Tag: speciesism

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 News

Peter Singer interviewed about, well, everything

The Journal of Practical Ethics recently posed 20 hardball questions to Peter Singer about his philosophy. It is a terrific insight into his thinking as his long career draws to a close.

About utilitarianism: Why do many intelligent and sophisticated people reject utilitarianism? Some people give more weight to their intuitions than I do—and less weight to arguments for debunking intuitions. Does that reduce my confidence in utilitarianism? Yes, to some extent, but I still remain reasonably confident that it is the most defensible view of ethics. I don’t know if everyone will accept utilitarianism in 100 years, but I don’t find the prospect frightening. It would only be frightening if people misapplied it, and I do not assume that they will.

On critics: There have been many critics of my views about euthanasia for severely disabled infants. I had some good discussions with the late Harriet McBryde Johnson, who was not a philosopher but a lawyer who had a rich and full life despite being born with a very disabling condition. As long as she was alive, when I wrote anything on that topic, I wrote with her potentially critical response in mind.

The objective truth of morality: You could just say “these are my normative views, and I’m going to treat them as if they were true, without thinking about whether moral judgments really can be objectively true.” If you do that, then in practice your decisions will be the same whether or not moral judgments can be objectively true. But given that I think morality is highly demanding, it becomes easier to say that, since morality is so highly demanding, and there is nothing irrational about not doing what morality demands, I’m not going to bother doing what I know to be right.

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

Announcement: 2016 Effective Altruism Global Research Meeting Call for Abstracts

Location: August 5th to 7th, University of California, Berkeley

Abstract Deadline: July 10th

Contact: researchmeeting@centerforeffectivealtruism.org

Overview

The 2016 Effective Altruism Global Research Meeting is an opportunity for Postgraduate students and early stage academics from a variety of disciplines to present research relevant to Effective Altruism. The meeting will take place on August 5th to 7th, 2016 at UC Berkeley alongside the Effective Altruism Global conference. The meeting will consist of two events, an academic poster session and a number of short oral presentations. Presentations will be awarded to the most exceptional submissions. Participants selected for presentations will still have the option to present a poster.

The Effective Altruism movement, which promotes the use of reason and evidence to determine the most effective ways to improve the world, has grown rapidly over the last three years. It is an interdisciplinary movement which has gained traction amongst academics in a wide range of fields, including Philosophy, Economics and Health. Last year’s Effective Altruism Global conference welcomed renowned philosopher Peter Singer and behavioral economist Dan Ariely, as well as 1000 attendees. This year, our speakers include Philip Tetlock (author of Superforecasting), Cass Sunstein (legal scholar and former Administrator of the White House OIRA), Thomas Kalil (Deputy Director for Technology and Innovation at the White House OSTP), Jaan Tallinn (Co-Founder of Skype) and Irene Pepperberg (noted animal cognition scientist).  

Effective Altruism Global’s featured topics include discussions of the replication crisis, prediction markets, decision making under uncertainty, CRISPR, our obligations to the global poor, as well as a number of other topics that are important to shaping the future.

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

Pain-Capable Abortion Bans

More than three decades ago, I went to visit a friend who was hospitalized at NIH in Bethesda, Maryland. On the way from the parking lot to her room, I encountered a group of animal rights activists protesting the use of animals in medical research. To this day I vividly remember the chant they repeated again and again: “A cat is a rat is a dog is a boy.” Operating on a hunch, I couldn’t resist asking about their viewpoint on abortion. As I suspected, the group was decidedly pro-choice, connecting their acceptance of abortion with the problem of over-population. Even at the time, I thought it strange that someone could be against animal research for medical benefit but for abortion. Thirty years later, I still think it strange.

A few weeks ago South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley signed a law that bans abortion at or after 20 weeks. Undoubtedly, the pro-choice camp will be up in arms against the law. Arkansas and other states have passed similar “pain-capable” abortion laws that remain stymied in judicial review.

Two reasons often set forth for prohibiting abortions at and after 20-weeks are the fetus’ resemblance to an infant and the fetus’ capacity to feel pain. I wish to make one point regarding the latter criterion. Specifically, I contend that one cannot be for animal rights and, at the same time, be against laws that prohibit abortions at the at the development stage of sentience.

For animal rights proponents, the launching point of their argument for animal equality and their opposition to “speciesism” is that non-human animals are capable of feeling pain like human animals, and thus, should not be discriminated against but rather accorded equal consideration.

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

Peter Singer under fire, again

In an edition of the Journal of Applied Philosophy released this week, several academics discussed Peter Singer’s influential theory of “speciesism” – the view that human beings are inherently prejudiced toward their own species over others.

The target article of the discussion, the transcript of a lecture given by Yale philosopher Shelly Kagan, offers what Kagan says is a refutation of Singer’s notion of speciesism. Kagan, both an ethicist and metaphysician, considers in particular the moral ontology underpinning Singer’s theory, and argues that Singer provides insufficient evidence to show that sentience is the morally relevant property that one should consider when evaluating the importance of different species’ interests.

“…when a speciesist claims that it is more important to avoid human pain than it is to avoid animal pain — even pains of equal duration and intensity — Singer insists that this is mere prejudice: ‘pain is pain’ he tells us (Animal Liberation, p. 20). But what is the argument for this last step?…”

“…I do think we have to recognize that one would be hard pressed to think of anything other than intuition to support the claim that the line between sentience and nonsentience is a morally significant one…”

Kagan argues for a form of what he calls modal personalism – the view that what makes an entity morally more important is the modal property of “potential personhood” (i.e. the ability to become a person).

In a reply to Kagan, George Washington University bioethicist David De Grazia challenges the claim that potential personhood is grounds for giving moral status to an entity.

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

The Moral Significance of Animal Suffering

Recently I attended a fascinating Society for Applied Philosophy lecture by Shelly Kagan, entitled ‘What’s Wrong with Speciesism?’. Kagan began the lecture by explaining how, while teaching a course involving some of Peter Singer’s writings on non-human animals, he had begun to doubt the view, defended by Singer, that other things equal the suffering of animals matters no less than that of human beings.

Kagan ably criticized Singer’s suggestion that many of us are ‘speciesists’, who believe species-membership to be morally relevant. Consider Superman. No one thinks he matters less because he’s of another species. Rather, we are ‘personists’, and attach greater moral status to persons rather than non-persons.

In the philosophical literature on rights in the second half of the twentieth century, there was much discussion about what should be the criterion for ascribing rights: rationality, language use, willingness to co-operate, sentience, humanity…? These debates seemed to me ill-founded. The correct criterion depends on the right in question: the right to vote, say, requires a certain level of rationality; that not to be tortured depends only on sentience.

The same sort of point seems to me to apply to discussion of moral status. It may be that persons require a certain kind of respect from us on grounds of their personhood (you can’t really be rude to your dog, for example). But one shouldn’t think that because some quality matters in one area of morality, it matters everywhere. (This general point was made brilliantly by Kagan himself in a 1988 article, ‘The Additive Fallacy’.)

The only thing that really matters about suffering is its unpleasantness, and how unpleasant 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

Guest Post: Why isn’t the world going vegan?

Written by Catia Faria

Universitat Pompeu Fabra

Last month, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, one of the world’s most influential organizations in its field, published an updated version of a paper concluding that animal-free diets are absolutely healthy (Cullum-Dugan & Pawlak 2015). The article presents the official position of the Academy on this topic, according to which, when well designed, vegetarian and vegan diets provide adequate nutrition for all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood and adolescence.

 It would be reasonable to expect that such conclusion had a significant impact on people’s dietary choices. If adopting a vegan diet imposed great costs on the health of human beings, then doing it might not be what we are required to do. Yet the health argument has been, again, debunked. So, why aren’t people going massively vegan?

Ignorance

The first answer to this question might be that people just don’t know. Or, at least, people ignore to a large extent the relevant facts of animal exploitation. It is estimated that over sixty billion land animals and one to three trillion marine animals are bred, or captured, and killed every year so that they can be processed into food (FAO 2015; Mood & Brooke 2010). Going vegan implies abstaining from participating in this scenario by ceasing to consume all animal-derived products. Of course, veganism is not all about diet. It’s about rejecting any practice that involves the infliction of unjustified harms to nonhuman animals, and these practices extend well beyond the food industry. Similarly large numbers of animals are fished and hunted for sport.

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

White House backs review of gene-editing technology. Peter Singer on speciesism.

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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

Ever the controversialist: Peter Singer on speciesism

Is speciesism worse than racism? In a certain sense, yes, says the doyen of utilitarian philosophers, Peter Singer, of Princeton University. In an interview in the New York Times, Singer explains that while racism still exists, most people are aware that they are wrong. However, this is far from being the case with animals.

Although it is true, of course, that we have not overcome racism, sexism or discrimination against people with disabilities, there is at least widespread acceptance that such discrimination is wrong, and there are laws that seek to prevent it. With speciesism, we are very far from reaching that point. If we were to compare attitudes about speciesism today with past racist attitudes, we would have to say that we are back in the days in which the slave trade was still legal, although under challenge by some enlightened voices.

 Singer repeated his familiar, but still disconcerting, belief that killing an intellectually disabled human being might be less wrong than killing an alert non-human animal:

… one might argue that to kill a normal human being who wants to go on living is more seriously wrong than killing a nonhuman animal. Whether this claim is or is not sound, it is not speciesist. But given that some human beings – most obviously, those with profound intellectual impairment – lack this capacity, or have it to a lower degree than some nonhuman animals, it would be speciesist to claim that it is always more seriously wrong to kill a member of the species Homo sapiens than it is to kill a nonhuman animal.

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

Turning 40: Animal Liberation in perspective

Practical ethics should be all about really having an impact on the world. This requires, among other things, working on the topic regarding which we are expected to produce the most good. Plausibly, these are topics that have been traditionally neglected or at least that remain under-researched. These are also moral issues that may seriously affect a great number of individuals.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the publication of Animal Liberation, in 1975. With it Australian philosopher Peter Singer initiated one of the highest impact careers in philosophy of the last century. It is not surprising that in 2005, Time magazine included him among the list of the 100 most influential people. It is remarkable, though, that the growing respect for Peter Singer has not been accompanied by a similar change of attitude regarding animal ethics —precisely the field in which he is recognised to have made a greater difference.

Animal Liberation boosted the contemporary academic debate on animal ethics and inspired the work of many other philosophers. This book contributed significantly to the growth of the movement for the equal consideration of nonhuman animals. It has influenced countless individuals to adopt veganism and to become activists in defence of animals. Even though the end of speciesist attitudes lies in the far future, very few other moral aims can produce a similar or greater good. Given the importance of the book, it is worth reviewing, on occasion of its anniversary, the position that Singer defended in it as well as some of the controversies it raises and issues it leaves open.

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.