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There are numerous examples of injustice in America (blacks treated unfairly in

There are numerous examples of injustice in America (blacks treated unfairly in the criminal justice system, torture of detainees, etc.) and Americans generally seem to be more or less okay with this (shown by lack of a consensus of moral outrage). Yet, Americans also profess to believe in human rights, the constitution and principles of justice for democracy and the criminal justice system. I doubt that conducting a poll, many Americans would disagree with these principles. Why does our theory not match our practice? Can it be the case that American's truly don't believe in justice for all, if it can be violated so blatantly and without major objection from the public? And if it's the case that we truly don't care about justice then why not change theory? Or, if this is not the case, then why are people so apathetic? Is it even human nature to care about virtues and ethics? Or is it something that can only be achieved through active reasoning and pursuit of knowledge? How can I be happy in a...

You are right that there are very high levels of hypocrisy in the US: our actual behavior often fails miserably to cohere with our announced values. But you should also recognize that some of the problems you mention are extremely intractible and may be extremely difficult to remedy. Have we made progress on these issues? I think we have, but I also think that the progress comes in fits and starts and also sometimes moves backward before progressing again.

As for our tolerance for the gaps between our professed values and our actual practice, I think lots of factors come into play. One such factor is the degree to which we are willing, ready, or even able to make progress to eliminate the gaps a primary priority. Notice that all of us may value something, but not value it enough to set other priorities aside in order to make progress on this particular thing. The point is that people have limited resources (in time, money, energy) to "spend" on improvement in all of the areas that need improvement. To live at all comfortably in the world, one has to learn to accept a fairly substantial gap between how we think things ought to be and how things actually are. That doesn't mean we should all just give up and accept that "some things will never change," as the Boss put it. But it does mean that progress can be frustratingly slow, and we also have to accept that people's priorities are not all the same. From the fact that a majority would agree that V is some important value to be pursued, it does not follow that people will actually pursue V in their own activities--because their "moral economies" may simply not include the moral resources to pursue V.

Viewed in this way, I think you can see that not all of the examples you give are always simply cases of hypocrisy. They may, alas, be examples of inadequate moral economies leading people to accept (perhaps a little too readily) what they actually believe should be changed.

You are right that there are very high levels of hypocrisy in the US: our actual behavior often fails miserably to cohere with our announced values. But you should also recognize that some of the problems you mention are extremely intractible and may be extremely difficult to remedy. Have we made progress on these issues? I think we have, but I also think that the progress comes in fits and starts and also sometimes moves backward before progressing again. As for our tolerance for the gaps between our professed values and our actual practice, I think lots of factors come into play. One such factor is the degree to which we are willing, ready, or even able to make progress to eliminate the gaps a primary priority. Notice that all of us may value something, but not value it enough to set other priorities aside in order to make progress on this particular thing. The point is that people have limited resources (in time, money, energy) to "spend" on improvement in all of the areas that need...

Does the fact that governments exercise coercion make statism immoral?

Does the fact that governments exercise coercion make statism immoral?

Depends on your view of things, obviously. If you are committed to the view that all forms of coercion are immoral, then this would be the result. But I don't know why anyone would think that. I (justifiably) exercise forms of coercion over my children, because there is simply no responsible way to raise children otherwise. I would also be justified to exercise coercion against anyone who try to invade my home or injure a member of my family. Again, the alternative is considerably worse. Governments exercise coersion alright, but that does not by itself merit either approval or disapproval. The questions arise when we ask why they do so, how they do so, and to what extent do they do so, and at what costs to other valuable elements of social and political life.

Depends on your view of things, obviously. If you are committed to the view that all forms of coercion are immoral, then this would be the result. But I don't know why anyone would think that. I (justifiably) exercise forms of coercion over my children, because there is simply no responsible way to raise children otherwise. I would also be justified to exercise coercion against anyone who try to invade my home or injure a member of my family. Again, the alternative is considerably worse. Governments exercise coersion alright, but that does not by itself merit either approval or disapproval. The questions arise when we ask why they do so, how they do so, and to what extent do they do so, and at what costs to other valuable elements of social and political life.

Why is it desirable to be judged by a jury of one's "peers"? We demand that our

Why is it desirable to be judged by a jury of one's "peers"? We demand that our doctors, business executives and politicians be highly exceptional individuals. So why should we trust court decisions, which can often be both incredibly important and incredibly difficult, to random groups of laypersons?

This kind of objection often comes up, but I think is based upon a misunderstanding of what it means to be a "peer" in the required (legal) sense. One is my "peer" if one is a fellow citizen with all associated rights and responsibilities. That person doesn't have to be my equal in strength, or intelligence, or at basketball--he or she simply has to be my equal as a citizen. If their vote counts as much as mine, they're my peer.

In his Republic, Plato said (with evident contempt) that democracy was something like government by "bald-headed tinkers." (I resemble that!) But at the heart of democratic theory is the idea that all people are "created equal," by which the theorist cannot sensibly mean "equal in all things." The point is that we are all, or at least should be all, regarded as politically and legally equal. Other political theories--including especially Plato's--obviously reject this idea. Plato especially thought that political decisions--just like all medical decisions--should be made only by those with appropriate expertise. It is a little difficult to identify just how we would identify this expertise, however, how we could produce it in a class of rulers (or judges), and how we could avoid corruption of such a system.

This kind of objection often comes up, but I think is based upon a misunderstanding of what it means to be a "peer" in the required (legal) sense. One is my "peer" if one is a fellow citizen with all associated rights and responsibilities. That person doesn't have to be my equal in strength, or intelligence, or at basketball--he or she simply has to be my equal as a citizen . If their vote counts as much as mine, they're my peer. In his Republic , Plato said (with evident contempt) that democracy was something like government by "bald-headed tinkers." (I resemble that!) But at the heart of democratic theory is the idea that all people are "created equal," by which the theorist cannot sensibly mean "equal in all things." The point is that we are all, or at least should be all, regarded as politically and legally equal. Other political theories--including especially Plato's--obviously reject this idea. Plato especially thought that political decisions--just like all medical...

Would the world be better without governments?

Would the world be better without governments?

The world would be better without some governments, I think!

Thomas Hobbes once famously remarked that human beings attempting to live outside the boundaries of goverment would live lives that were "nasty, poor, brutish, and short." I'm afraid that actually looking at places in the world where the local governments are extremely weak or ineffective confirms Hobbes's point. Even if such places are perhaps (and only sometimes) less of a menace to other countries than they might be with a bad (corrupt, or aggressive) government, it seems implausible to say that such places are better without any government than they would be if they had a good government. In most cases, even a bad government is better than no government at all--though there are limits as to how bad a government can get before it ends up being worse for the people living there than no government at all. But where we find extremely weak and ineffective governments in the world, we also always find massive human suffering. Governments can be the cause of terrible problems, it is true; but they can also be very effective in solving problems. I would certainly rather live in a well-governed place than one in which there was no government at all. Anarchy (not as a theory, but when an actuality) ain't pretty and ain't nice.

The world would be better without some governments, I think! Thomas Hobbes once famously remarked that human beings attempting to live outside the boundaries of goverment would live lives that were "nasty, poor, brutish, and short." I'm afraid that actually looking at places in the world where the local governments are extremely weak or ineffective confirms Hobbes's point. Even if such places are perhaps (and only sometimes) less of a menace to other countries than they might be with a bad (corrupt, or aggressive) government, it seems implausible to say that such places are better without any government than they would be if they had a good government. In most cases, even a bad government is better than no government at all--though there are limits as to how bad a government can get before it ends up being worse for the people living there than no government at all. But where we find extremely weak and ineffective governments in the world, we also always find massive human suffering. ...

Should the state be seen as responsible for crimes committed by prisoners

Should the state be seen as responsible for crimes committed by prisoners against prisoners in jails? It seems to me that knowingly incarcerating a person in a place where inmates are at risk to be beaten, raped or killed is like throwing him in the lion's den.

I agree with everything Thomas Pogge has said in his reply, but also think that one assumption of your question needs to be questioned. Consider the following example: It is my night to cook dinner, but I have forgotten to buy an ingredient. I ask my wife to run down to the store to purchase it, but as I do so, it occurs to me (what is obviously true) that driving a car puts one at risk for injury or death. Now, I think there is an important moral distinction to be made between asking my wife to drive to the store precisely because of the risks I know she will face in driving, and asking her to drive to the store (despite the risks) to purchase an ingredient necessary for the dinner I (or we) have planned. Since I do not believe that it is the intent of the law, as it were, to put inmates at greatly higher risks of victimization by beating, rape, or murder (note that none of these are legally mandated, and all are legally proscribed and are often legally punished, even when they occur in prison settings), the argument that the state is responsible for the beatings, rapes, and murders cannot be made simply on the basis of the elevated risks of these to inmates. I wholly agree, however, with what I take Pogge's point to be, namely, that it is appropriate to hold the state responsible for the poor protection presently provided to inmates against such cases of victimization. We might similarly say that while the state or the police are responsible to provide better protection than they currently do against the dangers posed to us by some crimes (DUI, for example), it does not follow that the state or the police are responsible for those of us who suffer as a result of such crimes (e.g. those who are injured or killed drunk drivers).

I agree with everything Thomas Pogge has said in his reply, but also think that one assumption of your question needs to be questioned. Consider the following example: It is my night to cook dinner, but I have forgotten to buy an ingredient. I ask my wife to run down to the store to purchase it, but as I do so, it occurs to me (what is obviously true) that driving a car puts one at risk for injury or death. Now, I think there is an important moral distinction to be made between asking my wife to drive to the store precisely because of the risks I know she will face in driving, and asking her to drive to the store (despite the risks) to purchase an ingredient necessary for the dinner I (or we) have planned. Since I do not believe that it is the intent of the law, as it were, to put inmates at greatly higher risks of victimization by beating, rape, or murder (note that none of these are legally mandated, and all are legally proscribed and are often legally punished, even when they occur in...

I’m a little ashamed for asking this question but I feel I’m in need of some

I’m a little ashamed for asking this question but I feel I’m in need of some guidance regarding politics. I reached the age where I’m allowed to vote quite some time ago, but to be honest feel if I did it would be more like filling in a lottery ticket rather than voting so I haven’t. There’s much of politics and our political system that I don’t understand. With all the rhetoric involved in the media it’s hard to know who to believe. Politicians could make these promises and break them as soon as they’re in. There seems to be so many variables involved and the whole thing’s a bit overwhelming. For example, maybe one particular policy sounds like a good idea and addresses an issue that’s close to me. But then what if the money used for this could be put to better use elsewhere? What if this solution helps in the short term, but puts us right up the creek after a decade? What the heck do I know about economics?? Should people like me (and I suspect there are many) leave the voting to those with the...

Winston Churchill once claimed that "democracy is the worst form of government...except all the others that have been tried." On the other hand, he also once said, "the best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter."

There is wisdom in both of his quotes, I think. One problem with you (and others like you) refusing to vote is that others who have no advantage over you of any relevant kind, in terms of applicable expertise, will vote, and so you allow their ignorance to determine how you will be governed. That's Churchill's "best argument against democracy." On the other side of his musings on democracy, it remains true that--for all its flaws--democracy (even when ignorant "average voters" determine the outcomes of elections) remains the best of all of the actual ways human beings have actually tried to govern and be governed. So by opting out, you end up making the process less democratic than it would be with full participation--and thus more like the poorer forms of governing.

But you are also right to worry that you cannot be a fully responsible citizen unless you learn as much as you can about the issues. So do so!

Winston Churchill once claimed that "democracy is the worst form of government...except all the others that have been tried." On the other hand, he also once said, "the best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter." There is wisdom in both of his quotes, I think. One problem with you (and others like you) refusing to vote is that others who have no advantage over you of any relevant kind, in terms of applicable expertise, will vote, and so you allow their ignorance to determine how you will be governed. That's Churchill's "best argument against democracy." On the other side of his musings on democracy, it remains true that--for all its flaws--democracy (even when ignorant "average voters" determine the outcomes of elections) remains the best of all of the actual ways human beings have actually tried to govern and be governed. So by opting out, you end up making the process less democratic than it would be with full participation-...

I remember reading somewhere that either Socrates or Plato favoured the idea of

I remember reading somewhere that either Socrates or Plato favoured the idea of a ruling elite as a system of government. What he meant by this was a group of, I think, around 7 philosophers who, due to their altruistic nature and philosophic ability, were selected for a lengthy period to make decisions, without vote or public ballot, for their city state. What my question is... is, If Plato (I think it was Plato) were to see how we govern today, what part would he favour, if any? And would he think his ruling elite system still to be workable?

In the Republic, Plato argues that there should be a ruling elite consisting entirely of philosophers. He never mentions that there must only be 7 of these, and I think it would also count as a serious misunderstanding (one often made in the scholarly literature, however) to say that these philosophers had to be "altruistic"; rather, they needed to understand well what is in everyone's interest, including their own, and they would have to (correctly) understand their own interests as including the interests of those with whom they lived, and upon whom they depended for goods and services.

Plato was certainly no fan of democracy, as a form of government, and so he would not be much impressed with modern forms of government that were democractic by nature. He was also not at all in favor of oligarchy, or rule by the wealthiest citizens--which, I think it is fair to say, is how many present "democracies" end up. Plato counted tyranny as the worst possible form of government, moreover, so most of the alternatives to democracy we find in the modern world would look even worse to Plato.

So I think the upshot is that Plato would be deeply and strongly critical of every form of government now extant. In this, nothing has changed: the form of government Plato extolled as the best (as well as the one he regarded as second best) have never actually existed. And those that did exist in his time were forms he found deeply flawed.

Read the Republic (it really is quite readable, even for someone not highly trained in philosophy), and see what you think!

In the Republic , Plato argues that there should be a ruling elite consisting entirely of philosophers. He never mentions that there must only be 7 of these, and I think it would also count as a serious misunderstanding (one often made in the scholarly literature, however) to say that these philosophers had to be "altruistic"; rather, they needed to understand well what is in everyone's interest, including their own, and they would have to (correctly) understand their own interests as including the interests of those with whom they lived, and upon whom they depended for goods and services. Plato was certainly no fan of democracy, as a form of government, and so he would not be much impressed with modern forms of government that were democractic by nature. He was also not at all in favor of oligarchy, or rule by the wealthiest citizens--which, I think it is fair to say, is how many present "democracies" end up. Plato counted tyranny as the worst possible form of government, moreover,...

Hello,

Hello, I am really interested in justice in ancienne greek. what is the main difference between these greek words: dike and dikaiosune? (dike is justice but dikaiosune?) Thanks.

DikaiosunE (with an eta, which is why I used the upper case for the "E") is closer to our word "justice." DikE is really a broader term, which could mean simply "custom," or "the normal way of things," "or what is fitting (or suitable)." The word also applies to legal judgments and enacted laws.

DikaiosunE (with an eta, which is why I used the upper case for the "E") is closer to our word "justice." DikE is really a broader term, which could mean simply "custom," or "the normal way of things," "or what is fitting (or suitable)." The word also applies to legal judgments and enacted laws.

i've always thought it a fantastic absurdity that the basic intelligence or

i've always thought it a fantastic absurdity that the basic intelligence or moral fiber of our president might be so easily scrutinized. when dubba bush is lambasted for a lack of basic grammar i wince, not simply because he is our president but because our democratic system allows for the endowment of such power on such outrageously questionable individuals. i think ultimately i find this so strange because our president should presumably represent the best our civil society has to offer - his or her acumen should not even be in question on this level, one would think. that i can think of literally dozens individuals in my personal life who seem more intelligent that our current president seems ludicrous. likewise, in our most recent election, when voters complained that neither kerry nor bush represented a desireable candidate, i thought it absurd that of all our nation's people the two chosen to compete for the presidency could be so lackluster. ideally shouldn't voters be choosing between two or...

I think you are right to say that the political system of the United States considerably privileges certain kinds of people (wealthy religious white men especially). But it seems to me that a basic feature of representative democracy will always be that candidates will represent the priorities of the electorate. I see no reason at all to think that the electorate of the United States highly values "amazing brilliance" or even basic grammar!

I think you are right to say that the political system of the United States considerably privileges certain kinds of people (wealthy religious white men especially). But it seems to me that a basic feature of representative democracy will always be that candidates will represent the priorities of the electorate. I see no reason at all to think that the electorate of the United States highly values "amazing brilliance" or even basic grammar!

Can a group of people or a single person for that matter, be said to 'own' a

Can a group of people or a single person for that matter, be said to 'own' a particular set of behaviours? I'm thinking along the lines of sacred rituals of indigenous peoples, where parts of those rituals (specific actions as part of the ceremony, meant to be kept secret) are appropriated or copied exactly by others outside of the original group without permission.

I am not sure whether ownership is the right way to frame this question. It seems that it might be more perspicuous to think of the question in terms, perhaps, of duties we owe to one another, in terms of respect for other cultures (and others' cultures), or of virtue considerations such as being respectful of others. From these points of view, I think answers are easier to reach: It certainly seems like a kind of violation of a duty to respect others (for example, as an application of one of the ways Kant formulates what he calls the categorical imperative, which mandates treating others as ends only, and never as means), and also seems like the vice of disrespect for others to violate rituals in this way.

Of course, it might also be more complicated, depending upon what motives apply to the apropriation (commencial? for the purposes of ridicule? out of a sense of shared reverence?).

I am not sure whether ownership is the right way to frame this question. It seems that it might be more perspicuous to think of the question in terms, perhaps, of duties we owe to one another, in terms of respect for other cultures (and others' cultures), or of virtue considerations such as being respectful of others. From these points of view, I think answers are easier to reach: It certainly seems like a kind of violation of a duty to respect others (for example, as an application of one of the ways Kant formulates what he calls the categorical imperative, which mandates treating others as ends only, and never as means), and also seems like the vice of disrespect for others to violate rituals in this way. Of course, it might also be more complicated, depending upon what motives apply to the apropriation (commencial? for the purposes of ridicule? out of a sense of shared reverence?).