Ethics of Research

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Ethics of Research

Postby jewish_scientist » Mon Oct 29, 2018 7:20 am UTC

I am working on a voluntary paper and I am stuck because I do not know what field of ethics I am dealing with. Basically, I need to analysis 2 questions, but I do not know what terms to enter into Google to actually do that research. The questions are:

1) Does the ability to preform research entail the responsibility to do so?
2) Do researchers have the obligation to share knowledge they gain?

I would greatly appreciate any help getting started.
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Re: Ethics of Research

Postby PAstrychef » Mon Oct 29, 2018 8:42 am UTC

1) no
2) no
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Re: Ethics of Research

Postby jewish_scientist » Mon Oct 29, 2018 9:32 am UTC

1) Why?
2) Why?
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Re: Ethics of Research

Postby Chen » Mon Oct 29, 2018 10:58 am UTC

Deontological ethics should get you started. For what its worth I agree with PAstrychef’s responses.

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Re: Ethics of Research

Postby Tyndmyr » Mon Oct 29, 2018 1:53 pm UTC

jewish_scientist wrote:1) Does the ability to preform research entail the responsibility to do so?


No. Research is no different than any other activity. The fact that you can do something does not usually mean that you must.

2) Do researchers have the obligation to share knowledge they gain?


No more than anyone else is obligated to share the results of their research. Society is benefited by making it advantageous to publish research, and this is quite common, with prestige, tenure, or other factors being influenced by published research. However, they certainly are not ethically required to do so any more than a baker would be ethically required to share the bread he bakes.

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Re: Ethics of Research

Postby ijuin » Mon Oct 29, 2018 2:38 pm UTC

I would say that the obligation to share is dependent on the content of the research. Stuff pertaining to the security of one’s own organization/nation should generally not be shared with those outside of that organization. On the other hand, if the research results seem likely to save lives (e.g. safety or non-proprietary medical topics), then it should probably be shared.

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Re: Ethics of Research

Postby doogly » Mon Oct 29, 2018 2:47 pm UTC

For sharing, it also matters who paid for the research. You take a public grant, the public gets to hear about it. This is something like "academic professional ethics."

For the former question though, it is so obviously false I cannot imagine people having entertained the 'yes' position. I do not recall having seen any sort of analysis of it.
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Re: Ethics of Research

Postby jewish_scientist » Mon Oct 29, 2018 5:35 pm UTC

Ignore this. Somehow I accidentally posted an incomplete version of the post below when I was writing it.
Spoiler:
doogly wrote:For the former question though, it is so obviously false I cannot imagine people having entertained the 'yes' position. I do not recall having seen any sort of analysis of it.

An consequentalist could argue though that because inventions that improve the welfare of people rely on scientific knowledge, a person able to collect and disseminate that knowledge must do so in order to allow the possibility of increasing overall welfare.

A virtue ethicist could argue that scholarship is a virtue.
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Re: Ethics of Research

Postby Pfhorrest » Mon Oct 29, 2018 5:40 pm UTC

research has been shown to cause cancer in lab rats
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Re: Ethics of Research

Postby jewish_scientist » Mon Oct 29, 2018 5:50 pm UTC

doogly wrote:For the former question though, it is so obviously false I cannot imagine people having entertained the 'yes' position.

An consequentalist could argue that because inventions that improve the welfare of people rely on scientific knowledge, a person able to collect and disseminate that knowledge must do so in order to allow the possibility of increasing overall welfare.

A deontologicalist could argue that people have a positive duty to help others achieve their goals and that there are people who's goals are know more, from which it follows that people able to collect and disseminate information have a positive duty to do so.

A virtue ethicist could argue that scholarship is a virtue and that helping others become virtuous is itself a virtuous action, so a virtuous man must collect information for his own sake and then disseminate it for the sake of others.

So there is a decent argument from each of the largest branches of ethics that the answer to both questions is yes.
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Re: Ethics of Research

Postby doogly » Mon Oct 29, 2018 5:59 pm UTC

But surely the poor schmoe you are trying to impress into scholastic research could easily make the exact same argument to any of these ridiculous interlocutors to defend a vacation as a sanitation worker or a IT specialist or optometrist or whatever.
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Re: Ethics of Research

Postby SecondTalon » Mon Oct 29, 2018 7:27 pm UTC

We are all capable of contributing to colonizing other galaxies in order to maximize the chance of the species continuing as long as possible.

Ergo, it is unethical to do anything else. All acts that do not contribute are unethical.

...

That’s why it’s a stupid argument.
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Re: Ethics of Research

Postby doogly » Mon Oct 29, 2018 9:12 pm UTC

Who cares about the species continuing? I do not think any of these ethical frameworks would identify humans as the best species. We should be spending our puny lives laying down palms in front of the octopuses.
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Re: Ethics of Research

Postby ucim » Mon Oct 29, 2018 9:19 pm UTC

jewish_scientist wrote:...could argue that people have a positive duty...
Where does this "duty" come from? Not just in deontology, but in any ethical framework. Why does anybody have any "duty" at all? I would like to live in a world in which {whatever}; what obligates you to provide this?

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Re: Ethics of Research

Postby Pfhorrest » Mon Oct 29, 2018 9:22 pm UTC

Jose are you really asking someone to teach you Ethics 101?
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Re: Ethics of Research

Postby Tyndmyr » Mon Oct 29, 2018 10:18 pm UTC

doogly wrote:Who cares about the species continuing? I do not think any of these ethical frameworks would identify humans as the best species. We should be spending our puny lives laying down palms in front of the octopuses.


I mean, they could identify humans as the best species. Just depends on what qualities you select for.

But I read ST's post as satire of the logic behind the question. The mere fact that something is virtuous doesn't obligate people to do it. It might not be the most virtuous action someone can do, leaving opportunity costs. It might be unreasonable to expect people to be constantly optimizing for most virtuous. There's a bunch of issues. Concise parody highlights these.

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Re: Ethics of Research

Postby ucim » Mon Oct 29, 2018 10:55 pm UTC

Pfhorrest wrote:Jose are you really asking someone to teach you Ethics 101?
The point of my question is to illuminate the underlying assumptions inherent in the idea that people have a duty to do {whatever}. Normally this isn't necessary, as people tend to share these assumptions, but when a wacky idea comes into play, it's sometimes good to revisit it. Because it's not about the duty, it's about those underlying assumptions.

And they are not always shared. Sometimes they're not even sensible.

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Re: Ethics of Research

Postby doogly » Tue Oct 30, 2018 12:25 pm UTC

Tyndmyr wrote: The mere fact that something is virtuous doesn't obligate people to do it.

Yeah we'll see how kindly the octopuses take to that position once they come into their power.
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Re: Ethics of Research

Postby Ranbot » Tue Oct 30, 2018 3:05 pm UTC

jewish_scientist wrote:
doogly wrote:For the former question though, it is so obviously false I cannot imagine people having entertained the 'yes' position.

An consequentalist could argue that because inventions that improve the welfare of people rely on scientific knowledge, a person able to collect and disseminate that knowledge must do so in order to allow the possibility of increasing overall welfare.

A deontologicalist could argue that people have a positive duty to help others achieve their goals and that there are people who's goals are know more, from which it follows that people able to collect and disseminate information have a positive duty to do so.

A virtue ethicist could argue that scholarship is a virtue and that helping others become virtuous is itself a virtuous action, so a virtuous man must collect information for his own sake and then disseminate it for the sake of others.

So there is a decent argument from each of the largest branches of ethics that the answer to both questions is yes.

None of those arguments covers scientific research you know will be used by a corrupt or evil dictator/regime to inflict great harm on others. For example nuclear scientists researching and developing nuclear power and weapons under the Nazi's and Adolf Hitler.* Mind you I'm not saying nuclear power research is unethical in the long view, but ethics applies to specific places and finite moments in time too, which those arguments fail to address.

* - Apologies if I Godwinned the discussion, but I felt that was a particularly good example. I swear I did not invoke Nazis/Hitler for shock value or hyperbole.

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Re: Ethics of Research

Postby Kit. » Wed Oct 31, 2018 10:37 am UTC

jewish_scientist wrote:I am working on a voluntary paper and I am stuck because I do not know what field of ethics I am dealing with. Basically, I need to analysis 2 questions, but I do not know what terms to enter into Google to actually do that research. The questions are:

1) Does the ability to preform research entail the responsibility to do so?
2) Do researchers have the obligation to share knowledge they gain?

I would greatly appreciate any help getting started.

There is no known solution to the "is-ought" problem. You need to axiomatize your "oughts", then you can start. As to the existing practices, "yes" would be an uncommon answer.

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Re: Ethics of Research

Postby Zamfir » Wed Oct 31, 2018 12:00 pm UTC

doogly wrote:
Tyndmyr wrote: The mere fact that something is virtuous doesn't obligate people to do it.

Yeah we'll see how kindly the octopuses take to that position once they come into their power.

I though lobsters were the ethical example of the moment.

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Re: Ethics of Research

Postby doogly » Wed Oct 31, 2018 12:41 pm UTC

Zamfir wrote:
doogly wrote:
Tyndmyr wrote: The mere fact that something is virtuous doesn't obligate people to do it.

Yeah we'll see how kindly the octopuses take to that position once they come into their power.

I though lobsters were the ethical example of the moment.

Lobsters are dumb as rocks, I couldn't give a shit about them. They do have cool pincy gestures, but octopuses are where the real action is at. They fuckin play.
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Re: Ethics of Research

Postby jewish_scientist » Wed Oct 31, 2018 3:08 pm UTC

I think I have not made my question clear. Maybe giving an example will help.

In an episode of House the patient is currently a chef-in-training. However, before this she was a prominent cancer researcher. The main (emotional) conflict comes from Wilson, and oncologist, arguing that by changing careers, the patient betrayed cancer patients and society in general. If I were to write a paper about this episode, I would have to research the question "Do doctors' have an obligation to search for cures?" What branch of ethics does this question belong to?

P.S. In my opinion, that is not an example of Goodwin's Law.
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Re: Ethics of Research

Postby Tyndmyr » Wed Oct 31, 2018 3:33 pm UTC

Any ethical framework can answer the question, and in some cases, you may get different answers.

However, I think it's highly likely that most will say "no, you're not obliged to always stay in the same career". People need to eat and people also need cancer cured. Choosing to address one problem instead of another is not evil.

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Re: Ethics of Research

Postby PAstrychef » Wed Oct 31, 2018 4:10 pm UTC

If a person is capable of doing X must that person do it? Who’s to say that character was any good at cancer research? Very few researchers actually advance their subject in any substantial way.
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Re: Ethics of Research

Postby Zohar » Wed Oct 31, 2018 4:21 pm UTC

And the exact same argument applies to forcing people to donate an organ they have redundancies for.
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Re: Ethics of Research

Postby SecondTalon » Wed Oct 31, 2018 8:25 pm UTC

jewish_scientist wrote:I think I have not made my question clear. Maybe giving an example will help.

In an episode of House the patient is currently a chef-in-training. However, before this she was a prominent cancer researcher. The main (emotional) conflict comes from Wilson, and oncologist, arguing that by changing careers, the patient betrayed cancer patients and society in general. If I were to write a paper about this episode, I would have to research the question "Do doctors' have an obligation to search for cures?" What branch of ethics does this question belong to?

P.S. In my opinion, that is not an example of Goodwin's Law.

The branch of ethics where you magically know what task everyone is best suited for and can inform them at an early age so they can study to be excellent at their given task. Only if you magically know what task everyone is best suited for can you proclaim any ethical obligation to perform the task.

I mean, there's plenty of people who have advanced degrees in a field who, after all that training, fucked off and did something else because oh my god this field is awful. Is it ethical to continue to do a task that slowly wears down your will to exist? Is it ethical to subject yourself to torture on the mere chance that your actions may create some hypothetical good?
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Re: Ethics of Research

Postby doogly » Thu Nov 01, 2018 1:49 pm UTC

SecondTalon wrote:The branch of ethics where you magically know what task everyone is best suited for and can inform them at an early age so they can study to be excellent at their given task. Only if you magically know what task everyone is best suited for can you proclaim any ethical obligation to perform the task.

The kind of dystopia you build with this idea, is, at this point, downright lazy writing.
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Re: Ethics of Research

Postby SecondTalon » Thu Nov 01, 2018 2:21 pm UTC

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Re: Ethics of Research

Postby jewish_scientist » Thu Nov 01, 2018 5:41 pm UTC

SecondTalon wrote:I mean, there's plenty of people who have advanced degrees in a field who, after all that training, fucked off and did something else because oh my god this field is awful. Is it ethical to continue to do a task that slowly wears down your will to exist? Is it ethical to subject yourself to torture on the mere chance that your actions may create some hypothetical good?

What if a doctor went off and did literally nothing? They sat in a room and twirled their thumbs while living off wealth they had inherited. They did not find that doing research was unpleasant and did not find twirling their thumbs particularly enjoyable.

The question is if research is a positive duty, compared to a negative duty. A positive duty is an obligation that is fulfilled through an action. For example, if you sign a contract to preform a service, you have a positive duty to preform that service. A negative duty is an obligation that is fulfilled through the absence of an action. For example, if you do not call the police on peacefully demonstrating protesters, then you have fulfilled your duty to respect other's free speak.

Think about this; would it be wrong for a person who know the cure to HIV infection to not tell anyone about it if they are taking no action based on this information, including but not limited tom treating AIDS patients?
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Re: Ethics of Research

Postby Tyndmyr » Thu Nov 01, 2018 5:56 pm UTC

jewish_scientist wrote:What if a doctor went off and did literally nothing? They sat in a room and twirled their thumbs while living off wealth they had inherited. They did not find that doing research was unpleasant and did not find twirling their thumbs particularly enjoyable.


The idea that someone would go through the training to become a doctor, would enjoy being a doctor perfectly fine, and choose not to on the basis of doing something else they don't really care for is odd. The guy could have twirled his thumbs without ever bothering to go through med school, and the kind of person that would prefer that likely would.

But I'll entertain the hypothetical, ridiculous as it is. That guy is no worse than the person who never tried to be a doctor or do research. If anything, he's better off. At least he tried to contribute for a while. While his current thumb-twiddling may not be particularly virtuous, his past efforts do not mean that he is required to continue doing them forever.

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Re: Ethics of Research

Postby ucim » Thu Nov 01, 2018 6:33 pm UTC

jewish_scientist wrote:Think about this; would it be wrong for a person who know the cure to HIV infection to not tell anyone about it if they are taking no action based on this information, including but not limited tom treating AIDS patients?
It would be a dick move, but it would not be morally wrong.
Tyndmyr wrote:But I'll entertain the hypothetical, ridiculous as it is.
Not so hypothetical at all. Person becomes a doctor, develops some technique he licenses for a bazillion simolians, kicks back and sips margaritas for the rest of his days. She may enjoy doctoring, but that's a lot of responsibility and stress (and liability too). Doctoring isn't the only thing she enjoys; why not take a break? Even the case of inheritance isn't farfetched. They didn't know they were going to inherit before they worked their buns off to become a doctor, but there it is.

Now... as to the difference between a dick move and morally wrong - morality is often cast as black and white - right and wrong. It ain't. It's many shades of grey, and many hues, and a range of time scales. Saying something like "one has a (or has no) moral obligation to..." is rather simplistic. Moral obligations come in many degrees, and are balanced by many other things. It needs to be qualified before the statement even makes sense.

One has more of a moral obligation to not stab somebody than to not be a dick. One has more of a moral obligation to not stab somebody than to stop somebody from being stabbed. One arguably has a moral obligation to stay alive and support their family, as well as a moral obligation to intercede where harm is being done, and those things have to be balanced against one another. And even those examples are woefully simplistic.

Simple answers to complex issues are usually wrong. Start there.

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Re: Ethics of Research

Postby Tyndmyr » Thu Nov 01, 2018 6:42 pm UTC

ucim wrote:But I'll entertain the hypothetical, ridiculous as it is.
Not so hypothetical at all. Person becomes a doctor, develops some technique he licenses for a bazillion simolians, kicks back and sips margaritas for the rest of his days. She may enjoy doctoring, but that's a lot of responsibility and stress (and liability too). Doctoring isn't the only thing she enjoys; why not take a break? Even the case of inheritance isn't farfetched. They didn't know they were going to inherit before they worked their buns off to become a doctor, but there it is.[/quote]

In this case, instead of a mere thumb twiddling, we have someone taking a break after doing a great deal of good.

That seems even more reasonable. A person ought not be more obligated to work solely because they did a good thing in the past. Such a system would perversely place more and more weight on anyone who does good, while someone who never does anything good is considered morally in the clear.

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Re: Ethics of Research

Postby PAstrychef » Fri Nov 02, 2018 1:43 am UTC

One answer to the question of “if it can be done, should it be done?” can be found in the film Jurassic Park.
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Re: Ethics of Research

Postby jewish_scientist » Fri Nov 02, 2018 5:07 am UTC

ucim wrote:It would be a dick move, but it would not be morally wrong.

I think that this may be self-contradictory. 'Dick move' is defined in the Oxford dictionary as "A contemptibly cruel or selfish action." That definition makes it very clear that to call an action a 'dick move' is pass a moral judgement.

="ucim"]Now... as to the difference between a dick move and morally wrong - morality is often cast as black and white - right and wrong. It ain't. It's many shades of grey, and many hues, and a range of time scales. Saying something like "one has a (or has no) moral obligation to..." is rather simplistic. Moral obligations come in many degrees, and are balanced by many other things. It needs to be qualified before the statement even makes sense.

One has more of a moral obligation to not stab somebody than to not be a dick. One has more of a moral obligation to not stab somebody than to stop somebody from being stabbed. One arguably has a moral obligation to stay alive and support their family, as well as a moral obligation to intercede where harm is being done, and those things have to be balanced against one another. And even those examples are woefully simplistic.


Rather than say 'more of an obligation', philosophers usually say that certain obligations (or rights) are stronger or weaker than others. Before they do that though, they need to establish if that obligation even exists or not. It is kind of like how proving a solution to an equation exists is a different problem than finding the solution to that equation, even though the latter implies the former. Proving that an obligation exists is a different problem than proving how strong that obligation is, even though the latter implies the former.
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Re: Ethics of Research

Postby ucim » Fri Nov 02, 2018 6:08 am UTC

jewish_scientist wrote:I think that this may be self-contradictory.
Are we morally obligated to not be dicks? That's the point I was bringing out.

jewish_scientist wrote:...Before they do that though, they need to establish if that obligation even exists or not. It is kind of like how proving a solution to an equation exists is a different problem than finding the solution to that equation...
Not the same. The existence of a solution is binary. Moral obligation is a continuum.

One could claim that moral obligation always exists, either to do or to not do {action}, just like the real numbers on a number line, and then we simply try to ascribe a value to the intensity of the obligation (allowing negative numbers for obligations to not do), and zero for the rare cases where morality is completely irrelevant to an action. But then the meaningful question becomes whether an obligation reaches a certain threshold, and we can then argue about what that threshold is. And even allowing this, we haven't taken into account the context of the consequences (e.g. hurting in the short term to help in the long term, hurting many to help few...)

So no, the original question asks for a simple answer to a complex issue, and does so without establishing any context. While the general topic may be interesting to explore, the question as asked is of no value.

Jose
Last edited by ucim on Fri Nov 02, 2018 6:12 am UTC, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Ethics of Research

Postby Pfhorrest » Fri Nov 02, 2018 6:11 am UTC

It may be useful in this discussion to call attention to the deontic category of "supererogatory goods".

In alethic (descriptive) matters, things can be true and false, but also possible, necessary (not-possible-not), impossible (not-possible), and contingent (not-necessary). Everything that's necessary is true, everything that's true is possible, everything that's impossible is false, and everything that's false is contingent, but just as there are things that are possible yet still false, there are things that are true, but only contingently so. A contingent truth is something that is not necessarily true, but is, nevertheless, true. Most true things are only contingently true.

In deontic (prescriptive) matters, things can be good and bad, but also permissible, obligatory (not-permissible-not), impermissible (not-permissible), and supererogatory (not obligatory). Everything that's obligatory is good, everything that's good is permissible, everything that's impermissible is bad, and everything that's bad is supererogatory, but just as there are things that are permissible yet still bad, there are things that are good, but only supererogatorily so. A supererogatory good is something that is not obligatorily good, but is, nevertheless, good. Arguably, most good things are only supererogatorily good; you are not obliged to do them, but nevertheless, you still should.

Application of this deontic logic to the topic at hand is left as an exercise for the reader.
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Re: Ethics of Research

Postby ucim » Fri Nov 02, 2018 6:24 am UTC

I looked at deontic logic - it looks like word salad to me. It treats things as quantized (true/false, obligatory/permissive/forbidden...) when they are in fact continua. This is where it falls apart (IMHO)

Jose
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Re: Ethics of Research

Postby Pfhorrest » Fri Nov 02, 2018 7:18 am UTC

Fuzzy logic is just nonboolean logic and can by applied to deontic modalities just as much as alethic ones. Basic fuzzy logic just means that truth values can take values from 0 to 1 instead of just 0 or 1. Applied to alethic modalities that just creates a probabilistic logic, which is a strict extension of ordinary alethic modal logic: something necessary is just 100% probable; something is contingent if it's not necessary, or less than 100% probable; and so on. You can do the same thing to deontic modalities, creating a function analogous to probability (I don't have a good name for it) where 100% of that is obligation; something supererogatory is thus just not-obligation still, not-100% deontic-analog-to-probable. The rest of what I wrote before then applies the same. You don't need it to be fuzzy to understand that you can have something that is good, that you should do, but is not absolutely obligatory; that's the important thing that supererogatoriety brings to the conversation and you don't have to get explicitly fuzzy to grasp it.
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Re: Ethics of Research

Postby jewish_scientist » Fri Nov 02, 2018 12:52 pm UTC

ucim wrote:
jewish_scientist wrote:I think that this may be self-contradictory.
Are we morally obligated to not be dicks? That's the point I was bringing out.

What I was saying is that the answer is yes by definition. Oxford defines 'dick' as a "stupid or contemptible man," and 'contemptible' is synonymous with 'villainous', so 'dick' is a word with moral meaning.

One could claim that moral obligation always exists, either to do or to not do {action}, just like the real numbers on a number line, and then we simply try to ascribe a value to the intensity of the obligation (allowing negative numbers for obligations to not do), and zero for the rare cases where morality is completely irrelevant to an action.

What does an obligation of zero strength mean? If there is no moral requirement for you do fulfill an obligation, then how is it an obligation? If an action fulfills one obligation while violates another and both obligations are of equal strength, then you could say the action has not moral value, but each of those obligations independently still exist regardless of what the moral value of an action is.
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