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There will be an election in my country in the next few months and when I look

There will be an election in my country in the next few months and when I look at all the platforms of the parties that are running, I despise all of them. Yes, there may be a few parties which may have one or two stand alone positions I like, but everything else I find unappealing. Is the solution then to just not vote at all or should individuals do something active since voting is a very passive activity that only happens several years apart? I think low voter turnout in a democracy is actually a GOOD thing (since parties and electoral boards are always encouraging people to do the opposite, making politics into a competitive spectator sport) as it may lead to new parties and movements to expand the number of options.

good, difficult question. one of many possible strategies would be to choose the party that you think, overall, to be the least bad, or is likely to the least ill. Of course if you generally despise all the options then it may be very difficult to determine which party fits that description, in which case not voting at all seems to make the most sense (since any vote would just be arbitrary). One other option would be for YOU to found the "new party"/movement that you think is best, or at least take steps in that direction. You could do this either in place of, or in addition to, casting the vote for the least bad.

ap

good, difficult question. one of many possible strategies would be to choose the party that you think, overall, to be the least bad, or is likely to the least ill. Of course if you generally despise all the options then it may be very difficult to determine which party fits that description, in which case not voting at all seems to make the most sense (since any vote would just be arbitrary). One other option would be for YOU to found the "new party"/movement that you think is best, or at least take steps in that direction. You could do this either in place of, or in addition to, casting the vote for the least bad. ap

Does democracy necessarily assume that the voters are rational and educated? I

Does democracy necessarily assume that the voters are rational and educated? I was always of the opinion that democracy was the best system because there is no way in non-democratic systems to ensure that the state is acting in the best interests of the people. Is this a compelling argument or is there a better counterargument? Do the arguments that "voters are irrational" or "voters are unduly influenced by the media" really defeat democracy? Is it better to have a well-intentioned non-democratic state look after the interests of the people?

Wonderful question, deserving of complicated book-length responses .... As (I think) Churchill said, democracy is a terrible form of government, but even so it's less terrible than every other possible form ... A few disorganized thoughts. I suppose some might hold that "ideal" forms of democracy would exist where voters are rational, educated, etc. (and historically various democracies have tried to restrict franchisement to those who fit various conditions -- such as having property, being literate, etc.). Of course, those forms of democracy tend to be seen these ways as involving those in power propagating their power and suppressing those below them ... Even if you're okay with restricting the vote in some such way, democracy is messy -- even very educated, rational people disagree. (Ask three professional philosophers, get four opinions ...) So I suppose that if the goal of government is to act "in the best interests of the people," what you would most like would be very wise, autocratic rulers -- forget majority votes, forget even votes of the majority of educated citizens, just make the decisions yourself! (A philosopher-king, a la Plato, would be nice here.) But of course we all know the problem here -- power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely ... There probably haven't been too many genuinely wise, benevolent autocratic rulers in history ... So (some conclude) the best thing to do is go the opposite direction -- maximize the franchise -- let EVERYONE vote, get involved (more or less... ok, not children ...) But here what you probably have to give up on is the idea that gov't is "in the best interests of the people" -- after all, who could define that, what are "the people," esp. in a heterogenous society with many different interests in conflict ... Instead, gov't is about doing "the will" of the people, whatever exactly that means -- with no guarantee (and perhaps very little likelihood) that the will of the people is actually aligned with the "best interests" of the people .... But since nobody -- not even the wise autocratic ruler -- can really claim a monopoly on knowing what the best interests are, at least, in such a system, people are "getting what they want" ...

just a start .... great (hard!) question ...

ap

Wonderful question, deserving of complicated book-length responses .... As (I think) Churchill said, democracy is a terrible form of government, but even so it's less terrible than every other possible form ... A few disorganized thoughts. I suppose some might hold that "ideal" forms of democracy would exist where voters are rational, educated, etc. (and historically various democracies have tried to restrict franchisement to those who fit various conditions -- such as having property, being literate, etc.). Of course, those forms of democracy tend to be seen these ways as involving those in power propagating their power and suppressing those below them ... Even if you're okay with restricting the vote in some such way, democracy is messy -- even very educated, rational people disagree. (Ask three professional philosophers, get four opinions ...) So I suppose that if the goal of government is to act "in the best interests of the people," what you would most like would be very wise, autocratic rulers --...

Why is propaganda considered bad? If a government wants to express a viewpoint

Why is propaganda considered bad? If a government wants to express a viewpoint why shouldn't that be allowed? Why do people have to be informed that their government is expressing a view rather than some other entity? For example the government made a series of news segments which it then gave to various news agencies who aired them without attributing their source to the government. I mean if those videos didn't contain any lies what is the problem?

Good question, and perhaps your last sentence hits the nail on the head. Perhaps in its earliest days the concept of "propaganda" didn't necessarily have a negative connotation -- it was just a matter of getting information 'out there', and surely there is nothing wrong with the idea of a gov't participating in and faciliting the distribution of information. But the concept these days DOES carry a negative connotation, precisely in the assumption that the information so conveyed is not reliable. When you refer to 'propaganda' these days you are implying that the information is biased, selective, misleading, etc. -- which it can be in all sorts of disturbing ways even if it falls short of being an outright "lie." For example the government might release a report citing a bunch of economists praising a particular economic strategy the gov't is backing -- and conveniently leaving out reference to the numerous other economists who argue it won't work. That's not a lie, exactly, but if you are expecting the gov't to be providing complete/objective information, it falls short of that. The great difficulty, naturally, is how to distinguish in any actual case (a) the gov't making a good, reliable argument for its policies and (b) the gov't releasing propaganda, i.e. something designed to convince and persuade but not necessarily on the basis of good, reliable argument ...

hope that's useful!
best,

ap

Good question, and perhaps your last sentence hits the nail on the head. Perhaps in its earliest days the concept of "propaganda" didn't necessarily have a negative connotation -- it was just a matter of getting information 'out there', and surely there is nothing wrong with the idea of a gov't participating in and faciliting the distribution of information. But the concept these days DOES carry a negative connotation, precisely in the assumption that the information so conveyed is not reliable. When you refer to 'propaganda' these days you are implying that the information is biased, selective, misleading, etc. -- which it can be in all sorts of disturbing ways even if it falls short of being an outright "lie." For example the government might release a report citing a bunch of economists praising a particular economic strategy the gov't is backing -- and conveniently leaving out reference to the numerous other economists who argue it won't work. That's not a lie, exactly, but if you are expecting the...

How can we justify using juries in our court systems when there are significant

How can we justify using juries in our court systems when there are significant problems of discrimination and stigmatization against certain groups? Don't such common biases in society undermine the role of the jury as a supposedly neutral judge of evidence?

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 ...

ap

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 ... ap

Should I care about the starving people in Africa? Am I responsible for feeding

Should I care about the starving people in Africa? Am I responsible for feeding them? With all the Christmas charity drives, is it not unfair to ignore the poor right here in my country and instead give money to people in distant country? I feel sorry for them, but I'm not sure about how morally obligated I am to donate my money.

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 --

ap

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 -- ap

If I discover someone is doing something unjust and ignore it, is it wrong for

If I discover someone is doing something unjust and ignore it, is it wrong for me to ignore it as 'not my business'?

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!

best, Andrew

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! best, Andrew

Bertrand Russell famously said "(1) that when the experts are agreed, the

Bertrand Russell famously said "(1) that when the experts are agreed, the opposite opinion cannot be held to be certain; (2) that when they are not agreed, no opinion can be regarded as certain by a non-expert; and (3) that when they all hold that no sufficient grounds for a positive opinion exist, the ordinary man would do well to suspend his judgment." If I abide by these rules, what reason is there for me voting in elections, or even having a political opinion at all?

Not just political opinions but most opinions probably .... But anyway: who determines who the experts are, within any given field? and most of the self-proclaimed experts would repudiate (3) above: they feel there IS sufficient grounds for opinion, and that those grounds support their opinion, so acc. to most 'experts' #2 is generally the case ... But then the response is: why is "certainty" a requirement for having an opinion, esp re elections? why not say one should simply reach the opinion that seems most reasonable to one in light of the information available, and vote for the person/proposition which seems right or most reasonable, whether or not it's 'certain'?

Not just political opinions but most opinions probably .... But anyway: who determines who the experts are, within any given field? and most of the self-proclaimed experts would repudiate (3) above: they feel there IS sufficient grounds for opinion, and that those grounds support their opinion, so acc. to most 'experts' #2 is generally the case ... But then the response is: why is "certainty" a requirement for having an opinion, esp re elections? why not say one should simply reach the opinion that seems most reasonable to one in light of the information available, and vote for the person/proposition which seems right or most reasonable, whether or not it's 'certain'?

I am an atheist fully in favour of a secular society. However I have recently

I am an atheist fully in favour of a secular society. However I have recently been alarmed by the burka ban recently put in place by the French government. This to me seems at best to be a draconian, knee jerk reaction to something that effects a very small number of people (apparently 1,900 women in France) and at worst thinly veiled racism. I am in no way in favour of the burka or any form of religious dress, but a carpet ban seems to me to be wrong. Surely it is better to live in a society in which such things are allowed, in the hope that one day the people wearing the burka feel they no longer need to. It is often cited as a reason for the ban that it stops oppression of muslim women, but it seems that taking away the option to wear something is a form of oppression also. As an atheist who wishes for as secular a society as possible, am I justified to be concerned about such a law and people lobbying for a similar ban in Britain?

It should be noted, first, that there is considerable disagreement even in the French Parliament regarding the ban on the wearing of the burqa; it has been suggested that the ban is a political ploy on the part of French President Nicolas Sarkozy. (For more on the internal disagreement regarding the law, see a recent article in The New York Times.) Despite the disagreement in the French Parliament, as noted in the Times article, it is likely that the bill will be passed by the French Senate in September and then become law. Does France thus risk, as Daniel Garrigue, the legislator who cast the sole vote against the law, said, slipping into totalitarianism? I think not; indeed, I think that the law is very much in keeping with France's secularism. The basic rationale for the law, which I think is untouched by the considerations advanced by Nussbaum and differs greatly from those considered by Andy in his response--although, to be sure, issues about security and the public space have been raised in debates about the issue in France and elsewhere--is that the burka itself violates the French conception of the dignity of the human being, which is essential to the French state. "Very simply," Sarkozy said, "we ought to affirm...the dignity of each person, regardless of their gender or the color of their skin or even their religious affiliation. It goes without saying that the wearing of the burqa is completely incompatible with such a conception of freedom." It surely doesn't go without saying. However, it seems to me very much in keeping with the spirit of France's constitution, and thereby reflects French law, with which Nussbaum herself fails to engage. (It is, of course, a further question whether the legislators have interpreted the French Constitution correctly; and yet another question whether this interpretation is morally correct.) As for whether there is reason to be concerned about lobbying for such a ban in Britain, the Times article referred to above cites a recent poll showing that 62% of British voters support such a ban. The question, however, is whether there are legal grounds for such a ban in Britain, and that I do not know.

haven't read the nussbaum piece alexander suggests; but i believe one of the motivations of the french law is a security one -- though not many french women wear them, there already have been incidents of men criminals/or terrorists wearing them to escape detection ... (there certainly have been many such in the mid-east where burks are more common) .... and there you have the public interest in security weighed against the individual 'right' to obscure oneself .... I can also see a case made that genuine participation in the civic life of a free society requiers being visible -- identifiable -- sure there's an important role for anonymity, but people's whose opinions are only expressed anonymously when they have nothign to fear from expressing them non-anonymously seem to me to be worth less ... (maybe) ... so that might be a second reason to reject such a ban (though weighs less heavily against the religious desire to wear one, I suppose) .... just some thoughts Andrew

Is there more to peace than the absence of war?

Is there more to peace than the absence of war?

that's a beautiful (and enormous) question! but is it just a semantic question -- ie how shall we use the word 'peace', should we apply it even to cases where there is merely the absence of war (eg relationship between Egypt/Israel) -- or is it something deeper? Pretty clearly (if not exhaustively) we could begin to identify any number of factors/aspect of 'peaceful' relationships -- starting with non-explicit violence, but then adding things like economic cooperation, cultural exchanges, inter-country travel etc. -- and decide (maybe arbitrarily) to restrict the word "peace" to cases where some of these are present, to some significant degree -- and say things like 'that's not REALLY peace between Egypt/Israel" -- but maybe not much is gained by decisions about how to use the word 'peace', once we begin identifying those factors which constitute genuine relationships between countries ....

best,

Andrew Pessin

that's a beautiful (and enormous) question! but is it just a semantic question -- ie how shall we use the word 'peace', should we apply it even to cases where there is merely the absence of war (eg relationship between Egypt/Israel) -- or is it something deeper? Pretty clearly (if not exhaustively) we could begin to identify any number of factors/aspect of 'peaceful' relationships -- starting with non-explicit violence, but then adding things like economic cooperation, cultural exchanges, inter-country travel etc. -- and decide (maybe arbitrarily) to restrict the word "peace" to cases where some of these are present, to some significant degree -- and say things like 'that's not REALLY peace between Egypt/Israel" -- but maybe not much is gained by decisions about how to use the word 'peace', once we begin identifying those factors which constitute genuine relationships between countries .... best, Andrew Pessin