Joseph Bowen’s Posts

What’s Wrong With Giving Treatments That Don’t Work: A Social Epistemological Argument.

Let us suppose we have a treatment and we want to find out if it works. Call this treatment drug X. While we have observational data that it works—that is, patients say it works or, that it appears to work given certain tests—observational data can be misleading. As Edzard Ernst writes:

Whenever a patient or a group of patients receive a medical treatment and subsequently experience improvements, we automatically assume that the improvement was caused by the intervention. This logical fallacy can be very misleading […] Of course, it could be the treatment—but there are many other possibilities as well. Continue reading

Who Should be Allowed to Vote?

Let us suppose that a jury has just reached a verdict on any case you can imagine (however trivial). Let us suppose that we discover one of the following three facts:

  1. The Ignorant Jury. The jury paid no attention to the trial; when asked how each of them found the defendant, they arbitrarily decided on guilty.
  2. The Irrational Jury. The jury paid some attention to the trial, however decided their judgement on reasons not related to the trail, such as wishful thinking or bizarre conspiracy theories.
  3. The Morally Unreasonable Jury. The jury found the defendant guilty because of pre-existing prejudices, i.e. she is Romanian.

In each of these cases the jury would lack authority and legitimacy (there would most likely be a retrial). A jury’s decision can significantly affect people’s lives—not simply the defendants—by depriving them of property, liberty and even life. Here’s a principle that the three juries could be said to violate:

The Competence Principle: It is unjust to deprive citizens of life, liberty and property, or to alter their life prospects significantly, by force and threats of force as a result of decisions made by an incompetent or morally unreasonable deliberative body, or as a result of decisions made in an incompetent and morally unreasonable way (Brennan 2011, 704). Continue reading

Wrongdoing and the Harm it Causes

One of the arguments against military humanitarian intervention (or wars or invasions justified on similar grounds, viz., averting harm) is that given how much such actions cost, those resources could be better used to alleviate more harm elsewhere. Against such arguments it could be suggested that humanitarian intervention stops wrongdoing and so, while we might be able to alleviate more harm elsewhere, the fact that the harm is the result of wrongdoing makes it more important. Such arguments are something I’ve been discussing with people over the past week so thought I may set them out here.

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The Welfare State: who should pay for the transportation of a rich person’s child to and from school?

Suppose you have a child with special educational needs. Suppose the only school that could meet your child’s needs (as set out by their Statement of Special Educational Needs) was over an hour away (as can often happen). It falls under your local authority’s duties, who agree that they cannot provide a school within your area, to pay for transport for your child along with the essential carer who understand your child’s needs. Finally, suppose you’re very well off: should you pay for that transportation service?

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St. Cross Seminar: Natural Human Rights, Michael Boylan

Are human rights natural or conventional? That is, does one possess human rights in virtue of being a member of the human race, or, do these rights only come into existence only once they have been written in by some sovereign body? This question was at the heart of Michael Boylan’s St. Cross Seminar, ‘Natural Human Rights’, given on Thursday 27th November (spoiler alert, he sides with the former in both cases!). The seminar explored the central argument in Boylan’s recently published book, Natural Human Rights: A Theory. In it, he argues that one can “bridge the fact/value chasm to create binding positive duties that recognize fundamental human rights claims.” Boylan covered a lot of material during his talk, and so in what follows I shall focus on the positive arguments made in order to get a feel for the substantial element of the seminar. You can find a recording of the talk here.
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