Morten Tønnessen, University of Stavanger, Norway (firstname.lastname@example.org)
A dozen to 20 years ago, two of the most central biosemioticians, first Jesper Hoffmeyer and then Kalevi Kull, addressed connections between biosemiotics and ethics. The last ten years a new generation of scholars have started working out a biosemiotic ethics. The foundational idea is that if all living systems are semiotic, then biosemiosis can serve as basis for justifying attribution of moral status to human and non-human individuals and to various ecological entities. Most of the scholars involved in this endeavor have taken Jakob von Uexküll’s Umwelt theory as their starting point. Recent relevant publications include a translation of Uexküll’s 1917 article “Darwin and the English Morality”, with a framing essay entitled ““Darwin und die englische Moral”: The Moral Consequences of Uexküll’s Umwelt Theory”.
Relevant questions for discussion include but are not limited to the following: In what ways does a biosemiotic ethics potentially take us beyond sentience-centered approaches? Does biosemiotic ethics represent a new form of consequentialism, or should it be placed within some other tradition? What ramifications do different views on the semiotic threshold have within the context of normative ethics? Is there (something akin to) normativity in the very constitution of the Umwelt? Does the semiosphere at large (qua biosphere) have intrinsic value? And what, in terms of biosemiosis, is the origin of value?
1) John N. Deely
Ethics and the distinction between semiosic and semiotic
Moral responsibility is the category to which the term “ethics” applies. Moral responsibility is ethical responsibility. This variety or “species” of responsibility has no existence outside the sphere of human action. In other words, “ethics” is a species-specifically human phenomenon or “reality”. “The foundational idea … [that] all living systems are semiotic” is a serious blunder, confusing semiosic with semiotic, which is quite a different matter. Ethical responsibility arises only within the Umwelt as species-specifically human (i.e., the Lebenswelt, where alone the distinction between objects and things can be realized), and applies directly only to human behavior, but both in itself (socially) and also in its effects (on the environment directly, hence indirectly also on the Umwelten of other animals, and on the world of plants or phytosemiosis). How, then, ethical thought should extend beyond the sphere of human interaction (“semioethics”) depends on a clear understanding, first, of the distinction between semiotic and semiosic; and, second, of the fact that while all lifeforms are semiosic, only human animals are semiotic.
2) Panagiotis Xouplidis, PhD Candidate, Department of Italian Language and Philology, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, email@example.com
A semiotic approach to The Pet World.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines pet as "any animal domesticated or tamed kept as a favorite or treated with indulgence."
In modern Western societies pets are everywhere. In modern cities there are millions of pet dogs, cats, birds, fish, rabbits, snakes, and monkeys while modern economy includes a vast service industry that provides veterinary care, food, breeding, and assorted accessories. Looking through the historical evolution of mankind is becomes obvious that without the possession of the domesticated animals, man would have continued to be a savage; and that without the help of them, no considerable progress in civilization could have been achieved. This became possible through artificial selection, which is the selection of advantageous natural variation for human ends and it is the mechanism by which most domestic species evolved. Α fact to be considered is, as Paul Sheppard affirms, that: “Pets are not part of human evolution or the biological context out of which our ecology comes. They are civilized paraphernalia whose characteristic combination and accommodation is tangled in ambiguous tyranny. Although looked upon with affection, even modern pets are property that is bought, sold, put down and neutered.”
Pets are commodities that many people use, like other consumer goods, as a means of constructing identities, although they are also considered members of families and serve as companions providing considerable emotional attachments and satisfactions. It is likely that because of the social and economic conditions many middle-class people make substantial emotional investments in their relationships with animal companions. The case is that humans not only attribute various mental states to one another but there is an irresistible primate tendency to generalize these attributions to pets and other animals. On one side, anthropomorphic thinking enables animal companions’ social behavior to be construed in human terms. On the other side, anthropomorphism constitutes an evolutionary selection pressure which has defined the appearance, anatomy, and behavior of companion animal species.
The fact that pets occupy by default an equally great human need for non-human others in the contemporary urban American household is both obvious and perplexing. Americans spend over $5 billion annually feeding dogs and cats alone, while only $3 billion is spent on baby food (Beck, 1983; Pet Food Institute, 1986).
During the past three decades, the subject of relations between people and other animals has became a respectable area of research:“anthrozoology” crosses a wide variety of academic disciplines, including anthropology, art and literature, education, ethology, history, psychology ,sociology, philosophy, and human and veterinary medicine. In convergence to this research field the paper is going to discuss two emergent themes from the Sociosemiotic perspective:
(1) Companion animals' mediation between nature and culture:
The Human/Pet Relationship: The sign of the Pet
(2) the socialization of consumers' companion animal preference patterns.
The commodification of animals in market industry: The case of the Pet
3) Morten Tønnessen, Associate professor in philosophy at University of Stavanger, Norway
Introducing biosemiotic ethics
In this paper, which sets the scene for the session “Biosemiotic ethics”, I start out by outlining various contributions to biosemiotic ethics (Hoffmeyer 1993, Kull 2001, Tønnessen 2003, Beever 2011, Beever and Tønnessen 2013, Acampora 2014, Tønnessen and Beever, forthcoming), and also refer briefly to semioethics and existential semiotics.
Next I ask: How does biosemiotic ethics differ from other approaches within normative ethics? Relatedly: How have contributions to biosemiotic ethics drawn on other approaches in normative ethics? In this second section of the paper I will particularly relate to Bentham 1823 and Singer 2002 , and ask: In what ways does a biosemiotic ethics potentially take us beyond sentience-centered approaches? Does biosemiotic ethics represent a new form of consequentialism, or should it be placed within some other tradition?
In the third and concluding section of the paper, I raise a number of questions which should be investigated in the future development of biosemiotic ethics, namely: What ramifications do different views on the semiotic threshold have within the context of normative ethics? Is there (something akin to) normativity in the very constitution of the Umwelt? Does the semiosphere at large (qua biosphere) have intrinsic value? And what, in terms of biosemiosis, is the origin of value?
Acknowledgement: This work has been carried out thanks to the support of the research project “Animals in Changing Environments: Cultural Mediation and Semiotic Analysis” (EEA Norway Grants/Norway Financial Mechanism 2009–2014 under project contract no. EMP151).
4) Dr. Darian Meacham, University of the West of England, Bristol
The gentle caress of my robot lover, and other ethically difficult phenomena
Imagine for a moment coming home after a long day at work and slumping into the gentle arms of your robot companion, who rubs your temples tenderly, smiles warmly and says, ‘I know exactly how you feel’. Sound plausible, desirable? Would this, or another kind of intelligent machine, whatever that might mean, fulfill the necessary criteria for ‘ethical salience’? Would such an entity merit the moral status of a person, an animal, or would it be, due to the similar nature of its material composition, and its status as (supposedly) ‘non-living’, no different, ethically speaking, than a toaster?
This paper investigates the question of what makes an entity ‘ethically salient’ using the above example of a robotic system as a test case. ‘Ethical salience’ is presented as a spectrum concept which entails an entity having an ethical significance in itself to a greater or lesser degree. ‘Ethical salience’ as such should be understood phenomenologically: an ethically salient entity is perceptually experienced as having an immediate ethical significance. The ethical salience of an entity is distinct from (although clearly related to) whatever specific ethical claims it may make on us not to harm it etc. For example, higher mammals would seemingly be uncontroversially candidates for ethically salience, but this fact is distinct, for example, from the question of whether we should eat them.
I argue that whether an entity has ethical salience is a question not of inner states of pain or suffering, or more broadly an ethical significance of life itself. Rather it is dependent upon certain types of expressive movement that manifest vulnerability. The manifestation of vulnerability in these types of movement, which function as signs that stimulate an experience of ethical salience, is independent from actual vulnerability. In other words, it is the sign that matters. This hypothesis is explored by drawing on the conceptual resources of Jakob von Uexküll’s biosemiotics and the phenomenological account of intersubjectivity, namely Edmund Husserl and Merleau-Ponty.