Morality: relative versus objective; is-ought problem

#1
[This post and the 42 which follow it were split out of the Veganism thread so as to avoid cluttering up that thread with discussion not strictly about veganism. Unfortunately, some of the preceding posts within that Veganism thread are referenced in this thread, and can't be split out because they concern veganism too, which makes this thread start a bit disjointedly. It might be useful then to review the following posts in that Veganism thread before embarking on this one:


This prefix added by Laird after splitting out this thread on 2016-01-28. Nothing in the remainder of the post has been edited.
]

Hi Laird,

Hey there – since we aren’t going to convince each other, please read the following knowing I’m not some anti-vegan jerk, we just have very different strong feelings about this OK? I don't think at this point any progress can be made but at least you'll see where I'm coming from.

To summarize thus far - first, we can toss aside the idea that eating an animal is objectively morally wrong and unethical (your affirmation of my road kill example). Second, we’ve already established that life lives off of life and killing is part of living – two sides of the same coin like destruction/creation. Third, I totally respect your personal decision to abide by the guiding principle of “avoid avoidable harm” and like you said, “that which constitutes harm is a matter of judgement.” Agreed.

I want to recognize that your philosophical position is much more nuanced and thoughtful than I originally absorbed (way more than just a self-righteous, morally superior “carnism” condescension like Jumbo’s drive-by comment) and therefore I don’t really see this as an argument over food choices anymore but more of a discussion of overarching morality and these objective moral “tenets or principles” that you just say exist everywhere. Unfortunately, there is little proof supporting that assertion – it’s just what you feel – time to be honest about that – you have every right to feel that way - just don’t tell me to feel that way when I’ve investigated/contemplated this for 30+ years and come to a different conclusion. And obviously, this type of “objective morality” discussion/assertion has been going on for thousands upon thousands of years without any universally accepted conclusion (hint hint). I stated that moral relativism is reality and is backed by a ton of cultural evidence and you simply said “Empirical uncertainty is one major reason why despite that morality is objective, our moral choices sometimes anyway require the exercise of judgement". So empirical uncertainty is the reason I’m blind to this “objective morality” yet it is empirically true that every human culture has varying versions of morality? What is the basis for your proposed objective morality since there’s no empirical certainty that proves it exists? Where does the “objective morality” you propose come from?

To comment on your statement - "As far, though, as any argument that culture can justify harms absent any belief in mitigating "unavoidable" factors such as post-mortal merit, then, no, we do not, as I think is already clear, see eye to eye there." Anthropological evidence strongly suggests EVERY CULTURE has these mitigating beliefs - you are simply sympathetic to some and not to others; or of course, you aren’t aware of them in all cultures. For example, in Western culture, one "mitigating belief" is that God provided animals and plants for humans to eat (as evidenced in “Grace” before meals: "Bless us, O Lord! and these Thy gifts, which we are about to receive from Thy bounty, through Christ our Lord. Amen."). Can you imagine being a Christian and believing killing and eating animals is wrong when Jesus (God) Himself provided fish for the people while on earth? Talk about a conflict of interest!! So, by you suggesting that everyone should avoid killing and eating animals, you are in direct conflict with the God of 1 billion people on this earth. Who do you think they are going to listen to? God or Laird?

Look, for me, based on what I’ve seen, heard, read and experienced in my life, I personally despise the idea of cultural/moral superiority and judgment as it has led to more HARM than we can even comprehend for humans/environments/other living organisms over time. This cultural/moral superiority and judgment is what you’re advancing here cloaked in veganism. It’s a position that is nurtured by privilege – the ability to have choices, when so many do not. There is no objective morality which transcends culture – sorry, there are only subjective moral convictions nested in culture my friend. I mean, seriously, saying this - “the violation of the rights/sanctity of animals is the biggest moral problem in the world today” – is so clearly subjective. Therefore, all your solutions to the problem are extreme for you whereas others who don’t see this as the biggest moral problem in the world might not be willing to entertain such extreme measures.

A poem by my favorite poet, Gary Snyder, a Buddhist btw, that I’d like to share:

Eating the living germs of grasses
Eating the ova of large birds

the fleshy sweetness packed
around the sperm of swaying trees

The muscles of the flanks and thighs of
soft-voiced cows
the bounce in the lamb’s leap
the swish in the ox’s tail

Eating roots grown swollen
inside the soil

Drawing on life of living
clustered points of light spun
out of space
hidden in the grape.

Eating each other’s seed
eating
ah, each other.

Kissing the lover in the mouth of bread:
lip to lip.

— Gary Snyder


Heavy Harvests,

Grorganic
 
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#2
Greetings, Grorganic,

Thank you for your response, and thank you also for recognising that my position is nuanced. I recognise that neither of us is likely to change our views, but it is perhaps useful to be able to contrast them, no? And yes, I recognise that you are not an anti-vegan jerk, and that your food choices are far better ethically than the mainstream's: at least you gain your meat by hunting animals who have been able to lead natural lives in the wild, rather than obtaining it from animals who have been mutilated, fed antibiotics and an unnatural diet, and severely constrained their whole lives - essentially, tortured for food.

I also recognise that, as you say, you have thought deeply about all of this, and so I hope that - accepting your suggestion that the discussion has broadened from one of food choices to one of overarching morality - we can come to a fruitful understanding of one another's view of morality, perhaps even bridging our differences on some points. It seems possible that our disagreement comes out of a fairly polarised start but that with proper framing we will find tht we are not so far apart after all.

I'll try to lay out the way I see things more completely in this post, and in doing so answer your questions. Please feel free to do the same from your point of view, and/or to critique my outline.

Firstly, though, I want to make something clear: I am strongly opposed to colonisation and imperialism. My family immigrated to Australia when I was ten, and since then I have come to realise that we have no natural right to be here. This is indigenous land, never ceded, and natural justice entails that effective sovereignty be returned to the land's indigenous inhabitants (I have written briefly about this here, but it needs a lot more work). So, potentially, we see eye to eye on the harm done by colonisation and imperialism.

Also, your summary seems fine. Consumption of animal products is only morally wrong when it involves avoidable harm. Other examples than road-kill of the moral consumption of meat include the consumption of the meat of an animal which died in an accident, or of old age, or through compassionate euthanasia due to incurable and extreme suffering where it can genuinely be perceived or assumed that the animal wishes to escape its suffering through death. I'd simply add to your summary that some harms are more obvious/objective and less a matter of judgement than others.

I think that it is important to distinguish between morality as a general distinction between what is good and bad, and morality as a specific system of rules. Genuine morality is, I think, like a tree: it starts out with a few core, objective principles, which are supported both by reason and (in non-pathological beings) intuition, and from there branches out into intermediate principles which require some exercise of judgement but which are derived from the core, objective principles based on what one believes to be empirically true, and the branching continues in this fashion until one arrives at specific rules, which might be general or ad hoc, depending on how one structures and conceives of one's "moral tree". Because every juncture in the tree requires the potentially differing exercise of judgement based on potentially differing empirical beliefs, the further one travels from the root, the more variation there is in the moral systems of different individuals and groups. So it is possible that we can accommodate both of our views: morality is objective at the root (more on this to come), and relative in the leaves.

So, that's how I see genuine morality: an endeavour of reason proceeding from the more general, abstract and incontrovertible, to the more specific and contingent, by a structured process of derivation. But systems of specific "moral" rules can also be arrived at by arbitrary declaration. One might arbitrarily declare, for example, that playing football on Monday between the hours of 3pm and 4pm is "immoral". This has no rational basis, and is not a branch of any genuine "moral tree"; it is a disconnected twig and can only be described as a "moral" rule when "moral" is quoted.

Now, you question that general objective moral principles exist, but I think that they self-evidently do. As Neil acknowledges: "I do think that moral relativism also has problems. While certain moral judgements may seem extremely relative, such as taking the Lord's name in vain, there are certain judgements that seem essentially universal to humans, like it is morally wrong to torture and kill a child for fun". I would argue that the objective immorality in this example which Neil provides is due to the application of what I have labelled "the harm avoidance principle" to an extreme case. There are other sayings/principles though which more-or-less capture the same or similar sentiments. For example, "Don't hurt others unless you have a good reason", "Don't be unnecessarily unkind to others" and that to which libertarians refer as "the non-aggression principle" (NAP).

So now comes the key question: can you see yourself ever agreeing that something along these lines - you don't have to accept any particular formulation - lies, at least in part, at the root of any genuine (and thus non-arbitrary) moral system?

I explained on the page that I maintain on the harm avoidance principle, and which you've read, where I think the objectivity in this principle comes from: the nature of conscious experience; the fact that as sentient beings we can be harmed, and the knowledge of what it feels like to be harmed, leads a rational being to the conclusion that we ought to avoid harming others where possible.

I don't claim that I am in any particularly privileged position with respect to cataloguing, framing, formulating and expressing those moral principles which are fundamental and objective; I am very open to corrections on all of this, but what I'm not open to is the idea that they are totally non-existent. If you are, then think about where this would leave us: would you honestly be comfortable with the idea that torturing and killing a child for fun could be a moral thing to do?

But I am going to try to bridge the gap between us by suggesting that by "relative" you probably don't mean "arbitrary" - you would probably accept that there need to be good reasons for calling something "moral". Am I right? So, when, for example, you reference the Christian belief that animals were put here as food for us by God, then we have to question: which type of morality is this? Is it one that proceeds rationally from objective principles, or is it based on an arbitrary declaration? I have read the Bible all the way through, and I see little evidence of moral reasoning on this point; it seems to be a purely arbitrary declaration. It seems to fall on the second horn of the Euthyphro Dilemma: it is "good" because it is (arbitrarily) decreed as such by God - but we have no reason to accept arbitrary declarations as morally relevant.

Hopefully all of this properly answers the questions you put to me. If not, please say so.

Yes, you are right that only some of us have the (privileged) choice to be vegan, but I'm sure that you can also see that this is perfectly compatible with the harm avoidance principle: if you don't have a choice, then the harm can't be avoided.

Re the poem: I can see how from a certain mindset, it is eloquent and rich, and the author is certainly a skilful poet, but for me it is more than even distasteful; it has strongly perverse elements.

I gift you in return with Les Murray's Pigs:

Us all on sore cement was we.
Not warmed then with glares. Not glutting mush
under that pole the lightning's tied to.
No farrow-shit in milk to make us randy.
Us back in cool god-shit. We ate crisp.
We nosed up good rank in the tunnelled bush.
Us all fuckers then. And Big, huh? Tusked
the balls-biting dog and gutsed him wet.
Us shoved down the soft cement of rivers.
Us snored the earth hollow, filled farrow, grunted.
Never stopped growing. We sloughed, we soughed
and balked no weird till the high ridgebacks was us
with weight-buried hooves. Or bristly, with milk.
Us never knowed like slitting nor hose-biff then.
Nor the terrible sheet-cutting screams up ahead.
The burnt water kicking. This gone-already feeling
here in no place with our heads on upside down.
 
#3
Now, you question that general objective moral principles exist, but I think that they self-evidently do. As Neil acknowledges: "I do think that moral relativism also has problems. While certain moral judgements may seem extremely relative, such as taking the Lord's name in vain, there are certain judgements that seem essentially universal to humans, like it is morally wrong to torture and kill a child for fun". I would argue that the objective immorality in this example which Neil provides is due to the application of what I have labelled "the harm avoidance principle" to an extreme case. There are other sayings/principles though which more-or-less capture the same or similar sentiments. For example, "Don't hurt others unless you have a good reason", "Don't be unnecessarily unkind to others" and that to which libertarians refer as "the non-aggression principle" (NAP).

So now comes the key question: can you see yourself ever agreeing that something along these lines - you don't have to accept any particular formulation - lies, at least in part, at the root of any genuine (and thus non-arbitrary) moral system?
Hi Laird and Grorganic,

If I may offer my perspective here, I would like to give a suggestion that isn't quite either perspective. I see Grorganic giving a relativist account of morality and Laird giving an objective account. I would suggest both positions have issues, and that there is a middle road that can account for an apparent objectivity for certain core hard-based moral judgements, while also acknowledging the undeniable aspect of relativity in different cultures.

To say that there are objective moral rules seems to be problematic, since objective typically means that it is independent of the subjects, and that it seems to exist in some sort of platonic realm right along with mathematical truths and beauty, etc. When moral rules are objective and exist in such a way, and reasoning is supposed to be a way in which to discover these fundamental truths, any being or entity that has not discovered these purported truths would then be immoral if they broke those objective rules. If an extraterrestrial species came to visit, and they did not follow our core moral rules, then this would make them immoral rather than amoral. There are other fundamental problems with this account, such as problems within moral/ethical dilemmas are quite apparently not solvable in an objective manner. If there were objective moral truths, then why is it so difficult to come to agreement on different moral problems like the San Francisco trolley problem? Why cannot we solve the dilemma by simply reducing it to a choice of least harm?

The relativistic account is also problematic, since if moral values are completely relative, then by logical extension we can then say that it could conceivably be morally acceptable to torture young children as pointed out by Laird. This seems quite absurd.

I think we have to recognize that core moral values are based on affective systems, and it is the affect-backed nature of moral values that gives them their salience and cultural survival ability. Values that were not affect-backed don't tend to last very long within cultures, it seems.

If we recognize the origin of moral values in this way, we can see how all normal humans will be similar in that they will be influenced by this affective-backed moral value (such as avoiding explicit and egregious harm to others). It may be true that there is variance in sensitivity to such harm within a normal population, and there are certain defective disorders such as psychopathy that results in no effect, but that doesn't take away that in normal humans across all cultures we have an affective aversion on average to these harm-based rules. This creates, I think, a "relative objectivity" in the sense that the values are based on affective systems that are fundamental to all humans, yet they are not objective in the sense that they exist "out there" and are to be discovered via reasoning. Psychopaths are an example of people that are perfectly logical and can reason, yet they have no motivation to treat moral rules any differently than conventional rules. I.e. you're not supposed to physically abuse animals just like you're not supposed to drive over the speed limit.

This also brings up the problem of how we reason in the first place. Moral reasoning can play a role in our moral judgements, but moral judgements themselves appear to be subconscious and based on affective systems. Moral reasoning then plays the role of attempting to change perspectives to induce a different moral judgement based on the affect system and the subconscious response. Also, it has to be noted that moral reasoning itself is not any kind of objective logic. The trolley problem is an example where you cannot just reduce the dilemma to calculating the least harm. The problem is not reducible to commensurable terms that can be evaluated algorithmically. We must reason via plausible reasoning rather than by logic, and the affective systems are involved in this plausible reasoning.

This is where we have our disagreements. There is a lot of plausible reasoning that goes into evaluating different aspects of this conversation. Laird, for example, through his plausible reasoning, has come to the conclusion that fruitarianism is perfectly fine and healthy, with no overt health concerns, and that animal products actually produce a negative effect. Myself and Grorganic have used our plausible reasoning to determine the opposite. Neither of us can say that the other is logically wrong, but we have used our judgement to evaluate the evidence to come to different conclusions, which then result in different considerations when considering the moral questions.

So I think that moral judgement does have a core of affect-backed harm-based rules that has a relative objectivity within the human species (and I think would apply to any other animal that shares the affective systems if it became advanced enough to deal with this question), but I acknowledge that it is not an objective truth that exists independently of humans, as an extraterrestrial species could very well have developed without an affective system, in which case they would not have developed moral values like we have. From our perspective, they may act immorally, but from an outside view it would seem that they act amorally, in that they simply do not have affective systems that give rise to moral values, and since the moral rules do not exist objectively "out there" to be discovered by reason, there was no way for this ET species to develop the same moral judgement.
 
#4
Laird - did your objective morality that is self-evident through reason exist prior to humans evolving as a species on earth? Or did it come about through human culture?

RE: poem - this is a perfect illustration of our differences...

You say the poem I shared is “more than even distasteful” and “has strongly perverse elements”. Therefore, the human existential condition is perverse and distasteful because the poem reflects reality. Your poem also reflects reality – the ridiculous mainstream system in which we raise and harvest animals. So, look at the difference between our perspectives on these poems – I feel my poem was a beautiful representation of the existential condition where life lives off of life in such an interconnected way that what I eat becomes me and it truly is, for me, an honor and sacrament to take and eat life and mindfully participate in that relationship. You think that this reality is perverse and distasteful – you rebel against what can’t be eradicated (it is the essence of living) but simply minimized to make you feel better about it. You then put forth a poem that’s purpose is to incite guilt and disgust and it works! But in no way does it make me judge the people that eat pigs as immoral. It just makes me want to work to change the food system and that is what I’ve dedicated my life’s work to doing.

You could summarize our main difference as......judgment. I don't believe in any objective morality that manifests the "reason or rationality" for judging others as unethical or immoral while you do.
 
#5
Greetings, Neil. It seems that we are saying very similar things except that you attribute the universality of fundamental moral principles to (merely) our affective systems, whereas I think that they are (also) objective in the sense of being independently cogent and rational.

Here's a justification of that objectivity, framed as a (no doubt familiar) conversation between a normally-adjusted individual and a psychopath:

Normal: Stop hurting that other person: what you're doing is wrong.

Psychopath: Why should I care about hurting him?

Normal: Because if you were being hurt, you would want him to care about you.

Psychopath: So what?

Normal: So, from an objective perspective, neither of you is more important than the other, and thus his wishes to not be harmed are equally as important as you would like yours to be in the same situation.

Psychopath: I don't care about objectivity, I am only interested in what subjectively benefits me.

And there you have it: the reasoning justifying the basis of morality is objectively cogent, but those who do not recognise objectivity therefore might plausibly not recognise the cogency of those moral principles.

Addressing a few points from your post:

To say that there are objective moral rules seems to be problematic, since objective typically means that it is independent of the subjects, and that it seems to exist in some sort of platonic realm right along with mathematical truths and beauty, etc.
To talk of objective moral "rules" is, I think, a little questionable/dangerous. I think we are on safer ground referring to objective "fundamental moral principles".

Does the above dialogue give you some sort of idea of why I think such principles - at least one of them - exist in the platonic sense of which you are skeptical?

When moral rules are objective and exist in such a way, and reasoning is supposed to be a way in which to discover these fundamental truths, any being or entity that has not discovered these purported truths would then be immoral if they broke those objective rules.
Yes, but there are different senses of "immoral". One is the impersonal sense of "out of alignment with moral principles", and conveys no sense of personal culpability; the other is the personal sense of "knowingly doing wrong". We would probably say that such beings or entities would be immoral more in the first sense than the second.

If there were objective moral truths, then why is it so difficult to come to agreement on different moral problems like the San Francisco trolley problem? Why cannot we solve the dilemma by simply reducing it to a choice of least harm?
Because it is one thing for there to exist an objective fundamental moral principle, and another to exercise one's judgement in applying it.

P.S. I like your term "plausible reasoning". I think it's helpful.
 
#6
Laird - did your objective morality that is self-evident through reason exist prior to humans evolving as a species on earth? Or did it come about through human culture?
It existed prior, just as the economic principle that increasing the money supply devalues that currency existed prior to humans evolving to the point that they used money.

I understand that the type of judgement you're opposed to is that which deems people "immoral". This is understandable because nobody likes to feel judged in that way. Perhaps the distinction that I made to Neil in my previous post helps in this respect: that there is a sense in which "immoral" can mean merely out of alignment with moral principles and not necessarily morally culpable. Also, those sort of words are just labels for what's really going on: a person consistently committing harms that they didn't need to commit, and that this is occurring is itself a matter of judgement (judgement of some sort then, is also essential to the human condition). I'm sure that you would agree that it is perfectly reasonable (obligatory, really) to call out such behaviour, with the hope of raising their awareness that what they are doing is causing unnecessary harm and should be avoided, with the hope that they will then be motivated to change their future behaviour. Whether or not we supplement our calling out with "...and this makes you [or 'and this behaviour is'] immoral", seems more like a matter of tactics: will it encourage or discourage change?

Re my reaction to the poem you shared: the perversion for me was not just in the celebration of the consumption of once-living beings, and in the juxtaposition of pleasure with the taking of life, but also in the juxtaposition of eating and reproduction / reproductive parts. I find it hard to reconcile this poetry (swishing tails etc) with Buddhism, which has a vegetarian philosophy.

Am I "rebelling against the natural order"? I don't think so. There are many species which do not need to kill to survive. Most plants, for example, and bees too. I am celebrating and attempting to mimic their way of life, rather than rebelling against what you say is inevitable - which is possible to a large extent given the flexibility we humans have in our dietary choices. In a certain sense, plants and bees lead the way on this planet.
 
#7
Greetings, Neil. It seems that we are saying very similar things except that you attribute the universality of fundamental moral principles to (merely) our affective systems, whereas I think that they are (also) objective in the sense of being independently cogent and rational.

Here's a justification of that objectivity, framed as a (no doubt familiar) conversation between a normally-adjusted individual and a psychopath:

Normal: Stop hurting that other person: what you're doing is wrong.

Psychopath: Why should I care about hurting him?

Normal: Because if you were being hurt, you would want him to care about you.

Psychopath: So what?

Normal: So, from an objective perspective, neither of you is more important than the other, and thus his wishes to not be harmed are equally as important as you would like yours to be in the same situation.

Psychopath: I don't care about objectivity, I am only interested in what subjectively benefits me.

And there you have it: the reasoning justifying the basis of morality is objectively cogent, but those who do not recognise objectivity therefore might plausibly not recognise the cogency of those moral principles.
I'm not sure how to respond other than that's just not how it works. You'll have to read literature on psychopathy, because they are perfectly logical and able to reason. It's that they make no distinction between moral rules and conventional rules, and without a functioning affective system, moral behavior breaks down severely. It has nothing to do with reasoning ability, and given the deficiency of the affective systems in psychopaths, along with other evidence, it strongly supports that core moral values are affect-backed and that is what makes a rule a moral rule vs a conventional rule.



Laird said:
To talk of objective moral "rules" is, I think, a little questionable/dangerous. I think we are on safer ground referring to objective "fundamental moral principles".

Does the above dialogue give you some sort of idea of why I think such principles - at least one of them - exist in the platonic sense of which you are skeptical?
I really do not. If it were a matter of reason, then psychopaths could make the moral/conventional distinction, but they cannot. It is their affective system that is deficient. Further neurological evidence supports that affective systems are used in moral judgement, and moral judgement is a subconscious process that involves the affective systems. It's not about a conscious moral reasoning process. That only plays a minor role in moral judgements.



Laird said:
Yes, but there are different senses of "immoral". One is the impersonal sense of "out of alignment with moral principles", and conveys no sense of personal culpability; the other is the personal sense of "knowingly doing wrong". We would probably say that such beings or entities would be immoral more in the first sense than the second.
I just don't see where the objective part comes in. If a species had no affective system, they may have no moral principles the way we do. If reasoning is not based on affective systems, what distinction is to be made between harm based moral principles and conventional principles?



Laird said:
Because it is one thing for there to exist an objective fundamental moral principle, and another to exercise one's judgement in applying it.

P.S. I like your term "plausible reasoning". I think it's helpful.
Well one thing we know to be vital for exercising moral behavior is the affective system. Psychopaths I think again support this notion, and neuroscientific evidence also shows that these systems are involved.

But I am not talking about exercising moral behavior on the trolley problem. It's that there are problems that cannot be agreed upon. Why should this be if moral principles are objective?

I wish I came up with the plausible reasoning term. I just have been reading about it from an amazing book titled "Mind Matters" by David Hodgson. I just ordered the book of the author that Hodgson credited--George Polya's "Mathematics and Plausible Reasoning." I really look forward to reading it.
 
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#8
It existed prior, just as the economic principle that increasing the money supply devalues that currency existed prior to humans evolving to the point that they used money.

I understand that the type of judgement you're opposed to is that which deems people "immoral". This is understandable because nobody likes to feel judged in that way. Perhaps the distinction that I made to Neil in my previous post helps in this respect: that there is a sense in which "immoral" can mean merely out of alignment with moral principles and not necessarily morally culpable. Also, those sort of words are just labels for what's really going on: a person consistently committing harms that they didn't need to commit, and that this is occurring is itself a matter of judgement (judgement of some sort then, is also essential to the human condition). I'm sure that you would agree that it is perfectly reasonable (obligatory, really) to call out such behaviour, with the hope of raising their awareness that what they are doing is causing unnecessary harm and should be avoided, with the hope that they will then be motivated to change their future behaviour. Whether or not we supplement our calling out with "...and this makes you [or 'and this behaviour is'] immoral", seems more like a matter of tactics: will it encourage or discourage change?

Re my reaction to the poem you shared: the perversion for me was not just in the celebration of the consumption of once-living beings, and in the juxtaposition of pleasure with the taking of life, but also in the juxtaposition of eating and reproduction / reproductive parts. I find it hard to reconcile this poetry (swishing tails etc) with Buddhism, which has a vegetarian philosophy.

Am I "rebelling against the natural order"? I don't think so. There are many species which do not need to kill to survive. Most plants, for example, and bees too. I am celebrating and attempting to mimic their way of life, rather than rebelling against what you say is inevitable - which is possible to a large extent given the flexibility we humans have in our dietary choices. In a certain sense, plants and bees lead the way on this planet.
Regarding the last part about plants not killing, that is certainly not the case. They produce toxins for insects, fungi, and herbivores. They will also kill and compete with each other, suffocating other plants, pushing them out of the way, etc.
 
#9
[Psychopaths] are perfectly logical and able to reason.
I'll accept that for the sake of argument, but logic and reasoning are processes which work on premises, and psychopaths don't accept the premise that other people are as important as they are. Whatever this is due to - whether a flaw in their affective systems or a flaw in their cognitive systems or both or something else - is not relevant to my point, and is anyway controversial. My point is simply that the fundamental principle(s) of morality is/are objective, and that this can be demonstrated by the sort of reasoning in the dialogue I shared.

In any case, psychopaths weren't intended to be the focus of what I wrote, I chose them only because you brought them up. From my perspective, they simply represent a person who doesn't accept that key premise: a person who holds his or her interests to be more important than those of others - a position which is simply not justified from an objective perspective, and thus is in a sense unreasonable (this unreasonableness is why I accepted your assertion only for the sake of argument).

[The breakdown of moral behaviour in psychopaths] has nothing to do with reasoning ability
As I wrote above, this is a controversial claim. I did a little digging into it, and of the articles I read, this one is probably most helpful.

[A] conscious moral reasoning process [...] only plays a minor role in moral judgements.
This is another controversial claim, but in any case I have from the start accepted (if not stated) that emotion (and intuition, which I have stated explicitly) plausibly plays a (potentially major) role in the reasons why people behave morally. That is totally consistent, though, with my contention that the fundamental moral principle(s) is/are objective.

If reasoning is not based on affective systems, what distinction is to be made between harm based moral principles and conventional principles?
I would suggest that this is not a binary dichotomy; it is instead a continuum. Almost no rule is totally lacking a moral aspect: for example, it is to some extent moral to generally obey "conventional" parking rules because they are based in providing fair access to everybody, and fair access has a moral dimension.

But I am not talking about exercising moral behavior on the trolley problem. It's that there are problems that cannot be agreed upon. Why should this be if moral principles are objective?
I feel like I'm starting to repeat myself now. Only at the most abstract and fundamental level are moral principles wholly objective. Beyond that, judgement is required, including with respect to certain challenging moral problems. This can be framed in terms of a "moral tree".

I wish I came up with the plausible reasoning term. I just have been reading about it from an amazing book titled "Mind Matters" by David Hodgson. I just ordered the book of the author that Hodgson credited--George Polya's "Mathematics and Plausible Reasoning." I really look forward to reading it.
Cool. Enjoy! I wish I had the motivation to read as much as I used to, those sound like interesting books.

Regarding the last part about plants not killing, that is certainly not the case. They produce toxins for insects, fungi, and herbivores. They will also kill and compete with each other, suffocating other plants, pushing them out of the way, etc.
Right you are. I ought to have written that plants don't need to kill to eat, rather than to "survive". I do think that there's generally a qualitative difference though: killing to eat is in a sense aggressive, whereas producing toxins to kill predators is defensive. Competition is a bit more complex though.
 
#10
I'll accept that for the sake of argument, but logic and reasoning are processes which work on premises, and psychopaths don't accept the premise that other people are as important as they are. Whatever this is due to - whether a flaw in their affective systems or a flaw in their cognitive systems or both or something else - is not relevant to my point, and is anyway controversial. My point is simply that the fundamental principle(s) of morality is/are objective, and that this can be demonstrated by the sort of reasoning in the dialogue I shared.

In any case, psychopaths weren't intended to be the focus of what I wrote, I chose them only because you brought them up. From my perspective, they simply represent a person who doesn't accept that key premise: a person who holds his or her interests to be more important than those of others - a position which is simply not justified from an objective perspective, and thus is in a sense unreasonable (this unreasonableness is why I accepted your assertion only for the sake of argument).



As I wrote above, this is a controversial claim. I did a little digging into it, and of the articles I read, this one is probably most helpful.



This is another controversial claim, but in any case I have from the start accepted (if not stated) that emotion (and intuition, which I have stated explicitly) plausibly plays a (potentially major) role in the reasons why people behave morally. That is totally consistent, though, with my contention that the fundamental moral principle(s) is/are objective.



I would suggest that this is not a binary dichotomy; it is instead a continuum. Almost no rule is totally lacking a moral aspect: for example, it is to some extent moral to generally obey "conventional" parking rules because they are based in providing fair access to everybody, and fair access has a moral dimension.



I feel like I'm starting to repeat myself now. Only at the most abstract and fundamental level are moral principles wholly objective. Beyond that, judgement is required, including with respect to certain challenging moral problems. This can be framed in terms of a "moral tree".



Cool. Enjoy! I wish I had the motivation to read as much as I used to, those sound like interesting books.



Right you are. I ought to have written that plants don't need to kill to eat, rather than to "survive". I do think that there's generally a qualitative difference though: killing to eat is in a sense aggressive, whereas producing toxins to kill predators is defensive. Competition is a bit more complex though.
Laird,

Thanks for the response. I appreciate the paper you linked on psychopaths. I will read that before I respond.
 
#11
Thanks for the interesting forum dialogue - it's the most I've ever communicated in this place! It was fun, enlightening and a bit emotional but hey, it was good to reflect on some of these philosophical explorations and hear different perspectives on things :)

Neil - my lack of response to your posts isn't meant to be dismissive - you bring up a lot of good insights. Thanks for the input. I rarely participate in these forums because it takes a lot of time and energy (at least for me) and I don't have a surplus of either of those things for this type of communication - I live my life in a "pro-state" rather than an "anti-state" so it's tough for me to try and tear things apart when my overall focus is to bring things together.

Laird - although we don't see eye to eye, thanks for the civil back and forth and hopefully I came across that way too!! You're obviously a good guy with well thought out views on the complex place we find ourselves inhabiting. We'd probably have a blast talking this out over some beers and some of my homegrown raw veggies (50% of my diet btw hahahaha). I assume you grow your own fruit (since both conventional and organic orchards are major murder crime scenes) - any interesting fruits that Aussies consume that you don't normally find in US?? I'm hoping to transition to full-time farming in 5-6 years...

To finalize on my end (please have the last word if you'd like) - if I'm being totally honest, I feel your last post was a lot of hand waving. I feel you have to do MAJOR squirming (including developing a bunch of new terms and interpretative meanings) to get around the hard questions critical of your philosophy. And what you put forth isn't convincing to me - it's more of a rationalization process that you yourself are going through rather than an air-tight case for the philosophical/moral merits of eating a vegan diet/living an extreme version of "do no harm". I don't think Buddha was a vegetarian was he? I know Buddhists who eat meat and say there is this funny twist in certain philosophies of Buddhism where as long as you aren't the one who kills it, animals can be eaten!!!! How ironic! Bees and plants? Big fan of both those organisms for sure but bacteria very obviously rule the world and are cold blooded killers. I regularly examine compost teas/soils under a microscope and the amount of drama and murdering going on in the soil puts any horror/thriller movie you can think of to shame!! Plants aren't separate from these microorganisms as we are not separate from microorganisms - we (plants and us) could not live without these buggers - "it" (nature and it's workings) is literally part of us every moment of existence. I just can't buy into the idea that you are mimicking nature by not killing - if nature is anything for sure - it's exactly life from death, creation from destruction. Why do you think I love composting so much!!??

I just think there are too many ways you have to chop things up to make them fit to your philosophical goals. I think morality is tremendously complicated and obviously one's belief in what constitutes "the ultimate purpose of life" determines how they look at morality. For example, I have a hard time believing in objective reality let alone objective morality!!!! There may even be some truth to the philosophy put forth by many NDE'ers and mediums and shamans that say there is a very specific reason harms are part of this world and that we need to experience them to progress spiritually. I'm not putting that forth as a real argument piece in this discussion because it's, as you say, empirically uncertain :)

Peace, Love and Happiness,
Grorganic
 
#12
I'll accept that for the sake of argument, but logic and reasoning are processes which work on premises, and psychopaths don't accept the premise that other people are as important as they are. Whatever this is due to - whether a flaw in their affective systems or a flaw in their cognitive systems or both or something else - is not relevant to my point, and is anyway controversial. My point is simply that the fundamental principle(s) of morality is/are objective, and that this can be demonstrated by the sort of reasoning in the dialogue I shared.

In any case, psychopaths weren't intended to be the focus of what I wrote, I chose them only because you brought them up. From my perspective, they simply represent a person who doesn't accept that key premise: a person who holds his or her interests to be more important than those of others - a position which is simply not justified from an objective perspective, and thus is in a sense unreasonable (this unreasonableness is why I accepted your assertion only for the sake of argument).



As I wrote above, this is a controversial claim. I did a little digging into it, and of the articles I read, this one is probably most helpful.



This is another controversial claim, but in any case I have from the start accepted (if not stated) that emotion (and intuition, which I have stated explicitly) plausibly plays a (potentially major) role in the reasons why people behave morally. That is totally consistent, though, with my contention that the fundamental moral principle(s) is/are objective.



I would suggest that this is not a binary dichotomy; it is instead a continuum. Almost no rule is totally lacking a moral aspect: for example, it is to some extent moral to generally obey "conventional" parking rules because they are based in providing fair access to everybody, and fair access has a moral dimension.



I feel like I'm starting to repeat myself now. Only at the most abstract and fundamental level are moral principles wholly objective. Beyond that, judgement is required, including with respect to certain challenging moral problems. This can be framed in terms of a "moral tree".



Cool. Enjoy! I wish I had the motivation to read as much as I used to, those sound like interesting books.



Right you are. I ought to have written that plants don't need to kill to eat, rather than to "survive". I do think that there's generally a qualitative difference though: killing to eat is in a sense aggressive, whereas producing toxins to kill predators is defensive. Competition is a bit more complex though.

Laird,

Thanks for the paper. Worst case, the issue is equivocal regarding psychopaths, but for sake of conversation, let's say that psychopaths' inability to make moral/conventional distinctions has to do some sort of rational deficit. Evidence would be needed to show that such cognitive deficit would lead to an inability to make the moral/conventional in non-psychopaths, for example, if it has to do with attention ability, then why do ADHD subjects not suffer from the moral distinction problem?

And if this were the case that moral judgement required highly functioning reasoning abilities, this seems pretty strongly refuted by the ability of four year olds to make the moral/conventional distinction, as well as the ability for severely mentally handicapped individuals to make the distinction as well.

You claim that moral principles are objective, but on what basis do you make this claim? What evidence supports this?

We have evidence from neuroscience that affective systems are involved in moral judgement, not just behavior. There is other psychological evidence that moral judgements are automatic, not the result of a conscious deliberation of evidence. The very reason for the automatic nature is the involvement of the affective systems in judgement, and the affective nature of core moral principles are the very thing that makes them salient and have high cultural survivability.

The type of reasoning used in dialog on moral judgement is plausible reasoning, so there is always doubt as to the conclusion. Why should this type of reasoning be used to claim that moral principles are objective? I just don't find it reasonable to say that mental constructs of fairness somehow exist independently of humans and exist independent of any conscious observer. We don't even have evidence that the world itself exists objectively, so why should I think that moral principles exist objectively?
 
#13
Thank you too for the interesting conversation, Grorganic. Definitely I found your approach civil, would love to get into a more involved discussion over a few drinks and homegrowns! Yes, I have planted fruit trees but it turns out I'm not such a good gardener: they have not grown much over the past few years and don't produce much fruit - and the birds get most of what they do produce. Am away from home right now but when I get back I plan on devoting some effort to fixing this problem.

I don't think there are many fruits we consume here that you guys don't get too, except for up in (especially the tropical regions of) Queensland - there you get stuff like chocolate pudding fruit, jackfruit and durian, which I don't imagine are too common in the US. I've eaten jackfruit - tastes like bubblegum! - but not yet either of the other two.

It seems I was misinformed about Buddhism and vegetarianism: it seems to be a contested area, but the consensus seems to be that the Buddha was not a vegetarian because as a wandering monk he ate whatever food was offered to him, so long as no animals were killed specifically for the purpose of feeding him - and decreed this same approach for the monks who followed him.

Summing up then from my end in response to your summing up: it is a pity that you didn't address the key question that I put to you regarding whether by "relative" you meant "arbitrary", such that it could genuinely be moral by some "relative" standard to torture and kill a child for fun. I think it is fair to say that an affirmative answer would be absurd, and from there we are led to some sort of objectivity (Neil's critique notwithstanding) with respect to morality - and *something like* the harm avoidance principle which I advocate seems to be as universally-recognisable an objective basis as we can get. I don't think, then, that the ethical basis of veganism can be faulted; it is only the diet itself that might be questioned based on empirical facts: if literally all life - including microorganisms - is equally sentient with equal (potential for) quality of experience, then the issue becomes more complex.

Most people, though, see life as a hierarchy of sentience, and so this counter-argument doesn't apply to most people - even though many will put it out there as though they believed it, as a personally disingenuous and ad hoc defence against the weight of the vegan argument. Even if it were true, though, there are nevertheless other good reasons to avoid animal products: there are environmental (methane emissions; land use; water use; fecal pollution), cruelty (farming in general but esp. factory farming) and health (preventability of "Western" diseases) arguments for veganism. The first two do not of course apply to you since you gain your meat through hunting wild animals.

Will leave it there unless you choose to return!

Best of success with your endeavours, I hope the transition to farming goes well. Very much appreciate the time, energy and congeniality you've put into this exchange.

Fruitfully,
Laird
 
#14
Gudday Neil,

I'll try to be brief and introduce novelty into this post to avoid repetition, because (and I mean no offence by this) I have answered most of your questions in previous posts.

I see immorality of the type of psychopaths in a similar sense to which I see unhealthy addiction: there is an objectively rational course of action for both - in the case of psychopaths: to behave with consideration for others; in the case of the unhealthy addict: to behave with consideration for him/herself - but for whatever reason, both cases of individual are effectively ("affectively"!) unable to pursue it. This in no way negates the objectivity of the principles behind what both cases of individual ought to do.

If you find this response unsatisfying, and if, after reconsidering my previous posts, you still feel I have not adequately addressed your questions, and you would like me to, then please feel free to reraise them. Just please try to reflect on my overall position and existing contributions first.
 
#15
P.S. Neil, I want to put a few questions to you: assuming the universality of certain moral principles is due, as you say, to our affective systems, then: are our affective systems arbitrary or is there some logic to them? i.e. Why are they the way that they are? If they are "logical", then could this logic be described as objective? Could it be (as I contend) that they are simply reflecting or "backing up" or "making it easier to follow" those moral principles which are - as I contend - objective?
 
#16
I see immorality of the type of psychopaths in a similar sense to which I see unhealthy addiction: there is an objectively rational course of action for both - in the case of psychopaths: to behave with consideration for others; in the case of the unhealthy addict: to behave with consideration for him/herself - but for whatever reason, both cases of individual are effectively ("affectively"!) unable to pursue it. This in no way negates the objectivity of the principles behind what both cases of individual ought to do.
Laird,

Thanks for the response. I would like to inject some novelty as well, and I really appreciate this conversation because it has got be thinking down a line of thought that you may appreciate.

With respect, I do not feel that you totally addressed my concerns. I will try to keep these points organized to help with responses if you have the time to do so.

1. To say that the psychopath is irrational can actually be seen as false from a game theory and rational decision making theory perspective. This would be under a utilitarian view, which I think there are a few important points to make regarding this. Within game theory, when most people play by the rules, the defectors actually seek to profit on average, at least from a utilitarian point of view. It is actually quite rational to be a defector in order to gain. The same goes for a lot of rational decision making theory, where its utilitarian view will give various decisions that may not be psychopathic, but at the least there is cheating and other forms of behavior and decisions that one could call immoral or at least not pro-social that would benefit the person. So in these two senses, psychopathic behavior can be seen as not wholly irrational.

But, you will probably have objected in the grounds of the utilitarian view being the basis of rationality, and I would agree. The utilitarian view is reasonable if you subscribe to a materialistic psychological worldview, and this view makes sense within a materialistic metaphysical worldview that is often portrayed by the scientific and academic communities.

2. The ability of very young children down to 4 to display a good ability for core moral judgment and distinction between moral and conventional rules as well as the ability for some with mental handicaps to do the same seems to be very problematic for the objective moral principle view that is achieved through conscious, rational choice.

3. The evidence for moral judgment being automatic and based on affective systems may be controversial, but considering the neurological evidence, psychological evidence (how when tested people cannot even say why they think something), and the evidence from developmental psychology with young children, it seems to strongly support the idea that moral judgment is subconscious and affect-based. While this in and of itself does not refute the idea of objective moral principles, it would refute that moral judgment is based on rational conscious deliberation. If you are so inclined, I have some papers I can link to in order to further support this claim. This is not to say that conscious rational deliberation plays no role in moral judgment, since it can affect judgment, but that this is not the way that moral judgment occurs.

Laird said:
P.S. Neil, I want to put a few questions to you: assuming the universality of certain moral principles is due, as you say, to our affective systems, then: are our affective systems arbitrary or is there some logic to them? i.e. Why are they the way that they are? If they are "logical", then could this logic be described as objective? Could it be (as I contend) that they are simply reflecting or "backing up" or "making it easier to follow" those moral principles which are - as I contend - objective?
I am going to use slightly different terms to answer this question, as I wouldn't say affective systems make decisions arbitrary or logical. Logic I see as formal logic, like in mathematics or formalized logical statements. I would say that emotions are definitely a part of plausible reasoning, and there can be more or less degrees of rationality to them. For example, the aversion to suffering in others I think is very important for moral judgment, whether that judgment occurs subconsciously as I contend or consciously as you contend. I would say that you can have more or less rationality within this, where no emotional impact results in what we would call irrationality because they may act psychopathic, and too much emotional impact may result in paralyzing behavior or extreme reactions to minor transgressions.

But I also want to come back to the utilitarian point that I made above. From an apparently objective utilitarian view, a psychopath isn't really irrational (unless he gets caught, so to speak, which is part of the calculated risk) because by defection he can profit by taking advantage of others in a society that generally follows rules. The utilitarian concerns are similar for rational decision theory as well.

But I disagree with the basis of these views, viz. the materialistic metaphysical and psychological worldviews on which they are based. So rather than beating around the bush, I will get to another idea that I had.

While I still do not see the objectivity you claim, I see an aspect that, to me, seems to get close to it. Beyond the near universality of our affect-backed harm-based rules, to me, the concept of a single consciousness that we all share and is the basis for the world itself seems to be the closest I can come to an objectivity. I don't see how this results in objective moral principles, however, since I still see them as concepts, but let me explain a little further.

If we all have at our fundamental level the same single consciousness that allows for our experience, and this consciousness is also what "causes" the physical world to manifest ala the von Neumann interpretation, I think we can establish an epistemology that is based on conscious experience and plausible reasoning. This would require a thread in and of itself, I think, but the aspects of conscious experience, in knowing what it's like, we gain information that we would not if there were no consciousness. Further, the universe wouldn't exist as such if it were not also for that conscious observation. This conscious experience contributes to understanding, and this holistic grasp of "what it's like" also, I think, has to do with truth.

Truth is impossible to get at logically, but with an epistemology based on conscious experience and the plausible reasoning based on conscious experience, we can holistically grasp what things are like and understand, and once we understand, we can also grasp what is true (more or less). This reasoning is fallible, but it does give a basis for approximate truth, and more or less degrees of it, and with error correction, approaching truer and truer theories.

So this epistemology based on conscious experience and plausible reasoning, supported by the von Neumann interpretation of quantum theory, provides a basis for moral reasoning. But, I contend that moral judgment is subconscious and affect-backed. This does not make it irrational, but it can be prone to irrationality. This aspect can be improved through conscious moral reasoning, which may help to see things from a different view and trigger a different judgment, but it is the emotional concern for others that backs this and makes it rational. And, if one also has a worldview based on a single shared consciousness, that will certainly affect their behavior, their views, and what is considered rational and moral compared to a materialist psychological and metaphysical worldview.
 
#17
Neil, I'm running low on battery, and response energy, so I'll be brief. Sticking with your numbered points:

  1. Yes, I reject game theory as the basis of rational (in the moral sense) behaviour, unless it is consciously being used to achieve maximal outcomes for everybody. What's rational is to give everybody's interests the same importance, whether we are working under a materialistic or spiritual worldview: objectivity in the sense of "beyond one's purely subjective interests". P.S. Are you sure you're not sowing confusion through your use of "utilitarian", which, in terms of morality, is based on concern for maximal good for the maximal number, rather than purely maximising one's own good as in game theory?
  2. But I'm not saying that moral judgements are (always) made through conscious, rational choice, simply that they can be, because the fundamental moral principle(s) is/are objective.
  3. See above.

Re your idea that a unitary consciousness provides a basis for moral reasoning: sure, but in my view the same applies under materialism. Being fundamentally connected spiritually is not the only reason to behave morally towards others, rationally or affectively!
 
#18
"Summing up then from my end in response to your summing up: it is a pity that you didn't address the key question that I put to you regarding whether by "relative" you meant "arbitrary", such that it could genuinely be moral by some "relative" standard to torture and kill a child for fun. I think it is fair to say that an affirmative answer would be absurd, and from there we are led to some sort of objectivity (Neil's critique notwithstanding) with respect to morality - and *something like* the harm avoidance principle which I advocate seems to be as universally-recognisable an objective basis as we can get. I don't think, then, that the ethical basis of veganism can be faulted; it is only the diet itself that might be questioned based on empirical facts: if literally all life - including microorganisms - is equally sentient with equal (potential for) quality of experience, then the issue becomes more complex."

I don't want to end this in pity :) I don't think morals were originally created by humans arbitrarily on an individual basis if that's what you mean. They were created by human cultural groups in conjunction with their members or "councils" to be able to function as a group and avoid situations that could tear the group apart. EX - "Let's agree to 1, 2, and 3 so we can live together without killing each other OK?." Of course, this is why morals are relative as these agreements varied according to the specific human cultural condition present in each situation/environment and further, their formation is relative to the functional needs of any said group. There are many examples throughout history and into the present day that show what was considered "morally right" in some cultures was considered horrific in others (for a hyper-local example in your neck of the woods, just look at aboriginal children taken from their families by the govt. for "protection" since the Aboriginal moral code didn't require child supervision which was "abuse" - aka torturing kids for fun - in the minds of Aussie govt.). There are many records of anthropologists commenting on certain tribes saying, "they have no idea of right and wrong", "they do not know they are immoral", and "the concept of virtue is nonexistent in this culture". Google em' if you need to - this is basic cultural studies stuff...I've said it a couple of times already - the evidence clearly shows that there is no "objective morality" present in all cultures - you'd have to prove that there was to actually be confident in your "reasoning" that follows that premise. Furthermore, in my opinion, the original purpose wasn't to climb up on a pedestal and declare to other human groups that "my morals are actually the right ones" - that came later when human groups wanted to take over/get rid of other groups and used their morality as a justification for doing so. So, 1) no objective morality evident across all cultures and 2) pushing “superior morality” on others wasn't the original intent but a tool of "war", "conquest" or, IMO "harm" to inflict on others. These have been my two major points all along (moral relativism and the folly of judgment) and they still stand strong.

I'll tell you a quick story about my first Anthropology class where we were shown a video of different "rites of passage" for children in various indigenous human cultures all over the world. Many of these videos included pain, suffering, bloody messes and many tears (and in one case of a vision quest - the death of a child) while the larger group celebrated, laughed and sang during these rite of passage ceremonies/rituals. After watching the video, the professor took a vote - "how many of you think these child "rite of passage" rituals are unacceptable on an ethical, moral basis?" Almost everyone raised their hand. We watched that same video on the last day of class and again the professor took the vote. No one raised their hand this time. What changed within the people in the class? Why did they go from thinking "torturing kids for fun" was immoral to thinking it was acceptable? What did they learn?
 
#19
  1. Yes, I reject game theory as the basis of rational (in the moral sense) behaviour, unless it is consciously being used to achieve maximal outcomes for everybody. What's rational is to give everybody's interests the same importance, whether we are working under a materialistic or spiritual worldview: objectivity in the sense of "beyond one's purely subjective interests". P.S. Are you sure you're not sowing confusion through your use of "utilitarian", which, in terms of morality, is based on concern for maximal good for the maximal number, rather than purely maximising one's own good as in game theory?
What is any more rational about the maximum good for the maximum number vs. living organisms looking out (generally) for themselves? Nature pretty much does that, and it works very well. Is nature not rational? Why is it more rational to try to treat everyone equally? I just don't get where you get the objective aspect. You seem to only proclaim objectivity. If it is objective, it should be easy to demonstrate or explain.

Laird said:
  1. But I'm not saying that moral judgements are (always) made through conscious, rational choice, simply that they can be, because the fundamental moral principle(s) is/are objective.
Again, on what basis do you keep claiming objectivity? How can something objective be so difficult to explain or demonstrate? We don't have evidence that anything is objective, since science only deals with inter-subjective verifiability. So if science cannot claim objectivity for anything, then what do you mean by objective?

Laird said:
Re your idea that a unitary consciousness provides a basis for moral reasoning: sure, but in my view the same applies under materialism. Being fundamentally connected spiritually is not the only reason to behave morally towards others, rationally or affectively!
I don't see how it could apply to materialism. With materialism, we have epiphenomenal consciousness, that must be illusory, with a non-continuous illusory self (so why should I worry about any conscious entity if it is ephemeral, only to be replaced by another conscious entity every moment?). Suffering itself would necessarily have to be illusory: machines don't suffer. If nature unfolds based on genes and caused behavior, then on what basis is there to want to be moral? With the "selfish genes" of materialism, the only moral behavior is altruism that is based on some form of evolutionary biology, but in which case, since there is no intent, since consciousness isn't causal, then on what basis is there to call anything moral anyway? Moral judgment requires responsibility. I have no choice in my behavior, so I cannot be held responsible for that behavior, so on what basis is there to make a moral judgment?
 
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#20
I don't think, then, that the ethical basis of veganism can be faulted; it is only the diet itself that might be questioned based on empirical facts: if literally all life - including microorganisms - is equally sentient with equal (potential for) quality of experience, then the issue becomes more complex."
I think I must strongly disagree with this comment. Only if you mean the diet, in and of itself, cannot be ethically faulted, which wouldn't really make sense to say, I would still make the case that I find the ideas presented by Laird to be completely unethical. The suggestions to force a particular diet upon people, with no respect to their culture, their ethnicity (Inuits would deteriorate quickly on a fruit diet), their metabolic individuality, their health status, nor to the health concerns of a fruit diet to not only myself, but also to my children, to be abhorrent and completely unethical. To have such little respect for individual metabolic differences, or diseased states, or to be so egregiously inconsiderate of entire ethnic groups is beyond unethical.

Further, there is something quite broken about a philosophy that treats all life the same, and thinks that all life has the same capacity to suffer (or at least we don't know that, but that we should give the lower life forms the benefit of the doubt). This view means that it is worse to eat sauerkraut than it is to eat a deer. If I kill a deer and gut it leaving the entrails in the woods (like predators do anyway), the bacteria in the digestive system are not being killed by my stomach acid, and I killed just one deer to eat. But if I ingest a serving of natural kraut, I would be killing millions or billions of little beings that suffer apparently just as much as a deer.. Why shouldn't I then kill a deer? That is more ethical than eating sauerkraut.

Any why no consideration of the environment? Cattle can be raised in areas with low water and low ability to grow crops, and Australia is a good example of a place where this occurs. What would the environmental impact be to try to have orchards to feed the world? Orchards are very water hungry and fruits are low in calories. What environmental impact is there? Why is there no concern for the harm done to displaced species? How is this quantified? How is it objectively demonstrated to be a lesser total harm compared to trying to move to biodynamic farms that also humanely raise animals? Especially when the claim is that all life forms may suffer equally.
 
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