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On Lying When There is No Truth

A photo of a Pinocchio doll.

One of St. Augustine’s enduring gifts to ethics has been Just War Theory. “Thou shalt not kill” comes with an asterisk and a long explanatory footnote.  Augustine did not leave us a Just Lie Theory. “Thou shalt not bear false witness” is almost absolute.

Augustine wrote about lying because, of course, everyone does it. And not just about little things. Even Augustine’s co-religionists were saying anything they could to win converts to their side. This was bad. Lying about faith and salvation degraded and debased Truth, the foundation of Augustine’s spiritual values. Augustine worried that a person converted by a lie had never accepted the Truth, and so might not really be saved.

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The Google Memo and Bias in Science

A photo of the Google logo outside the company's headquarters

Whoever leaked former Google engineer James Damore’s internal memo at the beginning of August didn’t so much release a document as unleash a tempest. The publicizing of the memo, and the subsequent firing of Damore, seized our national attention and generated considerable commentary about diversity, freedom of speech, and the origins of gender disparity in various sectors of society.   

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If North Korea Launches a Nuclear Attack, How Should the U.S. Respond?

A photo of the North Korean-South Korean border

North Korea’s regime has taken a bolder step in its confrontation with the United States: it has threatened to launch an attack against Guam, a US territory in the Pacific. Then, it walked it back. But, we have seen this kind of behavior in Kim Jong Un many times, so we may foresee that, sooner or later, he will again threaten to attack Hawaii, Guam, South Korea, or any other target within North Korea’s range. If such an attack takes place, and it is a nuclear attack, how should the U.S. ethically respond?

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Was the Civil War a “War of Northern Aggression?”

A photo of a confederate flag flying over Columbia, South Carolina

Make no mistake: racism is a big problem in the US, and the far right hate groups that recently assembled in Charlotesville, Virgina, killing one anti-racism activist, deserve full blown condemnation, as opposed to President Trump’s lukewarm response. Let’s also be absolutely clear about something: Robert E. Lee (whose statue in Charlotesville was taken down, which sparked the hate groups’ manifestations) was a slave owner and the General of an army that fought for the right to preserve slavery, and there is no rational way that slavery could ever be justified.

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Should Universities Abandon Placement Exams?

A photo of California State University's campus

At most universities in the United States, students are required to take placement exams to determine their developmental level in math and English.  Students are placed in classes that are appropriate for a student at that developmental level in each of those disciplines.  Students who are placed in non-college ready, remedial classes are required to take up to three such classes before they can enroll in courses that actually count toward their degree.  Last week, the Chancellor of the California State University educational system issued an executive order doing away with placement exams.  Instead, students can try their hands at classes at a higher difficulty level than the placement exam would have indicated was appropriate.  Many community colleges have already moved away from the use of placement exams, but the move to this approach in the large Cal State system is noteworthy.

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A Cross-Species Solution to Organ Donation?

A photo of surgeons operating on a patient.

When thinking of genetically modified organisms, vast fields of corn and large confined animal feeding operations might come to mind. However, a recent development in medical technology has moved us one step closer to modifying animals for purposes other than agriculture. Xenotransplantation is the practice of transplanting cells, organs, or tissues across species. Previously, the largest obstacle to xenotransplantation was the potential infection of viruses between species. However, a new experiment successfully eradicated the threat of such viruses, opening the door a little wider in terms of pig-human transplantation.

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Gender Segregation: Empowering or Exclusive?

A black-and-white photo of a movie theatre during a film.

With over $400 million dollars in North American profits, Wonder Woman has set the record for the biggest U.S. film opening with a female director. Even before setting this record, the 2017 comic book adaptation was heralded by many as a feminist film, including actress and former Wonder Woman Lynda Carter. Despite its success, the film was not without criticism, with some women claiming that they did not find the film empowering, and even that it ignores non-white women. Perhaps the biggest controversy surrounding the film has to do with a Texas movie theatre, which offered “women-only” screenings of the film back in June. This decision was met with a wave of retaliation, accusations of discrimination, and even a lawsuit. Is it sexist to provide a women-only screening of the film? Is it fair to call the movie theatre’s actions as feminist? And most importantly, how does this reaction reflect American society’s tolerance, or lack thereof, of gender segregation?

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The Kilogram: A Case Study in How We Think about Norms

A photo of the kilogram standard encased in a glass jar.

To establish a standard of physical measurement — the meter, the newton, the kilogram — is to establish the possibility of objective answers to questions such as, “Am I allowed to carry my luggage on,” “How much will I have to work to cram my overstuffed suitcase into the overhead bin,” and “Is my luggage allowed in the cargo hold?” But what about the standards themselves? Is there, say, an objective answer to the question, “Is it good to use this definition of the kilogram?”

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Navigating the Ethics of Hot Cars

Every year, an average of 37 children die from heatstroke as a result of having been trapped in hot vehicles. Statistically, most of these children are under the age of three. These very young children lack either the ability or the knowledge to operate car door handles or to unlock doors. Many of them die in a desperate attempt to escape from the vehicle.  This year, deaths due to children stuck in hot cars reached an all-time high for this point in the year, according to a CNN report, with 29 deaths reported so far.

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The Berkshire Museum and the Ethics of Selling Art

The Berkshire Museum in Western Massachusetts, which has 40,000 objects in its collection, including both works of art and historical artifacts, plans to sell 40 works of art to help fund a building renovation and to add to its endowment. According to NPR, the museum sees this move as essential to its continued success and financial stability. Van Shields, executive director of the museum, claimed, “To survive, it is change, move, or die — we have to change… It is not about what we have. It is about who are we for.”

However, some in the larger world of art museums have protested the move. The American Alliance of Museums and the Association of Art Museum Directors reportedly urged the Berkshire to reconsider its decision. Particularly, some have objected to the fact that among the paintings to be auctioned are some paintings by Norman Rockwell, who lived his last 25 years in the same county where the Berkshire Museum is located.

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Growing Pains in the Rapid Rise of eSports

On August 7-12, the Dota 2 Championships are taking place in Seattle, Washington. Eighteen qualifying teams will compete for a combined prize pool currently estimated at $23.8 million. The large prize pools, and high participation and viewership, make Dota 2 rival more traditional sports: the International’s first prize last year was comparable to cash rewards in sports like tennis, cricket, and golf, out-pacing them all in terms of grand prize. Thus, though Dota 2 isn’t competing with the most lucrative sports like football, there is a real sense that eSports are rivaling the traditional, physical sports. Since 2014, more people watched the League of Legends world championships than the NBA finals.

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Has Venezuela Become a Dictatorship?

Is Venezuela a dictatorship? The words democracy and dictatorship should be defined on a continuum. But, it should by now be clear that Venezuela is closer to the latter than to the former. Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro clinched power in a contested election in 2013. He promised a recount on national TV, but only hours later, he retracted. Ever since, he has claimed American imperialism is the real power standing behind opposition forces in Venezuela.

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Why Conservatives Should Support Obamacare’s Individual Mandate

For the moment, Republicans are setting aside their seven-year effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.  A slew of bills failed in the Senate, and now President Trump and the Republican majority in Congress plan on turning to tax reform.  But doubtless, before long we’ll be hearing about the Affordable Care Act again. Not only do conservatives despise it, but even Democrats think it needs work. What I’d most like conservatives to rethink, during this interim peace, is their opposition to the individual mandate.

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Corporate Social Responsibility Depends on Ethical CEOs

Corporate social responsibility (CSR), once seen as a sure indicator of a company’s intentions, is increasingly becoming a trend for all companies to adopt.  More and more, companies engage in CSR for their own benefit, and stakeholders are left unsure which companies participate for the right reasons. Corporate social responsibility is the branch of business that handles how a company upholds ethical standards, including sustainable sourcing, production, and corporate transparency, sometimes “going beyond” expectations to engage in community building projects. Research on the effectiveness of CSR has almost solely relied on signaling theory, which proposes that companies send positive signals to stakeholders (consumers, employees, investors, and communities) when they engage in CSR.

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Sex in the Age of Sex Robots

Editor’s note: sources linked in this article contain images and videos that some readers may find disturbing.

From self-driving cars to smartphones, artificial intelligence has certainly made its way into our everyday lives. So have questions of robotic ethics. Shows like Westworld and Black Mirror have depicted some of the more controversial and abstract dangers of artificial intelligence. Human sex dolls have always been taboo, but a new development in the technology of these sex dolls, specifically their upgrade to robot status, is especially controversial. The whole notion of buying a robot to have sex with is taboo to say the least, but can these sexual acts become unethical, even if they are perpetrated upon a nonliving thing? Is using a sex robot to simulate rape or pedophilia morally permissible? And to what extent should sex robots be regulated?

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