Politics

Is There a Duty to Vote?

Written by Joseph Moore

This new year is a presidential election year in my home country of the United States. And so, there is likely to be no shortage of U.S. political news and commentary surrounding candidates’ pasts, their present comments and their campaign promises. It is also likely that many U.S. citizens (and probably some others) will find themselves embroiled, more frequently than usual, in weighty conversations about current events, political strategy or social or economic issues. And when the primary and general elections draw near, there will be repeated calls for all eligible voters to vote, regardless of who or what they vote for.

With all of the information (and misinformation) available and with the depth of many of the substantive issues, it will take a non-negligible amount of time and energy to remain fully politically informed throughout the election cycle. I am sure some people would rather not devote that time and energy to the process. Yet one often faces immense public and interpersonal pressure to be informed and to vote. These are sometimes even advanced as moral or civic duties on the part of citizens of democracies. To what extent are these really duties? Are citizens truly obligated to stay politically up-to-date and to vote in elections? Continue reading

In Praise of Unthinking National Religion

By Charles Foster

Image: Easter on Santorini: Georgios Michos, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons: Link to image here.

I spent Orthodox Easter in Greece. Then, and for the week afterwards, the neon displays over the main roads announced ‘Christ is Risen’, and the shopkeepers wished me a ‘Good Resurrection’.

This piety isn’t reserved for Easter. Almost everyone wears a cross around their neck. Drivers, without interrupting the high volume argument with their passengers, cross themselves when they pass a church.

‘Superstition, not true religion’, sneers the ardent Protestant – for whom, drawing on a Puritan tradition, diligent examination of conscience and the deliberate orientation of the will towards God are the only completely acceptable mental states. The professional philosopher typically agrees: what is philosophy, these days, other than the disciplined examination of propositions and reasons – and of course disciplined examination demands strenuous, conscious attention.

But I’m not so sure. Religion is part of the web and weave of these Greeks: a way primarily of being, and only secondarily of doing, and often not at all of thinking, in the sense that philosophers typically mean by ‘thinking’. It’s a reflex – or at the root of a reflex –  which has ethical consequences. If one sees the right result (rather than the means to that result) as the most important thing about ethics, a reflex which produces the right result fast, invariably and unconsciously might be preferable to a process of highly cognitive deliberation which could be derailed before it produces the ethically appropriate end. And if what matters is general moral character, who is more praiseworthy: someone who is constitutionally altruistic (for instance), or someone who decides on a case by case basis whether or not to be altruistic? Continue reading

How Confucian Harmony Can Help Us Deal with Echo Chambers

This article received an honourable mention in the graduate category of the 2023 National Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics

Written by Kyle van Oosterum, University of Oxford student

Section 1 – Introduction

Many of us are part of or aware of the existence of widespread echo chambers on social media. Echo chambers seem concerning because their members are led to believe bizarre things and disagree viciously with others. For example, some people genuinely believe the Earth is flat. Others disagree about basic political reality as we saw with those who stormed the U.S. Capital on January 6th 2021 and, more recently, the Brazilian congress. A great deal of this may be attributable to the way social media algorithmically sorts us into echo chambers. However, this sorting is partly so effective because we have not become disposed to exit echo chambers or deal well with the individuals who inhabit them. Even if we change these algorithms, we may also need to change our dispositions to better deal with these individuals. Continue reading

The Authentic Liar

Written by Muriel Leuenberger

A modified version of this post is forthcoming in Think edited by Stephen Law.

 

Authenticity is a popular ideal. Particularly in the western world, authenticity has developed into a prevailing ideal since its rise in Modernity.[1] The search for authenticity is a common trope in film and literature, countless self-help books advise us how to become more authentic, and marketing and politics have long discovered authenticity as a useful label to sell goods and candidates.

Boris Johnson and Donald Trump are recent examples of politicians who presented themselves and were perceived by many as particularly authentic. At the same time, both are known for not taking the truth too seriously, if not for being notorious liars. This seems like a contradiction. Can you be an authentic liar? Figures like Johnson and Trump can prompt us to reconsider and clarify what we mean by a concept like authenticity as well as how we should relate to ourselves and express ourselves to others.

Continue reading

Abortion in Wonderland

By Charles Foster

 

 

Image: Heidi Crowter: Copyright Don’t Screen Us Out

Scene: A pub in central London

John: They did something worthwhile there today, for once, didn’t they? [He motions towards the Houses of Parliament]

Jane: What was that?

John: Didn’t you hear? They’ve passed a law saying that a woman can abort a child up to term if the child turns out to have red hair.

Jane: But I’ve got red hair!

John: So what? The law is about the fetus. It has nothing whatever to do with people who are actually born.

Jane: Eh?

That’s the gist of the Court of Appeal’s recent decision in the case of Aidan Lea-Wilson and Heidi Crowter (now married and known as Heidi Carter).  Continue reading

Fracking and the Precautionary Principle

By Charles Foster

Image> Leolynn11, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

The UK Government has lifted the prohibition on fracking.

The risks associated with fracking have been much discussed. There is widespread agreement that earthquakes cannot be excluded.

The precautionary principle springs immediately to mind. There are many iterations of this principle. The gist of the principle, and the gist of the objections to it, are helpfully summarised as follows:

In the regulation of environmental, health and safety risks, “precautionary principles” state, in their most stringent form, that new technologies and policies should be rejected unless and until they can be shown to be safe. Such principles come in many shapes and sizes, and with varying degrees of strength, but the common theme is to place the burden of uncertainty on proponents of potentially unsafe technologies and policies. Critics of precautionary principles urge that the status quo itself carries risks, either on the very same margins that concern the advocates of such principles or else on different margins; more generally, the costs of such principles may outweigh the benefits. 

Whichever version of the principle one adopts, it seems that the UK Government’s decision falls foul of it. Even if one accepts (controversially) that the increased flow of gas from fracking will not in itself cause harm (by way of climate disruption), it seems impossible to say that any identifiable benefit from the additional gas (which could only be by way of reduced fuel prices) clearly outweighs the potential non-excludable risk from earthquakes (even if that risk is very small).

If that’s right, can the law do anything about it? Continue reading

We Should Regulate Politicians’ Public Statements Like Advertisements

Written by Hazem Zohny

There are strict regulations in place to stop businesses falsely advertising their products or services — why not the same for politicians? Lizz Truss and Rishi Sunak are currently trying to appeal to the Conservative party members who will determine the UK’s next prime minister in September – why can they largely get away with saying pretty anything about how their proposed policies will improve the status quo?

The UK’s Advertising Standards Authority has a clear code governing the public statements businesses can make about their products and services. They cannot mislead consumers by omitting key information or by exaggerating the performance of a product or service, and they must state any significant limitations and qualifications. In contrast, politicians are free to make misleading public statements about how they will tackle, say, inflation or recession using (potentially fudged) figures with little context or caveats. Continue reading

Sex and Punishment: How Old Do You Have to Be?

By Maximilian Kiener

 

In March 2022, Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte signed a bill that increased the minimum age for sexual consent from 12 to 16 years. This bill marked a significant change to a previous law that dated back to 1930.[1] International Organisations have advocated for a changed in the Philippines for a long time and welcomed the new bill. ‘Having this law is a very good protective instrument for our children from sexual violence, whether or not it starts online or whether or not it also starts in a face-to-face encounter’, commented Margarita Ardivilla, a UNICEF child protection specialist.[2]

To the Western World, the Philippines’ new bill seems obvious and overdue. After all, most other countries already specify the age of 16 for consent to sex or health care. But we should not feel complacent too quickly. In fact, there might be more to do to protect children and adolescents. Although most countries now convergence on 16 as the age of consent, they still have a much lower age for criminal responsibility, that is they punish children much earlier than they allow them to consent.

 

Consider the following case from the UK. On Friday 12th February 1993 in Liverpool, UK, Robert Thompson and Jon Venables murdered the two-year-old James Bulger. At the time of their appalling crime, Thompson and Venables were only ten years old, an age at which they would not have been able to give legally valid consent to their own healthcare, or to sex. Yet, the authorities considered them criminally responsible and made them the youngest convicted murderers in 20th-century Britain.[3]

Although this is an extreme case, it illustrates a more general fact: the age at which children become criminally responsible is often considerably lower than the age at which they become able to give legally valid consent. Noroozi et al. found that in 80% of countries with clearly defined ages for consent and responsibility, the age of criminal responsibility is still about 2 to 8 years lower than the age of consent.[4]

This situation should make us think. Now that we agree that the age of consent should be around 16, and not 10 or 12, let’s think about the age of criminal responsibility too. Why should children or adolescents be criminally responsibility for their deeds when they could not possibly give consent to anything important in their lives?

 

Those who support a lower age for criminal responsibility often pursue one of two routes, neither of which is convincing.

First, they argue that consent requires greater mental capacity, or reasoning skills, than responsibility. When deciding whether to consent, one needs to be able to understand one’s own prudential interests, values, and the potentially intricate consequences of one’s decision, and doing so requires a great deal of intellectual and emotional maturity. On the other hand, understanding that one should not murder, steal, or break other fundamental norms, is pretty straightforward and everyone with a basic grasp of our social interactions should be able to master this.

But this line of reasoning is not convincing. Morality is not just about regurgitating slogans. It requires understanding, more fundamentally, what we owe each other as fellow moral beings. Moreover, sometimes, the situations regarding consent and responsibility could be very similar. Consider the fictitious case of the 15-year-old Mary who can be convicted of murder but cannot refuse her own life-saving treatment. In both cases, Mary needs to understand the concepts of death and fatal action, and it may therefore be inconsistent to hold Mary responsible for murder but then deny her ability to validly refuse treatment for herself. So, on purely capacity-based terms, a categorical divergence between the age of consent and the age of responsibility lacks warrant.

A second argument for a lower age of responsibility often refers to a policy of being ‘tough on crime’. Being tough on crime means sending a clear signal to children and adolescents that their wrongs will be prosecuted and punished.

Yet, this policy presupposes that children possess sufficient competence to understand the signal. Therefore, this approach cannot justify a lower age of responsibility independent of a psychological assessment of children’s competence. If children at 10 years old cannot sufficiently understand relevant moral and legal norms, there is simply no point in sending them ‘a clear signal’. Consider again the ten-year-old Thompson, one of the children who killed James Bulger, who is reported to have asked the police whether they took his victim James to the hospital ‘to get him alive again’.[5] Such a child is very unlikely to have understood the fatal nature of his acts, let alone their moral repugnance. Thus, being tough on children like him is very unlikely to deter children of similar competence.

 

Thus, the view that the age of responsibility should always be lower than the age of consent cannot be justified. We need a more fine-grained approach and should be particularly critical of wide age gaps, like those in the UK, where the age of criminal responsibility is 10 and the age of consent to much in life is 16.

For this reason, the news from the Philippines about the age of consent should be the start, not the end, of a conversation on how to best protect children and adolescents. It should prompt us to think about the age of criminal responsibility too and reform the law in ways that make it coherent across different domains.

 

[1] https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/philippine-leader-approves-bill-raising-sex-consent-age-12-16-2022-03-07/

[2] https://theaseanpost.com/geopolitics/2022/mar/09/philippines-raises-age-sexual-consent-16

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Murder_of_James_Bulger

[4] https://ebmh.bmj.com/content/21/3/82.abstract

[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Murder_of_James_Bulger

The Morality of Sending Asylum Seekers to Rwanda

Written by Doug McConnell

The government has recently claimed that their policy to send asylum seekers on a one-way trip to Rwanda as part of the UK-Rwanda Migration and Economic Development Partnership is “completely moral” and responds to an “urgent moral imperative”. The justification for these claims is that the policy will act as a “very considerable deterrent” to asylum seekers and break the business model of people smugglers who put asylum seekers at risk of drowning in the English Channel. Needless to say, these claims about the morality of the Rwanda policy are highly contested. Here, I assess whether they stand up to even the most charitable assessment. Continue reading

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