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Category: Moral values Page 1 of 7

Driving for Values

Smart cities are full of sensors and collect large amounts of data. One reason for doing so is to get real-time information about traffic flows. A next step is to steer the traffic in a way that contributes to the realisation of values such as safety and sustainability. Think of steering cars around schools to improve the safety of children, or of keeping certain areas car-free to improve air quality. Is it legitimate for cities to nudge their citizens to make moral choices when participating in traffic? Would a system that limits a person’s options for the sake of improving quality of life in the city come at the cost of restricting that person’s autonomy? In a transdisciplinary research project, we (i.e., members of the ESDiT programme and the Responsible Sensing Lab) explored how a navigation app that suggests routes based on shared values, would affect users’ experiences of autonomy. We did so by letting people try out speculative prototypes of such an app on a mobile phone and ask them questions about how they experienced different features of the app. During several interviews and a focus group, we gained insights about the conditions under which people find such an app acceptable and about the features that increase or decrease their feeling of autonomy.

In this study, we define autonomy as involving two central elements: the availability of options from which one is free to choose and “a person’s capacity to judge, decide, and act on the basis of her own attitudes and reasoning”. Interestingly, though participants mainly associated the first element with the word autonomy, their evaluation of the different system features showed that the second element was of great importance to them. We designed six different versions of the app, which each had a different combination of system features. All of those features relate in some way to autonomy. For instance, some app versions enable the user to indicate how much weight they want to give to a selection of four values (safety, sustainability, liveability, and economic flourishing). The app then takes their value preferences into account when calculating possible routes. Other app versions do not have that feature, but, for instance, provide the user with more options. Furthermore, while some app versions indicate that the list of values has been created bottom-up by citizens, others tell the user that this has been done by the city council. During our interviews, each participant tested and compared two versions of the app.

As we are still in the phase of analysing and interpreting the collected data, I will just share some preliminary insights. We found that people generally appreciated the idea of such an app. They were sympathetic to the idea that by adjusting their driving behaviour when driving in the city, they could contribute to better living conditions in the city. At the same time, most participants seemed unwilling, at least initially, to take a longer route for that, especially in situations where they needed to be somewhere at a certain time. In some of the system versions, drivers can choose between two routes, both of which contribute to the realisations of the values. They do not get the fastest route as a third option. Is this restriction of options infringing on the drivers’ capacity to make autonomous choices? We found that, though participants generally preferred to have also the option of the fastest route, they valued the fact that the system provided them with options that were in line with what they care about. They appreciated it if the system showed to them how the suggested routes were linked to values they endorsed and the possibility to set their own value preferences. We interpret their reactions to these features as positive in virtue of them being experienced as autonomy-enhancing.

There were also interesting differences among participants. While some of them preferred versions of the app that enable them to set their own value preferences, others preferred not be bothered by that and rely on the choices made by the system. Also, while some participants distrusted the city council, others didn’t want to let citizens create the list of values, as they suspected them to decide in their personal interest, which might go against the common interest. We aim at publishing our results once we have completed the thematic analysis of our data.

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?

Intellectually Humble Free Speech Law

Scholars familiar with the philosophical arguments in favor of robust free speech protections commonly identify three kinds of arguments given in favor of such protections:

1. Free speech helps us discover truth,
2. Free speech is required for democratic self-governance,
3. Free speech is an important part of autonomy.

Contemporary social and political circumstances—including the persistent spread of viral misinformation via social media—have called these traditional arguments into question.

Can we really claim that free speech helps us discover truth when the data suggest that falsehoods travel, on average, much faster and farther than truthful corrections? Does free speech, on balance, help preserve democracy when the integrity of elections is being undermined by orchestrated viral disinformation campaigns?

Such questions prompted by social, political, and material reality ought to be taken seriously. Taking such questions seriously may require us to reconsider what kinds of arguments best ground free speech rights. This may, in turn, require us to reconsider what good free speech law and policy should look like.

An ad-hominem attack on… actually, let’s just call it Reply to Van Goozen

Thanks to Sara for a thoughtful response to my initial post. Sara’s very reasonable, and I confess a certain deliberate provocativeness in the original post. Nonetheless, I want to push back on a few things.

An ad-hominem attack on an ad-hominem attack on non-consequentialism

Last week, Michael Bennett proposed an ‘ad-hominem attack’ on non-consequentialism. He suggested, quite plausibly, that philosophers and political theorists tend to produce work that is complex, at least partially because ‘[p]romotion and prestige requires a constant stream of publications’ and it is ‘difficult to keep that up unless you have complex theories that require a great deal of elaboration’. This provides support for a kind-of debunking argument against contemporary anti-consequentialism:

It does seem awfully suspicious that the normative realm would turn out to be so complicated, given our career incentives to make it look complicated. I think we have reason to be less confident in complex philosophy as a result, and less confident in anti-consequentialism in particular.

I think it’s clear that among academic philosophers there is a tendency to overcomplicate things. This applies to philosophers of all stripes and backgrounds, but is perhaps particularly jarring among philosophers of the ‘analytic’ or ‘Anglo-American’ tradition, given our avowed focus on analysis, logic argument and rigour (this characterization of the analytic tradition can and has been questioned, but let’s go with it for the time being). Indeed, the focus on providing logical arguments for our positions seems to me to contribute significantly to this  tendency towards complexity, often at the cost of clarity.

But to get to the point – does this institutional and epistemic bias in favour of complexity provide an argument (debunking or otherwise) against anti-consequentialism? I’m not sure that this is the case.

An ad-hominem attack on anti-consequentialism

I think there’s something unintentionally revealing about the title of Frances Kamm’s book Intricate Ethics. Most people, I expect, would find it quite odd for intricacy to be a key selling point for a theory of ethics. Yet this actually makes complete sense, albeit not in the way Kamm intends. Philosophers need ethics to be intricate. If it were simple, they’d be out of a job.

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.

The Ethics of Keeping Pets: Why Love is Not Enough

photo of man hugging tan dogPhoto by Eric Ward on Unsplash

I have been thinking about the ethics of keeping sentient animals as pets. As someone who has lived with dogs, cats, rats, mice, gerbils, rabbits, lizards, guinea pigs, and chickens, I have experienced first-hand the joy and companionship that such creatures can bring to our lives and the love that we can have for them. Yet, as a philosopher interested in animal ethics, I am aware of the many moral problems associated with our practice of keeping animals as pets. These problems have led me to reconsider human-animal companionship, and I have come to think that no matter how much we might love the animals we bring into our homes, we cannot justify doing so.

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