Benjamin Studebaker

Yet Another Attempt to Make the World a Better Place by Writing Things

Tag: John Stuart Mill

The Lottery and Reverse Redistribution

I recently read a Salon article by Natasha Lennard drawing attention to the statistical tendency for lottery tickets to be purchased in quite disproportionate numbers by the poorest in society. The article brings up several interesting statistics–households that earn $13,000 or less in the United States spend an average of 9% of their income on lottery tickets, people who feel poor buy twice as many lottery tickets as those who do not, and those earning less than $40,000 in South Carolina make up 54% of the state’s lottery players despite only constituting 28% of its total population. This brings forward to my mind the question of whether or not it is ethical to permit the poor to voluntarily give significant portions of their income to the government so that statistically negligible numbers of them might get extremely lucky and hit it rich.

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The Moral Weakness of Hate Speech Laws

Yesterday, at the United Nations, Egypt’s President Mohamed Morsi expressed support for laws banning hate speech, claiming that, while he respects freedom of expression, he restricts this respect to only one that:

is not used to incite hatred against anyone. One that is not directed toward one specific religion or cult

You can listen to the entire speech here; I was unable to locate a transcript.

The President of Yemen, Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi, was more to the point:

There should be limits for the freedom of expression, especially if such freedom blasphemes the beliefs of nations and defames their figures.

This policy of illegalising what has become known as “hate speech” is held by many leaders in the Middle East, and enshrined in many legal codes not only in the developing world but even in many western countries. Today I would like to put forth an argument that these laws and the beliefs that sustain them display tremendous moral weakness.

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Utilitarianism and Equality

One of the key topics in moral philosophy is utilitarian ethics–the notion that some principle or concept, usually happiness or pleasure or some variant, should be maximised across society. Famously created by Jeremy Bentham, the system of ethics has attracted many famous supporters over the years, most notably John Stuart Mill. However, many writers and theorists critical of utilitarian ethics, including John Rawls, have claimed that utilitarianism attempts to justify high inequality, forcing some to toil in misery for the gain of others. Today I’d like to explore this criticism of utilitarianism to see if it holds water.

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Nanny State Ethics and NYC

Recently New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg has gotten into the business of regulating his citizens’ health choices. Two prominent recent examples come to mind:

Today I would like to discuss whether or not such regulations or “nudge” policies are within the state’s ethical purview. First, let’s look at what sort of argument opponents of these policies have at their disposal:

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