Journal of Practical Ethics

Guest Post: Why Don’t We Do More to Help the Global Poor?

Simon Keller, Victoria University of Wellington
Read more in the current issue of the Journal of Practical Ethics

There is good reason to believe that people living comfortable lives in affluent countries should do more to help impoverished people in other parts of the world. Billions of people lack the nutrition, medicines, shelter, and safety that the better-off take for granted, and there exist organizations that do a pretty good job of taking money donated by the relatively rich and directing it towards those who need it most. If I can address myself to others who count among the global rich: we could do more to help the global poor, but we don’t.

It is not just that we do not do much to help the global poor; it is also that our patterns of helping do not respond to the most morally significant aspects of global poverty. We will give more in response to a disaster, like a hurricane or a tsunami, than to ongoing systemic poverty. We are more likely to give when confronted with a photograph of a starving family, or when we take ourselves to be sponsoring a particular child, than when faced with truths about how many people are suffering and how much they need our help.

In a recent article in Journal of Practical Ethics, I try to say something about what explains our patterns of helping behavior, as directed towards the global poor. Part of the explanation, of course, is our selfishness, laziness, and willful ignorance; and part of it is the power of personal stories and photographs to engage our emotions while statistics and geopolitical truths leave us numb. But a further part of the explanation, I think, is that while we know we have good reasons to help the global poor, we do not know what those reasons are.

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Announcement: Journal of Practical Ethics Volume 3, Issue 1

Journal of Practical Ethics. Volume 3, Issue 1. June 2015

Cost Effectiveness Analysis and Fairness
F. M. Kamm
Journal of Practical Ethics, 3(1): 1-14
Read Online | Download PDF

The Elements of Well-Being
Brad Hooker
Journal of Practical Ethics, 3(1): 15-35
Read Online | Download PDF | Podcast

Motives to Assist and Reasons to Assist: the Case of Global Poverty
Simon Keller
Journal of Practical Ethics, 3(1): 37-63
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Pregnancy discrimination: Indirect discrimination against women? (JPE 2(2))

Guest Post by Kasper Lippert-Rasmussen

Professor Lippert-Rasmussen’s paper on indirect discrimination is part of the latest issue of the JPE

December 3, 2014, the US Supreme Court held its first hearing on the case of a former UPS driver, Peggy Young (Young v UPS, 12-1226): “In 2006, UPS forced Young to take an unpaid leave after refusing to accommodate her doctor’s order that she not lift heavy packages during her pregnancy… Young lost not just her income, but her health insurance as well” (http://www.latimes.com/local/abcarian/la-me-ra-supreme-court-pregnancy-discrimination-20141203-column.html#page=1). While UPS requires delivery drivers “to be able to lift packages as heavy as 70 pounds. Young said she rarely handled anything over 20 pounds and dealt almost exclusively with letters that sat on the passenger seat of her van”. Interestingly, however, at the time UPS also had a policy of providing temporary light-duty work to, but also only to, ”employees who had on-the-job injuries, were disabled under federal law or lost their federal driver certification” (http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2014/dec/01/ups-employee-pregnancy-discrimination-supreme-court). Before taking her case to the Supreme Court, lower courts had dismissed Young’s lawsuit twice. Continue reading

Discriminating happiness. Journal of Practical Ethics 2(2) is out!

by Dominic Wilkinson, Managing editor JPE, @Neonatalethics

The latest issue of the journal is out this week:

Valerie Tiberius examines the relevance of different theories of wellbeing for the important practical task of providing life-advice to friends. She has posted a short blog on the topic. You can also listen to a great podcast interview with Professor Tiberius about her paper here.

The subject of wellbeing is also covered by a paper by Edward Skidelsky. He argues that happiness surveys give us some information (albeit imperfect) about whether or not people are happy; however, we cannot avoid the need to address the fundamental question of what counts as a good (or happy life).

“nothing that surveys might tell us can upset our common-sense conviction that health, love, freedom, security and respect all standardly contribute to happiness.”

Finally, Kasper Lippert-Rasmussen tackles the rights and wrongs of a pervasive form of discrimination. Lippert-Rasmussen contends that indirect discrimination (rules or behaviour that disproportionately disadvantages a group non-intentionally) isn’t necessarily unjust. He argues that only a strict egalitarian view (with uncomfortable implications) would make indirect discrimination always unjust. See also his blog above.

CONTENTS

How Theories of Well-Being Can Help Us Help
Valerie Tiberius
Journal of Practical Ethics 2(2): 1-19
What can we learn from happiness surveys?
Edward Skidelsky
Journal of Practical Ethics 2(2): 20-32
Indirect Discrimination Is Not Necessarily Unjust
Kasper Lippert-Rasmussen
Journal of Practical Ethics 2(2): 33-57
Letter: Comment on “Associative Duties and the Ethics of Killing in War”
Jeff McMahan
Journal of Practical Ethics 2(2): 58-68
Letter: A Reply to McMahan
Seth Lazar
Journal of Practical Ethics 2(2): 69-71

Helping Friends

Guest post: Valerie Tiberius, University of Minnesota. Read the related paper: How Theories of Well-being Can Help Us Help in the latest issue of the Journal of Practical Ethics.

I have a friend I’ll call Liam who is ruining his life.  Liam is marrying the wrong man:  someone controlling and unappreciative who seems to all the world to be making Liam unhappy and stressed.  What should I do for Liam?  I think it’s very unclear.  If you have ever wanted to help a friend or a family member who is in trouble, you know that helping isn’t as easy as it sounds.  There are lots of ways to go wrong – your “help” may be perceived as insulting, condescending, paternalistic, insensitive, or just plain unhelpful.

Can philosophy help? You might think that theories of well-being would be useful here.  Such theories aim to tell us what makes something good for a person.  So, if we’re aiming to help someone – to do something for their sake, something that’s good for them – a theory of what makes something good for a person is a good place to start.  Unfortunately, theories of well-being aren’t that helpful when it comes to helping.  There are two main types of wellbeing theory. Theories that emphasize the psychological dimensions of well-being would tell us to promote desire satisfaction, life satisfaction, or pleasure.  But sometimes the reason that a person’s life isn’t going well is that she wants (or is satisfied by or gets pleasure from) the wrong things.  The other type of theory emphasizes the importance of achieving objective goods (e.g., friendship, love, knowledge), things that make a like go well whether or not they are desired. However, if we are guided in our attempts to help by objective values that are not connected to a person’s desires, then we risk giving advice that is thought of as condescending, insensitive or the like.

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JPE 2(1) – The pursuit of sex equality keeps going off the rails

So claims renowned Oxford philosopher and feminist Janet Radcliffe Richards.  Professor Radcliffe Richards is the author of The Sceptical Feminist, Human Nature After Darwin and Careless Thought Costs Lives: the ethics of transplants. She was also listed recently as one of the world’s 50 most important thinkers by Prospect magazine.

Writing in the Journal of Practical Ethics, Radcliffe Richards criticises a common view about sexual equality.
Women hold only 11% of executive positions in top companies in Europe. There are public campaigns to achieve gender balance in public office and top positions in corporations. Political parties are criticised for having low numbers of women in parliament or cabinet.

But Radcliffe Richards argues that society should not be aiming for equal representation of men and women in these ways.

Sex equality sounds self-evident as a requirement of justice, but we need to be clear about exactly what kind of equality is required.

There is much confusion between two quite different kinds of equality, and only one of them is relevant to justice between women and men.

Justice does not require equality of status, wealth, or any other outcome between the sexes.  What matters from a moral point of view is  equal consideration of interests, which is quite different.

Radcliffe Richards agrees that policies to increase the representation of women in influential areas are of great importance.  But she argues that they need a different kind of justification. Recognizing this should make a significant difference to the politics of sex.

See here for the free full text article in the latest issue of the Journal of Practical Ethics.

The Journal of Practical Ethics is a new open access philosophy journal, published by the Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics at the University of Oxford. The journal aims to make philosophy relevant to public debate and practical questions. It publishes works by leading academic moral and political philosophers that are accessible to a broader public audience.

 

Is Two -Thirds of What We Say Immoral?

Allegations that Nigella Lawson, professional domestic goddess, was an inveterate drug taker caused a media, twitter, blog and water-cooler storm. Even after the initial shock subsided, column inches have been devoted to her relationship with her ex-husband, her future career prospects, the running of her household and the other fall out of a criminal trial into alleged credit card fraud by two of her former assistants. Gossip, according to Robin Dunbar accounts for around two thirds of human conversation. And that statistic dates to 1995, 5 years before Big Brother kick started a tidal wave of reality TV and 4 years before the titles such as Heat Magazine formed part of a wave of celebrity magazines and other spin offs devoted to ‘celebrity’ gossip.

An inevitable part of this kind of gossip is “judging” those that we hear about. David Oderberg, in the latest issue of the Journal of Practical Ethics discusses the morality of judging others. He makes the fascinating argument that not only is defamation wrong, but ‘detraction’, that is truthful gossiping or judgment –forming is wrong also. A reputation he argues, has similarities with property rights. Though a reputation cannot be bought or sold, he argues it is akin to a ‘currency’, something we need to live a good life, and whilst it is visible to others, it is not for others to destroy or damage it.

Beyond this, he argues that judging others may even be harmful to the gossiper- it detracts from our ability to judge ourselves- and therefore to improve ourselves. So instead of judging Nigella Lawson for whatever she did or did not do, perhaps we should all be in our own metaphorical “kitchen”, perfecting our inner domestic gods and goddesses.

But in answer to the title question, it is estimated that only about 5% of gossip is “malicious or disparaging”– so no need to avoid the water cooler entirely.

Podcast interview with David S.  Oderberg discussing his article “The Morality of Reputation and the Judgment of Others”
Open access article: The Morality of Reputation and the Judgment of Others”, David S. Oderberg
December’s Journal of Practical Ethics

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