Earlier this month, Mr Justice Michael Burton ruled that employees holding philosophical views based on science and reason should be afforded the same legal protection from discrimination as those with religious beliefs. The case concerned Tim Nicholson, the former head of sustainability for Grainger, the UK’s largest listed residential property company. Nicholson claimed that he had been sacked due to his environmental beliefs. But Grainger’s lawyers contended that environmental views are political and a “lifestyle choice” which cannot be compared to religion or philosophy.
Mr Burton ruled that Nicholson’s views were entitled to the same protection as religious views and that the case should go before an employment tribunal. The written ruling, which looked at whether philosophy could be underpinned by a scientific belief, quoted from Bertrand Russell’s History of Western Philosophy and ultimately concluded that a belief in climate change, while a political view about science, can also be a philosophical one. Interestingly, Mr Burton ruled last year that Al Gore’s environmental documentary An Inconvenient Truth was political and partisan as he assessed whether it should be shown to schools. (You can read about the case here and here.)
Continue reading “Judge cites Russell in protecting philosophical beliefs”
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)
By Anne Margaret Baxley , Washington University in St. Louis
(Vol. 2, April 2007)
By Douglas W. Portmore , Arizona State University
(Vol. 4, February 2009)
The latest issue form Philosophy Compass is out now, featuring the following great articles, surveying the most recent scholarly literature in philosophy: