This webinar featured two paper presentations. Each speaker had 40 minutes to present their arguments, and then there was 20 minutes for a question and answer period with the audience.
Trauma Out Loud: Bioethics as Public Philosophy
Presented by: Anna Gotlib, J.D., Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Philosophy, Brooklyn College, City University of New York
Too often, we hear reports and predictions about pandemic-caused traumas without at the same time finding many narratives that speak in non-clinical, non-catastrophizing ways about what to do. Perhaps our medical institutions are just singularly focused on vaccines and treatments; perhaps it is also a common failure to address difficult issues in ways that non-specialists can understand. But at this intersection of global medical emergency and its attendant psychological traumas, bioethics can assume an interpretive role: Although comprising many disciplines and approaches, bioethicists can become a unique force for public-outreach in ways similar to recent efforts by public philosophers. Specifically, bioethics can offer the kinds of publicly-accessible, jargon-free narratives that clarify the avalanche of pandemic data, making sense of the controversies while demystifying the traumatizing cacophony of social media platforms. In addition to this clarificatory role, bioethics professionals could create participatory spaces that give voice to traumas born of grief, fear, and loss. And because professionals are themselves not unscathed, these acts of public outreach will require a certain kind of openness to our own pain; it will also call for fewer worries about professional “respectability,” and more attention to intelligibility. In this presentation, I will offer several examples of how philosophers have already engaged in these efforts, and how bioethicists, with our expertise in trauma work, medicine, and narrative, are needed now by those overwhelmed not only by the pandemic, but by the emotional and psychological damage that it has wrought.
Do we teach white supremacy in our applied ethics courses? (And a proposal for what to do about it if we do)
Presented by: Letitia Meynell, Dalhousie University and Clarisse Paron, Dalhousie University
Every applied ethics course requires some brief introduction, survey, or primer on ethical theory. Without a robust introduction to and serious engagement with ethical theory, applied ethics courses risk merely teaching students how to rationalize their prejudices and preferences rather than teaching them how to critically assess and engage in ethical decision making. At the same time, spending too much time on normative ethical theory can take precious course time away from the applied issues that are the raison d’être of the course. This means that the theory addressed must be brief, if not something of a cartoon, and essential to the current issues and discussions in the relevant area. A number of authors have developed ethics primers as parts of textbooks, but these tend to have a serious flaw. They tend to be Eurocentric. This is not only because normative ethics as currently taught is Eurocentric—typically addressing some combination of Kantianism, Utilitarianism, Arisototelianism, social contract theory, naturalized ethics, and feminist ethics—but also because current policies and discussions in applied ethics are mostly informed by the same theories. Teaching applied ethics in a way that tacitly supports the view that all important and sophisticated ethical theory comes from Europe is fundamentally counterproductive, if not outright contradictory. It normalizes Eurocentric (and, concomitantly, white supremacist) thinking in a pedagogical context that is meant to raise ethical awareness, enhance ethical reflection, and guide decision-making.
We have written a new Applied Ethics Primer designed to avoid this flaw. Written in a way that makes it possible to integrate it into any applied ethics course, the primer draws not only on the central ethical traditions of Europe but also on ethical theories and practices from Asia, Africa, and Indigenous traditions in North America, as well as feminist theory. This global perspective is achieved by orienting the primer around specific ethical lenses, each of which captures a key aspect of a variety of ethical theories from various global traditions. At the same time, these lenses resonate with crucial ethical traditions of the so-called “West”—virtue ethics, deontology, consequentialism, and relational theory—thus still providing an adequate framework for addressing contemporary Canadian policies and practices, which have been shaped by these theories. Thus it is hoped that the primer will provide robust guidance in ethical theory that is relevant to currently Eurocentric policy without tacitly implying that the only ethical theories worth thinking about or taking guidance from are a product of European traditions.
In this presentation we will offer an overview of the content of the primer and explain the rationale behind it. We hope that this can be an opportunity to discuss the inclusion of normative ethical theory in applied ethics pedagogy as well as the risks of tacitly furthering colonial and Eurocentric attitudes through the ways we teach applied ethics.
The complete text of the Applied Ethics Primer is open access and can be found here: https://caul-cbua.pressbooks.pub/aep/
This webinar featured two paper presentations. Each speaker had 40 minutes to present their arguments, and then there was 20 minutes for a question and answer period. It was held on Sunday, Jan 30, 2022 from 1:00 pm to 3:00 pm ET.
Violence and Cyber Violence
Presented by: Dr. Kiran Bhardwaj, Phillips Academy, Andover
Christopher Finlay’s (2018) “Just War, Cyber War, and the Concept of Violence” argues that some kinds of cyberattacks are morally equivalent to armed kinetic attack (358), and that just war theory should permit ‘violent cyberattacks’ to be responded to with kinetic violence (and vice versa) (374). In turn, I argue that Finlay’s account of violence is both too wide—by improperly including harms to property as if they are commensurable with harms to persons—and too restrictive—by not including psychological harms to persons. I present an alternative conception of the term ‘violence’: that it is better understood as harms to persons, brought about for the purposes of aggression and domination.
This discussion allows us to take on a major debate in the violence literature: theorists such as C. A. J. Coady, Trudy Govier, and Finlay acknowledge that structural injustices such as racism or sexism or other kinds of oppression cause great harm, but contend they are wrongly miscategorized as violence. On my view, structural injustices do indeed do violence: they bring about injury (both psychological and bodily) for the purposes of aggression and domination. It is a collective act of violence, and as such harder to recognize. Yet structural violence has the same characteristics as the most paradigmatic cases of violence. With these ideas in place, I finally argue how we should understand cyber violence, and what kinds of responses to cyber violence are warranted.
What Can Philosophy Say About Mass Shootings?
Presented by: Erica Preston-Roedder, Occidental College
Mass shootings are a horrific aspect of modern life. In the wake of such violence, we often manifest complex normative and emotive responses: we recoil at the indiscriminate slaughter of innocents; we find ourselves shaken by the sense that no place is safe; and we wrestle with the fears induced by this contemporary form of violence phenomenon. Can philosophy help us make sense of the normative contours of mass shootings, as well as our own emotive reactions to such events? Ultimately, I argue that mass shootings involve a specific kind of violence, indiscriminate killing, one which is distinct from other kinds of murder. Additionally, I consider the publicity of mass shootings and the way their dominance in public imagination distorts how we see the world–and each other.
This webinar featured two paper presentations:
The Cure is Worse Than the Disease: On the Concepts of Health and Disability
Presented by: Seth Goldwasser, University of Pittsburgh
Are we ”worse off”? I don’t think so. Not in any meaningful sense. There are too many variables. For those of us with congenital conditions, disability shapes all we are. Those disabled later in life adapt. We take constraints that no one would choose and build rich and satisfying lives within them. We enjoy pleasures other people enjoy, and pleasures peculiarly our own.
We have something the world needs. —— Harriet McBryde Johnson (2003)
What difference is there, if any, between cautioning pregnant people against drinking alcohol to excess and cautioning prospective parents against selecting potential offspring that will develop disabilities like deafness or Down syndrome? According to some self-avowed eugenicists, there is none: it is permissible to select or treat embryos or fetuses on the basis of genetic counseling or through gene enhancement, provided that doing so does not decrease the potential offspring’s chance of a good life or interfere with the wellbeing of others (Veit et al. 2021). Genetic counseling and genetic enhancement are, so they claim, just so many medical tools to be used towards improving wellbeing. The purpose of this paper is to argue that blanket approval of the use of genetic counseling or genetic enhancement begs the question against the eugenicist’s opponent. More specifically, in giving blanket approval of the use of genetic counseling or genetic enhancement, eugenicists commit themselves to a view of which state-types constitute limits on or decreases in human function or ability in virtue of which activity-types are specifically human functions or abilities. But the available naturalist accounts of function that eugenicists may appeal to fail to determine, for several disabilities, whether those disabilities limit or decrease human function or ability at all. Indeed, those accounts leave open whether disabilities like deafness or Down syndrome are simply other ways of being rather than limits on or decreases in any human function or ability. Moreover, we fail to take this possibility seriously because the interrelated concepts of health and disease that we inherit from ableist traditions in medicine fail to be morally neutral towards the disabled. As such, our concept of disability may be skewed. In which case, there are morally relevant differences between some uses of genetic counseling or genetic enhancement and others. These morally relevant differences block the blanket approval of either genetic counseling or genetic enhancement. If eugenicists want to continue to promote the use of genetic counseling or enhancement, they must develop a richer and clearer understanding of what constitutes a limit on or decrease in human function or ability.
Too Good for This World: Moral Bioenhancement and the Ethics of Making Moral Misfits
Presented by: Katherine Ward, Bucknell University
Persson and Savulescu argue that moral bioenhancement is not only morally permissible, in some cases, it is morally obligatory. In this paper, I adapt the disability concept of misfit to argue that it is morally impermissible to enhance others into a radical moral misfit with their environment when it will cause moral disempowerment—a form of moral injury.
Disability scholar Rosemarie Garland-Thomson has proposed an understanding of disability as a “misfit” between body and environment (Garland-Thomson 2011). Able-bodied people often encounter “sustaining” environments—accessible public spaces, easy to use tools, serviceable communication devices, etc. However, one’s body can also encounter resistance and discord in an environment, a misfit. In these cases, one’s doings are interrupted.
The concept of a misfit might help us better understand the moral injury of moral disempowerment, which occurs when one is trapped in a situation that “acutely challenges one’s ability to sustain moral integrity despite one’s best efforts to do what is right” (Carse 2013, 148). Moral disempowerment can be understood as an extreme moral misfit between moral agent and moral environment that occurs when an agent’s moral disposition is consistently thwarted by a moral environment. Having your moral actions thwarted occasionally won’t seriously undermine one’s moral integrity, but persistent misfits (in which one can never seem to succeed morally) or misfits that result in serious moral failure (a single Sophie’s Choice situation) can, and the harms are grave.
I argue moral disempowerment is a predictable result of some forms of moral bioenhancement. The promise of moral bioenhancement is that it might make people more morally good and keep them that way even in the face of environmental friction—making us more attuned to and motivated by moral reasons and less akratic. However, making one more attuned to what is morally salient and less able to “turn off” our sensitivities to the environment will change the fit between moral agent and moral environment. Moral disempowerment might predictably result if a moral bioenhancement creates greater motivation and sensitivity to a moral environment that outstrips one’s ability to successfully achieve what is demanded morally.
I argue that any safety framework that guides the development of moral bioenhancement must include the moral hazards of moral misfitting—a predictable effect of moral bioenhancement. We should be wary of interventions that create moral urges agents will be unlikely to fulfill in a given environment. Being aware of this vulnerability provides a helpful means of navigating it—not just in bioenhancement but traditional moral training generally. One result of my view is that traditional forms of moral enhancement might also be morally troubled if they create moral agents (particularly children) who are too good for the world in which they find themselves and are thus made vulnerable to profound moral injuries.
Book: Indigenizing Philosophy through the Land: A Trickster Methodology for Decolonizing Environmental Ethics and Indigenous Futures (Michigan State University Press, 2019)
Buy the Book
Author: Brian Burkhart
Citizen, Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma; Associate Professor of Philosophy, University of Oklahoma
Chair: Lorraine Mayer
Citizen, Metis Nation of Manitoba; Professor, Department of Native Studies, Brandon University
- Gordon Christie
Inupiat/Inuvialuit; Professor, Peter A. Allard School of Law, Director of the Indigenous Legal Studies Program, University of British Columbia
- Thurman Lee Hester
Citizen, Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma
- Dennis McPherson
Ojibwa, Band Member of Couchiching First Nation; Associate Professor, Indigenous Learning, Lakehead University
About the book: Land is key to the operations of coloniality, but the power of the land is also the key anticolonial force that grounds Indigenous liberation. This work is an attempt to articulate the nature of land as a material, conceptual, and ontological foundation for Indigenous ways of knowing, being, and valuing. As a foundation of valuing, land forms the framework for a conceptualization of Indigenous environmental ethics as an anticolonial force for sovereign Indigenous futures. This text is an important contribution in the efforts to Indigenize Western philosophy, particularly in the context of settler colonialism in the United States. It breaks significant ground in articulating Indigenous ways of knowing and valuing to Western philosophy—not as artifact that Western philosophy can incorporate into its canon, but rather as a force of anticolonial Indigenous liberation. Ultimately, Indigenizing Philosophy through the Land shines light on a possible road for epistemically, ontologically, and morally sovereign Indigenous futures.
Friday, June 25, 2021 from 1:00 pm to 3:00 pm ET
This webinar featured two paper presentations. Each speaker had 40 minutes to present their arguments, and then there was 20 minutes for a question and answer period.
A Critical Account of Habermas’s Communicative Action as Applied to Filipina Migrant Claims
Karen Connie Abalos-Orendain, PhD, University of the Philippines, Diliman
The appeal of Critical Theory comes from many fronts. However, its applicability on practical issues both for the political and the moral is probably its strongest feature. The question then becomes: up to what extent can concepts such as communicative theory and intersubjective processes translate to action? In this paper, we explore the limitations and possibilities of Critical Social Theory and discourse ethics as posed by Jurgen Habermas. Specifically, we critically analyze his concept of Communicative Action by applying it to the question of migrant rights. When applied to the claims of female migrant domestic workers, how will Habermas’s discourse theory hold?
We begin this analysis with a brief description of Habermas’s theory. We focus on his vision for what Critical Theory can offer as a framework through his concepts of communicative action. We reflect on his insights critically by utilizing the analysis of his own former students, Nancy Fraser and Seyla Benhabib. We show how Fraser shows the limitations of Habermas’s concept because he failed to take into consideration the female perspective and contribution to the labor force as well as the society in general. How are migrant domestic workers’ rights different from other rights claims? We pose that feminist issues also translate into migrant claims within the nuclear home in the case of domestic helpers. This mounts the question of migration within the gender framework.
Meanwhile, Benhabib presents us with the potential of the theory once again by reminding us of its universalist stance, which can be advantageous when applied to migrant workers. We delve deeper into the question of rights as moral claims and rights as legal entitlements. Is the gap between the two distinctions simply a matter of recognition? Seyla Benhabib helps us understand the problem. We then conclude with a quick summary and a brief projection of what is possible regarding this particular issue using the methods of discourse theory. In this project, the discourse we refer to is the ongoing milieu of migrant narratives and its subsequent claims.
Care Worker Migration and the Responsibility for Rectifying Injustices
Jordan Desmond, Queen’s University
In “Care Worker Migration and Transnational Justice,” Lisa Eckenwiler offers a brilliant account of the ongoing care worker migration crisis, identifying the structural injustices that have caused and been created by the crisis, as well as the agents implicated in their manifestation and perpetuation. Further, Eckenwiler offers several recommendations for how we might go about attributing responsibilities to respond to these injustices. In this paper, I take a critical look at Eckenwiler’s approach to attributing responsibility and the extent to which it can be said to satisfy what ought to be considered the aims of moral action. In particular, I identify in Eckenwiler’s account certain ambiguities that, I argue, entail limitations in scope or in motivational capacity that fail to maximize just outcomes for those who have been harmed by mass care worker migration.
In light of such issues, I situate Eckenwiler’s position within a framework inspired by the work of Robert Goodin, so as to strengthen the grounds upon which we are able to make attributions of responsibility and expand the scope of implicated agents from whom moral action is demanded. In particular, I argue that we ought to hold agents responsible for moral action by virtue of their capacity for effective response and regardless of their causal relationship to the crisis. The hope is that by doing so, I am able to preserve the strengths of Eckenwiler’s approach to transnational justice while offering a more effective means of responding to the care worker migration crisis. In order to demonstrate this effectiveness, I consider a concrete proposal, articulated by Joan Tronto, for addressing issues of dislocation and exploitation that result from mass care worker migration and argue that my account is more effectively able to carry out such a proposal.
 Lisa Eckenwiler, “Care Worker Migration and Transnational Justice,” Public Health Ethics 2, no. 2 (2009): 171-183.
 Robert Goodin, “What Is So Special About Our Fellow Countrymen?” Ethics 98 (1998): 663-686.
 Joan Tronto, “Care as the Work of Citizens,” in Women and Citizenship, ed. Marilyn Friedman (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 130-145.
The Responsive Diversity Worker
Amber Spence, University of Guelph, Philosophy Department
Often in academia, women and minorities are held to a higher standard in how they present themselves (caring, empathetic), and how they manage the emotions of their colleagues and students. The emotional labour that has become expected of them is well documented in studies and feminist literature.
In my paper, I expand on Carla Fehr’s ‘epistemic diversity worker’ to better include all women and minorities within the term ‘diversity worker’. Most importantly, I develop a new term to include the emotional labour that is done by diversity workers: Responsive Diversity Work. I summarize Fehr’s view of the epistemic diversity worker in section one, develop a theory of emotional labour in section two, and explain how the responsive diversity worker is, by virtue of the unfair emotional labour that is expected of her, at great risk of developing mental health issues.
I develop a view of emotional labour by investigating the theory proposed by Hochschild and expanded by Nobauer and Koster. Generally, this view regards emotional labour as the work involved in either inciting an emotional state in oneself, or simply behaving as though one feels a certain way that has become expected of them.
The choice to ‘opt out’ of the work involved in emotional labour comes at a cost for the diversity worker, in a way that does not happen to her cis white male counterparts. For the diversity worker, not engaging in emotional labour can entail a halt in professional advancement in the form of poor student evaluations. These evaluations are used in professional contexts to help make a case for or against career advancement. The strain from sustaining this level of emotional management often results in mental health issues, which may help to shed light on the problem of the leaky pipeline.
Forgiveness as Turning Off Blame’s Lamp
Craig K. Agule, Rutgers University–Camden
Forgiveness has a puzzling relationship with the reasons we might forgive. To some philosophers, it has seemed that we can only forgive for certain reasons; the reasons are ontological conditions of forgiveness. To other philosophers, it has seemed that good reasons to forgive mandate forgiveness; the reasons are obligating, normative conditions of forgiveness. Both of these positions are in deep tension with our ordinary practice of forgiveness, as it seems that forgiveness is up to us and that we might sometimes forgive in error. To properly respond to these puzzling features, we must properly understand forgiveness, and to properly understand forgiveness, we must properly understand blame. In this paper, I explain that blame essentially involves certain perceptual dispositions, dispositions to attend and dispositions to interpret. When we forgive, we set aside those perceptual dispositions. As I argue, blame is like a lamp, and so forgiveness is turning off that lamp. Understanding blame and forgiveness in those ways helps us resolve forgiveness’s ostensibly puzzling relationship with its reasons.
This webinar featured two presentations. Each speaker had 25 minutes to present their arguments, and then there was 15 minutes for a question and answer period.
Aging Justice: Health Justice Extended
Alex Mayhew, Faculty of Information and Media Studies, University of Western Ontario
One of the critical insights Venkatapuram articulated in his 2011 work Health Justice was that “to be healthy is a kind of freedom. To be free of impairment and pain.” He argues that our health expectations are socially constructed and have changed from time and place. Health has also come under increased human control. Major health failures such as famines and outbreaks of common diseases like Measles are no longer predominantly the result of random bad luck. Instead, today major systemic health failures are largely the result of social practices.
In Health and Social Justice Prah Ruger states that “justice demands that society should ensure that individuals are capable of avoiding premature death and escapable morbidity.” But what counts as ‘premature’ death, or ‘escapable’ morbidity? Both Venkatapuram and Prah Ruger avoid the topic of aging, scarcely mentioning the word. What happens when we turn the Health Justice lens to aging?
The elderly are often expected to endure a loss of capacity that is not imposed on other demographics. The reason for this is clear, technologically it has been beyond our capability to address the root causes of aging. But instead of acknowledging this as a tragedy, the common reaction is to call it natural and put it out of mind.
By extending the idea of Health Justice we can see the involuntary deterioration of health and end of life as a social justice issue. Aging is already heavily influenced by human choices and social practices; this is most notable in our increasing longevity. This human control is only going to increase, and we must choose how to respond. While achieving a completely just society and perpetual capacity for health is likely impossible, the pursuit of these ends is a worthy goal.
Silenced and Coerced Speech in Psychiatry
Alex James Miller Tate, Independent Scholar
Status-based statutes (e.g. the Mental Health Act 2007 in the UK) that permit the involuntary detention and treatment of otherwise legally competent psychiatric service users are common worldwide. This makes seeking psychiatric care in crisis a risky enterprise; an individual with mental health difficulties is at significantly greater risk of the harms involved in detention and compulsion than someone presenting to primary care with a physical ailment. Since many service users are keen to avoid such outcomes, they are motivated to downplay the severity of their symptoms, especially if these include suicidal ideation, completed or intended self-harm, or psychosis.
There is, however, a further source of risk in psychiatric encounters which pulls in the other direction. If individuals do not receive any help, then they are liable to experience extreme distress, perhaps engage in serious acts of self-injury, or even attempt or complete suicide. Service users who wish to avoid these outcomes in an era of grossly under-resourced mental health services must make it clear that their situation requires urgent prioritisation.
In this paper, I argue that the phenomena above amount to various forms of unjust silencing and coerced speech, which in turn may amount to violations of a patient’s right to healthcare, and the physician’s duty of non-maleficence. Since self-report is a mandatory precursor to effective psychiatric care, this means that suffering serious wrongs is a common, indeed typical, precondition of receiving psychiatric care. I survey various proposals to remedy this situation, concluding that the problem cannot be solved at the clinical level; it requires significant legal reform of mental health systems to reduce or eliminate compulsion.
This Zoom webinar featured three presentations. Each speaker had 20 minutes to present their arguments, and then there was 10 minutes for a question and answer period.
Capability and Oppression
Jay Drydyk, Carleton University
The capability approach focuses on understanding and removing unfreedom. So it is surprising that connections between capability and oppression have been little discussed. Here I take two small steps towards filling that void. (1) I consider an intuitive conceptual connection between capability and oppression. We can think of unfreedom in two ways. At a time, one may be unfree to eat well, to stay healthy, or to have good human relationships. Over time, one may be unable to change this, to expand one’s capability. That is, one may be held or confined in a low capability level, and this corresponds to a core meaning of oppression. (2) Normatively, it is crucial to see whether and how people are held at low capability levels as a result of the agency of others, even if (as in systemic or structural inequality) this effect is not always deliberate.
Canadian Decolonization: The Path to Indigenous Recognition and Sovereignty
Sebastian Farkas, Acadia University
How can Indigenous communities acquire recognition and the claim to sovereignty they desire within Canadian society? The heinous treatment of Indigenous Canadians has been well documented. Residential schools sought to assimilate Indigenous peoples by forcing them to forget their culture and adopt the British way of life. Although, thankfully, Canada has progressed and moved away from this horrific past by making efforts to repair the Indigenous relationship. Whether it was Stephen Harper delivering a public apology in 2008, the establishment of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, or Justin Trudeau’s 2015 campaign promise to establish a genuine “nation-to-nation” approach, Canada has tried to repair historical wrongs. Yet, nothing has really changed. Even though Canada’s Constitution includes Section 35 that recognizes and affirms Indigenous rights in Canada, time and time again Canada fails to adhere to its own laws created to protect and improve Indigenous life. By relying on decolonization theory, this paper argues that Canada must change their process for adjudicating legal affairs if Indigenous peoples are to have their rights respected, guaranteed, and upheld. Specifically, this paper will focus on Indigenous land claims as a pivotal area of where Canadian law must decolonize if the state is to genuinely uphold their promise to preserve the rights of Indigenous peoples.
Justice and Accountability: What Obligations Do Non-Indigenous Governments and Persons Have in Our Relationships with Indigenous peoples?
Sandra Tomsons, Research Affiliate Centre for Health, Lakehead University
Canada’s governments and non-Indigenous scholars frequently use justice notions when discussing what they call ‘the Aboriginal problem’, ‘the Aboriginal rights problem’ or ‘Canada’s most serious justice problem.’ Our scholars propose theories of Aboriginal rights. Our politicians create policies. Indigenous scholars and politicians criticize both. Recently, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised those who lost family members when the Ukraine Airline’s plane was shot down in Iran: “We will not rest until there is justice and accountability.” Hearing his promise, I wondered “Why aren’t you promising Indigenous peoples “We will not rest until there is justice and accountability for you?” If he made the promise, what would this just accountable relationship look like? My presentation proves non-Indigenous persons don’t understand being just and accountable to Indigenous peoples. We need Indigenous assistance to i) discern our colonial perceptual reality, so we can replace it; ii) help us discover the way to a mutually respectful treaty relationship; – the only way we can be just and accountable to Indigenous peoples.