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The Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics: The Economics of Morality, By Dillon Bowen

This essay, by Oxford undergraduate student Dillon Bowen, is one of the two finalists in the undergraduate category of the inaugural Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics. Dillon will be presenting this paper, along with three other finalists, on the 12th March at the final.

 

The Economics of Morality: By Dillon Bowen

 

The Problem

People perform acts of altruism every day.  When I talk about ‘altruism’, I’m not talking about acts of kindness towards family, friends, or community members.  The sort of altruism I’m interested in involves some personal sacrifice for the sake of people you will probably never meet or know.  This could be anything from holding the door for a stranger to donating a substantial portion of your personal wealth to charity.  The problem is that, while altruism is aimed at increasing the well-being of others, it is not aimed at maximizing the well-being of others.  This lack of direction turns us into ineffective altruists, whose generosity is at the whim of our moral biases, and whose kindness ends up giving less help to fewer people.  I propose that we need to learn to think of altruism economically – as an investment in human well-being.  Adopting this mentality will turn us into effective altruists, whose kindness does not merely increase human happiness, but increases human happiness as much as possible.

 

For the first section, I explain one morally unimportant factor which profoundly influences our altruistic behavior, both in the lab and in the real world.  In the next section, I look at decision-making processes related to economics.  Like altruistic decision-making, economic decision-making is also burdened by biases.  Yet unlike altruistic decision-making, we have largely learned to overcome our biases when it comes to resource management.  Continuing this analogy in section three, I express hope that we can overcome our moral myopia by thinking about altruism much the same way we think about economics. Continue reading

The Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics: How Should Vegans Live, by Xavier Cohen.

This essay, by Oxford undergraduate student Xavier Cohen, is one of the two finalists in the undergraduate category of the inaugural Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics. Xavier will be presenting this paper, along with three other finalists, on the 12th March at the final.

How should vegans live? By Xavier Cohen

Ethical vegans make a concerted lifestyle choice based on ethical – rather than, say, dietary – concerns. But what are the ethical concerns that lead them to practise veganism? In this essay, I focus exclusively on that significant portion of vegans who believe consuming foods that contain animal products to be wrong because they care about harm to animals, perhaps insofar as they have rights, perhaps because they are sentient beings who can suffer, or perhaps because of a combination thereof.[1] Throughout the essay, I take this conviction as a given, that is, I do not evaluate it, but instead investigate what lifestyle is in fact consistent with caring about harm to animals, which I will begin by calling consistent veganism. I argue that the lifestyle that consistently follows from this underlying conviction behind many people’s veganism is in fact distinct from a vegan lifestyle. Continue reading

Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics: In light of the value of personal relationships, is immortality desirable? by Fionn O’Donovan

This essay, by Oxford undergraduate student Fionn O’Donovan, is one of the four shortlisted essays in the undergraduate category of the inaugural Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics.

In light of the value of personal relationships, is immortality desirable?

In the future it is likely that advances in medicine will grant us the opportunity to prevent the process of ageing. The question of whether eternal life would be a good thing will then be of the utmost practical importance to humanity. In this essay, I claim that it would be, and that Williams’ concerns about immortality[1] can be assuaged with consideration of how life always gives us at least an opportunity to realise something commonly held to be incommensurably valuable, namely good relationships with others. I note here that, for the purposes of this essay, I assume there is no afterlife. I also want to note that the issues of immortality and euthanasia are linked: a similar question about whether death is ever desirable is central to debate on both. Therefore, many of the considerations I present below could also be used to support a more pro-life view on euthanasia. Continue reading

Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics: Giving Ourselves Away, by Callum Hackett

This essay, by Oxford graduate student Callum Hackett, is one of the six shortlisted essays in the graduate category of the inaugural Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics.

‘Giving Ourselves Away: online communication alters the self and society’

Invention is a fertile source of new ethical problems because creating new tools creates questions about how they might be used for better or worse. However, while every invention has its unique uses, the questions we must ask of them are often the same. For example, the harnessing of water and steam in the Industrial Revolution raised the same concern as robotics in contemporary manufacturing for how mechanization affects the economic empowerment of the working class. Naturally, there are fewer underlying ethical problems than there are inventions that cluster around them, but here I wish to explore the possibility that the mass adoption of the internet has brought with it a new problem with which we are just starting to engage. Specifically, while the internet poses a series of difficult questions, I will consider the implications of certain characteristics of online communication for the self, society and politics. Continue reading

Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics: May the state limit the free speech of individuals who advocate against vaccines intended to combat infectious disease? by Miles Unterreiner

This essay, by Oxford graduate student Miles Unterreiner, is one of the two finalists in the graduate category of the inaugural Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics. Miles will be presenting this paper, along with three other finalists, at the 12th March final.

May the state limit the free speech of individuals who advocate against vaccines intended to combat infectious disease?

Freedom is the most contagious virus known to man.

-Hubert H. Humphrey

 

Philosophical arguments concerning freedom of speech have traditionally focused upon which types of expression the state apparatus may justly limit, and under which circumstances it may do so. The state has therefore been the locus of history’s most celebrated works on the subject, including John Milton’s Areopagitica (1644), chapter 20 of Spinoza’s Tractatus Theologico-Politicus (1670), and perhaps most famously J.S. Mill’s On Liberty (1859). Mill’s argument in favor of the free exchange of ideas remains today the most lasting and the most relevant, and his formulation of the “harm principle” – that “the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others” – continues to undergird significant components of law and policy in industrialized democracies today.[1] Continue reading

Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics: If one is genuinely concerned with the welfare of non-human animals, should one seriously consider the disenhancement of intensively-farmed livestock as a possible method of reducing animal suffering? by Catrin Gibson

This essay, by Oxford graduate student Catrin Gibson, is one of the six shortlisted essays in the graduate category of the inaugural Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics.

If one is genuinely concerned with the welfare of non-human animals, should one seriously consider the disenhancement of intensively-farmed livestock as a possible method of reducing animal suffering?

It is generally agreed that suffering is bad. However, a countless number of non-human animals each year undergo tremendous suffering in order to meet the human demand for animal products, and this demand is currently increasing. The Food and Agriculture Organisation predicts that meat consumption will rise from 37.4kg per person worldwide (1999/2001) to 52 kg per person worldwide by 2050. The recent development of ‘intensive’ or ‘factory’ farming has greatly increased productivity, so it is likely that there will be an increase in the proportion of factory-farmed animal products to meet this demand. In factory farms, large numbers of livestock are kept indoors in relatively small spaces and suffer from horrific production diseases as a result. These are pathologies that occur due to the methods of livestock production; for example, chickens kept in large numbers have a tendency to cannibalism. Therefore, it is likely that there will be a significant increase in animal suffering in the near future. Continue reading

Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics: Arguing About Guns by C’zar Bernstein

This essay, by Oxford graduate student C’zar Bernstein, is one of the six shortlisted essays in the graduate category of the inaugural Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics.

Arguing About Guns

 

In this paper, I’ll argue, first, that people have a prima facie right to own guns. Second, that it is far more controversial than people usually suppose that gun ownership does more harm than good, given the extant criminological evidence.

Rights are trumps that are supposed to hold in the face of negative consequences.[1] Prima facie rights are rights that admit to being outweighed by countervailing considerations. However, because rights are supposed to trump negative consequences, one cannot merely point out that there are negative consequences as a reason to suppose that the right is overridden. She must establish that the negative consequences outweigh the trump-value of the right. Thus, if there is a prima facie right to own guns, anti-gun philosophers must show (i) that gun ownership does more harm than good, and (ii) that the negative consequences are sufficient to override the right to own guns. I’ll argue that there is a lot of good evidence to doubt that (i) is true. I shan’t, however, argue that (i) is probably false, which would require a much more extensive examination of the evidence. Continue reading

Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics: Is prohibition of breast implants a good way to undermine harmful and unequal social norms? by Jessica Laimann

This essay, by Oxford graduate student Jessica Laimann, is one of the two finalists in the graduate category of the inaugural Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics. Jessica will be presenting this paper, along with three other finalists, at the 12th March final.

Is prohibition of breast implants a good way to undermine harmful and unequal social norms?

 

1           Introduction

Some individuals decide to inflict harm on themselves. Examples range from smoking or fasting, up to self-mutilation or suicide. In liberal moral theory, paternalistic interventions, that is, interventions with an individual’s choices for the individual’s own good, are considered prima facie morally wrong. Clare Chambers agrees with the liberal presumption against paternalism. However, she argues that some self-harming choices do permit interference due to the circumstances in which they occur. These are choices made in the context of unequal and harmful social norms, which fulfil the following three conditions (see Chambers 2008, 265):

  • The practice is significantly harmful to the individuals who engage in it.
  • Individuals engage in the practice in order to attain benefits which are norm-dependent – the benefits are linked to engagement in the practice only in virtue of social conventions.
  • The social norm that links the practice to the benefits undermines social or political

Continue reading

Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics: Can a Contractarian Rationally Donate to Charity? by Benedict Hardwick.

This essay, by Oxford undergraduate student Benedict Hardwick, is one of the four shortlisted essays in the undergraduate category of the inaugural Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics.

Can a Contractarian Rationally Donate to Charity?

 Charities Act 2011:

1.1 For the purposes of the law of England and Wales, “charity” means an institution which is established for charitable purposes only.

2.1 For the purposes of the law of England and Wales, a charitable purpose is a purpose which…is for the public benefit.

Although a moral theory, contract theory is concerned with rational decisions rather than “good” or “right” decisions. ‘Rational actions’ are here conceived, following Gauthier[1] (rather than, say, Scanlon) as maximising one’s own personal utility and so the theory already assumes that there are no rational justifications for purely altruistic/non-utility-maximising behaviour (“purely” because it is possible to maximise one’s utility by maximising that of someone else’s – but this is not what we would call “purely” altruistic). This is no bad thing since I believe such justifications are at best unnecessary complications and at worst demonstrably false, but that debate will not be had here. Instead I shall here show that charity, the supposed epitome of good moral action, is not good at all. Continue reading

Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics: Shortlisted Graduate and Undergraduate Essays

The Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics was announced on this blog on the 26th November 2014.  By the 25th January a large number of high quality essays had been submitted and the judges had a difficult time narrowing the field down to a shortlist, which we now publish here: Continue reading

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