Political Philosophy

The fundamental elements of rights

Rights-talk is pervasive. The assertions “I have a right to that” or “You can’t violate their rights!” are familiar, and we often take ourselves to understand what they mean. But, insufficient attention is often paid to the various elements that jointly comprise a right, and very little attention is given to how those elements fit together.[1] This oversight can cause problems, and so it’s worth being clear about what we’re talking about when we speak of rights. Continue reading

On the supposed distinction between culture and religion: A brief comment on Sir James Munby’s decision in the matter of B and G (children)

On the supposed distinction between culture and religion: A brief comment on Sir James Munby’s decision in the matter of B and G (children)

By Brian D. Earp (@briandavidearp)

Introduction

What is the difference between ‘culture’ and ‘religion’ … ? From a legal standpoint, this question is important: practices which may be described as being ‘religious’ in nature are typically afforded much greater protection from interference by the state than those that are understood as being ‘merely’ cultural. One key area in which this distinction is commonly drawn is with respect to the non-therapeutic alterations of children’s genitals. When such alteration is done to female children, it is often said to be a ‘cultural’ practice that does not deserve legal protection; whereas, when it is done to male children, it is commonly said to be a ‘religious’ practice – at least for some groups – and must therefore not be restricted (much less forbidden) by law.

Is this a valid distinction?

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Should Hitler have been able to speak at the Oxford Union?


@JimACEverett

 www.jimaceverett.com

The Oxford University Student Union (OUSU) recently voted to “condemn” the invitation of Marine LePen to speak at the Oxford Union (which is an entirely separate organization, for those outside of Oxford). In addition to condemning LePen and the Union for inviting her, the OUSU President was mandated to send an emergency letter (i.e. a letter that comes outside the normal weekly bulletins, and usually happens when a person is missing or there is an emergency). I was informed that as a student union, “we” had voted to condemn LePen and the Union for giving her a platform and were encouraged to protest. To what extent is this true? Had the Union, in inviting her, legitimised her politics?

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The Welfare State: who should pay for the transportation of a rich person’s child to and from school?

Suppose you had a child with special educational needs. Suppose the only school that could meet your child’s needs (as set out by their Statement of Special Educational Needs) was over an hour away (as can often happen). It falls under your local authority’s duties, who agree that they cannot provide a school within your area, to pay for transport for your child along with the essential carer who understand your child’s needs. Finally, suppose you’re very well off: should you pay for that transportation service?

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Facebook’s new Terms of Service: Choosing between your privacy and your relationships

Facebook has changed its privacy settings this January. For Europeans, the changes have come into effect on January 30, 2015.

Apart from collecting data from your contacts, the information you provide, and from everything you see and do in Facebook, the new data policy enables Facebook to use your GPS, Bluetooth, and WiFi signals to track your location at all times. Facebook may also collect information about payments you make (including billing, shipping, and contact details). Finally, the social media giant collects data from third-party partners, other Facebook companies (like Instagram and Whatsapp), and from websites and apps that use their services (websites that offer “Like” buttons and use Facebook Log In).

The result? Facebook will now know where you live, work, and travel, what and where you shop, whom you are with, and roughly what your purchasing power is. It will have more information than anyone in your life about your habits, likes and dislikes, political inclinations, concerns, and, depending on the kind of use you make of the Internet, it might come to know about such sensitive issues as medical conditions and sexual preferences.

To Facebook’s credit, their new terms of services, although ambiguous, are clearer than most terms of services one finds on the Internet. Despite the intrusiveness of the privacy policy, one may look benevolently on Facebook: if their terms are comparatively explicit and clear, if users know about them and give their consent, and if in turn the company provides a valuable free service to more than a billion users, why should the new privacy policy be frowned upon? After all, if people don’t like the new terms, they are not forced to use Facebook: they are free not to sign up or they can delete their account if they are current users.

A closer look, however, might reveal the matter in a different light. Continue reading

Plausibility and Same-Sex Marriage

In philosophical discussions, we bring up the notion of plausibility a lot.  “That’s implausible” is a common form of objection, while the converse “That’s plausible” is a common way of offering a sort of cautious sympathy with an argument or claim.  But what exactly do we mean when we claim something is plausible or implausible, and what implications do such claims have?  This question was, for me, most recently prompted by a recent pair of blog posts by Justin Weinberg over at Daily Nous on same-sex marriage.  In the posts and discussion, Weinberg appears sympathetic to an interesting pedagogical principle: instructors may legitimately exclude, discount or dismiss from discussion positions they take to be implausible.*  Further, opposition same-sex marriage is taken to be such an implausible position and thus excludable/discountable/dismissable from classroom debate.  Is this a legitimate line of thought?  I’m inclined against it, and will try to explain why in this post.**  Continue reading

Where are you from? What is it worth?

A couple of weeks ago, a friend of mine posted a New York Times article on Facebook, where the author, Lev Golinklin, shared his difficulties with coming to terms with where he was from: “Well, technically I’m from the Russian-speaking region of a Soviet Socialist republic [Ukraine] that used to be part of a country that isn’t there anymore. It was called the Soviet Union, and you can still find it on old maps. “It’s complicated.”

My friend, who works on international law, added the following comment: “Thought provoking story but certainly the author should know that history is full of different peoples being shuffled around from one legal entity or country to the next. Lev Golinkin is from Ukraine. It’s not a hard question.”

Perhaps this is not a hard question from certain (maybe legal) perspectives. However, I believe that there is more to it than this. Continue reading

Was it the State?

Two months ago today in Mexico, on September 26, María de los Ángeles Pineda, wife of the former mayor of Iguala, José Luis Abarca, prepared to give a speech in which she was to report on her work as president of the local public institution dedicated to social assistance (DIF). At the same time, a group of students from the Normal School Ayotzinapa—an institution well known for its tradition in political resistance—were on their way to Iguala (apparently, in buses they had hijacked) to protest government education reforms. The mayor, afraid that the students might interfere with his wife’s speech and jeopardize her aspirations to become the next mayoress, gave orders to the police to stop them. In a series of vicious clashes with the police, six people including three students were killed (one had his eyes torn out and his face flayed to a skull), and 43 students disappeared.

According to the reconstruction of the facts provided by the Attorney General of Mexico, the 43 students were loaded on a pickup truck and driven to the nearby Cocula, where they were handed over to a drug gang known as Guerreros Unidos (Warriors United). As reported by three arrested members of this group, the students were then killed and burned (some of them still alive) on a pyre. It appears that both José Luis Abarca and his wife were members of Guerreros Unidos, that the mayor used public funds to transfer between 2 and 3 million pesos a month to the criminal group (roughly between  £90,000 and £140,000), and that he had previously assassinated one of his political enemies.

In one of the mass protests that have taken place since the students went missing, a sign was painted in Mexico City’s main square that read: “It was the State.” A photo of the sign circulated widely on the Internet, and the phrase became a viral hashtag in social networks. In response, Mexico’s Attorney General said that “Iguala is not the Mexican State.”

Was it the State?

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A Methodological Worry for ‘Top Down’ Accounts of Human Rights

The language of human rights is pervasive both in academic literature and international legal practice. We often take the satisfaction of human rights to be a necessary condition for a state’s legitimacy, and the failure of a state to respect human rights as grounds for international intervention. However, providing an account of the nature of human rights—figuring out what exactly it is for something to be a human right—is quite a difficult task. Here I want to present two problems I’ve been thinking about recently with ‘top down’ approaches to determining the nature of human rights.[1] Continue reading

Doing Good by Doing Nothing?

@JimACEverett

 www.jimaceverett.com

 

A common theme running through debates on combating global problems like poverty and common change is the idea that something must be done. Usually, this is taken to mean that some prosocial behaviour must be actively encouraged and sought out: for example, encouraging people to recycle, or having public health campaigns to encourage people to vaccinate. These solutions typically require individuals going out of their way to do what is often a costly behaviour, and consequently, have only limited success. But what if prosocial behaviour could also be encouraged by making use of the passivity of human nature? What if people could do good by doing nothing?

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