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Sunday Lecture: The Campaign to Eradicate ‘Female Genital Mutilation’ in the UK

Brian Earp navigates the difficult subject of Female Genital Mutilation.

The orthodox position concerning ‘female genital mutilation’ (‘FGM’) is that it is so profoundly harmful and/or oppressive that it must be considered both morally and legally impermissible, not only in ‘Western’ contexts such as the United Kingdom, but also in the cultures in which—under a different description—it is traditionally carried out. However, in recent years, a competing discourse has emerged which suggests that the harms and/or problematic meanings that have been associated with ‘FGM’ may not be as straightforward as is typically assumed, and may even be comparable to those of a number of ‘Western’ practices that have failed to attract the same degree of censure. Such potentially comparable ‘Western’ practices raised by various critics include female genital ‘cosmetic’ surgery, intersex genital ‘correction’ surgery, and infant male circumcision. If these practices are in fact comparable along the relevant dimensions, then it would raise the possibility of a cultural or moral double standard on the part of ‘Western’ governments and agencies with respect to this very controversial practice. In this talk I assess these competing positions and propose an ethical framework for evaluating ‘FGM’ that both acknowledges the genuine harms of the practice and yet which avoids the charge of moral hypocrisy.

Brian D. Earp is a Research Fellow in the Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics at the University of Oxford. He holds degrees from Yale, Oxford, and Cambridge Universities and conducts interdisciplinary research in such fields as cognitive science, psychology, philosophy, and ethics. He has served as Guest Editor for the Journal of Medical Ethics, and has published extensively in the leading professional journals in his areas of expertise. In addition to his work on the science and ethics of genital-altering surgeries performed on minors, Brian is best known for his research on “love drugs” and the neuroenhancement of human relationships; with Professor Julian Savulescu of the University of Oxford, he is writing a book on the subject for a general audience. Brian’s work as both a scientist and philosopher has been covered by the BBC, CNN, ABC, The Atlantic, New Scientist, Popular Science, New Humanist, Slate, and other major outlets, as well as by dozens of leading international newspapers, ranging from The Guardian in England to the Times of India. In addition, Brian has given in-depth radio and TV interviews about his research for national programs in the USA, Canada, Germany, Poland, and Australia.


Brian Earp | talks | www


Date and Time:

20 July 2014 at 11:00 am


1 hour 30 minutes



Conway Hall
Conway Hall
25 Red Lion Square
0207 242 8034

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