Handout #9 (Introduction to Political Philosophy, 2007-08) Handouts can be downloaded at http://www.ucl.ac.uk/~uctymio/teaching.htm The Principle of Fairness Simplified Version of PF: If one enjoys a benefit available to all, and this benefit exists only because of the sacrifice of others, then one is morally obligated to share in the sacrifice necessary to provide this benefit to all. Necessity Luxury Passive YES (flood barrier) NO (clean streets) Active YES (safe water) YES (coffee and cigarettes) The PF may establish: (a) a legally enforceable moral obligation to do this or that, and/or (b) a moral obligation to obey laws in general because they are laws. Argument that PF establishes (b): P1. We all enjoy the benefit of living in a law-abiding society only because most people consider the fact that something is against the law to provide them with a moral obligation not to do that thing and restrain their behaviour accordingly. P2. This benefit is a necessity (albeit one that is passively received). P3. PF (suitably revised). Therefore, we should each consider the fact that something is against the law to provide one with a moral obligation not to do that thing and restrain our behaviour accordingly. Objections to the argument: (1) Denial of P1. (2) Denial of P2. (3) Even if sound, the argument doesn’t provide a satisfying account of why we have a moral obligation to obey the law. It doesn’t provide an obligation to obey the law in a society of law-breakers. But we would have such an obligation even in such a society. * * * Argument from Democracy We have a moral obligation to obey the laws of our country because they have been democratically imposed. Commitment to democracy: The affirmation of a decision procedure according to which the decision of the majority prevails and binds everybody, including those who were outvoted. Challenge to the assumption that all the laws of Britain (or any other so-called modern democracy) have been democratically imposed: Thomas Jefferson argued that since ‘the earth belongs ... to the living’ and not the dead, laws passed by those who are now dead should have no authority over the living. He concluded that every statute should lapse nineteen years after its enactment unless it is re-enacted for another nineteen years by a majority vote of those living at the time of its re-enactment. He wrote: ‘We seem not to have perceived that, by the law of nature, one generation is to another as one independent nation to another’ Objections to Jefferson’s argument: (1) Jefferson’s proposal is impractical (2) A collectivist response (3) The living tacitly consent to the laws of the dead simply by failing to repeal them. Modified theory of tacit consent: If (a) the living believe that the laws of the dead legitimately bind them and (b) the living fail to repeal these laws, then it follows that (c) the living have tacitly consented to and are thereby morally bound by these laws of the dead.
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