• CSU
  • University of Melbourne

This research centre ceased operation on 31 December 2016. This website is archived. There will be no further updates to this site.


Economics and Innovation

The program focuses on central ethical issues arising in the economic sphere. These include the justice of national and global economic arrangements, such as taxation, fiscal, labour and property law, and financial and trading regimes. Specific areas include markets in education and the economics of climate change. The program also examines corporate responsibilities in the spheres of finance, profitability, sustainability and human rights, and distributive justice. It aims to make a major contribution to the ethical understanding of innovation and technology. Program members realize that technical, scientific, legal and social science expertise is vital, and work with practitioners in the relevant professions.


Research in this program examines a range of issues that arise from the nature and value of the natural, and also the artificial environment, and our relationship with them. These include issues of justice and responsibility in relation to possession of, access to, and exploitation of land, water, and other (renewable and non-renewable) natural resources, ethical issues in climate change mitigation and adaptation, including those involving geo-engineering, and the human role in the anthropocene. 


This program addresses issues in bioethics, healthcare ethics, and public health ethics. This includes conceptual work on the ethics of procreation, the ethics of providing medical treatment to vulnerable groups such as children, dual use issues in the biological sciences, and the distinction between medical treatment and human enhancement. It also includes work on practical ethical issues arising in healthcare, including moral and regulatory challenges of experimental therapies, difficulties facing medical research ethics committees, and the problem of determining when conscientious objections are legitimate in healthcare.


This program addresses a variety of conceptual and practical ethical issues that are generated for the most part by the phenomena of war, humanitarian intervention, terrorism, crime and corruption. These include the nature and application of Just War Theory, morality and self-defense, principles of criminal liability, justification for police use of force, ethics of counter-terrorism tactics, anti-corruption systems and ethical issues in cyber-security.


2015 Annual Report [.pdf]

CAPPE Events

Seminar 28th September

Norvo Lo - La Trobe University

This paper discusses social attitudes towards feeding neighbourhood wild birds. It connects different and often opposing attitudes on the issue to three schools of philosophy regarding animals and nature. These include animal liberation ethics, wilderness preservation ethics,and anthropocentrism. 

Contact CAPPE for more information.


Professor Seumas Miller

Institutional Corruption and The Capital Markets  More

Fixing the Fix - Benchmark Reform and the Future of Financial Regulation  More

Designing-in-Ethics: A Compulsary Retirement Savings System  More

Dr Stephen Clarke

On Religious Violence, ABC Western Plains 'Mornings', radio interview  More

Past media events



Canberra Seminars


Tuesday 15th of December (2009) at 4pm: Paula Casal

Title: Moral Reflections on the Great Apes

Recent scientific findings have caused a large increase in the number of people who believe that the great apes should have certain rights. This is an important and desirable development in the animal movement and in applied ethics. It does not, however, exhaust the connection between primatology and moral philosophy. Primatological data has also been employed to discuss personhood, full moral-standing, and the concept of agency. The paper discusses some less explored implications including the distinction between natural and social inequality, theories of crime and punishment, and new error theories, in the light of data regarding great apes’ abilities, politics and proto-moral behaviour.

It is a power-point presentation accessible to non specialists and with many pictures of apes doing the relevant things.


Wednesday 9th of December (2009) at 4pm: Igor Primoratz

Title: Civilian Immunity, Supreme Emergency, and Moral Disaster

Any ethics of war will include the requirement of protection of civilians (non-combatants) against lethal violence. This requirement is particularly strong in just war theory. Some adherents of the theory see civilian immunity as absolute. Others allow that it may be overridden, but only in extremis. The latter position has been advanced by Michael Walzer under the heading of ‘supreme emergency.’

I look into some of the issues raised by Walzer’s ‘supreme emergency’ view and some of the criticisms that have been levelled against it. I argue that Walzer’s view is vague and unacceptable as it stands, but that the alternatives proposed by critics are also unattractive. I go on to construct a position that is structurally similar to Walzer’s, but more specific and much less permissive, which I term the ‘moral disaster’ view. According to this view, deliberate killing of civilians is almost absolutely wrong.

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Wednesday 2nd of December (2009) at 4pm: Seumas Miller

Title: Collective Responsibility, Epistemic Action and Climate Change

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Wednesday 25th of November (2009) at 4pm: Steve Vanderheiden (University of Colorado at Boulder)

Title: Climate Justice at COP-15 and Beyond

Activists for ‘climate justice’ have called upon affluent nations like the United States to contribute their fair share toward the mitigation of and adaptation to climate change, describing this as an imperative of justice. But what does justice require of the world’s nations and persons, and how might justice theories help to inform the design of a fair and effective global climate regime? I shall examine two primary climate justice problems in an effort to marshal political theory’s normative resources on behalf of climate policy development: the allocation of atmospheric space among nations and over time and the assessment of remedial responsibility for coping with the manifold harms associated with climate change. In so doing, I will suggest how theories of distributive and restorative justice may be applied to constructing a global policy response to this pressing environmental problem.

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Wednesday 18th of November (2009) at 4pm: Mark Colyvan (Sydney Centre for the Foundations of Science, University of Sydney)

Title: Environmental Decision Making and Environmental Ethics

Ethics and decision theory are often seen to be in conflict, in that they frequently give different advice about the best course of action. In this paper I examine this alleged conflict in the realm of environmental decision-making. I focus on a couple of areas where ethics and decision theory might be thought to be offering conflicting advice: environmental triage and carbon trading. I argue that the conflict can be seen as disagreement about other things (e.g. the appropriate temporal scales for value assignments and idealisations of the decision situation). The good news is that there is no conflict between decision theory and environmental ethics, although, on my account, ethics is left with a rather minor role to play in environmental decision making.

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Wednesday 11th of November (2009) at 4pm: Joseph Smith

Title: Philosphy Fiddles While the World Burns:  Global Climate Change and the Crisis of Civilisation

Recent scientific evidence is reviewed indicating that global climate change is occurring much faster than predicted in the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports. Viewed in the context of other environmental  threats, such as peak oil and physical and biological resource depletion and degradation, concerns have been expressed by a number of thinkers that human civilisation is heading towards a collapse. Philosophers, strangely enough, have been silent about this issue, and in the few discussions available in the literature, the treatment of climate change issues has been along the lines of viewing the matter as just another ethical problem, to be dealt with in the received fashion. In this paper I argue that philosophy has much to contribute to the issue of the crisis of civilisation, but philosophers need to move beyond the ruling models of philosophy, be these models, analytic, continental or postmodern.

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Wednesday 4th of November (2009) at 4pm: Jeroen van den Hoven

Title: Values, Design and Information Technology

The paper discusses developments in the ethics of engineering under the heading of "value sensitive design", that is the idea that values are incorporated and embedded in artefacts and infrastructures in ways that shapes the space of action of users, i.e. brings about options and constraints for human agents. Consequences for the ability to take responsibility of users in a special set of engineered environments is explored.

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Wednesday 28th of October (2009) at 4pm: Mark Collier (University of Minnesota)

Title: Hume's Ethics: A Cognitive Science Perspective

Hume’s naturalistic approach to ethics receives a surprising amount of support from recent work in cognitive science. The first half of this talk examines his account of justice conventions. Hume maintains that considerations of strategic rationality are not sufficient to explain how trust is established between shortsighted agents; we manage to engage in social exchange because (most of us) have an emotional aversion to cheating. This sentimentalist proposal might sound like wishful thinking, but it is consistent with recent work in neuroeconomics. The second half investigates Hume’s theory of moral imagination. Hume embraces a hybrid account of sympathy: our concern for the pain and suffering of those around us depends upon associative mechanisms, whereas our capacity to adopt the moral point of view depends upon cognitive principles of the imagination. This distinction is bolstered by recent work on affective mirroring and cognitive pretense. It also enables us to resolve an apparent contradiction in Hume’s ethical theory. Hume maintains that (1) sympathy is sufficient for concern, (2) our moral judgments about distant characters require us to sympathize with those close to them, but (3) our concern is limited to those in our narrow circle. This tension dissolves when we disambiguate the senses of sympathy in Hume’s moral psychology. We must /perceive/ the pain and suffering of others in order to feel compassion towards their plight; adopting the moral point of view, however, merely requires us to /imagine/ ourselves as spectators of their afflictions. We can make moral judgments about distant characters without expanding our circle of concern, then, because these evaluations are based upon attitudes that fall short of belief.

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Wednesday 21st of October (2009) at 4pm: John Maier (RSSS Philosophy)

Title: Moral Certainty

Frank Jackson and Michael Smith have posed a problem for moral theories which involve absolute prohibitions against acting in certain ways (“Absolutist Moral Theories and Uncertainty,” The Journal of Philosophy, 2006).  The problem turns on the fact that, relative to any given agent’s information, there is always some probability that some given action of his will violate some given prohibition.  Jackson and Smith argue that, in light of this fact, absolutist moral theories lead to absurd consequences, at least insofar as those theories purport to issue recommendations about what agents who are not omniscient ought to do.

I argue that the way out of this problem is to introduce talk of knowledge into our formulation of absolutist moral theories.  Roughly, one ought to perform some action only if one knows that it will not violate any absolute prohibition that one accepts. This epistemic formulation of absolutist moral theories follows naturally from two claims.  The first is the familiar claim that absolutist moral theories are concerned, in the first place, with the character of agents’ intentions.  The second is a less familiar claim, which I will defend at some length, that there is an epistemic condition on intention, which connects what it is rational for an agent to intend to what he is in a position to know.

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Wednesday 14th of October (2009) at 4pm: Clive Hamilton

Title: Coping with Catastrophe: Psychological strategies for dealing with climate change

Humanity’s ability to adapt physically to a warming globe will depend in part on how well people adapt psychologically. Drawing on work by Tim Kasser and myself, I consider how humans might adjust to or cope with the threat associated with a world under a radically transformed climate. While varying among individuals and societies, many people will experience threats related to: the well-being and survival of descendants; the state of the planet, including its natural wonders and biological diversity; and the stability and progress of the societies in which they live. In short, the threat of climate change is a threat to one’s conception of how the future will unfold.

Extensive social scientific research into human reactions to threats provides some insights into the psychological strategies humans are likely to adopt. These “coping strategies” are designed to defend against or manage the unpleasant emotions that are associated with “waking up” to the dangers of a warming globe. The emotions include fear, anxiety, guilt, anger, anguish, sadness, depression and helplessness. These unpleasant emotions arise in part because the threat of warming may also destabilise an individual’s identity or sense of self—threatening one’s life plans, reminding one of the fact of eventual death, challenging the morality of ecologically destructive or apathetic behaviours, or subverting one’s internalised expectations of the future. Coping strategies likely to be use in the face of global warming include denial strategies, maladaptive coping strategies and adaptive coping strategies.

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Wednesday 7th of October (2009) at 4pm: Christian Barry

Title: Human Rights Conditionality

The conferral of benefits to countries such as aid, debt relief, and additional trading opportunities are often made to depend upon their having successfully implemented specific policies, achieved certain social or economic outcomes, or demonstrated a commitment to conducting themselves in specified ways. We can refer to policies of these kinds as conditionality arrangements. In this paper, I discuss whether conditionality arrangements that would make the conferral of such benefits depend on whether the recipient achieves a certain status with respect to the human rights fulfillment of its population can be justified. I show that many objections that are typically advanced against conditionality arrangements are not convincing and that the possible benefits of human rights conditionality arrangements are sufficient to warrant further intellectual and practical exploration.

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Wednesday 30th of September (2009) at 4pm: Ed Spence

Title: Information, Knowledge and Wisdom: Wisdom on the Line

If this is indeed the Age of Information and the digitalisation of information is having an unprecedented impact on the lives of individuals and on societies generally worldwide, how can that impact be philosophically evaluated? The primary aim of this paper is to explore how the dissemination and use of digital information, especially on the internet, can be normatively evaluated through the axiological concept of a good life. Central to that exploration will be the conceptual connection the paper will make between wisdom and a good life. The main line of argument the paper will take is that wisdom understood as a type of meta-information or meta-knowledge as well as a necessary condition for the attainment of a good life establishes a direct conceptual connection between information (via wisdom as a type of meta-information or meta-knowledge) and the notion of a good life. The notion of a good life used in this paper will be understood eudemonically. That is, a good life is one that is at least capable of leading to eudemonia, self-fulfilment and wellbeing. The conceptual connection between information and a good life thus established allows then for the axiological evaluation of information through a cluster of normative terms, including, epistemological, ethical, and axiological. Overall the value of digital information (its axiological goodness) and information generally can be measured and evaluated in terms of its ability or inability to contribute to the attainment of the good life of individuals and societies generally. A basic assumption of the paper is that knowledge per se has no intrinsic value. The only axiological value it has is instrumental in its ability to provide affordances for the attainment of good lives as well as in its ability to provide constraints for the avoidance of bad lives. After this initial conceptual exploration, the second aim of the paper is to examine some of the practical implications and potential consequences of online information for the good life, through a few recent case-studies.

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Wednesday 23rd of September (2009) at 4pm: Ned Dobos

Title: Is UN Security Council Authorisation for Armed Intervention Morally Necessary?

In the first half of the paper I argue that that UN authorisation (or lack therefore) can have some indirect bearing on the moral status of a humanitarian intervention. That is, it can affect whether an intervention satisfies other widely accepted justifying conditions, such as proportionality, “internal” legitimacy, and likelihood of success. The more interesting question, however, is whether the UN’s failure to provide a mandate can make a humanitarian operation unjust independently of these other familiar considerations. Is a proportional, internally legitimate humanitarian intervention, with a just cause and strong prospect of success, still morally unacceptable if it is not approved by the United Nations? This is the question that I turn to in the second half of the paper. The answer, I argue, depends on whether or not the Security Council was given the opportunity to act. A state or coalition that launches an armed intervention without so much as making its case to the Security Council is rightly condemned, at least under some circumstances. However, where a mandate is sought but refused, unilateral action is still likely to be justified all things considered. This might seem like a curious or even incoherent position, since it suggests that states are morally obliged to pursue that which is not morally necessary. Nevertheless, this is the position that I will be defending.

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Wednesday 16th of September (2009) at 4pm: Meena Krishnamurthy

Title: Completing Rawls's Arguments for Equal Political Liberty and its Fair Value (Part I)

John Rawls bases his arguments for the moral importance of democracy on a conception of citizens’ higher-order interests.  On his view, citizens conceive of themselves as having a higher-order interest in the development and exercise of their two moral powers – the capacity for justice and the capacity for a conception of the good.  Rawls argues that democratic procedures are needed to satisfy these higher-order interests.  Despite the vast literature on Rawls’s work, few have discussed his arguments for the value of democracy.  This is likely because Rawls’s arguments, as arguments that the principle of equal basic liberty needs to include democratic liberties, are incomplete.  In contrast to his trenchant remarks about core civil liberties, Rawls doesn’t say much about the inclusion of political liberties of a democratic sort – such as the liberty to vote – among the basic liberties.  And, at times, what he does say is unconvincing.  For these reasons, it is not clear that Rawls’s arguments support his inclusion of political liberties (such as the right to vote) in the principle of equal basic liberty.    My aim in this paper is to complete Rawls’s arguments and to show that Rawls has grounds for including liberties of a democratic sort in the principle of equal basic liberty.

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Wednesday 9th of September (2009) at 4pm: John Kleinig (CAPPE/John Jay)

Title: Civil Emergencies and the Claims of Innocence (co-authored with Tziporah Kasachkoff)

Reportedly, on September 11, 2001, while the four terrorist attacks were still taking place, US Vice-President Dick Cheney authorised the "taking out" of any further hijacked aircraft. Had that order been acted upon, passengers traveling in those planes would have almost certainly been killed. Subsequently, in 2005, and prompted by a domestic incident in which a mentally disturbed person threatened to crash a plane into a high-rise building, the German parliament passed a law to permit the Federal Minister for Defence to authorise the shooting down of an aircraft in the event that there was ample reason to believe that it was being used as a weapon. A year later, however, in response to a challenge that included a person whose standing was that of a potential passenger on a flight so affected, the German Federal Constitutional Court declared the law unconstitutional because, inter alia, it would violate Arts. 2.2 and 1.1 of the Basic Law, which recognise the right to life and the inviolability (Unantasbarkeit) of human dignity.

The German law and its subsequent overturning have generated a great deal of legal and constitutional discussion. We have no desire or competence to add to that debate. However, the moral questions raised by such possibilities are of great interest and here we propose to focus on several of them.

We will consider (in Section II) the case as outlined above, in which an appropriately authorised government official is faced with giving an order for a hijacked passenger plane to be shot down. The aircraft is believed to be heading towards a major metropolis where it will be crashed into a symbolically important building, and, if it makes it, will almost certainly cause considerable loss of life in addition to that of the passengers. Then (in Section III) we want to consider some variants on that case - one in which the pilot of the hijacked plane decides to defy the hijackers by crashing it before it reaches their intended destination, even though the lives of those on board will be sacrificed [III (A)]; another in which several of the passengers determine to overpower the hijackers and prevent them from reaching their target [III(B)]; and a third in which a private citizen, hearing of the hijacking over the radio, has an opportunity and the means to shoot the plane down before it reaches its target [III(C)].

Before we consider those cases, however, we want to spend some time discussing three issues that are common to each account. Arguably, these factors give the cases much of - even if not all - their moral potency. First, the deliberate downing of the aircraft will almost certainly result in the loss of what are called, in a restricted sense, innocent lives (I.A). Second, whether or not the aircraft is shot down, the passengers will shortly be killed (I.B). And third, if the aircraft reaches its intended target, the consequences will, arguably, be worse than if it is brought down beforehand.

Please contact John if you wish to obtain a copy of the paper.

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Wednesday 2nd of September (2009) at 4pm: Yitzhak Benbaji

Title: Obedience, Self-Help and Political Participation: A Contractarian Justification of the War Convention

From a moral perspective, the legal attitude to the killings that soldiers commit in wars is striking. The laws of war embody the "symmetry principle" which states that "the normative permissions and restrictions binding co-combatants in a single conflict are identical," and that "the justifiability of nation's engaging in war is independent of the permissions and restrictions binding its troops." The symmetry principle entails that if just combatants –soldiers whose cause is just – hold a right to kill their enemies in combat, then unjust combatants – soldiers who fight an aggressive war – have a right to kill just combatants. They further imply that if just combatants have a right to inflict collateral damage on enemy citizens, unjust combatants have the right to so as well.

These are legal principles; and, it has been suggested that pragmatic considerations justify them. Yet, the pragmatic interpretation notwithstanding, commonsense morality confirms the symmetrical regulations of combat.  Soldiers are conceived as morally equal, whatever their cause is. The difficulty in any moral interpretation of the symmetry principle is straightforward: "if death and destruction matter morally, as they do, and if reasons matter morally, as they do, then differences in combatants’ reasons for bringing about death and destruction must also matter morally." On the face of it, only those who fight with a just cause have a moral reason to kill and maim; unjust combatants have no such reason to act this way. Hence, critics of traditional just war theory such as Jeff McMahan and David Rodin deny the commonsense morality of war. They insist that at the level of "deep morality" combatants are unequal and hence war is asymmetrical; the killings committed by unjust combatants are morally unjustified.

This paper revisits and further develops a version of the contractarian response to what I shall call the purist critique. Contractarianism argues that just and unjust combatants are morally equal because, as Michael Walzer puts it, "military conduct is governed by rules [which] rest on mutuality and consent." Or, as Thomas Hurka put it more recently, "by voluntarily entering military service, soldiers on both sides freely took on the status of soldiers and thereby freely accepted that they may permissibly be killed in the course of war."

Following my recent elaboration of the contractarian analysis of the moral equality of soldier, I will assume here that soldiers' tacit acceptance of the rules of war is necessary but insufficient. Their acceptance of the rules is "effective" – their moral rights and duties are equalized by their acceptance of the rules – only if the egalitarian rules of war codify a fair and mutually-beneficial contract among decent states. More specifically, I will assume that the contractarian elucidation of the symmetrical war convention is based on three claims.

  • Mutual Benefit: an outcome in which the egalitarian in bello code is commonly followed is better to all relevant parties – in terms of welfare and fulfillment of rights – than any other feasible outcome.
  • Fairness: the symmetrical war convention does not create or sustain unfair inequalities among states or individuals.
  • Effective Consent: soldiers accept a set of mutually-beneficial and fair in bello rules that – by virtue of their acceptance of them – equalize their moral status within wars vis-à-vis each other (at the level of moral rights and duties).

Contractarianism – as I understand it here – consists of Mutual Benefit, Fairness and Effective Consent. I aim in this paper to address several objections to each of these claims.

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Wednesday 26th of August (2009) at 4pm: John Skorupski

Title: Human Rights

What rights exist is not for us to decide. In contrast, which rights to call human rights does seem to be. How then should we choose to use this notion? Human rights cannot be distinguished from rights in general by any philosophical criterion. The question of what rights exist is not a political question; in contrast the usefulness of introducing a special sub-category of human rights recognised in international law is. This paper defines the general concept of a right, argues that declarations of human rights should be levers that help to eliminate serious violations of moral rights in all states, and spells out on this basis some criteria for declaring human rights: universality, cross-state demandability, and efficacy.

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Wednesday 19th of August (2009) at 4pm: Joel Anderson (Department of Philosophy, Utrecht University, The Netherlands)

Title: Scaffolded Autonomy and the Extended Will

Over the past two decades, Andy Clark, David Chalmers, and others have argued for what has come to be known as the "hypothesis of extended cognition." On this view, cognitive tasks are often accomplished not merely by the central nervous system, but rather by a system that extends beyond the boundaries of the skin and skull to include other parts of the body, features of the environment, and even components of our material culture (such as iPhones). One of the central characteristics of this approach is that it denaturalized the notion of cognition, replacing it with a much more open-textured, constructivist understanding of what counts as "the cognitive system". This has important implications for applied ethics, particularly with regard to how we think about evidence for impairment, the status of prostheses, locus of responsibility, and the scope of obligation to provide assistance.  

After briefly reviewing these implications, I examine the possibility that not only cognition but also volition might best be understood along these lines. For example, as Joseph Heath and I have argued elsewhere, our ability to curb our tendencies to procrastinate is largely a matter of structuring our environment (our "motivational niche," as it were) in ways that keep us on track. Similarly, many of the ways in which we rely on others can actually be seen not as diminishing our autonomy but as supporting or "scaffolding" our capacities for guiding our life in accordance with our authentic desires.  

However initially plausible this shift to a notion of the "extended will" may be, however, its success depends on clarifying three further issues: (1) whether a "volitional system" can be characterized in a way that distinguishes it meaningfully from the cognitive system; (2) whether there really is such a volitional system can count as genuinely extended and not merely "embedded" (Rupert, 2004), rather than just a case of an agent that uses tools and other supports (perhaps on a parallel with what Rupert defends as the more modest "embedded" model of cognition); (3) whether one can endorse the stronger hypothesis of the "extended will" without committing oneself to significant and ethically unsettling (functionalist) revisions to standard conceptions of the sovereignty and autonomy of the agent. In this paper, I provide reasons for thinking that all three issues can be addressed and respond to several anticipated objections.

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Wednesday 12th of August (2009) at 10am: Marilyn Friedman

Title: Moral Responsibility for Coerced Wrongdoing: The Case of Abused Women Who “Fail to Protect” Their Children

All moral agents are vulnerable to coercive pressures to do wrong.  Perhaps nearly everyone has a breaking point, a degree of coercion that is so intense it makes her yield control and do the wrong that she is being pressured to do.  There are many different sorts of such coercive pressures.  This paper takes as its point of departure cases of abused women who have been intimidated by the abusive men in their lives into letting those men abuse the women’s children.  In the US, such women are sometimes convicted of the crime of “failure to protect” their children.  In many such cases the men are not convicted of any crime at all or they are convicted of a lesser crime, a misdemeanor instead of a felony.  The coercive pressures those women faced suggest that they were helpless victims rather than morally responsible agents.  Yet we have to be careful not to regard abused women as utterly lacking in moral agency.  What are the relevant conditions for assessing these women’s degree of responsibility for the harms the abusers inflicted on the women’s children?  This paper is a study of some of the vulnerabilities and compromises faced by women under conditions of intimate coercion.

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Wednesday 5th of August (2009) at 4pm: Larry May

Title: The Nature and Value of Procedural Rights

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Wednesday 29th of July (2009) at 4pm: Laura Valentini (The Queen's College, Oxford)

Title: In what Sense Are Human Rights 'Political'?

Philosophical discussion of human rights has long been monopolised by what might be called the 'natural law view'. On this view, human rights are fundamental, pre-political, moral rights people enjoy solely by virtue of their humanity. In recent years, a number of theorists have started to question the validity of this outlook, advocating instead what they call a 'political' view. My aim in this paper is to explore the latter view in order to establish whether it constitutes a valuable alternative to the 'natural law view'.

In particular, I distinguish between three ways in which human rights can be political: in relation to their (i) iudicandum, (ii) justification and (iii) feasibility constraints. I argue that it makes sense to think of human rights as political in relation to both their iudicandum and their justification but in a way that is not always adequately captured by proponents of the political view. Moreover, I also claim that, paradoxically, if we take the political view seriously, we are forced to engage in the sort of first-order moral reasoning which informs the natural law approach and which proponents of the political view either significantly downplay, or want to avoid.

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Wednesday 15th of July (2009) at 4pm: Kit Wellman

Title: Rights and State Punishment

In this essay, I draw upon the insights of W.D. Ross, H.L.A. Hart and John Simmons to develop and defend a “rights” theory of state punishment. Specifically, in response to the two key questions (1) “Why may criminals be punished?”  and (2) “Why is the state uniquely authorized to treat criminals in this way?”, I argue that (1) criminals cannot righteously object to being punished because, in wronging others, they forfeit their rights not to be punished, and that (2) the state violates no rights in assuming exclusive control over the punitive process only because it is uniquely capable of adequately realizing the morally significant aims that a system of punishment can achieve.  I then explain how this theory confirms the need to revise the prevailing justification for international criminal law.

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Wednesday 1st of July (2009) at 4pm: Thomas Pogge (Yale University & ANU CAPPE)

Title: Shue on Rights and Duties

First published in 1980, Henry Shue’s Basic Rights has remained influential for an unusually long time. It is still frequently cited today in works on rights, development economics, global ethics and justice. And it is widely read and referred to also among practitioners in NGOs and governmental foreign aid departments. More than any other, Shue’s book has played a significant role in reconceiving in terms of rights, rather than charity, the relationship of affluent countries and their citizens to the poverty-related deprivations still so widespread in poor countries. This shift is of great importance, and I support it wholeheartedly. But I also think that there are other, and perhaps better, ways of supporting it than the argument Shue develops in Basic Rights.

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Wednesday 24th of June (2009) at 4pm: Gerald Doppelt (Professor of Philosophy and Science Studies, University of California, San Diego)

Title: How Can Rawlsian Political Liberalism Rectify Injustices of Class, Race, and Gender? Or: Beyond Juridical Justice to Cultural Roots of Disrespect and Injustice

This essay explores Rawls’s intriguing but problematic notion that a just society delivers equality in the social bases of self-respect.  I criticize and revise Rawls’s analysis of self-respect, his treatment of it as an empirical, rather than a normative notion, and his account of the “social” bases of self-respect in modern society.  I argue that Rawls’s paradigm of self-respect as equal rights of citizenship ignores social injuries to self-respect rooted in the organization of labor, gender relations in and beyond the family, and racial patterns of perception and treatment.  The result of my critique is (1) that Rawlsian political liberalism needs to recognize conflicts in the social standards of self-respect and political ideals of personhood in modern liberal-democratic society and (2) that it needs a broader account of “the basic structure” of a just society to incorporate not just structure controlled by law (eg. basic civil rights and income distribution); but also (1) structures created by cultural norms and tradition (eg. norms of manhood and womanhood implying a gendered division of labor in the home and workplace) and (2) structures of belief , attitude, stereotypes in the relations of racial, ethnic, religious, or sexual orientation in-groups and out-groups.  I utilize sociological evidence concerning the social bases of self-respect in modern society to document injuries to self-respect rooted in (1) current irrational standards of respect and (2) normative structures of labor, gender, and race that make respect a social scarcity. The resulting picture of Rawlsian justice involves a widening of the scope of social justice to include changes in the normative and cultural structure of practices beyond Rawls’s legal/juridical paradigm.  This picture also requires a larger account of “public reason” than Rawls provides, to justify changes in our political ideals of persons beyond Rawls’s equal citizenship paradigm.

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Wednesday 17th of June (2009) at 4pm: Associate Professor Justin Oakley (Monash University)

Title: Virtue Ethics and Conflicts of Interest in Physician-Industry Relationships

Relationships between doctors and the pharmaceutical industry are currently the focus of much ethical scrutiny. A significant area of concern has been the medical conflicts of interest created by the pervasive influence that pharmaceutical companies are known to have on the prescribing behaviour of many doctors. The wrongs of doctors prescribing medications on the basis of certain links with pharmaceutical companies can be analysed in terms of how such behaviour harms patients, or how it violates patients’ rights. I argue that both of these approaches fail to identify what is essentially wrong with such behaviour in medical conflict of interest situations. The wrongs of doctors’ prescribing behaviour being influenced by their links with pharmaceutical companies can be properly understood only in terms of the sorts of character considerations central to virtue ethics. I also extend familiar monopoly of expertise arguments in professional ethics by arguing that, in return for being granted a monopoly of expertise on the provision of key goods, doctors are obligated not only to behave in certain ways but also to have certain professional character-traits. Doctors therefore betray society not only when they act (or fail to act) in certain ways, but also when they fail to develop particular character-traits.

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Wednesday 3rd of June (2009) at 4pm: Chin Liew Ten

Title: The Disunity of the Virtues

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Wednesday 27th of May (2009) at 4pm: Daniel Cohen

Title: The Puzzle of the Self-Torturer and Newcomb's Problem

Attached to your body is a shock generator with 1000 settings, ranging from no pain to excruciating agony. While you are barely able to distinguish adjacent settings, distant settings are easily distinguishable. Every day you are offered $10,000 in return for permanently raising the settings by 1. The puzzle is that while you will clearly be tempted, each day, to advance, you will nevertheless regret advancing beyond a certain point. So what should you do? Is there some point beyond which it is irrational to advance, despite the temptation, or are rational agents committed to advancing all the way to 1000? I will argue that we can better understand this puzzle by seeing an analogy with Newcomb’s problem. According to causal decision theory you ought, every day, to advance, while according to evidential decision theory there is some point beyond which advancing is irrational.

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Wednesday 20th of May (2009) at 4pm: Simon Keller

Title: The Value of Relationships and the Ethics of Partiality

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Wednesday 13th of May (2009) at 4pm: Neil Levy

Title: Resisting Weakness of the Will

I develop an account of weakness of the will that is driven by experimental evidence from cognitive and social psychology. I will argue that this account demonstrates that there is no such thing as weakness of the will:  no psychological kind corresponds to it. Instead, weakness of the will ought to be understood as depletion of System II resources. Neither the explanatory purposes of psychology nor our practical purposes as agents are well-served by retaining the concept. I therefore suggest that we ought to jettison it, in favour of the vocabulary and concepts of cognitive psychology.

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Thursday 7th of May (2009) at 4pm: Doris Schroder

Title: Consent: From Medical Research to Traditional Knowledge
(Co-authored with Roger Chennells)

Informed consent processes have become an essential part of modern medical practice. As the Nuremberg Code (1947) stated categorically in its first sentence: ‘The voluntary consent of the human subject is absolutely essential.’

Although the concept developed from the relationship between doctors and patients, it has since gained significance outside the medical field. Since the late 1980s, it has been employed between states to control the movement of hazardous materials across borders. And since the early 1990s, it has been employed more systematically in connection with indigenous peoples’ rights of self-determination, in particular in the context of logging, mining, dam building, resettlement and access to genetic resources and traditional knowledge.

One of the main obstacles to realising the spirit of justice of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) are practical challenges in obtaining informed consent from indigenous populations prior to accessing their traditional knowledge. This paper will:

  • Outline the main challenges with practical examples from Roger Chennells’ work as a legal consultant for the San peoples.
  • Discuss whether important lessons can be learned from the medical field.
  • End with open questions to be discussed with the audience.

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Wednesday 29th of April (2009) at 4pm: Edward H. Spence (Department of Philosophy, University of Twente, Netherlands, and, CAPPE, Charles Sturt University)

Title: Understanding Luciano Floridi’s Metaphysical Theory of Information Ethics: A Critical Appraisal and an Alternative Neo-Gewirthian Information Ethics

This paper falls into three main parts. Part one, offers a critical analysis and evaluation of Luciano Floridi’s metaphysical theory of information ethics (IE). Drawing on part one, part two provides a discussion of what I consider to be the main conceptual and practical difficulties facing Floridi’s IE theory. Although in agreement with the overall motivation and objective that informs Floridi’s IE position, namely, that  “all entities, qua informational objects, have an intrinsic moral value…” and that “there seems to be no good reason not to adopt a higher and more inclusive, ontocentric  [moral] perspective” (Floridi, 2007, 10), part three of the paper  proposes an alternative New-Gewirthian approach to Information Ethics that avoids some if not all of the difficulties facing Floridi’s own position.

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Wednesday 22nd of April (2009) at 4pm: Morgan Luck (CSU)

Title: Why a Victim's Age is Irrelevant When Assessing the Wrongness of Killing (co-authored with Daniel Cohen.)

Intuitively, all killings are equally wrong, no matter how old one’s victim. In this paper we defend this claim – The Equal Wrongness of Killings Thesis – against a challenge presented by Kasper Lippert-Rasmussen. Lippert-Rasmussen shows The Equal Wrongness of Killings Thesis to be incompatible with two further theses: The Unequal Wrongness of Renderings Unconscious Thesis and The Equivalence Thesis. Lippert-Rasmussen argues that, of the three, The Equal Wrongness of Killings Thesis is the least defensible. He suggests that the most convincing considerations apparently in favour of the Equal Wrongness thesis may be satisfied just as well if we adopt an alternative principle, a ‘Prioritarian View’ about the wrongness of killing. We argue that The Prioritarian View does not resolve the trilemma: it too is inconsistent with the other two theses. Instead, we argue, the most plausible resolution of the trilemma involves a rejection, rather, of The Unequal Wrongness of Renderings Unconscious Thesis. In its place, we offer an attractive principle that is compatible with both The Equal Wrongness of Killings Thesis as well as The Equivalence Thesis.

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Wednesday 25th of March (2009) at 4pm: David Hodgson (Court of Appeal, Supreme Court of New South Wales)

Title: Virtues of Retribution

In this paper, I will identify retributive and consequentialist purposes of the criminal law; and I will outline arguments that retribution should be abandoned, including arguments, based on philosophy and neuroscience, that free will and responsibility are illusions.  I will suggest there are good reasons to retain retribution as an objective of criminal law, and identify and discuss ways in which this can be supported philosophically.

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Wednesday 18th of March (2009) at 4pm: Toby Handfield

Title: Order and Affray: Defensive Privileges in Warfare
(Co-authored with Patrick Emerton.)

This paper will draw upon the morality of individual self-defence to explain certain important features of the traditional jus in bello: the permissibility of killing, even by soldiers who lack justice on their side; the principles that govern surrender and the taking of prisoners of war; and the principle of discrimination between soldiers and civilians. Our explanation will not leave all aspects of the jus in bello undisturbed: it has consequences that are revisionary in at least some respects, this being the upshot of trying to explain the jus in bello in individualist terms. The paper will also explore the way in which the morality of warfare is conditioned simultaneously by the operation of certain institutions and the absence of others. Resolution of this seeming paradox, that warfare is at one and the same time an instance both of order and of affray, is central to the paper, both to its explanation of how mass killing may be morally permissible, even in a wicked cause, and to its explanation of the limits that the jus in bello imposes on that killing.

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Wednesday 11th of March (2009) at 4pm: Nicholas Barry

Title: Equality, Responsibility, and the Welfare State

Luck egalitarianism is a theory of egalitarian justice that is sensitive to notions of individual choice and responsibility, and it has attracted attention from a number of prominent supporters and critics in recent years. Despite the level of interest in the theory, there have been relatively few attempts to explore its implications for public policy. In this paper, I will address this under-explored issue, investigating which model of the welfare state luck egalitarians should support. I will argue that the social democratic model, which emphasises universal forms of social provision and labour market decommodification, is most just from a luck egalitarian point of view. This conclusion has significance in light of the “intrusive state” objection to luck egalitarianism, and the widely held belief that the liberal, residual approach to social protection is most consistent with the notion of individual responsibility.

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Wednesday 4th of March (2009) at 4pm: Per Sandin

Title: Firefighting Ethics

Firefighting ethics is not a separate field of study, but it should be. This is highlighted by a comparison between the ethics of firefighting and the ethics of medicine. Despite similarities, there are also important differences: Firefighting is less professionalized than medicine, the caregiver-patient relationship is not central in firefighting, firefighters need to concern other values than life and limb, they face great risks to themselves and the firefighters have to make almost every operative decision under stress, with limited possibilities for consulting colleagues. Thus considerations from medical ethics cannot be transferred straight away to firefighting, but some elements from medical ethics might nevterheless be adapted for use in the firefighting ethics. I show this by applying the four mainstream medical ethical principles of autonomy, nonmaleficence, beneficence, and justice to firefighting. I argue that they are indeed applicable, but they need modification and their relative weight is different. Respect for autonomy is of limited importance, and beneficence is central. As regards justice in firefighting, I discuss the issue of triage, i.e. the sorting of casualties in order to decide whom to treat first. Two main approaches to triage have been discussed: utilitarian and egalitarian triage, with utilitarian triage being the most widespread variety. Among the proposed egalitarian alternatives to utilitarian ‘save-the-greatest-number approaches’ are different types of lotteries, e.g. a flu-vaccine lottery. I argue that firefighting triage should be utilitarian in most operative situations but that there is room for more egalitarian approaches on the policy level (in the form of a principle of decent minimum aid). I also argue that the widespread idea that life takes precedence over limb and limb over property is not altogether unproblematic in firefighting triage, and that the lexical ordering needs to be supplemented with a weighing mechanism.

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Wednesday 25th February (2009) at 4pm: Prof. Andrew Vincent

Title: The State and Human Rights

The central focus of the paper is the relation of human rights to the state tradition. A convenient way of viewing the relation is via three permutations.  In the first permutation the state is seen as the object of human rights, human rights are the subject. Human rights in this scenario have an independent status; they embody morally prior claims, set over and against the secondary significance of the state. The second permutation takes the converse position, viewing the state as the primary legal (and possibly moral) subject and human rights are the object. This latter argument tends to resist both the category of universalism and claims to independence made by human rights exponents. The third permutation focuses on the proposition that the state can be viewed as both subject and object. This relation between these terms is complex and dialectically nuanced. The central intuition here is that the essential problem of the human rights culture has always been the institution of the state; post-1945 the state has been both the key promoter of human rights, as well as the key offender. The state has thus been both the subject and object of human rights. Various argument which makes sense of this permutation are explored critically. In summary, my argument is that the state tradition stands in a complex and at times paradoxical relation with the human rights tradition during the late twentieth century in particular. The paper concludes with critical reflections of the last permutation.

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Wednesday 18th February (2009) at 4pm: Clive Hamilton

Title: The Rebirth of Nature

Philosophical revolutions can do more than change what we believe; they can change how we perceive the world. Some argue that prevention of climate catastrophe requires a shift to a new ecological consciousness, one that centres on a different conception of nature. To understand how this might occur, it helps to consider the previous historical transition that got us to where we are. The triumph of the mechanical philosophy in the second half of the 17th century changed how we conceive of the world. Previously nature was seen as alive and intentioned; the new science saw it as dead. Isaac Newton was the seminal figure in this transition, yet he did not reject the old for the new but held to versions of both. While writing the Principia he also devoted himself to alchemy. If Newton could simultaneous be the father of modern science and conceive of the world as alive, could this be the basis for a new ecological consciousness?

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Wednesday 14th January (2009) at 4pm: Alan Thomas (University of Kent)

Title: Non-monotonicity and Moral Particularism

This paper makes the non-monotonicity of a wide range of moral reasoning the basis of a case for particularism. Non-monotonicity threatens practical decision with an overwhelming informational complexity to which a form of ethical generalism seems the best response. It is argued that this impression is wholly misleading: the fact of non-monotonicity is best accommodated by the defence of four related theses in any theory of justification. First, the explanation of and defence of a default/challenge model of justification. Secondly, the development of a theory of epistemic status and an explanation of those unearned entitlements that accrue to such status. Thirdly, an explanation of the basis of epistemic virtues. Finally, an account must be given of the executive capacity of rational decision itself. This overall set of views can accommodate a limited role for generalizations about categories of evidence, but not such as to rescue a principled generalism. In particular, the version of particularism defended here explains why one ought not to accept the principled holism of Holton, McKeever and Ridge that has proved to be a problem for Dancy’s form of particularism. Ethics certainly involves hedged principles. However, principles cannot be self-hedging: there cannot be a “that’s it” operator in a principle. Practical reasoning is concluded by the categorical detachment of the action-as-conclusion itself.

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