Sunday, May 1

Back To Sorrento


Whilst holidaying at Sorrento with a walking group of friends we enjoyed our stay minus the planned walks. Afterwards we caught up for dinners. 

It was a good opportunity to mull over a few questions on political philosophy, from a course I have enrolled at Darebin U3A. The tutor had provided a few question for discussions when we next meet. These are the slightly modified questions and my answers.    

Questions such as how likely today is society prepared to accept authority and abide by decisions or policy implemented by others in control? – that’s when you don’t agree?   

Is your approach intellectual (‘what I think is right’) or are you more inclined to value emotion and intuition (‘what feels right’)? If both, then what predominates? 

Here’s a few of my musings.

Any democratic political system involves a degree of responsibility to others. The old adage that you can’t delegate responsibility unless in turn you provide the power to make ethical decisions on behalf of others applies in any well-constructed democracy. Therein the acceptance of some directions from authority figures in the form of laws passed and policies implemented become integral to our existence.  

The question of taking those directions when you don’t agree or think the course of policy is morally wrong involves questions of equity in the system. The extent that legitimate avenues of protest are acceptable subjectively involves fairness. That inevitably is going to lead to conflict so that guiding descriptive principles are usually better than too many long winded laws and policies. 

My preference is for a system of both intuition and consequentialism (Utilitarianism) to ensure the best possible outcomes. In other words a pragmatic approach that is constantly revised by scientific updates and introspection that recognises updates are a necessary part of our progress as human beings.

What was considered okay in the past inevitably becomes unacceptable as new knowledge and understanding comes to light? An important element is how we feel about things but that needs to be tempered with an ongoing narrative that looks towards the fairest outcomes. Of course you can’t always determine the outcomes in which event one proceeds with a high degree of caution and preparedness to make changes. There are many decisions and policies adopted in the past that turned out to have undesirable outcomes even though they seemed to be okay at the time. The trouble is no one wants to admit to mistakes and the need for revision yet that is principally how we progress to become a fairer society.   

Another question 

Is it a realistic assumption to expect actions without selfishness underpinning decisions?

Are we free when part of a collective which tells you how you should conduct yourself? In other words, by ignoring your self-interest, are you still a free citizen?

Do we have a democratic system involving a social contract that represents a genuine model for developing a free and fair political society? Is that just idealistic?  

Here is what I think 

Herein, I think we can accept the idea of a social contact that first arose in the 18th century provided the opportunity for a genuine model for that time which assisted in the evolutionary process of the political system. But its flaw is at the time it was underpinned by idealism.

The question of freedom and morality are often confused given the idea that restraints on an individual’s freedom as in a collective are seen as being morally wrong. Rather, a democratic ideal must curtail some individual’s freedom so that overall the enjoyment of given freedoms are realised by a greater number of people. This raises the vexed question of individual rights versus societal standards enshrined in the law.


Turning to modernity such political systems gravitate to representations in practice of hybrid models of government tending more one way or the other - Right wing or Left wing or Centre-right’; ‘Centre-left’).

Then there are others who believe that any form of government (authority) is wrong. There is a significant seam of such thinking in political philosophy, from early socialist craft guilds. 

Do you think a government (especially in modernity) spoils what is essentially good in human nature? Can we rely more on this and reduce their role of government to defence and a few basic services or is the reverse true to underpin a fairer society?     

My musings.

This type of thinking in my mind reverts to a form of naivety since it fails to recognise the advancements in complexity that underpins humanity. We are naturally inquisitive and although one might argue we have no more wisdom than the sages of old there can be little doubt in the growth in population, knowledge and new scientific discoveries that mean we are more aware of the consequences of our actions. Hence, I think some form of collective becomes increasingly a necessary part of existence. Although we are inextricably connected to nature and need to show reverence to nature that also means a form of a social pragmatic narrative needs to be entertained and constantly updated if we are to advance in a sustainable manner. 


If we are fallen beings in the religious sense how can we hope to discover the best form of political governance? Is it better to look for a pragmatic option? Or should we persist in finding the perfect system?

Can human beings create a just State?

Final thoughts  

I think it is better to take a pragmatic view based on intuition and an ongoing revised evaluation of the consequences of policies and laws. Justice is an important aspect that needs to be regarded as a work in progress. Admitting mistakes and learning from prior experiences is the key, but it's too painful for many to accept.   


But let’s know what you think

1 comment:

Vanessa said...

A very interesting article. I have been thinking about these questions as we come up to a federal election. You have raised some very interesting points. I would also like a fair and just society which opens up questions around what is fair and just.