Iapetus wrote: ↑
October 6th, 2018, 7:55 am
Reply to GE Morton:
…To be sure, if you favor some moral theory which does not hold welfare maximization for all agents to be the aim of the theory, or does not include an Equal Agency postulate, then my argument will be irrelevant.
That is the precise point; government must serve all people, whatever their beliefs.
Well, that depends upon what you mean by "serve." It must serve them all by protecting everyone's rights and offering all equal protection of the law. It may not serve anyone in the sense of meeting their personal needs and desires. It cannot do the latter without violating someone's rights.
That is why I object to assigning it a particular moral purpose. That does not mean that it should not have clear guiding principles, such as those outlined in a constitution. But those guiding principles are not easily encompassed by broad and incredibly vague terms such as ‘welfare’ or ‘freedom’. It is also the case that those guiding principles are likely to change over time in response to changes in the broad patterns of belief of the population.
Government has a "moral purpose" in the sense that its "guiding principles," and its actions, must be morally justifiable, just as are the principles followed and the actions of all persons. Humans are moral agents, and as such their actions are always subject to moral scrutiny. Whether a guiding principle is or is not morally justifiable does not depend a whit upon anyone's beliefs, or upon public opinion. It does depend, of course, upon the moral theory against which it is being tested. So we need to be confident that the moral theory we're applying is rationally
I'm not quite sure what you're arguing here. Are you advocating some sort of moral relativism? Moral nihilism? Or that somehow government is exempt from moral scrutiny?
Perhaps I should re-introduce the distinction (made elsewhere on this forum) between public moralities
and private moralities
. Historically, moral philosophy has covered a lot of ground, and embraced everything from the foundations of law to cultivation of virtues to one's relationship with God to self-improvement tips. I take a theory of public morality
to be concerned with one issue only: rules governing interactions between agents in a moral field. All other questions regarding acceptable or desirable personal behavior --- whether one should eat meat on Fridays, attend church on Sunday, donate to this or that charity, "turn the other cheek" if smote, refrain from sex outside marriage, smoke marijuana, peruse pornography, etc., etc., fall within the purview of private moralities. Government should take no notice, neither promoting or suppressing, any private morality, unless one of them conflicts with a rule of public morality --- a rule generated by a sound, rationally defensible moral theory.
An argument can be espoused through words and through actions.
No, it can't. An argument is a verbal construct consisting of propositions --- some premises and a conclusion --- in which the conclusion is claimed to follow logically from the premises. The only actions involved in making an argument are the acts of uttering or writing it.
This is not an ad hominem attack. It is a criticism of the command, ‘don’t do what I do; do what I say’.
A criticism of "don't do what I do; do what I say" is not a criticism of what was said. Jefferson uttered no such command. That is an inference drawn by you from the speaker's actions, not from any proposition in his argument. Thus it is an ad hominem
I applied the criticism to an individual and to the government as a whole. Moreover, I offered an alternative interpretation; “In which case, Jefferson is actually saying that government should remain ‘frugal’ and not interfere in the dominance of privileged people over those who are already less privileged”. I was commenting on the quality of the argument, not of the man.
That "interpretation" is contrived and spurious. "Frugality" has no connotations of "dominance." It simply means one ought not spend money unnecessarily or unwisely.
https://www.macmillandictionary.com/dic ... can/frugal
If a government commits itself to a particular aim, such as improving some aspect of ‘welfare’, then it needs to devote resources to achieving that aim. If, however, that government is also driven by the imperative of frugality, then the two purposes are in conflict.
No, they are not. Frugality means not spending money unwisely or unnecessarily. Spending it as necessary to achieve a desired aim is not a failure to be frugal.
Be sure you understand the Declaration's statement of the role of government correctly: it is to secure the people's rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; it is not to guarantee those things to anyone. E.g., it's role is to prevent someone from murdering you (violating your right to life). It is not to provide you with any of the necessities of life, your mere lack of which (probably) does not involve any violation of your rights.
Liberty? Pursuit of happiness? I picked up on the example of Jefferson simply because you quoted him in your original post. It does not follow that our conversation must be directed purely to the example of the USA. My assumption was that you were making statements about governments in general and I hope that is the case.
Yes, it is.
Nonetheless, I shall note your assertion that it is not the purpose of government to guarantee such rights to its people and I shall save it for later.
No --- it is indeed to guarantee their rights
to those and other things. Guaranteeing one's right to X is not, however, a guarantee that one will have X. It is only a guarantee that if Alfie has X, and has a right to it, it will not be taken from him --- or at least, that the government will strive to honor that guarantee.
Freedom is a necessary condition for maximizing welfare. To the extent an agent is not free (due to constraints imposed by other agents) opportunities to improve his welfare are denied to him.
I could say so much about the uselessness of ‘welfare’ as a criterion because it can be interpreted in so many different – and often conflicting – ways. It has little more use than, ‘good’. To say that freedom contributes to welfare is saying precious little.
Let me amplify on my meaning of "welfare." All persons have interests --- things they desire to acquire or retain ("goods") and things they desire to avoid, or be rid of ("evils"). These terms are to be understood broadly, to encompass not only physical things, like food, houses and big-screen teevees, but knowledge, skills, various experiences, attaining goals, companionship, etc. --- in short, anything a person invests any effort or resource to acquire (or avoid). These are things which, for each person, fulfill some sort of need (natural or instrumental), or deliver some sort of satisfaction or contentment or pleasure. Each interest has a rank in a hierarchy (a "hierarchy of values"); each person's hierarchy is unique, differing from that of every other person, and rational persons will always trade a good with lower rank in the hierarchy for one of higher rank. A person's welfare
is a measure of the extent to which he has attained the goods in his hierarchy --- the more of them he has secured, the better off he is. (This is essentially the understanding of "welfare" accepted in welfare economics).
You leave me aghast. Apart from no definition of ‘public goods’ or ‘natural commons’ . . .
Both of those terms have been defined elsewhere in the thread, or perhaps in the "Prisons" thread. In any case, a "public good" is a good which, in economics, is non-rivalrous and non-excludable:
"Natural commons" are natural goods or resources which have been used in common by all near them since time immemorial, e.g., the oceans (for navigation and fishing), the atmosphere, certain lands, etc.
. . . where does that leave your ‘welfare’? Health? Education? Are you suggesting that there is no role in government for gathering information to inform itself of the ‘needs’ of its population? The census? Nothing to do with promotion or defence of the economy? Controls on financial systems? Roads? Bridges? Infrastructure? Research? Do you imagine that governments had no input into information systems or the global positioning satellites which are such a vital part of modern economies? Should they not have done so? You have mentioned ‘a couple of others’. I feel that further explanation is required.
Health and education are private, not public, goods. They are certainly elements of welfare, but not of "public welfare," or "the general welfare," as that phrase is used in the US Constitution. Here are the definitions of those terms in Webster's 1828 dictionary:
"1. Exemption from misfortune, sickness, calamity or evil; the enjoyment of health and the common blessings of life; prosperity; happiness; applied to persons.
2. Exemption from any unusual evil or calamity; the enjoyment of peace and prosperity, or the ordinary blessings of society and civil government; applied to states.
The second definition is the meaning of "general welfare" in the Constititution.
Some of the other things you list are public goods (roads, financial or other laws) are are public goods, and properly provided by government. I'm not sure what you have in mind with, "defense of the economy."
Individual rights originate with first possession. I.e., the creator or discoverer of a good has a right to it.
That is your opinion and you have only asserted it, not argued its validity.
That is actually how the term originated --- it originated in the common law (and earlier) courts of England, and denoted which of the parties in dispute over some property (a wagon, a cow, a section of land) had a "right" to it, which meant he had acquired it righteously and was rightfully in possession of it. It also denoted liberty rights --- "rights" to act, for acts which caused no harms. Generally, property disputes --- who had the right to the wagon --- were settled via the first possession rule: the rightful owner was the person who built the wagon or who acquired it via a "chain of consent" from the builder. Or if the dispute was over a natural good, such as a mineral deposit or a wild animal --- the rightful possessor was whoever discovered the deposit or bagged the animal.
I did, BTW, provide a brief argument for the moral basis of that rule, which you dismiss below: the first possession rule is morally sound because a first possessor has necessarily
acquired his good without inflicting harm or loss on anyone else --- a morally significant fact.
Are you suggesting, for example that Tim Berners-Lee, should ‘own’ the worldwide web because he invented the concept?
Under the patent laws of most countries "ideas" are not patentable. Nor are goods freely released into the public domain.
Regardless of who else – individuals and corporations – was responsible for the systems which enabled its use?
Of course not. If others contributed to the discovery or devised applications of it or improvements to it they are entitled to shares in its profits.
Should the discoverer of Pluto own Pluto? Why, if your argument is valid, do Norwegians or, more specifically, the descendents of Roald Amundsen, not own the South Pole?
There is a further condition to the first possession rule --- the claimant must derive some demonstrable benefit from it. E.g., the Vikings or Columbus could not have laid claim to the entire New World. They could have laid claim to any portion of it they homesteaded, farmed, or otherwise derived tangible benefits.
Why is that? Well, because a first possessor has necessarily acquired his good without inflicting loss on anyone else. I.e., he has acquired it righteously.
I think this is extraordinarily simplistic and silly beyond belief.
But if anyone takes it from him they thereby impose a loss on him, violating the maximization principle or the equal agency principle, or both. BTW, "natural rights" are rights to things one has naturally, things one brings with one into the world, such as one's life, one's body, one's various talents and abilities. "Common rights" are rights to things one righteously acquires afterwards.
You seem to be using ‘righteously’ in a very strange context which does very little to aid understanding.
Well, some substantive objections would be helpful. "Silly" and "strange" are non-responsive.
Government guarantees those rights by 1) removing violators from the society, and 2) forcing those violators to make restitution for the losses they have imposed or the damages they have done.
You have written many words on this thread but I cannot find anything to suggest that your view is other than incredibly narrow and I am left with little idea of the practicalities of what you are trying to argue, including the actual functions of government. Is your argument that the world pays too many taxes? Or that governments spend irresponsibily? Are you a survivalist? It sounds as if you are.
I've outlined the legitimate functions of government in considerable detail, and supported that view with extensive argument. You need to rebut those arguments. Ignoring them or dismissing them with sophomoric ad hominems
("silly," "strange," "narrow," "are you a survivalist?") are admissions that you cannot.