‘Naming and Shaming: Responding to Lookism’

On the evening of Friday 9 June, Prof. Heather Widdows presented the inaugural Michael Lockwood Memorial Lecture, as part of a weekend of events to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics and the fifth of the MSt. in Practical Ethics, based in the Centre. The title of Prof. Widdows’ fascinating and suggestive lecture was ‘Naming and Shaming: Responding to Lookism’. Continue reading

Guest Post: High Risk, Low Reward: A Challenge to the Astronomical Value of Existential Risk Mitigation

Written by David Thorstad , Global Priorities Institute, Junior Research Fellow, Kellogg College

This post is based on my paper “High risk, low reward: A challenge to the astronomical value of existential risk mitigation,” forthcoming in Philosophy and Public Affairs. The full paper is available here and I have also written a blog series about this paper here.

Derek Parfit (1984) asks us to compare two scenarios. In the first, a war kills 99% of all living humans. This would be a great catastrophe – far beyond anything humanity has ever experienced. But human civilization could, and likely would, be rebuilt.

In the second scenario, a war kills 100% of all living humans. This, Parfit urges, would be a far greater catastrophe, for in this scenario the entire human civilization would cease to exist. The world would perhaps never again know science, art, mathematics or philosophy. Our projects would be forever incomplete, and our cities ground to dust. Humanity would never settle the stars. The untold multitudes of descendants we could have left behind would instead never be born. Continue reading

The Daft Discussion of Dangerous Dogs

Written by Rebecca Brown

Breed Specific Legislation

The UK currently imposes what’s called ‘Breed Specific Legislation’ in an effort to limit serious injuries due to dog attacks. The legislation was introduced in 1991 and made it illegal to own, sell, abandon, give away or breed dogs deemed to belong to one of four banned breeds. These are the Pit Bull Terrier, Japanese Tosa, Dogo Argentino and Fila Brasileiro. These breeds, having been selectively bred for purposes such as fighting, hunting and guarding, and are considered to have physical and behavioural attributes that mean they pose an unacceptable risk to the public. Dogs that meet the criteria for being a banned breed can be seized and either destroyed or permitted to remain with their owner under restrictive conditions. Breed specific legislation has been recently criticised in a number of organisations.

I do not intend to defend Breed Specific Legislation. It’s plausible that there are alternative, more effective and less damaging ways of reducing harm from dog attacks. However, many of the critiques of Breed Specific Legislation made by prominent animal charities and veterinary bodies are flawed. In pursuing what they no doubt see as a worthwhile end (the scrapping of Breed Specific Legislation), those publicly lobbying for change have made numerous confused and misleading arguments. Below, I outline why these arguments are misleading, implausible or weak, and how they fail to show that Breed Specific Legislation should be revoked.

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Perceptual diversity and philosophical belief

Reading up on Derek Parfit’s theory of personal identity as part of my research on non-essential accounts of self in literature, philosophy and neuroscience, I was astounded to come across a New Yorker feature on the philosopher which describes his inability to visualise imagery as an anomaly:

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From Experience to Insight – the Personal Dimension of Philosophy

Written by Muriel Leuenberger

The more philosophers I have come to know, the more I realize how deeply personal philosophy is. Philosophical positions often emerge from personal experience and character – even the seemingly most technical, detached, and abstract ones. As Iris Murdoch wrote: “To do philosophy is to explore one’s own temperament, and yet at the same time to attempt to discover the truth.” Philosophy is an expression of how one sees the world, a clarification, development, and defense of “an outlook that defines who someone is” to add the words of Kieran Setiya.

This personal dimension of philosophy becomes evident in the new philosophical positions and topics that emerge when people with different personal experiences and points of view start to do philosophy. The most prominent example is how women in philosophy, particularly in the last 50 years, have contributed new perspectives – a brush of fresh air in old, stuffy rooms. Philosophy’s allegedly objective view from nowhere was rather the view from a particularly male perspective. Care ethics, feminist philosophy, and philosophy of pregnancy are just some areas where the inclusion of women in philosophy with their own outlook and priorities has advanced the discipline.[i]

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Video Interview: Introducing Academic Visitor Dr María de Jesús Medina Arellano

An interview with academic visitor Dr María de Jesús Medina Arellano, Professor and Researcher at the Institute of Legal Research at the National Autonomous University (UNAM), on her research focusing on the ethics and regulation of biotechnologies in developing countries, such as stem cell science, human genome editing and reproductive technologies.

Book Launch: Pandemic Ethics: From Covid-19 to Disease X

Press release and an interview with Prof Dominic Wilkinson on the new book, Pandemic Ethics: From Covid-19 to Disease X, which he has co-authored with Prof Julian Savulescu.

Press Release: Are we ethically prepared for Disease X?

1 May 2023

According to some estimates, there is more than a one in four chance in the next decade of another global pandemic. We don’t know whether this will be influenza, a coronavirus (like SARS and COVID), or something completely new. The World Health Organisation refers to this unknown future threat as “Disease X”. Continue reading

In Praise of Unthinking National Religion

By Charles Foster

Image: Easter on Santorini: Georgios Michos, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons: Link to image here.

I spent Orthodox Easter in Greece. Then, and for the week afterwards, the neon displays over the main roads announced ‘Christ is Risen’, and the shopkeepers wished me a ‘Good Resurrection’.

This piety isn’t reserved for Easter. Almost everyone wears a cross around their neck. Drivers, without interrupting the high volume argument with their passengers, cross themselves when they pass a church.

‘Superstition, not true religion’, sneers the ardent Protestant – for whom, drawing on a Puritan tradition, diligent examination of conscience and the deliberate orientation of the will towards God are the only completely acceptable mental states. The professional philosopher typically agrees: what is philosophy, these days, other than the disciplined examination of propositions and reasons – and of course disciplined examination demands strenuous, conscious attention.

But I’m not so sure. Religion is part of the web and weave of these Greeks: a way primarily of being, and only secondarily of doing, and often not at all of thinking, in the sense that philosophers typically mean by ‘thinking’. It’s a reflex – or at the root of a reflex –  which has ethical consequences. If one sees the right result (rather than the means to that result) as the most important thing about ethics, a reflex which produces the right result fast, invariably and unconsciously might be preferable to a process of highly cognitive deliberation which could be derailed before it produces the ethically appropriate end. And if what matters is general moral character, who is more praiseworthy: someone who is constitutionally altruistic (for instance), or someone who decides on a case by case basis whether or not to be altruistic? Continue reading

Cross Post: Dutch Government to Expand Euthanasia Law to Include Children Aged One to 12 – An Ethicist’s View

Written by Dominic Wilkinson, University of Oxford

Ernst Kuipers, the Dutch health minister, recently announced that regulations were being modified to allow doctors to actively end the lives of children aged one to 12 years who were terminally ill and suffering unbearably.

Previously, assisted dying was an option in the Netherlands in rare cases in younger children (under one year) and in some older teenagers who requested voluntary euthanasia. Until now, Belgium was the only country in the world to allow assisted dying in children under 12.

Under the proposal, it will remain against the law for doctors in the Netherlands to actively end the life of a child under the age of 12. However, a force majeure clause gives prosecutors the discretion not to prosecute in exceptional circumstances.

In 2005, Dutch doctors and legal experts published guidelines (the so-called “Groningen protocol”) elaborating when these exceptional circumstances would apply for infants under the age of one year. That included certainty about diagnosis and prognosis, “hopeless and unbearable suffering”, the support of both parents and appropriateness confirmed by an independent doctor.

The new regulations would allow the same principles to apply to children between one and 12 years of age. Continue reading

It is not about AI, it is about humans

Written by Alberto Giubilini

We might be forgiven for asking so frequently these days whether we should trust artificial intelligence. Too much has been written about the promises and perils of ChatGPT to escape the question. Upon reading both enthusiastic and concerned accounts of it, there seems to be very little the software cannot do. It can provide or fabricate a huge amount of information in the blink on an eye, reinterpret it and organize it into essays that seem written by humans, produce different forms of art (from figurative art to music, poetry, and so on) virtually indistinguishable from human-made art, and so much more.

It seems fair to ask how we can trust AI not to fabricate evidence, plagiarize, defame, serve anti-democratic political ends, violate privacy, and so on.

One possible answer is that we cannot. This could be true in two senses.

In a first sense, we cannot trust AI because it is not reliable. It gets things wrong too often, there is no way to figure out if it is wrong without doing ourselves the kind of research that the software was supposed to do for us, and it could be used in unethical ways. On this view, the right attitude towards AI is one of cautious distrust. What it does might well be impressive, but not reliable epistemically or ethically.

In a second sense, we cannot trust AI for the same reason why we cannot distrust it, either. Quite simply, trust (and distrust) is not the kind of attitude we can have towards tools. Unlike humans, tools are just means to our ends. They can be more or less reliable, but not more or less trustworthy. In order to trust, we need to have certain dispositions – or ‘reactive attitudes’, to use some philosophical jargon – that can only be appropriately directed at humans. According to Richard Holton’s account of ‘trust’, for instance, trust requires the readiness to feel betrayed by the individual you trust[1]. Or perhaps we can talk, less emphatically, of readiness to feel let down.

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