S Matthew Liao
Director of the Center for Bioethics
Arthur Zitrin Professor of Bioethics
Dr. Matthew Liao uses the tools of philosophy to study and examine the ramifications of novel biomedical innovations.
A speaker at TEDxCERN, Dr. Liao discussed whether it is ethical for someone to erase certain aspects of their memories and how doing so might affect that individual's identity. He has also given a TED talk in New York and been featured in the New York Times, The Atlantic, The Guardian, and other numerous media outlets.
The author and editor of four books, Dr. Liao provides the academic community with a collection of human rights essays. In The Right to be Loved, he explores the philosophical foundations underpinning children's right to be loved, and proposes that we reconceptualize our policies concerning adoptions so that individuals who are not romantically linked can co-adopt a child together.
Dr. Liao provides students with an education grounded in a broad conception of bioethics encompassing both medical and environmental ethics. He offers students the opportunity to explore the intersection of human rights practice with central domains of public health and regularly teaches normative theory and neuroethics. His courses address how the rightness or wrongness of an act is determined and ethical issues arising out of new medical technologies such as embryonic stem cell research, cloning, artificial reproduction, and genetic engineering; ethical issues raised by the development and use of neuroscientific technologies such as the ethics of erasing traumatic memories; the ethics of mood and cognitive enhancements; and moral and legal implications of "mind-reading" technologies for brain privacy.
AB, Politics (Magna Cum Laude), Princeton University, Princeton, NJDPhil, Philosophy, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK
Outstanding Academic Title, The Right to Be Loved, Choice Review (2016)TEDx Speaker at CERN, Geneva, Switzerland (2015)TEDx Speaker, New York, NY (2013)Humanities Grant Initiative, NYU (2011)Big Think Delphi Fellow (2011)
EditorialLiao, S. M. (n.d.).
Journal titleJournal of Moral Philosophy
Ethics of AI and Health Care: Towards a Substantive Human Rights FrameworkLiao, S. M. (n.d.).
Page(s)857-866AbstractThere is enormous interest in using artificial intelligence (AI) in health care contexts. But before AI can be used in such settings, we need to make sure that AI researchers and organizations follow appropriate ethical frameworks and guidelines when developing these technologies. In recent years, a great number of ethical frameworks for AI have been proposed. However, these frameworks have tended to be abstract and not explain what grounds and justifies their recommendations and how one should use these recommendations in practice. In this paper, I propose an AI ethics framework that is grounded in substantive, human rights theory and one that can help us address these questions.
Computational ethicsAwad, E., Levine, S., Anderson, M., Anderson, S. L., Conitzer, V., Crockett, M. J., Everett, J. A., Evgeniou, T., Gopnik, A., Jamison, J. C., Kim, T. W., Liao, S. M., Meyer, M. N., Mikhail, J., Opoku-Agyemang, K., Borg, J. S., Schroeder, J., Sinnott-Armstrong, W., Slavkovik, M., & Tenenbaum, J. B. (n.d.).
Journal titleTrends in Cognitive Sciences
Page(s)388-405AbstractTechnological advances are enabling roles for machines that present novel ethical challenges. The study of 'AI ethics' has emerged to confront these challenges, and connects perspectives from philosophy, computer science, law, and economics. Less represented in these interdisciplinary efforts is the perspective of cognitive science. We propose a framework – computational ethics – that specifies how the ethical challenges of AI can be partially addressed by incorporating the study of human moral decision-making. The driver of this framework is a computational version of reflective equilibrium (RE), an approach that seeks coherence between considered judgments and governing principles. The framework has two goals: (i) to inform the engineering of ethical AI systems, and (ii) to characterize human moral judgment and decision-making in computational terms. Working jointly towards these two goals will create the opportunity to integrate diverse research questions, bring together multiple academic communities, uncover new interdisciplinary research topics, and shed light on centuries-old philosophical questions.
The Place of Philosophy in Bioethics TodayBlumenthal-Barby, J., Aas, S., Brudney, D., Flanigan, J., Liao, S. M., London, A., Sumner, W., & Savulescu, J. (n.d.).
Journal titleAmerican Journal of Bioethics
Page(s)10-21AbstractIn some views, philosophy’s glory days in bioethics are over. While philosophers were especially important in the early days of the field, so the argument goes, the majority of the work in bioethics today involves the “simple” application of existing philosophical principles or concepts, as well as empirical work in bioethics. Here, we address this view head on and ask: What is the role of philosophy in bioethics today? This paper has three specific aims: (1) to respond to skeptics and make the case that philosophy and philosophers still have a very important and meaningful role to play in contemporary bioethics, (2) to discuss some of the current challenges to the meaningful integration of philosophy and bioethics, and (3) to make suggestions for what needs to happen in order for the two fields to stay richly connected. We outline how bioethics center directors, funders, and philosopher bioethicists can help.
Ethics review of big data research: What should stay and what should be reformed?Ferretti, A., Ienca, M., Sheehan, M., Blasimme, A., Dove, E. S., Farsides, B., Friesen, P., Kahn, J., Karlen, W., Kleist, P., Liao, S. M., Nebeker, C., Samuel, G., Shabani, M., Rivas Velarde, M., & Vayena, E. (n.d.).
Journal titleBMC Medical Ethics
Issue1AbstractBackground: Ethics review is the process of assessing the ethics of research involving humans. The Ethics Review Committee (ERC) is the key oversight mechanism designated to ensure ethics review. Whether or not this governance mechanism is still fit for purpose in the data-driven research context remains a debated issue among research ethics experts. Main text: In this article, we seek to address this issue in a twofold manner. First, we review the strengths and weaknesses of ERCs in ensuring ethical oversight. Second, we map these strengths and weaknesses onto specific challenges raised by big data research. We distinguish two categories of potential weakness. The first category concerns persistent weaknesses, i.e., those which are not specific to big data research, but may be exacerbated by it. The second category concerns novel weaknesses, i.e., those which are created by and inherent to big data projects. Within this second category, we further distinguish between purview weaknesses related to the ERC’s scope (e.g., how big data projects may evade ERC review) and functional weaknesses, related to the ERC’s way of operating. Based on this analysis, we propose reforms aimed at improving the oversight capacity of ERCs in the era of big data science. Conclusions: We believe the oversight mechanism could benefit from these reforms because they will help to overcome data-intensive research challenges and consequently benefit research at large.
A critique of some recent victim-centered theories of nonconsequentialismLiao, S. M., & Barry, C. (n.d.).
Journal titleLaw and Philosophy
Page(s)503-526AbstractRecently, Gerhard Øverland and Alec Walen have developed novel and interesting theories of nonconsequentialism. Unlike other nonconsequentialist theories such as the Doctrine of Double Effect (DDE), each of their theories denies that an agent’s mental states are (fundamentally) relevant for determining how stringent their moral reasons are against harming others. Instead, Øverland and Walen seek to distinguish morally between instances of harming in terms of the circumstances of the people who will be harmed, rather than in features of the agent doing the harming. In this paper, we argue that these theories yield counterintuitive verdicts across a broad range of cases that other nonconsequentialist theories (including the DDE) handle with relative ease. We also argue that Walen’s recent attempt to reformulate this type of theory so that it does not have such implications is unsuccessful.
Ethics of artificial intelligenceLiao, S. M. (n.d.). (1–).
Publication year2020AbstractFeaturing seventeen original essays on the ethics of artificial intelligence (AI) by today’s most prominent AI scientists and academic philosophers, this volume represents state-of-the-art thinking in this fast-growing field. It highlights central themes in AI and morality such as how to build ethics into AI, how to address mass unemployment caused by automation, how to avoid designing AI systems that perpetuate existing biases, and how to determine whether an AI is conscious. As AI technologies progress, questions about the ethics of AI, in both the near future and the long term, become more pressing than ever. Should a self-driving car prioritize the lives of the passengers over those of pedestrians? Should we as a society develop autonomous weapon systems capable of identifying and attacking a target without human intervention? What happens when AIs become smarter and more capable than us? Could they have greater than human-level moral status? Can we prevent superintelligent AIs from harming us or causing our extinction? At a critical time in this fast-moving debate, thirty leading academics and researchers at the forefront of AI technology development have come together to explore these existential questions.
The moral status and rights of artificial intelligenceLiao, S. M. (n.d.). In Ethics of Artificial Intelligence (1–).
Page(s)480-503AbstractAs AIs acquire greater capacities, the issue of whether AIs would acquire greater moral status becomes salient. This chapter sketches a theory of moral status and considers what kind of moral status an AI could have. Among other things, the chapter argues that AIs that are alive, conscious, or sentient, or those that can feel pain, have desires, and have rational or moral agency should have the same kind of moral status as entities that have the same kind of intrinsic properties. It also proposes that a sufficient condition for an AI to have human-level moral status and be a rightsholder is when an AI has the physical basis for moral agency. This chapter also considers what kind of rights a rightsholding AI could have and how AIs could have greater than human-level moral status.
Designing humans: A human rights approachLiao, S. M. (n.d.).
Page(s)98-104AbstractAdvances in genomic technologies such as CRISPR‐Cas9, mitochondrial replacement techniques, and in vitro gametogenesis may soon give us more precise and efficient tools to have children with certain traits such as beauty, intelligence, and athleticism. In this paper, I propose a new approach to the ethics of reproductive genetic engineering, a human rights approach. This approach relies on two claims that have certain, independent plausibility: (a) human beings have equal moral status, and (b) human beings have human rights to the fundamental conditions for pursuing a good life. I first argue that the human rights approach gives us a lower bound of when reproductive genetic engineering would be permissible. I then compare this approach with other approaches such as the libertarian, perfectionist, and life worth living approaches. Against these approaches, I argue that the human rights approach offers a novel, and more plausible, way of assessing the ethics of reproductive genetic engineering.
Do mitochondrial replacement techniques affect qualitative or numerical identity?Matthew Liao, S. (n.d.).
Page(s)20-26AbstractMitochondrial replacement techniques (MRTs), known in the popular media as ’three-parent’ or ’three-person’ IVFs, have the potential to enable women with mitochondrial diseases to have children who are genetically related to them but without such diseases. In the debate regarding whether MRTs should be made available, an issue that has garnered considerable attention is whether MRTs affect the characteristics of an existing individual or whether they result in the creation of a new individual, given that MRTs involve the genetic manipulation of the germline. In other words, do MRTs affect the qualitative identity or the numerical identity of the resulting child? For instance, a group of panelists on behalf of the UK Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has claimed that MRTs affect only the qualitative identity of the resulting child, while the Working Group of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics (NCOB) has argued that MRTs would create a numerically distinct individual. In this article, I shall argue that MRTs do create a new and numerically distinct individual. Since my explanation is different from the NCOB’s explanation, I shall also offer reasons why my explanation is preferable to the NCOB’s explanation.
Neuroscience and Ethics: Assessing Greene's Epistemic Debunking Argument Against DeontologyLiao, S. M. (n.d.).
Journal titleExperimental Psychology
Page(s)82-92AbstractA number of people believe that results from neuroscience have the potential to settle seemingly intractable debates concerning the nature, practice, and reliability of moral judgments. In particular, Joshua Greene has argued that evidence from neuroscience can be used to advance the long-standing debate between consequentialism and deontology. This paper first argues that charitably interpreted, Greene's neuroscientific evidence can contribute to substantive ethical discussions by being part of an epistemic debunking argument. It then argues that taken as an epistemic debunking argument, Greene's argument falls short in undermining deontological judgments. Lastly, it proposes that accepting Greene's methodology at face value, neuroimaging results may in fact call into question the reliability of consequentialist judgments. The upshot is that Greene's empirical results do not undermine deontology and that Greene's project points toward a way by which empirical evidence such as neuroscientific evidence can play a role in normative debates.
Précis for The Right to Be LovedLiao, S. M. (n.d.).
Journal titlePhilosophy and Phenomenological Research
The ethics of memory modificationLiao, S. M. (n.d.). In The Routledge Handbook of Philosophy of Memory (1–).
Are Intuitions Heuristics?Liao, S. M. (n.d.). In Moral brains (1–).
BioethicsMatthew Liao, S., & O’neil, C. (n.d.). In Current Controversies in Bioethics: Current Controversies (1–).
Biological Parenting as a Human RightLiao, S. M. (n.d.).
Journal titleJournal of Moral Philosophy
Page(s)652-668AbstractDo biological parents have the right to parent their own biological children? It might seem obvious that the answer is yes, but the philosophical justification for this right is uncertain. In recent years, there has been a flurry of philosophical activity aimed at providing fresh justifications for this right. In this paper, I shall propose a new answer, namely, the right to parent one's own biological children is a human right. I call this the human rights account of parental rights and I shall explain how this account is better than these other alternatives.
Current Controversies in BioethicsMatthew Liao, S., & O’neil, C. (n.d.). (1–).
Publication year2016AbstractBioethics is the study of ethical issues arising out of advances in the life sciences and medicine. Historically, bioethics has been associated with issues in research ethics and clinical ethics as a result of research scandals such as the Tuskegee Syphilis Study and public debates about the definition of death, medical paternalism, health care rationing, and abortion. As biomedical technologies have advanced, challenging new questions have arisen for bioethics and new sub-disciplines such as neuroethics and public health ethics have entered the scene. This volume features ten original essays on five cutting-edge controversies in bioethics written by leading philosophers. I. Research Ethics: How Should We Justify Ancillary Care Duties? II. Clinical Ethics: Are Psychopaths Morally Accountable? III. Reproductive Ethics: Is There A Solution to the Non-Identity Problem? IV. Neuroethics: What is Addiction and Does It Excuse? V. Public Health Ethics: Is Luck Egalitarianism Implausibly Harsh? S. Matthew Liao and Collin O’Neil’s concise introduction to the essays in the volume, the annotated bibliographies and study questions for each controversy, and the supplemental guide to additional current controversies in bioethics give the reader a broad grasp of the different kinds of challenges in bioethics.
Health (care) and human rights: a fundamental conditions approachLiao, S. M. (n.d.).
Journal titleTheoretical Medicine and Bioethics
Page(s)259-274AbstractMany international declarations state that human beings have a human right to health care. However, is there a human right to health care? What grounds this right, and who has the corresponding duties to promote this right? Elsewhere, I have argued that human beings have human rights to the fundamental conditions for pursuing a good life. Drawing on this fundamental conditions approach of human rights, I offer a novel way of grounding a human right to health care.
Human Rights and PublicLiao, S. M. (n.d.). In Oxford Handbook on Public Health Ethics (1–).
Moral brains: the neuroscience of moralityLiao, S. M. (n.d.). (1–).
Morality and Neuroscience: Past and FutureLiao, S. M. (n.d.). In Moral brains (1–).
The Closeness Problem and the Doctrine of Double Effect: A Way ForwardLiao, S. M. (n.d.).
Journal titleCriminal Law and Philosophy
Page(s)849-863AbstractA major challenge to the Doctrine of Double Effect (DDE) is the concern that an agent’s intention can be identified in such a fine-grained way as to eliminate an intention to harm from a putative example of an intended harm, and yet, the resulting case appears to be a case of impermissibility. This is the so-called “closeness problem.” Many people believe that one can address the closeness problem by adopting Warren Quinn’s version of the DDE, call it DDE*, which distinguishes between harmful direct agency and harmful indirect agency. In this paper, I first argue that Quinn’s DDE* is just as vulnerable to the closeness problem as the DDE is. Second, some might think that what we should therefore do is give up on intentions altogether and move towards some kind of non-state-of-mind, victim-based deontology. I shall argue against this move and explain why intentions are indispensable to an adequate nonconsequentialist theory. Finally, I shall propose a new way of answering the closeness problem.
The Grounds of Ancillary Care DutiesMatthew Liao, S., & O’neil, C. (n.d.). In Current Controversies in Bioethics (1–).
Page(s)29-42AbstractWhether and to what extent researchers have ‘ancillary care duties’ to address the unmet needs they encounter among their research participants is a relatively recent issue in research ethics. Much of the debate has focused on ‘special’ ancillary care duties, which hold uniquely between researchers and participants. There is disagreement about the grounds and precise scope of these special duties, but they are generally thought to pick up where the general duty of easy rescue leaves off. But easy rescue is not, we contend, the only possible general ground of ancillary care duties. In this chapter, we develop a novel human rights approach to ancillary care duties that, like easy rescue, is general but that may differ from it in terms of scope and demandingness. Only those needs that must be met to satisfy the fundamental conditions for pursuing a good life qua human beings, not merely qua individuals, fall within the scope of this human right.
The Right of Children to Be LovedLiao, S. M. (n.d.). In What is Right for Children? (1–).
Page(s)347-364AbstractThis chapter aims to satisfy critics of rights who believe correctly that rights should not be claimed without consideration as to whether they can be justified. To restrict the scope of the chapter, it assumes the following: there are rights, in particular human rights; children, even very young ones, can have rights; and there are positive rights. The chapter proposes that this right can be grounded as a human right and by showing that love can be an appropriate object of a duty. Furthermore, it also challenges the common notion that the duty to love a child belongs only to the biological parents. If the right of children to be loved is in fact a human right grounded in the fact that children need to be loved to develop essential capacities needed for a good life, then we, as a society, also need to accept part of the duty to promote a child's being loved as our responsibility.
Human Rights as Fundamental Conditions for a Good LifeLiao, S. M. (n.d.). In Philosophical Foundations of Human Rights, (1–).