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Danger Lampost

Futurist & Technology Consultant,


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Is it in principle valid to extend to concept of murder beyond just humans?

Among the worst of sins one can commit, is the murder of another human being. My question for the TED audience, is whether in principle, our United States Supreme Court could ever, in principle, extend the concept of murder to cover species beyond homo sapiens?

Certainly there are penalties for killing animals under certain circumstances, although our whole carnivorous culture is fraught with so much paradox there, you need to start differentiating between morals and ethics to make any sense of it. Or to put it more simply, it's OK to kill a cow but not a dog depending on what country you're in (or the other way around), or it's ok to kill to eat it, but not just because you don't want to take care of it any more, or just for sport (e.g. cock fighting or bull fights).

But whatever the circumstances with animals, our legal system does not consider that equivalent in any way to killing a human being. You are not going to be executed for killing a dog or a cow, but you could for killing another human.

The scope of this question goes way beyond the animal species we have on this planet. If we created an artificially intelligent, human-like mind - would it be murder to destroy that? If we discovered a tribe of neanderthals living peacefully somewhere (just a thought experiment), and then some human went and shot one of them dead just for sport - would we consider that murder? What about a half-breed neanderthal/human? What about an alien species we discover on the planet mars? Dolphins?

How far away from the human genetic tree do you need to get before it's no longer murder with the same penalties we hand out for murdering humans?


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    Mar 28 2013: To have a civil right, a creature must be able to understand that it has a civil right. That is why civil rights apply only (so far) to humans.

    While we have voluntarily placed on ourselves the responsibility to treat animals in a humane fashion, animals do not have civil rights.
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      Mar 28 2013: So.... What about the mentally incompetent, or those from such a foreign language and culture that they do not understand the concept of civil rights. Do they have civil rights?

      The result of what you say, is that if I killed another human who was from such a foreign culture that they could not understand the concept of civil rights, that would not be murder. I don't mean to trick you though - so perhaps you could clarify what you mean?

      What does it mean to treat animals "humanely?" It's a really interesting word to use especially in this context, because one might think it would mean to treat an animal like a human, because humane is human with an 'e'. Not the case though. It just means to treat an animal with kindness. Do not mean to imply you don't know that - just find that particular choice of word fascinating.
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        Mar 28 2013: Fine, I wasn't clear enough, sorry.

        To have a civil right, a species must be able to understand that it has a civil right.
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          Mar 29 2013: What would be the implication if a species was able to understand it has a civil right? Would members of the species then be capable of having a soul?

          I'm not sure what you mean exactly by a species knowing anything, because to my understanding, a species can not understand something, only individuals can? Perhaps you mean a certain number of members of the species must understand, not everyone? So the ones that don't understand get a pass?

          I'm potentially excited though that you may be on to the first proposed Turing Test for the Soul: We give the test subject a civics test.

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