The Price of Life and Peter Singer

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”

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The fight about the cell is going on and on.

Stem cell research, especially when conducted from embryonic stem cells, is a hotly debated topic for a long time already. The point of view from science and medicine is that embryonic stem cell research is necessary and ultimately very benefiting to a lot of very, and often chronically, sick people, children and adults alike. If we look at it from an ethical point of view, stem cell research was for a long time fraught with problems. Using embryonic stem cells means that the embryo from which they are harvested, is not able to live anymore and will be discarded at the end. The embryos used in these cases are embryos from parents who allowed them to be used for research purposes. Many European countries have accepted the fact that the embryos will be discarded but see the benefit of the research and the possible cures it can provide and therefore have allowed the research under strict rule and guidelines. Continue reading “The fight about the cell is going on and on.”

What have sex and violence done for us, lately?

Much fretting about violence in video games is rooted in the worry that the games will foster violence in the real world.  (If I shoot enough extra-terrestrials in “Space Invaders,” I might end up shooting extra-terrestrials in real life.)

Earlier this week on the NYT’s Economix blog, David Leonhardt speculated that, in fact, violent video games might be partly responsible for the level or declining rates of violent crime during the current recession.  He cites earlier research suggesting that violent movies reduce violent crime.

Ryan Sanger recently discussed similar dynamics in the realm of pornography:  increased access to porn seems to correlate with reduced frequency of rape.  As Sanger notes, the implications for the debate over simulated child pornography could be especially controversial.

None of the research is anywhere near decisive.  But if it turns out that porn and media violence have positive social consequences, the rubber will meet the road on the issue of government regulation of content.  We’ll be in a situation in which the utilitarian justification of a set of related laws changes its valence.  It’ll be interesting to see the debate unfold.

Related articles:

The Duty to Obey the Law
By David Lefkowitz, UNC Greensboro (October 2006)
Philosophy Compass

Painless meat

pigsNew Scientist covers the final frontier of factory farming:  animals that don’t mind abominable treatment and slaughter.

My reaction is horror.  What kind of person looks at the suffering in controlled animal feeding operations and thinks:  you know how we could fix this?  By genetically engineering the animals not to care! Continue reading “Painless meat”

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

Golf, Happiness, and Morality

Stuart Cink golf_2won the 2009 British Open at Turnberry last Sunday, his first major championship. However, the new highpoint in the 36 year-old Cink’s professional golf career came at the expense of Tom Watson’s happiness and the happiness of (nearly all) golf fans world-wide who desperately wanted to see Watson do the impossible: win golf’s most storied major at the not-so-tender age of 59, eleven years older than any previous major winner. Continue reading “Golf, Happiness, and Morality”

Peter Singer in NYT on rationing health care

PeterSinger(cropped)Check it out here.  Will Wilkinson excerpts this part:

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”