Neil Levy

Online Sales and Differential Pricing.

Written by Neil Levy

When it was revealed (more than a decade ago now) that Amazon was charging different consumers different prices, based on information that suggested either that they had higher incomes or a greater willingness to pay for a specific item, there was widespread outrage. Amazon quickly backed down and Jeff Bezos apologised. Today, Amazon says that it does not charge people different prices based on the personal data it collects about them. Many other online retailers make no such promises, and canny shoppers check prices using incognito mode on their browsers, using a VPN, and/or deleting cookies. Continue reading

Free Will Sceptics: We’re Not So Bad.

Written by Neil Levy

A number of philosophers and psychologists suggest that belief in free will – whether it is true or not – is important, because it promotes prosocial behavior. People who disbelieve in free will might become fatalists, holding that their choices make no difference to how events play out, because they’re already determined (say). They might think that our lives lack value, in the absence of free will, and therefore that they do not deserve respect. There is, on most accounts of free will, a close link between free will and moral responsibility: if we lack free will, we’re not morally responsible. This link provides a third path whereby lack of belief in free will might lead to antisocial behavior: because people believe that they do not deserve blame for acting badly, they might be less motivated to act well. Continue reading

I Feel Pretty – Your Practical Ethics Movie Review

By Neil Levy

Last week, I found myself seeing a film I hadn’t planned to. The film I wanted to see (The Death of Stalin) was sold out, so rather than miss my weekly fix, I picked the Amy Schumer comedy I Feel Pretty. I don’t mind a chick flick and I enjoyed Trainwreck, but the reviews of I Feel Pretty were pretty bad, so I was going to give it a miss. Actually, I Feel Pretty was a better film than the reviews suggested (it was in fact better than the much better reviewed film The Party, which I saw the previous week). It was quite funny, after a slow beginning, and that’s about all one can reasonably ask from these entertainments. From an ethical perspective, however, it is rather troubling. Continue reading

Cutting Costs?

Written by Neil Levy

We use taxation policy for a variety of ends. Obviously, the primary goal is revenue raising, in order to support government programs. But we also use taxation to send signals and to shape behavior. We tax tobacco and alcohol, for instance, to signal social disapproval of consumption (excessive consumption, in the second case), and to reduce it. There is currently a debate over whether we should implement a sugar tax for the same reasons and also to encourage manufacturers to change the recipes of foods to reduce the amount of sugar they contain. To my knowledge, though, there has been no discussion of taxation of cosmetic surgery (VAT is already charged on cosmetic surgery). Continue reading

New Year’s Reflection

written by Neil Levy

It’s the time of year at which many of us take stock of how our lives are going. It is more or less arbitrary where we mark the end of the year, but because the convention is shared, our lives have a rhythm that is marked by the calendar, and the length of the year makes it a good unit for assessing some aspects of our life. We might ask whether we stuck to the resolutions made 12 months earlier. We might ask more general questions about how our life is going: have we been good parents or partners? Have we pursued worthwhile goals? Have the steps we have taken toward those goals between well-designed?

The unexamined life is not worth living, Socrates is famously reputed to have said. More recently, Mill echoed Socrates, arguing that it was better to live a life of self-reflection and be unsatisfied than be a pig who did not reflect but was happy. The idea that we can and should reflect on our lives and their trajectories remains deeply attractive to us and finds expression in psychotherapy and self-help books, as well as the annual ritual of taking stock. Continue reading

Criticisms of Ableist Language: Empirical Commitments?

Written by Neil Levy

As I have discussed previously, there is a growing concern about the use of ‘ableist’ language. Ableism is discrimination on the basis of disability, when disability is not in fact relevant. There has long been a move to eradicate sexism from our language. Most of us do not think it’s appropriate to use ‘effeminate’ as an insult; many of us object to the use of language that makes maleness the standard (‘mankind’). Similarly, many people object to the use metaphorical language which associates negative qualities with disability (while I am ambivalent about the use of trigger warnings, I take the opportunity to mention that I will mention some egregiously ableist slurs below the fold). Continue reading

How Social Media Distorts Our Perceptions of Groups.

We know that groups are internally diverse. For any group you care to pick out (Brexit supporters, feminists, tea drinkers), we know intellectually that they will disagree among themselves about a great deal. When people identify as a group member, they may feel pressure to conform to the group view, but there are countervailing pressures in the other direction which limit the effects of group conformity. Disputes internal to groups are often as – or more – heated than those between them. Continue reading

Nudges and Reasoning

Back in what now seems like a previous age, when David Cameron was prime minister, there was quite a lot of attention paid to his so-called ‘nudge unit’. Nudges, named after Thaler and Sunstein’s well-known book, are ways of getting people to make better choices by making these options more salient or less effortful for them. For example, you can (apparently) nudge people to save more for retirement by changing the default option for retirement plans: when the default is a higher proportion of income people save more than when it is lower. Similarly, you can increase the proportion of organ donors by making the system opt out rather than opt in, and you can nudge people to eat healthier by ensuring that fruit, and not crisps or chocolate, is at eye level in the queue for the register in the lunch room. Continue reading

Won’t Someone Think of the Children?

Andrea Leadsom’s suggestion that being a mother made her a better candidate for being a leader than Theresa May, because it gave her a stake in the future that May lacked, seems to have sunk her leadership bid. The horrified responses to her remarks were motivated in important part by the observation that Leadsom was trading on the common sexist belief that it is somehow unnatural or perverse for women (but not men) to be childless. But might Leadsom have had a point? What do we actually know about how having children affects parents’ political engagement and orientation? Continue reading

Affirmative Action for Women in Mathematics: Fighting Discrimination with Discrimination?

The University of Melbourne (the most prestigious university in my hometown) has advertised three senior positions in mathematics. Like some (but not all) other STEM subjects, mathematics has a low proportion of female academics. In part, this is a pipeline problem: women are significantly less likely to do mathematics degrees than men (28% of maths students at Melbourne are female). The head of the school of mathematics and statistics at the university hopes that the appointments might help by fixing the leaking pipeline: the three appointments will provide role models and mentors for female students and might encourage more of them to enrol, finish and go on to higher degrees. Continue reading

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