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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.

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

Announcement: Final Presentation for the 5th Annual Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics

It is with great pleasure that we announce the finalists in the Oxford Uehiro Prize for Practical Ethics 2019, and invite you to the final presentation and reception.

The 5th Annual Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics Final Presentation and Reception

HT19 Week 8, Wednesday 6th March, 4:30 – 5:45 pm.

The Presentation will be held in St Luke’s Chapel, Radcliffe Observatory Quarter, Oxford OX2 6HT, followed by a drinks reception until 7:00 pm.

We are pleased to announce the five finalists for the Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics and to invite you to attend the final where they will present their entries. Two finalists have been selected from the undergraduate category and three from the graduate, to present their ideas to an audience and respond to a short Q&A as the final round in the competition. Continue reading

Press Statement: He Jiankui

The response  to reckless human experimentation has to go way beyond Dr He’s dismissal. This is not merely a failure of compliance, Dr He failed to grasp the ethical principles and concepts he was vigorously espousing.  There will undoubtedly be more guidelines and laws on gene editing but we also need basic education of the next generation of scientists in what ethics is and why this kind of behaviour is wrong. This was not a failure of science, or even regulation, but ethics.

More important than He’s fate is the future for those victims affected. The couples and babies will need world class medical management and counselling. The second couple carrying a gene edited pregnancy should have already been fully informed of and understood the risks to their fetus and given the free choice to continue or terminate their pregnancy.

Prof Julian Savulescu
Uehiro Chair in Practical Ethics
Director Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics
University of Oxford

Visiting Professorial Fellow
Murdoch Children’s Research Institute
And University of Melbourne

 

A third MRT-baby is on its way

Written by César Palacios-González

It has been recently reported (link in Spanish) that a 32 year old Greek woman is 27 weeks pregnant with a child who was conceived after a mitochondrial replacement technique (MRT) – in this case Maternal Spindle Transfer (MST). If true this is really big news in terms of reproductive medicine and biotechnology, we are still waiting for data to be published. If successful, this would be just the third birth following a reproductive technique that mixes the DNA of three people (you will probably remember the big media buzz a couple of years ago about ‘three parent babies’). This newest feat was achieved by a group of Spanish and Greek scientists; the clinical trial was carried out in Greece due to the fact that in Spain MRTs are not on the list of authorised reproductive techniques.

Before discussing what I consider to be the main ethical issue with this case, let us talk a bit about mitochondria and MRTs. Every human egg contains thousands upon thousands of mitochondrion. These tiny organelles have the really important task of producing the energy (in the form of ATP) that first the egg, then the developing embryo, and finally the human adult need to adequately function. It is thus not strange that when mitochondria do not work as they should the human body ‘malfunctions’. And it is also not strange that mitochondrial dysfunction more significantly affects the organs that require the most energy, for example the brain and the muscles.

To understand, broadly, what can go wrong with mitochondria, we need to bear in mind two of their characteristics: a) that they have their own DNA, and b) that they are mostly solely maternally transmitted. Regarding the former, inside every nucleated human cell there is nuclear DNA (nDNA) and there is mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA).

 

Continue reading

Cross Post: Biased Algorithms: Here’s a More Radical Approach to Creating Fairness

Written by Dr Tom Douglas

File 20190116 163283 1s61b5v.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1

Our lives are increasingly affected by algorithms. People may be denied loans, jobs, insurance policies, or even parole on the basis of risk scores that they produce.

Yet algorithms are notoriously prone to biases. For example, algorithms used to assess the risk of criminal recidivism often have higher error rates in minority ethic groups. As ProPublica found, the COMPAS algorithm – widely used to predict re-offending in the US criminal justice system – had a higher false positive rate in black than in white people; black people were more likely to be wrongly predicted to re-offend.

Corrupt code.
Vintage Tone/Shutterstock

Continue reading

Cross Post: Philosophy Can Make the Previously Unthinkable Thinkable

Written by Dr Rebecca Brown

In the mid-1990s, Joseph Overton, a researcher at the US think tank the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, proposed the idea of a ‘window’ of socially acceptable policies within any given domain. This came to be known as the Overton window of political possibilities. The job of think tanks, Overton proposed, was not directly to advocate particular policies, but to shift the window of possibilities so that previously unthinkable policy ideas – those shocking to the sensibilities of the time – become mainstream and part of the debate.

Overton’s insight was that there is little point advocating policies that are publicly unacceptable, since (almost) no politician will support them. Efforts are better spent, he argued, in shifting the debate so that such policies seem less radical and become more likely to receive support from sympathetic politicians. For instance, working to increase awareness of climate change might make future proposals to restrict the use of diesel cars more palatable, and ultimately more effective, than directly lobbying for a ban on such vehicles. Continue reading

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