TED Conversations

Danger Lampost

Futurist & Technology Consultant,


This conversation is closed.

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?


Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.

  • thumb
    Mar 29 2013: No. In principle it is not valid. Because all we base our principles on at the deepest level are necessities and survival of our existence. We have no qualms of arming our children to teeth, indoctrinate them with 'nationality' and send them to mass murdering people in the name of war. We have different words for murder, like collateral damage, assassination, execution, homicide and manslaughter each with its own context. I will argue that your statement "Among the worst of sins one can commit, is the murder of another human being." because sin is a word with religious undertone and murder/mayhem had been committed in its name many many times. Even when a state sends someone to electric chair, it is murder.
    There is one and only one biological justification of killing another animal and that is of food chain progression. If we were very rational animals, we would have eaten dead soldiers of the defeated army, dead convict, accident death victims because otherwise it would go back to nature anyway.
    Now, you feel a bad taste in your mouth, right? We are after all soooo human. Enters religion, the savior that declares you the 'ordained' one to rule the world, a true copy of God and everything else is for your consumption.
    • thumb
      Mar 29 2013: That is an excellent point about the religious overtones of the word 'sin'. The word can refer to violating either a religious or a secular moral code - I think it simplifies the question to assume the moral version of this word, especially as I referenced whether our U.S. Supreme Court would ever consider this. So I would make that clarification.

      Because we are Omnivores and can survive perfectly well by not killing another animal, I would argue that the killing of animals in this context is not motivated by the need for survival or food chain progression (at least for most people), so I don't think this is justified on those grounds as you have argued them.

      It would only be rational to eat dead people if that was your very last food source, as when people get stranded somewhere and do turn to cannibalism to survive. Otherwise we have much more nutritious and better tasting food sources available. I suspect we would not taste very good - well, maybe little kids might taste good if you fried up their ribs baby back style with some nice sauce?
      • thumb
        Mar 29 2013: So our principle is not to eat a dead human being as long as we can survive without doing it. In principle we should not kill another human being as long as we can survive without doing it. It is silly, IMO, to see murder as 'sin'. In a society or situation where we can avoid it, murder is a mistake, albeit grave but still mistake, that should be discouraged through social codes of conduct or their modern version, law.

        As regards whether we can murder other animals, the same principle of necessity and survival should work. It's not because we are 'higher' animals and have divine decree to do that.

        Technology/science constantly works to take care of our necessities and survival but it should work intelligently to reduce our necessities and survival bottlenecks not increase.

        When we attain a technology like plants to have energy just from natural elements, and if we still retain our wisdom till then, the concept of murder beyond humans will be automatically extended and will become something of the past.

Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.