The idea of this monthly audio program is to engage ethicists in discussion of pressing practical dilemmas. Each program focuses on a particular theme—military intervention, international trade, political corruption—and takes as its starting point some more specific issue that is prominent in the public consciousness.
Thanks to Kompakt for permission to use their music in the show, and to Barbara Clare and Steve Rennicks for original compositions.
To contact us, and to find past episodes of the show, please visit our main website at www.publicethicsradio.org
Joy Gordon on Iraq Sanctions
The United States has faced an uphill battle this summer in its attempts to impose international sanctions on Iran and North Korea. In this episode of Public Ethics Radio, we consider why it might not be such a bad thing that sanctions are difficult to impose. Our guest is Joy Gordon, whose new book on the Iraq sanctions regime describes a superpower run amok. The international sanctions on Iraq were the strictest ever imposed. The tremendous damage that ensued set the stage for the devastated country we see today. Joy Gordon is Professor of Political Philosophy at Fairfield Universityand a Senior Fellow at Yale University's Global Justice Program. Her book about the Iraq sanctions regime is Invisible War. Her work on sanctions has also appeared in Harper's and Ethics & International Affairs.
Matthew Rimmer on Intellectual Property and Clean Technology
Climate change exposes the trade-off inherent in intellectual property protection. Research and development is expensive; companies won't invest in it if they don't expect to profit. Traditionally, profits from new technologies are provided by the exclusive rights granted by the patent system. But by granting patent rights, we ensure that new innovations will have a limited reach. So how do we both create new technologies and spread them as widely as possible? We need climate-friendly technology to be used everywhere, including in developing countries with limited resources. In this episode of Public Ethics Radio, we explore the debate about intellectual-property policy for clean technologies. Our guest is Prof. Matthew Rimmer of the Australian National University. Rimmer is a Senior Lecturer at the ANU College of Law, and a member of the ANU Climate Change Institute. He has published widely on intellectual property issues, and is working on a new book titled Intellectual Property and Climate Change: Inventing Clean Technologies.
Sarah Holcombe on Indigenous Intellectual Property Rights
Western pharmaceutical and agricultural businesses have long recognized that there is money to be made from the traditional knowledge of local, indigenous communities. Sociologists and anthropologists also seek to gain—intellectually and academically—from conducting research on and with these communities. What rules should govern the interaction with so-called traditional knowledge? How can intellectual property rights be designed so as to minimize harm to indigenous peoples and maximize the goods of research, and share it equitably? Today on Public Ethics Radio, we examine questions of knowledge management, intellectual property rights, and research ethics through the lens of Australia's Aboriginal groups. Our guest is the social anthropologist Sarah Holcombe. Dr. Holcombe is a research fellow at the National Centre for Indigenous Studies at the Australian National University.
Anne Phillips on Ownership and the Body
Is the human body a piece of property? We certainly object to the sale of whole human beings, but what about cases where a person merely wants to sell a part of her body? If I am free to donate my organs, why am I not free to sell them as well? For Professor Anne Phillips, the problem lies in treating the body as property, analogous to any other commodity. In this episode of Public Ethics Radio, we explore issues of ownership and the body. These questions do not end with organ sales. What limits, for instance, should we put on the sale of bodily services like surrogacy? Should trade in these services be limited, in order to prevent the poor from being exploited by the rich? Should organ markets be legalized and regulated? We discuss these questions with Anne Phillips, Professor of Political Gender and Gender Theory at the London School of Economics.
Christopher Heath Wellman on Immigration
There is no denying that international borders—coercively upheld and protected—are a huge factor in determining the distribution of wealth and opportunities throughout the world. From education and health care, to access to credit and the rule of law, a host of factors that influence quality of life depend simply on which side of a border a person is born on. Yet what could be more arbitrary, morally speaking, than where a person happens to be born? And why is it that inequality and poverty traceable back to this factor is generally considered less objectionable than deprivations that result from factors such as race, ethnicity or gender?
To get a grip on these questions, Public Ethics Radio discussed immigration and citizenship policies with Christopher Heath Wellman. Wellman is Professor of Philosophy at Washington University in St. Louis, and a Professorial Research Fellow at Charles Sturt University in the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics, an Australian Research Council Special Research Centre. His views on immigration are also set out in his recent, "Immigration and Freedom of Association," Ethics 119, no. 1 (2008): 109–141.
Hilary Charlesworth on Bills of Rights
The widespread agreement on the importance of human rights in liberal democracies masks sharp differences between governments' methods of protecting these rights. What does a country gain by enacting a bill of rights? Do countries that lack bills of rights, like Australia, protect human rights as well as those, like the United States and Canada, that have them? Does it make a difference if such rights are written into a foundational government document, as they in the United States, or if they are at least ostensibily on par with all other legislation, as they are in the United Kingdom?
In this episode of Public Ethics Radio, human-rights lawyer Hilary Charlesworth leads us through the challenging questions posed by the institutionalization of human rights. Hilary Charlesworth is Professor of International Law and Human Rights in the Australian National University College of Law and Director of the Centre for International Governance and Justice at the ANU.
Michael Selgelid on Infectious Diseases
Can we infringe individual rights to promote public health? Should, say, individuals be allowed to determine for themselves when they are too infectious to get on a plane? What happens when an individual contracts a new disease that is of unknown virulence? How do we deal with patients who don’t take their prescriptions correctly and risk allowing dangerous pathogens to mutate?
These urgent questions are the domain of the bioethics of infectious disease. On this episode of Public Ethics Radio, we are aided in the search for answers by the philosopher and tuberculosis expert Michael Selgelid.
Michael Selgelid is a Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics and the Menzies Centre for Health Policy at the Australian National University, where he is also Deputy Director of the National Centre for Biosecurity. He is also the director of the new World Health Organization Collaborating Center for Bioethics at the ANU.
David Grewal on Network Power
The evolving global order has liberalized trade in goods, capital, ideas, and, to a lesser extent, people within a multilateral and market-oriented framework. Debates on globalization have focused on the question of whether this order is morally defensible.
The arguments are as diverse as they are forceful. Some decry the order entirely, or claim that at the very least it is much inferior to alternative forms of globalization. Others object that is coercively imposed by powerful, affluent countries—a new and pernicious kind of imperial control. Even apparently voluntary processes, such as learning English or joining the World Trade Organization, are viewed as the result of the use of power of a morally problematic sort. Still others have rushed to defend globalization in its current form, arguing that it is certainly the best that can be feasibly be hoped for, at least for now. These enthusiasts argue that increasing globalization is developing not through the use of power, but through the free choices of people and countries throughout the world.
How is one to make sense of this debate and evaluate these claims? Today on Public Ethics Radio, we discuss globalization with David Grewal of Harvard University.
To explain how power can be at work in apparently voluntary processes, Grewal introduces the concept of “network power.” He argues that this dynamic drives many key aspects of globalization. A network is united via a standard: a shared norm or convention that enables coordination among its users, such as a language. A widely used standard is more valuable than a less used one, simply because it governs access to a larger network of people.
The idea of network power generalizes this fact to describe globalization as the rise to global dominance of standards that have achieved critical mass in language, high technology, trade, law, and many other areas. It also characterizes the rise to dominance of a successful standard as involving a form of power.
While these new standards allow for global coordination, they also eclipse local standards, rendering them unviable to the extent that they prove incompatible with dominant ones. Therefore many of the choices driving globalization are only formally free and, in fact, are constrained because the network power of a dominant standard makes it the only effectively available option. It is this dynamic that generates much of the resentment against globalization and the criticism that it reflects a new imperialism. Grewal discusses various strategies for coping better with network power.
David Grewal, is a graduate of Yale Law School and is author of Network Power: The Social Dynamics of Globalization, published in 2008 by Yale University Press. He has been elected recently to the Harvard Society of Fellows, which he will join formally in the summer of 2009. You can read more about network power in He also presented material from his book recently at the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs.
Jeff McMahan on Proportionality
Out of some 1,300 Palestinians killed in Gaza, Israel claims
that it can name more than 700 of the dead who were Hamas fighters. Claiming
precise knowledge of their targets, Israeli officials insist that their attacks
were judiciously planned so as to minimize harm to civilians. Despite this
apparent caution, however, any assault on Israel’s enemies makes certain the
deaths of innocent civilians.
Today on Public Ethics Radio, we discuss
The role that civilian casualties play in assessing the justice of war.
For a war to be just, it must satisfy what
is known as the proportionality principle. In a disproportionate war, the harms
caused by going to war are so evil that they outweigh the benefits of an
otherwise worthy goal. Considerations of proportionality are also relevant to
the assessment of particular tactics undertaken in an ongoing war.
To help us understand how this weighing of
harms and benefits works, we spoke to the distinguished just war scholar Jeff McMahan.
McMahan is a Professor of Philosophy at Rutgers University. He has published
widely on just war theory and defensive violence, and many of his articles are
available through his website. His recent views on proportionality are
discussed in, among others, his essay, “Just
Cause for War.”
Today on Public Ethics Radio, we discuss The role that civilian casualties play in assessing the justice of war.
For a war to be just, it must satisfy what is known as the proportionality principle. In a disproportionate war, the harms caused by going to war are so evil that they outweigh the benefits of an otherwise worthy goal. Considerations of proportionality are also relevant to the assessment of particular tactics undertaken in an ongoing war.
To help us understand how this weighing of harms and benefits works, we spoke to the distinguished just war scholar Jeff McMahan. McMahan is a Professor of Philosophy at Rutgers University. He has published widely on just war theory and defensive violence, and many of his articles are available through his website. His recent views on proportionality are discussed in, among others, his essay, “Just Cause for War.”
Bob Goodin and Lina Eriksson on Discretionary Time
What does it mean to live well? The U.S. Census Bureau informs us that an individual American with an income of less than $10,590 lives below the poverty line and is eligible for federal assistance. Add children and the number rises slowly: a father and two young children, say, is poor when their income is less than $16,689. Certainly these numbers strike us immediately as indicative of low well being. But, as we are informed by Bob Goodin and Lina Eriksson, income figures don't tell the whole story. Missing from this picture is degree of control an individual has over how her time is spent. At the federal minimum wage level of $7.25, the single individual in the first family has to work about 28 hours a week (ignoring taxes) to rise above the poverty threshold. Let's be kind to the father of two and say he makes enough ($11.42) to work the same number of hours as the first individual and still meet the second's higher poverty threshold. Now the problem with using income as the sole measure of well being is apparent: despite having equal income, the second parent still has enormous demands on his time in the form of childcare. Goodin and Eriksson, along with their coauthors James Rice and Antti Parpo, explore the role of time use in well being in their new book, Discretionary Time. Bob Goodin is Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at the Research School of the Social Sciences at the Australian National University. Lina Eriksson is Research Associate, also at the ANU's RSSS.
Larry Temkin on Extending Human Lifespans
In his victory speech, President-elect Obama singled out Ann Nixon Cooper. At 106 years old, she has borne witness to tectonic shifts in her society. Few of us would hesitate at a chance to live such a remarkably extended life. We can hardly imagine what our world will be like in forty, sixty, eighty years, but we’re certain it would be worth staying around to see. Today on Public Ethics Radio, we take a close look at that unhesitating certainty. What would a world in which everyone lived beyond 100 be like? Would it really be worth it for us?
We are aided in this process by Professor Larry Temkin, author of “Is Living Longer Living Better?” Temkin wonders just what it would be like if longevity researchers found the proverbial fountain of youth. Would multi-century lives really be desirable? The current expansion of lifespans is already presenting numerous ethical challenges: what to do with patients who can be kept alive physically but not mentally, how to maintain a system of social security in the face of an aging workforce, and so on. Temkin believes that we need to take a good hard look at all sides of the question of aging, rather than just blindly hoping for the best. If a scientist discovers a genetic switch that turns off cellular aging tomorrow, we had better be ready..
Larry Temkin is Professor of Philosophy at Rutgers University. A version of his article, "Is Living Longer Living Better" was published in the Journal of Applied Philosophy in August 2008. His website is www.philosophy.rutgers.edu/FACSTAFF/BIOS/temkin.html
Larry May on Habeas Corpus
Are habeas corpus petitions, as Barack Obama put it, "the foundation of Anglo-American law"? Or are they just nuisance lawsuits, "whether it be about the diet, whether it be about the reading material," that will just slow down the legal system and leave us "bollixed up," as John McCain claims? On this episode of Public Ethics Radio, we discuss these issues Larry May.
May distinguishes between a minimalist and maximalist sense of habeas corpus. As it's practiced in the U.S. today in the maximalist sense, a habeas corpus petition is essentially any constitutional challenge a prisoner may file against his imprisonment. Indeed, most death row litigation falls under habeas corpus. In the minimalist sense, the right to habeas corpus simply entitles the prisoner to appear in court and have the charges read against her, whereupon she may be immediately returned to prison.
The protection the minimalist right offers is limited. And yet, as May points out, even this more basic meaning of habeas is being denied at Guantanamo, where prisoners have languished for years without even facing charges. In PER episode 4, Christian Barry talks to Larry May about the meaning and moral significance of habeas.
Larry May's discussion is based his unpublished paper, "Habeas Corpus and Global Justice".
Larry May is Professor of Philosophy at Washington University in St. Louis and a Research Professor of Social Justice at the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics. His website is www.artsci.wustl.edu/~philos/people/may/index.html
Leif Wenar on the Resource Curse
When we talk about theft in international trade, we usually mean piracy, smuggling, or copyright infringement. Professor Leif Wenar, of King's College London, thinks that we might be missing the forest for the trees. Illegal transactions across borders are going on every day on an enormous scale. Consumers cannot help buying stolen goods when they buy gasoline and magazines, clothing and cosmetics, cell phones and laptops, perfume and jewelry. Worse, the money consumers spend at the mall and the filling station ends up in the hands of some of the most brutal rebels and repressive regimes in the world.
Wenar set out a powerful case in a recent paper in Philosophy & Public Affairs to show that corporations and countries that buy natural resources from bad actors in developing countries are violating the property rights of the people of those countries. If this claim is justified, then it is urgent to find ways to stop these corporations and countries from sending us these stolen goods.
Leif Wenar spoke to Public Ethics Radio about the intersection of property rights and natural resources, and discussed his ideas for stopping the theft.
This notion of institutionalization also speaks against the ever-popular ticking bomb scenario. If it takes weeks of interrogation to produce useful intelligence, then torture lite won’t be much help to Jack Bauer.
Leif Wenar is Chair of Ethics, and Director of the Centre for Medical Law and Ethics, School of Law, King's College London. His website is www.cleantrade.org
Jessica Wolfendale on Torture Lite
It’s been three years since George Bush announced that the United States does not engage in torture. Since then, a continuous stream of information has indicated that, although Jack Bauer–style brutality is officially prohibited, the U.S. officially sanctions and regularly employs interrogation tactics that push legal and moral boundaries. In today’s episode, Jessica Wolfendale sits down with Christian Barry to determine where those boundaries lie.
Specifically, Wolfendale is interested in the term “torture lite” and the distinction it attempts to draw between primarily physical techniques and more psychological ones. In her words, there is “torture, which is violent, physically mutilating, cruel, and brutal, and torture lite, which refers to interrogation methods (such as extended sleep deprivation, noise bombardment, and forced standing) that are, it is claimed, more restrained and less severe than real torture.”
Wolfendale denies this distinction. There’s no legitimate reason to separate practices like extended sleep deprivation from old-fashioned beatings. Torture lite techniques produce lasting effects, both physical and psychological, that are profoundly harmful. And they have pernicious effects for the torturers and the institutions that authorize themselves. In order to be useful, these techniques require interrogation sessions that can last for weeks, months or even longer. They require networks of interrogators who practice these techniques on all the prisoners who pass before them. As Wolfendale puts it, torture lite lends itself to institutionalization.
This notion of institutionalization also speaks against the ever-popular ticking bomb scenario. If it takes weeks of interrogation to produce useful intelligence, then torture lite won’t be much help to Jack Bauer.
Jessica Wolfendale is a Research Fellow at the University of Melbourne division of the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics.
Thomas Pogge on Pharmaceutical Innovation
Our medicines are improving at an impressive rate. Yet one third of the world’s population currently lacks access to essential medicines. Progress in pharmaceuticals is currently driven by patents, which grant successful innovators temporary monopolies on their inventions. These monopolies are incorporated into the World Trade Organization, whose members must adopt and enforce rules that offer twenty-year patents on new medicines. While this new global patent regime seems to strengthen incentives for pharmaceutical firms to innovate, it also cuts off poor people from access to cheap generic versions of advanced medicines.
Many think that this poses a genuine dilemma. Either we continue to promote innovation through the patent regime, recognizing that millions may therefore continue to die because of the resulting high prices, or we ensure access to the poor by breaking patents, but thereby eliminate all incentive for future innovation. Thomas Pogge denies this. He joins Public Ethics Radio to discuss his proposal, which, he argues, would ensure much greater access to essential medicines for the world’s people, and also promote innovation in pharmaceutical research.
Thomas Pogge is Professorial Fellow, Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics (CAPPE); Professor, Yale University Philosophy Department; and Research Director, Oslo Centre for the Study of Mind in Nature (CSMN). His website is pantheon.yale.edu/~tp4.
For more information about Thomas Pogge’s proposal for a Health Impact Fund, visit www.yale.edu/macmillan/igh.