Well, both are immoral and indications of bad character traits (and may 'harden' one for worse acts), assuming that the torturing is gratuitous, as the word suggests. But we have good reasons to think that insects do not experience pain and suffering nearly as much as monkeys and apes (e.g., their nervous systems are not as complex). So, if one measure of the immorality or badness of an act is the amount of unnecessary pain and suffering it produces--and that seems plausible on any moral theory--then yes, torturing an insect would be less immoral than torturing a non-human primate. Please do neither!
I'm thinking about cutting back my meat consumption for the sake of the environment, but I don't want to go completely meat free. I'm thinking about continuing to eat pork but not beef, since I respect cattle more than pigs as the former have been a vital part of human agriculture for centuries yet the latter would eat human babies trapped in its pen. Am I right in setting up this hierarchy of life unworthy of life?
I'd suggest doing some research on both the environmental impact of cattle and pork farming and production and the reasons to respect, as you put it, each species. My own research is incomplete, but from what I've seen, pig factory farming is particularly nasty for the environment (e.g., the sewage leaking into waterways in North Carolina), and pigs are likely the most intelligent of the animals we raise for food (some claim they are roughly on par with dogs). I'm not sure how relevant it is that they might eat human babies! (If true, let's make sure not to leave any babies in their pens.) In any case, I think the decision to cut down our production and consumption of all factory farmed animals is overdetermined: there are good reasons based on morality (preventing mass amounts of unnecessary suffering), protecting the environment (note that animal farts contribute to global warming!), and improving our health. Having said this, I admit I still purchase some factory farmed meat for my family. And...
If I knew I could get a billion dollars and all I needed to do was enter a persons home and smash their tv then I would do it. Does that make me immoral?
Depends on what the right view of morality is. And depends on what you plan to do with the billion dollars. On some deontological (e.g., Kantian) views, there may be no way to morally justify such a violation of another person's property. On some consequentialist (e.g., utilitarian) views, there may be lots of ways to justify this action, including buying the person a new TV (and more stuff) and then giving lots of the billion dollars to prevent terrible suffering (e.g., of victims of famine in Africa or victims of war in Syria). Personally, I think if you are allowed to pull of this stunt in a way that allows you to repay the victim of your crime and do lots of good, go for it. (And please tell me who's giving a billion bucks to break TVs.)
How can we be sure that dreaming is a real phenomenon? It seems like there is no scientifically objective way to know that a person is dreaming; the most we can do is ask them. We are relying on our own subjective experiences, which we cannot verify, and the words of others, which we cannot verify either. REM sleep is correlated with claims of dreaming, but mental activity isn't granular enough to figure out whether a person is in fact *experiencing* an absurd fantasy world rather than simple darkness.
Is it possible to approach dreams and dreaming scientifically, if we have no way to examine or verify them or their existence in any way beyond subjective claims?
These are great questions. There have been philosophical arguments that suggest that it is impossible to know whether dreams occur while we sleep or are just confabulations we create as or after we awake (call this 'dream skepticism'). These arguments fail once we consider all the evidence and use abductive (best explanation) reasoning. When we wake people during REM, they are likely to report dreams. When we wake them during other phases of sleep, they are unlikely to report (or remember) dreams. When we record neural activity using EEG and now fMRI, we see activity that correlates both with the sorts of experiences reported by the dreamer and with the sorts of activity that correlates with similar waking experiences (fMRI cannot get at all of what you call the "granularity of experiences" but see the link below for an initial attempt). Etc. This body of data could be explained away by a dream skeptic, but that explanation would likely look ad hoc and fail to make predictions as good as the...
It has been said that if there is human freedom, then we are responsible for our actions. By this, it seems natural to suppose that "given that there is no human freedom (let's just suppose for the sake of argument) then it would follow that we are not responsible for our actions." But this seems an instance of what is called the "fallacy of denying the antecedent". Is this really an instance of the fallacy or is it an exemption to the case because personally I don't see any error in the form of the argument.
In the form you've presented the claims, there would be a fallacy of denying the antecedent. If free, then responsible. Not free. So, not responsible. But I don't think philosophers typically agree with the conditional claim, which says that having free will (or doing A freely) is sufficient for moral responsibility (or being responsible for A). And we should not agree with it. After all, I might freely decide to back my car out of the driveway and in doing so run over the sleeping cat I could not be expected to have seen. If so, I do not seem to be responsible (blameworthy) for killing the cat. There might be ways to fix up the terms, but there is likely an epistemic condition (a justified belief requirement) for responsibility that goes beyond the free will (or control) condition. However, it is more plausible to say that moral responsibility (being responsible for A) requires free will (that one did A freely, or did some earlier action freely that one should have known would lead to...
Is it a common view among philosophers that human beings are simply biological computers? Doesn't this view reduce philosophy of mind to solely neuroscience?
It is a common view among philosophers that human beings are biological entities--that, in some sense , our minds (including our conscious mental processes) are our brains (are based on neural processes). There are few substance dualists (who think the mind is a non-physical entity). But in which sense the mind is the brain remains a topic of great controversy (some fancy terms for the relationship between the mental and physical include identity, supervenience, and functionalism). It should not be controversial that information from neuroscience will inform debates in philosophy of mind. But it is unlikely that neuroscience alone will answer all questions about the nature of mind. Notice that just the way you phrased your question suggests complications. If we did think the brain were a biological computer (this view is one form of functionalism), then many of the details of neuroscience might turn out to be irrelevant. The interesting facts about computers are about their programs ...
I'm willing to donate about $100 a year, out of my pocket, to help relieve worldwide hunger.
But, If I had the opportunity to vote on a proposed new tax in my country that would collect an average of $1000 from each citizen (based on their income) and use all that money to relieve world hunger, I would be happy to vote for this new law. My family income is above average so I'd end up paying more than $1000.
But this seems strange, ethically. I'm willing to have myself and my fellow citizens coerced by the state to pay far more towards a good cause than I'm willing to just pay on my own. Is my position defensible in a moral sense?
This is a very interesting question, one I have struggled with myself, because I feel the same way you do, and I suspect many people feel the exact opposite (they much prefer voluntary donations to coercive taxation). I can think of two explanations for why we have the view we do, one more psychological, the other perhaps more "defensible in a moral sense". First, I am weak-willed. I believe I should give much more of my disposable income to reliable organizations who will use it to relieve significant suffering. But getting myself to do so is hard and at tax time each year I find I haven't given as much as I think I should. So, I'd prefer to be forced to do it (the problem is that I do not like being forced to "donate" so much money to, e.g., defense contractors, so it is unfair to use my weakness as a reason to coerce everyone to do what only some of them think is justified). So, the second explanation for why we might hold our view is that we are justified in thinking that (a) our...
I can't think of any good definition of "(un)natural" according to which it would be correct to say that homosexuality is unnatural. We should first recognize that defining "homosexuality" is itself a difficult task. I'll begin by distinguishing between being a homosexual person and homosexual acts, where the latter involves sexual activity between members of the same biological sex. An overly simplistic way of defining a homosexual person would be someone who identifies him or herself as wanting (when wanting to engage in sexual activity) primarily to engage in homosexual acts, but this definition neglects other important ways homosexuals think of themselves (e.g., as loving or wanting to marry someone of the same sex). Now, how could it be that homosexual acts or homosexual persons are unnatural? 1. Perhaps one thinks that *hetero*sexual acts (and persons) are natural and any other type of sexual activity is (thereby?) unnatural. But this view just begs the question of what counts as...
I have some questions with vegetarianism. The main thing is that I do believe that animal suffering is a bad thing, but I don't think that that is a reason for people not to eat animals. I'm not asking here about the whole issue, but only about the following real case:
I own a small piece of land which has been mostly unused. Last year, I bought a dozen of chicks, gave them a nice place to live, bought them some grain, gathered other kinds of food for them (plants, insects, snails, etc.) and took care of them generally. Now I have a dozen of chicken that I am about to slaughter and eat. Is there a reason for me not to do so?! Should I feed them eternally? Should I free them so that a car will smash them? Shouldn't I have bought them in the first place?
I don't think you are doing anything wrong. But I think that precisely because I think that animals suffering is a bad thing and should be avoided if possible. It sounds to me like you are avoiding it as much as possible--and I assume that when you slaughter them you will do so in a way that minimizes pain and suffering (and likely will not be any worse, and may be much better, than their natural death would be). So, I may be misunderstanding what you mean when you say that you think suffering is bad but you do NOT think "that [suffering] is a reason for people not to eat animals." My own view is that there are many reasons to try to phase out factory farming, the main two being animal suffering and environmental harm. But both of those problems might be minimized by raising animals in other ways--for instance, the way you are raising your chickens. Others may want to provide arguments for why it is wrong to eat animals no matter what. But I have not been convinced by those arguments, mainly...
Hi, I'm a third-year undergraduate. I have always love both philosophy and science, especially theoretical physics and astronomy, but out of self-doubt, I majored in philosophy and only philosophy. I am in much regret that I did not double major in philosophy and physics, and am wondering about the possibility of being a research scientist in the future without doing a second undergraduate degree in science. Would it be possible to, say, do a philosophy PhD with a strong scientific bent (such as the Logic, Computation, and Methodology PhD at Carnegie Mellon), and then apply whatever foundational analysis skills I acquire thereafter in making substantial contributions to the natural sciences?
- science envy
I think it is unlikely you'd be able to get into a PhD program in physics (or perhaps any other science) without a major in physics (or that other science). And you are unlikely to be a research scientists without a PhD in that science. (This is fair enough--philosophy PhD programs typically want a strong background in philosophy.) But you might be able to find a PhD program in philosophy that would allow you to pick up enough science along the way to then do research in that science. To do philosophy of physics one should, I think, have the equivalent background of a PhD in physics. If you have a year of college left (or can extend your undergraduate education for a year), you should perhaps pick up more physics along the way (e.g., at least a minor). And in any case, you should be talking to your teachers there to learn more about your post-graduate options. Good luck!