In general, I’m not a betting man. Intellectual humility cautions against sticking one’s neck out too far into terrain that is too complex to understand, let alone reasonably predict with any confidence. But some bets are unavoidable.
Empirical Ethics and the Duty to Extend the “Biological Warranty Period”
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In 1959 the British scientist and novelist CP Snow gave a lecture in Cambridge titled “Two Cultures”. Snow argued that the intellectual life of western societies was polarized between two traditions- that of scientists and that of literary intellectuals who had very little understanding of, and appreciation for, science.
Most political science students that take political theory courses are left leaning. As such they are very passionate about trying to make the world a better place. As admirable as this sentiment may be, unfortunately they are less diligent about cultivating intellectual virtue (e.g. an appreciation of the salient facts, understanding, the detective’s virtues, etc.). Instead, they are prone to adopt a rather simplistic lens that reduces complex problems into a “good guys” vs “bad guys” analysis.
The health prospects of humanity are influenced by many things. There are extrinsic factors like poverty, violence, and infectious disease that can cause humans to die. There are also intrinsic factors, like the constraints of our biology (e.g. aging). The role these different factors play in causing disease and death in the world changes over time. The greater success we have with combating extrinsic risks, the greater the impact intrinsic risks have on our health prospects.
This term I am teaching my graduate level seminar “Science and Justice” to approximately 14 (mostly) MA and PhD students from political science, philosophy and psychology here at Queen’s. It’s my favorite course to teach (I also teach an undergrad version of it as well) and we address a number of ethical and social issues related to the genetic revolution.
In general, I’m not a betting man. Intellectual humility cautions against sticking one’s neck out too far into terrain that is too complex to understand, let alone reasonably predict with any confidence.
An idealist is one who aspires to bring about a better state-of-affairs than those realized in the status quo.
As a political theorist who works on issues that intersect the biological sciences and medicine, I frequently get puzzled looks when I tell students and colleagues I am working on aging and longevity science. Their puzzlement is understandable, as these topics do not currently receive much attention in the discipline.
There are many different ways to arrive at a list of the top priorities a society should set for itself. One could set priorities based on the intuitions or “gut instincts” people happen to have at any given time. Or, alternatively, one could base priorities on the empirical data we have concerning what harms individuals and societies and what the magnitude of the benefits of mitigating such harms would be. I prefer the latter approach.