Christine Korsgaard on our Moral Obligations to Animals [Uehiro Lecture 2]

by Karamvir Chadha @karamvirchadha

 What are our moral obligations to animals? This was the subject of Christine Korsgaard’s Uehiro lecture on 2 December 2014, the second of a three-lecture series on the moral and legal standing of animals. (To listen to the lecture follow this link)

Korsgaard argued for the conclusion that animals have moral standing. Her argument for this conclusion was characteristically Korsgaardian: it was both extremely ambitious and grounded in a distinctive interpretation of Kant. Continue reading

Christine Korsgaard: Fellow Creatures (Lecture 1)

We are delighted that Christine Korsgaard, Arthur Kingsley Porter Professor of Philosophy at Harvard University, has accepted our invitation to deliver the Uehiro Lectures in Oxford. The title of the series is Fellow Creatures, and this first fascinating and suggestive lecture – delivered on 1 December 2014 — is called ‘Animals, Human Beings, and Persons’. One primary purpose of this lecture is to clarify the similarities and differences between those three kinds of creature, and to clear the ground of some misunderstandings. Continue reading

Limiting the damage from cultures in collision

A Man in Black has a readable twitter essay about the role of chan culture in gamergate, and how the concepts of identity and debate inside a largish subculture can lead to an amazing uproar when they clash with outside cultures.

A brief recap: the Gamergate Controversy was/is a fierce culture war originating in the video gaming community in August 2014 but soon ensnaring feminists, journalists, webcomics, discussion sites, political pundits, Intel… – essentially anybody touching this tar-baby of controversy, regardless of whether they understood it or not. It has everything: media critique, feminism, sexism, racism, sealioning, cyberbullying, doxing, death threats, wrecked careers: you name it. From an outside perspective it has been a train wreck hard to look away from. Rarely have a debate flared up so quickly, involved so many, and generated so much vituperation. If this is the future of broad debates our civilization is doomed.

This post is not so much about the actual content of the controversy but the point made by A Man in Black: one contributing factor to the disaster has been that a fairly large online subculture has radically divergent standards of debate and identity, and when it got into contact with the larger world chaos erupted. How should we handle this? Continue reading

Prometheus and the Drive to Mastery

Writers who express caution about the over-enthusiastic embrace of new technologies, such as Michael Sandel, who worries about human enhancement and genetic engineering, and Clive Hamilton, who worries about geoengineering, sometimes warn us about the ‘Promethean attitude’, or ‘the Promethean urge’. According to Sandel, human enhancement and genetic engineering ‘… represent a kind of hyperagency – a Promethean aspiration to remake nature, including human nature, to serve our purposes and satisfy our desires. The problem is not the drift to mechanism but the drive to mastery. And what the drive to mastery misses and many even destroy is an appreciation of the gifted character of human powers and achievements’ (‘The Case against Perfection’, in J. Savulescu and N. Bostrom (eds.) Human Enhancement, OUP 2012, p. 78). Hamilton worries about geoengineers who desire ‘total domination of the planet’. He describes this desire as a ‘Promethean urge named after the Greek titan who gave to humans the tools of technological mastery’ (Earthmasters, Yale 2013, p. 18). Continue reading

7 reasons not to feel bad about yourself when you have acted immorally

Feeling bad about oneself is a common response to realising that one has acted wrongly, or that one could have done something morally better. It is a reaction that is at least partly inspired by a cultural background that Western civilisation has been carrying on its back for centuries. But contrary to appearances and folk beliefs, not only does our tendency to feel guilty fail to promote morality, it can also be an obstacle to moral behaviour.

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Foetal alcohol syndrome, compensation and harm

A case currently before the UK Court of Appeal could have far-reaching implications for mothers who drink during pregnancy.  Lawyers for a seven-year-old child with foetal alcohol syndrome caused by her mother’s heavy drinking, argue she should receive compensation from the government-funded Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority as she has been the victim of a crime. Continue reading

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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C. S. Lewis as a moral philosopher

Tomorrow it is C.S. Lewis’s birthday. He’d have been 116. He died 51 years ago, his death pushed out of the headlines by the deaths of JFK and Aldous Huxley. He’s had far more influence than either.

He’s remembered mainly as a children’s writer (the most dogmatic atheists, terrified or disgusted by the roar of Aslan, nonetheless bring their children to stroke the lion’s mane), and as a Christian apologist. He, irony upon irony, a beer-quaffing, chain-smoking, divorcee-marrying intellectual, living and breathing high pagan culture along with his pipe-smoke, is the darling of American evangelicals. And that’s why he’s neglected by serious philosophers.1 It’s understandable. We tend to judge people by the company they keep. But in the case of Lewis it’s unfair. Evangelicals might queue up at his door, but he’d never let them in.  Apart from their membership of the species, he’d have loathed everything about them; their chauvinism, their ludicrous literalism, their self-righteousness, their belligerence, their metaphor-phobia, their elastic-waisted trousers, their historical blindness, their pant-soiling fear of scholarship, their teetotalism, their humourlessness. He had a fastidious nose for inconsistency: imagine how that nose would have twitched when it sniffed a Louisianan zealot who was keen on topping adults but outraged by abortion. In a different context (he was lambasting liberal intellectuals who say that that they can read nuances between the lines, but fail to see the huge themes rampaging through the  Christian story) he denounced those who ‘claim to see fern-seed and can’t see an elephant ten yards away in broad daylight.’)2 He’d have similarly scourged those who have the KJV with their MSG for breakfast, and yet scream for judicial execution in the name of a man who was himself judicially executed, and who, in the name of a man who urged the turning of a cheek and the loving of enemies, say that every (white) citizen should have a gun and that every inconveniently non-compliant nation should have its ass whipped reeeeeeeel good. Continue reading

Statistical Victims and the Value of Security

As illustrated by several recent events, Mexico suffers from a lack of security.  The country holds the world record in kidnappings, with an estimated number of 123,470 people kidnapped just in 2013. In August 2014, the official number of missing people was 22,320.  Citizens are fed up and are demanding security, perhaps the most basic good a government should provide.  I’ll here discuss what appears to me to be one philosophical mistake about the value of security for people.  It’s useful to observe and avoid this mistake, since it pertains to wide range of practically important choices (which I’ll mention at the end).

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Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics

Announcement: Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics, open to all students at Oxford University

Graduate and undergraduate students currently enrolled at the University of Oxford in any subject are invited to enter the Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics by submitting an essay of up to 2000 words on any topic relevant to practical ethics. Two undergraduate papers and two graduate papers will be shortlisted from those submitted to go forward to a public presentation and discussion, where the winner of each category will be selected.

The winner from each category will receive £300, and the runner up £100. All four finalist essays will be considered for publication in the Journal of Practical Ethics. Continue reading

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