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The Vegans Strike Back • Critical Criticisms • Peaceful Disagreements • Berkeley’s Clouds of Dust • Free To Disagree • Tallis Neither Here Nor There
The Vegans Strike Back
Dear Editor: I write to rebut Rhys Southan’s article ‘Why An Alien Invasion Is No Argument For Animal Rights’ in Issue 106. Southan seems to be saying that even in a vegan world massive harm would be done to other life by habitat destruction, for example. True or not, it is true that widespread veganism would greatly reduce the harm done.
Firstly, veganism is an ethic based on compassion for the suffering of other animals. The vegan ethic is about avoiding products made by exploitation of animals in farms, circuses and laboratories. It is hardly likely that people taking this stance would lack compassion for wild animals and nature. This is evidenced by the fact that vegans are massively over-represented in environmental activism compared to the proportion of vegans in the general population. Compassion is a practice; veganism is just one manifestation of it. Augustine, Aquinas and Kant abhorred cruelty to animals primarily because of the ‘brutalising’ effect it had on people, who would then go on to act cruelly towards other humans. It is no accident that the RSPCA [a British animal charity] was founded to ‘prevent cruelty’ not to ‘alleviate suffering’; and until 2011, alleviating the suffering of animals was not legally a charitable object in the UK. Animal charities had to say that their object was to prevent cruelty, so encouraging virtuous behaviour generally.
There is also a direct connection between veganism and some of the other issues raised by Southan. For example, over 90% of soya grown in the world is fed to animals to make meat. Soya production to satisfy European and Japanese demand for meat is what is driving rainforest destruction in the Amazon. If people ate the soya themselves, they would get 64 times more protein per unit of land than by recycling it through the gut of a cow. The UN report Livestock’s Long Shadow (2006) documents the massive contribution of meat production to global warming and habitat destruction.
These issues are precisely what motivate many vegans. Veganism alone is not an adequate response to climate change, habitat destruction and other issues, but it is part of an answer. We should not reject it because it cannot solve everything all at once. The massive problems the world faces demand an array of responses, of which one is veganism.
Southan says humans and animals have two things in common: they suffer and want to live. People who eat meat must think that, nevertheless, the differences between humans and animals are so great that human life is worth vastly more than animal life, so that human taste pleasure is a sufficiently good reason to kill an animal, often in horrific circumstances. But to substantiate this point we would need to understand the differences between human and animal awareness and self-consciousness, and in particular how this difference is influenced by our linguistic and cognitive abilities. Many philosophers have made this case – for example, Warren Fox in Theory of General Ethics. And even if we admitted that most animals lack self-awareness, and so the depth and importance of their experience is as nothing compared to ours, it is still possible that the aliens would feel comparatively about us humans, since alien awareness might be on a different dimension to ours: higher than us as we are then, say, lambs. In this case would we concede the point, and grant that it is fair and right that they should factory farm us because they like the taste of our flesh?
There is nothing inevitable about human/animal conflict. In a world of limited resources we have to think carefully about how to use those resources for the sake of the long-term future of human and other life. Veganism is just one way in which we can limit our impact.
Patrick Morrello, Manchester
Dear Editor: Was Marianne Talbot’s account of critical reasoning in Issue 106 designed to provoke critical thoughts on the subject of critical reasoning? A good argument, we are told, is one in which the truth of the premises entail the truth of the conclusion – the premises cannot be true without the conclusion being true also. But any good dogmatist will construct a good argument; so we are told to assess whether the argument is sound as well as good – meaning that the conclusion not only follows from the premises, but also that the premises are actually true. And Talbot briefly explains how a critical thinker might use reason to decide whether the premises of a good argument are true: if you reject the argument’s conclusion, to maintain consistency you must also reject one or more of the argument’s premises. So critical reasoning not only concerns itself with the identification of arguments, it also involves the use of reason to criticise theories and the propositions from which they’re constructed.
So far so good; but how do we critically reason if we think that there are good arguments in which the premises can all be true and yet the conclusion may be false? Talbot tells us that these are called ‘inductive arguments’ and they are good when the reasons for accepting the premises are strong, and they’re strong when they resemble one of her examples. She cites the argument that the sun has risen every day and so we have strong reasons for thinking it will do so tomorrow. A critical thinker might well ponder what implication the midnight Arctic sun has for the strength of this reason. Indeed, Talbot notes that new knowledge might reveal the conclusion to an inductive argument to be false. But a counterexample to an argument’s conclusion need have no logical implication whatsoever for that argument’s premises. So a critical thinker is perfectly entitled to decide that the conclusion to an inductive argument is false without paying any regard to its premises! So where does this leave critical reasoning?
This draws upon the ideas of Sir Karl Popper. Talbot mentions him, but only to say that Popper unsuccessfully tried to present science as a critical activity that had no need for inductive arguments. Is she sure about that?
Rod Thomas, Senior Lecturer, Newcastle Business School
Dear Editor: It is Marianne Talbot who has made an elementary logical mistake, not Karl Popper. She writes, “Karl Popper tried to argue that science can do without induction. Popper argued that we never inductively confirm a theory and must instead be content with falsifying it. The only thing we can justifiably claim to know is that a theory is false, never that it is true. However, in claiming this, Popper was tacitly relying on induction: after all, what makes us think that a theory that has been falsified on one occasion will be falsified on the next occasion, if it isn’t the inductive belief that the future will be like the past?”
This shows a strange misunderstanding of Popper. According to Popper, the form of a scientific hypothesis is ‘In every case of X then Y’ (e.g. ‘In every case of a swan, then that swan is white’). That means that if there is a single case of X that is not Y (e.g. a black swan), then the hypothesis is false. It makes not the slightest difference whether the hypothesis is confirmed or falsified on subsequent occasions. The single falsification is enough. This is classical logic, not inductive logic, and it is the foundation on which Popper’s philosophy of science is built. The fact that Prof. Talbot has missed it shows that she cannot have understood Popper. His argument is concerned with how you can know whether a given scientific hypothesis is true or false, and it is in that context that he says you can only know that it is false, and that no amount of induction can lead you to know that it is true. (Bizarrely, when Prof. Talbot writes “No inductive argument is valid” she is saying exactly the same thing as Popper, despite apparently regarding it as contradictory when Popper says it.) However, it is possible to argue that science cannot discard induction entirely, as it is still needed when creating a hypothesis. (How hypotheses are created is one of Popper’s weak points.) But that is not the situation Prof. Talbot describes. She is describing a situation in which the hypothesis has been falsified, so any attempt at induction has already failed, and, according to Popper, and classical logic, it must be discarded.
Dear Editor: While I can fully appreciate David Barash’s appeal to peace in ‘Are Human Beings Naturally Violent and Warlike?’ in Issue 105, I respectfully take issue in that the appeal stays within the perimeters of the naturalistic fallacy. This fallacy assumes that nature must always have the last word in our ethical, social, and political choices. Thus Prof. Barash fails to address the deeper issue, that even if humans were by nature violent and warlike, that wouldn’t mean we had to succumb to our natures. And whether Prof. Barash realizes it or not, the issue runs deeper than war. It has economic implications. Most arguments for justifying the existence of states are propped up by Hobbesian arguments about protecting ourselves from our own violent and war-like natures, via thinking that Putman refers to as ‘Macho Ethics’, Tallis refers to as ‘Darwinitus’, and I like to call the ‘neo-Nietzscheian gospel of the fearlessly fanciful’. These arguments then generally serve as rationalizations of consumer capitalism.
So, not to dismiss Prof Barash’s point but rather to add to the discourse, I offer my own take on it. We have to begin with evolution. Starting with simple organisms with simple nervous systems, these nerves evolved into simple spines, that evolved simple buds that, in turn, evolved into the complex brains that we enjoy as humans. This process has left us with two legacies: competitive behavior, in which our baser impulses use our more evolved cognitive processes in their service (e.g. capitalism and the technologies it has evolved); and cooperative behavior, in which our baser impulses see it in their interest to work in tandem with our more evolved cognitive resources (e.g. welfare and environmentalism).
Now we have to see the competitive model as having played a major part in getting us to this point, even though the cooperative model has also always been operative, as can be seen in a lot of animal species. But we can see the argument that ‘we must be competitive’ as little more than an evolutionary backlash. In this sense, we can see ourselves as at a major evolutionary milestone, in that we can choose to stay with the competitive model or move on to the cooperative one. Note here that evolution has always been a matter of adapting to our environment – an environment, in our case, that includes our possible annihilation through man-made climate change, or our enslavement through the oligarchy of global capitalism.
D. Tarkington, Nebraska
Dear Editor: Duane Cady (‘Pacifism is not Passivism’, Issue 105) says that one of the conditions for conducting a war justly is discriminating between legitimate and illegitimate targets. He argues that ‘ordinary citizens’ are illegitimate targets, and that only soldiers and ‘citizens working to advance war-making capabilities’ can be targeted. I suggest that both these categories require clarification. Firstly, if ‘citizens working to advance war-making capabilities’ is taken to include not only those who manufacture and transport weapons, but also those who provide food and clothing to combatants, they will constitute most of the economically active population. Secondly, there are accessories, who do not participate in the action, but are complicit in it, in the sense that without their assistance the action could not take place. The provision by civilians of safehouses for the IRA in Northern Ireland is one example. Tacit support, or at least ‘blind eye’ tolerance for the Tehrik-i-Taliban in Pakistan, and Boko Haram in northern Nigeria, are contemporary cases. There are radicalised elements in Western Muslim communities to whom this could also apply. How far does the support of such people constitute ‘working to advance war-making capabilities’?
A more subtle problem exists in the case of those who are not complicit in an action, but whose support is implicit in the sense that they benefit from its results, and that benefit may provide a justification for the original act. Israeli settlers in illegal settlements in the West Bank are an obvious contemporary example. To pursue this argument to a reductio ad absurdum – and therefore to demonstrate the complexity of the issue – no New Yorker settled on land once seized from the Iroquois would be able to sleep at nights. A further issue arises in the case of those who neither facilitate nor benefit from an action but foment it, as the preachers of inflammatory sermons in Finsbury Park mosque in London appear to have done.
So, are ‘ordinary citizens’ who also happen to be Irish nationalists, Taliban sympathisers, or Israeli settlers, entirely ‘illegitimate targets’ in all circumstances? And what about the butcher, the baker, the tinker and tailor, without whose products and services troops would be incapable of continuing to fight?
Jack Hastie, Renfrewshire
Berkeley’s Clouds of Dust
Dear Editor: Wonderful: In Issue 105, Roger Jennings invites us to a fourth Berkeley vs. Matter dialogue… But why allow Philonous to fall for Hylas’s logical trick: “Would you dissect a duck in search of its quack?” The possessive ‘its’ presupposes the quack is secondary to the duck. This assumes precisely the issue to be decided: are ducks materially primary to their secondary qualities, including ‘their’ quacks? That view presupposes the conventional, Aristotelian material cause, placing things made of matter primary to, and the instigators of, our representative ideas of them. But in a fourth dialogue – an opportunity to develop George Berkeley’s Copernican Revolution – do not presuppose this material existence – a substratum in which inhere qualities that then impinge upon our sensibility! Instead, begin like this: ‘What does it mean to say of a thing that it exists?’ The Berkeleian revolution suggests that we begin with this meaningful equivalence: existence is perceptibility.
The presumption of materialism is an illustration of Berkeley’s remark, “First we raise a cloud of dust, then we complain we cannot see.” After Wittgenstein, a modern-day Berkeleian might protest that our use of language raises a murky and misleading cloud of metaphysical assumptions here, by presupposing that familiar words must have meaning. It works like this: ‘matter’ we think, is – must be – a meaningful elocution, therefore there must be something ‘out there’ to which the abstraction refers. While we raise that cloud of dust we remain unaware of two unstated assumptions it contains: (a) that we are a subjective, ‘inner’ opposition to the objective world ‘out there’; and (b) that our ‘inner’ subjectively-grasped meaningful words must refer (somehow) to some reality ‘out there’. But perhaps the taken-for-granted distinction between subjective and objective can’t be defended. Perhaps it’s just a foil – the easiest, most seductive, most deceptive obstacle to the truth! Perhaps Berkeley’s idealism is the first solid step to that realization: that our ‘subjective’ consciousness-of-reality, and the ‘objective’ reality-of-which-we-are-conscious, are really two sides of the same coin of meaningfulness. Maybe ‘out-there’ and ‘in-us’ are not in opposition, then, but rather in unity. After all, our only access to ‘out-there’ is via our ‘in-us’ – via our own consciousness of it. To coin a phrase, we constitute our world.
Our ordinary use of language can presuppose an unspoken metaphysics: the ‘Duck’s quack’ presupposes a conventional and wrong-minded materialist commitment to a primary duck and its secondary quack. Behind that ordinary view lurks the metaphysical assumption of an ‘objective’ world, separate and over against our ‘subjective’ experience of it: two ontologically antagonistic realms with no commonality, and no explanation of how they might meet. But a Berkeleian understands that the quack ‘has’ its duck as much as the duck ‘has’ its quack .
Robert Gilgulin, Colorado Mountain College
Dear Editor: Almost twenty years ago at university I studied George Berkeley’s Three Dialogues between Hylas and Philonous, where he argues for the idea ‘esse est percipi’ (‘to be is to be perceived’). The lectures were delivered by an old professor who spoke in a monotone; but amidst the nodders-off in the pews I found myself wide awake and fascinated. As the lectures proceeded I even began to draw attention from other students, puzzled at my furious scribbling. I was determined not to miss a single point. Yet despite my fascination for Berkeley’s refutation of sceptics/atheists, ultimately, and with disappointment, I had to agree with the other students that his argument did not ring true; that the perceiver of matter does not thereby make it real; it’s real all by itself. Berkeley’s treatise seemed like a trick, and so it seemed to me that Berkeley was cheating. Yet of all the philosophy texts I studied, this lingers in my memory.
Moving on to January 2015, when I start an online science course on the discovery of the Higgs boson. I am reading up on quantum physics, when I see an article in The Times of 10/1/15 by Keith Ward, Professor of Divinity at Oxford University, claiming that science is now pointing towards the existence of God. I read on with interest. Professor Ward’s third point is that Stephen Hawking argues that matter cannot exist without being observed – that observation collapses quantum wave-functions into material particles. This suggests to Professor Ward (although not to Stephen Hawking) that events like the Big Bang could not exist without an observer – to be is to be perceived! – and who could observe but God? This is evidence for the mind-based universe that Berkeley argues for! Berkeley knew even less of quantum physics than I did twenty years ago, so where did he get the idea from? I withdraw my charge of his being a cheat.
Kristine Kerr, Gourock, Scotland
Free To Disagree
Dear Editor: Regarding Les Reid’s review of Helen Steward’s A Metaphysics For Freedom and his support for free will, I don’t see how determinism (denying free will) entails that our behaviour is not our responsibility, and so can potentially be excused. A good (or bad) act is physically determined (preconditioned, caused) by a good (bad) brain; therefore the physical brain itself duly deserves the credit or blame. Denying free will, the biological organism becomes the agent – wholly responsible, the ultimate author of actions. In other words, the fact that Darwin could not be other than Darwin in no way detracts from his achievements. He was and remains a genius, even though he ‘couldn’t have done otherwise’.
Arthur Morris, Eastbourne
Dear Editor: Problems stand out in the libertarian perspective on free will defended by Les Reid in his review of Helen Steward’s A Metaphysics for Freedom in Issue 105. It seems wrong to think of causality and determinism only as ‘out there’ in the material sphere. They first and foremost are conceptual relationships existing in the domain of mind. They are the part of the very way one thinks about and understands existence. So one must confront them squarely at the conceptual level.
Curious also is Dr Steward’s apparent unfamiliarity with quantum noncausality. Nuclear decay for example is a noncausal phenomenon. That’s why ‘Radioactivity’ figures in the title of my book about free will. Quantum noncausality also suggests the future is not predetermined. It does not however indicate a practical free will.
Evidently, one cannot address free will without considering it from the standpoints both of causality and noncausality. These really are the only ways to think about temporally sequential events. One finds that free will derives from neither mechanism: voluntary action originating causally would mean one is a puppet on a deterministic string, whereas origination by no causes indicates a biologically unviable will operating randomly in the manner of quantum nuclear decay.
When it comes to libertarian or any other kind of agency, the only possibilities for voluntary action are desires of causal or noncausal origin, and yet neither yields the free will of common promotion. Nor obviously does either generate a capacity of merit. This indicates the larger ethical dimension to the issue.
My analysis reveals ‘free will’ and ‘merit’ as deceptive linguistic fabrications finding ready use in the service of narrow interests, and therefore that it’s deceitful to speak in those terms. All one needs to say is what one wants to do and why one wants to do it. It will be in society’s interest when ‘free will’ and ‘merit’ references are absent from the vocabulary.
James Henry Thiel, New Mexico
Dear Editor: Arrogance and denial of the obvious are two reasons for the rise of anti-science Creationism and scepticism about evolution noted by Toni Vogel Carey in ‘That Mystery of Mysteries’ (Issue 105). The arrogance comes from scientists not recognizing the dangers of reducing humanity to mechanism. The denial of the obvious comes from their claim that because we are machines, consciousness is superfluous. By reducing people to machines, science has alienated itself from people who know from their own experiences that this is just wrong. It is also a dangerous fallacy because it opens the way to the sociopath’s claim that the ‘other’ is just a machine, and since you cannot be cruel to a machine, you can treat other people as you like. You can easily imagine the consequences of this line of reasoning.
The inability of physicalism to explain the origins of consciousness has caused biologists, myself included, to turn to philosophers such as A.N. Whitehead. His ‘philosophy of organism’ demonstrates the advantages of adding an experiential component to every physical event. From this standpoint the Darwinian process causes the co-evolution of embodied minds, leading inevitably to the full levels of consciousness seen in advanced organisms.
Steve Brewer, St Ives, Cornwall
Tallis Neither Here Nor There
Dear Editor: In his article ‘On Being (Roughly) Here’ in Issue 106, Raymond Tallis starts out from a misinterpretation of the word ‘Dasein’. The German word da means here, not there: there is dort.
Werner von Kuensberg