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Do humans have a greater right to live than other animals? If so, would beings of much greater intelligence and perception hold that same right over humans?

Good questions! I've been a vegetarian for 38 years and believe that humans should not kill animals for food, clothing or sport. One way to think about this is to ask what it is that makes life valuable. Some think that life itself is valuable, but that isn't plausible given that plants are alive and it doesn't seem to be morally wrong to weed your garden. Another possibility is that what makes life valuable is sentience. If that's true, then sentient animals (and not plants) would have a moral claim on us, insofar as we have a duty to protect what is valuable. (Though one needs to ask here: what is our duty to protect what is valuable? How far does that duty extend? Are there different sorts of value, some of which have a greater claim on us than others?) Even if sentience is valuable, however, some argue that humans have capacities that are more valuable still, such as the ability to reason, to value things, to create systems of norms, even morality itself. A challenge arises here,...

There is much written on veganism and vegetarianism and the morality of eating animals. The human animal is an omnivore; eating is basic to survival; our dentition and digestive tracts are adapted for meat as well as plants. This is our condition. There is an answer excusing peoples from agriculturally poor countries (and I would add the Inuit) yet, lacking suitable abattoirs, their trapping and/or killing of animals would be seen as cruel by our delicate western standards. If this is morally acceptable, what is "unacceptable suffering"? To whom is is unacceptable and what changes that it becomes acceptable? A vegan questioner suggested her omnivorous friend should witness the killing of an animal if he wished to eat meat. If he did and continued eating meat, would he then be exculpated? If so, where is the morality? Why should the vegan's morality be superior to the omnivore's? Should the vegan witness the grinding poverty and backbreaking work of 3rd world child agricultural labourers before eating...

Your question raises many issues. Here are three: 1) If something is natural for humans, isn't it permissible? 2) If someone performs an action, or a group has a practice, that enables them to survive under exceptionally harsh conditions, isn't it permissible? 3) If someone acts in a way that seems moral to them, based on the standards of their society at the time, isn't it morally acceptable? A full answer to (1), I think, should explore what it means for something to be natural for humans. Isn't it also natural for me to use my rational capacties to decide what I ought to eat rather than just going for whatever tastes good or is edible? Many things are edible, even nutritious, for humans, but we don't think it is appropriate to eat them under normal circumstances. Rational reflection on our relationships to each other and the non-human world is natural and acting in ways consistent on that reflection is too. Also, there are many things that people have argued are natural, but...

In a hypothetical situation I am a vegan talking to a meat eater who buys his meat from a supermarket and has no interest in where it came from. I say that I don't think people have the right to eat meat unless they are willing to learn about what it takes to provide that meat, witness it first hand or even produce it for themselves. He says that he doesn't want to know where it came from and is quite happy for someone else to do the dirty work if they are happy to and does not feel at all guilty. Is he morally wrong and do I have a valid argument?

Another issue here is whether someone "has the right" to eat meat, even if they know full well where it came from. Suppose Smith claims to "have the right" to eat a slab of beef because she killed the cow. I would strongly disagree. It was wrong of her to kill the cow and wrong of her to eat it. I'm not exactly happy using the notion of "rights" in this context. But the point is that doing wrong in full knowledge is still doing wrong. It may be even worse. If Smith is so insensitive to suffering that she happily kills the cow and eats the meat, I would say this is much worse than eating the meat without really knowing what suffering was involved in its death.

A long time ago - Jan 2006 if I'm not mistaken - Alan Soble wrote (http://www.askphilosophers.org/question/875): "Finally, the heart and soul of philosophy is argument, providing reasons for claims, including claims about morality and duties. In the answer to the question above, I cannot find a shred of argument. We should also avoid, that is, pastoral or friendly counseling. Without rigor, philosophy is nothing." That was back in the days when there was routinely more than 1 response to a question. Today's responses seem more and more to be becoming "pastoral or friendly counseling" without rigor. The panelists do not argue with each other - the responses are just accepted. Here's an example: Peter Smith wrote very recently (http://www.askphilosophers.org/question/2823): "For irrationally formed beliefs are not likely to lead to actions which get any of us what we want -- including a decent life, lived well in the knowledge of our all-too-explicable mortality." This statement - simply put out...

I don't agree with Soble's claim that "without rigor, philosophy is nothing." Philosophy can be a source of insight, a glimpse into a completely different way of thinking about things, a moment of doubt, an invitation to reflection, the introduction of a new concept, and much more. All this can happen without argument and without "rigor," whatever that is supposed to be. And disagreement, although valuable, is not necessary for good philosophy. An over-emphasis on "rigor" can shut down genuine inquiry and leave us with sterile platitudes, and agonistic debate is only one model for gaining knowledge. "Rigorous" philosophy, full of argument, and undertaken in a spirit of debate can be fantastic, but philosophy is also so much more than this!

Many animal rights ideologies deny the existence of human exceptionalism. Some going so far as to call the idea, "Speciesism." But, if we drop this idea of human exceptionism for some utilitarian style of ethics, wouldn't the whole idea, as currently understood of human rights, fall with it? The UN charter itself states: "to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person..." but if we disregard this inherent "dignity and worth" of the human person, what becomes of human rights? If we take a view that a eating a retarded human is no different than eating a retarded pig (an opinion I read in one of the responses here), then what becomes of human rights, and our inherent "dignity and worth"? And aside from the utilitarian implications of human exceptionalism (inherent human rights) don't you think that humans do inhabit a special place in the world? Are we not, something more than mere animals? Basically does the human soul exist?

There's a lot that has been and can be said about this issue, but maybe I can suggest one helpful thought. There are really two different questions implicit in your question. One is whether anyone or anything has rights, thinking of rights as bringing with them strict obligations that cannot be overridden by such considerations as the greater happiness of others. A different question is whether there are specifically human rights. One might reject utilitarianism and hold that some beings have rights that it would be wrong to violate for the sake of maximizing utility, but still reject the idea that there are special human rights, i.e., rights that we have simply by virtue of being human. For example, perhaps things that have certain mental capacities -- possibly capacities to form their own conception of the good -- have a right not to be sacrificed for greater average (or aggregate) happiness. This need not be construed as a human right, for it isn't a right we have by virtue...

My cousin recently gave birth to her first child. There were some complications, however, and the baby had to be delivered through a cesarean section four weeks early. At first she seemed healthy, but within seconds of the delivery the effort of crying was apparently too much for the premature baby and they had to put her on a special machine. Now, what interested me about K. (that’s her first name,) is that even though she was working her way to be two months early she still seems completely human. K. even smiled and giggled whenever they played with her. As far as I can tell she’s completely human. She laughs, cries, reacts to pain, even seems to have formed a bond with her mother who she’s only seen a few times. Recently there was a great outcry because late term abortion doctor George Tiller was assassinated by pro-life extremists. (Doesn’t that seem ironic?) Anyway, he apparently aborted fetuses within days of the delivery date. 32, 33, 34 week old fetuses. Now, what caught me about this is that K....

There are a few points that may be relevant to your thinking: 1) There is a substantial difference between 32 weeks and 36 weeks in terms of development, long term prognosis, etc. It is also uncommon for a newborn to be as responsive to social cues as you suggest. Typically "social smiling" doesn't occur until a full term baby is four to six weeks old. It is a mistake, I think, to generalize even about healthy fetuses from the vivid example you've just witnessed. 2) The cases of abortion Tiller performed were typically cases in which the fetus or mother faced significant medical complications. Would you feel differently if your cousin (once removed) was born to live with a disability that would cause constant and untreatable pain? How would you feel if your cousin's life was in danger, or if she faced a permanent and profound disability if she continued her pregnancy? Are there no cases in which you can imagine a late term pregnancy justifiably terminated? 3) It might be interesting...

Is the phrase "All people are equal" true in any ethically relevant sense? Certainly not all people have equal abilities. Nor do we consider all people equally when making ethical judgements. So what do people mean when they say "all people are equal"?

I think it is useful to consider the claim in historical context. The idea that there is a (metaphysical?) hierarchy of human worth or value has been very influential at times. People born into certain groups have, by virtue of that very fact, been considered more worthy or valuable than others. Monarchy is one example of this, but such hierarchies are also implicit in some forms of racism, sexism, and in religions that privilege those born of members of that religion. (You might want to check out the Wikipedia entry on the Great Chain of Being as an example.) Note, in particular, that the Declaration of Independence doesn't say that all people are equal, but "all men are created equal." The claim that we are all created equal does not mean that there are no moral differences between persons, but that we start out in life with equal moral worth -- some inalienable human dignity, some would argue -- and beyond that our moral standing is something that must be earned. (Note too that...

A state legislator recently came to the local high school recently. Naturally, teenage boys and girls tend to be convinced that the world is out to get their gender exclusively. One of the boys asked why it was okay for the insurance company to charge him three times as much as they charged his sister for car insurance. Apparently she’s a reckless driver and he’s a shut-in who hardly uses his car. The legislator said that it was a double standard but that there was no gain in attacking it. Instead of lowering the price for men the insurance company would simply raise the price for women and then nobody would benefit. Is this justification for what the legislator allowed as generalizing, stereotyping, and straight sexism acceptable in a modern society? What about the feminist movement? Is it possible that instead of placing new value in women it’s simply devaluing men? If so is it acceptable? Should we try a new more idealistic approach to equality?

It seems to me that the legislator is misrepresenting the argument for charging young men more than young women. The argument is that insurance companies calculate risks based on statistics they gather about groups. Even though the brother and sister are exceptions to the generalizations, the generalizations about dangerous driving are statistically sound, and when calculating risks it is reasonable to rely on generalizations. You are unlucky if you are an outlier in your group, but the existence of an outlier doesn't make it wrong for the insurance companies to use the best statistics they can gather. Whether or not you agree with the conclusion about relying on generalizations, the point isn't about gender at all. It's about how to calculate risk and whether insurance companies should be entitled to charge individuals more if they are in a high-risk group. If we assume that insurance companies are permissible, then I can't see how they can not rely on generaliations, since they wouldn't be able...

What is ethically the difference between a prostitute and a model? They both make a living by selling their body, and the fact that there is sex in one activity seems to me not enough to morally judge a prostitute.

There are at least two different sorts of moral questions one might ask about prostitution and modeling. On one hand one might ask about the moral status of a particular agent's engaging in modeling or prostitution, and whether one action is morally worse than the other. On the other hand, one might ask about the moral status of the general practice of modeling and the general practice of prostitution, i.e., is it worse for the society to tolerate prostitution than modeling? (I'm assuming you don't have in mind by modeling the sexual display of one's body, but the modeling of clothes for the LLBean catalog and such.) Regarding both sorts of questions it seems to me that much more should be considered beyond whether the practice or the act is an instance of "selling one's body". In the case of an agent, the moral evaluation of the choice would plausibly depend on the circumstances, the beliefs, desires and intentions of the agent and others involved, the consequences of the choice, etc. And in...

Many Americans make the assumption that a person cannot be moral unless he subscribes to a religion. But philosophy is replete with ethical systems other than divine-command theory, some of which have been around for thousands of years. Why haven't teachers of philosophy been able to teach or convince the public that being moral does not necessarily depend upon believing in a divine being?

I think there are probably two main reasons: (1) Philosophers don't generally speak to or write for the general public, and most are not suited to the role of public figure . Religious leaders (pastors, priests, ministers) have an opportunity every Sunday to speak to a much broader range of people. (2) Philosophers have little beyond argument to support their view, whereas religious leaders can encourage belief in their views by promises of good things (heaven, divine forgiveness) and threats (punishment, hell). These considerations seem more than sufficient to explain the phenomenon.

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