A Journal of Philosophy, Applied to the Real World

Volume 5 Number 2. December 2017


The Neglected Harms of Beauty: Beyond Engaging Individuals
Journal of Practical Ethics 5(2): 1-29
This paper explores the neglected ‘harms-to-others’ which result from increased attention to beauty, increased engagement in beauty practices and rising minimal beauty standards. In the first half of the paper I consider the dominant discourse of beauty harms – that of ethics and policy – and argue that this discourse has over-focused on the agency of, and possible harms to, recipients of beauty practices. I introduce the feminist discourse which recognises a general harm to all women and points towards an alternative understanding; although it too focuses on engaging individuals. I argue over-focusing on harms to engaging individuals is somewhat surprising especially in liberal contexts, as this harm can broadly be regarded as ‘self-harm’ (done by individuals to themselves, or by others employed by individuals to do so). The focus on engaging individuals has resulted in the neglect of significant and pressing harms-to-others in theory, policy and practice. In the second half of the paper I turn to actual and emerging harms-to-others. I focus on three particular harms-to-others as examples of the breadth and depth of beauty harms: first, direct harm to providers; second, indirect but specific harm to those who are ‘abnormal’; and third, indirect and general harm to all. I conclude that, contrary to current discourses, harms-to-others need to be taken into account to avoid biased and partial theorising and counter-productive policy-making. I advocate recasting beauty, in a parallel way to smoking, as a matter of public health rather than individual choice.
Why be Moral in a Virtual World?
Journal of Practical Ethics 5(2): 30-48
This article considers two related and fundamental issues about morality in a virtual world. The first is whether the anonymity that is a feature of virtual worlds can shed light upon whether people are moral when they can act with impunity. The second issue is whether there are any moral obligations in a virtual world and if so what they might be. Our reasons for being good are fundamental to understanding what it is that makes us moral or indeed whether any of us truly are moral. Plato grapples with this problem in book two of The Republic where Socrates is challenged by his brothers Adeimantus and Glaucon. They argue that people are moral only because of the costs to them of being immoral; the external constraints of morality. Glaucon asks us to imagine a magical ring that enables its wearers to become invisible and capable of acting anonymously. The ring is in some respects analogous to the possibilities created by online virtual worlds such as Second Life, so the dialogue is our entry point into considering morality within these worlds. These worlds are three dimensional user created environments where people control avatars and live virtual lives. As well as being an important social phenomenon, virtual worlds and what people chose to do in them can shed light on what people will do when they can act without fear of normal sanction. This paper begins by explaining the traditional challenge to morality posed by Plato, relating this to conduct in virtual worlds. Then the paper will consider the following skeptical objection. A precondition of all moral requirements is the ability to act. There are no moral requirements in virtual worlds because they are virtual and it is impossible to act in a virtual world. Because avatars do not have real bodies and the persons controlling avatars are not truly embodied, it is impossible for people to truly act in a virtual world. We will show that it is possible to perform some actions and suggest a number of moral requirements that might plausibly be thought to result. Because avatars cannot feel physical pain or pleasure these moral requirements are interestingly different from those of real life. Hume’s arguments for why we should be moral apply to virtual worlds and we conclude by considering how this explains why morality exists in these environments.
Population and Having Children Now
Journal of Practical Ethics 5(2): 49-61
This paper aims to state the obvious - the commonsense, rational approach to child-producing. We have no general obligation to promote either the “general happiness” or the equalization of this and that. We have children if we want them, if their life prospects are decent - and if we can afford them, which is a considerable part of their life prospects being OK - and provided that in doing so we do not inflict injury on others. It’s extremely difficult to do this latter, but affording them, in rich countries, is another matter. With that qualification, by and large people should just go ahead and have (or not have) children - as many as they think they want and can handle - as it suits them.
Is Sex With Robots Rape? (Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics: Graduate)
Journal of Practical Ethics 5(2): 62-76
It is widely accepted that valid consent is a necessary condition for permissible sexual activity. Since non-human animals, children, and individuals who are severely cognitively disabled, heavily intoxicated or unconscious, lack the cognitive capacity to give valid consent, this condition explains why it is impermissible to have sex with them. However, contrary to common intuitions, the same condition seems to render it impermissible to have sex with robots, for they too are incapable of consenting to sex due to insufficient cognitive capacitation. This paper explores whether the intuition that non-consensual sex with robots is permissible can be vindicated, whilst preserving valid consent as a general requirement for permissible sexual activity. I develop and evaluate four possible ways to argue that there is a morally significant difference between robots on the one hand, and insufficiently cognitively capacitated humans and non-human animals on the other hand, to substantiate and justify the intuition that it is permissible to have non-consensual sex with the former but not with the latter.
Prostitution: You Can’t Have Your Cake and Sell It (Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics: Graduate)
Journal of Practical Ethics 5(2): 77-84
I offer an unorthodox argument for the thesis that prostitution is not just a normal job. It has the advantage of being compatible with the claim that humans should have full authority over their sexual life. In fact, it is ultimately the emphasis on this authority that leads the thesis that prostitution is a normal job to collapse. Here is the argument: merchants cannot (both legally and morally) discriminate whom they transact with on the basis of factors like the ethnicity or the religion of their client; but if prostitutes are ‘sex merchants’, then they cannot (both legally and morally) discriminate whom they have sex with on the basis of these factors. Yet everyone should have the full discretionary power to refuse to have sex under any circumstances.
The Ethics of Political Bots: Should We Allow Them For Personal Use? (Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics: Graduate)
Journal of Practical Ethics 5(2): 85-104
The technology to create and automate large numbers of fake social media users, or “social bots”, is becoming increasingly more accessible to private individuals. This paper explores one potential use of the technology, namely the creation of “political bots”: social bots aimed at influencing the political opinions of others. Despite initial worries about licensing the use of such bots by private individuals, this paper provides an, albeit limited, argument in favour of this. The argument begins by providing a prima facie case in favour of these political bots and proceeds by attempting to answer a series of potential objections. These objections are based on (1) the dangerous effectiveness of the technology; the (2) corruptive, (3) deceitful and (4) manipulating nature of political bots; (5) the worry that the technology will lead to chaos and be detrimental to trust online; and (6) practical issues involved in ensuring acceptable use of the technology. In all cases I will argue that the objections are overestimated, and that a closer look at the use of political bots helps us realise that using them is simply a new way of speaking up in modern society.
What Makes Discrimination Wrong? (Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics: Undergraduate)
Journal of Practical Ethics 5(2): 105-113
Most of us intuitively take discrimination based on gender or ethnicity to be impermissible because we have a right to be treated on the basis of merit and capacity rather than e.g. ethnicity or gender. I call this suggestion the Impermissibility Account. I argue that, despite how the Impermissibility Account seems intuitive to most of us with a humanist outlook, it is indefensible. I show that well-informed discrimination can sometimes be permissible, and even morally required, meaning we cannot have a strict right not to be discriminated against. I then propose an alternative and more plausible account which I call the Fairness and Externalities Account, arguing that acts of discrimination are wrong partly because they are unfair and partly because they create harmful externalities which—analogously to pollution—there is a collective responsibility to minimize. Both of these factors are however defeasible, meaning that if the Fairness and Externalities Account is correct, then discrimination is sometimes permissible. These results are counterintuitive, and suggest that the ethics of discrimination requires further attention.
The Ethical Dilemma of Youth Politics (Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics: Undergraduate)
Journal of Practical Ethics 5(2): 114-121
Youth politics is celebrated locally, nationally and internationally. In this paper, I argue that such celebration must be deemed unethical. First, I assert that the vitality and sustainability of any democracy is contingent upon the people’s ability to reason and think critically. Second, I make the case that youth politics exerts negative effects on the members’ ability to reason and think critically. Then I approach Norway as a case study, exemplifying how these negative effects may play out. Thus one is faced with the following dilemma: It is regarded ethically imperative to promote political engagement amongst youth, but it is unethical to promote youth politics.