Category Archives: Short

Is buying and selling organs for human transplantation morally acceptable?

Organ markets in the United Nations and European union are currently illegal, but with black markets evident in other countries and our current low supply of human organs for transplant, there’s been an increase in support for legalising the buying and selling of organs. This raises an interesting question: could it be morally acceptable to buy and sell organs for human transplantation? It’s easier to focus on a particular case-study, so let’s examine in detail whether it is morally acceptable to buy and sell human kidneys first.

At present, without a market in kidneys there is currently a shortage for kidney transplants. The consequences for those in need of the transplant are known: immense suffering and, eventually, death. Before addressing whether it is morally permissible to legally trade in organs, and since the desired result is more organs available for transplantation, we must consider whether a ban on organ markets decreases the supply of available organs. People may be more adverse to voluntarily donating organs if they are offered money in exchange for their organs. If this were the case, an organ market irrespective of whether its morally permissible would go against our desired outcome of increasing the number of available organs for transplantation incentives (i.e. cash incentive), however, may have the opposite effect, increasing the supply of available organs, thus reducing or preventing the suffering and death of those left waiting on the transplant list. If what we ultimately desire is the reduction of unnecessary immense suffering and death, it follows that this is a good thing and we ought to do it. Let’s bracket this question for now and assume for the sake of argument that people acting on cash incentives will be more likely to donate organs than voluntarily donate them. It must then be examined if, all things considered, the “good” consequences of organ markets outweigh the “bad”.

If we shift our focus to think about issues concerning bodily autonomy for a moment, why do we think there should be external limits imposed on what we can do with our own bodies? Each person has the right to decide what happens to their body, and if some decide to give some of it away in return for an agreed price, then that is something they have a right to do, regardless of consequences or rewards. Currently, people are free to donate their kidneys if they wish and that’s considered acceptable. In fact, we routinely praise people that voluntarily donate their kidneys to others. So what extra harm is caused by introducing a monetary reward for doing the right thing? However, having a market in kidneys may have such negative unintended consequences that it would be wrong to allow people to sell and buy kidneys: sometimes, the social consequences undermine a putative right.

It must also be considered whether kidney markets are truly examples of free exchange. Most people that sell blood plasma today do so out of a sense of desperation or as a last resort. We must consider whether these choices done in desperation are well-informed or if the seller is capable of understanding the risks. There’s something morally troubling about an individual selling part of one’s body in order to survive. And this is exasperated when we consider how dangerous it is to undergo surgery to remove a kidney. However, it is not clear whether organ donation over a regulated organ market would avoid this problem of weak agency. As Satz (2008, 278) notes, ‘Regulating a legalized kidney market, rather than relying on a black market, would arguably go some way to redressing the worries about exploitation and one-sided terms of sale. If properly regulated, for example, an organ market might be structured to discourage sales from extremely poor donors.’

Certain kinds of markets may have consequences which may unfairly affect some people over others. Poorer people are more likely to sell whilst richer are more able to purchase the organs. Again, Satz notes (2008, 279), ‘Some critics have charged that organ markets will turn desperately poor people effectively into ‘spare parts’ for the rich.’ Kidneys, if allowed to be bought and sold, would mean that the allocation would not be to those who may need it most, but instead those who are willing, or have the ability, to pay more, thus creating further inequality. It may be argued, however, that inequality is present prior to the buying/selling of the kidney: ‘Moreover, kidney sales do not cause the inequalities in our world between the haves and the have-nots. Rather, like a mirror they reflect the current underlying inequalities in our social world.’ (P280, Satz, 2008)

So where do these concerns leave us standing? Unless the markets can be regulated through governmental control, with agreed-upon rules that limit coercion, and providing care and ensuring full awareness of risks for all parties involved, then the moral consequences on the exchanging of organs for human transplantation, all things considered, outweigh the good.

Works Cited

Satz, Debra. “The Moral Limits of Markets: The Case of Human Kidneys.” Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, vol. 108, 2008, pp. 269–288. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/20619386.

Holly Connolly is a second year BA philosophy student at the University of Hull. Her philosophical interests are AI, transhumanism, consciousness, personal identity and ethics. She is a mother to a toddler, Maximus, and likes to play rugby in her spare time.

 

 

 

 

What do you think about the moral permissibility of buying and selling human organs for transplantation? Leave a comment below.

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Reflection of Parque Cultural Paulista building in Avenida Paulista, Brazil by Wilfredo Rodríguez

Democracy is the worst form of government – except for all the others

In the current era of political distrust and ideological extremism, perhaps the only element of modern politics we can all agree upon is its democratic structure – or can we? While democracy is now revered as the only political system which gives value to the opinions and rights of all individuals, in a society plagued by misinformation and manipulation, we are forced to question whether it is really the most just and robust system to let everyone over a certain age to vote, no matter their level of knowledge or exposure to potentially misleading political campaigns. This will be a study of the very essence of democracy; its flaws, its promise, and whether there exists a viable alternative.

Democracy’s Flaws

Western democracy has sustained several blows in the last few years: the infamous Brexit referendum of 2016 and Trump’s US election victory that same year have led to a collective reflection on how democracy works, and how it can be maintained when corrupt campaigning practices blur the lines. This crude awakening is forcing even the most progressive to question the uncontainable fluidity which modern democracy imposes on the political climate. However, reassessing a structure long-deemed the one and only perfect system is as open-minded as it is potentially regressive, and is putting society’s hard-earned freedom of speech at risk. 

Scholars Milbank and Pabst proposed in 2016 that the modern surge in populism represents  ‘a tectonic shift in Western politics,’ suggesting that democracy – or at least the way in which it is carried out today – is fundamentally flawed. Wright agreed that ‘…with one referendum and a presidential election, liberal democracy as we’ve known it seems finally, dramatically, to have collapsed in on itself.’ 

But this contentious attitude that the right to vote should be earned instead of freely given is nothing new. Asimov proposed back in 1980 that we, as a society, are fooled by the false notion that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge,’ thanks to the way in which we currently practice democracy. And of course, the first recorded to voice this issue was Socrates, who notoriously defined voting in an election as a skill which needs to be taught, rather than a right to be received. As elitist as this argument may seem, there may be some value in reassessing the belief that reaching adulthood alone merits the privilege of having your opinion shape decisions which affect the masses. As such, there is some weight in the proposition that a certain level of education or pre-testing be imposed before granting a citizen the right to vote. 

Indeed, since the right to vote holds such gravitas within modern culture, and any restriction other than age is hugely stigmatised in modern society, now that gender and racial barriers have been lifted after a long and arduous struggle, it could be viewed as social regression to impose such regulations. But as with other rights which affect the wellbeing of others – such as to drive a vehicle or qualify for a certain profession – perhaps being eligible to vote should be regarded with a similar license-based approach in order to ensure public protection. Although limitations to democracy should be considered with caution, it has to be said that this proposition is a far cry from excluding based on race, gender or social class.

Democracy’s Promise

Despite these recent doubts surrounding democracy, Fukuyama proclaimed it as the ‘final form of government,’ after which no further advancement can be made. Although secular in its presentation, this approach is based on the biblical metanarrative of teleology, proposing that human civilization progresses along a pre-destined procession of developmental stages, the last of which marks the ultimate perfect existence. However, this prophetic approach to democracy appears blinkered to the limitless possibility for political systems outside of the domineering western narrative. Furthermore, Derrida conversely argues that a democratic political system actually challenges the doctrine of teleology, as by its unsolidified nature, democracy cannot exist within the constraints of such expectations. He described democracy as:

‘…the only paradigm that is universalizable, whence its chance and its fragility. But in order for this historicity unique among all political systems to be complete, it must be freed from all teleology.’

This notion of emancipation from the teleological narrative could refer to this already touched upon fluidity of a liberal democracy: characterised by its openness to change, unlike other political systems it does not attempt to be permanent. Perhaps Derrida is right that democracy equates to society untangling itself from its alleged teleological destiny.

The End of Democracy

Every generation is fooled by the myopic mindset that they already have all the answers. However, history has taught us that there is always further progress to be made, and in order to evolve, we must look at our current system with a critical eye, never closed to potential improvement. Indeed, absolute perfection impracticable, but this should not deter present and future civilizations from striving for it. As such, although the dominant belief is that the current democratic system is the only viable option, possible alternatives or adaptations should be explored. Perhaps Fukuyama’s proclamation that no further advancement is possible is both naïve and counterintuitive to humanity’s constant quest for progress. 

Furthermore, the political framework of democracy is unique in that in its nature, it welcomes critique and is subject to no absolute ideology or leader. Indeed, all authoritative figures are transitory and their status depends on public approval. Derrida described this self-imposed vulnerability as an ‘auto-immunity,’ suggesting that the very existence of democracy is an attack on itself. Indeed, the current phenomenon of restrictive populist ideologies gaining momentum thanks to the democratic systems in place is a prime example of how such movements are paradoxically threatening the very freedoms which gave them a platform. Could this ultimately lead to democracy’s demise?

Democracy: The Bottom Line

Despite democracy’s imperfections and troubles both throughout history and in recent times, such episodes of volatility are an unavoidable part of the system. The freedom provided by a democratic society means that backlash is inevitable, since by its malleable nature, democracy is perpetually vulnerable to attack. That being said, the flaws discussed do not necessarily mean that democracy is doomed to fail, but rather that a degree of fluidity and vulnerability constitutes the very essence of the political system. It may not be as strong and self-assured as more rigid regimes, but is this alleged weakness not also democracy’s main strength? 

Overall, despite the drawbacks of democracy, no alternative system any closer to the utopian image which humanity is intrinsically wired to seek has yet been developed. As such, in spite of the inevitable challenges calling for adaptations to the current voting protocol, when it comes to the foundations of the democratic system, as it stands, no better option exists.

Roxanna Azimy is a British and Iranian freelance writer specialized in sociocultural issues, human rights, and welfare, Roxanna completed Masters degree in European Studies from LSE where she focused on political philosophy. She went on to work in EU affairs and public relations for the next three years, and now writes full-time, aiming to make politics more human, big issues more relatable, and philosophy about real, everyday life.

Recommended reading:

Fukuyama, F. (2006) ‘The End of History and the Last Man,’ New York: Simon and Schuster

Milbank, J and Pabst, A. (2016) Article: ‘Beyond liberalism – defining a new centre ground of Western politics,’ The London School of Economics and Political Science Blog, 7th September 2016: https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/politicsandpolicy/post-liberalism-and-the-future-of-western-politics/

Asimov, I. (1980) Article: ‘A cult of Ignorance,’ Newsweek, 21 January 1980.  https://aphelis.net/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/ASIMOV_1980_Cult_of_Ignorance.pdf

 

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'The Outskirts of Kyoto throughout the Season', by Ochiai Rofu. A quadripytch depicts the rural outskirts of Kyoto, Japan in the early 20th century across the four seasons.'The Outskirts of Kyoto throughout the Season', Ochiai Rofu

‘Tis The Season

As mentioned elsewhere, this year has been something of an annus horribilis, to borrow the Queen’s apt description. Celebrities are dying, the misdirected backlash against globalisation continues, terrorism and hyperbolic attempts to prevent it are a continuous intrusion, the free-for-all in Syria is ongoing and Russian and Chinese objectives remain sufficiently inscrutable for any change in the balance of power to be uncomfortable.

“May you live in interesting times”, as the Chinese curse has it. Tempestuous epochs have an almost universal characteristic of reducing those who live through them to footnotes and statistics. Radical change threatens those long term objectives of living that Locke or Parfit have suggested are essential to our very nature as persons, and Nagel believes to be the source of the ethical harm that precludes killing.

It is the season of appraisal, of reflection and resolution to improve. Appraisal at the end of this year must include an uncertainty verging on helplessness at this tide of events against which no resolve is possible. Protectionism is no guarantee of the reversal of automation and global competition. Legislation is no protection against the armed and irrational. Humanitarian sentiment is no cure for schismatic wars.

So as you and those around you prepare evaluations of “distance run” in the preceding thirty one and a half million seconds for social media, perhaps it would be wise to reflect on the conceptual core of reflection itself; the unceasing passage of time.

Time is both immaterial and material, at once a synthetic and human construct and the most fundamental and objective constituent of the firmament of everything. It is an irreducible function of space (notwithstanding its strange behaviour at extravagant velocities), expressed in the utterly mundane tick of a clock.

It is also the scorekeeper. How old are you? How old were you when something momentous, personal or historic, occurred? How long has it been since you went somewhere or saw someone important to you? When was the last time you did something mundane, or something outrageous? How was your day, your week, your year, or the hundreds or thousands of millions of seconds of your life so far?

Without recourse to stereotype, then, perhaps the Australian reputation for relentless optimism is born of conducting their national period of relaxation and introspection in high summer. Equivalently, perhaps the Scottish one for sardonic dourness comes from years of taking stock on dark afternoons surrounded by barren hillsides.

Similarly, a small adjustment to the position of this planet, or the rate at which it revolves, would dramatically change the perspective from which we evaluate. So would the adjustment upwards or downwards of an anticipated human lifetime, from the ambivalent to the angst-ridden. So too would changes in the course of history; the calendars of Julius Caesar, Julius I, the Jacobins, the Islamic, Jewish or Chinese could have become the global standard, or Gregory XIII could have selected July as the first month of the year. Older and locally adapted methods for dividing the passage of three rotating bodies could have remained.

As you prepare your retrospective, then, remember that time is an illusory construct, a distorted lens for bringing meaning to the sequence of events, and be grateful the experiment with decimal time was short lived. Happy New Year, whatever that means…

Suggested Reading:

William Shakespeare, “When I do count the clock that tells the time

George Gordon, Lord Byron, “To Time

Percy Bysshe Shelley, “Time

1240208_642109192489508_941271857_nRobin Hill is a final year Philosophy, Politics, & Law student at Swansea University. In addition to Undercurrent Philosophy, he writes for the superb Jack Swan Swansea City fanzine on the Philosophy of the Beautiful Game. He often considers biographies to be a positive inversion of Aristotle’s ad hominem fallacy, and the first step on the road to sophistry.

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Large-scale structure of light distribution in the universe. Andrew Pontzen and Fabio Governato.

Did Plato Discover That Reality is Computer Simulated (including Viruses and Malware)?

Recent claims by prominent leaders and gurus in the Information Technology community, such as Elon Musk, that we could very well be living inside a computer simulated reality suggest that our apparently physical world may at its heart be a vast set of mathematical computations.

The film The Matrix — which philosopher William Irwin saw as an updated version of Plato’s Cave re-envisioned in the parlance of computer technology — has now been converted from fantasy into a real hypothesis for further investigations. We will dub this the Musk-Matrix Hypothesis (MMH).

So what’s Plato got to add here? The notable scientist, Werner Heisenberg, asserted that Plato was right to define physical reality as mathematical:

‘I think that on this point modern physics has definitely decided for Plato. For the smallest units of matter are, in fact, not physical objects in the ordinary sense of the word; they are forms, structures or—in Plato’s sense—Ideas, which can be unambiguously spoken of only in the language of mathematics’

The Wikipedia entry sums up this Mathematical Universe Hypothesis (MUH):

‘Our external physical reality is a mathematical structure. That is, the physical universe is mathematics in a well-defined sense…’

Related to this is Computationalism, which suggests that our powers of cognition are at bottom mathematical (an idea explored eloquently by roboticist Hans Moravec in his discussion of mathematical realism; also known as Mathematical Platonism). Since humans are born, according to Plato, with innate ideas of mathematical structures, then our minds — once we receive the proper education — can grasp reality’s underlying mathematical structure; a kind of ghostly skeleton that lurks behind the apparently robust, but actually illusory, world of ephemeral empirical experience. Alternatively put, reality analogous to the ‘software’, mathematical structure, the ‘hardware.’

However, as Plato argued, because we are prisoners in the cave of ordinary daily life we confuse those ephemeral shadows and images with the truth. What we naively label ‘real-time’ is actually virtual reality. Researchers investigating a putative computer simulated reality, are trying to drag us out of this Cave/Matrix. We are like Neo waiting for our Socrates/Morpheus, but played now by Elon Musk.

Yet, along with his mathematical ideas, Plato’s psychology investigated gaps and irregularities in human thinking and behaviour. Could the MMH be tweaked to explain such anomalies?

In his dialogues, Plato depicts humans plagued by a species of Attention Deficit Disorders, which includes a lack of focus, as Jeffrey Edward Green observed. For Plato, people are restless, fail to concentrate, lose their attention span, and then fall asleep.

Though Plato adduced these examples to support his theory of knowledge and critique of democracy, the MMH suggests another possible explanation.  If our reality is one vast computer simulation, then perhaps these irregularities are evidence of viruses or malware ‘attacking’ our simulated reality. A wandering attention span sounds remarkably like the restless behaviour of a computer infected with malware, which redirects the system’s focus to other websites. And could virus attacks be responsible for forgetfulness and, in general, muddled thinking; our version of data loss, system shutdown, and corrupted files?

While these speculations may sound farfetched, they are no more absurd than the original MMH, which once was a cinematic fantasy, but is now the stuff of serious debate.

Thomas White is a Wiley Journal Author, who has published essays, poetry and fiction, digital and print, in the United States, Canada, and Australia. He is the founder and former facilitator of the Maryland Socrates Cafe in Takoma Park, Maryland (USA), and is writing a book on the meaning of moral evil.

How about you, dear reader, do you think Plato discovered that reality is a simulation? Would this simulated universe be susceptible to viruses?

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'[W]ith yoga, green tea and meditation, the individual is fully atomised.' 'Hipster' by Luca Rossato

Atomise the Atom

Capitalism is bad. Bankers are bastards. Greed is awful. Those people above us have it all. We have little. Those below us have nothing.

Our criticism of capitalism seems to broadly divide us into groups of winners and losers, like when you are lined up beside the field before PE lessons at school. But surely that judgement supposes unity in a system that expressly attempts to atomise economic mass, to make money-producers and money-spenders autonomous individuals, each pumping its pecuniary motor for personal gain.

So, before bursting our seams in general anger at anything that seems to be economic or elitist, let us consider the actual societal effect of being atomised.

If each person is her own economic representative – as intense post-Thatcher capitalism has inherently made us in these lucrative parts of the world – then each person’s failure is her own fault. The system presents itself as an objective absorber of force – you blindly submerge, wrapped in nothing but the thoughtless hope of an ordered system’s comfort, and it sucks you in: you might float, you might be propelled out of the water, or you might just sink.

When the autonomous individual fails, she cannot blame the system. When you drown, you don’t blame the water. Water just does what water does; the capitalist entity has will. So, when this economic object fails, it is she herself that must be improved, not the system. Where does she look for self-improvement?

She looks to yoga, green tea and meditation, all presented as a spa for the faulty ego, the ego poisoned by external malice and superfluity. (She puts cucumbers and hot stones on her soul.)

So this individual economic asset dedicates herself to becoming subjectively better. But better, in a mess of enclosed perceptions that recognize themselves only by comparison to other perceptions, is to fit more comfortably in society; simply, to make a step towards unifying subject and object: to become one. So, to be better is to heal the individual’s faults and create harmony in society.

But with yoga, green tea and meditation, the individual is fully atomised. She has been spat out of the rat-race to riches, she has improved herself, and now she can slide back in, since that is the only way to go. But slide back in to what! She is so dissected from the common drive that every fault she finds is the mistake of someone else! Other people are not doing it right!

And then the world is inferior because in its capitalist pursuit of atomisation it has not quite atomised itself as fully as she has, by centripetally imploding into the silence of her own ego, and now all those idiotic losers can sort their own problems out!

Obviously, I am not supporting capitalism. I am just saying that claiming an anti-capitalist rebellion by performing an extreme reenactment of capitalism’s discontent is not a very productive pursuit. Forging communal improvement in this chaos of esoteric individuals might be more helpful.


Follow up

Alain de Botton speaks about success and failure.

Peter York goes in search of the hipster and their relationship to authenticity and consumer culture.

Read up on the history of the concept of social alienation and related research.

Elliot Mason is a student of English Literature and Language at Goldsmiths, and a member of Goldsmiths Philosophy Society. He has received a ‘Commendable’ award in Buzzword’s Poetry Competition 2016 for a poem entitled ‘Arctic Romance’, and have had poems, stories and articles printed in various publications in the UK and Spain. Regarding the future of these endeavours, when he grows up, he would like to be a child again.


What do you think? Is it possible for an individual in an atomised, capitalist society to avoid propagating atomisation? Are we necessarily social atoms?

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'Laughing Fool', Jacob Cornelisz van Oostsanen

Banter is No Better

The 2016 Ig Nobel Peace prize was, as you may have seen, awarded for a paper discussing the receptiveness of various groups to “pseudo-profound bullshit.”

Within that paper, “bullshit” was given an academic context, and a conceptual description, taken from the work of Harry Frankfurt; “as something that is designed to impress but that was constructed absent direct 
concern for the truth.”

In Britain, the OED definition of bullshit as nonsense is the more common use, whilst what is described above comes under a different word: banter. “My dad’s bigger than your dad.”? Banter. “I went to school with Ed Sheeran.”? Banter. “I shagged that girl who works in Asda.”? Banter. Banter means idle ego-stroking chatter, shared in a consensual space with no concern for truth or appropriateness.

It’s clear from the outset that banter and ethics aren’t designed for each other. For something to qualify as banter, as bullshit or bluster, it must be insincere in its concern for the truth. Once that is established, criticising the sincerity of the view expressed on ethical grounds is nonsensical.

That is presumably why it is so attractive as the last refuge of the desperate in the court of public opinion. The League Managers Association invoked it over text messages between Malky Mackay and Iain Moody. Dapper Laughs almost became synonymous with it. In the last week, Nigel Farage and Donald Trump have been at it.

The reasoning is incredibly curious. To take Trump’s remarks at face value is almost ethically redundant; having spent his entire career in the public eye being variously xenophobic, sexist and generally unpleasant, these remarks come simply as confirmation and evidence of what was already known. That they have been the final straw for a few more senior Republicans is more indicative of their relative valuations of politics and ethics than it is of Trump’s.

Thus, the damage was already done, and this comes as reaffirmation rather than revelation. So why have Trump and Farage sought refuge in banter? Two possible answers present themselves, and from an ethical perspective, Trump’s reputation fares little better in either case.

In the first, he and Farage exist in a world populated only by people exactly like them, where a chap can say you can “grab ‘em by the pussy” without fear of any social consequence. In the second, the world is the same, except a chap actually can commit various acts of sexual violence against the women he occasionally encounters, and boast about it later, and receive social benefits for doing so. When questioned by anyone outside that world, they simply refer to the rules of the world: see that sexist behaviour we engage in? That’s what men do, that is.

As Farage rightly points out, none of us want our pillow talk, post-ironic racist retellings or casual insults to our friends splashed over CNN. None of us want to be judged solely on the number of “your mum” jokes we’ve ever made. The critical difference is that we’re not running a campaign for President that reads like a series of club comic jokes with all the punchlines missing.

1240208_642109192489508_941271857_nRobin Hill is a final year Philosophy, Politics, & Law student at Swansea University. In addition to Undercurrent Philosophy, he writes for the superb Jack Swan Swansea City fanzine on the Philosophy of the Beautiful Game. He often considers biographies to be a positive inversion of Aristotle’s ad hominem fallacy, and the first step on the road to Sophistry.

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