Tag: Philosophy (Page 2 of 2)

Locke and the Right to (Acquire) Property: On the Philosophical Basis of Progressive Liberalism

By: Richard Oxenberg

I. Introduction

Do the wealthy pay their fair share in taxes? How do we determine this “fair share”? Does the government have the right to tax some in order to provide services for others? What is the basis of this right? Is redistributive taxation a form of theft, as some on the political right claim, or might it indeed be mandated by the fundamental principles upon which a free society is founded? These are some of the questions that are up front and center for us in this political year.

The purpose of the following essay is to explore the philosophical basis for answering such questions. In particular, I wish to  examine the philosophical underpinnings of what might be called “progressive liberalism,” by showing its derivation from the basic principles of classical liberalism – especially as these are developed by John Locke, whose theory of natural law and natural rights was instrumental in providing the ethical framework for the U.S. Declaration of Independence and Constitution.  I argue that a careful analysis of the right to property as developed by Locke shows that this right is neither absolute nor unlimited. Indeed, analysis shows that, considered in the light of modern capitalist society, to honor this right will demand a fairly robust and ongoing program of progressive taxation, aid to the poor, and social programs sufficient to bring the distribution of property into accord with the “difference principle” articulated by John Rawls. This principle implies that a just economic system must be such as to garner the freely proffered consent of its least advantaged members.

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Liberal Values in Market Society

By: Jeremy Kingston Cynamon

Much of political philosophy concerns itself with devising a priori systems (derived purely from theory) for organizing society. However, in doing so it tends to overlook many extant structures – particularly those of the economic sphere. In this piece I examine what it is that these a priori systems overlook, as well as the ways that the existing structures alter the institutions haphazardly placed on top of them. I devote the bulk of my attention to the frequent attempts made to overlay liberal values into our market society.

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Heart-Mind Cosmos: Panentheism in Mahayana Buddhism And Early 19th Century German Idealism

By: Stefan Schindler

In the late 17th century, Isaac Newton synthesized the European scientific discoveries of the previous two hundred years. This scientific revolution had been built on the scientific method formulated by Francis Bacon, who insisted that nature’s secrets could be unveiled through a combination of rational theorizing and rigorous empirical testing.  This was called the experimental method.  All previous knowledge was thrown into question in what Descartes called “methodical doubt.”

The point was to establish science on a firm foundation.  Assumptions and superstitions were to be replaced with certainties.  Accordingly, mathematics was the language for the formulation of the laws of nature.

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Was Nietzsche an aristocratic elitist?

By: Ippolit Belinski
An earlier version of this article appeared on Paradox of the Day.

Nietzsche is often portrayed as an aristocratic elitist, whose main concern was with higher morals and who strongly opposed any type of herd mentality. This is generally true, albeit very crudely formulated (and indeed oversimplified). But it does not mean—as is often claimed—that Nietzsche was also an elitist aristocrat in his political views.

It is often claimed that, because Nietzsche was concerned with higher morals, he therefore disavowed any sense of egalitarian community. By this reading, he staunchly opposed democratic principles, or any form of politics which aims towards equality.

I believe this account is highly problematic.

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Judge Posner on Meta-Ethics and Rational vs. Nonrational Argumentation

By:Jeremy Kingston Cynamon

Moral theory is like a system of mathematics that has never gotten beyond addition.R. Posner


In his book, Problematics of Moral and Legal Theory, Judge Richard Posner offers a serious critique of the professionalization of moral philosophy that has gone largely ignored by that social milieu. More broadly, his meta-ethical views explaining the nature of morality, which I will reconstruct in this piece, are quite incisive. I generally agree with Posner’s skepticism towards moral realism, and will not attempt to problematize his arguments in this regard. However, in his attempt to delineate different types of moralists (“moral entrepreneurs” from “academic moralists”) he draws some dubious distinctions.

Particularly concerning is his distinction between rational and nonrational argumentation.[1] In my view, it is political rather than philosophical; a sort of social artifact without internal logic. There is, of course, such a thing as a bad argument, but this is not equivalent to a nonrational argument – at least in Posner’s schema, and in academic parlance more generally. Rationality/Nonrationality can be a marginally useful distinction of style, but I argue that it is often misused to track content and thereby unreflectively weaken the normative weight of radical arguments.

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Buddha’s Political Philosophy

By: Stefan Schindler

Do not build fifty palaces, your highness. After all, you can only be in one room at a time.
Nagarjunaa second century CE Buddhist sage, to an Indian king

Nagarjuna’s suggestion – combining wisdom and wit – exhibits the essence of Buddha’s political philosophy: simplicity, humility, compassion.

To open a vista onto Buddha’s vision of a just society, this essay takes a brief look at Siddhartha Gautama’s life story; sketches the Buddhist worldview; traces the evolution of Buddhism; and concludes with an outline of Buddha’s political philosophy.

Along the way, we’ll draw parallels between Buddhist and Platonic thought, and reference the embrace of Buddhist ideals by peacemakers in the modern and postmodern world.

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Intuition Unintuited

Howl of the Day: Feb 17, 2016

Moral intuition is a strange thing. When faced with a moral dilemma we often have a gut feeling that something is right or wrong. This feeling of certainty often disappears under scrutiny (remember the trolley problem!), but still we incline towards one or another course of action.

But what about problems where we don’t have a gut feeling of right or wrong? The Oxford academic philosopher, John Broome, posited that these cases reveal a different sort of moral intution: the intuition of neutrality. Indeed, in his article Should We Value Population, the then White’s Professor of Moral Philosophy argues that an intuition that a certain course of action is “ethically neutral” is in fact our “commonest” intuition:

The intuition of neutrality is not merely an intuition we happen to have. It is deeply embedded in the way we think about value and the way we form our moral judgements. We generally simply ignore the effects of our actions on the world’s population, even when the effects are perfectly predictable. This can only be because of the intuition that they are ethically neutral.

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Socrates Made Tiny and Cute

Howl of the Day: Feb 16, 2016

The Second Letter attributed to the philosopher, Plato, contains the famous suggestion that his dialogues present a Socrates made “young and beautiful”. Some people, it seems, concerned with the state of education of children in America, would go a few steps further than Plato did in this sense. They would raise a generation or more of little Socrateses, all not just young and beautiful, but tiny and cute.

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Philosophy Wanders But Is It Lost?

Howl of the Day: Feb 9, 2016

In an impressive article in the New York Times, Robert Frogeman and Adam Briggle call for a re-examination of the place of philosophy in society.

Articles like this one are much needed to inform discussions in today’s intellectual, political, and educational realms. The authors, Frogeman and Briggle, do an admirable job of tackling a difficult subject, and they do it in a lucid and accessible manner. Their article rightly draws our attention to some of the problems associated with the attempt to place philosophy into an academic setting in the 19th century. They show how these problems persist today and have indeed worsened over time, and they give some indication as to how it is not just philosophy which has lost it’s way, but perhaps all of human inquiry as a result.

There is a weakness of the piece, however, that is worth consideration. Frogeman and Briggle appear to overestimate the extent to which philosophy becoming lost has been caused by the trend toward specialization in the universities that it has ostensibly inhabited since the late 19th century. The authors do point to an earlier, more profound trend – the divorce of the sciences (natural and social) from philosophy. No doubt that is a greater cause of the loss than academic specialization. But wasn’t there always a problem?

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