The Tunnel Problem

Driverless or autonomous cars will almost certainly be commonplace quite soon. Imagine you are sitting in such a car, approaching a tunnel on a single-lane mountain road. A child wanders into the middle of the road, blocking the entrance to the tunnel. How should such cars be programmed to react? Two options are: to keep going and kill the child; or to swerve aside into the tunnel wall and kill the driver. Continue reading

The Ethics of Checking People Out

You’re walking down the street. In the opposite direction comes a person whom you find very attractive. As he or she passes by, you feel tempted to turn your head so as to, well, check them out. I assume that you have felt this temptation. I, at least, have felt it many times. I have resisted turning my head, however, since doing so is supposedly a bad thing.

But what, exactly, is so bad about turning one’s head to check someone out on the street? What is the bad-making property (or properties) of such actions? Let’s consider a number of possible answers.

Privacy and consent
One answer might be that if one turns one’s head to catch an extra glance of an attractive person, one invades their privacy. In assessing this suggestion, let us grant, for the sake of the argument, that invading someone’s privacy is indeed a bad-making property. The relevant question then becomes whether one invades someones’s privacy by turning one’s head to check them out. Continue reading

Why a painting is as good as a photo on a passport

by Rebecca Roache

Fredrik Saker, a Swedish artist, is in the news this week for having successfully applied for a driving licence using a photograph not of himself, but of a self-portrait painting. It is interesting to consider, in the light of this, what is so special about photographs. Why do agencies that issue documents featuring images of their bearers – like driving licences and passports – require applicants to submit photographs? Is there any good reason not also to permit self-portrait paintings, drawings, or any other sort of artistic creation?  Continue reading

Volcano Ethics: Should we be Flying the Unfriendly Skies?

An ash cloud produced by the eruption of the Eyjafjallajoekull volcano in Iceland has led to the severe disruption of airline transportation in the UK and across a wide swathe of Europe, with UK airspace almost completely closed since midday last Thursday. Passengers, freight importers and exporters, and airlines are just some of those affected by the disruption; some British employers are also taking a hit due to absent workers who went abroad for their Easter holidays and then found themselves stranded and unable to get home. The reasons for grounding the planes are non-trivial: as the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) wrote in a press release last week: “Since volcanic ash is composed of very abrasive silica materials, it can damage the airframe and flight surfaces, clog different systems, abrade cockpit windows and flame-out jet engines constituting a serious safety hazard.”

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Is your fingerprint part of you?

In a report expressing concern about the increasing use of
biometric information to protect security and privacy, the Irish Council for
Bioethics (ICB) claimed earlier this month that “an individual’s biometric
information is an intrinsic element of that person”. Such claims are quite
commonly made in relation to genetic information, though the ICB’s extension of
the concept to other forms of biological information, such as that acquired from
fingerprinting, voice recognition software, and gait analysis, may be novel.

The claim that biometric information is an ‘intrinsic element of
the person’ seems designed to invoke powerful intuitions about our ownership of
our own body parts: we own our biological information just like we own our
kidneys. Indeed, the ICB go on to say that “the right to bodily integrity…. should
apply not only to an individual’s body, but also to any information derived
from the body, including his/her biometric information”. But both the
metaphysical claim that biometric information is an intrinsic element of the
person,and the moral claim that it is covered by rights to bodily integrity
are highly problematic.

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