Liberalism in politics is associated with nonauthoritarianism, the rule of law, constitutional government with limited powers, and the guarantee of civil and political liberties. A liberal society is tolerant of different religious, philosophical, and ethical doctrines and allows individuals to freely form and express their conscientious convictions and opinions on all matters and live according to their chosen purposes and life paths. In economic terms, liberalism is associated with an unplanned economy with free and competitive markets, as well as private ownership and control of productive resources.
The basic institutions that are characteristic of a liberal society are constitutionalism and the rule of law; equal basic rights and liberties; formal equality of opportunity; free, competitive markets with private property in means of production; government’s obligation to provide public goods and a social minimum; and the fiduciary nature of political power to impartially provide for the public good. Liberals interpret these basic institutions differently. Classical liberalism regards extensive property rights and economic liberties as basic, while libertarians see all rights as property rights and as absolute. High liberalism regards economic liberties as subordinate to personal and political liberties and subject to regulation, with redistribution of income and wealth to mitigate gross inequalities and provide all citizens with adequate resources to guarantee the worth of their basic liberties and opportunities.
Power is a complex topic that is viewed in entirely different ways by different writers. Power can be seen as a property of agents, with some agents having more power than others. It can be seen as a property of social systems, where structures hold power. It can also be seen in terms of specific actions by people to coerce or dominate, or it can be regarded as a subliminal force that leads people to think and behave in one way rather than another. It can be analyzed descriptively to try to explain how it is distributed, and critically to argue for changing structures to provide a more egalitarian and fairer distribution.
Power studies flourished in the great community power studies of the 1950s and 1960s. Some of these works suggested that democratic nations were controlled by powerful elites who ruled in their own interests; some that power was more widely distributed and elites could not simply rule for themselves; others that in capitalist societies, despite some counterexamples, elites generally ruled in favor of developers and capitalists. Later studies examined how people’s interests are defined in terms of the structural positions in which they find themselves, and how the very ways in which we think and express ourselves affect our individual powers.
Ever since Aristotle, the comparative study of political regimes and their performance has relied on classifications and typologies. The study of democracy today has been influenced heavily by Arend Lijphart’s typology of consensus versus majoritarian democracy. Scholars have applied it to more than 100 countries and sought to demonstrate its impact on no less than 70 dependent variables. This paper summarizes our knowledge about the origins, functioning, and consequences of two basic types of democracy: those that concentrate power and those that share and divide power. In doing so, it will review the experience of established democracies and question the applicability of received wisdom to new democracies.
We can distinguish between three moral approaches to war: pacifism, realism, and just war theory. There are various theoretical approaches to war within the just war tradition. One of the central disputes between these approaches concerns whether war is morally exceptional (as held by exceptionalists), or morally continuous with ordinary life (as held by reductive individualists). There are also significant debates concerning key substantive issues in the ethics of war, such as reductivist challenges to the thesis that combatants fighting an unjust war are the moral equals of those fighting a just war, and the challenge to reductivism that it undermines the principle of noncombatant immunity. There are also changing attitudes to wars of humanitarian intervention. One under-explored challenge to the permissibility of such wars lies in the better outcomes of alternative ways of alleviating suffering. The notion of unconventional warfare has also come to recent prominence, not least with respect to the moral status of human shields.
Prioritarianism is a principle of distributive justice. Roughly, it states that we should give priority to the worse off in the distribution of advantages. This principle has received a great deal of attention in political theory since Derek Parfit first introduced the distinction between egalitarianism and prioritarianism in his Lindley Lecture, published in 1991. In the present article, prioritarianism is defined in terms of a number of structural features of the principle. These structural features are also used to distinguish between this principle and other distributive principles such as utilitarianism, egalitarianism, and leximin. Prioritarianism is mostly discussed as an axiological principle that orders outcomes with respect to their (moral) value, but it is also clarified how it can be incorporated in a criterion of right actions, choices, or policies. Furthermore, different aspects of the principle that need to be further specified to arrive at a full-fledged distributive theory are discussed, including the weights that give priority to the worse off, currency (what kind of advantages should be distributed), temporal unit (the temporal span in which one has to be worse off in order to be entitled to priority), scope (whether the principle applies globally or only domestically, and whether, for example, future generations and non-human animals are covered by the principle), and risk. For each aspect, different possible views are distinguished and discussed. Finally, it is discussed how prioritarianism may be justified, for example, by outlining and discussing the argument that, unlike certain other distribution-sensitive principles such as egalitarianism, prioritarianism is not vulnerable to the so-called “leveling down objection.”
Frej Klem Thomsen
The conceptualization and moral analysis of discrimination constitutes a burgeoning theoretical field, with a number of open problems and a rapidly developing literature. A central problem is how to define discrimination, both in its most basic direct sense and in the most prominent variations. A plausible definition of the basic sense of the word understands discrimination as disadvantageous differential treatment of two groups that is in some respect caused by the properties that distinguish the groups, but open questions remain on whether discrimination should be restricted to concern only particular groups, as well as on whether it is best conceived as a descriptive or a moralized concept. Furthermore, since this understanding limits direct discrimination to cases of differential treatment, it requires that we be able to draw a clear distinction between equal and differential treatment, a task that is less simple than it may appear, but that is helpful in clarifying indirect discrimination and statistical discrimination. The second major problem in theorizing discrimination is explaining what makes discrimination morally wrong. On this issue, there are four dominant contemporary answers: the valuational and expressive disrespect accounts, which hold that discrimination is wrong when and if the discriminator misestimates or expresses a misestimate of the moral status of the discriminatee; the unfairness account, which holds that discrimination is wrong when and if the discriminator unfairly increases inequality of opportunity; and the harm account, which holds that discrimination is wrong when and if the discriminator harms the discriminatee. Each of these accounts, however, faces important challenges in simultaneously providing a persuasive theoretical account and matching our intuitions about cases of impermissible discrimination.
The idea that states should provide a means-tested guaranteed minimum income for citizens who are unable to meet their basic needs is widely shared and has been a central component in the evolution of social citizenship rights in existing welfare states. However, an increasing number of activists and scholars defend the more radical option of establishing a universal basic income, that is, an unconditional income paid to all members of society on an individual basis without any means test or work requirement. Indeed, some political philosophers have argued that basic income is one of the most important reforms in the development of a just and democratic society, comparable to other milestones in the history of citizenship rights, such as universal suffrage or even the abolishment of slavery. Basic income or similar ideas, such as a basic capital or a negative income tax, have been advanced in many versions since the 18th century in different parts of the world and under a great variety of names. However, while these were previously often isolated and disconnected initiatives, basic income has more recently become the object of an increasingly cumulative research effort to shed light on the many aspects of this idea. It has also inspired policy developments and given rise to experiments and pilot projects in several countries.
Marxists believe that an understanding of human society presupposes an understanding of the nature of the production of its material surplus and the nature of control over that surplus. This belief forms part of the “hard core” of the Marxist scientific research program. This hard core is complemented by a set of auxiliary hypotheses and heuristics, constituting what Imre Lakatos has called a scientific research program’s “protective belt.” The protective belt is a set of hypotheses protecting a research program’s hard core. Over the past century and a half, Marxists have populated the protective belt with an economic theory, a theory of history, a theory of exploitation, and a philosophical anthropology, among other things. Analytical Marxism is located in Marxism’s protective belt. It can be seen as a painstaking exercise in intellectual housekeeping. The exercise consists in replacing the tradition’s antiquated, superfluous, or degenerate furnishings with concepts, methods, and auxiliary hypotheses from analytic philosophy and up-to-date social science.
The three most influential strands in analytical Marxism are, roughly: its reconstruction of Marx’s theory of history, historical materialism; its philosophical anthropology, including the theory of freedom; and its theory of exploitation, including the theory of class.
The punishment of criminal offenders constitutes a topic that has for many years received comprehensive attention, both in narrower academic circles and in broader public debate. This is not surprising. State-mandated infliction of death, suffering, or deprivation of freedom on citizens should from the outset be met with hesitation, and constitutes a practice which clearly calls for more profound considerations. Though the theoretical discussion of punishment has dealt with many conceptual and ethical issues, from an overall point of view, it is dominated by two questions.
The first question, as indicated, concerns the justification of legal punishment. Why and under what conditions is it justified for the state to impose punishment on perpetrators? The traditional answers have been split between the utilitarian approach, according to which punishment can be justified in terms of its future desirable consequences, mainly crime prevention, and the retrospectively oriented retributivist approach, which justifies punishment in terms of just deserts. In the modern discussion, the picture has become more diverse. Consequentialist and retributivist justifications have been developed in many different versions and several attempts have been made to combine forward- and backward-looking considerations into coherent schemes. Moreover, genuinely new accounts of penal theories have also been presented.
The second question concerns the issue of how different crimes should be punitively responded to. Though this question is obviously theoretically closely related to the first, it is also clear that the question of how individual offenders should be punished for their respective misdeeds prompts a plethora of more detailed challenges such as: What should determine the gravity of a crime? How should one determine the severity of a punishment? Are there types of punishment that should never be used in the criminal justice system (e.g., capital or corporal punishment)? Much of the contemporary discussion within penal theory is devoted to the task of providing principled solutions to these detailed challenges.
Søren Flinch Midtgaard
In the standard view, A acts paternalistically toward B if and only if: (i) A restricts B’s liberty, (ii) A acts against B’s will, (iii) A acts for B’s own good. For example, the state may tax or prohibit smoking in the interest of citizens’ health in circumstances in which such measures are resisted by them or some of them. Telling counterexamples have been produced to each of these conditions. In the revised view, A acts paternalistically toward B if and only if: (i) A acts so as to influence B by the use of means other than rational persuasion; (ii) A does not regard B’s will as structurally decisive (i.e., A takes the prevention of voluntary self-regarding harm to constitute a reason for influencing B); (iii) A does so for B’s good or to affect matters within B’s legitimate sphere of control; (iv) A’s act cannot be justified without counting its beneficial effects on B in its favor. The wrongness of paternalism lies in the way in which a paternalistic act by A toward B infringes B’s autonomy: A does not consider B’s will authoritative in determining how A should treat B in B’s self-regarding matters―A subjects B’s will to his in this sense. Hard paternalism as thus understood should be distinguished from soft paternalism or anti-paternalism. According to the latter, the prevention of voluntary self-regarding harm is never a good reason for interference. The latter is justifiable only to prevent involuntary self-regarding harm―harm pertaining to acts that are not his or do not represent his values or preferences. Hard paternalism may, pace what soft paternalism or anti-paternalism claims, sometimes be justifiable. This is particularly so when the voluntary self-regarding harm involved is significant and the infringement of liberty required to prevent it limited or acceptable given the harm at stake. The question of when a good or an advantage is profound and when an infringement of liberty is limited is, however, difficult and worthy of further investigation. Paternalistic justifications should be distinguished from other liberty-limiting principles. That is, they should, first, be distinguished from moral paternalism focusing on improving the person’s moral character and hence his moral well-being or on making the person better (as opposed to the improvement of the person’s physical and psychological condition focused on by ordinary or welfare paternalism). Second, it should be distinguished from legal moralism concerned with barring conduct that is intrinsically morally bad (that is, bad for reasons independent of how it affects people’s character or their physical or psychological condition).