News, Events, and Issues Dealing with Ethics and Morality
Retribution, Crime, and Punishment
Perhaps the oldest reason for the punishment of crimes is simple retribution - not rehabilitation, not protecting others, and not deterrence. No, just simple, basic vengeance. Instead of allowing arbitrary retribution from friends and family, criminal law institutionalized, regularized, and rationalized it. But is it time to move on?
Justice, Mercy, and Motivation (Book Notes: Reverence)
Human beings make decisions based in part on their emotions and in part on their reason. Most people regard the use of reason very highly and treat reasoned decisions as preferable to those based on emotion, but at the same time emotion tends to be a much stronger motivator than reason.
Legislating Morality (Book Notes: Morality Matters)
There are a lot of people who say that we shouldn't legislate morality - but how justified is that, really? Just about every law you can point to has some moral purpose in the background, even if it's simply to protect human life. If there are laws without a moral purpose, we should wonder what their purpose really is.
Fascism in Italy
When the idea of a fascist, totalitarian state comes up, most people probably think of Germany under Hitler and the Nazis - but they weren't the first to put fascism into practice over a whole nation. This dubious honor goes to Mussolini in Italy. Everyone knows that they were fascist, but people tend to forget about the crimes they committed.
Biological Basis for Morality
Religions commonly argue that morality is and/or should be based upon their religious scriptures which reflect the will of the god(s), believed to be the original author(s) of morality. It is not thought that morality could have natural origins - but recent research on animal behavior disputes this.
What Is Humanity? (Book Notes: Humankind)
We all know what it means to be human and recognize humanity in others - or do we? We certainly think that we do, but what we regard as obvious wasn't so obvious and clear in the past. Different people have defined humanity in different ways.
Religion is Not Necessary for Morality
I don't need religion to be moral because I see that religion has little at all do with morality. It is not the source of morality any more than school textbooks are the source of scientific discovery. Rather than a spontaneous creator of morality, as religion claims to be, it can only aspire to be the former's unfortunate cousin: a weak enforcer of doctrine.
Covert Propaganda from the Department of Education
Once again, the Bush administration has been caught using public funds to promote the administration's agenda without telling anyone that it's government propaganda. This time, it involves the Department of Education which paid advocacy groups to write opinion pieces for newspapers, as well as advertisement and other publicity materials.
Business Schools: Trade Schools or Scientific Schools?
What kind of education does one receive at a business school? Should it be likened to a trade like being an electrician or a profession like being a surgeon? This would seem to make sense - how could prospective electricians or surgeons learn from someone who has never practiced in the real world the skills they are presuming to teach?
Good Will and Ethics
It's common to think of ethical behavior as requiring the product of good results, but a focus on results is not sufficient. In addition to producing more good than evil, we should also strive to want to do good %u2014 in other words, our general will or attitude must be good as well.
Thomas Jefferson, Slavery, and Morality
It's long been a conundrum for historians that Thomas Jefferson, author of the stirring words about liberty in the Declaration of Independence, could at the same time own other human beings as slaves. The truth is that he had a nuanced view which embraced change, just not change that occurred too quickly.
Atomic Bombs, America, and Japan
There is a lot of disagreement over whether America should have dropped atomic bombs on Japan in order to end World War II. Some believe that it was necessary to achieve victory; others argue that it was done for political reasons unrelated to the war and was completely unethical.
Morality and Rationality as a Motivation
Are we rational? Are we moral? Well, most people like to think of themselves as rational and moral, but obviously that isn't always true. People are motivated to act so that they continue to see themselves as rational and moral - but does that entail necessarily acting rationally and morally?
Criminal Punishment and Execution as Public Theater
Why do we punish criminals? One reason is to prevent more crime. Another is to exact retribution form the criminal. An overlooked reason, though, may be to send a message to the community.
America's Developing Death Industry
Everyone dies, so it's likely that just about everyone will experience some sort of funeral or memorial service, probably in their own immediate family. Traditional funeral services with a casket and burial, however, are becoming increasingly expensive - and that's the way the burgeoning funeral industry wants it.
Reporters' Privilege: How Far Does it Go?
There is a common belief that journalists have a special "privilege" to refuse to testify as to whom has given them information. In reality, there is very little protection for reporters - certainly not as much as is commonly assumed - and perhaps that's the way it should be.
Journalism, Ethics, and Confidential Sources
Matthew Cooper of Time magazine and Judith Miller, of The New York Times have been pressured to reveal their source for the identity of a CIA agent. Cooper cooperated; Miller went to jail. Refusing to reveal their sources was based upon the right principle, but it was an poor application of it.
Evolution, Morality, and Religion
Researchers have a lot of good ideas about how and why morality would have evolved - social animals cannot survive without the ability to promote cooperative, altruistic behavior and that's just what moral codes do. Where does religion come into play, though, especially given how believers insist that religion is necessary for morality?
Why Don't War Supporters Go To War?
Liberal critics of Bush's war in Iraq have noticed a curious contradiction: young Republicans of military-serving age may be very loud and vociferous in their support of the war, but they don't back up that support by actually serving in the military. Why is that, especially given the fact that the military is falling short of recruiting goals and more people are needed in Iraq?
God, Morality, & Principled Choices (Book Notes)
The divine command theory of ethics is the idea that nothing is right or wrong outside of God's will. If God wills something, then it's good. If God wills that something not be done, then it's wrong. Good and evil are not independent of God. Is this a coherent perspective?
Moral Reflex, Moral Sense
Is morality something learned or is it innate? Is morality dependent upon religion or not? There is a lot of debate about such issues - morality is a contentious subject - but recent research appears to weigh against the presumption that religion is required to learn morality.
Nixon Henchmen Lecture Us on Ethics
Why is the news media treating convicted criminals as if they were wise statesmen? Former henchmen of Nixon who went to jail because of the crimes he asked them to commit are being interviewed on TV about their reaction to the identity of "Deep Throat," as if their perspective on the ethics of whistle-blowers were somehow relevant.
Look! A White Woman is Missing!
I have, over the past few months, seen complaints about how the media seems to jump all over stories about "missing white women" rather than missing black women, missing Latino women, or missing Asian women. They seem to expend more time covering every conceivable angle on stories of missing white women than they do on stories of major international substance like the war in Iraq. What's going on?
Trust Potion Discovered
Researchers at the University of Zurich have discovered that people who inhale oxytocin are far more likely to trust other human beings and give them money. This has interesting implications for human behavior, but also disturbing implications from an ethical perspective.
Biological Basis of Empathy
Our capacity for empathy appears to be a critical component of our morality - it's because we can "feel with" others that we can understand when they are experiencing pleasure or pain and, therefore, adjust our behavior in order to avoid pain in others. Turns out, there are specialized brain cells that allow us to do this.
Public Defense in America's Courts
Americans have a right to be defended in criminal trials and the government has to provide a lawyer if the accused criminal cannot afford one. But do people have a right to a competent lawyer who has the time and resources to focus their attention on the case at hand? A right to a lawyer doesn't make much sense otherwise, but that's not the situation in much of America.
Boogeyman of Relativism
Moral relativism has been making a lot of headlines lately. Religious leaders, especially the newly-installed Pope Benedict XVI, make a big deal out of opposing relativism and defending traditional morality. The problem is, moral relativism isn't nearly the issue that they make it out to be.
Wal-Mart, Health Care, and the Free Market
It's an article of faith for some that the free market always delivers services more quickly, efficiently, and cheaply than the government can manage. Being an article of faith, though, it's not supported by the evidence. Free markets are far better on some things, but not others. Why?
Morality Without Religion
Many theists argue that without belief in their god, it isn't possible for someone to be moral. Why is the simple experience of being human and living with other human beings insufficient? Why would someone only act right if they are ordered to do so?
Rational Choice & Consumer Decisions
There is a common assumption that people act, or at least tend to act, in a rational manner to most efficiently and fully realize their desires. This assumption plays an important role in economics and some political philosophies. This assumption is also very wrong.
Naturalism and Value
Is it possible to have values within a wholly naturalistic system? Many religious theists argue that it's not - this is a common criticism they make of atheism. They say that being an atheist eliminates any basis for values, morality, rights, etc. Are they right?
Dark Side of the American Dream
The "American Dream" is that anyone can, with hard work and perseverance, bring themselves up out of poverty and achieve greatness in some fashion. Sometimes it might take a couple of generations, but material prosperity is thought accessible to all. There is a dark side to this dream, however...
Virtues vs. Values
The Christian Right talks a lot about "values" and how America needs to get back to traditional values - Christian values as the Right defines them, of course. Values, though, are arguably the wrong way to go. A better choice might be "virtues" because they can withstand the test of time and help us out despite changing social or cultural circumstances.
Sartre's Cigarette Photoshopped Out
Smoking has become so socially unacceptable that historical images which include depictions of smoking are being censored and digitally altered. It's happened before in America and now it's occurring in France, of all places.
Farce of Conservative 'Judicial Restraint'
Many conservatives like to argue that they favor 'judicial restraint,' a legal principle according to which judges are supposed to avoid 'making law' and just limit themselves to the facts of the case at hand. Some conservatives surely believe this, but many others clearly don't.
Schiavo's Catholic Parents Seek Divorce for Daughter
In Florida, Michael Shiavo is trying to have his wife's feeding tube removed - he argues that Terri wouldn't have wanted to be kept alive in such a situation. Her parents have thwarted his efforts in one court battle after another. Now, they want a judge to declare the couple divorced.
Nationalism & Education
To what extent should public schools promote nationalism and nationalist values? That's something American schools have been struggling with, as demonstrated by the debates over the Pledge of Allegiance, but it's also been affecting Japanese schools - where the implications are far more serious.
Business Ethics & Corporate Responsibility
What sorts of ethical duties do corporations have? Some argue that any such duties are limited just to following the law and earning a profit for shareholders. Others argue, though, that they also have ethical responsibilities towards the larger community - responsibilities similar to that of individual human beings.
If Not Torture, Then What?
One would think that the mounting evidence of organized and officially approved torture of detainees in American custody should have created greater public outrage - especially among conservative defenders of traditional values. But it hasn't. If torturing suspects isn't enough to cause conservatives to criticize their leaders and party, is there anything that would?
Journalism vs. Propaganda
Is there a difference between journalism and propaganda? There should be and people involved in journalism are expected to understand this. Sadly, the Bush administration seems to have gone to great lengths to blur the distinction between the two. In the long run, this is a serious disservice to the American people and journalists.
Criminalizing Anti-Social Behavior
Should the state have the power to throw you in jail because you're obnoxious, annoying, or generally a community nuisance? That seems to be what is occurring in Britain: police can obtain an "Anti-Social Behavior Order" that restricts a person's ability to do legal things. Violators can be thrown in jail.
Administration Hides Civil Rights Reports
The civil rights record of the Bush administration hasn't been very good. That may be why they have changed the rules on releasing reports about their record in order to prevent some of the material from appearing on the internet.
Social Security for Dummies
One of the biggest news items in America today is Social Security and the desire of President Bush to drastically change the program, privatizing it as much as possible. Supporters say that he wants to reform the system in order to make it more efficient and profitable. Detractors say that he wants to undermine the most successful progressive social program of the 20th century.
Objectivist Perspective on the Tsunami
Objectivists have a reputation for being cold, hard-hearted, and unsympathetic to others. That reputation is not always unearned or undeserved - after the tsunami that killed so many in Southeast Asia, the Ayn Rand Institute issued a press release objecting to sending government aid to the victims.
Do You Deserve Your Pre-Tax Income?
To what extent do morality and economics intersect? That's a difficult question to answer. Most people assume that they have a moral (not just legal) claim on whatever income they receive; ergo, the taxes on that income qualify as a form of theft. Libertarian economist Hayek argued, though, that prices (which include your income - the price of your labor) don't track with moral desert.
Natural Property Rights vs. Capitalism
Most people will assume that the philosophy of "natural property rights" are fundamental to any capitalist system - but what if that isn't true? Perhaps "natural property rights" actually contradict capitalism as we know it today because of the complexities that have been built into the modern system?
Robert Novak on Journalism & Ethics
When Robert Novak revealed in a column the name of an undercover CIA agent because her husband dared to criticize the White House, he may have participated in a federal crime. He certainly did something very unethical, though that may have paled in comparison to helping his political friends. Even today he hasn't revealed his source - and continues to hold others to a standard he wants to ignore.
White House Paid Pundit to Promote Program
If you are a conservative commentator, the Bush administration might have money for you. If you are willing to use your public position to promote some of Bush's policies, you could earn hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayer money. It's probably illegal, though, so don't tell anyone!
Justice Thomas Getting Wealth of Gifts
Clarence Thomas tends to be one of the more controversial Supreme Court Justices and now he's added a new topic for people to debate: accepting gifts. All justices accept gifts, but they typically report only small, token gifts from friends or well-wishers. Thomas reports accepting incredible gifts with huge values.
Missouri: Can You Buy Your Own Sentence?
In Missouri, two men convicted of murdering a third person were given very different sentences. One was sentenced to death, the other was given 10 years. The reason for this difference: the family of the latter man paid the family of the victim $230,000.
Freedom, State Power, and Private Power
A common belief today is that one of the basic sources of conflict in any society is that between free individuals and repressive states. So long as state power is kept in check, or so the story goes, people will be free to pursue their desires and everyone will be happy. What this misses is the fact that states aren't the only actors that can infringe upon liberty...
Talent, Work, and Taxation
Sometimes people argue that it is unfair for a person to pay more in taxes compared to others than they receive in government services. One response to this is to point out that those who earn more (and who are taxed more) actually benefit more from the economy. Another is to note that a good tax system is one that values rather than penalizes work.
Strict Government Laws for Conservation?
We aren't exactly in an energy crisis, but it's clear that dependency on oil, foreign or domestic, is a problem that will only grow. Should the government insist on tight energy efficiency and conservation regulations or would it be better to let matters progress without interference?
Colorado U. Retaliates Against Reporter Who Broke Embarrassing Story
Sports Illustrated columnist Rick Reilly, an alumnus of Colorado University, made headlines when he reported on a CU football player allegedly raping Kathy Hnida, CU's first female placekicker. CU's response has been to remove Reilly from a list of famous CU graduates. Makes sense, right?
All Morals Traceable to the Bible?
There is a common prejudice among conservative Christians that morality is unthinkable outside their religious beliefs. They insist that atheists can't really be moral or can't have any reason to be moral without the Christian God. This often goes hand-in-hand with the assertion that a strong, prosperous America needs to be explicitly Christian in order to survive.
Politics of Pregnancy
Fear is a powerful motivation. It's used in politics, it's used in religion, and these days it seems to be a tool of choice when it comes to pregnancy. Expectant mothers are being given long lists of what they should do, what they shouldn't do, and told the dire consequences of what will happen if they fail to heed the advice. But how much of it matters?
What's Wrong with Price Gouging?
In the wake of disasters like Hurricane Charley some businesses jack up prices of essential goods and services, something typically illegal under anti-price gouging laws. Should such laws exist? Prohibiting price gouging seems like the moral course of action, but doesn't it violate basic capitalist principles?
Will Scott Peterson Be Convicted?
If you haven't been living under a rock, you've probably heard of the Scot Petterson trial. Scott is accused of murdering his pregnant wife and the case is mostly circumstantial. Many think that he will be convicted - but should he be?
Limited Government? No Thanks...
Many conservatives insist on the importance of having a smaller, more "limited" government. But what does that mean, really? In fact most people don't really want the government to be "smaller" in the sense of cutting back on the guarantees and regulations which have so benefited everyone over the past decades.
Discussion: Public Humiliation as Punishment
"The notion that public humiliation of anyone will induce them to behave better goes against human psychology. A parent or a teacher who humiliates a child does not get improved attitude, but initiates the development of an anti-social attitude. Just ask yourself how many times you have been humiliated, accepted the humiliation as fair, and reformed yourself."
Sweet, Sweet Revenge
Do you "hunger" for revenge against someone who has wronged you? Do you dream about what sort of nasty retaliation you'd like to inflict upon someone - all in secret, of course, meaning you would only enjoy the fruits of your vengeance at a distance? If so, you're not alone. Most people are like this and far from being immoral, it seems to be a natural and even functional part of who we are.
Questioning Human Space Flight
Should we continue to send humans on missions into space? George W. Bush wants to send humans back to the Moon and later on to Mars, but is it worth the costs and the risks? Can't we get to these places and collect data by using robots?
Well-Being vs. Preference Satisfaction
There is a common presumption, especially in the field of economics, that people are better off when they can satisfy their preferences and desires. Thus, it is concluded that it is possible to measure people's well-being by measuring how well they satisfy their preferences and what they are willing to pay in order to do so. But is this reasonable?
Embarrassment & Morality
What role to embarrassment and shame play in human morality? Probably quite a bit - they are very effective means for controlling people in small groups. At the same time, though, they can lead people horribly astray.
Values in the Economy
In America, there are many who act as though discussion about economic systems should be value free - just as there is no point in injecting values into discussions about the movement of electrons, there should be no injecting values into discussions about the movement of labor or capital. Markets should be efficient and that's it - right? Maybe not.
Morality Doesn't Evolve?
Many Christians seem to need to believe in a moral order that is safe, secure, and definitely doesn't change over time. It's as if the very prospect of shifting moral standards is a serious threat to their existence.
Dirty Hands and Moral Obligations
Would you care if you were associated with some unethical project? Most people probably would. What if neither maintaining nor dropping your association would change anything? Sticking around doesn't make things worse; leaving won't make things better. Do you have a moral obligation to leave and not have "dirty hand"??
Socialism of American Sports
Americans like to see themselves as great defenders of capitalism and stalwart enemies of socialism. It is curious, then, that American sports are so socialist in how things are done while in Europe, bastion of socialism, sports are run in a far more capitalist manner. Why do you suppose things have worked out this way?
Drug Makers Overcharge Regularly?
The American government has made attempt to reduce the cost of medication through Medicare, but at the same time the prices of many drugs rose and that offset the savings. As it turns out, overcharging for drugs may simply be standard industry practice.
Doctors Take Bribes for Prescriptions
Most people have gotten a doctor's prescription at some point in their lives for a medicine they have needed. Some people need prescription medication on a regular basis due to their medical problems. The question is, to what degree can you trust that your doctor writes a prescription based only on your best interests as a patient?
EPA Lampoons Energy-Saving Cars
A couple of years ago vice-president Dick Cheney claimed that conservation is a 'personal virtue' and shouldn't be a basis for a national energy policy. Now, the Environmental Protection Agency is running ads that disparage attempts to drive cleaner, more efficient cars as if that really weren't important.
Medical Crisis? No, Ethical Crisis
The American Medical Association is selling the public and doctors on a phony crisis. According to the A.M.A, 20 state are in a 'liability crisis'? that is forcing physicians to relocate and causing people to lose medical care. True? Not really. The truth is that things are a lot better than this.
Government Lottery for Medicare Coverage
It sounds like the plot from some awful, dystopian future: the government institutes a lottery for the distribution of government benefits among the poor; if you are one of the lucky winners, you'll receive health care, medicine, food, and/or education. If you lose, you'll have to wait for some future date (assuming you live). This isn't fiction. It's America.
Ethics: Universalizable and Internalizable
There is an ad hominem fallacy known as 'tu quoque'? which states that you cannot reject someone's criticism of you simply because they are doing the same thing. Thus, you can't dismiss a criticism of you using foul language by saying 'well, you did it too!' Perhaps this fallacy doesn't always hold true, though.
Conservatives and Manuel Miranda
Do you remember Manuel Miranda? He was the aide to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist who illegally gathered Democratic Judiciary Committee documents from Senate computers. A federal criminal investigation is still going on. Where is Miranda today? Heading up an ethics project for a conservative group.
Doctors would like us to believe that their high medical malpractice insurance rates are the result of outrageous awards from juries. That, however, is not a position that is supported by the evidence, which means that their efforts to impose caps on damages hurts patients without also helping doctors.
Doctors at Abu Ghraib
Pretty much wherever torture occurs, medical personnel are complicit. Doctors and nurses are, for example, expected to treat injuries sustained during torture so that the victim can be made well enough to go through more sessions. Medical personnel are often responsible for assisting directly in torture because of their specialized knowledge of human biology.
For-Profit Hospitals: Most Costs, More Deaths
Some argue that privatization is a good principles because private companies are more efficient and ultimately better than government-run operations. That's surely true of many industries, but it doesn't appear to be true of hospitals. According to a recent study, just the opposite is the case.
Doctor Proposes Not Treating Malpractice Lawyers, Families
A lot of doctors are concerned about rising insurance premiums and they would like to see limits on the amounts that can be awarded in malpractice lawsuits, despite the fact that there is little if any proven connection between average award amounts and rising premiums. As a consequence, some doctors would like to refuse to treat malpractice lawyers and politicians who agree with them.
Will the Pentagon Begin Spying on Americans?
Will the Pentagon begin spying on Americans? Military intelligence agencies have had little authority within American borders since the 1970s when Army agents were caught snooping on antiwar protesters. Today, however, the Pentagon is looking to increase its domestic powers.
Economics of White Collar Crime... and Bagels
Under what conditions are people honest? Paul F., a former economist who left his profession behind to become a bagel seller, has developed some interesting data on that question. He has years of statistics on who pays for their bagels and who steals, providing invaluable insight on the conditions of honesty.
Texas Diversity Plan Under Attack
In order to eliminate affirmative action, but still ensure that poor minorities get a shot at college, Texas adopted a creative plan: the top 10% of all high school graduates are guaranteed a spot at a public college. Sounds like a reasonable solution, but now wealth parents are complaining that their children are not getting a fair chance at college.
It is said sometimes that the primary or even the only responsibility that a corporation has is to make a profit for owners and/or investors. It is an error to expect absolutely anything else out of such organizations. Is this, however, a responsible position to adopt?
Thinking About Torture is Difficult
With all of the reporting about the torture of Iraqi prisoners, quite a lot of discussion about the morality of torture generally and the treatment of Iraqis specifically has been going on. Some, however, refuse to discuss the issue at all. Why? It's just too 'icky'? of a topic.
Defending Female Circumcision
Female Circumcision, often commonly labeled Female Genital Mutilation, is practiced widely in some cultures but banned in most western nations. Are such bans justified? After all, who are western liberals to decide that certain cultural practices shouldn't be permitted?
Retaining Our Moral Framework
Moral questions can be very difficult. Sometimes conflicting moral claims can prevent us from adequately responding in a manner that is fair, just, and proportionate. Unfortunately, we are faced more often with complex, conflicting claims than simple and obvious ones.
Bush Not Bound By Antitorture Laws?
Earlier I wrote about the memos from John Yoo and White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales arguing for not including Guantanamo Bay prisoners under the Geneva Conventions so that their treatment wouldn't lead to war crimes charges. Now there is a new memo which goes much further: it explains how administration officials could avoid prosecution for breaking laws against torture.
Intent and Sexual Harassment
Sexual harassment exists, but can a person unintentionally engage in sexual harassment? It's true that one can unintentionally insult a person, but harass them? Some codes of conduct assume that it is possible, but that doesn't really sound reasonable.
Emotional Component of Ethical Decisions
People tend to think of ethical decisions as being based upon rational considerations and thinking. Sure, there are emotional considerations as well, but most of the literature on ethics revolves around how we can better arrive at rational conclusions. But what if emotions play too big of a role?
Questions About Vegetarianism
There are a lot of reasons why people become vegetarians, with the two primary reasons being health and ethics. Now, if someone refuses to eat meat on ethical grounds, does that mean that they are unethical for enjoying the smell of cooking meat?
New Cases on Childbirth Rights
Do you remember the woman who was charged with murder because she refused to let doctors perform a Caesarean section on her and one of her twins died? Well, the trend towards criminalizing mothers' decisions when they conflict with doctors' advice seems to be continuing
Metaphysics of Free Will: The Urge to Punish
There people who believe in something Daniel Dennett labels 'moral levitation:'? "Real autonomy, real freedom, requires the chooser be somehow suspended, isolated from the push and pull of causes, so that when decisions are made, nothing causes them except you!"? This is required for the existence of free will, for moral responsibility, and more important the ability of others to punish you.
Ashcroft Blocked from Interfering with Oregon's Suicide Law
The federal government, led by U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, has long been fighting Oregon's assisted suicide law. They tried to block in an variety of ways and, in the latest case, they threatened to take away the medical licenses of any doctors who prescribed medication to be used in a suicide. The Ninth Circuit Court has blocked them.
Italian MDs in Kickback Scandal
I have written before at some length about the ethical problems that exist when doctors receive various gift from drug companies and then prescribe those drugs to patients - it looks a lot like medical kickbacks. It turns out, though, that the problem is really bad in Italy.
Government Secrecy Through Privatization
For the past 25 years, a public database has provided to anyone who wants to look information on what government agencies have awarded what contracts to what private companies for how much money. The White House has approved a deal that would turn over the database to a private company which would charge fees and control access to the information.
The Poor Selling their Organs
One of the most common arguments against allowing human organs to be bought and sold like any commodity is that it will induce the poor to sell their organs, thus putting them in unacceptable social and medical positions. We can see just how this works out because there is an illegal international market for human organs.
Spousal Abuse: Blaming the Victim, with a Twist
There was a time when women who accused their husbands of abuse were challenged by defense lawyers as to why, if the abuse was so bad, they didn't run away. That has largely ended as we have come to understand the psychology of abuse - any lawyer who tries it will not be looked upon favorably. Still, that didn't stop a lawyer in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania...
High Cost of Low Crime?
The costs of the "get tough on crime" approach is really ramping up. Nearly 10 percent all inmates in both state and federal detention have life sentences (up 83 percent from 1992), and each of those inmates will cost around USD $1 million over their lives. Is it worth it?
Torture for a Good Cause... But Then What?
In debate about whether American soldiers went too far in their treatment of Iraqi prisoners, there has been some discussion about whether and when torture might be a licit means for extracting information. But what should happen after the torture is used?
Can Torture Be Justified?
One question that has been perhaps overlooked in the debate over the abuse and torture of Iraqi prisoners by American soldiers is whether and why such abuse and torture might ever be justified. Can such treatment elicit worthwhile information and when, if at all, would it be ethically licit to take these steps?
The Line Between Normal and Monster
What's the difference between being "normal" and being a "monster"? In 1971 Stanford University researchers simulated a prison in a basement, placing some students as guards and some as prisoners. The results were so shocking that the study had to be ended before it ended.
Senator Inhofe Defends Abuses
Rush Limbaugh is not the only prominent conservative to have reacted shamefully by trying to excuse the abuse of Iraqi prisoners by American soldiers. Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) has declared himself "more outraged by the outrage" over the images than by what the images depict. According to him, the prisoners only got what they deserved.
OTC Morning-After Pill Rejected by FDA
The Food and Drug Administration has been considering a proposal to allow over-the-counter sale of emergency contraceptives - generally known as "Plan B" - but in the end denied it despite the fact that the expert advisory panel which voted unanimously that the drug could be sold over the counter safely.
West Virginians Weigh in on Iraq Abuses
One of the more familiar faces in the photos of American soldiers abusing Iraqi prisoners belongs to Lynndie England, a 21-year-old member of the National Guard from West Virginia. Americans don't often see a woman acting like an abusive, uncaring sadist so they will likely remember her for quite a while. People in her home town, though, don't mind at all - they don't think she did anything wrong.
Anatomy of Fascism
The term "fascism" gets tossed around a lot. For many liberals, the current Bush administration is becoming fascist. For many conservatives, Islamic militants are fascist. Does this word really mean anything or is it just a nasty label that gets applied to people one doesn't like? Both, actually, but it would be helpful if we could recapture its real meaning and stop doing the latter.
Religious Bias? EMT Wouldn't Take Woman to Abortion Clinic
Should an emergency medical technician be permitted to refuse to take a woman to an abortion clinic? Not if she is suffering from abdominal pain - one EMT who refused to help in such a case has been fired because the woman then had to be taken to the emergency room. The EMT is alleging religious bias.
Moral Double Standards?
A number of prominent conservatives have argued that the abuse of Iraqi prisoners by American soldiers hasn't been so bad - it was more like "frat hazing" or what you would see at Britney Spears concert" and, besides, the soldiers were just "blowing off steam." Forcing men to simulate homosexual acts is, it appears, not so bad - they save their real indignation for individual acts of real sex.
Her Beautiful Mind?
There has been growing debate about whether the American media should be allowed to air footage of the coffins of American soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan returning home. Some think that it would help Americans better understand the costs of the war. Others fear that it would inflame passions. Barbara Bush, mother of President George W. Bush, has her own special take on the issue.
Rush Limbaugh Defends Torture in Iraq
Yesterday I wrote about someone who tried to downplay the photos and reports of prisoner abuse in Iraq as being akin to "frat hazing." Unfortunately, it turns out that such a position isn't all that uncommon. Now, Rush Limbaugh is saying that what happened to the Iraqi prisoners doesn't look so bad.
Prisoner Abuse in Iraq: 'Frat Hazing'?
The abuse of prisoners in the Abu Gharib prison in Iraq has elicited shock and outrage around the world - except among a few conservatives in America. Most recognize these actions for the evil that they are, but a few are trying to downplay it and dismiss it. U.S. Army sergeant and former interrogation instructor Tony Robinson, for example, compares what went on to "Frat Hazing."
Ex-Death Squad Members Working in Iraq
You've probably read about the American soldiers charged with the abuse of Iraqi prisoners - but not every news outlet is mentioning the claim that "private contractors were supervising interrogations in the prison" and that one civilian contractor was accused of raping a young male prisoner. Was anything done about him? Just deportation, probably
Anti-Consequentialism and God
Two of the main types of ethical systems are consequentialist (ethical decisions are based upon the consequences of an act) and deontological (ethical decisions are based upon adherence to duty and rules). The main forms of deontological ethics are based upon what God commands. Is it, however, coherent to adopt a position which completely ignores consequences?
Drug Companies Withholding Poor Results
onsumers tend to trust that when there are positive results from clinical trials, then that shows that a particular drug is worth using. But what about negative results from clinical trials? Well, as it turns out, a lot of pharmaceutical companies don't actually release those - which is tantamount to fraud.
Buddha Bikini Upsets Believers
In the past I've seen complaints about corporations engaging in blasphemy from Christians, Muslims, and Hindus - but for the first time, I've now seen it from Buddhists as well. You wouldn't think that Buddhists would worry about such things, but it turns out that they do. In this case, they are complaining about an image of the Buddha appearing on a bikini top created by Victoria's Secret.
Nazis Learned Eugenics from America
Many in America argue that there is no "right to privacy" protected by the Constitution. The point is to argue that there is no right to have an abortion. Some go a bit further and also argue that access to contraception and contraceptive information also shouldn't be protected. But if the ability not to become a parent is unprotected, what about the ability to become a parent?
Wronging Someone Without Doing Wrong
Typically, if we have "wronged" someone, the assumption is that we have done something wrong - that is to say, we have acted in some way that we shouldn't have and that there existed some course of action which we could have followed which would have been ethical superior and would have not led to someone being wronged. But perhaps this is not really the case...
Lutheran Abuse Case: USD $37 Million Awarded
The Roman Catholic Church isn't the only religious organization in America that has been dealing with allegations of the sexual abus of children. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has been in trouble as well and now a jury in East Texas has awarded USD $37 million to the victims of a former Lutheran minister.
Evildoers Have No Souls
Do religious fanatics have souls or consciences? Not according to President George W. Bush - at least, not so long as the fanatics are Muslims. Unfortunately for Bush, such a position is neither theologically nor morally defensible. It does, however, betray Bush's fundamental failure to understand what sort of situation he is dealing with.
Released Japanese Hostages Now Under More Stress
Japanese culture is radically different from the cultures of America and Europe. In recent years some those differences have not appeared quite so obvious - but the recent release of the Japanese hostages in Iraq have uncovered just how significant the differences really are. While released hostages are celebrates in America or Europe, in this case they are reviled in Japan.
Problem of Prison Rape
The prison industry itself estimates that there are probably 12,000 rapes of prisoners per year. This number is higher than the number of reported rapes in Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York combined. But when was the last time that this was address in the media? When was the last time a politician ever took a stand against it and promised to try and get it to stop?
Acquired Sociopathy: Do Moral Beliefs Motivate Us?
If a person makes an ethical judgment - for example, that some action is ethically wrong - does this automatically mean that they are motivated not to do it? Some think so and are labeled "internalists," but others disagree and argue that ethical judgments do not automatically come along with motivations.
Pope's Support of Feeding Tubes Riles Catholic Hospitals
What should be done with a person who is in a persistent vegetative state and whose body only continues to live through the intervention of machines, like feeding tubes? According to Pope John Paul II, we are morally obliged to keep the machines running - a decision that conflicts with the standard practices in many Catholics hospitals.
Truth in Fiction
Fictional stories aren't true, that's obvious. However, when we read a fictional story we accept that what we are told is "true" in the context of the story. This is called a "suspension of disbelief" - despite knowing that claimed facts are false, we accept them as "true" within the story itself. Occasionally, though, we encounter claims that we refuse to accept as "true" even in the story. Why?
Money Matters in Death Penalty Cases
It's long been thought that the difference in resources between prosecutors and public defenders has distorted justices, especially where death penalty cases are concerned. Shouldn't the government be just as generous with defending a person who is presumed innocent as they are with prosecuting them?
Advertiser Pressures Publications to Suppress Critical Ads
Abbott Laboratories has instituted a 400% price hike on their key AIDS drug Norvir. Various groups are naturally upset about this and have created a parody of Abbott ads in order to express their displeasure. Abbott, naturally, doesn't like that - but instead of using their own speech to fight back, they are using their economic muscle to have the parody ads pulled from various publications.
What's Wrong with Mercenaries?
There are more armed "civilian contractors" (read: mercenaries) in Iraq than there are British soldiers, making them the second largest fighting force in Iraq after the American military. Is the use of mercenaries - particularly so many of them - appropriate? What are the drawbacks?
Prosecutor Suing Ashcoft over Terrorism
The Bush administration is relying on their handling of the "war on terrorism" in the upcoming election campaign. They hope that the American public will approve of how they are dealing with actual and potential terrorists - but a recent lawsuit indicates that the administration is willing to undermine the fight against terrorism if it means retaliating against someone who questions their methods.
Protecting America from Dangerous Novelists
Because of the threat of terrorism, the American border has become a bit more difficult to cross - and that is quite understandable. Still, this doesn't seem to justify detaining a novelist because it isn't clear whether his visa is appropriate for the intention of delivering a lecture.
More and more, the United States of America is relying upon mercenaries to deal with military operations around the world. While there is no denying the tragedy of what happened to those men, their presence in Iraq has brought to the forefront some serious questions about the American government's involvement with for-profit armies and what implications this might have for foreign policy.
Lesbian's Health Endangered By Religious Health Care Provider?
Should gays and lesbians receive the same level of health care that straights receive? What sort of bigot would offer a lower standard of health care to someone because they are gay? Well, the sorts of bigots who, in California, put a lesbian through lengthy and risky fertility treatments, only to withhold insemination at the last minute.
If Your Eye Causes You to Sin...
When a man is inspired by the Bible to pull out his own eye, it's hard not to assume that he isn't insane - and it's also hard to say that there is a difference between his taking one aspect of the Bible literally and others who do the same with different verses.
Child-Killer Mom Acquitted, Found Insane
Deanna Laney, the Texas woman accused of killing her two older sons (ages 6 and 8) and maiming her youngest in his crib, used the insanity defense, arguing that God told her to kill. The jury accept this, acquitting her and determining that she didn't know right from wrong. I have to wonder whether this decision is acceptable from a religious perspective.
Lesbian's Health Endangered By Religious Health Care Provider?
Should gays and lesbians receive the same level of health care that straights receive? What sort of bigot would offer a lower standard of health care to someone because they are gay? Well, the sorts of bigots who, in California, put a lesbian through lengthy and risky fertility treatments, only to withhold insemination at the last minute because of their religious beliefs.
Discussion: Why Are Organ Sales Banned?
Thousands of people die needless deaths every year because of a lack of transplant organs. Many times more people die every year taking organs that could be transplanted with them when they go. Why is that better than having some kind of market for organs?
God Told Her to Kill
The dangers of religious belief were brought into the light again recently when a woman accused of killing two of her sons stated that she was acting under the direction of God. Her attorney is pleading insanity for her - insanity that is specifically tied to her religious beliefs, arguing that those beliefs prevented her from properly understanding reality.
Fetal Rights in America
Some have argued that supporters of abortion choice are being too extreme in that their desire to defend abortion rights leads them to defend unconscionable actions - for example, the woman whose refusal to have a caesarian section contributed to the death of one of her twins.
Discussion: Woman Refuses Caesarian Section, Charged with Murder
One human that is being legally required to undergo a medical procedure in order to save the life of another human. I can't think of a single case where this is true except that it seems to be expected of pregnant woman. Can you think of any other case where one is forced to undergo a medical procedure to save the life of another? Is a mother required to give up a kidney to her child?
Morality vs. Sexual Morality
Both the Christian Right and the Republican Party talk a lot about morality: restoring morality to America, improving people's morality, etc. If you think about it, though, they aren't really talking about "morality" in general. They're talking about sex.