a blog about philosophy in public affairs

Author: Journal of Applied Philosophy Page 1 of 7

The Journal of Applied Philosophy is a unique forum for philosophical research that seeks to make a constructive contribution to problems of practical concern. Open to the expression of diverse viewpoints, it brings the identification, justification, and discussion of values to bear on a broad spectrum of issues in environment, medicine, science, policy, law, politics, economics and education. The journal publishes in all areas of applied philosophy, and posts accessible summaries of its recent articles on Justice Everywhere.

Should We Mourn the Loss of Work?

In this post, Caleb Althorpe (Trinity College Dublin) and Elizabeth Finneron-Burns (Western University) discuss their new open access article published in the Journal of Applied Philosophy, in which they discuss the moral goods and bads of a future without work.

Photo by Possessed Photography on Unsplash

It is an increasingly held view that technological advancement is going to bring about a ‘post-work’ future because recent technologies in things like artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning have the potential to replace not just complex physical tasks but also complex mental ones. In a world where robots are beginning to perform surgeries independently and where AI can perform better than professional human lawyers, it does not seem absurd to predict that at some point in the next few centuries productive human labour could be redundant.

In our recent paper, we grant this prediction and ask: would a post-work future be a good thing? Some people think that a post-work world would be a kind of utopia (‘a world free from toil? Sign me up!’). But because there is a range of nonpecuniary benefits affiliated with work, then a post-work future might be problematic.

What Won’t Be Missed

Take the following four benefits philosophers commonly associate with work: income, self-development and excellence, community, and meaningfulness. While we don’t deny that these are important, we note that these are only benefits of work thanks to contingent facts about the economies of today (viz., that we spend so much of our lives working). If efforts were made to ensure individuals had a guaranteed revenue stream (e.g., a basic income funded by an automation tax) then this income, along with all the increased discretionary time we’d have at our disposal, would mean that we would be able to achieve these benefits outside of work.

For instance, I could fully develop my skills and talents in my hobby, achieve community with my close friends, and derive meaningfulness from philosophical or religious reflection. You get the point: there is nothing special about the work process itself when it comes to our ability to attain these benefits. If anything, it seems preferable from the standpoint of liberalism to leave it up to people to choose for themselves the avenues through which they attain these goods, rather than the work process being the only available option as the means to their realization.

What Might Be Missed

There is one benefit that has a deeper connection to work: social contribution. This is because to simply say that a particular activity is work, is often to say that the activity contributes to the lives of others going well. You work when you volunteer at the local food bank; you don’t when you go for jog. Of course, in a post-work world we will still be able to contribute to our close friends and associates (we will play games with them, empathize with their struggles, etc.). But the social contribution inherent to work, and the value philosophers ascribe to it, often relates to contribution to unassociated others, to helping society’s members more widely. Examples of why contributive activity is taken as justice-relevant are arguments that link productive activity to living out a life that accords with our ‘human essence’, or as one of us has previously argued because productive activity is tied to our self-respect as participating members of society.

The fact that individuals in a post-work would miss out on this benefit might then give us a reason to object to it but we need to be cautious here because the prospect of technological advancement itself might undermine the premises used to support the claim that social contribution has normative value. If our labour is redundant because the robots can contribute more effectively to others’ lives going well, then why would productive activity be essential to our essence as humans, or our status as participating members of society characterized as a system of cooperation? Some further kind of argument needs to be advanced here for any objection to a post-work world to not just beg the question.

Sharing Affective Care Work

Even in this ‘post-work future’, some work will remain—what we call affective care work. This is the work of caring for the emotional needs of others and is often bound up with functional care work—caring for the physical needs of others (e.g., talking through your son’s break up while driving him to his soccer game). Although it’s likely that functional care will be automated, it’s not clear that affective care can or should ever be because part of what makes it care is that it lets the other person know they are valued by another person. Robots can’t do that.

The problem is that affective care is currently done predominantly by women, and we see few reasons to believe this would change in the post-work world, even after men are relieved of the burden of work. Men already have opportunities to perform affective care, but generally choose not to and lack of time does not seem to be the impediment. A world in which men live lives of leisure while women continue to do the vast majority of the remaining work would be unjust. So we need to find a way of dividing the remaining affective care work equitably. One option would be mandatory participation in something like a ‘Care Corps’ where each person is required to do their fair share of care work. This policy may or may not be freedom-limiting depending on whether or not we are right about men’s preferences. Even if it is coercive, however, it is only so because men have unreasonable preferences—to freeride on the care work performed by others. The policy may also have other positive effects on gender equality since children will grow up being cared for by women and men and girls and boys will be taught to care from a young age and will grow up with the expectation that they will do equal amounts in adulthood. These factors will likely significantly reduce the need for coercion over time.

If animals have rights, why not bomb slaughterhouses?

In this post, Nico Müller (U. of Basel) and Friderike Spang (U. of Lausanne) discuss their new article published in the Journal of Applied Philosophy, in which they look at the relation between animal rights and violent forms of activism. They argue that violent activism frequently backfires, doing more harm than good to the animal rights cause.

Created with DALL.E (2024)

In 2022 alone, some ten billion land animals were killed in US slaughterhouses. That’s ten billion violations of moral rights, at least if many philosophers since the 1960s (and some before that) have got it right. If the victims were human, most of us would condone the use of violence, even lethal violence, in their defense. So regardless of whether you agree with the values of the animal rights movement, you may wonder: Why isn’t this movement much more violent? It seems like it should be, on its own terms.

When whatever you do, you get what you least deserve

In this post, David Benatar (U. Cape Town) discusses his article recently published in the Journal of Applied Philosophy on the paradox of desert, exploring the issues that arise from ‘acting rightly’ and the costs it may incur.

(C) David Benatar. Camondo Stairs, Galata, Istanbul, 2022

Imagine that you are a soldier fighting a militia that is embedded within an urban civilian population. You face situations in which, in the fog of war, you are unsure whether the person you confront is a civilian or a combatant, not least because the combatants you are fighting often dress like civilians. You can either shoot and ask questions later, or you can pause, even momentarily, to take stock, and risk being shot.

Depending on the precise circumstances, pausing may be either a moral requirement or merely supererogatory (that is, a case of going beyond the call of duty). Either way, the soldier who pauses is morally superior to the soldier who shoots without hesitation. However, there will be situations in which a soldier is killed precisely because he acted in the morally better way.

How the animal industry undermines consumers’ autonomy

In this post, Rubén Marciel (UPF and UB) and Pablo Magaña (UPF) discuss their article recently published in the Journal of Applied Philosophy on the ethical legitimacy of misleading commercial speech for ‘green’ or ‘ethically produced’ animal products.

Photo by Mae Mu with Unsplash Licence.

Good Friendships for Real People

In this post Simon Keller (Victoria) discusses his recently published article in the Journal of Applied Philosophy, in which he asks what it means to be a good friend in non-ideal circumstances.

Image by efes from Pixabay

Invisible discrimination: the double role of implicit bias

In this post, Katharina Berndt Rasmussen (Stockholm University & Institute for Futures Studies) discusses her recently published article in the Journal of Applied Philosophy (co-authored by Nicolas Olsson Yaouzis) exploring the roles that implicit bias and social norms play in discriminating hiring practices.

The US, like many other countries, is marked by pervasive racial inequalities, not least in the job market. Yet many US Americans, when asked directly, uphold egalitarian “colour-blind” norms: one’s race shouldn’t matter for one’s chances to get hired. Sure enough, there is substantial disagreement about whether it (still) does matter, but most agree that it shouldn’t. Given such egalitarian attitudes, one would expect there to be very little hiring discrimination. The puzzle is how then to explain the racial inequalities in hiring outcomes.

A second puzzle is the frequent occurrence of complaints about “reverse discrimination” in contexts such as the US. “You only got the job because you’re black” is a reaction familiar to many who do get a prestigious job while being black, as it were. Why are people so suspicious when racial minorities are hired?

Countering Social Oppression

In this post, Suzy Killmister (Monash) discusses her recently published article in the Journal of Applied Philosophy giving an answer to the question, what, if anything, can members of oppressed groups do to counter that oppression?

© Adam Fagen (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

During the Memphis Sanitation Strike of 1968, protestors marched through the streets carrying signs bearing the slogan ‘I Am a Man’. Today, protesters march through the streets carrying signs declaring ‘Trans Rights are Human Rights’, while others proclaim ‘No Human is Illegal’. What’s going on here? And more importantly, what explains the rhetorical power of such statements?

How Should We Understand NIMBYism?

In this post, Travis Quigley (U. Arizona) discusses his article recently published in the Journal of Applied Philosophy  about the issues at stake and justifications for and against restrictive zoning policies.

You might think that zoning policy should be politically boring. Instead, there is a high-stakes and high-intensity debate between defenders of restrictive zoning regulations, which currently set aside huge swaths of land for single-family houses, and those who wish to abolish most such restrictions. Defenders of restrictive zoning often are called NIMBYs, for Not In My Backyard; reformers are then called YIMBYs, for Yes In My Backyard. As such things go, each term can be an insult or a point of pride, depending on who’s speaking. In the housing context, the rationale of increasing supply to decrease prices is pitted against neighborhood preservation; the climate context pits ecological conservation against large-scale climate change mitigation projects. The two issues intersect: new, dense housing is far more energy efficient. I focus especially on residential zoning here.   

Selling Silence: The Morality of Sexual Harassment NDAs

In this post, Scott Altman (USC Gould) discusses his recent JOAP 2022 Annual Essay Prize winning article about the morality of sexual harassment nondisclosure agreements.

Harvey Weinstein, Chairman, The Weinstein Company
Harvey Weinstein by Thomas Hawk (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Nondisclosure agreements (NDAs) pay sexual harassment and abuse victims not to tell their stories or name their abusers. Harvey Weinstein’s many NDAs, and the #MeToo movement, spurred some states to make such NDAs legally unenforceable. 

My Selling Silence article argued in favor of these laws. Sexual wrongdoer NDAs protect abusers, endanger future victims, and undermine deterrence. The article rejected three justifications for wrongdoer NDAs, two of which I will mention briefly before explaining the third.

Why schools should teach that it’s okay to be LGBT

In this post, Christina Easton (University of Warwick) discusses their recent article in Journal of Applied Philosophy about the value and appropriate shape of LGBT-inclusive education.

Image by Cinthya Liang from Pixabay

All schools in England now teach about LBGT relationships as part of a new, compulsory Relationships Education curriculum. Unsurprisingly, some parents have been unhappy about this. But even amongst those supportive of LGBT-inclusive curricula, there’s some confusion about what the purpose of this teaching should be. England’s Department for Education sometimes talk about LGBT relationships as “loving, healthy relationships”. They also say that religious schools can teach the curriculum whilst “reflecting their beliefs in their teaching”. But conservative branches of major religions say that LGBT relationships aren’t healthy at all – they’re sinful in fact. So what are teachers actually meant to be teaching? Should the state curriculum be taking a stand on whether LGBT relationships are “healthy”, or not? In a recent article, I argue that the answer is ‘yes’: schools should aim for children to believe that there’s nothing wrong with LGBT relationships.

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