Friday, January 30, 2015

Review and Summary of "Ethics and Observation" by Harmon

The major debate in ethics is whether there are objective moral facts. There are a variety of defenses and objections to either position. Those who say there are objective moral facts are called "realists" while those who deny realism are called anti-realists or nihilists (there are actually more positions such as constructivists and non-cognitivists but let's not worry about that).

A popular strategy realists use is to say that moral reasoning is analogous to either scientific reasoning or mathematical reasoning. In super condensed form, the former strategy plays on the idea that scientific reasoning is a recursive spiraling toward the truth. There's a continuous interplay between hypothesis/theory and observation, the one impacting the other. Hypotheses and theories are tested, confirmed or rejected based on the best available observations. Similarly, hypothesis and theories impact how we interpret our observations. 

Moral reasoning is no different. We begin "in the middle" with both a moral theory and observations. Particular observations (judgments) influence our moral theories and theories influence how we interpret our observations. In both domains, there's a back and forth between theory and observation and the trajectory or both enterprises aims at truth.

A similar but slightly different argument applies to the analogy between mathematical and moral reasoning. We just as we can't directly observe mathematical facts, we can't directly observe moral facts. We reason our way to them. Also, both moral and mathematical facts don't have a physical existence yet we are sensitive to them: they inform our actions and our view of the world.

Ok, so those are very simplified versions of the arguments. In "Ethics and Observation," Gilbert Harmon challenges both analogies, although he focuses mostly on the first. Harmon's conclusion (at least not in this article) isn't that there's not such thing as moral truth, rather that the analogy between scientific observation and moral observation doesn't hold.

Let's check out his argoomints...

Part 1: The Basic Issue
Can moral principles be tested and confirmed the same way scientific principles can? On the surface it seems they can.  For example, I want to know if the principle "whenever it's possible, you should save 5 lives rather than 1."

How do we test this? Well, we can do a thought experiment and see what our verdict would be. Harmon gives this example:
Suppose you're a doctor in the emergency section.  6 patients are brought in. All six are in danger of dying but one is much worse off than the others. You can just barely save that person if you devote all of your resources to him and let the others die. Or, you can save the other 5 if you are willing to ignore the most seriously injured person.
What do? It seems like this case confirms the moral principle in question.  However, this being philosophy, there will be counter-examples a-plenty.
You have 5 patients in the hospital who are dying, each in need of separate organ. ONe needs a kidney, another a lung, a third a heart, and so on. You can save all five if you take a single healthy person and remove his heart, lungs, kidneys, etc... to distribute to these five patients. Just such a healthy person walks into the hospital for routine tests. His test results confirm he'd be a match as an organ donor for all 5 dying patients. If you do nothing he'll survive and 5 will die. If you apply our principle of action, that you ought to always save 5 instead of one whenever you can, then, well, you'll save 5 and only lose one life...
What do? It seems like we've tested the moral principle and the test disconfirms it. The moral principle is false (or needs to be modified).

So, is this kind of testing the same as is done in the scientific realm? It doesn't look like it. Scienticians test their hypotheses and theories against the real world not just in their "imagination".  It doesn't seem like we can perceive the rightness or wrongness of an act the way you might perceive the color, shape, and mass of an object.

How do scienticians know bluebirds are blue? Because they can look out into the world and see the blueness of the bird in question. But how do we know if an act is wrong? It doesn't seem like you can point to the wrongness or rightness the way you can point to an object's physical properties. And so it seems as though there's a way in which scientific and moral observation are different.

How do we make moral judgments anyway? Harmon gives the following case. You're walking down the street and you happen upon two teenagers (damn teenagers!) pouring gasoline on a cat then ignite it.  It doesn't seem like you perform any reasoning process. It's not like you go. Hmmm, let me see, there's a moral principle that
P1. causing unnecessary suffering of innocent creatures is wrong, and 
P2. these youths are engaged in an instance of causing unnecessary suffering to an innocent creature,
C. therefore, what they are doing is wrong.
What actually happens is you move directly to the moral judgment. You just see it's wrong. The process is a direct observation that the act is wrong. No  reasoning required.

Here's the issue: Are you perceiving something objective or is your reaction simply a product of your particular psychology? That is, if you'd been around when people tortured cats for fun, you might not have made the same judgment from your observation. Likely, your judgment is a reflection of facts about you, not about the act. More on this in a bit...

Part 2: Theory-Laden Observation
Let's get clear on what is meant by observation. In philosophy of science, it's widely recognized that there are no "raw" observations. All observations are "theory-laden." This means that, implicitly or not, we interpret all of our experiences though the lens of a theory of the world. The most basic one is that there are physical things that cause my experiences. This can be a bit difficult to wrap your head around for people who don't live in the wacky world of philosophy but check it out: you don't perceive objects directly...

You have mental representations in "the theatre of your mind" which you interpret as being representative of external physical objects which are the ultimate cause of your perceptual experience. You could be in the matrix with the exact same experiences being piped into your consciousness and nothing would be different. The worlds would be indistinguishable. The leap from the experience as though there are physical objects in my visual field to there are physical objects in my visual field is an unconscious one. But it is nevertheless a theory. You interpret your experiences of the world with the theory that it is physical objects that are causing what you see in your head.

Anyhow, the point is that even at the most fundament level we interpret observations through the lens of a theory. This happens in everyday life and it also happens in science. When a scientician sees a vapor trail in a cloud chamber, he thinks "there's a proton". He has a theory about the fundamental units of matter and the ways they interact with other matter, and that colors his interpretation of the observation. The observation itself doesn't tell him there's a proton. He adds that as a way of interpreting the raw observation. I.e., that he perceive a "proton" is the product of his theory.

Another example comes from biology. Famously (although he has since rejected it), Dawkins interpreted all evolution as being grounded in the selfishness of genes. In short, all selection call be explained by appealing to genes. If you want to know why one trait is more prevalent than another it must be because the genotype responsible for that trait confers greater fitness. His theory of selection (i.e., that genes are the fundamental unit of selection) colors how he interprets evolution.

On the other hand, a competing theory says that, at least for social animals, you have to also take into account group selection; i.e., the unit of select can also be the group. The reason is that altruistic behavior is inexplicable at the genetic level. How can you explain why a genotype that codes for disadvantageous behaviors/traits could outcompete selfish behaviors/traits? The gene-view can't explain it. Disadvantageous traits by definition are disadvantageous and so should be outcompeted by selfish traits. And so this theory views the same evolutionary observations from the level of group selection.

In short, your theory about the unit of section for evolution will color how you interpret the raw data. Same data/raw observations, different interpretation. Your observations are theory-laden.

Similarly, in the moral domain, we interpret our raw observations though the lens of a theory about the world.  You have a theory of the moral domain that causes you to judge the teenagers torturing the cat as wrong. If you had a different (moral) theory of the world that excluded animals from the moral domain, you'd interpret your observation differently. Your moral observations are theory-laden.

In that observations are theory-laden, moral and non-moral judgments are alike. The theory we hold of the world colors how we interpret the raw observations in both domains. If there's a difference between moral and scientific observation, it must be something else...

Part 3: Observational Evidence
Here's the difference: In science you need to make assumptions about certain physical facts in order to asplain an observation. In ethics you don't have to assume there are moral facts; alz you need to do it know something about a person's psychology; you can explain someone's observation that an act is wrong based merely on facts about the observer.

The way I like to think about this is to imagine (some of you won't have to imagine cuz you already have this theory) that there are no objective moral facts. There are only moral opinions that arise out of upbringing and psychological disposition. Would the world appear to be any different? People would still opine on what is right or wrong. People would agree on some things, disagree on others. Everything would seem exactly the same...and we could explain people's observations too. We could say, this person believes x is right because his mommy told him so or this person thinks y is wrong because she has an aversion to it.  There'd be no unexplainable observations even if there were no moral facts.

Things are different in the case of science.  To make a scientific observation you have to assume that there are objective facts about the world.  I.e., there is matter and energy, and so on. When I observe that there's a cloud of vapor in a cloud chamber, the only way I can explain it is if I assume there are objective facts about the world: I.e., there's matter. I have theory that there are protons; I observe "stuff" happening that conforms with my theory. Thus, my theory is provisionally confirmed.. And unlike moral observations, you can't explain my observations by merely appealing to facts about my particular psychology and upbringing. You can't explain my observation without also assuming there are protons...there has to something there for me to observe!

To summarize thus far: you can asplain the moral observation ("that's wrong!") by merely appealing to psychological facts about the observer. Moral facts don't need to be "real" to explain why someone might make the judgment. On the other hand, you can't asplain why someone would observe what they take to be a proton unless there actually was something real that existed. They could be wrong about it being a proton, maybe it was a neutron but they had to observe something to explain why they report observing a proton. There must be some fact about the world in order to explain their observation. Merely appealing to psychological facts about the observer won't explain why they had the scientific observation/judgement they did.

Observations as Evidence for Theories
If I have a scientific theory that predicts a particle with such and such properties, observable under such a such conditions, observation of such a phenomena counts as confirming evidence for my theory.  But is this the case with moral observations and theories?

Does my observation/judgment that burning the cat is wrong lend credence to my theory that says that it's objectively wrong to burn cats? Let's return to imagining there are no objective moral facts. My judgment doesn't confirm my theory. I'm just extending my theory (i.e., beliefs) to the observation. This will happen regardless of whether there is an objective moral fact about the matter or not.

Again we can contrast this with the scientific observation. If my theory predicts protons but there are no protons (or nothing with the properties my theory predicts), this will impact my theory.  Whether there are or are not objective facts about the world matters for scientific observation and their effect on theory.

Let's slow down and make a distinction here between types of observation. There's a sense in which my observation that "it's wrong to torture cats" confirms my moral theory.  For example, I have a theory with the principle that it's wrong to cause unnecessary harm and suffering to innocent sentient beings. I see the teenagers lighting the cat and I immediately observe that the act is wrong. It is an instance of causing unnecessary harm and suffering and I observed it to be wrong. That confirms my moral principle. I said that such acts are wrong, I witnessed an instance of such an act, and I also observed that it was wrong. Moral principle is confirmed!

However, there's another sense of observation in which my observation doesn't confirm my theory because it doesn't explain why I think the act is wrong.  My observation conforms with my moral theory, that such acts are wrong, but it isn't evidence in favor of my principle. We can imagine another person a few centuries ago who thought it's great entertainment to light cats on fire. They can witness the exact same act, judge that it's not wrong and say "ah! that confirms my theory that it's not wrong to cause harm and suffering to animals! My judgment confirms it!"

Not so in the case of science. If a theory predicts an entity with certain properties and those properties are observed, observing the properties explains why someone has the observation they do. And, bonus, the observation is evidence in favor of their theory/hypothesis. If no entity were observed with the predicted properties, the observation couldn't be made.  In short, the scientific (physicalist) theory explains why you observe the entity and properties that you do because the theory is about how the world is. Even if you believed the theory to be false, you'd still have the same observation:

Think Galileo. When the Church officials looked through his telescope, they didn't believe his theory yet what they observed confirmed Galileo's theory, rather than theirs. Their theoretical beliefs couldn't prevent them from seeing the evidence that disconfirmed their own theory and confirmed Galileo's. (Although, in the end they decided to reject the evidence rather than their theory...)

Possible Objection: Scienticians can (and have for all of scientific history) observe the exact same phenomena yet disagree on the theoretical interpretation of the observation. For example, both gene-based and group selection-based evolutionists observe the exact same phenomena. They don't disagree about what's happening. Evolution through differential reproduction and natural section is happening. They disagree about what theory best explains differential reproduction and natural selection. And so, it looks like, in some respects, scientific observation is similar to moral observation.

Two people can observe the exact same thing and disagree as to what theory the observation supports.  Just as two people can observe kids torturing a cat and disagree as to whether the case supports their particular moral theories on the treatment of animals, two scientists can both observe the exact same instances of differential reproduction and natural selection and disagree over the unit of selection to explain the observation.  That is, they can disagree at the level of theory about how to interpret the observation.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Relativism, Nihilism, and Realism: You Think You're a Relativist but You're Not.

If I had a nickel for every time I hear something like “Well, if it's right for him, who am I to judge?” I'd still be poor. Not because I don't hear it a lot but because I'd donate all those nickels to charity. Anyway, relativism--the position that values are relative to an individual or culture-is by far the most dominant view among the general population. In fact, back in my pre-philosophical days I too was a relativist. If you were born to a relatively secular or liberal religious household chances are you *think* you're a relativist too.

Before getting into the problems with this view, I'll quickly go over some of the (perceived?) virtues of relativism. (a) It promotes a culture of tolerance and avoids/tempers dogmatism and (b) by way of (a) it can reduce conflicts. However, there are two main problems with relativism: (a) no one really believes it when push-comes-to-shove and (b) it's logically incoherent: instead you must pick either realism (there are objective values) or nihilism (there are no objective values).

EDIT: Some commenters have correctly pointed out that realism and nihilism aren't the only positions available if you reject relativism. In the interest of simplicity for my non-professional audience I intentionally lumped non-cognitivist positions in with nihilism. So, for those of you familiar with the distinction, please read "nihilism" as including non-cognitivist positions for the purposes of this post. For non-philosophers, if you'd like to learn about the difference I've given a brief summary here.

Part 1: There Are No True Relativists
OK, let's grant the virtues of relativism for the moment. Unfortunately for relativists (i.e., most Westerns) you aren't really relativists. Relativism leads to the absurd conclusion that there's no normative difference between a sadist's values and a humanitarian's values. Hey, if tormenting people for fun is perceived as good and right by the sadist, then it's good. Who are we to judge his values? The relativist might reply, “No, what I mean is you can do what you want so long as you don't harm other people.” That's a fine response but you've just given up relativism. You've just conceded that there is at least one objective moral truth.

Another response might be that people can do what they want so long as it makes them happy (however you define it). Once again you've conceded the argument because you've committed yourself to the objective value of happiness. I.e., when actions conflict with happiness, we ought to favor happiness; happiness is more important than all other things. You are actually a realist/objectivist.

Again, relativism leads to the unsavory position that the Gestapo and Medicins Sans Frontieres are organizations of equal moral worth. If the Gestapo thinks it's good and right to “throw the Jew down the well,” then, hey, who are we to judge? Punching someone in the face is no less praiseworthy as giving someone a helping hand. I doubt very much that anyone truly thinks that, beyond personal beliefs and preferences, there are no important differences between the values in the above examples. If you think there are important differences you're a realist because you just made a judgment about one set of values having more value than another. If you don't then you're probably a nihilist. But you aren't a relativist. More on that later.

Why the Virtues of Relativism Aren't Virtues
Tolerance, aversion of dogmatism, and reduction of conflicts are not genuine virtues in the face of obvious evil. If we discovered that our neighbors had child slaves most of us do not think it would be virtuous to tolerate the practice. In fact, we should dogmatically oppose it and we should confront those who practice it. In short, most of us think that confronting evil and injustice is virtuous while tolerating it is not. And so, the virtues of relativism are not virtues after all. They are contingent on the objective goodness of the practice in question.

If we think a practice is good or perhaps value neutral then tolerance for diversity appears good. But it's not relativism that grounds the virtue of tolerance, non-confrontation, etc... It's our recognition of a practice that brings about some good. And so, the virtuousness of our response is grounded in the fact that we are tolerant of things that are good (or value-neutral) and intolerant of things that are bad. In short, it is the goodness or badness of the act that grounds the virtue of our response to it.

Part 2: The Logical Invalidity of Relativism and Why You Must Be Either a Realist or a Nihilist
Argument 1: The Multiplicity of Things
Let's get the ball rolling with a little Plato...

Now if a man believes in the existence of beautiful things, but not of Beauty itself, and cannot follow a guide who would lead him to a knowledge of it, is he not living in a dream. Consider: does not dreaming, whether one is awake or asleep, consist in mistaking a semblance for the reality it resembles?
I should certainly call that dreaming.
Contrast with him the man who holds that there is such thing as Beauty itself and can discern that essence as well as the things that partake of its character without ever confusing the one with the other—is he a dreamer or living in a waking state?
He is very much awake.
So may we say that he knows, while the other has only a belief in appearances; and might we call their states of mind knowledge and belief? Republic V. 476

Ok, there's a bunch of stuff going on here that I'll possibly address in a later post but for now I just want to focus on one idea. How is it that someone can say of many particular things, actions, or events that they are good/bad/just/unjust/beautiful/ugly, etc... if he isn't referring to one objective standard? That is, by indicating that several particulars are good then they must share the property of goodness just as all red things must share the property of redness. 

For example, when someone says x was good, y was good and z was good, all these things (are perceived to) share the quality of goodness. And so goodness must be one objective thing, not many things. There is one concept of goodness and particular acts or events can partake, to varying degrees, in goodness. (Note: some philosophers contest this view suggesting that there are only particulars but let's roll with it for now. It's not the only argument against relativism.)

The simple response is to say, yes but people might disagree over what goodness/rightness/justice is. That is, they might have different beliefs about what those normative concepts contain.

First of all, the fact that people disagree over something isn't evidence that there's no objective truth about it. For example, just because people might disagree over whether Sweet Baby Jesus created the universe or whether it was Indra (those are the only possible choices) doesn't mean that there's no right answer to the question. (Indra did it)

Disagreement only is evidence for three possibilities: (a) one person is right while the other is wrong; (b) both people are wrong; (c) there is no right or wrong answer. You can't just jump to (c) from the fact that there is disagreement over something. You must also consider that (a) and (b) might be true.

Argument 1: “True”--You Keep Using That Word But I Don't Think It Means What You Think It Means
The fact is, relativists often express their position in the following mantra “If Bob thinks X is good then it's true that X is good for Bob.” In short, each individual (or culture) is the arbiter of value. Let's see why this argument doesn't work...

I covered the first reason to reject the relativist argument in the first section. Relativism means we can make no judgments between the most evil and the most benevolent actions. Let's assume for the moment that it's true that we can't make such objective judgments. There's no way to distinguish between what we perceive as benevolent and evil actions. Let's try a different argument.

Another reason to reject the relativist mantra is that just because someone believes something is good for them doesn't make it so. If you can't think of at least a few times you believed something was good for you but at a later date realized it was a mistake, either you are still an infant or you're lying. Scientifical fact from test tubes and beakers: People can be mistaken about what is or isn't good for them and so just because a person believes something is good doesn't make it so.

Here the relativist can reply, OK so maybe people can be wrong about what's good, bad, right, or wrong for them but it doesn't follow that there is some objective good, bad, right, wrong for everyone. The person that got it wrong just got it wrong relative to them.

Let's use logicalization to address this counter-reply:
Again, at the heart of relativism is the idea that believing something makes it so. Thus, believing that abortion is wrong makes it true that abortion is wrong (for that person or culture). But this is to misunderstand the notion of truth. When we say that something is true we mean that it's true regardless of your beliefs. For example, if someone believes that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq their belief has no bearing on the truth of the proposition. The proposition “there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq” is either true or false regardless of what anyone believes because the truth value of propositions depends on states of affairs in the world not on our beliefs about states of affairs. It can't be both true and false. It must be one or the other.

Person A says “I believe abortion is wrong (in circumstance C), therefore it's wrong.” They say the proposition “abortion is wrong” is true.
Person B says “I believe abortion isn't wrong (in circumstance C), therefore it isn't wrong.” They say the proposition “abortion is wrong” is false.

The most basic rule of logic is the law of non-contradiction: that something cannot both be true and false at the same time. Relativism leads us to violate the most fundamental rule of logic. It makes it so a proposition can both true and false at the same time. Under relativism “abortion is wrong” is both true and false.

Accepting relativism means we have to reject the most basic rule of logic and this is not a good outcome. It means you can't even communicate because everything is both true and false. Squares both do and do not have 4 corners; Circles both are and are not squares; I both exist and don't exist at the same time; I both will and will not meet you for lunch. My car both is and is not a car. Those jeans both make your butt look fat and not fat. Nothing makes any sense. All meaning is drained from language. This is the logical cost of accepting relativism.

The relativist can reply. No! No! No! You don't understand! What I mean is “abortion is wrong" is true for me! (Me! Me! Me! Everything revolves around me! Even truth and falsity). But this is to completely abandon what we mean by true and false. Nobody takes seriously the person who says “the earth is flat is true for me!”. To such a person we simply say that they are confusing belief for factual knowledge. They believe that the earth is flat but this doesn't make it true. And they certainly don't know that the earth is flat. There is a fact about the universe that the earth either is flat or it isn't. It can't be both—regardless of how hard you believe and regardless of what you read in "The Secret"...

To summarize: An assertion cannot both be true and false (law of non-contradiction). Relativism violates the law of non-contradiction because some people will say of a moral statement that it is true while others will say it's false. There are two alternative: (a) both are wrong and there is no moral truth at all, just preferences (i.e., some form of nihilism is true); (b) one is right and the other is wrong (i.e., some form of realism is true).

Realism or Nihilism: Pick One but You Can't Be a Relativist
We want language to have meaning so we must abandon relativism. Our two choices are realism or nihilism. Realism (in its many flavors) is the position that we can make objective judgments about some values being better than others. Contrary to what simplistic caricatures would have us believe, realism doesn't necessarily commit you to hard and fast rules. 

Realism can be very coarse grained. It might say that for certain situations there is no one right answer there are several but there are also wrong answers. If you think that there are some situations where there is fact about what's good or right or that there can be wrong answers, you are a realist. Maybe you think it's wrong to kill a bunch of innocent civilians for drawing cartoons of a person who lived in the 7th century. If you think it's wrong, and not just a belief that it's wrong but are willing to say it's wrong for anyone to do, then you're a realist.

If you don't think there are any objective moral facts or values then you can never say one set of values is better than another. As a nihilist you can't say that making one decision over another matters (from an objective point of view) because there are no values and so there's no reason to prefer one outcome over another. People might have personal preferences but we can never objectively evaluate their preferences. The person who chooses to spend their life counting blades of grass has a life no less meaningful than the person who cures cancer.

What you can't be is a relativist. Either there are objective moral facts and/or values or there aren't. It's one or the other. It can't be both. People can have beliefs/preferences about what's good/right/bad/wrong but this doesn't tell us anything about the objective state of affairs. If you're a realist, people can have mistaken beliefs about what's good/right/bad/wrong. If you're a nihilist, people only have preferences and preferences can't be “true” or “false” any more than my preference for strawberry ice cream is true or false.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Annual Fitness Post: The Most Efficient Fitness Workouts

Hey guys, it's that time of year when you go out and buy an annual gym/yoga/taichi/zumba/crossfit membership that you'll only use for a month or two. *This* time you're gonna make it work! Well, I hope you do anyway.

As my throngs of adoring fans know, every year I do an annual fitness post.

This year's post is about the most efficient workouts in the woooooooooooooorld. Basically, my patented high-tech workouts will teach everything you need to know to lose fat, gain muscle, and cure cancer. Ok, maybe I'll just teach you how to get the best workout in the shortest amount of time.

You can use these workouts a couple of ways. They can be your primary workouts or you can use them the way I use them. If I'm short on time or need a change from my usual routine, these workouts kick my ass in under 25min. For most people it'll be less.

The common theme of all these workouts is high intensity. I'm too busy to do the literature search but basically, the best evidence on fitness training is that short high intensity training gives as much if not more benefit as up to 2 hours of low intensity training. Trust me. I'm a philosopher.

Why waste time working out when you can waste time doing other things? Now, hold on to your panties cuz these workouts are intense. Some of them will finish you in 10 or 15 minutes (as long as you're pushing yourself and not whining like a baby).

World's Most Efficient Workout #1: Running Stairs
Back in my high school wrestling days, after a full practice Coach Buono would make us run stairs for 15min. It is one of the most hellish workouts you can do.  Let me be clear. I'm not talking about no sissy stair climber. I'm talkin' real stairs. There's a very big difference. You'll find out...

How to Run Stairs
Find some stairs. Run to the top. Run back down. Repeat.

Ok. So lets talk specifics so you get the best workout possible in the shortest amount of time.

First of all I like to find at least four stories of stairs to run (more is gooder). Find a building or outdoor parking garage or maybe the building you live in.

Second, mentally commit to the number of times you'll climb the stairs. You aren't allowed to quit until you've finished. At the low end it should add up to maybe around 30 flights. I like to do around 60. Back in the day I lived in an 18 story apt building and I'd run up 10 times. Don't do that. You'll die. The first time I did it, I couldn't walk for days.

Third. This is the important part. You must ascend 2 steps at a time. Running! No walking! Ok, so maybe near the end when you're starting to die you can walk the flights at the end of a rep but you must walk up 2 at a time. Otherwise, you won't be engaging a lot of the muscles in your legs and you won't be working out with enough intensity. MORE INTENSITY!!!1111!1!!!

What I like to do is I'll go up the stairs to the rhythm of the song I'm listening to. This forces me to keep a certain pace and not give up like a baby. Also, when you start to get tired, you can walk to the rhythm between flights but once you get to the next flight get back to 2 at a time and to the beat! Stop crying, big baby!

Fourth: Descending. For most people I don't recommend running down unless you're used to it. If you do, make sure you keep one hand on the handrail. I've fallen before. It's no fun.

I usually do my 60 flights in around 25 min and I'm done after that.  Lungs are on fire, legs like jelly (u jelly?). So, if you're looking for a quick workout that will give you results; this is a good one.

Reminder. RUN up. Yeah, your legs and lungs will hurt but you wanted to get in shape didn't you? Oh, did you think it was going to be easy? Did you think you could just sashay up those stairs and you'd get all the results? Listen cry baby: All those fitness sophists telling you that you can get in good shape by doing comfortable low intensity exercise are lying to you. You're going to have to push yourself past your comfort zone if you want results. Now stop crying and go run some stairs!

World's Most Efficient Workout #2: Sambo Conditioning 
What is the sambo conditioning circuit? 10 Jumping Squats, 10 Push ups, 10 Sit ups. Repeat for minimum 10 minutes. I dare you to do 15 minutes. Count how many times you can get through the circuit so next time you have benchmark and a target to beat.

How to do the squats: Go down into a regular squat but with your arms at your sides until your finger tips touch the ground. Jump up. That's one.

Lets be real. You're not going to be able to jump the whole 10 minutes. So, as you begin to fade, do as many jumping squats as you can at the beginning of the set until you fail then finish the set with regular squats. For example, you're already starting to cry cuz you can't do 10 full jumping squats. In your next set of squats, jump for the first 3 or 4 then finish the set with regular squats but make sure your finger tips touch for each one.

How to do the push ups.  You know how to do push ups. Chest to the ground then full extension of the arms. That's one rep. Don't let your midsection sag. Better to stick your ass up a bit then let it sag. You can vary the hand placement too: narrow, neutral, wide.

Sit ups: Well, they don't have to be sit ups. Pick another ab exercise if you like: crunches, leg raises, V-ups. Whatevz. Just make sure you get a full range of motion and a good contraction at the top of the movement (that's what she said).

If you can do 10 cycles in 10 minutes you are Jesus. I think my best was 8.

World's Most Efficient Workout #3: Randy Couture Weightlifting Circuit for Wrestling
Maybe you can't find a staircase or maybe you just want to do weights but not your usual work out. This weight cycle will kick. your. ass.

Do this circuit 6 times:
If you live. Please tell me about it.

World's Most Efficient Workout #4: Versa-Climber
I just discovered this one a month ago. If your gym has one, I challenge you to go just 5 min at 90 rpm (that's what I did the first time and I died the death).

The way I'd recommend using this one is as interval training. Go 2 min at 90 rpm then rest for 1 min. Repeat 5 times. Go home, you're done.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Moral Desert and Economic Desert Part 1

Problems with Various Desert Bases
What would it mean for someone the get the wage they deserve? Our answer will depend on the desert base; i.e., in virtue of what are things deserved? Probably the most intuitive answer is that "I deserve my wage because I worked hard for it," implying that effort is the basis for desert claims. Cursory reflection leads us to this reject this answer for a couple of reasons. 

The type of market you serve, the nature of your product, aggregate demand, supply, and your customers willingness and ability to pay all affect your wage although none of these variables are in your control.  That is, they are not a product of your effort. If you work in social services and serve the poor, there is tremendous demand for and value of your services yet your "customers" have a low ability to pay.  Your wage is low and your effort is largely irrelevant. On the other hand, a Saudi Prince might pay a beautiful model $10 000.00 to hang on his arm for an evening. The model's beauty isn't a product of effort nor deliberate choice and so it's hard to say she "earned" the $10 000.00 if effort is our desert base. There are many other counter-examples to the effort desert-base but I'll leave it at that.

The next plausible candidate desert-base is achievement or outcome.  If I produce more than someone else then I deserve more.  This solution also has it's problems. First of all we have to ask about the nature of goods being compared. Do we think that the largest crack dealer is more deserving of their income than the small-time dealer? The former produced more sales, after all. And so we see that social value also enters the calculus. 

It's not enough that a product generates sales, we must also consider the social value of the product. But here's where things get tricky. Often the market value and the social value of goods come apart. The social value of drug rehabilitation workers (for non-celebrities) trumps that of a Fendi handbag yet the profit margins on the former are minimal.  The social value of an educational computer program trumps that of candy crush, yet candy crush and other games deliberately designed to be addictive are much more profitable. And so again we see there is no clear way to establish the magnitude of desert. We can't just appeal to market value. 

Prudential vs Moral Desert
The very loose fit between various desert bases and desert is one set of reasons to be skeptical of economic desert claims. The chief puzzle in understanding economic desert, however, is reconciling the role of prudential and moral action in generating desert claims. Intentionally self-benefiting action generates most economic desert claims: few people go to work motivated by the desire to serve their others, and if they do, it's incidental.  The desire to achieve a certain standard of living and buy this or that knick knack motivates most people to drag themselves out of bed day in and day out. In short, the target beneficiary of the fruits of most people's labor is themselves.

One the other hand, moral desert is generally conceived of as being produced by other-directed action in terms of benefits.  It's odd to say "I'm morally deserving of X because I was looking out for number 1". And so, it is puzzling that the claim "you can't tax me because it's my money--I earned it" is often an implicitly moral one. Denying that others have a claim to your wages imposes duties on them and by so doing enters the moral realm.  Failure to respect these duties might be considered theft by some. But, again it seems odd that a moral claim can be generated by self-serving action and intent.  So, is it simply a category mistake to say that one has a moral desert claim to their wage? Maybe economic desert isn't moral, it's something else.

I think there's a plausible solution to this apparent tension between our common sense intuitions about economic desert and the conceptual distinction between prudential and moral action: in many cases, prudential action is a component of moral action. Simply put, taking care of yourself and your needs so others aren't burdened by you is a part of moral living.  The notion of a good citizen is tied to the idea of, at best contributing positively, but a least not being a net consumer of societies resources when you don't have to be.  A good citizen, if they are able, minimally fulfills part of their moral duty by providing for themselves.

Of course, the prudential and moral don't necessarily overlap.  I can act prudentially and also act contrary to morality. For example, it might be economically prudent for me to sell heroin to minors but the social harms would wipe out any good that came from prudence. And so we see that, although prudence and morality can align, they can also pull in opposite directions.  The moral value of prudence seems to be constrained by considerations of social good.  That is, prudence only has value so long as it doesn't conflict with at least some of our notions of social good.  The mere existence of a market for the products of one's prudential labor isn't sufficient to infer the social value of your prudence--nor of your product.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Can Ethical Vegetarians and Vegans Own Carnivorous Pets?

One thing you learn pretty quickly in philosophy is that committing to a particular principle often commits you to unexpected positions. Since becoming vegetarian I'm starting to realize this a lot in terms of the principles that ground my vegetarianism.

Here's the issue: It seems that the principles that ground vegetarianism or veganism commit us to the conclusion that it's unethical to own carnivorous pets. Lets look at the principles that support vegetarianism and veganism and see how they apply to carnivorous pet ownership.

(Note: For economy I'm going to use vegetarianism to refer also to veganism and "pet" to refer to carnivorous pet).

Argument 1
The most common reason people become vegetarian has to do with Peter Singer's argument which , in abbreviated form, goes something like this:

(P1) Factory farming causes animals to suffer tremendously.
(P2) Suffering is bad and we shouldn't cause it.
(C)   We shouldn't eat factory farmed meat (or any meat where the animal suffered).

Notice this argument isn't against killing, only against suffering. The objection to killing a separate reason to reject eating meat which I'll set aside for now.

Here's the problem for people who accept this argument or something like it: Pets eat factory farmed meat. By owning a pet you are contributing to the suffering of many other animals--the very thing you oppose.

It seems as though having a pet is contrary to a vegetarian's ethical commitments.  A vegetarian can reply (in some cases): I adopted this pet and I wasn't going to just let it die.

Even if this is true, (P2) seems to commit us to a startling conclusion: we ought to euthanize our pets. Here's why. Lets take for granted that more suffering is worse than less suffering.  Your pet has had a pretty good life. Except for the time it spent before you rescued it, live's been pretty good. Almost no suffering. Now, keeping your pet alive over its natural lifetime causes the suffering of many other creatures equal in their capacity to suffer with your pet. Their suffering is of no lesser moral worth than that of your pets. If we are truly committed to (P2), that suffering is bad, and we should cause less rather than more suffering, it seems to follow that we ought to euthanize our happy pets. It will cause less over-all suffering.

Argument 2
If your vegetarianism is founded on the idea that eating meat is wrong because killing is wrong, there's an analogous problem.  Lets apply the famous trolly problem to see why.  A trolly is barreling down a track and will kill 5 workers working in a tunnel ahead. You can pull a lever and divert the trolly to another tunnel with only one worker. Should you allow the 5 to die or pull the lever, saving the 5 but causing only one worker to die? Most people say pull the lever.  It's better to save 5 lives for the "price" of one. So, if we accept this principle and say the lives of animals are of equal value (at least with respect to each other), it seems to follow that we should euthanize our pet (or at least not feed it) to save the 5 animals that will be slaughtered to feed our pet over its lifetime.

Argument 3
You can also run all the same arguments in regards to the environmental cost of raising animals for meat. Owning a pet causes more animals to be raised for meat. More animals=higher environmental cost=more bad. If you euthanize your pet, those future animals don't need to be raised for meat and there is less of an environmental impact. Fewer animals=lower environmental cost=less bad.

Weak Counter Argument: Causal Inefficacy
One way to reply is to say that "well, euthanizing my one pet isn't going to change the meat industry/how much meat is produced." Vegetarians hear (and reject) a version of this same argument when people object to vegetarianism. It's a bad argument. To see why, imagine the pre-emancipation slave owner saying "well, even if I free my slaves, everyone else is still going to have slaves and probably just take my freed slaves anyway." Is this a good argument? Nope. Owning slaves is morally bad regardless of what other people do. You're responsible for the moral consequences of your own actions; what other people do isn't relevant.

As a vegetarian, I don't like any of these conclusions but they seem to follow from the principles I've accepted.  At the very least, the principles suggest that, if we don't euthanize our rescued pets we at least have an obligation to ensure that all pets should neutered/spayed to prevent future pets from coming into the world. Also, that once our existing pet dies (naturally) we shouldn't get another pet--rescue or otherwise. That sucks. I can't imagine my life without doge.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Aristotle and Plato: Hey, Dummy! You Don't Know What You Want!

Aristotle and Plato make the same puzzling claim: You can be mistaken about what you desire. Consider the following example: You're looking at a delicious piece of chocolate cake.  You say to your friend Aristotle, "I really want to eat that cake."  Aristotle be like: "No, you don't." You be like, "Dude, yes I do. Aristotle be like, "No, you only believe you want the cake. You don't really want it. You're mistaken."  You be like, "Dude, I think I know what goes on in my own head better than you. Inside my head right now is a little homunculus screaming 'I want cake! I want cake!'  I know because I'm in my head, and you're not in my head."  Aristotle be like, "Dude, like I said, you believe you want it but you're mistaken. You don't want it."  You be like, "Dude, how can you say I don't know my own internal mental states? That's...uh...mental. If you put me in an fMRI machine right now, you'd see a desire state. That's me desiring that piece of chocolate cake!"

Anyway, eventually you eat the cake and it was delicious.

Part 1: Human Nature, Rationality, and Human Good
So, how do Plato and Aristotle argue for this seemingly puzzling view that you can be wrong about your own internal states? We're going to have to lay a little groundwork first before we can make sense of the view.  Bear with me...

First of all, everybody wants "goodness".  That is, nobody really desires bad things.  We all aim our action at the good.  And the good for humans is happiness.  So, whenever we act we are aiming at happiness (which is "the good" for humans).  This part's important so let me repeat.  No one intentionally acts in a way to make themselves unhappy.  We can be mistaken about what will make us happy but no rational person would intend to make themselves unhappy.  Otherwise stated, all actions intend to aim at happiness.

You might reply by pointing to examples of self-destructive behavior.  Aristotle (and Plato) would answer in two ways. First of all, people who engage in such behavior believe that it will relieve them from whatever is bothering them. They are aiming at happiness, they are just mistaken about how to achieve it. An alcoholic drinks because he thinks it will bring him closer to happiness than staying sober and thinking about his problems.  An emo dresses in black and listens to emo music because they believe this will bring them closer to happiness than not doing this.

The second response would be that if a person truly aimed at unhappiness, that is, they actually deliberately tried to try to make themselves unhappy, then this person would not be rational. And so, the qualifier: No rational person would deliberately aim at unhappiness.  Stated in the affirmative: All rational people aim at happiness.  In short, everything humans do (so long as they're rational) is intended to bring them happiness (or at least get us closer).

Qualification: Aristotle's Happiness vs Psychological/Emotional Happiness
Entire libraries have been written on this topic but I'll give you the super-duper condensed version: Aristotle doesn't mean emotional happiness as we often mean today. His use of the word is usually translated as eudaimonia which means "flourishing".  Eudaimonia can also be thought of as "a meaningful life".  Of course, some degree of emotional happiness will be a component of a eudaimonic life--it's hard to do a lot of the other important things if you're chronically depressed--but it is not the ultimate end of our actions. The ultimate end is a meaningful/flourishing life. For a full post on this topic...

Note: for the rest of this post I'll use 'good', 'happiness', 'meaningful life', and 'flourishing life' interchangeably. 

Ok, where were we? You might already be beginning to see that what we've covered so far can give us some tools to explain why you can be mistaken about your desires.  The answer will be something like: Everyone genuinely desires (eudaimonic) happiness. You believe that being famous, rich, pleasure, power, etc.. will get you there and so you desire and pursue those things.  However, those things won't actually get you a meaningful/flourishing life and so you are mistaken about what you desire.  You don't desire being famous and rich, you actually desire a (eudaimonic) life.

Part 2: Why Are We Mistaken? Beliefs vs Knowledge
Aristotle and Plato differ in their account of how we come to know the good but they are united in that you can't live a (eudaimonic) happy life without knowing what the good is. To know the good takes years of study and most people don't undergo this rigorous training and so they have mistaken beliefs about what the good is. They believe it's pleasure, fame, wealth, power, honor, etc...

There's an important difference between belief and knowledge.  Beliefs can be both true or false but knowledge is always true.  You cannot attain knowledge without rigorous study and, as I said above, most people don't undertake this training and only have beliefs about what is good.  Since they only have beliefs about the good, they're likely to be mistaken.

Part 3: Putting it All Together
Ok, so how is it possible to be mistaken about what you desire? Of course everyone who reads this blog knows what the good is.  It's all those other people who don't read my blog that merely have beliefs about what's good. Now, imagine you're walking around with one of those pin-heads and they're like "Oh! I want that shiny thing! It'll make me sooooooooooooo happy!"

Now, as a true philosopher you know a few important things: (a) you know what is truly good and thus necessary for a meaningful human life; (b) you know that your pin-head friend's action is intended to bring them happiness, that is, like all rational humans all actions aim at happiness; (c) you know that shiny things don't contribute to a meaningful flourishing life (happiness); (d) it follows that your friend doesn't really desire the shiny thing because what they really desire is happiness and the shiny thing won't achieve that. Thus, they are mistaken about what they desire.

In short, in so far as they're rational, they desire happiness not "shiny thing". The fact that they skipped out on philosophy class prevented them from acquiring knowledge of the good. Thus, they only have beliefs--rather than knowledge--about the good and are consequentially mistaken about the content of the good, which in turn leads them to believe that something that doesn't bring about happiness will bring about happiness.

Moral of the story: Don't be a fool. Stay in philosophy school.

Objections and Replies Coming Next Post

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Can Vegans Make Broth from Dead Vagrants?

For the last half-year or so I've been thinking about the ethics of eating animal byproducts. Here's what I mean: Let's suppose that you believe that it's unethical to eat factory farmed meat and dairy (or any meat or dairy--nothing important to my argument hangs on this).  As someone who lives according to your considered ethical judgments, is it permissible for you to eat by-products from the meat and dairy industry that would otherwise be thrown out?

Before continuing I should make one thing clear: These arguments only work so long as the byproducts would (a) otherwise be thrown out and (b) do not contribute to the demand for the primary product. Also I'll need to assume that current conditions persist, that is, the majority of the population isn't vegetarian and there is significant demand for the primary products.

Case 1: Whey
Let me give you some examples of by-products. Whey is a waste by-product of cheese-making and greek yogurt production. Its disposal is actually a significant environmental problem since millions of tons are produced every day (in the US alone) [seecheese, greek yogurt]. In a whey (sorry, couldn't help myself)  eating the waste product is a net environmental good. If left unconsumed it would otherwise have to be treated in an industrial digester which is an energy intensive process. Also, simply dumping it into nearby water sources contaminates the water and kills all the flora and fauna and so it cannot be done. 

There are two basic arguments for why it might be morally permissible for a vegetarian or vegan to eat whey products.  First of all, there's so much excess whey from primary dairy processes that your actions don't perpetuate or generate additional demand on primary products (i.e., milk/cheese). That is, consuming whey doesn't cause milk producers to produce more milk or cheese. Second, consuming whey actually minimizes the environmental impact of the dairy industry. Instead of excess whey contaminating the environment, we eat it.

There is a possible counter-argument. By consuming whey we create a market for it which makes it cheaper for the dairy industry to get rid of it. Currently they have to pay people to take it (e.g., farmers who use it fields or to feed animals, and whey product producers).  If the cost of disposal is reduced, the price of primary products also comes down (because total production cost is lower since disposal cost went down). If the cost of primary products comes down then standard economic theory predicts demand for primary products increases.

I'm not quite sure if this argument works. I'd need to consult with an economist to know for sure but here's one possible way to reply. Suppose we agree with the counter argument that the cost of production for cheese and milk will come down thereby increasing demand. Baaaaat! If demand for milk/cheese increases so will the quantity of byproduct (whey) produced and since the vegetarians are already eating as much as they can, the cost of disposing of this extra waste (from producing even more milk and cheese) will also rise perhaps causing the price of primary products to settle back around where they started. I'm no economist but anywhey, lets look at another case...

Another thing to consider is that we might already be at peak whey consumption. Also, the amount of whey that vegetarians and vegans might consume (that don't already consume it) could be negligible in terms of how much excess there is. Recall that there are several million tons produced err' day.

Case 2: Animal Carcasses 
I came up with this next case as a result of motivated reasoning. It's freakin' cold in Ohio and I've been making a lot of legume soups and stews. What I'd really like is to use a chicken broth but being a committed (albeit imperfect) vegetarian, I don't buy chicken or chicken bouillon. 

But I was thinking... Suppose an omnivore friend had roast chicken for dinner and was about to throw away the carcass. Would it violate vegetarian or vegan ethics to use the carcass for a broth? I guess what I'm really asking is if there is something intrinsically bad about consuming animal products or is it only bad because of how they got on our plate? 

I think the reasonable answer is that eating meat isn't intrinsically bad, it's only bad if certain ethical conditions were violated in raising and/or killing the animal. I doubt there's anything morally wrong with eating roadkill or eating an animal that died of natural causes. It might not be a very appetizing thought, but it's hard to see why a vegetarian or vegan would say it's wrong.

The only possible argument I could think of is if (a) you think it's just as wrong to eat an animal as it is to eat a human and (b) you think it's intrinsically morally wrong to eat humans. Suppose we agree with (a). Is (b) likely?  I don't think so. We can all probably agree that it's wrong to kill someone to eat them but if someone died of natural causes and you were starving, would it be wrong to use them for soup? Probably not. You might have an aversion to it but it's hard to see why it would be morally wrong. 

Of course, the case of my friend's chicken carcass is a bit more complicated than eating roadkill.  The vegetarian/vegan will be ethically opposed to how the chicken got to the plate (especially) if the chicken was conventionally raised and killed. That said, the vegetarian/vegan's actions don't generate demand for the primary product (i.e., don't support or perpetuate the meat industry) and the byproduct is going to be thrown away anywhey.  In such a case, is there any harm or is there a wrong?

I'm curious what my vegetarian/vegan friends think.  By the way, I'm headed down to the morgue to get some bones to make both. Let me know if you'd like me to get some for you while I'm there.