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Is it fair for the government to impose something onto people that they did not want or ask for, while still expecting them to carry the burden of it? For example in 2015 the government mandated that all TV stations stop broadcasting in analog and broadcast exclusively in digital. The result of this was billions of dollars wasted in PSAs and handing out converter boxes, millions of portable TV sets ending up in landfills, and many low income families left without TV. The cost of all of this was ultimately left to taxpayers, while the government made 19 billion in spectrum auctions. In other words, the government gained a massive benefit at the expense of the citizens. Can one justify breaking a law that causes more harm than good? Lets say that I am operating a TV station in a rural area with a lot of mountains and bad weather, in which a digital signal would have poor reception. Would I be justified in broadcasting an analog TV signal in this area, even though I am legally prohibited from doing so? As...

Lots of questions there. I'll offer three comments. The first is that if citizens simply get to pick and choose the laws they follow, then we don't have laws at all. The question of what makes government coercion legitimate is a big one, and I'm not a political philosopher. But if governments are ever legitimate, then it will also be legitimate to prevent people, by force if necessary, from simply ignoring laws they don't like. The second comment is about this:           In other words, the government gained a massive benefit at the expense of the citizens. I'd suggest there's a confusion here. The government isn't a private corporation. Money that "the government" has is money that the State has, and, if the State isn't corrupt, the government (the institutional embodiment of the State) uses the money for the benefit of its citizens. It's not stowed in secret bank accounts that government officials can draw on for their own benefit. Finally, is it ever justified to break a law that does more...

The law mandates that people must wait until they are 21 years of age in order to consume alcohol, on the grounds that that is the age at which the body is fully capable of handling alcohol. But it is well understood in biology and physiology that people's bodies grow and develop at different rates depending on any number of factors: environment, genetics, etc. And that is just the physical aspect of it. There is also the mental aspect of understanding the potential dangers of alcohol and knowing how much is safe to consume. Many 18 - 20 year old college students consume alcohol without any harm resulting. Is it accurate to draw a line in the sand and say "this is when you are ready for alcohol"? Sartre says that "existence precedes essence" which I interpret to mean that people are responsible for determining the course of their own lives. So shouldn't we have the freedom to determine for ourselves when we are ready for alcohol? Why should the government make that decision for us? If a person is both...

And people are ready to drive cars at different ages. But I'm going to guess that it would be a bad thing overall if 12-year-olds were allowed to drive. And people are intellectually capable of entering into contracts at different ages, but even the 10-year-olds who think they are probably aren't. In America, we tend to favor laws that aren't paternalistic. We tend to think that we should err on the side of treating adults as able to make responsible decisions, even though there are lots of cases where they aren't. But in America (and most places), we tend to think that paternalism about non-adults is another matter. It's not just that on average, non-adults are less ready to make decisions than adults. It's also that there are plenty of adults who would be quite happy to exploit the over-confidence, lack of experience and impulsivity of many non-adults. They'd be happy to sell whisky to 10-year-olds. They're be happy to hire children for bad wages to do dangerous work. If you want to argue that there...

How much of the laws on the books today were written by philosophers of law? It seems to me that the overwhelming majority of laws were written by people with JDs ergo people with degrees in which philosophy of law was not an important subject during their education. If they had more training in the philosophy of law would law be More efficient and fairer?

Disclaimer: I'm neither a JD nor a philosopher of law. But I don't think that will matter for the points I want to make. My guess is that very few laws were written by people with training in philosophy of law, and not too many more by people with training in philosophy of any sort. But I'm not sure that should worry us. The first reason is that laws in many countries—including the United States, where I live—are part of the democratic process. They neither are nor pretend to be examples of perfect justice or perfect efficiency. They're the result of various kinds of compromise and without a dictator, that's how it has to be. Furthermore, in democratic systems, the question of what justice really demands isn't the only one we think should guide lawmaking. People can disagree about what's just. In democratic systems, the will of the voters counts. Suppose a legislative aide has been charged with drafting a law. Suppose she is well-schooled in legal philosophy. And suppose that the statute she's...

I'm a lawyer. One of my previous clients asked me for specific legal advice that he later used to commit financial fraud. I strongly suspected at the time that he was going to use my advice for that very purpose but I told him anyway because I like him as a person and I also disagree with the law that prohibits the particular type of fraud that he committed. Have I acted immorally according to virtue ethics?

First, a thought about the question: you ask whether you've "acted immorally according to virtue ethics." You might be trying to understand what light virtue ethics in particular casts on a case like this, or you might be interested in whether what you did was wrong, period. In either case, I don't think we have enough information to say. But let's take the cases in turn. Some views provide what's supposed to be a criterion that we might be able to use rather like an algorithm to figure out what's right or wrong. Utilitarianism would tell us to do a sort of cost/benefit analysis, toting up the goods and the harms and deciding whether one action is better than another by seeing how the arithmetic works out. Kantianism would direct us to apply the Categorical Imperative in one or another of its forms. (For example: we might ask whether what we're considering would call for treating someone merely as a means to an end.) Virtue ethics doesn't work that way. It's often understood as telling us to do...

Justice Scalia famously stated that crosses on graves have, well, crossed-over from an overtly religious symbol to one that may represent any dead soldier. How do philosophers treat such claims? How do we establish when religious practices, symbols, rituals, etc. have entered the secular public domain to the extent that the law can recognize them as such?

I'll have to admit that I think Justice Scalia is full of prunes on this one, as my grandmother would have said. And I think the case was decided wrongly by the Supreme Court. (Here's an account of the decision that's not just neutral, but still... http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2010/04/28/supreme-court-rules-that-a-cross-is-not-a-symbol-of-christianity/ ) As for your question, it has an empirical component and a conceptual one. The conceptual part calls for deciding what it would mean for a symbol not to have a religious meaning, and the empirical part would be finding out if crosses on graves now have a secular meaning. The answer to the conceptual question might call for some bells and filigrees, but the basic idea is pretty clear: do most people, including in this case most non-Christian people , agree that a particular symbol (in this case, a cross on a grave) has no religious meaning? If the answer is yes, then Justice Scalia is right. If the answer is no, then he's wrong....

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...

Are libel laws immoral? Libel is so not easy to define yet depending on how it may be interpreted, all satire and caricature can be considered libel. Isn't the mark of a free society being able to say whatever one wants, even if it amounts to character assassination? Character assassinations can always be defended in the court of public opinion without resorting to courts of law.

Your suggestion that all libel laws are immoral seems to be based on the premise implicit in this rhetorical question: "Isn't the mark of a free society being able to say whatever one wants, even if it amounts to character assassination?" But why think that? As near as I can tell, more or less all of the societies that we usually think of as by and large free have libel and/or defamation laws, and so if the freedom to say anything you like about anyone, in any venue, without legal consequences, were the mark of a free society, it would follow that there are no free societies. But that conclusion would rely on using the phrase "free society" in a way that very few people would find plausible. Turning to the substance, it's not easy to com up with good reasons why a society should do without libel laws. Your suggestion is that the "court of public opinion" is the alternative. But what if someone libels you and it costs your your job? What if it not only costs you the job you had, but marks you as a...

Suppose you have been wrongly accused of murder. You know you are innocent but you also know that the states attorney believes you are guilty. The attorney offers you 25 years if you plead guilty but If you go to trial you will be executed if you are found guilty. You are unsure of your chances of winning the case so to prevent the possibility of death you accept the plea. Does the fact that you chose the plea bargain mean that you acknowledge that it is better to have a plea bargain than not have a plea bargain? If it is better for you to have it than not have it then does that mean that someone who would consider such a plea bargain to be coercion is wrong?

Given that I'm in the rotten situation of being charged with a murder I didn't commit, it may be a good thing for me that I can avoid being executed. But I'm in a rotten situation; all things considered, my situation is bad. It's bad even if I would be a fool not to accept the plea deal. It's bad even if the possibility of plea deals is a good thing in general, and even if the prosecutor is acting entirely responsibly. (Let's suppose the murder I'm accused of is a particularly heinous crime and that the evidence is strong, even if it points to the wrong conclusion.) It could be good for the justice system overall that plea deals like this are possible, good for me from a narrow point of view that I can accept the deal, and yet, given that I'm innocent, a bad situation from my larger point of view. What about coercion? If we use that word, most people would understand it to mean that the prosecutor shouldn't be putting me in this situation---that a responsible prosecutor wouldn't offer such a stark...

Do polygamy bans violate the natural rights of bisexuals? In wake of the current Supreme Court debate in the US that gay marriage bans violate due process and equal protection guarantees, I want to ask a philosopher whether these two legal concepts, due process and equal protection (which go by different names in different countries), are derived from natural philosophical rights. If so and assuming that they are similar in meaning, does that mean that at least philosophically speaking, polygamy irrespective of particular examples is NOT inherently immoral? The main philosophical argument for gay marriage from what I've heard is that since sexual orientation is a fundamental and largely unchangeable part of a person's nature, it is immoral to deny gays a right that straight people have. But what about bisexuals? Isn't a bisexual woman or man who is in a serious relationship with both a man and a woman at the same time just as deserving? I don't think it matters whether or not the other two members of the...

I'm not sure I have your question clearly in my sights, but I think it's something like this: As it stands the only kind of marriage many countries recognize is between one man and one woman. Advocates of same-sex marriage argue that for a variety of reasons, not least the fact that sexual orientation isn't simply a choice, we ought to recognize same-sex marriages as well. Otherwise, there's a serious issue of fairness and justice. Your suggestion is that this leaves a particular injustice unaddressed: bisexual people who are in relationships with men and women at the same time. If same-sex marriage is the cure for discrimination against homosexual relationships, then, so the thought goes, polygamous marriage is the cure for the parallel injustice against bisexuals. Here's why I'm not persuaded. Leave hetero- vs. homo- vs. bisexuality aside. Some people are in love with more than one person. Call people capable of such attachments polyamorous. In some cases, all concerned parties would be more...

Is it unfair for a judge to give their verdict based on a technicality?

Suppose the "technicality" is something that the law pretty clearly entails, even though it's doubtful that legislators had the particular worrying circumstances in mind. In that case, the judge is doing something we normally think judges are supposed to do: deciding cases based on the law. It's open to the judge to point out that this is an unfortunate consequence of the law, and may be open to him/her to adjust penalties accordingly, but if the law actually has a certain consequence, then that's the law. If the "technicality" is an unfortunate one, legislators can fix it, or so the argument would go. Compare: suppose that it's not a matter of a technicality at all, but a matter of a law that the judge thinks is bad. Then it's still the judge's sworn obligation to follow the law. Is this fair? In various senses of the word, the answer may be no. Should the judge do otherwise? That doesn't follow. It's not clear that the cure for bad laws is to have judges substitute their judgment of what's...

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