"Malaysia Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and the Sultan of Johor are seen in a blue Proton Saga... "When asked whether there is any tension with the sultan, Dr Mahathir said: “No, I don’t see anything because I went to see him and he drove me to the airport. I don’t want to comment on the sultans because if I say anything that is not good then it’s not nice because he is the sultan”"

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Friday, January 23, 2015

Exploitation and Human Dignity

The Public Philosopher, Series 3, Morality and the State

Girl (Tomata/Tomara [?]) on Dwarf Tossing: I don't actually see it as a humiliation, because if some dwarf or little people decides to be a part of the sport, he might be very proud of the way he floats in the air and gets further, or something like that. I don't know. It's talking about human dignity.

I think, I think you have the right to choose, and if people think they can be best, the furthest thrown dwarf, well, be my hero...

Michael Sandel: You suggest that dwarf tossing is an activity in which people can excel, and I'm sure that's true, but I'm not sure that the people who can excel in it are the people being thrown.

Girl: I don't know, I can imagine.


Laurie: I feel that the examples of condemning, let's say, prostitution and dwarf tossing on the basis of human dignity somewhat overly limit the definition of what human dignity is. I don't think it's that objective.

For example, we all here think it would go against our dignity if we didn't wear clothes. Some tribes in South America would disagree.

Human dignity is also dependent on respecting someone's personal choice. So when we go and say: "I do not think that you have the right to do something that I condemn", I feel that also goes against human dignity.

So these people might get, in my opinion, some more freedom, some more respect to do what they want, even if we condemn it...

I would say I do not have the right to tell a dwarf that they cannot fly.

Even later:


Michael Sandel: It's interesting that these are really two competing principles within the Liberal tradition itself.

If you go back to two of the most famous founders of Liberal political philosophy, John Locke and Immanuel Kant. They both argued for certain restrictions on individual choice in the name of what they saw as the higher, more fundamental freedom.

John Locke and Immanuel Kant argued that we don't have a right to commit suicide. Locke because he said our right to Liberty and Life are so fundamental that even we can't choose to give them up. And Immanuel Kant was against suicide and against prostitution on the grounds that truly to be autonomous is not to be driven by our desires and wants and needs, it's to act in accordance to reason and it's to act in a way consistent with our own dignity.

Liberalism is often understood to prize, above all, respect for individual choice. But there's another, competing, strand within the Liberal tradition that says individual choice isn't everything. What really matters is respecting persons as ends in themselves, or as the bearers of unalienable rights, and this mode of human respect may require that we rein in certain expressions of individual choice that may amount to indignity.
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