Justifying Borders

Vassal doing homage

For my last discussion with the Merrimack Valley H.S. Ethics & Economics Challenge students, I brought up the issue of borders. We started our discussion with a little bit of improv theatre. I played a foreigner trying to get into the United States without documentation. Students volunteered to play a border guard trying to keep me out. Between us lay […]

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A Right to Rule?

White House

How can one group of human beings come to enjoy a right to enforce its authoritative commands on other human beings? In other words, how does government come to enjoy a right to rule, and how do citizens come to incur a duty to obey? An example may help motivate the question. Suppose some of your neighbors start a “neighborhood […]

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Is Poverty like a Pond?

In a famous 1972 article, “Famine, Affluence, and Morality,” philosopher Peter Singer compared global poverty to a child drowning in a pond: [I]f it is in our power to prevent something very bad from happening, without thereby sacrificing anything morally significant, we ought, morally, to do it. An application of this principle would be as follows: if I am walking […]

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Paternalism: why or why not?

On Liberty

Paternalism can be defined simply as the use of coercion (force) against someone for that person’s own good. For instance, slapping a cigarette out of someone’s hand while yelling, “Smoking is bad for you!” would be an exercise of vigilante paternalism. John Stuart Mill argued in On Liberty that paternalism of this kind is wrong. A person’s own good is […]

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