Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics

Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics: When Money Can’t Buy Happiness: Does Our Duty to Assist the Needy Require Us to Befriend the Lonely?

This article received an honourable mention in the undergraduate category of the 2022 National Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics

Written by Lukas Joosten, University of Oxford

While most people accept some duty to assist to the needy, few accept a similar duty to befriend the lonely. In this essay I will argue that this position is inconsistent since most conceptions of a duty to assist entail a duty to befriend the lonely[1]. My main argument in this essay will follow from two core insights about friendship: friendship cannot be bought like other crucial goods, and friendship is sufficiently important to happiness that we are morally required to address friendlessness in others. The duty to friend, henceforth D2F, refers to a duty to befriend chronically lonely individuals. I present this argument by first presenting a broad conception of the duty to assist, explain how this broad conception entails a duty to friend, and then test my argument to various objections. Continue reading

Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics: Why Don’t We Just Let The Wise Rule?!

This article received an honourable mention in the undergraduate category of the 2022 National Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics

Written by Alexander Scoby, University of Cambridge

Throughout history, democracy has been accused of producing objectively sub-optimal outcomes because it gives voice to the ‘mob’. 1 Recently, Brexit and the election of Trump have been the favoured examples.2

The supposedly poor epistemic performance of democracy has served as a springboard for epistocracy, loosely defined as any political arrangement where the ‘wise’ (or competent) have disproportionate political authority relative to the rest of the population.3

I argue that against a background of structural inequality, an epistocracy is unlikely to epistemically outperform democracy. By doing so, I hope to undermine the appeal of epistocracy and ‘defend’ democracy from a competitor. Continue reading

Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics: Terra Nullius, Populus Sine Terra: Who May Settle Antarctica?

This article was the runner up in the undergraduate category of the 2022 National Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics

Written by Leo Rogers, University of Oxford

Abstract

Who may settle Antarctica? I first argue that there are no significant prior claims to Antarctic territory, which is completely uninhabited. I assume that the environmental case for leaving Antarctica uninhabited does not rule out (but may qualify) legitimate claims to settlement, and that Antarctic territory will eventually be rendered habitable by climate change. I proceed to argue that states whose territory has become uninhabitable due to climate change have a right to settle distinct parcels of Antarctic territory. This is grounded in their right to political self-determination, which requires territory. Conflicting claims may be evaluated in relation to a standard of equality of resources, which is less problematic here than elsewhere. I then assess the objection that my argument implies more demanding duties than I set out, noting that my argument describes a negative rather than a positive duty. Finally, I note the abstraction of my argument, maintaining that it nonetheless retains its value. Continue reading

Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics: How Should Career Choice Ethics Address Ignorance-Related Harms?

This article received an honourable mention in the graduate category of the 2022 National Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics.

Written by Open University student Lise du Buisson

Introduction

Choosing a career is a decision which governs most of our lives and, in large part, determines our impact on the world around us. Although being fortunate enough to freely choose a career is becoming increasingly common, surprisingly little philosophical work has been done on career choice ethics (MacAskill 2014). This essay is concerned with the question of how an altruistically-minded individual should go about choosing a career, a space currently dominated by theories oriented towards achieving the most good. Identifying an overlooked aspect of the altruistic career choice problem, I draw from non-ideal theory and the harm reduction paradigm in feminist practical ethics[1] to propose an alternative account of altruistic career choice ethics informed by where one is likely to do the least harm. Continue reading

Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics: Why We Should Negatively Discount the Well-Being of Future Generations

This essay was the winner in the undergraduate category of the 8th Annual Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics

Written by Matthew Price, University of Oxford Student

Practical ethicists and policymakers alike must grapple with the problem of how to weigh the interests of future people against those of contemporary people. This question is most often raised in discussions about our responsibility to abate climate change,1 but it is also pertinent to the mitigation of other existential risks, disposal of nuclear waste, and investment in long-term scientific enterprise. To date, most of the debate has been between those who defend the practice of discounting future generations’ well-being at some positive rate and those who argue that the only morally defensible discount rate is zero.2 This essay presents an argument for a negative discount rate:

  • There is reason to believe that the well-being of those who are more morally deserving counts for more.
  • There is reason to expect that future people will be more morally deserving than we are now.

Continue reading

Announcing the Winners and Runners Up in the 8th Annual Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics

Please join us in congratulating all four of the finalists in the National Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics 2022, and in particular our winners, Matthew Price and Lily Moore-Eissenberg.

This, the 8th Annual Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics was, for the first time, held as a National competition. From 5:30pm on the 15th March, in the lecture theatre of the Faculty of Philosophy, as well as online, the four finalists presented their papers and ideas to an audience and responded to a short Q&A as the final round in the competition. Over the coming weeks a selection of the winning essays and honourable mentions will be published on this blog.

Undergraduate Category

Winner: Matthew Price – Why We Should Negatively Discount the Well-Being of Future Generations

Runner Up: Leo Rogers – Terra nullius, populus sine terra: who may settle Antarctica?

Honourable Mentions: Lukas Joosten – When Money Can’t Buy Happiness: Does Our Duty to Assist the Needy Require Us to Befriend the Lonely?

Alexander Scoby – Why don’t we just let the wise rule?!

 

Graduate Category

Winner: Lily Moore-Eissenberg – Legal Proof and Structural Injustice: Should jurors be given information about structural racism?

Runner Up: Avital Fried – Statistical Evidence and the Criminal Verdict Asymmetry

Honourable Mentions: Lise du Buisson – How should career choice ethics address ignorance-related harms?

Kabir Singh Bakshi – Against Broome’s ‘Against Denialism’

Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics: May the Use of Violent Civil Disobedience Be Justified as a Response to Institutional Racism?

This essay was the joint runner up in the graduate category of the 7th Annual Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics.

Written by University of Oxford student Oshy Ray 

The summer of 2020 saw people across the world participating in racial justice protests, demanding the end of state violence against Black people, and calling for the eradication of institutional racism. While these protests were largely peaceful, the use of violence by some protestors was criticised. I argue that some forms of violent civil disobedience—henceforth, VCD— may be justified as responses to institutionalised racism. By “justified,” I mean that something can be made morally permissible—that its outcomes are good enough to warrant the “badness” of its means.

First, I argue that some forms of VCD may be justified as a response to institutional racism. Then, I consider the objection that instrumentally, violence is too uncontrollable to guarantee that desired ends (such as successful social change) may be brought about. In response, I distinguish between violence against persons and violence against objects. Acknowledging that violence against persons may rarely be justified, I claim that violence against objects is more easily justifiable. Finally, I conclude that VCD against objects may be justified as a response to institutional racism. I do not argue that violence can always be a justified response to institutional racism. Rather, my claim is more moderate; I claim that certain forms of VCD may be justified as a response to institutional racism.[1] Continue reading

Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics: Should Feminists Endorse a Universal Basic Income?

This essay was the joint runner up in the graduate category of the 7th Annual Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics.

Written by University of Oxford student Rebecca L Clark

  • 1 Introduction

A UBI is a regularly remitted, non-means-tested cash grant which is given to every individual with no conditions attached.[1] Within these constraints, UBI proposals can differ considerably. Firstly, there is a Question of Scope – namely, who constitutes ‘every individual’? Secondly, there is a Question of Specification, which can be broken down into three interrelated issues:

  1. At what level of income should a UBI be set?
  2. Should a UBI supplement or replace existing welfare structures?
  3. How should a UBI be funded?

I will set aside the complexities raised by the Question of Scope and focus on a UBI given to adult citizens. In response to the Question of Specification, I will consider a UBI set at a liveable wage which supplements existing welfare institutions and is funded through revenues from publicly owned assets.[2] This is for two reasons. Firstly, I take this to be the most appealing version of a UBI; hence a conclusion that feminists should reject this version would suggest that feminists should reject any UBI proposal. Secondly, I am wary of building in hard limits of political or economic feasibility into my analysis since this forecloses utopian theorising, which is valuable precisely because it challenges conventional views about what is possible. Continue reading

Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics: Why, If At All, Is It Unethical For Universities To Prioritise Applicants Related To Their Alumni?

This essay was the runner up in the undergraduate category of the 7th Annual Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics.

Written by University of Oxford student Tanae Rao

Introduction

Most notably in the United States, some prestigious universities[1] consider whether or not a student is closely related to one or more alumni when evaluating her application. In an increasingly competitive university admissions landscape, having legacy status increases an applicant’s probability of being admitted to such a great extent that over a third of Harvard’s undergraduate class of 2022 is composed of legacy students.[2] This has led the New York Times Editorial Board to describe the practice as “anti-meritocratic” and “an engine of inequity”.[3]

Considering the alma mater of a student’s relatives when evaluating their university application seems to be wrong, or unfair, in some way. But what is the central aspect of the legacy admissions policy justifying this reaction? I consider three possible answers to this question. Firstly, I reject the academic qualification view, whereby universities should only consider if applicants will be able to meet academic requirements when making admissions decisions. This view does not reflect the actual state of university admissions today, where the number of qualified applicants often far exceeds the number of available seats. I then reject the popular view whereby universities should minimise their consideration of factors outside of the applicant’s control. Though this criterion appears to meet many of our intuitions regarding university admissions, I argue that it is too restrictive, preventing reasonable factors from being considered by universities. Finally, I propose a consequentialist view, whereby admissions decisions should be based on their expected consequences to admitted students and society as a whole. This view—I contend—is a plausible explanation of why legacy admissions should be discontinued, contingent on some evaluative questions. Continue reading

Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics: Against Making a Difference

This essay was the winning entry in the undergraduate category of the 7th Annual Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics.

Written by University of Oxford student Imogen Rivers 

I. The Complacency Argument

Some of the most serious wrongs are produced collectively. Can individuals bear moral responsibility for such outcomes? Suggestively, it’s been argued that “all who participate by their actions in processes that produce injustice [e.g. “sweatshop” labour] share responsibility for its remedy”;[1] “citizens… bear partial responsibility for the election outcome. Even if an individual’s vote is not decisive for a given candidate’s victory”;[2] “those who contribute to climate change… (by using… excessive… fossil fuels or by deforestation) should make amends”.[3]

However there’s a prevalent defence: it makes no (significant) difference if I do it. For example, “global warming will still occur even if I do not drive [my “gas-guzzler”] just for fun”;[4] “my polluting doesn’t actually harm anyone, since it doesn’t make a difference to anyone’s health”;[5] “why [should citizens] vote even if… each particular vote does not make a difference to the outcome”?;[6] “British officials… dismiss suggestions that our role on the ground in Saudi Arabia makes any difference [to targeting Yemeni civilians]”.[7]  Continue reading

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