Here’s an interesting philosophical question, raised indirectly by philosopher Iskra Fileva on Facebook:
If a person refrains from doing a wrong act due to some wrong motive, does that person count as self-controlled (in Aristotle’s sense) or not?
For example, a married man wants to have an affair with a co-worker but he refrains — not because he’s pledged his fidelity to his wife, but due to fear of social disapproval if the affair is revealed because she’s black/Jewish/older/Catholic/wiccan/whatever.
I don’t think that this counts as self-control (a.k.a. continence) because the person is ignorant of and/or blind to the relevant moral considerations. On Aristotle’s descending moral scale from virtuous to self-controlled to un-self-controlled to vicious (explained briefly here), he’s in the vicious category, even though he happens not to have done the immoral act of cheating on his wife.
This is why — as I argue in my book on moral luck — we need to distinguish between judgments of actions, outcomes, and character. These judgments identify different facts and serve different purposes. A person can still be of vicious character, yet not perform any immoral acts. (At least, that can happen in the short term. Long-term, bad acts are pretty darn likely.) That’s only a puzzle if we’re not clear about the various purposes and bases of our various kinds of moral judgments.
The villagers’ affection for the doctor does not blunt their pain and bewilderment over the mass infection. Prum Em, Ms. Yao’s 84-year-old husband, stares with blank incomprehension when asked about the infections, which struck across three generations.
“I have done only good deeds my whole life,” he said. “It’s inconceivable that the family could have this much bad luck.”
Robert Garmong added:
There’s no specific evidence that this is what happened, but it could easily have been the case that this man’s family members intentionally took risky injections because “my family has only done good deeds, so surely the downside risk won’t happen to me.” I doubt that’s what happened, because there’s no evidence that the people even knew they were taking a risk. But the point remains. By messing with people’s rational calculations, the concept of “karma” leads in principle to self-destructive thinking.
I’ve been slightly appalled by the way that the debate over vaccination has proceeded of late — particularly in the belligerent peddling of misinformation and calls for government controls. (I’ve seen that on all sides, unfortunately.) Alas, that’s to be expected when sick kids are involved. In any case, because I’m answering a question on Sunday’s Philosophy in Action Radio about whether people have an obligation to vaccinate purely for the sake of herd immunity, I thought that I’d compile some links for reading in advance.
A word of warning, first. As you’ll see, these links are from a variety of perspectives, and I’m not vouching for them. You shouldn’t assume that I agree with them. They’re just to help inform you about the debate.
Also, I answered a question about compulsory vaccination on the 3 August 2014 episode of Philosophy in Action Radio. If you’ve not yet heard it, you should listen to or download the relevant segment of the podcast before Sunday’s broadcast. It’s here:
Despite the defeats of “personhood” measures in 2008 and 2010, Colorado voters will once again vote on a proposed constitutional amendment to grant all the rights of born persons to zygotes, embryos, and fetuses in November 2014.
New Paper Criticizes “Personhood” Movement and Colorado’s Amendment 67 Wednesday, October 8, 2014
Coalition for Secular Government: http://www.SecularGovernment.us
A new paper criticizes the “personhood” movement and Colorado’s Amendment 67, a measure that would treat abortion as murder under the law; outlaw abortion even in cases of rape, incest, risks to a woman’s health, and severe fetal deformity; outlaw some types of birth control; outlaw common forms of in vitro fertility treatments; and ban embryonic stem-cell research.
The 54-page paper, coauthored by Diana Hsieh and Ari Armstrong, offers extensive historical and scientific background on the “personhood” movement, abortion, and related matters. The paper also offers philosophic arguments supporting a woman’s right to seek an abortion.
“Amendment 67 is extremely misleading in its language,” Hsieh said. “The proponents of the measure apparently want voters to believe that it is about protecting pregnant women from vicious criminal attacks, but the reality is that the measure would treat women as murderers for getting an abortion or even for using certain types of birth control or in vitro fertility treatments.”
Amendment 67 seeks to extend full legal protections to “unborn human beings,” which its sponsors define as all embryos from the moment of conception.
As the new paper discusses, Colorado law already establishes criminal penalties for harming a pregnant woman’s embryo or fetus against her consent.
If you have any questions about the paper, please email me.
I discuss how some patients in the socialized medical systems of Canada and the UK have been put on DNR (“do not resuscitate”) status without their knowledge or consent and how that ties to the current debate over government-funded end-of-life counseling here in the US.
As I’ve said before: If you expect “somebody else” to pay for your health care, then “somebody else” will ultimately decide what care you may (or may not) receive.
I also discuss how free-market reforms for health insurance can allow patients to retain control over their end-of-life medical decision making and protect Americans from those gut-wrenching problems faced by patients in Canada and the UK.
Now, this is the part where I point out that study after study after study has proven that corporal punishment—even a light spanking—does not work. At all. Corporal punishment makes kids sullen, violent, and angry. I know this because I have dabbled in corporal punishment with my own children, particularly my oldest kid. (Poor first children are always the beta kids: The kids parents fuck up with the most before applying better techniques to their younger siblings.) I have tried spanking the kid, and giving the kid a light smack on the head, and threatening the kid. My dad spanked me once or twice as a child. That’s it. I don’t even remember it, really. And yet I’ve probably tried more ways of physically correcting my child than he ever did. And the reason I tried all of these methods is because I am a failure.
That’s what corporal punishment is. It’s a failure. It’s a complete breakdown of communication between parent and child. Children are unpredictable, reckless, and occasionally violent. They can drive otherwise rational humans into fits of rage. And I have had moments—many moments, certainly—where I have felt that rage after exhausting every last possible idea to get them to behave: bribery, timeouts, the silent treatment, walking away (they follow you!), distraction, throwing the kids outside (they end up ringing the doorbell a lot), you name it. So I have tried corporal punishment as a final resort, a desperate last stab at closure. That’s an easy way for parents to justify it: You forced me to do this, child. Spanking the kid did nothing for me. It only made me realize what a fucking failure I was. Oh, and the kid still kept yelling.
Spanking and beating your kid teaches your kid to talk with violence. It validates hitting as a legitimate form of communication. Everything is modeled. I have yelled at my kids, and then seen them yell. I have smacked my kid, and then watched her smack someone else. They don’t learn to be good from any of it. They don’t learn to sit still and practice piano sonatas. All they learn is, Hey, this works! And then they go practice what you just preached. Beating a kid creates an atmosphere of toxicity in a house that lingers forever: One beating leads to the next, and to the next, and to the next, until parents don’t even know why they’re beating the kid anymore. They just do. Once it is normalized, it takes root. Parents begin to like the habit. Those pictures of Peterson’s kid? The violence can get worse … much worse … so much worse it’s astonishing.
As it happens, I answered a question about corporal punishment of kids on the 24 June 2012 episode of Philosophy in Action Radio. If you’ve not yet heard it, you can listen to or download the relevant segment of the podcast here:
Then, if you’re one of those parents wonder what the heck you should do if you can’t physically discipline your kids, check out my interview with Jenn Casey and Kelly Elmore about “Parenting without Punishment” on the 27 June 2012 episode of Philosophy in Action Radio. If you’ve not yet heard it, you can listen to or download the podcast here:
Here’s the bright spot in this morally bleak story — the nurse who turned him in as soon as she saw (in a job interview) him doing wrong:
Angela Swantek, a chemotherapy nurse who blew the whistle on Fata to state authorities in 2010, was in the courtroom during Fata’s guilty plea. She said she was relieved to hear him admit to things she witnessed years ago in his office. “I’m numb,” she said in a court hallway. “I’m not surprised though; I wondered how his team was going to defend him. The charts don’t lie.”
Swantek, 45, of Royal Oak, said she went to Fata’s office for a job interview in 2010 when she saw patients getting chemotherapy in a manner that wasn’t correct. “I left after an hour and half. I thought this is insane,” she said. That same day, Swantek went home and wrote a letter to the state and suggested they investigate him.
According to Swantek, the state did nothing and notified her in 2011 that they had found no wrongdoing. “I handed them Dr. Fata on a platter in 2010 and they did absolutely nothing,” said Swantek, noting she was elated when she learned the federal government charged Fata in 2013.
“I started crying,” she said. “I thought about all of the patients he took care of and harmed.”
Kudos to her for reporting him to the authorities, rather than just walking away. If only those authorities had done their job…
“Paramedics will give patients whose heart has stopped a dummy drug as part of an ‘ethically questionable’ study into whether adrenalin works in resuscitation or not… Patients in cardiac arrest will receive either a shot of adrenalin, which is the current practice, or a salt water placebo but the patient, their relatives nor the paramedic administering it will know which. The trial is seen to be controversial because patients will not be able to consent to taking part and could receive a totally useless placebo injection…”
First, I want to emphasize that this is a legitimate scientific question. Adrenaline (also known as epinephrine) has been a standard part of the resuscitation protocol for sudden cardiac arrest, along with chest compressions and electrical shocks. (Think of paramedics shouting “clear” on television medical dramas.) But more recent evidence suggests that adrenaline might cause more harm than good in this situation, helping start the heart but possibly also causing some neurological damage. There is a valid and important scientific question. My concern is not over the science behind the experiment, but rather the ethics…
There are two parts of the study that disturb me the most: (1) The drug trial itself, and (2) the decision to not actively inform relatives that any patient who died had been an involuntary participant. I cover both aspects in more detail in the piece.
Note: I’m not fully settled on what (if any) experimentation should be allowed on incapacitated patients in an emergency setting without informed consent. But I do think this should be an issue of active discussion, especially for the people whose lives are on the line.
And for a discussion of prior US medical experiments that have been alleged to be unethical, non-consensual, or illegal, see this Wikipedia list.
How can a person make better hard choices? How to make hard choices was the subject of a recent TED talk from philosopher Ruth Chang. Her thesis is that hard choices are not about finding the better option between alternatives. Choices are hard when there is no better option. Hard choices require you to define the kind of person you want to be. You have to take a stand for your choice, and then you can find reasons for being the kind of person who makes that choice. Her views really speak to me. In your view, what makes a choice hard? How should a person make hard choices?
Yesterday, I listened to the TED Talk, and I really like it! I’ll summarize the talk on Sunday’s episode, but I’d still recommend taking a listen in advance:
When you’re a single mother, says Sheri Atwood, founder of SupportPay, it’s even tougher to be taken seriously. The child of a divorce and coming out of a divorce herself, Atwood built SupportPay, an online platform to help divorced parents manage and share child support. But almost as soon as she began pitching investors in 2011, she faced a barrage of doubt as to whether she could handle a company and kids at the same time.
Atwood says that while their concern is legitimate, it’s also a bit backward. She believes it’s because she’s a single mother—not despite it—that she’s a safe bet for investors. “I’m not doing this as a side project. I don’t have a spouse supporting me. I’m putting everything on the line, and I’m responsible for a child,” she says. “I’m going to do everything possible to make that work.”
But being a single mother wasn’t Atwood’s only problem. She’s also a coder. With all the recent efforts from Google, Square, and other organizations to get young girls interested in coding, it’s hard to imagine Atwood’s ability to code was a drawback when she was trying to get funded. And yet, she says, when she told her investors she had built SupportPay herself, they repeatedly doubted her. “No one believed me,” Atwood says.
Once, an associate at a venture capital firm even gave Atwood a bit of advice after turning her down for funding. “Hire a young guy in a hoodie,” he said. “I laughed,” Atwood remembers. “Then I said: ‘That’s a great point, but the reason why there’s no solution on the market today is because this isn’t a 21-year-old-kid-in-a-hoodie problem.’”
Luckily for Atwood, after about nine months of getting questioned on everything from her ability to run a business as a single mom to her blonde hair—one investor claimed brunettes are taken more seriously—Atwood landed $1.1 million in funding from several top angel investors, including Draper Associates, Broadway Angels, and Marc Benioff. “They got it,” she says. “They saw that my being a woman and my age was an asset.”
There’s good news in the article too, no doubt. But here’s the way forward:
Minshew says it’s been “heartening” to see men in the tech community listen to women’s stories and begin to talk about the problem themselves. That, she says, may be the first step toward real change. “Years ago, you could say really horrible, racist things, and people who didn’t agree would stay quiet because that was the time we were in. Now, we’re in a time where someone says something horribly racist, and other people say: ‘Shit, I can’t believe you just said that,’” Minshew explains. “My hope is we’re moving toward a world in which if one partner at a VC firm knows another partner is behaving inappropriately with female entrepreneurs, it’ll be the same sort of shock and outrage. It’ll be unacceptable.
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