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October 01, 2010



I dunno. There's been some gloating by people who clearly don't like him on a personal level, but surely the larger point is just that David M. was the man set to continue the Blair/Campbell/Mandelson legacy of authoritarianism and bullshit wars? That's where he did his political apprenticeship, that's where all his connections were, and that was what he was likely to bring to the Labour party in the future.

If you don't like any of those things, you're probably happy he's gone. Whether or not you think any of that is his fault is kind of a separate question.

Luis Enrique

V interesting. Reminds me a bit of how one set of newspaper columnists write articles in which they "understand" terrorism but deplore Blair, Bush etc., and the other set which does vice versa.


The reason that people condemn certain kinds of behaviour is to maintain norms against those kinds of behaviour.

By criticising powerful people for condoning torture we contribute to an environment in which it is less likely that powerful people condone torture, which we hope will be an environment in which it is less likely for torture to occur.


"A sunflower responds to incentives by turning itself to the sun. But do we call it autonomous?"

Yes. What else is it? The fact that pretty much all sunflowers face the sun is because the nature/nurture balance is heavily tilted towards nature in sunflowers. I'd imagine it has as much 'free will' as, say, an ant - just rather fewer choices. Whether it can be said to have free will at all in the absence of consciousness is a different question, but I'm sure it's looking for the sunflower equivalent of the good life.

My dog chases (ineptly) rabbits and deer, presumably responding to the incentive of a good meal. He's still pretty autonomous - more so than I'd like !

Paul Sagar

I think you are moving too fast here. Let's leave aside the metaphysics of free will (though if you want to get into that, Peter Strawson's paper Freedom and Resentment remains the best single treatment).

It is an observable Fact About Us that in assessing character, we look back at past actions and choices as indicators of personal merit. We also take very seriously the point that people who are well educated and resourced are able to make choices over a range of options that the less fortunate are not - and those past choices matter when we are forming judgements about people and whether or not they should have decision making power in future.

Your jump from Miliband covering up torture to blaming drug addicts thus starts to look shaky. First, because the background conditions in these lives are different and responses ought to vary accordingly. Second, because future decisions need to be considered: you don't need to blame a heroin addict to conclude that he might not be the best person to put in charge of a drug erradication programme (ditto Miliband and govt - except we may think the fact he didn't do more re torture further damns his competence to lead, etc).

As for your wider Rawlsian point about people being largely irresponsible for their social positions due to arbitrary factors beyond their control - that's all very well and good when looking at big picture inequality and wider social policy. But be careful about straightforwardly deploying it at the level of specific individuals: it's a brute fact that human beings hold other human beings responsible for their past actions, even if some human choices are more equal than others. This is an important aspect of free will and Rawlsian luck questions, and if you ignore it by becoming overly mechanical and deterministic you'll end up doing weird things like saying we shouldn't hold politicians responsible for bad decisions when the very essence of political life revolves around responsibility and its consequences - and your account won't track the complex reality we live in, or the basic emotive reactions that cannot be junked if we want an accurate account of moral and political life.

Paul Sagar

Shorter: if it feels like you're not in reflective equilibrium here, it's cos you ain't.

Cliff Tolputt

Real freedom! Now that begs a few questions, one being the limitations of choice. You make the bed or it's made for you and constraints arise.


Well Chris why are you so hostile to Harriet Harperson? Do you have any proof she is more of a careerist or hypocrite than the Millibores?

As a politician her Equality Act must be one of the greatest pc achievements ever. By any one. Political correctness gone mad as she put it herself.And the Mail agrees so she cant be all bad.

Are you against Harman as she is a women? Are only your male uni chums allowed to be Socialist heroes?

Are you suffering from that old socially conservative trade union men only prejudice? Surprising in a Oxbridge graduate!

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