Justice Everywhere

a blog about philosophy in public affairs

Confucius’s Mistake, and Plato’s

This year I decided to put some Chinese philosophy on our curriculum, and I’ve been enjoying getting to know that tradition. But there’s something frustrating about classical Chinese political philosophy. It’s the same thing I find so irritating about Plato.

The wisest should rule. This is the core of Plato’s political philosophy. It’s an idea shared by Confucius and indeed most of the classical Chinese tradition. But I think it’s largely meaningless.

The ancient philosophical beard: who wore it better?

Plato presents rule by the wise as the answer to a question of constitutional theory. Who should rule? Ancient Greek thought gives a menu of options such as:

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Listening to executive dysfunction

Chatting with an UK psychologist over a pint, I asked if the UK, like my native Finland, currently struggles to accommodate the large number of women coming to the clinic with ADHD symptoms. He confirmed it did, and so does The Guardian, headlining “ADHD services ‘swamped’, say experts as more UK women seek diagnosis”. Likewise, the New York Post declaims how women “are diagnosing themselves with neurodivergent conditions such as ADHD (attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder) after watching trending TikTok videos”.

ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disability characterized by differences in sustained attention, impulse control, and motor activity. Not all symptoms need to be present for all patients: symptom presentation can differ among people with ADHD. In the 1980s and 1990s, responses to this heterogeneity have included the advent of concepts such as ADD (attention deficit disorder without hyperactivity) and ADHD ‘subtypes’. However, neither subtypes nor a differential ADD diagnosis are any longer recognized, and it is instead accepted that ADHD presents in many different ways.


Source: social media meme

In the 1980s, ADHD was conceived of mainly as a disorder of motor hyperactivity, as a disorder that only affects children, and that mainly affects boys. However, we now know that for some people with ADHD, their symptoms persist to adulthood, although the symptom presentation may change. We also now understand that ADHD has long been underdiagnosed in girls and women.

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The Ethics of Keeping Pets: Why Love is Not Enough

photo of man hugging tan dogPhoto by Eric Ward on Unsplash

I have been thinking about the ethics of keeping sentient animals as pets. As someone who has lived with dogs, cats, rats, mice, gerbils, rabbits, lizards, guinea pigs, and chickens, I have experienced first-hand the joy and companionship that such creatures can bring to our lives and the love that we can have for them. Yet, as a philosopher interested in animal ethics, I am aware of the many moral problems associated with our practice of keeping animals as pets. These problems have led me to reconsider human-animal companionship, and I have come to think that no matter how much we might love the animals we bring into our homes, we cannot justify doing so.

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The four-legged therapist: Why getting a pet to improve our mental health may be unethical

Every once in a while, I read news articles about the mental health benefits of owning pets. These articles always leave me feelings uncomfortable. They seem to ignore what appears to be obvious: these benefits are the side-effects of a positive, caring relationship with a member of another species, and getting a pet will not necessarily improve our mental health. One would hardly suggest that someone should make a friend, get married or have a child primarily, or even merely in order to improve their mental health.

Dog looking upset. Text reads After listening to her owner drone on for hours, Ginger Ginger suddenly realised she was NOT cut out to be an emotional support dog after all.

Source: social media meme

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Do you think you can do politics innocently?

There are many illuminating ways to understand politics, but one is as the practice of attempting to shape and direct the collective life of one’s community. Those who do politics typically seek to influence the collective life of the community with what they regard as morally good objectives in mind. Hence, at least according to this understanding of politics, outcomes matter enormously.

This goes part of the way to explaining why consequentialism is an approach to morality that has such purchase in politics. Simplifying a bit, consequentialism is the view that the moral rightness of an act depends only on its consequences.

Perhaps the most well-known objection to consequentialism is that it seems to permit acts which most people believe are obviously morally wrong. Familiar examples of such acts include lying, breaking promises, failing to show gratitude or loyalty, and imposing harm on others. This implication is typically illustrated via highly unrealistic thought experiments, but let me use three quite different recent examples from British politics instead.

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Should you be grateful to nature?

In this post, Max Lewis (University of Helsinki) discusses their recent article in Journal of Applied Philosophy about the kinds of gratitude appropriate for our relationship with nature.


If someone provides you with a gift or does you a favor, you should be grateful to them for what they did. This seems undeniable. In fact, failing to be grateful to them would make you morally criticizable. But here’s a puzzle. Nature provides you with an abundance of benefits you did not earn and are not owed. This too seems undeniable. But, if you are like most people, you are not grateful to nature. You are like the boy in the classic children’s book The Giving Tree: always taking from nature, but never giving back. After all, if you were grateful, you would try to pay nature back.

Image by shameersrk from Pixabay

So, are you morally criticizable for your lack of gratitude? Fortunately, I think not. In On Gratitude to Nature, I argue that we do not owe nature any gratitude. Nonetheless, it can be appropriate to be grateful for nature in numerous ways.

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How could paternalism ever be a good thing?

NobodyWantsToGoWhereIWantToLeadThem.png

Recently, as I was discussing with a friend of mine, the conversation brought us to the issue of paternalism. Taking the bad habit of playing the philosopher’s role, I said something like “You know, paternalism is actually not always wrong.” My friend reacted very surprised – as if I had said “You know, patriarchy is actually not always wrong.” And as it happens, for her, “paternalism” and “patriarchy” were closely linked – which I had never considered before.

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Throwing tomato soup at van Gogh

In October, the environmental group Just Stop Oil staged a number of nonviolent direct actions across London. The most visible of these actions was the throwing of tomato soup at Vincent van Gogh’s Sunflowers at the National Gallery. This action has been highly controversial and has attracted a number of criticisms, both from those who are usually critical of this kind of environmental activism as well as from people who tend to be sympathetic with the cause, and in some cases the methods chosen by these groups, including some who are themselves part of the environmental movement. There were two main kinds of criticism made. First, some felt that the painting was the wrong target for such a protest, often reacting angrily out of fear that that painting had been damaged, which was soon revealed not to be the case. Second, many argued that this kind of action is to be criticised for strategic reasons as it does attract attention, but it mainly alienates people from the cause.

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Can a ‘war on poaching’ be just?

A photograph of 5 men in combat uniform with automatic rifles crouching in tall grass. A sixth man is dressed more informally and explaining something to one of the men.

Rangers in Malawi’s Liwonde National Park on a training exercise.

The illegal wildlife trade is worth billions, and is one of the most lucrative crime networks globally. Illegal hunting can have a devastating effect on the environment and biodiversity, with animals being hunted to (near-)extinction in some areas. In response, several countries have adopted policies which allow the shooting of suspected poachers ‘on sight’.

Unsurprisingly, this is a controversial development. Because of the complex nature of the problem, it’s unclear whether these kind of policies are actually effective, and the scope for mistakes (or even abuse) is wide. On the other hand, defenders argue that so-called ‘militarized conservation’ is necessary to protect severely endangered species, or no different from policing in a dangerous environment [cw: linked article contains a graphic photograph of a murdered rhino].

The more fundamental issue at stake here is whether it can be justified to use lethal force against humans, for the sake of protecting (wild) animals. This is a famously thorny issue. One notable critic explicitly takes aim at the idea that it can be acceptable to trade human lives for animal lives. And many in animal rights circles reject the use of violence – for example, the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics will not ‘appoint Fellows who advocate violence’. The idea that killing humans to protect animals can be permissible may also seem quite ludicrous to many in our anthropocentric society. Of course, you might say, aren’t the lives of humans just more important than the lives of animals?

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Fiduciary duties of pension fund managers in the anthropocene

The latest report by the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates that hundreds of billions of dollars will be required for climate mitigation and adaptation investments per year to avoid catastrophic global warming. Yet, some of our financial practices are not only slow to adapt to this requirement, but actually represent an obstacle in achieving the goal.

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