Tuesday, November 06, 2007

‘Moral thinning’

One can never read too many popular introductions to philosophy; it helps in the quest to avoid doing anything constructive. Nick Fearn's book is surprisingly cool, mostly because of how opinionated he is. His attitude is that philosophers should just come out and say if some topic is considered settled, which, surprisingly, includes free will (we have it).

He goes around interviewing top philosophers and he structures each chapter around them. Nick Bostrom features prominently and Robin Hanson gets quoted at length, which is cool. Peter Singer is the obvious choice for the chapter on animal stuff and it's impressively even handed for someone who clearly doesn't buy Singer's arguments.

Still, he views the expanding moral circle as a 'levelling down' (so he's an idiot). Humans become devalued rather than animals being valued more; apparently America's litigious culture is knock down evidence of this. Previous additions to the moral circle include women, brown people, gays and some people even go as far as foreigners. I wonder if all these previous expansions contributed to the dire moral state we're in and are to be regretted as a result. He views this negative trend as self evident as well as its cause (expanding circle), but maybe

  1. We're not in such a dire moral state.
  2. We are in a dire moral state but it has nothing to do with the fact that some people think that girls should have rights.
  3. Some people are in a dire moral state, but others are not.
  4. There is not a fixed amount of 'morality' to be appropriately (morally) distributed.
  5. Torturing animals is wrong even if it causes us to become morally exhausted and more likely to do other bad things.
  6. The fact that we're getting richer means that each human life is becoming more valuable in all practical regards and allows us to indulge in 'moral luxuries'. There's a book called "The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth" which argues that the consequences are good.
  7. Torturing animals is wrong but we should do it anyway to reassure other people that we still like them.


Tracy Leigh said...

I don't know how even-handed the author could be if he "clearly doesn't buy Peter Singer's arguments".

stuart said...

I gather that most philosophers who specialise in ethics are vegetarians or vegans, but I also think that Singer's views are considered eccentric by most philosophers.

We can respect him, take him seriously, understand and represent him correctly but still disagree with him.

Singer's views on animals derive from a utilitarian framework that few of us share.