Ethics

Four kangaroos recently moved into the paddock that adjoins the house on Peramangk Country in the Adelaide Hills where I live. For weeks I had been conscious of distant gunfire, not the usual firing of the gas guns that wineries use to keep birds off their vines. I concluded that the kangaroos had been driven here by a cull. The goats, Charles and Hamlet, and the sheep, Lauren and Ingrid, who call the paddock home, seemed unperturbed by the roos’ presence. But what, I wondered, did all these animals think about one another? What, indeed, did they think about me?

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The Tyranny of Merit by Michael J. Sandel & Philanthropy by Paul Vallely

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December 2020, no. 427

Save the Children in Stockholm wanted to highlight the unfair distribution of global wealth, so it invented an online game called The Lottery of Life. This invited Swedes to a website to spin the wheel of chance. If you were born again tomorrow, where would you appear?

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Spinoza’s Ethics edited by Clare Carlisle, translated by George Eliot

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September 2020, no. 424

Becoming better acquainted with an author may give rise to a surprise, or two. For example, the daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft (author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman) and William Godwin (author of Political Justice) is the author of Frankenstein. Mary Shelley met her husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley, through his devotion to her father’s anarchist political philosophy. Gaining an awareness of the surprisingly complex threads that link one thinker to the next in dynamic webs of influence is one of the deep pleasures of scholarship.

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Raimond Gaita is unusual among moral philosophers in having presented the world of his childhood as food for thought. Most notably, he has given us his Romanian father, Romulus – ‘Johnny the Balt’ to his Australian neighbours – whose understanding of life’s moral necessities is articulated by Gaita as the core of his ethical thought. It is hard to think of an instance in the history of Western philosophy, other than the Socrates of Plato’s Apology, where an individual’s life story is as intrinsic to the views expounded as the life of Romulus Gaita is to those of his son.

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Last Bets examines the case of Anthony Dunning, a forty-year-old man who died four days after being pinned to the floor face-down by bouncers at Melbourne’s Crown casino in July 2011. The incident was reported to police not by Crown but by Dunning’s friends two days later, while the man lay in intensive care. A spokesperson for the police said that Crown was not required by law to have reported the incident, though ‘they probably had a moral obligation’ to do so.

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In a recent Prospect interview, distinguished Princeton and ANU scholar Philip Pettit described political philosophy as a conversation around various themes. Some voices focus on power or freedom, others on democracy or the nature of the state. The conversation should extend beyond the academy, argued Pettit, to embrace public intellectuals, journalists, commentators, political scientists, activists, and government.

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Animal Death edited by Jay Johnston and Fiona Probyn-Rapsey

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June–July 2014, no. 362

As Carol Freeman notes in a footnote to her chapter in Animal Death, ‘what the term “animal studies” defines is still being debated’. The seventeen chapters of this edited volume range across historical, scientific, cultural, and artistic animal-related subjects. They reflect a self-conscious commitment on the part of editors Jay Johnston and Fiona Probyn-Rapsey to the transdisciplinary nature of this inchoate field of scholarship. Although the title and unifying theme of Animal Death might seem to betoken a narrow focus on confrontational questions surrounding the killing of animals by humans – which are at times addressed unflinchingly – in actuality the book’s compass is far wider. It is a text that will be of great value to novices and experienced animal studies scholars alike: the kind of book a reader should be wary of opening with a pencil in hand, lest she find herself underlining the whole thing.

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This book by Nigel Biggar, Anglican minister and Oxford Professor of Theology, is in the rich and broad tradition of thinking about war known as Just War Theory (JWT). JWT sees war as justifiable, but holds that decisions about going to war, as well as about the way it is fought, are subject to moral constraints ...

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One of the most productive and interesting areas of research in applied philosophy is concerned with moral issues around warfare. Although there had been important contributions previously, Michael Walzer’s Just and Unjust Wars (1977) was immensely influential in philosophy and well beyond its confines, reinstating ‘just war’ thinking as a mainstream intellectual position. It became, for instance, a standard text in Western military academies.

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Peter Singer occupies a distinguished position at the Centre for Human Values at Princeton University and is frequently described as the most influential of living philosophers. The front cover of this new selection of his writings couples him with Bertrand Russell and, in some respects, the comparison is sensible. Both philosophers have written clearly and simply on issues that are of interest not only to specialists. They have attracted a wide reading public and achieved the kind of celebrity and notoriety rarely associated with philosophers. Both have been activists – Russell mainly in the cause of pacifism and nuclear disarmament, Singer in the cause of animal liberation and the preservation of the environment – and both have stood for parliament.

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