Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Political Discourses

There are many political discourses. One is the expanding equality discourse: it is good if it increases equality in some sense. Another is the economic discourse: it is good if it improves economic welfare. Both of these, so described, are quite vague. They may well have originated in a less hasty form of discourse wherein the particular modes of equality, reasons for their being good, and interactions with other kinds of equality were fleshed out and well understood. Nowadays, however, at least with soundbites, the appeal to "increasing equality" or "being good for the economy" are flat and vague.

What is it for two people to be equal? Certainly, it would not be good if equality applied across all dimensions of personhood (there is another discourse, which ties into this one, of increasing diversity). What is it for something to be good for the economy? Such a complicated thing as an economy has many variables whose increase or decrease might be counted good, and which might not be mutually improvable.

There are at least two ways of thinking about equality. One is equality of state, the other is equality of potential. Equality of state means that people have equal socioeconomic positions. Equal with respect to sum function of the individuals' presently met needs, their current states. Equality of potential means that people have equal opportunities to reach various states.

As equality of state increases, the fungibility of persons increases with it. If we are all alike, we are all, in principle, interchangeable. If we are all interchangeable, then our work, in principle, has no reference to our person. What I make is essentially simply made, not relevantly made by me.

Increasing equality of potential is likewise problematic. For one thing, it is almost certainly biologically impossible. Another issue is determining how it could be made practicable--how does one distribute the resources which make certain kinds of actualization possible? Some potentials are in principle limited to certain people.

Both kinds of equality may be good to aim for with respect to particular goods. It depends on the good, however, and some goods may belong outside the realm of political dealings.

Economic welfare is equally complicated, but we encounter it more often: wages, employment, GDP, the value of stocks, etc., are all interrelated in complicated ways. What are we trying to increase? Average wage? The lowest wage of an employed person? Number of employed people? Number of people making more than $n? Or are we trying to reduce the gap in income between the richest and the poorest? Or... what is it to be doing well financially?

To get at what should actually motivate political decisions requires asking what politics and government are about.

One may argue that the job of government is to provide justice for its citizens. What is justice, though? And isn't part of the problem that we disagree about what is just, particularly for the government? There are things it might be just for the parents of a 3-year-old to do which the government would be unjust to do.

Again, the job of the government may be to protect its citizens (from aggressors, terrorists, etc.). This would make governance essentially about creating an effective war machine. Any act by government would then be for the sake of having an effective military and intelligence network. Taxes would be to fund it, but it is hard to see what role civic institutions might have.

Some kind of wellbeing of the people is to be aimed at be government, but this wellbeing is vague and complicated. My wellbeing may be best served by the government not doing something but some other institution doing it instead, so the doing of x being good does not entail that it is the government that should do it. How do we get at these sorts of complications? What is the scope of governmental authority?

To examine scope of authority of governments, given my context, demands distinguishing national and state and city levels of governance. Perhaps in another post. For now: there probably is no one size fits all account of how wide and deep the scope of governance is. It is probably a function of something like the scale of the domain it is over (states can probably be pickier than nations, and smaller states and nations can probably be pickier than larger ones).

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

If God Did Not Exist, Would...?

A counterfactual is a truth claim about how the world would be if some state of affairs held.

If we use possible-worlds language, the counterfactual form 'if p were, then q' might be presented as: in every possible world where p, q. However, this bears poking. In ordinary conversation, counterfactuals are not so broad as to apply to all possible worlds. Rather, 'if p were, then q' may be interpreted as: in the nearest possible worlds where p, q. One might interpret counterfactuals as covering a spectrum, some being of the broadest form, as the first analysis presented it, others in the narrowest, as the second, and others as: in all possible worlds relatively close to this one, if p, then q.

Now, occasionally we use counterfactual questions like "If God did not exist, could there be truths of ethics?" This is a yes/no question, where the correct answer depends on the truth value of the counterfactual. If God is a necessary being, however, then there are no possible worlds where the antecedent is true, and so, in all possible worlds, whether or not ethics requires God's existence, the counterfactual holds good.

Nevertheless, such counterfactuals seem useful to inquiring as to how reality depends on God. In the realm of inquiry, however, we are not dealing with metaphysical realities, but with epistemological realities. We can then present the counterfactual in terms of what we would need to believe if the antecedent were true. Thus, 'if p were, then q' in the epistemological sense, means that where one believes p, one must also accept q. Here the problem arises that it is difficult to say whether such counterfactuals are true or not. If I accepted that God did not exist, I suspect I would still accept that there are ethical truths, even if I do not now accept that the ethical truths which do exist could exist if God did not. The change in views would require multiple changes in my views.

Instead, let us suppose that the question of 'if not-p were, then q' may be taken, in certain contexts, as a kind of bracketing, that is, it is a question of what supports remain to q when p is taken away. This requires, in the case where God's existence is the value for p, that we presume that something is left over. Even granting that all of reality depends on God for its existence, we may distinguish between how it is supported immediately by God's power and mediately, that is, by other things in reality. Thus, for instance, I am inclined to think that ethical realities are given by realities of how human beings work in interaction with the world, and so ethics has support other than immediate divine decree.

This is how we use the counterfactual as regards God's existence, I think. It is used to bracket God's existence, by itself, and leaves behind those aspects of reality which do not immediately require God's existence.

Problems rise again, here, however. Does the world require God's existence? I suppose so, yet I would assume we want to leave it behind when we bracket God. Some items may have their being in God (e.g., numbers and other universals are sometimes viewed this way).

What is involved in bracketing God in this way, then? We set aside truths whose validity we could not know without also knowing that God exists. Thus, we know the external world through our senses, other minds through our knowledge of the external world, numbers through mathematics, etc., but we leave off revealed truths and truths which we cannot argue for without arguing for the existence of God either equivalently or on the way.