Stoicism as a foundational component of ethics and existentialism

Provided my eyes are not withdrawn from that spectacle, of which they never tire; provided I may look upon the sun and the moon and gaze at the other planets; provided I may trace their risings and settings, their periods and the causes of their travelling faster or slower; provided I may behold all the stars that shine at night – some fixed, others not travelling far afield but circling within the same area; some suddenly shooting forth, and others dazzling the eye with scattered fire, as if they are falling, or gliding past with a long trail of blazing light; provided I can commune with these and, so far as humans may, associate with the divine, and provided I can keep my mind always directed upwards, striving for a vision of kindred things – what does it matter what ground I stand on?  

Seneca, Consolation to Helvia, translated by C. D. N. Costa

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Guest Post: It has become possible to use cutting-edge AI language models to generate convincing high school and undergraduate essays. Here’s why that matters

Written by: Julian Koplin & Joshua Hatherley, Monash University

ChatGPT is a variant of the GPT-3 language model developed by OpenAI. It is designed to generate human-like text in response to prompts given by users. As with any language model, ChatGPT is a tool that can be used for a variety of purposes, including academic research and writing. However, it is important to consider the ethical implications of using such a tool in academic contexts. The use of ChatGPT, or other large language models, to generate undergraduate essays raises a number of ethical considerations. One of the most significant concerns is the issue of academic integrity and plagiarism.

One concern is the potential for ChatGPT or similar language models to be used to produce work that is not entirely the product of the person submitting it. If a student were to use ChatGPT to generate significant portions of an academic paper or other written work, it would be considered plagiarism, as they would not be properly crediting the source of the material. Plagiarism is a serious offence in academia, as it undermines the integrity of the research process and can lead to the dissemination of false or misleading information.This is not only dishonest, but it also undermines the fundamental principles of academic scholarship, which is based on original research and ideas.

Another ethical concern is the potential for ChatGPT or other language models to be used to generate work that is not fully understood by the person submitting it. While ChatGPT and other language models can produce high-quality text, they do not have the same level of understanding or critical thinking skills as a human. As such, using ChatGPT or similar tools to generate work without fully understanding and critically evaluating the content could lead to the dissemination of incomplete or incorrect information.

In addition to the issue of academic integrity, the use of ChatGPT to generate essays also raises concerns about the quality of the work that is being submitted. Because ChatGPT is a machine learning model, it is not capable of original thought or critical analysis. It simply generates text based on the input data that it is given. This means that the essays generated by ChatGPT would likely be shallow and lacking in substance, and they would not accurately reflect the knowledge and understanding of the student who submitted them.

Furthermore, the use of ChatGPT to generate essays could also have broader implications for education and the development of critical thinking skills. If students were able to simply generate essays using AI, they would have little incentive to engage with the material and develop their own understanding and ideas. This could lead to a decrease in the overall quality of education, and it could also hinder the development of important critical thinking and problem-solving skills.

Overall, the use of ChatGPT to generate undergraduate essays raises serious ethical concerns. While these tools can be useful for generating ideas or rough drafts, it is important to properly credit the source of any material generated by the model and to fully understand and critically evaluate the content before incorporating it into one’s own work. It undermines academic integrity, it is likely to result in low-quality work, and it could have negative implications for education and the development of critical thinking skills. Therefore, it is important that students, educators, and institutions take steps to ensure that this practice is not used or tolerated.

Everything that you just read was generated by an AI

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Abortion in Wonderland

By Charles Foster



Image: Heidi Crowter: Copyright Don’t Screen Us Out

Scene: A pub in central London

John: They did something worthwhile there today, for once, didn’t they? [He motions towards the Houses of Parliament]

Jane: What was that?

John: Didn’t you hear? They’ve passed a law saying that a woman can abort a child up to term if the child turns out to have red hair.

Jane: But I’ve got red hair!

John: So what? The law is about the fetus. It has nothing whatever to do with people who are actually born.

Jane: Eh?

That’s the gist of the Court of Appeal’s recent decision in the case of Aidan Lea-Wilson and Heidi Crowter (now married and known as Heidi Carter).  Continue reading

Simulate Your True Self

Written by Muriel Leuenberger

A modified version of this post is forthcoming in Think edited by Stephen Law.

Spoiler warning: if you want to watch the movie Don’t Worry Darling, I advise you to not read this article beforehand (but definitely read it afterwards).

One of the most common reoccurring philosophical thought experiments in movies must be the simulation theory. The Matrix, The Truman Show, and Inception are only three of countless movies following the trope of “What if reality is a simulation?”. The most recent addition is Don’t Worry Darling by Olivia Wilde. In this movie, the main character Alice discovers that her idyllic 1950s-style housewife life in the company town of Victory, California, is a simulation. Some of the inhabitants of Victory (most men) are aware of this, such as her husband Jack who forced her into the simulation. Others (most women) share Alice’s unawareness. In the course of the movie, Alice’s memories of her real life return, and she manages to escape the simulation. This blog post is part of a series of articles in which Hazem Zohny, Mette Høeg, and I explore ethical issues connected to the simulation theory through the example of Don’t Worry Darling.

One question we may ask is whether living in a simulation, with a simulated and potentially altered body and mind, would entail giving up your true self or if you could come closer to it by freeing yourself from the constraints of reality. What does it mean to be true to yourself in a simulated world? Can you be real in a fake world with a fake body and fake memories? And would there be any value in trying to be authentic in a simulation?

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There Is No Such Thing As A Purely Logical Argument

Written By Mette Leonard Høeg

This blogpost is a prepublication draft of an article forthcoming in THINK.

It is well-known that rational insight and understanding of scientific facts do not necessarily lead to psychological change and shifts in intuitions. In his paper “Grief and the inconsolation of philosophy” (unpublished manuscript), Dominic Wilkinson sheds light on this gap between insight and emotions as he considers the potential of philosophy for offering consolation in relation to human mortality. More specifically, he looks at the possibility of Derek Parfit’s influential reductionist definition of personal identity for providing psychological consolation in the face of the death of oneself and of others. In Reasons and Persons, Parfit argues that personal identity is reducible to physical and psychological continuity of mental states, and that there is no additional fact, diachronic entity or essence that determines identity; and he points to the potential for existential liberation and consolation in adopting this anti-essentialist perspective: “Is the truth depressing? Some might find it so. But I find it liberating, and consoling. When I believed that my existence was such a further fact, I seemed imprisoned in myself. My life seemed like a glass tunnel, through which I was moving faster every year, and at the end of which there was darkness. When I changed my view, the walls of my glass tunnel disappeared. I now live in the open air.”

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Nudges and Incomplete Preferences

Written by Sarah Raskoff

(Post is based on my recently published paper in Bioethics

Nudges are small changes in the presentation of options that make a predictable impact on people’s decisions. Proponents of nudges often claim that they are justified as paternalistic interventions that respect autonomy: they lead people to make better choices, while still allowing them to choose for themselves. A classic example is changing the location of food items in a cafeteria so that healthier choices are more salient. The salience of healthy foods predictably leads people to select them, even though they are still free to select the unhealthy options, too.

Nudges have become increasingly popular, but there are many objections to their widespread use. Some allege that nudges do not actually benefit people, while others suspect that they do not really respect autonomy. Although there are many ways of making sense of this latter concern, in a recent paper, I develop a new version of this objection, which takes as its starting point the observation that people often have incomplete preferences. Continue reading

What is the Most Important Question in Ethics?

by Roger Crisp

It’s often been said (including by Socrates) that the most important, ultimate, or fundamental question in ethics is: ‘How should one live?’. Continue reading

Are We Heading Towards a Post-Responsibility Era? Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Morality

By Maximilian Kiener. First published on the Public Ethics Blog

AI, Today and Tomorrow

77% of our electronic devices already use artificial intelligence (AI). By 2025, the global market of AI is estimated to grow to 60 billion US dollars. By 2030, AI may even boost global GDP by 15.7 trillion US dollars.  And, at some point thereafter, AI may come to be the last human invention, provided it optimises itself and takes over research and innovation, leading to what some have termed an ‘intelligence explosion’. In the grand scheme of things, as Google CEO Sundar Pichai thinks, AI will then have a greater impact on humanity than electricity and fire did.

Some of these latter statements will remain controversial. Yet, it is also clear that AI increasingly outperforms humans in many areas that no machine has ever entered before, including driving cars, diagnosing illnesses, selecting job applicants, and more. Moreover, AI also promises great advantages, such as making transportation safer, optimising health care, and assisting scientific breakthroughs, to mention only a few.

There is, however, a lingering concern. Even the best AI is not perfect, and when things go wrong, e.g. when an autonomous car hits a pedestrian, when Amazon’s Alexa manipulates a child, or when an algorithm discriminates against certain ethnic groups, we may face a ‘responsibility gap’, a situation in which no one is responsible for the harm caused by AI.  Responsibility gaps may arise because current AI systems themselves cannot be morally responsible for what they do, and the humans involved may no longer satisfy key conditions of moral responsibility, such as the following three.

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Fracking and the Precautionary Principle

By Charles Foster

Image> Leolynn11, CC BY-SA 4.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

The UK Government has lifted the prohibition on fracking.

The risks associated with fracking have been much discussed. There is widespread agreement that earthquakes cannot be excluded.

The precautionary principle springs immediately to mind. There are many iterations of this principle. The gist of the principle, and the gist of the objections to it, are helpfully summarised as follows:

In the regulation of environmental, health and safety risks, “precautionary principles” state, in their most stringent form, that new technologies and policies should be rejected unless and until they can be shown to be safe. Such principles come in many shapes and sizes, and with varying degrees of strength, but the common theme is to place the burden of uncertainty on proponents of potentially unsafe technologies and policies. Critics of precautionary principles urge that the status quo itself carries risks, either on the very same margins that concern the advocates of such principles or else on different margins; more generally, the costs of such principles may outweigh the benefits. 

Whichever version of the principle one adopts, it seems that the UK Government’s decision falls foul of it. Even if one accepts (controversially) that the increased flow of gas from fracking will not in itself cause harm (by way of climate disruption), it seems impossible to say that any identifiable benefit from the additional gas (which could only be by way of reduced fuel prices) clearly outweighs the potential non-excludable risk from earthquakes (even if that risk is very small).

If that’s right, can the law do anything about it? Continue reading