The title might seem melodramatic even though we are all on the edge right now. Humanity has survived many epidemics, two world wars, natural and technical disasters such as tsunamis or reactors exploding. The costs have been high though, and ethics has often shied away from providing answers for these tough times. In this post, I will argue that philosophers must be prepared to undertake a form of non-ideal emergency ethics to be able to help with the pressing moral questions, for instance in the medical sector.
Category: General (Page 1 of 4)
In this post, guest contributor Gottfried Schweiger reflects on recognition of “everyday heroes” in the current COVID-19 crisis and what it says about our recognition regime.
Times of crisis are times when heroes are made and tales of heroism are written. The COVID-19 pandemic knows some heroes: all the medical staff in the front line, but also the many other people who keep society going and fight the pandemic. There are also more and more voices publicly acknowledging these “everyday heroes” (for example, Owen Jones in this recent opinion piece for The Guardian).
While some professions, such as doctors, are used to being at the top of the recognition hierarchy, people who are normally excluded from such public recognition are now also benefiting from it. These include the poorly paid employees in supermarkets and warehouses, but also the many who provide care and assistance in hospitals, nursing homes or private arrangements for the needy and chronically ill.
Two questions arise: how do recognition regimes shift in times of crisis and what about all those who are not everyday heroes, what does the crisis do to them?
Looking at Lewis Hine’s photographic chronicles of working children in the United States (see video above) gives me a particularly conflicting feeling. While his pictures provide a surprisingly sensitive, personal, and even sweet approximation to the life and plights of the children he snapped, I cannot help but feel discomforted by the reality he is portraying. Personally, I think that my discomfort when looking at these pictures lies in the tension between, on the one hand, the moral reflexes that inevitably pop-up, telling me how wrong the condition of these children is; and, on the other hand, the sensation that many of these children seem absolutely comfortable and at ease (maybe even happy?) with their working life.
Today, thousands of academic and professional support staff from 74 universities will begin a rolling 14-day strike action over a four-week period. This will be the largest industrial action ever taken by higher education workers in British history, surpassing the scale of previous disputes in November – December 2019 and in 2018. A considerable amount of ink has been spilled on the technicalities of the strike (Mike Otsuka, in particular, has written extensively on the pension dispute). My focus in this post is different: I want to establish some of the moral aspects of the strike through the principles governing the resort to war – jus ad bellum.
Let me first address a concern to this approach, namely the applicability of the just war framework with regards to something like strike action. The two issues, war and strike, do not share any commonalities. How could moral principles used to govern war be deployed to understand strike action? I think that the content of individual ad bellum principles can be useful in revealing morally relevant facts in a number of contexts other than war. For example, the principle of proportionality, which demands the benefits of an action must outweigh its potential harm is relevant in almost all situations. The principle of last resort, which demands other less harmful options to be tried first, is also relevant to the undertaking of strike action, given the enormous financial and educational costs. Taken together, the framework of jus ad bellum gives us a substantive moral picture of the action.
My aim here, to reiterate, is simply to show a substantive moral picture of the strike through the lens of jus ad bellum. I make no claims regarding the overall moral permissibility of the strike. All just war criteria are individually necessary and jointly sufficient in order for a war to be justly fought. I don’t know how many criteria would need to be met to justify a strike like this one (or should more criteria be introduced). This is an interesting query, though not one I’ll pursue here.
In November and December 2019, members of the University and College Union (UCU) – the trade union that represents many academics and other university staff in the UK – went on strike. On that occasion, in his post To Strike or Disrupt, Liam Shields discussed whether people not doing any teaching during the strike should go on strike or not, seeing that their striking does not result in significant disruption.
At the end of this week, the UCU will embark on a new wave of 14 days of strike spread over four weeks because the dispute remains unsettled. It therefore seems a good occasion to recall Liam’s argument and to flesh out some implications a bit further.
In this guest post, Marta Mensa writes on machismo culture and gender violence in Latin America, and argues that advertisements for social campaigns against gender violence should be carefully designed.
Latin America is one of the continents with the highest rate of violence against women. The most extreme form of this crime is called femicide, the murder of a woman for the fact that she is a woman. Advertising can be a good tool to reduce this violence, but social campaigns have portrayed women as victims and not as empowered. Unfortunately, Latin American advertisements for social campaigns reinforce the idea that women need protection, which is used as an excuse for machismo to control them.
Most of us believe that the questions of political theory are not merely academic, in either sense of the word. We may be partly motivated by philosophical curiosity, seeking knowledge for knowledge’s sake, but that is not the only reason we want to understand what justice requires, what equality means or how to meet our obligations to one another. Most of us think the answers to these questions have practical implications as well. If we discover what a better society looks like, we don’t just want to keep that to ourselves – we want to help make that society come about.
That implies that the ideas of political theorists ought not be limited to universities and scholarly journals, but that they should seek to influence the outside world of ‘real politics’. Indeed, many of the most venerated thinkers in the history of political thought have sought, with varying degrees of success, to put their ideas into practice – from Marx trying to direct international revolutionary socialism, to Rousseau’s constitution writing, to Burke and JS Mill sitting in parliament. Yet as political theory has professionalised, there is a concern that it has withdrawn into abstraction and esoterica and become detached from practical political concerns.
The purpose of Beyond the Ivory Tower is to speak to prominent philosophers that have, in different ways, managed to bridge the divide between academic political theory and ‘real politics’. In part, this is because their stories are interesting in their own right. It is also to help us understand the position of political theory today, and how other political theorists might achieve wider impact.
We wish you happy holidays and a fresh and bright New Year!
But we will already be back next week – And how!
Next week, we will introduce our Beyond the Ivory Tower series. In this series of posts, we will speak with political philosophers who have achieved positions of political impact, to better understand the relationships between political philosophy and real-world politics. Kicking it off will be an interview with Baroness Onora O’Neill. So stay tuned!
The Centre for the Study of Global Ethics is pleased to announce its Sixth Annual Conference on 28 and 29 May 2020.
Call for Papers
We welcome abstract submissions addressing the central theme Ethics in a Global Environment, as well as a wide range of topics within global ethics.
Submission deadline is 1 February 2020.
for more information.
Every election has winners and losers, and this one is no different. These are, however, particularly turbulent times, and while the message of “getting Brexit done” appears to have chimed with many voters, the Conservative victory last Thursday does not bode well for the UK’s most vulnerable. After a decade of Conservative austerity measures, the use of food banks continues to rise, child poverty has soared, and changes to the welfare system have left disabled adults four times worse-off financially than non-disabled adults. More of the same is likely to most hurt those for whom life is getting tougher by the day.
It is clear that things are precarious for many of the UK’s citizens but it is important to keep in mind that humans are not the only ones affected by our governments’ decisions. Though it is tempting to think that we already have enough to worry about without extending concern to the nonhuman animals who live with us, we owe it to those creatures to speak up on their behalf. With no voice of their own, other animals are entirely dependent on us to keep their interests on the political agenda and to hold our leaders to account for the harms visited upon them. With that in mind, I’d like you to spare a thought for British badgers who, like many humans, have been made to suffer terribly by recent political decisions and government policies.