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By In Applied Ethics, News and Events Comments Off on Ethics in War and Wartime

Ethics in War and Wartime

All are invited to attend the tenth annual Cal Poly Ethics Conference, to be held May 5-6. (Yours truly is an organizer).  The topic is Ethics in War and Wartime, and we have quite a lineup planned. The schedule of papers:

THURSDAY, MAY 5
9:45      Larry May, Washington University/St. Louis
                "Human Treatment, Poisoned Arrows and Weapons of Mass Destruction"

11:15    Deen Chatterhee, University of Utah
                "Taking Human Rights Seriously: War and the Liberal’s Dilemma"

2:30    Oliver Boyd-Barrettt, Cal Poly Pomona
                "On the (Near) Impossibility of an Ethical War Journalism"

       

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By In Applied Ethics, News and Events Comments Off on Vaccines

Vaccines

Here’s a news item (login required [free account]) that some readers might find interesting: the CDC has set up a permanent ethics panel on the distribution of vaccines and the sticky trade-off issues involved in rationing. According to The New York Times, it includes some familiar names:

“Four people have been named to the panel, although the agency hopes to add a fifth. Those already appointed, in addition to Dr. [John D.] Arras, are Robert J. Levine of Yale University, Kathleen Kinlaw of Emory University and Thomas Beauchamp of Georgetown University.”

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By In Applied Ethics Comments (16)

Souls and Human Beings

I’ve recently found myself having to deal more and more with the gnarly issue of souls in my work. My research focuses primarily on the relation between personal identity and ethics, but the metaphysical possibility of the existence of souls continually throws a monkey wrench into attempts to draw firm conclusions about the nature of selves, human beings, and/or persons with respect to ethical issues. Most contemporary theorists assume a materialist conception of these objects, but it’s very easy to undermine their conclusions by simply positing the existence of an immaterial substance at our core. For example, Singer and Kuhse have shown that if you believe that an embryo is a human being (with full moral status) from the moment of conception, the possibility of twinning gets you into serious trouble. But the trouble only comes if you assume a materialist conception of human beings. If, on the other hand, you maintain that what makes the embryo a human being from the moment of conception is that it houses a soul, then you can avoid the problems they cite. After all, upon twinning, one soul could migrate to one of the new organisms, while a new soul could pop into existence to be housed in the other new organism.

Because arguments about souls continually creep into public debates about this issue, I think it’s incumbent upon ethicists to deal seriously with it, rather than ignoring it or casting ad hominems upon its advocates. So that’s what I’ve been trying to do. Please forgive, then, the following movement into some rather straightforward metaphysics. It’s necessary, I think, to wrestle with the important ethical issues at stake in both the abortion and the stem cell research controversies.

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The responsible and the deterrable

Ever come across an argument that you just know can’t be right but you can’t pin down its flaw? I had that experience recently while reading an older paper on punishment, Alan Wertheimer’s “Deterrence and retribution.” (Ethics 86 (1976): 181-199) Quick background: Retributivists about criminal punishment often criticize consequentialist views on punishment, especially those that hold that deterrence is the aim of punishing an individual, on the grounds that such views would permit the “punishment” of those who are not responsible for criminal wrongdoing. If. e.g, if children, the insane, and others lacking in mens rea could be deterred from crime by the credible threat of punishment, why not punish these individuals, despite their lack of responsibility for their criminal acts? Indeed, retributivists ask, if we could deter individuals by occasionally punishing those who lack actus reus (those whose actions do not even meet the behavioral standards for criminal conduct), why not punish those who haven’t even engaged in criminal conduct? Wertheimer’s argument aims to defang this criticism a bit:

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Competence and the condemned

I recently returned from an NEH-sponsored seminar on punishment at Amherst College. I learned an enormous amount and am full of ideas for papers on punishment.

One moral issue surrounding punishment that has not received enough attention from moral philosophers is the somewhat perverse insistence that those on death row can only be executed if they are competent to be executed. This issue was thrust back in the public eye in the last year or so thanks to the case of Charles Singleton. Singleton was convicted of murder in 1979, and while on death row, he developed symptoms of paranoid schizophrenia: Singleton heard voices that threatened to kill him, and came to believe that he was the center of a vast corporate and government conspiracy. The state of Arkansas ordered in 1997 that Singleton be given antipsychotic medications which, ironically, reduced his schizophrenic delusions but also enabled him to meet the existing legal standard for competency to execute. That standard, established by the Supreme Court in Ford v. Wainwright, held that an individual is competent to be executed if he understands that he is to be executed and the reasons for his execution. Singleton was executed in January 2004.

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Ethics posts over at Close Range and Rational Hunter

I thought I would point to two interesting ethics posts by Marc Moffett, master blogger at Close Range and Rational Hunter, philosopher of language at the University of Wyoming, and self-proclaimed hunter/gatherer. In this post, Marc wonders, assuming that a certain kind of compatibilism is true, whether utilitarianism is the only ethical theory that can justify the recent government reclassification of weight problems as diseases, thereby making these problems coverable by medicaide. In this post, Marc denies that “responsible hunting” causes the massive pain and suffering of animals usually assumed by those interested in discussions of animal welfare. WRT the latter post and the Rational Hunter blog in general, it is interesting to see someone who values hunting, fishing, and the outdoors thinking out loud about ethical and lifestyle issues concerning animals and the environment.

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Terrorism and Innocence

I’m currently working on a paper about terrorism, and I decided my first post would concern one of the main issues in that paper. It might seem to be common sense that what is wrong with terrorist acts like the attack on the World Trade Center is that such acts target innocent persons. In fact this is pretty much the traditional account: traditional just war theory states that one limitation on the conduct of war is that one may never intentionally kill innocent persons. (However, in a just war it is sometimes permissible to do things that you foresee will result in the unintended deaths of some innocent persons, via the Doctrine of Double Effect or something like it.)

Now I happen to think that the traditional account is true: what makes terrorism particularly morally abhorrent is that it takes innocent persons as its targets.

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