Something Wicked This Way Comes

My junior year I took a year off of my chemistry studies and went on an adventure.  I spent a year studying English literature, philosophy and Latin at Blackfriars College, a part of University of Oxford.  Academically, I got my butt handed to me.  Once, after spending days pouring over a philosophy text and writing the best 12 page paper I could, my philosophy professor, called a tutor, asked me if I had gotten drunk and then stayed up all night writing that paper.  In a word, he thought it was "terrible."  Before Oxford, I was a straight "A" chemistry major.

Despite my academic setbacks, Oxford was a fantastic experience.  I had no money so I got a job at the famous Turf Tavern and poured more pints of Old Speckled Hen, Headbanger and Dogs Bollocks than one person should.  I also loved BBC television.  Their adverts (commercials) were better then some of our best shows.  So much so that I would consider getting a satellite dish if BBC America started playing British adverts instead of the mind-numbing American commercials.  I spent the year gorging myself on cheese and pickle sandwiches, gammon and pineapple crisps, and trifle.  Washing it all down with the best ale you have ever tasted; so good, it doesn't need to be cold to mask the flavor. 

But lately I have noticed my beloved Oxford is nurturing academics who are exporting some seriously pernicious ideas.  Of course, there is Peter Singer who needs no introduction.  He did his graduate work in philosophy at Oxford after which he wrote Animal Liberation and Practical Ethics both books argue the utilitarian perspective that ethics are based on the greatest good for the greatest number of people. Animal "rights," infanticide, euthanasia...  Oh my!

Singer's student was Julian Savulescu who is now the Director of The Oxford Centre for Neuroethics and the Director of the Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics.  Dr. Savulescu has written much on "procreative beneficence" in which he argues that parents should choose the "best" child slated to have the "best" life judged simply on his or her genetics.  Savulescu is also the editor of the Journal of Medical Ethics that recently published the now infamous article "After-birth abortion: why should the baby live?"  Savulescu wrote a defense of the infanticide justification calling it nothing new and suggesting that it was those of us who found the entire thing morally repugnant who had the problem.

Not surprisingly, the authors of the "After-Birth Abortion" paper that has sparked some serious outrage, also have ties to Oxford.  The first author, Dr. Francesca Minerva, while getting her Ph.D., was a visiting student at Oxford's Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics where she is now a Research Associate.  The same Centre for Practical Ethics where Savulescu is the director.  The other author of the infanticide paper is Alberto Giubilini who has a podcast on the University of Oxford website where he argues that "there is no sound moral reason against euthanasia."

Then there was the recent paper in the journal Ethics, Policy & Environment where the authors "explore" ways to engineer humanity to "combat climate change."  Among the possibilities discussed was to stunt our children's growth with drugs or genetic modification to make them smaller or to genetically modify our eyes to be like cat eyes so we won't need lights at night.  S. Matthew Liao, professor of philosophy and bioethics at New York University, has gotten all the press but the other two authors are, guess what? Yep, from Oxford.  Anders Sandberg and Rebecca Roache are both professors at Oxford's Future of Humanity Institute, a part of the University of Oxford's Faculty of Philosophy.

Is this the same Oxford of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien?  Doesn't seem so.

Why do I find this concerning?  Wesley J. Smith is right.  What first begins as discussions in academic journals becomes becomes policy for the masses.

Is Oxford is the only ivory tower spewing scary utilitarian ethics?  Of course not, but lately it seems to be leading the charge.  I for one will be keeping a very close eye on both Oxford's Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics and Future of Humanity Institute.  Neither of which seem very ethical or very promising for humanity's future.


  1. ok....I know that isn't the point of your post but I am TOTALLY jealous of you spending a year at Oxford. I lived in Austria and Slovakia for four years but was too poor to get to the 'island' I'm lucky to spend every other summer in Europe because of my husband's side- but in CENTRAL Europe :( I think England will remain in my dreams

  2. The BBC had better shows on than America?

    Wow, that must've been a while ago. The last decent BBC show was probably Chef, which ended in 1996. Since then, they've done their damnedest to make MTV look erudite.

    And as for getting a bad grade in philosophy from a British academic, that's probably a badge of honor. There hasn't been a competent British philosopher since Hume (other than the occasional Thomist, who wouldn't be teaching at Oxford)—and no, Bertrand Russell doesn't count, he was a great logician but as an actual philosopher he uttered puerilities an eight-year-old would sneer at. Even Hume said any book that wasn't about history, math, or science was nothing but sophistry and should be a book that was itself not about history, math, or science.

    As to "animal rights" and infanticide, the Eugenics movement was full of Oxford men from end to end. This isn't new; they've been doing this since well before World War II. Who do you think Lewis based NICE on, in That Hideous Strength?

  3. I heartily agree! After two semesters at Oxford, I realized I was actually an idiot, but at least a moral one. I frequently went to daily Mass in town and there were two persons present: myself and the priest! Those dreaming spires have so much to live up to, but lately, they are caught in the moral relativism of our age. May they pull out of it, and soon.

  4. I love the Oratory in Oxford. I've only spent limited time actually in Oxford; most of my time was spent in Liverpool.

  5. I think you're inventing your time in England - the BBC doesn't show adverts - that's one of the great delights in having it.

  6. Probably you are recalling advertisements on Channel 4.

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  8. (Sorry, I wanted to add something and ended up deleting and reposting.)

    There certainly were adverts. Though not nearly as many as in America. I don't remember which channel they were on, but my American friends and I loved them. My favorites were for Orangina's new (at the time) apple drink where the drink, sitting by the pool calls a man at the bank and gets him to scream, "Apples! Apples! Apples!" and the one for HotPoint washers where people made up giant tighty-whitey underwear that walked across these gorgeous green hills. My landlord informed us that it was a veiled poke at Prime Minister John Major who was often depicted by a popular cartoonist with his underwear outside of his pants.

  9. You Tube is crazy. I found the apple drink advert. It was for Tango not Orangina. Watching it now as a mother I find it super inappropriate. I don't remember it being so scandalous. I think I just loved the "Dag mam it!" at the end.

    Watch at your own risk:

  10. There was also this one of a series from Hotpoint that really isn't funny on its own:

    Until you realize it was making fun of this British Airways advert:

    Wow! I never thought I would be having so much fun watching commercials from the 90s! I will probably be up all night.


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