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Abortion, Democracy, and Erring on the Side of Freedom

by Alberto Giubilini

(crosspost: this article appeared with a different title in iaiNews)

The leaked draft opinion by Supreme Court Justice’ Samuel Alito foreshadows the overturn of the 1973 Roe vs Wade ruling. Roe vs Wade grounded women’s (limited) right to abortion in the US in the 14th Amendment of the US Constitution and its implied right to privacy. Acknowledging the pervasive disagreement over the morality of abortion, the Supreme Court has now decided to “return the power to weigh those arguments to the people and their elected representatives”.

In this way, the Supreme Court is in fact democratizing the legal availability abortion. Which raises the ethical question about whether the legal availability of abortion should be a matter of democratic procedure, as opposed to a constitutional matter around fundamental rights. I side with the latter view. I do not think a decision over women’s right to abortion should be a matter of democratic procedure such as a State election or a referendum. And I am going to provide reasons for why I think people on either side of the abortion debate can share my view, assuming they accept some fundamental tenets of liberal democracy.

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Hang Onto Your Soul

By Charles Foster

Image: https://the-conscious-mind.com

I can’t avoid Steven Pinker at the moment. He seems to be on every page I read. I hear him all the time, insisting that I’m cosmically insignificant; that my delusional thoughts, my loves, my aspirations, and the B Minor Mass’s effect on me are merely chemical events. I used to have stuck up above my desk (on the principle that you should know your enemy), his declaration (as stridently irrational as the sermon of a Kentucky Young Earth Creationist): ‘A major breakthrough of the Scientific Revolution – perhaps its greatest breakthrough – was to refute the intuition that the Universe is saturated with purpose.’ 1

He tells me that everything is getting better. Has been getting better since the first eruption of humans into the world.2 That there’s demonstrable progress (towards what, one might ask, if the universe has no purpose? – but I’ll leave that for the moment). That there’s less violence; there are fewer mutilated bodies per capita. He celebrates his enlightenment by mocking my atavism: he notes that the Enlightenment came after the Upper Palaeolithic, and (for the law of progress admits no exceptions) concludes that that means that our Enlightenment age is better than what went before. Continue reading

Video Interview: Is Vaccine Nationalism Justified?

High income countries have been criticised for hoarding covid-19 vaccines: they have been accused of ‘vaccine nationalism’. But what exactly is vaccine nationalism? Is it really wrong to prioritise one’s own citizens, and, if so, why? How can we do better when the next pandemic strikes? In this Thinking Out Loud interview, philosopher Dr Jonathan Pugh (Oxford) discusses these questions with Dr Katrien Devolder (philosopher, and producer of the Thinking Out Loud interview series).

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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Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics: Why We Should Negatively Discount the Well-Being of Future Generations

This essay was the winner in the undergraduate category of the 8th Annual Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics

Written by Matthew Price, University of Oxford Student

Practical ethicists and policymakers alike must grapple with the problem of how to weigh the interests of future people against those of contemporary people. This question is most often raised in discussions about our responsibility to abate climate change,1 but it is also pertinent to the mitigation of other existential risks, disposal of nuclear waste, and investment in long-term scientific enterprise. To date, most of the debate has been between those who defend the practice of discounting future generations’ well-being at some positive rate and those who argue that the only morally defensible discount rate is zero.2 This essay presents an argument for a negative discount rate:

  • There is reason to believe that the well-being of those who are more morally deserving counts for more.
  • There is reason to expect that future people will be more morally deserving than we are now.

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Parliament Psychedelic

Written by Doug McConnell

Boris Johnson, Rishi Sunak, and Liz Truss are on psychedelics at the Palace of Westminster. This isn’t the work of Russian spies who have dusted off the KGB playbook or yet another Downing Street party but, rather, a near-future professional development program for politicians.

The path to this near-future scenario has two steps. First, let us suppose that psychedelics make good on their early promise as moral bioenhancers. Second, once effective moral enhancements exist, then people whose jobs entail making morally momentous decisions, such as politicians, would be morally required to take those enhancements. Continue reading

Video Interview: Should We Vaccinate Young Children Against COVID?

Many who had no doubts whatsoever about having themselves vaccinated against COVID, are much more hesitant when it comes to vaccinating their young children. Is such hesitancy justified?  In this Thinking Out Loud interview, Katrien Devolder talks to Dominic Wilkinson, Consultant Neonatologist and Professor of Medical Ethics at the University of Oxford about the ethical considerations at play when deciding whether or not to vaccinate young children against COVID.

 

Spiderman and the Meaning of Hope

Written by Hazem Zohny.

In Marvel’s latest ‘Spider-Man: No Way Home’, Peter Parker’s girlfriend MJ has a simple philosophy: “If you expect disappointment, then you can never really be disappointed.”

She repeats this at various interludes in the movie, except as the plot gears up to the inevitable showdown with the villains, Peter Parker says to her:

Here goes nothing. What’s that thing you always say? ‘Expect disappointment and–‘”, but MJ, in a somewhat ham-fisted moment of character development, interrupts him: “No, no, no. No. We’re gonna kick some ass!

While this exchange was designed to trigger some inner-high five with the audience, I found MJ’s shift from quasi-stoic hopelessness to giddy hopefulness disappointing – here’s yet another story about how we need hope  to defeat the baddies/The Empire/Sauron/Thanos/the aliens/the comet/cancer. Continue reading

Was Djokovic Unethically Blamed and Shamed?

By Dominic Wilkinson, Julian Savulescu and Jonathan Pugh

The decision about whether to grant tennis star Novak Djokovic a visa allowing him to stay in Australia to compete in the Australian Open Championship has generated significant controversy. Last week, the Australian Immigration minister exercised his power to cancel the player’s visa on the grounds of ‘health and good order’ on the basis that it was in the public interest to do so. Djokovic’s lawyers have called the decision ‘patently irrational’ and have announced that they will appeal. Continue reading

Oxford Uehiro Centre Goes DefaultVeg

By Katrien Devolder

“Britons have cut their meat consumption by 17% over the past decade but will need to double these efforts if they are to meet targets for healthy diets and sustainable food production set out in the national food strategy earlier this year”. So began an article in The Guardian last Friday.[1] The article was reporting the guidance of the National food strategy[2]—commissioned by the UK government, but developed by an independent team in 2021—which recommends that meat consumption is cut by 30% within a decade. Many scientific studies have concluded that we (i.e., richer countries) need to be even more ambitious than that, especially if we want to halt the climate crisis.[3]

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