Sunday, 26 June 2022

Abortion Bans as Conscription

Recent developments in the US have brought renewed interest to the ethics of abortion. I will skip over most of that rather parochial and politically tribalised debate and instead consider the ethical implications of prioritising the right to life of a foetus over its mother's right to autonomy. I will suggest that banning abortion for this reason could be justified in a liberal state, but this 'conscription' model would look quite different from the straightforward bans on abortion as wrongful killing that we are familiar with.

Saturday, 25 June 2022

Putting Women In Charge Is Not The Way To Make The World Better

It is common to see claims that if only women were in charge things would be much better and nicer, for example that people would be much happier at work, inequality would fall, climate change would be solved. 

There is no good evidence for these claims. They seem to rely on the question begging assumption that the best explanation for why people in charge of things seem so often seem incompetent, mean, self-serving, unresponsive to their constituents' needs, and so on is that they are men. This framing is then used to cherry pick anecdotes about female prime ministers/CEOs that support the possibility, but not the probability that women would do things better. 


As a general rule, we should reject claims supported by inadequate evidence. We should also be careful to distinguish moral claims about fairness in the competition for power from claims about how that power would be exercised. The first moral problem of power is whether it is used rightly and for the good. The moral problem of fair opportunity to gain power is a secondary and far less significant moral problem. To put it another way, we should care less about the gender of the super competitive alphas who get the top jobs in our society, and more about the poor saps who will be ruled by them.


Assuming that power is misused because it is held by men leaves us unprepared for the very probable discovery that things will be just as bed when most things are run by women (which in some countries is only a couple of decades away). This is because it is institutions rather than gender that select, train, and constrain those who wield power, and it is highly questionable whether and how far those institutions would be changed merely by changing the gender of those in charge. Instead of trying to control how power is exercised by changing the gender of those in charge, we should focus directly on restructuring the institutions of power, for example by making political leaders more legally accountable and empowering employees with workplace democracy. The aim should be to ensure that whether the people in charge are men or women, they are no longer able to behave like bullies or tyrants. 


Saturday, 11 June 2022

No, Poor Countries Shouldn't Try To Make Their Own Covid Vaccines

Source: UNDP
One of the impressive features of humanity's response to Covid was the development of successful vaccines within only 10 months, and the production and distribution of 12 billion doses around the world. One of the worst features was the inequality in the distribution of those vaccine doses.

As of June 2022, only 18% of people in low income countries have received at least one dose compared to a global average of 66% and an average of 72% in high income countries (Our World in Data/UNDP). 


Obviously this contrast looks very unjust. Many people in rich countries have now received a full course of vaccination and multiple booster shots, even if they aren't particularly vulnerable. They also benefit from access to large well-resourced medical systems and thus high survival rates even if they are unlucky enough to be infected. Covid vaccines are clearly not being distributed to where they would do the most good.


One response to this injustice has been to argue that Low Income countries should be enabled to manufacture their own vaccines. Unfortunately, this is one of those ideas that sound nice but don't actually make sense when scrutinised (see previous: ideas vs arguments)

Sunday, 5 June 2022

Philosophy Belongs in the Sciences, Not the Humanities: A Rant

Philosophy has traditionally been considered and considered itself a part of the humanities, with a continuity in skills and attitudes, such as an emphasis on scholarship. In many universities philosophy departments are part of larger humanities faculties and thus fall under governance institutions designed for traditional humanities disciplines like literature, history, law, and religion. This association is bad for philosophy. Philosophy is a science of intellectual inquiry and it needs institutions, methods and attitudes suited to that task.