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History of violence

Enjoyed this article – and the video – by Steven Pinker on the history of violence both from ancient times through to the “Long Peace” after 1945. In almost every respect the world has grown less violent through history and the decline has been most marked after 1945. Conflicts and wars within countries, between countries, […]

Empathy & sound ethics

I have been thinking about empathy and reading the psychologist Paul Bloom on this. Empathy is a type of bias – it evokes compassion for those close to us and to a lessor extent to those we can see but who need not be at all close to us in terms of actual ties – […]

Moralities of everyday life

I am doing the Professor Paul Bloom course “Moralities of Everyday Life” for credit from Coursera. This is an approach to ethics based on psychology. Paul is a very talented lecturer (and author) based at Yale. Weekly assignments are online and students are identified from their typing style and using photographic imaging. A 70% average […]

Prisoner’s Dilemmas, ethics & courage.

The Prisoner’s Dilemma is a key idea of modern game theory. It describes the difficulties of sustaining cooperation when individuals have reasons to defect from a cooperative agreement. This paradigm has even been used to define ethical behaviour. Kant’s Categorical Imperative requires that for a moral maxim to be ethical (for an individual) it must […]

Piketty on inequality

Economics has a best seller. Thomas Piketty’s, “Capital in the 21st Century”. I couldn’t get a copy locally (the book is not available even at such is the demand) but have read a few reviews and watched a video where Piketty presents his ideas that are then analyzed by Paul Krugman, Joseph Stiglitz and […]

Trolley Problem

I have been reading Thomas Cathcart’s, “The Trolley Problem or Would You Throw the Fat Guy Off the Bridge”. This is one of two popular book length accounts of this well-known problem in ethics. It’s a fun read that taught me a lot about utilitarianism and its problems. Many books on moral philosophy are dull […]

How much should we give as foreign aid?

(Preliminary thoughts. Comments welcome).

I don’t know the exact answer to this but who could? We should give something on the basis of deontology (Kant’s “helping a stranger” problem – the imperative is to give at least a “little” where “little” is defined as that amount that creates “low” costs to us). This sets a […]

Sins of the father

This is the tragic tale of the wife of one of the Indians sentenced to hanging for rape and murder. Her life, and that of her son, is bleak given the actions of the father. Not because the father is a rapist but because she now has no husband to provide her with subsistence. It […]

Hitting Assad

There is no question that Syria’s Bashar Assad is one of the Middle East’s worst tyrants. I am sympathetic to the American position here – that he should be punished for using chemical weapons against his own citizens – the videos I saw were horrific – particularly the distraught father trying to rouse his dead […]

Merits & demerits of markets.

This is a nice piece on the merits and demerits of markets.

It is a discussion by Thomas Wells of Michael Sandel’s, What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets. The claim by Sandler is that markets degrade certain relationships and “products”.

Wells points out that conventional economics criticises markets strongly whenever natural […]

Bruni & Sugden defend capitalism

J. King referred me to this piece by Luigino Bruni and Robert Sugden that defends capitalism from the perspective of virtue ethics. Poor old capitalism gets a rubbishing from many undergraduate Arts students because of its imperfections and outright corruption. The undergraduates note this on their iPads just before they drive off to that new […]

Social insurance against kidney failure

Greg Mankiw in his recent JEP study “Defending the One Percent” provides the following contra to the Rawls (1971) “veil of ignorance” argument:

“A common thought experiment used to motivate income redistribution is to imagine a situation in which individuals are in an “original position” behind a “veil of ignorance”…. This original position occurs in […]

Professional ethics for economists: Notes on DeMartino

I am teaching a new course on “Economics and Ethics” this semester. It is oriented towards students doing joint degrees in philosophy, politics and economics – a strand of work that follows a famous degree offered at Oxford University. It came at a convenient time given that, for the last year, I have been reading […]

Phillip Morris’s wrong apology

Phillip Morris have apologised to the Czechs for presenting, as a business case in favour of smoking, that a financial benefit from smoking is that it kills people early thereby saving the state money on health care and pensions. Of course they should not have apologised for this since the claim is definitely true – […]

Is a species extinction a bad thing?

This New Scientist article suggests not necessarily. The thinking reflects the theme of a recent exhibition in London. Some snippets (with my responses):

“Extinction, like death, is a natural part of life,” declares an epigraph at the start of this exhibition. “Extinction isn’t necessarily the end of the world, it could be just the beginning…” […]

Adam Smith & “Virtue Ethics”

Vulgar views of Adam Smith suggest that he is an unqualified supporter of laissez faire capitalism. That isn’t true even in his Wealth of Nations where, for example, Smith provides a rationale for the existence of public goods based on the fixed costs of supplying infrastructure. More modern writers have recognised Smith’s criticisms of commercialism […]

Care ethics & feminism

Consider feminism and the application of care ethics to purely human ethical issues. There are related to certain environmental and animal rights ethical concerns (e.g. eco-feminism) and hence to issues I am interested in but I will not discuss such things here – they are more related in any event to feminist critiques of male […]

Moylan’s ethics

Anti-coal campaigner Jonathan Moylan’s actions in disrupting the market for Whitehaven stock a few days ago was intended to be a moral action. It is not immoral to have principles and to take a strong stance against the use of coal given the imminent problem of climate change that the world now faces. On the […]

Some environmental ethics

I have been engaged in trying to understand some environmental ethical issues. Comments very welcome.


Animal ethics

I am doing some work on environmental and specifically animal ethics. Comments appreciated on this first draft on the animal ethics topic.