Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Hot Sheets Episode I: Perennial grains and moral skepticism

From Men In Black:
Dialog - [after telling J that they're going to check the "hot sheets," K buys some tabloid newspapers]
Agent J: These are the hot sheets?
Agent K: Best investigative reporting on the planet. But go ahead, read the New York Times if you want. They get lucky sometimes.
Agent J: I cannot believe you're looking for tips in the supermarket tabloids!
Agent K: Not looking for.
[tosses down a paper whose headline reads "ALIEN STOLE MY HUSBAND'S SKIN!"]
Agent K: Found.
As for myself, I turn to the most comprehensive local magazine rack, which happens to be at Barnes and Noble.  There I read two inspiring articles that are also available to read online:

1. The Big Idea: Perennial Grains National Geographic Magazine, April 2011
Agroecology is almost as glamorous as microbial ecology. Almost a year ago I read Emily Pidgeon's article  (page 47 of The Management of Natural Coastal Carbon Sinks by Laffoley and Grimsditch), about the importance of sea grasses, which play a significant and under appreciated role in carbon sequestration.  Now grains could do the same. 

2. Morality: The Final Delusion? Philosophy Now, No.82 
I was waiting for the library to get a copy of Grayling's latest book, but now I've begun reading Richard Garner's Beyond Morality, which can be downloaded for free online.  From the conclusion of his book:
This alone might make morality, in Nietzsche’s words, “the danger of dangers.” Plenty of powerful religious and political figures have insisted that their followers have a moral duty to destroy some country, or to abuse or even kill the members of some race, religion, or alternative persuasion. Our future will be much brighter if we can all stop our self-involved and combative moral posturing, develop a more realistic understanding of our conflicts of interest, and come up with ways to resolve them that are based on mutual respect and the best information we can get.
I look forward to reading the contra position to moral abolitionists such as Garner - Sam Harris' recent book The Moral Landscape presents this opposite case.  He believes that there are in fact objective values and argues for a kind of neo-utilitarianism as Coyne describes it.  But I am currently more skeptical of a science of morality than I am of moral nihilism.

Update: I paged through The Moral Landscape at the bookstore recently and saw that Harris briefly addressed J.L. Mackie (a moral error theorist).  Harris wrote: "The main criterion, therefore, is that misery and well-being not be completely random."  Well, for the human species it isn't completely random, but if I go out on a limb here and suppose we are able to have meaningful communication with other species in the future, it will soon be apparent that well-being is not as easily determined.  I think the case by case approach of moral error theorists may be more useful in this event.

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