I’m having an argument with Will Wilkinson in the course of which a little thought experiment came up. I’m curious what others think. Take the following scenario:
Suppose an impenetrable black cube lands on your lawn. Simultaneously, you receive a message from God telling you that the cube is conscious, and contemplating the nature of the universe. You are 100% confident that this is true. However, the cube does not move, it does not pulsate, it’s not even shiny. There is no possibility of communicating or otherwise interacting with it. It is, however, a beautiful exotic material and you could make a fortune by breaking it up into bricks for designer masonry projects. Do you really care about the revelation from God?
Now, in real life, the answer is “yes, because I’d take it as evidence I’d lost my mind.” But, for the purposes of the thought experiment, my reaction is: “Hell yes; this is a creature with rights like like any person’s.” I don’t think this is some kind of abberant response, a product of brain fever brought on by excessive Kantian theorizing. But how about everyone else?
Addendum: So, two things. First, don’t read too much into the “message from God” bit. That’s just how philosophers brush aside thorny epistemic questions that, while potentially interesting in themselves, obscure the issue they’re trying to get at. It just means “don’t worry about how you know this for sure, you just do, because it’s interesting to figure out what follows if we assume you are sure.”
The other thing: While actually the particular debate was in some indirect ways inspired by the Schiavo thing, this isn’t actually “about” Schiavo or abortion or anything else. (The issues in this and the Schiavo case in particular are pretty utterly distinct; your conclusion about the cube wouldn’t necessarily have any obvious connection to your position on the Schiavo business.)