The Public Philosopher is on hiatus

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Man at the top

The problem with inequality

Writing for The New York Times, Nicholas Kristof

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criticizes the rising inequality in America, comparing our economic situation to the famous “banana republics.” According to Kristof:

In the past, many of us acquiesced in discomfiting levels of inequality because we perceived a tradeoff between equity and economic growth. But there’s evidence that the levels of inequality we’ve now reached may actually suppress growth. A drop of inequality lubricates economic growth, but too much may gum it up.

First, we can wonder why inequality makes us uncomfortable in the first place. One possibility is that there may be something intrinsically valuable about equality. However, it’s hard to viagra online order imagine this being the case – even if there was some truth to this, the value of equality would be easily outweighed by many other mitigating factors. Consider this famous thought experiment by Harry Frankfurt:

Suppose that ten people have a deadly disease, and they need

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two shots of a certain medicine in order to be cured. Anything less would mean certain death. However, there are only ten shots of the medicine available. If we gave the medicine out equally, everyone would get one shot, and all ten would die. Obviously, equality is not the best policy here.

But, some might argue, the economy is different than the medicine example. Read more

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Is fertility a health issue or a lifestyle choice?

This month a health care refom advisory panel will mee

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t to consider whether contraception should be offered free of charge as a form of preventative medicine, the AP reports. Healthcare reform of course poses many questions concerning how medical services are paid for and delivered. But, as the AP notes, social mores are at the heart of this latest question.

Contraception is a controversial tool for preventing pregnancy, with many religious movements banning it outright. At the heart of the argument against free contraception is that the use of contraception is a lifestyle choice, not a health issue. As the president of the National Catholic Bioethics Center notes, “there are other ways to avoid having children than by ingesting chemicals.”

All other things equal, should the use of contraception be thought of as a health issue or a lifestyle choice? And should it matter for whether it is provided free as a form of preventative care? Read more

Know your (state's) rights

The Wall Street Journal ran a piece recently Generic viagra online without prescription

001424052702304879604575582192395853212.html?mod=WSJ_WSJ_US_News_5″>about the current anti-Washington sentiment reviving an old debate over the 17th Amendment. This Amendment, which provides for the direct election of US Senators, has been denounced by some Republicans. A repeal of the law would involve appointing senators by state legislators.

“People would be better off if senators, when they deliver their messages to Washington, remember the sovereignty of the states,” Mike Lee, who supports repeal, told reporters recently. Mr. Lee is a Republican running for the U.S. Senate from Utah. Proponents of repeal say the amendment wrecked the founding fathers’ balance between national and state governments, removing one of the last checks to unbridled power in Washington. Opponents counter that direct election of senators, long a goal of the Progressive movement of that era, expanded democracy.

This raises several interesting questions. First, the idea of “remembering state sovereignty,” or “Senators representing states,” is worth exploring. What exactly does this mean? A state, after all, is what is propecia viagra no perscription not a moral agent that is capable of being represented the same way a person or group of persons is. Perhaps this just means representing the citizens living in that state – but if this is true, why does direct election of senators not provide for this?

Second, we can ask what the status of Federalism and state sovereignty is in modern America. At the time of the Constitution’s writing, it was reasonable to assume that different states had different political and economic values. But geography no longer seems to correlate as strongly with political or economic beliefs, considering how often Americans move and how quick information is disseminated. So, is Federalism an historical artifact, or somehow central to American political values?

Finally, even if Federalism is essentially American in some important way, is there any truth to the Progressive stance that direct election of Senators limit democracy? If so, what should be done about it?


Photo by Flickr user Marion Doss used under a Creative Commons Attribution license.

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Some election thoughts

The revolution will be televised

After a midterm election which featured the largest pick-up of seats

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by any one party since 1948, most mainstream pundits have focused on the purely political slicing and dicing: is the Tea Party ascendant? What does it mean for 2012? How crazy is Rand Paul?

But elections are also moments to reflect on the foundations of our system of governance, because they illuminate the most fragile elements of our political system.

In no particular order, some TPP-style election ruminations:

- Power Changes Hands Peacefully…Again: this blog often focuses on value-laden questions about such issues as the limits of freedom, the obligations of equality, and the standards of political conduct. We spend less time on how our political process is constituted, but that doesn’t make the topic any less central to real political philosophy. When the balance of power shifts as dramatically as it did on Tuesday, it’s a useful moment to remember that the way we have designed our political system has never once lead to bloody succession. Scholars will debate why, but the results are noteworthy

- The Growing viagra uk Danger to Democracy?: emboldened by the Citizens United decision last year, undisclosed third-party expenditures reached $300 million during this cycle. Much of this money came from a handful of very wealthy donors. While these political contributions are protected speech, it’s time to wonder whether they will overwhelm the voices of average voters–and what that means for America

- What’s an Opposition to Do?: Representative John Boehner (R-OH) finds himself in an interesting position. The likely Speaker

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of the House for the new Republican majority faces, on the one hand, a base eager to undo much of the sweeping legislation Democrats passed over the past two years and, on the other, a need to actually address the many

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problems currently plaguing America. He faces a real question about how to lead his caucus. Should they stand in the way of the President and the Democrats, or is it time to put aside ideology and compromise?

These are just a few things I’m generic viagra from canada pondering. What about you?


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Image used under a Creative Commons attribution license from Flickr user Rob Boudon.


Play the game

Video games, value, and free speech

The Supreme Court will soon hear a case

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concerning the state of California’s right to regulate the sale of violent video games to minors. Writing for The Washington Post, game designer Daniel Greenberg thinks that the First Amendment should protect video games. His argument relies on the value of video games:

Gameplay is a dialogue between a player and a game. Reading a book or watching a film can also be considered a dialogue, but the ability of the audience to respond is far more limited. […]The exploration and self-discovery available through books and movies is magnified

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in video games by the power of interactivity. A new generation of games features real changes in the story based on the morality of a player’s decisions. Mature-rated games such as “BioShock,” “Fable 2″ and “Fallout 3″ go far beyond allowing players to engage in imaginary violent acts; they also give players meaningful consequences for the choices that they make.

Leaving aside the specific jurisprudence of the First Amendment, this raises a number of moral issues.

First, does speech have to be valuable in order for it to be protected? In order to answer this question, we should ask why we protect free speech at all. Read more


Not sure I sanction this, either

BBC News reports that some Western companies Buy cialis online without prescription″>continue to work in Burma despite pressure from governments and activists. The European Union bans and penalizes commercial activity that clearly supports the Burmese military regime and its repression. The United States and a few other countries impose sanctions that make business in the country nearly impossible.

On the one hand, according to the BBC report, “the firms that invest say their capital helps to improve the lives of ordinary Burmese, ties the military into international systems of oversight, and consequently promotes openness and a respect for human rights.” On the other hand, in an authoritarian country like Burma, it is not unreasonable to think that the “money goes straight to the generals, who use it to buy weapons and widen their repression.”

The argument in favor of investing

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in Burma resembles one of the moral problems with viagra arguments in favor of free trade, sweatshops and all. But even if this claim carries water, the second argument is true as well. Legitimate business done in almost any part of the world will see its cut taken in the form of taxes by the government and so, in effect, “supports” that government. We normally don’t complain (too much), but the Burmese junta happens to be an exceptionally vile regime.

In the past I have written about the great harm that sanctions can inflict on the public. Does the good of punishing the military government with sanctions outweigh viagra china the good of providing jobs and income to ordinary Burmese through trade? Unless we think that sanctions will weaken the Burmese junta to the point at which democratic revolution is possible, it’s a tough moral case to make.


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Photo by Flickr user informatique used under a Creative Commons Attribution license.

November 1, 2010 · Filed Under Charles



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October 29, 2010 · Filed Under Jonathan



Has Stewart gone soft?

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Comedian interviews president–credentials revoked?

After Jon Stewart’s interview of Barack Obama on last night’s Daily Show (the comedian’s first of a sitting president), New York Times blogger Alessandra Stanley asks, “whether a political satirist loses credibility when hobnobbing with a sitting president.”

One of Stewart’s hallmarks is ability, even zeal, to skewer journalists who not only amuse in their incompetence, but enrage in what Stewart often intimates is a total violation of their own standards. Or, as our own Jake Bronsther put it yesterday in a special on Jon

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Stewart to

This media criticism is built into the structure of Stewart’s show, which was set up as a satirical take on programs like The O’Reilly Factor. As a result, Stewart sits above the rest of the commentators, somehow more pure, the grinning mandarin who points out our individual and collective misdeeds. It also helps that he might be the smartest person sitting behind a television news desk today, of either the real or fake variety.

Given the niche Stewart has so effectively carved out as incisive media critic and arbiter, the question is not merely whether interviewing President Obama erodes Stewart’s self-styled image.

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It’s also one of whether he’s violating the expectations he has set for himself. Has Stewart abandoned a self-imposed obligation to be the Critic-in-Chief of American political culture? Read more

October 28, 2010 · Filed Under Sam



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