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By In Ideas, Normative Ethics, Practical reasons, Value Theory Comments (5)

Panspermia

I have a test case that I’d like to get responses to, one that tests a certain kind of utilitarian intuition, mixed however, with an interesting conflating factor.
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By In Announcements, News and Events Comments Off on New Rutgers Lectures In Philosophy

New Rutgers Lectures In Philosophy

Some of the world’s greatest philosophers will visit Rutgers University–New Brunswick over the next five years to present public lectures, hold workshops with faculty and graduate students, and meet with undergraduates.

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By In Discussions, Ideas, Normative Ethics, Value Theory Comments Off on Objective or Subject value for setting the strength of agent-claims

Objective or Subject value for setting the strength of agent-claims

Helen Frowe wrote me yesterday to try to understand better my position on how to count the agent’s interest in a trolley switching case. The text she was trying to understand was a piece I co-wrote with David Wasserman, called “Agents, Impartiality, and the Priority of Claims Over Duties; Diagnosing Why Thomson Still Gets the Trolley Problem Wrong by Appeal to the ‘Mechanics of Claims,’” Journal of Moral Philosophy 9 (2012). Thinking about how to answer her brought me to consider an interesting case I hadn’t really thought about before. So I post it here on Pea Soup to invite replies to my tentative read on how to handle this case.

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By In Applied Ethics, Ideas, Normative Ethics Comments (18)

What’s wrong with Torture

It’s been a couple of days since the Senate released the torture report. The discussion in the press seems to concern (a) whether it really might be effective, (b) whether that doesn’t miss the point, that it’s wrong and that we should take the stance “we don’t do that”; (c) whether the partisan bickering about the report–is it accurate? will it hurt us internationally?–will undermine any broader significance it might have; and (d) how other countries might respond to it–with violence, prosecution, admiration, etc.

A few days back I posted on my Facebook page a link to a piece in The New Republic entitled “We Will Never Know Whether Torture Works. That Shouldn’t Matter.” A friend then asked me if it was really true that its effectiveness doesn’t matter. As he put it: “[T]he use of a flamethrower on [a] bunker is to protect the lives of one’s own soldiers [and citizens], while in the classic “ticking bomb” scenario the use of torture is to protect civilian lives. So maybe there’s more symmetry between the two cases than I’ve usually thought. But the difference remains that flamethrowers are effective in clearing bunkers, while torture is of questionable effectiveness at best. Would we consider flamethrowers acceptable were they ineffective, though still horrifying brutal, weapons? I think not. And would we consider torture permissible were it foolproof? Perhaps. So I’m not sure I agree with the article’s conclusion that the question of effectiveness is irrelevant.”

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By In News and Events Comments (1)

Workshop on Deontological Principles and the Criminal Law

The Institute for Law and Philosophy at Rutgers University is sponsoring a workshop on Deontological Principles and the Criminal Law. (More below the fold.)

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By In Uncategorized Comments (3)

Moral Machines–From Whose Point of View

A friend sent me a link to a New Yorker piece–link below–that pointed out that the self-driving cars that Google is developing will sometimes have to make "moral" decisions. The author, Gary Marcus, provides this example: "Your car is speeding along a bridge at fifty miles per hour when an errant school bus carrying forty innocent children crosses its path." Should you swerve, with the expectation that your car will fly off the bridge and you will die, or simply slam on the brakes with the expectation that you will hit the bus fast enough to kill many children (you being protected by your airbag)?

Marcus points out that the computers that control cars will have to make such judgment calls in a split second. My concern is: how should they do it? In particular, whose perspective should they take on?

One perspective is that of you, the driver. It seems to me that you are not required to turn your car if you expect to die as a result. It's not your fault that the bus cut in front of you, and I'll suppose that going 50 mph is within the speed limit. It would be heroic of you to sacrifice yourself for the children, but it's beyond the call of duty. I will suppose that you would not do it.

The other perspective is that of a neutral party (of course there's also the perspective of the children and their loved ones, but it's hard to see why the computer would take their perspective). I think it would be permissible, and that there is positive moral reason, for someone who had the power to flip a switch and cause your car to swerve off to the side in order to save some number of children. You and your car constitute an innocent threat to the children, but I think innocent threats can be killed to save a greater number of innocent victims. I will suppose that a neutral party would divert your car, thereby killing you, to save them.

Should your car take your perspective, as though it is your agent? Or should it take the neutral perspective, as we would want state installed machines to be programmed if they could intervene in such situations? I can see reasons on both sides, but I'd love to hear what thoughts those of you who read this post have.

Thanks. Alec

 

Your
car is speeding along a bridge at fifty miles per hour when errant
school bus carrying forty innocent children crosses its path. Should
your car swerve, possibly risking the life of its owner (you), in order
to save the children, or keep going, putting all forty kids at risk?

Read more: http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/newsdesk/2012/11/google-driverless-car-morality.html#ixzz2DTlJ9t6n

Your
car is speeding along a bridge at fifty miles per hour when errant
school bus carrying forty innocent children crosses its path. Should
your car swerve, possibly risking the life of its owner (you), in order
to save the children, or keep going, putting all forty kids at risk?

Read more: http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/newsdesk/2012/11/google-driverless-car-morality.html#ixzz2DTlJ9t6n

Your car is speeding along a bridge at fifty miles per hour when errant
school bus carrying forty innocent children crosses its path. Should
your car swerve, possibly risking the life of its owner (you), in order
to save the children, or keep going, putting all forty kids at risk?

Read more: http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/newsdesk/2012/11/google-driverless-car-morality.html#ixzz2DTlBE46F

Your car is speeding along a bridge at fifty miles per hour when errant
school bus carrying forty innocent children crosses its path. Should
your car swerve, possibly risking the life of its owner (you), in order
to save the children, or keep going, putting all forty kids at risk?

Read more: http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/newsdesk/2012/11/google-driverless-car-morality.html#ixzz2DTlBE46F

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By In Uncategorized Comments (7)

Intentions and permissibility

At a recent symposium on Victor Tadros's book The Ends of Harm, Victor and I were debating whether the Means Principle (MP) is best thought of on a subjective interpretation (for A to use B as a means, A has to intend that B play some role in bringing about a good) or an objective, causal-role-based interpretation (for A to use B as a means, B has to serve as a causal means in bringing about some good that might be offered to justify A doing what she does). Victor argues for the subjective interpretation; I argue not exactly for the objective, but for the relevance of causal roles in a principle that has more or less the same range of application as the means principle.

This led to our discussing whether the critics of the subjective view–principally JJ Thomson, Frances Kamm, and Tim Scanlon—have ever offered any good reasons for their views (no, says Victor) or whether they have, or at least whether their arguments provide a good starting point for building an argument that the subjective interpretation faces an uphill battle (yes, say I). Victor then suggested that I post this as a topic for debate on Pea Soup. So here we are.

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