Moral atoms

July 15, 2009

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Below Patrick Ford points to a reasoned argument in regards to the rights of animals. Reason has some role to play in these questions, but I suspect not much, just as reason has little role to play in regards to human rights. I have had discussions with pro-life individuals who ask why we don’t eat fetus tissue if it is just tissue? And of course the classic film Soylent Green gives us another option. As David Hume long ago said, reason is a “slave of the passions.” The anti-slavery societies did not persuade through numbers and statistics, rather, they hooked into human emotions by printing stories which humanized the slaves so that the audience could identify with them. When it comes to moral foundations cognitive psychologists are catching up to this insight. Pigs may be as intelligent as dogs, but alas for pigs they don’t in general play the role of emotional partner. We don’t need to look at just expanding the moral calculus in the direction of whether dogs should be ascribed some basic dignity, the reality is that dogs and cats in the Western world live in a state of comfort and security superior to that of humans in much of the developing world. Can one reasonably assert that this is just? Ah, but reason is irrelevant to the question.

Am I a bad person for having spent more on the health care of my cat in one year than the median per capita income of many nations? I really don’t care if I’m a “bad” person or not.

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