Kant, Freedom and Applied Ethics

I am currently working on the relationship between freedom and nature in Immanuel Kant. At first glance, this seems of little relevance to applied ethics, or indeed anything else! In what follows, I want to say a little bit more about my research and offer a couple of thoughts on the relationship between abstract philosophy and applied ethics in general.

Kant views the natural world as entirely determined by natural necessity, and locates freedom outside of it. This allows him to insulate freedom (and morality) from the world of science. Unfortunately however, in locating freedom outside of nature, Kant finds it hard to account for any interaction between freedom and nature.

In a recent paper, I argued that Kant’s set-up precludes knowledge of other agents. I also recently presented a work in progress at our seminar series, where I argued that Kant cannot account for degrees of responsibility. The basic thought is that, in viewing everything as either entirely determined by natural necessity or entirely free, Kant cannot make sense of varying degrees of freedom or responsibility.

But that’s enough about Kant and me. How does this relate to applied ethics? Well, here are two rough ways in which one might do some applied ethics. The first is bottom-up, and begins with an actual problem: the world presents us with a problem, and we apply the tools of philosophy to help us with it. The second way is top-down, and begins with an abstract problem: philosophy presents us with some problem, which has implications for the world.

Here we can return to Kant. One of Kant’s deepest motivations was to preserve freedom (and morality) in the light of certain developments in the sciences. He offers us a system that makes this possible, but at the same time, this system forces him to say some unacceptable things at the level of our ethical practices. I think this provides good reasons to subject Kant’s fundamental system and its fundamental claims to critical scrutiny. In doing so, we move up and down between approaches, engaging in applied ethics, normative ethics, meta-ethics, epistemology and metaphysics. And I think this is a good thing – it informs and enriches our thought at each level.

Blog Re-Launch & Professional Ethics Network Event

Welcome to the new “Ethics in public & professional life” blog, run by the Inter-Disciplinary Ethics Applied Centre at the University of Leeds.

Watch this space for commentaries on current news and affairs, events, reports, and recent activities in our centre, written by staff, students, as well as professionals from the public and private sector.

Our next event will be:

The Professional Ethics Network –

How to Distribute the Burdens in Flood Risk Management

Thursday 28th April 2016

Continue reading Blog Re-Launch & Professional Ethics Network Event

An open letter to the future Prime Minister (it could be you)

(Photo: Maryna Pleshkun/Shutterstock)

To whom it may concern,

It is clear that many people have become disillusioned with the main political parties, and are torn between voting for the lesser of two evils or “wasting” a vote on a protest vote.

If you are willing to take up the challenge, however, there is another solution – a way of providing people with an opportunity to offer a real protest vote that would not be wasted.

The deadline to register to run for parliament is the 9th of April. http://www.parliament.uk/get-involved/elections/standing/

Continue reading An open letter to the future Prime Minister (it could be you)

Democracy and Revolution

(Although I am posting this, most of the significant work here was written by Josie Freear, as you you will see…)

Traditionally, the new year is thought of as a time of new beginnings.Broken World book

And yesterday, I watched a news report about young people’s dissatisfaction with politics, and with the political parties, claiming that none of the main parties represent their views, and why, therefore, many are tempted not to vote, and even those who are politically motivated are tempted not to vote, preferring to identify as anarchists, and/or getting involved in more direct action.

At the same time, for those who do vote, it is not uncommon for people to say that they would vote for a smaller party, such as the Green party, but they don’t want to waste their vote, or they don’t want to split the left vote and risk another Conservative government.

I am also reading Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything, which suggests that we need a more radical rejection of the status quo, a rejection of free market ideology, and a government that is more active in supporting clean energy and regulating carbon emissions etc.

So this seems a good time to reflect on the possibility of radical political change, particularly through democratic means.

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Hypocrisy and Demandingness

(Source: acblogreview.com)

Accusations of hypocrisy seem to have been flying freely recently. For example, Russell Brand is accused of being a hypocrite because he criticizes capitalism, but yet he is wealthy, lives in an expensive flat, and doesn’t stand for parliament.

This is not meant as a general defence of Brand. I have not read his Revolution, and neither do I intend to, but if it is true – as Langley claims – that the following is a typical passage then, as an analytic philosopher, I would be the first to distance myself from Brand:

“This attitude of churlish indifference seems like nerdish deference contrasted with the belligerent antipathy of the indigenous farm folk, who regard the hippie-dippie interlopers, the denizens of the shimmering tit temples, as one fey step away from transvestites.”

Similarly, I would distance myself from Brand because of his attempts to persuade people not to vote.

Here, I am focused only on the specific criticism that he is a hypocrite.

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Climate Change, Nationalism and Slavery

(Source: cruxnow.com)

This week, a couple of ideas from entirely different areas, came together to combine in a very interesting way.

I am writing this on my way home from a conference on climate change ethics. One of the papers was presented by an environmental psychologist, Linda Steg. She debunked the myth that individuals are purely self-interest, with no concerns at all for the environment or for future generations. That, however, is not the idea that I will focus on here. Rather, I am interested in her claim that our past behaviour – and reflection  on our past behaviour – influence our self-perception, which in turn influences our motivation.

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Travelling to Holland by train, ferry and bike

Cycling in Holland
Cycling in Holland

Last week, I travelled to Delft for a workshop on climate change. This was part of a project on climate change, funded by the AHRC. When I put in my application, I commented that I would visit Delft, as well as some universities in America, to discuss my work with other academics working on climate change. Before funding was offered for my project, one of the referees asked if this travel could be justified, environmentally. In addition to explaining the purpose of the trip, I said that I would avoid flying where possible (and offset the carbon emissions when I did fly).

Rather than fly, I got the train to hull on Tuesday, got the overnight ferry to Europort, and then cycled to Delft, taking a detour to cycle through Rotterdam on the way.

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Trust us

If you want to know what an organisation is worried about, look at its advertising.  Banks’ TV ads at the moment are all about warm, cosy personal relationships.  Friends going out to dinner together.  Sons missing their parents.  People in big, fluffy jumpers, hugging, laughing, wiping away a tear… and warmly encircling them all, the bank.  A benign, supportive presence, ready to help you buy your first home, to pick you up when you fall over, to buy you a new pair of jeans.  The bank is ‘for the journey’.  It ‘cares about here’.  It is ‘for the moments that matter’. Continue reading Trust us

How can you build a culture of integrity? First you need to know what integrity is…

A bank in a fake Old West town.
Photo by GravityX9 on Flikr.

Following the downturn in the public perception of banking ethics in recent years, integrity has become a particularly highly-prized commodity.  Banks promise it, their critics demand it, and customers, we are told, expect it.  But does anybody really know what it is?

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The Social Responsibility of Banks

Piggy Bank
(Photo: Ken Teegardin on flickr)

The idea that banks and bankers have a ‘social responsibility’ is one that many would agree with, especially since the financial crisis.  But where does this idea come from?  What is it about the activity of banking that generates this supposed responsibility?  And what does it mean in practice for individual bankers?  Thinking about the unique position of banks within society, and the role of bankers in serving social needs, can help to answer these questions.

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