Sunday, November 18, 2012

Morality - Can it be objective?


Morality is often distinguished from science. It is philosophy - something that can never be proven, and more directly, is presented to us in such a way that there is never a true Right or Wrong in any given situation, but according to everyone's upbringing, and society - we make choices.

Yet, 99.9% of this planet's inhabitants will say it is wrong to kill someone for fun. A slightly smaller number would make the same claim for animals, and it this number would almost completely turn around if you stated the same question, in regards to plants. Very few people would decidedly say it is morally wrong to kill a plant for fun:

Mowing your lawn would become an incredibly difficult task to do if you had to decide it on a moral basis!

So what is it that drives us to believe these moral codes (or disbelieve them)? Why is it that we hold plants in a lower regard than animals? I doubt anybody would argue that breaking a rock for the fun of it is morally wrong, so where do we begin to distinguish this?

Of course, it is life, but we view life in varying degrees - we base this on varying degrees of consciousness. We do not know for certain what animals are more conscious than others, but most people would rather kill a slug than a husky, and killing people is obviously not a good thing. 

So it is just some kind of subjective thing - these morals pertaining to the killing or hurting of other living beings? Or could it be possible to extract some kind of objective stance on this - for example, the greater the conscious level of the being, the more respect it deserves. 

Sam Harris argues this very point (and is the purpose I created this article). After you watch the video, however, I want to bring up some important questions I have come up with.

So, if you agree with his above statements - that is, that morals can be and should be objective stances, we must look at how we value these, and the relative levels we give them.

For instance:
We have worms (arguably one of the lowest animals), rabbits, cows, dogs, apes, and humans. The majority of people around the world would agree that we should be able to kill cows for our own survival, but dogs are iffy, and killing apes would only be ok in a small minority of people. But how do we make this decision - it is obvious a very bold line we draw - We kill cows, that is fine, but dogs are not to be killed. It is interesting to note, that pigs are known to be quite intelligent animals, rivaling the most intelligent dogs, yet we do not question there sacrifice for our plate.

It is clear that most people in the world are not objective about this - that is, there is not a clear distinction they will make in the category of "what is OK to kill" and "what is not OK to kill".

A Bit of a Mental Exercise:

Taking this concept even further, imagine 5 million years from now, when the diversity of the planet is immense, and the humans of today look like fumbly, stupid, prehistoric animals. In 5 million years, would we value that prehistoric human animal of the 2000's as on a level of intelligence to not kill? The intelligent beings on earth at that point would be so far advanced that the humans of today would be on the scale of our pigs, or dogs. But it is disgusting to believe that by that time we would be farming our "lesser evolved" ancestors for food, wouldn't it be?

So how can one draw a line now which is objective, only to have the line move later on - how can this be objective?
Should we define some point in mental cognition that leaves that animal safe from the slavery of the farm pen?

I don't have the answers to these questions. I still have the pre-developed notion that morals are subjective things, so it is difficult for me to even consider that these are objective. Yet, I do not want to feel bad about what I am eating. I do not want to be able to empathize with it, nor imagine that it suffers. I can easily see this in apes in a zoo, or dogs locked in 3x3' cage, so I choose, obviously, to not eat them. A rabbit becomes tricky, and I would rather not, if I can avoid it. Cows, pigs, even chickens I find have some form of suffering which I hope to minimize in my life's footprint.

I think we can easily make objective stances on which animals are more conscious than others, but to make an objective placement in which they are OK to kill for our own benefit - I'd rather not take part in. I would say "but its up to you" - but that would defeat the entire post, wouldn't it?

Thanks for reading.

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