Tag Archives: John Stuart Mill

Space settlements as smoke-free zones

Scientists have found that smoke-free legislation has positive effects on the health of children. Both preterm births as well incidence of asthma has been declined as result of banning smoking in public and work places.

It’s widely known that second-hand smoke as dangerous as smoking itself. Classical liberals in the tradition of John Stuart Mill, believe that adults should be free to do whatever harm to themselves; but if their actions would harm non-consenting others, then the government is justified to interfere. This rule is known as the harm principle.

Smokers do, by exposing others to their smoke, cause harm. That smokers inflict harm to themselves, is from a Millian perspective irrelevant as long as it is their own choice. What matters is the harm done to non-consenting others. Especially in case of children.

Children are because they not yet able to make their decisions, dependent of adults. If people smoke in the presence of children, the latter have little or no means to protect themselves against this violation of their right to health. Therefore the state should take action.

The research cited above about the positive effects of smoke-free legislation in Western countries, suggest that Space Settlements should take the ultimate step: complete prohibition of smoking. That means outlawing the sale smoking devices and, of course, smoking itself.

Since this prohibition is aimed at the protection of third parties, and not against the use of the drug nicotine per se, the sale and consumption of products such as nicotine patches, inhalers and nicotine gum, should be legal. Also the sale and consumption of smokeless tobacco products should not be be affected by the total smoking ban.

In vitro meat and cannibalism

As the regular reader will know, we of Republic of Lagrangia are quite enthusiastic about in vitro meat. For non-regular readers, in-vitro meat is meat cultured outside the body of an animal, mostly in a lab. In order to do this, scientists have to collect stem cells from, for instance, a cow, which can be done though a biopsy. Since this does not require to kill the donor, some people consider in vitro meat as a more ethical alternative for regular meat.

Theoretically there no restriction on what animals can be used as potential donor for stem cells for the production of in vitro meat. Even meat from exotic or endangered species could be produced cheaply in this way. Practical considerations as availability of donor animals, and the demand for certain types of meat, will determine which meat will be produced.

There is no inherent reason why human stem cells cannot be used for the production of in vitro meat. And this worries some people. But why would this be wrong? If eating human is wrong, it’s mostly because we object to the killing of humans. Only, in vitro meat does not require the killing of the stem cell donors. Besides humans can, in contrast to other animals, give informed consent to such donation.

Republic of Lagrangia endorses classical liberalism as defended by John Stuart Mill. And a core idea of Millian liberalism is the so-called harm principle. People should be allowed to do whatever they want unless someone is harmed by such action. Given that people can voluntarily donate some tissue sample, and that no one is killed in the process; there is no way under the harm principle why cultured human meat would be wrong.

Although some people might object to the consumption of cultured human meat, we see no reason to prohibit people from voluntarily donating some of their own tissue for the production of human meat, or prohibiting people from buying such meat.

On Secular morality

Introduction

The purpose of Republic of Lagrangia is the establishment of a secular, liberal and humanist republic. In this post we will discuss the topic of secular morality. We will argue that all meaningful ethical theories are necessarily secular. However, we will start by distinguishing secularism from atheism. Subsequently we will show that non-secular ethics is equal to moral nihilism. Then we will defend the harm principle as the core of secular ethics.

Secularism versus atheism

Some people (deliberately) confuse secularism with atheism. However, this two terms refer to two totally different concepts. Atheism is the ontological position that god or gods do not exists. Secularism, however, is the political position that politics and religion should be separated, or in other words: the state should be neutral in religious matters. This means that the state should not promote religion or non-religion; whatever one chooses to believe or not, is only his concern.

Not all secularists are atheists, and not all atheists are secularists. Many secularists are not atheists, but they are for instance agnostics, deists or pantheists. This three particular positions are (fundamentally) different from atheism. But most agnostics, deists and pantheists are secularists.

Why is secularism important? Secularism is important because different people has different beliefs, which cannot often be proved. It’s almost impossible to prove either the existence or non-existence of god(s). Since one’s personal believes does not affect other people, or at least they don’t need to, it would be better if we keep religious matters private.

What is morality?

Although theists, and creationists, often talk loudly about morality, they have often no clue what they actually mean with morality. There is a strong impression that for theists morality only serves as a last sanctuary for an increasingly collapsing god of the gaps.

The primary question one should ask in moral philosophy is: what is the purpose of morality? Most theists just presume the necessity of morality, and when they are asked the primary question, they either evade this subject or they claim that the need for morality is “obvious”. One should ask why the need for morality is obvious.

Zoologists have discovered “moral” behaviour in multiple species of social animals, and not only in humans. Dutch-American primatologist Frans de Waal is the one of the foremost researchers in this field. This raises the question why social animals do subscribe to a notion of moral behaviour? If we ask ordinary people what they think what morality is about, they will often explain morality in terms of altruism or caring about others. This justifies us to understand morality as altruism.

There is a simple naturalistic explanation for the emerge of altruistic behaviour in social animals. Animals who help each other, think about a group of wolves or lions hunting together, have a greater chance of survival. Since all evidence points in the direction that the sense for morality is determined genetically, it follows that (the need for) morality is simply the product of evolution. In fact we might conclude that only evolution is able to give us a proper explanation for the whole phenomenon of morality.

After all, why should a deity actually care about morality? Theists are unable answer this question, and often they claim because of god’s love. But we should consider that love can also be explained by evolution, since our capacity to love enhances our chance of survival (think about the love of mothers for their children). However, god is supposed to be unevolved, so how can he be able to love?

So we can conclude that morality is the set of behavioural attitudes which brings us to help/care about others, which increases the chances for survival of our species.

Why non-secular ethics is equal to moral nihilism?

The Euthyphro problem as formulated by A. C. Grayling:

Is an act wrong because a god says it is, or is it forbidden by god because it is wrong? (Grayling p. 105, 2013).

Grayling argues that if the first clause is true than anything whatever god might decide to be good, is therefore good. This include murder, rape among others. Certain acts are only bad or good because of the arbitrary whims of a deity. Therefore non-secular ethics is nihilistic, since good and bad have no objective, independent meaning.

If the second is clause is true, we need to develop a secular theory of ethics.

What kind of morality should we have?

Although evolution is able to explain why people have a sense of morality, it fails to tell us what specific moral rules we ought to have. The primary objective evolution impose on all living beings is their will to survive, and in particular on animals.

Although most humans are born with a sense of morality, many people have different set of moral values. According to Canadian-American moral philosopher David Gauthier argues that moral values are inherently subjective. Because different people have different preferences, there will be conflicts of interest among these people.

It seems from this point of view it will impossible to establish any kind of objective morality. In a literal sense this would be true, but we can say: why not construct a set of rules which enables us to pursue as much of our interests as possible? In fact such rule is possible: the harm principle. Although John Stuart Mill has introduced this moral rule for slightly different reasons, it’s quite useful for organising a society with many conflicting interest.

According to the harm principle individuals should be allowed to do what ever they want as long as no other person is harmed by such act. Therefore you can live your life by your own values, provided that these value do not harm others. And the main task for the government is to minimize the amount of harm in society.

References

Grayling, A. C. 2013. The GOD Argument. Bloomsbury, London.

Freedom of speech and the denial of historical facts

Recently Cambodia has passed a law which outlaws the denial of crimes committed by the Khmer Rouge. People can receive up to two years of imprisonment. Many Western countries has passed similar laws for denial of the holocaust. Classical liberals are against any of such laws, because they are a violation of the right to free speech.

Some people will argue that crimes against humanity are facts not opinions and therefore they are not covered by the freedom of speech. Classical liberals reject this argument. After all who is to determine what constitutes a fact and what an opinion? Often there is no clear-cut distinction between facts and opinion. For instance, when scientists are discussing different hypotheses. Are these opinions? When a hypothesis has been confirmed by evidence, it’s considered a fact. Science is about establishing facts regarding the world we live in. However, science is also about questioning the things we consider to be facts.

A more important question, is why we should give facts any legal protection? As far as I am aware of, there no laws in any country outlawing the denial of gravity. Any such bill would be dismissed as ridiculous. Generally, it is accepted that facts should speak for themselves.

According to classical liberalism the litmus test for determining whether an action should be prohibited (or regulated) is the harm principle. Only if an action results, or might result, in (physical) harm to third parties then the government is entitled to prohibit said action. Therefore the question becomes: Does the denial of historical facts constitute harm? Although people might be offended by such denial, for understandable reasons, no one is actually harmed by such denial.

John Stuart Mill, the philosopher who has formulated the harm principle in his On Liberty, has also given the most profound defense of practically unlimited freedom of speech. He presents several reasons for allowing broad freedom of speech: An opinion which some seek to suppress, might be true; further by being forced to refute obviously false opinions we are able to know why certain facts are indeed true.

But Mill made a few exceptions to the freedom of speech. In his famous example of a rioting crowd, he argued we should not give a speech to such crowd which might incite them to commit violence, even if such speech could be published in a news paper. Thus, incitement to violence is not covered by freedom of speech.

Further, Mill has also argued that though the government is not permitted to prohibit the denial of historical facts, people might censure the fellow citizens for their opinions. We are not obliged to provide people the means to promote their views, nor are we obliged to associate with such persons.

Our conclusion is that governments should not be in the business of outlawing denialism.

Incest and Bestiality are NOT victimless crimes

Introduction

Republic of Lagrangia endorses the version of classical liberalism as have been described in On Liberty by John Stuart Mill.

The most important concept in this work is the so-called harm principle. What is this principle? The harm principle basically states that individual liberty should only be limited in order to prevent harming of others. In other words: a certain behaviour can only be prohibited by the government is such behaviour is harmful to others. This also means that the law should not make acts of self harm illegal. If some one chooses to harm himself without harming others, then we should not consider such person as a criminal.

Related to the harm principle is the concept of victimless crimes. These are crimes which do not have a victim. However, what is a victim? Some crimes such as murder, rape and theft, have clearly identifiable victims. But there are crimes in which the victims are less clear. An example is environmental pollution, which does harm person by destroying our environment. Only in case of environmental pollution it is often not clear who exactly has been harmed. Some wingnuts claim for these reason environmental pollution is a victimless crime, of course this is pure bullshit.

However, the harm principle does not state that some one has to be harmed intentionally by some act. If it is known that a certain act is harmful for some one, then this would be sufficient reason for prohibiting such act (or at least to regulate such behaviour).

Some people would argue that incest between mutually consenting adults is not a victimless crime. And people such as David Brink, suggest that bestiality is a victimless crime. In both cases, people argue that no one is harmed by such acts. In this post I will explain why neither incest nor bestiality is a victimless crime.

Incest

With incest we mean here: sexual intercourse between two consenting adults who are close relatives of each other. This definition excludes sexual relations between adults and minors and rape of a relative. These latter two act consist two separate crimes, since they are generally not considered as victimless.

One might argue that if two (or more) person consent to have sexual intercourse with each other, then there is no harm. In most cases, this would indeed be true. However, if two closely related persons have sex we have to take into account the children who might result from this act. And in case of two close relative having intercourse we have to deal with the risks of inbreeding.

It is a widely known fact that children of parent who are close relatives, have a greater change of having genetic disorders. Many governments are persuading pregnant women not to smoke or drink alcohol, because of the potential harm for their unborn children. Following this logic, we should also discourage close relatives to have sex with each other, in order to prevent harm to the children who might be conceived during an incestuous affair.

Inbreeding becomes even more serious when the children of closely related parents would have in their turn children with their relatives. For each generation that a family practices incest the incidence of genetic disorders will increase. And these disorders include very serious illnesses. There is incest certainly not a victimless crime.

Bestiality

Bestiality is when a human has sexual intercourse with a non-human animal. This behaviour is harmful in several ways.

First, we have to consider the harm done to the animal. According to Mill’s teacher Jeremy Bentham animals should have moral relevance because they can suffer, just as humans. Therefore animals are also covered by the harm principle. Although harming an animal might be justified in certain extraordinary circumstances, we absolute do not consider trying satisfying some (perverse) sexual urges as one of those.

Whether an animal will suffer of sexual intercourse with a human, depends on the physiology of the particular animal. However, even if an animal is not physically injured, an animal might suffer psychological damage from a unconsensual act.

A second reason why bestiality should be illegal is the problem of diseases which can be transferred from one species to another. By having intercourse with animal a human being might be infected by some disease. If such person subsequently has intercourse with a human, (s)he might infect other people. A new, potentially epidemic, infectious disease has been born. Or the zoosexual might infect other animals.

Scientists believe that HIV has been transmitted from apes to humans at some point in last century. We do not want just another of such disease. Therefore bestiality is not a victimless crime.

See also:

Space colonization and vegetarianism

On the Ethics of Colonizing Mars and Space

Both the colonization of Mars and Space colonization has ethical concerns. In this post we will discuss some of the more important issues.

Possible Life on Mars

Similarly, nobody really mourns for those who do not exist on Mars, feeling sorry for potential such beings that they cannot enjoy life.

David Benatar, Better Never to Have Been. The Harm of Coming into Existence. 2006.

One of the arguments against colonizing Mars is concern for possible Martian lifeforms. Some people argue that introducing terrestrial life to the Red planet, would be bad for native Martian life. Most scientists believe that, if Martian life (still) exists, it will most likely consist of bacteria or similar organisms.

The question we should ask ourselves is whether such Martian bacteria has any moral standing. According to English philosopher Jeremy Bentham, beings have moral standing if they can suffer. Bentham’s student John Stuart Mill, has introduced another important principle in moral philosophy, the harm principle. According to this principle our liberty is limited by the liberty of others; we may do what we wish as long as we do not harm other beings.

If we combine Bentham’s axiom of suffering with Mill’s harm principle, we can conclude the following: we may not beings who have the ability to suffer. As far as we know, bacteria cannot suffer, therefore they have, according to Bentham, no moral standing. For this reason we cannot conclude that bringing terrestrial lifeforms to Mars is immoral, because native Martian life might became extinct.

A related argument is that if terrestrial lifeforms are introduced to Mars, the original lifeforms cannot be distinguished from the introduced ones. This would interfere with scientific research to life on Mars. Although this might be regrettable, we might ask ourselves whether this would outweigh the benefits which colonizing Mars would offer to humanity.

A third concerned with the possibility of Martian bacteria is the health risk for colonists. This fear is understandable, however it is quite unlikely. Infectious diseases are generally limited to certain organisms. So is HIV dangerous for cats, apes and humans, whilst crocodiles are immune for it. Because parasites are adapted to a certain host organism, they cannot infect other organisms. (This also implies that all stories about fighting alien invaders with biological warfare are implausible.)

Of course, there is one caveat to this reasoning. Martian microbes might be poisonous to us.

Environmental impact on Earth

Another concern regarding space colonization, is the environmental impact of rockets. This is a serious problem, the pollution due to launching rockets into space do damage to our atmosphere. This pollution has all kinds of harmful effects to people, not the least to public health. The harm principle dictates that we should reduce the impact of rockets.

The precise environmental impact of a rocket depends on its type, especially on the kind of fuel used. Many rockets use poisonous fuels such as hydrazine, a hydrogen-nitrogen compound. By burning hydrazine both water (H2O) and nitrogen n-oxides  are produced, especially the latter is problematic since they are one of the causes of acid rain.

Hydrogen rockets, which produce water vapour as exhaust, are the most environment-friendly type of chemical rocket. Although there some technical difficulties with managing hydrogen rockets, the space shuttle program has shown that these can be overcome. Water vapour is a greenhouse gas, in fact one of the strongest, however this gas also stays in the atmosphere for a short time.

On the other hand, space colonization will also solve some environmental problems. For instance, asteroid mining would eliminate the need for mining on Earth. And mining is one of the leading causes of environmental degradation.

The costs of space colonization

Space-flight is expensive and so is space colonization. Therefore some people argue that given the large amount of poverty in the world, it is wrong to spend billions of dollars to a space colonization programs. However, these people are unaware that space colonization might be a solution for the problem of poverty.

The Solar System contains a lot of resources, so much that John Lewis has calculated that an equal distribution of these resources, would give every human on Earth a 100 billion dollars, which is much more than Bill Gates’ net wealth. Of course, this is somewhat extreme and this calculation is based on current prices of resources. When asteroid mining will increase the supply of this resources, their prices will fall. However, this price fall is not bad, since materials will become cheaper and so will the general price level. In this manner poor people can do more with their money.

Further, space colonization might increase employment, both in Space and on Earth, by creating all kinds of jobs. Even if the direct employment as result of space colonization will be limited, there is also the possible increase of indirect employment. Employees in the space industry will demand all kind of goods and services, which will create many more jobs etcetera.

Conclusion

Space colonization faces several difficult ethical question, however, it is also a potential solution for some ethical problems such as environmental damage and poverty.