Ole Martin Moen, University of Oslo

Ph.D. student in philosophy at University of Oslo, Norway.

“Fifty Shades of Grey” – A Philosophical Review

Fifty Shades of Grey has sparked a lot of debate. Some like the fact that a popular movie now breaks the taboo on BDSM and seeks to challenge common stereotypes. Others condemn the movie for romanticizing violence.

So far, however, no philosophers seem to have joined the debate. That’s unfortunate, for how we should assess Fifty Shades and its BDSM theme depends on a range of philosophical issues such as consent, harm, voluntariness, respect, dignity, and the role of fiction.

BDSM is a somewhat radical topic, and for philosophical purposes, that is often an advantage. Radical topics – like thought experiments – put our principles to the test. (If you think Fifty Shades is grotesque, you should be warned that it is a walk in the park compared to many of the standard thought experiments in ethics).

For philosophical reasons – and philosophical reasons only, of course – I recently went to watch Fifty Shades of Grey. Continue reading

The Ethics of Checking People Out

You’re walking down the street. In the opposite direction comes a person whom you find very attractive. As he or she passes by, you feel tempted to turn your head so as to, well, check them out. I assume that you have felt this temptation. I, at least, have felt it many times. I have resisted turning my head, however, since doing so is supposedly a bad thing.

But what, exactly, is so bad about turning one’s head to check someone out on the street? What is the bad-making property (or properties) of such actions? Let’s consider a number of possible answers.

Privacy and consent
One answer might be that if one turns one’s head to catch an extra glance of an attractive person, one invades their privacy. In assessing this suggestion, let us grant, for the sake of the argument, that invading someone’s privacy is indeed a bad-making property. The relevant question then becomes whether one invades someones’s privacy by turning one’s head to check them out. Continue reading

Don’t Give Money to Beggars

I have sometimes given money to beggars. On cold autumn days, when a homeless man has seemed to be in need of some money to buy food or a cup of coffee, I have occasionally dropped him a few coins. Those coins, I have thought, mean much more to him than they do to me, and giving is a nice thing to do. Upon reflection, however, I have come to change my mind, and now I don’t give money to beggars. Let me explain why.

On the one hand, there are the traditional, somewhat cynical, arguments that—in spite of their cynicism—carry some weight.

First, for every dollar that we give to a beggar, the more lucrative we make begging and, comparatively, the less lucrative we make working. This is bad, for we want people to work, not beg. Working is productive; begging is at best neutral and often a burden and a nuisance. Second, there is no guarantee that the beggar who receives the money will spend it in ways that increase the quality of his life. He might well spend the money on alcohol or drugs, and end up financing organized crime.

These objections carry some weight, but they are not decisive. What is decisive is the fact that if you give money to beggars, you almost certainly spend your welfare budget helping the wrong people. Continue reading

Using Close Genes: A Suggestion

Today, if a gay couple wants to have a child, they have two main options: Either (1) they adopt a child or (2) they get an egg from a donor, have it fertilized in a laboratory, and have a surrogate mother carry and give birth to their child.

These are both good options. Imagine, however, that a certain gay couple – let us call them Albert and Mark – wants a child that genetically belongs to both of them. If they want this, then option (1) will not do the trick. Option (2) will be somewhat better, but the child will then carry genetic material from only one of the two.

This does not satisfy Albert and Mark.

Is their problem solvable? Can Albert and Mark have a child that, genetically, is truly theirs? The answer that first strikes one is no, since this seemingly requires technology beyond reach.

It is easily solvable, however, if we just think outside the box. The solution is that the egg fertilized by Albert’s sperm should come from Mark’s sister, or if still fertile, form Mark’s mother. This would not give a perfect genetic match, but a decent one – and it would be safe, affordable, and fully possible. Even legal, I assume, since it does not imply inbreeding.

Why should not gay couples do this? Or, for that matter: Why should not straight couples where one party is infertile?

Should one have a tummy tuck?

“Beauty is a greater recommendation than any letter of introduction.”  – Arthur Schopenhauer, Aphorisms on the Wisdom of Life

As our wealth increases, more and more of us undergo cosmetic surgery: From tummy tucks, breast enlargements and nose jobs to hair transplants and face-lifts: You name it—and pay—they fix it.

Even though cosmetic surgery has grown to become a multi billion-dollar industry, it is looked at with some suspicion. Many feel that there is something superficial and, perhaps, slightly desperate about undergoing surgery for aesthetic reasons. In academia, at least, although a hair transplant and a teeth bleaching might pass, chances are that a breast enlargement would raise eyebrows.

It is not be unlikely, however, that the eyebrows in question would be both plucked and colored—for we already do quite a bit to enhance our looks. We work out, try to dress well, shave, and go to the hairdresser. We make sure we get tanned during summer. Some of us are on a diet, wear make up, or dye our hair.

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by Ole Martin Moen, Ph.D. student in philosophy at University of Oslo and upcoming visitor at the Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics

Since February, the Danish sailor Jan Quist Johansen, his wife, Birgit, and their three children, Rune, Hjalte and Naja, have been held hostage by Somali pirates. After a failed rescue attempt in March, the family has been treated brutally and many now claim that if the ransom is not paid immediately, they risk execution – just as two American couples, Jean and Scott Adams, and Phyllis Macay and Bob Riggle, were executed by pirates earlier this year when ransoms were not paid in time.

The human cost of refusing to pay is high. Sadly, however, the human cost of paying is even higher.

By paying the pirates, we encourage piracy – and the reason why the Johansen family is now held hostage is that over recent years, countries and companies have made it customary to pay ransoms when pirates seize ships. This policy has led to a dramatic increase in both the number of seizures and the size of demands. In 2009, Somali pirates received $58 million in ransoms; in 2010, they received $238 million. The current year of 2011 is on its way to hit a new record high, and Geopolicity Inc. has estimated the piracy “market” to be worth between $4.9 billion and $8.3 billion.

No one should be surprised that by paying hundreds of millions of dollars in ransoms, we have gotten more of what we have paid for. History has taught us this time and time again. Yet every time, we have forgotten our hard-earned lesson.

Continue reading