My Interview with Brian Walsh for Rational Alchemy

by Luke Muehlhauser on December 15, 2010 in Ethics

While in Colorado to give my speech on The Science of Morality, I also did an interview with Brian Walsh, host of the Rational Alchemy show, on the same topic. Because of Brian’s skills as an interview, I think I did a better job explaining my thoughts on the science of morality in this interview than I did in my speech! So go have a listen.

Below is the transcript…

BRIAN: This is kind of a special episode. I have a guest live, in studio, which is exceedingly rare: Luke Muehlhauser, author of the Common Sense Atheism blog. Jeff and Nigel are not here because this is an abnormal night for recording and they weren’t available, so it’ll be just me and Luke. Luke, how are you today?

LUKE: I’m doing great, Brian.

BRIAN: Great. Now, I was thinking of how I could introduce you properly for this show and then I realized I can’t do it any justice, so why don’t we just start – for people who may be unfamiliar – just give us a very brief background for Common Sense Atheism and yourself.

LUKE: Well Common Sense Atheism grew out of an experience in my personal life where I had been raised an evangelical Christian for about 20 years, and then I did some studying and found out that Christianity was false and God probably didn’t exist, and that was very distressing for me at the time but I ended up feeling that it was okay, and eventually came to the conclusion that it was actually really good if people engage with reality as it really is and don’t have to depend on imaginary friends to get  through their day. I so I wanted to share this good news of atheism with people, and so I started this blog called Common Sense Atheism and I’ve been doing a lot of popularizing of philosophy of religion and philosophy of ethics on that and in a couple of podcasts.

BRIAN: I’m always interested in hearing about people’s conversion stories. The listeners have heard mine often enough; I’ll save it for the bar, later. But what was it that actually happened? It seems like – you said you were 20, was that it?

LUKE: Yeah, something like that.

BRIAN: I was an atheist by 12 – it’s not a contest – but what was it that keps you going for that long that suddenly changed?

LUKE: Well, for me, you know, that was my whole world. I didn’t have anybody disagreeing with me or telling me otherwise, and all the people that I loved and respected believed in God, so it was just natural; it was the world I was in. And I think that’s the case for a lot of people. But as often happens, when you go to college you encounter things that you never encountered before, and that made a big difference. Now at the time, I had actually had – late in my adolescence – a great deal of depression about the fact that I was a tall white male in a rich society and this was very distressing, and so I was having some emotional problems, and my experience with God actually lifted me out of that, and I came to see that the mountains and the trees and all the beautiful things in the world were gifts from God to me – it was very narcissistic.

But this actually lifted me out of a slight depression in my late teenage years, and so at that point in my life all I wanted to do was to be like Jesus to a lost and hurting world. That’s all I wanted to do. But that meant I had to figure out who Jesus really was, because a lot of different people had different ideas about who Jesus was: was he a social prophet, was he like a hippie? What was he? So that meant I had to study the historical Jesus.

So I read what people in my community – Christian evangelical scholars – said about the historical Jesus, and learned a lot of things that I had not learned from the pulpit. Now these are pretty basic things in seminary, but even from the pulpit they don’t share them, because maybe they would challenge people’s faith if Christians new about them. Really basic facts like the fact that the message of Jesus was quite a bit different from the message of Paul, and in fact it’s the message of Paul that is more foundational to what Christianity became than the message of Jesus, which was really shocking to me.

And then of course I also discovered that there really are a lot of contradictions in the Bible, which is exactly what you would expect if you understand that it’s a library of books that were written over many centuries by dozens of different authors with different worldviews. So contradictions are obvious unless you have this crazy idea that the whole library was written by a deity, or inspired by a deity, who is infallible.

So I ran into these things that are really basic to seminary-trained pastors but are not shared from the pulpit, and it really challenged my faith, and that led me into Christian apologetics, because I wanted to bolster my faith and defend my faith and figure out: well, okay, maybe that’s stuff wrong, but there are good reasons to believe, right? I consulted the Christian apologists, and, to be fair I had to read a little bit of the atheists, and it turned out that what the atheists said just made plain, simple sense, and the Christians had to do all these intellectual backflips to try to defend things, and it just didn’t work, and I lost my faith in God.

That was actually really depressing for me at the time because I had been told that without God there is no meaning and purpose or morality in life, so that was really hard, but later of course I found out that there are millions and millions of atheists who have been living just fine purposeful and moral lives without God for thousands of years.

So then I recovered, and eventually I discovered that the naturalistic world of seeing the world is actually really great, and really beneficial to you and to society. And so I wanted to share that journey and that insight and that knowlegde that I came to with other people, because I think it can benefit them.

BRIAN: I agree, and I think to an extent that’s what I try to do.

LUKE: Yeah!

BRIAN: …maybe not as well as some. But it’s always nice to see atheists who are positive, who are actually friendly, who are engaging, because so many of them are not. I mean, Richard Dawkins, I find him hilarious, I respect his views a lot, but when it comes to portraying a positive face of atheism, he – and P.Z. Myers is another great example – are about as cuddly as a cactus.

LUKE: That could be true.

BRIAN: I think they could be a little off-putting, but your blog doesn’t strike me as being anywhere near that kind of direction. Same thing with Dan Barker, who I had on earlier – very approachable, very friendly, and that’s really beneficial. We need a lot more of that. But enough of the ass-kissing… You’ve touched on a little bit how you kind of panicked a little when you became an atheist. I certainly did. I was 12, as I said. And for me it was kind of like realizing that Santa Claus wasn’t real.

Obviously when I was 12, I had a less robust understanding of what it was that I was potentially losing, whereas your religion was with you for a lot longer. You had much more invested in it. So did you have that – it seems like you did – did you have that feeling where you don’t want to give this up, and you try everything that you can, and like me, it just seems like to have completely failed.

LUKE: I prayed to God many nights that he would somehow magically remove the studies of the historical Jesus from my brain – somehow – so that I could just have faith and just believe and unlearn what I had learned, but that didn’t happen, and I wished that I could unlearn and just go back and even if it was false, I was so emotionally committed to the joy and purpose that I found in Christianity, that I was willing to sacrifice intellectual honesty and say, “God, just don’t let me be aware of these things anymore, I’m so desperate to be a Christian that I want you to take this knowledge away from me so that I can be a Christian.”

But of course it didn’t happen, and so I had no choice. I couldn’t believe in God anymore after what I had learned. And that was really hard. But like I say, later I found that tons of atheists have lived moral and happy lives since then, and I followed in their step.

BRIAN: Now in recent years it’s become a lot easier to become an atheist, it’s much more acceptable. But when you came out as an atheist, I suppose, it was right on the cusp of that. How did your family react to this?

LUKE: It was really difficult for my parents, and I think part of it is that they literally believe that their loving savior will cause their beloved son to be tortured in hell for eternity, and that’s a very disturbing thought. But I think actually even more so, it’s just the fact that I am rejecting all of the values and the truths that they raised me with. And that’s just incredibly hard for any parent to take.

Now I’m lucky and I have really great parents, and so it was hard for them but we still have good relationships. We just don’t talk very much about atheism because it’s too hard for them. But really my parents are great. Other people really just don’t talk about it, and I don’t really push them on it, because I’m not sure what’s more important to me – that I persuade my friends and family, or that those relationships continue on a healthy and profitable basis. Whereas on a website or something I’m much more willing to just tell it straight and – you know, I’m not dishonest with anybody ever, I just don’t see the need to talk about that with my friends and family.

BRIAN: I kinda see how you feel, but it’s kind of a little bit of both, isn’t it? When I’m with my parents, I do want to make sure that I maintain a proper relationship with them and a friendly relationship with them, but at the same time, I can’t resist getting little digs in now and again. And I bet you can’t stop yourself either.

LUKE: I really try hard to stop myself, but… I make it clear, but I don’t put in digs. For some reason, it’s just… my family’s too personal and care too much about it to risk the relationship. But that’s just a personal choice, I really know anything about what’s moral to do or whatever, that’s just a personal choice for me.

BRIAN: Well that brings up a good question and an interesting segue to: What is moral about that? That seems to be the focus of a lot of your writings: morality, where it comes from, and what it is. I have a kind of cynical view on morality, and it’s one I’m hoping you can disabuse me of, because a lot of people can tell me I’m wrong, but I don’t get a very good reason for why.

I’m stating this without trying to give any definition for what morality is, so maybe that’s the first thing we should do. But I tend to think of morality as being something that is more or less a consensus in a society, because morals, and what people think of as morals, seem to change vastly depending on a society. It doesn’t seem like there’s any set thing that a moral, it seems like it’s a consensus. And I can see why a lot of people would reject the notion of morality if they don’t necessarily agree with it, or because they don’t think that it’s valid in the first place. What would you say to that?

LUKE: I think anthropology are going to take very much your line. They’re going to talk about morality in terms of what is considered moral in a particular society. And that’s a valid use of the word “morality.” It’s different from what philosophers mean when they talk about morality, but, they’re just different subject matters so they have different definitions for their terms.

If we’re talking about things like moral behavior or moral beliefs or moral attitudes, certainly we can talk about what people generally consider to be moral in a particular society, and that’s a profitable discipline. That’s very useful to talk about what societies think is moral, and how that changes over time.

A philosopher answers a different kind of question about morality. Philosophers are very interested in that kind of anthropological question about societies, but a philosopher wants to know if there’s something more behind that. Is it the case that a culture could be right or wrong about their moral values? Is it the case that there’s something intrinsically valuable about the world? Is it the case that there are things in the world that are intrinsically valuable? Is it the case that there are things that are really right or really wrong, such that one culture might be right and one culture might be wrong in their moral beliefs?

So we have to separate the issue of moral beliefs and attitudes from moral facts. And it might be that there are no moral facts, and that’s a pretty common position, and I think a pretty respectable position, honestly. But they are two different questions.

What moral values hold in a particular society is something that’s relatively easy to measure, and I really appreciate that about it, but it is a different question from: Could a society be right or wrong about the moral values that they hold? Do their moral values successfully refer to things in the real world, like intrinsic value or whatever you’re basing morality on.

BRIAN: Well that was one of the question I had, is whether there is such a thing as an absolute morality. I’m one of the people who finds it hard to believe that there could be, and also – because I’m cynical – I tend to view people who have very tightly defined morals as being hypocritical, because I see these same people giving up on these morals whenever it becomes personally convenient.

Whenever somebody says that they really want to do everything they can to help the homeless person, and they walk past one who asks them for a quarter, they tend to either completely ignore them or say “No” or lecture them about getting a job, which seems in direct violation to what it is that they really believe. And maybe it’s not just a matter of convenience, but it always struck me as that way, as a kind of laziness – as a way of living your life as comfortably as possible while still talking big.

LUKE: I think you’re write about hypocrisy. Hypocrisy is rampant. That’s part of the human condition, I think. Another example of what you talked about is… I heard recently from a skeptic in New York named Julia Galef who has found a new way to convince people that they should be vegetarians morally. The way she does it is that she walks up to people and asks, “Do you think bestiality is right or wrong.” And people say, “Bestiality is wrong.” And she says, “Why?” And they say, “Well, because the animals didn’t consent to it, so we’re violating the animal in some way.” And she says, “Did the animals in the meat factory that you ate in your last meal, did they give consent to be killed and sometimes skinned alive or tortured or held in a tiny chamber for their entire lives so that they could be grown fat and break their legs?”

And people pause, and they realize that because of the values that they already hold, they really shouldn’t be eating meat. But most of them don’t become vegetarians. Most of them just say, “Gosh, I guess you’re right. Um… but I just don’t have the energy or the time to be moral on that issue.”

So I think a lot of people are aware that they’re not perfectly moral beings, and the fact that they don’t always act in accordance with their moral principles really just means that we’re aware that we’re not perfectly moral beings, and that we are hypocrites some of the time, and that we do things that are personally convenient whether or not they’re morally correct.

BRIAN: As for “morally correct,” I think that might be hard to define, but the question of people being moral… How do you even really tell? How do you decide if somebody is moral? How do you make somebody stay moral? Or perhaps: Given the meat argument, how do you change somebody’s mind on something like that? Because clearly arguments like that don’t really work, and then of course you have the snarky people who say, “Well that’s true, but while I’d imagine an animal wouldn’t like being locked in a cage, if I give an animal an orgasm it will probably be happy with me.” And I’ve gotten that response as well. I have to admit it’s hard to argue with, but…

LUKE: I don’t think that’s what we’re doing in our current practice.

BRIAN: No, I don’t think so.

LUKE: I think we mostly focus on the torture and the killing of the animals.

BRIAN: I think that’s probably true. Well, there are certain states, but I’m not gonna go into that.

But what do you do to make somebody – and okay, ‘make somebody’ probably isn’t the right term – but convince somebody to act more morally. Let’s say we’ve decided on a moral standard, I’m not gonna make any attempt at saying what that is, but let’s say we’ve decided on a moral. How do you get people to actually act that way?

LUKE: Well I think there’s a fantasy that we all have about how we could convince people who are not motivated to do moral things – how would we convince them to be moral? How would we convince the psychopath or the Mr. Scrooge to act morally, instead of to act like Scrooge? And I think there’s a couple different way to do it, but one of the ways that we can’t do it is to provide this logical argument where we prove to Scrooge that it’s morally wrong to do such and such, and then he’s gonna look at the argument and say, “Gosh, you know what? That’s a valid argument! You’re right! I’m gonna start giving to the poor now.”

I don’t think that’s psychologically realistic. I think it very rarely happens.

But there are a couple of different ways that we can change people’s moral behavior and try to get them to follow some pre-defined principle.

The first way is that we can appeal to their existing desires and beliefs. So for example we can say, “If you do this, I’m going to lock you up in prison.” This is the way of law. We already know they desire to not be locked up in prison, and we can make them believe that if they do this we will lock them up in prison and thwart their desires. So that’s one way that we might be able to persuade them to act in a certain way. And that works in some cases.

Another way is that we could change their beliefs. We could convince them that there’s an invisible guy in the sky who’s going to torture them eternally if they masturbate. That would be one way to try to change people’s behavior. And sometimes that works, if we can change their beliefs.

The other way is that we can change their desires. Now this usually happens through things like praise and condemnation. I remember when I was a Christian I had a very negative view of homosexuality, because of my upbringing and my teaching in the Christian church. And I went to college and I encountered a lot of people who I really respected who gave me a lot of condemnation for the way that I thought about gays. And that condemnation changed my desires and my attitude toward homosexuality.

And I think that happens sometimes, where our desires can actually be changed by things like praise and condemnation.

I also know a lot of people who, for example, decided that they want to become vegetarians. They were actually able to change their desires about something really basic like food. And here’s how they did it. They watched a lot of videos of animals being tortured in the food production process, and they literally developed a distaste for meat, where they don’t like the taste of meat anymore. Now this is amazing to me, but it apparently happens, so there are ways to change people’s desires as well.

And there’s not one right answer about how we can change someone’s behavior – whether through appealing to their existing beliefs and desires like the law does, or by changing their beliefs, or by changing their desires. [For a correction on this way of categorizing the possibilities, see here.] It might be that certain answers to the problem are correct in different situations. For example, if a pedophile is dragging your child into his car, that’s not the correct time whip out moral praise and condemnation to try to change his desires. We don’t have time for that. What we should do is appeal to his existing beliefs and desires and say, “We’re gonna call the men with the guns if you continue, if you don’t drop my child right now.”

But there might be other cases where appealing to existing beliefs and desires is not a very good way to proceed, and to control people’s behavior. If a Nazi guard appears outside your door and says, “Where are the Jews that live next to you?” That’s probably not the time to appeal to existing beliefs and desires, it might the time to change their alter their beliefs, “I have no idea where they are. Definetely not in my attic.” Although you probably wouldn’t want to say it that way.

So there are different situations in which these three options are going to be most beneficial in changing someone’s behavior.

BRIAN: It’s interesting, you didn’t bring up the one that I think works the best. The first one…

LUKE: Appealing to existing beliefs and desires.

BRIAN: Well, applying law. That can work sometimes, but a lot of people tend to have a rejection of that, because they feel like they’re being told to do something, which in fact they are. Changing people’s beliefs I think is very difficult, although the two of us are pretty good examples of the fact that it can happen, because we had very strong beliefs in religion at one time.

The third one, kind of falls into shaming people, and I think that one actually works. If everybody that you’re surrounded by thinks that you’re doing something awful and keeps telling you that you’re doing something awful, even if you don’t change your mind, you’re probably going to change your behavior. That one I find effective.

But there’s one other bit that I think is effective, and that is creating a framework where it becomes easy for the person to make the right choice. I’m gonna use recycling as an example. When people first started talking about recycling, most people thought it was absurd. Some people still think it’s absurd, in fact it might actually be, but I’m not gonna get into that.

Recycling took off because of the the third part – the shaming, the social ostracism - if you didn’t start acting beneficially and acting green, and if you did just little. But the other thing, the biggest part, was that it became very easy.

One people started talking about this, recycling bins started popping up everywhere. And if you have a recycling bin next to a trash can, only the most absent-minded or belligerent person is going to purposely put the recyclable material in the trash can. They’ll realize that it takes them no more effort to recycle than it would to throw it out. In a lot of cases, I think that’s difficult. The pedophile example, probably isn’t going to work in that case.

LUKE: Probably not.

BRIAN: I don’t know how you could make it easier for a pedophile to have the equivalent of sex with an 8-year-old instead of actually having the 8-year-old. In that case, maybe it’s easier just to start shooting. I don’t think that would be immoral at all. Maybe that’s a moral judgment on my part, but I’m gonna make it.

But for most things, making something easy for someone is what’s really going to do it. And again, I’m fairly cynical about the people I share the planet with. I really don’t think people want to change. They need to be made to change. And I don’t like forcing behavior because to me that’s not moral to force somebody to do something, but to give them the option and make it easy, I think it does work.

LUKE: I think that’s a very important way to affect people’s behavior. There’s a great book on this called Nudge that people can check out if they want, where it has tons of examples where this has actually been put into practice and it works very well. One example is… in countries where you have to opt out of being an organ donor, organ donorship is like 95% because it’s easier to just not fill out any form at all and just by default be an organ donor. Whereas countries in which you have to fill out a new form in order to become an organ donor, the rate is more like 20%. And so it’s much easier in that case, to not fill out the form, and not be an organ donor.

So whether or not you’re an organ donor depends very little on the moral values that you hold, and almost entirely on how easy to is.

So I think what you’ve point out there is a really important way to change people’s behavior that we should be implementing more. It’s another example of appealing to existing beliefs and desires. Law is one example, and setting in place policies that make certain things easy is another, and that’s very important.

BRIAN: And are you an organ donor?

LUKE: I don’t even know. I’m a terrible person.

BRIAN: I am, and I can prove it.

LUKE: I think I am, I think I did do that when I was 16 or whatever.

BRIAN: So far we’ve been talking about morality in action and what we can do to change people’s ideas, but we still haven’t really defined what we currently – at least in America – consider to be properly moral. And we’re probably not gonna come to agreement on what that consensus is. So instead, where do you think people actually get their moral from?

Obviously if you ask a Christian they’re gonna say, “From the Bible.” And we could have an awful lot of fun going off on a tangent explaining exactly why that’s not true.

LUKE: We could.

BRIAN: So where do we actually get our morals from? Do you have any opinion on that?

LUKE: Well my opinion’s not very interesting, what’s more interesting is what the people doing research in cognitive psychology and anthropology have to say about it. I don’t know the answer but there are a number of promising theories. One type of theory is that our moral beliefs and attitudes and the way we feel toward certain types of actions comes directly from the evolutionary adaptiveness of those feelings. So for example, we are a social species, and if in a small tribe you’re the person who does not have a very strong aversion to physically killing someone, you’re probably not gonna get along very well in that society and you’re gonna be pushed out of that society, away from the resources of that society if you kill someone. Because people are gonna know that this is not going to work out very well if he’s killing people.

So I think that kind of story might explain why we hold some of our moral values and intuitions that we have, but I don’t really know.

Another theory is that our moral attitudes are just a byproduct of something that else that was evolutionarily adaptive. And that’s very common in evolutionary history, maybe that’s what our moral attitudes are.

But it’s certainly something in the brain chemistry that produces our moral attitudes and beliefs and the fact that we share certain moral values not just across culture but in fact a few of them across species, seems to indicate that it’s something that evolved in our brain chemistry. So how that happened exactly I don’t know, but there are a number of interesting researchers on there. People can read authors like Scott Atran or Justin Barrett on those issues. [Oops, I named some theorists on the evolution of religion! The evolution of morality is discussed by authors like Richard Joyce and Frans de Waal.]

BRIAN: Okay, and even further than that, if you live in a culture that has a very clearly defined set of morals, do you have to adhere to it anyway? I’m gonna bring up an example: In America, nudity – public nudity – is considered very bad, very immoral, and you can get locked up for it if you post a picture – just something tame like a Playboy centerfold – in a public place. You can get arrested for doing that.

However in a lot of European countries, that same centerfold would be part of an advertisement and would be much, much larger. Now I think that most rational people realize that seeing a pair of boobs on a wall isn’t going to do any real damage to a person – any normal person. So if I live in a culture – which I do – which condemns that kind of thing, do you think I’d really have to go along with it, or can I just be myself?

LUKE: Well we can give another example, too. I think we all have our own examples of what we consider to be immoral laws. And I think most of us probably think that we aren’t morally bound to follow immoral laws. For example, laws that enforce our culture of racism. A lot of us felt – I wasn’t alive, but a lot of us felt that those laws were immoral. And I’m very glad that people fought against those laws and lobbied to change those laws because they were immoral laws.

But now, you’re asking a question about do I have to follow the laws, and apart from what we believe about whether or not we have to follow the laws, I’m not sure how to answer that. What do you mean by…

BRIAN: Well technically we have to follow the laws because otherwise we get locked up, but morally do we have to? And you kind of did answer that question, but if I feel that something isn’t based on any kind of intellectual grounding or moral grounding, do I have to abstain from that behavior?

Let me clarify a little bit more. Some people seem to think that morals are about societal cohesiveness. It’s what makes everybody place nicely together, and without that it would fall apart and we’d all become poo-slinging anarchists or something. I don’t think it could be taken quite that far, but there are a lot of people who really do believe that – people who live in a culture where, say, homosexuality is not permissible, who abstain from homosexual acts because they’re afraid of the impact it would have on society. To that I call “Bullshit,” myself – but should I be? If I’m living in a culture that really believes society will fall apart if I do that, which really is my duty? Do I follow along and keep up that moral threshold in order to preserve the status quo and not cause controversy, or do I put myself on the line, risk all of that damage and harm that could come to me personally for speaking out against it… I think in the long term that could be beneficial, but in the short term it could be absolutely awful. Which one’s the right thing to do?

LUKE: Well any time you ask me a question about “should I morally do that?” or “morally ought I to do this?” I am going to demand that you give me a definition of what you mean by “morally ought.” And the reason I have to do that is because words can confuse us so much when we don’t define them precisely.

So for example, if we have a debate about whether or not Buddhism is a religion, it’s crucial to that debate that we define what we mean by “religion.” Because if we define religion as “some kind of structure belief in supernatural beings,” many forms of Buddhism are not going to be a religion. But if we define religion in terms of a particular structure of traditions, and moral values, and a path toward meaning and purpose, then Buddhism probably does qualify as a religion.

And so in the same way, I’m gonna say, “Look, if you give this definition of what ‘morally ought’ means, then we can answer your question about whether you morally ought to do X or Y. But if you give this other definition of ‘morally ought’, then it might be a different answer as to whether we morally ought to do X or Y, depending on that definition.”

So what do you mean by “morally ought” when you say, “Morally ought I do this?”

BRIAN: I have absolutely no idea.

LUKE: You know what? And I think you are in good company. I think so many people have no idea what they mean. I mean honestly – and I do this too – like, when I list ‘best movies’ on the internet on some list website, I don’t even know what I mean by ‘best movie.’ I mean, I don’t know how to define that! I just kind of throw up a list of movies that I thought were really good, and I don’t really even know what that means.

So I think the only way to actually answer questions is to define the terms that are in the question. And that seems really obvious. If you’re gonna ask a question about religion, you have to have a definition of religion. If you’re gonna ask a question about wood, you have to have a definition of wood. It’s the same thing in morality, and I don’t know why it’s hard for us to see that. But if you’re gonna talk about morally ought, you have to define what you mean by ‘morally ought.’

BRIAN: And that’s what makes this interesting because, you’re right: It is obvious that I need to define those terms. But I don’t even know where to begin. I know what I’m trying to ask. It seems perfectly logical to me. But when you put it that way, I mean, yeah… I have no idea what i should be saying. There’s probably a better way to phrase it, but it’s difficult.

LUKE: Well and the reason it’s difficult is very specific. It’s because so many different definitions for ‘morally ought’ are being used in moral discourse. Even between people who may think they agree on what ‘morally ought’ means. So the reason that this kind of confusion doesn’t arise when you and I are talking about microphones, is because you and I have  a very specific definition of microphone that we totally agree on. So there’s no confusion when you ask me a question about a microphone. I already know that we agree on what a microphone is.

But when you ask me a question about ‘morally ought’, it’s very difficult because there are so many different meanings of ‘morally ought.’ To some people, the phrase ‘morally ought’ means ‘that which is commanded by a deity.’ To other people, ‘morally ought’ means ‘that which produces the greatest good for the greatest number of people.’ To some people it means ‘that which produces the most well-being for conscious creatures.’ To other people it means ‘the rules that you should follow in order to not contradict your identity as a human being.’ To other people, the phrase ‘morally ought’ means many other things. To some people the phrase ‘morally ought’ means ‘that which is approved of by the speaker.’

So when it comes to a phrase like that that is so essentially contested, where everybody who uses it is using a different definition, we have to be especially careful to define our terms in advance when we’re talking about them, whereas we don’t have to do that with a microphone, because there’s only one concept of a microphone.

BRIAN: Well in that case – and this probably doesn’t help at all – my question would probably fall between definitions 2 and 4, which is maybe… You know, the question I asked originally, certainly which is best for me, but which would be better for society at large or for conscious people at large? And of course it’s difficult to come up with an answer for that, I’m sure, but… it’s hard, I can’t really even narrow it down further than those three specific things, because as you said, when it comes to the definition of that question, I don’t think I really have a clear definition. I have a bunch of vague notions that float by and I just grab whichever one is most convenient at the time.

LUKE: Yeah, and I think that’s what happens when I make a list about ‘best movies.’ I have a couple of concepts that are associated with ‘best’ like really surprising script with realistic dialogue and cinematography that really captures the mood of the script, and I have all these ideas but I don’t really know how I’m weighing those or why I’m valuing those things instead of other things, and I think the same thing is happening in morality.

We think we know what we’re talking about when we say that we morally ought to do something. But I think we don’t know in most of the cases. I think most of us are really confused and don’t really even have our own definition of what ‘morally good’ is or what ‘morally ought’ means. I think we have this bunch of concepts that are floating around and we grab on to the ones that seem to apply most to the situation at hand, and we don’t have a consistent definition for ‘morally ought.’

BRIAN: The use of film reviews as a comparison is an especially useful one for me because you’ve already told me you like ‘Inception’.

LUKE: Are we gonna have a debate about this, Brian?

BRIAN: Well let’s save that one for the bar, too.

Since we do need to come up with a definition for ‘morally ought’

LUKE: *coughs* Inception was awesome. *coughs*

BRIAN: Sucked.

And… so, I do I actually move on to a definition? I mean, obviously it would be very useful if I had one. I don’t even know how to start. What do I do?

LUKE: Yeah. How do I define a word? That’s a really hard question. One way would be to look it up in a dictionary. I don’t think that’s gonna help us in this kind of situation. For one, the dictionary is just a reflection for how people use moral language in everyday life, and it’s kind of a compression of that. That’s what people who write dictionaries do – lexicographers.

But the problem with that, of course, is that for a contested term like ‘moral,’ if you look it up in a dictionary you’re gonna see many different definitions. So which one should we go with? Maybe we shouldn’t go with any of them that the dictionary writers came up with. Maybe something else is better.

Here’s one way that we could go about defining these really difficult terms like moral terms and ‘good or great art’ terms and things like that…

Again, we don’t really have this problem when it comes to words where we don’t really disagree on the meaning like ‘microphone.’ But we do have this problem when there are so many different definitions for moral terms and art terms and political terms in use.

One way we could go about it, that might be useful, is to try to look at all the concepts that are involved when we invoke certain terms like ‘morally good’, and try to give a consistent account of all of those concepts.

Now maybe that’s gonna turn out to be impossible because there are concepts involved in the use of those terms that contradict each other. So maybe that’s gonna be impossible. And then we would just wanna try to capture as many of those concepts as possible.

And I’ll give you an example, to make this concrete.

There was a crisis that happened a while back when we were thinking about the definition of the word “atom.” The crisis happened because the word atom has always mean “indivisible.” Uncuttable. It’s that thing that’s so small you can’t cut it any further. You can’t make it any smaller. It’s just uncuttable. That’s what the whole meaning of the word “atom” is.

But also, “atom” referred to some other things. There were some concepts involved, there. The concept of atom was something where there were these particular different elements that could be combined in certain ways because of their properties and they would produce the substances that we encounter in everyday life. There was the concept, of course, that atoms are very small. There was a concept that atoms in certain circumstances behaved in certain ways. And that was all relevant to our discourse about atoms.

Now around 1900 we discovered that atoms are not uncuttatble. They are, in fact, cuttable. And now we cut them all the time in machines called atom smashers, or particle accelerators as physicists prefer.

So does that mean “atom” doesn’t mean anything anymore, because we threw out that very central assumption of atom discourse?

Well that’s not what we chose to do. We chose to keep using atom discourse because all those other concepts that are involved in talking about atoms were still correct, even though it wasn’t the case that they were uncuttable.

And so, I think it’s still useful to think about atoms, because we’re still talking about the individual elements that can be combined in certain ways because of their properties to produce the substances that we encounter in everyday life. We’re still talking about those really, really small things that are fundamental to the different molecules and arrangements of matter that we encounter. We’re still talking about things that respond to certain experiments in certain ways, just like they did before 1900. So we’re still talking about atoms, I think.

BRIAN: Well instead of changing the word, we’re just adding more definitions.

LUKE: We’re changing our definition to reflect reality. We discovered that part of our definition referred to something that didn’t exist…

So maybe the same thing needs to happen in moral discourse. For example, maybe there’s still a way for us to talk about things like obligation and permission and the wrongness of negligence, and actions that are above and beyond the call of duty, and all these things that are associated with our moral discourse but we can’t define morality in terms of, say, transcendent value, because as a matter of discovery and a matter of fact, it turns out that transcendent value does not exist. Supernaturalism is false.

So some of these assumptions of our moral discourse – or at least some people’s moral discourse – turn out to be true [I meant "false."] But I think we can strip these false assumptions out of our definition of the concept of morality, and just keep the ones that successfully refer to things in the real world.

BRIAN: So what does this become, a kind of meta-morality?

LUKE: Well what we’re talking about is really tough stuff about philosophy of language, and: How should we define terms? That’s a really hard question.

But the problem is that we need to figure that out before we can talk about morality because we need a definition of morality if we’re going to talk about morality! We need a definition of ‘microphone’ if we’re going to talk about microphones successfully.

But the nice thing that in ‘microphone’ we have a consistent definition that everybody agrees on. That’s not the case with morality so we need to do something different. We need to have a discussion about how it is that we should define these types of terms that are essentially contested and disputed in their very meaning, so that we can get at a meaning that we can actually agree to use, like in the case of ‘microphone.’

BRIAN: So for the moment, anyway, can we even adequately define anything as ‘immoral’?

LUKE: Well we can if we take a route that is known as stipulative definitions. What you can do is say, “What I mean by ‘morally good’ in this paragraph or this chapter or this book is ‘that which promotes the well-being of conscious creatures’ or ‘that which God commands’ or whatever.” And as long as you’re clear about that, then people can just replace the phrase “morally ought” with that longer phrase every time they encounter it in your work and you can make sentences that make sense that way. It’s like doing algebra while you’re reading. You’re just replacing this longer sentence about, say, promoting the well-being of conscious creatures with this smaller phrase like X or “morally ought.”

So that’s one way you can go about it, is to just be really explicit what you mean by ‘morally ought’, even if you aren’t claiming that that’s what everybody should mean by ‘morally ought.’

But maybe we want something more than that. Maybe we want to come to some agreement on what we mean by our moral terms. If we want to do that, we have to persuade each other. We have to say, “Look, this is one definition that we shouldn’t be using because it refers to things that don’t exist. We shouldn’t be using ‘morally ought’ to mean ‘the commands of God’ because the commands of God do not exist. We shouldn’t be using the phrase ‘morally ought’ to refer to intrinsic value, because we have no evidence that intrinsic value exists.”

So we can start tossing out definitions and saying “This is not gonna be useful to have a definition for a word that doesn’t refer to anything that exists. Why would we want to talk about that?” So we could go that route and try to come to some agreement. In the meantime, we probably have no choice but to be stipulative and just stipulate for, “When I, Luke Muehlhauser, talk about ‘morally ought’, I mean ‘that which promotes the well-being of conscious creatures’”, or whatever it is.

I think that’s the only way we can go because there’s no One True Definition for a disputed term like ‘morality’ or ‘morally good.’ That’s not the way language works. People use these terms in a variety of ways, and just by accident we didn’t happen to be using the term ‘morally ought’ in the same way like in the case of microphone. And that’s too bad, but we can work on it, and there are other terms that we do the same thing with because they are essentially disputed.

BRIAN: Now let me give you a purely practical concern or question. Do you worry that by popularizing the notion that perhaps morality is not defined adequately right now, that some people might take that to mean that there is no morality, which is kind of a rational enough thing to take from that. My worry there, and I know it’s not a real worry because I never tell people they should avoid any kind of study because some people might use it badly, but at the same time… if you give people even the tiniest excuse, they’ll take it.

LUKE: I think it might actually be the case that we should ban certain types of study if it’s going to lead to bad consequences. I really hate that idea, because I’m very committed to the idea of open inquiry, but maybe we should ban research on thermonuclear weapons. That’s an open question, I think.

But moving on from that, we have to separate here the practical concerns from the pursuit of truth. And my concern, when I’m talking about the meaning of morality or moral theory is: Is there anything like moral truth, and how would we have access to it? And part of that presupposes that we have a definition for our terms. We have nothing to say about morality if we don’t have a definition of morality. So if your goal is to pursue truth about morality, then this is the kind of project you have to pursue.

But then if you have other goals – goals, for example, for people to not give up on the concept of morality even if they don’t know what they’re talking about, or they’re thinking of morality in terms of things that don’t exist like divine commands – if you have that goal, then maybe it is dangerous to be talking about the fact that we have to define morality before we can say anything true about it.

BRIAN: Well I think of warfare on this point. There are lots of cultures who are pacifist, who don’t believe it’s right to go to war for any reason. Clearly we don’t live in one of those. And in fact we come up with lots of ways where we can justify morally why it’s appropriate to drop bombs on random brown people and I think that’s a difficult moral thing to defend a lot of the time, but not all of the time… but then it comes to the question of: Well, it’s immoral to you, but it’s not immoral to me, so I’m gonna keep doing it.

LUKE: Yeah. Maybe it’s immoral to your definition, but it’s not immoral to my definition.

The problem is that there’s no way around that, and that’s true of everything.

I think the problem is that we really want there to be One True Definition of morality, because if there’s One True Definition of morality, and we can make a successful argument that X is wrong according to that One True Definition of morality, then we have this fantasy that we can go to people with the argument on a piece of paper and present it to them and say, “Look, there’s only one valid definition of morality, and here’s this argument that shows that dropping bombs on people who don’t have the same color of skin as us is morally wrong.” And then they’d see the argument, and they’d say “Oh, you’re right, there’s only One True Definition of morality, and this argument works, and I’m gonna stop dropping bombs on people.”

And I don’t think we even need that in order to achieve the goals that we have. I understand why we want that to be the case, but I think that’s just not realistic. I think that doesn’t reflect the real world. So maybe we need to give up on that role for moral discourse. And in fact, maybe assuming that moral discourse should have that role is detrimental to the goals that we do have. Maybe it’s detrimental to the goal of promoting human happiness because when you’re working from this idea that there’s only One True Definition of morality and that you could give arguments and persuade people, you’re just missing huge facts of existence, for example the diversity of moral discourse and the diversity of moral opinion and the diversity of moral definitions, and you’re sacrificing the truth, and you’re making morality absolute in a way that it is not, even if it’s absolute in other ways that are defensible.

There is no One True Definition of morality, that’s not how language works.

BRIAN: And even if you were to try to come up with a ‘true’ or ‘proper’ definition of morality, how would you avoid making that just a list of rules? People really like rules. Even those who say they don’t. They like having clear definitions of the rules, and it’s very easy for people to start listing all the things that are bad. It’s very hard for people to list the things that are good. And it seems like when it comes to trying to define morality by any standard, it just ends up being a list of things you can’t do.

LUKE: Yeah, I think you’re absolutely right. Now, I think there are some things that we think are good, but I think you’re right about the point that we really just have this list of things that we approve of and disapprove of and there’s no coherent definition of morality that would fit all those data points on the graph.

BRIAN: And this Disapprove list is much, much larger.

LUKE: I think so. I agree with that. And so the problem is that we try to come up with a moral definition that fits all those data points and would justify all our pre-defined moral prejudices, and I don’t think that’s gonna succeed, and I don’t even know why we’d want it to succeed. Why would we want a moral theory that only tells us what we already believe? That’s like looking for a theory of the solar system that only confirms what we already believe, which is that the Earth is at the center of the solar system. No, what we really need to find out is what is true. And maybe it’s gonna be the case that the truth is not what we want. Maybe it’s gonna be the case that we are not at the center of the solar system.

BRIAN: I do have another question here. It’s one that I ask a lot of people. And if you’re gonna ask for qualifiers on this, you’re probably not gonna get them. Because clearly I don’t really know what I’m talking about, which I think is kind of the default position in this kind of situation, but… I try to ask people if it is possible that doing an immoral thing is sometimes the right thing.

It’s difficult for me to come up with examples…

LUKE: Well I’ll do it for you. This is actually a common discussion in philosophy. In earlier moral philosophy, it was assumed that you might have personal or selfish reasons to do something, but moral reasons were this kind of overriding type of reason, where what you ought to do is always the answer to the question: “What should you morally do?”

But recently, philosophy has taken a different track, at least in Western philosophy. Now we divide things into what you epistemically ought to do – like what should you do if you want to get at the truth – versus what should you do if you want to satisfy your own desires for a job promotion or a relationship or whatever… there’s another question of what you morally ought to do. There’s another question of what you ought to do according to a particular institution in human society like etiquette and where the fork goes.

These are all different types of oughts, and there’s a lot of debate about how we should weigh those. Is it the case that what you morally ought to do always overrides all the others, or are you sometimes globally justified in doing what fulfills your specific goals and sometimes the moral ought it not as important as that. Or should you always be pursuing the epistemic oughts and doing what you ought to do in order to get at the truth regardless of what the moral issues are or what the practical issues are of satisfying the desires that you have?

So this is a really big debate. A specific example would be: if what you morally ought to do is to hide nuclear secrets, because letting those out would do a great deal of damage, but maybe what you epistemically ought to do in that situation is share the nuclear secrets because then there’s gonna be more people working on this issue and you can get at the truth faster. So these seem to be in conflict. And most people in that case would say what you ought to do is what the moral ought is, but it’s hard to figure how you would answer a question like that, and again I think it’s because we have to define our terms first.

BRIAN: So let me get a personal opinion from you then, because I can think of a great real-world example of this: Wikileaks.

You’re familiar with the website, I’m sure.

LUKE: I am.

BRIAN: Well, are they doing a good thing or not? I know it’s not easy to answer, but simply put: They are releasing lots of classified information, potentially putting lots of American lives at risk, however what they’re uncovering is largely abuses by Americans on other people. A lot of people think that they are just doing an awful thing. Other people hail them as heroes. Where do you think they actually stand?

LUKE: So the question is, we’ve got this conflict between – you know, maybe it’s gonna be the case that releasing these documents ends up releasing the position of secret informants that could promote peace and justice around the world, and there will be some deaths as a result of the release of these documents about secret agents whose identity has been revealed… I think that’s a bit fanciful because Wikileaks has actually given the documents to the Pentagon and said, “This is what we have. Show us what you would want crossed off.” And the Pentagon refused to do that. So I don’t think the Pentagon really cares, but we’re not asking whether or not the Pentagon cares, we’re asking what should Wikileaks be doing.

So if you’re talking about epistemic norms and epistemic oughts, maybe the thing to do is to release this information so that more people can be closer to the truth in working through these issues… But the other thing is the moral ought. Maybe releasing these documents is going to result in some deaths. How do we figure out which one we should be going at?

Is that the question?

BRIAN: Sure.

LUKE: I wish I had a simpler way to answer your question, but the only way I can answer your question is that we have to define morality first. We have to define epistemology first. Now luckily, we have a pretty good definitions for epistemology, but for morality we don’t have good definitions. So what morally ought we to do?

I mean, if you define that as ‘what we have most reason for action to do’, then that’s one type of answer. Or if by ‘morally ought’ you mean what would promote the greatest happiness for the greatest number, then that’s a different answer, and the only way we can solve the problem is to actually define the terms that we’re using.

But that makes it really hard!

BRIAN: No kidding.

LUKE: I was having a conversation with my uncle recently and I was describing these different types of moral theories that are out there, and after he listened to me for a couple of minutes he said, “Gosh. I am so glad I’m a Christian, because divine command theory is way easier than those other theories.”

The thing for me is that I want to resist the urge to go with the theory that’s easy for my primate brain to understand – you know, an easy theory would be one where you plug in the data and it spits the answer out and you’re done and you’ve got your moral answer and you can go out and do good according to that definition.

But I want to know what’s true. And that’s a different question than what’s easy.

BRIAN: My final two questions are gonna be pretty easy ones, really. The first one is, as I’ve said a few times already, I really don’t know what I’m talking about here. What should I be doing to find out more?

LUKE: What should you be doing to find out more about morality?

BRIAN: Well I want to understand more about morality. We keep talking about how we can’t even answer the question because we haven’t defined the question. It’s coming down to: I’m asking a question, and you ask “Well what are you asking?” and I’m saying, “I have no idea.” How do I get to the point where I’m asking the question correctly? There have got to be resources I can use to help with my definitions a bit.

LUKE: There are. I write a lot about these issues, but I wouldn’t even recommend my own work as the first source because I have a very particular view and there are other sources that try to give a broad perspective of the views that are out there about morality. A really popular one that’s used in lots of classes is… ‘The Principles of Ethics’ I think, by James Rachels. You can look up Rachels and you’ll find the book on Amazon. Another one that’s popular is ‘Practical Ethics’ by Peter Singer. These are both good books about questions about what should we do in this case, what should we do in that case. If you want to start examining the deeper questions about the meaning of our moral terms or how we can come to know moral facts, I think there are fewer good books for people who don’t have Ph.D.s.

As for the questions that are deeper like how do we define moral terms and how do we come to moral truths and how do we even begin to answer these moral questions, it’s harder for me to recommend a book that is about that and can be understood by people who haven’t spent ten years doing philosophy instead of more productive things with their life. I think what I can point to actually is my podcast, because a real goal of my podcast, ‘Conversations from the Pale Blue Dot’ is to interview people who think about these issues and are able to translate them for the rest of us who don’t have as much exposure to these issues.

I think there’s not a lot more of that going on out there. There’s not a lot of meta-ethics for the non-philosopher. And that’s what I’m really trying to do with many of the episodes of my podcast, Conversations from the Pale Blue Dot. So that is one place you can turn, because I’m interviewing people of all kinds of meta-ethical positions.

BRIAN: …Even more than just the questions of morality and ethics, since I’m obviously having so much trouble just getting these questions out properly, is there anything you can think of that might help anybody listening… to just actually ask the question that they’re trying to ask?

LUKE: One way to do it is to remove moral terms from your language. If you what you think you mean by ‘morally good’ is some vague notion about what produces the greatest happiness for the most people, ask that question. Just ask people, “Is this what’s going to produce the most happiness for the most people?” Or if you mean something else, you can ask it without using moral terms at all, and then we can investigate the answer to that question.

Now one reason that moral discourse might still be useful is first, if we define it very clearly beforehand, but that takes longer and we usually do it in books, not conversations. Or if we were able to get rid of some of these faulty definitions of morality and come to a greater consensus on what moral terms mean, like we have about what microphone terms mean, and then maybe we’d have a more productive moral discourse. But for right now I think the only way is to either remove moral terms from your discourse or to define them first, explicitly, in that conversation or in that blog post or whatever it is, and that make the claims that you want to make about the well-being of conscious creatures or what we have most reason for action to do or what God commands.

BRIAN: And for the final bit: Shameless plugs. Where can everybody go to find more about you and all that you’re doing.

LUKE: Well, if you want to listen to that podcast where I interview lots of philosophers and get their opinions on these moral ideas, you can go to CommonSenseAtheism.com and just click ‘Philosophy podcast.’ My very particular moral views are articulated in great depth in a different podcast, and you can go to CommonSenseAtheism.com and click ‘Morality podcast.’  Also on that website you can click on the categories and read posts old and new about different subjects.

I also have certain posts on there that are, like, recommended books on particular subjects, and that’s under the category heading of ‘Indexes’ or ‘Resources.’ And I’ve spent a lot of time just listing resources on particular topics because I want my blog to be useful to people and to help them discover opinions that are very different from my own and more informed than my own.

So there are lots of resources on my site that I think would be useful, but a couple of other good resources are the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, just Google those and just look through the index for some moral terms like ‘moral realism’ or just ‘ethics’ to get you started so you know what the other moral terms are. Those are excellent resources that are peer-reviewed and written by professional philosophers.

BRIAN: Great, well. Luke, thanks a lot for being on Rational Alchemy. This has been fascinating and largely confusing, but confusing in the best possible of ways.

LUKE: Thanks a lot, Brian, it was a pleasure to be here.

Previous post:

Next post:

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Joseph December 15, 2010 at 6:20 am

One thing you can safely say about morality is that the devil is in the details.

  (Quote)

cl December 15, 2010 at 4:05 pm

Hmmm… much to say about the interview, but, maybe later. I’m generally a fan of her writing and reasoning, and she is pretty, but here is how I would probably handle Julia’s bestiality argument if she approached me on the street:

J) Is bestiality right or wrong?

cl) Wrong.

J) Why?

cl) Because we don’t get consent of the animals. It’s like rape.

J) Did you get consent from the cow you just ate?

cl) No.

J) Then, aren’t you being inconsistent?

cl) I don’t know. Would you be willing to answer a few questions so that I can get a better idea of what you’re asking me?

J) Sure.

cl) Have you ever helped a wounded animal?

J) Yes.

cl) Did you get the animal’s consent?

J) Well, no, of course not.

cl) Why not?

Of course, I would fully expect Julia to reply that consent is not needed to confer benefits or pleasure upon a sentient being — but that would be an example of an arbitrary proclamation about morality — which is precisely what Julia questions Massimo about in the debates you posted here.

  (Quote)

Boz December 15, 2010 at 4:29 pm

I am persuaded by Julia’s vegetarian argument – my values tell me I shouldn’t eat abattoir meat. But I’m going to do it anyway. This makes me feel strange when I think about it.

:/

  (Quote)

Joseph December 15, 2010 at 4:31 pm

But Julia is trying to convince people that they should be vegetarians morally, not that morality is arbitrary. She’s playing on the fact that people have a sense of hypocrisy, which Luke and Brian were discussing.

  (Quote)

juhou December 15, 2010 at 6:56 pm

Julia’s vegetarian argument seemed weak to me. I would be against bestiality on the grounds that it is a rape and animal torture. I am also against all forms of animal torture but I am not against killing an animal for food in a relatively painless way. I try to avoid the best I can eating any meat that has been produced by big factory like farms or places were I would consider animals to be caged and tortured such as in huge chicken farms. Coming from a farm I know how to and have killed animals in relatively painless ways. To me the whole argument fails on the point that I think we should not cause unnecessary harm to animals but can use them as food when we treat them humanely. I try my best to avoid buying meat I know has not been produced according to my ideals.

I also actually support other things that are include killing such as abortion (up till 12 weeks or so), euthanasia, death penalty on serious crimes and interventionist foreign policy. So I don’t see my view as being inconsistent.

  (Quote)

kaka December 16, 2010 at 1:32 am

luke…i gotta say this – your workrate is fricking amazing. how do you do all these interviews and read all these articles while holding down a fulltime job? or are you not working?

  (Quote)

Luke Muehlhauser December 16, 2010 at 8:36 am

kaka,

Thanks. For an answer, I’ll attempt to paraphrase something I read once: “People are surprised by how much I know about philosophy and science, and they’re also surprised at how little I know about the latest TV shows or pop music. And they don’t see that the two are causally related.”

That’s kinda pretentious, but true. Anybody familiar with the original quote?

  (Quote)

kaka December 16, 2010 at 2:31 pm

so you do it in your spare time? that’s still pretty good. i work 9 to 5 and have a one hour commute so i only have about an hour or two of free time a day. even if i did nothing but blog, i would find it hard to post daily updates, even if my posts consisted of incoherent rambling – which yours are not! so i tip my hat to you.

  (Quote)

Luke Muehlhauser December 16, 2010 at 4:01 pm

Yeah, spare time. I don’t get much sleep. Anyway, I’m glad you like (some of) my work!

  (Quote)

Michael December 17, 2010 at 4:12 am

I notice most people eat less meat as they get older. Our tastes get ever more finely tuned as we age. I read somewhere on beyondveg.com that human anatomy is still predominantly frugivore, with only a small adaption to meat and veg.

If you fast on water, or go on detox diets like raw fruit, your senses tune in to food we are geared to eat most: fruit. I’ve been through various diets for health reasons, even raw meat (which I now sometimes prefer to cooked). Raw fruit is our most suitable food, and then its a toss-up between cooked veg and raw meat. Our jaws are designed for chewy sweet food like fruit, or a close relative like cooked spuds or beans or pasta.

A problem with meat eating is that is satisfies the stomach but not the mouth (because it’s too tough to chew so we tend to gulp). Fruit and cooked spuds, by contrast, satisfy the mouth and the stomach. And when you eat meat, it stays longer in the stomach which means your mouth goes hungrier longer still. So when I eat meat it’s a small amount at the end of a meal full of spuds/veg/beans – that way my mouth and stomach are happy.

I’ve noticed a couple of long-term raw vegans have added small amounts of raw fish or raw yoghurt because they seemed to be lacking something.

But I noticed in one of your videos you cracked open an energy drink. So, I’m guessing you’re way too highly strung for your long-term good health. So, I doubt anything I’ve said will be of use to you at this point in your life. But some day you’ll learn to eat naturally and accept your body’s natural energy level because you’ll realise that stimulants are harmful and you can’t squeeze more out of your body than nature intends without consequences. (Although raw fruit diets are famous for restoring vitality through detoxification, but that’s a whole ‘nother science.)

  (Quote)

Leave a Comment