This post is a collection of selected thoughts, ideas, theories, philosophies and principles related to election, the general public and related areas, sourced from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. All of these texts are an introduction to the thoughts and theories and shared here for educational and non-commercial purposes.
One of the primary objectives of the People’s Campaign for Resurgent Manipur is to cultivate a culture of dialogue and debates in order to generate informed opinions and choices on public issues. For instance, in most cases we love to call Okram Ibobi as Mr 10% but without any evidence—for that matter, he must be the poorest elected representative if we check his asset declaration in the election affidavit. In this context, we would like to encourage dissent and discussion based on reason and facts. In one of its first kinds, we have listed here some of the theories and principles from the world of humanities that could offer us an informed political-consciousness means to our sociopolitical and economical ends.
‘Affirmative action’ means positive steps taken to increase the representation of women and minorities in areas of employment, education, and culture from which they have been historically excluded. When those steps involve preferential selection—selection on the basis of race, gender, or ethnicity—affirmative action generates intense controversy.
The development, defense, and contestation of preferential affirmative action has proceeded along two paths. One has been legal and administrative as courts, legislatures, and executive departments of government have made and applied rules requiring affirmative action. The other has been the path of public debate, where the practice of preferential treatment has spawned a vast literature, pro and con. Often enough, the two paths have failed to make adequate contact, with the public quarrels not always very securely anchored in any existing legal basis or practice.
Kenneth Arrow’s ‘impossibility’ theorem—or ‘general possibility’ theorem, as he called it—answers a very basic question in the theory of collective decision-making. Say there are some alternatives to choose among. They could be policies, public projects, candidates in an election, distributions of income and labour requirements among the members of a society, or just about anything else. There are some people whose preferences will inform this choice, and the question is: which procedures are there for deriving, from what is known or can be found out about their preferences, a collective or ‘social’ ordering of the alternatives from better to worse?
The answer is startling. Arrow’s theorem says there are no such procedures whatsoever—none, anyway, that satisfy certain apparently quite reasonable assumptions concerning the autonomy of the people and the rationality of their preferences. The technical framework in which Arrow gave the question of social orderings a precise sense and its rigorous answer is now widely used for studying problems in welfare economics. The impossibility theorem itself set much of the agenda for contemporary social choice theory. Arrow accomplished this while still a graduate student. In 1972, he received the Nobel Prize in economics for his contributions.
In its broadest definition, ‘civic education’ means all the processes that affect people’s beliefs, commitments, capabilities, and actions as members or prospective members of communities. Civic education need not be intentional or deliberate; institutions and communities transmit values and norms without meaning to. It may not be beneficial: sometimes people are civically educated in ways that disempower them or impart harmful values and goals. It is certainly not limited to schooling and the education of children and youth. Families, governments, religions, and mass media are just some of the institutions involved in civic education, understood as a lifelong process. A rightly famous example is Tocqueville’s often quoted observation that local political engagement is a form of civic education: ‘Town meetings are to liberty what primary schools are to science; they bring it within the people’s reach, they teach men how to use and how to enjoy it.’
The philosophical questions have been less explored, but they are essential. For example:
- Who has the full rights and obligations of a citizen? This question is especially contested with regard to children, immigrant aliens, and individuals who have been convicted of felonies.
- In what communities ought we see ourselves as citizens? The nation-state is not the only candidate; some people see themselves as citizens of local geographical communities, organizations, movements, loosely-defined groups, or even the world as a whole.
- What responsibilities does a citizen of each kind of community have? Do all members of each community have the same responsibilities, or ought there be significant differences, for example, between elders and children, or between leaders and other members?
- What is the relationship between a good regime and good citizenship? Aristotle held that there were several acceptable types of regimes, and each needed different kinds of citizens. That makes the question of good citizenship relative to the regime-type. But other theorists have argued for particular combinations of regime and citizen competence. For example, classical liberals endorsed regimes that would make relatively modest demands on citizens, both because they were skeptical that people could rise to higher demands and because they wanted to safeguard individual liberty against the state. Civic republicans have seen a certain kind of citizenship–highly active and deliberative–as constitutive of a good life, and therefore recommend a republican regime because it permits good citizenship.
- Who may decide what constitutes good citizenship?
If we consider, for example, students enrolled in public schools in the United States, should the decision about what values, habits, and capabilities they should learn belong to their parents, their teachers, the children themselves, the local community, the local or state government, or the nation-state? We may reach different conclusions when thinking about 5-year-olds and adult college students. As Sheldon Wolin warned: ‘…[T]he inherent danger…is that the identity given to the collectivity by those who exercise power will reflect the needs of power rather than the political possibilities of a complex collectivity’ (1989, 13). For some regimes—fascist or communist, for example—this is not perceived as a danger at all but, instead, the very purpose of their forms of civic education. In democracies, the question is more complex because public institutions may have to teach people to be good democratic citizens, but they can decide to do so in ways that reinforce the power of the state and reduce freedom.
What means of civic education are ethically appropriate? It might, for example, be effective to punish students who fail to memorize patriotic statements, or to pay students for community service, but the ethics of those approaches would be controversial. An educator might engage students in open discussions of current events because of a commitment to treating them as autonomous agents, regardless of the consequences. As with other topics, the proper relationship between means and ends is contested.
Collective intentionality is the power of minds to be jointly directed at objects, matters of fact, states of affairs, goals, or values. Collective intentionality comes in a variety of modes, including shared intention, joint attention, shared belief, collective acceptance, and collective emotion. Collective intentional attitudes permeate our everyday lives, for instance when two or more agents look after or raise a child, campaign for a political party, or cheer for a sports team. And these attitudes are relevant for philosophers, theoretically minded social scientists, and anthropologists because they play crucial roles in the constitution of the social world. In joint attention, the world is experienced as perceptually available for a plurality of agents. This establishes a basic sense of common ground on which other agents may be encountered as potential cooperators.
Shared intention enables the participants to act in that world together intentionally, in a coordinated and cooperative fashion, and to achieve collective goals. The capacity for shared belief provides us with a common stock of knowledge, and thus with a background against which relevant new information which we may want to share with others becomes salient. Collective acceptance is a central presupposition for the creation of a language, and of a whole world of symbols, institutions, and social status. Shared evaluative attitudes provide us with a conception of the common good. In virtue of this we can reason from the perspective of our groups, and conceive of ourselves in terms of our social identities and social roles. This again enables us to constitute group agents such as business enterprises, universities, or political parties.
Constitutionalism is the idea, often associated with the political theories of John Locke and the founders of the American republic, that government can and should be legally limited in its powers, and that its authority or legitimacy depends on its observing these limitations. This idea brings with it a host of vexing questions of interest not only to legal scholars, but to anyone keen to explore the legal and philosophical foundations of the state. How can a government be legally limited if law is the creation of government? Does this mean that a government can be ‘self-limiting’? Is this even possible? If not, then is there some way of avoiding this implication? If meaningful limitation is indeed to be possible, perhaps constitutional constraints must somehow be ‘entrenched’, that is, resistant to change or removal by those whose powers are constrained? Perhaps they must not only be entrenched, but enshrined in written rules. If so, how are these rules to be interpreted?
In terms of their original, public meaning or the intentions of their authors, or in terms of the, possibly ever-changing, values and principles they express? How, in the end, one answers these questions depends crucially on how one conceives the nature, identity and authority of constitutions. Does a constitution establish a stable framework for the exercise of public power which is in some way fixed by factors like original public meaning or authorial intentions? Or is it a living entity which grows and develops in tandem with changing political values and principles?
Equality of Opportunity
Equality of opportunity is a political ideal that is opposed to caste hierarchy but not to hierarchy per se. The background assumption is that a society contains a hierarchy of more and less desirable, superior and inferior positions. Or there may be several such hierarchies. In a caste society, the assignment of individuals to places in the social hierarchy is fixed by birth. The child acquires the social status of his or her parents at least if their union is socially sanctioned. Social mobility may be possible in a caste society, but the process whereby one is admitted to a different level of the hierarchy is open only to some individuals depending on their initial ascriptive social status.
In contrast, when equality of opportunity prevails, the assignment of individuals to places in the social hierarchy is determined by some form of competitive process, and all members of society are eligible to compete on equal terms. Different conceptions of equality of opportunity construe this idea of competing on equal terms variously.
Ethics and Rationality of Voting, The
This (…) focuses on six major questions concerning the rationality and morality of voting:
1. Is it rational for an individual citizen to vote?
2. Is there a moral duty to vote?
3. Are there moral obligations regarding how citizens vote?
4. Is it justifiable for governments to compel citizens to vote?
5. Is it permissible to buy, trade, and sell votes?
6. Who ought to have the right to vote, and should every citizen have an equal vote?
Question 6 concerns the broader question of whether democratic forms of government are preferable to the alternatives; see Christiano (2006) on the justification of democracy for a longer discussion. See also Pacuit (2011) for a discussion of which voting method is best suited to reflect the ‘will of the group’. See Gosseries (2005) for a discussion of arguments for and against the secret ballot.
Free Rider Problem, The
In many contexts, all of the individual members of a group can benefit from the efforts of each member and all can benefit substantially from collective action. For example, if each of us pollutes less by paying a bit extra for our cars, we all benefit from the reduction of harmful gases in the air we breathe and even in the reduced harm to the ozone layer that protects us against exposure to carcinogenic ultraviolet radiation (although those with fair skin benefit far more from the latter than do those with dark skin). If all of us or some subgroup of us prefer the state of affairs in which we each pay this bit over the state of affairs in which we do not, then the provision of cleaner air is a collective good for us. (If it costs more than it is worth to us, then its provision is not a collective good for us.)
Unfortunately, my polluting less does not matter enough for anyone—especially me—to notice. Therefore, I may not contribute my share toward not fouling the atmosphere. I may be a free rider (or freerider) on the beneficial actions of others. This is a compelling instance of the logic of collective action, an instance of such grave import that we pass laws to regulate the behavior of individuals to force them to pollute less.
Mohism was an influential philosophical, social, and religious movement that flourished during the Warring States era (479–221 BCE) in ancient China. Mohism originates in the teachings of Mo Di, or ‘Mozi’ (‘Master Mo,’ fl. ca. 430 BCE), from whom it takes its name. Mozi and his followers initiated philosophical argumentation and debate in China. The Mohists applied a pragmatic, non-representational theory of language and knowledge and developed a rudimentary theory of analogical argumentation. They played a key role in articulating and shaping many of the central concepts, assumptions, and issues of classical Chinese philosophical discourse.
The Mohists assume that people are naturally motivated to do what they believe is right, and thus with proper moral education will generally tend to conform to the correct ethical norms. They believe strongly in the power of discussion and persuasion to solve ethical problems and motivate action, and they are confident that moral and political questions have objective answers that can be discovered and defended by inquiry.
Political legitimacy is a virtue of political institutions and of the decisions—about laws, policies, and candidates for political office—made within them. This entry will survey the main answers that have been given to the following questions. First, how should legitimacy be defined? Is it primarily a descriptive or a normative concept? If legitimacy is understood normatively, what does it entail? Some associate legitimacy with the justification of coercive power and with the creation of political authority. Others associate it with the justification, or at least the sanctioning, of existing political authority. Authority stands for a right to rule—a right to issue commands and, possibly, to enforce these commands using coercive power. An additional question is whether legitimate political authority is understood to entail political obligations or not. Most people probably think it does. But some think that the moral obligation to obey political authority can be separated from an account of legitimate authority, or at least that such obligations arise only if further conditions hold.
Next there are questions about the requirements of legitimacy. When are political institutions and the decisions made within them appropriately called legitimate? Some have argued that this question has to be answered primarily on the basis of procedural features that shape these institutions and underlie the decisions made. Others argue that legitimacy depends—exclusively or at least in part—on the substantive values that are realized. A related question is: does political legitimacy demand democracy or not? This question is intensely debated both in the national and the global context. Insofar as democracy is seen as necessary for political legitimacy, when are democratic decisions legitimate? Can that question be answered with reference to procedural features only, or does democratic legitimacy depend both on procedural values and on the quality of the decisions made?
Finally, there is the question which political institutions are subject to the legitimacy requirement. Historically, legitimacy was associated with the state and institutions and decisions within the state. The contemporary literature tends to judge this as too narrow, however. This raises the question how the concept of legitimacy may apply—beyond the nation state and decisions made within it—to the international and global context.
The concept of political representation is misleadingly simple: everyone seems to know what it is, yet few can agree on any particular definition. In fact, there is an extensive literature that offers many different definitions of this elusive concept. [Classic treatments of the concept of political representations within this literature include Pennock and Chapman 1968; Pitkin, 1967 and Schwartz, 1988.] Hanna Pitkin (1967) provides, perhaps, one of the most straightforward definitions: to represent is simply to ‘make present again.’ On this definition, political representation is the activity of making citizens’ voices, opinions, and perspectives ‘present’ in public policy making processes.
Political representation occurs when political actors speak, advocate, symbolize, and act on the behalf of others in the political arena. In short, political representation is a kind of political assistance. This seemingly straightforward definition, however, is not adequate as it stands. For it leaves the concept of political representation underspecified. Indeed, as we will see, the concept of political representation has multiple and competing dimensions: our common understanding of political representation is one that contains different, and conflicting, conceptions of how political representatives should represent and so holds representatives to standards that are mutually incompatible. In leaving these dimensions underspecified, this definition fails to capture this paradoxical character of the concept.
Public reason requires that the moral or political rules that regulate our common life be, in some sense, justifiable or acceptable to all those persons over whom the rules purport to have authority. It is an idea with roots in the work of Hobbes, Kant, and Rousseau, and has become increasingly influential in contemporary moral and political philosophy as a result of its development in the work of John Rawls, Jürgen Habermas, and Gerald Gaus, among others. Proponents of public reason often present the idea as an implication of a particular conception of persons as free and equal. Each of us is free in the sense of not being naturally subject to any other person’s moral or political authority, and we are equally situated with respect to this freedom from the natural authority of others. How, then, can some moral or political rules be rightly imposed on all of us, particularly if we assume deep and permanent disagreement amongst persons about matters of value, morality, religion, and the good life?
The answer, for proponents of public reason, is that such rules can rightly be imposed on persons when the rules can be justified by appeal to ideas or arguments that those persons, at some level of idealization, endorse or accept. But public reason is not only a standard by which moral or political rules can be assessed: it can also provide standards for individual behavior. Because we make moral and political demands of each other, if we are to comply with the ideal of public reason, we must refrain from advocating or supporting rules that cannot be justified to those on whom the rules would be imposed. We should instead, some insist, only support those rules we sincerely believe can be justified by appeal to suitably shared or public considerations—for example, widely endorsed political values such as freedom and equality—and abstain from appealing to religious arguments, or other controversial views over which reasonable people are assumed to disagree. In this way, public reason can be presented as a standard for assessing rules, laws, institutions, and the behavior of individual citizens and public officials.
Problem of Dirty Hands, The
Should political leaders violate the deepest constraints of morality in order to achieve great goods or avoid disasters for their communities? This question poses what has become known amongst philosophers as the problem of dirty hands. There are many different strands to the philosophical debate about this topic, and they echo many of the complexities in more popular thinking about politics and morality. All, however, involve the idea that correct political action must sometimes conflict with profound moral norms. This entry seeks to unravel these strands and clarify the central normative issues about politics that the cry of ‘dirty hands’ evokes. Beginning with an illustrative passage from a renowned 19th century English novel, the essay traces the dirty hands tradition back to Machiavelli, though its present vogue is owed mostly to the writings of the distinguished American political theorist, Michael Walzer. Walzer’s views are explored in the light of earlier theorists such as Machiavelli and Max Weber and certain vacillations in his intellectual posture are briefly discussed. This leads to the posing of five issues with which the entry is principally concerned.
First, is the dirty hands problem simply confused and its formulation the merest contradiction? Second, does the overriding of moral constraints take place within morality or somehow beyond it? Third, can the cry of dirty hands be restricted wholly or principally to politics or does it speak equally to other areas of life, and, where politics is concerned, do only the principal agents get dirty hands or do their citizens share in the taint? This is the problem of scope. Fourth, how are the circumstances that call for dirty hands best described? Fifth, the dirty hands problem has affinities with the problem raised by moral dilemmas, but the question is: should those similarities be allowed to obscure significant differences?
In the course of addressing these issues, the dirty hands challenge is also distinguished from that of political realism, with which it has some affinities, and the resort to role morality to render dirty hands coherent is discussed, as is the issue of the desirability of shaming or punishing dirty hands agents. The relevance of ‘threshold deontology’ is explored, and it is suggested that much of the point of invoking dirty hands comes from an ambiguous attitude to absolute moral prohibitions, combining a rejection of them with a certain wistful attachment to their flavour.
Some political philosophers and theorists place a requirement of public justification on the permissible use of state coercion or political power. According to these theorists the recognition of citizens as free and equal moral persons deserving of respect requires that coercion be justified for or to others by their own lights, or with reasons that they could recognize as valid. On this view, a public justification is achieved when members of the relevant public have adequate or sufficient reason to endorse a particular coercive proposal, law or policy. Those who endorse this requirement are often called public reason liberals as they hold that the coercive power of the state must be justified for or to all members of the public on the basis of good reasons.
Coercion is taken to be the object of public justification because it is the characteristic feature of political life. Charles Larmore remarks that public justification has ‘to do with the sort of respect we owe one another in the political realm — that is, in relationships where the possibility of coercion is involved’ (Larmore 2008, 86). Rawls’s principle of public justification holds that it is political power that must be justified (Rawls 2005, 12) since, as he remarks, ‘political power is always coercive power’ (Rawls 2005, 68). Jonathan Quong holds that public justification concerns the imposition of coercive laws (Quong 2011, 233–250). The scope and individuation of coercion is addressed in the next subsection, but here it must be emphasized that, as Christopher Eberle puts it, (2002, 54) ‘the clarion call of justificatory liberalism is the public justification of coercion’.
Notwithstanding the characteristic association between public reason liberalism and the requirement of public justification, public justification is the genus and public reason the species. The idea of public justification is, at its root, an idea about what justifies coercion. Although we can arrive at a state in which some social arrangement is publicly justified by an explicit course of reasoning leading to the legitimation of that state, this is not intrinsic to the more general idea of public justification, as we will see later. In particular, we can arrive at a state in which some arrangement is publicly justified by non-deliberative, indeed non-discursive means, and it is for this reason that public reason is a narrower notion than public justification.
Rule of Law, The
The phrase ‘the Rule of Law’ has to be distinguished from the phrase ‘a rule of law’. The latter phrase is used to designate some particular legal rule like the rule against perpetuities or the rule that says we have to file our taxes by a certain date. Those are rules of law, but the Rule of Law is one of the ideals of our political morality and it refers to the ascendancy of law as such and of the institutions of the legal system in a system of governance.
The Rule of Law comprises a number of principles of a formal and procedural character, addressing the way in which a community is governed. The formal principles concern the generality, clarity, publicity, stability, and prospectivity of the norms that govern a society. The procedural principles concern the processes by which these norms are administered, and the institutions—like courts and an independent judiciary that their administration requires. On some accounts, the Rule of Law also comprises certain substantive ideals like a presumption of liberty and respect for private property rights. But these are much more controversial. And indeed as we shall see there is a great deal of controversy about what the Rule of Law requires.
Social Choice Theory
Social choice theory is the study of collective decision processes and procedures. It is not a single theory, but a cluster of models and results concerning the aggregation of individual inputs (e.g., votes, preferences, judgments, welfare) into collective outputs (e.g., collective decisions, preferences, judgments, welfare). Central questions are: How can a group of individuals choose a winning outcome (e.g., policy, electoral candidate) from a given set of options? What are the properties of different voting systems? When is a voting system democratic? How can a collective (e.g., electorate, legislature, collegial court, expert panel, or committee) arrive at coherent collective preferences or judgments on some issues, on the basis of its members’ individual preferences or judgments? How can we rank different social alternatives in an order of social welfare? Social choice theorists study these questions not just by looking at examples, but by developing general models and proving theorems.
Pioneered in the 18th century by Nicolas de Condorcet and Jean-Charles de Borda and in the 19th century by Charles Dodgson (also known as Lewis Carroll), social choice theory took off in the 20th century with the works of Kenneth Arrow, Amartya Sen, and Duncan Black. Its influence extends across economics, political science, philosophy, mathematics, and recently computer science and biology. Apart from contributing to our understanding of collective decision procedures, social choice theory has applications in the areas of institutional design, welfare economics, and social epistemology.
Think back to the last time you needed to make a decision as a member of a group. This may have been when you voted for your favorite political candidate during the last election. On a smaller scale, it may have been when you took part in a committee that needed to choose the best candidate for a job or a student to receive a special award. What method, or procedure, did the group use to make the final decision? Many interesting issues arise when we carefully examine our group decision-making processes. Consider a simple example of a group of friends deciding where to go for dinner. If everyone agrees on which restaurant is best, then it is obvious where to go. But how should the friends decide where to go if they have different opinions about which restaurant is best? Is there always a choice that is ‘fair’ taking into account everyone’s opinions? Or are there situations in which one person must be chosen to act as a ‘dictator’ by making a unilateral decision?