Should the retrospective ideas, advice, and wisdom of a dying person be heeded and followed in our own lives? That is, if a dying person wishes they would have lived in a different way, or says that certain things were the most valuable, should we follow this advice, and even change our lives to suit?

To add to my colleague’s excellent comment, one might think that, for manyof us at least, dying is such a stressful time--with respect to health,emotionality, family dynamics, etc.--that a dying person is in a relativelypoor position to form and communicate considered wisdom about life. To be sure, for some the perspective of one's imminent death might be usefuland constructive (as, for example, Hegel asserts when he defends the ethicalutility of warfare), but I suspect that popular culture tends to exaggeratethis possibility.

'Zoophiles', as they call themselves, often claim that committing sexual acts with animals is okay because animals are capable of consenting, either by sexual displays (lifting tails, humping hapless human legs, etc), or by not biting/fighting back, or by allowing the human access to them, so to speak. The problem I have with this is that an animal can't attribute the same idea to sex as a human can - for a human sex may be bound up with love and other types of emotions where by and large for animals it is another biological duty. In my opinion that would mean that there is no real consent between an animal and a human because the two are essentially contemplating a different act. Am I missing something here? And is there any validity in the idea that it is wrong to engage in sex with animals because for most humans it is intuitively wrong? If it doesn't really harm anyone - if the animal is unscathed - does that make the whole argument pointless?

This question raises interesting issues about animal cognition. I tend totake a rather hard line on this—a view similar to one held by the stoics and bythe contemporary philosopher Donald Davidson---according to which (non-human)animal cognition is so different from human cognition that animals cannot give thesort of consent that humans use to justify their sexual interaction. So, my own answer to your question is this: If it is morally wrong to interactsexually interact non-human animals without consent, then this sexual contactis always wrong because that sort of consent is impossible to obtain. I suppose one who shared my view of animal cognition could take a hardline on this and say that it is morally acceptable to use non-human animals assexual objects for human pleasure, but I would disagree -- at the very leastKant is right that treating animals as ends is wrong because it tends to leadto cruel treatment of humans, and it is probably true that animals are worthyof much stronger moral...

Is it, in general, better to take actions that could be described (variably, according to your moral temper) as sinful, or wrong, or regrettable, "in your stride", rather than feel guilt if it is the case that guilt will not diminish the probability of its happening again? Is guilt something irrational in the sense that we would really be better to (i) rid ourselves of it (ii) discourage aspects of the upbringing of children which conditions this response in them, so long as there are other ways to disincentivize harmful behaviour?

With respect to your own bad acts, isn't guilt often useful precisely because it can diminish the probability of you acting in that way in the future? So, I think the general answer is that you should take seriously the power of appropriate guilt. With respect to responding to bad actions performed by others, the best general answer is probably something uninteresting like "strive to respond to wrong in ways that are as rational and constructive as possible," and figuring out how to do that has everything to do with the specifics of the situations you confront. Douglas Walton's work on critical thinking is useful here, I think -- he adopts an interesting dialogical approach that focuses on understand the exact "contexts of dialgoue" of the most challenging and important situations we face and then provides concepts and tools that help make it easier to understand exactly what you need to do to respond to challenges in a a rational, constructive manner. (I especially like Walton's survey text, ...

What exactly is the moral/ethical problem with a professional athlete taking performance enhancing drugs? I'm talking about a talented professional who carefully weighs the known risks and side effects of such drugs and decides their use is necessary for him/her in order to be competitive in their sport. Shouldn't this just be a personal decision? Aspiring beauty queens are allowed to get plastic surgery, and athletes are allowed to get "corrective" laser eye surgery (significantly improving their perfectly normal distance vision)...

I agree with Aaron that a central reason why taking performance enhancing drugs is wrong is that this action violates existing rules and so undermines standards of fairness that are so important to sport and to the enjoyment of sport by others. With respect to the content of these rules, I imagine that an historian of sports would have an interesting story to tell about the differing conceptions of competition that have been in place at various times and places, and I would bet that "fair sport" in the past has encompassed a variety of personal risks by athletes and many approaches for maximizing athletic skill and achievement. One could certainly imagine ethical defenses of rules and practices that admit more risk than our current rules--reducing harm is an ethical basis for those rules, but need not be the only basis for constructing rules about sport.

Why is Utilitarianism rubbish? We are supposed to do an action which will create a net increase of welfare - how are we to judge if a particular action will increase welfare? If we are forced to make this decision, do we not have to rely on some 'internal moral' or integrities that we might hold, therefore making it quite impossible to judge correctly what will increase the general happiness? And doesn't utilitarianism require us to act as machines, not bothering about what we feel?

The the idea of caring about others' welfare is not rubbish, and reflecting on the consequences of our actions and thinking hard about ways that I can benefit connects to some of my deeply-held feelings about how I want to behave. I think it is also too strong to say that utilitarianism is rubbish as an ethical theory: we can learn a lot by exploring and assessing theories that address crucual issues even in a flawed way. That said, utilitarianism is severely flawed. I think the most important problems include the difficulty of defining welfare, of measuring it, and of making accurate and specific predictions about the consequences of our behavior. Other panelists can say much more, I'm sure, but in my opinion no satisfactory resolution to these problems is in sight.