Philosophy & Ethics

Compassion can produce counterintuitive results, challenging prevailing views of empathy's effects on moral judgment, say philosophers in a new paper

To understand how humans make moral choices, the philosophers asked subjects to respond to a variety of moral dilemmas, such as whether to stay and defend a mortally wounded soldier until he dies or shoot him to protect him from enemy torture and enable you and five other soldiers to escape unharmed.

Ethicists say people make choices based on a struggle within their brains between thoughtful reason and automatic passion.


Since it is election season in America, we can expect a new wave of social psychology papers claiming that political liberals are smarter and more creative than political conservatives. It makes good mainstream news fodder, just like sexism in hurricane names does. Some of the articles will even bolster their case with fMRI images to seem scientific.

Outside people with confirmation bias, surveys of college students done by psychologists are easily dismissed, but what about genetic data? A paper in Neuron argues that genetic evidence for criminality may be on the horizon. 


In the debate over government control of health care in the United States, critics looked at the UK system and its death panels, which drew an arbitrary line on when to stop treatment. Their recent efforts led to such an outcry that the government has said they were ending the incorrectly named Liverpool Care Pathway and its policy of subtle euthanasia.

Most ethicists in the UK have been in favor of letting government rather than doctors determine patient care but an Emeritus Professor of medical ethics at Imperial College London talking at this year's Euroanaesthesia meeting titled will at least argue that a patient's age should not in itself be considered an ethically relevant criterion for deciding 'where to stop' treatment.


Most physicians would choose a do-not-resuscitate or "no code" status for themselves when they are terminally ill, yet they tend to pursue aggressive, life-prolonging treatment for patients facing the same prognosis.

Hypocritical? No, Hippocratic. 

Is that a good thing? You betcha.

V.J. Periyakoil, MD, clinical associate professor of medicine at 
Stanford University Medical Center
and lead author of the paper, says it is a disconnect, but to the public it isn't.  Making a personal choice is one thing, making a social authoritarian decision for a patient is quite another.


The decision to jettison the controversial approach to dying known as the Liverpool Care Pathway was "too extreme" given that its principles were considered by proponents as the best examples of palliative care in the world, argues a senior ethicist in the Journal of Medical Ethics.


Reprinted from Scientia Salon. You can read the original here.

It seems like my friend Neil deGrasse Tyson [1] has done it again: he has dismissed philosophy as a useless enterprise, and actually advised bright students to stay away from it. It is not the first time Neil has done this sort of thing, and he is far from being the only scientist to do so. But in his case the offense is particularly egregious, for two reasons: first, because he is a highly visible science communicator; second, because I told him not to, several times.

For more than two decades, members of the United Nations have sought to forge an agreement to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions, but international climate negotiations have had limited success.


The Dead Mouse Argument

By whatever choice of words it is often argued that because one thing leads to another, adverse consequences must inevitably follow if the opponent's proposed course of action is taken.

By whatever choice of words, the above purely rhetorical "proof" is a complete load of codswallop.

In modern NASA culture, extended spaceflight might as well be science fiction. The no-risk requirement coupled with volumes of employment criteria, rules and regulations were why the Constellation program was going to take far longer to go back to the moon than it took to go there in the first place and there is no serious manned exploration in the works.

Nonetheless, the Institute of Medicine, the health arm of the National Academy of Sciences, would like to get more funding to create a health framework and they even make a recommendation that is positively un-government-like: allow exceptions to existing health standards on a mission-by-mission basis, but they dutifully qualify that any exceptions should be rare and occur only in extenuating circumstances. 


I mentioned before, this semester I’m teaching a graduate level seminar on David Hume, and having lots of fun with it. During a recent discussion of sections 4 and 5 of the Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding (“Sceptical doubts concerning the operations of the understanding” and “Sceptic al solutions of these doubts”) the concept of metaphysical necessity came up.