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Having received training mostly as an economist, I wonder whether why

Having received training mostly as an economist, I wonder whether why utilitarianism has a such a strong grip on thinking. Yet, while I do not fully like neither what goes into utilitarianism nor what comes out of it, I have not been able to find any other school that would be equally appealing. Just now, I have come across the preface to "A Theory of Justice" by John Rawls, who, at the time, claimed that there was not equal player to match utilitarianism and that intutition would be the only way out. According to your expertise, are there such schools, and which ones would you recommend? Apart from Rawls himself, I have the feeling that Kant and non-anthropocentric ethics might be possible candidates, is that so?

Utilitarianism makes the sum-total of happiness or average happiness the final end of human activity, what we should maximize.

Nearby competitors may disagree about the aggregation part, holding, for example, that we should maximize not the average happiness but rather the lowest level of happiness, or that we should equalize happiness. Or they may disagree with the happiness part (may hold, for instance, that love or knowledge have an importance that is not reducible to their contribution to happiness).

All such "consequentialist" views can be applied to human agents (to the question of how they ought to conduct themselves) and also to human societies (to the question of how these should be structured and governed). So utilitarianism is one of many consequentialist views.

There are also non-consequentialist views. In regard to human agents, there are views that guide them not toward making the world better but rather toward making oneself the best one can be (virtue ethics) or toward doing one's duties (deontological ethics). In regard to societies, too, there are non-consequentialist views, for example ones that give more weight to harms a society's rules mandate or authorize than to equivalent harms that these rules merely foreseeably but contingently bring about.

Rawls's theory is about how societies should be structured and governed. He is not a utilitarian; but I would classify him as a consequentialist: he holds that society should be governed by whatever public criterion of justice will best fulfill citizens' higher-order interests, especially those of the people whose higher-order interests are least well fulfilled.

Hi all,

Hi all, In his response to a question on the justice on mercy on December 6, 2012(http://www.askphilosophers.org/question/4957), Dr. Thomas Pogge argued that he does not necessarily equate mercy with a deprivation of justice and gave three reasons for justifying his argument. I understand the reasons he gave, but am confused by the example he uses and how that example which functions to illustrated the third reasons actually illustrates the point of the third reason itself; if "the absence of this excuse is very difficult to prove beyond a reasonable doubt," how does that lead to the recognition that a, "rare, morally valid excuse in the law might be a bad idea? And how does recognizing that a "rare, morally valid excuse in the law might be a bad idea" lead to greater opportunities for criminals to escape punishment? I find the entire issue of justice and mercy particularly topical given the recent tragedies of the shootings in the United States and the gang rape situation in India and how an argument...

The three reasons I gave were meant to establish the intermediate conclusion that the criminal law cannot perfectly anticipate all realistically possible cases, cannot be designed so that it always yields the correct result by declaring guilty all and only those who really are guilty.

As my third reason for this I adduced the example of rare but morally valid excuses that should nonetheless not be recognized in law. Here is a concrete case. I was caught by a speed camera going 47 mph in a residential area with a 30 mph speed limit. I was going so fast because I was trying to get back home quickly because I had this sudden fear that, lost in thought, I had somehow turned on the gas dial of my kitchen stove without igniting the gas. I feared that gas was filling my apartment, posing a substantial risk to people living above and below. So I drove faster than legal in the reasonable belief that the risk posed by my speeding was very much smaller than the risk posed by my possibly gas-releasing stove. When I got home, I found that all my stove's dials were in the "off" position. Nonetheless, I had done the right, responsible thing by getting home quickly to avert possible danger from my neighbors. So I should not be punished for my speeding violation; I have a really good excuse.

But now suppose the law recognized this excuse, exempting people like me from punishment. Many speeders would then invoke this excuse in order to avoid punishment. And it would be next to impossible to identify those who are lying and to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that they are lying. It is better, then, morally better, not to recognize that excuse in the law. This leads to a few undeserved punishments (of people for whom speeding really was the right and responsible thing to do) but it also avoids a very much larger number of false acquittals of people who are willing to lie their way out of a speeding ticket. It is much better that a few people like myself pay an undeserved fine than that our speed limits become all but unenforceable.

The upshot is then that I do get punished pursuant to a law that is exactly as it should be. And yet, my punishment is undeserved. In this context, an exceptional act of mercy (on the part of a police office or judge) makes sense. I am then spared a legally warranted punishment, but not unjustly so. Rather than coming at the expense of justice, mercy here actually promotes justice.

Should it be permissible, both legally and ethically, for governments to censor

Should it be permissible, both legally and ethically, for governments to censor material either in print or online that instructs how to commit violent crimes (e.g. "How to Make Plastic Explosives" or "How to Poison the Water Supply")? Are such materials really considered to be "Speech?" Many Western democratic societies allow hate speech, and incitement is only ever prosecuted if it calls for direct violence against a particular group or individual; instructional manuals need not call for violence against people or any action at all. But at the same time, people like Timothy McVeigh have carried out acts of mass violence by using such manuals.

The legal question varies from country to country, and with regard to the US there is a case to be made that the kinds of instructions you have in mind are speech and therefore protected by the First Amendment. Morally speaking, the case for considering it permissible to prohibit the publication of such instructions seems overwhelmingly strong. There is no legitimate public interest in having such information widely available, and there is a considerable danger to the public from such wide availability. So the public is better served if such publications are prohibited. Here it is important to formulate the prohibition narrowly and with some precision because a broad or vaguely worded statute can easily be used to criminalize or intimidate legitimate political opposition.

Is mercy on an offender a lack of justice? That is, if an offender is treated

Is mercy on an offender a lack of justice? That is, if an offender is treated mercifully, as in, given less punishment than is warranted, doesn't that mean the offender is given less justice than is warranted?

One straightforward way to see that this is not so starts from the realization that the criminal law cannot perfectly anticipate all realistically possible cases. This is so for at least three reasons. First, human powers of anticipation are limited. Second, a criminal law doing justice to all realistically possible cases would be too complex for citizens and officials to comprehend. Third, such a criminal law would also be impossible to administer fairly because it would give criminals too many opportunities to escape punishment. Example: recognizing a rare, morally valid excuse in the law might be a bad idea if the absence of this excuse is very difficult to prove beyond a reasonable doubt.

We can expect, then, that in some cases punishments warranted under even the best-designed and -administered criminal law are excessive. In those cases, at least, mercy would not be unjust. For example, we may pardon an offender because we are convinced that he has a morally valid excuse that the law, for good reasons, fails to recognize (i.e., does not allow judges and juries to take into account).

What is the difference between justice and morality? Evidently, the concepts

What is the difference between justice and morality? Evidently, the concepts overlap each other, and in many cases they appertain to each other. I have made some observation, though I am not quite sure whether they are of any relevance, in terms of difference. Firstly, it appears to me that morality deals with the means of an action, in most of the cases, rather than the ends, where the motive of your action is of major, if not absolute, significance (whereof Kant suggested good will as the basis of morality, or something done out of reverence of law). In justice, however, the means are scarcely ever mentioned, and all we hear about is the ends. It appears to me that some ends are in themselves the measure of justice, independent of intention. Also, the word justice, apparently, from the word "jus", which means law, which certainly does make it easier to approach. However, it does not appear to be the case that law is equal to justice. Laws can, supposedly, also be unjust. It really bothers me that I...

Your frustration is understandable! In English, we used to have fine distinctions between the terms ethics and morality, duties and obligations, labor and work, recklessness and negligence..... but we English-speakers seem less keen about the finer distinctions at work. One might easily conflate the terms just and moral; saying a law is unjust seems the equivalent of claiming that a law is immoral (or the establishment of the law is morally wrong). But, there is still some distinctions to observe: justice usually pertains to matters of governance and human rights. And there are different domains of justice: Distributive justice concerns the distribution of goods and burdens; Retributive justice refers to matters of punishment; Restorative justice refers to compensation for past wrongful harms, and so on. Such forms of justice are related to rights, distributive justice may concern itself with a person's having a right to health care, retributive justice needs to address respecting or violating a person's right to a fair trial. What we call morality can certainly enter into different domains of justice or specific forms of inquiry about what is just or unjust in war, for example ("Just War Theory"). But morality is, in a sense, broader than matters of governance. In a class on morality, one might take up the moral permissibility of abortion, capital punishment, gay marriage, physician assisted suicide all of which have implications for governance but in a moral inquiry there tends to be less interest in the actual legality of an act. So, you and your friend may fully agree that abortion is legally permitted in the USA, prostitution is legal in Las Vagas, pornography is available to adults on the internet, and you and your friend may have compelling arguments and objections of the morality of each of these domains. What is known as moral psychology is especially concerned with the nature and value of motives: pride, compassion, empathy, anger, greed, lust, envy, jealousy, love, hate...

You suggestion about means of an action versus ends is interesting, though in the context of many laws concerning life and property, motives (what you are calling 'means' I think) come into play. When someone is arrested on the grounds of theft, we need to know if the subject had bad motives (a guilty mind or mens rea) or she was deceived and innocent (she took a bike that was not hers, but she thought it was hers because her Aunt had explained to her that the Aunt bought the bike and had given it to her as a gift. There is at least one troubling area of law, though, where motives are ignored, and that occurs in statutory laws. In statutory rape (an adult has sex with someone under the age of consent), someone may be found guilty of rape even if the girl he had sex with was disguised as a senior citizen in an assisted living, retirement community. I can understand why we have statutory laws, but see them as problematic.

Thank you for your engaging question! I hope you are less bothered after considering my suggestions.

I intend to write an assignment (approx. 20 pages) about justice and economic

I intend to write an assignment (approx. 20 pages) about justice and economic doctrines (among other things, distribution of wealth) where I will attempt to explain/elucidate how different economical doctrines(capitalism, social democracy and socialism) attempt to carry out a fair and just society. All of this would, of course, also requiree to explicit how these economical doctrines perceive justice in the first place. And by this, I may also very well define justice on a ore philosophical context, as I am dealing with what pertains to moral philosophy. Overall, I would like to give a thorough, but concise account of the subject. Cutting to the chase, do you have any suggestions on possible sources of book that I make use of? By the way, I have already made plenty of considerations on possible sources, though I thought 'better safe than sorry.' Thank you in advance!

Dear Ambitious Student - What an assignment! What you propose to write could indeed be a book instead of a research paper, so my hat is off to you and your ambitions. As a piece of advice, you might want to check with your professor (before the assignment is due) to see if there is a way to meet the requirements of the assignment, but evaluate the issues in a more specific way. This might help you to narrow down your research. In am not sure, for example, you need to do a whole review of moral theory in order to write a paper about economic justice.

As far as resources, I recommend beginning with the online (and free!) Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Perhaps begin by searching articles in justice or economics. Besides the numerous articles, be sure to make use of the bibliographies at the end of them. You will get a sense of who the major names are, both historically and today. Good luck!

I'm in the middle of writing a thesis on tourists negotiating confrontations

I'm in the middle of writing a thesis on tourists negotiating confrontations with poverty while on holiday in third world countries. It is easy to see that these confrontations touch on ethics and justice as the tourists are (relatively) rich, their hosts are poor and tourism is about enjoying luxuries (hedonism) while around the 'tourist bubbles' people are struggling. Considering this I focus on how tourists 'legitimise themselves', using discourse analysis (which discursive techniques do tourists employ) following Foucault on power and truth within constructivism, making sidesteps to Baumann (exclusion), Stanley Cohen (states of denial) and Zizek (cultural capitalism). Do you have any more ideas on how I could elaborate on these issues using philosophy? Please point me in the right direction of interesting (modern, postmodern, critical) philosophies!

What a fascinating project!

It seems as though you are very good on resources! I have only two suggestions that you may (or may not!) wish to explore: you might consider how to assess and perhaps how to educate tourists on issues of global justice. Amartya Sen's The Idea of Justice and Martha Nussbaum's Creating Capabilities might be good resources and provide an accessible set of terms to consider. It may be that tourists to places that are poverty ridden do want to help alleviate these conditions, and could be directed to make (an at least symbolic but perhaps substantial) contribution to making lives better. You also might include some attention on how tourists might gaze (and interact) with those they encounter, taking into account Jacques Lacan's notion of the gaze as articulated in The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis.

Good wishes on your project!

Everyone agrees that slavery is evil. Everyone knows that slavery existed. Is

Everyone agrees that slavery is evil. Everyone knows that slavery existed. Is there any understanding of why it existed? Is it just because people were too ignorant/greedy to see the problem with it? I have heard that Karl Marx has a theory that slavery was necessary (and evil in the same time) because every society needs some sort of forced labor. Nowadays, technology is our source of forced labor, but when technology was very primitive, slavery played the role of the required forced labor. Does such a theory (or anything somehow similar to this) exist? If yes, what is the reasoning behind it.

I don't think you are right, many people in the past thought that slavery was unproblematic, and based on the natural differences that exist between people. In just the same way that today we think it is OK for animals to work for us and be eaten by us, and for plants to be used by us, so some argued that slaves and the group they came from were so different from their owners that different treatment was appropriate.

I have been to countries where slavery still exists, informally if not entirely legally, and the same justification is used today as was used in the past.

Would a just world be one where people get what they need, or one where people

Would a just world be one where people get what they need, or one where people get what they deserve?

In the context of crime, justice is getting what one deserves (twenty years hard labour, hanging, if anyone deserves hanging), and so criminal justice includes retributive justice. In the social context, since there is the assumption that everyone deserves to be treated as a human being should be treated, justice can assume the form of the meeting of basic needs, for example housing and education. This is sometimes called distributive justice. The two forms of justice are complementary rather than inconsistent, however. What underlies both is the concept of desert. Some conservative thinkers find the whole idea of distributive justice a confused one. To think that a way of cutting a cake is unfair makes complete sense, because there is a central distribution. But the world of labour is not like this, and the concept of fairness has no application; there is no cake waiting to be divided if I do no work, these thinkers say. Liberal thinkers, on the other hand, work from the admittedly abstract concept of the sum total of human goods.

Which school of philosophy was it that suggested that your private life and

Which school of philosophy was it that suggested that your private life and public life should be compartmentalized? In other words, don't bring your work home with you, and don't let your domestic issues impact your work. I think it was the stoics, but I am not sure. Can you help?

I don't think it was the Stoics, and this sort of compartmentalization would be disapproved of by most philosophers, as far as I can see. It is the sort of thing we tend to condemn, like people doing something of which they should be thoroughly ashamed at work and then coming home and ignoring it or pretending it never happened. Philosophers tend to suggest that people need to consider their lives as a whole, considering the effect on their moral character of both their work and leisure activities.

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