Monday, December 9, 2013

Marder on Plants

Marder thinks that plants should have the right to flourish and the right to be free of arbitrary violence.  The basis for these rights is plant subjectivity or agency.  In other words, plants have a basic ability to actively shape their environments.  As such, they should have certain rights.  Plant intelligence studies seem to undermine Singer's justification of vegetarianism because it shows that just because someone avoids eating animals does not yet mean that one is eating ethically.  Plants, as something with their own kind of subjectivity, seem to be just as deserving of rights as animals are.  Just because they have rights does not entail that they also have responsibilities.  We might have obligations to plants even if plants are not the kind of thing to have their own obligations.  It may even turn out that all eating is unethical.  If this is the case, then this is not to say that we should stop all eating.  Rather, the question of whether we should eat is akin to the question of whether we should exist.  Marder says that the easiest rule for respectful eating is to remember that the sources of our food are not just calories for human consumption.  There is some sort of 'good' for that plant (or animal) itself. 

Monday, December 2, 2013

Korsgaard on the Origin of 'the Good'

Korsgaard distinguishes between two ways that we use the word 'good'.  First, there is the everyday 'evaluative' sense of the word.  For example, when we call something a good book, a good car, a good pair of shoes, a good cup of coffee, etc.  In the evaluative sense, a thing is good according to our goals.  There is also the 'final' sense of good, i.e., 'the good'.  This sense of the word means something like the final aim or total goodness for a thing.  This is often thought to be something that is good for it's own sake (good in itself).  In this paper, Korsgaard is concerned with the nature of 'the good'.

She then contrasts three theories about the final good.  Intrinsic good theory is the theory that goodness is a real property of an object.  For example, an action is morally good as a matter of fact in the same way that my new shoes are red.  Hedonism is the theory that the final good is what makes us happy.  Eudaimonism is the theory that the final good is to function well or to have one's own biological organism in a state of well-being.  Korsgaard argues that the benefit of a eudaimonistic theory is that it can explain the relationship between evaluative good and final good.  In order to explain this, she introduces the extended-evaluative sense of the word.  To be good in the extended-evaluative sense means to be good for some purpose and also be be functioning healthily.  In this sense, to have a final good just means to be aware of oneself as being in good condition.  In other words, having a final good means being able to take an evaluative approach to one's own life.  As such, the final good requires some level of reflexivity.    In other words, to have a final good, one must be aware of one's final good.  It seems that rational consciousness either introduces another kind of final good or it is a more complex awareness of one's own final good.  Either way, having a final good requires reflexivity.

Korsgaard on Fellow Creatures

In this essay, Korsgaard begins by noting the unstable attitudes that we have towards animals.  On the one hand, we seem to agree that it is wrong to inflict pain on an animal or to kill an animal without good reason.  On the other hand, it seems like any reason other than mere enjoyment is a good reason to harm or kill an animal.  Korsgaard notes that generally, those who want to argue for better treatment of animals will often emphasize the similarities between humans and non-humans whereas those who want to defend the status quo will emphasize the difference between humans and non-humans.  Korsgaard will follow neither of these tactics.  Instead, she thinks that there is a big difference between humans and non-humans and that it is because of this difference that we ought to treat animals better. 

What is the difference between humans and non-human animals?  Humans have a capacity for reflective self-awareness.  We don't merely act on instinct--we think about our actions and have the capacity to choose to act other than our instincts drive us.  Although Korsgaard seems to be open to the possibility that some non-humans have a rudimentary level of self-awareness, humans seem to be rationally and reflexively aware of their own consciousness in a way that other animals are not.  Hume seems to think that this difference means that we have no obligations to animals whatsoever.  Kant thinks that although we have no obligations to animals, we should treat animals well as a duty to ourselves and other rational beings.  In short, Kant thinks that to ignore the suffering of animals is to dull our capacity for sympathy and empathy.  To treat animals well is a sort of practice to treat humans well.  Because animals are analagous to humans in some ways, we should treat animals well in order to keep up our capacity to care about other people.

Korsgaard on Agency

In this article, Korsgaard is concerned with agency.  Agency is the ability to perform actions.  Someone who can perform actions is an agent.  Korsgaard describes two different kinds of theories about agency: the normative account and the natural account.  On the natural account, an action is just what happens when there is a causal relationship between a belief and a behavior.  This is a purely descriptive account.  The normative account of agency is not purely descriptive.  On the normative account, an action only happens if the agent's beliefs and actions are organized in a certain way.  For example, Plato's account of agency includes the theory that an action is performed only if one's rational capacity is in control of the other parts of the person (spirit and appetite).  Kant's account of agency includes the theory that an action is performed only when an agent reflectively considers the axiom that is guiding his action and then proceeds only if the axiom can be made universal law.  Korsgaard thinks that any natural account of agency must also be supplemented with a normative account because only a normative account of agency can explain two implications that arise when we attribute agency.

When we attribute agency to someone, Korsgaard says there are two resulting implications.  First, it seems like an action is somehow expressive of who a person is and the agent has some kind of ownership over his or her actions.  She calls this the identity implication.  In other words, actions express the identity of a person.  Second, actions can fail in a way that simple causal linkages cannot.  For example, the action of dodging a ball has a goal of avoiding being hit by a ball.  Even if I move my body in response to a belief or desire, my action has failed if my goal has not been met.  Korsgaard calls this the activity implication.  Only a normative account of agency can help to explain these two implications.

Diamond on Eating People

Diamond, like Singer and Regan, wants to argue for vegetarianism.  She notes that the arguments of Singer and Regan focus on the interests and capacities of individual animals as a basis for why we should not eat meat.  For Singer, eating meat is wrong because it contributes to the pain of animals.  For Regan, it is this capacity to experience pain that is the basis of animal rights.  Diamond says that such arguments are failing to recognize the significant issue.  Such arguments usually rely on some sort of analogy between animals and non-rational human beings.  E.g., because animals and non-rational humans are both capable of experiencing pain, it is wrong to eat both animals and non-rational humans.    This is not the relevant analogy, Diamond says. 

The proper analogy is not to talk about eating animals and people but to talk about the death rituals for animals and people.  Diamond says that the reason why we don't eat dead people is because humans are not the kind of thing to be eaten.  Our concept of what counts as a kind of thing to be eaten changes over time.  We tend not to eat or treat badly entities that we consider to be 'fellow creatures'.  Humans, Diamond says, are the kind of things that we honor in death with ceremony; they are also the kind of things to be named rather than numbered.  Clearly there are many examples where humans have numbered other humans or where humans have been disrespectful towards other humans in life and in death.  Again, the notion about who we count as a 'fellow' creature or 'fellow' human changes over time.  Diamond says that we should extend the notion of fellow creature to non-human animals.

Regan on Animal Rights

Like Singer, Regan wants to provide an argument for vegetarianism.  Unlike Singer, Regan does not want to base his argument on utilitarianism.  Instead, Regan thinks that animal rights are the way to defend vegetarianism.  We can think of rights in three ways.  A legal right is a right granted by a legal authority.  A natural right is what people talk about when they think that there is a naturally given right that people (or animals) ought to have.  A moral right is just the other side of a moral obligation or duty.  If someone has a duty to do X for you, then you have a right to have them do X.  Regan is concerned with rights of the second and third kind.  Regean claims that Singer's strongest arguments in favor of vegetarianism are arguments based on animals rights.  Specifically, it seems that animals have a right to life.

Why might we think that animals have a right to life?  Regan thinks that although Singer is wrong to base his arguments in utilitarianism, there is something right about focusing on an animal's capacity for pain.  Regan says that the capacity for suffering is the basis of a right to life, or a right to live.  He notes  even though some humans are non-rational, they still have similar capacities for suffering as non-human animals.  Regan says that the reasons why we don't eat non-rational human beings apply to animals as well.  Namely, we don't eat non-rational human beings because they have the capacity to suffer.  This capacity to suffer is the basis of a right to life.  Regan notes that a rights-based approach is better equipped to explain why we do not kill and eat non-rational humans better than utilitarianism, Kantian ethics and egoism (self-interest).