Thursday, January 23, 2003

Slippery Slopes

God of the Machine is on slopes. He wants to know how to draw a line to demarcate how far the requirement of justice in aiding the unfortunately destitute extends. He wants an "intellectually respectable principle" that determines what the fortunate ought to do for them. At least we can distinguish between a brute-causal slope, on which a welfare minimalist society (such as the U.S.) is caused by stupidity to slide into socialism because its doesn't recognize this point, and the logical slope, on which a welfare minimalist society rationally must slide into socialism because, having rejected libertarianism, it has no basis upon which to avoid socialism. Aaron asks why I think that there is no logical slope.

Notice that Aaron has the same problem. He defines "too much drinking" as the point beyond which the drinking will "seriously impair one's ability to function". But that's a pretty gray area. What counts as "serious"? He also allows for imprisonment of those who violate the rights of others. But right is gray, too. May I rightly be imprisoned for lightly bumping your arm on the subway? When it comes to practical rationality, it's always gray. There is no finite formula determinative of practical norms. There is no finite algorithm for prudence.

In the cases of alcohol, imprisonment, and welfare nets, we know that in the grayness there is a sweet spot, even if it can't be rendered determinate in a finite rule. We know that there is a sweet spot where you better watch your drinking, because we are aware of an array of clear cases of non-problematic drinking, as well as an array of cases of drinking too much. We know of a sweet spot in the case of imprisonment, because we can clearly see an array of cases in which interference with others is not wrong and should not be illegal, as well as an array of cases in which interference clearly warrants lengthy imprisonment. The same holds for welfare. We know, as surely as we know anything, that it is terribly wrong for a wealthy person to stand by idly as a homeless child starves to death. We know that it is wrong to deprive the middle and upper classes of 90% of their wealth. In follows unavoidably that there is a sweet spot in between and that there is no logically slippery slope.

So, my case rests, released from the burden of stipulating where this spot lies in one principle. I need only prove that it is there, which I have done. Get a Republican Congress to find the spot over the course of lengthy deliberations meant to design a tax code and a minimally decent welfare net.