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January 21, 2006

Whale in Thames, eating whale meat, and whaling

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From yesterday the incident of a stray whale in the river Thames in London has been heavily reported live on BBC "world" news. Last week they reported the collision between a Japanese whale catcher boat and Greenpeace boats protesting whaling. It seems to me that the British people are very conscious and sensitive about the issue of whaling. From the BBC site:

The 16-18ft (5m) northern bottle-nosed whale, which is usually found in deep sea waters, has been seen as far upstream as Chelsea. A rescue boat has been sent to protect the whale and rescuers have been trying to keep it away from the river banks.

By the way, Japan is one of the few countries that continue whale hunting in the name of "scientific research," and Greenpeace accuses the Japanese of selling and eating whale meat acquired from such scientific researches. I feel that Greenpeace may be right because we can eat whale meat at some restaurants in Tokyo or Osaka. It is reasonable to protect them if the number is decreasing.

What I can't understand is why the British (and people in other countries) are so enthusiastic about whales and dolphins. For example, they eat lamb (child sheep) and veal (child cow), but isn't it cruel to kill small child sheep and cows only to eat them? They might reply that it is ok because they are domesticated animals, but if so, it means to imply that if we succeed in domesticating whales it is also ok to eat whales.

Have you ever eaten whale meat? When I was a child, boys and girls of our age used to eat whale meat at school because it was the Japanese government's policy to feed children cheap whale meat to nourish them with abundant protein. Whale meat was delicious. Today, I don't eat the meat of whales, cows, pigs, or chickins. Do you eat beaf or poultry? What do you think about eating whale meat?

A researcher from Norway once said to me that every county has its own sacred animals. This is an interesting idea. In India cows are sacred animals. Whales and dolfines might be sacred animals in some countries. In some areas of Japan, deer are considered to be sacred animals (particularly at Nara prefecture). Whales and dolphins are cute and intelligent, but of course, pigs, chickins, and deer are also cute and intelligent. Let me hear your ideas on this topic.

Related post: Is it cruel to kill animals?

Photo: BBC WORLD

 -- M.Morioka www.lifestudies.org

January 15, 2006

Sense of happiness and mood-brightening drug (Prozac etc)

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The President's Council led by Leon Kass discusses the topic of "happy souls" in their report Beyond Therapy: Biotechnology and the Pursuit of Happiness (2003). This discussion constitutes, probably, the most significant part of this report. I am not sure who wrote this part. I presume that Kass himself wrote it, but other council members might have written or added something.

They talk about the drugs that can delete unpleasant memories, or can provide us with happy feelings. While the former drug has not been developed yet, the latter one already exists, namely, such "selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)" as Prozac, Paxil, etc.

Concerning memory-blunting drugs, Report concludes:

To have only happy memories would be a blessing—and a curse. Nothing would trouble us, but we would be probably be shallow people... In the end, to have only happy memories is not to be happy in a truly human way. It is simply to be free of misery—an understandable desire given the many troubles of life, but a low aspiration for those who seek a truly human happiness. (p.234)

And concerning mood-brightening drugs, Report distinguishes "the sense or feeling of well-being" from "well-being itself," and then concludes that acquiring the former does not necessarily lead to the latter, because these two are completely different from each other. Report admits that this kind of drug sometimes give depressed people the power and courage to live & survive, however:

While such drugs often make things better—they often help individuals achieve some measure of the happiness they desire—taking such drugs may also leave many of the same individuals wondering whether their newfound happiness is fully their own—and in this sense, fully real. ... It is even more pertinent, and more disquieting, should one come to feel happy for no good reason at all, or happy even when there remains much in one's life to be truly unhappy about. (p.255)

I think they have succeeded in pointing out an important philosophical question, that is, "What is the difference between 'the sense of happiness' and 'happiness itself'?" And they seem to conclude that happiness itself needs the (long and winding) "process" through which we can finally reach the state of happiness where we can enjoy the sense of happiness. Intuitively, I believe their idea is right, but I am not satisfied with their explanation in their report.

What if someone says, "I don't need any process. What I need is the sense of happiness, and that's all. Period," then what Kass would reply to that person? Is his answer, "You are a shallow person"?

I don't mean to offend Kass and his colleagues. What I want to do is to think about this important philosophical question more deeply. We need "philosophy of life."

Photo: A house near my apartment, Osaka

 -- M.Morioka www.lifestudies.org

January 08, 2006

Eternity, immortality, and desire to live longer

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Leon Kass talks about his philosophy of death and aging in his book, Life, Liberty and the Defence of Dignity (2002). He discusses the future possibility of progress in medical technology that may provide us with long life, for example, a longevity of 200 or 300 years or more. He asks whether such longevity, or immortality actually makes us happy, and he answers negatively. He writes as follows:

I aspire to speak truth to my desires by showing that the finitude of human life is a blessing for every human individual, whether he knows it or not. (p.264)

He urges us to think of an immortal being and says:

Moreover, such an immortal someone else, in my view, will be less well off than we mortals are now, thanks indeed to our mortality. (p.265)

And he seems to distinguish between "immortality on earth" and "eternity."

The decisive inference is clear: none of these longings can be answered by polonging earthly life. Not even an unlimited amount of "more of the same" will satisfy our deepest aspirations. ... Mere continuance will not buy fulfillment. Worse, its pursuit threatens -- already threatens -- human happiness by distracting us from the goals toward which our souls naturally point. (p.270)

It is clear that he discusses this topic from the perspective of the Judeo-Christian tradition, however, the core of what he wanted to say reaches my mind directly (though I am agnostic). I think one implication of his words is that we cannot acquire "eternity" in the pursuit of "immortality." Eternity cannot be acquired in an extension of an immortal life. This is one of the most important philosophical questions, I believe, that should be discussed in the field of bioethics or "philosophy of life" in the 21st century. Of course, I don't agree with his opinion about abortion and the value of the family, but nevertheless, I am still very attracted to Kass's philosophy on life and death.

At the same time, I am not satisfied with Kass's philosophy. He seems to underestimate our desire to become healthy and live longer if some existing medication or operation provides us with them. This kind of desire must be shared by Leon Kass himself. We have to think about the nature of this kind of desire and our contemporary social system that incessantly stimulates our desire to live longer, become healthy, and avoid pain & suffering as much as possible. This is exactly what I tried to do in my book Painless Civlization. Kass's works should be complemented, I believe, with the perspective of painless civilization.

(Continues on the next entry...)

Related post: Value of life extension and immortality

Photo: A building near my apartment, Osaka

 -- M.Morioka www.lifestudies.org

January 04, 2006

Importance of philosophy of life

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Happy New Year!! I spent most of the new year holidays writing a couple of papers in Japanese, but I have to write two more papers this month. Last month I read some books on genetic enhancement and its impact on future society and individuals. Reading them I have come to think that we need a new "philosophy of life," in which we are able to talk about "wisdom" and a "new way of thinking" relating to our own life, death, and humanity.

So this year I am going to talk about the importance of "philosophy of life" on this blog, and in other conferences, journals, etc. many times. And I will try to add more translations of my works with the help of my friends. (By the way, the translation of Preface of The Insensitive Man was slightly revised).

Anyway, I hope there will be no more wars in the world this year.

Photo: New Year lights in Osaka.

 -- M.Morioka www.lifestudies.org