« Making Sense with Sam Harris

#48 — What Is Moral Progress?

2016-10-21 | 🔗

In this episode of the Making Sense podcast, Sam Harris speaks with philosopher Peter Singer about the foundations of morality, expanding the circle of our moral concern, politics, free speech, conspiracy thinking, Edward Snowden, the importance of intentions, WWII, euthanasia, eating “happy cows,” and other topics.

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This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
Today, I'll be speaking with Peter singer, Peter is certainly one of the most famous living philosophers and been very influential on public morality, both with respect to the treatment of animals and in this growing movement that I spoke about with Will Mccaskill on a previous podcast known as effective, altruism he's a professor of bioethics at the the university center for human values of Princeton. There are many books, including animal liberation, which is often considered the sign on spring of the animal Rights movement he's also written in the life You can save and the most good you can do and the ethics of what we eat and many other books. Most recent book, ethics in the real world. Eighty two brief essays on things that matter and highly recommend
Peter, and I talk about many things and we ran out of time. Frankly, we had two hours booked and, as you'll hear at the end, I come up against the brick wall of time constraint and really was wanting to talk about many more things, so I'll have to bring Peter back at some point. We spend the first half hour or so talking about how it's possible to talk about moral truth. And if that's not to your taste, if you're not really worried about how we can ground our morality in universal truth claims.
Thirty minutes center. So where we start talking about questions of practical ethics and we we touch many things: the ethics of violence, politics, free speech, euthanasia, there's a lot we cover, and I hope you find it useful and if you do find conversations like this useful, you can once again support the podcast at SAM Harris DOT, o r g forward slash support and, as always, your support is greatly appreciated. Is what allows me to clear my schedule to do this sort of thing and keeps us all add free So I have Peter singer on the line Peter thanks for coming on the podcast. Thank you time for having me on the podcast, it's good to be talking with you
listen, everyone will know who you are, but perhaps you can briefly describe what you do at this point and the kinds of questions you focus on sure. I'm a professor of bioethics at Prince university, and I also have a regular visiting position at the University of Melbourne in Australia, which is where I'm originally from I I work in ethics. I've been interested in a range of different issues. I write a book called animal liberation published back in nineteen. Seventy five that summer guard as having started off the modern animal rights movement and I've also been interested many years in the obligations of the affluent people like us to people in extreme poverty elsewhere in the world and I've written on issues in bioethics questions about the sanctity of life and a range of other questions that come up in that yeah and in your new book, is entitled fix in the real world and
and to it on my blog and I I certainly encourage listeners to to get that. It's it's great, because it's divided into these eighty two very short chapters, Ellen literally like the a three page essay, is on on philosophical questions and again emphasis is on the real world here. So you tackle questions like you know. Should poor people be to sell their organs. Is it more ethical to eat fish than cows? You know, should it cost and I'll be a crime? These are all questions where pub policy and how people actually live their lives or just explicitly in play and just super digestible, philosophical essays. So I I recommend, I'll get that if I'm not mistaken, Peter you and I have only met once right. I think it was at this Arizona and organized by Lawrence Krauss, which was that's right. Yes, that's the only and we've actually met in person yeah, which unfortunately it was. It was titled the great debate, somewhat pretentiously, perhaps, but
was it was you and me, and and Steve Pinker and Lawrence and Patricia Churchland? I think in a few other people and that's available for people to see on Youtube, if I recall correctly, I you and I got somewhat Bogdan I'm disagreeing about the foundations of morality and human values, but I had the sense at the time that we talking past one another and derailed on semantics and anything else. So I'd like us to start with the topic of the foundations of morality and to answer the question or attempt to answer the question: how is it possible for something to be right and wrong in this? You verse are good and bad and then move from there into what is the relationship between the claims we make about good and evil and right and wrong and facts of the sort that fall within the purview of science and then once we have it just a concept of goodness in
and and how it relates to truth claims. Then I want to go on to talk about just the practical reality of doing in the world, and this will lead to questions of effective, altruism and population ethics and allusions and and all the rest. So I said this first question I put to you is: is how is it that you think about moral truth? It does moral truth exist and if it does, what is the relationship between the the the true claims we make about good and evil, or right and wrong and fax of the sort? We talk about in science right, that's a good question and a very large question, and it's one that I've grappled with on and off for most of my philosophical career and I have changed my views on it significantly in the last few years so uh earlier on in my career, I would have
there are no objective truths in ethics, but we can prescribe that certain things be done and we can prescribe them. Not just for ourselves or out of our own interest, but we can prescribe them in a way, that is to use a term that my former Oxford supervisor, Professor RM here coin. Universalizable. That doesn't mean that they are the same for everyone, but what it means is that I can express them without referring to myself or that you using terms like I or proper names. So, for example, if I were to say, as Donald Trump has recently been saying, It's it's fine for me not to pay any taxes. Then I would have to say it's fine for me
the one in my situation, not to pay taxes and of course one might not be so keen to do that. You can think of other circumstances in which people might say even worse things than RT might say it's and for me to kill Jews, but then we we can ask the Nazi to imagine. Well suppose you suddenly discovered actually that you're of jewish ancestry or your parents had hidden this from you. Does that mean that it's fine for any to kill, you must not see, probably, would would think twice that might be a few ideological fanatics who would still say yes, but most people wouldn't so that was, as far as I thought you could go, really that it did depend on people's inclinations and prescriptions, and there was no objective truth in Bob term. I
now think that that's not correct. I think that there are some claims which you can sigh truths that there's things that we can reflect on on that strike cast as simply undeniable, if you like, is self evident, or why that's not to say that everybody will immediately agree with them, but sample would be that uh inflicting agony for no real purpose. Let's say inflicting agony because it on someone else be it brings you some kind of moderate enjoyment, mild enjoyment that that's wrong, and what's really what's really at work here, is the idea that the agony is something that's a bad thing that the world is a better place, if there's less agony in it, and I do think that that's that's a very hot plane
to deny that the fact that someone is asking it is in agony provides us provides anyone really with a reason to try to alleviate that agony or to stop it, and the fact that during an action will cause someone to be in agony is a reason not to do it not Nessus generally in overriding reason. But it is a reason against doing it, but now that you say your views here, changed recently. Well, I guess at how recently are we talking in since I, since I actually, I saw you in Arizona or before that. Probably when I saw you in Arizona, I was to some extent in transition. I yeah, it's been a sort of slow transition. I was always trying, even you know, Maybe thirty years ago I was trying to find ways in which you could tighten up the arguments that you could bring in some role for reason in this, so that the problem with position that my enter our in her had developed was the
uh. He said that uh, you know personalize ability just depended on the concept of ought the basic moral concepts old, good and right incorporated this idea of universal ability and the problem with that was that if somebody said I k, so I'm just not going to use those words right instead of saying you want to do something else, I use more do something or you know that smile I'm, I'm just gonna read my own concepts, I'm and now it's fine for me to not pay any Texas, and I don't have to say that anybody else in my position, you know also doesn't have to pay taxes or any of these other implications, and that just didn't seem good enough. That seemed too easy away out of moral arguments, so I was always looking something a bit stronger and looking at whether you they argue that there was a ration requirement that was corresponding to his
universalize ability, and so I guess I only about this a book called the point of view of the universe which, as a cow with a book with a polish philosopher Regina, do Lazzari Reddick came out in two thousand and fourteen. So it's perhaps a year or two before that in the pub in in thinking about that book. I had already come to the conclusion that that you can argue that there are some things that are moral truths. So so, if I have a and the nineteen century philosopher Henry Sidgwick you we discussed in that book, this describes them as Morrow Axioms yeah. So so it's it's within the last, let's say five years. Definitely that I've come to this position. So if I'm not
again, this is anchored in a kind of consequential as a more utilitarianism. So what do you do with the claim that consequential ISM is itself just an expression of a mere preference and is unjustifiable? Well, I I don't think that that's correct. I think that when they're different forms of consequence losing that what they, what they have in common of course, is the view that what we ought to do is the act that will have the best consequences and then the discussion is what we mean by best consequences, but but I think that's right. I I think that, when you think about a different actions, if it's clear that one act will have better consequences, all things considered than any add come I'd, be prepared to say that it's then true that that act is the right thing to do now. Obviously, that can
he denied by people who think that there are some moral rules which we ought never to break. No matter what the consequences. That's not a view that I accept would try to argue that my view is is true, but that really has to be at least in part, by undermining the foundations of the alternative view. It's not is not low self evident that the consequentialist view is right that when you can just state it- and everybody will see it to be right, because you know partly because they've been a whole history and culture of moral thing, king, which is based on rules, I'm Mara rules do have a certain social purpose they use. For that. I simplify decisions. We can calculate from first principles every time we act, which I will have the best consequences. So it's not all that surprising that people sometimes think that these rules have a kind of inherent
objectivity of their own and that we should buy them, no matter what the consequences, but that you know that. That's the I kept kind of argument you need to have. I think we he largely agree here. I am tempted to not spend a lot of time fishing around, for we might disagree in, but I think most of the listeners to this podcast will be clear with my views on morality and moral realism, as I lay out in my book, the moral landscape. I guess it's just a couple of points I would make here. I think when it. Whenever I hear someone say that they are not a consequentialist weed over there, they pulled the sum rule that they think is important, regardless of consequences. Is what I believe I have found without exception, in those conversations and in reading the work of people like content, and you know other famous non com
Sequential is that they smuggle in consequences into the the primacy of the rule that, if the, if the rule had bad consequences, they would never. It would never suggest itself as a reliable basis for ethics, so, if categorical imperative reliably produce needless human misery. That was otherwise avoidable. No one would think that the categorical imperative was a good idea right. If you drill down on why people are attached to a rule, you tend to get justifications for it, which have to be cashed out in the form of consequences, whether their actual or potential. Is that been your experience or do, or do you see it differently? I certainly think that the the ten nancy of most of the rules that are part of everyday morality is to produce better consequences.
I think you're right about that and I think you're probably right that any rule that reliably produced more misery would be dropped and a different rule would be substituted. But but of course what does often happen? One kind is a good instance of this is that you have a rule that generally has good consequences, like the rule that you should tell, the truth and then somebody imagines a situation where uh, would be murderer is comes to your house and asks if you have seen so and so, and it so happens that sounds so now so this guy is pursuing him and his ass if you will hide him in your basement now most of us would of course say well. It is justified to lie in those circumstances, but can't actually sticks to the rule and says no it's wrong to lie even then so part of the problem with
or not consequential still, some of them at least, is the. They want to stick to the rules, no matter what, even if the general tendency of the rule is to have good consequences, and so I I would describe that as a rule. We should be applied in everyday life, but not as a rule. We should stick to no matter what the other thing here, which gives us this sensor, gives many people sense that there can't be such a thing as moral truth is we we value differences of opinion in philosophy and and in particular, moral philosophy in a way that we don't in the rest of our truth, claiming about the world. So if someone comes to the table saying that they have a very different idea about how to treat women, we should make them live in bags as the Taliban do, and this is how we want to live and there's no place to stand where you can tell me that I'm wrong, because I'm just
guided by my age old moral code, for which I even have religious just of and many people in the west, I think largely as a result of what postmodernism has done to the humanities. But perhaps there are other reasons. Imagine that there's just no place to stand where you can contradict to that opinion or dismiss it. You can't actually say well, some people are not adequate to the conversation for reasons that should be obvious, and yet we do this in science an everywhere else me just in journalism or in history, in any place where people are reporting to make claims that are true. Someone shows up and demands that their conspiracy, theory theory.
Is about alien abductions or whatever it is get to get taken seriously. We just say sorry: these views are so uninteresting and so obviously incredible that they don't actually constitute any kind of rejoinder to what is being said here, and so it's just it's very easy to disregard them. Now Occasionally, summary you know outline view becomes credible for some reason and then it it subverts. What we think is true, and that's that's a just a process of criticism that just has to run its course, but I feel, like you, need more philosophy. Many people have just tied their hands and imagine that everyone gets a vote in moral histology and it's the it's equal vote, and so you know there's just you know what what Derek Parfit thinks about. Morality doesn't matter anymore than what Mullah Omar thinks and every
one is on all fours in their truth, claims and that's, I think, that's been very destabilizing, for there are many people in the west when it comes time to talk about the nature, human values and how we can talk about them in in universal terms. Just you know just that. The fact that you can still meet Anthropologists- and it might even be I'm still a majority of anthropologists who doubt whether a universal notion of human values is even a credible thing to aspire to yeah I mean and throw that's probably just seem particularly,
trying to that. Maybe it's kind of occupational hazard, of studying a lot of different societies and, of course you do find different particular practices in different societies, but you also find some common tendencies. For example, reciprocity is pretty much a universal value, it's very hard to find a society in which it's not considered a good thing to do. Favors to those who've done favors to you and, conversely, that you're entitled to have some kind of retribution on those who've done bad things to you. But that's a cause not to say that this is actually the right morality. This is just to say that this is kind of the involved, morality of our species and indeed not just about species but of long lived social primates to recognize it
others as individuals, but but I want to get back to the the larger point that you were making them. I know I'm not. Actually I don't quite see as much reluctance to criticise ethical use of different cultures, as you described. I think most people are, for example, who are not uh all of that religious group, and it's not all Islam, but it's a particular part of Islam, who think that women should not go in public. With that she put it bring a bag over themselves. I think most people would not have that religious group would be prepared to say that that's wrong that it's it's wrong to treat women in that way, it's wrong to
deny them privileges that men automatically have, and they would reject as unethical that way of treating women. Now what does come over the top of it is that we have a. I think you and I would agree, have successive respect for religion, and I think that comes out of a long time mission of people fighting over religion and often killing over religion and and at some point, perhaps you know Randy 17th and eight centuries. People stop to say well enough of this. You know I'll leave you alone to practice your religion, and you leave me alone to practice my religion and then we don't have to kill each other. I it across in some sense that
very good idea that we don't have to kill each other. I read about them. It can be taken too far can be taken to the point of well. You know every religion is sort of somehow good, all good in itself for beyond criticism in itself, and I think that that's completely wrong, but if somebody tried to put it forward as a sort of secular belief that women should cover themselves completely whenever they go out in public, whereas men are play their arms and legs and so on and of course face. I think people would be pretty baffled by that view and I don't think they would think. Oh yeah that's on well, you haven't spent as much time criticizing these views. As I have I think in public, I would agree that most people, that there's something wrong there, but I've notice that the more educated you become
certainly in the Humana, actually not just the humanities. It's it's science as well Humes can't derive an ought from it is has become this shibboleth among very educated, but in completely educated people and well, and I'm going to disagree with you about that, because I think that's true that that's that's a that's a philosophical claim that I think is is defense. Well. I think it's defensible within a certain It's truly a week. We can talk about that, but I know physicist who will say you know I don't like slavery. I will. I will personally would vote against it. I would put my shoulder to the wheel and resisting it, but I
I have no illusion that in resisting slavery, I am making any claim about what is true. There's there's no place to stand in science to make those claims with respect to to morality and and so what what? What that does is that that divorces, morality from any conception of the well being of conscious creatures like ourselves, and it's claiming that no matter how far advanced we becoming a you're standing in well being and and the possible experiences that suitable minds can have. We will never know anything about what is better or worse in this universe may be somewhat my view again. I I don't spend too much time on this, because there's a there's so much in applied ethics that I wanna talk to. About, but I do want to hear your push back on the audit is issue, but I I just my claim here is that we we could forget about ought, as you suggested earlier by.
I take that in a very different direction. Imagine we have no conception of art and we have no conception of morality, but we have here in a universe where certain experiences are possible, so so I view morality is at the kind of navigation problem. We are conscious systems and there is a possibility to experience. Unendurable and pointless misery for as long as possible and for all these other possibilities- and my view is that anything is better than the war possible misery for everyone, I agree with you about that moral judgment and I also I agree with you that understanding well being what causes brings a bad well being what reduces suffering our minds work. All of that is highly relevant for the signing. What we ought to do, but I'm and so I think I might- and I also think that the physicist that you mention is wrong. If he says my jaw,
you meant that your happiness is better than misery. Let's say is that is not true. I don't. I don't think that I can say that this is true. I I think you can say that is true, but I don't think it actually follows from the description of the natural universe. I think it follows only if you make that judgment and I think you actually made it use the word better- that it's better if there's a world in which, is you know, people living rich, enjoyable, fulfilling lives than if their miserable suffering and so on, but, but we have to, we have to say well what is that judgment that it's better? I think I think it's a judgment that we use our reason to get it, so I think but we have normative reasons, even if we didn't use the word or even if we decided that the institution of morality is not one that we want to be part of, I think we have to say. Do we have reasons for acting to bring about the happy world that you describe
rather than the miserable well that you described, and I would answer yes, we definitely do have reasons for acting because it's a better world, but I wouldn't claim that I can deduce that reason for acting simply from the description of his one world and here's the other there has to be it's not just the description. There has to be, as I say, something normative, by which I mean reasons there ought to move a rational being, towards choosing one world rather than the other right. Well, I would fully agree with that, except The reason why the is ought dichotomy is interesting to me. Is you can't get to any description of what is without Baines certain aughts in the first place to me, so you have to pull yourself up by your bootstraps at some point, and so you know logical intuitions are not self just a fine, we just grab them and use them,
and you know a desire for evidence. Why should you desire evidence? We know whatever, since you going to provide to convince someone that they should desire evidence if they don't desire evidence for the truth claims or you know what what lodge the argument? Will you use to prove to someone that they should value logic They don't value logic I mean these are. These are brute facts of epistemology, which we use without any apology, really, because we can do no other. I would just say that valuing any movement. Away from the worst possible misery for everyone right so again, just I want our listener. To absorb what those words mean. Imagine e universe, where everything that can suffer suffers for as long as it possibly can as deeply as it can and no good comes of it right. There's no silver lining to this. This is a perfect hell for all conscious That's bad! If the word bad is going to mean anything and getting out of that
situation is good and it's something you should do if, if, if words like good and should mean anything, and that, in my view, that's all we need to get this consequential, this machine, okay, I don't, I don't think we're disagreeing on anything very significant here. Perhaps we disagree on whether these are facts that signs describes or so the reasons that are part of what it is to have reasons for action. I don't think disagree there 'cause, I mean the point of confusion that I think you and I got bogged down by first time around was in a very different definition of the word science was always using science in a much more elastic sense to coincide much more the way you're using the word reason, and so I'm not just talking about people in white lab coats who can run experiments immediately on any given hypothesis, or ever I mean so there, so. There are truth claims we want to make or could make about the world
which we know we would never test scientifiques but we know there are facts of the matter and the fact that we can't get the data in hand doesn't make the truth or falsity of those claims. Any less words so that again the one I use all the time and I might have even used it with you was what was JFK thinking the moment he got shot. Well, there's an infinite number of things. I know he wasn't thinking. I know he was thinking. I wonder what Peter Singer and SAM Harris are gonna say about what I was thinking and you just get. The list can just grow from there and that's a that's a clue, I'm about his inner life or what it was like to be him. That is on to logically subject of right to make a claim about his subjectivity and on some level, the state of his brain. But it's a piston logically objective in that it's which is to say, is true. You know it's just there's every reason to believe it, and people doubt that you can
make claims about human subjectivity that are wherever stand, surviving all of the tests of credibility that claims about physics and chemistry need to survive, and- and I mean that's my particular hobby horse- that people feel that this area is just by definition, less clear. Less truthful, less grounded in the kinds of cognition we use to do science, but again I just think, there's there's nothing more sure than some of these claims. We could make about morality once we look at the intuitions were using to make the claims the intuition that two plus two makes four and it and that generalizable, so it works for apples. It works for works, for oranges, works for boats that intuition, that is at the foundation
Arithmetic again is just something we apes are doing with our with our minds and it it works, but I just think it's not in a different sphere from the kinds of intuition to you- and I are talking about with respect to. It- is good to reduce pointless agony. All things considered We certainly agreed on that, and I think we agreed on rejecting the various forms of subjectivism. And and relativism that the postmodernist ideas particular have encouraged some people to have uh. I find that quite a quite disappointing. In a way you get people who come out of backgrounds where they're doing a cultural studies and they come up with the same sort of views that freshmen come up
Princeton way. Then we discuss in early seminars and uh Dave, usually fairly rapidly see that those views aren't really cannibal, that they have implications that they don't want to accept, but there are certainly more sophisticated forms of that kind of way: activism and subjectivism that term uh I still around, and I think we're we're agreed that the field in which there are there are truths exactly you know how we classify those trews is is is is a fine point, but I think- Probably it needed really glass any longer. I think we've verified where we are ok, so let's move forward with that can sense
hand. So we we want to reduce suffering. All things considered and maximize the well being of of conscious creatures, and we don't need to waste much time just to find that going forward so that now what do you do in a situation where people claim that suffering is being produced, but you feel and and suffering is in fact being produced, but you feel that the basis for this offering is illegitimate. Let's say it's based on religious dogma, so the the the example comes to mind. Now is the cartoon controversy? What if a consequential lists here philosophically minded, but still doctrinaire panel of muslim philosophers, came to you and said: listen whenever you cartoon the profit or tolerate others call
cartoon in the profit. You produce a tremendous amount of suffering in millions of devout Muslims suffering that you can't compensate for suffering that we are committed to feeling based on our beliefs and therefore it is just wrong to do this and you need to conform. Your freedom of speech to our religious sensitivities. How do you think about that? we do think about that in terms of the consequences of the action uh so uh. Not somebody who's going to say Now I have a right to free speech and if I choose to exercise that right to free speech, I will do so, no matter what the consequences. The question to be considered is what are the consequences of restraining free speech in this area and there's no doubt. I think that
these cartoons are offensive to Muslims and they will cause some hurt. Feelings perhaps more serious than that, because you know people can get over their hurt feelings. I'd say more serious is the fact that some of them may then just the turn violent may attack Christians if there are Christians or or what's a non and the people, I consider to be infidels, not necessarily Christians, but them not Muslims, and- why is there are living in their country in my attack and kill them, and these things have happened? and I think that that's something that anybody think of publishing these cartoons needs to give very significant white two. On the other side, I think that religious
prince is a major source of of suffering in the world and uh. Of course, in the case of militant islamic View, Use we've seen very clearly in recent years, how that can cause specific, violent attacks which clearly cause a lot of suffering on the people who were killed or injured in them the families and relatives and and so on. So but the question is: do we want to research just accept that those religious place cannot be criticized and that, therefore they will continue forever or in death?
Latest nothing lasts forever, or do we want to see whether we can, in some wise encourage fewer people to hold those beliefs or at least encourage people to hold them in a more open, tolerant, form, I'm and then the course on, and I think the odds of that is yes, I do think that we should be free to criticize religious beliefs, especially those that do a great deal of harm, and then the further question is: is the use of ridicule, an effective means of achieving that end and on that, when I'm not so sure, so, in other words, if it were a qua publishing arguments against arguments. The claims made by in Islam publishing Historical studies about how the Koran came to be written and a publishing studies, the Koran showing country
shins or inconsistencies, which of course exist in the Bible and in any any of these substantial texts. From long ago, going to be demonstrably inaccurate in some places. So is that the way we want to try to persuade people to shift their religious beliefs or should we try actually ridiculing those place? And my my guess is that probably both have some affect, but I'm not sufficiently convinced at the moment that that ridicule is so much more effective, is to ask why the serious consequences that it can have yeah. I guess my intuition here is that the rule of privilege, in free speech over everything else, is just so useful that the
we need to rethink it in any local case is almost never pressing. I think free speech being essentially the equivalent of the sunlight spread on bad ideas. It's such a Reliable mechanism for bringing bad I'd, is to light criticizing getting others to react to them. That the moment you you begin to look for a local instances where you need to calculate the harm done by exercising it. I think it it's. You know almost always counterproductive for instance, is one area here where I know you and I agree. Creeks I've read what you wrote in your most recent book, but the idea that Holocaust denial should be illegal right because of all the the harm it does both to the survivors and their descendants, and also just the fact that it seems to encourage- or at least is imagined, to encourage the survival of these noxious views. Nazism and NEO Nazism in Europe. You and I
both agree that it shouldn't be illegal and that you shouldn't put people in prison for denying the Holocaust that the appropriate response there is ridicule and the attendant destruction of the mutation and just talking more about the evidence for the Holocaust and just the normal process, whereby we expose bad ideas to criticize and use the of the immune system of conversation to to deal with them yeah, I mean we certainly agree about that example, and I think that, way to deal with Holocaust denial is to see The show the evidence that the Holocaust existed and that evidence is totally overwhelming, whereas locking somebody up who denies the existence of the Holocaust probably just encourages conspiracy theorist, I think, oh well. If they have to prohibit people, denying it that must be because um there isn't really good evidence that it happened. So that's the case were completely in agreement.
But I'm not sure that uh. You know if you're saying there is no case where a restriction of freedom of speech is justified. And I disagree with the kind of case that John Stuart Mill, of course, is a famous defender of freedom of thought and expression in his book on Liberty carved out an exception where he said that You know. In his day, corn dealers were very unpopular. It was thought that they were holding corn profiteering from it and stopping the pool. So he gave the example of somebody who standing in front of the house of a corn dealer addresses and excited mob, say saying that corn dealers are starving the poor, robbing the poor or something of that sort, and he thought of legitimate to prevent that speech taking place. On the other hand, he said if, in different circumstances, somebody wants to hand out a leaflet expressing exactly the same
shoes, but not in front of the house of a corn dealer and in front of an excited mob. Then that was perfectly legitimate and there was a right to freedom of thought and expression that extended to expressing that opinion. Now, of course, times have changed somewhat and uh. We have instant communication uh anywhere, and so the case of the case of the cartoons which are then we know going to get spread over the internet and and it about a reported in countries where there is a lot of militant Islamic thought may have a similar effect. Uh. In terms of citing a mob to attack and kill. As I say, the people over not as infidels or representatives of the government where the cartoons are published or whoever it might be. So that's why I'm not sure that the Excel
in this or not to extend it. Not not that I really want to see a lower against those cartoons that might be a step to fire and might be difficult decide exactly what is legitimate, ridicule, satire and and acceptable. But I I would, I think, if I were an editor and I were aware that of what the consequences were going to be. If I but had reliable evidence that they would cause the death of hundreds of innocent people. I would choose not to publish those cartoons. I would agree that if you who are going to make the causality absolutely clear and say well, somebody is going to die if you publish cartoon. We know that well, then, that it becomes difficult to justify publishing it, but then we're all,
was dealing in probabilities and if the probability is high enough, as it probably is in this case, you could reasonably expect that people will riot and someone will get injured or killed as a result. But the thing is, it puts us in a position where a whole civilization a whole societies can be. Held hostage to the whims of a in this case religious maniacs. But I'm I'm I'm by no means just focusing on the on the specific case of Islam. Is just anyone could announce Unabomber style, if you say x or you don't say x, I'm going to kill someone and there's just something so corrosive about that and that- and it can be so consciously and
Nikolay used against us again until the end of the world that it's tempting to to just say? Well, sorry, we don't play that particular game and the the the game we do play is we basically talk about everything and- and we encourage you to talk about everything and you will feel a lot better once you do. The other thing is implicit in and having a a position of the sort we have sketched out here, where we think that all truths, the exist and it's possible to be right and wrong, or more or less right and more or less wrong about what a good life is that entails. The claim that certain people and even whole Culture is, may not know what they're missing. You know what I want to claim here is that a religiously blinkered culture that feels no affinity for freedom of speech and thinks that cartoonists and novelists and other blast
women should be killed for saying the wrong thing about the providence of a certain book or about a certain historical figure. These people don't know what they're missing and they don't realize, they don't realize how much of a price their pain for this attitude toward freedom of thought and freedom of it pression and on some level we know we're right about. This we know we're on the right side of history and we have to encourage cajole, browbeat and ultimately even coerce people to get on the right side of history.
I mean again, I I largely agree with what you say there and I don't think that the you know if somebody is trying to blackmail us into not saying something, bye, bye, bye, delivered threats and is using that as a tactic, I don't think we should yield to that hello. There might be a significant cost, but, but obviously, once that succeeds, then it's gonna be a tactic which we used over and over again, and freedom of thought and expression is something that is really important to to defend. I, I certainly agree about that, so you know it's. It's really the rather different case that I was talking about where it's not at liberty to get just a a reaction, and it specifically about
cartoons, it's it's not a bad expression of ideas, uh, it's not about being able to criticize the religion. I certainly don't want to see any religion insulated from criticism, because I do think that there's a lot of harm that that flows out of that. So if it gets to that point people are saying you know if you even dare to say that it's not the case that every word in the Koran is true and uh ought to be followed. Uh, you know. Clearly we are not going to play that game we are going to be free to criticize whatever religious texts. People put up that that we disagree with that, so a very important and fundamental freedom, and something that we should defend
if there is some cost to doing so. We are why I would just argue the cartoons were of a piece with that larger consideration. In fact, there you they were even less of a criticism, then the the criticism that you would want to defend, which is a b. This is just the mere dip it in many cases the mere depiction of the prophet Muhammad, not even a critical one. I mean they're paying a bit but I'm, but if that, if the, if it just particularly that that causes a fence, then in yeah not because a particularly you know violent kind of reaction, then why not leave the image at and stick to the arguments about a young, the nature of the sacred texts or the nature of the doctrines of how they can be formulated or why they are harmful to people, and you know point out that it doesn't look like gods, particularly blue sing a people who are followers
Islam is compared to the rest of the world. Doesn't that make you think that maybe this is not somehow the only true religion? You know all of that sort of stuff. Yeah! No, no! Unfortunately, it's not. Only thing that, because the fans think we're we generally agree there sent out. If you picture our world, I mean much better than it is in moral terms. What do you picture there But what are the most important ways? Our morality is, just speaking globally collectively can improve, and just what does the world look like at that moment? Well, the world It takes much greater notice of suffering and misery wherever it's happening and to whoever it's happening too or two. When I say whoever, I don't only mean human, be things I mean non human animals as well. If, but, if we are talking human beings
They are close to us whether they are, for example, fellow Americans or whether there people living in distant countries and we will never meet and uh uh. You know we we, we have the view that it's bad, that they should be avoidable suffering and for that matter, avoidable, premature deaths so I would see this is a world in which we use. Our resource is more effectively than we are now in order to assist people in extreme poverty to help them to live better lives, to help them to have enough to eat adequate healthcare, education for their children and opportunities by hard work and diligence too, get out of poverty, because I think global poverty is one major source of of avoidable. Misery
it would also be a world, as I was saying in which we extend our concern, to non human animals, so would not have a world in which uh as we currently do something like sixty five billion animals raised and killed for food each year, the vast majority of them living miserable lives confined in factory farms and intensive farms often crowded, so they don't really have room to walk around and the whole system being in any case are Annette waste of food and that causing net food last because we have to feed these animals grain, which we could otherwise it directly ourselves. So so I think it would be a world that avoided those practices, the practices associated with producing animal foods. For a for us to read when we don't need to
world in which we do much more for people in extreme poverty and a world in which we look at other areas where people are suffering for Norge reason another one of those. For example, that's been in the news. Quite a bit over the last few years is decisions at the end of life to when people decide that their quality of life has fallen to a point where they no longer think it's worth going on with practice their terminally ill. Perhaps there not term incurably ill and they say that's enough. I don't want to continue laws that prevent some, be helping them to die in a ditch, divide and humane manner are again just laws that pointlessly long suffering, nobody benefits from it. In fact, the rest of us typically harms because there's
wait with spending resources on the health care of people who don't want to go on living anyway. But the major reason for Virginia lower, of course is, is because the people themselves you don't want to. They have been the victims of it. Sorry, seven in a in a world it was morally better. We would be looking for these areas of life where we can affectively reduce the amount of suffering in the world, and once we and uh find all of those areas, then I think we would also be looking areas where we can increase happiness and enjoy in the world where we can give people lives that they enjoy more so Essentia Lee, you know that's how I would see moral progress as reducing
voidable, misery and suffering and, where possible, making people happier more fulfilled more satisfied with the life they're living. Is this phrase expanding the circle, of our moral concerned. Does that originate with you? It doesn't originate with Maine. I took it from I I writer called Weh, lucky uh, who wrote in the think the first decade of the 20th century, so one thousand nine hundred to nineteen ten, something like that and he wrote a wonderful book which, if you haven't read, I really recommend called a history of european morals. I think the full title is a history european morals from I'm, not sure exactly from gustus to uh. Basically, it's it's. It mostly focuses on the
roman empire or the early christian era, and it has a fascinating discussions about morality that time about the early christian morality of the the people went to the desert and you know stood and polls and stop them selves and let live scroll on them and whip them selves and all of this. You know completely bizarre kind of idea that this was somehow a good thing to do, but but he also does talk, for example, about enlightenment, more enlightened treatment of animals, and he talks about expanding the circle of morality to others to first from the tribe. To the larger society, to the nation state and so on an so I took it from
Anne. I popularized it, I suppose in my own book, the expanding circle but yeah. I think that is part of moral progress and if people say well, how far should expand. I say it should include every Senti and being so should include every being capable of feeling pain, capable of feeling that their life is going better or worse from their own subjective pov and, of course, that includes many non human animals of various species. Maybe not everything. Is there a logically an animal but uh I great deal of am. I would include aliens if we find that there is sent Ian beings elsewhere in the universe. It would also include computers or robots if they became sufficiently developed to convince us that they were conscious. Beings who had acid
your perspective on their lives yeah. I want to touch on all those specific topics, but stick with the basic concept of expanding the circle. What you run into there. It seems, of necessity, are all of the political impediments. To doing that, I mean you can sort of two levels on which can improve morally that each of us can become moral. Philos rivers or better moral philosophers personally, and we can fine tune our ethical code and treat people better decide what to eat or not to eat so as to produce less misery. But the big swings in human flourishing would be when we make these changes at the level of public policy and the tax code and what nation states decide to do and not do and the kinds of wars we fight or don't fight, and that brings Impala
six and into politics. For obvious reasons are on everybody's mind at this moment you are now talking on the day that there's going to be the third presidential debate between Trump and Clinton. You have any thoughts about what really appears to be a kind of crisis of confidence in our current political institutions and just a small Lorraine of the standards of political discourse. What would a successful system look like an and just what you just had it? How do you view the our moment? Politically, you write just to the my in the United States. It's it's not a good political moment, I'm Bob, although there are many there, many negative things that one can say about where we are politically and about the Short sightedness and the self interest that comes through in politics. I think that there
yeah, if you look at it over a longer term trend, I think that gives you room for some sort of hope anyway, for less despondency than you might otherwise have. If you just look at the immediate goings on Bk, I think the effective policies largely has been to improve the way things are in the world. Ironically, one of the things in which, by Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders agreed was the trade America's pride policy should. Be aimed at benefiting Americans, and I think that that's not right, I mean, can easily understand why politicians facing american voters may say that But surely in designing. I tried policies. We should at least give some way to the impact on the seven dot. Three
billion people in the world who are not Americans as compared to the three hundred million or so who are, and in fact the opening up of of tried, particularly, I guess so in terms of tried with with China and other parts of EAST Asia, but also with with Mexico. And other countries has actually significantly benefited many poor people in the world, so we have saying since the 1980s in extreme poverty, but also the proportion of the world's pop Asian, a her in extreme poverty. And you know, that's, surely a good thing. So I'm I'm hopeful that, despite the objections that have come from, but as Trump and Sanders that America's trade policies will continue to look at it would in in various, why
is and will make it easier for people elsewhere in the world who are extremely poor to to get work that can provide them with enough to feed their families on. That seems to be a good thing, and they're very is on the policies which aren't on which I see signs of progress in like on the case of of animals. We were talking about before they don't really get mentioned in elections, uh much, but not in the United States anyway, but through lobbying of corporations by organizations like the humane society of the United.
It's in the mind, Llegan messy for animals in a variety of other groups, one after another. These corporations have agreed to size that they use of animal products from the most cruel forms of confinements are from the battery cage, in which fans kind even spread their wings from the individual stalls cried sewage breeding, says content around town to even walk a step or two I'm in many corporations, Mcdonald's Wall MAPS, major supermarket chains like Kroger, is an Albert sins have said that they will phase out the purchase of products from the systems, so we are making progress in otherwise that, even if not through the pool
critical process and, of course, the other area. We talked about physician assistance in dying is something which wich California recently voted to have legislation permitting and that legislation is now force. So I'm that's another good good step forward and we sent a similar step in Canada. So I'm you know, I think there are lots of opportunities to make pro yes, and despite all the demagoguery and the absurdly low level of the political debate that we've had in for this election, I'm not really not really how style will or should so. I am not really disappointed in in the longer term, progress that we have been making. I I think it gives us okay in the hope that that we are making our progress in general in the long term.
It almost seems despite ourselves. Well just despite some elements of our institutions, I would say not necessarily despite ourselves the thing that worries Maine and this election is really the crystallization of but it's been worrying me- and I think many people for some time is that there's the assumption that. More information and more access to it would be. I've been really is kind of cuts against what I was just saying about free speech in a way, the assumption that simply more talk would almost, by definition, lead to an increased ability to persuade people of things that are clearly true or untrue, or you know against believing things that are untrue. That assumption is showing signs of being DIS confirmed, is that when you look at people's lives on the internet and the way in which they can just disappear for months and you
there's into an echo chamber where they're, just their worldview, becomes more or less hermetically sealed from any kind of intrusion of facts from the outside I mean it's just paradoxical- that we're living at a moment where it is easier than it has ever been to disconfirm an untruth or to show so the evidence of needless human misery being created somewhere and yet the difficulty we're seeing in persuading people across US ideological lines. It's c mean more and more intractable. I mean I you know so to take one example in a way, because I'm very often on the the front lines of controversy and, as I know, you've been in a slightly different mode, but in
hear from people who believe things that I mean is it otherwise apparently sane and even intelligent people who believe things that just on their face or so should be so impossible to believe. But there there's there's a a culture now of conspiracy, thinking that is it a ram, a five by the ME, the occasional conspiracy that is brought to light, obviously, but it just it seems completely unconstrained by an the same principles of thinking and so I'll hear from someone who think you know in the in the aftermath of the new town, shooting, for instance, that that was a hoax. There were no children killed there. That was just a hoax concocted by the Obama administration to justify taking our guns right so that, But there are people who have these conversations in deadly earnest online and they even get in touch with me. Insisting-
and I have this wrong or so in the nine eleven truth. Conspiracy or I mean there's many of these things and many of these ideas a but credible ideas that we do want to be able to talk about. Particularly in you know, I mean like the at the issue of the problem of little Islam. You know that that is a real problem that we have to talk about. But if you make a slightly lateral move. In that conversation, you find yourself in the company of people who see conspiracies everywhere and it's becoming very difficult to debunk these conspiracies or or there's no debunking. That is ever that is fine to someone who holds these views- and I don't know I mean- maybe the world was always this way and it's just becoming impossible to ignore now, but it is disconcerting. I mean I do think I was always this way and you know you've talked about particular conspiracies in particular people who were medically sealed in an internet bubble about time. You know, if you think, of of Europe, just a couple of
centuries ago. Then there were rural villages who are hermetically sealed in a roman catholic bubble, and you know they believe things that I think are just as incredible as the idea that the shooting at the sandy hook, shooting was a was a hoax. You know I mean the various ideas about let's say I don't know the virgin Mary ascending bodily to heaven- or you know, there's a whole whole host of these ideas of miracle cures of all of the kinds of things that well widely believed in Europe a couple of centuries ago and I'm sure a lot of people never really got them to to be questioned until say the 18th century, maybe when some different ideas started around, but then in more isolated rural areas,
not even then and crap still today. Some of these things are quite difficult. The questions are I, and I I'm I'm not convinced that this is worse. The internet makes it different on this particular new twists and new ideas that people have about uh. Fortunately, it's a relatively small number of people who believe these bizarre conspiracy, you. May you might see more of them than I do because of the circles that you move in and because of your uh, you know people think I guess that if you're typical of militant Islam? Then you're going to be sympathetic to some of these other ideas as well, that don't really have much connection with it. But I think if you look at the larger picture, actually there's probably more people who are thinking rationally and open to evidence,
then that and then they have been in previous times. It's easy to be hopeful when you roll back the clock a couple centuries or or even even less and see how we were, but thinking and behaving- and I do follow someone like Steve Pinker, largely on that point, that things are are moving in the a direction to focus, perhaps disconcertingly on a narrow political question for a moment, but it. But it's good, connects to more general principles. What are your thoughts about Edward Snowden and what he did I'm interested to know what you you think about it, but also to how do you think about it? I understand you may not know what what in fact is true there, but what? What would cause you to judge him to be a hero or a traitor or something in between well, I, the the time, try to reason, one that would come to mind for me, because I don't think he betrayed the country. I think that he thought that he was acting according to the highest principles of the United States, because
fusion, in terms of freedom of information and the idea that you can't really have a democracy if the vote of the citizens are uninformed about important issues, so I certainly would rejected the terminology of trying to how I think about what he did. The is again, unsurprisingly, going to depend on what I think about the consequences of what he did as compared to the consequences of any other options that might have been open to him. So one big consequence is that we know about the government's security programs,
monitoring our communications and the result of that has been some some legislation restricting that monitoring how effective that is going to be. I don't I don't really know much a bullet night. On the other hand, it's claimed that not only is it decent voting. Us citizens who know know about is monitoring, but terrorists know about it as well. Terrorist mice steps to avoid being monitored, because I know more about the program and in addition, if the program is restricted, then the claim is that it becomes harder to discover further terrorist plots difficult times to assess. I have talked to some people a lot more about
do at least one of them. Uh said that there was no good evidence that this intelligence had led to finding any plot bad term. You know, I really I and I don't know. I suppose, though, I'm I would say that I I think that what's not is stunned, did was not sufficiently thought I'd in those terms. That is what I'd like to know what information we have about the likely impact on the program, and did he weigh that against simply the principle that the public ought to know about this, because I think yes, that's how it should be right now, maybe after you waited, you would come out with the idea that the public, knowing it this, is more important than any benefits that had been obtained bottle. That would like you to be obtained from it in future, Bob Term not too often, and
there is, as we were talking about before in terms of moral rules and ideas about rights and principles too often, there's just this idea that well, the public has a right and therefore I'm going to release this information- and I don't care what the consequences of it would be- that's that's not the in which I evaluate the decision. So I ask because I'm looking for how you bring in the ethical significance of intentions- and you clearly do because this is the way you ruled out him being a traitor. Presumably, you accept his stated motives or something like his stated motives, whereas if he, if he is in his interviews, he had said I wanted to destroy the United States, and I thought this was the best way to do it. You would be more inclined to view him as a kind of a prototypical tray so and intentions are doing some work, that is distinguishable from the consequent
is in the world outside that this person's mind. So let's just take two cases. Let's say that what Snowden did was on balance, obviously good. And no one was harmed and society will be better as a result, but he did it with the intention of destroying the United States and causing great harm. That's one case, the opposite cases. Obviously he was He intended to do good. He had every reason to think he was going to be doing good, but, as luck would have it, he created immense harm by leaking this information. So those are two very different worlds and two very different snowdons. How do you think about the role of intention in judging, various actions to be good or bad intention is, is critical in judging the agents. So what I think of Snowden would very heavily depend on his intentions. Although in the case where he intended to good, but it worked out terribly, I'm
I had one and well in a case of his intentions, were good about how careful was easy to find out what the like the consequences of his actions were. So negligence is not exactly intention, but it certainly culpable so that's one question: what do we think of Snowden himself and intentions very relevant? What do we think of the act am did what he did. The release of information was that the right thing to do that doesn't depend on his intentions. That depends, and my view, on the consequences of the release of information. But still his intentions are bad. He's bad image to the you. Have you have you just a clear line of separation between that the person himself and whatever consequences are in the world? That's right! That's how I would you when people argue for consequential ism, they often discount intentions, okay, they
Basically, they just want to know about body count. So if more people died, this really comes up when we talk about collateral damage in time of war, and this is actually a topic I want to move to. So maybe we can just keep talking about the role of intention in this context, let's just ask the more basic way. First, how do you view violence and the the ethics of violence? What when is violence morally justifiable in? In your view, I'm I'm not a pacifist, so I think that violence can be justifiable when the consequences of not using violence significantly worse than using it. So the general idea of a defensive war is normally justifiable, because if you don't, if you ready to go to war in defense, then simply going to be to you and that's not going to be a better world
so that would be one case in which I think the use of violence is is normally justify mean. Not always, I guess you can imagine cases where Actually allowing the aggressive to take over your country is better for the inhabitants of the country, then waging war, because if you I draw. Let's say everybody will get killed, so there's a there's, a normally sort of qualifier in that also. I think I know that the nation's with strong military forces have a responsibility to put picked people everywhere in the world against genocide and against large dial crimes against humanity. So uhm. I support the idea, which has now been accepted by the United Nations, that there is a responsibility to protect people that responsive
the normally would fall on the government of of each and every country, but if that government either fails to prevent genocide or crimes against humanity or if it is in self, is causing genocide and crimes against humanity, then I think there is a justified case for in mention even including military intervention, obviously, which involves the use of violence. I'd like to see that authorized by the United Nations, I think that the idea of one nation taking its own actions in order to decide when something is a sufficiently serious crime against humanity, for example, when something is a case of genocide to intervene, I think that has dangerous precedents, because countries will
uh intervene, where it's in their own political interests, whether it's part of real politik, to intervene as well as where there's some pretext that they're intervening to and genocide or crimes against humanity. So I'd like to see this I'd like to see generally, this happened as a result of the a vote in the United Nations somewhere under the present system. It would have to be in the Security Council about them. Gonna, perhaps eventually, though, they'll be different mechanisms by which this can device. So do you share my view of pacifism here? 'cause pacifism has this reputation for being not only somewhere on the moral high ground. But if you can hold the view really just imagine to be this impregnable moral position of virtue, probably as a result of of Gandhi's Rep,
haitian, but when you look at the realities of our world and the the kinds of of antagonised we have faced in the past and and could face in the future pacifism, in my view, especially when you have an alternative, seems just a starkly immoral position, it seems to be just a willingness to let the most sadistic and evil people on earth do anything they want whenever they want, and even if you had the power to stop it, you are are more committed to not getting your hands dirty. How do you think about pacifism yeah? I think I'm better. What you said is is is pretty much dry. I don't think it's a position that has the high moral ground I mean you could see it in some way as a noble position when people are prepared to.
Respond to violence in the way that Gandhi did. As you mentioned model is the king. We can see that as a vastly better than them. Trying to resist force with force is based, If you're going, if you know that you're going to be overwhelmed, as of course dandy would have vein and asthma militant african movements where, to the extent that they existed so in that sense, being prepared to take the transient blows of the racist cops or of the british or whatever and not resist, shows a certain moral courage and, in those particular circumstances, of course it it was actually affective. But that's because the I was the baby in those cases the British in India and the or or white us, I'm
did restrain themselves to some extent. If they had been like the that would have been the end of Gandhi. That would have been the end of not let the king they would have dissipated into the concentration camps, obviously on and not a match. So that will work in some circumstances and in those circumstances, I'm all in favor of it good. It's a good way of bringing about change about to regard it as a universally applicable philosophy that can deal with all threats of aggression. I met from whom they come seems to me to be hopelessly naive and Gandhi is rumored to have recommended that the Jews walk willingly to the gas chambers so as to arouse the world to the enormity of Hitler's crimes as a rumor. At this I have this from from something Orwell wrote about Gandhi. I don't believe I see that sing that confirmed anywhere else. No I've never heard of that. As a Ghandi quote, I must say obviously the contradiction there
whether not Gandhi said it. It's obviously it's possible to believe such a thing, but you then have to ask what should the war will do once aroused if you have a world filled with pacifists of the Gandhian, saw well, then, then we would living in the one thousand year Reich. This issue about violence and state violence is interesting to me is when I think about expanding the circle of concern and becoming more and more sensitized to the problem of collateral damage in time of war as we are in, and I think we would both feel that that's almost intrinsic good to to want to reduce collateral suffering and death as much as possible when, when using violence, but it there's a kind of there's an asymmetry here, the that becomes troubling, because when you think about certain kinds of enemies who have not expanded their circle right, that gives them a kind of leverage
that we don't have our lease were in the process of of losing and so they're they're they're. Many a symmetry is here that I think about you just think about the use of human shields. You know you have the those who use human shields and then you have those who are deterred by their use to one another degree. So I mean what one side Ed is making this extraordinarily callous and cynical. Use of the other sides grew moral concern for human life and it's actually effective and if you imagine reversing things, it's it's ridiculous. So imagine the Americans or the Israeli is using american or israeli non combatants as human shields to deter jihadists. Well then, that becomes like some grotesque, Monty Python, sketch right images. It wouldn't work and would be because it would be laughable. I mean you would just see by your
polarity on the side of the jihadis and or you consider you know the prisoner swaps, between Palestinians and Israelis, where the Palestinians can demand one thousand of their prisoners in exchange for one israeli captive. Now, perhaps there's another way of viewing this, but it seems on face to reveal a a three order of magnitude, difference in how the Palestinians and Israelis value human life or in a one of their own human lives- and I mean this is this- is endless examples from this sort of con click, so the Al Qaeda training Manual recommended to there. If followers that you know. If you get imprisoned, your infidel jailers will be too squeamish to torture. You and there's so much more. Condemnation of torture on their side, 'cause, there's such an effete society that you
you need only complain that you were tortured to the Red Cross and you'll just throw these people into fits so just get together. If you get arrested just complain, you were tortured and they'll start. You know attacking themselves over your case and so that that I see is that you know when your enemy has no scruples. Your own scruples become another weapon in his hand, and- and I wonder whether there are certain possible conflicts that we are becoming less and less equipped to fight because of the moral progress we've made, and I just I just wonder how you think about that
it's certainly a possibility. Yes, I mean there may be cases where the enemy is so willing to commit atrocities and so threatening to us that we have to do things that we would rather not do so. You mentioned the case of of human shields, for example. So if uh somebody has taken a humans hostage and is using them as shields, Ann is likely under the cover of those human shields. Let off a bomb. Let's say in a populated area that will kill, find more people than the number of human shields have been taken,
And the only way we can stop that bomb going off is by being prepared to shoot through the human shields, in other words, killing the human shields. Then that's what we should do. We should do so very reluctantly. Of course, as a last resort, we ought to feel repugnant's at the thought of killing innocent people who are shields, but we do have to look at the the the larger consequences of not acting- and you know there certainly could be such cases. Not sure whether they're there have been can't think of a good example off the top of my head. But it's it's quite possible that there are such this is under. This is going to be the problem with uh dealing with completely unscrupulous enemies in an age in which
they can easily get weapons and they can easily reach places that, in a previous age that I might not have been able to reach, do you think World war two would have been such a case and it could. We have fought World war two with our current affects an and one that, I'm thinking in particular things like an like and I'm not I'm, not a military historian. So I'm unaware of the strategic or tactical necessity of everything we did there. But when you think of actions like. The analysts bombing of cities like Dresden and Tokyo and or the or obviously our use of nuclear weapons. Arocha being probably the the only defensible one if it is defensible did do you think that we could have won World war two with our current, the current tuning of our ethics, I do think we could have beaten
Nazi Germany uh. Yes, I my reading of the military history of the alley. The bombing of german cities is. There was not particularly effective in military terms. Yes, obviously it cause some damage to transfer than to manufacturing, but It didn't it didn't, have a major impact on on the end of the war uh and, to some extent, of course, many civilians makes the the civilian morale more determined to resist the aggressive they're. Not doing that. So the idea that you were going to break german morale by bombing the cities- which I think was the rationale that was discussed in Churchills cabinet at the time seems not to have been the case
the more interesting example in it, doesn't really relate to your question, which was a bad winning the Second World WAR, because I think we could also have in the in the end defeated Japan without either the bombing of cities such as Tokyo WAR, the use of nuclear weapons Bob, I think, the cost. You know most of the people who look at this suggest that the cost of using only conventional weapons to defeat Japan, which would have involved an invasion of the japanese islands and, of course, the accompanying bombing of a huge number of military targets that would not I'd, have caused a lot of civilian deaths as well. As you know, as so called collateral damage. Foreseeable side, effects of the bombing of military targets, plus the cost in american lives across of the soldiers, but that would have been
a higher than the total cost of the bombs on Hiroshima and even on Nagasaki, which is your max, I think, indicated, is more difficult to defend on the bomb on Hiroshima, because quite possibly the Japanese would. Ended in a few more days, even without the bomb on on mega sake. So So that's an interesting argument. Uh if you assume that a contemporary views about the morality of war would have prevented us dropping the bomb on Hiroshima and, let's assume, as a result of that over the next year or so, they would have been in invasion of the japanese home islands and let say that the casualties would have been just say five times as great as the casualties of even both bombs of Hiroshima.
And Nagasaki. So what would what would? What should we think about that? If, if that is the case, should we think that that would justify the dropping of the bombs A lot of people would say no because they would say this was terra bombing. This was the deliberate targeting of civilians using people as a means to an end, the end being, of course, to persuade the japanese government to surrender and the means being the death of the innocent victims of ours bombs, Bonderman? But if we assume that the casualties would have been five times higher, and we assume also that this would have included both competence and nonconfidence uh. I don't draw a really huge distinction there. I guess in this case, but let's just for the sake I get easier assume that they would have been five times as many civilians killed. Two then I think the dropping of the bomb was justified.
Now you can, you might say there was something else altogether that could have been down. There's been discussions that the japanese government could have been invited to witness a testing of the bomb with all the destruction of that chart, hi again don't know whether that was feasible, whether that would have ever convinced the Japanese to surrender so, but for the sake of the argument, assume that there was no option it by the dropping the bomb, or it was the invasion by conventional forces with my child, a civilian as well as military casualties, and then I think, dropping the bomb was the right thing to do the possible, correction there is it dropping a bomb intentionally on noncombatants that there are more ethereal costs that need to be put on the balance of consequences? That is not just that body. This is what I often run into in talking about consequentialism. I think body count is
by there often and insufficient measure of the complete consequences of doing one thing or another, and we have to we the sense that consequential isn't isn't a good enough. Moral theory is usually the result of consequential lists, not looking clearly at all of the possible or live likely consequences that are or again quite a bit more ethereal, but none the less real than body count so to come to the classic example of your in your doctor's waiting room. He knows he has five patients who, who all of whom need a a organ transplant. You're just there for a check up and a reasonably healthy, so he decides to yes, it eyes, you and steal your organs and kill you and very ugly version of the trolley problem. Most people or many people who reject consequentialism, say well, there's no place to stand as a consequentialist to resist the slide into that kind of world, because
look, you're saving lives. You know you lost one and you saved five you saved in at four lives, but it's pretty obvious, though None of us want to live in a world where, at any moment, you could be killed by your doctor once he's calculated that he can use your organs to better purpose and- and so there are car yes, there are consequences to the other, the fear and the paranoia, and then the experience of having this done to your kids and all the rest that we don't to absorb, and it's just that there are not as clear cut as body. Yeah you're right there are. There are certainly other consequences that need to be taken into consideration in the case of you, know the the Hiroshima bomb, and I should say it's it's easy to say this in hindsight: I'm not sure that they, the larger consequences, have been bad. After all, there is the really important fact that, after the bombs on Russia, Moran
Nagasaki, of course, no more nuclear bombs have been dropped in anger, we dropped on civilians or or military targets for that matter over this period of whatever. What is it now? It says: seventy, the five years yeah I mean like I did it. Seventy is seventy, as I said, I guess so, that's a really good thing and it's quite possible that the fact that the bomb one- just dropped at least one of them was dropped and people could see how devastating it was, how terrible it was, how the radiation illness lingered and the damn oh, maybe that's, the reason why uhm there have been no further bombs, dropped so uh, it's possible, otherwise that this weapon would have been used in some other conflicts that we've had and it's different it's difficult to say. So what do you do with that? It seems that the tally of consequences
is on some level, always open ended, which is to say that there's nothing that is so bad on its face that it might not have a silver lining, right so now we're talkin about the silver lining in the the mushroom cloud of Hiroshima, as you said that there may have been all of these been it's for having horrified ourselves in the world by actually using nuclear weapons, were much better. Stewards of clear weaponry now, with the cold war remain cold. Who knows what would have happened if we hadn't seen the horrors of Russia? What do you do with the fact? And again? This is a a fairly common objection to consequential ism that
the votes are never finally and fully in it seems what do you do with that? Yeah, I'm? Obviously, you just have to predict as well as you possibly can the consequences and as the consequences get further and further at am, and they become quite on certain and you could speculate that they'll be good consequences in you can speculate they'll, be bad consequences. You just have to side. The probabilities are so uncertain here that we should not tell you can there's nothing to take account of there. We have to go with the consequences in the near future that we can predict. So I think in fact,
what I was saying about the possible good consequences of the Hiroshima bomb in terms of deterring further use of nuclear weapons was really by way of cancelling at what you had said about the possible bad consequences of it in terms of the. If you like, the greater acceptable the of terror bombing the views of what it says about our attitudes to innocent human beings and so on, and in that sense I think it would. It was reasonable to sigh. We don't know what those consequences are gonna be. Let us look at what the tall is likely to be from the bomb and, let's all also look at what the all is likely to be from an invasion from any other means that we have of defeating Japan and if the tile from form is lower than that of any other means of defeating Japan, then perhaps it's reasonable to go ahead
now now, let me say that I I'm not saying that this is actually historically. What happened because clearly is starkly what happened, and I think pretty much always does happen in war. Is that the fact that these were japanese civilians meant that their lives kind of rather the fact that a number of the lives lost a substantial number, probably through an invasion of the japanese islands, it would have been american lives that counted for a great deal right and so very likely there wasn't any such calculation might of the total deaths
in which all of these lives given equal white, but ideally, in this my same main, you know you type being given the passions that war arises. Ideally, that would be the kind of calculation you at night as we're getting close to our two hour mark. I realize we had only scheduled two hours for this call and it seems, like two weeks might be insufficient to cover all these topics of interest. I want to ask you just quickly about various moral principles is an important moral distinction between acts of omission and acts of Komische, and certainly we certainly act as though they're worse, so the the how does- and in your your famous shallow pond example, put some pressure on this here so happy. How do you think about the difference between not saving a life? That would be very easy for you to save and taking one actively, and this obviously also relates to end of life considerations of the sort you mention the difference we
we seem to hold onto between removing life, support and passively. Let someone diverse is actively killing them, which in many cases might be the more merciful thing to do. Yeah so um. My view is that the the distinction between, a killing in letting die or between a accent, emissions, it's put in different ways, is not itself a great intrinsic significa. It may be a marker for other things of more significance like it may be a marker for motives, for instance. So if somebody was saying to Maine suppose I say look you should give to this effective charity. Let's, let's be specific, you should give to the against Malaria Foundation because it will distribute bed nets in places where there's a lot of malaria and where Chill bring die from malaria, and if you donate what I know you can afford to donate it again, Malaria Foundation They will use it to distribute bed nets and you will be saving at Lee,
one child's life and that's that's factual. I think that is a real organization and a real example- and let's say the person doesn't do that right so then that person has in one sense let a child die. Do I think of that person exactly the same as somebody who traveled to Africa shot a small child, then travel back to the United States? Of course not I'm. I know that there is a huge psychological difference in that that person that many of us are apathetic or don't care enough. Uhm, don't feel psychologically drawn to help people who we can't even see, but for someone to actually have the malice and the will to travel, to find a child to kill that child is,
it has to be completely horrible, deprived person. So sometimes the distinction between acts and omissions will signal something like that. Why did this person go out of their way to kill or as in the other case, they simply didn't do enough to save a life? But then, let's look at another case the medical case that you mention so I'm an infant is me. Born prematurely and has had a very severe bleeding in the brain hemorrhage the doctors do a scan of the brain. I find that all of the parts of the brain that are associated with consciousness, like the cortex, have been irreversibly destroyed. Now, there's two possible things that might happen in. In these circumstances. One might be that the doctors, after discussion with the parents side,
Your child really has a hopeless future, though they'll survive. If we continue to treat them, but they'll just lie in bed all day and never be communicate with anyone probably never have any conscious experiences. It'll have to be fed through a tube and so on, and and the and the and the doctors will inside, and the parents will usually great. So we could withdraw the rest right. Your baby is too small to breathe on on his own. We can withdraw the rest right now and your baby will die and parents will typically You say if you think that's best doctor, then I'm ok with that and the baby will die now that is seen, and as our letting die's and allowing to die and not as a killing. On the other hand, it might have happened that, because it took some time to carry out the diagnosis, because the baby was particularly vigorous and so on, but the baby no longer needs a respirator,
so the prognosis is exactly the same. The baby is never going to communicate in any way. Probably never going to be conscious is going to have to be fed through a tube and lying in bed, but you can't bring about the baby's death by withdrawing a respirator and let's just say that, there's nothing else you can do that will bring about the baby's death. The baby is otherwise, apart from this massive and irreparable brain damage, the baby is otherwise healthy. Now I think that if you are prepared to say that it was justifiable to withdraw the respirator, you ought to be prepared to say would be justifiable to give the baby a lethal injection. So so the baby dies without suffering. There is no moral difference in in both cases. You know exactly what the consequences of your actions will be. In both cases, your intention is to bring about the death of the child. Your motivation is equally, I would say, equally good, equally reasonable, in both cases, so the means is is is really irrelevant.
But legally across one, is murder and the other is well. Maybe it's slightly dry in some countries, but anyway it's it's done, and every neonatal intensive care unit in in every major city in the United States and nobody ever gets prosecuted for it, so it seems to be legally acceptable, but that's as I say that that that's that's a case where I would think we ought to be able to accept active steps on, on the basis of some it's. It's no different from the from the other case, and certainly there are cases where the active step is the one that that bypasses an immense amount of suffering right where the passive one lately that's right. In other cases, where there is some consciousness, not exactly the case I describe there is some consciousness. I do know of cases where people will side and are now are. We can't actually take active steps to end life, but if the the
maybe gets pneumonia, we want give antibiotics, and so then the baby will have. For a lingering death from the over days or maybe even a couple of weeks. You know, which is a horrible thing in a pointless thing to do. If you decided that it's better that the baby should die, you know your while at the baby suffer in this way. I want to go back to the issue. The the shallow pond- and I know our listeners are are from here with this argument. 'cause I spoke about it with Will Mccaskill, so you admit that there's a difference, it would take a very different sort of person to go to Africa with the intention of killing. Someone then merely declined to buy a bed net when told on good information that this would save a human life. Those are very different people, but I think you're saying that it's natural for us to view them as different and because it require
there's actually a different psychology to do one versus the other. They are different. But if we abstract away from those differences and talk about public policies and what governments should do, then the Acton omission difference shouldn't be morally sale. Can't do us anymore. Is that, where you're headed for that, I'm not going to say that it shouldn't be at all tomorrow. At least I didn't, because there are questions and what governments do in terms of examples, but they said, but I do think it's very serious that governments allow people to die when they could prevent them when they have the resources to prevent them. And so I certainly think that the the governments of the wealthy and Eischen's of the world should be getting together and developing policies to eliminate preventable child deaths and preventable suffering from diseases.
They did make a reasonable effort in terms of the millennium development goals to reduce suffering and progress was made. The Num children dying felt quite significantly during that period, as did the number of people in extreme poverty and that's a good thing, but Uh, I'm concerned with US vision. Progress is, can
you need to be made? I think more progress could have been might even in that period. Although some progress was made, and I think we should be doing More- and that applies to governments, but it also applies to individuals. I think all of us who can afford to die nights to effective charities or to be doing that, because the government's not doing enough. How do you view the ethical significance of proximity? If there is any? I mean, obviously there's an immense psychological significance that the starving person on my doorstep is different, certainly more salient than the starving person in a distant country whose existence I know about at least in the abstract. Presumably, you think that
that difference is is far bigger than it it should be, but is there any ethical significance to proximity the problem in your backyard as opposed to the problem, an ocean away? Well I'd, say not to proximity in itself. Again, we can perhaps be more confident about what we achieving when things are in our backyard and we actually can see what's happening. We can talk to the people who are affected by it, but we do have very good research now about affective, nonprofit organizations that are trying to help people far away. So there's organizations like well let new research on effective charities there's an organization I founded called the life you can save and it has a website which lists charities that we've vetted Ann some some of it draws on give wells. Research somewhere draws on other research, so that we recommend effective charities and
if you can have a high level of confidence in the effectiveness of what you're doing then it's not very different. Morally, as you correctly said, it is very different psychologically, but morally, it's not very different from things that are going on in your backyard, given that it is so different psychologically, I mean, presumably, if I told you that there's a starving per, and by my front door today that I just stepped over on the way to this podcast 'cause. I was you know, I'm busy. You would view me with something close to horror and repugnance and would be right too. But if I told you that I got yet another appeal from a good charity which I didn't act on You would just view me as a more less psychologically normal if somewhat aloof person. Do you view our moral progress personally and collectively, as a matter of collapsing, that distance as much as psychologically PASA
so that we really can't put distance, suffer in and out of sight and out of mind. Yes, I do think that's an indicator of progress. It's The psychology is understandable, of course, our ancestors for millennia, for perhaps hundreds of thousands of years. If we go back even go back even to so, primates before there were humans at all. These ancestors lived in small social groups, face to face groups where they knew people and they would uh help others and cooperate with them in various ways. But they had no relations, perhaps even to people who lived across the mountain range in the next valley and now suddenly suddenly, in terms of evolutionary time the way we live in a world where we have instant communications, where we have very rapid delivery of assistance where we have good ways of working at what is going help, people uh most effectively
and uh. Our psychology has not changed rapidly enough to cope with this. So so that's why the signal psychology is, as you described it, but we should be. Thinking about this issue, we should be becoming more aware of it, and we should be again using our abilities to think and to reflect into reason to recognize that. Distance isn't really ethically relevant and that sometimes in fact quite often we can be much more cost effective in helping people in developing countries, I mean think of it. Think of it. This way the World Bank Poverty line is one dollar and eighty nine cents per day. So, let's say roughly seven hundred dollars a year. The US poverty line for an individual is over
eleven thousand dollars per year. So suppose you've got one thousand dollars to spare that you could donate to somebody. To whose life you gonna make a big difference, getting somebody in the US to go from eleven thousand to twelve thousand or getting someone somewhere else to go from seven hundred to one thousand. Seven hundred, I think the odds of that is is quite obvious, and is that does reflect A difference in cost effectiveness, whether it's money we're giving or whether it's anti malaria nets or whether it's training in how to be more productive in your coming practices or whatever it might be? Well, I realize we're coming up against our hard stop and time. I want to ask maybe two more quick questions here and apologize to many of our listeners for not getting too many of the topics they would want us to have touched. I know, The vegans and vegetarians are going to be outraged that we haven't spent anything.
In time on non human animals, but I think our views on those topics are pretty well understood, but I want Ask you one question in that area: what if certain animal lives? Let's say the life of a happy cow our net positive lives, which is to say it's better to have existed than to not have existed as a happy cow, and if we had an appropriate regime of raising cows for slaughter, we would be producing some billions of of happy cows. Cows that are happier than certainly anything that's in factory farming system and happier than let's say most wild animals. You know so they're says happy as it as a cow can be and wouldn't exist, but for ARP of raising it for slaughter. How would you view the ethics of eating those cows? You can yeah. You know it's possible to defy
from an animal welfare point of view, uh a situation like that in which the cow is having a really good life, the slot is your main and and so on, but I'm I think in in practice. It's I'm not saying that they're in a situation like that, but it's actually quite difficult on. There are other factors as well that that need to be taken into account, so you mentioned a cow. I don't know if this is a way for us. This is a dairy cow rather than an animal being right should be about, but can I was only give milk if they are made pregnant at regular intervals roughly each year and if they cough, is then taken away from them so that the mill can be used by humans, unlike how the cops will often be slow, did very young for veal. If it's a male, if it's a female it, maybe she may be reared for um to joy,
the dairy herd so but but the separation of the the cow and her calf causes suffering. I think everybody is observe this we'll see that Cavs Belli for their child's account was look for their mothers, so in in the dairy industry, it's actually pretty difficult to have these kinds of circumstances and still have a commercial operation that produces milk for humans. It might be more feasible in the in the beef industry bottom but the other factor that ought to be taken into account here is uh, and this is particularly true of cattle and other ruminant animals is there's a significant greenhouse gas can to uh to ruminants. They produce methane and affected their out on grass, doesn't help that at all. In fact, it makes it even worse
and if they were in a feedlot eating grain because they have to digest more grass to put on the number of times of of beef that they will eventually put on before being sent to market. So the the longer. Period of digestion leads to more methane being produced. So that's uh, I think, a serious obstacle to thinking of ethical meat consumption not just based on the animal welfare perspective which in some circumstances you might be able to satisfy, but based on the overall picture of what we're doing to the planet. Has anyone publish date, a reasonably complete taxonomy of animal suffering, where you could rank order, the the wrongs you commit by dissipating in various practices, eating chicken versus fish versus how dairy versus beef consumption, etc.
I'm not sure about an actual ranking or ten to quantify I've. I've got a student at Princeton who's trying to compare. You know how many, how much chicken suffering goes on, and how do you compare that with the suffering of humans? For example? It's a very difficult task, and it's interesting that he's even attempting that in the book, the ethics of what we eat, that I rode with Jim Mice and we do describe various forms of animal production and I suppose it would be possible most the script to get some sort of implied ranking and there may be something that animal charity evaluators have done. Animal charity evaluators is a kind of give well of the animal advocacy organization, so it it researchers and ranks the top rated most effective animal charity. So that's worth looking at in there's extensive blogs, and maybe someone has tried to do this
in in some of those blogs. My own view would be that clearly it's the intensive factory farming that is the worst. So when people say oh I've stopped eating red meat, I'm only chicken I need chicken now have actually there dieters got got worse. I think a lot more chickens that I have to wait Article on this, with the Karen Dorn, a friend in the LOS Angeles Times just last Sunday, so? You know you're responsible for a lot more suffering, a lot more chickens and chickens are virtually all factory found and the conditions are horrible and went down into it now, but You would admit that there's there's gotta be a hierarchy of moral concerned based on the actual or possible experience of these animals, so, for instance, if it's just a fact that pigs suffer much more than cows. Then
we do more wrong in mystery, then, and killing in an otherwise MS rating pigs and cows, based on the the actual facts of their experience right is, it's got to be anchored to suddenly suddenly it yeah. If there is a fact about that, and and if we can know that fact, then we ought to focus on on the animals you know. Well, we ought to focus on the animals. You can suffer most and regard that as a as a higher priority. Ok, sorry, the pasture your our here but one more quick question- it just has to be a capsule to your views on this subject. But how do you think about future generations are or ethical responsibility, Tord beans or people that don't exist. Why would be a bad thing if we all died in our sleep tonight and few painlessly and and future generations were on created? So I do I do. I do think that there,
is a value in human life when it's live data, high quality and I'm up to just enough to think that uh we will, in the future, solve some of the serious problems that face is now and then we will continue to make progress in terms of reducing suffering, reducing unnecessary violence and giving people a better life. So the last there would be the loss of all future generations. Least in this corner of the universe and of their and their happiness and of the fulfillment of their lives and talking right at the beginning of this conversation about objective values. I think there would be a lot of objective value. In that sense, the universe would be a worse place to the extent of those lives not being lived yet. Another thing we agree about,
well. It would be better. You been extremely generous with your time and it's really been great to talk to you and just finally tell people. Where they can find you online, not your twitter address or anything else. You would like to be publicly sure. Yes, I I do treat as a Peter singer. You should be able to to find Maine on Twitter uhm. I also have a website and the website is p to sing at dot info dot. I n F, I you can find things about me there. Please do look at the organization that I founded the life youcansave dot Org in terms of looking for effective charities to which you might give and uh. I also recommend, if you're interested in a animal issues, look an animal charityevaluators, dot org and support the organizations that they're recommending I'm not saying that the organizations that they're not recommending are not good. Some of them are but
I do think you can have the confidence of the ones they are recommending. Certainly I good I'll have a those links on my blog, where this podcast will be embedded so terrific. Thank you again thank you, Peter and I hope our paths cross again soon. I certainly hope side thanks very much SAM. It's been great talking with you if you find this podcast viable. There are many ways you can support it. You can review it on Itunes or Stitcher or wherever you happen to listen to it. You can share social media with your friends. You can blog about it or discuss it on your own podcast or you can support it directly and you can do this by subscribing through my website at SAM Harris, DOT, org and there you'll find subscriber only content which includes my ask me anything up. So it's he also get access to advanced tickets to my live events as well as streaming video of some of these events, and you also get to hear the bonus questions
Transcript generated on 2019-10-05.