Monday, April 19, 2010

246: On Liberty again

A legal system performs many social functions. Prominent among such functions is the promotion of the welfare and security of citizens and their property.

We can distinguished between laws that impose duties by which citizens must abide, and laws that provide facilities that citizens can make use of if they wish . The promotion of welfare and security involves both kinds of law.

This function at the highest level of generality may be characterized as the use of law to prevent, or to provide compensation for, harm. `Harm’ may be characterized at this level of generality as `the thwarting, setting back, or defeating of an interest’

When I run over your dog, you certainly are harmed emotionally, but should this loss as such be subject to coercive penalty?

The possession of small amounts of marijuana is a criminal offense, but in what sense does that harm others? So what justifies restriction of my freedom by law here?

Kiki referred already to it in our latest discussion, I can harm others economically pretty much. I even can put them out of business by taking over their market.

Their factories may have to close. People may loose their jobs and so on. Yet there are no laws who forbid competition in business, to do so much harm.

We may conclude that the Harm Principle as formulated by Mill is not a universally applicable rule. We are still left with the observation that not all harms are wrong. What is it that turns a harm into a wrong?

I won't pursue this issue here any further. Yet you are still stuck with this question and we'll get back to it when we will have our lecture on John Stuart Mill.

Henri-Benjamin Constant de Rebecque (1767 – 1830), a Swiss-born nobleman, thinker, writer and French politician, distinguishes between the liberty of the ancients (Greece and Rome) and the liberty of the moderns.

While the ancients called liberty the collective exercise of political sovereignty, the liberty of the moderns consists in privacy and independence.

An interesting shift in the perception of liberty. Isaiah Berlin formulated in his famous essay "Two Concepts of Liberty" (1958) a more extensive description of this modern liberty.

He differentiates negative liberty and positive liberty: negative freedom has to do with the question “What is the area within which the subject …is or should be left to do or be what he is able to do or be, without interference by other persons”.

On the contrary, positive liberty is related to the question “What, or who, is the source of control or interference that can determine someone to do, or be, this rather than that?”.

Berlin equates negative liberty with absence of interference (or coercion), and positive liberty with individual or collective self-direction.

Typically, self-direction accords with reasons and laws. Berlin associates negative liberty with “liberty from” and positive liberty with “liberty to”.

You'll understand.that the liberal democracy / social democracy debate could be analyzed with respect to the respective weights in the balance between negative and positive freedom.

The liberty of the moderns consists in privacy and independence, Constant said. Privacy and liberty, a really hot issue these days. Let's have a short look at it as conclusion of this lecture.

In a recent newspaper article on this subject I found an interesting description of privacy, by Boudewijn de Bruin, a Dutch university teacher of philosophy.

He says: "If anyone observes my actions, I experience these actions differently, as if I am no longer the only actor of these actions,as if a change of perspective occurs, and I myself am a spectator too."

When we feel observed by cameras in stores, by your peeping neighbor, by your credit card company, by the government, the invasion on your privacy is an invasion on your liberty.

Not only laws can invade our privacy, but also (false) rumors spread through the internet, for instance that I am actually the brother of the present Pope.

This is a lot of information on the concept of liberty. Don't feel overwhelmed. First there is our blog, where you can reread this text and a lot will reappear in our lectures on other political philosophers.

The Discussion

[13:21] herman Bergson: So take the liberty to make some remarks or ask some questions ^_^
[13:22] Gemma Cleanslate: hmmm
[13:22] herman Bergson: You are also free not to do so of course ㋡
[13:22] Gemma Cleanslate: in some cases we allow this invasion of privacy for protection
[13:22] Lena Sigall: how would you handle a situation where, no matter what choice was made, someone would be harmed in a wrong way?
[13:22] Kiki Walpanheim: "collective exercise of political sovereignty"--is that tyranny of the majority/democracy , phrased differently?
[13:23] Gemma Cleanslate: sothat is my liberty to sacrifice the privacy
[13:23] herman Bergson: I wouldnt say so Kiki...
[13:23] herman Bergson: the expression was coined by Mill to express his disgust of the moral oppression by Victorian culture in UK
[13:24] Kiki Walpanheim: oh...
[13:24] herman Bergson: What is interesting is Mills ideas on economics...
[13:24] Kiki Walpanheim nods
[13:24] herman Bergson: We'll get to that , but what we may conclude is that there is harm and harm that is wrong
[13:25] Kiki Walpanheim: defamation/incitement of violence can cause har
[13:25] Lena Sigall: how do you define wrong harm? some call masturbation "self abuse" lol
[13:25] herman Bergson: so the discussion will be to find out when and why some harm is wrong
[13:25] Kiki Walpanheim: *harm
[13:26] herman Bergson: Well LEna in MIll's opinion you may masturbate as much as you like....
[13:26] herman Bergson: It wont harm anyone...
[13:26] herman Bergson: but we are inclined to say..but it is immoral...!
[13:26] Kiki Walpanheim: lena, i think that is something about ...right to privacy
[13:26] herman Bergson: However...moral paternalism is unacceptable in Mills opinioon
[13:27] herman Bergson: He approaches harm in a strict utilitarian way
[13:27] Kiki Walpanheim nods.... in which, moral becomes relative… ach inividual could have his/her morals
[13:28] herman Bergson: But in economics I may do harm as much as I like, it seems
[13:28] herman Bergson: And this because this harm is outweighted by the Comon Good
[13:28] Lena Sigall: say for example, war. what would you do if starting the war would result in "collateral damage" to civilians, but not waging the war would allow the government or whatever force you're fighting to kill innocent people
[13:29] Kiki Walpanheim: masterbation along with other taboos of sexuality, reveal a lot about autonomy, morals, liberty...these issues
[13:29] herman Bergson: a difficult contraposition Lena...?
[13:30] herman Bergson: Well is also related to psychological harm....
[13:30] Kiki Walpanheim: yes....
[13:30] herman Bergson: For instance... doing it in public would shock / so harm people....
[13:31] Kiki Walpanheim: mill's harm principle seems to leave out economic harm,psychological harm.... tho they can be just as harmful or more harmful than physical one
[13:31] herman Bergson: but knowing that my neighbor does it...might be shocking too for me...but is that also called harm?
[13:31] Kiki Walpanheim nods
[13:31] herman Bergson: you see....a lot to study on... ^_^
[13:31] Kiki Walpanheim nods
[13:32] herman Bergson: Just a seach on HARM PRICIPLE brings you a lot of documentation on the subject
[13:32] Kiki Walpanheim: hmm.... what the neighbor does, that is about privacy is tricky
[13:32] Kiki Walpanheim: yes, harm principle is *complicated*
[13:32] Gemma Cleanslate: i will look at that
[13:32] Gemma Cleanslate: yes
[13:33] herman Bergson: I think the most important debate these days is about our liberty from and our liberty to....
[13:33] Kiki Walpanheim: negative/positive liberties
[13:33] herman Bergson: yes
[13:34] herman Bergson: negative is not meant to mean negative in the traditional sense
[13:34] herman Bergson: it means ..the absence of restrictions
[13:34] herman Bergson: where positive means the presence or restrictions (laws)
[13:34] Kiki Walpanheim nods
[13:35] Lena Sigall: some say spanking is bad for kids, that it's abuse. some say *not* spanking them is bad for them because it's the only thing that teaches them discipline
[13:35] Kiki Walpanheim: btw, i was in debate on abortion the other day
[13:35] herman Bergson: How far may a state go to restrict its citizens by laws...that is the debate
[13:35] Kiki Walpanheim: that defense on abortion was based on --negative liberty
[13:35] herman Bergson: Good point Kiki...
[13:36] herman Bergson: is the state allowed to restrict the woman in her choice?
[13:36] Abraxas Nagy: NO
[13:36] Kiki Walpanheim: that the mother 's autonomy and liberty triumphs the fetus' even if the fetus is a life, according to how that defense was made..
[13:36] herman Bergson: I answered the question by pointing at the HArm Principle...
[13:37] herman Bergson: Does an abortion harm others?
[13:37] Zinzi Serevi: maybe the father
[13:37] Zinzi's translator: Maybe The father
[13:37] herman Bergson: That is the essence... how to interpret these 'others'
[13:38] Kiki Walpanheim: the defense was about....does the fetus have a right to the mother's body and liberty
[13:38] herman Bergson: Ok Zinzi....
[13:38] Kiki Walpanheim: in comparison, do the poor have the right to the rich's money and liberty?
[13:38] Kiki Walpanheim: the poor who are starving to death
[13:38] herman Bergson: Yes Kiki…but here we come to the point: how and when are rights established?
[13:38] Lena Sigall: do the rich have the right to feed off the poor and middle class to create their wealth?
[13:39] Kiki Walpanheim: when a life begins?
[13:39] Gemma Cleanslate: there lies the problem
[13:39] herman Bergson: And here Lena we come to the balance between negative and positive liberty
[13:39] Kiki Walpanheim: if abortion is keen to murderer, then perhaps we are committing murderer every single day, because
[13:39] herman Bergson: Has the state the right/authority to redistribute wealth in society by law?
[13:39] Lena Sigall: well, even if you say for arguments sake, that a fetus is a person equal to the mother,... if it lives in her body, is she forced to sustain the fetus?
[13:40] herman Bergson: That is no good argument Lena, leads to a meaningless discussion
[13:40] Kiki Walpanheim: because, ppl are starving to death every day, tho they can survive with the rich's money
[13:40] Lena Sigall: how so, herman?
[13:41] Kiki Walpanheim: that again, is about positive/negative lliberty
[13:41] herman Bergson: because the foetus is not a person
[13:41] Lena Sigall: some would argue that it is
[13:41] herman Bergson: Yes politics
[13:41] Kiki Walpanheim: yes, it is controversial regarding when life begins
[13:41] Lena Sigall: some say a fertilized egg is a person
[13:42] Kiki Walpanheim: some argue that a fetus is a life when it has conception, tho some other would argue against it
[13:42] herman Bergson: That is a play with words...
[13:42] Abraxas Nagy: no a person is a human
[13:42] herman Bergson: a Person is by definition a sentient, rational individual with an egg isnt
[13:42] Kiki Walpanheim: Mill emphasizes only on negative liberty throughout his book, but
[13:42] Abraxas Nagy: exact;y
[13:42] herman Bergson: foetus
[13:43] Lena Sigall: so that means we can kill a person in a vegetative state?
[13:43] Abraxas Nagy: AH HAHAHAHA
[13:43] herman Bergson: That is a contradiction Lena...we dont kill persons
[13:43] Abraxas Nagy: exactly
[13:43] Kiki Walpanheim: but , the ground of his argument is that, ppl are educated enough to be competent for liberty---in which education becomes compulsory
[13:43] Lena Sigall: does that mean we can kill a human body that is in a vegetative state, with no sentience anymore?
[13:43] Kiki Walpanheim: thus it has to involve positive liberty
[13:44] herman Bergson: the vegetative patient is still a person, not just a body
[13:44] Lena Sigall: how so?
[13:44] Lena Sigall: if they have no sentience anymore
[13:44] Lena Sigall: like a fetus doesn't
[13:44] herman Bergson: It has been an individuality with a personal history and identity....
[13:45] herman Bergson: by getting into a vegetative state, that hasnt changed
[13:45] Lena Sigall: so has a dead human body... so what's the difference?
[13:45] Gemma Cleanslate: and they are constantly finding those people seem to have some consciousness
[13:45] Gemma Cleanslate: they can now see it in the brain
[13:45] Kiki Walpanheim: and i think the assumption is that ppl are not starving to receive education...
[13:45] herman Bergson: The person is not dead Lena....we even dont know in what state he is often..
[13:46] herman Bergson: some vegetative patients still have sensory experiences
[13:46] Kiki Walpanheim: vegetative patient is a person
[13:46] Lena Sigall: so the question of personal identity and sentience is important if it's present or past, but not future, like with a fetus?
[13:46] herman Bergson: You could say that, yes
[13:47] Kiki Walpanheim: take sl for example, there are some very offensive sims in sl
[13:47] Kiki Walpanheim: obscenity/indecency
[13:47] Lena Sigall: well, you say that we don't know what state a vegetative person is in often, but do we really know the fetus's state either?
[13:47] Abraxas Nagy: yay!!
[13:47] Lena Sigall: maybe it has more thoughts and perceptions than we know
[13:47] Kiki Walpanheim: is it justified when they are private?
[13:47] Kiki Walpanheim: as righ to privacy
[13:48] herman Bergson: we do know the development of the foetus, Lena...
[13:48] Kiki Walpanheim: *as right to privacy
[13:48] herman Bergson: Before week 22 there is no nervous system, so no sensory experience
[13:49] Kiki Walpanheim: if a dying man can be saved if we sacrfice one of our organs
[13:49] Kiki Walpanheim: is it murderer if we dont help him? by our sacrifice
[13:49] herman Bergson: That is a very difficult moral question Kiki...
[13:49] Gemma Cleanslate: oh goodness
[13:50] herman Bergson: Is there a moral duty to do so....?
[13:50] Kiki Walpanheim: it is similar with abortion
[13:50] Kiki Walpanheim: because the fetus asks the woman's sacrifice to survive
[13:50] herman Bergson: Like the government wants everyone to be organ donor by law...negative liberty extended
[13:50] Zinzi Serevi: pffff
[13:50] Zinzi's translator: pffff
[13:50] Kiki Walpanheim: sometimes the sacrifice can destroy the womans life forever, somtimes
[13:50] Gemma Cleanslate: wants or forces
[13:51] herman Bergson: That is the debate Gemma...between positive and negative libery here indeed
[13:51] Gemma Cleanslate: lol yes
[13:52] herman Bergson: SHould some one report that he wants to be a donor, or is every one donor by definition and does he have to report he does NOT want to be a donor
[13:52] Kiki Walpanheim: so far i only read mill's defense on liberty, which caused more confusion to me.... wish sometimes some other ways to defend could solve my confusion...
[13:52] Lena Sigall: some would say that the woman chose to have sex, assuming it was consensual, therefore she chose the possibility of pregnancy and so it's not fair to destroy the fetus
[13:52] herman Bergson: that is a discussion in Dutch politics for instance...
[13:52] Zinzi Serevi: omg Lena
[13:52] Zinzi's translator: omg Lena
[13:53] Lena Sigall: i'm not saying that
[13:53] Lena Sigall: in case it seems i'm against abortion rights, i'm not. i'm very much in favor of the right
[13:53] herman Bergson: You should have read my note Lena ^_^
[13:53] Kiki Walpanheim: how about rape? how about failures in contraception
[13:53] herman Bergson: It is an absurd argument...
[13:53] Personal Core: hello ladies, hello gents
[13:53] Lena Sigall: i did herman, i just wanted the others' opinions too
[13:53] CONNIE Eichel: hi personal :)
[13:53] herman Bergson: it means that when you choose for something then you have no right to interfere with the consequences…
[13:54] Lena Sigall: you gave the example of choosing to climb a tree, and then falling out of it
[13:54] Personal Core: sorry that i enter , but i saw this place, and i said , why not
[13:54] Lena Sigall: out*
[13:54] Kiki Walpanheim: even in a contract, ppl have the right to terminate it at proper times
[13:54] herman Bergson: Come in Personal..
[13:54] herman Bergson: you are welcome
[13:54] Personal Core: and also i saw the title philosopher ,
[13:54] Personal Core: thanky u
[13:54] Lena Sigall: but getting treatment for a broken leg is harmless. however some would argue killing the fetus does cause harm to it, which isn't fair if the woman knowingly engaged in what she knew could cause the pregnancy
[13:55] herman Bergson: We have been through that...
[13:55] Kiki Walpanheim: does the woman have the right to withdraw using her body?
[13:55] Kiki Walpanheim: even if she started it consensually
[13:55] Lena Sigall: yes
[13:56] herman Bergson: Let's return to the donor issue...
[13:56] Lena Sigall: ok
[13:56] Gemma Cleanslate: almost time to go :-)
[13:56] herman Bergson: it is a perfect example of the balance between negative and positive liberty...
[13:56] herman Bergson: Indeed Gemma..
[13:57] Personal Core: not always, depends if u know how to define the balance
[13:57] Personal Core: ,,, a small idea, sorry for interrupting
[13:57] herman Bergson: The question is...has the state the right to claim your bodyparts by law
[13:57] Gemma Cleanslate: :-)
[13:57] Personal Core: nope
[13:57] Personal Core: after all the state didnt rise u
[13:57] Zinzi Serevi: yes when you have an escape
[13:57] Zinzi's translator: yes When You Have an escape
[13:57] Kiki Walpanheim: is it about donor after death?
[13:58] Zinzi Serevi: yes
[13:58] Zinzi's translator: yes
[13:58] Gemma Cleanslate: well the state is supposed to represent us so i say unless we give them the right they do not have it
[13:58] Personal Core: or help u to grow ,or participate in any way at your growing
[13:58] herman Bergson: so you can not accept a law that regards every citizen a donor by definition UNLESSS the citizen has explicitely stated that he does NOT want to be a donor
[13:58] Personal Core: or the family,
[13:58] Kiki Walpanheim: it is difficult.. i think each one owns herself/himself
[13:58] Kiki Walpanheim: but
[13:59] Kiki Walpanheim: hmm....
[13:59] Personal Core: can i put a hypottetical question ?
[13:59] herman Bergson: This is what we not yet touched on Kiki....natural laws...
[13:59] herman Bergson: the right to the integrity of your boy
[13:59] herman Bergson: the right to live..
[13:59] Gemma Cleanslate: see you thursday everyone ...
[13:59] herman Bergson: etc
[13:59] Lena Sigall: bye Gemma
[13:59] CONNIE Eichel: bye gemma :)
[13:59] herman Bergson: Bye Gemma ㋡
[14:00] Lena Sigall: but if one doesn't donate their organ, some will not live. is that a violation of their right to live?
[14:00] Kiki Walpanheim: bye gemma
[14:00] Abraxas Nagy: bye Gemma
[14:00] Personal Core: image that u are sick , the state dont garantate the healing or help without the money , and how come the state use the organs, ? this is an real case that is happened everywhere
[14:00] Sartre Placebo: night
[14:00] Personal Core: good night
[14:00] Abraxas Nagy: night
[14:00] herman Bergson: I wouldnt say so...
[14:00] Personal Core: but is happened,
[14:01] herman Bergson: does falling ill give you the right to claim other man's body parts?
[14:01] herman Bergson: because you have a right to live too
[14:01] Zinzi Serevi: bye Gemma
[14:01] Zinzi's translator: bye Gemma
[14:01] Kiki Walpanheim: which means, the state does not give u much yet asks you for too much
[14:01] Personal Core: the hypothetical question is , right to use the organs and to private the sick ppl to heal or not
[14:01] herman Bergson: I think...we are exhausting people here.....
[14:01] herman Bergson: Time to terminate the discussion ㋡
[14:02] Abraxas Nagy: I have to go.. see you all nexttime :D
[14:02] Lena Sigall: LOL
[14:02] Lena Sigall: bye Abraxas
[14:02] Abraxas Nagy: and ty herman
[14:02] herman Bergson: Class dismissed ^_^

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