Monday, January 24, 2005

Chocolate-Flavoured Poo

I've previously linked to this fun post at OrangePhilosophy, but I'd like to get into a bit more detail this time. Mark introduces the problem:
'If you had to choose, would you rather eat poo-flavored-chocolate or chocolate-flavored-poo?' First, I had to clarify some of the background conditions. Would the poo make me sick? No. Would it be human poo? Yes. Would the poo really taste like chocolate, and have the consistency and texture thereof? Yes. Would the real chocolate taste just like real poo, and look like real poo? Yes. Would the real chocolate make me sick? No (except for possible attendant nausea of course). Would the poo be yours? Maybe. Would the poo be like dark or milk chocolate? Just answer the question!

The answer is obvious, and goes down easy. I'd eat the poo. Why?

Because it tastes like chocolate, and it won't make me sick, whereas the chocolate would taste like poo.

I'm in full agreement with Mark. But there were a few people who commented that they think it would be better to eat the poo-flavoured chocolate. I don't think this makes any sense. As I commented there:
As I see it, the only bad things about poo are the nasty properties (smell, taste, sickness) that have been removed in the present scenario. There's nothing intrinsicly bad about poo. In fact, like I said before, I'm not even sure that what's left is 'poo' at all. So the chocolate came out of someone's anus. Who cares?

The opposing camp just doesn't make any sense to me. They clearly have strikingly different values - perhaps what Jeremy describes as the view that "our body has some kind of moral or aesthetic value that gets diminished in certain ways if it's put to wrong uses"... I just can't see why anyone would think that claim is true.

Jeremy responded:
The one motivation I've seen for this view is that we already seem to hold it with certain things. The sex with a dead chicken example is one sort of thing that many people think is morally wrong or at least objectively bad in an aesthetic sense. Yet there's no harm that can be attributed to the chicken, since it's dead, and presumably any harm to the human already has happened, or they wouldn't be considering such an act...

Die-hards against this sort of view aren't going to be convinced, of course. Those opposed to intuitionism probably won't accept the very business of using such examples, and some might resist the particular examples by pointing out that people actually do both and so some see it as fine, but most people do think there's something wrong with both actions.

I guess I'm one of those 'die-hards'; having sex with a dead chicken is disgusting, for sure, but I don't see it as a moral issue. Unless, perhaps, the act would cause further mental harm to the troubled agent. But grossness alone is insufficient (indeed, I would say entirely irrelevant) for moral judgment.

No-one else in that thread made any serious effort, that I noticed, to defend choosing the poo-flavoured chocolate. Many just seemed to assume that eating poo was somehow intrinsically bad/disgusting. But I'd like to hear more reasons behind such a view, so if anyone reading this can think of one, please do let me know.

One other comment I made that I'd like to copy across to here:
Irem asked: "I wonder whether there are some poo-eaters who wish they were not so weak" [for choosing the 'easy' way out, even though deep down they know it's the wrong choice].

I'd like to turn this around, and ask whether there are some chocolate-eaters who wish they were not so irrational.

It strikes me as plausible that some chocolate-eaters might be like someone with obsessive-compulsive disorder. The victim of OCD is irrational: they feel a compulsive need to (say) wash their hands for a whole hour, despite knowing that - rationally speaking - this is a waste of time, and so not good for them. But they do it anyway.

I wonder if some chocolate-eaters might be like that? They just can't bear the thought of eating "poo", even though they know (rationally) that it would do them no harm. So they suffer through the poo-flavoured chocolate, an awful experience - but they do it anyway, because their disgust is so overpowering that they can't help but be irrational in this case.

Does that sound plausible? Do you think it's irrational to prefer the poo-flavoured chocolate? If not, why not?


  1. Firstly- this is one of the sickest arguments I have heard of, great.
    I would agree that I would eat the chocolate-flavoured poo. Poo could be good for as it may still have bits of corn etc in it, while chocolate ain't. so from a purely dietary viewpoint, eating the chocolate-flavoured poo is the way to go. Then there is taste, and well poo [probably] tastes bad [not having tried it myself], but chocolate is mmmmmm good. 

    Posted by Greg Stephens

  2. poo makes me feel sick partly because it is poo.
    ) poo flavoured chocolate would probably not taste all that bad (er I'm not a fecophiliac so i dont know - but I'm dubious about it actually tasting that bad as a flavour - except in as far as you would know its poo).
    ) I can't seperate that from the poo because that becomes rather like "what would you do if you were richard" and my answer as always is "I dunno.. ask richard".

    By the way this is a disgusting topic - i could hardly believe you posted it heh 

    Posted by GeniusNZ

  3. I would call the two substances "Poocholate" and "Choxcrement". I would rather eat chocolate than "Poocholate" and rather eat "Choxcrement" than poo.


    Posted by Tennessee Leeuwenburg

  4. Heh, I find it more funny than disgusting, but whatever :)

    Genius, think of it as a full qualia-swap, rather than mere artificial flavouring. That is, the chocolate gives you the exact conscious experience as if you were eating poo. I'm guessing that would be pretty bad. Similarly the poo will seem to you exactly as if you were instead eating chocolate. Yummy.

    "poo makes me feel sick partly because it is poo."

    But why? If it doesn't smell bad, or taste bad, or make you sick, or do anything else bad, then what's the problem? Is poo somehow intrinsically bad?

    Tennessee - of course we'd all rather eat real chocolate (assuming poocholate has no health bonuses of the sort Greg mentions!)... but which would you choose out of Poocholate and Choxcrement? (I assume the first part of each name is the flavouring?) 

    Posted by Richard

  5. I am amazed that no one seems to have brought up the obvious parallel from medieval philosophy:

    Which would you rather eat, the body of Christ that tastes like bread--or bread that tastes like the body of Christ?

    Aquinas would have argued that the "accidents" of the chocolate-flavored poo had entirely changed, while the "substance" had remained the same. The question then becomes: Is he right on the second point? Or is existence merely the state of having properties?

    I incline toward the latter, and I would gladly eat the chocolate-flavored poo. Considering that it's probably cheaper than regular chocolate, I might eat it all the time--that is if the flavor were good enough.

    And yes, "accidents" is a terrible word to use in the context of poo. But it happens to be the proper philosophical term.

    Posted by Jason Kuznicki

  6. For the sake of those people who stubbornly refuse the chocolate-flavoured poo, I hope they never learn how beer is made. 

    Posted by Nigel Kearney

  7. Ha.. sure one would eat the opposite ie: the poo vs the chocolate because it makes sense. What leads the mind to want to do it the other way around is the associations already formed with the words.. I have to admit it's a good example of how patterned we can be. ..though likely not an approach I would have taken.


    Posted by whims

  8. > Genius, think of it as a full qualia-swap.

    the problem is that taste itself is partly defind by your asociations. for example if chocolate brings up memories of abuse as a child I probably wont like it - of course most of these effects are much more subtle for example I dont like brussel sprouts - it probably tastes basically the same for me as the rest of my family but for some obscure reason I have negitive associations that make me not like it. I also hate chocolate with nuts.. maybe thats a poo association heh.

    > is existence merely the state of having properties?

    if so then there is no such thing as "chocolate flavoured poo" in the context of this discussion - since you have changed its properties it has "become" chocolate. 

    Posted by GeniusNZ

  9. If we set up the experiment where one group of subjects (Group A) are presented with the choc flavoured poo and the poo flavoured choc and asked to make a choice, only being told afterwards that the brown stuff that smelt and tasted like chocolate was actually poo. And another group (Group B) are told before making their choice.

    Bar some strange deviants, one hundred percent of Group A would eat the choc flavoured poo, but perhaps not as much as Group B. Why? Because of strong intuitive reactions to the idea of eating poo.

    I think it is right that we should have these intuitions, if we did not evolve with such a predisposition the species would quickly get very sick and die off. However this illustrates how intuitions can lead us far astray from cold calculating reason.

    However, people who would eat the poo flavoured chocolate are probably just being honest that they know their reason could not overpower their intuitions.

    Posted by Illusive Mind

  10. Hey Richard,
    I'm glad you posted on my post at OP. I have to say that you're one of the few people who have gotten the spirit of my posting right [namely, as a funny topic that could, but not necessarily, lead to some important issues, and also, lead towards clarifying my own puzzlement of why, EXACTLY, someone would choose the chocolate]. Mostly everybody else has gotten it wrong, namely, as either an occasion to make a joke [which is just fine, but not in the full spirit], as an occasion to say what a gross dude I am, or as some silly pointless exercise, or, as an occasion to make some question-begging points [like my wife Irem did].
    I'm fully with you here. Nobody has presented any really great arguments in favor of COP. The closest one came is Dave Horacek's [around comment 40 or so]. I haven't responded only b/c I haven't had time.
    One thing to keep in mind is that the matter which makes up pretty much any part of your body, or the lettuce you eat, etc., was probably once poo in someone else's (or some creature's) anus. So what? What does the mere temporal proximity of it being there have to do with anything (when the stipulations of the example have been met?)? My most pointed question, I think, is this:

    Why is it worse to eat the poo than the chocolate, when all (that I can think of) negative causal components in eating poo have been removed, versus eating the chocolate, the eating of which does indeed contain some of the negative causal features of poo?

    Nobody has answered this in an even remotely satisfactory manner.
    This leads me to believe, by extension, that whenever we have a case where some putatively disgusting thing is an option, where all the (most obvious) forms of harm have been removed, that the aversion to the behavior in question is just an irrational left-over component, most likely caused by an evolutionary set of aversion behaviors which contributed to survival, where in the present case the survival-contributing factors no longer obtain.
    Of course, more could be said. Perhaps people are thinking that, with poo-eating, or chicken-screwing, that perhaps other bad behaviors could follow. But, in the poo-eating case, I think people are then just ignoring some of the factors of the stipulation.
    Good post (and not just 'cause it's about mine)!


    Posted by Mark Steen

  11. One negitive side effect is if someone came to you afterwards told you you were on a new version of "canded camera".
    In the eyes of others eating someones poo may well be seen as humiliating more than logical. 

    Posted by GeniusNZ

  12. Isn't it in some sense an implicit assumption of much of this discussion that the reason people avoid eating poo is the taste (that it is the taste "which undergird(s) our disgust at eating poo")? (From what I understand this would typically be false in disgust situations.)

    But regardless of the answer, I see no support in any of this for the view that, obvious harms being eliminated, nothing is left but an irrational hold-over. Why would it be considered irrational to act according to a physical aversion? What could possibly be rational under most circumstances about making oneself sick (even if it was just through strong mental association)? And if we are not considering a physical aversion, it isn't clear to me that, if the general nonphysical aversion itself were rational, it would be irrational to stick with the habit even if you knew that in this particular case no harmful elements were involved. We aren't, after all, disembodied reasoners, but animals who get disgust reactions, however rational we may be; why is everyone so hesitant to allow that it can be rational to act on the disgust itself? (I don't see that the matter and the temporal proximity points are even relevant; human beings tend to be disgusted at what things are seen to be in themselves, not temporal proximity or matter, which would be so in any case, whatever 'causal powers' are removed.) 

    Posted by Brandon

  13. Why do all you freaks want to eat poo? It IS intrinsically poo. You would rather live in a matrix-like world of sensual deception, rather than live in a harsh reality?!

    What about the health of your soul? Perhaps the poo, despite its yummy chocolate flavour, has some other, spiritual quality, that causes your soul to be contaminated. (Cf. ancient Hebrew regulations of ceremonial uncleanness).

    What about the health of your mind? You have chosen to deceive yourself into thinking that given the right conditions, poo is delicious. This could lead to some highly unsanitary dietary practices.

    From a Christian perspective this reminds me of the biblical perspective of sin. It has an attractive and pleasant quality, which is enjoyable, but ultimately it is bad for you and leads to death.

    The chocolate, despite its disgusting excremental properties, remains intrinsically chocolate, with all its nutritious sugar, fat, and caffeine :o)

    Therefore I recommend a diet of poo-flavoured chocolate over that of chocolate-flavoured poo.  

    Posted by robertp

  14. Robert, there's no deceit here - this special poo really is delicious. But I'm sure we're intelligent enough to recognise that this is a special occasion, and we won't be tempted to eat poo at any other times :p

    So, yes, I agree that it IS "intrinsically poo". My response is: so what? Why is that a bad thing? I say poo is bad because it (presumably) tastes gross, can make you sick, etc. If you take all those bad properties away, then what 'badness' is left? What's so "harsh" about this "harsh reality"? (Needless to say, I don't think poo has any evil 'spiritual qualities' that will magically corrupt my soul.) 

    Posted by Richard

  15. Leaving aside the materialist, evolutionary arguments, I think there is a case for some overarching moral edict "Thou shalt not eat poo". If such an edict exists then legally poo-eating is bad.

    If this moral edict originates from cultural, evolutionary, scientific evidence then go eat all the crap you want. But if it originates from an almighty Lawgiver then it would be foolish to offend the supreme being.

    Slight digression: The high priests of our time are materialist scientists. But perhaps there is some value to religious traditions that the modern mind is too quick to reject. 

    Posted by robertp

  16. But if there's absolutely no penalty such as spiritual corruption, or angering a deity, then sure, I would probably choose the yummy poo. Because I don't want to throw up and suffer unnecessarily from gross poo-flavoured chocolate. I regularly eat unsanitary junk and forget to wash my hands anyway..  

    Posted by robertp

  17. Well for one thing, poo CAN be toxic, but aside from that, it's not just the flavour that would turn me off the poo, but the smell, shape and texture. If they were all chocolate-like too I'd probably be more likely to try, but then it'd pretty much be chocolate anyway, right??

  18. I would eat the chocolate,


    Because poo is bad for you, very very very bad, it can kill you. The bacteria and microbes and parasites and worms in poo are bad, that's why we poo it out. That's why when dogs eat poo they puke afterwards, that's why insanitary toilet conditions in third world countries can lead to dysentry, blindness and other highly yuchy things.

    Some health foods taste like shit anyway, isn't it the law that stuff that's good for you tastes a bit bad? therefore I'd eat the poo tasting chocolate, wash it down with some chlorella, some citricidal (grapefruit seed extract- yeah I know!) and perhaps top it off with some charcoal and clay..or perhaps some yak butter tea ...hmmm. (apparently urines is sterile though, as long as you have no that could, as long as adaquate tests are done, be consumed safely, and some people do do that. Hmmm, But some people drink Bleach,
    Which makes me feel less bad about cleaning the loo with it, -well it can't be that bad for the environment if people drink it! And the eco cleaners just don't do the job..

  19. Remember, the scenario is set up in such a way as to guarantee that the poo won't make you sick. All the bad stuff has been removed. The question is whether it remains somehow "intrinsically" bad, even when it won't have any bad effects.


Visitors: check my comments policy first.
Non-Blogger users: If the comment form isn't working for you, email me your comment and I can post it on your behalf. (If your comment is too long, first try breaking it into two parts.)