Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Facebook on Organ Donation

Activity here has been sparse due to the double whammy of the start of semester and travel (York and St Andrews), but here's a quick post to note that I was quoted (albeit not really saying anything significant) in this feature on the Canadian blog Science-ish, on Facebook's attempts to increase organ donation.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

New Blog / Page 3

It's been a while since I updated my Blogroll - in fact, I still haven't - but I'd like to call attention to the new blog, Slave of the Passions, by my friend Becca. The first two posts have been really interesting. In particular, this one on Page 3, provoked such a lengthy comment from me that I thought it worth posting over here as a comment in its own right:

Point 1 [the harm complained of is not any to the models, who partake voluntarily, but to other women] is pretty obvious, especially to anyone familiar with the harm principle (though apparently not to defenders of Page 3, hence the need to state it). I might add, in the spirit of Mill, that institutions such as Page 3 may be harmful to men as well as women. I don’t choose to live in a world with Page 3 either, and it distorts people’s perceptions (perhaps even mine) of women *and* men (am I not masculine if I don’t want to ogle over Page 3?).

On the other hand, I have a worry that this line of argument can be a threat to liberty. For practically anything, someone can complain ‘I don’t choose to live in a society where that kind of thing goes on, and alters people’s attitudes’. Anti-gay religious types, for instance, may claim that their marriages are harmed by homosexuals, because homosexuality changes the meaning of marriage in ways that they do not endorse. Can we find a principled reason why the dispersed harm to women in general seems like a reason for interference, while harm to religious conservatives does not?

Perhaps, however, this point is unnecessary, given your point 3 [the petition is not calling for a ban, but for the Sun Editor to voluntarily stop publishing Page 3, hence it is not illiberal censorship]. If there was a harm, then it could justify censorship. But, if this isn’t censorship, then harm isn’t necessary.

This brings me to point 3, which is really interesting, but I’m not sure it’s quite adequate as stated. A Millian liberal recognises that freedom can be restricted by both state and society. If the Sun editor is cowed into not publishing Page 3 by social pressure, then that could be considered civil society censorship, even if no law is involved. I think we need to distinguish between the campaign successfully persuading him of the error of his ways and it failing to change his attitudes but nonetheless leading him to stop publishing because of social pressure. The latter could, I think, be considered censorship. I take it that your real aim is the former, which I agree is morally unproblematic, but it’s important to distinguish the two.

Monday, September 10, 2012

CFP: ALSP conference 2013 (Stirling)

Association for Legal and Social Philosophy
2013 Annual Conference: 24th-25th June

Division of Law and Philosophy, School of Arts and Humanities, University of Stirling, Scotland
Local organisers: Ben Saunders and Rowan Cruft

Keynote plenary speakers:
Bob Goodin (ANU/Essex)
Serena Olsaretti (ICREA-Pompeu Fabra/Cambridge)

Theme: Combining Theory and Practice
Papers are welcome in any substantive area of legal, social, or political philosophy (justice, democracy, rights, liberalism, communitarianism, punishment, etc) and from any philosophical methodological approach, but we particularly welcome those addressing the conference theme. These may be primarily either theoretical or practical in nature, but should seek to connect or combine the theoretical and the practical realms. They might, for instance, demonstrate how theoretical contributions can inform practice or illustrate how practice (and empirical study of practice) has implications for theory.
Both individual papers and proposals for panels on related topics are welcome.

Please send paper/panel proposals to alsp2013@stir.ac.uk by 14th January 2013. Submissions should consist of a title and 400-500 word abstract (for each paper, in the case of panels). These may be sent in the body of the email or as an attachment (.doc, .docx, .pdf), but please ensure that they are prepared for blind review (i.e. author’s name and affiliation should appear in your email but not with the abstract).

Any queries can be directed to Ben Saunders (ben.saunders) and/or Rowan Cruft (rowan.cruft), followed by @stir.ac.uk .

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Representation: Local or National?

There's an interesting piece on the BBC website (here) asking whether MPs should resign their constituency representation when appointed ministers. The suggestion is that the functions of government might conflict with representing a local constituency.

I think that this is a really interesting topic, but the 'solution' proposed by the BBC doesn't seem - to me - to go far enough. I think the problem is not confined to government ministers; rather the problem is the system of local representation as a whole.

Burke famously argued that MPs were to represent the nation as a whole, rather than their electors. John Stuart Mill agreed, endorsing a proposal for proportional representation (devised by Thomas Hare) that would effectively abolish local constituencies, arguing that what mattered was representing people, rather than places.

Much more recently, Andrew Rehfeld analysed the same problem (in his book, The Concept of Constituency), pointing out that representatives are typically torn between pursing the national interest (as they should, as legislators) and local, partisan interests, resulting in 'pork barrel' politics. His proposed solution was to make representatives accountable to the national interest, by abolishing geographically-defined constituencies and having each representative elected by a random cross-section of the population, the interest of which should coincide with that of the whole.

Rehfeld's proposal has merit, if you want each elector to be able to point to a particular representative and say 's/he is my representative'. Personally, I'm not sure that's necessary. I'd be happy for the whole country to be treated as a single constituency (as in Israel). I don't see why localities need to be represented as such. After all, other interest groups - such as occupations - don't generally get this special treatment (though some groups do or have had it).

I'm not saying that local government should be abolished. In fact, I'm all in favour of it. My point is that particularly local issues should be left to local government. The role of representatives in parliament ought to be to consider the national interest and this isn't obviously served by having them drawn from localities (not least because of the disproportionality that tends to result from elections in single-member constituencies).

Friday, September 07, 2012

Stylish Academic Writing?

I've noticed that Helen Sword's recent book, Stylish Academic Writing, seems to have caused something of a stir - as evidenced by this advert-masquerading-as-news in Times Higher Education. While I don't think it's without merit, I think the praise is somewhat over the top. A longer review is, hopefully, coming soon (not in an academic venue), but in the meantime you can find my thoughts in my review on Amazon.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Solidarity in Bioethics

I have a piece published in the current (Sept 2012) issue of Bioethics, a special issue devoted to 'Solidarity in Bioethics'. The good news is that the whole issue is currently freely available without subscription here. I'm told that this will last throughout September. Here's the abstract for my piece:


Proposals for increasing organ donation are often rejected as incompatible with altruistic motivation on the part of donors. This paper questions, on conceptual grounds, whether most organ donors really are altruistic. If we distinguish between altruism and solidarity – a more restricted form of other-concern, limited to members of a particular group – then most organ donors exhibit solidarity, rather than altruism. If organ donation really must be altruistic, then we have reasons to worry about the motives of existing donors. However, I argue that altruism is not necessary, because organ donation supplies important goods, whatever the motivation, and we can reject certain dubious motivations, such as financial profit, without insisting on altruism.

Once solidaristic donation is accepted, certain reforms for increasing donation rates seem permissible. This paper considers two proposals. Firstly, it has been suggested that registered donors should receive priority for transplants. While this proposal appears based on a solidaristic norm of reciprocity, it is argued that such a scheme would be undesirable, since non-donors may contribute to society in other ways. The second proposal is that donors should be able to direct their organs towards recipients that they feel solidarity with. This is often held to be inconsistent with altruistic motivation, but most donation is not entirely undirected in the first place (for instance, donor organs usually go to co-nationals). While allowing directed donation would create a number of practical problems, such as preventing discrimination, there appears to be no reason in principle to reject it.

Saturday, September 01, 2012

Is Fairness Hard-Wired?

A couple of recent papers in PLOS One - available here and here - find evidence of fairness-based behaviour in young children. Thanks to Chris Bertram for pointing me towards the BBC story.