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Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics

Updated 6 days ago

Education
Society & Culture
Philosophy
Courses
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A selection of seminars and special lectures on wide-ranging topics relating to practical ethics. The Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics was established in 2002 with the support of the Uehiro Foundation on Ethics and Education of Japan. It is an integral part of the philosophy faculty of Oxford University, one of the great centres of academic excellence in philosophical ethics.

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A selection of seminars and special lectures on wide-ranging topics relating to practical ethics. The Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics was established in 2002 with the support of the Uehiro Foundation on Ethics and Education of Japan. It is an integral part of the philosophy faculty of Oxford University, one of the great centres of academic excellence in philosophical ethics.

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4 Ratings
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iTunes Ratings

4 Ratings
Average Ratings
2
1
0
0
1
Cover image of Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics

Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics

Updated 6 days ago

Read more

A selection of seminars and special lectures on wide-ranging topics relating to practical ethics. The Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics was established in 2002 with the support of the Uehiro Foundation on Ethics and Education of Japan. It is an integral part of the philosophy faculty of Oxford University, one of the great centres of academic excellence in philosophical ethics.

Rank #1: The Ethics of Infant Male Circumcision

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In this talk, I argue that non-therapeutic circumcision of infants is unethical, whether performed for reasons of obtaining possible future health benefits, for reasons of cultural transmission, or for reasons of perceived religious obligation. In this talk, I argue that the non-therapeutic circumcision of infant males is unethical, whether it is performed for reasons of obtaining possible future health benefits, for reasons of cultural transmission, or for reasons of perceived religious obligation. I begin with the premise that it should be considered morally impermissible to sever healthy, functional genital tissue from another person's body without first asking for, and then actually receiving, that person's informed consent-otherwise, this action would qualify as a criminal assault. I then raise a number of possible exceptions to this rule, to see whether they could reasonably serve to justify the practice of infant male circumcision in certain cases. First, what if it could be established that the risk of contracting certain diseases might be diminished by removing a person's foreskin in infancy, as is often suggested in the United States? Second, what if circumcision could be shown to reduce the spread of AIDS in African populations with high transmission rates of HIV? Third, what if the infant's parents believed that they had a cultural or a religious obligation to remove the foreskin from his penis before he was old enough to give his consent? After discussing the merits of these considerations as possible "exceptions" to the ethical premise with which I will have begun my talk, I go on to conclude that they do not present compelling justifications for circumcision before the boy is old enough to understand what is at stake in such a surgery and to decide for himself whether he would like to part with his own foreskin. I conclude with a discussion of the similarities and differences between male and female forms of genital cutting, and I argue that anyone who is committed to the view that infant male circumcision is morally permissible must also accept the moral permissibility of some (though not all) forms of female genital cutting. However, as I argue, neither type of cutting should be allowed absent clear consent of the individual and/or strict medical necessity.

Jun 27 2013

52mins

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Rank #2: Moral Conformity

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Sinnott-Armstrong is the Chauncey Stillman Professor of Ethics at Duke University. In this inaugural workshop, professors from Duke University presented papers in Oxford in June 2015.

Jul 14 2015

49mins

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Rank #3: Debate: The Value of Life

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John Broome, the White's Professor of Moral Philosophy, debates the value of life with Jeff McMahan, focussing on McMahan's time-relative account of the value of life, which Broome has criticised. This public event was held as part of Professor McMahan's Astor Visiting Lectureship 2013. The debate was well attended, and provided a rare opportunity to bring together McMahan and Broome in to discuss a topic of enormous and wide ranging practical significance. Jeff McMahan is Professor of Philosophy at Rutgers University. He did his graduate work at Oxford and Cambridge and was a research fellow at St. John's College, Cambridge. He is the author of 'The Ethics of Killing: Problems at the Margins of Life' (2002) and 'Killing in War' (2009). He has several other books forthcoming from OUP, including a collection of essays called 'The Values of Lives', a book on war intended for both academic and nonacademic readers called 'The Right Way to Fight', and a sequel to his 2002 book called 'The Ethics of Killing: Self-Defense, War, and Punishment'. John Broome is currently the White's Professor of Moral Philosophy at the University of Oxford and a Fellow of Corpus Christi College, Oxford. Broome was educated at the University of Cambridge, at the University of London and at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he received a PhD in economics. Before arriving at Oxford he was Professor of Philosophy at the University of St. Andrews and, prior to that, Professor of Economics and Philosophy at the University of Bristol. He has held visiting posts at the University of Virginia, the Australian National University, Princeton University, the University of Washington, the University of British Columbia, the Swedish Collegium for Advanced Study in the Social Sciences, and the University of Canterbury. In 2007 Broome was elected a Foreign Member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. His book 'Weighing Goods' (1991) explores the way in which goods "located" in each of the three "dimensions" - time, people, states of nature - make up overall goodness. Broome argues that these dimensions are linked by what he calls the interpersonal addition theorem, which supports the utilitarian principle of distribution. In his book Weighing Lives (2004), Broome rejects the presumed intuition that adding people to the population is ethically neutral. In his collection of papers, titled 'Ethics out of Economics' (1999), he discusses topics such as value, equality, fairness, and utility.

Feb 15 2013

1hr 1min

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Rank #4: 1st St Cross Seminar HT13: Two Conceptions of Children's Welfare

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Anthony Skelton examines possible reasons why philosophers have neglected to discuss children's welfare. After outlining and evaluating differing views, a rival account is presented. What makes a child's life go well? This paper examines two answers to this question, one put forward by Wayne Sumner in Welfare, Happiness, and Ethics and another by Richard Kraut in What is Good and Why: The Ethics of Well-being. The argument of this paper is that neither view is entirely satisfactory. A better account of the nature of children's welfare combines elements of both views. This paper is divided into five sections. The first section examines possible reasons why philosophers have neglected to discuss children's welfare. The second section outlines and evaluates Sumner's view. The third section outlines and evaluates Kraut's view. The fourth section sketches an account of children's welfare that rivals the accounts discussed in sections two and three. The final section summarizes my results.

Feb 05 2013

1hr 20mins

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Rank #5: Uehiro Seminar: The Value of Uncertainty

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Uncertainty and quality should be integrated into the quantitative sciences of complex systems; this talk offers some practical techniques that illustrate how this could be accomplished. The faith that truth lies in numbers goes back to the Pythagorean attempt to unify both practical and theoretical sciences. Its current manifestation is the idolisation of pre-Einsteinian physics in the quantification of social, economic, and behavioural sciences. The talk will explain how this "crisp number" mode of thinking has promoted the use of over-simplistic models and masking of uncertainties that can in turn lead to incomplete understanding of problems and bad decisions. The quality of a model in terms of its fitness for purpose can be ignored when convenience, especially computerised convenience, offers more easily calculated crisp numbers. Yet these inadequacies matter when computerised models generate pseudo-realities of their own through structures such as financial derivatives and processes such as algorithmic trading. Like Frankenstein's monster, we have already seen financial market pseudo-reality take on an uncontrolled, unstable and dangerous life of its own, all the more beguiling when it generated income for all parties in the merry-go-round. Despite its manifest failings, it is still going on.

Mar 05 2013

48mins

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Rank #6: If I could just stop loving you: Anti-love drugs and the ethics of a chemical break-up

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Emotional pain and difficulty in relationships is potentially dangerous and destructive. In this talk, I explore some of the potential uses and misuses of anti-love biotechnology from a scientific and ethical perspective. "Love hurts" - as the saying goes - and a certain degree of pain and difficulty in intimate relationships is unavoidable. Sometimes it may even be beneficial, since, as it is often argued, some types (and amounts) of suffering can lead to personal growth, self-discovery, and a range of other essential components of a life well-lived. But other times, love is downright dangerous. Either it can trap a person in a cycle of violence, as in some domestic abuse cases, or it can prevent a person from moving on with her life or forming healthier relationships. The idea of an anti-love remedy or a "cure" for love is as old as love itself. References may be found in the writings of Lucretius, Ovid, Shakespeare, and many others, and are tightly linked to the notion that love or infatuation-under certain conditions-can be just like a serious illness: bad for one's physical and mental health and, in some cases, profoundly damaging to one's overall well-being. But unlike these ancient remedies, modern neuroscience and bio-psycho-pharmacology create the possibility of designing a "cure" for love that could actually work, raising a number of ethical questions about their possible use. In this talk, I explore some of the potential uses and misuses of anti-love bio-technlogy from a scientific and ethical perspective.

Dec 04 2012

40mins

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Rank #7: Uehiro Seminar: Do antidepressants work and if so how?

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Antidepressants are commonplace yet there is much debate about their clinical efficacy. Are they merely placebos or do they have a clinical effect on the way our brains work? In this presentation, Professor Cowen investigates the evidence. Antidepressant drugs are commonly prescribed for clinical depression but have a rather dubious public reception. Professor Ian Reid has commented that, 'antidepressants are regularly caricatured in the media as an addictive emotional anaesthetic, peddled by thoughtless general practitioners as a matter of convenience, and taken by credulous dupes who seek "a pill for every ill".' (BMJ 2013; 346: f190). There is also a perception that antidepressants, in fact, work only through placebo mechanisms and have no specific activity to relieve depression. In this presentation I will look at the evidence for the effectiveness of antidepressants and the kind of clinical situation where their use seems justified. I will also describe a new 'cognitive' theory of antidepressant action which suggests that antidepressants work through a specific effect on how the brain evaluates emotional information.

Dec 04 2013

49mins

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Rank #8: Uehiro Seminar: Rescuing Responsibility from the Retributivists - Neuroscience, Free Will and Criminal Punishment

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Legal punishment as the routine infliction of suffering poses a serious challenge of justification. The challenge becomes more urgent as a number of thinkers argue that the dominant, retributivist answer fails in the light of the findings of neuroscience. In this talk I sketch a general account of retributivist justification of punishment and the basic neuroscientific argument against it. I then explore ways of challenging the argument by modifying the retributivist account of responsibility and desert. I analyze several variations and argue that none are plausible. I conclude by suggesting one way in which the notion of criminal responsibility can be rescued, but at the theoretical cost of changing the grounds of justification.

May 02 2013

41mins

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Rank #9: Folk Psychology, the Reactive Attitudes and Responsibility

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In this talk we first argue that the reactive attitudes originate in very fast non-voluntary processes involving constant facial feedback. In the second part we examine the supposed constitutive relation between the reactive attitudes and responsibility. This talk explores the connections between the folk psychological project of interpretation, the reactive attitudes and responsibility. The first section argues that the reactive attitudes originate in very fast and to a significant extent, non-voluntary processes involving constant facial feedback. These processes allow for smooth interaction between participants and are important to the interpretive practices that ground intimate relationships as well as to a great many less intense interactions. We will examine cases of facial paralysis (Moebius Syndrome and Botox studies) to support the argument that when these processes are interrupted or impaired, the interpretive project breaks down and social relationships suffer. But do failures of interpretation lead, as Strawson suggests, to the suspension of the reactive attitudes relevant to responsibility assessments? We suggest that in many important instances they do not. Here we consider the cases of children who murder, alien cultures, and psychopaths. In the second part we examine the supposed constitutive relation between the reactive attitudes and responsibility.

May 30 2013

52mins

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Rank #10: Astor Keynote Lecture: What Rights May be Defended by Means of War?

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Many aims that motivate unjust wars could be achieved without violence if not met with military resistance. So is self-defense against aggression always permissible? Are the values of state sovereignty important enough to justify war in their defense? Wrongful aggressors often claim to love peace, and there is a sense in which that is true, for they would prefer to get what they want without having to fight a war. Many of the aims that motivate unjust wars could be achieved without violence: for example, control of certain natural resources such as oil, limited political control over another state, the annexation of a bit of its territory, and so on. In such cases, war and killing become necessary for aggressors only if they meet with military resistance. If an aggressor's aims were limited, so that the aggressor would not kill or seriously harm any citizen if it could achieve its goals without violence, would it be permissible for the victims to go to war in self-defense? The traditional assumption is that self-defense against aggression is always permissible. But are the values of state sovereignty and territorial integrity always, or even generally, sufficiently important on their own to justify the resort to war in their defense?

Apr 11 2013

55mins

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Rank #11: Leverhulme Lecture 1: The Nature and the Significance of Implicit Bias

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The first of the two 2016 Leverhulme Lectures by Professor Neil Levy on the topic of implicit bias People who sincerely express a commitment to equality sometimes act in ways that seem to belie that commitment. There is good evidence that these actions are sometimes caused by implicit mental states, of which people may not be aware. In this lecture, I introduce these states, explore how significant a role they play in explaining behaviour, and how they can be changed.

Feb 23 2016

55mins

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Rank #12: Using Religion to Justify Violence

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Exploring different ways in which the metaphysics of religious world views can be used in justifications of violence, this talk concentrates on appeals to the importance of the afterlife to justify violence. Much has been written about the relationship between religion and violence, and much of what has been written is aimed at trying to determine whether, how and why religion causes violence. In my forthcoming book The Justification of Religious Violence (Wiley-Blackwell), I pursue a different goal, which is to understand if and how religion can be used to justify violence. Followers of many different religions, who commit violent acts, seek to justify these by appealing to religion. I argue that religious believers are able to incorporate premises, grounded in the metaphysics of religious world views, in arguments for the conclusion that this or that violent act is justified.

Jun 18 2013

36mins

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Rank #13: Uehiro Special Double Seminar: Enhancement

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Associate Professor Rob Sparrow (Monash) and PhD student Chris Gyngell (ANU) present talks on the topic of human enhancement. Rob Sparrow on 'Enhancement and Obsolescence: Avoiding An "Enhanced Rat Race"': A claim about continuing technological progress plays an essential, if unacknowledged, role in the philosophical literature on "human enhancement". Advocates for enhancement typically point to the rapid progress being made in the development of biotechnologies, information technology, and nanotechnology as evidence that we will soon be able to achieve significant improvements on normal human capacities through applications of these technologies. In this paper, I will argue that - should it eventuate - continuous improvement in enhancement technologies may prove more bane than benefit. A rapid increase in the power of available enhancements would mean that each cohort of enhanced individuals will find itself in danger of being outcompeted by the next in competition for important social goods - a situation I characterise as an 'enhanced rat race'. Rather than risk the chance of being rendered technologically and socially obsolete by the time one is in one's early 20s, it may be rational to prefer that a wide range of enhancements that would generate positional disadvantages that outweigh their absolute advantages be prohibited altogether. The danger of an enhanced rat race therefore constitutes a novel argument in favour of abandoning the pursuit of certain sorts of enhancements. Chris Gyngell on 'Stocking the Genetic Supermarket: Genetic Enhancements and Collective Action Problems': In the near future parents may be able to directly alter the genetic make-up of their children using genetic engineering technologies (GETs). A popular model that has been proposed for regulating access to GETs is the 'genetic supermarket'. In the genetic supermarket parents are free to make decisions about which genes to select for their children with little state interference. One possible consequence of the genetic supermarket is that 'collective action problems' will arise. The combined result of individuals using the market to pursue self-interested gains may have a negative effect on society as a whole, and on future generations. In this paper I look at whether GETs targeting height, innate immunity, and certain cognitive traits would lead to collective action problems if available in the genetic supermarket. I argue that that the widespread availability of GETs targeting height are unlikely to lead to genuine collective action problems, but that those targeting innate immunity and aspects of our cognition, could. I then briefly discuss some implications of this claim for the regulation of GETs.

May 22 2013

1hr 56mins

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Rank #14: The Ethics of Stress, Resilience, and Moral Injury Among Police and Military Personnel

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Professor Seumas Miller sets out how the use of lethal and coercive forces may erode moral character and cause moral injury. According to leading psychiatrist Jonathan Shay whose patients are US war veterans, “Moral injury is an essential part of any combat trauma that leads to lifelong psychological injury. Veterans can usually recover from horror, fear and grief so long as ”what’s right” has also not been violated”. The focus of this paper is on moral injury in both military combatants and police officers. The role of combatants and that of police officer both necessarily involve the use of harmful methods – paradigmatically, the use of lethal force in the case of combatants, the use of coercive force, deception and the like in the case of police officers - in the service of good ends, notably national self-defence and law enforcement, respectively. However, the use of these methods sets up a dangerous moral dynamic, including so-called dirty hands/dirty harry scenarios, and the possibility of the erosion of moral character - and, in some cases, moral injury.

Mar 26 2019

56mins

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Rank #15: Effective Philanthropy: How much good can we achieve?

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How do we know when our donations are helping, and how much they are helping? Are charities roughly equally good, or are some much more effective than others? Toby Ord and Harry Shannon discuss effective philanthropy from different angles. When we make donations to good causes we are trying to help make the world a better place. But what is the best way to do this? How do we know when our donations are helping, and how much they are helping? Are charities roughly equally good, or are some much more effective than others? And should we encourage our governments to do more?

Mar 06 2013

49mins

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Rank #16: 2013 Wellcome Lecture in Neuroethics: The Irresponsible Self: Self bias changes the way we see the world

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Humans show a bias to favour information related to themselves over information related to other people. How does this effect arise? Are self biases a stable trait of the individual? Do these biases change fundamental perceptual processes? I will review recent work from my laboratory showing that self-biases modulate basic perceptual processes; they are stable for an individual and are difficult to control; they reflect rapid tuning of brain circuits to enhance the saliency of self-related items. I discuss the implications of this work for understanding whether perceptual processes are informationally encapsulated, and whether perception changes as a function of social context.

Dec 04 2013

33mins

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Rank #17: Uehiro Seminar: The struggle between liberties and authorities in the information age

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The talk discusses the balance between cyber security measures and individual rights - any fair and reasonable society should implement the former successfully while respecting and furthering the latter. Defeating online insecurity is like defeating a Hydra with many heads: from e-commerce and online banking scams to malware, from hacking to cyberwar, it requires Herculean efforts to slay the Hydra. However, fighting and preventing attacks on security may easily cause serious ethical problems, since security measures can also undermine individual liberties such as privacy, freedom of speech and expression. This is because such measures often rest on the collection, storage, access, or elaboration of individuals' personal information. Clearly, any democratic government, fair society and responsible organisation need to identify a balance between online security and individual rights, in order to implement the former successfully while respecting and furthering the latter. The talk discusses a criterion for such a balance to be ethically sound. It is claimed that cyber security measures and individual rights are not necessarily antithetical and that they should be both considered fundamental aspects of individual's well-being in the information age.

Nov 13 2013

38mins

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Rank #18: Is there a Moral Problem with the Gig Economy?

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Is 'gig work' exploitative and injust? In this New St Cross Special Ethics Seminar, Daniel Halliday examines the common concerns from an ethical perspective. Recent advances in communication economy have created new ways for consumers to access service labour. Those who own the platforms associated with these services typically do not employ their workers, but treat them as freelance or 'gig' workers. This has led to a popular complaint that gig work is exploitative or otherwise unjust, and that the platforms need to regulated so that their workers qualify as employees. Many people now boycott the platforms using gig work, or feel uncomfortable about using it. But it is not obvious what the connection is between gig work and injustice or exploitation per se. After all, gig work has always been around in many other forms, and much of it compares favourably with employment in firms. This is not to dismiss the concern that many have with particular kinds of gig work, only to observe that the problem is complicated and calls for more detailed moral theorizing. At bottom, what's needed is a proper theory of what the difference between employment and freelance/gig work is supposed to be, and what moral purpose it serves. This talk will aim to make some progress in this direction.

Mar 04 2019

41mins

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Rank #19: Uehiro Seminar: Psychopaths and responsibility

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Neil Levy explores some of the previous debates about whether psychopaths are fully responsible for their wrongdoing, especially work on the moral/conventional distinction. Psychopaths commit a disproportionate amount of crime, and seem cognitively unimpaired. They are often thought to be bad, not mad. I advance a deflationary explanation of the moral/conventional task, and argue that this explanation entails that psychopaths fail to act with the quality of will that would underwrite holding them to be fully responsible for their actions. Neil Levy specialises in free will and moral responsibility, and empirical approaches to ethics. He has published widely on many topics in philosophy, including bioethics, applied philosophy, continental philosophy and free will. He is the author of 4 books and over 50 articles in refereed journals. He has written a book on neuroethics for Cambridge University Press (2007).

Feb 26 2013

52mins

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Rank #20: Uehiro Seminar: Cyborg justice: human enhancement and punishment

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We explore some possible interactions between enhancement technology and punishment, reflect on ethical issues that arise as a result, and consider what our justice system must do in order to ensure that it keeps pace with developments in technology. Criminal justice systems currently employ a limited range of penal sanctions to punish offenders. The type and nature of the sanctions employed are, in large part, determined by the penal aims a particular system is designed to pursue. However, they are also shaped by beliefs about what people are typically like, and by the resources available to develop and deploy punishments. Technology - particularly human enhancement technology - could change both of these latter influences. It could facilitate more effective punishments, support existing punishments, undermine certain punishments, make certain punishments more severe than was originally intended, and alter the resources available for punishments and the constraints on types of punishment.

Nov 19 2013

58mins

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