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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

Environmentalists suggest we have a duty of care for the planet. If we had an

Environmentalists suggest we have a duty of care for the planet. If we had an invention which would reverse climate change but would make life impossible on earth in 200 years most people would suggest this would be to high a price to pay. But if the negative consequences were delayed 500 or 2000 years... do we have a duty to them? 700,000 years? Does orlimit of forward duty bear any rational scrutiny?

I don't see why not, we should bear in mind the consequences of what we do however far in the future those consequences stretch. What makes this difficult to think around though is that we are entitled to have some confidence that solutions will be found to problems that may arise in the future. This has been our experience in the past, disasters are constantly predicted when we extrapolate from the present to the future. Yet those very predictions so far have generally led to research that has obviated the putative dire consequences.

There is of course no guarantee that this will always be the case. It doers however make it difficult to take the thought experiment you set up very seriously.

I find Peter Singer's argument that animals' (specifically mammals') capacity to

I find Peter Singer's argument that animals' (specifically mammals') capacity to feel pain which according to him makes them intrinsically worthy of special status rather faceious as evolution is scientifically proven to not be teleological. If I uproot a cabbage (in the process killing microbes and insects) and eat it, how am I any more immoral than if I kill a cow or a dog and eat it? Why is an organism's place on the phylogenetic tree so special?

I'm having trouble seeing what evolution has to do with it. Many animals, Singer supposes, feel pain. Pain (roughly; the refinements won't matter here) is intrinsically bad, no matter what sort of creature experiences it. Whether animals (or humans) feel pain because of evolution, because a God made them that way, or because we're all sentient animaldroids, designed by mad scientists from Mars is beside the point. Singer's thought is that pain is bad for us, and animals are no different from us in that respect. He isn't making a point about the phylogenetic tree. Cabbages don't feel pain; cats do. So when we're calculating the balance of pleasure to pain, the cat's pain (or pleasure) should be included in the calculation. But since cabbages aren't sentient (so far as we know), there's nothing about the cabbage to add or subtract.

Suppose a species is brought to another region, where it quickly overruns its

Suppose a species is brought to another region, where it quickly overruns its local rivals and drives the native species to extinction. This is something that has been suggested might happen with the larger grey squirrels that are slowly overwhelming the smaller red squirrels in Europe. Many people would suggest that this is a problem, but I wonder if that is really the case. One way or another, individual red squirrels will end up dying, either because other red squirrels are eating their food, or because grey squirrels are eating it. If more red squirrels die than would otherwise, the flip-side seems to be that there are more grey squirrels flourishing than otherwise. For the starving red squirrels, it doesn't seem to matter who is eating their food; and for the flourishing grey squirrels, it doesn't seem to matter where exactly they are flourishing. Of course, there is the risk of the newcomers ruining the entire local ecology and turning things into a barren wasteland, but that doesn't seem to...

You ask a fair question and I suspect that some of the answer, in the case of the squirrels, is that the red squirrels are thought to be more attractive than the grey squirrels, so many people would prefer that the grey squirrels do not take over. But there are also reasons for environmental concern (i.e. not just aesthetic preference) in that there is reasonable fear of a loss of genetic diversity and also fear of upsetting the ecological balance. Invasive species cause the extinction of other species without replacing them with other new species, hence loss of genetic diversity (and vulnerability to future environmental challenges). Invasive species also often upset the ecological balance e.g. rabbits in Australia and then cause the extinction of several species, not only the species that they directly compete with. Grey squirrels are thought to damage the woodlands in England, and thereby the environment of some bird species.

Given ever-increasing population compared with the fixed size of the Earth, is

Given ever-increasing population compared with the fixed size of the Earth, is it ethical for me to want to raise my children in a house with a yard, when a handful of houses could make room for apartments that could house hundreds of people?

I don't see what is wrong with doing things that you want to do in a case like this. One is not perpetually obliged to think of whether one could be doing more for people. Right now instead of responding to this query I might be more suitably employed doling out food for the homeless and the computer on which I am now typing could be sold to provide water for villages in the developing world which require it. I could right now be doing things that save lives, yet here I am selfishly typing away unnecessarily and satisfying my desire to make my opinions public.

To allow all my personal interests to be submerged under the interests of others, though, is to dissolve one's personality. For some of course taking this step is in fact a reflection of their personality, but in the example you say you want to bring your children up in a house with a yard. We are not under the obligation to be saints and there is no reason why you should feel guilty about the reasonable ambition to own a yard.

Why aren't more philosophers involved in discussions and policy on global

Why aren't more philosophers involved in discussions and policy on global warming? It is a desperate issue to be addressed and regardless of the philosophical stance in regard to it (i.e. moral skepticism), moral reasons and moral knowledge motivate action in a profound way! I do not think that much progress can be made towards addressing global warming unless the moral seriousness of the matter becomes clear to people and our unjustified indifference is slashed. The culture and spirit of the time should inspire philosophy, just as the excessive violence inspired Descartes in his skeptical exploits. If philosophers, whose reason is supposed to be strong to say the least don't get very involved, who should? I'm sure that this is a bit outlandish, but under what current conditions does a philosopher not have an obligation to get involved? Also, this would be a nice way to reconnect philosophy to the world, especially since a lot of its progress is connected to the insights of philosophy and reason.

I don't know about other philosophers, but their reluctance may be motivated by thoughts such as those Gerald Gaus expresses in his essay "Should Philosophers Apply Ethics?" in Think (2005), pp. 63-67, available at

http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayJournal?jid=THI&tab=mostdown...

I am involved in a new organization called ASAP -- Academics Stand Against Poverty -- which (in a soon-to-be-posted essay) has examined and argued against Gaus's arguments and is now very actively doing the kinds of things that Gaus warns against. You can find some relevant material on our website www.academicsstand.org. You will there also find that one of our current projects is "Climate Voices", a project that focuses on global warming and its effects on people whose home environment is made uninhabitable thereby. This project is, by the way, essentially run by students.

Over at TED.com, a website where videos are posted of speakers discussing things

Over at TED.com, a website where videos are posted of speakers discussing things from consciousness and virtual reality to comedy and architecture, there are often talks dealing with issues such as hunger, AIDS, and poverty. Shockingly, to me, many people who post comments on these videos strongly oppose measures helping those suffering based on the fact that "there are already far too many people on this planet." Helping those who are currently dying or otherwise suffering, the logic goes, increases the ecological and economical burden on the world by letting more people live longer and healthier lives, which, they seem to think, will ultimately worsen conditions for everyone via lack of resources. So my question is this. Assume it is true that there are too many people on this planet (a debatable fact that depends on what metrics one uses). Is it then ethical to let millions die because helping them would further increase the ecological burden humanity places on the planet?

I let others answer the hypothetical. The key point to stress in response to such comments is that the assumption on which they are based is empirically false (see my answer to question 2459 at www.askphilosophers.org/question/2459). We are fortunate that the moral imperative to eradicate the massive incidence of hunger, severe poverty and trivial diseases is in harmony with the moral imperative to bequeath a sustainable world, with a sustainable human population, to future generations. It is very unfortunate that this fact is not widely known. It should be stressed in any discussion of your hypothetical: a morally attractive and highly cost-effective way of slowing human population growth is to fight hunger, severe poverty and trivial diseases and to promote education, especiaally for girls and women.

Many people find the idea of letting a species such as the wolf go extinct to be

Many people find the idea of letting a species such as the wolf go extinct to be disconcerting. Many environmental policies are put in place to protect endangered species. Why should it really matter though whether a species goes extinct or not if in the end humans are not harmed? What is the underlying moral reasoning?

While Oliver Leaman's aesthetic justification of efforts to preserve endangered species is certainly one consideration that might be advanced in support of such efforts--as well as efforts to preserve plants and other living organisms, such as coral reefs and rainforests (conceiving of the forest as a whole, an ecosystem, as an organism), and even inanimate natural features of the environment, such as icebergs--it's not clear to me that it's the most satisfactory or compelling consideration. Absent some justification for a principle of plenitude--of maximizing the variety of beings in the world--there is no reason to accept such a justification of efforts to preserve anything.

It seems to me, however, that other considerations might be advanced in support of conservation. First, it might be argued that given the interrelationship of species, the elimination of any species, especially a predator like the wolf, which plays an important role in keeping the population of other species in check, might lead to the growth of the population of certain animals that could have significant repercussions in the long-term on the environment as a whole, and hence have significant ecological repercussions for the suitability of the environment as a home for human beings. Moreover, if one thinks that human beings are the 'stewards' of the Earth, who are responsible for preserving it for future generations, then one might think that human beings thereby have a responsibility to preserve the environment as much as it is possible for them to do so.

Certainly other considerations could be advanced: in general, however, it seems to me that whenever when considers such 'applied' questions, one should seek to advance arguments that rest, as much as possible, on considerations that are as uncontentious as possible and hence can appeal to as many people as possible, in order that the consideration can help to effect change. (This is not, of course, to assume that the considerations advanced above are as uncontentious as possible!)

The moral of some science fiction stories is that humanity shouldn't "play God".

The moral of some science fiction stories is that humanity shouldn't "play God". Why not? Is it just the issue of our own ignorance and incompetence, or is there something fundamentally wrong with trying to tamper with the natural order, even assuming we understand the consequences and know what we're doing?

Part of the problem is to decide what counts as "tampering with the natural order." In at least some senses, we "tamper with the natural order" all the time. Modern medicine is a clear example, but you could even make the case that selective breeding of the sort that farmers and gardeners have practiced for centuries is another case. Most of us don't see these as wrong.

It may be useful to step back and look at the phrase "playing God." If there is a God, and if that God has designed a providential plan that works to our benefit and if some sort of intervention would amount to thwarting that plan, then that would be a reason for not making the intervention. Those, needless to say, are big "ifs." However, even if we grant them, we're left with the problem of deciding which sorts of interventions would count. God's plan -- even if there is one -- isn't as clear as some would like to claim.

But let's leave the theological issue aside. You ask whether tampering with the natural order is acceptable if we understand the consequences and know what we're doing. Let's grant for argument's sake that it is. The moral that some "don't play God" stories suggest is that these "ifs" about consequences are also very big. The worry is that some interventions might have large, unintended and undesired effects. On that reading, such stories are cautionary tales about arrogance and lack of due regard for what we don't know.

It's hard to deny that there's some good sense here. Large, sudden disruptions of complicated systems often produce unintended consequences. And indeed, in some cases one might reliably predict that our predictions will be unreliable. Stripped of debatable theological overtones, there's something to the worry about "playing God." The practical problem, of course, is to sort out the cases. Not all interventions are as risky as some would claim, and sometimes taking chances pays big dividends. But turning those platitudes into detailed advice would take this philosopher, at least, well beyond the realm of what he knows.

In everyday common sense, as I've always experienced it, a beaver dam or hut, a

In everyday common sense, as I've always experienced it, a beaver dam or hut, a bird's nest or a termite mound are generally considered natural, while a human house is considered artificial. Given that beaver dams and beaver huts involve quite a bit of logging and engineering, termite mounds involve digging and using termite-produced chemicals to solidify the material, and bird nests can involve a bit of either technique, what is it that makes a human dwelling, such as a simple log cabin, more "artificial" than these animal-built structures? Where does "natural" end and "artificial" begin?

Good question! Usually we label as "artificial" that which is an artifact of intentional, purposive activity. I am inclined to think that beavers and birds are purposive and they seem to have desires but perhaps we should be reluctant to attribute to them the full blown power of deliberation and intentionality. In any case, it may (as you suggest) seem arbitrary to see the beaver dam as natural and a simple log cabin as artificial even if the latter (unlike the dam) is the result of deliberate planning and creative intelligence. But perhaps there might be some point to arguing that some human artifacts are more natural or, using a related concept, ecological than others. Insofar as I build a log cabin that does not involve laying waste an entire forest, diverting streams, destroying the habitat of significant animals, and so on, perhaps we might see that as more natural insofar as it is more in keeping with the ecology of the region than if I destroy the forest and put up a parking lot that (let us imagine) no one uses. Perhaps the latter is "artificial" not just in the sense that it is an artifact but in the other sense of the word "artificial": there is something shallow (from an ecological point of view) about the parking lot construction.

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