Hale Ethics Series, 2007-08

Sponsored by the Hale Chair in Applied Ethics


Thursday, September 20th, 4-5:30, Carlson Auditorium (76-1125)

The Social Movement of A2K

Eddan Katz (Yale)

Access to Knowledge, or as it has become popularly known by its acronym A2K, is beginning to understand itself as a social movement. Building from a policy agenda created by a group of developing countries and public interest organizations working in Geneva, it has developed as a draft treaty, a set of policy proposals, and as a theoretical framework more generally. In its brief history since 2004, A2K has emerged as a broad coalition of interest groups finding common cause such as AIDS activists working on Access to Medicines, computer programmers working on open source projects, college students frustrated with copyright law coalescing around the notion of Free Culture, librarians promoting access to information, farmers rights advocates in developing countries protesting seed patents, and others still. This diverse set of transnational activists, scholars, policymakers, and private sector innovators have converged upon a unique identity in a collective critique of propertization and control over information in the prominent industries of the knowledge economy.

Access to knowledge -- as a theory, as a movement, and as a set of policy proposals – is focused on the implications of ownership of and control over the layers of information in those tools that are at heart of the knowledge economy. It is about the intersection of innovation and development and how open infrastructures of innovation can facilitate serving essential needs and how proprietary control over this layer can create obstacles for sustainable development. As a theoretical framework, access to knowledge bridges debates about law and technology with information and communication technologies (ICTs) projects for development upon a foundation of human rights and human development. It reframes the discussions about intellectual property, telecommunications, and related legal regimes affecting the information society within the context of social justice and the public interest. Access to Knowledge supports the emergence of alternatives for innovation such as open infrastructures and collaborative production alongside propertization as incentive for invention and creativity. It reveals the patterns of control over information in industries varying from software and digital media to pharmaceuticals and agri-biotech that erect obstacles to access. Access to Knowledge is currently oriented towards developing countries and the urgency of global problems concerning distribution of food, health, education, and other basic needs, but it is not geographically confined. It emphasizes the values of openness and sharing to maximize the potential of technology to improve the lives of people and enable them to participate meaningfully in the information society.

Thursday, October 4th, 4-5:30, Carlson Auditorium (76-1125)

Ethics and Truth

John Capps (Philosophy, RIT)

Many people believe that moral claims are neither true nor false but are instead either prescriptions, expressions of emotions, or ways of signaling that one accepts a certain system of norms. On this view a moral claim such as “lying is wrong” may mean the same as “you shouldn’t lie” or “I don’t like liars” but there is no real fact of the matter as to whether lying is wrong. This view is plausible because it is difficult to say what would make a moral claim true in the same way that a claim about physical fact is true. However, this would also mean that our moral claims are less than they appear and cannot make any claim to ultimate truth. I will argue that moral claims are indeed capable of being true or false, though this requires re-examining the concept of truth and its connection to facts. Moreover, approaching the concept of truth from the perspective of moral claims pays dividends when we then consider the truth of non-moral claims.

Thursday, October 25th, 4-5:30, Carlson Auditorium (76-1125)

How to Use Economics to Shape a Universal Health Insurance Program

Charles Phelps (University of Rochester)

Life – and universal health insurance programs – require tradeoffs. Economics can assist social planners, ethicists, clinicians, politicians, and whomever else stirs the political pot to design a universal health insurance plan. This talk will assess the major aspects of any universal insurance plan and show how economic analysis and data and inform the discussion.

· Who is covered? Does “universal” mean “everybody in the country” or “taxpaying citizens” or what?
· What is covered? What services? Hospital care? Emergency room? Physician services? Sure. Nursing home care? Podiatry? Cosmetic surgery? Viagra?

These questions focus on the tradeoff between risk spreading and natural tendency of people to use more health care when it is insured (“moral hazard”)

· Where should the insurance plan reside? Federal or state?

Britain has a federal system; Canada has a “state” system (provinces). How do these choices matter economically and politically?

· Why should we have universal insurance?

Surprisingly to some, economists have debated this issue for decades, centering around such topics as asymmetric information (market failure), free riding, administrative costs, and yes, the ethics of the distribution of wealth

· How should it be financed?

Any mechanism for raising government revenues to support a universal insurance plan introduces economic distortions and attendant inefficiences in the economy. Economists can provide guidance about the relative intensities of such distortions and help planners trade them off against other goals (such as redistribution of wealth)
What are the gains and costs of having a single payer model?

Thursday, November 1st, 4-5:30, Carlson Auditorium (76-1125)

Truth’s Value and Self-Identity

Jesús Aquilar (Philosophy, RIT)

By using a thought experiment inspired on R. Nozick’s “experience machine”, in this paper I examine the question concerning truth’s value. After rejecting some traditional strategies to answer this question, I argue in favor of the proposal that truth acquires its value in the form of true beliefs and their fundamental role within an agent’s mental life. In order to deal with a potentially serious objection to this proposal, I then explore the connection between our valuing truth and the process of self-identity formation. That is, I explore the possibility that truth’s value ultimately depends on the process whereby agents acquire their own identity.



Thursday, December 6th, 4-5:30, Carlson Auditorium (76-1125)

Clinical Ethics in Germany and the US: Why Consultation Matters

Gerd Richter (University Medical Center Marburg, Germany)

In this talk I will explain what “clinical ethics” and “ethics consultation” are, how and why they emerged differently in the German and American contexts, and why they are needed in the health care arena. I will provide an analysis of the advantages and disadvantages of various models of “ethics consultation,” focusing especially on the “ethics liaison service” recently established at the University Medical Center Marburg. As a result, I will analyze the difficulties—institutional, professional, cultural, and ethical—of implementing an appropriate model in both the American and German contexts. The talk will conclude with an analysis of the further implications that arise—for ethics itself and for thinking about a good health care system more generally—as a result of the “ethics liaison service” model.

Thursday, January 10th, 4-5:30, Carlson Auditorium (76-1125)

The True Benefits of Falsity

David Suits (Philosophy, RIT)

People have a tendency to extol the virtues of truth in the realm of ethics, but we ought not to forget the many commendable uses of falsity. Here are only a few: (1) Knowledge of falsity is necessary for moral discourse, because counterfactuals are required for moral discourse, and counterfactuals require knowledge of falsity. (2) “Ought” implies not only “can be true” but also “can be false”. (3) It can be a moral requirement to tell a lie. (4) Moral rules, like positive laws, are short cuts, which claim to cover instances which really ought to be exceptions; we know the claims are overgeneralizations (i.e., false), but we rely on them anyway.

Thursday, January 17th, 4-5:30, Xerox Auditorium

Jointly sponsored by the College of Engineering

Peering Into the Brain: Social Implications of New Neurotechnologies

Kenneth R. Foster (Bioengineering, University of Pennsylvania)

New techniques of brain imaging are giving scientists -- and increasingly lawyers, advertising executives, and criminal investigators -- unprecedented access to the thoughts and inclinations of individuals. Studies have shown that functional magnetic resonance imaging can identify sexual preference (including tendencies towards pedophilia), detect lying or racial prejudice, and predict buying behavior of an individual. Companies are being formed to use brain imaging for socially important purposes including lie detection and neuromarketing. This rush to practical application of these powerful technologies raises important questions apart from the obvious privacy issues. I illustrate by considering one application, the use of brain imaging for lie detection. Should evidence gained from brain imaging be admitted as evidence in legal proceedings or used to screen individuals to identify terrorists -- and what happens if the judgments based on brain imaging are wrong? (See "Emerging Neurotechnologies for Lie-Detection: Promises and Perils," by Paul Root Wolpe, Kenneth R. Foster, Daniel D. Langleben, American Journal of Bioethics 5(2):39 (2005) and subsequent commentaries on that article. www.bioethics.upenn.edu/pdf/wolpe_liedetection.pdf)

Thursday, February 14th, 4-5:30, Carlson Auditorium (76-1125)

Panel discussion on Ethics, Truth, and Falsehood

with Jesús Aquilar, John Capps, David Suits, and Wade Robison as moderator


Thursday, March 20th, 4-5:30, Xerox Auditorium (09-2580)

Truth and trust

Wade L. Robison (Hale Chair in Applied Ethics, RIT)

Jonathan Swift's Gulliver visits a country where the inhabitants refer to someone who has lied as having "said the thing that is not." We can readily find examples, especially among politicans, of those who say "the thing that is not." Bush said the day before the election in 2006 that Rumsfeld would stay until the end of Bush's term in 2009; Rumfeld left the day after the election, something we discovered later had been in the works for months. It is hard to trust anyone who says "the thing that is not" when you know that that person knew that what he was saying is false. It is equally difficult to trust someone who does not exactly say "the thing that is not," but implies it. Romney said that he is a lifetime member of the NRA and has hunted since he was a child. The impression that gives is misleading, to say the least: he purchased a lifetime membership last fall and has hunted twice, once when he was a child and once last summer.

But by focussing on what individuals say, we may lose sight of an essential way in which individuals say "the thing that is not." When residents of the trailers FEMA supplied for Katrina victims complained of formaldehyde, FEMA ordered tests from an independent contractor which showed no problems. Only later did we learn that FEMA had required that the tests be conducted with the windows open and fans and air conditioner going full blast. When former Ambassador Wilson wrote an Op-Ed for the New York Times questioning whether Niger had supplied Iraq with uranium, the administration's response was to attack his credentials -- and not do anything to determine whether what he said was "the thing that is." What is common to these two examples is that procedures for determining the truth were not followed. We thus lose trust in the statements that result from those procedures and in the people and bodies that have failed, intentionally, to follow procedures that do generally produce truth.

Thursday, April 3rd, 4-5:30, Carlson Auditorium (76-1125)

The Assumption of Individual Moral Responsibility in Group Military Action

John Protevi (French Studies, Louisiana State University)

I explore the role of affect (rages and panics) and pre-cognitive reflexes in enabling killing in infantry combat. I examine Vietnam-era infantry training, which constructed a practical agent of killing which operated at an emergent group level, using the trained reflexes of individual soldiers as its components. I show that individual soldiers sometimes retrospectively took guilt upon themselves (a responsibility that is traditionally reserved for acts of individual conscious intention) even though the practical agent was the group activating the non-subjective reflexes of the individual soldiers. To explain this phenomenon, I explore proto-empathetic identification, which produces psychological trauma at the sight of the blood and guts of the killed enemy, despite the common practice of dehumanization of the enemy. I also examine cutting-edge digital and video simulator training for urban warfare of the “shoot / no shoot” type, which produces a very quick decision upon recognition of key traits of the situation – an act that is close to reflexive, but a bit more cognitively sophisticated. The same proto-empathetic identification and individual guilt assumption is in play in this training regime, even as the use of real-time communication technology forms ever more distributed group cognition.

Thursday, April 10th, 4-5:30, Xerox Auditorium (09-2580)

Responses to Vulnerability: Medicine, Politics and the Body in Descartes and Spinoza (with a dash of Hobbes)

Amy M. Schmitter (Philosophy, University of Alberta)

In Part IV of his Ethics, Spinoza declares that any thing in nature is always susceptible to the power of other natural things. This is because all things in nature are finite, and it is in the nature of a finitude that there will always be something else that is bigger and more powerful. Spinoza is unusually explicit on this point, but he was not the first to make the connection between nature, finitude and vulnerability. Hobbes also did, and so – in a rather different way – did Descartes. Descartes takes all bodies to be divisible by their very nature, and for that reason to be inherently finite entities (however “indefinite” their divisibility or extension might be). And just as in Spinoza, the distinction between the finite and the infinite marks two radically different orders of explanation and being.

This is grand metaphysics, but it is a grand metaphysics that generates practical concerns of the nearest and dearest kind for both philosophers. For we are clearly finite creatures in at least some sense, and that means that we and all our works are vulnerable to change, dissolution and destruction. Both Descartes and Spinoza (and indeed Hobbes) recommend various strategies for coping with this vulnerability. Nonetheless, because they concentrate on slightly different (albeit perfectly consistent) aspects of finitude, they understand the sort of vulnerability involved somewhat differently. And so, I argue that they adopt rather different strategies for dealing with our own vulnerability: political in the case of Spinoza, and medical, in the case of Descartes.

Thursday, April 17th, 4-5:30, Xerox Auditorium (09-2580)

Education for "Sustainable Development": A Philosophical Assessment of UNESCO's DESD

Randall Curren (Philosophy, University of Rochester)

The paper examines the rationale and conceptualization of UNESCO's conception of Education for Sustainable Development (ESD), beginning with the concept of "sustainable development" itself. It offers a philosophical defense of ESD, and outlines the most important kinds of reorientation of educational programs that problems of sustainability call for.

Tuesday, April 22nd, 4-5:30, Xerox Auditorium (09-2580)

Minimal marriage: what does the principle of neutrality imply for marriage law?

Elizabeth Brake (Philosophy, University of Calgary; currently at the Murphy Institute, Center for Ethics and Public Affairs, Tulane University)

The principle of liberal neutrality requires that a liberal state not justify law or policy by appealing to a contested conception of the good, such as a particular religious or moral view. Some philosophers have recently argued that neutrality requires that liberal states recognize same-sex marriages, others have argued that neutrality requires recognizing polygamous marriages, while still others have argued that it requires privatizing or abolishing marriage. I argue, instead, that neutrality implies ‘minimal marriage’: a law of personal relationships which recognizes and supports adult care networks such as urban tribes as well as ‘traditional’ marriages.

Response: Larry Torcello (Philosophy, RIT)

Jointly sponsored by the Departments of English and Philosophy of the College of Liberal Arts,
College of Liberal Arts Honors Program, and William A. Kern Professorship in Communications

Thursday, April 24th, 4-5:30, Carlson Auditorium (76-1125)

Patriotism and Morality

Gabriel Palmer-Fernandez (Philosophy, Youngstown State University)

For many people, patriotism is an important value. It is characteristic of them to have an identification with and attachment to a particular group, tribe, or nation, as well as loyalty to a state or love of country. Such attachment and loyalty provide reasons for preferring, giving priority to their compatriots. Is this preference morally defensible? Are there moral claims which require us to favor noncompatriots (i.e., members of other groups, nations, or states). I shall argue there are such claims – that under present global conditions of poverty and hunger we are morally required to prefer the poor and hungry of the world over members of our own group, nation, or state.

These presentations are free
and open to all.

If you need interpreting services, contact Cassandra Shellman as early as you can at 585.475.2057 or via e-mail.

Presentations for previous years