Events Archive (2010-June 2017)

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HT17 St Cross Special Ethics Seminar: Samuel Bruce

Thursday 2 February 2017, 5.30 – 7pm

St Cross Room, St Cross College, 61 St Giles, Oxford OX1 3LZ

Speaker:  Samuel Bruce (Oxford University).

Title: 'What is the difference between a claim of justice and any other kind of moral claim?

Abstract:  In moral and political thought, claims are frequently made in the name of justice. Claims are made in the name of other concepts; charity, efficiency, community, care, and so on. But what is special about justice? What is the difference between an injustice and other forms of moral wrongdoing?

I seek to do three things in this presentation. Firstly, to show that there is considerable disagreement and unclarity on this issue in contemporary political philosophy. Secondly, to present a three-stage methodology for conceptual clarification. Thirdly, to demonstrate the application of this methodology to the concept of justice. I suggest, tentatively, that justice might be understood as a moral standard which assesses the extent to which an institutional order protects rights. I will finish by expressing some of my own scepticism about this conclusion, and suggest avenues for further research.

No audio file.

HT17 St Cross Special Ethics Seminar: Professor Kenneth Richman

Thursday 2 March 2017, 5.30 – 7pm

St Cross Room, St Cross College, 61 St Giles, Oxford OX1 3LZ

Speaker: Kenneth A Richman, PhD, Professor of Philosophy and Healthcare Ethics, MCPHS University, Boston, USA; Visiting Researcher, Gothenburg Responsibility Project, University of Gothenburg, Sweden

 Title:  Autism and Moral Responsibility: Executive Function and the Reactive Attitudes

 Abstract: Although criteria for identifying autism have been established based on behavioral factors, researchers are still exploring and developing models to describe the cognitive and affective differences that lead to the known behaviors. Some of these models offer competing ways of understanding autism; some simply describe characteristics of autism. Significantly, these models tend to involve cognitive functions that are also cited in accounts of moral responsibility. This suggests that autism may be a reason not to blame an autistic person for some actions that transgress social, ethical, or legal expectations even when we would certainly blame a neurotypical person for the same action.

Whether to treat autism as exculpatory in any given circumstance appears to be influenced both by models of autism and by theories of moral responsibility. This talk will focus on a limited range of theories: autism as characterized in terms of executive function deficit, and moral responsibility based on access to appropriate reactive attitudes. In pursuing this particular combination of ideas, I do not intend to endorse them. The goal is, instead, to explore the implications of this combination of influential ideas about autism and about moral responsibility. These implications can be quite serious and practical for autists and those who interact directly with autists, as well as for broader communities as they attend to the fair, compassionate, and respectful treatment of increasing numbers of autistic adults.

Speaker's webpage: Professor Kenneth Richman


HT17 Week 5 Public Lecture: William Casebeer

14th Feb 2017 4:00pm

Venue: Lecture Theatre, Oxford Martin School, Oxford OX1 3BD

Speaker:   Dr William Casebeer

Title:  “The Neuroscience of Moral Agency (Or: How I Learned to Love Determinism and Still Respect Myself in the Morning)”

Abstract: The findings of neuroscience are often used to undermine traditional assumptions about the nature of human agency.  In this talk, I sketch out a compatibilist position which leverages a neo-Aristotelian concept of “critical control distinctions”—rather than talking about whether agents freely will actions, a more consilient vocabulary asks whether agents were in control or out of control when the action was taken.  A plausible neurobiological determinism can save what is worth saving about our traditional notions of responsibility and also points toward a twenty-first century research agenda which coevolves legal and moral norms about responsibility with neuroscientific critical control capacities.


TT17 Special Public Lecture: Brian Earp

2nd Jun 2017 4:00pm

Venue:  Seminar Room 1, Oxford Martin School, Broad Street, Oxford OX1 3BD

Title: Solving the Replication Crisis in Psychology: Insights from History and Philosophy of Science

Abstract: In a much-discussed New York Times article, psychologist Lisa Feldman Barrett claimed, “Psychology is not in crisis.” She was responding to the results of a large-scale initiative called the Reproducibility Project, published in Science magazine, which appeared to show that the results from over 60% of a sample of 100 psychology studies did not hold up when independent labs attempted to replicate them. In this talk, I address three major issues:

1.What did the Reproducibility Project really show, and in what specific sense can the follow-up studies meaningfully be described as “failures to replicate” the original findings? I argue that, contrary to what many are suggesting, very little can be learned about the validity of the original studies based upon a single (apparent) failure to replicate: instead, multiple replications (of sufficient quality) of each contested experiment would be needed before any strong conclusions could be drawn about the appropriate degree of confidence to be placed in the original findings. To make this point I draw on debates over falsification in philosophy of science, paying special attention to the role of auxiliary assumptions in falsifying claims or theories.

 2.Is psychology in crisis or not? And if so, what kind of crisis? I tease apart two senses of crisis here. The first sense is “crisis of confidence,” which is a descriptive or sociological claim referring to the notion that many people, within the profession and without, are as a matter of fact experiencing a profound and, in some ways, unprecedented lack of confidence in the validity of the published literature. This is true not only in psychology, but in other fields such as medicine as well. Whether these people are justified in feeling this way is a separate but related question, and the answer depends on a number of factors, to be discussed. The second sense of “crisis” is “crisis of process” – i.e., the notion that (due in large part to apparent failures to replicate a substantial portion of previously published findings), psychological science is “fundamentally broken,” or perhaps not even a “true” science at all. This notion would be based on the assumption that most or perhaps even all of the findings in a professionally published literature should “hold up” when they are replicated, in order for a discipline to be a “true” science, or not to be in a state of “crisis” in this second sense. But this assumption, I will argue, is erroneous: failures of various sorts in science, including bona fide failures to replicate published results, are often the wellspring of important discoveries and other innovations. Therefore, (apparent) replication failure, even on a wide scale, is no evidence that science/psychology is broken, per se. Nevertheless,

 3.This does not mean that there is not substantial room for serious, even radical improvements to be made in the conduct of psychological science. In fact, the opposite is true. Even setting the Reproducibility Project findings aside, there was already substantial--and more direct--evidence that current research and publication practices in psychology and other disciplines were and are systematically flawed, and that the published literature had and has a high likelihood of containing a large proportion of false "findings" and erroneous conclusions. Problems that need urgently to be addressed include: publication bias against “negative” results, the related “file drawer” problem, sloppy statistics and lack of adequate statistical training among many scientists, small sample sizes, inefficient and arbitrary peer review, and so on.

Speaker:  Brian is pursuing a joint Ph.D. in philosophy and psychology, having received his undergraduate degree in cognitive science from Yale, a master’s degree in psychology from the University Oxford, and a second master’s degree in the history and philosophy of science from the University of Cambridge. His work is cross-disciplinary, following training in philosophy, cognitive science, psychology, history and sociology of science and medicine, and ethics. His research has been covered in Nature, Popular Science, The Chronicle of Higher Education, The Atlantic, New Scientist, and other major outlets; he has also been cited in the President’s Commission on Bioethics in Gray Matters: Topics at the Intersection of Neuroscience, Ethics, and Society. His essays have been translated into Polish, German, Italian, Spanish, French, Portuguese, and Hebrew.


TT17 Public Seminar: Aiming for Moral Mediocrity

5th Jun 2017 11:00am

Speaker: Professor Eric Schwitzgebel (University of California Riverside)

Title: Aiming for Moral Mediocrity

Venue: Oxford Martin School, Seminar Room 1, 34 Broad Street, Oxford OX1 3BD

Abstract: Most of us aim to be morally mediocre. That is, we aim to be about as morally good as our peers, not especially better, not especially worse. This mediocrity has two aspects. It is peer-relative rather than absolute, and it is middling rather than extreme. We look around us, notice how others are acting, then calibrate toward so-so. This is a somewhat bad way to be, but it's not a terribly bad way to be. We ought to be somewhat disappointed in ourselves. A possibly helpful comparison is being mediocre in other things you care about intensely: being a mediocre parent, a mediocre friend, a mediocre teacher, a mediocre philosopher.


TT17 WEEK 6: Erasmus Exchange Public Event: Double Seminar on Biomedical Technology and Moral Bioenhancement

30th May 2017 12:30am

Venue: Seminar Room 2, Oxford Martin School, Broad Street, Oxford

Speaker: Laurentiu Staicu

Title: The rise of postmedicine: some ethical concerns regarding biomedical technology

Abstract: Traditional medicine is bound by a moral duty to treat patients with compassion and to combine all medical interventions and treatments with caring as a fundamental attitude toward the patient. That's because the patient is seen as a person who needs help in recovering his or hers well-being, and any person should be treated with care and respect. However, what happens when patients are seen as medical puzzles which need to be solved rather than people in need? Can we treat a puzzle with care and compassion? The use of biomedical technology in medical treatments brought a spectacular increase in efficiency, but what are the moral costs of this increased efficiency?


Speaker: Emanuel-Mihail Socaciua

Title: How Drug Patents Might Lead to Disincentives for Moral Bioenhancement

Abstract: Biological moral enhancement (BME) and intellectual property (IP) might seem two entirely distinct areas. While BME refers to moral enhancement techniques which presuppose the use of biological means, the moral and legal debate surrounding IP tries to tackle the issue of whether ideas could/should be appropriated. In our paper we wish to link the two debates by exploring the consequences of the current IP and patent system in relation to the propensity of individuals to become morally enhanced through drugs or other pharmaceutical compounds. If artificial scarcity is one of the intended consequences of patents, we argue in favor of the following (weak) thesis: intellectual property rights provide noticeable disincentives for individual and voluntary moral bioenhancement.

Audio recording: 

TT17 St Cross Special Ethics Seminar: John Paris

18th May 2017 5:30pm

Speaker:   JOHN J. PARIS, S.J., PhD  (Boston College).

Title: Murder or a Legitimate Medical Procedure: the Withdrawal of Artificial Nutrition & Fluids from a Patient in a Persistent Vegetative Condition

Abstract: What is the historical meaning of "ordinary means" to sustain human life?  And what has been the understanding for over 500 years of Catholic moral analysis of the obligation to sustain life?

Is it, as Pope John Paul II insisted in an allocution to a meeting of the Vatican's Pontifical Academy for Life in March, 2000 that food and water must always be provided for patients in a persistent vegetative condition (PVS).  Artificial nutrition and fluids, he writes, are not medical measure, but "natural" and therefor are "ordinary means" that are always morally required." 

PVS is a state of permanent unconsciousness.  The record for maintaining a patient in that condition is 37 years, 111 days.

Audio recording:

Religion and Futility in the Intensive Care Unit

8 May 2017, 14:00 - 17:00

A half-day seminar exploring issues around religion, pluralism and medical ethics

Guest Speaker: Prof John Paris S.J., Professor of Bioethics, Boston College

Speakers/Panel Participants: John Paris, Joe Brierley, Sarah Barclay, David Jones, John Wyatt, Siddiq Diwan, Dominic Wilkinson

A child is critically ill in the intensive unit. Doctors believe that the child’s prognosis is very poor and that treatment should be withdrawn. However, her parents do not agree. They say that it is contrary to their religion to stop treatment.

How often is religion a source of disagreement about treatment in intensive care? What are the views of major religions about withdrawing treatment in intensive care?

Should religious requests for treatment be treated differently from secular requests? Should religious preferences for treatment count in a child? Should religious views be accommodated when providing scarce and expensive medical resources?

No audio file.


22 November 2016

Venue: Memorial Room, Jesus College, Oxford

Title: Ethical Considerations in Donor Compensation for Plasma-Derived Medicinal Products

Abstract: Plasma derived medical products help save and improve the lives many people--for example, those with hemophilia. There is a shortage of these products. Yet, there has been strong opposition to payment for donating human plasma leading to regulations that forbid payment in England and most European countries. Such opposition is based on ignorance of current medical science, outdated notions about the "crowding out" phenomenon, and protected values. The latter are values that people are not willing to give up no matter what the cost of doing so may be.

Speaker: Professor Stuart J. Youngner

Uehiro-Carnegie-Oxford Lecture in Practical Ethics

27 October 2016

Speaker:PROFESSOR MICHAEL IGNATIEFF (Central European University)

Title: Human Rights, Global Ethics and the Ordinary Virtues

Venue: TS Eliot Lecture Theatre, Merton College, Merton St. Oxford OX1 4JD

Resources: Video [MP4] | Audio [MP3]

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

Big Ideas brings you the best of talks, forums, debates, and festivals held in Australia and around the world, casting light on the major social, cultural, scientific and political issues.

2016 Loebel Lectures: Developmental risk and resilience: The challenge of translating multi-level data to concrete interventions

2 and 3 November 2016

Oxford Martin School Lecture Theatre, Broad Street, Oxford

Speaker: Professor Essi Viding (UCL)

In these Loebel lectures Prof Essi Viding will use disruptive behaviour disorders as an illustrative example to introduce the challenges we face when we try to understand development of psychopathological outcomes. We classify disorders at the level of behaviour, yet individuals arrive at the same behavioural outcomes via multiple different developmental trajectories; a phenomenon called equifinality in the developmental psychopathology literature. A related concept is heterogeneity; we can find individuals with markedly different aetiology to their disorder within the same diagnostic category. The current diagnostic categories identify clinically disturbed functioning, but they do not identify a homogeneous group of individuals.

Getting better at individuating distinct pathways to a disordered outcome is only part of the challenge. Once risk factors for a specific developmental trajectory are identified, we still need to understand their modus operandi. There is no doubt that both biology and the social environment play a role in the emergence of psychopathology, but meaningfully studying their interplay is far from trivial. What are the key biological indicators of vulnerability and resilience? How can we isolate causal mechanisms? How do we model multiple social risk factors and their impact over development?

In Essi Viding's Loebel lectures, as well as in the talks given by speakers in the accompanying workshop, the following questions will be considered:

How does 'latent vulnerability' (of either genetic or environmental origin) translate to a disordered outcome, or conversely what makes some individuals with 'latent vulnerability' resilient?
To what degree are individuals agents in generating their own environmental circumstances?
Do certain behaviours, which can appear disordered, represent adaptations to a specific social ecology?
The workshop will also involve discussion between the speakers and the participants on the following issues:

i. what study designs can help us advance our understanding of the questions outlined above
ii. what implications can be drawn for prevention and treatment of psychiatric disorders
iii. what are the challenges of translating individual differences and group level data to bear on the treatment of a single individual


2016 Loebel Lectures: One-day Workshop

4 November 2016, 9.30am-5pm

Oxford Martin School, Seminar Room 1, Broad Street, Oxford OX1 3BD

Thank you to our workshop speakers for their commentaries and reflections on Prof Essi Viding’s Loebel Lectures.

Prof Peter Dayan (Neuroscience, UCL) [MP3]
Dr Matthew Parrott (Philosophy, KCL) [MP3]
Dr Charlotte Cecil (Psychology, KCL) [MP3]
Prof Neil Levy (Philosophy, Oxford/Macquarie) [MP3]
Dr Nik Steinbeis (Psychology, Leiden University) [MP3]
Prof Eamon McCrory (Neuroscience, UCL) [MP3]
Prof Richard Holton (Philosophy, Cambridge) [MP3]

Uehiro Centre-Moral Philosophy Seminar Special Event

20 October 2016

Auditorium, Corpus Christi College, Oxford

Title: Good enough lives? A disability challenge to procreative beneficence

Abstract: Julian Savulescu has argued for the duty to create the best children one can. Jeff McMahan has written of the benefits of prenatal diagnosis and selective termination. I suspect that neither has an adequately understanding of what disability is, and whether or not it is compatible with a good life. In this talk, I will outline the empirical evidence about what goes well, and what goes less well, in the lives of disabled people, and which barriers impact on their chance of flourishing. I will accept the right of prospective parents to have prenatal diagnosis, and to terminate affected pregnancies. But I also suggest that there can be no duty to use these technologies, at least in the majority of disability cases, and that the priority is for society to accept and support disabled children.

Speaker: Professor Tom Shakespeare (University of East Anglia)

MT16 Oxford-Bucharest Work in Progress Workshop

Speakers from Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics and Bucharest University’s Research Centre in Applied Ethics (CCEA) will present work in progress on a range of themes in applied ethics. Within the event, there will be a special section on the theme of digital ethics, Ethical Perspectives on Attention in Technology Design.

15 November 2016

Seminar Room 1, Oxford Martin School, 34 Broad Street, Oxford OX1 3BD

Audio files of some of the sessions are available:

Cristina Voinea 'Designing for conviviality' MP3
Constantin Vică 'What if Kant were a designer?' MP3
Thomas Douglas 'Parfitian Survival and Punishing Crimes from the Distant Past' MP3

9:10 Welcome: Mircea Dumitru and Julian Savulescu
Digital Ethics Session - Ethical Perspectives on Attention in Technology Design
09:15 Designing for conviviality, Cristina Voinea, Bucharest
09:45 What if Kant were a designer?, Constantin Vică, Bucharest
10:15 The Ethics of Encryption, Carissa Veliz, Oxford
11:00 Loss of a Chance: The Ethics of What Might Have Been, Achas Burin, Oxford
11:30 What Do We Pay When We Pay Attention?, James Williams, Oxford
Applied Ethics Session
13:00 What’s the logic underlying applied ethics reasoning?, Mircea Dumitru, Bucharest
13:30 Moral Luck, Roger Crisp, Oxford
14:00 Unfit for democracy?, Radu Uszkai, Bucharest
15:00 Public use of reason and moral commitments, Prof. Romulus Brâncoveanu, Bucharest
15:30, Parfitian Survival and Punishing Crimes from the Distant Past, Thomas Douglas, Oxford
16:00 Scientific frauds: market failure or fallen angels?, Emanuel Socaciu, Bucharest

MT16 Oxford-Valencia Neuroethics Workshop

14 November 2016

The workshop explored themes in neuroethics and showcased the wealth of philosophical research at Valencia and Oxford.

Seminar Room 1, Oxford Martin School, 34 Broad Street, Oxford OX1 3BD

Julian Savulescu (University of Oxford). No pain, no praise: motivational enhancement and the meaning of life [MP3]
Elsa González Esteban (Universitat Jaume I). Homo reciprocans from Neuroscience: a limited reciprocity. A criticism from neuroethics [MP3]
Guy Kahane (University of Oxford). Beyond Sacrificial Harm: Positive and Negative Dimensions of Everyday Utilitarian Thinking
Pedro Jesús Pérez Zafrilla (Universitat de València). Moral Reasoning is Not Like a Dog's Tail: A Critical Analysis of Social Intuitionism's Two Illusions of Moral Deliberation [MP3]
Javier Gracia and Andrés Richard (Universitat de València). Can we Dissociate Reason from Feelings? Ten Critical Philosophical Questions to Greene's Dual Process Theory [MP3]
Emilian Mihailov (University of Bucarest). The New Problem of Personal Force in Morality [MP3]
Katrien Devolder (University of Oxford). Neurointerventions to Prevent Crime and the Problem of Unjustified Incarceration [MP3]
José Félix Lozano Aguilar (Universitat Politècnica de València). The Contribution of Neuroethics for Responsible Management Education [MP3]
Neil Levy (University of Oxford). Implicit Bias and Racism [MP3]

2016 Uehiro Lectures: How to Count Animals, More or Less

14, 15 and 16 November 2016

Speaker: Professor Shelly Kagan, Clark Professor of Philosophy, Yale University

All three lectures will take place in the Lecture Theatre, Oxford Martin School, Broad Street, Oxford OX1 3BD

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.

Lecture 1. Consequentialism for Cows, 14 November 2016,  [MP3]
Lecture 2. Deontology for Dogs, 15 November 2016, [MP3]
Lecture 3. Foundations for Frogs, 16 November 2016, [MP3]


24 November 2016

St Cross Room, St Cross College, Oxford

Title: Privacy vs. Security

Abstract: When duties arising from two different rights are incompatible with one another, the rights in question can be said to be in conflict. Public discourse at the moment is flooded with claims about the incompatibility between privacy and security. According to popular belief, the more privacy individuals enjoy, the less the state is able to provide security, and vice versa. In other words, the state seems to have incompatible duties: on the one hand, to respect its citizens’ right to privacy by refraining from spying on them, and on the other hand, to guarantee the safety of its citizens, their right to security, which, so the argument goes, cannot be done without spying on the general population. This paper focuses on the supposed trade-off between privacy and security in the context of terrorist threats and mass surveillance. I will follow Waldron’s (1989) framework for assessing rights in conflict by first weighing security against privacy—assessing the importance of the interests at stake, the trade-offs involved and the possible successive waves of duties generated by the failure to comply with a primary duty, and the need for proportionality—and finally focusing on possible internal connections between privacy and security that may suggest these rights are less in conflict than is usually thought. The paper ends with some reflections on the implications for encryption.

Special talk: Professor Jeanette Kennett

10 June 2016

Seminar Room 1, Oxford Martin School, Broad Street, Oxford

PROFESSOR JEANETTE KENNETT (Centre for Agency Values and Ethics, Macquarie University)

Title: Mind the Gap: empathy, the reactive attitudes and moral commitment.

St Cross Special Ethics Seminar: Cognitive Enhancement: Defending the Parity Principle

10 March 2016

St Cross Room, St Cross College, St Giles', Oxford

Speaker: Neil Levy

Title: Cognitive Enhancement: Defending the Parity Principle

Abstract: According to the parity principle, the means whereby an agent intervenes in his or her mind, or the minds of others, is irrelevant when it comes to assessing the moral status of the intervention: what matters is how the intervention affects the agent. In this paper, I set out the case for the parity principle, before defending it from recent objections due to Christoph Bublitz and Reinhard Merkel. Bublitz and Merkel argue that direct interventions bypass agents’ psychological capacities and therefore produce states over which agents have less control and which are less reflective of who they genuinely are. I argue that direct interventions that are processed psychologically may be no less destructive of control or of the degree to which the resulting states are reflective of the agent, and, further, that direct interventions may be morally unproblematic. Given that right now and for the foreseeable future indirect interventions threaten our autonomy far more often and far more deeply than direct, the distinction between direct and indirect interventions doesn’t even provide a useful heuristic for assessing when an intervention into the mind/brain is problematic.


St Cross Special Ethics Seminar: Governing life: is it wrong to intervene in biological processes?

28 January 2016

St Cross Room, St Cross College, St Giles', Oxford

Speaker: Virginie Tournay

Title: Governing life: is it wrong to intervene in biological processes?

Abstract: Is it wrong to intervene in biological processes? Human intervention in the living world gives rise to controversies where scientists are criticised for working on biotechnologies and physicians for ending life when a terminally ill patient is experiencing unmanageable suffering. This lecture will explain the perpetuation of political controversies by showing that scientific and moral assessments of human intervention in the living world are unsolvable because they are based on cognitive biases. Looking at case studies of such controversial issues (end of life intervention, GMOs and synthetic biology debates), my analysis will focus on the apparent clarity of the double contrast between natural beings and artificial objects on the one hand, and risk and realms of uncertainty on the other. The interesting point here is that the relationship between scientific expertise and political issues is clearly related to these implicit epistemological prerequisites.


St Cross Special Ethics Seminar: The role of therapeutic optimism in recruitment to a clinical trial: an empirical study

12 May 2016

St Cross Room, St Cross College


Title: The role of therapeutic optimism in recruitment to a clinical trial: an empirical study

Abstract: Hope, or therapeutic optimism, is an important aspect of the provision and experience of medical care. The role of therapeutic optimism in clinical research has been briefly discussed within the empirical and bioethics literature, but the concept, and whether it can be transferred from care to research and from patients to clinicians, has not been fully investigated. Interviews with clinical staff involved in a peripartum randomised placebo-controlled trial– the Got-it trial - revealed that therapeutic optimism has an important role to play facilitating clinical staff engagement with trial work. In this paper I will unpack the concept of therapeutic optimism in trial settings, describe how it is sustained in practice and outline some of the ethical risks and benefits.


St Cross Special Ethics Seminar: The Right to Have a Child: Based upon Autonomy?

19 May 2016

St Cross Room, St Cross College

Speaker: CARTER DILLARD (; Animal Legal Defense Fund)

Title: The Right to Have a Child: Based upon Autonomy?

Abstract: Many claim that both the moral and legal right to have a child derives from the autonomy of the intending parent(s). What is autonomous about creating another human? What does seeing the act as autonomous entail for our obligations to the children we have, and the other humans and nonhumans those children will influence? This discussion will explore the claim, and end with a brief exploration into values that might replace autonomy and ground a right to have a child.

HT16 Leverhulme Lectures:  Professor Neil Levy

4 and 11 February 2016

Lecture Theatre, Oxford Martin School, 34 Broad Street, Oxford

Speaker: Professor Neil Levy

Lecture One: The Nature and the Significance of Implicit Bias
People who sincerely express a commitment to equality sometimes act in ways that seem to belie that commitment. There is good evidence that these actions are sometimes caused by implicit mental states, of which people may not be aware. In this lecture, I introduce these states, explore how significant a role they play in explaining behaviour, and how they can be changed.

Lecture Two: Moral Responsibility and Implicit Bias

Should people be blamed for wrongful actions caused by implicit bias? That depends on how exactly these states cause behaviour, how appropriate it is to identify the agent with these states and their opportunities for controlling their influence over their behaviour. I argue that under many circumstances, the states do not belong to the agent in kind of way that makes it appropriate to identify the agent with them and that they lack responsibility-conferring control over their influences on behaviour.

Audio:  |

We gratefully acknowledge the support of The Leverhulme Trust for their funding of Associate Professor Levy's Visiting Professorship.

2015 Uehiro Lectures (1/3)

18, 19 and 20 January 2016

Lecture Theatre, Oxford Martin School

Speaker: Professor Samuel Scheffler

Series title: Why Worry about Future Generations?

Why should we care about what happens to human beings in the future, after we ourselves are long gone? Much of the contemporary philosophical literature on future generations implicitly suggests that our primary reasons for concern are reasons of beneficence. In these lectures, I propose a different answer. Implicit in our existing values and attachments are a variety of powerful reasons, which are independent of considerations of beneficence, for wanting the chain of human generations to persist into the indefinite future under conditions conducive to human flourishing.

Lecture 1: Temporal Parochialism and Its Discontents (18 January)
Most of us who live in contemporary liberal societies lack a rich set of evaluative resources for thinking about the human beings who will come after us. We do not possess a highly developed set of ideas about the value of human continuity, or about the values we hope will be realized in the future, or about the values and norms that should inform our own activities insofar as they affect future generations or depend on the expectation that there will be future generations. Yet we are hardly indifferent to the fate of our successors, and it is not uncommon for issues like climate change that implicate our attitudes toward the future to generate passionate interest and intense controversy. Much of the philosophical literature dealing with future generations focuses on issues of moral responsibility and approaches these issues from a broadly utilitarian perspective, devoting special attention to the puzzles of “population ethics”. In this lecture, I explain why I take a different approach. Rather than focusing exclusively on issues of moral responsibility, I want to consider the broader question of how future generations feature in or are related to our practical and evaluative thought as a whole. My aim is to explore the evaluative commitments that may be latent in our existing attitudes and may help to enrich our thinking about the significance that future generations have for us.

Lecture 2: Reasons to Worry (19 Janurary)
In this lecture I argue that, quite apart from considerations of beneficence, we have reasons of at least four different kinds to try to ensure the survival and flourishing of our successors: reasons of love, reasons of interest, reasons of value, and reasons of reciprocity.

Lecture 3: Conservatism, Temporal Bias, and Future Generations (20 January)
The reasons discussed in the previous lecture all depend in one way or another on our existing values and attachments and our conservative disposition to preserve and sustain the things that we value. The idea that our reasons for caring about the fate of future generations depend on an essentially conservative disposition may seem surprising or even paradoxical. In this lecture, I explore this conservative disposition further, explaining why it strongly supports a concern for the survival and flourishing of our successors, and comparing it to the form of conservatism defended by G.A. Cohen. I consider the question whether this kind of conservatism involves a form of irrational temporal bias and how it fits within the context of the more general relations between our attitudes toward time and our attitudes toward value.

Audio file lecture 1:
Audio file lecture 2:
Audio file lecture 3:
Blog post:

MT15 St Cross Special Ethics Seminar: Jonathan Pugh

12th Nov 2015

Speaker: Dr Jonathan Pugh

Title: Justifications for Non-Consensual Medical Intervention: From Infectious Disease Control to Criminal Rehabilitation

Abstract: Although a central tenet of medical ethics holds that it is permissible to perform a medical intervention on a competent individual only if that individual has given informed consent to that intervention, there are some circumstances in which it seems that this moral requirement may be trumped. For instance, in some circumstances, it might be claimed that it is morally permissible to carry out certain sorts of non-consensual interventions on competent individuals for the purpose of infectious disease control (IDC). In this paper, I shall explain how one might defend this practice, and consider the extent to which similar considerations might be invoked in favour of carrying out non-consensual medical interventions for the purposes of facilitating rehabilitation amongst criminal offenders. Having considered examples of non-consensual interventions in IDC that seem to be morally permissible, I shall describe two different moral frameworks that a defender of this practice might invoke in order to justify such interventions. I shall then identify five desiderata that can be used to guide the assessments of the moral permissibility of non-consensual IDC interventions on either kind of fundamental justification. Following this analysis, I shall consider how the justification of non-consensual interventions for the purpose of IDC compares to the justification of non-consensual interventions for the purpose of facilitating criminal rehabilitation, according to these five desiderata. I shall argue that the analysis I provide suggests that a plausible case can be made in favour of carrying certain sorts of non-consensual interventions for the purpose facilitating rehabilitation amongst criminal offenders.

Venue: St Cross Room, St Cross College, Oxford

Audio file:


2015 Loebel Lectures in Psychiatry and Philosophy

3rd, 4th and 5th Nov 2015

Professor Steven E. Hyman (Stanley Center for Psychiatric Research, Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard)


Venue: Grove Auditorium, Magdalen College, Longwall Street*, Oxford OX1 4AU (*please note the auditorium can only be accessed via the Longwall Street entrance).

Lecture 1: Neurobiological materialism collides with the experience of being human (3 November)

i. The mechanistic explanations of neuroscience pose, in a new form, an age-old challenge to our ineluctable experience of the freedom of our ideas and intentions and their causal efficacy.

a. This is not simply an academic debate

b. This collision plays out with real consequences in systems of criminal justice and in psychiatry.

i. Courts have resisted expansion of mechanistic explanations because Western justice is based on a concept of moral agency that requires freedom of choice and action.

ii. Nonetheless, increasingly sophisticated mechanistic understandings are slowly gaining traction

ii. Psychiatry poses a more complex case: Mechanistic explanations of thought, emotion, and behavior have been both welcomed and reviled.

a. Mechanistic explanations have been seen as a path to better understanding and treatments and as freeing the mentally ill from unfair attributions of moral weakness.

b. Others see the same explanations as dehumanizing.

c. By offering new views on strange and frightening behaviors neurobiology has been seen as destigmatizing. Conversely neurobiology has been seen to create a picture of a hopelessly different brain, thus contributing to new forms of stigma.

d. Proponents and antagonists of neurobiology in psychitry give very different answers to the central questions of how a person came to be a certain way and what can be done to make things better.

iii. Psychiatrists are not immune to the cognitive distortions invited by intuitive Cartesian dualism.

a. Too often conditions that are simplistically attributed to genetic or other strong biological causes are falsely seen through a filter of determinism and hopelessness: “you can’t change your genes”. Conditions attributed simplistically to lived experience are seen, often falsely, as more malleable.

b. Conditions ascribed to biological causes are often wrongly thought to be treated best with medicines or neuromodulation. Conditions ascribed to lived experience are often thought to be treated best with psychotherapy.

iv. The credibility of psychiatry has been damaged by premature claims of mechanistic understandings and by closed minded resistance to the implications of genetic and neurobiological discoveries.

a. Unyielding theoretical stances put patients at risk of poor clinical decision-making

b. The use of patients as theoretical cudgels was illustrated by some notorious cases and, in the U.S., law suits during the 1970’s and 1980’s.

v. Currently clinical pragmatism has become increasingly dominant in psychiatry, to the benefit of clinical care.

a. However, emerging science is significantly disconnected from the clinic.

b. Moreover, the theoretical underpinnings of psychiatry remain weak, dealing poorly with the intersection of mechanistic views with human intuitions and experience. I will address this weaknesses in the third lecture.

Lecture 2: Science is quietly, inexorably eroding many core assumptions underlying psychiatry (4 November)

i. A half-century of stasis in psychiatric therapeutics reflects the enormous scientific hurdles posed by psychiatric disorders.

ii. However, it also reveals the need for new ways of thinking and a more honest response to evidence.

iii. Psychiatry has yet to grasp the complexity that lies at the heart of human cognition and behavior as well as psychopathology.

a. There are few, if any, main effects in the genesis of psychopathology

i. Hundreds, perhaps thousands of genes, contribute small incremental to the pathogenesis of mental illness

ii. Current ‘candidate’ gene by environment approaches are still reductive heuristics, not explanations of psychopathology.

b. Overly reductive pharmacologic and endocrine models persist in academic research despite contrary evidence, as do failed animal models rejected by industry.

c. Linear, causal psychological narratives may be comforting, even helpful, but are not veridical

i. Motivation and decision-making are opaque to introspection (as Freud knew, but lacked the tools to investigate).

ii. Cognitive and computational neuroscience are beginning to draw a better picture

d. The DSM classification, based on drawing a large number of fictive categories, has proved damaging to science

iv. Epochal technological advances (genomics, computation, stem cell biology, genome engineering, microscopy, and brain-machine interfaces) are fundamentally changing the science relevant to psychiatry; new ideas are following from technologically enabled observations.

v. The complexity is humbling, but the emerging picture of psychopathology will be one of biological mechanisms, whether of molecular targets within protein complexes (cellular machines) affected by drugs, or synapses and circuits affected by cognitive therapies, adaptive therapies, or neuromodulation.

Lecture 3: What is the upshot? (5 November)

i. The emerging scientific picture of psychiatric illness and treatment is gaining in truth value (within the nexus of scientific understandings).

ii. Explanations of distress and psychopathology based on introspection and phenomenological observations of others generally lacks truth value (from the perspective of science).

iii. The problem for psychiatry is that it must make diagnoses and administer treatments for problems that are deeply involved in subjective experience, introspection, and personal narratives. Psychiatry fails if patients (and their families) are expected to see themselves as machines.

iv. I would add that human subjective narratives and intuitions of agency qualify as more than ‘mere’ illusions: The experience of lacking agency is a well validated and measurable stressor or in other cases a psychotic delusion.

v. Psychiatry must find a way to be better rooted in science, which it should see as provisionally true (in the sense that we will learn more) and to recognize the implications of complexity. At the same time clinicians must also empathize with the human beings who are their patients, and respect their whose direct subjective experience of illness. Unlike the psychiatry of the late 20th century, we must not choose sides; all patients the best outcome of being objects of science and human beings with subjective experience.

vi. I will present a theory that does not elide the differences between mechanistic neurobiology and subjective human narratives, but that requires clinicians to switch their gaze as the situation demands and as they can.

Audio files:

Lecture 1:
Lecture 2:
Lecture 3:

MT15: Loebel Workshop

5th Nov 2015

We are pleased to announce details of a one-day event to complement our forthcoming Loebel Lectures. The aim of the workshop is to provide commentaries and discussion of the themes of Professor Steven Hyman's Loebel Lectures, 'The theoretical challenge of modern psychiatry: no easy cure', which will take place on the evenings of 3, 4 and 5 November 2015.

Funding and organisation: The workshop is organised by The Oxford Loebel Lectures and Research Programme (OLLRP), with kind support from our sponsors, the Society for Applied Philosophy and the Oxford Martin School.

Venue: Oxford Martin School, Seminar Room 1, Broad Street, Oxford OX1 3BD


Barbara Sahakian, Tim Thornton, Liz Meins, Derek Bolton, Sanneke De Haan, Jonathan Glover, Steve Hyman

CONFERENCE: Conscience And Conscientious Objection In Healthcare

Dates: 23-24 November 2015

Venue: Oxford Martin School

Organizers: Julian Savulescu (University of Oxford), Alberto Giubilini (Charles Sturt University), Steve Clarke (Charles Sturt University)

The Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics (University of Oxford) and the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics (Charles Sturt University) will host a conference on conscientious objection in medicine and the role of conscience in healthcare practitioners’ decision making.

The conference aimed at analyzing from a philosophical, ethical and legal perspective the meaning and the role of “conscience” in the healthcare profession. Conscientious objection by health professionals has become one of the most pressing problems in healthcare ethics. Health professionals are often required to perform activities that conflict with their own moral or religious beliefs (for example abortion). Their refusal can make it difficult for patients to have access to services they have a right to and, more in general, can create conflicts in the doctor-patient relationship. The widening of the medical options available today or in the near future is likely to sharpen these conflicts. Experts in bioethics, philosophy, law and medicine explored possible solutions.

The conference was supported by the Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics and an Australian Research Council Discovery Grant (DP 150102068). We are grateful to the Oxford Martin School for providing the venue for the conference.


Jeff McMahan
Richard Sorabji
Katrien Devolder

That's Oxford TV Report


Aaron Ancell and Walter Sinnott Armstrong: We Want Kids, Too: Should Doctors be Allowed to Refuse to Help Gay Couples have Children?

Kimberley Brownlee: Medicine and morally messy relationships

Steve Clarke: Two concepts of conscience and their implications for conscience-based refusal

Tom Douglas: Refusing to treat sexual dysfunction in sex offenders

Alberto Giubilini: Objection to conscience. On good and bad objections in medicine

Jeanette Kennett: Kant, conscience, and professional roles

Hugh LaFollette: My conscience may be my guide, but you may not have to honour it

Francesca Minerva: Conscientious objection and complicity in wrongdoing

Julian Savulescu: The proper place of conscience and values

Roger Trigg: Conscientious objection and 'effective referral'

Mark Wicclair: Reasons, moral integrity, and conscientious objection

Dominic Wilkinson: Conscientious non-objection and medical dissensus in intensive care

Roundtable Discussion: Various contributors

MT15: Cyberselves in Immersive Technologies Symposium

14th Oct 2015 9:30am - 15th Oct 2015 3:15pm

We are pleased to advertise a two-day symposium on virtual reality and telepresence on the theme of "Cyberselves in Immersive Technologies". The symposium is sponsored by the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council and the Oxford Martin School and will be hosted at the University of Oxford on the 14th and 15th October 2015. Website

Our symposium will be multi-disciplinary with contributions from technologists, psychologists, neuroscientists, philosophers and cultural theorists looking at the future societal and ethical impacts of virtual reality and immersive technologies.

Technology demonstration: After the symposium has ended on the first day, there will be a showcase of new technologies and current research into virtual reality, augmented reality and teleoperation (approximately 5.30pm on 14th October).

Venue: Oxford Martin School, Broad Street, Oxford

Wednesday 14th October

KEYNOTE SPEAKER: Dr Johnny Hartz Søraker: Virtual Environments and Subjective Well-being

Dr Blay Whitby: Virtually anything goes: what, if any, are the ethical limits on behaviour in virtual worlds?

Prof Ralph Schroeder: Ethical and Social Issues in Shared Virtual Environments Revisited

KEYNOTE SPEAKER: Prof Henrik Ehrsson: Neural substrates of senses of body ownership and self location

Prof Patrick Haggard: Re-engineering the relation between self and body: private experience and public space

Prof Paul Verschure: The Soul of the Machine: The multi-layered structure of a synthetic self

Thursday 15th October

KEYNOTE SPEAKER: Dr Orit Halpern: The Smart Mandate: A Brief History of Ubiquitous Computing and Responsive Environments

Prof Jonathan Freeman: Measuring presence and engagement with the Independent Television Commission Sense of Presence Inventory (ITC-SOPI)

Dr Tom Tyler: How to Lose at Videogames (Repeatedly)

KEYNOTE SPEAKER: Prof JoAnn Difede: On the precipice of a paradigm shift: Novel therapeutics for PTSD and Anxiety disorders

Special Lecture: Neurocognitive and Motivational Underpinnings of In-Group Bounded Cooperation

25th Nov 2015 5:00pm-6:30pm

Speaker: Carsten K.W. De Dreu, University of Amsterdam (Department of Psychology and Center for Experimental Economics and Political Decision Making), and Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study

Title: Neurocognitive and Motivational Underpinnings of In-Group Bounded Cooperation

Abstract: Human self-sacrifical decisions to cooperate with others are more frequent, and they emerge more automatically, when beneficiaries belong to one’s in-group, rather than to a more or less rivaling out-group. Using quantitative techniques that covered forty years of experimental work in social psychology, sociology, and experimental and behavioral economics, we found this in-group bias to be robust and universal. Subsequent experiments reveal this in-group bias to be (i) motivated by a desire to benefit the in-group and its members, rather than to hurt or derogate competing outgroups, (ii) stronger when cooperation protects the in-group against enemies, rather than facilitates subordination of rivaling out-groups, (iii) regulated by sub-cortical brain circuitries involved in emotion-regulation and heuristic decision-making more than by prefrontal networks implicated in controlled and calculated choice, and (iv) enhanced under increased availability of oxytocin, a hypothalamic neuropeptide involved in pair-bond formation, parent-offspring interactions, and maternal defense. Findings together resonate with the idea that humans are biologically prepared for in-group bounded cooperation, and that such in-group bias is motivated more by group survival and protection needs, than by opportunities for group prosperity and expansion.

Venue: Oxford Martin School, Lecture Theatre

HT15 Leverhulme Lectures

27 February, 3 March and 6 March 2015

Speaker: Professor Neil Levy

Venue: Lecture Theatre, Oxford Martin School, Oxford OX1 3BD

Lecture One: Self-Control: A problem of self-management (27 Feb)

In this lecture I argue that self-control problems typical arise from conflicts between smaller sooner and larger later rewards. I suggest that we often fail successfully to navigate these problems because of our commitment to a conception of ourselves as rational agents who answer questions about ourselves by looking to the world. Despite the attractions of this conception, I argue that it undermines efforts at self-control and thereby our capacity to pursue the ends we value. I suggest we think of self-control as a problem of self-management, whereby we manipulate ourselves.

Lecture Two: The Science of Self-Control

In this lecture I outline some of the main perspectives on self-control and its loss stemming from recent work in psychology. I focus in particular on the puzzle arising from the role of glucose in successful self-control. Glucose ingestion seems to boost self-control but there is good evidence that it doesn't do this by providing fuel for the relevant mechanisms. I suggest that glucose functions as a cue of resource availability rather than fuel.

Lecture Three: Marshmallows and Moderation

There is evidence that self-control is a character trait. This evidence seems inconsistent with the management approach I advocate, since that approach urges that we look to external props for self-control, not to states of the agent. In this lecture I argue, that contrary to appearances, we should hesitate to think that people high in what is known as trait self-control have any such character trait. In fact, properly understood the evidence concerning trait self-control supports the management.

We gratefully acknowledge the support of The Leverhulme Trust for their funding of Associate Professor Levy's Visiting Professorship.

HT15 Wellcome & Loebel Lecture in Neuroethics

10th Mar 2015 5:30pm-6:45pm

We are pleased to announce that our 2015 Wellcome & Loebel Lecture in Neuroethics will be delivered by Professor Shaun Nichols of University of Arizona.

Title: Death and the self

Abstract: Many revolutionary positions in philosophy – skepticism, materialism, hard determinism – have disturbing implications. By contrast, the revolutionary idea that there is no persisting self is supposed to have generally beneficial consequences. Insofar as the self does not persist, one should be more generous to others, less punitive, and have less fear of death. This talk will report recent experiments indicating that changing beliefs about the persistence of self does affect generosity and punitiveness. For attitudes about the self and death, we examined responses from Hindus, Tibetan Buddhists and Westerners; the results are complex and surprising.

Venue: Seminar Rooms 1 & 2, Oxford Martin School, University of Oxford, 34 Broad Street, Oxford OX1 3BD

HT15 Special Lecture: Jonathan Moreno

18th Mar 2015 5:30pm-6:45pm

Wednesday 18 March 2015, 5.30-6.45pm (booking required)

Title: Mind Wars: Brain Science and the Military

Abstract: In this talk I explain the nature of national security interest in the burgeoning field of neuroscience and its implications for military and counter-intelligence operations.

Venue: Lecture Theatre, Oxford Martin School, University of Oxford, 34 Broad Street, Oxford OX1 3BD


TT15 Oxford-Duke Workshop

11th Jun 2015 12:30pm - 12th Jun 2015 1:15pm

Venue: Seminar Room 1, Oxford Martin School, 34 Broad Street, Oxford OX1 3BD (on corner of Broad St and Catte St)

This workshop, the first of an inaugural pair, showcased the wealth of the philosophical faculty at Duke and Oxford whose research includes a serious concentration in bioethics. On June 11-12, four professors from Duke presented papers in Oxford on a wide range of topics. In February 2016, four researchers from Oxford will present papers at Duke. Through these two workshops, the Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics in Oxford and the Trent Center for Bioethics, Humanities, and the History of Medicine at Duke are also exploring the potential for an ongoing collaboration.

Facilitator: Hannah Maslen

Allen Buchanan: Toward a Naturalistic Theory of Moral Progress (Based on a paper co-authored with Russell Powell)
Response: Guy Kahane


Jennifer Hawkins: Happiness, Unhappiness, and Suffering
Response: Jeff McMahan

Walter Sinnott-Armstrong:Moral Conformity
Response: Joanna Demaree-Cotton


Gopal Sreenivasan: Human rights and public goods: problems from health and beyond
Response: Tom Douglas
Not recorded.

Introducing Animal Ethics

8th Apr 2015 12:00pm-1:30pm

Introducing Animal Ethics, an organization aimed at spreading concern about ethics and nonhuman animals among the general public and in academia.

Venue: Seminar Room 1, Oxford Martin School, University of Oxford, 34 Broad Street, Oxford OX1 3BD

Public event, all welcome, booking not required. Please note this is not an OUC event. Download flier.

Abstract: According to a widespread view, nonhuman animals do not deserve full moral consideration. As a result, they are used as resources in many harmful ways. In addition, the harms suffered by animals in the wild are often disregarded, even though there are strong reasons to think that wild animal suffering vastly prevails over positive wellbeing.

There has been an increasing amount of literature on these issues in the last few decades, an important part of it arguing that our current attitudes towards nonhuman animals demonstrates a speciesist bias. For the most part, however, these questions remain unaddressed. Animal Ethics is a recently formed organization that intends to change that. Its purpose includes the promotion of research and debate about issues in animal ethics in academia. It also aims to popularize arguments concerning ethics and animal sentience among the general public, and animal advocates.

HT15 St Cross Seminar: Richard Hain

29th Jan 2015 5:30pm

Venue: St Cross Room, St Cross College, Oxford

Speaker: Dr Richard Hain

Title: Mere Practicality? Infants, interests and the value of life

Abstract: Anyone who has been present at the memorial service for an infant knows that, in practice, people accord the life of a child a special value. Those caring for infants, like those caring for children who are cognitively impaired, intuitively respond to their patients as though they were particularly precious, and feel an obligation to care for infants - that is, to act in their interests - that expresses that value.

Principlism is the dominant paradigm in medical ethics. It explains the value of life using both a utilitarian subjectivist account (there is a rational sense in which the individual’s continued existence will be in her own interests and/or those of others) and a deontological objective one (there are ‘contracts’ or ’ties of family’ whose nature, other things being equal, expresses an obligation to act in the interests of the individual, independently of any impact on the interests of others).

Both accounts are problematic in infants. Infants reason differently from adults, and they are by definition dependent on others. They apprehend the universe in a way that is meaningful, but probably does not link moral action with outcome. The infant therefore values its life in the moment, but does not have an interest in its continuing existence in the way a subjectivist account of intrinsic value requires. An obligation to act in the interests of an infant is complicated by the fact that those interests must be articulated by adults. Adults can be owner, carer, proxy or advocate for the infant, and may speak in all four voices simultaneously. It is often impossible in practice (it may not even be possible in principle), to explicate the interests of adults from those of an infant in the way the objective deontological account of an infant’s value requires.

In order to explain rationally the value of an infant’s life, we need to consider a different account of interests; one that does not depend on characteristics such a reason and independence that infants definitionally do not possess, but instead flows from characteristics such as meaning-making and relationality that they self-evidently do.


HT15 St Cross Seminar: Rebecca Roache

19th Feb 2015 5:30pm-7:00pm

Venue: St Cross Room, St Cross College, Oxford

Speaker: Dr Rebecca Roache

Title: On Swearing

Abstract: What, if anything, is wrong with swearing? And, what exactly are we doing when we try to swear inoffensively? I begin by reflecting on why we swear, why it is widely deemed offensive, and some of the benefits of swearing. I then turn to the widespread practice of substituting asterisks for letters (and analogous spoken strategies) in an effort to swear without causing offence, and consider what could possibly explain how such a practice succeeds (if it does) in making swear words less offensive. I argue that – to the extent that swearing is offensive – there is no plausible philosophical story according to which this practice succeeds in rendering swearing inoffensive, and that some accounts of why swearing is offensive entail that asterisked swearing actually magnifies the badness of swearing. I conclude that, in so far as we are willing to view asterisked swearing as inoffensive, we should not be offended by swearing. (This talk will contain swearing. However, since the speaker hopes to convince you that swearing is less offensive than it is often taken to be, you should not let this dissuade you from coming along.)

Bio: Dr Roache's research interests encompass metaphysics, philosophy of mind, ethics and bioethics, and philosophical issues arising from scientific and social-scientific discoveries and from advances in technology (especially human enhancement). These diverse interests are united by a desire to understand the way in which our thought and experience are shaped by the sort of beings we are: by our evolutionary history, our biology, our relationships, and the world in which we live. Many of her publications are available here. Roache has BA and MA degrees in philosophy from the University of Leeds, and MPhil and PhD degrees from the University of Cambridge. Between 2006 and 2010 she was James Martin Research Fellow at Oxford's Future of Humanity Institute. After taking a career break to focus on her two small children, she has now taken up a position as Lecturer in Philosophy at Royal Holloway, University of London.


TT15 St Cross Double Seminar

4th Jun 2015 5:00pm-7:30pm

Venue: St Cross Room, St Cross College, Oxford

Speaker 1: Dr Josh Shepherd

Title: The moral insignificance of self-consciousness

Abstract: Many share an intuition that self-consciousness is highly morally significant. Some hold that self-consciousness significantly enhances an entity’s moral status. Others hold that self-consciousness underwrites the attribution of so-called personhood (or full moral status) to self-conscious entities. I examine the claim that self-consciousness is highly morally significant, such that the fact that an entity is self-conscious generates strong moral reasons to treat that entity in certain ways (reasons that, for example, make killing such entities a very serious matter). I analyse four arguments in support of such a claim, and find all four wanting. We lack good reasons to think self-consciousness is highly morally significant.


Speaker 2: Dr Mimi Zou (Faculty of Law, The Chinese University of Hong Kong)

Title: The 'New' Guestworker? Rethinking the Ethics of Temporary Labour Migration Programme

Abstract: At the beginning of the 21st century, temporary labour migration programmes (TLMP) have (re)emerged and expanded in a number of advanced industrialised countries. TLMPs are not a new phenomenon, with the use of large-scale guestworker schemes in Western Europe and the United States during the 1950s-1960s. Advocates of contemporary TLMPs argue that ‘carefully designed’ schemes can deliver ‘triple wins’ for host countries, home countries and migrants and their families. Yet, the case for these ‘new and improved’ TLMPs is not without critics, who maintain that these schemes continue to have highly exploitative elements built into them. My talk probes into the ethical landscape of contemporary TLMPs in liberal democratic states. I examine the various attempts to justify the array of restrictions on migrants’ employment and social rights under TLMPs. In particular, I provide a critique of a relatively influential argument that has emerged in recent years, which puts forward a purported trade-off between the numbers of migrants admitted and the rights granted to them.


HT14 St Cross Seminar: Neil Levy

27th Mar 2014  

Speaker:  Professor Neil Levy

Title: Addiction as a disorder of belief.

Abstract: Addiction is almost universally held to be characterized by a loss of control over drug-seeking and consuming behavior. But the actions of addicts, even of those who seem to want to abstain from drugs, seem to be guided by reasons. In this paper, I argue that we can explain this fact, consistent with continuing to maintain that addiction involves a loss of control, by understanding addiction as involving an oscillation between conflicting judgments. I argue that the dysfunction of the mesolimbic dopamine system that typifies addictions causes the generation of a mismatch between the top-down model of the world that reflects the judgment that the addict ought to refrain from drugs, and bottom-up input caused by cues predictive of drug availability. This constitutes a powerful pressure toward revising the judgment and thereby attenuating the prediction error.  But the new model is not stable, and shifts under the pressure of bottom-up inputs in different contexts; hence the oscillation of all-things-considered judgment. Evidence from social psychology is adduced, to suggest that a similar process may be involved in ordinary cases of weakness of will.

Venue:  St Cross Room, St Cross College, Oxford.

TT14: Pandemics, Plans, and the Public: Regulatory Discourses in Global Health Governance

19th May 2014

Speaker: Professor Belinda Bennett, Queensland University of Technology

Venue: Seminar Room 2, Oxford Martin School

Contemporary debates around public health and preparedness for pandemic influenza reveal a range of discourses on relationships – the relationships between countries in a globalised world, between individuals and the broader community, and between differing understandings of risk and how it should best be managed. Legal and regulatory discourses play an important role within these debates, often providing a formal framework for negotiating complex aspects of these relationships, while at the same time, providing important insights into the relationships themselves. This paper analyses the different relational strands evident in regulatory debates about public health and pandemic preparedness and explores the degree to which cultural, economic and legal differences shape the relationships in question and in turn, public health and public health law.

TT14 Special Seminar by Tony Coady

12th Jun 2014

Speaker:  Professor Tony Coady

Title: The enhancement debate: trusting emotion or trusting reason—a false dichotomy?

Abstract: In the debate about the pros and cons of human enhancement, proponents of enhancement often accuse their opponents (so-called “conservatives”) of substituting emotion for reason. In this, they are relying upon an age-old dichotomy between reason and emotion that has a long popular and philosophical history. Plato’s picture of Reason as the charioteer controlling the turbulent horses of the passions has had a significant influence (though its popular version ignores Plato’s reservations.) Cognitive psychologists and neuro-scientists have recently joined the fray and sought to examine the role of reason on the one hand and emotion on the other in moral outlooks and decisions. This paper will examine the contrast between reason and emotion and, while noting many ambiguities in both concepts, will argue that much of the separation of reason and emotion that underpins the debate is misguided.

Venue:  St Cross Room, St Cross College, Oxford.


TT14 St Cross Seminar: Tom Walker

15th May 2014

Speaker: Dr Tom Walker, Director Centre for Ethics, School of Politics, International Studies and Philosophy, Queen’s University Belfast

Venue: St Cross Room, St Cross College, Oxford

Title: "I wouldn’t have consented if I’d known that could happen": Consenting without Understanding

Abstract: There are two features of consenting to medical treatment that have been little explored in the extensive literature on this topic. The first is that the requirement to obtain consent is conditional in the following sense – we only need to obtain consent for those things that are both wrong if done without consent, and that we want or have reason to do. The second is that whilst many patients in their interactions with doctors are initially uninformed, this does not always prevent them from choosing to have, or not to have, possible treatments. In this paper I explore the implications of these two features for the idea that doctors ought to provide information to patients about the treatments they propose. I will argue that these features create a serious problem for the widely held idea that it would be wrong, because it would fail to respect his autonomy, to give a competent patient medical treatment without his valid consent (where this refers to a voluntary and informed agreement to have the treatment). As such the requirement to respect autonomy will not give any reason for doctors to provide information in these cases; in fact on at least some accounts of autonomy the obligation to respect autonomy would give them a reason not to provide that information. The paper then goes on to consider some ways in which the obligation to provide information about potential treatments could be supported.


TT14 St Cross Seminar: Jeremy Howick

12th Jun 2014

Speaker:  Dr Jeremy Howick

Title: What counts as a placebo is relative to a target disorder and therapeutic theory: defending a modified version of Grünbaum’s scheme

Abstract: There is currently no widely accepted definition of ‘placebos’. Yet debates about the ethics of placebo use (in routine practice or clinical trials) and the magnitude (if any!) of ‘placebo’ effects continue to rage. Even if not formally required, a definition of the ‘placebo’ concept could inform these debates. Grünbaum’s 1981/1986 characterization of the ‘placebo’ has been cited as the best attempt thus far, but has not been widely accepted. Here we argue that criticisms of Grünbaum’s scheme are either exaggerated, unfounded or based on misunderstandings. We propose that, with three modifications, Grünbaum’s scheme can be defended. Grünbaum argues that all interventions can be classified by a therapeutic theory into ‘incidental’ and ‘characteristic’ features. ‘Placebos’, then, are treatments whose characteristic features do not have effects on the target disorder. To Grünbaum whether a treatment counts as a placebo or not is relative to a target disorder, and a therapeutic theory. We modify Grünbaum’s scheme in the following way. First, we add ‘harmful intervention’ and ‘nocebo’ categories; second, we insist that what counts as a ‘placebo’ (or nonplacebo) be relativized to patients; and third, we issue a clarification about the overall classification of an intervention. We argue that our modified version of Grünbaum’s scheme resists published criticisms. Our work warrants a re-examination of current policies of the ethics of placebos in both clinical practice and clinical trials, and a revised empirical estimation of ‘placebo’ effects, both in the context of clinical trials and clinical practice.

Venue:  St Cross Room, St Cross College, Oxford.


MT14: Loebel Lectures

15 and 16 October 2014

Speaker: Professor Kenneth Kendler

Venue:  Oxford Martin School Lecture Theatre, Old Indian Institute, Broad Street, Oxford

Lecture 1 of 2:  The Genetic Epidemiology of Psychiatric and Substance Abuse Disorders: Multiple Levels, Interactions and Causal Loops

I show how recent studies in the genetic epidemiology and molecular genetics of psychiatric and substance use disorders illustrate the complex causal pathways to mental illness. These include gene-environment interaction in the etiology of major depression (MD) and substance use and abuse, gene-social interactions in drug use, environment-environment interaction in the etiology of MD, and gene-environment covariation in the etiology of MD. I will illustrate the role of genetic factors on the comorbidity of psychiatric disorders using both twin and molecular methods, and describe complex developmental models for MD  and alcohol use disorder. I will conclude with a classical example of top-down causation: the impact of human decision-making on the gene-to-phenotype pathway for psychiatric illness. 

Video (YouTube)  |  Audio (MP3)

Lecture 2 of 2: The Dappled Causal World of Psychiatric Disorders: The Link Between the Classification of Psychiatric Disorders and Their Causal Complexity

Since it is unlikely that we can identify a single causal level at which we can define our disorders etiologically, I explore the dappled causal world for psychiatric disorders, through an examination of psychiatric and other literature. I will suggest three primary and progressive goals for psychiatric research: to populate our causal space, to develop multilevel causal mechanisms, and to integrate the resulting neurobiological models with psychological explanations. I will consider how we might best conceptualise psychiatric disorders, and propose a new framework for how their classification might best move forward in time.

Video (YouTube) |  Audio (MP3)

2014 Wellcome Lecture in Neuroethics

30th Oct 2014

Speaker: Professor Walter Sinnott-Armstrong (Duke University)

Title: Implicit Moral Attitudes

Abstract: Most moral philosophers and psychologists focus on explicit moral beliefs that people give as answers to questions. However, much research in social psychology shows that implicit moral attitudes (unconscious beliefs or associations) also affect our thinking and behavior. This talk will report our new psychological and neuroscientific research on implicit moral attitudes (using a process dissociation procedure) and then explore potential implications for scientific moral psychology as well as  for philosophical theories of moral epistemology, responsibility, and virtue. If there is time, I will discuss practical uses of these findings in criminal law, especially regarding the treatment of psychopaths and prediction of their recidivism.


MT14 St Cross Seminar: Michael Boylan

27th Nov 2014

Speaker:  Dr Michael Boylan

Title: Natural Human Rights: A Theory

This seminar will explore the central argument in my just published book, Natural Human Rights: A Theory (Cambridge, September 2014).  Arguing against the grain of most contemporary writers on the subject, I contend that an examination of the structure and function of human action allows one to bridge the fact/value chasm to create binding positive duties that recognize fundamental human rights claims.  This theoretical argument is then suggestively applied to contemporary social and political problems in the world.

Venue: St Cross Room, St Cross College, Oxford


MT14: Bucharest- Oxford Workshop in Applied Ethics

1st Dec 2014

Venue: Seminar Room 1, Oxford Martin School

We are grateful to the Society for Applied Philosophy, the Oxford Martin School, the Uehiro Foundation for Ethics and Education, and the University of Bucharest for their generous support for this workshop.

Session 1: Principles and Practice in Applied Ethics. Chaired by Ingmar Persson.

Dumitru Mircea (Rector, University of Bucharest): What does 'applied' mean in 'applied ethics'?

Owen Schaefer (OUC, University of Oxford): Procedural Moral Enhancement

Valentin Muresan & Cosmin Bordea (CCEA, University of Bucharest): How to measure the efficiency of an ethical code? The ethical scorecard


Session 2: Enhancement. Chaired by Dumitru Mircea

Emilian Mihailov (CCEA, University of Bucharest, Romanian Academy, Iasi Branch): The ethics of doping in chess

Julian Savulescu (OUC, University of Oxford) and Ingmar Persson: Objections to Moral Enhancement

Emanuel Socaciu (CCEA, University of Bucharest): How drug patents might provide disincentives for moral bioenhancement


Session 3: Neuroethics. Chaired by Roger Crisp

Hannah Maslen (Oxford Martin School and OUC, University of Oxford): How should we assess the benefits of cognitive enhancement devices?

Thomas Douglas (OUC, University of Oxford): Enhancement & Desert

Constantin Vica (CCEA, University of Bucharest, Romanian Academy, Iasi Branch): Taking care and being careful: ethical challenges for care robots

Dominic Wilkinson (OUC, University of Oxford): Water, everywhere. Ethical dilemmas in the treatment of severe neonatal hydrocephalus

MT14: Animal Ethics Workshop

3rd Dec 2014

Venue:  Oxford Martin School, Seminar Room 1.

We are grateful to the Wellcome Trust, the Society for Applied Philosophy, the Oxford Martin School, the Uehiro Foundation for Ethics and Education, and the University of Bucharest for their generous support for this workshop.

Facilitator: Dr. Dominic Wilkinson

Opening summary: Christine Korsgaard (Harvard University)

Commentaries: Jeff McMahan, Cecile Fabre, Mark Sheehan, Valentin Muresan & Emilian Mihailov, Caroline Bergman, James Yeates

Response to Commentators: Christine Korsgaard

Audio file (MP3)

2014 Annual Uehiro Lectures (Professor Christine M. Korsgaard)

1st, 2nd and 3rd Dec 2014

Venue:  Lecture Theatre, Oxford Martin School, University of Oxford, 34 Broad Street, Oxford OX1 3BD

We are delighted to announce that Professor Christine M. Korsgaard (Harvard University) is to deliver the 2014 public Uehiro Lecture Series in December.

Series Title:  Fellow Creatures:  The Moral and Legal Standing of Animals

How should we human beings treat the other animals?  What do we owe to them, if anything?  These are not only questions that we have to address at the legal and political level, but also questions that we all make personal decisions about every day of our lives.  We make them when we decide what to eat, what to wear, what products to use, what medications to take, and how to use land. In these lectures I will raise some fundamental questions about the moral and legal standing of the other animals: about the basis of our moral obligations to them, and what those obligations are, and about whether it makes sense to think that animals might have legal rights.

Lecture One:  Animals, Human Beings, and Persons
Legitimate differences in the ways we treat animals, human beings, and other entities that have moral or legal rights – legal persons – must be based on the differences between them. Philosophers have traditionally cited a variety of factors – rationality, sentience, having interests – as morally significant.  In this lecture I discuss what the morally relevant similarities and differences between these kinds of entities might be.

Lecture Two: The Moral Standing of Animals
Human attitudes towards the other animals exhibit a curious instability.  Nearly everyone thinks we have some obligations with respect to the other animals – that whenever possible, we should treat them “humanely.” Yet human beings have traditionally regarded nearly any reason we might have for overriding this obligation, short of malicious enjoyment of their suffering, as a sufficient reason.  We kill or hurt animals in order to eat them, in order to make useful or desirable products out of them, because we can learn from experimenting on them, because they are interfering with our own agricultural projects, or even for sport.  Could it really be true that animals have moral standing, but that it never has any force against human interests?  In this lecture I will present an account of why animals have moral standing, based in Kant’s moral philosophy, according to which the answer to this question is no. Our duties to animals are more stringent than our current practices reflect.

Lecture Three: The Question of Legal Rights for Animals
The instability in human attitudes about the moral standing of animals is reflected in our laws.  Animal welfare laws offer animals some legal protections, but those protections do not take the form of animal rights. Partly as a consequence, these laws are often ineffective. Organizations with an interest in activities that are harmful to animals, such as factory farms or experimental laboratories, often manage to get their own activities exempt from the restrictions or the animals they deal with exempt from the protections. On the other hand, many people find the idea that animals either should have legal rights or do have natural rights absurd.  Rights, many believe, only exist among those who can stand in reciprocal relations to each other, and who can have obligations correlative to their rights. Animals do not stand in such relations to us, or to each other. In this lecture I will argue for a Kantian conception of a kind of legal rights for animals is not subject to these objections.

HT13 Debate: Jeff McMahan and John Broome

6th Feb 2013

Public Debate:  ‘The Value of Life’

The Faculty of Philosophy and the Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics are very pleased to welcome Professor Jeff McMahan as Astor Visiting Lecturer for 2013.  As part of the lectureship, two public events will take place at the Faculty of Philosophy. All are welcome to attend and booking is not required; please arrive early to guarantee a seat.

Venue:  Graduate Training Room, Radcliffe Humanities, Radcliffe Observatory Quarter, Woodstock Road, Oxford OX2 6GG.

 John Broome, the White’s Professor of Moral Philosophy, will debate the value of life with Jeff McMahan, focussing on McMahan’s time-relative account of the value of life, which Broome has criticised. This will be a rare opportunity to bring together McMahan and Broome in a public debate and is likely to be of interest to many and of enormous and wide ranging practical significance.

HT13 Astor Keynote Lecture by Jeff McMahan

7th Feb 2013

The Faculty of Philosophy and the Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics are very pleased to welcome Professor Jeff McMahan as Astor Visiting Lecturer for 2013.  As part of the lectureship, two public events will take place at the Faculty of Philosophy. All are welcome to attend and booking is not required; please arrive early to guarantee a seat.

Title: ‘What Rights May be Defended by Means of War?’

Venue:  Lecture Theatre, Faculty of Philosophy, Radcliffe Humanities, Radcliffe Observatory Quarter, Woodstock Road, Oxford OX2 6GG.

Wrongful aggressors often claim to love peace, and there is a sense in which that is true, for they would prefer to get what they want without having to fight a war.  Many of the aims that motivate unjust wars could be achieved without violence: for example, control of certain natural resources such as oil, limited political control over another state, the annexation of a bit of its territory, and so on.  In such cases, war and killing become necessary for aggressors only if they meet with military resistance. If an aggressor’s aims were limited, so that the aggressor would not kill or seriously harm any citizen if it could achieve its goals without violence, would it be permissible for the victims to go to war in self-defense?  The traditional assumption is that self-defense against aggression is always permissible. But are the values of state sovereignty and territorial integrity always, or even generally, sufficiently important on their own to justify the resort to war in their defense?   


HT13 Special Seminar: Effective Philanthropy

4th Mar 2013

Title: Effective Philanthropy: How much good can we achieve?

Venue:  Lecture Room, Radcliffe Humanities, Radcliffe Observatory Quarter, Woodstock Road, Oxford OX2 6GG (buzzer 3 'Philosophy')

Abstract:  When we make donations to good causes we are trying to help make the world a better place. But what is the best way to do this? How do we know when our donations are helping, and how much they are helping? Are charities roughly equally good, or are some much more effective than others?  And should we encourage our governments to do more? 

Toby Ord and Harry Shannon will discuss effective philanthropy from different angles and shed light on these questions.


HT13 St Cross Seminar: Kyle Edwards

28th Feb 2013

Title: Opening the Black Box: Examining the Deliberation of Assisted Reproductive Technologies in the UK and US

Speaker: Kyle Edwards (St Cross College)

Venue: St Cross Room, St Cross College, St Giles, Oxford

Abstract: In the past few decades, technologically advanced, democratic societies have struggled with the question of how best to govern the field of assisted reproductive technologies (ART). The UK’s Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) and the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) embody two approaches that highlight the degree of diversity in answering this question. While British politicians fashioned the HFEA as a statutory authority built upon ideals of deliberative democracy, the US has avoided federal regulations on ART, leaving the ASRM - a professional self-regulating society - with the sole responsibility for producing guidelines. Both bodies, however, utilize a deliberative committee to debate and determine rules for ART. Drawing on interviews with committee members of the HFEA and ASRM, this talk will focus on opening these largely opaque deliberative spaces. When examining ethical arguments for and against certain procedures, what reasons do members consider to be “good” reasons, and how do they legitimate such judgements? How do members conceive of the general public and how does this conception affect the role of public perspectives in deliberations and final decisions? Perhaps most importantly, do the disparate structures and missions of these two bodies result in significantly different answers to these questions?


St Cross Special Ethics Seminar: HT13

Title: Two Conceptions of Children's Welfare

Speaker: Anthony Skelton (Visiting Scholar, Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, Oxford University and Associate Professor, Department of Philosophy, University of Western Ontario, Canada)

Venue: St Cross Room, St Cross College, St Giles, Oxford

Abstract: What makes a child’s life go well? This paper examines two answers to this question, one put forward by Wayne Sumner in Welfare, Happiness, and Ethics and another by Richard Kraut in What is Good and Why: The Ethics of Well-being. The argument of this paper is that neither view is entirely satisfactory. A better account of the nature of children’s welfare combines elements of both views. This paper is divided into five sections. The first section examines possible reasons why philosophers have neglected to discuss children’s welfare. The second section outlines and evaluates Sumner’s view. The third section outlines and evaluates Kraut’s view. The fourth section sketches an account of children’s welfare that rivals the accounts discussed in sections two and three. The final section summarizes my results.


Blog write-up:

TT13 Talk: Using Religion to Justify Violence

13th Jun 2013

Speaker: Dr Stephen Clarke

Venue: Graduate Training Room, Ground Floor, Radcliffe Humanities, Woodstock Road, Oxford OX2 6GG

Much has been written about the relationship between religion and violence, and much of what has been written is aimed at trying to determine whether, how and why religion causes violence. In my forthcoming book The Justification of Religious Violence (Wiley-Blackwell), I pursue a different goal, which is to understand if and how religion can be used to justify violence. Followers of many different religions, who commit violent acts, seek to justify these by appealing to religion. I argue that religious believers are able to incorporate premises, grounded in the metaphysics of religious world views, in arguments for the conclusion that this or that violent act is justified. In the book I examine various different ways in which the metaphysics of religious world views can be used in justifications of violence. In this presentation I concentrate on appeals to the importance of the afterlife to justify violence, focusing specifically on arguments that have been developed in the Christian and Buddhist traditions.


TT13 Special Double Seminar on Enhancement

20th May 2013

Venue:  Graduate Training Room, Radcliffe Humanities, Radcliffe Observatory Quarter, Woodstock Road, Oxford OX2 6GG

Dr Robert Sparrow: 'Enhancement And Obsolescence: Avoiding An "Enhanced Rat Race"'

Abstract: A claim about continuing technological progress plays an essential, if unacknowledged, role in the philosophical literature on “human enhancement”. Advocates for enhancement typically point to the rapid progress being made in the development of biotechnologies, information technology, and nanotechnology as evidence that we will soon be able to achieve significant improvements on normal human capacities through applications of these technologies. In this paper, I will argue that – should it eventuate – continuous improvement in enhancement technologies may prove more bane than benefit. A rapid increase in the power of available enhancements would mean that each cohort of enhanced individuals will find itself in danger of being outcompeted by the next in competition for important social goods – a situation I characterise as an “enhanced rat race”. Rather than risk the chance of being rendered technologically and socially obsolete by the time one is in one's early 20s, it may be rational to prefer that a wide range of enhancements that would generate positional disadvantages that outweigh their absolute advantages be prohibited altogether. The danger of an enhanced rat race therefore constitutes a novel argument in favour of abandoning the pursuit of certain sorts of enhancements.

Chris Gyngell:  'Stocking the Genetic Supermarket: Genetic Enhancements and Collective Action Problems'

Abstract: In the near future parents may be able to directly alter the genetic make-up of their children using genetic engineering technologies (GETs).  A popular model that has been proposed for regulating access to GETs is the 'genetic supermarket'. In the genetic supermarket parents are free to make decisions about which genes to select for their children with little state interference. One possible consequence of the genetic supermarket is that ‘collective action problems’ will arise. The combined result of individuals using the market to pursue self-interested gains may have a negative effect on society as a whole, and on future generations.   In this paper I look at whether GETs targeting height, innate immunity, and certain cognitive traits would lead to collective action problems if available in the genetic supermarket. I argue that that the widespread availability of GETs targeting height are unlikely to lead to genuine collective action problems, but that those targeting innate immunity and aspects of our cognition, could.  I then briefly discuss some implications of this claim for the regulation of GETs. 


TT13 Special seminar: Philippe Tobler

6th Jun 2013

Co-hosted by the Oxford Martin Programme on Resource Stewardship (OMPORS), OCN and INS this event is open to the public, no booking required.

Speaker:  Professor Philippe Tobler (University of Zurich)

Title:  "The neural basis of reinforcement learning in social contexts"

Venue: Seminar Room, Radcliffe Humanities, Radcliffe Observatory Quarter, Woodstock Road, Oxford OX2 6GG (Buzzer 3 'Philosophy')

Abstract: In order to form social preferences, one needs to keep track of who gets how much in social contexts. Learning mechanisms that are used for individual learning could in principle also be used for learning in social contexts. In this talk I present two of these mechanisms in the domain of reinforcement learning and ask whether they are implemented similarly or differently in the brain during learning in individual versus social contexts. The data suggest a dissociation, with more striatal and ventral prefrontal regions underpinning learning in individual contexts and more dorsal and anterior prefrontal regions underpinning learning in social contexts.

TT13 Uehiro & OCN Seminar: Jeanette Kennett

24th May 2013

This seminar is co-hosted by The Oxford Centre for Neuroethics and the International Neuroethics Society

Title: Folk Psychology, the Reactive Attitudes and Responsibility

Speaker: Professor Jeanette Kennett (Professor of Moral Psychology, Department of Philosophy, Macquarie University)

Venue: Seminar Room, Radcliffe Humanities, Radcliffe Observatory Quarter, Woodstock Road, Oxford OX2 6GG (buzzer 3 'Philosophy')

Abstract:  This paper will explore the connections between the folk psychological project of interpretation, the reactive attitudes and responsibility. In the first section we will argue that the reactive attitudes originate in very fast and to a significant extent, non-voluntary processes involving constant facial feedback. These processes allow for smooth interaction between participants and are important to the interpretive practices that ground intimate relationships as well as to a great many less intense interactions. We will examine cases of facial paralysis (Moebius Syndrome and Botox studies) to support the argument that when these processes are interrupted or impaired, the interpretive project breaks down and social relationships suffer.

 But do failures of interpretation lead, as Strawson suggests, to the suspension of the reactive attitudes relevant to responsibility assessments? We suggest that in many important instances they do not. Here we consider the cases of children who murder, alien cultures, and psychopaths. The second part of the paper examines the supposed  consititutive relation between the reactive attitudes and responsibility. 

Audio file:

HT13 Uehiro Seminar: Alexandre Erler and David Birks

1st Feb 2013

Title: Sleep and Opportunity for Well-being

Speakers: Alexandre Erler and David Birks

Venue: New Ryle Room, Faculty of Philosophy, Radcliffe Humanities, Radcliffe Observatory Quarter, Woodstock Road, Oxford

Abstract: Each of us spends a significant portion of their life sleeping: about a third of it, on average. In this presentation we will argue that, ceteris paribus, on any of the main accounts of well-being, sleeping less provides you with a greater opportunity for well-being. We will show that even a small reduction in the number of hours a person sleeps could have a significant positive impact on how well that person’s life can go – actually, an even greater positive impact than many forms of behaviour frequently considered being bad for a person’s life, such as smoking or unhealthy eating. While many people today are not sleeping long enough, there is still an important minority of the population who sleeps longer than average (more than 8 hours a night). These people have significantly reduced opportunities for well-being (assuming there are no yet unknown harmful correlates of being a shorter sleeper) compared to the majority.

We will propose that there is a strong reason to investigate any ways of allowing people, particularly long sleepers, to function on less sleep without harming their health or quality of life. We will cite some recent studies suggesting some possible ways in which this might be achieved, and argue that it is in the public interest to further examine the validity of those claims. And if it turned out that no safe methods of restricting sleep were forthcoming, it would still seem appropriate to encourage a change in the social perception of long sleepers, who should not be viewed as a lazy, privileged class but as a group of people who are actually harmed by their biological constitution.

Audio file:

HT13 Uehiro Seminar: Neil Levy

21st Feb 2013

Title: Psychopaths and responsibility

Speaker:  Professor Neil Levy

Venue: Graduate Training Room, Faculty of Philosophy, Radcliffe Humanities, Radcliffe Observatory Quarter, Woodstock Road, Oxford

Abstract:  Psychopaths commit a disproportionate amount of crime, and seem cognitively unimpaired. They are often thought to be bad, not mad. In this paper I will review some of the previous debates about whether they are fully responsible for their wrongdoing, especially work on the moral/conventional distinction. I then advance a deflationary explanation of the moral/conventional task, and argue that this explanation entails that psychopaths fail to act with the quality of will that would underwrite holding them to be fully responsible for their actions.


TT13 Uehiro Seminar: Frej Klem Thomsen

26 April 2013

Title: Rescuing Responsibility from the Retributivists – Neuroscience, Free Will and Criminal Punishment

Speaker: Frej Klem Thomsen (Senior Research Fellow, Department of Culture and Identity, Roskilde University)

Venue: Seminar Room, Radcliffe Humanities, Radcliffe Observatory Quarter, Woodstock Road, Oxford


Abstract: Legal punishment, as the institutionalized, routine infliction of severe suffering poses a serious challenge of justification. The challenge has become more pressing recently, as a number of thinkers have argued that the dominant, retributivist answer to the challenge breaks down in the light of the findings of neuroscience. In this article I sketch a general account of retributivist justification of punishment and the basic neuroscientific argument against it. I then explore ways of challenging the argument by modifying the retributivist account of responsibility and desert. I analyze several variations and argue that none are plausible. I conclude by suggesting one way in which the notion of criminal responsibility can be rescued, but at the theoretical cost of changing the grounds of justification.

TT13 Uehiro Seminar: David Nutt

17 May 2013

Title: The current laws on drugs and alcohol – ineffective, dishonest and unethical?

Speaker: Professor David Nutt DM, FRCP, FRCPsych, FSB, FMedSci (Edmond J Safra Prof of Neuropsychopharmacology, Imperial College London)

Venue: Seminar Room, Radcliffe Humanities, Radcliffe Observatory Quarter, Woodstock Road, Oxford

Abstract: The use of the law to control drug use is long established though still unproven in efficacy. Although seemingly obvious that legal interdictions should work there is little evidence to support this assertion. So for example cannabis though illegal is at some time used by nearly half of the population. Similarly drugs like ecstasy and amfetamine are widely used by up to a million young people each weekend. This use is underpinned by a demand for the pleasurable experiences that the drugs produce, and also by a paradoxical desire by some people to break the law.

As well as being ineffective for many users prohibition of drugs often leads to perverse magnification of harms and drug use. When the “English” approach to heroin use i.e. prescription to addicts was abolished in the 1970s on moral grounds heroin use increased tenfold in a few years as addicts were forced to become dealers so getting more people addicted to fuel their income. The banning of alcohol in the 1920s in the USA lead to huge criminal expansion of alcohol sales the perpetrators of which turned to other drugs once prohibition was repealed: a legacy that we still experience today.

Moreover the un-scientific and arbitrary distinct between legal drugs particularly alcohol and tobacco and “illegal” drugs also has perverse negative consequences. As well as bringing the scientific foundation of the drug laws into disrepute it also precludes the use of possibly life-changing drugs for those who might benefit from them as treatments: examples of these include cannabis for Multiple sclerosis, MDMA [ecstasy] for PTSD and psilocybin for cluster headaches.

For these reasons I will argue that there are serious ethical implications for a simplistic prohibitionist approach to drugs and suggest alternative strategies that might be used.

Recent references: 'Popular intoxicants: what lessons can be learned from the last 40 years of alcohol and cannabis regulation?' Ruth Weissenborn and David J Nutt (2012) Journal of Psychopharmacology 26(2) 213–220

And critique of current UK drug laws by David Nutt (2010): 'The role and basis of the drug laws', Prometheus, 28:3, 293-297


TT13 Uehiro Seminar: Brian Earp

7 June 2013

Title: The Ethics of Infant Male Circumcision

Speaker: Brian Earp (Research Associate, Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics)

Venue: Seminar Room, Radcliffe Humanities, Radcliffe Observatory Quarter, Woodstock Road, Oxford

Abstract: In this talk, I argue that the non-therapeutic circumcision of infant males is unethical, whether it is performed for reasons of obtaining possible future health benefits, for reasons of cultural transmission, or for reasons of perceived religious obligation. I begin with the premise that it should be considered morally impermissible to sever healthy, functional genital tissue from another person’s body without first asking for, and then actually receiving, that person’s informed consent—otherwise, this action would qualify as a criminal assault. I then raise a number of possible exceptions to this rule, to see whether they could reasonably serve to justify the practice of infant male circumcision in certain cases.

First, what if it could be established that the risk of contracting certain diseases might be diminished by removing a person’s foreskin in infancy, as is often suggested in the United States? Second, what if circumcision could be shown to reduce the spread of AIDS in African populations with high transmission rates of HIV? Third, what if the infant’s parents believed that they had a cultural or a religious obligation to remove the foreskin from his penis before he was old enough to give his consent?

After discussing the merits of these considerations as possible “exceptions” to the ethical premise with which I will have begun my talk, I go on to conclude that they do not present compelling justifications for circumcision before the boy is old enough to understand what is at stake in such a surgery and to decide for himself whether he would like to part with his own foreskin. I conclude with a discussion of the similarities and differences between male and female forms of genital cutting, and I argue that anyone who is committed to the view that infant male circumcision is morally permissible must also accept the moral permissibility of some (though not all) forms of female genital cutting. However, as I argue, neither type of cutting should be allowed absent clear consent of the individual and/or strict medical necessity.


TT13 Uehiro Seminar: Carolyn Dicey Jennings

14 June 2013

Title: Attention, Action, and Responsibility

Speaker: Dr Carolyn Dicey Jennings

Venue: Seminar Room, Radcliffe Humanities, Radcliffe Observatory Quarter, Woodstock Road, Oxford OX2 6GG (buzzer 3 'Philosophy')


Abstract: There is a tendency to think of action as a relatively high-level concept, minimally requiring the input of the experiencing subject through the subject's attention. To account for the known effects of practice and skill, I propose instead a four-step account of action, within which only two of the four steps benefit from the subject's attention. This account reveals a potential disconnect between the subject of experience and the morally responsible agent. This disconnect allows for praise and blame (i.e. moral responsibility) in cases where the subject is unaware of his or her action, which I will discuss through a couple of examples.


9 May 2013

Title: Precarious (bio)ethics: research on poisoning patients in Sri Lanka

Speaker: Dr Salla Sariola (The Ethox Centre, University of Oxford)

Venue: St Cross Room, St Cross College, St Giles, Oxford

Further details: Booking required. Please email to reserve a place.

Abstract: Self-harm using poison is a serious public health problem across Asia. As part of a broader effort to tackle this problem, medical research involving randomised clinical trials are used to identify effective antidotes among patients who have ingested poison. Based on ethnographic material collected in rural hospitals in Sri Lanka between 2008 and 2009, this article describes the conduct of trials in this unusual and difficult context. It outlines three subject positions crucial to understanding the complexity of such trials. At one level, research participants who have taken poison might be thought of as abjects, that is, stigmatised by actions that have placed them at the very limits of physical and social life. They have seriously harmed themselves in an act that often leads to death, marking the act as a suicide. Yet, this is the point when they are recruited into trials and become objects of research and experimentation. Participation in experimental research accords them particular rights mandated in international ethical guidelines for human subject research. Here the inexorable logic of trials and morality of care meet in circumstances of dire emergency and in such contexts, we argue, (bio)ethics is precarious.



30 May 2013

Title: Ethics In Finance: A New Financial Theory For A Post-Financialized World

Speaker: Dr Kara Tan Bhala (Seven Pillars Institute for Global Finance and Ethics)

Venue: St Cross Room, St Cross College, St Giles, Oxford

Abstract: The lecture describes why financial theory and teaching has ignored ethics, viewing moral values as irrelevant. We trace the reason for the neglect of ethics back to assumptions made by Modern Finance Theory, the en courant theory in finance. The neo-classical assumption that economic agents are rational profit maximizers has, over decades, become uncritically accepted as the norm and the truth about people’s economic behavior in western-style capitalist economies. The lecture demonstrates how economic agents are assumed to be rational profit maximizing individuals has become the ethic i.e., economic agents ought to be rational, profit maximizing individuals. This resulting ethic is an impoverished value system, inadequate for an increasingly complex, global financial system. Modern finance theory is no more a complete version of truth than is Marxist dialectical materialism, or postmodernist deconstructionism.

If a theory (MFT) can demobilize ethics in finance, then a theory also can activate ethics in finance. We need to add to the current popular theory of finance i.e. MFT so that it includes principles of both finance and ethics. One way to develop a new theory is to synthesize the three extant financial theories – the still dominant Modern Finance Theory; the emerging theory of behavioral finance; and the still inchoate theory of Islamic finance. Each of the three theories has its own strengths and focuses on one aspect of economic reality. Modern finance theory is robust on economic and quantitative modeling and forecasting. Behavioral finance describes and takes into account the human psychological basis of decision making in financial markets. Islamic finance theory is unapologetically directed by ethical values. Islamic finance focuses on finance as it is useful in supporting and helping the growth and development of the community and its people. Is it possible to have a financial theory that is the synthesis of the three perspectives of finance?


MT13 Week 8 Uehiro Seminar: Ned Dobos

3 December 2013

Title: Title: Is Networking Immoral?

Abstract: Networking is taken to be a perfectly innocuous part of business and career-advancement. I argue that, where the aim is to increase one’s prospects of prevailing in a formal competitive process for a job or university placement, networking is an attempt to gain illegitimate advantage. This is true no matter which of the two standard characterisations we accept. If networking is about building personal relationships, as some claim, then it involves cultivating non-merit-based favouritism. To that extent it shares one of the wrong-making features of bribery. On the other hand if networking is about demonstrating one’s merit in advance of formal selection processes, it shares one of the wrong-making features of earwigging in legal advocacy. One way or the other, the networker denies (or tries to deny) rival candidates something to which they are presumptively entitled. Either he denies their right not to be disadvantaged for reasons other than lack of relative merit, or he denies their right not to be disadvantaged by private ex parte communications that take place outside of formal selection processes.

Venue: Seminar Room, Radcliffe Humanities, ROQ, Woodstock Road


2013 Winchester Lectures

21 and 22 October 2013

We are delighted to announce Professor Frances Kamm as Winchester Visiting Lecturer 2013. She will deliver two public lectures in Michaelmas Term.

Speaker:  Professor Frances Kamm, Littauer Professor of Philosophy & Public Policy (Harvard Kennedy School); and Professor of Philosophy (Faculty of Arts & Sciences); Harvard University

Lecture 1: Who Turned the Trolley? Harming Some to Save Others
Lecture 2: How Was the Trolley Turned? Harming Some to Save Others

Venue: Lecture Room, Radcliffe Humanities Building, University of Oxford, Woodstock Road, Oxford OX2 6GG (Buzzer 3 'Philosophy')

MT13 Roskilde-Oxford workshop in neuroethics and criminal justice ethics

10 and 11 October 2013

This workshop is a joint venture between the Research Group for Criminal Justice Ethics at Roskilde University, the Oxford Centre for Neuroethics and the Wellcome Trust project 'Medical Interventions in Crime Prevention'. It will explore philosophical questions at the intersection of neuroethics and criminal justice ethics, including those raised by the use of neuroscientific technologies to predict and prevent crime.

Venue: Ryle Room, Faculty of Philosophy, Radcliffe Humanities, Radcliffe Observatory Quarter, Woodstock Road, Oxford OX2 6GG

Thursday 10 October

'Is Coercive Treatment of Offenders Morally Acceptable? On the Deficiency of the Debate'

'The Use of Direct Brain Interventions in Offender Rehabilitation Programmes: Should It Be Mandatory, Voluntary or Prohibited?'

'Neuroprediction, Truth-Sensitivity, and the Law'

RUNE HANSEN (Roskilde)
'Moral responsibility, violent gene, and criminal justice'

'Consciousness and Free Will: Taking the Folk Seriously'

'Psychopharmaca and Rehabilitation of Criminals'

'Behavioural Biomarkers: What Are They Good For?'

Friday 11 October

'Medical Interventions as Criminal Remedies'

'(Neuro)predictions, Dangerous Offenders and the Criminal Law: A Bad Cocktail for Retributivists'

'Autonomy, Coercion, and Neuro-interventions'

MT13 Double Seminar (Rogers and Van Lange)

15 November 2013

A joint event by the Oxford Martin School, Oxford Martin Programme on Resource Stewardship and the Institute of Science and Ethics.

"Serotonin influences the use of social norms in resource dilemmas" and "Prosociality and trust"

Professor Robert Rogers asks how do people sustain resources for the benefit of individuals and communities and avoid the 'Tragedy of the Commons' in which shared resources become exhausted? And Prof Paul Van Lange will discuss psychological and neuroscientific evidence showing that for prosocials, it is essential that they count on reciprocity. In contrast, for individualists, they may switch to cooperation if they come to be convinced that they can count on reciprocity

Speakers: Professor Robert Rogers, Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience, University Department of Psychiatry, University of Oxford and Senior Research Fellow, Jesus College Oxford and Professor Paul Van Lange, Professor of Social Psychology and Chair of the Department of Social and Organizational Psychology, VU University at Amsterdam

Venue: Oxford Martin School, Corner of Catte and Holywell Street, Oxford

MT13 Week 1: Seth Lazar

15 October 2013

Venue: Lecture Room, Radcliffe Humanities, Woodstock Road, Oxford

Further details: All welcome. Booking not required

Title: Ethics and Expectations: Part II

Abstract: You have been set the following trolley problem by a villain. There is a central track, called CONTINUE. If you do nothing, the trolley will continue down this track, and kill whomever is at the end of it, then stop. Part way along the line, there is a junction, with a lever. If you pull that lever, then the trolley will go down one of two tracks—STOP and LOOP. If it goes down STOP, then it stops, killing whoever is at the end of the line (if anyone). If it goes down LOOP, it returns to the start of the track, killing whoever is on LOOP, and leading to the trolley returning to the junction. The lever determining which way the trolley will go is probabilistic, and the villain controls the probabilities. The villain also controls how many people are tied to the tracks, and which tracks they are tied to. Importantly, if the trolley goes down LOOP, killing whoever is on there, then the villain will replace those victims with fresh ones (for the moment we'll assume that he does so with the same number). Suppose the parameters are as follows (d means number of people who die if the train goes down that track.):

p(LOOP)|Pull:0.5 d(LOOP):1
p(STOP)|Pull:0.5 d(STOP):0
p(CONT)|Not Pull:1 d(CONT):5

This paper, animated by a concern that deontological theorists have trouble accommodating ignorance and uncertainty into our theories, develops a broadly deontological approach to iterated, probabilistic decision problems like this one.


MT13 Week 3: Mariarosaria Taddeo

29 October 2013

Venue: Graduate Training Room, Ground Floor, Radcliffe Humanities, Woodstock Road, Oxford

Further details: All welcome. Booking not required

Title: The struggle between liberties and authorities in the information age

Abstract: Defeating online insecurity is like defeating a Hydra with many heads: from e-commerce and online banking scams to malware, from hacking to cyberwar, it requires Herculean efforts to slay the Hydra. However, fighting and preventing attacks on security may easily cause serious ethical problems, since security measures can also undermine individual liberties such as privacy, freedom of speech and expression. This is because such measures often rest on the collection, storage, access, or elaboration of individuals’ personal information. Clearly, any democratic government, fair society and responsible organisation need to identify a balance between online security and individual rights, in order to implement the former successfully while respecting and furthering the latter. The talk discusses a criterion for such a balance to be ethically sound. It is claimed that cyber security measures and individual rights are not necessarily antithetical and that they should be both considered fundamental aspects of individual’s well-being in the information age.


MT13 Week 5: Rebecca Roache, Anders Sandberg & Hannah Maslen

12 November 2013

Venue: Ryle Room, Radcliffe Humanities, Woodstock Road, Oxford

Title: Cyborg justice: human enhancement and punishment


Abstract: Criminal justice systems currently employ a limited range of penal sanctions to punish offenders. The type and nature of the sanctions employed are, in large part, determined by the penal aims a particular system is designed to pursue. However, they are also shaped by beliefs about what people are typically like, and by the resources available to develop and deploy punishments. Technology—particularly human enhancement technology—could change both of these latter influences. It could facilitate more effective punishments, support existing punishments, undermine certain punishments, make certain punishments more severe than was originally intended, and alter the resources available for punishments and the constraints on types of punishment. We explore some possible interactions between enhancement technology and punishment, reflect on ethical issues that arise as a result, and consider what our justice system must do in order to ensure that it keeps pace with developments in technology.

MT13 Week 6: Phil Cowen

19 November 2013

Venue: Seminar Room, Radcliffe Humanities, Woodstock Road, Oxford


Title: Do antidepressants work and if so how? (PJ Cowen, Dept of Psychiatry)

Abstract: Antidepressant drugs are commonly prescribed for clinical depression but have a rather dubious public reception. Professor Ian Reid has commented that, ‘antidepressants are regularly caricatured in the media as an addictive emotional anaesthetic, peddled by thoughtless general practitioners as a matter of convenience, and taken by credulous dupes who seek “a pill for every ill”.’ (BMJ 2013; 346: f190). There is also a perception that antidepressants, in fact, work only through placebo mechanisms and have no specific activity to relieve depression.

In this presentation I will look at the evidence for the effectiveness of antidepressants and the kind of clinical situation where their use seems justified. I will also describe a new ‘cognitive’ theory of antidepressant action which suggests that antidepressants work through a specific effect on how the brain evaluates emotional information.

MT13 Week 8: Prof. Dr. Bernward Gesang

6 December 2013

Title: Do individuals have duties to protect the climate?

Abstract: Do individuals have duties to protect the climate, even if their own greenhouse gas emissions seem to be of little to no consequence? In my talk, I would like to examine this question from within an act utilitarian framework. Doesn’t it appear to be wrong for me to refuse to go on a 100 kilometer car trip, since my emissions might not make any difference at all? Perhaps the costs for myself and for other individuals who profit from my car would be high as a result of leaving my car parked. The benefit of leaving my car parked, on the other hand, is unclear: What influence does, e.g., 13 kg of CO2 even have on climate change? Debates between S. Kagan and J. Nefky will be examined and I will try an answer which reflects also the sorites paradox: There is no duty to avoid emissions in most of the possible empirical scenarios.

MT13 St Cross Seminar: Justin Oakley

28 November 2013

Venue: St Cross Room, St Cross College

Title: Genetic parenthood, assisted reproduction, and the values of parental love

Speaker: Justin Oakley (Monash University Centre for Human Bioethics)

Abstract: An emotional liberty rationale for broad access to IVF and other forms of assisted reproduction focuses on how narrow restrictions on such access prevent prospective parents from developing forms of parental love which are distinctively valuable (apart from prospective parents’ motives for reproducing). This rationale supports a general principle that it is pro tanto wrong to deliberately place obstacles in the way of opportunities to develop such forms of parental love – as when states prohibit same-sex couples from accessing IVF (or, for that matter, from accessing adoption). These normative claims do not require that such forms of parental love are very common in parent-child relationships. But how broadly are such distinctively valuable forms of parental love plausibly thought to extend, such that it is clear what would count as an obstacle to the development of this love? Answering this question is also important for addressing issues about whether the value of one sort of parental love can plausibly be substituted for another, as some have suggested in debates about IVF access. In this paper I argue that considering some analogies with the value of love in friendship can help to illuminate these issues about parental love. I will also examine whether, for example, allowing same-sex couples access to adoption has any bearing on the moral status of prohibitions on same-sex couples using IVF and other forms of assisted reproduction.


MT13 St Cross Seminar: Pieter Bonte

17 October 2013

Venue: St Cross Room, St Cross College, Oxford

Title: Neither God nor Nature. Could the doping sinner be an exemplar of human(ist) dignity?

Abstract: If doping would be done in a sufficiently healthy, candid, autonomous, wise and fair way, would doping be OK? If so, all wrongs would lie in doping abuses, namely when done with too much health risks, deceit, coercion, fecklessness and unfairness. I will briefly advocate this important point – already made by many others – only to proceed to the further argument that under certain circumstances, perhaps nobody can exemplify human(ist) dignity and existential(ist) authenticity better than that modern witch, the doping sinner. Advancing in three ironical steps, I will press this iconoclastic argument as far as possible. Doping will serve as a prime example, but the argument is relevant to all profound self-alterations via the deep integration of artifice within one’s own body – by way of ingestion, injection, implantation or otherwise. In a first irony, I argue that the values marshalled in many intrinsic denunciations of doping – character, authenticity, solidarity, humility, virtue and dignity – can just as well provide powerful support for it – perhaps to the point of morally mandating it. From a humanist-existentialist self-understanding, which I take to be the most plausible outlook on life, moral character and authenticity demand that one does not imagine one’s biological constitution to be a responsibility-relieving excuse or a purpose-providing exhortation – no matter how psychologically gratifying that would be.. Instead, our god- and nature-forsaken human condition should be acknowledged and if possible, testified of in practice. What better way to do so than to supplant some fundamental part of one’s natural blueprint with an artefact of one’s own volition, enabling oneself to realize an existence that is originally and authentically one’s own? Affirming Leon Kass’ dictum that “an untroubled soul in a troubling world is a shrunken human being”, I concur that we must not manipulate our self-understanding so as to blind ourselves from discomforting but true aspects of the human predicament, for instance via a helping of Aldous Huxley’s wellbeing-inducing drug Soma. However, in a second irony an analogy can be made between Soma and the more traditional opiate of religion. One could argue that by fabulating some (crypto-)creationist or teleological self-understanding and thinking one lives meaningfully by following the cues of one’s biology, in a sense one dopes oneself into a inauthentic and morally unwarranted state of existential comfort. In a third and final irony, I again wholeheartedly affirm the widespread anti-enhancement worry that for all the health, ability, beauty and welfare that the human enhancement enterprise may bring, we will be enhancing ourselves into a state of increasingly acute existential perplexity. Indeed, as the determinants that shape and drive our existence become increasingly up for grabs, the plausibility of a prefabricated meaning to our existence crumbles, and our self-understanding becomes increasingly circular. I argue therefore that Bill McKibben is right in fearing that “should we ever escape our limits [and become ‘everything’] we will become – nothing.” However, I take this experience of existential vacuity to be at the heart of the human tragedy. I conclude that we must above all not see ourselves as creatures of Nature, God or Fortune who live meaningfully by executing their directives. Sharing the core values and concerns of Kass and McKibben, my conclusion is the polar opposite to theirs. We ought to openly affirm our god- and nature-forsaken condition and, ideally, wilfully estrange ourselves from our default biology to testify of our (unfortunate but true) condemnation to be free. To a significant extent, it would make us a Homo Ludens come full circle: living a life of our own devise, in bodies of our own devise.


2013 Annual Uehiro Lectures

5, 9 and 10 December 2013

We are delighted to announce that Professor Tim Scanlon (Alford Professor of Natural Religion, Moral Philosophy, and Civil Polity, Harvard University) is to deliver the 2013 public Uehiro Lecture Series in December. Professor Scanlon will be delivering a series of three lectures on equality as follows:

Lecture 1: "Equal Treatment"
Thursday 5th December 2013, 5pm - 7pm
T S Eliot Theatre, Merton College Oxford OX1 4JD

Lecture 2: "Equal Status"
Monday 9th December 2013, 5pm - 7pm
Old Indian Institute, 34 Broad Street, Oxford OX1 3BD

Lecture 3: "Equal Opportunity"
Tuesday 10th December 2013, 5pm – 7.20pm
Old Indian Institute, 34 Broad Street, Oxford OX1 3BD


Lunchtime talk: EU ban on hESC Patents

20th Jan 2012

Title: EU ban on hESC Patents: A Threat to Science and the Rule of Law

Speaker: Professor Aurora Plomer, Chair in Law and Bioethics, University of Sheffield

Venue: Seminar Room 1: Oxford Martin School Old Indian Institute, 34 Broad Street Oxford OX1 3BD.

Audio file  


Seminar: Foundations of Rights of Access to the Benefits of Science in International Law

25th Jan 2012

Title: Foundations of Rights of Access to the Benefits of Science in International Law

Speaker: Professor Aurora Plomer, Chair in Law and Bioethics, University of Sheffield

Venue: Seminar Room 1: Oxford Martin School Old Indian Institute, 34 Broad Street Oxford OX1 3BD

The paper retraces the historical genesis and philosophical foundations of the right to enjoy the benefits of scientific progress in international law in order to explore how the right may be  adapted to address emerging ethical challenges in  "the century of biology".

Resources:  Audio file


Wellcome Lecture in Neuroethics

29th Feb 2012

Title: Neural chemical systems mediate social behaviour in the 'Tragedy of the Commons': implications for ethics and the clinic

 Speaker: Professor Robert Rogers (Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience, Senior Research Fellow, Jesus College Oxford)

 Venue:  Seminar Room 1, Oxford Martin School, 34 Broad Street, Oxford

Abstract: Recent research has highlighted the role of neurochemical systems, such as serotonin and oxytocin, in the expression of value-laden behaviours involving 'trust' or 'fairness', in dyadic exchanges between social partners. However, situations in which behaviours are described as 'fair or 'unfair', or 'trustworthy' or 'deceitful' also take place in the context of wider social groups and communities. To date, there have been no experimental investigation into how neurochemical systems mediate the ability of individuals to contribute to group-based endeavours in which securing certain objectives might be critical for the group itself. Recently, we have begun to explore the role of serotonin in the laboratory-based models of the management of valuable, but depletable, resources, both at an individual level and as part of social group. These situations can, under certain conditions, pit the rational behaviour of the individual against the interest of the wider social group (as in the 'Tragedy of the Commons').  Our data provide preliminary evidence to suggest that serotonin mediates, not just the appraisal of social actions in ethical terms, but also the ability to gain value from shared objectives. They also raise hypotheses about the kinds of social difficulties we might expect to see in certain psychological disorders, but also about how serotonin activity influences the way we appraise and respond to value-laden behaviours, and seek solutions to broader social dilemmas.


Lecture: Rumour, Conspiracy Theory and Propaganda

21st Mar 2012

Speaker:  Dr David Coady

Venue:  Lecture Room, Faculty of Philosophy, University of Oxford, 10 Merton Street, Oxford OX1 4JJ

Abstract: Rumour and conspiracy theory are closely linked in both the popular imagination and academic debate, with the rumour often portrayed as a vehicle of conspiracy theory. They are also linked inasmuch as they are both typically

thought to be bad things. In this paper I will defend rumour and conspiracy theory (along with rumour-mongers and conspiracy theorists) against some of their most prominent critics, and I will argue that campaigns against them are a form of propaganda (or, to be precise, two closely related forms of propaganda).  


Geoengineering: Science, politics and ethics

Six Public Lectures by Clive Hamilton

Abstract: With the failure of international negotiations, global greenhouse gas emissions are now on a trajectory that is worse than the worst-case scenario. As a result, climate scientists are beginning to contemplate a response to climate change that has previously been taboo, geoengineering—the intentional, enduring, large-scale manipulation of the Earth’s climate system. This series of six lectures will cover the broad range of issues raised by the emergence of climate engineering as a response to climate change.

Venue: Seminar Rooms, Oxford Martin School, Broad Street, Oxford

  • Lecture 1: Week 2 - Tuesday, 1 May, 11.30 - 1pm
  • Lecture 2: Week 3 - Tuesday, 8 May, 11.30 - 1pm
  • Lecture 3: Week 4 - Thursday, 17 May, 11.30 - 1pm
  • Lecture 4: Week 5 - Tuesday, 22 May, 11.30 - 1pm
  • Lecture 5: Week 6 - Tuesday, 29 May, 11.30 - 1pm
  • Lecture 6: Week 8, Thursday 7 June, 11.30 - 1pm


SRC Conference 2012: Reducing Religious Conflict

University of Oxford, 18-19 June 2012

The Science and Religious Conflict Project team in the Faculty of Philosophy at Oxford University is pleased to announce a two-day international and interdisciplinary conference on the theme of reducing religious conflict. Conflicts between different religious groups and between religious groups, governments and broader society are endemic to modern life and have been a feature of human existence for thousands of years. What can be done to reduce the rate of occurrence and the severity of such conflicts? In this conference leading international experts from different disciplines take up the theme of reducing religious conflict. The conference is funded by Arts and Humanities Council Standard Grant AH/F019513/1.

Venue: Lincoln College, EPA Science Centre, Museum Road, Oxford

Convenor: Dr Steve Clarke

See webpages for resources.


Seminar: Empirical Moral Psychology in the Twentieth Century

24th Apr 2012

Venue: Oxford Martin School (Old Indian Institute) – seminar room 1

Speaker: Dr. Regina Rini (Oxford Centre for Neuroethics, Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics)

Title: Empirical Moral Psychology in the Twentieth Century   – a half-day seminar

Abstract: In the past decade, empirical research into moral judgment has attracted great attention from science, philosophy, and the general public. While undeniably rich and important, much of this research seems surprisingly divorced from

earlier empirical investigations. Beginning with Darwin and Freud, and with special attention to the mid-century impacts of Jean Piaget and B.F. Skinner, this half-day seminar aims to explore the intellectual antecedents of contemporary research. We will focus on the development of two overlapping debates: the purported innateness of moral judgment, and the contrasting roles of intuition and deliberation in moral decision-making. Although the source material is principally psychological, a chief aim of the seminar is to examine implications for philosophy, especially in metaethics and the methodology of normative theory.


Conference: Normative Significance of Cognitive Science

Venue: St Hugh's College, University of Oxford

Dates: 17-18 July, 2012 (1.5 days)


  • Kwame Anthony Appiah (Princeton University)
  • Stephen Darwall (Yale University) (to be confirmed)
  • Antti Kauppinen (Trinity College Dublin)
  • Regina Rini (University of Oxford)
  • Maureen Sie (Erasmus University)
  • Alex Voorhoeve (London School of Economics)
  • Liane Young (Boston College)


What is the relationship between normative ethics and scientific research on moral judgment and decision-making? What potential is there for drawing ethical implications from such empirical investigations? While questions in this area have received considerable attention lately, the discussion so far has been largely dominated by two opposing scepticisms: scepticism about the relevance of empirical research to ethics, and scepticism about the value of ‘traditional’ moral theory. This workshop aims to go beyond such outright scepticism by investigating different ways in which empirical research might impact on normative ethics. The focus will be on philosophical reflection, whether critical or constructive, rather than on simply showcasing the latest scientific research.

Organisers: Regina Rini and Guy Kahane

Audio files:  

Maureen Sie (Erasmus Universiteit Rotterdam): “Science, Responsibility & The Traffic Participation View on Human Agency”

Alex Voorhoeve (London School of Economics) : “When Can('t) We Trust Our Moral Intuitions in Distributive Cases?”

Kwame Anthony Appiah (Princeton University): “Accepting our natures.   When should we accept the ways people tend to behave; when should we aim to change them?”

Liane Young (Boston College): “When the mind matters for morality”

Stephen Darwall (Yale University): “Experimental Evidence for Morality As Accountability”


Special lecture: Charles Camosy

30th Apr 2012

Title: Just Allocation of Health Care Resources and the Moral Status of the Human Infant

Speaker: Charles Camosy, Fordham University

Venue: Seminar Room 1, Oxford Martin School, 34 Broad St


2012 Leverhulme Lectures: Tony Coady

15, 22 and 29 November 2012

Venue: Oxford Martin School

Speaker: Professor Tony Coady

There seem to be several sources of anxiety about the role that religion plays or might play in the world of public democratic politics. Some concern the widespread perception that there is an inherent tendency for religion to provoke instability, conflict, even violence. Others turn on questions of unfairness if religion, or some specific religion, is given a positive place in the political order. Another source is the view that any role for religion in the public sphere must be incompatible with the “secular” nature of the modern democratic state.  Yet another source (sometimes voiced by the same people) concerns the supposed “irrationality” of religious faith which is seen as inimical to the public rationality regarded as central to modern democracy: religions ought not be able to coerce the non-religious by having the power to implement policies that are not amenable to the right sort of public contestation. A related concern is the worry that the sort of personal autonomy required by liberal democracy is rejected by (all?many?some?) religions.  This series of lectures attempts to sort out the nature of these complaints and critically assesses their validity. It will also explore whether possible relations between some typical religious virtues, attitudes and practices and what are said to be typical democratic virtues, attitudes and practices must be a source of conflict or can be mutually supportive.  

Lecture 1:  Some Problems about Religion in the Political Sphere: the dangers of instability and violence. (15 November)

Lecture 2:  Reason, Religion and Public Discourse in a Liberal Democracy (22 November)

Lecture 3: Religious Virtues, Democratic Virtues and their interaction in Practice (29 November)


2012 Annual Uehiro Lectures: Professor Janet Radcliffe Richards

14, 21 and 28 November 2012

Venue: Merton College

Speaker: Professor Janet Radcliffe Richards (OUC Distinguished Research Fellow)

Lecture Series: Sex in a Shifting Landscape

Abstract:  After a hundred and fifty years of feminism, we are still struggling to achieve a satisfactory legal and social framework for managing the relations of the sexes.  This is partly, of course, because so many men have been unwilling to give up their traditional privileges, and the original feminist project is still far from finished.  But more fundamentally than that, we have no clear conception of what a fair arrangement would be.  You can regard some kinds of inequality as definitely unjust while being in considerable doubt about others.  And even if we ever thought we had reached an ideal solution, the endlessly shifting landscape of technological change would soon throw things into turmoil.  Reproductive technology alone has already taken us far out of our moral depth.

Even if there could be no such thing as a definitive solution, however, a good deal can be said about particular aims and attitudes. There is still a great deal of confusion in public debate, in which many arguments depend on fallacies of equivocation or dubious, unrecognized presuppositions.  By drawing on some elements of the original nineteenth-century debate, I hope to show how various present-day ideas and arguments can be rescued from some of this confusion, and cast light on such contested areas as sex equality, the natures of women and men, ideology, political correctness and the appropriate aims of feminism.

Lecture 1: Wednesday 14th November
Blog:  (Owen Schaefer)

Lecture 2: Wednesday 21st November
Blog: (Jonathan Pugh)

Lecture 3: Wednesday 28th November
Blog: (Nadira Faber)


Public Debates - Charles Camosy and Julian Savulescu

18 and 19 October 2012

Julian Savulescu and Charles Camosy are to hold two public debates in Michaelmas Term 2012. The series title is 'The Possibility of Religious-Secular Ethical Engagement'.

The first debate was held at St Cross College at 5.30 pm on 18 October, on the topic of abortion.
See here for blog post by Kei Hiruta summarising the debate

The second debate on the topic of euthanasia, was held on 19 October at the Radcliffe Humanities Building, Woodstock Road.


Uehiro Seminar: Gwen Adshead

9 November 2012

Title: The bad seed: facts and values in the study of childhood antisocial behaviour

Abstract: Most societies seek to reduce the level of violence that occurs between its members; and utilise social and political means to do so. There has been increasing interest in the possibilities of using psychiatric and psychological means to reduce violence; chiefly by identifying potentially violent individuals and intervening in some way. in this presentation, I will present some recent work that has been done on children who are seen to be at risk of violence; and raise questions about the social and ethical significance of studying children in this way and for this purpose.

Venue: Graduate Training Room, Radcliffe Humanities, Radcliffe Observatory Quarter, Woodstock Road, Oxford OX2 6GG

Write-up and audio file:   |


St Cross Seminar: Mike Parker

29 October 2012

Title: Moral craft in the genetics clinic and the laboratory

Speaker: Professor Michael Parker (The Ethox Centre, University of Oxford)

Venue: St Cross Room, St Cross College, St Giles, Oxford

Abstract: Drawing upon his experience of establishing and facilitating a national ethics forum for genetics professionals in the United Kingdom for more than ten years (, in this lecture, Michael Parker will explore the moral world of the contemporary genetics professional at a key moment in its development. The talk will explore, in particular, the relationships between the well-established and reasonably stable moral commitments underpinning ideas of ‘good practice’ in contemporary clinical genetics - such as those to the care of both the patient and the family - and the ways in which these commitments, and the practices which support them, can emerge as ethically problematic for genetics professionals on account of the complexities of family life, technological innovation, and shifting institutional boundaries. The talk will focus on the ways in which ethical problems emerge and are worked out in the context of the day-to-day practice of genetics. Through the development and exploration of novel analytic concepts including those of ‘moral work’ and ‘moral craft’, the talk will develop a broadly pragmatic account of the moral world of the genetics professional as critically reflective moral craftsmanship and will also explore the methodological implications of this analysis for research in bioethics.


St Cross Seminar: Danielle de Feo Giet

26 April 2012

Venue: St Cross Room, St Cross College, Oxford

Speaker: Danielle de Feo-Giet, DPhil Candidate, Department of Oriental Studies.

Title: The Ethics of Entertainment: a case study of Popular Cinema in China and India.

Abstract: What is the value of entertainment? Is it necessarily consigned to the category of the frivolous, or can it be transformative? Should entertainment films exist at all in countries with deep social problems? Do film makers in such countries in fact have an ethical and moral obligation to produce films that address these issues without regard for their popularity or palatability? Putting the subject in a global context, this talk will compare some examples of popular and independent cinema in China and India, how they deal with diverse social issues from homosexuality to the role of civil society, and their artistic and commercial reception. The talk considers the influence of ethic and moral judgment in the success or failure of these films both domestically and abroad, their inclusion in film festivals, and types of release. The key question: what does entertainment do, and what is it capable of doing, if anything, for the ethical future of contemporary society? And who decides the ideal ethical framework for popular culture anyway?



St Cross Seminar: Lorenzo Santorelli

23 February 2012

Venue:  St Cross Room, St Cross College, Oxford

Title: Cooperation, Altruism and Cheating in Micro-organisms

Abstract: While discussions of cooperation and conflict are common in the study of animal and human societies, only within the last few decades we have realized that these acts also occur in more primitive, microscopic forms of life, such as amoebae or bacteria.

The field of Sociobiology explains and investigates how social behaviour has resulted from evolution. Major focus is now aimed at extrapolating genetic and other experimental evidence from model studies on micro-organisms and insect societies to apply to human cooperation via research on economic-based game theory and evolutionary psychology.  Unlike human societies, microbes are incapable of defining complex rules, laws, traditions and morals, yet they still manage to harbor social interactions in many different contexts, such as the division of labour, communication and kin recognition. Studying micro-organisms has given us an insight of what can be the genetic basis of many social behaviours and how cooperation can be stable even in the face of selfishness and cheating.



St Cross Seminar: Owen Schaefer

24 May 2012

Title: Informing egg donors of the potential for embryonic research: Results from a survey of consent forms from US IVF clinics

Venue:  St Cross Room, St Cross College, Oxford

Abstract: Human embryonic stem cell research has been a lightning rod of controversy since the first embryonic stem cell lines were derived in 1998.   Most of the controversy revolves around the provenance of the lines; the derivation of cells to develop an embryonic stem cell line usually results in destruction of the embryo, which some view as unethical.  To alleviate such concerns, US guidelines prohibit federal funding for the derivation of such lines, and only fund further research on embryonic stem cell lines derived from excess embryos created during assisted reproductive treatment – embryos that would otherwise be discarded.  Furthermore, the couple seeking assisted reproductive treatment must consent to the use of their excess embryos for stem cell research.  However, current regulations do not require egg or sperm donors to give such consent, or even be informed of the potential for embryonic research.  This is especially problematic for egg donors, who might have serious objections to stem cell research and therefore decline to go through the burdensome procedure of egg donation had they been informed of the potential research. We sought to determine the extent to which egg donors are in fact informed of potential research on resultant embryos, in the absence of requirements to do so.  Sixty-six egg donor consent forms from US IVF clinics that donate at least some excess embryos for research were analyzed.  We found that only a minority of donor forms mention the possibility of research, and an even smaller portion mention stem cell research.  This can be corrected with the inclusion of succinct, non-technical language in egg donor consent forms.



St Cross Seminar: Alberto Giubilini

26 January 2012

Venue: St Cross Room, St Cross College

Speaker: Dr Alberto Giubilini

Title: What is the problem with euthanasia?

Abstract: The question "why is euthanasia morally problematic?" is twofold, although the two issues which compose it are often mixed up. The first question is: what is euthanasia? The second one is: why are some practices such as terminal sedation or withdrawal of disproportionate treatments considered morally permissible by those who do not consider euthanasia morally permissible?  I will argue 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, by itself, the morally problematic reason against euthanasia.  Finally, I will clarify this expression, "by itself", by indicating the circumstances in which the intention to bring about a patient's death can become morally problematic. Such clarification will allow me to put forward the thesis that there is no sound moral reason against euthanasia.

Peter Singer and Toby Ord on Global Poverty
20th May 2011
South School, Exam Schools.

Peter Singer is an Australian philosopher and professor at Princeton University. His book Animal Liberation is widely regarded as the touchstone of the animal liberation movement and he has written and spoken extensively about our obligations to the world's poor (

Toby Ord is a Postdoctoral Fellow at Balliol. In 2009 he founded the organisation Giving What We Can which encourages people to give a significant proportion of their income to those charities that are the most cost-effective at fighting global poverty (

Talk on Geoengineering by Clive Hamilton
27th Jun 2011
Venue: Oxford Martin School, Old Indian Institute (corner of Holywell and Catte Streets), 34 Broad Street.
Title:  Rethinking Geoengineering and the Meaning of the Climate Crisis
Abstract: This paper develops a critique of the consequentialist approach to the ethics of geoengineering, the approach that deploys assessment of costs and benefits in a risk framework to justify climatic intervention. He argues that there is a strong case for preferring the natural, and that the unique and highly threatening character of global warming renders the standard approach to the ethics of climate change unsustainable. Moreover, the unstated metaphysical assumption of conventional ethical, economic and policy thinking—modernity’s idea of the autonomous human subject analyzing and acting on an inert external world—is the basis for the kind of “technological thinking” that lies at the heart of the climate crisis. Technological thinking both projects a systems framework onto the natural world and frames it as a catalogue of resources for the benefit of humans. Recent discoveries by Earth system science itself—the arrival of the Anthropocene, the prevalence of non-linearities, and the deep complexity of the earth’s processes—hint at the inborn flaws in this kind of thinking. The grip of technological thinking explains why it has been so difficult for us to heed the warnings of climate science and why the idea of using technology to take control of the earth’s atmosphere is immediately appealing.


2011 Wellcome Lecture in Neuroethics
'Moral Enhancement? Evidence and Challenges'
18 November 2011
Dr Molly Crockett, University of Zürich
Can pills change our morals? Neuroscientists are now discovering how hormones and brain chemicals shape social behaviour, opening potential avenues for pharmacological manipulation of ethical values. In this talk, I will present an overview of recent studies showing how altering brain chemistry can change moral judgment and behaviour. These findings raise new questions about the anatomy of the moral mind, and suggest directions for future research in both neurobiology and practical ethics.


Special lecture by Peter Singer
18th May 2011
Speaker: Professor Peter Singer (Ira W. DeCamp Professor of Bioethics, Princeton University & Laureate Professor, CAPPE, University of Melbourne)
Title: "When morality demands more than humans are likely to do"
Venue: Corpus Christi College, MBI Al Jaber Building
Speaker’s website: 
Abstract:  It is a commonplace in ethics that “ought” implies “can”.  But this says nothing about the relationship between "ought" and "is likely to."  Yet a common objection to utilitarianism is that it is too demanding, setting a standard for saints rather than for normal human beings.  After exploring why ethics – and not only utilitarian ethics - might set standards that humans are unlikely to meet, I then set out the reasons why I reject this as an objection to utilitarianism or other ethical views with such implications.  I will then ask what we ought to do, when we realize that most people are not likely to follow the more demanding implications of a sound ethical view.


2011 Annual Uehiro Lectures
1, 2 and 3 June 2011
Venue:  Gulbenkian Lecture Theatre, St Cross Building, Manor Road, Oxford OX1 3UL
Speaker: Professor Philip Pettit

Lecture 1 -  Robust Demands and the Need for Virtue
Abstract: My loyalty or fidelity or honesty means that I can be relied upon to display a concern for your interests across a range of possible scenarios, not just in actual or probable circumstances. But the good constituted by this robust concern materializes as a result of my virtuous dispositions, not just as a result of what I do. And so virtue is a way of making good, not just an aid to doing good; it creates value in its own right.

Lecture 2 -  Robust Demands and the Need for Law
Abstract: The common subjection to law means in any community that we give each other certain legal rights robustly, not just actually or probably. The freedom, respect and dignity that you thereby enjoy come about as a result of how we others are legally constrained; they do not materialize just as a result of what we do, or even, unlike virtue-based goods, as a result of what we are disposed to do. And so law is a distinct way of making good, not just an aid or prompt to doing good; it too creates value in its own right.

Lecture 3 -  Virtues, Laws and Consequentialism
Abstract: The debate between consequentialism and opposing doctrines turns on whether doing right always means doing good: that is, promoting expected value. How is that debate going to develop once we see that we are required to be virtuous, not just to act virtuously; and to be legally constrained, not just to act legally? Which side in the debate is going to be better able to accommodate the robust demands of virtue-based and law-based values?


St Cross Special Ethics Seminar
23 June 2011
Venue:  St Cross Room, St Cross College, Oxford
Speaker: Professor Nick Mayhew (Winton Institute for Monetary History, Ashmolean Museum)
Title: Museum Ethics
Abstract: The Museum world, like most professions, encounters various ethical problems. This short talk will consider the ethics of conservation and reconstruction, and of human remains, but will mostly discuss ethical problems associated with the acquisition of cultural property from other countries. Archaeologists are particularly concerned that the trade in antiquities leads to the looting of sites, and illegal export of valuable items. How far can British and American museums continue to maintain collections from the great ancient civilisations when they are unable to acquire important recent finds from other countries?


St Cross Seminar: Margaret Yee
24 November 2011
Venue: St Cross Room, St Cross College
Speaker: Dr Margaret Yee, Senior Research Fellow, St Cross College
Title: "Whose Ethics?  Six Principles and Six Guidelines determinative of a superior ethics"
Abstract:  In this exploratory presentation it will be suggested that perplexing moral dilemmas may be resolved effectively by employing a meta-ethics, consisting of six designated principles, which are multi-dimensional, critical and inclusive, and six theologically informed guidelines.  The six principles to be discussed will be concerned with whether one’s world view is bounded or unbounded; one’s claims and assumptions are questioned or unquestioned; one’s method of approach is inclusive or exclusive; one’s enquiry is examined both logically and empirically with cross-checks; and whether open, two-way respectful exchange between researchers is followed.  The six guidelines designated are transparency, honesty, integrity, truth, compassion and humility.  These six factors, though drawn from the Christian concept of "Agape," the Greatest Love in the World, are considered worthwhile to adopt, since they are universal in form and capable of being agreed generally by all, regardless of religious persuasion.  Above all, the interest of this paper is to seek valuable feedback from ethicists on thoughts/problems which may appear to stem from definitions/interpretations of religious and non-religious moral values.
Audio:  [Note: due to a technical issue the first few minutes of the talk are missing.]


St Cross Seminar: Ahmed Mohamed
20 October 2011
Venue: St Cross Room, St Cross College
Speaker: Ahmed D Mohamed
Title: The ethics of altering creativity with pharmacological drugs
Abstract: Pharmacological agents originally developed for the treatment of neuropsychiatric patients are now commonly used to boost facets of cognition such as memory, learning, executive functions and attention by healthy individuals. Ethical issues relating to the cognitive effects of such agents have been widely discussed but have remained speculative. In this seminar, I illustrate these issues using modafinil (Provigil©), a drug licensed for narcolepsy but is increasingly used off-label by healthy individuals to improve concentration and enhance attention. I review recent findings showing that modafinil influences motivational saliency and impairs creativity in healthy individuals. Because of modafinil’s action on the motivational system that might lead to addiction, its impairment of creativity in healthy individuals, and the known side effects, its use by the healthy raises the ethical issue of whether improved attention outweighs the associated risks.


St Cross Seminar: Roger Trigg
9 June 2011
Venue: St Cross Room, St Cross College, Oxford
Speaker: Professor Roger Trigg (Ian Ramsey Centre for Science & Religion)
Title:  Human Rights Versus Religion?
Abstract: If human rights are seen as an important element in ethics, two opposed historical currents affect modern judgments. The first, stemming from seventeenth century England and eighteenth century America sees rights as having a religious base. The second,  associated with the later European Enlightenment sees religion as a threat to social stability , to be contained by the appeal to rights. The opposing insights are the root of much moral controversy. Which is right?

St Cross Special Lecture
Date: 28 January 2010
Speaker: Dominic Wilkinson (Uehiro Centre and Ethox Centre, University of Oxford)
Title: "Neuroethics and Neonatal Prognosis"
Venue: St Cross Room, St Cross College, St Giles, Oxford
Abstract: Emerging technologies for assessing brain function give rise to a range of ethical and philosophical questions. The field of neuroethics has, to date, largely focussed on adults. However, there are also difficult questions raised by neuroscience for children and newborn infants. New forms of brain imaging have the potential to predict the nature as well as severity of future impairment for newborn infants, and such predictions play a significant role in decisions to continue or withdraw life-sustaining treatment in intensive care. In this paper I examine ethical issues raised by the use of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) for infants with birth asphyxia. I review the science underpinning prognostic use of MRI in infants and argue that the scientific evidence is undermined by a failure to clarify the purpose of prognostication. Existing guidelines and case law are extremely vague about the level of impairment that would justify a decision to withdraw or withhold life-sustaining treatment for a newborn infant. I will outline an alternative framework for interpreting the results of neuroimaging and determining whether it is permissible to allow a disabled newborn infant to die.

Special Lecture - Dr Paula Casal

Date: 15 February 2010
Speaker: Dr Paula Casal (University of Reading)
Title: “Apethics: Moral Reflections on the Great Apes”
Venue: James Martin 21st Century School, Old Indian Institute, Broad Street, Oxford
Abstract: Recent scientific findings have caused a large increase in the number of people who believe that the great apes should have certain rights. This is an important and desirable development in the animal movement and in applied ethics. It does not, however, exhaust the connection between primatology and moral philosophy. Primatological data has also been employed to discuss personhood, full moral-standing, and the concept of agency. The talk discusses some less explored implications including the distinction between natural and social inequality, theories of crime and punishment, and new error theories, in the light of data regarding great apes’ abilities, politics and proto-moral behaviour.

Public Lecture: David Chalmers
Date: 10 May 2010
Speaker: Professor David Chalmers (Australian National University)
Title: “The Singularity: a Philosophical Analysis.”
Venue: Examination Schools, Oxford
Abstract: The technological "singularity", or I.J. Good's "intelligence explosion", is the rapid transition from greater-than-human artificial intelligence to superintelligence. I will set out and analyze the argument for an intelligence explosion, and will consider the forms that such an explosion might take. I will also consider resulting practical and philosophical issues. If a singularity is likely, what are the best strategies for ensuring a good outcome? Will systems in a post-singularity world be conscious? Can we be among them?

First Annual Wellcome Public Lecture
Date: Wednesday,12 May, 7.00 - 8.15 pm
Speaker: Professor Steven Hyman (Provost, Harvard University)
Title: "Meditations on Self-Control: Lessons from the Neurobiology of Addiction."
Abstract: Loss of control over some aspects of behavior is usually held to be a defining feature of addiction. But the loss of control envisaged is somewhat mysterious. The series of actions in which addicts engage in order to procure and consume their drug is not reflexive; should it nevertheless be properly seen as uncontrolled? What mechanisms are impaired in the addict’s behavior, and how can those impairments illuminate normal agency?
Venue: Oxford University Musuem of Natural History, Parks Road, Oxford

2010 Conference: The Mechanisms of Self-Control: Lessons from Addiction
13-14 May saw a very successful, oversubscribed conference on ‘The Mechanisms of Self-Control: Lessons from Addiction,’ organised by Dr Nick Shea and Professor Neil Levy, held at Christ Church College, Oxford. Giving talks were a world class line-up: Professor George Ainslie, Professor Kent Berridge, Drs Hanna Pickard and Steve Pearce, Dr Natalie Gold, Professor Mark Muraven and Professor Richard Holton. Each speaker had a discussant, and there was fruitful discussion following each talk. The audience spanned the UK, Europe and the US.

Loss of control over some aspects of behaviour is usually held to be a defining feature of addiction. But the loss of control envisaged is somewhat mysterious. The series of actions in which addicts engage in order to procure and consume their drug is not reflexive; should it nevertheless be properly seen as uncontrolled? What mechanisms are impaired in the addict’s behaviour, and how can those impairments illuminate normal agency? This conference will bring together leading thinkers in neuroscience, psychology, psychiatry and philosophy to explore and advance our understanding of the mechanisms of self-control and the way in which they are weakened in addiction.

Audio and video links available here.

Conference - Science & Religious Conflict
Date: 17, 18 & 19 May
Title: "Does Religion Lead to Tolerance or Intolerance? Perspectives from Across the Disciplines"
Venue: James Martin 21st Century School, Broad Street, Oxford
Convenors: Dr Stephen Clarke and Dr Russell Powell
Further details: The Science and Religious Conflict Project Conference on Religion, Tolerance and Intolerance took place between May 17th and May 19th 2010 at the James Martin 21st Century School in the Old India Institute in Oxford. The conference included 13 papers as well as responses to all of these by commentators, general discussion of all of the papers, as well as a summary of the conference proceedings and a panel discussion. It was a well attended event and involved some very lively exchanges. The conference finished up with summarizing remarks by Richard Dawkins (Oxford) and a panel discussion convened by Roger Bingham from The Science Network, which included Professor Dawkins, Patricia Churchland, Owen Flanagan, and others on topics ranging from the rationality of religious belief to the conflict between religious and scientific worldviews.  Much of the conference was filmed by the Emmy award-winning producers of the Science Network and all of it has been recorded.  Audio files and powerpoints available from SRC website [insert link]

SRC Conference: Does Religion Lead to Tolerance or Intolerance? Perspectives from Across the Disciplines
An interdisciplinary and international three-day conference organised by the Science and Religious Conflict Project team.  The conference aimed to discuss empirically informed approaches to an understanding of the ways in which religion increases or decreases tolerance.  

Date: 17-19 May, 2010
Venue: The James Martin 21st Century School, University of Oxford
Convenors:  Dr Stephen Clarke and Dr Russell Powell

Notes on the conference: The Science and Religious Conflict Project Conference on Religion, Tolerance and Intolerance took place between May 17th and May 19th 2010 at the James Martin 21st Century School in the Old Indian Institute in Oxford. The conference included 13 papers as well as responses to all of these by commentators, general discussion of all of the papers, as well as a summary of the conference proceedings and a panel discussion. It was a well attended event and involved some very lively exchanges.

Conference speakers included leading international figures from a variety of disciplines who spoke on various dimensions of the complex causal relations between religion, tolerance and intolerance. Among them were evolutionary anthropologists, biologists, and philosophers of science, including Robin Dunbar (Oxford), Patricia Churchland (San Diego), Dominic Johnson (Edinburgh) and Harvey Whitehouse (Oxford), who explored the relation of religion to individual and social cognition, group cohesion, intergroup aggression, and cultural evolution. Psychologists Dan Batson (Kansas), Ara Norenzayan (British Columbia), and Miles Hewstone (Oxford) probed the psychological boundaries of altruism and the correlation between various religious orientations and prejudice/intolerance. Philosophers Walter Sinnott-Armstrong (Duke), Tony Coady (Melbourne), Sue Mendus (York) and Owen Flanagan (Duke) spoke on the philosophical and psychological implications of religion for tolerance, compassion, compromise, and military conflict. Theologian and philosopher Roger Trigg (Oxford) considered the theological and social implications of recent work in the cognitive science of religion, and the historian Ben Kaplan (University College London) discussed the diversity of socio-political solutions to religious conflict in early modern Europe. 

The conference finished up with summarizing remarks by Richard Dawkins (Oxford) and a panel discussion convened by Roger Bingham from The Science Network, which included Professor Dawkins, Patricia Churchland, Owen Flanagan, and others on topics ranging from the rationality of religious belief to the conflict between religious and scientific worldviews.  Much of the conference was filmed by the Emmy award-winning producers of the Science Network and all of it has been recorded.

See project webpage for audio and video resources [link].

St Cross Special Ethics Seminar
20 May 2010
Speaker: Matthew Hussey
Title: "The behavioural traits of the different sexes in dating and relationships and the key differences – thoughts on the ethics of dating"
Venue: St Cross Room, St Cross College, Oxford
Abstract: How different are the sexes when it comes to dating and relationships? To what extent do these differences challenge or attract us to one another? How can we use these differences to our advantage? Drawing on his experiences in coaching over 4,000 clients across the world in dating and relationships, Matthew Hussey will reveal the most obvious contrasts he has discovered along the way. He will delve into the three major stages of dating and relationships: The search, attraction, and commitment. This entertaining and enlightening talk will shed light on some of the more controversial issues we face when attracting the opposite sex and forming relationships, and boldly approach the ethics of individuals as they navigate their way through their love lives. What is right and wrong behaviour in a relationship? Do men and women have different ethics, and are these the major cause of failed relationships? In an attempt to arrive at the answers to these questions, Matthew will talk about the advice he gives his own clients, using them as real life case studies in showing people how behavioural changes can completely alter the results we get in our love lives.

2010 Leverhulme Lecture
25 May 2010
Title: "Are Addicts Responsible? Perspectives from Philosophy, Psychology, Neuroscience, and Law"
Speaker: Professor Walter Sinnott-Armstrong (Kenan Institute for Ethics, Duke University)
Venue: Faculty of Philosophy, University of Oxford, 10 Merton Street, Oxford

Seminar on pharmacological cognitive enhancement
1 June 2010
Speaker: Professor Barbara Sahakian (Department of Psychiatry, University of Cambridge; Distinguished Research Fellow, Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, University of Oxford)
Title: "Neuroethical issues in pharmacological cognitive enhancement"
Venue: Lecture Theatre, Department of Pharmacology, Mansfield Road, Oxford

St Cross Special Ethics Seminar
10 June 2010
Speaker: Professor Jacqueline Fox
Title: "What to Expect in United States Health Care Reform"
Venue: St Cross Room, St Cross College, Oxford
Abstract: United States healthcare reform promises some substantial changes. Professor Fox will speak about the new healthcare law, as well as some of the major challenges that it faces during its implementation. Some degree of political will is required to sustain the vision of the law, and Fox will highlight the areas that are most vulnerable, particularly regulation of industry and reimbursement cost controls.

Workshop: Ethical Evaluation and Public Debate ~ neurological implants and human enhancement
Date: 21-22 June, 2010
Venue: Lincoln College EPS site on Museum Road in Oxford.
Speakers: see below for list of speakers and links to audio files
Programme: download programme (PDF)
Notes: The main topic of the workshop was the ethical evaluation and the public engagement issues that pertain to neurological implants and the potential for human functional enhancement. Further to this there was a lot of discussion on how best to facilitate the dialogue between lay groups and experts on the ethical issues - both with regards to past experiences and ideas for the future. The format of the workshop was: small group, cross-disciplinary and lots of interaction and debate. To avoid the risk of becoming trapped by a rigid structure, at the expense of creativity and openness, the format was rather flexible and the speakers were split over three broad themes:

  • The Ethical Perspectives - identifying the issues;
  • The Public's Perspectives - towards dialogue and engagement,
  • The Policy Maker's Perspective – public opinion and EU policy

The audience was made up of a carefully selected, but mixed, group of experts from the sciences, humanities and the field of communication. This set-up catered to the additional objective of the workshop which was to create a network which will work as a platform for future collaborations and on-going interdisciplinary discussions on these issues. The workshop could not have taken place without the generous financial support of The Oxford McDonnell Network for Cognitive Neuroscience, The Zilkha Trust (Lincoln College, Oxford) and the Philosophy Faculty (Board Grant). For further information please contact the organiser Dr Barbro Fröding (nee Björkman) (Marie Curie Postdoctoral Fellow at the Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics and a Junior Postdoctoral Research Fellows at Lincoln College; research associate at The Wellcome Centre for Neuroethics).

  1. David Bennett: Nanomed policy in practice
  2. Rob Doubleday: Despotism and democracy: lessons from five years of public engagement with nanotechnology in the UK
  3. Sven Ove Hansson: Neuroethics and the limits of ethical inquiry
  4. Andrew Parker: A favourable ethical opinion: how scientists attempt to reach this goal
  5. Martin Peterson: Risk-benefit analysis, precaution, and non-utilitarian ethics
  6. Steve Rayner: Technology, Talk and TLC: Cultural perspectives on ethics and equity in technology discourses
  7. Julian Savulescu: The Moral Imperative to Enhance Cognition
  8. Daniel Start: Involving the public dialogue in science based policy making - lesson from Sciencewise since 2005

Conference on the Ethics of Emerging Technologies
Date: 1 July, 10:30 - 17:00
Speakers and topics: John Sadler - TBC | Dennis Kratz – TBC | Bill Fulford - TBC | Guy Kahane – Neuroimaging | Anders Sandberg – Artificial Intelligence, Memory Enhancement | Russell Powell - Geoengineering | Bennett Foddy – Life Extension | Tom Douglas – Synthetic Biology | Julian Savulescu – Mind and Machine | Julian Savulescu and Tom Douglas – Moral Enhancement
Venue: Ryle Room, Faculty of Philosophy, University of Oxford
Further details: This event is held in connection with the establishing of an international consortium to establish such ethics, led by John Sadler (UT Northwestern), Dennis Kratz (UT Dallas) and Bill Fulford. Members of the Uehiro Centre will be giving short presentations on a number of topics followed by discussions.

Special talk: Is There A Case For Compulsory Enhancement?
10 November 2010
Venue: Oxford Martin School, Seminar Room 1, Old Indian Institute, Broad Street
Date: MT10 Week 5 ~ Wednesday, 10 November, 15:00 – 16:30
Speaker: Professor Blanca Rodríguez López (Universidad Complutense de Madrid) Title: “Is There A Case For Compulsory Enhancement?”
Abstract: In the debate about human enhancement that has been taking place during the last few years, many different views have been put forward, both for and against, and with different arguments. Among those in the “for side”, many argue that human enhancement is morally permissible, and some say that we also have a moral obligation or moral reason to enhance ourselves and our children but that people should be free to accept or reject enhancements. Same others have even argued that parents should be legally required to biologically enhance their children, when not doing it can in some way be considered as harming them. This legal requirement would be acceptable from a liberal point of view based on Mill’s Harm Principle. I want to defend a slightly stronger position: biological enhancements should be legally required (whether performed on us or on our children) when not doing so impose direct or indirect costs on others.

A Future Without Genetic Engineering: Medicine, Evolution and the Preservation of Human Good
Venue: Oxford Martin School, Seminar Room 1, Old Indian Institute, Broad Street
Date: MT10 Week 6 ~ Wednesday, 17 November, 15:00 – 16:30
Speaker: Dr Russell Powell (Program on Ethics of the New Biosciences) Title: ‘A Future Without Genetic Engineering: Medicine, Evolution and the Preservation of Human Good’
Abstract: Prominent proponents of genetic enhancement argue that human germ-line modification is morally desirable or obligatory because it will result in a net improvement in human wellbeing. I argue here in favor of a more fundamental point, namely that genetic engineering will be necessary merely to sustain the levels of health and wellbeing that humans currently enjoy. I show that a large-scale program of genetic intervention (1) may be necessary to preserve existing levels of human wellbeing given the dynamic nature of the evolutionary environment, and (2) will be necessary to preserve existing levels of human wellbeing due to the population-genetic consequences of relaxed selection response in human populations caused by the increasing efficacy and availability of conventional medicine and other health-related institutional resources. I defend the counterintuitive claim that the greater the effectiveness of conventional medicine, the greater the need for germ-line modification, since the former in the absence of the latter will lead to an increasing reliance on medical technology for the development of normal human capacities. Although this conclusion follows from the structure of evolutionary theory, it has been overlooked in bioethics due to various misconceptions about human evolution, which I attempt to rectify, as well as the sordid history of Darwinian approaches to ethics and social policy, which I distinguish from the present argument. I conclude that human genetic engineering is a prima facie moral imperative grounded in principles relating to the fair and efficient allocation of limited health care resources across generations.

Noci- skepticism and neuroscience. Should we treat pain in newborn infants?
Venue: Lecture Room, Faculty of Philosophy, 10 Merton Street, Oxford
Date: MT10 Week 7 ~ Wednesday, 24 November, 15:00 – 16:30
Speaker: Rebeccah Slater (Post-doctoral research fellow Oxford Centre for Functional MRI of the Brain, University of Oxford) Title: ‘Noci-skepticism and neuroscience. Should we treat pain in newborn infants?’
Abstract: Newborn infants are unable to provide direct reports of painful experience. Nor do they have conscious memories of the painful events they experience in the newborn period. These factors have led to skepticism amongst scientists and medical professionals about whether newborn infants experience pain in the same way as older individuals, and about whether pain behaviour in newborns should be treated (Noci-skepticism).
In this Seminar we will discuss three phases of Noci-skepticism in newborn care. Evidence from neuroscience has in the past provided a challenge to skeptics, and led to increased use of analgesics for pain in newborns. However, recent neuroscientific evidence challenges whether oral sucrose – a commonly used agent for procedural pain in newborn infants – is an effective analgesic. Although sucrose appears to reduce behavioural manifestations of pain in infants following a painful procedure, it has no effect on an electrical brain marker of pain perception. Which evidence should be taken as indicative of pain experience in infants? Why do we provide analgesia for infants? How should neuroscientific evidence of this sort inform decisions about the use of pharmacological analgesics in newborn infants? We argue that there are two distinct, and (in principle) separable reasons for providing analgesics. Noci-skepticism in newborn intensive care is partly justified.

St Cross Special Ethics Seminar:  Bennett Foddy
Date: 2 December, 17:30 - 19:00
Speaker: Dr Bennett Foddy (Deputy Director, Project on the Ethics of the New Biosciences, University of Oxford)
Title: The Ethical Placebo
Venue:St Cross Room, St Cross College, St Giles, Oxford
Abstract: While the placebo effect can be harnessed beneficially when prescribing non-placebo therapies, there will always be some cases in which no pharmacologically active medication can be given to a patient, either because an appropriate medication does not exist, or because no positive diagnosis can be made. In these cases, there is still an opportunity to benefit the patient using the placebo effect alone, by prescribing placebo medications. Yet there are a number of conventional objections to the use of placebo treatments in the clinic, which have combined to motivate formal and informal prohibitions against clinical placebo use, not least of which is the recent ruling by the American Medical Association on the matter. Chief among these objections is the claim that placebo use is deceptive, and that it is always unethical to deceive patients about the nature of their treatment. In this paper, I challenge the view that the deceptive nature of placebo treatments creates an insurmountable ethical barrier to their use. I agree that placebo treatments are deceptive, but explain that the usual objections against deceiving patients do not apply in this special case, since placebo deception can be unlike other forms of clinical deception. I explain that clinical deception should only be considered paternalistic or coercive when it fails to serve the stated interests of the patient. I show how the remaining ethical objections pose significant, but not insurmountable moral barriers to the clinical use of placebo. By using placebos within a set of coherent ethical constraints, it is possible to prescribe them in a way that maximizes patient benefit while preserving their autonomy and preventing them from being abused or coerced. Finally, I explain how doctors should deal with a patient’s discovery of the nature of their placebo treatment. If doctors are aware of the various constraints on their use, placebo medications can form a useful treatment option for the occasional circumstances in which they can be beneficially and ethically administered.

Lighting up the brain
Venue: Oxford Martin School, Seminar Room 1, Old Indian Institute, Broad Street
Date: MT10 Week 4 ~ Wednesday, 3 November, 15:00 – 16:30
Speaker: Professor Gero Miesenbӧck (Waynflete Professor of Physiology, Department of Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics, University of Oxford Title: ‘Lighting up the brain’
Respondent: Dr Anders Sandberg (Future of Humanity Institute, University of Oxford)
Abstract: An emerging set of methods enables an experimental dialogue with biological systems composed of many interacting cell types—in particular, with neural circuits in the brain. These methods are sometimes called “optogenetic” because they employ light-responsive proteins (“opto-“) encoded in DNA (“-genetic”). Optogenetic devices can be introduced into tissues or whole organisms by genetic manipulation and be expressed in anatomically or functionally defined groups of cells. Two kinds of devices perform complementary functions: light-driven actuators control electrochemical signals; light-emitting sensors report them. Actuators pose questions by delivering targeted perturbations; sensors (and other measurements) signal answers. These catechisms are beginning to yield previously unattainable insight into the organization of neural circuits, the regulation of their collective dynamics, and the causal relationships between cellular activity patterns and behavior.

Cognitive Niche Construction: Somewhere Between Scaffolding and Extension
Venue: Oxford Martin School, Seminar Room 1, Old Indian Institute, Broad Street
Date: MT10 Week 8 ~ Wednesday, 1 December, 15:00 – 16:30
Speaker: Richard Menary (University of Wollongong) Title: “Cognitive Niche Construction: Somewhere Between Scaffolding and Extension”
Abstract: The idea that organisms often create and maintain complex environmental niches is familiar in biology from the work of Odling-Smee, Laland and Feldman (2003). Sterelny (2003 and forthcoming) has applied the framework to the greatest niche constructor of them all – humans – and has produced an intriguing analysis of how humans have constructed uniquely cognitive niches. The cognitive niche construction idea has also been taken up by Clark and Wheeler (2008) and Stotz (2010) but their versions differ in important ways from Sterelny's. Sterelny (2010) argues that cognitive niche construction supports a scaffolded, rather than an extended, model of cognition. I argue for a position somewhere in between scaffolding and extension by focusing on the important role of development in the cognitive niche and especially the resulting transformation of cognitive capacities.

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