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Profile: Robert Sparrow (Monash University)
  1.  40
    Imposing Genetic Diversity.Robert Sparrow - 2015 - American Journal of Bioethics 15 (6):2-10.
    The idea that a world in which everyone was born “perfect” would be a world in which something valuable was missing often comes up in debates about the ethics of technologies of prenatal testing and preimplantation genetic diagnosis . This thought plays an important role in the “disability critique” of prenatal testing. However, the idea that human genetic variation is an important good with significant benefits for society at large is also embraced by a wide range of figures writing in (...)
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  2. Killer Robots.Robert Sparrow - 2007 - Journal of Applied Philosophy 24 (1):62–77.
    The United States Army’s Future Combat Systems Project, which aims to manufacture a “robot army” to be ready for deployment by 2012, is only the latest and most dramatic example of military interest in the use of artificially intelligent systems in modern warfare. This paper considers the ethics of a decision to send artificially intelligent robots into war, by asking who we should hold responsible when an autonomous weapon system is involved in an atrocity of the sort that would normally (...)
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  3.  34
    Egalitarianism and Moral Bioenhancement.Robert Sparrow - 2014 - American Journal of Bioethics 14 (4):20-28.
    A number of philosophers working in applied ethics and bioethics are now earnestly debating the ethics of what they term “moral bioenhancement.” I argue that the society-wide program of biological manipulations required to achieve the purported goals of moral bioenhancement would necessarily implicate the state in a controversial moral perfectionism. Moreover, the prospect of being able to reliably identify some people as, by biological constitution, significantly and consistently more moral than others would seem to pose a profound challenge to egalitarian (...)
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  4.  27
    Gender Eugenics? The Ethics of PGD for Intersex Conditions.Robert Sparrow - 2013 - American Journal of Bioethics 13 (10):29 - 38.
    This article discusses the ethics of the use of preimplantation genetic diagnosis to prevent the birth of children with intersex conditions/disorders of sex development , such as congenital adrenal hyperplasia and androgen insensitivity syndrome . While pediatric surgeries performed on children with ambiguous genitalia have been the topic of intense bioethical controversy, there has been almost no discussion to date of the ethics of the use of PGD to reduce the prevalence of these conditions. I suggest that PGD for those (...)
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  5.  85
    In the Hands of Machines? The Future of Aged Care.Robert Sparrow & Linda Sparrow - 2006 - Minds and Machines 16 (2):141-161.
    It is remarkable how much robotics research is promoted by appealing to the idea that the only way to deal with a looming demographic crisis is to develop robots to look after older persons. This paper surveys and assesses the claims made on behalf of robots in relation to their capacity to meet the needs of older persons. We consider each of the roles that has been suggested for robots in aged care and attempt to evaluate how successful robots might (...)
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  6.  38
    Better Living Through Chemistry? A Reply to Savulescu and Persson on 'Moral Enhancement'.Robert Sparrow - 2014 - Journal of Applied Philosophy 31 (1):23-32.
    In ‘Moral Enhancement, Freedom, and the God Machine’, Savulescu and Persson argue that recent scientific findings suggest that there is a realistic prospect of achieving ‘moral enhancement’ and respond to Harris's criticism that this would threaten individual freedom and autonomy. I argue that although some pharmaceutical and neuro-scientific interventions may influence behaviour and emotions in ways that we may be inclined to evaluate positively, describing this as ‘moral enhancement’ presupposes a particular, contested account, of what it is to act morally (...)
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  7.  70
    Should Human Beings Have Sex? Sexual Dimorphism and Human Enhancement.Robert Sparrow - 2010 - American Journal of Bioethics 10 (7):3-12.
    Since the first sex reassignment operations were performed, individual sex has come to be, to some extent at least, a technological artifact. The existence of sperm sorting technology, and of prenatal determination of fetal sex via ultrasound along with the option of termination, means that we now have the power to choose the sex of our children. An influential contemporary line of thought about medical ethics suggests that we should use technology to serve the welfare of individuals and to remove (...)
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  8. Better Than Men?: Sex and the Therapy/Enhancement Distinction.Robert Sparrow - 2010 - Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal 20 (2):pp. 115-144.
    The normative significance of the distinction between therapy and enhancement has come under sustained philosophical attack in recent discussions of the ethics of shaping future persons by means of preimplantation genetic diagnosis and other advanced genetic technologies. In this paper, I argue that giving up the idea that the answer to the question as to whether a condition is “normal” should play a crucial role in assessing the ethics of genetic interventions has unrecognized and strongly counterintuitive implications when it comes (...)
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  9. Talking Sense About Political Correctness.Robert Sparrow - 2002 - Journal of Australian Studies 73:119-133.
  10.  21
    A Not‐So‐New Eugenics.Robert Sparrow - 2011 - Hastings Center Report 41 (1):32-42.
    In Enhancing Evolution: The Ethical Case for Making Better People (2007), John Harris argues that a proper concern for the welfare of future human beings implies that we are morally obligated to pursue enhancements. Similarly, in “Procreative Beneficience: Why We Should Select The Best Children” (2001) and in a number of subsequent publications, Julian Savulescu has suggested that we are morally obligated to use genetic (and other) technologies to produce the best children possible. In this paper I argue that if (...)
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  11.  75
    Building a Better Warbot: Ethical Issues in the Design of Unmanned Systems for Military Applications.Robert Sparrow - 2009 - Science and Engineering Ethics 15 (2):169-187.
    Unmanned systems in military applications will often play a role in determining the success or failure of combat missions and thus in determining who lives and dies in times of war. Designers of UMS must therefore consider ethical, as well as operational, requirements and limits when developing UMS. I group the ethical issues involved in UMS design under two broad headings, Building Safe Systems and Designing for the Law of Armed Conflict, and identify and discuss a number of issues under (...)
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  12. The March of the Robot Dogs.Robert Sparrow - 2002 - Ethics and Information Technology 4 (4):305-318.
    Following the success of Sony Corporation’s “AIBO”, robot cats and dogs are multiplying rapidly. “Robot pets” employing sophisticated artificial intelligence and animatronic technologies are now being marketed as toys and companions by a number of large consumer electronics corporations. -/- It is often suggested in popular writing about these devices that they could play a worthwhile role in serving the needs of an increasingly aging and socially isolated population. Robot companions, shaped like familiar household pets, could comfort and entertain lonely (...)
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  13. Procreative Beneficence, Obligation, and Eugenics.Robert Sparrow - 2007 - Genomics, Society and Policy 3 (3):43-59.
    The argument of Julian Savulescu’s 2001 paper, “Procreative Beneficence: Why We Should Select the Best Children” is flawed in a number of respects. Savulescu confuses reasons with obligations and equivocates between the claim that parents have some reason to want the best for their children and the more radical claim that they are morally obligated to attempt to produce the best child possible. Savulescu offers a prima facie implausible account of parental obligation, as even the best parents typically fail to (...)
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  14. Defending Deaf Culture: The Case of Cochlear Implants.Robert Sparrow - 2005 - Journal of Political Philosophy 13 (2):135–152.
  15. Predators or Ploughshares? Arms Control of Robotic Weapons.Robert Sparrow - 2009 - IEEE Technology and Society 28 (1):25-29.
  16.  23
    A Not-so-New Eugenics: Harris and Savulescu on Human Enhancement.Robert Sparrow - 2010 - Asian Bioethics Review 2 (4):288-307.
    John Harris and Julian Savulescu, leading figures in the "new" eugenics, argue that parents are morally obligated to use genetic and other technologies to enhance their children. But the argument they give leads to conclusions even more radical than they acknowledge. Ultimately, the world it would lead to is not all that different from that championed by eugenicists one hundred years ago.
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  17.  9
    Ethics, Eugenics, and Politics.Robert Sparrow - 2014 - In Akira Akabayashi (ed.), The Future of Bioethics: International Dialogues. Oxford University Press. pp. 139--53.
    This chapter will sketch a political critique of recent arguments for human enhancement. While on paper it may be possible to sketch out visions of a world in which the pursuit of genetic enhancement of human beings does not lead to a renewed interest in racial hygiene and widespread violations of human rights, the political assumptions one must make in order to hold that this is possible in the real world are – I will argue – excessively optimistic. In reality, (...)
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  18.  7
    Harris, Harmed States, and Sexed Bodies.Robert Sparrow - 2011 - Journal of Medical Ethics 37 (5):276-279.
    This paper criticises John Harris's attempts to defend an account of a ‘harmed condition’ that can stand independently of intuitions about what is ‘normal’. I argue that because Homo sapiens is a sexually dimorphic species, determining whether a particular individual is in a harmed condition or not will sometimes require making reference to the normal capacities of their sex. Consequently, Harris's account is unable to play the role he intends for it in debates about the ethics of human enhancement.
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  19.  18
    Robots in Aged Care: A Dystopian Future?Robert Sparrow - 2016 - AI and Society 31 (4):1-10.
    In this paper I describe a future in which persons in advanced old age are cared for entirely by robots and suggest that this would be a dystopia, which we would be well advised to avoid if we can. Paying attention to the objective elements of welfare rather than to people’s happiness reveals the central importance of respect and recognition, which robots cannot provide, to the practice of aged care. A realistic appreciation of the current economics of the aged care (...)
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  20.  15
    Genes, Identity, and the Expressivist Critique.Robert Sparrow - 2008 - In Loane Skene and Janna Thompson (ed.), The Sorting Society. Cambridge University Press. pp. 111-132..
    In this paper, I explore the “expressivist critique” of the use of prenatal testing to select against the birth of persons with impairments. I begin by setting out the expressivist critique and then highlighting, through an investigation of an influential objection to this critique, the ways in which both critics and proponents of the use of technologies of genetic selection negotiate a difficult set of dilemmas surrounding the relationship between genes and identity. I suggest that we may be able to (...)
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  21.  38
    The Turing Triage Test.Robert Sparrow - 2004 - Ethics and Information Technology 6 (4):203-213.
    If, as a number of writers have predicted, the computers of the future will possess intelligence and capacities that exceed our own then it seems as though they will be worthy of a moral respect at least equal to, and perhaps greater than, human beings. In this paper I propose a test to determine when we have reached that point. Inspired by Alan Turing’s (1950) original “Turing test”, which argued that we would be justified in conceding that machines could think (...)
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  22.  8
    Martial and Moral Courage in Teleoperated Warfare: A Commentary on Kirkpatrick.Robert Sparrow - 2015 - Journal of Military Ethics 14 (3-4):220-227.
    ABSTRACTJesse Kirkpatrick's ‘Drones and the Martial Virtue Courage’ constitutes the most thorough attempt to date to show that the operators of remotely piloted aircraft can display martial courage and therefore that it may sometimes be appropriate to award them military honours. I argue that while Kirkpatrick's account usefully draws our attention to the risks faced by drone operators and to the possibility that courage may be required to face these risks, he is much less successful in establishing that operators are (...)
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  23.  10
    Enhancement and Obsolescence: Avoiding an "Enhanced Rat Race".Robert Sparrow - 2015 - Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal 25 (3):231-260.
    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 biotechnology, information technology, and nanotechnology as evidence that we will soon be able to achieve significant improvements on normal human capacities using these technologies.In this paper, I will argue that—should it eventuate—continuous improvement in enhancement technologies may prove more bane than benefit. The phenomenon that inspires the argument that follows (...)
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  24.  75
    Is It “Every Man's Right to Have Babies If He Wants Them”?: Male Pregnancy and the Limits of Reproductive Liberty.Robert Sparrow - 2008 - Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal 18 (3):pp. 275-299.
    Since the 1980s, a number of medical researchers have suggested that in the future it might be possible for men to become pregnant. Given the role played by the right to reproductive liberty in other debates about reproductive technologies, it will be extremely difficult to deny that this right extends to include male pregnancy. However, this constitutes a reductio ad absurdum of the idea of reproductive liberty. One therefore would be well advised to look again at the extent of this (...)
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  25.  58
    Not Dead Yet: Controlled Non-Heart-Beating Organ Donation, Consent, and the Dead Donor Rule.Dale Gardiner & Robert Sparrow - 2010 - Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics 19 (1):17.
    The emergence of controlled, Maastricht Category III, non-heart-beating organ donation programs has the potential to greatly increase the supply of donor solid organs by increasing the number of potential donors. Category III donation involves unconscious and dying intensive care patients whose organs become available for transplant after life-sustaining treatments are withdrawn, usually on grounds of futility. The shortfall in organs from heart-beating organ donation following brain death has prompted a surge of interest in NHBD. In a recent editorial, the British (...)
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  26.  30
    History and Collective Responsibility.Robert Sparrow - 2000 - Australasian Journal of Philosophy 78 (3):346 – 359.
    In this paper I will argue that contemporary non-Aboriginal Australians can collectively be held responsible for past injustices committed against the Aboriginal peoples of this land. An examination of the role played by history in determining the nature of the present reveals both the temporal extension of the Australian community that confronts the question of responsibility for historical injustice and the ways in which we continue to participate in those same injustices. Because existing injustices suffered by indigenous Australians are essentially (...)
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  27. Implants and Ethnocide: Learning From the Cochlear Implant Controversy.Robert Sparrow - 2010 - Disability and Society 25 (4):455-466.
    This paper uses the fictional case of the ‘Babel fish’ to explore and illustrate the issues involved in the controversy about the use of cochlear implants in prelinguistically deaf children. Analysis of this controversy suggests that the development of genetic tests for deafness poses a serious threat to the continued flourishing of Deaf culture. I argue that the relationships between Deaf and hearing cultures that are revealed and constructed in debates about genetic testing are themselves deserving of ethical evaluation. Making (...)
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  28. Better Off Deaf.Robert Sparrow - 2002 - Res Publica 11 (1): 11-16.
  29.  75
    The Social Impacts of Nanotechnology: An Ethical and Political Analysis. [REVIEW]Robert Sparrow - 2009 - Journal of Bioethical Inquiry 6 (1):13-23.
    This paper attempts some predictions about the social consequences of nanotechnology and the ethical issues they raise. I set out four features of nanotechnology that are likely to be important in determining its impact and argue that nanotechnology will have significant social impacts in—at least—the areas of health and medicine, the balance of power between citizens and governments, and the balance of power between citizens and corporations. More importantly, responding to the challenge of nanotechnology will require confronting “philosophical” questions about (...)
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  30.  27
    Revolutionary and Familiar, Inevitable and Precarious: Rhetorical Contradictions in Enthusiasm for Nanotechnology. [REVIEW]Robert Sparrow - 2007 - NanoEthics 1 (1):57-68.
    This paper analyses rhetorics of scientific and corporate enthusiasm surrounding nanotechnology. I argue that enthusiasts for nanotechnologies often try to have it both ways on questions concerning the nature and possible impact of these technologies, and the inevitability of their development and use. In arguments about their nature and impact we are simultaneously informed that these are revolutionary technologies with the potential to profoundly change the world and that they merely represent the extension of existing technologies. They are revolutionary and (...)
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  31.  19
    Armed Military Robots: Editorial.Jürgen Altmann, Peter Asaro, Noel Sharkey & Robert Sparrow - 2013 - Ethics and Information Technology 15 (2):73-76.
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  32.  77
    The Ethics of Terraforming.Robert Sparrow - 1999 - Environmental Ethics 21 (3):227-245.
    I apply an agent-based virtue ethics to issues in environmental philosophy regarding our treatment of complex inorganic systems. I consider the ethics of terraforming: hypothetical planetary engineering on a vast scale which is aimed at producing habitable environments on otherwise “hostile” planets. I argue that the undertaking of such a project demonstrates at least two serious defects of moral character: an aesthetic insensitivity and the sin of hubris. Trying to change whole planets to suit our ends is arrogant vandalism. I (...)
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  33.  91
    Liberalism and Eugenics.Robert Sparrow - 2011 - Australasian Journal of Philosophy 89 (3):499 - 517.
    ‘Liberal eugenics’ has emerged as the most popular position amongst philosophers writing in the contemporary debate about the ethics of human enhancement. This position has been most clearly articulated by Nicholas Agar, who argues that the ‘new’ liberal eugenics can avoid the repugnant consequences associated with eugenics in the past. Agar suggests that parents should be free to make only those interventions into the genetics of their children that will benefit them no matter what way of life they grow up (...)
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  34.  18
    Sexism and Human Enhancement.Robert Sparrow - 2013 - Journal of Medical Ethics 39 (12):732-735.
    Given the morally disastrous history of eugenics, one might have thought that contemporary advocates of genetic human enhancement would be especially mindful of the historical resonances of the arguments they put forward. Two aspects of Paula Casal's defence of enhancement against my recent criticisms are therefore more than a little surprising.1i First, her hypothetical case for sex selection for ‘moral enhancement’ relies on claims drawn from sociobiology and evolutionary psychology, which are at best controversial and at worst represent pseudo-scientific rationalisations (...)
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  35.  18
    Queerin' the PGD Clinic.Robert Sparrow - 2013 - Journal of Medical Humanities 34 (2):177-196.
    Disability activists influenced by queer theory and advocates of “human enhancement” have each disputed the idea that what is “normal” is normatively significant, which currently plays a key role in the regulation of pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD). Previously, I have argued that the only way to avoid the implication that parents have strong reasons to select children of one sex (most plausibly, female) over the other is to affirm the moral significance of sexually dimorphic human biological norms. After outlining the (...)
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  36.  46
    “Hands Up Who Wants to Die?”: Primoratz on Responsibility and Civilian Immunity in Wartime.Robert Sparrow - 2005 - Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 8 (3):299-319.
    The question of the morality of war is something of an embarrassment to liberal political thinkers. A philosophical tradition which aspires to found its preferred institutions in respect for individual autonomy, contract, and voluntary association, is naturally confronted by a phenomenon that is almost exclusively explained and justified in the language of States, force and territory. But the apparent difficulties involved in providing a convincing account of nature and ethics of war in terms of relations between individuals has not prevented (...)
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  37. Censorship and Freedom of Speech.Robert Sparrow - 2004 - In Justin Healy (ed.), Censorship and Free Speech. The Spinney Press. pp. 1-4.
  38.  55
    The Case for Regulating Intragenic GMOs.A. Wendy Russell & Robert Sparrow - 2008 - Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics 21 (2):153-181.
    This paper discusses the ethical and regulatory issues raised by ‘‘intragenics’’ – organisms that have been genetically modified using gene technologies, but that do not contain DNA from another species. Considering the rapid development of knowledge about gene regulation and genomics, we anticipate rapid advances in intragenic methods. Of regulatory systems developed to govern genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in North America, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand, the Australian system stands out in explicitly excluding intragenics from regulation. European systems are also (...)
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  39.  30
    Human Enhancement and Sexual Dimorphism.Robert Sparrow - 2012 - Bioethics 26 (9):464-475.
    I argue that the existence of sexual dimorphism poses a profound challenge to those philosophers who wish to deny the moral significance of the idea of ‘normal human capacities’ in debates about the ethics of human enhancement. The biological sex of a child will make a much greater difference to their life prospects than many of the genetic variations that the philosophical and bioethical literature has previously been concerned with. It seems, then, that bioethicists should have something to say about (...)
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  40.  76
    Therapeutic Cloning and Reproductive Liberty.Robert Sparrow - 2009 - Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 33 (2):1-17.
    Concern for “reproductive liberty” suggests that decisions about embryos should normally be made by the persons who would be the genetic parents of the child that would be brought into existence if the embryo were brought to term. Therapeutic cloning would involve creating and destroying an embryo, which, if brought to term, would be the offspring of the genetic parents of the person undergoing therapy. I argue that central arguments in debates about parenthood and genetics therefore suggest that therapeutic cloning (...)
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  41.  29
    Right of the Living Dead? Consent to Experimental Surgery in the Event of Cortical Death.Robert Sparrow - 2006 - Journal of Medical Ethics 32 (10):601-605.
    Ravelingien et al have suggested that early human xenotransplantation trials should be carried out on patients who are in a permanent vegetative state (PVS) and who have previously granted their consent to the use of their bodies in such research in the event of their cortical death. Unfortunately, their philosophical defence of this suggestion is unsatisfactory in its current formulation, as it equivocates on the key question of the status of patients who are in a PVS. The solution proposed by (...)
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  42. Talkin' 'Bout a (Nanotechnological) Revolution.Robert Sparrow - 2008 - IEEE Technology and Society 27 (2):37-43.
    It is often claimed that the development of nanotechnology will constitute a “technological revolution” with profound social, economic, and political consequences. The full implications of this claim can best be understood by imagining a scenario in which a political revolutionary made all the same claims that are commonly made by enthusiasts for nanotechnology. I argue that most people would be outraged to learn that the members of an unelected group were planning to radically reshape society in this fashion. I survey (...)
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  43.  22
    Drones, Courage, and Military Culture.Robert Sparrow - 2015 - In Jr Lucas (ed.), Routledge Handbook of Military Ethics. Routledge. pp. 380-394.
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  44.  38
    Cloning, Parenthood, and Genetic Relatedness.Robert Sparrow - 2006 - Bioethics 20 (6):308–318.
    In this paper I examine what I take to be the best case for reproductive human cloning, as a medical procedure designed to overcome infertility, and argue that it founders on an irresolvable tension in the attitude towards the importance of being ‘genetically related’ to our children implied in the desire to clone. Except in the case where couples are cloning a child they have previously conceived naturally, cloning is unable to establish the right sort of genetic relation to make (...)
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  45.  4
    Robots as “Evil Means”? A Rejoinder to Jenkins and Purves.Robert Sparrow - 2016 - Ethics and International Affairs 30 (3):401-403.
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  46.  34
    The Competition of Ideas: Market or Garden?Robert Sparrow & Robert Goodin - 2001 - Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy 4 (2):45-58.
    The ‘marketplace of ideas’ is an influential metaphor with widespread currency in debates about freedom of speech. We explore a number of ways competition between ideas might be described as occurring in a marketplace and find that none support the use of the metaphor. We suggest that an alternative metaphor, that of the ‘garden of ideas’, may offer more productive insights into issues surrounding the regulation of speech.
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  47.  28
    Nanotechnologically Enhanced Combat Systems: The Downside of Invulnerability.Robert Mark Simpson & Robert Sparrow - 2014 - In Bert Gordijn & Anthony Mark Cutter (eds.), In Pursuit of Nanoethics. Springer. pp. 89-103.
    In this paper we examine the ethical implications of emerging Nanotechnologically Enhanced Combat Systems (or 'NECS'). Through a combination of materials innovation and biotechnology, NECS are aimed at making combatants much less vulnerable to munitions that pose a lethal threat to soldiers protected by conventional armor. We argue that increasing technological disparities between forces armed with NECS and those without will exacerbate the ethical problems of asymmetric warfare. This will place pressure on the just war principles of jus in bello, (...)
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  48.  23
    (Im)Moral Technology? Thought Experiments and the Future of `Mind Control'.Robert Sparrow - 2014 - In Akira Akayabashi (ed.), The Future of Bioethics: International Dialogues. Oxford University Press. pp. 113-119.
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  49.  14
    Borders, States, Freedom and Justice.Robert Sparrow - 2003 - Arena Magazine 66:25-31.
  50.  28
    War Without Virtue?Robert Sparrow - 2013 - In Bradley Jay Strawser (ed.), Killing By Remote Control. Oxford University Press. pp. 84-105.
    A number of recent and influential accounts of military ethics have argued that there exists a distinctive “role morality” for members of the armed services—a “warrior code.” A “good warrior” is a person who cultivates and exercises the “martial” or “warrior” virtues. By transforming combat into a “desk job” that can be conducted from the safety of the home territory of advanced industrial powers without need for physical strength or martial valour, long-range robotic weapons, such as the “Predator” and “Reaper” (...)
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