Just War, Economics, and Corporate Boycotting: A Review of Dr. Ted Lechterman’s 2022 St. Cross Special Ethics Seminar

Professor Larry Locke (University of Mary Hardin-Baylor and LCC International University)

One of the more worrisome aspects of the modern concentration of resources in large corporations is that it often allows them to have societal impact beyond the capability of all but the wealthiest persons. Notwithstanding that disparity of power, much of modern ethical discourse remains focused on the rights and moral responsibilities of individuals, with relatively little analysis for evaluating and directing corporate behavior. Dr. Ted Lechterman, of the Oxford Institute for Ethics in AI, has identified this gap in modern ethics scholarship. At the 10 February, 2022, St. Cross Special Ethics Seminar, he stepped into the breach with some pioneering arguments on the ethics of corporate boycotts.

Individuals boycotting companies or products, as an act of moral protest, is widely regarded as a form of political speech. Individual boycotts represent a nonviolent means of influencing firms and may allow a person to express her conscience when she finds products, or the companies that produce them, to be ethically unacceptable. These same virtues may be associated with corporate boycotts but, while relatively rare compared to boycotts by individuals, corporate boycotts may also introduce a series of distinct ethical issues. Dr. Lechterman sampled a range of those issues at the St. Cross Seminar.

  • As agents of their shareholders, should corporations engage in any activity beyond seeking to maximize profits for those shareholders?
  • Do corporate boycotts represent a further arrogation of power by corporate management, with a concomitant loss of power for shareholders, employees, and other stakeholders of the firm?
  • Because of their potential for outsized impact, due to their high level of resources, do corporate boycotts (particularly when directed at nations or municipalities) represent a challenge to democracy?
  • Under what circumstances, if any, should corporations engage in boycotting?

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Slaps VS Jokes at the Oscars

By Hazem Zohny

Most of us draw a strict-ish line between actions that physically hurt and words that psychologically hurt. This is especially so when violence is used in response to words – hence the near universal condemnation of Will Smith’s cringey Oscars interruption. A slap is deemed a pathetic response to a joke, or any assortment of words for that matter (in some cultures anyway – blasphemy and certain other utterances can get you legally killed in some places).

But is there something intrinsically worse about physical violence compared to words that (we will assume) hurt? I have a strong intuition that violence is indeed inherently worse than words that hurt, but I wonder how easy it is to appeal to some principled basis to ground that claim. I’m not sure.

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Robert Audi on Moral Creditworthiness and Moral Obligation

by Roger Crisp

On Tuesday 8 March, Professor Robert Audi, John A. O’Brien Professor of Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame, gave a Public Lecture for the Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics. The event was held in the Lecture Room at the Faculty of Philosophy, University of Oxford and was hybrid, the audience numbering around 60 overall. Continue reading

Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics: When Money Can’t Buy Happiness: Does Our Duty to Assist the Needy Require Us to Befriend the Lonely?

This article received an honourable mention in the undergraduate category of the 2022 National Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics

Written by Lukas Joosten, University of Oxford

While most people accept some duty to assist to the needy, few accept a similar duty to befriend the lonely. In this essay I will argue that this position is inconsistent since most conceptions of a duty to assist entail a duty to befriend the lonely[1]. My main argument in this essay will follow from two core insights about friendship: friendship cannot be bought like other crucial goods, and friendship is sufficiently important to happiness that we are morally required to address friendlessness in others. The duty to friend, henceforth D2F, refers to a duty to befriend chronically lonely individuals. I present this argument by first presenting a broad conception of the duty to assist, explain how this broad conception entails a duty to friend, and then test my argument to various objections. Continue reading

Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics: Why Don’t We Just Let The Wise Rule?!

This article received an honourable mention in the undergraduate category of the 2022 National Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics

Written by Alexander Scoby, University of Cambridge

Throughout history, democracy has been accused of producing objectively sub-optimal outcomes because it gives voice to the ‘mob’. 1 Recently, Brexit and the election of Trump have been the favoured examples.2

The supposedly poor epistemic performance of democracy has served as a springboard for epistocracy, loosely defined as any political arrangement where the ‘wise’ (or competent) have disproportionate political authority relative to the rest of the population.3

I argue that against a background of structural inequality, an epistocracy is unlikely to epistemically outperform democracy. By doing so, I hope to undermine the appeal of epistocracy and ‘defend’ democracy from a competitor. Continue reading

The End Of The Egg?

written by Neil Levy

There are no more free range eggs in the UK. They’re a victim of the pandemic – not COVID, but avian flu. Avian flu is devastating to the poultry industry, most immediately because outbreaks lead to the culling of all the birds. Avian flu can infect humans and has caused multiple deaths over the years; prevention in domestic birds is therefore aimed not only at reducing the costs to producers but also at reducing the risks to human health. Keeping them indoors is aimed at preventing the virus spreading from wild birds to the poultry. Continue reading

Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics: Terra Nullius, Populus Sine Terra: Who May Settle Antarctica?

This article was the runner up in the undergraduate category of the 2022 National Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics

Written by Leo Rogers, University of Oxford

Abstract

Who may settle Antarctica? I first argue that there are no significant prior claims to Antarctic territory, which is completely uninhabited. I assume that the environmental case for leaving Antarctica uninhabited does not rule out (but may qualify) legitimate claims to settlement, and that Antarctic territory will eventually be rendered habitable by climate change. I proceed to argue that states whose territory has become uninhabitable due to climate change have a right to settle distinct parcels of Antarctic territory. This is grounded in their right to political self-determination, which requires territory. Conflicting claims may be evaluated in relation to a standard of equality of resources, which is less problematic here than elsewhere. I then assess the objection that my argument implies more demanding duties than I set out, noting that my argument describes a negative rather than a positive duty. Finally, I note the abstraction of my argument, maintaining that it nonetheless retains its value. Continue reading

Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics: How Should Career Choice Ethics Address Ignorance-Related Harms?

This article received an honourable mention in the graduate category of the 2022 National Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics.

Written by Open University student Lise du Buisson

Introduction

Choosing a career is a decision which governs most of our lives and, in large part, determines our impact on the world around us. Although being fortunate enough to freely choose a career is becoming increasingly common, surprisingly little philosophical work has been done on career choice ethics (MacAskill 2014). This essay is concerned with the question of how an altruistically-minded individual should go about choosing a career, a space currently dominated by theories oriented towards achieving the most good. Identifying an overlooked aspect of the altruistic career choice problem, I draw from non-ideal theory and the harm reduction paradigm in feminist practical ethics[1] to propose an alternative account of altruistic career choice ethics informed by where one is likely to do the least harm. Continue reading

The ABC of Responsible AI

Written by Maximilian Kiener

 

Amazon’s Alexa recently told a ten-year-old girl to touch a live plug with a penny, encouraging the girl to do what could potentially lead to severe burns or even the loss of an entire limb.[1] Fortunately, the girl’s mother heard Alexa’s suggestion, intervened, and made sure her daughter stayed safe.

But what if the girl had been hurt? Who would have been responsible: Amazon for creating Alexa, the parents for not watching their daughter, or the licensing authorities for allowing Alexa to enter the market?

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Cross Post: Western Pharma Companies Should Supply Only Essential Medicines to Russia

Written by Alex Polyakov, The University of Melbourne and Julian Savulescu, University of Oxford

In response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and overwhelming destruction of property and loss of innocent lives, a number of western companies – from McDonalds to Apple – stopped or severely limited their activities in the Russian Federation.

One glaring exception appears to be the majority of western pharmaceutical companies that continue to supply medicines and equipment.

There is growing political and consumer pressure on these companies to take steps to join the concerted efforts designed to pressure the
Russian government to stop the war in Ukraine. Continue reading

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