Sunday, June 26, 2011

In Defense of Non-Natural Non-Theistic Moral Realism

In Wielenberg's paper In Defense of Non-Natural Non-Theistic Moral Realism, Wielenberg rebuts what is usually called the moral argument for God's existence. He does this by showing that both the theist and atheists of the moral realist type, are committed to the existence of basic ethical facts.

What is a fact?
Facts are "obtaining or actual states of affairs." A states of affairs are "necessarily existing abstract entities that obtain or fail to obtain." Some facts are necessary, others are contingent. A necessary fact obtains in all metaphysically possible worlds, a contingent fact obtains in some but not all. For example the state of affairs where my dog is sitting next to me obtains contingently, the state of affairs where my dog is not identical to a number obtains necessarily. Some facts obtain because of the obtaining of other facts or state of affairs. For example the fact that my dog is sitting 3 feet in the air obtains because another state of affairs obtains, namely, that she is sitting in a chair. Whereas other state of affairs that obtain, can be called brute facts; "their obtaining is not explained by the explaining of other states of affairs." Many theists believe that the existence of God is a brute fact. God's existing cannot be explained by the obtaining of other states of affairs.

Some facts involve ethical states of affairs. These obtain either contingently or necessarily. As Wielenberg says "that pain is intrinsically bad is not explained in terms of other state of affairs that obtain." The state of affairs that pain is intrinsically bad is a brute fact (in the same way the existence of God is a brute fact). Wielenberg calls such facts basic ethical facts. On a side note a contingent ethical fact would be as such: Imagine there exists a button that when pressed causes immense pain to a person, it is wrong to press this button, but only contingently so because there are possible worlds in which a pushing this button would not have such a bad ethical result. Wielenberg's continues to explain:

"such facts are the foundation of (the rest of) objective morality and rest on no foundation themselves. To ask of such facts, "where do they come from?" or "on what foundation do they rest?" is misguided in much the way that, according to many theists, it is misguided to ask of God, "where does he come from?" or "on what foundation does He rest?" The answer is the same in both cases: They come from nowhere, and nothing external to themselves grounds their existence; rather, they are fundamental features of the universe that ground other truths."
This then is the gist of non-natural ethical realism, their exist basic ethical facts, and these facts are brute meaning they can not be explained in reference to other facts.

How are Theists Committed to the existence of ethical facts
I will focus on the theistic ethics of Robert Adams and Wielenberg's analysis of Adams ethics as it pertains to his argument, because I think this is the most significant point of Wielenberg's paper. Adams puts forth a sophisticated divine command theory, moral laws derive from God's commands which in turn derive from God's necessarily Good nature. God's nature then "is the standard of excellence." The degree in which a persons character and actions resemble the divine nature is the degree in which this person is moral or good. Adams account then appears to describe the supervenience of the moral on the non moral. As Wielenberg explains:

"The supervenience of goodness upon the character of Marcus Aurelius. On Adams’s approach, this supervenience is grounded in the resemblance between Marcus Aurelius’s character and the necessarily existing divine nature.To keep matters simple, let us suppose that the aspect of Aurelius’s character that makes it good is mercifulness. On Adams’s account, the supervenience of goodness on Marcus Aurelius’s character is explained by the fact that the divine nature is essentially merciful. In any world in which Aurelius’s character is merciful, that character resembles the divine nature and hence is (in one respect at any rate) good."
Adams claim is then Good=God, this is modelled on a similar claim that water=H2O. Wielenberg explains in greater detail"Adams’s account is reductive in that it implies that (at least some) ethical facts and properties just are supernatural facts and properties. Facts about finite goodness just are facts about a certain sort of resemblance to God, and facts about moral obligation just are facts about God’s commands." These then are the basic ethical facts which Adams view is committed to: Good is just, merciful, and loving. Are these really basic ethical facts, aren't they grounded in the existence of God? No because Good=God! As Wielenberg enlightens us:

"In the context of Adams’s view, the claim that God serves as the foundation of the Good is no more sensible than the claim that H2O serves as the foundation of water. Indeed, once we see that, on Adams’s view the Good = God, we see that Adams’s theory entails that the Good has no external foundation, since God has no external foundation. It is not merely that Adams’s view fails to specify where the Good came from; the theory implies that the Good did not come from anywhere."

This is not to say that Adam's view is deficient, rather that non-naturalism and theistic theories of morality have the same basic structure. They both posit basic ethical facts. These facts have no further foundation other then themselves. Thus it is rather silly to claim that objective moral facts cannot obtain if God does not exist, because theistic ethics posit basic ethical facts in the same way as non-theistic non-natural moral realism does.
Ultimately the foundation of objective morality rests on nothing. Although theists may critique non-naturalist for a shopping list approach to morality (as William Lane Craig does), they do the same thing. For example Wielenberg's list includes the following ethical items:
  • Pain is intrinsically bad
  • Inflicting pain just for fun is morally wrong
  • It is just to give people what they deserve
And a theist like Adams will include these basic ethical facts:
  • There is a being that is worthy of worship
  • If the Good commands you to do something, then you are morally obligated to do it
  • The better the character of the commander, the more reason there is to obey his or her commands
And that is how the cookie crumbles!

You can read a more detailed summary of this paper here and the actual paper here.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Creeds to Live By

Creeds to Live By
There is an idea that Wielenberg discusses which is often brought up in discussions of naturalism & Christianity. It is that "we should try to inculcate certain beliefs about the supernatural on the grounds that widespread acceptance of those beliefs will make us better of in general." I think that this idea is clearly nonsense, but will at least summarize what wielenberg says about the matter. His response to this argument is: "Certain views in the Old Testament are very dangerous, and the less widely these views are held the better off we are." The following are "dangerous elements" in the OT:
  • "There is a God who has selected a particular group of people to be his chosen people"
  • "There is a God whose commands trump all other considerations"
  • "There is a God who sometimes commands invasion, killing, and genocide--sometimes when there is no apparent justification other than that they have been commanded by God"
  • "Some people have the authority to order such activities on God's behalf."
Wielenberg then gives examples of these activities highlighting their application in the OT, most of these have been linked accordingly. It is plausable to hold that just as these beliefs case suffering in the OT so would their widespread acceptance in the modern age. On the opposite side of tis equation naturalism is "devoid of these dangerous ideas." Given naturalism, there is no God, no one special group of people, and no one with the authority to give commands that must be obeyed because  of their intrinsic nature. Positively, naturalism can produce solidarity with fellow human beings as described in this quote by Bertrand Russell:
"United with his fellow-men by the strongest of all ties, the tie of a common doom, the free man finds that a new vision is with him always, shedding over every daily task the light of love. The life of Man is a long march through the night, surrounded by invisible forces, tortured by weariness and pain, towards a goal that few can hope to reach, and where none may tarry long. One by one, as they march, our comrades vanish from our sight, seized by the silent orders of omnipotent Death. Very brief is the time in which we can help them, in which their happiness or misery is decided. Be it ours to shed sunshine on their path, to lighten their sorrows by the balm of sympathy, to give them the pure joy of a never-tiring affection, to strengthen failing courage, to instil faith in hours of despair. Let us not weigh in grudging scales their merits and demerits, but let us think only of their need -- of the sorrows, the difficulties, perhaps the blindnesses, that make the misery of their lives; let us remember that they are fellow-sufferers in the same darkness, actors in the same tragedy with ourselves. And so, when their day is over, when their good and their evil have become eternal by the immortality of the past, be it ours to feel that, where they suffered, where they failed, no deed of ours was the cause; but wherever a spark of the divine fire kindled in their hearts, we were ready with encouragement, with sympathy, with brave words in which high courage glowed."
Although Wielenberg continues to discuss other issues, I will not summarize the rest of this book. This is because the objections which he discusses are not very interesting, and I just discovered a useful synopsis of this book which renders my project of summarizing the book completely pointless.
At any rate this concludes my discussion of the book Value and Virtue in a Godless Universe. Since Wielenberg has established that a naturalist can live a meaningful and moral life without God all that is left is for the naturalist to go out and do so!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Ethical Character in a Godless Universe

In this chapter Erik Wielenberg defends the notion of naturalistic virtues. More specifically he explains how naturalism can accommodate the Christian like virtues of humility, charity, heroism, and hope. 

A naturalist can be humble by giving proper credit to their accomplishments. This seems like the opposite of humility, but it is not. This is because in the naturalistic universe, just as in the theistic there are many matters that are out of our control. Thus when a naturalist gives proper credit to their accomplishments they must realize that their accomplishments are contingent on multiple factors environment, genetics and so on. Wielenberg says "In the naturalistic universe, each of us should recognize the tremendous accomplishment dumb luck has made to all human accomplishments, and that in the case of any such accomplishment, the majority of the credit goes to blind chance." 

From Humility to Charity
Our economic status is completely contingent on our demographic location (there are arguably other factors as well, but this one is obvious). Some of us are born in affluent countries, others are not so fortunate. Since our socioeconomic status is simply a matter of where we born, in the majority of cases it is out of our hands. Realizing this, the naturalist (and anyone else it seems) is obligated to help alleviate the sufferings of their brethren. Wielenberg gives the following metaphor: Imagine a planet where everyone parachutes down at random places on the planet. Some people are fortunate and land in a luscious forest full of food and luxury, others land in a desert where they are on the brink of starvation. Do the fortunate have an obligation to help the unfortunate. It seems as thought they do since their roles could have easily been reversed, and because the created situation is out of human control. The natural world is similar in this way, some of us are affluent others are poverty stricken due to factors out of our control. Thus humility can lead to charity.

Heroism and Hope
Wielenberg says that "the naturalists self-concept out to be as a hero, struggling to satisfy the demands of morality and secure a life of internal meaning for the individual and for loved ones in a universe which is at best utterly indifferent and at worst downright hostile to both projects... I suggest that the naturalists view themselves as engaged in  a struggle against a wild animal. The struggle is not on the battlefield where conflict rages between the forces of dark and light and where victory and salvation are assured only for the right side. Rather, the struggle is to tame an uncaring, irrational beast, and success is anything but certain; everyone has something of the beast inside and an important part of the struggle is conquering this inner monster." And where does hope fit in? Well we can be hopeful for several reasons. One which Wielenberg gives is science. Science gives us hope because it helps understand this "wild animals." Through science we can understand our biases and inner prejudices and test empirical methods which can improve peoples behavior. Further it seems plausible to suppose that history has progressed, moral standards have improved at least a little. The practice of slavery and sacrifice has been cut back significantly by human beings. Although there are problems galore and immense daily suffering, the naturalist can be hopeful for a better future.

This concludes the discussion of Wielenberg's conceptions of virtue in a godless universe. His final words are poignant: "Without God, there is no guarantee that we will be able to save ourselves from ourselves. But neither is there a guarantee that we will fail. There is room for hope. My suggestion is that we focus on the attempt."

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Why Be Moral?

In this chapter Wielenberg asks the question why be moral in a naturalistic universe? He also deals with Kant’s argument on the divine guarantee of a morally perfect universe. I will only focus on the fist issue; why be moral? In this chapter Wielenberg offers two answers.

The Moral Challenge
The challenge or argument that Wielenberg is interested in responding to is as follows:
1. A person has a normative reason to be moral only if it is that person’s best interest to be moral
2. It is never in anyone’s best interest to be moral.
3. Therefore, no one ever has a normative reason to be moral.

Because Morality and Self-Interest Coincide
One way to respond to this challenge is to deny the 2nd premise. Aristotle and Hume both do this in their own unique way. There are two ways to think about self-interest which Wielenberg gives us; a revisionist axiology and a commonsense axiology. The commonsense axiology incorporates the “commonsense” values of human pleasure and virtue. Hume accepts a commonsense axiology of sorts; he believes that “being virtuous is the best way to attain wealth, power, and pleasure.” This claim is dubious, first of all it seems that those who have the most power and wealth are not the most virtuous people. Second it is difficult to specify the type of pleasure that comes from virtuous activity. Aristotle supplies something to answer the second question. On Aristotle’s view “virtuous activity is its own reward.” He explains:
“[Many] actions of a [virtuous person] are performed in the interest of his friends and of his country, and if there be need, he will give his life for them. He will freely give his money, honors and, in short, all good things that men compete for, while he gains nobility of himself…A good man would freely give away his money if it means that his friend would get more, for (in this way) the friend’s gain is wealth, while his own is nobility, so that he assigns the greater good to himself.”
So in this paradigm one ought to be moral because doing so allows you to attain a higher good. Even a life a martyrdom, in which there is no afterlife, is a life worth living because the act of martyrdom is one of the highest goods available in the natural world.

Because You Ought To
Another way of dealing with the argument presented in the beginning is to deny the 1st premise. As Wielenberg explains; "That premise is based on the notion that the only reason there could be for performing a given action is that the action is in on's interest. But it seems to me that such claim is straightforwardly false. There are many possi ble different kinds of reason for performing a given action; that it is in one's interest is but one. another reason for performing an action is simply that it is morally obligatory for one to do so." This view may seem to short or trite, but as Wielenberg mentions it is not that different from other reasons for action; "To the question  "why be moral?" a perfectly acceptable answer is "because it is moral." This might seem odd until one notices that to the question "why do what is in one's interest" a perfectly acceptable answer is "because it is in one's interest." No further explanation is required in either case."

Monday, June 13, 2011

God and Morality

In the second chapter of Value and Virtue in a Godless Universe Wielenberg critiques theistic ethics and argues for a basic account of naturalistic ethics. I will focus on the later.

God as the Source of Ethics? Naturalism as the source of Nihilism!
Some philosophers argue that God is the source of all moral duties and commands and that as a consequence of this, the naturalistic framework cannot account for objective moral values. Wielenberg argues that this is false because "we have some moral obligations that derive from our relationship with other human beings and we have other moral obligations that derive from intrinsic values." I will only focus on the first, and quickly sum up the second.

God as a Divine Commander
Many, if not most, theists believe that moral obligations arise out of Gods commands.Wielenberg contests this for two primary reasons. The first is that although God can and may be the source of some moral obligations he cannot be the source for all moral obligation. This is because for God to command an action x he must have the right credentials and go through a proper process. Divine Command theorists suggest that a person x must obey God because he is an all-good God, these are the proper credentials for an ethical command. Wielenberg has no qualms with this. But for an all-good God to command an action or moral obligation via a sign is not enough to establish a moral condition. God must make sure that the receiver of the command, understands that the sign is from her. Wielenberg illustrates this as such:
"Suppose your friend (call him "Dave") sends you an anonymous note. The note reads: "Loan Dave your Car"...Are you now morally obligated to loan Dave your car? The answer clearly enough is no, and it is not hard to see why: You have no idea who issued this command. More specifically, you don't know that the command was issued by dave. Moreover, Dave (We may reasonably suppose) knew that you would not be able to tel who issued the command. In these circumstances, it seems clear that Dave, despite being capable of imposing on you the obligation to loan him your car, has failed to do so in the case at hand. He has failed to do so because he has failed to recognize that the command is coming from a legitimate source."
So now a argument can be constructed to show that not all moral obligations derive from God's commands:
1. When issuing a command which instills moral obligation, God must show that the command comes from a legitimate source, namely, himself.
2. Naturalists have moral obligations.
3. But naturalists do not recognize God's existence, let alone her commands.
4. Therefore, God cannot be the source of all the naturalists moral obligations.
There may be some objections to 3, perhaps the naturalists does not recognize that God exists or that she has issued a command because of some moral or rational fault of their own. But it doesn't at all seem controversial to suppose that there are reasonable naturalists.That is, naturalists who are in a position where they may be epistemically justified in the belief that God doesn't exist. Well perhaps that is a bit controversial, but remember that Wielenberg assumes that naturalism is true in this book and is only seeking to establish that if naturalism is true then there exists value and virtue! He does not argue for the truth of naturalism. Thus saying that the naturalist is suffering from a significant defect (spiritual, moral, or rational) would be to beg the question of God's existence. So through all this I think one could establish that if naturalism is true there still exists moral obligation.

Necessary Moral Truths
Some things are contingent (they could or could not exist) and others are necessary (they cannot not-exist). The typical example of a necessary truths is 2+2=4. It must be the case that 2=2+4. In the same way the naturalist cannot insist that it must be the case that pain is bad. Pain may lead to good things, but it is in and of itself bad. It is intrinsically bad and it could not be otherwise. God could not make the badness of pain go be a goodness, because the badness of pain is not contingent it is necessary. Thus it is the case that the naturalist can insist on moral truths that derive are true in virtue of their intrinsic and necessary nature.
This I think constructs a basic case for the existence of moral facts in the naturalistic framework, that is quite successful.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

God and the Meaning of Life

In the first chapter of Value and Virtue in a Godless Universe Erik Wielenberg considers three arguments that render life in a Godless universe meaningless. He ultimately rejects them all by offering three different "theories of meaning" by Aristotle, Richard Taylor, and Peter Singer.

The Meaning of Life
Wielenberg identifies three ways in which life may have meaning. It may have supernatural meaning that is "purpose that is assigned by a supernatural being." Or it may have external meaning, when a life has meaning if "the universe is better than it would have been had the life not been lived." Or finally internal meaning. If a life has internal meaning; "the individual is better off having lived than had that person never existed at all. Moreover, the life is one in which something worthwhile is accomplished it is a life that has a point. It is the urge to live a life like this that is revealed in the expression "I want to do something with my life.""
Though there are reasons to squabble with these definitions of meaningfulness, for the purpose of the summary I will assume that they are for the most part correct, which I think is true.

Arguments that Life Lacks Internal Meaning Without God
Wielenberg gives three arguments which conclude that life is meaningless without God, they are the final outcome argument, pointless existence argument, and the nobody of significance cares argument.

Final Outcome Argument (Hereafter FOA)
FOA goes something like this: if there is no God, and no immortality then the final outcome of life makes it meannigless. Because the universe will inevitable become extinct, either in a heat-death or something else like life will lead to nothing of significance or value. Because everyone dies life is absurd.

Pointless Existence Argument (Hereafter PEA)
PEA follows the proposition that "life only has meaning if it has supernatural meaning." Without an assigned goal by a supernatural agent life is pointless.
Nobody of Significance Cares Argument (Hereafter NSCA)
NSCA can be put as follows: "a life has meaning only if a suitable significant being cares about or takes an interest in that life." If God loves us life has meaning, but if she doesn't exist she can't love or care for us thus life is meaningless.

In response to these arguments Erik ponders offers three different theories of meaning

Creating Your Own Meaning
Wielenberg begins with Richard Taylor's response to these arguments in the last chapter of his book Good and Evil. The sum of Richard's view is that life can have internal meaning if a persons desires and activities correspond with each other. He mentions the famous case of Sisyphus. Sisyphus was condemned by the Gods and "sentenced to an eternity of frustration." He must roll a large rock up a hill for all eternity, and every time he gets to the top of the hill, the stone rolls down again. Clearly this is not initially a meaningful activity. But Taylor asks what if Sisyphus enjoyed rolling the rock up the hill? What if he had the desire to roll the rock up the hill for eternity and this desire was satisfied by his activity? Then Taylor argues Sisyphus's life would have internal meaning.
To FOA and NSCA Taylor would respond that the end situation and whether any one cares or not has no relevance to meaning, they represent improper criterion. To PEA Taylor would say that you create your own meaning, and don't need supernatural guidance or commands when doing so.
But Taylor's account is clearly not without problems, if objective values exist then some things are meaningful whereas others probably are not. Wielenberg has us compare the case of a jazz musician who loves what he does and a grinning excrement eater who feels the same about his existence. Even though both of their desires correspond nicely with their activity it seems as though the jazz musician lives a much more meaningful life. If objectively some activities are better then others then it would certainly be the case that being a jazz musician is better then being a excrement eater, whether you like it or not. Thus if  objective values exist we have good reason to say that Taylor's account is wrong. If there are no such things, then Taylor's idea of meaningfulness can be of use.

Meaning Through Eliminating Pain
The second conception of how a human life can have internal meaning is constructed by Peter Singer and analyzed by Wielenberg. Singer's view is that "we can live a meaningful life by working towards goals that are objectively worthwhile." Singer takes pain to be intrinsically bad, and thus the elimination of pain is objectively worthwhile. As Erik explains "At the heart of Singer's view then, is this principle:
(S) An activity of S's, A, has internal meaning for S just in case (i) in doing A, S is trying to accomplish goal G, (ii) G is objectively worthwhile, and (iii) A in fact leads to G."

So a life is meaningful for a person who is spends their life trying to eliminate pain. Under Singer's view a life could also have internal meaning for a person who spends their life trying to create pleasure for other people, as long as that pleasure is objectively worthwhile.
In reply to FOA Singer can respond that that argument fails because it arbitrarily puts to much emphasis on the future as opposed t other present. He in fact says this
"We should not, however, think of our efforts as wasted unless they endure forever, or even for a very long time. If we regard time as a fourth dimension, then we can think of the universe, throughout all the times at which it contains sentient life, as a four-dimensional entity. We can then make that our-dimensional world a better place by causing there to be less pointless suffering in one particular place, at one particular time, than there would otherwise have been...We will have had a positive effect on the universe."
Wielenberg quotes Paul Edwards who says, that FOA fails because of a "curious and totally arbitrary preference of the future to the present." PEA fails because it doesn't matter whether eliminating suffering is mandated by God or not. It is still objectively worthwhile. And to NSCA Singer can say that actually significant beings do care! The beings whose suffering is being decreased care very much indeed and surely they are significant! 
So although Singers theory could use a bit more support it comes out as a substantial improvement over Taylor's.

Intrinsically Good Activity
Wielenberg finishes with Aristotle's view. "Aristotle divides activities into two categories--those that are good because of what they produce, and those that are good in and of themselves." His "insight" is "Some activities are intrinsically good." That is these activities are good even if they lead to nothing of value. So "That suggests a third way of bringing internal meaning to ones life: Engage in intrinsically good activities, activities that are worth doing for their own sake." I think this is a satisfying idea of meaning, but are their such activities that are intrinsically good? I am not sure if there are, to be more specific I am strictly agnostic about the manner. I don't think there are any good reasons for thinking there are not intrinsically good activity's or very good reasons for thinking that their are. Perhaps the burden of proof falls on the person who claims that their are such values? At any rate Wielenberg lists includes such activities as "falling in love, engaging in intellectually stimulating activity, being creative in various ways, experiencing pleasure of various kinds, and teaching." How do you find these intrinsic activities and values? He suggests using "a version of G. E. mores isolation test... To see if an activity is intrinsically good, consider whether you would find it worthwhile even if it had absolutely no consequences." Aristotle's theory can dispense with the arguments against meaning in a godless universe in a similar way that the previous theories did so; FOA, PEA, NSCA all do not use the proper criteria of meaning and are not relevant. I think the challenge of this idea is to somehow show more conclusively that their are intrinsic activities. Either way whether God exists or not has nothing to do with whether there are or not. Thus this idea can be seen as a useful theory of meaning in a Godless universe.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Value and Virtue in a Godless Universe

I am going to do a post series on Wielenberg's Value and Virtue in a Godless Universe. I found this to be a very informative and readable work on the ethical implications of naturalism. It deals with popular theistic arguments against the implications of naturalism for morality and meaning. In conclusion of my reading, I will summarize each chapter of the work and include my own additional thoughts on the matter. Also to be included are two papers by Wielenberg "In Defense of Non-Natural, Non-Theistic Moral Realism" and "On Evolutionary Debunking Arguments"
The posts are as follows:
1. God and the Meaning of Life
2. God and Morality
3. Divine Guarantee of Perfect Justice
4. Ethical Character in a Godless Universe
5. Creeds to Live By
6. In Defense of Non-Natural, Non-Theistic Moral Realism
7. On Evolutionary Debunking Arguments

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Why Christians ought to be Vegetarian

Many people are of the opinion that if one is a Christian one is not obligated to be a vegetarian, nor is it even supererogatory to be a vegetarian.This argument can be challenged in several ways, here I will offer one quick argument to the contrary:

1. In the perfect state of nature humans are vegetarian
This is shown by the vegetarian diet in the Garden of Eden before the fall, and as well as "prophetic"   verses concerning the lion and the lamb getting along nicely. In other words before the fall, and in "heaven" humans were and will be vegetarian. I think this is fundamentally correct, and see no problems with this premise.

2. In the perfect state of nature humans were closest to God (had a better relationship w/ God, etc.)
This premise can be modified in multiple ways, what is important is that in the perfect state of nature the Christian can better fulfill their calling and purpose as a Christian. In other words it would have been preferable for humans, not to fall and to remain in the perfect state of nature.

3. As a Christian one ought to be close to God
This premise can also be modified in the same manner as 2.

4. Therefore, as a Christian one ought to emulate the perfect state of nature.

5. Hence, as a Christian one ought to be vegetarian.

I think this is a legitimate argument. I can think of a few objections, one is that in the Bible people frequently eat meat. For this objection to work it would have to be rephrased along the lines of, God condoned x as morally permissible therefore x is morally permissible (as opposed to the clearly fallacious: person x does y in the Bible therefore y is morally permissible.) At no point that I am aware of does the Christian God say that eating meat is morally obligatory, only that it is permissible. Later on the apostle Paul seems to contradict himself with Romans 14:21:
"It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother to fall."
and Romans 14:02:
"One man’s faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables."
These two verses can be interpreted in multiple different ways and have been used to argue both for Christian vegetarianism and against it. I am not sure that any one make any ground on this argument (here is a short rebuke of Rom 14:02), at any rate lets assume that eating meat is neither obligatory nor forbidden and likewise for vegetarianism. How does this affect the argument? It may mean that it is not obligatory for a Christian to be vegetarian. I am not sure if I follow this objection, but lets consider it valid. All this establishes is that the it is permissible for a Christian to be a meat eater, but it would be better if they practiced vegetarianism. In other words it is supererogatory that Christians be vegetarianism if this objection is correct. In other words if eating meat is permissible, then being vegetarian is not obligatory, but it still may be better.

I think if the advocate for Christian vegetarianism is to overcome this objection they may do this by making a crucial distinction. God (and Paul and whoever else) say that eating meat is permissible after the fall, this is not to say that it is desirable. In other words humans ought not have fallen, this being the case things that are permissible after the fall, may not really be ultimately permissible. Thus it is ultimately the case that Christians ought to be vegetarian.

I am not yet convinced if this argument works, I think I will try it and see what people say in response. It may ultimately come down to theological interpretation and whatnot.

Monday, June 6, 2011

A few objections to Vegetarianism

What follows is a modified excerpt from one of my papers on vegetarianism:

"...Some people are convinced that it is natural to eat meat and therefore it is morally acceptable to eat meat. But this obviously does not follow, simply because something is natural doesn’t change it’s moral status. It is not even clear how to interpret the word natural, since it seems like everything is in a sense natural, but certainly not everything is morally acceptable. Perhaps the word natural is being used to say that humans to have evolved to be omnivores, but again simply because we have the ability to eat meat doesn’t mean that it is acceptable, for we have the ability to do many bad and naughty things. Others believe that vegetarianism leads to absurd consequences these thoughts go like this: “suppose that we are obligated to reduce animal suffering then shouldn’t we interfere with the predation of other animals eating animals? But that would be absurd!” However this objection includes its own refutation, if it is absurd to meddle with predation then clearly we aren’t obligated to do so. This has no relevance whatsoever as to whether we should be vegetarians or not. Further if our technology and scientific knowledge continues to advance at it’s current rate then perhaps someday it will not be absurd to interfere with nature and then we can and should take steps to reduce suffering in the wild. Until then we should reduce animal suffering through vegetarianism. Some people think that animals are completely devoid of animal rights for a variety of reasons, but I am not sure how this affects my arguments. These arguments had nothing to do with what species an organism is or how rational they are, these principles extend to all sentient beings. Although I am quite skeptical of rights based approaches to morality, it seems that if infants and the mentally disabled have any rights animals should have at least some rights as well. Another objection also has to do with animal rights, it is said “since the farmer gave the animal life the farmer has the right to kill it.” However this is generally not how we think about rights, for example when parents give life to a child they certainly do not have the right to kill it once the child has ripened. If animals have a moral status, their good and bad experiences should be considered morally relevant, and this cannot be superseded by some vague version of rights. Some people examining the gargantuan and deplorable number of animals slaughtered return hopeless thinking that becoming a vegetarian won’t change anything. But this is false, it is estimated by that the average vegetarian saves 35-50 animals from being slaughtered a year. Finally people insinuate that a vegetarian diet is not healthy. Not surprisingly this is also false, simply read the statement by American Dietetic Association that mentions vegetarian diets “are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases.” Although there are many other objections to vegetarianism I am led to conclude that they are all failures in the same fashion of the objections just discarded."

Clearly some of these objections could have been considered in more detail and there may be more which demand attention. There will probably be more posts analyzing objections in more detail in the future.