Nick Shackel’s Posts

In praise of insult

You have no right to be free from insult. Indeed, sometimes you may deserve to be insulted. Let us take a case that brings this into sharp focus: the Tory chief whip who lost his job because… well, we still don’t know exactly why because it now turns out that what the police claimed at the time wasn’t true. And maybe he should have lost his job: I don’t know. But one of the underlying assumptions throughout seems to have been that nobody should ever be sworn at. And that is flatly false. Sometimes people deserve to be sworn at. People in power deserve it when they stupidly, arrogantly or indifferently muck up our lives, something they do routinely. They deserve it most especially when they misuse their authority, such as when they do so to display their power by make someone’s life worse or for the purpose of getting  their own back on someone who resists their misuse of power. Continue reading

Closing down comments

Popular Science  has decided they will no longer permit comments on their new articles.  If you are a ‘vexing commenter’, a ‘shrill boorish specimen’, rather than a ‘delightful, thought-provoking commenter’, it now turns out you were never welcome. Of course, they have a perfect right to close their comments: it is their website. Their reasons for doing so, however, show a distressing lack of respect for the value of free speech and free opinion.

It is true that some people are shrill, boorish and vexing, but some people are merely called that because they are saying things others do not wish to hear. Climate skeptics are frequently dismissed in these terms. Very good, you might say. But so were abolitionists, feminists and gay rights activists. This is that well known irregular verb, I am forthright, you are argumentative, he is boorish, she is shrill, we are reality based truth speakers, ye (you all) are clamorous and they are vexatious liars.

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Government is good for you so do what you’re told!

We are discussing Huemer’s argument against political authority, where political authority is the special right of government to command and coerce what other agent’s may not and the special duty to obey what government commands.  A number of commentators here have responded to earlier parts of Huemer’s argument against political authority by citing benefits of government. Heumer calls this kind of defence consequentialist, not because it requires a commitment to consequentialism (that the rightness of an act is determined solely by its consequences), but just because it is offering a justification of political authority on the basis of good consequences. The essential difficulty for this defence is that political authority is supposed to be content-independent, comprehensive and supreme, but neither consequences alone, nor consequences combined with fairness, can justify such authority.

(Previous posts in this line: here, here, here, here.)

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We voted that you should pay, so pay up— or else!

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.

(Previous posts in this line: here, here, here)

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So what if I would agree?

Previous posts in this line here  and  here

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

What social contract?

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?

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Political Authority?

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

Roman Catholic doctrine and abortion

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

Dangerous Doctors and Immoral Doctors

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

Lie detectors and epistemic duty

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

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