Loebel Lectures and Workshop, Michaelmas Term 2015, Lecture 1 of 3: Neurobiological materialism collides with the experience of being human
The 2015 Loebel Lectures in Psychiatry and Philosophy were delivered by Professor Steven E. Hyman, director of the Stanley Center for Psychiatric Research at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard as well as Harvard University Distinguished Service Professor of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology. Both the lecture series and the one-day workshop proved popular and were well-attended. Continue reading
Guest Post: “Gambling should be fun, not a problem”: why strategies of self-control may be paradoxical.
Written by Melanie Trouessin
University of Lyon
Faced with issues related to gambling and games of chance, the Responsible Gambling program aims to promote moderate behaviour on the part of the player. It is about encouraging risk avoidance and offering self-limiting strategies, both temporal and financial, in order to counteract the player’s tendency to lose self-control. If this strategy rightly promotes individual autonomy, compared with other more paternalist measures, it also implies a particular position on the philosophical question of what is normal and what is pathological: a position of continuum. If we can subscribe in some measures of self-constraint in order to come back to a responsible namely moderate and controlled gambling, it implies there is not a huge gulf or qualitative difference between normal gaming and pathological gambling. Continue reading
Written by Anke Snoek
I have a 3 year old who doesn’t eat. He seems not to be interested in food in general. We were offered many explanations for why he doesn’t eat and most specialists suspect a psychological source for his lack of appetite. But recently a friend suggested that maybe there is something wrong with the muscles in his mouth that makes it hard to swallow. I wondered: why didn’t I get offered more of these physical explanations as opposed to psychological ones? What makes ‘not eating’ almost by definition a mental disorder for most people? What other behaviour are we inclined to label as a mental disorder rather than staying open for other explanations? Continue reading
Written by Professor Neil Levy
The recent discovery of what is claimed to be a distinct species of the genus Homo, our genus, raises to three the number of species that may have co-existed with Homo Sapiens. Homo naledi is yet to be dated, but it may be only tens of thousands of years old; if so, it coexisted with modern humans. Homo floresiensis, the so-called ‘hobbit’, seems to have been extant well after sapiens evolved, and there is strong evidence that the Neanderthals coexisted with, probably interbred with, and may have been killed by, our ancestors.
If any of these species had survived into contemporary times, we would be faced with an ethical question which is novel: negotiating our stance toward a species that is not quite human, but too close to be regarded as simply animal (using that word in its common meaning, to refer to non-human animals). More specifically, we would face the problem of how to respond to another deeply cultural being. Naledi seems to have had a culture – so the researchers conclude from the placement of the bones, which they think indicates burial. Perhaps it was language using (floresiensis seems a very good candidate for language using). Yet they might not have been intellectual equals of modern humans (perhaps they were – genetic difference certainly doesn’t entail inferiority – but for the purposes of this post I will assume they weren’t). If they were our contemporaries, would we be obliged to allow them to vote? To have affirmative action for them in universities and in jobs (assuming that some of them, perhaps rare geniuses, could function at a high enough level to take advantage of these opportunities)? Should we treat them as permanent children, appointing guardians for them?
Some philosophers would say that the answer to these questions is quite easy: we should give them equal consideration. Equality of consideration is the kind of equality which philosophers like Peter Singer argue should be extended to chickens and chimps, just as much as human beings. Treating chickens equally in that sense doesn’t entail affirmative action or voting rights for chickens, because chickens don’t have an interest in either. It just requires taking their interests equally into account.
While there are strong reasons for thinking we ought to extend equality of consideration to homo naledi, floresiensis and Neanderthals, that doesn’t tell us the answer to the concrete questions. Insofar as they are self-aware, these people (let’s call them that) have an interest in self-government, and therefore in voting. But (let’s assume) they have a limited capacity to understand the issues on which we vote. As self-aware beings, they might be harmed by being treated as inferior. But there may be good grounds for thinking that they are inferior.
We might offer them limited rights: rights to vote in elections for people who have the special role of looking after their interests. That would entail that they are not as self-governed as we are, since they would be living in a broader society (or in a world, at any rate) in which decisions are taken over which they have less say than we do.
I don’t think there are good answers to these questions. That is, while I am sure there are better and worse answers, I think this would be a true moral dilemma: the best possible response would have big moral costs. There seems to be no way to act that would involve some harms to a properly cultural being that couldn’t be fully autonomous: harms that would arise from its awareness that it was less autonomous and less able to govern its own life than others.
Julian Baggini sees in the discovery of naledi good news for humanity; it shows that in some sense we are not alone. Perhaps, but had they survived, we would face a tragic dilemma. To that extent, we are lucky that they didn’t. Genetic diversity among modern human beings is tiny, with genetic differences between groups swamped by those within them. That ensures that the questions we face about how to treat members of other groups are in one central way easier: they are in every important respect our equals. Our ethics would struggle to settle how to treat a deeply cultural group distinct from us which is in some respects not our equals.
Written by Darlei Dall’Agnol
Stephen Hawking has recently made two very strong declarations:
- Philosophy is dead;
- Artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.
I wonder whether there is a close connection between the two. In fact, I believe that the second will be true only if the first is. But philosophy is not dead and it may undoubtedly help us to prevent the catastrophic consequences of misusing science and technology. Thus, I will argue that it is through the enhancement of our wisdom that we can hope to avoid artificial intelligence (AI) causing the end of mankind. Continue reading
Just out today is a podcast interview for Smart Drug Smarts between host Jesse Lawler and interviewee Brian D. Earp on “The Medicalization of Love” (title taken from a recent paper with Anders Sandberg and Julian Savulescu, available from the Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics, here).
Below is the abstract and link to the interview:
What is love? A loaded question with the potential to lead us down multiple rabbit holes (and, if you grew up in the 90s, evoke memories of the Haddaway song). In episode #95, Jesse welcomes Brian D. Earp on board for a thought-provoking conversation about the possibilities and ethics of making biochemical tweaks to this most celebrated of human emotions. With a topic like “manipulating love,” the discussion moves between the realms of neuroscience, psychology and transhumanist philosophy.
Earp, B. D., Sandberg, A., & Savulescu, J. (2015). The medicalization of love. Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics, Vol. 24, No. 3, 323–336.
Written by David Aldridge
Oxford Brookes University
Recently a colleague offered in conversation that we should agree to disagree. This led me to some observations about the role of agreement and disagreement in dialogue. Some conversations involve a sort of perpetual agreement or mutual affirmation. These are instances where we’re really just ‘shooting the breeze’, and there’s nothing much at issue between us. We exchange the gnomes of accepted wisdom and nod. Other exchanges are characterised pretty much by disagreement. These are the situations where we talk at cross purposes, or talk past each other – we can’t even seem to get started on the way in which the matter at hand needs to be interrogated. Continue reading
Written by Constantin Vica
Postdoctoral Fellow, Romanian Academy Iasi Branch
Research Center in Applied Ethics, University of Bucharest
This post is not, as one might expect, about that part of ethics which is not concerned about practical issues, e.g. meta-ethics. Neither is it about moral philosophical endeavors which are incomprehensible, highly conceptual and without any adherence to real people’s lives. And, more than that, it is not about how impractical a philosophy/ethics diploma is for finding a job.
One month ago Peter Singer, the leading ethicist and philosopher, was ‘disinvited’ from a philosophy festival in Cologne. It wasn’t the first time such a thing happened and perhaps Peter Singer wasn’t too impressed by the incident. Despite all of these things, the fact has a not-so-nice implication: “you, the practical ethicist, are not welcome to our city!” Of course, Peter Singer is not the first philosopher ‘disinvited’ (horribile dictu) by an ‘honorable’ audience; the history of philosophy and free thinking has an extensive collection of undesirable individuals expelled, exiled, and even killed by furious or ignorant citizens and stubborn elites. But, one might wonder, what is different this time? Continue reading