Justice Everywhere

a blog about philosophy in public affairs

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How The God Committee gets Organ Allocation and Xenotransplantation Wrong and Why it Matters

This is a guest post by Kailyn Price and Jacob Zionts. It discusses their thinking on some of the ethical dilemmas faced by organ transplant committees through the lens of The God Committee.

(Note: this post contains spoilers)

It is 2021 and Dr. Jordan Taylor (played by Julia Stiles) sighs relievedly as she sees the genetically modified pig heart that she has just transplanted into the chest of a baboon beat and come back to life. The apparently successful operation serves as the climax to Austin Stark’s The God Committee, a fast-paced medical drama that grapples with the ethics of transplant committees, xenotransplantation (cross-species transplantation), and benefit calculations.

Despite the achievement, the scene is haunted by Dr. Taylor and her transplant committee’s decision a decade earlier to accept a bribe from a suspiciously wealthy man whose adult son desperately needed a heart. Prior to learning of the twenty- something’s condition and prospect of a bribe, the committee had been coalescing around a decision between two other candidates: 1) a middle-aged Black man who struggled with bipolar disorder but is also a loving father of three daughters, and 2) a curmudgeonly 70-year-old white woman who demeans her nurses, has little extant family, and seems ambivalent about receiving the heart. The bribe required the committee to ignore the son’s typically disqualifying drug use and deprioritize the other candidates but, ultimately, funded the research that culminated in the pig-to-baboon heart transplant and enabled the hospital to care for more patients.

The God Committee wants its audience to walk away thinking that the ends justified the means—that the hard-nosed consequentialism of the committee and their willingness to shoo aside the more deontological and virtue-oriented constraints of standard bioethics were necessary to secure the greater good. But we don’t think that’s the right message to take home. In this post, we will explicate and reject both of the committee’s reasons for accepting the bribe: (1) saving the hospital and (2) securing xenotransplantation funding. In the end, we argue that (1) accepting the bribe undermines the committee’s ability to act in the best interest of the hospital’s patients; and (2) the film’s narrow focus on xenotransplantation occludes the upstream causes of heart failure that are imminently targetable with status quo technologies and, critically, have the upshot of positively interacting with the demands of racial, environmental, and animal justice.

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Putting a Price on War

This is a guest post by Stanislas Richard. Stan is a research fellow at the Dr. Rachelle Bascara Foundation and is visiting at the Central European University. The post discusses his thoughts on the role of enticements to desert could play in war.

Should we pay soldiers to desert? Should we, for instance, give financial incentives to the Russian soldiers currently invading Ukraine to lay down arms? And what role should such Enticements to Desert (ED) play in peacekeeping and de-escalation policy? This post sketches some answers to these questions.

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Why We Can’t Have It All When It Comes to the Future of Work

This is a guest post by Deryn Thomas, PhD Student in Philosophy, Benjamin Sachs, Senior Lecturer, and Alexander Douglas, Senior Lecturer, at University of St. Andrews. It discusses their recent research on a future with fair work for all and some of the trade-offs it involves. 

Two years into a world turned upside down by lockdowns, travel restrictions, and viral mutations, the way people work and make a living has changed dramatically. New challenges are being presented by rising childcare costs, increases in automation, the digitisation of the workplace, and the gig economy. So we need to ask: how do we make the future of work better for everyone?

At the Future of Work and Income Research Network, we’ve been thinking hard about this problem. As part of these efforts, we recently participated in a consultation for the Scottish Government on its Fair Work Goals, set to be implemented by 2025. The consultation document and stated goals offer an optimistic vision for the future of work in Scotland. But it risks being too idealistic: many of the stated goals conflict with each other.

We noticed at least four sets of incompatible goals. As it stands, the documents say nothing about how these compromises will be decided. But we think this leaves out an important step in the process. Therefore, we offer some reflections from philosophy about how to weigh up the values at stake.  In the end, we think that decisions like these need to be made in the context of a national conversation about the trade-offs surrounding work.

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Rethinking Human Rights in the Context of Climate Change

This is a guest post by Jelena Belic, Lecturer in Political Theory at Leiden University, and Margaretha Wewerinke-Singh, Assistant Professor of Public International Law at Leiden University. It discusses their reflections on the place of human rights in action on climate change following a recent conference they hosted on these issues. 

As other means of tackling the problem of climate change, including inter-state negotiations, do not deliver what is needed, there is an increasing turn toward framing the effects of climate change in terms of human rights violations and searching for remedies. But can human rights as we know them deliver what is expected of them? Scholars and practitioners from different disciplines and corners of the world gathered to examine this multi-faceted question during a 2-day conference organized by the newly established research group on human rights and climate change as part of the Global Transformations and Governance Challenges programme at Leiden University.

While the speakers engaged with multiple questions and offered diverse perspectives, they agreed that human rights in their current legal form and the mechanisms that are supposed to protect them need to undergo a significant transformation if they are to serve important purposes in addressing the harms of climate change. Here we would like to note three avenues of the human rights ongoing transformations concerning their normative foundations, content, and the rise of climate litigation.

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The EU needs to be able to Expel Autocratic Members

This is a guest post by Tom Theuns, Assistant Professor of Political Theory and European Politics at Leiden University (tweeting @TomTheuns). It discusses his recent work on how the EU should handle member states that violate democratic values

The democracy and rule of law crisis in the EU has now lasted over a decade. One of the problems has been that the main instrument for responding to democratic backsliding in a member state, the infamous Article 7 (A7) of the Treaty on European Union (TEU), is ineffective. Given that the two states most active in dismantling democracy in Europe—Poland and Hungary—have pledged to support one another, A7 is crippled by a unanimity requirement.

A7 is supposed to sanction violations of the fundamental values of the EU listed in Article 2 TEU. These include democracy, the rule of law and equality. The sanction in A7 is the disenfranchisement of a backslidden state in the Council of the EU. In a recent article, I argue that A7 is not only ineffective but also normatively incoherent. Instead of disenfranchisement, I think the final sanction for democratic backsliding should be expulsion from the EU.

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Why we can’t quit Facebook – and what to do about it

This is a guest post by Nikhil Venkatesha PhD candidate in Philosophy at University College London, and a fellow of the Forethought Foundation for Global Priorities Research. It draws on his paper ‘Surveillance Capitalism: a Marx-inspired account’.

On Monday 4th October, mistakes in a routine maintenance task led to Facebook’s servers disconnecting from the Internet. For six hours people across the world were unable to use Facebook and other platforms the company owns such as Instagram and WhatsApp.

The outage had serious consequences. Billions of people use these platforms, not just to gossip and share memes but to do their jobs and to reach their families. Orders and sales were missed, and so were births and deaths. At the same time, many found those six hours liberating: a chance to get things done undistracted. But what if the outage had gone on for weeks, months, or forever? Would you have been able to cope?

The previous day, former Facebook employee Frances Haugen revealed herself as the source for a Wall Street Journal series examining how the company’s products ‘harm children, stoke division and weaken our democracy’. This is the latest in a continuous stream of Facebook-related scandals: Cambridge Analytica and Brexit, Russian interference and Trump, genocide in Myanmar, the ongoing presence of scams and hate speech, and the spread of conspiracy theories about the pandemic and the vaccine which led the President of the United States, no less, to accuse Facebook of ‘killing people’. Each time a scandal appears, many of us consider quitting Facebook’s platforms. How could you participate in a social network that does these awful things?

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How to Ask Questions and Alienate People: Is Playing Devil’s Advocate Morally Defensible?

This is a guest post by Avril Tynan, a postdoctoral researcher at the Turku Institute for Advanced Studies in Finland.

It often seems that asking questions is an infallible activity. When we ask questions we demonstrate curiosity; it’s how we learn and understand; in universities we encourage students to ask questions, to interrogate data and theories and to challenge conventional approaches. When we ask how, why, when, where and who, we illuminate the grey areas of our knowledge and understanding, and we may even stumble upon new information and fresh perspectives. But asking questions can be damaging, disrespectful and even dangerous, particularly when the objective is not to understand, but rather to undermine.

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Political Philosophy in a Pandemic: Chapter Preview (Adam Swift)

Several Justice Everywhere authors have been involved in a book project about the ethics and politics of COVID-19. The volume, Political Philosophy in a Pandemic: Routes to a More Just Future (Bloomsbury 2021), is a collection of 20 essays covering five main themes: (1) social welfare and vulnerability; (2) economic justice; (3) democratic relations; (4) speech and (mis)information; and (5) the relationship between crisis and justice.

The second of three chapter previews that we’re releasing in the run up to the book’s publication next week comes from Adam Swift, who contributed a chapter to the final theme on the relationship between crisis and justice. His chapter, Pandemic as Political Theory, takes a step back to consider what the COVID-19 crisis reveals about the nature of politics and political theory in general.

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Political Philosophy in a Pandemic: Chapter Preview (Julia Hermann)

Several Justice Everywhere authors have been involved in a book project about the ethics and politics of COVID-19. The volume, Political Philosophy in a Pandemic: Routes to a More Just Future (Bloomsbury 2021), is a collection of 20 essays covering five main themes: (1) social welfare and vulnerability; (2) economic justice; (3) democratic relations; (4) speech and (mis)information; and (5) the relationship between crisis and justice.

The first of three chapter previews that we’ll be publishing over the next few weeks comes from Julia Hermann, who contributed a chapter to the final theme on the relationship between crisis and justice. Her chapter, co-authored with Katharina Bauer and Christian Baatz, is entitled Coronavirus and Climate Change: What Can the Former Teach Us about the Latter? Check out her short video introduction to their chapter below:

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Welcome back: Launching our 2021/22 season!

Justice Everywhere returns this week for a new season. We continue in our aim to provide a public forum for the exchange of ideas about philosophy and public affairs.

We have lots of exciting content coming your way! This includes:

So please follow us, read and share posts on social media (we’re on both Facebook and Twitter), and feel free to comment on posts using the comment box at the bottom of each post. If you have a suggestion for a topic or would like to contribute a guest post on a topical subject in political philosophy (broadly construed), please feel free to get in touch with us at justice.everywhere.blog@gmail.com.

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