Friday, March 04, 2022

On Francione on Veganism

 Gary Francione has an article at Aeon arguing that it is immoral to own animals and morally necessary to be a vegan. It's long an assertion and short on argument, but what argument there is, has a number of problems. A few points.

Francione says:

The Western view was that we could have moral and legal obligations that concerned animals but were not owed to them. To the extent that the cruel treatment of animals was thought to present a moral problem, it was only because it made us more likely to be cruel to other humans. But any obligation to be kind to animals merely concerned animals; the obligation of kind treatment was owed only to other humans. This was the view of Immanuel Kant, Thomas Aquinas and others.

This is not really true of Kant. On Kant's view, we owe other human beings not qua individuals but qua rational; that is, our duties are duties to humanity in the sense of 'rational nature'. But for Kant this grounding of duty on humanity applies to animals as well; we owe other animals certain actions insofar as they are analogues of humanity. Kant is quite explicit that we have duties to animals; they are just more indirect than those to human beings. Something broadly similar can be said of Aquinas. What makes compassion a virtue is its relation to human beings, but animals are naturally objects of compassion because their afflictions stir up the same feelings as the afflictions of human beings, and we are obligated to be compassionate in any appropriate situation. Thus exactly the same obligation covers both man and beast, it just does so for different reasons, and, because it does so for different reasons, that obligation is not always going to be satisfied in the same way for both.

Part of Francione's mistake (which is a common one) is that he assumes there is a very sharp distinction between an obligation that are about someone and an obligation 'to' them and puts all the emphasis on the latter. But the content of our obligations comes from the former, not the latter, which really concerns the reasons for the obligation rather than the content. (Of course, in colloquial speech we often don't distinguish them at all, since in many simple cases, obligations are 'about' those 'to' whom we have them.)

Likewise, Francione says, "Animals supposedly were not rational, self-aware or able to use concepts, and this was thought to justify our treating them as having no moral value." But that animals should be treated as having no moral value has never been in any way the common Western view Francione claims; indeed, I suspect you could not find any definite statement of this at all before the last two hundred years.

While he does later on get Bentham's position roughly right, he notably doesn't look at why Bentham takes the position he does. Bentham thinks that enjoyment and suffering are the only foundations for moral concern in any case. Thus he would entirely reject the distinction Francione makes between 'persons' and 'quasi-persons'; Bentham wouldn't think the category of person has much relevance here, and he is advocating treating animals in exactly the same way as human beings. He doesn't think our interest in continuing to live is relevant, either, except insofar as it expands our enjoyment or suffering.

When Francione gets away from history and to the present, his argument doesn't much improve:

Is any of this animal use necessary? Putting aside instances where people are stranded on lifeboats or desert islands, or otherwise facing imminent starvation, it is not necessary for humans to eat animals or animal products. Indeed, for several decades, a growing number of mainstream healthcare professionals have been telling us that animal foods are not only not necessary for, but are actually detrimental to, human health. 

This is a baffling argument. It is in fact necessary for humans to eat animal products. We are omnivores who have been eating animal products for our entire discernible evolutionary history, and our bodies have a dependency on them. There are things that we need that no plants make at all. In the long term, you can literally damage your brain by imposing a vegan lifestyle without proper planning. Now, it is true that we live in an age of wonders, and we can synthesize these missing elements, either chemically or indirectly by cultivating non-plant organisms (algae or various kinds of bacterial colonies) so as to produce them. This is why generally serious vegans are big on things like spirulina (although spirulina is not itself a particularly great source). Even when we can get the nutrient from plants, it's not necessarily easy to get it in adequate quantities from those sources. And it would be entirely false to claim that we are currently in a position to make up synthetically all the inadequacies of an all-plant diet for the entire population of the earth.

Strict veganism, as opposed to alternatives like vegetarianism, pescetarianism, or 'loose veganism' (i.e., mostly vegan, with some limited concessions to some very occasional animal products), is a luxury lifestyle that at present can only be safely practiced by people with access to large-scale agricultural transportation and nutritional specialists. Vegetarianism, pescetarianism, and loose veganism do have problems that have to be compensated for if practiced at a large-scale, but they are much more manageable as patterns for an entire society. (India is probably the large society that actually comes closest to what Francione would consider the ideal. There's an extremely good reason why so much of Indian life has been associated with the milk cow -- a vast quantity of milk products is the only thing that makes such a society possible.)

Thursday, March 03, 2022

External World

 [Another handout.]


External World 

Problem: How do we know that there is a world outside the mind? 

 I. Bishop George Berkeley: Immaterialism/Idealism 

 What do we really mean by ‘outside the mind’? 

 Isn’t the simplest way to answer the question to say that, strictly speaking, there is nothing outside the mind – everything is either a mind or something in a mind? (Get rid of ‘material substance’, the ‘unknown something’.) A reason to think this: primary and secondary qualities. 

 Bodies are then sensible ideas that our mind treats as going together. Note that this still means that bodies exist. Esse est percipi: To be is to be perceived. 

 But we take the world to be shared and independent of us in some way. How can it just be in our mind? Because it is coordinated by a higher mind. Divine language. 

 II. David Hume: Skepticism 

 It’s pointless to ask, “Whether bodies exist?” We all believe that they do. The question is, “Why do we believe they exist?” We will need to distinguish the causes of believing that bodies exist even when we don’t sense them (continued existence) and the causes of believing that they are distinct from perception (distinct or independent existence). They are connected, but it’s easier to see how they work if they are separated. 

 For the objects of perception to exist when we don’t perceive them is a contradiction (as Berkeley had noted). The senses can give us no notion of either distinct or continued existence. If our belief was based on reasoning, the reasoning would be too difficult. So it must be imagination that is the source of our belief. 

 All objects to which we attribute a continued existence have constancy and coherence

 The imagination attributes continued existence to uniform objects due to a mistake – it treats the perceptions as continuing to exist even when we aren’t perceiving because perceptions before and after the gap are so similar. With changing objects, it has a natural tendency to extrapolate (galley effect or mental inertia) to make our experience as regular as possible, and supposes that they continue to exist unperceived in order to do so. 

 Given continued existence, we naturally assume distinct existence. However, we can do experiments to show that perceptions can’t exist independently (we can modify them with our sense organs in such a way that we can’t tell which perceptions should be said to exist). Philosophers try to get around this by distinguishing perceptions and objects (the perceptions are interrupted but the objects continue); but the only reason why you would do so would be to save the assumption of continued and distinct existence, which we only believe because of the mistakes give above. Everyone, therefore, even philosophers, can do no more than oscillate between these two conflicting views. 

 III. Lady Mary Shepherd: Materialism 

 The problem really boils down to three things: external existence, continued existence, and independent existence. These are known by causal reasoning, not imagination. 

The world ‘mixes’ with us; because this mixing introduces differences in us, we recognize that it is an effect. Therefore there must be a cause besides ourselves giving these sensations. Thus independent existence. 

 We get continued existence by discovering that these effects are ready to appear

 We get external existence by moving around, and therefore adding the idea of relation to motion. 

 We don’t know exactly what these external, independent, continued existences are, only that there must be something about them that gives the variety we experience. 

 Other Minds 

 The problem of other minds is very similar to that of the problem of the external world: How do we know that other minds exist? 

 Descartes’s answer: We know it because we find bodies exhibiting behavior (language and problem-solving) that can only be due to something capable of recognizing its own thinking (e.g., engaging in Cartesian meditation and reaching the cogito). A key question is whether this is adequate as an answer. It does seem to require rationalism rather than empiricism. 

 Another common answer (e.g., Bertrand Russell): We know in our own case that thinking causes certain behaviors. Sometimes we see the behaviors without the cause; therefore we infer that there is (probably) thinking we do not observe. (Argument from analogy.) An empiricist could easily accept this. One potential issue: analogy is a sliding scale, and the inference described here seems very ‘patchy’ and tentative compared to our actual views on other minds. 

One question that comes up often, and gets answered in different ways: do we first know that other minds exist, or do we first know that external bodies exist? Which is more basic?

Wednesday, March 02, 2022

Lenten Notes

 Today is Ash Wednesday, and so the beginning of Lent in the Roman Calendar. A few notes.

* Previously I've done a Lenten quotation series. I will not be doing one this term; I don't think I could consistently maintain it with my current schedule.

* How many days are there in Lent? Almost everybody gets it wrong. First, the Church does not have a single liturgical calendar. The Roman Calendar begins it on Ash Wednesday. The Maronite Calendar begins it earlier. The Ambrosian Calendar begins it later. So there is no single answer.

However, if we stick with the Roman Calendar, how many days are there in Lent? Forty-three and a half-ish. (By 'half-ish' I just mean that technically Lent ends during the day on Maundy Thursday, not at the end of the day.) Nobody wants to believe this, but it is true. You can literally count them. I have in fact literally counted with people who then refused to believe their own counts. 'Forty' is an approximate number, not a strict one. But to try to make 'forty' a strict number, people have made up all sorts of clever but entirely incorrect hypotheses about how Lent works. A common one is to count back from Easter, skipping Sundays. This is wrong both because Triduum is not in Lent and because Sundays in Lent are in Lent. It's common and reasonable to use Sundays as breaks from Lenten fast, because every Sunday is a symbolic representation of Easter, but Sundays in Lent are absolutely in Lent. Some people try to get the exact forty-day count by ending Lent on Palm Sunday, but although this makes more sense, this is wrong, as well, because Holy Monday, Holy Tuesday, Holy Wednesday, and part of Holy Thursday are all counted as parts of Lent. Holy Week does function a little bit as if it were a liturgical season of its own, but in fact it is split between Lent and Triduum.

* Names for Lent fall into three groups.

Group 1: The most common way to name Lent is by the figurative forty days: Quadragesima (lit. 'fortieth'), Tessarakoste, Sarakosti, Carême, Quaresima, Cuaresma, Korizma, Kuwaresma, Tsome Arba, Carghas.

Group 2: The second most common way to name Lent is by its most notable characteristic, fasting: Velyky Pist, Wielki Post, Postul Mare, Postni Doba, Fastenzeit, Fastetid, Vastentijd, Randan. The last of these, which is Maltese, is unusual in being a second-hand fasting term -- it comes from 'Ramadan', the Islamic month of fasting.

Group 3: Much rarer are names that associate with some pre-existing calendar feature. These tend to date easily, and so are less durable. The primary example of this that still exists is Lent, which originally meant 'spring'.

* From the Hoosoyo (Prayer of Forgiveness) of the Maronite liturgy for the First Weekday Cycle of Lent: 

 O Christ, Lover of all people, you gave the Church the holy season of Lent as a shield of protection and a healing remedy. Your fasting and sacrifices taught us to fast, and to understand the purpose and essence of life, the meaning of the world and its existence, and the greatness of your love and compassion. Shower your mercy on all people that they may repent, and soften their hearts that they may return to you, know you, and love you.

In Stillness We Must Win Our Deepest Lore

Speech and Silence
by Constance Naden

When some sweet voice flows forth in foreign speech,
The soul shines through the words, and makes them clear,
And all we see interprets all we hear,
For smiles and frowns have wondrous power to teach:
And voiceless grief our inmost heart can reach,
With calm, deep gaze, too sad for hope or fear:
Our eyes are wet for those who shed no tear,
And lips that Death has silenced, yet may preach. 

In stillness we must win our deepest lore,
Or ’mid the speechless chant of earth and sea:
Truth is a spirit, bodiless and free;
Imaged in words, ’tis perfect truth no more,
For all our lofty visions fade and flee,
And song begins, when ecstasy is o’er.

Tuesday, March 01, 2022

A Poem Draft


At the City of Beautiful Monuments
the Crown encircled your head,
blessed with the gift of heaven
and the glories of the dead.

Your mother upon the River
to the throne of Horus came
from the Bowlands and the Southlands
to praise your rising name.

The gods looked well upon you;
the River gave life in flood.
The temple towns were many,
the harvests full and good.

In Karnak and Kawa was lavished
the ram of great Amun
with treasures to shame all princes
beneath the sun and moon.

Down came Assyrian armies,
up went Taharqa's hand;
by army, mice, and angel
was saved Yehuda-land.

But alas! All things must vanish;
the wolf of the north returned
again and again with sorrow
and an anger that seethed and burned.

In the holy City of Scepter
you saw your final end
and Assyrian darkness and fire
did on the Two Lands descend.

But in Nuri you sleep with Osiris,
perhaps one day from the dead
to return in the glory of kingship,
the Western sun on your head!

Monday, February 28, 2022

Flowerree and Satta on Virtue-Signaling

 A. K. Flowerree and Mark Satta have a brief discussion of virtue-signaling at the blog "Justice Everywhere", arguing that intellectual humility should generally require us to avoid making judgments about whether someone is virtue-signaling. Unfortunately, they too uncritically follow Neil Levy's highly eccentric account of virtue-signaling, and therefore almost everything they say about the topic is incorrect.

(1) They gloss 'virtue-signaling' as "using moral language to make oneself look good". This is a useless description that covers many things that nobody counts as virtue-signaling (e.g., defending oneself by law and evidence in a court). Part of the problem, I think, is that they follow Levy in misdividing the term. Levy reads 'virtue-signaling' as {virtue}-{signaling}, when in reality the term should be broken up as {virtue-signal}ing. Virtue-signaling is the behavior in which one treats virtue-signals as if they were virtuous character; it involves a deliberate emphasis on appearance (virtue-signals) rather than the substance of actual virtue. This is the point of Bartholomew's widely discussed essay and book (which, despite Levy's attempt to dismiss them on the basis of a few similar but scattered expressions prior, are the primary reference-points for how the term has been used). It is also clear that this accords with most, and allowing for the ordinary stretches of colloquial use, perhaps almost all uses of it in ordinary conversation.

(2) They conflate 'virtue-signaling' with the 'moral grandstanding' of Warmke and Tosi. Levy does this, too, and it is incorrect. Warmke and Tosi, while recognizing some family kinship and possible overlap, do not equate 'moral grandstanding' with 'virtue-signaling'; that's in fact why they call it 'moral grandstanding' rather than 'virtue-signaling'. Nor should they, even if they did; some forms of moral grandstanding are quite clearly not virtue-signaling (e.g., arrogantly pointing to your actual moral accomplishments to assert superiority over others) and some forms of virtue-signaling are quite clearly not moral grandstanding (e.g., some kinds of corporate advertising, which, in fact, are some of the paradigmatic cases).

On the basis of (1) above, they argue,

The goal of trying to make oneself look good through one’s moral talk is the constitutive feature of virtue signaling. Thus, in order to recognize that someone is virtue signaling, you need to be able to identify that they have this specific goal.

As noted above, it's simply incorrect to say that "trying to make oneself look good through one's moral talk is the constitutive feature of virtue signaling". But this is wrong in a more direct sense, as we can see when we look at advertisement. (The failure to consider advertisement practices, despite the fact that they are perhaps the most obvious field in which virtue-signaling occurs, is a failure that Flowerree and Satta again share with Levy.) First, note that talk is not necessary. When Frito-Lay decorates its Doritos bags with rainbow flags in honor of pride month, they don't even have to say anything about it to make this a case of virtue-signaling. Nor, second, do we need to exert any serious effort to recognize it as such; Frito-Lay is a corporation, engaging in a marketing campaign, not a person actually exercising any virtue, and thus we know that the appearance of good character is in fact just Frito-Lay executives deliberately marketing Doritos as pro-LGBT in the attempt to persuade people that eating Doritos is somehow a way of supporting gay pride. Further, we can clearly recognize, when we reflect on the matter, that eating Doritos does not itself have much to do with LGBT concerns, and that nothing about Frito-Lay or its products would fundamentally change if they started marketing their chips as a way of opposing gay pride.

The point does not shift much when we move from corporate virtue-signaling to individual virtue-signaling. I don't actually need to know whether someone intends to make themselves look good with moral talk; I need to know whether they are treating signals of virtue as if they were virtue. This is obvious in consumer practices, which are the individual cases most closely allied to the corporate virtue-signaling cases, but it is true generally. You don't need to know someone's goal in virtue-signaling; you need to know that they are using virtue-signals as if they were themselves good character.

Likewise, they say:

As Tosi and Warmke point out, the virtue signaler is not likely to get the moral credit they seek by making direct claims about their moral virtue. Saying “I’m a moral exemplar!” is a poor strategy for getting others to think you are morally exemplary.

This may be true of moral grandstanders; it is not necessarily true of virtue-signalers. Virtue-signaling may be subtle, but it does not depend on subtlety. If I put up a sign in front of my house, saying, "In This House, We Believe that Kindness Is Everything", I am putting up a virtue-signal. Nothing about having a sign like this in front of your house makes you a kind person; it is not itself a kind deed. But I am making what everyone would think is a direct claim of moral virtue, because the view most people would take is that if I had this sign outside my house and were a cruel or even just not particularly kind person, I would be a hypocrite. And when you realize this, you realize that (1) all sorts of people do this all the time and (2) it is not a bad strategy at all because it often works. If a company says in its advertisements, "Black Lives Matter", very few people look to see whether the company policies are even consistent with this self-presentation, even setting aside that the self-presentation itself is clearly a marketing campaign, and even if they did, it would still work in lots of cases. Putting yourself explicitly on the "Kindness Is Everything" team is actually quite effective even when people are inclined to be cynical; it will certain get you further than admitting that you are often unkind. Most of our dealings with most people (or corporations) most of the time are with them as they appear; if you're very unsubtle about it, you might raise some eyebrows, but most people are simply not going to pursue the matter very far. Even when we are skeptical of them, we often take people's self-presentations as our starting-point.

The thing of it is, virtue-signaling can be entirely sincere. People who put up "Kindness Is Everything" signs where everyone can see them are not generally trying to hide their secret depths of cruelty. This is why virtue-signaling is such an important issue in advertising. People really do buy rainbow-flag products, and they may well believe, sincerely, that by doing so they are supporting LGBT rights. But actually they are just buying products, whose actual connection to LGBT rights they have usually not investigated, and in many cases they don't ever do much else. The same is sometimes true of Christians who put fish-symbols on their cars and don't do much else of noticeably Christian character. They are using virtue-signals as if they were substantive virtuous deeds themselves because they have sincerely confused virtue-signals and virtuous deeds. That's why virtue-signaling is so common, despite being so criticized. You can often get away with it, and people are often not maliciously or even deliberately doing it.

Flowerree and Satta do manage to be correct in saying that we have a greater tendency to accuse our 'outgroup' of virtue-signaling than of doing the same to our 'ingroup'. But this is (contrary to what Flowerree and Satta suggest) true of almost all criticism whatsoever. People find it easier to criticize the outgroup of basing their reasoning on false claims; people find it easier to criticize the outgroup of reasoning poorly; people find it easier to criticize the outgroup of misrepresenting the other side. There is nothing particularly distinctive about criticizing people for virtue-signaling in this, and if you allow one kind of criticism, you should allow the other.

The Notes Recalled, the Lovely Words Forgot

The Mystery of Light
by Constance Naden

Light glorious and eternal, that reveals
All earthly things, itself is secret still;
Love, silent king of heart, and mind, and will,
In lustrous mystery his power conceals;
And many a clouded spirit dumbly feels,
But knows not, sees not yet, those truths that fill
With beauty and with joy the dwellings chill
Even of life that wounds, of Death that heals.

Yet Light, and Love, and Truth are all our own,
And minister to us, who know them not;
Fair hopes, that look like memories, will throng
E’en hearts that live in darkness and alone,
And seem to chant some half‐remembered song,
The notes recalled, the lovely words forgot.

Sunday, February 27, 2022

Loved but Still Unknown

by Constance Naden

Eternal Beauty, Truth’s interpreter,
Is bound by no austere ├Žsthetic creed;
All forms of art she uses at her need,
And e’en unlovely things are slaves to her:
And we, whose hearts her lightest breath can stir,
Must prize her flowers, whoe’er has sown the seed,
And love each noble picture, song, or deed,
Whose soul is true, although the form should err.

She is God’s servant, but the queen of man,
Who fondly dreams she lives for him alone,
And while her power is felt through time and space,
Proclaims her priestess of some petty clan,
Catching but transient glimpses of a face
Veiled in rich vestures, loved but still unknown.

Because Hylo-Idealism recently came up in reading Oscar Wilde, I have been thinking a bit about Constance Naden (1858-1889), one of the philosophical movement's primary figures. In her lifetime she was recognized as one of the great English poetesses of the day, but she also wrote philosophical works, mostly essays for various scientific or freethinking periodicals. Her Induction and Deduction, first published in 1887, is an unusually good discussion of the history of various positions taken on the relation of induction to deduction, particularly given the state of philosophical historiography of the time -- while not perfect, the work bursts a number of myths that you can still find professional philosophers accepting a hundred years later. People largely stopped reading her works until the 1980s, and since then there has been a slowly increasing interest in her.

Fortnightly Book, February 27

 In 1932, Dorothy Sayers was attempting to pull together a detective story involving Lord Peter and the change-ringing of church bells, but was having difficulty getting all the technical information she needed. As she had deadlines with her publisher that she was in danger of not meeting, she set it aside briefly and rush-wrote a Lord Peter novel that was easier to throw together. She set it in an advertising agency because she knew that context well, having worked in the business up to 1931. This rushed novel was published in 1933 under the title, Murder Must Advertise, and it was a hit. (The change-ringing novel, The Nine Tailors, was published the next year.)

Sayers never really liked the book. It had been thrown together to fulfill a contractual obligation, she had not much time to research certain facets of the crime, she thought it dubious in its realism, and, of course, the entire time she had been writing it, she had been hoping to get back to the book she really wanted to write. Nonetheless, it has always been one of the most popular Lord Peter novels; while not as technically brilliant as the book it temporarily put on hold, it is generally seen as delivering exactly what people like most about a detective story. And it is, of course, the next fortnightly book.