What is a life worth? It is difficult to understand what this question even asks. Does it ask; What kind of thing, or what amount of a certain kind of thing, could satisfactorily replace a human life? This does not clarify the original question so much as point out what it is that makes it initially so hard to grasp. That is, it is implicit in the question that it is possible that a life can be ‘worth’ something at all which, taken in the sense of a given life being replaceable by something of commensurate value, appears to be a mistaken assumption. Or is the second question just misleadingly worded? If we were to ask instead what kind of thing a life is worth giving up for, then the possible contexts in which one might be inclined to agree that the loss of a life can be justified by the certain good that it may bring about begin to come to mind. Continue reading “The Price of Life and Peter Singer”
It’s a dog’s life, so the saying goes. Thanks to one dogged photographer we are finally privy to the reality of this proverbial canine existence. London-based Martin Usborne has drawn inspiration from the secret world of dogs for his latest project, entitled Mute: the silence of dogs in cars, a series of photographs of forlorn and forgotten four-legged friends. It comes as a darker follow-up to his more overtly amusing collection Life as a dog in the recession, and was yesterday described by the Independent as ‘capturing dejectedness, anger and sadness.’ Not quite as dark, though, as the controversial piece of dog related art executed by Costa Rican artist Guillermo Vargas, who, as part of an exhibition in 2007, tied an emaciated stray dog to the wall of the Códice Gallery, Nicaragua, and reportedly left it to starve. (Due to incandescent outrage within the blogging community, the truth was later revealed that the stray dog was both fed and spared death – Vargas, however, refused to officially comment on what exactly became of the hound). Vargas’s contribution provokes some obvious ethical questions (including, Vargas would argue, one aimed at the hypocrisy of viewers/bloggers, their dismay towards a single stray in a gallery not matching up to their attitude towards the countless strays that continue to starve outside it). Usborne’s work, on the other hand, may elicit some subtler philosophical questions, relating to such diverse philosophical areas as aesthetics, ethics, and the philosophy of mind.
What with the English Premier League season starting this weekend it seems appropriate to go back to a few articles written during the World Cup. First of all Peter Singer takes Germany’s Manuel Neuer to task for unethical conduct against England. Is the only ethical imperative in a football match the will-to-victory? Of course not, avows Singer.
On the same tip, an excellent post over at Minus the Shooting on cheating, getting away with it, and transgressions (or not) of the moral law in another of the tournament’s infamous incidents, Luis Suarez’s goalline handball against Ghana. Continue reading “War, Minus the Shooting”
Are you an animal lover if you dote on your cat but then happily tuck into a plate of chicken or pig? Do horses and apes have equal rights to humans? We spoke with Jean Kazez author of Animalkind: What We Owe to Animals about her exploration into the ethical tensions between animals and humans.
The Philosopher’s Eye: Why did you decide to write Animalkind?
Jean Kazez: I got the idea to write this book when I was working on my first book, The Weight of Things: Philosophy and the Good Life (Blackwell 2007). There are a few pages in there about what it is for animals to live good lives. I wanted to write more about that–“The Good Life for Dogs,” maybe? As I got started, the subject gradually changed. The truth is, billions of animals in the world are living very bad lives as a result of human decisions. I wound up writing a book that’s about animal lives, but also about our decisions. Continue reading “Interview: Animalkind – What We Owe to Animals”
Harriet McBryde Johnson was a lawyer and disability rights activist who was herself severely disabled. Her wonderful essay, “Unspeakable Conversations,” which she wrote for the New York Times Magazine, is an account of her debate with philosopher Peter Singer. In “Unspeakable Conversations,” she argues persuasively that pity for people with disabilities– an attitude commonly adopted by the non-disabled– is inappropriate, and rooted in prejudice.
I was put in mind of Johnson’s essay when I stumbled on this local news puff piece about Dominic, a two-legged greyhound.
Dominic is so obviously happy, so successfully doggish, that it’s impossible to entertain the notion that pity is the appropriate response. With pity off the table, the reporter seems confused. He actually says, out loud and on mic, “you’d think he’d have a chip on his shoulder, or something.”
It’s an entire case study in disability prejudice in a few seconds of b-roll. And because it’s dog disability the reporter is grappling with, the prejudice that underlies some pity-responses is much easier to see.
Racial Cognition and the Ethics of Implicit Bias
By Daniel Kelly and Erica Roedder (April 2008)
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?
Environmental Ethics: An Overview
By Katie McShane, Colarado State University (May 2009)
Morality and Psychology
By Chrisoula Andreou, University of Utah (December 2006)
If the Department of Transportation [followed the principle that it was impossible to put a dollar value on human life] it would exhaust its entire budget on road safety. Fortunately the department sets a limit on how much it is willing to pay to save one human life. Continue reading “Peter Singer in NYT on rationing health care”