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”

Advertisements

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”

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

Reading the criminal mind

Besides its surprisingly good action cinematography, ‘Minority Report’ owes its huge success to the deep discomfort it created in viewers. The movie constructs a future world where law enforcement makes use of ‘Pre-Cogs’ — humans who have been given the gift of foresight through genetic modification, so that they can see crimes before they happen. When a crime is predicted, the purported criminal is promptly apprehended and the crime prevented. The movie forces the viewer to confront a host of questions that have troubled philosophers for millennia.

If the future is predetermined, in what sense can we be said to be free? Central to our commonsense conception of freedom is the inherent possibility of doing otherwise. If the future is closed to alternate possibilities, then there is no sense in which a murderer could have acted differently and then it seems that  the act of murder is not a free act. Relatedly, if a person cannot do otherwise, is there a sense in which the person is morally responsible for the action? Hume, most famously, articulated the seemingly essential relationship between the notion of moral responsibility and the possibility of freely choosing your actions. ‘Ought implies can,’ he said. One is morally obligated to act in a certain way only if one can in fact act in such a way. If the future is predetermined, then in a clear sense the murderer could not have failed to murder. But then what sense is there to the claim that the murderer ought not to murder? And if there is no sense to be given in response to this question, there is little reason to hold the murderer morally responsible. The murderer is no different from a person who happens to slip on a banana, land on an innocent bystander, and accidentally snap his neck. The person is causally responsible for the unfortunate killing, but, since the person could not have done otherwise, is not morally responsible for it.

Continue reading “Reading the criminal mind”

Sex Offenders and the Law

AmberalertlogoJaycee Dugard was only eleven years old when she was kidnapped, raped, and subsequently held captive by a previously convicted sex offender named Phillip Garrido. Last week, eighteen years into her captivity, Jaycee was serendipitously found and freed — along with two (of Garrido’s) children that she had given birth to while still a teenager. Despite the happy ending, the case of Jaycee Dugard suggests that sex offender registries are simply not enough to ensure that children are protected from those who would do them harm: Garrido had been on such a registry at the time of Jaycee’s kidnapping and throughout her captivity. Consequently, as detailed in a recent NYTimes article, some are making vociferous calls for more stringent laws on crimes that involve the sexual exploitation of children.

What determines whether society should heed these calls depends, at least in part, on answering a variety of philosophical questions about the purpose of government and the proper scope of law more generally. For instance, any justification that one might give for adopting more stringent sex offender laws will need to assume (if not establish) three claims: (i) the government has a duty to protect the welfare of children; (ii) making sex offender laws more stringent is necessary for the government to discharge this duty; and (iii) making sex offender laws more stringent neither violates some more fundamental duty, nor requires the sacrifice of something that has greater (moral) value than the protection of those children whose welfare depends on the adoption of such laws. Although political philosophy (as a discipline) will probably not answer these questions for us, it can certainly give us guidance as we attempt to answer these questions — as we must — for ourselves.

Possibly Related Articles:

On the Philosophy of Group Decision Methods I: The Nonobviousness of Majority Rule
By Mathias Risse , John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University
(Vol. 4, July 2009)
Philosophy Compass

On the Philosophy of Group Decision Methods II: Alternatives to Majority Rule
By Mathias Risse , John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University
(Vol. 4, July 2009)
Philosophy Compass

Recent Work on Free Will and Moral Responsibility
By Neil Levy and Michael McKenna, University of Melbourne Florida State University
(Vol. 3, December 2008)
Philosophy Compass