[ExI] The point of emotions

Lee Corbin lcorbin at rawbw.com
Thu Apr 24 03:23:17 UTC 2008

Stathis, Stefano, and Damien discuss:

Stathis writes
> Stefano wrote:
>> Stathis wrote:
>>  >  There are also practical and theoretical consequences to the theory
>>  >  that other people have feelings; whether we can torture them with
>>  >  impunity, for example.

The *impunity* with which cruelty can be undertaken needs
to be kept quite separate from whether we approve of it or
not (and of course how much, if any, the targets of the cruelty
actually suffer).

>>  Are there really? Many would assume that torturing without reason
>>  something or somebody who persuasively show bad feelings about it
>>  denotes sadistic instincts anyway, whatever the subject may "really"
>>  feel.
> Not really. People do all sorts of terrible things to characters in
> computer games because they don't believe they have feelings,
> but only *act* [behave] as if they have feelings. Myself, I eschew
> such behaviour, but I won't call those who enjoy it sadistic.

I think that this is correct, because we seem to have developed
a generation of people almost all of whom would recoil from
real-life infliction of gratuitous pain, yet who inflict it with abandon
in on imaginary characters. (E.g., we would not want to call
certain authors "sadistic", which Damien addresses a bit below.) 

Stefano again:

>>  It is... reasonable to make similar assumptions about
>>  other biological or non-biological entities that exhibit a
>>  phenomenally similar behaviour in this respect, as natural empathy
>>  tends to dictate anyway.
> Oh yes, I wasn't disputing [that we rightly should extend to animals
> or non-biological entities our same approvals and disapprovals].
> What I was disputing is the idea that we *treat* [emphasis added]
> others as having minds while remaining agnostic on, or indifferent to,
> the question of whether or not they have minds.

I think that you are saying that if it is given that we behave towards
others as though they have experiences, we ought not remain
indifferent as to whether they actually *have* experiences. 
I agree. To do otherwise is to abuse terms.

The converse carries the moral imperative: given that they have
experiences, we ought to care about the quality of those experiences.

>> People do all sorts of terrible things to characters in
>> computer games because they don't believe they have
>> feelings,

Let me comment upon this again. First, we don't know
the proper explanation that people do terrible things to 
game characters---in some cases, indeed, darkly it could
be as you were hinting: they can get away with it with
absolute impunity (at present). Or it could be, as you say,
that it is supposed that the game characters are not real.

Damien comments

>> Any such discussion risks lurching into essentialism. Arguably 
>> sadistic is as sadistic does.

I don't think so. It's too easily believable that there are some
people who really enjoy inflicting pain, but are held up by
moral concerns from ever actually doing it.

>> [Novelists do terrible things to imaginary characters
>> a lot, for their own motives and the delectation of
>> their readers)

That has certainly seemed to me to be the case. Now I
have found that the exacting of revenge is one thing, but
that the thrills some authors evidently get from (imaginarily)
tormenting "bad" people---or people with whom they have
a political or philosophical disagreement---is a little depraved. 

>> It seems plausible enough to me that doing terrible things
>> to imaginary characters... is  a form of displacement of
>> [people's] own real urges toward entities in the real world. 

Yes, but even though this does seem a little depraved, it's
small potatoes compared to actually approving of tormenting
in real life those they despise.


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