sylvar: (Default)
Famine, Affluence, and Morality (1972), by Peter Singer, makes an ethical case for a duty to help the poor.

Lifeboat Ethics: the Case Against Helping the Poor (1974), by Garrett Hardin, is an interesting counterpoint.

If you have an opinion about it either way, why not read both articles and see another perspective?
sylvar: (Default)
Ethicists have come up with striking thought experiments in order to explore various aspects of common questions. Judith Jarvis Thomson's "A Defense of Abortion" (1971) suggested that if you had been kidnapped by music lovers so that your kidneys and your uniquely compatible blood type could sustain a famous violinist through a nine-month course of treatment, it would be permissible to disconnect (and thereby doom) the violinist if you didn't feel like spending the next nine months of your life in a hospital bed.

This is just one example, but I thought that it would be interesting to let a player work through some of these examples with guidance from certain ethicists. I've taken a tentative first step in creating such a work of interactive fiction:

Inform 7 code looks remarkably like English, so you'll probably understand this... )

The bulk of the work is handling conversations with these guides, perhaps in a way similar to Emily Short's Glass (a reworking of the Cinderella story). I want the player to be able to ASK KANT WHAT I SHOULD DO, or ASK MILL ABOUT MY FREEDOM, and ultimately to TELL THE NURSE I WANT TO STAY or TELL THE NURSE TO DISCONNECT THE VIOLINIST. That would end the scene, perhaps leading the player into the Trolley Problem, or (ultimately) into a debriefing room in which an ethicist explains what kind of ethics best matches the decisions the player has made in all these scenes.

I doubt I'll spend much time on this, but I'm just putting it out there for the hell of it.

Hoo boy.

Jan. 5th, 2007 09:45 am
sylvar: (PUTV: No Easy Answers)
This article will probably get a few people angry.

It's about a 9-year-old girl with a mental age of about three months.  Her parents have convinced doctors to surgically alter her to keep her a child forever.

Hmm.  Forced eternal childhood... doesn't sound pretty to me.  Though I suppose at least the girl in the real-life case lacks the ability to understand her situation.
sylvar: (Default)
...and now I'm awake again, and already wondering what kind of work has been done on this sort of thing.

What kinds of altering one's consciousness do we have moral permission for?  Would a neurotypical person have the moral right to use memory-enhancing drugs?  Would a person with a mental illness have the moral right to use 'corrective' (antipsychotic, antidepressive, etc.) drugs?  For that matter, would a person with a mental illness have some duty to use corrective drugs?  Is there a right and/or duty to use psychedelics?  What about the moral right to use memory-suppressing drugs following a traumatic experience?  Does it matter whether one hacks his own brain for the purpose of entertainment rather than success or service to humanity?  Does it matter whether one alters or extends one's cognitive functions by nanotechnology, chemical supplements, or simply reading thought-provoking books?

If I were to get into philosophy on my own, I think this would be an area of interest.  I'll have to come up with a suitably outrageous scenario to illustrate the topic, of course.  Perhaps a society of music lovers has kidnapped a great violinist and wishes to force her to take experimental but effective drugs that will make her into the greatest violinist that the world has ever known, for the purpose of benefiting humanity by creating transcendently beautiful recordings that will stimulate a new burst of interest in the fine arts.  Would she have the moral right to refuse to do so?  Later, when she had been released, if she reconsidered the idea, would she have the moral right to take the same drugs?  What if the motive were merely to profit by selling the recordings?
sylvar: (Me: Caricature)
Jodi was explaining to me this evening that ethicists find fault in Kant's categorical imperative, the first formulation of which is (if I'm paraphrasing correctly) that you should act in a way in which you can will everyone else to act. The problem, they say, is that Kant forbids lying because nobody really wants to live in a world in which everyone lies.

This prohibition on lying, they say, fails a common-sense thought experiment. If you were hiding a family from Nazis (it's always Nazis with these people), and you answered the door to find an SS officer who asks you if you know where the family are, most people would say that it's right to lie in this circumstance, whereas Kant would identify the act as lying and conclude that it's wrong to lie.

But I think this analysis misframes the scenario. There's no reason to focus on how well your answer to the SS officer corresponds with fact, or with your best knowledge of fact (whether or not you are lying). I would call this action "working to stop a genocide" (in a broad sense), or "preventing murder" (in a more specific sense), and I can easily will that everyone would act in these ways.

I suppose I'm not the first to think of this defense, but I'd love to hear from anyone who has some idea about Kant. Am I being reasonable here?
sylvar: (Ignatius J. Reilly)

Questionable Buyer #1

Q:
Hello, I would like to know if you sell all seven sticks of ram with buy it now? If so what would be your total price including shipping? Thanks for your time, Steve
A:
That would be unfair to the people who have put in honest bids for the memory. Join them in bidding and if you win all seven sticks, I won't charge you any shipping at all. That offer is open to anyone.

Questionable Buyer #2

Q:
Hi, I'm based in Italy, please, can you ship via USPS as a gift with $20 of value?
(We're talking about ten 36GB U320 SCSI drives here. Not exactly a $20 gift.)
A:
That would be dishonest and illegal. I am a man of honor, so I cannot help you lie to your country.
Q:
(sent privately)
what have I ever done to make you treat me so disrespectfully? ... In my country shipping as a gift with $20 value is not illegal.
A:
You're so full of shit, you stink.
(or at least that's what I'd say if I weren't planning to ignore him)
sylvar: (emu)
Which Dumas character are you? )

(Note: I had to alter the layout of this quiz result a bit. I also corrected the spelling of two characters' names. Did Dumas père ever write about a nitpicking geek?)

November 2010

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