Posts tagged ‘kant’

September 7, 2014

Theories of Democracy Part 3: Participatory Democracy

[Continuing Series on Frank Cunningham’s Theories of Democracy: A Critical Introduction (2002)]


This chapter deals with the intellectual descendants of Jean-Jacques Rousseau. And this is the closest we have come to something similar to a pollyty, for Rousseau’s ideas are also best suited to small societies practicing direct forms of democracy by voting directly upon their laws. One of the main thrusts of this vision is to enable a group of people to gradually establish a unique and cohesive volonté générale instead of the merely aggregated volonté de tous that most forms of representative government achieve. This is no different in a pollyty where all members vote on any rule changes, and it is these rules then that constitute this stronger general will, since they are not mediated by representative’s individual wills or by the rent seeking or lobbying that befall indirect forms of legislation. Moreover, a pollyty, especially one that is instantiated through software applications, needs little administration or executive enforcement, since the (small) group itself (or, better, the software) ensures the rules are always followed. 

Secondly, pollyties also match Rousseau’s vision in that they are autonomous, even in the strict sense of Rousseau’s admirer Kant. Pollyties deliberate and decide upon their own rules and live by them. They are also autonomous in the broader sense of not being submitted to outside forces; their primary goal is in fact to protect their members from the vagaries of capitalistic existence. Though inasmuch as they are built upon the existing rule of law, they do remain within the strictures of modern nation states and are thus not entirely autonomous or sovereign (on which more below).

However, differences remain. Rousseau’s entities are sovereign and land-bound. Their model is a Swiss canton. Pollyties are much more like corporations: they can span national borders and would rarely concentrate all their members into one contiguous piece of land, nor are they concerned with providing the infrastructure or policing that lands require. In that sense, pollyties let nation states retain the honors and duties of sovereignty. This in fact alleviates some of the objections made against participatory democracy, namely, that it becomes unmanageable when applied to modern nation states with large populations and land masses. Pollyties abstract themselves from geographic conditions, and though they are intended for small memberships, they can easily federate upwards and thereby manageably encompass millions.

April 7, 2012

A learning process

One afternoon Prof. Kant was at his regular walk through the city of Königsberg, when he heard children playing behind a hedge: “I’ll tell if you do that.” As a matter of course, he continued on, but the next day the same children were apparently at it again: “If you don’t stop moving them, I’ll quit playing with you!” And so it went on each day, and each day the enlightened sage nodded reasonably at the evolving banter.
“That’s wrong. Try to play like i do.”
“That’s against the rules!”
“You agreed to play fair!”
By the sixth day, the great philosopher had no doubt what the critical young voice would say: “You have to follow rules.” And that, he told himself, should be the end of it.

So on the seventh day, certain he would pass by a harmonious and silent game, Kant was shocked (!) to hear a second voice pipe in: “Now let’s change the rules as we play, that’ll be even more fun…” Quite out of sorts, the old man broke off his stroll to rest against the shrubs, and peering over them, saw a little boy running around with his stuffed animal.

April 6, 2012

The timber of humanity is crooked only to those who think it should have been straight.

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September 2, 2011

A question for Kant.

In every interaction with each of my two neighbors i strive to always treat them as an end and never only as a means. Yet the only reason i interact with them is because i hope the couple won’t move out and be replaced by a noisy family. Am i doing what is right? — No, because there are obviously better, more fulfilling ways for me to interact with my neighbors both as individuals and as a couple. I am not yet doing what is in my interest, too.

January 21, 2008

Kant, Hume and the evolution of morality

There is a long post on the Illusive Mind blog defending an evolutionary morality against Kant. I do not particularly want to defend Kant, but i do want to raise a very sizable caveat: whatever “morality” evolution has given us isn’t by any means necessarily the “right” one!

Here is the synopsis of the article/post:

In this essay I will outline what I regard as the most successful attempt to explain the evolution of altruism. I will then illustrate some of the effects that an evolutionary account of moral behaviour has on cognitivist and noncognitivist theories of ethics. I will argue that evolutionary theory does not undermine Hume’s noncognitivism but supports it and casts doubt on Kantianism.

Where things go horribly wrong is when morality is reduced to “a question of desire” because we then have nothing to ‘get behind desires’ and assess them morally (unless you posit some kind of coherence theory, but that is no the case in this article):

The question of retaining moral judgements then is reduced to a question of desire. Do we want to utilise judgements whose agenda is the ongoing survival of the species (at the level of the gene) through a system of rewarding co-operation and punishing cheating?

In effect the morality we have inherited through evolution is taken to be ‘valid’ – except when we don’t like it. The exception is, in my opinion, befuddled; the first part of the above sentence is, however, very dangerous, committing something akin to an is/ought or natural fallacy.

The only alternative on offer is a purely rational ethics à la Kant, but even this is undercut by more primary evolutionary forces:

The only way to be objectively moral and avoid ‘evolutionary baggage’ from tainting our moral judgements seems to be to devote oneself completely to reason in a Kantian fashion. However, it is not a forgone conclusion that reason is above evolutionary pressures. In The Evolution of Reason, William Cooper argues, “the laws of logic emerge naturally as corollaries of the evolutionary laws” (2003, p.5).

In the end, one gets the impression that we are enslaved to the morality evolution thought up for us and are incapable of stepping out of it to evaluate our own moral intuitions.

Admittedly, evaluating our moral intuitions is no easy task. But what is often forgotten is that we are not alone working at that task. It might be impossibly solipsistic for me to want to morally evaluate my own moral intuitions (where would i stand in order to do so?); but it certainly is not very difficult for someone else, actually many other people, to do so.

The solution will likely be neither Humean nor Kantian. We must both use some moral intuitions to assess other ones but also reason through our moral intuitions and find instances where the intuitions clearly go wrong.