Ethics

Cognitive snobbery: The Unacceptable Bias in Favour of the Conscious

There are many corrosive forms of discrimination. But one of the most dangerous is the bias in favour of consciousness, and the consequent denigration of the unconscious.

We see it everywhere. It’s not surprising. For when we’re unreflective – which is most of the time – we tend to suppose that we are our conscious selves, and that the unconscious is a lower, cruder part of us; a seething atavistic sea full of monsters, from which we have mercifully crawled, making our way ultimately to the sunlit uplands of the neocortex, there to gaze gratefully and dismissively back at what we once were.  It’s a picture encoded in our self-congratulatory language: ‘Higher cognitive function’; ‘She’s not to be blamed: she wasn’t fully conscious of the consequences.’: ‘In the Enlightenment we struck off the shackles of superstition and freed our minds to roam.’ Continue reading

Putting your Philosophical House in Order

by Roger Crisp

For some, the end-of-year holiday offers a little time for relaxation, and perhaps also some general reflection independent of the particular issues one has been thinking about over the year. I’d like to recommend starting with the concepts you use, both to frame ethical questions, and to answer them. Continue reading

How we got into this mess, and the way out

By Charles Foster

This week I went to the launch of the latest book by Iain McGilchrist, currently best known for his account of the cultural effects of brain lateralisation, The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western WorldThe new book, The Matter with Things: Our brains, our delusions, and the unmaking of the world is, whatever, you think of the argument, an extraordinary phenomenon. It is enormously long – over 600,000 words packed into two substantial volumes. To publish such a thing denotes colossal confidence: to write it denotes great ambition.

It was commissioned by mainstream publishers who took fright when they saw its size. There is eloquent irony in the rejection on the ground of its length and depth of a book whose main thesis is that reductionism is killing us. It was picked up by Perspectiva press. That was brave. But I’m predicting that Perspectiva’s nerve will be vindicated. It was suggested at the launch that the book might rival or outshine Kant or Hegel. That sounds hysterical. It is a huge claim, but this is a huge book, and the claim might just be right.

Nobody can doubt that we’re in a terrible mess. The planet is on fire; we’re racked with neuroses and governed by charlatans, and we have no idea what sort of creatures we are. We tend to intuit that we are significant animals, but have no language in which to articulate that significance, and the main output of the Academy is to scoff at the intuition. Continue reading

Who Cares?

By Stephen Rainey & Yasemin J. Erden

How much of a role should the state play in taking care of us, as opposed to, say, our family members? According to some, care should “start at home” and should, moreover, be selfless. Statements like “Parents and other caregivers look after their children with little thought of return” from a recent New Statesman article sound nice, and elicit nods of approval – of course no returns are sought!

But are they true? Continue reading

Paying for the Flu Vaccine

By Ben Davies

As I do every winter, I recently booked an appointment for a flu vaccine. I get it for free in the UK. If I didn’t have asthma, I’d still get vaccinated, but it would cost me between £9 and £14.99. That is both an ethical error on the part of the government, and may be a pragmatic one too.

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Hedonism, the Experience Machine, and Virtual Reality

By Roger Crisp

I take hedonism about well-being or welfare to be the view that the only thing that is good for any being is pleasure, and that what makes pleasure good is nothing other than its being pleasant. The standard objections to hedonism of this kind have mostly been of the same form: there are things other than pleasure that are good, and pleasantness isn’t the only property that makes things good. Continue reading

Philosophical Fiddling While the World Burns

By Charles Foster

An unprecedented editorial has just appeared in many health journals across the world. It relates to climate change.

The authors say that they are ‘united in recognising that only fundamental and equitable changes to societies will reverse our current trajectory.’

Climate change, they agree, is the major threat to public health. Here is an excerpt: there will be nothing surprising here:

‘The risks to health of increases above 1.5°C are now well established. Indeed, no temperature rise is “safe.” In the past 20 years, heat related mortality among people aged over 65 has increased by more than 50%.Hi gher temperatures have brought increased dehydration and renal function loss, dermatological malignancies, tropical infections, adverse mental health outcomes, pregnancy complications, allergies, and cardiovascular and pulmonary morbidity and mortality. Harms disproportionately affect the most vulnerable, including children, older populations, ethnic minorities, poorer communities, and those with underlying health problems.’ Continue reading

We Should Vaccinate Children in High-income Countries Against COVID-19, Too

Written by Lisa Forsberg, Anthony Skelton, Isra Black

In early September, children in England, Wales and Northern Ireland are set to return to school. (Scottish schoolchildren have already returned.) Most will not be vaccinated, and there will be few, if any, measures in place protecting them from COVID-19 infection. The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) have belatedly changed their minds about vaccinating 16- and 17-year olds against COVID-19, but they still oppose recommending vaccination for 12-15 year olds. This is despite considerable criticism from public health experts (here, here, and here), and despite the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) declaring COVID-19 vaccines safe and effective for children aged 12 and up—Pfizer/BioNTech in the beginning of June, and Moderna the other week.

In Sweden, children returned to school in the middle of August. As in the UK, children under 16 will be unvaccinated, and there will be few or no protective measures, such as improved ventilation, systematic testing, isolation of confirmed cases, and masking. Like the JCVI in the UK, Sweden’s Folkhälsomyndigheten opposes vaccination against COVID-19 for the under-16s, despite Sweden’s medical regulatory authority, Läkemedelsverket, having approved the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines for children from the age of 12. The European Medicines Agency approved Pfizer and Moderna in May and July respectively, declaring that any risks of vaccine side-effects are outweighed by the benefits for this age group.

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Judgebot.exe Has Encountered a Problem and Can No Longer Serve

Written by Stephen Rainey

Artificial intelligence (AI) is anticipated by many as having the potential to revolutionise traditional fields of knowledge and expertise. In some quarters, this has led to fears about the future of work, with machines muscling in on otherwise human work. Elon Musk is rattling cages again in this context with his imaginary ‘Teslabot’. Reports on the future of work have included these replacement fears for administrative jobs, service and care roles, manufacturing, medical imaging, and the law.

In the context of legal decision-making, a job well done includes reference to prior cases as well as statute. This is, in part, to ensure continuity and consistency in legal decision-making. The more that relevant cases can be drawn upon in any instance of legal decision-making, the better the possibility of good decision-making. But given the volume of legal documentation and the passage of time, there may be too much for legal practitioners to fully comprehend.

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In Praise of ‘Casual’ Friendship

By Ben Davies

Academics, especially early in our careers, move around quite a lot. Having done my PhD in London, I have also lived or worked in Leeds, Liverpool, Oxford, and rural Pennsylvania; I am far from the most well-travelled academic I know. In many cases, when we arrive at a new job, we know that it is likely to only last a short period, perhaps less than a year.

This blog post isn’t about how hard it is to be an academic (though there are plenty of real problems that arise from the precarity in which many early career researchers find themselves). Instead, I want to consider something which all this moving around necessitates: casual friendship.

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