Law

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...

I was once asked in an interview 'What would you change in the world if you had the power to do so?' I replied that 'if there was no life after death, I would destroy the human race including myself and my family, thus preventing the suffering every human would have undergone if they were alive'. Aside from life after death, at first glance you might think of me as a satanic human being, but I am exactly the contrary, I am a medical student. It would cause temporary suffering but it would also banish endless suffering as well as happy things. My question is that is it ethical and moral to do so?

This strikes me as a particularly easy question. The answer is no. Among other things, you seem to be making two assumptions. The first is that the suffering prevented by destroying everyone outweighs all the the happiness and satisfaction that would also be prevented. That's already pretty unobvious. But in fact, as you've stated your view, you'd even be justified in wiping out people who would get more satisfaction than suffering out of their lives, since I assume that "everyone" means "everyone." I don't see a scintilla of justification for that. The more serious problem is in assuming that because this is how you see things, it would justify wiping everyone out, no matter what their view of the matter might be. That's a pretty extraordinary thing to assume. I'm not about to accuse you of being satanic. But the view you're offering might deserve that label.

Suppose some man is absolutely shy in romantic matters. Still, he loves to talk to beautiful women about all kinds of non-romantic, non-sexual subjects, and people like to talk to him. The main reason why he likes to talk to beautiful women is that it secretly arouses him sexually. Moreover, when talking to women he gets to see them at a close distance, to hear their voices clearly and to smell them. Perhaps on some occasions women will even touch him in a friendly manner. When he is alone at home, this man will remember those conversations and masturbate while thinking about those women and their physical closeness. My question is whether this is wrong (assuming that masturbation is not generally wrong). I think it is not wrong, but I have some doubts. My first problem is that this man is using those women without their full consent. They don’t know his real reason for talking with them nor what he will do “with” their conversation. I think Kant said something like we should not use other people as means...

You've asked an interesting question. I'm not going to say much directly about whether this person is doing wrong. I'm going to say some things more in line with a remark of John Austin's in a very different context: "If only we could forget for a while about the beautiful and get down instead to the dainty and the dumpy." (From Austin's "A Plea For Excuses.") What seems interesting here is more at the level of moral psychology than broad moral judgments. The counterpart for daintiness or dumpiness that came to mind was creepiness. I suspect I'm not the only panelist who found your first few sentences creepy. I'd stress that this isn't a way of saying that you are creepy, but let's try to bring the creepiness reaction into clearer focus. I don't know of any philosophical literature on creepiness, but this piece from a website called Family Share gets the basics right: https://familyshare.com/21482/7-signs-youre-a-creep (Thanks to Taimur Khan for that link.) What you describe triggers the...

Some psychologists believe, based on empirical research, that people tend first to make a decision intuitively and then afterwards find a way to provide logical justification for why it was a good decision. I think they use the term "heuristic" as a way to describe an analog process in which we use experience, memory, and pattern recognition as tools with which to make that initial intuitive decision. If this description of the process of how we decide is based on how our minds actually do work, what are the implications for philosophy, which seems to imply that our decision-making process is rational? Isn't the "rational" part of our brain a fairly late evolutionary development, in which it was grafted on top of our nervous system?

If the evidence favors the view that we don't always make decisions by reasoning, then philosophy needn't disagree. If the truth of the matter were that all of our decisions—including decisions about which views are more plausible—amounted to post-hoc "rationalizations," then it's hard to see how philosophy as we usually understand it would be possible. But the evidence doesn't come close to showing that. Anyone seriously engaged in doing philosophy implicitly assumes that s/he is capable of giving reasons and being swayed by them. But that's different from assuming that we always exercise that capacity or that it never misfires. A related thought: even if the reasons we give are often after-the-fact rationalizations, it wouldn't follow that our decision our our belief is unreasonable. The underlying mechanism that brought us to our decision or belief may be well-tuned and suited to the task it was performing, even if we have little or no conscious access to how the mechanism really works. Being...
Law

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...

Many people build their moral beliefs out of deep-seated gut feelings that themselves have no rational grounding. What I wanted to ask is: is this a good way to construct a belief system? If so, could any feeling at all serve as a foundational principle? For instance, would a moral system that takes a deep-seated racism as a building block be any less justified than one that relies on deep-seated empathy?

If I want to construct a sound system of beliefs, then there's not much to be said for merely relying on gut instinct. That's not because gut instincts are necessarily wrong or unreliable. It's because if I'm trying to construct a system as opposed to simply enumerating my commitments, critique, evaluation and adjustment are part of the process. But most people don't have a system of beliefs, and even to the extent that they do, it's bound to be a limited system. My beliefs about some things are much more systematic and reflective than about other things. Given that none of us have endless resources to commit to working out our beliefs, that's inevitable. But you say that "many people build their moral beliefs out of deep-seated gut feelings that themselves have no rational grounding." I'm worried about that way of putting things. If by "rational grounding" you mean something like "argument from explicit reasons," then I'd disagree that this is what's always needed. It's not just that giving...

Is there any good reason why it is improper to point out white disadvantage or hardship and lobby for white power? Historically, this sort of idea has been associated with violence, but is that history so toxic that the conversation can't even be had?

A few points. At least in the US, the idea that there is widespread, systematic discrimination against white people, let alone systematic oppression, is not defensible. This is true even if some white people are sometimes discriminated against because they're white. It's also true even if some of the policies that are sometimes used in an attempt to redress the results of past discrimination and oppression are wrong. For example: let's suppose that some affirmative action programs are unjust. If that's so, it's appropriate to object, sue, work to have the policies and laws changed... But that's not what "lobbying for white power" suggests. Why? After all, the expression "white power" takes its cue from the older expression "black power." But bet's think about the slogan "Black power!" What's the message here? It's not that black people should have power over white people. The claim that lies behind the slogan is that overall, black people have had less power than white people and that this...

Recently, I read an article about someone whose parents would purposely have sex in front of him when he was a young child. Many of the comments left in response to the article remarked that this amounts to child abuse. (For a less extreme example, it's commonly held that exposing young children to porn or graphic sex scenes is similarly inappropriate.) I agree that this sort of thing is egregious, but I don't know how to explain why. When the child is watching his parents have sex, what exactly is happening that harms him?

Like you, my instinct is that this would be wrong. Your question is: assuming it harms a child to watch its parents have sex, what exactly is the harm? Of course, the assumption might be wrong. It's an empirical question. But if it's harmful, what's the nature of the harm? The obvious first point is that the harm would be psychological, not physical. The perhaps less obvious second point is that if it is harmful, this isn't inevitable, but has a great deal to do with context, expectations, cultural norms and the like. Imagine a society in which people live in close quarters and privacy is a luxury. It's nor hard to imagine that for purely practical reasons, people would end up being seen by others when they have sex, including by their own children. If the norm in the society was that this was not a big deal, and the normal pattern of behavior was simply to ignore the couple, it's easy to imagine that seeing one's parents have sex wouldn't make for any psychological trauma. Our society...

A question was asked earlier, "if something cannot be defined, can it exist?". I would like a better answer to that question, if you would please. The question refers to the existence of a 'thing' that cannot be defined, the answer was given for an object that has not defined yet. These are not the same thing. If there is no possible way to define an object, ever, can that object exist? Can a 'thing' exist with no identity?

Your distinction between something not yet defined and something for which there could never be a definition is a reasonable one, and thus an answer that bears only on the former doesn't answer your question. Here's one possible approach. If something exists, it has some properties or other; for every property a thing might have, the thing either has it or it doesn't. If that's right, then we might say that nothing could be that thing unless it has that set of properties. And in that case, we might say that the set of properties "defines" the object, whether or not any finite list could capture all the properties. That's a rough sketch. It would need careful spelling out and it would also be subject to various objections; leave those aside. The point is that if we look at things this way, the notion of "definition" we're appealing to needn't have anything to do with how limited creature like us get a grip on the object. If this line of reasoning is correct, then nothing could exist unless...

Some biblical scholars claim that events recorded in the bible justify them to believe that a miracle like the resurrection most likely happened. What's puzzling to me about their claim is that it seems to me the job of historians in general is to determine whether a particular event most likely happened given historical documents they have. However, even if we grant that the resurrection is possible, isn't it also true that it is an extremely unlikely event to begin with? Are these biblical scholars consistent in holding that the resurrection (a highly unlikely event) happened when the methods they employ can only be used to determine whether a particular event most likely happened?

If I have it right, your issue is with Biblical scholars who think what's recorded in the Bible justifies believing that the Resurrection (for example) " most likely happened ." But your last sentence asks whether these scholars are being consistent if they say that the resurrection happened when their methods can only establish whether an event most likely happened . So I'm a bit confused. But before we proceed, another point. You use the terms "Biblical scholar" and "historian" interchangeably. However, not all Biblical scholarship is historical scholarship, and some Biblical scholarship is unashamedly sectarian. A Biblical scholar who argues for the Resurrection (we'll stick with that case) on purely Biblical grounds would happily concede that s/he isn't offering a purely historical argument. Whether the argument is adequate or merely question-begging is a rabbit-hole we won't go down. Returning to your post, it sounds as though you're saying in your last sentence that the scholars you have...

Pages