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
    Apr 3 2013: ahhh,the chicken and egg dilemma...so difficult if lying is your prefference...and so easy when the answer is filtered trough logic(my opinion of course) here is my attempt...Morals are codes of self conduct...they are not a set of rules that extends to the value I set on external objects..therefore when I kill (not innocent of this act,will not specify) I will myself the permission to do an action that terminates others...this permission is an agreement with my self...what I kill is not relevant...but the law with which I permit the action....once I give myself permission to act this way,in disagreement with my child moral code..there is a breach of logic,ethics and continuity of belief and action. Into this unacknowledged crack of thinking,in its dark undeclared twist of self awareness....anything may crawl into something that I do,which I never fully disclose to my own self..murder is murder in my moral universe
    • thumb
      Apr 26 2013: Hi Carolyn,

      I love your response. It seems what you are saying hangs on the concept of a 'child moral code', and that by hiding that from one's own self, we permit ourselves to perform murder.

      Have you any thoughts about where the child moral code comes from? Do you think that is inherent in children? Or are they taught that some how? Would a real "Lord of the Flies" turn out better than the book?
      • thumb
        Apr 27 2013: myself,as a child was against all murdering,causing suffering...till I was "tricked" into eating meat,watching the "road runner"and instructed it was normal...In my heart it felt like a car crash...and I numbed out to survive....a skill which later on in life proved good for crisis ,but poor for relationships...however my NATURE..is not built for competition,any violence,cheating ect....I have learned a few of these skills...and I am very skilled much to my horror...but it is a twist in my soul that allows this behaviour to lodge...not a natural affinity..just culture rammed towards me...My Lord of the flies would not occur...however we are not all from the same tribe,,,not even the slightest bit....so I do not speak for them....But they are completely selfaware and reside comfortably as excellent predators among us...All I know really..is myself

Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.