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Ethics

Event Summary: Thomas Hurka’s 2023 Uehiro Lectures

Written by Joseph Moore Last week, 4-8 March 2024, Professor Thomas Hurka, the Chancellor Henry N. R. Jackman Distinguished Professor of Philosophical Studies at the University of Toronto, delivered the 2023 Annual Uehiro Lectures in Practical Ethics, entitled ‘Knowledge and Achievement: Their Value, Nature, and Public Policy Role’. The lecture series was rescheduled from the… Read More »Event Summary: Thomas Hurka’s 2023 Uehiro Lectures

Political Campaigning, Microtargeting, and the Right to Information

Written by Cristina Voinea 

 

2024 is poised to be a challenging year, partly because of the important elections looming on the horizon – from the United States and various European countries to Russia (though, let us admit, surprises there might be few). As more than half of the global population is on social media, much of political communication and campaigning moved online. Enter the realm of online political microtargeting, a game-changer fueled by data and analytics innovations that changed the face of political campaigning.  

Microtargeting, a form of online targeted advertisement, relies on the collection, aggregation, and processing of both online and offline personal data to target individuals with the messages they will respond or react to. In political campaigns, microtargeting on social media platforms is used for delivering personalized political ads, attuned to the interests, beliefs, and concerns of potential voters. The objectives of political microtargeting are diverse, as it can be used to inform and mobilize or to confuse, scare, and demobilize. How does political microtargeting change the landscape of political campaigns? I argue that this practice is detrimental to democratic processes because it restricts voters’ right to information. (Privacy infringements are an additional reason but will not be the focus of this post). 

 Read More »Political Campaigning, Microtargeting, and the Right to Information

Is There a Duty to Vote?

Written by Joseph Moore

This new year is a presidential election year in my home country of the United States. And so, there is likely to be no shortage of U.S. political news and commentary surrounding candidates’ pasts, their present comments and their campaign promises. It is also likely that many U.S. citizens (and probably some others) will find themselves embroiled, more frequently than usual, in weighty conversations about current events, political strategy or social or economic issues. And when the primary and general elections draw near, there will be repeated calls for all eligible voters to vote, regardless of who or what they vote for.

With all of the information (and misinformation) available and with the depth of many of the substantive issues, it will take a non-negligible amount of time and energy to remain fully politically informed throughout the election cycle. I am sure some people would rather not devote that time and energy to the process. Yet one often faces immense public and interpersonal pressure to be informed and to vote. These are sometimes even advanced as moral or civic duties on the part of citizens of democracies. To what extent are these really duties? Are citizens truly obligated to stay politically up-to-date and to vote in elections?Read More »Is There a Duty to Vote?

On Grief and Griefbots

Written by Cristina Voinea 

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

 

Large Language Models are all the hype right now. Amongst the things we can use them for, is the creation of digital personas, known as ‘griefbots’, that imitate the way people who passed away spoke and wrote. This can be achieved by inputting a person’s data, including their written works, blog posts, social media content, photos, videos, and more, into a Large Language Model such as ChatGPT. Unlike deepfakes, griefbots are dynamic digital entities that continuously learn and adapt. They can process new information, provide responses to questions, offer guidance, and even engage in discussions on current events or personal topics, all while echoing the unique voice and language patterns of the individuals they mimic. 

Numerous startups are already anticipating the growing demand for digital personas. Replika is one of the first companies to offer griefbots, although now they focus on providing more general AI companions, “always there to listen and talk, always on your side”. HereAfter AI offers the opportunity to capture one’s life story by engaging in dialogue with either a chatbot or a human biographer. This data is then harnessed and compiled with other data points to construct a lifelike replica of oneself that can then be offered to loved ones “for the holidays, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, birthdays, retirements, and more.” Also, You, Only Virtual, is “pioneering advanced digital communications so that we Never Have to Say Goodbye to those we love.”   

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Is Animal Liberation Speciesist?

Written by Joseph Moore

This year, Peter Singer published Animal Liberation Now, a significantly updated version of his 1975 animal rights classic. Both the original and revised text argue that humans should refrain from inflicting unnecessary suffering on non-human animals, especially the cruel practices still commonly employed in factory farming and animal experimentation. And as a step towards this collective action, Singer urges his readers to modify their individual purchasing practices by preferring cruelty-free products or, even better, committing to vegetarianism or veganism.

The bulk of the revisions in the new edition concern the empirical facts on the ground, both the positive changes in the treatment of non-human animals since the original printing as well as ongoing, legally sanctioned cruel practices. Unfortunately, the philosophically weakest part of Singer’s influential argument, which occurs in the first chapter, has received no additional support in this edition. This is his claim that ‘the capacity for suffering and enjoyment is a prerequisite for having interests, a condition that must be satisfied before we can properly speak of interests at all’. The supposed necessity of sentience for having interests is why Singer limits his ‘principle of equal consideration of interests’ to (some) animals and does not extend it to living things in other kingdoms—plants, fungi, bacteria, etc.—or other kinds of subjects. But this relatively undefended assertion was dubious in 1975 and is even more dubious now. Singer’s restriction of interests to sentient beings is just as arbitrary as the speciesism he decries.Read More »Is Animal Liberation Speciesist?

More Demoralizing

Readers of this blog may remember a contribution by me on ‘Demoralizing Ethics’ earlier this year. It set out some arguments (from a paper on religious pluralism) for, at least initially, avoiding moral concepts and language in ethics. These arguments were based on parsimony and on avoiding emotional distortion, and outlined a demoralized ethical approach based on well-being or welfare.Read More »More Demoralizing

Banning Cigarettes, Paternalism, Liberty and Harm: Clearing the Smoke

Media headlines in the UK are widely reporting Rishi Sunak’s announcement of a proposal to ban smoking for younger generations. Under the proposal, the legal age of smoking would increase by one year every year so that, eventually, no-one would be able to buy tobacco.

The proposal has proved to be controversial, and it has prompted a number of different arguments. This is unsurprising; the proposal represents a classic conflict between individual well-being, liberty, and third-party interests. As the BBC reports, some commentators have also highlighted an apparent inconsistency in Sunak’s own position, since he recently pushed back part of the government’s anti-obesity strategy, because of “people’s right to choose”. Again, the BBC reports that Sunak’s own response to this consistency argument has been that there is an important difference between the two policy positions, because ‘there is no healthy level of smoking’, whilst one can enjoy unhealthy foods as part of a healthy diet.

However, the claim that there is ‘no healthy level of smoking’ can be used to respond to this consistency argument and support the proposed smoking ban in quite different ways. Whether we support or oppose the proposal, it is crucial to be clear about the precise moral arguments that both supporters and opponents are making.

One useful way to begin is by thinking about whether or not the proposed ban is paternalistic.

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Climate Change, Planetary Health and the Deep Significance of the Anthropocene

Written by Joseph Moore

Preventing global climate change is currently the main item on our collective environmental agenda. I am certainly convinced of the need to reduce carbon emissions, restore carbon-sequestering ecosystems, generate renewable energy and develop more sustainable economic practices. Yet as I reflect on the nature of life and the history of the planet, it seems to me that mitigating or hopefully even undoing anthropogenic climate change is but a first step, an emergency measure in an environmental triage. If we do manage to stabilise the global climate, we will then face questions and issues of even longer-term environmental ethics and policy. Specifically, we will know how to push the global climate in any direction, towards higher or lower average temperatures and levels of atmospheric carbon, and with that knowledge and ability comes responsibility. Deciding how best to use this knowledge will require deciding how we want to relate to other forms of life, to the planet and to its ecosystems—or so I will suggest.Read More »Climate Change, Planetary Health and the Deep Significance of the Anthropocene