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I consider myself a socially liberal agnostic from the South. I turn 40 soon

I consider myself a socially liberal agnostic from the South. I turn 40 soon and was a Christian until I was 32 growing up in a southern Baptist family. While discussing today's world and politics with my family and friends, when I don't have an answer that satisfies them they usually change topics by calling me a "liberal" as if it is some sort of hurtful slur. I don't understand this b/c I actually know the definition and their is nothing hurtful about it. My biggest problem with them using this label is that, the one man they taught me to worship for most of my life preached feeding the poor (food stamps), healing the sick (socialized meds), and overly emphasized passivism (turning the other cheek/avoiding conflict), three very liberal ideas that seem to me common logical sense, yet they oppose those people that receive these services that they don't think deserve them. Am I missing something or should I be offended by being called this? The rhetoric I hear from Christians these days about...

I've never quite forgiven Ronald Reagan for making "liberal" into a slur, but letting that pass...

I don't think there's necessarily any inconsistency here. Jesus told us to feed the poor, heal the sick, and turn the other cheek. But he didn't say that the government should be in charge of all this. In fact Jesus had more or less nothing to say about how secular government should be set up (unless you can extract a political theory from his cryptic remark about rendering unto Caesar what is Caesar's. It's consistent for someone to feel a duty to do what Jesus commanded and also to believe that the government shouldn't coercively extract money from people to carry out this mandate.

As it happens, I'm a liberal and am quite happy to see government tax us to feed people, cure them, educate them, and so on. But I don't think politically conservative Christians are automatically guilty of confusion, let alone bad faith.

I've never quite forgiven Ronald Reagan for making "liberal" into a slur, but letting that pass... I don't think there's necessarily any inconsistency here. Jesus told us to feed the poor, heal the sick, and turn the other cheek. But he didn't say that the government should be in charge of all this. In fact Jesus had more or less nothing to say about how secular government should be set up (unless you can extract a political theory from his cryptic remark about rendering unto Caesar what is Caesar's. It's consistent for someone to feel a duty to do what Jesus commanded and also to believe that the government shouldn't coercively extract money from people to carry out this mandate. As it happens, I'm a liberal and am quite happy to see government tax us to feed people, cure them, educate them, and so on. But I don't think politically conservative Christians are automatically guilty of confusion, let alone bad faith.

Is is true that justice is an essential element of law such that without it, law

Is is true that justice is an essential element of law such that without it, law cannot be law?

The big issue behind your question is the relationship between law and morality. That's a very big question, though on at lest one important view of what laws are (legal positivism) the answer to your question is no. On the positivist view, laws are, roughly, what lawmaking entities (legislatures, monarchs...) say they are. Whether a law is is another question, as is the question of whether you should obey some particular law.

Whether you think this is right at the end of the day, it fits the common sense thought that there can be bad laws that are still laws. For example: I'd say that at least some aspects of US civil forfeiture laws are actually unjust. They allow the government to seize your property in ways that, these days, many liberals and conservatives agree are unjust. But critics of those laws don't claim that they aren't actually laws; they argue that the laws should be changed.

In any case, there are laws that don't raise questions of justice. In the USA, the law says you drive on the right side of the road; in South Africa, it's the left. Laws like this aren't unjust, but there isn't really an issue of justice here. Justice isn't the only thing the law concerns itself with.

The big issue behind your question is the relationship between law and morality. That's a very big question, though on at lest one important view of what laws are (legal positivism) the answer to your question is no. On the positivist view, laws are, roughly, what lawmaking entities (legislatures, monarchs...) say they are. Whether a law is is another question, as is the question of whether you should obey some particular law. Whether you think this is right at the end of the day, it fits the common sense thought that there can be bad laws that are still laws. For example: I'd say that at least some aspects of US civil forfeiture laws are actually unjust. They allow the government to seize your property in ways that, these days, many liberals and conservatives agree are unjust. But critics of those laws don't claim that they aren't actually laws; they argue that the laws should be changed. In any case, there are laws that don't raise questions of justice. In the USA, the law says you drive on...

Is a society that criminalizes incitement to violence and libel really a free

Is a society that criminalizes incitement to violence and libel really a free society despite all other forms of speech being legal?

Is a society that criminalizes murder a free society?

Depends on what you mean. If a free society is one in which nothing is forbidden, then if anything is criminalized, the society isn't free. But if that's what's meant by "free society," then no sane person would want to live in one. This suggests that taking "free society" to mean "society with no rules or restrictions" doesn't really get at what people mean when they use those words. As a first stab, it's probably better to say that a free society is one with no unjustifiable restrictions on people's liberty. That's not meant to say which societies are free, or to what extent. For one thing, there's room to argue about which restrictions are justifiable. For another, even insofar as we agree about that, it will almost certainly turn out that no legal system gets it exactly right.

The better version of your question, I suggest, is whether it's justifiable for a society to criminalize speech that incites violence or libels someone. There's room to argue about the details. (What counts as incitement? How present must the danger of violence be? Should libel be a crime or merely a tort—a civil wrong?...) Or to put it another way, even if we agree that laws forbidding incitement to violence or libel restrict freedom, what we really want to know whether and to what extent such laws are an unreasonable restriction on freedom. Turning the question into an all-or-nothing judgment about whether societies that forbid these things are "free" isn't likely to shed much light.

Is a society that criminalizes murder a free society? Depends on what you mean. If a free society is one in which nothing is forbidden, then if anything is criminalized, the society isn't free. But if that's what's meant by "free society," then no sane person would want to live in one. This suggests that taking "free society" to mean "society with no rules or restrictions" doesn't really get at what people mean when they use those words. As a first stab, it's probably better to say that a free society is one with no unjustifiable restrictions on people's liberty. That's not meant to say which societies are free, or to what extent. For one thing, there's room to argue about which restrictions are justifiable. For another, even insofar as we agree about that, it will almost certainly turn out that no legal system gets it exactly right. The better version of your question, I suggest, is whether it's justifiable for a society to criminalize speech that incites violence or libels someone. There's...

What is impartiality for a judge deciding something like a legal case? I'm not

What is impartiality for a judge deciding something like a legal case? I'm not asking about an impartial decision by the judge, but about an impartial situation. For instance, I'm necessarily partial (in this sense) when deciding a case concerning myself. But it seems that I'm also partial when deciding a case concerning my children, since I love them a lot. A racist is necessarily partial when deciding a case between people from different races, isn't he/she? What about a human deciding a case related to the interests of animals? And what about any decent person deciding a case against a criminal?

I'm a little worried about the distinction between the decision and the situation. A judge's decision is impartial, roughly, if it amounts to applying the law to the facts as opposed to tinkering with what the law actually calls for or what the facts actually amount to. The decision can be impartial even if the judge privately wishes that the right verdict were otherwise. A simple example: I might judge that one of two students deserves a prize because his record is stronger, even though I wish the other student were the one who should win. My judgment is impartial even though I have private and partial attitudes that, if acted on, might lead to a different result. Is the situation impartial? Perhaps not; I do, after all have a preference about how I wish things would turn out. But that's consistent with the decision being impartial. That's because there are many cases where we're capable of setting our personal views aside. And that's all we can reasonably ask.

That said, in some cases it's asking too much to expect the person judging to put his or her views aside. For example: it would be asking too much in a legal case to expect a judge to act impartially if the defendant were his or her spouse or business partner or friend.

The phrase "impartial situation" isn't one I've heard used and I'd prefer to say that a situation is conducive to impartiality. We might say that a judgment situation is is conducive to impartiality if we can reasonably expect the person making the judgment to decide impartially. The crucial thing is that it doesn't have to be a case where the person judging has no private preferences; it just has to be one where those preferences can be put aside.

Which situations are those? There's no good blanket answer, but a decent human being might well be able to decide whether a defendant is guilty under the law even if what the defendant is accused of is pretty nasty. And if the accused is found guilty, a decent human being might well be able to decide that the law doesn't allow for a certain harsh penalty even if the person deciding privately wishes it did. That seems to me to be all we can reasonably ask.

I'm a little worried about the distinction between the decision and the situation. A judge's decision is impartial, roughly, if it amounts to applying the law to the facts as opposed to tinkering with what the law actually calls for or what the facts actually amount to. The decision can be impartial even if the judge privately wishes that the right verdict were otherwise. A simple example: I might judge that one of two students deserves a prize because his record is stronger, even though I wish the other student were the one who should win. My judgment is impartial even though I have private and partial attitudes that, if acted on, might lead to a different result. Is the situation impartial? Perhaps not; I do, after all have a preference about how I wish things would turn out. But that's consistent with the decision being impartial. That's because there are many cases where we're capable of setting our personal views aside. And that's all we can reasonably ask. That said, in some cases it's asking...

Does the liberal idea which is such a significant part of our modern conception

Does the liberal idea which is such a significant part of our modern conception of democracy that all people are created equal and are therefor endowed with the same rights have a philosophical or an empirical foundation? I've noticed it took a while for this concept to develop even though it has a pretty clearly written out partial foundation within the constitution of the U.S. "We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal" Did the "founders" believe despite other powers that they couldn't control that slavery should be banned under this principle? I don't see how such a thing is self-evident and anyhow do we really think that severely mentally challenged people have the same rights for example? I even know that in at least one state some people can be adjudicated as unfit to vote - although I personally think that as a matter of principle even people who are very mentally challenged should be able to vote. But I think that there are other realms where very mentally challenged...

You've raised a good and complicated question. Let's leave the word "created" aside, since if it has its religious meaning, many people won't find it self-evident.

I take the claim that "all men are equal" to be a way of saying what philosophers put this way: "All persons are entitled to equal moral consideration." It's not an empirical claim, since we don't get the answers to broad questions of moral principle by adding up the facts, though as we'll note below, empirical facts can be relevant to applying the principle.

Notice a few things the principle doesn't say. First, it doesn't say what a person is; that's a hard question that we'll set aside. Second, it doesn't say that only persons are entitled to moral consideration. It might be that some animals are. It might even be - on some views - that parts of inanimate nature are too. Third, and perhaps more relevant to your question, it doesn't say that all persons have the same detailed rights. 10-year-olds don't have the right to marry or to enter into contracts. Murderers don't have the right to roam the streets freely. And people with intellectual handicaps may lack some rights as well, though the devil is in the details.

What specific rights a person has depends partly on matters of facts; what abilities a person has might well be relevant; past actions might be relevant; how others have treated him or her may be relevant. The point of the slogan is that in deciding if someone is entitled to certain rights, only the morally relevant considerations be applied, and they should be applied even-handedly. If some characteristic is relevant (intellectual capacity may sometimes be), then it doesn't violate the principle of equal moral consideration to grant people different rights depending on whether they have the characteristic or not. What would violate the principle is to ignore the morally relevant distinctions to someone's advantage or disadvantage.

Maybe the simplest way to put it is this: the principle says that people are entitled not to be treated arbitrarily. But paying attention to relevant distinctions isn't arbitrary and so this idea of moral equality doesn't call for granting everyone the same detailed rights.

You've raised a good and complicated question. Let's leave the word "created" aside, since if it has its religious meaning, many people won't find it self-evident. I take the claim that "all men are equal" to be a way of saying what philosophers put this way: "All persons are entitled to equal moral consideration." It's not an empirical claim, since we don't get the answers to broad questions of moral principle by adding up the facts, though as we'll note below, empirical facts can be relevant to applying the principle. Notice a few things the principle doesn't say. First, it doesn't say what a person is; that's a hard question that we'll set aside. Second, it doesn't say that only persons are entitled to moral consideration. It might be that some animals are. It might even be - on some views - that parts of inanimate nature are too. Third, and perhaps more relevant to your question, it doesn't say that all persons have the same detailed rights. 10-year-olds don't have the right to...

Fox "news," busily enjoining viewers to mock the idea of wealth redistribution,

Fox "news," busily enjoining viewers to mock the idea of wealth redistribution, has posted a story entitled "College Students in Favor of Wealth Distribution Are Asked to Pass Their Grade Points to Other Students" http://www.foxnews.com/us/2011/08/17/college-students-in-favor-wealth-distribution-are-asked-to-support-grade/ Their ludicrous point is "if wealth is going to be redistributed, we should do the same with grades." Is this a "fallacy by false analogy?" If not, what would be the most succinct explanation to explain what's wrong with this comparison? Thanks, Tom K.

Thanks for a few moments of idle amusement!

Perhaps the best response is "Oy!" But to earn the huge salary in Merely Possible Dollars that the site pays me, a bit more is called for.

So yes: it's a case of false analogy, and the analogy goes bad in indefinitely many ways. But one of them has at least some intrinsic logical interest.

Suppose that as a matter of social policy, we set up a system that left everyone with a paycheck of the same size at the end of every month. What does that amount to? It amounts to saying that each person can acquire the same quantity of goods as each other person. Maybe that would be a bad idea; maybe the result would be that people would get lazy and less wealth would end up getting produced overall. But that's not built into to very logic of the idea. It's an empirical claim, even if a highly plausible one. There's nothing logical incoherent, as it were, about a system intended to produce completely uniform distribution of wealth, whatever the practical upshot might be.

Suppose, on the other hand, that we set up a system that smooths GPAs out completely, so that every student gets the same GPA - say, 3.2. Then what we've done amounts to getting rid of GPAs. It gets rid of them because what a GPA does, at least roughly, is tell us how well people did on certain sorts of tasks. For that to be possible, the system for awarding GPAs must allow (though needn't require) that different people can end up with different GPAs.

We've looked at the extreme cases of completely uniform distribution. In practice, the reply might be, no one has anything that extreme in mind. But the point of looking at the extremes was to draw attention to a difference between the very logic of the two cases. Redistributing income doesn't as a matter of logic affect the purchasing power of a dollar, even though redistribution schemes raise lots of perfectly good policy and empirical questions. But unless the "redistribution" of grades is a mere matter of relabeling, redistributing GPAs destroys the information that GPAs are intended to convey. It's logically a bit like what we'd have (to borrow Kant's example) if it was understood by everyone that when we say "I promise" there's no real expectation that we'll do what we "promised." That would be a case where promising in any meaningful sense would be impossible.

Real life redistribution schemes would no doubt be less total. But the underlying logical point doesn't go away. GPA redistribution schemes would amount to fuzzing out the information at the core of what a GPA is. Near as I can tell, there's no similar logical problem for wealth redistribution. And so the analogy really is an apples and oranges affair.

Thanks for a few moments of idle amusement! Perhaps the best response is "Oy!" But to earn the huge salary in Merely Possible Dollars that the site pays me, a bit more is called for. So yes: it's a case of false analogy, and the analogy goes bad in indefinitely many ways. But one of them has at least some intrinsic logical interest. Suppose that as a matter of social policy, we set up a system that left everyone with a paycheck of the same size at the end of every month. What does that amount to? It amounts to saying that each person can acquire the same quantity of goods as each other person. Maybe that would be a bad idea; maybe the result would be that people would get lazy and less wealth would end up getting produced overall. But that's not built into to very logic of the idea. It's an empirical claim, even if a highly plausible one. There's nothing logical incoherent, as it were, about a system intended to produce completely uniform distribution of wealth, whatever the practical...

I always took the the word "tolerance" to mean to endure something until it

I always took the the word "tolerance" to mean to endure something until it cannot be endured anymore, i.e. something which is bearable for a while but eventually unbearable - like carrying a heavy load - eventually one has to put it down. Similarly with house guests - no matter how fond we are of them eventually we want them to leave as we cannot tolerate having them in our homes indefinitely. However, unending "tolerance" is demanded of us by our Governments - we have to endure, indefinitely, "guests" (people who do not pay their way) who stay indefinitely, always taking and never giving back. Surely what is demanded of us is not tolerance but rather suffering - and the word tolerance is used, deliberately erroneously, instead to imply that we are being virtuous when instead we are simply giving in because we have no choice - and if we do not want to give in we are accused of not being virtuous. My point is that the word "tolerance" is misused to manipulate. What are your views?

I'm a bit puzzled by your example; I'll get to that. But first, let's check a dictionary. Here are the relevant meanings from Webster:

"To allow to be or be done without hindrance, prohibition or contradiction"

"To put up with"

You're certainly not obliged to tolerate your stale house guests in either of these senses. If you ask them politely to make other arrangements, you're well within your rights. But not all cases are like that. Sometimes I'm obliged to tolerate certain things even if it causes me pain to do so. If I don't like it that members of a certain group frequent my favorite coffee house, that's tough. I shouldn't do anything to hinder them, even if that makes my latte-sipping less pleasant. I may also not like the views you express as you address the town council. But I should tolerate your expressing them - whether or not that makes me happy.

The point so far, then, is that there are things we really should tolerate whether or not it somehow makes us suffer. There's room to argue about the cases, but the principle is surely correct. And in those cases, it's not manipulation to appeal to tolerance; it's pointing out what's called for.

As for your example, you say that "our Governments" demand "unending 'tolerance'" of "people who do not pay their way." I'm not sure where you're from or what government you have in mind. I'm from the United States, and I don't recognize this as part of the common political rhetoric when it comes to social services. There's talk of the "social safety net," for example and there are services provided by the government for people in various kinds of need. But "tolerance" isn't one of the usual buzzwords for these kinds of cases.

You might say that nonetheless, governments are implicitly asking us to tolerate people not contributing. However, let's be careful. Many people who get various sorts of government help have jobs, and wish they had better ones, but they can't make ends meet. Some people who benefit from government assistance are children too young to work. Making sure that kids are provided for sounds like something a decent society would do. Some people who get government assistance are disabled. It's not their fault that they can't work. I don't recall anyone using the word "tolerance" here, but I'm quite happy to "tolerate" having some of my taxes go to helping these folk.

Does the system get abused? Yes, though just how extensively is a factual question that I'm guessing neither of us is in a good position to answer. And are there people who get government support (or for that matter, support from private charities) who are just plain freeloaders? Let's agree that there are. It may be inevitable, all the same. There's a trade-off between making a system strict enough to avoid abuse and flexible enough to do what needs be done. That means we're indeed being asked to tolerate something. But we're not being asked to condone or turn a blind eye to cheating and freeloading. What we "tolerate" is that our systems for helping people are imperfect. We tolerate this because we think (or many of us do) that an imperfect system is better than none. That kind of toleration is perfectly compatible with trying to make the systems better. And asking people to have that nuanced kind of tolerance doesn't sound like manipulation to me.

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Afterpoint: one way of reading your question was to take it as having to do with immigrants, perhaps especially "illegal" immigrants. That would raise a whole set of issues on its own, but one that's worth noting, of course, is whether it's true that on the whole, undocumented immigrants don't pay their way. Given that most of them work, and do many jobs that might not otherwise get done, that would be an assumption in need of a defense.

I'm a bit puzzled by your example; I'll get to that. But first, let's check a dictionary. Here are the relevant meanings from Webster: "To allow to be or be done without hindrance, prohibition or contradiction" "To put up with" You're certainly not obliged to tolerate your stale house guests in either of these senses. If you ask them politely to make other arrangements, you're well within your rights. But not all cases are like that. Sometimes I'm obliged to tolerate certain things even if it causes me pain to do so. If I don't like it that members of a certain group frequent my favorite coffee house, that's tough. I shouldn't do anything to hinder them, even if that makes my latte-sipping less pleasant. I may also not like the views you express as you address the town council. But I should tolerate your expressing them - whether or not that makes me happy. The point so far, then, is that there are things we really should tolerate whether or not it somehow makes us suffer. There's...

My question today is concerning authority. I ask: how is authority ever

My question today is concerning authority. I ask: how is authority ever justified? Let me frame my question. Let us allow that "authority" in a governmental sense is to stop the subjects from being murdered, pillaged, to stop violence, to stop thiefs, to moderate economics, etc. Now let me ask you this. If, say, a murderer thinks about killing his victim, but is ultimately unable to do so due to the various laws/punishments involved, the government has been "successful." They have deterred the murderer from committing the crime because of the legislation in place. In this sense, we can say that a government replaces "freedom" with "security". Essentially, the more totalitarian a government becomes, the more "freedom" is traded for "security". However, is it not also true that in the saving of the life of the victim, we have "murdered" the free will of the murderer? Why can authority, in essense, save the existance of one individual, while condeming the existance of another, even if that existance...

I'll admit to being a bit puzzled. Here's the bit where I start to feel things spin:

...is it not also true that in the saving of the life of the victim, we have "murdered" the free will of the murderer? Why can authority, in essence, save the existence of one individual, while condemning the existence of another, even if that existence involves violence or crime?

If the police stop me from popping someone off, no one nor nothing is murdered. In fact, my free will, such as it might have been, stays intact. Stopping someone from acting on a particular choice isn't the same as killing their ability to make choices at all. And if it wasn't a matter of someone literally stopping me, but me thinking the crime isn't worth the punishment, then I've made a free choice between two options. In other words, as you describe the case, it's even less clear that my "free will" has been murdered. There's nothing odd in the thought that, when I make a free choice, I'm often weighing up pros and cons, whether it's the law or other people or nature itself that fixes the minuses and pluses.

In any case, I'm not sure that free will in the philosopher's sense is your real issue. It's true: laws restrict my freedom in a familiar way. They make some choices costly enough that I'm deterred from opting for them. If what I'm deterred from doing is a bad thing, this isn't obviously a problem. You also ask why the victim's life is more valuable than the murderer's freedom. But the thought that letting the murderer make his choice counts for as much as all the choices the victim could have made but can't on account of being dead is hard to fathom. Taking advantage of one's freedom depends on not being dead.

Furthermore, we don't have to stop with "live free or die." In general, being able to do as one likes is important. But so is protecting people from violence or theft or famine or pestilence. Not least, this is because violence, theft, famine and pestilence tend to get in the way of one's choices. Even if we think freedom is the primary value, maximizing freedom calls for making trade-offs. Anarchy might end up with some people being unusually free, but a person can reasonably doubt that it's a good bet.

Just how much law there ought to be is something reasonable people can disagree about. But your own last sentence allows that freedom isn't the only thing that counts. Laws and the enforcement of laws give serious weight to those other things. And as we've already noticed, they often do something else as well: by putting some curbs on some sorts of choices, they can give us a better shot at acting freely overall.

I'll admit to being a bit puzzled. Here's the bit where I start to feel things spin: ...is it not also true that in the saving of the life of the victim, we have "murdered" the free will of the murderer? Why can authority, in essence, save the existence of one individual, while condemning the existence of another, even if that existence involves violence or crime? If the police stop me from popping someone off, no one nor nothing is murdered. In fact, my free will , such as it might have been, stays intact. Stopping someone from acting on a particular choice isn't the same as killing their ability to make choices at all. And if it wasn't a matter of someone literally stopping me, but me thinking the crime isn't worth the punishment, then I've made a free choice between two options. In other words, as you describe the case, it's even less clear that my "free will" has been murdered. There's nothing odd in the thought that, when I make a free choice, I'm often weighing up pros and...

It is a well publicized fact that voters are less likely to vote for atheists

It is a well publicized fact that voters are less likely to vote for atheists than for individuals of practically any other sort of minority. Why is this sort of discrimination generally not regarded as indicative of a really significant injustice? Why isn't the difficulty of atheists to achieve political office viewed as on par with racism, homophobia or other kinds of discrimination?

Let's flip the question around a bit. Suppose I believe that people who hold certain particular religious views are likely to favor policies I don't like and oppose policies I like. That gives me a reason to worry that if I vote for a candidate of that religious persuasion, I'd be voting for someone who wouldn't share my views on things I care about politically. And surely that's an acceptable reason not to vote for someone. It seems pretty different from racism or homophobia.

People who wouldn't vote for an atheist, I'd guess, typically believe that atheists differ with them on questions that they care about. They see a person's atheism as an indicator of how the person would vote if s/he were a legislator. That still doesn't seem like racism or homophobia.

Except... Experience suggests that people who wouldn't vote for an atheist sometmes have at least this in common with racists and homophobes: they haven't actually subjected their beliefs to scrutiny. It's very common to find people who believe atheists would somehow lack a moral compass or wouldn't take moral questions seriously. That, at least, is sheer preudice. There are plenty of atheists who take moral questions very seriously, have considered them carefully, and hold thoughtful, responsible views.

Worse: many people think that morality without religion is somehow impossible. The issue here is trickier than the first one; seeing that morality doesn't require religion calls for some philosophical insight that doesn't come easily to everyone. But it's still a mistake, even if a slightly more subtle one.

So far, we've said that a person could base their attitude toward a candidate on information about the candidate's religious views without lapsing into the nastiness of something akin to racism or homophobia. We've said that in the case of atheism, however, many people have faulty beliefs about what atheists are like and about the relationship between religion and morality.

But we need to add: there's a good deal of the same sort of prejudice about religious candidates. It's not unusual to find people who think that anyone who's seriously religious is a crackpot. That's equally silly. It doesn't stand up to empirical scrutiny, and it doesn't stand up to philosophical scrutiny either. But the overall difference remains: voting against someone because you are suspicious of their views isn't like voting against them just because they're black or white or gay...

Let's flip the question around a bit. Suppose I believe that people who hold certain particular religious views are likely to favor policies I don't like and oppose policies I like. That gives me a reason to worry that if I vote for a candidate of that religious persuasion, I'd be voting for someone who wouldn't share my views on things I care about politically. And surely that's an acceptable reason not to vote for someone. It seems pretty different from racism or homophobia. People who wouldn't vote for an atheist, I'd guess, typically believe that atheists differ with them on questions that they care about. They see a person's atheism as an indicator of how the person would vote if s/he were a legislator. That still doesn't seem like racism or homophobia. Except... Experience suggests that people who wouldn't vote for an atheist sometmes have at least this in common with racists and homophobes: they haven't actually subjected their beliefs to scrutiny. It's very common to find people who...

Do think there's any legitamacy to the principal of first dibs? Suppose Jones

Do think there's any legitamacy to the principal of first dibs? Suppose Jones sits down on a bench in a public place, and later Smith comes and wants to sit down (there's only room for one). Does Jones have more right to the bench since she came there first?

Perhaps it's not so much a principle as a widely agreed-upon norm for setting potential conflict aside. We could imagine a society where the rule that everyone internalized was quite different: the person on the bench should always give their seat up to the newcomer. That would be a perfectly acceptable arrangement, and so there's no deep principle here; either way of settling priority is fine.

That said, someone who bogarts the bench for hours on end just because they got there first isn't playing nicely. They never got the point of their mother's admonition to let someone else have a turn.

Perhaps it's not so much a principle as a widely agreed-upon norm for setting potential conflict aside. We could imagine a society where the rule that everyone internalized was quite different: the person on the bench should always give their seat up to the newcomer. That would be a perfectly acceptable arrangement, and so there's no deep principle here; either way of settling priority is fine. That said, someone who bogarts the bench for hours on end just because they got there first isn't playing nicely. They never got the point of their mother's admonition to let someone else have a turn.

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