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Reasonable Disagreement:

Rawls asks:  How might reasonable disagreement come about? (Rawls, 35)

He then asserts there are five obstacles, “burdens of judgment,” that even when objectively considering situations there can still be reasonable disagreement: (a) empirical and scientific evidence may be conflicting and complex, thus hard to evaluate; (b) even if things are relevant, people can disagree about their weight, thus we may arrive at different conclusions; (c) all of our concepts, to some degree, are vague and subject to hard cases, thus we must rely on judgment and interpretation where reasonable people may disagree; (d) the way we assess evidence is subject to our values. (e) Often it is hard to assess overall circumstances because both sides of an issue may have reasonable points.

The final “general fact” Rawls states: “that many of our most important political judgments involving the basic political values are made subject to conditions such that it is highly unlikely that conscientious and fully reasonable persons, even after free and open discussion, can exercise their powers of reason so that all arrive at the same conclusion.”

Of course Rawls states “…for we always begin work within ideal theory.” To me this is an interesting concept. Reasonable disagreement within ideal theory, AND ideals are subjective? This seems contradictory but obvious at the same time. It is a cyclical argument, how are we to agree on an ideal situation when there is reasonable disagreement? Rawls suggests we can reasonably disagree and reach the same conclusion. At the same time we know people come from different places and cultures, and values differ. Even if reasonable disagreement exists, how are we to rationally recognize this concept, especially given people generally don’t have the capacity to reasonably disagree in the first place. This goes back to Locke’s idea of consent, in order to consent to authority one must be educated to a degree which allows this. If people are to reasonably disagree, it would seem they must first be educated to a degree where argument could occur in a theater that would foster intelligent discussion.

World leaders, arguably some of the most educated people in the world, frequently make stupid comments and knowledgeably make decisions that kill people by the thousand. Decisions that are not reasonable or rational.  These decisions are made to foster their own interests, most likely with reasonable consideration. It seems, beginning work within ideal theory is possible but not practical. Do you believe assuming ideal theory is productive? It seems, by working within ideal theory and applying his five maxims it is possible to have reasonable disagreement. However, how are we to achieve ideal theory in the first place when nobody with power wants to, or is willing to apply “ideal theory,” as it may compromise their power?


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Posted by on March 18, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Second Treatise of Government

Locke writes: “This, those who give their votes before they hear the debate, and have weighed the reasons on all sides, are not capable of doing. To prepare such an assembly as this, and endeavour to set up the declared abettors of his own will, for the true representatives of the people, and the law-makers of the society, is certainly as great a breach of trust… What power they ought to have in the society, who thus employ it contrary to the trust went along with it in its first institution, is easy to determine; and one cannot but see, that he, who has once attempted any such thing as this, cannot any longer be trusted.”

I find this passage amusing when looking at the current state of the American democratic process. People are dumb when it comes to politics, all too often they let judgment be clouded. Presidents are elected in office, generally, because their political affiliation is different from their predecessors. To me, that shows people don’t really care about politics. When the point of elections becomes getting back at the other side for their temporary limited control over either the executive or legislative branches of government, what is the point? This is a cyclical process and as a result it snowballs and we have, more frequently, tidal-wave elections. People put less and less faith in their government as time goes on, their leaders let them down. The reason their leaders let them down is because they place too much emphasis on election season and not enough on voting for their constituency. I feel political parties are contradictory to democracy. It should be the job of every politician to vote in accordance with how they believe their constituents would (at least the majority). Political parties often hoist up an illusion of will, as if because someone is a “Democrat” or “Republican” they believe the majority of their constituents are, and this may be the case sometimes, but definitely not always(also they believe being either a “Democrat” or an “Republican” automatically means they all hold the same values, NOT THE CASE). Because it is generally undecided voters who determine elections, and it may only be because one (politician) is viewed as the lesser of the two evils (often the case), I don’t believe this gives a politician any right to assume their constituency is either Republicans or Democrats, perhaps they have some conservative values and some liberal values (most people aren’t radical liberals or extremist conservatives).

The result is Politicians giving “their votes before they hear the debate” as Locke puts it. Seldom do members of the legislature vote against the majority of their party. This should be a red flag. Members of congress let their constituents down and are not fit to hold their positions because they care too much about pleasing fellow party members. This seems to be operationally parliamentary (as opposed to presidential) where rubbing elbows and voting obsequiously to appease others will get you ahead in your political career.

We end up with a system where politicians get elected and make it their primary concern to undo what the previous political party has done. If successful in doing so (recalling previous measures) often vast amounts of time, effort, and MONEY are consumed in the process. More effectively is the divided house/senate and/or presidency, bills that are passed may be to some degree “watered down” but at least they are passed and not likely to be trashed. Often times these sorts of compromises lead to great policy.

There is a serious lack of accountability in our legislative and executive branches, I know it is not realistic to say there is an easy fix. Adding more accountability would bog down an already overly bureaucratic system, but I feel, until we can hold our Presidents and our Congresses more accountable, it will be the banal ineffective system that forces people to lose faith in the democratic process.

 
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Posted by on March 10, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Locke Dogg

It is hard to disagree with Locke on his State of Nature and State of War concepts. The maxims presented are almost an innate sense and need not be stated. At the time when he wrote his Second Treatise it would seem they were less obvious than they are today, perhaps that is true or maybe not. Because something occurs naturally does not mean it is not subject to human intervention, and this too occurs naturally. The fact slavery is not possible in the State of Nature does not mean it is not possible in human nature, as we all know.

It does seem natural to want to eliminate slavery, especially if one is subject to a master. What I feel Locke glosses over is the very reality of slavery and human nature. Absolute monarchy is, relatively, a reality in some places today. Maybe it is not “natural” in a sense where people are inevitably doomed to spend the rest of their lives as loyal subjects to the absolute authority of the state. However, being born into a system that promotes a monarch with almost unlimited authority can happen. Niccolo Machiavelli understood this when he wrote his il Principe, a realpolitik book for dummies. Even Machiavelli understands human nature can only endure so much oppression. Machiavelli suggests his prince avoid seizure of his subject’s property because “men sooner forget the death of their father than the loss of their patrimony.” He goes further to tell his prince not to rape, murder or steal from his subjects. Here he recognizes this as the natural state of being (State of Nature). He then offers ways to get around the State of Nature: avoiding these things as much as possible, and only executing for pseudolegitimate reasons can ensure a prince great success. I feel Locke has his ideals in mind, but there is much room for a prince to get away with limiting freedoms rather than striving for absolutism.

If Locke is merely countering Hobbs on absolute monarchy, therein lies many problems. If a prince decides to exercise in a limited monarch, then enough leeway is given to him to maintain, to at least some degree, necessary legitimacy to inhibit the State of Nature. What, then, constitutes the State of War? If a ruler can prevent this State of War by exercising cruelty and compassion in a manner that  never really constitutes the State of War for the greater population, individuals can suffer indefinitely. Basically, unless a significant population perceives a threat, individuals will always suffer under this black and white example of Nature and War.

 
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Posted by on March 4, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Antigone

Antigone suffers from something many people of our generation suffer: reckless entitlement. Being the daughter of the former King and Queen of Thebes made her the royal princess. As the anointed princess, it can be inferred that her life was relatively easy, until her father was deposed.

The feeling of being entitled to having things her way actually runs in the family. Her grandfather and (grand) mother learned that their son Oedipus would kill his father and marry his mother(them). In an attempt to determine their own fate, they decided to do away with young Oedipus. As fate would have it Oedipus escaped death and grew up; he too learned of this fate and attempted to change it. We know how it turned out: fate won.

Later, Oedipus becomes a prophet when he predicts his sons’ deaths. Antigone then attempts to alter fate by telling Polynices not to fight Eteocles: fate won. In this: Antigone sees first-hand that changing fate is a non-option. (Along with seeing it second-hand in the case of her father Oedipus’ life, twice, once by his parents and once by himself.) I think, however, Antigone knew she could not change the fate of her brothers dying at each other’s hands, attempting to was important though.

This once-princess now knows she is unable to gain control over her destiny in the way she would like. For someone used to getting things the way she wants, this is a difficult concept to wrap her head around. Herein lies the tragedy: no matter how Antigone tries, she cannot control things that are beyond her. She is opposed to life because of the aspects she cannot control.(1) She is born in and of shame to incestuous parents. (2) Her family looses power. (3) Everyone in her family except her sister and her is dead. This is fate, although they all tried, nobody was able to alter(control) their fate.

Antigone knows she cannot change her fate. What she can do, however, is control her death. Creon sentences her to death, yes, but she kills herself before the sentence was fully executed. Not even Creon, the one who sentenced her to death, could prevent her from dying. (Her power over the state, the state could sentence her to death but it could not force her to live.)

The ultimatum she poses is childish. Nobody cares about the cries of a has-been, hence her cries often fall on deaf ears. Everyone faces the prospect of death. As much as Antigone would like to pretend her situation is truly abject, she is no worse off than anyone else (in fact, probably better). To commit suicide because one feel’s the cards they are dealt aren’t good enough is a pathetic example of self-pity. Suicide is the most selfish thing one can do. Antigone committed suicide because she couldn’t deal with not being in control.

 
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Posted by on February 25, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Oedipus

Analysis:

Focusing on the Prophecies: we see that the characters, up until Polyneices, always believe they can overcome fate. Polyneices, on the other hand, accepts his fate because he does not want to be a coward. He in fact knowingly leads six men to their deaths, while the warriors(except him) are unaware. Maybe this was an instance of him trying to overcome fate, maybe he didn’t believe his father was a prophet. “That is what he wants.”(pp.142,line 1631).(suggesting his father can’t actually curse him)

I believe he understood the meat-hook realities that lay await and still decided to go through with leading his men to slaughter in the name of arrogance and pride.”I will not tell bad news. That is good generalship– to tell one’s strengths and not one’s weaknesses.”(pp. 142, lines 1634-5). Is the throne of Thebes worth his life and six other men? We know Polyneices believed so, I sincerely doubt, however, his men felt the same way, and he knew it. “If die I must, I’ll die”(pp. 143, line 1650). In these exchanges, Antigone is the voice of reason, she tells Polyneices ‘look, dad has been right before and I know you don’t want to admit it, but he’s probably right now too.’ Polyneices is so overcome with hate and a feeling of entitlement to the throne he willfully goes off to be killed and kill his brother, as was foretold by his father.

I think this is a very interesting problem, how many times have you wanted something so badly you failed to listen to reason? This is perhaps not a tragedy in the sense that it is a fundamental shortcoming of man, maybe it is though. From an objective perspective, it is easy to say that Polyneices is being stupid, but most people at some point in life will fail to listen to a voice of reason. It does not mean that this will inevitably lead to their demise, but it might. Think about smoking, or drinking and driving, or drugs, or war. There will always be people to say these things are bad and that eventually they will lead to death, none of them will certainly lead to death however. People don’t want to listen to reason, and there is something counter-intuitive in this, this may be considered a tragedy.

In this case, the voice of reason is Antigone, she pleads with her brother to let it go, but he will not be deterred. In the end, we know(as Dr.Maloney told us) the seven warriors do in fact get slaughtered. Brother kills brother, it was Polyneices who knowingly led his men to their deaths because he didn’t want to be considered a coward. Do you think ignoring reason is a tragedy, or can it also have great benefits as well? A risk is a risk because there is an obvious margin for failure, but at the same time there is a chance for success as well. Think back to when you were in junior high and adults of all sorts, (parents, teachers, coaches, etc.) were telling you how to succeed in life(work hard, get good grades, no drugs/alcohol/sex, etc.). Did you commit yourself to everything they told you? Or, at some point did you willfully decide to neglect the voice of reason? There are benefits and costs to every decision one makes, and in the end it is up to an individual to determine his/her fate. Sometimes people change their lives for the better because they do stupid things, so in the end, those stupid things were good. One of my favorite quotes is as follows: “Good judgement comes from experience, many times experience comes from bad judgement.”

 
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Posted by on February 19, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Crito

In Crito, Socrates decides to stay in prison to face his execution. Socrates’ argument is: to live in a state (or in this case the city of Athens which acts as a state) one’s whole life (with the option to expatriate one’s self). Then to renege on the contract (that is: citizenship), would be unjust and wrong. It is obvious, the function of government is to protect/benefit its citizens. If one follows the laws then there is no problem. However, when one decides to stray from the law, the state reserves the right to revoke the citizens rights and privileges. If people choose to follow laws only when convenient for them, there is no point in law. By not allowing a law to be enforced, the citizen effectively diminishes the purpose of law and enforcement thereof. Socrates has benefitted his whole life from Athenian law, he actually never once left Athens (keep in mind he is 70 and Athens is a metropolis). This would obviously constitute the contract of citizenship wherein both parties are obliged to meet certain stipulations. The citizen must act in accordance with law, the government must enforce the law.

Crito suggests that because Socrates was wrongfully sentenced in the first place, this constitutes a mistrial. Herein lies the real question, if wrongfully convicted in the first place, is the convict then obliged to serve the sentence? Socrates says: YES!  They establish it is wrong to renege on a contract or an agreement. If they leave Athens without the consent of the people of Athens, then they are harming the people thereby destroying the laws and voiding the contract between citizen and state.

This is difficult for me to comment on. I would argue laws are good and anarchy is bad. However, laws are not always right and not always enforced correctly(as seen in the Apology). Governments are not always right, and not always run correctly. We know that either Socrates was convicted of “corrupting the youth” or impiety. Although we don’t know if he was convicted on both counts, we do know the sentence: death. People have been executed for impiety for millenia. Execution for corrupting the youth, however, seems draconian (Draco’s law was ended shortly after his death when the constitution of Athens was written around 590 b.c., over a hundred years before Socrates). Imagine the Beetles being executed for corrupting the youth in the 60’s or Elvis in the 50’s or pretty much anything the older generation can’t match up on with ideals in all of history.

In the ’70’s, in Haiti, Francois Duvalier had a secret police force that murdered, raped and tortured any opposition to his government. His son, Jean-Claude, succeeded him as the anointed prince, all the more sociopathic and all this with U.S. support. The point being, governments are not always good and laws not always just. Obviously “Jim Crow” laws and other legal evils have been seen in U.S. history. If a law is evil, are we still obliged to follow it? People shape governments, governments don’t shape people. What I mean by that is, (particularly in the case of democracies) laws are reactions to society’s will. Socrates knew: being executed by the will of the pople for something he didn’t do would logically lead to people questioning the very foundation of their government. If you knew people could routinely be executed in America, wrongfully, wouldn’t you want to change the goernment? Would we be talking about Socrates today if he had fled Athens?

 
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Posted by on February 10, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Euthyphro

This dialogue shows a typical scenario of two people arguing. These two men talk for a long while, in the end it is unclear whether either one walks away any wiser. Most people take advantage of an opportunity to argue their point when provided. As seen in Euthyprho it would seem Socrates is resolved knowing  that he is right. Plato did write these dialogues, he obviously admires his former teacher and his writings are subject to this bias. That said, the conversations in the dialogues are very one-sided. Euthyphro walks away quickly to end the argument, perhaps he knows neither he nor Socrates will walk away considering the other argument valid, therefore they are wasting time. Maybe, however, Euthyphro did walk away having learned something after considering Socrates’ argument. It is unclear whether Euthyphro goes away to drop the prosecution of his father. Did Euthyphro have a sudden epiphany? It is rare, but sometimes people argue and they do learn something about themselves: they are wrong. All too often though is the argument scenario where people enter an argument with the same conviction they leave with. Failing to consider something other than one’s own view is as American as apple pie: this is “Western” philosophy. “Eastern” or “Confucian” philosophy challenges people to “look inward and examine ourselves when we encounter men of contrary character.” I think this is an important point in current American politics as we fail to heed our own advice time and time again.  America being THE world superpower, it is important to at least attempt to maintain legitimacy. As Americans we are so used to being right (Socrates), when we are wrong we are not, at very least, readily willing to admit our flaws. This is toxic because even if we are right 99% of the time (I’m not saying we are), there still will exist those times when we are wrong. When our credibility as an advice giver is severely damaged because we ourselves are unable to resolve our own problems like debt, how can we maintain legitimacy?  How will America be able to continue suggesting other countries follow things like the Kyoto Protocol and nuclear disarmament/non-proliferation when we are unable to accept these things ourselves? I’m not saying that Socrates was wrong, but if he was… would he realize it? Euthyphro, however, may very well have accepted good advice and learned something from examining himself, even if Socrates’ criticism was the reason he looked inward. It appears to me however, both parties walked away not learning anything.

 
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Posted by on February 6, 2011 in Uncategorized