Susstein and Nussbaum's collection of animal rights essays is a good primer on the different legal and philosophical positions that are maintained inSusstein and Nussbaum's collection of animal rights essays is a good primer on the different legal and philosophical positions that are maintained in the animal rights debate. The quality of the essays, however, was not consistent. As might be expected when covering both sides of an issue, the quality tended to predominate towards one side. In this case it was the people advocating for animal rights, or greater rights and protections for animals than currently persists, who pretty much monopolized on the quality. Peter Singer does a splendid job of ripping Richard Posner a new asshole in one of the most awesome and satisfying essay responses I've had the pleasure of reading. Posner was the first here to instatiate Godwin's law with his risible claim that the Nazis were supporters of animal rights, then casually says something like "Peter Singer probably doesn't support Nazi-esque policies". The essays by Wise, Singer, Francione, and the one written by a pair of neuroscientists were quite good, a few were terrible, and the rest were pretty decent. ...more
Thoroughly, disappointingly mediocre. A couple of the arguments in this book were pretty terrible, the rest being rather tepid. Appiah disagrees withThoroughly, disappointingly mediocre. A couple of the arguments in this book were pretty terrible, the rest being rather tepid. Appiah disagrees with Peter Singer et al about the conclusions drawn from the Shallow Pond thought experiment, in which we are said to have very demanding ethical obligations to donate as much of our worldly possessions as possible to help the poor in the third world. His objection to this argument? We can't know all of the consequences of our actions, so we can't say that the sort of austere altruism drawn out from the Shallow Pond is the ethical thing to do. Really Kwame? Then how is it that this purported fog of epistemic uncertainty leaves any room for casuistry or ethics at all - for if ignorance of the full extent of the consequences of our actions is good enough reason to obviate an ethical duty, then NO action can be judged ethical because the full consequences of every single action can not be teased out. Appiah could have made something similar to R.M. Hare's suggestion of adopting general rules of thumb for ethical behavior, since neither can we know the full consequences of our actions nor do we have the time to examine the consequences of every trivial decision we make in a robust way. Then there is Bernard Williams who contends that utilitarianism demands too much of us, and that we should devote time and money to personal projects that we find meaningful. But I digress.
The other ridiculous argument that comes to mind is where Appiah criticizes the view that logical positivism takes on ethics. Following the tradition of Hume, logical positivists hold to the categorical distinction between is and ought. Facts describe actual states of affairs, they "are". Ethical claims say how states of affairs OUGHT to be. So it would seem that one could not settle ethical questions with merely an appeal to the facts, or vice-versa. Appiah's response to this is a radical interpretation of underdetermination. He claims that all scientific descriptions of reality are underdetermined, that some alternate theory could hold equally well or better with the given facts. Ergo, the uncertainty surrounding ethical questions is matched by uncertainty surrounding matters of fact. How this is supposed to help Appiah's case I can't be sure.
The one thing in this book that Appiah does well is explaining the difficulty in convincing people of something when their view of the world is radically different. It would be quite challenging, for instance, to convince a remote tribe that disease is caused by pathogens when it is central to their world view that diseases are curses from angry spirits. Much preliminary education and paradigm shifting would have to take place before the tribespeople would find the germ theory of disease plausible.
The rest of the book is largely a tepid plea for having interculturally shared values and mutual respect for diversity and differences of opinion. ...more