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Category: Moral values Page 1 of 7

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.

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.

An inverted verification principle for political theory

What do these four countries have in common?

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.

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.

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