Moral Enhancement Won’t Work For The Very Reason It Is Claimed To Be Desirable

Guest Post: Alexander Andersson, MA student in practical philosophy, University of Gothenburg
Email: gusandall[at]

In Unfit for the Future: The Need for Moral Enhancement, Ingmar Persson and Julian Savulescu argue that we, as a human race, are in deep trouble. According to the authors, global-warming, weapons of mass destruction, poverty, famine, terrorists, and even liberal democracies candidate as components in our potential apocalypse. These issues that we are facing require us to be able to make the morally right decisions, however, our current moral deficiencies seem to prevent us from making those decisions. As the authors put it:

[H]uman beings are not by nature equipped with a moral psychology that empowers them to cope with the moral problems that these new conditions of life create. Nor could the currently favoured political system of liberal democracy overcome these deficiencies. (Persson & Savulescu, 2012, p. 1)*

It is therefore desirable to look for means or solutions to get rid of these deficiencies, which in turn would make us morally better persons, thus allowing us to avoid the disastrous situations which otherwise lies ahead. Luckily, Persson and Savulescu do not seem to suffer from moral deficiency, which enables them to put forth a creative plan to save the day.

Continue reading

European Guidelines: How much cinnamon can go in our buns, and what kind of dignity do we want at the end of life?

Over on the Ethox blog Angeliki Kerasidou and Ruth Horn discuss the European Union and the need for cultural understanding between member states, with a focus on the concept of dignity at the end of life.

The results of the recent European elections revealed the disconnection between member states and the European Union. Populist anti-European parties won more seats than ever before challenging the dream for a united continent.[1] One of the main criticisms expressed by anti-European parties was that Brussels imposes a plethora of regulations and directives, from trade regulations and agricultural subsidies to the “amount of cinnamon in buns”, challenging individual member-states’ traditions and cultural particularities.[2]

Perhaps one way of interpreting 2014 European elections results is that achieving harmonization of policies is very difficult in a continent comprised of countries with different cultures and histories. And, yet, if the European Union is to continue and prosper, issuing policies and guidelines that could be accepted by all member-states is paramount.

See the Ethox blog to read the rest of Angeliki and Ruth’s post.

The importance of “follow up” in research ethics

Over on the Ethox blog, Ignacio Mastroleo writes about the Nuremberg code and post-trial obligations of researchers

My intention in this post is to highlight that relevance of the term “follow up” in research ethics, in particular, what has been called post-trial ethics of human health research (Sofaer and Strech 2011, NRES 2012). If my argument is sound, there might be evidence that one of the founding documents of research ethics, the Nuremberg Code, already included considerations and requirements that today might be regarded as post-trial obligations of researchers and sponsors.

see the Ethox blog for the rest of Ignacio’s post

If we chose it, would we need it?

An interesting new target has appeared in the discussion on human enhancements: to prevent and halt anthropogenic climate change by the use of moral bioenhancement. The issue of moral enhancements is extensively discussed, for example, in recent American Journal of Bioethics (April 2014, Volume 14, Number 4).


Often the object of high hopes is a specific characteristic, such as increasing intelligence or decreasing violence. These are conceptually intrinsic (although, of course with external purposes) goals and easy to understand: were there some meaningful and accessible biological basis for these characteristics, we could try to intervene them. While it is arguable that neither the nature nor nurture will ever be the total and final answer, I believe that the significance placed on the nature in the biomedical enhancement discourse is well beyond reality, although very interesting at the level of a philosophical though-experiment. Continue reading

Lethal Injection: Time for the Chop

On 29th April 2014, Clayton Lockett, 38, was executed by lethal injection in Oklahoma for the heinous crimes he committed fourteen years earlier.

 That evening, he was escorted to the execution chamber and placed on the table.  An intravenous line was inserted in his groin.

 At 6.23pm, he was given midazolam, a sedative intended to render him unconscious.  He should normally have lost consciousness within a minute or two.  Seven minutes later, a doctor declared that Mr Lockett was still conscious.  After a further three minutes, the doctor checked again and declared him unconscious.  It is unclear what criteria he used to come to this conclusion, but the events that followed indicate that Mr Lockett was still partially conscious.  Vecuronium was then administered to paralyse his muscles, followed by potassium chloride to stop his heart. Continue reading

Conference: Experiments and Ethics, Oxford

On June 6th and 7th, 2014 the Ertegun Graduate Scholarship Programme in the Humanities will host “Experiments and Ethics,” an interdisciplinary conference at the University of Oxford. The conference aims to foster dialogue and explore connections among various empirical and theoretical approaches to ethics. Practical Ethics speakers include Guy Kahane, Janet Radcliffe Richards, and Regina Rini. There will also be speakers from Anthropology, Cognitive Science, Economics, Psychology, Neuroscience, and Religion.

Conference Programme

Conference registration

Do we have a moral obligation protect the climate?

On 6 December, Prof. Dr. Bernward Gesang, Chair of Philosophy and Ethics of Economy at the University of Mannheim, presented an interesting talk on “Do individuals have duties to protect the climate?” exploring if individuals have moral obligation to change their behaviours to mitigate climate change from an Act Utilitarian perspective, i.e. the view that an act is permissible if and only if no other acts bring higher overall utility. Continue reading

Professor Tim Scanlon: When Does Equality Matter?

2013 Uehiro Lectures by Professor Tim Scanlon (Department of Philosophy, Harvard University)

We are very grateful to Professor Tim Scanlon (Alford Professor of Natural Religion, Moral Philosophy, and Civil Polity, Harvard University) for delivering the 10th Annual Uehiro Lectures in December 2013, entitled “When Does Equality Matter?”

Lecture 1: “Equal Treatment”  AUDIO 

Lecture 2:”Equal Status”  AUDIO 

Lecture 3: “Equal Opportunity”  AUDIO  (includes discussion with Professors John Broome, Janet Radcliffe Richards and David Miller).

Video files will shortly be available here.

Uehiro Lectures and Book Series: The annual public Uehiro Lecture Series captures the ethos of the Uehiro Centre, which is to bring the best scholarship in analytic philosophy to bear on the most significant problems of our time, and to make progress in the analysis and resolution of these issues to the highest academic standard, in a manner that is also accessible to the general public. Philosophy should not only create knowledge, it should make people’s lives better. In keeping with this, the Annual Uehiro Lectures are published as a book series by Oxford University Press.  See Uehiro Series in Practical Ethics on the OUP website for further details

Speaker bio: Professor Scanlon received his B.A. from Princeton and his Ph.D. from Harvard. In between, he studied for a year at Oxford as a Fulbright Fellow. He taught for many years at Princeton before taking up a position at Harvard in 1984. His dissertation and some of his first papers were in mathematical logic, where his main concern was in proof theory, but he soon made his name in ethics and political philosophy, where he developed a version of contractualism in the line of John Rawls, Immanuel Kant, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Professor Scanlon has also published important work on freedom of speech, equality, tolerance, foundations of contract law, human rights, conceptions of welfare, theories of justice, as well as on foundational questions in moral theory. His books include What We Owe to Each Other (Harvard University Press, 1998) and The Difficulty of Tolerance (Cambridge University Press, 2003). Other recent publications include Moral Dimensions: Permissibility, Meaning, Blame, published by Harvard University Press in September 2008

Podcast: Is Networking Immoral?

Guest Post: Ned Dobos, University of New South Wales

This post is a summary of a talk presented by Dr. Dobos at the University of Oxford. Listen to the Podcast

Despite being ubiquitous in both the public and private sectors, “networking” has largely escaped ethical scrutiny. But is it the perfectly innocuous business and career-advancement strategy it is presumed to be? Let us concentrate on a specific kind of career networking: networking aimed at increasing one’s prospects of prevailing in a formal competitive selection process for a job or university placement. That is the end, so what is the means? How exactly is networking supposed to deliver this advantage? Experts tend to answer with at least one of the following responses: 1) networking is about building relationships with people that are (or might be) in a position to benefit your career; 2) networking is about demonstrating your worth to these people.

On either account, networking arguably involves seeking unfair advantage.

Continue reading

Is Two -Thirds of What We Say Immoral?

Allegations that Nigella Lawson, professional domestic goddess, was an inveterate drug taker caused a media, twitter, blog and water-cooler storm. Even after the initial shock subsided, column inches have been devoted to her relationship with her ex-husband, her future career prospects, the running of her household and the other fall out of a criminal trial into alleged credit card fraud by two of her former assistants. Gossip, according to Robin Dunbar accounts for around two thirds of human conversation. And that statistic dates to 1995, 5 years before Big Brother kick started a tidal wave of reality TV and 4 years before the titles such as Heat Magazine formed part of a wave of celebrity magazines and other spin offs devoted to ‘celebrity’ gossip.

An inevitable part of this kind of gossip is “judging” those that we hear about. David Oderberg, in the latest issue of the Journal of Practical Ethics discusses the morality of judging others. He makes the fascinating argument that not only is defamation wrong, but ‘detraction’, that is truthful gossiping or judgment –forming is wrong also. A reputation he argues, has similarities with property rights. Though a reputation cannot be bought or sold, he argues it is akin to a ‘currency’, something we need to live a good life, and whilst it is visible to others, it is not for others to destroy or damage it.

Beyond this, he argues that judging others may even be harmful to the gossiper- it detracts from our ability to judge ourselves- and therefore to improve ourselves. So instead of judging Nigella Lawson for whatever she did or did not do, perhaps we should all be in our own metaphorical “kitchen”, perfecting our inner domestic gods and goddesses.

But in answer to the title question, it is estimated that only about 5% of gossip is “malicious or disparaging”- so no need to avoid the water cooler entirely.

Podcast interview with David S.  Oderberg discussing his article “The Morality of Reputation and the Judgment of Others”
Open access article: The Morality of Reputation and the Judgment of Others”, David S. Oderberg
December’s Journal of Practical Ethics