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RS20 - Q&A With Massimo and Julia

Release date: October 24, 2010

Massimo and Julia answer listeners' questions. In this installment the topics include: can political discourse be rational, who changed M&J's opinion on something and when have they changed someone's opinion, how do they guard against biases when they debate people, the morality of bestiality, and did Samir Okasha really solve the induction problem?

Plus, M&J's favorite sources for philosophy:

Comment on the episode teaser.

Reader Comments (12)

I just listened to the first third or so of RS20, and I had to stop to object to Massimo's assertion that someone who benefits from public services and who also receives those services are inconsistent. This is a bit like saying that someone like Fredrick Engels was inconsistent because he himself owned some means of production and employed the proletariat. He might quite reasonably respond (I confess I don't know if he ever actually responded to this sort of criticism, or what he actually said if he did) that he is concerned with changing the SYSTEM, and that it would be counterproductive for him to divest himself of his power within the existing system, rendering him incapable of supporting Marx or spending time writing himself. Similarly, one might oppose the extent to which the state provides services yet still receive those services for the following reasons: 1) As simply an attempt to retrieve some of the money one has paid to the state in the past. This seems an especially good justification for the folks that Massimo mentioned; who had presumably paid into Medicare all of their lives when they might have been using that money to privately prepare for their own retirement. But whether or not one can say that one paid into a specific public service, the very fact that one has been compelled to pay the state for years arguably justifies getting back what one can. 2) Even if someone benefits from public services to a greater extent than one has paid into the system with taxes, arguably there are fewer financial opportunities and less money available to private charities than there would have been had the state been more constrained; even libertarians and conservatives need to survive within the system they are born into, especially if the system is to be changed. Suppose that ALL wealth in a nation were controlled by the state, there were ONLY public services, and the only jobs available were with the state. Would those who opposed socialism be morally compelled to abstain from public services?

Anyway, I'm a big fan of the show, thanks for your efforts!


October 24, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMichael

I never thought that bestiality is immoral because it harms the animal, I just think the person engaging in it is mentally ill.
Is horseback riding immoral too because the horse doesn't give consent? Or keeping fish in an aquarium? No, they're better off in the wild, getting eaten alive by a predator.

October 24, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMax

Re Sam Harris: MP says that in order to convince someone their moral values or assumptions are wrong you have to either show that their ethical view of the world implies logical contradictions or that it carries certain consequences they actually don't want. That is only partly correct. Our ability to change a person's view by presenting evidence to contradict their assumptions or their biased computation of consequences is not a test of morality. But MP correctly implies that empirical evidence that contradicts those moral assumptions, or contradicts those false beliefs about the consequences of a moral value, would JUSTIFY changing that assumption or value whether a stubborn or delusional person were persuaded or not.

General Utility 2.0

October 25, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterPoor Richard

I also want to comment on Julias beastiality logic. People can very well find it morally ok to eat meat and at the same time reject beastiality. The point is, that their moral values might not be the rights of the animal, but whatever their book says or some human species focused purity moral. Julia does not think the two go well together (or rather not well) because her morals allow a certain focus on the animal.

October 26, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJoeodessa

@Joeodessa -- If the person tries to defend their meat-eating on other grounds, like "this book says it's ok", then you're right, there's not necessarily an inconsistency in being also opposed to bestiality.
But that wasn't what I was talking about in the podcast. My point in the podcast was specifically that there is an inconsistency if the person is arguing that (1) the reason bestiality is wrong is that the animal can't consent, and (2) eating animals is okay despite the fact that the animal can't consent.

October 26, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJulia Galef

I really enjoyed the episode and love the show!

Julia in regards to the question about the immorality of bestiality vs. the immorality of eating meat, you have provided me with an interesting thought problem.

There is a third view that perhaps you have not considered. I am opposed to bestiality because I eat meat. In most cases of bestiality that I have heard of it is livestock that is being “violated.” This means that the person violating the livestock is potentially tainting my food source and that is just not acceptable.

If it were the case of bestiality against an animal that is not a food source then it is most likely a domesticated pet that is being violated. This too is reprehensible not because they are harming an animal but because pets are often personified in to members of their family, and subsequently the “violator” is harming a member of someone’s family. This association also doesn’t work as well for your comparison because I know that in my case I would also be very unlikely to eat someone’s pet for the same reasons that I am opposed to bestiality of pets.

So what about work animals: horses, donkeys, etc? I tend to view work animals similar to pets, but in more of a co-worker role than familial. So again the eating meat immorality doesn’t really apply because I wouldn’t be likely to eat work animals either.

Wild Animals? Well anyone dumb enough to try will probably get what they deserve so I am indifferent.

So depending on the case there are different reasons why bestiality is unacceptable but in cases where I am in opposition to it on grounds of harm to the animal I am also against eating those types of animals.

October 26, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRose

Great podcast!

I too really appreciated Language Truth and Logic when I read it in college. Yes, it turned out not to be the definitive work on epistemology but it did greatly clarify my thinking. Even now I will reread parts of it.

At the time I thought it was such a great work, I did what any skeptic would do: I searched very hard to find a book which claimed to refute it. I ended up buying Ayn Rand's Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology,(probably not the best choice.) I read that book a long time ago and do not remember being convinced,but I am waiting to see MP's next blog on that subject.

Regarding poverty programs, one very influential book in the 1980's was Losing Ground by Charles Murray. No, the myth of welfare queens wasn't even discussed, but he did cite a great deal of empirical evidence which he interpreted as showing the welfare programs of the late 1960's and 1970's actually hurt the lower classes by fostering a culture of dependency. The book was one of the reasons many liberals, including Bill Clinton, changed many of their opinions and enacted welfare reform in the 1990's. The book never challenged the underlying value (axiom) of the importance of helping the poor. It just changed people's views about how it should be done.

As far as testing one's opinions, a major theme of my life, I like the idea of imagining a friend taking an opinion with which you disagree. In college, some friends and I would actually do that in real life. And arguing for an opinion with which one disagrees can be a very interesting exercise.

October 26, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterGregg

Can't we justifiably enumeratively induce the uniformity of nature?

October 29, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCamus Dude

Julia, I'm very glad you made the bestiality-meat argument because I made the same argument a few years ago:

So I guess weird minds think alike! Also the comments are interesting in terms of the people that refuse to admit the contradiction.

November 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMichaelF

I am interested to follow up on the Samir Okasha paper mentioned in the podcast.

Does anybody have a reference for that paper?

December 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMalcolm Gorman
Regarding Slavery possibly being 'Moral' because it increases the well being of everyone. Empirically it can possibly seem that way but this is only because of how we are defining Moral/Immoral. You can also consider this same situation Immoral if we are using a Different type of Meaning for this type of Economy.

The First being the increase in well-being for everyone. The Second being the Unnecessary Suffering as Slave. Both are still Empirically demonstrated but with Different judgements to them. And I'm sure other meanings for these words can be made that again will change what we consider to be Moral/Immoral.

So I think Semantics plays a big part in how we are making these decisions. A rule of thumb I use when dealing with Morality issues is basically judging them on how they Physically, Emotionally affect something. Last time I checked, Slavery didn't fair to well in this so I would still lean towards the Immoral side regardless of certain increases to the well being of "everyone".

Great thought experiment. Peace! ;]
September 30, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterErnesto
Sam Harris does some good work, and makes lots of good points, but he made a serious error when he decided to promote the idea that scientific empirical observations alone could determine a positive moral system.

As to Julia's Bestiality/Slaughter Conundrum: Perhaps bestiality actually doesn't violate any ETHICAL principle. As long as the animal does not suffer or resist the bestiality, and thus the animal does not mind, we cannot object to this on the theory it abuses the animal. We certainly can view bestiality as abnormal and AESTHETICALLY displeasing. Therefore we can indeed say "It's just gross". The Ancient Romans, however, had a different culture and permitted bestiality. Likewise, as long as we treat our livestock with dignity and slaughter it in a humane manner, we can justify our consumption of meat since it provides the livestock with a better life than it would have in nature. However, consider the guy who has sex with his livestock and then slaughters it for food. Somehow that seems even weirder still. One could also realize that while we really have NO NEED to engage in bestiality, we DO NEED meat as part of our diet. Therefore, comparing bestiality to slaughter gives rise to the ethical principle of causing the least amount of harm NECESSARY.
February 7, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJameson

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