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Imagine you come across a major road traffic incident and there are multiple casualties.  Suddenly, someone shouts out to you, “Phone for an ambulance!”  Do you think “who put you in charge?!” and refuse to phone or do you phone?  That is, do you accept this person’s authority?  What kind of a person are you that would not phone?

I use this as an illustration of accepting authority.  It is quite congenial for you to phone, because you would after all.1

Do I believe that there is currently a global warming, that is, an artificial climate change brought about by humanity activities that can be brought under some form of control?  Yes, but why?  Because those who specialise in climate, who study it and use the scientific method2 tell me that this is happening.  I trust in their authority in this matter (and I like to think I am intelligent enough to understand their conclusion and evidence.

So we have two types of authority.  One of orders and another based on trusting some person or people to have special knowledge.  And, as so often happens, we allow the two meanings to elide into one another.  This can be serious when we believe our specialists in politics to have specialist knowledge, because of what they specialise in.  Politics, like Morality, is not the special preserve of specialists as are various fields of science or arts or farming or almost any activity that is humanly possible and even then any intelligent person can critique that activity.  Here, by special preserve, I merely mean an area  of human activity that someone specialises in.  Politics and Morality are both areas of activity in which all that can, should take part in, although there are areas ancillary to the high-level area that can be left to specialists, but these should remain supportive of the high-level area.  They should have influence , not control.

In practice, of course, we have people who claim to specialise in politics and these are of two types: those in (elective) office and those in public service.3

So let’s distinguish the two types of authority as order authority and knowledge authority.

Order  authority is there in our evolution.  Just look at animals and see how they behave and, apart from occasional challenges, the leader of the herd, pack, flock, etc., is obeyed.  A moment’s reflection helps you realise the survival value of this; the group stays together.  It is not a collection of vulnerable individuals, but one entity with a common purpose.  Authority ensures survival.4

However,  just as a bit of further reflection should make you realise that being able to question that authority and getting agreement from as many of the people affected will be more beneficial to everyone.  The experience and the ideas of all can make a better decision.  This can go wrong when those in authority strive to either not inform or actively mislead.  The result will often be a disaster for the collective involved.5

Finally, it should be noticed that following the advice or orders of Authority does not mean that the system is Authoritarian.  The idea that it is either due to the elision of the two types of authority so that the advice of the specialists is confused with orders or to think that there is no context in which  obeying orders is still compatible with the exercise of personal freedom.


1  There is a part of me that goes why has no one else phoned, especially the one giving the orders?  So let’s say his/her battery has run out or s/he is already dealing with a  casualty.

2  This will be the subject of another post.

3  This will be the subject of another post.

4 With persons, rather than animals, it is useful, at times and under certain conditions to simply obey.  Apart from the armed forces in combat, situations like the one described at the start of this post can be used to illustrate this.  Note the restricted use.  Danger arises when the authority for a particular situation is extended beyond that.

5 To my mind, this partially (not wholly, of course) explains the result of the UK’s EU Membership Referendum of 23/6/16.  Many of the areas that voted for ending membership have a population that is both the least consulted by government and which has had its social and economic  deprivation halted or reversed by EU projects.  Once these projects stop and are not replaced,  then the deprivation will start anew.

Wittgenstein and Family Resemblance: An Aside

Aristotle was perhaps the original fan of logic as a discipline.  Previous philosophers had recognised logic an argument, but Aristotle was, by comparison, obsessed.  His main interest was in inductive logic, that is, given a series of events (such as the sun rising every day), then the next event can be predicted (so the sun will rise tomorrow).  This may be the type of logic that we use most, but it is of limited use.  In the example, the sun will eventually not rise one day.

Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes would solve crimes by the use of what he claimed was deductive logic.  Holmes’s method of detection was to decide between theories of how a crime was committed by eliminating the impossible theories until only one theory (no matter how improbable) was left.  This is, however, not deductive logic, but abductive logic.  One issue with this is type of logic is simply, what if there is another theory that fits the facts but which has not been considered?

Deductive logic, in its simplest form, starts with premises, that is, alleged facts and is used to argue for a third fact (providing rules are followed) or conclusion.  I say alleged as the premise may be false.  Socrates was a man and all men are mortal are facts and the conclusion that Socrates was mortal is a true conclusion.  If instead we claim that all men speak with Irish accents, we get the conclusion that Socrates spoke with an Irish accent, which is wrong.

To come to the conclusion, that is, show, that Socrates was mortal, we had to know that Socrates was a man.  This is an example of a necessary reason.  It was needed to show that he was mortal.

In this case, it is also a sufficient reason to show Socrates’s mortality.

Let’s turn to something a little more difficult.  Why are football, chess, hide-and-seek and Suduko all games, when all are so different?  Did people just attach the word game to all is there one fact about each of them that marks them out as all being games (and other activities being not games).  All have rules, but so does logic and this is not a game.  Is there one feature?  Why has no one found that one feature?

Wittgenstein is not an easy philosopher to read.  He published one book in his lifetime, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus and his students collected his lectures for another book, Philosophical Investigations.  Leaving aside, that his work was conducted to show there is no such thing as philosophy, he did make big contributions to philosophy.  I want to consider only his notion of family resemblance.

Wittgenstein looked at games and wanted to see what was the sufficient condition to show what was a game.  He realised there was not one, but there were conditions that overlapped from one distinct type of game (like a sport) to another and then to another and called this a family resemblance.

How big is the family?  As large as there is some connection, but no so large that the name given becomes meaningless; football and tennis are sports, chess, tennis and football are games, but logic is neither.

More we can now see resemblances between political creeds and religions (say) and can apply similar critiques with greater justification.  In the next post, I would like to explore authority, which is deeply embedded in (organised) religion and in most political creeds.

Non-Participation and Consent in Democracy (Part Three)

In this part, I want to consider consent.

One question has to be asked at this point, what is meant by democracy?  The first two parts just assumed that we knew what we were talking about and even gave two examples.1  Democracy is a multiply ambiguous word but, for our purposes, we can consider that democracy describes a variety of systems on a continuum and we are using democracy to cover at least a large part of this.2

In whatever way democracy is defined, it must be to do with the will of the people, or more accurately the will of a section of the people, who are entitled to vote on decisions or for representatives (called, of course, the voters, or better still as they have rights beside this, citizens).  This still gives a wide segment of the continuum, where the definition of who are the people is important as they could narrow the range of citizens quite significantly.  To go back to the first recognised modern democracy, that of Athens (from 508 BCE onwards), we have quite tight restrictions on who can be citizens [footnote: women, metics (foreign residents or freed slaves), slaves, youths and others were excluded, leaving a citizen body of about 10% of the entire population].  This does mean that the citizens were ruling over a number of people who were many times larger than they were.  This means that a vast body of people within the democracy were not giving their consent.

So to take a stab at a, to me, more congenial definition, I propose to use the Lincoln definition of “government of the people, by the people, for the people.” [footnote: Gettysburg Address from] This is, of course, little better than a slogan, however inspiring it is.  There are also two different meanings to people in this short phrase as ‘by the people’ will mean the citizens, but anyone else who will be affected by the decisions of the voters and their elected representatives.  Even in the widest franchise possible, there will be those who cannot vote, such as infants, those in comas, those deemed to not be competent and those excluded as having not joined the society.

Democracy is, almost by definition, inclusive.  A democracy should be aiming to include not only current voters, but anyone else that is otherwise eligible, but currently excluded.  Taking this notion further, we can see that there is no such thing as a democracy where the citizens all give their consent and without consent, democracy loses legitimacy.  And this is where I find difficulty when I started out on this three part blog, I had thought I would at this stage show that a democracy worthy of the name would be based on the consent of its citizens and though it is and no matter how many times I have redrafted this, I have failed to show this to my satisfaction.  This is a bigger topic than I had first thought and I will return to it once I have worked out what I mean and what I think is required, but much later.

1. One is more democratic than the other; it should also be clear that the UK systems have substantial undemocratic elements – this will be looked into later.

2.  Some regimes, such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo or the German Democratic Republic, were only democracies if severe damage was done to what would generally be meant by democracy.  Note that I am not an essentialist and that one word means only one concept, but neither do I think that any old meaning should be attached to a word; sometimes a meaning for a word has to be defended.

Non-Participation and Consent in Democracy (Part Two)

In the previous post, I talked about four reasons for non-participation.  These could be grouped as internally-decided and externally-decided; the distinction being those reasons decided by the actual person, even if this is not well-reasoned, are internally-decided, whilst those decided for a person by others are externally-decided.  This distinction will, of course, blur, but is still useful.  An internally-decided reason is one that comes from the free thought of a person and, as such, can be reasoned with or can persuade.

An externally-decided reason may be accepted by a person for many reasons.  It can be imposed by order or can accepted by the person as coming from a (true) authority on this matter [there will be a later post about authority, but as that is a big subject I do not want to expand too much on it here], to give two examples.  From these examples, it can be seen that this is quite dangerous.

Following the Risorgimento, a limited democratic franchise was introduced (around 1% of adult male suffrage; increased to full adult male suffrage by the early 20th century CE) and the Popes ordered Catholics not to vote.  One can think of Anarchists taking the externally-decided route, that because it is in their principles and without examining them.

Of course, persons will normally decide by both internally- and externally-decided factors.  There is a complex relationship between these factors and this could be a topic to return to later.

I will now examine three further reasons for non-participation.  Fifthly, the political party’s non-reflection of the actual view’s of the voter.  It may be the voter has no political party that reflects his/her views or that the party that comes closest has policies that the voter is against, for example, a voter may agree with many of the policies of the Scottish Green Party, but consider her/himself to be British and not wanting to vote for a separatist party.  This reason may be coupled with the third reason from Part One; instead of voting for a party, s/he is active in other societies.

Sixthly, there is the worry that a vote cast will not count or not make any difference to the outcome.  This is a reason often put forward to prevent people voting as a reason not to vote.  Clearly, one individual vote amongst thousands may not be decisive, but if sufficient supporters of one position or a party decide not to vote then that party or position will lose and an opposing position or party will triumph and perhaps will be regarded as having a sufficient mandate to rule or be implemented against majority opinion.

Seventhly (and the fourth reason may be seen as a special case of this), the voter has a lack of confidence in him/herself despite political and legal equality.  This is different from the sixth reason which is about confidence in the outcome, whereas this is about the inner confidence of the voter.  We are now into an area of positive freedom.  Supporters of pure negative freedom could claim that anyone and everyone has full political and legal rights and it is up to them to exercise them and, if they do not, that is their issue alone.  Part of my reply that democracy is a social system intended for the benefit of all (that is, not just all the enfranchised, but save that for a later post) and that anyone entitled to vote should be encouraged to do so and part of that encouragement is to find out why not.  As stated, this is because of lack of confidence and this lack of confidence will be from poor education.  This is, admittedly,  rather a sweeping statement; there may be other elements but a lack of confidence for most people will be from their education where they have not been encouraged to see themselves for what they are, that is, the rulers of their society, which they must be if democracy is to be more than endorsement of other people’s rule, that is, where democracy is merely a formal process open to the anarchist’s criticism, that the citizen of a democracy is merely voting to take part in his/her own oppression.

Another part of my answer is legitimacy for a democratic system is through consent.  Consent will form the main subject of  Part 3.


Government of the people, by the people, for the people.

Non-Participation and Consent in Democracy (Part One)

One of the most disturbing aspects of democracy for committed democrats (like myself) is the low participation, at least in the official participation known as an election.  Take, for example, the recent Scottish Parliamentary elections, where SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon claimed that “[t]he result of the election was emphatic…we won a clear and unequivocal mandate.”1  The SNP had won just less than half the seats and had attracted  44.1% of the votes cast from a voter turnout of 55.7%. Now this is considered a good turnout (the Westminster turnout is higher; 66.1% for the UK as a whole; 77.1% for Scotland) and the percentage voting for the winning party being 36.9% giving the Conservative and Unionist Party over 50% of the seats3.  These are usually regarded as good turnouts.

A few observations can be made and I shall attend to only a few of those.  In the Westminster election, you do not need very many voters to give a political party power.  This does not seem at all democratic.  The Holyrood system gives a better reflection of the wishes of the electorate, but still the political party in power has less than half of the votes of the entire franchise.  I shall return to this issue of lack of legitimacy due to low support for both ruling party and representative democracy later.  For now, the issue to look at is non-participation.

Without a survey of the non-participants (some of whom may actually turn out to be the most important non-participants as their views may suggest the way forward), I shall suggest at this time four reasons.

Firstly, the person is an Anarchist and will not vote as s/he perceives this is against his/her principles.

Secondly, the person is in a (usually religious) movement that forbids voting (either explicitly or implicitly).

Thirdly, the person is actually politically active in various movements, such as wildlife societies and considers that s/he is carrying out his/rights and duties towards society in an adequate manner.

Fourthly, discrimination.  Just because one has the vote does not mean that one is regarded as a free and equal citizen by others and this may discourage one from voting.



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There seems to be two main definitions of multiculturism and both get confused with one another.  There is one definition where the ‘quirks’ and accidents of culture should be mainly tolerated as long as that culture does no harm to persons and other cultures (which I agree with – toleration here does not preclude criticism).

The other definition is that the individual person is subsumed within their culture (whether they chose their culture or not) and that no-one can interfere with the culture’s claim over the individual.  In practice this means that the powerful members of the hierarchy of the culture get to impose their prejudices and that any criticism is seen as intolerant.  Difficult to choose examples despite their abundance as the holders of this second view will see it as an attack on their culture (and I expect they genuinely believe it to be so.

I would urge support of the first view and just disgust at the second.

It is two years since I [posted the above, so high time to post something again.  My imnterest is in Political and Social Philosophy and this will now form the basis of this blog, with excursions into politics (note the small p) and into othet areas of philosophy.  My intention is one blog per week or more.