Abortion on the grounds of sex

Apparently some UK doctors have been aborting babies because their parents don’t want a baby of that sex. In response the government is now planning to outlaw  abortion on the grounds of sex. It is already illegal, however, so we must wonder what the politicians are up to.  A question being ignored is whether it is right or  wrong to abort on the grounds of sex. I am going to consider various grounds on which abortion is considered permissible and examine whether that permissibility is consistent with abortion on the grounds of sex being forbidden.

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Pedophiles and homosexuals – apples and oranges?

Australian columnist and TV personality Mia Freedman has been caught in a social media storm after comparing pedophiles to gay people. Freedman’s gaffe didn’t warrant the furious response it got; the response seems mainly the product of people’s inability to understand how analogies and similes work. Freedman, arguing in favor of a public sex offender’s register, claimed that we ought to expect pedophiles to continue to be a danger to children, because they can’t change who they’re attracted to, just like gay people can’t change who they’re attracted to. Freedman’s point was that we used to think that gay people could be ‘cured’; we now accept that that’s a fantasy. So we should say the same thing about pedophiles.

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Is there Value in Teaching Moral Values?

In Japan, being good will soon be a formal subject in school education. The Japanese education ministry must develop textbooks and curricula to teach morality, and tests to grade it, which occasions a host of interesting practical questions (for a thoughtful list). In addition to practical questions about how to implement such a program, there are theoretical questions about whether trying to do so is wise. Moral education has a troubled past in Japan; it was scratched in the 1960s by the Americans because they suspected it taught racism and blind obedience to the emperor. Nevertheless, the idea of teaching moral values seems to be gaining steam internationally. In Britain, for instance, the Jubilee Centre for Characters and Values at the University of Birmingham hopes to form the moral character of British pupils (another attempt). And it just announced the launch of a free online course designed to teach people how to build a morally good character.

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Situations and responsibility

I think this is true: my behavior, and your behavior, and all human behavior, is shaped in a wide range of ways by the environment. What do I mean by the environment? Here are some examples.

Being in an environment with loud noise levels might make you less likely to help strangers in need (Matthews and Cannon 1975).

Being in a pleasant smelling environment might make you more likely to help strangers in need (Baron 1997).

Wearing sunglasses might make you behave more selfishly (Zhong et al. 2010).

Should we be worried about these kinds of environmental influences? Continue reading

Twitter, Apps, and Depression

The Samaritans have launched a controversial new app that alerts Twitter users when someone they ‘follow’ on the site tweets something that may indicate suicidal thoughts.

To use the app, named ‘Samaritan Radar’, Twitter members must visit the Samaritans’ website, and choose to activate the app on their device. Having entered one’s twitter details on to the site to authorize the app, Samaritan Radar then scans the Twitter users that one ‘follows’, and uses an algorithm to identify phrases in tweets that suggest that the tweeter may be distressed. For example, the algorithm might identify tweets that involve phrases like “help me”, “I feel so alone” or “nobody cares about me”. If such a tweet is identified, an email will be sent to the user who signed up to Samaritan Radar asking whether the tweet should be a cause for concern; if so, the app will then offer advice on what to do next. Continue reading

Student Bursaries for Travel to Christine M. Korsgaard’s Uehiro Lectures on the Moral and Legal Status of Animals and attend Animal Ethics Workshop

10 bursaries of up to £200 are available for current students of any University to travel to Oxford to attend the 2014 Uehiro Lectures “The Moral and Legal Status of Animals”, given by Professor Christine Korsgaard of Harvard University December 1 – 3, and to participate in a workshop on December 3. The workshop will consist of responses to the lectures from speakers including Jeff McMahan and Cecile Fabre, along with a group discussion of any specific implications this might have for the use of animals in research (Programme copied below, or downloadable.)

Bursaries can cover travel and accommodation expenses of up to £200 to attend the workshop plus one or more of the lectures. Bursaries are open to undergraduate and graduate students, but priority will be given to those undertaking research in a relevant area.

Applications should be sent via email to miriam.wood@philosophy.ox.ac.uk by November 14 and should consist of your name, contact details, details of your course of study or research focus, the dates of the lectures that you would like to attend, and a brief statement (no more than half a page) on how attendance would assist your studies.

The workshop is also open for anyone to attend but please email miriam.wood@philosophy.ox.ac.uk to reserve a space.

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Why don’t we just replace professional sports with paté baking already?

As the new season started, there was in the United States debates around the health of participants, responsibilities in and the ethics of American football. In September this year, a 16-year-old player died after a collision with another player. Earlier in the same month, it was reported that brain trauma affects one in three retired players of the National Football League. In a column in the New York Times Magazine, Chuck Klosterman (the magazine’s “Ethicist”) poses the question: “Is It Wrong to Watch Football?” Is it? I think the very institution is the problem. Continue reading

Saving administration costs or saving lives?

By Lucius Caviola & Nadira Faulmüller

Imagine a car company advertising as follows: “90c of any dollar you pay for your car goes directly to building cars. Only 10% of our expenses go into planning, designing, and advertising them.” Such a campaign strategy would seem patently bizarre; when buying a product few of us are interested in how much went into administration, all we care about is what we get for our money. Overhead ratio (the proportion of money going into administration) is irrelevant; only cost-effectiveness matters.

This common sense approach to purchasing goods or services does not seem to translate into the non-profit sector, however. Consider the following advertisement by the organisation CARE:  “More than 90 percent of our expended resources – among the highest of all philanthropic organisations – support our poverty-fighting projects around the world. Less than 10 percent of expended resources go toward administrative and fundraising costs.” Continue reading

One Success in Research Ethics

Research ethics committees often behave unethically*. One example is their failure to understand the ethical basis for obtaining consent and the appropriate limitations. There is a simple rule – “get consent”. I discuss this in greater detail in Bioethics: Why Philosophy Is Essential to Progress, JME 40th Anniversary Issue.

But ethics is more complicated than this. It involves the weighing of different ethical reasons. Sometimes, those reasons can speak overall in favour of not obtaining consent in the way prescribed by various ethical guidelines. Deliberation is required. It is import to also consider the value of good research.

I was Chair of the Department of Human Services Victoria Ethics Committee between 1998-2002, I tried to improve various aspects of research review. You often don’t know if anything you do has any beneficial effect. But recently, Pam Snow came up to me after a lecture. I couldn’t remember her but she kindly told me her story. Here it is. I am relating it as a case study in how “deliberative” research ethics review can actually do some good. I asked her to put her thoughts in writing to show how ethicists can work with researchers to find a way to bring about a good outcome.

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The devil is real, and we all know him

It is Halloween, the day when the dead walk and the devil rides.

We’re plagued by children who are risking diabetes, if not their immortal souls, by demanding the sort of sweets you only give to kids you hate. The Christians down the road, not realizing, as Luther did, that the devil can’t bear to be mocked, are holding a ‘light party’ in protest against the trick-and- treaters.

And, between door-bell rings and dispensings of deadly substances to skeletons, I’m reflecting on a talk I recently heard by Rebecca Newberger Goldstein. It was on her wonderful book, Plato in the Googleplex. In the book, Plato wanders through modern America, watching, talking, bemused, amused, dismayed, misunderstood. It’s an audit of Platonism. How has it weathered? Continue reading

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