Sunday, June 6, 2010

Normative Analysis Comprehensive Exam

For the Normative Exam, you are given two mandatory questions, and then five specialty questions, of which you choose two. Here are the questions I answered:

1.Rawls’s work on justice, from A Theory of Justice to Public Reason Revisited tries to deal with the core concerns of distributive justice, ranging from equality to freedom to democratic law. In it he tries to answer questions such as: equality with regard to what? freedom to do what? freedom from what? and why care about democratic law? Describe Rawls’s answers to those four questions. Then describe the answers of two other authors  you have read who criticize Rawls. They need not criticize Rawls on all four questions, so feel free to focus only on the questions on which they focus. Say who has the better of the debate, in your opinion. And say why. Use examples if it will help to clarify your point, but do not get caught up in lengthy discussion of examples; keep your focus on the theory.

[For this answer, I talked about Rawls two principles: “(1)Each person is to have an equal right to the most extensive basic liberty compatible with a similar liberty for others, and (2) Social and economic inequalities are to be arranged so that they are both: (a) to the greatest benefit of the least advantaged, and (b) attached to offices and positions open to all under conditions of fair equality of opportunity.” Then I explained how Rawls aims to use deliberative democracy as a way of having reasonable debate, given that people have different political conceptions of justice. They can all agree that democratic laws are legitimate, even if they don't agree with the outcome. I talked about the feminist criticism of Rawls provided by Susin Okin - that he should (but doesn't) include the family in the "basic structure" of society, and that his two principles should apply to the family. I also talked about the criticism of Amartya Sen, who argues that Rawls list of "primary goods" are not sufficient, and that we should focus on increasing the "freedoms" of a person to do various things, rather than on the goods that they have.

2.Consider the case of Bob, who has lived like a church mouse for 10 years, working 80 hours a week as a nurse, saving his money to buy his dream car: which, because he is so ecologically oriented, is now a Tesla Roadster (100% electric). He takes it for a spin down by the trolley tracks and parks it on an obviously unused spur. He goes for a walk along the tracks and to his shock and horror he sees a trolley hurtling, clearly out of control, at 5 workmen straight ahead on the tracks. He also sees that a switch lies nearby and he realizes that if he pulls it, the trolley will be diverted on the spur. He immediately sees that this is the only way to save the five, but that doing so will destroy his brand new Tesla, his pride and joy (the people on board the trolley, he reasons, will survive the impact). His insurance company, however, is very unlikely to cover him for the act of turning a trolley onto his car, no matter how altruistic an act that is. So there it is: save five, or lose his beloved car.

May Bob morally (forget the law for the moment) choose not to sacrifice his Tesla for the five workmen? Keep in mind how much he sacrificed—he lived like a church mouse for 10 years—to get the car. How does this compare to our own decisions to live lives of relative luxury—going out to dinner, buying nice clothes, taking nice vacations—when we could choose to live more like church mice and use our extra earnings to save people in poor parts of the world who will otherwise starve to death or die of preventable diseases? Assume that your dollars of aid would be well spent saving lives, i.e. that your sacrifice would be almost as effective (inevitable administrative costs notwithstanding) as would Bob’s sacrifice of his car if he turns the trolley onto it. Consider these questions from a utilitarian, a deontological, and a virtue ethics point of view. Which do you agree with, and why? Finally, what sort of policy—in terms of requiring sacrifice in Bob-type situations, and in terms of taxing and using that money to help others in other countries—would you recommend and why?

[For this question, I basically went through a utilitarian argument and through many deontological arguments to analyze what they might say. I argued that utilitarians would almost surely argue that he could not morally choose not to sacrifice his car. Some of the deontologists however, emphasize distinctions such as "doing vs. allowing" which might say, for example, that since (by not pulling the switch) Bob is simply allowing the workmen to be killed, it's actually ok. Virtue ethics focuses on what actions would be "admirable," so I think it's clear in this case that it wouldn't be considered "admirale" to save the car rather than the workmen. I agreed with the utilitarians and the virtue ethicists. Bob has a moral obligation to save the workmen, regardless of how much he loves (and worked hard for) his car. When applying the issue to giving money to the poor, I drew on Peter Singer (who gives almost this exact scenario in his book, One World), who argues that the this scenario is exactly the same as giving money to charity - it's a very easy way to save people's lives, and by valuing your luxury goods more than saving lives, you're as bad as Bob. I went through the utilitarian, deontological, and virtue ethics arguments for this scenario, and argued again that there is a moral obligation to give to charity, however, the question is to what degree this must be done (i.e. do you give all of your money to charity until you're also in poverty?)]

5.Consider the following hypothetical scenario:
Jada works for a private firm that contracts services to the US Central Intelligence Agency.  Her background is in image analysis, and so she has been assigned to a team that operates armed unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs, or “drones”) along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.  Jada does not “pull the trigger,” but she is directly involved in targeting decisions by confirming the identity of possible targets.  She knows that, in many cases, confirming that someone seen by a UAV is who the CIA believes he or she is will lead to that person being killed in a missile strike.

Last week, a truck bomb was detonated outside Jada's home in a Northern VA suburb.  She was killed, along with her partner, their children, and fifteen other bystanders.

Though the immediate perpetrators were killed in the attack, US intelligence services have identified a group of Pakistani citizens in the US to whom they can tie to the attack with a high degree of probability. A tape was also released to Al-Jazeera, taking credit for the attacks on behalf of the Pakistani Taliban and further claiming that:

  • Jada was an active combatant and a legitimate military target because of her involvement with UAV attacks;
  • The harm to noncombatants was regrettable, but justified given the importance of the military end. In particular, the tape favorably compares the deaths to the numbers of noncombatants killed by Israeli operations.
  • By not providing Jada and similar employees with military barracks separate from the civilian population, and not  informing civilians that combatants were being housed among them, the US was in violation of its legal (Geneva Convention I, Art. 51) and moral obligation not to use "civilian shields.”
  • The message closed with (i) a demand that anyone involved be treated as lawful combatants and given full protection as prisoners of war if captured, and (ii) a promise of future attacks.
  • As you discuss the following issues, focus primarily on the moral rather than legal considerations – information on international law is provided only to help define some common categories and to provide guidance where you believe following the law may have inherent moral value.
  • How, if at all, should the US act on the intelligence it possesses regarding the bombers' accomplices? In particular, what means may be used to kill, capture, or extract information from them, and what procedural protections (e.g., a trial) should they enjoy? Did they act immorally in plotting with the bombers to kill Jada, and if so, in what way? Under international law, prisoners of war need not be tried, but are to be released at the end of hostilities, and may not be coerced into providing any information; unlawful combatants enjoy some protections under law (notably, a ban on torture) but not such strict ones.
  • How, if at all, should the US change its policies in the future about who may be involved in directing drone attacks, and how they should be treated? Consider at least three categories: privately employed individuals, civilians who “pull the trigger” on UAV attacks (e.g., CIA), and uniformed military.

[For this question, I talked about Walzer's Just War Theory. I also drew on David Luban's discussion of how the laws of war and the laws of criminal justice had gotten mixed up in the War on Terror, so that 'enemy combatants' are treated partially as normal criminals, but partially as enemy soldiers (e.g. they can be taken without having actually acted yet like soldiers, but they don't get POW status). I argued that in this case, the men should probably be treated as criminals, rather than enemy soldiers, but that this would mean they should get a trial. I argued that they did act immorally in killing Jada, but that in the future, it is important for countries to make clear who is involved in combat and who isn't. Analyzing UAV or satellite data is not combat (I think), but flying a UAV and carrying out attacks is.]

6.Sen makes the following claim: “Developing and strengthening a democratic system is an essential component of the process of development.” What does Sen mean by “democracy” and by “the process of development” and how do Sen’s conceptions compare with alternative definitions? Clarify and assess the arguments that Sen employs to justify his claim? Now state and evaluate what you take to be the best argument for the conclusion that democracy is at best unnecessary and at worst an obstacle for development? Given this controversy do you think that a development agency, such as USAID or the World Bank, should promote democracy? In what sense and why or why not?

[For this question, I mostly used Sen's book "Development as Freedom." I argued that Sen sees democracy as a set of political and liberal rights for individuals as well as opportunities. I said that he sees the process of development as the increase of freedoms and capabilities for individuals, while others may consider development as simply an increase in GDP or per-capita income. I talked about the "Lee Thesis" that says democracy isn't necessary for development, based on the experience of Korea and China. However, I said that this doesn't prove that democracy isn't helpful. I personally agree with Sen's argument that democracy is both instrumental and intrinsically important to development. Based on this, I said that democracy (civil and political freedoms in particular) should be promoted.]

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