Showing posts with label book reviews. Show all posts
Showing posts with label book reviews. Show all posts

Monday 14 July 2014

Does Peter Singer's 'Utilitarian' Argument for Vegetarianism Add Up?

The contemporary animal rights movement owes a great intellectual debt to Peter Singer's pathbreaking book Animal Liberation (1975), also known as ‘the Bible of the Animal Liberation Movement’. In that book Singer made a break with the dominant but limited Kantian argument that mistreating animals is a bad – inhumane – thing for humans to do. In its place, Singer advanced a case against harming animals, such as by using them for food or experiments, based on their equal moral status, their right to have their suffering counted equally with that of humans.

Singer's book has influenced many people, including myself. Yet, reading and rereading it, I have come to wonder whether it is really a work of good philosophy rather than merely effective rhetoric. Its success relies on pathos - an appeal to the sentiments of the audience. Despite multiple revised editions, Singer's official argument, his logos, is far from clear or compelling.

It is disappointing that the revered urtext of the animal rights movement lacks the intellectual rigorousness it claims. Worse, the flawed utilitarian case pressed by Singer is intended to foreclose the consideration of more relevant ethical accounts, most obviously those that directly engage with sentimentalism rather than being embarrassed by it.

Sunday 6 July 2014

Michael Sandel on the commercialisation of private and civic life

Michael Sandel's What Money Can't Buy purports to demonstrate that markets corrupt - degrade - the goods they are used to allocate. Therefore we as a society should deliberate together about the proper meaning and purpose of various goods, relationships, and activities (such as baseball) and how they should be valued. I don't think Sandel's critique of markets quite holds together. Nor do I find his communitarian political solution attractive. But the book does succeed as a provocation: it evokes a healthy attitude of critical resistance to what may be called rapacious capitalism

Wednesday 27 July 2011

Bad Arguments from History: The Case Against Free Trade

Ha-Joon Chang argues that there is a paradox at the heart of free trade economics: if it's so great why didn't the countries who are now rich do it when they were developing? My answer: because governments have always been willing to listen to protectionists like Chang who flatter their vanity and give intellectual cover to their venality.

Sunday 5 December 2010

‘I bring good news about our bourgeois lives’: Why business is good for your soul

Deirdre McCloskey's Bourgeois Virtues: Ethics for an Age of Commerce is a bold attempt to rehabilitate the much maligned bourgeoisie as the focus of a positive inter-twining of capitalism and ethics. Who are the bourgeoisie? People with middle-class values, temperament, and position. People like us. McCloskey argues, building on her extensive reading in economics, history, philosophy, religion and ethics, that we should recognise and embrace our bourgeois identity. For it is an ethical way of life that is not only instrumentally successful (showing up in our ever increasing wealth and freedom), but intrinsically valuable (showing up in the meaningfulness and richness of our middle-class lives).

Sunday 1 August 2010

The philosopher Vs. management theory

Matthew Stewart has a PhD in philosophy but despite this managed to get, and keep, a job in management consultancy. His book The Management Myth provides an entertaining and insightful analysis of the theory, history, and practise of that mysterious but ubiquitous cult of the modern world:  "management".

Monday 16 November 2009

It's the Equality, Stupid!

Richard Wilkinson's and Kate Pickett's The Spirit Level is an excellent contribution to 'evidence based politics' (something that they note is more prevalent in more equal societies). Their main contribution is to bring existing evidence of statistical correlations and plausible causal mechanisms systematically together, and their inescapable conclusions seem almost commonsensical to the reader as a result. Yes, we did all sort of know all this, but we hadn't put it all together so forcefully.

Tuesday 7 July 2009

Debating Aid: Beyond Armchair Theorising

Far too often debates over development aid follow the contours of ideology - either (global) capitalism is evil and must be stopped, or the poor are just welfare scroungers who have to be saved from aid by free-markets. As a result we get an unhelpful myopia - arguments are ideologically driven and make only partial contact with the evidence, and divisive rhetoric - the real enemy is not poverty, but one's ideological opponents. Think William Easterly's 'White Man's Burden' or Naomi Klein's 'No Logo'.

So do philosophers do any better?

Sunday 7 June 2009

Gerd Gigerenzer on 'rules of thumb'

Orthodox economics asks the question 'What is rational decision-making?' It recommends allocating scarce resources among our competing interests according to how much we value each interest and their probability of being brought about by our choices. By multiplying these together we should get a single ordering of our choices in terms of the subjective value of the outcome that will be brought about, and then we should choose the highest ranked option.