Judge cites Russell in protecting philosophical beliefs

Earlier this month, Mr Justice Michael Burton ruled that employees holding philosophical views based on science and reason should be afforded the same legal protection from discrimination as those with religious beliefs. The case concerned Tim Nicholson, the former head of sustainability for Grainger, the UK’s largest listed residential property company. Nicholson claimed that he had been sacked due to his environmental beliefs. But Grainger’s lawyers contended that environmental views are political and a “lifestyle choice” which cannot be compared to religion or philosophy.

Mr Burton ruled that Nicholson’s views were entitled to the same protection as religious views and that the case should go before an employment tribunal. The written ruling, which looked at whether philosophy could be underpinned by a scientific belief, quoted from Bertrand Russell’s History of Western Philosophy and ultimately concluded that a belief in climate change, while a political view about science, can also be a philosophical one. Interestingly, Mr Burton ruled last year that Al Gore’s environmental documentary An Inconvenient Truth was political and partisan as he assessed whether it should be shown to schools. (You can read about the case here and here.)

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Ag policy, cartographically

Tomatoes on the vine.

Parke Wilde at the US Food Policy blog posts ten google maps illustrating different agriculture land uses, from a phosphate strip mine in Florida to the Polyface farm featured in The Omnivore’s Dilemma and Food Inc.

Peter Singer’s argument for vegetarianism turns on the premise that the difference in the amount of happiness we get from eating a salad and eating a pork chop is slight enough that it deserves little weight against other considerations.  The suffering and death of the pig, for example, is far more significant than our pork-chop/salad pleasure differential.  This is a powerful idea and it’s gotten a lot of traction.

Looking at these maps, I wonder why Singer’s premise hasn’t been more broadly applied.  After all, there is little or no difference between the amount we enjoy eating corn fertilized with mined phosphorous and eating crop-rotated corn.  Given the huge difference in environmental impact between these practices, shouldn’t we care about agricultural policy more than we do?  Singer’s argument has made many vegetarians.  Why hasn’t it made more policy wonks?

Related articles:

£1.99 - small Environmental Ethics: An Overview
By Katie McShane, Colarado State University (May 2009)
Philosophy Compass

£1.99 - small Morality and Psychology
By Chrisoula Andreou, University of Utah (December 2006)
Philosophy Compass