Posted on December 12, 2020
The idea that we should not harm one another, and certainly not ourselves, can arguably be said to be a universally accepted normative claim. Certainly we know that it can cause both negative physical and emotional effects depending on the type of harm experienced. It could be said that this normative claim is in fact the most basic root of our moral reasoning. We do not for example allow for robberies because of the harm, and we do not allow for physical violence and bullying because of the harm. In its antithesis, we promote actions that heal and help others and ourselves. There are examples however, where helping people result in a negative outcome, and harming people results in a positive outcome. What is it therefore, that we can say changes the moral correctness of doing no harm, and being benevolent. This short post shares some thoughts on the topic of when harm is okay and is not only allowed, but the right course of action to take.
“First, do no harm” is attributed to the Hippocratic Oath although is more clearly written in Of the Epidemics by Hippocrates. Today, it really means that when performing surgery, drawing blood, and similar medical procedures, the benefits must outweigh the harms. A difficult calculation at times with Clinical Research although arguably not so difficult in mainstream medicine. We know now what is done in hospitals is for the good for the patient and Bioethicists working at hospitals throughout the world ensure a degree of compliance to this normative statement. Stemming from this historic normative claim, we have the Bioethical Principle of Non-Maleficence, and indeed also a Principle of Beneficence. So not only should we avoid doing harm, but we should active seek to benefit those being treated. This I think is a good foundation for other fields of study when applying ethical standards is required. We can say for example to the Political Scientist, when you govern, do no harm and only seek to benefit those you serve.
So we know there is a long standing tradition in medicine, but also in religion and morality in general, that we should not harm other people, physical or emotional, and we know that it is important to seek to help people and be benevolent. Is there a difference though of allowing something harmful to happen and causing it? Put another way, am I doing no harm if I just allow for actions to continue that I know will cause harm, or must I intervene. And if I cause harm, is it always wrong. On the face of it, it is clear that there is culpability when harm is directly caused, but some argue that allowing it to happen is different and should be seen and analysed differently. I would agree. In fact there is a clear dichotomy between passive and active when we allow for something to happen, instead of causing it to happen. This does not mean that both cannot be held responsible and share important consequences (if considering this action happens within a legal system) although there seems to be an intuitive diminishing of responsibility when it is passive. Is this always the case? I would say no. The reason for this, is when an individual can easily intervene, however, decides maliciously not to. I am of the mind that the all-important factor is maliciousness. Both passively allowing something to harm someone, and actively doing so, is wrong only in so far as the harm is the intended goal. This is how we naturally arrive at the Principle of Double Effect.
If there is a good end that can be accomplished through minimal harm, and the good end outweighs the harm that is necessary, the Principle of Double Effect allows for us to take action and cause harm knowing that the aim is not the harm itself but is an effect of achieving the good end. A classic example is if a person is confronted with violence, many agree that that individual can cause harm, up to killing the aggressor, because they are taking action to achieve a good end, that being self-preservation. The Principle of Double Effect, is not just some theoretical construct to avoid moral culpability. It is a recognition that intentions matter, and that some good ends require a lesser harm to happen. It is not of consequence whether this lesser harm is allowed to happen, or is directly caused in achieving the good end, as the intention is non-malicious. The person who is not the one who initiated the events into action can rightly do harm to achieve a good end and resolve it. What is of importance in terms of the Principle of Double Effect, is the known need to assure the actions taken are proportionate.
Harm, therefore, is okay when it is done not as a primary action, but as a side-effect of attaining a good end. The way we weigh the good end with the harm is not a simple matter and is subjective. This fact, however, does not mean we can arbitrarily say without careful reasoning and inspection, that the good end outweighed the harm. Through debate, discourse, time, and agreement, we can weigh these good ends as a society and make solid judgements on whether a harm was justified and “okay”.
Posted on November 15, 2020
At the moment the globe is still wrestling with the novel coronavirus. There is now new found hope that the promise of a few vaccines that show efficacy in early analysis will come to fruition and life can return to a certain level of normalcy. Early on numerous Bioethicists were being consulted on the matter of triage, enforcing health measures onto populations, and even human challenge trials that have now been approved if only just one trial of this kind. In this short article, I would like to just share my thoughts and opinions on a few other elements beyond the classical Bioethical issues just mentioned. Those include to begin highlighting the widespread disparities in society that have long been known and its impact on health. Then I would like to comment on the widespread behaviour of citizens expressing racial hatred and discrimination to those of a visibly Asian descent, and its distinction from requesting national action from China to address its role in this pandemic. Before finishing, I will also comment on collective decision making and limitations on consequences for non-compliance. I will end with a look at the local provincial and municipal level and the question of blame for economic loss.
The global novel coronavirus pandemic has not only taken far too many lives, but it has also shined a bright light on economic disparity at nearly all levels of society and its toll on health outcomes. While it has always been argued that there is a relationship between low levels of income and illness, the pandemic as we now face it, is showing us a direct causal relationship. We know that those who rely on public transit, in blue collar workforces, and shared living arrangements, are being exposed at a greater rate, and therefore contracting COVID 19 more often. Those who own a motor vehicle, can work remotely, and can live independently or where the living arrangement has greater space for each occupant are far less exposed. It is an unashamed reminder of the interests of those in power, that two main bits of health advice to follow is to stay at home and work remotely and to distance yourself at all times by 2 meters. This is not an option for low paying jobs and requires for some expensive equipment, and the distancing is not possible on public transit or if you are the public facing component of a company. This type of messaging is harmful in a number of ways to those who cannot follow it. The first being an affirmation that their situations are not shared by those who govern, otherwise they clearly would not be made knowing the impossibility of it, and secondly, that their situation and voting voice, is not of a primary, perhaps even secondary, concern. Both of these facts result in a further distancing of the economically disadvantaged from the political establishments at nearly all levels of government.
As with all crisis, either man made or otherwise, there has been a psychological drive in some of the population to find an outlet for their anger at the situation. Unfortunately time and again that outlet is often of a group people who are of a minority population with minimal political power and involvement. As everyone has heard in the media from Public Service Announcements urging acceptance, and perhaps witnessing firsthand accounts of discrimination on Asian citizens, Asian Canadians are entirely wrongfully and illegally being discriminated against as an outlet for ignorant, hate filled, despicable portions of the population. The pandemic has truly shown the ugly side of humanity again, as discrimination and public verbal abuse, sometimes physical, of a scapegoat has reared its insidious head. Although recognizing this widespread hatred is entirely wrong, I do not think we should not ask of the Government of China to take measures that would mitigate a crisis such as this from happening again. For this, we can rightly demand cooperation with a multinational effort to understand the cause of the pandemic in Wuhan, China. This will allow for measures to be enacted that ensure to the highest degree possible, another pandemic of this scope does not happen again. The enactment of measures to ensure safety will not happen overnight, but it is essential that it does happen.
In the post-pandemic relationship between Canada and China, it is important to know whether China will be advancing relations with those in the West who do not cast blame on them as I believe they no doubt would be. It would be wise to use leverage from a relationship formed from this crisis, to apply pressure on causes such as human rights, which have long been no go areas for discussion with China but are yet of global importance for Canada and the West, as recognition allows for much needed moral clout. That clout is what allows for international actions for our interests to be taken.
An interesting faucet of the pandemic is with collective decision making and consequence, or lack thereof, for non-compliance. Throughout the response to this pandemic, health authorities have asked the population to follow certain guidelines which it is said will lead to the needed outcomes and a flattening of the curve whereby the capacity of hospitals are not overwhelmed. People at the ground level are frequently asked and expected to distance, wear masks, and wash hands. We can see why compliance of washing hands after opening a door is adhered to, similarly the wearing of a mask at an airport, for just one example, is something that we understand completely. The question that follows, quite naturally, is what stake do I have in being compliant? It is important to show benefit at the individual level for the outcome of the collective decision making to be harmonious. Not just that I am protecting some abstract senior citizen or vulnerable person. A healthy individual may say you are wrongfully imposing restrictions on me when I know full well what I should and should not do. This would indicate an independent decision making process which cannot be managed at the macro level. At the macro level there is an assumption of ignorance by the authorities that ask for adherence despite context. My opinion is that if one group of people show non-compliance, it is wrong to then impose on all people restrictions for their non-compliance. A bar that enforces complaint behaviour, and therefore has had no cases of COVID 19, should not be asked to shut down because a bar 15 km away did not care to follow the rules. It will always be true that a person should not bear responsibility for another’s fault. We are not unable in this time to enact specific closures due to non-compliance. A simple unit of enforcement officers would suffice.
On the matter of blame for loss of business, will, after the pandemic is over with the widespread administering of a vaccine, companies turn around and demand compensation for loss of business and mountains of debt? While the event of the pandemic was undoubtedly a natural disaster of sorts, lawsuits often stem from poor Government responses that leave those most affected at the curb. If it is seen as the number of people who lost their lives is low, it may bolster claims that the lockdowns were too heavy handed. On the other hand, if the number of people who lost their lives is high with restrictions, they can easily claim that the restrictions on them were unfair because it would have been the same regardless. As we have seen in Toronto with what bar owners and gym owners are claiming, essentially being unwarranted targeting. We can attempt to mitigate this risk, in the first scenario by strongly making assertions and comparisons with other localities in the United States or other countries where the outbreak was unhindered, and show what could have been. In the second scenario, it must be shown what that industry would have contributed to the case count and loss of life. This proves difficult in the example of the airline industry when no baseline information is available. It could rightly be said, they would have effectively mitigated the risk of spread, had they been given the chance. Few news stories if any, are the result of a plane ride turning into a “super spreader event” although airline travel continues albeit drastically reduced. Weddings as an example of many available, were known to be “super spreader events” yet allowed to continue. This could lead to the argument that the restrictions on certain industries were heavy handed, without just cause, and warrant a review and compensation due to the resulting necessity of mass layoffs and loss of revenue. The question will be how much the Government can insulate themselves from lawsuits that are of this nature which are bound to come forward. Planning it is undoubtedly sure has begun on both sides.
The above is just a few of my thoughts on this pandemic that is gripping the world today. Please take it as such.
Posted on October 10, 2020
Hi Ethic Nutters,
As you may already know, Jennifer A. Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier have won the Nobel Prize for their work discovering and developing the method of CRISPR-Cas9.
Posted on October 6, 2020
It is very common to hear in discussions on tolerance the phrase “I’m tolerant of everything except intolerance”. This is often proudly stated affirming the most progressive liberalism. But is it liberal?
I believe today such a view as tolerant of everything except intolerance is used primarily in normal discourse and media as a means to push aside, demonize, and invalidate those with a different opinion. Furthermore, that form of liberal intolerance to those who are said to be “intolerant” is detrimental to democracy, and peaceful communities. This rests upon the idea that those who are intolerant to one another cannot engage in meaningful discourse to resolve differences and that it is the resolving of differences which should be a core goal for communities and governments. Otherwise, the result is violence in the streets as we now see in America where both sides see the other, in ways, as intolerant. The need to use force in the form of violent protests to express an opinion shows that discourse as devolved.
At the core of the current strife on tolerance is holding very subjective beliefs and values as objective truths. There is no science that can point to whether someone should like or dislike another’s view on political and social matters. Social and Political scientists may disagree with that claim, wanting authority for their opinions, while biological, life, and physical scientists would agree, a person’s opinion is not an objective truth. Rather, a person’s opinion is built on differing social environments and experiences, formed largely in a way that reinforces and provides a sense of belonging to a community that they have chosen to follow. However, conflict arises when a person views their opinion as objective. When that is the case, often the person becomes less inclined to begin a dialogue with a different opinion on what should be put into policy. Instead attempts to teach and impose the “right” view that the person holds is the outcome.
The imposition of opinions and beliefs of the majority above those of the minority is a common story of power imbalances combined with a near fanatical desire at times to secure power to govern over populations. Opinions and beliefs have been imposed upon people who are not feasibly allowed to disagree through strict authoritarian legal structures. Additionally, great effort has been made to maintain agreement and a harmonious unity of opinions through subtle and ingrained propaganda campaigns both public and private that few can discern from advertising and public service announcements. It is not being said that these opinions and beliefs are harmful, merely that they are entrenched into societies each with the possibility of being entirely unique from one another. It is exceptionally difficult for those that are not tolerated to become accepted and enter the mainstream in the market places of opinion as it is now. When examined such market places of opinion including those in liberal democratic societies show intolerance to differences that fall outside of windows of the acceptable and jeopardizes freedom of expression and speech as a universal absolute right.
If we are not to jeopardize freedom of expression and speech, what obligations are there to be tolerant? We know that to not tolerate is to exclude from discussion, often push to the side, and ignore or worse criminalize. This is true of both those who are commonly said to be intolerant and those who are tolerant of everything except intolerance. A first obligation would be to accept that a person does not have authority on truth of opinion. This should immediately led to the understanding of why it is essential to listen rather than distance those with an opinion that differs. The second obligation is to listen to those with opinions that differ. It is only through listening to each other that progress can be made in terms of providing supportive needs and wants to a group other than the one a person belongs to, and ultimately foster progress towards a peaceful community. The third obligation is to build and foster an ongoing discourse among those who listen to each other with the aim that they then also understand the others opinion.
What if these obligations cannot be fulfilled? It is easy to accept the subjectivity of opinions although listening implies there is something to listen too. In addition, discourse implies that the other agrees to dialogue and is listening to a persons opinion in similar extent as the listener is of theirs. When the elements to meet these obligations are not present, effort should be made to bring the other into a state where it is desirable to voice an opinion, to listen, and to enter dialogue. Bringing about this state is not a necessity but it is beneficial. While it cannot be said all measure to create this state is warranted, great effort should be made to do so, recognizing its contribution to reaching an ideal state of peace. Otherwise, division, exclusion, and a hindering of full representation in society of multitudes of expression would remain.
There are two main criticisms that can be lodged against this line of thinking. The first is that intolerance leads to hate, which leads to hate crimes, which is abhorrent. To this it is easy to say not necessarily. A person can certainly be intolerant to someone without hating them, and that same person can certainly hate someone without committing a hate crime against them. At the same time, no one should be asked to tolerate hate or worse crimes. That is not what is being asked. Intolerance is to not accept another person’s opinion, view, or actions and behaviour that are otherwise legal. It is the acceptance of an intolerant mind that should tolerated. Criminalization of hate crimes is understandable and necessary but to push for criminalization of hate and intolerance should not be permitted. Enforcing tolerance leads to hegemony of thought, restricted expression and speech, and is a dystopian future. The right to a unique and individual opinion and expression of that opinion in a non-harmful manner is far greater a right than to not be offended.
A second critique is to say there is no reason to accept peace as being the core goal. While tolerating the intolerant might be good for peaceful coexistence a critic may say conflict is natural and we should not strive for something other than the realities of human society. Although conflict is a fact of nature, it is not a necessary truth of human nature. Furthermore, a continuous state of peace would be conducive to human flourishing in a manner that a state of conflict would not. Therefore, a goal for governments and communities other than peace would be contradictory to human flourishing and is arguably reducing the discussion to the absurd.
The intolerant must be tolerated. Institutions and laws allowing for freedom of expression whether they be of a tolerant or intolerant nature must be maintained. Only in such a state can there be equality of opinion. These qualities, freedom of expression and equality, are basic to a peaceful coexistence which is the only valid objective for governments and one which should be reached through peaceful means.
Posted on September 10, 2020
There are many things people dislike with being lied to close to the top of the list. Not only is it deceptive and deceiving, but it does not provide the information that is sought. That being what actually is the fact of the matter. Everyone wants to know not some falsehood, but the truth. There is value in the truth in that it is, as we understand it, factual. Is lying always a bad thing though? Must we always have and provide “the facts”? I would say in fact we do not and any question to know objective truth is not founded on any known right.
In this post, for simplicity I will merely refer to lies and not distinguish between lies, the act of lying, and deception, as they are all interrelated and no distinction is necessary to share my thoughts on the matter. Furthermore, we are not washing the statements made in this article by taking the term lies to mean white lies. Lies in this context are bold face untruths meant in many cases to obscure the facts.
So what might be one reason why it is permissible to lie? I think first and foremost it would be when a person, group, or government is confronting you and is being unjustly hostile. A clear example of this would be a lesbian couple in the 1960’s when such behaviour was illegal and would cause not only lack of work, but could potentially result in imprisonment, or in actuality for lesbians, result in admission to a mental asylum. We know now that it would be clearly permissible for both of those women to lie in order to conceal a harmless behaviour however at the time many thought it necessary to “out” these couples and demonize them with punishments. Those punishments had in many cases deep consequences. Examples such as this can be used for unjustly stigmatized groups from all era’s including in society today.
Thinking about the example above, it is clear then that lying is not wrong in all instances and that includes when the lie is used to cover up a crime as was homosexuality at the time. So if we can agree that it is acceptable to lie in order to avoid punishment from an unjust law or hostile person, group, government, then it seems even more acceptable when you have not broken the law and are merely deciding not to tell the truth. Outside of the legal system telling the truth is a “nice to do” but what about within the legal system. There are even a few measures for people not to oblige with the truth and offer an alternative which is to plead the fifth and remain silent. In most contexts, however, remaining silent is often seen as a sign of guilt. When you are not guilty, outside of the legal system, and only wish to be free to act as you please, a lie may serve to dismiss unwanted probing into the private sphere of someone’s life in a practical and harmless way when remaining silent is not viable option although would be preferred.
Another instance of when lying is acceptable is when there is no harm in telling a lie. We should not assume the absence of truth is negative and wrong. Not knowing whether a statement is true of false is not in itself wrong it’s simply being unsure. It itself is not bad, it merely is a state of knowledge. Furthermore, achieving a state of knowledge which is fact in all matters is far from necessary. There are instances when this state of unknowing is indeed wanted such as in the example already provided and many others. When no law has been broken in the act of lying, those who would pry themselves into a person’s private sphere to discover the truth that they have no objective right to and are unwanted, should be treated as criminals in this matter. A strangers desire to know, use of word desire used as there is no right to know, should never trump a citizen’s right to privacy. Caution should also be made with those who proclaim a right to know as I believe there is no justified foundation for such a claim. This lack of foundation may be due to how information is often used maliciously and the higher right to privacy. Lies that have been told to avoid malicious acts should never be said to be unethical and wrong. Our freedom and right to privacy allows for people to lie if they wish.
Posted on September 5, 2020
An interesting question to ask is whether rules, those guiding instructions we have in society to keep ever essential peace and order, should always be obeyed? When might it be needed to not obey the rules of society or in fact be essential to go against them? This short post provides opinions of mine on this subject.
It is clear that by and large rules should be obeyed. Without them we would live in conflict and chaos in a near state of nature and unable to function the way we have as a progressing society for the past millennia and longer. Knowing that we need rules to be obeyed for peace and order is only a base assertion of sorts. When we ask more questions we can see that there may be times when we should not obey rules or even that it is essential and important that we do not.
The first example that many think of when this question is posed is that the laws are unjust or that they are being used by an unjust government to suppress the population. An unjust law can be one that is out of date, not properly formulated and having an unintended consequence on a vulnerable population, or blatantly authoritarian such as censorship on the media and political opposition. Each of these examples can be such that it makes sense not only to not follow them, to disobey them, but also to take active measure i.e. legal challenges, protest, riot, to change the laws as written and enforced.
Another more complicated instance of when many say we should not obey laws is when a more basic law e.g. Constitutional Right, would be broken if the law were followed. I believe laws are intended to be designed so that this does not happen although laws “rules” can always be challenged.
So not only are there times when rules should not be obeyed, but it is also I think important at times for rules not to be followed and to challenge their application, foundation, and enforcement. While a rule may seem like an infallible decree, in truth they are riddled with flaws. It is essential in a liberal democracy to challenge through civil disobedience rules which cause more damage than good.
Posted on July 12, 2020
As many Canadians have become aware in the past week, Prime Minister Justine Trudeau is currently under investigation for a possible conflict of interest in awarding an extraordinarily lucrative contact to a not-for-profit that in the past has paid substantial amounts of speaker fees to both his mother and brother. The PM Trudeau for reasons that are still a mystery did not recuse himself of the decision in awarding a whopping $912 million dollar contract to the WE charity.
Conflicts of interest are commonplace in all countries. The need for businesses both profitable and not-for-profit to have decisions made in their favour pressures those with authority in these organizations, to exert influence upon those making the decisions that affect them. It is a fundamental human behaviour and one which can only be managed through objective oversight.
The influencing of politicians to go along with a vote in parliament, or typically awarding government projects to friends who have paid for campaigns is as old as perhaps government and politics itself. When the WE charity paid for PM Trudeau’s mother to speak at their events, it was certainly not intended so that this essentially pandemic project would be awarded to them. There was no intention on their part for this and given their role it would be difficult to say that a large government contract was their motivation. In this way, it was not akin to what some private sector actors are known to do in providing payments to family and friends for the right decisions. Nevertheless, the fact that PM Trudeau’s very own mother benefited greatly can be said to influence a decision to the extent were recusing yourself is warranted. Whereas the WE charity never hired the mother of PM Trudeau so that this pandemic related contract would be awarded, there was sufficient influence to sway a decision. Is the WE charity the best organization for the role that it has been given? Certainly. This decision, however, should have been made by far more objective government staffers. That they would have made the same decision does not mean the act of recusing oneself should not have been done.
The topic of influencing politicians is an interesting one and the influencing certainly does not go in one direction. Some international political thinkers have posted about whether there is a difference between paying $20 to each villager for a vote in the “developing world”, to the promise of thousands in tax benefits for a vote in the “developed world”. Hard to see a practical difference. A union boss may after a night out or the typical side benefits, some tangible some not, may offer to push for support to a union several thousand members strong. The other side is equally as susceptible to coercion, whether it is a large annual donation, gifts, nights out, those influencing politicians offer then what they subsist on, votes or the means to get them. Donations and gifts turn into the opportunity to speak with the politician and that can translate into real action and tangible outcomes. The game is so dirty Henry Kissinger once said: “Ninety percent of politicians give the other ten percent a bad reputation”. A soft bit of realpolitik.
There is also the matter of foreign influence when a foreign entity exerts influence on a sovereign government for much of the same reasons as companies do locally. The same methods are used, direct payments, non-monetary favours, or indirect benefits such as a gift to a loved one who then passes on a strong suggestion to their child the politician. The widespread practice indicates it is effective or it would not be continued. Foreign influence, unlike standard corruption, has really nothing which stops a visit home overseas becoming an initiation into benefits for sharing information, or for favourable decisions. Nothing is out of reach so long as the person can keep their silence up.
Posted on June 25, 2020
Hello Ethic Nutters,
Recently found a philosopher by the name of Lionel Tiger who has several video’s on Youtube where he expresses his thoughts on the brain and its role in creating religion and idea’s such as God. Really interesting stuff for the summertime.
The Brain Creates Religion https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N5y5NfIiMqY
Can Animals Be Religious https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KGbGh86fQ_4
The World Is Becoming “More Dangerously Religious” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yI9UVvEY3Nc
This is some interesting watching. Clearly, some of this is up for debate with more than one side having good arguments. Hope you enjoy this little bit of education.