About Rationally Speaking
Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.
Sunday, February 05, 2012
* Many religions require adherents to donate a fixed portion of their yearly income, usually ~10 percent, to their religious organization. Yet one need not believe in the supernatural to help others, so why don’t we all try to give 10 percent? That’s the idea behind a new British campaign called Giving What We Can.
* The European Union (EU) might soon consider tougher measures on banker bonuses that go against “all reason, common sense and morality,” according to EU financial services commissioner Michel Barnier.
* Good news: Harvard University political philosopher Michael Sandel is back! Sandel has authored several of my favorite books, including Public Philosophy: Essays on Morality in Politics, and most recently, Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do? His new book, coming out this spring, is titled What Money Can’t Buy: the Moral Limits of Markets.
* There are many instances of the government improperly exerting its control over individual choice, but perhaps the most glaring is its making marijuana illegal. That’s the topic of a new article by Jonathan Miller, who writes that there is a compelling scientific, economic, and moral case for the legalization of marijuana.
* Here’s an intriguing thought experiment from Richard Dawkins: “suppose every trial had two juries, sitting in the same courtroom but forbidden to talk to each other.”
* Are babies amoral animals who depend on parents, friends, and society to learn how to be moral agents? Not according to modern science, says Yale University psychologist Paul Bloom. For a look at Bloom’s thoughts, check out this essay in the New York Times.
* Purdue University philosophy professor Daniel Kelly recently sat down for a brief interview on his forthcoming book Yuck! The Nature and Moral Significance of Disgust. I’d not previously heard of Kelly’s work, but it looks interesting. Take a look.
* Should the Thirteenth Amendment, which outlaws slavery and involuntary servitude, apply to non-human animals? That’s the question raised by a new lawsuit filed by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Many have dismissed this case as frivolous, but James McWilliams warns that it raises important questions, and has wide ranging implications — including the potential end of factory farming.
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It is a good thing for anyone to try and help their fellow man, whether they give tithes or just give. However, anyone doing any one of these two things will not save themselves from judgement as a result. Salvation from judgement comes only from the finished work of Christ on the cross.ReplyDelete
...Which seems very odd to anyone not brought up in faith. After all, as a rule, we see belief as morally neutral, while action is morally fraught. Whence the salvific power of beliefs, but not of actions?Delete
Suppose I came over to your house and kicked your dog, and you just raised your eyebrows at me. But then I called your dog a whippet, and you punched me in the face, yelling: "He's a greyhound!!!" That goes some way toward capturing my bafflement at these doctrines.
Anyway Dave, I have a question for you. Your comment made me think maybe you tithe. If so, may I ask to what organizations you give your money?Delete
I really enjoyed the first and seventh points.ReplyDelete
The first point is pretty funny, especially in protestant churches. The whole idea that you don't have to go to church to be a good christian is fine; but the churches will die if no one goes to church. Ultimately the church must provide something for its congregation so it goes and gives money. Also it's amazing how churches relate giving money to them as furthering their relationship with god/jesus etc.
The seventh point is so awesome! Yes we have some innate morality. This would completely destroy the argument theism has that says without religion humans would be raping, killing, and be able to do anything. I find this argument, without the baby research to be flawed anyway. I mean in the USA we think slavery is bad. The church does not think this way. Humans must derive some morality from outside of the bible to accompany it.
The last point worries me because I wonder how so many people are going to get fed if factory farming goes away. If I could wave a wand that took away economic and social inequality the idea of taking away factory farming wouldn't be a big deal. The problem is this is not the case and huge amounts of social inequality exist. Plan and simple, some people do not have enough money to feed themselves currently. How will they get b when protein prices increase as factory farmers have to switch over to more expensive types of farming, like free range?
Thanks for getting all these cool points in once concise post!
"The last point worries me because I wonder how so many people are going to get fed if factory farming goes away."
So, you are right to point out that factory farming is a very efficient way of generating meat; however, it is a very inefficient way of feeding people. To see why, consider trophic levels. To produce 1 kg of meat requires an amount of plant matter typically greater than 4 kg, usually much, much greater. Instead of using that 4 kg to make 1 kg of meat, just eat the 4 kg. This is both cheaper and more efficient than the alternative (well, technically it's cheaper once you eliminate subsidies on meat production). It's not too hard to get protein from various non-meat sources; I get mine in large part from soy products.
Paul Bloom's article was great. A perfect example of how to educate about the potential biases of research and how they are dealt with. Very transparent. Two things: this is from 2010. Any more recent work you've found from Bloom?ReplyDelete
Also, I agreed with all of it until the last page. "But explanations like 'It was my turn' or 'It’s my fair share; are potentially moral, because they imply that anyone else in the same situation could have done the same. ... This is an insight that emerges within communities of intelligent, deliberating and negotiating beings, and it can override our parochial impulses."
"It's my turn/share" is inherently moral. And also I suspect innate, it just comes out later in life. If you have any experience with five-year olds, you know they have an excellent sense of fairness and justice (even if it is used as self-serving, i.e. to get their turn) Contra Bloom, this sense of fairness and justice needs to be socialized out of children. "The world's not fair".
Michael, are you signed on to GWWC or giving a set fraction of income to charity?ReplyDelete
I decided to commit to 5% this year, probably going to ramp that up over the next few years to 10%.
Ian: I have not signed onto GWWC, but I did commit to Peter Singer's pledge, which is based on your income:Delete
Yeah, me too.Delete
I'm with Dawkins in most respects on his thought experiment, but he's wrong to say that if I have reasonable doubt that the JURY will return a guilty verdict, that means I have reasonable doubt that the SUSPECT is guilty.ReplyDelete
" [wrong to say]...if I have reasonable doubt that the JURY will return a guilty verdict, that means I have reasonable doubt that the SUSPECT is guilty."Delete
Exactly! What? Dawkins never heard of differences of opinion?
Even in the scientific community there are differences over whether a particular paper is "worthy" or sometimes even if the data is sufficient to establish the theory. The courtroom audience sticks around to hear the "official" view -- is Dawkins saying that once a scientist submits a paper he just goes on with his life as if he "knows" the paper will be accepted? E.g. he quits his present job, packs his belongings and shows up for work at XYZ university reasoning that "certainly they will see that my latest paper more than qualifies me to teach there"! Nonsense!
EVERYBODY waits for the official view, no matter how much it is beyond reasonable doubt.
For what it is worth, I will add my two-cents. With the exception of environmental concerns, I have no ethical qualms with factory farming- I simply do not see how non-human animals are apart of the moral equation.ReplyDelete
What gives moral standing then, such that one is counted in the moral equation? Membership in the species H. sapiens? Why?Delete
Actually I am going to go farther and just say I don't believe you. A straightforward implication of nonhuman animals' having literally zero moral standing is that you would be indifferent to whether, say, I tortured a cat or not. Twenty to one that you are not indifferent to that tradeoff. It follows you give animals nonzero, though perhaps small, moral standing.Delete
A yuk-reaction neither constitutes nor indicates an ethical qualm. There are of course a great many things I find unpalatable, e.g., incest, but that they are unpalatable does not factor into- not one bit- their ethical standing.
Re: 'What gives moral standing then, such that one is counted in the moral equation? Membership in the species H. sapiens? Why?'
For me, morality is a strategic form of classical means-ends reasoning. Given rational agents suitably situated as we are (each with subjective preferences & a social context), morality results from constraints on utility-maximization.
In nuce, morality benefits the participating agents because it optimizes the utility-maximization of said agents. Now, following Hobbes, I can see no precipice upon which one can stand to hold moral court over one's subjective preferences- they're thoroughly amoral. So, if you prefer to reduce non-human suffering, so be it. But until animals hold sway over my well-being, I refuse to grant them moral patiency.
So... you're saying that you have a yuck reaction to a cat being tortured (which you dismiss as misleading intuition), but you have no actual preference either way?Delete
There is much necessary detail I have omitted, but in a nutshell yes, I do have a 'yuk-reaction' to cats being tortured, but, no, I do not include within my preference set (so to speak) the desire to see cat torturing be subject to moral constraint.
I would like to clarify that I do not dismiss my yuk-reactions as 'misleading intuitions' but rather I dismiss them on the basis that they are generally the result of unreflective socio-cultural predispositions and evolutionary influences, which, to put matters bluntly, really serve to obfuscate moral analyses.
"I do not include within my preference set (so to speak) the desire to see cat torturing be subject to moral constraint."Delete
This is a big circumlocution, which makes me think we're not on the same page. I'm not asking you whether you "prefer that cat torturing be subject to moral constraint." I'm just asking you whether you prefer cat torturing to its absence. Is that the question you were answering?
Okay, getting back to your previous comment:
"For me, morality is a strategic form of classical means-ends reasoning. Given rational agents suitably situated as we are (each with subjective preferences & a social context), morality results from constraints on utility-maximization."
What manner of constraints are these? Game theoretic ones?
I should like to add that 'rational agent' is not synonymous with 'h. sapien'. Presumably there are h. sapiens who are not rational agents (fetuses and certain others), and vice versa (Vulcans).ReplyDelete