Praesidium

Friday, August 07, 2015

Bioethics Paper on Procreative Beneficence

My latest publication appears in the September issue of Bioethics.

The article is a response to Rebecca Bennett's criticisms of Julian Savulescu's Principle of Procreative Beneficence (PPB). Briefly, she argues that the Non-Identity Problem (NIP) shows that there cannot be a duty of Procreative Beneficence, since no one is harmed by non-compliance with this alleged duty. I reply, firstly, that she misinterprets the NIP as an argument, rather than a trilemma. One way out of this problem is to accept the notion of harmless wrongs (a possibility that she neglects, assimilating it to impersonal harm).

Second, I argue that, even if she is right that PB is not a moral duty, this doesn't show that it is a 'mere preference'. Some preferences, such as those over works of art, exhibit a similar objective or categorical status as moral judgements purport to.

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Friday, June 19, 2015

Summer Berry Smoothies

We recently acquired a new blender (this one if you're interested - Amazon affiliate link) and, as a result, have rediscovered our love for smoothies. Luckily for us, this coincided with receiving some vouchers from Tesco for money off their summer berries and cherries range, which meant we #TriedForLess.

Here I'm getting things started, with bananas, raspberries, and blueberries...


 
 
You may notice this isn't our new blender - that was waiting to be washed, so using our old smoothie maker in the meantime.
 
'Recipe' 1 just uses milk (soya milk alternative in our case), plus two bananas and about half the packet (100g) of raspberries.
 

 
 
The result looks like this:

 
 
That was it for my partner, since she doesn't like blueberries in smoothies (she describes the texture as 'gloopy'). Nonetheless, blueberries are supposed to be very good for you, so here's 'recipe' 2 - pour out my partner's raspberry smoothie and now add a small handful of blueberries (about 40-50g):
 
 
The result is clearly darker:


 
 
The downside of the blueberries is that they do make more of a mess of whatever you're drinking out of - but that's what the dishwasher is for!
 

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Tuesday, June 16, 2015

School Trip Lottery

Lotteries are often used to distribute goods (e.g. scarce resources such as transplant organs) and bads (e.g. military conscription). Of course, this isn't particularly surprising since any lottery distributing a good can be re-described as one distributing the bad of not getting that good, and vice versa.

Recently in the news was this case of five primary school children who were excluded from an over-subscribed school trip to Disneyland. The headline highlights that names were drawn from a hat to decide who WOULDN'T go, but names could just as easily have been drawn to decide who would go - it would simply have taken much longer and not obviously been at all preferable.

The bullet point below ("School says drawing names was fair way to deal with over-subscription") also seems to implicate that a lottery was not fair - since it does not state this as fact but only as something the school says (though no better alternative is suggested).

To be clear, we have to separate two distinct issues here. The first is whether it's necessary to exclude five children from the trip at all. One might argue that the school could somehow have avoided this situation arising. However, if we take as given that there are 54 people wanting to go and only 49 places, so that the only question is how to allocate the good of places fairly, then a lottery seems pretty clearly fair.

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Thursday, June 11, 2015

New Publication: Fairness and Aggregation

Now published (online) in Utilitas - available here (with subscription).

This was my first experience of co-authoring a journal article - something that's common in many fields (particularly the sciences) but still pretty rare in philosophy. It's something that I'd be happy to do again though.

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Saturday, April 11, 2015

Happiness, Happiness...

There's an interesting piece in the Guardian here about how pressure to be happy all the time contributes to making us unhappy. (Hat-tip: Lee Jones.)

All very sensible, but not anything particularly new. It's something that J. S. Mill was well aware of as demonstrated by this passage (from chapter 2 of Utilitarianism, shortly after the higher pleasures bit):

"If by happiness be meant a continuity of highly pleasurable excitement, it is evident enough that this is impossible. A state of exalted pleasure lasts only moments, or in some cases, and with some intermissions, hours or days, and is the occasional brilliant flash of enjoyment, not its permanent and steady flame. Of this the philosophers who have taught that happiness is the end of life were as fully aware as those who taunt them. The happiness which they meant was not a life of rapture; but moments of such, in an existence made up of few and transitory pains, many and various pleasures, with a decided predominance of the active over the passive, and having as the foundation of the whole, not to expect more from life than it is capable of bestowing. A life thus composed, to those who have been fortunate enough to obtain it, has always appeared worthy of the name of happiness. And such an existence is even now the lot of many, during some considerable portion of their lives."

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Saturday, February 28, 2015

Interpretation: Tangible Objects

I remember legal philosophy seminars on interpretation featuring some pretty interesting cases, like judges deciding that '5th' was reasonably interpreted to mean '6th' (or something along those lines anyway). Here's another case that may feature in interpretation cases. I'm not clear whether it's accurate to say that the Supreme Court ruled that fish are not tangible objects. It's probably more accurate to say that they interpreted 'other tangible objects' in the law more narrowly, so as not to include fish. It's an interesting case also for those who think that legislators are prone to over-criminalization.

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Thursday, January 29, 2015

ACN Lottery

Penalty shoot outs are often derided as being lotteries. (An issue I've written about before.) Prior to the introduction of shoot outs, proper lotteries - such as a coin toss - were sometimes used. Nowadays, this is rare, if not unheard of. However, sometimes two teams may be tied in a league table, not only on points but also goal difference and goals scored. Since they're not playing against each other at the time, extra time or penalties are not an option. In this case, the African Cup of Nations employs a lottery - which, most recently, saw Guinea progress at the expense of Mali. Representatives of both nations criticised the process as unfair, though without suggesting a better alternative.

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