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July 15, 20111 response
July 3, 20111 response
June 16, 20111 response
good question, but i'm sure it's underdescribed -- there probably are cases of 'yes', cases of 'no', and cases of 'undetermined.' Depends precisely what you mean by justice etc. -- and the complex relationship between (say) justice and the law ... No doubt we have moral obligations to intervene when someone is doing something widely judged to be very unjust -- but when the action is less unjust, or when intervening itself might involve breaking a law or other moral obligation, then those latter constraints might outweigh the original injustice ... The thing to do, I think, is try to generate a number of different examples, and then restate the question in the context of specific examples!
June 16, 20111 response
Certainly nowadays the law would require the woman to pay alimony in this situation, and I am sure there have been many such cases.
I find it hard to see how anyone who wasn't just flatly sexist might think it should be otherwise. Perhaps vestiges of sexist thinking with which we have all been saddled by our society would make our gut reaction a little different, but fortunately we have brains and do not have to be ruled by our guts.
May 26, 20111 response
Not necessarily. It might after all be in the interests of the majority of the population that the land is owned by a small minority. Perhaps they also deserve to own it, since they acquired it through hard work and merit.
On the other hand, as you imply, this is unlikely so we are probably in the presence here of an unjust system.
May 26, 20111 response
May 18, 20111 response
April 27, 20111 response
I am not so sure that you can get out of your military service simply by saying that you wish to preserve your liberty and don't wish to harm other people. You may know the present situation better than I do, but I know of a number of young Israelis who ended up in jail for refusing to serve in the IDF.
I see your justice point: The IDF is protecting the physical security of Israeli citizens (or at least of a large majority of the Israeli population to which you belong), and so it seems unjust for you to enjoy this protection but then also to refuse to contribute to it.
You say that there is nothing you can do to avoid being protected by the IDF. If this were true, then this would weaken your reasons to serve. To illustrate, suppose you have a fan who, unprompted by you, greatly improves your reputation by posting admiring stories about you on Facebook, by very effectively singing your praises to important people in your social environment whose support will greatly help your career, etc. You learn about this person's efforts, and you realize that you benefit from these efforts. But you have no obligation to reciprocate, I would think, precisely because you had no choice in the matter, never asked your fan to act in your behalf or even signaled your approval. Matters are different when you do have a choice and then actively take advantage of benefits made available to you. Suppose, for example, that all the other occupants of your apartment building collaborate to cultivate a beautiful flower garden near your building. This garden cannot be seen from the outside (it is surrounded by hedges), but because you love flowers you often go there and sit on the bench. Here it seems that it would be wrong of you to take advantage of the beautiful garden while refusing to join the effort to maintain it (assuming that your neighbors really want you to contribute etc.).
The preceding paragraph suggest that your justice reason for serving in the IDF is the stronger the more of a choice you have about whether to remain in Israel. If you could easily leave and, say, live in the US instead, then your remaining in Israel is closer to the garden case, where you are taking advantage of the efforts of others. If you have no realistic way of avoiding protection by the IDF (short of suicide, say, which is obviously not a serious option here), then your presence in Israel is closer to the Facebook case where you benefit without choice and thus may permissibly refuse to reciprocate by doing your fair share.
Coming to your first two reasons now. Serving in an army means subjecting oneself to the far-reaching authority of its commanders and political leaders. They may order you to kill people, and they may order you into situations in which you must kill in order to survive. Soldiers harm people; and, more importantly, soldiers often wrongly harm people. Many of the objectives armies are used to achieve are unjust objectives, and many of the people who get killed by soldiers are innocent people and people whose killing is not morally justifiable or excusable. So your fear that, by joining the army, you will become a participant in unjust harm is entirely realistic. Joining the IDF, you may well be ordered to man checkpoints and to police roads that stifle the movement of Palestinians within the West Bank, for example, or to fire tank shells at, or drop bombs upon, civilian homes in the Gaza Strip. To put it bluntly, you may be given orders that, if you comply, will make you harm and even kill innocent people whom it is wrong to harm or kill.
By joining the army, you will make it much harder for yourself to avoid wrongdoing, to avoid harming and even killing innocent people. How much this matters depends on the specific situation. If an army fights (or is disposed only to fight) justly for an important just cause, then one may have strong moral reason, on balance, to join it. If an army is fighting, or disposed to fight, for an unjust cause, then one may have strong moral reason to refuse to join even when one also expects personally to benefit from this army's success. In such a case one would still have reason to avoid the benefits if one can do so witout undue hardship and also reason, of course, to avoid making other contributions to the army's success.
So this is what you might say in defense of your refusal to join the IDF to others who are joining and accusing you of being a free-rider. You can say that one central objective the IDF is used to support is the appropriation of land in the West Bank for new and expanding Israeli settlements, and that this is an unjust objective and policy that wrongly harms the Palestinians who live there. It would be wrong to contribute to the injustice done to the Palestinians and therefore wrong for you to join the IDF. You might add that, while the IDF also serves the legitimate objective of protecting you and other Israeli civilians from violence by Palestinians, much of this protection is needed only because of unjust Israeli policy in the West Bank.
If it is said in response that you are benefiting from the settlement policy, you can respond that you are not actively taking advantage of it (e.g., by living in the West Bank) and only benefiting from it (e.g., through lower real estate prices in Israel) in ways you cannot reasonably avoid.
If it is said that you should then (given what you believe) actively avoid the benefits by working toward emigration, you might respond that you are willing to forego such benefits by donating them to organizations (such as B'Tselem, perhaps) that protect the human rights of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories. You might add that, as an Israeli citizen, you have a responsibility to work toward achieving greater justice of your country's social institutions and policies, and that the kind of discussions with your fellow citizens that are central to such work would be very much harder to conduct from abroad.
In conclusion, I think that -- if you see the situation in roughly the way I have guessed in the preceding three paragraphs -- you can avoid both: being a participant in injustice and unfairly benefiting from the efforts of others who have joined the IDF. My sense is, though, that your government will not make this path as easy for you as you seem to expect.
February 23, 20111 response
By "ability to procure exchange" you mean, I assume, money. So you are saying that the fact that some people have less money does not make them less entitled to stuff. Now this is often true, for instance in cases where those who have less have less on account of wrongs or injustices they suffered. But it's not always and certainly not necessarily true. Thus imagine two able-bodied and otherwise similar persons running a farm together. Suppose they agree to share the net proceeds (sales revenue minus expenses) in proportion to the work each puts in. And suppose one of them does 2/3 of the work and the other 1/3. So the latter has less money to spend than the former -- but isn't she also entitled to less?
A similar story could be told about two otherwise similar people who do equal work and have equal income. One has spent little and thus has a lot left. The other has spent a lot and thus has little left. The latter now has less money that the former -- but isn't he also entitled to less? Perhaps you believe that everyone should have an equal claim on all that is produced. But under such a system, claims would greatly outstrip production. There would be little incentive to work because one's claim to stuff would be no better than if one did no work at all.
Under the system just described, everyone would have a miserable life. Under a system that rewards contributions to the social product and keeps track of past consumption (so that someone who acquires part of the social product must pay for it and thereby come to be entitled to less than before), people are much better off. But running such a system requires that sufficiently many people respect the rules and accept, for example, that if they've spent their fair income for the week they are not entitled to get more stuff even while others (who still have money left) are so entitled. If others do respect these rules and we all benefit from the system, then it would be wrong of you to free-ride on others' compliance by breaking the rules and taking more.
Now in the real world, of course, economic systems are unjust to various degrees. In Libya, for instance, ordinary people have a lot less money than the ruling elite, but this does not render them any less entitled to stuff. So there, if an ordinary citizen finds a clever way to steal money from one of Gaddafi's accounts, Gaddafi indeed has no moral claim against him. But, if it's a lot of money, then other ordinary Libyans may well have a moral claim against him. What's in Gaddafi's accounts was embezzled from the sale of Libyan oil, after all.
The needed-surgery case you conclude with could go either way, depending on context. Suppose this happened in a rich country that makes no provisions for health care of the poor. So people die needlessly because they cannot pay for a simple appendectomy. If someone is in danger of suffering this fate under this (I would think) plainly unjust system, and if he knows that you are a wealthy beneficiary of this injustice (by saving a lot in taxes because the state makes no provisions for the vulnerable), then you may indeed have no moral claim against him if he steals the needed money from you.
But now suppose the case involves heart surgery and happens in a poor country which is simply unable to provide such expensive surgery to all who need it at public expense. People can buy insurance that covers heart surgery, but most buy a cheaper policy or rely on public services which cover the basics (including appendectomy but not including heart surgery). Now in this sort of case it would seem that you do have a moral claim against the needy person, especially if you earn no more than she does and she earned enough to be able to afford the better health insurance policy. She chose not to insure and is now trying to obtain the needed operation by stealing money from you. Suppose you know that, if you let her succeed with her theft, you would be unable to continue to buy the better health insurance policy for your family and thus would be putting the health of your family members at risk. Would it then not be morally permissible for you to stop her theft? I would think something even stronger is true: it would be wrong for her to try the theft. A poor society, even if justly organized, may not be able to meet all urgent needs of its members. If so, then it would be wrong for a person with a very expensive need that she had a genuine opportunity to insure against (but chose not to) to fulfill her own urgent need at the expense of causing basic needs of others to go unfulfilled.
February 16, 20111 response
There are two weak spots in the reasoning you sketch. First, the expression "more ethical" is a bit slippery. If one does not pause to reflect, one may be fooled into thinking that, if something is more ethical, then it's ethical or permissible or (as you say at the end) morally justified. But this is not so. It's presumably more ethical (more acceptable, morally) to snatch a woman's purse than to take it while threatening her with a knife. But this does not mean that it is morally justified to snatch her purse. All it means is that it is less wrong to do so. (Some would say that wrongness, like pregnancy, does not admit of degrees; but here I agree with you that it does.)
This first weak spot can be avoided by saying instead that stealing money that was formerly stolen from you can be ethical or morally justified. And this seems correct in cases where (a) the money was justly owned by you at the time it was first stolen and (b) it was not stolen to meet some urgent needs of the thief or of others and (c) there is no proper public authority available for you to appeal to that would be both willing and able to retrieve the stolen money for you and (d) stealing the money back won't have disproportionately harmful consequences (e.g. by provoking violent escalation).
The second weak spot is that you move from your belief that something like conditions (a)-(d) obtain to your being morally justified. This is again a bit slippery. Think of self-defense here: you are permitted to defend yourself, violently and even with deadly force, if you are under serious attack. But it does not follow that you may use deadly force if merely you believe that you are being attacked. It is true that you really have only your beliefs to go on, you have no independent access to the truth. But to invoke self-defense you need to show that your belief was well-grounded, that it was reasonable for you, given the evidence, to reach the conclusion that you were under attack.
We can fix the second weak spot by requiring that you believe after careful deliberation (no time pressure here) and with good reason that the government or the upper classes have stolen money from you and your family. Are you then justified in cheating on your taxes?
I would think that you are. Consider recent events in Tunisia and Egypt, where corrupt cliques were in power for decades, directly and indirectly stealing billions from the society and transferring this wealth to Britain and Switzerland and elsewhere. Had you been a citizen in Tunisia or Egypt, would you have been required to pay your taxes, as legally prescribed, to the penny? Surely not. It would have been morally permissible to pay as little as you could get away with -- though if you were reasonably well-to-do, you should then also have used at least some of your illegal savings to fund some of the things that were not publicly funded in Tunisia and Egypt but would have been if these states had been justly organized (basic education and health care, perhaps, or income support for the families of people who become ill or unemployed).
Now you weren't asking about Tunisia or Egypt, but about the United States. In this case it is not so obvious that there is the kind of theft you are suggesting. The tax rules are adopted and enforced under the oversight of an elected legislature, and one might say that it is perfectly permissible for a population to vote to impose taxes on themselves despite the dissent of a minority. (We cannot achieve perfect unanimity; and if we allow dissenters to exempt themselves from all tax obligations, then we'll never raise the funds the governments needs for even its most basic functioning.) Of course, you might disagree with this, but you would need some argument here for the claim that uniform taxes imposed with the consent of a majority of citizens amount to stealing from non-consenters.
Alternatively, you could claim that a lot of our tax money is stolen not by our government but from our government. Rich people make or promise campaign contributions in the millions and are rewarded by governmental subsidies, special tax breaks, tax avoidance and evasion opportunities worth in the billions -- this essentially constitutes theft because these special breaks for the rich are not consented to by the people and are not at all in the interest of the general public.
I think the second line of argument is more plausible, and there is abundant evidence that this sort of stealing is happening on a massive scale. But these are cases where rich individuals and corporations with the aid of corrupt public officials are stealing public funds that should be going for the legitimate purposes of government. It is these rich individuals and corporations and corrupt public officials who are stealing our tax money. If counter-stealing is permissible here, wouldn't we have to target the thieves? If we steal from the government, the result is that even less money is available for the legitimate purposes of government. The fact that others a stealing money from our government, thereby degrading the education of American children, cannot make it alright for us to steal money from this government thereby ensuring that these same children must attend even more run-down public schools.
Now this objection can be answered. You can say that, instead of giving $100 to the government of which $20 will be stolen by the rich, it is better that I withhold the $100 by cheating on my taxes and then give $80 privately for important social purposes (such as basic education) that the government is currently -- perhaps because of all the theft -- under-serving.
There is still another objection to overcome. It will be said that citizens ought to fight the problem of political corruption in the US politically, rather than privately by withholding taxes. Ours is a basically democratic country, and if we spot injustice in our political system, then we should mobilize citizens to correct this problem. If you win a majority of citizens to your cause, then your cause will prevail. If not, then perhaps you ought to swallow the injustice in deference to your fellow citizens who choose to continue to authorize or at least to permit it.
This objection is surely not conclusive; the question you pose is complex. To argue it out for the case of the US would take rather more space (and time) than are here available. But this itself really highlights the key point: when you face a decision of consequence, the mere belief that you are about to do the right thing cannot justify your decision. Whether what you decide to do is morally justified depends on the soundness of the grounds you have for your belief. The belief that by cheating on your taxes you are merely avoiding theft of your money or counter-stealing money that had been stolen from you and your family earlier -- this belief is not obviously true (nor obviously false). It takes a good bit of further thought to come to a well-grounded judgment about it. Without such a well-grounded judgment in favor of this belief, you cannot claim with any confidence that you are morally justified to cheat on your taxes.
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