Imagine that an out of control trolley is speeding towards a group of five people. You are standing on a footbridge above, next to a large man. If you push him off the bridge onto the track below, his body will stop the trolley before it hits the five people. He will die, but the five others will be saved. Should you push the man off the bridge?
Before you make your decision, you should know that your popularity could depend on it. According to a new study of more than 2,400 participants, which we carried out with David Pizarro from Cornell University, the way you answer the “trolley problem” can have a big impact on how much people trust you. So let’s have a look at your options.
You might say yes; saving five lives outweighs the harm of killing one person. And you wouldn’t be alone: you’d be making a moral decision in line with “consequentialist” theories of morality. Consequentialists believe that we should aim to maximise the greatest good for the greatest number of people, even if this means causing some harm – for example, by killing one person to save five.
On the other hand, you might say no; killing someone is just wrong, regardless of any positive consequences there might be. Here, you’d be making a moral decision in line with “deontological” moral theories, which focus on moral rules, rights and duties. Maxims such as “thou shalt not kill” and “treat others as you would like to be treated” (otherwise known asthe golden rule) fit into this category.
Written by: Rajiv Shah, PhD Candidate, Faculty of Law, University of Cambridge
Donald Trump suggested that women who have abortions should face punishment. For that he was criticised by both the pro-choice side and the pro-life side. The latter claimed that their view is that women should not face punishment for having abortions but that only providers should. This raises the interesting question of whether the pro-life position is coherent. It would seem that it is not. If the foetus has the right to life then having an abortion is like murder and so those who abort should be treated as such. This post argues that the pro-lifer can coherently reject this implication whilst still holding that the foetus has the right to life. Since it considers the responses a pro-lifer could make this post will assume for the sake of argument that the foetus does have a right to life. Continue reading
Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics: Are offensive jokes more permissible if they’re funny? Written by Raphael Hogarth
This essay received an Honourable Mention in the Undergraduate Category of the Oxford Uehiro Prize of Practical Ethics
Written by New College Oxford student Raphael Hogarth
Three moral agents walk into a bar. They get to joking and, with each round, their banter becomes more risqué. After the second pint, Agent A ventures a humourless and offensive joke about Jews and big noses: Agents B and C scowl and move on. After the third pint, Agent A has another crack with a joke about the holocaust – a more insensitive joke, but also apparently one with more potential to amuse. Agent B can’t help but giggle; Agent C is incandescent with outrage. Agents A and B retort in chorus: “But it’s funny!” Continue reading
Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics: “What justifies parents’ influence on their children?” written by Yutang Jin
This essay was a finalist in the Graduate Category of the 2nd Annual Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics
Written by University of Oxford Student, Yutang Jin
In a family, parents can exert enormous influence on their children. Parents tend to implant in their children’s mind, for good or ill, values and ideas which go on to guide their whole lives. This essay focuses on this relationship and discusses what justification we can have for parental influence over their children.
The dominant discourse in addressing the parent-child relationship is that of moral rights. I argue, however, that the liberal discourse of rights, sound as it may be, has lots of drawbacks that disqualify it from being a cogent account of family relationships. I then go on to craft a Confucian framework whereby to discuss how parents and children should behave to each other. My main argument is that parents’ influence is justifiable insofar as parents comply with moral rules that regulate their relationship with children, and these rules are subject to public justification and rectification. Continue reading
Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics: “Should feminists in rich countries shift their focus to international development?” written by Carolina Flores Henrique
This essay is a joint winner in the Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics undergraduate category.
Written by University of Oxford student, Carolina Flores Henrique
I will argue that feminists should move some of their attention to evidence-based, cost-effective interventions targeted at improving the lives of women in poor countries. In particular, feminists in rich countries should shift resources to supporting interventions that improve health (e.g. fistula treatment), allow women to make their own reproductive choices (e.g. contraception distribution), and empower women economically (e.g. direct cash transfers) in poor countries.
Feminists should fundraise for and donate to effective charities working in these cause areas; bring their skills to researching effective ways to improve women’s
health and economic standing in poor countries; and give more of a voice to women in poor countries and the obstacles they face. Continue reading
Written by Richard Ngo , an undergraduate student in Computer Science and Philosophy at the University of Oxford.
Neil Levy’s Leverhulme Lectures start from the admirable position of integrating psychological results and philosophical arguments, with the goal of answering two questions:
(1) are we (those of us with egalitarian explicit beliefs but conflicting implicit attitudes) racist?
(2) when those implicit attitudes cause actions which seem appropriately to be characterised as racist (sexist, homophobic…), are we morally responsible for these actions? Continue reading
Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics: Is Graffiti Ever Morally Permissible? written by Areti Theofilopoulou
This essay received an Honourable Mention in the graduate category of the Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics
Written by University of Oxford Dphil candidate Areti Theofilopoulou
On March 4th 2015, the graffiti team “Icos & Case” covered the National Technical University of Athens with an enormous black and white mural[i]. The graffiti was viewed as a political statement regarding the country’s socioeconomic crisis. In fact, the University was chosen due to its history as a centre of resistance during Greece’s dictatorship. Although public opinion over the permissibility of the graffiti was divided, the media and the state overwhelmingly opposed it. Eventually, the state decided to remove it, claiming it was an act of vandalism.
This recent example gives rise to the following question: is graffiti ever morally permissible? In other words, are the actions of graffiti artists always blameworthy? Taking “graffiti” to mean writing or drawings created on a public building or other public surface, I will argue that, under certain circumstances, it is morally permissible. If we grant that all morally permissible actions should be legal, we may further conclude that governments should not prosecute graffiti artists. Even if one does not accept this corollary, however, the argument regarding permissibility still stands.
As addressing the issue of private property is not possible on this occasion, the discussion will be limited to graffiti on public buildings. Moreover, an abstract commitment to equality and liberty will be assumed. Continue reading
Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics: Should We Take Moral Advice From Our Computers? written by Mahmoud Ghanem
This essay received an Honourable Mention in the undergraduate category of the Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics.
Written by University of Oxford student, Mahmoud Ghanem
The Case For Computer Assisted Ethics
In the interest of rigour, I will avoid use of the phrase “Artificial Intelligence”, though many of the techniques I will discuss, namely statistical inference and automated theorem proving underpin most of what is described as “AI” today.
Whether we believe that the goal of moral actions ought to be to form good habits, to maximise some quality in the world, to follow the example of certain role models, or to adhere to some set of rules or guiding principles, a good case for consulting a well designed computer program in the process of making our moral decisions can be made. After all, the process of carrying out each of the above successfully at least requires:
(1) Access to relevant and accurate data, and
(2) The ability to draw accurate conclusions by analysing such data.
Both of which are things that computers are very good at. Continue reading
Author: Neil Levy, Leverhulme Visiting Professor
Podcasts of Prof Levy’s Leverhulme Lectures can be found here:
Fergus Peace’s responses to my lecturers are interesting and challenging. As he notes, in my lectures I focused on two questions:
(1) are we (those of us with egalitarian explicit beliefs but conflicting implicit attitudes) racist?
(2) When those attitudes cause actions which seem appropriately to be characterized as racist (sexist, homophobic…), are we morally responsible for these actions (more precisely, for the fact that they can be classified in these morally laden terms)?
He suggests that these questions simply are not important ones to ask. Getting clear on how we ought to respond to implicit biases (what steps we ought to take to mitigate their effects or to eliminate them) matters, but asking whether a certain label attaches to us does not. Nor does it matter whether we are morally responsible for the actions these attitudes cause.
The first challenge seems to me to be a good one. I will discuss that challenge after I have discussed the question concerning our moral responsibility. This challenge seems very much weaker.