Moral Subjectivism Test Case: Carbon Mitigation vs. Honduran Farmers

Carbon Blood Money in Honduras By Rosie Wong, March 9, 2012

“Small farmers in this region have increasingly fallen under the thumb of large landholders like palm oil magnate Miguel Facussé, who has been accused by human rights groups of responsibility for the murder of numerous campesinos in Bajo Aguán since the 2009 coup. Yet Facussé’s company has been approved to receive international funds for carbon mitigation under the UN’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM).”

How might the farmers and the world respond to this situation, based on David Hume’s view of rules of justice?

“the rules of equity or justice depend entirely on the particular state and condition in which men are placed, and owe their origin and existence to that utility, which results to the public from their strict and regular observance. Reverse, in any considerable circumstance, the condition of men: Produce extreme abundance or extreme necessity: Implant in the human breast perfect moderation and humanity, or perfect rapaciousness and malice: By rendering justice totally USELESS, you thereby totally destroy its essence, and suspend its obligation upon mankind. The common situation of society is a medium amidst all these extremes.” Hume, David (2011-03-24). An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals (pp. 11-12). Kindle Edition.



Filed under Community, economic proposals, Ethics, Philosophy

14 responses to “Moral Subjectivism Test Case: Carbon Mitigation vs. Honduran Farmers

  1. mattauchtung

    Justice, at least in this situation, seems to be a slippery fish to pull from the water. Politically, there are two ways to approach this problem. 1.) Walking backwards from the end state, it would make sense for the government to say “We want ‘x’ amount of emissions in the atmosphere, and no more” and for businesses to, consequently, haggle over who gets how many slices of the ‘x’ pie. 2.) Starting at the beginning, if the government says instead “We want each company to be responsible to ‘x’ requirement” then it would lead one to think this is unethical, as certain companies would never produce emissions (i.e. farmers) that other megacorps would (i.e. Palm Oil Industries).

    The problem with the first approach would be this type of situation in Honduras plays out in small-town life around the planet, while the problem with the later is that net emissions in the atmosphere would have no limit, due to the fact that each new business means one more allowance of pollution into the air. Hume weighs in here by stating, in effect, that “Society must maintain the status quo.” It appears that Hume would have no problem with buying and selling of credits politically, but his “essence of justice” would be violated with the abrogation of civil rights in Latin American farming communities. I believe Hume would bifurcate this issue, agreeing with this situation politically, with his philosophy of justice demanding that he advocate for aggressive counter-action civilly.

  2. Stephanie Perera

    From what I am reading, it seems that Hume is somewhat of a subjectivist when it comes to ethics. If this is so, then it would be ethically acceptable for the world and small farmers of Honduras to act in contradiction to each other. The small farmers would find justice useful if it meant acquiring revenge on those who stolen their livelihood and their rights, by whatever means would bring them back their property and safety. However, the rest of the world could ethically turn away from the atrocities being committed for the greater good. After all, this whole system of carbon credits was created to help save the environment which is the best for everyone. Or, is it? As always, subjectivism leads to relativism, which cannot lead to any kind of “truth” or conclusion.

  3. BenB

    Equity and justice have no longer been upheld in the state of Bajo Aguán, Honduras. It is the small farmers who have been suffering from the workings of Big Industry. But the companies have learned from their past and been influenced to “rendering justice totally USELESS” as Hume put it. They have turned to allowing the idea of equity to only relate to them. The smaller farmers have no right to the idea of equity. The justice once offered them before the cope is no longer allowed under the new regime that is in power. When justice is rendered as useless, it is “suspended” for all those involved in the situation.
    If justice is to be totally nullified in this situation, the world and farmers have no place to seek for that release granted to them by human rights. Hume’s statement that justice, or lack thereof, has been driven to be impressed on the hearts no longer leaves room to seek the equality and justice one may have once had.

  4. Joel Felten

    According to David Hume, the situation of these Honduran farmers are specific to their plight. Hume’s response would lead one to believe that moderation of a product would solve the problem. Justice, therefore, depends solely on the individual problem, and must be rendered on a case to case basis. Rosie Wong’s article does a fantastic job of drawing attention to the issues of humanity in Honduras. At the conclusion of the article, the reader is forced to contemplate the reality of justice and equity for these farmers. Their hardwork has simply turned into bloodshed. Hume seems to agree with the buying and selling of carbon credits, because he states that justice is rendered useless. I believe it is the political powers in this world (ie. Britain) that must be called upon to change the plight of these Honduran farmers.

  5. marygermano

    I think that David Hume hit the nail right on the head. When the judicial system is non-existent, one can expect for everything, as far as justice is concerned, to not happen. The government in essence consists of bribes and money under the table. This is not an uncommon thing in these countries. Until the government has in place honest officials who abide by the laws, the judicial system will never execute the justice program. These farmland instances and murders will continue to happen until they get crooks out of office.

  6. Gabriel

    The Honduras situation is perfect example as to why Hume’s outlook on cultural relativism may look good in a book but put to practice is useless. According to Hume, the farmers may demand justice because they see their “culture” is not receiving what is seen as right to them. The government is doing what it is doing to the farmers and sees it as right and a way to benefit the country as a whole. The outside world sees what is going on as unjust. But which view is right? Is the death of the farmers really wrong if the government sees it as just? Obviously they cannot all be right due to the law of non-contradiction. Hume’s thoughts did not coincide with reality as is demonstrated in sad terms here.

  7. John Woodhall

    “Honduras’s government passed the Law of Agricultural Modernization in 1994, allowing large producers to extend their territories beyond the maximum legal property limits. As a result, large landowners began to buy up the land of small farmers, effectively reversing whatever limited land reform had been achieved.” I cannot to claim that I know the entire situation, but the article goes on to claim that this law enacted by the government forced these farmers to leave the country under horrible conditions. I do not agreeing with killings, nor threatening people with force to sway them a particular way, but this article, in these several sentences contradicts itself. The government made a law and, under this law the legal limits of land were expanded and subsequently the smaller farmers sold their lands. Now they are mad that they do not have lands? The author implies that smaller farmers were forced out, but only cites instances several years after the fact to support her claims. I am by no means condoning the murder of activists. I think the entire situation falls under Moral Subjectivism which in this case i think this proves the claim that Hume makes, when he states that “the rules of equity or justice depend entirely on the particular state and condition in which men are placed….” Does this not take place in our capitalistic society? (Not the murders and assassinations, but the larger companies buying the smaller ones.)

  8. KellyWelsh

    Under the rules of moral subjectivism that Hume suggests, there is nothing wrong with the situation. It would seem that the government, which tends to dictate the standards of justice in a society, does not see what they are allowing to happen as something that a. they can control anymore or b. is profitable to them. If it does not benefit them they are under no obligation to assist those under extreme injustice (as it would seem to America) over those who are in the position of inflicting the injustice. They have created what is for them the social medium among the extremes which involves allowance of “injustice” to the farmers and giving benefits to the landowners. According to Hume, as a separate culture, America (or any other country) cannot step in and inflict our standards of justice on the culture of Honduras, nor can the farmers within complain because in light of the government’s position, and the landowner’s demands, this is what the culture’s system of justice and morality has balanced out to.

  9. Micah D.

    David Hume’s argument for a useless justice is something that is very dangerous to the health of civilizations around the world. It is a very hard thing, diplomatically and militarily to just invade a country and stop evil men from being, well, evil. However, countries that have a big military, such as the United States, are more prone to invade a country if the health of the bigger country is at risk. An example of this would be the invasion of Iraq. There was a threat of nuclear war and George W. Bush had no problem sending our military to squelch that threat; which I agree with. But when it comes to smaller countries that threaten their own people, it tends to be put on the back burner. David Hume’s argument could be rephrased as “If it doesn’t immediately effect me, and I can’t seem to do anything about it, why try?”

  10. John Donald

    If I am understanding the question right, I believe that the world and farmers would respond by simply going through with this process and not standing up for their rights to own property in Bajo. According to David Hume there is nothing morally wrong and that justice is completely not involved in this particular situation. The solution has to be different because the government can not simply let lower class farmers die or be bullied by these upper status companies and government simply because they have more money. The country should get more involved with helping this situation as far as keeping these unethical things from taking place and if they cannot then something should be done from outside of the country and allow some other military to protect these farmers. Hume’s view does not apply to real life but sounds good when one cannot see the reality of what is taking place.

  11. sarah wild

    I would agree with what Hume says when states, “the rules of equity or justice depend entirely on the particular state and condition in which men are placed…”, but I would say that there was no justice being brought to these farmers, or anyone who lived in Bajo Aguán, Honduras. The military men who were involved were obviously crooked, and not following the laws of the land. In this case there is a disconnect with what the people think the government ought to do, and what the government themselves wanted to do. So I think our resonse should be that the government needs to enforce those rules that they have in the first place.

  12. Erica Rossi

    I think that what David Hume is say when hes say that your view of justice depends on your origin and view point is very true. In this situation I think that the farmers would feel that justice is useless because of how corrupt their government and leaders are. They would not want to fight the government because they know what will happen to them. The world however, especially those in countries such as ours, would think differently then the farmers because their viewpoint and origins are different. In America our military protects us so putting ourselves in a situation where they are going against us to hurt us would be very difficult. I think the world would “think” they would respond differently to the situation because they are not in the situation. In the end I think that most people would respond the same way in this situation, but when your viewpoint is different you like to think you would respond differently.

  13. dmedich

    If I am understanding right, then another way to put what Hume is saying is “The justice and equity granted to the people are based on the state/government, and citizens cannot complain because live under the stare/government they owe the them their ‘origin and existence’.” I would say that the farmers of Bajo Aguán would be very oppose to Hume’s view on the rules of justice because the individual that is being removed, threatened, and possibly even killed will not believe that it is right/just for anyone to be forced from their land. I believe the world (at least the majority of the U.S.) would side with the famers. I know that when I read the article, I felt concerned for the famers because I would feel the same way (angry) if I was in their position. Also, when Hume said
    “By rendering justice totally USELESS, you thereby totally destroy
    its essence, and suspend its obligation upon mankind,”
    it made me wonder if the state/government in Bajo Aguán abandoned justice because they just allow those large landholders with aid of military forces take all the land from and even murder some of the smaller famers.

  14. Brianna Herlihy

    According to David Hume, “the rules of equity or justice depend entirely on the particular state and condition in which men are placed.” So what is justice for the small farmers of Honduras? The article by Rosie Wong clearly accounts for all the inhumane treatment the small farmers are enduring at the hands of Honduran government and big landholder companies. Even through its earth-friendly methods, the article states that the palm oil company is not only deforesting a delicate tropical region, but also is using the palm oil to export instead of feeding the local people. Clearly it would seem that, according to David Hume’s philosophy, what most of the civilized world would call justice is useless in Bajo Aguan because it is constantly contradicted and unenforced by those who are responsible for enforcing it (i.e the government). What I don’t understand is how the United Nations, under their Clean Development Mechanism can allow and even give aid to a company that knowingly has blood on their hands. The UN is supposed to have the highest sense of moral justice and be the advocate for the farmers getting ripped off by the palm oil company. Instead they are excusing their actions by stating that they “are not investors of crime.” Justice according to most of the Western world, would not allow the Honduran farmers to suffer the way they are. In my opinion, Western countries, like Great Britain, should annul their ties with the CDM and Facusse’s palm oil company and intervene on behalf of the farmers, demanding that the Honduran government give back their land and start treating their people with humanity.