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    • CommentAuthordkostis
    • CommentTimeMar 28th 2009

    Okay, I understand what you're saying. Things like opportunities and equality before the law are still viewed as goods to be distributed even though this is obviously an awkward way to talk about it. There are still questions about whether equality is the goal here. Take opportunity as an example. What would it mean to say that peoples' opportunities are equal (especially when they don't have access to equal resources)? More importantly, do we really care about people having equal opportunities (in whichever way we end up making sense of this idea)? My view is that equality isn't actually important, what matters is that people have enough opportunity to live the kind of lives they find fulfilling. I think this applies to tangible resources as well. What matters isn't that everyone have equal amounts of money but that people have enough money to live the lives they find satisfying.

    Unfortunately, I am not well versed in Continental Philosophy at all so if you know any Continental Philosophy that deals with equality (both political and moral) I would be interested to hear it.
    • CommentAuthordkostis
    • CommentTimeMar 28th 2009

    Why exactly does it create conflict for someone to believe that equality is of supreme importance, but enforcing equally shitty lives on a populace would be a bad thing?

    Well, if you say something is of supreme importance then you say that it is more important than anything else. What else can you mean by “supreme importance”? If you think that democracy is the supremely important social goal then contingent facts about the stupidity of the voters are irrelevant. The ideal of democracy is independent of the degree to which people are stupid. If you think that democracy is pragmatically useful, then you think that it is useful only insofar as it allows you to meet other goals that are more important. Whatever those other goals are, you take those to be the most important. So you might say that people living decent lives is the most important goal. If equality or democracy will lead to everyone having a worse life, then that conflicts with the goal that you take to be most important, namely that everyone has a decent life, and you drop your pursuit of equality.

    It's like if I asked a person if they liked money. After they say yes, I offer them five dollars if they let me shoot them in the foot. THEN, when they say "no, that's retarded" I go "AHA! So you DON'T like money!"

    To match your example to what you say earlier, it would have to be more like this:
    I ask a person if money is of supreme importance to them and they say yes. I offer them $5 if they let me shoot them in the foot. THEN, when they so “no, that’s retarded” I go “AHA, so money is NOT of supreme importance to you!”

    Stated this way, I think it is fair to say that the person who says no to being shot in the foot, does not supremely value money. Clearly that person thinks that his or her welfare is more important than money and that just means that money is not of supreme importance.
    • CommentAuthordkostis
    • CommentTimeMar 28th 2009
    @Arjan Dirkse

    I agree that equality is difficult to apply but my question is really about whether it is the right ideal. Is it important to strive for equality, or is it just important to ensure that everyone has enough in order to live a fairly decent lives? “Having enough” is obviously vague and could apply to just the basic resources but I think very few people feel that their lives would be satisfying if they just had the basic resources. So I think that “having enough” should mean basic economic resources plus some basic social goods such as at least a minimal amount of preventive health care, access to education and so on. The reason that I think equality is not the goal is that it is essentially comparative, you’re constantly comparing what you have to what others have. Shouldn’t the concern just be that we have enough to live lives that are satisfying to us?
    • CommentAuthordkostis
    • CommentTimeMar 28th 2009 edited
    @Audley Strange

    Do systems where people are treated equally in the eyes of the law flourish more than systems that are not?

    Well, many people think that equality should be valued even if systems where people are NOT treated equally flourish more than systems WHERE PEOPLE ARE TREATED EQUALLY. And this is what I take to be the heart of the conflict. Your approach is to say that if equality doesn’t make our lives better according to some definable standard then we shouldn’t pursue equality. I am sympathetic to that approach. However, someone who thinks that equality is important in itself might say something like the following (which is a purely hypothetical case): Let’s say that our society is one in which overall, the standard of living is much higher than the standard of living elsewhere. Let’s say further that the sole difference between our society and the others that are worse off than ours is that in our society women get paid less than men. Isn’t there something to be said for wanting to pursue equal pay even though that means that our society would overall be worse off?

    I realize that the real world is much more complicated than this but I think that is precisely why we need to be clear about what we value in the simple and hypothetical cases like the one I describe. If we can make sense of what we value in the simple cases, then we have some way of approaching the much more complicated real world cases.

    I don’t think that egalitarians take their emphasis on equality to be a conceptual truth, i.e. an a priori belief. They do think that there are good reasons to believe in equality and these reasons either have to do with fairness or rationality. Both of these approaches are quite similar. An appeal to fairness would be that we only treat people differently if there is a morally significant reason for doing so. An appeal to rationality would appeal to the notion of treating like cases alike (something that we do in scientific inquiry). Again, the idea is that you treat like cases alike unless you have morally significant reasons for doing otherwise. Either way, it is quite different from religious faith since an egalitarian is going to be willing to listen to arguments about whether “x” (where for x you can substitute any difference between individuals from hair colour to gender) is a morally significant reason.

    NOTE: The first sentence has been corrected.
    • CommentAuthordkostis
    • CommentTimeMar 28th 2009
    @ Labyrinthine

    You're blurring two different definitions of equality. There is the equality we strive for, and then there is the equality that is. On one level, we recognise that some people's circumstances are inhumane relative to the rest of our society and we want to do what we can to close that gap.

    First of all, I don’t think there is any equality that just is when we’re talking about morality and politics. Secondly, I did actually make a distinction between two different kinds of equality, moral and political, and it’s hard to deny that they are connected. If you think that political equality is valuable in itself, then presumably you think this because you believe in moral equality. Now you might not believe that political equality is valuable in itself but if you don’t think of political equality as inherently valuable it’s because you think that some other social or political good is more valuable. Political equality is then just a means to some further end. Egalitarians, in taking equality to be inherently valuable, take equality to be the ends and I’m trying to figure out why they would hold that view. When you say “we recognise that some people’s circumstances are inhumane relative to the rest of our society and we want to do what we can to close that gap,” you’re suggesting that equality is the goal that we should be striving for. I’m asking, why is that the goal that we should strive for? Shouldn’t we just be concerned with everyone having enough, rather than how much someone has relative to anyone else? For egalitarians, this relational quality is important. What matters is how your goods compare to everyone else’s goods. My view is that your goods should not be compared to someone else’s good but should be evaluated in terms of the kind of life that would be satisfying to you.

    The implication of striving for equality is that equality is, in some sense, objectively valuable. I think that by evaluating your goods with respect to your own life and your own welfare, regardless of how much more someone else might have, you really do avoid any problems with having to posit objective values.

    My personal belief is that there doesn't have to be a conflict there if we simply remember that those judgements do not have an objective status and are purely personal

    If you’re striving for equality, you do think equality is objectively valuable. You can’t really strive for equality on your own (it's not even clear what it would mean to do so since bringing about equality necessarily involves other people), so you need a political system that creates policies with the aim of bringing about equality. That means that you don’t just think equality is just valuable for you, but that others should value it as well.

    You're trying to migrate the absolute fact of moral equality.

    I find it strange that you argue against moral absolutism and moral objectivity and then claim that there is an absolute fact about moral equality. How are these views consistent?
    • CommentAuthordkostis
    • CommentTimeMar 28th 2009
    Some of you have suggested that I'm overemphasizing the importance that egalitarians place on equality and given the initial case that I presented I can see why someone would think that because it does seem so extreme. Egalitarians do, however, take this to be a compelling objection to their views which suggests that they don't think of this case as misrepresenting those views. In fact, many egalitarians are much more extreme than that case suggests. Philippe Van Parijs in his article "Why Surfers Should be Fed: The Liberal Case for an Unconditional Income" suggests equality even applies to such institutions as marriage in the sense that, when male partners are scarce (say in times of war) women should have an equal share in the eligible bachelors. How does this work given that bachelors are indivisible goods? Well, if you get married, you then have to reimburse all the women who had a share in this bachelor and who are thereby unable to get married. If we have to go this far in pursuit of equality, then I hardly think it misrepresents egalitarians to say that they value equality above all other values.

    Ronald Dworkin, a famous political and legal philosopher, has argued that inequalities that are not deserved generate feelings of envy which result from perceiving the situation as unfair. In the original example that I used, where goods are distributed equally even if that makes everyone worse off, how do you distribute goods so that no one feels envious? Since everyone seems to think this example is so extreme, let me pose the question a different way. Let's say that you have 10 units of a particular resource necessary for survival, and there are 10 people, each of whom need 1.5 units of the available resource in order to survive. If you distribute the goods equally, then everyone dies. But how do you fairly distribute the goods given that there aren't enough to go around? Is there any way to distribute the goods so that everyone thinks the distribution is fair? Egalitarians think that equality is the only fair way to distribute goods so in this case it looks like they're forced to say that we should distribute the goods so that each person only gets 1 unit and each dies. You can forgo fairness but then how do you justify that decision to the person who gets nothing?
  1.  (5365.67)
    You're still generalizing, exaggerating, and largely speaking only to an extremist, literalist approach to the egalitarian ideal. Makes it irrelevant. No matter WHAT philosophy or ideology you want to discuss, there are easily conjectured scenarios where a person that espouses those ideas will abandon them because of clear rational problems. The 10 units/10 people scenario is only a useful thought experiment to divine at what point a person will compromise their ideals because of conditions. It's also the same experiment one would use to see what it takes for someone to overcome the taboo of cannibalism. This is, again, not a 'gotcha' moment where you're finding holes in anyone's thinking, but you keep pretending it is. It is only a measure of how irrational and extremist one might be. Unless you want to be an absolutist about things, and insist that everyone forever follow through with their stated ideals no matter how deleterious that behavior would be.

    Which is fine. But useless.
    • CommentAuthordkostis
    • CommentTimeMar 28th 2009

    You've clearly misunderstood the intent of my posts. I wasn't trying to catch anyone out, I'm asking a question. At first the question was: would anyone continue to advocate equality when the consequences would be disastrous. Since most people seemed to think that we should give up the ideal of equality in that case it clearly wasn't fruitful to continue trying to have a discussion on why someone would hold a view that no one thought they would hold. My second question, for which I used the 10 units/10 people thought experiment, was this: since most people think we wouldn't hold onto our ideal of equality when the consequences of doing so would be bad, how would they justify another course of action. This is a case where it seems the only fair approach is to advocate equality even though it has disastrous consequences. Since no one wants to defend equality in this kind of scenario, what other approaches could be fair? All I'm looking for is a discussion on what people think about equality.
  2.  (5365.69)
    if you don’t think of political equality as inherently valuable it’s because you think that some other social or political good is more valuable. Political equality is then just a means to some further end.
    There are actually options aside from "most important thing" and "means to an end" - it's entirely possible to believe that multiple values, such as for example equality, freedom and stability, which are neither entirely opposed to each other nor entirely congruous, have a more or less equal importance in that you might wish to focus on one more than another at a particular time, but you ideally want to have all of them. No one of those is a "means to an end" of any of the others. We want to have all of them. That's why we have a PROBLEM when two of them conflict with each other in a given circumstances. Sometimes we are forced to choose, and in that case we may find we believe in one more than another, but that doesn't make the other unimportant - it's like having to choose between two of your children. It's at heart a tough choice and one you hope not to have to make precisely BECAUSE they are both so inherently valuable. There is no egalitarian who holds equality as the sole measure of worth in society - all it means to call yourself an egalitarian is that if forced at gunpoint to choose between your two kids, stability and equality, you think you'll choose equality, without suggesting you're going to feel less than horrible about sacrificing stability.

    What matters is how your goods compare to everyone else’s goods.
    Nobody is talking about goods. See the last bit of my post. There is no way to apply egalitarianism to distribution of goods on a macro scale and I would like to see your references if you believe anybody is seriously suggesting that. We're talking about access to opportunities. which is what I meant by "some people's circumstances are inhumane relative to the rest of our society." I didn't mean some people don't have a computer chair as cool as mine :P I meant some people don't have access to basic schooling.

    I find it strange that you argue against moral absolutism and moral objectivity and then claim that there is an absolute fact about moral equality. How are these views consistent?
    Sorry about that, I used your term "moral equality" and it muddied the waters as I wasn't really talking about moral actions there. I believe my views are consistent because I don't think people's "moral equality," by which I simply mean the lack of objective value of one person over another, needs to be the basis of your moral value system. Sure, there's no OBJECTIVE difference between human lives, but I think subjective differences are relevant to our morals simply because there are many circumstances in which it is impossible or impractical to base our decisions on the objective equality of humanity.

    ...I think possibly we're getting some dissonance here becuse you're talking essentially about public policy while I am giving equal weight to personal decisions?
    • CommentTimeMar 29th 2009 edited
    @dkostis oh, sorry, missed your post about Parijs and Dworkin. Any relation to Andrea Dworkin? I have to say that unless you are grossly misrepresenting those writers' views I actually basically agree with you. Yes, those examples are utterly ludicrous. However as I said above you cannot dismiss equality as a "means to an end" simply because some ivory-tower theorists have painted big red reductio ad absurdum targets on their foreheads for you. I think egalitarianism is a significant value to most of us - just because it's not the ONLY value we hold does not imply that it is actually in service to some other value. There is simply no such thing as one value that can govern an entire moral value system. That is a concept more ludicrous than bachelor compensation.
    • CommentTimeMar 29th 2009 edited
    @Audley Strange
    benign dictatorship could be more beneficial to its populous in both these terms than a top down representative democracy that is bloated and overtly corrupt
    What you're basically saying is that the best dictatorship is better than the worst democracy. Okay, sure, there is overlap at that end. But I would argue that statistically speaking it is simply easier for any given self-interested leader to exercise their self interest when they are a Dictator as opposed to a Prime Minister. You can't impeach a dictator, nor does tyranny have a term limit. Dictatorships change hands in blood, and your benign dictatorship would basically last until the death of the benign dictator. At which point there is nothing systemic to stop an UNbenign dictator from taking over.

    In the end it's easier to combat corruption in a democracy than to behead your supreme ruler every second generation or so.
  3.  (5365.72)

    Well I appreciate your example on gender based wage imbalance is hypothetical, however I would suggest that even if such were the case one would have to take into account a vast amount of variables that were the cause and result of such an imbalance. However, I would say that yes there could be something to be said for attaining equal wages in this example, what could be said would be "evidence points to a decrease in both economic growth and social welfare". Do I think in such a case it should be something to strive for? No, though I can certainly appreciate that those who do not think they are "getting their fair share" would disagree, since again self interest most often over-rides social conscience (I am not saying this is wrong as such, but I do think it goes some way to explaining some of the problems that Idealists of all ilks have when attempting to fit lots of different shaped pegs into their one neat hole). At such a point that the wages were made equal more people would suffer as a consequence, including those who demanded equal pay, however it would seem to me that this new set of problems would only be addressed by another ideal solution which had other problems and the original issue would not even be up for discussion.

    And round and round it goes...

    @ Labyrinthine.

    Not much I would disagree with there, though I would have to say I think the amount democratically elected leaders who have been impeached, assassinated, removed by "popular revolution", exiled or left in disgrace, leads me to suspect there is not much difference between the positions. Also I think corruption may well be endemic to any system of leadership and as such I don't think it can be combated at all. The main difference seems that when a tyrant is caught it is expected when a democratically elected leader is caught he is replaced with another who is all but isomorphic.
    • CommentTimeMar 31st 2009 edited
    @Audley Strange - I guess the point is that they HAVE been impeached, exiled or left in disgrace. A dictator stays there until a stronger dictator comes along, and the hand-over habitually involves bloodshed, whereas a democratic leader only sometimes gets killed or "popular uprising"ed. Besides this, democracies (and I'm not counting Democracies In Name Only here) usually have a decent level of freedom of the press and internal oversight, and if not then methods for CREATING same without having guys with big sticks show up at your door.

    I just think it's pretty useless to say "corruption cannot be combated" therefore we shouldn't even try. Yes, corruption is endemic to any system of leadership - that's what I meant by referencing Power Corrupts. But it is possible to have greater and lesser volumes of corruption, to reduce the harm caused by corruption, and in this case democratic systems are much more flexible than most others.

    PS I didn't even touch dkostis's wage inequalities example, since there's no logical way two countries identical except for a wage inequality could even exist, but if they did I highly doubt that it's the less equal one would be better off. Taking the principle behind it instead of the ludicrous example, I think that public policy treating people equally is good for a reason and not just directly because people are inherently equal - it's good for morale and it's good for law and order. So any sort of conflict of that nature is highly unlikely to exist.
  4.  (5365.74)
    @ Labyrinthine.

    Sure, I see your point, though perhaps you missed the one overt act of democracy which is that most dictators are generally removed by the populous and military (unless you are saying that Democracy is a tyranny of the people, which I could go for.) We are straying close to a political rather than philosophical discussion here which while I am interested in continuing somewhat, does seem a derail.

    I appreciate a lot of what you say makes sense from the specific ideological perspective of fairness and accountability, it is not one I myself have any faith in or really see evinced in practice since I think what we consider democracy is part of a very narrow narrative which at best is akin to a popularity competition. I say this as one who became utterly jaded while political canvassing during the eighties. I'm afraid I'll always accept my anecdotal yet empirical evidence over theoretical Noble Idea.
      CommentAuthorcity creed
    • CommentTimeMar 31st 2009
    Equality can still be crowbarred onto the 10 hungry mouths in the example. Somebody mentioned lotteries earlier. Equality of opportunity in action...
    But it's hardly satisfying. Trying apply an abstract concept like equality in concrete terms is always going to lead to arbitrarily ruthless lines being drawn.

    @Audley Strange
    Corruption in democracies is moderated by the existence of a free press, and independent police and judiciary; all of these are incentivised to seek out and expose corruption.
    I'm not sure what a benign dictatorship would look like in a modern context (outside of WC of course) but I doubt it would tolerate any of those 3 things.
    I don't think this has to be an ideological position, it is a practical response to a complex, endemic problem.
  5.  (5365.76)
    @ Citruscreed.

    I would imagine ideally that would be true. However I'm not so sure that the police and judiciary are as independent in most democracies as some might think. In the U.K. for example both are highly politicised in certain areas and could give quite a few serious examples of that from the last 9 years alone, also since both are also centres of power, one could argue that they themselves are corrupt. But I still don't see how an ideal democracy is inherently better than any other ideal system of government.
  6.  (5365.77)
    @Audley Strange removed by the populace and military... and when you say removed you mean executed, often along with all their retinue. Now i am not saying that is not a fitting end to some regimes but it's the principle of the thing. Having an official GTFO mechanism reduces bloodshed. Dictatorships usually... don't have those.

    I think what we consider democracy and what we accept in lieu of democracy are different things. Yes, many of our attempts at it suck, maybe we need a better run-up. But saying "fine then let's just have a dictatorship and hope the guy in charge is nice" is essentially giving up. I guess you have been understandably disillusioned with our fumbled democracies but I assume you have never lived in a dictatorship? I haven't either, not when I was old enough to remember it, but I grew up on old USSR stories. I mean that wasn't quite a dictatorship as per spec, more of a faux-communist bureaucratic oligarchy type thing, but I'm just saying. I believe that trying to be a democracy is important even when we fail. "Fail again, fail better."

    (Personally I wouldn't have a problem with a constitutional monarchy or any number of various alternatives to strictly REPRESENTATIVE democracy - it's the basic point of it that's more important than strict adherence to any one execution.)

    ...aaand you're right we should really bring this tangent to a close and get back to the philosophy :P but philosophy when put into practice is always either personal morality or public policy, and public policy inevitably involves politics.
  7.  (5365.78)
    Has objectivism been subject to any extensive writing since it's conception?

    If so, by whom, and which of them would you wonderful 'Chapelites reccommend? If you could, stick only to those writings that don't pervert Miss Rand's brainchild.

    Please and thank you.
  8.  (5365.79)
    Okay back to philosophy...

    Noumena, can someone with some knowledge explain to me why this isn't just Kant rationalising the meaningless into a conceptual set in order to try and sound clever?
    • CommentTimeApr 5th 2009 edited
    @Audley Strange:

    Depends - do you want the metaphysical answer, or the pragmatic answer?

    Metaphysically speaking, Kant was able to establish the certainty of sense-perception again by both a) positing the 'noumenal' world, but b) also stating that it lies entirely outside not only perception, but knowledge. It avoids the entire issue of what the "thing in itself" actually is when nobody's looking at it, which really was the clever bit about it. The basic Kantian insight on perception is that the world must behave as we perceive it seems to in order to exist. Kant attacked the radical empiricist skeptics - David Hume is the usual example - who claimed that the world is just a jumble of perceptions that we string together by habit and circumstance, and more importantly, that we have no logical basis for believing they might not be different tomorrow.

    Sunrise is the usual example. On David Hume's account, we perceive sunrise as a bundle of perceptions and infer based upon that ("Glow, red, ball - oh, the sunrise"). On Hume's account, though, we have no reason to believe the sun will rise tomorrow aside from the fact that it has always happened every day. Since all we have are perceptions, and cannot know what the "real" world is like in itself aside from those perceptions, we have nothing but the "constant conjunction" of events ("Sun come up, it gets light and hot, Sun goes down, it gets dark and cold").

    Pragmatically speaking, Kant posted that we don't perceive individual sensations - we perceive a world. We don't see light, feel heat, see a disc and say "Sun!" - We see the Sun, and grasp it as such as given by the world. How can we trust this? Because this is simply how the (phenomenal) world must behave for there to exist rational beings. A world where the Sun arbitrarily did not rise tomorrow would make rationality impossible - yet, we have rationality, so the phenomenal world must be *constructed by our brains* according to logical rules before it is presented to consciousness. Is the Sun "real"? Sure, as real as anything else you might perceive. Our pragmatic phenomenal perception is adequate to our needs to function as rational beings who live in a physical world-system, and this must by necessity be predictable and logical because our minds have ordered it that way.

    The noumenal world? Kant really just tosses that in there to give God a place to live. This is a cop-out, but it becomes important for the formulation of his ethics down the line, and also keeps him from getting his head cut off.