• Posted: Jan 03, 2010 20:35:38
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Stanford University publishes a series of lectures, interviews, and discussions on podcast (available at iTunes) that survey various topics in Philosophy. Technically polished these podcasts are not. But, some of them are quite interesting. One I listened to recently, from the series Ethics at Noon, surveyed the landscape of thought relating to the ethics of how humans treat animals. I'd list the lecturer, but for some reason they don't name him. Odd, but as I said, they lack polish. The formal title of the lecture is "Rethinking the Ethical Implications of Animal Cognition". What is interesting about that particular lecture are the various attempts noted to define something called "moral consideration", that quality that gives one pause before doing something that may affect another. In other words, why I might hesitate before crushing an insect, eating meat, or cutting a tree. Or, why I might feel distress witnessing a parent swat their child. Or, why it pains me to think of needless suffering resultant from callously arrogant or inept government policies. In many ways, the whole lecture clashed disturbingly with something I was already thinking about: the notion of becoming.
With a brand new decade before us, who among us isn't pondering the chances of realizing a dream? We ponder, we plan, we take steps, we address obstructing problems, we persist. And in the end, if we are lucky, we achieve. Our life becomes what we once dreamt it might be. And even if we ultimately fail, the effort enriches us and intimately connects us to all the mystifying processes of life itself. The only problem is that whatever we do or don't do has consequence. And if we are willing to accept responsibility for those consequences, how are we to decide what is a good or benign consequence for others and what is not? And, who are the others we should or should not consider, anyway? What, exactly, are they to us? Finally, where are we to draw the line between what we will take responsibility for and what we do not or cannot take responsibility for?
None of those questions are trivial and the weight of all of them seems quite overpowering. Out of frustration, one might conclude that nothing can be done without hurting someone or something and that because the task of deciding what is good and what is not seems so daunting, the only rational course would be to not even bother. Whatever those consequences are or will be, they just aren't our problem. On the other hand, making an earnest effort to answer those questions, and act accordingly, should help us to become more the person we will, in the end, be proud of for having become. And that seems a worthy goal for this or any year.
Sunday, December 27th, 2009