A short Forbes magazine interview with Peter Singer

May 24, 2023 • 1:00 pm

I’m posting this clip for two reasons. First, it’s a Forbes Magazine interview with a philosopher I much admire: Peter Singer. He’s admirable because he deals with philosophy’s original purpose: to figure out how to live a good life; because he deals with tough questions (one of them here: the euthanasia of terminally suffering newborns, which he discusses at 6:45); because, even when attacked he defends his ideas with tenacity; because he walks the walk, giving a lot of his income to others; and because does a lot of charitable work. Despite calls to get him fired because of his views on infant euthanasia, he maintains his equanimity and simply proffers a defense of his stand that I, for one, find convincing. And, of course, he spends a lot of time dealing with animal welfare, which a biologist has to admire (sadly, I’m too hypocritical to give up eating meat, but Singer abjures it).

Second, because he’s one of the founders of The Journal of Controversial Ideas, I was chuffed to hear that he talks about our paper recently published there, “In defense of merit in science” (between 9:30 and 13:00). I’m not sure who the interviewer is, but she seems to push on our merit thesis because in some ways it opposes racial diversity. Singer, in response, seems dubious about the idea of equity trumping merit.

They begin by discussing Singer’s new book (an update, actually): Animal Liberation Now: The Definitive Classic Renewed, which came out on Tuesday. I read the original book  (Animal Liberation), which was when he first came to my consciousness. I also admire his book The Expanding Circle: Ethics, Evolution, and Moral Progress., which suggests how our evolved ethical system has been extended to all humanity.

p.s. Singer has compiled a list of charities where, he thinks, you can get the most relief of suffering for your dollar. I’ve used that list, which you can find here, to decide who will get my money when I die.

Interior Department proposes legalizing cruel and previously prohibited hunting methods

May 23, 2018 • 1:15 pm

NBC News has highlighted some of the Interior Department’s proposed changes to the federal regulations about hunting. First designed to take effect in Alaska, but now proposed for the entire U.S., these changes (proposed regulations here) will overturn the following Obama-era prohibitions and thus allow barbaric forms of hunting (well, many forms of hunting, like using bows and arrows, already are barbaric):

The Trump administration is moving to reverse Obama-era rules barring hunters on some public lands in Alaska from baiting brown bears with bacon and doughnuts and using spotlights to shoot mother black bears and cubs hibernating in their dens.

Under the proposed changes, hunters would also be allowed to hunt black bears with dogs, kill wolves and pups in their dens, and use motor boats to shoot swimming caribou.

These and other hunting methods — condemned as cruel by wildlife protection advocates — were outlawed on federal lands in 2015. Members of the public have 60 days to provide comment on the proposed new rules.

From the regulations themselves; this will now be allowed (note that you can use light to lure bears too). It’s horrible!

The Final Rule codified prohibitions on certain types of harvest practices that are otherwise permitted by the State of Alaska. The practices are: Taking any black bear, including cubs and sows with cubs, with artificial light at den sites; harvesting brown bears over bait; taking wolves and coyotes (including pups) during the denning season (between May 1 and August 9); taking swimming caribou; taking caribou from motorboats under power; taking black bears over bait; and using dogs to hunt black bears.

I don’t understand the mentality of people who would permit these things. They value trophies more than the lives of animals, and as for shooting mothers and hibernating cubs, well, I have no words except it’s Trump and his environment-hating minions.

The rationale for the regulations, at the Federal Register, includes “increasing outdoor recreation.” How “recreational” is it to lure bears with donuts and then kill them? Or slaughter hibernating mothers and cubs? CUBS, for crying out loud:

Part of the stated purpose of Secretarial Order 3347 is to increase outdoor recreation and improve the management of game species and their habitat. Secretarial Order 3347 directs the Department of the Interior to identify specific actions to (1) expand access significantly for recreational hunting and fishing on public lands; and (2) improve recreational hunting Start Printed Page 23622and fishing cooperation, consultation, and communication with state wildlife managers.

What can you do about this? Here’s what:

You may submit comments, identified by Regulation Identifier Number (RIN) 1024-AE38, by either of the following methods:

Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov. Follow the instructions for submitting comments.

Mail or hand deliver to: National Park Service, Regional Director, Alaska Regional Office, 240 West 5th Ave., Anchorage, AK 99501.

Instructions: Comments will not be accepted by fax, email, or in any way other than those specified above. All submissions received must include the words “National Park Service” or “NPS” and must include the docket number or RIN (1024-AE38) for this rulemaking. Comments received will be posted without change to http://www.regulations.gov, including any personal information provided.

Docket: For access to the docket to read background documents or comments received, go to http://www.regulations.gov.

In short, go the the link, put RIN: 1024-AE38 in the search box, and then make a comment and submit it. I ask readers who are opposed to this proposed legislation to at least say a few words. Please!

h/t: Ken

Japanese to resume their duplicitous “research” whaling

December 1, 2015 • 11:30 am

The Japanese have long evaded whaling regulations by pretending that their slaughter of whales is based on “research,” though the whale meat ends up being eaten (even in the U.S., where it’s found in underground sushi restaurants) and the “research” is a sham. Japan’s own quote leads to the slaughter of 935 minke, 50 fin and 50 humpback whales every season. While minke and humpback whales aren’t endangered (though some subpopulations are, and the numbers of minke whales is falling), fin whales are threatened. Further, whales (and the dolphins the Japanese slaughter annually) are sentient, intelligent creatures, and their slaughter is morally unconscionable, especially because the “research” conducted by the Japanese is bogus, not helping a bit to save the species (two of which are “species of least concern” anyway). Nor do the Japanese really need whale meat to survive: it’s merely an expensive delicacy. A reasonable view of animal suffering would dictate that this slaughter stop, as it has in all countries save Norway (which fishes only in its own waters) and Japan.

At any rate, the Washington Post reports Japan is off to the annual slaughter:

On Tuesday, Japan’s whaling fleet will set out on a three-month-long hunt for minke whales. The Japanese government argues that this hunt — which will only kill 333 whales, about a third of the average yearly haul before the country’s year-long whaling pause — is being done in the name of scientific research. But the U.N.’s International Court of Justice has already deemed the “scientific” program to be anything but.

Most of the whales won’t end up in laboratories, but on dinner plates. Japanese officials claim that the specimens will be used to study the health and migration patterns of minke whales, but some argue that these research vessels have never been anything but a way around commercial whaling bans imposed in 1986. Today, Japan is the only country that practices whaling in international waters.

As far as Japan’s scientific rationale for whaling, it’s laughable:

In its review of the new plan, a panel set up by the International Whaling Commission agreed, and asked that Japan go back to the drawing board on its whaling plans. A group of 44 scientists from 18 different countries signed a statement arguing against the scientific validity of the killings. But instead of waiting another year to resubmit, Japan will go ahead with the controversial plan — a move that is angering many conservationists.

“We do not accept in any way, shape or form the concept of killing whales for so-called ‘scientific research’,” Australian environment minister Greg Huntsaid in a statement. It was Australia that brought the ICJ case against Japan, which led to the country’s year-long whaling hiatus and this new, tamer whaling plan.

. . . “There is no need to kill whales in the name of research,” Hunt said in a statement. “Non-lethal research techniques are the most effective and efficient method of studying all cetaceans.”

Nope, there’s only one reason the Japanese kill whales, and it’s this:

Whale meat for sale in Japan (picture from Wikipedia)



h/t: Randy

A disproof of objective or “scientifically based” morality

November 27, 2015 • 10:45 am

I’ve made this point before, but have revisited it after my recent post on animal suffering and how we shouldn’t ignore it. When thinking about how to judge human versus animal suffering, I realized that there’s no objective way to do this, and that when trying to figure out how to treat animals, we must ultimately rely on subjective judgment. While science can help us make such judgments, it cannot give us objective answers, even in principle.

For example, is it right to do animal experimentation on primates? In so doing, primates and other mammals are injured or suffer, and yet there may be some ultimate benefit for humanity (this, of course, isn’t guaranteed). How many mouse lives or monkey lives are worth one human life, especially when animal testing doesn’t always provide cures? We think it’s okay to swat mosquitoes or kill a nonvenomous snake that’s simply annoying or scaring us, but we don’t think it’s right to kill a dog who’s barking at us. Where do you draw the line?

Or if, like Sam Harris, you think that “well being” is the objective criterion for morality, so that the most moral act is the one that maximizes overall well being, then your difficulty becomes this: how do you determine the relative weights of animal well being versus human well being? Science can’t answer such a question because we have no idea how to quantify well being among species, which depends on knowing how an animal subjectively perceives and values its existence. (I also question how science can judge the relative weights of different kinds of human well being, but I’ll leave that aside.) Is it immoral to swat a fly only because it’s annoying you with its buzzing? Is it immoral to kill a harmless spider simply because you don’t like spiders?

I am still traumatized at having seen a golf-course employee, several decades ago, flooding mole tunnels with water, and then killing the moles who came out by whacking them with a wrench. I’ll never forget that sight, which made me weep. Is the increased well-being of golfers worth more than the reduced well being of the whacked moles?

But it gets more serious when you come to food animals. Is it immoral to eat animals? How do you measure their reduced well being at losing their lives versus our increased well being when we eat a nice chicken or steak? Is it immoral to eat eggs from battery chickens? If so— because you weigh their suffering as heavier than our increased well being—then what about humanely raised animals? They may have a nicer life and be killed more humanely, too, but don’t they value their own lives? They’ve evolved, after all, to avoid death, and yet we kill them. To me that means that they don’t want to die, but we don’t know what “want” really means in an animal whose brains we can’t fathom.

I see no way to arrive at objective answers to these questions, for even in principle I can’t see how one can give relative values to the well being of different species. Of course one could punt and say that morality applies only to humans, but we know that’s untrue. We prosecute people who torture cats and dogs, and we have, by and large, stopped using animal testing for cosmetics. The latter is an explicit judgment that animal suffering outweighs the increased well being produced by applying blush or mascara.

Now I admit that I’m not a trained philosopher (though I do have one paper in a real journal to my credit), and perhaps others have considered this question in light of the notion that we can have objective moral truths. I’ve read Peter Singer, who’s told me personally that he thinks there are such truths, but I’ve never asked him to tell me how one can objectively arrive at his notion (which I share) that “animal liberation” is a very important cause.

In the end, like all morality, animal “rights” comes down to issues of preference and subjective judgment. Science and empirical observation can feed into those issues, but at bottom it’s still subjective.  I agree with Sam that in general our moral judgments, at least in our own species, correspond to utilitarian notions of overall well being, but I don’t agree that one can make such judgments objectively.

My title may reflect a bit of hubris, but I invite readers to tell me where I’m wrong.