Two Quick Questions

Posted in Ethics, Philosophy, Quickies on  | 1 minute | 9 Comments →

Finals week is officially over, which means more time for life! And blogging. I have two quick questions for today, and by next week we should be back to the regular posting schedule.

I was taking out the trash this morning like I do every week. Every time I do this, our cats get scared, and I always get a chuckle out of watching them freak out. I know they're safe, but they can't seem to figure this out despite the fact it's happened once a week for their entire lives and nothing bad has happened yet. Still, they run the same program every time they hear the garbage man, and it's funny. Now here are the two quick questions:

1) Is it a violation of beneficence to behave in a way that frightens another sentient being if we know for certain they are completely safe?

2) Am I sick or twisted for finding amusement in my cats' fears?


  1. Brad


    1) That depends how serious the frightening is – will it scar the being for life? Will they get over it easily? Shades of gray = will they get over it only partially and how certain of this can one be?
    2) I suppose that’s a more “family-friendly” version of simple schadenfreude, so no. Of course, “sick and twisted” is relative to “normal,” so take the terms for what they mean.

  2. MS Quixote


    I didn’t know you were in school, cl. Now that’s a class I’d love to audit :)
    Uh, maybe you’re sick and twisted for having cats. Try dogs…

  3. cl


    Re 1, I can agree it’s not a black and white issue.
    Re 2, it seems you’re saying that when no permanent harm results, it’s okay to get a chuckle out of another being’s fear. Is that correct?
    Hey man, good job over there at DA. Also, I couldn’t find that letter you said you sent about some people here.. retry?
    If you get bored, read the last few posts in the False Arguments series. Most of the atheists agreed with me, but I’m interested in a believer’s opinion…

  4. MS Quixote


    Resent a week ago, but not to give anyone the wrong idea, it wasn’t about folks on this or any other blog, it was an experience with some folks you may know in Frisco. I’ve been following the false argument series closely. Which one did you have in mind specifically–not that you can prove which one you had in mind via scientific testing, but I’ll take your word for it :)

  5. cl


    Yeah, I remember you saying that. Something’s wrong with the email address in the “email” link here. I just checked the server and everything – the forwarding is no longer intact and I can’t seem to get in there.
    I can get it FOR SURE at cl.lastgasp ‘at’ gmail ‘dot’ com. FOR SURE!
    As far as the False Arguments, do you think prayer studies are credible? Why or why not? Or, when? Or, to what degree? Etc. If you reply, put it on that thread if you don’t mind..

  6. Brad


    Well, that’s a possibility. I think I can relate this perfectly to some incomplete ideas I’ve been mulling over regarding the act of “making fun of” people that originally stemmed from the topic of bullying in one of my lit classes first semester. This was after we read Nineteen Minutes – which I would recommend to anybody who’s at all capable of emotion. Then again, maybe I’m just a sucker for “estrogen-laced” material, as a few classmates said. :)
    Inside a group of friends, peers can make fun of peers and all parties involved can approve of this behavior because even the individuals from whence the humor is derived from are allowed to partake in laughing at themselves. The expectation is fun for fun’s sake, and still respect for each member is retained. However, outside of any group with this “social contract,” the same rules don’t apply. When one person makes fun of another on the street (without a necessarily friendly tone), then the made-fun-of individual isn’t expected to find humor in the event, but rather damage to their ego.
    Obviously, people spontaneously meeting each other can set a friendly stage and make fun of each other benevolently, and conversely friends can inadvertently or even deliberately breach the unspoken “contract” and actually hurt each other. My question still remained, though, as where exactly the discrepancies lied which bifurcated the two scenarios.
    I have a few ideas about this, which include delving into perception of intention, contractual respect, personal security, and a few other lesser factors that could play a part in this. Point is, this can be generalized slightly to include purposefully frightening other sentient beings. I pull pranks on my friends – as well as get some pulled on myself – but it’s all fun and games. We’ve never made each other feel our lives or livelihoods were in danger. But, when we were little, one of my friends chased another one of my friends around the first guy’s basement with a clown mask, and that was probably a breach of benevolence. Nothing good came of it, everyone involved knew nothing good would come of it, and yet my friend still did it for the kicks. In that case, just because it petered out in the end doesn’t mean the intention for suffering was negated or mitigated.
    Like I said, my thoughts aren’t satisfactorily complete to reach concrete conclusions, but I think I’ve made some headway.

  7. Cl:
    My initial-off-the-cuff-haven’t-had-my-coffee-yet response is yes, because you don’t need to terrify them and you’re doing it (as I read it, at least in part) for your own amusement, although it is probably a very minor violation since you probably haven’t done any psychological damage to the little kitty cats. It all depends on what you know about the degree of damage this does to the cats, the degree to which cats can be said to suffer, and why you’re doing it.
    As another example, I keep goldfish. It happens to be the case that startling fish kept in aquariums can lead to high amounts of stress in the fish that can, and often does, shorten a fish’s lifespan. Knowing that, I think I would be guilty of violating beneficience if I made it my business to reach into the tank and chase them around with my hand every morning for sh*ts and giggles before I leave for work.

  8. cl


    I’m just taking out the trash, which is a necessary duty I must uphold in order to be consistent with my reputation as all-cleanly. This is different from scaring the cats on purpose, which they incidentally do to each other all the time.
    I agree that your goldfish anecdote constitutes a violation of beneficence.
    PS – I’m glad you showed up, because I’ve got a few quick questions I’ll introduce in a short post..

  9. Assuming there is no other way for you to give the cats fair warning or otherwise lessen their fright, that you are not doing this for the express purpose of scaring them for your own amusement, then no, I wouldn’t say you violated beneficience. Of course, this goes along with all of the other qualifiers I listed in my prior statement.

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