Stoicism and Lab Grown Meat

I’ve posted enough vegan/vegetarian topics in the Stoicism Group (Stoic Philosophy) hosted by Donald Robertson on Facebook to know the answer to the vegan/vegetarian question.  I think I should be at least a vegetarian because of the bad conditions in factory farms.  Factory farms are bad for the workers, bad for the environment, and bad for animals we consume.  Is it anyone’s guess why they wouldn’t allow you to freely film what goes on in factory farms?  Usually people have to go undercover to film anything and what they discover is not for the faint of heart.

I described the question of whether Hierocles’s Circles applied to animals in order to establish whether Stoics should consume animals or not or whether it was acceptable to harm the environment.  But the problem is even if we don’t care about animals or the environment the way we care about other humans, we still have to prefer a good environment because if we harm the environment, then it will harm the human species, which we care about and should care about.  The Guardian wrote a story on this not too long ago here.

But what if we had Lab-Grown Meat?  Accroding to this article in the Atlantic, it will be so much better for the environment, less of a carbon footprint even, will be less costly in the long run, and have less incidents of food-poisoning.  So if world agriculture will have to feed 9 billion people by 2050, it will be extremely preferable to use lab-grown meat.  So if it means the survival of the human species, then lab-grown meat might be a necessary way of consuming meat soon.  As my high school civics teachers used to say, “we won’t kill the planet but the planet will probably kill us.”  So we have to care about the planet as a means to caring about ourselves.

What would the ancient Stoics think?  They’d probably be fine with lab-grown meat.  Especially since harvesting the meat wouldn’t require slaughter of animals that were sentient to begin with.  Since it could be mass produced in the future and be more efficiently produced and less expensive to produce than raising animals on a factory farm, it will be even cheaper.  The Stoics were cheap; they were willing to eat anything less costly and less extravagant than what the market produced in order to keep their desires in check.

So from a Stoic perspective, lab-grown meat is a win-win-win.  It’s a win for the animals, win for the environment, and, finally, a win for the humans.

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Do you need to be vegan in this day and age to be a proper Stoic?

That’s a good question I’m not sure I know the answer to.  Factory farms are not exactly the best things we can do to our animals meant for consumption.  Europe has managed to make a lot of laws forbidding mistreatment of animals meant for consumption.  The United States actually doesn’t use laws as much but corporate pressure from places like McDonalds is changing the way we treat animals here in the US.  A lot of corporations that sell meat for consumption in the US are going free range with a lot of their meat so the point of making laws might be moot soon.

Some of the ancient Stoics were vegetarians or dabbled in it.  In the ancient Greco-Roman days meat was considered a luxury item so to live a simple life meant give up meat.  Ancient Stoics weren’t ethical vegans or vegetarians except for the sense that they were trying to live more moderately.  They weren’t concerned with maximizing pleasure or reducing suffering of animals per se.  Of course, ancient Stoics didn’t have factory farms to contend with.  Back then everything was free range.  Well, definitely more free range than now.

So should you, a Stoic, be an ethical vegetarian/vegan these days?  I guess it depends on where you think how far out Hierocles’s Concentric Circles go.  If you think they expand out to only to humanity, then the answer is no, you don’t need to be an ethical vegetarian/vegan.  If you think they do expand out to animals and the environment, then maybe you should be looking to become a vegetarian/vegan.

Personally, I’m just kind of a fence-sitter on the issue who hasn’t really made up his mind.  Maybe it’s why I’m not a Sage.  🙂

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Which is more Stoic, dogs or cats?

The correct answer is neither is more “Stoic” than the other.  For one thing, they do not follow the philosophy of Zeno of Citium.  However, they both live approximately in agreement with nature.  Also, living in agreement with nature for a cat is very different than living in agreement with nature for a dog.

The question is how much does your individual cat or dog live in agreement with nature?  For a human to live in agreement with nature, they have to mature emotionally and rationally to their full potential.  Essentially, no one really completes their full potentiality because if they did, they’d be a Sage.   So the same probably goes for cats and dogs.  Does a cat or a dog ever really mature fully into their full potential?  Maybe a few but they’d be rarer than a phoenix.

What does it mean for a cat to live up to its full potential as a cat?  Well, perhaps it would have to be very good apex predator.  It would need to be able to catch mice really well.  It would need to take plenty of catnaps.  It would need eat the right amount and clean its coat sufficiently.  It might need to produce the requisite amount of hairballs.  Perhaps if you saw that cat, you’d be like, “well, that’s definitely a cat!”

What does it mean for a dog to live up to its full potential as a dog?  Well, perhaps it would need to be appropriately loyal to its human.  If it was a feral dog, maybe it would need to be part of a pack and maybe even do the appropriate things as a pack animal.  Perhaps it would be really good at following the lead dog or if it was a lead dog of the pack it would be really good at leading.  Maybe if a human called it “a good boy” it would take that as an initiative to be a good boy.  A “good” dog certainly would be very trainable.

So that’s the definitive answer.  Cats and dogs are not really any better than the other with regard to Stoicism.  Cats will be cats and dogs will be dogs.  Some dogs are better at being dogs than others.  Just like some cats are better than other cats at being cats.  Can anything ever really live in agreement with nature?  Not when taken apart.  But when looking at the whole nature definitely lives in agreement with itself.

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Why is virtue the only good?

It’s fundamental that virtue is the only good for a Stoic.  There’s not a perfect proof for why virtue is the sole good.  As my philosophy professor at Drury U used to say, “you just have to bite the bullet when deciding to commit to any particular ethical theory.” People at times despair that if an idea doesn’t have a geometric proof for it, then it’s pointless to commit to such an idea. I think with that kind of attitude, you won’t get far in life. Sometimes you believe in a position based on the best evidence and best reasons you have. I have the best reasons I can think of for why Stoic virtue is the sole good . I’d like to share those reasons. I’d like to contrast Stoicism with other ethical theories such as deontology, hedonistic utilitarianism, hedonism, and Epicureanism. I’d like to explain why virtue by itself is worthy of pursuit. I’d also like to discuss the Stoic Hierocles and his observation and theory regarding animal and human development.

In hedonistic utilitarianism, the good is maximum pleasure of the most people. Hedonistic utilitarianism requires decisions that we wouldn’t be comfortable making.  Utilitarianism necessitates calculating the best decision that serves the most good for the most people. One problem emerges that it’s not plausible to know what’s the best for the most amount of people.  For example, does utilitarianism permit slavery if a few slaves are unhappy versus the happy multitude who benefit from slavery?  That’s just one sort of problem with utilitarianism out of the multitude of increasing problems. 

What about Kantian deontology?  In Kantian deontology, the good is an action that comports with the categorical imperative, a dutiful action. Immanuel Kant asserted that his moral system outlined in Metaphysics of Morals  was in congruence with our commonsense.  But is it commonsense to always be honest and to always keep a promise no matter what and when? Is it commonsense that justice must be served even if it means the whole world’s destruction? Also, there are many times in our life where it seems sensible to sacrifice the one for the many; just think of war as an example.  Also how many of us would pull the lever to save 5 lives over 1 life from a murderous Trolley in ethical Trolley dilemmas?  Probably a significant amount.

Consider hedonism. In hedonism, pleasure is the sole good. Hedonism is appealing because prima facie, we do often seek pleasure and comfort and we avoid discomfort and pain. Pleasure as the sole good seems sensible enough. However, everyone knows that one should follow pleasure and avoid pain within limits. So what are these limits?  In terms of commonsense, we constrain our pursuit of pleasure and avoidance of pain within an ethical apparatus not aimed at pure pleasure.  So then pleasure isn’t the sole source of good.  Pleasure is actually limited by a higher good than pleasure itself.  Epicurus sought to deal with the virtue and pleasure issue. In Epicureanism Ataraxia is the sole good (Ataraxia: tranquility due to total lack of pain).  The Epicurean’s ethical project was assigning virtue as one path to total lack of pain. This wasn’t successful because despite endorsing the practice of virtue, the virtue rang hollow. Epicurus believed that we should be virtuous because if we behave viciously, we’ll be troubled by the legal consequences or even if we don’t get caught we’ll fear that we will be caught later. Virtue as an instrument to tranquility doesn’t mesh with our conception of justice and courage. We should be just and fair to one another because it’s just and fair and not because we’ll be without pain. Being courageous in itself is a desirable ethical goal. Being courageous as a path to freeing oneself of pain is not courage at all. Also, no Epicurean could argue consistently that one should sacrifice one’s own life for the lives of others. How would that be a path to long-term pleasure or the complete lack of pain?

The Stoics didn’t see pain and pleasure as relevant to virtue and vice. Yes, sometimes doing what’s right will result in some pleasure and doing what’s wrong will result in pain. But pain and pleasure do not always correlate with virtue or vice. If you err and you get yourself into trouble, the Stoics would say that you should learn from your mistakes and do not regret your mistakes because regret is an unnecessary passion to have. The Stoics knew that people make mistakes throughout their life, whether attempting to live the good life or being ignorant about how to live the good life. Stoicism entails humility.  We all make mistakes, so let’s try to fix them and then move on.  No sense living with remorse.  Sometimes, we are ashamed but there is no sense in extending our grief over our prior faults.

What’s more is Stoicism allows for pleasure but regards it as neutral.  Stoicism allows for the pursuit of wealth, health, education, reputation, and pleasure and regards them as preferred although “indifferent” or ethically neutral. Stoics can pursue preferred externals so long as they don’t interfere with the pursuit of virtue.  Since Stoics can pursue externals without interfering with virtue, then Stoics might seem like regular people. Pursuing the same externals that everyone else prefers allows for Stoics to live in harmony with people around them. However, Stoics will stand out if there is an injustice and no one but them has the courage to stand against it.

Virtue is popular when people think about what virtue entails.  When people reflect on the virtue courage, they’d think that the soldier who jumps on the grenade to save the lives of other soldiers did good.  Most people would think that someone that risks their own life saving two kids from drowning is a brave person .  People have an ethical sense that corroborates virtue is the sole good.  That’s not to say that everyone has a perfect sense for what is virtuous but when people do take the time to reflect about what a good person is, they’ll think of someone behaving virtuously rather than a person who chooses what’s expedient as the right course of action.

So we know that people value courage and fairness. Couldn’t we be fooling ourselves and we only act courageous for pleasure? The Stoic Hierocles observed animals and humans and noted that all humans begin their infancy with self-love.  Eventually as people grow and develop their love expands outward from their self to their family, outward from their family to their community, and finally outward from their community to all of humanity.   Hierocles also observed that animals were not merely motivated by pleasure and pain. Often animals would put themselves in harms way to protect their young. Human beings also endanger their lives for loved ones on a frequent basis. So humans aren’t purely motivated by pleasure, they’re motivated by protecting their own physical constitution in infancy and then later their own rational constitution. Humans and animals are motivated out of a concern for their own constitution and their own offspring’s constitution than they are with their own pleasure or pain.

So it’s worth biting the bullet for the axiom, “virtue is the only good.”  It’s because there’s just a smidgen to lose biting the bullet for virtue than there is for biting the bullet for utilitarianism, deontology, hedonism, and Epicureanism.

Stoicism and David Hume

David Hume held the belief that ethics couldn’t be derived from reason but only from sentiment.  Basically, morality is founded on non-rational emotional responses to experience.  Hume thought of reason like a dog tied to a cart going wherever passion/desire would take it and doing so quite willingly.

Stoicism’s views are similar to Hume’s in the early stages of human development; for example, young children are motivated by the sentiment of self-love.  However, when humans grow older they develop bonding relationships with people around them and eventually their rational faculties develop and they extend their self-love to love of others.  First they develop love for their family, then their friends, then their community, then eventually for humanity.

The difference between Hume and the Stoics is that the Stoics believe that as you mature, you’ll eventually overcome sentimental morality.  How does this come about?  Well, it has to do with taking a look in the mirror and getting to know ourselves.  Once we know ourselves we realize that our emotions are inflamed or defused by our cognitive/rational beliefs about the world.

Hume would say that our moral judgment comes from emotions/desires that are essentially beyond our control.  But the Stoics believed that our emotions/desires were based on rational judgments that are within our control.  In fact, the Stoics were clever enough to distinguish proto-passions from passions.  Proto-passions are the knee-jerk feelings you get instantly from stimuli but passions come about from how you reflectively/actively decide to feel about the initial stimuli in the long-run.

Stoicism is actually quite radical because it essentially says that all of your desires or aversions to the external events or things in the world are based on cognitive/rational values you hold about those events or things.  If you strongly desire ice cream, it’s because you believe ice cream to be good.  If you hate ice cream, it’s because you believe ice cream to be bad.  The Stoics were quite clever in how they dealt with desires/aversions because they replaced desires/aversions with preferences or dis-preferences because we should view the externals in our life as indifferent in light of our rational/cognitive moral judgment.  The only true thing we should desire is virtue which is the true good, so everything else external is indifferent.

So Stoicism agrees with Hume in the early development of human beings but as reason develops in human beings, it grows and contributes more to passion than passion contributes to it.  Stoicism, as a philosophy, amazingly kicks reason into high gear and allows us to really hone in on our passions, whether negative or positive, and learn how to manipulate them with reason.  It’s not that reason is abstract/universal in a Kantian sense, reason is actually very concrete/contextual and interacts very strongly with the passions/desires and every value-laden belief we hold.

Hume is good for helping us think about our sentiments such that we wonder if our reason is more based on sentiments than our sentiments are based on reason.  However, the Stoics are essentially right that reason prevails in our life.   Well, reason prevails in our life if we allow ourselves to mature.

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David Hume

Is any judgment that inflames our anger acceptable in Stoicism?

Most people understand that you don’t want to be angry most of the time.  Aristotle agrees but he thinks we should sometimes show show anger as long as it’s the right amount of anger at the right time at the right person in the right situation for the right reason.  The Stoics disagree.  But why?

The reason is largely that anger usually relies on the judgment that externals are bad, which is a misjudgment since externals are neither good nor bad.  But here’s a tough question:  what about people?  Aren’t people either good or bad according to Stoicism?  Well, we need to have the proper judgments about people as well.  But wouldn’t judging someone as a bad person make us mad?  No, because we know that someone who is bad is just ignorant and misguided.  If the bad person knew that the virtuous life led to eudaimonia and had that wisdom to guide them, they would no longer be bad because being bad never pays.  If being bad never pays, then obviously people only do bad things out of ignorance.

What about people who suffer from injustices?  Well, that’s a situation that is bad but even then it doesn’t call for anger but for action.  Yes, it’s understandable that people get angry at injustice but the Stoic knows that even anger as a proto-passion needn’t turn into an anger passion.  The Stoic knows that anger is a temporary form of madness and that it interferes with objective thought processes.  So the Stoic may feel anger at first but will let it pass.  Continuing to be angry after the initial anger at injustice is no longer necessary as it’s time to develop an action plan to help put an end to injustice.

So in conclusion I’d like to say most situations that piss people off aren’t even bad.  They’re just dispreferred indifferents.  And the situations (like an injustice) that do piss people off because they’re bad aren’t even reasons enough to stay mad but to act and plan and to act and plan.  So just remember if you start letting yourself get angry after an initial injury, just quickly let the anger blow over and carry on.  Don’t feed the anger, just let it pass.

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Stoic ethics vs Objectivist ethics

Ayn Rand was somewhat of a virtue ethicist and believed her values were inspired by Aristotle.  Ayn Rand took a turn towards egoism though and explained her values as selfish but not the worst kind of selfishness but the best kind selfishness – known as enlightened selfishness.

From what I understand Objectivist virtues included rationality, honesty, justice, independence, integrity, productiveness, and pride.  This doesn’t seem bad but all of these virtues are defined within the realm of enlightened egoism, which is superior to regular egoism but still has many problems.  One problem is that Ayn Rand suggests that you should never live for another but only for yourself and another should only live for themselves and not for another.

Living for yourself and not for another seems great at first or maybe great in general but it’s actually problematic as an absolute philosophy to live by.  The problem is most people will find it highly ethical for a soldier to land on a grenade to save the lives of other soldiers from being killed by the shrapnel and explosion.  Or what about someone who selflessly gives up all their belongings to 20 people who absolutely need the belongings?  That is living for another before living for yourself.  But it seems absolutely ethical to do those things.  In fact, some instances of giving up one’s life for others is beyond the call of duty.

Ayn Rand was once asked if someone was drowning should you save the person?  She said that you should.  But she’s got a curious form of ethics that seems to undermine that idea.  It seems like following her ethical advice if saving someone meant some threat to your existence, you shouldn’t even bother.

The Stoic ethical virtues wisdom, justice, temperance, and courage are all within the mean between selfishness and selflessness.  Sometimes doing something good will require you to give up a lot of your free time and not rewarding some of your selfish desires.  But Stoicism doesn’t let you just treat yourself like a doormat to people.  Sometimes you will have to stand up for yourself and your principles.  But this is uniquely different than living only for yourself and not for another.  Sometimes it’s your Stoic duty to selflessly help others when their needs outweigh yours.  Being a Stoic doesn’t mean you always have to give up your life for others needs but it does mean giving up some of your time and some of your hard earned wealth to help others in need.  Just remember that before you think Stoicism and Objectivism are compatible philosophies.

What does Marcus Aurelius mean by “the best revenge is to be unlike him who performed the injury”?

Marcus Aurelius says, “the best revenge is to be unlike him who performed the injury.”  Does that mean we can’t act in retaliation if someone uses violence against us?  No.  Does that mean we can’t perform a similar act towards someone who just performed an aggressive act towards us?  No.

Marcus Aurelius was meaning that we shouldn’t have the same intention and negative passions that led someone to injure us.  It doesn’t mean that if a nation attacks another nation, the nation attacked shouldn’t respond in force.  If it meant that, then Marcus Aurelius would be a hypocrite responding in force against the barbarian threat against the Empire.

Stoicism is a virtue ethics, so it cares about the character and intent of the agent.  If someone attacks you violently, you might have to attack back but with a whole different intention than the one that the other person had.  Your intention is to neutralize the threat.  The intention of the person who caused the injury is to cause injury because they’re mad at you.  Very different from a virtue ethics stance.

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Stoicism and Moral Responsibility

Most people if you ask them if they believe that everything has a cause, they’ll likely say yes.  Most people if you ask them if they believe that everyone is basically morally responsible, they’ll likely say yes.

The ancient Stoics believed everyone was morally responsible more or less and that everything including our own behaviors were causally determined.  The question of course is how can you be morally responsible and determined to do what you do?

Well, one clever Stoic by the name of Chrysippus believed he possessed the answer.  Chrysippus believed human action could be modeled by a cylinder rolling down an incline.  Basically, the cylinder’s shape represents your character and the incline’s angle represents fate (gravity being a given).  Your character, represented by the shape of the cylinder, had an effect on how the cylinder would roll down the incline.  Chryippus thought that your character is where you possessed some control over how your fate was determined.  Essentially, the idea was that everything was fated but we co-fate our future to a limited extent.  The shape of our characters is where we possess some control and that’s where we find moral responsibility.

Something counter-intuitive that the Stoics would say is, yes, we have limited freedom to coordinate our future given whether fate allows but on top of that, none of us are truly free except for the Sage.  Ancient Stoics believed that if you couldn’t truly be a master of all of your passions and desires, you were a slave to your passions/desires and ultimately were not truly free.  So even though Stoicism does make room for soft determinism (the position that moral responsibility and determinism are compatible), it also seems to paradoxically hold a hard determinist position that there is no true freedom for anyone except for the Sage.

So we end with that paradox.  We all possess limited amount of freedoms that are compatible with a determinist universe.  But ultimately we’re not truly free like the Sage.  We’re only capable of being free but not truly so.  So we still have to live with the idea that each of us each bear responsibility even if truly the Sage only truly bears responsibility.  We’re living an illusion of freedom because we’re all still slaves to our desires/passions unless we become truly free from our desires/passions and become Sages.

What do you all think?  Are we free or not?

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