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Should Chimpanzees be Granted Legal Personhood?

An image of a group of chimpanzees

In recent years, advocates for animal welfare have pursued legal rights for animals in the courts.  Tommy and Kiko are chimpanzees who were once famous for their appearance in Hollywood films. Both now live in captivity in small cages—conditions that are far from optimal relative to what a flourishing life for a chimpanzee would look like.  Hercules and Leo are chimpanzees who have been the subject of invasive medical research and experimentation for their entire lives, nearly a decade.  Advocates for these animals argue that it is morally wrong to view them as mere property. There should be some legal recognition of their rights.

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In Steven Pinker’s Enlightenment Now, the Ethics of Reporting Human Progress

A painting of Enlightenment scholars talking in a park.

In 1995, Alan Sokal famously (or perhaps, infamously) wrote a manuscript full of rubbish sentences giving the impression that scientific theories are no more than social constructions. His article was written with the typical pompous (and largely nonsensical) language of postmodern philosophy. He sent the manuscript to the academic journal Social Text, and it was published. Sokal then informed the wider public that he had written the manuscript deliberately as a hoax, in order to expose how far Postmodernism had gone in Western academics. Sokal wanted to prove that, as long as authors wrote in incomprehensible language, gave the appearance of criticizing the scientific establishment, and took a stand against the powers that be (capitalism, patriarchy, Western civilization, etc.), postmodern academics would welcome such writings, regardless of how absurd their claims were.

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When Men Dominate the Film Industry, What’s the Problem?

Watching the Oscars recently, I was struck by the fact that, for all the emphasis on women over the last year because of the #metoo movement, the winners were still mostly a parade of men. Greta Gerwig did not win for her wonderful movie Lady Bird; Guillermo Del Toro won for the overly contrived movie The Shape of Water. Yes, there were female winners in the acting categories, but there have to be: those categories are gender-segregated.

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In Washington, D.C., A March Against Fear

Collage of three people from the March

Reporting by Eleanor Price, Photos by Conner Gordon

On February 14, 2018, a gunman walked into Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, and shot 17 of his former classmates to death. Six weeks later, the survivors of the shooting led over 200,000 people through the streets of Washington, D.C., to call for gun safety measures at the March For Our Lives. At the time, Congress was in recess; many of the country’s leaders were either back in their districts or overseas, far from the streets where their constituents were demanding change.

Many of the march’s attendees were students themselves, outraged at how routine shootings have become in their schools and neighborhoods. Others had felt the impact of gun violence from afar — a mass shooting on the news, an ever-present worry that they or their families could someday be a target. The people we spoke to gave voice to these fears. But each attendee also made one thing clear: though their leaders may be absent, inaction is no longer acceptable.

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Who Should Program the Morality of Self-Driving Cars?

An image of a self-driving Uber

On Sunday, March 18, Elaine Herzberg died after being hit by Uber’s self-driving car on the road in Tempe, Arizona. Out for a test-run, the video of the collisions suggests that there was a failure of the self-driving technology as well as the in-car driver meant to supervise the testing of the test drive.  Uber has removed its self-driving cars from the road while cooperating with investigations, and discussions of the quickly advancing future of driverless vehicles have once again been stirred up in the press.

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Considering Avenues for Colonial Repatriation

Photo of old colonial fort with palm tree and grass

Over the past century, many arguments have surfaced in reference to Western nations giving reparations for their atrocities during the colonial period. Proponents of repatriation center their arguments around the numerical value of the people that were lost, natural resources given up, and artifacts stolen from them. On the other hand, many of the benefactors of colonialism claim that those countries that were colonized benefitted from this process and gave them an upper hand in an increasingly industrialized world. The claims of the colonialist beg us to investigate whether they are well-founded and true, for accepting them full-heartedly distorts the reality of the situation. Continue reading “Considering Avenues for Colonial Repatriation”

Cape Town is Facing Unprecedented Drought. Should Tourists Still Visit?

Photo of the coast of Cape Town showing high rise buildings and a crane

Cape Town, South Africa is facing the worst drought in over a century. Citizens of Cape Town, South Africa are preparing for “Day Zero,” which is expected to hit the city in April. For decades, the city of Cape Town has been a popular place for tourists to travel to. Cape Town is known for its beaches, wineries, lush gardens, and beautiful coastlines. But after a three-year drought, the city of Cape Town is seriously at risk to become the first major city in the world to lose a significant amount of their water supply. How could it come to this? Continue reading “Cape Town is Facing Unprecedented Drought. Should Tourists Still Visit?”

Opinion: Non-Disclosure Agreements and the Ethics of Paying for Silence

An image of Stormy Daniels speaking at a conference

Lately we’ve been hearing a lot about hush money. A week before the 2016 election, Stormy Daniels, a porn actress, was paid to be silent about an affair she may or may not have had with Donald Trump in 2006, shortly after his wife Melania gave birth to their son Barron.

Non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) have also been in the news because they have been used by Harvey Weinstein and others to buy the silence of women they allegedly harassed or assaulted. And in the last few months, it’s also become public knowledge that this legal device has been used to insulate members of Congress from scrutiny after allegations of harassment.

Buying the silence of an accuser is evidently common practice and legally above board. It’s surprising, then, that it’s a misdeed or even a crime—the crime of blackmail—for an accuser to aggressively sell their silence. “I’ll pay you to keep my behavior a secret” is fine if Trump said it. But “I won’t keep your behavior a secret unless you pay me” is unacceptable if Stormy Daniels said it.

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The Puppy and the Snapping Turtle

An image of a snapping turtle's mouth

On March 8, 2018, an abandoned, terminally ill puppy was brought into the classroom of Idaho high school science teacher Robert Crosland.  Crosland, known for taking in sick animals, could tell that the puppy was beyond saving.  After school, in front of a handful of his students, Crosland placed the sick puppy inside the tank of his snapping turtle.  It drowned and was then eaten by the turtle. Crosland was reported for animal cruelty. The snapping turtle, a member of an invasive species, was confiscated and euthanized by the Department of Agriculture.

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Eco-dystopias: What Fiction Can Teach Us About Climate Change

Image of many abandoned buildings

Throughout the past several decades of climate change discourse, contemporary environmentalism has warned of an impending ecological apocalypse. Even before the rise of global climate change discourse in the 1980’s, “eco-dystopic” fiction emerged as a genre in fiction and film. In the 1950’s, eco-dystopias like John Wyndham’s The Day of the Triffids and John Christopher’s Death of Grass emerged. Wallace McNeish argues in his article “From revelation to revolution: Apocalypticism in green politics” that “dystopia has replaced utopia as the dominant mode of speculative cultural imagination.” Continue reading “Eco-dystopias: What Fiction Can Teach Us About Climate Change”

Moral Luck and the Trump-Russia Investigation

portrait of Donald Trump Jr. at a campaign event

One cannot avoid news of Robert Mueller’s investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 election and allegations of collusion between Russian government entities and the Trump campaign. It seems that nearly every day a new story detailing new twists in this saga is published. Luckily, the whole story serves as a goldmine for philosophical and ethical reflection on current events. In this post, I explore the infamous Trump Tower meeting in June 2016 between Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort, and other individuals associated with Russia as an example of what philosopher’s call “moral luck.”

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Afrofuturism: The Beginning of the End for Stereotypical Black People in Media?

Art piece showing dark backdrop with pinpricks of light creating a 3D image of a woman and a kind of landscape

The box office hit Black Panther is important for a variety of reasons. Not only is it the next story in the revolutionary Marvel Cinematic Universe, but its racial implications are significant as well. A film showing a black superhero who is one of the wealthiest and smartest characters in the Marvel Universe being presented to the masses is powerful in regards to representation. But what might not be so well known among the masses of moviegoers that saw Black Panther is the genre that the film is rooted in. The Marvel Studios film has shed light on Afrofuturism, a genre where writing, film, and even music are shown through the lens of an African American. According to The Washington Post, Afrofuturism incorporates science fiction and fantasy into the history of the African diaspora. It ranges from writing to music and portrays black people in a more positive light, framing its black characters as incredibly intelligent and as visionaries. Although the Afrofuturism movement has acted as a catalyst for the empowerment of black people, should it be an indicator to white people to cast aside the stigmas and negative stereotypes associated with black people? Continue reading “Afrofuturism: The Beginning of the End for Stereotypical Black People in Media?”

Is the Global Citizenship Movement the New “White Man’s Burden”?

Photograph of Palais des Nations building with flags in two columns in front of it

In an age of red-eye flights and the ability to communicate digitally across thousands of miles, the world has never felt so small and interconnected. Despite this, the governments of countries across the world remain relatively segregated in regards to policies concerning citizenship and human rights. These issues were discussed at large during the 37th session of the UN Human Rights Council, which took place on March 6 in the Palais des Nations. During the session, many different methods for improving human rights worldwide were discussed, including the concept of Global Citizenship Education. The movement for global citizenship counters the concept of isolationism and advocates for a set of moral standards to apply a global society. Though global citizenship sounds relatively straightforward, the movement is often steeped in questions of justice and national self-determination.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Program for Global Citizenship Education aims to improve human rights worldwide “by empowering learners of all ages to understand that these are global, not local issues and to become active promoters of more peaceful, tolerant, inclusive, secure and sustainable societies.” But does the call for global citizens risk the erasure of national identity? Are the standards set for development always just? And does the initiative for global citizenship encourage a 21st century “white man’s burden” mentality?

The term global citizen refers to “someone who is aware of and understands the wider world – and their place in it.” Though the concept of global citizenship is not necessarily new, the organized global citizen movement began less than 10 years ago. The organization Global Citizen was founded in 2011 with the mission of empowering individuals and communities to make an impact worldwide on a variety of human rights issues. Though one of Global Citizen’s largest goals is to eradicate extreme poverty, the organization also works toward securing gender equity, environmental health, and civil rights.  

Global Citizen takes steps to empower people at the local level, but is there a danger in redefining certain issues as inherently global? There have been ardent critics of this concept of the sentiments of global citizenship, such as British Prime Minister Theresa May and President Donald Trump. In a speech delivered in October of 2016, May expressed her discontent with the attitude of global elites. She commented, “Today, too many people in positions of power behave as though they have more in common with international elites than with the people down the road, the people they employ, the people they pass on the street.” It’s obvious that May feels that globalization has erased local and national connections. She continued with a more controversial statement, declaring that “If you believe you are a citizen of the world, you are a citizen of nowhere.” Only a few months after May’s comments, Donald Trump expressed a similar sentiment. He proclaimed, “There is no global anthem. No global currency. No certificate of global citizenship,” in a speech given during his presidential victory tour. Trump appealed to the isolationist values of his supporters, promising that “Never anyone [sic] again will any other interests come before the interest of the American people.” For these politicians, and their supporters, global citizenship means abandoning national identity.

Though May and Trump’s comments were blasted as ignorant, uncompassionate, and even sympathetic to fascist values, whether or not one can ethically reconcile nationalism and globalism remains largely unanswered. In an article titled “Global Citizens vs the People,” Jim Butcher of online political magazine Spiked explains how global citizenship does not only contradict conservative ideology, but liberal populist ideology as well. Butcher argues that global citizenship does not necessarily mean renouncing nationalist sentiments, but he notes that global citizenship runs the risk of “seeking respite from democracy” and can in fact be “a way of avoiding having to address the political views and arguments of your fellow citizens.”

But some proponents of global citizenship claim that such criticism fails to acknowledge the difference between soft and critical global citizenship. In her article “Soft versus critical global citizenship education,” Vanessa Andreotti acknowledges the potential harm in global citizenship education, but believes that it can be eradicated by emphasizing critical thinking. It is possible for global citizen education to encourage its proponents to “project their beliefs and myths as universal and reproduce power relations and violence similar to those in colonial times.” This need not be the inevitable result, however, if global citizenship education gives learners the tools to critically assess issues of inequality and injustice, which are skills soft global citizenship fails to provide.

For example, while soft global citizenship may frame the solutions to global issues as humanitarian, critical citizenship frames these solutions as a political and ethical. Teaching these critical distinctions keeps the global citizen aware of their own biases and safeguards the global citizen movement from a patronizing mindset. And organizations such as Global Citizen arguably embody critical global citizenship education, with its mission explaining that “everyone from citizens, governments, businesses, and charities have a role – because none of aid, trade nor charity can do this alone.”

But global citizenship is also inherently reliant on globalization. Though critical global citizenship encourages people to think critically about the negative effects of globalization, it assumes that globalization can be used as a positive force. Some might argue that globalization has in fact created a new world hierarchy, specifically in terms of the standards of development. Post-development theory holds that the global crusade for development has failed and that in some cases development operates as a modern form of imperialism that is “a reflection of Western-Northern hegemony over the rest of the world.”

Prominent post-development scholars, such as Wolfgang Sachs, have argued that because development standards often include assimilation to Western lifestyle, “it is not the failure of development which has to be feared but its success.” It is undeniable that development standards are often set and enforced by the Western world, with Western countries holding the majority of power in prominent global organizations working toward development, such as the United Nations and the World Bank. A paper funded by The National Bureau of Economic Research’s Economics of National Security program found that since the UN’s inception, there has been an unwavering power bias in the secretariat in favor of Western countries. Though the UN maintains its mission is to keep peace throughout the world, one could argue that such an imbalance in institutional power is obstructive to this mission and actually reflects the continuation of geographical and racial inequalities spurred by the history of Western imperialism.

However, many supporters of globalization argue that the concrete effects of globalism justify its problematic ideological implications. The United Nations was single-handedly responsible for the eradication of smallpox, with its initiative in the 1960’s and 70’s through the World Health Organization. The UN also touts a variety of achievements through partner organizations like UNICEF, which, between 1990 and 2015, reportedly saved the lives of over 90 million children. The World Bank, an organization working to end worldwide poverty that also grew out of globalization, is responsible for providing essential health services to over 600 million people and providing 72 million with better access to clean water. These achievements are undeniably significant, and would not be possible without a unified effort and collection of people advocating for positive globalization.

Though the struggle for human rights and global economic equality has improved, the problems made apparent by globalization are nowhere close to disappearing. A world of global citizens might just be the solution that marks the 21st century as the century that eradicates extreme poverty and radically improves justice and equality. However, the effects of increasing the global stake in these issues will not be easy to backtrack if such initiatives are unsuccessful or have unintended consequences. We should not underestimate the potential of the global citizen movement to encourage a “developed man’s burden” outlook if it fails to encourage critical and ethical examinations of its followers.


This article has a set of discussion questions tailored for classroom use. Click here to download them. To see a full list of our discussion questions, check out the Educational Resources page.

An Experiment in Inequality at the Street Food Stall

An image of a street food vendor preparing a sandwich

During February, Saartj, a New Orleans food stall serving Nigerian lunches, has been conducting a social experiment. In response to a rapidly growing wage gap between white people and people of color in New Orleans, they are offering lunches for $12 and suggesting that customers who identify as white pay $30 instead: the adjusted price that represents the disparity in income between African Americans and whites. Chef Tunde Way set up his pop-up food stall in order to stimulate discussion of the wage gap and to spread awareness of the statistics of the incomes in New Orleans. The social experiment has been collecting data, asking customers to complete surveys through February 28. Preliminary results suggest that 80 percent of white customers select to pay the $30 rate for their meals. The extra money collected is to be redistributed to minorities who frequent the stall (though not many have signed up for the money).

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Reckoning with Democracy in Decline

Photograph of several flagpoles, with Chinese and Hong Kong flags visible

In the light of the recent decisions coming from People’s Republic of China regarding the elimination of the two-term limit on presidency, it is worth exploring the state of democracy in the world, and more specifically prospects for its survival. Even though China has never significantly approached fulfilling procedural minimum requirements for democracy, this move comes as a significant step away from classical conception of Chinese authoritarianism towards an even more closed political system. Setting China aside as just one among the sea of examples, one ought to focus on the reasons for which democracy or the ideals associated with democracy are globally in decline. Continue reading “Reckoning with Democracy in Decline”

Police Officers or Immigration Officers? The Dilemma of Responding to ICE Warrants

Photograph of a police officer leaning against a police car

On February 22, Wilson Rodriguez Macarreno called 911 because he thought that someone was breaking into his car in the  Seattle suburb of Tukwila. After the police apprehended the suspect breaking into his car, Macarreno was detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. He was handcuffed and driven to an ICE field office without being told the reasons for his detainment. According to the Tukwila, Washington police officers, there was a warrant for Macarreno from immigration authorities. According to his lawyer, Macarreno came to the United States illegally from Honduras around 15 years ago to escape a life of gang violence. Close family members and friends of his had died as a result of the violence, so he made his escape to the United States. Macarreno has lived in the United States since and has three children that are legal citizens. Continue reading “Police Officers or Immigration Officers? The Dilemma of Responding to ICE Warrants”

Opposition vs. Prohibition: Should Iceland Ban Circumcision?

a Rembrandt drawing of a ritual circumcision

Iceland will soon vote on a bill that would criminalize infant circumcision. While the medical community is supportive, some Icelanders are concerned. It’s not so much the typical Icelandic parent who wants to retain the right to make this decision, but Jewish and Muslim leaders are concerned that a ban would intrude on core religious practices. Circumcising newborn boys is a religious commandment for both religions.

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Embracing Nuclear Power as a Solution to Climate Change

Photo of nuclear power plant next to a city

In the late 1940’s, following the first use of nuclear weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Americans were ecstatic about the potential benefits of nuclear energy. Utopic imaginations painted pictures of a world with limitless energy, utilizing nuclear power for everything from powering cars to creating radioactive crops that would produce twice their normal yield. These hopes quickly turned to fears as black rain started pouring on Hiroshima and nuclear tests had unexpected and disastrous consequences. Despite these fears, nuclear power can still be considered a “green” technology because it produces energy without creating carbon emissions. Today, nuclear power plants provide about 20 percent of the United States’ electricity, and nuclear power is the third largest producer of electricity in the country. If framed as a solution to climate change, and if plants are given the proper funding and maintenance to increase safety, nuclear power could provide emission-free electricity on a wider scale. Continue reading “Embracing Nuclear Power as a Solution to Climate Change”

In Michigan, A Prisoner Forced to Pay for His Own Incarceration

An image of a prison window

In the state of Michigan, Curtis Dawkins, prisoner and recent book author, could be forced to pay his dues of incarceration from the money received from his literary work.

Dawkins has been incarcerated for almost 12 years for murdering a man and has been writing a collection of short stories to pass the time. Before Dawkins was incarcerated, he was a writer earning his Master of Fine Arts degree. Most of the short stories in Dawkins’ The Graybar Hotel tell the life story of a prisoner, narrated in first person. The Graybar Hotel caught the attention of one of the top literary publishers in the United States, and offered Dawkins $150,000 to publish the collection of short stories.

But the offer has raised some serious questions. Some wonder if it is acceptable to support a person who was once involved in such an evil crime. Should inmates be allowed to receive money from stories about their prison life, which is a place intended for punishment?

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A Call for the Reform of Diplomatic Immunity

Embassies in Washington, DC

Codified through international law at the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations in 1961, diplomatic immunity grants foreign diplomats legal immunity to ensure safe passage and prevent lawsuit or prosecution based on the host country’s laws. The tradition behind diplomatic immunity dates back thousands of years, traced through Indian epics and accounts by Roman and Greek officials. Despite this, the invocation of diplomatic immunity has not been constrained by many governments and has allowed cases of rape, sexual exploitation, human trafficking, driving while under the influence, and many other crimes to go without prosecution.  This calls into question whether or not the international community should consider constraints on when diplomatic immunity—or diplomatic protection as an extent—can be invoked in certain crimes.

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The Complex, Yet Remarkably Straightforward, Ethics of the N-Word

A photo of Ta-Nehisi Coates speaking at a lecture

The United States is rife with cultural taboos. Some common taboos native to the United States include topics such as religion, abortion, and polygamy. But perhaps the most infamous of taboos in the United States is race, specifically pertaining to African Americans. Since individuals of African descent were seen as profitable due to their forced labor, the “n-word” has become part of the English vernacular. The n-word has persisted through history, not only as a racial slur but as a reminder of the history of black people. The n-word has even morphed into a more modern form, changing from the hard -er to a more common -a. Although the historical implications of the n-word and its variants are widely known, it still seems as if there is confusion as to why the n-word shouldn’t be used by those who are not of African descent, raising the question of why some non-black people think that use of the n-word is acceptable.

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