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I'm told Kantians believe something like the following: that it would be inconsistent to respect our own preferences and not the preferences of others. If so, while pro-vegetarian arguments are often couched in terms of suffering and consequences, aren't there strong Kantian arguments for vegetarianism also? After all, many non-human animals do have preferences and desires, and generally prefer not to be eaten or killed.

Kantian ethics does appeal to notions of consistency, but the consistency that Kantian morality requires is not consistency in respecting "preferences" (as you expressed it.) Rather, Kantian morality requires consistency in respect for practically rational agency, i.e, the capacity to set one's ends and choose the means to one's ends. Kant believed (not incorrectly, for the most part) that non-human animals lack this capacity and hence are not owed respect in this sense. Indeed, Kant held that, strictly speaking, we have no moral obligations to animals at all; animals lack the property (practical rational agency) that lends something moral standing. Many moral philosophers, including many Kantians, find Kant's conclusions troubling, inasmuch as it certainly seems intuitively plausible that we can wrong animals. Kantians have tried a number of solutions to rescue Kantian ethics from this position. Here are some articles in that vein: https://philpapers.org/rec/CHOADK https://philpapers.org/rec/DENKCO-2...

Ethics of procreation: Consider a scientist that could grow humans knowing that two thirds of them would die after suffering short lives of terror and extreme deprivation, but one third of the lives he could produce in this manner would survive to a productive adult life. We would think that if he were to create extremely bad lives rather than good lives, he would be committing Mengalian atrocities, or at least, that is what I think the general intuition would be. But there are conditions in which people procreate knowing that their children will suffer short and extremely bad lives, in subsistence conditions, where two thirds of the children they produce will suffer in this way. To ensure the two cases are analogous, suppose that the scientist creates these lives only to ensure his genetic continuation, his security in old age, or out of economic necessity, and will stop producing lives only when he has two viable children to support him and work in his lab. Can one context of procreation be plausibly...

Based on your description of the scenarios you're envisioning, I'm not seeing any inherent moral difference between the scientist and those who procreate children in the 'ordinary' or 'natural' way. Whatever moral reasons seem to weigh either for or against procreating children knowing that there is a high probability they will have "short and extremely bad lives" apply equally to the scientist as to anyone else who procreates under the same conditions. Perhaps you're seeking to highlight that the scientist 'grows' humans outside of a "natural context" as a morally significant factor that makes his procreative acts morally worse. There I'd have to say that while his creating the offspring in some sort of artificial or 'unnatural' way adds to the 'ick' factor, but it's hard to see how there's any moral difference there. No doubt many people attach some moral significance to 'naturalness' when it comes to procreation. They might argue that somehow natural procreation isn't subject to the same moral...

Hello. I wanted to ask about revenge. (1) Is there anything morally wrong with taking revenge? (2) If the urge to take revenge is a genetic instinct (and surely, it's quite plausible that it might be), why should it have less moral authority than any other feeling about right and wrong? The background to this question is that, while there's no explicit eye-for-an-eye in the laws of most contemporary societies, usually judges take community expectations and appropriate punishment into account when sentencing, and not just factors like legal requirements, precedence, rehabilitation and deterrence -- so revenge is arguably still very much a part of modern law.

Modern legal systems and practices are probably shaped by a number of different factors, as you note. Criminal sentencing, for example, is likely to reflect concerns about rehabilitation, deterrence, consistency — and revenge. You rightfully ask: Should revenge have a place in how wrongdoers are treated -- is there something morally suspect about revenge? First, it's key to recognize that revenge does not simply aim at making a wrongdoer worse off. Revenge is instead partly a matter of motive: Whenever we punish someone, we aim to make them worse off in some way. What distinguishes revenge from deterrence and other motives is that in acting so as to avenge, we aim to make the wrongdoer worse off for no other apparent reason than that the wrongdoer should be made to suffer. We aren't attempting to discourage the wrongdoer (or others) from acting wrongly, nor are we attempting to use the suffering as a way to improve the wrongdoer's character, etc. Revenge is fundamentally vindictive . To punish a...

Hi! I was looking at images from Abu Ghraib today, and I was wondering -- is there any sense to thinking that the mere act of looking at the prisoners is wrong, or even in some way harms them? Many of the prisoners are not identifiable from the photos, so I'm not sure that my worry is about reputational damage. The same might apply to other sorts of images, and even text. For instance: "Fapgate", where nude images of celebrities were distributed without their consent. Or what about if I find a person's diary on a train and read it? Is there any sense to the feeling that I am violating someone, though that person and I will always be strangers to each other? To add one more twist: what if the author of the diary, or a prisoner depicted in one of the photos, is now dead? Can I still be said to harm them?

Im going to set aside the last part of your question, whether it matters to the morality of looking at the images in question that those depicted are (sometimes) dead. That raises a collection of issues that it would take some time to address (a number of responses on this site under the topic 'Death' may be helpful to you: http://askphilosophers.org/topic/economics?topic=239). So is there anything morally objectionable at looking at the images of Abu Ghraib or of nude celebrities? My sense is that they raise rather different sets of moral issues. The Abu Ghraib images, for one, depict actions undertaken by government representatives (soldiers) in the course of a military conflict. Their release to the public seems to promote a good (knowing what our military is doing) that clearly doesn't apply to nude celebrities. To use a legal idiom, there is no compelling public interest at stake in disseminating nude celebrity photos. So if there is a moral case against looking at the Abu Ghraib images, it seems...

After my mother's sister was diagnosed with cancer, all of the siblings were urged to be genetically tested for the cancer-causing gene. Sadly, my mother possesses that gene. She urged my siblings and me to be tested as well; however, due to personal convictions and leanings towards absurdism and fatalism, I don't think I want to be tested. My sisters' reply to this range from acceptance to curiosity to anger. Should I be tested and make them happy or accept that whatever is going to happen will happen?

I must admit to some confusion about the assumptions behind your question: I'm not a medical doctor, but except in rare cases, having the genetic predisposition to the cancer doesn't guarantee you'll develop it. So getting the test and (potentially) learning you have the predisposition doesn't require that you "accept whatever is going to happen," i.e., resigning yourself to the cancer. The question of whether you should seek out this knowledge is distinct from what you might do with (or without!) that knowledge. In fact, it may make more sense to try to minimize your risk of developing the cancer through your lifestyle choices if you did find out you have the predisposition. Then you're dealing with a known risk instead of merely a hypothetical one. But knowing your situation and how you respond to that knowledge (or lack thereof) present different issues. On the other side, why will you siblings be unhappy if you opt not to get the test?I'm skeptical that they have a moral right that you get the test....

I have a question regarding the notion of "objective moral truth." A friend of mine maintains that because everyone agrees that killing and eating babies is wrong, thus it is demonstrated that there are objective moral truths. I disagree. It seems to me there is no such thing as a moral truth absent a moral agent, and we (moral agents) decide what is good and what is not. So his argument seems to support the notion of some sort of consensus rather than an objective truth. What am I missing? Thanks!

I'm going to leave aside your own suggestion that there are no moral truths absent moral agents, etc -- that raises some intricate questions in metaethics -- so as to focus on the dispute between you and your friend. On the one hand, your friend tries to demonstrate the existence of 'objective' moral truth by appeal to what is usually seen as a fallacious pattern of argument, so-called 'appeal to the crowd.' It does not follow deductively from 'everyone agrees that killing and eating babies is wrong' that 'it is objectively wrong to kill and eat babies' You seem to have cottoned on to that: as you note, your friend's argument indicates that there is a consensus that it's wrong to kill and eat babies but does not prove that it's objectively wrong to kill and eat babies. On the other hand, what you may be missing is that consensus opinion may not prove some claim true, but it might nevertheless be evidence for its truth. For instance, suppose that some scientific claim is overwhelmingly...

Is it wrong for someone to decry certain tax breaks for the wealthy and then take advantage of those tax breaks himself?

I don't think so. The allegation here doesn't seem to relate to the two acts in isolation. The worry is not that Decrying tax breaks for the wealthy is wrong. Nor is the worry that Taking advantage of tax breaks for the wealthy is wrong. Rather, the wrong is a kind of compound: It is wrong to decry tax breaks for the wealthy while also taking advantage of those same tax breaks. In other words, the charge is one of moral inconsistency or hypocrisy . The reasoning here seems to be as follows: [1] Moral hypocrisy is wrong. [2] For a wealthy person to decry tax breaks for the wealthy and then take advantage of those same tax breaks amounts to moral hypocrisy. Therefore, for a wealthy person to decry tax breaks for the wealthy and then take advantage of those same tax breaks is wrong. This argument is clearly valid: If [1] and [2] are true, then the conclusion necessarily follows. So if there's a problem here, it lies in the truth of the premises. Are they true? [1] is tricky....

If something is morally good, then everybody has a moral reason to prefer it, isn't it? But if Lucretia has a moral duty to do something, then, philosophers say, Lucretia -- and not necessarily anybody else -- has a moral reason to do it. Does that make sense: if it is a moral duty, it should give moral reasons to everybody, shouldn't it?

Suppose we accept your proposal that if something is morally good, then everybody has a moral reason to prefer it. It doesn't follow though, at least without additional argument, that if everyone has moral reason to prefer something, everyone has a moral duty to do that thing. For there may be moral reasons incumbent only on some rather than on others. If Lucretia has a child, I may concede both that her child's being well fed is morally good and that everyone has a moral reason to prefer her child being well-fed, but it may not be true that everyone (me included!) has a moral duty to feed her child. For instance, it may be true that I don't have such a duty precisely because Lucretia does have such a duty — she being her child's mother, she has a special duty to ensure that she is well fed that I (and others) have. Such special duties seem relatively common: A firefighter has a duty to rescue someone that I do not. I have a duty to educate my students that the firefighter does not. And so on....

My question concerns the ethics of mass influence, specifically when the intention is to help bring about positive consequences and the means of influence is manipulative. It seems to me that mass communication that is designed to manipulate public opinion is likely to be harmful to reason and rational inquiry, not to mention that it treats people as objects or pawns, it smacks of elitism (which if warranted requires justification), and in some case it can lead to social polarization and even violence. But grandpa here also wonders if he has held onto youthful idealism for far too long, and that maybe a realist would accept that anyone who wants to do good in the world on a large scale has no choice but to at least sometimes engage in some degree of manipulative mass communication, and that this is as ethically justifiable (depending on the situation) as deceiving Kant’s murderer at the door. I’ve searched in vain for philosophical commentary on this specific issue, and I would be particularly interested...

I'm surprised that you weren't able to find some philosophical material on this issue: The topic of the morality of political communication is an old one (Plato's Allegory of the Cave can be read as a commentary on political manipulation). Noam Chomsky's Manufacturing Consent (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manufacturing_Consent) is a well-known exploration of political manipulation, though perhaps not very 'philosophical' in its approach. More recently, Jason Stanley has defined propaganda as "“manipulation of the rational will to close off debate” and argued that such manipulation undermines democracy. (http://press.princeton.edu/titles/10448.html) This recent collection of articles (https://global.oup.com/academic/product/manipulation-9780199338207?cc=us&lang=en&#) may prove useful to you also. I think you capture the case against manipulation in the public realm quite well: Your case against it has a decidedly Kantian ring — that individuals have the right to the information necessary to form...

It is common to characterize emotions as unhelpful in moral discernment. When faced with a situation that requires careful moral deliberation, emotion is often set aside, while reason and evidence are taken to be very important. Isn't always this the case? Do emotions really have no value in moral discernment, or they have to some extent but some philosophers have just neglected their part?

You're certainly correct that there is a tendency in suppose that reason and emotion are antagonists, and that with respect to morality in particular, we should be guided by reason rather than emotion. And there may be major figures in the history of philosophy (Plato comes to mind) who really did see reason and emotion as in stark and irreconcilable tension. But there's a pretty significant segment of philosophers, both historical and contemporary, who don't think that reason and emotion are such enemies when it comes to moral reasoning and decision. On this view, reason and emotion are essential partners in moral thought and deliberation instead of implacable antagonists. A popular account (one that I myself find attractive) distinguishes between moral truth and moral knowledge: Emotions, on this view, are not a source of moral truth, but do enable you to know moral truths. Suppose that, as you end a day of busy holiday shopping, you see a fellow shopper carrying a large bundle of shopping bags. She...

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