Bah Humbug!

So, I am heading back to California for some much needed R&R…I am also looking forward to getting my Playstation 3!!! I can’t wait until they release Fallout 3, but until then I will be catching up on all of the PS3 games that I have missing out on! Very exciting…so posting around here should be lite for the next week or so (like anyone cares!)…but in the immortal words of the Govinator; “I’ll be back”

But at the same time I can’t help but feel duped by the Catholic Church. You see, Christmas is a Christian holiday (uh, ‘Christ’ ‘Mass’, anyone, anyone????), and I am not a Christian, so I feel weird celebrating it. People tell me that it is a secular holiday, but that’s just wrong. When you celebrate Christmas you celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, son of God. End of story. Whether you recognize that that’s what your doing doesn’t seem to me to matter. It certainly doesn’t matter to the Catholic Church! They have a long history of incorporating the imagery and beliefs of pagan religions in order to convert people to Catholicism (why do you think there is a Easter Bunny? Easter commemorates the death and subsequent rising of Jesus Christ, the bunny is a spring fertility symbol…), isn’t the ‘secularization’ of Christmas more of the same strategy? I mean when atheists and agnostics are celebrating the birth of the Messiah you gotta hand it to the PR department of that Messiah!!!

Of course, there is nothing wrong with celebrating Christmas if one is a Christian (there is nothing wrong with celebrating hanukkah if one is Jewish, etc). And there is nothing wrong with comming together to celebrate the spirit of giving and the importance of friends and family and helping those that are less fortunate than ourselves. I fully endorse and support all of those things, and I welcome the opportunity to give and recieve gifts from and for loved ones. But for those of us who are not Christians, why do we have to do it on Christmas? There should be a seperate, nationally recognized secular holiday, maybe ‘Family Day’ or something, on December 26th.  That’s what I’ll be celebrating. So, Season’s Greetings!!!

Who is Morally Responsible for Actions Conducted by Military Robots in Wartime Operations?

Is the very interesting question that is addressed in this article written by a Major in the Armed Forces that I learned about via David Rosenthal. Here is an excerpt from the conclusion of the article.

The potential for a new ethical dilemma to emerge comes from the approaching capability to create completely autonomous robots. As we advance across the field of possibilities from advanced weapons to semiautonomous weapons to completely autonomous weapons, we need to understand the ethical implications involved in building robots that can make independent decisions. We must develop a distinction between weapons that augment our soldiers and those that can become soldiers. Determining where to place responsibility can begin only with a clear definition of who is making the decisions.

It is unethical to create a fully autonomous military robot endowed with the ability to make independent decisions unless it is designed to screen its decisions through a sound moral framework. Without the moral framework, its creator and operator will always be the focus of responsibility for the robot’s actions. With or without a moral framework, a fully autonomous decision-maker will be responsible for its actions. For it to make the best moral decisions, it must be equipped with guilt parameters that guide its decision-making cycle while inhibiting its ability to make wrong decisions. Robots must represent our best philosophy or remain in the category of our greatest tools.

I think that this is right. In the first instance the moral responsibility is on the creator of the autonomous robot. It would indeed be unethical for us to create a creature capable of deciding to kill without the ability to determine whether or not a particular killing is moral or immoral. Of course, as also noted, the robot has to have some motivation to do what is right (i.e. to ‘inhibition of its ability to make wrong decisions’).

But what would we have to add to a machine that was capable of making rational decisions on its own so that it would have a ‘moral framework’? The author seems to suggest that it would amount to adding ‘guilt paramaters’ to a basically utilitarian reasoning capacity (earlier in the article he talks about the robot reliably ‘maximizing the greatest good’).  But what about the twin pillars of Kantianism? Universalizability and the inherent value of rational autonomous agents? Would this kind of robot be capable of using the categorical imperative? It seems to me, as a first reaction tot this question, that it may be able to use it to get the perfect duties but that it wouldn’t work for the imperfect duties. That is, it would be able to see that some maxim, when universalized, resulted in a possible world that embodied a contradiction. So one can see that one has an obligation to keep ones promises by seeing that a world where no one did would be a world where the very action I intend to perform is not possible to perform. But what about the maxims that do not strictly embody a contradictory possible world but rather simply can’t be consistently willed? These seem to all contradict some desire that the agent has. So, the duty to help others when they need it depends on my wanting to be helped at some time. This is reasonable because it is reasonable to assume that every human will need help at some time. But why should this autonomous robot care about being helped in the future? Or for that matter about causing unnecessary pain when it itself doesn’t feel pain?

UPDATE: In the comments CHRISSYSNOW links to this very interesting article by Nick Bostrom (Director of the Oxford Future of Humanity Institute). Thanks!!!

58th Philosophers’ Carnival

Welcome to 58th edition of the Philosophers’ Carnival!

I am happy to be hosting the carnival again and glad to see that it seems to be doing well. I always liked the way that Avery did the 46th (international) Carnival and so I modeled this edition on his ‘psuedo-conference’ format. What follows is, indeed, a ‘narrow cross-section of philosophy from accross the web’.

Special Session on the Employability of Philosophers

  1. Presenter: Tom Brooks, The Brooks Blog
    The truth is out there: employers want philosophers
  2. Respondent: Rich Cochrane, Big Ideas
    The Value of a Philosophical Education

Symposium on Philosophy of Science

  1. Sharon Crasnow, Knowledge and Experience
    Is Science Based on Faith?
  2. Matt Brown, Weitermachen!
    Common Sense, Science, and “Evidence for Use”

Symposium on Race and Liberty 

  1. Richard Chapell, Philosophy, et cetera
    Implicit Interference
  2. Joseph Orosco, Engage: Conversations in Philosophy
    It’s Only Racism When I Say It Is

Invited Session

 Symposium on Philosophy of Consciousness

  1. Tanasije Gjorgoski, A brood comb
    The Myth of ‘Phenomenal/Conscious Experience’
  2. Richard Brown, Philosophy Sucks!
    Priming and Change Blindness
  3. Gabriel Gottlieb, Self and World
    Pre-reflective Consciousness: A Fichtean Intervention

Symposium on Metaphysics and Epistemology

  1. Marco, El Blog de Marcos
    Truthmaking and Explanation
  2. Kenny Pearce,
    What Does Bayesian Epistemology Have To Do With Probabilities?

Symposium on Philosophy of Religion

  1. Dave Maier, DuckRabbit
    D’Souza vs. Dawkins
  2. Enigman, Enigmania
    Is the Free-will Defence Defensible?
  3. Chris Hallquist, The Uncredible Hallq
    What’s the deal with philosophy of religion?

I hope you enjoyed! Be sure to check out future editions of the Philosophers’ Carnival.

    Submit your blog article to the next edition of philosophers’ carnival using our carnival submission form. Past posts and future hosts can be found on our blog carnival index page

How to Tell if you are Lying to your Kid about Santa

A while back I argued that it is immoral to lie to children about Santa, Richard Chapell over at Philosophy, etc responded that pretending with the child that there is a Santa is a morally acceptable and praise-worthy action. I tend to agree with him on this point. But I do not think that most people are pretending with their children.

Evidence for this comes from the strong social pressure not to tell children that there is no Santa. If this is all pretense and everyone knows it then what is wrong with pointiing out that we are pretending. If you tell a child pretending that a banna is a phone that the object they are using is really a bannana and not a phone they will tell you that they know that and keep pretending. But if you tell a child that there is no Santa this is not the reaction that one typically gets.

So how can you tell if you are pretending or not? One sure fire way is how you deal with the question ‘Mommy/Daddy is Santa real?’ but it seems to me that if your child has to ask this question then you haven’t been pretending.

Peter Singer on Climate Change and Ethics

Yesterday LaGuardia College hosted Peter Singer who gave a short talk entitled ‘Climate Change and Ethics’. His basic argument was that by any reasonable standard of justice that one picks the U.S. comes out having a duty to lead the movement to reduce climate change. This is directly contrary to Bush’s stated reason for opting out of the Kyoto agreement (he said it wasn’t an ‘even-handed’ agreement because it exempted China and India…thereby implying that the treaty was unjust). He talked about three reasonable sounding principles of justice.

 1. You break it you buy it– Historically the U.S. has been the number one contributor to greenhouse gasses and so should have the most responsiblity for cleaning up the environment

2. Forget the past, divide it up evenly according to how much each industrialized nation pollutes– The U.S. puts out about six times as much greenhouse gasses (per capita) as any other industrialized nation and so again, we have the greatest responsibility to clean up the environment

3. Benefit the least advantaged– This is the Rawlsian conception of justice according to which an inequality is acceptable only if it is tot he advantage of the least advantaged member of (the global) society. This would (obviously) entail that the U.S. would have to make drastic cuts to the amount of greenhouse gasses that we contribute (per capita).

So no matter how you slice it it looks like the U.S. has a moral obligation to take the lead in reducing climate change, and yet we refuse to be a part of Kyoto because it is ‘unfair’!

He then suggested something very interesting, which was that we might establish a global market for greenhouse emissions. We would have to figure out exactly how much gas the environment could absorb withoout raise the global temperature some negligable amount (say 2 degree celsius) and then we allot each industrialized nation an amount that they are allowed. We could then allow for nations to sell their allotment if there were not using it. So say that it turned out that the envirnment could take 3 tons of gas emitted per person per year (the U.S. emmits something like 5.8 tons per person per year, while India emmits something like 1.1). India could, if they wanted, sell us a portin of their allotment so that we could, if we willing to pay and they were willing to sell, maintain the lifestyle that Bush claims is an American right. This strikes me as such a good idea that it will probably never be implemented.

What is Wrong with Eating Meat

In light of all the jokes about dead turkeys I have had to endure in the last week or so I started thinking about what it is exactly that is wrong with eating meat.

Is there something that is morally unacceptable about eating meat? This is a very interesting question, and having been raised as a vegetarian I have always felt that the answer is a resounding YES! I have argued elsewhere  that eating meat is something that at least needs to have an argument in its favor and that the typical arguments given as to why it is OK to eat meat horribly fail to work. But let me take another look at this issue.

Utilitarianism does not have much to say on this question. The modern Singer-ish view is that it is suffering that matters, the killing and eating are not the morally relevant properties. So, as Singer himself admits, were it possible to kill the animal in a way that did not cause it to suffer then there would be nothing morally wrong with doing so. Suppose that we raised cows on a beautiful farm and delighted their cow senses in all ways science prescribes. We let them live rather long lives, in an open pasture, with their families. Then one night when the cow is asleep we simply come and painlessly kill it.  The cow experiences no pain, and we cannot really say that it suffers in the sense that it will not get to enjoy its life tomorrow because it is not the kind of animal that can have these sophisticated kinds of suffering (they require, as Singer is right to point out, higher mental capacities), nor, because of this can we say that the other cows will suffer very much, or even at all, due to the dead cow’s being absent. If this could be arranged then what, according to utilitarianism, is wrong with butchering the cow and eating it? You might even say that it is better that the cow live this kind of life than no life at all, and so it is morally laudable to raise and slaughter cows in this manner. Singer’s response is to point out that this would severely limit the kinds of killing allowed; so much so in fact that it would rule out the kind of slaughter-house meat industry we now have. It may be the case that Singer is here taking a ‘let’s fix the serious problem first’ kind of attitude, because after all we know that the meat industry is producing a huge amount of animal suffering or it may be the case that he is simply acknowledging a consequence of his theory that he is willing to live with. At any rate there are those who think that there is still something wrong with the cow killing I described earlier. These people are attracted to Regan’s position that makes appeal not to utilitarianism but to Kant.

Regan’s view is that we are forbidden to treat animals as simply means to our ends. This is because to do so is to violate their rights. They have, Regen argues, the right to live in virtue of the fact that they are the subject of a life. To be the subject of a life is to have experience such that it matters to you what happens to you. That animals express preferences is evidence that they are subjects of a life and so they have the right to live. We know that cows must have this right on Regan’s account, because to deny that cows have it is to deny that infants do. So, on Regan’s view all subjects of a life have what Kant called value beyond compare, or dignity. A lot of people balk at this point because of intuitions about what it takes to have a right.

I have argued that we can get the same results that Regen wants without having to say that animals thereby have a right to be treated in certain ways. Rather what we argue is that we, as moral agents, have duties towards animals in spite of the fact that they don’t have rights. These obligations towards animals are grounded in the two concerns that Regen and Singer each point to. We ought not to cause animals to suffer because suffering matters, we also ought not to kill them, even painlessly, because their life matters to them. It is not that they (the animals) recognize this that makes it important. It is the fact that we recognize, through our ability to universalize, that we cannot but help but contradict ourselves when we make it be the case that sentient beings are used simply as a means because that would entail that we, as sentient beings, could be treated that way. No, as Kant rightly points out, we want it to remain the case that we cannot treat sentient beings in certain ways but then make an exception to that universal rule (in the case of nonhuman animals).

So the critics of Regen (I’m looking at you Cohen-lovers) are right that animals lack the capacity for morality (though there may be rudiments there, to be sure I think there are) because they lack the ability to apply general rules to particular situations. But wecan do this, and doing so reveals to us that we are obligated to treat sentient beings in certain ways. Thus we get Singer’s prohibition against suffering. Then we can argue about what we are to count as sentient (insects? Plants? Etc..) but we know that cows are and so we have an obligation not to cause them unnecessary suffering. We can similarly get Regen’s intuition via universalization arguments. We cannot will that it is morally acceptable to take the life of a creature who prefers to live because that would mean that someone could take my life even when I prefer to live and that can’t be right. No, we of course want murder to remain immoral, but we want to make an exception in this case (nonhuman animals). None of this suggests that animals have rights, that is none of this suggests that animals make claims on us.  We make claims on ourselves; morality is a law that we give unto ourselves. It is literally irrational to act immorally and to the degree that we respect reason we respect morality.

All of this is very well and good but all that it says is that we ought not to kill animals in order to eat them. Why can’t we be like some Buddhists who argue that if the animal dies of natural causes it is OK to eat it? Thus we finally arrive at the question we have been considering. Is there something morally wrong with eating meat? So far in answering this we have found instead that there is something morally wrong with causing suffering, and with treating animals as a means only. But if we avoid doing this and we still end up with some meat, should we be allowed to eat it? It is hard to see how you would be harming the animal, and overcoming its preference to live was caused by something that you were unrelated to (I hope!). It is helpful to think about this in the human case. Why don’t we want to eat people who accidentally demise? Besides the obvious answer that we don’t need to because of all the animals that we eat, the point here is that even so we would think there was something wrong about it. No doubt we could get over it, we know that there are and have been cannibals, but we would still feel that something was wrong (as evidenced by the fact that it normally takes desperate situations to even get people to consider this option). So what is going on?

One natural kind of thing to think is that we somehow don’t respect that person as a person when we consume them. We feel as though we are treating their body simply as a means to our ends, i.e. whatever we use the energy derived from their flesh to do. You turn that person completely and ultimately into a thing when you eat it. Now of course I understand that there have been cultures where eating someone is not thought disrespectful in this way but rather seen as a way to make the deceased person a part if you in a very intimate way. Notice however that this is implicitly the same thing as I have been saying in that it acknowledges that you ought not treat the body simply as a means (to get nourished or gustatory delight). You eat the body out of a profound sense of respect, with a sense that they are becoming one with you. I think there is an interesting question here about  whether or not there is a way to determine what the correct answer is in this respect.

So if this is right we can say that the reason it is wrong to eat meat is because it fails to be universalizable, which surely is a basic requirement for what counts as moral. If something remotely like physicalism is true then eating the person’s body is eating the person, and so we are treating them as a means only. Granted they are dead and it probably does not matter to them (or maybe, as Nagel has argued, you can harm the dead) you still use them as a means. This may actually be the psychological reason that people feel compelled to respect the dead (i.e. the body). They want to respect the person, as they want to be respected. This is the sense that you cannot but help to notice that you are eating that person. Now if we grant the likely hypothesis that animals are very much like us in certain respects (yes, yes, I know NOT ALL!) then to the respect that they are like us is to the respect that we ought not to eat their flesh as purely a means to get nourishment or even worse gustatory delight.

Notice also that if we did the above mentioned kind of cow slaughter it would be very likely that we would become attached to the animal and this would further make it evident that we were eating an individual.  On this view it is wrong to eat flesh because you treat the creature whose flesh it is simply as a means to nourishment.

One objection may be that on this view it seems possible that there be a person who would not mind being eaten after he was dead. So it is not the case that we are talking about something truly universilizablile. Not everyone will see that they simply want to make an exception of themselves to a general moral rule. They may be convinced that there is more to the person than the body (I doubt this, but even so remember that in most major religions you will get your body back (i.e. in the resurrection)) or they may think that even if the person is their body, when it stops working and you are dead there is no longer any reason for you to care what happens to you. Each of these critics agree that in some sense the person is no longer there and so you are not using them as a means. Sure you are using the body, but not the person so why should you care if that happens to your body when you die? Do you feel that way about your car? To see that you don’t imagine that your kids had your body stuffed and mounted in their living room simply because they thought that it made the room look nicer and perked them up as well. It seems to me that this is imply a case where they treat the body in a disrespectful way. Not because they harm the person who used to be (in) that body but because the person who does it sees that they are using the person strictly as a means. They are not respecting the person who that body belonged to. So if one buys this line of argument, have we arrived at the conclusion that it is immoral to eat meat?

There is a further wrinkle. Scientists are now starting to make cloned meat in laboratories. This meat is cloned from a few animal cells and so it seems as though a vegetarian should not have a problem with it. The problem here is that the texture of the artificial flesh is not like that of regular meat because the muscle is not exercised. So what they do now is to stretch the cultured meat over a think flexible sheet and grow it in layers. They then try to stack those layers. Alternatively they have tried to grow it in little balls that expand and contract. It looks like they will have to just build artificial legs and grow the meat on that. Next thing you will now they will say that they need to add some regulatory functions to the legs to let them run on their own. Pretty soon it looks like what you are saying is that in order to cultivate meat you need to cultivate a cow. If that turns out to be the case then lab meat is just as bad. But what if it doesn’t? What if they can grow it on artificial legs that are controlled by very simple brain stem-ish mechanisms? Just the body without any of the other things that make cows alike to the way that we are. Could we eat it then? I don’t know that we would. Again it is useful to consider the human case as an analogy. Would we allow people to grow human cultured bodies that were run by the computer equivalent of a brain stem? If not why not?

Shsesh! That turned out to be a lot longer than I thought it would be!!!! Guess I better get to actually doing some grading!

How the Categorical Imperative Entails that we cannot Treat Animals as Means Only

It is often thought that utilitarianism is the only moral theory that recognizes that non-rational animals matter morally. This view is usually contrasted with some deontological view (typically Kant) that claims that animals in no way matter. But this is actually mistaken.

Kant’s first formulation of the Categorical Imerpative ‘Act on the maxim which you can will as a universal law of nature’ straightforwardly leads to his second formulation ‘act so as to treat the humanity in a person as an end only and never as a means only’. This is because I cannot consistently will a maxim that lets rational agents be treated as means only, as that would mean that I, a rational agent, could be treated as a means only which contradicts the natural desire of rational agents to govern themselves. Exactly parralell reasoning will get you another formulation of the categorical imperative which is something like ‘act so as to treat sentient creatures as an end only and never as a means only’; for consider a world in which sentient creatures were treated as a means only (used for food, hunted for pleasure, etc) in such a world it would be OK to treat you as a means to an end, (you are after all a sentient being), but this contradicts a sentient being’s natural desire not to be used in such ways.

Perhaps one may object that they could will a maxim which was limited to non-rational sentient beings. But then you have the usual problems with infants, the mentally infirm, and senile senior citizens. Perhaps we could limit it to non-human sentient beings? But this is to make an exception to a universal rule, which is the very indication that one is acting contrary to the Categorical Imperative!

An Argument Against The Argument from Religious Experience

In the comments on an earlier post I voiced the beginnings of an argument against religious experience as a legitimate source of knowledge about God. The basic idea behind the argument is that the idea that God would selectively reveal Himself is incompatible with his being a perfectly moral Being. Here is how I put it then,

It seems to me that if there really were a God he would make it clearer…the Old testament seems to have it right…He is constantly involved in teh affairs of His people…True, he reveals himself only to a select few, but everyone can see that he is acting in the world (e.g. the plauges in Egypt are witnessed by many, many people). But this doesn’t happen any more…furthermore why would a God who loved me not reveal Himself to me? The existence of God is clearly one of the most important questions that Mankind has ever pondered…doesn’t it seem immoral of Him to reveal the Truth to you but not to me?

[I mean, s]uppose that I love you and that I know everything about you. Also suppose that one of your deepest desire is to know whether I am alive or not. You don’t think that that would give me some reason for letting you know that I am alive? Now imagine an infinitely loving being. What possible reason could that being have for staying hidden? I claim none. So if God selectively reveals himself then He acts immorally

Enigman recently pointed me to a recent post at Siris which is from the autobiography of a 19th Century Saint who seems to voice similar concerns as I do. Here is teh brief passage;

I often asked myself why God had preferences, why all souls did not receive an equal measure of grace. I was filled with wonder when I saw extraordinary favours showered on great sinners like St. Paul, St. Augustine, St. Mary Magdalen, and many others, whom He forced, so to speak, to receive His grace….

Our Lord has deigned to explain this mystery to me. He showed me the book of nature, and I understood that every flower created by Him is beautiful, that the brilliance of the rose and the whiteness of the lily do not lessen the perfume of the violet or the sweet simplicity of the daisy. I understood that if all the lowly flowers wished to be roses, nature would lose its springtide beauty, and the fields would no longer be enamelled with lovely hues. And so it is in the world of souls, Our Lord’s living garden. He has been pleased to create great Saints who may be compared to the lily and the rose, but He has also created lesser ones, who must be content to be daisies or simple violets flowering at His Feet, and whose mission it is to gladden His Divine Eyes when He deigns to look down on them. And the more gladly they do His Will the greater is their perfection.

I can’t seem to tell if he is here addressing the same issue as I am or not. The talk about the roses and daiseys makes me think that it has something to do with some of us not being as blessed as others, but then again maybe it is the case that His revealing Himself is a blessing and so he really is addressing the same issue as I am. At anyrate, his answer doesn’t seem that convincing. His argument seems to be that a world in which God revealed Himself to everyone would be a world that was in some sense not as good as a world where he only selectively revealed Himself…but how could that be?