Zero Degrees of Empathy author Simon Baron-Cohen, philosopher Peter Dews and Oxford Transhumanist Anders Sandberg dispute how to be good.
We think empathising with others is the route to a better world. But studies show that empathy encourages us to help one named child over ten anonymous others. Is morality perhaps not about empathy at all? Does the moral way to act have more to do with thinking than feeling, or is empathy a vital force for good?
Written by Charles Foster
‘I do not understand my own actions’, grumbled St. Paul. ‘For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate….I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do….’1
That’s a fair summary of the evidence about the fate of New Year’s resolutions. The University of Hertfordshire psychologist, Richard Wiseman, found that only 10% of New Year’s resolutions succeed. Most of them are abandoned by 23 January.
Functional neo-Aristotelianism as a way to preserve moral agency: A response to Dr William Casebeer’s lecture: The Neuroscience of Moral Agency
Written by Dr Anibal Monasterio Astobiza
Audio File of Dr Casebeer’s talk is available here: http://media.philosophy.ox.ac.uk/uehiro/HT17_Casebeer.mp3
Dr. William Casebeer has an unusual, but nonetheless very interesting, professional career. He retired from active duty as a US Air Force Lieutenant Colonel and intelligence analyst. He obtained his PhD in Cognitive Science and Philosophy from University of California, San Diego, under the guidance and inspiration of Patricia and Paul Churchland, served as a Program Manager at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency from 2010-14 in the Defense Sciences Office and helped to established DARPA’s neuroethics program. Nowadays, Dr. William Casebeer is a Research Area Manager in Human Systems and Autonomy for Lockheed Martin’s Advanced Technology Laboratories. As I said, not the conventional path for a well known researcher with very prominent contributions in neuroethics and moral evolution. His book Natural Ethical Facts: Evolution, Connectionism, and Moral Cognition (MIT Press) presented a functional and neo-Aristotelian account of morality with a clever argument trying to solve G. E. Moore´s naturalistic fallacy: according to Casebeer it is possible to reduce what is good, or in other words morality, to natural facts.
Guest Post: Mind the accountability gap: On the ethics of shared autonomy between humans and intelligent medical devices
Guest Post by Philipp Kellmeyer
Imagine you had epilepsy and, despite taking a daily cocktail of several anti-epileptic drugs, still suffered several seizures per week, some minor, some resulting in bruises and other injuries. The source of your epileptic seizures lies in a brain region that is important for language. Therefore, your neurologist told you, epilepsy surgery – removing brain tissue that has been identified as the source of seizures in continuous monitoring with intracranial electroencephalography (iEEG) – is not viable in your case because it would lead to permanent damage to your language ability.
There is however, says your neurologist, an innovative clinical trial under way that might reduce the frequency and severity of your seizures. In this trial, a new device is implanted in your head that contains an electrode array for recording your brain activity directly from the brain surface and for applying small electric shocks to interrupt an impending seizure.
The electrode array connects wirelessly to a small computer that analyses the information from the electrodes to assess your seizure risk at any given moment in order to decide when to administer an electric shock. The neurologist informs you that trials with similar devices have achieved a reduction in the frequency of severe seizures in 50% of patients so that there would be a good chance that you benefit from taking part in the trial.
Now, imagine you decided to participate in the trial and it turns out that the device comes with two options: In one setting, you get no feedback on your current seizure risk by the device and the decision when to administer an electric shock to prevent an impending seizure is taken solely by the device.
This keeps you completely out of the loop in terms of being able to modify your behaviour according to your seizure risk and – in a sense – relegates some autonomy of decision-making to the intelligent medical device inside your head.
In the other setting, the system comes with a “traffic light” that signals your current risk level for a seizure, with green indicating a low, yellow a medium, and red a high probability of a seizure. In case of an evolving seizure, the device may additionally warn you with an alarm tone. In this scenario, you are kept in the loop and you retain your capacity to modify your behavior accordingly, for example to step from a ladder or stop riding a bike when you are “in the red.”
The Oxford Union.
The Motion: This House Believes the Manipulation of Human DNA is an Ethical Necessity.
The Speakers: Julian Savulescu closed the case for the Proposition, as the fifth speaker of six in the debate.
* Note: this article was first published online at Quillette magazine.
Alice Dreger, the historian of science, sex researcher, activist, and author of a much-discussed book of last year, has recently called attention to the loss of ambivalence as an acceptable attitude in contemporary politics and beyond. “Once upon a time,” she writes, “we were allowed to feel ambivalent about people. We were allowed to say, ‘I like what they did here, but that bit over there doesn’t thrill me so much.’ Those days are gone. Today the rule is that if someone—a scientist, a writer, a broadcaster, a politician—does one thing we don’t like, they’re dead to us.”
I’m going to suggest that this development leads to another kind of loss: the loss of our ability to work together, or better, learn from each other, despite intense disagreement over certain issues. Whether it’s because our opponent hails from a different political party, or voted differently on a key referendum, or thinks about economics or gun control or immigration or social values—or whatever—in a way we struggle to comprehend, our collective habit of shouting at each other with fingers stuffed in our ears has reached a breaking point.
It’s time to bring ambivalence back. Continue reading
Written by Dr Joshua Shepherd
Yesterday the term ‘three black teenagers’ trended heavily on twitter. (see https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/jun/09/three-black-teenagers-anger-as-google-image-search-shows-police-mugshots) The trend began when @iBeKabir tweeted the results of two Google searches. A search for three white teenagers turned up images of wholesome smiling white teenagers. A search for three black teenagers turned up images of mugshots. (Google images is already going meta over the story, with Google images now turning up images of three black teenagers contrasted with three white teenagers.) Continue reading
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)