CAPPE Ethics seminar archive 2012
Why value equality?
Speaker: Dr Sagar Sanyal (CAPPE, The University of Melbourne)
Date / Time: Wednesday, 15 August, 2012, 2.15pm
The paper explores the egalitarian debate in distributive justice. One strand of the debate concerns the reason why we should move towards greater equality in the distribution of resources and economic product. Two broad tendencies are the luck egalitarian (the distribution should reflect choice and effort, but not mere luck or circumstance) and the democratic egalitarian (the distribution should be such as is required for democratic relations among citizens). I sketch a version of the latter, and relate it to somewhat broader issues of (i) the interplay between liberty and equality, and (ii) the choice of resources or goods thought most relevant to egalitarianism. Like other democratic egalitarians, I draw inspiration from Rawls, though I emphasize aspects other than the ones usually cited.
Diagnosis - Autonomy
Date / Time: Wednesday, 22 August, 2012, 2.15pm
Speaker: Kerstin Knight (CAPPE, University of Melbourne)
My talk aims explore some of the practical puzzles and questions which arise from endeavors to apply the ideas of autonomy in medical practice. My interest at the moment is especially concerned with factors that are involved in telling the autonomous from the non-autonomous person. Can (or must) autonomy be diagnosed and if so how do we do it? What 'tests' are available or appropriate and what can we infer from them? How do they match our varied conceptual expectations and constraints, especially when there are a variety of conceptions of autonomy in place. What role does rationality play in the diagnostic conundrum and how do we navigate from autonomous act to autonomous agent. In the broader scheme this relates to my research on advance directives for medical care, to which I may make some reference in passing.
Cognitive impairment and the right to vote
Date / Time: Wednesday, 29 August, 2012, 2.15pm
Speaker: Dr Linda Barclay (Monash University)
Most countries deny people with cognitive impairment the right to vote. Most democratic theory on the franchise also casually excludes such individuals from the entitlement to vote. Disability advocates have increasingly objected to the denial of political rights to people with disability, culminating in a clear statement in the recent Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities that all adults should have the same right to vote, whatever their disability status. I shall offer a strategic defence of universal enfranchisement, one that avoids philosophical arguments which are very problematic from a disability rights perspective.
The ethics of renewable energy
Date / Time: Wednesday, 5 September, 2012, 2.15pm
Speaker: Dr Anne Scwenkenbecher (Nossal Institute for Global Health, The University of Melbourne)
Climate change results to a great extent from the way we generate and use energy. Fossil-fuel based energies are a main contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. Increased greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere trigger climatic change. If we want to combat climate change we need to profoundly change the way we use and generate energy, minimizing our greenhouse gas emissions. This is mostly a problem of energy policy. However, while we might agree that arguments from morality and prudence clearly indicate which direction our energy policy should be taking, they really only tell us which option not to pick: namely business as usual. In terms of where we ought to go, there are several options on the table. These may involve one or more of the following energy options in different proportions: emission-reduced versions of fossil-fuel based energy generation such as Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), nuclear energy, and renewable energies including wind power, solar power, biomass power, hydro power. While proponents of a 100% renewable energy supply usually presuppose that all moral arguments speak in their favour, equally the proponents of fossil-fuel based options seem to assume that the economic arguments generally speak in their favour. A closer look, however, reveals that the answers to energy questions are not that clear cut. Whichever energy option we choose will come with advantages and disadvantages that are morally relevant. Every energy policy will entail difficult trade-offs. The aim of this paper is to indicate roughly what different energy options there are and how we can determine the moral implications of each option. It seems that a range of criteria should play a role for this judgment, including affordability, sustainability, safety and energy security, and fairness.
Euthanasia: what is the genuine problem?
Date / Time: Wednesday, 12 September, 2012, 2.15pm
Speaker: Dr Alberto Giubilini (Centre for Human Bioethics, Monash University)
The current impasse in the old debate about the morality of euthanasia is mainly due to the fact that, although almost everything has been said about either sides of the controversy, the actual source of conflict has not been properly identified. I will first analyse the two different issues involved in the debate, and which are sometimes confusingly mixed up, namely: a) what is euthanasia?, and b) why is euthanasia morally problematic? The difficulty in answering a) is that there is no general agreement among those engaged in debates as to the definition of "euthanasia". The main difficulty with b) is that some practices such as terminal sedation or withdrawal of disproportionate treatments are sometimes considered morally permissible by those who do not consider euthanasia morally permissible, but the reason for this moral distinction is not clear. Considering documents by physicians, philosophers and the Roman Catholic Church, I will show that a) 'euthanasia' is defined by the intention to bring about a patient's death, rather than by its being an active killing, and b) the distinction between what is intentional and what is not does not represent the morally problematic reason against euthanasia. Therefore, although the debate on euthanasia so far has mainly focussed on the distinctions "active/passive" and "intentional/unintentional", I argue that neither constitutes the genuine source of the controversies. I will clarify what such source of controversies exactly is. The clarification will allow me to outline the minimal requirement for a reasonable moral argument against euthanasia.
A religious conception of evil
Date / Time: Wednesday, 19 September, 2012, 2.15pm
Speaker: Dr Stephen Clarke (Charles Sturt University)
Influential philosophical definitions of evil due to Todd Calder, Eve Garrard, Adam Morton and Luke Russell, among others, make no mention of religion, and yet the view that the term 'evil' is a religious one is very widespread. In this paper I locate and defend a distinctively religious definition of evil. It might be thought that, because of differences between the many different religions, there would be a diversity of religious conceptions of evil. However, recent research in the cognitive science of religion suggests that there are very strong similarities in the conceptual commitments made by apparently very distinct religions. On the basis of this research I identify a shared religious conception of evil. This turns out to have much in common with the treatment of evil that falls out of Durkheim's classic analysis of the sacred.
Trespass, animals and democratic engagement
Date / Time: Wednesday, 26 September, 2012, 2.15pm
Speaker: Clare McCausland (CAPPE, The University of Melbourne)
Please note venue change for this week to Cussonia Court Room 1 (in the courtyard between the Old Quad (Building 150) and the Old Arts buildings)
Since at least the 1970s, one of the stock standard tools in the animal protection movement's arsenal has been illegal entry into factory farms and animal research facilities. This activity has been followed by the publication of images and footage captured inside those otherwise socially invisible places. Trespass and the subsequent dissemination of images is a practice underpinned by the belief that one of the reasons animal suffering is legally permissible is that many people are unaware of the extent to which some modern animal uses inflict pain. In this paper we examine the ethics and politics of trespass by animal advocates. Is illegal entry onto private property justified in the name of animal rights? Is trespass consistent with the principles of civil disobedience? We also consider what type of political framework animal advocates who break the law in that way should look to in order to justify their actions.
Climate change and individual obligations
Date / Time: Wednesday, 3 October, 2012, 2.15pm
Speaker: Dr Brian Berkey (Nossal Institute for Global Health, The University of Melbourne)
Although it is generally agreed that action ought to be taken at the collective level to mitigate the bad effects of climate change, several philosophers have argued that individuals cannot be obligated to reduce their own emissions, since individual actions such as taking a drive in an SUV are certain to make no difference to the extent of the relevant bad effects. Those who make this argument typically believe that individuals are, however, obligated to engage in political action aimed at getting effective mitigation policies adopted. Others have argued that individuals are obligated to reduce their emissions, even though such reductions will make no morally relevant difference. In this talk I'll argue that the view that individuals are obligated to engage in political action, but not to reduce their own emissions, cannot be defended, and that views on which individuals are obligated to reduce their emissions even if doing so is certain to make no morally relevant difference have trouble making sense of the idea that our mitigation obligations are owed to future generations. I'll suggest that a successful defense of the claim that individuals have any mitigation obligations, and therefore of the claim that there is a collective mitigation obligation, may depend on an argument for the view that individual actions can make a morally relevant difference. Drawing on an argument developed by Shelly Kagan, I'll outline such an argument, and suggest some reasons to think that it can be defended.
Date / Time: Wednesday, 10 October, 2012, 2.15pm
Speaker: Dr Greg Bognar (La Trobe University)
In many societies, the ageing of the population is becoming a major problem. It also raises difficult issues for ethics and public policy. On what is known as the fair innings view, it is not impermissible to give lower priority to policies that primarily benefit the elderly. Philosophers have tried to justify this view on various grounds. In this paper, I look at a consequentialist and a fairness-based justification. I argue that both of them have implausible implications and fail to correspond to people's moral intuitions. I end by outlining a different kind of consequentialist justification that avoids those implications and corresponds better to our considered moral judgments.
Pacifism and Supreme Emergencies
Date / Time: Wednesday, 17 October, 2012, 2.15pm
Speaker: Nik parkin (graduate student, CAPPE, The University of Melbourne)
A common (and powerful) response to the anti-war pacifist position predicated on the impermissible killing of innocent persons, to which I am partial, is that in certain cases some terrible disaster might only be prevented by recourse to war. It may follow, then, that war may be permissibly waged to prevent some terrible disaster from occurring. The sort of disaster required for this argument is one of the possible outcomes of the so-called 'supreme emergency'. In this talk I will outline the problem that supreme emergencies present for the anti-war pacifist position, and propose one solution by which that position can be maintained. To do so I argue that supreme emergencies are morally tragic situations. This means that while it may be morally impermissible to allow some terrible disaster to occur, it may also be morally impermissible to wage war to prevent it. I also suggest that agents responsible for waging (or not waging) war in morally tragic situations, thereby killing many innocents (or allowing many innocents to be killed), may be excused from blame for doing so.
The Ethics of Discouraging Smoking: Permits versus Sales Tax
Date / Time: Wednesday, 24 October, 2012, 2.15pm
Speaker: Dr Daniel Halliday (The University of Melbourne)
Many governments use taxation as a way of guiding citizens' choices towards better health outcomes, such as lower cigarette consumption. Usually this is done through the use of sales taxes, or VAT. This talk explores the case for requiring smokers to buy permits (say, on an annual basis), rather than being required to pay tax on individual purchases. Particular attention wil be given to the advantages that this measure might have against adolescent smoking. Some philosophical concerns to be addressed include the question of whether permits are more paternalistic than taxes, and if so whether this is objectionable. I will also explore the question of whether requirements to hold permits carry a certain expressive content of a sort that requirements to pay sales tax might not.
Welfare as self-fulfillment: The implications of Haybron's account for welfare assessment and ethics
Date / Time: Wednesday, 31 October, 2012, 2.15pm
Speaker: Dr Tatjana Visak (Monash University)
Please note venue change for this week to Rm 152, Old Arts (Building 149)
Daniel Haybron (2008) has recently sketched a novel account of welfare. While Haybron does not discuss animals other than humans, applying his account of welfare to animal welfare assessment and animal ethics proofs to be promising for three reasons. First, while Haybron would agree with the current prominent accounts of animal welfare assessment that mental states are imortant for welfare, the mental states Haybron considers are profounder than the ones that other theories appeal to. This allows to explain in an intuitively more plausible way which mental states are central to welfare and which are not. Secondly, while Haybron would agee with current prominent accounts of animal welfare assessment that both mental states and nature fulfiment are important for welfare, his account is better suited to explain why these things matter and how they relate to each other. Third, Haybron's account of welfare might have the additional advantage of capturing intuitions that have hitherto inspired the search for morally relevant criteria beyond animal welfare.
The Singleton case: enforcing medical treatment to put a person to death
Date / Time: Wednesday, 7 November, 2012, 2.15pm
Speaker: Dr Mirko Garasic (Monash University)
Please note venue change for this week to Rm 152, Old Arts (Building 149)
In October 2003 the Supreme Court of the United States allowed Arkansas officials to force Charles Laverne Singleton, a schizophrenic prisoner convicted of murder, to take drugs that would render him sane enough to be executed. On January 6 2004 he was killed by lethal injection, raising many ethical questions. By reference to the Singleton case, this article will analyse in both moral and legal terms the controversial justifications of the enforced medical treatment of death-row inmates. Starting with a description of the Singleton case, I will highlight the prima facie reasons for which this case is problematic and merits attention. Next, I will consider the justification of punishment in Western society and, in that context, the evolution of the notion of insanity in the assessment of criminal responsibility during the past two centuries, both in the US and the UK. In doing so, I will take into account the moral justification used to enforce treatment, looking at the conflict between the prisoner's right to treatment and his right to refuse medication where not justified by outcomes that can be reasonably expected to be positive for the individual. Finally, in contrast with some retributivist arguments in favour of enforced treatment to enable execution, I will propose a possible alternative, necessary if we are to consistently uphold the notion of autonomy.
The Evolutionary and Ethical Implications of Human Germline Modification
Date / Time: Monday 10 December, 2.15pm
Location: Room 152, Old Arts (Building 149)
Speaker: Dr Russell Powell (Boston University)
Liberal proponents of genetic engineering maintain that human germline modification is morally desirable because it will result in a net improvement in human health and wellbeing. Conservative opponents, in contrast, appeal to the value of the biological status quo as a reason for restraining the development and use of human genetic modification technologies. I argue that germline intervention will be necessary merely to sustain the levels of genetic health and wellbeing that humans presently enjoy for future generations, a goal that should appeal to bioliberals and bioconservatives alike. I show that a large-scale program of genetic modification will be necessary to preserve existing levels of human genetic health and wellbeing due to the population-genetic consequences of relaxed selection pressures in human populations caused by the increasing efficacy and availability of conventional medicine. This heterodox conclusion, which I present as a problem of intergenerational justice, has been overlooked in medicine and bioethics due to various misconceptions about human evolution, which I attempt to rectify, as well as the sordid history of Darwinian approaches to medicine and social policy, which I distinguish from the present argument.