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: Public Philosophy
This is the third interview in our Beyond the Ivory Tower series (previous interviewees: Onora O’Neill and Marc Stears). Back in December, Diana Popescu spoke to Jonathan Wolff about his experience working on public policy committees and what philosophers have to learn from engaging with real-life problems and social movements.
Jonathan Wolff is the Alfred Landecker Professor of Values and Public Policy at the Blavatnik School of Government at the University of Oxford. Before coming to Oxford, he was Professor of Philosophy and Dean of Arts and Humanities at UCL. He is currently developing a new research programme on revitalising democracy and civil society. His work largely concerns equality, disadvantage, social justice and poverty, as well as applied topics such as public safety, disability, gambling, and the regulation of recreational drugs. He has been a member of the Nuffield Council of Bioethics, the Academy of Medical Science working party on Drug Futures, the Gambling Review Body, the Homicide Review Group, an external member of the Board of Science of the British Medical Association, and a Trustee of GambleAware. He writes a regular column on higher education for The Guardian.
This is the second interview in our Beyond the Ivory Tower series, following Onora O’Neill. Back in November, Aveek Bhattacharya spoke to Marc Stears about his experiences in politics, focusing on his time as a close adviser to then leader of the opposition, Ed Miliband.
Prof Marc Stears is Director of the Sydney Policy Lab. Stears was Professor of Political Theory at the University of Oxford in 2010 when his university friend Ed Miliband was elected leader of the opposition Labour party. After a secondment to the think tank Institute for Public Policy Research, Stears left academia in 2012 to become Chief Speechwriter for Miliband. He was a co-author of the 2015 Labour election manifesto and a member of the party’s general election steering committee. In 2013, the Telegraph ranked him the UK’s eighth most influential left-winger. After Labour’s election defeat in 2015, Stears joined another British think tank, the New Economics Foundation, as Chief Executive, before his move to Australia in 2018.
This extended post is a response to a recent Boston Review article by Gina Schouten, called “‘Flexible’ Family Leave is Lousy Feminism”.
This must be one of the most animated debates amongst feminists: how to find the best remedial policies for women who are disadvantaged because they serve as main care-givers for their children, elderly parents, sick relatives or friends. They are disadvantaged in many ways. Some are economic: lower lifetime earnings and fewer work-related benefits compared to people without care commitments – hence more dependency on spouses. Others are social: part-time workers take a hit in status, stay-at-home mums even more so. Finally, there are the relational and psychological disadvantages: women who are economically dependent on their partners have less negotiating power than their partners, and many face tremendous difficulties when they want to leave abusive relationships.
The gendered division of labour – women’s assignment to the hands-on care that we all need at different periods of our lives – explains, to a large extent, not only the gender pay gap but also the feminisation of poverty and the private domination to which many women are subjected. No surprise, then, that feminists have two distinct aims: to protect women from the risks of being a care-giver, and also to do away with the gendered division of labour, which is a main source of the problem. I am one of these feminists; I would like to see women and men equally engaged in the labour market, and looking after anybody who needs care.
But I’m also adamant that we should pursue these two aims in the right order: we should give priority to protecting women from the worst consequences of the gendered division of labour over the abolition of the gendered division of labour itself. Moreover, we should be aware of the unavoidable tension between the two aims, and keep this in mind when advocating for particular gender policies.
Aveek Bhattacharya and Fay Niker recently interviewed Baroness Onora O’Neill, asking her about her wide-ranging experiences combining being a professor of philosophy and a member of the House of Lords (among many other things).
Baroness Onora O’Neill of Bengarve is Emeritus Honorary Professor at the University of Cambridge and has been a cross-bench (i.e. not aligned with any political party) member of the British House of Lords since 2000. She has written widely in ethics and political philosophy, and is particularly known for her work on bioethics, trust and the philosophy of Kant. She was Principal of Newnham College, Cambridge from 1992-2006, President of the British Academy from 2005-9, chaired the Nuffield Foundation from 1998-2010 and chaired the Equality and Human Rights Commission from 2012-2016.
In this post, guest contributor Liam Shields discusses an important dilemma related to the strike in UK higher education institutions.
Members of the University and College Union, the trade union that represents many lecturers and other university staff in the UK, at 60 universities will be called upon to withdraw their labour from their employers from 25th November to 4th December. However, some are on research leave, or will not be doing any teaching on some or all strike days, so their striking will go unnoticed. The question then is: should they go on strike or not?
Fears over ‘fake news’, targeted disinformation, and the rise of post-truth politics have met with a central mainstream solution: ‘fact-checking’. Fact-checking is featuring prominently in coverage of the 2019 UK General Election. ITV News, for instance, will use FullFact.org to analyse the claims made by Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn in their forthcoming leadership debate, with the aim of better informing their viewers by exposing misleading statements.
This reflects the wider embrace of fact-checking as a panacea against the rise of anti-expert politics. It has been employed in coverage of US presidential and primary debates, as well as the parliamentary theatre of Brexit. Third party fact-checking organisations have also been championed by social media companies in response to demands by regulators and legislatures that they take responsibility for the content circulated on their platforms. Indeed the use of ‘independent’ fact-checkers to flag content was highlighted by Mark Zuckerberg, during his various appearances before Congress, in defence of Facebook’s practices.
However, the concept of fact-checking frames the problems of post-truth politics in narrowly positivist terms – as reducible to a lack of information (‘facts’), leading to sub-optimally rational decision-making by electorates. It has not been underpinned by a sophisticated account of the epistemic conditions for the exercise of democratic citizenship. Fact-checking occupies an increasingly central place in our political culture, but the justification for it remains largely implicit and untheorized.
In some situations, society permits individual citizens to not fulfil otherwise binding requirements when the latter conflict with the individual’s deeply held ethical convictions. The classic example are pacifists who obtain an exemption from military service. I submit that an argument along these lines also applies to collective pension plans. Such plans need to offer their participants a minimal level of influence over their portfolios to be legitimate.
The UK has been in the grip of a political crisis since 24 June, 2016 when the people voted to leave the European Union, ending an uneasy relationship lasting 43 years. PM David Cameron resigned the following morning, citing the need for new leadership to lead the country out of the EU. Since then, another PM, Theresa May, has resigned and her successor, current PM Boris Johnson, is nowhere nearer to solving the Brexit question than his predecessors. As the UK’s date of departure from the EU approaches, the sense of a political deadlock is palpable. In this post, I argue for the need to hold a second referendum on democratic grounds.
While Justice Everywhere takes a break over the summer, we recall from our archives some memorable posts from our 2018-2019 season.
Here are three good reads on issues relating to Public Philosophy that you may have missed or be interested to re-read:
- In “Dumbed down for the masses?” Public philosophy in different keys, and why it matters for justice, Lisa Herzog reflects on some of the challenges involved in writing for a broader audience.
- Tim Meijers and Ingrid Robeyns on Philosophical experiment about inequality: the authors report on an experiment they did to engage the public in a participatory “veil-of-ignorance” thought experiment.
- John Tillson’s post addresses the question: Why isn’t ethical approval required for television shows?
Justice Everywhere will return in full swing on 2nd September with fresh weekly posts by our regular authors. 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.