Cool, that’s an important distinction to my way of thinking.
but that’s different from saying there is (or we have access to) an “absolute answer to every such possible situation.” In fact, I would fear those who would claim such access.
That still leaves the deeper questions of why and how “harm” is a basis for universal or absolute morality… (as opposed to, "I just don’t like it). For example, is it because harm is an obvious and axiomatic negative outcome?
I think it can be a basis for making and assisting in certain moral assessments. It’s not a basis for a universal morality, but I think it is definitely a principle involved in all human moral systems, and something we’re hardwired to understand and be repelled by to an extent. It certainly can be a basis for us if we can agree on it. Don’t you? For arguments sake, if a higher universal morality could be shown not to exist, would you not see any problem with someone just up and punching someone, maybe you or me, in the face? Would the problem not be rooted in the harm the action causes?
We’re social animals and to be part of society, we have to get along with each other in many contexts. We have the ability to understand how our actions affect others to an extensive degree. With this understanding comes responsibility. I don’t think it can be avoided and it’s enough reason for me to attempt to be a moral person, and to expect the same of others.
Just to people? If I harm an animal is that okay? Is it okay if there is a legitimate reason, say, I need food?
We’re people. Other animals can’t share our understanding or bear responsibility and can’t be true members of our system. Also as you say, animals are our food to an extent–we have evolved with meat as part of our diet, and this is part of the reality of our natural world. I believe in our responsibility to treat animals humanely, but they’re not people. I guess that makes me “speciest” but there it is.
You could logically extend the concept of “harm” to the environment. I would agree that it is wrong to “harm” the environment but not to the extent that I wouldn’t live in a house in a suburb (that obviously “harms” the local environment).
Environmental problems harm people including future generations, and animals too.
Is “harm” of humans wrong because humans have innate value? That’s something I would say yes to, but it is not a given that humans have innate value. What makes that true?
I believe that human life has value. It’s a moral position for me. In natural terms, I don’t believe that the universe places any special value on us, or that there is any higher truth giving us value. The perception of our value comes from us, and it is our responsibility to maintain it–nothing else has it and nothing else is going to take it for us. That’s not exactly wonderful and even frightening, but I don’t see a way around it. I don’t blame people for finding that insufficient or believing in something more, but I don’t think that the desire for something more in itself, or even the feeling that it’s necessary, gives us insight that something more is there.