So runs Huemer’s initial example in considering whether political authority is justified by democracy: you’re out with a group of people at a restaurant and when the bill comes someone suggests you pay, and the motion is carried on a vote. Since we do not think this would be right, nor do we think you’d thereby be under any obligation to pay, it is clear that anyone who thinks democracy justifies political authority has to explain why what is wrong here is right for a democratic government.
The next justification of political authority that Michael Huemer considers in his book The Problem of Political Authority is what is called Hypothetical Social Contract Theory. The broad idea is that what justifies political authority is that you would agree to government coercion were you not the irrational, selfish and ignorant fool that you are. My inclination when addressed in such a manner is to say, so what? Grant that I am the irrational, selfish and ignorant fool that you say I am, why does what I would agree to if I were otherwise make it right for the government to force me to do what I don’t want to do? Continue reading
As I said last time, I’ve been reading Michael Huemer’s book: The Problem of Political Authority. The problem of political authority is the problem of justifying coercion by the government when common sense morality rules out the same behaviour done by anyone else. The point here is that government has no special right to command and we have no special duty to obey unless what the government does that goes beyond what we may do can be justified.
Government coercion is commands backed up by the threat of deliberate physical harm up to and including killing. In short, and for example, taxation is demanding money with menaces, morally forbidden to you and me but done by the government. Does the government have any such right and do you have any duty to obey it?
The first kind of justification Huemer considers is the social contract: that you agreed to being coerced by the government. Now I don’t know about you, but I never made any such agreement. So on that basis the government should leave me alone, shouldn’t it?
An underlying assumption of much debate on this blog is that the government has the right to boss people about and the question at issue is merely which bit of bossing about the government should be doing. Despite the fact that the left are obviously very keen on bossing people about, this assumption is one I have always seen as rooted in a certain kind of right wing political philosophy, a philosophy based in the idea that people are necessarily subjects of a sovereign. To be is to be ruled.
An originating thought underlying republicanism is that one man cannot legitimately rule over another. Taken all the way, this thought will take you to anarchy. So, must you obey the bossing about and if you refuse may they make you? Continue reading
Vice-President Biden is a Roman Catholic. In the recent debate with Paul Ryan he was asked his view of abortion and he said
I accept my church’s position on abortion…. Life begins at conception. That’s the church’s judgment. I accept it in my personal life. But I refuse to impose it on equally devout Christians and Muslims and Jews…I just refuse to impose that on others.
So he’s saying that abortion is murder and while he’s certainly not going to be murdering any babies that he’s carrying he’s cool with you murdering yours. Or am I being unfair? Continue reading
In general, if you know someone to be a danger to others you have a duty to do something about it. Exactly what you are obliged to do depends on the person, the situation and you. At the very least you ought to warn others.
In general, and apart from such basic duties as not to interfere with others (more pompously, to respect their autonomy), to keep your promises to them, not to harm them and not to burden them, your strongest duties are those you take on voluntarily, such as those you acquire by taking up a profession.
The professions hold themselves out to us as entitled to special privileges because of their special knowledge. We trust them, we rely on them, we place ourselves in their hands for specific purposes, because when paid for their work they promise to look after our interest before their own. Part of that promise is a special duty to hold members of the profession accountable to professional standards and to exclude persons who fail those standards.
So members of the medical profession have both a very strong duty and a special duty to protect us from dangerous doctors. A book has come out showing that doctors are grossly— indeed, grotesquely —derelict in this duty. Continue reading
The British government is about to introduce compulsory lie detector tests for sex offenders released on parole. The British police want to use lie detectors in the detection of crime. Is this the right thing to do?
The answer to that question depends on a complex set of duties. Obviously it is highly desirable to prevent people on parole committing crimes. Equally obviously it is highly desirable to catch criminals (only when the laws are just, of course). For this reason we are tempted to latch onto anything that promises improvements. The government and the pilot study they are basing their proposal on are promising us improvements by using lie detectors. Others elsewhere have considered whether lie detectors do in fact offer better outcomes . Even if lie detectors do offer better outcomes, which they might do whether or not they are good at detecting lies, that still wouldn’t make it right to use them.
A highly significant duty that bears on the question is the epistemic duty borne by the law and by the police, the epistemic duty to know the truth of guilt and innocence. Here I am concerned only with that duty. I do not consider other duties, such as protection from harm, that might be served by deterrent effects achieved independently of knowing the truth. Continue reading
Honesty is a virtue. The strange thing about honesty is that we do not seem to see even the simplest aspect, telling the truth when it is owed, as a duty. People who would be horrified at hurting anyone will trim, twist, exaggerate and lie at the drop of a hat, especially when it advances their ideological agenda, and will not feel they have done much wrong at all. Worse, they will anathematise those who utter inconvenient truth and feel highly righteous in doing so.
Science can be pure enquiry but the questions it seeks to answer are often those with significant practical import. The reason we subsidise science is because of the benefits it promises. Getting the benefits depends on scientists finding out and telling us the truth. From this point of view, then, honesty is a prime virtue of science and to be honest is a stringent duty owed to us all by scientists. It is unclear to what extent scientists feel properly bound by this duty. Continue reading
You will no doubt recall that some time ago I was bewailing the backwardness of Britain when it comes to shutting people up who disagree with me. I think the case in point was in Austria, where the authorities were prosecuting a woman for criticising Islam. Never happens here, alas! Our betters in the European Union have continued to show us the way. More recently we have the prosecution of the Danish historian Lars Hedegaard for claiming that Muslim women are subjected to sexual violence.
We’ve all had fun hating Goldman Sachs again after one of their own sold them out . Mr Smith says that ‘culture was the secret sauce that made [Goldman] great and allowed us to earn our clients’ trust for 143 years’ whereas now Goldman pursues its own interest rather than its clients’ due to a ‘decline in the firm’s moral fibre’…. Hold on. Yes, I know its hard not to burst out laughing.