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Book

Cover Introducing Political Philosophy

Andrew Walton, William Abel, Elizabeth Kahn, and Tom Parr

Should the state permit euthanasia? Should it prohibit recreational drug use? Should it ban hate speech? Should it grant members of minority groups exemptions from otherwise universal laws? When, if ever, should it intervene in the affairs of other states to prevent human rights abuses? All of these questions have been prominent in political debate over the last fifty years, and there remains plenty of dispute about them at the start of the 2020s. Political arguments about public policy are an apt subject of philosophical analysis—or, in other words, they present a prime opportunity to do some political philosophy. This book provides an introduction to political philosophy by theorizing about public policy. Each of the chapters draws on the tools of political philosophy to explore a distinct area of public policy. Each case identifies some of the moral threads that run through the public policy debate; explains the philosophical positions taken by the various sides; introduces the academic literature that supports these positions; and examines the strengths and weaknesses of the competing views.

Chapter

Cover Introducing Political Philosophy

1. Doing Political Philosophy  

William Abel, Elizabeth Kahn, Tom Parr, and Andrew Walton

This chapter provides an overview of how to do political philosophy. It identifies some of the main aims of the discipline, showing that one can make progress with the subject by studying arguments about the justifiability of various public policies. Political philosophers are mostly concerned with exploring the moral claims of an argument, and the relationship between an argument’s claims and its conclusion. It is here that the discipline connects to other parts of philosophy, particularly moral philosophy and logic. This chapter discusses two tools in the practice of political philosophy. One of these involves arranging arguments in clear and organized terms, and the other involves the use of examples and thought experiments in the analysis of moral claims. The chapter then discusses how to employ these tools in the service of a political argument.

Chapter

Cover Introducing Political Philosophy

13. Environmental Taxes and Intergenerational Justice  

William Abel, Elizabeth Kahn, Tom Parr, and Andrew Walton

This chapter evaluates environmental taxes as part of a set of policies to address the threats that climate change poses. These taxes increase the price of activities that are environmentally harmful. In doing so, they discourage such behaviour and raise revenue that the state can use to redress its effects. The chapter embeds these considerations in an account of intergenerational justice, arguing that the current generation has a duty to provide future generations with prospects at least equal to its own. It also examines the objection that the proposed approach allows historical emitters off of the moral hook, showing that the state can adjust environmental taxes to take account of this. Finally, the chapter explores how to amend these taxes so that they are not regressive and that they do not present undue barriers to particularly valuable activities.

Chapter

Cover Introducing Political Philosophy

4. Recreational Drugs and Paternalism  

William Abel, Elizabeth Kahn, Tom Parr, and Andrew Walton

This chapter explores whether it is justifiable for a state to discourage an individual from using recreational drugs. It focuses on paternalist arguments—that is, arguments that appeal to the idea that a state may intervene in an individual’s life for their own good. The chapter argues against the justifiability of these policies, except in some extreme cases. It offers three arguments for the anti-paternalist claim that a state may not intervene in an individual’s life for their own good. These are that there is value in an individual acting autonomously; that it is disrespectful to intervene in an individual’s life for their own good; and that an individual is a better judge of their interests than the state. The chapter also examines whether it is justifiable for a state to intervene in an individual’s life for their own good when that individual is misinformed about the options. In the case of recreational drugs, the appropriate response to misinformation is to educate an individual about the effects of drugs, rather than to discourage their use. Finally, the chapter outlines some implications of this argument for the design of drug policy.

Chapter

Cover Introducing Political Philosophy

9. Minority Exemptions and Multiculturalism  

William Abel, Elizabeth Kahn, Tom Parr, and Andrew Walton

This chapter argues that there is a narrow range of cases in which the state should grant members of minority groups exemptions from laws and policies that apply to others. Social and economic institutions tend to favour the preferences of those who share the majority culture, with the result that a member of a minority group often faces additional burdens in complying simultaneously with the law and the demands of their culture or religion. The chapter draws on this to propose an initial case for minority exemptions. The justification for these exemptions sees them as part of a political programme of multiculturalism, which aims to treat members of minority groups fairly when designing and applying laws and policies. The chapter then looks at the limits of this argument to shed light on the range of cases in which the state should grant such exemptions.

Chapter

Cover Political Ideologies

1. Introduction to ideology  

Contesting the nature of the ‘good society’

Paul Wetherly

This chapter explains what ideology is, why ideology is seen as a ‘contested concept’, and what roles ideology plays in politics and society. In particular, it analyses the basic conception of ideology as a system of ideas involving a vision of the good society, a critique of existing society, and a notion of political action. It examines the relationship between ideology, politics, and policy; negative perceptions of ideology prevalent in political discourse; the idea that we are all ideologists; the components or building blocks of a basic conception of ideology; and the Marxist understanding of ‘ideology’ as false or misleading ideas. The chapter also considers whether there is an independent vantage point from which to assess the claims of rival ideologies. It concludes by reflecting on the problem of relativism and the link between ideology and globalization.

Chapter

Cover Introducing Political Philosophy

14. Immigration and the Political Community  

William Abel, Elizabeth Kahn, Tom Parr, and Andrew Walton

This chapter argues against policies that restrict immigration. It contends that states should have open borders that allow an individual to move between political communities. The chapter begins by defending a presumption in favour of open borders that appeals to the value of freedom of movement. It then responds to those who deny that freedom of movement is sufficiently important to generate such a presumption, as well as to those who insist that states enjoy a prerogative over whether or not to grant an individual the opportunity to migrate. The chapter considers a range of objections that emphasize how open borders can jeopardize the security, economy, and culture of receiving states, showing that a proper concern for these values is consistent with borders that are largely (even if not fully) open.

Chapter

Cover Introducing Political Philosophy

2. Euthanasia and Freedom  

William Abel, Elizabeth Kahn, Tom Parr, and Andrew Walton

This chapter examines whether the state should permit an individual to end their own life. Physician-assisted suicide is only one way in which a doctor can hasten an individual’s death. In fact there are three ways in which a doctor may act. First, they can be passive by allowing an individual to die. Second, they can assist an individual by enabling them to bring about their own death. Third, they can be active in hastening an individual’s death by administering life-ending medication. The chapter argues that a doctor should be permitted to assist an individual to end their own life, as well as to intervene to hasten their death. It supports this view by appealing to the value of freedom, specifically the freedom to choose how to live and die. The chapter then considers the worry that it is wrong for the state to allow a doctor to assist an individual to end their life, since this is an affront to the sanctity of life. It outlines some implications of this argument for the design of public policy.

Chapter

Cover Introducing Political Philosophy

5. Affirmative Action and Discrimination  

William Abel, Elizabeth Kahn, Tom Parr, and Andrew Walton

This chapter argues that affirmative action is sometimes justifiable. ‘Affirmative action’ refers to policies beyond anti-discrimination law that directly regulate selection procedures to enhance the representation of members of various socially salient groups, such as those based on gender, race, and ethnicity. The chapter outlines an argument in support of affirmative action by distinguishing three prominent forms of wrongful discrimination and by showing that affirmative action is the appropriate response to the past and present wrongful discrimination suffered by members of socially salient groups. It also adds a second argument for affirmative action that appeals to the importance of enhancing diversity and social integration. The chapter then tackles several objections and reflects on the implications of these arguments for the design of affirmative action policies.