Bucharest – Oxford Workshop in Applied Ethics: Workshop Summary

Guest Post: Toni Gibea, University of Bucharest. 

The Bucharest-Oxford Workshop in Applied Ethics, which took place in Oxford on the 1st of December, brought together researchers from the University of Oxford and the University of Bucharest to discuss new research across a variety of topics in applied ethics.

The workshop consisted of three main sessions: Principles and practice in applied ethics, Enhancement and Neuroethics. In what follows, I will summarize conclusions from the presentations together with responses from the audience, in order to give a quick overview. If you want to hear more about a particular presentation see the podcasts here.

Session I: Principles and practice in applied ethics

The first session began with Mircea Dumitru, the Rector of the University of Bucharest. A logician by training, he approached the issue of how we reason and pass a moral judgment in ethics, focussing on moral intuition. His conclusion was that we should see intuition and reasoning as two different kinds of cognition. And when it comes to how we actually pass moral judgments, most of the time, intuition comes first and then arguments back up the initial intuition. The audience discussion focussed on how this might affect how we ought to make moral judgments.

The next talk was given by Owen Schaefer, Oxford Centre for Neuroethics, who argued for a procedural form of moral enhancement. Thus, by enhancing reasoning in general we can get improved moral judgments. The starting point was Rawls’ proposal from his 1951 paper: Outline of a decision procedure for ethics. In this paper, Rawls highlights six features of decision making are: logical competence, conceptual understanding, empirical competence, openness, empathetic knowledge and bias avoidance. If we accept that all six features contribute to moral reasoning then enhancing them is a procedural form of moral enhancement. One objection expressed was that improved reasoning  makes better lawyers but not better judges.

The last presentation from the first session cam from Professor Valentin Mureşan, the director of the Research Centre in Applied Ethics in Bucharest, and Cosmin Bordea, member in the same Centre. The presentation had two aims. One was to argue that ethics management can be seen as a philosophical issue, even though it does not have a “philosophical look” and the second was to present a practical tool, i.e. the ethical scorecard, meant to make ethics much easier for organizations to implement. The audience was curious as to how introducing ethics to management would be seen by businessmen, managers and other stakeholders.

Session II: Enhancement

The first presentation in the second session was about the ethics of doping in chess, given by Emilian Mihailov, executive director of the Research Centre in Applied Ethics, Bucharest. The purpose of the presentation was to discuss whether doping is possible in chess and if so, if we should allow cognitive enhancing substances such as Ritalin or Adderall. Dr. Mihailov proposed a new principle for moral permissibility called the greater benefits principle which states that if an enhancement during training brings a greater benefit to the player during the competition than an enhancement taken during competition would, then the enhancement during competition should therefore be permissible. One objection was that if we allow players to take performance enhancing substances during chess competition, then aggressiveness or the capacity to make brilliant mistakes will be lost.

One important aspect of allowing enhancements in sports is how we understand the idea of desert. This was discussed by Tom Douglas, Oxford Uehiro Centre, in his talk Enhancement and desert. He identified four reactions against enhancement: (i) it’s unfair; (ii) allowing enhancement in sports will make everything too easy; (iii) achievements will be without value; (iv) the achievement earned while enhanced does not belong to us. Against all these reactions were raised interesting arguments, which focused on the idea that enhancement offers more options and possibilities to athletes. A question was raised regarding how we can deal with the strong intuition that a professional who takes drugs to improve his performance is less deserving of the prize than another professional who didn’t.

Emanuel Socaciu, deputy director of the Research Center in Applied Ethics from University of Bucharest, formulated an economic argument that the patents that companies hold for enhancement drugs create disincentives for moral bioenhancement. The argument is that when moral bioenhancement becomes available, only people from affluent countries will be able to afford them. Questions were raised about the scope of the argument; whether it runs against patents in general or only against specific ones.


Session III: Neuroethics

The last session started with a presentation from Hannah Maslen, Oxford Uehiro Centre, on cognitive enhancement devices. We will soon have to address the question of how to regulate cognitive enhancement devices. Dr. Maslen argued that devices with medium risk should be legalised for open purchase, , with the condition that consumers can easily access information about them, such as side effects, benefits, and long term risks. The main reactions addressed the problem of accessibility to young people who may be more likely to make rash choices, and whether the potential negative consequences could be reduced via requiring a prescription from a doctor who has access to your medical history would be necessary in order to buy a device.

The second presentation from the third session was given by Julian Savulescu and Ingmar Persson, from the Oxford Uehiro Centre. They tackled several objections that have been made against moral bioenhancement in the academic literature. The reactions against moral bioenhancement were divided into 3 categories: negative effects will outweigh good effects; disagreement about what morality is undermines the project of moral bioenhancement; and the argument that we should try to improve by other means, such as political and social ones.Nevertheless, Persson and Savulescu argued that the potential to improve our morality through biomedical means should not be ignored.

Constantin Vică, teaching assistant at the University of Bucharest, claimed that care robots should be integrated in human society as sensitive and emotional artificial companions preserving, therefore the human dignity of those they take care of. The audience felt that we should allow people the freedom to decide whether or not they would like an emotional, autonomous and sensitive robot. Other discussions centered on how we should develop social robots in the future.

The last presentation of the workshop was about dilemmas in the treatment of the severe neonatal hydrocephalus. Dominic Wilkinson, Director of Medical Ethics at the Oxford Uehiro Centre, analyzed scenarios when a surgical intervention is futile and when it could be cost effective, taking into account the long term care cost.

In the closing address the Rector of University of Bucharest, Mircea Dumitru, and Professor Roger Crisp, of the Oxford Uehiro Centre and St Anne’s College, thanked everyone for participating at the workshop and gave special thanks for the organizers. The Rector of the University of Bucharest invited all the participants to a workshop in Bucharest, next year in December.

This first step was made possible thanks to the support offered by the Society for Applied Philosophy, the Oxford Martin School, the Uehiro Foundation for Ethics and Education, and the University of Bucharest.

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One Response to Bucharest – Oxford Workshop in Applied Ethics: Workshop Summary

  • danalexianu says:

    Imi permit sa vaog sa includeti in subiectele de etica viitoare decembrie 2015 si ../ tema:
    Etica revenirii din come.
    Dan Alexianu
    Neurocercetator grad II, /PhD,Md/


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