Friday, December 24, 2021

Merry Christmas

 I gather that 'elf on the shelf' is popular at this time of year, so here are some elves that I made last year:


Parts are almost all from Northstar's Frostgrave/Oathmark lines, though I did use a few GW bits including the old Bretonnian shields (featuring stag faces, which I gave a red nose).

One day I hope to use them in an Xmas-themed Frostgrave scenario, though I've not had the chance yet.

Sunday, December 19, 2021

Attempts to lower the voting age in Canada

Canada will soon debate a private member's bill, sponsored by NDP MP Taylor Bachrach, proposing to lower the voting age to 16. I don't know its prospects of success, since it seems that there have been similar attempts in the not-so-distant past. Still, this may be useful for discussion on my democratic theory module next semester.


In a separate, though related, matter it seems there's a current legal challenge to the current threshold. It's argued that this minimum is an unjustifiable breach of Section 3 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which states that "every citizen of Canada has the right to vote in an election of members of the House of Commons or of a legislative assembly." 


I don't know much about Canadian constitutional law, but it's not obvious that lowering the minimum voting age to 16 would be much of an improvement. If every citizen has this right, and citizenship starts from birth, then presumably there should be no minimum voting age. Any age threshold will exclude some citizens who are below that age.


Perhaps exclusions of the very young may be justifiable breaches of this right, though this still leaves a question as to at what point this is justifiable. I've heard proposals to set the voting age at various points from 12 to as low as six before. If any of those are remotely plausible, then even 16 would be unjustifiable.

Friday, December 10, 2021

New Zealand to withhold cigarettes

New Zealand is poised to ban anyone born after 2008 from purchasing cigarettes or tobacco. This is an interesting move. It means that those currently able to purchase these products will still be able to do so, but those not yet able to do so will never be able to do so.


This could be seen as some form of age discrimination, but it could reflect the view that it's easier to justify withholding freedom from people that do not have it than to justify withdrawing a freedom that people already have - an asymmetry defended by Andi Schmidt.

Thursday, December 09, 2021

Kimmich update

I recently mentioned the footballer Joshua Kimmich being a high profile vaccine refuser. (Perhaps I should describe him as merely vaccine hesitant, since his comments suggested that he hadn't ruled out vaccination in future.)


I've just seen that he's been ruled out until the new year, following a Covid infection. This isn't actually that far away now, so I hope it's not too serious. Still, perhaps stories like this - rather than stories of refusal - send a better public health message.

Friday, November 19, 2021

Raising the age of marriage (and voting)

I've been teaching on marriage this week, the focus being on same-sex marriage and arguments for abolishing marriage, but I had missed the news that there are moves afoot to raise the minimum age in England and Wales from 16 to 18.


It seems this is mainly to prevent children being forced into marriage, which doesn't seem particularly controversial. Nonetheless, even if this doesn't really impact my current teaching, it would be relevant next semester when I look at arguments regarding the voting age. It's often said that if 16 is old enough to get married (etc) then it should be old enough to vote. This argument is undermined though if 16 year-olds are deemed not old enough for other rights.


That said, David Runciman's suggestion of lowering the voting age to six has been in the news again lately. I don't know his views on marriage, but I assume he doesn't think that six year-olds should marry, so the two rights certainly don't have to go hand in hand.

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Footballers and vaccination

I commented recently about Callum Robinson refusing the vaccine. It seems that he isn't the only footballer to be vaccine hesitant. German international Joshua Kimmich says he isn't vaccinated yet and has concerns about it, though he claims not to be an anti-vaxxer. 


If we think that people have a right to refuse vaccination, then that presumably applies to professional sports stars and other celebrities. However, there is a potential issue that high-profile refusers like these will influence others to delay or refuse vaccination, as irrational as it seems for people to follow the lead of footballers rather than health professionals.


Perhaps it would be better to keep quiet about these cases or, at least, to increase coverage about those who are vaccinated.

Sunday, October 17, 2021

Teaching political theory in a pandemic

This semester, I'm once again teaching our introductory political theory module (PAIR1004). This year, it's a mix of historical and contemporary views but with the overarching theme focusing on freedom. While it's not a module about current events, we thought that we could emphasise the topicality of these discussions, given how freedom keeps coming up in debates over lockdowns.

Here's a brief outline of the module content:

1. Introduction. What is politics? Where do we find it? If politics is about the power to command, then the University itself is a political institution, much like the state. Is there a difference – with respect to freedom and obligation – between the government telling its citizens to wear face masks and the University telling its students to do so?


2. Hobbes on the establishment of political society. The state of nature as a lawless free-for-all (like the scramble for toilet roll or petrol). People have no rational incentive to keep contracts, or do anything for the benefit of others, such as wearing face masks, unless we institute an all-powerful sovereign authority to resolve collective action problems.


3. Locke on limited government. Locke imagines a more peaceful state of nature – one of liberty, but not licence – in which people mostly respect the rights of others but, since each is judge of his/her own case, disputes may arise – e.g. if I think you should wear a face mask to protect me, but you do not.


4. Rousseau on the general will. If facemasks are in the general interest, then the general will may be for everyone to wear a face mask. Those who refuse to comply are ‘forced to be free’.


5. Mill on the harm principle. There should be complete freedom of self-regarding action. For instance, society has no right to prohibit activities such as drinking, gambling, or homosexual intercourse, provided that all involved are consenting adults. But society may interfere with conduct that threatens harm to others, such as drink-driving or not wearing a face mask.


6. Negative and positive liberty. What are the ends of liberty? What things constrain it? Does a mask mandate reduce liberty? On the negative conception, probably. But, on the other hand, does some people’s refusal to wear masks also reduce the liberty of others? Possibly. If ‘freedom for the pike is death for the minnows’ then how should we adjudicate between competing freedoms?


7. Republicanism. The opposite of freedom is not interference, but arbitrary domination. Consequently, law is compatible with freedom, provided it is not arbitrary. For instance, a mask mandate is not arbitrary interference and therefore does not abridge republican liberty.


8. Consent theory. According to consent theorists, to consent to membership of a group, such as a state or a University, is to consent to the rules of that group. Thus, if the University’s code of conduct requires the wearing of masks, then members of that University have an obligation to do so in virtue of their consent.


9. Other accounts of obligation. Obligations need not be grounded in consent. We have various ‘natural duties’ which include not harming others, for instance by refusing to wear a mask. We may have particularly strong obligations towards those with whom we share community ties, such as members of a family, nation, or university. According to fair play theory, if others make sacrifices for our benefit – for instance, wearing a mask – we may have an obligation to reciprocate.


10. Politics in times of emergency. During the recent pandemic, governments have instituted various measures – such as mandatory face coverings, curfews, and lockdowns – that (seem to) abridge our ordinary freedoms. When and why are these measures justified?


Our reading list is mostly unchanged, since we can illustrate the application of ideas to the pandemic in class, but an interesting looking collection on political philosophy in a pandemic (Amazon affiliate link) has recently been published. If I were to teach a course like this again, then I might make use of that, but I didn't have time to redesign the course from scratch.

Friday, October 08, 2021

Is vaccination a personal choice?

Like last year, I have a very front-loaded teaching schedule, so posts may be a bit more sporadic between now and Christmas. Still, I'll try to post the odd piece of interest when I get chance. Here is another that I may use in my classes this semester.

West Brom and Republic of Ireland footballer Callum Robinson hasn't been vaccinated. He is reported as saying "I think it's your personal choice and my choice at this moment in time, I haven't been vaccinated".

The Football Association of Ireland concur, saying that they "respect and accept the right of all individuals to make a personal choice on Covid-19 vaccination".

I'm not clear why this 'personal choice' is seemingly accepted here without question. While bodily integrity is at stake, the decision is not what might be called (in Millian terms) 'purely self-regarding' because someone who is not vaccinated may pose a greater risk to other people. This could justify intervention.

Jessica Flanigan makes this point in a 2014 article, where she argues that “Non-vaccination has been mistakenly characterized as a personal, self-regarding medical choice…. people are entitled to make self-regarding medically inadvisable decisions…. But religious and other reasons of conscience cannot justify practices that impose risks on the community”.


To be sure, Flanigan doesn't (so far as I'm aware) support forced vaccinations. So, there is indeed a sense in which she thinks people do have a right to refuse vaccination. But this is not a right to refuse vaccination without suffering consequences. She thinks they could (and should) be penalised through fines or certain restrictions on employment.


I think I'll be using some, if not all, of these quotations in my lecture slides, possibly in multiple modules.

Saturday, September 25, 2021

Down's syndrome and abortion

I'll be covering both abortion and reproductive freedom/selection on my ethics of public policy module this coming semester, so this recent story about Heidi Crowter's High Court challenge is a useful case study.

I'm not a lawyer, but the idea that the law ought to permit abortion in Down's cases, but not others, does seem discriminatory. Of course, one way that could be avoided would be to allow abortion in all cases, rather than in none.


The judges not that "not every family would react the same way and the ability to provide for a disabled child would 'vary significantly'" but the same could be said about, for instance, having a girl or indeed having a child at all.

Wednesday, September 15, 2021


I've not updated for a while as we were away for a bit. I took quite a lot of photos during our travels, so I decided to upload some of them to Pixabay. This is a site that I've used for a while, because pictures can freely be used even for commercial purposes, without attribution, which is ideal for lecture slides. I figured that, having used pictures from this site, I should give something back by uploading some of my own.


I'm still figuring things out over there. I'm not a professional photographer, so my pictures aren't as good as many of the others on the site. Still, it may be a handy way for me to organise photos that I may want to use again, even if no one else does. If you're interested, my pictures can be found on my profile here.

Sunday, August 22, 2021

Layne Staley Day

 Today marks the second anniversary of Layne Staley Day. (I use this phrasing because it seems the day was a one-off in 2019, rather than an annual thing.) In any case, here's a tribute:

Thursday, August 05, 2021

Vaccine incentives

Long-term readers may recall my interest in incentive payments (click the label for more examples). I was interested to see the recent proposals from Australia to pay people (AU $300) to get Covid vaccines.

It's not an original proposal. Similar ideas have been mooted in the US and defended by academics such as Julian Savulescu. Still, while some think that this would be value for money, the Australian government seem sceptical of cash incentives, so we may never know how effective it would prove.

Saturday, July 24, 2021

Slave labour?

According to Robert Nozick, income taxes are (on a par with) forced labour, since a portion of someone's work time is spent working for the benefit of others.

Now John Lydon - a.k.a. Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols - has gone a step further. He claims that an agreement between band members that allows a majority of them to licence is like slave labour.

I'm not sure exactly how this claim is supposed to stand up. He's not being forced to work, even if the results of his former work are being used in ways that he disagrees with.

In any case, it's interesting - from a decision theory perspective - to see him objecting to majority rule and insisting that agreements ought to be unanimous.

A unanimity rule would also give each band member equal power in the abstract. However, it is non-neutral, in that it favours non-licensing over licensing, which may be more in accordance with the preferences of some members than others.

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Is self-isolation a political obligation?

Political obligation has often been characterised as an obligation to obey the laws of the state, but this understanding has been challenged by a number of theorists who have argued that it ought instead to be conceived of as something like an obligation to promote the common good of one's community - something that may, ordinarily, require obedience to the law but that might also require other things and even, in some cases, perhaps breaking the law.

I was just reading a BBC article about the 'pingdemic' - that is, the rising number of people being told to self-isolate. Like a number of other government 'guidelines', it seems that this is not a legal obligation:

So, according to the traditional understanding of political obligation - which focuses only on obeying the laws - complying with this instruction or request would have nothing to do with our political obligations.


However, I suspect that many people think that there would be reasons (not necessarily overriding ones) to isolate and that these would in some sense be political. Certainly, they could be justified by a number of traditional arguments for political obligations, such as a duty of fair play, associative obligations, or Samaritan duties.


Indeed, in this other piece, Mr Scully elaborates:

This looks like a political, if not a legal, obligation - and a useful example for my first-year module later in the year.