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A month back, I found a street cat which I started giving food and water too day by day, and yesterday, on a walk to the gym, I found a bird on the middle of the road. The bird had dust all over it's face, and could not seem to fly. I knew a place where food and water was kept which was a small walking distance from where I found the bird. I picked the bird up and brought it there.

In reminisicing of my "good act", I started feeling a bit confused. If I had left the bird on the road, it may be it that either a car ran over it, or another street cat would have eaten it (there are quite a bit of street cats where I live). So, by providing support to any such street cat(*), I am indirectly endagaring the bird.

Individually, both actions seem ethical. Most people, I think, would agree that helping that both helping the cat and helping the bird would be ethical. However, when we combine both the situations together, due to how the food chain works, helping one, may comprimise the life of the other.

In total, I see three options:

  1. Help the cat or the bird (choose a favourite)
  2. Help only the bird (help only the weaker, because they can't do any harm)
  3. Help the bird and the cat (Propelling natural processes to continously take place)

What would be the most ethical thing to do here? Explain with reason.


*: Unfortunately, in my locality, there are no chances to do TNR

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  • Morals (informal rules) and ethics (formal rules) are not written in the sky, so to say "it is apodictically TRUE that this act is ethical". Morals and ethics obey goals. E.g., among others, human survival. An act would be ethical if it contributes to human survival in the long term. So, you need to assess how much each combination cat/and/or/nor/xor/bird helps human survival. Obviously, it can be difficult, as many other decisions (e.g. abortion, cloning, capital punishment, gay pronouns, etc). Now, consider alternatives to survival (e.g. peace, happiness) in the definition of ethics.
    – RodolfoAP
    Commented Feb 17, 2023 at 13:14
  • Do you mean "trap neuter return" TNR?
    – Boba Fit
    Commented Feb 17, 2023 at 17:57
  • @TrystwithFreedom no answer because ethical is not to help both. they are not belong to you, not your mind. your are not the bird nor the cat. or ethical is allowed to kill both Commented Feb 17, 2023 at 18:22

4 Answers 4

1

Aristotle and self image. These are how you decide such things.

Other people are values, at least potentially. Relationships and place in society are values.

Cats are potential values. Birds are potential values. Indeed, all living things are potential values. Not infinitely so, not arbitrarily so.

But note that it is you who must do the valuing. You must decide how valuable any given thing or condition is to you. Protagoras tells us that man is the measure of all things. One could rephrase that as man is the measurer of all things. Meaning that an individual must decide for themselves how important different things are.

And note that you are a value. Especially to you. We have finite time and resources. These must be used as well as we can manage.

Thus it is certainly virtuous to exert some level of effort to preserve living things. Not arbitrarily large amounts of effort. The degree of effort that is reasonable is not a trivial thing to determine. And reasonable people may well disagree on what is that level.

The level will be determined when you compare the value you must give up in order to attempt to preserve such a thing as a cat or a bird. If it is a trivial effort for you, and a trivial amount of resources, then it is virtuous for you to do it. If the effort or resources begin to harm you, or harm those you have made promises to, then as the harm required increases it begins to pass out of virtue.

So feeding a stray cat or bird, if you have the time and resources, is fine. Emptying your bank account to feed thousands of stray cats would probably leave virtue behind.

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To expand on Agent Smith's reply, consequentialist ethics is, obviously, concerned with the consequences of actions. Utilitarianism is one form of this, which seeks the "greatest good for the greatest number." This could be expanded or adapted in various ways to include other sentient beings, such as birds and cats. Yet, as your case shows, it is very hard to "universalize" consequentialist ethics, so you would have to sort out your values and priorities.

Kantian "deontological" ethics, on the other hand, is not concerned with consequences. An action is right or wrong regardless of practical effects, and to the extent that is can be "willed as a universal maxim." The classic example is that one should not lie, even in cases where it might save a life. Part of Kant's reasoning here is that we face limits to our knowledge of actual consequences. We should not judge moral actions based upon uncertain outcomes.

While Kant clarifies the underlying logic of morality, his scheme is notoriously impractical in everyday application and defies natural sympathies. However, in your own case, it may be quite practical. You can assist both creatures out of a duty to relieve the suffering of sentient creatures, while recognizing that you cannot predict or concern yourself with the consequences.

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In this particular case helping both of them is ethical. Do you think it is completely unethical to breed stray cats?

There will be so many parameters that determine whether your action is ethical or unethical. Who knows, the food you feed (Fat) stray cats daily could be useful to fill the starving belly of a poor person in your area.

There may be situations where it is unethical to help the predator and the prey, if they both are threat to another poor creature. Sometimes an ethical action can be interpreted as unethical when it is considered in a larger area.

So, IMHO we have to consider many things to answer these kinds of ethical questions.

But before I conclude I should remind this truth: The Ultimate truth can never be dual. If the Ultimate truth is beyond duality, the distance between 'ethical' and 'unethical' should diminish as approaching it.

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There are two quite well-known moral theories to assist you in your quest to find an answer to your question.

  1. Kant's
  2. Bentham's

Do the two converge (unlikely) or diverge (likely)?

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  • Maybe a good start but what are these and how do they apply exactly?
    – Brian Z
    Commented Feb 17, 2023 at 15:47
  • @BrianZ, I dunno. One says maximize happiness and/or minimize suffering and other is about maxims having to be universalizable.
    – Hudjefa
    Commented Feb 17, 2023 at 16:06

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