Religion Prof: The Blog of James F. McGrath
The Blog of Dr. James F. McGrath, Clarence L. Goodwin Chair in New Testament Language and Literature at Butler University, Indianapolis
The quote comes from “The Liberty of Man, Woman, and Child.” It can be found in The Works of Robert G. Ingersoll. For more about Ingesoll, see Bruce Gerencser’s recent post.
That’s a good doctrine for those who think in terms of rights. But I imagine Attila the Hun would say “Rights? There are no rights. I do whatever I have the power and the desire to do. Let anyone who thinks he has the power do likewise.”
One can say this about any doctrine, including Attila’s. Any idea is one that one must persuade another to adopt if one wishes them to share it with you. And that can be accomplished through threat, argument, charisma, and any number of other means.
Only as long as those human beings are like me.
There’s a concept I’ve heard popularized by Matt Dillahunty, although I’m sure someone popularized it before that. If one is designing a society and creating the rules for the behaviour and treatment of the citizens, one should do so from the assumption that one doesn’t know which role one will have in the society.
So if you want to permit slavery, you should be prepared to be a slave under the rules you create, if you want to have unequal treatment for certain ethnic groups, then you should be prepared to enter that society as a member of that group and live under your rules. If you aren’t prepared to do that, you should make a different choice.
It’s a combination of Rod Serlingesque justice and, ‘one child cuts the cake in half and the other chooses the first piece’ but I’ve found it helpful when discussing policy outcomes with stakeholders. Sometimes they are so entrenched in their own position that they have to think in terms of their family or friends being in the other role, but eventually they get it and things move a little closer to an equitable position.
The philosopher John Rawls came up with this as an update to Kantian moral/legal theory. He referred to it as the “original position” (it’s discussed at length in his book The Theory of Justice). I like your representation of the idea here!
Thanks for letting me know. I’ll take a look for it. As I said, it wasn’t mine, and likely belonged to more people than I heard it from. That’s the nice thing about knowledge.
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