Thomas Pogge, Leitner Professor of Philosophy and International Affairs chair, Yale University
With some of the goods and services we consume, supplying the first unit costs vastly more than the rest. Building a subway line costs billions. The additional cost of making it carry more passengers is minuscule by comparison: pennies per ride for
If we understand human rights as inalienable rights that flow from the mere fact of being human, it is hard to escape the conclusion that here in the United States prisoners and convicted offenders more generally do not count, at least in the eyes of the law and a vocal minority of opinion-shapers, as fully human. This drastic erosion of prisoners’ status transpired in the last twenty years of the 20th century and is the result of complex social, economic, and political forces. But the courts and lawmakers of the nineteenth century helped lay the legal pathway to this dismal state of affairs by reviving and modernizing the early medieval legal fiction of ‘civiliter mortuus’ (civil death).
Human Rights are all the rage. They have become, currently, a very popular arena for both political activism and rampant discourse. Human rights, as we all know, are the rights humans are due simply by virtue of being human. But there is nothing simple here, since both “human” and “rights” are concepts in need of investigation. One deep philosophical issue that invigorates debates in human rights is the question of their foundation and justification, the question “where do human rights come from, and what grounds them?” There are two essentially different approaches to answering that question — the religious way and the secular, or philosophical, way.
Though conditions of captivity vary considerably for humans and for other animals, two of the central philosophical issues that emerge in discussions of human imprisonment prove instructive in thinking through the ethical issues raised by captivity for non-humans — autonomy and dignity. When captives have their physical and immediate psychological needs met and are free from suffering, so they are not being harmed in those ways, we can we still ask if there something wrong with holding them captive.
The trajectory of the development of emerging enhancement technologies suggests that it is not premature to begin considering ethical issues associated with robust human enhancement—i.e. creation of people with highly augmented or highly novel capacities through technological modification of (or integration with) their biological systems. Robust human enhancement raises justice, equity and access issues; parental rights and child welfare issues; naturalness and species boundary issues; individual and social benefit and risk issues; personal choice and liberty issues; and public policy issues related to regulation and research funding.
Some nonhuman animals resemble normal humans in morally relevant ways. In particular, they bring the mystery of a unified psychological presence to the world. Like us, they possess a variety of sensory, cognitive, conative, and volitional capacities. They see and hear, believe and desire, remember and anticipate, plan and intend. Moreover, what happens to them matters to them. Physical pleasure and pain—these they share with us. But also fear and contentment, anger and loneliness, frustration and satisfaction, cunning and imprudence.
The word “culture” is sometimes recruited as a proxy for “race” in common parlance, and the familiar story of race predisposes us to understand the differences between European and Asian populations in biological, rather than cultural, terms. Culture is a significant shaper of human cognition, motivation, and emotion. The story of race as a biological thing that humans either have or are is not only inaccurate, but also it serves to distort our understanding of human nature. Another way of saying this is that human difference really matters — but not in the way most people think it does.
It is “easy” to explain doing, “hard” to explain feeling. Turing has set the agenda for the easy explanation (though it will be a long time coming). I will try to explain why and how explaining feeling will not only be hard, but impossible. Explaining meaning will prove almost as hard because meaning is a hybrid of know-how and what it feels like to know how.
To speak in the same breath of personhood and political economy sounds odd because of the seemingly obvious radical difference between the two worlds of their application. On the one hand, a straightforward moral term from everyday life referring to the status of our fellow humans; on the other hand, a technical theory with roots in 18th-century French and British philosophical thought about the interrelation between economic production, society, and the state. What could these two possibly have to do with each other?
When it comes to birds, difference looms in classifications of “things that fly”—in particular at the most inclusive levels termed in scientific biological classification the class, order, and family. But might the nature of particular birds bring them into the spotlight for attention regardless of culture, setting them up for similar conception (discrimination, naming, specificity in taxonomy), even if perception inevitably is fundamentally cultural?
Our Forum is for scholars in the humanities and sciences to share their ideas and research. The Forum offers specialists as well as members of the public the opportunity to engage experts on questions concerning the meaning and significance, if any, of human life, especially at its edges. Read more...
alex rosenberg: I'm glad to be taken to task by Geoffrey Harpham in so indulgent and learned a manner. Pleasure, enjoyment, enrichment, the rewards of reading, listening, watching and looking, are...
Bill Benzon: Well, it's one thing to argue that, for example, the newer psychologies and other developments are relevant to humanistic inquiry and ought to be taken into account. It's something rather...
Charels T. Wolverton: The essence of Frank Williams' Popper quote seems to be that determinism implies that decision making is an illusion. To which I can only reply "doh!". For a somewhat more...
Biologically, we resemble other animals, but mentally, we leave them in the dust. The scope of human thought is vast. Why are we so different?
Animals—including us—live, think, and feel in the here and now. Living, thinking, and feeling are biological events, existing only in the present. When we think about the past or the future, or anythi...