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By In Applied Ethics, Ideas, Normative Ethics Comments (8)

Sex Work is Different

This post was inspired by a story in the WaPo, the relevant detail of which is that, due to the economic hardship in Greece, some young Greek women are selling sex for the price of a sandwich they cannot otherwise afford to buy. Also, the argument I want to make may be old news; this is not a topic where I have a lot of familiarity with the literature.

There are basically two moral views about sex work, which I will define for present purposes as the exchange of money for some form of sex in short-term, one-off transactions. (So, here, sex work is prostitution.) One view is that sex work is a lot like other kinds of work, except it is mostly performed by women and, due to various kinds of sexism and discrimination, has historically been stigmatized and exploited labor. The right course is to learn to treat sex work as normal work, and enact appropriate regulation that protects the sex workers, in the same spirit one would legally protect other kinds of workers.

The other moral view, which I take to be encoded in most state laws in the US (I can’t speak for elsewhere), is that sex work is morally problematic in some deeper way. The usual thought, I believe, is that it degrades the sex worker; sex work is intrinsically undignified. The proper way to handle sex work is to proscribe it entirely, where this is practical, and in any case discourage it.   What follows is an argument in favor of this general view.


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By In Academia Comments (1)

Religious Exemptions Conference at BGSU, April 17th-18th

Hi folks. I thought I'd post a reminder for anyone interested that Bowling Green State University is hosting a conference, "The Scope of Religious Exemptions," on April 17th and 18th. Our keynote speakers are Robert Audi (Notre Dame) and Andy Koppelman (Northwestern). Michael Perry (Emory) and Perry Dane (Rutgers) are presenting their work as well, along with Jocelyn Macclure, Lucas Swaine, Chad Flanders, Lori Watson, Christie Hartley, Simon May, Kyle Swan, Mark Navin, Naama Ofrath. Here's a link to our conference webpage. If you're available, you can register for the conference there. We'd love to have you!

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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 Academia Comments (1)

Philosophy in an Inclusive Key Summer Institute (PIKSI) needs our help

If, like me, you've been frustrated with all that's going on in Philosophy (or not going on as the case may be) and want to do something positive to help our profession, here's an opportunity. Philosophy in an Inclusive Key Summer Institute (PIKSI) is a weeklong summer school that brings undergraduates from underrepresented groups into graduate school for philosophy. It has been operating for nine years, in part with funding from the American Philosophical Association. That funding is no longer assured, and so PIKSI needs our help. Its organizers are running a crowd-funding campaign here. They are more than halfway to their modest goal. As noted over at Daily Nous, If everyone who reads this contributes just five dollars they would meet that goal in a day, easy. Go to the site, read about it (some interesting facts there), watch the video, and make a contribution. (Thanks to Serene Khader, the institute’s incoming director for bringing this to my attention.)

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By In Uncategorized Comments Off on CFP: The Scope of Religious Exemptions

CFP: The Scope of Religious Exemptions


The Bowling Green Workshop in Applied Ethics and Public Policy

The Scope of Religious Exemptions

April 17th-18th, 2015 

The Bowling Green Workshop in Applied Ethics and Public Policy will take place in Bowling Green, Ohio, April 17th-18th, 2015. The keynote speakers are Robert Audi (University of Notre Dame) and Andrew Koppelman (Northwestern University). 

Those interested in presenting a paper are invited to submit a 2-3 page abstract (double-spaced) by November 15th, 2014. We welcome submissions in all areas in applied ethics and philosophical issues relevant to this year’s conference theme: the scope of religious exemptions. We are especially focused on papers that address normative questions about religious exemptions, including the moral-philosophical justifications for religious exemptions and how often and to whom religious exemptions should be granted. We will consider multiple approaches to the topic, not merely in political philosophy and political theory, but normative ethics, metaethics and applied ethics. 

Only one submission per person is permitted. Abstracts will be evaluated by a program committee and decisions made in December 2014. Please direct all abstracts and queries to: 

Further information about the Workshop and previous workshops are available on the workshop website (under construction):

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By In Applied Ethics, Moral Psychology, Normative Ethics Comments (12)

On Rage As a Moral Emotion

It is not rare to see groups of enraged people engaged in destructive behavior when you turn on the news these days. Such behavior is puzzling when we think of the agents as rational choosers, since it is often obviously counterproductive. The agents end up in many respects worse off – the neighborhoods that get damaged in riots tend to be the ones rioters live or work in, above all, and violent resistance often invites a brutal response from those who hold the power and control the drones. So what’s the deal with rage? Does it make sense to act out of rage? Can rage be warranted? In this tentative exploration of the issue (I haven’t come across any philosophical literature on it), I’ll argue that it can be, and that when it is, much of the moral responsibility for the wrongful harm that results from acting out of rage belongs to those who have created the rage-warranting situation.


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By In Applied Ethics, News and Events Comments Off on Philosophers at the Leveson Inquiry

Philosophers at the Leveson Inquiry

All of you are of course aware that here in the UK there has been huge phone hacking scandal. This scandal lead to the Leveson Inquiry on Culture, Practice, and Ethics of Press. Last week, on Monday 16th of July, the Inquiry interviewed various philosophers on freedom of speech, human rights, democracy, and media ethics. These incredibly interesting interviews can be viewed online. The morning session is on this page:

The philosophers interviewed in this session are first Jennifer Hornsby (Birkbeck), Sue Mendus (York), and John Tasioulas (UCL). The second half of the session interviews Rowan Cruft (Stirling) and Chris Megone (Leeds). The afternoon session is here:

It contains the interviews of Neil Manson (Lancaster) and Onora O'Neill (Cambridge). The page also has a link to an interesting witness statement from Jeremy Waldron (NYU).

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