Of dogs and men

Discussions that deal with moral issues. Key questions in ethics include: How should one live? What is right (or wrong) to do? What is the best way for humans to live?

Of dogs and men

Postby wolfhnd on July 5th, 2017, 1:38 pm 

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.
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Re: Of dogs and men

Postby Braininvat on July 5th, 2017, 3:49 pm 

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.
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Re: Of dogs and men

Postby wolfhnd on July 5th, 2017, 4:27 pm 

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.
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Re: Of dogs and men

Postby Braininvat on July 5th, 2017, 5:52 pm 

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.
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Re: Of dogs and men

Postby Watson on July 5th, 2017, 6:13 pm 

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.
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Re: Of dogs and men

Postby wolfhnd on July 5th, 2017, 8:43 pm 

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.
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Re: Of dogs and men

Postby Watson on July 5th, 2017, 9:10 pm 

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.
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Re: Of dogs and men

Postby wolfhnd on July 5th, 2017, 9:45 pm 

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.
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Re: Of dogs and men

Postby Brent696 on July 29th, 2018, 10:37 pm 

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.
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Re: Of dogs and men

Postby wolfhnd on July 29th, 2018, 11:18 pm 

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.
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Re: Of dogs and men

Postby hyksos on October 9th, 2018, 6:18 pm 

I would almost have to know if the drowning man got into this situation by his own negligence. Because if this is his own fault, I'm going for the dog.
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Re: Of dogs and men

Postby Braininvat on October 9th, 2018, 6:37 pm 

I suppose that, unless there was a tsunami, or flash flood, most drowning humans are somewhat negligent - i. e. they entered water while lacking swimming skills or disregarding dangerous conditions (an undertow, low temperature that causes cramps, riding on a boat without lifejackets, etc.) or one's blood alcohol level. AFAICT most rescue operations of sports enthusiasts involve negligent people who made poor judgements of their own competence or weather conditions. I guess that's sometimes a cause for me to question certain rescue operations.... e.g. rescuers facing extreme danger to save someone who thought it would be nifty to climb K2 in the middle of winter. In that case I tend to think the bastard had a death wish and why should good public servants risk their own necks to save him. In that case, yes, I'd say go for the dog.

Now back to my Victrola. Woof.
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Re: Of dogs and men

Postby BadgerJelly on October 10th, 2018, 12:11 am 

Some people kill others for money. Soldiers are even paid to do so “legally.”

What is worse, to save a dog over a human or to be paid for killing someone? What about allowing 100 people to die in order to save a loved one?

Wolf -

People will inevitably avoid any moral judgement they can and rely on “public posturing” and/or reducing the problem espoused into a logical conundrum to be picked over in a purely analytical and “rational” manner (the general underlying conviction being that “emotions” are flawed and to be ignored for the most part.)

Personally I don’t find this surprising merely intriguing. Self-honesty is a struggle for everyone. I think Biv was basically with me on this in a thread a made some time ago regarding “hypothetical questions”.
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Re: Of dogs and men

Postby wolfhnd on October 10th, 2018, 5:43 pm 

I have nothing interesting to say, I started the thread to see how personality traits effect the answer people give. The thing I like about this forum is long term participation. Some of us actually may have gotten to "know" each other.
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Re: Of dogs and men

Postby BadgerJelly on October 11th, 2018, 12:57 am 

For the record I’m VERY high trait Openness (seriously high) and also very low in Extraversion. A fair bit neurotic in some facets of that category, and mediocre Conscientiousness (high industriousness and low in the other bits - orderly and whatnot)
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Re: Of dogs and men

Postby BadgerJelly on October 11th, 2018, 1:06 am 

I’d imagine most people on this forum are reasonably high in trait Openness. Why else would they be here? I’d also suspect many are introverted too because they maybe choose this method of talking over group talks?

Oh, I’m also fairly low in the Agreeable department too - again I think this would be kind of obivous considering the setting.

Of course the biggest fault with those tests is that self-analysis is not exactly the best method unless you’re honest with yourself and take it with a pinch of salt.
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Re: Of dogs and men

Postby -1- on October 19th, 2018, 4:30 am 

From an evolutionary perspective of ethics, Wolfhnd, you ought to have saved the human. The theory of evolutionary ethics claims that each individual will sacrifice himself or herself or his or her well-being, or benefit, for the survival of those others, who are most likely to carry on derivatives of the individual's own DNA strands.

Thus, we save our siblings before we'd save our cousins, and we'd save our homie before we'd save a person from another town, and we'd save a person before saving an animal (because a person's DNA is closer to our own than that of any animal.)

That said, humans are capable of substituting DNA affiliation with a number of emotional / societal issues. For instance, if a parent seriously disowns his or her child, the parent won't save the child. Another example is religion: if a Turk becomes Christian, and our own third cousin, twice removed, joins the ISIS, after converting to Islam, we are more likely to save the Turk.

And yet another example is empathy built on and enhanced by familiarity and by anthropomorphism. The dog has been a daily occurrence in our lives. We have instinctual feelings of having adopted the dog as if we've adopted a child. The emotional bridging is real. The dog does display by humans understood and welcomed emotional/social responses. The feeling is that this understanding is mutual.

So there is no reason why you ought not to save your dog first. It is true it won't carry on your DNA (unless you somehow manage a pregnancy between the two of you), but your emotional relationship with the dog has created a commitment for both of you that is a stronger bond than what exists between you and a complete stranger.
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