Without arguing specifically for pan-psychism, if I can rule out materialism I think I can show that phenomenal consciousness is eternal and written into the very fabric of reality rather than an epiphenomenal consequence of mindless brain activity. For a thing to come into existence, the potential for it’s existence must have existed prior to it’s actuality. That potential can’t exist in ‘nothingness’, the absence of anything can’t produce something because it doesn’t exist. The potential for a table exists in the elements that are rearranged to form a table, a table cannot be created out of nothing. Matter-energy has always existed in some form or another (contrary to popular belief, the Big Bang is not a theory about the origin of matter-energy, just as evolution is not a theory about the origin of life, and virtual particles do not literally pop into and out of existence. Virtual particles pop into and out of quantum ‘vacuums’ that are actually filled with fluctuating energy). If subjective experience is numerically identical to objective brain activity, phenomenal consciousness can come into and out of existence because it is only a particular arrangement of preexisting matter and there is no problem of radical emergence. The problem is that unless you deny the very existence of what ‘appears’ to be consciousness, in claiming that subjective experience is really corresponding objective brain activity in disguise materialism defies the first law of logic, the law of identity. A rock is a rock and a chair is a chair. Even an illusion would be proof of consciousness since an illusion is an experience. I agree with materialists that consciousness is a process, just not a physical one. Internal mental states are not extended in space, they have no mass and can’t be converted into anything that does, and they cannot be observed through sensory perception yet clearly they exist. Even if we define ‘physical’ in a way that includes the mental, the latter is a different ‘dimension’ of nature, or reality, than the external world of spatial objects. Since nothing comes from nothing, every moment of experience must come from a preceding moment of experience in an infinite continuum, the past became the present and the present is becoming the future. Consciousness cannot be created or destroyed, it only changes.
Pan-experientialism is the view that basic subjective experience, but not necessarily ‘self-awareness’ or higher cognition, is an inherent property of matter as opposed to non-existent (consistent/eliminative materialism), ontologically reducible to brain activity (reductive materialism), causally but not ontologically reducible to brain activity (emergent property dualism) or fundamentally unrelated to the physical world (substance dualism). Substance dualism argues that the mental and the physical are two different kinds of substances that can exist independently, pan-experientialism is the non-emergent form of property dualism which argues that the mental and the physical are two different kinds of properties of the same ‘substance’. Pan-experientialism doesn’t necessarily imply that non-motile things (plants, rocks, trees, ) have unified experience, which would explain why they don’t appear to behave spontaneously or with intention, only that they’re comprised of indivisible particles who do. Animals, as well as individual cells, molecules and atoms, are probably comprised of elementary particles who experience and act in unity. Unlike my claim that happiness and suffering have ‘objective’ (factual) intrinsic value and dis-value, I can’t empirically confirm that pan-experientialism is true but I can rule out materialism on empirical grounds and argue that an emergence of mind from mindless matter or a causal interaction between mind and matter as two independent things is logically incoherent.
From direct experience, I know that consciousness is not brain activity. Neurons firing electrical and chemical signals, forming synapses and behaving the way that they do is not the subjective feeling of love, the perception of color or the sensation of heat. Experience is non-spatial and cannot be described or understood in a materialistic context. I can’t rule out, from direct experience, the possibility that brain activity causes mental experience, but experience is not an external, inter-subjectively observable physical process. The materialist position isn’t just that experience is caused by neurological activity, which emergent property dualism claims, but that it can be reduced to it. This leaves me with either 1) mental and physical entities are fundamentally unrelated to each other, 2) phenomenonal consciousness is an inherent property of matter or 3) mental experience is all that exists. Substance dualists have to account for how minds can temporarily animate bodies and interact with the physical world and both emergent property dualists and materialists have the same problem of having to account for how external, physical processes, a particular arrangement of sub-atomic particles, can bring about mental experience where there was none before. I can understand the concept of my knocking over one domino which knocks over another which knocks over another, it makes sense to explain external, inter-subjectively observable events in relation to other external events but how external, physical events in the brain, no matter how complicated, can lead to internal subjective experience is incomprehensible because it requires the emergence of a qualitatively new kind of reality (I could also argue that even weak emergence is illusory, it only appears as though complex systems have fundamentally novel properties that are irreducible to the properties of the parts they’re made up of because of our perceptual limitations. Individual sub-atomic particles don’t become water in forming H2O molecules, the property of wetness is just a combination of already existing properties, and a whole isn’t anything above and beyond the sum of it’s parts). Materialists might maintain that neurons don’t experience, experience itself is nothing more than neurological activity, but it’s a direct contradiction to say that external, inter-subjectively observable activity is internal subjectivity and activity can’t experience, only actors can. I’m not denying that the arrangement of matter corresponds with the content of subjective experience, and states of mind change with the rearrangement of matter just as the physical properties of an object do. For one thing to cause another isn’t just to precede it but to have a relationship with it that necessitates it’s existence, for two things to have a relationship or interact they have to share some commonality, to be the same in some respect which brings me back to my argument against materialism. Cartesian interaction is also unintelligible because minds aren’t spatial objects that the physical world can exchange energy with and they would have to be located in space in order to enter or leave bodies. Some pan-experientialists reject the concept of free will or the mental having any causal influence in the physical world based on the causal closure principle but I would counter that mind isn’t something external to matter that causally influences it, mind (desire or will) is an essential trait of matter that enables it’s self-motion or agency. Every event that happens in the universe is driven by feeling.
The simplest explanation, one without the problem of emergence or causal interaction, seems to be that mental experience is a fundamental attribute of matter and that what we call ‘physical’ (external) and ‘mental’ (internal) are two different aspects of the same thing ( “For every inside there is an outside, and for every outside there is an inside; though they are different, they go together.” - Alan Watts). I can conceive of soul and matter existing without the other (although without a body a mind could have no sensory perception of anything real and couldn’t travel through space) and my problem with how independent minds can causally interact with spatial entities is logical and not empirical. Materialism, on the other hand, defies empiricism in addition to being incoherent. Consciousness cannot be an illusion because it would have to exist in order to appear as though it did (our sensory perception of the external world, although mentally real, may misrepresent the external world but consciousness is as exactly as it appears). With metaphysical idealism, the idea that consciousness is all that exists and the polar opposite of materialism, my problem is also not empirical. Sensory perception is mental but the objects of sensory perception are not. Something must cause sensory perception so where did the mind get the idea of inventing something fundamentally different from itself? Everything we can imagine comes from what we what we’ve already perceived or experienced, the ancient Greeks could imagine centaurs only because they’d seen humans and horses and combined the two in a novel way but ideas don’t come entirely from scratch. If the external world is real, there’s no reason to assume that I would be the only outside with an inside.
Morality, or ethics, is the branch of philosophy that deals with ‘proper behavior, manners, character’. Hedonism as a meta-ethical theory of value implies that hedonistic utilitarianism (which doesn’t require the former) is the desirable normative ethical theory of decision making but good behavior and good character are two separate but related moral concerns. If happiness is inherently good, then morally good behavior is behavior that helps to maximize the greatest possible ratio of happiness to suffering in the world, morally good character is an unconditional concern for the experience of pleasure and pain itself regardless of whose pleasure or pain is in question. It would not necessarily be harmful (to anyone other than the sadist, considering the connection between stable, long-term mental health and compassion/love) to take pleasure in or even just consciously disregard the pain and misfortune of others but it would show morally bad character. A common charge against hedonistic utilitarianism is that it views persons as ‘vessels’ for pleasure and pain but this seems meaningless to me if an experience necessarily involves an experiencer and vice versa and it’s the experiencer who benefits from or is harmed by their happiness or suffering. Happiness is a mental state of being and a being can’t be a ‘vessel’ for their own internal state. I think that (affective) empathy/sympathy/compassion (which I distinguish from emotional attachment) necessarily involves a basic respect for others as equals, at least in terms of viewing them as being equally ‘deserving’ of happiness, which I think value hedonism implies, not in the sense that anyone has rightfully earned happiness or is entitled to it but in the sense that their felt well-being is worth promoting which makes them worthy of unconditional moral concern. If compassion being a form of love and necessarily involving respect is just one interpretation (experience only tells me that pleasure and pain are intrinsically good and bad) and you can genuinely want someone you seriously dislike or not respect to experience happiness and to be free from pain, I wouldn’t see anything morally wrong with disliking them, I just think a person would necessarily be happier if they loved and respected all beings. Either way, I don’t think compassion/sympathy can be impersonal. Utilitarians are no more ‘obligated’ to desire or pursue the happiness of others than they are their own, ‘duty’ would not be someone’s basis for doing so if they recognized the objective value of all pleasurable and painful states of mind, which would require their using their own personal experience of happiness or suffering as a reference.
I disagree with virtue ethics as a theory of decision making (intellectually, I don’t consider myself to be an ethical person) because I view it as egocentric, in considering the rightness or wrongness of a decision to be based on the agent’s motives or intentions, you disregard the needs of the patient which, in my view, is paradoxically not virtuous (sympathetic). Compassionate people aren’t concerned with their being compassionate, what makes them compassionate is their relating to and wanting to alleviate the suffering of *other* people. Nobody would want credit for caring about their own welfare, they do so because they regard it as desirable, I don’t think there is any more moral value in caring about anyone else than there is in caring about yourself. I don’t think harming anyone else is morally worse than harming yourself.
I think that empiricism (the epistemological position that knowledge is acquired through experience alone) implies agnosticism if for no other reason than that it also implies epistemological solipsism (the view that the non-mental is inherently unknowable and one’s own conscious experience is all that one can be certain of) but I think evidence justifies our believing something to be probable or improbable even if we can’t be absolutely certain of it. I think the way nature appears to behave is evidence for the probable non-existence of a conscious, thinking deity who interferes with human affairs but I don’t think I have any basis for assuming that some kind of supernatural, deistic ‘force’ is impossible or even improbable, I just have no specific reason to believe in it.
The only a priori ‘truths’ I think we can know of in the absence of actual experience are concepts that we define in a way that necessarily justify our assumptions about them, this is how I can ‘know’ that all bachelors are unmarried without having met all unmarried men. Logic is a language that we use to organize ideas and concepts but it doesn’t tell us anything about objective reality, we can’t logically deduce that something as inconceivable as a ‘square triangle’ can’t exist even though it would be inappropriate to define anything as a ‘square triangle’ (because it’s a self-conflicting definition). With the possible exception of conscious experience itself, which may be an emergent property of the inter-subjectively observable brain activity it appears to correspond with, an inherent property of all matter, fundamentally non-physical or some other possibility (we don’t experience whatever it is that causes subjective experience, only subjective experience itself), I literally cannot imagine a non-physical entity or non-physical phenomenon, I have no point of reference as to what the ‘supernatural’ could be, but maybe it would be possible to come across what appears to be a physical being or physical phenomenon that is in some way a manifestation of something beyond the natural world (or physical phenomenon that doesn’t adhere to the normal laws of physics). I don’t think that a/gnosticism and a/theism deal with separate concerns, as is often claimed, if knowledge about X is just a belief about X that is accurate and acquired legitimately. I also think it’s a mistake to contrast theism (a belief that at least one god exists) with a-theism (just lacking a belief in a god, the default position) as opposed to it’s polar opposite : strong atheism (a belief that no god exists).
Marx criticized religion as the opiate of the masses but I don’t see anything wrong with a belief in a compassionate, loving god, who for whatever mysterious reasons allows the suffering it does, being a source of comfort or support. I think basing moral decisions on a god’s authority is wrong. I don’t see what it is about a god’s opinion that would legitimize it’s commandments or why being all powerful would validate it’s authority. An argument for objective moral truths can’t be based on a god’s demands or personal desires anymore than on a parent’s, government’s or any other authority figure’s. If there is a god, or gods, I don’t think that humans are morally obligated to obey them.
I believe that moral propositions are statements about reality that are objectively true or false rather than just being expressions of personal sentiment or cultural norms. I also think it’s wrongly assumed that moral realism requires a theistic basis. I don’t think the intrinsic value of happiness can be logically demonstrated anymore than the intrinsic wetness of water can, I think this can only be realized empirically, through direct experience. If happiness is intrinsically good, I think it can be logically demonstrated to be the only intrinsic good since two or more separate things can’t both or all be good by their very natures if their natures are fundamentally different. Knowledge is acquired through experience, any claim or denial about the inherent value of pleasure must be based on our actual experience of pleasure itself. Subjective experience is objectively real, it’s ‘there’ whether anyone considers it to exist or not. We can know empirically (through experience), about the value of emotional states in the same way that we can learn through experience (sight, smell, touch, taste, hearing) about other phenomenon ( our perception of the external world may not correspond with the external world as it actually is, since we only experience our perception of the external world and not the external world itself, but experience itself is objectively real and exactly the way that it appears), and we know that we can quantify (and thus aggregate) pleasurable and painful states of mind in terms of intensity and duration. Sentient beings experience pleasure and pain (which I define as any emotional state that is inherently likeable or dis-likeable) as inherently good and bad regardless of whether or not they rationally believe it to be or mistakenly associate the value of these emotional states with their objects. Torture is morally bad because the pain it causes is intrinsically bad and while the victim alone experiences their pain, it doesn’t exist ‘for them’, it is objectively real and exists simpliciter. It isn’t just bad ‘for them’ (which would imply that it’s only instrumentally bad and not bad by it’s very nature), it’s bad simpliciter. It should also be noted that empiricism can’t be reconciled with the intuitive assumption of a static, persisting ego that exists apart from moment to moment experience, no one has any more of a reason to care about the well-being of ‘their’ future self than they do anyone else’s.
Hedonism as a theory of value (not to be confused with psychological hedonism or layman ‘hedonism’) is a moral realist position and it’s more central to my understanding of ethics and my ‘philosophical identity’ than utilitarianism as a normative ethical theory is. Value hedonism necessarily implies that (total) hedonistic (act) utilitarianism is the desirable basis for moral decision making but hedonistic utilitarians don’t have to identify as moral realists, they may ascribe to error theory (moral nihilism) or non-cognitivism and simply view hedonistic utilitarianism as appealing. I’d have to worry about misrepresenting myself as a utilitarian but value hedonism is only a meta-ethical claim about what is descriptively true. Whether or not a value hedonist can bring themselves to do the ‘right’ (best) thing, (s)he would have to concede that the emotional well-being of all (potential and actual) sentient beings is worth caring about equally, it’s not ‘logical’ to care about anyone’s welfare but it is arbitrary and inconsistent to distinguish between the value of one person’s happiness or suffering and anyone else’s since the basic experience itself is qualitatively the same regardless of who has it.
This is not an argument for moral realism actually being true but I think it’s a stronger basis for compassion and altruism than moral nihilism can be. A moral nihilist cannot legitimately criticize whatever behavior they consider to be undesirable if they believe that ethical judgments are a matter of personal taste. I don’t think moral nihilism can justify a commitment to unconditional, universal compassion since a moral nihilist has to maintain that their concern for others is a completely arbitrary personal preference which isn’t an adaptation to a realized objective truth but dependent on a current, possibly transient mindset, and a more sadistic or cruel ethos would be just as legitimate, objectively speaking. Enlightened self-interest can only justify so much ‘altruism’, the standard for how altruistic the actor should be is determined by the actor’s needs and not the needs of everyone affected by his or her behavior, the level of concern required to produce the best overall consequences and that required for the actor’s satisfaction aren’t necessarily equivalent . Anti-realism doesn’t allow for any realization that the interests of other people really would warrant consideration even if it wasn’t given.
I think there’s a common misconception that doing volunteer work for a cause is more ‘meaningful’ than making a financial donation but the latter might be even more effective in most cases. First of all, by donating money someone is donating the time and energy that was invested into the acquisition of that money. Secondly, although these things need to be done, there are only so many people needed to hand out food in a homeless shelter, walk dogs for an animal shelter, campaign for Oxfam etc. Money directly provides the resources that the beneficiaries of non-profit organizations need. In addition to donating to (cost-effective) charities, economic activism can include boycotting companies with morally questionable practices and generally sharing resources (good and services) in a gift economy. Diminishing marginal utility justifies redistributive economic policies since resources shared among several people will, other factors being equal, increase more total satisfaction than the same amount consumed by one person alone or a smaller group of people would (and obviously impoverished people gain more from $100 than more affluent people do).
Ricardo’s law of comparative advantage states that an agent has a comparative advantage if they can do or produce something at a lower opportunity cost than anyone else, the cost being the gain from every other good or service that could have been produced or performed instead, this doesn’t mean that someone is the best at producing a product or performing a service, which would be an absolute advantage, and it shows that trade between two parties is more mutually beneficial when they specialize in what they do or produce best in exchange for what they don’t. Since specialization produces greater overall gain than dividing time and energy between different tasks does, it should make an even greater difference if all interested parties were to financially support the work and income of full-time, skilled workers who specialize in social/political activism and community service work than if they were to do such work part time themselves.
I evaluate sex-related issues with the same basic first principle that I evaluate all issues with ( the idea that pleasure is the only intrinsic good and pain is the only intrinsic bad). From this point of view, sexual pleasure has the same inherent value that all pleasure has and I don’t believe that some positive emotions are qualitatively more or less positive than others. The pleasure of the rapist is inherently good but if it’s outweighed by the suffering of the victim then the rape is an overall bad thing, if any other action could produce a greater ratio of pleasure to pain then it isn’t a necessary evil and the rapist should be criticized for disregarding the immediate and long-term harm it causes the victim. I view pornography, prostitution, beastuality, incest, objectification, specific sex acts etc. as good or bad, and they can be both, for the same basic reason.
I think that pure, universal empathy might lead people, in wanting their partners and their partner’s partners to experience happiness, to tolerate any relationships that their partner’s develop with other people. Identifying with their happiness and not viewing their partners possessively, or their partner’s partner’s as competitors, might help to manage feelings of jealousy, if not eliminate them entirely. A ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy might even help in dealing with feelings of insecurity and discrete affairs might work for people who are open to open relationships but with people who aren’t, if they can be relatively certain that their partner’s won’t be harmed. As for adopting multiple partners yourself, although I think that romantic love itself is ‘objectifying’ and I don’t think it has the same moral value that empathy does, I think people should consider entering into sexual or romantic relationships for altruistic reasons if any necessary cost to themselves might be compensated for. It seems to me that, with the right mentality, open relationships might be ideal in maximizing more happiness than monogamous ones since multiple people might benefit from a relationship with one person (and one person might benefit more from multiple relationships than just one) and, diminishing marginal utility being what it is, variety might help to maintain the excitement in any one relationship (on the other hand, someone could argue that there is a more intense intimacy that comes with the exclusivity of monogamy).
If sexual orientation were a choice, I think it would be wise to either choose bi-sexuality, which could increase opportunities for beneficial relationships and encounters or even just fantasy material, or asexuality if one’s sexual desires are frustrated more often than they’re satisfied. Although I don’t see anything fundamentally wrong with sexual promiscuity (casual sex with multiple partners outside of a relationship, not to be associated with polyamory - multiple romantic relationships), I’m not making any claims about whether or not the benefit would compensate for any necessary costs in any specific, real life scenario. If monogamous or sexually conservative behavior has the best overall consequences then it should be preferred.
I think why sex is worth having to begin with is a more important question than whether or not sex and love are connected, which would also cover why they ‘should’ be. I don’t think that sexual pleasure has to be justified by anything other than itself so I don’t see anything necessarily wrong with loveless sex . I think affection is a natural component of uninhibited sexual intimacy (I could argue that sexual attraction itself is a shallow form of love) but I don’t think that sex is only valid as an ‘expression’ of it. Affection is a pleasurable emotion so I’d think that sex with someone you had affection for would necessarily be more satisfying. Although I’d seriously consider an argument for sexual suppression (which I think trying to curb a natural human tendency to sexually objectify others would involve), I don’t see how the very nature of sexual attraction isn’t objectifying since it’s based on the sexual and romantic feelings that another person’s appearance/personality elicit in oneself and not an unconditional identification with their emotional state (I think even platonic attachment can be considered ‘objectifying’ in the same way, even if it’s less conditional than sexual love is). However you define ‘objectification’, I only see it as necessarily wrong if it involves a disregard of another person’s felt well-being. Research shows that focusing on someone’s body makes someone less likely to ascribe agency to the objectified but more likely to ascribe them with a capacity to experience pain, pleasure, desire or sensations (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22059848, http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/11/111110142100.htm ). On one hand, objectified people are more likely to be viewed as incompetent, irresponsible, less intelligent, etc. (unwanted sexual attention has also been associated with eating disorders, lower academic scores, self-harm, in women) but also as having higher moral status and being more deserving of care. The traditional view that objectified women are ‘de-mentalized’ may be partially correct in that their capacity for thinking and self-determination is downplayed but their capacity to feel is highlighted. This might help to explain sexual caricaturization in the media without contradicting the psychological intimacy that sex involves, most people are aroused when their partners express sexual pleasure because they acknowledge and instinctively respond to their mental state.
I think most people would agree that to prioritize the interests of members of your race over members of another race, on the basis of race, is ‘racist’ and violates the idea of racial equality. Even non-aggressive racial separatists and racial nationalists are vilified by the mainstream although nothing about racial pride and racial solidarity, which itself doesn’t necessarily imply separatism (and which I view as having inherent and instrumental value, only because ‘pride’ and love are positive emotions and a sense of belonging can satisfy a human need to identify with groups, http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/03/110304115003.htm, http://psychcentral.com/news/2006/10/23/ethnic-pride-boosts-adolescents-happiness/349.html ), or some kind of racial separatist or nationalist ideology, necessarily contradicts the idea of racial equality. It’s inconsistent for someone to claim that they’re for racial equality if they don’t give equal consideration to humans of all ‘races’, this is true even if they don’t completely disregard the interests of racial out group members. Most people who accept this take for granted that special concern for friends and family members over strangers, kind people over unkind people, country (wo)men over foreigners , humans over non-humans etc., is justified. I don’t see how this isn’t inconsistent, in both scenarios someone is being discriminated against on the basis of not belonging to a favored group or class of people and both positions are fundamentally egocentric because other people are being treated as deserving of concern based on the actor’s personal attachment to them.
Moral impartiality might seem cold (agent relative partiality would probably seem cold to an ideal moral agent who sympathized with all beings equally) but I think moral impartiality is what logically consistent egalitarianism implies. I don’t think this requires ‘liking’ or ‘loving’ all people equally (unless by ‘loving’ you mean e/sympathizing with and not just affection) because it’s the feelings of other people that warrant giving them moral consideration, not your feelings about them.
Like racists, sexists and speciesists, ‘full-blown’ egoists also make an arbitrary distinction between harm/benefit to others and to themselves. The value of an experience stands independently of whose experience it is or any arbitrary characteristic of the being who experiences it. Considering the problem of personal identity, I don’t think the egoist has anymore of a vested interest in what happens to ‘his’ or ‘her’ future self than they do in what happens to anyone else. Two presently existing people separated by space have no access to each other’s private mental states (they would still be separate beings if they were clones with the same DNA, history and personality). Just as neither of them has any direct access to mental states of other presently existing people separated from themselves by space, neither has any access to future states separated from their own by time, our memories only give us the illusion of remaining the same being over time. If an experience and experiencer necessarily involve one another, how is an experiencer at one point in time the same experiencer at another when experience is constantly changing?
More than 46 billion chickens are killed worldwide every year. Chickens are usually either bred and raised directly for their flesh (broilers) or for egg production (layers). Most chickens used for egg production spend their lives in overcrowded sheds filled with tens of thousands of other chickens with no room to move around or perform behaviors that come naturally to them. It’s not uncommon for stressful conditions to induce heart attacks in chickens. Since chickens are viewed by the industry as expendable and veterinary care isn’t cost efficient, ailing chickens go without treatment and the decomposing bodies of dead chickens left in their sheds further contributes to an unsanitary environment. As a means to prevent chickens from pecking at one another (unusual behavior they display only in extremely painful circumstances), factory farms use a hot razor to sever the tips of their beaks. Many layers are so malnourished that their bones break when they’re picked up. When they’re no longer able to lay eggs, they’re typically sent to the slaughterhouse at around a year old (they have a natural lifespan of around 7 years). Since males can’t lay eggs, they are immediately killed at birth, normally by being thrown into a grinding machine, suffocation, being shocked by electrified plates or sent, fully conscious, through macerators. Broilers have slightly more space to move around than layers do, they aren’t shoved into crates but instead live on the ground of barns. Broilers are fattened up, through selective breeding and being given a diet of high fat feed with antibiotics, and grow at a drastically more rapid pace than chickens in the wild do. Since their bodies can’t naturally support the weight, they’re often incapable of walking. Contrary to popular belief, the conditions for ‘free range’ and ‘cage free’ chickens aren’t much better. Legally, the claim that chicken derived products are ‘free range’ only requires a small, narrow opening in a shed housing tens of thousands of chickens which can’t accommodate all of them. ‘Free range’ chickens are ultimately killed in the same way that other factory ‘farmed’ chickens are, being hung upside down while their throats are slit before being scalded in boiling water to remove their feathers.
Cattle are also divided into two groups when it comes to human use, those exploited for milk production and those for their flesh. Worldwide, around 300 million cows are raised for their flesh and around 200 million for milk production (I’m assuming this is limited to cows in organized, modern Western style factory farms). Because bulls behave aggressively in restricted, tight quarters, they are dehorned and castrated without anesthesia. Like the male offspring of chickens used for egg production, male calves are separated from their mothers a few days after birth, in the ‘wild’, they would normally stay with their mothers for around 9-12 months. As fellow mammals, cows have the same maternal-offspring bonding need that human mothers and their small children have (the same is also true for chickens who have an empathetic response to the distress of their chicks). These male calves are restricted to tiny stalls for almost half a year and are fed a low protein/iron diet to prevent their muscles from developing so their flesh (‘veal’) remains soft. This is actually illegal in the E.U and some U.S states. Like chickens, cows are fattened up and made to support more weight than they can, their bones are also brittle and weak as a result of poor nutrition. Cows used for milk production are made to produce 9.5 tonnes of milk a year, after around 4 years of having been milked painfully by machines and constantly separated from their offspring, it’s not uncommon for them to drop dead from exhaustion before being sent to the slaughterhouse. If they can survive that, they are electrically stunned and, like chickens, tied upside down and cut open until they bleed to death. They have a natural lifespan of around 20 years.
Around 1.3 billion pigs are killed worldwide every year. Pigs, who like cats and dogs make affectionate and friendly companions ( although, like chickens, are more intelligent), are kept in tiny, unsanitary cages with chains tied around their necks. Piglets are separated from their mothers at around 3-4 weeks, they require around 13-19 weeks of weaning. Pigs naturally have around 6-8 piglets a year, on factory farms, they’re constantly impregnated and made to have around 20 piglets a year. In frustration, pigs will bite at the tails of other pigs near them, to deal with this, factory farms use metal pliers to clip their teeth and the tips of their tails, without anesthesia. Like other factory ‘farmed’ animals, pigs can literally die from the stress of their lives alone.
Around a month before I became a vegan, when PETA’s ‘Meet Your Meat’ video convinced me to stop eating the flesh of chickens (I had stopped eating ‘red meat’ months earlier), I rationalized my continuing to eat fish and marine invertebrates by claiming that they lacked nervous systems complicated enough to feel pain. I don’t think any modern scientist would take seriously the idea that humans are the only sentient animals on the planet, there’s virtually irrefutable evidence that all mammalian nervous systems (as well as avian nervous systems) are too similar to ours for humans to be the only sensitive, feeling animals, we also have good reason to believe that all vertebrates are sentient and to give the benefit of the doubt to ‘simple’ invertebrates as well. Fish have physiological and behavioral responses that indicate pain and their brains fire neurons in the same way that human brains do when humans feel pain. This isn’t ‘proof’ but it’s evidence. As a pescetarian I claimed that fish can’t feel pain because they lack a neocortex but different species use different brain structures to handle the same functions (even in humans, in cases where an entire hemisphere, or certain regions, of the brain have been removed or impaired, other regions of the brain will compensate). Not only do fish respond as though they feel pain but they actually alter their behavior as a result, they’ll avoid nets if they remember having seen another fish being caught in one, for example. An estimated 90-100 million “tonnes of fish” are killed each year so even more so than chickens, human dietary preferences might victimize fish and other marine creatures more than any other group of animals besides maybe insects. Hundreds of thousands of birds, turtles and marine mammals like dolphins and whales are also killed in fishing nets every year.
Like vertebrates, many invertebrates produce natural opiates and substance P and they show less of a reaction to noxious stimuli when given morphine which suggests that they can feel pain and morphine helps to alleviate that pain. Fruit flies avoid odors they associate with having been electrically shocked and pursue odors they associate with rewards like sugar. Cockroaches who underwent similar differential conditioning trials also associated the smell of peppermint with sugar and vanilla with saline and pursued and avoided both accordingly. Bigger brains do not necessarily indicate a greater capacity for complicated functions. Vertebrate neurons project a single axon whereas invertebrate neurons have several axons that are each capable of functioning independently, I’m not sure how this might relate to sentience but invertebrate neurons aren’t as primitive as we’d assume. The nervous system of every animal on the planet is inherited from a common ancestry. If insects and other ‘primitive’ invertebrates are sentient, then they make up the majority of sentient animals on this planet. The very fact that an ‘organism’ behaves as though they have internal mental states is the most basic evidence for their having internal mental states.
Tens of millions of non-human animals are dissected, gassed, burned, infected, electrocuted, blinded, poisoned etc. by scientists every year, often for almost certainly unnecessary things like testing the safety or effectiveness of cosmetic products or household cleaners. I won’t get into deforestation (and the displacement of ‘wild’ animals by humans), zoos, circuses, commercial pet breeding, poaching etc. There’s also a strong ecological argument for veganism and I won’t get into how surprisingly intelligent non-human animals we exploit for food and other purposes are as well intelligence and non-‘instinctive’ behavior in animals like honeybees, wasps, . I don’t see intelligence as having any direct moral relevance, if a person (being) can suffer or enjoy, then their suffering and happiness should be given the same consideration that any other being’s would. There should be no moral hierarchy.
Although I became a vegan based on the idea that all sentient beings are equal, it wasn’t explicitly on the basis of hedonistic utilitarian reasoning (although I did think that sentience was the only morally relevant criterion), which I would now base any justification for veganism on entirely. A utilitarian argument for prescribed animal rights would have to concede that factory farming, vivisection, and other harmful exploitation of non-human animals can be theoretically justified but not giving non-human interests the same equal consideration we would give human interests isn’t even hypothetically justifiable. Giving all animals equal consideration means that if causing a great deal of suffering to humans (or depriving them of happiness) was the only way to prevent a greater amount of suffering in non-human animals or produce a greater amount of pleasure for them, the utilitarian actor would be just as willing. If they aren’t then they aren’t giving non-humans equal consideration. The cost of factory farming clearly outweighs the benefit, the minor pleasure that affluent people who can afford a healthier plant based diet gain from eating the body or bodily products of factory farmed animals doesn’t compensate for the unimaginable, constant agony of the victims. Affluent humans don’t need to eat meat for their well-being. It’s easier to take a utilitarian argument for vivisection more seriously when you consider how much suffering a cure for AIDS, cancer and other medical illnesses could alleviate but there’s no direct reason to prefer that the victims be non-human (if vivisection is a necessary evil to begin with). Humans might live in fear if they knew they could be abducted and used for experimentation but that could be dealt with by using orphaned infants (or some severely mentally retarded adults), very altruistic volunteers or prisoners, not because the suffering of these humans would count for less but because the general population could assure themselves that it won’t happen to them or their loved ones as long as they avoid committing serious crimes. Results from experimentation carried out on humans would be more applicable which would make the pain caused less likely to have been for nothing. Animal rights theorists who take a deontological stance against animal testing but view the killing of non-human animals for food in times of famine should be consistent. Also unlike deontological animal ‘rights’ supporters, I no longer see the exploitation (‘use’) of humans or non-humans as necessarily bad if the exploited are neither harmed or deprived of happiness.
Easily refuted arguments against veganism include “animals have no moral code and kill other animals, ” (infants and some retarded humans can’t morally reason either, and some humans also kill other animals, but moral consideration doesn’t have to be earned and it can’t be forfeited, veganism only requires that humans have a moral code, never mind that most non-humans kill to survive and the ones we eat are primarily herbivorous), “what about plants” (I don’t think there’s any evidence for a unified plant sentience, even though I believe individual plant cells are sentient, either way we need plant food to survive, we don’t need animal flesh. Plants being sentient justifies caring about plants, it doesn’t justify not caring about animals and non-human animals on factory farms aren’t just killed but brutally tortured for months and years prior to their deaths, a plant based diet causes less suffering regardless. More plant food is harvested for the production of meat than for it’s own sake so if plants are sentient, a vegan diet is ironically more plant friendly than an omnivorous one), “animals die in the production of agriculture, everything from ink to roads and things which are virtually unavoidable contain animal products or are the result of exploiting non-human animals” (this is true but causing some pain is unavoidable in life, it’s better to cause less suffering than more), “animals don’t have souls and/or are less intelligent than humans” (either an animal can experience some degree of pleasure/pain or they can’t, how intelligent they are is irrelevant to that and if a ‘soul’ is anything other than a feeling ‘mind’, which we do have reason to believe animals have, I don’t see why it matters. I also don’t accept the idea of qualitatively higher forms of pleasure felt by humans or human like animals alone, ‘higher/lower, more/less’ are concepts that apply to quantity), “eating meat is natural” ( we are apart of nature so everything we do is ‘natural’, even if it isn’t, ‘natural’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘good’ and we already live unnatural lives compared to our hunting-gathering ancestors) etc.
Preference utilitarians typically argue that most non-human animals should not be considered as ‘persons’ because they lack ‘self-awareness’ ; a(n illusory) concept of being the same being who exists over extended periods of time, they don’t have an interest in continuing to live because their desires are moment to moment and they can’t conceive of their lives in an abstract way having no concept of the past or the future. It may (or may not) be true that most non-human animals do not have extended future oriented desires if most non-human animals lack ’self-awareness’ and the episodic memory it requires but I view desire and (non-felt) desire fulfillment as being of neutral value. You can’t practically produce meat, dairy or eggs for millions of consumers without causing pain to the animals these products come from, I think most preference utilitarians would admit to this, but even if we could painlessly kill pigs for food, if pigs enjoy their lives then their deaths would deprive them of something beneficial, whether or not they have a future oriented desire for what they’re being deprived of or can appreciate it in the same abstract way we can has nothing to do with the value of what they are being deprived of. It’s also been pointed out that the happiness of a being can be ‘replaced’ by bringing another equally happy being into existence but if killing someone isn’t needed to bring more equally happy or happier beings into existence, there would be more well-being in the world than there would otherwise have been if you did so without killing anyone. Desire is consciously felt, if the realization or thwarting of a desire isn’t consciously felt, which would be pleasing or distressing and good or bad on that basis, in what meaningful way has that desire been satisfied or frustrated? (Edit :I wrote this before I became a pan-psychist and I’m not sure what the implications of pan-psychism are when it comes to painlessly killing a being but either way I don’t think a fundamental speciesist distinction between killing humans and non-human animals is justified. I still think any justification for or against should be hedonistic and uncertainty about what is experienced after death could be one argument against painlessly killing any animal who would probably have led an overall happy life-as an animal. It may be that because the neurons of our nervous system feel in unity, we as animals have quantitatively richer experiences of happiness than individual molecules, atoms and elementary particles do or it may be that killing a being harms the cells or surviving inorganic molecules of their body even if no pain is caused to the compound individual ).
Leaving aside the issue of whether or not discrimination against men is as serious of a problem as sexism toward women is, consistent egalitarians have to concede that female interests matter no more or less than male interests do and neither deserves any more or less consideration than the other. Discrimination against men ‘would’ be as unjustified as discrimination against women is, hypothetically speaking, even if it doesn’t exist in practice. By discrimination, I don’t just mean legal, systematized discrimination against men as a group but ‘casual’ gender based discrimination carried out by individuals (with no particular institutional power) against other individuals. If sexism, like racism, is restricted to legal, systemic discrimination then the overwhelming majority of acts that we consider to be sexist and racist are disqualified.
It’s often argued that “if you’re for gender equality, then you’re a feminist”. ‘Feminism’, by definition, is (properly) concerned with female rights and female interests. Claiming that anyone who supports gender equality is a ‘feminist’ is as meaningful as claiming that the United Nations is a pro-Black organization, egalitarians are just as concerned with male rights and male interests as they are with female interests which makes them ‘masculinists’ as well as ‘feminists’. This is true regardless of whether or not men are lacking in rights, privileged or disadvantaged or discriminated against. As for whether or not men, as a ‘group’, are privileged there’s actually some evidence to suggest that men are disadvantaged in many regards :
Unsheltered Homeless (2009) 
Women – 12,000 – 4%
Men – 240,000 – 96%
Life Expectancy (2006) 
Women – 80.8 Years
Men – 75.7 Years
Suicides (2008) 
Women – 7,585 - 19%
Men – 28,450 - 81%
Deaths by Homicide (2004) 
Women – 3,856 – 20%
Men – 14,717 – 80%
Deaths from Cancer (2004) 
Women – 269,819
Men – 290,069
Deaths from HIV/AIDS (2004) 
Women – 3,357
Men – 8,756
Federal Funds for Sex Specific Cancer Research 
Women – Breast Cancer – $631,000,000 - 40,000 Deaths
Men – Prostate Cancer – $300,000,000 - 33,000 Deaths
Deaths on the Job (2010) 
Women – 355 - 7%
Men – 4,192 - 93%
Injuries on the Job (2007) 
Women – 36%
Men – 64%
College Enrollment (2009) 
Women – 58% - 11,658,000
Men – 42% - 8,770,000
Affirmative Action Education Programs (Gender Specific) 
Women – Yes
Men – No
Unemployment Rates (2010) 
Women – 8.6% – 6,199,000
Men – 10.5% - 8,626,000
Average Hours Worked Per Week (2010) 
Women – 36.1
Men – 40.2
High School Graduation Rates (2005) 
Women – 72%
Men – 65%
Incarceration Rates (2009) 
Women – 114,979 - 7%
Men – 1,502,49 - 93%
Child Custody Rates 
Women – 11,268,000 custodial mothers
Men – 2,907,000 custodial fathers
US Military Deaths From 1950 – 2010 
Women – 139 - 0.001%
Men – 100,063 - 99.99%
Federally Funded Battered Shelters 
Women – 2,000+ $300,000,000 per year
Men – None – $0
Federally Funded Health Offices and Research 1970 – Present (not including cancer research) 
Women Only – Office, Projects and Programs 70+ – Funds – $100,000,000,000
Men Only – None – $0
Forced Selective Service
Women – No
Men – Yes
Drug and Alcohol Addiction and Abuse Rates (2010) 
Women – 5.8%
Men – 12.2%
All of this is not necessarily the result of anti-male discrimination, there could be a number of cultural and biological factors involved that don’t necessarily stem from negative bias against men (the same is true of the claim that women generally earn less than men, which isn’t actually true for American women under the age of 30 who earn 8% more than their male counterparts do, http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704415104576250672504707048.html ). In addition to this, studies show that while male infants fuss and cry more often than baby girls do, baby girls are more likely to be nurtured and comforted, female teachers are more likely to grade boys less than female students (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/education/education-news/female-teachers-accused-of-giving-boys-lower-marks-6943937.html), the claim that 1 in 4 women has or will be be raped has been repeatedly debunked (http://aspiringeconomist.com/index.php/2009/09/11/rape-statistics-1-in-4/, http://falserapesociety.blogspot.ca/2011/02/one-in-four-lie-demolished-once-and-for.html), almost half of British domestic violence victims are male (http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2010/sep/05/men-victims-domestic-violence, http://www.oregoncounseling.org/Handouts/DomesticViolenceMen.htm), men and women self-report being victims of domestic violence at similar rates (http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/jun/07/feminism-domestic-violence-men) and one University of Florida study (http://news.ufl.edu/2006/07/13/women-attackers/) showed that while women were more likely to be psychologically abused, stalked and attacked they were also more likely to perpetrate these crimes. Men also tend to receive more prison time for the same crimes ( http://www.amptoons.com/blog/2006/09/12/prison-sentencing-study-whites-women-non-poor-and-us-citizens-are-given-lighter-sentences/, http://feck-blog.blogspot.ca/2012/03/do-you-receive-lighter-prison-sentence.html). Even were it not for this, I have difficulty taking seriously the idea that being male is a necessary advantage in how well off every single male on the planet is, in terms of their general life satisfaction or in any specific scenario, and women, like people of color, necessarily lack the ‘power’ to discriminate against other people because although they can carry out the exact same actions, those actions lack the ‘social/historical context’ necessary to qualify them as acts of sexism or racism, despite being just as harmful. Part of the reason why I disagree with the concept of an absolute and universal male privilege is because it’s overly abstract, it treats ‘society’ as something above and beyond individual interactions. Anti-female sexists (who can be either gender) act on behalf of patriarchy, the ‘system’, but anti-male discrimination (which can also be carried out by either sex in subtle ways that are completely normalized) are isolated incidents that don’t “warrant” whatever distress they may cause and are invalidated because it’s assumed that they don’t represent widespread social problems, because they don’t harm men to the same extent or as often as women are harmed by similar discrimination or because they’re the result of patriarchy and thus something that men, as a group, bring on themselves.
Violence against men is completely normalized in a way that would be more shocking if the victims were women. There is probably an evolutionary basis in wanting to protect women and children from serious harm, ‘the women and children first’ mentality as well as chivalry and the fact that men are traditionally expected to protect and provide for women supports this, despite the fact that agrarian societies have traditionally denied women and children social and political equality. Whether this stems from a ‘nuanced’ patriarchal concern for men’s ‘property’ or not, it’s not a privilege for men. The argument for the idea that hitting men is morally worse than hitting women is usually that men are stronger than women are but all men are not stronger than all women and I can’t see why a man’s hitting an equally or stronger woman (or even a weaker woman with a weapon) would be worse than his hitting a weaker male on the basis that most of the members of his sex are weaker than most of the members of her sex. Even if all men were stronger than all women are, being hit by someone you’re less capable of defending yourself against might make an assault even more psychologically harmful than it would have otherwise been but the difference between harming someone to some extent and harming someone to a greater extent is a difference in degree, not kind, I don’t see why gender or strength have any direct moral relevance. Women and other men can and do assault men, with and without weapons, and it usually isn’t considered as ‘taboo’, it’s not as often regarded as ‘tacky’ or ‘cowardly’ even if it causes the same level of harm that a male on female assault would. It’s wrongly assumed that regarding the two as equally bad trivializes one as opposed to simply thinking that the other deserves as much concern.
Violent retribution against a male rapist or murderer would typically not trigger the same negative emotional response that a similar action against a female perpetrator of the same crime would, even from people who would view the act as barbaric and wrong. Far more people would consider the male to be deserving of such punishment in a way that they would not if vengeance was carried out against a woman who committed crimes of a similar magnitude. Both men and women seem more comfortable with the suffering and death of men than with the suffering and death of women and you can see this throughout the media, in movies, video games, . While 1 in 10 Americans arrested for murder is female, only 1 in 97 executed are.
There are many double standards that disadvantage men. The objectification of men is normally a non-issue for people who take issue with the objectification of women (what people mean by ‘objectification’ varies and I don’t think it’s necessarily harmful, I would also argue that sexual and romantic attraction is necessarily ‘objectifying’ in that it’s a conditional response to physical or psychological traits that make someone sexually appealing but don’t represent the entirety of who they are and it doesn’t stem from any sympathetic ‘fellow feeling’). Women objectify men for traits, or social status, that indicate an ability to protect and provide for them as well as for their appearance and characteristics that indicate fertility, some women also evaluate, rank and compare men based on their appeal to them, feel a sense of entitlement to men or expect men to adjust themselves to fit their needs and desires, men are also burdened by not measuring up to the ideal mate that women or gay men want etc., the reverse is also true but when it is it seems that there’s a socially credible voice for these concerns. Male circumcision is widely accepted whereas Westerners rightly reject female circumcision (whether or not one is more harmful than the other, in terms of long-term effects and not just the more immediate and usually completely unnecessary torment that both cause, altering a child’s genitalia for cultural and religious reasons is fundamentally the same concept). Both positive stereotyping of women (ie. women being kinder, more empathetic, wiser, generally more sensible,) and negative stereotyping of men are more or less acceptable, I won’t go on or into detail. Condoning or promoting gender based double standards that disadvantage men as a means of correcting patriarchy or ‘making up for the past’ violates the same principle that ‘liberals’ use to justify it.
Democracy is obviously preferable in practice but I don’t think it’s necessarily ideal in theory. In theory, I wouldn’t necessarily prefer a democracy over a ‘benevolent dictatorship’ if the latter could be maintained without unnecessary force and had the best interests of the community as a whole in mind. The policies that a government should implement are the ones with the best overall consequences, who has a say in that decision making process isn’t inherently important. A decision doesn’t become rational (or good, even if it is rationally thought out) just because it’s supported by the majority. Children and minors who are old enough to have meaningful political opinions are excluded from the democratic process and often denied autonomy on the basis that they aren’t as capable of making rational decisions but I don’t see why adults should assume, on deontological grounds, that these rights should naturally come with adulthood when all adults are not equally as capable of rational decision making. In an admittedly far fetched theoretical scenario when a benevolent dictatorship could be justified, the members of this government, or single ruler, should have no higher social status than anyone else. Governing would just be a job like any other.
While I don’t see democracy as necessarily being theoretically ideal, I think I would see a one world government as being ideal, at least to the extent that governments are necessary to begin with. The purpose of a government, in my opinion, should be to protect the interests of it’s citizens (police protection, social welfare programs, public services, ) and nothing more. Since utilitarianism is necessarily egalitarian in terms of giving the same *consideration* to all beings, I don’t see a justification for the U.S government prioritizing the interests of U.S Americans over Mexicans or the South African government prioritizing the interests of South Africans over Tanzanians etc. In practice, attempting to abolish all borders or establish a one world government any time soon might have very bad overall consequences. Although non-human animals can never really participate in human society, any one world government with a humanitarian, if not explicitly utilitarian, agenda should consider their interests as well (as well as the interests of beings from other planets). Non-human animals should have legal rights that would protect them, to the extent that they could be enforced, from torture, rape (commercial breeding), unjustified killing, encroachment of their habitat, and this government should also invest resources into generally improving their standard of living.
Not surprisingly, I also think that utilitarian reasoning has to ideally favor communism (the stateless, classless egalitarian society that Marx envisioned as the end-goal of socialism but not Marxist theory) even though there’s a strong utilitarian argument against ‘communism’ (state socialism) in practice, given it’s track record and human ‘nature’. Regulated capitalism might be the best system in practice but the communist ideal of redistributing resources according to need rather than merit or luck fits in perfectly with the egalitarian nature of utilitarianism. I don’t think strict economic equality has any value, a society where half the people were affluent and the other half were poor would probably be better than one where everyone was equally poor but a utilitarian justification for capitalism or economic inequality can not take into account the idea of natural property rights or that some people are more deserving of resources. Utilitarianism can justify inequal treatment but not inequal consideration.
I initially became pro-choice on the basis of autonomy and individual rights but now I’m only directly concerned with the happiness and suffering that’s directly or indirectly caused or prevented by an abortion in a particular scenario or it’s legal status. The following factors in to whether or not I think an abortion, or legalizing abortion, is justified :
*the distress of pregnancy and child labour
*the distress of women incarcerated for having abortions or miscarriages that are suspected as abortions if abortion becomes/remains illegal (depending on where in the world you live)
*the distress caused by back alley abortions and loss of happiness in cases when a botched abortion leads to death
*the happiness the fetus, as a potential being, would feel if not for having been aborted as well as the suffering that will be prevented if it is
*The effect an abortion will have on the father, whether or not he would view it as a loss or resent not having a say in the decision as well as the costs of unwanted fatherhood
* The distress of anyone aware of the abortion who disagrees with the decision and views it as having been wrong or even women themselves who regret the decision and come to view it as having been wrong
When I mention the resentment or offense of the father or anyone else who might view abortion as unjustified, I’m not trying to imply that their view is correct, that women have a ‘duty’ or ‘obligation’ to reproduce or that other people rightfully have a say in what pregnant women do with their bodies but my concern is with the consequences of a decision and not directly with autonomy, rights or ‘justice’ so the pleasure and pain of everyone affected by a decision factors equally in to whether or not I think it was an overall good or bad decision to have made. Even an overall good decision isn’t necessarily the best available option. The emotional response that pro-lifers have to abortion would probably change if they could be persuaded to analyze moral issues solely in terms of the emotional well-being an action causes or minimizes. Also, while I don’t view the fetus (prior to around 24 weeks when it’s probably incapable of feeling pain) as a ‘person’ or as having a natural right to be carried to term, I no longer make a distinction between the future happiness that a potential sentient being would feel if brought into existence and the happiness that an existing being would feel if allowed to continue living, both hold equal weight (nor do I make a distinction between causing pain or loss of happiness and allowing it). Besides global warming, scarcity of resources and all of the problems that can come with a larger population, creating more sentient beings comes with a price that allowing existing beings to continue living does not = pregnancy, child birth and, to some extent, parenting itself, never mind the fear most humans would have if they knew they might be killed, even painlessly in their sleep, as a means of lowering the population.
As for ‘after-birth abortions’ (infanticide), the costs of unwanted parenting, a larger population, growing up in a group home as an orphan, the tax money used to support group homes and any possible genetic medical conditions or specific reason to believe the child would have an overall painful life would factor into my thinking it was justified, if ever. Unlike preference utilitarians, I view the infant and any being capable of emotion as a ‘person’ regardless of whether or not they’re ‘self-aware’ and what the infant would lose if killed warrants the same consideration as anyone else’s interests would. It’s sometimes said that preference-utilitarianism captures the ‘tragedy’ of death (for a forward thinking, ‘self-aware’ being with a long-term desire to continue existing) better than hedonistic utilitarianism does. I see non-felt preference frustration as immaterial but if pleasure and pain are symmetrical in value then maximizing happiness is no more or less desirable than minimizing suffering, preventing X amount of happiness is just as morally wrong as causing an equivalent amount of pain. I think that actually being dead (unconscious) is of neutral value but we should want sentient beings to experience happiness as much as we should want them to be free from suffering. Painlessly killing someone would not harm them but if they would have had a life worth living, it would wrong them.
Since people are normally happier when they have control over their own bodies and the option of when to start a family, if they do, as well as the problem of back alley abortions, legal punishment (which is always ‘evil’, justified or not), I’m pro-choice since I believe forcing women to endure unwanted pregnancies would have overall bad consequences, almost in the same way that forcing men to donate their organs for the benefit of others would. Considering global warming and the number of women throughout the world who aren’t in a position to care for their children, abortion might be a good idea in many scenarios. The basis for my argument can be used to justify opposing abortion in some theoretically possible scenarios (since my concern is always with the consequences and not the act itself) but I don’t see a fundamental difference between abortion and any other form of birth control, including abstinence.
When the necessary costs of creating more sentient beings are compensated for by the benefit, I think it would be good do so (in practice, anti-natalism might be the best position). The number of people who experience happiness isn’t directly important to me, if universe A has 100 people who experience a single point of pleasure each and universe B has 10 people who experience 20 points of pleasure each, I think universe B, which has more felt happiness, is preferable to universe A which has a greater number of happy people. Still, in ideal circumstances, I think it would always be preferable to create even more sentient beings and the best possible universe would be one where the maximum possible number of beings each experienced the greatest possible amount of happiness an individual could be capable of for as long as is possible. If snapping my fingers would create an extremely happy sentient being who will not have a carbon footprint, not consume resources, not be a bully, rapist or murderer, not eat factory farmed meat or purchase products tested on animals or in any way directly or indirectly, intentionally or unintentionally, wrong others, in other words, if there was no cost to their existence, I think it would be wrong for me not to do so. To be consistent, a high enough amount of aggregated happiness caused as a result of creating these beings could compensate for the cost of my spending all of my free time bringing them into existence but, in real life, spending all of your reproductive years having and raising children probably would not.
My hope is that future generations of humans will be genetically engineered with a strong disposition toward compassion, emotional resilience and cheerfulness, as well as stronger immune systems, increased lifespans and genius level intelligence, genetic engineering could eliminate sadism, anti-social behavior, moral apathy and primarily lifestyle based diseases and mental illness as well as genetic disorders. If suffering itself wouldn’t be entirely abolished, future humans might still have a drastically higher standard of living than the most well off people today. Alternatively, future humans could abandon biological reproduction and focus on designing compassionate, happy A.I who will multiply and colonize other planets if humans don’t. As for non-human animals, I think carnivores should be genetically ‘reprogrammed’ as herbivores or sterilized if this isn’t possible. To deal with the overpopulation this might cause, herbivores could be ‘reprogrammed’ to have fewer offspring. Starvation in the wild might be handled by enabling animals to digest all plant material and they could be genetically redesigned in the same ways that would benefit humans, to be more resistant to disease, less aggressive, less anxious and fearful, more altruistic and affectionate, maybe even with increased intelligence.
(Edit : I wrote this before I became a pan-psychist but the basic rationale for why I think people should or shouldn’t reproduce is the same and I don’t know whether or not individual molecules, atoms or elementary particles have experience that is as -quantitatively- rich as that of any macroscopic compound being humans could bring into the world. I no longer think A.I is actually possible)
Utilitarianism is sometimes charged with disregarding the ‘separateness of persons’ (it doesn’t, it only claims that the interests of separate people are commensurable ) but considering the apparent interconnectedness of everything in nature, utilitarians might be justified in doing so. The atoms of the neurons in any sentient animal’s nervous system are constantly replacing or being replaced by atoms from the water they drink, the food they eat, the air they breath and the other animals they interact with. Truly isolated systems do not appear to exist in nature. I think this, along with the problem of personal identity across time, undermines egoism as an ethical theory.
From the little I understand about Bell’s Theorem (and I don’t understand or know a lot about quantum physics so I could be completely off), in a quantum system where two electrons interact but are separated by great distance, the wave function is either symmetric or anti-symmetric and as a result the wave function of a quantum system can never have a separate form and can only be considered as an undivided whole. Once connected, objects affect one another no matter where they are. Physical objects attract because they share basic properties, the very nature of matter is social.
As for psychological hedonism, I think it may seem to psychological hedonists that (our own) pleasure is the only thing we’re capable of desiring only because the satisfaction of desire is pleasurable. Research in neuroscience shows separate brain circuitry for wanting and liking and the two don’t always correspond, as well as altruism stemming from regions of the brain associated with recognizing mind in others instead of reward centers. I don’t think affective empathy is ‘selfless’, though, since one has to use their own personal experience of happiness and suffering as a reference for why any one else’s emotional state is worth caring about.
Although I don’t consider myself to be a utilitarian (beyond just intellectual agreement and in terms of being an ethical person and acting on utilitarian reasoning), I think utilitarianism (and more specifically, hedonistic utilitarianism as opposed to preference utilitarianism, act utilitarianism as opposed to rule utilitarianism and total utilitarianism as opposed to average utilitarianism) is misunderstood as being harsh and uncaring at least partly because we aren’t adapted to grasp, imagine or empathize with the compensating benefit accrued as a result of utilitarian decisions in the often purely hypothetical scenarios when utilitarianism justifies causing harm. In the scenarios where utilitarianism justifies the harmless, non-experienced frustration of preference, I think utilitarianism might seem cold because people project distress where none is felt. To clarify, by (total) hedonistic (act-) utilitarianism I mean the view that the morally right decision(s) in any given scenario is (are) the one(s) that will lead to the greatest possible balance of happiness over suffering.
The biggest problem I have always had with utilitarianism is the idea that the pleasure and pain of separate people can be aggregated in any meaningful way since there are no super-minds who experience the collective pleasure of two or more people. If aggregation does makes sense, I would currently argue, we can justify a direct concern for others because the well-being of separate people is objectively commensurable. If aggregation does not make sense then altruism, which isn’t derived from enlightened self-interest, would seem to be misguided and I’d think that egoism would be the desirable ethical theory. Pleasure and pain would only be good and bad *for* individuals (I think this is like claiming that something is true ‘for’ someone but not true in itself or universally just because it’s not known universally) and you’d have no basis for arguing against rape, murder, genocide etc. beyond personal preference. I’ve gone back and forth on whether or not pleasure and pain can be aggregated, I currently believe that it can be, my previous argument was that consciousness does not exist in objective reality but I would argue now that consciousness is ‘objectively’ (factually) real despite the fact that no one has direct access to anyone else’s consciousness. Regardless of personal interpretation, preference or opinion, objective reality is what really is true ontologically. Whether or not an organism is conscious is true or not true, even if they alone can empirically observe their own consciousness it’s just as real as anyone else’s. An organism’s pleasure/pain doesn’t exist ‘for’ them and it isn’t good and bad ‘for’ them. If pleasure and pain felt by different people who are separated by space can’t be aggregated then neither can pleasure or pain separated by time but felt by a single person (and the idea of a permanent and unchanging mind is a problem in itself).
If aggregation is possible, then utilitarianism justifies causing one person to experience 50 points of stress in order to prevent 100 people from each experiencing a single point of stress if no other possible option would lead to a greater balance of happiness over suffering (I’ve questioned aggregation in the past but not the idea that pleasure and pain are measurable, not realizing that one necessarily implies the other, there’s a clear difference in degree between the pain caused by stubbing your toe and the pain caused when a loved one dies or from having a serious illness, in the future, neuroscientists might be able to measure the observable brain activity that corresponds with emotional states at any given time precisely ). We can more easily imagine and empathize with the 50 points of suffering felt by a single individual than a point felt by 100 separate people each. We may not be adapted to empathize with large, entire groups (just like we’re not adapted to empathize equally with strangers as well as friends and family members, racial and ethnic out-group members and in-group members, cruel people and innocent people, ) research has shown that we’re not capable of grasping very large numbers in a concrete or meaningful way which might help to explain why people sometimes view large groups who are victimized by genocide, poverty, natural disasters and other hardships as faceless statistics. It might help to imagine feeling a single point of stress 100 times as opposed to 50 points at once but you have the same problem that becomes worse when the number rises. What most people are imagining as the collective 100 points of pain can’t compare to the individual’s 50 points of pain because they’re only imagining what they think the collective 100 points would be. Since 100 is greater than 50, the 100 has to be worse and ‘should’ provoke a greater empathetic response (it’s also worth noting that utilitarianism could justify causing 50 individuals to experience a single point of pain if doing so was the only way to prevent one individual from experiencing 100 points of pain so utilitarianism doesn’t necessarily imply that group interests outweigh the interests of ‘the individual’, although more people would be harmed than would benefit, the harm minimized would outweigh the harm caused). I made a similar point when I rejected negative utilitarianism in favor of pleasure and pain being symmetrical in value, the idea of causing the worst imaginable pain to someone if it was the only way to increase a theoretical greater amount of pleasure is harsh because animals are adapted to feel pain more easily than pleasure so what we might think of as an amount of pleasure equivalent to the worst imaginable pain actually isn’t.
When doing X will cause John to feel 100 points of pain and 1000 other people to feel 10 points of pleasure but Y will cause the same collective 10 000 points of pleasure with no or less cost to John or anyone else, the stereotypical utilitarian has no preference one way or the other as long as the pleasure accrued outweighs the pain caused (and it usually doesn’t), even though utilitarianism can only justify the decision that leads to the greatest possible balance of happiness over suffering, which is Y. The stereotypical utilitarian almost never exhausts every other possible option before jumping to conclusions and assuming that sacrificing other people’s interests (never his own) is necessary. H.U can only justify harming others or depriving them of happiness if 1) the pleasure or pain increased or decreased for the beneficiaries is greater, in terms of both intensity and duration, than the pain or pleasure increased or decreased for the victims (10 points of pleasure for 15 minutes would be equivalent to 5 points of pain for half an hour) and, 2) that doing so is the only possible way to achieve the same (or a greater) balance of happiness over suffering (typical examples of atrocities that utilitarianism can supposedly justify are often things like burning someone at the stake to amuse a large crowd of people where the pleasure derived is a direct result of lacking empathy for others, it’s pointless to use these as examples of the evil that utilitarianism can justify since a consistent utilitarian, sans cognitive dissonance, would care about the well-being of all others, no exceptions, which would be the basis for factoring their well-being into moral decisions to begin with, and a utilitarian would have a vested interest in discouraging sadistic or cruel tendencies in others). If there’s any other available option besides something like war or vivisection that will cause a greater benefit-cost ratio, then it wouldn’t be a ‘necessary’ evil. Even when doing so would be a necessary evil, it’s not something that a utilitarian who is concerned with making the world a better place would have a casual or indifferent attitude to, it would still be an ‘evil’, necessary or not.
Utilitarianism is also sometimes accused of viewing persons as ‘containers’ for pleasure/pain and having no importance beyond that but I think this is a meaningless criticism if an experience necessarily involves an experiencer and vice versa. Differences in personality have no inherent importance, but why should they anymore than differences in sex, race, ethnicity, species, ? Someone with an overall bad existence isn’t a ‘bad person’ but someone with a better overall existence is better off. It doesn’t benefit someone just to exist. I don’t see how people can be ‘containers’ for pleasure because ‘pleasure’ is just the emotional well being of people. Utilitarianism is portrayed as being impersonal but (universal) empathy (which I distinguish from emotional attachment) is the basis for utilitarian judgements . If (affective) ‘empathy/sympathy/compassion’ is concern for the happiness and suffering of other people then it is good for people to be empathetic because everyone’s happiness and suffering is equally worth caring about, if positive and negative emotional states had no value, what moral value would empathy have? If anything else is meant by the terms, I don’t see why it would be virtuous. Even though I think a world of happy sadists would be better than one of miserable philanthropists, none of those sadists could be utilitarians since utilitarians are concerned with the total well being and not their own interests alone and, in practice, a world where moral agents are utilitarians instead of egoists is necessarily better since the best way to ensure that moral agents are more likely to behave in a way that maximizes pleasure/minimizes pain is if doing so is their conscious (and sole) objective.
Although not necessarily about it’s ‘callousness’, another argument against utilitarianism is that calculating what will result in the greatest balance of happiness-suffering is impractical since no one can predict with certainty what the consequences of their decision will be but people already take consequences into account when making everyday decisions and the fact that determining consequences is difficult isn’t an argument for their not mattering. If someone has to defuse a bomb without knowing which wire to cut, no one would argue about the impracticality of basing their decision on preventing the bomb’s detonation, without a specific reason to believe that an action will have particular consequences, the actor can refer to a general rule or intuition but good and bad consequences are worth at least trying to bring about or prevent.
I think it can be justified or discouraged on a consequentialist basis
1) I don’t agree with any racialist or ‘ethnocentric’ ideology that justifies disregarding the interests of out-group members on the basis of morally irrelevant characteristics like race, ethnicity, species etc. I think giving greater consideration to the happiness and suffering of in-group members over out-group members is morally wrong but I also think of compassion/sympathy and emotional attachment as two different forms of ‘love’ and I don’t see any moral value in the latter. As long as people give the pleasure and pain of out-group members the same equal consideration they would give their own, I see nothing wrong with their preferring to socialize or generally identify with people who they perceive as being similar (in terms of race, ethnicity, personality, lifestyle, ). It’s interesting to note that Frederick Douglass married the (White) daughter of abolitionists who opposed her interracial marriage to a Black man despite their being anti-slavery. Peter Singer argued in ‘Animal Liberation’ that one doesn’t have to love non-human animals in any ‘sentimental’ or personal way in order to recognize that their interests deserve serious moral consideration, I don’t see how you can can personally relate to someone’s experience of happiness or suffering without relating to the experiencer of that pleasure or pain, the one who is benefited or harmed by their state of mind, and there’s no ‘logical’ or duty based reason to do so, but the basic idea can be applied to (for example) Whites who relate to Blacks on a basic moral level but don’t feel they have much in common with them beyond that and are still for racial equality and opposed to discrimination.
2) I don’t agree with any kind of deontological racialist or ethnocentric world view. I don’t believe that people have a duty to preserve their ‘race’ or culture, to remain ‘loyal’ to their group etc. for it’s own sake. People who adopt a racialist or ethnocentric worldview or live in a racially or ethnically homogenous society, may experience reduced racial or ethnic tension (obviously), a greater feeling of belonging, a stronger identity, more security, more ‘pride’ etc. On the other hand, if people are (for direct or indirect reasons) happier marrying inter-racially, living in ethnically diverse societies, identifying as ‘just human’ etc. then they should do so. American Jim Crow society was far from ‘separate but equal’ but it could have been, in theory, the primary problem was that it was legally enforced and facilities reserved for Blacks and Whites weren’t actually equal. Both race and ethnicity are almost always among many factors that play a role in how humans view, treat and relate to other humans (ethnic differences can exacerbate conflict and tension that isn’t directly ethnicity related, even when none of the involved are ‘consciously’ prejudiced in any way) and countless studies have shown a relationship between ethnicity, in/out-group status and empathy (http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/04/100426182002.htm, http://conservationfinance.wordpress.com/2006/09/13/discrimination-and-ethnic-nepotism/ , http://www.scienceandreligiontoday.com/2010/04/28/empathy-and-racial identity/ , http://bogs.discovermagazine.com/notrocketscience/2011/01/11/no-love-for-outsiders-oxytcoin-boosts-favouritism-towards-our-own-ethnic-or-cultural-group/ , ). Some of these studies have also shown that altruism tends to be higher in more ethnically homogenous societies (Frank Salter’s On Genetic Interests, pg. 146), that crime is higher in ethnically heterogeneous societies and that people in ethnically homogenous environments self-report higher levels of happiness. If it is true that humans have a genetic disposition to kin based altruism and, by extension, ethnic nepotism (since members of the same ethnic group tend to be as related as distant cousins, http://psychcentral.com/news/archives/2005-10/cdri-lto103105.html , and self-identified race does more or less corresponds with genetic clustering ), which could explain why most military conflicts are within countries and ethnically based, there may be some circumstances when peaceful separation should be considered a valid possible solution to inter-group tension.
It’s hypocritical for people to (rightfully) ‘complain’ about discrimination against overweight women yet turn around and claim that “skinny bitches are evil” or “real women have curves or meat on their bones”. This is one aspect of what people consider to be ‘liberalism’ that I disagree with, giving less consideration to people based on their perceived social status (although equal consideration doesn’t necessarily imply identical treatment, characteristics that traditionally indicate social privilege may have little to no benefit when it comes to someone’s emotional state at any given moment, especially if they’re the basis for ‘reverse’ discrimination). Yes, overweight women are more likely to suffer from body image problems and they’re more likely to be discriminated against and I’m not trying to undermine that but if a thin woman is made to feel unattractive, humiliated or inadequate when she’s discriminated against or taunted for being thin, you can’t invalidate how she actually has been affected based on the statistical likeliness of her feeling that way or by using some arbitrary social standard to judge when someone’s distress ‘warrants’ care. Discrimination against men is as wrong as discrimination against women, discrimination against Whites is as wrong as discrimination against people of color, discrimination against conventionally attractive people is as wrong as discrimination against conventionally unattractive people etc.
If everyone cheated on their partner, they could have the benefits of an open/polyamorous relationship (which could include strengthening the primary relationship by preventing sexual boredom) without the cost of causing their partner to feel jealous or insecure, assuming that they can manage to prevent their partner from ever suspecting anything (which so many cheaters, evidently, cannot). I think it’s ‘selfish’ to not want your partner to enjoy the freedom of being able to act on any sexual/romantic attraction they may feel toward other people (without having to sacrifice their relationship with you) but I think that’s true regardless of whether or not you yourself are cheating, if it’s true that most people will never accept open relationships because they feel that the costs outweigh the benefits, cheating might be a better alternative to both open relationships and monogamy. On the other hand, there’s no foolproof way to prevent your partner from finding out and hurting them as a result so I don’t think the risk is worth it considering the frustration, humiliation and grief that cheating can cause. Deceiving their partners may also prevent people from enjoying the same intimacy with them that they would otherwise share. If people do cheat, they should take every precaution necessary to keep the affair a secret and lower the risk of harming their partner (making sure that their partner doesn’t know the other man/woman, obviously having safe/protected sex, maybe even doing it only with people who live in other cities/regions etc., ).
If (agent neutral) hedonistic consequentialism ever became the dominant ethical view, contract monogamy (the explicit or implied agreement to behave monogamously) might become obsolete since two people in a relationship would know that the only altruistic reason their partner wouldn’t cheat would be the possibility of their causing them or anyone else who could be affected by their affair to suffer and there are at least some scenarios where the chances of someone’s partner finding out about an affair or being indirectly harmed by it in some other way are low. A hedonistic utilitarian would have to concede that their partner should cheat on them if no one is harmed as a result and both they and their lover(s) are happier because of it.
The state’s existence and authority depends on taxing people through coercion. Whether or not taxation is justified (I think it is), it is theft. The government is using coercion to appropriate your money. Not paying tax money can ultimately lead to incarceration which is a form of violence. The government does not have any inherent, moral authority that regular, everyday people don’t, why don’t the same moral standards apply to them? The ‘social contract’ justification for the state is flawed since few to no people alive in any country on the planet had anything to do with the founding of their governments. Nobody consents to being born in the country that they just so happened to be born in and nobody consents to being subject to the authority of the organization that their homeland is considered to be the territory of. A legitimate social contract would involve the explicit consent of everyone who’s considered bound to that contract. You can’t argue that someone should “just leave” if they don’t like being subject to the authority of the party that governs the country that they were born in because immigrating to another country isn’t a viable option for most people. Besides, at least some people can choose to ‘switch’ governments but no one can choose not to be subject to the authority of any government. Why should you be given the ultimatum of accepting the authority of a government you don’t recognize or leaving your own country? As for the idea that governments represent their people, again, they don’t explicitly represent every citizen, most parties represent large minorities rather than the majority and a limited amount of candidates forces many, if not most, people to vote for who they view as the lesser evil rather than the ideal choice.
Rights, social contract and deontological based arguments for the state fail so how do non-consequentialists justify it?
I think that the state is necessary to minimize at least some criminal or anti-social behavior and promote social welfare programs that increase the general standard of living and some generally non-consequentialists might agree with me but why do these same people arbitrarily adopt a consequentialist stance when it comes to the state and some other moral issues but not all moral issues? A pluralistic theory of value might seem ‘nuanced’ but happiness, autonomy, the realization of one’s preference, social contracts, rights etc. share no common properties that could make them all intrinsically valuable, when promoting happiness conflicts with promoting autonomy, preference satisfaction etc., which one holds more weight? How do you even compare the two without referring to how having autonomy, seeing the realization of one’s preference, dealing with broken promises or social contracts, make one feel? What ultimate ethical standard do people use if they can make a consequentialist argument for taxation, a deontological argument against what is generally accepted as ‘torture’, an autonomy based argument for abortion etc. ? There’s no common basis for these positions. I think that most people are moral schizophrenics who base their decisions on immediate emotional reactions and only later rationalize their position which is why they can hold seemingly contradictory stances on different issues (ie. being ‘pro-life’ when it comes to abortion but anti-life when it comes to capital punishment, seeing the necessity of prison, which is a form of psychological torture, but maintaining that more ‘extreme’ forms of torture can never, in any possible scenario, be permissible, being pro-autonomy when it comes to abortion but seeing nothing wrong with laws that penalize people for simply not wearing clothes in public, ). Most people lack a coherent theory of value/theory of moral decision making that would enable them to make consistent, moral judgments. If X, Y and Z are bad, they must be bad for the same ultimate reason.
I have yet to hear an argument I can accept as to why pedophilia (the attraction itself, not actual child-adult sex) is pathological or inappropriate. If sexual attraction itself is healthy and acceptable, why would the age of whoever one is attracted to matter more than the sex or the ethnicity? If there’s nothing inherently perverse or dirty about sex we should stop associating virginity with “innocence” and “purity” and concede that there’s nothing wrong with viewing children in a sexual context. Anyone who argues that sexual feelings toward members of the same sex are natural and healthy should be consistent and apply the same reasoning to pedo-sexuality. Discrimination and prejudice against pedophiles is as unjustified and as serious of a problem as discrimination against homosexuals and transgendered people is. I think the emotional knee jerk reaction that many people have when the issue of child-adult sex/pedo-sexuality is brought up prevents them from analyzing the issue objectively and realizing that pedophiles are another disadvantaged minority.
As for child-adult sex itself, I won’t deny that it can directly or indirectly harm children (ie. adults can use their authority to coerce children into having unwanted sex, the child might later come to regret the act for whatever reason, especially if they live in a culture that will socialize them to view the act as having been inherently exploitative and victimizing, ) but what makes the action itself unethical or wrong beyond the possible harm that it might cause? If child-adult sex causes children pleasure (with no long-term costs), I think it would not only not be inherently bad, it would be instrumentally good and worth encouraging. In practice, child-adult sex harms children often enough and to an extent that justifies discouraging it in all situations, out of risk aversion, but there are at least some possible scenarios where children could benefit from or at least be unharmed by sexual contact with an adult and the justification for discouraging it should always be the felt harm it could cause and not the cultural ‘inappropriateness’ of the act.
The typical counter argument is that children cannot consent to sex. I think that most people who claim this are confusing informed consent with rational consent but it’s besides the point because I don’t believe that consent has inherent value, I think it’s useful in helping us to estimate how likely it is that our actions will harm or benefit others. Adults make children do many things not only without their consent but against it. What’s directly relevant is whether or not children are harmed or benefited by child-adult sex. It’s ironic that many people who view child-adult sex as inherently wrong in all possible scenarios see nothing wrong with non-medical circumcision or corporal punishment. I don’t think (I could be wrong) that there’s any real evidence to suggest that viewing simulated, computer-generated child pornography encourages adults with or without a preexisting attraction toward children to molest them any more than people become homosexual by watching gay porn. It boggles my mind how someone can actually spend a decade or so in jail for viewing simulated child pornography that does not depict any real life or existing children and even another decade (or so) after being released as a registered “sex offender”