Should remorseful offenders be punished less harshly?

New Book: ‘Remorse, Penal Theory and Sentencing’ (Oxford: Hart Publishing)

If an offender is genuinely remorseful about the crime she committed, should she receive some small-but-non-trivial mitigation of her sentence? – i.e. should she be punished a little bit less than she would have been had she not been remorseful? In many jurisdictions, including England and Wales, this practice is written into the sentencing guidelines that judges have to follow. However, it is difficult to see how this practice can be justified, and intuitions about the relevance of remorse to criminal sentencing seem to vary wildly.

One first obvious concern is that it can be difficult to know whether an offender’s remorse is genuine: is she just pretending in the hope that her sentence will consequently be somewhat lighter than it would otherwise have been? Whilst the possibility of simulation indeed presents a practical challenge, the prior question is whether an offender’s genuine remorse should matter at all. Should judges try to determine whether an offender is remorseful and, if so, with what consequences? Continue reading

Announcement: Winners of the Inaugural Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics.

It is with great pleasure that we can announce the winners of the Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics 2015.

The winner of the Undergraduate Category is Xavier Cohen with his essay: How Should Vegans Live?

The winner of the Graduate Category is Jessica Laimann with her essay:  Is prohibition of breast implants a good way to undermine harmful and unequal social norms?

We wish congratulations to the four finalists for their excellent essays and presentations, and in particular to the winners of each category.  We also send congratulations to all entrants in this prize.

 

Podcast of the final presentations is available here: http://media.philosophy.ox.ac.uk/uehiro/HT15_essay_prize.mp3

 

Death and the Self

On Tuesday the 10th of March, Shaun Nichols delivered the 2015 Wellcome & Loebel Lecture in Neuroethics. You can listen to the lecture here.

Nichols presented a range of intriguing empirical data on how our view of the self affects our attitudes. The common view about the self is that it is something that persists through our lives. The self is an essential part of us that remains the same from childhood to adulthood.  However some views in philosophy and religion see the self as something much less permanent. Continue reading

Self-control and Public Policy.

I have just finished a series of lectures at the University of Oxford on the topic of self-control, the culmination of my first stint in Oxford as a Leverhulme visiting professor (for which I am very grateful to the Leverhulme Trust). My theme has been self-control as a problem of self-management; taking ‘management’ seriously. The idea is that we need to think strategically about ourselves: rather than deciding how to act as temptations arise, we ought to plan for those occasions, or avoid them. That, I’ve argued, is how people who are successful at avoiding temptations when they conflict with their longer-term goals actually do it. Continue reading

Smart pills vs. motivation pills – is one morally worse than the other?

Imagine a huge pile of unwashed dishes reminds you that you should clean your kitchen. Would you rather take a pill that increases your ability to clean very elaborately or one that helps you get off the couch and actually bring yourself to start cleaning? No hard decision for me…

Certain substances like methylphenidate can not only enhance cognition, but also motivation or, to be more precise, self-regulation. This is not too surprising as treating conditions associated with decreased self-regulation like ADHD often is a main purpose of such medication. Continue reading

Should We Reward Psychopaths?

Psychopaths frequently make the news and rarely for good reasons. Take, for instance, the recent case of Becky Watts, a 16-year old girl who was abducted and murdered in Bristol; her body parts were discovered by the police at a house in Barton Court, Bristol. While her murder remains unsolved, it is hard not to suspect that there is a person with psychopathic tendencies behind it. And this is not unreasonable. Between 25 to 30 percent of crimes are committed by psychopaths, despite them representing only 1 percent of the population. The percentages are especially high for extremely violent crimes such as rape and homicide. Given the detrimental effect psychopaths have on society, is there a way to cure them or at least to reduce their negative impact on society?

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Countering Islamic Extremism

By Professor Peter Singer

 

PRINCETON – Last month, US President Barack Obama hosted a three-day summit on “Countering Violent Extremism.” That term has already spawned a new abbreviation, “CVE,” used no fewer than 12 times in a Fact Sheet that the Obama administration released on February 18.

The Fact Sheet also uses the term “violent extremism” 31 times.  How many times do, terms like “Islam,” “Islamic,” or “Muslim” appear?   Zero. There is not even a reference to the “Islamic State,” That entity is referred to only by the initials “ISIL.”

This is not an accident; it is part of a strategy to win the support of mainstream Muslims. Riham Osman, speaking on behalf of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, which participated in the summit, said that using terms like “radical Islam” harms the cause of stopping the violence. This may partly reflect the Muslim community’s understandable fears that associating Islam with terrorism and violence would contribute to an increase in attacks on, or discrimination against, all Muslims. Continue reading

My Brain Made Me Do It — So What?

By Professor Walter Sinnott-Armstrong

Duke University

 

Vijeth: Where were you? You promised to drive me to the airport, but you never showed up, and I missed my flight. You haven’t even said sorry. Why did you let me down?

Felipe: I watched a movie instead.  It was a romantic comedy. Don’t be angry with me.

Vijeth: You watched a movie! What kind of excuse is that?

Felipe: It’s the newest kind, a neural excuse.  I really wanted to watch the movie, and my desires are lodged in my brain, so my brain made me do it. Continue reading

Self-consciousness and moral status

Many share an intuition that self-consciousness is highly morally significant. Some hold that self-consciousness significantly enhances an entity’s moral status. Others hold self-consciousness underwrites the attribution of so-called personhood (or full moral status) to self-conscious entities. On such views, self-consciousness is highly morally significant: the fact that an entity is self-conscious generates strong moral reasons to treat that entity in certain ways (reasons that, for example, make killing such entities a very serious matter).

Why believe that? 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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