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Are the American Soldiers at Abu Ghraib responsible for their actions, and should they be considered the 'evil wrongdoers' they were made out to be.

I find it hard to see why anyone would suggest they are not responsible at all for their actions. But surely it is a good question whether they alone are responsible for their actions. And here, of course, the controversy becomes political. Did "higher-ups" issue orders that were tantamount to suggesting that such abuse would be tolerated or even welcome? Did the "higher-ups" turn a blind eye to what was happening and fail to supervise the prison properly, perhaps intentionally, so as to distance themselves from what they knew was likely to happen? This latter responsibility, for oversight, is particularly important, since we know, from the Stanford prison experiment and the classic work by Stanley Milgram , that otherwise decent human beings, when subjected to the right sorts of stresses, will do almost arbitrarily horrendous things to one another. Finally, then, one might ask whether what we know from these experiments does to some extent excuse the behavior of the soldiers at Abu Ghraib,...

Hi! Firstly, I'm sorry about my poor English. It's not my first language but I hope you can understand my question. Thanks. About Democracy. We know a government can't be democratic unless its laws are confirmed by majority of people. On the other hand, we know the majority can't force the society the oppressive laws. Is not that a paradox?! And what is the line which limit the majority?! For example: in a Muslim country, the majority may want all women dress veil. Does not it mean an oppression to some women who don't like veils?!On the other hand, in that society, if the law lets women dress or not dress veil, can such a law be democratic although it's not confirmed by the majority?! Please note my question is not only about veil in a Muslim society, it's about democracy and its way about such situations. When and where the democracy can ignore the majority will without losing its democratic nature?!

This problem, of the "tyrrany of the majority", is a very old one in political theory, and it is also one of the major practical problems every democracy must negotiate. Theoretically and historically, its solution lies in the emergence of what are sometimes called "liberal democracies". The term "liberal", in this usage, is not as opposed to "conservative" but rather concerns "liberties", that is, rights that each citizen has and that serve to protect his or her interests from the majority. In the United States, for example, these rights included those enshrined in the first ten amendments to our constitution, which are collectively known as the Bill of Rights. The first of these reads: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. Exactly what this language...

Suppose a very well to do doctor was married to a very bright man who happened to be a house husband. They had no children but he worked very hard maintaining their household. One day however the wife loses her job unexpectedly and asks her husband to help pitch in and get a job. He says, "well I don't want to do that." and in reply she says, "well then maybe we should get a divorce. And he says "Well, yes you can divorce me but I am entitled to half of your earnings for during the time we were married." I don't know this for sure but my gut tells me that most women would find something very wrong with that situation. It would seem wrong because it would seem like the man is responsible for his own livelihood after the relationship terminates. In most situations however the man is the bread winner and the women is the housewife and I think most people don't have a problem with a man paying half his earned income to his divorced wife. Am I wrong in my assumption that women (and men) would balk at the idea...

Certainly nowadays the law would require the woman to pay alimony in this situation, and I am sure there have been many such cases. I find it hard to see how anyone who wasn't just flatly sexist might think it should be otherwise. Perhaps vestiges of sexist thinking with which we have all been saddled by our society would make our gut reaction a little different, but fortunately we have brains and do not have to be ruled by our guts.

Suppose I take a taxi with a friend. She gets out when the fare is $3 and I get out when the fare is at $6. How should we distribute the total cost fairly? One idea is that I should pay double what my friend pays. $6 = X + 2X where X is the amount paid by my friend. So I would pay $4. But another idea is that we should share the fare up to her exit, then I should pay alone after. So X = $3/2 where X is the amount paid by my friend.

Here's another idea. Figure out how much would it have cost each of you to take the taxi separately. Let's say it's $3 for her (it went straight to her place), and $5 for you (the taxi had to go a bit out of its way, from your point of view). Then each of you should pay the appropriate proportion of what you would have paid, had you taken separate taxis. Let her be A, and let you be C. Let AJ be her fare for your joint ride. Let AS be her fare had you ridden separately; in practice, AJ=AS, since the fact that you are in the cab won't change the route (unless you ask the driver to take the scenic route, for reasons we will not discuss). Let CJ and CS be yours jointly and separately, too. Normally, CJ >= CS (going together didn't make the fare to your place less than it would have been), though we don't have to assume that, either. Anyway, consider now the ratio CJ/(AS+CS). This is the proportion of the actual cost to what it would have cost to get you home separately. My proposal is that she...

I am an American who has embraced the ideals of the Enlightenment, specifically the inherent value, perspective, and rights all humans on this planet. How do we reconcile these values with contemporary ideologies, specifically Zionism, that posits a racially, religiously unique group with "overriding" rights?

It's no doubt true that Zionism as such doesn't necessarily insist that Jews are "unique" and so deserve "overriding rights". That said, there's a case to be made that "national ideologies" are intrinsically racist, on the ground that the very notion of a "nation" that is being deployed here is intrinsically racist. It is certainly true, for example, that there are people who regard the French as constituting a "nation" that deserves its own homeland, but most of those people would generally be regarded as extremists, and the same goes for British and German nationalists. If so, then nationalism is fundamentally inconsistent with the Enlightenment values the questioner mentions. Whether any of what I've just said is true, however, is hotly debated. In particular, the question to what extent "shared community values" might inform the basic structure of a political system has been much discussed over the last few decades. As good a place to start as any is Michael Walzer's Spheres of Justice .

Having just read Dawkins's The God Delusion I was appalled to learn how reviled atheists are in America. In Europe a person's stance (including politician's) on religion is largely irrelevant unless they draw attention to it. What is going on in America? What should skeptics and atheist philosophers do there to point out that atheism is a reasoned and logical viewpoint that doesn't presuppose immorality, etc.? It beggars belief that all presidential aspirants have to (in some cases as Dawkins remarks) probably pretend to be Christians in order to have any chance of being elected. I know of the Atheist's Wager, acceptance of which seems braver to me than blindly accepting the religious promises of heaven as dictated by those who brought you up. And what place do 'faith-based initiatives' have in an ostensibly secular government where church and state are separate under the constitution?

I agree with Eddy that atheists are indeed regarded with a good deal of skepticism in the United States, and, in particular, that an "out of the closet" atheist would have a hard time being elected to national office. That said, I think his own comments reveal that he is almost as ignorant of the varieties of religious belief as are the believers he is criticizing. I think it's probably safe to say that a majority of the people at my church do not "believe in a God with supernatural powers ... or in special creationor in immaterial souls", with the only question I'd leave open being how many of us believe in some form of continued existence ("life" is probably not the correct term) after death. To borrow from the words of someone who wrote recently in Time discussing Barack Obama's religious beliefs, for many relgious folks, God is more a matter of mystery than of miracles.
The clarification is welcome, but the reason for my remark was simply that I was putting these two remarks together: (i) "I think that an avowed atheist would have absolutely no hope ofelection to President or likely to any major office in any (or almostany) state, regardless of his or her other attributes orviews..."; (ii) "Once one recognizes that atheists can and do believe these [sensible] things, itis difficult to see why choosing not to believe in a God withsupernatural powers...should count against one's ability to bean effective political leader or most anything else." Unless I'm missing something, (ii), read against (i), strongly suggests that an atheist is someone who rejects supernaturalism , etc, which rather strongly suggests that a theist is someone who endorses it. Perhaps (ii) was badly stated, and should have said simply, "...it is difficult to see why choosing not to believe in a divine being should count against...".

George W. Bush has, along with many others, made the claim that marriage is the fundamental basis of civilization. Is there any reasonable argument to be made supporting this claim? If not, is there another institution that makes a better candidate for being the fundamental basis of civilization?

I take it that the thinking is that the family is the "basis of civilization" and that marriage is the basis of the family. Both claims can be doubted. More importantly, their conjunction can be: It may well be that each claim can seem plausible, in its own right, but that is because one is understanding the word "family" in different senses both times. Perhaps there is some sense in which it's obvious that family groups are fundamental social units. But what a "family group" is, in that sense, needn't have much to do with "nucelar families" in the sense our President thinks of them. Or again, it may seem obvious that there is some sense in which marriage, by which I mean a committed long-term relationship between adults, is the basis of the family. But then one is of course thinking of "family" in a particular sense, and it's entirely unobvious why families in that sense are the foundation of civilization. Regarding the last question: Why think that civilization needs to have a "fundamental...

Should freedom of speech be absolute or should there be restrictions on publishing material that is offensive to religious sensitivities, particularly if publication serves no particular public interest?

As well as the important question of principle (which I shall largely leave to others), there are ipmortant practical questions here: Exactly which religious sensitivities should be given legal standing? What counts as offense? How should it be determined whether publication serves a particular public interest? Perhaps more importantly, by whom should it be determined? And why limit it to speech? To borrow from a recent column in the Boston Globe by Jeff Jacoby (with whose overall point I do not actually agree), should the eating of beef be banned on the ground that it is offensive to Hindus? Should women be forced to "cover up" on the ground that the display of female flesh is offensive to many extreme traditionalists? Quite apart from the question of principle, this does not seem a road down which one really wants to travel. For that matter, why limit it to religious sensibilities? There's a lot that offends me, some for religious reasons, some not. Why privilege the former? None of...

Given the absence of justice for many victims, at what point does vigilante action become morally acceptable?

I'm a little puzzled by this question. In what sense do victims get justice from the working of the criminal justice system? I ask this question in all sincerity. I know many people sincerely believe that it is one of the purposes of the criminal justice system to dispense justice to victims of crime, but I have never myself seen it that way, and I don't really understand why other people do. So I'm puzzled. For what it's worth, though, I don't think "vigilante action" is ever morally acceptable, so long as a functioning government is in place. It may be understandable in certain cases, but that is different. The IRA dispensed its own brand of justice in Northern Ireland for years, and we have now seen where that leads. Just ask the sisters of Robert McCartney, who were otherwise no fans of British rule.

Are there any arguments against allowing gay marriage that aren't religious or bigoted or both?

The article to which Dan links raises questions about marriage, adoption, and child-rearing that are often found at the basis of people's concerns about gay marriage. I think there is a great deal of discomfort in US society nowadays (I'll stick to my own country) concerning these issues and, more generally, all kinds of issues relating to family. Some people feel very profoundly that the biological link between parent and child is deeply important, and the stories one so often hears of adopted children devoting large parts of their lives to seeking their birth-parents reinforces this opinion. (So-called open adoption bypasses that problem.) I think one can understand why someone with strong enough views along these lines would be opposed to gay marriage, in so far as gay marriage would instill certain kinds of parental rights. Of course, as has often been pointed out, such rights existed in Massachusetts before gay marriage was recognized, and there are many other jurisdictions in which such...

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