The Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics seminars
Seminars for semester 1, 2013
Unless otherwise specified, all seminars are held at the Linkway Meeting Room on the 4th floor of John Medley (Building 191) at Noon on Thursdays.
For God's Sake: reflections on the role of religion in politics
Date / Time: Noon, Thursday 7th March 2013
Speaker: Professor Tony Coady (CAPPE, The University of Melbourne)
Venue: Linkway Meeting Room on the 4th floor of John Medley (Building 191)
Abstract: Theorists and ordinary people are very concerned today with the role that religion plays, might play or should play in the public world of liberal-democratic politics. Some worry that there is an inherent tendency for religion to provoke instability, conflict, even violence. Others complain of unfairness if religion, or some specific religion, is given a positive place in the political order. Another source is the view that any role for religion in the public sphere must be incompatible with the "secular" nature of the modern democratic state. Others think there is a limited role for religion in liberal democratic politics in that religious people and institutions must be restricted in the sort of reasons they can produce in the public arena or special parts of it. A related concern is the worry that the sort of personal autonomy required by liberal democracy is rejected by (all? many? some?) religions. This talk will address a number of these concerns, and will argue that some of the problems are not what they seem while some solutions to other problems are misguided (Some reference will be made to the rather different proposals of Robert Audi and John Rawls).
Misfires, Pass-Backs, Blocks, and Interceptions: A Metaphysics of Failed Promises
Date / Time: Noon, Thursday 14th March 2013
Speaker: Dr Hallie Liberto (University of Connecticut)
Venue: Theatre 3, Alan Gilbert (Building 104)
Many philosophers believe there is an authority condition on promise-making that needs to be met by a promise-maker in order for an utterance to be a felicitous promise (Austin). Others think that there is a certain normative authority held by the promisee over the promise-maker after a successful promise has been made (Darwall, Owens). I argue that both are true and that this authority (perhaps best describes in terms of claim-rights) is the same authority, and successful promises transfer this authority between persons. In order to accept this view, we must reject certain popular explanations of what generates promissory obligation- an accepted invitation to trust, a generated expectation- but at no cost (or very little cost). In fact, this proposal is capable of resolving a variety of problems with promising related to agency, chronology, promising too much, and what I call the bootstrapping problem for promises.
'Excusable general envy' and justice: Questions for John Rawls
Date / Time: Noon, Thursday 21st March 2013
Speaker: Dr Miriam Bankovsky (La Trobe University)
Venue: Linkway Meeting Room on the 4th floor of John Medley (Building 191)
Rawls is correct to refuse to assign to 'envy' the status of a moral sentiment. Unlike the moral sentiments, which affirm the idea of collective advantage, 'envy' produces antisocial and pathological behaviour.
That said, Rawls overlooks the moral relevance of 'excusable general envy' for a theory of justice. Envy is general when it characterises the sentiments of groups rather than individuals, and it is excusable (albeit immoral) when the basic social structure is largely responsible for its production. On the one hand, Rawls does not expect such envy to emerge in a society well-ordered by justice. On the other hand, it turns out that the 'just constitution' cannot prevent its production, since a constitution is bound to limit itself uniquely to the protection of those public values (basic liberties) on which overlapping consensus actually obtains. This effectively rules out the protection of the difference and fair equality of opportunity principles (which are more demanding and controversial). Consequently, Rawls's theory can no longer guarantee that the 'inevitable injustices' of a just constitution will be equally shared, because permanent and heavy socio-economic injustice can persist, wounding the self-respect of the disadvantaged, even when basic liberties are formally upheld.
This problem leaves Rawls unable to take seriously our collective responsibility for manifestations (albeit immoral) of 'excusable general envy', because he does not acknowledge their distant origin in a sentiment of justice (albeit distorted and pathological). Indeed, to do so would be to subscribe to a theory that resembles that of Axel Honneth rather than Rawls.
Mind Wars: Brain Science and the Military
Date / Time: Noon, Thursday 4th April
Speaker: Professor Jonathan Moreno (University of Pennsylvania)
Venue: Room G23 of John Medley (Building 191)
Jonathan D. Moreno's book Mind Wars examines the ethical dilemmas and fascinating history of cutting-edge technology and neuroscience developed for military applications. In this talk he will discuss the innovative US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the roles of the intelligence community and university science departments in preparing the military and intelligence services for the twenty-first century. The future of national security, he argues, will depend partly on the practical applications of neuroscience to warfighter psychology, personal enhancement, methods of interrogation, and new defensive and offensive weapons systems.
Please note: this seminar will take place in a different venue to regular CAPPE seminars.
End-of-life decisions and neonatal euthanasia in the Netherlands: which way did the slippery slope tilt?
Date / Time: Thursday 11 of April, from 11.15 - 13.00
Speaker: Dr Eduard Verhagen (The University Medical Center Groningen (UMCG)
Venue: Denis Driscoll Theatrette in Doug McDonell (Building 168)
In the Netherlands, termination of life of newborn babies is legal under very narrowly defined circumstances. Those circumstances were published in the Groningen Protocol (GP) for euthanasia in severely ill newborns in 2005. Critics of the GP warned that it was a first step down a slippery slope and would lead to widely increased use of neonatal euthanasia. Did this prediction really come true? Has euthanasia for neonates, increased or decreased after the implementation of the GP? And, are cases reported?
In my presentation I will provide an overview of the developments in the last few years regarding neonatal end-of-life practice. In addition, we could take a moment to reflect on future developments aimed at further improvement of regulation regarding newborn euthanasia that are currently at the centre of the discussion within the medical profession in the Netherlands.
Dr Eduard Verhagen is a medical doctor and the director of the department of pediatrics at the University Medical Center Groningen (UMCG) in Groningen, the Netherlands. He is also one of the authors of the The Groningen Protocol (2004). The protocol was developed to assist parents with the decision making process when considering euthanasia of a newborn.
Please note: this seminar will take place in a different venue and at a different time to regular CAPPE seminars.
Justice and private education
Date / Time: Thursday 2nd May
Speaker: Dr Daniel Halliday (The University of Melbourne)
Private education is a touchy subject. Many people feel that there’s something unjust about the fact that some children gain a competitive advantage through having parents able and willing to spend large sums of money on their education, while other children fall behind.
This paper departs from an existing trend by extracting the problem of private education from the more general philosophical debate that has, so far, sought to subsume private education among other issues concerning justice and education. My claim is that there is an interesting argument against private education in particular, which draws on the way in which justice opposes the buying and selling of positional goods. Where private education is concerned, the strength of this opposition depends on the precise extent and character of education’s positional status. I then go on to identify some relevant features of education that have been wrongly overlooked by philosophers. These include (chiefly) the burdens imposed on children by the purchase of opportunities for them to gain positional advantage, and the way in which the private supply of positional goods counts as an exercise in concentration rather than genuine production (here, there are some ramifications for charity law).
My conclusion is that there remains a rather strong presumption against private education, albeit for reasons that differ in some way from those more frequently offered, and which may lead us to recognize some unexpected exceptions.
Using religion to justify violence
Date: Thursday 9th May
Speaker: Dr Stephen Clarke (Charles Sturt University)
Much has been written about the relationship between religion and violence, and much of what has been written is aimed at trying to determine whether, how and why religion causes violence. In my forthcoming book The Justification of Religious Violence (Wiley-Blackwell), I pursue a different goal, which is to understand if and how religion can be used to justify violence. Followers of many different religions, who commit violent acts, seek to justify these by appealing to religion. I argue that religious believers are able to incorporate premises, grounded in the metaphysics of religious world views, in arguments for the conclusion that this or that violent act is justified. In the book I examine various different ways in which the metaphysics of religious world views can be used in justifications of violence. In this presentation I concentrate on appeals to the importance of the afterlife to justify violence, focusing specifically on arguments that have been developed in the Christian and Buddhist traditions.
Pornography, Censorship and Posthumanism: some loopholes?
Date: Thursday 16th May
Speaker: Dr Mirko Garasic (Monash University)
A recent proposal in Iceland, led to the consideration of the censoring of pornographic websites, raising many important questions for contemporary debates in bioethics. To begin with, I will contend that such a censorship can be justified for the sake of preserving the "natural" development of sexuality in teenagers -otherwise shown to be put in danger by the over-exposition to pornographic material that youngsters have today. I then use this platform as an exemplary proof that posthumanism, a popular trend in bioethics, has a much more political dimension than its advocates allow. I will claim that posthumanists must choose sides on the censorship policy, and I will show that in both scenarios their overall message would come out weakened. The first option is that posthumanism accepts this censorship, agreeing with some of its arguments. Reversing Nick Agar's parallel between environmental and genetic enhancement, the resulting claim would be the following: if we are ready to enhance future individuals genetically, we must also be ready to do so socially, beginning with the environment in which new members of society develop. However, this acceptance would take away strength from posthumanism, as it would appear that the moral enhancement often invoked would depend on society and not the individual. The other option is to disagree. However, a non-perfectionist liberal approach would clash with other dogmas of posthumanism, such as a duty to enhance ourselves, as well as the need for our society to "morally enhance" itself. In addition, I will contrast the foreseeable counterargument of using neuroenhancing drugs to "redirect" sexuality as unconvincing if nothing has been done in the first place.
Counting welfare: whose and how?
Date:Thursday 23rd May
Speaker: Dr Tatjana Visak (Monash University)
Utilitarianism, at least in its standard interpretation, requires the maximization of welfare. What is the most plausible utilitarian view on whose welfare to take into account, and on how to assess it? For what concerns the ‘whose’ question, utilitarians usually take into account the welfare of all beings with welfare. Utilitarians disagree, though, about the relevance of what has been called the modal features of the individual’s life. This concerns the relation of a being´s life to reality. It is about whether a being does in fact live, will live or has lived, as compared to might live or surely will never live. Thus, utilitarians may or may not count the possible welfare of a possible being depending on how likely it is, in one way or other, that the being will come into existence. For what concerns the ‘how’ question, there has been some controversy in the past about different methods of aggregation, notably between the total view, which requires summing up the welfare consequences for all concerned individuals and the average view, which requires summing up the welfare consequences for all concerned and dividing by the number of concerned individuals. The more interesting issue concerning the ‘how’ question, though, is whether utilitarians should assess outcomes in terms of the overall quantity of welfare that they contain, or rather in terms of aggregate net benefit. Both views evaluate outcomes in terms of welfare, but in different ways.
I will assess the strengths and weaknesses of different versions of utilitarianism, which provide different answers to these questions. Answering these questions is a crucial for who think that welfare matters morally.
Thursday 30th May: Dr Gerhard Overland. Topic TBA
Thursday 6th June: Dr Joshua May (Monash University). Topic TBA
CAPPE Ethics seminar archive