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.
Thursday, March 01, 2012
Okay, I turned vegetarian, almost
For some time now I have been conceding — on this blog, on my podcast, and in informal conversations — that vegetarians have the better moral (and health related) argument over most of the alternatives, with a couple of caveats. Why, then, have I kept behaving as an omnivore? Akrasia, Aristotle would say. It’s our innate weakness of the will that represents a major obstacle to human flourishing and a eudaimonic life.
Still, the inconsistency has been bothering me, despite the well known quote by
Walt Whitman: “Very well then I contradict myself, (I am large, I contain multitudes.)” Cute, but a lousy excuse for an inconsistent personal philosophy. Better to practice what I preach and engage in a bit of reflective equilibrium, the philosophical method by which we continually adjust our beliefs and practices because of reflection on other people's arguments and on the available facts.
The final straw that caused me to embrace a different philosophy of eating happened a few nights ago, when I was watching a 2005 advocacy piece called Earthlings. Directed by Shaun Monson, it presents a pretty brutal look at how we treat animals, not just in the sphere of food production, but also as pets, for the production of clothing, for entertaining, and for scientific research. Earthlings has a declared agenda, and not everything that is shown or said there should be taken as correct or fairly representative. Nonetheless, the piece simply translated into relentlessly disturbing images what I pretty much already knew to be the case, and had tried hard to ignore. Hence my resolution to do some reflecting and adjusting as soon as the movie was over.
Now, there are two major reasons to change your dietary habits: health and ethics. In terms of health, as Julia and I explained during the podcast episode, it turns out that vegetarians and people who eat fish and poultry have the best long term outcomes, followed by vegans and by red meat eaters, other things being equal (which they often aren’t, since vegetarians tend to take good care of themselves in general, thus making it a bit more complicated to disentangle the effects of diet per se from those of other relevant variables).
But my recent philosophical realignment has been motivated by ethics, not health practices. When it comes to the ethical domain, at the cost of simplifying things a bit, there are two issues pertinent to human use of animals: treatment and exploitation. To make the distinction clear, one could argue that keeping a pet dog or cat “exploits” them for the purposes of human companionship. Yet, most people — including yours truly — would not object to the practice as long as the animals in question are treated well (i.e., not abused, well fed, taken care of in terms of health, and even of their psychological needs). And of course domesticated animals have been bred by humans for precisely that purpose, so that one can even argue that it is in the best interest of those animals to be human pets, it aligns with their (modified) genetic instincts. To put it yet another way, the animals are getting something (a cozy, predator free and more healthy life than they would be able to pursue in the wild) in return for the companionship they provide.
An obvious objection to this line of argument is that the animals didn’t ask for this arrangement, and that the relationship is intrinsically asymmetrical. True on both counts, but we live with asymmetrical relationships all the time, for instance between employers and employees, or between parents and children (and, needless to say, children didn’t ask to be born either). Moreover, animals are simply not on the same cognitive level as humans, which means that we are the ones who have to take into consideration both our own and the animals’ interests as far as it is possible. If that smacks of paternalism, just remember that that’s precisely what you do with your children. (Yes, I know that the goal with children is different, since they will grow up and eventually become autonomous agents, though even that’s not true in the case of severely mentally or emotionally deficient ones.)
This distinction between treatment and exploitation, I suspect, is also at the root of some differences among vegetarians themselves: vegans, for instance, make the argument that eating eggs and dairy products is unethical on the grounds that they are derived by exploiting animals. Presumably, ovo-lacto-vegetarians do not find this argument entirely convincing. Indeed, the latter seem to be drawing the line at treatment, not use: they will eat cheese, milk and eggs as long as the animals are not subjected to artificial hormonal treatments and are given a reasonably healthy diet and life style (e.g., free ranging chicken and cows).
The treatment-exploitation divide, then, also helps us make sense of why some vegetarians think it is okay to use, say, horses for races, or a range of animals for transportation of people or goods. They may see these activities as relatively benign as long as the animals are well treated, as each party (again, asymmetrically) gets something out of the symbiosis. For instance, horse racing may be acceptable on the condition that the horses are well taken care of, while a rodeo is could well be unacceptable because the animals are usually abused before and during the performance. (I do admit that there are plenty of grey areas here, but I think the general picture holds.)
If I am okay with using animals, including possibly as food, as long as the good treatment criterion holds, what sort of diet should I then follow? At a minimum, a vegetarian diet (as opposed to vegan), if I take care to check that my eggs and dairy products come from free ranging animals. Indeed, one can consistently (from an ethical perspective) go further and include some meat, beginning with fish, as long as it is not the result of the type of large scale industrial practices that are so horrifically depicted in Earthlings (and as long as one also doesn’t run into environmental problems, such as the possibility of over exploitation of fisheries leading to the near extinction of some species).
If the above makes sense, or is at least more coherent than my previous fundamentally omnivorous attitude, then in practice I would have to make vegetables and fruits the larger base of my diet, followed by eggs and dairy, if I'm reasonably sure of the benign treatment of the animals involved (possibly easier for an upper middle class person living in New York around the corner from a large Whole Foods store, more difficult for others), occasionally by poultry (again, assuming free ranging etc.), and by fish (once I check out the advisability of eating a particular species based on ecological criteria — for instance using the excellent iPhone / Android app out out by the Monterey Aquarium). Pretty much all red meat will be out, and so too will be poultry, fish, eggs and dairy in the many cases in which I will not be able to ascertain that my minimal conditions for humane treatment have been met. To complicate things further, I have decided that there simply is no justification for eating animals that are capable of sophisticated cognitive processes, which includes humans — there goes my chance for cannibalism — whales, dolphins and, alas, squid and octopi. Oh well.
So, this is where the most recent round of reflective equilibrium has led me. I'm sure there is room for improvement, so by all means, take aim with your comments.
Posted by Unknown at 7:00 AM
Labels: animal rights, diet, documentaries, ethics, morality, vegetarianism
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This captures nicely why I stopped eating mammals a while back. It has to do with their cognitive capacity for suffering. There is some semi-arbitrary cognitive line, above which we should not eat.ReplyDelete
But I vacillate between the reasons for this, and as a result I vacillate about where to draw the line. Do I have a treatment, a use objection, or both? It seems obvious to me that I shouldn't eat beef raised in factory conditions, because the treatment is so awful. But what about "ethically-raised" grass-fed beef? I could imagine conditions that made me unconcerned about the treatment of the animal, even including the method of slaughter. So should I object to the painless slaughter itself? In other words, should I object to the use of this animal? If I have no objection to the (painless) use of a cow, why do I balk at the idea of eating ethically-raised and painlessly-slaughtered monkey?
Maybe there's some cognitive line above which the animal can be considered to have developed interests of its own, and I shouldn't thwart those interests for my own relatively unimportant interests (e.g. to eat red meat rather than fish).
Since you've captured my thinking so nicely, Massimo, I'd be interested to hear your take on ethically-raised (define that how you like) beef.
Massimo: it turns out that vegetarians and people who eat fish and poultry have the best long term outcomesReplyDelete
Who is left out of this broad category? Omnivores who consume any amount of red meat? I know this echoes your parenthetical remark about confounding health factors, but my own inference from personal research on this side topic strongly suggests that a healthy omnivorous diet (e.g. one that limits red meat to a nutritionally advisable portion) is no more of an oxymoron than an unhealthy vegetarian diet (e.g. one that generally flouts nutritional advice and simply avoids red meat).
If so, and we assume that human physical health is morally significant, then the ethical question bears a ceteris paribus clause: If we compare two equally healthy individuals - one a vegetarian and the other an omnivore - with only those facts available - do we judge the former to be more praiseworthy than the latter?
Even given this more "fair & balanced" framing, I still have a difficult time judging the omnivore less favorably than the vegetarian (even though I've personally been both - as well as a vegan - at different periods of my life) - not because I am insensitive to the suffering of non-human individuals (indeed, I support efforts to improve animal welfare) - but rather:
(a) I believe that virtually all human activity has a negative impact on other species - including farming that excludes livestock (e.g. see this analysis, which Greg Linster posted here recently, which argues that vegetarians actually have more blood on their hands than omnivores - although that might overstate the case); and
(b) I harbor conflicting - and admittedly anthropocentric and culturally biased - values, interests, and (yes) tastes, which counter-motivate me to conserve livestock farming & cuisine (partly because I've lived in a rural area for the past ten years and virtually all of my loved ones are omnivores).
I've not seen "Earthlings", but your reaction to it was similar to my reaction to the book "Eating Animals". It was the final straw to pushing past being a pesco vegetarian (still eating fish) to a true vegetarian. The other impact to consider beside immediate health or ethic questions is that of environmental impact.ReplyDelete
I am still a heap of contradictions though. I still have, wear and use a multitude of things that resulted from the slaughter of animals. I have not been raising my children as vegetarians and allow them to eat animals when outside of the house.
In my relationship with other animals, with other areas, I'm working to bring my actual actions in closer alignment with my values. This is a process, which I am not financially, physically & emotionally prepared to do instantly.
It is interesting that the visual experience of having seen the film is what ultimately caused you to change your stance, and not pure philosophical reflection alone. That's how I read your post, anyway. Let me ask: have you made any arguments here that you (1) were not aware of before or (2) previously believed to be invalid or unsound? Did you discover evidence (data) in the movie that you were unaware of before? I suspect not, on both counts. The arguments presented here are pretty straightforward and the data in the movie is likely not "new" but rather just depicted in visceral ways. Though I haven't seen the movie, so I don't really know. But that is my guess.
I ask these questions not to try to "call you out" but rather to call attention to how we humans practice reflective equilibrium: it is MORE than a logical exercise of adjusting beliefs in response to arguments and facts, as you say. Rather, it is ALSO a process which depends on our innate need to retain a sound, settled inner psychological life. Further, and crucially, that process is itself very likely an irrational one. I'm thinking here of a kind of mediation between unconscious and conscious levels of mental work, where the unconscious work is done out of view of the conscious. (See Timothy Wilson's Strangers To Ourselves).
Anyway, I say all of this because it is a lesson that everyone in the rationalist community should take to heart. It offers guidance for how to deal with and challenge others' beliefs. It also happens to be a nice reminder about what is actually happening when others "just don't see the ill-logic" in their belief structure. That is, yes, they don't see the logic because they have not first been sufficiently motivated. Maybe Hume was right in that reason is after all the slave of the passions. And if so, that should be a good lesson for how the rationalist community crafts its message. But, first, it must be acknowledged. Have you done that here, in this post?
Love the blog and all the work you do for the cause of reason!
Congratulations Massimo! It's important to remember that in our mass-consumer market, "humanely" raised meat is a label, not a reality. As just one example, consider that regardless of the farm, animal veterinarians routinely castrate squealing little piglets without anesthesia. To put this in perspective, imagine doing the same thing to a puppy, or a human infant, or you... Anyone who pays for this meat is financing animal cruelty. (Note: I'm not perfect and can relate to your comment about akrasia).ReplyDelete
If you haven't read Peter Singer's classic book, "Animal Liberation," you'll find that it is laden with a multitude of ethical dilemma's about animal exploitation. It has been a life-changing book for many people.
As my favorite living philosopher, you just jumped another notch. :-)
Re: "To put this in perspective, imagine doing the same thing to a puppy, or a human infant, or you..."ReplyDelete
Let us re-translate: "To put this in [my] perspective... " Of course, the difficulty presented here is that situating matters in your perspective entails taking much for granted, in meta-ethical terms. So, I question, do you not find a moral difference between castrating a human infants and a suckling pig?
If not, this should strike one as problematic, since (I presume) your moral intuitions factor significantly into your decision not to eat certain foods- I suspect you have a palpable 'yuk'-reaction. But why are your moral intuitions not equally probative in comparing human infants to suckling pigs? Surely you ***do*** have those intuition, no?
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PS: if I'm reasonably sure of the benign treatment of the animals involved (possibly easier for an upper middle class person living in New York around the corner from a large Whole Foods store, more difficult for others)ReplyDelete
This statement suggests a lot more trust in the Whole Foods chain for this information than I have (or, if I recall correctly, food journalist & author Michael Pollan), although I see the situation through the lens of an ethical omnivore (or try to, anyway).
Pretty much all red meat will be out, and so too will be poultry, fish, eggs and dairy in the many cases in which I will not be able to ascertain that my minimal conditions for humane treatment have been met.
I live in Upstate NY, near a grass-fed beef farm that sells their products directly to consumers each week at the farmer's market in Union Square, Manhattan. (I actually didn't know this until a recent trip to NYC, when I passed by it.) I would be surprised if they did not meet at least some "good treatment criterion", but possibly not yours. I think it's worth looking into, though.
@Eamon - "...do you not find a moral difference between castrating a human infants and a suckling pig?"ReplyDelete
I think you're framing the question too broadly. The primary objection of vegetarians/vegans is animal cruelty. To re-frame your question, do you think that human infants suffer agonizing pain, but suckling pigs don't? We're both both mammals with similar nervous systems. It's a well established fact that mammals suffer from pain, so it's a fair comparison.
"... in my nonprofessional life I am quite prepared to get worked up about people who boil lobsters alive." - Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker, page 2.
There are many reasons why the number of vegans has doubled in the US in less than 3 years. Here are two uplifting videos to help everyone understand why so many people are making this life affirming choice: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fKr4HZ7ukSE and http://www.veganvideo.orgReplyDelete
You have not answered my question at all. In response to Massimo regarding the habit of castrating suckling pigs, you wrote : "To put this in perspective, imagine doing the same thing to a puppy, or a human infant, or you... "
My question to you was, basically, do find castrating human infants or human adults against their will on ethical par with castrating suckling pigs. If you do not, the following utterance loses its relevance: "To put this in perspective, imagine doing the same thing to a puppy, or a human infant, or you... "
So, before you intend to go down tangents, that is 're-frame' questions, please answer the question before you.
Question, clear and precise: "Do you not find a moral difference between castrating a human infants and a suckling pig?"
We have people that have used "rational extension" to proclaim moral outrage at boiling live lobsters....and at the same time others are using the same method for claiming that it's morally justified to kill babies. A good reason to distrust rationalism.ReplyDelete
Re: "... in my nonprofessional life I am quite prepared to get worked up about people who boil lobsters alive." - Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker, page 2.
I personally could not care less what Richard Dawkins has to say on this matter as he strikes me as being about as philosophically insightful as a crustacean.
@Eamon - "Do you not find a moral difference between castrating a human infants and a suckling pig?"ReplyDelete
I'm not interested in discussing moral differences between the treatment of different species of animals - I find both cases reprehensible. Remember that we're talking about suffering caused by forced amputation of genitalia without anesthesia.
@Eamon - "I personally could not care less what Richard Dawkins has to say on this matter as he strikes me as being about as philosophically insightful as a crustacean."
In the context of this discussion, Dawkin's philosophical sophistication is irrelevant. As an expert in biological evolution, he's expressing his disapproval of boiling lobsters based on the likelihood that it causes them to suffer.
You're poisoning the well.
Massimo, in addition to akrasia, health, abitoire blues and other points you rightfully brought up, there is also the issue of, well, the environment. Red meat (per calorie) costs much more than carrots in terms of water consumption, energy consumption and carbon dioxide. When did these animal welfare and environmental issues get out of whack, anyway, huh? My guess is around the time when a society abandons its old school, personal, human - animal relationships, and favours anonymity instead. In the Alps of Switzerland and in Steppes of Mongolia, they keep the old ways - the old relationships with the animals. There, they take them to the pasture and whip them on the ass when they wander off. I'd be buggered if I could say anything was wrong with that (other than over-grazing). If everyone only ate animals that the farmer, butcher or hunter met, even if only for a brief enthralling moment, it would be alright. But that age is gone. Greetings from Norway, where we perfected the chemical art of breeding tons of fish in crowded cages. My stance is to favour a vegetarian diet, but not too much because bacon tastes good, steak tastes good, salmon tastes good, and a little sin can go a long way.ReplyDelete
This appeared in the wrong area.......ReplyDelete
>"Hence my resolution to do some reflecting and adjusting as soon as the movie was over."
I find this resolution that you made to yourself fascinating. Have you any insight into why you made this resolution? What caused it? Was it an emotional feeling that was the precipitater? Or was it based upon an existing goal? An attempt to make this new "data" cohere with your existing basic moral fundamentals? Was it a rational extension from the fundamental assumptions? ie "flourishing"?
You evade a very important issue. You state: "I find both cases reprehensible." Ok, good. Now which do you find more reprehensible and why? This is important for two reasons.
(1) If I found the act of castrating humans against their will *far* more reprehensible than the act of castrating suckling pigs, the following utterance is no longer relevant: "To put this in perspective, imagine doing the same thing to a puppy, or a human infant, or you... ". In which case you will lose a rattle you are apt to shake.
(2) If you do not find causing unnecessary pain and suffering to a human more reprehensible than causing the same type of unnecessary pain and suffering to non-human animals, this is problematic, since (I presume) your moral intuitions factor significantly into your decision not to eat certain foods. But why are your moral intuitions not equally probative in comparing human infants to suckling pigs? Surely you ***do*** have those intuition, no?
(2a) If you do not have the latter moral intuitions, then you strike me as a particularly pitiful specimen of a human being.
Once you answer my question, I will answer yours. (Prelude: Contra Bentham, pain and suffering are not the sine qua non for moral consideration.)
It seems that there are two approaches to reaching the point of a persons change of eating habits due to transformative cognition. One is expanding the circle of empathy and caring....as a result of new exposure to or experience of animal suffering. The other seems to be a rationalistic exercise based upon a desire for rational coherence and an urge to extend a fundamental moral rule such as a belief that one should inflict no pain on any sentient animal....human or otherwise. So....in the second case...one need not be exposed to the personal observance of pain being inflicted and thus feeling empathy that one has not previously felt or considered.....only an urge to extend rationally outward....to it's furthest ration inclusion....all sentient beings. An important point is that there is a difference between having empathy for or caring for an animal in pain....and a moral stance that says we should not inflict pain.ReplyDelete
You seem to be conflating finding something reprehensible, vulgar, or disgusting, with moral intuition. Finding something reprehensible or disgusting is not the same thing a believing it is wrong. Nor is having empathy for a persons pain the same as thinking that it's infliction is wrong.
You are right. Though, in my defense, I was using 'reprehensible' because Stu Tanquist used it. Even so, I would wager a fair amount that Stu Tanquist places much ethical weight on his 'yuk' reactions and that he has confused moral intuitions on these issues.
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@Eamon - "You evade a very important issue."ReplyDelete
The only thing I'm evading is your vacuous attempt to skirt the real issue, presumably to resolve your own cognitive dissonance.
Aim your "meta-ethical" red herrings elsewhere. I'm not interested in engaging with you.
Moral indignation is a poor substitute for reason.Delete
Congratulations, food choices are difficult but there are so many options out their these days, (I eat 95% vegetarian and occasional will have some free range meat).ReplyDelete
Is dairy less cruel than meat though? Dairy cows are in a constant "cycle of insemination, pregnancy, parturition, and lactation" (wiki). This is arguably cruel and requires the separation of the the calf from the mother, which is traumatic.
How could "using animals as food" be compatible with "good treatment"? You don't kill the cow for the milk, or the hen for the eggs, any more that you kill sheep for wool. You do kill everything you actually eat. Or do you just think fish don't mind being eaten?
And if you're worried about exploitation, maybe sweatshops in China and low-wage jobs in your town are more of an issue. Does the waitress who serves your coffee in the corner bistro make a living wage? Does she have health insurance? Where does she leave her children when she goes to work?
Sorry for the rant.
If you're comfortable with eating things, go ahead and eat them. When you're no longer comfortable with it: stop. If watching a film changes what you're comfortable with, all the better. But this theoretical "is it morally acceptable to eat x" is painful to watch because it's not connected to real empathy. When you look in an animal's eyes, or watch if fly, swim, run, or sleep, you may feel empathy and think: I don't want to kill you. That's a good reason to become a vegetarian. And if you're ever tempted to eat an animal, thinking of how it is alive - breathing, flying, swimming - will stop you. Not with a bad conscience, but with empathy.
I guess my point is that there is no absolute truth to what it is "right" to do, this is a value judgment. And our value judgements are made by our emotions, all arguments for our value judgments are rationalisations after the fact. And you seem concerned only with these rationalisations, not with how you feel. Do you feel sorry for the dairy cow / the horse in the race / the fish on your plate?
Nice....Very, very, well stated.
Indeed, Delft's comment here gets my vote for Best Negative Comment on this post.Delete
On a slight tangent, but given the post's film orientation, I have a film recommendation: this one a drama about the life of Temple Grandin, a likely hero to anyone who is truly concerned about animal welfare in the livestock industry (as well as to those who struggle with autism).
No cognitive dissonance here (at least I don't think I am holding conflicting cognitions), and certainly no red herrings. Just trying to get you to answer a straightforward question.
Like most (though certainly not all) animal rights advocates, you seem uniquely unwilling (incapable?) of defending your views when confronted with serious inquiries.
For anyone who cares to provide an answer,ReplyDelete
Why ought humans to award non-human animals the type of moral considerations which would rationally require the abstention of either (1) factory farmed products and/or (2) all animal products?
In the question of deciding which objects should be objects of moral concern, I have never seen an argument that is not wildly arbitrary and that selects all human beings, and only human beings. I think we can agree on the simple claim that any moral system needs to distinguish between things it cares about and those it doesn't, and I haven't seen any wholly non-arbitrary argument on the matter. But, the arguments that identify a mental trait (consciousness, rationality, etc.) as the criterion to distinguish objects of moral concern, seem to me substantially less arbitrary than the arguments that simply identify a class of objects directly (e.g., picking out humans only), since the former have the potential to cohere with ethical motivations and metaethical considerations. The former arguments, though, never pick out all humans and only humans. If you have an argument that you think actually is non-arbitrary and that picks out all humans and only humans, I'd dearly love to see it.Delete
What is the population percentaje with the posibilty to choose... ie: Who can actually say "there are two major reasons to change your dietary habits: health and ethics"? There is a 3rd (and main) reason: what you can get!ReplyDelete
Congratulations, Massimo and humble thanks from one of the many who find the case against unnecessary killing overwhelming, suspecting that any philosopher really ready to think it through will come to your conclusion and so,grateful to see a respected figure weighing in there!ReplyDelete
(A note: horse racing is in fact a brutal, wasteful "sport", horses are forced (many suffer from ulcers and bleeding from the lungs) (American Association of Equine Practitioners information), thousands are sacrificed when still very young (4000 a year in the UK alone, according to the Guardian newspaper) for minor injuries or simply not making the grade, and hundreds die every year in races (in the UK, Animal Aid's "Racehorse Death Watch" q.v. keeps track). I mention this because people often equate economic usefulness with good treatment of nonhumans and assume that e.g. racehorses will be "well treated". Unfortunately, looking behind the cheery images put out by almost any human exploitation of nonhumans swiftly reveals a similar ugly picture, which is why so many people speedily turn vegan as soon as they get a whiff of what's really going on in any "animal enterprise".)
Heartfelt thanks for your posting.
>"thanks from one of the many who find the case against unnecessary killing overwhelming"
There is no "case" to be made against unnecessary killing. There is only emotion. That and the rationalistic effort to construct some argument that helps you force your feelings and desires upon others.
The fact that my revulsion against unnecessary killing is based on emotion (as are all value judgements) does not mean there is no case against it. The case to be made is not a moral one, but one that rests on the question what kind of society we want to live in.Delete
The wish to be kind to others may not be universal. The desire to have others be kind to us is fairly universal. We want empathy, consideration for our needs, etc. Only sociopaths may not want this. So we can look at how to move towards a society in which these needs are satisfied. There you have a case.
The way you write "only emotion" makes me suspect we are not birds of a feather. Emotion is what guides us, it defines what makes us happy, it is our very core. I do agree it is not a good idea to foist our own emotions and desires on others, as this is a form of violence that I eschew. That is why I am personally opposed to moralistic argument.
At the same time this does not mean giving up on common values altogether, as you seem to be doing, or perhaps I am reading you wrong. It only means trying to find a different basis for them, as does my case above. And accepting that not everybody needs to agree on them.
On a slightly different note, I think we all agree on how to treat those we accept as "like us". Only who/what is like us is defined in widely different ways. The scale runs from excluding everyone except self, or family, or everyone of the "wrong" sex, race or creed, to including all humans, all animals, all living creatures. And of course we think our own perception of how far to go is *just right*, and others are either too callous, or too extreme. I was recently in conversation with a Jain, who was talking about the harm done to the surrounding creatures when you uproot a carrot…
>"At the same time this does not mean giving up on common values altogether"
I am not interested in "giving up on common values". Values can be valuable, whether common or not. I am merely pointing out that one cannot rationalize a feeling in a way that results in a moral rule. It is simply the old "cannot produce a moral OUGHT from IS" The only "ought" that can be derived from our emotional desires is the instrumental "ought". ie "IF you want X...you can get it if you Y."
Eamon (on the question you asked Stu),ReplyDelete
the issue you raise seems a bit strange. After a certain point (i.e. when things becomes unacceptable) it doesn' matter anymore whether it is more reprehensible. Castrating piglets and humans is both unacceptable to Stu, so whether one is more reprehensible than the other becomes irrelevant. Acceptability is binary, the other a continuum.
Eamon (on the abstention question)ReplyDelete
As a fantasy writer, I had to give this some thought in a different context: "human" and "non-human" are nonsensical distinctions in a fantasy setting and the matter becomes "sentient" vs "non-sentient". Even in the real world, human and non-human are arbitrary distinctions - how much change in genome is needed before somebody (-thing) ceases being a human?
For me, the bar is "uplift potential" (see David Brin's novels). Gorillas and dolphins are above the bar, i.e. they are already sentient enough to be or become "human-equivalent", cows and pigs below. It is an arbitrary bar, though.
So my anwer to your question would be: because the distinction human vs. non-human is not meaningful even in the real world, it should actually be sentient vs. non-sentient, and because the bar for that is arbitrary.
Did you read Delft's comments (above)? Are you able to show his assertions to be incorrect?
Yes. Why should I? Different issue.Delete
It's at the foundation of the issue. He's saying that this discussion about how many fairies can sit on the head of a pin.....is nonsense....because there are no fairies.Delete
If there are no fairies....why are we still debating how many can sit on the head of a pin.
No he isn't. He is saying the line is arbitrary, and I agree. Now why would you be seeing fairies...? ;-)Delete
Sorry...I thought that the parable I used was fairly well known. It applies to this discussion because it seems everyone is debating about the qualities of something that
does not objectively exist. Why debate what is and is not moral until we ask meta-ethical questions about the concept...Are we searching for truth regarding what IS moral? Trying to discover it some where?...or trying to determine what moral rules we should legislate and enforce ....like we do when legislating laws? What do you think? Are we trying to 'discover' or 'legislate'.
Oh, I just couldn't resist since you substituted the angels for fairies ;-)Delete
Are you asking for this blog or in general? In the real world the latter, for this blog I am not so sure which one.
I personally am still agnostic as the whether there is a truth that can be discovered.
"Congratulations, Massimo!" What? Did Massimo have a religious conversion and now the brethren are adoring his new-found faith?ReplyDelete
So, unnecessarily killing (or castrating) a human (against her will) or unnecessarily killing a pig, which act do you hold more morally blameworthy?
The human killing, obviously - but isn't really the issue. (Killing two humans is also more blameworthy than killing one, isn't it?)Delete
What about killing plants? - they are alive. Even seeds are alive. Don't they count? Where do vegans and vegetarians draw the arbitrary line? Humans can't live without killing other organisms - it is just not possible.ReplyDelete
Just realised the last paragraph of my response to DJD above is pretty much what you are saying. The line is arbitrary. Where do you draw it?
Delft, as above, have apparently been logging in with a defunct address.
The issue is not whether a species is alive, e.g., bacteria, but whether they can suffer. Plants don't have a central nervous system or pain receptors.Delete
Following Delft's point, sentience is just as arbitrary a criterion of moral consideration as life is. I would add, as I did below, that human sentience is just as arbitrary as sentience per se.
@Eamon - You're ignoring the core issue (again). It is a fact, in the scientific sense, that some species suffer horribly from pain. This discussion is about the morality of unnecessarily causing other creatures to suffer, i.e., animal cruelty.Delete
You are again using a red herring in an effort to skirt the issue, i.e., you're just making noise. Take it elsewhere.
Actually, much of the discussion has revolved around the rationality (or irrationality) of animal-product consumption, to which I say: It depends on your beliefs and desires.Delete
I, for one, do not harbor any particular belief upholding the sanctity of all life (sentient or non-sentient, human or non-human), nor do I desire to tailor my lifestyle around such a belief.
And, while I am aversive to causing other creatures to suffer unnecessarily (again, driven by desires, or by emotional forces like sympathy and disgust), I reject the claim that my enjoying a hamburger or hot dog qualifies as cruelty to animals - certainly not in any obvious or immediate way (which is no doubt why activists attempt to drive the most shocking images closer to home).
And, insofar as the worst claims of animal welfare & rights advocates are true, then the optimal solution from my standpoint is not a boycott of all animal products (or even just of red meat), but rather an adoption of whatever set of reforms to the food system would effectively minimize livestock suffering, while also conserving the omnivorous culture that I identify with so strongly.
So, whatever that optimal solution looks like or my contribution to bringing it about, the idea of my pursuing or advocating a vegetarian (let alone a vegan) diet as a lifestyle choice strikes me as completely irrational. But I accept that that course of action may be rational from the standpoint of a different belief-desire complex.
>"This discussion is about the morality of unnecessarily causing other creatures to suffer"
There is really nothing to discuss about the morality of causing other creatures to suffer, only about whether you have empathy for them....or whether I have empathy for them. The same goes for torturing humans for no reaso. You and I may have great empathy for their suffering....but empathy does not necessitate moral judgment. Empathy is not foundational for being able to make claims about morality via rational moves....or logical moves. It is empathy and only empathy. You may claim it stokes your "moral intuition"...but that also is your feeling. It's not a "rational" jump from empathy to moral intuition. Nor is it rational to go from moral intuition to believing that "It is immoral to torture"
The only way rationality can work is when there is a given assumption. An IF x is true...and this is a case of X...then this also is true.
(sigh) I am not presenting red herrings.
Of course animals experience pain; I have never denied that. Rather, as I said previously, I deny that the ability to experience pain is a sufficient condition for moral consideration- particularly the types of moral considerations which would prevent me from eating animals.
P.S. I would appreciate if you stop mindlessly leveling this-and-that logical fallacy at me and instead address what I have to say in rational manner.
So you can kill anything you want, you just can't make it suffer? I could eat all of the meat I wanted if the animal were killed without pain? How do you know what plants feel? They can certainly sense light and chemicals in the environment.Delete
Let's look at the eating plants versus animals question from a practical perspective. Animals don't live on air alone. They eat plants, lots of them. So even if you would only eat animals, lots of plants would be killed for your food. Since it takes many kilos of plants to produce one kilo of beef, you can save many plants by eating them directly, instead of through animals. Also, as has been pointed out, plants don't suffer anywhere near as much as animals do when they are bred, killed and eatenDelete
I'm loosely familiar with this argument (at least since having read Diet for a Small Planet many years ago). Suffice it to say:
1) it's got its challengers in the fact-checking dept. (e.g. see this analysis which I posted here earlier); and
2) whichever empirical argument holds, it is still an open philosophical question as to whether or not we are morally obliged to reduce suffering in organisms (as opposed to being obliged to do so only for our in-group, as defined by the proverbial "social contract").
That said, I personally find a moral-sense (or sentimentalist) view of meta-ethics to be appealing, in which our strongest emotions (like empathy and disgust) deserve most of the credit for any particular moral stance or motivation (not that emotions are sufficient - we also need the instruments of rationality - in the cool-headed classical sense - so that we can develop behavioral guidelines and strategies for pursuing moral ends).
If so, then pathos will almost certainly get you places in terms of moral persuasion (look at the effect that film Earthlings had on a sophisticate like Massimo!), but not necessarily as far as you might like, insofar as emotions vary, sway, and compete among and within individuals (some of whom, it's worth mentioning, are neurologically atypical).
In my case, I'm self-aware enough to know that my emotional commitments to omnivorous culture (including livestock farming & culinary tradition) inhibits my concern for the well-being of livestock animals, but inhibition is not the same as erasure. In other words, the rational challenge for me is: How do I reconcile these conflicting emotions?
The answer surely invokes concepts like animal welfare (as opposed to animal rights) and ethical omnivorism (as opposed to ethical vegetarianism or veganism), but just because they allow me to eat meat does not make them easy to live by.
PS: Having experimented with both ovo-lacto-vegetarian and vegan diets in the past (I was a rebellious youth), I have some idea of just how difficult these diets are (at least for me!), relative to my ethical omnivorous ideal.Delete
actually there exists a jain community in india which doesn't consume any parts of a plant that would cause an end to the plants life..there are thousands of people in this community who have never had a potato,carrot ie roots stems or leaves.Delete
if the real concern is preventing loss of life alone then the above diet would be best,but it wouldn't provide required nourishment.
Timothy: If you have an argument that you think actually is non-arbitrary and that picks out all humans and only humans, I'd dearly love to see it.ReplyDelete
As I read through the others' comments here, one of the running themes that I see is that Massimo's decision is ostensibly motivated by the sympathy that the film aroused in him, as opposed to some rational formula. In my view, that is by no means a strike against it, but it's also by no means obviously incumbent on anyone else to adopt it, as well.
That said, is sympathy arbitrary or non-arbitrary? The very question appears to assume a level of rational deliberation that (in all likelihood) only came later, when faced with the question: Can I reconcile this potential commitment with the other commitments that I've already made in my life?
mufi, I'm afraid I don't fully understand either of your paragraphs here.Delete
For the first one - yes, I'd agree that as a descriptive matter, emotional reactions are much more likely to motivate real action than are purely propositional considerations, but it appears you're inferring something from this fact (am I right here?), and it's unclear to me what. I suspect the problem is that in the paragraph's last sentence, the "it" of "adopt it" is unclear to me.
As for the second paragraph, I don't see the connection you're suggesting between the first question and the second one. I also simply don't see the significance of whether the sympathy or the deliberation preceded the other, at least not for my point.
My previous comment used your statement as a springboard for some loosely related personal observations, so you may be looking for an argumentative structure that I did not intend. (For that, see Eamon's reply to you below, to which I'm tempted to reply myself.) Sorry for the confusion.
I also recommend reading the philosopher David DeGrazia, who sometimes points out that the critical thinking generally attributed to his colleagues often falters or is absent when it comes to animal exploitation.ReplyDelete
The logical next step is a commitment to veganism.
I am confused. First, you say: “the distinction human vs. non-human is not meaningful even in the real world, it should actually be sentient vs. non-sentient.” Then, when asked if killing humans is worse than killing non-human animals, you say: “The human killing, obviously - but isn't really the issue.”
If the distinction between 'human' and 'non-human' is not meaningful, how can we draw meaningful moral distinctions between actions against 'humans' and similar actions against 'non-humans' such that one act is “obviously” morally more blameworthy?
(Once you clarify this confusion, we can proceed.)
Because the distinction sentient vs. non-sentient is. You didn't ask about about animals, but about pigs.Delete
Let me ask a question back: assume that next year a spaceship lands with non-humanoid aliens that are ten times as intelligent as we are. (Unlikely, but not impossible.) Where would killing them rank on the moral blameworthiness scale, since they are non-human?
I answered your question in the prepenultimate paragraph of my comment below.Delete
(Note: If the non-humanoid aliens intended to eradicate the human population, e.g., killing them would not be morally blameworthy at all.)
Any case for or against animal rights (construed in terms of ethical considerations and legal 'rights') must begin with a meta-ethical foundation.
Briefly, for myself I view morality as a strategic form of classical means-ends reasoning. Given largely self-regarding rational agents suitably situated as we are (each with subjective preferences within a social context), morality results from constraints on utility-maximization. Indeed, moral norms precisely are 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 are thoroughly amoral. So, if you prefer to reduce non-human suffering, so be it, but until and unless animals hold sway over my well-being through their rational deliberations, I can see no rational reason to grant them moral patiency; I simply see no rational grounds why we should include animals into moral discourse.
I should like to add that 'rational agent' need not be synonymous with 'h.sapien'; presumably, there are h.sapiens who are not rational agents (fetuses), and vice versa (Vulcans). (Also, please note that there is much Kantian detail omitted which is in the end rather important and which might go some way in answering in the positive the most obvious rejoinder: "But what about infants and toddlers? Do they qualify for moral consideration?".)
Now what I have in crude fashion outlined above is not arbitrary in any problematical sense. Nevertheless, to your point regarding so-called 'less arbitrary' criteria for moral concern, it is not at all clear to me why holding particular traits, e.g., sentience, as morally significant is any less arbitrary than holding particular traits of certain types of objects, e.g. human sentience, as morally significant (even though in my outline I identify particular traits without any necessary connection to a particular type of objects).
P.S. If anyone is interested, check out David Gauthier's Morals By Agreement, from whom I learned so much.
Behavioral scientist Herb Gintis once wrote:Delete
...it is just as ‘rational’ for me to prefer to have you enjoy a ﬁne meal as for me to enjoy the meal myself. It is just as ‘rational’ for me to care about the rain forests as to care about my beautiful cashmere sweater. And it is just as ‘rational’ to reject an unfair offer as it is to discard an ugly article of clothing. [source]
And I would add that it is just as rational for me to care about the welfare of creatures that fail to make the "rational agent" cut.
By the same token, however, it is just as rational for me to prefer the cultural/legal status quo, in which certain non-human animal species are raised, slaughtered, or hunted for human consumption, to the cultural/legal framework that animal rights advocates envision, in which such practices are taboo and/or prohibited.
In other words, animal rights advocates might stand some chance of altering my preferences by appealing to my sympathies (albeit, with very limited success, so far only encouraging my support for reforms to the status quo), but appealing to my sense of rationality is almost surely a dead end.
Nicely put. Your final paragraph says all that needs to be said.
"In nuce, morality benefits the participating agents because it optimizes the utility-maximization of said agents."Delete
Eamon, I'm sorry but your meaning is very unclear to me. Here, rather than optimizing (maximizing or minimizing) an objective function, you're saying you're optimizing a large number of maximization processes. What do you mean? You couldn't mean this quoted sentence as it's written, since there are tradeoffs between maximizing different people's utility, meaning that maxing them all would lead to contradictions. If I may speculate, it seems like you're saying the set of possible constraints on people's maximization problems is your choice set, which is fine, but you've neglected to say what the objective function is that you're optimizing over this choice set. I think that question's the crux of the matter. How have you chosen this non-arbitrary objective function? You still haven't said anything that would suggest it's any less arbitrary than any other choice of objective function.
And yes, as your parenthetical indicates, you've left open the question why infants and toddlers would matter to you. For that matter, you've left open why any adult, fully healthy human who does not have "sway over [your own] well-being through their rational deliberations" would matter morally.
"it is not at all clear to me why holding particular traits, e.g., sentience, as morally significant is any less arbitrary than holding particular traits of certain types of objects, e.g. human sentience, as morally significant"
Consider the former one. You've made two ad hoc decisions: the first to pick sentience, and the second to stop selecting additional criteria. In the latter, you've made (at least) three, making the latter example quantitatively more ad hoc than the former.
point is, your decision is arbitrary - qualifying it with "not in any problamtical sense" doesn't change the fact that it IS arbitrary. (Is the term "less arbitrary" any more meaningful than "less pregnant"? Real question, I always thought arbitrary was binary, but then English is not my native language.)
To add to Timothy's question why infants and toddlers would matter: if "rational agent" is indeed the criterion, wouldn't anthropoid apes matter more than infants?
(Just to clarify: I do eat meat - I am not arguing that it is morally wrong to eat meat, just that both vegetarians and non are making an arbitrary decision as to where the boundary of acceptability is, as it is somewhere in the grey area of moral wrongness.)
In what way does the concept of Morals By Agreement differ from Laws By Agreement.
Not quite sure what you are asking here.
Are we searching for truth regarding what IS moral? Trying to discover it some where?...or trying to determine what moral rules we should legislate and enforce ....like we do when legislating laws? What do you think? Are we trying to 'discover' or 'legislate'.
It seems to me that moral and legal norms must evidence similar rational virtues (or, more better, criteria). On this, see, for instance, the late Lon Fuller's The Morality of Law, wherein he describes the rational requirements for legal norms.
But to more directly answer your question, I do not believe in agent-independent moral and legal norms. Each arises out of the interaction of particularly constituted agents within a social context.
So, what do you think: Does this commit me to believing moral norms are discovered or invented?
>"Does this commit me to believing moral norms are discovered or invented?"
From what I have read so far of your writings...You seem to believe that moral intuition provides the grounding for
moral commitments. It is unclear whether you are being descriptive or prescriptive.You do seem to think that a person that lacks moral intuitions similar to yours is a pathetic human being. This seems to suggest that you think humans "OUGHT" to have moral intuitions similar to yours. Whether you think that these moral intuitions are
are useful in forging moral "oughts" or merely instrumental "oughts" is unclear. You may just be pointing out that humans DO use these intuitions to "construct" moral "oughts" ....or you may be saying that humans "ought" to do so. If you believe that they "ought" to...is that the instrumental "ought" or the moral "ought"?
Re: "You seem to believe that moral intuition provides the grounding for moral commitments."Delete
Oh no, not at all. Recollect I asserted that moral norms just are constraints on utility-maximization determined rationally in light of the constitution of the agents involved and their social context, not via intuition.
Re: "You do seem to think that a person that lacks moral intuitions similar to yours is a pathetic human being."
Place my statement in its appropriate context. Stu Tanquist was making implicit appeal to moral intuitions in order to malign factory farming, but in the next breath he refused to answer whether he thought killing a human was worse than an animal. Certainly rational agents would find Stu Tanquist odd in this way, no? And by 'odd' I mean pathetic and one not to be trusted. That's all I was saying.
Thanks for clarifying.When you refer to 'agents'...I guess that could refer to both individuals....in order to maximize their own utility...or groups acting cooperatively and forming consensus?
And I guess is that they would first agree on some common ends for which to determine the means which would best maximize those ends?
I grew up in a fishing, hunting, gardening, animal husbandry background, and in that culture, among my relatives the views of the act of killing other organism varied from 1) we must eat and we have a diversity of food sources that we enjoy, to 2) I respect and admire the pulchritude and design of the organism, but I must eat it all the same. I think we considered ourselves as amoral omnivores, members of a partly natural and partly culturally modified food web. We greatly enjoyed a balanced diet, and animal protein was an important part of it. We viewed ourselves as predators, granivores, and herbivores that relied heavily on cooking to sterilize our food and break it down (no large belly regions like gorillas and cows for us); fruits were a special, ephemeral treat as well. When I was a youth, it seemed to make sense to me that I closely identified with the many indigenous cultures that are being overrun by "western civilization." I did not see my relatives abusing animals, and I know we all share the view that animal factories are, to put it mildly, problematic. In contrast, the loss of so many family farms that practiced an integrated ecology in the eastern woodlands and forests over the past century seems tragic. The media-driven, anthropocentric focus on human culture in urban and suburban settings seems to me to promote what I consider ultimately to be a plethora of simplistic moral discussions punctuated by visuals that appeal to the most basic emotions. I recommend we go for the quick kill of the individual organisms that we humans have used as food for tens of thousands of years; in so doing it seems that we honor, respect, and understand our evolutionary and cultural heritage. I think our stronger focus be should trying to unite in our endeavors to reduce the ecological damage and do our best to repair that damage to the many biomes and components of those biomes throughout the biosphere. Our enormous and consumptive human population has been threatening extinction and causing the extinction of a wondrous variety of organisms (i.e., species) and to the extent that we can help reduce those extinctions by reducing--but not eliminating--animal protein in our diets then this predator stands united with the herbivores of our species.
It's interesting to see that there are more free range products coming onto the market. In Australia, supermarkets have signs over the eggs explaining what the conditions the chickens who laid the eggs lived in. It might work better if they had representative pictures instead, as a text description is a lot easier to ignore over the hit on finances.ReplyDelete
Now free range is starting to come into the meat section, which is good to see, though it's still quite expensive at this stage.
Let me take your comment in reverse order.
First, valuing or preferring some thing, quality, or trait (say, preferring JMW Turner to Thomas Gainsborough) over another is not ad hoc and it is only arbitrary in a weak sense, that is, it is a subjective preference. Second, if I value Turners, it does not follow that I must value all paintings on canvass, even though in valuing Turners I ipso facto value particular objects composed of particular pigments on a particular canvass. In other words, I value just those pigments and canvasses composed in just those particular ways. Do you mean to assert that if I value JMW Turner's oeuvre, I am rationally obliged to value Thomas Kinkade's paintings? Of course not, and likewise for placing more value on humans than non-human animals: I need not value non-human animals because they share many of the same traits as humans; rather, I can value humans qua humans, and this preference is neither more nor less arbitrary or ad hoc. If you do not see this point, I will not belabor it.
Re: “I'm sorry but your meaning is very unclear to me.”
I apologize for not being as detailed as you would like, but you must remember the medium through which we are communicating: space constraints apply. When I assert “morality benefits the participating agents because it optimizes the utility-maximization of said agents” what I mean is this: The goal of rational agents is to satisfy as much of their preferences as they can given the constraints of their situation, physical and social. Often utility-maximization (that is, satisfying preferences) conflicts between agents: A and B may prefer the same object, or A's preference for some object may impose costs upon other agents without their consent or without remuneration (e.g. pollution), etc. Morality is a set of rational norms which prescribe constraints on action (constraints on utility-maximization) which in turn bring agents into some stable, game-theoretic optimal state, such as Pareto efficiency. If you want more detail, review David Gauthier's book Morals By Agreement, or really any other work on game-theoretic / contractarian treatments of morality (John Rawls should be included here as well).
-I've had formal game theory at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. My point here is that you have made a number of ad hoc selections you don't seem to be aware of. When you say, "Morality is a set of rational norms which prescribe constraints on action (constraints on utility-maximization) which in turn bring agents into some stable, game-theoretic optimal state, such as Pareto efficiency," even if that claim itself is justified in same way (which I still don't see), it is still nonetheless extremely underspecified, making your specific choice arbitrary. Why pick Pareto efficiency rather than another of the available criteria (although I'm surprised to see such consequentialism from you)? Even if there are only two people, the set of Pareto-efficient choices will be uncountable in many settings, nonexistent in others, and I'll add that most voting rules (including majority rule) but are not Pareto efficient.
Also, the problem I was touching on before is that combining individual's utility functions also requires selections, the choice of which you haven't justified. Do you maximize the sum of their additively separable cardinal utility, or minimize the total of the difference between the upper bound on their utility capacity and their actual utility (and note these two choices are not the same if people have different capacities, which they do)? And couching it in game theory creates the problem of multiple equilibria, which may or may not pose a problem depending on the specifics of your formulation, although I still can't be sure.
I'm reluctant to read a book entitled "Morals by Agreement" because every contractarian metaethic I've seen has been unbelievably weak (although I'd characterize Rawls' contractarianism as an ethics-level one). When I say "unbelievably weak," I mean like, breaking the is-ought-gap level of weak. It's just a remarkably unreasonable class of arguments. Actually that was why I engaged you here - I've never seen a respectable argument against the vegetarians' (best) arguments, nor have I ever seen an adequate metaethical argument, and if you had succeeded (which I guess you still may) you'd have hit it out of the park and potentially thoroughly changed my outlook.
- But on that point, I wasn't offering arbitrariness-minimization as a metaethic on its own. I think minimizing arbitrariness is a good rule of thumb, or at least better than anything else I've seen. As to your specific objections (although note we've wandered away from my original point a bit), a subjective preference is exogenous to the decision problem, it is not a choice variable, so endogenizing your preferences over paintings is beside the point (and isn't even consistent with the conception of morality as constraint on action, since preferences aren't actions). Even if a subset of "preferences" were endogenous (note they couldn't all be), preferences are defined over binary pairs, so there's nothing more or less arbitrary in picking ("painting 1 > $0" & "$0 > Thomas Kincaide") over ("painting 1 > Thomas Kincaide" & "TC > $0"). So, you're defining preferences over a space that has the cardinality of those numbers of objects, meaning you're going to have to make (2^n - 1) decisions, assuming n is finite. Since you evidently buy into cardinal utility, you'd accomplish this task implicitly by mapping the objects into the real line by picking a subset of an element of a sequence space.
To bring it back to substance, "humans qua humans" is question begging. What is the nature of humans that both distinguishes them from non-humans and is morally relevant? You mention Kant, which I'll touch on in my reply to your comment below.
Re: "I'm reluctant to read a book entitled "Morals by Agreement" because every contractarian metaethic I've seen has been unbelievably weak (although I'd characterize Rawls' contractarianism as an ethics-level one)."Delete
Then do not read it. However, you should considering many of the concerns you raise regarding preference orderings and the maximization thereof are addressed explicitly by Gauthier.
Re: "I've never seen a respectable argument against the vegetarians' (best) arguments."
Ironically, I have never seen a respectable ethical argument for vegetarianism. Odd how that is, eh?
Re: '"humans qua humans" is question begging.'
Nope. Not at all. At least, not anymore more question begging than regarding sentience per se as sufficient for moral consideration. One could press what is the nature of sentience such that it should warrant moral consideration?
The meta-ethicist needs not differentiate between exogenous / endogenous preferences. Rather, she need only take the preferences as given simpliciter (this is not to say that the moral agent cannot revise one's preferences due to shifts in other factors, but any such revision is amoral).
So, the vegan picks out some common feature and gives value to that. However, the non-vegan selects some collection of features and gives value to that ensemble (typified of course). Either assertion of value is given and no further qualification need be provided.
I should like to add this:Delete
Re: "What is the nature of humans that both distinguishes them from non-humans and is morally relevant?"
The nature that both distinguishes humans from non-humans and is morally relevant is precisely the collection of traits which distinguishes humans from non-humans. They are morally relevant for the already mentioned reasons and they are distinguishing for the obvious reasons.
Re: “And I would add that it is just as rational for me to care about the welfare of creatures that fail to make the "rational agent" cut.”
Perhaps, but other rational agents more directly influence your well-being. Thus, the manner in which you interact with them ought to be quite different than the manner in which you interact with non-rational agents.
Eamon: If we assume that I am a rational agent - in the sense of someone who "draws conclusions logically from given premises, whose premises are defensible by reasoned argument, who uses evidence dispassionately in evaluating factual assertions, and more technically, who optimizes subject to constraints under conditions of limited information and costly decision-making", as Gintis put it - then we can reliably predict that I will behave that way. (Or at least that's how I interpret your words here.)Delete
However, Gintis (while reporting on years of results in experimental psychology) also argued that "if this were correct, we would have to call real-life humans hopelessly irrational" (thus the title of some popular books on the subject by behavioral economist Dan Ariely, e.g. Predictably Irrational), and "Everyday observation attests to the fact that people sometimes fail to conform to this model. People succumb to harmful temptations, behave charitably and:or vengefully, and have a concern for fairness."
My point here is, not to contradict your argument re: the (ir)rationality of vegetarianism, as to supplement it with a caveat that I think you stand on firmer ground (empirically speaking) when you use normative or prescriptive language (e.g. "ought to be quite different than...") when addressing me and others as rational agents (in the sense described here).
PS: Just to be clear, you did use prescriptive language (as in the example that I just quoted). Whether you intended to or not is less obvious.Delete
Thanks for your comments. I have two things to say here:
(1) The 'ought' was used in the sense of a rational norm, not an ethical norm.
(2) Re: Gint. I do not here care to qualify with precise distinctions what, exactly, I mean by 'rational agent'. But suffice it to say that I do not mean ideal rationality (though such a postulation may have utility as a limiting case) but rather bounded rationality, or something similar to that.
That said, I think for the sake of present purposes we can agree that humans are rational agents, no?
Eamon: Forgive my ignorance, but I'm not familiar with the concept of a "rational norm." Perhaps that's why the words suggest to me what claim you do not mean, which is an "ideal rationality" (i.e. an ideal of rationality that, according to Gintis & other behavioral & cognitive scientists that I've read, "real-life humans" do not actually live up to).Delete
However, I am readily willing to agree that humans are rational agents only in the "bounded rationality" sense (i.e. that people's decision-making "is limited by the information they have, the cognitive limitations of their minds, and the finite amount of time they have to make a decision" [*].
By 'rational norm' I mean something like 'one ought not to have inconsistent beliefs on pain of having some of them being false' or 'one ought to reason according to the laws of probability on pain of holding, on balance, more false beliefs than true beliefs', etc.
Well, if for no other reason than the fact that religious believers score just fine on tests of happiness (or subjective well-being), I'm a tad skeptical of the claim that false or inconsistent beliefs are necessarily painful. Perhaps if one is employed in academic philosophy (like you?) such pain is more of an occupational hazard.Delete
Haha! No, the phrase 'on pain of being false' is a colloquialism for 'the threat of being false'. So, one ought to hold consistent beliefs if one does not wish to hold false beliefs (if one doesn't care whether one's beliefs are false, one may believe anything one likes).
Apologies for the confusion.
Chbieck & Timothy,ReplyDelete
Re: “To add to Timothy's question why infants and toddlers would matter: if "rational agent" is indeed the criterion, wouldn't anthropoid apes matter more than infants?” & “ For that matter, you've left open why any adult, fully healthy human who does not have "sway over [your own] well-being through their rational deliberations" would matter morally.”
Both of you conveniently ignored the bit about 'Kantian details'. I assumed you two might know what I meant by that, but unfortunately you guys were either too anxious to generate your prefabricated response for dialectical purposes in order to care, or you two simply have no idea what I was getting at.
As a former infant and toddler, and I cannot consistently will that infants and toddlers do not receive the types of moral considerations which would prevent them from developing into the rational agents they will become ceteris paribus. To the point about “any adult, fully healthy human who does not have 'sway over [my own] well-being'”, there is a simple reply:
'Holding sway' does not mean what you think it means (but I recognize that is because of my own lack of precision). What was meant was that on good Kantian / Rawlsian grounds, I cannot consistently will that preferential moral considerations be given to me and not to other rational agents (again, the 'Kantian details' were omitted).
Indeed, I did not know what you meant, but I wonder whether even Kant would have. Kant animated his theory using a dualist theory of mind that I just can't believe you'd buy, and absent that, it really is unclear what you could mean. (Besides, even on his own terms, I didn't think Kant was successful.)Delete
And you mention consistency, but what specifically are the contradictions you're avoiding? I think you could "consistently will that infants and toddlers do not receive the types of moral considerations which would prevent them from developing into the rational agents they will become ceteris paribus." It's easy to formulate consistent normative propositions to that end.
I am not a Kantian proper, but I do not need to be in order to avail myself of what is right about his moral philosophy.
What is basically right about his moral philosophy is this:
Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law without contradiction.
The logic is flawless, I think:
(1) If I treat others in some fashion, I cannot reasonably expect they would not treat me in a similar fashion.
(2) Therefore, e.g., if I want others to respect my will, I ought to respect theirs.
Consistency enters in at (1). To see it, think of one who asserts: "I want others to respect my will (not steal my property, not initiate acts of violence against me, etc.) but I refuse to respect the will of others."
Of course, if one does not care how others act towards oneself, it does not matter how one acts towards others (this is one place where I differ from Kant). But in fact most do care and thus (1) applies.
The lamb may feel as you....but the Eagle may not.
Eamon, I'll reply to you here:Delete
-"Then do not read it. However, you should considering many of the concerns you raise regarding preference orderings and the maximization thereof are addressed explicitly by Gauthier."
Eamon, the questions I was asking you were exactly the crux of the matter. I don't understand why you'd raise the topic of metaethics and avoid discussing the metaethical question. So far you've given a sketch of what your ethics looks like, but haven't touched on the metaethical issue, and instead refer me to this book. I looked it up on the Stanford Enc of Phil and the Google preview; it's too aggressive to judge the book itself by the summary on SEP, so I won't except to say if the summary's representative then the book isn't going to be successful. Consider where the SEP says:
"The idea of minimax relative concession is that each bargainer will be most concerned with the concessions that she makes from her ideal outcome relative to the concessions that others make...."
Whatever happened to the agent's utility maximizing behavior, which the summary says he assumes? And a game of repeated prisoners' dilemmas has an infinity of equilibria; there's no indication at all of an equilibrium selection argument. Similarly, the hypothetical bargaining he posits has a multiple-equilibria problem even when you constrain the set of utility functions to be highly regular (e.g., some form of concavity restriction), which would be one thing in descriptive modeling and quite another in a real moral system. etc., etc.
It's probably an interesting and though-provoking book, just as Rawls' was, but since these problems are the kind that plague the genre, if he's overcome them then I wonder why that aspect of his book isn't more prominent in the Stanford page and in the Preview and Chapter 1 of the book, which are on Google, since overcoming those difficulties would be the real novelty for a contractarian.
"Nope. Not at all. At least, not anymore more question begging than regarding sentience per se as sufficient for moral consideration. ..."
Well, I disagree since I think consciousness (like, say existence) is just a fundamental concept, unlike humanness (which as you say is "a collection of traits"), but even if you're correct that they're tantamount for arbitrariness purposes, I recall you indicating you could do better than the vegetarians.
"The meta-ethicist needs not differentiate between exogenous / endogenous preferences. Rather..."
If they're taken simpliciter, they're exogenous, but what that has to do with the quantification of ad hocery is unclear; perhaps this thread has wondered away from its origin?
Also, I'd like to correct myself - where I wrote (2^n -1) I meant just 2^n. I was thinking of the set of possible maximal sets. To channel Perry, oops. ^_^
"The logic is flawless, I think..."
Here I really have to object! The argument isn't even logical - it's not even predicate conservative. If I assert, "I want others to respect my will but I refuse to respect the will of others," (which isn't even a negation of (1) and hardly the only alternative to either (1) or (2)) then ok, I'd possibly be a hypocrite, but there's no inconsistency.
I can see why Kant would think that was an inconsistency, since in his day there was no serious logic as we have it now, but (and this is partly why I'm pressing you on this point - I really want to know) I can't see why it persuades so many people nowadays. (And this is taking "respect" as well-defined, something else I'd contest, but perhaps that's a debate for another day.)
the key why Eamon thinks the logic is flawless is the word "reasonably". Please correct me if I am wrong.
I readily admit that I am only a dabbler in philosophy, which is why I like this blog - Massimo manages to make things quite understandable for a person of slightly above average intelligence.
So I really had no idea what you were talking about, but that's ok because it seemed to go both ways.
Certainly, from a self-interest standpoint (allowing for some loose interpretation of "self" to include family, friends, and virtually any other similarly "rational agent" on whom our well-being depends), it makes sense to evaluate the lives of some individuals or groups more highly than others. [I expect that even a sociopath or machiavellian can understand that his desires & goals will only meet with frustration if he does not publicly observe at least some part of the proverbial social contract.]Delete
However, I guess this formula still leaves a lot of marginal room for acts that many of us deem horrific (viz. violence towards any vulnerable individual deemed disposable or a member of a perceived out-group). The only response that I have to that valid objection is: Thanks goodness that only a few of us are that self-interested!
@chbiek: thanks; as I interpret it, the "reasonable expectation" of others just dovetails with the universal-law formulation of the categorical imperative.Delete
When you use the words ethics, moral etc.: do you mean this in the "kindly advice on how to live a life you will happily look back on when you're 80" / "how do we establish rules that allow us to live together harmoniously" sense? Or in the "truth claim / normative / "there exists an objective obligation to do X" sense?
If it's the latter, how does reasonism get to any such obligation, starting from knowledge (or temporary assumptions) about human nature, psyche etc? Without an axiom like "we should minimise suffering" or the like, I mean.
Am still catching up on last year's ethics series, and would be grateful if anyone could point me to the relevant place.
Well, you can go two ways. You can state an "axiom" as you put it, or something similar. Or you can ground ethics in instrumental rationality by stating that (e.g.) satisfying the preferences of sentient beings is a part of your goal-set, and that ethics is just instrumental rationality for people with relevantly similar goal-sets.Delete
I prefer the second approach, although when it goes wrong it tends to do so rather spectacularly.
Congratulations Massimo! Giving up foods you love is not easy and requires a strong motivation. My partner and I have been vegetarian for a long time, so not eating meat is not very difficult for us. However, we recently started reading about the animals that suffer and are killed for dairy and egg production (male calves and chicks killed because they don't produce milk and eggs; female animals killed as soon as their production decreases after a few years; female cows impregnated every year and milked into exhaustion). If you are looking to have a diet that causes little cruelty to animals, don't fill the meat gap by eating more cheese and eggs. Since we are real cheese lovers, decreasing our dairy consumption has been rather hard for us, but after reading about the lives and deaths of the animals who produce these products, we felt compelled to do it nonetheless.ReplyDelete
The post comes at the right moment.ReplyDelete
Let me explain: I live in the Italian countryside, a large park-like garden, in which have had chicken for the past 3 years, roundabout 7-10, variing numbers. They live free, sleep on the tree or in the shed (which we have to close at night and open in the morning), they eat what they find and we add some bio-food if the waste of our kitchen doesn't do.
In this period about 12 had been eaten by the local fox. Eggs were partly eaten, partly used to raise new chicken after the foxes visit.
Among the last bunch we had 3 roosters. yesterday two of them started atacking the 3rd, the smalles one. They were rather nasty and did a lot of harm to him. So we had to make a decission.
Choice 1: let them go ahead and see who survives
Choice 2: don't close the chickenshed after 20.00 and let the fox do the job
Choice 3: slaughter two of the roosters to give these the most painless death possible.
Question: What do we do with the slaughted roosters?
Is it ethical to eat them?
Yes, eat them.Delete
This is what we are going to do.Delete
What is my main argument, that I have acted ethicly?
Nice post and good to see that we all continue learning!
Ethical issues aside, I find it amazing what the science says. One of the best sources for interpretation of good, peer-reviewed, primary nutritional science literature is www.nutrionfacts.org
Explore that site (lots of short 1-2minute you tube videos) and learn away!
Also, isn't it just about minimizing harm to self, others, and planet? Any effort towards less harm is better than none. I think it's silly to argue about all or nothing or fear of being a hypocrite, etc.
Peter Singer dixit: if given the choice, a chicken or a lamb would rather be f*cked that killed and eaten. Hence, zoophilia is ethically preferable to omnivory.ReplyDelete
Perhaps a little off topic, but there is relevance:ReplyDelete
If a child has these three things in their life they are considered high risk for psychopathic harm to humans as an adult
1) Persistant, non medical bedwetting to an age that is generally considered 'too old' (most cultures put this at at least 7yo)
3) Cruelty to animals - obviously this is an issue with empathy, which for many veggies and vegans is the reason for a childhood conversion.
I know that not all veggies and vegans are empathic and non violent, but certainly many of the movements and religious beliefs that promote vegetarianism are also associated with non violence (Jains, Ahimsa, Buddhism etc)