Freedom, equality, social justice

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Freedom, equality, social justice

Postby Phaedras on July 6th, 2015, 5:07 pm 

In politics people are always bandying around terms like "freedom," "equality," "social justice," and so on. But, what do we actually mean by freedom? And what do we mean by equality? These kinds of questions are awkward. One answer could be: Freedom and equality contradict each other -- because if we're all free to live our lives as we like, aren't we, by definition, going to end up in a whole lot of different and very unequal situations? And isn't that only preventable by government intervention? And, if that's true, then how can we say we're in favor of freedom and equality and just leave it at that? You see, there's an element of contradiction involved.

Anyone else have any thoughts?

Just thought I'd bring up this political philosophy since it's around Independence Day holiday.

Thought some people might have fun with it.
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Re: Freedom, equality, social justice

Postby Phaedras on July 6th, 2015, 6:09 pm 

Just thought I'd add this because it's really close to the same thread.

Lawyers constantly refer to guilt and innocence, justice, a fair trial, and so on. So, when we talk about justice in a legal sense, do we mean the same as what the politicians mean when they talk about social justice, or are we talking about something different? This is a similar example to the above only it involves philosophy of law rather than philosophy of politics.

Just something more to have fun with -- if you like.
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Re: Freedom, equality, social justice

Postby Serpent on July 7th, 2015, 1:17 pm 

Phaedras » July 6th, 2015, 4:07 pm wrote:In politics people are always bandying around terms like "freedom," "equality," "social justice," and so on. But, what do we actually mean by freedom? And what do we mean by equality?


If you realize that the questions and the concepts have meaning only within a given framework and according to a given set of values, it becomes much easier. Identify the context first; that will give you reference points that are also known to your reader or conversational partner.

One answer could be: Freedom and equality contradict each other -- because if we're all free to live our lives as we like, aren't we, by definition, going to end up in a whole lot of different and very unequal situations?


Well, in fact, the very notion of unlimited freedom is absurd. No human can survive alone until it's at least half grown, and by then it has a social structure, language, skill-set and habits of thought. And of course, all young humans are very much aware of inequality - they themselves being always the least able, and yet, in some cases the most prized, while in others, the most despised of the human social structure.

In nature, freedom is limited by physical needs, and how easy or hard it is to wrest those needful things like food and shelter from the environment. A native of Hawaii is a lot freer than a native Nunavut. In a society, freedom is further limited by the presence of, and interdependence with, other people. They help with the needful things, but you have to help them back. They provide a measure of protection, but you also have to protect them. They share in building large projects and structures - but you have to work, too. They want your stuff and you covet theirs. The wrong ones make sexual advances, the right ones reject your overtures. It's a constant negotiation between duty and leisure, annoyance and pleasure.

And isn't that only preventable by government intervention?

This is your first mention of a context. What sort of government? On what philosophical, economic and legal foundation? Given what powers and jurisdiction? In whose service? To whom accountable?

And, if that's true, then how can we say we're in favor of freedom and equality and just leave it at that? You see, there's an element of contradiction involved.

So there is in the human condition. It's always a matter of balance. Once you have identified the principle according to which you seek to balance conflicting needs, competing interests, contradictory desires, you can start working out the mechanism to achieve and maintain that balance.

Lawyers constantly refer to guilt and innocence, justice, a fair trial, and so on. So, when we talk about justice in a legal sense, do we mean the same as what the politicians mean when they talk about social justice, or are we talking about something different? This is a similar example to the above only it involves philosophy of law rather than philosophy of politics.

They're talking about two different entities. Though it's necessary to have the same basic idea of fairness in order to frame a constitution, and then legislate laws that accord with that constitutional ideal, legal and social are different aspects of justice.

In the legal sense, once a law has been enacted, the justice system is charged with enforcing it. In each trial, the mandate of the court is limited to a single question: did this particular citizen break the law he's accused of breaking, and if so, which of the prescribed punishments is appropriate?

In the social sense, the whole government is charged with upholding the constitution. In each legislative session, the question is [should be] : How can we ensure that every citizen can exercise the rights, receive the benefits and carry out the responsibilities that are apportioned to him by the constitution?
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Re: Freedom, equality, social justice

Postby Sircoth on July 9th, 2015, 6:49 pm 

Phaedras » July 6th, 2015, 4:07 pm wrote:In politics people are always bandying around terms like "freedom," "equality," "social justice," and so on. But, what do we actually mean by freedom? And what do we mean by equality?

Ah yes, the modern trio - Liberté, égalité, fraternité.

These kinds of questions are awkward. One answer could be: Freedom and equality contradict each other -- because if we're all free to live our lives as we like, aren't we, by definition, going to end up in a whole lot of different and very unequal situations? And isn't that only preventable by government intervention? And, if that's true, then how can we say we're in favor of freedom and equality and just leave it at that? You see, there's an element of contradiction involved.

Indeed. As you have noted the two cannot possibly be absolute (government intervention only introduces other forms of inequality) and in fact in many practical situations conflict; it is very fascinating and instructive to analyse many ideological conflicts in the US from the perspective of Liberté vs égalité (plus fraternité). For example, the freedom of association (by which I mean the freedom to associate and disassociate with people as I please) has been eroded because it is believed it will lead to massive inequalities.
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Re: Freedom, equality, social justice

Postby Paul Anthony on July 11th, 2015, 11:42 pm 

If we accept that neither freedom or equality can be absolutes, we must determine what limitations can be placed on them without destroying the very concepts they represent.

All should be free to live as they choose --- as long as exercising that freedom does not infringe upon the rights of others.

All should have equal opportunity --- as long as we recognize that equal opportunity does not guarantee an equal outcome.

The court system (I'm referring to civil courts here) can determine when one's exercise of freedom oversteps the freedom of another. But, when the legislative branch of government is asked to guarantee these rights, it tends to inhibit freedom in an effort to ensure equal results. Doing so provides neither.
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Re: Freedom, equality, social justice

Postby Sircoth on July 11th, 2015, 11:48 pm 

Paul Anthony » July 11th, 2015, 10:42 pm wrote:If we accept that neither freedom or equality can be absolutes, we must determine what limitations can be placed on them without destroying the very concepts they represent.

All should be free to live as they choose --- as long as exercising that freedom does not infringe upon the rights of others.

I'll limit myself at this point of time to pointing out that this would require considerable reflections on what are the nature of rights, and what rights should/do exist.

All should have equal opportunity --- as long as we recognize that equal opportunity does not guarantee an equal outcome.

Could you expound on this statement? Does not genetics makes us all rather unalike in many ways?
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Re: Freedom, equality, social justice

Postby Paul Anthony on July 12th, 2015, 12:16 am 

Sircoth » Sat Jul 11, 2015 8:48 pm wrote:
All should have equal opportunity --- as long as we recognize that equal opportunity does not guarantee an equal outcome.

Could you expound on this statement? Does not genetics makes us all rather unalike in many ways?


Yes, the grand statement that "All men are created equal" would seem to be nonsense unless you interpret it to mean all men (and women) should have equal rights.

The creators of the US Constitution were religious men who believed rights are bestowed upon all of us by God. Not being particularly religious, I'm inclined to disagree. But, what is more important about their statement is that this concept of people having rights - not having to ask their king or other ruler to grant them rights - was a radical departure from history.

Today, I think it safe to say, even an atheist would agree that we have rights, and that those rights should not be subject to the whims of rulers.

However, although most people wish to be free, most also want to be secure. And from wence cometh security? Why, from the government, of course. In order to deliver security, government reduces our freedom. It is these two concepts - freedom and security - that are incompatible.

BTW, I haven't discussed "Social Justice" because it is a fairly modern term that sounds good but means nothing, like "A Living Wage" (see my thread by that title).
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Re: Freedom, equality, social justice

Postby Sircoth on July 13th, 2015, 2:33 pm 

Paul Anthony » July 11th, 2015, 11:16 pm wrote:
The creators of the US Constitution were religious men who believed rights are bestowed upon all of us by God. Not being particularly religious, I'm inclined to disagree. But, what is more important about their statement is that this concept of people having rights - not having to ask their king or other ruler to grant them rights - was a radical departure from history.

Today, I think it safe to say, even an atheist would agree that we have rights, and that those rights should not be subject to the whims of rulers.

It is always fascinating and frankly hilarious to see atheists believe in such invisible and intangible things that (I believe it safe to say, though as always I am open to correction) cannot be interacted with and whose existence cannot be proven.

In these light 'rights' are merely the fashion of the day that are immensely convenient - one can state that 'X is a right that all should have regardless of any law', and if there is enough popular support such a view will be upheld; of course such just-so stories will not satisfy any serious thinker.
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Re: Freedom, equality, social justice

Postby Paul Anthony on July 14th, 2015, 9:13 pm 

Sircoth » Mon Jul 13, 2015 11:33 am wrote:It is always fascinating and frankly hilarious to see atheists believe in such invisible and intangible things that (I believe it safe to say, though as always I am open to correction) cannot be interacted with and whose existence cannot be proven.

In these light 'rights' are merely the fashion of the day that are immensely convenient - one can state that 'X is a right that all should have regardless of any law', and if there is enough popular support such a view will be upheld; of course such just-so stories will not satisfy any serious thinker.


Despite your fascination, the number of rights (God-given or otherwise) seems to be expanding at a rapid pace. The Constitution never mentioned the right to health care, or the right to a living wage, or the right to marry anyone one pleases, or the right to free birth control.

These new rights have all been "discovered" by Progressives. Isn't that the side of the aisle one would be most likely to find atheists?
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Re: Freedom, equality, social justice

Postby Serpent on July 18th, 2015, 1:42 am 

Sircoth » July 13th, 2015, 1:33 pm wrote:
Paul Anthony » July 11th, 2015, 11:16 pm wrote:
The creators of the US Constitution were religious men who believed rights are bestowed upon all of us by God. Not being particularly religious, I'm inclined to disagree. But, what is more important about their statement is that this concept of people having rights - not having to ask their king or other ruler to grant them rights - was a radical departure from history.

Today, I think it safe to say, even an atheist would agree that we have rights, and that those rights should not be subject to the whims of rulers.


It is always fascinating and frankly hilarious to see atheists believe in such invisible and intangible things that (I believe it safe to say, though as always I am open to correction) cannot be interacted with and whose existence cannot be proven.

Such hilariously intangible things as equality?
It's very simple: "We hold these truths to be self-evident" means : "We are agreed on a principle". A principle doesn't need to be visible or provable; it only needs the concurrence of the people who choose to enter into a covenant based upon that principle. It doesn't particularly matter what they do on Sunday - only what they do in the legislature and the supreme court.

In these light 'rights' are merely the fashion of the day that are immensely convenient - one can state that 'X is a right that all should have regardless of any law',

On the contrary: if a principle is enshrined in a constitution, all the laws must conform to it, not the other way around. And, because those men had the humility to understand their own limitations and the wisdom to realize that circumstances may change over time, they not only set up a legislative body to enact laws, but also to built in a mechanism for amendments to the constitution itself.
and if there is enough popular support such a view will be upheld; of course such just-so stories will not satisfy any serious thinker.

I'm not sure at whom this jeer is directed; the framers, the courts, the legislators or the voters. "If there is enough popular support" describes the democratic process. Nor do I know who the 'serious thinkers' are, but I'm always happy to see one weigh in, on any issue, with a rationally-founded, persuasive argument.
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Re: Freedom, equality, social justice

Postby Sircoth on July 19th, 2015, 7:52 am 

Paul Anthony » July 14th, 2015, 8:13 pm wrote:
Sircoth » Mon Jul 13, 2015 11:33 am wrote:It is always fascinating and frankly hilarious to see atheists believe in such invisible and intangible things that (I believe it safe to say, though as always I am open to correction) cannot be interacted with and whose existence cannot be proven.

In these light 'rights' are merely the fashion of the day that are immensely convenient - one can state that 'X is a right that all should have regardless of any law', and if there is enough popular support such a view will be upheld; of course such just-so stories will not satisfy any serious thinker.


Despite your fascination, the number of rights (God-given or otherwise) seems to be expanding at a rapid pace. The Constitution never mentioned the right to health care, or the right to a living wage, or the right to marry anyone one pleases, or the right to free birth control.

These new rights have all been "discovered" by Progressives. Isn't that the side of the aisle one would be most likely to find atheists?

Indeed, but when has anyone expected progressives to make much sense?
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Re: Freedom, equality, social justice

Postby Sircoth on July 19th, 2015, 7:57 am 

Serpent » July 18th, 2015, 12:42 am wrote:
Sircoth » July 13th, 2015, 1:33 pm wrote:
It is always fascinating and frankly hilarious to see atheists believe in such invisible and intangible things that (I believe it safe to say, though as always I am open to correction) cannot be interacted with and whose existence cannot be proven.

Such hilariously intangible things as equality?
It's very simple: "We hold these truths to be self-evident" means : "We are agreed on a principle". A principle doesn't need to be visible or provable;

Precisely. The existence of [natural] rights is left undefended; that they exist are merely asserted in just-so stories.

it only needs the concurrence of the people who choose to enter into a covenant based upon that principle. It doesn't particularly matter what they do on Sunday - only what they do in the legislature and the supreme court.

Leaving aside the important point that you're confusing natural and legal rights, you - the people - aren't agreed on what rights exist and where they come from (c.f. "we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights").


In these light 'rights' are merely the fashion of the day that are immensely convenient - one can state that 'X is a right that all should have regardless of any law',

On the contrary: if a principle is enshrined in a constitution, all the laws must conform to it, not the other way around. And, because those men had the humility to understand their own limitations and the wisdom to realize that circumstances may change over time, they not only set up a legislative body to enact laws, but also to built in a mechanism for amendments to the constitution itself.
We're talking about natural rights here, not conventions that can change at the whim of the people.

and if there is enough popular support such a view will be upheld; of course such just-so stories will not satisfy any serious thinker.

I'm not sure at whom this jeer is directed; the framers, the courts, the legislators or the voters. "If there is enough popular support" describes the democratic process. Nor do I know who the 'serious thinkers' are, but I'm always happy to see one weigh in, on any issue, with a rationally-founded, persuasive argument.

See above.
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