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Posts tagged philosophy
3:54 pm - Tue, Apr 8, 2014
1 note
You spelled “nonviolence” wrong.

You spelled “nonviolence” wrong.

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10:44 am - Wed, Mar 26, 2014
13 notes

Apostles of Violence

“Ukrainian events have demonstrated,” writes Maria Snegovaya in The New Republic, “that control of violence is still at the very essence of the state.” She says Vladimir Putin’s aggression proves that Max Weber’s definition of the state — an entity with a monopoly on the legitimate use of force — is still relevant, even though we in the West “tend to think of the ‘monopoly on violence’ as a metaphor.”

We do? That would be news to the relatives of Kelly Thomas, a homeless California man beaten to death last year by police officers (who were later acquitted). And to the relatives of Amadou Diallo, an unarmed man who was shot to death by New York City police officers (who were also acquitted). It would be news to a lot of black and Hispanic men who have been stopped and frisked in the streets of New York — or bent over the hood of a squad car anywhere in America.

The idea that governmental violence is merely metaphorical would be news to the employees at a gold mine in Chicken, Alaska, who were stunned last year when armed and armored agents from the EPA swooped in to search for violations of the Clean Water Act.

It would be news to Gibson Guitar Corp., subject to an armed federal raid for using the wrong tariff code on imported wood. It would be news to Audrey Hudson, a reporter whose home was raided in October by armed federal agents who seized her files and notes. And it would be news to countless others whose property was seized through eminent domain.

Governmental violence is not a metaphor. It is not even an aberration. It is a daily occurrence. Often it is entirely justified: If a bank robber would rather shoot it out with the cops than surrender peacefully, his death will bring no loss to the world. If Osama bin Laden starts a fight with the U.S., then America should end it.

Still, Putin’s aggression does draw attention to the prevalence of state violence — and the often incoherent attitude toward it on both sides of the American political divide.

During the Bush years, progressives spent a great deal of time lamenting American militarism. They found the promotion of American values through brute force misguided and cruel. The neoconservative project of reshaping the wider world through hard power was, progressives said, arrogant. Abusive. Bullying. As a piece in The Nation explained: “U.S. involvement abroad, even when well-intentioned, is perceived on the receiving end as heavy-handed meddling.”

“For eight years we have paid the price for a foreign policy that lectures without listening,” Barack Obama said in a 2008 speech at the Ronald Reagan building in Washington. In that speech, he said the U.S. needed to try a different approach — engagement. Development assistance. “Now is the time for a new era of international cooperation,” he declared.

Conservatives — at least the interventionists, which is still most of them — scoff at this. They say the world is full of bad actors — actors who prey upon the weak, who have no conscience, and who must be contained by more enlightened nations willing to use force to do it.

But then turn the discussion to domestic affairs. Suddenly progressives are more than happy to use the coercive power of state violence to make the world a better place, as they define it.

Economic inequality? Redistribute wealth. Obesity? Tax the Twinkie and ban the Big Gulp. Health care? Make everyone buy insurance – and dictate what kind. Concepts common to foreign policy — such as sovereignty, autonomy, and self-determination — go right out the window, replaced by heavy-handed meddling. After all: The country is full of bad actors who prey upon the weak, who have no conscience, and who must be contained by more enlightened parties willing to use force to do it.

Many conservatives display no more consistency. For years, voices on the right have ridiculed the federal government’s utter inability to get anything right. The standard conservative critique holds that government is inept, corrupt, and grotesquely wasteful; peopled by incompetent bureaucrats whose only concern is in expanding their fiefdoms; and completely blind to the law of unintended consequences. Government, say conservatives, has no business telling a company what benefits it must provide and no business telling families how to raise their children. Butt. Out.

Until the discussion turns to foreign affairs. Then all those concepts common to domestic policy — individual sovereignty, autonomy, and self-determination — go right out the window. Suddenly it is perfectly fine for the United States to order the rest of the world around. And when it does so, there will be no incompetence, no corruption, no self-interest, no unintended consequences. When the U.S. marches off to war, the federal government can do no wrong. And if you don’t stand behind the troops, pal, feel free to stand in front of them.

Both sides are half-right. The state might have a monopoly on the legitimate use of violence, but that doesn’t mean it should be prodigal with the stuff, either at home or abroad.

 

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4:29 pm - Wed, Mar 12, 2014

A superb read.

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2:34 pm - Fri, Mar 7, 2014
12 notes
When Disclaimers Go Too Far
Check your privilege, Immanuel…!!!!

When Disclaimers Go Too Far

Check your privilege, Immanuel…!!!!

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3:42 pm - Fri, Feb 14, 2014
But this is a dreary book. Its author has a completely axiomatic mind that is quite content to maintain itself in a permanent condition of apocalyptic excitation. His perspective is so settled, so confirmed, that it is a wonder he is not too bored to write. The veracity of everything he believes is so overwhelmingly obvious to him that he no longer troubles to argue for it. Instead there is only bewilderment that others do not see it, too. “Why Are Jews Liberals?” is a document of his bewilderment; and there is a Henry Higgins-­like poignancy to his discovery that his brethren are not more like himself. But the refusal of others to assent to his beliefs is portrayed by Podhoretz not as a principled disagreement that is worthy of respect, but as a human failing. Jews are liberals, he concludes, as a consequence of “willful blindness and denial.” He has a philosophy. They have a psychology.
Leon Wieseltier, reviewing Norman Podhoretz’s “Why Are Jews Liberals?”

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9:14 am - Wed, Dec 18, 2013
34 notes

Who Should Have Basic Rights?

Thought experiment: In a remote region of the Amazon, explorers stumble across a tribe of people heretofore unknown. Clearly they are very primitive – living out of doors and off the land, without clothes or agriculture or the other usual hallmarks of civilization. But after months of observation, scientists conclude that the tribespeople are, nevertheless, highly intelligent.

They use tools. They understand numbers. They have a “theory of mind,” meaning they understand that others have minds of their own and know things they don’t know themselves. They engage in metacognition, meaning they can think about their own thoughts. They engage in “mental time travel,” meaning they can remember the past and plan for the future. They use symbolic language to discuss past and future events. They demonstrate concern for the emotional welfare of others — for instance, by consoling the victim of aggression. They show grief and compassion in the face of death.

Would it be morally acceptable to capture some of those tribesmen and bring them back to the U.S. so they could be used in medical experiments and displayed in exhibits for public entertainment? Or would that be a violation of their rights?

This is the question posed by recent habeas corpus claims filed on behalf of several chimpanzees by the Nonhuman Rights Project. The suits, relying on statutory and common law, argue that Tommy, Merlin, Reba, and other chimps currently being held in captivity deserve to be recognized as legal persons with certain fundamental rights: liberty and bodily integrity. The suits are backed up by the testimony of numerous experts in primatology, whose affidavits affirm that chimps have the cognitive abilities described above.

Last week three New York courts quickly dispatched the lawsuits. The Nonhuman Rights Project expected that to happen, and plans to appeal. Convincing a court to recognize the legal personhood of chimpanzees would be a landmark victory.

Even to broach the idea strikes some as terribly threatening. “Animal rights is an ideology that perceives animals as having the same right not to be owned as humans,” wrote Wesley J. Smith recently in The Weekly Standard. Should the Nonhuman Rights Project prevail, “the deleterious cultural and economic consequences would be staggering.”

Smith is a senior fellow with the Discovery Institute, which advocates for intelligent design and opposes the idea that humans “descended from apes.” The Institute is the prime mover behind the campaign to “teach the controversy” of evolution vs. creationism — even though there is no such controversy. Not among scientists, anyway.

Like evolution, the recognition of animal rights has the potential to undermine biblical literalism. So it is not particularly surprising that the Institute treats even limited recognition of some rights for chimpanzees as the first step on a slippery slope.

The ultimate goal, Smith writes, is “to prohibit all domestication of animals” and “destroy human exceptionalism.”

Wrong. The panic over the possibility of safeguarding not merely animal welfare, but legal animal rights, fails to recognize that we already do just that. Humans, after all, are animals too. When we respect human rights, we therefore respect the rights of (some) animals. And if we respect the rights of some animals, then there is no reason in principle not to respect the rights of certain others.

But just as not all humans have the same rights, recognizing certain rights for chimps would not require attributing those same rights to pigs, bluejays, and earthworms. Children enjoy no right to enter into contracts, for example, because they are deemed to lack the capacity for it. Adults generally may enter into contracts — but not all of them. We make exceptions for the mentally incompetent.

To conclude that chimpanzees’ cognitive abilities justify the right not to be imprisoned or experimented upon, therefore, does not mean those same rights must be conferred upon animals without those cognitive abilities.

Why do people have rights in the first place? Suppose future space exploration discovers a planet populated by highly intelligent beings, with an exquisitely rich culture dating back several millennia, who look not at all human. Wouldn’t it make sense to recognize them as rights-bearing creatures anyway? And wouldn’t that make more sense than attributing human rights to mannequins — which look very much like humans, but have no human capacities?

A question like that might seem too fanciful. But the advance of computing science is leading to another one. Well before long-distance space travel becomes feasible, the day will arrive when computers become both self-aware and vastly smarter than the smart people who made them. At that point, we will have to consider whether thinking machines have rights.

Moreover — and more apposite to the chimpanzee question: The thinking machines will have to consider whether we do.




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2:22 pm - Tue, Jun 25, 2013
1,692 notes

abaldwin360:

stupidoldtimeycharms:

therareandferociousswamprabbit:

Further news: water is wet, candy is delicious. 

What? Conservative morality is based on obedience to arbitrary, irrational rules without any thought as to the outcomes? DO TELL

But isn’t it nice to have scientific confirmation?

As with so many such studies, this one seems highly selective and tendentious. (For a more nuanced and thoughful examination of the source of our intuitions, consider the work of Jonathan Haidt.)

Conservatives may tend toward deontological ethics with regard to certain activities, but they can be highly consequentialist with regard to others. See, e.g., the discussion of waterboarding — which conservatives justified not because it was intrinsically right according to natural or God’s law, but rather because it produced useful intelligence. That was consequentialist ethics in action.

By the same token, liberals opposed waterboarding because they considered it intrinsically wrong (a deontological position) even in cases where it might have produced useful intelligence (though they often argued that it didn’t do that, either).

Likewise, conservatives very often make consequentialist arguments against economic interventions such as the minimum wage — arguing, for instance, that it depresses employment among young people and the low-skilled. Liberals argue, deontologically, that the principles of social justice and simple human decency require us to set a floor on wages.

The principle that we should treat all people as having the same intrinsic moral worth - a basic tenet of liberal political philosophy (and, parenthetically, my own) - is hardly consequentialist. But that does not mean it is “arbitrary” or “irrational.” It grows out of the Kantian categorical imperative. And if you have ever read Kant’s Groundwork, you know he is anything but irrational.

News flash: Not everything qualifies as yet further proof that Your Side is right about everything and Their Side is filled with flaming idiots. There’s a bit more to it than that.

(via abaldwin360-deactivated20130708)

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3:45 pm - Fri, Jun 21, 2013
54 notes

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12:31 pm - Thu, Jun 20, 2013
7 notes
It’s a little bizarre how the Left has always conflated statism with modernity and progress. The idea that rulers — be they chieftains, kings, priests, politburos, or wonkish bureaucrats — are enlightened or smart enough to tell others how to live is older than the written word. And the idea that someone stronger, with better weapons, has the right to take what is yours predates man’s discovery of fire by millennia. And yet, we’re always told that the latest rationalization for increased state power is the “wave of the future.”
Jonah Goldberg, “Freedom: The Unfolding Revolution

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11:54 am
38 notes
In the old Soviet Union, Mao’s China, Pol Pot’s Cambodia, and today’s North Korea, they tried to move toward the ideal Communist system. Combined, they killed about 100 million of their own people. That’s a hefty moral distinction right there: When freedom-lovers move society toward their ideal, mistakes may be made, but people tend to flourish. When the hard Left is given free rein, millions are murdered and enslaved. Which ideal would you like to move toward?
Jonah Goldberg, “Freedom: The Unfolding Revolution

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9:16 am - Wed, Jun 19, 2013

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3:37 pm - Thu, Jun 13, 2013
5 notes
Another fine quote of the day.

Another fine quote of the day.

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12:17 pm - Fri, Apr 26, 2013
2 notes

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2:30 pm - Wed, Mar 6, 2013
9 notes

FREE THE CHIMPS.

Watch this. It makes a powerful emotional case against using primates as research subjects.

Some more cerebral reflections on why, exactly, we shouldn’t use chimps as research subjects here:

If it is OK to hunt deer because they lack critical thinking skills, then can we hunt children with Down syndrome?

Most sane people would answer, “no.” They would say persons with severe mental retardation have a right not to be hunted for sport, even if they can’t articulate it themselves. This brings us to the conundrum pointed out by Peter Singer, author of Animal Liberation: Any quality that only human beings have that might provide the basis for their having rights (such as moral agency) will be absent from some human beings—but any quality that all human beings have (such as self-awareness) will be shared by many animals. So either not all people are equal, or people are equal to (some) animals.

To this, philosopher Tibor Machan offers the broken-chair analogy: Some chairs have broken legs, but they “are still chairs, not monkeys or palm trees. Classifications are not something rigid but something reasonable.” Rights, he says, belong to the class of reasoning animals, i.e., humans—even if some members of the classification cannot reason. We should attend to what is normal for the species, not specific cases.

That makes sense until you start to pick at it. James Rachels asks us to consider a chimpanzee smart enough to go to college. It makes no sense to say the smart chimp should not be allowed to attend merely because average chimps cannot. (If you find the example ludicrous, substitute “12-year-old boy” for “chimp.”) It makes no sense because “it assumes that we should determine how an individual is to be treated, not on the basis of its qualities, but on the basis of other individuals’ qualities.” …

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12:28 pm - Tue, Mar 5, 2013

Sam has a problem. He has a number of very poor nephews and nieces. He has been working with a charity organization to help them, but the organization needs more funding. So Sam goes out and starts demanding money from his neighbors to give to the charity group. If anyone refuses to contribute, Sam kidnaps that person and locks them in a cage.

Though charitable giving is laudable, as is the effort to care for one’s nephews and nieces, almost everyone who hears this story finds Sam’s extortion program impermissible. This includes both Democrats and Republicans, people who believe in a personal moral obligation to donate to charity, and even people who have a theory of “distributive justice” that says the current distribution of wealth in our society is unjust because the poor have too little.

Interestingly, however, many of the people who agree on the impermissibility of Sam’s behavior nevertheless support seemingly analogous behavior on the part of a certain other Uncle Sam. Some think it not only permissible but obligatory for the state to coercively seize funds to aid the poor.

This is just one of many activities of government that are generally accepted despite the fact that seemingly analogous behavior would be widely condemned if carried out by anyone else. Two other examples: those who kill large numbers of people to bring about some political change are dubbed “terrorists” and are widely condemned, regardless of whether their goals are desirable … unless they work for a government, in which case they are called “soldiers” and may be praised as heroes. When an individual is forced to work for someone else, this is called “forced labor” or “slavery” and is widely considered unjust … unless it is imposed by a government, in which case it may be called “conscription,” “national service,” or “jury duty.”

The philosophical questions with which I began my book The Problem of Political Authority, then, were these: what gives the government the right to behave in ways that would be wrong for any non-governmental agent? And why should the rest of us obey the government’s commands? …

For another excellent look at the problem of justifying political obligation, read A. John Simmons’ Moral Principles and Political Obligations. It is, or should be, a classic.

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