Philosophy & Ethics

When the Supreme Court was debating the legal foundation of the Affordable Care Act in the United States, Justice Antonin Scalia challenged the Obama administration claim that the controversial individual mandate provision was Constitutionally legitimate, even under the broad 'Commerce' clause.

"Could you define the market -- everybody has to buy food sooner or later, so you define the market as food, therefore, everybody is in the market; therefore, you can make people buy broccoli," Scalia said. 

Yes, yes, we’ve covered this territory before. But you might have heard that Sam Harris has reopened the discussion by challenging his critics, luring them out of their hiding places with the offer of cold hard cash.

Remarkable improvements in the quality of life, prevention and treatment of disease have been made possible through advancements in biomedical research, including clinical trials involving human subjects.

When I go to the gym I get easily bored, so I listen to either music or, more likely, audiobooks. Recently, I’ve spent exercise time with a couple of scifi entries by author Robert Sawyer. I started out with Flashforward, then moved to Calculating God.

Both books are based on clever premises, unfold nicely, but are — in my opinion — ruined by the author’s penchant for invoking deus-ex-machina scenarios near the end. And they both preach a bit too much science, to the point of feeling like a lecture to the reader, especially Calculating God. Nonetheless, they do make the time at the gym pass significantly faster...

29% of large clinical trials remain unpublished five years after completion and, of those, 78% have no results publicly available, according to a paper published yesterday.

This means that an estimated 250,000 people have been exposed to the risks of trial participation without the societal benefits that accompany the dissemination of their results, worry the authors. Of course, the participants all volunteered for the trials and had informed consent and many were even paid so claiming they were 'exposed to the risks' is emotional verbage designed to guide the public into one conclusion: all trial results should be published.

I recently attended a talk by Daniel Garber (Princeton University) on the topic of “God, Laws and the Order of Nature in the Scientific Revolution.” While Garber’s talk was mostly historical in nature, it raised some interesting points about why and how we talk about laws of nature at all.
A young woman, a student it seems from the looks of it, shuffles in bursts behind me, in small steps one foot just in front of the other, staring down, then she wiggles her head at the sky, then she shuffles on, stops, wiggles her head. The light turns green and I walk, just walk away as if I must, feeling guilty, fleeing the scene. I steal one more look, also because she is attractive. An easy mark for the fulfillment of desires – who would ever know if I took her in the dusk? I feel for her, feel pain, but then I envy her, too. She has an aim, perhaps. She has her way of dealing with her pains, perhaps she deals with them in this way, and I am here to suffer, not able to deal with mine nearly as efficient. Broken robots, but nature’s, never not “broken”.

When organ donations after death are a topic, the altruism argument is easily made. But during life, it is more complex.

Kidney transplantation is the best treatment for patients with kidney failure. Unfortunately, there's a shortage of kidneys available to those in need of a transplant, and donation rates from both living and deceased donors have remained relatively unchanged over the last decade.  Some people aren't going to have willing donors or even matching ones but when the notion of paying for donations is introduced, the implication is this will be a new front in the class war - organs of poor people will be harvested for the rich.

I am not a metaphysician (or a metaphysicist, as some call themselves), but I've been fascinated for a while by what I've come to think of as the metaphysics wars. Let me explain. Metaphysics is, of course, one of the classic branches of philosophy, tracing back at least to the pre-Socratic Thales of Miletus (the guy who thought that all is made of water), and of course getting its name from Aristotle's treatise (though that wasn't the original title, it was named so afterwards, because it came after Aristotle's Physics).
You can tell I've had philosophy of mind on my mind lately. I've written about the Computational Theory of Mind (albeit within the broadest context of a post on the difference between scientific theories and philosophical accounts), about computation and the Church-Turing thesis, and of course about why David Chalmers is wrong about the Singularity and mind uploading (in press in a new volume edited by Russell Blackford and Damien Broderick).