MSt in Practical Ethics

Applications are open for October 2019 entry to the MSt in Practical Ethics, taught by the Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics.

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

Entitlement

Written by Stephen Rainey

It is often claimed, especially in heated Twitter debates, that one or other participant is entitled to their opinion. Sometimes, if someone encounters a challenge to their picture of the world, they will retort that they are entitled to their opinion. Or, maybe in an attempt to avoid confrontation, disagreement is sometimes brushed over by stating that whatever else may be going on, everyone is entitled to their opinion. This use of the phrase is highlighted in a recent piece in The Conversation. There, Patrick Stokes writes,

The problem with “I’m entitled to my opinion” is that, all too often, it’s used to shelter beliefs that should have been abandoned. It becomes shorthand for “I can say or think whatever I like” – and by extension, continuing to argue is somehow disrespectful.

I think this is right, and a problem well identified. Nevertheless, it’s not like no one, ever, is entitled to an opinion. So when are you, am I, are we, entitled to our opinion? What does it take to be entitled to an opinion?

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The Ethics of Gently Electrifying Prisoners’ Brains

By Hazem Zohny and Tom Douglas

Scientists who want to study the effects of passing electric currents through prisoners’ brains have a PR problem: it sounds shady. Even if that electric current is so small as to go largely unnoticed by its recipient – as in the case of transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) – for some, such experiments evoke historical abuses of neuroscience in criminal justice, not to mention bringing to mind some of the more haunting scenes in films like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and A Clockwork Orange.

And so, last week the Spanish Interior Ministry put on hold an impending experiment in two Spanish prisons investigating the impact of brain stimulation on prisoners’ aggression. At the time of writing, it remains unclear what the ministry’s reasoning for the halt is, though the optics of the experiment might be part of the story.

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Harmful Choices and Vaccine Refusal

By Dominic Wilkinson @Neonatalethics

 

Last week, medical specialists in the US reported a case of severe tetanus in an unvaccinated 6 year old child, (who I will call ‘C’). The boy had had a minor cut, but six days later he developed intense painful muscle spasms and was rushed to hospital. (Tetanus used to be called, for obvious reasons, “lockjaw”). C was critically unwell, required a tracheostomy and a prolonged stay in intensive care. Patients with this illness develop excruciating muscle spasms in response to noise or disturbance. C had to be heavily sedated and treated in a darkened room with ear plugs for days. The boy was finally discharged from hospital to a rehabilitation facility after 57 days (and an $811,000 hospital bill).

In a disturbing post-script to the case report, the specialists noted that despite being extensively counselled by the hospital staff that this illness could recur, his parents refused for C to be vaccinated with the tetanus (or any other) vaccine.

C has been seriously harmed by his parents’ decision to decline vaccinations. Should he now be vaccinated against his parents’ wishes? Or could a more radical response be justified?

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Is there a Moral Problem with the Gig Economy?

by Roger Crisp

Nearly all of us have been involved with the so-called ‘gig economy’ in some way or other, whether by calling an Uber or by ordering a pizza via Deliveroo. Indeed my elder daughter was a ‘Roo’ for a while (not long, I’m glad to say), so I have had some insight, albeit vicarious, into what gig work is really like. But of course the gig economy has come under a lot of moral scrutiny in recent years – hence Dan Halliday’s fascinating and well attended New St Cross Special Ethics Seminar on Thursday 28 February. Continue reading

Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics: Do Jurors Have a Moral Obligation to Avoid Deadlock?

This essay was the runner up in the undergraduate category of the 5th Annual Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics

Written by University of Oxford student Angelo Ryu

1. Introduction

Many legal systems have juries decide cases of an especially grave nature. Because a jury consists of a group of individual jurors, they need a decision-making procedure before it may act. One such procedure is a voting rule: most require either unanimity or supermajority to deliver a verdict. An inability to do so results in a mistrial.

Mistrials are often treated as a sort of failure which ought to be avoided. To that end judges sometimes intervene if deadlock seems likely. In England there is the Watson direction, which refers to a collective obligation to return a verdict. The United States has the Allen charge, which informs jurors of a duty to agree upon a verdict, if possible.

These instructions are often criticised as an impermissible judicial intervention infringing on jury autonomy. At best they are treated as a sort of necessary evil, which must only be used in extraordinary cases. But I argue there is nothing objectionable about such instructions because they simply track the obligations already held by jurors. They serve an important function in informing jurors of their moral position. There may indeed be an imperative for legal systems without such recourse to implement one, as jurors may not always know the duties incumbent upon them in the exercise of their authority. But all this presumes that jurors face an obligation which mirrors these jury instructions. The aim of this essay is to defend that claim. Continue reading

Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics: Question:  Can soldiers justify killing some as a means to influence the decisions of others?       

This essay received an honourable mention in the 5th Annual Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics, Graduate Category.

Written by University of Oxford DPhil student, Robert Underwood.

 

Lt. Col. Bob Underwood is a U.S. Army officer and a Fellow in its Advanced Strategic Plans and Policy Program. He is pursuing a DPhil in Philosophy at the University of Oxford and will assume command of 1st Squadron, 4th Cavalry in the summer of 2019. The opinions expressed here are his own and do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Army, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.

Killing in war eliminates threats but also plays a part in influencing the decisions of other persons beyond those we might kill.  This suggests that killing in war has a communicative function, and that the message is an important consideration that can feature in the balance of reasons to kill some but not others in war.  This is true provided combatants can permissibly kill some as means to communicate to others.  I argue that just combatants, those that fight for just aims, can permissibly kill to communicate and that unjust combatants cannot.  This is a new reason to revise our intuition that combatants on both sides hold equal rights to kill, the so-called moral equality of combatants (MEC). Continue reading

Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics: Should We Contact Uncontacted Peoples?: A Case for a Samaritan Rescue Principle

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

Written by University of Oxford student Brian Wong

Uncontacted peoples refer to individuals who live (by choice or by circumstance) without coming into contact with broader, greater civilisation.[1] I make the idealised[2] assumption that our act of contacting seeks to provide these peoples with goods, opportunities, and access to advantages. I outline a tentative argument as to why it can be obligatory to contact[3] uncontacted peoples, basing my claim on a Samaritan modification to Singer’s Rescue Principle[4]. I will then raise several limiting conditions to the above Samaritan considerations. Noting that the key difference between contacting uncontacted peoples and more ‘uncontroversial’ Samaritan acts lies in the heightened epistemic indeterminacy in the former, I conclude by presenting a principle of epistemic prudence that has wider implications for broader instances of paternalistic intervention.[5]

Consider first the relevant facts: in 2013, it was estimated that there were over 100 uncontacted tribes around the world, residing in densely forested areas of South America, Central Africa, and the Indian Ocean. These tribes generally live without access to modern medical or communicative technology, and are more vulnerable to natural threats (e.g. predators, disasters etc.).[6] Continue reading

Announcement: Winners of the 5th Annual Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics

Undergraduate Category:

Winner: Harry Lloyd with his essay “What, if anything, is objectionable about gentrification?”

Runner Up: Angelo Ryu with his essay “Do Jurors Have a Moral Obligation to Avoid Deadlock?”

 

Graduate Category:

Winner: Tena Thau with her essay “Love Drugs and Expanding the Romantic Circle”

Joint Runners Up: Miles Kellerman with his essay “The Ethical Dilemma of Disclosing Offshore Accounts” and Brian Wong with his essay “Should We Contact Uncontacted Peoples?: A Case for a Samaritan Rescue Principle”

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 wish to express our congratulations to the authors of the following essays which have been awarded an Honourable Mention in the Graduate category: 

Maximilian Kiener: “Consent and Causation”

Michelle Lee:  “Practical Ethics of Machine Learning and Discriminatory Lending”

Robert Underwood:  “Killing to Communicate”

Finally we also send congratulations to all of the entrants in this prize.

Video Interview: Alberto Giubilini on the Ethics of Vaccination

Why do some people refuse to have their child vaccinated? Are there any good reasons not to vaccinate one’s child? Why should one have one’s child vaccinated if this doesn’t make a difference to whether the community is protected? Why is vaccinating one’s child an ethical issue? In this interview with Dr Katrien Devolder, Dr Alberto Giubilini (Philosophy, Oxford) discusses these and other questions, which he addresses in his new book ‘The Ethics of Vaccination’ (downloadable for free).

Cross Post: Why No-Platforming is Sometimes a Justifiable Position

Written by Professor Neil Levy

Originally published in Aeon Magazine

The discussion over no-platforming is often presented as a debate between proponents of free speech, who think that the only appropriate response to bad speech is more speech, and those who think that speech can be harmful. I think this way of framing the debate is only half-right. Advocates of open speech emphasise evidence, but they overlook the ways in which the provision of a platform itself provides evidence.

No-platforming is when a person is prevented from contributing to a public debate, either through policy or protest, on the grounds that their beliefs are dangerous or unacceptable. Open-speech advocates highlight what we might call first-order evidence: evidence for and against the arguments that the speakers make. But they overlook higher-order evidence. Continue reading

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