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If technology advances to the point of recreating the world almost perfectly in

If technology advances to the point of recreating the world almost perfectly in a virtual reality (i.e. The Matrix), would it be morally acceptable to "move" into that world indefinitely? Let us assume there is a moral disparity between someone with/without family, friends, attachments moving into this virtual reality. Let us also assume there is no cost to sustain anyone's well-being in this distant future, either in this virtual world or the real world, such as rent or food. Perhaps in this virtual world there are new fun things to do, like flying freely, that in the real world one could not do. There is seemingly no catch to this, but is there a moral obligation to remain in the "real world" and do "real things?"

As usual, the answer will depend on your ethical theory. For instance, some forms of utilitarianism might require that you go into the Matrix if doing so would maximize happiness (e.g., because you'd be much happier, outweighing any unhappiness you might cause to people in the 'real world' by being hooked up to the machine). Indeed, Robert Nozick used his Experience Machine thought experiment (a prequel to The Matrix) to argue that there must be something wrong with utilitarianism precisely because he thought we would not (and should not) hook up to the machine, in which our happiness would not be based on real actions and accomplishments. (There's some interesting experimental work on whether and why people say they would or would not be hooked up.)

For various reasons (not just utilitarian), I think everything depends on what you would be leaving behind and what you would be doing in the Matrix. I'm not sure what you meant when you wrote that we should "assume there is a moral disparity between someone with/without family, friends, attachments." But I take it that there would be nothing wrong with entering the Matrix for a person who would not thereby betray her obligations to others or herself (e.g., she had no family or friends or was on the verge of suicide or could do no jobs that would help society, etc.). But there would be something wrong for the person who would be betraying such obligations to others (perhaps also including obligations to develop her own abilities, create a meaningful life, etc.)

But note that there may be Matrix setups that allow people to develop their abilities (creating art or learning new skills--like flying!), to help other people (who are interacting with them in the Matrix), to fulfill obligations, etc. It might be that people in online gaming communities create real friendships and really help other people, even in a world that is, in many ways unreal.

As usual, the answer will depend on your ethical theory. For instance, some forms of utilitarianism might require that you go into the Matrix if doing so would maximize happiness (e.g., because you'd be much happier, outweighing any unhappiness you might cause to people in the 'real world' by being hooked up to the machine). Indeed, Robert Nozick used his Experience Machine thought experiment (a prequel to The Matrix) to argue that there must be something wrong with utilitarianism precisely because he thought we would not (and should not) hook up to the machine, in which our happiness would not be based on real actions and accomplishments. (There's some interesting experimental work on whether and why people say they would or would not be hooked up.) For various reasons (not just utilitarian), I think everything depends on what you would be leaving behind and what you would be doing in the Matrix. I'm not sure what you meant when you wrote that we should "assume there is a moral disparity between...

"Eating animals can't be bad because how do you know plants don't have feelings

"Eating animals can't be bad because how do you know plants don't have feelings" is a common argument against vegans. Is that a good argument?

No. Many vegans (and vegetarians) aim to minimize unnecessary suffering and believe that eating animals causes unnecessary suffering. A crucial premise of this argument is that animals can suffer pain, discomfort, and possibly even more complex unpleasant thoughts or emotions. What is the evidence for that premise? It's a best explanation (or abductive) argument. We have good reasons, based on a wide range of scientific evidence from psychology and neuroscience, to think that complex nervous systems are required to experience suffering, and the mammals we eat (and probably the birds and perhaps the fish) have nervous systems that support these experiences. Plus the behavior of these animals suggests that they can feel pain and discomfort.

Plants do not have nervous systems (or anything analogous) and they do not show the behavior associated with experiencing pain (or anything else). So, we have no reason to think they suffer while they live or when they are harvested. (Personally, I think humanely raising and killing animals is ethically defensible.)

Ironically, souls might be brought into the discussion to cut in both directions. Someone might argue that animals do not have the ineffable soul or mind required to experience suffering, so it's OK to do what may *seem* to cause them pain. Or someone might argue that, even though they don't have nervous systems, plants have the sort of soul (or being) that allows them to experience suffering.

No. Many vegans (and vegetarians) aim to minimize unnecessary suffering and believe that eating animals causes unnecessary suffering. A crucial premise of this argument is that animals can suffer pain, discomfort, and possibly even more complex unpleasant thoughts or emotions. What is the evidence for that premise? It's a best explanation (or abductive) argument. We have good reasons, based on a wide range of scientific evidence from psychology and neuroscience, to think that complex nervous systems are required to experience suffering, and the mammals we eat (and probably the birds and perhaps the fish) have nervous systems that support these experiences. Plus the behavior of these animals suggests that they can feel pain and discomfort. Plants do not have nervous systems (or anything analogous) and they do not show the behavior associated with experiencing pain (or anything else). So, we have no reason to think they suffer while they live or when they are harvested. (Personally, I think...

What would aristoteles do to answer the trolley problem ? would he kill the 5

What would aristoteles do to answer the trolley problem ? would he kill the 5 people or switch the tracks to kill only one ?

Great question, and one that is rarely discussed in the over-worked trolley problem literature, mainly because the cases are set up to illuminate a conflict between the utilitarian response that seems to suggest killing 1 to save 5 regardless of the means of doing so and the Kantian response that seems to allow switching the track to save 5 (with a mere side-effect of allowing 1 to die), while disallowing pushing 1 intentionally as a means of saving 5. But what would a virtue theorist like Aristotle, or the originator of the trolley problem Philippa Foot, say?

Well, there's no simple answer since virtue theory is (intentionally) open-ended and detail-driven. It would say that right thing to do in each case is what a virtuous person would recognize as the right thing to do, given the specific details of the case. Personally, I think the virtuous person would say it is morally required to switch the track in that case and morally wrong to push someone to stop the trolley in the other case. In part, that's because a virtuous person will recognize that the agent in the 'push' case is not justified in believing that it will work to save 5 people (hence it risks killing 6), while she is justified in believing that switching the track will save 5 at the cost of 1.

But one worry is that I may be justifying my intuitions about the cases by ascribing them to the virtuous judge.

Great question, and one that is rarely discussed in the over-worked trolley problem literature, mainly because the cases are set up to illuminate a conflict between the utilitarian response that seems to suggest killing 1 to save 5 regardless of the means of doing so and the Kantian response that seems to allow switching the track to save 5 (with a mere side-effect of allowing 1 to die), while disallowing pushing 1 intentionally as a means of saving 5. But what would a virtue theorist like Aristotle, or the originator of the trolley problem Philippa Foot, say? Well, there's no simple answer since virtue theory is (intentionally) open-ended and detail-driven. It would say that right thing to do in each case is what a virtuous person would recognize as the right thing to do, given the specific details of the case. Personally, I think the virtuous person would say it is morally required to switch the track in that case and morally wrong to push someone to stop the trolley in the other case. In part,...

Is empathy as a moral guide overrated? Why, for example, if empathy is

Is empathy as a moral guide overrated? Why, for example, if empathy is considered such a powerful force for moral good, was it unable to prevent the American slavery system?

Some people think empathy is overrated, including psychologist Paul Bloom, who offers a nice summary of his views here: http://bostonreview.net/forum/paul-bloom-against-empathy

There are some responses to him as well, including one by philosopher Jesse Prinz, who has also argued that empathy is overrated: http://cultureofempathy.com/references/Experts/Jesse-Prinz.htm

Personally, I think much depends on what we mean by empathy and in what ways one thinks it can guide moral thinking and behavior. I think Hume and Smith were right that certain emotions (or sentiments) are essential to making moral judgments and motivating moral actions, but it's not clear whether they are focusing on empathy as we typically understand it today.

I suspect that most slaveholders and racists that supported that horrific system (as well as those who perpetrated the Holocaust and other genocides) did not have much empathy for their victims, because they lived in and/or helped to create a culture in which their victims were not seem as human beings who are apt targets of empathy or 'fellow feeling'. Dehumanization is an initial step in most moral disasters.

Some people think empathy is overrated, including psychologist Paul Bloom, who offers a nice summary of his views here: http://bostonreview.net/forum/paul-bloom-against-empathy There are some responses to him as well, including one by philosopher Jesse Prinz, who has also argued that empathy is overrated: http://cultureofempathy.com/references/Experts/Jesse-Prinz.htm Personally, I think much depends on what we mean by empathy and in what ways one thinks it can guide moral thinking and behavior. I think Hume and Smith were right that certain emotions (or sentiments) are essential to making moral judgments and motivating moral actions, but it's not clear whether they are focusing on empathy as we typically understand it today. I suspect that most slaveholders and racists that supported that horrific system (as well as those who perpetrated the Holocaust and other genocides) did not have much empathy for their victims, because they lived in and/or helped to create a culture in which their...

Some people study or know a great deal about ethics as it's taught in philosophy

Some people study or know a great deal about ethics as it's taught in philosophy departs, and yet those same people we may not judge to be highly ethical or to have elevated moral characters. If this assumption is correct, how do you explain this? Is there a way to solve this problem?

See here for some relevant discussion and studies by Eric Schwitzgebel: http://schwitzsplintersethicsprofs.blogspot.com/

I am a recently married thirty year old living in Oregon. My wife and I don't

I am a recently married thirty year old living in Oregon. My wife and I don't want to have any kids and we don't subscribe to religion or any ideology. Because of this why should I be concerned about global warming which won't affect me in any major way in my lifetime? I do not have any responsibility to future generations because all my friends and family are either older or around my same age as well.

Your view, dear reader, seems to presuppose that the only reason anyone should care about global warming (or any other problem that will affect future generations) is that one may have (biological?) descendents that might be affected. That presupposition seems false. On the one hand, it's not obvious why I should care more about my distant descendents (e.g., great-great-great-great grandchildren) more than other people who live 100+ years from now. If we care about any other people (i.e., are not egoists in the strictest sense of the term), then it seems we have good reasons to care about (and we have obligations to) lots of living people we don't know at least as much as distant descendents we don't know. If biological relatedness is supposed to support your presupposition, it would suggest that we should care less about our adopted children than biological ones, which seems false. And my relatedness to distant descendents gets cut in half each generation, so after enough generations, I'll be less related to them than, perhaps, I am to you! And should we only care about our friends if they are related to us, or if they can pay us back for any care they give us?

The basic point is that, if you don't want to go whole-hog and accept some form of nihilism or amoralism, then it's likely that under just about any moral theory, you have obligations to people other than your (biological) family and your friends. You likely have obligations to future generations too. And if you don't, then I probably don't either, even though I have children.

Ultimately, I am convinced by Sam Scheffler that we need future generations to give meaning to our lives and and our life projects.

See his NYTimes article here for a summary of the arguments from his book, Death and the Afterlife: http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/09/21/the-importance-of-the-afterlife-seriously/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=0

Your view, dear reader, seems to presuppose that the only reason anyone should care about global warming (or any other problem that will affect future generations) is that one may have (biological?) descendents that might be affected. That presupposition seems false. On the one hand, it's not obvious why I should care more about my distant descendents (e.g., great-great-great-great grandchildren) more than other people who live 100+ years from now. If we care about any other people (i.e., are not egoists in the strictest sense of the term), then it seems we have good reasons to care about (and we have obligations to) lots of living people we don't know at least as much as distant descendents we don't know. If biological relatedness is supposed to support your presupposition, it would suggest that we should care less about our adopted children than biological ones, which seems false. And my relatedness to distant descendents gets cut in half each generation, so after enough generations, I'll be...

If I knew I could get a billion dollars and all I needed to do was enter a

If I knew I could get a billion dollars and all I needed to do was enter a persons home and smash their tv then I would do it. Does that make me immoral?

Depends on what the right view of morality is. And depends on what you plan to do with the billion dollars. On some deontological (e.g., Kantian) views, there may be no way to morally justify such a violation of another person's property. On some consequentialist (e.g., utilitarian) views, there may be lots of ways to justify this action, including buying the person a new TV (and more stuff) and then giving lots of the billion dollars to prevent terrible suffering (e.g., of victims of famine in Africa or victims of war in Syria). Personally, I think if you are allowed to pull of this stunt in a way that allows you to repay the victim of your crime and do lots of good, go for it. (And please tell me who's giving a billion bucks to break TVs.)

Depends on what the right view of morality is. And depends on what you plan to do with the billion dollars. On some deontological (e.g., Kantian) views, there may be no way to morally justify such a violation of another person's property. On some consequentialist (e.g., utilitarian) views, there may be lots of ways to justify this action, including buying the person a new TV (and more stuff) and then giving lots of the billion dollars to prevent terrible suffering (e.g., of victims of famine in Africa or victims of war in Syria). Personally, I think if you are allowed to pull of this stunt in a way that allows you to repay the victim of your crime and do lots of good, go for it. (And please tell me who's giving a billion bucks to break TVs.)

I'm willing to donate about $100 a year, out of my pocket, to help relieve

I'm willing to donate about $100 a year, out of my pocket, to help relieve worldwide hunger. But, If I had the opportunity to vote on a proposed new tax in my country that would collect an average of $1000 from each citizen (based on their income) and use all that money to relieve world hunger, I would be happy to vote for this new law. My family income is above average so I'd end up paying more than $1000. But this seems strange, ethically. I'm willing to have myself and my fellow citizens coerced by the state to pay far more towards a good cause than I'm willing to just pay on my own. Is my position defensible in a moral sense?

This is a very interesting question, one I have struggled with myself, because I feel the same way you do, and I suspect many people feel the exact opposite (they much prefer voluntary donations to coercive taxation). I can think of two explanations for why we have the view we do, one more psychological, the other perhaps more "defensible in a moral sense".

First, I am weak-willed. I believe I should give much more of my disposable income to reliable organizations who will use it to relieve significant suffering. But getting myself to do so is hard and at tax time each year I find I haven't given as much as I think I should. So, I'd prefer to be forced to do it (the problem is that I do not like being forced to "donate" so much money to, e.g., defense contractors, so it is unfair to use my weakness as a reason to coerce everyone to do what only some of them think is justified).

So, the second explanation for why we might hold our view is that we are justified in thinking that (a) our government should spend much more on relieving suffering around the world (perhaps instead of spending so much on other programs), and (b) we believe (plausibly) that coordinated efforts with much more money will be much more effective that the more scattered efforts by the charities we'd give to individually. Perhaps also © we believe (implausibly) that our duty to give is lessened when most people don't act on their respective duty to give.

But I'm not sure how points (a) or (b) could be used to mount a sound argument with the conclusion that we are justified in choosing to give less than we would be willing to be coerced to give.

This is a very interesting question, one I have struggled with myself, because I feel the same way you do, and I suspect many people feel the exact opposite (they much prefer voluntary donations to coercive taxation). I can think of two explanations for why we have the view we do, one more psychological, the other perhaps more "defensible in a moral sense". First, I am weak-willed. I believe I should give much more of my disposable income to reliable organizations who will use it to relieve significant suffering. But getting myself to do so is hard and at tax time each year I find I haven't given as much as I think I should. So, I'd prefer to be forced to do it (the problem is that I do not like being forced to "donate" so much money to, e.g., defense contractors, so it is unfair to use my weakness as a reason to coerce everyone to do what only some of them think is justified). So, the second explanation for why we might hold our view is that we are justified in thinking that (a) our...

I have some questions with vegetarianism. The main thing is that I do believe

I have some questions with vegetarianism. The main thing is that I do believe that animal suffering is a bad thing, but I don't think that that is a reason for people not to eat animals. I'm not asking here about the whole issue, but only about the following real case: I own a small piece of land which has been mostly unused. Last year, I bought a dozen of chicks, gave them a nice place to live, bought them some grain, gathered other kinds of food for them (plants, insects, snails, etc.) and took care of them generally. Now I have a dozen of chicken that I am about to slaughter and eat. Is there a reason for me not to do so?! Should I feed them eternally? Should I free them so that a car will smash them? Shouldn't I have bought them in the first place?

I don't think you are doing anything wrong. But I think that precisely because I think that animals suffering is a bad thing and should be avoided if possible. It sounds to me like you are avoiding it as much as possible--and I assume that when you slaughter them you will do so in a way that minimizes pain and suffering (and likely will not be any worse, and may be much better, than their natural death would be).

So, I may be misunderstanding what you mean when you say that you think suffering is bad but you do NOT think "that [suffering] is a reason for people not to eat animals." My own view is that there are many reasons to try to phase out factory farming, the main two being animal suffering and environmental harm. But both of those problems might be minimized by raising animals in other ways--for instance, the way you are raising your chickens. Others may want to provide arguments for why it is wrong to eat animals no matter what. But I have not been convinced by those arguments, mainly because I don't think that most non-human animals (and all the ones we eat, though pigs might push the boundary) lack the mental capacities needed to deserve moral respect other than the capacity for suffering which is sufficient to provide a reason for us not to make them suffer (all else being equal).

I don't think you are doing anything wrong. But I think that precisely because I think that animals suffering is a bad thing and should be avoided if possible. It sounds to me like you are avoiding it as much as possible--and I assume that when you slaughter them you will do so in a way that minimizes pain and suffering (and likely will not be any worse, and may be much better, than their natural death would be). So, I may be misunderstanding what you mean when you say that you think suffering is bad but you do NOT think "that [suffering] is a reason for people not to eat animals." My own view is that there are many reasons to try to phase out factory farming, the main two being animal suffering and environmental harm. But both of those problems might be minimized by raising animals in other ways--for instance, the way you are raising your chickens. Others may want to provide arguments for why it is wrong to eat animals no matter what. But I have not been convinced by those arguments, mainly...

The responses to questions on this site regarding the ethics of eating animals

The responses to questions on this site regarding the ethics of eating animals seem to indicate that many of you endorse vegetarianism (in some form or another) but have not made a commitment to actually becoming a vegetarian. Though I understand the difficulty of truly living in accordance with certain philosophies that one might, in theory, endorse, the only major challenge faced by vegetarians in today's America is self control. If philosophers themselves find it so difficult to simply not put a piece of flesh in their mouths, how can we hope for considerable progress on this issue? One would think that the people who think so much about the minutiae of the arguments for and against eating meat would be the most likely to make a shift in their behavior. I can't help but worry.

Well, weakness of will is a human frailty, and philosophers are humans. But I share your intuition that someone who has accepted strong arguments for a conclusion, such as "It is wrong to eat meat," and who faces few difficulties acting on that conclusion, should be able to act on it. It may make you feel better to know that there is a much higher proportion of consistent vegetarians among philosophers than among the general population. But people who study ethics may be no different than other philosophers (except that they condemn meat eating more). See here.

Personally, I think that there are good reasons for our society to shut down factory farming (it causes a lot of unnecessary suffering, hurts the environment, and contributes to unhealthy eating habits). But it is not obvious how best to act on that view. I try to avoid factory farmed meat, but mainly to avoid hypocrisy rather than to further the cause (my not purchasing meat is unlikely to have an effect on the industry). But should I avoid eating all meat? Should I scold others who eat factory-farmed meat? Should I spend my time working to shut down the industry? Those questions become more complicated because of both competing ethical concerns and complicated empirical issues.

Oh, did I mention that philosophers are particularly good at coming up with rationalizations?

Well, weakness of will is a human frailty, and philosophers are humans. But I share your intuition that someone who has accepted strong arguments for a conclusion, such as "It is wrong to eat meat," and who faces few difficulties acting on that conclusion, should be able to act on it. It may make you feel better to know that there is a much higher proportion of consistent vegetarians among philosophers than among the general population. But people who study ethics may be no different than other philosophers (except that they condemn meat eating more). See here . Personally, I think that there are good reasons for our society to shut down factory farming (it causes a lot of unnecessary suffering, hurts the environment, and contributes to unhealthy eating habits). But it is not obvious how best to act on that view. I try to avoid factory farmed meat, but mainly to avoid hypocrisy rather than to further the cause (my not purchasing meat is unlikely to have an effect on the industry). But...

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