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February 29, 20121 response
I'm reminded of (I think) Churchill's observation that democracy is a terrible form of government, but it's the least bad of all the alternatives .... You are surely right in your observation, but what alternative would be better? *Every* individual may well be subject to the same biases, even "experts," and you have to put the accused up for judgment before *someone*: at least if you make it a reasonably large group of people, and do your best to avoid "biased" people, and to select "peers," you seem to maximize your chances of getting something resembling "objectivity" or neutrality ...
February 16, 20123 responses
Charles Taliaferro, Douglas Burnham and Douglas Burnham
A fine question. Let us assume that
your basic characterisation of of the conception of freedom with
neoliberal thought is correct.
It seems to me that there are two basic
issues behind Kant's account of freedom. The first (which he would
call 'theoretical') is that a free act lies
outside of the series of causes that act upon me. This corresponds roughly to what today
we would call 'freedom from' constraint. This at least resembles the
notion of freedom that you are criticising. Any limitation upon the
range of my free act could be construed as a limitation upon freedom.
Thus, the more things around me to buy, sell, or trade, and the fewer
rules telling me what I must or cannot do, the more I am free.
Accordingly, 'Freedom is choice'. While Kant seems to think of this theoretical freedom as instrinsic, belonging to me as a potential even if not exercised in fact, some interpretations of 'freedom is choice' go further: freedom exists only in choosing. One implication of this is that the latter definition is compatible with absence of freedom in Kant's theoretical sense. It doesn't matter if my choices are predetermined or preconstrained (for example, by advertising that contains misinformation) so long as, within the narrow consumerist definition of choice, there is choice.
Second, however, Kant sees this theoretical
conception of freedom as only a preparation for a practical – or
moral – conception. The moral conception corresponds roughly to
being 'free for' something. I am free for the formulation and
following of maxims that accord with rational, moral law. This is a
different ball game. There is little about the situation of having
seventeen kinds of toothpaste to choose from that has any moral value
in and of itself. Such a situation has no direct moral worth to me,
to others or to the world at large. Accordingly, Kant distinguishes
between the ability to make choices, on the one hand, and the ability
to be free for moral acts, on the other. Indirectly, though,
there might be value to the situation. For example, suppose having
this variety of choices is part of a system that creates wealth,
thereby raising many people from poverty or bringing them healthcare,
education and so forth, then that is a good thing. It's just that
having the choices, or doing the choosing, are not in themselves
valuable; they are not a sense of freedom that is, say, worth making
sacrifices for. Freedom (in a moral sense) is NOT choice, then, but
it might still be the case that the freedom to create and defend such
a system would be a moral freedom. (This is related to what Kant has in mind with the notion of being able to 'consistently' will a moral maxim.)
This is the best defence I can give. I
think you are right, the narrow focus on 'freedom is choice' is rather insubstantial; but the wider focus on a system that happens to
operate by way of such choice may not be. However, this then raises a
further issue: if it is not the immediate freedoms that matter, but
what they are part of, then limitations on the former in the
interests of the latter are entirely reasonable. For example, if
limitations on the freedom to make individual health care choices help the wider
system to better perform its moral services, then that is a good
thing. This argument is a broadly Rawlsian one, more 'old' liberal than 'neo' liberal.
February 16, 20121 response
It would be nice if democracy delivered this outcome. But in some cases the thirty percent may not have enough bargaining power to achieve it. In this case, Spanish-language classes may not actually happen. If so, I would think, the minority's group right would be violated by the majority.
Like in many other cases, the right outcome here is not whatever results from a democratic process. Rather, the right outcome is the one that accommodates any large minority's expressed desire in the preservation of their language; and that's what members of the majority ought to support and vote for, even if there's nothing valuable they can extract from the minority in exchange. This is not meant to reject democracy -- which may well be the best feasible procedure for reaching the right outcome. It's meant to reject a certain conception of democracy according to which any decision is right merely because it has resulted from a certain democratic process. What has been successfully negotiated in a democratic process may assume the status of a legal right but may nonetheless be morally wrong. And many non-democratic regimes are violating human rights even though there is no democratic process in which these rights so much as could have been successfully negotiated.
February 9, 20121 response
December 20, 20111 response
January 3, 20121 response
December 20, 20111 response
Terrific, and challenging, question, and a very relevant one given all the 'occupy' movements of the past few months -- where many people (young, American, etc.) who are better off than most other people on Earth are demanding to be even better off, rather than demanding to help those who are genuinely worse off! .... Rather than give you my answer, let me refer you to a recent and very provocative and influential (and very readable) book on the subject: Princeton ethicist Peter Singer published, a couple years ago, a book called "THe Life You Can Save," which explores that very question at great length, arguing (in short) that most of us ought to do an awful lot more towards helping even distant others than we actually do .... And once you've read that, you can google 'responses to Singer' and begin exploring the various reasons philosophers offer to suggest that Singer goes too far ...
hope that's a start --
January 3, 20121 response
December 9, 20111 response
I would consider Norway and the UK to be examples of this. Here the fundamental equality of citizens is not seriously undermined because the role of the state religion is largely ceremonial. In other countries, of course, citizens who do not share the state religion suffer severe discrimination which can be grave enough to defeat, by itself, the claim that the state in question is democratic.
It makes sense here to think of "being a democracy" as a matter of degree. Most of the states we call democracies fail fully to live up to democratic principles in one way or another. Having a state religion is a shortfall, but can be a relatively minor one if any resulting discrimination is not too severe.
November 17, 20111 response
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