The Philosophical Case for Open Borders

I want to share an argument with you. It’s not my argument, but it is an argument every American needs to consider right now. It is Michael Huemer’s argument that immigration restrictions are prima facie rights violations. That is, it’s wrong to use force to prevent someone from entering this country.

Huemer begins with the ethical question: is it morally right to forcibly prevent would-be immigrants from living in the United States? He argues that those excluded seem, on the face of it, to suffer a serious harm. Why are we justified in imposing this harm?

Huemer has a very important assumption from the outset. He argues we’re not worrying about international terrorists, criminals, or fugitives from the law.  We have a right to exclude those people.  The focus should be on ordinary people who are seeking a new home and a better life.

As for the President’s recent ban, he’s not simply excluding terrorists from coming to America. He’s banned anyone from a specific country for seemingly arbitrary reasons (unless you count his personal business interests, and then it doesn’t appear quite as arbitrary). He is excluding refugees fleeing from terrorists, and so Huemer’s argument that follows certainly applies.

The reason I’m sharing Huemer’s argument is because his method is absolutely genius. He first describes a case in which nearly everyone will share an intuitive evaluation of some action, and then draws a parallel from the case described to the more controversial case of immigration. If you’re absolutely convinced in the simple case, and you cannot undermine the analogy, then you ought to be convinced in the harder immigration case, too.  
 (more…)

Income Inequality: Part 5

Over the past few weeks, I’ve given three arguments for redistributing wealth to shrink the gap between the rich and the poor. First, I argued that societies that redistribute more are seen as less corrupt. Second, I argued that vast inequalities do significant harm to individuals. More unequal societies have more poverty, more spending on the military, higher infant mortality rates, more people in prison, more homicides, greater substance abuse, and lower life satisfaction. Third, I argued that if we follow the widely popular “Golden Rule,” then we’ll see that a rational, self-interested person ought to ensure opportunities for the disadvantaged instead of being concerned about the well-being of those at the top.

I’ve now reached the last, great bastion of fiscal conservatism: libertarianism. The guiding principle behind libertarianism is the noninterference principle: one should be able to do as they please so long as they are not interfering with others, and one should be free from interference by others. The noninterference principle applies to property: one should be able to do as they please with their property so long as they are not interfering with others, and one should be free from others taking their property. You can see how fiscal conservatism easily follows: individuals have the right to do whatever they want with their money, and redistribution violates this right.

Robert Nozick appropriately applies this fiscal conservativism to taxes: “Taxation of earnings from labor is on a par with forced labor…taking the earnings of n hours labor is like taking n hours from the person; it is like forcing the person to work n hours for another’s purpose” (Anarchy, State, and Utopia). Redistribution is akin to the harms of slavery. (more…)

Income Inequality: Part 4

What sort of society should the rational person want?

Last time, I concluded that wealth inequality does significant harm to an individual’s life, liberty, and mental health, with no additional benefits. The bare existence of inequality within a society does great harm—more harm than poverty alone. This is the first reason I believe we have a moral imperative to alleviate such gross inequality.

The second reason we should alleviate the inequality rampant in our society stems from the Golden Rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you. I don’t take the Golden Rule to be an actual rule; it doesn’t say explicitly “do not hit your sister” like other moral rules do. Rather, the Golden Rule is a sort of “master rule.” It tells you how to make decisions about what to do. (more…)

Income Inequality: Part 3

Welcome back! I’m continuing a series on income inequality. In part 1 of this series, I argued that the fiscal conservative stance is an ethical stance, not simply an economic one. I argued that it does more harm than good. That is, fiscal conservative policies hinder the wellbeing of persons. In this post, I’m going to use quite a bit of data with two purposes, (1) I want to simply show how different democratic countries stack up with respect to many social goods, and (2) I want to convince you that inequality does more harm than good.  (more…)

Income Inequality: Part 2

In Part 1 of the series on income inequality, I argued that being a “fiscal conservative” is a moral stance. One of the principles of fiscal conservativism says that we ought to balance the budget by cutting spending rather than raising taxes. In fact, a fiscal conservative will hardly ever encourage raising taxes.

The main reason a conservative doesn’t want to raise taxes is because she is opposed to redistributing wealth. We ought not take money from the rich, and just hand it over to the poor. (more…)

Income Inequality: Part 1

Many people claim to be “socially liberal but fiscally conservative” as though it’s evidence of what good people they are. Look at me! I care about the individual rights of immigrants, women, blacks, and gays! I’m all for same-sex marriage! I’m pro-choice!

But then they also might vote conservatively for fiscal reasons. I find this to be inconsistent. Through a series of posts about international income inequality, I will make the case that being “fiscally conservative” is as much a moral stance as “socially liberal.” Economic policies are in the domain of ethics, and I will eventually conclude that being fiscally conservative is ethically worse than being fiscally liberal. (more…)

The Shame of the Privileged

“I personally think talking about it all the time just makes the problem worse.”

Racism is a difficult thing to talk about. We like to think we’ve reached equality. We like to think that soon enough, all the old racists will die, and racism will disappear with them. The problem will solve itself if we just give it enough time.

Shame is also a difficult thing. Shame is an emotion that represents the failure to live up to an ego ideal. We think of ourselves as caring, smart, funny, talented, moral, attractive, as a good parent, sibling, friend. We don’t simply think of ourselves these ways; we deeply value such characteristics. These are our ego ideals. On occasion, these ideas we have about ourselves are challenged. When others challenge the ideas we have about ourselves, we lash out in anger. We become defensive. We deflect your criticism by pointing out your flaws.   (more…)

Commentary on “Why Our Children Don’t Think There Are Moral Facts”

Justin P. McBrayer recently argued in the New York Times that our children don’t think there are moral facts. Here’s what I take his argument to be:

Argument 1:

  • Premise 1: Common Core defines ‘fact’ as something that is true about a subject or something that can be tested or proven.
  • Premise 2: Common Core defines ‘opinion’ as what someone thinks, feels, or believes.
  • Premise 3: Common Core says all sentences are either facts or opinions.
  • Premise 5: Common Core labels all value judgments (any claim with good, bad, right, wrong, etc) as opinions, never as facts.
  • Conclusion: Common Core teaches that there are no moral facts.

Argument 2:

  •  Premise 1: Common Core teaches that there are no moral facts.
  • Premise 2: The school teaches that students have certain responsibilities such as “do your own work.”
  • Premise 3: Premise 1 is inconsistent with premise 2.
  • Premise 4: Outside of school, if there is no truth of the matter about whether cheating is wrong, then we cannot hold cheaters accountable.
  • Premise 5: We do (and should) hold cheaters accountable.
  • Conclusion: Outside of school, there is a truth of the matter about whether cheating is wrong (i.e., there are moral facts).
  • Conclusion: We should reject the Common Core teaching that there are no moral facts.

I agree with most of McBrayer’s argument. It is a rather elegant one. But his argument has come under serious attack by Daniel Engber over at Slate. In what follows, I shall defend McBrayer’s argument against Engber’s attack. I think Engber has built an elaborate strawman, but when he takes him down, McBrayer’s argument still stands tall.  (more…)

#thedress

My previous post was defending philosophy against objections from Neil deGrasse Tyson. I argued that scientific observation was no more sure or more important than philosophical argument.

Enter #thedress.

Screen Shot 2015-02-27 at 10.28.51 AM

 

The world is now divided on whether this dress is blue and black or white and gold. I’ve actually seen it as both, even in the same picture. Vox goes into the science here. I won’t get too into that, but I highly suggest you read it. As a philosopher, I want to raise a philosophical question. Can we ever trust our observations? (more…)

Philosophy and Science

Within the past year, the famous scientist Neil deGrasse Tyson said of philosophers, “if you are distracted by your questions so that you can’t move forward, you are not being a productive contributor to our understanding of the natural world.” This is just one of many things he’s said to attack the merit of contemporary philosophy. He believes philosophy once added to our understanding of the natural world, but it no longer does. I disagree.

First, Tyson assumes philosophers only ask questions. Philosophers are definitely concerned with the “big questions” of life: what is the meaning of life, does God exist, what is consciousness, do we have free will, etc. Philosophers will always be concerned with such questions. But philosophers do not only ask questions; we also answer them.   (more…)