MSt in Practical Ethics: Applications Open

We are delighted to announce that applications are open for the new MSt in Practical Ethics, taught by the Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics. This flexible, part -time course consists of six modules and a dissertation. Modules may be taken as

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

Announcement: Medical ethics symposium on health care rationing – Oxford June 20th. Registration now open

Practical medical ethics: Rationing responsibly in an age of austerity
Date: June 20th 2018, 2-5pm, includes refreshments
Location: Ship Street Centre, Jesus College, Oxford

Health professionals face ever expanding possibilities for medical treatment, increasing patient expectations and at the same time intense pressures to reduce healthcare costs. This leads frequently to conflicts between obligations to current patients, and others who might benefit from treatment.

Is it ethical for doctors and other health professionals to engage in bedside rationing? What ethical principles should guide decisions (for example about which patients to offer intensive care admission or surgery)? Is it discriminatory to take into account disability in allocating resources? If patients are responsible for their illness, should that lead to a lower priority for treatment?

In this seminar philosophers from the Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics will explore and shed light on the profound ethical challenges around allocating limited health care resources.

Speakers include Prof Dominic Wilkinson, Professor Julian Savulescu, Dr Rebecca Brown. Guest lecture by Professor Thaddeus Pope (Professor of Law, Mitchell Hamline School of Law, Minnesota) – on the US approach to allocating organs

Topics  include:

  • Allocating intensive care beds and balancing ethical values
  • Moralising medicine – is it ethical to allocate treatment based on responsibility for illness?
  • Cost-equivalence – rethinking treatment allocation.

This seminar is aimed at health professionals/ethicists

There are strictly limited places. Early bird registration £15/10* if register by 29th April and £25/20* subsequently

*Discounted registration for students

Registration includes tea/coffee and Wine/soft drinks/cheese at the end

Online Registration 

*Philosophical case discussion and *prize*

The afternoon will conclude with a live “ethics committee” deliberation on a clinical case.
Attendees at the meeting are encouraged to submit a case for discussion based on their clinical experience.
If chosen for presentation, attendees will have the opportunity to present a short (5 minute) clinical summary.
They will also receive complementary registration at the seminar, and a £40 Blackwell’s voucher.

To submit a case, please send a short (less than 200 word) deidentified case description including the key ethical questions to

If You Had to Choose, Would You Say Chimpanzees Are Persons or Things?

In everyday speech, the term ‘person’ often means roughly the same thing as ‘human,’ which in turn refers to someone who belongs to the species Homo sapiens. However, in practical ethics and in philosophy more broadly, the term ‘person’ has a much more rich, and more complicated, history.  Continue reading

Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics: When is Sex With Conjoined Twins Permissible?

This essay was the runner up in the Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics Graduate Category

Written by University of Oxford student James Kirkpatrick

It is widely accepted that valid consent is necessary for the permissibility of sexual acts. This requirement explains why it is impermissible to have sex with non-human animals, children, and agents with severe cognitive impairments. This paper explores the implications of this requirement for the conditions under which
conjoined twins may have sex.[1] I will argue that sex with conjoined twins is impermissible if one of them does not consent. This observation generalises to prohibitions on a wide range of everyday activities, such as masturbation, blood donations, and taking drugs to cure one’s headache. While these implications are
highly counterintuitive, it is dificult to articulate the relevant moral difference between these cases. Continue reading

Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics: The Paradox of the Benefiting Samaritan

This essay was the winner in the Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics Graduate Category

Written by University of Oxford student Miles Unterreiner


Question to be answered: Why is it wrong to benefit from injustice?

In the 2005 film Thank You for Smoking, smooth-talking tobacco company spokesman Nick Naylor (Aaron Eckhart) is charged with publicly defending the interests of Big Tobacco. Naylor is invited to a panel discussion on live TV, where he faces an unfriendly studio audience; Robin Williger, a 15-year-old cancer patient who has recently quit smoking; and anti-smoking crusader Ron Goode, who works for an organization dedicated to fighting tobacco consumption. Naylor boldly goes on the attack against Goode, accusing him and his organization of benefiting from the well-publicized deaths of lung cancer patients:

Naylor: The Ron Goodes of this world want the Robin Willigers to die.

Goode: What?

 Naylor: You know why? So that their budgets will go up. This is nothing less than trafficking in human misery, and you, sir, ought to be ashamed of yourself. Continue reading

Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics: Why We Should Genetically ‘Disenhance’ Animals Used in Factory Farms

This essay was the winner in the Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics Undergraduate Category

Written by University of Oxford student Jonathan Latimer

 I will defend the process of genetic ‘disenhancement’ of animals used for factory farming. I suggest that disenhancement will significantly increase the quality of life for animals in factory farms, and that this benefit is robust against objections that disenhancement is harmful to animals and that it fails to address the immorality of factory farming. Contra to a previous submission, I hope to recast disenhancement as something which ought to be seriously considered on behalf of animals in factory farms.

Currently, the factory farming of livestock animals for human consumption causes a great amount of suffering in those animals. It is widely acknowledged that the conditions many animals face in factory farms are abhorrent. Furthermore, demand for factory-farmed meat is increasing worldwide as developing economies grow more affluent. This will lead to more animals suffering in factory farms in the future. One potential solution to this problem is the ‘disenhancement’ of livestock animals. Disenhancement is a genetic modification that removes an animal’s capacity to feel pain. Scientists hope to be able to do this without inflicting any pain at all. So, disenhancement promises to reduce suffering in factory-farmed animals by removing their capacity to feel pain caused by their terrible environment. Continue reading

Cutting Costs?

Written by Neil Levy

We use taxation policy for a variety of ends. Obviously, the primary goal is revenue raising, in order to support government programs. But we also use taxation to send signals and to shape behavior. We tax tobacco and alcohol, for instance, to signal social disapproval of consumption (excessive consumption, in the second case), and to reduce it. There is currently a debate over whether we should implement a sugar tax for the same reasons and also to encourage manufacturers to change the recipes of foods to reduce the amount of sugar they contain. To my knowledge, though, there has been no discussion of taxation of cosmetic surgery (VAT is already charged on cosmetic surgery). Continue reading

Faster, Higher, Stronger…Happier? Olympic Athletes and the Philosophy of Well-Being

Written by Mackenzie Graham

Last Sunday marked the end of the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Olympic athletes train intensely for years in preparation for a single opportunity at winning gold. Unfortunately, most of them will not be successful. Many will have missed out on a medal by fractions of a second or tenths of a point, an ill-timed crash or fall, or a split-second mental error. In some respects, it hardly seems worth all of the effort and sacrifice, required to be an Olympic athlete (at least in most cases). To focus and train so long and so hard on a single task, only to fall just short of one’s goal, seems an irrational way to organize one’s life.

On the other hand, we might think that this pessimistic view completely misses the point, and that Olympic athletes are actually living some of the best lives possible. The philosophy of well-being is concerned with what things have ‘prudential value’; what things make a life good for the person who is living it? Three conceptions of well-being have largely dominated the philosophical literature. Hedonist views of prudential value hold that, at a fundamental level, the only thing that is ‘good for me’ (or anyone else), is the experience of pleasure, and the only thing that is bad for me is the avoidance of pain. The best life for me is the one which maximizes my experience of pleasure, and minimizes my experience of pain.

Continue reading

Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics: On Relational Injustice: Could Colonialism Have Been Wrong Even if it Had Introduced More Benefits Than Harms?

This essay was awarded second place in the Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics Undergraduate Category.

Written by University of Oxford student, Brian Wong

Recent debates over the legacy of colonialism – such that that of the British Empire – have often been centred around whether members of colonies have, on balance, benefited from being subject to colonial rule. Such debates are not only epistemically futile, for counterfactual analysis remains necessarily and largely speculative hitherto; they also neglect a potential alternative to the discussion: that colonial projects could have been wrong independent of the harms they bring.

My thesis is that there existed the unoffsettable wrong of the relational injustice perpetuated under colonialism, such that colonialism was wrong even in cases where it introduced counterfactual-sensitive benefits. I will first discuss my concept of relational injustice, prior to establishing the empirical premise and explaining why such wrongs are unoffsettable by consequentialist gains. Continue reading

Announcement: Winners of the 4th Annual Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics

It is with great pleasure that we can announce the winners of the Annual Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics 2018.

Undergraduate Category:

Winner: Jonathan Latimer with his essay ‘Why we Should Genetically ‘Disenhance’ Animals Used in Factory Farms’

Runner Up: Brian Wong with his essay ‘ On Relational Injustice: Could Colonialism Have Been Wrong Even if it Had Introduced More Benefits Than Harms?’


Graduate Category:

Winner: Miles Unterreiner with his essay ‘The Paradox of the Benefiting Samaritan’

Runner Up: James Kirkpatrick with his essay ‘When is Sex With Conjoined Twins Permissible?’

Honorable Mention: Tena Thau with her essay ‘Should Cryonics be Compulsory?’

We wish to express our congratulations to the five finalists for their excellent essays and presentations, and in particular to the winners of each category.  We also send congratulations to all of the entrants in this prize.


Harmless Kidney Markets

Written by Adam Shriver


Kidney transplants result in improved quality of life and increased longevity compared to dialysis for patients with end-stage renal disease (Evans et al. 1985, Schnuelle et al. 1998, Wolfe et al 1999).  In 2014, the national transplant list in the United States passed a milestone of 100,000 people waiting for kidneys.  However, the current rate of kidney donations, both from living and deceased donors, is not high enough to keep up with demand (Becker & Elias 2007). As a result, many people die each year and the quality of life of many more people is significantly diminished.

In response to this problem, various authors have proposed the creation of a regulated market for kidneys whereupon individuals may sell one of their kidneys in exchange for money and possibly other benefits (Matas et al. 2008, Gaston et al. 2006, Radcliffe-Richards et al. 1998, Radcliffe-Richards 2012, Veatch 2003).  Kidney sellers could be paid relatively large amounts of money (~$95,000) while maintaining a cost-effective system due to the savings obtained from moving people off dialysis (Matas 2008).  If implemented, a regulated kidney market could result in important increases in quality of life and in survival rates.

I admit I find the arguments from authors such as Matas and Radcliffe-Richards largely persuasive.  Nevertheless, their proposals have been subject to a number of criticisms from ethicists that pull on strong moral intuitions.  In what follows, I present an alternative model for a kidney market that I believe avoids the most serious objections to kidney markets.  In contrast to previous arguments that suggest that the benefits of regulated kidney markets would outweigh the harms, I will propose a model that is harmless, on the best way of understanding a harmful practice.  If, as I argue, we can design a kidney market where the decision to give up a kidney does not harm the seller, this suggests that we can reap the benefits of a kidney market without the ethical costs that have raised concerns. Continue reading


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