Can anyone defend using animals as food? All I see are pro-vegetarian responses. We shouldn't hurt animals etc etc...they are alive. Plants are alive. As are bacteria. Why is eating bacteria and plants condoned? Having helped raise chickens I am not inclined to think they are more intelligent than your average root vegetable. And I was thinking. I recently got offered a job that several fairly desperate people I know needed. Needed badly. They need to support families and children. Yet I got the job. I earned it. Should I step aside and let one of my less qualified colleagues have the job. Should I spare them the pain and discomfort of being jobless and searching? If I shouldn't eat animals, because it causes them pain, then shouldn't I not take this job because it causes a human being pain? Is there not a limit to this line of thinking. By virtue of being mariginally attractive, I "won" a competition for a mans attention. He was subsequently my boyfriend and I loved him. However, the runner up...

I understand. I believe you are making the point that (in the case of the boyfriend and the job) we do not always have duties to minimize the stress or pain of others. In the two cases you cite, I think we can even propose that you have zero obligation of any sort to relieve stress. In the case of raising nonhuman animals, however, the case is different (they are not suffering, if they are suffering at all due to the aftereffect of a fair competition, because of a romantic competition or competition on a job front; rather they are made the direct object of suffering for the sake of benefiting another party). So, I suggest that if we do have reason to believe that, say, chickens are the object of directly inflicted suffering, this is something to take seriously ethically. Two things can be said on behalf of your position: while I think chickens have feelings and plants do not (plants lack brains, nervous system...), it may be that by allowing them to be free range or not overly cramped, you are able...

More and more, I find myself defaulting to "I need more information to draw a conclusion" or "I just think that the affected parties should decide" on various political and personal issues. I could easily form an opinion by combining by morals and values with the information that I am given, but I am always wary that I might not be forming a well-informed opinion (a sin I consider greater than not having an opinion). I would like to know, in terms of civic duty, is it better for the voter in a democratic society to form the most logical conclusion possible from whatever information he or she is given (still treating each bit of information with rational scrutiny), or to form no opinion until enough information becomes available?

An excellent question! I think that the answer lies in terms of the urgency of the relevant decision-making. Insofar as some issue (take energy policy) is being determined in the next election, and your vote or not voting will give an advantage to one policy over the other, I think you have a duty to form as sound an opinion on the topic as possible. If you honestly think you lack the competency to vote either way, perhaps you should refrain from voting (even if that has the foreseen consequence of giving one side an advantage), but insofar as you can form a responsible (though fallible) judgement, I think you should act on that basis. In matters that are not urgent (e.g. should the USA seek to colonize Mars) I suggest there is no civic duty to become informed on the topic.

Can a system of ethics exist that is universal and absolute to all societies and cultures if no supernatural power exists to enforce it? I mean, suppose that somehow God, karma or any possible force that could punish people for not following this system of ethics have been proven not to exist. What would prevent a specific society (or even the entire world) from simply saying "Since we will not be punished, we simply reject this system of ethics"?

This is an important question. Most philosophers today probably think that an overall metaphysical framework (theism or karma...) is not necessary to secure universal ethical codes or to preserve their authority and normative force. And assuming a stable world order in which there is wide agreement on what is just or unjust (and a willingness to enforce principles of justice with force), it may be thought than an appeal to a supernatural or sacred reality is not necessary. But in a case in which there are no human or natural guarantees that justice will prevail, matters shift. Consider Darwin's situation. He remained confident till the end that it will always be in our general self-interest to be kind and just, etc, but he did not think this was necessarily so and he also thought it quite natural that stronger races would seek to exterminate weaker ones. If one is a theist, one has an account of why such exterminations are wrong (they are cosmic sins, and contrary to the will and nature of the...

What does it mean to "objectify" someone? What makes an act or process objectifying?

Good question! It might seem harmless to think of a person objectively or even to think of him or her as an object (e.g. "she is the object of my love and attention"). But when it is used derisively, it seems that to objectify someone is to not take their subjectivity or character seriously as important for its own sake. In this sense, one objectifies a person by treating him or her merely as an object, and possibly an object to be used for one's self-interest, e.g. a man may objectify a woman by thinking of her merely as an object of desire or arousal and not as important and worthy of respect for her own sake.

How do you know when you are in love?

I suggest one of the ways is by monitoring when you feel happy or sad. When you are with someone (Skippy), do you feel happy? When Skippy is not around, do you feel sad? If so, this is one of the marks of love. Further reflection will then be in order: what is it about being with Skippy makes you happy? Maybe Skippy likes you and you like being liked. This would not be enough, I suggest, to indicate whether you actually love Skippy her or himself. When you get to the point of realizing that you are delighting in the sheer goodness and well being of Skippy and that when you are sad, you miss the presence of Skippy, then I think you have quite a bit of evidence that: you are in love.

Why should one be moral? Regardless of what ethical system is correct (if there are any), I haven't come across an adequate explanation for why one should act in a morally virtuous manner. It seems to me that though almost all ethical theories implicitly claim that one should always act moral if possible, there is never an explanation why. If one were to claim that acting in a morally virtuous manner will likely improve the satisfaction/happiness/etc. in your life, then it seems that this pragmatic reasoning can allow for someone to act in a morally vicious manner (as long as they are happy). Ultimately, it appears that what I am asking is the following: what reason will I have to value moral obligations over my own desires and satisfactions? Is it even sensible to ask such a question? An analogy can be made with the value of reason: if you have no goal in knowing the truth, valuing reason in that regard will be pointless. So what goal would correspond to morality (if that makes sense)?

Good question(s). A range of philosophers have sought to argue that one should be moral out of self-interest. Some philosophers who argue that morality must lead to fulfillment (the virtuous should be happy) combine their ethics with a moral argument for God. Kant thought that for morality to make sense we need to have a kind of moral faith in God as an ideal judge who will insure that the good are rewarded, and the vicious are not. Still other philosophers will question the intelligibility of your question: asking why one should be moral may be likened to asking you should do what you should do. Questions like 'why is the sky blue' make sense, whereas 'why is blue, blue?' do not.

I recently had an argument in an epistemology class about the relationship between facts and human minds. I argued that a fact cannot exist until a human mind knows it. Most of the rest of the class (and the professor) argued that facts can exist independently of human minds. My professor's example: Every human being believes that the world is flat, when it is in fact round. I argued that the fact that the world is round did not exist until someone thought it. Can a fact exist without a human mind?

You are adopting a pretty radical position, for it seems like common sense for us to recognize as facts (or truths or as actual states of affairs) all sorts of things quite independent of human minds. Most of us would want to say (for example) that it was true that there was life long before there was intelligent life here on earth. Your professor's example is a little odd, partly because very few people have ever believed the earth is flat. (There is a good book on the myth of believing in a flat earth). But you might be able to defend your position as part of a philosophy of language, contending that facts are what correspond to or are referred to as sentences and simply hold the line about not recognizing facts until you have language-users. I believe Fred Stoutland holds that position, and Richard Rorty expresses something like that in The Mirror of Nature. Still, you are not in an enviable position in terms of arguments, as most of us would want to recognize that it is a fact that before there...

I recently had a conversation with a friend who is convinced that morality is simply a human invention, no more than a system of social conventions developed to ensure social stability and ultimately the propagation of the human species. Do you agree? If not, can you outline any arguments for morality being something more than just social convention? For example, are there any arguments for morality as something independent of humans, something which exists objectively, "out there", and does not depend for its existence on our conceptions of it, or our development of its principles?

No, I do not think that morality is only a matter of social conventions, no more so than sickness or health. It seems to be an objective (and perhaps even common sense) fact that cancer is bad for a human being, and I think we may similarly see that rape is a wrongful violation of a person. Building on such apparent facts, one can offer what is called a natural law account of morality, in which morality can be defined (or recognized) in terms of what contributes to the flourishing or destruction of human nature. A natural law approach to morality is not the only alternative, however, for seeking to ground moral judgments. One may adopt a form of utilitarianism or Kantianism, for example. I prefer to combine a natural law account with an account of moral reasoning that highlights impartiality, an affective appreciation of the points of view of others and an awareness of all relevant facts upon which to form moral judgments. Treating morality is only a matter of human conventions seems unable to...