Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Stealing and murder

Here is an interesting ethical question. Suppose Smith knows for sure that if he steals $1.000,000, Jones will not murder Williams. But if he does not steal $1,000,000, then Jones will not murder Williams. If he steals, of course he's a thief, but if he doesn't steal, does that mean he's an accessory before the fact to murder? See what trouble you get into when you ask questions like this to a philosopher?

Sunday, September 08, 2019

Why is there no law requiring paid medical leave for pregnancy?

Why is there no law requiring paid medical leave for pregnancy? 
The reason is that Americans believe in capitalism, and they at least one of the major parties is highly resistant to doing anything that exercises control over businesses. In the 1990s we actually had to pass a law to require businesses to provide UNPAID medical leave to employees, and most Republicans voted no on the Family and Medical Leave Act. But of course, they also want to discourage women from getting abortions. Go figure. 

Tuesday, September 03, 2019

If there is no God, is free will possible?


But what if God doesn’t exist? Does that mean we have free will? Well, a lot of people who don’t believe in God think that, instead of having a soul distinct from our bodies, we have instead simply a body which is a conglomeration of physical  particles. And what physical particles do, they say, isn’t determined by anyone’s will, it is determined by the laws of physics. Given the laws of physics and the positions of the atoms, some people think everything is predictable from there. There are theories in physics which have gotten away from this kind of determinism at the physical level, but if the universe is only the matter in it, then a person’s choice cannot be the final determiner of what they do.  
If materialism is true, libertarian free will is excluded, and I maintain that compatibilist free will is highly problematic given materialism, since it relies on the idea on the idea of acting for a reason, but in the final analysis, if materialism is true, that never happens. The physical state of the world,  not the reason, determines what we do. 

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Abortion and "socialism"


I should make a key distinction here. I was using the term "socialism" in the way Republicans like to use it, where they treat any expansion of role of government in social welfare as socialism. This is the ostensible grounds, for example, that Mitch McConnell is killing all the legislation coming from the Democratic House of Representatives--it's socialistic. This argument was used when I was a child and conservatives such as Ronald Reagan were arguing against Medicare. If you think you can expand social welfare, and maybe raise taxes to make sure this is funded, without being accused of socialism, then fine. I don't think this is really socialism, but it is called socialism when it is opposed by people like McConnell.  What I was really arguing is that outlawing abortion is going to require a strengthening of the welfare efforts of government. In order to make sure that the children who are born who would not have been  born otherwise are given a real chance in life, taxes will probably have to go up. 

I think there is a governing philosophy on the conservative side that suggests that what government is primarily there to do is protect people from violence. So, for example, terrorists, who can kill you, have to be stopped by government, but if we use government to make sure people are protected from disease, which can also kill you, that's socialism and we ought to do that as little as possible. Hence, it's a good thing to make sure women don't get abortions, since that is a violent treat to fetuses, but once the mothers carry their children to terms we will cut funding for any effort to make them better able to take care of those children. It is simply a fact that for many families to survive, both parents have to work, yet the legislation that required employers not to fire women for getting pregnant was sponsored by Democrats like Hillary Clinton, not the pro-life Republicans. But such legislation was considered an interference with the free market, and most Republican senators opposed it. I mean what are women supposed to do, give up their jobs so they can go have their kids? I suppose if you think the woman’s place is in the home, barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen, you are OK with this. I am not.

I think serious opposition to abortion to include a willingness to step up to the plate a support those struggling families who abort babies for economic reasons. Something is wrong with our society if a woman finds herself in a situation where she has choose, as a student of mine once told me, between adequately caring for a child she already had, or carrying her pregnancy to term. And I think that means a willingness to step up to the plate via government, and a willingness to pay more in taxes to make sure that my former student's dilemma arises as infrequently as possible. Otherwise, I have to regard the "pro-life" commitments of Republicans as a mere political football to keep their voters in the fold, not as a genuine commitment to human life.

America is not a pro-life country. The idea that a woman has the right to do as she chooses with her own body is intuitively appealing to lots and lots of people. While this mind-set exists, there will be abortions, and if they are outlawed, they will occur illegally. (If abortion is outlawed, only outlaws will get abortions, but there will be plenty of outlaws). Those convinced against their will will be of the same opinion still. People who don't want to see abortions can remonstrate on ethical grounds, and they can strongly support sex education including contraceptive information even if a case for abstinence is made, and they can support pro-child public policies that reduce the occurrence of unwanted pregnancies. 


Monday, August 19, 2019

Want to outlaw abortion? Are you ready for some socialism?

If abortion is outlawed, then women who would have aborted will carry their pregnancies to term. Many of these are getting abortions because they can't afford children. Or they will give them up for adoption, making it likely they will end up in the foster system. If you do that, there will be more mouths to feed for people who can afford it least. Won't the government have to expand the welfare state to take care of these children?

If so, it seems to me that you can't both believe that abortion should be outlawed, and also believe that socialism or anything like it is a terrible thing. The idea that private charity will take up the slack seems to me to be a pipe dream. The pro-life movement may have the consequence of moving us more quickly in a socialist direction than Bernie Sanders could ever dream.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

gay marriage and discrimination

There is an important sense in which the very concept of marriage is a discriminatory one--that is, we choose certain intimate relationships as worthy either of government sponsorship or of church sponsorship. Marriage means something more than that we will not forcibly prevent someone from having that kind of relationship, something we do in pedophilia cases (and,  yes, we used to do with some homosexuality cases through sodomy laws). But we choose certain relationships, in virtue of their permanence, or for some other reason, to say that if you are in one of those you can file married filing jointly, you can have community property, you can transfer your wealth to that person when you die no questions asked, you can get spousal social security benefits, etc. etc. etc . And we do that for some relationships and not others. When we call something a marriage, we say that it is something more than a hookup or even a shackup, it's something we as a society, or a government, or a church, should support. When you accept same-sex marriage, you eliminate being of the opposite sex as one of the requirements for sponsorship. When it comes to church sponsorship, one church was sponsoring gay marriages as far back as 1969, others, such as the Roman Catholic or Southern Baptist churches, or even the United Methodist Church, still won't do it.   But if you literally thought that all relationships were equal, you would be eliminating marriage, not making it equal. 

By the way, I have notice that legislatures are moving to change abortion laws in anticipation of a reversal of Roe v. Wade, but are not doing the same thing with the Obergefell decision. I wonder why that is. This seems to me like the dog that didn't bark. 

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Donald Trump and our monarchophobic founders

A simple question: Does Donald Trump understand his position as the head of one of three coequal branches of government? Or does he assume that he is somehow our sovereign? The President of the United States is powerful, to be sure, but our monarchophobic put founders limits on the position. All Presidents, I am sure, have been tempted to overstep those boundaries, and some have lurched us in the direction of an Imperial Presidency. When I heard his Republican acceptance speech in 2016, my thought was "You're just the President. You can't do all that, even if you are elected." In two and a half plus years since the inauguration, I have yet to see a glimmer of understanding of his constitutional role. He seems to think that the US Government is his to run in the same way that the Trump Organizations are his to run, since he is the CEO. Sorry, our founders didn't set America up that way.