These are three very
brief arguments for slightly unusual moral perspectives. They're
A vegetarian argument: We should avoid meat not because we think that animals are like us but because most animals are very different from humans. Most animals are not persons: they think and feel but do not have thoughts and feelings about their thoughts and feelings. With persons the obligation to prevent suffering, and indeed the obligation to preserve life, can be over-ridden by mutual agreement. I'll risk my life and welfare to protect your children if you do the same for mine. And even when the agreement is not explicit a person is capable of understanding what might have been part of a necessary trade-off. But this is not possible with non-persons: their lives are not held together by anticipations of future experiences and understanding of past ones. There are no social contracts, no deals. So a modern agricultural economy in which meat is produced cheaply at the expense of suffering for animals cannot be justified by any benefits to us, or to the animals. Their suffering is simply suffering; it can't be balanced away.
(relevant to this.)
An argument against an argument for capital punishment: People sometimes think that the feelings of those deeply affected by crime, notably families of murdered people, are outraged when the criminals are not treated in ways that match their crimes. If your parent or child's killer is not killed you feel as if some deep need is not satisfied. This is certainly not the only way a family member can react (as I should know, since I am one such). And it is a reaction that demeans the love for the person who has been killed. Would someone else's death make your loss any less great? Would another orphaned child or other bereaved parents make your loss of a parent or child somehow more acceptable? To take another death as reducing your grief would be to think, first, that your loss could be compensated for and, second, that more death could do the compensating. But part of why your loss is so deep is that the person who has died is unique: there could be no compensation. And if there was even partial compensation it would have to make the world better, not consist in more bereavement.
(relevant to this)
An argument about complacency. When we look back at older civilizations, one thing we find almost incredible is the complacency about slavery. It is not just that slavery is accepted as an institution, but that it is hardly seen to need justification. Nobody notices it as an issue. What about our civilization might arouse the same incredulity in a thousand year's time? I suggest that it is the institution of citizenship and borders, whereby one of the most basic factors affecting people's prospects in life is the location in which they are born, and which they are nearly always incapable of changing. It is as if we divided the world up into castes and gave each a more or less favorable place to live, with walls between the territories of the castes. No doubt if this were not so, if we suddenly allowed anyone to move anywhere, the social and economic disruption would be enormous. So would it have been if slavery had been abolished at a stroke. And perhaps the disruption would be so great, on any way of removing the barriers, that they should stay in place. It is important to argue that out, but it is beside the point I am making, which is about complacency: we don't see that the barriers need to be justified.
(relevant to this)
relevant to the first hint:
(not all friendly to it)
- Carruthers, Peter The Animals Issue: moral theory in Practice, Cambridge U.P. 1992
- Dawkins, M.S ' From the animal’s point of view' the Behavioral and Brain Sciences,13, no 1,1990,1-8, 49-63
- Fox, Michael W Farm Animals: husbandry, behavior, and veterinary practice, Baltimore, 1984.
- Frankfurt, Harry 'Freedom of the Will and the Concept of a Person', Journal of Philosophy
68, (1971), 5 - 20, reprinted in Gary Watson, ed., Free Will, Oxford U.P. 1982.
- Morton, Adam 'Why there is no concept of a person'. In C. Gill, ed. The Person and the Human Mind: Issues in Ancient and Modern Philosophy, Oxford U.P. 1989
- Tooley, Michael 'Abortion and Infanticide' Philosophy and Public Affairs 2, 1972
relevant to the second hint
Some films are among the most intuition-affecting things on this issue. Two that I've seen recently. Towards the end of In the bedroom the father of a murdered man gets revenge. Do you have the impression he'll feel any better for it? Monster's ball explicitly combines a depiction of capital punishment with a theme of the needs of fathers and sons for one another.
There is an organization of families of murder victims who oppose the death penalty, "murder victims families for reconciliation". Members of MVFR campaign against the assumption that if one has lost a family member one's dominant desire is for revenge. They have a web site at www.mvfr.org .
And here's a poem that expresses the thought. One of several written during the second world war by Leo Marks for secret agents to memorize (another was the famous "The life that I have".)
that a good preventative
must be neither weak nor tentative
and that the vicious and aberrant
are in need of a deterrent.
But while millions are going under
by design or blunder
must we claim one more
just to settle the score?
Shall we really feel safer
when he snaps like a wafer?
Will there never be enough breath about
while there’s breath about?
relevant to the third hint
There is a brief discussion of the invisibility of slavery in Bernard Williams' Shame and Necessity. David Brion Davis The Problem of Slavery in Western Culture (Cornell U.P. 1966), gives a fascinating history of justifications of slavery and of the few eccentric thinkers who doubted them. Phillip Cole Philosophies of Exclusion (Edinburgh U. P. 2001) discusses issues about immigration and citizenship. I think there is a link with the topics of Geoffrey Sayre-McCord (ed.) Essays on Moral Realism (Cornell U.P. 1988.) Especially Nicholas Sturgeon's 'Moral Explanations' - the connection is the awkward practical effects of beginning to realise that a practice is indefensible.