Taking a Break

Hi Ethic Nutters,

After 8 years of posting on a nearly continuous monthly basis, I’ve decided to take a bit of a break for at least one year.

When I started this blog in 2014 it was simply something to add to my portfolio to show prospective employers. Since that time, however, the internet traffic driven to my blog has led to a number of posts of mine landing in the top spot or first page on Google searches. Some notable search results I want to share include:

ethics of greed

intrinsic good pleasure

mirror representation

imposing values

ethic dax cowart

subject of a life

vulgar relativism

should rules always be obeyed

It has been great seeing all the visitors each day from all over the world and I intend to write again after this break.

Thank you for your interest in my writing.


Ethics of War – Panel Discussion

Hi Ethic Nutters,

Just found this panel discussion on YouTube. It’s a great discussion on a range of topics within the Ethics of War. Exceptional panel members.



Vaccinate the World! Yes okay, thank you.

Hello Ethic Nutters,

Here is a news clip I would like to comment on. Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tiziwzEupbY

As the pandemic now enters a new phase with the Omicron variant, many are still asking the question: Why can developed nations vaccinate their citizens with a third dose, when many in the developing have not received their first dose?

I have seen videos where very prominent Ethicists will state the answer is to vaccinate the world as though this declaration is an achievement in coming to a solution that has baffled others. As though it were, as I’ve mentioned elsewhere, an excited grade 1 student answering the teacher’s question with a response that is good for a simple understanding, but of course not perhaps the most realistic and practical.

Everyone wants the world vaccinated. Indeed that is the global effort. I think those with level heads realize however that it cannot be done in a manner of a few weeks. We cannot scale up the massive vaccination programs in individual countries to a global level. Many countries, as the video highlights with reference to another news story, do not have the capacity to vaccinate everyone. That is not a matter of ethics and morality, but one of development. Not only do many nations face similar but in fact exacerbated scenarios such as the US, that are facing large groups and populations within it that resist vaccination, but they also lack the ability to resolve it in any fashion similar to developed world solutions. Those working in international development recognize rightly that the developing world lacks capacity and that it is the developing world that must work together with each other to develop their specific solutions.

Not surprisingly the line of thinking that vaccinating the entire world would simply entail replicating what the West is doing, truly, as always, is fundamentally devoid of any contextual understanding of the developing world. This cookie-cutter thinking will of course not work and barriers that exist comprised of unique cultural, historical, geographical realities will remain.

To say now that because people in the developing world do not have their first dose, although perhaps have been given enough supplies, those in the developed world e.g. Canada should wait is ludicrous. Wait to have a third dose until absolutely everyone in the entire world as a first? That would be a long wait if we just take populations in the United States.

A final comment which was the driving motivation for my post on Partiality although not specifically discussed is the following. We have moral duties to our fellow countrymen and women, that we simply do not have with everyone in the world. A Politician or local health authority, as an absolute moral duty, to provide the best care possible to those they govern than to those they do not. Although it is nice to think globally, we do not have responsibility for everyone on earth. That is imperialism and egotistical.

Failure Apathy: An Opinion

Why is it this beggar has been doing that for the last four years outside your downtown office? Why is it this person with a mental health condition has been diagnosed five times and been given three different medications to see what works. It is not because of the person involved whether that is the homeless person or the mental health sufferer, and to an extent it is not those helping but unsuccessfully. The problem is the programs and by and large societies failure apathy on whether these programs work or not.

Shelter system support programs that aim to get the individual back on their feet or off the streets, and mental health hospitals that are meant to return the individual to a normal life, manage to evade accountability in a way that is hard to compare. The number of people who have gone through their programs with no success sometimes repeatedly going through the latest designed program that will help however producing no meaningful change is too high. The problem is that these “latest” programs continue and are mysteriously hailed as effective. What is an acceptable success rate would be unacceptable for any other group. No one cares if these institutions fail these people and so they are simply not held accountable in a way nearly all others are.

What is taken as success is a shockingly low bar. In particular, those with mental health conditions should be utterly up in arms at the state of their treatment. How is it today by some calculations 80% of those with conditions such as schizophrenia do not work. This is not inclusive of volunteer work. Volunteer work and part-time employment that may pay minimum wage or just above, make up the bulk of the 20%. It seems clear that if this is taken as acceptable, those involved and society at large, have a deep failure apathy that translates in what those needing treatment understand as a clear failure of this part of the health care system is considered fine.

There are many complex problems that are solved if there is accountability for failure. When there is no accountability there is no cost for failure for those responsible for its solution. Rather the failure bares on those that are homeless and remain homeless for years, or the person who suffered a mental break and has now gone from one medication to the next with multiple diagnosis and yet no real change in their well-being. In these examples is it “up to the individual”? With no one wanting these conditions of being, it is impossible to say it is just for the individual to solve and nothing substantive can be done for them. Known to be successful and the right direction are programs that build up the individual, provide skills and addictions counselling. When they do not work however, is it the failure of the individual or those running the programs? It is clear it is those running the program and yet they escape accountability by shifting blame in subtle ways to the individual. This of course is entirely shameful as the individual involved is vulnerable and entirely powerless. Can he or she who has been on the street for four years turn around and say why have your programs failed me? No, they cannot. At least in no meaningful way. That must change.

Whether it is a homeless person who remains on the streets for a prolonged time i.e. several years, or a mental health sufferer who does not work and has been diagnosed multiple times and changed medication just as many, those who have been assigned to that person should not evade consequences for failure. They should not be allowed to shift blame to the individual involved, or simply state some vague claim that it was a complex case. Unfortunately, in reality there is failure apathy towards those assigned to these people. These vulnerable populations have no recourse to the abject failure of programs when they do not work. And many times they do not. Unless meaningful accountability mechanisms are put into place with real consequences that will push improvements forward, there will be no change. The homeless person or mental health sufferer must be able to turn around and say you failed me. That assertion must also carry weight to it and not be simply a talk or a note that is dismissed in their positions of privilege.

Conversation on Machiavellian Ethics and Governance by Harvey Mansfield

Hi Ethic Nutters,

YouTube suggested for me this following video by Bill Kristol with Harvey Mansfield.

It’s a facinating watch.

Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ot0yg5u9LHQ



Partiality: Morality with Humanity

At the core of morality as it is taught, there are two opposing ideas that are often in conflict and rarely in agreement. Those are whether decisions of ethics should be made partially or impartially. Partial moral thinking posits that once we have entered into a relationship, at least most, that relationship entails special duties. Special duties that we have to the person we are in a relationship with that we have to them because of that relationship, not because of an objective characteristic of the person. Impartial moral thinking posits that when making decisions of ethics, we are to treat everyone equally and count them, in an as of yet still absent calculator, as the same value. This is in an attempt to make ethics objective which I will share in this post has the result of making impartial approaches to morality and discussions of ethics cold and lacking of humanity.

I believe the rise of impartiality in morality was an attempt to make this school of thought appear objective through the use of logic as a foundation of reasoning. This however necessitated the abandonment of our emotional reasoning. We know however that a lot of good decisions, not all, but there are quite a few, that depend on our passions and emotional reasoning above cold logic. Indeed some of life biggest decisions lack logic and impartiality such as marriage, where to live, where to travel, and what your hobbies are through life. Not only do these decisions lack logic and impartiality, but if polled, it would be safe to assume many would not want logic or impartiality to play a role in these decisions. People’s decisions about marriage, where to live, travel, spend free-time, are made in a way that is correct through valid reasoning that is, however, partial at its core.

Special duties are not compelling merely because they fit so well with our intuitive reasoning, they are also universalizable. Often a rule to treat your close family above strangers, or fellow country men and women above those living on the other side of the world, can easily be made. Are there limits though to how much support and assistance we give under our special duties before supporting and coming to the aid of those who we do not share special duties towards? Professor Peter Singer via his Comparable Moral Significance Principle, chalks down the answer to the point where we are not sacrificing anything of comparable moral significance, i.e. if nothing of importance is lost. Partialists can see immediately, again, what is of comparable moral significance i.e. scales of importance, is arguable and therefore not factual in some objective sense, and set on stone. From this line of thinking there seems to be at least some wedge in the idea that full radical equality when making decisions about moral correctness must be central.

Along with the value of passions and emotions in ethical decision making, we additionally should recognize finally, that the calculations entrenched in moral thought are subjective. These are not objective in the sense of a science despite this desire from philosophers. The cold calculating logic that was used in an attempt to offer credibility in the past centuries does not hold today as objective in a true sense. A sense akin to a science. It was the push to turn moral reasoning into a science that led to calculations that first questioned whether we should treat strangers equal to family, and those in far off lands, the same as a fellow citizen of Canada, for example.

Impartiality eliminates reasons for decisions that are very valid using an assumption that the value of equality is objectively a basic good. But is equality always the best thing? It does not always hold true that equality is a universal base good that is prima facia true. Let us take an example of four brothers.

There is a family raising four brothers, Dan, Ryan, James, and Matt. Each brother is only a year or two apart and are being raised in as identical a fashion as could reasonable be achieved. The same schools are attended, the same courses taught, and the same teachers used. After graduating from their undergraduate degrees Dan decides to go into finance, Ryan decides to purse a law degree, James becomes a photographer, and Matt becomes a teacher. Their salaries when they start their careers vary greatly. While Dan and Ryan, after graduating from law school, earn over $100,000 annually, James who has been following his passion earns no more than $45,000 from various contracts with clients and a project he is pursuing individually. Matt’s income is about $65,000 annually. Each of them are happy although some colleagues of theirs are not.

From the example just shared, we can expect for many different options in life being presented to each of the four boys. Some of them will have possibilities that money can provide them, that the others do not. Should there be government intervention to equal these options that are available to only some of the brothers and not all? For instance, James cannot afford a house and has to rent. Matt despite earning a good income and enjoying his chosen profession, struggles to pay for child care. Dan’s high pressure job causes him to have a mental breakdown at 45 at which time he will have to go on disability and start a new career. There are many possibilities here from the most equal of “playing fields”. The act of making a choice that necessitates a deviation of equality cannot be prevented. This is true of all decisions. Furthermore, even in a state of full equality, the freedom to decide and be unique implies unequal states of living overtime. Should there be a constant readjustment? Few I think would suggest that. The act of making good choices, or at a minimum the freedom to make choices and enjoy the outcomes, must absolutely be paramount. Those brothers who are “ahead” are so only in the present and not necessarily forever. They are in no way responsible for the others that are “behind”. Why can we not treat people differently based on the decisions they have made in life? Do we not already? Attempts to achieve a utopia of continual equality cannot exist without the components that enable it. Those components are seen by many today as that which would led a hypothetical utopia to be in fact a nightmarish dystopia.

The above thinking, is merely to show that equality is not a base good in some objective prima facia truth. Nothing of what was said implies that we should not eliminate systemic discrimination, barriers to employment, and equality of freedoms and rights. It is to support the idea, that under morality, impartial calculations that treat everyone as equal widgets in some calculation is not as sturdy a foundation of ethics as one might think This is despite many having rested in arguing for it as a base position of morality. What impartialists do not seem to understand is that impartial calculations as a base position for moral thinking, does not include our human nature and our humanity. When used in moral deliberation it can at times be fundamentally seen as boarding on psychopathy and a cold calculating logic that involves human lives in a way that lacks emotion.

Instilling Values into AI

Hi Ethics Nutters,

Good morning.

There are two main concerns of mine today. The first is unregulated Genetic Engineering by foreign states. The second, is the values that AI will have and whose values they are that are instilled. A great article I’ve just found is by Ibo van de Poel titled, “Embedding Values in Artificial Intelligence (AI) Systems”.

Link: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11023-020-09537-4

This is not something that should be taken lightly and it speaks volumes to our understanding of ethics in how it will be applied to AI systems.

Even claims made in the article are frought with difficulty, such as claims that someone can value something that has no value. Whereas, many might say and myself included, that a claim such as something valued can actually have no value, is itself an imposition of a normative claim. It is the person who values an item or thing that gives it its value. An item or thing does not objectively hold value, which those claiming it either has or does not have somehow know its true nature better than others.

If one person or group does not value and item but one person does, that item has value. The individual has given it its value and to say it really has no value is simply an imposition of a majority, or worse educated minority. If we think value and ethics are objective, although I believe less and less do today, then we can create and instill a moral algorithm for AI that can be used by everyone. However, because there is a growing realization that value and ethics are actually a very subjective element of humanity, this is a radical hurdle in the implementation of AI across cultures, sub-cultures, and perhaps even within a homogenous culture that allows for differences of values and ethics within it, such as a liberalized system.

There is no way that an AI system widely used and not programmed by the individual to some extent, can escap a authoritarian application of morality. What is meant by programmed by the individual would merely be the selection options prior to a purchased systems start-up. This would allow for large normative legal decision to be implemented although allowing for the very necessary individualized nuanced details of what the person as the space to think is right and wrong.

The idea that we can program morality into AI for all, rests on the fallacy that morality is objective. It is not.



Good As We Are or Good As We Discover It

An interesting point of discussion I want to merely raise is whether we define Good from our default behaviour as humans, or is it something that we discover, something other than how we are naturally? Do we look around and govern using ethics as law on what is agreeable behaviour, or is ethics something which is discovered that is beyond our current way of being and exterior to human nature. The way in which these questions are answered rests largely with how morality is seen and whether it is intrinsically subjective or somehow objective and independent of ourselves. How it is answered bares greatly on how we are governed.

In the past, has it been true that we look around and determine what is best for human flourishing will be what is right and ethical and just? Was it through some guise of religious dogma used to govern for centuries that we came to understand morality as that which we find agreeable in what will make society prosper as social animals. Or is there legitimacy in divine natural law as being objective to our nature and that which raises us above the other animals.

Today, many atheists and agnostics would side with the use of morality as a way to govern and natural law simply being hocus pocus justifications. This seems to have increasingly wider acceptance as the reflective truth on what happened in the past. For the sake of intellectual discussion though, it is important to examine natural law theory and the notion that ethics and morality are objectively found through reasoning, and are external to our natural behaviours as social animals. This discovery through reasoning guides us to a better future existence than our current state of being.

If we assume that we discover what is Good through reasoning, the next question of course is whose reasoning? Can we arrogantly say that the reasoning of one individual is superior to that of another? Is there any objective determination that someone has become capable of reasoning to the degree that it is truth in some external way to our nature? Can there ever be anything external to our nature or is that a concept left behind in humankinds history? Those that are educated would arguably be positioned to reason in a way that is different than those who are not, however how that difference in logical reasoning merits greater understanding of a normative claim is unclear. There is a tendency to think that the reasoning performed after it has been structured by education is superior to an unstructured reasoning. However, this discrepancy itself is based on value statements, biased opinions, and other subjective elements that are used in a hierarchy of thoughts and opinions. Increasingly today, it seems that there has become a schism of what constitutes a valid opinion with education no longer being a defining determinant.

If we cannot assign individuals to reason “better” for others, does it mean that we no longer have direction? Does it mean that societies direction has become diffuse with societies path no longer a collective path but a selection of individualized options as if in a restaurant making the selection of the main course. Do liberalized nations offer this selection effectively and that being the distinguishing characteristic of itself from foreign authoritarian governing apparat. Is this fostering of liberalized selection, true recognition of the subjective nature of morality and the individuals right to autonomy and liberty? It seems so.

The subjective nature of morality is increasingly taken as a concedence of thought for moralities foundation. This is arguably the driving factor behind the rise of individual rights and freedoms with recognition of true equality among people respecting their values and opinions. Morality is not an objective fact to discover. It has always been a view by those wielding power on what is best for society to adhere to in daily life. A look back at history will show anyone that the application of moral law was not evenly applied and was done in part to benefit interests of those in power. How much that has changed is debatable with many likely saying not enough. In Western liberalized society today, the environment is rightly protected and nurtured for equality of rights and freedoms which in time will shift power increasingly from a few, perhaps a many few, to the individual.

Moral Belief as Fact in Moral Controversy

Hi Ethic Nutters,

Here is an interest article by Anne Zimmerman. It is interesting for a number of reasons, but what I think is important to note is the mention of moral beliefs as something which we take as factual rather than just opinions. I agree this is often how they are expressed and held, and that has interesting ramifications for resolving controversies and disputes.

Bioethics: Analyzing Reasoning in Moral Controversy by Anne Zimmerman – Link to article:




COVID Cappuccino Run: A Thought on Rationalized Social Disobedience

Throughout this terrible pandemic, I have stood patiently by outside my apartment building watching the world pass by as I stay within the guidelines of what is restricted and what is allowed. With all non-essential activities prohibited, that has meant I have only gone for groceries, to work, and for walks throughout the past now year and four months. The remainder of the time has been spent in my unit and just outside the front of the building. It is not a terrible thing to stay in I have found and it has become just my normal. However, while sitting outside my building staring at the coffee shop across from me I cannot help notice that throughout the pandemic essential somehow meant to many people you could still go for a Cappuccino run. This despite it clearly being anything but essential.

It’s very common to rationalize disobedience. From a young age those with siblings will say “Well Glen did it” thinking, therefore I can as well, if an action of disobedience is permitted. The wrongfulness is not understood if it is permitted by your brother or sister. In society, we must often restrict ourselves seeing people behave in ways that we know are wrong, however, are not reprimanded or disciplined in any meaningful way. Some of the time, we ourselves do not want to do that action, other times we would like to but have internal constraints that guide us not too. At times, we find those governing us sharing reasons why one person is permitted but not everyone.

With the COVID pandemic, early on it was known that to get through it we would all need to act in unison. Meaning half the population cannot go about living as though nothing was happening, while the other half isolate and take precautions. The reason for this was because it would spread from those thinking little of the risks to those who thought greatly of them. The Toronto experience during the second and especially third wave showed that there was a gradual sliding of obedience to public health mandates as more and more people saw others flaunting the restrictions such as making unnecessary trips. This of course was to great detriment with surely more than a few lives lost from those who did not heed the words of advice from the health officials. The disobedience that led to illness and increased spread, was rationalized in part by merely people seeing other people taking unnecessary risks such as nonessential trips to the coffee shop. It was then thought in a quasi-herd mentality that the risk is okay, despite advice to the contrary.

The rationalization to disobey public health guidelines came additionally from the simple fact that the disobedience to public health measures regarding what constituted essential was not in any manner enforced. There was no possibility of it. Therefore, as the pandemic continued and people saw increasingly not what was being asked of them but what was unrestricted in real terms the wrongfulness, the consequences, were not understood by the public. It is not the law or guidelines which are strict or harsh, but always the enforcement of it which is either strict or lacks. Where paper meets the outside world is where difference is made.

Many would say in response to the above, despite knowing and seeing people take unnecessary trips to coffee shops or unessential trips, that they continued steadfast with following the instructions.  We restrict ourselves when others are permitted or perhaps better put left to go unfettered. Others might argue they took all precautions they could and had to balance isolation with mental health. This rationalization to break from internal constraints, is deeply personal to the individual as they experienced the pandemic. Although early on as mentioned it was known there would have to be a vast public agreement to take precautions as asked, many realized after the first wave that as some have stated in the media, not everyone is on the same boat but rather simply experiencing the same storm.

As it could not be asked of someone working on location to take the same precautions as someone working entirely remotely, rationalizing disobedience for those forced to take greater risk in their daily lives was likely easy. For those who worked on location, it was not that they were seeing other people taking risk and therefore the wrongfulness not understood that led to their flaunting of rules. It may have been that the group of people taking daily risks were both desensitized to the risk and felt as part of a different group entirely from those working remotely. A group entitled to things others are not. Even those who enforce the law such as a police officer, or those who defend the law such as lawyers, along with all sorts of people who claim strict adherence to rules, will rationalize at times to themselves that they have earned leeway when the action being forbidden is wanted.

In terms of this pandemic, the treat people gave themselves was a quick trip to their favourite coffee shop, the only thing open. Perhaps with this thinking, it is a part of human nature to treat ourselves with some forms of disobedience. Strangely it seems that some forms of disobedience may at times be earned through strict adherence to rules forbidding it.