Monday, February 24, 2014

phm 2300 midterm exam (take home)

this is a take home test to be handed in by next tuesday.
bring your test stapled, word-processed, times new roman, 12p.

PHI 2300
Midterm exam
Doe, John

1- Compare John Locke and Thomas Hobbes views of human nature. What's your opinion?
2- Do you agree with Robert Owen that man's character is formed for him? Explain.
3- Compare Gilligan & Jaggar's views. What's your opinion?
4- Is Feminism (as it pertains to a discourse about women's identity) relevant? Explain.
5-  Compare Locke's and Rousseau's idea of the social compact.
6-  Is anarchism as defended by Bakunin politically viable? Explain.
7- Is civil disobedience a civil possibility? Bring Rawls' criteria to justify your answer.
8- Contrast Rousseau's general will (volonté générale) and Kant's ideas of freedom and equality.
9- Aristotle, Madison & Tocqueville argue for dangers within democracy. Contrast their views. What's your opinion?

if you have any questions, post them here.


a clear example of democratic involvement

don't you think mill would have looked at this video and go: "this is exactly what i mean by democratic involvement!"

Friday, February 21, 2014

Your turn #4

We discussed too many things for me to remember them all. Here is what I remember (and you know who said what).

1- Mill's defense of a democratic citizen. Only when citizens have the opportunity for choice do they develop into true thinkers and moral agents. Why? Because of participation and inclusion. Here the discussion started. One could argue that there is a difference between authentic deliberation and mere voting. With the advent of the politicization and polarization of the media and lobbying groups, political issues of importance get pretty slanted --as we've seen time and again. For a democratic decision to be legitimate, one could argue, it must be preceded by authentic deliberation & not merely the aggregation of preferences that occurs in voting. Now, what counts for true deliberation? Deliberation amongs amongst decision-makers that is free from distortions & interest groups.

Is this possible? Of  course it is, but we must be vigilant.

2- Our epistemological approach to political issues. How do we know how people (groups) become politically motivated? It cannot just be "I think so," or "the people I know", or "so and so channel says." We need reliable methods (polls) and data. Where to find it? Well, here it pays to put aside political bias for a second. Example, Last elections Romney was led to believe (because of political bias) that he will win the elections, only to find out he was loosing by a wide margin. Lesson: self-deceit is the worse thing. Polls can be potentially inaccurate. Here are some intrinsic problems:

a) response bias (the answers given by respondents do not reflect their true beliefs),
b) non-response bias (the characteristics of those who agree to be interviewed may be markedly different from those who decline).
c) presentation of questions (wording of the questions, the order in which they are asked and the number and form of alternative answers offered can influence results of polls),
d) coverage bias (the use of samples that are not representative of the population as a consequence of the methodology used). 

Is this not enough to curb hasty inferences and rash generalizations?

3- Thursday the issue indiscriminate government power came up (NSA and its civil ramifications). Of course the opinions varied.

The issue here is how much do you protect individual freedoms. Remember that the government is an abstract hierarchy, with bureaucratic interests, some of which may be in the shadows. Should you not suspect a bit more from you government just to cover your bases from such a huge and all-pervasive power? This is the argument from the liberal & the libertarian side.

4- Trickle down economics. The basic idea is that capital accumulation and economic progress depend on saving and innovation and that these in turn depend on the freedom to make high profits and accumulate great wealth. The problem is that unrestricted this promise ends up (as the 2009 crisis showed) in the futile attempt of some men gaining at the expense of others by means of looting and plundering.

So what to do? The discussion comes back to the distinction between liberty & equality. Philosophers take a look at arguments and balance. How do you balance these two? Well, need freedom to talk about individual rights (i.e., rights from non-interference), private property, civil liberties, business deals, etc. We need equality to address issues of justice: equal opportunity,  fair distribution of wealth (the Rawlsian "before" and "after" moments we discussed in class). There is reliable data to support that in the US we're going through a phase of unprecedented inequality.

If there is anything else you want to talk about go ahead. Later I'll post the take-home exam. Now, let's do this.

Nota bene: I commend you for the level of discussion in the class. I see that we have different points of view in the class but feel in a family discussing it. We don't stop saying what we feel we have to say but we're mindful of civil standards of discussion. Today this is a rarity.    

Friday, February 7, 2014

your turn #3 (anarchism and civil disobedience)

some of the themes discussed in class this week:

1- the anarchist response to the state, bakunin's idea of perfect logic (the metaphysicians' idea that "thought precedes life", which is a jab at Marx, but also to the idea of intellectualism). click here for an interesting discussion of the antagonism between marx and bakunin. 

2- paul wolff's rejection of "command" and defense of "autonomy:" wolff denies the state any possible legitimacy. how does wolff's anarchism justify people to live in society if at all?

3- socrates' apology to crito is an example of rhetoric which i've called "anti-didactic" in that it seems so by figure of:

a) compelling the accusers to accept that he's better of choosing death (because of the very idea of duty they ask of him).
b) that his choosing death proves his attachment to Athens stronger than theirs (since it goes through the ultimate test: self-immolation).
c) a) + b) make socrates' death a political event.

the lesson from socrates --the ex-sophist-- is that philosophy and rhetoric are NOT divorced.  

4- thoreau's civil disobedience is an important treatise in that it presents the idea that government is typically more harmful than helpful & that democracy --in itself-- is no the cure (since a majority could be wrong). for thoreau the judgment of an individual's conscience is not necessarily inferior to the decisions of a political body --or majority. this makes laws suspicious:
(...) it is not desirable to cultivate a respect for the law, so much as for the right. The only obligation which I have a right to assume is to do at any time what I think right... Law never made men a whit more just; and, by means of their respect for it, even the well-disposed are daily made the agents of injustice.
thoreau's well-known essay influenced gandhi's idea of civil disobedience.

5- martin luther king's compelling letter from birmingham jail. 

a) the motto "wait" as a constant deferment of justice. for king it really means "never."
b) king's use of the oppression of blacks (a particular instance) as an example of the need of universal justice.
c) king's use of aquinas' "natural law" over "human law" and agustine's motto: "an unjust law is not a law at all."
d) his comparison of segregation as a form of instrumentalization of humanity (the Buber's I-Thou predicament).

6- john rawls three criteria (really two, since he accepts that the first two make are sufficient for the act of disobedience: a) blatant violations, b) failure of reiterated appeals to a political majority.

go ahead, make your point (let's avoid being casual, make a deliberate intelligent contribution to the discussion).

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

quick notes for today's class

1- a distinction between de facto and morally legitimate authority. as we know, Hobbes insists that any entity capable of performing the function of de facto authority is necessarily justified and deserves the obedience of the de facto subjects.

de facto authority, on anyone's account, is distinct from political power. the latter is concerned with the state's or any agent's ability to get others to act in ways that they desire even when the subject does not want to do what the agent wants him to do.

political power does not require any kind of pro attitude toward the agent on the part of the subject, nor does it require that the state is actually successful at securing public order. It operates completely in the realm of threats and offers.

2-  the idea of liberty present in Bentham's account is what is now generally referred to as negative liberty—freedom from external restraint or compulsion. "[l]iberty is the absence of restraint" and so, to the extent that one is not hindered by others, one has liberty and is free. Bentham denies that liberty is "natural" (in the sense of existing prior to social life and thereby imposing limits on the state) or that there is an a priori sphere of liberty in which the individual is sovereign.

3- we need to make a couple of points regarding Hegel's notion of contract. let's point first to a distinction between besonderer wille (any particular will) and Wilkür (arbitrary choice).

a contract (Vertrag) is the acquisition of something that is already no longer devoid of rights. it involves the will of another against me, i.e., the will withdraws from it on the assumption that it will pass over my ownership.

Hegel explores the idea of the state as if given by God:

" ist der Gang Gottes in der Welt, sein Grund ist die Gewalt der sich als Wille verwirklichenden Vernunft." (i.e., "the State is the power to materialize will as reason").

It's the sate that provides the reality of objectives realized in complete freedom.

Hegel considers the state as providing legal basis and also the conditions of possibility of the law.  He puts it this way:
Recht und Staat stehen dabei in einem doppelten Verhältnis: einerseits stellt das Recht die Grundlage des Staates dar, andererseits kann das Recht erst im Staat zu einer Realität werden und so ein Wandel von bloßer Moralität zur Sittlichkeit stattfinden.
the words matter here, the difference between Sittlichkeit (for Hegel, a sphere of rights, the state of "ethical life") & bloßer Moralitat (mere morality).