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It seems today that in mainstream media and political discourse proponents of neoliberalism equate freedom with consumer choice. Many arguments about the restructuring of safety net programs, such as social security and medicare, along market logic of private competition and less government involvement, usually mention how this would bring about more "choice" for individuals and thus more freedom. Neoliberalism has brought a shift in discourse about freedom and liberty more inline with market type of discourse. The shift seems to be from having the freedom OF choice, to freedom IS choice. Much can be said about this from many different philosophical perspectives (an interesting one that comes to mind being Foucault and governmentality), but I want to go back to further, to Kant. My question is what would Kant say about this idea of freedom, that freedom is equated with choice - specifically- consumer/market choice? This type of questions plagues me because this neoliberal logic seems to reduce,...

A fine question. Let us assume thatyour basic characterisation of of the conception of freedom withneoliberal thought is correct. It seems to me that there are two basicissues behind Kant's account of freedom. The first (which he wouldcall 'theoretical') is that a free act liesoutside of the series of causes that act upon me. This corresponds roughly to what todaywe would call 'freedom from' constraint. This at least resembles thenotion of freedom that you are criticising. Any limitation upon therange of my free act could be construed as a limitation upon freedom.Thus, the more things around me to buy, sell, or trade, and the fewerrules telling me what I must or cannot do, the more I am free.Accordingly, 'Freedom is choice'. While Kant seems to think of this theoretical freedom as instrinsic, belonging to me as a potential even if not exercised in fact, some interpretations of 'freedom is choice' go further: freedom exists only in choosing. One implication of this is that the latter...

I live in Ireland where it is obligatory for students to learn the Irish language while in both primary and secondary education (for a period of 13 / 14 years) The reason for this obligation being that the Irish language is part of our heritage / our national identity. My question is should we be obligated to our heritage / national identity and if yes to what degree?

What a fine question! But a very difficult one. In a nutshell, I'm inclined to defend the thesis there are wideareas of experience that cannot be understood to be possible if weconsider the self as in some way detachable from its culturalcontext. There aren't many philosophers who even raise suchdetachment as a possibility, much less something desirable. In this'wide area' I would include at least all the arts, many of thenuances of emotion or expression, certain varieties of inter-personalrelations (e.g. some familial relations), and probably also bigchunks of politics and religion. Assuming then that it were possibleto forget or never acquire culture, one's life would be considerablyimpoverished. On this way of thinking, it is feasible that one shouldfeel grateful to one's culture; and, moreover, preserving it is aspecies of moral service to others. In the case you describe, part ofparticipating fully in traditional Irish culture is learning thelanguage – in this way one gains access...

Recently in politics the word 'elitist' has been used in bad connotations; as if it is bad to be elite. Why shouldn't our leaders be elitists?

An interesting question. The word comesfrom 'elite', obviously, and ultimately from Latin by way of French;originally it meant the 'chosen' or 'elected'. So, in a democracy(and for the purposes of this answer I'll assume that's the positionwe are concerned with) our leaders are indeed the 'elite', andinsofar as we think there should be elections and that the winner ofthe election should be the new leader, all voters are 'elitist'! But that is disingenuous, because thatoriginal meaning would have had little to do with our modern sense ofdemocracy. Instead, the original meaning would have referred to thoseof high social rank (who were elected by fate, perhaps, to play thathigh born role), or those ministers of state who were favoured by theking, or a figure like the Pope who is (ultimately though indirectly)chosen by God. In fact, it was the transition to democratic modes ofgovernment in recent centuries that gave the word 'elite' a tarnishedreputation. The 'elite' were precisely those NOT chosen by...

Is it right to make glib statements such as "You must vote"? My elderly mother took this statement to heart and voted in a referendum although she was uncertain at the time which way to vote. After she had voted she was very unsettled because she felt that she might have made the wrong decision - but she voted because she felt that it would be more wrong not to vote than to make the wrong selection when voting. ("You must vote" signs posted throughout the country - at the behest of the Government.)

This points to an interesting moral question concerning the formulation of moral rules. It seems to me that your question concerns over-simplified (you call them 'glib') moral rules. The assumption (by those who authorised the signs) must be that the rule holds good most of the time, or that if it is followed all the time that the result will be better than if it is not followed. Presumably there is a vaguely utilitarian calculation going on. However, when formulated in this over-simplified manner, there may result individual undesirable consequences -- your mother's situation may be an example. (Similarly, even 'Do not kill' is a good moral rule, but because over-simplified comes into conflict with the possibility of self-defense or just war.) The rule might be better formulated as 'You should vote, unless you genuinely do not understand the issue you are voting on'. However, even this may not cover all the possible objections. More importantly, it is not as forceful a piece of rhetoric as the...