Tag: libertarianism

Bioethics Blogs

The Implications of Libertarianism for Compulsory Vaccination

Guest Post: Justin Bernstein

Paper: The Case Against Libertarian Arguments for Compulsory Vaccination

In a recent political controversy, libertarian Senator Rand Paul articulated his opposition to a policy of compulsory vaccination, stating that he was “all for [vaccines],” but that he was “also for freedom.” U.S. opponents of vaccines often object to compulsory vaccination on the (false) grounds that vaccines cause autism. But Paul’s claim that he was “for freedom” suggests a distinct, libertarian-minded rationale for opposing compulsory vaccination.

Libertarians deny that the state has the right to restrict individual liberty in order to promote welfare. A policy of compulsory vaccination promotes welfare by ensuring herd immunity. But such a policy also restricts individual liberty because it requires parents to subject their children to a medical procedure, and permits the state to punish non-compliance. So, a policy of compulsory vaccination certainly seems at odds with the libertarian’s commitment to liberty–even if herd immunity is threatened.

Some libertarians, however, attempt to avoid the controversial conclusion that libertarianism is incompatible with compulsory vaccination. In my recent paper, “The Case Against Libertarian Arguments for Compulsory Vaccination,” I argue that such attempts are unsuccessful, and so libertarians must either develop new arguments, or join Senator Paul in opposing compulsory vaccination.

How might a libertarian try to defend compulsory vaccination? One argument is that going unvaccinated exposes others to risk, and this violates their rights. Since the state is permitted to use coercive measures to protect rights, the state may require parents to vaccinate their children. But for libertarians, this argument has two shortcomings.

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

Functional neo-Aristotelianism as a way to preserve moral agency: A response to Dr William Casebeer’s lecture: The Neuroscience of Moral Agency

Written by Dr Anibal Monasterio Astobiza

Audio File of Dr Casebeer’s talk is available here: http://media.philosophy.ox.ac.uk/uehiro/HT17_Casebeer.mp3

 

Dr. William Casebeer has an unusual, but nonetheless very interesting, professional career. He retired from active duty as a US Air Force Lieutenant Colonel and intelligence analyst. He obtained his PhD in Cognitive Science and Philosophy from University of California, San Diego, under the guidance and inspiration of Patricia and Paul Churchland, served as a Program Manager at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency from 2010-14 in the Defense Sciences Office and helped to established DARPA’s neuroethics program. Nowadays, Dr. William Casebeer is a Research Area Manager in Human Systems and Autonomy for Lockheed Martin’s Advanced Technology Laboratories. As I said, not the conventional path for a well known researcher with very prominent contributions in neuroethics and moral evolution. His book Natural Ethical Facts: Evolution, Connectionism, and Moral Cognition (MIT Press) presented a functional and neo-Aristotelian account of morality with a clever argument trying to solve G. E. Moore´s naturalistic fallacy: according to Casebeer it is possible to reduce what is good, or in other words morality, to natural facts.

In his public lecture of 14 February 2017, held at the Lecture Theatre, Oxford Martin School, Oxford, entitled “The Neuroscience of Moral Agency (Or: How I Learned to Love Determinism and Still Respect Myself in the Morning”, Dr. William Casebeer resubmitted the case for a functional neo-Aristotelianism  model for agency that defends a compatibilist view of free will: to accept determinism as viable but still hold moral concepts true.

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

Toward a Typology of Transhumanism

Years ago, James Hughes sought to typify the emerging political debate over transhumanism with a three-axis political scale, adding a biopolitical dimension to the familiar axes of social and fiscal libertarianism. But transhumanism is a very academic issue, both in the sense that many transhumanists, including Hughes, are academics, and in the sense that it is very removed from everyday practical concerns. So it may make more sense to characterize the different types of transhumanists in terms of the kinds of intellectual positions to which they adhere rather than to how they relate to different positions on the political spectrum. As Zoltan Istvan’s wacky transhumanist presidential campaign shows us, transhumanism is hardly ready for prime time when it comes to American politics.

And so, I propose a continuum of transhumanist thought, to help observers understand the intellectual differences between some of its proponents — based on three different levels of support for human enhancement technologies.

First, the most mild form of transhumanists: those who embrace the human enhancement project, or reject most substantive limits to human enhancement, but who do not have a very concrete vision of what kinds of things human enhancement technology may be used for. In terms of their intellectual background, these mild transhumanists can be defined by their diversity rather than their unity. They adhere to some of the more respectable philosophical schools, such as pragmatism, various kinds of liberalism, or simply the thin, “formally rational” morality of mainstream bioethics. Many of these mild transhumanists are indeed professional bioethicists in good standing. Few,

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

Heather Paxson’s The Life of Cheese: Crafting Food and Value in America by James Babbitt

The Life of Cheese Crafting Food and Value in America

University of California Press, 2012, 332 pages.

Heather Paxson’s The Life of Cheese might seem like an odd book to review for Somatosphere, but a quick glance reveals chapters such as “Microbiopolitics” and “Ecologies of Production” which feel as familiar as well-worn flannel. The Life of Cheese examines the values and meanings produced in tandem with artisanal cheese: a process where cheesemakers involve themselves with landscapes, ruminants (goats, sheep, and cattle), bacteria, fungi, thermometers, and farmers markets. The Life of Cheese is a book about artisanal assemblages in America. Examining American agriculture—artisanal and conventional—through assemblages is a worthwhile endeavor and one that has potential for many future research projects. I hope that I will be one of them.

The first chapter “American Artisanal” introduces two important concepts underpinning Paxson’s analysis: the “unfinished commodity” and the “post-pastoral ethos.” An “unfinished commodity” is a saleable object that contains multiple values (economic, moral, personal, etc.) and an unveiled history of production. For example, the story of Jasper Hill Farm’s Bayley Hazen Blue is an integral part of the commodity and not a fetter hidden beneath an avalanche of advertising. When cheese is sold at market, photos of the farm, family, and animals might be placed alongside it to tell its tale. The commodity’s biography is consciously exposed and elucidated by its makers. This is a far cry from most food purchased at the grocery store where advertising and packaging aim to obscure the commodity’s life history. I have reservations about the “unfinished commodity” being distinct and separate from other commodities.

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

Students and Professors Pay Tribute to John D. Arras

Most of us can easily remember a favorite course that we took in college, but it is much more difficult to recall one lecture that occurred on a single morning or afternoon. Unless, of course, something remarkable happened during that lecture.

Of the handful that I can recall, Professor John D. Arras gave one of them.

As a sophomore at the University of Virginia, I sat waiting in a large nondescript hall for a meeting of Professor Jim Childress’ course, “Theology, Ethics, and Medicine.” Our class learned that we would be hearing from a guest lecturer on whether there was a right to health care.

Enter Professor Arras.

He walked up to the podium and adjusted the overhead projector settings for his presentation. Pleasantly surprised by the ease with which he had been able to manipulate the unfamiliar technological set-up, he gave a thumbs up to the audience of students, smiled, and said affirmatively, “Bitchin’.”

The hall erupted with laughter. Our guest had endeared himself to about 100 undergraduates, not an easy crowd to win over. He gracefully reeled our giggling class back in and segued to a talk on the implications of a right to health care. He asked us to consider this idea from four different perspectives of political philosophy – libertarianism, utilitarianism, liberal egalitarianism, and communitarianism. If, in fact, we could agree that a right to access health care existed, the challenge, he said, was to tackle a second (more daunting) question: what was the content of such a right – how limited was it?

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

Transhumanism, Freedom, and Coercion

Transhumanists believe that natural human limitations can, or should, or even must be overcome, via biotechnology, nanotechnology, and other means.

Yet many transhumanists emphasize that people should not be be forced into using enhancement technologies. Rather, individuals should be free to decide whether or not to transform themselves. Our colleague Charles T. Rubin puts it this way in his excellent new book Eclipse of Man: Human Extinction and the Meaning of Progress:

A great many transhumanists stand foursquare behind the principle of consumer choice. Most are willing to concede that enhancements ought to be demonstrably safe and effective. But the core belief is that people ought to be able to choose for themselves the manner in which they enhance or modify their own bodies. If we are to use technology to be the best we can be, each of us must be free to decide for himself what “best” means and nobody should be able to stop us.

This techno-libertarian stance seemingly allows transhumanists to distance themselves from early-twentieth-century advocates of eugenics, who believed that government coercion should be used to achieve genetic betterment. What’s more, when they are compared to eugenicists, the transhumanists turn it around, employing a clever bit of jujitsu:

Indeed, the transhumanists argue, it is their critics — whom they disparagingly label “bioconservatives” and “bioluddites” — who, by wishing to restrict enhancement choices, are the real heirs of the eugenicists; they are the ones who have an idea of what humans should be and want government to enforce it. The transhumanists would say that they are far less interested in asserting what human beings should be than in encouraging diverse exploration into what we might become, including of course not being human at all.

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

Bad Boy Scientism

Austen Heinz of Cambrian Genomics has been trolling hard lately, as blogger Josh Cunningham notes. That is, he’s been spouting provocative opinions to get attention. And it seems to be working, from his point of view.

Not only was Heinz involved in the vagina bio-hack nonsense, but he told the Wall Street Journal last June, “I can’t believe that after 10 or 20 years, people will not design their children digitally.” And he doubled down in the San Francisco Chronicle last week:

“Anyone in the world that has a few dollars can make a creature, and that changes the game. And that creates a whole new world. … It is the most powerful technology humans have ever created. Hydrogen bombs can destroy whole planets, but this is a technology that can create planets. This is the greatest human achievement of all time – the ability to read and write life, because that’s who we are.”

He also told CNN last April:

“I think it’ll get very hot within the next few years in editing genomes for babies. … We could potentially see like an arms race among families … We will eventually be able to write the code, not only to fix our current mistakes but also to fix mistakes as we age, and that’s going to be critical to living forever.”

Cambrian is not actually intending to design creatures, it’s facilitating their production by “printing” DNA, and Heinz freely admits that safety is someone else’s job. But he sees that kind of quality control being delegated to an independent facility, not – heaven forfend – the government.

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

How Not to Argue against a Proposed Law

Yes, yes: it’s tedious and internecine, but it’s almost a year since I had a pop at Kevin Yuill’s book on assisted dying; how about an update?  Well, conveniently, there’s this, in which he tries “to convince my fellow liberal minded atheists to reconsider their support for legalized assisted dying”.  OK, then.  First up, this isn’t a pro-legalisation post: I’m much more interested in looking at the arguments presented in their own terms.  I think they’re bad; but that is to do with their form rather than their content.  Indeed, one of Yuill’s opening moves is something to which I’m sympathetic: in respect of Lord Falconer’s latest Bill to legalise assisted dying, he points out that

the chief sponsoring agency (Dignity in Dying) lamely differentiates between the dying (those with six months or less to live) and those with more time.
If the latter ingest poison in a room by themselves &ndash; well, that&rsquo;s suicide. &nbsp;But if those with less than six months take poison with the intent to end their lives, that is not suicide at all but <ahem> assisted dying. Nope, me neither.

I agree that the six-month time limit is arbitrary, and probably morally indefensible. &nbsp;But&hellip;

*deep breath*

But note how Yuill botches even this point. &nbsp;For one thing, he doesn&rsquo;t say where DiD draws the distinction &ndash; there&rsquo;s no link -and so checking it, and its context, is needlessly&nbsp;difficult at best. &nbsp;But he&rsquo;s trading on the idea that suicide and assisted dying are exclusive terms, as though being assisted to commit suicide isn&rsquo;t a kind of assisted dying &ndash; which it is.

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

Autonomy and Responsibility

The National Intelligence Council has just published one of its periodic forays into thinking about the future: Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds. As even the title suggests, the report is full of carefully qualified projections and scenarios, often noting the ambiguity of technological development—the truism that the same technology can produce both good and bad outcomes depending on how it is deployed. In its relatively brief thematic discussion of human augmentation, however, there is really nothing said about specific downsides of augmentation technologies beyond noting the likelihood of their inegalitarian distribution over the next 15-20 years, a problem which “may require regulation.” Instead, the passage closes with the sentence, “Moral and ethical challenges to human augmentation are inevitable.”

Apparently, while it is helpful to anticipate what enhancement technologies might allow in the future, there is nothing to be gained by trying to anticipate what the moral and ethical objections to them might be. Of course, it would be wrong not to acknowledge that such objections will exist, but it is hardly worthwhile to actually attempt to think about them.
This largely symbolic bow to ethics is common enough in such reports, perhaps only to be expected. It is one of those moments we have noted repeatedly at Futurisms, where the debate over human enhancement meets up with our culture’s democratic libertarianism and moral relativism. Plainly, we don’t think this outlook is a sound footing upon which to meet the undeniable challenges of the future.
Indeed, we are hardly short on reasons to think we ought to flee whenever possible from thinking seriously about moral distinctions, in the name of protecting autonomy or free choice.

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.