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Center for Practical and Professional Ethics

Ninth Annual Fall Ethics Symposium

Virtue in Politics

Monday, November 3, 2014 / 8:30 - 4:30 / Redwood Room, University Union, Sacramento State

symposium flyer (color PDF)

What is the role of virtue in politics?  For example, how do activities like voting, campaigning, and governing bring out what is morally best (or worst) in human beings?  Can or should politics seek to encourage the virtue of the polis (community) or its members?  Such questions have been seriously discussed at least since Aristotle wrote on ethics and politics, and they remain with us today in the sometimes messy business of contemporary representative democracies.  Some would advance somewhat optimistic answers to these questions, holding that we can and should expect (more) virtue in politics, and that there are many ways to get (more of) it.  Others would advance somewhat skeptical answers, holding that politics is really not a good place to expect the cultivation of virtue, and that it is better for all of us to keep our expectations low here.  Come join us for a day of reflection and discussion on these important questions.

This event is free and open to the general public. Here are Directions and a Campus Map for Sacramento State.


Symposium Program

Monday, November 3, 2014
Redwood Room (University Union), Sacramento State

8:30am - 9:00am Morning Refreshments, Coffee/Tea

9:00am - 9:15am Greetings and Opening Remarks

video icon Click to view (YouTube; 15 min)

Russell DiSilvestro 
Associate Professor of Philosophy and Director 
Center for Practical and Professional Ethics
Sacramento State

Rick Schubert 
Professor of Philosophy 
Cosumnes River College and Executive Director 
CRC-CPPE Fall Ethics Symposium Series

Christina M. Bellon 
Professor of Philosophy and Chair of the Department of Philosophy
Sacramento State

Edward Inch
Dean, College of Arts and Letters,
Sacramento State

Frederika "Fraka" Harmsen 
Provost, Sacramento State

Alexander Gonzalez
President, Sacramento State

Deborah Travis 
President 
Cosumnes River College


9:20am – 10:50am Keynote Session: Why Most Americans Shouldn't Vote

video icon Click to view (YouTube; 1 hr 32 min)

Main Speaker: Jason Brennan, Assistant Professor of Strategy, Economics, Ethics, and Public Policy, Georgetown University

Abstract: How we vote matters. It affects matters of life and death, prosperity or poverty, peace or war. People who exert power over others should use that power wisely. One of the wisest things a person can do is admit she lacks this wisdom. I argue that even though individual votes count for little, citizens who choose to vote have an duty to vote wisely. I then argue that, as a matter of fact, most Americans fail to meet this standard.

Bio: Jason Brennan is Assistant Professor of Strategy, Economics, Ethics, and Public Policy in the McDonough School of Business, and Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Georgetown University. He is the author of Compulsory Voting: For and Against, with Lisa Hill (Cambridge, 2014), Why Not Capitalism? (Routledge, 2014), Libertarianism (Oxford, 2012), The Ethics of Voting (Princeton, 2011), and A Brief History of Liberty, with David Schmidtz (Blackwell, 2010). He is currently writing Against Politics for Princeton University Press and Markets without Limits, with Peter Jaworski, for Routledge. His work focuses on democratic theory, civic virtue, and the moral foundations of market society. You can find out more about Dr. Brennan online at http://www.jasonfbrennan.com

Moderator: Kyle Swan, Assistant Professor of Philosophy, Sacramento State

Additional Panelists for this Session:

Daniel Hays Lowenstein, Professor of Law Emeritus and Director, Center for the Liberal Arts and Free Institutions, University of California Los Angeles

Kimberly Nalder, Associate Professor of Government and Director, Project for an Informed Electorate, Sacramento State

Steven Wall, Professor of Philosophy, University of Arizona


11:00am – 12:15pm Virtuous Election Cycle: Resisting Relentless Political Cynicism

video icon Click to view (YouTube; 1 hr 11 min)

Main Speaker: Kimberly Nalder, Associate Professor of Government and Director, Project for an Informed Electorate, California State University Sacramento

Abstract: Modern American politics can appear to be an irredeemable nightmarescape of misinformation, cynicism, polarization, apathy and disillusionment. Political Science research shows that these indicators are worsening with time. What civic virtues, cognitive tools, organizations and institutions have the potential to remediate this decline? What can we as citizens do, and what can we demand of our elected officials? It turns out that there is some hope for virtue in politics. Warning: this talk may provide more causes for concern than solutions and more questions than answers, but isn’t that kind of the point?

Bio: Kim L. Nalder is a Professor in the Government Department at California State University, Sacramento, and founding Director of the Project for an Informed Electorate, which identifies, creates, and disseminates accurate, trustworthy, open, and non-partisan information to voters. Dr. Nalder is also a board member for the Center for California Studies, a two-time Field Institute Faculty Fellow, a Provost’s Research Fellow, a Visiting Scholar at the UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies, and Chair of the Committee on the Status of Women in the Profession for the Western Political Science Association. Her research and teaching focus on: political misinformation, California politics, political psychology, public opinion, political knowledge, voting behavior, mass media, and women in politics. Professor Nalder is a frequent political commentator and has had her work featured in the Economist, Le Monde, and Wired Magazine. You can read more about Dr. Nalder online athttp://www.csus.edu/indiv/n/nalderk/

Moderator: Lynne Fox, Lecturer in Philosophy, Sacramento State

Additional Panelists for this Session:

Jason Brennan, Assistant Professor of Strategy, Economics, Ethics, and Public Policy, Georgetown University

Daniel Hays Lowenstein, Professor of Law Emeritus and Director, Center for the Liberal Arts and Free Institutions, University of California Los Angeles

Steven Wall, Professor of Philosophy, University of Arizona


12:15pm - 1:30pm Lunch Break

Please visit one of the dining establishments serving campus, either in the University Union or at the Riverfront Center


1:30pm - 2:45pm Ethics in Public Life: Rules, Character, Conscientiousness

video icon Click to view (YouTube; 1 hr 13 min)

Main Speaker: Daniel Hays Lowenstein, Professor of Law Emeritus and Director, Center for the Liberal Arts and Free Institutions, University of California Los Angeles

Abstract:

In some respects, public life is more ethical today than at any previous time in the history of modern democracies.  Nevertheless, currently there is perhaps at least as much concern and discontent over public ethics and governmental responsiveness as at any time in the same historical period.

It is not terribly difficult to resolve this seeming paradox.  New circumstances and expectations have changed the nature of ethical concerns and problems as well as the standards by which they are assessed.  In addition, efforts to compel ethical behavior through legal regulation have influenced both the conduct of people in public life and the way in which their conduct is perceived.

Increasingly over the past century and a half, going back to the great Reform laws in Britain in the 19th Century and formation of the regulated civil service in the United States, public life has been subjected to a vast variety of legal rules.  During this period, the proliferation of these rules has accelerated.

The rules have done much good, as they have eliminated or reduced harmful practices.  They also have done some harm, partly because of a marked tendency toward petrifaction.  In addition, the very proliferation of rules can make public life more cumbersome and even dangerous.  

In addition to such first-order effects, the proliferation of rules of conduct have important second-order effects, though these are more difficult to identify, quantify, or assess with confidence.  Some second-order effects may be beneficial.  In particular, the existence of rules of conduct may heighten individuals’ sense that they are obligated to act honestly and for the public good in public life, especially while holding or seeking public office.

However, it is also possible for proliferation of rules to have the opposite effect, if they encourage a sense that compliance with the rules is sufficient for meeting one’s ethical obligations.  Furthermore, in doing so, they may distract attention from the most effective guarantor of ethical public conduct, good moral character.  Especially dangerous is their distraction from the importance of conscientiousness in carrying out public duties.

Certain aspects of contemporary life and politics exacerbate both the difficulty of acting conscientiously in public life and of developing and sustaining good moral character.  For substantial improvement to be achieved, changes extending far beyond the political system narrowly conceived would probably be necessary.

Bio: Daniel Lowenstein received his A.B. from Yale in 1964 and his Ll.B. from Harvard in 1967.  After a few years as an attorney at California Rural Legal Assistance, he worked as attorney and Deputy Secretary of State under Jerry Brown from 1971-1975.  In 1975 he was appointed by Brown to be the first Chairman of the Fair Political Practices Commission.  In 1979, after expiration of his term, he joined the UCLA Law School Faculty.  While teaching a variety of subjects, he specialized in election law and, in 1995, he wrote the first American textbook on election law in over a century.  That book is now in its fifth edition. In 2009, Lowenstein retired from the law school to direct the new UCLA Center for the Liberal Arts and Free Institutions, which sponsors courses for undergraduates and a variety of events for the general public.  Information on upcoming events can be found athttp://www.clafi.ucla.edu/clafi-events. You can read more about Dr. Lowenstein online athttps://www.law.ucla.edu/faculty/faculty-profiles/daniel-hays-lowenstein/

Moderator: Genevieve Wallace, Lecturer in Philosophy, Sacramento State

Additional Panelists for this Session:

Jason Brennan, Assistant Professor of Strategy, Economics, Ethics, and Public Policy, Georgetown University

Kimberly Nalder, Associate Professor of Government and Director, Project for an Informed Electorate, Sacramento State

Steven Wall, Professor of Philosophy, University of Arizona


3:00pm - 4:15pm Capitalism, Leisure and the Good Life

video icon Click to view (YouTube; 1 hr 10 min)

Main Speaker: Steven Wall, Professor of Philosophy, University of Arizona

Abstract:

I am a partisan, not an enemy, of capitalism. But my attitude toward capitalism is ambivalent. Like Irving Kristol, I give it only two cheers. No economic system can be efficient at producing wealth without reliance on capitalist markets, however regulated they may need to be. And political systems that systematically suppress the economic freedoms associated with capitalist voluntary exchange fare poorly in securing other important freedoms, both civil and political. So capitalism merits two cheers, or so I think and so I shall assume here. But capitalist institutions are not designed to assist those who are subject to them to lead good lives in the ethical sense – that is, lives that are centered on the pursuit of worthwhile goals and engagement with valuable activities. Capitalism, we might say, is blind to the good. Of course, institutions can promote good outcomes, even if they have not been designed to do so. Capitalist institutions may do better at helping people lead ethically good lives than any alternative set of institutions that aimed to do so. But I am skeptical of this possibility. There is a place in politics for the active and deliberate promotion of the good, and I see no reason to hold that the design of economic institutions cannot be informed by such considerations. With this in mind, in this paper, I consider an old objection to capitalist economic institutions and I consider how capitalism-friendly critics like myself could respond to it. The objection in question is the idea that there is an anti-leisure bias inherent in capitalism – or, if not inherent in capitalism, then strongly associated with it – and that this bias often leads people to lead lives that are less good than they otherwise could be.

I start by clarifying briefly how I understand capitalism and its key features for the purposes of this discussion. I then describe the anti-leisure bias in some detail, distinguishing different versions of it. My discussion draws on arguments or lines of thought that can be found in the writings of Mill, Keynes, Rawls, G.A. Cohen and, more recently, the economist Robert Frank. In this part of the paper, I try to present the strongest case for the bias, although my discussion remains exploratory and tentative throughout. Next I consider an argument that holds that, even if the existence of the anti-leisure bias could be established, it would be illegitimate for governments in capitalist societies to respond to it. I contend that we should reject this argument. Finally, I propose some policies to address the bias and I try to show that these policies would not require an unacceptable level of state interference in the workings of capitalist markets. This last point is important, since in responding to the perceived shortcomings of capitalism, we must not lose sight of its evident virtues.

Bio: Steven Wall is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Arizona, where he is also a member of the Center for the Philosophy of Freedom and a member of the Philosophy, Politics, Economics and Law Program. He is the author of Liberalism, Perfectionism and Restraint, and he is an editor (with David Sobel and Peter Vallentyne) of Oxford Studies in Political Philosophy. You can read more about Dr. Wall online at http://wallsteve.wordpress.com

Moderator: Jonathan Chen, Lecturer in Philosophy, Sacramento State

Additional Panelists for this Session:

Jason Brennan, Assistant Professor of Strategy, Economics, Ethics, and Public Policy, Georgetown University

Daniel Hays Lowenstein, Professor of Law Emeritus and Director, Center for the Liberal Arts and Free Institutions, University of California Los Angeles

Kimberly Nalder, Associate Professor of Government and Director, Project for an Informed Electorate, Sacramento State


4:15pm Reception

 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS:
Academic Technology and Creative Services, Sacramento State 
Cosumnes River College Foundation 
Public Information Office and Duplicating Services, Cosumnes River College 
Office of the President, Cosumnes River College 
Wagenlis Foundation