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A Thought Experiment

Citrakayah
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5/11/2014 8:39:42 PM
Posted: 2 years ago
Let us say that there is a device--a remote, basically, for someone's brain. I push the button, they experience excruciating pain. Basically the agony booth from the Mirror Universe in Star Trek. Is this ethical to use (in ordinary circumstances, of course)? Most would answer no.

Indeed, our ethical prohibitions against causing physical harm are due to the fact that it a) hurts and b) causes us inconvenience. If physical harm caused no real difficulties and wasn't unpleasant, few people would really care about it. "Oh, sure, shoot off my arm it's not like I'll notice." It would be the equivalent of losing a few skin cells.

A while back--I found this out recently when reading a scientific journal--it was discovered that similar neural pathways handle emotional and physical pain. In otherwords, the two are, if not completely identical, very closely related (and they may in fact use identical centers of the brain). You can read the full article here: http://www.pnas.org...

A logical consequence of this is that ethical theories which hold only that causing physical harm/pain is bad, while causing emotional agony is perfectly acceptable, are undermined.

Discuss.
bladerunner060
Posts: 7,126
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5/11/2014 8:52:08 PM
Posted: 2 years ago
At 5/11/2014 8:39:42 PM, Citrakayah wrote:
Let us say that there is a device--a remote, basically, for someone's brain. I push the button, they experience excruciating pain. Basically the agony booth from the Mirror Universe in Star Trek. Is this ethical to use (in ordinary circumstances, of course)? Most would answer no.

Indeed, our ethical prohibitions against causing physical harm are due to the fact that it a) hurts and b) causes us inconvenience. If physical harm caused no real difficulties and wasn't unpleasant, few people would really care about it. "Oh, sure, shoot off my arm it's not like I'll notice." It would be the equivalent of losing a few skin cells.


A while back--I found this out recently when reading a scientific journal--it was discovered that similar neural pathways handle emotional and physical pain. In otherwords, the two are, if not completely identical, very closely related (and they may in fact use identical centers of the brain). You can read the full article here: http://www.pnas.org...

A logical consequence of this is that ethical theories which hold only that causing physical harm/pain is bad, while causing emotional agony is perfectly acceptable, are undermined.

Discuss.

Emotional pain is caused in a far less universal manner. We all know that which will cause physical pain, as a general rule. We don't always know what will cause emotional pain.
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Citrakayah
Posts: 1,500
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5/11/2014 8:54:33 PM
Posted: 2 years ago
At 5/11/2014 8:52:08 PM, bladerunner060 wrote:
Emotional pain is caused in a far less universal manner. We all know that which will cause physical pain, as a general rule. We don't always know what will cause emotional pain.

While true, there are some things that pretty universally cause emotional pain, and we can always find out or tell someone.
bladerunner060
Posts: 7,126
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5/11/2014 9:05:10 PM
Posted: 2 years ago
At 5/11/2014 8:54:33 PM, Citrakayah wrote:
At 5/11/2014 8:52:08 PM, bladerunner060 wrote:
Emotional pain is caused in a far less universal manner. We all know that which will cause physical pain, as a general rule. We don't always know what will cause emotional pain.

While true, there are some things that pretty universally cause emotional pain, and we can always find out or tell someone.

Are there any ethical theories which truly ignore emotional pain, though, particularly of the nigh-universal sort?
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Citrakayah
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5/11/2014 9:11:54 PM
Posted: 2 years ago
At 5/11/2014 9:05:10 PM, bladerunner060 wrote:
At 5/11/2014 8:54:33 PM, Citrakayah wrote:
At 5/11/2014 8:52:08 PM, bladerunner060 wrote:
Emotional pain is caused in a far less universal manner. We all know that which will cause physical pain, as a general rule. We don't always know what will cause emotional pain.

While true, there are some things that pretty universally cause emotional pain, and we can always find out or tell someone.

Are there any ethical theories which truly ignore emotional pain, though, particularly of the nigh-universal sort?

Based on my discussions with some people, I would have to say "It appears so." Even many ethical theories which don't ignore emotional pain treat it as a matter of no real consequence. I have, after all, seen people argue that driving someone to suicide is ethical, but intervening is not.
bladerunner060
Posts: 7,126
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5/11/2014 9:16:24 PM
Posted: 2 years ago
At 5/11/2014 9:11:54 PM, Citrakayah wrote:
At 5/11/2014 9:05:10 PM, bladerunner060 wrote:
At 5/11/2014 8:54:33 PM, Citrakayah wrote:
At 5/11/2014 8:52:08 PM, bladerunner060 wrote:
Emotional pain is caused in a far less universal manner. We all know that which will cause physical pain, as a general rule. We don't always know what will cause emotional pain.

While true, there are some things that pretty universally cause emotional pain, and we can always find out or tell someone.

Are there any ethical theories which truly ignore emotional pain, though, particularly of the nigh-universal sort?

Based on my discussions with some people, I would have to say "It appears so." Even many ethical theories which don't ignore emotional pain treat it as a matter of no real consequence. I have, after all, seen people argue that driving someone to suicide is ethical, but intervening is not.

But that's a specific application--and is a bit of a disingenuous one, TBH, don't you think? There are other concerns at play besides JUST the emotional pain, when the person kills themselves as a result.
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Citrakayah
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5/11/2014 9:20:02 PM
Posted: 2 years ago
At 5/11/2014 9:16:24 PM, bladerunner060 wrote:
At 5/11/2014 9:11:54 PM, Citrakayah wrote:
At 5/11/2014 9:05:10 PM, bladerunner060 wrote:
At 5/11/2014 8:54:33 PM, Citrakayah wrote:
At 5/11/2014 8:52:08 PM, bladerunner060 wrote:
Emotional pain is caused in a far less universal manner. We all know that which will cause physical pain, as a general rule. We don't always know what will cause emotional pain.

While true, there are some things that pretty universally cause emotional pain, and we can always find out or tell someone.

Are there any ethical theories which truly ignore emotional pain, though, particularly of the nigh-universal sort?

Based on my discussions with some people, I would have to say "It appears so." Even many ethical theories which don't ignore emotional pain treat it as a matter of no real consequence. I have, after all, seen people argue that driving someone to suicide is ethical, but intervening is not.

But that's a specific application--and is a bit of a disingenuous one, TBH, don't you think? There are other concerns at play besides JUST the emotional pain, when the person kills themselves as a result.

That's quite true--at least, that it's specific. But if it's disingenuous, I certainly don't intend it to be--I view driving someone to suicide as the ultimate in inflicting emotional pain (short of driving them to suicide and then denying them death, then keeping them in that state for the rest of their life).

So, if someone has no real objections to that, then I think it's valid to say that they're very callous about emotional pain.
bladerunner060
Posts: 7,126
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5/11/2014 9:25:12 PM
Posted: 2 years ago
At 5/11/2014 9:20:02 PM, Citrakayah wrote:
At 5/11/2014 9:16:24 PM, bladerunner060 wrote:
At 5/11/2014 9:11:54 PM, Citrakayah wrote:
At 5/11/2014 9:05:10 PM, bladerunner060 wrote:
At 5/11/2014 8:54:33 PM, Citrakayah wrote:
At 5/11/2014 8:52:08 PM, bladerunner060 wrote:
Emotional pain is caused in a far less universal manner. We all know that which will cause physical pain, as a general rule. We don't always know what will cause emotional pain.

While true, there are some things that pretty universally cause emotional pain, and we can always find out or tell someone.

Are there any ethical theories which truly ignore emotional pain, though, particularly of the nigh-universal sort?

Based on my discussions with some people, I would have to say "It appears so." Even many ethical theories which don't ignore emotional pain treat it as a matter of no real consequence. I have, after all, seen people argue that driving someone to suicide is ethical, but intervening is not.

But that's a specific application--and is a bit of a disingenuous one, TBH, don't you think? There are other concerns at play besides JUST the emotional pain, when the person kills themselves as a result.

That's quite true--at least, that it's specific. But if it's disingenuous, I certainly don't intend it to be--I view driving someone to suicide as the ultimate in inflicting emotional pain (short of driving them to suicide and then denying them death, then keeping them in that state for the rest of their life).

So, if someone has no real objections to that, then I think it's valid to say that they're very callous about emotional pain.

Not necessarily. The person so "driven" is still responsible for the own actions. I can see being callous about that, while recognizing that the actions which inflicted the pain were bad. No one is forced to commit suicide by words, despite our idioms to the contrary.
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Ore_Ele
Posts: 25,980
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5/11/2014 9:25:35 PM
Posted: 2 years ago
At 5/11/2014 8:39:42 PM, Citrakayah wrote:
Let us say that there is a device--a remote, basically, for someone's brain. I push the button, they experience excruciating pain. Basically the agony booth from the Mirror Universe in Star Trek. Is this ethical to use (in ordinary circumstances, of course)? Most would answer no.

Indeed, our ethical prohibitions against causing physical harm are due to the fact that it a) hurts and b) causes us inconvenience. If physical harm caused no real difficulties and wasn't unpleasant, few people would really care about it. "Oh, sure, shoot off my arm it's not like I'll notice." It would be the equivalent of losing a few skin cells.


A while back--I found this out recently when reading a scientific journal--it was discovered that similar neural pathways handle emotional and physical pain. In otherwords, the two are, if not completely identical, very closely related (and they may in fact use identical centers of the brain). You can read the full article here: http://www.pnas.org...

A logical consequence of this is that ethical theories which hold only that causing physical harm/pain is bad, while causing emotional agony is perfectly acceptable, are undermined.

Discuss.

This is something that I've argued several times (though not in any depth, because no one would ever have a real response). Why is physical and economic "harm" negatively valued in libertarian philosophies, but not emotional or psychological "harm"?
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Citrakayah
Posts: 1,500
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5/11/2014 9:55:49 PM
Posted: 2 years ago
At 5/11/2014 9:25:12 PM, bladerunner060 wrote:
At 5/11/2014 9:20:02 PM, Citrakayah wrote:
At 5/11/2014 9:16:24 PM, bladerunner060 wrote:
At 5/11/2014 9:11:54 PM, Citrakayah wrote:
At 5/11/2014 9:05:10 PM, bladerunner060 wrote:
At 5/11/2014 8:54:33 PM, Citrakayah wrote:
At 5/11/2014 8:52:08 PM, bladerunner060 wrote:
Emotional pain is caused in a far less universal manner. We all know that which will cause physical pain, as a general rule. We don't always know what will cause emotional pain.

While true, there are some things that pretty universally cause emotional pain, and we can always find out or tell someone.

Are there any ethical theories which truly ignore emotional pain, though, particularly of the nigh-universal sort?

Based on my discussions with some people, I would have to say "It appears so." Even many ethical theories which don't ignore emotional pain treat it as a matter of no real consequence. I have, after all, seen people argue that driving someone to suicide is ethical, but intervening is not.

But that's a specific application--and is a bit of a disingenuous one, TBH, don't you think? There are other concerns at play besides JUST the emotional pain, when the person kills themselves as a result.

That's quite true--at least, that it's specific. But if it's disingenuous, I certainly don't intend it to be--I view driving someone to suicide as the ultimate in inflicting emotional pain (short of driving them to suicide and then denying them death, then keeping them in that state for the rest of their life).

So, if someone has no real objections to that, then I think it's valid to say that they're very callous about emotional pain.

Not necessarily. The person so "driven" is still responsible for the own actions. I can see being callous about that, while recognizing that the actions which inflicted the pain were bad. No one is forced to commit suicide by words, despite our idioms to the contrary.

Honestly I would have to say that comes down to a difference in how much of a determinist you are. While I do believe in free will to a certain extent, I also believe that people don't have control--at least not anything but tightly bounded control--over how they feel, and so one can drive someone to suicide, especially since people, at the moment of suicide, are often not thinking things through very clearly or making detailed plans.
bladerunner060
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5/11/2014 10:12:42 PM
Posted: 2 years ago
At 5/11/2014 9:55:49 PM, Citrakayah wrote:

Honestly I would have to say that comes down to a difference in how much of a determinist you are. While I do believe in free will to a certain extent, I also believe that people don't have control--at least not anything but tightly bounded control--over how they feel, and so one can drive someone to suicide, especially since people, at the moment of suicide, are often not thinking things through very clearly or making detailed plans.

The problem with that, of course, is that it then can be equally used to excuse the one who drove the person to suicide.

It also muddies the waters, too, because by saying they're not thinking clearly, is it fair to lay the blame on the other person unless you can give a "reasonable person" standard?
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GarretKadeDupre
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5/12/2014 12:29:14 AM
Posted: 2 years ago
At 5/11/2014 8:39:42 PM, Citrakayah wrote:
A logical consequence of this is that ethical theories which hold only that causing physical harm/pain is bad, while causing emotional agony is perfectly acceptable, are undermined.

How are you not undermining the difference between physical and emotional pain? Using your logic, how would you distinguish between the two? Is there any difference at all?
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RoyLatham
Posts: 4,488
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5/13/2014 12:51:45 AM
Posted: 2 years ago
I don't know of any ethical theories that ignore emotional pain. Libertarians do not ignore emotional pain. They value freedom highly whether or not there is economic value attached. Libertarians argue against lose of privacy by government surveillance even if the surveillance leads to greater physical security. They'd prefer the risk of dying over the emotional pain of lost privacy. (I'm not a libertarian, so I'm just observing.)

It seems fair to say that even though every ethical theory includes emotional pain, different theories weigh it differently. Many people would voluntarily sacrifice both freedom and prosperity for emotional security.