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Philosophy 024: Big Ideas Prof. Robert DiSalle Talbot College 408, 519-661-2111 x85763 Office Hours: Monday and Wednesday.

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Presentation on theme: "Philosophy 024: Big Ideas Prof. Robert DiSalle Talbot College 408, 519-661-2111 x85763 Office Hours: Monday and Wednesday."— Presentation transcript:

1 Philosophy 024: Big Ideas Prof. Robert DiSalle Talbot College 408, x85763 Office Hours: Monday and Wednesday 11:30-12:30 Course Website:

2 Freedom, Individuality, Human Rights: Some basic questions Are humans free by nature, or is freedom a condition made possible by political institutions? What are the rights and freedoms of individuals against the will of social and political groups and institutions? What is the source of human rights? Do they belong to us inherently, or are they granted to us by political institutions? Is individual freedom more important than equality, order, or political stability?

3 Two opposing views of human rights: “Positive” rights: Rights are created by legislative acts of institutions that have the power to make laws. “Positivist” view of laws: laws are constructed by political and social institutions that have the power to enforce them “Natural” rights: Rights belong to human beings by nature, and laws made by institutions must respect these rights. “Natural law,” that there are laws inherent in human nature that pre-exist and take precedence over laws created by institutions. The cheap version: “Whatever is not allowed is forbidden,” vs. “Whatever is not forbidden is allowed.”

4 Edmund Burke ( ) Vindication of Natural Society (1756) Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful (1756) Conciliation with America (1775) Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790)

5 Burke’s “conservative” view of politics, law, and society: Sound social and political institutions are not created all at once by the application of political theories. Sound institutions evolve gradually out of traditional practices, and their success over many generations entitles them to respect. The wisdom acquired in generations of experience is more reliable than the most profound philosophical reflections of a particular moment. Institutions long established should be interfered with only as a last resort. Rights are established not by an abstract conception, but by long practice of adjusting individual claims against the claims of society.

6 Burke vs. the French Revolution: The revolutionaries attempted to eliminate all existing social and political institutions. New institutions would be constructed on a purely rational basis, eliminating all traditional prejudice. Political order would be based on “the rights of man.” Burke: Many longstanding institutions embody some accumulated wisdom, and it is foolish to throw this away. There is no sound “rational” basis on which to build institutions, but only practical experience. The abstract idea of “rights” does not answer the need to balance the claims of individuals and governments. Only long practice can accomplish this.

7 The wisdom of the English constitution, according to Burke: A gradually-evolved system of balances among the competing claims of different parts of society: monarchy, nobility, Parliament, people. Unlike the French revolution, English revolutions have merely restored a balance that had been lost. No new constitution, based on abstract philosophical ideas, could possibly equal the gradually-evolved perfection of the British arrangement.

8 John Stuart Mill ( ) A System of Logic (1843) Principles of Political Economy (1848) On Liberty (1859) Utilitarianism (1861). The Subjection of Women (1869) Autobiography (1873)

9 (Jeremy Bentham ( ) Utilitarianism: Moral judgment of any action is based on its consequences. (A form of consequentialism.) (vs. deontology: actions are to be judged by their inherent moral value) “Greatest Happiness”: The best action is that which produces the greatest amount of happiness for the greatest number of people. The “hedonistic calculus”: Calculation of the net happiness produced by an action. The corpse of Bentham, stuffed and preserved at University College, London,where he continues to get stellar annual performance evaluations

10 Mill: The Utilitarian conception of “greatest happiness” is incomplete. It lacks an adequate conception of what “happiness” is for a human being. This is why individual liberty, and individual fulfillment, ought to be valued independently of the general utility. At the same time, a utilitarian argument can be given for the principle of allowing all possible individual freedom and self- expression. Ultimately it contributes to the greater happiness of the society at large.

11 On happiness, from Mill’s Utilitarianism: “Few human creatures would consent to be changed into any of the lower animals, for a promise of the fullest allowance of a beast's pleasures; no intelligent human being would consent to be a fool, no instructed person would be an ignoramus, no person of feeling and conscience would be selfish and base, even though they should be persuaded that the fool, the dunce, or the rascal is better satisfied with his lot than they are with theirs….” “It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied. And if the fool, or the pig, are a different opinion, it is because they only know their own side of the question. The other party to the comparison knows both sides.”

12 A pig, in that element in which pigs are alleged to be uniquely happy

13 The general Libertarian idea: Individuals have the right to act freely according to their own interest and inclination. The only legitimate restriction is to safeguard the liberty of others. No one is free to act so as to infringe upon the freedom of others to do as they please. The action of government is, ideally, limited to protecting this freedom from encroachment whenever the interests of different people are in conflict. The free expression of ideas is an absolute right.

14 The utilitarian argument for individual freedom: The restriction of thought and expression necessarily hinders the search for truth. Only if all ideas can be freely discussed can true ideas come to the surface. The restriction of unusual thought and action by majority opinion necessarily hinders creative and original action. The entire society, including the uncreative unimaginative mass, benefits from the work of the few creative individuals. “Genius can only breathe freely in an atmosphere of freedom. Persons of genius are…more individual than any other people-- less capable, consequently, of fitting themselves… into any of the small number of moulds which society provides in order to save its members the trouble of forming their own character.”

15 George Orwell ( ) (real name: Eric Arthur Blair) The Road to Wigan Pier (1937) Homage to Catalonia (1938) Animal Farm (1945) The English People (1947) 1984 (1949)

16 Orwell on freedom and thought-control: Totalitarian societies do not rely only on physical coercion and punishment. They need to control thought as well. In democratic societies, where physical coercion is unacceptable, thought-control is even more important. Where governments require the consent of the people to policies and actions that the people would instinctively oppose, they typically distort the truth about what they are doing by distorting the language. Controlling the language= controlling thought.

17 Examples of language designed to restrict thought: Pacification: destruction of villages and dispersal of population Strategic hamlets: concentration camps for peasants forcibly removed from their farms and villages Collateral damage: death and injury inflicted on civilians Enhanced interrogation techniques: torture Contractors: private mercenary soldiers

18 From 1984: O’Brien, the Party official, interrogates Winston Smith, a man struggling to think for himself. O’Brien: “Reality is not external. Reality exists in the human mind, and nowhere else. Not in the individual mind, which can make mistakes, and in any case soon perishes: only in the mind of the Party, which is collective and immortal…” “You are a slow learner, Winston,” said O'Brien gently. “How can I help it?” he blubbered. “How can I help seeing what is in front of my eyes? Two and two are four.” “Sometimes, Winston. Sometimes they are five. Sometimes they are three. Sometimes they are all of them at once. You must try harder. It is not easy to become sane.”

19 Winston Smith on truth: “Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four. If that is granted, all else follows.” Orwell on politics and language: “Political language...is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give the appearance of solidity to pure wind.” “In our time, political language speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible.”


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