Articles Posted in Philosophy and Ethics

Should Self-Driving Cars Be Mandatory?

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Cornell University law professor Michael C. Dorf discusses the proposed policy guidelines the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recently released that relate to the logistics of self-driving cars. In this column, Dorf looks ahead to a time when the majority of vehicles on the road will be self-driving and considers the potential consequences of regulating the few manual cars that will remain. While there is an argument to be made that people's choices and personal freedom should outweigh government interference, Dorf explains that the benefits to the larger population's welfare that self-driving cars may one day offer is likely to win out over time.

How Zika May Affect Our Thinking About Abortion

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Cornell University law professor Sherry F. Colb considers whether the termination of Zika pregnancies might affect our thinking about abortion. Specifically, Colb asks (1) whether it is right to end a pregnancy because the baby would be severely disabled if brought to term, and (2) whether it is right at all to take the life of a fetus late in pregnancy, given that birth defects caused by Zika are not detectable by ultrasound until late in pregnancy.

Is Taking Blood from a Dog a “Search” of the Dog’s Owner?

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In light of a recent decision by the Oregon Supreme Court, Cornell University law professor Sherry F. Colb considers whether taking blood from a dog constitutes a search of the dog’s owner for Fourth Amendment purposes. Colb identifies good and bad features of the court’s opinion and expresses what, in her view, would have been the ideal resolution of the case.

Trump’s Law and Order Versus the Rule of Law

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Cornell University law professor Michael C. Dorf explains the difference between “law and order,” a term Donald Trump uses to describe his approach to governance, and “rule of law,” a principle that those in positions of authority exercise their power even handedly and consistently, within a framework of public norms. As Dorf explains, Trump’s law-and-order message, taken in conjunction with his observed business practices, is that of an authoritarian ruler—one who imposes rules on others yet sees himself above and unconstrained by law.

Should We Lift the Stigma on “Virtuous Pedophiles”?

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Inspired by a Dan Savage podcast on the topic, Cornell University law professor Sherry Colb considers both the concept of “virtuous pedophiles” and some of its potential implications. Colb explains what this term means and draws several comparisons to other individuals who may be oriented toward a certain action that is either illegal or prohibited to them, ultimately expressing ambivalence toward the notion of the virtuous pedophile.

Prosecutors Coercing Defendants to Contribute to the Prosecutor’s Favorite Charities

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Chapman University law professor Ronald Rotunda comments on a practice by federal prosecutors of settling some cases by requiring defendants to pay money to specific charities—organizations that tend to support the present administration. Rotunda explains why this practice is ethically unsound and calls for an end to it.

The Logic of Trump’s Comment Endorsing Punishment for Abortion

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Cornell University law professor Sherry Colb analyzes Donald Trump’s recent statement—which he subsequently changed—that women who have abortions should be punished for doing so. Colb points out that this position is actually more logically coherent than the more conventional position taken by anti-abortion advocates that the provider be punished for performing an abortion.

The Hidden Atrocities Behind Medical Progress

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Cornell University law professor Sherry Colb considers the moral question whether we have the right to benefit from discoveries made by outrageous rights violations. Colb considers the example of James Marion Sims—known as the father of modern gynecology—whose research on female slaves, without providing them the available anesthesia, led to his development of a technique to repair obstetric fistulas. Further, Colb calls into question the presumed rightfulness of experimenting on nonhuman animals.

Does a Shoe Salesman With a Foot Fetish Have a Moral Duty to Disclose?

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Cornell University law professor Sherry Colb examines the boundaries of moral permission to be the object of someone’s fantasies. Colb considers several different situations that are similar but likely elicit various degrees of responses from readers before concluding that fantasy should be the private prerogative of the fantasizer that should not be subject to either legal or moral regulation.

Differing Perspectives on California Law Requiring Pregnancy Clinics to Post Abortion Information

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Cornell University law professor Sherry Colb considers the perspectives of both sides of the controversy over a relatively new California law requiring licensed pregnancy centers to prominently post a notice about the availability of free or low-cost abortion, contraception, and prenatal care. Colb offers a compelling narrative to illustrate each perspective, ultimately concluding that while she personally agrees with one side neither is “right” in a moral sense.

Do Androids Dream of Animal Rights?

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Cornell University law professor Michael Dorf explores the relationship between renewed discussions about artificial intelligence (AI) and the rights of non-human animals. Dorf argues that our current portrayals of AI reflect guilt over our disregard for the interests of the billions of sentient animals we exploit, torture, and kill in the here and now.

Frozen Embryo Disputes

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Cornell University law professor Sherry Colb uses a recent court dispute over a contract governing a divorced couple’s frozen embryos as the basis for considering some important issues that would arise in a frozen embryo dispute with no contract. Colb points out that resolving such a dispute would require careful balancing of the right of one party to procreate, on the one hand, and the right of the other party not to procreate, on the other.

Judicial Campaigns and the Appearance of Impropriety

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Chapman University law professor Ronald Rotunda comments on the concept of the “appearance of impropriety” that affects the regulation of the conduct of judges. Rotunda looks specifically at judicial election campaigns and points out that the statistical data do not support a conclusion a tit for tat relationship between campaign contributions and judicial decisions.

The Angry Americans

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Cornell University law professor Joseph Margulies calls on us to reflect on the intensifying attacks in the United States against Islam and against the Black Lives Matter movement. Margulies argues that the attacks derive from a common source and that much can be learned from examining them together.

Who Gets to Be Human?

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Cornell University law professor Joseph Margulies continues his discussion of the role of dignity as a condition of a legitimate criminal justice system. Margulies argues that it is dignity that saves us from the conceit that we may decide who gets to be human, but he laments that many people are not yet ready to give up that conceit.

Meet our Columnists

Vikram David Amar

Vikram David Amar is the Dean and Iwan Foundation Professor of Law at the University of Illinois College of Law on the Urbana-Champaign campus. Immediately prior to taking the position at Illinois i... more

Neil H. Buchanan

Neil H. Buchanan is an economist and legal scholar and a Professor of Law at The George Washington University. He teaches tax law and tax policy, and he has taught contract law, law and economics, and... more

Sherry F. Colb

Sherry F. Colb is Professor of Law and Charles Evans Hughes Scholar at Cornell University. Colb teaches courses in constitutional criminal procedure, evidence, and animal rights. She has published a... more

John Dean

John Dean served as Counsel to the President of the United States from July 1970 to April 1973. Before becoming White House counsel at age thirty-one, he was the chief minority counsel to the Judiciar... more

Michael C. Dorf

Michael C. Dorf is the Robert S. Stevens Professor of Law at Cornell University Law School. He has written hundreds of popular essays, dozens of scholarly articles, and six books on constitutional law... more

Joanna L. Grossman

Joanna L. Grossman is the Ellen K. Solender Endowed Chair in Women and Law at SMU Dedman School of Law.  She is an expert in sex discrimination law. Her most recent book,  more

Marci A. Hamilton

Marci A. Hamilton is one of the country’s leading church-state scholars and the Fox Professor of Practice and Fox Family Pavilion Resident Senior Fellow in the Program for Research on Religion in the... more

Joseph Margulies

Mr. Margulies is a Professor of Law and Government at Cornell University. He was Counsel of Record in Rasul v. Bush (2004), involving detentions at the Guantánamo Bay Naval Station, and in more

Anita Ramasastry

Anita Ramasastry is the UW Law Foundation Professor of Law at the University of Washington School of Law in Seattle, where she also directs the graduate program on Sustainable International Developmen... more

Ronald D. Rotunda

Ronald D. Rotunda is the Doy & Dee Henley Chair and Distinguished Professor of Jurisprudence, at Chapman University, Dale E. Fowler School of Law. Before that, he was University Profe... more

Lesley Wexler

Lesley Wexler is a Professor of Law at the University of Illinois College of Law. Immediately prior to taking the position at Illinois, Wexler was a Professor of Law at Florida State University, whose... more