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The Chimes of Freedom: Bob Dylan, Epigrammatic Validity, and Alternative Facts



This essay brings together work I have done over the past 10 years: on the nature of ethics, on the purpose of ethics, and on its foundations in a way that, I hope, as E.M. Forster put it, connects “the prose and the passion.” I deploy lessons learned in this process to identify and face what I believe to be crucial challenges to science and to freedom (as defended by, among others, Cicero, Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan, Thomas Hobbes, John Stuart Mill, and Bertrand Russell). Finally I consider threats to freedom of a different sort, posed by the creation and dissemination of “alternative facts” and by what is sometimes called “super” or “full” artificial intelligence (AI).



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1. Dylan B. Copyright © 1964 by Warner Bros. Inc.; renewed 1992 by Special Rider Music9th; lyrics available at (last accessed 9 Oct 2016). I have, as Dylan himself did, used the lyrics from several different performed versions of this song.

2. Forster, EM. Howards End. London: Hodder and Stoughton; 2010, Chapter 22.

3. I do not discuss Cicero in this essay, but see my How to be Good. Oxford: Oxford University Press; 2016, at 91,148–9, and 159–60. The others named are referenced in turn as they appear in this article.

4. This phrase, penned or at least made famous, by Pete Seeger, is from a song that appears on two of his albums dating from 1963. A Link In The Chain (1963) and We Shall Overcome (1963). I have borrowed and used this expressive phrase from Seeger and from its earlier Black or African American poets for many years. (Seeger uses the term “negro” for “black American” or “African American”; a neutral term in 1963); lyrics available at (last accessed 7 Feb 2017). The Pete Seeger version can be heard at (last accessed 14 May 2017). The Bruce Springsteen version can be heard at (last accessed 14 May 2017).

5. Wittgestein, L (trans. Anscombe GEM). Philosophical Investigations. Oxford: Basil Blackwell; 1967, at para 127.

6. Here, Wittgenstein’s famous duck-rabbit is perhaps the most famous example of the dawning of an aspect. See note 5, Wittgenstein 1967, at 194.

7. I use the term “poetry” loosely here. I am not thinking simply of verse or meter. Bob Dylan of course was a poet and his Nobel Prize for literature was fully justified.

8. Seeger P. Keep Your Eyes on the Prize as performed live at Carnegie Hall, June 8 1963; available at (last accessed 7 Feb 2017).

9. Words taken from the recorded version; see note 8, Seeger 1963.

10. Rawls, J. A Theory of Justice. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press; 1971.

11. I am grateful here to Giulia Cavaliere for insights into “free space.”

12. The discussion follows and amplifies thoughts expressed in Harris, 2016, at Chapter 11 (see note 3).

13. Hobbes, T (ed. Oakeshot, M) Leviathan. Oxford: Basil Blackwell; 1960, Part 2, Chapter 30, at 219. Leviathan was first published in 1651 while Hobbes was living in Paris.

14. See note 13, Hobbes 1960.

15. See note 13, Hobbes 1960.

16. See note 13, Hobbes 1960, at 142.

17. Mill, JS. On Liberty (Chapter 1). In: Warnock, M, ed. Utilitarianism. London: Collins Fontana; 1962, at 135.

18. I am not unaware that my selection of literary sources, both here and elsewhere, is painfully “Western.” This is perhaps because I use the sources that come “unbidden” to mind, rather than searching for them.

19. Heylin, C. Revolution in the Air. Chicago: Chicago Review Press; 2009:176–81.

20. Butler, J. Fifteen Sermons Preached at the Rolls Chapel. Cambridge: Hilliard and Brown; Boston: Hilliard, Gray, Little, and Wilkins; 1827. Preface, at para. 39.

21. Empson, W. Seven Types of Ambiguity. London: Chatto and Windus; 1970 (first published 1930).

22. I outlined this imperative, inter alia, in Harris J. Enhancing Evolution. Princeton and London: Princeton University Press; 2007, Chapter 11, on which I draw here.

23. Penn W. Some Fruits of Solitude. New York: Headley; 1905 (originally published 1693), at 86.

24. Platt S, ed. Entry 954, William Ewart Gladstone (1809–98). In: Respectfully Quoted: A Dictionary of Quotations Requested from the Congressional Research Service. Washington, DC: Library of Congress; 1989. (Attributed to William E. Gladstone, in: Peter LJ. Peter’s Quotations, 1977 at 276, unverified.) Accessed 2nd July 2017.

25. Giordano S, Coggon J, Cappato M, eds. Scientific Freedom: An Anthology on Freedom of Scientific Research. London: GB, Bloomsbury Academic; 2012. Edsall JT. Scientific Freedom and Responsibility: A Report of the AAAS Committee on Scientific Freedom and Responsibility. Washington DC, 1975; available at (last accessed 7 Mar 2017).

26. Other reasons are its openness, its publication of results for further scrutiny, its rigorous peer review process, and the fact that good science can only be pursued in free societies. I do not of course have room here to justify these claims.

27. Abramson J. Sorry, Kellyanne Conway. ’Alternative facts’ are just lies. The Guardian, January 24, 2017; available at (last accessed 14 May 2017). Berrien H. Lyin’ Donald: 101 of Trump’s Greatest Lies. Daily Wire, 2016; available at (last accessed 14 May 2017). There are many more apparent examples of Trump’s alternative facts listed at the following sites, but I should warn fellow scientists that I have not myself personally checked any of these, either for accuracy or coherence. Garver R. Donald Trump’s 8 (Most Recent) Blatant Lies. The Fiscal Times, November 24, 2015; available at (last accessed 14 May 2017) and (all last accessed 1 Mar 2017).

28. I am grateful to Tomi Kushner for a stimulating correspondence on the subject of alternative facts.

29. Harris, J. The Value of Life. London: Routledge: 1985, especially Chapters 3, 5, and 6. Harris, J, Sulston, J. Genetic equity. Nature Reviews Genetics 2004;5(10):796800. Harris, J. Scientific research is a moral duty. Journal of Medical Ethics 2005;31(4):242–8. Chan, S, Sulston, J, Harris, J. Science and the social contract: On the purposes, uses and abuses of science. In: Billotte, J, Cockell, M, eds. Rising to the Challenge of Transdisciplinarity: Tools and Methodologies for a World Knowledge Dialogue. 2010:4561. Chan, S, Harris, J. Free riders and pious sons: Why science research remains obligatory. Bioethics 2009;23(3):161–71. Harris, J. In search of blue skies: science, ethics and advances in technology. Medical Law Review 2013;21:131–45.

30. See note 29, Harris 2005. Harris J. The ethics of clinical research with cognitively impaired subjects. The Italian Journal of Neurological Sciences. 1997;18:9–15. Zee YK, Chan S, Harris J, Jayson GC. The ethical and scientific case for phase 2C clinical trials. The Lancet Oncology. 2010;11:410–1.

31. For a recent “take” on curiosity see: Kahan DM, Landrum AR, Carpenter K, Helft L, Jamieson KH. Science curiosity and political information processing. Advances in Political Psychology, 2016, forthcoming; Yale Law & Economics Research Paper No. 561. Available at (last accessed 21 Aug 2017).

32. “We are such stuff as dreams are made on” Shakespeare The Tempest, Act IV Scene I. In: Proudfoot R, Thompson A, Kastan DS, eds. The Arden Shakespeare. Walton-On-Thames: Thomas Nelson and Sons Ltd.; 1998. For a fascinating account both of the mechanisms and history of Alternative Facts, and also of the importance of human curiosity as an antidote, see Harford T. The problem with facts. Financial Times, London, March 9, 2017; available at (last accessed 24 Apr 2017).

33. Julius Caesar, in Shakespeare’s play of that name, justifies his decision (which he later reverses) not to attend the Senate on the Ides of March, thus: “The cause is in my will: I will not come.” Julius Caesar Act 2, Scene, 2, 344. In: Proudfoot R, Thompson A, Kastan DS, eds. The Arden Shakespeare. Walton-On-Thames: Thomas Nelson and Sons Ltd.; 1998.

34. Kushner, T, Giordano, J. Neuroethics: Cashing the reality check. Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics 2017;26(4):524–5, at 524.

35. The Sunday Times, London, June 13, 2010.

36. Milton J (ed. Leonard J). Paradise Lost. London: Penguin Books; 2000. Milton first published Paradise Lost in 1667.

37. Perhaps not coincidentally, both Golding and Dylan were awarded the Nobel Prize for their writing, as was Bertrand Russell with whom this article ends.

38. Cellan-Jones R. Stephen Hawking—Will AI Kill or Save Humankind? BBC News, October 20, 2016; available at: (last accessed 21 Aug 2017).

39. Harris J. Moral enhancement and freedom. Bioethics 2011;25(2):102–11. Harris J. How narrow the strait: The God machine and the spirit of liberty. Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics 2014;23(3):247–60. Harris J. Taking liberties with free fall. Journal of Medical Ethics 2014;40(6):371–4.

40. See note 38, Cellan-Jones 2016.

41. Rees M. Our Final Century. London: Arrow Books; 2003.

42. In the following paragraphs I draw on work published with my colleagues in Lawrence DR, Palacios-González C, Harris J. Artificial intelligence: The Shylock syndrome. Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics 2016;25(2):250–61.

43. See note 29, Harris 1985, at 9–10.

44. I am indebted here to conversations with David Lawrence.

45. I have discussed the ethics of immortality in a number of places. See Harris J. Intimations of immortality. Science 2000;288(5463):59 and see note 22, Harris 2007, Chapter 3.

46. For example, the choice to opt for suicide or to not have children directly contravenes the survival instinct of the individual or the germline, but is likely to fulfill other motivations that the chooser considers of a higher importance.

47. See note 45, Harris 2000. Harris, J. Intimations of immortality—The ethics and justice of life extending therapies. In: Michael, F, ed. Current Legal Problems. Oxford: Oxford University Press; 2002:6597.

48. I gratefully acknowledge the influence of David Lawrence at this point.

49. I treat fictional beings as real enough for the purposes of this locution.

50. Although Hare misapplies this tool in the case of abortion. Hare RM. Abortion and the Golden Rule. Philosophy & Public Affairs 1975;4(3):201–22.

51. See note 3, Harris 2016, at 18.

52. “The gentleness of all the Gods go with thee,” as William Shakespeare puts this exhortation in Twelfth Night, Act 2. Scene I. See note 33, Proudfoot et al. 1998, at 1197.

53. Wittgenstein, L (trans. Anscombe GEM). Philosophical Investigations. Oxford: Basil Blackwell; 1958, at Part II. xi, 223. “If a lion could speak, we would not understand him.”

54. I am indebted to John Sulston for many conversations on this issue.

55. Russell B. Has Man a Future? Harmondsworth: Penguin Books; 1961, at 120.

56. See Russell 1961, at 121. As I write this end note, (hoping that it will not be an end note), I am reading aloud Russell’s lines from a yellowing paperback copy of his book that I had purchased in 1961 as soon as it was published (price 2s 6d!—“half a crown”). I was 16 years old and I had been on the Aldermarston March that set off on April 3, 1961, and on which tens of thousands of people marched from the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment at Aldermarston in Berkshire to Trafalgar Square in London, where Russell spoke. I “remember” him speaking in Trafalgar Square in 1961, but it may have been at a later rally that was held in Trafalgar Square on August 6, 1961 at which I was also present. Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, August 1959; available at (last accessed 2 Jul 2017).

57. Shakespeare W. King Richard III, Act 1. Scene 2. See note 33, Proudfoot et al. 1998, at 704.

Versions of this article were presented at The University of Muenster, Germany on the March 6, 2017, and in a public lecture at the Department of Global Health & Social Medicine, Kings College London, on March 22, 2017. I am grateful to those who attended these meetings for many helpful comments. In this article I draw on some arguments that appeared in my two books, How to be Good (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2016) and Enhancing Evolution (Princeton University Press, Princeton, 2007). I have received specific and insightful comments and suggestions from my colleagues and friends Silvia Camporesi, Giulia Cavaliere, David Lawrence, and Tomi Kushner.



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