Saturday, December 27, 2008

Some General Comments

I hope everyone veiwing/writing this blog has has a safe, healthy, happy holiday season. Merry Christmas. Happy Hanukkah. Joyous Kwanzaa. I wish you everything you wished yourself this year.

I find myself looking to get back into playing Poker on a more regular basis, which I didn't do over the past 2 - 3 years. BTW, Jeff, I purchased Gus Hansen's book and I plan to read it very soon; it looks really interesting.

Is there going to be a PC Dino tourney coming up in the 2009 season? I am hankering for a good debate. I already have a team name set. Get at me.

Hope to hear from everyone soon. Hope you all have plans for New Year's Eve. If not and you would like to see me, give me a call.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Justice Alito Recognizes the Futility of Originalism

Alito discussing the change in music overheard within the halls of the Supreme Court:

Alito also described change at the Supreme Court musically.

The late Chief Justice William Rehnquist favored standards and light opera. His successor, John Roberts, became the first justice to quote Bob Dylan in a Supreme Court opinion issued earlier this year, Alito said.

"In the space of a generation, we have gone from Irving Berlin to Bob Dylan," he said. "These are the evolving standards of a maturing society."

As for his own musical tastes, Alito said little, although he used song lyrics from James Taylor, Dylan and the Rolling Stones in his talk.

He conceded that as a high school student on New Year's Eve 1967, he sat at home and watched on television as Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians performed at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York. Alito said his parents liked the annual program.

Emphasis added. Exactly, Justice Alito! Now just carry that truth right on over to your method of statutory/constitutional interpretation...

Here's the article.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Autonomy and Authority

I think one of the most interesting yet ignored questions of political philosophy - and indeed, even moral or ethical philosophy - is the justification of authority. Any authority - governmental, familial, societal, individual, etc. If we as a species agree that moral autonomy - that is, the idea that we are perfectly free in being able to choose for ourselves our own path and make entirely and radically free decisions in our lives - is a virtue, then how can we ever seriously consider that authority is justified? Soper tells us it is through deference. Kant or Locke might argue it is through consent. Dworkin would have us believe that these moral obligations precede our very existence. But none of these solutions are adequate, when one spends even a small amount of time thinking about them. Deference doesn't solve the problem because it is merely a bending of one's will to the will of another. The fact that we choose to defer does not cover up the truth that, had we not been pressured into deferring, we would have chosen a different option. Consent cannot justify authority, either - for what if someone today were to consent to some authority which wished to enslave the consenter? Would the newly consented slave and slave-master be justified in their slavery merely because there is some contract between them? Of course not. And finally, the laughable idea that obligations pre-exist our very being. Pray tell where these obligations arise from. God? Particles? Natural law? Or are they merely self-evident - knowing full well that "self-evidence" is a content-less notion which the proposer could never hope to prove.

This question has always fascinated me...mainly because I've always felt that there was something wrong with the idea of authority - and I don't deal well with authority. Parental authority, educational authority, governmental authority...why are we so willing to submit ourselves and our free will to the will of others? Are we ever justified in so doing? If we truly value autonomy - unbridled autonomy - how could we lower ourselves in such ways? Perhaps we could say that authority is justified because a society without authority would be a bad place to live. But are we so quick to jump on the Bentham bandwagon? Haven't we already learned that ends don't justify means? Isn't there a strong reductio ad absurdem problem in utilitarian arguments?

This leaves but two solutions: the first being authority is justified because the one claiming authority is the more powerful entity. It's the government as gunman writ large. It's the big kid on the block getting his way. It smacks of some truth. But the perceptible truth of this type of positivism does not lead to the conclusion that it is JUSTIFIED. There are many true things which are not justifiable - let us not conflate those words.

The second option, of course, is political anarchy. To this point, I've been unwilling to accept the possibility that this philosophy was even valid on its face. Anarchism is a loaded word...and anyone facing off against it can easily drum up hypothetical examples of the horrors it could lead to. Perhaps. But again, we can't let the ends justify the means. We can't simply discard a philosophy simply because we don't like its conclusions. It may be that authority is NEVER justifiable.

To that end, I link to this paper by Columbia University professor of philosophy Robert Paul Wolff. His conclusions (that autonomy and authority are forever locked in antithetical battle) are the starting point for many political and moral philosophers (Nozick, Dworkin, Finnis, Soper, George, Raz...the list could go on ad infinitem). Take a second to read it and keep an open mind. See if you can't dislodge yourself from your (inevitable) Lockean background beliefs and seriously critique (or, at least, analyze) those ideas. Even if it doesn't change your mind, it's still an interesting discussion.