25

I have a dog, and it costs $200 a month to sustain it, in terms of dog food and other miscellany. He's 2.5 years old, a very good boy and I value him as a great companion.

Recently my friend mentioned a program to help the homeless in my town. Winter is approaching (I'm in the Southern hemisphere) and every year, several homeless people die from exposure. The program allows people to buy a special winter coat for $90, which can also be used as a warm sleeping bag, and arranges to have it delivered to a homeless person in need, to provide a way for them to have some warmth and protection from the element in the harsh, cold season.

My friend pointed that putting my dog down would cost $50, and I could use the money that I wouldn't be spending on my dog to buy one coat the first month, and two coats the month after that. I could potentially save the lives of as many as 10 people.

I love my dog and the thought of him being put down is horrible. But on a purely logical level, it's hard to argue that the life of a dog is more valuable than the life of a human. And how could the life of one dog be more valuable than 10 people, even together with the mental anguish I would suffer at the loss of my companion?

What does modern moral philosophy and ethics say about the correct way to act in this situation?

1

23 Answers 23

35

"But on a purely logical level, it's hard to argue that the life of a dog is more valuable than the life of a human".

This intuition seems key to your problem. I say intuition, because logic doesn't have anything to say about whether your dog is more or less valuable than the life of a human unless you include other premises to any such argument. As an example, such premises might take the form of:

"A dog has X value because...".

"A human has X value because..."

If you manage to complete these sentences (not necessarily an easy task by any means), then you might be able to draw a logical conclusion along the lines of:

"Therefore I should value a human/dog more".

Note however, that this doesn't solve the problem. Let's say you do manage to place some kind of descriptive value upon a human life. If this value was sufficient to lead you to action, you would probably make all kinds of sacrifices to ensure your behaviour - as much as possible - led to the saving of human lives and the betterment of human lives. But this is fraught with difficulty.

For example, the $90.00 you might spend on a winter coat for the homeless in your area could obtain exponentially more value for money from a human wellbeing perspective if it were spent in a third world country in order to save the lives of starving children. How could you justify spending so much money to help one person in your area when you have the potential to help many more people in another area?

The plain fact is, at some level we all make choices about what is of value to us, and the people and creatures closest to us tend to rank waaaay higher up in the hierarchy of our obligations than people and creatures we don't know. Some would argue we are morally obliged to prioritise those for whom we have a direct responsibility and/or affection. Others might argue such an attitude is selfish and perpetuates inequality. Some would argue spending money on a pet when it could be better used elsewhere is immoral. Some would argue than most pets possess no trait or lack any particular trait which deems them of less value than a human (See 'Name the Trait').

Recent posts address the work of Peter Singer, a philosopher who has spent much of his professional career tackling issues such as the one you raise. Two recent PSE posts involve this work, specifically Famine, Affluence and Morality:

Observe that you might have set up a false dichotomy of sorts, in which owning a pet is an either/or proposition versus helping the homeless. There are likely other sacrifices you could make (I'm not suggesting they would be easy) which would allow you to keep your dog and help the homeless.

This doesn't solve the problem though does it? Even were you to make such sacrifice, the option still remains open to you to make more of a sacrifice, which may or may not include the sacrifice of your pet.

Have you considered the notion of sustainable philanthropy? What is worth more to others in the long run? Short bursts of charitable splurges when you have some excess income, or sustained, gradually increasing charity as you increase your means over time?

Regardless of what you choose, one outcome is likely. At some point, you will draw a line between what you are willing to sacrifice in order to give. Unless you are a very unusual person, this line will fall short - well short - of what you could actually afford to give; of what it is actually possible to sacrifice.

As this answer to another post claims:

It seems that regardless of what philosophical manoeuvres we are capable of making, it is difficult to deny that for those of us who subscribe to an ideal of fairness:

  • Given there are reputable, proven, independently-rated charities via which we can demonstrably provide for the wellbeing of people who are truly destitute,
  • Given that we have the means to donate to such charities far more than we already do,
  • We are contributing - via neglect - to the ongoing, preventable death, disease and sadness of many people we have the capacity to help in transformative ways.
  • In doing so, we are failing to pursue an ideal of fairness intrinsic to what our own moral code or compass.

How much this fact bothers you may well determine how you conduct yourself going forward. Just remember that whatever line you choose to draw, you will be of far more use to others - and possibly far happier - if you position yourself to give sustainably over the long term rather than in occasional, relatively inconsequential efforts. And if we take a right to happiness or at least contentedness as axiomatic, then traumatising yourself by giving your pet away (let alone by putting it down, which you should be able to avoid) might not be a moral obligation at all.

14
  • 2
    This is a long post, but I notice you contrast helping the homeless in my town vs. helping children in a third world country. Just wanted to clarify that I already do live in a third world country.
    – Jessica
    Commented Mar 4, 2023 at 7:48
  • 8
    Okay. Yes I made an unnecessary assumption there, but the content of what I wrote should still apply, in there are likely more needy people somewhere. Commented Mar 4, 2023 at 7:50
  • 3
    It is like how feeding wild birds for a long time and then stopping (such as, a vacation) is actually harmful and even dangerous for them. It seems that the best solution is to make it possible for everyone to provide adequately for themselves, and helping those unable to do so. Self-reliance should be the goal, for adults.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Mar 5, 2023 at 14:08
  • 5
    You also need to put a value on a human with a dog. Commented Mar 5, 2023 at 15:08
  • 3
    @scott-rowe: charity is not only about giving people a fish, but also about teaching them to fish. In fact, the latter is what sustainable philantropy (mentioned in this great answer) is all about.
    – HolKann
    Commented Mar 5, 2023 at 20:41
12

Have you considered that your dog may, by making you a happier, healthier person, allow you to earn far more than $200/month? Perhaps without the dog in your life, you would mope more and work less efficiently, and end up not actually saving any money. Perhaps your dog's affection helps you aide the homeless more than you realize.

Even if this is not true in your specific case; I'm making the argument that the utilitarian calculus you're trying to do is rarely simple.

3
  • Like what Chief Seattle said: "If all the beasts were gone, men would die from great loneliness of spirit, for whatever happens to the beasts also happens to man. All things are connected."
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Mar 6, 2023 at 11:03
  • 1
    If that is the case, indeed your argument is sound. What if it's not the case, and my dog does not increase my earning potential?
    – Jessica
    Commented Mar 7, 2023 at 0:02
  • 1
    @Jessica No one has the bird's eye view necessary to really determine if is it the case or not. Because it's not just your mood that effects how much care homeless people get. We can look even wider; maybe because you're cheerful thanks to your dog, a wealthy person you interactive with is put in a better mood as well and that's makes the difference between him saying "yes" and "no" to a big donation to a homeless shelter. Maybe in a worse mood he would not have done it. My point is that no moral system that expects adherents to be psychic is fair, and so is itself immoral.
    – Ryan_L
    Commented Mar 8, 2023 at 22:14
11

Applying the categorical imperative loosely, it seems unlikely that the homeless people lacking a coat would demand that the OP puts down their dog and spends the money on coats. Similarly it seems unlikely the OP themselves, if becoming homeless, would wish for any pet dog to be put down for getting a coat.

There are many better ways the OP could invest effort of time in raising money or awareness for the issue to save people's lives. That one dog and the homeless people are not directly competing for survival.

9
  • 1
    Your answer is incorrect, they are directly competing. An individual, or a society, can devote their resources to addressing one issue, or another. That is the nature of opportunity costs. Both the individual and the society do LOTS of things, so opportunity costs are shared between a large suite of activities -- but any that are being addressed ARE directly competing with those that are not being addressed.
    – Dcleve
    Commented Mar 5, 2023 at 16:20
  • 1
    @Dcleve my phrasing can improved maube. I want to express that the threat of freezing for the homeless in the example can be resolved with a lot of different approaches and resources, this dog living is not what prevents those homeless from surviving.
    – tkruse
    Commented Mar 6, 2023 at 9:12
  • 1
    For me "directly competing" meant there are no alternatives, it's the dog or the coat. We can imagine such scenarios like famous plane crash in a snowy mountain, no rescue, no food, and the only way to survive is to kill the dog and turn it into a coat. That's not the situation described by the OP
    – tkruse
    Commented Mar 6, 2023 at 16:50
  • 1
    Any given homeless person can likely survive by sleeping in a shelter, rather than relying on a coat donation.
    – tkruse
    Commented Mar 6, 2023 at 16:54
  • 1
    "unlikely that the homeless people lacking a coat would demand that the OP puts down their dog" - this doesn't seem so straightforward to me. I admittedly did not canvas the homeless in my town nor do I have the means too. Keep in mind that the coat in question is not a matter of mere comfort, but one of life and death, given the season.
    – Jessica
    Commented Mar 6, 2023 at 23:58
11

Moralism, like the one presented here, usually does no good, especially doesn't achieve enduring improvements if you have a slightly wider look. But of course the concern raised is valid.

Best way to solve such dilemma is to hit the one bringing it up over the head with a categorical imperative. ;)

  • "What would happen if we made this a law?"
  • "what would happen if all right-thinking people did the same?"
  • "What would happen if this became an acceptable way to raise money for other needs?"
  • ...

That leads to a lot more questions

  • does it really solve the problem
  • does it impede a lasting solution
  • which other problems are there of similar or greater concern
  • etc.

The conclusion imo inevitably is that you should look for a better way to help the homeless than killing your dog. Of course the good solutions usually take longer, and yes, winter is coming.

You can in the meantime take your dog for a walk and try to collect each $5 from 18 people in you neighbourhood. If you do that once a week, you can buy twice as many coats, and still have your dog.

If you don't want to do it alone: take that very moralic friend of yours and some more, and form a club. You collect money, and every homeless who brings along one dollar five times a week for a month, gets a coat.

3
  • 5
    Aye, "does it impede a lasting solution?" should always be the first thing considered. That said, it is better to do something than get stuck in "analysis paralysis".
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Mar 5, 2023 at 14:13
  • 1
    I don't understand - even if I collect $5 from 18 people to buy one coat per week, is it still not the case that I could help yet more people by putting down my dog? Does your answer change if I'm already doing as many charitable activities as reasonably possible?
    – Jessica
    Commented Mar 7, 2023 at 0:01
  • @Jessica No. My proposal fulfils a moral imperative that says "do something significant", just as the one in your question. And it passes Kant, i think, or I wouldn't have added it.
    – Karl
    Commented Mar 8, 2023 at 22:01
9

Perhaps you are under-valuing your dog. There are benefits to the company of a dog that go way beyond the status of a dispensable luxury. Researchgate - Benefits of pet ownership To see this, consider that some homeless people will adopt a dog, making considerable sacrifices to do so. Homeless Advice - Why do homeless people have dogs? Have you taken into account the dog's point of view, given that s/he cannot possibly understand what you are doing?

For most of my life I have owned dogs - and had to say good-bye to them. Does this mean I'm biased or that I know what I'm talking about? I think the latter.

There are benefits to finding a rational justification for one's moral choices and it would be foolish to waste one's charity. But rationality cannot be the whole story. There's no point to a heartless morality. Does your love for your dog and your dog's love for you count for nothing?

I suggest you would be making very doubtful choice to re-home or kill your pet for this reason even though I also accept that homelessness is an excellent cause to support. Other people have suggested that you could possibly find another way to release your money to help the homeless. If you cannot do that, you could give your time by volunteering to help a charity or campaigning to ensure that your government does what I consider it's duty by providing for all of them.

3
  • 7
    Most homeless people in my city have dogs, actually. The main reason appears to be that for cops, the procedure to imprison a human being is much simpler than the procedure to imprison a dog. It is much easier to take a homeless person in custody, than to deal with a dog. So cops tend to leave homeless people alone when they have dogs, but arrest them for no reason when they don't.
    – Stef
    Commented Mar 4, 2023 at 15:06
  • 3
    That's interesting, even though it doesn't help answer the question. I realized that having a dog would likely make a homeless person more secure. I hadn't thought that would include the police. As far as I can tell, it's a minority of homeless people around here who have a dog with them.
    – Ludwig V
    Commented Mar 4, 2023 at 15:41
  • 2
    "Help! Police!" can be ambiguous.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Mar 5, 2023 at 14:00
7

The concept that a human's life is any more valuable than any other form of life is a construct we humans created because, well, we're human. Your concept of morality is also a construct of your environment, upbringing, culture, etc. To claim that saving the life of a homeless individual is a moral obligation is only because you perceive it to be. However, I would argue it depends on something we can't know, which is what that individual (or individuals) will bring in the way of improving the society as a whole in their futures.

Saving someone's life could deeply impact their behavior, and in turn they may be inspired to help others. Or, they may appreciate the jackets but then provide no actual benefit to the rest of humanity. If the latter is the case, you'd have acted immorally to put your dog down, who certainly has been helping at least one individual (you).

Just a final note, homeless people need help and assistance. This question was purely one for gauging morality and was quite obviously hypothetical, and I am not suggesting that people who have either made poor life decisions, suffer from mental illness that prevents them from societal integration, or else were struck with catastrophic misfortune, are not capable of providing great improvement to a community throughout their lives.

2
  • 2
    Yes. I walk past apparently homeless people (there are also scam beggars) on my way to and from buying a $10 lunch once a week or so at work (the other days I bring lunch). It somehow seems to me that with such an extensive problem, society as a whole should be solving it, not individuals and pocket change. The old, "Bake Sale for a Bomber" thing, right?
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Mar 5, 2023 at 13:53
  • If we knew for sure that all the real beggars were being taken care of, it would put the scam beggars out of business. If we solved the real problems, most of the scams and fake problems would go away. Pestilence is the effect of not curing / preventing the disease.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Mar 27 at 17:06
6

Do you go to restaurants, or the cinema? Do you buy any clothes that aren't second-hand? Do you buy anything but the cheapest brand of whatever product you use? Do you live in an apartment or house that's more than just the bare minimum?

These would all be areas one can cut down on, before putting down one's dog, assuming you care about your dog more than you care about the above things.

One could certainly also spend time raising money for charity, or petitioning the government to increase aid for the homeless, or for them to kill the loopholes the ultra-wealthy use to avoid paying any tax, which could very quickly exceed the cost of keeping a dog.

But should you make sacrifices though?

For the question of making sacrifices for the sake of helping others, the generally accepted principle is that you're not obligated to give up all non-necessities (which is also evident by the fact that most people, and most philosophers, live far above their means if able).

My related answer on the question of donating all your possessions (which compares saving a drowning child to saving lives by donating to charity).

In the above answer, I conclude that you should donate some to charity (if able), but you'll need to figure out for yourself how much to donate/sacrifice.

If your conscience is telling you you should do more, it might be that it's asking you to do too much, or it might be that you really should do more. It might also be that it's telling you to do more in one way, when you should be doing more in a different way. That's something only you can figure out or decide.

1
  • Damn, I hate it when the answer ends up being: "You have to decide for yourself"
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Mar 5, 2023 at 18:44
6

If I were the homeless man I would resent your blood money even though I would very much need a coat to survive if I didn't have one.

I was intending to write a long argument about imbalance but it's completely unnecessary. It short circuits as the cost is repulsive to the receiver. Some costs are too high to pay.

1
  • 2
    The Platinum Rule: Do for others what they would like, not what you want to do.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Mar 6, 2023 at 11:05
6

But on a purely logical level, it's hard to argue that the life of a dog is more valuable than the life of a human.

I agree with you. And if I ever found myself in a situation where a dog and a human were both in cardiac arrest in front of me, I would do CPR to the human, not to the dog. It would be a simple choice, between the life of a human and the life of a dog, and I would choose the life of the human without any hesitation.

But the choice facing you now is different.

Compare the two scenarios:

  • Scenario 1. You don't kill your dog. You live a happy life. Maybe once per year or once every two years or once every five years, you save enough money to buy a warm coat for a homeless person.

  • Scenario 2. You kill your dog. The first month this saves you $150 and you buy a warm coat for a homeless person. The second month this saves you $200 and you buy two warm coats. In the third month, the sadness of having lost your dog, along with the horror of having killed your own dog, catches up with you. You become depressed. You become isolated, shutting your friends out and barely able to cook meals for yourself. Disgusted with yourself, you never help a homeless person again in your whole life.

Now you have more arguments in favour of scenario 1. And in fact, you probably already were aware of those arguments, maybe not in words, but in your guts. Which is why you wouldn't have killed your dog - your instinct tells you it cannot be a good solution.

5
  • 1
    When your mind doesn't match your gut, trust your gut.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Mar 6, 2023 at 18:50
  • I upvoted this because I think it is potentially a good answer. However I don't think the conclusion of Scenario 2 logically follows. It is not fact that I would become disgusted with the homeless as described.
    – Jessica
    Commented Mar 7, 2023 at 0:11
  • 1
    @Jessica Sorry if my wording wasn't clear. I didn't mean that you would be disgusted with the homeless. I meant that you would be disgusted with yourself. Just like some people get "burned out" from work when they work too much, you would be "burned out" from charity if charity made you kill your own dog. Note that being burned out from work happens also to people who love their job (or at least, loved it before it became too much). Likewise, this could happen if you killed your own dog, even if you deeply believe in charity.
    – Stef
    Commented Mar 7, 2023 at 9:12
  • @Stef It is also not a fact that I would be disgusted with myself.
    – Jessica
    Commented Mar 9, 2023 at 4:16
  • 1
    @Jessica You know better than me how you would feel, but presumably you wouldn't feel very good about having killed your own dog.
    – Stef
    Commented Mar 9, 2023 at 15:09
5

We could... Take the money from one extremely rich person, and help possibly millions who are facing starvation, etc.

Or, a very rich person could... Do it themselves.

There are enough rich people that this could continue indefinitely when the problem reoccurred. Perhaps we should actually solve the problems? Whose job is it to do so? "Am I my brother's keeper" and all that.

18
  • 3
    One toilet flush is the same amount of water as someone's drinking needs for a day. Americans waste enough food before it is even sold to feed much of the world.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Mar 5, 2023 at 15:04
  • 2
    You can't force other people to behave morally (unless you have a majority and you can enact a law). But you can act morally yourself. So the moral question is less "what should other people do" and more "what should I do".
    – NotThatGuy
    Commented Mar 5, 2023 at 15:42
  • 5
    ‘The problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people’s money.’ Margaret Thatcher. Commented Mar 5, 2023 at 21:59
  • 4
    @chasly-supportsMonica "The problem with money is that it is not connected to social values." - me
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Mar 5, 2023 at 22:27
  • 2
    @chasly-supportsMonica Perhaps we need to replace money with something more useful? Whale oil was pretty important for a while.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Mar 6, 2023 at 11:22
5

My answer is that it would be unequivocally immoral in this case.

The life of a dog, let alone one you adopted, has moral worth rendering moral obligations towards it. It's not just a means to an end, but has its own moral value.

Indeed a God inspired moral outlook would claim that the dog is not merely a means to some greater to good, but to an extent an end in of itself. And therefore a wrong action towards it can't be justified by any kind of calculation of benefit, except in very extreme cases perhaps (in such extreme cases, such an action, while harming the dog of course, in being justified, wouldn't be a moral wrong).

Admittedly in this mode of thinking I've elevated the dog's moral status.

It might be the case that a dog's moral worth is lesser, and it is not a wrong to kill it in the interests of humans in a broader set of cases.

So you have to ask yourself: to what extent a dog, let alone one you adopted, has a moral worth, making him an end in its own right? And even if you permit that as an animal his life can be forfeit in the interests of humans, in some cases, so cost-benefit analysis can have greater validity, in principle, you still have to ask yourself is this remotely such a case (and does it make a difference that it's a dog that you adopted and trusts you)?

It sounds like a good solution would be to find a new home for it (perhaps you can even offer to pay the new owners $200 for the first four months).

In my view, you can give it to a new family, but to kill it would be highly immoral in those circumstances even if the dog is assigned no more moral worth than a person with the average moral intuition would assign it.

Edit:

I later saw that you said you love the dog. So no need to even give it away. Again if the dog has no moral worth in of itself, like an inanimate object, you can trade it freely. Once a moral worth is assigned to him, it may the kind persons are typically assigned with, making cost-benefit calculations nearly always wrong. Or it might be assigned a more modest worth as typically assigned to home animals, which more freely justifies profitable trade off at the cost of harming the animal. But even in the latter case, nearly everyone assigns a home dog a greater value than would make permissible the killing of a home dog except in pretty extraordinary circumstances. I'd go with the moral sense of the majority on this one.

PPS - response to a comment:

"This question appears to argue that a dog's life has intrinsic value conferred to it by God. However, from my limited familiarity with the Bible: There is indeed a commandment "Thou shalt not kill", but it is usually understood to mean "kill humans". My understanding of Christianity is that killing animals is not necessarily a sin."

"intrinsic value conferred to it by God" - I would have said that God anchors that moral truth in the fabric of reality, and it emanates outward like an electric field, rather than gives directly.

Here I used God as anchor of moral value.

If you don't accept that at all, then you have to ask yourself, does a dog have moral value anyway? And if yes, is it the elevated kind or the kind more commonly associated with animals (historically)? If you answer that it has no moral value, or such moral value that permits killing it readily, I'd say that you're going against the moral intuition of most people, so perhaps you might want to look further.

If you accept God as an anchor of moral value, I think any theistic believer would argue that it follows that at a minimum animals have to be treated with kindness and respect as they do have some moral value. It might not be the elevated moral value associated with persons, but even on the lower rung, it is sufficient to prevent the killing of an animal under the circumstances described (especially in light of the trust bond between an owner and any pet, let alone a dog).

And specifically to Christianity, while I agree with you that killing animals even in cost-benefit circumstances is understood to be permitted (even the killing of humans is sometimes understood to be permitted and justified too), it depends greatly on the circumstances. In these circumstances, of first taking an animal to your trust as member of the household, and then "volunteering" it to be killed, while presumably you don't significantly deprive yourself in the process, is something that's sooner in the spirit of Mammon and such than in spirit of Christ.

10
  • 1
    Which god? This is not a religious site.
    – tkruse
    Commented Mar 6, 2023 at 11:40
  • 2
    @tkruse Secular philosophy is not the only philosophy. So long as it's not contingent upon a particular religious sect, I see no reason to reject answers just for mentioning a higher power.
    – wizzwizz4
    Commented Mar 6, 2023 at 21:31
  • This question appears to argue that a dog's life has intrinsic value conferred to it by God. However, from my limited familiarity with the Bible: There is indeed a commandment "Thou shalt not kill", but it is usually understood to mean "kill humans". My understanding of Christianity is that killing animals is not necessarily a sin.
    – Jessica
    Commented Mar 7, 2023 at 0:06
  • 1
    And I'd also add that even if killing it were justified if there were no other options and you yourself made other sacrifices before sacrificing the dog's life, as long as there are options like giving the dog away, simply killing it is not justified at all, in my view.
    – Daniel
    Commented Mar 8, 2023 at 10:02
  • 1
    You know, in my view, it's relevant for morals. I agree that it makes no difference whether you discover or invent a specie, because in the end of the day, there's a real animal there. With morals, the whole question is if there's something really there, or are we just imagining the whole thing. Maybe I should have said: discovering vs. imagining. Because I don't think we have the power to force a moral value on reality, if it's not really there.
    – Daniel
    Commented Mar 11, 2023 at 22:50
5

I would like to add a point that most of the other answers don't seem to have addressed (except for this one): this argument assumes that spending money doesn't help anyone but you, which isn't true.

By way of example, think how many people are employed by purchasing, for example, an iPhone - there are factory workers in various countries (many of which are poor countries), engineers that work on the phone itself, a large number of vendors supplying various other items who also support employees (including yours truly), people who work at cellular companies, even people who work at mining companies who provide raw goods. In short, a single iPhone purchase that initially appears to only benefit you actually helps to provide jobs to thousands of people.

If everyone stopped buying all but the most minimal possible set of goods like Peter Singer suggests, a lot of people would be thrown out of their jobs, which would reduce the number of people who were capable of giving to charity and increase the number of people who needed to be recipients of charity. The net result would be an increase in poverty.

I'm going to make what may be a controversial claim (but one which I believe is hard to dispute): economic growth has lifted far more people out of poverty and increased our collective happiness and well-being far more than charity ever has.

That being said, Peter Singer's arguments only work because he doesn't look at all the effects. If you look at all of the effects, it's self-defeating.

Edit: To clarify from the comments, I'm not saying that buying an iPhone is just as moral as donating to charity, nor am I supporting utilitarianism here. I'm merely pointing out that, if we are trying to determine which action is "more moral" based purely on the effects (which is the argument that the OP's friend is extending), we need to look at all of the reasonably foreseeable effects, not just the obvious and immediate ones. Doing so results in a very different analysis.

19
  • Right, that is basically what began in Europe in the 1400s. Why so much prosperity there since? Because of "network effects". Same as in any ecosystem.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Mar 6, 2023 at 18:49
  • That's an interesting take, but presumably the dog food industry and the coat making industry create a comparable number of jobs per dollar of revenue. I am skeptical that giving my money to one vs. the other would materially affect poverty in my area.
    – Jessica
    Commented Mar 7, 2023 at 0:13
  • 1
    @Jessica Either way, the point is both create jobs. The original argument is predicated on the assumption that spending money on things other than charity only benefits you, which simply isn't true. Commented Mar 7, 2023 at 15:43
  • 1
    @NotThatGuy It is also important to consider how many people are doing the same thing. If lots of people already donate coats, then one more might be useless or even unhelpful. If I buy a meal it is mainly intended to benefit me but, McDonald's, etc. People need jobs as well as coats. In fact, if everyone had a job, probably no one would be homeless. So contributing to the economy is what we should do first, and charity only in emergencies. Hurricane Katrina doesn't happen every year, so in the meantime, we could... do other stuff.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Mar 12, 2023 at 12:48
  • 1
    If one person eats one chicken every other week, is that a problem? If 300,000,000 people eat 8 billion chickens every year, is that a problem? Maybe at some point we should find better solutions to our needs. Solutions in one context usually become problems in another. What if survival became self-defeating?
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Mar 12, 2023 at 13:08
4

First of all, it depends on your view of animal life. If you justify eating animals for food then you already believe that the death of an animal is morally justified to sustain human lives. It is estimated that one cow provides enough meat for 2300 meals. In terms of sustaining human lives, you'd get more bang for your buck by killing a cow than your pet dog.

But in your dilemma, there is no certainty that the death will help anyone. You said, "I could potentially save the lives of as many as 10 people". So the definite death of your dog could only potentially save the lives of 10 people. You may kill your dog and then save nobody's life, in which case you've needlessly murdered your animal.

If you are happy to proceed on the basis that potentially helping is reason enough, you would have to consider other possible 'potential' outcomes. Buying warm coats for homeless people may well be a great idea in the short term, but you're not actually housing them - you're just helping them to remain on the streets. Could their remaining on the streets for longer expose them to worse risks, such as exposure to substance abuse or crime? Ironically, lots of homeless people seem to keep dogs for company - will you be buying coats for the dogs, too? If not, how many dogs could potentially die as a result of being on the streets with their owners, all because you had your dog put down?

2
  • I think the first two paragraphs make some very accurate points. The last paragraph, however, appears to take an unsupported assumption (homeless people keeping dogs) as fact.
    – Jessica
    Commented Mar 7, 2023 at 0:15
  • @Jessica I accept that - but the point I was making is that the morality question posed is also based on an assumption - that buying coats will save lives. It may not. The OP even says it is only a 'potential'.
    – Astralbee
    Commented Mar 7, 2023 at 10:00
4

This is a false equivalence fallacy.

The homeless people in your city and your dog have no relation to each other whatsoever. Your friend artificially creates a relation by associating both of them with a monetary factor, then exaggerates that from "provide a coat" to "save a life", which again aren't the same things. He's also making a category error, but I'll leave that be.

Since you mention logic, let's look at that:

  1. What is the causal relation between a homeless person having a coat to their survival chance? This is not a pure causality - other factors play a role. Not having a coat is not a 100% guarantee of death and neither is having a coat a 100% guarantee of survival.
  2. The value of your contribution should be multiplied by that factor. Most likely, you do not save one life per coat donated, but some fraction of a life.
  3. Purely logically speaking, what is the value of your dog compared to the value of a homeless person? Which metric do we want to use? Contribution to society? That's not going to end well for the homeless. Let's not go down that lane or we might end up with a proposal for putting down the homeless and investing money saved into animal shelters.

Yes, that's harsh. The conclusion is: Explore this line of thinking at your peril. We can't make a logical decision without having a value judgement on life.

Assuming we don't want to attribute some quantity to different lives, our alternative is to simply consider every life worth saving. But then, putting down a dog (taking a life) is immediately a non-option. Unless we are ok with different quantities of life "values" in some way (see 3 above where that leads) we can't consider it.

The cost of your dog is inconsequential in this. The question becomes why you, and also your friend, don't make this contribution. The dog is a distraction in that question. There are most likely other things in your (and your friends!) life that cost a similar amount and are not strictly necessary to survive.

Then why not donate everything you (or your friend!) earn and live on next-to-nothing? There is an ethical decision you (both) already made: That your personal comfort is more important than the homeless. If you already made that decision, the dog is just one of many comfort factors.

As to why almost all of us have made that decision, that's a different question.

5
  • Living collectively would cost a lot less, and no one would need to be homeless.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Mar 7, 2023 at 17:21
  • Most laypeople and philosophers consider an animal life to have much less value than a human life, and this includes even some/most of the most extreme vegans. The reasons for this has been the subject of much discussion. Suffice to say, "let's not go down that lane" seems to irrationally dismiss this consensus. The homeless in middle-to-upper areas in the US probably aren't at particularly high risk of loss of life for $200 to be likely to save their life, but I'm sure I can find many places where a well-spent $200 is practically guaranteed to save multiple lives.
    – NotThatGuy
    Commented Mar 8, 2023 at 18:31
  • "why not donate everything" is probably the best line of reasoning, but I can't say I find with the points you made before that to be particularly compelling or logical.
    – NotThatGuy
    Commented Mar 8, 2023 at 18:31
  • 1
    @NotThatGuy the valuation is fairly obvious: We are humans. If we could ask the dogs, they'd most likely have a different opinion. But that's not the reason to not go down that lane, the reason is that once we try using math operators on human lives, we've done something that's questionable: Turn them into a quantity.
    – Tom
    Commented Mar 9, 2023 at 7:55
  • "If I had asked dogs what they wanted, they would have said, better humans."
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Mar 10, 2023 at 16:33
3

This is a false dilemma. The two options are not mutually exclusive. This is what philosophy can say.

One can both help the homeless and keep the dog alive. In fact the dog itself can also help the homeless, eg by keeping them company, cheering them up or by some homeless earning money to take care of it. Possibilities are endless!

Even true theoretical moral dilemmas (like the trolley problem), are not necessarily practically true dilemmas. In practice, either the probability of taking place is close to zero, or even if it does, the options are not both realizable, ie one option is realizable whereas the other is not practically realizable. Thus there is no moral dilemma in practice.

In this case it is not even a true theoretical dilemma, since, as mentioned, the options are not mutually exclusive.

He who has two tunics, let him give to him who has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise.

-- John the Baptist

3

How about you give your home and dog to someone who is homeless and lonely. Optionally you could put yourself down.

Better still, tell your friend to give all their stuff to the homeless and jump off the nearest bridge.

This sounds as though I am being rude. I'm not, I am just bluntly pointing out that either of my suggestions makes as much sense as your friend's idea.

3

I think the original question is moot. This is only a decision that has to be made if a situation occurred where it was literally between the life of the dog or a homeless person. As that is not the case here, the simplest answer is, find the money elsewhere if you want to donate to the homeless.

3
  • Right, "trolley problems" are basically stupid. Watch Titanic, and just be glad it doesn't happen often.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Mar 8, 2023 at 10:39
  • No matter how much money you find elsewhere, donating the money you would've spent on your dog could still save someone's life, so this is somewhat of a non-answer.
    – NotThatGuy
    Commented Mar 8, 2023 at 18:06
  • 1
    But if you're able to find the money elsewhere, then you don't need to question the life of a dog. Besides, they could give the dog away, the fact the question is between the life of the dog and a another person says a lot about them. Commented Mar 9, 2023 at 22:05
2

We are going to suppose that there is a modern and universal ethical norm that dictates that you must sacrifice your dog to save several poor people, based on the fact that a human is worth more than an animal. Immediately afterwards you should sacrifice your oven, which is obviously worth less than a human and consumes electricity to save and save more poor people, and then your microwave, and then your car, going so far as to sell your house and live in a shack on the mountain, which would make you, and your children if you have one, in the long run poor, but you can rest easy, because another rich man will follow your same path starting by sacrificing his dog... We all know that the world does not work like that, but come on, it would be nice to see where it takes us.

It is only a reduction to the absurd, but in a certain way it shows how dangerous it can be to apply a logic of weights of the type "A is worth more than B". At some point on this fictitious and crazy path you will have to say "stop" or you will end your life and the lives of your loved ones, and if you do, why not leave your dog alone from the beginning?

I think that although in current modern ethics it may seem valid that a human is worth more than a dog and leaving aside the annoying question of whether 10 dogs, or 100 dogs, or all the dogs in the world are worth more than a single human, It is a "relative" issue, that is, it depends. A human life is worth, in general, more than that of a dog, as modern ethics seems to indicate, however, it is not absolutely true or absolutely always applicable. So we could say that what ethics seeks is to dictate a series of behaviors that are apparently acceptable, but that are not determinative and that should not always be applied by law, but rather depending on the circumstances under risk of falling into the absurd.

That said, consider what it means to put a premise as true as the engine of your life and how far you are willing to go.

I think it is a mistake to live thinking about "what ethics dictates" because the only thing that ethics should dictate is "the obligation to weigh and assess all things and all facts, to try to do the most correct thing". So from this point of view, you have already fulfilled more than enough when considering whether or not you should put your dog down. The decision you make later is up to you and not to ethics (unless you want to end up in a hut, or haunted by a severe depression) as long as you try to do the best humanly or circumstantially possible.

1
  • This is a very balanced and sensible answer. I am reminded of the book by Tom Brown Jr where he came to the conclusion, "I had created a hierarchy of spirits" where some had more value than others.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Mar 8, 2023 at 10:37
2

While making others happy, the work you are going to do should also make you happy. When you put down your dog, your companion, you can never be happy. So what you can do is to help the homeless and your beloved. So you can reduce the daily expenses of the dog and help the homeless as much as possible. You don't have to worry about how much you spend on the homeless. Happiness is also important when doing charity work. And that charity works should ultimately lead you to bliss.

You may have understood the meaning of the two inseparable terms that come with the highest Bliss -- Truth and Goodness. To reach this destination is the ultimate goal of all philanthropy and human life, no matter what religions say. When some one reaches this ultimate goal he will understand the true meaning of love and care (here, regarding the dog and the homeless). I believe you have got a philosophical or logical answer or reason from this short answer.

5
  • I like your answer, but apparently people are not understanding, unfortunately. Different goals, I suppose.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Mar 10, 2023 at 16:43
  • 1
    @ScottRowe: I have added a hyperlink which explains the goal of human life. Commented Mar 11, 2023 at 16:53
  • "If the mind falls asleep, awaken it. Then if it starts wandering, make it quiet. If you reach the state where there is neither sleep nor movement of mind, stay still in that, the natural state." Nothing more need be known than this.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Mar 12, 2023 at 0:32
  • @ScottRowe: Of course, the word 'truth' transacts the same idea. The Ultimate truth is still/immutable. Commented Mar 12, 2023 at 4:45
  • So, regarding your answer and this question, one can know what best to do when facing a difficult choice. But it can't be told, or found in a book. "Seek, and ye shall find. Knock, and it shall be opened to you." People are looking under the lamppost for keys they lost somewhere else, as the old joke says.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Mar 12, 2023 at 12:25
1

It's too difficult for any of us to save the whole world. Most of us can pull the weight of ourselves and maybe one or two others max. And for someone who's quite a burden with a drug or alcohol problem, it may take TEN people just to pull the weight of that one person.

I guess the best thing is to just know your limits and make your little corner of the world the best you can make it. If you can only pull the weight of a dog and not the weight of a homeless person, then pull that. And if you can donate a few bucks or a few hours here and there to the homeless, then do that too. But don't ruin your own joy and get rid of a dog you love just to make someone else happy. It will only make you resent them later.

1

According to certain politico-economical views (e.g. the Neoclassic Economic Theory),

poverty is a decision.

Neoclassic economics remarks that economical facts are the result of rational decisions (see the Rational Choice Theory).

So, following such argument,

if you maintain a dog, you are probably contributing more and in a more healthy way to the economy, and therefore, to your society.

If, instead, you would give such money to that poor people, your money would be used to impose destructive social/economical/commercial/political habits. That is equivalent, for example, to what happens with migrants in rich countries: they go to rich countries and impose destructive social/economical/commercial/political habits, so rich countries derive into tendencies to poverty.

So, your decision to have a well-cared animal at home becomes not an isolated decision, but part of a whole set of habits that contribute to healthy social growth.

In addition, according to common "right-wing" (which are actually more socialists than what is currently called "socialism" or "left-wing"), according to common "right-wing" positions (which I mostly adhere to), what reduces poverty is just creating richness, promoting the existence of more rich people.

In synthesis, you should do your best effort to keep your dog in the absolute best health and environmental conditions, instead of giving that money to poor, who will use it to promote poverty.

0

Frankly, I found the question disgusting.

If a “friend” made this suggestion to me, he would suffer consequences. Just telling everyone “ex-friend suggested I should kill my dog and give the savings to charity” would make him unwelcome in most places.

I assume that is an answer to any question you may have had.

3
  • I chose to ask this question in the philosophy section, rather than the interpersonal relationships section, because I am interested in the moral, philosophical and ethical aspects of the question. I am not looking for advice on my relationship with my friend.
    – Jessica
    Commented Mar 7, 2023 at 0:16
  • @Jessica I think Aristotle said, "One bad turn deserves another", so relationships are connected with Philosophy.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Mar 7, 2023 at 17:24
  • That question is not valid philosophically. "a decision is wrong if it makes someone unwelcome in most places" does not suffice even weak standards of rational thought. Ethical thought sometimes requires to go against what society deems to be proper.
    – tkruse
    Commented Mar 8, 2023 at 9:44
0

The golden rule can be a helpful guide in some cases. If you were homeless and someone asked "should I have my dog put down so that I can give you money" would you say "yes"? Naive interpretations of the Golden rule assume that everybody is out to maximise their own personal benefit, but I don't think that is actually the case. Almost all of us have a sense of ethics and altruism to some degree, which should be taken into account when applying the golden rule, we shouldn't assume the other party is lacking in those qualities (at least without good evidence!).

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .