Big Philosophical Questions

Between Constitutional Law, Criminal Law, Property, and Law and Philosophy, there've been a surprising number of Big Philosophical Questions coming up in my academic life lately. Not, generally, philosophical to the highest level of abstraction, but philosophy as applied to high-level political organization. I think these are interesting questions, and I'd be intrigued to hear how you all would answer them.

These aren't, generally, questions that are debated in current politics, so they're not emotionally-charged (No "Does life begin at birth, or conception, or somewhere in between?" type questions). They're about political organization, but they aren't necessarily fought over by the political parties in America today. Also, I'll try to phrase them in a non-loaded way, since I think all of them are subject to legitimate debate.

1. (I'll start with a very broad one) Should the morality of an action be judged based on overriding moral principles, irrespective of the action's consequences, or should morality be judged based on what the likely real-world consequences of that action will be?

2. What is the goal of criminal punishment? To visit retribution on the criminal for an immoral offense against society? To deter future crime? To rehabilitate the criminal?

3. Is it better for judges to mechanically apply the law in all cases that come before them, regardless of the circumstances under which the case arose, or for a judge to have little regard for prior precedent, deciding each case on an individual basis according to personal theories of what is right and which party deserves to win (subject to the constraints of the relevant legislation)?

4. Where do rights come from? Do we have rights because they are practical and useful for society, or do rights come from some outside moral rule (be it God's Law, Natural Law, Human Nature, an inherent sense of justness and fairness, or whatever else)?

5. Should government be bound by past generations? That is, if the popular, democratic will wishes to do something which is opposed by some aspect of the constitution, should the people be forbidden from doing what they wish because, at a time in the past, a sufficient number of people believed otherwise and codified this belief in the Constitution?

6. To what degree should a democratic society be governed according to the popular will, and to what degree should it be governed by non-elected experts?

7. In setting up a scheme of representative government, should the priority be towards maximizing responsiveness of the national government to the national will, or maximizing responsiveness of individual representatives to the community they represent?

For all of these questions, even though they're framed as A or B, don't feel obliged to take the extreme. You can militate or mix as you like, though I'd like to know which side you lean towards intuitively.

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This page contains a single entry by Zach published on January 27, 2006 9:19 AM.

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