Were we incapable of empathy – of putting ourselves in the position of others and seeing that their suffering is like our own – then ethical reasoning would lead nowhere. If emotion without reason is blind, then reason without emotion is impotent.
In an earlier stage of our development most human groups held to a tribal ethic. Members of the tribe were protected, but people of other tribes could be robbed or killed as one pleased. Gradually the circle of protection expanded, but as recently as 150 years ago we did not include blacks. So African human beings could be captured, shipped to America, and sold. In Australia white settlers regarded Aborigines as a pest and hunted them down, much as kangaroos are hunted down today. Just as we have progressed beyond the blatantly racist ethic of the era of slavery and colonialism, so we must now progress beyond the speciesist ethic of the era of factory farming, of the use of animals as mere research tools, of whaling, seal hunting, kangaroo slaughter, and the destruction of wilderness. We must take the final step in expanding the circle of ethics. -
What one generation finds ridiculous, the next accepts; and the third shudders when it looks back on what the first did.
Philosophy ought to question the basic assumptions of the age. Thinking through, critically and carefully, what most of us take for granted is, I believe, the chief task of philosophy, and the task that makes philosophy a worthwhile activity.
To protest about bullfighting in Spain, the eating of dogs in South Korea, or the slaughter of baby seals in Canada while continuing to eat eggs from hens who have spent their lives crammed into cages, or veal from calves who have been deprived of their mothers, their proper diet, and the freedom to lie down with their legs extended, is like denouncing apartheid in South Africa while asking your neighbors not to sell their houses to blacks.
If we shrug our shoulders at the avoidable suffering of the weak and the poor, of those who are getting exploited and ripped off, we are not the left.
Almost any established decision procedure is better than a resort to force; for when force is used, people get hurt and the desire for retaliation is likely to lead to more violence. Moreover, most decision procedures produce results at least as beneficial and just as a resort to force.
Our ancestors lived in groups of no more than a few hundred people, and those on the other side of a river or mountain range might as well have been living in a separate world. We developed ethical principles to help us to deal with problems within our community, not to help those outside it. The harms that it was considered wrong to cause were generally clear and well defined. We developed inhibitions against, and emotional responses to, such actions, and these instinctive or emotional reactions still form the basis for much of our moral thinking.
Arguments for preservation based on the beauty of wilderness are sometimes treated as if they were of little weight because they are merely aesthetic. That is a mistake. We go to great lengths to preserve the artistic treasures of earlier human civilisations. It is difficult to imagine any economic gain that we would be prepared to accept as adequate compensation for, for instance, the destruction of the paintings in the Louvre. How should we compare the aesthetic value of wilderness with that of the paintings in the Louvre? Here, perhaps, judgment does become inescapably subjective; so I shall report my own experiences. I have looked at the paintings in the Louvre, and in many of the other great galleries of Europe and the United States. I think I have a reasonable sense of appreciation of the fine arts; yet I have not had, in any museum, experiences that have filled my aesthetic senses in the way that they are filled when I walk in a natural setting and pause to survey the view from a rocky peak overlooking a forested valley, or by a stream tumbling over moss-covered boulders set amongst tall tree-ferns, growing in the shade of the forest canopy, I do not think I am alone in this; for many people, wilderness is the source of the greatest feelings of aesthetic appreciation, rising to an almost mystical intensity.
Even in the era of AIDS, sex raises no unique moral issues at all. Decisions about sex may involve considerations about honesty, concern for others, prudence, and so on, but there is nothing special about sex in this respect, for the same could be said of decisions about driving a car. (In fact, the moral issues raised by driving a car, both from an environmental and from a safety point of view, are much more serious than those raised by sex.)
If 10 percent of the population were to take a consciously ethical outlook on life and act accordingly, the resulting change would be more significant than any change of government
Egoism... is not eliminated by economic reorganization or by material abundance. When basic needs are satisfied, new 'needs' emerge. In our society, people want no simply clothes, but fashionable clothes; not shelter, but a house to display their wealth and taste.
The capacity for suffering – or more strictly, for suffering and/or enjoyment or happiness – is not just another characteristic like the capacity for language or for higher mathematics. Bentham is not saying that those who try to mark ‘the insuperable line’ that determines whether the interests of a being should be considered happen to have selected the wrong characteristic. The capacity for suffering and enjoying things is a prerequisite for having interests at all, a condition that must be satisfied before we can speak of interests in any meaningful way. It would be nonsense to say that it was not in the interests of a stone to be kicked along the road by a child. A stone does not have interests because it cannot suffer. Nothing that we can do to it could possibly make any difference to its welfare. A mouse, on the other hand, does have an interest in not being tormented, because mice will suffer if they are treated in this way.
Extreme poverty is not only a condition of unsatisfied material needs. It is often accompanied by a degrading state of powerlessness.
In the past 20 years alone, it adds up to more death than were caused by all the civil and international wars adn government repression of the entire twentieth century, the century of Hitler and Stalin. How much would we give to prevent those horrors? Yet how little are we doing to prevent today's even larger toll and all the misery that it involves? I believe that if you read this book to the end, and look honestly and carefully at our situation, assessing both the facts and the ethical arguments, you will agree that we must act.
No doubt we instinctively prefer to help those who are close to us. Few could stand by and watch a child drown; many can ignore the avoidable deaths of children in Africa or India. The question, however, is not what we usually do, but what we ought to do, and it is difficult to see any sound moral justification for the view that distance, or community membership, makes a crucial difference to our obligations.
First premise: If we can prevent something bad without sacrificing anything of comparable significance, we ought to do it. Second premise: Extreme poverty is bad. Third premise: There is some extreme poverty we can prevent without sacrificing anything of comparable moral significance. Conclusion: We ought to prevent some extreme poverty.
A majority of people in these surveys also said that America gives too much aid--but when they were asked how much America should give, the median answers ranged from 5 percent to 10 percent of government spending. In other words, people wanted foreign aid 'cut' to an amount five to ten times greater than the United States actually gives!
At least ten times as many people died from preventable, poverty-related diseases on September 11, 2011, as died in the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on that black day. The terrorist attacks led to trillions of dollars being spent on the ‘war on terrorism’ and on security measures that have inconvenienced every air traveller since then. The deaths caused by poverty were ignored. So whereas very few people have died from terrorism since September 11, 2001, approximately 30,000 people died from poverty-related causes on September 12, 2001, and on every day between then and now, and will die tomorrow. Even when we consider larger events like the Asian tsunami of 2004, which killed approximately 230,000 people, or the 2010 earthquake in Haiti that killed up to 200,000, we are still talking about numbers that represent just one week’s toll for preventable, poverty-related deaths — and that happens fifty-two weeks in every year.
The merely conscious being does not have a preference for continued life. Perhaps while having a pleasurable experience it has a preference for that experience to continue, or while having a painful experience it has a preference for that experience to end, but it will not have any preferences for the long-term future, and the desires it has do not survive periods of sleep or temporary unconsciousness, because unlike a self-aware being, it has no conception of its own future existence after a period of sleep. Thus if we are concerned only about the thwarting of preferences, for a merely conscious being, painless killing and administering an anesthetic seem to be equivalent. Killing does not thwart any more desires than putting the being to sleep. The being will be able to continue to satisfy its preferences after it awakes, but from the being's subjective perspective it is as if a new being, with new preferences, came into existence.
For a merely conscious being, death is the cessation of experiences, in much the same way that birth is the beginning of experiences. Death cannot be contrary to an interest in continued life any more than birth could be in accordance with an interest in commencing life. To this extent, with merely conscious beings, birth and death cancel each other out; whereas with self-aware beings, the fact that one may desire to continue living means that death inflicts a loss for which the birth of another is insufficient compensation.
Hebrew word for charity tzedakah, simply means justice and as this suggests, for Jews, giving to the poor is no optional extra but an essential part of living a just life.
It is easy for us to criticize the prejudices of our grandfathers, from which our fathers freed themselves. It is more difficult to distance ourselves from our own beliefs so that we can dispassionately search for prejudices among them.
Evolution has no moral direction. An evolutionary understanding of human nature can explain the differing intuitions we have when we are faced with an individual rather than with a mass of people, or with people close to us rather than with those far away, but it does not justify those feelings.
While it is absurd to blame Marx for something he did not foresee and certainly would have condemned if he had foreseen it, the distanced between Marx's predicted communist society and the form taken by 'communism' in the twentieth century may in the end be traceable to Marx's misconception of the flexibility of human nature.
Cheats prosper until there are enough who bear grudges against them to make sure they do not prosper.
It is easy for us to criticize the prejudices of our grandfathers, from which our fathers freed themselves. It is more difficult to search for prejudices among the beliefs and values we hold.
Pacifists have usually regarded the use of violence as absolutely wrong, irrespective of its consequences. This, like other ‘no matter what’ prohibitions, assumes the validity of the distinction between acts and omissions. Without this distinction, pacifists who refuse to use violence when it is the only means of preventing greater violence would be responsible for the greater violence they fail to prevent.
A society that decides its controversial issues by ballots does better than one that uses bullets – which, after all, is no more likely to lead to the right conclusion than voting.
In a democracy, we should be reluctant to take any action that amounts to an attempt to coerce the majority, for such attempts imply the rejection of majority rule, to which there is no acceptable alternative. There may, of course, be cases where the majority decision is so appalling that coercion is justified, whatever the risk. The obligation to obey a genuine majority decision is not absolute. We show our respect for the principle, not by blind obedience to the majority, but by regarding ourselves as justified in disobeying only in extreme circumstances.
Laws and a settled decision procedure to generate them are a good thing. This gives us one important reason for obeying the law. By obeying the law, I can contribute to the respect in which the established decision procedure and the laws are held. By disobeying, I set an example to others that may lead them to disobey too.
If we reject, as we must, the doctrine that the majority is always right, to submit moral issues to the vote is to gamble that what we believe to be right will come out of the ballot with more votes behind it than what we believe to be wrong; and that is a gamble we will often lose.
To give preference to the life of a being simply because that being is a member of our species would put us in the same position as racists who give preference to those who are members of their race.
It is easy to take a stand about a remote issue, but speciesists, like racists, reveal their true nature when the issue comes nearer home. To protest about bullfighting in Spain, the eating of dogs in South Korea, or the slaughter of baby seals in Canada, while continuing to eat eggs from hens who have spent their lives crammed into cages, or veal from calves who have been deprived of their mothers, their proper diet, or the freedom to lie down with their legs extended, is like denouncing apartheid in South Africa while asking your neighbors not to sell their houses to blacks.
No society has succeeded in abolishing the distinction between ruler and ruled... to be a ruler gives one special status and, usually, special privileges. During the Communist era, important officials in the Soviet Union had access to special shops selling delicacies unavailable to ordinary citizens; before China allowed capitalist enterprises in its economy, travelling by car was a luxury limited to tourists and those high in the party hierarchy Throughout the 'communist' nations, the abolition of the old ruling class was followed by the rise of a new class of party bosses and well-placed bureaucrats, whose behaviour and life-style came more and more to resemble that of their much-denounced predecessors. In the end, nobody believed in the system any more. That, couple with its inability to match the productivity of the less bureaucratically controlled, more egoistically driven capitalist economies, led to its downfall.
We think of dogs as being more like people than pigs; but pigs are highly intelligent animals and if we kept pigs as pets and reared dogs for food, we would probably reverse our order of preference. Are we turning persons into bacon?
Voluntary euthanasia occurs only when, to the best of medical knowledge, a person is suffering from an incurable and painful or extremely distressing condition. In these circumstances one cannot say that to choose to die quickly is obviously irrational.
When we make ethical judgments, we must go beyond a personal or sectional point of view and take into account the interests of all those affected, unless we have sound ethical grounds for doing otherwise. This means that we weigh interests, considered simply as interests and not as my interests, or the interests of people of European descent, or of people with IQs higher than 100. This provides us with a basic principle of equality: the principle of equal consideration of interests. The essence of the principle of equal consideration of interests is that we give equal weight in our moral deliberations to the like interests of all those affected by our actions. This means that if only X and Y would be affected by a possible act, and if X stands to lose more than Y stands to gain, it is better not to do the act. We cannot, if we accept the principle of equal consideration of interests, say that doing the act is better, despite the facts described, because we are more concerned about Y than we are about X. What the principle really amounts to is: an interest is an interest, whoever's interest it may be.