Random Thoughts – Morality

It confuses me that vegans state animal welfare as a reason for foregoing meat, despite the fact that the animals vegans claim to care for largely wouldn’t even exist if they weren’t eaten by humans. Even granting that non-existence is better than some versions of factory farming, clearly the most moral course of action, if one gives moral valence to animals, is to buy as much meat from happy chickens as possible. This way one supports the happy existence of thousands of animals throughout one’s life. And if you buy meat, you might as well eat it.

Throughout history philosophers have tried to create consistent theories of moral behavior. Much like vegans they don’t usually even get close. I believe the reason for this is that the human mind has moral intuitions that are shallow situation filters. Each evolved to trigger a behavior in a certain social situation that is advantageous in the long term. But if situations don’t usually trigger several moral intuitions there is no reason to believe that these intuitions are consistent with each other. Trying to build a consistent framework on top of these inconsistent intuitions will always fail because thought experiments like the famous trolley problem easily expose the fault lines where our intuitions cannot be stitched together.

I believe Singers arguments also amount to the extrapolation of shallow filters. Singer argues that geographical distance should have no effect on moral judgements, so that the child you could save on a different continent is equivalent to the child you might pull out of a river right here. This seems very reasonable because imagining a child dying in Africa and imagining a child dying right here certainly feels very similar. It both feels like imagining.
Of course in reality there is a gigantic difference in our moral intuition concerning a child we see drowning in front of our eyes and a statistic. Our intuition is that we have much stronger moral obligations towards people who are present, who we know or who are related to us.
(Reading Singer’s wikipedia page right now, it seems he also managed to be wrong about everything else. Of course that’s probably the only way to make a career in philosophy.)

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