NameTheTrait 2.0+ (official)

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  • Work In progress

History

The previous incarnation of Name The Trait had several issues (as discussed in that article) which led to us recommending strongly against its usage. The new formalization of Name The Trait (discussed here) has corrected for these issues and is formally valid ("informal validity" is subjective, and not a topic of this article). While a number of unofficial fixes have been recommended, this article covers the newest version (from 2 and up) recognized by the original author as authoritative.

Whether this formalization represents a new argument in terms of structure that replaces an invalid original argument or represents only a formalization of the original argument that corrects for informal semantic issues is moot. Arguments for the former appeal to early comments and original usage/presentation (discussed briefly in the old article), while arguments for the latter appeal to stated authorial intent. Given that the argument is valid now, its pedigree or relationship to the previous argument isn't particularly relevant to its current force or persuasive ability.

The formalization discussed here was authored by Isaac Brown (A.K.A. Ask Yourself) incorporating corrections/improvements offered by discord users Dr. Avi, _jhc, and Alex Malpass. The theory that they authored a new argument for which Brown then took credit is not supported by the evidence (e.g. _jhc disputes the claim he authored the argument), and is also insubstantial. Logic is not a scripture which derives authority only from authorship; even if you took the extreme view that _jhc did author the argument (then deny it) that would make no difference to its validity. It's also of no significance whether, subjectively, you want to describe this collaboration as them "fixing it for him" or as Brown formalizing the argument on his own in light of feedback.

While some practical limitations (in terms of audience) may still apply, this argument could serve as a compelling one for veganism within its niche (which is speculated to be most strongly applicable be non-theistic subjectivists who want to be generalists) and deserves some discussion.

Formal Argument

Version 5

P1) If your view affirms a given human is trait-equalizable to a given nonhuman animal while retaining moral value, then your view can only deny the given

nonhuman animal has moral value on pain of P∧~P.

P2) Your view affirms a given human is trait-equalizable to a given nonhuman animal while retaining moral value.

C) Therefore, your view can only deny the given nonhuman animal has moral value on pain of P∧~P

This argument is a simple Modus Ponens. Put simply: If A then B. A, therefore B. While the premises (P1 and P2) may be challenged, the conclusion must follow if both premises are true.

The argument is designed so as to channel any meaningful challenge into P2, specifically encouraging the interlocutor to "Name the trait" which would cause human beings to lose moral value if changed. P1 is virtually impossible to challenge, although some specific (commonly theological) metaphysics may attempt to do so.

Improvements from previous versions

Version 5 of the argument eliminates unnecessary and potentially confusing wording around "category x" in Version 3 which caused issues that made the second premise arguably non-substantive:

P1) If all views in category x are all views that affirm a given human is reducible to a given animal (via trait switching) while retaining moral value, all views in category x can only deny the given animal has moral value on pain of p^-P.

P2) All views in category x are all views that affirm a given human is reducible to a given animal (via trait switching) while retaining moral value

c) Therefore, all views in category x can only deny the given animal has moral value on pain given p^-P.

Version 5 substitutes this for a substantive claim about the interlocutor's views, and in the process also avoids any potential challenges about the argument being question begging while simplifying the wording.

Because of these weaknesses in V3, it is important to use the most recent version of the argument.

Version 5 also substitutes "trait-equalizable" for the longer "reducible to a given animal (via trait switching)". The change does not seem to affect the logic of the argument except for those who take issue with the notion of non-human animals being reductions from humans. For most people, this update only makes the argument more compact. If confusion arises about the definition of "trait-equalizable", it can be said to mean reducible (or increasable) to a given animal (via trait switching).

Version 5 also clarifies "nonhuman" for the animal.

Attempted Refutations of P1

Refutation of P1 hinge on the details of what "trait" means. If "trait" is taken to have a certain meaning it appears to be irrefutable. Here we will examine why that is.

P1) If your view affirms a given human is trait-equalizable to a given nonhuman animal while retaining moral value, then your view can only deny the given nonhuman animal has moral value on pain of P∧~P.

If "trait" means any and every conceivable and even inconceivable characteristic, natural or otherwise, inside or outside our universe or our reality, etc. then it also includes "has moral value" as a trait. Or to put it another way: there is a definition of trait so broad that it can't help but include moral value in it.

If we start with this information:

  • Animal Moral Value = ?
  • Human Moral Value = True

And the status of moral value is equalized between a human and animal:

  • Animal Moral Value = Human Moral Value

And the Human still retains moral value despite this equalization.

  • Animal Moral Value = Human Moral Value = True

Then animals must have moral value.

  • Animal Moral Value = True

Or in other words: If human moral value can be made identical to animal moral value and the result is that humans still have moral value, that reveals that animals had moral value all along.

Depending on your perspective, this claim is probably pretty obvious and not at all interesting. Indeed, it is meant to be obvious and uncontroversial.

However, there are issues with "trait" definitions that broad. Overly broad trait definitions would also include traits that are logically impossible to change.

trait-equalizability is impossible

Trait-equalizability can easily be impossible in reality where we have limited control. E.g. even if we could change a human's DNA to be the same as a non-human, we can not change the past, so the trait "being or having been human" can't be taken away.

The response to this is relatively simple, in that "trait-equalization" here refers to a thought experiment or hypothetical. We can imagine a world where a specific entity is human, and then we can imagine revising that world and all of its history to be the same except the entity isn't and never was human, or is like humans except for a particular difference.

However, the claim that trait equalizability is impossible is true if there are no limitations whatsoever to traits. This can be done by referring to essential features of the group that are logically impossible to change.

For example, the trait of "Having been conceptually derived from a reduced version of a human via trait switching" That is, despite never having been human within that hypothetical reality, the reality itself (and everything in it) derive traits from our conceptualization of them.

The given animal lacks that trait; it has always been conceived as that animal. But the given human has the trait, and it can not be taken away because it's the very distinction the argument itself uses to refer to the entity or concept under consideration.

It's unavoidable that traits that relate to how we're talking about these things in the argument are impossible to change because we create them by making the argument itself, and changing them would mean rewriting the argument such that no distinction is given... which might in the process make the argument incoherent.

It's arguably a paradox on the order of "this statement is a lie"; if true, it's not a lie, thus it's a lie, which makes it true, etc.

This relates back to the identity of indiscernibles issue discussed in the previous article, and the question-begging result of rewording the argument to account for it (See Here)

This version of the argument corrects for the more serious issues this caused in the earlier version by dealing with views rather than factual claims of reality. Views can be internally inconsistent, even conceive of otherwise impossible things and thus the existence of impossible to switch traits doesn't render the argument internally contradictory. The fact of these impossible to change traits existing thus doesn't even render P1 false, because the views could still exist (not unlike the views affirming the existence of square circles).

However, the existence of these impossible to change traits may provide an easy-out for those who find that they don't agree that those views represent their own and do not want to name a trait. The argument can even be made that accepting even in a hypothetical that "a given human is trait-equalizable to a given nonhuman animal" may in itself only be done 'on pain of P^-P'. Due to this, it could be argued that for anybody who is already invested in such a contradiction, the threat of any additional contradictions probably isn't very concerning and may be meaningless due to the principle of explosion. It's like the empty threat of killing a dead man.

Fortunately for users of #NameTheTrait, this issue is easily avoided in a couple different ways. One way, for example, is excluding those essential/impossible to change properties:

a given human is reducible in every morally significant way to a given animal (via non-essential trait switching) while retaining moral value

In this case, the only protest could be found in value narcissism (the belief that it's those essential/unchangeable properties that bestow morality). Value Narcissism is an atrocious belief system that's relatively easy to challenge, but would remain an "out" for the argument with a modification as above. See discussion on essential traits here for more.

Another means of avoiding this issue is a very specific definition of trait that limits traits to those within the reality being considered.

So, that is for the hypothetical reality, the fact that we outside of that reality are hypothesizing about it is not a trait of entities within that reality.

P1 and the Law of Identity

Some critics have claimed that "trait equalization" violates the law of identity on the basis that, in order for P1 to be true, it must take two objects and end up with one object.

The law of identity states, in short, that A=A. So the idea is that if we start with A and B (which we assume are not equal), and we end up with one object which we presume has the same identity as A and B, then either A or B must no longer equal themselves: for example, that now A is not A if it has been given the traits of B.

This misunderstanding equivocates a rigid logical "identity" which encapsulates every quality of something to a pointer or naming convention (informally "identity") in the sense of what we have labeled or called some entity to keep track of it or compare it in the hypotheticals within the argument.

A hypothetical entity Bob is still called Bob after removing his ability to speak to test a hypothetical trait challenge of speech, but the law of identity doesn't apply here because these Bobs exist in different hypothetical situations; they are not the same Bob. Bob1 does not necessarily equal Bob2. The important consideration as it relates to the argument is only whether the latter Bob is regarded to retain moral value -- and he may in fact not be, which is the whole point of them being *different* Bobs, they have different traits and moral value may or may not be one of those traits that is different.

A stronger criticism is that trait equalization is simply impossible, which is covered above, but is resolved by limiting consideration of traits to those within a reality.

Humans would lose moral value

The second way to reject the argument is to engage with the trait naming the argument strives for: it is to name a trait, which if true of humans, would cause them to lose moral value.

Getting the interlocutor to name traits, then addressing and debunking them or revealing them to be psychotic denials of human moral value, is the purpose of the argument. This is not exactly a point of criticism: The argument is working properly if the interlocutor is attempting to name traits.

However, if we are attempting to promote veganism with these arguments we should recognize that it's most effective for certain people where challenging those named traits is productive.

Niche

Assuming trait naming isn't avoided entirely:

First, this argument as formulated is most suited for those people who believe animals do not have moral value at all and that humans do. Most people already agree animals have at least some moral value, so for them it's probably more effective to argue from that assumption as to whether we should be eating them -- or modify the argument to say "retain sufficient moral value to not be eaten" or something along those lines.

While the logic still holds, if it's used to persuade people of veganism the argument is also ill suited to people who would name supernatural traits like "has a soul" because this is very difficult to argue. It's also an answer those theists who use it may feel very comfortable with even for humans. The question "If a human didn't have a soul would it be OK to kill him or her" can be answered "Yeah, that's a zombie or something, you should kill it! Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live!" etc.

So for the most part, the argument is more suited to non-theists or rational theists who will engage with reason and empirical justification.

Those who can name traits that would make them appear to be complacent moral monsters may also not be persuaded to veganism by the argument (for example those who would endorse raising, killing, and eating mentally challenged humans on the basis of an IQ trait). Such a rejection isn't useful for 1:1 conversation, but may be useful in convincing a less ego-invested audience of a debate to go vegan when the non-vegan is seemingly willing to bite such an abhorrent bullet in order to avoid veganism.

In 1:1 conversation, if the argument works as intended, it can go either way: accept veganism, or reject some level of human rights. This poses some risk of unintended consequences.

Worst case, most people exposed to the argument reject human rights for sake of eating meat, and the world becomes a worse place because of it. Best case, most people exposed to the argument accept veganism for sake of being consistent with human rights, and the world becomes a better place because of it.

The balance of these two inform whether the argument is good for the world or not. This is an empirical matter that's hard to assess, but it's important to keep in mind just as health arguments for veganism may lead people to reject beef (the worst offender) and eat more chicken as a "middle ground" despite the consumption of chicken leading to more animals being killed.

Thus: knowing your audience is important. If it's somebody who is very involved and dedicated to human rights, NTT may be a very safe bet. If it's somebody who you know leans a little on the psychopath side of the spectrum, it may be best to avoid it unless you have a public stage to convert audience members to veganism when they witness the deranged conclusions your opponent will support to avoid veganism.

Named Traits

God's Permission

Soul

Legality

Social Contract

No Reciprocation

(Social Contract Reciprocation)

Group Membership

(general/specific?)

History/Tradition

Bred To Die

Food Chain/Naturality

Not Human

Species (General) Species (Specific)

Low Intelligence

Civilization/Culture

Moral Agency

No Personhood

Sapience

No Technology

Dignity

No Potential For X

Utility

Nutrients

Quality Of Life

Pleasure/Preference/Taste

My Apathy/Nihilism

Futility

Unspecified Differences

Failing to specify a trait, or traits (individually or in any combination), that give moral value is simply failing to uphold the burden of proof you take on by making the positive claim that there exists such a trait that makes P2 untrue for you.

In short, the burden of proof follows from those who make claims.

A person who says "God exists" shoulders the burden of proof for that claim.
A person who says "God does not exist" shoulders the burden of proof for that claim.
A person who says "I don't know if God exists" does not.

Failure to specify a trait allows only two options:
1. Agnosticism of "I don't know if a trait exists or not" and "I don't know if I'm inconsistent or not"
2. Intellectual dishonesty.

Agnosticism also means either you must also not know if humans have moral value or not know if non-humans lack it. It's important to understand that ignorance doesn't amount to a justification. I.e. "I don't know if animals have moral value or not" doesn't justify treating them as if they do not (nor does the often misunderstood Null Hypothesis which assumes moral value is present or lacking in both groups). The bottom line is that beliefs are not magically consistent if you just don't think about them. Anybody who values reason and intellectual honesty is going to be compelled to do some introspection, or else end up in a position where he or she is unable to honestly criticize any mindset provided those holding the opinion have chosen not to think too deeply about the belief.