Bitesize ethics 2023

Bitesize ethics summer programme

This online summer programme provides a short introduction to practical ethics, looking at some of the issues that concern philosophers and the public alike today, and offering an insight in to the current research of academics at the Oxford Uehiro Centre.
Beginning with a general introduction to practical ethics, also known as applied philosophy, the series continues each Wednesday looking at the themes of ethics in public health policy, extinction, digital persuasion, emerging technologies, consciousness, direct climate action, procreation and neurocorrection, finishing with a wrap-up discussion asking what is next for practical ethics.

Registration is free and no prior experience or study is necessary. Each 45-minute class will take place online via Zoom on Wednesday lunchtimes, and participation in the informal Q&As and discussion sessions following each week’s presentations is warmly encouraged.

The 2023 programme has now finished. If you are interested in joining the mailing list for information about future courses please email with your preferred email address or use the registration widget below. 


2023 Programme (with video)

28th June: Introduction to Practical Ethics

Time: 12:35-13:20

Tutor: Emma Dore-Horgan 

What do we mean by ‘practical ethics’? What sorts of real-world ethical problems are practical ethicists concerned with?
In this introductory session, we will discuss the nature of practical ethics and its major subfields. We will then raise and discuss some key issues and major debates in practical ethics that concern philosophers and the public alike today.

Bitesize Ethics Summer Programme 2023: Introduction to Practical Ethics with Emma Dore-Horgan

5th July: The Ethics of Restricting Freedom in Public Health Policy

Time: 12:35-13:20

Tutor: Alberto Giubilini

When are freedom restrictions in public health policy ethically justified? Answering the question is difficult, among other things, because there are different concepts of freedom at stake and different kinds of goods that can be pursued. The restrictions most of us experienced during the pandemic were meant to protect some people against an infectious disease. Different organizations and institutions are now endorsing more public health restrictions to pursue other types of goods, such as reducing pollution or smoking rates. At a first glance, these policies entail a trade-off between individual freedoms and (perceived) collective goods. According to some accounts of freedom, however, there is no trade-off: public health restrictions might indeed promote freedom. For instance, a community might democratically endorse public health restrictions, which is itself a form of freedom. Or temporary restrictions can be instrumental to protecting freedom in the long term. The problem is that these accounts don’t make use of the same notion of freedom. In this lecture I will try to unpack these different meanings, explore their relationships, and reflect on how a liberal state can implement public health policies without becoming illiberal.

Bitesize Ethics Summer Programme 2023: The Ethics of Restricting Freedom in Public Health Policy

12th July: The Ethics of Extinction: Pessimism about the Future

Time: 12:35-13:20

Tutor: Roger Crisp

Many, probably most, people are optimists about the future, believing that the extinction of sentient life on earth would be, overall, bad. This talk suggests that pessimism about the future is no less reasonable than optimism. The argument rests on the
possibility of ‘discontinuities’ in value, in particular the possibility that there may be some things so bad – such as agonizing torture – such that no amount of good can compensate for them. The ‘spectrum’ problem often raised in connection with
alleged discontinuities will be discussed, along with the claim that moments of agonizing torture, spread out over a long period, can be compensated by great goods. Some difficulties with articulating the badness of agonizing torture will be explained.
The talk will end with a discussion of the ethical implications of pessimism, concluding that, as far as sentient life on earth is concerned, pessimists may agree with optimists that it should be protected, but for quite different reasons.

19th July: The Ethics of Digital Persuasion

Time: 12:35-13:20

Tutor: Thomas Mitchell

Advertisements, and online news stories have extensive reach and are often designed to have a persuasive effect. What, if anything, is wrong with such methods of influence?

Some of the key questions include the following:
­    - Where is the line between persuasion and manipulation? 
­    - Is there anything wrong with precisely targeting a particular audience with a persuasive message? 
­    - How should the right to freedom of speech be balanced against the duty to be truthful? 
­    - Given its vast reach, immense speed, and more impersonal feel, is the Internet morally different to more traditional kinds of communication?

This session will provide an introductory look at the ethical issues raised by persuasive digital technologies. In so doing, we will draw some connections to other important concepts, such as autonomy, honesty, rationality, and wellbeing.

Bitesize Ethics Summer Programme 2023, The Ethics of Digital Persuasion with Dr Thomas Mitchell

26th July: Track Thyself? The Ethics of Self-knowledge Through Technology

Time: 12:35-13:20

Tutor: Muriel Leuenberger

In the last decades, technological devices and applications promise unique insights into who we are. We are being measured, labelled, categorized, and diagnosed by technology. In this talk, I explore the value and ethics of self-knowledge through technology. Specifically, whether and which ethical and practical reasons we have to use such technologies to know ourselves better and which ethical issues arise from the opportunities of technologically sourced self-knowledge. Thereby, I focus on technologies that provide bioinformation, specifically health and activity trackers, Direct-to-Consumer neurotechnologies, and genetic testing, as well as algorithmic profiling as used in recommender systems, for targeted advertising, and to support decision making in the justice system or the job market.

Track Thyself? The Ethics of Self-knowledge Through Technology

2nd August: The Ethics of Consciousness

Time: 12:35-13:20

Tutor: Mattia Cecchinato

Phenomenal consciousness consists in experiences which are such that there is something it is like to have them (e.g. seeing colours, smelling coffee, or feeling warm). It is of moral significance in a number of ways. One’s well-being at least partly depends on the quality of one’s conscious experiences. Our obligations to non-human animals are often motivated by concern for their conscious life. And crucial moral questions in human medicine concerning euthanasia and brain death turn on whether consciousness is present. In this talk, I will introduce the central debates of what we may call ‘the ethics of consciousness’. I will discuss whether consciousness is valuable in itself, which kind of consciousness might ground moral status, and the extent to which the quality of our conscious experience contributes to the goodness of our life.

Bitesize Ethics Summer Programme 2023, The Ethics of Consciousness with Mattia Cecchinato

9th August: The Ethics of AI (Replacing The Value of Literature for Consciousness Ethics)

Time: 12:35-13:20

Tutor: César Palacios-González

In a change to the original programming, Dr Palacios-González will introduce the concepts of the ethics of AI. 

César discusses the Ethics of AI in light of the Three Laws of Robotics, stated by science fiction writer Isaac Asimov. How could these laws be relevant for the Ethics of AI? Could they be programmed into Artificial General Intelligence to ensure safety for the humans using them? Following these questions, César presents other ways to think of the Three Laws of Robotics, explaining principles of AI ethics with AI conversion cases.

Bitesize Ethics Programme 2023, The Ethics of AI, with Dr César Palacios-González

16th August: The Ethics of Direct Climate Action

Time: 12:35-13:20

Tutor: Sasha Arridge

Climate policy around the world lags dangerously behind where it needs to be if we are to avoid the most catastrophic consequences of climate change. This grim fact prompts two questions:

1. What can we do to bring about the required policy changes? 


2. What ought we do to bring about these changes?

Many climate activist groups think that both questions can be answered with mass protest and non-violent civil disobedience: these activist tactics are both effective and morally permissible means to achieving sound climate policy. Recently, however, some prominent voices in the climate movement have argued that such tactics alone are ineffective: only the combination of these tactics with more direct action like ecotage – the targeted sabotage of property for environmental purposes – can be effective. Such thinking raises the possibility that questions 1 and 2 have different answers: even if ecotage is an effective means to the required policy changes, it might not be permissible. This class, then, will focus on the morality of direct climate actions like ecotage, and ask when, if ever, it might be permissible to blow up a pipeline for the sake of the climate.

23rd August: The Case for Animal-Inclusive Longtermism (Replacing 'The Most Natural Thing')

Time: 12:35-13:20

Tutor: Gary O'Brien

Longtermism is the view that positively influencing the long-term future is one of the key moral priorities of our time. Longtermists generally focus on humans, and neglect animals. This is a mistake. In this talk I will show that the basic argument for longtermism applies to animals at least as well as it does to humans, and that the reasons longtermists have given for ignoring animals do not withstand scrutiny. Because of their numbers, their capacity for suffering, and our ability to influence their futures, animals ought to be a central concern of longtermists. Furthermore, I will suggest that longtermism is a fruitful framework for thinking about the wellbeing of animals, as it helps us to identify actions we can take now that have a reasonable chance of improving the wellbeing of animals over the very long term.

30th August: The Ethics of Neurocorrection

Time: 12:35-13:20

Tutor: Emma Dore-Horgan

Imagine you are the judge presiding over the trial of Richard Smith, a man convicted (and with a history) of violent behaviour, and you must decide the terms of his sentence. It is the year 2051 and there exists a pill that can reduce aggression by increasing
brain serotonin levels. Should Smith be offered this pill? Should Smith be required to take this pill as a condition of his parole?

These questions mark the beginning of a discussion on the ethics of ‘neurocorrection’: the practice of deploying interventions that exert direct effects on the brain to reduce offenders’ reoffending risk and/or facilitate their rehabilitation more
generally. We currently use a form of neurocorrection – opioid-substitution therapy – to reduce drug cravings/drug-seeking behaviours in substance-abusing offenders. However, some speculate we will soon have further neurocorrectives at our disposal
to, for example, reduce impulsive aggression or enhance empathy. When and under what precise circumstances might it be permissible to deploy these interventions?

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