MSt in Practical Ethics

Applications are now open for September 2020 entry to the MSt in Practical Ethics, taught by the Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics.

Deadlines:
12:00 midday UK time on:

Friday 24 January 2020
Latest deadline for most Oxford scholarships

Tuesday 3 March 2020
Final application deadline for entry in 2020-21

Applications for the modules as standalone courses are also available.

This flexible, part -time course consists of six modules and a dissertation. The MSt in Practical Ethics is a part-time course consisting of six taught modules and a dissertation. Modules may also be taken as standalone courses. Continue reading

Cross Post: Is Virtue Signalling a Perversion of Morality?

Written by Neil Levy

Originally published in Aeon Magazine

People engage in moral talk all the time. When they make moral claims in public, one common response is to dismiss them as virtue signallers. Twitter is full of these accusations: the actress Jameela Jamil is a ‘pathetic virtue-signalling twerp’, according to the journalist Piers Morgan; climate activists are virtue signallers, according to the conservative Manhattan Institute for Policy Research; vegetarianism is virtue signalling, according to the author Bjorn Lomborg (as these examples illustrate, the accusation seems more common from the Right than the Left). Continue reading

When the State Distrusts Individuals Based Purely on their Nationality

Written by Hazem Zohny.

The UK government finds my nationality sufficiently suspicious that it requires me to register with the police. Unlike any of the other foreign nationals working at my research centre, I alone have to present myself to the police to get ‘certified’ as part of my visa conditions.

This is because I’m from Egypt – one of the 40 or so listed countries (mostly poor and/or Muslim majority) for which this is a requirement. Basically, anyone who wants to live and work in the UK for more than 6 months and who is from the Middle East, Central Asia or a handful of South American countries has to do this.

There is no explicit rationale for it. The law itself says that it is a way of ensuring people like me comply with the terms of their visa, though zero justification is given for why people from these particular countries are singled out.

Continue reading

Rewarding what matters: Status in academic ethics

By Charles Foster

Not everything matters equally. If academic ethics is to be useful – if, indeed, it is to be ethical – it should address itself more to the things that matter most than to things that matter less.

It is hard to imagine a pair of sentences more uncontroversial – no, downright trite – than the two above. And yet not only are these basic principles not acknowledged, they are often reversed: often the manifestly least important work in academic ethics gets the most applause and recognition. This may be because it is more arcane and therefore perceived as requiring greater cleverness.

This needs to stop, and that demands a system whereby important and useful work is incentivised by enhanced status and funding. Continue reading

Be Excellent: How Ancient Virtues can Guide our Responses to the Climate Crisis

Written by Roger Crisp

After world chiefs and youth leaders gathered in September in New York at the United Nations Climate Action Summit, many of us as individuals are left feeling powerless and overwhelmed. Making big personal changes can appear costly in terms of happiness. And anyway, why should I bother when any difference I can make will be negligible? As we contemplate our future, we can seek insight from the great philosophers of the ancient world to guide our choices.  Continue reading

Hornless Cattle – Is Gene Editing The Best Solution?

In this talk [AUDIO + SLIDES], Prof. Peter Sandøe (Philosophy, Copenhagen University), argues that, from an ethical viewpoint, gene editing is the best solution to produce hornless cattle. There are, however, regulatory hurdles. (Presented at the workshop ‘Gene Editing and Animal Welfare’, 19 Nov. 2019, Oxford – organised by Adam Shriver, Katrien Devolder, and The Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics; funded by the Society for Applied Philosophy.)

 

 

Pub Bores and Politics

Written by Stephen Rainey

Pub bet: I bet you can’t button your coat up. You smell a rat, but go along with it, fastening you coat to see what’s up. I claim a victorious pint of plum porter because you close your coat starting with the top button and moving down. You didn’t button your coat up but down.

A pub bet works, to the extent that it does, by subverting a conventional meaning of some phrase or word. We know buttoning up has nothing to do with direction, but there is a direction word in the phrasal verb. Cheeky subversion leads to endless mirth. 

There’s clearly no ethical problem in the minor subversion and misleading that characterises a pub bet. For bigger, or for real bets, we’d be concerned if subversion like this went on. The genie that granted wishes on a tight, close, literal meaning of words used, rather than on the basis of what the wisher probably wanted, would be a scary being. 

Continue reading

The Good Place, the Bad Place, and the Ugly Consequences

written by Gabriel De Marco

I recently started to watch The Good Place again, a sitcom by NBC which takes place in the realm of the supernatural. The show has taken us to the good place (somewhat like heaven, where good people go after they have shuffled off their mortal coil), the bad place (the opposite of the good place), and a few others. Although the show is mainly a comedy, it manages to be funny while discussing many interesting ethical questions, and explicitly introducing a variety of ethical views and principles.

In this world there is a system, call it The System, that determines who goes to the good place and who goes to the bad place. The details of The System have never been fully clear, which turns out to be an important part of the show. Yet, there are some things we do know about how The System works. First, it assigns positive or negative points to actions. The points assigned to a given action seem to be a function of a variety of factors, including its use of resources, the intentions behind it, its effects on others. (It has also been suggested in a recent episode that if the only reason one performs an action is to make one’s points go up, one will not receive points). Whether a person ends up going to the good place is a matter of what their overall score is, and this overall score seems to be the sum of the points assigned to one’s actions.

Continue reading

Bad Ads And Stereotypes

Written by Rebecca Brown

In June this year, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) brought into effect a ban on harmful gender stereotypes in advertising. In response to public outcry about adverts such as the 2015 ‘Are you beach body ready?’ campaign by Protein World, and growing discomfort with outdated depictions of gender roles in the media, the ASA undertook a project to consider whether existing regulation is fit for purpose. They concluded that “evidence suggests that a tougher line needs to be taken on ads that feature stereotypical gender roles and characteristics, which through their content and context may be potentially harmful to people.” (ASA, 2017: 3)

Continue reading

Interview with Julian Savulescu on Genetic Selection and Enhancement

Should we use genetic testing to choose what type of children to bring into the world, and if so, how should we choose? Is it acceptable to choose a deaf child? Should we choose our children on the basis of non-disease traits such as intelligence if that were possible ? Does genetic selection put too much pressure on prospective parents? In this interview with Katrien Devolder (Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics), Professor Julian Savulescu, director of the Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, defends his controversial view that we should select those children, from among the children we could have, that will have the best chance at the best life.

[This interview is audio only]

Panpsychism and Moral Status

Panpsychism is the view that sentience is ubiquitous in the world. Some people find it attractive because it sidesteps the challenge for dualists of explaining why there are two radically different types of things in the world, physical things and mental things.  And panpsychism seems to avoid some of of the challenges that face physicalist accounts of consciousness of explaining how mental properties are related to physical properties; since pan-psychism says that “mentality” is everywhere, the task left for cognitive scientists is simply to explain why that mentality is organized in a particular way rather than needing to directly address the “hard problem of consciousness'” head on.

Many people also find sentientism, the view that sentience is sufficient for moral status, attractive.  So it can be tempting to combine panpsychism and sentientism and conclude that we can assume that all animals, including oysters, snails, and fruit flies, must necessarily have moral status.  This move is a mistake.

The problem with the above move is that it rests on an equivocation on the term “sentient.”  One definition of sentient means “the ability to feel pleasure and pain.”  Another definition means “the ability to have any types of conscious experiences.”  The link to moral status requires the first definition of sentience.  But panpsychism, if true, only entails the second.

Beyond just the definitions, it certainly seems like there are a lot of experiences that are neither positive nor negative…they are simply neutral.  So the fact that some experiences occurred doesn’t tell us that anything morally significant occurred in the absence of further knowledge about what types of experiences they were, even for a sentientist.

But what about observing avoidance behaviour?  If we see that, and we think that mentality is everywhere, shouldn’t we conclude that the avoidance behaviour is indicative of suffering?  But this seems contrary to what we know about pain.  People can still have withdrawal reactions that rely on spinal reflexes, even when they self-report that they don’t feel pain.  In fact, in rare cases, people even report feeling pains but not finding them unpleasant.

So panpsychism doesn’t really sidestep the challenge of determining which types of behaviours in nonverbal populations are indicative of positive or negative experiences.  They may avoid having to take on the hard problem of consciousness but they are left with the hard problem of morally relevant consciousness.

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