University of Kansas, Spring 2006
Philosophy 886: Topics in Applied Ethics

Class notes

The following notes correspond roughly to what we cover, including at least a portion of what I put on the board or the screen, in class. In places they may be more or less comprehensive than what we actually cover in class, and should not be taken as a substitute for your own observations and records of what goes on in class.

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  1. From Chance to Choice: Genetics and Justice, appendix 1: “The Meaning of Genetic Causation” (author: Elliott Sober)
    1. every trait a joint product of genetic causation and environmental causation
      • Some things that appear environmentally caused may have genetic components (e.g., AIDS and discovery of rare gene that apparently gives some people natural resistance).
    2. population genetics vs. developmental genetics
      • Finding that within-group variations are due to genes does not mean that environmental changes won’t have any effect (e.g., IQ differences within groups and nutrition, education, etc.).
  2. From Chance to Choice: Genetics and Justice, chapter 1: “Introduction” (primary author: Allen Buchanan)
    1. justice: two main components
      1. equality of opportunity
      2. morality of inclusion
    2. a basic taxonomy of theories of equality of opportunity
      1. nondiscrimination (racial, ethnic, religious, sexual)
      2. level playing field: requires efforts to ameliorate effects of some factors limiting opportunity
        1. authors’ moderate view: Daniels’s theory of just health care: A health-care system should strive to eliminate barriers to opportunity posed by diseases (by providing treatments and cures). (Example: providing special diets for PKU children.)
          • Also, restrictions on the free purchase of genetic enhancements might be imposed in order to lessen the widening of existing inequalities.
        2. stronger view: A health-care system should strive to counteract all natural inequalities, even those stemming from conditions not sub-par enough to be regarded as diseases. (See fourth scenario on p. 3.)
        3. weak: Rawls’s notion of fair equality of opportunity: Justice does not require the redress of all undeserved disadvantages; justice just requires that social institutions not be structured so that persons’ entitlements are based on their possession of natural advantages.
    3. prevention of harm: co-equal with justice as a moral imperative
      • agnosticism about whether self-determination is co-equal with welfare or is merely a particularly important component of it
  3. From Chance to Choice: Genetics and Justice, appendix 2: “Methodology” (primary author: Allen Buchanan)
  4. From Chance to Choice: Genetics and Justice, chapter 2: “Eugenics and its Shadow” (primary author: Daniel Wikler)
    1. common themes of eugenics
      1. degeneration of the gene pool because of excessive reproduction by the “unfit” (a claim with empirical and normative aspects)
      2. heritability of behavioral traits (an empirical claim now pursued by sociobiologists and evolutionary psychologists)
      3. desirability of improving the genes possessed by future generations (a normative claim endorsed by, e.g., Rawls)
    2. five answers to the question, “Why was eugenics wrong?”
      1. It replaced genetically disadvantaged people with genetically advantaged people, rather than just improving the genes of whoever exists.
      2. It failed to acknowledge value pluralism.
      3. It violated reproductive freedom.
      4. It was statist.
      5. It was unjust.
  5. From Chance to Choice: Genetics and Justice, chapter 3: “Genes, Justice, and Human Nature” (primary author: Allen Buchanan)
    1. two variants of the level playing field conception of equality of opportunity
      1. social structural view (e.g., Rawls): achieving equality of opportunity means counteracting the effects of unjust social structures, along with enabling people to be normal competitors for social goods
        1. this view possibly an awkward hybrid of (1) the traditional notion of equality of opportunity and (2) the strong intuition that even if the obstacles someone faces are not due to unjust social structures, they should still be addressed by society if they are harmful enough to prevent that person from being a “normal competitor” in society
        2. Once you are giving in to intuitions such as the one just mentioned, why not just go to the brute luck view?
      2. brute luck view (e.g., Roemer, Arneson, Cohen): achieving equality of opportunity means counteracting undeserved, unchosen disadvantages
        1. closely related to the doctrine of resource egalitarianism
        2. has normally been understood as requiring natural inequalities to be compensated for, not corrected
        3. would seem, however, to warrant correcting natural inequalities when doing so is more cost effective than after-the-fact compensation
    2. challenges posed to justice, as traditionally conceived, by potentially emerging genetic technologies (summarized by Buchanan, pp. 100.7–101.1)
      1. destabilizing the traditional assumption that justice requires only compensating for natural inequalities rather than attacking them directly (if some “natural” goods can be redistributed, as “social” ones can)
      2. blurring the distinction between subjects of justice and objects of justice (if genetic interventions have the potential to alter the identities of the individuals affected by them)
        • Is this really such a new challenge? If (e.g.) environmental factors shape identity (as Buchanan allows), then how goods are distributed has probably already been affecting the identities of those to whom they are distributed for quite some time.
      3. severing the traditionally assumed connection between justice and human nature (on which justice is based on the idea of an unchanging human nature)
      4. dislodging the conception of moral progress as a matter of increasing compliance with universal principles based on our common human nature (if genetic interventions have the potential to lead to multiple kinds of humans or descendants of humans, each with its own “nature”)
    3. a consequentialist reaction to these four justice-centric concerns (added by Eggleston—not in the chapter)
      1. Why focus on compensating rather than any and all available corrective measures? And why try to solve this problem by talking about expanding the “domain” of justice? (Isn’t a defect in the very concept of justice that it seems to need the specification of some domain, which turns out to be problematic?) Why not just talk about what distribution or redistribution of resources—whatever ones we can currently or foreseeably control the distribution or redistribution of—will have the best consequences?
      2. Why worry about whether the identities of persons are given independently of the act of distribution? Why not just distribute and redistribute goods in whatever way will have the best consequences for whatever people there turn out to be? (You can even take into account what kind of people you want there to be in your specification of what makes consequences good.)
      3. Why worry about some grand notion of human nature? You can just establish whatever social institutions and policies will have the best consequences, and in doing so you can take into account any facts about “human nature”—facts about limited altruism, moral motivation, what makes for a good life for human beings, and so on—that seem pertinent. You don’t have to enshrine such facts in some grand idea of “human nature.”
      4. Why think that moral progress is to be measured in terms of increasing compliance with principles having to do with human nature? Why not just think of moral progress in terms of consequences, such as the improvement of living conditions for currently existing sentient creatures, and the improvement (relative to what they would have been) of living conditions for sentient creatures who will exist in the future?
  6. From Chance to Choice: Genetics and Justice, chapter 4: “Positive and Negative Genetic Interventions” (primary author: Norman Daniels)
    1. morally important enhancements?
      1. Shy Normal (compared with Shy Bipolar)
      2. Unhappy Husband (moral choice)
      3. Plain Hero (expensive tastes)
      4. Billy (compared with Johnny)
    2. Is there a value-neutral distinction between treatment and enhancement? (Daniels raises this early, then returns to it briefly near the end of the chapter.)
    3. “primary rationale” for health care: treatment of disease
    4. three theories of equality of opportunity
      1. normal function model
        1. underlies “primary rationale”
        2. an interpretation of the social structural view
        3. reasons against being more egalitarian
          1. liberty
          2. efficiency
      2. equal capabilities model
        1. would render treatment/enhancement distinction irrelevant
        2. may interfere too much with liberty and efficiency
        3. is not as sweeping as may initially appear, due to incommensurability considerations
      3. equality opportunity for welfare model
        1. similar to brute luck view
        2. would also render treatment/enhancement distinction irrelevant
        3. entails that disadvantageous unchosen preferences give rise to prima facie claims
        4. says that increasing well-being in general, not just correcting handicaps (the emphasis for Daniels), is what matters
    5. Is the normal function model a second-best solution?
  7. From Chance to Choice: Genetics and Justice, chapter 5: “Why not the Best?” (primary authors: Dan Brock and Norman Daniels)
    1. two main questions (p. 163)
      1. genetic interventions as desirable as environmental ones (other things begin equal)?
      2. permission for parents to use some undesirable interventions?
    2. two kinds of neutrality
      1. neutrality of the liberal state: broad; respect for pluralism
      2. neutrality of parents: narrower; respect for an open future
    3. social aspects
      1. coordination problems
      2. unfairness
    4. cloning
  8. From Chance to Choice: Genetics and Justice, chapter 6: “Reproductive Freedom and the Prevention of Harm” (primary author: Dan Brock)
    1. aspects of reproductive freedom
    2. justifications of reproductive freedom
    3. cases for person-affecting principles
      1. cases of post-conception (other than abortion) prevention of harms compatible with a worthwhile life
      2. cases of wrongful life
    4. cases for non–person-affecting principles
      • cases of pre-conception prevention of harms compatible with a worthwhile life, or abortion—the non-identity problem
      • The non-identity problem may be understood as the problem of accounting for the wrongness of an action that seems wrong, but does not harm anyone in particular, such as a child that is born with a disability that would not have been possessed by a child born a couple of months later instead. Consider, then, the following question:
        • Does doing wrong always involving wronging someone (i.e., harming someone wrongly)?
      • People who believe in the non-identify problem say the answer to this question is Yes.
      • People who believe the non-identity problem can be solved say the answer to this question is No.
  9. From Chance to Choice: Genetics and Justice, chapter 7: “Genetic Intervention and the Morality of Inclusion” (primary author: Allen Buchanan)
    1. concerns of disability-rights advocates
      1. loss of support
      2. injustice vs. lack of beneficence
      3. the expressivist objection
      4. the deaf culture argument
    2. the social construction of disability—disabilities versus impairments
    3. choosing a dominant cooperative framework: the interest in inclusion vs. the maximizing interest
  10. From Chance to Choice: Genetics and Justice, chapter 8: “Policy Implications” (primary author: Wikler)
    1. the right to health care
      1. based on the idea of equal opportunity
      2. would include some, but not all, genetic services
    2. equality
      1. equality itself not a good
      2. countering inequalities with redistribution
    3. inclusiveness: the interest in inclusion vs. the maximizing interest
    4. the state and the market
      1. little risk of state-sponsored eugenics
      2. greater danger from markets
  11. Human Cloning and Human Dignity: An Ethical Inquiry, letter of transmittal, preface, executive summary, and chapter 5: “The Ethics of Cloning-to-Produce-Children”
    1. objection based on safety of children (when cloning is undertaken experimentally)
    2. objection that a clone may have problems of identity and individuality
    3. objection that cloning involves manufacturing—manipulation and control
    4. objection that cloning will lead to troubled family relations
  12. Human Cloning and Human Dignity: An Ethical Inquiry, chapter 6: “The Ethics of Cloning-for-Biomedical-Research”
    1. three positions
      1. proceed, with heavy regulation
      2. proceed, with light regulation
      3. do not proceed
    2. the argument against proceeding
      1. the rejection of comparison with IVF embryos (p. 162.4–6)
      2. the rejection of human-animal hybrids (p. 165.6)
      3. the rejection of negative responsibility (p. 167.7)
  13. genetic discrimination
    1. Kitcher: the “informational precondition” (p. 131.5)
    2. corporate responsibility vs. government responsibility
    3. Nowlan: fair pricing (p. 195c.3)
    4. adverse selection
    5. Rothenberg and Terry: corporate ignorance (p. 197b.3)
  14. The Future of Human Nature, to p. 53
    1. basic concepts
      1. ethics vs. morality: p. 3.4, p. 29.3, pp. 32.8–33.2, p. 38.7–9
        • postmetaphysical ethics: p. 1.5, p. 2.5
      2. “inner” nature: p. 23.7, p. 28.3
      3. liberal eugenics: pp. 48.8–49.2
    2. claims
      1. something about acting wrongly
        1. maybe something like this: It is wrong to intervene in the genetic makeup of an individual in a way they it cannot be expected that he or she will later consent to.
        2. Note that, for Habermas, reasonably anticipated consent renders the intervention blameless. See, for example, p. 43.3–6 and p. 44.2–3, p. 52.2, and p. 52.4.
      2. something about self-understanding—maybe one of the following:
        1. Altering a person’s DNA prevents her from seeing herself as the author (sole author?) of her life.
        2. Altering a person’s DNA prevents her from accurately seeing herself as the author (sole author?) of her life.
      3. something about autonomy—maybe one of the following:
        1. Altering a person’s DNA prevents her from seeing herself as autonomous.
        2. Altering a person’s DNA prevents her from accurately seeing herself as autonomous.
      4. Obviously all these of these are presented very sketchily here. What’s presented here is just meant to mark some areas where more precision is needed.
  15. The Future of Human Nature, pp. 53–100
    1. feeling at home in one’s own body: p. 57.7 and p. 58.2 (but see also p. 87.1)
    2. difference between natural and social factors: p. 61.8
    3. two worries: demise of apparent sole authorship and demise of apparent equality: p. 79.2
    4. morality, valued from an ethical point of view: p. 73.3, 93.8