Monday, August 12, 2013

Abortion, Animals, and Moral Disagreement

Many claim that despite the wide disagreements in moral theory, there is substantially less disagreement about what is often the right thing to do. Philosophers who make such claims often point to acts that are universally acknowledged to be bad, such as lying, stealing, making false promises, and most seriously, murder, as evidence of this general consensus.

I find this view to be rather mistaken. I think there is wide disagreement about what the right thing to do is. For example, I think consuming animal products is wrong; not only do most people disagree with me on that, but they disagree to such an extent that they consume substantial amounts of animal products daily.

Also, many people think all abortion is seriously wrong. I disagree strongly with this view, and support policies that they think are deeply immoral. I think that policies that limit women's reasonable choices about what happens to and inside their bodies are deeply immoral.

Those who believe in widespread moral agreement see these kinds of issues as disagreement "at the margins." Given the prevalence of abortion, and the extreme pervasiveness of animal use, it seems peculiar to me to think of these as marginal issues.And rather than being merely "marginal," our views on these issues derive from our position on other broader ethical and metaphysical views. Furthermore, there are many other deep divides.

Many people do not seem to care what happens to people in other countries. Although they would likely not assent to such a description of their views, the actual result of their practical views belies their protests. Thankfully, very many people do care what happens to people in other countries. I think some of our most pressing policy choices and personal choices concern our obligations to citizens of other countries.

Many people think that people who commit crimes or wrong actions deserve to suffer for it. Although punishment is sometimes warranted, I do not believe that it can ever be a good thing that someone suffers. Worse still, very many people believe that some acts can make you deserve to suffer forever.

Many people believe you can deserve to be impoverished just because you are not skilled enough to attain more wealth. They sometimes think that free market outcomes are inherently just, and that any redress to income disparities is wrong. This view is surprisingly popular, given how implausible it is.

And some people do not think that moral considerations are all that important. They think that the driving force behind their lives ought to be figuring out how best they can fulfill their own interests, perhaps with a few moral constraints on how they get there (see above, re: lying, stealing, etc.). Some people don't even think these constraints are important.

Perhaps my view is pessimistic, but I see a world full of deep and serious moral disagreement. One of my proposed solutions, naturally enough, is that everyone ought to study a bit of philosophy, and learn to engage in moral questions with one another. I think a higher degree of critical thinking in the world would do a lot toward solving many of these (and other) disagreements, thought presumably some rifts will persist.

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