Plato’s reading suggestions, episode 86

Here it is, our regular Friday diet of suggested readings for the weekend:

A bizarre experiment in “just sitting and thinking” (but about what?).

A growing number of people think their jobs are useless. Time to rethink the meaning of “work”?

How to use the enduring power of Greek myths in your classroom.

Vegan, vegetarian, or reducetarian?

Even the ancient Greeks thought their best days were history.

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Please notice that the duration of the comments window is three days (including publication day), and that comments are moderated for relevance (to the post one is allegedly commenting on), redundancy (not good), and tone (constructive is what we aim for). This applies to both the suggested readings and the regular posts. Thanks!

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Categories: Plato's Suggestions

108 replies

  1. Finally, to move back to another topic. Can’t remember if I’ve posted this before. Re the “work” article, I support basic income, guaranteed income, whatever one calls it. But, it is just ONE tool in addressing post-industrialization work issues: http://socraticgadfly.blogspot.com/2017/06/basicincome-one-tool-in-working-class.html

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  2. Dan, thanks for the response.

    My stance is, and for Massimo:

    I’m not a moral realist, but I’m not an anti-realist, either. Call me a semi-realist.

    I don’t think empirical facts, whether findings of science, recordings of history or other things, should control moral investigation, articulation of positions and stances, etc. I do think, though, that empirical findings should guide such things, and on a case-by-case basis.

    Otherwise, I affirm the “is ≠ ought,” IF that means, “an is doesn’t necessarily imply an ought.” Because an “is” MAY imply an “ought,” and certainly, the extreme idea, that any “is” should have zero consideration on any “ought,” is flat wrong.

    That said, I’ll repeat what I said before. If you think “animal X” can feel pain, you shouldn’t eat it AT ALL. Factory farming is a sidebar to it feeling pain when it’s killed, period.

    My guess? Mammals and birds all feel pain. So do reptiles. Probably amphibians.

    So, taking Massimo’s stance as a guide? No turtle soup, no frog legs, either.

    Possibly fish feel pain too.

    So, no salmon. No catfish. Whether factory farmed or wild.

    Nothing “higher” on the mammal scale; essentially, no vertebrates.

    Please, if the pain issue is your concern, whomever? Apply it consistently.

    Ditto for vegans.

    Here, milking is a natural process. It causes no pain itself. Bovine growth hormones, on the other hand, may cause pains with swollen udders. So, just eat no-BST cheeses. “Natural” cheeses are fine.

    Eggs? Maybe a hen feels emotional pain when an egg is removed. OK, be safe and exclude them.

    Leather’s fine, if the cow was already dead. Shearing wool, as long as a short-sheared animal isn’t exposed to a cold front? No physical pain, and I think no emotional pain. Down, if obtained by natural molt? No pain. So, wear clothing with those restrictions.

    ===

    Otherwise, please read the Matthew Arnold, all. I think what he is talking about is humans’ attempts to transcend the Hobbesian “state of nature,” and noting that such attempts are often selective, whether consciously selective or not. And, that’s not just about food issues, for that case.

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  3. Hi Bunsen,

    Well yes. I agree. I was originally wondering whether anyone had a clear and unambiguous metric for it that would allow us to compare Medieval France to Han Dynasty China. I was sceptical that this was possible.

    I would agree that it’s not possible. All there are are opinions as to what constitutes moral progress and what does not.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. And, something that nobody has really mentioned so far. There are non-ethical reasons to avoid factory farmed meat. Like food safety concerns. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2017/07/07/the-dark-side-of-trumps-much-hyped-china-trade-deal-it-could-literally-make-you-sick/?utm_term=.2769a0eafef2

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Socratic,

    “a non-factory farmed animal’s still going to feel pain when it’s killed”

    Indeed. I was making a distinction between natural, or equivalent to natural, death (from fishing, hunting) vs prolonged, life-long suffering in an industrial facility. As you know, ethics is a continuum. Which means that, contra you, factory farming is an issue, but only part of the picture.

    Dan,

    “I have no problem with your ethical assessment of my priorities, so long as you are aware that others may have the same view of yours. This is why we must insist upon liberal society, lest one of our sides be in the position to force the other to conform with their ethical priorities.”

    Indeed. But if/when it comes to that you can count on me exercising my democratic right to vote too ban all unethical treatment of animals. Which would make it difficult for you to get your turkey sandwich.

    “Let’s just say that I don’t take the progress folks too seriously. We have made progress in many ways and gone completely backwards in many others.”

    As myself and others have made clear, progress is non-linear and can be reversed. But I’ve still not heard, from either you or Bunsen, when/where exactly you would rather have lived, in terms of laws of the land. And I think that’s because you would be forced to admit that the situation is significantly better now than at any other time/place in history. Because. Progress.

    “how shallow the thinking of the Singers and Reagans are”

    I disagree with Singer as well, but to call his reasoning “shallow” is borderline ridiculous. It shows either lack of understanding, which I know is not your case, or an extremely pronounced ideological bias. Which I know is the case.

    Bunsen,

    “So progress just means change”

    As synred has pointed out to you, that is nothing like what I actually wrote. And pretty clearly too.

    “Given that all the arguments for moral progress (in the advance sense) have come from moral realists”

    I think you just made that up, unless it is a reflection of a careful reading of the moral philosophical literature. Which I highly doubt.

    “Sure, both societies and individuals change.”

    See above, as in you either did not read or did not understand what I wrote. And yet, it was very clear.

    “You know as well as everyone here that we are all quite privileged compared to most people now and in the past”

    Oh yes, I do. Because. Progress.

    “Every single one of them mentioned things like sanitation, medicine, travel, not morality”

    Probably because your friends don’t have a good understanding of history, philosophy, or law.

    “I don’t how things work in the US. I guess it’s up to the individual slaughterhouse”

    You need to check the US situation, which is much more impactful than the UK. (Europe in general is better from this and other respects, when it comes to laws and ethical regulations. Though the UK is about to leave Europe, so…)

    Fernando,

    “do you know the stance of veganism (and the other related positions) in drugs and animal testing?”

    I’m not a vegan, but they are against animal testing, certainly for non-health related reasons (like cosmetics), probably for any reason at all.

    “I would also like to ask your scientist alter ego about your stance on the usage of animals in research.”

    I’m okay with it for serious reasons (medical, not cosmetics), and under strict regulation. That’s because I am concerned about animal welfare but I do put human welfare ahead.

    Coel,

    “All there are are opinions as to what constitutes moral progress and what does not.”

    I simply don’t believe you actually believe that. Though you have to say it because otherwise your scientistic worldview would have to crack more than a little.

    Liked by 4 people

  6. Regulation in US are pretty weak and mostly aimed at health and safety. They regularly fail and the rebubs would like to eliminate them and let the ‘magic’ of the market handle every thing. That is indeed magical thinking.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intensive_pig_farming

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  7. Massimo:

    ‘As synred has pointed out to you, that is nothing like what I actually wrote. And pretty clearly too.’

    Ok, I give up then. Clearly you have no intention of publishing a clear and unambiguous definition of moral progress that can be applied across cultures and civilisations. I have no more interest in this.

    ‘I think you just made that up, unless it is a reflection of ‘

    My original point was that that was all that I had personally encountered. I would be the first to admit that I am not particularly well read in this, hence why I found an alternative viewpoint interesting.

    ‘Probably because your friends don’t have a good understanding of history, philosophy, or law.’

    One has a PhD in History and the other is a lawyer. What exactly is the point you are trying to make?

    ‘And I think that’s because you would be forced to admit that the situation is significantly better now than at any other time/place in history. Because. Progress.’

    Yes, progress in technology, medicine, transport, and so on. Not moral progress.

    ‘Oh yes, I do. Because. Progress.’

    You and I are privileged because of moral progress? Seriously? So what’s the problem with the people staying in the homeless shelter then? They miss the moral progress bus?

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  8. I disagree with Singer as well, but to call his reasoning “shallow” is borderline ridiculous. It shows either lack of understanding, which I know is not your case, or an extremely pronounced ideological bias. Which I know is the case.

    = = =

    You are free to feel that way. But you are wrong. The shallowness of Benthamite reasoning — which is what Singer engages in — is hardly something for which “pronounced ideological bias” is necessary. And philosophers far better than either of us — Williams, especially — have commented on that shallowness themselves. Indeed, Williams says precisely that of Singer in “Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy.”

    I understand that you really really think you’re right on this. But wishing it doesn’t make it so. And it doesn’t make your opponents “pronouncedly ideological.” It simply means that they are impressed by arguments you are less impressed by (or not impressed by) and are less (or not) impressed by arguments that you are more impressed by.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I just hate being late to a party at Massimo’s when he’s serving heaping plates of animal welfare goodies for our contemplation! If you can stand one more pun, my beef with academia here is that it conflates morality, a notion of welfare that’s filtered through socially constructed conceptions, with welfare itself.

    Notice that it’s morally acceptable for human consumption of human under the proper conventions of a given cannibalistic society for example, though not elsewhere. What’s the difference? The social construction of rightness and wrongness, or the famous “ought” that fluctuates on the basis of social beliefs. If anyone would like to object however, then please tell us what it is that constitutes the moral welfare of something beyond social notions.

    Above Massimo seemed to imply sentience in this regard, though I’m not entirely sure if he meant this simply in the social construction sense of the society that he and I just happen to be a part of, or universally. I hope that he meant this beyond morality, and so regarding the welfare of existing itself. This would begin to imply his agreement with my own Amoral Subjective Total Utilitarianism, though I’ll leave it to him to complain if he likes.

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  10. Massimo:

    ‘But I’ve still not heard, from either you or Bunsen, when/where exactly you would rather have lived, in terms of laws of the land.’

    Fine, let do this then. If you gave me a one way time machine, I would without hesitation travel to late Ming China, about 1600. Henan to be precise.

    So now I’ve falsified your claim, correct?

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  11. Hi synred,

    You are an omnivore like it or not

    I can’t speak for anyone else. I haven’t eaten meat in nearly forty years and haven’t missed it even a little.

    Although I have have no strong moral opinions on it I have never even been slightly tempted to eat meat in all that time.

    I cook meat every day for my family and it would make my life a good deal easier if I were to only have to cook one meal per mealtime but I have still never felt tempted to eat the meat dish that the rest of the family eat.

    So I seem to be a herbivore whether I like it or not.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. The only vegan I know well — my son — is serious about it and very consistent. He even opposes the use of animals in non-food items, and shops judiciously,. reading labels. Yet he is never judgmental of our lifestyle (his parents). I suspect he was raised right (that rules me out). The glaring inconsistencies (me included) are found in the non-vegan population. Under his influence, my wife and I are now vegetarians. He does not pressure us to go further.

    With Massimo, I abhor factory farming and genetic engineering (e.g., creating chickens with oversized breasts which struggle to even walk).

    Carl Safina, Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel, is a great read (IIRC, focuses on elephants, wolves, and killer whales). Also enjoyed Temple Gradin and C. Johnson, Animals Make Us Human . . .

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  13. Oh jeez. Life is a bitch and we all die. Frankly, if I was an animal, I’d prefer being killed by a slaughter house knocker, than being euthanized by a vet. With the first, you are dead before you hit the ground. With the second and the drugs used, there is a fair amount of thrashing, more often than not.

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  14. Saph, I understand, and understood at the start, what you and he were talking about, but I reject the claim.

    The factory farming is being opposed largely on animal pain and cruelty. (And I think Massimo draws, or has drawn in the past, a fairly broad angle on how many “classes,” in the biological sense, suffer pain.)

    So, if pain is your focus, I’m simply saying, apply it logically.

    And, even if fish don’t feel pain, let’s go back to cattle. Free-range cattle feel it just as much as factory cattle when both are killed.

    So, again, if you want logical consistency, don’t eat ANY animal of any class (or families within a class) of animals you think feel pain.

    If your concern is a broader “quality of animal life,” that’s fine. But, different.

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  15. Massimo, thanks for the response. And, per my reply to Saph … I accept that quality of life is quality of life.

    But, others might see quality of life as ultimately being about pain. And then say that one intentional infliction of pain is too much. (Sidebar: This isn’t about ‘me.” I’m not quite playing “devil’s advocate,” but I’m engaging in some sort of logical counterargument. I was a vegetarian once, per Dan’s stats of many who do it, then abandon it. But, it wasn’t entirely, and I don’t think even primarily, for moral reasons. And today, while I have a vague concern at the back of my head for animal pain, for food animals in factory farms, it’s not that high. That said, I’m not Dan on this issue; I don’t dismiss such concerns, either.)

    My actual primary moral concerns with animal husbandry are the environmental degradation ones already noted. That’s why I don’t eat beef. And, we’ve made the ocean enough of a sewer for other reasons, I’m ready to pass on salmon that I can’t source.

    That said, contra Bunson — the “industrial” slaughterhouse isn’t that different than an old-fashioned one. How many corporate British hog farms invite people to tour the actual farm? So, I think your one objection to Massimo is itself a false one. (Also, it’s a lot easier to clean up a slaughterhouse for a PR tour than it is a farm.)

    Also, in the chicken business especially, per that book I linked, there’s a lot, a LOT of exploitation, as in capitalist exploitation, of chicken farmers by the big companies.

    So, Massimo, to the degree I can afford the moral purity — and that itself is another issue, the ability of people to afford moral stances — my other moral objection to factory farming is a socialist, anti-hypercapitalist one.

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  16. I forgot to add one thing on my last comment to Massimo.

    Quality of life is itself a quasi-anthropomorphizing concept when applied to animals. I mentioned free-range cows to Saph. We don’t build barns for free-range cows. Millions of them died on the US High Plains in the blizzards of 1886-87.

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  17. Hi Massimo,

    Quoting me: “All there are are opinions as to what constitutes moral progress and what does not”, you say:

    I simply don’t believe you actually believe that.

    Well then I’m baffled. Yes, I believe it fully. What I said is entirely in line with your own comment that: ““Progress” is a human concept. Indeed, there is no such thing as progress in the realist sense, only change.

    Whether something constitutes moral progress or regress is a human value judgement, resting on human opinion. There is no objective and non-human metric as to what constitutes “progress”. Further, since morals themselves are human value judgements, it follows that notions of “moral progress” must also be human value judgements.

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  18. Bunsen,

    “Clearly you have no intention of publishing a clear and unambiguous definition of moral progress that can be applied across cultures and civilisations.”

    I gave you my definition, and elaborated on it. You simply keep repeating that it isn’t “clear” enough because you don’t like it.

    “My original point was that that was all that I had personally encountered. I would be the first to admit that I am not particularly well read in this”

    Indeed.

    “One has a PhD in History and the other is a lawyer. What exactly is the point you are trying to make?”

    Good for them. Apparently they still don’t appreciate human history from the point of view of cultural evolution, values, and ethics.

    “You and I are privileged because of moral progress? Seriously? So what’s the problem with the people staying in the homeless shelter then? They miss the moral progress bus?”

    That is the sort of comment that willfully misses the point. Yes, homeless people are a stain on modern society. Hundreds of thousands in slavery are a much larger stain on most previous societies. You keep asking for perfection or nothing, which is a good hint that you are not taking seriously others’ arguments.

    “If you gave me a one way time machine, I would without hesitation travel to late Ming China, about 1600. Henan to be precise. So now I’ve falsified your claim, correct?”

    No, it simply means that you either had to pick something just so you could pretend to have a point, or you don’t know much about life in Ming China.

    Dan,

    “The shallowness of Benthamite reasoning”

    Singer is pretty removed from Benthamite reasoning, and to paint him that way is a reflection of your own prejudice on the matter. And if Williams said “precisely” that, then too bad for Williams. Even the great are not immune from writing silly things.

    “It simply means that they are impressed by arguments you are less impressed by (or not impressed by) and are less (or not) impressed by arguments that you are more impressed by.”

    Naturally. Are you going full relativist on me now? That we are impressed by different arguments is obvious. At least one of us is impressed by the wrong arguments, for the wrong reasons…

    Coel,

    “Whether something constitutes moral progress or regress is a human value judgement, resting on human opinion. There is no objective and non-human metric as to what constitutes “progress”. Further, since morals themselves are human value judgements, it follows that notions of “moral progress” must also be human value judgements.”

    Indeed, but you keep confusing objective with mind-independent. All sorts of human measures are arbitrary (e.g., what constitutes a good footballer) and yet can be measured objectively. The same goes with moral progress. You really should read Baggini…

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