Archive for November 12th, 2012

Morality and economics   no comments

Posted at 7:01 pm in Uncategorized

Bernard Gert makes the claim that an analysis of morality as a general term can be made, rather than describing the morality of specific societies. ‘From Plato on, moral philosophers have attempted to provide an account of morality. The widespread disbelief in morality is partly due to the fact that no moral philosopher has as yet provided an account of it…The main problem is that morality has not been adequately distinguished from other guides of conduct.’ He suggests that most people make the mistake of thinking that morality is the code of conduct of a specific organisation or society, ‘…that Nazi morality is the code of conduct adopted by true Nazis. Christian morality is the code of conduct adopted by all true Christians.’. However according to Gert this is not what morality is, other factors than morals come in to play when establishing codes of conduct for specific organisations or societies such as political/economic factors, according to Gert morality has a definite content, ‘Morality is a public system applying to all rational persons governing behaviour which affects others and which has the minimilisation of evil as its end, and includes what are commonly known as the moral rules at its core’. He hypothesises that core moral rules exist such as “Don’t lie,””Don’t steal” and “Don’t kill”. Gert’s viewpoint opposes that of the moral relativism approach. However this view aligns well with Kant’s theory of morality as being equated to rationality.

The centrality of the concept of humans as ‘rational agents’ to Gert’s and Kant’s theories fit in well with economic theories that view people in the same way (as rational agents). The assumption of rationality is key in building economic theories ( and demand curves), as the underlying assumption in economics is that ‘people want more of a good thing’- they want to maximise gain. Once the assumption is made that people are motivated to obtain more of a thing then it is possible to start measuring the expected value of certain decisions. Weighing up decisions where multiple actions are possible by choosing the one that maximises the expected gain. In the same way moral decisions could be made by measuring which one brings the most amount of good to humanity. The key point being that in an economic decision the goal is to maximise expected gain to one’s self, whereas when making a moral decision the goal is to maximise gain to humanity, and it could be argued to nature as well.

Written by William Lawrence on November 12th, 2012

EW V: Philosophy and Law   no comments

Posted at 5:20 pm in Uncategorized

So, I’ve been having go at getting started with the coursework, and having a read of a few law textbooks and one philosophy book in particular, Luciano Floridi Philosophy and Computing 1999.

Harris, P. (2007) An Introduction to Law, 7th edition, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge =

This is an extremely decent intro to the subject, and realy the first good book of its kind that I’ve come across. He starts by just talking about law generally, and doesn’t make lots of assumptions about what country or what part of history or what kind of area we’re talking about, which is pretty much what all the other books seem to do. Anyways, he talks about law as being at an absolute basic level a set of rules. That might seem pretty standard, but actually it is highly controversial it seems to me in the literature as to what law actually on a very fundamental level. It seems that some people don’t really like to define law as being mostly about rules, because that sounds rather prescriptive rather than descriptive. Waldman (1990) talks about the differences in the nature of the relationship between law and legislation in different countries, while Bix discusses the nature of ‘standards’ in law, especially in regards to constitutions. In some countries, it is the constitution that sets the rules of how law works, but even this isn’t always necessarily true. For example, in the USA the supreme court technically does have the power to amend the constitution – that’s why you the 27 amendments after the intitial 14 articles. There are some authors (Godwin 2003) who think that law is mostly not about rules but rights. This view is that the absolute basic ‘unit’ out of which all of law is created is the idea of the rights of the individual. This line of thinking is very much inspired by the philosopher Tom Paine. Paine says in his book The Rights of Man, “It is a perversion of terms to say that a charter gives rights. It operates by a contrary effect — that of taking rights away. Rights are inherently in all the inhabitants; but charters, by annulling those rights, in the majority, leave the right, by exclusion, in the hands of a few… They… consequently are instruments of injustice … The fact, therefore, must be that the individuals, themselves, each, in his own personal and sovereign right, entered into a compact with each other to produce a government: and this is the only mode in which governments have a right to arise, and the only principle on which they have a right to exist.” This is a really famous quote. The argument is that the absolute basic starting position of law is that all individual human beings are born with inherent rights, simply because they are human beings. They don’t have to do anything to gain these rights – they don’t have to become a citizen, for example, or whatever. Also, the government does not have any inherent rights beyond the rights given to it by the individuals who construct it. For Paine, this should be all individuals, and not just a select few. I personally very strongly agree with Paine here. However, I can see that all of this might be rather problematic when it comes to the web. If there are charters, laws, then these charters presumably will take certain rights away from individuals. However would it be worth it to have this if it protected us in some way – from hackers, say, or from criminals or id fraud or whatever.

Rights of Man was partly a response to E Burke, who was a conservative. Burke was the kind of guy who would probably say that rules and precedent and tradition are primary in law, with a view to the common good, and the benefit of the majority, rather than the ad hoc benefit of the individual, which is arbitrary and subjective. Although I am myself a liberal, I can see the point with this. If we say that rights is the primary ‘unit’ in law, well then how do we decide who’s rights trump who’s? If we have a civil or criminal law situation, who’s rights come first? It does seem rather arbitrary. Not much of a precedent or anything vaguely ‘objective’ to go on. Though that criticism very much applies for all of law anyway.

Anyways, the other book is philosophy and computing by Floridi. In general it’s OK, it’s a bit old and out of date, but this isn’t such a big deal. He goes into the history and sociology of the web quite a lot and I don’t see that much of this is really anything original or philosophical. However he does go off on a few tangents doing thought experiments about ‘what if we had this situation’, or ‘what if the internet was this way, then what would happen?’ I think this is very intersting, and these thought experiments that lawyers tend not to do much. Many of Floridi’s thought experiments could important ethical, moral or legal implications. For example, we could make up some thought experiment about, ‘what if we had a situation where the internet was really important for some reason for giving people power, but the government had the ability to take the internet from certain people and not others?’ In other words, what if the government was able to choose who had access to the internet when? I’m not actually certain, but my understanding is that this thought experiment is in fact though reality. My understanding is that the government does, sort of, have this power already?

Written by Eamonn Walls on November 12th, 2012