Ethics: August 2004 Archives

President Bush has revealed that his opposition to what's commonly called affirmative action (but not what he calls affirmative action, which is simply seeking out more candidates from unrepresented groups) is firmly consistent. One fallacious argument against removing affirmative action is that people are given a boost in admissions processes if they have family members who attended the institution. (It's fallacious because the existence of one practice you don't agree with doesn't necessarily mean another one is ok. If they're both wrong for the same reasons, then the existence of legacy admissions doesn't mean we should retain affirmative action. It might simply mean getting rid of both.)

Now I think it's in a university's best interests to consider this sort of factor, as much as it is to consider someone's soccer or French horn abilities. I think some occasions of considering race are a good idea. But Bush's view on these matters is merit only, and that requires getting rid of legacies. It's nice to see that he's saying that publicly. Anyone who takes his stance on race preferences should, to be fair, give reasons why legacy preferences are ok if they aren't also going to oppose both. He's taken the more straightforward approach in opposing both. Of course, this won't be publicized much. So far the only place I've seen it is at Jon Mandle's post at Crooked Timber three days after the CNN story and two days ago.

Lying

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jolly_good_blogger

This is really a day late. Yesterday was the 30th anniversary of Richard Nixon's resignation, and I decided to do my month-delayed post on lying. Well, I didn't get to it yesterday, so it's today, the 30th anniversary of Gerald Ford's first full day as president in the aftermath of Watergate.

Is lying always wrong? I say no. Immanuel Kant argued that lying is always wrong, but what would you do if you were holding Jews in your basement and the SS troops showed up to ask if you were holding Jews in your basement? If you turn them in, you're doing something wrong. It would therefore be wrong not to lie in this case. Most philosophers are convinced by this sort of case. Kant dug in his heels and said that you just need to tell the truth. He went so far as to say that if we tell the truth in such circumstances then we're allowing the Jews in the basement to escape, while lying means if the Jews try to escape then they'd get caught because the soldiers wouldn't be in the basement where they should be if you tell the truth. If it takes that kind of denial of what's really likely to happen, the view doesn't have a lot going for it. I understand that some would say God will reward truth if only we're trusting enough to speak it, even when it seems we'd be condemning someone to death, but usually people who say such things believe the Bible, and I think lying in some cases is biblically defensible for a Christian.

I'll look at the relevant texts given on both sides, and then I'll come back to the issue of presidential lying in the cases of Nixon and Clinton and also the purported cases of Reagan and George W. Bush. I was originally planning to use the title "What if Bush Really Did Lie?", but there are so many other issues I'm discussing here that using a counterfactual title would have been misleading about the main content of the post, so I've just gone with a generic title.

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