Guest Post

Guest Post: Oppenheimer – Not The Morality Of The bomb

Written by Martin Sand & Karin Jongsma

The recently released Christopher Nolan movie “Oppenheimer” proves to be a phenomenal movie that deserves being watched on screen. Despite its 3 hours length, “Oppenheimer” is an intriguing portrayal of a genius, albeit somewhat narcissistic character, who – in the second half of the movie – seemingly regrets being involved in the development and deployment of the atomic bomb. “Oppenheimer” is much more than a biography of a memorable scientist; it’s a tale of the complex relation between science and politics, and the complexity of moral decision-making in an uncertain world faced with unprecedented suffering and cruelty. It provides insights into how the political climate in the “era of ideologies” (Karl Dietrich Bracher) could make it difficult for scientists to have left-leaning views, while pursuing successful scientific careers in the US. Those times and experiences are worth recollecting, also for ongoing discussions about censorship and academic freedom. Continue reading

Guest Post: Nothing if not family?

Written by Daniela Cutas Lund University

What are genetic relatives to each other if they are not de facto relatives? Is there no relation between a donor-conceived person and their gamete donor? Between the donor-conceived person and the donor´s other offspring or parents or aunts and uncles? Should parents facilitate acquaintance between their children and their children´s gamete donors or donor siblings or other close genetic relatives?

Answers to these questions will differ depending on how one regards the significance of genetic ties. For some, genetic ties equal real relatedness between people: blood is thicker than water, and your genetic relatives ultimately are your family. Anything else is at best a proxy, and at worst a lie. For others, the focus on genes and genetic relatedness is irrational and potentially harmful. It reinforces prejudice and reduces people to their biological components and the relationships between them to combinations of genes. Both these and other attitudes are simultaneously represented in many cultures and legislatures in the Western world. Sometimes, parents of donor-conceived children, who see themselves without a doubt as their children´s rightful parents, may fear that their children may choose to see the gamete donors as their parents instead. Other parents and children may be blissfully in sync with each other but find themselves in extended families and communities in which others see things differently and behave accordingly. Continue reading

Guest Post: High Risk, Low Reward: A Challenge to the Astronomical Value of Existential Risk Mitigation

Written by David Thorstad , Global Priorities Institute, Junior Research Fellow, Kellogg College

This post is based on my paper “High risk, low reward: A challenge to the astronomical value of existential risk mitigation,” forthcoming in Philosophy and Public Affairs. The full paper is available here and I have also written a blog series about this paper here.

Derek Parfit (1984) asks us to compare two scenarios. In the first, a war kills 99% of all living humans. This would be a great catastrophe – far beyond anything humanity has ever experienced. But human civilization could, and likely would, be rebuilt.

In the second scenario, a war kills 100% of all living humans. This, Parfit urges, would be a far greater catastrophe, for in this scenario the entire human civilization would cease to exist. The world would perhaps never again know science, art, mathematics or philosophy. Our projects would be forever incomplete, and our cities ground to dust. Humanity would never settle the stars. The untold multitudes of descendants we could have left behind would instead never be born. Continue reading

Guest Cross Post: Extremism And The Sensible Centre

Written by Tony Coady , Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at the University of Melbourne and Honorary Professor at the Australian Catholic University, Honorary Fellow in the Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics in Oxford.

There are a plethora of terms in widespread political and social use that often obfuscate more than they elucidate. One of those is “terrorism” and its derivatives such as “terrorist”, but I have had my say about this elsewhere, most recently in my 2021 book The Meaning of Terrorism and will simply commend it to readers. Here I want to address instead the cluster of expressions  around “extremist/extremism”, “radical/radicalism” and best of all “the sensible centre”.

Typical quotes about extremism show the standardly condemnatory nature of its widespread current usage. Examples are almost endless, but here are two examples from very different well-known people: “A people inspired by democracy, human rights and economic opportunity will turn their back decisively against extremism.” – Benazir Bhutto;[1] “Extremism means borders beyond which life ends, and a passion for extremism, in art and in politics, is a veiled longing for death.” – Milan Kundera [2]  Continue reading

Guest Post: Body Shaming is Unacceptable, Even if Directed at Vile People. An Intersex Critique of “Small Dick Energy” 

Guest post by Morgan Carpenter, bioethicist; co-founder and executive director, Intersex Human Rights Australia; Magda Rakita co-founder and executive director, Fundacja Interakcja (Poland), and co-chair, OII Europe; and Bo Laurent, founder, Intersex Society of North America

We love Greta Thunberg. But we were hurt and disappointed that she chose “small dick energy” as a pejorative in her recent Twitter exchange with the self-proclaimed “misogynist influencer” Andrew Tate. This particular choice of words was not, in our view, the self-evidently praiseworthy retort that many progressive commentators took it to be.

Don’t get us wrong. Rhetorically taking someone down a notch is undoubtedly sometimes appropriate. Especially if they have an inflated ego, an objectionable moral character, and regularly disrespect others, as appears to be the case with Tate.

We aren’t against mocking misogynists.

But we are against doing so by alluding to, or making disparaging comments about, body parts or mental attributes possessed by marginalized people — people who suffer unjust stigma due to those very traits. Continue reading

Guest Post: Could Laboratory Created Brains in the Future have Moral Status?

Written by Dominic McGuire, DPhil Student, Queen’s College Oxford

Jonathan Pugh’s interesting Practical Ethics blog of October 14th, 2022, http://blog.practicalethics.ox.ac.uk/2022/10/brain-cells-slime-mold-and-sentience-semantics/, prompted several additional thoughts. Pugh’s blog considered some of the implications from recent media reports about laboratory grown brains, also called minibrains, which can play the video game of Pong. Pong is a simple representation of the game of table tennis.

In his blog, Pugh concludes that the Pong playing minibrains are not sentient. This is because in his view they do not possess phenomenal consciousness and thus are unable to experience pain or pleasure. To some the property of phenomenal consciousness is an essential requirement for moral status. This is because they claim that only entities that are phenomenally conscious have the kinds of interests that warrant strong forms of moral protection.   Continue reading

Cross Post: When Can You Refuse to Rescue?

Written by Theron Pummer

This article originally appeared in the OUPBlog

 You can save a stranger’s life. Right now, you can open a new tab in your internet browser and donate to a charity that reliably saves the lives of people living in extreme poverty. Don’t have the money? Don’t worry—you can give your time instead. You can volunteer, organize a fundraiser, or earn money to donate. Be it using money or time, there are actions you can take now that will save lives. And it’s not just now. You can expect to face such opportunities to help strangers pretty much constantly over the remainder of your life.

I doubt you are morally required to help distant strangers at every opportunity, taking breaks only for food and sleep. Helping that much would be enormously costly. It would involve a lifetime of sacrificing your well-being, freedom, relationships, and personal projects. But even if you are not required to go that far, surely there are some significant costs you are required to incur over the course of your life, to prevent serious harms to strangers. Continue reading

Guest Post: Dear Robots, We Are Sorry

Written by Stephen Milford, PhD

Institute for Biomedical Ethics, Basel University

 

The rise of AI presents humanity with an interesting prospect: a companion species. Ever since our last hominid cousins went extinct from the island of Flores almost 12,000 years ago, homo Sapiens have been alone in the world.[i] AI, true AI, offers us the unique opportunity to regain what was lost to us. Ultimately, this is what has captured our imagination and drives our research forward. Make no mistake, our intentions with AI are clear: artificial general intelligence (AGI). A being that is like us, a personal being (whatever person may mean).

If any of us are in any doubt about this, consider Turing’s famous test. The aim is not to see how intelligent the AI can be, how many calculations it performs, or how it shifts through data. An AI will pass the test if it is judged by a person to be indistinguishable from another person. Whether this is artificial or real is academic, the result is the same; human persons will experience the reality of another person for the first time in 12 000 years, and we are closer now than ever before. Continue reading

Guest Post: The Ethics of the Insulted—Salman Rushdie’s Case

Written by Hossein Dabbagh – Philosophy Tutor at Oxford University

hossein.dabbagh@conted.ox.ac.uk

 

We have the right, ceteris paribus, to ridicule a belief (its propositional content), i.e., harshly criticise it. If someone, despite all evidence, for instance, believes with certainty that no one can see him when he closes his eyes, we might be justified to practice our right to ridicule his belief. But if we ridicule a belief in terms of its propositional content (i.e., “what ridiculous proposition”), don’t we thereby “insult” anyone who holds the belief by implying that they must not be very intelligent? It seems so. If ridiculing a belief overlaps with insulting a person by virtue of their holding that belief, an immediate question would arise: Do we have the right to insult people in the sense of expressing a lack of appropriate regard for the belief-holder? Sometimes, at least. Some people might deserve to be insulted on the basis of the beliefs they hold or express—for example, politicians who harm the public with their actions and speeches. However, things get complicated if we take into consideration people’s right to live with respect, i.e., free from unwarranted insult. We seem to have two conflicting rights that need to be weighed against each other in practice. The insulters would only have the right to insult, as a pro tanto right, if this right is not overridden by the weightier rights that various insultees (i.e., believers) may have. Continue reading

First synthetic embryos: the scientific breakthrough raises serious ethical questions

synthetic mouse.
Weizmann Institute of Sciences

Julian Savulescu, University of Oxford; Christopher Gyngell, The University of Melbourne, and Tsutomu Sawai, Hiroshima University

Children, even some who are too young for school, know you can’t make a baby without sperm and an egg. But a team of researchers in Israel have called into question the basics of what we teach children about the birds and the bees, and created a mouse embryo using just stem cells.

It lived for eight days, about half a mouse’s gestation period, inside a bioreactor in the lab.

In 2021 the research team used the same artificial womb to grow natural mouse embryos (fertilised from sperm and eggs), which lived for 11 days. The lab-created womb, or external uterus, was a breakthrough in itself as embryos could not survive in petri dishes.

If you’re picturing a kind of silicone womb, think again. The external uterus is a rotating device filled with glass bottles of nutrients. This movement simulates how blood and nutrients flow to the placenta. The device also replicates the atmospheric pressure of a mouse uterus.

Some of the cells were treated with chemicals, which switched on genetic programmes to develop into placenta or yolk sac. Others developed into organs and other tissues without intervention. While most of the stem cells failed, about 0.5% were very similar to a natural eight-day-old embryo with a beating heart, basic nervous system and a yolk-sac.

These new technologies raise several ethical and legal concerns.

Continue reading

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