the unacceptable work of acceptability requirements

Suppose we are considering whether it is okay for the government, in pursuit of legitimate public aims, to require one to bake a cake for a gay wedding when this goes against one’s religious convictions.  If a pretty strong version of religious tolerance is true, then the answer is no. And the same circumstance affects the shape of good reasoning toward the relevant conclusion in the following way: reasons like ‘this guy would be forced to act against his religious convictions if this proposal were implemented’ and ‘this guy has a religious conviction according to which it is a sin to be involved, in any way, in any marriage that is not between a man and a woman’ are to be given controlling weight, decisively weighing against the conclusion that it is okay for the government to thus coerce.  (This would be a fact about good reasoning, which we might well do privately, not a fact about how we should treat each other in deliberating together about what to do collectively.) Continue reading

maybe bad reasons are just bad (political justification)


Religious Tolerance:  Governments are morally forbidden from (i) enforcing religious tenets on their citizens that are not the religious tenets of those citizens (or requiring of them sworn allegiance to such tenets) and (ii) forcing its citizens to say or do things that contradict their religious tenets (if they have such).

On this view, the truth or falsity of some of our conclusions about permissible government coercion depend on whether or not people have religious beliefs according to which what they would be coerced into doing would be a sin.  And the landscape of relevant or good reasons is similarly relativized to such religious belief, at least in this way: that one would be forced to commit something that one views as a sin comes to be a controlling reason against a proposed law, at least generally outweighing what would otherwise — from a neutral or objective or apart-from-what-religious-beliefs-people-have perspective — be sufficient or decisive reasons in favor of the law.   Continue reading

Teach Your Children

I have what I regard as a good working relationship with the Rutherford Police Department, and count its chief, John Russo, as a friend. I’ve hosted members of the Department twice at my university, and have been a guest of Chief Russo’s at the Department itself. I have no objection to police visits to schools per se, but I think some balance is in order: if cops are going to visit schools, civil libertarians from the ACLU or similar organizations should be visiting the same students in the same schools. A school unwilling to host civil libertarians should not be hosting cops. Far too many do.

Continue reading

The Constitution of No Authority

Rather, a husband exercises authority over his wife in a different way because he shares that authority with his wife and allows her to participate in his own deliberations, taking her judgment and advice into account. The husband’s rule is comparable to political rule because he not only rules, but is also ruled; he does not make all of the important decisions on the basis of his own deliberation alone, but engages in cooperative deliberation with his wife. The wife exercises a degree of rule over her husband because her own deliberative contributions can shape the decisions that are the source of the household’s collective actions.

David J. Riesbeck, Aristotle on Political Community, p. 152

Average conversation in the Khawaja-Bowles household:

Irfan: I don’t think we should let Hugo go out on the deck unattended.
Alison: Who cares what you think? Right, Hugo?
Hugo: Meow.

Hugo remains on the deck unattended.




Droning On

I’m teaching the issue of drone warfare and targeted killing in one of my ethics classes, the fifth or sixth semester in a row I’ve taught this material, via Kenneth Himes’s 2016 book, Drones and the Ethics of Targeted Killing. It’s been a frustrating, even despair-inducing experience: Of the 90 or so students enrolled, only half attend. Of the 45 of who attend, 40 are utterly indifferent to the material, unmoved even by the most shocking finding, revelation, or video I can throw at them.

My students–whether rich or poor, urban or suburban, black or white–simply do not care whether drones increase or decrease the incidence of terrorist attacks, much less whether their use is in any sense morally justified. Whether drones kill innocents or kill “bad guys,” whether the targets are justified in resisting U.S. policy or obliged to lie down and take it: none of this is nearly as important as whatever they’re doing on their phones. Continue reading

Teaching Machiavelli in Palestine

Here’s a draft of the paper I’m giving at the 25th Annual Conference of the Association for Core Texts and Courses a few weeks from now in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Comments welcome.

Anyone who teaches Machiavelli’s Prince in a college setting faces a daunting set of pedagogical problems, among them the apparent anachronism of the examples that Machiavelli adduces in support of the advice he gives the prince. Few political philosophers are trained to discuss the political histories of Greco-Roman antiquity, the Ottoman Empire, or Renaissance Europe, and fewer students can endure reading or hearing about them. Yet such examples clot the text of The Prince, jeopardizing its accessibility and relevance to twenty-first century students. Continue reading

“Naila and the Uprising”

For scheduling reasons, as usual, I missed my chance a few weeks ago to see Julia Bacha’s documentary film, “Naila and the Uprising” at the UN, where Bacha, the director, was in attendance to discuss the film at a pre-showing event. In case you were wondering, Julia Bacha is a filmmaker with Just Vision, an independent film company dedicated to “rendering Palestinian and Israeli grassroots leaders more visible, valued and influential in their efforts.” And “Naila” is the story of a young Gazan woman’s participation in the first Palestinian uprising, or intifada, of 1987-1993. Unless you’re a connoisseur of things Palestinian, you’d probably never have heard of director, film, or company. And if ordinary experience is any guide, American connoisseurs of things Palestinian are in pretty short supply. Continue reading

Perpetual Peace

I wonder what anyone out there thinks of this issue, especially from a libertarian-type property rights perspective:

I live out in the country—granted, the countryside of New Jersey, but still, in a semi-rural area. The town I live in, Readington, is quite large (48 sq miles), and contains a fair bit of open space, along with a bunch of large-scale property holdings.

One of the owners of one of these larger plots owns a plot large enough to accommodate a small jetport—which is what he wants to build on it. The plot in question already has a small airport on it, intended for private propeller-driven planes, but the owner wants to upgrade the existing airport to the equivalent of a regional jetport for some of the smaller commercial airlines. Continue reading

Testify: Conscientious Refusal to Plea Bargain (1 of 2)

I spent a few hours in municipal court the other day fighting a traffic ticket. Of the several dozen defendants in court that day, I was the only one to demand a trial by pleading not guilty. In insisting so conspicuously and anomalously on my innocence–annoying even my attorney–I began to wonder about the guilt or innocence of the other defendants in court. No doubt some were guilty as charged, but I found it hard to believe that all of them were. What, I wondered, was the point of driving to court in a Mercedes or BMW, hiring a high priced attorney, and wasting hours to cop a plea in a case that had “reasonable doubt” written all over it? But lots did. Continue reading

R. Kelly and Mob Justice

I was on spring break last week, so I made the mistake of sitting down and watching some TV for the first time since Thanksgiving. Maybe it’s just my ineptitude with a remote, but aside from Ilhan Omar’s anti-Semitism, the only topic that seemed up for discussion was R. Kelly and the charges made against him. (I also made the mistake of watching Spike Lee’s “BlacKkKlansman,” quixotically expecting a Spike Lee movie to rise above the level of a comic book, but alas, wrong again. More on that fiasco some other time.)

Here’s an obvious point about guilt and innocence when it comes to criminal charges: if you’re going to try someone for a criminal allegation in the court of public opinion–a very big and very dubious if–you have to distinguish clearly between four mutually exclusive things:

  • the case against him,
  • the case in his defense,
  • the set of known facts that don’t easily fit either of the first two categories, and
  • the unknowns.

The least you can do is to try to do justice to the facts in all four categories, rather than fixating on, say, the case against him to the exclusion of everything else. There are complications here about how broadly or narrowly to understand each category, but even if we set those aside, there’s more than enough complexity here to keep a competent journalist busy for awhile. Continue reading