If ever a book were to change one's view of the world, this would be it. Peter Singer compellingly presents the evidence that any person wishing to laIf ever a book were to change one's view of the world, this would be it. Peter Singer compellingly presents the evidence that any person wishing to lay claim to the title of being moral MUST equally consider the suffering of those not of his own species with those of his own. Failing to do so is no different than failing to consider the suffering of those of another gender, race, or sexual orientation.
If an individual seeks to live a moral life, ceasing to be a part of the wholesale slaughter of and cruelty to non-human life is not optional - it is mandatory....more
"Rattling the Cage" should be required reading for law professors, law students, lawmakers, and anyone even remotely interested in living an ethical l"Rattling the Cage" should be required reading for law professors, law students, lawmakers, and anyone even remotely interested in living an ethical life. This book lays out a solid case for eliminating the legal and moral classification of non-human species as 'things' for no other reason than their membership in collective non-humanity. The author lays out the historical and theological roots of the Western view that non-human life does not matter in and of itself, and shows that these underpinnings gave rise to current morality and laws which treat non-humans as objects. Further, the author shows that the underlying theological and historical bases which once undergirded societal views on non-human animals have long been washed away by the steady march of biology, genetics, psychology, linguistics, and a whole host of other disciplines - leaving non-human animals in the difficult spot of being legal and moral 'things' when there are manifestly no valid reasons for thinking of them, or treating them, as objects rightully used for our own enjoyment to their detriment. This no-man's-land in legal territory is begging for judges, attorneys, and lawmakers capable of reasoning the issue through to its deeper levels and rebuilding the wall between 'persons' and 'things' in the proper location.
In a following book, "Drawing the line," Professor Wise lays out what criteria he believes should be used to draw that line and where the line might end up being drawn. An influential and powerful book (particularly when paired with its follow-up book), "Rattling the Cage" is a piece of legal and moral reasoning that belongs in every legal and ethical professional's reading list....more
This book is a sequel, conceptually, to Professor Wise's previous book, "Rattling the Cage." In "Rattling the Cage," Professor Wise laid out a rough cThis book is a sequel, conceptually, to Professor Wise's previous book, "Rattling the Cage." In "Rattling the Cage," Professor Wise laid out a rough case for the extension of some legal rights to non-human animal species. "Drawing the Line" takes as a give the information and conclusion contained in his prior book and extends the analysis to examine what types of rights need to be given, to what types of non-human animals, and on what legal basis such duties are owed to these creatures. The book travels down this path by examining a series of unique non-human lives, exploring their well-developed psychologies, language skills, and mental representations and then comparing those attributes with those of his own son, noting that if his own son is granted a whole host of rights, we cannot keep these same rights from the non-human individuals examined in his book without resorting to arguments which are explicitly speciesist. A quality read for anyone interested in non-human animal rights, but much more valuable if read in conjunction with a prior reading of his seminal work, "Rattling the Cage."...more
A Muslim, native-Pakistani law professor of mine published an article which paralleled one of the main observations of this book, and it is an observaA Muslim, native-Pakistani law professor of mine published an article which paralleled one of the main observations of this book, and it is an observation which I agree with wholeheartedly. As my law professor wrote, America's discourse on Islamic terrorism is couched in language which portrays the terrorists as 'essentialist terrorists.' The language used both explicitly and implicitly denies that the those who use violence in such manners have any reason for doing what they do (whether such reasons are valid or not is a separate inquiry never reached by those characterizing terrorists as 'essentialist terrorists'). Instead, terrorists are labeled as crazy, evil, or just plain violent. To treat them this way is to suggest that these people somehow operate fundamentally differently, psychologically, than we ourselves do - a patently absurd concept.
When we engage in actions, it is so ridiculously common to attribute a cause to our actions as to make the assertion that we NOT do so a thesis so controversial as to raise hundreds of articles in journals devoted to philosophy of the mind. This 'folk psychology' is simple, common-sense, and used by basically everyone. All it amounts to is this:
Action: I opened my backpack and pulled out a notebook. Reason: I wanted to take some notes in my notebook. Action: Sally got a glass of water. Reason: Thomas asked Sally if she might fetch him a glass of water.
When we deny that terrorists also have reasons for their actions, we deny that their minds work like ours, making them easy to demonize as being sub-human. It also denies the fact that virtually every terrorist tells us, explicitly and in surprising detail exactly WHY they felt the need to do the things that they did - what they feel their reasons are. When we demonize the enemy and deny that they have any reason for doing what they are doing, we fundamentally fail to reach the grounds by which the conflict can be brought to a halt - discussing with them their reasons, finding out whether those reasons are valid, and doing something about those reasons if they are.
For laying out that amazingly simple thesis - a thesis surprisingly lacking in most American political discourse in recent years - this book earns some hefty praise....more
A beautiful piece of scientific popularization by a dynamite author, Matt Ridley. All I can say is that any book about science which calmly talks abouA beautiful piece of scientific popularization by a dynamite author, Matt Ridley. All I can say is that any book about science which calmly talks about scientists gluing little paper hats onto finches gets a big thumbs up - for both humorous and educational value....more
Providing an interesting account of plausible doomsday scenarios for the ending of humanity, John Leslie shows that humanity's grip on life is far morProviding an interesting account of plausible doomsday scenarios for the ending of humanity, John Leslie shows that humanity's grip on life is far more tenuous than many of us realize. From the natural threats many of us might know (supervolcanoes, massive tidal waves, or global-extinction events caused by meteor strikes) to the possibilities we make ourselves (superdiseases or nuclear weapons), this book shows how simple it might be for humanity to fade away into the veil of history. Adding to the more ordinary causes of our eventual demise, the author adds several new scenarios including those that follow:
Nuclear weapons have never been successfully destroyed when in the higher parts of the Earth's atmosphere (where they reach their zenith during interncontinental flight). An explosion of a nuclear weapon at such a high altitude where the gas-content of the air is different may very well cause the air to ignite. If the possibility of nuclear war doesn't scare you, an atmosphere-high wall of flame that stretches from horizon to horizon racing towards you faster than the speed of sound, leaving an earth with no atmosphere in its wake just might.
Furthermore, the universe exists with a number of 'universal constants' which define how space and time relate to each other (allowing our universe to exist). Physists readily admit that these constants could be different, and that a massive burst of energy could create a localized zone of space-time where the laws of space and time are different, and this lower-energetic difference would expand outward at the speed of light in all directions, unmaking the universe. The energetic burst need only be of very high energy in a very tiny space - much like the type of energy burst produced in our new particle colliders that are being built. Even if we stopped production of our particle colliders, particles are racing through the depths of space at the speed of light as we speak, and a chance collision of such particles could provide the impetus for such a universal transformation and unmaking. In fact, it might have already happened on the opposite side of the universe, and the wall of our undoing may be racing toward us as we speak.
John Leslie's book is not intended solely as a tale to make a reader paranoid and fearful. Rather, it serves as a cautionary tale, allowing the reader to realize just how precious our lives are, and that there are policies that we, as human beings, can put in place to forestall or avoid some of the more plausible endings to our species. He ends his book with an exhortation to all of us to attempt to steer our national political bodies into addressing these issues before it is too late for us all....more
Ethics are consistent set of principles, applied consistently, which establish the moral status of actions. This book, by one of the most influentialEthics are consistent set of principles, applied consistently, which establish the moral status of actions. This book, by one of the most influential philosophers alive today shows that, for a man who couches the world in black and white moral language, President George W. Bush is surprisingly inconsistent in his ethics. Outstanding read....more
"Little Fuzzy" is one of only two children's books I have held onto for my adult life, and like the other one I've added to my permanent library, I he"Little Fuzzy" is one of only two children's books I have held onto for my adult life, and like the other one I've added to my permanent library, I held onto it because it beautifully places complicated and nuanced issues in front of young children who otherwise would be reading cute (but tiring) morality tales a la 'Frog and Toad.'
Fundamentally, this book revolves around the question of to whom do we, as moral beings, owe duties? It is easy to look at your neighbor and agree that it would violate a moral duty if you were to stab him to death in cold blood. It is easy enough to think the same thing about killing a human being on the opposite side of the world by pressing a button that launches a missle from the seat of your government. What about those beings normally outside of our moral intuitions, though? Ultimately, what we must ask ourselves, and answer, and what this book places before children in their first one or two years in elementary school is the question, "Do non-humans count?"
I laud this book, not only for being a good story with adorable illustrations and supporting an ethical principle with which I personally agree, but with having the temerity to trust that young children are capable of at the very least receiving a controversial question about which to ponder and sort out their feelings.
For those of us who can recall with fondness the song lyrics which espoused, "I believe the children are our future," it is simply shocking that more books aimed at the very young have never amounted to more than 'See Spot Run'....more
A must-read for anyone interested in economics, demographics, environmentalism, or overpopulation. This book lays out the sound reasoning which suggesA must-read for anyone interested in economics, demographics, environmentalism, or overpopulation. This book lays out the sound reasoning which suggests that overpopulation may be a myth, and that the voices of demographers (who have consistently shown that the world will hit a peak population in the next 30-50 years and then begin falling due to declining birth rates) are being ignored. Further, the author lays out a convincing case that falling populations will necessitate slowed economic growth at best, and massive economic shrinkage at worst, necessitating higher unemployment, lower wages, and a significantly worse standard of living for all. Intriguing material....more
If a person knew absolutely nothing about the current state of the field of ethics, this tiny book is THE starting place to learn about the field, itsIf a person knew absolutely nothing about the current state of the field of ethics, this tiny book is THE starting place to learn about the field, its dominant and operating premises, and how modern ethics is studied, practiced, and evaluated. Its language is clear, concise, and easily accessible to the most lay of philosophical audiences. Second to none in terms of providing a primer for the entire discipline of ethics....more
Until reaching my graduate education, I had somehow managed to avoid ever reading an H.G. Wells book (or even being exposed to television, radio, or cUntil reaching my graduate education, I had somehow managed to avoid ever reading an H.G. Wells book (or even being exposed to television, radio, or cinematic adaptations of his works, other than to know that they were in existence). Reading 'The First Men in the Moon' was an experience that made me see the real value that could be found in some science-fiction literature. Not only did the story contain an interesting premise, and semi-logical explanation for the wonderous things discovered, and a fascinating resolution, but it provided just a touch of what makes H.G. Wells science fiction works so compelling (a trait that very few science fiction writers I've read have managed to portray) - horror and dread. Whether it is a horror about the lurking monster created by Dr. Frankenstein that could still be out there, somewhere, or a sense of impending doom as the survivor of 'the first men in the moon' voyage as he looks up into the sky at night, classic science fiction is about more than shiny spaceships, and techno-gadgets. It is about asking serious questions about the nature of reality, understanding that our conceptions may be flawed, and riding other possible answers to their natural conclusions which takes us into the realm of the potentially dangerous and unknown. This is something most modern science fiction writers have failed to realize, thus (at least in my mind) demoting their genre from something which probes the fears and dreams of humankind into sloppy Star Wars knockoffs.
Wells will always have a place on my shelves, and so will his sense of horror....more
Oftentimes utilitarian philosophers like myself will find themselves being presented with the objection that utilitarian philosophy is, fundamentally,Oftentimes utilitarian philosophers like myself will find themselves being presented with the objection that utilitarian philosophy is, fundamentally, an ethics of subjectivism. If our morals are about making us happy (and preventing us from being unhappy), then they could not be in any sense an objective part of our social order - other social orders could decide that things we thought were despicable were obligatory, and there would be no 'archimedian point' outside our own context from which to critique the views of an opposing social ordering. "Morals by agreement" provides utilitarian philosophy with that archimedean point. The thesis clearly demonstrates the rationality (indeed, absolutel rationality) of the utilitarian ethic with reference to the mathematical discipline of game theory. For a utilitarian philosopher, this addition to ethics is a welcome tool to rebut the frequent subjectivist canard....more
I find it difficult to accept that I am including a book I read when I was (perhaps) only five years old, but I still own this book, have read it numeI find it difficult to accept that I am including a book I read when I was (perhaps) only five years old, but I still own this book, have read it numerous times since graduating high school, and continue to find it to be an absolutely fascinating book (albeit a children's book) in terms of the lessons it teaches.
The story revolves around a prince (who no longer has a country) who wishes to marry a princess who does have a country (so that he might gain a country thereby). Yes, that's right, the central conflict of the book concerns a cynical marriage to a beautiful woman with the express purpose of gaining her material wealth. Unusual for a children's book, to be sure.
The prince meets six friends, all of whom have a unique magical power, and each power is used to help the prince complete the challenges that the princess's father places in the prince's way to prove that he is capable of being a good enough king to marry the princess. In completing the various challenges, the prince casually orders his 'friends' around, and then neglects to thank them for their services when the perform them (without which he would surely have failed, or in at least one case, died).
When the prince completes the challenges (which basically amounts to him ordering his 'friends' to complete the challenges for him), he wins the princess's kingdom, vast sums of money, and a beautiful bride. At the wedding feast a serving-girl remarks to one of the new king's friends that it seems from her perspective that the friends, in fact, did all the work. The friend replies that while it might have looked that way, the prince did the most important job of all - he led them.
The moral of the story is a deep and complicated one, and it is one frankly worthy of nuanced discussion even today. How much value should be placed on someone who sees 'the big picture' but doesn't contribute any other skills? Could one of the friends perhaps have also been able to see the big picture and could have gotten the credit if he hadn't been so subordinated to the prince all the time? Just how laudful should we be to a manager/leader who takes all the credit and reward for the combined efforts of other people? Leadership is a valued characteristic in our society and this book (while ostensibly holding it up to be a very high value) exposes the idea to potential scathing attack at the same time. Worth a read if you can find a copy....more
The entire thesis of Consilience is one so shockingly obvious that I was astounded to discover that true controversy surrounded it. The thesis is simpThe entire thesis of Consilience is one so shockingly obvious that I was astounded to discover that true controversy surrounded it. The thesis is simply that all realms of knowledge, from biology and geology to psychology and politics, are ultimately reducible in explanation to more fundamental explanations in another discipline - physics. This seems abundantly obvious in virtually every discipline I could imagine:
Example: My psychology is determined by physical states (both biological and chemical) in my brain. The biological states are reducible to more complex explanations in chemistry, and all of the chemical explanations are themselves reducible into more complicated statements couched in the language of physics. Ultimately, there may be an additional explanatory discipline more fundamental than physics. Who knows?
What is obvious is that if we accept the fundamentally physical nature of the universe and the physical phenomena that occur within it, the thesis of this book is so trivially obvious as to barely warrant comment. Nevertheless, apparently there are far more supernaturalists and brain-mind dualists out there than I would have hoped....more