Is taxation theft?

obviously a highly oversimplified, underspecified question ... to which I might return some similar questions: is using a road you didn't pay for theft? is going to a school you didn't pay for theft? is being treated by an ambulance you didn't pay for theft? .... there are many important concepts that need elucidation before one could answer such questions with any substance, but at bare minimum (seems to me) we need to take into account that the vast majority of us (at least in the US and Europe, say) live in communal structures, and that we cannot avoid recognizing that the bare minima for comfortable lives involve people working together whether they want to or not, and at least within that framework the idea of taxation, to support communal necessities (say), would not prima facie count as a form of theft .... but clearly much more to be said here -- hope that's a useful beginning ... ap

There will be an election in my country in the next few months and when I look at all the platforms of the parties that are running, I despise all of them. Yes, there may be a few parties which may have one or two stand alone positions I like, but everything else I find unappealing. Is the solution then to just not vote at all or should individuals do something active since voting is a very passive activity that only happens several years apart? I think low voter turnout in a democracy is actually a GOOD thing (since parties and electoral boards are always encouraging people to do the opposite, making politics into a competitive spectator sport) as it may lead to new parties and movements to expand the number of options.

good, difficult question. one of many possible strategies would be to choose the party that you think, overall, to be the least bad, or is likely to the least ill. Of course if you generally despise all the options then it may be very difficult to determine which party fits that description, in which case not voting at all seems to make the most sense (since any vote would just be arbitrary). One other option would be for YOU to found the "new party"/movement that you think is best, or at least take steps in that direction. You could do this either in place of, or in addition to, casting the vote for the least bad. ap

Does democracy necessarily assume that the voters are rational and educated? I was always of the opinion that democracy was the best system because there is no way in non-democratic systems to ensure that the state is acting in the best interests of the people. Is this a compelling argument or is there a better counterargument? Do the arguments that "voters are irrational" or "voters are unduly influenced by the media" really defeat democracy? Is it better to have a well-intentioned non-democratic state look after the interests of the people?

Wonderful question, deserving of complicated book-length responses .... As (I think) Churchill said, democracy is a terrible form of government, but even so it's less terrible than every other possible form ... A few disorganized thoughts. I suppose some might hold that "ideal" forms of democracy would exist where voters are rational, educated, etc. (and historically various democracies have tried to restrict franchisement to those who fit various conditions -- such as having property, being literate, etc.). Of course, those forms of democracy tend to be seen these ways as involving those in power propagating their power and suppressing those below them ... Even if you're okay with restricting the vote in some such way, democracy is messy -- even very educated, rational people disagree. (Ask three professional philosophers, get four opinions ...) So I suppose that if the goal of government is to act "in the best interests of the people," what you would most like would be very wise, autocratic rulers --...

Why is propaganda considered bad? If a government wants to express a viewpoint why shouldn't that be allowed? Why do people have to be informed that their government is expressing a view rather than some other entity? For example the government made a series of news segments which it then gave to various news agencies who aired them without attributing their source to the government. I mean if those videos didn't contain any lies what is the problem?

Good question, and perhaps your last sentence hits the nail on the head. Perhaps in its earliest days the concept of "propaganda" didn't necessarily have a negative connotation -- it was just a matter of getting information 'out there', and surely there is nothing wrong with the idea of a gov't participating in and faciliting the distribution of information. But the concept these days DOES carry a negative connotation, precisely in the assumption that the information so conveyed is not reliable. When you refer to 'propaganda' these days you are implying that the information is biased, selective, misleading, etc. -- which it can be in all sorts of disturbing ways even if it falls short of being an outright "lie." For example the government might release a report citing a bunch of economists praising a particular economic strategy the gov't is backing -- and conveniently leaving out reference to the numerous other economists who argue it won't work. That's not a lie, exactly, but if you are expecting the...

How can we justify using juries in our court systems when there are significant problems of discrimination and stigmatization against certain groups? Don't such common biases in society undermine the role of the jury as a supposedly neutral judge of evidence?

I'm reminded of (I think) Churchill's observation that democracy is a terrible form of government, but it's the least bad of all the alternatives .... You are surely right in your observation, but what alternative would be better? *Every* individual may well be subject to the same biases, even "experts," and you have to put the accused up for judgment before *someone*: at least if you make it a reasonably large group of people, and do your best to avoid "biased" people, and to select "peers," you seem to maximize your chances of getting something resembling "objectivity" or neutrality ... ap

Should I care about the starving people in Africa? Am I responsible for feeding them? With all the Christmas charity drives, is it not unfair to ignore the poor right here in my country and instead give money to people in distant country? I feel sorry for them, but I'm not sure about how morally obligated I am to donate my money.

Terrific, and challenging, question, and a very relevant one given all the 'occupy' movements of the past few months -- where many people (young, American, etc.) who are better off than most other people on Earth are demanding to be even better off, rather than demanding to help those who are genuinely worse off! .... Rather than give you my answer, let me refer you to a recent and very provocative and influential (and very readable) book on the subject: Princeton ethicist Peter Singer published, a couple years ago, a book called "THe Life You Can Save," which explores that very question at great length, arguing (in short) that most of us ought to do an awful lot more towards helping even distant others than we actually do .... And once you've read that, you can google 'responses to Singer' and begin exploring the various reasons philosophers offer to suggest that Singer goes too far ... hope that's a start -- ap

If I discover someone is doing something unjust and ignore it, is it wrong for me to ignore it as 'not my business'?

good question, but i'm sure it's underdescribed -- there probably are cases of 'yes', cases of 'no', and cases of 'undetermined.' Depends precisely what you mean by justice etc. -- and the complex relationship between (say) justice and the law ... No doubt we have moral obligations to intervene when someone is doing something widely judged to be very unjust -- but when the action is less unjust, or when intervening itself might involve breaking a law or other moral obligation, then those latter constraints might outweigh the original injustice ... The thing to do, I think, is try to generate a number of different examples, and then restate the question in the context of specific examples! best, Andrew

Bertrand Russell famously said "(1) that when the experts are agreed, the opposite opinion cannot be held to be certain; (2) that when they are not agreed, no opinion can be regarded as certain by a non-expert; and (3) that when they all hold that no sufficient grounds for a positive opinion exist, the ordinary man would do well to suspend his judgment." If I abide by these rules, what reason is there for me voting in elections, or even having a political opinion at all?

Not just political opinions but most opinions probably .... But anyway: who determines who the experts are, within any given field? and most of the self-proclaimed experts would repudiate (3) above: they feel there IS sufficient grounds for opinion, and that those grounds support their opinion, so acc. to most 'experts' #2 is generally the case ... But then the response is: why is "certainty" a requirement for having an opinion, esp re elections? why not say one should simply reach the opinion that seems most reasonable to one in light of the information available, and vote for the person/proposition which seems right or most reasonable, whether or not it's 'certain'?

I am an atheist fully in favour of a secular society. However I have recently been alarmed by the burka ban recently put in place by the French government. This to me seems at best to be a draconian, knee jerk reaction to something that effects a very small number of people (apparently 1,900 women in France) and at worst thinly veiled racism. I am in no way in favour of the burka or any form of religious dress, but a carpet ban seems to me to be wrong. Surely it is better to live in a society in which such things are allowed, in the hope that one day the people wearing the burka feel they no longer need to. It is often cited as a reason for the ban that it stops oppression of muslim women, but it seems that taking away the option to wear something is a form of oppression also. As an atheist who wishes for as secular a society as possible, am I justified to be concerned about such a law and people lobbying for a similar ban in Britain?

haven't read the nussbaum piece alexander suggests; but i believe one of the motivations of the french law is a security one -- though not many french women wear them, there already have been incidents of men criminals/or terrorists wearing them to escape detection ... (there certainly have been many such in the mid-east where burks are more common) .... and there you have the public interest in security weighed against the individual 'right' to obscure oneself .... I can also see a case made that genuine participation in the civic life of a free society requiers being visible -- identifiable -- sure there's an important role for anonymity, but people's whose opinions are only expressed anonymously when they have nothign to fear from expressing them non-anonymously seem to me to be worth less ... (maybe) ... so that might be a second reason to reject such a ban (though weighs less heavily against the religious desire to wear one, I suppose) .... just some thoughts Andrew

Is there more to peace than the absence of war?

that's a beautiful (and enormous) question! but is it just a semantic question -- ie how shall we use the word 'peace', should we apply it even to cases where there is merely the absence of war (eg relationship between Egypt/Israel) -- or is it something deeper? Pretty clearly (if not exhaustively) we could begin to identify any number of factors/aspect of 'peaceful' relationships -- starting with non-explicit violence, but then adding things like economic cooperation, cultural exchanges, inter-country travel etc. -- and decide (maybe arbitrarily) to restrict the word "peace" to cases where some of these are present, to some significant degree -- and say things like 'that's not REALLY peace between Egypt/Israel" -- but maybe not much is gained by decisions about how to use the word 'peace', once we begin identifying those factors which constitute genuine relationships between countries .... best, Andrew Pessin