November 2012 Archives

Diet For a Hot Planet by Anna Lappe

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In the book Diet For a Hot Planet: The Climate Crisis at the End of Your Fork and What You Can Do about It by Anna Lappe, the author argues that modern food production methods, especially for meat, are huge factors contributing to global warming and that people should exchange their current food consumption habits for more environmentally sustainable ones. The International Panel on Climate Change lists agriculture at contributing just 13.5% of total global warming emissions, but Lappe points out that that the emissions due to our food system are really a bigger piece of the pie, including part of the emissions from transport, commercial buildings, waste, and forestry. Livestock in particular are significant emitters of greenhouse gasses due to their methane emissions from the animals and their waste, the energy use of feedlots and processing plants, large amount of fertilizers needed for the large amount of crops for animal feed, etc. Lappe argues that changes in agricultural methods could greatly cut emissions rates by, for example, raising meat from free-range cattle, switching to organically grown produce, and keeping food more local. All of these things reduce reliance on energy, especially oil, allowing them to produce fewer global warming gasses and to continue to be effective even as oil becomes more scarce and its costs rise. Lappe also takes time to discuss companies use of 'greenwashing' techniques to sell products that are not truly environmentally friendly and a section for consumers on making sustainable food choices.

Overall, I agree with Lappe's main argument: modern agriculture significantly contributes to global warming and we can and should make changes to production methods to decrease our impact. However, I think some of Lappe's ideas are idealistic, impractical, inflexible, and contradictory. For instance, throughout the book she condemns large companies for their failure to take responsibility for their own emissions and for trying to hide their poor environmental practices from consumers. However, she still condemns them even when they do attempt to reduce their impact by investigating the use of genetically modified plants and using methane digesters in order to produce energy from livestock waste. I agree with Lappe that genetically modified plants have the potential to do more harm than good and that producing energy from livestock waste is still not sustainable in the long run in terms of global warming, but I do think that these ideas are a step in the right direction and deserve some credit. At very least they could be used until some other more sustainable ideas could be implemented. Concerning sustainable ideas for agriculture, I found Lappe to offer few except ones requiring complete overhauls of the current system- in other words changes that would be least likely to actually be accepted by food producers, politicians and farmers. I think if she really wanted some change for the better, she would be more accepting of any ideas to better the system, especially if people were willing to embrace them.

An area where I think the author is over optimistic given the evidence is with the yields and efficiency of organic farming. Lappe cites studies which have not been peer reviewed and published in academic journals which support her conclusion that yields are nearly the same as conventional farming methods with less use of energy input, even though published studies also existed which have conflicting conclusions. For instance, this study found a 20% smaller yield from organic farms using 50% less fertilizer and 97% less pesticide. This study found that organic apple production is more energy efficient while this (1) one found that organic apple and potato production was less energy efficient than conventional methods. Finally, this long-term study found that crop yields were 20% lower in organic systems while fertilizer plus energy input was 34% to 53% lower. My conclusions based off these studies are that organic farming may be very promising in reducing energy requirements, but more land may be required for cultivation due to the lower yields, which could increase emissions in itself. Overall, more study seems to be needed- not the head first jump into complete agricultural overhaul that Lappe recommends.

In one section, Lappe argues that the transport of foods should be reduced in order to curb emissions and she provides this humorous example: "When Fiji [bottled] water ads boasted, 'FIJI, because it's not bottled in Cleveland,' that city ran tests that compared it with municipal samples. It turned out that Fiji water fared worse; it contained arsenic as well as higher levels of contaminants." I wholeheartedly agree with Lappe that bottled water and transported foods that could easily be produced locally is both wasteful and unnecessary. However, I think these examples bring up an important issue that Lappe doesn't discuss, but is always on my mind when considering environmental issues: is there any way to get consumers and businesses to stop wasteful, unsustainable practices without reducing their freedom with rules and regulations? Consumers of bottled water and plastic grocery bags only seem to stop when cities and countries ban their use. Despite this, to me personally it seems wrong to limit an adult's choice as long as it doesn't harm someone else, even if the choice is misguided or mistaken. Yes, the pollution and global warming overall is bad for everyone, so in a way buying bottled water is a source of harm, but to me this is a very different sort of harm than say hitting one's neighbor in the face. Also, there could be a legitimate circumstance where someone really does need to buy bottled water- perhaps the city water went stopped working, or they needed a large stock for a trip to Mexico, in which the ban causes negative unintended consequences. In the case of businesses, environmental problems often do direct harm to people and property, such as with waste mismanagement, and I think those types of issues should be better handled in court by forcing the companies to pay the consequences for their actions. If the judicial system worked well in that manner, companies would have strong incentives to avoid pollution on their own. Perhaps better environmental education would benefit people by making them more aware of the impact of their purchases. Yet this seems unlikely since basic education is already lacking for many people in the US, and adding another area would be unlikely to help.

Lappe, Anna. Diet For a Hot Planet. New York: Bloomsbury, 2010. Print.

1. Pimental et al. (1983). "Energy efficiency of farming systems: Organic and conventional agriculture". Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment 9: 359-372.

"Active and Passive Euthanasia" by James Rachels

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Should a patient with terminal cancer who is in tremendous pain be allowed to stop treatment and die? Many people think that allowing this patient to die is not morally wrong, but, at the same time, they condemn the administration of a powerful drug to the patient which would cause death and ease suffering. Allowing someone to die by withholding treatment is passive euthanasia. Active euthanasia, on the other hand, is taking deliberate action to kill a patient. James Rachels, in "Active and Passive Euthanasia," claims that an act of killing, in itself, has to be either morally worse, better, or equivalent to an act of letting someone die, in itself. He maintains that everyone will agree that killing is not morally better than letting die, and thus killing is either morally equivalent or worse. Now assume, for a moment, that killing is worse. If it were the case that killing is always worse than letting die, then there would be no instance where killing is equivalent to letting die in a barely different situation. But, as will be shown, there is a case, the Smith and Jones case, where killing is equivalent, so it cannot be assumed that killing is worse than letting die. Thus, in this argument, Rachels maintains that an act of killing, in itself, is morally equivalent to an act letting die, in itself, and he calls this the Equivalence Thesis. In order for Rachel's argument to be substantiated, the Smith and Jones case must be thoroughly investigated.

Rachels presents the Smith and Jones cases as a pair of stories that will be briefly retold here. Smith will gain a large inheritance if his six-year old cousin were to die. One night when his young cousin is taking a bath, Smith goes into the bathroom and drowns the child. In a highly similar scenario, Jones too stands to gain a large inheritance if anything were to happen to his six-year old cousin. So Jones sneaks into the bathroom one evening while his cousin is taking a bath, planning to drown the boy. However, Jones finds that the boy has slipped into the bath and is already drowning. Jones does not save his cousin; instead he stands by and watches the boy, prepared to push his head back under the water if need be, but the boy drowns to death by himself with no help from Jones. These two situations are presented to be the same in every way, except that Jones 'merely' lets his cousin die while Smith actively kills his cousin.

The Smith and Jones case is an example a 'bare difference' argument. The application of this technique involves examining a pair of cases that differ in only one respect. Thus, in the Smith and Jones case, this one distinction is that Smith actively kills his six-year old cousin while Jones passively lets his six-year old cousin die. Other differences in the story, such as Smith and Jones having different names, are not relevant to the bare difference argument because they could, for instance, have had the exact same name without changing the situation, and thus this 'difference' is merely intended to aid the reader in differentiating the situations. Rachels intends to make the reader question whether or not the case of killing, in itself, is truly worse than letting die, in itself, by using the bare difference scenario. If letting die, in itself, is not deemed to be worse than killing and from the Smith and Jones case killing cannot be deemed to be worse, in itself, than letting die, it must be the case that killing and letting die are morally equivalent.

Rachels uses the Smith and Jones case in order to substantiate his claim for the Equivalence Thesis, which says that it is logically possible for killing to be morally equivalent to letting die in certain situations. He reasons that his readers will consider the two barely different cases to be equivalent, or equally morally bad, because both Jones and Smith have the same intent to kill their young cousin if need be. Due to sheer luck (on Jones' part), Jones does not have to go through with the actual murder, which Smith carries out. Since Jones intends to kill his cousin and does not save him when it was clearly within his power, the reader is to conclude that Jones is just as bad as Smith, or that Smith, at very least, did not act worse than Jones. Once the reader concludes that the two acts in this case are indeed morally equivalent, the remainder of Rachels' argument resumes: since no one would consider killing to be better than letting die and since the Smith and Jones case presents an example where killing is not worse than letting die, the two acts must be morally equivalent because there are no other moral possibilities. Thus, the Smith and Jones case helps to substantiate the central argument for Rachels' Equivalence Thesis. The implications of this Equivalence Thesis to euthanasia are that in any case where it is morally permissible to allow an individual to die from disease, it would also be morally acceptable to administer a dose of a drug that would actively kill that person.

I find Rachels' argument to be persuasive and I do think that euthanasia should be a legal option for patients suffering from pain due to disease. I think in many cases of morality intentions play a huge role in determining whether something is right or wrong. So even though death and killing are always unfavorable, the intent in euthanasia is not exactly death itself, but to escape from pain. Death is unfortunately the only way to achieve the intended result for some people. My main concern with legal euthanasia is that family members could influence or hasten the patient's choice of euthanasia in order to achieve their own ends- like coming into inheritance faster, or avoiding further costly hospital bills. I'm not sure that family influence could ever be completely avoided unless the patient completely avoided contact with them, which could in itself cause one to choose euthanasia due to loneliness. Overall though I think it is wrong to force someone who wants to die to remain living in pain.

Rachels, James. "Active and Passive Euthanasia" in What's Wrong: Applied Ethicists and Their Critics, ed. David Boonin and Graham Oddie (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), 46-50.

"Thomson on Abortion" by Baruch Brody

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In "Thomson on Abortion" Baruch Brody poses an objection to Thomson's conclusion that a woman would always be morally permitted to terminate a fetus' life in self-defense. He argues that, in a case where the mother will be able to survive only if the fetus is aborted or the fetus will be able to survive but the mother will die, the person who is allowed to live and the one to die ought to be determined by fair and random chance rather than a decision just based upon the woman's wishes. He reasons that if chance determines that the woman should be allowed to live, abortion is morally permissible because one life would be lost regardless. Abortion would also be morally acceptable, he argues, in a similar case where both the woman and the fetus would die if nothing at all is done because one life could be saved instead of losing two. But, he says, it cannot be the case that abortions based purely on self-defense are justifiable because in a related case where two people are in a life raft and one contracts a survivable disease that would, however, kill the other person if he or she were to catch it, it is not morally permitted to kill the disease carrier. Brody's view is not as strict as the Extreme View that Thomson presented because there may be some conceivable cases in which abortion is permissible, but it does indicate that a woman is not morally justified in obtaining an abortion simply because her life is threatened.

I believe that Thomson would respond to Brody's objection by readily agreeing that in a
case where both lives could be lost that terminating one life so the other can survive is certainly better than losing two individuals. However, that is not to say that the determination of who is to live should be based on a flip of a coin. As such, no hung jury is allowed to resort to chance in a murder trial to determine the guilt or innocence of the defendant because doing so simply from a lack of an appropriate means to determine between the two verdicts undermines the pursuit of justice. Thomson would argue that the woman ought to have the right to deal out death to either herself or the fetus because she should have control over her own body. In other words, since the fetus makes use of the woman's body and not the other way around, the woman should be able to choose what happens to it even if it results in the termination of the fetus to preserve her own life.

I think that Brody would respond to this rebuttal by saying that the woman's ownership of her own body is not relevant in a case where either the woman or the fetus will die because the choice is between saving the life of the woman or that of the fetus and since there is a life at stake this trumps bodily rights. By Brody's view the woman's life is equally valuable to the fetus' life, a life for a life in other words, and each deserves a fair chance at being allowed to live. Thomson would fully give the decision to the woman, but this would fail to recognize the fetus' equal right to life, that Thomson recognizes when she bases her argument for the permissibility of abortion on a premise that acknowledges that the fetus is a human person.

To this, perhaps Thomson would say that although both the fetus and the woman may be persons with some right to life, those rights are not equal to one another as Brody states. The woman still ought to have the right to choose to terminate the fetus not only because her body is her own, but because of the comparable amount of suffering on her part is much greater than that of the fetus. Brody's recommendation seems to devalue any experiences and knowledge that the fully grown human woman has acquired to date and does not take into account the suffering that the woman can experience that the fetus is incapable of feeling. The woman, being a fully developed human, we know has thoughts and abstract desires for and about living her life while the fetus is unable to contemplate such thoughts. Therefore, by forcing a woman to roll the die or flip the coin, or even having someone else do it, she must deal with the suffering that would result by contemplating a death that she does not desire: her own. On the other hand, although the fetus may be a person, it is not a person that can suffer extra, as in the case of the woman, by being faced with its own death. Thus, the woman ought to be able to choose for herself whether or not to terminate the fetus in self defense to avoid the loss of her valuable experiences and thoughts and to avoid the extra suffering that will result by facing her own death.

Brody, Baruch. "Thomson on Abortion" in What's Wrong: Applied Ethicists and Their Critics, ed. David Boonin and Graham Oddie (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), 99-101.

"A Defense of Abortion" by Judith Jarvis Thomson

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A general formulation of the Conservative Argument for the immorality of abortion argues that abortion is immoral because killing a fetus is the same as killing a person, which is clearly unacceptable, and any rights one has to one's own body is trumped by the fetus' right to live. Most arguments for or opposing abortion concentrate on the moral status of the fetus: is the fetus a person or not? However, Judith Jarvis Thomson argues, in the article "A Defense of Abortion," that even if the fetus is granted the same status and rights as any other established person, abortion is still morally permissible. In the article, Thomson provides many arguments from analogy, all intended to show that different variations of the Conservative Argument are unfounded.

Thomson begins by presenting her take on the 'Extreme View' for the immorality of abortion:

P1. A fetus is a human being from the moment of conception.
P2. Every human is a person with a right to life.
C1. Therefore, a fetus has a right to life from the moment it is conceived.
P3. Every person has a right to decide what happens in and to one's own body.
P4. However, a right to life always overrides a right to decide what happens in one's own body.
C. Therefore, abortion is always morally impermissible, even in cases where the woman will die if she does not abort the fetus.

Next, Thomson provides her rebuttal 'Expanding Child' scenario: Suppose you find yourself trapped in a tiny house with a growing child. This house is extremely small and the child is rapidly engorging. Already, you are pressed up against the walls of the house and in just a few minutes the child will grow enough that it will crush you to death. The child will not, however, be crushed to death, it will simply bursts from the house once it has grown large enough. It may be the case that a bystander cannot choose between saving your life or the child's life. However, Thomson argues, even though the child may be entirely innocent, it does not mean that you cannot intervene and kill the child to save your own life.

The expanding child scenario is an example of the argumentative technique known as an argument by analogy. This technique attempts to justify the moral assessment of a particular case by comparing it with a second scenario that virtually everyone will agree about. So, if the first practice is morally unacceptable and a second practice is morally analogous to the first, it can be concluded that the second practice is also morally wrong. Thus, the expanding child case can be seen as analogous to a case where a pregnant woman will die unless she aborts the fetus, which would survive if the woman were the one to die. Thomson takes the woman to be analogous to the house, both of which have a readily growing child within. She takes it that in the case of the expanding child, most will agree that the woman has the right to kill the expanding child to save her own life even though the child was innocent. She assumes that people will generally agree with the case because one would be acting in self-defense and only killing out of necessity to preserve one's life. Thus, in the case of a pregnant woman, the woman should also be allowed, if she chooses to do so, to save her own life by aborting the fetus.

The expanding child analogy is not Thomson's central argument for the permissibility of abortion in most cases; Thomson simply uses this scenario to refute the Extreme View. The remainder of Thomson's argument progresses through and eventually refuting various formulations of the Conservative Argument until she is able to reason that abortion is morally permissible in most cases. The expanding child case is one early step, or sub-argument, along the way to her final conclusion. After portraying the ineffectiveness of the Extreme View she then progresses to condemn the Weakened View, which says that it is permissible to save the mother's life in the expanding child case or that of pregnant mother threatened by a growing fetus, but the abortion may only be performed by the mother herself. So even though the expanding child case is not Thomson's main argument it, nonetheless, plays an important role in the argument by establishing that a woman being crushed by a rapidly expanding child has the right to terminate the child's life and the implication of this is that a woman whose life is in danger is morally permitted to terminate the fetus that is growing inside of her.

I find Thomson's self-defense argument to be both effective and persuasive. I have always sided with a woman's right to choose what is best for her, but I understand why many people get very emotional about abortion - to them it is equivalent to killing a one year old baby, eight year old child, or thirty year old adult. That being said, what I can't comprehend is why some people don't think a woman has a right to an abortion in self-defense. It is uncontroversial that someone has the right to stop a home intruder even with deadly force to save their own or their family's lives, which is similar to Jarvis' Expanding Child scenario. Both seem to be equivalent to having a right to choose an abortion to save one's own life, yet all of a sudden there is a disconnect in moral acceptability. The difference in the intruder case is that it is the intruder is at fault while the expanding child and a fetus are innocent. I think that is where the strength of Jarvis' argument lies, because many people will agree that it is okay to kill the innocent expanding child in order to save one's own life. But, perhaps fervent anti-abortion people would not agree that it is acceptable to save one's life in this case either?

Judith Jarvis Thomson, "A Defense of Abortion" in What's Wrong: Applied Ethicists and Their Critics, ed. David Boonin and Graham Oddie (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), 89-98.

In "The Good Life: A Defense of Attitudinal Hedonism," Fred Feldman discusses hedonism, which is the thought that for a life to go well for the one who experiences it is a matter of enjoyment. He goes on to distinguish the several forms of hedonism, considers several classical objections, and argues that these objections are irrelevant to the form of hedonism that he puts forth. Feldman specifically discusses attitudinal pleasure which he defines to be a mode of consciousness or being aware of a state of things that takes place among other attitudes, such as hope and fear. Feldman's concern is not goodness in itself nor morality, but rather value of a life for the person living that life. His version of intrinsic attitudinal hedonism (IAH) is that it is the "view that the value of a person's life is determined by the total amount of intrinsic attitudinal pleasure the person enjoys during that life". One objection given to this view is put forth by Shelly Kagan:

P1. Hedonism implies that what determines the quality of a person's life is something completely internal to that person, i.e. in the mind of that person.
C1. Thus, hedonism is a "mental statism."
P2. Hedonism, like all forms of mental statism, implies that if two lives are alike with respect to mental states, they must also be alike with respect to pleasures and pains, then those lives are of equal value.
P3. Thus, P2 remains true even if one of the individuals takes pleasure from correctly perceived interaction with real human beings, and the other individual is merely a brain in a vat, not actually perceiving a real life.
P4. The real human being and the brain in the vat do not, or cannot, have lives of equal value.
C. Therefore, hedonism does not adequately represent the value of a life.

Feldman addresses Kagan's argument and a similar case put forth by Tom Nagel, by slightly modifying the IAH view to take in consideration the true state of affairs, thus eliminating the entire argument because the real person who is experiencing the true state of affairs would still have a life with more value than the brain in a vat that only thinks it is experiencing a 'real' life.

I do agree with Feldman that some sort of hedonism seems to represent how people find value in their lives, however, I'm not sure he needed to modify his view in order to satisfy Kagan's argument since value of one's life to one's self is truly in the mind of that person experiencing it. Thus, both the real human being and the brain in the vat were satisfied with their lives even though only the real human was actually having true experiences. But if we look at from the perspective of the person with the life, both are having satisfactory lives to which they would feel that are of equal value to any other life. So, only to outsiders do the lives not seem equally valuable, but I don't think that really matters because you only experience your own life.

Feldman, Fred. "The Good Life: A Defense of Attitudinal Hedonism." Ethical Theory: An Anthology. Ed. Russ Shafer-Landau. Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 2007. 294-305. Print.

"Thinking About Cases" by Shelly Kagan

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In "Thinking About Cases," Shelly Kagan discusses moral philosophy's reliance on cases that appeal to our intuition to support moral arguments, however, Kagan maintains that there is no established reason for believing that moral intuitions should even be trusted. Kagan says that moral arguments often rely on our intuitions about real life or hypothetical cases, such as Thomson's "Trolley Case" that I discussed in a previous post. The justification for relying on intuitions is often its analogy to empirical observation, and thus we can rely on intuitions for the same reasoning that we can rely on observations in empirical theory: because they both seem to be reliable, there is no reason to doubt them, and they offer predictions about future cases. However, Kagan's argument takes this apparent analogy one step further and can be summed up as follows:

P1. Moral intuitions are analogous to empirical observations.
P2. We take ourselves to be justified in trusting our empirical observations by virtue of having an explanatorily adequate empirical theory that endorses our empirical observations.
P3. Constructing a moral theory that would endorse our case specific intuitions as being accurate would be difficult and likely impossible.
C. Therefore, moral intuitions are not analogous to empirical observations.

Kagan reasons that since moral intuitions cannot be justified in the same way as empirical observations, that "the appropriate stance to take toward moral intuitions would be to develop and accept an error theory, according to which at least many of our case specific moral intuitions are mistaken". He further says that this is likely to be the case that moral intuitions only seem to be accurate and justified because they are not universal as many people's immediate moral intuition on a case often differ. He provides 'evidence' of this disagreement of moral intuitions based on his experience as a professor and talking to many students. Although I agree that moral intuitions are not universal, I don't think that there is as much disagreement as Kagan maintains. In my own personal experience in taking philosophy courses I have seen that when cases are presented there is often quite a bit of differing responses, however, once the case is explained more in depth, there is an overall consensus. I think that many people have a particular intuition at the beginning, but they don't understand the case and once they do their intuition often changes. However, both my personal experiences and Kagan's are simply hearsay and thus it would be more interesting and relevant if studies could confirm to what extent most people's intuitions agree and disagree. Overall, though, I definitely agree that moral 'observations' are not the same as scientific ones, and I think this is further evidence that ethics cannot be treated as a natural science, which I discussed previously with Gilbert Harman's article "Ethics and Observation".

Kagan, Shelly. "Thinking about Cases." Ethical Theory: An Anthology. Ed. Russ Shafer-Landau. Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 2007. 82-93. Print.

"But I Could Be Wrong" by George Sher

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In "But I Could Be Wrong" George Sher explores the implication of the fact that our moral beliefs have been significantly affected by our upbringing and life experiences and argues that, despite this, we may still rationally give our particular moral views precedence over any others. The argument that is commonly put forth to show that we have no logical reason to act on our own moral beliefs is as follows:

P1. "I often disagree with others about what I morally ought to do".
P2. "The moral outlook that supports my current judgment about what I ought to do has been shaped by my upbringing and experiences, for (just about) any alternative judgment, there is some different upbringing, and set of experiences that would have caused me to acquire a moral outlook that would in turn have supported this alternative judgment".
C. Thus, I have no reason to give precedence to my moral beliefs over those that oppose mine.

In other words, this argument says that if any person grew up in a different household they would have just as likely acquired different moral beliefs due to different experiences and cultural views, which means that there is no reason to act on the random set of beliefs that you ended up as opposed to the set of beliefs you could have ended up with. Sher reasons that the only way to argue against this argument is to find fault with P2 since P1 is uncontroversial. He first tries to show that P2 is false because our moral beliefs can change as we get older, as can our religious views, and thus we have reason to trust our particular set of moral beliefs due to the amount of reflection we have put into constructing them. However, there still is no basis for thinking that I have any more thought into my beliefs than you have. Sher then goes on to construct his final argument that will show that even if our views may have been different under different circumstances, we still may rationally give precedence to ours:

P1.1. There is no reason to give precedence to my moral beliefs over those that oppose mine due to P1 and P2.
P2.1. If I were to set aside moral components to judgments, I would lack any basis upon which to make reasoned decisions since any other basis would also be rooted in my experiences and upbringing.
C1. Therefore, practical rationality precludes my setting of my moral beliefs aside when making judgments.

I agree with Sher's argument that we may rationally give precedence to our own set of moral beliefs. I think Sher's argument is important because it should hold up no matter whether one is a moral realist or not, or whether one ascribes as a utilitarian, virtue ethicist, etc. It is interesting to note that a study1 I read recently showed that there may be some genetic influence on our political beliefs, meaning that the environment we grew up in does not entirely impact the political views that we end up with. This could possibly apply to moral beliefs as well and would show that any other upbringing may not change (all of) one's views. However, I don't think that this takes away any from the initial argument since there is still no reason to believe that the possible genes that influence your moral beliefs are any better than anyone else's, but it would mean that P2 would need to be slightly altered in order to not only rely on environmental factors.

Sher, George. "But I Could be Wrong." Ethical Theory: An Anthology. Ed. Russ Shafer-Landau. Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 2007. 94-102. Print.

David Enoch and Mark Schroeder Podcast on Moral Realism

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In this podcast David Enoch and Mark Schroeder discussed moral realism. Moral realism according to Enoch is the belief that actions can be either morally wrong or right, and possibly objectively so. Schroeder says that moral realists also believe that moral questions are genuine questions with real answers and are on par with other types of questions, whereas the error theorists maintain that answers to these types of questions are merely pseudo-answers. Schroeder discusses moral revelation, a feeling one may experience when one changes a particular moral view. Most people speak about morality as though it is real and do not often speak as though moral convictions are 'optional'. I think that most people do want morality to be real and would be confused about how to live their lives if someday realism were shown not to be true. Furthermore, these people always argue for their particular type of morality to be true which, of course, is not the same cross-cultures. This is also said by Enoch when he says that people are not happy with "letting a thousand flowers bloom" in that people in real discussions are not satisfied by the view that multiple moral answers could be correct at the same time, and only want moral answers that render one view right and the other wrong. I wonder if the tendency for humans to be moral realists and assume that moral questions have objective answers stems simply from the convenience of easily telling right from wrong? Enoch and Schroeder also emphasize how different cultures tend to have different moral truths. I think it would be interesting to find a culture (other than perhaps a sub-culture of philosophers) who actually are moral relativists or who find the change of thinking from moral realism to relativism easier than others. I think this would help determine if the tendency toward moral realism is due to our basic psychological make-up.

Enoch, David and Mark Schroeder. "David Enoch and Mark Schroeder." Philosophy TV, 2010. Web. 1 Nov. 2012.

Simon Blackburn on Moral Relativism

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In this podcast Nigel Warburton interviewed Simon Blackburn as to whether or not there is a single moral truth. Moral relativism, a theory that says that there is no absolute moral truth and that all moral views are subjective, helps to explain why different cultures have different ideas about right and wrong. According to this view every individual has their own moral 'truth'. However, Blackburn maintains that moral relativism is not an accurate account of the world because it doesn't fully explain moral disagreements and conflicts. In a conflict a relativist says that everyone has their own truth and that is the end of the story, essentially saying that there is no disagreement. Blackburn says that debates are real at some level because they can cause serious conflicts between people but that there is no objective way to solve them. Relativists simply try to 'wish away' the argument by saying that there is no disagreement; however, this does not recognize the practical importance of the conflict between individuals or groups. Blackburn's argument can be summed up as:

P1. Individuals (or groups) often differ on what they maintain to be a moral truth about a particular issue.
P2. These differences in belief cause real world problems between the individuals (or groups), such as wars.
C. Therefore, the debates between the individuals (or groups) are real.

Blackburn's view about morality, that ethical sentences do not express real propositions but have qualities as though they do, is called quasi-realism.

Even after thinking about moral relativism for quite some time now, I'm still not positive where I stand on the matter. I believe that I agree with Blackburn that moral disagreements are real even if there can be no final truth about the matter, mainly because of the real consequences those disagreements can have. However, I find the idea that that everyone has their own 'truth' and that arguing with someone who has a separate 'truth' is pointless, seems to have merit as well. The example of 'moral truths' merely talking around one another that stands out in my head is a discussion I heard a couple of years ago between Richard Dawkins, a scientist and atheist, and a steadfast religious conservative who did not believe in evolution. In this argument both parties seemed to be talking around one another and kept repeating basic tenants of their beliefs, but neither could find any common ground. However, clearly there is some absolute truth to this matter as is the case with any religious disagreement- either your religion (or lack of religion) is right in reality or it isn't. This is different from other moral problems like 'stealing is always wrong' where it does not, by necessity have to be either true or false by virtue of the way the real world is.

One part where I disagree with Blackburn (or was confused about what he was saying) is when he discussed female circumcision through a relativist perspective. It is thought that since there is no moral truth then there is a plea for toleration and that one should not impose one's own will on other people. However, Blackburn maintains that 'it is legitimate to impose our ideas' in some scenarios. I don't think he adequately explained why this would be the case since it seems to me that since there is no moral truth that I have no justification either way- for either imposing my beliefs on others or refraining from doing so. Thus, one would be free to either act or not act on one's beliefs in all scenarios, according to one's own 'moral truths'.

Blackburn, Simon. Interview by Nigel Warburton. "Simon Blackburn on Moral Relativism." Philosophy Bites, 2007. Web. 1 Nov. 2012.

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