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Camus, Machiavelli and Morality

Camus brings up morality on p. 130, when Tarrou states his code of ethics: comprehension. On the following page Camus speaks in Machiavellian terms: vice and virtue. However, Camus dissents on Machiavelli’s view of human nature stating: “The evil in the world always comes from ignorance…on the whole, men are more good than bad… but they are more or less ignorant… the most incorrigible vice being that of an ignorance that fancies it knows everything and therefore claims for itself the right to kill.” (131). Thus, it cannot be justified for one to participate in or allow innocent people to die if one has the capacity to understand the problem. One must attempt to fix the problem. Rieux (163) states, “It’s a matter of common decency (not heroism).”

Therein lies the problem: if the masses are ignorant and there are two sides to every fight, then how is one to educate the masses on morality if they are ignorant and could just as easily be persuaded to fight in the name of evil with good intent? Camus’ view on human nature is largely the same as Socrates’: generally, people are ignorant and/or apathetic, however, Camus believes apathy is no excuse for not ‘fighting the good fight.’

It is often hard to tell who is on the right side of history and when all is said and done history books are written by the winners. Socrates, Rawls, and most other moral philosophers argue: morals are not subjective. Although, morality in politics is hard to come by, operationally most nations practice political realism. There is no room for morality when on a quest for power and generally, on a more local level, men operate in the same fashion. Politicians cling to power and make amoral decisions which wind up killing innocent people every day so as to further their careers. Camus believes if one is not willing to stand up and do the right thing, life is not worth living. If people are dying, look to the source of the problem and fight until your last breath: no one has the right to kill (unless killing an aggressor).

Camus’ view poses problems for the ignorant masses willing to fight in the name of narrow nationalism: going overseas to fight a battle unjustly is manifest aggression. War is a cyclical process with both sides thinking the other is an aggressor: one had better be damn sure they are on the right side of history otherwise they risk committing the most incorrigible vice: an “ignorance that fancies it knows everything therefore claims for itself the right to kill.”

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Posted by on May 6, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Henry V: Act V

I am not sure as to whether or not Dr. Maloney highlighted this point in class last Tuesday, as I was not there, but the line that stuck out to me the most was: “I cannot be confined within the weak list of a country’s fashion: we are the makers of manners…” (5.2, 123). Contextually, this passage is referring to customs regarding physical expressions of love, however, one could apply this to Henry’s style of ruling altogether. That is, exercising political realism.

Henry, as a ruler, is not bound by social customs or precedence in his ruling. This makes him phenomenal at exercising power, however, one could argue the power is arbitrary in the end, that is, not legitimate. Although political legitimacy is a liberal theory, not maintaining legitimacy has adverse implications when applied to any type of political power. Because Henry decides to rule arbitrarily, that is, rule without taking into account the implications of his actions, his subjects could easily point out his hypocrisies and, if taken to the extreme, depose him.

As seen in the Arab Spring, that is, the various uprising across the Middle East, leaders can only operate without legitimacy for so long as the subjects allow. Obviously 500 years ago was a very different time and this sort of ruling was more common than today, although, leaders could still potentially be held accountable by their subjects.

King Henry makes the rules and, if he decides to act not in accordance with them, his subjects may very well decide to do the same. Henry, however, has the power to evade accountability, whereas his subjects are not. As seen with Henry’s former friends throughout the story, they act in a manner in which the king himself did at one point, however, they are punished for it.

Political realism can be a great tool in acquiring power and land, however, after power and land are achieved, it may be wise for a king or ruler to adopt a better theory in maintaining legitimacy of the people.

 
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Posted by on May 2, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Osama

“And Alexander wept, for there were no more worlds to conquer.” -Plutarch

 
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Posted by on May 2, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Captain Fluellen

Captain Fluellen is an interesting character. He is a firm idealist when it comes to the rules of war and has a romanticized notion of war. Henry, on the other hand, is a realist. In this, Henry is a very effective leader in battle because he does not feel the need to hold up any arbitrary ideals. Henry is not naive when it comes to warfare, he accepts death and expects the worst. Conversely, Fluellen seems to think more from the standpoint of an actual ground soldier, that is, if he were captured he would expect quarter and not to be tortured. If Fluellen kills someone, he feels it must be in a way that is considered honorable, because he would not want to be killed in a dishonorable fashion. This sort of reasoning is logical from a soldiers perspective, that is, reciprocity in warfare.

From a king’s standpoint, not so much. If the king loses, it is not a zero-sum game. The king has the right to ransom himself off, so as not to be taken captive or killed. To Henry, this means he would not lose his kingdom, as he is the agressor and England is not occupied by foreign invaders, however, the war may weaken his forces. The king has much less to lose by playing dirty. If he ransomed himself and chose to fight in mortal combat and was in a losing position, instead of being killed in a fight to the death, the king could opt out of battle. In Fluellen’s case, that is not an option: it is a fight to the death.

Fluellen, however, fights his ideals with as a loyal sycophant of Henry. Fluellen’s ideals are compromised throughout Act 4 because he is enamored with King Henry. Fluellen even questions the king on the means by which the war is being fought, Fluellen: “Kill the poys and the luggage? ‘Tis expressly against the law of arms…” (97).Fluellen: ‘Is it not lawful, and please your majesty to tell how many is killed?’ King: ‘Yes, Captain;but with this acknowledgement that God fought for us.’ Fluellen: ‘Yes, my conscience, he did us great good.’ (108). Harry can weasel his way out of being held accountable to Fluellen by justifying his decisions simply by being the king, the fact Fluellen buys it shows how deep his conviction runs.

John Stossel recently posted, on his blog, a commentary on Democrats: when president Bush was in office, Democrats harshly opposed war. Since Obama has taken office, Democrats have not criticized war efforts. This sort of hypocritical behavior happens often in partisan politics, both sides are the same, but people are too dumb to know it or use subjective justification. Fluellen is able to justify realism, while being an idealist, a true hypocrite.

http://stossel.blogs.foxbusiness.com/2011/04/25/where-did-all-the-anti-war-protestors-go/comment-page-6/?action=late-new&order=asc — The blog post I mentioned.

 
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Posted by on April 27, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Henry V: Act I

The Church of England in act I of Henry V acts very much like a modern day corporation. Corporations lobby, just as the church does, to those in power and plead their cases. Although most of the time when corporations lobby, they will offer incentives to politicians to sweeten the deal. A politician may retire from office, to serve as an executive for a company whose interests they once served in the political process. This brings up the question of whether it is right to do? Is it acceptable for politicians to serve the interests of a specific group rather than the constituents they represent?

The reasons for going to war in Henry V are not just. The Church of England throwing out a red-herring to distract the bill that would take their land is corrupt. The fact that Henry then goes to war with France, to serve his own interests (not the Church’s), combined with the Church’s incentive to have England goto war will in turn result in loss of life by innocent people, whose only interest is to live in a government which serves their interests, namely, to live in peace, illustrates how this is an unjust war.

When a country decides to war with another country, it should not even be a decision, but a must. Some may argue that a war may promote well-being of its citizens by allowing financial growth, and a good way to grow financially as a nation is to capitalize on other countries resources. The easiest way to capitalize on resources that do not belong to one nation is by take-over. A government is then able to establish leaders in the newly acquired property that will best serve their interests. A new question arises, is it ethical to exploit other country’s resources for gain if it costs the lives of innocent people in both governments, and in turn adversely affects the people in the newly acquired land?

Realpolitik. It is justified.

However, if one truly cares about people and has a firm grasp of right and wrong, AND chooses to uphold right, then it cannot possibly be justified. Even if one could argue that the people in the newly acquired government are better off, who are they to make that claim?

 
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Posted by on April 20, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Nozick on Distributive Justice

How does one set lines for taxes? Nozick and Rawls dissent on tax theory. Rawls thinks government’s purpose is to benefit all and ensure fairness and justice. Nozick believes the entitlement theory violates one’s individual rights, Rawls’ justifies his position according to Lockean civil society: government is an amalgamation of people who agree to benefit each other by living in society together to protect individuals’ interests and property. The idea that “progressive” taxation is the best way to tax: the wealthy are taxed higher in order for wealth to be redistributed to the least advantaged group of people in society. It is unclear as to whether or not Nozick believes progressive tax is fundamentally unjust, or just to a certain degree, he does however clearly dissent on the idea Rawls suggests. Nozick feels Rawls’ proposal is draconian and discriminatory.

Nozick feels Rawls’ argument results in injustice because it is extreme and flawed. Although what Nozick proposes is seemingly extreme as well. Nozick seems to think there is an unlimited amount of work out there to be performed by people. This is a flawed premise. To say that because someone chose to work a few extra hours and therefore deserves the pay he received is valid. But that presupposes (1) each person had a job; and (2) each job offered extra work to be done for compensation(overtime, or any work that would go beyond being compensated for bare subsistence). We are all familiar to the current job market as students getting ready to enter this abject prospect. Hopefully we were all aware of this in 2008 and planned accordingly, that is, competing with your fellow classmates for good grades. The fact of the matter: some of us will be living with our parents after college, and this is fine if our parents (and ourselves) are ok with that fact. However, not everyone (myself included) is content with living in their parents’ basement.

Nozick’s argument also neglects pay disparities. To say someone working at say, (the classic banal example) McDonald’s, decides to put in more hours than a roofer, who gets paid double, or even triple what the McDonald’s worker, the McDonalds’ worker could put in the extra hours and still get paid less for the work. That is not to say the roofer is not more deserving of the higher pay, (he is), but rather it presupposes both employees could potentially get the better paying job, and are qualified to do the work (physically and mentally). If everyone were equally endowed, i.e. fit to work, both received the same compensation and had access to the same  opportunities (to get overtime), then there would be no excuse for progressive taxation. It seems those are the unreasonable premises that Nozick bases his argument against progressive taxation. The gray area in between Nozick’s bare bones taxation and Rawls’ draconian progressive taxation has a reasonable mean, but both arguments seem excessively harsh. The only reason both need to be extreme is, they wouldn’t work otherwise. Nozick is extremely consistent(except for reparations), Rawls… not so much, Rawls’ argument, as Nozick points out, is extremely subjective and at some point must be considered invalid. When does excessive taxation of the rich reach a point where the Rich are not rich and the poor, perhaps not poor?

At some point in history, the playing field may have been equal, but it is no longer. Nozick’s idea of reparations and Rawls’ idea of justice as fairness are fundamentally the same: level the unequal playing field after millenia of inequalities and power struggles that (naturally) endowed some more than others. It will not happen, it cannot happen(objectively), it is not even worth thinking about because the idealism is too rich, too arbitrary, too redundant. The subject wanders too much into biased history. Attempting to right every wrong in history is dumb, both Rawls and Nozick suggest we attempt to, each gives different means by which to achieve, essentially, the same end.

 
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Posted by on April 10, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

What Is Fair?

Is it fair to level the playing field of a free market? Rawls says yes to an extreme. I say: extremes are intangible and wind up hurting more than helping in almost every case. Rawls believes society at large can reach a point where redistributing the greatest amount of resources to the least advantaged people while maintaing an (at least semi) efficient system is an ideal to strive for. I object to this premise. I would argue it is more important to operate most efficiently while helping the least advantaged as much as possible in a manner that would not discourage accumulation of wealth.

I think the Nash point on Rawls’ OP curve is perhaps the best option to maintain a fully functioning society while helping out people to a reasonable degree. By forcing people give up potential for commonwealth, everyone is hurt. (cash) Incentives to prosper are the paramount driving force in society, when you remove these incentives innovation takes a huge blow. Sure, innovation can occur, but in a manner that is inefficient. I argue that by keeping the incentives in place, innovation that benefits everyone can happen in the most efficient manner. If say a biomedical technology company has an incentive to produce medical equipment that can help millions of people, rich and poor, than the technology will be produced faster and help more people sooner if one had something ($$$$) to gain. That is: statistically more people will benefit from these incentives than would otherwise by devoting those resources (essentially the cash incentives that drive innovation) to the least advantaged that will not have the ability to create those innovations in the present time.

The American dream is one of accumulating wealth in a society that fosters incentives that drive a society produce. America no longer produces the goods that it once did, as far as services, America produces roughly 90% of the world’s intellectual property. This is not a coincidence. Theoretically, while we dump off the less desirable jobs to other countries (production of goods) those jobs are replaced by the more desirable positions (services). A free market can provide the incentives that drive society, everyone benefits, even the least advantaged. Of course restrictions must be in place to prevent monopolies, these restrictions are in place to ensure that reasonable competition can exist that allows fostering societal growth. I am not advocating an unrestricted free market system, rather one that acknowledges varying socioeconomic groups, and is ok with disparities as long as it is theoretically possible to overcome structural bounds.

 
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Posted by on April 3, 2011 in Uncategorized