today as we have become more secular soul seems to have been replaced with intelligent. Under those conditions it seems more appropriate to exchange stranger with unfamiliar child. If I was faced with saving a child or my dog my instincts may kick in and I could elect to save the child. If it were an adult I'm afraid I have grown tired of stupid people because they are a danger not only to themselves but the fabric of society.

The scenario of course presupposes everything else being equal but that is never the case. Someone stupid enough to place themselves in danger is likely stupid enough to drown you if you try to save them. That does not mean I can't think of a scenario where the stranger and my dog are drowning through no fault of their own. It is just that my situation is such that it is unlikely.

My dog is part of my pack or family and many deep thinking people will say that that kind of tribalism is why the world is such a mess. I would counter that by saying many of your problems in the West are a result of people being to stupid to form long lasting relationships. Part of the blame is undoubtedly due to the organization of the welfare state and some to the death of "God". We cannot however go back to a time where morality was dictated by theocracy. With the death of moral authority the world has become a more complicated place and situational ethics more dominant. Situational ethics are unfortunately beyond the intellectual capacity of most of the population. As I'm unlikely to ever find myself in the situation the question proposes it would be easy to dismiss it as intellectual masturbation. I would answer the question with it depends on the situation but that will never satisfy the kind of moral authoritarians that the left and right seem to produce in over abundance.

I say I would save my dog because I know he won't drown me. You can say that is degenerate self interest but the intellectual world divorces itself from practical considerations at the worlds peril. Man may not live by bread alone but he doesn't live without it.

Re: Of dogs and men

PostPosted: July 5th, 2017, 3:49 pm
by Braininvat
Remember that line from the Declaration...."we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, Fortunes, and our sacred Honor."

That reflected some serious commitment to the general welfare of fellow humans. It's the sort of commitment we could still use, IMO. Or we can save our pets and tell Thomas Jefferson to look around for a flotation device.

Re: Of dogs and men

PostPosted: July 5th, 2017, 4:27 pm
by wolfhnd
Braininvat » Wed Jul 05, 2017 7:49 pm wrote:Remember that line from the Declaration...."we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, Fortunes, and our sacred Honor."

That reflected some serious commitment to the general welfare of fellow humans. It's the sort of commitment we could still use, IMO. Or we can save our pets and tell Thomas Jefferson to look around for a flotation device.


That quote refers under the circumstances to a commitment to kill British soldiers and not dishonor our sacred military duties. It is not a hippie slogan of make love not war.

The question then becomes if the commitment to militarily resist British hegemony was a benefit to humanity or as Norm Chomsky seems to think the beginning of the great Satin.

My argument is if we can't save our pets we are unlikely to save humanity. The original question proposes as I have said a situation that will never exist and that is the problem with ideologies in that they do not honestly represent reality.

Re: Of dogs and men

PostPosted: July 5th, 2017, 5:52 pm
by Braininvat
Hm. My point was somewhat different than what you seemed to get from that. I was suggesting that human life was once seen as the greatest sacrifice, the most serious way to commit to a principle. Even when we rejected the Cartesian notion of animals as automatons, most of us continued to rank a man's life more worth saving than a dog's. Why this is, involves a thorny nest of philosophical assumptions, for sure. I'm not saying they are valid, only that I would view the man's drowning as potentially more tragic to more people, and having more effect on loved ones who survive him. Or her. Dogs are great, don't get me wrong. And.... I see the "a person could drown me, too" as a red herring. Toss him/her a rope, then, or find a long stick, or go get a trained swimmer, or toss a furniture cushion in the water, or etc. Sometimes taking a risk for another person humanizes us and gives greater meaning. Maybe you don't see it that way.

Re: Of dogs and men

PostPosted: July 5th, 2017, 6:13 pm
by Watson
I think I would see the animal as less able to appreciate the risk they are facing, or the best way to help themselves. A person can or should be able to better help themselves, and I would shout out my best advise to them, while helping the unfortunate creature. So after a short consideration, I to, would save your dog. I hope it was no you walking her/him.

Re: Of dogs and men

PostPosted: July 5th, 2017, 8:43 pm
by wolfhnd
Watson » Wed Jul 05, 2017 10:13 pm wrote:I think I would see the animal as less able to appreciate the risk they are facing, or the best way to help themselves. A person can or should be able to better help themselves, and I would shout out my best advise to them, while helping the unfortunate creature. So after a short consideration, I to, would save your dog. I hope it was no you walking her/him.


I would think if you were not trying to be sarcastic, which I assume you are, that you and I were cut from similar molds. It is not so much that I would not save the stranger as I hate the circular logic and manipulative nature of the question.

Re: Of dogs and men

PostPosted: July 5th, 2017, 9:10 pm
by Watson
No sarcasm. But I do suppose it depends a lot on the situation, but in the simplest form of the question my reaction would be towards helping the animal.

Re: Of dogs and men

PostPosted: July 5th, 2017, 9:45 pm
by wolfhnd
Braininvat » Wed Jul 05, 2017 9:52 pm wrote:Hm. My point was somewhat different than what you seemed to get from that. I was suggesting that human life was once seen as the greatest sacrifice, the most serious way to commit to a principle. Even when we rejected the Cartesian notion of animals as automatons, most of us continued to rank a man's life more worth saving than a dog's. Why this is, involves a thorny nest of philosophical assumptions, for sure. I'm not saying they are valid, only that I would view the man's drowning as potentially more tragic to more people, and having more effect on loved ones who survive him. Or her. Dogs are great, don't get me wrong. And.... I see the "a person could drown me, too" as a red herring. Toss him/her a rope, then, or find a long stick, or go get a trained swimmer, or toss a furniture cushion in the water, or etc. Sometimes taking a risk for another person humanizes us and gives greater meaning. Maybe you don't see it that way.


I have always been willing to risk my life to save someone else. What I'm not willing to do is assume that a philosophical question is meaningful just because it has an emotional hook. As I said if you carry the question to it's logical conclusion it would be immoral of me to divert resources to my dog in the first place.

Do I have a right to anything that someone else needs is the better question. We could agree that our goal is to minimize suffering but we will have to discuss if self sacrifice is the best way to do that. The question is easy in the absence of a time factor. It would be arrogant on the other hand to imagine our foresight extends very far.

I'm a strong believer in situational ethics but old enough to know I'm not wise. Is the stranger a child, a woman, or a man. What if I have the choice between a child or a man who is about to cure malaria. Situational ethics is maddening so most people simply devote themselves to what they call values. Values however can enslave you to short sighted emotions. The question is designed to be a trap to make you question your emotional attachments. The problem is once you accept the premise you run the risk of becoming a values zombie.

I don't say I would save my dog because that is what I would do but to resist the assimilation. If I'm to risk my life I should know what I'm risking it for. If you say you would save your dog I don't judge you because there is a limit to what we can know or do. I have no way of knowing that your dog won't save a hundred lives by sniffing out a bomb. I don't know if you know the stranger is a murderer. Complexity is our enemy. Morality has little meaning when we don't know the consequences of our actions. The original question is designed to be so simplistic that there is no room for disagreement.

The Judeo Christian tradition is the parent of humanism. It is unavoidably a scatological and thus nihilistic tradition. Christianity in particular focuses on the other and diminishes the familial. That seems very odd for a dimorphic sexually reproducing species. While I would readily admit that we can't care for our family without caring for the tribe, the tribe the nation, and the nation the world it is our commitment to our family that is the foundation.

Is it immoral to consider a dog part of our family? I can't answer that question or most of us already have by owning a dog instead of adoption a child.

Re: Of dogs and men

PostPosted: July 29th, 2018, 10:37 pm
by Brent696
Wolfhnd,

If I was faced with saving a child or my dog my instincts may kick in and I could elect to save the child. If it were an adult I'm afraid I have grown tired of stupid people because they are a danger not only to themselves but the fabric of society


I don't think this scenario reaches as far out as to envelope Christianity or even social ethics,

"My Dog" tends to relate as you said to your pack, the survival instinct is us is probably the strongest one we have, (except for those who instinct to be being right is stronger, but even this is a perversion of survival), but our survival instinct expands out to our family also.

Then the Instinct to save your dog is the same as self preservation, even when facing a child's drowning. Your dog has become like a part of your own body and you may not experience a choice any more than you would pulling your hand back out of a flame.

If you know that your dog would sacrifice himself for a child, then perhaps you might also come to sacrifice your dog for that child even though your dog still has the greatest value to you. There is no right or wrong in this situation, only two wrongs and what lesser wrong you think you could live with.

IOWs, the question becomes, "can I live with myself letting the child die" or "can I live with myself letting my dog die", there is thus no right and wrong, only bad and worse.

As for the religious aspect you brought up, just as some science oriented people like to claim evidence as if it is all nailed down in their understanding, this same psychology works it way out in religious theologies, but "religious People" have just as hard of a time understanding God as science does the universe, God is not so easily pinned down by man's theology (best guess). Rabbis considered in their ethical meditations that one could break one law to keep a higher law, so in this case perhaps being driven by the love for your friend and companion, could out weight a neglect.

Re: Of dogs and men

PostPosted: July 29th, 2018, 11:18 pm
by wolfhnd
I did a poor job on this one. I was mostly interested in how our minds are different. I know the answer that the person posing the question expects. I reject this overly "intellectual" approach to morality because my first reaction is to access probability. The practical is a moral consideration because of long term consequences that often requires us to ignore the emotional pleasure we get from being "virtuous". An adult is likely to drown me but my dog is not. You have to instantly weight your physical strength and the psychological state of the victim. A child may be a completely different case. If I was confident I could save the human that changes the equation. I understand the slippery slope of relativism creates and the issue of a somewhat related question of the ends justifying the means. I just think the arguments against situational ethics only apply when there is little ability to predict consequences.