Justice Everywhere

a blog about philosophy in public affairs

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.

Is This Climate Justice? The Australia-Tuvalu Falepili Union

Michael Coghlan, CC BY-SA 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

This is a guest post by Virginia De Biasio

In November 2023, Australia and Tuvalu, a small island country in the Pacific Ocean extremely vulnerable to climate change, signed the “Falepili Union” treaty. The treaty’s alleged purpose is to help Tuvalu to face the increasingly ravaging effects of climate change.

“Falepili” is a Tuvaluan word for giving to neighbours without expecting anything in return, as if they were family. It stands for the values of good neighbourliness, care and mutual respect. Not very surprisingly, the Falepili Union is a lot more than a friendly and mutually respectful treaty. Framed as climate justice, the treaty is underpinned by Australia’s geopolitical interests and a – not so respectful after all – form of neo-colonialism.

3 Points for a Win and Constitutional Design

Critics of the “first past the post” electoral rule often complain that it is unfair. It seems unfair that (for example) in the 2019 UK general election the Scottish National Party won 7% of parliamentary seats with only 4% of votes cast across the country, while the Liberal Democrats won 2% of seats with 4% of votes.

So, which electoral system is the fairest of them all?

I submit that there is really no answer to this question, and we would do better to discard it.

Why Not Remote Voting?

Source: https://www.ledgerinsights.com/japans-tsukuba-city-to-use-blockchain-based-electronic-voting/

With about half of the world’s population living in countries that have held or will hold nationwide elections this year, 2024 has been called a “super election year”, and the “biggest election year in history”. In the past two weeks alone, elections were held in all 27 EU countries (with some also holding local or parliamentary elections aside from those for the European Parliament), as well as in India, Mexico, South Africa, Madagascar, Iceland, or Serbia, with others scheduled in the second half of this year, most notably in the United States and the United Kingdom. Meanwhile, extensive empirical analyses show that in the last five decades electoral participation rates have gradually but consistently declined, with averages of about 10% lower turnout in the 2010s than in the 1960s. One possible solution to this problem, especially advocated during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, and currently implemented in about a quarter of EU countries as well as most US states, the UK, Iceland, Switzerland, New Zealand, Canada, and others, is to allow all citizens the option of not voting in-person at the polling station on the day of the election, but to cast a ballot beforehand via postal voting or, less widespread, through e-voting systems. While such mechanisms – often labelled remote or convenience voting – are often praised, I will attempt to sketch some countervailing reasons that we should, I believe, consider when assessing their overall desirability.

An alternative procedure for allocating research grants

This is a guest post by Louis Larue, Marie Skłodowska-Curie Postdoctoral Fellow at Aalborg University.

Applying for external funding is an integral part of academic life. Universities dedicate huge amounts of resources, and often have entire teams of administrators and advisors, to help researchers obtain external grants and manage the immense load of paperwork required to administrate successful applications. Researchers and teachers, at all stages of their careers, spend considerable time and resources to write, read, revise, and submit applications. If successful, they will then have to write various reports and will be required to master the complex and often obscure language of funding agencies. At a more advanced stage of their careers, they will also dedicate a significant share of their time to reviewing and evaluating applications submitted by others and to sit in various selection committees.

In general, the evaluation procedure involves (in one or several steps) the evaluation of the scientific quality of the submitted application, by one or several peers. When all evaluations have been gathered, a selection committee usually selects successful applicants. The ideal behind this procedure (which I have only sketched here and which varies across countries and institutions) is to select, impartially, the “best” applications, that is, those with the highest level of scientific quality, properly defined.

I do not deny the value of this ideal, but it is far from realized in practice. The reform proposal that I defend below is meant to reinvigorate this ideal and salvage it from several threats.

Why Conscious AI Would Be Bad for the Environment

Image credit to Griffin Kiegiel and Sami Aksu

This is a guest post by Griffin Kiegiel.

Since the meteoric rise of ChatGPT in 2021, artificial intelligence systems (AI) have been implemented into everything from smartphones and electric vehicles, to toasters and toothbrushes. The long-term effects of this rapid adoption remain to be seen, but we can be certain of one thing: AI uses a lot of energy that we can’t spare. ChatGPT reportedly uses more than 500,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity daily, which is massive compared to the 29 kilowatt-hours consumed by the average American household.

As the global temperature and ocean levels rise, it is our responsibility to limit our collective environmental impact as much as possible. If the benefits of AI don’t outweigh the risks associated with increasing our rate of energy consumption, then we may be obligated to shut down AI for the sake of environmental conservation. However, if AI becomes conscious, shutting them down may be akin to murder, morally trapping us in an unsustainable system.

The Disruption of Human Reproduction

This is already my third post about ectogestative technology, better known as “artificial womb technology”. While in the first post, I explored the idea that this technology could potentially advance gender justice, in the second, I approached the technology from the perspective of post-phenomenology. In this third post, I look at the technology as an example of a socially disruptive technology. Ongoing research in the philosophy of technology investigates the ways in which 21st Century technologies such as artificial intelligence, synthetic biology, gene-editing technologies, and climate-engineering technologies affect “deeply held beliefs, values, social norms, and basic human capacities”, “basic human practices, fundamental concepts, [and] ontological distinctions”. Those technologies deeply affects us as human beings, our relationship to other parts of nature such as non-human animals and plants, and the societies we live in. In this post, I sketch the potential disruptive effects of ectogestative technology on practices, norms, and concepts related to expecting and having children.

What is the real problem with food deserts?

Hispanic Sodas Sabor Tropical Supermarket Miami” by Phillip Pessar is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

This is a guest post by Emma Holmes (University of St Andrews/University of Stirling)

Why do some people choose to eat unhealthy food? Earlier this year, Kate Manne – Cornell philosopher and author of several books about misogyny – published Unshrinking, a fascinating and compelling critique of fatphobia. Throughout, she argues against moralising our food choices. There is nothing immoral about wanting to eat greasy, salty, delicious, processed food, says Manne. I agree – but I think she misses something. People’s food preferences are not just random – some people prefer to eat unhealthy foods because their desires have been shaped by an unjust system.

I’ll focus on Manne’s discussion of food deserts to make this point. A so-called ‘food desert’ is a place where there is nowhere nearby or affordable to access healthy food. The term ‘desert’ makes it sound as if this problem is naturally occurring, which it is not – food deserts are the result of urban planning decisions and they disproportionately affect poor people and people of colour. I argue that people who live in food deserts are done an injustice because they are influenced to prefer foods which are bad for their health.  

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.

Why is the New York Declaration on Animal Consciousness morally important?

Last week was a milestone for animals. Prominent scientists, philosophers and policy experts came together to sign the New York Declaration on Animal Consciousness, a statement detailing a consensus that mammals, birds, reptiles, fish, amphibians, cephalopods (like octopuses), crustaceans (like crabs) and even insects most probably have subjective experiences, known as “sentience”.

This may not come as a surprise to many of us, but academic research is often characterised by disagreement. A public announcement of consensus is not only profoundly unusual, it also brings into view just how substantial the evidence is that many more animals have conscious experiences than we often assume.

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