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.
I am a bitter opponent of private education. All my political hackles rise whenever the subject is mentioned.
Yet of my four currently school-aged children, one (‘A’) is educated privately (at a specialist choir school), and another (‘B’, who is dyslexic) will shortly be in private education (at a hip, Indian-cotton swathed, high-fibre, bongo-drumming, holistic school). The two others (‘C’ and ‘D’) are currently in state primary schools. There are two older children too (‘E’ and ‘F’) They were both educated privately, at a fairly traditional school.
How can I live with myself?
One way would be to avert my eyes from the apparently plain discrepancy between my actions and my political convictions. That’s often been my strategy. But I want to attempt some kind of defence – at least in relation to A and B, and lay the ground for a potential defence in relation to C and D, should we choose to educate them privately. Continue reading
Philosophers Take On the World is based on this blog, ‘Practical Ethics in the News’, and edited by David Edmonds. It is published by OUP and is due out in September 2016.
Every day the news shows us provoking stories about what’s going on in the world, about events which raise moral questions and problems. In Philosophers Take On the World a team of philosophers get to grips with a variety of these controversial issues, from the amusing to the shocking, in short, engaging, often controversial pieces. Covering topics from guns to abortion, the morality of drinking alone, hating a sports team, and being rude to cold callers, the essays will make you think again about the judgments we make on a daily basis and the ways in which we choose to conduct our lives.
This item is not yet published, but may be pre-ordered now for delivery when available.
Published: 01 September 2016 (Estimated)
Written by Richard Christian.
In a stimulating and controversial post on this blog, and later in a paper published in Think, Ole Martin Moen has argued that you should not give to beggars. His argument is simple and familiar. It is that the beggar one encounters in the rich world is, in the scheme of things, doing very well for herself. The London beggar is hungry, ragged, addicted, and schizophrenic; but she is like unto a king in comparison to the starving Ethiopian. If she receives only a few pounds a day and falls asleep in a doorway, she is still much better off than the millions of people in the world now dying for lack of food or clean water. It follows that a pound put in the hand of that beggar is a pound wasted: it should have gone to the person whose need is most urgent. Moen counsels you to ignore the beggar as you pass her on the street, and to give all your spare pounds instead to charities that assist the world’s most needy. In general, in your action, you should aim to do the most good you can. I wish to say here a word in favour of the beggar, and to show what I think is wrong with this currently fashionable line of reasoning in applied ethics. 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
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
Naughty words What makes swear words so offensive? It’s not their meaning or even their sound. Is language itself a red herring here?
Dr Rebecca Roache, former Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics staff member, and lecturer at Royal Holloway, University of London, has recently published an essay on swearing in the online Aeon Magazine. To read the full article and join in the conversation please follow this link: https://aeon.co/essays/where-does-swearing-get-its-power-and-how-should-we-use-it. Dr Roache has previously spoken on this topic, as reported by Prof Roger Crisp on this blog.
Science and medicine have done a lot for the world. Diseases have been eradicated, rockets have been sent to the moon, and convincing, causal explanations have been given for a whole range of formerly inscrutable phenomena. Notwithstanding recent concerns about sloppy research, small sample sizes, and challenges in replicating major findings—concerns I share and which I have written about at length — I still believe that the scientific method is the best available tool for getting at empirical truth. Or to put it a slightly different way (if I may paraphrase Winston Churchill’s famous remark about democracy): it is perhaps the worst tool, except for all the rest.
Scientists are people too
In other words, science is flawed. And scientists are people too. While it is true that most scientists — at least the ones I know and work with — are hell-bent on getting things right, they are not therefore immune from human foibles. If they want to keep their jobs, at least, they must contend with a perverse “publish or perish” incentive structure that tends to reward flashy findings and high-volume “productivity” over painstaking, reliable research. On top of that, they have reputations to defend, egos to protect, and grants to pursue. They get tired. They get overwhelmed. They don’t always check their references, or even read what they cite. They have cognitive and emotional limitations, not to mention biases, like everyone else.
At the same time, as the psychologist Gary Marcus has recently put it, “it is facile to dismiss science itself. The most careful scientists, and the best science journalists, realize that all science is provisional. There will always be things that we haven’t figured out yet, and even some that we get wrong.” But science is not just about conclusions, he argues, which are occasionally (or even frequently) incorrect. Instead, “It’s about a methodology for investigation, which includes, at its core, a relentless drive towards questioning that which came before.” You can both “love science,” he concludes, “and question it.”
I agree with Marcus. In fact, I agree with him so much that I would like to go a step further: if you love science, you had better question it, and question it well, so it can live up to its potential.
And it is with that in mind that I bring up the subject of bullshit.
Pedro Jesús Pérez Zafrilla.
Lecturer in Moral Philosophy.
Department of Moral Philosophy.
(University of Valencia)
The development of neurosciences has had a major impact on the field of philosophy. In this respect, Spanish philosophy is no exception. In particular, the Valencia School led by Adela Cortina has played a leading part in the momentum of neuroethics in Spain. Our research has included the tackling of various areas such as human enhancement, free will or moral psychology. My intention in this post is to briefly present a critique referring to cognitive psychology. Specifically, I want to argue that moral dilemmas are not an appropriate method of analysing moral judgment. In my opinion dilemmas are misrepresentations of the way in which people form their moral judgments. Continue reading
By Dominic Wilkinson @Neonatal Ethics, Director of medical ethics
Why should we care about what happens to future generations? What reason do we have to sacrifice our own well-being and interests for the sake of people who will exist after we are dead?
Last night Professor Sam Scheffler from NYU gave the first of the 2015 Uehiro lectures on this controversial and challenging topic. http://media.philosophy.ox.ac.uk/uehiro/HT16_UL_Scheffler1.mp3