As a veggie, I am continually conscious that I have made a moral choice which does not fit with society's morals on the issue (in general). I believe that in this world of choice, I can have an adequate diet without the need to kill animals. What does the panel feel about this issue?

For those of us fortunate to live in industrially advanced Western countries, your claim about being able to have an adequate diet without meat is obviously correct. That doesn't speak to the moral issue. I'm with you on that one too: I no longer eat meat (I occasionally eat fish, guiltily). If you ask me to offer a defense of this position, I'm not sure I could do it. It's odd: I have a colleague who is quite convinced by some of the arguments for vegetarianism -- yet he eats meat. I find all those arguments quite unconvincing -- and yet I don't. The relationship between philosophical reflection and daily life can be a complicated thing.

One further thought on this for now. In a recent post, someone asked about whether torture could be justified in a "ticking bomb" scenario. I believe that these kinds of situations are precisely designed to lead to judgmental paralysis (often because they result in a conflict between several important strands woven into the fabric of some concept). Philosophers are very good at constructing such situations in their attempts to work out what's central to some concept. So that can be a good thing theoretically, but, practically, it can be a disaster because it can encourage us to lose our confidence in our judgments about the vast majority (all?) of real world situations that we face. So, can we imagine circumstances in which so many important considerations in addition to animal suffering are in play that we're not quite sure what to say about eating animals? Yes, surely. But does that mean that we can't be confident in calling the system of factory farming as it exists right now in the United...

There has been a gread deal of debate in the news, of late, as to the application of torture under a so-called 'ticking time bomb' scenario. Is physical or mental torture ever justified in such an extreme event in a moral society?

I find myself impatient with such questions. There may be a theoreticalinterest to them, but in practice I find they often have the effect ofparalyzing action that we know to be right. (And is one being overly suspicious to wonder whether they are sometimes offered with precisely such intentions?) I expect that most oralmost all instances of torture fail to take place in anything like the "ticking bomb"context; most, perhaps all, torture that's actually practiced is absolutelyand unmitigatedly wrong. And our conviction that these instances of torture are wrongshould not be weakened by our realization that we cannot decide whethertorture might ever justified or, if we think it might be, whereprecisely to draw the line.

Why is human life valued more than animal life in the absence of religion? Are arguments based on our being intelligent or sentient valid, after all we make the rules. If you could ask an elephant it might offer other criteria to value species by.

According to some ethical theories that make happiness the central touchstone of morality, for instance utilitarianism, human happiness should not count more strongly than happiness in the non-human animal world. One quantum (as it were) of human happiness should contribute as much to the grand calculus of pleasure as does one quantum of rat happiness. Now, it may be that humans are capable of more happiness than rats; or perhaps, as John Stuart Mill argued in his Utilitarianism , they are capable of a kind of happiness that is of greater value than any happiness a rat could experience. But that's not to privilege humans; it's just to acknowledge a fact about their greater capacity for happiness. You wonder whether this might be unfair, because you wonder whether, if an elephant had written Utilitarianism , the theory would have looked a bit different (say, assigning great value to distinctively elephantine pleasures). But this is an impossible road. We are human, we are who we are,...

Do you agree with "Right is still right even if nobody's doing it. And wrong is still wrong even if everybody is doing it"?

To say that some action is right isn't a short-hand way of saying thatmost people perform that action. If that were so, there'd be no senseto the question "Everyone's torturing their children, but is itright?". For more on this style of argument, which purports to showthat rightness can't be identified with any kind of "natural" property,like "what everyone does", see Question 367 .

What is the difference between a terrorist and a freedom fighter? For example, in South Africa "terrorists" in the full definition of the word were reconsidered as freedom fighters after the regime change. Is it in this case (and in others) characteristic of the academic philosopher profession to simply repeat the view of the status quo?

If a terrorist is someone who seeks to achieve his goals either by terrorizing innocents or through the threat of such terror and a freedom fighter is someone who is engaged in a struggle to liberate a population from a tyrannical ruler, then some terrorists have been freedom fighters and some have not, and some freedom fighters have failed to be terrorists. If "terrorist" refers to someone who's adopted a particular means and "freedom fighter" characterizes someone on the basis of his goals, then it's only to be expected that such cross-classification will arise. These definitions are quite coarse, can't be expected to be useful in describing the complexities of real world situations, and also are misleading in encouraging the thought that the technique of terrorizing innocents is one that is primarily adopted by individuals, when arguably the more notable instances of such misdeeds are committed by governments. Political discourse would be clarified if the labels were dropped and we sought to...

Is it wrong to eat people?

I'll go out on a limb (oops). My own view is that if one could eat a person without harming anyone, there would be nothing wrong with it. (Still, the idea disgusts me in the same way that, when I did eat meat, the idea of eating calves' brains disgusted me. But that's another matter.) The bare fact of having human flesh in one's alimentary system does not seem morally fraught to me.

If someone murders many people, is it fair that they die once for their multiple victims?

I'm not sure that fairness enters into it. Whom would one be treating unfairly by condemning a murderer to just one death? His victims? Once dead, they are not being treated in any way at all; so they're not being treated unfairly relative to the murderer. Perhaps you mean that it would not be right or just for the murderer to die just once. But even if we could kill someone more than once (which we can't), why does justice demand that someone be made the victim of precisely the crime he or she committed against another? If you think of all the crimes people commit against one another, do you find that nothing short of visiting the same wrong against the perpetrator will right the moral balance?

Why is it that adults preach about democracy and how great it is when really if you're under 18 your parents are like dictators?

This might be taking your question too narrowly, but how about this: democracy is a form of government that places political power in the hands of citizens through their right to vote. But not all citizens are given a vote: five-year olds aren't, the mentally deranged aren't. In particular, if you haven't reached what used to be called "the age of reason", you are denied a vote. So, if your parents are all gung-ho for democracy, but insist on grounding your 15-year-old self on a Saturday night, well, that might be really irritating, but it's not inconsistent. Parental rights over children usually lapse at the same time that their child acquires the right to vote. Coincidence? No. Parents have a right and a duty to make decisions for their children until they have reached a level of maturity and intelligence at which they can be held responsible for their decisions — and once a person has reached that level, democracies should extend him/her the vote.

If science (i.e. evolutionary psychology) can explain why I have the morality I do, does that mean morality is subjective? If what I believe about morality is just a product of my evolution and my upbringing, can I still expect other people to live up to my principles even though they may have had a different upbringing? What about myself? Can I still hold myself to my own standards or am I being deceived by my evolution into thinking it would be wrong to do so?

Perhaps it's also worth noting that beliefs aren't like reflexes.Evolution shaped us (I assume) to blink when an object rapidlyapproaches our eyes. No amount of reasoning, thought, or imagination isgoing to stop you from blinking. Beliefs aren't like that. We developthem, hold them, let them go, etc. — often on the basis of arguments orconsiderations that people offer us or that we offer ourselves. So evenif evolution inclined us initially toward certain moral beliefs, onemight still think that they are not hermetically sealed off fromreflection.

Why do bad things happen to people who are good or try to be good? Is being good all your life ultimately boring and thus having bad things happen adds "spice," i.e., challenges to our lives? Tests our mettle? Or is it simply "karma"? What goes around comes around? Be careful what you wish for because you may get it. Sow the wind reap the whirlwind, etc. Are people, basically, good? Why does it always seem that the "bad" person prospers while the "good" person suffers? Where is the justice in this? Is goodness something that you just acknowledge within yourself when you know you have done your very best at an activity? Is this your reward for being "good"? Thank you. Bill

You express some thoughts that many people often have (including me).You expressed them in a way that makes no reference to God, but formillennia the natural way of putting one of your questions was to askwhy God — an all knowing, all powerful, all good being — would allowmisery to befall those creatures who abided by His laws. This is thefamous Problem of Evil that philosophers, theologians, andcountless others have wrestled with forever. (Richard Heck says alittle more about the problem in his response to another question .) Onecan see why theproblem is so pressing for someone who believes in God's existence. Isit pressing, is there even a problem, if one doesn't? For in that case,why should one expect that acting ethically would keep one from harm'sway? Some thinkers have argued that to act ethically is to act in sucha way that, if everyone were to act like you, everyone would findthemselves better off. But even on this view, it isn't the case that toact ethically is to act in a manner that will...