Slavery and Veganism

January 16, 2014

Two hundred years ago slavery was not only permissible, but rife in the Southern United States. Black people were subjugated and exploited by white people, who felt they had the right to rule. The extremities of slavery are explicitly represented in the recent cinema release 12 Years a Slave (which I highly recommend watching!) Nobody nowadays (I hope!) would wish to claim that, had they lived in the Southern United States two hundred years ago, they would have accepted slavery, and been complicit within the system. We are appalled by the ways in which slavers thought and acted, and we would all like to think that we would never have been slavers ourselves; that we would never have subjugated and exploited our fellow human beings.

I can’t help but draw a comparison between slavery two hundred years ago and practices involving the exploitation of animals nowadays: both involve individuals who believe they have the right to subjugate and exploit other living beings for their own benefit. Indeed, for the most part the reason is the same: profit.

Here’s a thought experiment for you: imagine that, in two hundred years’ time, the ownership and thus the exploitation of animals has been abolished, just like slavery was abolished. People might look back at what are, at this very moment, current practices and be horrified by the ways in which we treat animals. They would, in all likelihood, claim that they would never have accepted animal exploitation, and never have been complicit within the system. At this very moment, however, the vast majority of people are accepting of animal exploitation.

Have a think. If you had lived in the Southern United States two hundred years ago, would you have been anti-slavery or pro-slavery? Now, are you anti-animal-exploitation or pro-animal-exploitation? How do your answers make you feel?

TEP: First Principles

January 8, 2014

A first principle is a proposition or assumption from which other propositions are derived. It is, then, a foundational belief from which other beliefs may follow. In an inquiry such as mine it is necessary to explicate some first principles to work from. Exactly what may be taken as a first principle isn’t concrete, but the category undoubtedly includes analytic truths, and may extend to assumptions that nobody would wish to disagree with, or perhaps those which cannot seemingly be refuted. It’s a tricky business, but I wish to just mention a few to get started:

    1. Suffering is bad.

Any being who suffers would surely agree that suffering is a bad thing. The evidence, then, weighs in favour of the truth of (1). This, however, clearly isn’t enough: it may be argued that (1) is false on the grounds that masochists derive pleasure from suffering. However, I wish to propose that there is a distinction between pain and suffering that means that whereas masochists may derive pleasure from pain, they do not derive pleasure from suffering. To suffer is to experience some kind of wrong that is not desired. It is, then, in the very definition of suffering (or at least, the definition that I’m going to be working with) that it is bad. (1), then, I take to be an analytic truth.

Perhaps removing some restrictions it may be proposed that the following is true:

    1b. Generally, pain is bad.

The problem here is that the word ‘generally’ makes (1b) a very weak claim. It is, then, better to stick with (1).

    2. What is moral is what is good.

I think (2) is pretty obvious. To act morally is to act rightly, and what is right may be taken to be synonymous with what is good.

    2b. Moral actions may always be justified.

If, as (2) claims, moral actions are good, then they may always be justified in virtue of being good/right.

    3. Unnecessary suffering is unjustified.

(3) is somewhat derived from (1), but is, I believe, another analytic truth. It may be held that some suffering in the world is necessary, but it is justified only in virtue of being necessary. In other words, in the greater scheme of things it might be most beneficial, or there might be some greater meaning to it (consider some arguments against the existence of gratuitous suffering.) What this would seem to mean is that any bad, such as suffering, which isn’t necessary, therefore isn’t justified. Hence (3).

    3b. Inflicting unnecessary suffering is immoral.

Whether or not there is such a thing as necessary suffering is a topic I shall, at least for now, avoid. Concerning just that suffering which isn’t necessary, then, (3b) claims it to be immoral. If all that is good is justified, as (2b) claims, then anything which cannot be justified cannot be moral. (3) states that unnecessary suffering cannot be justified, so it naturally follow from both (2b) and (3) that unnecessary suffering must be immoral.


The above, then, are the first principles from which I shall be working over the coming weeks/months. As of yet I’m not entirely certain to what extent I shall ultimately utilize then, but I’m sure they’ll come in handy somewhere along the way.

The Ethics Project (TEP)

January 7, 2014

Perhaps the main disappointment over the course of my philosophy degree has been the lack of applied ethics that’s been taught. This somewhat surprises me, and applied ethics seems to be the sort of philosophy that people in general do the most of: we discuss moral issues, debate as to whether they’re right or wrong, and why. These are the sorts of issues that come up in everyday life: stealing, murder, abortion, lying, etc. It’s not only the most relevant philosophy, but also the most approachable.

Back when I was in school, when I first got into philosophy, the sorts of issues that I used to think about most and liked discussing fell into two broad categories: metaphysics and ethics. It is, then, in those two branches that my philosophical origins lie. Over the last few years I’ve had the chance to study a great deal of metaphysical issues. Ethics, however, has been restricted, the focus seemingly on only meta-ethics and normative theories; that is, whether there are such things as moral facts, and in what sorts of ways we should generally conduct ourselves and act. But what about the applied ethics: the actual issues that actually matter? In first year we looked a bit at death, and at the meaning of life, but that was it. Disappointing stuff.

Now, however, I wish to take it upon myself to read into these ethical issues. I’m very much the sort of person who sits on the fence when it comes to contentious issues, and I find myself playing devil’s advocate so often in discussions that I lose sight of what my views actually are! I am thus endeavouring to work out what I actually do believe, and I’ll be posting about a variety of ethical issues over the coming weeks/months (depending on just how much free time I have!)

This is also an opportunity for me to read a few ethics books I own. One is Causing Death and Saving Lives by Jonathan Glover, which I’ve had in my possession since around the start of my degree, yet never actually looked at. He deals with the moral problems regarding life and death. Another book I’ll be look at is Being Good by Simon Blackburn, intended as a concise introduction to ethics. I’ll also be reading through 50 Ethics Ideas You Really Need to Know by Ben Dupré, which I got for Christmas. It gives a more general overview of most of the important ethical issues.

This project, then, is designed to follow my train of thought through the world of ethics. I’m not promising to have a clear opinion on every main issue by the end, but I’ll certainly try to make as much sense of it all as I can. In my next post I’ll be laying out what I take to be some of the foundations or first principles of ethics.


November 23, 2013

A couple of days ago I successfully reached the 50,000 word mark of my novel for NaNoWriMo 2013. To ‘win’ in only 20 days is quite a feat, and this year marks the eighth year that I’ve entered and ‘won’ NaNoWriMo.

This year I actually did things a little differently and continued the novel I started writing last year. Last year I wrote just over 50,000 words (50,019, to be precise!), and this year I’ve written a further 50,221, bringing the total word count of the novel up to 100,240 words. I wouldn’t usually work on something from a previous year like this, but my novel is quite special in that it’s made up of smaller ‘books’, meaning that it divides up quite easily, and is therefore quite easy to just add sections to.

In fact, the novel overall is made up of seven sections, each from the perspective of a different character. The idea that sparked the novel last year was the simply phrase “Do you ever get the feeling you’re being watched?” From there I (somehow!) came up with the idea of having a novel of five sections, each around 10,000 words each. I wanted each section to be from the perspective of a different character, but the characters would be connected somehow, so the plot would flow through the entire novel. The working title I came up with was ‘Connections’, although I originally wanted the word ‘social’ to be in there somewhere. Still, coming up with a decent name for a novel is really rather tricky, and I’ve found in previous years that sometimes a good title doesn’t come to me until I’ve nearly finished writing the novel.

My plans for my novel changed a little as I came up to the 50,000 word finish line last year. I found I’d only completed three sections, and was around half-way through the fourth. At that point I wasn’t entirely sure what to do, especially as I had the idea of adding a sixth section on at the end. The novel, then, was far from done. I decided I’d get around to finishing it some time in following months.

That didn’t happen, and as this November approached I chose to commit to trying to add another 50,000 words to that novel. I had no idea if that was particularly achievable, as although I had a lot left that I wanted to write, it was nowhere near half of the overall story.

Still, I thought I’d give it a go anyway, and as November began to plunged straight in to writing. I quickly realised how inappropriately I had left my writing the previous year (my current character was just about to tell her son that she had been diagnosed with cancer), and I actually felt pretty bad about that. I mean, who just stops writing at a point like that for the best part of a year? I couldn’t really remember last November, but clearly I’d stopped writing as soon as I had reached my goal.

Along the way this year I found a new character I wanted to introduce, meaning that I had a far greater word count potential, something I was glad of, and overall I managed to finish the novel and succeed at NaNoWriMo with the aforementioned overall word count. The title, however, was something I still wasn’t particularly happy with (I mean, it’s not overly original or memorable!), so I changed it to ‘Well-Connected’ (although I’m still not 100% sure about it…)

My goal for the future is to get this novel published. I think it’s definitely one of my better novels, and it’s a decent length. Amusingly, however, I’ve decided that when I begin redrafting I want to remove the whole “Do you ever get the feeling you’re being watched?” element from the first couple of sections. In other words, I’ll be removing the very foundation that the novel started around. Still, I guess that’s the way novels evolve!

Bumps in the Road

November 22, 2013

I realise that I haven’t really posted anything of much importance recently. In fact, for the past year and a half I’ve barely posted anything at all, and I feel like it’s about time I changed that.

My reason for not posting? Well, there have been quite a few reasons actually, which we could put down to ‘bumps in the road of life’, but I think that the main reason is that I originally intended this blog to be an expression of my thoughts and opinions on various topics, and yet I don’t really have thoughts or opinions on things any more.

In fact, I remember starting out by writing posts about contemporary issues, such as controversial news stories, and having my say on such matters. What I’ve found over the last few years, however, is that I’ve ceased to react to things in quite the same way as I used to. I used to be very opinionated, wanting to immediately express myself if I felt outraged by something. I don’t get outraged any more. In fact, I don’t tend to react much at all.

Why? That’s a really good question. I think it’s because I’ve had quite a hard time in the past, either with people not bothering to pay any attention to what I say, dismissing my remarks, or I’ve felt quite a backlash. When I find myself in a corner, forced to stand up, justify myself, and argue, I find I can’t. I’m not much of a quick thinker; I’m more the kind of person who mulls an idea over for a few minutes, hours, days, or even weeks before coming to any sort of conclusion. In an argument or debate, then, I’m not much good at all unless I know from the off exactly what I’m talking about.

I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing, though. One of the main things I’ve learnt studying philosophy is that you always need to make sure that your views are sufficiently justified. As such, I’ve learnt to not have an opinion on something unless I feel I am sufficiently educated about it. I don’t really have time to sufficiently educate myself about a lot of issues, so I don’t have a strong opinion on them. Further, I generally only express an opinion I do hold if I’m asked. I don’t usually feel the need to go out of my way to make sure every knows exactly what I think. I used to, but not any more. Nowadays I keep quiet until somebody expresses an interest. It’s actually quite rewarding, as in such cases I know that they’re going to be paying attention, and they actually want to know what I have to say.

Of course, there are a few downsides to the way I am now. One is that I’m often very quiet, and I guess that unnerves some people. I don’t think there’s much point in saying something just for the sake of it, so if I don’t have anything to contribute to a discussion then I’ll just keep silent. A related problem is that some people then think that I’m completely unopinionated, or apathetic to a particular issue, whereas I may just not have looked into it enough to form a valid opinion. Overall, then, I guess I get judged quite harshly at times, but something similar would undoubtedly occur if I constantly spouted nonsense. There’s probably a nice mean somewhere in the middle, but I’m not entirely certain where it lies.

Something else I’ve started doing is covering my back when I finally do speak up. Often people will ask me what I think about something that I haven’t really thought about before, and I end up trying to come up with an answer on the spot. As I’ve already mentioned, I’m really not very good at that, although I am getting better. A big part of being able to do that is to apply other knowledge you have to a specific issue. So, for example, I often apply various philosophical theories and principles to particular issues I’m asked about. What I then come up with isn’t necessarily my opinion, but it’s a way of looking at a situation. Then I cover my back by explicitly mentioning that I’m “only stipulating”, and I “might be wrong”. I do this because I realise that what I’m saying probably isn’t justified, so I can’t pretend that it is. This might come across as me simply speaking without any kind of conviction, and I guess to a certain extent that is what I’m doing. Perhaps I need to have more conviction in what I say? Still, it does no harm to be cautious…

So, I guess that’s why I haven’t really posted anything substantial recently: I have very little confidence in myself. I’m therefore looking forward to graduating, at which point I will finally have the opportunity to take some time off, do some research, and work out what I truly believe and why.