Philosophy of Force

Today I want to explore whether it is possible for laws to be just. 
On a previous post of mine (link), one of my readers contested that there is no such thing as a just law.  This post is not a response to his arguments, but instead my own exploration on the notion of just law and rulership.

The problem is this: how can one person be justified in manipulating/dictating the behavior of another.  The problem seems to immediately admit to an easy answer: the wise should rule, and this will benefit everybody.  Surely wisdom is better then whatever nature has in store for us if left to its own devices?  This is not, of course, the end to the problem.  We are immediately confronted with the challenge of separating the wise from the dullards, and if we ever succeeded at that task we’d still most likely be left with a myriad of wisdom that pulls in far too many different directions.  All of that, however, is kind of superfluous because wisdom is likely not the primary determining factor when it comes to who is in charge.  Maybe that makes me a pessimist, but probably not.  I do not mean to belittle leaders here – maybe the best course of action is to separate wisdom into wisdoms.  We all have different skills and talents.  Some people are good economists, some are good policy makers, and others are good leaders.  Acquiring the skills to be a leader and maintaining a hold on leadership is a challenging task, it does not lend itself well to also keeping up to date on all the relevant science and research about what should be done.  This means that in practice a leader must rely on experts in other fields for advice.  But which experts?  Since the leader doesn’t have knowledge in the many fields, there is no real way for the leader to know who is worth listening to and who is not.

This is, of course, a major simplification of a governmental system.  Most governments do not rely on the leader for most of its activities.  The more that it is the case that a government does as it does, though, the less distinct from nature it becomes.  At a large enough scale, a government loses the autonomous nature of a human being, and instead becomes a force.  The nature of this force is not an act of any individual, but instead is propelled from its previous state.  If we conceptualize government this way, then it is no more or less just then any other state of nature.

So, to return to the original question – can laws be just?  The challenge with this question, for me, is that I’m not sure if ‘just’ can meaningfully be applied to anything other than an individuals actions.  To judge a system ‘unjust’ seems to me simply the judgement that one would like the system to be otherwise (and therefore the autonomous judge will have a certain compulsion to work upon the system).  To the question as a whole (are all laws unjust), my answer is that I would subsume all governmental states (from anarchy to totalitarianism) as states of nature that we can potentially act upon.

I feel this is one of my stranger posts, but let me know what you think 🙂

Also, if you have any topic that you’d like me to write on, let me know,

Thank you,


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‘Just Ask’ – The Morality of Extended Warranties

I have mentioned before that I work in retail.  Though the position isn’t my dream job, it is decent work and I get along well with my co-workers.  If there is one part of my job that I struggle with, though, it is the pressure to up-sell.

One of the main responsibilities of my job, as a salesperson, is to persuade customers to spend more money in the store.  I am supposed to ask if they need additional items to go along with their purchase.  To a certain extent I am fine with this – if a person doesn’t want the additional items then they’ll just say no.  Sometimes I feel rather rude, but I can deal with it.  What does get to me, though, is the pressure to sell extended warranties.  I feel, as an employee, that I am morally obligated to do the work that my company wants me to do – as long as I am taking their money, I should be doing as they direct.  I feel some of their tactics put me in a moral quandary.

I do not believe that buying an extended warranty is a good idea.  I probably do not need to justify my arguments on the matter: essentially I feel that they are a waste of money, and the emphasis that my work places on them feels like a thinly disguised cash grab.  This makes me somewhat reluctant in pressing the matter with customers.

My company has done two things which I find especially bothersome.  The first thing is that, to ensure worker compliance, they issue a $10 dollar gift card to any customer who is not offered a protection plan.  I’m not surprised that they would implement such policy, because I’m pretty sure I’m not the only person who somewhat drags their feet in offering the protection plan (every time I offer one I cry a little on the inside).  I feel that it would be much better if they actually investigated why employees are reluctant, and spoke to us on the issue.

The second thing that I find bothersome is the rhetoric around extended warranties.  The language is very much ‘we are ensuring our customers peace of mind, etc etc.’  At one meeting we were told that a good tactic was to say ‘we recommend you get the extended warranty.’  Now, I may be mistaken, but I feel that these are tactics much directed at the employees to help us justify our actions to ourselves.  We, as the salesperson, must assume the moral burden.  I would, in a way, much rather just be told that I must lie about how I feel about the protection plan, because then a larger part of the burden settles on the company.

Let me know what you think,


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Laudable revisited

In one of my recent posts I wrote about laudability (see that post here).  I’ve been rethinking my argument on the matter.  Originally I said that the only laudable actions are those generated by agency.  However, I think there is a problem with this analysis, namely it seems to me that the concept of laudable only makes sense with an opposite.  That is to say, I’m not sure that acting in fashion x can be laudable without not acting in fashion x is somehow negative.  Since my account of laudable is ‘acts autonomously’ it seems to follow naturally that it is somehow blameworthy to fail to be autonomous.  However, by my argument, one’s autonomous state is not something done.  This ties back to my post on epistemic injustice, in that I think it is much easier for those who are privileged to be autonomous.  Therefore I do not feel that I can justify finding people laudable for their autonomous actions.

I’m quite hesitant in this judgement.  It is very counter-intuitive to me to say that there are no laudable actions.  However, at the moment, I haven’t thought of a way for one agent to be more laudable then the next.  All actions, good or ill, are products of circumstance and innate unearned properties of an agent.  This doesn’t mean that we cannot praise those actions we consider good, but this praise seems inevitably to be pragmatic affirmation, as opposed to recognizing some action of the agent.  Praise is essentially the statement ‘I like the being you are’.

Let me know what you think,

Creative Philo

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Why don’t we hold Chimps responsible for Murder?

In one of BBC’s Planet Earth episodes, there is footage of a chimp tribe conducting a raid on another chimp tribe.  You can see the video at this link, it is some amazing footage.  I was recently thinking, though, that it is interesting that we do not see this scenario as one that we should interfere in.  If these were indigenous human tribes, I think this footage would be extremely controversial.  How could the surveyors stand back and watch as one group of people violently members of another?  I think that we somewhat instinctively view these occurrences as amoral – chimps are animals, and there is no reason for us to interfere with their activities.  However, I do think that this presents some interesting opportunities for exploring my moral system.

I have some very strong utilitarian tendencies.  I tend to think that maximizing well-being is the good.  It is difficult to say what the best method is to maximize well-being in the chimp scenario, obviously interfering will increase the well-being of the attacked tribe, but the well-being of the attackers will decrease.  That being said, I think that most people would consider human aggressors in an analogous scenario to be acting in a morally reprehensible way, and that well-being should not be gained through such violence.

Are the chimps acting in a morally reprehensible way?  My inclination is to say that they are not.  My current (very Aristotelian) thought on the matter is that immoral acts do not exist.  This is a claim that many will find controversial, but I’ll draw out my line of reasoning.

I think that to act as an agent means to act as one thinks one should act, and also to continuously investigate their own ideas of should.  My concept of agency has two primary elements.  First, an agent must take responsibility for their choices.  Second, an agent must acknowledge that their initial state in autonomy is not of their own making.  The second element is important, because someone who recognizes only the first is still acting merely as the world dictates (imagine someone who has been morally indoctrinated – they may act against some of their inclinations, but this action is still imposed upon them by the world).

By this definition, when someone acts as an agent they act as they think they should, and they also seek to develop their notion of should.  Therefore acting as an agent means to act morally, by one’s own perception.  If someone acts immorally, they are not being an agent but instead are being ruled by the world.

This account does have a hole in it.  What of those agents who think they act morally but actually are acting immorally.  My rebuttal is that I cannot find someone who is dedicated to doing as they think is right and also is engaged in self-reflective analysis of their own beliefs to have acted immorally.  They are, I would say, doing all that could possibly be asked of anyone.  I think it is possible that they could find later in life that they regret their actions, and I can certainly see myself disagreeing with their actions – but I do not think they can be considered immoral.

If there is no immoral, where does this leave moral?  By this account morality is properly the domain of agents investigating their own actions.  Proper moral questions are normative questions asked by agents – in other words, agents asking ‘what should I do?’

Thank you for reading, let me know what you think,


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What is substance?

I’ve written enough posts now that it’s hard to keep track of when I’m repeating this… but fortunately most of the subjects that I talk about don’t grow stale after a single post.

One of the most fundamental debates in philosophy is the nature of substance.  What is reality made of?  The traditional lines are between realists and idealist – the distinction being that the realist things that substance is mind-independent and the idealist thinks that substance is mind-dependent.  Humans are instinctively realists, but the question is not one easily resolved.  I would describe the problem thus: there does appear to be a world that is observer independent, filled with consistent patterns.  This world seems to have brought us into being through the physical process of evolution – this theory well explains our existence, the mechanics of our mind, and our experiences.  However, technically speaking, we have no mind independent experience of this world.  In other words, no human has ever known the world in a mind independent way – without the mind there is no world as we know it.

One alternative proposed by Husserl for this debate was that we should bracket the question off.  Husserl basically asked ‘who cares whether substance is mind independent or mind dependent?  What difference does it make?’  This leads in to Husserl’s notion that the properties of an object that we should attend to is its phenomenological properties (basically its experienced properties).  This sounds idealist, but it kind of isn’t.  Husserl wants to focus on experience, but he wants to set aside the question of whether that experience is of something other or of one’s own being.

Given my inclinations towards phenomenology, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that I’m very sympathetic to Husserl, though I need to be upfront in saying that my knowledge of his philosophy mostly comes from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.  I think that human experience can be well-subsumed within his framework. 

It may seem like many of our scientific theories are dependent on assuming an independent reality, but I’m not sure that is necessarily the case.  Technically speaking all scientific observations are made phenomenologically – they are explanations of our experience.  I do not think that the explanations suddenly spring a leak if they fail to specify whether they think the substance of experience is indepedant of the mind.

Let me know what you think 🙂


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