Doing, Feeling and Weaselling

Anon: “I agree with your take on mental states as conscious or felt states (seemingly unpopular in philosophy).”

Unfortunately, that one sentence already illustrates that it could not be that you agree with me — or even understand what I mean!

What I mean is that “weasel words” like “mental” and “conscious” are really just synonyms of “felt” — but they are being used as if they meant something else or something more. Your sentence, to my ears, reads as follows:

— “I agree with your take on felt states as felt or felt states (seemingly unpopular in philosophy)” —

What seems to be popular in (some) philosophy is the kind of vacuous redundancy that the above transcription unmasks.

Anon:  “however, I was surprised to find that you do not accept that plants and bacteria are cognizing.”

“Cognize” is not a weasel-word but a very vague place-holder for what is going on inside an organism to generate the capacity to do (some of) the kinds of things that (some) organisms can do

Cognitive science is the field of research that is trying to find out (reverse-engineer) what those internal goings-on (structures, processes) are, that generate (cause) those doing-capacities.

This would just be a very strained way of stating the obvious if it were not for the fact that some of those internal goings-on (in some organisms, sometimes) are felt states (or, perhaps more modestly, they are states that generate not only doing but feeling).

There is another distinction we make, within the category of “doings.” We distinguish “cognitive” doings from (what we could call) “vegetative” doings. 

The cognitive/vegetative distinction is clear on both ends of what might (or might not) be a continuum. When organisms are doing things that we think involve “thinking,” we tend to call those doings (or the internal goings-on that generate them) “cognitive.” And when they are doing things (like thermoregulation, digestion, immunosuppression, etc.) that we think do not involve “thinking,” we call those doings (or the internal goings-on that generate them) “vegetative.”

This “cognitive/vegetative” distinction would be completely vacuous if it were not for the existence of feeling. For cognitive doings also tend to be felt, whereas vegetative doings do not. And many (but not all) cognitive doings tend to be felt as deliberate or voluntary. They feel as if “we” (not just our bodies) were causing them.

So the “cognitive/vegetative” distinction is correlated with the felt/unfelt (as well as the voluntary/involuntary) distinction.

That’s why the question of whether we should call the internal goings-on that generate the doings of plants and bacteria “cognizing” is not just a terminological question: it depends on a matter of fact: Do plants and bacteria feel?*
—*I have no problem with the word “sentient,” which is not yet another weasel-word. It simply means “capable of feeling” when it is said of an organism, and is homologous with “felt” if it  is said of an internal state.”  It is useful for making distinctions among the nominal, verbal and adjectival senses of the notion and phenomenon of “feeling” — in English. Both English and German could, awkwardly, express “sentient state” as well as “sentient organism” with “felt state” (“gefühlter Zustand”) and “feeling-capable organism” (“gefühlfähig Organismus”), but it would sound even more awkward in English than the already more agglutinative German (though even German changes the root in its Latin-free version of “sentient organism”: “empfindungsfähig Organismus.” In Romance languages like French the Latin root, from “sentire” — “to feel” is evident in « sentir » “feel,” « état ressenti » “felt state” and  « organisme sentient » “sentient organism.”  In a pinch, English could make do without “feel” or “feeling,” relying only on “sense,” “sensing” “sensation,” (whether sensing a surface, a sound, a sorrow, or a significance), “sentient” (for both species and states) and “sentience.” — This is all just a trivial linguistic matter, but weaselling is not.

Anon: “Those who seek to argue for bacteria or plant sentience often argue that they are cognitive agents and hence have minds – with some going further and saying they are conscious.”

Those who seek to argue for bacteria or plant feeling often argue that they are feeling-capable doers and hence have feelings – with some going further and saying they feel.

We know that bacteria and plants can do things, The question is whether they can feel. (This is also the only biological domain where the other-minds problem is factually and morally nontrivial; it would also be nontrivial if we had Turing robots: synthetic but totally indistinguishable from us in their doing-capacity.)

Anon: “Wouldn’t it be more natural to argue that mental states are cognitive states such as memory or ‘knowledge’ in cells?”

De-weaselled and disambiguated:  “Wouldn’t it be more natural to (argue) that internal states are cognitive states such as memory or ‘knowledge‘ in cells?”

Once it’s de-weaselled of “mental” this just becomes a question about whether or not an organism has felt states, and if so, which ones are felt (or somehow accompanied by feeling). And this may again involve the fuzziness of our notion of the boundary between vegetative and cognitive functions (doings).

Anon: “Wouldn’t it be more natural to argue that our empirical findings of sensory-based motor control extend our concept of cognition, but by doing to disassociate it from the mind?”

De-weaselled and disambiguated:    “Wouldn’t it be more natural to argue that our empirical findings of sensory-based motor control extend our concept of cognition? (Wouldn’t arguing that it is just) “doing” disassociate it from feeling?”

No, it would not be more natural to conflate doings with feelings. Nor would it be true that they are the same thing.

Internal states can be cognitive or vegetative. They are cognitive only in organisms that can feel (when they are feeling).

Anon: “If you want to describe all of these phenomena as merely ‘doings’ it would seem that we lose useful scientific vocabulary to describe what is happening.” See:

That article describes remarkable doing-capacities of organisms. But the question of whether (and why!) any of them are felt is begged.

“Scientific vocabulary” is not at risk. It is just over-interpreting (if it attributes feelings where there aren’t any) — or underestimating (if it implies that explaining doing-capacity is all there is to explaining feeling — or, worse, that all there is is doings and doing-capacity). 

No, robots are not mid-way between doing-capacity and feeling-capacity. They either just do, or they also feel. The same is true of living organisms, from single cells to mammals: They either just do, or they also (sometimes) feel. 

To anthropomorphize is to attribute feeling where there is none. And where there is none, none is needed. 

The hard problem is explaining how and why those organisms that do feel, feel.

Needless to say, “agent” is a weasel-word. There are just unfeeling doers (like rocks, rockets, and, I think, rhizoids, rotifers and rhododenra) and feeling doers (like mammals and mollusks), and the boundary (for feeling, not doing) is all-or-none.

The rest is just explaining how and why they can do what they can do — and, for the intrepid, also how and why they those that feel can feel. Other than that, the “cognitive/vegetative” continuum is arbitrary, and nothing is at stake.

Cultural Pluralism, Biases and Vunerability

“Natural Science” is intrinsically asocial. The only exception at the fuzzy borderline is anthropology (which includes ethnology and, according to some, linguistics). “Science” is also ambiguous; in some languages (e.g., French and Hungarian) it means, jointly, natural science, social science and humanities scholarship.

Natural scientists, whether theoreticians or experimentalists, think of their work as answerable only to objective “empirical” testing and logic — the so-called “scientific method.” As a consequence, many “natural scientists” have an implicit or overt scepticism about “social sciences” (or « sciences humaines » as the French call it, or “Geisteswissenschaften” as the Germans call it) as pseudoscience.

Sometimes the “natural scientists” are right. But far more often they don’t understand, or misunderstand. This has occasionally led to internecine squabbles and even enmity in the Academy. (See Mathematician André Weil vs. Sociologist Robert Bellah at the Institute for Advanced Study and Mathematician Serge Lang vs. Political Scientist Samuel Huntington at the National Academy of Sciences.)

That the valiant defenders of the sacrosanct frontiers of “science” are often mathematicians, whose purely formal discipline lacks one of the two pillars of the “scientific method” (which has sometimes cast doubt on the scientific status of their own discipline) is ironic, but perhaps instructive as to why Professor Lovász was so helpless in the face of Orban’s depredations. Not understanding the social sciences, he was hardly in the position to defend them.

Joseph Palinkás, in contrast, an atomic physicist and an Orban fellow-traveller, failed to defend the non-natural sciences in the “philosopher affair,” and has only lately discovered his conscience, now that it’s much too late.

There is an eery and unpleasant familiarity in the tepid defence (and even active derogation) of their non-natural foster-sister sciences by some “natural scientists,” such as neuroscientist Tamás Freund — playing into Orban’s hands while still feeling immune from his depredations. Social scientists and humanists would have a lesson to teach them, if they would listen.

My own vote (if I had not quit the Academy in 2016 in disgust over its passive submissiveness ) would be for the linguist in the demilitarized zone, Csaba Pléh.

Madonna e progenie

the source of all love, 

kindness, empathy,


that, despite itself,

psychopathic DNA

was impelled to instill

in all species

that depend on begetter’s nurturance

to propagate their seed

Covid Cavity

An undeniable sense of emptiness in covid confinement

in the distancing and zooming

something is missing, we think

till we realize

that’s pretty much all it’s been all along

and always will be.

Vaguely like sex through a condom

Doing the Right Thing

On Feb 28, 2020 [deleted] wrote:
From Galileo I learned that you cannot improve that which you do not measure…”

What had to be “measured” to “improve” on slavery, or the subjugation of women? Some wrongs are obvious, if you just look; and what needs “improving” is human behavior, not measurements.

“ignorance and apathy perpetuates the moral relativism typical of modern agricultural systems…”

The ignorance, apathy and moral relativism are those of individual human cerebra, not “systems,” which feel nothing.

“I think I can do more for animal welfare working from a complex adaptive system approach than by doing what they call ‘research on welfare’…”

Let us cut to the quick on this: Are you a vegan activist?

If not, your disposition toward “measuring” a “complex adaptive system” — in place of ceasing to harm animals and devoting yourself to inspiring everyone else to do likewise — is just cognitive dissonance (which is itself worthy of measuring and modelling: but it always transpires in individual human cerebra, not in “complex adaptive systems” — which, again, are not sentient).

(I will come back to “research on welfare” at the end.)

“… the utilitarian conception of life throughout time and… its foundations… for western civilizations… Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Rousseau, James George Frazer…”

Utilitarianism is counting. Just counting. Machines can count. But machines are not sentient. “Welfare” is a sanitized, self-deluding word. The right word is suffering

Utilitarians can say “measure and minimize suffering” — as if  most of it were not obvious. But if utilitarians can theorize (“measure and model”) while munching on the leg of a lamb, they are simply engaging in a pious exercise in cognitive dissonance.

“If you think this rudimentary idea is a waste of your time, please let me know, as the only thing I want to know is whether I am wrong…

This is not about the rightness or wrongness of a complex theory about a complex system but the rightness or wrongness of actions — which, in the case of what is being done to countless sentient organisms by our “complex agricultural system” every second of every minute of every day, everywhere in the “anthropocene,” is pre-theoretically and a-theoretically obvious to anyone who looks.

(Which is why I think that what is needed is to look, not just to count. Just counting — “measure and minimize suffering” — takes the “system” for granted, and tries to “improve” it. That is “welfarism: “Keep on using and killing animals, but try to hurt them less.” And that, in turn, is again just cognitive dissonance.)

I hope that while you keep measuring, you will keep thinking, and looking. Eventually you will begin feeling; and then you will know what needs to be done.

Welfarisme vs. Abolitionnisme

Est-ce que tu as cessé de battre ton épous(e)?


Est-ce que tu n’as pas cessé de battre ton épous(e)?

Comment répondre à une telle question quand on n’a jamais battu personne (et on n’est même pas marié)?

Est-ce que tu es abolitionniste?


Est-ce que tu es welfariste?

Je suis abolitionniste et je suis welfariste.

L’un n’exclut pas l’autre: C’est une fausse dichotomie.

Un abolitionniste milite pour que tout ce qui est possible soit fait pour abolir tout ce qui cause souffrance à d’autres êtres sensibles (sauf légitime défense). Je suis abolitionniste.

Un welfariste milite pour que tout ce qui est possible soit fait pour réduire tout ce qui cause souffrance à d’autres êtres sensibles quand il il n’est pas encore à porter de main de l’abolir. Je suis welfariste.

Qu’est-ce qui a donné la fausse impression qu’il y a une opposition entre l’abolitionnisme et le welfarisme — qu’on ne peut pas être et abolitionniste et welfariste?

C’était une hypothèse théorique: l’hypothèse que de militer pour réduire la souffrance quand il n’y a pas encore moyen de l’abolir réduit la chance de l’abolir.

Le seul argument apporté en faveur de cette hypothèse est que les industries qui exploitent les êtres animaux profitent de toute réduction de leur souffrance pour justifier le fait de ne pas abolir leur exploitation, et pour ainsi l’enraciner encore plus fermement.

Mais les industries qui exploitent les êtres animaux n’ont aucune intention de s’abolir, et font tout pour s’enraciner plus fermement advienne que pourra.

Donc cette une hypothèse théorique qui est apportée comme preuve que les actions pratiques pour réduire la souffrance réelle réduiront la chance d’abolir la souffrance.

Ce n’est pas une hypothèse scientifique, avec des preuves objectives. C’est une prémisse subjective.

Comme tel, ce n’est pas une justification pour abandonner les êtres aux souffrances qui pourraient être prévenues.

C’est plutôt comme la fausse prémisse cachée derrière la question:

Est-ce que tu as cessé de battre ton épous(e)?


Est-ce que tu n’as pas cessé de battre ton épous(e)?

Je dirais que ce n’est pas le fait d’être et abolitionniste et welfariste qui est auto-contradictoire mais le fait d’être abolitioniste et non welfariste.

Welfarism vs. Abolitionism

Have you stopped beating your spouse?


Have you not stopped beating your spouse?

How to answer such a question when you have never beaten anyone (and you are not even married)?

Are you an abolitionist?


Are you a welfarist?

I am an abolitionist and I am a welfarist.

One does not exclude the other: This a false dichotomy.

An abolitionist militates to do everything possible to abolish all human-caused suffering to other sentient beings (except self-defense).– I am an abolitionist.

A welfarist militates to do everything possible to reduce all human-caused suffering to other sentient beings when it is not yet within reach to abolish it. — I am a welfarist.

What gave the false impression that there is an opposition between abolitionism and welfarism – that someone cannot be both abolitionist and welfarist?

It was a theoretical hypothesis: the hypothesis that to militate to reduce suffering when there is not yet a way to abolish it reduces the chance of abolishing it.

The only argument made in support of this hypothesis is that the industries which exploit animal beings profit from any reduction in their victims’ suffering to justify not abolishing their exploitation, and thus to entrench it even more firmly.

But the industries that exploit animals have no intention of abolishing themselves; they are doing everything they can to entrench themselves more firmly.

So this is a theoretical hypothesis which is cited as evidence that practical actions to reduce real suffering will reduce the chances of abolishing suffering.

This is not a scientific hypothesis, with objective evidence. It’s a subjective premise.

As such, it is not a justification for abandoning sentient beings to preventable suffering.

It’s more like the false premise behind the question:

Have you stopped beating your spouse?


Have you not stopped beating your spouse?

I would say that it is not being both abolitionist and welfarist that is self-contradictory but being abolitionist and not being welfarist.

Conflicts of Vital Interest

In the fight against animal suffering, if we really want to help animal beings it is essential to take into account a fundamental distinction between what is done optionally, without vital necessity, and what is done obligatorily, in an inescapable conflict of vital (life or death) interests like the one between an obligate carnivore and its prey.

Tigers cannot survive if they do not capture and eat their prey. It is a biological imperative for their survival and health. Humans are not obligate carnivores. They can survive in full health today without consuming animal beings; it is not a biological imperative for them.

I was present once at a public event for animal rights defenders. A young vegan asked a question timidly: “I am a vegan and an activist defender of animal beings. But I have a chronic condition that requires me to take a drug that contains an animal component. What should I do? “

Most of those present replied, almost unanimously, “Take your medicine. Animal beings as well as human defenders of animal beings need your help. You are not helping them by sacrificing your life. It is a vital necessity for you.”

According to all  current scientific knowledge, vaccination saves lives. It is, therefore, a vital necessity. We can hope that one day there will be vaccines that no longer require any animal component. But in the meantime what is urgent is to put an end to the gigantic majority of animal suffering which is unnecessary – hence already completely gratuitous today – before entering the complex and tragic domain of conflicts of vital necessity between sentient beings.

— French version —

Conflits d’intérêt vital

Dans la lutte contre la souffrance animale, si on veut vraiment aider les êtres animaux il est essentiel de tenir compte d’une distinction primordiale entre ce qui se fait facultativement, sans nécessite vitale, et ce qui se fait obligatoirement, dans un conflit de nécessités vitales comme celui entre un carnivore obligatoire et sa proie. 

Un tigre ne peut pas survivre s’il ne mange pas sa proie. S’est un impératif biologique pour sa survie et sa santé. Les humains ne sont pas des carnivores obligatoires. Ils peuvent survivre en pleine santé sans consommer les êtres animaux; ça ne leur est pas un impératif biologique.

J’étais présent une fois à un événement publique de défenseurs des êtres animaux. Une jeune végane a posé une question timidement: « Je suis végane et militante défenseure des êtres animaux. Mais j’ai une maladie chronique pour laquelle il faut que je prenne un médicament qui contient une composante d’origine animale. Que dois-je faire? » 

On lui a répondu, presque unanimement: « Prend ton médicament. Les êtres animaux ainsi que les défenseurs humains des êtres animaux ont besoin de ta protection. Tu ne les aides pas en sacrifiant ta vie. C’est une nécessité vitale pour toi. »

D’après toutes les connaissances scientifiques actuelles, la vaccination sauve les vies. Il s’agit, donc, de la nécessité vitale. Il est à espérer qu’un jour il y aura les vaccins qui ne nécessitent plus aucune composante d’origine animale. Mais entre temps l’urgence est de mettre fin à cette gigantesque majorité des souffrances animales qui sont inutiles — donc  déjà complètement gratuites aujourd’hui — avant de rentrer dans le domaine complexe et tragique des conflits de nécessités vitales entre les êtres sensibles. 

The Deplorables, the Despicables, the Dements and the Decents

The clueless, mad-as-hell, red-capped rabble cheering Trump’s vile, brainless, heartless, shameless, mendacious malignity, come what may, are the Deplorables (just as HC said).

The corporations, lawyers, politicians, oligarchs and other opportunists who prop up Trump’s vile, brainless, heartless, shameless, mendacious malignity, come what may, are the Despicables.

The racists, jingoists, religionists, conspiratorialists and psychopaths who top up Trump’s vile, brainless, heartless, shameless, mendacious malignity, come what may, are the Dements

And the remainder of humanity, who reject and oppose vile, brainless, heartless, shameless, mendacious malignity are the Decents.