Top News, Articles, and Interviews in Philosophy

JCVI endorses Status Quo Bias

The UK's Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation recently recommended against vaccinating children under 16 against Covid, despite granting that "the benefits from vaccination are marginally greater than the potential known harms." (Of course, aggregated over a subpopulation of millions, even "marginal" improvements in risk profile can result in several saved lives and scores or hundreds fewer hospitalizations.  And, as Deepti Gurdasani makes clear in this thread,* all the evidence should lead us to expect the "unknown" risks from Covid to outweigh those from the vaccine, so taking uncertainty into account should lead us to regard vaccination as all the more important.)So what's behind the JCVI's verdict?  They are at least admirably transparent:In providing its advice, JCVI also recognises that in relation to childhood immunisation programmes, the UK public places a higher relative value on safety compared to benefits.It's important to be clear on what this really means. Note that this is not invoking any kind of philosophically defensible harm/benefit asymmetry.  (Many people think it's more important to reduce suffering than to promote happiness, but that's not what this is about.)  Vaccines aren't to make you happy. The "benefits" they provide are specifically safety benefits, i.e. against other health risks.  So what the JCVI is really saying is that they place higher value on protecting people from potential harms from [More]

Cosmos in the Ancient World

2021.09.05 : View this Review Online | View Recent NDPR Reviews Philip Sidney Horky (ed.), Cosmos in the Ancient World, Cambridge University Press, 2019, 348pp., $99.99 (hbk), ISBN 9781108423649. Reviewed by Daryn Lehoux, Queen's University The Greek word cosmos spans a famously broad and fascinating cluster of meanings. One morning I thought to look for some insight by checking its root meanings in Robert Beekes' Etymological Dictionary of Greek. As it turns out, the deep history of the word is (perhaps fittingly) rather obscure. The current, "most probable" speculation ties it to a Proto-Indo-European root word that, if this account is correct, would have also given us the Latin censeo, 'to assess, hold as an opinion, recommend.' Beekes further gestures at what appear to be plausible Old Church Slavonic, Old Persian, and Sanskrit cognates that have to do with speaking and praising, a Middle Welsh verb for pointing something out, and to a postfix in Greek and Sanskrit... Read [More]

Sauce for the Gander

The Texas anti-abortion law enshrines the idea that others' interests legally trump an individual's right to bodily integrity.  Of course, many would question whether a six-week embryo really has morally significant interests yet, but put such worries aside for now.  I'm interested in how broadly this principle should be applied.  For there are many needy individuals out whose moral status is much clearer than that of an embryo.  Just consider any dialysis patient, for example.  If bodily integrity is no longer sacrosanct, should we not pass laws mandating the removal of excess kidneys to help those in need?  Better yet, since most of us (I think) still regard violations of bodily integrity as a serious moral cost, perhaps one could instead mandate just that those who have mandated that others' bodily integrity be violated for another's sake should themselves be subject to mandatory kidney donation.  They've already implicitly consented to the principle at stake, after all.As a bonus, we don't even need the State to get its hands dirty -- just further specify that the law empowers any concerned citizen to harvest a kidney from anyone responsible for the Texas law (including, e.g., those who offered legal, financial, or other support to the legislators in the crafting of their bill).  I'm sure such a proposal would immediately be met with universal support, right?In other news: Trumpists finally proved that birthright citizenship [More]

Tendentious Terminology in Ethics

Ethical theorists may sometimes engage in "persuasive definition": re-defining an evocative phrase for their own purposes, in a way that their opponent will reasonably regard as inaccurate and unfair.  Two examples that always annoy me are "treating someone as a mere means" and the "separateness of persons".  Opponents of consequentialism all too often trot out these phrases to indicate deep flaws in consequentialism. But it only works for them if they first redefine these terms to mean something that has nothing to do with the literal meaning of treating someone as a mere means or the separateness of persons.  You might as well redefine "terrorist" to denote adherents of the opposing views, and then complain that your opponents are all terrorists.  It's dishonest rhetoric, and ought to be avoided.  In this post, I'll explain my two examples, and why I consider them so misleading.  Others are welcome to comment with other examples -- especially any that you think consequentialists may be guilty of!Treating someone as a mere means (rather than as an end in themselves) would violate the moral datum that each person has final (non-instrumental) value.  That sure would seem a straightforward moral blunder.  But Kantians redefine the phrase to instead mean something like acting upon someone without their consent.  Of course, it's fine to try to argue for the view that acting upon someone without their consent is incompatible with [More]

“Refusing” vs “Declining” the Vaccine

Because of the psychological power of rhetoric, words do matter. As philosophers point out in critical thinking, words have both a denotation (the meaning) and a connotation (the emotions and associations invoked). Words that have the same (or similar) denotation can have very different connotations. For example, “police officer” and “pig” (as slang) have the [More]

The power of words [podcast]

We’re all familiar with the phrase “words have power” but in a political and cultural climate where we become more aware of the power that money, influence, and privilege have every day, how do people wield the power of words?       Related StoriesSHAPE and societal recovery from crisesThe neuroscience of human consciousness [podcast]How does ocean health impact life and livelihoods? [More]