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Suppose you have been wrongly accused of murder. You know you are innocent but

Suppose you have been wrongly accused of murder. You know you are innocent but you also know that the states attorney believes you are guilty. The attorney offers you 25 years if you plead guilty but If you go to trial you will be executed if you are found guilty. You are unsure of your chances of winning the case so to prevent the possibility of death you accept the plea. Does the fact that you chose the plea bargain mean that you acknowledge that it is better to have a plea bargain than not have a plea bargain? If it is better for you to have it than not have it then does that mean that someone who would consider such a plea bargain to be coercion is wrong?

Given that I'm in the rotten situation of being charged with a murder I didn't commit, it may be a good thing for me that I can avoid being executed. But I'm in a rotten situation; all things considered, my situation is bad. It's bad even if I would be a fool not to accept the plea deal. It's bad even if the possibility of plea deals is a good thing in general, and even if the prosecutor is acting entirely responsibly. (Let's suppose the murder I'm accused of is a particularly heinous crime and that the evidence is strong, even if it points to the wrong conclusion.) It could be good for the justice system overall that plea deals like this are possible, good for me from a narrow point of view that I can accept the deal, and yet, given that I'm innocent, a bad situation from my larger point of view.

What about coercion? If we use that word, most people would understand it to mean that the prosecutor shouldn't be putting me in this situation---that a responsible prosecutor wouldn't offer such a stark choice. That's a different question from whether the deal is a good one for me from one point of view or another. Though I'm innocent, the prosecutor might have strong reasons to think I'm not, and she might be following reasonable guidelines scrupulously. That would make the word "coercion" a poor fit. On the contrary, it could be that the prosecutor firmly believes that offering this deal has an element of mercy about it and that she privately hopes I'll accept it because though she thinks I'm guilty, she abhors the death penalty. Whether the deal is coercive is a question about whether the prosecutor is doing something wrong by offering it, and not simply a question about how things look from my own point of view.

Also: whether it's better for me to have the plea option than not to and whether it's coercive aren't the same question. Leave your specific example aside. Suppose we have a case where a reasonable punishment would be, say, 5 years. Suppose I'm innocent and the evidence is not overwhelming, but the prosecutor needs more successful prosecutions under his belt to keep the voters happy. Furthermore, the prosecutor doesn't like me. Suppose the deal I'm offered is that I get 8 years if I plead guilty and 20 years if I lose at trial. It might be that all things considered, I should accept the deal. But given the particulars, it sounds like coercion. The prosecutor is putting unreasonable pressure on me to accept a bad deal just because it suit his purposes.

There's no puzzle here, and this brings us to the final point. The thing about coercion is that it works by putting people in a situation where their options are wrongly narrowed and where given those bad options they are rational to accept a result that in a just world they wouldn't have been faced with. In the case we just described, it's better for me to have the unreasonable option of 8 years in jail than not to. But I'm still being coerced.

So maybe your case is coercion, and maybe it's not. That's a different question from whether the possibility of plea deals is good overall, and it's a different question from whether you are wise, all things considered to accept the deal.

Should the government regulate hateful Billboards? I once saw a billboard that

Should the government regulate hateful Billboards? I once saw a billboard that said the pope is the anti-Christ. I shrugged it off as a matter of free speech. But then someone pointed out that someone could advertise a billboard that expressed hatred for blacks. For whatever reason this has never happened. Most billboard owners dont want to accused of racism. So arguably society polices itself well enough without government intervention. Yet I suspect that there is another factor which is that billboards are owned by a very small amount of people because the high expense involved and the limited number of billboards. These folks don't want any bad attention. The same observation could be made about all aspects of the media. It is very difficult to get controversial or even outright racist materials despite the fact that many people are racist. (I suppose The Bell Curve is a notable exception) It seems like one "benefit" of concentrated wealth is that it promulgates political correctness to protect its...

This is a good question to raise. Unfortunately, Ian Kidd has implicitly offered us a false dilemma on the matter by suggesting that 'free speech' means either "anything goes" OR "we can limit free speech to those views [we judge to be] worth hearing/worth taking seriously."

There are many possible positions in between this false dichotomy. I myself am fairly comfortable with the USA Supreme Court's current view which is roughly that "speech that is not dangerous in an immediate physical way is broadly protected." Examples of unprotected speech include things like shouting "Fire!" in a crowded theater, incitement to immediate riotous violence, joking about 'bombs' at the airport, and things of this nature. Slander and libel are also unprotected under civil rather than criminal law (you can't say things that are damaging to people that you know to be untrue if you don't want them to sue you).

The problem with the standard suggested by Kidd: that we censor views we don't think are 'worth hearing, taking seriously, worth changing one's life in response to' is that the answers to those questions are subjective and 'in the eye of the beholder.' You and I may not think the 'anti-pope' message is worthwhile, but to someone who fears the influence of Catholicism it may be a vital message (after all, they were willing to pay enough money to buy a billboard for it). A Christian might think the 'pro-atheist' billboards mocking Christmas are 'hate speech' but the jaded agnostic would not think so. Democrats may believe that any criticism of President Obama are not 'worth considering', but Republicans would not think so (and vice versa when discussing President Bush).

Furthermore, it risks enthroning current cultural values and shutting off the possibility of future moral/political progress. Would segregation have ended if those sympathetic to it were given the right to judge which views were entitled to free speech? Would women have the right to vote if those who were offended by the idea of suffrage had the right to censor the women's suffrage movement?

Finally, censoring opinions we find 'unworthy' does nothing to disprove these ideas. It is an act of power, not an act of reason. If we censor anti-pope billboards we risk adding to the paranoia behind these ideas.

I suggest that we worry less about which ideas we judge to be 'worth hearing' and more about providing evidence and reasons against bad ideas. Of all people, philosophers should favor winning debates through reason rather than through censorship. For more on the topic of free speech, I recommend reading J. S. Mill's On Liberty.

Do polygamy bans violate the natural rights of bisexuals? In wake of the current

Do polygamy bans violate the natural rights of bisexuals? In wake of the current Supreme Court debate in the US that gay marriage bans violate due process and equal protection guarantees, I want to ask a philosopher whether these two legal concepts, due process and equal protection (which go by different names in different countries), are derived from natural philosophical rights. If so and assuming that they are similar in meaning, does that mean that at least philosophically speaking, polygamy irrespective of particular examples is NOT inherently immoral? The main philosophical argument for gay marriage from what I've heard is that since sexual orientation is a fundamental and largely unchangeable part of a person's nature, it is immoral to deny gays a right that straight people have. But what about bisexuals? Isn't a bisexual woman or man who is in a serious relationship with both a man and a woman at the same time just as deserving? I don't think it matters whether or not the other two members of the...

I'm not sure I have your question clearly in my sights, but I think it's something like this: As it stands the only kind of marriage many countries recognize is between one man and one woman. Advocates of same-sex marriage argue that for a variety of reasons, not least the fact that sexual orientation isn't simply a choice, we ought to recognize same-sex marriages as well. Otherwise, there's a serious issue of fairness and justice.

Your suggestion is that this leaves a particular injustice unaddressed: bisexual people who are in relationships with men and women at the same time. If same-sex marriage is the cure for discrimination against homosexual relationships, then, so the thought goes, polygamous marriage is the cure for the parallel injustice against bisexuals.

Here's why I'm not persuaded. Leave hetero- vs. homo- vs. bisexuality aside. Some people are in love with more than one person. Call people capable of such attachments polyamorous. In some cases, all concerned parties would be more than happy to from a common household and live together as spouses. Should we say that by not allowing polygamous marriage, the law discriminates unjustly against polyamorous people?

Before we get to the question itself, notice that it has nothing special to do with bisexuality. Most people are quite capable of being attracted to more than one person at once. From this point of view, someone who's in love with both a man and a woman at the same time is just another polyamorist. And there's no reason I know of to believe that the polyamorous desires of bisexuals are any stronger than anyone else's.

Now to the question. You said you wanted it understood as philosophical rather than legal, so here's the philosophical bit. It's one thing to say that the law shouldn't outlaw polyamorous relationships. It's another to say that it should broaden marriage to include n-adic relationships with n greater than 2. More generally: it's one thing to say that the law should allow certain kinds of conduct. It's another to say that it should give them special status. From "the law shouldn't interfere with polyamorous relationships" to "the law should allow polygamous marriage, with all the rights and privileges thereof" is not a mere skip and a jump. However, none of this has anything special to do with bisexuality.

We could put it this way: if people's polyamorous tendencies give us a good reason for legal polygamy, then the law shouldn't worry itself with the internal geometry of the configuration. I have no problem with the conditional itself. The "if" part, however, is where the rub comes. For while there are limits on what a legitimate legal system should allow or forbid, every remotely just legal system I know of is hip-deep in policy issues. There might be many good reasons for the law not to embrace all the tax, inheritance, child-custody, benefits, child-custody questions, and other sequlae of polygamous marriage even if it should also mostly keep its nose out of people's intimate relationships. In other words, there might be good policy reasons not to recognize polygamous marriage. But even if we agree (as I do) that the law should recognize same-sex marriage, the fact that bisexual people are amongst the polyamorous doesn't give us any special reason to recognize polygamy.

It seems I am chronically unable to get my questions posted here. Being stubborn

It seems I am chronically unable to get my questions posted here. Being stubborn as I am, I´ll try with another one: An Oxford professor of law let a question hanging at the end of a lecture some months ago: Whether or not it is possible to clearly distinguish when the interpretation of a statement is based on what is actually implied, and when it is not. One thing is obviously analyzing the literal meaning of a statement in isolation, but few rules are without exception even when no literal exception is provided. The example given was somewhat similar to this: 1. An army officer gives a soldier a command to bomb a vehicle. 2. The soldier later observes that the vehicle transports school children, and not enemy combatants, as the soldier assumed it would. Both the soldier and the officer are familiar to international law, prohibiting indiscriminate or deliberate attacks on civilians. The directive however is in its literal form without exception. Can one really say that regard to the law is implied in...

No instruction is without exception, and modern armies do try to educate their soldiers in the rules of war, especially when it comes to harming noncombatants. Whether they do enough in this area I could not say, but the example is not accurate in its description of how armies actually operate. It is not on the whole armies that deliberately attack civilians but other sorts of combatants, although armies are often too lax in their precautions against harming civilians, no doubt.

If a person pushes a fat man into an on coming trolley and in doing so prevents

If a person pushes a fat man into an on coming trolley and in doing so prevents five people from being killing should that person be tried for murder? Is the law clear on whether this was murder? If it clear then wouldn't it be clear that switching tracks to avoid the death of five people but leading to the death of one person is also murder? Or does the law objectively determine that the "intent" in that instance is different than in the other instance?

Good questions. The "fat man" and "switch" cases you described have been discussed ad nauseum in philosophy and more recently in psychology. These discussions have focused almost exclusively on the different intentions of the person deciding whether to act so as to kill one and save five. In "fat man" the person intends to harm and kill the one as a means to save the five (saving the five is also intended), whereas in "switch" the person intends to save the five knowing, but not intending, to kill the one as a side-effect.

I think this difference would in fact be significant in a court of law, where I doubt prosecutors would press charges in the case of "switch" (and I doubt juries or judges would convict--of what crime exactly?), but they likely would in "fat man" (e.g., assault and battery, perhaps manslaughter). I actually think the law would be getting things roughly right here. An important part of law is preventing risky and dangerous behavior. In "switch" there is little risk of harming more people than by doing nothing. In "fat man" it is far from clear that the person is justified (as much as he'd need to be) in believing he will save five rather than risking killing one as well as five dying. And in any case, we don't want to encourage people to risk killing other people when they think it might save more people (oops--but what about war?)

Alas, I've tried to test whether people's moral intuitions are being properly influenced by their epistemic intuitions (about whether the person is justified in believing their action will work), and the results did not come out the way I'd hoped (but they raised some other interesting questions). But your question raises another under-discussed confound in the cases. Typically we think that it is morally impermissible to disobey a law (at least a just law). So, if people are asked whether pushing is morally permissible in "fat man", there is one more reason to say 'yes'--that it is likely illegal--than in "switch".

Should law enforcement be allowed to lie to suspects during interrogation?

Should law enforcement be allowed to lie to suspects during interrogation?

This is an important and difficult question. If we answer in the affirmative, then suspects are likely to know that they may be lied to by law enforcement agents. Still, they may nonetheless often be fooled or tripped up (they don't know when an officer is lying and when she is being truthful), and this in turn could lead to more convictions of guilty people which in turn would reduce recidivism and increase deterrence, thereby reducing the victimization of citizens by criminals.

I would think that a practice of telling lies that may be helpful for finding the truth (e.g., by eliciting a full confession) is justifiable if the reduction in crime it engenders is sufficiently large -- and this is quite large. Such a practice should be carefully circumscribed and supervised to minimize harm and to suppress abuse. And the lies should be revealed to those who end up not being charged -- and revealed also to those who will be charged, and before their trial.

Circumscription is important. Lies should not be very painful (e.g., telling a suspect falsely that his beloved mother has died) nor risk provoking a false confession (e.g., telling a suspect falsely that his buddy has implicated him and that he can save himself from the death penalty only by admitting to the crime in question). An example of a permissible lie would be telling a suspect falsely that a certain witness to what happened has survived and will be able to testify.

As a student of law with a vivid interest in logic (in a broad sense), I find

As a student of law with a vivid interest in logic (in a broad sense), I find myself intrigued by the possibility of combining these two subjects. From what I so far have found, the implementation of the latter field of thought to legal discipline is mostly only done with regard to informal logic, with fairly simple overviews of the rules of inference etc.; the scope is mostly one aimed to serve the practical law-man in, say, procedural contexts. The ones that serve the academic community, seem not to be quite technical. Yet, the legal system seems highly infested with what logic is concerned. The relation between propositions of facts and norms, the norms being constructed with the help of sentential connectives, say, material conditionals or bi-conditionals to name just a few. Yet other phenomena could be named: judgments and other propositional attitudes, the normative "it is the case that", whose descriptive accuracy depends on what legal institution one is in(e.g. penal-law demands higher...

I would hope that my colleagues might be able to answer your question better than I can with respect to the law and logic in philosophy, but I can try to give you some pointers to the literature on the law and logic in artificial intelligence.

The first pointer is not so far removed from philosophy. My former colleague in the School of Law at the University at Buffalo, L. Thorne McCarty, applied deontic logic to legal issues, often citing the work of the philosopher Hector-Neri Castañeda. See, e.g., McCarty, L. Thorne (1983), "Permissions and Obligations", Proceedings of the 8th International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence (IJCAI-83; Karlsruhe, W. Germany) (Los Altos, CA: Morgan Kaufmann): 287-294.

There is also a journal, Artificial Intelligence and Law, which occasionally has papers that you might find relevant.

How does one draw the line between the sort of morality a legal system should

How does one draw the line between the sort of morality a legal system should enforce, and the sort of morality the legal system should leave to its own devices? It seems that there are some cases where the law should clearly enforce morality (special laws against child abuse, for example), yet there are clearly other cases where the law doesn't and shouldn't have much to say (for example, the law does not systematically punish people who lie to their spouses, and most would probably argue that it shouldn't). But what is the distinction between the two sides of the boundary?

Whether the law should regulate immorality, and not just harmful behavior, is the issue about whether legal moralism is defensible. A classical liberal view (sometimes associated with John Stuart Mill) is that liberty may be restricted to prevent harm, but not to enforce morality as such. In evaluating legal moralism, one important question is what would count as harmless immorality. Legal moralism used to be debated about whether the state should prohibit pornography or homosexuality. But, of course, it is questionable whether pornography or homosexuality is per se immoral. You mention the case of infidelity. It’s an interesting question whether infidelity causes harm. One might think so, in which case it presents questions of harm prevention, as well as legal moralism. Most would agree that it is immoral, but many liberals would deny that the state should regulate. A clearer case of harmless wrongdoing might be a case in which a minor promise is broken but with no ill effect or someone borrows a friend’s property without his permission. Here too many would think that the law has no business intervening. But we might want to distinguish two different explanations of this fact. On one view, there simply is no reason to regulate immorality as such. On another view, there is reason to regulate immorality (to improve the moral quality of the world), but there may be even stronger reason not to regulate if legal intervention is an inefficient tool and causes more harm than good. The first view rules out legal moralism, but the second does not. If there are some cases where there is sufficient reason, on balance, to regulate harmless wrongdoing, then that provides some support for the second view. Some might think that punishing unsuccessful criminal attempts (cases in which it was only luck that prevented the completion of the criminal attempt) was justified, even though they caused no harm. Though harmless, someone might insist that criminal attempts risk harm and that harm prevention allows us to regulate the risky as well as the harmful. Other cases of harmless immorality that many would think we should legally regulate include desecration of the dead and bestiality. A consistent rejection of legal moralism would presumably have to abstain from regulating such harmless wrongs. If we find this kind of abstention hard to accept, we may be attracted to a form of legal moralism that says that there is always some reason to regulate immorality but that whether regulation is on balance best depends upon various other considerations, such as the gravity of the immorality, the prospects for successful prevention of immorality, and the costs of various kinds in regulation.

Would it be ethical for law enforcement agents to specifically target people who

Would it be ethical for law enforcement agents to specifically target people who are on social security for violations of drug laws?

No. That would be a form of discrimination and discrimination is both illegal and morally wrong.

Can ethics be a sufficient condition for becoming a lifelong "law-abiding"

Can ethics be a sufficient condition for becoming a lifelong "law-abiding" citizen? What ethical standards could be there to ensure life under legal boundaries? Or if one needs some very basic legal knowledge to achieve that being, what combination of ethics and law is most sensible for someone not pursuing a career in law? Or perhaps the question should be posed as, "How much law do we need to know in our lives, and how much do we use ethics to fill the rest of our moral consciousness?" Thank you!

This is a very interesting nest of questions!! The relation between law and morality has received considerable discussion from philosophers and is a fascinating topic. I treat the first question that you raise, and then turn to the very different question with which you conclude.

I myself am not inclined to think that being law abiding has anything to do with one's moral consciousness. In order to be law-abiding, one need only obey the laws. And in order to do this, one need only know the laws, one needn't even understand them. So even basic legal knowledge is not a condition for being a law-abiding citizen. Indeed, it may even be the case that law and morality can come into conflict, in which case moral consciousness would not only not be a sufficient condition for being a law-abiding citizen, it might even lead one to break laws. (Cases of civil disobedience are relevant here. If you haven't read it already, I recommend that you take a look at Thoreau's "Resistance to Civil Government," just one of many pieces relevant to the topic, but a classic that merits being read.) Although one might respond that at least a minimal moral consciousness is necessary to recognize the authority of the state, I'm not even inclined to think that this is the case.

The question of how much law we need to know--or perhaps better, should know--in order to be good citizens, and what relation our moral consciousness has to being a good citizen, is a very different question indeed. I'm inclined to think that the more one knows about the laws of the land in which one lives, the better a citizen--because a better-informed citizen--one will be. However, one may not therefore come to be a law-abiding citizen, especially if one comes to recognize that there are conflicts between one's moral commitments and the law, in which case one may have to choose between obedience to the law and one's moral commitments. (This conflict receives an excellent treatment in Sophocle's play, Antigone.) Nevertheless, I'm inclined to think that being a good citizen--as opposed to merely a law-abiding citizen--requires that one recognize the possibility of conflicts between the requirements of law and those of morality, and to try to think through how those conflicts should be resolved, if and when they do arise. How to resolve such conflicts, though, is a deep and difficult question, that goes back to the very beginning of Western philosophy, for it is engaged in Plato's early diaglogue Crito: but regardless of how one resolves this sort of question, I'm inclined to think that reflection on it will actually make one a better, because more reflective and engaged, citizen (although, again, such reflection may not lead one necessarily to be a law-abiding citizen.)