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”

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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”

Virtual Conference Report: Day Five (23 Oct, 2009)

800px-L-Assemblee-Nationale-Gillrayby paulabowles

The first week of the conference has come to an end, and the final day has included two exciting papers, as well as a publishing workshop. The first paper entitled ‘Full Disclosure of the “Raw Data” of Research on Humans: Citizens’ Rights, Product Manufacturer’s Obligations and the Quality of the Scientific Database’ was presented by Dennis Mazur (Oregon Health and Sciences University). In his lecture, Mazur highlights the difficult and contentious issues involved in human testing, particularly the tensions between participants and drug manufacturers.

The second paper also takes an interdisciplinary approach to medical matters. Eileen Smith‐Cavros (Nova Southeastern University) lecture entitled ‘Fertility and Inequality Across Borders: Assisted Reproductive Technology and Globalization’ looks at the emotive issue of assisted reproduction. By surveying existing literature, Smith Cavros is able to look in detail at some of the many issues which impact upon reproduction.

Together with these two papers, Duane Wegener’s (Purdue University) publishing workshop: ‘Top 10 mistakes New Scholars Make When Trying to Get Published’ marked the end of the first week. Enjoy the weekend and we look forward to seeing you next week.

Politicians and Promises

120px-Jurvetson_-_Barack_Obama_on_the_Primary_(by)During the 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama made a promise to not raise taxes (of any kind) on families making less than $250,000 per year. On this past Sunday, however, President Obama’s top two economic advisers, Timothy Geithner and Lawrence Summers, went on multiple nationally televised talk shows and implied that the President would be willing to break his campaign promise if it were necessary to reign in the national deficit. Not surprisingly, political opponents and the White House Press Corps were quick to pounce on the apparent flip-flop. In response to growing questions and criticism, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs issued the following statement: “The president made a commitment in the campaign. He’s clear about that commitment, and he’s going to keep it.”

What is a responsible citizen to make of this situation? Putting aside questions of political sport, it seems that she should ask a variety of moral and philosophical questions inspired by the situation. For instance, what kind of a commitment is a promise? Is it categorical as Immanuel Kant would have it? Or are there circumstances in which it is permissible (if not required by duty) to break one’s promises? More to the point, are there circumstances in which duties associated with political offices — such as President — outweigh or trump promises made in the heat of a campaign? And if so, does it ever make sense for politicians to make categorical promises of the sort that the Obama Administration now finds itself renewing?

See here for a New York Times article with more details on the above situation.

See also the following related articles in Philosophy Compass.

Preempting Principles: Recent Debates in Moral Particularism
By Sean McKeever and Michael Ridge, Davidson College University of Edinburgh
(Vol. 3, November 2008)
Philosophy Compass

Kantian Virtue
By Anne Margaret Baxley , Washington University in St. Louis
(Vol. 2, April 2007)
Philosophy Compass

Consequentializing
By Douglas W. Portmore , Arizona State University
(Vol. 4, February 2009)
Philosophy Compass