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If I have a choice between two candidates, neither of whom I like, is the morally responsible thing to not vote, because I then wouldn't be causally implicated in either of them coming into office?

That's certainly one acceptable response. Others might include voting for a third candidate if one is available, writing in a candidate's name if the ballot allows, or, in extremis , spoiling the ballot as a protest. There's another issue worth raising. One might ask whether one's dislike of a candidate stands up to scrutiny. In this Presidential election, many people claim that they dislike both major party candidates. But a couple of things to bear in mind. 1) Personal dislike, as in "I find him/her obnoxious" doesn't strike me as a very good reason to vote against someone, especially if there's a lot at stake. What one might more reasonably care about is whether the politician favors policies that one find acceptable, and whether s/he will be effective at promoting them—whether or not s/he is someone whom you find obnoxious. Is what you find obnoxious just a matter of personality? Or is it a symptom of something that matters for larger reasons? 2) Is the dislike based on good information? Here I...

The problem with government is, in my opinion, not because of the type (democracy, polity, monarchy, etc.), but because of the social classes. If everyone was in the same class (upper, middle, lower) or if everyone was apart of no class whatsoever, would this eliminate a few problems associated with government?

I'm having a bit of trouble coming up with a realistic picture of what this classless society would look like. People have different skills, talents, affinities, backgrounds... and in the normal course of things it's no surprise that classes form. It's true that governments spend time and resources ameliorating some of the more vicious effects of class differences, but humans being what they are, I'd guess that the only way to avoid the formation of classes altogether would be by means of heavy-duty coercion. That, however, would almost certainly come from the government, and so enforcing the classless society might well make the job of government harder, not easier. Or so I'd guess.

Most of the arguments I hear about government-sponsored social welfare program seem aimed at whether it is appropriate for the government to confiscate assets from one group of people in order to then distribute them to a different group of people. These discussions always seem to omit any examination of the effects on the people receiving the assistance, especially whether it is more harmful than helpful to them when all things are considered. Every parent (or aunt/uncle) probably has been in a situation in which their child says "I want to do it myself." Helping people develop a sense of personal responsibility and competence in managing their own life seems to be an integral part of parenting. So (setting aside the exception of people who are permanently disabled in some way): how do we reconcile these two situations? It seems like private social welfare programs are aimed at helping people through temporary difficulties on their way from once being and again becoming "self-reliant" (in an...

Two quick points. The first is that I've heard a great deal of talk about the dependency issue. Ad when I say "I've heard," I don't mean in my own social circle. I mean from politicians and professional pundits. Indeed, this issue of dependency has been a long-time GOP taking point. The second is that whatever the merits of that point, your questions suggests that most people on public assistance stay on it more or less permanently. But as far as I know, this is not actually true (except for the permanently disabled population.) Although I realize that Huffington Post is a liberal rather than a conservative site, the figures that this article draws on are not from a partisan source, and they're consistent with what I have heard from other sources: most (non-disabled) people who get public assistance get it temporarily. Here's the link. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/05/29/public-benefits-safety-net_n_7470060.html

A presidential candidate's adviser earlier today asked supporters in one state to vote for a rival in order to deny the delegate leader another win. I have always thought that voting strategically--manipulating the process to promote a particular result rather than voting for your "best candidate"--was a perversion of the franchise. I was once criticized because I voted my conscience for a candidate with little chance of winning (a Green) because it robbed the Democrat of support in a close race. I found the reasoning flawed. I guess my question is what is best for a democracy--voting based on good faith evaluation of candidates or voting for the candidate closest to one's political view who is also electable?

Others on this panel have more insight into this sort of problem than I do, but my inclination is to say that there's no one answer. It depends on the actual situation and slate of candidates. Suppose one candidate, if elected, would be truly bad for democracy---would support all sorts of anti-democratic policies, and would have a good chance of getting them passed. Suppose the relevant alternatives are two candidates, neither of whom would support policies that undermine democracy, but one of them is markedly more to your liking on other issues. Then if you place highest value on preserving democracy, strategic voting may be exactly what your own values call for. If there's a real threat that a lot of votes for your preferred candidate would throw the election to someone who's truly undesirable by your own lights, it's hard to see how strategic voting could be a "perversion of the process"---the process is already perverse; you're just trying to mitigate that. Here's the problem. To say that...

I consider myself a socially liberal agnostic from the South. I turn 40 soon and was a Christian until I was 32 growing up in a southern Baptist family. While discussing today's world and politics with my family and friends, when I don't have an answer that satisfies them they usually change topics by calling me a "liberal" as if it is some sort of hurtful slur. I don't understand this b/c I actually know the definition and their is nothing hurtful about it. My biggest problem with them using this label is that, the one man they taught me to worship for most of my life preached feeding the poor (food stamps), healing the sick (socialized meds), and overly emphasized passivism (turning the other cheek/avoiding conflict), three very liberal ideas that seem to me common logical sense, yet they oppose those people that receive these services that they don't think deserve them. Am I missing something or should I be offended by being called this? The rhetoric I hear from Christians these days about...

I've never quite forgiven Ronald Reagan for making "liberal" into a slur, but letting that pass... I don't think there's necessarily any inconsistency here. Jesus told us to feed the poor, heal the sick, and turn the other cheek. But he didn't say that the government should be in charge of all this. In fact Jesus had more or less nothing to say about how secular government should be set up (unless you can extract a political theory from his cryptic remark about rendering unto Caesar what is Caesar's. It's consistent for someone to feel a duty to do what Jesus commanded and also to believe that the government shouldn't coercively extract money from people to carry out this mandate. As it happens, I'm a liberal and am quite happy to see government tax us to feed people, cure them, educate them, and so on. But I don't think politically conservative Christians are automatically guilty of confusion, let alone bad faith.

Is is true that justice is an essential element of law such that without it, law cannot be law?

The big issue behind your question is the relationship between law and morality. That's a very big question, though on at lest one important view of what laws are (legal positivism) the answer to your question is no. On the positivist view, laws are, roughly, what lawmaking entities (legislatures, monarchs...) say they are. Whether a law is is another question, as is the question of whether you should obey some particular law. Whether you think this is right at the end of the day, it fits the common sense thought that there can be bad laws that are still laws. For example: I'd say that at least some aspects of US civil forfeiture laws are actually unjust. They allow the government to seize your property in ways that, these days, many liberals and conservatives agree are unjust. But critics of those laws don't claim that they aren't actually laws; they argue that the laws should be changed. In any case, there are laws that don't raise questions of justice. In the USA, the law says you drive on...

Is a society that criminalizes incitement to violence and libel really a free society despite all other forms of speech being legal?

Is a society that criminalizes murder a free society? Depends on what you mean. If a free society is one in which nothing is forbidden, then if anything is criminalized, the society isn't free. But if that's what's meant by "free society," then no sane person would want to live in one. This suggests that taking "free society" to mean "society with no rules or restrictions" doesn't really get at what people mean when they use those words. As a first stab, it's probably better to say that a free society is one with no unjustifiable restrictions on people's liberty. That's not meant to say which societies are free, or to what extent. For one thing, there's room to argue about which restrictions are justifiable. For another, even insofar as we agree about that, it will almost certainly turn out that no legal system gets it exactly right. The better version of your question, I suggest, is whether it's justifiable for a society to criminalize speech that incites violence or libels someone. There's...

What is impartiality for a judge deciding something like a legal case? I'm not asking about an impartial decision by the judge, but about an impartial situation. For instance, I'm necessarily partial (in this sense) when deciding a case concerning myself. But it seems that I'm also partial when deciding a case concerning my children, since I love them a lot. A racist is necessarily partial when deciding a case between people from different races, isn't he/she? What about a human deciding a case related to the interests of animals? And what about any decent person deciding a case against a criminal?

I'm a little worried about the distinction between the decision and the situation. A judge's decision is impartial, roughly, if it amounts to applying the law to the facts as opposed to tinkering with what the law actually calls for or what the facts actually amount to. The decision can be impartial even if the judge privately wishes that the right verdict were otherwise. A simple example: I might judge that one of two students deserves a prize because his record is stronger, even though I wish the other student were the one who should win. My judgment is impartial even though I have private and partial attitudes that, if acted on, might lead to a different result. Is the situation impartial? Perhaps not; I do, after all have a preference about how I wish things would turn out. But that's consistent with the decision being impartial. That's because there are many cases where we're capable of setting our personal views aside. And that's all we can reasonably ask. That said, in some cases it's asking...

Does the liberal idea which is such a significant part of our modern conception of democracy that all people are created equal and are therefor endowed with the same rights have a philosophical or an empirical foundation? I've noticed it took a while for this concept to develop even though it has a pretty clearly written out partial foundation within the constitution of the U.S. "We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal" Did the "founders" believe despite other powers that they couldn't control that slavery should be banned under this principle? I don't see how such a thing is self-evident and anyhow do we really think that severely mentally challenged people have the same rights for example? I even know that in at least one state some people can be adjudicated as unfit to vote - although I personally think that as a matter of principle even people who are very mentally challenged should be able to vote. But I think that there are other realms where very mentally challenged...

You've raised a good and complicated question. Let's leave the word "created" aside, since if it has its religious meaning, many people won't find it self-evident. I take the claim that "all men are equal" to be a way of saying what philosophers put this way: "All persons are entitled to equal moral consideration." It's not an empirical claim, since we don't get the answers to broad questions of moral principle by adding up the facts, though as we'll note below, empirical facts can be relevant to applying the principle. Notice a few things the principle doesn't say. First, it doesn't say what a person is; that's a hard question that we'll set aside. Second, it doesn't say that only persons are entitled to moral consideration. It might be that some animals are. It might even be - on some views - that parts of inanimate nature are too. Third, and perhaps more relevant to your question, it doesn't say that all persons have the same detailed rights. 10-year-olds don't have the right to...

Fox "news," busily enjoining viewers to mock the idea of wealth redistribution, has posted a story entitled "College Students in Favor of Wealth Distribution Are Asked to Pass Their Grade Points to Other Students" http://www.foxnews.com/us/2011/08/17/college-students-in-favor-wealth-distribution-are-asked-to-support-grade/ Their ludicrous point is "if wealth is going to be redistributed, we should do the same with grades." Is this a "fallacy by false analogy?" If not, what would be the most succinct explanation to explain what's wrong with this comparison? Thanks, Tom K.

Thanks for a few moments of idle amusement! Perhaps the best response is "Oy!" But to earn the huge salary in Merely Possible Dollars that the site pays me, a bit more is called for. So yes: it's a case of false analogy, and the analogy goes bad in indefinitely many ways. But one of them has at least some intrinsic logical interest. Suppose that as a matter of social policy, we set up a system that left everyone with a paycheck of the same size at the end of every month. What does that amount to? It amounts to saying that each person can acquire the same quantity of goods as each other person. Maybe that would be a bad idea; maybe the result would be that people would get lazy and less wealth would end up getting produced overall. But that's not built into to very logic of the idea. It's an empirical claim, even if a highly plausible one. There's nothing logical incoherent, as it were, about a system intended to produce completely uniform distribution of wealth, whatever the practical...

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