Saturday, June 11, 2011

Brass Band Day in Danville

Danville, Kentucky's, own contribution is the Great American Brass Band Festival. It runs all this weekend. You can still make the parade at 11 this morning. I'll be in the Hub.

Friday, June 10, 2011

The Freedom to Live Virtuously

Daniel Haybron, writing about philosophy in The Science of Subjective Well-Being, offered this helpful distinction:

The ancients apparently took it as a given that individuals are not, in general, authorities about their own welfare. ... The standard economic view of modernity - that well-being consists roughly in people getting whatever they happen to want - would have seemed childish if not insane to most ancient thinkers.

I find myself halfway between the ancients and the moderns on this one.

On the one hand, I do think human beings, as a group, are designed to flourish by living a distinctive way. This way is broadly defined and forgiving of missteps. It is not, though, simply whatever anyone happens to want. If we live the good life, we will flourish. If we do not, we will have a worse time, in the way that trying to run a car without oil means the car will not run well.

On the other hand, I don't see any psychological process that could make people live as they were designed to if they don't want to. And I don't see any just social structure that should try to constrain people so much that they could only live one way.

I think the great benefit of a free society is not that everyone is free to do what he or she wants. I think the great benefit of a free society is that those who want to flourish by living virtuously are free to do so, amidst other ways of living.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

A Bipartisan Marriage Idea: End All Marriage Penalties

The Heritage Foundation has proposed a "Marshall Plan for Marriage." The first item is to end the marriage penalty in several tax or benefit programs of the federal government. The marriage penalty occurs when married couples pay more than the same couple would if cohabited without marriage because their combined incomes push them into a higher bracket than each of their incomes would be if taken separately.

For two of their three proposed improvements there is already bipartisan support. The marriage penalty was largely eliminated in the federal income tax and the Earned Income Tax Credit in the last decade. The budget compromise reached last fall extended those fixes until 2012. Heritage proposes making those fixes permanent. This seems to me a sensible move that majorities in both parties can support.

The third proposal is to eliminate a marriage penalty in the health reform act. There has not already been a bipartisan move to fix this problem. However, since this marriage penalty is like that in the income tax and the EITC, I think both sides could agree to work together to fix this problem, too.

Legislation that brings the parties together and supports marriage seems like a win-win.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

My Thirty Years of "Presbyterian Pluralism" - Vindicated

In college I became very interested in the problem of pluralism. How can an organization both believe in truth, and believe that different understandings of truth can coexist in the same institution?

This led me to study the Presbyterian Church, which has both an official confession of what it believes, and an established practice of accepting a fairly broad range of views within the church. My dissertation was published as Presbyterian Pluralism: Competition in a Protestant House. I came to see that the one confession that all officers of the church adhere to was balanced by a practice of allowing the presbyteries - the regional governing bodies at the heart of the Presbyterian Church - some leeway in judging how strictly any given officer had to adhere to that one confession. Liberal presbyteries tolerated more diversity, conservative presbyteries tolerated less diversity. When ministers moved from one presbytery to another they could be in for some sharp questioning, and even be denied permission to "preach within the bounds" of the new presbytery.

Over time, this balanced system broke down. The authority of the one confession was watered down by adding many other confessions. Liberal political correctness limited leeway on some issues, which led to conservative political correctness limiting leeway on other issues. The fights in the denomination shifted from the confessional standards to the administrative rules of the church. The fights got bigger, more regular, and exhausting. The church started a decline that has only sped up in recent years.

A few years ago the wiser heads in the church proposed a new Form of Government (nFOG), which would restore the leeway that presbyteries used to have in judging their own officers. Instead of providing detailed rules on what all officers must and must not do, the church's constitution would lay out the general principles of the whole church. The presbyteries could follow model manuals and rules provided by the denomination, or adapt them to local circumstances.

This week the new Form of Government was adopted by a majority of presbyteries. As of July 10, 2011, it will become the constitutional rule of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

Now if we can get back to having one confession that we actually believe in, I will feel fully vindicated.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

"I should be free to do what I want."

I am working through this thought, which came to me this morning while thinking about how to make a happy society.

"I should be free to do what I want."

The substantive moral argument is over whether the more important part of this claim is "free to do" or "what I want."

The substantive ethical argument is over whether the more important part is whether social structures ought to try to guarantee the "should be" or try to shape the "what I want."

I believe the ancients, including all three biblical faiths, take the latter position.
The moderns, including all kinds of Enlightenment thought, take the former.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Easterin's Conclusion About Happiness

This is the upshot of Richard Easterlin's decades of studying happiness.

People spend too much time working for money and status goods. We do not realize that this will not make us happy, because our aspirations will keep rising as our we achieve our material goals.

Instead, we should spend more time on family, relationships, and health. These things make us happy even when we attain them.