Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics

Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics: May the Use of Violent Civil Disobedience Be Justified as a Response to Institutional Racism?

This essay was the joint runner up in the graduate category of the 7th Annual Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics.

Written by University of Oxford student Oshy Ray 

The summer of 2020 saw people across the world participating in racial justice protests, demanding the end of state violence against Black people, and calling for the eradication of institutional racism. While these protests were largely peaceful, the use of violence by some protestors was criticised. I argue that some forms of violent civil disobedience—henceforth, VCD— may be justified as responses to institutionalised racism. By “justified,” I mean that something can be made morally permissible—that its outcomes are good enough to warrant the “badness” of its means.

First, I argue that some forms of VCD may be justified as a response to institutional racism. Then, I consider the objection that instrumentally, violence is too uncontrollable to guarantee that desired ends (such as successful social change) may be brought about. In response, I distinguish between violence against persons and violence against objects. Acknowledging that violence against persons may rarely be justified, I claim that violence against objects is more easily justifiable. Finally, I conclude that VCD against objects may be justified as a response to institutional racism. I do not argue that violence can always be a justified response to institutional racism. Rather, my claim is more moderate; I claim that certain forms of VCD may be justified as a response to institutional racism.[1] Continue reading

Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics: Should Feminists Endorse a Universal Basic Income?

This essay was the joint runner up in the graduate category of the 7th Annual Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics.

Written by University of Oxford student Rebecca L Clark

  • 1 Introduction

A UBI is a regularly remitted, non-means-tested cash grant which is given to every individual with no conditions attached.[1] Within these constraints, UBI proposals can differ considerably. Firstly, there is a Question of Scope – namely, who constitutes ‘every individual’? Secondly, there is a Question of Specification, which can be broken down into three interrelated issues:

  1. At what level of income should a UBI be set?
  2. Should a UBI supplement or replace existing welfare structures?
  3. How should a UBI be funded?

I will set aside the complexities raised by the Question of Scope and focus on a UBI given to adult citizens. In response to the Question of Specification, I will consider a UBI set at a liveable wage which supplements existing welfare institutions and is funded through revenues from publicly owned assets.[2] This is for two reasons. Firstly, I take this to be the most appealing version of a UBI; hence a conclusion that feminists should reject this version would suggest that feminists should reject any UBI proposal. Secondly, I am wary of building in hard limits of political or economic feasibility into my analysis since this forecloses utopian theorising, which is valuable precisely because it challenges conventional views about what is possible. Continue reading

Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics: Why, If At All, Is It Unethical For Universities To Prioritise Applicants Related To Their Alumni?

This essay was the runner up in the undergraduate category of the 7th Annual Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics.

Written by University of Oxford student Tanae Rao

Introduction

Most notably in the United States, some prestigious universities[1] consider whether or not a student is closely related to one or more alumni when evaluating her application. In an increasingly competitive university admissions landscape, having legacy status increases an applicant’s probability of being admitted to such a great extent that over a third of Harvard’s undergraduate class of 2022 is composed of legacy students.[2] This has led the New York Times Editorial Board to describe the practice as “anti-meritocratic” and “an engine of inequity”.[3]

Considering the alma mater of a student’s relatives when evaluating their university application seems to be wrong, or unfair, in some way. But what is the central aspect of the legacy admissions policy justifying this reaction? I consider three possible answers to this question. Firstly, I reject the academic qualification view, whereby universities should only consider if applicants will be able to meet academic requirements when making admissions decisions. This view does not reflect the actual state of university admissions today, where the number of qualified applicants often far exceeds the number of available seats. I then reject the popular view whereby universities should minimise their consideration of factors outside of the applicant’s control. Though this criterion appears to meet many of our intuitions regarding university admissions, I argue that it is too restrictive, preventing reasonable factors from being considered by universities. Finally, I propose a consequentialist view, whereby admissions decisions should be based on their expected consequences to admitted students and society as a whole. This view—I contend—is a plausible explanation of why legacy admissions should be discontinued, contingent on some evaluative questions. Continue reading

Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics: Against Making a Difference

This essay was the winning entry in the undergraduate category of the 7th Annual Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics.

Written by University of Oxford student Imogen Rivers 

I. The Complacency Argument

Some of the most serious wrongs are produced collectively. Can individuals bear moral responsibility for such outcomes? Suggestively, it’s been argued that “all who participate by their actions in processes that produce injustice [e.g. “sweatshop” labour] share responsibility for its remedy”;[1] “citizens… bear partial responsibility for the election outcome. Even if an individual’s vote is not decisive for a given candidate’s victory”;[2] “those who contribute to climate change… (by using… excessive… fossil fuels or by deforestation) should make amends”.[3]

However there’s a prevalent defence: it makes no (significant) difference if I do it. For example, “global warming will still occur even if I do not drive [my “gas-guzzler”] just for fun”;[4] “my polluting doesn’t actually harm anyone, since it doesn’t make a difference to anyone’s health”;[5] “why [should citizens] vote even if… each particular vote does not make a difference to the outcome”?;[6] “British officials… dismiss suggestions that our role on the ground in Saudi Arabia makes any difference [to targeting Yemeni civilians]”.[7]  Continue reading

Oxford Uehiro Centre Prize in Practical Ethics: ‘Rational Departure’: What Does Stoicism Reveal About Contemporary Attitudes Towards Suicide?

This essay received an honourable mention in the undergraduate category.

Written by Ed Lamb, St. Anne’s College

Abstract

The Stoics’ approach to suicide appears to differ remarkably from our own. By contrasting these two views, I will explore why a difference in circumstances, epistemic claims, and value ascribed to life itself provides justification for our believing that suicide is wrong where the Stoics did not. I take suicide as the act of taking one’s own life both with intent and by using only one’s own capacities. After considering how the Stoic account of suicide brings into relief the reasons which lie behind our own view, I will outline two valuable insights which arise from the comparison: first, that the conditions many hold as required for euthanasia to be permissible are actually very similar to those the Stoics’ required for suicide; second, that the Stoics’ open and rational confrontation of mortality reveals how our own reticence towards it is tragically inadequate. Continue reading

Congratulations to our Winners and Runners up in the Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics 2021

Please join us in congratulating all of the finalists in the Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics 2021, and in particular our winners, Imogen Rivers and Lily Moore-Eissenberg.

As the Uk continues to be in lockdown due to the pandemic, the 7th Annual Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics was again held as a Zoom webinar event. The Finalists in each category presented their ideas to an online audience and responded to a short Q&A as the final round in the competition. Over the coming weeks a selection of the winning essays will be published on this blog.

Undergraduate Category

Winner: Imogen Rivers: Against Making a Difference

Runner Up: Tanae Rao: Why, if at all, is it unethical for universities to prioritise applicants related to their alumni

Honourable Mention: Edward Lamb: ‘Rational Departure’: What Does Stoicism Reveal About Contemporary Attitudes Towards Suicide?

Graduate Category

Winner: Lily Moore-Eissenberg: Causing People to Exist and Compensating Existing People. Does the nonidentity problem undermine the case for reparations?

Joint Runners Up: Rebecca L Clark: Should Feminists endorse a Universal Basic Income  & Oshmita Ray: May the use of violent civil disobedience be justified as a response to institutional racism?

Honourable Mention: Jules Desai: Is there a moral difference between Corpses biological and artificial?

 

Announcement: Finalists of the 7th Annual Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics and Final Presentation

ouc prize logo

Please join us in congratulating all of the finalists in the 7th Annual Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics.

The 7th Annual Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics Final Presentation

 

HT21 Week 8, Wednesday 10th March, 5pm – 6:30 pm.

The Presentation will be held via zoom webinar, the registration details of which are below. Continue reading

Reminder: 7th Annual Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics – Entries Due By Tuesday 9th February

A reminder that the closing date for entries to the 7th Annual Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics is fast approaching. Graduate and undergraduate students currently enrolled at the University of Oxford in any subject are invited to enter the Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics by submitting an essay of up to 2000 words on any topic relevant to practical ethics.  Eligibility includes visiting students who are registered as recognized students, and paying fees, but does not include informal visitors.  Two undergraduate papers and two graduate papers will be shortlisted from those submitted to go forward to an online public presentation and discussion, where the winner of each category will be selected.

The winner from each category will receive £300, and the runner up £100. Revised versions of the two winning essays will be considered for publication in the Journal of Practical Ethics, though publication is not guaranteed.

To enter, please submit your written papers by the end of Tuesday 9th February 2021 to rocci.wilkinson@philosophy.ox.ac.uk. Finalists will be notified on Tuesday 23rd February of selection. The online public presentation will take place in 8th Week, Hilary term 2021, on Wednesday 10th March, from 5pm. Please save this presentation date, as you will need to attend if selected as a finalist.  Continue reading

Announcement: 7th Annual Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics

Graduate and undergraduate students currently enrolled at the University of Oxford in any subject are invited to enter the Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics by submitting an essay of up to 2000 words on any topic relevant to practical ethics.  Eligibility includes visiting students who are registered as recognized students, and paying fees, but does not include informal visitors.  Two undergraduate papers and two graduate papers will be shortlisted from those submitted to go forward to an online public presentation and discussion, where the winner of each category will be selected.

The winner from each category will receive £300, and the runner up £100. Revised versions of the two winning essays will be considered for publication in the Journal of Practical Ethics, though publication is not guaranteed.

To enter, please submit your written papers by the end of Tuesday 9th February 2021 to rocci.wilkinson@philosophy.ox.ac.uk. Finalists will be notified on Tuesday 23rd February of selection. The online public presentation will take place in 8th Week, Hilary term 2021, on Wednesday 10th March, from 5pm. Please save this presentation date, as you will need to attend if selected as a finalist.  Continue reading

Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics: An Account of Attitudinal Duties Towards Injustice

This essay received an honourable mention in the Graduate Category

Written by University of Oxford Student, Brian Wong

Injustices are ubiquitous around us. From authoritarian regimes’ crackdown on human rights, to exploitative trafficking of illegal migrants, to human-induced destruction of rainforests upon which indigenous groups depend – injustices are negative states of affairs violating moral commitments and duties caused by some level of human agency. Our ability to resist injustices are inevitably constrained, but I argue that even the least able amongst agents still possess attitudinal duties – duties to cultivate and possess particular attitudes towards injustice. Attitudes are mental states; here I focus specifically on explicit attitudes – attitudes that are accessible by introspection and non-automatically/reflexively generated.[1] I open with a pair of cases providing the intuitive preliminaries, prior to offering three interrelated arguments for attitudinal duties, namely from i) functional similarity, ii) relational justice, and iii) aptness. After outlining the plausible contents of such duties, I conclude by examining two objections – i) self-defeasibility, and ii) enforceability. Continue reading

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