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Monday, March 19, 2012

Big Issues

Here are some issues with which to test any ethical model or theory of justice, good, truth, and unity.  Please add others or refine these.

1.  Human immortality.  So you've just turned 85 and your body is wearing out.  Through stem cell regeneration you have already developed a new kidney.  Your knees have already been replaced. You have had a heart by-pass.  But arthritis, colonitus, enlarged prostate, and, yes, forgetfulness still holds you back.  Time for a new body! Just like in Avatar, one has been prepared for you that is 20 years old. By reverse engineering your brain into the new body, you have it. Your sense of self, your consciousness, your memory are all there. Can it be done?  Probably.  When?  Perhaps by 2040.  Death pushed back perhaps indefinitely.

Should it be done? Should it be done for just those who can afford it? What will this mean to civilization if old people don't die but become young again with all their values, beliefs, prejudices? Are their criteria for selection? Who decides? What are the standards for deciding all these questions?

2.  AI.   Robotics have progressed to such a stage that we can manufacture robots with self-sustaining, self-correcting, progressively learning programs that can interact creatively with humans and other robots through language and other symbols and can adapt to and with the world through artifacts.  They have passed the Turing test for artificial intelligence.

Should we go ahead and make them?  Should we implant rules Isaac Asimov style?  Should they be afforded certain rights and responsibilities?  On what standards do we answer these questions?

3.  Sexual Morality.  Moralities, some conflicting, some compatible, regarding abortion, the right of women to terminate a pregnancy, and certain sexual practices challenge public policy.

  • One morality says that at the moment a sperm penetrates an egg a soul is infused from outside and the embryo has a human essence so that terminating the pregnancy or destroying stem cells from a fetus would be killing a human being and so should never be done even to save the life of the mother because even a good end does not justify an evil means. 
  • Another morality values the embryo as a human being in potentia so that terminating the pregnancy would be killing a human being at least potentially and so should not be done excepting for grave reasons (e.g. rape, incest, death of mother).  
  • Another morality values female eggs and male sperm as human beings in potentia even when they are not united to form an embryo and therefore forbids contraception, male masturbation, homosexuality, and any sexual conduct that does not lead to at least the possibility of child birth.
  • Another morality would value the life and well being of the mother and, not acknowledging the fetus as yet human until after birth, would allow her to make the decision as to her own well-being.  
  • Another morality values life as human only if it has the capacity for human life, namely the ability to interact with other humans.  Stem cells from an aborted fetus, a fetus without a brain or a brain so damaged that it could never interact with others, are not human and are not capable of being human and so might be destroyed for any reason.  
  • Another morality values life as human only when the organism has the capacity to be human, e.g. has developed the capacity to interact with others through language or other symbols capable of achieving human life, is not yet human and so does not have human rights.  But the parents do have rights to life and those must be protected without violence. 
  • Another morality says that all physical intervention (any surgery or radical medical procedure) should be a last resort and not used excepting for good reasons, e.g. continuing health and development of human persons.  
  • Another morality values all life and says that no living organism should be destroyed excepting for good reasons, e.g. continuing the general health and development of life on the planet.  
Does the public have the responsibility to protect what may become human or what is already considered by many as human life?  Does the public have the responsibility for the full human development of the person after birth, especially if the public requires the birth?

4.  Synthetic Biology.  Biology is progressing rapidly by understanding the fundamental building blocks of DNA.  Conjecture and experimentation (scientific method) with living beings and with the chemistry that is fundamental to life are the primary means of advancement.  Cloning is being used to understand the workings of DNA and natural selection in evolution.  Stem cell research provides understanding on the development of body parts.  Neuroscience is discovering the workings of animal and human brains through experimentation.

How far do we go?  Where are the limit if there are any?

More issues to come:

5.  Distributive Justice: wealth, poverty, taxes, market economy.  (Dialogue with Rawls, Sen, Dworkin, Michels.)

6.  Religion and the State: a shifting arrangement, role of civil versus denominational religion, religion and the development of publics.  (Bellah, Murray, Arendt)

7.  Crime/Punishment and Free Will.  How to think and act regarding punishment.  (Gazzaniga, Pinker)

8.  International Law, Morality, Ethics.  Globalism beyond economics, public and private, reaching beyond the old nationalism.  (Sachs, Dworkin)

9.  Civil Discourse, possibilities and remedies for civility, ideology and ethics.

10.  Global Urbanization, development of publics and democratic social change.

11.  Eco-Justice, problem solving planet health and human health on the planet.  climate change and all that.

12.  Liesure and Innovation.  changing nature of work and remuneration,



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