Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Vampire Rights

Here's thought-fodder for a busy day: Should vampires have rights?

National Review writer Jonah Goldberg takes on the topic:
[I]t seems to me that the founding fathers would unequivocally say that vampires do not have rights because rights come from God (or our creator). Vampires are undead and exist solely thanks to satanic or other demonic forces. They shy from God and God's love and therefore do not deserve the protections all of God's creatures are entitled to.

Now, the interesting question would be, do atheists think vampires have rights? I think I'm safe assuming that most atheists ground their understanding of rights and citizenship as stemming from sentience, consciousness, etc. Well, vampires have all of those things in their favor. Presumably, an atheist would reject the premise of the question. They would argue that vampires either do not exist at all (strong case there) or that vampirism is a biological state, a disease of some kind (backed up by many sci-fi portrayals of vampires). In which case, I assume they would argue that vampires do have rights because having a disease does not amount to a surrender of your humanity or rights....


John Farrell said...

Only Jonah Goldberg would fine the time to spend on a question like this.

On the other hand...whom am I to talk.


You realize, of course, that Dan Curtis addressed this question in his 1971 masterpiece, House of Dark Shadows.

Anonymous said...

Oh man,

Jonah Goldberg is over the top.

Under his analysis, Chirstians must believe Santa Claus has rights.

Unapologetic Catholic

Anonymous said...

Are you kidding? Most athiests would name vampirism as a form of religion equal to Christianity, with equal rights.

Unless vampirism was looked down upon by the conservatives. In which case democratic atheists would fight for the rights of vampirism, even incorporating their symbols where Christian symbols have been cast down.

Paul, just this guy, you know? said...

No, the atheist view, if we're talking about a parallel universe with real vampires and atheists who are reasonable and intellectually consistent, should be that vampirism is a state unworthy of continuance, and that they should be forceably "allowed to die," much like Teri Schiavo.

LogEyed Roman said...

You wouldn't call neopagans atheists, of course. But a friend of mine would include them in a category he calls "Post-Christian Protestants." Post-Christian Protestants no longer profess even the most remotely nomial Christianity, but follow what my friend calls "The Protestant error", having to do with the idea that we can make up our own mind about matters of belief and morality and don't have to accept any part of that "revealed" or "given" or "traditional" stuff if it doesn't happen to suit us.

There is a web comic called "Clan of the Cats." If you consider looking at it, be warned that it has lots of X-rated stuff; violence as well a sex. Anyway, whether the writer (or writers; I don't know if the cartoonist writes his or her own stuff) has a cosmos in which magic works, there is vampirism; even Lllith is still around, and while it's bad if a vampire is mean, the good guys don't really dispute their right to "live" or whatever you want to call it by murdering humans for their blood. Maybe it's not cool to kill small children, but vampires who stick to adults (as long as they are not the good guys or their friends) are just, well, doing what they have to do.

There may not be specific defenders out there yet for vampires, whether they believe in them or simply defend them hypothetically.

There ARE people who (totally seriously) complain about using certain judgemental and offensive terms for certain people. They object to "child molestor" or "pedophile" and instead propose that they should be referred to as "persons with difficult to meet needs." They also object to the judgemental and offensive term "cannibalism" and prefer calling such people "Humanterians." You know, like people who eat vegetable foods only are "vegetarians"?

I'm not making this up. You can find these and many others in a book called "The Politically Correct Dictionary and Handbook." It fully documents its entries, which are mostly or entirely made by left-wing academics and activists, and all of which are proposed in total earnest.

You can find the book used. It might not surprise you that when it was in print it was to be found in the "humor" section of bookstores.

Will Rogers famously liked to say that he just read the papers and reported the facts.

I watched a cheesy vampire movie some years ago on one of those SciFi movie channels on T.V. The channel added some of their own credits at the end: "This station wants to assure our viewers that no real vampires were injured in the process of making this movie."

Pleasant dreams.

LogEyed Roman

Anonymous said...

Atheists wouldn't believe in Vampires any more than they would believe in an "invisible being".

I don't believe in vampires either. And I am not an athiest.

The Opinionated Homeschooler said...

My husband is an atheist: that is, he doesn't believe God exists, and he's honest with himself about that.

Sometimes I wonder, Why aren't mor of my friends Christians? And then I read comboxes like this one, and I remember.

Darwin said...

Opinionated Homeschooler,

I think the original point, which is an interesting one if you don't mind it being wholly unrelated to reality, is to ask where it is that "natural rights", or what the founding fathers seemed to think of as God-given right, come from, depending on one's views in regards to the divine.

Given that I find the concept of "rights" interesting, I sort of like the thought experiment. Things can have a way of getting out of control, though.

The Opinionated Homeschooler said...

Sorry to be so grumpy. I guess I see these things as "Let's propose a counterfactual, then imagine how people we despise might react to it." When people respond by indulging their fantasies of how evil the persons in question would surely be, nobody can be surprised; and it seems disingenuous to then say it was just an intellectual exercise.

I like this blog. I don't want it to be like Mark Shea's, where the comboxes regularly revel in the contemplation of how atheists are evil, misanthropic lovers of murderousness and haters of Christians, who are angry at God because He won't let them have lots of irresponsible sex.

Darwin said...

A fair point. (And that's exactly why I don't read Mark Shea any more.)

Given that I read a fair amount of Jonah's stuff, and I know him to be a mostly non-practicing Jew (so far as I know, functionally a deist) and someone who doesn't often write about religion, I'd taken his point to be strictly in regards to political philosophy. That doesn't seem to be the way conversation progressed (in perhaps partly because I just posted it quickly with no comment) and in that sense, I'm sorry if I let things go off the rails.

Personally, I feel a certain affinity with atheism (or perhaps more so with agnosticism) since I find it more credible than most other forms of belief than Catholicism.

Anonymous said...

For what it's worth, the original thought experiment seems fine to me (my own answer, although not, I think, mandatorily the answer of atheists, is that vampires would have rights (probably more or less the same rights as us)).

Rather more interesting than the possible atheist answer (and the silly third and fourth comments on this thread) is to me Jonah Goldberg's hasty assumption that Christian moral reasoning is committed to vampires *not* having rights. That had better not be true, I think, if the Christian meta-ethics is going to have any chance of plausibility -- and I think it isn't:

(i) As a minor point, surely the traditional Christian ontology can't have it that vampires "exist solely thanks to satanic or other demonic forces", since any form of existence entails the creative action of God, and participation in the divine essence.

(ii) As a major point, I take it the Christian meta-ethics will ground rights, and in general moral status, in the feature of "being in God's image". Of course, it all comes down to what this means. I think on the most successful versions, it just comes down to the same stuff that the bruited atheistic meta-ethics appeals to -- features of rationality, consciousness, temporal awareness, and so on.

For the Christian meta-ethics (assuming the above) to grant right-bearing status to humans but refuse it to vampires, they have to go one of two routes. The first is harmless but, I think, implausible. The other is plausible but, I think, a very bad route to follow. The first route says that being in God's image is a matter of having certain intrinsic features, but says that humans have and vampires lack those features. This is fine, but rather implausible, since it's hard to spot what the features might be that appropriately differentiate. (Thus the moral problems of the Buffyverse that Angel, more than Buffy, started to grapple with a bit.)

The second route has it that being in God's image is not an intrinsic feature, but a relational feature: roughly, we are of moral value because we are valued by God, not because we are in ourselves any particular way. On this route, one could hold that God values humans and not vampires, without needing to ground the difference in valuation in any intrinsic difference between the living and the undead. But I think this kind of externalizing of moral value is a very bad thing. The reason that it's wrong, for example, to inflict gratuitous pain on a person needs to end, in a wholly sufficient way, in a description of that person and the nature of his suffering, without needing to cite anything beyond the person (whether God, society, our attitudes toward suffering, and so on).

It's only when Christian ethical thinking leans toward this externalized viewpoint (which, it seems to me, it can tend to do under the influence of devotional language which wants to displace all merit from us onto the divine) that I think there's anything structurally problematic in it -- absent that movement, it all looks to me pretty much isomorphic to what everyone else wants to say.

John Farrell said...

Yeah. I think it was Scott Carson who once blogged that if he wasn't an RC, he'd be either an atheist or an agnostic.

Not that I'd make the boast too openly these days. (I'm painfully aware that in some circles, you might as well tell some people your family has ties to organized crime....)

Darwin said...


I'm generally inclined to agree with you. Being now in the time wasting part of the week (where I can take the time to blog instead of thinking about whether I should leave early) I devoted my thought to this over lunch and I leaning toward the following:

Clearly, vampires (at least as traditionally described) are originally made in the image of God, just as the demon originally were. Vampirism, at least in the more interesting tellings, can be taken as a moral failing: the victim/sinner chooses to have indefinite (I hesitate to say immortal) life as an "undead" rather than dying as the result of a vampire bite.

So it seems to me that vampires would possess the same rights and duties as other humans -- which means that they would not possess the right to bite and kill other humans. Thus, if you stole something from a vampire, he should be able to have you prosecuted. But if he bites and kills someone, it should be fully possible to convict him of murder.

My hesitation in all this is that I'm not sure I think the American conception of "rights" is philosophically or morally necessary.

Expanding the question a little: I think that the interesting thing we're looking at here is predation as a moral question. In fairy tales, the wolf or lion or bear might be the "bad guy", but in reality we generally agree that predators are "just doing what they do". There is no moral evil in a mountain lion eating a deer, or even a jogger. But then, that's mainly because the mountain lion is not a moral creature with a will.

So what gets interesting is: if you have a sentient predator with a moral sense and free will, is his predating upon other sentient creatures of a "prey" species wrong? Or is it just what he's designed to do?

Now, the one obvious answer is that we already know of one sentient predator which is a moral creature: humans. And we do indeed generally hold it to be wrong when humans kill and eat other humans. So our initial answer would seem to be that a sentient mountain lion (who was a moral agent with free will) would be welcome to kill and eat deer, but not human or other sentient mountain lions.

This makes vampires particularly interesting since they can, one takes it, only prey on humans. Thus, one is faced with the question: given that it is the nature of vampires to kill humans, and they cannot survive without doing so, how could it possibly be wrong for them to do it?

Now, this is an interesting question because it seems like a no-way-out sort of question. I enjoy it in that sense. There's a part of me that could imagine a fantasy-novel-world in which there are two sentient species one of which must prey upon the other to survive. The prey do not necessarily see, when they refrect on it, the predator species as evil. But that certainly doesn't prevent them from killing them in self defense whenever necessary.

However, when we get down to it, it's an intentionally artificial moral quandry, and thus (like the infamous trolley problem) is inherently meaningless. It asks us to decide between alternatives which do not exist, and it's no surprise that things that don't exist don't fit neatly into our moral framework. (Just as it's no surprise that imaginary physics defying substances don't fit into our scientific framework.)

Patrick said...

Oh, the actual atheist is a bit late to the party...

Well, most atheists believe in some form of human rights; but I think that's folly. In the absence of metaphysical entities, such rights simply don't exist except as a useful fiction for ensuring social cohesion. (Of course, that perhaps makes it dangerous to express this opinion.)

I'm still amused by your categorical rejection of counterfactual moral dilemmas, Darwin, particularly when you decline to distinguish between that which could be in this world but isn't (i.e. a sentient predator and sentient prey) and that which is impossible in some stronger sense.

After all, we do learn things in the scientific framework by making up thought experiments that couldn't yet be replicated in real life, like Newton's bucket; we decline to give the matter in such experiments magical powers, but the setup is still somewhat counterfactual.

Anonymous said...

I had this same question asked of me while I was clapping for Buffy as she killed vampires right and left. It was asked of me by a philosophy major room-mate. And after giving it some thought, i said that absolutely, if this was a real situation i would not allow sentient beings to be killed off simply because they are dangerous. AIDS patients are dangerous too. Come to think of it, even my grandma is dangerous. I don't care if they are "evil" or if they have a "soul". They are alive, in the reasonable sense of the word, and would simply need to be rendered more harmless in some way. I owe that to any human being, and that includes human beings that are metaphysically altered. Yes, they have a right to life. If you start looking, its pretty easy to see that human beings are running the planet and dangerous to all other life forms. Should we be eliminated? No. Nor should a vampire if one were to exist.