Talk about ethics involves a great number of different sorts of concepts – rules, virtues, values, outcomes, rights, etc … Ethics is about all those things, but it is not fundamentally about them. Let’s review them with a view to seeing why they are not basic.
Decision under conditions of uncertainty is an unavoidable fact of life. The available evidence rarely suffices to establish a claim with complete confidence, and as a result a good deal of our reasoning about the world must employ criteria of probable judgment. Such criteria specify the conditions under which rational agents are justified in accepting or acting upon propositions whose truth cannot be ascertained with certainty. Since the seventeenth century philosophers and mathematicians have been accustomed to consider belief under uncertainty (...) from the standpoint of the mathematical theory of probability. In 1654, Blaise Pascal entered into correspondence with Pierre de Fermat on two problems in the theory of probability that had been posed by the Chevalier De Méré – the first involved the just division of the stakes in a game of chance that has been interrupted, the second is the likelihood of throwing a given number in a fixed number of throws using fair dice. This correspondence resulted in fundamental results that are now regarded as the foundation of the mathematical approach to probability, and historical studies of probabilistic reasoning almost invariably begin with the Pascal-Fermat correspondence. Franklin has no interest in denying the significance of the mathematical treatment of probability – he is, after all, a professional mathematician – but the principal theme in his book is the gradual “coming to consciousness” of canons of inference governing uncertain cases. (shrink)
Language suggestive of natural law ethics, similar to the Catholic understanding of ethical foundations, is prevalent in a number of disciplines. But it does not always issue in a full-blooded commitment to objective ethics, being undermined by relativist ethical currents. In law and politics, there is a robust conception of "human rights", but it has become somewhat detached from both the worth of persons in themselves and from duties. In education, talk of "values" imports ethical considerations but hints at a (...) subjectivist view of them. In the psychology and sociology of drug use, ethically thin concepts of "harm minimisation" and "selfimage" dominate discussion and distract attention from the virtue of temperance and the training of character. A more forceful assertion of an ethics based on the worth of persons in these cases would be most desirable. Arguments against objectivity in the fundamentals may be replied to by examining the parallel between ethics and the discipline whose objectivity has been least challenged by relativist arguments, mathematics. (shrink)
Let me tell you what philosophy is about, then about how Sydney does it in its own special way. Does life have a meaning, and if so what is it? What can I be certain of, and how should I act when I am not certain? Why are the established truths of my tribe better than the primitive superstitions of your tribe? Why should I do as I’m told? Those are questions it’s easy to avoid, in the rush to acquire (...) goods and prestige. Even for many of a more serious outlook, they are questions easy to dismiss with excuses like “it’s all a matter of opinion” or “let’s get on with practical matters” or “they’re too hard”. They are questions that may be ignored, but they do not go away. They’re philosophical questions. There’s a right way to approach them – you read the writings of the classical and recent philosophers and consider carefully their arguments back and forth. There are many wrong ways to approach them, such as choosing at random among the ideas your parents or friends or gurus have, or ideas that feel good. Or you can just not bother. Sydney has a certain reputation for superficiality in this regard. A character in David Williamson’s Emerald City says “No-one in Sydney ever wastes time debating the meaning of life — it’s getting yourself a water frontage”, says If you have a Writers Festival or a conference on Happiness in Sydney, you don’t normally expect philosophers to be invited. Caroline Jones’ radio series, ‘The Search for Meaning’. (shrink)
This paper reports original data on contentious challenges, especially protests, focused on human rights in seven Latin American countries from 1981 to 1995. An analysis reveals that human rights contentious challenges are most prevalent where human rights abuses are worse and authoritarianism is present and in countries that are more urbanized. However, the incidence of such human rights contentious challenges is not related to the number of human rights organizations (HROs) in the country. Results also suggest two different types of (...) human rights contention. National human rights movements, present in Argentina and Guatemala, involved HROs and demanded improvements in the national human rights situation. The other form is ancillary human rights protest, in which human rights challenges are led by a variety of groups, focus on repression particular to the groups involved and are either short-lived or part of a more general wave of opposition. This form of contention was more prevalent in Brazil, Chile, Mexico, Nicaragua, and Venezuela. (shrink)
Both the traditional Aristotelian and modern symbolic approaches to logic have seen logic in terms of discrete symbol processing. Yet there are several kinds of argument whose validity depends on some topological notion of continuous variation, which is not well captured by discrete symbols. Examples include extrapolation and slippery slope arguments, sorites, fuzzy logic, and those involving closeness of possible worlds. It is argued that the natural first attempts to analyze these notions and explain their relation to reasoning fail, so (...) that ignorance of their nature is profound. (shrink)
Both philosophical and practical analyses of global justice issues have been vitiated by two errors: a too-high emphasis on the supposed duties of collectives to act, and a too-low emphasis on the analysis of causes and risks. Concentrating instead on the duties of individual actors and analysing what they can really achieve reconfigures the field. It diverts attention from individual problems such as poverty or refugees or questions on what states should do. Instead it shows that there are different duties (...) for political leaders, intelligence operatives, opinion leaders and citizens in devising, urging and implementing such plans as transfers of aid with accountability, military interventions in rogue states and limited intakes of refugees. With collectivist excuses for inaction such as sovereignty out of the way, it is possible to take a cautiously optimistic view of the possibility of forceful and morally responsible interventions in the range of major global problems. (shrink)
The late scholastics, from the fourteenth to the seventeenth centuries, contributed to many ﬁelds of knowledge other than philosophy. They developed a method of conceptual analysis that was very productive in those disciplines in which theory is relatively more important than empirical results. That includes mathematics, where the scholastics developed the analysis of continuous motion, which fed into the calculus, and the theory of risk and probability. The method came to the fore especially in the social sciences. In legal theory (...) they developed, for example, the ethical analyses of the conditions of validity of contracts, and natural rights theory. In political theory, they introduced constitutionalism and the thought experiment of a “state of nature”. Their contributions to economics included concepts still regarded as basic, such as demand, capital, labour, and scarcity. Faculty psychology and semiotics are other areas of signiﬁ cance. In such disciplines, later developments rely crucially on scholastic concepts and vocabulary. (shrink)
According to Quine’s indispensability argument, we ought to believe in just those mathematical entities that we quantify over in our best scientific theories. Quine’s criterion of ontological commitment is part of the standard indispensability argument. However, we suggest that a new indispensability argument can be run using Armstrong’s criterion of ontological commitment rather than Quine’s. According to Armstrong’s criterion, ‘to be is to be a truthmaker (or part of one)’. We supplement this criterion with our own brand of metaphysics, 'Aristotelian (...) (...) realism', in order to identify the truthmakers of mathematics. We consider in particular as a case study the indispensability to physics of real analysis (the theory of the real numbers). We conclude that it is possible to run an indispensability argument without Quinean baggage. (shrink)
Modern philosophy of mathematics has been dominated by Platonism and nominalism, to the neglect of the Aristotelian realist option. Aristotelianism holds that mathematics studies certain real properties of the world – mathematics is neither about a disembodied world of “abstract objects”, as Platonism holds, nor it is merely a language of science, as nominalism holds. Aristotle’s theory that mathematics is the “science of quantity” is a good account of at least elementary mathematics: the ratio of two heights, for example, is (...) a perceivable and measurable real relation between properties of physical things, a relation that can be shared by the ratio of two weights or two time intervals. Ratios are an example of continuous quantity; discrete quantities, such as whole numbers, are also realised as relations between a heap and a unit-making universal. For example, the relation between foliage and being-a-leaf is the number of leaves on a tree, a relation that may equal the relation between a heap of shoes and being-a-shoe. Modern higher mathematics, however, deals with some real properties that are not naturally seen as quantity, so that the “science of quantity” theory of mathematics needs supplementation. Symmetry, topology and similar structural properties are studied by mathematics, but are about pattern, structure or arrangement rather than quantity. (shrink)
We first survey the Catholic social justice tradition, the foundation on which Caritas in Veritate builds. Then we discuss Benedict’s addition of love to the philosophical virtues (as applied to economics), and how radical a change that makes to an ethical perspective on economics. We emphasise the reality of the interpersonal aspects of present-day economic exchanges, using insights from two disciplines that have recognized that reality, human resources and marketing. Finally, we examine the prospects for an economics of gratuitousness at (...) a level higher than the individual, that is, for businesses devoted to social ends more than profit. (shrink)
Greek, Latin and Ancient History. Instead, after a good result in mathematics, I decided to pursue that instead. That left me with an extra subject to choose to fill up first year. What was this "Philosophy" on offer? I couldn't understand where there was something in the spectrum of knowledge for philosophy to be about. Biology was about cats, English was about language and literature, mathematics was about numbers (I was not yet philosophically smart enough to realise there was a (...) problem as to what numbers were, given that you can't observe them like cats.) But what topics were left over for philosophy? (shrink)
Aristotelian, or non-Platonist, realism holds that mathematics is a science of the real world, just as much as biology or sociology are. Where biology studies living things and sociology studies human social relations, mathematics studies the quantitative or structural aspects of things, such as ratios, or patterns, or complexity, or numerosity, or symmetry. Let us start with an example, as Aristotelians always prefer, an example that introduces the essential themes of the Aristotelian view of mathematics. A typical mathematical truth is (...) that there are six different pairs in four objects: Figure 1. There are 6 different pairs in 4 objects The objects may be of any kind, physical, mental or abstract. The mathematical statement does not refer to any properties of the objects, but only to patterning of the parts in the complex of the four objects. If that seems to us less a solid truth about the real world than the causation of flu by viruses, that may be simply due to our blindness about relations, or tendency to regard them as somehow less real than things and properties. But relations (for example, relations of equality between parts of a structure) are as real as colours or causes. (shrink)
"Does torture work?" is a factual rather than ethical or legal question. But legal and ethical discussions of torture should be informed by knowledge of the answer to the factual question of the reliability of torture as an interrogation technique. The question as to whether torture works should be asked before that of its legal admissibility—if it is not useful to interrogators, there is no point considering its legality in court.
The large Eastern European migration program to Australia in the late 1940s was driven not only by Australia's need for migrants, but by Catholic views on the rights of refugees and an international Cold War plan to resettle the million people who had fled the Red Army.
Scientists get on with the job – they do stuff with test tubes or with computers – but can philosophers help them? Do they need help and, if so, do they think they need help? This week, we examine what philosophers of science talk about and what effect it might have on what scientists actually do.
Does life have a meaning, and if so what is it? What can I be certain of, and how should I act when I am not certain? Why are the established truths of my tribe better than the primitive superstitions of your tribe? Why should I do as I'm told? Those are questions it is easy to avoid, in the rush to acquire goods and prestige. Even for many of a more serious outlook, they are questions easy to dismiss with (...) excuses like "it's all a matter of opinion" or "let's get on with practical matters" or "they're too hard". They are questions that may be ignored, but they do not go away. (shrink)
publication and Now, it may well be that some wet-behind-the-ears bishops with little understanding of economics do use the term Governments relies on the “social justice” to give a colour of moral dignity to views that are a touch socialist. But what was missing in Abbott’s cannot pick winners generosity of its..
methods that have shown promise for improving extreme risk analysis, particularly for assessing the risks of invasive pests and pathogens associated with international trade. We describe the legally inspired regulatory regime for banks, where these methods have been brought to bear on extreme ‘operational risks’. We argue that an ‘advocacy model’ similar to that used in the Basel II compliance regime for bank operational risks and to a lesser extent in biosecurity import risk analyses is ideal for permitting the diversity (...) of relevant evidence about invasive species to be presented and soundly evaluated. We recommend that the process be enhanced in ways that enable invasion ecology to make more explicit use of the methods found successful.. (shrink)
If a company’s share price rises when it sacks workers, or when it makes money from polluting the environment, it would seem that the accounting is not being done correctly. Real costs are not being paid. People’s ethical claims, which in a smaller-scale case would be legally enforceable, are not being measured in such circumstances. This results from a mismatch between the applied ethics tradition and the practice of the accounting profession. Applied ethics has mostly avoided quantification of rights, while (...) accounting practice has embraced quantification, but has been excessively conservative about what may be counted. The two traditions can be combined, by using some of the ideas economists have devised to quantify difficult-to-measure costs and benefits in environmental accounting. (shrink)
The late twentieth century saw two long-term trends in popular thinking about ethics. One was an increase in relativist opinions, with the “generation of the Sixties” spearheading a general libertarianism, an insistence on toleration of diverse moral views (for “Who is to say what is right? – it’s only your opinion.”) The other trend was an increasing insistence on rights – the gross violations of rights in the killing fields of the mid-century prompted immense efforts in defence of the “inalienable” (...) rights of the victims of dictators, of oppressed peoples, of refugees. The obvious incompatibility of those ethical stances, one anti-objectivist, the other objectivist in the extreme, proved no obstacle to their both being held passionately, often by the same people. (shrink)
The report begins by outlining several case studies with varying levels of data, examining the role for extreme event risk analysis. The case studies include BA’s analysis of fire blight and New Zealand apples, bank operational risk and several technical failures. The report then surveys recent developments in methods relevant to evaluating extreme risks and evaluates their properties. These include methods for fraud detection in banks, formal extreme value theory, Bayesian approaches, qualitative reasoning, and adversary and advocacy models. The document (...) includes a supplementary report as an appendix, providing an overview of the quantification of bank operational risks. (shrink)
If Tahiti suggested to theorists comfortably at home in Europe thoughts of noble savages without clothes, those who paid for and went on voyages there were in pursuit of a quite opposite human ideal. Cook's voyage to observe the transit of Venus in 1769 symbolises the eighteenth century's commitment to numbers and accuracy, and its willingness to spend a lot of public money on acquiring them. The state supported the organisation of quantitative researches, employing surveyors and collecting statistics to..
Postmodernism is not so much a theory as an attitude. It is an attitude of suspicion – suspicion about claims of truth and about appeals to rational argument. Its corrupting effects must be answered by finding a better alternative, which must include a defence of the objecvity of both reason and ethics. Natural law thinking is necessary for the latter.
The teaching of the Aquinas Academy in its first thirty years was based on the scholastic philosophy of Thomas Aquinas, then regarded as the official philosophy of the Catholic Church. That philosophy has not been so much heard of in the last thirty years, but it has a strong presence below the surface. Its natural law theory of ethics, especially, still informs Vatican pronouncements on moral topics such as contraception and euthanasia. It has also been important in Australia in the (...) High Court’s deliberations on the Mabo case. It is argued that some officially-sanctioned deductions on particular cases have not been correct, but that any attempt to do without a natural law foundation of ethics would throw out the baby with the bathwater. The sense of the basic objective worth of persons that is the centre of natural law ethics is essential to any ethics better than a simple “might is right” approach. (shrink)
Some courses achieve existence, some have to create Professional Issues and Ethics in existence thrust upon them. It is normally Mathematics; but if you don’t do it, we will a struggle to create a course on the ethical be.” I accepted. or social aspects of science or mathematics. The gift of a greenfield site and a bull- This is the story of one that was forced to dozer is a happy occasion, undoubtedly. But exist by an unusual confluence of outside (...) cirwhat to do next? It seemed to me I should cumstances. ensure the course satisfied these require- In the mid 1990s, the University of New ments: South Wales instituted a policy that all its • It should look good to students, to staff. (shrink)
Some courses achieve existence, some have existence thrust upon them. It is normally a struggle to create in a scientific academic community a course on the philosophical or social aspects of science, but just occasionally a confluence of outside circumstances causes one to exist, irrespective of the wishes of the scientists. It is an opportunity, and taking advantage of it requires a slightly different approach from what is appropriate to the normal course of events, where a “social” course needs a (...) fight to establish it, and faces a struggle for more than marginal existence. (shrink)
A standard view of probability and statistics centers on distributions and hypothesis testing. To solve a real problem, say in the spread of disease, one chooses a “model”, a distribution or process that is believed from tradition or intuition to be appropriate to the class of problems in question. One uses data to estimate the parameters of the model, and then delivers the resulting exactly specified model to the customer for use in prediction and classification. As a gateway to these (...) mysteries, the combinatorics of dice and coins are recommended; the energetic youth who invest heavily in the calculation of relative frequencies will be inclined to protect their investment through faith in the frequentist philosophy that probabilities are all really relative frequencies. Those with a taste for foundational questions are referred to measure theory, an excursion from which few return. That picture, standardised by Fisher and Neyman in the 1930s, has proved in many ways remarkably serviceable. It is especially reasonable where it is known that the data are generated by a physical process that conforms to the model. It is not so useful where the data is a large and little understood mess, as is typical in, for example, insurance data being investigated for fraud. Nor is it suitable where one has several speculations about possible models and wishes to compare them, or.. (shrink)
Powerful, technically complex international compliance regimes have developed recently in certain professions that deal with risk: banking (the Basel II regime), accountancy (IFRS) and the actuarial profession. The need to deal with major risks has acted as a strong driver of international co-operation to create enforceable international semilegal systems, as happened earlier in such ﬁelds as international health regulations. This regulation in technical ﬁelds contrasts with the failure of an international general-purpose political and legal regime to develop. We survey the (...) new global regulatory systems in the actuarial, banking and accounting ﬁelds, with a view to showing how the need to deal reasonably with risk has resulted in an international de facto law solidly based on correct abstract principles of probability. (shrink)
In 1947 Donald Cary Williams claimed in The Ground of Induction to have solved the Humean problem of induction, by means of an adaptation of reasoning ﬁrst advanced by Bernoulli in 1713. Later on David Stove defended and improved upon Williams’ argument in The Rational- ity of Induction (1986). We call this proposed solution of induction the ‘Williams-Stove sampling thesis’. There has been no lack of objections raised to the sampling thesis, and it has not been widely accepted. In our (...) opinion, though, none of these objections has the slightest force, and, moreover, the sampling thesis is undoubtedly true. What we will argue in this paper is that one particular objection that has been raised on numerous occasions is misguided. This concerns the randomness of the sample on which the inductive extrapolation is based. (shrink)
A RECENT BIOGRAPHY of Marcus Loane, evangelical Anglican Archbishop of Sydney in the 1960s, records that as a student at Moore Theological College he would read during lectures to avoid having to listen to the liberal Principal. When you are committed to a closed system of thought, you can't be too careful when it comes to letting ideas in from the outside. But what about the ideas already inside? How does the Sydney Anglican interpretation of Christianity compare to what Jesus (...) said? (shrink)
Australian women who are university graduates have fewer children than non-graduates. In most cases this appears to be the result of circumstantial pressures not preference. Long years of study fill the most fertile years of women students and new graduates need further time to establish their careers. The chance of medical infertility increases with age so, for some, this means that childbearing is not postponed but ruled out. Graduates who do make the transition from university to professional work find that (...) working hours are long and that professional occupations are now both highly demanding and insecure. Women who take time off to care for young children must depend on one insecure income (their partner’s) rather than two, and their return to work is uncertain. These difficulties of time, money and insecurity are compounded by problems in finding a suitable partner. They are magnified by the enduring tendency of women to marry up. Thus it can be more difficult for women graduates to find husbands than it is for women who are non-graduates. (shrink)
The imperviousness of mathematical truth to anti-objectivist attacks has always heartened those who defend objectivism in other areas, such as ethics. It is argued that the parallel between mathematics and ethics is close and does support objectivist theories of ethics. The parallel depends on the foundational role of equality in both disciplines. Despite obvious differences in their subject matter, mathematics and ethics share a status as pure forms of knowledge, distinct from empirical sciences. A pure understanding of principles is possible (...) because of the simplicity of the notion of equality, despite the different origins of our understanding of equality of objects in general and of the equality of the ethical worth of persons. (shrink)
• It would be a moral disgrace for God (if he existed) to allow the many evils in the world, in the same way it would be for a parent to allow a nursery to be infested with criminals who abused the children. • There is a contradiction in asserting all three of the propositions: God is perfectly good; God is perfectly powerful; evil exists (since if God wanted to remove the evils and could, he would). • The religious believer (...) has no hope of getting away with excuses that evil is not as bad as it seems, or that it is all a result of free will, and so on. Piper avoids mentioning the best solution so far put forward to the problem of evil. It is Leibniz’s theory that God does not create a better world because there isn’t one — that is, that (contrary to appearances) if one part of the world were improved, the ramifications would result in it being worse elsewhere, and worse overall. It is a “bump in the carpet” theory: push evil down here, and it pops up over there. Leibniz put it by saying this is the “Best of All Possible Worlds”. That phrase was a public relations disaster for his theory, suggesting as it does that everything is perfectly fine as it is. He does not mean that, but only that designing worlds is a lot harder than it looks, and determining the amount of evil in the best one is no easy matter. Though humour is hardly appropriate to the subject matter, the point of Leibniz’s idea is contained in the old joke, “An optimist is someone who thinks this is the best of all possible worlds, and a pessimist thinks.. (shrink)
To move beyond vague platitudes about the importance of context in legal reasoning or natural language understanding, one must take account of ideas from artiﬁcial intelligence on how to represent context formally. Work on topics like prior probabilities, the theory-ladenness of observation, encyclopedic knowledge for disambiguation in language translation and pathology test diagnosis has produced a body of knowledge on how to represent context in artiﬁcial intelligence applications.