by Sahana Rajan.
Why should you care about why you do what you do?
Kabir and Meera are having a meal at McDonalds. While Kabir works at Nirvana Private
Limited, Meera is currently a Professor of Philosophy at Avyaktum University. Kabir has
ordered a Chicken Kebab Burger with a Soft Serve Hot Fudge and Meera is having a McPuff with Hot Chocolate.
K (nibbling on the crispy chicken kebab): I can’t wait for the weekend. Such a lousy
M (sipping on Hot Chocolate): What are your plans this weekend?
K: I am probably going to crash at my friend Simone’s place. We might have a party. You
M: You know how I am! I would probably bore the high out of you people!
K: I can imagine! Accept it before I change my mind!
They both laughed. Kabir and Meera are school friends who occasionally meet up on some
mornings when their schedules allow.
It is none of your business.
K (irritated): I think there is something wrong with this chicken. It tastes funny!
M: Oh. It is probably all her pain leaking onto your guts. And maybe those antibiotics I tell
K (staring at M and chuckling): It could be a him too, you know.
M: Yes. Then you would be chewing on his flesh, freshly grilled while he screamed.
K: Really? Is this what we are going to talk about again? Why do you always have to bring
something like this up? I am just trying to have a nice meal.
M: How is eating another person a nice meal?
K: That is my freaking business. Why do you care?
Can we do comfortable thinking please?
M: Okay. Let’s take it down a notch. And start with. Why don’t you care?
K: What do I not care about?
M: Why don’t you care where your food comes from?
K: Of course, I care. That’s why I come to a well-known restaurant with good reviews.
M: Okay. So, you are saying you care that the food is prepared at a clean place? That it is
K: Yes. That I am paying the price to get a hygienic meal.
M: But what about where it is coming from? What is this chicken that you are eating2?
K: Why should we care about that at all? Means, what good has thinking too much about things done to you?
M: Yes. You are right. It has mostly been a pain. I think about every single thing I do. From the moment I wake up, I make sure that I do not slouch to avoid aching my back, I make sure the toothpaste and brush I am using are made from natural products, at least not animal tested. I don’t use leather, I also make sure I support open-access knowledge by using Linux and other open-source software. It is quite a lot of work.
K: Then why do you do it?
Argument 1: Argument from Pragmatism/for Self-Preservation
K and M have finished their meal and are walking through a park near the restaurant. It is a
foggy winter morning and the sunlight is lazily falling onto the chairs placed in the park. A
man and woman are passing them by, bickering about the cost of shawl they just bought at the local market. A slightly younger couple is sitting at an installed bench, listening to music from their phone, sharing the earphone. The left earphone resting on her ears and the right one on his. They smile at each other occasionally. Another woman, in her mid-50s, is feeding a few stray dogs.
M: In a way, you are asking. Why do I care about the reasons for my actions? About the
consequences of my actions?
K: Yes. How does it matter that the toothbrush you are using was tested on a ton of animals? I understand the point about chemicals. You are worried about your health. That is a point we can talk about. Why do you care about open-access?
M: I think that if you don’t think about why you are doing what you are doing and what is
going to be the outcome, then it is going to lead to negative outcomes on you. Means, it is best to take informed decisions to survive. This will mean that you will look at why you are doing what you are doing: why are you doing MNC job? Why are you living in this particular area? Is this what you really want? And in that process, you will be able to clarify the source of your decision and focus on the outcome and decide what might be best for you.
K: But what I want to do with my life can keep changing.
M: And if that happens, then you would keep changing the ways in which you are in the world as well. Like, maybe you will leave your current job and will work at a digital magazine on Big Data, given your education in Internet of Things and so on. Later, maybe you would feel like you want to just be around children and teach- and you could do that too. And a ton of other things will affect it- how you want to prioritize the limited time you have every day.
Argument 1. Extension: We are doomed to be together. So, let’s make the best of it.
K: Fine. That I should make informed choice answers why I should care about chemicals in
my food or why I should do yoga for mental well-being. How would caring about animals or
the environment at large or even about another person help in my survival?
M: One way of answering that is to see that we are doomed to be with each other.
Evolutionarily, we are social animals and it is by being with each other, that is, with other
human beings that we can find ways to use environmental resources to its best and survive,
also as individuals. That is extension of taking informed decisions to survive. Also, it has been found that individuals thrive in healthy relationships with other people. That is, loneliness can lead to certain mental disorders. But this can be challenged. We have people who live alone all their life, enjoy their solitude and choose to have a mild social life. Being alone is after all not to be lonely.
K: Okay. So, I cooperate with other human beings to survive. Why should I care about those
who are not human?
M: Why should you care about non-humans? That is, plants and animals?
M: I could rephrase your question as. Why be good or moral at all?
K: If being good or moral means to act in ways where we acknowledge that the other, who is a human or non-human, exists and that I should care about how my actions affect them, then yes.
M: Humankind has certain conditions of existence, which is basically a certain kind of
environment, which includes animals, plants. Without the interconnected functioning of these different elements, our species would be soon extinct too. So, it is pragmatic to care.
K: Okay. That is also an extension of your self-preservation argument. Is that what morality is then? Is it simply for self-preservation? Is it only for my good?
M: This is one of the options you can pick up to understand the need to behave in certain ways.
Argument 2: Argument from Intrinsic Value
K: What if we could build a dome where we won’t need any non-humans? An artificial human-suitable environment?
M: I generally avoid entertaining such extreme stretches of imagination. As of now, there is no evidence that something like this could happen. However, assuming it could, then I could point out that all other living beings, including plants and animals, are just like you. They experience pain and pleasure. They desire comfort and avoid threat. In a way, they have intrinsic value, just like you do. And there is no option of choice here- you don’t choose to treat them well or otherwise. You ought to treat them well, because they are subjects of experience, like you are.
K: I could still ask why. Why should I care about them, even if they are just like me?
M: If you ask why, I could say that you should not treat others, who are sentient or conscious like you, in ways you would not want to be treated.
K: Okay. So, because I don’t want to be hurt or treated badly, I make sure that the other is not. Because if I don’t stop or I actively contribute to their mistreatment, like you said before, it might come back and bite me in the arse.
K: That is still self-preservation.
M: Yes, in a way.
K: So, you mean that there is nothing about our world, about plants and animals which can
compel us to treat them well. We can only treat them well because we see them, in some way, in relation to us and we see the consequences of that action on us?
M: Yes. But that is inevitable. You only have access to what-it-is-like-to-be-you. You cannot
claim to know and cannot justify that you know what the other goes through, unless for rhetorical effect. All you can do is to see how your actions are going to affect you and act
accordingly, to ensure that you can survive.
Argument 3: Existence-Grounded Argument
K: What is your reason for saying that some actions, like eating another non-human animal, is not good?
M: There is another reason that I have formulated over the years. The plants and animals,
simply by the fact of their existence, have enabled the sustenance of an environment that we
all share. Just as we have, simply by the fact of our existence, contributed towards its alteration to great extents. And they deserve as much of the world, as we do- this is much like being given the dues you deserve for the work you do. This is an existence-grounded argument- that to exist is to contribute towards the being of our world and thus, in a sense, you are deserving of conditions to continue to exist.
K: Is this not similar to the Intrinsic Value argument?
M: Intrinsic value argument says that because they are subjects of experience, they are sentient, they deserve certain kind of treatment. I am saying that it is enough that you exist; by existing, you get to be on the pay roll of our Earth. You will be paid your dues because in some way, maybe ways which are not cognitively within our capacities, you have contributed towards being. And in this sense, you should be paid for it. The payment we all owe to each other in this sense is the payment of ensuring the sustenance of conditions to further each other’s existence. Not because you feel pain or you don’t. That doesn’t necessarily matter.
Argument 4: The Primitivity Argument
K: Is there any other reason why we should be good?
M: There is also the idea that to be good or right- they are primitive. As in, there is no way to analyse them any further. Like colour yellow. When I ask you what yellow is, you could say it is colour of banana or it is this particular wavelength but that is not what I mean when I say yellow. Yellow is simply yellow. So, some say that moral notions like good/bad are like that.
Why So Serious?
K: So, you have four options on your menu for why I should care about my actions. First, it
helps me to take informed choices for self-preservation; second, the other human and nonhuman beings have intrinsic value and ought to be treated well and third, your idea of existencegroundedness and fourth, that they are primitive.
K: The first option appeals to me. I don’t want to be doing things which are going to harm me in the long run.
M: Then you would have to think about so many of the things you currently do.
K: Yes! I should thank you for innocently inserting such a heavy talk into our morning chat!
M smiles. They continue walking.