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Do people have the right to rebel in a democracy? Is it just?

What makes this issue tricky is that the question seems to equivocate on the notions of "right" and "just." Suppose (as seems likely) that rebelling against a democratic government involves conduct that the government in question has declared illegal. It seems clear that such rebellious conduct can't be "right" or "just" in the sense of of being legally permissible . It would, after all, threaten incoherence if a code of law has an 'out clause' permitting rebellion, akin to "here are the laws, but you can rebel against them without penalty." That would render that system of law toothless with respect to its authority. So if there is right to rebel, the right can't be a legal or political one. It would have to be a moral or "natural" right. Indeed, this seems to be what political theorists such as Locke (and the framers of the U.S. Constitution he inspired) had in mind when they referenced a right to rebel against unjust governments. I won't take on the big project of defending the existence of such...

People often take pride in things that they don't have control over, or events and accomplishments in which they were not involved. For example, an American might be proud of the United State's role in World War 2 even though it occurred long before he was even born. Much the same could be said of pride of one's race, university, local sports team, extended family or ancestry, and so on. How can this kind of pride be justified?

Standardly, philosophers think of pride as closely related to deservedness. Pride, on this view, amounts to taking pleasure in one's excellence or accomplishments. To have proper pride therefore requires that one have an accurate appraisal of one's excellence or accomplishments. To take more pleasure than one's excellence or accomplishments merit is to exhibit vanity. To take less pleasure than one's excellence or accomplishments merit is to exhibit excessive modesty or a lack of self-respect. (This analysis of pride owes much to Aristotle's discussion of pride in the Nicomachean Ethics .) So what of those who (as you ask) are 'proud of' their nation's past accomplishments, or in the victories of their favorites sports teams, etc.? On its face, pride seems unjustified in these cases. For these are not the person's accomplishments but the accomplishments of others. It would, I agree, be a form of noxious self-flattery for someone born well after the Second World War to take literal pride in the US'...

To know what beauty is, shouldn't one observe examples of it? But if one doesn't know what beauty is in the first place, how can one tell if one is observing examples of it?

Nice question! Here's a quick reconstruction of your reasoning: (1) In order to know what X is, you need to observe instances of X. (2) But one could only know one is observing instances of X if one already knew what X is. (3) Hence, one can neither know what X is nor know whether one is observing instances of X. (3) looks like a pretty powerful skeptical conclusion: It would seem like we can't know whether a certain thing is beautiful unless we know what beauty is, but we can't know what beauty is unless we know which things are beautiful. We certainly seem stuck -- and the same reasoning could be used to generate skeptical conclusions about other important philosophical concepts (such as goodness, virtue, and so on). Is there a way out of this conundrum? There are a lot of complex issues here, so let me just mention some possible ways out and leave it to you to assess their plausibility: Testimony Others might be in a credible position to tell us which things are beautiful or what beauty is....

Ethics of procreation: Consider a scientist that could grow humans knowing that two thirds of them would die after suffering short lives of terror and extreme deprivation, but one third of the lives he could produce in this manner would survive to a productive adult life. We would think that if he were to create extremely bad lives rather than good lives, he would be committing Mengalian atrocities, or at least, that is what I think the general intuition would be. But there are conditions in which people procreate knowing that their children will suffer short and extremely bad lives, in subsistence conditions, where two thirds of the children they produce will suffer in this way. To ensure the two cases are analogous, suppose that the scientist creates these lives only to ensure his genetic continuation, his security in old age, or out of economic necessity, and will stop producing lives only when he has two viable children to support him and work in his lab. Can one context of procreation be plausibly...

Based on your description of the scenarios you're envisioning, I'm not seeing any inherent moral difference between the scientist and those who procreate children in the 'ordinary' or 'natural' way. Whatever moral reasons seem to weigh either for or against procreating children knowing that there is a high probability they will have "short and extremely bad lives" apply equally to the scientist as to anyone else who procreates under the same conditions. Perhaps you're seeking to highlight that the scientist 'grows' humans outside of a "natural context" as a morally significant factor that makes his procreative acts morally worse. There I'd have to say that while his creating the offspring in some sort of artificial or 'unnatural' way adds to the 'ick' factor, but it's hard to see how there's any moral difference there. No doubt many people attach some moral significance to 'naturalness' when it comes to procreation. They might argue that somehow natural procreation isn't subject to the same moral...

Dear philosophers, I had two queries about Kantianism, and was wondering if anyone could assist. There's a letter of Kant's in which he says, essentially, that if a murderer comes to your door asking where your friend is, you may not lie to him, because the principle of allowing lies is not something that can be consistently maximised. I was wondering: (1) is there a problem of how to categorise an action? I mean, is the principle here, "It's OK to lie" or is it "One should not assist murderers"? How do you definitively characterise an action? (2) is there a problem of complexity of maxim? If one agrees that "It's OK to lie" can't be maximised, what about if exceptions are built in? "It's OK to lie to murderers who are likely to believe your lie" -- could something like that be maximised?

Thanks for your question. Before my response, a brief observation: You speak of principles being "maximized". I suspect you're confusing Kant's notion of a maxim with some other idea from moral philosophy (perhaps the utilitarian claim that right actions are those that maximize well-being). A maxim, for Kant, is a justifying principle of action with the form "I will do act A in circumstances C to achieve end E". Kant's Formula of Universal Law requires that we act only on maxims that can be consistently universalized. There's a lot of controversy as to precisely what it means for a maxim to be consistently universalizable. Here's a description, provided by Robert Johnson in his Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Kant's moral philosophy, of the procedure to be used to evaluate whether a maxim can be consistently universalized: First, formulate a maxim that enshrines your reason for acting as you propose. Second, recast that maxim as a universal law of nature governing all rational agents,...

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights makes sweeping pronouncements about rights to housing, education, etc. Who is obliged, however, to see that such rights are positively protected or practiced--the universe? The UN has no institutional standing to require me to house the homeless. Isn't my role not to interfere with people seeking housing, just as I honor another' right to free speech by doing nothing to stifle her expression? The Declaration seems like it should be recast as a desired state document that serves as a guide for government policy and law. Do philosophers find the Declaration sound?

Your question actually seems to be several rolled into one. In general, I think you're asking about what sorts of claims are being made when the UN Declaration states that there are rights to housing, education, etc. Your remark that you yourself only have to not interfere with others seeking housing seems reasonable (though I wonder whether you would agree that you have no obligation to provide housing if (say) your community is struck by a natural disaster that renders large numbers of people homeless). However, I gather that the UN Declaration is asserting that such rights are rights against one's state or society rather than against the members of states or societies. To say that individuals have a right to housing is not to say that particular individuals are obligated to house them. Instead, this right is one held against a collective: society, or the state as its representative. Secondly, the rights to which you refer appear to be positive rather than negative rights. To have a negative right...

Why should the value we place on freedom of speech extend to cover insult and ridicule, given that these sorts of speech aren't obviously constructive?

I don't know where you're writing from, but in almost every part of the world, the law does not protect speech that is insulting or expresses ridicule. This kind of speech is typically classified as defamation https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Defamation: When written, it's known as libel, and when spoken, slander. There are some differences in how different nations understand defamation, but in general terms, it's understood as the expression of a false statement, known or believed by the speaker to be false, aimed at harming the reputation of a person or group. This definition suggests that the philosophical rationale for defamation not being legally protected is along the lines you suggest, namely, that it's not "constructive." Generally speaking, we do not much benefit by believing what is false, so the audience for defamatory speech does not benefit from it. Moreover, defamatory speech does not contribute to public discourse and is not even intended to advance our knowledge of the truth. Hence,...

Hello. I wanted to ask about revenge. (1) Is there anything morally wrong with taking revenge? (2) If the urge to take revenge is a genetic instinct (and surely, it's quite plausible that it might be), why should it have less moral authority than any other feeling about right and wrong? The background to this question is that, while there's no explicit eye-for-an-eye in the laws of most contemporary societies, usually judges take community expectations and appropriate punishment into account when sentencing, and not just factors like legal requirements, precedence, rehabilitation and deterrence -- so revenge is arguably still very much a part of modern law.

Modern legal systems and practices are probably shaped by a number of different factors, as you note. Criminal sentencing, for example, is likely to reflect concerns about rehabilitation, deterrence, consistency — and revenge. You rightfully ask: Should revenge have a place in how wrongdoers are treated -- is there something morally suspect about revenge? First, it's key to recognize that revenge does not simply aim at making a wrongdoer worse off. Revenge is instead partly a matter of motive: Whenever we punish someone, we aim to make them worse off in some way. What distinguishes revenge from deterrence and other motives is that in acting so as to avenge, we aim to make the wrongdoer worse off for no other apparent reason than that the wrongdoer should be made to suffer. We aren't attempting to discourage the wrongdoer (or others) from acting wrongly, nor are we attempting to use the suffering as a way to improve the wrongdoer's character, etc. Revenge is fundamentally vindictive . To punish a...

Are there any good reasons to think that life has intrinsic rather than instrumental value?

First, let me offer a gloss on your question: By 'life' here I take take you to mean something like an individual person's being alive or continuing to live, as opposed to all of human life, or biological life in general. I must admit that I cannot think of any compelling reasons to believe that life has intrinsic value, that is, value in its own right or for its own sake. When we reflect on our reasons for wanting to continue to live, we might say 'it's great to be alive!' or 'ain't life grand?' But appearances notwithstanding, such remarks don't seem to amount to saying that merely being alive, apart from the quality or worth of that life, is valuable for its own sake. Rather, we seem to have in mind that there's something about life that is great and grand, apart from simply being alive. If we try to imagine just being alive, is that a good state to be in? As soon as we are tempted to say 'yes,' we are likely to start referring to facts that would make life good but not for its own sake: the...

Hi! I was looking at images from Abu Ghraib today, and I was wondering -- is there any sense to thinking that the mere act of looking at the prisoners is wrong, or even in some way harms them? Many of the prisoners are not identifiable from the photos, so I'm not sure that my worry is about reputational damage. The same might apply to other sorts of images, and even text. For instance: "Fapgate", where nude images of celebrities were distributed without their consent. Or what about if I find a person's diary on a train and read it? Is there any sense to the feeling that I am violating someone, though that person and I will always be strangers to each other? To add one more twist: what if the author of the diary, or a prisoner depicted in one of the photos, is now dead? Can I still be said to harm them?

Im going to set aside the last part of your question, whether it matters to the morality of looking at the images in question that those depicted are (sometimes) dead. That raises a collection of issues that it would take some time to address (a number of responses on this site under the topic 'Death' may be helpful to you: http://askphilosophers.org/topic/economics?topic=239). So is there anything morally objectionable at looking at the images of Abu Ghraib or of nude celebrities? My sense is that they raise rather different sets of moral issues. The Abu Ghraib images, for one, depict actions undertaken by government representatives (soldiers) in the course of a military conflict. Their release to the public seems to promote a good (knowing what our military is doing) that clearly doesn't apply to nude celebrities. To use a legal idiom, there is no compelling public interest at stake in disseminating nude celebrity photos. So if there is a moral case against looking at the Abu Ghraib images, it seems...

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