Say that you join a "youth social and adventure group", where, while rock-climbing or bowling or hiking, its core members will begin, subtly, to sound out your religious beliefs and talk to you about God, is that at all morally problematic? Or in general, if any group has the main raison d'etre of recruiting for a church/political party/pyramid scheme, but initially conceals this motivation (for instance, through initially avoiding any mention of the parent organisation), is there anything wrong with that?

There is something plainly wrong with a group that conceals its real purpose, surely, and lures you in with a false front. But there is nothing wrong with members of a group that is visibly religious in orientation inviting someone to come along and join. 'Why not come and join our Catholic knitting group?' is fine. As to your first question, being sounded out seems OK, because if it get too intense or probing you can always leave. I do think there is something a bit off about a religious group targeting people who are a little lonely or isolated, but on the other hand if there's no expected quid pro quo where's the harm? The devil is in the details of how things are done, I think. Concealed pyramid schemes are another thing altogether, because here the element is deception is at the centre of what's going on.

Assuming that trees are not conscious, is there anything morally wrong with cutting down a tree that has survived for a thousand years?

It is most certainly not true that non-conscious things can be destroyed without reason, or just for the reason that they are not conscious. What is wrong with slashing or burning a Rembrandt painting? The answer is not that there is nothing wrong, because the painting is not conscious, but that there are many things wrong, including aesthetic ones, and historical ones, and the fact that the painting does not belong to to the slasher. Of course it would be even worse if the painting were conscious. And even if it belongs to the one who destroys it, it is unclear that he has the right to destroy it. A question might still arise. Is the painting part of the national heritage? This sort of consideration is relevant with Grade I, II* and II listed buildings in the U.K. Or what would be wrong with burning the only Penny Black remaining in the world just for kicks? About the 1000 year-old tree, now. The mere fact that it has survived for that long, for nearly 1000 years since the Norman Conquest, to put it in...

I don't quite understand why people put so much time and effort into conversing with other people about their internal "belief systems." To me, the only thing that really matters is how other people behave: whatever they believe is secondary to how well or how poorly they act. If one person believes "treat others well because Jesus says so," while another person believes "treat others well because Krishna says so," wouldn't they then both agree with each other that the over-riding priority here is to treat others well? How much "should" it really matter WHO says so?

Your view reminds me a bit of what used to be called "Christian atheism". The idea was that to say for example that God is our heavenly Father is to adopt and proclaim a policy of behaviour towards other men, namely one of brotherhood. The problem with ruling out religious faith as such, "without works", so to speak, is that as a matter of fact for many if not most religious believers it is not the case that religion is just ethics and that "the only thing that really matters is how people behave". That may be what matters to you; then you are saying, 'Ethics matters to me; religious faith doesn't.' And if your view is stated impersonally, that the one ought to matter and the other not, we have to consider the fact that it might be the case that people came to be behave in a brotherly way, but without any affection or love. Would that be as good as people behaving well towards one another and loving their neighbours? And that is the heart of the matter. Behaviourism (your view) is I am afraid to...

Acts of "kindness": I do things in my life for others like; hold doors, pick up liter and carry groceries. I have been under the assumption that I was doing these things for others. After making this a way of life, I find myself feeling guilty when I don't pick up trash or hold the door for someone. So my question is: Are my actions as well intentioned and selfless as I once believed or do I do those things to feed my ego to make myself think I am a good person? This has really got me thinking about my motivations for "doing the right thing". Am I secretly trying to make the unconscious case for my moral/socital superiority? Thanks for listening. Kai

Is there any reason at all to think your motivation is selfish? It seems like an abstract possibility that you are trying "to make the unconscious case" for your moral and social superiority, but where is the evidence? There is the deliverance of your own heart to be considered too. If you catch yourself thinking, 'I wish I didn't have to open all these doors for people. It is so annoying. Why don't I just shove through first? - Oh, but then people will not think I am a good person.' Suppose you suppress the thought. Then there is a question to be answered. But in the absence of any evidence of this sort, any thoughts of this kind, and in the presence of a good-hearted or kindly feeling towards the people for whom you open doors and carry groceries, why on earth would you think that there was anything sinister and egoistical going on in the unknown depths of your soul? For one thing, ex hypothesi these things are unknown. Maybe they are there and maybe they are not. But that is a tautology from logic...

How do we know that some beings have a status as 'persons' and some beings do not? If we attempt to delineate certain characteristics of personhood, we run into the quandary of, say, labelling the mentally ill as non-persons or labelling cancer cells as persons. Is this a problem? Is there a way to avoid this? Must we have the rights which personhood entails in the first place?

A person (from the Latin persona , mask) is merely one who has standing as a legal agent, and so, almost without exception, a person is a human being. (There is a body of law in the United States which suggests that groups of persons, in particular corporations, are also sometimes to be taken as persons, but this extension is best understood as a so-called legal fiction.) The mentally ill are persons because they are human beings. Cancer cells are not, for they are not human beings and they have no legal standing. There is not much more philosophical difficulty, as I see it, about the concept human being than there is about the concept squirrel , a member of the family Sciuridae , flat-tailed creatures, as a human being is simply a member of the species H. sapiens , a species that has "sapiens", wisdom or understanding, uses tools, and has language. The important thing is that we define the species, and then ask whether this specimen of whatever (the mentally ill person, the cancer cell)...

On a answer dated February 2, 2016, philosopher Michael Lacewing distinguishes between "the right" and "the good". In common usage "right" and "good" often mean the same thing: "do the right thing" means "do the good thing". Could he or others explain that distinction? Thank you.

If I pass the butter, that might be the right thing to do. It might also be a good thing to do, though to my ear it sounds strange, even incomprehensible, to say that it is "the good thing to do", rather than "a good thing to do". "The right thing to do" or "Doing the right thing" are phrases the tell us that an action conforms to a moral rule specifying what is right. The word “right” typically appears in principle- and rule-based connections and contexts, such as legal ones, or the rules of an organization such as a school or a military organization, or a profession with a code of principles or ethics, where what it is right to do is expressed as a given or fixed set of standards of behavior. There is as a result more of a suggestion of a present or potential criticism, so that the word “right” introduces a context in which what is wrong is something that is definitely being ruled out or is not in accordance or conformity with the principle or standard, or because it does not conform. There is some...

Premise 1: If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist. Premise 2: Objective moral values and duties do exist. Conclusion: Therefore, God exists. Can we accept the conclusion above as valid or even fact?

Stephen is right. The argument is valid, but it's not sound. It has a false premise. Even if you are a theist like me you can think that if God did not exist, there would be or could be such things as objective moral values and duties. Honesty would still be good, and we would still have a duty to help those in need. Philosophers who share my view find a great ally in Leibniz. For him, God loves the good because it is good. It is not the case that it is good because he loves it. In God reason comes before will.

What happens, morally speaking, if I promise to do something that happens to be slightly immoral? Do I still have some kind of obligation to do it?

I think a lot hinges in your question on the word "slightly". Is there a moral obligation to keep a promise to do something that is "slightly immoral"? I think that the answer has to be "No", since the value of duty to keep promises is not in question, and the act contemplated is only "slightly" immoral. OK, but how slightly? Would it help if you had written, "if I promise to do something that is utterly and completely immoral"? Or if you had written, "If I promise to do something that is only ever so slightly, just the teeniest barely discernible bit, immoral"? I think such gradations make a big difference, and it is not very clear how "slight" the immorality has to be before it ceases to conflict with the important general obligation to keep promises. Of course much depends also on the question to whom the promise was give, why, under what circumstances, and so on. These all need spelling out before we can address the question with any hope of answering it.

I hope this is not too general of a question, but the more I thought about it the more I realised it was a very difficult question to answer. It does not necessarily pertain to anything religious, but I believe in a God who is eternally good, just so you know the angle that I'm coming from. Anyway, here is my question: Would the idea of something or someone being truly 'good' have ever come about if it never had the contrast of something 'bad' or 'evil' to compare it to? Hypothetically speaking, if someone were to never experience anything bad, would they ever have the understanding of something being good?

What you describe is one response (one that has occasionally been used by theists) to the problem of evil. It is sometimes called the "contrast" argument. It is found for example in Leibniz's Theodicy of 1810, in various forms, along with other arguments defending theism. The version that you propose is that evil must exist for there to be an understanding of good. In some versions of the contrast argument, evil must be there if good itself is to exist. I think it is possible however to have a very good understanding of something positive (the positive numbers, for example) without understanding something negative. Again, I can perfectly well enjoy a good ice cream without ever having tasted a bad one, and know that it is good, at least in the sense that I enjoy it. I don't think that I myself have ever had a bad ice cream, rather than the odd less than perfect one, though I may be wrong, but in any case my enjoyment of all the good ones would be much the same even if I had had a bad...

A colleague of mine is a very devoted vegan. So devoted, in fact, that he argues that it is morally wrong to wear fake fur or fake leather, or to eat any kind of non-meat food that is meant to look or taste like meat. Apparently, doing so symbolically condones tyranny over animals, supports the meat and animal-based fashion industries, and demonstrates disrespect and contempt towards animals. Now, I have nothing against veganism, but this just seems too radical. Is this kind of argumentation sound? Or are there any more sensible arguments against fake fur or leather, or meat-like food items?

Once the premise is accepted that the treatment of animals that is required to make fur or leather goods is cruel, it does seem to follow that we should do everything we reasonably can to stop it, or failing that, we should not support it. I suspect that you are right to call your friend's view "extreme". For one thing, manufacturing fake fur and leather and vegetarian or vegan food that tastes a bit like meat, though it isn't, may actually help the campaign against the cruel treatment of our suffering evolutionary cousins. On the other hand, even if one was attracted to the idea, there is something very wrong with manufacturing handbags to look like human skin, or fake human meat for morally scrupulous cannibals. Why the double standard?