Recently I wrote about intuitionism – things that we simply “know” to be right non-inferentially – and its limitations. How does one discern between a principle actually being right and it merely seeming right to a particular person? If intuitionism functioned correctly then all individuals would reach the same moral conclusions, yet people reach different conclusions when confronted with identical ethical problems.
Discussing the validity of intuitionism is a fun and relatively harmless was to pass the time up in the ivory tower. (At least for some strange individuals it is.) Things become more heated, however, when we try to make decisions in the real world based on what we intuitively know.
One area where this becomes apparent are reflections on what humans ought to eat. Here attention commonly turns towards ethical examinations of dairy, meat, and poultry consumption and discussions quickly become polarized.
For example, animal rights activists reject consumption of animal products on ethical grounds per se and further argue that there is no physiological necessity for humans to consume them. Evolutionary biologists counter that it is precisely because our ancient ancestors began to eat meat that we evolved into homo sapiens.
Regarding diet and GHG emissions, although diverse studies reach various and partially contradictory conclusions regarding which diet – omnivorous, flexitarian, vegetarian, or vegan – has the lowest ecological footprint, there is a fairly clear overriding consensus that a pure vegan diet most effectively reduces CO2 emissions. So, on grounds of preventing climate change we have an argument that we ought to become vegans.
However, here we encounter a problem. The ability to adopt a vegan lifestyle is not equally distributed. A single 22-year-old student has a far lower barrier of entry in opting for a plant based diet as a family of five. This is an example of the paradox of Kant’s Law of ought implies can.
Still others understand the connection between meat and GHGs. They are extremely conscious about where they purchase meat and dairy products but are, however, not motivated by per se ethical arguments against meat and dairy consumption. Additionally, they may not feel informed enough to take a clear stance on the physiological meat-based protein debate.
As we can see, discussions quickly become multi-faceted and what we believe to “know” may not be that clear.
What things do you believe to “know” but may not be so certain of on further reflection? Leave a comment.