Judith Jarvis Thomson

Judith Jarvis Thomson

The philosopher Judith Jarvis Thomson (1929-2020) has died. She was a philosophical giant. You may know her from her landmark 1971 paper in defense of abortion or for one of her papers on the trolley problem. Or maybe you know the 1997 amicus brief on assisted suicide she co-authored with Dworkin, Nagel, Nozick, Rawls, and Scanlon.

Thomson’s philosophical work was careful, profound, and wide-ranging. She wrote on topics in practical ethics (obviously), including the right to privacy, self-defense, and preferential hiring. And she wrote on more abstract issues in ethics and meta-ethics, including papers on the right and the good, moral luck, and the metaphysics of harm. She also wrote extensively (and provocatively) about a range of topics in metaphysics and legal philosophy, including personal identity, the metaphysics of ordinary objects, parthood and identity over time, the nature of action, causation by absence or omission (one of my personal favorites), causation in the law, causation and liability, and liability and evidence. For good measure, she also wrote on private languages, time, space, and objects, and the riddles of induction.

She left the field better than she found it.

posted by Jonathan Livengood (17 comments total)

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“They drop a bomb on the headquarters, I say it’s unimportant”

“They drop a bomb on the headquarters, I say it’s unimportant”

The Fifth Seal [SLTYT] is an award winning Hungarian movie (with subtitles) from 1976 by Zoltán Fábri. The central question of the movie is how to act ethically under oppression – a problem American viewers may find surprisingly relevant.

The IMDB summary at first looks like an opening line of a joke:

In Budapest in 1944, a watchmaker, a book seller and a carpenter are drinking in a bar with the owner,when they are joined by a stranger. The watchmaker asks a hypothetical question that will change their lives.

but a longer blog post on the film gives a very good overview of the topics the film touches on:

Very few films deal with philosophy and ethical human choices under extreme testing situations. The Fifth Seal is one that not only presents a philosophical dilemma on screen but will make any intelligent and sensitive viewer to ponder over his or her own choice under similar circumstances.

The same author interviewed Fábri in 1982 for the The Telegraph (Kolkata, India), which you can read here.

posted by kmt (4 comments total)

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Will the US Help Spread Authoritarianism?

Will the US Help Spread Authoritarianism?

Guest post by Filippo Costa Buranelli

Is the world experiencing an authoritarian backlash? Is democracy receding while authoritarians accrue power, visibility, and legitimacy in international politics?

Signs of authoritarianism can be seen across the globe—great powers such as Russia and China, and influential regional states such as Brazil, India, and Turkey, all display authoritarian traits. Illiberal platforms and parties are on the rise in Europe, as well. A disdain for democratic pluralism, equality of people, immigration, participatory politics, and women’s rights are openly hailed as the right path forward, in what seems to be a truly transnational philosophy.

Academic research calls this “the third wave of autocracy,” and “authoritarian diffusion,” and recent data support this trend: according to Democracy Without Borders, there are 87 democratic states globally compared to 98 a decade ago. “For the first time since 2001, a majority of all states worldwide are no longer under democratic rule,” says the annual Varieties of Democracy report.

In my research on Central Asia, where autocracies have been resilient for the past 30 years, I find that authoritarianism can become normative across countries—that is, it can be seen as appropriate and legitimate—when two mechanisms of socialization are in play: mimicry and praise. The former is the adoption of authoritarian practices from another authoritarian context (e.g., suppression of civil and political rights), while the latter refers to discourse that legitimizes authoritarian governance—for example, congratulating an autocrat for a rigged election.

A question of growing concern is whether the United States is becoming an authoritarian state and whether the US will help to legitimize authoritarianism across the globe.

President Trump and his acolytes have implemented a number of authoritarian practices over the past four years, with an eerie nod to the Eurasian context. The reliance on friends, family members, and members of his business circles to administer the state resembles the neo-patrimonial practices found in Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and beyond, where the distinction between the private and the political is blurred. Trump has fostered the rise of a “sultanistic” power structure in the GOP, where the party largely abandons its core principles to support whatever the leader wants. This is evident in the GOP’s decision not to create a 2020 platform. Instead, it confirmed that “the Republican Party has and will continue to enthusiastically support the President’s America-first agenda.” As in Central Asia, the party and the president are closely interdependent.

With voting already underway in the US, Trump has made abundant references to “forces” willing to sabotage the democratic vote; has dismissed the value of pluralism and democratic procedures; and has made real attempts to rig the vote by hampering mail-in voting. Long before voting began, Trump raised doubts about the election’s integrity, and at a campaign rally in Nevada last month, he declared, “the Democrats are trying to rig this election because that’s the only way they’re going to win.”

Pointing to unnamed “third forces” and demonizing the opposition is a classic authoritarian technique. In the case of Tajikistan, for example, the main opposition party has been made illegal. While Trump refers to far-left fascism, Tajikistan’s Rahmon refers to “terrorism,” and Kazakhstan’s Nazarbayev, when in power, referred to “extremism” when describing opposition parties.

Trump’s grandiosity and hyperbole also mimic Central Asian leaders. Trump was recently hailed as the “protector” of the American people by the RNC, in an unsettling reference to Turkmen President’s paternalistic and hierarchical title of Arkadag (incidentally, ‘Protector’). Trump’s approach to the media is also similar to what can be found in the Central Asian region as well as other authoritarian contexts—creating personalized, partisan media outlets, and declaring media sources that challenge his views “enemies of the people.”

Praise is the other enabler of the institutionalization of authoritarianism. Admiration for strongmen, authoritarian practices, and illiberal models of governance reinforce the idea that authoritarianism is not taboo—but should be encouraged. Trump has praised Hungary’s Viktor Orbán; the Philippines’ Duterte; Turkey’s Erdogan; and even Kim Jong Un, about whom Trump said in 2018: “[Kim] is the head of a country and I mean he is the strong head… He speaks and his people sit up at attention. I want my people to do the same.”

Could the US become a true authoritarian state? The federalized US system, where states offer a pivotal check on federal power, might make that possibility unlikely, as Sarah Churchwell recently noted. Moreover, the US is not situated in an authoritarian “regional ecology” as the Central Asian republics are; there is less opportunity for diffusion of authoritarian ideas and practices than in the tightly knitted regional context of Eurasia.

But Trump’s words and deeds are contributing daily to the slow erosion of the democratic international liberal order and to the institutionalization of authoritarianism world widely. Great powers like the US are global role models; their ability to influence the diffusion of practices far exceeds small authoritarian powers like Tajikistan. The Trump administration’s actions can therefore have significant consequences.

Similarities between the increasing illiberalism in the US and the consolidated authoritarian practices in Central Asia have been met with irony and a certain complacency. But the step from complacency and complicity is often very, very short.

Filippo Costa Buranelli is a Lecturer in International Relations at the University of St Andrews, UK.

Ethics in AI

Ethics in AI

DeepMind researchers propose rebuilding the AI industry on a base of anticolonialism – “The researchers detailed how to build AI systems while critically examining colonialism and colonial forms of AI already in use in a preprint paper released Thursday. The paper was coauthored by DeepMind research scientists William Isaac and Shakir Mohammed and Marie-Therese Png, an Oxford doctoral student and DeepMind Ethics and Society intern who previously provided tech advice to the United Nations Secretary General’s High-level Panel on Digital Cooperation.”

The researchers posit that power is at the heart of ethics debates and that conversations about power are incomplete if they do not include historical context and recognize the structural legacy of colonialism that continues to inform power dynamics today. They further argue that inequities like racial capitalism, class inequality, and heteronormative patriarchy have roots in colonialism and that we need to recognize these power dynamics when designing AI systems to avoid perpetuating such harms.

“Any commitment to building the responsible and beneficial AI of the future ties us to the hierarchies, philosophy, and technology inherited from the past, and a renewed responsibility to the technology of the present,” the paper reads. “This is needed in order to better align our research and technology development with established and emerging ethical principles and regulation, and to empower vulnerable peoples who, so often, bear the brunt of negative impacts of innovation and scientific progress.”

The paper incorporates a range of suggestions, such as analyzing data colonialism and decolonization of data relationships and employing the critical technical approach to AI development Philip Agre proposed in 1997.

The notion of anticolonial AI builds on a growing body of AI research that stresses the importance of including feedback from people most impacted by AI systems. An article released in Nature earlier this week argues that the AI community must ask how systems shift power and asserts that “an indifferent field serves the powerful.” VentureBeat explored how power shapes AI ethics in a special issue last fall. Power dynamics were also a main topic of discussion at the ACM FAccT conference held in early 2020 as more businesses and national governments consider how to put AI ethics principles into practice.

some of DeepMind’s machine learning fairness research…

also btw…

Softlaw: “law that is software coded before it is passed.” (A very direct and literal take on @lessig’s “code is law”)[1,2]

posted by kliuless (38 comments total)

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