Archive for April 2006

Laws, Rights, and Justice

April 30, 2006

This is the first part of what I hope will be a multi-part series on legal truth and consequences.

Since we live in a day and age where the Executive branch is claiming unilateral rights to break the laws established by Congress, I thought it would be useful to consider where justice demands lawbreaking and where it demands compliance.

I think rights exist only within a social context. In an ideal world, rights would extend universally with each individual, but there are limits to the extension of rights. To define them as shortly and sweetly as possible, Kant’s categorical imperative combined with the golden rule and the concept of rational understanding. So the synthesis of these ideas looks like this: A person should always be treated as a subject and never completely as an object, they should be charitably treated as though the roles were reversed, and reasons for their treatment should be based on a desire to improve understanding and cooperation.

Laws come from the interaction of individual rights with the collective needs of society. So by definition, laws are bound to violate the rights of somebody at sometime. Since that is the case, the second best goal is to preserve the rights of the majority without trampling the rights of the minority. As an extra condition, laws should protect truth, even unpopular truth. Laws enshrining free speech and a free press allow all voices to be heard, even if they are not all equally valid.

Justice is a nebulous concept that acts at an individual intuitive level, as well as collectively at an objective group equality level. Since only the most fanatic egalitarian will say that all groups are in fact objectively equal, it is well to remember that pure equality is an illusion. Still, the greater the inequality is between groups, the less understanding and cooperation that exists between individuals of each group. Although a certain level of conflict is inevitable, perhaps even desirable in some ways, there are certain thresholds at which conflict becomes disastrous to the social fabric.

Names and Types

April 27, 2006

I am engaged in a discussion at the moment with a fellow blogger. We are discussing the idea of essentialism. This is a very dualistic, Platonic concept that posits a separate existence for ideal forms. So I, as a self-identified liberal, am a participant in the form of liberalism. That does not mean I hold to all the properties of liberalism, nor does it mean I can change what liberalism is by saying I denounce parts of it, since we are independent of each other. The connection between myself and liberalism is best described as a type of resonance, or an overlap of sets.

I think this approach to reality is philosophically interesting, mainly because it works so well as an instrument of language. We all engage in the activity called mapping, trying to navigate and steer our way through reality. We do the best we can with the maps we have. Essentialism is a bright line on the map that says, “This is the road from your origin to your destination.” See where the mistake is in that? It is not so much that it is wrong, just that there are many more paths that can get from point A to point B. Some paths take longer, some are shorter. Some are more scenic, some go through badlands. On the other hand, some paths do lead in the opposite direction, or they go around in circles.

For those predisposed to having universal objective principle ground their behavior, the essentialist system works great for defining those principles. For those who think that individual subjective principles work better at adapting to complex situations, it is too much of a constraint.

Terms of Fruition

April 13, 2006

I was just listening to an audio stream between different sides of the abortion debate. What was stunning about it was how careful and considered the pro-choice side was compared to the wide brushes used by the pro-life advocate. Dr. Kreeft used nearly every slippery slope argument to compare abortion to murder. He even made a most astounding claim, that abortion is a form of deicide. If we were to grant this bizarre claim, he would seem compelled to admit that God is dead after tens of millions of abortions. The simplified pro-life argument looked like this:
1) All humans are humans, not some other species.
2) All humans have an equal and essential human nature, and application of the golden rule means that it is impermissible to kill people against their will.
3) The law must protect human rights, including the right to life, with exceptions made for the guilty.

I will agree to number three with the condition that guilt can be a matter of context. People today can be killed for trespassing on somebody else’s property, even when they do not understand the language. Somehow we should understand that a woman’s rights over her body are less than her property rights.

The other two statement are totally incorrect. Statement number one assumes that a template for a human is a human. It is like saying that the wind and water are a hurricane. They may in fact develop in a certain way to make a hurricane, but they are just a precursor to a radically different event.

Since I italicized the text, it should be clear where the fault of the number two statement is. It is one thing to have a will that is not being expressed, it is another thing to not have a will at all.

He also makes an argument against skepticism which is flawed, since he expands criminal negligence to include something like shooting at a deer without knowing for certain if it is a deer or another hunter. Time to put a certain VP on trial, I suppose.

Dr. Boonin took a tactic I dislike, which is granting personhood and then making an argument for the permissibility of abortion. The simplified pro-choice argument looked like this:
1) The right to life is not a right to life support from another.
2) Unless the cost is trivial.
3) Unless consent was given.
4) Unless compensation is owed for causing harm.
The reason I dislike this tactic is that I think a sentiment of charity is an intrinsic good when dealing with other persons. Additionally, it does seem like consent to a situation is granted by default after a reasonable amount of time. That is why it is so much easier just to start with a position of defining when personhood begins. Viability is such an obvious choice on so many different levels: consciousness, expression, autonomy, functionality.