In Sam Harris’s latest talk which was posted on “centerforinquiry” youtube channel. He sparked my interest with a comment he made about rats and squirrels. He made a comment that both rats and squirrels have the same capacity for conscious experience, yet one is ugly while the other has a cute fuzzy tail. This has an impact on how we view these organisms. He later posits that morals can be objectively deduced and quantified. So we would develop a sort of moral law equation, where you take a situation and all it’s variables and plug it into this equation. We can then empirically deduce whether this decision was write or wrong.
He then goes on to say that there is a spectrum of good to bad. ‘Bad’ being every conscious entity experiences the worst possible suffering for as long as possible and ‘good’ being every conscious entity experiences the most happiness and comfort for as long as possible. While everything else falls in the middle of this spectrum and there are ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ ways to navigate this spectrum. Lets analyze the concept of rats and squirrels again. Well it’s not as simple as he leads us to believe… it’s not just about the tail. Rats carry and spread harmful diseases, while squirrels may carry these same diseases, they are less prone to spread these diseases (doesn’t matter if this is factually correct or not it’s an idea). Lets now apply the formula to this example…
Squirrels don’t cause suffering;
Rats are <1% of conscious entities;
Rats cause 5% of conscious entities to suffer;
Therefore: The elimination of rats will optimize happiness while minimizing suffering.
This is a perfectly logical statement based on the assumptions, being; bad is lots of suffering, better is less suffering. Which is perfectly fine when we apply it to mice… but what of men?