I’ve made a couple references to the growing field of entophilosophy here and here, but I am clearly not the only bug blogger to do so. Bug Girl recently wrote a post titled “Philosophical Entomology”, discussing the entomologist Matan Shelomi, who apparently won a thing called a Shorty Award for his entomologically involved answer to a classic entophilosophical question: “If you injure a bug, should you kill it or let it live?” His answer:
Looks like the philosophers and theists have made their cases. As far as entomologists are concerned, insects do not have pain receptors the way vertebrates do. They don’t feel ‘pain,’ but may feel irritation and probably can sense if they are damaged. Even so, they certainly cannot suffer because they don’t have emotions. If you heavily injure an insect, it will most likely die soon: either immediately because it will be unable to escape a predator, or slowly from infection or starvation. Ultimately this crippling will be more of an inconvenience to the insect than a tortuous existence, so it has no ‘misery’ to be put out of but also no real purpose anymore. If it can’t breed anymore, it has no reason to live.
“In other words, I have not answered your question because, as far as the science is concerned, neither the insect nor the world will really care either way. Personally, though, I’d avoid doing more damage than you’ve already done. 1) Maybe the insect will recover, depending on how damaged it is. 2) Some faiths do forbid taking animal lives, so why go out of your way to kill? 3) You’ll stain your shoe.
I have mentioned insects’ lack of pain receptors, despite squealing, here. I find Shelomi’s answer interesting for a couple of reasons, neither of which are informed by formal training in philosophy.
First, is the existence of suffering really contingent upon emotions? If an insect consciously felt constant, excruciating pain for ten hours, but did not have any emotions, I would still refer to this insect as a suffering insect. Especially if that insect was an ant.
Second, an insect, even if it can’t breed, still can have a reason to live. Sure, maybe your run-of-the-mill grasshopper lives to breed, but ants are more existentially complex. Only the reproductive cast (males and queens) are able to breed, and yet trillions upon trillions of worker ants run around every day busying themselves with their tasks. The completion of these tasks does lead to the increased reproductive ability of the queens, but the lack of breeding capability in the individual ant does not indicate that the individual ant itself has no reason to live.
However, I do appreciate Shelomi’s concluding remarks. The destruction of life, if not necessary or even beneficial, is at the very least morally questionable. Although I suppose one could argue that if you squish a doomed bug, it increases the efficiency with which another insect could consume said bug.