Tag: ethical theory

Bioethics Blogs

Fake News and Partisan Epistemology

by Regina Rini

ABSTRACT. This paper does four things: (1) It provides an analysis of the concept ‘fake news.’ (2) It identifies distinctive epistemic features of social media testimony. (3) It argues that partisanship-in-testimony-reception is not always epistemically vicious; in fact some forms of partisanship are consistent with individual epistemic virtue. (4) It argues that a solution to the problem of fake news will require changes to institutions, such as social media platforms, not just to individual epistemic practices.

Did you know that Hillary Clinton sold weapons to ISIS? Or that Mike Pence called Michelle Obama “the most vulgar First Lady we’ve ever had”? No, you didn’t know these things. You couldn’t know them, because these claims are false.[1] But many American voters believed them.

One of the most distinctive features of the 2016 campaign was the rise of “fake news,” factually false claims circulated on social media, usually via channels of partisan camaraderie. Media analysts and social scientists are still debating what role fake news played in Trump’s victory.[2] But whether or not it drove the outcome, fake news certainly affected the choices of some individual voters.

Why were people willing to believe easily dis-confirmable, often ridiculous, stories? In this paper I will suggest the following answer: people believe fake news because they acquire it through social media sharing, which is a peculiar sort of testimony. Social media sharing has features that reduce audience willingness to think critically or check facts. This effect is amplified when the testifier and audience share a partisan orientation.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

Bioethics Blogs

When “neuro” met “ethics”

Two short words increasingly often appear in combination with names of professional fields and scientific disciplines: neuro and ethics. Here are some examples: Neuromusicology, neurolaw, neuropedagogy. Bioethics, nursing ethics, business ethics.

Neuro… typically signifies that neuroscience sheds light on the subject matter of the discipline with which it combines. It can illuminate what happens in the brain when we listen to music (neuromusicology). What happens in the brain when witnesses recall events or when judges evaluate the evidence (neurolaw). What happens in children’s brains when they study mathematics (neuropedagogy).

…ethics (sometimes, ethics of…) typically signifies that the discipline it combines with gives rise to its own ethical problems, requiring ethical reflection and unique ethical guidelines. Even war is said to require its own ethics of war!

In the 1970s, these two words, neuro and ethics, finally met and formed neuroethics. The result is an ambiguous meeting between two short but very expansive words. Which of the two words made the advance? Where is the emphasis? What sheds light on what?

At first, ethics got the emphasis. Neuroethics was, simply, the ethics of neuroscience, just as nursing ethics is the ethics of nursing. Soon, however, neuro demonstrated its expansive power. Today, neuroethics is not only the “ethics of neuroscience,” but also the “neuroscience of ethics”: neuroscience can illuminate what happens in the brain when we face ethical dilemmas. The emphasis thus changes back and forth between neuroethics and neuroethics.

The advances of these two words, and their final meeting in neuroethics, reflects, of course, the expansive power of neuroscience and ethics.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

Bioethics Blogs

Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics: Global Warming & Vegetarianism: What should I do, when what I do makes no difference? By Fergus Peace

This essay received an Honorable Mention in the Graduate Category of the Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics 2017

Written by University of Oxford student, Fergus Peace

  1. The Problem of Cumulative Impact

In large, integrated societies, some of the most important moral challenges we face can only be resolved by large-scale collective action. Global poverty and climate change are problems which won’t be solved unless large numbers of people act to address them.

One important part of our response to these problems is to avoid fallacious ‘futility thinking’, a cognitive bias which makes people less likely to act when they see the problem as being too large for them to solve. You aren’t going to end world poverty alone, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing you should do about it. Your individual donations can make an enormous difference.

Other problems, however, are more philosophically and practically challenging. Sometimes morally significant outcomes are driven by an aggregate which your individual action is powerless to meaningfully affect. In these cases, it’s not just that your individual action won’t completely solve the problem: it won’t do any moral good at all.

Consider a few examples.

  • Voting: No election of any real size is decided by a margin of one vote, so it’s true of your vote that it makes no difference: if you don’t vote and your candidate loses, your vote wouldn’t have made them win; if you do vote and they win, withdrawing your vote wouldn’t have made them lose.
  • Vegetarianism: Butchers don’t respond to every small change in their customers’ purchasing; wholesalers don’t respond to every change in one butcher’s purchasing; abattoirs and farms don’t respond to every change in wholesale orders.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

Bioethics Blogs

Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics: Is Sex With Robots Rape? Written by Romy Eskens

This essay was the winner in the Graduate Category of the Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics 2017

Written by University of Oxford student, Romy Eskens

On The Permissibility of Consentless Sex With Robots

Recent movies and TV-series, such as Ex Machina and Westworld, have sparked popular interest in sex robots, which are embodied AI systems designed to provide sex for humans. Although for many it may seem absurd to think that humans will ever replace their human bedpartners with artificial machines, the first sexbots have already entered the commercial market. In 2010, TrueCompanion introduced Roxxxy, a sexbot with synthetic skin and an AI system that allows her to interact with her user through speech and affective communication. Another example of sexbots currently for sale are the RealDolls, which are silicone sexbots available in different models and upgradable with insertable faces and body parts. The question I address in this essay is: do humans require consent from sexbots for sexual activity to be permissible?

There are convincing ethical reasons to create sexbots. To begin with, sexbots can replace human sex workers, thereby reducing harmful practices such as sex slavery and sexual abuse.[i] Moreover, they can provide satisfying alternatives for individuals with sexual desires that could harm human beings if brought into practice, such as the desire to have sex with children or to engage in extremely violent or degrading sex. Furthermore, sexbots can provide a solution for individuals who experience difficulty in finding sexual partners, and can provide intimate companionship for those who feel lonely or isolated.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

Bioethics Blogs

Memories Shouldn’t Last a Megabyte

By: Shari Esquenazi

Imagine a world where you can take a picture of anything you desire with just your eyes. You can keep these images stored forever on a wireless device, immediately and infinitely retrievable.  Sounds great, right?

Recent scientific advancements have made contact lenses that are embedded with small cameras a reality. Such forthcoming technologies tend to bring an abundance of ethical considerations with them. 

Google’s “Glass” was the first step toward eyewear that can record photos and video. The tech giant applied for a patent for a contact lens camera in 2014.  Last year, Sony filed a similar patent for a contact lens-embedded camera. While these contacts have a variety of practical uses which both benefit individuals and the overall society, they are not without their faults.

This technology would be undeniably valuable in innumerable situations. A witness to a crime could take a photo that defends the word of a victim, trimming down court cases and protecting innocent citizens in society. A surgeon who finds herself in a problematic operation could live stream the images to another specialist for advice on how to quickly and safely remedy the situation and save a life. 

While the technology has unparalleled benefits, there are ethical concerns that need to be deeply weighed before a person opts for such a capacity in day-to-day life. A brief bioethical analysis illustrates these concerns. 

The existential and ethical theory of transhumanism is the belief that the human race can evolve beyond its current physical and mental limitations, particularly by means of science and technology.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

Bioethics Blogs

What is Feminist Neuroethics About?

By Ben Wills

Ben Wills studied Cognitive Science at Vassar College, where his thesis examined cognitive neuroscience research on the self. He is currently a legal assistant at a Portland, Oregon law firm, where he continues to hone his interests at the intersections of brain, law, and society.
As the boundaries of what may be considered “neuroethics” extend with the development of new kinds of technologies and the evolving interests of scholars, its branches encounter substantial structures of adjacent scholarship. “Feminist neuroethics” is a multidimensional construct and a name that can be afforded both to approaches that fall within the bounds of mainstream neuroethics and metatheoretical challenges to the scope and lines of debate within neuroethics. While acknowledging that scholarship at the intersections of academic feminism/gender studies, feminist science studies, ethics, and neuroscience is much more substantial and diverse than I’m considering here, my modest aim in this post is to highlight how the label “feminist neuroethics” has been used to look at what scholars consider important for neuroethics. In so doing we can see what scholars in these fields see as worth highlighting when identifying their work as such.

The phrase “feminist neuroethics” is young, first used (to my knowledge) in peer-reviewed literature by philosopher Peggy DesAutels in her 2010 article on “Sex differences and neuroethics,” published in Philosophical Psychology (though see Chalfin, Murphy, & Karkazis, 2008 for a close antecedent). She writes that, having found herself considering the ethics of neuroscience, the neuroscience of ethics, and sex/gender differences, her “overlapping approach could neatly be summarized as feminist neuroethics” (p.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

Bioethics Blogs

Further Clarity on Co-operation and Morality

Guest Post: David S. Oderberg, University of Reading

Full Paper: Further Clarity on Co-operation and Morality

The 2014 US Supreme Court decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby was a landmark case on freedom of religion and conscience in the USA. The so-called ‘contraceptive mandate’ of the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) requires employers to provide health insurance cover for contraception used by their employees. The Green family (Evangelical Christian), owners of the Hobby Lobby chain of arts and crafts stores, challenged the mandate as they objected to providing cover for at least those methods of contraception that are abortifacient. They were joined by the Hahn family (Mennonite Christian), owners of a furniture company.

The case wound up at the Supreme Court, where the majority, led by Alito J, agreed with the plaintiffs. Under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act 1993, the plaintiffs were ‘substantially burdened’ in their exercise of religious freedom. They sincerely believed that by providing insurance cover that violated their religious and moral beliefs, they would be complicit in sinful behaviour. Violation of the RFRA, the court decided, meant the plaintiffs were entitled to an ‘accommodation’ or ‘opt-out’ of the contraceptive mandate.

The case is remarkable for a number of reasons. Conscientious objection is not new to the courts, particularly as regards service in war. Nor is Hobby Lobby unusual for recognising that a legal person such as a corporation can have its freedom of religion violated in virtue of what its owners/executives are required to do by law. After all, the contraceptive mandate already exempted churches and other purely religious bodies.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

Bioethics Blogs

Welcome Fall 2016 Master’s Students!

The Ethics and Society blog is delighted to welcome the following candidates to Fordham University’s Master of Arts in Ethics and Society:

Kelly Collins

Kelly Collins graduated in 2011 with a BS in Philosophy and Political Science from Florida State University.  After moving to New York City shortly after graduation, she began working as a legal assistant in a well-known international law firm.  While pursuing her MA in Ethics and Society, Kelly hopes to utilize real-world skills to analyze and reflect upon today’s moral dilemmas.

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Tim Colvin

Tim Colvin is currently a senior at Fordham University from Kings Park, New York. He is a dual major in Political Science and Classical Civilization with a minor in Philosophy. Tim is interested in attending law school and hopes to apply a background in ethics in practice after completing the MA in Ethics and Society.

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Margaret Desmond

Margaret Desmond completed her BA in Anthropology and Philosophy at Fordham University. She has worked at Catholic Charities Refugee Resettlement Office, the Museum of Jewish Heritage, and the Bronx Oncology Living Daily Program during her time in New York. Margaret joined the Center for Ethics Education as a graduate assistant this fall and will also be completing her MA in Ethics and Society. With her interest in medicine and background in archaeology, Margaret hopes to explore the ethical issues of these different disciplines while in the program.

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Yohan Garcia

Yohan Garcia is a Fordham University student from Puebla, Mexico. He earned an Associate’s Degree from the Borough of Manhattan Community College in Business Management, and a BA in Political Science from Hunter College.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

Bioethics Blogs

“Humanists,” Academic Philosophers, Critical Distance, and Clinical Ethicists


The October 2016 Annual Meeting of the American
Society for Bioethics and Humanities (ASBH) announced its theme for the
Washington, D.C., convocation several months ago: “After over half a century of
work, and as ASBH celebrates its coming-of-age, we have chosen to focus on
‘critical distance’ and our ‘insider-outsider’ status at our 18th annual meeting.”
Some may be relatively unfamiliar with these notions of “critical distance” and
“insider-outsider” status.


            In
the early 1970s, when medical center and medical school thought leaders began
hiring “humanists” to teach, round with teams, and attend morning reports and
noon conferences, it was unclear what – if any – specific outcomes might
result. However, the center executives and deans wanted to try something to
help inject human values and humanistic thought into the educational process to
offset the very strong influences of advancing technologies, specialization,
and materialism, and to assure the outraged public in the face of recently
revealed research scandals.


            These pioneer
“humanists” were theologians, religious studies scholars, and philosophers. In
just a few years, the philosophers were predominating in this growing field of applied
ethics educators and scholars. In explaining this transition, Art Caplan wrote:
“It proved very difficult to do bioethics in public in anything approximating a
religious voice. … [I]t quickly became clear that to command the attention of
scientists and physicians, as well as policy-makers, a more secular voice was
required. Philosophy, emerging out of decades of mainly futile wrangling about
meta-ethical issues, was more than happy to oblige … .”
Caplan AL. The birth and
evolution of bioethics.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

Bioethics News

A New Edition of Ethical Theory and Moral Practice Is Now Available

April 13, 2016

Ethical Theory and Moral Practice (vol. 19, no. 2, 2016) is available online by subscription only.

Articles include:

  • “Empirical Adequacy and Virtue Ethics” by Philip A. Reed
  • “Human Enhancement, Social Solidarity, and the Distribution of Responsibility” by John Danaher
  • “Causal Impotence and Evolutionary Influence: Epistemological Challenges for Non-Naturalism” by Daniel Crow
  • “Mandatory Disclosure and Medical Paternalism” by Emma C. Bullock
  • “Procedural Justice and Affirmative Action” by Kristina Meshelski

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.