Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Smoked meat lasts longer

The question isn't actually about cannibalism, it's about moral absolutes vs. the notion that any behavior that causes no harm to others is ok. This moral issue was raised by the recent case in Germany of a man who advertised on the Internet for someone who wanted to be eaten, and had a victim volunteer.

Moral question: is cannibalism wrong if it is the desire of both the eater and the eaten?

Roger Kimball of Armavirumque answers:

So, was Herr Meiwes within his rights when he made a meal of his new friend? If Mill was right that "the sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively, in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number is self-protection," then I think we have to pass Herr Meiwes the salt and pepper and wish him bon appetit.

But was Mill right? In this latitudinarian age it is tantamount to heresy to suggest otherwise, but I believe that the sorry spectacle of Meiwes sautéing bits of Herr Brandes shows that, yes, Mill's "one very simple principle" was not merely simplistic but wrong, indeed preposterous.

It is not without irony that Mill's libertarian doctrine, which demands that we free ourselves from prejudice and convention, should have become enshrined as the dominant moral prejudice of the age. It is simply taken for granted these days that one "has a right" to do whatever one wants so long as one doesn't harm others.

Read the whole thing; it's a bit of a long slog for a blog post, but worth it for the thought-provoking questions. I don't have any certainty myself on this question. The problem I keep bumping into this that if you concede there are moral absolutes ("moral facts", as Mr. Kimball puts them), then someone has to decide what those moral absolutes are. And every attempt I know of to set moral absolutes has resulted in disaster of one kind or another. And yet, as Mr. Kimball illustrates, there are many reasons to be uncomfortable about a world without moral absolutes. Tough one...

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