What Kind of Altruism is Most Effective?

Imagine that you have been left a large legacy, and would like to donate it to a charity, with a view to doing the most good possible.

It’s natural to think that one set of charities you should consider are those which cheaply save people’s lives, and perhaps particularly young people’s lives. For then you can count the good in the rest of those people’s lives as a good you’ve brought about. Continue reading

The ethics of DocAdvisor: Is accountability always a good thing?

Dominic Wilkinson @NeonatalEthics

 

In the news this morning, the NHS has released data on individual surgeons’ performance, so called “surgeon report cards”. This represents the latest move towards increased transparency and accountability in the National Health Service. Elsewhere in the media today, there are numerous reports of the UK couple who were apparently charged £100 after posting a negative hotel review on an online website.

These parallel stories highlight one concern about certain types of health accountability: sensitivity to the negative impact of reviews (or poor performance figures) could lead to harmful changes in behaviour. For surgeon report cards, one frequently cited concern is that publishing report cards could lead surgeons to avoid high-risk cases. If surgeons choose patients with lower risk of dying, they will potentially end up with a better report card. However, then the results would be misleading (it would be the equivalent of someone getting a higher mark by choosing to sit an easier test). More worrying, it may mean that some high-risk patients are unable to access surgery.

Should we be worried about the negative effect of report cards on surgeons behaviour? Continue reading

Cognitive enhancement, legalising opium, and cognitive biases

Suppose you want to enhance your cognition. A scientist hands you two drugs. Drug X has at least 19 controlled studies on the healthy individual showing it is effective, and while a handful of studies report a slight increase in blood pressure, another dozen conclude it is safe and non-addictive. Drug Y is also effective, but it increases mortality, has addiction potential and withdrawal symptoms. Which one do you choose? Great. Before you reach out for Drug X, the scientist warns you, “I should add, however, that Drug Y has been used by certain primitive communities for centuries, while Drug X has not.” Which one do you choose? Should this information have any bearing on your choice? I don’t think so. You probably conclude that primitive societies do all sort of crazy things and you would be better off with actual, double-blind, controlled studies.

Now what if I told you that, regardless of your interest in cognitive enhancers, you have been choosing Drug Y over and over, day after day, for several years? Continue reading

Should men be allowed to discuss abortion?

@JimACEverett

 www.jimaceverett.com

Feminists are kicking up quite a storm in Oxford at the moment. Oxford Students for Life have organized a debate on abortion to happen tomorrow (the 18th November, 2014), which has inspired some rather troubling attacks. Now, Oxford feminists (‘WomCam’) are generally rather intolerant of any pro-life rhetoric (or, indeed, anyone that disagrees with them), but what has really got their goat this time is that the debate is between two men.

“It is absurd to think we should be listening to two cisgender men debate about what people with uteruses should be doing with their bodies. By only giving a platform to these men, OSFL [Oxford Students for Life] are participating in a culture where reproductive rights are limited and policed by people who will never experience needing an abortion.”

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One Million Readers: Thank You

We are pleased to have reached our one millionth reader since our records began. Thank you to all our authors, guest posters, readers and commentators who have supported the blog over a number of years. And thanks to reader one million, whoever you are…

We would like to mark the occasion by taking stock about the future of the blog and would like to invite readers to contribute ideas for blog topics, and suggestions for improving the blog – both format and content via our comments section.

A Methodological Worry for ‘Top Down’ Accounts of Human Rights

The language of human rights is pervasive both in academic literature and international legal practice. We often take the satisfaction of human rights to be a necessary condition for a state’s legitimacy, and the failure of a state to respect human rights as grounds for international intervention. However, providing an account of the nature of human rights—figuring out what exactly it is for something to be a human right—is quite a difficult task. Here I want to present two problems I’ve been thinking about recently with ‘top down’ approaches to determining the nature of human rights.[1] Continue reading

Why I Am Not a Utilitarian

Utilitarianism is a widely despised, denigrated and misunderstood moral theory.

Kant himself described it as a morality fit only for English shopkeepers. (Kant had much loftier aspirations of entering his own “noumenal” world.)

The adjective “utilitarian” now has negative connotations like “Machiavellian”. It is associated with “the end justifies the means” or using people as a mere means or failing to respect human dignity, etc.

For example, consider the following negative uses of “utilitarian.”

“Don’t be so utilitarian.”

“That is a really utilitarian way to think about it.”

To say someone is behaving in a utilitarian manner is to say something derogatory about their behaviour.

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Doing Good by Doing Nothing?

@JimACEverett

 www.jimaceverett.com

 

A common theme running through debates on combating global problems like poverty and common change is the idea that something must be done. Usually, this is taken to mean that some prosocial behaviour must be actively encouraged and sought out: for example, encouraging people to recycle, or having public health campaigns to encourage people to vaccinate. These solutions typically require individuals going out of their way to do what is often a costly behaviour, and consequently, have only limited success. But what if prosocial behaviour could also be encouraged by making use of the passivity of human nature? What if people could do good by doing nothing?

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Sinnott-Armstrong on Implicit Moral Attitudes

On October 30th, Professor Walter Sinnott-Armstrong of Duke University gave the 2014 Wellcome Lecture in Neuroethics.  His talk, “Implicit Moral Attitudes”, concerned the practical and theoretical implications of recent empirical research into unconscious or sub-conscious beliefs or associations.  Recordings of his talk will be made available soon Audio recording of the talk is available here: http://media.philosophy.ox.ac.uk/neuro/MT14_WLN_WSA.mp3For those interested that were unable to attend, I will summarise the main points of Sinnott-Armstrong’s talk and some of the discussion that occurred during the Q&A afterwards. Continue reading

Can Bioethics be done without Theology? Guest Post from Charles Camosy

Guest Post: Charles Camosy, Associate Professor of Christian Ethics at Fordham University, New York City
E-mail: ccamosy@gmail.com Twitter: @nohiddenmagenta

The discipline of theological bioethics is in trouble.

Especially as theology continues to morph into religious studies in many university departments, “social ethics” now swallows everything in its path—with almost all questions of ethics becoming questions exclusively about history, sociology and/or economics. Furthermore, especially in the Roman Catholic world, academic and ecclesial politics push against academics working on issues like abortion, euthanasia, health care distribution, and artificial reproductive technologies. After all, regardless of the position one takes on these issues, it is bound to run afoul of one of two orthodoxies: that of the Church or that the secular academy. Especially if not yet established in one’s academic career, it can be dangerous to be branded a heretic by one of these power brokers. Unsurprisingly, good universities are struggling even to find marginally viable candidates for excellent bioethics jobs. Most theological ethicists have decided not to write on bioethics.

But there is another reason that theological bioethics is in trouble. Today’s centers of power in academic and clinical bioethics (at least in the developed West) generally don’t take theology seriously. I recently attended the annual meeting of the American Society of Bioethics and Humanities and was dismayed—though, I must say, not surprised—to see that a grand total of zero papers had an explicitly theological argument. Those of us who do theological bioethics know that, in order to get a paper accepted by today’s ASBH, one is forced to hide or translate one’s theological commitments. The reason I was able to present this year was because I was invited by the Christian theology interest group—the one place at ASBH (during the evening, apart from the formal sessions) where theologians can actually present and discuss theology.

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