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This is a time when overpopulation is a growing problem. It seems that there is no slowing down of procreation even though people are aware of the problem. At the rate it is going I see that it will result in Authorities having to take drastic action to sustain the human race. Any decision they make will be unfair in some way. I wonder whether it would be right to stop trying to cure terminal illnesses such as Cancer and AIDS (as they seem an unbias/fair population control system). On the one hand it would be better for the future of mankind and yet it seems unjust to let people die when we can help them. Where does this issue stand with ethics? as it seems both moral and immoral.

Letting terminally ill people die will do little to slow population growth because the vast majority of these people are not going to have (additional) children anyway. But there are other solutions that would actually work. You write that there seems to be no slowing of procreation. This is quite false. Total fertility rates (average number of children per woman) have fallen spectacularly since 1955 ... but only in countries and regions where poverty has been meaningfully reduced. For example, the TFR of East Asia fell from 5.42 to 1.72 (below the rate of reproduction) -- and East Asia is the most populous region on Earth. So this is highly significant. There were large drops also in Portugal, Australia, Botswana, Italy, and so on. Where poverty persists, on the other hand, so do high TFRs. Many African states are good examples of this. Niger's TFR has increased from 6.86 to 7.15, and other high-poverty countries (Mali, Senegal, Equatorial Guinea) are not far behind. The evidence is overwhelming,...

Is it legitimate to talk about "society" as an agent, when "society" is neither a cohesive unit nor a uniform set?

I share your qualms in regard to common formulations about how society approves of this and condemns that. But most societies have some fairly determinate decision procedures that can result in collective decisions and actions, as when Danish society does not recognize polygamous marriages. In cases of this kind, a society can be said to act: to decide to recognize same-sex marriages, to declare war, to ban the use of pesticides. Saying this makes sense when there is a decision procedure which is widely recognized within the society and whose decisions are effectively enforced (insofar as they are not voluntarily complied with).

Why aren't more philosophers involved in discussions and policy on global warming? It is a desperate issue to be addressed and regardless of the philosophical stance in regard to it (i.e. moral skepticism), moral reasons and moral knowledge motivate action in a profound way! I do not think that much progress can be made towards addressing global warming unless the moral seriousness of the matter becomes clear to people and our unjustified indifference is slashed. The culture and spirit of the time should inspire philosophy, just as the excessive violence inspired Descartes in his skeptical exploits. If philosophers, whose reason is supposed to be strong to say the least don't get very involved, who should? I'm sure that this is a bit outlandish, but under what current conditions does a philosopher not have an obligation to get involved? Also, this would be a nice way to reconnect philosophy to the world, especially since a lot of its progress is connected to the insights of philosophy and reason.

I don't know about other philosophers, but their reluctance may be motivated by thoughts such as those Gerald Gaus expresses in his essay "Should Philosophers Apply Ethics?" in Think (2005), pp. 63-67, available at http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayJournal?jid=THI&tab=mostdownloaded I am involved in a new organization called ASAP -- Academics Stand Against Poverty -- which (in a soon-to-be-posted essay) has examined and argued against Gaus's arguments and is now very actively doing the kinds of things that Gaus warns against. You can find some relevant material on our website www.academicsstand.org . You will there also find that one of our current projects is "Climate Voices", a project that focuses on global warming and its effects on people whose home environment is made uninhabitable thereby. This project is, by the way, essentially run by students.

Can a nation have an official religion and be a democracy?

I would consider Norway and the UK to be examples of this. Here the fundamental equality of citizens is not seriously undermined because the role of the state religion is largely ceremonial. In other countries, of course, citizens who do not share the state religion suffer severe discrimination which can be grave enough to defeat, by itself, the claim that the state in question is democratic. It makes sense here to think of "being a democracy" as a matter of degree. Most of the states we call democracies fail fully to live up to democratic principles in one way or another. Having a state religion is a shortfall, but can be a relatively minor one if any resulting discrimination is not too severe.

Are there any ethical considerations when it comes to helping or harming representations of human beings, such as lifelike dolls, video game characters, images, or humanoid robots? Does one have a duty to help a video game character in need? Should one refrain from punching lifelike dolls for fun?

I don't see any moral reasons to help or protect such entities, which have no interests of their own that might be set back by being shot or stabbed on screen (video game characters and images) or in the real world (lifelike dolls and humanoid robots). But there are moral reasons to refrain from "hurting" such entities (e.g., punching lifelike dolls for fun): each of us presumably has better things to do by way of improving oneself or the world around us.

Is the obligation to behave ethically itself an ethical obligation? If not, what kind of obligation is it? It certainly doesn't seem logically necessary to behave ethically, since people do it all the time without becoming entwined in reality-shattering logical paradoxes, (although perhaps one could argue that people behaving unethically are, in a sense, schizophrenic...), and it isn't an explicit legal obligation, either.

I don't think it makes sense to say that there are meta-duties of the sort you contemplate. The duty to fulfill the duty to help children in need is nothing over and above the duty to help children in need. And the broader duty to fulfill one's moral duties is nothing over and above those moral duties. Still, there are other meta-duties, esp. the duty to work out what one's moral duties are and the duty to fortify one's disposition to act as one's moral duties require. These are simply additional moral duties -- and ones that presumably any plausible morality would postulate.

It seems to me that Kant's categorical imperative implies that we all have a duty to procreate. Is this actually the case? I say this because it seems that any person choosing not having children would be forced to admit that, if their behavior was made a universal law, society would collapse, with a slowly aging and ailing population and nobody to take care of them. Society would die out, and the last generation before the end would be helpless geriatrics suffering the problems of old age with nobody younger to look after them. So do Kantian ethics actually demand that we have children? Or is there a subtler way of looking at the issue?

I used exactly this example in an essay published over 20 years ago as one of the arguments in support of a more subtle interpretation that had been first proposed by Tim Scanlon. On this reading, it is the permission one is claiming for oneself that is to be universalized. So instead of asking whether one can will that all people act on one's maxim of remaining childless, one is to ask instead whether one can will that all people be permitted to remain childless. In the world as it is, we can certainly will this universal permission (because enough others would decide to conceive even without a duty to do so), and therefore each of us is permitted to act on the maxim in question.

Could there (is it conceivable/possible) be an alternate reality/universe (a rich complex universe) which was such that mathematics could not provide any (or say very little) description of it?

Why not? We can conceive a nice large space filled with moving matter, all as in our universe, except that the laws of nature vary randomly in space and time -- which is really to say that there are no laws of nature. You could still use geometry to describe the trajectories of objects, but you could not simplify these descriptions with general formulas that cover, say, the force that objects exert on one another. Nor of course could you project any descriptions into the future (predict what will happen) nor even describe with any accuracy what is happening elsewhere or what was happening in the past (because you would have no firm ground for reasoning backward from the data you have to their origins). So it seems that we can conceive such a world. But whether a cognitive subject could have experience of such a world, could hold it together in one mind, that's another question, one that is very interestingly examined in Kant's Critique of Pure Reason .

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