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Florida legislators will soon introduce a bill legalizing open carry for firearms. If the advance information is correct, it will be legal to carry even in government buildings where we conduct the public's business. Can't one argue that a person who is obviously armed may well intimidate others who hold positions different from him/her? Put another way, those who carry carry an advantage in an arena where everyone, in theory, aspires to a level playing field. Should the aforementioned corruption of the political process be part of the conversation?

Excellent question. I am overwhelmingly sympathetic with the suggestion that this would count as illicit intimidation and there would be a presumptive case to ban guns in government buildings in which there are public forums, but I suspect this might put us on a slippery slope. I can imagine that persons might be threatened in government buildings by others who enter fully dressed up as black belt marshall artists or who come with military medals honoring them as expert killers (with knives, say, rather than guns) or simply a person comes into a building who has a huge reputation for physically harming (without using guns) those who disagree with him. Still, I think there are probably reasons for us to lower the standards of when a person might carry a firearm and be illicitly threatening (and perhaps subject to discipline, fine or expulsion). So, imagine that there is a debate on flag burning, and the person who wants to make flag burning illegal puts his hand on his gun and says something like "It...

Does philosophy have anything interesting to say about the problem of terrorism?

Yes, please go to the free, online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and see the entry: TERRORISM. There is a good survey of the terms, concepts and work that philosophers have contributed to. Because that will give you a full overview and guide plus recommended reading, I think it would be redundant of me to offer a great deal of material here. But I offer just a few thoughts as a preface to your looking at the Stanford entry: Philosophers have done a great deal of work on justice, law, and the use of force. You will find a great deal of this in simply pursuing the domains of political philosophy and philosophy of law, but also in the context of Just War Theory. Contemporary acts of terror / terrorism are not unprecedented historically, but as you will see in the Stanford entry, there are vexing issues in addressing terrorism within and without state sponsorship, and great differences between ostensible justifications of terrorism (e.g. nationalism, utilitarian rationale, theological warrants)...

Is there anything wrong with the inheritance of wealth?

My own view is that there is nothing wrong, per se (in itself) with the inheritance of wealth. Assuming that a person has gained wealth through just means (or no injustice) it seems that it should be within that person's (moral / legal) rights to make another person (a child, for example) the benefactor of such wealth. This right seems to me to be part of the right of persons to give gifts to those they choose. Cases in which the giving and receiving of inherited wealth seem to involve special factors such as: the giver acquired the wealth unjustly; the receiver of the wealth did something unjust (such as murder his gift-giving aunt in order to benefit from her will); the state may have an interest in limiting the amount of inheritance a person or family may control in order to prevent a harmful oligarchy or in order to not allow a handful of families to have monopolizing, dynastic power. You might look at Robert Nozick's Anarchy, State, and Utopia on the transfer of property.

Are institutions only the matter of sociology? Don't philosophers have something to say about them?

Philosophers do, indeed, reflect on the nature of institutions on all sorts of levels. We ask questions about the very status of institutions themselves --what are institutions and are they just or unjust, grounded upon conventions or grounded in natural law? Some philosophers treat the idea of an institution very broadly to include language and any number of rule governed practices (in some contexts one may think of friendship as an institution insofar as it involves a broad array of expectations). In a broad sense, a huge number of the entries in the free online Stanford Encyclopedia of philosophy will give you an overview of philosophical work on institutions from examining different accounts of property ownership to the criminal justice system.

Is terrorism ever justified?

Good question. Someone who is a consequentialist --that is, a person who believes the morality of an act is contingent on its actual or expected consequences such as the act's producing great happiness or unhappiness-- might have to answer "yes." This is because there are probably cases (or there could be hypothetical cases) when an act of terrorism will produce some greater good or avoid some otherwise inevitable horror and there is no other act available to the parties involved. It is this implication of consequentialism that compels some of us to reject it. Some of us think there are what might be called absolute evils, evil that is so awful that one must not perform the evil no matter what ("even if the heavens fall" or something like that, is an expression sometimes used here). I believe Gandhi once observed that if he had to choose between two evils, he would choose neither (in other words, he would challenge the premise that he "had to choose"). Those of us who think there are some wrongs...

If theft is committed as a form of political protest or civil disobedience against capitalism, does that make it less immoral than if it was done solely for amusement?

Fascinating question. Off hand, it does seem that, in some cases, the motives you cite would make a difference. Imagine two people steal a sign advertising a bank that is involved with the unfair foreclosure of homes, leaving (let us imagine) many innocent persons homeless. A person who does the stealing as an act of protest and who, let us imagine, turns herself in to draw attention to this act of disobedience, seems (to use your terms) "less immoral" than one who steals the advertisement as a joke (perhaps using the sign as a tray to serve beer to friends while watching the world cup). In fact, we may find the person who did the theft out of matters of conscience heroic. The difficulty in weighing motives, however, emerges when we dig deeper into why the persons have the motives they do. Is the person who acts to protest capitalism doing *that* solely for the sake of amusement? I came of age in the early 1970s and was present protesting the inauguration of President Nixon. A good number of us...

Some people say that "safety" is a very important thing and that the main function of the state is to promote (e.g., liberty and) safety. I think this makes no sense because one can only be safe from something, and one is never completely safe, only some of our goods are safe. So the important thing is not "safety", but whatever else is important. And it is not "safety" that the state should promote, but the keeping of our most important goods.

Great observations. "Safety" itself, in the abstract, does seem an odd goal or ideal for a state or person. You suggest the focus should be on "our most important goods" and suggest that the safety of those good (which might include personal integrity, opportunities to flourish in ways that persons choose freely, the freedom to raise families, the opportunities to pursue education, the arts, to engage in trade, and so on) is what is duly important. I might be wrong, but your observations suggest you are taking issue with libertarian accounts of the state, as libertarians argue for what might be called a minimal state --a state that governs the least possible (using the least amount of coercive power) compatible with the guarantee of basic rights. Those rights will, themselves, be pretty modest in number, but they usually include persons' rights to be free from violence and illegitimate coercion (e.g. illicit force and threats from other persons). Ironically, in order to truly secure even such basic...

Should love between a man and woman be diminished in any way by differing political viewpoints? My boyfriend and I both think politics is a minor part of life that neither of us gets directly involved in but when we do speak about it he isn't afraid to philosophize about his radical political views. As it follows, he is opposed to marriage including straight marriage and especially gay marriage because he does not accept the legitimacy of any state or institution. I don't mind spending the rest of our lives together unmarried because this in no way negatively impacts my life even though my political views are rather different. I disagree with his stance on gay marriage because I have gay friends but this does not diminish my love since we are both straight, so do political views matter when it comes to love?

Very, very interesting. You are asking about something that is perhaps a matter that is more personal and intimate than political or a matter of public philosophy (or philosophy about public life), but I offer these thoughts with some hesitation about responding to what is probably quite personal. In the West, historically (from the Medieval period on) marriage has been principally been understood as that which is established (and constituted) by two persons So, while there has been a massive tradition of arranged marriages and marriage has often been understood in terms of the transfer of property over generations in the west, at the heart of the very idea of marriage is that it involves a commitment between a man and a woman (or, as we should say today, between two persons). The role of the church and state has (from an historical point of view) been conceived of as RECOGNIZING marriage --rather than establishing marriage or constituting it. So, while in Eastern Christianity, the church is...

Is any society that uses money in some degree a capitalist society, even the ex-Soviet Union? I hear arguments everyday from others and the media that a free society must necessarily be a capitalist one but I think that is just an illusion because the government, business, and other institutions with power set out all the laws and norms for this unofficial ideology of capitalism to exist, not individuals. Most people in capitalist societies have no other choice but to spend their entire lives accumulating capital instead of doing more important things like being self-sufficient and reading philosophy. I live in a capitalist country that I don't want to be part of, so what should I do? I don't have enough time or power to change or overthrow my country's capitalist system and I don't want to leave to move to another country. Is the only solution to separate myself from society completely just like Thoreau did at Walden Pond and live off the land?

Your questions and observations are fascinating. On the first matter about money and capitalism, the answer seems to be that the bare use of money in a society would not (by itself) make it capitalist, but when you add the qualifier "in some degree" I think one must admit that the boundary between capitalist or free-market economies and those that are not can be vague. So, perhaps a more subtle response should be that insofar as citizens have money (whether this is earned or conferred on the basis of need or some other condition) that they can use to acquire different goods at their discretion (having alternatives they can select) without state coercion then that society has ("in some degree") a free market (or, if you like, it is a society in which capital can or does exchange owners in non-coercive or free trade). But, as long as we are not being too committed to such nuances, a non-captialist society (such as a socialist society) might still be thought of as non-capitalist even if it did allow for...

Does justice necessarily have to be equality?

Interesting! In certain respects, when treating persons in terms of criminal justice, most of us believe that persons should not be given unfair, special treatment because of wealth, gender, ethnicity, family, and so on.... And in many areas, we assume that, in a just society, identical or similar cases should be treated equally. If you and I both earn the same amount of money from the same job and our conditions are similar (that is, it is not the case that, say, I am childless but you are supporting three children), we naturally expect that what we pay in taxes should be the same (or equal). But in a just society, there still may be inequalities in different areas: not all members of a society will be equally healthy or strong, equally intelligent, equally loved by care-givers, you may receive massive attention by fashion magazines because of your irresistible smile, while I get no attention at all, and so on. One way to make progress here would be to think in terms of justice as fairness. ...

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