Naming Ethics: A Boy Named Hades

A couple in France really, really wants to name their baby “Hades” because they think the name sounds good. France, however, can legally prohibit a child’s name if bureaucrats determine that the name is not in the child’s best interest, and “Hades” has been dinged. The future Hades’s folks have hired lawyers to challenge the ruling.

That’s Hades above in the Disney animated film “Hercules.” The character was voiced by James Woods, so you know he was a bad guy. The film was a bit unfair: in the Greek myth universe, Hades just ruled over the Underworld, and was no worse (or better) than his brothers Zeus and Poseidon; he wasn’t like the devil. When you died, you went to Hades whether you were good, bad, or average. Nevertheless, it’s a strange name to use in 2023, and one with inevitable negative connotations (the name “James Woods” wouldn’t be great either).

That doesn’t mean France presuming to tell parents what they can name their kid isn’t an abuse of power, a slippery slope, and an incursion on personal liberty. It is all of those, and the parents of little Hades are properly standing up for a principle that is worth fighting for.

If only they weren’t using their innocent child as a prop for their ideals. This is a bright-line violation of Kant’s Categorical Imperative, which directs us never to use a human being to achieve our ends, however worthy they might be.  Using a child is particularly unethical…but so is giving your kid a bizarre name. Continue reading

The Boaty McBoatface Affair, And What It Means For Donald Trump

Boaty McBoatface

Great Britain’s National Environmental Research Council has a new $300 million ship being readied for a 2019 launch. It is a 128-yard-long, 15,000-ton beauty designed to serve as a “new polar research vessel which will deliver world-leading capability for UK research in both Antarctica and the Arctic.”  The Council put naming its new ship to the public, and asked for it to choose a name. Apparently in the grip of a Monty Python hangover, the name overwhelmingly chosen in an online vote was “Boaty McBoatface.”

Uh, no. Science Minister Jo Johnson announced that another, more suitable  name would be chosen.“The new royal research ship will be sailing into the world’s iciest waters to address global challenges that affect the lives of hundreds of millions of people, including global warming, the melting of polar ice, and rising sea levels. That’s why we want a name that lasts longer than a social-media news cycle and reflects the serious nature of the science it will be doing,” he said.

Jonathan Turley, who has written two posts about “Boaty McBoatface,” is expressing dismay that humorless bureaucrats would reject “democracy.”  And I’m sure if George Washington Law School decided to have the public pick a new name for the professor’s employer, he’d embrace whatever whimsical, law-mocking choice they made, like “The Greedy McLieface School of Law.”

Turley thinks the ship’s popular name is funny, ergo he thinks its just fine. Of course, he doesn’t have to justify the agency’s budget, or put the gag name on his resume, or convince people to take the projects of an organization seriously when its flagship presents itself as a lark.

Johnson and his colleagues have a higher ethical duty than blindly accepting a “democratic” vote from people who don’t really care about the National Environmental Research Council’s work. “Boaty McBoatface” would be detrimental to the Council’s public image, self-image, moral and effectiveness. They had a duty to reject it. Prof. Turley thought it would be great for T-shirt sales.

He really needs to get off campus more.

Final thoughts: Continue reading

If Your Institution Is Named After George Washington, Shouldn’t We Be Able To Trust It To Tell The Truth?

The General is not pleased.

The General is not pleased.

Shame on George Washington University (in Washington, D.C.), not only for lying to its students and community, but also for dishonoring the name of the scrupulously ethical American icon which they presumed to expropriate as their own. Such things carry with it some crucial obligations.

For years, the GW admissions and financial aid offices have claimed in printed materials and on the University website that admissions were independent of need. The admissions process does not consider financial need during the first round of screening applications. Before applicants are notified, however the University examines its financial aid budget and decides which students it can actually afford to admit. Wealthier students are accepted, taking the spots of students who would need more financial aid from the University.

Last week, a GW administrator confessed to a student newspaper—one ironically called “The Hatchet” after the apocryphal axe little George used to cop down that cherry tree in Parson Weems’ fable—– that financial resources indeed were considered in the admissions process, and have always been considered despite University statements to the contrary.  As  recently as last weekend, admissions representatives told prospective students that their applications would be judged without consideration of their financial aid profiles. Until it was removed Saturday evening, the newspaper reports, the undergraduate admissions website read, “Requests for financial aid do not affect admissions decisions.”

That site now confirms a “need-aware” policy that has always been in place. George Washington University just had another policy of lying about it. Continue reading