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Paul Troop

Death Aquatic

Can science tell us how chefs should treat lobsters? The Independent this week implies it can. It seems that this is important to diners who want reassurance that their dinner has not been killed in a “barbaric” manner.

Science may of course discover the quickest or easiest method of killing. Norwegian researchers in particular have dedicated significant time to this research. Of methods including ice, nitrogen gas, freezing, gradual or rapid heating, piercing of ganglia, salt baths and carbon dioxide gas, apparently electricity is best. A commercial product, “Crustastun” offers the ability to replicate this in the kitchen. However, the retail cost of £2,500, puts this out of the reach of all but the richest, most gadget obsessed or humanitarian seafood lovers. But there is a more basic question: do lobsters really feel pain?

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Anti Addict Mummy Money

A US group that pays drug addicts to undergo sterilisation visits the UK this week, having recently paid its first British client for undergoing a vasectomy. “Project Prevention” claims that its goal is to make addicts and alcoholics use long-term birth control until they can care for the children they conceive. Founder Barbara Harris has said: “We don’t allow dogs to breed. We spay them. We neuter them. We try to keep them from having unwanted puppies, and yet these women are literally having litters of children.

The visit has provoked strong responses. Some have compared the group to eugenicists, while supporters point to the cost to the children and society of conception by addicted parents. Dominic Wilkinson has controversially suggested on this blog that a version of the programme could be offered on the National Health Service.

This ethical debate is on the level that Mackie (1977) identifies as first order. However, the issue also highlights second order moral issues about the nature of morality. What are we doing when we express a moral view and how do we know that our views are reliable? One approach to answering these sorts of questions is to understand human morality as an adaptation that contributed to our ancestors’ evolutionary fitness. Without addressing the strengths and weaknesses of such an approach here, if correct, it has the potential to illuminate second, and by implication first, order questions.

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