Monday, January 08, 2007

Here's what's wrong with democracy.

This discusses some basic concerns about whether democracy is a good idea. I happen to think it's a really bad idea, so I find these worth talking about.

Incidentally, although the post is right to say that Plato was suspicious of democracy, at least in Republic (not so in Laws), some of the history isn't right. Plato wasn't killed by a mob, but instead suffered more under tyrants. He died, apparently of natural causes, at his Academy. Aristotle liked democracy, but he didn't call it "democracy". What he calls "democracy" is something like mob-rule; his "republican" government, though, is democratic in a more general sense. For Kant's views, see Perpetual Peace. I don't recall what he thought of democracy, but given that he was a big fan of the choices of individual agents, vis-a-vis respect for the moral law, I'd suspect he'd generally be in favour of something at least democratic in character.

The first is the idea that there is a "natural aristocracy" which "should" govern. This is actually Plato's gambit in Republic (but, interestingly, not in Laws). As one should have one's shoes made by a good cobbler, one's polis should be led by a good leader. As Popper pointed out, though, in The Open Society and Its Enemies, that choice of question is loaded in favour of that kind of answer. If you start out with a different question -- Popper's favoured one is "how can we best prevent tyranny?" -- then you should end up with a very different answer.

That's all well and good, but it doesn't really address what's wrong with the question. I find two problems with it, both deriving from the idea that the aristocracy is "natural": first, the aristocracy is unchangeable and, second, that it is good. The former is simply false. Nature changes all the time. That should be incredibly obvious.

The latter is the naturalistic fallacy: just because it's natural doesn't mean it's good. These are different orders of claim: the former is descriptive, about what exists, while the latter is normative, about what should exist or what it would be better if did exist. Reading one order of claim off from another order is fallacious thinking because it ignores the difference.

There's also a real problem in claiming that there's any such thing as a "natural" advantage in something as contextually dependent as leadership ability. It's at least highly suspicious to say that people are just made into ideal leaders. It seems more plausible to say that people can become good leaders, given appropriate influences, education, opportunities, etc.

That, really, is an argument in favour of democracy in an ideally-functioning society. If you have a vast mass of well-educated people who have come under good influences, who are generally well-off, etc, etc, then you have a number of potentially ideal leaders. Any of them could stand for office, and any of them could rationally (by definition) appoint a representative to office in their stead. (It's even conceivably possible that, in such a society, representatives may not be necessary and democracy could be direct.)

Of course, we aren't in an ideal society. We're in a society largely composed -- and let's be fair to them -- of idiots. Or, to really be fair to them, of hedonists. As long as their immediate pleasures are satisfied, they don't care about anything else. Only on the most bizarre theory of the good is it the case that people like this constitute a "natural aristocracy". So, while warding off tyranny in the long run may be a good thing, it strikes me that periods of limited tyranny, to force an indolent society back "on track", are not something that should immediately be dismissed as "bad". Indeed, they may be necessary. (One of my favourite historical factoids is that, before the institution of their version of democracy, Athens was ruled by a benevolent tyrant, Peisistratus.)

The post also discusses some problems with democracy:

(1) Mob-rule
(2) Tyranny of the majority
(3) Idiocy of the majority (dealt with above)
(4) Security of voting
(5) Plutocracy
(6) Imperfect information
(7) Myopia (focus on the short-term)
(8) Winner takes all

(1) and (2) look like the same problem, but from different angles. If you have a system that encourages groups of people to band together in order to wield political influence, there is always a significant risk that this will degenerate into the rule of a "mob" or a situation where a majority group can ram through laws that are disfavourable to the minority. Limited powers is one attempt to block this situation: if governments are simply not allowed to do certain things (e.g., violate the rights in a constitution), then the situation is somewhat alleviated. Checks and balances or distribution of powers are another: if no one group in government can do whatever it feels like, then the amount of influence required to ram through laws becomes greater -- hopefully, sufficiently great that it is practically impossible to achieve it. Neither is a perfect solution, but democracy, by its nature, is an imperfect system, prone to degeneration. (In this, I agree with the basic idea of Plato's cycle of styles of government, discussed in Republic. No system of government is stable enough to last forever.) They'll work for a while, then the system will collapse and, hopefully, renew or improve.

(4) through (8) look like procedural problems, though, rather than issues with democracy in itself. (4) can be fixed through paper balloting. (5) can be fixed through rigid financing laws, that are actually enforced. (6) can be similarly fixed, by holding officials accountable for breaking their word and the like. (7) could be fixed by either extending terms, or staggering elections to ensure that some group in government has continuity over time, and so on. And (8) is contingent on particular election procedures.

The post also suggests that we should research candidates before voting. I'd go a step further and suggest everyone should run for some kind of office. If you really don't like your government, complaining about it is simply weak, as is standing in a booth for two minutes and checking a few boxes. The only way to really get a government you're happy with is to actively try to become a part of it. Voting is really less fundamental than the right to be a part of the government. After all, the very idea of democracy is that we are all self-governing, and government above us is only legitimate if we grant it the power to be legitimate. So, since we already have the power to govern ourselves, why not use it in government?

There's a closing quick ding at intellectuals not running for office. I think this may be an American problem, but it's worth wondering about what it is that makes American elections prone to being ignored by people of intelligence. (Or, at least, people who are willing to admit to being intelligent. Clinton, for example, was a Rhodes Scholar and has a J.D. from Yale Law -- so, no dummy there. Yet, I can't recall that information being part of his election campaigning.) I'd suspect a general cultural playing-down of intelligence, but that does exist, to some degree, in other parts of the world as well. So, if it's explanatory, it's only going to explain a detail or explain in a derivative fashion.

I don't know what more fudamental aspect of the US culture or its political system may be fueling this problem, though. It could, I suppose, be a purely materialist explanation: intellectuals don't tend to be rich enough to run for the most important public offices in the US. But this sounds quite weak to me, as there are any number of quite personable US academics who could, in principle, wine and dine in order to raise funds just as the current politicos do. So, I'm tempted to think the explanation must somehow be ideal -- there's something in the culture that discourages intellectuals from public life, or that encourages non-intellectuals into public life -- but I have a hard time putting my finger on it. Perhaps simply that public life isn't valued very much in the US? And those who have something else to do, such as intellectuals, are considered to be better by doing it?

I note with interest, though, this blog post about philosophers starting to engage in the public sphere. I think that the pressures which tell against philosophers stepping outside the "tower" and speaking to the rabble should be the same as those which discourage intellectuals in general from contesting for public office.

4 comments:

undergroundman said...

Corrected -- I think you could have guessed who I actually meant. And wasn't Aristotle exiled?

That's all well and good, but it doesn't really address what's wrong with the question.

The question being "who should govern".

I find two problems with it, both deriving from the idea that the aristocracy is "natural": first, the aristocracy is unchangeable and, second, that it is good. The former is simply false. Nature changes all the time.

What do you mean, unchangeable? Jefferson (and Plato)'s thesis is simply that there exist in every society moral, intelligent men, and they should govern - or at least those closest to those people should govern. Those people are more rare than you might think, but I believe they do usually do exist. It's empirical.

As for whether they are good, that's how they are defined: good, moral intelligent people are the natural aristocracy, wherever they exist. People capable of putting the interests of the country above their own. I would argue that the Founding Fathers were such people, and history agrees with me (bring up the slavery point all you want, but all of them campaigned against slavery -- Jefferson kept slaves because he was in debt).

The latter is the naturalistic fallacy: just because it's natural doesn't mean it's good.

Right. But if "the natural aristocracy" is defined as good people, it means they're good.

These are different orders of claim: the former is descriptive, about what exists, while the latter is normative, about what should exist or what it would be better if did exist. Reading one order of claim off from another order is fallacious thinking because it ignores the difference.

Don't really get that.

There's also a real problem in claiming that there's any such thing as a "natural" advantage in something as contextually dependent as leadership ability.

Leadership ability is somewhat irrelevant; it's more relevant for a squad leader or a team captain. Administrative ability is somewhat important, but most important is morality and the philosophers' spirit, at least in Jeffersons' mind. Honesty is more important than intelligence in leadership.

It's at least highly suspicious to say that people are just made into ideal leaders. It seems more plausible to say that people can become good leaders, given appropriate influences, education, opportunities, etc.

Two different ways of saying the same thing. Society makes these people, yes. ;)

We're in a society largely composed -- and let's be fair to them -- of idiots. Or, to really be fair to them, of hedonists. As long as their immediate pleasures are satisfied, they don't care about anything else.

I appreciate your frankness! I have a handful of friends whom I would trust in office. I'm optimistic about the future, as some people are definitely waking up.

Limited powers is one attempt to block this situation: if governments are simply not allowed to do certain things (e.g., violate the rights in a constitution), then the situation is somewhat alleviated.

We were just lucky to have a natural aristocracy in place to set those up.

Checks and balances or distribution of powers are another: if no one group in government can do whatever it feels like, then the amount of influence required to ram through laws becomes greater -- hopefully, sufficiently great that it is practically impossible to achieve it.

Except when each branch of government has been appointed by the majority, as was dangerously close to happening. In the US we're just lucky that the conservatives aren't actually in the majority, just damn close to it.

(4) can be fixed through paper balloting.

I do love mail-in ballots. :) But the world is moving forward with electronic ballots and there's not a whole lot we can do. Did you read that Diebold thing? Atrocious. I don't see why they don't contract the things out to real computer scientists with Ph.Ds.

(6) can be similarly fixed, by holding officials accountable for breaking their word and the like.

It goes further than that - canny politicians can put up an extremely good act. They can be very careful with their statements. But I suppose it will always come out when they vote, if people cared enough to pay attention to that.

(7) could be fixed by either extending terms, or staggering elections to ensure that some group in government has continuity over time, and so on.

That idea confuses me. How does it stop vote-buying?

And (8) is contingent on particular election procedures.

If we decide to go with the parliamentary system, however, we (usually) lose the ability to elect the President. I'm not sure that the parliamentary system really solves the issue, I just threw it out there. I don't know much about the parliamentary system. The only way to solve the issue of a tyrannical majority president is to weaken the executive branch. But it's really just connected to the tyranny of the majority - if we weaken the executive, there's still the same majority power in the legislative (51 members of the Senate can vote in legislature that 49 don't want - standard tyranny of the majority).

I'd go a step further and suggest everyone should run for some kind of office.

Unless you know that you wouldn't be the right person for the job? Shouldn't you instead rally around someone you feel should get the job, instead of rallying for yourself? And I don't know whether running for little Council spots really counts.

Perhaps simply that public life isn't valued very much in the US? And those who have something else to do, such as intellectuals, are considered to be better by doing it?

I really do find a disdain for participating in politics at my little college, so yes, that could be it. I haven't been of voting age for too long but I've yet to hear of an academic running for high office in either of the states I've voted in.

And if you have no chance of winning, your point is moot, and you'd be better of not running. Some people will never be convinced; not unless you turn into a conservative. Which is why the marketplace is a good way to accomplish change.

I note with interest, though, this blog post about philosophers starting to engage in the public sphere.

Seems like a bit of a stretch to say that's a post about philosophers engaging in the public sphere. :p Whoo. Finally trying to impart some philosophical knowledge to the public.


Thanks a bunch!

ADHR said...

Corrected -- I think you could have guessed who I actually meant. And wasn't Aristotle exiled?

Not exactly. Aristotle left Athens voluntarily when Alexander died, in order to avoid prosecution due to prevailing anti-Macedonian sentiment. Does that qualify as an "exile"? He died a year later.

The question being "who should govern".

Yep.

What do you mean, unchangeable? Jefferson (and Plato)'s thesis is simply that there exist in every society moral, intelligent men, and they should govern - or at least those closest to those people should govern. Those people are more rare than you might think, but I believe they do usually do exist. It's empirical.

As for whether they are good, that's how they are defined: good, moral intelligent people are the natural aristocracy, wherever they exist. People capable of putting the interests of the country above their own. I would argue that the Founding Fathers were such people, and history agrees with me (bring up the slavery point all you want, but all of them campaigned against slavery -- Jefferson kept slaves because he was in debt).


That may be what Jefferson meant, but it's not what Plato meant. Look at the "myth of the metals" in Republic: the idea is that certain people just are "bronze" people, suited for labour and trade, while others are "silver", suited for military life, and others are "gold", suited for leading. The process of education is like a sieve, seperating people into these seperate categories. So, Plato certainly meant that it was unchangeable, which does not follow from aristocracy being natural because, as said, nature is changeable. (To be fair to Plato, he thought that the changing world we see wasn't the real nature.)

I'm not denying, incidentally, that there are better and worse people. I just think it's bizarre to pin this on nature. Why not just sit comfortably with the claim that there are good, moral, intelligent people, and these people are better than the rabble?

Right. But if "the natural aristocracy" is defined as good people, it means they're good.

That's a pretty slippery use of "natural"! Again, though, while I can't speak to what Jefferson meant per se, Plato certainly meant that nature was good. Again, though, this is because nature for him was the world of Forms (the world of being), which contained the form of the good. That, incidentally, is an argument against the naturalistic fallacy being a fallacy: since the good winds up as part of nature, we have no fallacious move. The problem, though, is that the argument is deeply implausible.

Generally, unless "natural" is being used in a really idiosyncratic way, it seems to me that talk of the "natural aristocracy" runs a grave risk of deducing an ought (something is good) from an is (something is natural). Without something like Plato's argument, nature and value are seperable.

These are different orders of claim: the former is descriptive, about what exists, while the latter is normative, about what should exist or what it would be better if did exist. Reading one order of claim off from another order is fallacious thinking because it ignores the difference.

Don't really get that.


The point is about categories. Suppose we divide all propositions into claims about apples and claims about everything else. We could call these apple-claims and napple-claims, respectively. By definition, you're not going to be able to conclude anything about napples from the apple-claims; similarly, you're not going to be able to conclude anything about apples from the napple-claims. This is because napple-claims exclude all information about apples, and apple-claims exclude all information about napples. The only way to bridge the gap is with some further class of claim: such as, for example, that the entire set of apple-claims constitutes a logical contradictory to the entire set of napple-claims. (Which was the way I defined the two sets in the first place.) In other words, you need a higher-order claim in order to bridge the gap between the two orders/categories.

The same applies for the descriptive and the normative. By definition, the former excludes the latter, and vice versa. So, even if you have all the descriptive claims in the world, you can't conclude anything normative; similarly, even if you have all the normative claims in the world, you can't conclude anything descriptive. The only way to break the fallacy apart is by a move like Plato's: go to a higher-order and establish that there is a higher-level principle that lets us bridge the gap.

Leadership ability is somewhat irrelevant; it's more relevant for a squad leader or a team captain. Administrative ability is somewhat important, but most important is morality and the philosophers' spirit, at least in Jeffersons' mind. Honesty is more important than intelligence in leadership.

This was a somewhat parochial use of "leader" on my part. The idea was to include things like what you say. Basically, "leadership ability" is the property that all good leaders have. It may involve administrative prowess, intelligence, moral courage, whatever.

I appreciate your frankness! I have a handful of friends whom I would trust in office. I'm optimistic about the future, as some people are definitely waking up.

I'm not. The tendency appears to be to try to convince/encourage the powers-that-be to acknowledge certain rowdy minority interests. That looks like the wrong solution, because the powers-that-be still stay in place. They're the problem.

Limited powers is one attempt to block this situation: if governments are simply not allowed to do certain things (e.g., violate the rights in a constitution), then the situation is somewhat alleviated.

We were just lucky to have a natural aristocracy in place to set those up.


Mebbe, but I'm not sure that's a necessary condition. Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms was put together by a (fairly-flawed) Parliament and it is, in some respects, stronger than the US Constitution.

Except when each branch of government has been appointed by the majority, as was dangerously close to happening. In the US we're just lucky that the conservatives aren't actually in the majority, just damn close to it.

That's what I meant by it should be sufficiently great that it's practically impossible to dominate all branches. Clearly, the US Founders didn't get the balance quite right. Canada is in a similar situation; there's really nothing to stop an ideological hard-right conservative from dismantling the federal limits on provincial powers, which would destroy the basic system of balances.

I do love mail-in ballots. :) But the world is moving forward with electronic ballots and there's not a whole lot we can do. Did you read that Diebold thing? Atrocious. I don't see why they don't contract the things out to real computer scientists with Ph.Ds.

I'm not sure the world is moving in that direction. All Canadian elections -- federal, provincial, and municipal -- use paper ballots which are handcounted. We don't even punch anything, just mark an "X".

I did read about the Diebold thing. What surprises me is that election officials in the US are partisans. In Canada, there's specific, non-partisan offices set up to govern elections. That is, they're bureaucrats, and they're particularly insulated from the whims of Parliament (e.g., the federal bureau can't be fired wholesale by the Prime Minister).

It goes further than that - canny politicians can put up an extremely good act. They can be very careful with their statements. But I suppose it will always come out when they vote, if people cared enough to pay attention to that.

I was thinking along the lines of recall. If a politician consistently breaks his word, and the constituency (or a significant portion thereof) is genuinely upset about it, then it should be possible to remove him/her from office.

That idea confuses me. How does it stop vote-buying?

Eh? (7) was about short-term rather than long-term thinking, not about vote-buying!

I think vote-buying could be reduced by a combination of rigourous financial limitations and oversight -- i.e., any person or group can only donate a very small amount to a person or a party, and these donations must be declared publically -- and the previously-mentioned checks and balances. After all, the more negotiation a given politician or party has to do in order to get anything passed, the less influence buying one politician or party will achieve.

If we decide to go with the parliamentary system, however, we (usually) lose the ability to elect the President. I'm not sure that the parliamentary system really solves the issue, I just threw it out there. I don't know much about the parliamentary system. The only way to solve the issue of a tyrannical majority president is to weaken the executive branch. But it's really just connected to the tyranny of the majority - if we weaken the executive, there's still the same majority power in the legislative (51 members of the Senate can vote in legislature that 49 don't want - standard tyranny of the majority).

Can't the Senate be railroaded by the House, though? Isn't that the idea of a bicameral system, that both houses have to agree?

Maybe I misunderstood the "winner take all" problem, but I didn't think it had anything to do, necessarily, with parliamentary vs. presidential systems. Rather, it's more about how elections are conducted. There's no in principle reason why ballot couldn't just list parties, rather than candidates, and then the seats in the house are divided up amongst the parties in proportion to their level of popular support. (This is a version of proportional representation.) Similarly, there's no in principle reason why the President has to be someone directly elected by the populace -- which forces a "winner take all" scenario, because there can only be one President. The President could be appointed by a majority vote of the legislative branch. If there's a need for the populace to have some say, perhaps their votes could be used to create a short-list of four or five candidates that the legislature gets to choose between. Come to think of it, there doesn't actually have to be one President. There could be a presidential council of, say, three people, all of whom must agree in order for "the President" to be making a decision.

Unless you know that you wouldn't be the right person for the job? Shouldn't you instead rally around someone you feel should get the job, instead of rallying for yourself? And I don't know whether running for little Council spots really counts.

If you find someone who really should get the job, sure. But holding your nose and voting for the evil of two lessers should be avoided at all costs.

You'd be surprised at how much power municipal politicians really have. After all, they, effectively, control utilities (water and sewage, in particular) and transport. Certainly, there are higher-level governmental bodies that also have some degree of control over these things, but it's usually up to the municipalities to manage the money. So, you could make a real and lasting change to things that affect people's day-to-day lives by being on a municipal body.

School boards are a great example of this. Changing the way the education is delivered in one's district or riding (or city) would affect the future voting public.

I really do find a disdain for participating in politics at my little college, so yes, that could be it. I haven't been of voting age for too long but I've yet to hear of an academic running for high office in either of the states I've voted in.

Sometimes you do have to dig a little to find out their academic qualifications, though. Keep that in mind. (Hence, the force of the Clinton example.)

And if you have no chance of winning, your point is moot, and you'd be better of not running. Some people will never be convinced; not unless you turn into a conservative. Which is why the marketplace is a good way to accomplish change.

Well, this is pretty defeatist, isn't it? And doesn't it just prop up the powers-that-be to say that one has "no chance" of winning? Still, that's why I mentioned muncipal office. Those offices can be won, even by outsiders; and they can also be good jumping-off points for higher office.

The marketplace isn't great because it's partially shaped by the policies of the various governments. If you don't affect what the governments are doing, your market-based influence will be limited.

Seems like a bit of a stretch to say that's a post about philosophers engaging in the public sphere. :p Whoo. Finally trying to impart some philosophical knowledge to the public.

Why's it a stretch? Seems to me that's a role that academics need to be playing, more and more. For one, it's hard for the public to understand what most academics actually do. For two, academics have, at least in theory, greater knowledge and critical ability than the average joe, so they can make a unique contribution to the public discourse.

undergroundman said...

I just think it's bizarre to pin this on nature. Why not just sit comfortably with the claim that there are good, moral, intelligent people, and these people are better than the rabble?

I think you're defining "natural" in a way that they didn't mean to -- you take this "naturalistic fallacy" so popularized in academic circles too far in this case. Jefferson uses natural as opposed to the psuedo-aristocracy. Plato uses natural (does he really use the word) to show that certain people are "naturally", i.e. genetically inclined to be better leaders. It's changeable only insofar as a person is changeable - which I would argue is not that much. Plato is all in favor of finding those people who are willing and able to change and bringing them right up to the top.

That's a pretty slippery use of "natural"!

I'd say it's a pretty fair - charitable - use of natural. These people didn't use the word as academic philosophers, obsessed with the idea of "naturalism" and its resulting fallacy. They simply used it to describe the "real, uninhereted aristocracy (best people)."

Without something like Plato's argument, nature and value are seperable.

I still don't see how Plato argued that. Are you saying that he thought people were gold, and thus their children would be gold as well? In that case I would certainly disagree - the point of talking about the "natural" aristocracy is to juxtapose it to the conventional inherited aristocracy.

The same applies for the descriptive and the normative. By definition, the former excludes the latter, and vice versa.

Hence my claim that values are descriptive and only "personal" truth. However, in this case we might say that they are connected. What is "good" is a normative claim - but encompassed in that claim is descriptive claims because of what we consider good: honesty and intelligence. I'd venture to say that all normative claims are based on descriptive claims.

I'm not. The tendency appears to be to try to convince/encourage the powers-that-be to acknowledge certain rowdy minority interests. That looks like the wrong solution, because the powers-that-be still stay in place. They're the problem.

I see a tendency towards greater transparency by the status quo. I'm placing my hope in the internet.



Mebbe, but I'm not sure that's a necessary condition. Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms was put together by a (fairly-flawed) Parliament and it is, in some respects, stronger than the US Constitution.


They had the US Constitution as a benchmark. :) You would argue that a strong, informed middle-class is the necessary condition, I'd venture to guess? But an intelligent, moral group at the top is sufficient, at the least (I would insist it is necessary).

Clearly, the US Founders didn't get the balance quite right. Canada is in a similar situation; there's really nothing to stop an ideological hard-right conservative from dismantling the federal limits on provincial powers, which would destroy the basic system of balances.

If the conservatives had a real majority our system of checks and balances wouldn't mean jack. As it is the checks and balances mainly serve the executive branch, which is insanely strong in the US. It allows the president to veto any bill, appoint Supreme Court judges, appoint heads of agencies, ect.


I was thinking along the lines of recall. If a politician consistently breaks his word, and the constituency (or a significant portion thereof) is genuinely upset about it, then it should be possible to remove him/her from office.


Ah, yeah. Right now the people on Capitol Hill can impeach him, but the people in the country can't force them to do it. The people are really fairly weak - good thing? Maybe not.

Eh? (7) was about short-term rather than long-term thinking, not about vote-buying!

We're talking about different kinds of vote-buying, I think. I'm talking about officials catering to special interests (farm subsidies, pork-barrel spending) for short-term interests and you're talking about lobbyists bribing legislators. It occurs to me now that movements are being made to prevent both of them with financial controls and ethics reform bills. (In some ways it's a good thing we've devolved this far -- now we can start setting up laws to curtail these people when they do control Congress, as they inevitably will at some times.)

Rather, it's more about how elections are conducted. There's no in principle reason why ballot couldn't just list parties, rather than candidates, and then the seats in the house are divided up amongst the parties in proportion to their level of popular support. (This is a version of proportional representation.)

Yeah. That's what I called the parliamentary system for lack of a better word. European democracy, we might call it.

The President could be appointed by a majority vote of the legislative branch.

Still the problem.

If there's a need for the populace to have some say, perhaps their votes could be used to create a short-list of four or five candidates that the legislature gets to choose between. Come to think of it, there doesn't actually have to be one President. There could be a presidential council of, say, three people, all of whom must agree in order for "the President" to be making a decision.

The former solution helps, and the latter is quite interesting. The complaint will be, of course, that such a system would extremely weaken the executive branch, but I think it would be a good thing.


I'm not sure the world is moving in that direction. All Canadian elections -- federal, provincial, and municipal -- use paper ballots which are handcounted. We don't even punch anything, just mark an "X".


Canada is one of the most progressive countries, consistently registering in the top five of the world on the Human Happiness Index. Poorer countries are often eager to cut costs with digital voting. (My guess - I know that election machines were kinda big in South America for a bit.)

Sometimes you do have to dig a little to find out their academic qualifications, though. Keep that in mind. (Hence, the force of the Clinton example.)

Oh, I know that a fair amount of Congress members have gone to Harvard, Yale, and Princeton ect, as well as law school, but it hasn't changed things much. A certificate does not an intellectual make. Most of them are lawyers - I'd rather have economists or philosophers.

The marketplace isn't great because it's partially shaped by the policies of the various governments. If you don't affect what the governments are doing, your market-based influence will be limited.

Those two statements aren't well-connected. There is a flaw with the market-based influence, certainly - but there's a similar flaw with your approach. Neither of them will solve problems alone! There is no silver bullet! Best affecting positive change in society requires economic, social, and political activism.

Why's it a stretch?

Oh, I just meant it's small and trivial example. Articles alluding to philosophy have been cropping up for eons. Nothing's changed. Philosophers remain in an Ivory Tower -- and perhaps those who gravitate towards the Ivory Tower don't have much of a place in the real world, anyway.

ADHR said...

Plato's point, putting Jefferson aside, is that people are by nature suited for particular occupations. No amount of education or environmental influence is going to change what they're suited for. So, he says, we should divide people up from early childhood: "gold" ones get the education appropriate for leaders, "silver" ones get military training, and "bronze" ones get taught whatever is needed to succeed in the merchant class. I'm not sure he'd say this is inherited, but he seems pretty clear that it's set from birth. So, that's what he means by a "natural" aristocracy.

Again, though, the naturalistic fallacy looms. It's really about having to be careful in drawing evaluative or deontic conclusions from simple observations of fact. Plato has a system built in from the beginning that lets him draw these kinds of conclusions. For him, the "natural world" is already loaded with moral value. So, when he says that gold people are better than others, by nature, this is not a fallacious move (although it may be a false conclusion) because built into his theory of the nature of persons is inherent, real moral value.

Without something like this structure, though, you do have a problem. You can't jump from a series of naturalistic observations -- so-and-so has this genetic sequence, and is thus 50% more likely to succeed in these kinds of tasks, etc. -- to a claim about whether it is good or right that the person be this way. To say one person is better than another -- what I take to be the sense of "aristocrat" in use here -- is unquestionably an evaluative claim. If the basis, though, is just a bunch of facts about genetic sequences and their descriptive consequences, then there's no justification for the claim. What makes someone with a particular genetic sequence an aristocrat? That's the question that needs to be answered.

As said, Plato has an answer. So does Aristotle. So does Leibniz. So does Peter Railton. Whether or not the answers are any good is one thing; but an answer does need to be given.

If you want to say that the good is what is considered good, then you've got just that kind of argument. However, as given, that argument is ambiguous. Are you saying that "good" is constituted by what is considered good? That then looks like a kind of reductive value realism. On the other hand, if you're saying that what is good depends on what is considered good, then you're a relativist.

I agree that all normative claims are based on descriptive claims. But, as I have argued elsewhere, I have a story to give about how the connection comes about. It's not right, as Hume so eloquently put it, to simply derive an "ought" from an "is": "In every system of morality, which I have hitherto met with, I have always remark'd, that the author proceeds for some time in the ordinary ways of reasoning, and establishes the being of a God, or makes observations concerning human affairs; when all of a sudden I am surpriz'd to find, that instead of the usual copulations of propositions, is, and is not, I meet with no proposition that is not connected with an ought, or an ought not. This change is imperceptible; but is however, of the last consequence. For as this ought, or ought not, expresses some new relation or affirmation, 'tis necessary that it shou'd be observ'd and explain'd; and at the same time that a reason should be given; for what seems altogether inconceivable, how this new relation can be a deduction from others, which are entirely different from it."

They had the US Constitution as a benchmark. :) You would argue that a strong, informed middle-class is the necessary condition, I'd venture to guess? But an intelligent, moral group at the top is sufficient, at the least (I would insist it is necessary).

This would imply that the Trudeau government was an intelligent, moral group. I'm not at all convinced that's true! A good group at the top can, of course, be sufficient to produce something good. But, I'd say that a good middle group (doesn't have to be "middle-class" as ordinarily conceived) can also do it. Neither one seems necessary on its own.

Canada is one of the most progressive countries, consistently registering in the top five of the world on the Human Happiness Index. Poorer countries are often eager to cut costs with digital voting. (My guess - I know that election machines were kinda big in South America for a bit.)

I'm not sure about that, but I'm also not sure how to go about finding out. It's an empirical question, so there should be some data that could be compiled to figure it out. I know Mexico still uses paper ballots.

Oh, I know that a fair amount of Congress members have gone to Harvard, Yale, and Princeton ect, as well as law school, but it hasn't changed things much. A certificate does not an intellectual make. Most of them are lawyers - I'd rather have economists or philosophers.

I'd rather have a spread, honestly. If you look at ballots for parliamentary elections in the late 19th-century, you have candidates ranging from farmers to lawyers to accountants to merchants to blacksmiths. People from all walks of life with all kinds of ideas about what could make the country better. Since no one has exclusive access to the details of what policies or procedures would be valuable, the more different areas of society people come from to the legislature, the better.

Problematically, of course, there has to be some way to set entrance requirements so complete idiots don't get in. There may be a higher proportion of these in some professions, rather than others, but no profession should be completely excluded a priori.

Those two statements aren't well-connected. There is a flaw with the market-based influence, certainly - but there's a similar flaw with your approach. Neither of them will solve problems alone! There is no silver bullet! Best affecting positive change in society requires economic, social, and political activism.

Agreed. Although, I'd change the hierarchy around: political, social, and economic activism. They all matter, but the political matters a little more.

Oh, I just meant it's small and trivial example. Articles alluding to philosophy have been cropping up for eons. Nothing's changed. Philosophers remain in an Ivory Tower -- and perhaps those who gravitate towards the Ivory Tower don't have much of a place in the real world, anyway.

I'm not convinced the "real world" is such a wonderful place, actually. At least in the Tower, there's at least some cases of people with genuine talent being allowed to use their talents to their fullest potential. That is, merit matters, at least sometimes. In the "real world", it seems that it's influence that matters -- who you know, not what you know. If anything, the real world should try to become more like the Tower -- a generally more hospitable environment for good and moral people.