Tag Archives: political philosophy

Reforms, revolution and immigration

Part I

Social reformers of whatever kind has at some point to face the as inconvenient as inevitable conclusion, that the overall majority of the population is conservative. This folk conservatism is distinct from other types of conservatism, but its main tenets are fear for the unknown and hence an inclination towards the status quo.

Continue reading Reforms, revolution and immigration

What is a monarchy?

A popular misconception is to define a republic as the opposite of a monarchy. According to this line of reasoning any non-monarchist government would be automatically a republic. This is, however, a fallacy.

The definition of a republic is not depended on what title the head of state has, but on the idea of mixed government. If, however, we would proceed with defining a republic as a form of government without a monarch, then we should provide a definition of what a monarchy is. In this post we will attempt to work out what a monarchy is.

A popular definition of a monarch is that of a head of state who has inherited his or her position, instead of by election. This conception is, however, wrong. Throughout history monarchs has been elected, and in Malaysia the monarch is still assigned by election. And Sweden and Denmark were elective monarchies until the sixteen century. In the past elective monarchies were the rule. And only when members of the same family were elected as monarch generation after generation, these monarchies transformed from elective to hereditary ones.

Instead we could better look at the literal meaning of monarchy, which is Classical Greek for “the rule by one”. Thus a monarchy is system of government in which all power is concentrated in one person. The Greeks did classify forms of government by the number of people who had power, hence we get: the rule by one (monarchy), the rule by the few (oligarchy) and the rule by many (democracy).

Aristotle did not only categorize forms of governments by the quantity of people, but also by quality. For every number, there was a good and bad version. According to Aristotle monarchy was a good form, and tyranny was its bad correspondent. Whether a form was good or bad, is dependent on whether the ruler(s) did pursue the general interest (res publica in Latin), or their own interests. Those rulers who pursued the general interest are, of course, the good ones, whilst those who only pursued their own interests are the bad ones.

The problem the Greeks were facing was the fact that a good government could become corrupted, i.e. turn into a bad one. A monarchy could become a tyranny. Usually such a transition happens gradually overtime.

Important to note is that the Greek definition does not depend on how a monarch gets his/her position. Election, appointment or inheritance doesn’t matter, the number of people with power does. Only pure absolute monarchies are quite rare, and have been throughout history. In most governments there are several institutions, each with their own amount of power.

A more practical approach can be found in the political philosophy of John Locke. According to Locke government can be divided into three branches: legislative, executive and federative (this is foreign policy) power. Whether a state is a monarch, an oligarchy or a democracy, depends on the composition of the legislative power. If the legislature is consists of only one person, then this state is a monarchy in Locke’s view.

However, in most countries the legislative power is assigned to an assembly of (elected) people, rather than to just a single person. In constitutional monarchies, the monarch is, however, involved in the legislative process in several ways. First, laws can be proposed by the king, and secondly the King has to sign any law passed by the legislature.

When we study the legislative process of a state, we have to ask how has the right of initiative (the right propose bills). In many constitutional monarchies both the king and the members of parliament can propose bills. This is not necessarily the case, and most upper chambers have no right of initiative and are only allowed to vote on the bills. Hence we can have a legislature which can only vote on bills proposed by the king.

Related to the right of initiative is the right of amendment. Even if a legislature cannot introduce its own bills, it might propose amendments to those bills introduced by the king. Both the right of initiative and the right of amendment shift power from the king to parliament. And if these rights are absent, the position of the king is strengthened.

Even if a parliament has the right of initiative and the right of amendment, then there is issue whether the king might veto a bill. If the king has veto power, can it can either be absolute or suspensive. In the first case, if the king refuses to sign the bill as passed by parliament, it’s game over for that bill. In the second case, if the king refuses to sign a bill, then parliament has to reconsider the bill. But if parliament still upheld its bill, then the king looses.

Finally we have to consider whether the king might dissolve the legislature. It can be that a parliament refuses to pass any bill proposed by the king, in that situation (s)he can do two things: either (s)he accepts his/her defeat or (s)he dissolves the legislature and calls for a new election. By doing so the king can try to change to membership of parliament, in the hope of securing a majority for his/her bill.

On Secular morality

Introduction

The purpose of Republic of Lagrangia is the establishment of a secular, liberal and humanist republic. In this post we will discuss the topic of secular morality. We will argue that all meaningful ethical theories are necessarily secular. However, we will start by distinguishing secularism from atheism. Subsequently we will show that non-secular ethics is equal to moral nihilism. Then we will defend the harm principle as the core of secular ethics.

Secularism versus atheism

Some people (deliberately) confuse secularism with atheism. However, this two terms refer to two totally different concepts. Atheism is the ontological position that god or gods do not exists. Secularism, however, is the political position that politics and religion should be separated, or in other words: the state should be neutral in religious matters. This means that the state should not promote religion or non-religion; whatever one chooses to believe or not, is only his concern.

Not all secularists are atheists, and not all atheists are secularists. Many secularists are not atheists, but they are for instance agnostics, deists or pantheists. This three particular positions are (fundamentally) different from atheism. But most agnostics, deists and pantheists are secularists.

Why is secularism important? Secularism is important because different people has different beliefs, which cannot often be proved. It’s almost impossible to prove either the existence or non-existence of god(s). Since one’s personal believes does not affect other people, or at least they don’t need to, it would be better if we keep religious matters private.

What is morality?

Although theists, and creationists, often talk loudly about morality, they have often no clue what they actually mean with morality. There is a strong impression that for theists morality only serves as a last sanctuary for an increasingly collapsing god of the gaps.

The primary question one should ask in moral philosophy is: what is the purpose of morality? Most theists just presume the necessity of morality, and when they are asked the primary question, they either evade this subject or they claim that the need for morality is “obvious”. One should ask why the need for morality is obvious.

Zoologists have discovered “moral” behaviour in multiple species of social animals, and not only in humans. Dutch-American primatologist Frans de Waal is the one of the foremost researchers in this field. This raises the question why social animals do subscribe to a notion of moral behaviour? If we ask ordinary people what they think what morality is about, they will often explain morality in terms of altruism or caring about others. This justifies us to understand morality as altruism.

There is a simple naturalistic explanation for the emerge of altruistic behaviour in social animals. Animals who help each other, think about a group of wolves or lions hunting together, have a greater chance of survival. Since all evidence points in the direction that the sense for morality is determined genetically, it follows that (the need for) morality is simply the product of evolution. In fact we might conclude that only evolution is able to give us a proper explanation for the whole phenomenon of morality.

After all, why should a deity actually care about morality? Theists are unable answer this question, and often they claim because of god’s love. But we should consider that love can also be explained by evolution, since our capacity to love enhances our chance of survival (think about the love of mothers for their children). However, god is supposed to be unevolved, so how can he be able to love?

So we can conclude that morality is the set of behavioural attitudes which brings us to help/care about others, which increases the chances for survival of our species.

Why non-secular ethics is equal to moral nihilism?

The Euthyphro problem as formulated by A. C. Grayling:

Is an act wrong because a god says it is, or is it forbidden by god because it is wrong? (Grayling p. 105, 2013).

Grayling argues that if the first clause is true than anything whatever god might decide to be good, is therefore good. This include murder, rape among others. Certain acts are only bad or good because of the arbitrary whims of a deity. Therefore non-secular ethics is nihilistic, since good and bad have no objective, independent meaning.

If the second is clause is true, we need to develop a secular theory of ethics.

What kind of morality should we have?

Although evolution is able to explain why people have a sense of morality, it fails to tell us what specific moral rules we ought to have. The primary objective evolution impose on all living beings is their will to survive, and in particular on animals.

Although most humans are born with a sense of morality, many people have different set of moral values. According to Canadian-American moral philosopher David Gauthier argues that moral values are inherently subjective. Because different people have different preferences, there will be conflicts of interest among these people.

It seems from this point of view it will impossible to establish any kind of objective morality. In a literal sense this would be true, but we can say: why not construct a set of rules which enables us to pursue as much of our interests as possible? In fact such rule is possible: the harm principle. Although John Stuart Mill has introduced this moral rule for slightly different reasons, it’s quite useful for organising a society with many conflicting interest.

According to the harm principle individuals should be allowed to do what ever they want as long as no other person is harmed by such act. Therefore you can live your life by your own values, provided that these value do not harm others. And the main task for the government is to minimize the amount of harm in society.

References

Grayling, A. C. 2013. The GOD Argument. Bloomsbury, London.