In what is surely a contender for the photo next to the “business as usual in the blogosphere” entry in the Wiktionary, a (male) blogger has posted a list of the sexiest (all-but-one female) scientists (using photos of those scientists obtained from the web without any indication that he had also obtained proper permission to use those photos in his post), and now the blogger says he wants to know what could possibly be wrong about making such a post.
This is pretty tired (and tiring) territory, and PZ and Sheril have already taken a good crack at laying things out. But given that the blogger who professes to be seeking enlightenment seems to style himself as at least an armchair philosopher, I’d like to offer a few comments.
It’s well and good to say that you don’t trust your own moral intuitions, and to prefer an argument (supported by evidence) that X is unethical.
However, it’s pretty assy to dismiss not just the intuitions but the actual experiences of a significant number of people who tell you (repeatedly), that they are harmed by X. To dismiss these experiences while saying, “No, give me an argument against X,” is clueless at best.
Look, central to the project of being ethical is recognizing that it’s not all about you. It is not enough to evaluate courses of action on the basis of first principles that seem plausible to you, or of actual experiences you have had — how things impact others matters. That means that listening to what people are telling you about how X impacts them is a pretty crucial step — one that ought to inform not just your thoughts but your actions.
Unless you think, in the interests of your own understanding, it is permissible to continue doing X and doing harm. (Have you submitted the protocol with your justification for this to the IRB? I’m guessing not.)
If you want to keep messing around with the armchair philosophy thing, I recommend that you look into a little thing called the thought experiment. Not that thought experiments will necessarily help you wrap your head around the lived reality of people who are not you — ultimately, you’re going to have to trust their testimony on it, since they have privileged access to their own experience. But if you set them up right (e.g., on Mars, or a million years in the future), your thought experiments may have less likelihood of doing actual harm in the moral realm you say you are trying to understand.
Finally, if you are called out for creating harm by doing X and you respond that you are dealing with it by getting ready to read a philosophical discourse on X by a famous philosopher (who, as it happens, seems to get included in lists of sexy philosophers) — rather than, say, by taking a break from doing X to seriously evaluate the harm people are telling you about right now — then I would submit that you have a pretty messed up picture of what “being ethical” involves.