I've always wondered if it isn't too unethical afterall to have enclosed my goldfishy in a tiny tank given her extremely small memory span.

Assuming that it is shorter than the time it takes her to swim from an end to another, she never really "feels trapped", right? - especially if morality of actions affecting others (in the context of the "harm argument") is intricately linked to consciously felt emotional experiences.

Otherwise wouldn't it make sense to then protect things like chairs as well (as long as sentience is what separates moral agents from material things.)

Novice philosophy student here.

  • 3
    Fish memories last for five months. Your goldfish is plotting its revenge as we speak. dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-1106884/…
    – user4894
    Apr 8, 2017 at 2:54
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    Well, it'd help to have some sort of philosophical framework in mind. There's plenty of things that not everyone agrees on or that differ greatly depending on one's ethical framework.
    – virmaior
    Apr 8, 2017 at 5:37
  • As a start, the way we describes things is a hint on some views. if you think you are trapping your fish, then you seem to be saying it is wrong. If you think are keeping it an enclosure, then the situation might be different
    – virmaior
    Apr 8, 2017 at 5:38
  • "I know why the caged bird sings. The caged bird is free."
    – Cort Ammon
    Apr 10, 2017 at 1:23
  • What would you do with your 'trapped' fish if you decide to free it? Dump it in a nearby lake? Is the near-immediate death it will suffer irrelevant to your ethical considerations? May 10, 2017 at 16:41

1 Answer 1


The crucial word would be 'Assuming', and I see that you are careful to put this word in bold type. Is it ethically sound to assume you know enough about what it is like to be a goldfish that you can feel it's okay to imprison one in a bowl? I would say not, and that it would be better to play it safe.

Otherwise you might start assuming whatever is convenient to allow you to act as you like, which is the common strategy. But you no more know what it is like to be a goldfish than Nagel knows what it is like to be a bat.

A philosopher would generalise the question and ask whether it is ever ethically sound to make assumptions of this kind, and I think the answer is pretty obvious. Why do you do it? Only for your amusement. The goldfish did not volunteer.

You better watch out. A Buddhist would suggest that the laws of karma could see you reborn as a goldfish as a lesson in life. The simple fact is that the odds are in heavily favour of the goldfish being happier in its natural environment, and thus heavily in favour of not assuming anything about its memory in order to justify your actions.

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