Sunday, July 31, 2016

Normed Consequentialism

From guest blogger, Charlie.

Consequentialism is defined as the individual should do the most good they can, that it is immoral not to do so.  Proposition Q is defined that if a population has a choice that results in the same number of 
human lives, there is a moral obligation to choose the better outcome.  Simply put, in all cases that Proposition Q applies Consequentialism applies and therefore if we reject Proposition Q, doesn't this 
completely undermine Consequentialism because it is broader?

If we say yes, then all the Consequentialist arguments that we have heard up to this point are all unsound.  That any argument with a tinge of action for the greater good in whatever fashion is rejected.  That's a lot.  This includes arguments from Singer, Norcross, Southan, La Follette, Pojman, Brennan, and Allhoff. This refutation of so much work is a bit extreme, the desire to do so indicates that Consequentialism needs to be revisited.

The key issue here is that while Consequentialism asserts the existence of a moral order, it is determinable if action one is morally superior than action two, it does not assert the existence of a moral metric, that one can determine a number, call it moral degree, that corresponds 
to how good an action is.  I think if Consequentialism is to survive, then this notion of a moral metric must be defined in some manner.  If it is defined then additionally one needs to determine a constant M, the boundary of moral permissibly.  Given a set of moral actions with a maximum difference in moral degree less than M, then these actions would all be considered morally equivalent.   This metric and boundary would remove the problem of Consequential Fidelity, the notion that 
Consequentialism demands the best good action in even the most comparable cases.

To give an example, let us consider the case of holding a door for someone else or not.  Under Vanilla Consequentialism, in most cases it is morally wrong for you not to hold the door for another.  You have already expended the effort to open the door, if the other is in sufficient proximity, the total amount of effort expended is less if you hold the door than if the other has to reopen it.  Therefore the choice to hold the door is slightly better than not doing so, and is therefore the good choice, the morally obligatory choice.  On the other hand with Normed Consequentialism, it wouldn't matter.  Sure one action is slightly superior but the difference, it is assumed, would be negligible, that is less than M.  Since it is ridiculous to apply morality to such trivial actions it seems that Normed Consequentialism is better in this case and in general.

The "Wisdom" of Repugnance

From guest blogger, Michael.

Though it was only briefly mentioned in class, I'm interested in the 'Wisdom of Repugnance', less so for its moral validity, more so for its implications.

The idea is criticized for being an appeal to emotion, and thus intrinsically fallacious, which is undeniably true.  Disgust is not a good barometer for morality as shown by movements such as slavery, anti-semitism, prohibition, etc..

Yet somewhat contrarily, one has to concede that disgust is relevant not only as an evolutionary mechanic to avoid disease (fear of bugs, sores, rotting food, etc.) but also in some social norms (incest, murder... table etiquette?). These fears or anxieties usually don't merit a logical explanation because they are generally accepted as valid. 

It is when the emotion is "co-opted" morally into non-relevant phenomena such as xenophobia that it loses its validity. Consider the cavemen days where xenophobia would be contributory to survival (other tribes were generally hostile), however, and disgust suddenly seems normative, or at the very least justifiable in a primitive context.

Perhaps we simply live in a time where social change occurs faster than we can adapt our evolutionary intuitions.  But then can any deep-seated intuition really be considered normative? We operate plenty on the "pleasure over pain" idea, as well as the assumption that that warm, tingly feeling indicates moral behavior. What do you guys think?

The Ethics of Cloning

From guest blogger, Leona.

Two days ago, I came across this article on reddit saying that clones of Dolly the sheep aged healthily. They did not show premature age-related problems. The researchers still need to look into the telomere aspects of those clones of a clone, but this at least demonstrated that cloning will not necessarily led to shortened lifespan. Even though these clones might still be prone to having genetic defects and detrimental mutations due to shortened telomere, the fact that their lifespan is largely unaffected can undermine arguments that are similar to Allhoff’s (i.e. cloning is not morally permissible because the clones are expected to have a life that is shorter than the general population and are more likely to have genetic defects).

However, considering the high level of stigma against cloning, I doubt if this recent finding would make cloning more acceptable to many. Besides the Principle Q argument, the slippery slope argument, and the family ethics argument we discussed in class, there are some other interesting arguments against cloning. Two of them are very similar: one argued that cloning is immoral because the clone’s identity is compromised due to having the same genotype as someone who have already lived, thus denied his or her chance to have an open future; the other argued that by having the same genotype as someone else, the clone’s dignity is violated because he or she cannot have a unique genetic identity. One major problem with these two arguments is that they both neglect the roles of nurture, environment, and epigenetic factors. They both made the mistake of genetic essentialism, which assumed genotype is the only determinant factor of one’s identity. In addition, in the case of the second argument we should kill one of the identical twins so the living one can have a unique genetic identity. 

link to the clones of Dolly the sheep:

* On another note, there's an article that is associated with last week's topic, marriage equality, that I found very interesting. Some queer activists are criticizing the marriage equality movement because marriage has a history of being used as a tool for government control of minorities, and the movement was largely planned out by the gay 1% and reinforced the normative view of relationships. In addition, marriage equality was presented as a way to solve healthcare and immigration status issues for minority groups. The authors argued that these issues should be addressed separately in queer activism.

The Ethics of a Clone Army

May the Force Morals Be With You

From guest blogger, Lee.

(Although honestly you should've watched Star Wars by now if you haven't...)
Let me start off by saying that the production of Star Wars: The Clone Wars was an immoral act in and of itself. It's widely  argued to be the worst of the three prequel films, with a heavy emphasis on SGI for most of its scenes. One of the main reasons for this overhaul in green screen technology was the necessity to show a mass clone army, bred for the Republic (which is pretty much the government of the entire galaxy). As we talked about the morals of cloning on Earth, I couldn't help but to think of George Lucas' "galaxy far, far away".

The basic premise of the movie is this: A clone army is made to defend the galaxy and fight against the droid armies of the Confederacy (a part of the galaxy that is trying to secede from the Republic and uses mainly robots to do its fighting). The clones are far more superior than the droids because they can "think creatively" in battles. Though the clones are human, genetic engineering manipulated them to follow every command they were given by their masters, without question.  And although they can think creatively to follow carry out an order, they do not have wills of their own, and have no desire to become independent.
I got to thinking: Would it really be immoral to create a clone army if they would be barely human at all? We ourselves have wants, desires, ambition...what if the clones were programmed so that they could not hold such emotions? Heck, we could even engineer their DNA so that they don't feel pain. We would be okay with sending robots into battle, why not beings bred just for the purpose of war?
And what if the beings looked far different than us? Have you ever seen Lord of The Rings? The bad guy Saruman created the army of monstrous looking Uruk-Hai to feel no emotion other than hate and to desire only one thing: to kill. If we created a beast for war, although it'd be pretty scary and unreal to us, would it be immoral? Wouldn't it be worse if we sacrificed the lives of soldiers? Or should we just use nukes and call it a day?

Elitist Voting: Democracy collapse into Dictatorship or Slavery System

From guest blogger, Yi.

 In class, we discussed one of the suggestions on voting, which is only allowing people who know politics to vote. It is called elitist voting. I would like to divide elitist voting into two types and define different types of elitist voting. (There might be more types, but this blog will not cover.)
            The first elitist voting is positive elitist voting: elitists do the best the can to improve the society and policies. The second elitist voting is negative elitist voting: elitist’s corruption happens in this case and elitists would only vote for politicians who would benefit their own elitist groups. (It sounds like Democracy voting with small range of people)I would like to discuss how negative elitist voting could make democracy collapse into dictatorship or slavery system and what results negative elitist voting could lead.
            The huge problem for negative elitist voting is that groups of elitists might only vote for the candidate who makes the best policies for elitist groups. When political candidates realize that what they need to do for winning is just to create the best policies for elitist group, they would start making policies only to benefit these groups. Eventually there will be less politicians care about the rights and policies for the other groups cause their supporters are only from elitists. The power of elitists group will be too strong to control. The government will actually be controlled by elicits group instead. There would not be democracy anymore but just a group of elitists (dictators) to make up rules and ask other people to follow.
There might be another problem caused by negative elitist voting. There is a possibility that negative elitist voting would break the peace of the society. When elitists want to take charge of the whole society and manipulate the government, new slavery system might be formed. Politicians would set up certain rules based on elitists’ will to enslave non-elitist people in certain ways. In order to keep benefiting themselves the most, elitists group might prevent other people from learning and knowing policies. People who know politics will have privileges in the society. People who do not know politics will be forced to follow the social contracts made up by people who know politics. However, this might lead a huge disparity between elitist groups and other groups. Once people realize that the whole society is manipulated by certain group of people, they would feel unsatisfied and raise social movements. Some movement might lead to violence and wars. (These consequences only based on empirical predictions, but it is plausible if negative elitist voting really happen.)   

Gene Editing – Designer Babies

From guest blogger, Jane.

With the enhanced recognition of the importance of the biotechnology, scientists are now making possible for couples to go for made-to-order designer babies. Designer baby, one of the human genetic engineering projects, is a direct manipulation on human’s genes. Designer babies are born with certain traits and have the selected desired qualities by using pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) which is also called pre-implantation genetic profiling, referring to genetic screening of embryos prior to implantation and sometimes even of oocytes prior to fertilization. The main advantage of a designer baby is to reduce the chances of being born with several serious diseases.

However, there are a couple of drawbacks of this make-to-order baby. First of all, changing a baby’s DNA is risky, and there might be unexpected and different levels of damage to the baby. Genetic engineering project itself may not work properly. Selecting a specific type of trait such as hair color may turn off a different type of gene. This problem will not manifest until the baby was born. In addition, the existence of designer babies may make this society unbalanced. In some regions and areas, couples prefer male babies to female ones. In the future, millions of males will finally die out. 

Killing vs. Letting Die

From guest blogger, Julie.

Is there a moral difference between killing and letting die? I don’t know if I buy that you can “let someone die.” When you have the power to prevent someone’s death and you don’t intervene, you’re killing them.

Killing is defined as the act of causing someone’s death, especially deliberately. When you make the decision to allow the process of someone dying to continue, you are killing them. If you have time to think through your options: save them or watch them die, and you choose to watch them die, you have deliberately decided to end their life. 

Take for example a victim of a car crash. You are the only one around. If you were to call 911, an ambulance would come and provide necessary medical care to save the victim. If you don’t call 911, the victim is sure to die a painful death. Your phone gets great service so you have complete capability to call for help. You decide you don’t want to call, are you still letting the victim die? It seems to me that you are causing the victim’s death, deliberately since you make the conscious decision to not call. That sounds a lot like killing. 

Now let’s change the scenario slightly: unfortunately, your phone doesn’t get great service. Now you can’t help by calling 911. All you can do is watch the victim die a painful death… or you could end their suffering and allow them to finish their life without grueling pain. Does “letting die” seem to be the greater moral choice in this situation? Either way their life is going to end and you could help relieve some pain if you kill them.

What do you guys think? Is there a difference between “letting someone die” and killing them? Instinctually there seems to be a difference, but I just can’t find it. And how do you think this applies to the debate over euthanasia? 

Active vs. Passive Euthanasia

From guest blogger, Wadea.

Bioethics is the study of moral values as they apply to medicine in clinical settings. Two very relevant and controversial ethical issues in medicine and science today are Physician Assisted Suicide (PAS) and euthanasia.
The difference between the two is simple: PAS is the person doing the actual killing, only assisted by the doctor, whereas euthanasia is the doctor doing the killing. Two different people are physically doing the killing with the same intention behind the act in each case—to end a person’s life who has given extended consent, experiencing deep pain, without a valuable future, and will die in the near future, regardless of any treatment. The official position of the World Medical Association is: "Physicians-assisted suicide, like euthanasia, is unethical and must be condemned by the medical profession. Where the assistance of the physician is intentionally and deliberately directed at enabling an individual to end his or her own life, the physician acts unethically. However, the right to decline medical treatment is a basic right of the patient and the physician does not act unethically even if respecting such a wish results in the death of the patient.” I agree with the consistency of the position—that BOTH cases are seen as morally impermissible; however, I disagree with the direction of their position. What is our reasoning, morally speaking (and for those with religious beliefs—religious reasons), for arguing that these two acts are always wrong.
Let me propose a thought experiment. Imagine you are a soldier at war, fighting for your country. You see your brother, your best friend and partner in crime, lying in the dirt, grasping for air. You notice that he has both legs chopped off, a bullet in his neck, in which it is only a matter of time before he dies, a slow, painful death. You say your goodbyes. He asks you to shoot him in a place he will instantly die in order to surpass the suffering that is inevitably already occurring and ahead. Would this be a “wrongful” act of killing? Would it be morally impermissible for you to grant his wishes? What would be the alternative? Let your brother you care so much about suffer even greater pain? Would it be justifiable if he shoots himself, making him reach over for the gun when that is the last place he wants to exert any energy left into. Or, would you use your best moral discernment at that moment, knowing killing him is probably the best option, allowing him to go to a place where there will be no more pain, no more suffering, saving him from going through the trouble of having to do it himself.
What position do the rest of you take? Is it possible to view one of these as ethical and the other as unethical?

Voting Rights

From guest blogger, Olivia.

Voting in the United States is one of the practices many Americans take pride in to voice their opinion in how the country is run. Most consider is a right. However, it we have a right to vote, its questionable whether or not we have the right not to vote. Although much has been sacrificed for the right to vote in the United States and voting makes up our democracy there are several reasons why people have the right not to vote as well.

Specifically, for minorities, the right to vote has been a more treacherous battle but it can be argued that the governmental system is still unfair and biased, which is reason why some chose not to participate in a broken system. Those who feel like there is not hope through the present system, feel like it can only maintain the current unequal system and not real change can come about by participating in it; contrarily it would have to be overturned. To require participating in what some would call corrupt would be infringing on people’s personal freedoms and autonomy. There is also a possibility that not one to vote for with aligning values so voting would be purposeless for them if the candidates they have to vote for have none of their values and defeat the whole democratic process that may require people to vote.