The need for the ethical omnivore

“Okay. I can hear the typing of angry vegans responding already. To some, there’s no such thing as an ethical omnivore.

Animal rights and the choice of some people to eat meat, even as a conscious act, are divisive topics. Hence the inherent humour in the joke, “How can you tell if someone’s a vegan? Oh, don’t worry, they’ll let you know”.

But, despite our sometimes-differing views, I’m more than happy to admit that vegans have done wonders for animal rights and the welfare of sentient beings. Peter Singer, one of the English-speaking world’s most prominent animal ethicists and author of Animal Liberation, published in 1975, is vegan. The woman who co-founded PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), Ingrid Newkirk, is a vegan. Lyn White, head of Animals Australia (an organisation which traces its origins back to Peter Singer and others), the woman who exposed shocking animal cruelty in Australia’s live export trade, is a vegan.

And, hence, I see a problem. Not with what these high-profile vegans and their organisations do, but with what we, those who have chosen to eat meat, don’t do. And what we don’t do, often enough, is stand up for the rights of the animals we use for food, drink and clothing.”

Read the rest of Matthew Evans’ article at SBS.

Ways of engaging: Challenging harmful ideologies in belief and practice

“Philosopher and social theorist Prof Sally Haslanger outlines the persistence of ideologies like racism or sexism that entrench injustice or privilege, and how we might best combat deeply embedded misconceptions that endure in our societies in defiance of evidence or reasoned argument. Presented by Peter Mares.”

Listen to the podcast interview at Melbourne University’s Up Close


The most influential ethicist alive says the world is actually becoming a better place

“The philosopher Peter Singer, who regularly tops lists of the most influential people worldwide, is known for his controversial, yet highly convincing, utilitarian outlook. Utilitarian ethicists believe that the consequences of an action determine whether or not it’s moral. Grounded in this discipline, Singer has argued, among other things, that:

  • Failing to donate excess wealth to those in need is morally equivalent to walking past a fallen child in a pond and allowing them to drown.
  • It’s acceptable to kill newborn babies with severe disabilities.
  • Bestiality that involves cruelty to animals is immoral, but perfectly ok where it involves “mutually satisfying activities.”
  • Refusing to treat animal rights as morally significant to human rights is “speciesism.””

Read the rest of Olivia Goldhill’s article at Quartz 

This Philosopher Has Reimagined Identity and Morality for a Secular Age

One of the world’s most respected philosophers has just won the $1 million Berggruen Prize. Is this news you can use?

“Yes, as a matter of fact, it is. The prize has been given to Charles Taylor, an exceptional thinker whose work can be of value both personally and in public life. In his native Canada, Taylor was a founder of the New Democratic Party, shaped debates and policy on immigration and ethnic politics, and played an important role in keeping Quebec part of Canada but with special status recognizing its distinctive culture. Taylor is of global influence as a Catholic thinker, a leader on the social democratic left and a spokesperson for combining rather than opposing liberalism and defense of community. His publications will reward readers with very different interests from personal identity to the challenges of modern democracy to religion in a secular age.”

Read the rest of Craig Calhoun’s essay at Huffignton Post

Clown Prince of the Revolution

“A new kind of leftist thinker has emerged—one who clothes his revolutionary zeal in a layer of irony, half-dismissing his own impractical idealism as though speaking through the face paint of a clown. If you set out to study in a humanities department at an American university, it won’t be long before you come across the name of Slavoj Žižek, the philosopher who grew up in the comparatively mild regime of Communist Yugoslavia, qualified as a “dissident” during the declining years of Communism in his native Slovenia, but is now making waves as a radical critic of the West, though one whose tongue is always in his cheek.”

Read the rest of Roger Scruton’s article at City Journal

The Most Terrifying Thought Experiment of All Time

“WARNING: Reading this article may commit you to an eternity of suffering and torment.

Slender Man. Smile Dog. Goatse. These are some of the urban legends spawned by the Internet. Yet none is as all-powerful and threatening as Roko’s Basilisk. For Roko’s Basilisk is an evil, godlike form of artificial intelligence, so dangerous that if you see it, or even think about it too hard, you will spend the rest of eternity screaming in its torture chamber. It’s like the videotape in The Ring. Even death is no escape, for if you die, Roko’s Basilisk will resurrect you and begin the torture again.

Are you sure you want to keep reading? Because the worst part is that Roko’s Basilisk already exists. Or at least, it already will have existed—which is just as bad.”

So writes David Auerbach, a writer and software engineer based in New York, and a fellow at New America. Read the rest of the article (if you dare) at Slate.

Barack Obama, Neural Nets, Self-Driving Cars, and The Future of The World

“IT’S HARD TO think of a single technology that will shape our world more in the next 50 years than artificial intelligence. As machine learning enables our computers to teach themselves, a wealth of breakthroughs emerge, ranging from medical diagnostics to cars that drive themselves. A whole lot of worry emerges as well. Who controls this technology? Will it take over our jobs? Is it dangerous? President Obama was eager to address these concerns. The person he wanted to talk to most about them? Entrepreneur and MIT Media Lab director Joi Ito. So I sat down with them in the White House to sort through the hope, the hype, and the fear around AI. That and maybe just one quick question about Star Trek.”

Read the interview at WIRED

A property crisis: interview with Thomas Piketty

“We need private property, but we also need public property, and we need intermediate forms of property. The idea behind the progressive tax is that property rights should not be permanent. The idea of progressive tax on wealth is that over a certain level, property rights should in effect be temporary. If you have very high wealth, then you would have a tax rate of two per cent, five per cent, ten per cent per year – depending on what kind of progressivity you want. This means that each year you have to return to society two per cent or five per cent or ten per cent of your property. Over a certain wealth level, particularly if you are someone like Bill Gates – if you have several dozen billion dollars – you know it’s not very useful for society if you keep it forever. So you should return part of it each year. In a way, it’s like permanent land reform. It’s like a permanent revolution, but it’s a quiet revolution because it takes place within the rule of law.”

Read the rest of Zan Boag’s interview at New Philosopher

Philosophy as a Virtuous Irritation

What is at stake now is not really whether there will be safe spaces on university campuses, because of course there will be. The question is whether there will be a just renegotiation of what and whom is made safe there. Philosopher Kate Manne wrote of trigger warnings that they can be implemented for the purpose of “enabling everyone’s rational engagement”[vii]. Something similar can be said of the call for “safe spaces”; it is an attempt to allow more members of the academic community to participate in shaping the norms and boundaries of a discourse that grows broader and richer for this expanded involvement.

“Given the irritating nature of the philosophical enterprise, it is not too surprising that there are numerous cases of philosophers—particularly philosophers of color—who have found themselves at the center of battles over which people and what ideas will enjoy the safety of the university.”

Read the rest of Vanessa Wils’ article at Philosopher

Can we build AI without losing control over it?

“Scared of superintelligent AI? You should be, says neuroscientist and philosopher Sam Harris — and not just in some theoretical way. We’re going to build superhuman machines, says Harris, but we haven’t yet grappled with the problems associated with creating something that may treat us the way we treat ants.”

Watch Sam Harris’s talk at TED