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Category Archives: Problems
Author: Olivera Z. Mijuskovic, philosopher
A brief review
In political discourse in recent times we hear too many times the word – populist or populism. Does an average citizen who is not from the profession of political or philosophical sciences properly consider the meaning of this terms and what are the ethical implications of manipulating with it?
Let’s start from the beginning.
Populist is usually related to the concept of a demagogue and it has roots from the Greek term dimagogós which has the meaning of a charismatic leader. This phenomenon dates back to Ancient Athens democracy which is at the same time a weakness of democracy. Demagogue does not address to the elites but to the ordinary people and thanks to them and in their name he carries out his decisions into practice. Often, decisions of such type of leaders are not in the interest of large masses, but their popularity and charm convince people otherwise. Demagogues support their own decisions often with the story about the national crisis and interests, and often used the force.
Keele University is considering closing its philosophy department. Anyone concerned should join this facebook group for more details on how they can help fight it.
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Here are two questions that strike me as worth thinking about.
Say you wanted to teach a liberal arts-style freshman seminar that introduced students to the idea of reflecting on politics and society, but you didn’t want to turn it into yet another Applied Ethics or Introduction to Political Philosophy class that crammed in all the essential philosophical problems and texts: Capital Punishment, the Duty to Obey the Law, Abortion, Euthanasia, etc., on the one hand, and Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Marx, Mill, etc., on the other. Instead, you’d much rather just use plain old essays — well-crafted, accessible, insightful, evocative, memorable essays — written by people who may or may not be academics or part of the academic tradition.
The kind of essay I’m thinking of would be one that didn’t so much need to be explained as experienced, that presents a viewpoint that seizes your imagination in some way, rather than an argument or conceptual apparatus that needs to be taken apart, dusted a little by a qualified technician, and then put back together in sound working order. These would be essays that have a force that can’t really be conveyed to someone who has not read them, and that become part of the background framework of your way of thinking about the political and social world and the stuff in it that matters. They would ideally be long enough to be a substantial read, worth assigning as a text, but not too long to be a task that requires the threat of academic sanctions to be completed. Above all, they must not be difficult to read or boring to think about. They should be the sort of thing people mean when they talk about the art of the essay.
Speaking of non-ideal theory (or ideal theory in less than ideal contexts)… I am curious to hear whether my fellow public reasoners believe that the recent US Supreme Court ruling on campaign finance should have any impact on our work as political philosophers. To be clear, I don’t mean to start a debate over whether or not the Supreme Court ruled correctly, or whether campaign donations are speech, or even whether corporations are people who have rights like you and me (though I do have opinions on such matters). Instead, I want to consider whether the American legal landscape should guide our work on theories justice or democracy.
Many of you have probably seen Simmons’ article just out in PPA on ideal and non-ideal theory. Simmons defends Rawls’ account of the ideal/non-ideal theory distinction and his paper is a must read. That said, I have been ruminating over a slightly different take on the debate over the nature of the ideal/non-ideal theory distinction and so thought I’d throw an idea out there.
Drawing on John Rawls’ A Theory of Justice many have suggested that the ideal/non-ideal theory distinction is akin to the full/partial compliance distinction. In creating his ideal theory, Rawls assumes that people will comply (almost) perfectly with the requirements of justice. He then uses his original position argument to conclude that his first principle of justice should have priority over his second. Next, Rawls weakens his ideal theory assumptions, adding the constraint that people may not abide by the requirements of justice. He concludes that we should only embrace his general conception of justice in non-ideal theory.
Unfortunately, the canonical examples of ideal and non-ideal theories cannot be fully characterized as full and partial compliance theories respectively. As Simmons and others note, even Rawls says ideal theory requires more than perfect compliance. In creating his ideal theory he assumes, for instance, that the circumstances do not prevent justice from being secured. Furthermore, others have more recently provided ideal and non-ideal theories that are not full and partial compliance theories (respectively). The main thing that distinguishes Allen Buchanan’s and Michael Blake’s non-ideal theories from their ideal theories, for instance, is that their non-ideal theories assume that there will be states and consider what we should do given that we are confined to a statist system. Similarly, the main thing that distinguishes Ronald Dworkin’s non-ideal theory from his ideal theory is that he assumes that people only have different talents and disabilities in his ideal theory. Blake’s, Buchanan’s, and Dworkin’s ideal theories do not require perfect compliance. Assuming that there is something to the ideal/non-ideal theory distinction and these authors are not just using the terms in completely different ways, the ideal/non-ideal theory distinction cannot just be the full/partial compliance distinction.
Reflecting on the many ways people seem to use the terms, one might despair at the thought of trying to unify such disparate ideal and non-ideal theories. In the draft of his book manuscript Michael Blake suggests, for instance, that the ideal/non-ideal theory distinction is not that useful because it can mean many different things. He implores others to be careful to explain just what assumptions they are making in advancing any theory. Perhaps this is part of what drives Simmons and others to argue for one or another of these ways of thinking about the ideal/non-ideal theory distinction.
According to the BBC, in the latest twist in l’affaire du foulard/voile, a French parliamentary committee has recommended a ban on women wearing Islamic face veils in public [Correction: the proposal applies to public facilities, such as hospitals and mass transit, and not walking about the street]. The reasoning behind the report seems to be that face veils are contrary to the values of the republic, as symbols of women’s repression and extremist fundamentalism.
The proposal strikes me as a very bad idea in a number of ways. I don’t see how the law liberates women from whatever social pressure there exists to wear a veil. Will wearing a balaclava in public be illegal too? If not, then won’t the law just force a change of attire? Nussbaum has some discussion of this general issue in her Liberty of Conscience, pp. 346-53, invoking the ability of Chicagoans (and the Dutch, and presumably the French) to conduct normal social interactions with their faces covered in winter.