The dilemma of ‘The baby or the dog’ | The USA Print

The dilemma of 'The baby or the dog'

There is a classic moral dilemma that is usually stated in these terms:

A building is on fire and your dog is inside. You go in to save him and discover your new neighbours’ baby, who you haven’t met yet. The imminent collapse of the building means that you can only save one. Do you save the baby or the dog, and under what moral premises?

You may be surprised to learn, dear reader, that on the last few occasions that the dilemma has been raised on social networks, the election has ended up very close, bordering on a tie. We know that answering a question like this from the coldness of a screen is not the same as deciding in a live situation, and that Twitter and the other platforms are not a perfect mirror of society, because there are also many jokers who speak out without another end to put the stick in fire. But certainly read hundreds of justifications for the choice of the dog, and the same thing is heard in the “real world”, for that matter. So those choices and justifications are not to be taken as a joke, and It is important to clarify why it is objectively immoral to opt for the dog. Especially in a country, ours, where there are already some 30 million pets, about five times more than children under fourteen.

The first thing that must be explained —because everything must be explained— is what morality or ethics is: reflection and proposals regarding the good life. The quality, in moral terms, of a decision is measured against that background, the question of what is just and good. Thus, when dealing with moral questions, one is already on an exclusively human terrain, because only we ask ourselves what is right and what is wrong, and if life is worth living. Animals don’t ask these kinds of questions: they live and reproduce (they know about sex, but not about sexuality, to understand us), and in their world there are no “reasons” or “principles” (that was requested in the dilemma). , but only “causes” and “consequences“Of course, dogs have desires, affections and preferences, but their brains are not enough for almost any of our sophisticated niceties, such as freedom or responsibility, democracy or art.

The second thing to understand is that the basis of ethics is triple: dignity, altruism and conscience. The cornerstone of all moral reflection is that human beings have a conscience that makes them wonder what is fair and good, that all human beings share an inviolable dignity and that we are only fully human when we come out of ourselves. Dignity is the luxury that the human species grants itself to elevate a humanitarian ideal to a moral law, a principle that prevails over the natural law of the strongest. Dogs no longer live with their own: we have domesticated them to the point of turning them into almost asocial beings with respect to their own species. But if we were to see wild dogs again —that is, dogs no longer subject to us, dogs that were no longer under our responsibility— we would see how they abandon the individual of their species that cannot fend for itself. Only we save “evolutionarily unviable” beings. Dogs have no dignity, and no more rights than the ones we grant them, because rights, dignity and morality are human inventions. As for altruism, whoever chooses their dog instead of a baby chooses based on what is good for them, and not on the objective loss that occurs, much greater in their neighbors and parents of the child than in the dog. For a human being in his right mind, losing a child will never be like losing a pet (from the French mascotte, “amulet”); just ask someone who has had to go through both trances.

Dogs feel affection for their masters, but do not love them, because love is an act that implies freedom.

It is understood that dignity is great for a dog when these four experiences are analyzed: thinking, feeling, suffering and loving. Of course, dogs —and especially dolphins— think, feel, suffer and love. But they do so at such a different level from us that we would need four different verbs to reflect what happens in the brain of a dog or a dolphin when they think, feel, suffer or love. As anyone who knows the nitty-gritty of zoology, cognition, and the brain knows, “my dog ​​thinks” is a ridiculous phrase next to “Manolo thinks,” even if Manolo turns out to be a dope.. And the same can be said of feelings, which in us have a complexity and scope that are very different from those of a dog, which remains more in the most basic sphere of emotions. Dogs feel affection for their masters (and also a lot; they can become admirable), but they do not love them, because love is an act that implies freedom and you cannot love who is your owner. It is very strange that there are those who defend the absence of any domination in the couple and even “free love” while affirming that pets “love”.

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Dogs and ‘amoral familism’

Almost all the dogs that lose their pups, after a transitory sadness, continue without further ado; for many people it is a colossal bankruptcy in their lives. We feel more, we feel different. And it is that suffering and loving are experiences that change diametrically when you are responsible and mortal, that is, when you decide and are aware of death, and therefore of the future that you lose when you disappear. Animals do not decide, they apply instinctive programs, nor do they choose ends for their lives. The human being does choose them, he does decide, and that is why he is the only being that commits suicide. Animals only get to sacrifice themselves, which is very different; they do not wonder if living pays off, and so they do not exist, but simply live. The dog that gives its life for its master performs a commendable act, but incomparable with that of a human being that gives its life for another. And that is why animals are not responsible or guilty of anything, they cannot be accused of crimes, and, finally, they are amoral.

Naturally, there are people who deserve to live less than animals. But that debate is different, different from the one that affects the innocent baby and our dog. Nor is that the question that is posed to someone who has a duty to help a stranger; Or shouldn’t we jump into a river to save someone who is drowning until we have his resume and know if he has earned it? It is also important to know, because many were lost there, that the moral decision is not “rational” instead of affective, but precisely sentimental: in essence, people with good moral judgment have developed certain moral feelings, such as compassion or shame , and act accordingly. It is not that whoever chooses to save his dog “is guided by the heart instead of the head”, but rather that he is someone with an uneducated heart in moral terms. Saving the dog or the baby is decided in seconds; Precisely for this reason, in critical situations, morale is a spring, and depends on having developed the appropriate automatisms. He has the biggest heart, precisely, who with pain gives up his dog and does what he should.

It is very difficult to live with people who do not recognize any other guide than that of their properties and affections.

There is a law that penalizes the omission of assistance; but the legal question differs from the ethical. However, if we have roughly legislated the assumption, perhaps it is because we thought it was a good idea to put human beings before dogs because it contributes to coexistence, that is, to good life in the polis. That human-animal priority that inspires the law would thus be ethical with respect to the polis (a political principle). Which makes it a little more confusing that there are those who consider his dog, without the metaphorical initial “like”, “a member of the family”. He political scientist Edward C. Banfield has called it “amoral familism”. Relatives being bought and sold and castrated and leashed? It seems so: many justified choosing the dog in those terms —”I choose a member of my family over a stranger”—, apparently without knowing that by avoiding that leap of dignity that exists between the human and the animal, they would be behaving immorally, violating a principle of conscience and another of coexistence —one ethical and the other political—, principles that in cases like this oblige us above our affections.

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That form of immorality called moral emotivism is stronger than ever. Together with relativism, it is one of the larvae that are morally gnawing away at our societies, compromising coexistence. Max Stirner, ideologue of egoism, closes the introduction to The only one and his property with this sentence: “I do not admit anything above me”. It is very difficult to live with people who do not recognize any other guide than their properties and affections. In both Greece and Rome—and later in Virginia and Paris—democracy was born on entirely different and specifically moral foundations: the recognition that there are universal principles that bind us above our personal inclinations and interests. If the sole criterion for action was affection, why would anyone do anything for a stranger, assuming inconveniences or risks, since there is no stronger affection than one feels for oneself?

Every society has the duty to educate its members, in addition to carrying out a profitable job, so that they can make good decisions. One of the crucial aspects of our scope of decision is the ethical one, to act with justice. We must be doing something wrong for there to be so many (im)moral relativists and emotivists today. In this field, taking things for granted has the same effect as in others: we go backwards. Ethical knowledge, like that of any other kind, advances; and although many believe that it is “common sense”, we have already said to what extent this is a coarse sense. Until a quarter of an hour ago, so to speak, it seemed “common sense” to us that people with dark complexions could be enslaved, that religion prevailed and that it was immoral for everyone to decide who they could sleep with. And I have heard that even today there are many places where stoning for adultery or cutting is considered an act of justice. It is clear that to develop a robust moral judgment you have to study, think and debate in a judicious framework prior to the gibberish of the networks. Either we return ethics to the classroom or the proliferation of emotivists and relativists will ruin our coexistence.

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