Episode 301 – Dog Fight Arenas or Public Libraries

Episode 301 – Dog Fight Arenas or Public Libraries

This episode is a book review of “Justice” by Michael Sandel.

Three Different Approaches

  1. The Greatest Happiness Principle (Utilitarianism)
  2. Respecting Individual Freedom (Libertarianism and Egalitarianism)
  3. What do People Morally Deserve and Why? which involves Identifying the Purpose of a practice and Promoting Good Virtues (Aristotle)

Case Studies

Price gouging after disasters

He gives – Fuel, ice,

Free markets (as opposed to command economies) promote the greatest happiness

Sellers and buyers have a choice (but do buyers have a choice)


Is overall welfare increased by exorbitant prices?

and … buyers under duress, are they truly free?

There is a third way …

A society in which people exploit their neighbours in times of crisis is not a good society. Unfair exploitation is unjust

The third one seems more judgemental. Everyone wants to promote happiness and everyone wants to promote freedom and the argument is about how to best do it and the trade-offs that may be required.

Purple Heart

This case looks at #3 because #1 and #2 don’t really apply. This demonstrates that we can’t determine who deserves a military medal without asking what virtues the medal properly honours.

Refer to SAS Unit citation and Swimming Team relay and Paul’s obsession with individual rights (even individual rights to a group medal).

Post GFC CEO Bonuses

Outrage was about rewarding failure not greed. The executives claimed they couldn’t be blamed for losses when circumstances beyond their control but the flip side of that is they don’t deserve the benefits when circumstances are good. P18 for pay differences.

Conflicting Moral Principles

We think we have an answer and a reason but upon further examination, maybe we don’t.

Trolley Problem. Most switch the lever but not push the fat man. What is the fat man was on a trap door? Consider the plausible deniability defence.

It’s not easy to explain the moral differences between these cases but notice the pressure we feel to reason our way to a convincing distinction between them.

Utilitarianism – The Greatest Happiness for the Greatest number of people

The lifeboat and the cabin boy.

Christians and the lions. (The problem with Utilitarianism is flattening values to make a calculation)

Also, it rewards happiness no matter how it is attained. Dog fights Vs Libraries. There is no judgment of what is good.

Terrorist, ticking time bomb and torture. But his innocent child?

Philip Morris and the Czech government. A net gain of $147m per year. Their argument was a PR disaster.

Ford Pinto and exploding gas tank. Compo was estimated to cost $49.5m but the cost of a recall was $137.5m


No paternalism (anti seat belt or helmets), no morals legislation, no redistribution of wealth

Selling kidneys. For medical need. For amusement.

US Civil War P77

Which is more just? Conscription, Conscription with paid substitutes or Market System (a volunteer army)

Libertarians and utilitarians would favour a volunteer army.

But we don’t rely on the market for jury duty p85

The same could be said for military service p86

The current system of paying them is like hiring a mercenary army.


University approval and rejection letters p180

Who Deserves What? – Aristotle

p.184 Callie Smartt the freshman cheerleader with cerebral palsy. It was other cheerleaders and their parents who complained so it wasn’t about missing out on a place on the cheerleading squad.

P186 In order to determine a fair way of allocating cheerleading positions we need to determine the nature and purpose of cheerleading. But its purpose is not just instrumental (to stir up the supporters) but it has a purpose of celebrating certain excellences and virtues.

The parents wanted cheerleading to honor the traditional cheerleader virtues their daughters possessed.

The Army wanted the purple heart to honor the traditional notion of a soldier being mentally tough.

So, according to Aristotle, there are two ideas;

Justice is teleological. We need to figure out the telos, the purpose, the essential nature of the practice in question.

Justice is honorific. We need to figure out what virtues it should honor or reward.

Who should get the best flutes? Aristotle says, the best players. Not because they will produce the best music to maximise societies enjoyment, but because the purpose of the best flutes is to be played well. Aristotle’s reason goes beyond the utilitarian consideration.

Sometimes the Telos is not easy to define.

Thinking about Israel Falou. 12th and I argued over the nature of professional football. I saw it as quite different to amateur football.

Consider the game of golf. Is someone riding a cart really a golfer? P204

What is the telos of a University? P190

To produce technicians – then recruit purely on academic performance and reject affirmative action.

To produce leaders – then a varied cohort is as important as the reading material. Maybe affirmative action is appropriate.

What is the purpose of politics? – Aristotle

For Aristotle, the purpose of politics is not to set up a framework of rights that is neutral in its objectives. It is not merely to guarantee men’s rights against one another. Rather, it is to cultivate the virtue of citizens.

The purpose of politics is nothing less than to enable people to develop their distinctive human capacities and virtues, to deliberate about the common good, to acquire practical judgement, to share in self-government and to care for the fate of the community as a whole.

What is Moral?

Moral education is about learning to discern the particular features of situations that call for this rule rather than that one. Moral virtue requires judgement or practical wisdom. Practical wisdom is the ability to identify the highest human good attainable under the circumstances.

This creates some higher standards.

Consider the assembly line worker. P203

So, Utilitarian, Libertarian (Egalitarian) or Aristotlean?

Michael Sandel – I do not think that freedom of choice, even freedom of choice under fair conditions is an adequate basis for a just society.

The Claims of Community and Storytelling Beings

Liberal freedom developed as an antidote to political theories that consigned persons to destinies fixed by caste or class, station or rank, custom, tradition or inherited status.

How is it possible to acknowledge the moral weight of community while still giving scope to human freedom?

Alasdair MacIntyre – What am I to do depends on what stories I find myself a part of. P221

Our personal stories impose obligations and loyalties on us.

Our objection to open immigration derives from our identity with the community we inhabit p232

(Or is it just rich countries that deny open immigration?)

Is solidarity just xenophobic prejudice?

It can be outward-looking. Making amends for my country’s past wrongs is a positive consequence.

The Religious Embrace the Moral Argument While Liberals Say Religions Have No Place

Abortion debate. Pro-lifers say life begins at conception. Pro-choicers avoid that question and argue that a woman has freedom and choice. If pro-lifers are correct then the choice argument isn’t really good enough. We don’t allow parents the choice of killing their children.

Incidentally, I think it can be resolved through the fetus relying on the mother’s body and while that is necessary, she has a choice.

Stem Cell debate. Anti stem cell people argue life has begun. Pro stem cell people avoid that question and argue the utilitarian benefits of medical research.

The progressives talk past the conservatives.

Same-sex marriage. Those against argue it is immoral. Those in favour dodge the morality question and argue for equal rights and non-discrimination. But the state is not totally neutral re marriage otherwise polygamy would be allowed. They should argue the moral case. P256 and 260. Same-sex relationships are as worthy of respect as heterosexual relationships and not allowing them affirms the stereotype that same-sex relationships are inherently unstable and inferior and unworthy of respect.

I should argue the same about Satanism.

Justice and the good life

The utilitarian approach has two defects. It makes justice and rights a matter of calculation, not principle. And the calculation flattens human goods into a single value and doesn’t account for qualitative differences.

The Libertarian approach overcomes the calculation problem but not the second. It accepts peoples’ preferences as they are and doesn’t require us to question or challenge the preferences or desires we bring to public life.

Paul’s approach to lockdowns is a combination of utilitarianism (via a gross miscalculation) and libertarianism. He has not considered the good virtues that are encouraged by lockdowns and the poor citizenship that would be acceptable and commonplace if we allow unnecessary deaths. Paul would say “who are you to judge?”.

But judgements are impossible to avoid. Justice is inescapably judgemental. Justice is not only about the right way to distribute things, it is also about the right way to value things.

The Fist: Thinking back to episode 238. We are pro-social animals. We are co-operating interconnected beings. We are honey bees not fruit flies. We are hard wired to perform best in a supportive polis. A fruit fly doesn’t have to care about other fruit flies but as honey bee humans, we have to care about the colony … the polis.

Robert Kennedy

A great speech. P 262

The Fist: Libertarians ignore the reality of our nature. The liberal push for individual freedom was a necessary movement to unshackle us from the chains of aristocracy, caste and class but Libertarians want to unshackle us from community which makes us less human. They don’t see the flip side is that the community is then unshackled from responsibility for the individual and that is what many selfish powerful interests want so they can exploit the powerless.

He finishes by arguing for more robust and engaged civic life.

The Fist: When you are with friends, talk about news and politics and sex and religion. It is your duty as a citizen of the polis.

2 comments on “Episode 301 – Dog Fight Arenas or Public Libraries
  1. Bronwyn Benn says:

    This is somewhat off topic Fist, but I have a book recommendation for Shae. It’s “Cathy Goes to Canberra” by Cathy McGowan, the former member for Indi. A great book for a young woman interested in participating in politics and I think you will find it inspiring Shae.

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