Reconsidering the Ethics of Enhanced Punishment

Last summer, on this blog, Rebecca Roache suggested several ways in which technology could enhance retributive punishment—that is, could make punishment more severe—without “resorting to inhumane methods or substantially overhauling the current UK legal system.” Her approbation of this type of technological development has recently been reported in the Daily Mail, and reaffirmed in an interview for Aeon Magazine.

Roache’s original post was, at least, a response to the sentencing of the mother and stepfather of Daniel Pelka, who was four when he died as a result of a mixture of violence and neglect perpetrated by his parents. They each received the maximum sentence possible in the UK, a minimum of thirty years in prison before the possibility of parole is discussed (and even then they might not get it). This sentence, Roache wrote, was “laughably inadequate.” Continue reading

Is smoking morally wrong?

This week, I’ve been thinking about smoking. Full disclosure: My name is Jim and I am a smoker. I have smoked for nearly a decade now – been since around 2005 – and I only smoke menthol cigarettes. I am addicted to the sweet menthol smoke, where that touch of red fire at the end of a white stick seems so perfectly suited to almost any occasion from celebration to commiseration. I give up on average for a month or two a year, every year. I always come back, though. The reason I say this is to highlight that I am by no means one of these dour-faced moralizers, condemning smokers for their ‘filthy habit’. Like a snot-nosed child, it may be filthy, but it’s my filthy habit. Most efforts to encourage people against smoking focus on the idea that smoking is personally damaging: it causes illness and death, it costs a lot of money, it harms others, it litters the environment, and so on. This week, however, I’ve been thinking about whether the real concern is that smoking might be morally wrong. (NB: I’m discussing where whether it is morally wrong, not whether it should be legally banned or whether people should have the ‘right’ to smoke – these are distinct questions). Continue reading

For theta’s sake, smash up your TV and go for a walk

You can get experienced meditators to produce, on demand, feelings of timelessness and spacelessness. Tell them ‘Try to be outside time’, and ‘try not to be in the centre of space’, and they will.

These sort of sensations tend to happen together – so strikingly so that Walter Stace proposed, as one combined element of mystical experience, ‘non-spatial-and-non-temporal’.1

Why should that be? asked an Israeli research group in a recent and fascinating paper.  And was the generation of these sensations related to alterations in the sense of the body? Continue reading

Contemporary space exploration, spectacles, and the creation of role models

Desire for space exploration and fantasies about what life will be like once the human race breaks free from the chains that bind us to this planet have been along for a long time. Some have envisioned a bright future without scarcity as we know it in which man is no longer driven by base desires for material well-being. Some envision the opposite, a known universe taken over by more or less vicious corporations. Yet others solemnly contemplate man and man’s condition aboard a spaceship that lost its course and is doomed to for eternity drift away into unknown space.

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Book review: ‘Moral Tribes’ by Joshua Greene

The dictator Joseph Stalin reputedly once said that “The death of one person is a tragedy; the death of one million is a statistic.” Behind this chilling remark lies an important insight into human moral psychology. Our moral intuitions are myopic. For instance, we are repelled by the idea of causing others direct physical harm, while it is psychologically much easier to inflict the same, or greater, amounts of harm in non-direct ways. (Think of controlling a drone, as opposed to stabbing someone at close range.) Continue reading

Luck and Success

I have long been uncomfortably aware that luck has played a major factor in my success (such as it is). I spent more than three years after my PhD alternating between unemployment and low paying part-time jobs, before I got two lucky breaks. First one philosophy department urgently needed a full-time lecturer for a few months due to an unexpected absence, than a second; in both cases, I just happened to be around at the right time. The second job got renewed a few times, and then I was around when the department secured a very large grant which kept me employed for the next five years. I was able to take advantage of my lucky breaks by publishing a lot, but I was lucky to be given the time and conditions to do research. I know that lots of other people who left philosophy due to the scarcity of jobs would have done as well, or better, if they had had the breaks I had. Continue reading

The Terror of Ignorance

The disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 along with its 239 passengers and crew has dominated recent news coverage.  Hope for their survival has dimmed, and my thoughts and prayers are with the relatives of those on board.  This incident is getting so much attention, though, not only because it involves a large commercial airplane and potential large loss of life, but additionally because of the mystery of what happened.  There is apparently no trace of the plane; an oil slick and debris in the sea were apparently not related, and there was no mayday or other indication from the pilots of something going wrong (at least, not that’s been reported).  Some sort of accident is possible, but the revelation that two passengers were traveling with stolen passports makes it quite plausible that this was a terrorist attack.  Given that likelihood, I would like to suggest that this would be a uniquely devious and disturbing form of terrorism due to our current ignorance concerning what happened, by whom and why. Continue reading

Meat Free Mondays: Having the “right” versus it being “right”.

Some context: “Meat Free Mondays” is an international campaign that encourages people not to eat meat on Mondays to improve both their own health and the health of the planet (also, y’know, not killing sentient beings unnecessarily). Sounds like a good idea, no? Apparently not. Continue reading

Prisoner disenfranchisement: the supposed justifications

Speaking in December last year, David Cameron reinforced the current government position that prisoners serving a custodial sentence in the UK should not be given the right to vote, stating that “if parliament decides that prisoners should not get the vote then I think they damn well shouldn’t.” The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has ruled that the UK’s blanket ban on prisoner voting is unlawful, contravening the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Cameron’s comments followed a warning from Thorbjørn Jagland, secretary-general of the Council of Europe, that if the UK, a founding signatory of the ECHR refused to enforce the judgment, it would weaken and deprive it of any meaning. Continue reading

Page 3 untainted?

A somewhat surprising announcement by The Sun that from now on every Tuesday Page 3 models will be part of a campaign to raise awareness on breast cancer (“check ‘em Tuesday” in the poetic words of The Sun) caught some commentators off guard: How should one feel about mixing the sexist page with health promotion?

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