Friday, August 11, 2017


My latest publication is another on procreative beneficence.

I just happened to stumble upon this relevant SMBC strip on eugenics too. I was obviously distracted in summer 2013 and missed the working out of ethics. Can anyone fill me in?

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Tuesday, July 25, 2017

XKCD comics for teaching

A couple of useful comics to link to.

One on voting methods, for my democratic theory class.

And one on identifying reliable sources, which should be useful for first years. On a related note, this looks a helpful source for many occasions.

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Friday, June 16, 2017

Grenfell and Politics

Over the last few days, many in the UK have been shocked by a large tower block fire in London. Though the latest confirmed death toll is 'only' 30, this number is bound to rise - though we may never know exactly how many were involved.

Just the other day, I was reading a book chapter that pointed out how the number and distribution of deaths resulting from disease, famine, etc is always in part the result of political decisions. While we may think of some things as 'natural disasters', political decisions determine who is affected and how badly. As the author put it, “politics plays a major role in determining the kinds and distribution of diseases in societies” (Adrian Leftwich, in his (edited) book What is Politics?, p. 82).

I'm pleased to see that, despite some criticism of 'politicising a tragedy', this point has been picked up by some commentators. It's been noted that the fire is political and that those who died were victims not only of fire but also bad government.

Though politics is sometimes seen as a peaceful alternative to war, it's a sad fact that it is still sometimes a matter of life and death.

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Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Goal of the Season and the Independence of Irrelevant Alternatives

The principle of the Independence of Irrelevant Alternatives (IIA) says that the choice between A and B should not depend on whether or not other options, such as C, are on the menu. If you prefer A to B, then your preference should be unaffected by the presence or absence of C.

This seems pretty commonsensical. Imagine you're in a restaurant and you're offered the choice of apple crumble or ice cream for dessert and you choose apple crumble. Now suppose the server tells you that they have a chocolate cake too. You might happen to prefer the chocolate cake, in which case you'd change your order, and that would make sense. But if you were to say 'In that case, I'll have the ice cream' we'd think there something pretty odd about your choice.

Yet it seems that Alex Mccarthy, writing at Give Me Sport, is not a fan of IIA. He criticises the Goal of the Season shortlist for omitting Giroud's scorpion kick against Crystal Palace, on the grounds that it didn't win Goal of the Month (being pipped by Andy Carroll).

Well, if Carroll's goal was better than Giroud's - which was what was decided in January - then there's no chance of Giroud's winning Goal of the Season. The Goal of the Season shortlist is not necessarily the ten best goals of the season, as Giroud's could be better than many of the others that did win Goal of the Month. But there's no point shortlisting a goal that has, in effect, already been eliminated as a contender.

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Monday, May 22, 2017

Dementia Tax

Apparently the Tories have been buying Google adverts so that searches for (so-called) dementia tax are directed to their home page for 'the truth'.

I think it's important that links go here for another perspective on the dementia tax.

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Wednesday, September 07, 2016

New Publication on Mill's Harm Principle

I don't bother to mention every minor publication any more, but my latest piece on the interpretation of Mill's harm principle is now online and forthcoming in Mind (ranked 4th in Leiter's survey of philosophy journals).

The abstract should be freely available, but I also made this word cloud:

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Friday, August 19, 2016

Unusual Marriages 1: A Bridge

I'm teaching a module on the Ethics of Public Policy this semester which will cover, inter alia, marriage. Naturally the focus is likely to be on gay marriage, though we'll also discuss other things such as polygamy and arguments for the abolition of marriage. But one of the readings will be this piece by Ralph Wedgwood.

In this article, Wedgwood is concerned with the essential social meaning of marriage - a meaning which, he claims, does not restrict marriage to being between a man and a woman. However, he has to grapple with whether other, decidedly more unusual, cases of marriage might also be possible. In particular, he mentions examples of people marrying their dogs or their cars (p. 233) or one man marrying another man's left foot (p. 239). The problem, for a liberal view of marriage, is whether it can be permissive enough to allow gay marriage (and, perhaps, polygamy) while excluding such cases (assuming that we want to disallow them).

Wedgwood claims that, so far as he knows, no one actually wants to enter into these alternative forms of marriage (p. 239). It seems that this isn't entirely true, as the following example illustrates.

Artist Jodi Rose 'married' the Pont du Diable (Devil's Bridge) in France. Her account, in which she describes her and her bridge as "Officially *symbolically united" can be found here. The story was covered by the Metro and Huffington Post, both of whom make clear that the union is not legally recognised in France.

I think there are questions here as to whether there's any real (i.e. literal) sense in which this can be described as a woman marrying a bridge, as opposed to some fanciful make-believe. Further, before this could be a problem for Wedgwood's case, we'd need to consider whether or not she really wants this marriage to have the significance usually attached to other marriages. Perhaps, for instance, it was more of an excuse for a wedding party or a way to publicise her bridge singing party. Nonetheless, I think it's an interesting case to consider, especially when some people insist that marriage must - by definition - be between a man and a woman.

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