2016 News Archives

A Brave New World: Understanding the Ethics of Human Enhancement

Article by Steve Clarke published in a special free edition of AQ.

Written to coincide with the publication of the book The Ethics of Human Enhancement: Understanding the Debate, Steve Clarke's article explores the discussion so far and considers where the debate might head next.

The article was selected to appear in 'The Best of 2016', a special free edition of Australian Quarterly.

Abstract: For the past two decades a debate has raged in academic philosophy and bioethics about the rights and wrongs of using drug therapies, genetic interventions, mechanical augmentation and other medical procedures to enhance human physical and mental capacities above the normal upper limits for our species. Many ‘bio-conservative’ opponents of human enhancement argue that it is morally wrong to alter human nature, to ‘Play God’, or to ‘seek mastery of ourselves’, even if attempts to do so are likely to benefit humanity as a whole.

AQ is published by the Australian Institute of Policy and Science, an independent body which promotes discussion and understanding of political, social and scientific issues in Australia.

Download a PDF of the special edition here. See pp. 29-33 for Steve's article 'A Brave New World: Understanding the Ethics of Human Enhancement'

2016 Annual Uehiro Lectures: audio files now available

We were honoured to welcome Professor Shelly Kagan to Oxford to deliver the 2016 Uehiro Lectures.

The lectures took place on 14, 15 and 16 November 2016 and were very well-attended.

Lecture 1 'Consequentialism for Cows' [MP3]
Lecture 2 ' Deontology for Dogs' [MP3]
Lecture 3 'Foundation for Frogs' [MP3]

Much contemporary writing on animal ethics is "egalitarian" in the sense that otherwise similar harms (or goods) for people and nonhuman animals are thought to count equally. In this sense, animals and people can be said to have the same moral status ("pain is pain"). In these lectures, however, I will explore an alternative, hierarchical approach, according to which animals differ from people, and from one another, in terms of the moral significance of their lives, their goods and bads, and the various rights that they possess. I'll sketch what a hierarchical approach might look like in a consequentialist framework, and--more complicatedly--in a deontological one, closing with some thoughts about the position of animals in foundational moral theories.

Audio and video:  Uehiro-Carnegie-Oxford Lecture 2016

On 27 October, Professor Michael Ignatieff delivered the Uehiro-Carnegie-Oxford Lecture 'Human Rights, Global Ethics and the Ordinary Virtues' to a full-house at Merton College. A video of his lecture is now available to watch on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4x3wxtjqFok

Resources: Video [MP4] | Audio [MP3]

The lecture was also broadcast on ABC's 'Big Ideas' programme on 1 December 2016.

New Podcast Series:  Philosophy 24/7

David Edmonds, OUC Senior Research Associate, has created a new podcast series devoted to moral and political issues.

Philosophy 24/7 can be heard here http://philosophy247.org/. The series kicks off with two philosophers well-known to the Uehiro Centre, Rebecca Roache and Anders Sandberg.

Philosophy 24/7 brings you concise interviews with leading philosophers about pressing moral, political and social questions. They shed light on issues that are important to the modern world, 24/7. Hosted by David Edmonds, a multi-awarding winning BBC journalist, and one half of the duo behind the Philosophy Bites podcast, leading philosophers will be interviewed on subjects such as passive agression, superintelligence, and the science and philosophy of love.

Dominic Wikinson on BBCR4 The Moral Maze: A world without Down's syndrome?

Do we want to live in a world without Down's syndrome? This isn't just a theoretical question. It could soon become a reality. A new technique called non-invasive prenatal testing (NIPT), detects Down's syndrome with 99% accuracy and it should soon be available on the NHS. It's already being used in Iceland where 100% of Down's syndrome pregnancies are terminated. The Danish health system declared the objective of being Down's-free and introduced the test in 2006. The termination rate there today is 98%. In Britain the termination rate for positive tests is 90 per cent and around 775 babies with Down's syndrome are born every year in England and Wales. A lot of effort has been made to increase people's knowledge of the condition which has a wide range of symptoms. Many children with it will grow in to adulthood and lead very integrated lives, but some will never walk or talk, or may have severe heart defects, glaucoma, deafness and a risk of early dementia. Would it be a sign of human progress if we reduced the number of people born with Down's syndrome to zero? Many people would agree that reducing suffering is an unequivocal moral good, yet when Richard Dawkins told a woman on Twitter that if she was carrying a child with Down's she should "abort it and try again" and "It would be immoral to bring it into the world if you have a choice" there was an outcry. NIPT could soon be available for other single gene disorders such as cystic fibrosis and we've done our best to eradicate many other disabling conditions, so why not make the most of what technology can offer? Or is this a kind of nightmare eugenicist council of perfection - a triumph of cold hearted utilitarianism over our moral duty to embrace difference and care for our fellow man? Chaired by Michael Buerk with Anne McElvoy, Claire Fox, Giles Fraser and Melanie Phillips. Witnesses are Sally Phillips, Jane Fisher, Prof Dominic Wilkinson and Simone Aspis.

Listen to the episode here: www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b07wtd78 (Dominic Wilkinson's contribution from 25:50 onwards on the clock).