Roger Crisp

Fetal Reduction in a Multiple Pregnancy: the Case of Identical Twins

Written by Elizabeth Crisp and Roger Crisp

When a woman aborts a single fetus, that abortion can be a morally troubling experience for her. What about a situation in which a woman is pregnant with more than one fetus, perhaps identical twins, and wishes to abort just one of them – that is, engage in what is sometimes called ‘fetal reduction’ in a ‘multiple pregnancy’? Continue reading

Spineless Ethics

Written by Roger Crisp

Last week, at a seminar organized jointly by the Oxford Uehiro Centre and the Wellcome Centre for Ethics and Humanities, Prof. Irina Mikhalevich presented a fascinating preview of a paper (‘Minds Without Spines: Toward a More Comprehensive Animal Ethics’) which forms part of a project she has been working on with Prof. Russell Powell. Continue reading

What is ‘Practical’ Ethics?

By Roger Crisp

This is an exciting time for practical ethics in Oxford. The University has recently launched a new Masters in Practical Ethics, organized by the Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics and the Department for Continuing Education. Applicants are currently being assessed for admission, and the course begins in earnest in October.

But what makes ethics – by which I mean philosophical ethics – ‘practical’ (or ‘applied’)? It’s true that a good deal of philosophical work in ethics is at the ‘meta-level’, covering issues such as the truth-aptness of moral judgements or the metaphysics of moral properties. But isn’t the rest of it, if it’s not ‘meta’ and not merely clarificatory, all going to be practical, in some straightforward sense?

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Partiality, Ethical Theory, and Christmas

                                                                                                                                                                                  Written by Roger Crisp

Over recent decades, a lively debate has arisen in ethical theory over whether so-called ‘impartial’ views, such as utilitarianism, are inconsistent with the view that we have reasons, or even moral obligations, of partiality. Consider someone converted to utilitarianism who decided against a life-saving operation for their own child because the money could do more good if used to help strangers.

The standard utilitarian response has been that relationships involving partiality – relationships of love, friendship, and so on – not only produce a lot of good or well-being for those involved, but also, because of the kind of beings we are, motivate us to help others when otherwise we wouldn’t. This seems a reasonable defence, at least to some extent, though the question remains just how partial we should be.

Consider Christmas. Deloitte estimate that in 2016 US citizens spent $1 trillion during the Christmas period, much of which will have been on gifts and hospitality for family, friends, and colleagues. If we accept Jeffrey Sachs’s  claim that to end extreme world poverty in twenty years would cost around $175 billion p.a. (The End of Poverty: How We Can Make it Happen in our Lifetime (New York: Penguin, 2005)), then it seems that Americans would need to channel less than one fifth of their current spending over Christmas into overseas development to bring to an end the terrible injustice and suffering caused by extreme world poverty. And of course if the rest of us in the developed world did the same, the amount required from each of us would be even smaller.

There is still a difference between utilitarians and those who believe in non-derivative obligations of partiality, of course. Utilitarians think I should look after my children because the world will go better if I do; partialists believe I just should. But, given the current state of the world, relatively little of practical importance hangs on this debate. No plausible version of partialism could allow the huge disparities that exist between the amount spent in the developed world within partial relationships and that spent on alleviating suffering and injustice in the world as a whole. That is something all of us, whether impartialist or partialist, might do well to remember when Christmas comes round again.

Harvey Weinstein and the Ring of Gyges

Written by Roger Crisp

At the start of book II of what is perhaps the most famous work in western philosophy, Plato’s Republic, one of the characters in the dialogue, Glaucon, tells Socrates the story of a Lydian shepherd, Gyges. Gyges, having found a ring which made him invisible, used its powers to enter the royal palace, where he seduced the queen, killed the king, and himself assumed power. Glaucon suggests that anyone in Gyges’s circumstances would do the same: we all believe that immorality is more profitable than being moral, and avoid it only through fear of being caught.

The many accusations against the film producer Harvey Weinstein over the past month suggest that Weinstein had – or at least thought he had — discovered something like a ring of invisibility. Continue reading

Assisted Dying and Protecting the Vulnerable

Sadly, though unsurprisingly, Rob Marris’s assisted dying bill has been rejected overwhelmingly by British MPs.

The most widely accepted argument in favour of rejecting the bill seems to have been that doing so would protect the vulnerable. Continue reading

Does it benefit a person to bring them into being?

Over the last four decades or so, philosophers have spent a good deal of time on this somewhat peculiar question. Why? After all, it’s not a question that people ordinarily ask, like ‘Do animals have rights?’ or ‘Is abortion permissible?’. Continue reading

The Tunnel Problem

Driverless or autonomous cars will almost certainly be commonplace quite soon. Imagine you are sitting in such a car, approaching a tunnel on a single-lane mountain road. A child wanders into the middle of the road, blocking the entrance to the tunnel. How should such cars be programmed to react? Two options are: to keep going and kill the child; or to swerve aside into the tunnel wall and kill the driver. Continue reading

The Moral Significance of Animal Suffering

Recently I attended a fascinating Society for Applied Philosophy lecture by Shelly Kagan, entitled ‘What’s Wrong with Speciesism?’. Kagan began the lecture by explaining how, while teaching a course involving some of Peter Singer’s writings on non-human animals, he had begun to doubt the view, defended by Singer, that other things equal the suffering of animals matters no less than that of human beings. Continue reading

Punishment and Memory

The public outcry at the decision of the Crown Prosecution Service that Lord Janner was not fit to stand trial for 22 sex offences, the last of which were allegedly committed in the 1980s, appears to have led the CPS to initiate a review. Janner’s case raises several issues about the punishment of crimes that may have taken place in the relatively distant past. Continue reading

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