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I just watched the movie "Interstellar," in which the heroes try to begin a

I just watched the movie "Interstellar," in which the heroes try to begin a colony on another planet in order that the human race survive. Is there any compelling reason to do something like this? To be clear, as far as the heroes know, everyone who is currently alive on earth will die. The point is not to save those people, but only to see that there are future generations of humans that live after them. I can see that we have reasons to save actual, living people--they're capable of suffering, they have various interests, and so on--but those reasons don't apply to the hypothetical inhabitants of a future colony. Why should we care that humanity survive this larger sense?

great question! What I might say is ask your genes (a la "selfish gene", by Richard Dawkins). our DNA seems to have built into us this force for survival, if only for the sake of our DNA ... But that of course doesn't answer your question, b/c that perhaps descriptive account of where our 'instinct' for survival/continuation might come from doesn't address the normative question of why we should care or whether we should pursue that end. Those who attempt to collapse normatively via evolution might say that's all the answer we need -- but those who don't won't be satisfied. From my perspective I agree with what seems to be your own intuition -- no good reason why we should care. Indeed, the same question can be raised more immediately: why should we care about having our own children? Of course for many having/raising children helps give their lives a sense of meaning, but that's a very selfish reason -- you have children b/c it makes your life better, but that is not looking out for the children themselves! and of course that doesn't help explain why anyone should care if a few humans escape to colonize another world ....

great question! --

AP

great question! What I might say is ask your genes (a la "selfish gene", by Richard Dawkins). our DNA seems to have built into us this force for survival, if only for the sake of our DNA ... But that of course doesn't answer your question, b/c that perhaps descriptive account of where our 'instinct' for survival/continuation might come from doesn't address the normative question of why we should care or whether we should pursue that end. Those who attempt to collapse normatively via evolution might say that's all the answer we need -- but those who don't won't be satisfied. From my perspective I agree with what seems to be your own intuition -- no good reason why we should care. Indeed, the same question can be raised more immediately: why should we care about having our own children? Of course for many having/raising children helps give their lives a sense of meaning, but that's a very selfish reason -- you have children b/c it makes your life better, but that is not looking out for the children...

Is murder illegal because its wrong?Or is murder wrong because its illegal?

Is murder illegal because its wrong? Or is murder wrong because its illegal?

a great question -- a deep one, and an old one -- basically grounded in the classic theistic question addressed by Plato (in Euthyphro) and many others since -- does God command us not to do things (such as murder) because they're wrong, or are they wrong (simply) because God commands us not to do them ... Stephen's response is excellent, but I'll offer another angle. Re the first half -- is murder illegal b/c it's wrong -- no doubt those legislators who have illegalized murder are at least partly (maybe primarily/exclusively) motivated by its wrongness (that's the sociological/empirical question) -- but presumably your question is meant to be more general, i.e. not merely restricted to murder, whose 'wrongness' most everyone can agree to (though not everyone). If you were to ask 'of all those things that are illegal, are they illegal b/c they are wrong?' surely for many/most of them the answer would be 'no.' It's illegal to go through a red light, not b/c going thru red lights is morally wrong but b/c the powers that be, in their wisdom, have established various conventions for the smooth/safe running of society, so they've set up traffic laws to that end -- just which legislation is motivated by morality and which by (say) the need for societal conventions is an empirical question -- but no doubt both factors play at least some role in much legislation ... (and other factors as well) ... re the sec on half -- 'is murder wrong b/c it's illegal' -- Stephen is right to stress the fundamental distinction between law and morality, but I'll just add one point -- the case might be made that, in general, it's morally wrong to break the laws of your society (all else being equal) -- so at least PART of the wrongness of murder (perhaps a very small part) would consist in the fact that committing it is to break the laws ... (again, generalizing the topic: running a red light IS probably wrong precisely because it's illegal ...) Now of course there are some important complicated cases -- for example, civil disobedience -- in some cases you might argue it's 'right' to break the law -- if you think the law itself is morally wrong -- but that's handled by the 'all else being equal' clause I mentioned ....

hope that's useful!

ap

a great question -- a deep one, and an old one -- basically grounded in the classic theistic question addressed by Plato (in Euthyphro) and many others since -- does God command us not to do things (such as murder) because they're wrong, or are they wrong (simply) because God commands us not to do them ... Stephen's response is excellent, but I'll offer another angle. Re the first half -- is murder illegal b/c it's wrong -- no doubt those legislators who have illegalized murder are at least partly (maybe primarily/exclusively) motivated by its wrongness (that's the sociological/empirical question) -- but presumably your question is meant to be more general, i.e. not merely restricted to murder, whose 'wrongness' most everyone can agree to (though not everyone). If you were to ask 'of all those things that are illegal, are they illegal b/c they are wrong?' surely for many/most of them the answer would be 'no.' It's illegal to go through a red light, not b/c going thru red lights is morally wrong but b/c...

If animals have feelings then isn't that enough reason not to kill them for food

If animals have feelings then isn't that enough reason not to kill them for food? Some would say that self awareness is required. Why would that be relevant? Could the idea that a creature without self awareness lacks a unified state of being over time be a reason? They just sort of exist one moment to the next. Death for them would no different than the passage of time. But then how can mere concepts of self awareness have such an ontological significance? Much of their experience probably or may not be especially pleasurable and many wouldn't exist in the first place if they weren't bred to be eaten. I wonder if the inability of most people to form a moral opinion opposed to animal eating shows something dreadful about the human condition. Here I am sitting and eating meat while asking these questions in the abstract while I've never had the willpower to go vegetarian for any extended period just in case my fears about meat eating are right.

Terrific question, and I completely share your intuitions (not to mention your weak-willedness....). If pain or suffering are somehow intrinsically 'bad', then it must be right that killing animals is bad (assuming that involves inflicting pain, of course). Or more precisely, causing that pain without having some more compelling overriding reason is bad (and presumably we don't with respect to animals for food -- since human beings can live without meat, and even live well -- and indeed many argue that, economically, meat-eating causes horrible suffering all over the globe etc.) My guess is that those who might invoke 'self-awareness' as a justification for meat-eating -- who must merely presume that animals lack it, by the way; hard to know! -- are perhaps thinking that having self-awareness increases the degree of suffering of the animal. after all, knowing you are about to die, to be killed, along with some idea that the process will be unpleasant, indeed increases the suffering (and empirically it seems that animals in slaughterhouses clearly know something is up ....). But (to expand your thought) that doesn't somehow override the first point but emphasizes it: if self-awareness is bad because it increases the suffering/pain, then that must be because pain is bad -- in which case self-awareness must not be necessary for the moral impermissibility of meat-eating. (and if the self-awareness does NOT increase the suffering in the process, then, as you suggest, it's not so clear why having it would rule out the eating of meat.) so, basically, I agree with you ...!

best, ap

Terrific question, and I completely share your intuitions (not to mention your weak-willedness....). If pain or suffering are somehow intrinsically 'bad', then it must be right that killing animals is bad (assuming that involves inflicting pain, of course). Or more precisely, causing that pain without having some more compelling overriding reason is bad (and presumably we don't with respect to animals for food -- since human beings can live without meat, and even live well -- and indeed many argue that, economically, meat-eating causes horrible suffering all over the globe etc.) My guess is that those who might invoke 'self-awareness' as a justification for meat-eating -- who must merely presume that animals lack it, by the way; hard to know! -- are perhaps thinking that having self-awareness increases the degree of suffering of the animal. after all, knowing you are about to die, to be killed, along with some idea that the process will be unpleasant, indeed increases the suffering (and empirically it...

Utilitarianistically speaking, is there any difference between forced population

Utilitarianistically speaking, is there any difference between forced population transfer and ethnic cleansing?

I think the question is far too ill-defined to answer meaningfully. in some ways the two activities might be identical (if, say, the population you're transferring is all the members of some undesired ethnic group). Or of course one can ethnic cleanse w/o transferring (for example by genocide), so they're not identical -- but then (presumably) some kind of utilitarian would hold that transferring is 'better' than that form of ethnic cleansing at least (though how you calculate utility when mass death is involved is far from clear). On the other hand if you add up the increased utility of the (presumably evil) people DOING the cleansing, then it may turn out that ethnic cleansing of the genocidal sort is better than forced transfer. And when it comes to 'forced transfer' there are many different possible scenarios -- lots (millions, i think?) of refugees were transferred after WW2, and while it sounds horrible it may well have resulted in greater overall utility for the transferees once people are settled into new, better political arrangements. Or if you're thinking of forced transfer along the Nazi deportation lines, that was obviously pretty terrible from the perspective of the transferees (though who can calculate how the Nazi's utility increased thereby). Then there's 'forced transfer' of the 'persecution' variety etc..... so it seems to me (in short) the two key terms are subject to many different variations in denotation at least, and the idea of calculating various utilities so poorly defined, that the question itself does not offer itself as one capable of being answered ...

hope that's useful-

ap

I think the question is far too ill-defined to answer meaningfully. in some ways the two activities might be identical (if, say, the population you're transferring is all the members of some undesired ethnic group). Or of course one can ethnic cleanse w/o transferring (for example by genocide), so they're not identical -- but then (presumably) some kind of utilitarian would hold that transferring is 'better' than that form of ethnic cleansing at least (though how you calculate utility when mass death is involved is far from clear). On the other hand if you add up the increased utility of the (presumably evil) people DOING the cleansing, then it may turn out that ethnic cleansing of the genocidal sort is better than forced transfer. And when it comes to 'forced transfer' there are many different possible scenarios -- lots (millions, i think?) of refugees were transferred after WW2, and while it sounds horrible it may well have resulted in greater overall utility for the transferees once people are...

Should people have an expectation of privacy with regards to things they do in

Should people have an expectation of privacy with regards to things they do in public? For instance, do I have the right to expect that conversations I hold in public places are not recorded, or that my shopping trips are not be tracked then and posted online?

Good questions. But it's hard to imagine that we have (or 'should' have) rights as specific as these except in the sense that we reach some sort of societal consensus about them -- so I might rephrase the question as 'would we have a better society overall if we granted such rights than if we don't?' Since (in my initial thoughts on answering the question so phrased) we have almost no way of enforcing such rules, and we now live in the age of everyone recording everything, and since there are at least some benefits to being in this age, and since younger folks in particular are growing up without anything like the expectation of privacy older folks once were used to, we may as well give up on such rights -- and reserve the right to privacy to private places (where it's already hard enough to enforce, given e veryone's interconnectedness etc.) ....

hope that's useful!

ap

Good questions. But it's hard to imagine that we have (or 'should' have) rights as specific as these except in the sense that we reach some sort of societal consensus about them -- so I might rephrase the question as 'would we have a better society overall if we granted such rights than if we don't?' Since (in my initial thoughts on answering the question so phrased) we have almost no way of enforcing such rules, and we now live in the age of everyone recording everything, and since there are at least some benefits to being in this age, and since younger folks in particular are growing up without anything like the expectation of privacy older folks once were used to, we may as well give up on such rights -- and reserve the right to privacy to private places (where it's already hard enough to enforce, given e veryone's interconnectedness etc.) .... hope that's useful! ap

Good questions. But it's hard to imagine that we have (or 'should' have) rights as specific as these except in the sense that we reach some sort of societal consensus about them -- so I might rephrase the question as 'would we have a better society overall if we granted such rights than if we don't?' Since (in my initial thoughts on answering the question so phrased) we have almost no way of enforcing such rules, and we now live in the age of everyone recording everything, and since there are at least some benefits to being in this age, and since younger folks in particular are growing up without anything like the expectation of privacy older folks once were used to, we may as well give up on such rights -- and reserve the right to privacy to private places (where it's already hard enough to enforce, given e veryone's interconnectedness etc.) .... hope that's useful! ap

Is it hypocritical for prostitution to be legal but pimping to be illegal?

Is it hypocritical for prostitution to be legal but pimping to be illegal?

Hm, I think you mean "inconsistent" rather than "hypocritical" here ... but anyway -- but one quick "no" answer might be generated by this line of thought: if by "non-pimping prostitution" you have in mind the idea of an adult individual freely choosing to sell himself/herself for sex, then basic libertarian principles seem to support it. That is, whatever your view of the morality of doing that is, if we accept the idea that adults should be free to make their own choices etc., one might see nothing wrong about prostitution and argue that it shouldn't be illegal. But if by "pimping" you have in mind the stereotypic situation of one person controlling or manipulating another - the pimp controls and compels the prostitute -- then that clearly would be objectionable on basic libertarian grounds, so one could argue for its illegality .... (A third case might be this: a prostitute and a pimp enter into some free business arrangement --- no compulsion etc. -- so in that case perhaps both should be legal .... But that is not the usual, stereotypic case of course ...)

hope that's a useful start!

ap

Hm, I think you mean "inconsistent" rather than "hypocritical" here ... but anyway -- but one quick "no" answer might be generated by this line of thought: if by "non-pimping prostitution" you have in mind the idea of an adult individual freely choosing to sell himself/herself for sex, then basic libertarian principles seem to support it. That is, whatever your view of the morality of doing that is, if we accept the idea that adults should be free to make their own choices etc., one might see nothing wrong about prostitution and argue that it shouldn't be illegal. But if by "pimping" you have in mind the stereotypic situation of one person controlling or manipulating another - the pimp controls and compels the prostitute -- then that clearly would be objectionable on basic libertarian grounds, so one could argue for its illegality .... (A third case might be this: a prostitute and a pimp enter into some free business arrangement --- no compulsion etc. -- so in that case perhaps both should be legal .......

Ethically, what is the difference between a sex object and a sex symbol when

Ethically, what is the difference between a sex object and a sex symbol when talking about a person? Why is the latter term considered less degrading and even beneficial? Is a symbol merely a representation of an object or actually an extension of one?

This is a great question I hadn't thought of. One response perhaps is to acknowledge how it reflects the fundamental ambiguity our society has toward ALL matters sexual. Sexuality is both good and bad, in various ways/senses, at least for many. Profoundly religious people of a certain sort might not agree, but then they would not be so likely to see the distinction you raise between object/symbol above -- both would be equivalent and equally bad. But for others, who DO see your distinction, we can admit that being sexually attractive is something we desire and thus, in a sense, approve of; a sex symbol is someone who represents an ideal of sexual attractiveness that we all would love to instantiate ourselves, so a "sex symbol" is good, all else equal. But of course human beings are MORE than physical, sexual animals -- there are other aspects to ourselves that we value -- and insofar as we treat or think of someone as MERELY a sexual 'object' we are failing to value those other features appropriately. So treating someone as a "sex object" is bad, all else equal. But then you're right: the very same person praised as a sexual symbol we condemn those who think of that person ONLY as a sexual object .... (Notice another distinction here: it's the attractive person who is the sexual symbol and who gets some praise thereby, but it is the viewer's ACT of treating that person as an 'object' that gets condemned ... So another aspect to the difference between the two is that the moral acts of praise/blame are attributed to different things ....)

hope that's a useful start -- great question!

ap

This is a great question I hadn't thought of. One response perhaps is to acknowledge how it reflects the fundamental ambiguity our society has toward ALL matters sexual. Sexuality is both good and bad, in various ways/senses, at least for many. Profoundly religious people of a certain sort might not agree, but then they would not be so likely to see the distinction you raise between object/symbol above -- both would be equivalent and equally bad. But for others, who DO see your distinction, we can admit that being sexually attractive is something we desire and thus, in a sense, approve of; a sex symbol is someone who represents an ideal of sexual attractiveness that we all would love to instantiate ourselves, so a "sex symbol" is good, all else equal. But of course human beings are MORE than physical, sexual animals -- there are other aspects to ourselves that we value -- and insofar as we treat or think of someone as MERELY a sexual 'object' we are failing to value those other features...

Analogous to freedom of speech, one supposes that everyone is entitled to

Analogous to freedom of speech, one supposes that everyone is entitled to express their opinions concerning the character of any person. However, my personal view is that it is reprehensible for a group of people to indulge in an overt celebration of the death of a person - especially in the presence of bereaved members of her family. I have in mind the recent death of erstwhile British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, whose family would probably have seen TV news shots of revellers in Glasgow opening bottles of champagne in ribald celebration of her death. I noted that a prominent political opponent of Mrs Thatcher commented that this behaviour was despicable. I would like to know whether it is feasible/permmissible/desirable for a philosopher to provide objective guidance on the propriety or otherwise of this behaviour?

Interesting question! I don't know about giving 'objective' guidance, but it does seem to me that on the scale of despicable or reprehensible actions, this one would be pretty low, if on the scale at all! It also seems reasonable to me to suppose that very public figures -- in particular politicians, whose actions affect large masses of people directly and indirectly -- ARE appropriate objects of (civil) scorn, both in life and in death. Perhaps it isn't exactly tasteful to cheer the death of a hated political figure, but I just don't see that it's actually wrong. Is it insensitive to the bereaved family? Possibly, but then you might argue that the politician's choice to live that public light automatically puts the person's family in the position to see explicitly how people feel about him/her. Of course, there might be some distinction made between current/retired politicians too -- given how long PM Thatcher has been out of office, how old she was, etc., it might be less acceptable to cheer her death than it might be a current politician whose current policies are deemed terrible .... Hm, don't know!

hope that's useful!

ap

Interesting question! I don't know about giving 'objective' guidance, but it does seem to me that on the scale of despicable or reprehensible actions, this one would be pretty low, if on the scale at all! It also seems reasonable to me to suppose that very public figures -- in particular politicians, whose actions affect large masses of people directly and indirectly -- ARE appropriate objects of (civil) scorn, both in life and in death. Perhaps it isn't exactly tasteful to cheer the death of a hated political figure, but I just don't see that it's actually wrong. Is it insensitive to the bereaved family? Possibly, but then you might argue that the politician's choice to live that public light automatically puts the person's family in the position to see explicitly how people feel about him/her. Of course, there might be some distinction made between current/retired politicians too -- given how long PM Thatcher has been out of office, how old she was, etc., it might be less acceptable to cheer her...

You are a single male, a highly attractive female asks you to engage in a sexual

You are a single male, a highly attractive female asks you to engage in a sexual relationship with her. However, they are already in a long-term, albeit unstable relationship. Do you accept or decline the offer? I have declined on the basis that should I accept there is a likelihood that the pleasure I would gain is less than the suffering I would cause to their partner (who I do not know) and there is a possibility I am being used to hurt their partner. From canvasing the opinion of my friends I am almost unique in my decision. Am I wrong or do I just need better friends?

I have a somewhat different take than my co-panelist.

Yes: we can tag the sorts of reasons you're offering as Utilitarian, though I'm not sure that adds a lot. I'd ask a different question: are they the sorts of considerations a morally conscientious person might care about? Seems to me they are, and that seems even clearer when we put them in a plain-spoken way: you're worried that you'll hurt someone else. And you're not sure that whatever pleasure you get out of the arrangement makes up for the hurt. Whether that settles the matter or not, if your friends don't think that's relevant than maybe you do need better friends!

We could ask whether you have an obligation to the woman's partner, but I worry that the retreat to polysyllaby hides the more basic point: how your behavior affects this man is morally relevant. The old-fashioned question "How would you feel if you were in his shoes?" is a perfectly good way to see that.

I'm not about to offer concrete advice about this case; there's way too much I don't know. But the question you're asking suggests to me that you're a decent guy.

However, I do agree with my colleague that, moral questions aside, this smells like a mess. That might be enough to settle the question by itself.

Curious whether your friends accept the empirical part of your reasoning, about the likelihood of gained pleasure/suffering. Assuming that they do then this issue nicely seems to come down to the classic debate between utilitarian and deontological ethics, it seems. Others are much more expert than I on these matters, but you seem to be using basic utilitarian reasoning -- see what maximizes happiness/pleasure (or minimizes unhappiness etc), and then that's the right thing. But of course the other way to look at hte situation is this: the female in question (one presumes) is adult, mature, etc., and capable of making her own autonomous decisions. To respect her as such is to recognize that, in effect, if it's okay with her then it could be okay with you. What you are considering is the harm you're doing to her pre-existing partner -- but then a separate argument needs to be made perhaps that YOU have any obligation to that partner if she does not. (By the way: is or was her view that the partner was...

Is it morally wrong to eat my pet dog? Why is it right to eat beef and pork, but

Is it morally wrong to eat my pet dog? Why is it right to eat beef and pork, but our pets?

I agree with Andrew: the dog/pig distinction won't get us anywhere. And I might even be persuaded that we shouldn't eat animals at all. But there's a sliver of a distinction that may be worth noting.

If a stranger asks me to drive him to the grocery store, I don't have any obligation to say yes. If my friend asks me (and if it's not a lot of trouble to do it) then it's not so clearly okay for me just to say no. If my daughter asks me, the obligation seems even stronger. Our relationships with people can make a difference to how we ought to treat them.

We can and do have relationships with our companion animals. And those relationships could make a difference to how we should treat them. I have an obligation to feed my dog, for example, but not to feed yours.

Now it may very well be that it's wrong to eat animals at all. But even if it's okay to eat animals in general, it doesn't simply follow that it's okay to eat my own pet and the fact that it's my pet is the reason why it doesn't follow. The moral dimension of our special relationships with some of our conspecifics may well have an analogue in our relationships with our pets.

All that said, the point I've made is a very weak one: it's only that my special relationship with my pet might have moral weight. That still leaves us with the serious question of whether it's ever okay to slaughter and eat other creatures.

Who thinks that is right to eat beef/pork but not dog? Certainly many cultures do. No doubt our culture is squeamish about it -- dogs being so cute, and all, and enjoying such intimate personal relationships with them -- well that would suggest that if we cuten up pigs and cows and get to know them better we'd be opposed to eating them too! But anyway, what does cuteness and intimacy have to do with the permissibility of slaughter and consumption? there are plenty of non-cute humans with which I am not intimate, but that hardly seems a grounds for eating them; but then lack of those things is not be a grounds for eating them either. What I'm getting at is that whatever grounds you choose to be a vegetarian almost surely apply equally to all non-human animals (or at least those with advanced enough sentience to be worthy of earning 'rights' or 'interests)' -- so the disintcitno between the dog and beef/pork cases one is not likely to withstand scrutiny .... hope that helps ap

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