Sunday, 17 December 2006

In the beginning there was ethics

Yes, I know - the name of this blog is a little geeky - but I couldn't think of anything else at the time that was available on Blogger. Anyway, this is my first post using Blogger and 'Life: Downloaded' is all about my thoughts and meanderings through life.

I thought I'd start things off by commenting on something I found on Facebook. That 'something' is an essay by Matthew John Reading called The Death of Ethics in Democracy. It's a really interesting piece of work, although not all of it can be perfectly mapped onto the British political system.

Let's start of with one of the fundamental statements in the essay - Standing's interpretation of John Rawls's 'Principles of Justice':
"Everything should be equal for everyone. If there is any inequality, this should be designed to benefit the least advantaged."
For me, this is one of those 'yes and no' statements - something you only partially agree with. Yes - justice should be there so that those who use an unfair advantage can be punished. It should be there to help everyone have a fair opportunity - that would be ethically correct. However, I'm not so sure about the second bit - "...designed to benefit the least advantaged". What about those who've gained an advantage through perfectly fair means?

Take the example of a football match. A team gains an advantage in a match by scoring a goal without illegal tackling or anything like that. Going by the rules of justice, the opposition should equalise. That would mean every single game of football ends in a draw. That would bring the game to it's knees.

Sure, there should always be charity (distribution of wealth). Yes, things like advances in medicine should be available for all, but surely there should also be times where people are allowed to keep benefits. Perhaps that quote should be re-written so it reads:
"Everything should have the same opportunities. If there is any unfair inequality, the law should be designed to benefit those who are negatively affected."
Now let's look at the second fundamental statement - the definition of liberty:
"Every person should have complete freedom of choice. Restriction of this right solely exists to protect overlapping liberties."
I actually agree with statement, apart from the word "protect". Perhaps that should be "resolve problems with".

There are interesting definitions of democracy and republic in this paper aswell. The two are interpreted as being entirely separate - the republic takes over when democracy can't cope with the size of the populus. Apparently a republic is where a community selects someone to represent them on there behalf and debate with the other representatives.

However, this takes place in democracy too. Britain is a democratic society and has been for many years. People vote in elections for MPs who will represent them on both a local and national level. The essay implies that it would be impractical for 100,000 people to decide something. The problem with that is that in an election, millions of people vote to decide a governing political party and that goal is achieved. That situation is in a democratic society. There is therefore a massive 'grey area' between democracy and republic - they cannot be easily separated.

Another major part of this essay is based around a prediction by philosophers:
"It has been predicted by philosophers for centuries that when science begins to explain the unexplainable facets of reality, individuals feel that their cultural beliefs may be untrue. They will become irrational beings and blindly and instinctually fight to maintain that their moral beliefs are true."
It's possible that this could happen, but it isn't certain that this would lead to irrational behaviour. If people take the time to digest the scientific explanations, this will lead to understanding and eventually lead to rational thought.

To conclude, I would say that this is an essay which is thought provoking and raises a number of interesting points. However, some of the fundamental statements are flawed in some ways and parts of it are heavily opinionated. I'd be interested in what you all think. Feel frre to comment.


Wesley said...

I believe the main separation between pure democracy and a republic comes down to direct influence and granularity.

In a "democratic republic" (such as the Kingdom of Great Britain, where in a monarch is still head of state and head of the church but gives permission for a democratically elected parliament to rule on their behalf) the granular level of selection and decision given by a pure democratic system is replaced by a generalised "on-behalf-of" system, in that officials are elected to make the best decision on behalf of the public, with a wide selection of political parties and officials within parties (both of which can be elected and swapped about almost at will within the constrains of the electoral timeframe) to choose from, and so to pick the "official" with the policies that best suit your beliefs and ideals, and thus possibly make the best decisions in government.
Of course this really only differs from the American process of a democratic republic in the range of selectable parties to choose from (i.e. extreme-conservative or fascist), and the optional granularity afforded to GB government in the forms of the by-election, local election, general election, as well as general vote.
However systems such as the lords muddy the waters on the validity of this governance being truly "democratic", for the time being anyway.