Almost a year ago now, while reading an article by the historian Yuval Harari in the British newspaper The Guardian, I had a visceral experience of what it means to live in the Anthropocene. Harari’s piece was about the horrors of industrial meat production, and as evidence of the scale of the monstrosity, he listed a set of facts that I had either not known, or had never taken the time to fully contemplate.
Seneca was a wealthy Roman stoic and advisor to the emperor Nero. In the third of his Letters from a Stoic, entitled ‘On True and False Friendship’, he makes the following observation:
As to yourself, although you should live in such a way that you trust your own self with nothing which you could not entrust even to your own enemy, yet, since certain matters occur which convention keeps secret, you should share with a friend at least all your worries and reflections.
Bryan Magee (1930 – ) has had a multifaceted career as a professor of philosophy, music and theater critic, BBC broadcaster, public intellectual and member of Parliament. He has starred in two acclaimed television series about philosophy: Men of Ideas (1978) and The Great Philosophers (1987). He is best known as a popularizer of philosophy. His easy-to-read books, which have been translated into more than twenty languages, include:
I corresponded with an old friend yesterday who was communicating the tedium of his work as a software engineer. He is thankful that he earns a six-figure salary, and he understands that most people in the world would happily trade places with him, but that doesn’t change the fact that a future filled with a lifetime of coding doesn’t excite his probing and restless mind. Minds like his need stimulation, and they could contribute so much to the rest of us if they were freed to follow their interests . Moreover, while technology companies pay some of the best wages in the United States, they expect more than 40 hours of work in return, which leaves my friend with less time with his children than he would like.
NOTE: This is a guest post by Iason Gabriel from St. John’s College Oxford. I recently did a series on Iason’s excellent article ‘Effective Altruism and its Critics’. In this post, Iason develops his counterfactual critique of effective altruism. Be sure to check out more of Iason’s work on his academia page.)
This is going to be my final post on the topic of effective altruism (for the time being anyway). I’m working my way through the arguments in Iason Gabriel’s article ‘Effective Altruism and its Critics’. Once I finish, Iason has kindly agreed to post a follow-up piece which develops some of his views.
On May 19, 2016, the World Health Organization released its report “World Health Statistics: Monitoring Health for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)” describing the recent state of global health. The news is rather encouraging. The global life expectancy increased by 5 years, from about 66.5 to 71.4 presently, recording the fastest increase since the 1960s. The rightly so-called “developing” countries generally showed a much faster improvement compared to the complacently “developed” ones. Thus, Africa generally had the lowest life expectancy.
IEET Affiliate Scholar John Danaher published a new paper coming out in the journal Bioethics. It’s about the philosophy of education and student use of cognitive enhancement drugs. It suggests that universities might be justified in regulating their students’ use of enhancement drugs, but only in a very mild, non-compulsory way. It suggests that a system of voluntary commitment contracts might be an interesting proposal. The details are below.
After a long hiatus, I am finally going to complete my series of posts about Iason Gabriel’s article ‘Effective Altruism and its Critics’ (changed from the original title ‘What’s wrong with effective altruism?). I’m pleased to say that once I finish the series I am also going to post a response by Iason himself which follows up on some of the arguments in his paper. Let me start today, however, by recapping some of the material from previous entries and setting the stage for this one.
IEET Affiliate Scholar John Danaher is hiring a research assistant as part of his Algocracy and Transhumanism project. It’s a short-term contract (5 months only) and available from July onwards. The candidate would have to be able to relocate to Galway for the period. Details below. Please share this with anyone you think might be interested.
William James, in his famous book The Varieties of Religious Experience, draws a contrast between what he calls “once born” and the “twice born” people. Once born people appear biologically predisposed to happiness. They are relatively untroubled by their own setbacks as well as by the suffering the world; they rarely speak ill of others; they don’t complain much; they tend not to be fearful or angry. Today we might call them happy-go-lucky, easy-going or upbeat.
A new study by the Pew Research Center spurred a rash of headlines last week about “the dying middle class.” But the word “dying” might be more appropriate if we were watching the regrettable but inevitable effects of natural forces at work. We’re not. We’re seeing the fruits of deliberate action—and sometimes of deliberate inaction—at the highest levels of power.
A colleague recently sent me a link to an article which claims that having nature in your surroundings extends life and increases happiness. The article titled, “Having a nice garden could save your life, study suggests,” notes the strong association between exposure to greenness and vegetation and lower mortality rates.
Abortion continues to make political news, but a question rarely asked by politicians or other interlocutors is: what do professional ethicists think about abortion? If ethicists have reached a consensus about the morality or immorality of abortion, surely their conclusions should be important. And, as a professional ethicist myself, I can tell you that among ethicists it is exceedingly rare to find defenders of the view that abortion is murder. In fact, support for this anti-abortion position, to the extent it exists at all, comes almost exclusively from the small percentage of philosophers who are theists. Yet few seem to take notice of this fact.
The astronomers Adam Frank and Woodruff Sullivan have an interesting paper out where they’ve essentially flipped the Drake Equation on its head. If that equation is meant to give us some handle on the probability that there are aliens out there, Frank and Sullivan have used the plethora of exoplanets discovered since the launch of the Kepler space telescope to calculate the chance that, so far, we alone have been the only advanced civilization in the 13.7 billion year history of the universe.
(Disclaimer – I’m not a medical doctor. For more info on these topics consult an M.D.)
I was thinking about a friend who quit smoking about 10 years ago with the help of nicotine gum. She eventually kicked the nicotine gum habit too, although she claimed that it was about as difficult to quit the gum as it was the cigarettes. She did notice that her ability to deal with anxiety was reduced after quitting the gum, and she also became more depressed. As a result, she has considered starting to chew gum again.
This is the second in a two-part series (read Part I here)looking at the ethics of intimate surveillance. In part one, I explained what was meant by the term ‘intimate surveillance’, gave some examples of digital technologies that facilitate intimate surveillance, and looked at what I take to be the major argument in favour of this practice (the argument from autonomy).
Last year when I wrote a review of E.O. Wilson’s book The Meaning of Human Existence I felt sure it would be the then 85 year old’s last major work. I was wrong having underestimated Professor Wilson’s already impressive intellectual stamina. Perhaps his latest book Half-Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life is indeed his last, the final book that concludes the trilogy of The Social Conquest of Earth and the Meaning of Human Existence.
Time has been conceived mainly as either discrete or continuous, but not widely as a simultaneity of the two. I would like to articulate a new theory of time in which time is reconceived as a ‘raw material’ whose natural state is both discrete and continuous. This is a “middle third” position that extends Husserl’s theory of internal time consciousness by being a new form of time in the middle between and connecting retention-protention (which are continuous) and recollection-expectation (which are discrete).
‘Intimate Surveillance’ is the title of an article by Karen Levy - a legal and sociological scholar currently-based at NYU. It shines light on an interesting and under-explored aspect of surveillance in the digital era. The forms of surveillance that capture most attention are those undertaken by governments in the interests of national security or corporations in the interests of profit.
The debate about algorithmic governance (or as I prefer ‘algocracy’) has been gathering pace over the past couple of years. As computer-coded algorithms become ever more woven into the fabric of economic and political life, and as the network of data-collecting devices that feed these algorithms grows, we can expect that pace to quicken.
Moral theories often conflict with our moral intuitions; they are often counter-intuitive. Explanations, theories, or beliefs are counter-intuitive if they violate our ordinary, common-sense view. For example, it’s counter-intuitive to suppose that physical reality is illusory, although there is no way to demonstrate this isn’t the case. Similarly, it’s counter-intuitive to suppose the keyboard upon which I type is moving, although the keyboard, earth, solar system, galaxy, and entire universe move! This demonstrates that non-moral intuitions are often mistaken.
Here’s an interesting idea. It’s taken from Aaron Wright and Primavera de Filippi’s article ‘Decentralized Blockchain Technology and the Rise of Lex Cryptographia’. The article provides an excellent overview of blockchain technology and its potential impact on the law. It ends with an interesting historical reflection. It suggests that the growth of blockchain technology may give rise to a new type of legal order: a lex cryptographia. This is similar to how the growth in international trading networks gave rise to a lex mercatoria and how the growth in the internet gave rise to a lex informatica.
IEET Fellow Natasha Vita-More will be the Keynote Speaker, and Affiliate Scholar Melanie Swan will also give a talk at the NY Posthuman Research Group’s 2nd annual Glocal Symposium on Posthuman Futures.
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