Advanced Search

I am an undergraduate student who is interested in attending medical school. My primary reason for wanting to work in the medical field is to improve access to medical care in underserved further along my career path. However, attending medical school costs quite a bit. While I am fortunate enough to likely be able to pay for med school without crippling debt, I can't help but think that the money going towards my education could go towards better causes, such as improving infrastructure in rural, underserved communities and improving vaccination rates. Would the most moral option here be to donate money going towards my education to these causes or to go to medical school and use my education to improve access to healthcare in underserved populations?

This is a beautiful question--unanswerable, of course, in any substantive/concrete/objective way. One of the many reasons why it is unanswerable is that even if you are implicitly using some rubric (such as utilitarianism--what will maximize happiness, goodness, etc.), you have no solid way of quantifying the terms. How to weigh donating $100K (say) toward cancer research v. toward your medical education? What if the $100K of research fails to produce anything useful? What if (God forbid) you die on the day you received your MD, thus can't put the education to use? How much good, exactly, is done, by building some infrastructure in rural places? But I think hinted at in your question is perhaps some concern that in spending the money on your education you are somehow wrongly being "selfish." To that I would offer just a couple of thoughts. (1) Being concerned about your own interests and welfare is not automatically a moral wrong. (2) Given how you describe the scenario, it's clear that your own...

If you're a pilot who drops a nuclear bomb on a city, do you have any moral responsibility for the action?

Why wouldn't you? If having moral responsibility requires (say) being free, you surely are free about whether to do this act -- whether to join the air force, whether to participate in this mission. Perhaps there are degrees of compulsion in play: you were drafted (faced jail if you resisted), you were assigned the mission (faced punishment if you refused). But still: you are free (we assume) to choose the punishment over the action. Perhaps the punishment is so severe that we decide you have no reasonable choice--and we require having reasonable alternatives for an action to be free--ok then: perhaps in that circumstance you might argue the pilot has no moral responsibility here. But even then, the action itself is so extreme (presumably producing the deaths of thousands or millions), we might hold the standard very high: hold the individual responsible even for accepting an extreme punishment before doing such a heinous action. (I'm assuming of course the pilot does not want to do the mission; and we...

Many people think of corporations as essentially amoral. By its very nature, they say, a corporation only seeks to deliver value to its shareholders. It's a category mistake to criticize corporations for acting immorally, since this misunderstands their purpose. To the extent that we are concerned to ensure that corporations act morally, that is the purview of lawmakers and regulators, not the corporations themselves. As long as corporations act legally, they are beyond reproach. I was wondering if the panel had any remarks about this. It strikes me as a perverse conflation of what corporations tend to do, or what they have incentive to do, and what they ought to do. I see no reason not to view corporations as moral actors in more or less the same way as ordinary people.

A great question/topic. I'll offer no particular insight except to add to it an additional question: what reasons are there, if any, to distinguish the moral responsibility of corporations from that of individuals in the first place? As candidate Mitt Romney put it a few years back, corporations ARE people, they're made up of people, their decisions are decisions that people take, ontologically they are presumably reducible to people (don't think Romney would put it that way!)--so why even introduce the idea of a 'corporation' as any sort of morally relevant entity distinguishable from the individuals who (say) make the decisions for the corporation? .... This in turn raises the very interesting question of whether groups of individuals might have decision-making processes that are different in nature from (say) individuals acting alone, and whether those differences are morally relevant ... We may (eg) recognize morally relevant influences on individuals who are acting within or as part of a group v...

Does a stereotype need to be largely false to be objectionable? Many people seem to think so, as when they respond to criticism of stereotypes by replying, "Some stereotypes exist for a reason."

"Largely false" is an interesting phrase -- and there are several different things one might mean by a stereotype, and it's being "true" or "somewhat/largely" true ... plus there are different sorts of "offenses" one may commit when using stereotypes -- but to be brief: Let's assume some stereotype is largely true, i.e. true of many/most of the members of the relevant category. One might still proceed objectionably when using that stereotype simply for assuming that what's true of many/most is in fact true of all. Indeed, we sometimes say that fail to treat an individual with appropriate respect when you simply classify that individual as a member of some category and are disinterested in the particular details that might characterize that individual. So even if the stereotype is true of that individual, it may still be wrong to ASSUME it is true of that individual; and all the more so if it turns out the stereotype is not true of that individual. So a short answer to your excellent question is no: even ...

I just watched the movie "Interstellar," in which the heroes try to begin a colony on another planet in order that the human race survive. Is there any compelling reason to do something like this? To be clear, as far as the heroes know, everyone who is currently alive on earth will die. The point is not to save those people, but only to see that there are future generations of humans that live after them. I can see that we have reasons to save actual, living people--they're capable of suffering, they have various interests, and so on--but those reasons don't apply to the hypothetical inhabitants of a future colony. Why should we care that humanity survive this larger sense?

great question! What I might say is ask your genes (a la "selfish gene", by Richard Dawkins). our DNA seems to have built into us this force for survival, if only for the sake of our DNA ... But that of course doesn't answer your question, b/c that perhaps descriptive account of where our 'instinct' for survival/continuation might come from doesn't address the normative question of why we should care or whether we should pursue that end. Those who attempt to collapse normatively via evolution might say that's all the answer we need -- but those who don't won't be satisfied. From my perspective I agree with what seems to be your own intuition -- no good reason why we should care. Indeed, the same question can be raised more immediately: why should we care about having our own children? Of course for many having/raising children helps give their lives a sense of meaning, but that's a very selfish reason -- you have children b/c it makes your life better, but that is not looking out for the children...

Is murder illegal because its wrong? Or is murder wrong because its illegal?

a great question -- a deep one, and an old one -- basically grounded in the classic theistic question addressed by Plato (in Euthyphro) and many others since -- does God command us not to do things (such as murder) because they're wrong, or are they wrong (simply) because God commands us not to do them ... Stephen's response is excellent, but I'll offer another angle. Re the first half -- is murder illegal b/c it's wrong -- no doubt those legislators who have illegalized murder are at least partly (maybe primarily/exclusively) motivated by its wrongness (that's the sociological/empirical question) -- but presumably your question is meant to be more general, i.e. not merely restricted to murder, whose 'wrongness' most everyone can agree to (though not everyone). If you were to ask 'of all those things that are illegal, are they illegal b/c they are wrong?' surely for many/most of them the answer would be 'no.' It's illegal to go through a red light, not b/c going thru red lights is morally wrong but b/c...

If animals have feelings then isn't that enough reason not to kill them for food? Some would say that self awareness is required. Why would that be relevant? Could the idea that a creature without self awareness lacks a unified state of being over time be a reason? They just sort of exist one moment to the next. Death for them would no different than the passage of time. But then how can mere concepts of self awareness have such an ontological significance? Much of their experience probably or may not be especially pleasurable and many wouldn't exist in the first place if they weren't bred to be eaten. I wonder if the inability of most people to form a moral opinion opposed to animal eating shows something dreadful about the human condition. Here I am sitting and eating meat while asking these questions in the abstract while I've never had the willpower to go vegetarian for any extended period just in case my fears about meat eating are right.

Terrific question, and I completely share your intuitions (not to mention your weak-willedness....). If pain or suffering are somehow intrinsically 'bad', then it must be right that killing animals is bad (assuming that involves inflicting pain, of course). Or more precisely, causing that pain without having some more compelling overriding reason is bad (and presumably we don't with respect to animals for food -- since human beings can live without meat, and even live well -- and indeed many argue that, economically, meat-eating causes horrible suffering all over the globe etc.) My guess is that those who might invoke 'self-awareness' as a justification for meat-eating -- who must merely presume that animals lack it, by the way; hard to know! -- are perhaps thinking that having self-awareness increases the degree of suffering of the animal. after all, knowing you are about to die, to be killed, along with some idea that the process will be unpleasant, indeed increases the suffering (and empirically it...

Utilitarianistically speaking, is there any difference between forced population transfer and ethnic cleansing?

I think the question is far too ill-defined to answer meaningfully. in some ways the two activities might be identical (if, say, the population you're transferring is all the members of some undesired ethnic group). Or of course one can ethnic cleanse w/o transferring (for example by genocide), so they're not identical -- but then (presumably) some kind of utilitarian would hold that transferring is 'better' than that form of ethnic cleansing at least (though how you calculate utility when mass death is involved is far from clear). On the other hand if you add up the increased utility of the (presumably evil) people DOING the cleansing, then it may turn out that ethnic cleansing of the genocidal sort is better than forced transfer. And when it comes to 'forced transfer' there are many different possible scenarios -- lots (millions, i think?) of refugees were transferred after WW2, and while it sounds horrible it may well have resulted in greater overall utility for the transferees once people are...

Should people have an expectation of privacy with regards to things they do in public? For instance, do I have the right to expect that conversations I hold in public places are not recorded, or that my shopping trips are not be tracked then and posted online?

Good questions. But it's hard to imagine that we have (or 'should' have) rights as specific as these except in the sense that we reach some sort of societal consensus about them -- so I might rephrase the question as 'would we have a better society overall if we granted such rights than if we don't?' Since (in my initial thoughts on answering the question so phrased) we have almost no way of enforcing such rules, and we now live in the age of everyone recording everything, and since there are at least some benefits to being in this age, and since younger folks in particular are growing up without anything like the expectation of privacy older folks once were used to, we may as well give up on such rights -- and reserve the right to privacy to private places (where it's already hard enough to enforce, given e veryone's interconnectedness etc.) .... hope that's useful! ap
Good questions. But it's hard to imagine that we have (or 'should' have) rights as specific as these except in the sense that we reach some sort of societal consensus about them -- so I might rephrase the question as 'would we have a better society overall if we granted such rights than if we don't?' Since (in my initial thoughts on answering the question so phrased) we have almost no way of enforcing such rules, and we now live in the age of everyone recording everything, and since there are at least some benefits to being in this age, and since younger folks in particular are growing up without anything like the expectation of privacy older folks once were used to, we may as well give up on such rights -- and reserve the right to privacy to private places (where it's already hard enough to enforce, given e veryone's interconnectedness etc.) .... hope that's useful! ap

Is it hypocritical for prostitution to be legal but pimping to be illegal?

Hm, I think you mean "inconsistent" rather than "hypocritical" here ... but anyway -- but one quick "no" answer might be generated by this line of thought: if by "non-pimping prostitution" you have in mind the idea of an adult individual freely choosing to sell himself/herself for sex, then basic libertarian principles seem to support it. That is, whatever your view of the morality of doing that is, if we accept the idea that adults should be free to make their own choices etc., one might see nothing wrong about prostitution and argue that it shouldn't be illegal. But if by "pimping" you have in mind the stereotypic situation of one person controlling or manipulating another - the pimp controls and compels the prostitute -- then that clearly would be objectionable on basic libertarian grounds, so one could argue for its illegality .... (A third case might be this: a prostitute and a pimp enter into some free business arrangement --- no compulsion etc. -- so in that case perhaps both should be legal .......

Pages