Racism, Rand Paul, and Red Herrings

A political storm is brewing in bluegrass country. On Tuesday, Tea Party endorsed Rand Paul, son of former presidential candidate Ron Paul, earned a smashing victory over his challenger in the Kentucky Republican primary for the U.S. Senate. But, for reasons detailed in today’s NY Times Caucus Blog, the younger Paul’s view on civil rights could eclipse his chances of victory in the general election. Continue reading “Racism, Rand Paul, and Red Herrings”

Jews and Obligations of Partiality to Israel

One of today’s foremost debates in moral philosophy is whether there are obligations of partiality to people, groups, and causes that occupy special places in our lives. The subtext to a recent NY Times article describing the diversity of opinions among Jews regarding Israel illustrates a particular strain of questions in these debates: whether members of certain groups owe unconditional and uncritical support to their groups. Continue reading “Jews and Obligations of Partiality to Israel”

Assassination, Citizenship, and the Limits of Political Authority

We are perhaps more familiar with public figures being assassinated by private citizens than with private citizens being assassinated by states. But two weeks ago, it was reported that the Obama Administration has approved and implemented a policy whereby American citizens can be made the targets of assassination by their own government. Although it initially received some attention in the media, including harsh criticism from the likes of Glen Greenwald (see Greenwald’s take here), the American public was nonplussed, and the story has since disappeared from the headlines. Nonetheless, the Obama Administration’s assassination policy raises a host of philosophical and ethical questions. Continue reading “Assassination, Citizenship, and the Limits of Political Authority”

The “Al Qaeda” Seven

A political firestorm erupted this past week over a commercial created by an incipient political group, led by Liz Cheney, called “Keeping America Safe.” In the video, we learn that there are lawyers working for the U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ) who formerly represented detainees (and alleged terrorists) being held captive in Guantanamo. The dark voice in the commercial then implores us to urge the DoJ to release the names of these lawyers because it is unclear just “whose values they share.” “Americans have a right to know,” we are told, “the identify of the Al Qaeda Seven.” Continue reading “The “Al Qaeda” Seven”

Making the Perfect the Enemy of the Good

In a recent NY Times article, “Financial Reform Endgame,” Paul Krugman seems to suggest that politicians should sometimes make the perfect the enemy of the good. The issue that gives rise to this suggestion is whether, in response to the recent economic collapse, the U.S. Congress should pass financial reform aimed at preventing future economic collapses even if the proposed reform fails to establish, among other things, an independent protection agency for consumers of financial products. According to Krugman, the answer is no, because passing such a defanged version of reform today, while doing little to prevent a future economic collapse, would provide society with a false sense of security, which, in turn, would prevent politicians from passing a more robust version of reform tomorrow. Continue reading “Making the Perfect the Enemy of the Good”

The DSM-V: Redefining Mental Illness

The history of psychology suggests that the process of defining and diagnosing a mental disorder might involve as much art and politics as it does science. We are reminded of this in a recent NY Times article, “Revising Book on Disorders of the Mind,” where we learn that medical experts are hard-at-work on a new edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). Many changes have been proposed for the DSM-5: some semantic (e.g., replacing the name “mental retardation” with the name “intellectual disability”) and others diagnostic (e.g., preventing the over-diagnosis of bipolar disorder in children by introducing a new illness called temper dysregulation disorder with dysphoria).

Of course, many philosophical issues arise in this context. One might wonder about the ethical, epistemic, and metaphysical ramifications of having mental disorders defined from on-high, as it were, by a relatively small number of medical experts. For instance, to what extent should the opinions of individual doctors and patients be bound by the standards and norms articulated in the DSM? Is it ever sensible for individual doctors or patients to buck the apparent authority of the DSM? And if so, under what conditions, and for what reasons? Or, more generally, what role should the DSM play in the way we understand the nature of mental illness, how to treat it, and how to live with it?

Related Articles:

Neuroethics: Ethics and the Sciences of the Mind
By Neil Levy , University of Melbourne
(Vol. 3, December 2008)
Philosophy Compass

Back to Basics in Bioethics: Reconciling Patient Autonomy with Physician Responsibility
By Antonio Casado da Rocha , University of the Basque Country
(Vol. 3, December 2008)
Philosophy Compass

The Haiti earthquake and the justification of political authority

The problem of political authority, as traditionally understood, asks the following questions: What justifies a state in governing its people? And what reason do citizens have for doing what their government tells them to do? The devastating earthquake in Haiti has given rise to conditions that bear on the answers we might give to these questions. For a graphic description of these conditions, please see “Looting Flares Where Authority Breaks Down,” in today’s New York Times.

In the aftermath of the earthquake, there has been a breakdown in both the supply of basic rations — food, water, etc. — and the presence of political order. The resulting despair and impunity has led to increasing incidents of looting and, in response, increasing incidents of vigilante lynching.

What, if anything, can the Haiti earthquake and its aftermath teach us about what justifies a state in governing its people? For instance, does it lend credence to the political theory long ago advanced by Thomas Hobbes in Leviathan, which holds that state power is justified by the fact that only it can prevent people from warring amongst themselves? I do not think that it does, but anyone interested in the problem of political authority would do well to consider why it does not.

For information on how to help Haiti recover, please visit www.clintonbushhaitifund.org.

Related Articles:

The Duty to Obey the Law
By David Lefkowitz, University of North Carolina, Greensboro
(Vol. 1, October 2006)
Philosophy Compass

Citizenship and The State
By M. Victoria Costa , Florida State University
(Vol. 4, December 2009)
Philosophy Compass