Someone somewhere must have done some work on this one, but I was discussing the meaning of animal suffering yesterday and the suggestion came up that if there was no-one (e.g. ourselves) to feel disturbed by that suffering it would, by definition, not be a ‘problem’.
The thought experiment this involves is a little tricky, since it involves thinking about a situation where there is no thought. However, that is essentially a key component of the view of the universe taken by many armchair philosophers today. (Is there any other kind of philosopher?)
The universe, on the popular model, is posited to be impersonal in its origins and workings. Cognitive and contemplative persons turn up as a result of those workings, but they turn up some way down the track. Indeed, since such persons are a relatively recent arrival (even assuming there are other persons on other planets, if life follows the same pattern as on our own, they are a late, not early ,development), for much of planetary history we have a universe (or at least worlds) where there literally is no one to think about anything.
Now extend the experiment just a little further, to a situation where persons not only haven’t emerged, but never emerge. (This must, incidentally, also be the only universe for the sake of the experiment, since in a multiverse scenario you could have persons in other universes worrying about this one.)
In the absolute (i.e. ‘eternal’) absence of any person ever, such that nothing and no one ever actually exists to give a thought to the behaviour of animals, is there still a real ‘problem of animal suffering’?
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