Archive for the ‘Ethics’ Category
Jay Odenbaugh and Dale Jamieson discuss climate change and ethics on teh philosophy teevee. Worth your time:
In this conversation, Jamieson and Odenbaugh discuss how climate change raises novel philosophical concerns and underscores traditional ones. Climate change, they explain, poses a challenge for both consequentialism and its alternatives, and brings out questions about our obligations to future generations and about the moral status of non-humans. Further, the public controversy over climate science involves questions about the epistemology of testimony, the value-neutrality of science, and action under uncertainty.
Kwame Appiah has a very nice and provocative article in the Washington Post today. He asks what future generations will condemn us for. His conclusions? Prisons, Industrial Meat Production, the Institutionalized and the Elderly, and the Environment. He doesn’t say much about these issues, but it’s provocative nevertheless.
Condemnation may not be the appropriate term. Perhaps disapprobation is better. The idea, of course, is that we can gain some insight into the moral permissiveness of our actions simply by reflecting on the things for which we might be held accountable in the future.
Oh how I love the comments to this article by Jeff McMahan, an accomplished and well-respected ethicist at Rutgers. They remind me so how not atypical my undergraduates are. (Say what? Yes, you read that correctly.) Here are some gems. Maybe on Monday I’ll actually address the content of the article:
Joe: “this is incredibly flawed, the world of animals and all organisms are only able to survive because of such brutal competition, if there was nothing to fight for, what would it be worth?”
The other guy: “I came away with the same feeling as when I first read Zeno’s “dichotomy paradox” in college, That is, “What was he smoking?” That was also the time in my sophomore year where I swore the stuff off.”
Erika: “The argument you present is offensive.”
Socrates: “Horrifying article.”
into the fire: “Unbelievable, but alas not surprising, that this could be written by someone paid to profess at Rutgers or Princeton.”
Peter: “Mr. McMahan is right to expect to be vilified when intelligent people see his article. It is the height of ignorance.”
Vance: “The amount of large words does not counter the fact that these arguments are from a child’s mind.”
Linda: “This is an astounding example of ivory tower thinking that is totally out of touch with the real world.”
They go on, dear readers! I’m only on page two. Love, love the comments. So wonderful.
Philosophers are crrr-azy!
It was, as usual, a smashing success. Check out pictures here. As a counterpoint to the Opinionator blog at the NY Times, I think you’ll see that while we do have our fair share of ugly, we also have our fair share of decently-well put together.
RoME IV will be coming up soon — August 4-7, 2011 — and the CFP will be distributed soon. Abstracts are due on Feb 1, 2011.
Revkin interviews Don Brown (Penn State) about environmental ethics and climate ethics. Not a terribly substantive interview, but worth a few minutes of your time, at least. Here’s one quote of interest:
We like to say if we get the science and economics wrong, we will likely get the ethics wrong. More importantly, to do this work well one must follow climate change policy controversies as they unfold. Most ethicists don’t typically do this kind of work and only a few universities allow their ethicists to do this kind of “applied” environmental ethics. I am lucky to be at Penn State.
Don seems to have flipped things on their head here. I think it’s more likely that if we have the ethics wrong, it doesn’t matter if we get the science or the economics right or wrong. The problem with the holocaust wasn’t that the Germans got the science and the economics wrong (though they did that too), is that they were completely ass-backwards with regard to human rights.
True, though, that many universities traditionally don’t smile much on applied environmental ethics. Fortunately, there are many now that are starting to see the value in interdisciplinary collaboration on these applied issues, so there are a growing number environmental ethics outposts. All told, we’re pretty late to the game.
For many years now I’ve been suggesting that you don’t have to love nature to be green; and by extension, that you don’t have to love animals to be a vegetarian. Peter Singer himself says as much in his introduction to Animal Liberation. Many other ethicists presumably feel the same way. I’m even writing a book about it, tentatively titled The Wicked and the Wild: Why You Don’t Have to Love Nature to be Green (coming out with the University of Chicago Press sometime in 2011). And yet, it turns out that, at least descriptively speaking, empathy is what sets vegetarians apart from the rest of the nonvegetarian population.
The hypothesis behind this study is based on the observation that Vegetarians and Vegans tend to base their decision to avoid animal products on ethical grounds. Assuming that Vegetarians and Vegans – because of their underlying moral philosophies – show greater empathy towards animal suffering, it is very well possible that these differences in empathy extend beyond the animal domain and show up as general differences in the degree of empathy felt towards other humans also; even at a neurological level.
The first main finding of this study is that, compared to Omnivores, Vegans and Vegetarians show higher activation of empathy related brain areas (e.g. Anterior Cingular Cortex and left Inferior Frontal Gyrus) when observing scenes of suffering; whether it be animal or human suffering.
A worrisome thesis indeed. Maybe I need to revise my subtitle.
Or, on second thought, maybe not, given that my hope is to inspire the non-empathetic among us to acknowledge that even if they don’t maintain the right psychological apparatus–and perhaps possess the apparatus of selfish bastardism, for instance, among many other psychological pathologies that would leave a person feeling that she can run roughshod over the earth–they still need to respect the basic tenets of environmentalism.
The true test will be whether I can persuade the sociopath that he needs to start advocating on behalf of the earth. I don’t expect much success on that front, so I’ll settle for the fence-sitters, the urbanites, and the otherwise environmentally disinterested progressives.