Wednesday, 17 August 2011

August's Reading

I've recently finished Dance with Dragons, the latest instalment of A Song of Ice and Fire by George Martin. Quick summary: great book, long time coming.

Fantasy Flight Games' Deathwatch role playing book.

A bit lacklustre here, I am currently re-reading Apple's Human Interface Guidelines (HIG) for mobile devices.

I've just started on David McFarland's Guilty Robots, Happy Dogs: The Question of Alien Minds. I'm also part way through Brian Barry's Equality and Culture, which is a great book and essential reading for anyone interested in multiculturalism. Barry is an entertaining read, with compelling arguments, clarity of writing, and less restraint than most to sticking in the intellectual boot when he disagrees with someone.

Goal attaining systems

I came across an interesting categorisation of goal attaining systems today:

  • Goal-achieving; a system that recognises when a goal state has been reached. This can be implicit. Examples include a doorbell buzzer, or flowers opening up in the sun.
  • Goal-seeking; a system that is such that it will move towards a goal state without any recognition that the goal is being worked towards. Examples include a marble spinning in a bowl, which will ultimately come to rest in the middle.
  • Goal-directed; a system that has a representation of the goal state and it's behaviour is intended to bring about. This is a system with feedback control. Examples include a thermostat, and human planning.
This is a useful set of categories that can be utilised in thinking of philosophical entities and systems, and for the design of software agents, applications, and robots. It came to me via David McFarland's Guilty Robots, Happy Dogs: The Question of Alien Minds.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Eberle and Pubic Justification

Eberle, C.J. Religion and Liberal Democracy in Simon's The Blackwell Guide to Social and Political Philosophy (2002).

Eberle discusses the role that religious beliefs should play in a liberal democracy, and whether the theist based solely on religious reasons is justified in supporting a law that coerces others. The introductory example that Eberle uses is one relating to laws that discriminate against homosexuals. Some portion of Christians (and it should be noted not exclusively Christians or even exclusively religious folk) are, broadly speaking, against homosexuality and a reason/justification for this is based on passages in the bible, e.g. Leviticus 18:22 "Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination." Eberle argues that theist citizens should attempt to put forward a public justification for laws (and such) that other citizens can accept, but if this fails they are fully justified in supporting laws that coerce others (e.g. to discriminate against homosexuals) if they hold this to be a moral course of action.

I disagree with the arguments presented in Religion and Liberal Democracy, and don't find the case made for justification for citizens to coerce others based on a position that has failed the test of public reason to be compelling. I shall attempt to argue for my position.

A possible mistake that Eberle makes is to identify religious belief as a special case. If one takes it as a specific instance of a more general case of citizens' strongly held beliefs and world views, then his arguments are weakened. There is no clear reason why a religious belief as a motivation for moral views and endorsing of laws should be considered separately from idealogical beliefs and the like (e.g. strong belief in the efficacy of certain alternative medicines, or adherents in conspiracy theories that lack any credibility).

The general argument from Eberle appears to be:

  1. A religious person has personal moral beliefs that influence support for coercive laws (our problematic set of cases)
  2. A subset of these are wholly based on their religious views, and therefore cannot be given as a publicly acceptable justification
  3. Coercive laws can only be supported if a citizen can give publicly acceptable justification
  4. Therefore, in cases where a religious person cannot provide public justification for a law, by requiring that they abstain from supporting that law we are making them act against their morals, which is wrong
The first response to this argument is to generalise it and consider all persons in the polity collectively; to apply the principle of equality to their beliefs and motivations. This gives us the general principle for which Eberle is making a case for a religious exemption: Laws that coerce others which cannot be given publicly acceptable justification should not be supported. This allows us to rule out support based on bigotry, delusions, fundamentalism, and the like. If we did not have this principle there would be no basis for dismissing unjustified laws, which would be extremely undesirable. Eberle argues that in the case of the theist this principle asks them to go against their morals. Even if true, Eberle doesn't make a case for why religious views deserve an exemption over and above, for example, idealogical views.

The case being made is that if something cannot be reasonably be justified, then it can still be supported even when it coerces other people if strong beliefs are held. I believe the correct response in such a situation is that if something cannot be reasonably publicly justified then the person in question should correct their views, or maintain them but accept that others have a different world view and should not be coerced.

Eberle provides the following example (p295) in support of his argument:

"...we may assume that, given the evidence available in his epistemic environment, Socrates rationally believed that the sun revolves around the earth; that, given the evidence available in our epistemic environment, we moderns rationally deny the sun revolves around the earth; and that, given the relevant differences between our respective epistemic environments, Socrates would have been unable to articulate a rational for his geocentric convictions that we moderns regard as even remotely convincing. In that hypothetical case, Socrates would enjoy a rational, but not a public, justification for his geocentric convictions. [The upshot being that we cannot expect Socrates to withdraw his support for his geocentric convictions]."
There are a number of problems with this. Firstly, Socrates is wrong. Secondly, we can understand Socrates position and his reasoning, and we can appreciate that Socrates is attempting to provide public justification, and given his current epistemic environment he may (perhaps should) succeed. That his view is wrong and will lose out does not diminish the key point that Socrates is successfully engaged in public reasoning. He is currently not adequately informed in comparison to moderns. Thirdly, we can engage with Socrates in public deliberation, we can attempt to convince him of our position based on our more expansive epistemic foundation, and we can reasonably expect Socrates to weigh the evidence and arguments and side with the heliocentric model due to its more compelling account of the solar system. Socrates is wrong. He should either change his views to heliocentrism because it is a superior view, or he should accept that his geocentric view is no longer sufficient as a public reason and he should not use it as a basis to coerce others.

A difference between the case that Eberle is making for a religious exemption and his example of Socrates is that Socrates is engaged in public reason, whilst the solely-religious justification is not. Eberle, in presenting the position of justificatory liberals put forwards the following conception:

"(5) rationale R counts as a public justification for coercive law L only if each cognitively adept, reasonable and adequately informed citizens affected by L can accept R as a sufficient basis for L."
I don't follow why only citizens affected by a coercive law can reject it, but leaving that aside this is an interesting case. Eberle's response to this is religious people consider their sacred texts to be relevant source of information for their reasons, and if non-believers do not accept these reasons then that is because they are not adequately informed about the sacred texts, that the religious could claim "...that non-believers think otherwise because they are inadequately informed: to be unaware of an omniscient being's express judgements is to be desperately ignorant." This argument fails because the non-believer is, or can be, informed as to the content of the sacred texts (indeed a Pew survey in 2010 found that generally atheists knew more about religion than believers), they simply do not accept the content as valid. This is an inevitable situation in a pluralistic world. Religions present absolutist world views that are incompatible with each other as well as with atheists, with no fair and just way to arbitrate between them (as they are absolute). If we cannot deliberate reasonably in a democracy then we give way to mob rule. Hence why we have secularism; religion A cannot be reconciled with religion B,  therefore they cannot be used to justify state coercion (e.g. establishing primacy of one religion over the other). The secular response is to protect people's freedom to choose and follow their religion, as part of a broader move to protect the liberty of all.

Reasonable public justification needs to be just that. Where such justification is lacking coercion cannot be supported. Solely religious motivations inherently cannot provide reasonable public justification in a pluralistic world. But religion is a subset of a broader case, not a specific case. What cannot be justified should not be supported. This does not remove religion from the public sphere, nor should it. What it does is remove it as a deliberative basis, but it can still be a motivational force and a subject of debate. Deeply held beliefs can be supported even if a reasonable public justification cannot be made, providing there is not an undue impact on others, out of prudence, generosity, or respect.

Monday, 15 August 2011

Things I miss from Windows

What I miss from Windows (OS X Lion excites and disappoints):

- Having a local menu bar when I'm working on the second monitor.
- Being able to 'Show Desktop'. Sure I Mission Control, which really is great, but it doesn't let me see what I have on the desktop, which is normally cluttered up with stuff as my temporary working area
- A proper keyboard layout
- Having to switch back and forth between Ctrl and 'Other' for keyboard shortcuts when swapping computers. I'm sure there must be an easy way to customise this one.
- Having a calculator application, up until I discovered Spotlight would do that for me
- My iTunes configuration. I've been putting off synchronising my iPhone with the Mac Mini because it seems like a lot less hassle in the short term to fire up the Windows box. iTunes on the Mini seems to be threatening to reorganise my iPhone applications, which is just plain uncomfortable.
- Running demanding games

I've not fully transitioned yet as I've not fully decided and implemented a plan on how to manage all my files and backups. I'm pretty happy using the Mini for day-to-day stuff though, and it is super quiet (and my Windows box was on the quiet side anyway).

Lots of oddities to iron out. Lots of things I can pass judgement on saying Mac is better or Windows is better for X or Y. I'm not totally sure which I'm happier with overall yet, it'd be unfair to make a hasty comparison when Mac OS is fighting against 16 years or so of Windows experience.

Oh and Microsoft Office, I miss you terribly.

Deliberative Democracy

Today's Political Philosophy paper is James S. Fishkin's Deliberative Democracy (1991).

Fishkin discusses the tension between three aspects of democracy; Deliberation, Political Equality, and Non-Tyranny. Deliberation is the process of public reason to reach decisions, it is the "Filter" of society's values and preferences. Political Equality as well as being a value is a "Mirror" of the will of the people, and a leveller acting against entrenched interests and elites. Non-Tyranny is the goal to prevent, amongst other dangers, "Mob Rule".

a triangle representing tensions in democracy between the values of deliberation, equality, and non-tyranny
There is at present no ideal location in the conceptual space of democracy. As such we must seek to optimise our political systems to create a balance between these competing concerns. We may not wish to have a 'dead centre' position, but certainly a position around the middle balancing the competing aspects. Of course just where we currently are and where we wish to be in the conceptual space is a matter for debate, and a process that is also subject to these competing aspects.

Fishkin's concern is that we are moving too much towards Political Equality, to the determent of Deliberation. This concern isn't against political equality in the sense of 'who gets the vote', but in a broader sense in how institutions are run. Who gets to decide, who gets elected and why, how is deliberation carried out, who is a member of the Senate, etc. This is a concern about the equality of the process of democracy, not the equality of the subjects of democracy within the state though that is a concern if the situation moves towards mob rule.

Simply put the problems here are a) modern democracies are too large for everyone to participate in the formal public deliberation, and b) most of the public will be in state of 'rational ignorance' whereby they are are not informed, and further they may be uninterested and unequipped to partake in the deliberation. Many of the issues here are of group dynamics and relate to humans interact generally. Two people can have a conversation. A handful of people can have a debate. Increase numbers further and there needs to be structures and processes in place, e.g. agenda setting, turn taking, etc. Standard effects that inhibit group discussion occur, e.g. production blocking, evaluation apprehension, and social loafing (also known as 'Why the traditional conception of brainstorming is actually counterproductive').

Fishkin's proposal is to borrow from the Athenian model had have small groups selected as a microcosm of the people, set aside time, resources, information, and provide structured support so that they can engage in deliberative debate. The output from this can either inform policy directly, or be as a pubic statement of the will of the people. We already do this with our citizen juries, another legacy we owe the Athenians.

Deliberative democracy is seen as a good thing for the standard reasons, that it will be manifestly fair, bring about better policies, engage the citizenry and so forth. Interestingly Fishkin quotes Maddison as saying that deliberative institutions are important to capture the "cool and deliberate sense of the community", as opposed to the uncool and undeliberate people as a whole. This has echoes of the philosophical debate [this is code for I can't find the reference but it might be Frankfurt] on Free Will and how we treat one and another normally. We have a sense of people being in their right mind, or out of it. That some decisions are made in the heat of the moment, or when under some form of psychological or physiological stress and that we discount these or at least moderate our judgements because of them. There is a sense that the 'real' you is the cooler and deliberative you that reflects your long term goals and interests. Again, another thing to thank the Ancient Greeks for; the rise of reason and the move to abstract, concept based, universal thinking.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Invasion of the bin-people

Bins! Like buses!

a photograph of too many bins at a service station

This picture was taken at a service station on the M1. It shows a clear surplus of bins. Or some form of pod people posing as bins. Posing as drab and boring bins at that.

Deliberation and Democratic Legitimacy

Joshua Cohen gives an account for an ideal deliberative procedure in Deliberation and Democratic Legitimacy (from The Good Polity (1989)). This overview is another quick summary of paragraphs and sections.

  1. "A deliberative democracy is.. an association whose affairs are governed by the public deliberation of its members"
  2. "Democratic politics involves public deliberation focused on the common good, requires some form of manifest equality among citizens, and shapes the identity and interests of citizens in ways that contribute to formation of a public conception of the good"
  3. Cohen doesn't think that these three features (2) are 'natural sequences' of the ideal of fairness
  4. These features are arrived at by trying to instantiate an ideal of fairness whilst taking into account psychological and sociological assumptions (e.g. self-interest over collective interest, entrenched privilege, etc)
  5. Cohen doesn't think this (4) is good enough, as it is too indirect and instrumental a reason. Rather we arrive at (2) based on building an ideal of public deliberation
  6. Ideal deliberation:
    1. Is free. Free to deliberate (freed of prior norms), and free to implement the outcome and that the fact of an outcome is sufficient to comply with it
    2. Deliberation is reasoned (deliberation occurs). Here we can refer to Rawls' burdens of reason. 
    3. Parties are equal formally (as per rule and convention) and substantially (actually free without constraints, e.g. vested interests and the like)
    4. It aims to reach a consensus
  7. Public deliberation focuses the debate on the common good. "While I may take my preferences as a sufficient reason for advancing a proposal, deliberation under conditions of pluralism requires that I find reasons that make the proposal acceptable to others who cannot be expected to regard my preferences as sufficient reason for agreeing."
One of the possible objections that Cohen tackles is of injustice. His defence is roughly to analogous to the robust defence of liberal constraints that "liberal constraints are there to maximise liberty for all". Cohen's defence appears to be (obviously given here in rough form) that democracy is served by liberal values, e.g. free expression allows for the maximisation of deliberation, and therefore it is wrong (invalid?) for democratic decision making to reduce these liberal values. This argument takes liberal values to be instrumental in realising deliberative democracy.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Wi-fi woes on Mac Mini

I've got the new Apple Mac Mini, and the wifi connection has been a little flakey since day one. It doesn't lose a connection to the router (also an Apple product) but it seems to just stop talking to the Internet every so often, or at least slow down a lot. To add to the frustration the Apple TV will cheerfully see and access my iTunes library on the Windows box, yet can only see but not connect to the library on the Apple box. Tsk.

I had a quick look at what channels the neighbours were using for their wi-fi connection, and although there didn't seem to be a problem I thought I'd move over a bit anyway. So, using my Apple Mac Mini, connecting to my Apple router, using the default Apple tool for the Apple router I set the channel of the wifi network to 13. Thirteen I figured was a good one to go for. At the end of the channel list, and a lot of people would avoid it due to its alleged 'unluckyness'. All Appled up I made the switch. And the Apple Mac Mini repeatedly refused to connect to the Apple router. Nothing.

Using my Windows box, running a Microsoft operating system, I was successfully connected to the router and changed the channel to 9 and have successfully connected again. Fingers crossed this will solve the other problems too. Fun times.


Fingers uncrossed, switching channels on the router did solve the problem.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Elster - The Market and the Forum

Democracy is "the worse form of Government except all those other forms that have been tried from to time" - Churchill

Democracy has some problems in idealised forms. A democracy needs some form of decision making procedure for those instances where the people don't unanimously back a course of action, and this is usually done by majority voting. This can be a problem because you can have a 'tyranny of the majority' where minority interests are either neglected, or oppressed. Secondly, everyone has an equal vote (which can also be argued as a plus point). Thus the uninterested, the uneducated, the bigoted, the malicious, the bribed, etc all have an equal vote to the careful and considerate voter.

Elster's paper tackles different approaches to democracy. He defines three views of politics, and divides these between Market based and Forum based views. The first is Social Choice Theory (SCT), which is the Market based view. SCT is considered to be an instrumental good (it brings about good ends but isn't good in itself), and is private. SCT is about preference ordering. There are problems with this, as a Market based view it is self centred and an aggregation of individual ego-centric votes will bring about a resolution that is a) for the general good, or even b) good at all. There are a number of other issues as well, such as strategic voting where citizens vote for the most likely least-worst outcome rather than the desired outcome. An ideal SCT based voting system should have "... anonymity (that all individuals should equally), non-dictatorship (a foritori no single individual should dictate the social choice), liberalism (all individuals should have some private domains within which their preferences are decisive), and strategy-proofness (it should not pay to express false preferences).

The second view of politics denies its privateness, and the third also denies that it is an instrumental good (and affirms that it is a good in itself). They are views of politics as the Forum where the citizenship engage and debate with each other.

When politics is public the political process can shape public opinion. Sharing ideas can broaden horizons and provide different views, which aids in bringing about a better state of affairs. Elster has seven objections to this: (1) if citizens are 'encouraged' to participate this is overly paternalistic; (2) unanimous and rationale agreement may not follow (see Rawls' public reason, see also various news articles and blogs...) and there may be no way of resolving competing conceptions of the good; (3) there may not be enough time to satisfactorily discuss an issues; (4) public discussion may not be positive and may not bring around a positive end; (5) the people as a whole are not necessarily equipped to reach a better outcome than a subset of people (witness the rise of homeopathy)(6) unanimity might be brought about by conformity rather than rational agreement, and; (7) it does not follow that public debate will purge selfish desires.

In the third view the political process is a good in itself. It causes people to engage reasonably and rationally with others, and the idea is that this becomes a 'habit'. People will have to frame their views in terms of public reason which others can engage with. This works as an end for society as a whole, but ultimately individuals would rarely be engaging in politics in order to become more reasonable and tolerant, they would merely be by products.

Friday, 5 August 2011

Some issues with the e-petitions website

The UK government e-petitions website has gone live and it has a few oddities and shortfalls (even allowing for it intended to be a simple site). Have a quick look at the response to this rejected petition:

screenshot of e-petition site

The feedback for rejection simply states "There is already an e-petition about this issue".

Shortfall #1: there is no link to the existing petition to allow interested parties to quickly view it and to respond.

Shortfall #2: the lack of a link is a failure to supply proof. The lack of a link means that the user has the burden of establishing that the rejection reason is true, and because it may not be clear which petition was considered a duplicate this may be difficult. Further, it may be that rather than being duplicated, the new petition was misunderstood and is deserving of being accepted if it was reworded, but the lack of a 'proof link' makes this a much more difficult task.

Shortfall #3: There is a heading for explanatory notes, with none provided. This would be improved if the heading was removed (arguably better still if explanatory notes were added). As it stands the message here is "we couldn't be bothered [rightly or wrongly] to fill in our form". Worse still, it emphasises that your response is using standardised text and there probably is no personal or involved response. Of course this is to be expected, the site has received many petitions and the staff were probably very busy, and standardisation and consistency are valuable approaches, but there is no need to actively promote the realisation that you have been given a standardised response.

Shortfall #4: At launch the site had an FAQ (ignoring the quibble that they called it FAQs). This is a personal bugbear of mine, and one for which I acknowledge can from time to time be okay, but if your site has an FAQ it's normally an admission of failure. "People don't understand our product/site/manuals/etc, and they keep asking us the same old questions, so here are the answers". An FAQ is completely understandable in the context of a product that has already launched and isn't really going to have the issues ironed out because of the prohibitive cost / upcoming sequel. In a website, at launch no less, an FAQ says either "In our pilot we noticed these problems and... we didn't fix them... but this should help you out", or "Before even launching our site we knew that people wouldn't understand it. We just didn't make the effort to make everything clear. So here are the list of problems and misunderstandings that people will probably face". Probably the worst sort of FAQ is the "You won't like our new policy, but here is us putting a brave spin on it".

Anyway. Right there, at the bottom of the page. An admission of failure "we know our site usability isn't up to scratch". 

Shortfall #5: A lack of foresight:

screenshot showing tabs with a low cap on the maximum number to be displayed

These tabs have an indication of how many items they contain. Generally a good idea. On launch-day these were display "100+", which suggests that the index doesn't go above 100. Nice. Day 1, maxed out. Someone didn't expect, or care, that relatively quickly there would be more than 100 petitions. Not much foresight there. Day 2 there are 580 accepted petitions.

Hopefully (as in 'this would be less bad' as opposed to 'this would be ideal') these are rough orders of magnitude and we'll seen 1,000+, etc. The lack of space, particularly on the Rejected tab, doesn't fill me with confidence though.

Shortfall #6: There does not appear to be a Welsh version of the site, which I believe to be a violation of the Welsh Language Act. Naughty.

Despite these complaints I kinda like it. Simple and straight forward, which is what a government website needs to be. 

Multiculturalism failure in Lancashire

I've used the following as a quote a few times in essays and discussion, so I thought it useful to repost it here. It comes from an article on the Lancashire Telegraph website about introducing humanism and atheism as part of the RE curriculum, and is a quote from one Salim Mulla the chair of the Lancashire Council of Mosques.

Broadly speaking a multicultural society is one that supports a plurality of world views and 'cultures' within a polity. To be successful, these world views need to get along with each other even when they are not in harmony. In short, for it to be a multicultural society and not a fragmented one, the people need to at least tolerate, and respect that others hold different views. In practice to allow citizens the freedom to pursue these diverse ends the polity needs to be liberal; one that allows people the liberty to pursue their ends. A liberal society needs to equip it's citizens with the ability, potential, and freedom to choose their way of life, otherwise those citizens don't have liberty. As part of this citizens need to be aware that they have other choices, that other world views exist.

In the UK this is one of the reasons we have RE lessons. RE teaches about different world views to broaden horizons, and help people to understand that others may have fundamentally different world views and that's okay. RE is about religious understanding. This should probably be subsumed into a broader citizenship and ethics class, but that's a whole different story. Religious instruction is left to parents and whatever temple is attended. (Important exception here: the varyingly applied rule for collective worship in schools).

So.. we want our children to know about other religions as part of their education. It allows them to choose. It broadens their horizons and exposes them to novel ways of thinking. It helps them to understand The Other, and in a school where children have a wide range of faiths and world views it helps them to understand that people who believe radically different things to them are still people just like you. Because, you know, apartheid is bad.

Anyway, without further ado, here is the quote from Lancashire Telegraph and the chair of the local muslim council of mosques on the subject of letting children know that not everyone believes in God:

“We believe it is important to have faith values whether that is Christian, Islamic or any other religion.

"The values are very, very important. I don’t think the non-God aspect should be introduced into the curriculum.

“I don’t think it is right. People are born into faiths and are brought up in that faith and that’s how it should stay.

“The non-faith beliefs send a wrong message to the children and confuse them.”

Interesting stuff. I think this underestimates children, and suggests that people shouldn't be free to choose their beliefs. Mr Mulla is of course entitled to his belief that those without faith are wrong, that's what being in a liberal society is all about, but I believe that saying "this world view on the matter of the existence of God, which is held by 30-60% of the nation [depending on the polls and phrasing of the question], shouldn't be mentioned in a class that is supposed to teach children about other world views and should in effect be censored" seems ... well... a little insular.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Rawls - The Status of Majority Rule

Next up on the reading list is section 54 of Rawls' A Theory of Justice: The Status of Majority Rule.

I have difficulty reading Rawls. I largely agree with him and think he has sound arguments, but I tend to get a little lost in his exposition. So, this attempt at a summary will be a cheeky walkthrough to produce only a sentence from each paragraph.

1. Majority rule (e.g. democracy) is, hopefully, an instrumental good in that it brings about a legislative state of affairs grounded on the principles of justice (loosely liberty and equality).
2. It does not follow that what the majority wills is right, which is why we need constitutional limitations, though (interesting multiculturalism angle) we should be wary that entrenched minorities may use these limitations to preserve their illicit advantages.
3. A just constitution is "...defined as a constitution that would be agreed upon by rational delegates in a constitutional convention who are guided by the two principles of justice" and the Viel of Ignorance (VI) and Original Position (OP) come into play here as part of a conceptual ideal procedure.
4. A law or policy is just if it could be arrived at via the ideal procedure (VI and OP).
5. A problem with majority decision as an instrument of reaching a correct decision is that people influence each other (lots of human interaction stuff here: group think, evaluation apprehension, social loafing, etc... hmm... perhaps law making needs a fresh looking using the group decision making and creativity literature)
6. There are some benefits from having lots of people involved in decision making though, the exchange of opinion "...checks our partiality and widens our perspective"
7. So we want an ideal procedure.. but don't have it at the moment
8. An ideal political process is different to an ideal market process, because you won't get an efficient outcome if everyone only considers their own interest
9. We can't really bring about an ideal procedure (where people make the laws), we must rely on a certain extent on the people being just, but we should still aim to move towards it
10. Because of the equality principle, in the ideal procedure everyone's vote has equal weighting; one *cough* man one vote, which is a bit different to the ideal market, though I don't know why we should be caring about the ideal market at this stage
11. For any given legislative choice there may be a range of possible outcomes in the 'outcome landscape' that could be considered to be just
12. The role of majority decision making is to choose policies that lie on the 'justice peaks' in the 'outcome landscape', which will make the decision authoritative though not definitive.

Interesting aside: (some) theists claim that only God can provide objective morality. Setting aside the truth value of that, the subjectivity of interpreting that morality, and the Euthyphro dilemma... can the Original Position be considered a basis for objective morality? It appears to be in all but name in A Theory of Justice. Well, to be fair I've not read the whole thing so it could be in name as well.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Transferring playlists in iTunes

This is the best I've managed to come up with so far for transferring playlists (for some reason you can't drag and drop through home sharing). This was done between my iPhone and what is hoped to be it's new host computer.

1. Connect device (home share?)
2. Find the relevant playlist
3. Right click and select Export, and export the file to somewhere handy
4. In iTunes go to Library -> Import and select your newly exported file


One of those "seems obvious when you know how, but why am I stuck doing it this way anyway" things.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Walzer's Philosophy and Democracy

Today's reading was Walzer's Philosophy and Democracy (1981). Walzer's piece is interesting, and sometimes heavy on exposition, and covers tensions between philosophy and democracy. Two tensions Walzer highlights are:

1. The will of the people vs what is right: quoting Rosseau's argument that political legitimacy rests on will (consent) and not on reason (rightness)
2. The more rights the judges award to the people as individuals the less free the people are as a decision making body

Point 1 can in a simple form be summed up as 'mob rule'. We are not willing to give limitless decision making power to the people as a whole, because this power can be used to abuse others. Boundaries must be placed to constrain the decision making power of the people, as this is normally done in the form of rights and/or a constitution. Persons are granted rights such as the right to life, such that the people cannot simply will the death of an individual. Which brings us around to point 2; the more rights that are given out, the less decision making power the people have in a democracy.

This may or may not be a problem. If rights are limited to 'foundational rights', those that should take precedence, then this can only be a good thing. The situation becomes problematic when we have rights inflation, or rights are over-applied or over-interpreted.

Returning to point 1, another aspect of the issue is that what the people choose may not be right. There is a clear tension here, and it needs to be carefully considered to see where the boundaries lie. Democracy can loosely be termed rule by the people for the people. The decisions reached should be beneficial for the people, and not parochial. Both parts here are important; decisions and beneficial. The people should influence the law because they are the subject of the law. Autonomy, freedom, liberty... are goods and therefore beneficial. One must have plausible options to be exercising freedom and autonomy. The people then must be allowed to make bad choices, or perhaps at least choices that aren't as good. How to define this is of course fraught with danger, potential totalitarianism and the like. Returning to point 2, the according of rights could be said to constrain certain choices but to act to overall maximise autonomy. As Walzer says "[providing a minimum set of welfare]... would guarantee to each citizen the opportunity to exercise his citizenship, and that is an opportunity he can hardly be said to have, or to have in any meaningful fashion, if he were starving to death or desperately seeking shelter for himself and his family".

Rights constrain certain choices, but maximise choice overall. Democracy-as-autonomy is preserved and enhanced by an appropriate set of rights.

Can we go further? To bound potential choices to better choices? We already do this in part through supporting democratic citizenship (education etc), public discourse, and general progress of knowledge. We, at least in the West, are no longer in a position where burning little old ladies as witches can be seen to be a 'good' choice in the political landscape. Much remains open in the political landscape, and it is the job of political theorists and philosophers to help us move up to the heights and avoid the valleys.