Jan25 Singer Rachels Nagel


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  • Jan25 Singer Rachels Nagel

    1. 1. A. pmail Student: Singer seems to say that the Marxist motto, "from each according to his ability, to each according to his need" is valiant, and right in principle, but it would involve changing human nature, which isn't possible on a large scale. Is that a correct reading of Singer's view? DrC: That seems to be right. Also it raises questions about whether a similar appeal to human nature provides an “excuse” for those who don’t follow a vegetarian diet.
    2. 2. pmail Student: You mentioned Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins in Wednesday's class and I enjoy both these authors. I hope to spend more time discussing the origins of morality in class. Many people believe that without moral commandments people would live in a state of moral decrepitude. People's moral base, rather, is innate, and the rest can be deduced from there. Religion reflects more than it affects moral social evolution. To ignore the origins of morality is to deny a large part of what it is to be human. DrC: You would replace God by evolution in your preferred explanation of the large fact that people do accept what they take to be moral constraints on their behaviour. This is your response to the thought that without belief in God we will become immoral.
    3. 3. pmail Student: Kierkegaard identifies the difference between the ethical life and the religious life (one appeals to people, the other appeals to God). How does one know to listen to ethics as opposed to god? For example, take Abraham in the old testament. Ol' Abe was told, by God, to kill his only son, and then he was praised for his willingness to do so. Does this not imply that God's will overrides ethics, or that God is not subject to ethical code (or both)? Or should this just be disregarded as the contradictory nature of religious belief? DrC: The case of Abraham in the Old Testament shows one way to resolve Socrates’s dilemma about God’s will. Socrates was counting on his readers not agreeing with this approach, which would seem to justify in principle any putatively immoral act.
    4. 4. pmail Student: I have been enjoying the readings this week, especially Singer, but one thing that is really making me think is the whole issue of cultural relativism, versus a universal set of rights, which is prescribed by Western nations. I don't know exactly what I think, whether there should be a definitive set of rules, regardless of cultural norms and attitudes, or whether this is a kind of ethnocentric cultural imperialism, forcing people to conform to one view of "ethical" behaviours. On the other hand, without this, does the entire field of ethics become too subjective? Singer’s principle of utility is an objective standard, of course, as is the U.N.’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. See the “week of January 25th” post for one or two links that might interest you.
    5. 5. pmail Student: HI!-->Im hung up on the term "organic unity", if i was to say that the golden rule is to be taken for what it says, at face value (axiomatic?), then it would have organic unity, as what it is and the message it conveys does not depend on anything else? DrC: I was drawing on an account of organic unity developed by Robert Nozick in his book Philosophical Explanations. See the Wikipedia article on this book and do a search for "organic". He understands organic unity as complex elements that are integrated in a whole. Think of the diversity of musical notes brought into unity by a symphony. He defends organic unity as a criterion of value. An old- growth forest would be valuable, even if no human desires were satisfied by it. So his account of value differs pretty greatly from Singer's account, which bases value on satisfied preferences.
    6. 6. B. Singer, Ch 3 Singer: Assume an important scientific experiment (cancer research, etc.) that entails the painless death of a non-human animal. Why not do it on human infants or severely disabled human adults? “If we make a distinction between animals and these humans, how can we do it, other than on the basis of morally indefensible preference for members of our own species?” (60t11)
    7. 7. 60 DrC: A demi-vegetarian is a non-vegetarian who makes efforts to reduce meat and dairy consumption without becoming vegetarian or vegan. Demi-vegetarianism is morally justified in principle only if there is not a moral equivalence between (some) human lives and the lives of non-human animals. Singer asserts this equivalence. To deny it is speciesist, he states.
    8. 8. A decision-value utilitarian is one who thinks that the difference in the *meaning* or *symbolic utility* of killing a human infant and killing a rabbit justifies making the distinction that Singer rejects on page 60. Other things being equal, one systematically prefers saving a human life to saving an animal life. This meaning is separate from the consequences of the action.
    9. 9. 63 DrC: Tie-breaking situations like the one discussed on page 60 are the foundation for demi-vegetarian and decision-value thinking. They help to justify one’s preference for painlessly killing non-human animals for food (rather than human ones of the sorts alluded to on page 60.) It should be emphasized though that Singer’s arguments against painful killing of animals aren’t questioned.
    10. 10. 65 - 66 DrC: Singer’s principle that one should not cause unnecessary suffering is powerful. A DV demi-vegetarian is consequentialist enough to avoid “atrocious experiments” like the one described on page 66, and to agitate for more humane practices of killing animals for food, medical experimentation, etc. One should be responsive to animal suffering, even if one rejects the moral equivalence argument.
    11. 11. 78 I need a separate argument to justify (or at least explain) my participating in practices that cause suffering to animals, but at least I’m not tantamount to a murderer of a human being, if it’s correct to reject the moral equivalence argument. Remember, DV utilitarianism is being recommended because of the way it deals with tie-breaking in cases of justified painless killing.
    12. 12. C. Cahn, Ch 5 (Rachels) DrC: Rachels’s discussion of cultural relativism makes the point that the meaning of infanticide may be different from culture to culture (`Eskimo’ practices), and that these differences may reflect different consequences of the practice in question from culture to culture. These points are welcomed by demi-speciesism. Symbolic utilities (meanings of acts) aren’t liable to critique simply because they’re different.
    13. 13. D. Cahn, Ch 6 (Nagel) DrC: This is a nice evocation of the Golden Rule, more articulate than Singer’s pretty bald appeal to it. Suppose the question, “What if someone did that to you?” is “What if someone insisted you wear a burka?” Cultural context seems to intrude here. Wearing a burka has a different meaning for a Parisian model and a wife in an Afghan village. The Golden Rule must be responsive to symbolic utilities.
    14. 14. Graveyard Utilitarianism David Banatar writes in the Preface to his book Better Never To Have Been (OUP, 2006) “Each one of us was harmed by being brought into existence” (vi), and this central idea grounds a moral obligation to prevent the existence of future possible people as well as other sentient creatures. He derives this central idea from the propositions (1) that one would not have been deprived of the good things in life if one had never existed, and (2) that one would have been spared the quite serious harms in life if one had never existed. Furthermore, (3) the absence of good things, like pleasure, is not bad unless someone exists who is deprived of them, and (4) the absence of bad things, like pain, is good even if that good is not enjoyed by anyone. So oneʼs utilitarianism should take the form of minimizing bad things, and that is most effectively done when no sentient creature exists.
    15. 15. Prep for 1st mid-term Be prepared to contextualize Singer’s project in moral theory. For instance, situate his view historically, distinguish it from other forms of utilitarianism, and contrast it with non- utilitarian alternatives.
    16. 16. Prep for 1st mid-term How does Singer’s analysis of equality figure in his utilitarianism? If we are not the same in many respects, how does he arrive at his principle of equal consideration of interests?
    17. 17. Prep for mid-term How does the principle of equal consideration of interests work? Does everyone have the same interests? Is having an interest a value-free matter, like having a nose, or a value-laden matter, like having a good nose?