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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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  • Apr 26 2013: The "sin" of killing any living creature is completely cultural.

    Anthropologists studying remaining tribal hunter gatherers found that these people boast about their killings and killing is put in high regard. In these cultures revenge murder is very common. Contrast that to civilized societies that condemn murder unless it is time of war and even then soldiers usually silent about what happened on the battlefield.

    Kill our favorite pet and one get prosecuted. Kill a mouse and it is for the benefit of science. ..This is all culture at work.
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      Apr 26 2013: Hi Brian,

      I agree with you. I think when I used with word 'sin' in the question I did a disservice to the intent of my question as I unintentionally through religious and moral overtones into the question.

      Do you think murder should be against our cultural moral code? And if so, would you extend that to other species?
      • Apr 26 2013: Yes I believe murder should be against our cultural moral code. One of the few benefits of living in a state society is that authority of use of force lies only in the states control. The benefit is that we do not have to worry (too much) about cycles of revenge murder that made traditional people's lives so short. At the same time I acknowledge that the state sometimes is unfair the overall benefit of stifling violence is the greater good.

        I like your question about when is it ok to kill a species because like other philosophical questions its hard to draw a line. Personally I would favor putting a moral code against killing other species. But that only leads to the question of what species and why..

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