Advanced Search

Some people say that "safety" is a very important thing and that the main

Some people say that "safety" is a very important thing and that the main function of the state is to promote (e.g., liberty and) safety. I think this makes no sense because one can only be safe from something, and one is never completely safe, only some of our goods are safe. So the important thing is not "safety", but whatever else is important. And it is not "safety" that the state should promote, but the keeping of our most important goods.

Great observations. "Safety" itself, in the abstract, does seem an odd goal or ideal for a state or person. You suggest the focus should be on "our most important goods" and suggest that the safety of those good (which might include personal integrity, opportunities to flourish in ways that persons choose freely, the freedom to raise families, the opportunities to pursue education, the arts, to engage in trade, and so on) is what is duly important. I might be wrong, but your observations suggest you are taking issue with libertarian accounts of the state, as libertarians argue for what might be called a minimal state --a state that governs the least possible (using the least amount of coercive power) compatible with the guarantee of basic rights. Those rights will, themselves, be pretty modest in number, but they usually include persons' rights to be free from violence and illegitimate coercion (e.g. illicit force and threats from other persons). Ironically, in order to truly secure even such basic rights might involve a fairly substantial role for the state.

If you are interested in history, Thomas Hobbes might be very interesting for you to study. At the base of his justification for the state (and here I am putting things so basically, an expert on Hobbes might have a heart attack) is the individual's entering into agreement with other individuals not to threaten each other with premature violent death. In other words, the basis motive for forming a society (or social contract) is safety. GIven such a starting point, however, Hobbes' state can look quite robust, when he is through with his analysis in his classic book Leviathan.

A modest PS: I think "safety" should not be underestimated as an important condition for the practice of philosophy itself. For a healthy philosophical exchange, I think one needs to secure (within some limits) the safety of airing quite radical viewpoints and to cultivate a willingness to entertain and argue about positions that might seem (on the surface, anyway) to be offensive and profoundly counter-cultural. I add "within some limits" as I believe there are some positions (e.g. to take an example from the day I am writing this when terrorists killed over 140 students in Kenya) that do not deserve sympathy. The killing of students under those conditions were (in my view) cases of murder. No lover of wisdom that is to say no philosopher can endorse mass killings of the innocent. That is where SAFETY comes in and should make it UNSAFE for those seeking to kill those whose safety we (all those who are committed to non-violence) must protect.

So, to summarize these later reflections I agree that SAFETY as an abstract idea needs to be subordinated to (or understood in terms of) important goods. One of those goods is the ability of students to flourish. Because of that good, we need to secure the safety of those students and this means making it unsafe for those who are threatening such students.

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.

Just what is exploitation? Is it not unequal agreements between two parties in

Just what is exploitation? Is it not unequal agreements between two parties in which one has a higher status than the other in which the lower of the parties agrees to a social or legal contract merely for the possibility of future equality or future hypothetical greater status? Is not the unequal ability of one person to capitalize on another the very definition of exploitation and why is it so bad? In other words, does social Darwinism dictate our lives whether we like it or know it or not?

I am sure you are right that the strong tend to prevail over the weak, if that is what you mean by social Darwinism.But that does not mean it is justified. If parties need to come to an agreement then they should freely choose what is in that agreement, and any imbalance of power is likely as you say to interfere with this. It is not necessarily bad since what the stronger party wants to do may be in the best interests of everyone, or it may be the most just action overall. On the other hand, it is likely to be whatever the stronger party thinks is in its interests, and that is unlikely to be fair. That is what is wrong with exploitation.

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

Should love between a man and woman be diminished in any way by differing

Should love between a man and woman be diminished in any way by differing political viewpoints? My boyfriend and I both think politics is a minor part of life that neither of us gets directly involved in but when we do speak about it he isn't afraid to philosophize about his radical political views. As it follows, he is opposed to marriage including straight marriage and especially gay marriage because he does not accept the legitimacy of any state or institution. I don't mind spending the rest of our lives together unmarried because this in no way negatively impacts my life even though my political views are rather different. I disagree with his stance on gay marriage because I have gay friends but this does not diminish my love since we are both straight, so do political views matter when it comes to love?

Very, very interesting. You are asking about something that is perhaps a matter that is more personal and intimate than political or a matter of public philosophy (or philosophy about public life), but I offer these thoughts with some hesitation about responding to what is probably quite personal. In the West, historically (from the Medieval period on) marriage has been principally been understood as that which is established (and constituted) by two persons So, while there has been a massive tradition of arranged marriages and marriage has often been understood in terms of the transfer of property over generations in the west, at the heart of the very idea of marriage is that it involves a commitment between a man and a woman (or, as we should say today, between two persons). The role of the church and state has (from an historical point of view) been conceived of as RECOGNIZING marriage --rather than establishing marriage or constituting it. So, while in Eastern Christianity, the church is understood to ESTABLISH a marriage, in the west (the inheritors of Latin-speaking Europe, i.e. most of Europe except Greece, Russian and countries where Eastern Orthodoxy is prominent), in the WEST (historically) your marriage with your partner is between the two of you as individuals (or whether you as individuals consent to being a couple). So, in a sense, if he and you are committed to a life-long love with each other, you are (from a western point of view) ALREADY MARRIED. The state and politics only come in to recognize this, to celebrate this and protect the union.

Is any society that uses money in some degree a capitalist society, even the ex

Is any society that uses money in some degree a capitalist society, even the ex-Soviet Union? I hear arguments everyday from others and the media that a free society must necessarily be a capitalist one but I think that is just an illusion because the government, business, and other institutions with power set out all the laws and norms for this unofficial ideology of capitalism to exist, not individuals. Most people in capitalist societies have no other choice but to spend their entire lives accumulating capital instead of doing more important things like being self-sufficient and reading philosophy. I live in a capitalist country that I don't want to be part of, so what should I do? I don't have enough time or power to change or overthrow my country's capitalist system and I don't want to leave to move to another country. Is the only solution to separate myself from society completely just like Thoreau did at Walden Pond and live off the land?

Your questions and observations are fascinating. On the first matter about money and capitalism, the answer seems to be that the bare use of money in a society would not (by itself) make it capitalist, but when you add the qualifier "in some degree" I think one must admit that the boundary between capitalist or free-market economies and those that are not can be vague. So, perhaps a more subtle response should be that insofar as citizens have money (whether this is earned or conferred on the basis of need or some other condition) that they can use to acquire different goods at their discretion (having alternatives they can select) without state coercion then that society has ("in some degree") a free market (or, if you like, it is a society in which capital can or does exchange owners in non-coercive or free trade). But, as long as we are not being too committed to such nuances, a non-captialist society (such as a socialist society) might still be thought of as non-capitalist even if it did allow for some free market exchanges, and then there are cases like modern China which are becoming difficult to classify.

China seems to have increasing capitalist elements but within a single-party, state-controlled system that seeks to secure a semi-socialist control over wealth and a stern control over governance that reserves the power to control private and corporate property.

On whether a free society must be capitalist, I want to respond with something super-interesting and surprising that will repay your taking the time to send in this fascinating prompt, HOWEVER I suggest that this comes down to definitions, e.g. if we build into the concept of "freedom" the freedom for persons to engage in the exchange of goods based on their mutual consent (when the state only intervenes to punish fraud and to sustain the conditions essential for there to be a market, etc), then it seems that a free society will have to turn out to involve a free-market (or capitalism). But Marx and others have critiqued such a notion of 'freedom' and introduced competing concepts of the individual, our needs, capacities, and so on that would either eliminate or severely restrict capitalism.

I think you certainly are raising a frustrating matter: what does one do as an individual when one is in a society whose social and economic stature run counter to your own values? And while I am afraid I would not be very good at being "self-sufficient" I think we both would prefer to read philosophy on Walden Pond rather than work on Wall Street. You might be looking for a more radical counter-proposal but I think there is a middle ground in your situation and those like you (or us). One can protest or not participate in many of the capitalist or consumerist aspects of our culture and support cultural counter-measures (on some campuses in the USA some students set up free shops in which you can donate and exchange goods, pretty much on your honor), though opting out all the way would be difficult, as it was for Thoreau himself (who relied on some assistance and so was not racially self-sufficient in all respects --though I could be wrong on that). But I would add this bit: you write about "being self-sufficient and reading philosophy"....what about being part of a group of people who (working together) are self-sufficient and are philosophical? That may seem like a pipe dream, but historically the longest running tradition that was (internally) non-capitalist (or socialist) and focussed on shared work and study (theology and philosophy) is the monastic tradition (especially Christian and Buddhist). There have been very wealthy Christian monasteries, but there have also been those and Buddhist monasteries that were rigorously anti-private property. If you can find such a community that is focussed on philosophy and not far from Walden Pond, I think you may get quite a few visitors, including myself.

One of the major criticisms that many cite against increased spending on "social

One of the major criticisms that many cite against increased spending on "social safety nets" in America is that individuals in other countries are much worse off than even the poorest in America. While I have always been very supportive of policies that increase social mobility and economic opportunity, I have often found troubling countering this argument. While one could invoke such principles as equality or special compassion for fellow Americans, I can't seem to invoke another argument for why we should care so much about the plight of poor Americans. Does such an argument exist? Or are we forced to rely on those aforementioned principles, which not everyone may accept?

The proposition that countries with safety nets have poorer poor people than those without is generally false, but even were it true there would need to be some connection between the safety net and the level of poverty before it could be concluded that this was a relevant issue. It would have to be argued that safety nets are bad for the economy and so bad for poor people. This might be true but even if it is that does not mean that there is no way of devising a safety net in America which would avoid the link.

We should care for poor people because they are people and they are poor, in the same way that we should care for sick people because they are people and they are sick. The issue is not whether we should care for them but what is the best way of going about it.

Some have suggested that Iraq can never exist as a state unless people identify

Some have suggested that Iraq can never exist as a state unless people identify first as Iraqi citizens, thus providing a point of unity for a population otherwise split by ethnic and religious differences. But citizenship, it seems to me, is incompatible with traditions like certain forms of Islam that conceive of politics and governance as functions of religious law. That is, one's allegiance is always with religion/sect and not a secular state or institutions, which are considered inherently illegitimate or subordinate. How would a political philosopher frame an argument for religious fundamentalists to embrace national citizenship?

There certainly are Muslim political theorists who would agree with what you say, and who insist on subsuming everything under religion, including issues of nationalism and government. Even sport is regarded critically as an institution that can lead people to identify with areligious entities and people. There is nothing uniquely Islamic about such a view, many religions not unnaturally regard our relationship with God as our most important relationship and interpret everything else as linking up with this relationship in some way, if it is to be worth pursuing.

Religious fundamentalists as you describe them do not have to accept such a view. Other aspects of our lives may also be regarded as important, although not perhaps as important as our religious life and all that goes with it. John Locke wanted Roman Catholics in Britain to be denied equal rights with Anglicans since he assumed the former, unlike the latter, would take their orders from the Pope, a foreign potentate. I am old enough to remember in the United States some Americans being disinclined to vote for John F. Kennedy since they thought he would take orders from the Pope. Obviously a religious individual would need to take account of the opinions of the religious authorities, yet whether they would need to subsume all their allegiances to those the authorities support is moot. It does not happen in practice and there is no need why it should occur in theory either.

What have political philosophers said concerning the idea that money equals

What have political philosophers said concerning the idea that money equals speech? It seems to me that money is a means of exchange and carries no inherent ideas or appeals, perhaps other than the metamessage that larger the sum the greater the purchaser's potential means and influence. A purchase is not persuasion. It seems to me that money allows (in the case of a televised political ad, for example) for a message to be developed, produced, distributed, etc. Money, then, facilitates speech, but is not itself speech. What arguments have I missed?

I doesn't seem to me that you've missed anything. The claim 'money equals speech' is best understood, I think, as a shorthand way of making the point you make here about money, that it "allows (in the case of a televised political ad, for example) for a message to be developed, produced, distributed, etc. Money, then, facilitates speech."

Do philosophers shy away from discussing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or

Do philosophers shy away from discussing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or Jewish culture in general for fear of upsetting American Jews in academia?

Despite what you suggest, those topics are much discussed, and a wide range of views is presented.

You imply that American Jews have a common line on these issues, but of course they do not and can be found on all sides.

Pages