Dilemmas of Political Correctness
Journal of Practical Ethics 4(1): 1-22
Debates about political correctness often proceed as if proponents see nothing to fear in erecting norms that inhibit expression on the one side, and opponents see nothing but misguided efforts to silence political enemies on the other. Both views are mistaken. Political correctness, as I argue, is an important attempt to advance the legitimate interests of certain groups in the public sphere. However, this type of norm comes with costs that mustn’t be neglected–sometimes in the form of conflict with other values we hold dear, but often by creating an internal schism that threatens us with collective irrationality. Political correctness thus sets up dilemmas I wish to set out (but not, alas, resolve). The cliché is that political correctness tramples on rights to free-speech, as if the potential loss were merely expressive; the real issue is that in filtering public discourse, political correctness may defeat our own substantive aims.
Offsetting Class Privilege
Journal of Practical Ethics 4(1): 23-51
The UK is an unequal society. Societies like these raise significant ethical questions for those who live in them. One is how they should respond to such inequality, and in particular, to its effects on those who are worst-off. In this article, I’ll approach this question by focusing on the obligations of a particular group of those who are best-off. I’ll defend the idea of morally objectionable class-based advantage, which I’ll call ‘class privilege’, argue that class privilege can be non-culpable, and put forward an account of the obligations those with class privilege have. My main claim will be that those with class privilege have obligations to ‘offset’ their privilege, in something like the same way high emitters have obligations to offset their greenhouse gas emissions.
Unjust Wars Worth Fighting For
Journal of Practical Ethics 4(1): 52-78
I argue that people are sometimes justified in participating in unjust wars. I consider a range of reasons why war might be unjust, including the cause which it is fought for, whether it is proportionate, and whether it wrongly uses resources that could help others in dire need. These considerations sometimes make fighting in the war unjust, but sometimes not. In developing these claims, I focus especially on the 2003 Iraq war.
Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics Essays
Journal of Practical Ethics 4(1): 79-79
In this special two- part series for the Journal of Practical Ethics, we present the winning essays from the 2014-15 Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics.
The Economics of Morality (Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics: Undergraduate)
Journal of Practical Ethics 4(1): 80-103
Altruism is embedded in our biology and in our culture. We offer our bus seats to the disabled and elderly, give directions to disoriented tourists, and donate a portion of our income charity. Yet for all the good it does, there are deep problems with altruism as it is practiced today. Nearly all of us, when asked, will say that we care about practicing altruism in a way that effectively improves the lives of others. Almost none of us, when asked, can honestly say that we have made a serious effort to ensure that we are practicing altruism in a way that effectively improves the lives of others. Disparities like these are indicative of flaws in our cognitive architecture - biases which ensure that the traditional practice of altruism is incongruous with our own values. This disconnect between our values and our actions causes our altruistic efforts to help fewer people to a lesser extent than they otherwise could. I argue that traditional altruism is in need of reformation and defend a social and philosophical movement aimed at achieving this reformation known as effective altruism. The reason effective altruism is such a promising alternative to traditional altruism is its application of economic thinking to the realm of altruism and morality. An economist’s mentality is, I suggest, a necessary instrument for bridging the gap between our values and our actions, allowing us to practice altruism in a way that more effectively improves the lives of others.
Going Viral: Vaccines, Free Speech, and the Harm Principle (Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics: Graduate)
Journal of Practical Ethics 4(1): 104-120
This paper analyzes the case of public anti-vaccine campaigns and examines whether there may be a normative case for placing limitations on public speech of this type on harm principle grounds. It suggests that there is such a case; outlines a framework for when this case applies; and considers seven objections to the case for limitation. While not definitive, the case that some limitation should be placed on empirically false and harmful speech is stronger than it at first appears.