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Guest Cross Post: Extremism And The Sensible Centre

Written by Tony Coady , Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at the University of Melbourne and Honorary Professor at the Australian Catholic University, Honorary Fellow in the Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics in Oxford.

There are a plethora of terms in widespread political and social use that often obfuscate more than they elucidate. One of those is “terrorism” and its derivatives such as “terrorist”, but I have had my say about this elsewhere, most recently in my 2021 book The Meaning of Terrorism and will simply commend it to readers. Here I want to address instead the cluster of expressions  around “extremist/extremism”, “radical/radicalism” and best of all “the sensible centre”.

Typical quotes about extremism show the standardly condemnatory nature of its widespread current usage. Examples are almost endless, but here are two examples from very different well-known people: “A people inspired by democracy, human rights and economic opportunity will turn their back decisively against extremism.” – Benazir Bhutto;[1] “Extremism means borders beyond which life ends, and a passion for extremism, in art and in politics, is a veiled longing for death.” – Milan Kundera [2]  Continue reading

Guest Post: Body Shaming is Unacceptable, Even if Directed at Vile People. An Intersex Critique of “Small Dick Energy” 

Guest post by Morgan Carpenter, bioethicist; co-founder and executive director, Intersex Human Rights Australia; Magda Rakita co-founder and executive director, Fundacja Interakcja (Poland), and co-chair, OII Europe; and Bo Laurent, founder, Intersex Society of North America

We love Greta Thunberg. But we were hurt and disappointed that she chose “small dick energy” as a pejorative in her recent Twitter exchange with the self-proclaimed “misogynist influencer” Andrew Tate. This particular choice of words was not, in our view, the self-evidently praiseworthy retort that many progressive commentators took it to be.

Don’t get us wrong. Rhetorically taking someone down a notch is undoubtedly sometimes appropriate. Especially if they have an inflated ego, an objectionable moral character, and regularly disrespect others, as appears to be the case with Tate.

We aren’t against mocking misogynists.

But we are against doing so by alluding to, or making disparaging comments about, body parts or mental attributes possessed by marginalized people — people who suffer unjust stigma due to those very traits. Continue reading

Guest Post: It has become possible to use cutting-edge AI language models to generate convincing high school and undergraduate essays. Here’s why that matters

Written by: Julian Koplin & Joshua Hatherley, Monash University

ChatGPT is a variant of the GPT-3 language model developed by OpenAI. It is designed to generate human-like text in response to prompts given by users. As with any language model, ChatGPT is a tool that can be used for a variety of purposes, including academic research and writing. However, it is important to consider the ethical implications of using such a tool in academic contexts. The use of ChatGPT, or other large language models, to generate undergraduate essays raises a number of ethical considerations. One of the most significant concerns is the issue of academic integrity and plagiarism.

One concern is the potential for ChatGPT or similar language models to be used to produce work that is not entirely the product of the person submitting it. If a student were to use ChatGPT to generate significant portions of an academic paper or other written work, it would be considered plagiarism, as they would not be properly crediting the source of the material. Plagiarism is a serious offence in academia, as it undermines the integrity of the research process and can lead to the dissemination of false or misleading information.This is not only dishonest, but it also undermines the fundamental principles of academic scholarship, which is based on original research and ideas.

Another ethical concern is the potential for ChatGPT or other language models to be used to generate work that is not fully understood by the person submitting it. While ChatGPT and other language models can produce high-quality text, they do not have the same level of understanding or critical thinking skills as a human. As such, using ChatGPT or similar tools to generate work without fully understanding and critically evaluating the content could lead to the dissemination of incomplete or incorrect information.

In addition to the issue of academic integrity, the use of ChatGPT to generate essays also raises concerns about the quality of the work that is being submitted. Because ChatGPT is a machine learning model, it is not capable of original thought or critical analysis. It simply generates text based on the input data that it is given. This means that the essays generated by ChatGPT would likely be shallow and lacking in substance, and they would not accurately reflect the knowledge and understanding of the student who submitted them.

Furthermore, the use of ChatGPT to generate essays could also have broader implications for education and the development of critical thinking skills. If students were able to simply generate essays using AI, they would have little incentive to engage with the material and develop their own understanding and ideas. This could lead to a decrease in the overall quality of education, and it could also hinder the development of important critical thinking and problem-solving skills.

Overall, the use of ChatGPT to generate undergraduate essays raises serious ethical concerns. While these tools can be useful for generating ideas or rough drafts, it is important to properly credit the source of any material generated by the model and to fully understand and critically evaluate the content before incorporating it into one’s own work. It undermines academic integrity, it is likely to result in low-quality work, and it could have negative implications for education and the development of critical thinking skills. Therefore, it is important that students, educators, and institutions take steps to ensure that this practice is not used or tolerated.

Everything that you just read was generated by an AI

Continue reading

Cross Post: Halving Subsidised Psychology Appoints is a Grave Mistake—Young Australians Will Bear a Significant Burden 

Written by Dr Daniel D’Hotman, DPhil student studying mental health and ethics at the Oxford Uehiro Centre

The original version of this article was published in the Sydney Morning Herald

Unprecedented times called for unprecedented measures. COVID-19 was the most significant health crisis many of us had ever faced. While the physical effects were much discussed, the mental health burden was arguably just as devastating. In response, the previous Government doubled subsidised mental health appointments under the Better Access Program, allowing Australians suffering from mental illnesses like anxiety, PTSD and depression to claim an extra 10 appointments per year.

Now we are trying to convince ourselves COVID-19 and its impacts are over. In addition to requiring referrals for some PCR tests, the Australian Government is cutting the number of mental health visits available under Medicare to pre-pandemic levels, arguing this is a necessary step to improve equity. According to a review of the program, extra appointments clogged up waitlists and reduced access for those not engaging with services. Continue reading

Guest Post: Could Laboratory Created Brains in the Future have Moral Status?

Written by Dominic McGuire, DPhil Student, Queen’s College Oxford

Jonathan Pugh’s interesting Practical Ethics blog of October 14th, 2022, http://blog.practicalethics.ox.ac.uk/2022/10/brain-cells-slime-mold-and-sentience-semantics/, prompted several additional thoughts. Pugh’s blog considered some of the implications from recent media reports about laboratory grown brains, also called minibrains, which can play the video game of Pong. Pong is a simple representation of the game of table tennis.

In his blog, Pugh concludes that the Pong playing minibrains are not sentient. This is because in his view they do not possess phenomenal consciousness and thus are unable to experience pain or pleasure. To some the property of phenomenal consciousness is an essential requirement for moral status. This is because they claim that only entities that are phenomenally conscious have the kinds of interests that warrant strong forms of moral protection.   Continue reading

Cross Post: When Can You Refuse to Rescue?

Written by Theron Pummer

This article originally appeared in the OUPBlog

 You can save a stranger’s life. Right now, you can open a new tab in your internet browser and donate to a charity that reliably saves the lives of people living in extreme poverty. Don’t have the money? Don’t worry—you can give your time instead. You can volunteer, organize a fundraiser, or earn money to donate. Be it using money or time, there are actions you can take now that will save lives. And it’s not just now. You can expect to face such opportunities to help strangers pretty much constantly over the remainder of your life.

I doubt you are morally required to help distant strangers at every opportunity, taking breaks only for food and sleep. Helping that much would be enormously costly. It would involve a lifetime of sacrificing your well-being, freedom, relationships, and personal projects. But even if you are not required to go that far, surely there are some significant costs you are required to incur over the course of your life, to prevent serious harms to strangers. Continue reading

One year of DefaultVeg at the Uehiro Centre

Today (1 November) is ‘world vegan day’. This is a good moment to reflect on a decision that the Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics took almost exactly a year ago. In October 2021, we chose to firmly commit to a DefaultVeg approach to help reduce meat and dairy consumption. Such reduction will help transform our current farming practices, which are extremely harmful to our planet, and all those who live on it. [National Food Strategy. Independent Review for the Government]

What does this DefaultVeg commitment entail? Over the past year, we have provided plant-based food and drinks by default for all meetings and events that we host, and for our staff and visitors at the Centre during normal workdays. The choice to opt for meat and/or dairy remains, but those who want this have to opt in. Given the high numbers of vegans among our admin team, staff and students, we had already adopted a DefaultVeg approach to some extent, but DefaultVeg has ensured that we do this more consistently and explicitly. As we expected, almost everyone opts for the default: plant-based options.

We hope that, by explicitly and firmly committing to a DefaultVeg approach, the Uehiro Centre also sets an example for other research centres, institutions, and workplaces in general. Going DefaultVeg is not difficult in a world with an increasing variety of plant-based food and drinks.

‘Why are we opting for DefaultVeg and not going vegan ‘all the way’?’, you may wonder.
We think that preserving freedom of choice is valuable. Food is deeply embedded in cultural and social values, and we realise that people do not always find it easy or desirable to entirely change their eating habits overnight. It is important to acknowledge this, and not rush people into different food choices, though, we hope that most people will opt for plant-based diets eventually. Forcing a food choice onto people may not always be the best way to convince people that they should eat less meat and dairy. It may make some people feel hostile towards, and hence resist, veganism. And this may result in a slower transition to a society in which most people are happy to eat (mostly) plant-based food.

Last year, the Oxford City Council approved a proposal to only offer plant-based options during council meetings. Conservative councillors objected and said whether one opts for a vegan lunch should remain a choice: “Veganism should not be forced down people’s throats. It should be a matter of choice and education.”  At the first lunch, two conservative councillors walked out in protest, and around 15 Conservative councillors enjoyed a self-funded lunch at a nearby pub and one of the councillors confirmed it ‘contained meat’.

I’m not saying that the Oxford City Council took the wrong decision by making the lunches vegan. But as the strong reaction shows, perhaps a more incremental approach towards a vegan society may work better in some contexts. Perhaps when not forced, people may find it easier to shift. And changing the default to vegan, helps to shift people towards the vegan options. As more people reduce their meat and dairy consumption, more plant-based food options will become available, which, in turn will make it easier, and thus more attractive, to become vegan. Both approaches (all vegan, and DefaultVeg) have benefits.

We find that, for the Centre, the DefaultVeg approach, has worked well (though it has taken some trial and error to find caterers and restaurants with enough good vegan options). It has been an exciting and positive journey, and we look forward to continuing it.

For those of you who are interested in adopting a DefaultVeg approach, feel free to get in touch (katrien.devolder@philosophy.ox.ac.uk) if you would like more information about how to get started.

Announcement: National Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics Now Open For Entries

NATIONAL OXFORD UEHIRO PRIZE IN PRACTICAL ETHICS 2023
• All graduate and undergraduate students (full and part-time) currently enrolled at any UK university, in any subject, are invited to enter the National Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics by submitting an essay of up to 2000 words on any topic relevant to practical ethics.
• Two undergraduate papers and two graduate papers will be shortlisted from those submitted to go forward to a public presentation and discussion, where the winner of each category will be selected.
• The winner from each category will receive a prize of £500, and the runner up £200. Revised versions of the two winning essays will be considered for publication in the Journal of Practical Ethics. The two winners from the prize will be invited to take part in an online Q&A, as part of the Oxford Uehiro Festival of Arguments.
• To enter, please submit your written papers by the end of Tuesday 7th February 2023 to rocci.wilkinson@philosophy.ox.ac.uk. Finalists will be notified by Tuesday 21st February of selection. The public presentation will take place on Tuesday 14th March, from 5:30pm. Please save this presentation date, as you will need to attend if selected as a finalist.
Detailed instructions are available here 

New issue of the Journal of Practical Ethics – Volume 10 Issue 1

We are pleased to announce the publication of Volume 10 Issue 1 of the Journal of Practical Ethics, our open access journal on moral and political philosophy. You can read our complete open access archive online and hard copies will be available to be purchased at cost price shortly.

Anderson, E. S., (2022) “Can We Talk?: Communicating Moral Concern in an Era of Polarized Politics”, Journal of Practical Ethics 10(1). doi: https://doi.org/10.3998/jpe.1180

Renzo, M., (2022) “Defective Normative Powers: The Case of Consent”, Journal of Practical Ethics 10(1). doi: https://doi.org/10.3998/jpe.2382

Hosein, A., (2022) “Illusions of Control”, Journal of Practical Ethics 10(1). doi: https://doi.org/10.3998/jpe.2381

Guest Post: Dear Robots, We Are Sorry

Written by Stephen Milford, PhD

Institute for Biomedical Ethics, Basel University

 

The rise of AI presents humanity with an interesting prospect: a companion species. Ever since our last hominid cousins went extinct from the island of Flores almost 12,000 years ago, homo Sapiens have been alone in the world.[i] AI, true AI, offers us the unique opportunity to regain what was lost to us. Ultimately, this is what has captured our imagination and drives our research forward. Make no mistake, our intentions with AI are clear: artificial general intelligence (AGI). A being that is like us, a personal being (whatever person may mean).

If any of us are in any doubt about this, consider Turing’s famous test. The aim is not to see how intelligent the AI can be, how many calculations it performs, or how it shifts through data. An AI will pass the test if it is judged by a person to be indistinguishable from another person. Whether this is artificial or real is academic, the result is the same; human persons will experience the reality of another person for the first time in 12 000 years, and we are closer now than ever before. Continue reading

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