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Many philosophers think that mental states can be reduced to physical states. It seems to me however that properties such as sadness and happiness are adjectives that apply to a person's mental states. It doesn't make any sense to say "this is happy brain tissue" does it?

That reasoning is suspicious, as you can see when you use it in another domain. You might say a certain ice sculpture really isn't just a bunch of H2O molecules, because the sculpture is beautiful; and surely the molecules aren't beautiful. That would be bad reasoning. We know the sculpture just is the molecules (what else could it be?), so we simply have to get used to the idea that a bunch of molecules can be beautiful. Likewise, we might have to get used to the idea that brain tissue is happy, if the reductionist view of mental states is generally well supported by arguments. Admittedly, that sort of talk sounded odd to me too when I first encountered the idea that the mind is the brain, but I can't say it sounds terribly odd any more.

Suicide is often said to be irrational or immoral. But what good reasons does a person have to go on living if they are unhappy and have no reason to believe that they will ever be happy? Isn't the opposite often the case that the choice to live is in fact more irrational than the choice to die?

A person who is suicidal is likely to be depressed, and part of depression is pessimism--an unfounded belief that things will not get better. So chances are that a person who sees him or herself as rational for wanting to stop living is actually irrationally imagining a future that's much bleaker than it will really be. That's not to say there's never a case in which the future is, realistically, terribly bleak. In those rather rare circumstances, is there any good reason to go on living? There are certainly considerations that could weigh against taking one's own life. Suicide has a major impact on others besides the person who dies. Perhaps a person is needed by others, or the suicide would be terribly traumatic for others. That may or may not be decisive for someone in a specific situation, but I can imagine cases where it would be a "good reason to go on living" (as you put it). It goes much further to say, like some philosophers (Kant, for example), that there's something inherently...

How can an atheist possibly make sense of a world in which the vast majority of people adhere to a religious tradition? If atheism is correct and at the basis of all these religions lie mistaken facts and historical inaccuracies- for example that Jesus was risen from the dead, that Muhammad was visited by an angel, etc.- then the majority of humans who have ever existed have based their actions and beliefs upon a lie.

Everybody, not just an atheist, has to make sense of a world in which billions of people have false religious beliefs. That simply must be the case, considering that there are lots of different religions, and they contradict one another. Billions of Christians are wrong about the divinity of Jesus OR billions of Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists are wrong about the non-divinity of Jesus. No matter what your own religious beliefs, you've got to admit that in the domain of religion, people are especially fallible. Why is that? We could entertain lots of different theories, but atheists don't have the explanatory burden here. Everyone does.

I became a vegan two years ago, mainly motivated by emotional distress at the thought of the pain and suffering that animals go through to be killed/farmed. Now I justify this decision to others for health/social reasons, because I don't know how to justify it morally. I instinctively feel that to eat an egg, whether or not the hen was free-range, or even if I just found it outside, would be inherently wrong, but I can't quite articulate why logically. I suppose if pressed I'd say that all sentient beings possess rights, or at the right not to be treated as property, and farming violates this right. Does this stand up to scrutiny?

I think less is more when it comes to explaining why it's wrong to use animals for food. Animals taste good, but that's too trivial a reason for imposing serious harm on them--suffering and death. (As I'm sure you know, in intensive farming laying hens suffer in many ways, and for each layer, a male chick is killed right off the bat. The layers wind up being killed when they stop producing eggs efficiently.) It really doesn't take any fancy talk about rights to see the problem--it's essentially a matter of balance. Great harms can only be justified by great goods--and the pleasure of egg-eating is not a great good. If you were to make this argument, you might encounter a dismissive attitude that says animals don't count at all, so there's no need for balancing harms and goods. But that attitude is pretty superficial--people tend to give it up when you talk to them about their cats and dogs. No doubt they would taste good too. You might also encounter the thought that it must at least matter ...

I have two questions about hunting and fishing: First, is it is ethical to use powerful machinery and high-technology to find and harvest fish and game? Second, is "professional" fishing ethical? It is unlikely that the human race would have survived without the dietary protein derived from hunting and fishing. At some point, hunters and fishers became "sportsmen" as well as providers, but still universally accepted the ethical principle that one must kill or catch only what would be used as food for the family. For my 70 years thus far on this earth, I have sought and caught fish to cook, and eat; and I have hunted and killed game birds and animals to cook and eat. Any excess has always been given to others for consumption or preserved for future meals. I regard this practice as ethical and in a proud human tradition dating from as far back as ancestry can be imagined. My hunting has always been on foot or horseback, sometime accompanied by a dog, and my fishing from the bank or in a small boat...

I think you would really enjoy a new anthology from Wiley-Blackwell-- Hunting . It is written largely by and for hunters, and looks at the sort of ethical questions you raise in a way you will find hospitable. I think hunting is extremely difficult to justify. Though once necessary to obtain necessary nutrients, clothing, etc., killing animals to obtain these things is no longer necessary. It doesn't really help justify hunting/fishing to eat what you kill, if you could have eaten something else. Even assuming it was necessary to eat meat, it would still be problematic to engage in killing as a recreational leisure activity--which is what hunting/fishing are for most people. If the main goal of sport hunting/fishing are having fun, and food is just a byproduct, something odd is going on (as I argue here ). But now getting to you question... Hunters who are concerned about fairness at least see animals as "subjects" instead of merely as "objects." That's all to the good. Fair...

I am firm believer that life human or animal should be preserved whenever possible. I would also like to believe that had I lived in Nazi Germany I would have stood up for the persecuted. So how can I reconcile my strong moral convictions with my inaction regarding the mass murder of animals everyday. Ironically enough I feel guilty for letting the law and the disappointment of my family stand in the way of stopping the massacre. This guilt is causing me great pain. Please enlighten me on what I should do.

Really good question. I think you ought and can stand up for animals in a variety of ways (by not eating them, not wearing them, not mistreating them, etc), but your effort is unlikely to ever be the one you would have made on behalf of the persecuted in Nazi Germany. That's OK, I think, for two reasons. (1) PETA had a campaign in the 1990s that invited comparison of factory farms and Nazi death camps. It's a bad analogy, I think, and so does "the father of the animal rights movement," Peter Singer. (I discuss this issue in my recent book Animalkind , if you'll pardon the book plug.) (2) Living in Nazi Germany, you could have completely separated yourself from Nazi persecution of Jews and taken a firm and effective stand against it. You cannot do exactly the same thing, where animal mistreatment is concerned. The low status of animals is just too ubiquitous and too deeply woven into life. If you want to do more than you're doing, there are lots of avenues, many that wouldn't...

Is it morally wrong for a person with a serious illness and reduced lifespan to reproduce, knowing that in all likelihood the child will have to experience the loss of a parent in adolescence? Assume that the other parent is healthy and prepared for life as a single parent. Can the reproduction be morally justified on the basis of it being less of a wrong to bring into existence a child who will likely lose a parent early on than for one person to deny the other the opportunity of experiencing parenthood? Obviously we are talking about two different recipients of potential harm here but I am focusing on the idea of a general moral wrong. i.e. which is the greater wrong?

You ask whether it's "less wrong" to create the child than for one adult to deny the other the chance of parenthood. That makes it sound as if the only possible wrong on the adults' side is the willing adult being denied parenthood. Wouldn't it also be wrong for the unwilling adult to be forced into parenthood? In any event, if the two adults go ahead with procreation, on grounds that it's "less wrong" to make the child, that seems like the wrong way to start the parent-child relationship. A parent's gain, in becoming a parent, shouldn't be at the child's expense. To start off the relationship on the right foot, they have to believe that giving life to the child-to-be is right, not merely "less wrong." Might it be right, under these circumstances? That's a very hard question. The crux of it is whether it's fair to the child to be given a life that will foreseeably include early loss of a parent. You might say it's fine, on grounds that in all probability the child will still have a life...

Is it ok to kill ants for fun.

I would be reluctant to decide all questions about the treatment of animals on the basis of pain and pleasure. That standard leads to some strange results. Say you put a wild bird in a cage, and you anticipate that he will suffer from the frustration of not being able to fly. So first you give him No Fly Drug, which is guaranteed to eliminate his frustration. Or perhaps you keep your dog in a crate 24 hours a day, and after a year she completely gives up, zones out, and stops suffering. Does her adaptation now give you an excuse to leave her there forever? The offense in each case is not a matter of causing pain (or decreasing pleasure) but--intuitively--a matter of being disrespectful. I'm inclined to think we owe respect only to things at least capable of consciousness, though what we owe them is not exclusively sensitivity to their pain and pleasure. So if ants have no conscious life whatever, they do have the moral status of flowers, and nothing we ever do to them is disrespectful. But...
I think it's unnatural to describe the problem for the dog or bird (in my 5/21 examples) simply as missed happiness, but we can easily just block that explanation by supposing they are drugged into feeling no pain and feeling happy. I still see the severe restriction of the animals' lives as morally problematic. Many people do find it quite intuitive to say that such treatment is disrespectful, though there are other ways of describing what's going wrong (for example, in terms of capacities not being used or rights being violated). I grant, though, that for some philosophers all that matters ethically is maximizing pleasure and minimizing pain. That's certainly one venerable position.
No. I think there's a very basic sort of respect for living things that's lacking in someone who smashes ants just for fun. This isn't respect in the full-blown sense Kant had in mind when he said persons are owed respect, but it's not completely different either. Ants aren't just rocks or clumps of dirt, but little centers of living (whether sentient or not) that ought to be left alone if they're not doing any harm. Which means: it's different if they're biting your toe or eating your lunch. The kid who smashes ants for fun is committing a little sin right then and there, I think, but I'd also worry about possible follow-ups. What other living things may he or she see as totally valueless and disposable? Perhaps we don't need to worry that ant-smashers will graduate to people-smashing, but I'd worry about associated disrespectfulness toward nature and other animals.

Why does it seem that everything that I read in philosophy always uses "she" or "her" instead of "his" or "he"?

Hurray for singular "they". Apparently good writers have long used it-- This is not a new problem, or a new solution. 'A person can't helptheir birth', wrote Thackeray in Vanity Fair (1848), and evenShakespeare produced the line 'Every one to rest themselves betake' (inLucrece), which pedants would reject as logically ungrammatical. Quote (and more on the subject) is here .

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