The Instigator
Pro (for)
9 Points
The Contender
Con (against)
2 Points

Resolved: Sentience is of ethical relevance to the treatment of living things.

Do you like this debate?NoYes+3
Add this debate to Google Add this debate to Delicious Add this debate to FaceBook Add this debate to Digg  
Post Voting Period
The voting period for this debate has ended.
after 3 votes the winner is...
Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 1/6/2012 Category: Philosophy
Updated: 6 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 2,944 times Debate No: 20256
Debate Rounds (4)
Comments (3)
Votes (3)




First round for rules/definitions.


1. There are no restrictions on argumentative strategy.
2. Burden of proof is shared.
3. This debate concerns the resolution:

RESOLVED: Sentience is of ethical relevance to the treatment of living things.

4. New arguments brought in the last round will not be counted.
5. R1 is for acceptance and clarifications. Rules and Definitions in R1 are binding. Substantively violating the R1 agreements will result in loss of both argument and conduct.
6. Spelling/Grammer and Conduct will NOT be voted on unless: a) explicitly argued for in the debate round AND b) voting occurs on the grounds argued for in the debate.
7. Sources must be posted or linked in the debate round. Voting on Sources should be reserved for extreme discrepancy in quality of sources.

Sentience- the ability to feel, perceive, or be conscious, or to have subjective experiences.


I accept the definition as well as the rules. Note that capacity for sentience is not equivalent to sentience itself.
Debate Round No. 1


An initial thanks is in order first to royalpaladin for engaging me in this debate and second to those of you willing to commit your time and attention to judge this debate.

Theoretical Framework:

1) Shared Burden of Proof was agreed to in R1. To win this debate Pro need not with 100% certainty that the Resolution is true, Pro need only to support the resolution better than Con negates it.

2) To win this debate Con must do more than simply refute my arguments. A simple refutation of my arguments only decreases the reliability of my support of the Resolution; in the absence of arguments that actively negate the resolution there is no Con case with which to compare a refuted Pro. Therefore, Con must actually advocate a position that negates the Resolution.

3) It is unproblematic for Pro to run contradictory positions. If Pro were committed to a single position, Pro’s case would sink or swim based on the viability of a single ethical system. This would make the Resolution irrelevant- the debate would then no longer be about the ethical relevance of sentience but about the viability of a given ethical system.

My general strategy will be to advocate ethical frameworks that rely on the trait of sentience in determining how living things ought to be treated. If I win that even one is an adequate ethical framework, I have demonstrated the relevance of sentience.

A) Utilitarianism:

a) All actions have some end or goal. For example, I go to work to make money, I make money to pay for food and movies.

b) The ethical character of an action is then determined by the end or result of the action. An act is ethical in proportion to the degree in which it maximizes good ends.

b) A good end can be identified as being self-sufficient and ultimate, i.e., it is not dependent on other factors and is the final justification for an act.

c) The only ultimate and self-sufficient end for an action is happiness. It is ultimate because all other actions depend on it and self-sufficient because it justifies itself. Illustration: An individual goes to work. Why? To make money. Why? To buy things. Why? Because buying things like food allows the individual to live and buying things like movie tickets allows the individual to have fun. Why does the individual want to live? Because she prefers to live over dying. Why does the individual want to have fun? Because she prefers to have fun. Why does she prefer these things? There is no further justification available. Ultimately she simply has preferences and the desirability of her preferences are self justifying.

d) Satisfaction of preferences makes up the basis of individual happiness.

Conclusion: Ethical actions are those actions which maximize happiness.

Sentient Relevance: In order to be happy, one must have preferences. In order to have preferences, one must have sentience.

Comment: The variation of utilitarianism I have advocated is preference based, however other forms of utilitarianism such as rule, motive, or two-level. All of these forms have weighting mechanisms impacted by the sentience of living things, so the viability of any of the variations supports the resolution.

B) Ethical Rationalism:

Actions of ethical concern necessarily are performed by agents of action. Ethical demands then can be generated by examining the perspective of an individual agent:

a) In order to be an agent, I must have the ability to act, and therefore I must have the freedom to act and I must have the ability to pursue ends (i.e. my well-being). Explanation: Without freedom I cannot act and therefore cannot be an agent. Without the ability to pursue ends I do not direct actions carried out by myself and am therefore not an agent but an instrument.

b) Implicit in my purposeful actions is then a claim that I have a moral right to my freedom and well-being.

c) Therefore, by acting as an agent I acknowledge my own right to freedom in well-being.

d) If I claim such a right, then I must acknowledge that such a right exists for other agents of action. To do otherwise would be self-contradictory.

e) Since I claim these rights by virtue of being an ethical agent, I must acknowledge that other ethical agents also have these rights.

Conclusion: I must recognize the rights of ethical agents to freedom and the pursuit of well-being.

Sentient Relevance: The recognition of rights in others is dependent on a symmetry of agency. If a living thing is not an agent, it has no rights. Sentience is a pre-requisite for agency and so is relevant to the ethical status of a living thing. Note: This argument does NOT claim that non-agents are devoid of ethical standing, only that the rights delineated above are contingent on agency, making sentience ethically relevant.

C) Discourse Ethics

a) Ethical actions are necessarily situated within a community of agents.

b) Agents within a community necessarily engage in rational discourse- be it in the form of argumentation, science, or giving instructions.

c) The use of rational discourse presupposes the freedom and autonomy of both interlocutors. In the absence of these two traits, rational discourse ceases to be a communicative act and becomes noise.

d) It is therefore the case that engaging in discourse entails the acknowledgment of the freedom and autonomy of both interlocutors, to do otherwise is a performative contradiction.

Conclusion: I must recognize the freedom and autonomy of other agents capable of communication.

Sentient Relevance: The ability to engage in rational discourse is predicated on sentience. Rocks can’t talk.

Comment: Arguments B) and C) bear structural similarity but are distinctly different. B locates ethical obligation in the nature of what it means to be an agent of action while C locates ethical obligation in the existence of community and discourse.

D) Emotivism:

a) Justification for ethical judgments cannot be founded in reason; no rational justification can be made for an ethical system.

b) Nonetheless, ethical judgments exist universally in human society. Humans are motivated by ethical judgments and so some account of ethics is needed.

c) Ethics are the result of moral sentiments such as indignation, sympathy, respect, etc. Since ethics cannot be founded in rationality, ethics must be founded in the non-rational aspects of human nature.

d) Ethics are then located in the social and mental nature of humanity- it is determined simply by the way humans happen to be. This does not dissolve ethics but simply relocates ethics firmly into the realm of human nature.

Conclusion: Ethical actions are those actions which conform to moral sentiment.

Sentient Relevance: Killing a human is universally recognized by moral sentiment to be bad, while chopping down a tree is not. While there may be technical niceties surrounding this issue, moral sentiment clearly distinguishes between the treatment of human and plant life.

Comment: The arguments of D clearly rests on the falsity of A, B, and C. The intent of this argument is to show that EVEN IF rationally grounded ethical frameworks such as A, B, and C fail, a non-rational account of ethics still affirms the resolution. The incompatibility of arguments is unproblematic for my case because my burden as Pro is to affirm the Resolution, not affirm any specific ethical framework.



I would like to thank my opponent for initiating this interesting debate. Note that my opponent concedes that sentience is not equivalent to the capacity for sentience. This will be important as an example later in the round.

Theoretical Framework
The standard that the pro creates for himself as per the resolution is that sentience is an absolute requirement for ethical consideration. This means that in order to win this round, I simply have to provide an example of a valid ethical theory that does not take sentience into account as a requirement for ethical consideration because that would mean that if the proposed ethical theory was adopted, sentience would not be a requirement. This directly counters some of the proposed measures in the affirmative theoretical framework.

First, it takes out point one, in which he claims that he does not need to have 100% certainty. He chose this resolution’s wording, so the standard I gave above is one that must be met. Note that this does not violate shared burdens because his burden is simply to explain why the ethical theory that I advanced is not an ethical theory in addition to proposing an alternative. I accept the same burden as well.

Next, note that point 1, in which he argues for shared, fair burdens contradicts the unnumbered observation at the end of his theoretical framework because it is imposes an unfair burden on me. While he only needs to win one theory according to his burden analysis, I have to prove my side 100% true according to his analysis. In addition to being abusive, this contradicts the idea of shared burdens that he proposes in R1.

The problem with every single ethical theory that my opponent provides is that they belong to a system of Western ethics. Western moral systems explain how to treat other rational agents, but are unable to adequately address the inherent worth of non-sentient life-forms. This void in traditional ethics is filled by the ethical theory of deep ecology.

Bill Devall of Humboldt State University and George Sessions, the chairman of philosophy at Sierra College propose eight standard principles that define deep ecology.

1. The well-being and flourishing of human and nonhuman life on Earth have value in themselves (synonyms: intrinsic value, inherent value). These values are independent of the usefulness of the nonhuman world for human purposes.
2. Richness and diversity of life forms contribute to the realization of these values and are also values in themselves.
3. Humans have no right to reduce this richness and diversity except to satisfy vital human needs.
4. The flourishing of human life and cultures is compatible with a substantial decrease of the human population. The flourishing of nonhuman life requires such a decrease.
5. Present human interference with the nonhuman world is excessive, and the situation is rapidly worsening.
6. Policies must therefore be changed. These policies affect basic economic, technological, and ideological structures. The resulting state of affairs will be deeply different from the present.
7. The ideological change is mainly that of appreciating life quality (dwelling in situations of inherent value) rather than adhering to an increasingly higher standard of living. There will be a profound awareness of the difference between big and great.
8. Those who subscribe to the foregoing points have an obligation directly or indirectly to try to implement the necessary changes.

The impact of this is obvious. You can vote negative off the fact that I have proposed an ethical theory that grants non-humans ethical consideration despite the fact that many are not sentient. This disproves the resolution because sentience is thus not required for ethical consideration.

Affirmative Case
As a general attack on the affirmative case, keep in mind that the ethical theories that he advances are all flawed because they only address the treatment of other moral agents. My opponent mistakes the absence of discussion of treatment of non-agents to be equivalent to the idea that non-agents do not have to be considered, but this is clearly false. As a second general attack, my opponent’s conception of sentience cannot account for the treatment two classes of individuals, namely infants and individuals who are both mentally incompetent and cannot feel pain. According to my opponent, these individual’s preferences should not be taken into account because they are not sentient, but clearly any deontological ethical theory would contend that these individuals’ interests ought to be protected as well. Thus, the ethical theories that my opponent proposes are not even adequate to address human needs.

First, several proponents of utilitarianism argue that non-sentient beings should be taken into account by ethics. (Note that animals do not fit the requirement for sentience because they are not rational and do not have preferences.) John Stuart Mill, the most famous utilitarian philosopher writes, “It is by the grossest misunderstanding of the principles of liberty, that the infliction of exemplary punishment on ruffianism practices towards these defenseless creatures [animals] has been treated as meddling by the government . . .” (Source: Principles of Political Economy by J.S. Mill). The impact is twofold. First, my opponent’s conception of utilitarianism is flawed as per the admission of its greatest advocate because it refuses to account for the welfare of non-sentient beings. Second, maximizing happiness of the sentient cannot be the only end goal in mind because Mill is clearly advocating for the reduction of happiness of sentient organisms in order to protect the defenseless animals. ,

Second, utilitarianism is a flawed ethical theory because it allows for the subjugation of the minority in favor of the majority’s happiness. This permits for the promotion of heinous actions like genocide and slavery if the majority’s happiness significantly outweighs the pain inflicted to the minority. My opponent will attempt to claim rule utilitarianism as his philosophy, but 1. Do not allow this because he did not specify this before, and 2. Rule utilitarianism simply collapses back into act utilitarianism, meaning that these problems would still exist.

Ethical Rationalism
Ethical rationalism as a whole is a flawed ethical theory because it fails to account for the fact that most ethical theories are based on emotion rather than reason. As Hume notes, “"...morality is determined by sentiment. It defines virtue to be whatever mental action or quality gives to a spectator the pleasing sentiment of approbation; and vice the contrary.” (Source: This explains why individuals are more likely to be concerned with the death of a human than that of a dog. Note that this sentiment standard does not in any way dejustify deep ecology because deep ecologists emphasize the interrelatedness of all species through the ecosystem, meaning that deep ecologists discuss the place of humans within a larger ecological context. This means that humans can relate to other species and derive moral systems that relate to their treatment.

Discourse Ethics
I cannot emphasize enough that his idea falls prey to the two general attacks that I gave against his theories. Please cross-apply them both here.

Cross-apply the analysis that I posted in the Ethical Rationalism section; deep ecology extends this notion into the realm of other species by focusing on the fact that humans and other species both fulfill their functions and that all species are related through the context of the ecosystem.

I strongly urge a negation of the resolution.
Debate Round No. 2



1) The shared burden means each side must show their position to be more likely than their opponent’s. In this round this means I must show that sentience is more likely to be of ethical relevance than not, while Con must do the converse. It then follows that it is not enough for Con to simply show that an ethical framework exists which negates the Resolution, but that it is in fact MORE LIKELY true than the competing frameworks I offer.

2) Moreover, the multiplicity of frameworks that affirm the resolution must be weighed against the multiplicity which negate. In other words, if I offer 4 frameworks that are 15% likely to be true and Con offers one framework with 40% probability of truth, this still means I have shown the Resolution is 60% likely to be true and so have won the round.

3) Con’s claims of abuse are totally unwarranted. The fact that I advocate shared burden means that the strategy I am taking is perfectly open to Con. Con could have advocated for multiple frameworks if she chose.

4) Note my unaddressed R2 point 3) that restricting either side to a single position erases the purpose of the Resolution. The Resolution implies the ability to run multiple ethical systems and so my strategy is legit. Con agreed to the Resolution, if she thought it was unfair we could have worked out an alternative (but she didn’t).

Deep Ecology

1) The premises used to derive deep ecology are simply asserted without justification. Con provides no reason to accept that all life has inherent value or that humans have an obligation to preserve that value. Compare this to my arguments A-D, which offer justifications for their premises.

2) Deep Ecology is compatible with all the moral systems I advocate, meaning it does not necessarily exclude sentience as an ethically relevant trait. For example, I can acknowledge that “humans have no right to reduce the richness and diversity [of all life] except to satisfy vital human needs” while at the same time contending that the nature of discourse imposes additional restrictions on how sentient beings are treated. I can respect the intrinsic value of all life while also claiming that the nature of discourse means it is categorically wrong to impose my will on a human but not to do so for a plant. Deep ecology, then, does not show that sentience is irrelevant.

3) Deep ecology as formulated results in ecological egalitarianism- all life forms are valued the same. Con’s case states that all life has intrinsic value but offers no mechanism to distinguish between greater and lesser value. This means if I need to satisfy my “vital human need” of hunger, deep ecology makes no distinction between eating a tomato, a bug, a cow, or a human.

4) Deep ecology is too vague to be ethically useful. How can I tell if I am harming the intrinsic value of a lifeform? Is moving a plant from my back yard to a pot in my kitchen harming the plant’s value? How do you compare richness of human life against richness of plant life? Is cutting down a forest to build an art museum wrong?

5) Con’s point 3 is contradictory to the principle of deep ecology- If all life has intrinsic value why do humans have any right at all to reduce the richness and diversity of life?

6) Respect for ecology is a principle that generally falls out of the systems I advocate. Utiliarianism says that pollution and destruction of the environment is bad, even that we should preserve ecologies for aesthetic utility. The strong connection felt by humans for their environment also means that the value of the environment falls out of emotivism.


Con charges all my arguments are flawed via anthropocentrism, but her critique fails:

1) I agree that the absence of discussion of non-agents in the theories I advocate absolutely does NOT entail that these non-agents needn’t be considered. What I DO contend is that in all theories I advocate, sentiency is critical in establishing rights or principles of action concerning the treatment of living things. This is related to my Deep Ecology point 2, that my ethical theories are in fact compatible with the theories that place some value on non-sentient life.

2) The critique that I cannot account for infants and the cognitively impaired is misguided and shallow. Preference utilitarianism accounts for all living things with preferences- infants, cognitively impaired, and those that cannot feel physical pain still have preferences and so are accounted for. Additionally, my B) and C) arguments only say that non-agents and living things incapable of discourse do not have certain rights (generally speaking, autonomy and freedom). But these are rights no one ascribes to infants and the cognitively impaired anyways! Furthermore, this charge is far more applicable to Deep Ecology, which is unable to distinguish between an aphid, and infant, and a human.

3) Even if Con’s charges of anthropocentrism are right, they do nothing to attack the legitimacy of my arguments. It could well be the case that my arguments are correct and ethics just has certain anthropocentric features. To gain leverage Con must actually attack the structure of my arguments.


1) Animals are sentient per the agreed upon Round 1 definition insofar as they have the ability to feel. Animals feel pain and so are sentient. This renders Con’s objection concerning Mill irrelevant.

2) Two-level utilitarianism solves this objection. Note that I specifically stated in R2 that I may advocate this type of util. Two-level util advocates the everyday use of rule utilitarianism (act on those rules which when generally adhered to result in the greatest happiness) while resorting to act utilitarianism in extraordinary or problematic ethical situations. Under this model genocide is not permissible because the rule “the majority can subjugate the minority” is a rule that does not maximize utility.

Ethical Rationalism

Con’s entire attack here is simply a support of Emotivism. I will maintain that rationally founded ethics are more likely than Emotivism, but that even if they fail, Emotivism still values sentience.

Con offers no justification for the claim that “morality is determined by sentiment.” She comments that it offers some explanatory power over our ethics system, but rational ethics also have explanatory power and this is far from demonstrating that my argument for ethical rationalism fails.

Ethical rationalism establishes the freedom and autonomy of ethical agents through the very nature of agency. This places restrictions on how ethical agents can be treated that do not apply to non-agents.

Discourse Ethics

Con makes no attack of the basic argument I put forth for either E.R. or Discourse Ethics, outside of her charges of anthropocentrism. This effectively concedes my case for E.R. and D.E.

Discourse ethics recognizes that by engaging others in discourse I am implicitly recognizing their autonomy and freedom. On pain of performative contradiction, I must then recognize that freedom and autonomy. This can only be done by recognizing that only ethical norms which meet with the approval of all affected as discursive participants are valid.

The implication is that it is unethical for me to forcibly relocate a person from one place to another, but not to do the same for a plant. Sentience is therefore relevant.


It may well be the case that Deep Ecology extends emotivism into the realm of other species, this in fact supports my point that D.E. is compatible with all of my theories. Even if this is the case, it doesn’t change the fact that our moral sentiments distinguish between sentient and non-sentient life. This is why all over the globe if you kill an innocent man for no reason you will be met with outrage but if you trample a few blades of grass no one cares. Note that Con even concedes that moral sentiment privileges sentience in her defense of emotivism:

“This explains why individuals are more likely to be concerned with the death of a human than that of a dog.”



He responds to my observation by claiming that I must show that the ethical framework that I propose is more likely true. This is nonsensical because morality is a subjective norm that individuals use to determine the extent of their obligations. Thus, I cannot possibly prove that any ethical framework is more true. So, you must extend the observation at the top of my framework which explicitly states that my burden is to only prove the resolution false. If I provide even a single example of an ethical theory that does not take sentience into account for the ethical consideration, then I win because sentience is not required.

Multiplicity of frameworks does not prove the validness of an ethical idea. If my opponent proposed five ethical frameworks that justified the Holocaust, that does not mean that the Holocaust was moral even if I am only able to provide one example of a framework that dejustifies it. In addition, the multiplicity idea is unfair in the realm of this debate because every single traditional Western philosophy has placed humans on a pedestal above the rest of life. The notion that all life has inherent worth is relatively new in the Western world, so there are obviously going to be fewer theories that support it as compared to his traditional theories.

The affirmative’s position is abusive. If you adopt his framework, my burden is to disprove all of his ethical theories, but his burden is to only prove one true. He can drop anything and win as long as he wins one argument. That skews the burdens against me. Either take down his framework and accept mine or negate based on abuse.

Deep Ecology

  1. There are two justifications, one of which I provided. First, all life is interconnected to the fact that it belongs to ecosystems that connect living beings. This means that ethical emotivism justifies the inherent worth of all beings. Michael E. Zimmerman of Tulane
    University explains, “Deep ecology is founded on two basic principles: one is a scientific insight into the interrelatedness of all systems of life on Earth, together with the idea that anthropocentrism - human-centeredness - is a misguided way of seeing things. Deep ecologists say that an ecocentric attitude is more consistent with the truth about the nature of life on Earth. Instead of regarding humans as something completely unique or chosen by God, they see us as integral threads in the fabric of life. They believe we need to develop a less dominating and aggressive posture towards the Earth if we and the planet are to survive.” (Source: Second, the inherent worth of all living creatures stems from the fact that they have a purpose. Judging life based on human traits is meaningless because each species can fulfill its purpose in different ways. This renders rationality moot because a bacterium, for example, does not need rationality in order to fulfill its role and reproduce successfully.
  2. He next claims that deep ecology does not prove the irrelevance of sentience. First, given that the ethical theories that he proposes argue that organisms without sentience ought not be included in ethical discourse, his ethical ideas are not compatible with deep ecology. Next, two justifications for the inherent worth of all life, one of which was given last round, prove that sentience is not morally required. Third, the fact that deep ecology requires humans to not interfere with other forms of life unless it is vital to human survival indicates that deep ecology does not take sentience into account for moral consideration.
  3. This is nonsensical because not distinguishing based on sentience is the function of deep ecology. His vital interest of hunger is solved because eating other
    species is part of the ecological framework: gorillas, chimpanzees, tigers,
    etc. all do this as well. Deep ecology does not differentiate between food
    sources because there is no need to; life should not be ranked based on its
    utility in solving human desires.
  4. This is also solved by the theory that I outlined. If an action does not solve for vital interests of survival, then it is unjust to interfere with the lives of other organisms.
  5. See point three. Other species have this right as well because it is part of our ecological interactions.
  6. First, other ethical theories cannot solve for lack of sentience because they explicitly treat non-sentient beings as lower than humans and say that because they are not ethically relevant, humans can use them as they please.
    Utilitarianism would argue that plants and fungi are ethically irrelevant, so the most ethical treatment of them would be whatever makes humans happy. Second, if you do not buy this, turn the fact that he claims that
    Util. solves for non-sentience. This puts my opponent in a double-bind: either
    his ethical theories do not solve for non-sentience and he falls prey to my
    anthropocentrism kritik, or they do argue that non-sentience is ethically
    relevant, so you negate.


  1. His
    first point here is moot because if we do not treat non-agents in an ethically
    relevant manner, then they are not being considered. He is trying to mask this
    with empty rhetoric.
  2. He
    never actually explains why he can solve for these individuals; at the very
    least, he is ethically required to provide them with the right to life, which
    is something that his ethical theories do not require him to do. By defining
    sentience as a necessity for certain rights, the following classes of
    individuals are excluded from traditional Western ethics: infants (Peter Singer
    defines them as non-sentient in his book Animal Liberation), mentally incompetent
    individuals who cannot feel pain, and humans in a vegetative state.
    Preference-based utility cannot account for them because they cannot express
    their preferences, which is also why discourse ethics does not account for
  3. The
    argument was not simply that his ethical theories do not account for other life
    forms; rather, it was that sentience based theories do not even account for the
    importance of every human life. This leaves a gaping hole in his ideas because
    are not enough to even explain how humans should be treated. In addition, they
    create an exploitable idea that can justify many atrocities. All someone has to
    do to justify senseless slaughter is claim that the individuals in question are
    not rational and sentient. Deep ecology provides for respect of all forms of
    life and thus covers treatment of both agents and non-agents.


  1. He
    defined sentience as “The ability to feel, perceive, or be conscious, or to
    have subjective experiences.” Animals do not perceive, are not conscious, and
    do not have subjective experiences, so they are not sentient. This keeps the
    Mill point alive. In addition, Mill would contend that individuals who cannot
    feel pain, and are mentally incompetent and/or are in a vegetative state also
    need to be accounted for, which his conception of util. does not.
  2. This
    falls because of the dropped idea that rule util. collapses back into act util.
    He dropped it and can no longer address it, so you can apply it here and take
    out this argument.


  1. This
    is rendered moot by his advocacy of ethical emotivism.
  2. Emotivism
    is what causes us to relate to an individual and condemn his mistreatment.
    Rationality does not do this; extend the dog example from the last round.

Discourse Ethics

I provided an attack when I gave two general attacks on his
philosophical frameworks. This debate is being taken care of above; he is
sneakily attempting to unfairly extend an argument that is already being


  1. I
    do not concede advantages. The dog example was a traditional example that
    explains emotivist ethics. Deep Ecology extends this by explaining why humans
    are connected to other forms of life; traditional emotivism emphasizes the
    reasons that humans are distinct.
  2. Apply the double-bind here. If DE is
    compatible, I win because his theories say that non-agents are just as
    important as agents.
Debate Round No. 3



Con seems to take it as a prima facie fact that morality is subject so that no one framework is more true. This is a bold claim or relativism that requires a thorough defense, a defense which Con does not provide and may not provide in the final round- per the R1 rules of no new arguments in final round on pain of disqualification. Moreover, each of my core arguments serves as an independent argument AGAINST relativism. Each argues for a binding morality that can support truth claims about what is right and wrong. This debate is clearly about competing ethical theories; the winner of the debate is whoever shows that sentience is/isn’t more likely to be relevant to ethical concerns. As such, refer back to my R3 1) and 2) that the multiplicity of moral systems should be weighed against each other to see which side of this debate is more likely.

Multiplicity of ethical systems does not prove the validness of an ethical issue, but if highly likely ethical systems all suggest the same conclusion it stands to reason the conclusion is more likely to be true than false.

If one could show that the most likely ethical systems justified the Holocaust, then it would absolutely mean the Holocaust was more likely ethical than not. But of course you cannot justify the Holocaust in such a way, since no tenable ethical system which supported the Holocaust would stand up to philosophical rigor. In fact, all the ethical systems I propose would vehemently condemn the Holocaust, demonstrating that weighing the multiplicity of ethical systems is in fact reliable.

Obviously the tradition of Western philosophy value human life highly- my position is that the reason for this is because humans do possess uniquely relevant ethical traits. If Con’s position- that sentience is not relevant- is correct, she should be able to point out the glaring errors in the systems I put forward.

Its not my fault if the burden is skewed- Pro had the option to run multiple ethical systems but chose not to. I only have to disprove one because she chose to put forward one, if she had advocated more then I would have to disprove more.

Deep Ecology

  1. Con’s justifications are superficial at best. How does all life being interconnected prove humans have an ethical obligation to respect the diversity of life? Furthermore, the idea of all living things having a “purpose” relies on outdated Aristotelian teleology. What is the “purpose” of a ladybug? What justification do we have for believing anything has a purpose at all? Occam’s razor suggests we disregard such a claim in favor of theories unburdened by outdated teleology- for example literally all of the theories I advocate.
  2. Nothing about my theories implies that non-sentient agents must be neglected in ethical discourse. I can say that I must respect the autonomy and freedom of sentient beings while also maintaining we respect the diversity and value of non-sentient beings; there is no conflict between my ethical systems and deep ecology. Also, I don’t need to show that deep ecology takes into account sentience- it doesn’t- I just need to show that deep ecology does not necessitate that sentience be disregard in the realm of ethics. Deep ecology allows for additional constraints when sentient beings are involved and so does not negate the Resolution.
  3. 4,5. The central problem with Deep Ecology is its inability to define what the intrinsic value of a non-sentient being is. Note that all my questions from R3 go unanswered. Is it wrong to forcibly transplant a flower? How do I way the richness of life caused by building a museum to the loss of diversity caused by cutting down a patch of trees? Deep Ecology is too vague to be of any use. I maintain this is precisely because it relies on a teleology that makes no sense in a post-enlightenment world.

6. This double-bind reflects a misunderstanding of the Resolution. I only have to show that sentience is ethically relevant. I can clearly affirm the resolution by saying that sentience bestows an ethical distinction but also that non-sentient life has some ethical standing, though this standing is different from that of sentient beings. Such a position clearly demonstrates that sentience is an ethically relevant trait.
Refer back to my arguments that both Utilitarianism and Emotivism offer some moral standing to non-sentient life.


  1. Noting that my advocacy allows room for ethical standing of non-sentient life is not empty rhetoric. For example, Discourse ethics derives ethical obligations out of the nature of discourse; such obligations do not discount the possibility that obligations of a different sort may exist toward non-sentient life, only that strict obligations DO exist for certain classes of sentient life that do NOT exist for non-sentient life.
  2. I do not need to derive a right to life for all sentient life- such a claim is well beyond the limits of the Resolution. The rights entailed by my B) and C) arguments aren’t applicable to infants and humans incapable of reason and so it is unproblematic that they are not included. Just because a being cannot express their preferences does not mean their preferences are discounted by utilitarianism- Con is conflating Discourse Ethics and Util. Util. requires that all preferences be taken into account, the ability to articulate those preferences is not relevant. This is why the utilitarian Peter Singer is a staunch animal rights advocate.
  3. First, utilitarianism does account for all human life. All humans have preferences and so fall within a utilitarian framework. Emotivism clearly provides ground for all life, as humans are repulsed by acts like infanticide. Con even argues that Deep Ecology is an extension of Emotivism- if Deep Ecology accounts for all human life then so does Emotivism. Additionally, my B) and C) don’t need to account for all human life because they don’t claim to. B) and C) set out to establish a limited set of rights and do only what they set out to do.


  1. I am not tied to Mill’s specific views, but anyways when I trip over my dog while he is asleep he jumps up and barks at me- seems to me like he felt my foot and perceived that I was to blame for waking him up. The evidence overwhelmingly suggests animals are sentient.
  2. Im not advocating rule util. I am advocating two-level util, which relies on rule util in the general cases but requires critical interpretation to determine when act utilitarianism is important. Moreover, Con has never provided an argument for how rule util collapses into act util. She just asserts it- so I assert that it does not.

Rationalism and Discourse

Nothing sneaky on my part- Con has failed to address any of the substance of these arguments. This, to me, suggests that she has no substantial argument against them. Due to the lack of attacks by Con, these are the most probably ethical systems in this round. On these systems alone I should win.


  1. Again, the Double Bind is a misinterpretation of the Resolution, as I described above.
  2. You can’t just claim emotivism is true and then choose to disregard the moral sentiment that privileges sentient life. Emotivism requires us to inform ethics by our moral sentiments, so it privileges human life. Con has conceded that Emotivism is true and so concedes the Resolution.


I have presented 4 ethical systems that all make moral distinctions based on sentience. I contend that each of these theories is more adequate than Deep Ecology and so I have better supported the Resolution. Moreover, the multiplicity of the solutions shows how much more likely the Resolution is to be true than false. Even if you don’t accept this, I have also shown the Deep Ecology alone doesn’t demonstrate the irrelevance of sentience and so Con has failed to even present an ethical system that negates the Resolution. For this reason I urge a vote for Pro.




  1. His
    only remaining defense against my observation is that morality is not
    subjective; he argues that since I did not prove this to be true, there is no
    reason to believe it. Note that he has already done this work for me. In the
    framework he presents in his first speech, he argued that he can propose
    different, contradictory ethical theories. The fact that he acknowledges that
    moral theories can contradict each other proves that morality is subjective. (This is not a new argument because it is a
    direct extension of the affirmative framework.
    ) This means that my
    observation, which indicates that I only need to propose one ethical theory
    that does not take sentience into account, still stands. At the point that this
    is true, you can immediately negate.
  2. His
    defense of multiplicity amounts to nothing more than an ad populum logical
    fallacy. Unfortunately, just because many people say something is true does not
    mean that it is true. For thousands of years, everyone on Earth believed that
    the Earth was the center of the universe, but that was later proven false, for
  3. He
    is mishandling my claims of abuse. The fact that he presents multiple ethical
    theories is not abusive, but the claim that he can simply drop his whole case
    except one ethical theory while I have to refute every point that he makes
    according to his framework is abusive. There is no reason that this can stand
    in the round.

Deep Ecology

  1. I
    already answered back the fact that the interconnectedness of life means that
    we have to treat other forms of life as if they have value due to ethical
    emotivism. Insofar as he ignores this justification, you can extend it as well
    as the validity of deep ecology. Moreover, he disregards the fact that the
    purpose of life is to perpetuate itself and survive. This is not an outdated
    theory because it is literally supported by all of biology (evolution, natural
    selection, etc.) At the point that my ethical philosophy is connecting with
    other forms of knowledge, you can negate because it is most likely true.
  2. Go
    back and read his justification of util. It literally says that individuals
    with preferences ought to be considered higher than others. Moreover, all of
    his ethical theories say that it would be ok to disregard grass and step on it
    (read his second speech again: he literally says this), which means that they
    disregard sentience. All Western theories tell us how to act while dealing with
    moral agents. Individuals have rights, for example, because they are considered
    moral agents. However, because plants are not moral agents, according to
    Western ethics, there is no reason to respect their lives at all.
  3. He
    ultimately drops the argument from Deep Ecology that states that we cannot
    interfere with other types of life unless it is vital to our survival. This
    solves back all of his questions about repotting plants, trapping grasshoppers,
    etc. In addition, since it was dropped, you can extend the validity of DE as an
    ethical theory.
  4. His
    defense against the Double-Bind is tenuous at best. Traditional Western ethics
    gives absolutely no standing to non-moral agents because it does not describe
    how to deal with them. He never explained what sort of standing other organisms
    have according to his philosophies. So, you can extend the double-bind, which
    explains that either they have no standing according to him, which means that I
    win based on Deep-Ecology’s existence, or that they do have standing, which means
    that sentience is ethically relevant.
  5. In addition, if the standing of other
    organisms is different, then he is still arguing that sentience is ethically
    relevant. This attack is not even responsive to the double-bind.


  1. Again,
    if his argument is that the standing is different, then he is still treating
    sentience as ethically relevant. In addition, discourse ethics is not
    accounting for the mentally incompetent, individuals in a vegetative state, and
    the mentally incompetent, which he drops.
  2. Turn
    the preferences argument because this is a reason that we should value all of
    life. All of life has preferences (such as survival, reproduction, etc.), so if
    preferences do not need to be articulated for util., then sentience is not
    ethically relevant.
  3. The
    fact that DE extends emotivism does not mean that emotivism accounts for DE. (This
    is like saying that a rectangle is a square because a square is a rectangle.)
    DE is a type of emotivism that applies the basic parts of the theory in a specific
    context. The theory as my opponent is running it does not account for
    non-sentient creatures.


  1. Extend
    the preferences turn from point two above.
  2. He
    already dropped the argument that rule util. collapses into act util, so he
    cannot attempt to attack it here. In addition, he never specified which util.
    he was running until after I made my attack, meaning that he is being a moving
    target, which is unfair. Thus, we assume act util. because it is the most
    standard form of utilitarianism. Act util. is unjust because it justifies
    atrocities like slavery, so it is not even a valid moral theory.

Rationalism and

  1. These
    were addressed by the arguments about infants, humans in a vegetative state,
    and the mentally incompetent. He conceded this arguments against Discourse
    Ethics, so he immediately loses that ethical theory’s applicability. In
    addition, he loses that Rationlism does not account for irrational humans and
    is thus not a proper modern theory, so this is refuted as well. There is no
    reason to affirm off of these ideas.


  1. I
    have already shown you that 1. The Double-Bind still stands and that 2.
    Organisms with different standing based on sentience means that, according to
    him, is required for ethical consideration.
  2. I
    concede that an extension of emotivism, namely Deep Ecology, is true. The
    normal theory itself falls prey to the general attacks that I made against his
    case, which I have been explaining for the last three rounds.

Voting Issues

  1. I
    clearly won the framework debate because my observation goes unrefuted in the
    round. At the point that I provide a valid ethical theory that does not take
    sentience into account, you negate.
  2. The
    Double-Bind still stands. This is the easiest way to negate.
Debate Round No. 4
3 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 3 records.
Posted by royalpaladin 6 years ago
Yeah, my round 3 was very poor because I rushed to finish it at the last moment. I apologize, Raisor.
Posted by royalpaladin 6 years ago
Yup :)
Posted by Raisor 6 years ago
Anthro K:

: )
3 votes have been placed for this debate. Showing 1 through 3 records.
Vote Placed by popculturepooka 6 years ago
Agreed with before the debate:Vote Checkmark--0 points
Agreed with after the debate:Vote Checkmark--0 points
Who had better conduct:--Vote Checkmark1 point
Had better spelling and grammar:--Vote Checkmark1 point
Made more convincing arguments:Vote Checkmark--3 points
Used the most reliable sources:--Vote Checkmark2 points
Total points awarded:30 
Reasons for voting decision: The first 2 rounds were fairly even but in the third round the issues came into focus. Pro correctly challenged Con on Con's assertion of ethical subjectivism and the whole framework of the debate (e.g. the running of multiple arguments). Pro's ethical theories that were advanced were not adequately refuted and Pro showed he could even take Con's ethical system in consideration wrt to ethical relevance and sentience. Pro raised some worries for deep ecology that Con did not adequately address.
Vote Placed by LiberalHoyaLawya 6 years ago
Agreed with before the debate:Vote Checkmark--0 points
Agreed with after the debate:Vote Checkmark--0 points
Who had better conduct:--Vote Checkmark1 point
Had better spelling and grammar:--Vote Checkmark1 point
Made more convincing arguments:Vote Checkmark--3 points
Used the most reliable sources:--Vote Checkmark2 points
Total points awarded:30 
Reasons for voting decision: The structure of the debate - arguing across a "multiplicity of moral systems" - was pretentious & very hard to follow. Both parties failed to grasp that all they needed to do was present ONE moral system (with or w/o sentience), & let us decide which system was more persuasive. I voted for Pro, b/c Con failed to explain why "interconnectedness" alone demands respect for non-sentient life forms. Con should've argued that animals we eat are more sentient than babies, but she did the opposite!
Vote Placed by Wallstreetatheist 6 years ago
Agreed with before the debate:--Vote Checkmark0 points
Agreed with after the debate:--Vote Checkmark0 points
Who had better conduct:--Vote Checkmark1 point
Had better spelling and grammar:--Vote Checkmark1 point
Made more convincing arguments:Vote Checkmark--3 points
Used the most reliable sources:-Vote Checkmark-2 points
Total points awarded:32 
Reasons for voting decision: I pasted this debate into NaturalReader and flowed it. Anthropocentrists like Carl Cohen would say that sentience isn't of ethical relevance, nor moral agency, but rather moral status. Raisor: Deep Ecology could subsume your ethical theories; thus, it affirms the resolution was a good point. Demonstrating the lack of justification gave you a stride. royalpaladin: Better prioritize ethical theory above his Don't whine about a debate you accepted Good use of sources Bad round 3