The Morality of Cooking

| Tuesday, November 9, 2010
Why do we have recipes? Why don't we all make up entirely new recipes? Why do we blindly accept the recipes of our parents with only a few changes here and there to suit new ingredients? Why do some never change recipes?

Who cares, let's talk about morality.

Our favorite social said this today
"Dangerous", "counterproductive" are measurable. "Moral" is not. It's merely a rephrasing of "my mum/teacher/priest thought it's right and told me when I was a kid and I never had the brains or time to question it".


As you can see, what we have here is someone who cannot see that morality comes in three flavors: shit someone made up, practicality that you can't yet see, and outdated ideas. This is a slight oversimplification, since these can blend and merge; an outdated idea may be resurrected and combined with shit someone made up to create a hybrid idea of unique uselessness.

Shit someone made up can covers things like religious justifications for racism. It's not a useful idea and it never was. Instead it's just shit that someone made up.

Outdated ideas are moral codes which were useful at a time but are no longer needed. For example, food restrictions, such as avoiding pork or certain seafood, can help avoid disease which was not always easily prevented or treated. These days we know how to cook properly, thanks to recipes, fire, and not wandering in a desert for 40 years or 40 generations or 40 generations of 40 years. 40 something.

Then there is practical morality. This I define as prevention for actions which trigger harmful or wasteful results. That made no sense, did it? Let's try theft for an obvious one to demonstrate the principle. Why should I not steal? Well first off, the theft may involve property damage, a harmful or wasteful result. But I can steal without causing damage, so that's insufficient. Instead the problem is that theft encourages wasteful responses: barbed wire fences, bars over windows, and rental cops. These are entirely worthless except for stopping thieves, so the thieves have not merely taken what was not theirs, they have also triggered a wasteful response.

This could be extended further, to cover things like fraud, lying, murder, war. All of these trigger unproductive responses as we try to protect ourselves from these actions. We might even venture into the production world and regulate toasters to ensure that they do not frequently catch fire, since such an object would trigger the otherwise unproductive response of men in rubber suits spraying water on houses.

This leaves out something important: what is productivity? In response I shall wave my hand, say "something about happiness", and claim that's for another day.

Short version: there's more to morality than blind adherence to pointless rules taught by the previous generation.

Now to tie in the cooking. We use recipes because previous generations have figured out practical ways to organize and cook foods. If we looked we could see all manner of practicalities behind the recipes; the way adding an oil to this otherwise fat-free food helps with absorption of vitamins in it, how a mix of beans and corn provides a better protein mix than either by itself, how cooking foods in certain ways will remove poisons and add nutritional value. These are old lessons which are useful. But ingredients change, so sometimes we need to tweak recipes. Maybe we don't have enough wheat flour, but oats in a blender can help substitute. And maybe the recipe for fried lard dipped in lard can be thrown out.

10 comments:

Syl said...

I've my own view on morals. I actually agree with Gevlon that morals are a mere product of upbringing, culture or education. there is no universal moral standard.

however, for me the consequence of this is not that there shouldn't be any morals or that one moral is as good as another. just because morals are a very ambiguous and tricky topic, doesn't mean we shouldn't have any or try to establish common grounds (such as legal rights and laws) in order to thrive as a society for example - as long as we question ourselves and our intentions.
also I don't believe that you cannot not have any morals: even choosing to act in what's considered an 'immoral' way is a moral action. it's the action of a different moral.

so the first reasoning does not automatically lead to the same next step imo.
to use the difficulty about moral (social morals first and foremost) as an excuse to act in whatever way you like / benefits you most, only works if you live by an entirely selfish, randian lifestyle. and the success of that is questionable.

Anonymous said...

Redefining morality as simple common sense, and then pointing out "hey look, it's just common sense" is not productive. We already have a phrase for that, it's called 'common sense'.

Now, if you wanted to talk about how certain behavioral rules became programmed into our culture and biological makeup as a result of the influence of these common sense rules impacting evolution of humans, you would be doing something other than arguing nonstandard semantics. Dennett's books already give a fairly broad treatment of that idea, perhaps you are familiar with them.

The point I am trying to make is that in order to give an inarguable definition of morals that exist, you have ventured so far from what the moralists are conventionally willing to define as morals as to be completely arguing against them. Call what you are calling "practical morality" by a different name, let's say "evolutionary ethics". How much firmer your concept appears when cast as a critique as morals, than when you attempt to subsume them into that antiquated framework!

" "Dangerous", "counterproductive" are measurable. "Moral" is not. It's merely a rephrasing of "my mum/teacher/priest thought it's right and told me when I was a kid and I never had the brains or time to question it"."

This is an interesting quote, I have a vastly different criticism to make of it. The problem with morality, as normally discussed philosophically, is not that it's not measurable, it's that it's TOO measurable. If you could reduce your choices and decisions down to a predetermined set of boolean valued statements, why would you have any purpose in existing? That is a self-negating, death-willing hatred of life disguised as an academic subject. Perhaps he is saying the same thing, but so concisely that his meaning seems unclear.

I suppose that's why I'm writing this post Klepso, it makes little sense for someone as insulting and sarcastic as you to parrot tired lines about morality. It should be exactly the kind of BS that you would be immune to naturally. That is the fundamental puzzle of your character, I suppose--what brings that confluence to be?

Shobbs said...

"common sense" is such a loaded term. There is no such thing. When I hear, "its just common sense," I cannot help but imagine things I take for granted that the speaker has no idea about. It's common sense not to put your hand in a fire / on the stove / through the bars at zoo... except it isn't.

Klepsacovic said...

@Syl: I agree, there is no universal moral standard, since there's disagreement about the importance of anything beyond oneself. If I value the next generation, then I will develop a system to protect and nurture the next generation. If I do not, then I'm more inclined to grab what I can now, because there's nothing to be gained otherwise.

"Redefining morality as simple common sense, and then pointing out "hey look, it's just common sense" is not productive. We already have a phrase for that, it's called 'common sense'."
An excellent point, if I had done that.

"you have ventured so far from what the moralists are conventionally willing to define as morals as to be completely arguing against them."
Is "I don't care what about the conventions of moralists" an acceptable response?

"If you could reduce your choices and decisions down to a predetermined set of boolean valued statements, why would you have any purpose in existing?"
Do the wrong thing and see what happens, of course.

"it makes little sense for someone as insulting and sarcastic as you to parrot tired lines about morality. It should be exactly the kind of BS that you would be immune to naturally. That is the fundamental puzzle of your character, I suppose--what brings that confluence to be?"
Would it help if I added a disclaimer "I apologize in advance if anything I say remotely resembles anything one else has ever said"? Furthermore, why should the occasional bit of sarcasm and insult mean that I must be immune to what you perceive as BS?

Anonymous said...

Doesn't your whole 'practical morality' thing presuppose that harmful and/or wasteful things are bad?

And if that's the case, why is causing harm or contributing waste wrong? And why is productivity or happiness good? And so on...

Anonymous said...

P.S. to my last anonymous comment

Also, when you talk about 'religious justification for racism' you imply that be racist is morally wrong.

My point being when most people critique certain forms of morality, or the idea of an objective morality, they typically make moral claims in their arguments as you did.

This gets more complicated when you deny the existence of any objective standard, since it's basically "my word against yours" with no way to measure the respective value of different opinions.

Klepsacovic said...

My morality is based on a few assumptions, such as the existence of the universe and that happiness is good, or at least that I prefer to be happy rather than sad and assume based on my observations of the world that other people also prefer happiness, making pursuit of happiness within this universe a common beginning for a system of morality.

Racism is inefficient and wasteful, distracting people from actual problems. But I will admit that I should have be more specific, perhaps citing specific results of racism, such as how racism is commonly used as a distraction from class division, as in the case of the old South in which superiority to blacks was used to distract poor whites from seeking better lots in life, meaning reduced ability to seek happiness.

Gevlon said...

While your post is right, you have not proven the necessity or even the existence of moral. You merely claimed that some actions are counterproductive, so we are better off banning them. However it need laws (which are enforced) and not "moral".

We can stop theft without ever saying the word "moral".

Wander said...

@Gevlon While it is possible to stop theft with laws alone, I think part of the point was that doing so is wasteful. It's less wasteful of resources to have it be socially unacceptable to steal thus not often done rather than not done because you could get into trouble.

I look at the way the world works and most of it is built on the assumption that very few people will even attempt to steal or randomly break your things. I have trouble imagining the cost of preventing that if there was no reason other than legal reasons to avoid stealing.

Klepsacovic said...

What Wander said, but also that there are times and places when the law cannot convict. It doesn't see the crime or it loses the case. In that case, the best bet is prevention.

Even if high-rationality (there are no truly rational people) do not need morality to regulate behavior, low-rationality people do. Even worse, someone will always be pushing some moral code on them, so it is essential to offer better alternatives. And the law will not always be in line with morality, or practicality if you prefer, so people must have some code by which to resist it. For the easy, obvious example, of both problems, look at Nazi Germany, which was created by destructive 'moralities' and secured by immoral laws.

In an ideal world there would be no need for morality, or law, since in such an ideal world we could all work out everything sensibly through contracts and trust. But that ideal world does not exist and will not exist, so we have to do the best we can with the much less than ideal that does exist.

Post a Comment

Comments in posts older than 21 days will be moderated to prevent spam. Comments in posts younger than 21 days will be checked for ID.