Talons Philosophy

An Open Online Highschool Philosophy Course

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Logic: Stephen Harper is a Terrorist

For my logic post i have decided to examine the nature of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s stance on “terrorism” and the actions he has taken, allegedly in order to combat what he seems to think is a major threat to Canada.

The definition of “terrorism” is:” the use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims”. Many definitions include “threat of violence” though i suppose that would fall under “intimidation”

We could narrow this definition down to the more concise “the use of terror (fear) to further political agendas.” Which i think fits better with the name “terrorism” and is entirely accurate.

Therefore my logic example is:

1.Terrorism is the use of terror (fear) to further political agendas
2.Stephen Harper uses the external threat of terrorism to propogate fear in order to further his political agendas
3. Therefore Stephen Harper is a terrorist

If 1. Is true and 2. Is true then 3. Is true.

3. Is directly tied to 1. And 2. Therefore it is a valid logical
argument.

For some background information, recently Harper has been playing on the fears of the Canadian people in regards to Islamic extremism to garner support for the Conservative Party and push through multiple bills such as Bill C-51 and Bill C-24 which severely restrict the rights of Canadians and turn many Canadians into second class citizens. Bill C-51 essentially gives government security agencies such as CSIS (the Canadian CIA) and the RCMP ( the Canadian equivalent of the FBI) to indiscriminately spy on Canadian citizens and access their online information without a warrant and share Canadian’s personal information between agencies, also without a warrant. Bill C-24 gives the government the authority to revoke Canadian citizenship from people who have or are eligible for a second citizenship if they have been charged with a major crime, such as terrorism. Bill C-51 also greatly expands the parameters regarding what is considered “terrorism”, essentially giving the government the authority to arrest and charge peaceful protestors, among others, with being terrorists. C-51 also allows the police to detain suspects for 7 days without a warrant or probable cause and denying them access to a lawyer, phone calls, or visitors. The Harper government has garnered support for these bills by exaggerating the threat of Islamic extremism to Canadian citizens, using examples such as ISIS, the two isolated incidents of lone perpetrators with no connection to each other or to extremist organizations who killed a couple soldiers last year in Quebec and at parliament hill, and in some cases outright fabricating terrorist plots to foil by using undercover police offers to target mentally ill Muslims Canadians and manipulate them into attempting terrorist attacks so that the RCMP can swoop in and save the day. Additionally, The conservative party, in an attempt to recover from their drop in the polls has begun to pander to racists and xenophobes,trying to push through policies to ban cultural and religious clothing in the name of “strengthening Canadian identity”. In short, Harper is propogating racism, xenophobia, and especially islamaphobia in order to garner support and push through bills that strengthen the powers of the government at the expense of the rights and freedoms of Canadians.

 

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Colonialism and Reconciliation in Canada

Image courtesy of the CBC

In returning to a guiding question in our investigation into systemic oppression, we have spoken in class here and there about Canada’s relationship with its indigenous populations. If there are those who are negatively effected by discrimination and oppression, there are those who benefit from this oppression; and with respect to Canadian First Nations, the dominant culture represented by our affluent suburban public school ought consider the question:

Is it possible to benefit from the oppression of others and not be responsible for the perpetuation of that oppression? And if it is, how?

Before reflecting on the ways in which we might approach this most pressing of Canadian problems, Ottawa Citizen columnist Terry Glavin’s contrasting of indigenous Canadians’ plight against that of their African American neighbours deserves consideration, where he admits that “the conditions that torment Aboriginal Canadians to this day are no less a disgrace than the dead-end impoundments so many African-Americans find themselves within today.”

Aboriginal Canadians and African-Americans suffer from a nearly identical suite of maladies: high rates of cancer, of heart disease, mental illness, suicide, spousal abuse, drug addiction, alcoholism, fetal alcohol syndrome and tuberculosis.

The median income of African-American men is about $31,000. Among white American men it’s $42,000. In Canada, the median annual income for Aboriginal people living off-reserve is $22,500 (among those living on Indian reserves it’s $14,000); the average annual income for Canadian wage workers in general is about $48,000.

The unemployment rate among working-age Aboriginal people in Canada is 13 per cent – more than twice the general jobless rate among working-age Canadians. This is every bit as wide a gap as between African-American men and white American men.

Comparing welfare rates makes Canada look far worse. Slightly more than 10 per cent of African-Americans are on welfare, but in Canada, roughly a third of Aboriginal people are on welfare or some other form of income assistance.

Canada looks worse again when we look inside the prisons. African-Americans make up only about 12 per cent of the U.S. population, but 40 per cent of the U.S. prison population is African-American. A mere four per cent of Canadians are Aboriginal, but more than 23 per cent of the inmate population in federal institutions are Aboriginal people – an incarceration rate 10 times higher than among non-Aboriginal people.

Things are going downhill, too. Over the past decade, the Aboriginal population in federal prisons has grown by more than 50 per cent. In Western Canada, two-thirds of the inmates in federal and provincial institutions are Aboriginal people.

That this scenario exists at all is a tragedy of the first order, to be sure. Yet that it exists in a country which has enshrined in its laws the promotion of “the full and equitable participation of individuals and communities of all origins in the continuing evolution and shaping of all aspects of Canadian society and […] the elimination of any barrier to that participation” is tragically ironic. Though it is not without broad complicity that such a state of affairs is allowed to continue, as Amanda Gebhard highlights in an essay on how “The over-incarceration of Indigenous people is not an unassail­able reality.” Rather, she writes that

It is a violent, colonial project that requires the co-operation and complicity of countless people. Unmaking the situation will require the same sustained and concerted effort. Learning how we are all invited to participate in the colonial project of Aboriginal over-incarceration – and then refusing to do so – is the first step in demolishing the pipeline to prison for Aboriginal youth in Canada.

As Jess highlights in a comment here, with regards to gender discrimination, “the only percentage that matters is that 100% of women have experienced some form of ‘minor’ sexual harassment.” So too do 100% of aboriginal Canadians exist in a country which discriminates against them. In either case it is important to ask: who bears the responsibility to reduce the amount of discrimination and oppression experienced by these groups? Should it fall to the oppressed to liberate themselves from a pervasive society of oppression? Or are we all responsible?

Is it possible for non-indigenous Canadians to benefit from this historical (and continued) discrimination and not be responsible for its perpetuation? By what moral reasoning might they be absolved from acting to end this cycle?

Or must they act?

In a new book Canadian philosopher and author John Ralston Saul notes that “sympathy toward aboriginal people from outsiders is the new form of racism.”

It allows many of us to feel good about discounting their importance and the richness of their civilizations. Sympathy is a way to deny our shared reality. Our shared responsibility. Sympathy obscures the central importance of rights.

The other day the idea was raised that both oppressors and the oppressed are trapped within a society reliant on systemic oppression, and yet we still find ourselves seeking a means by which the beneficiaries of that discrimination might be absolved. Given the realities of our past and future as a nation which contains multitudes, and which prides itself on the “full and equitable participation” of those multitudes, isn’t it our shared responsibility to fight for a system and a society other than the one passed down to us?

These might seem rhetorical questions, but I pose them with the hope that they provoke critical thoughts about a scenario that envelopes us as Canadians whether we like it or not. As Michael Sandel observes, moral philosophy challenges us to make the familiar distant, and in so doing come to understand our reality in new and profound ways.

“Once the familiar turns strange, it’s never quite the same again. Self-knowledge is like lost innocence: however unsettling we find it, it can never be un-thought, or un-known.”

Now that it has become known, if we can agree that it has, how do we move forward, together?

 

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Political Animals

Following from some of the work Kelsey and Jeff have been doing, this New York Times Opinionator post may lead us into interesting discussions of social and political philosophy:

Homo sapiens has long sought to set itself apart from animals — that is, apart from every other living species. One of the most enduring attempts to define humanity in a way that distances us from the rest of animal life was Aristotle’s description of the human being as a “political animal.” By this he meant that human beings are the only species that live in the “polis” or city-state, though the term has often been understood to include villages, communes, and other organized social units. Implicit in this definition is the idea that all other animals are not political, that they live altogether outside of internally governed social units.

This supposed freedom from political strictures has motivated some, such as the 19th-century anarchist aristocrat Piotr Kropotkin, to take nonhuman animals as a model for human society. But for the most part the ostensibly nonpolitical character of animal life has functioned simply to exclude animals from human consideration as beings with interests of their own.

What might we be missing when we cut animals off in this way from political consideration? For one thing, we are neglecting a great number of solid scientific facts.This supposed freedom from political strictures has motivated some, such as the 19th-century anarchist aristocrat Piotr Kropotkin, to take nonhuman animals as a model for human society. But for the most part the ostensibly nonpolitical character of animal life has functioned simply to exclude animals from human consideration as beings with interests of their own.

 

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Questions: Teacherless Discussions & Leaderless Movements

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“The more active an attitude men and women take in regard to the exploration of their thematics,” he writes, “the more they deepen their critical awareness of reality and, in spelling out those thematics, take possession of that reality.”

Paulo Freire 

Today the face-to-face philosophy crowd discussed scientific philosophy and the question of whether science itself can be considered objective. It was the group’s second attempt at facilitating its own ‘teacherless discussion’ and constructing collective knowledge on a topic (I reflected on the first discussion in a post here), and wanted to take the opportunity this weekend to foster some dialogue around the nature of such ‘leaderless’ collaborations.

Whether you were a participant in today’s discussion or not, there are a number of factors which limit or inspire individuals’ capacity to contribute to such democratic processes. Possessing prior knowledge, being able to act within previously-decided roles and responsibilities (teacher-student-expert, etc), peer relationships and even the physical arrangement of the discussion environment play a part in whether a social process meets its goals or not. So I arrive here this afternoon with a few questions, chiefly for today’s classroom participants, but potentially those beyond, about how these processes unfold.

So with respect to today’s discussion, but potentially including other similar experiences with democratic group processes, I am curious to hear:

  • Are there aspects of discussion which benefit from a lack of predetermined structure? What are they?
    • Or, are there benefits to formalizing or organizing a group in certain traditional ways, for example, designating a leader, prescribing topics or areas of expertise, capturing or introducing different ideas in progress?
  • What is difficult about engaging with a ‘leaderless’ discussion or group process?
  • What causes the discussion or group task to wander, or lose sight of its purpose, or sees people disengage?
    • What causes you to take your phone out, or to chat (off-topic) with a neighbour, or daydream?
  • What is happening in a discussion or group task when you are particularly engaged?
    • When is a discussion at its most productive?
      • And, what constitutes a ‘productive’ discussion?
  • How do we ensure full (or the fullest possible) participation of group members?

Part of what I am after within my role as a teacher in philosophy is bringing about an educational experience that allows for the rehearsal of skills required to bring about a constructivist vision of knowledge. In other words, a classroom dynamic that doesn’t rely solely on input and momentum created by me. The sort of passive consumption which comes from a teacher-led educational processes can lead to a kind of helplessness we might see exemplified in our apathetic democratic states and lack of social accountability for a host of laments many of us have about broader ‘society.’

With careful reflection on the above questions, and by sharing your thoughts with as specific examples or points as possible, we might work toward a clearer focus in our discussions going forward as a group.

Thanks for your input!

 

 

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Discussion: Multiculturalism, Social Darwinism and the Project of Democracy

Today’s final Ethics Discussion, introduced by Julie, Aman and Emily here:

 

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Ethics Discussion: Privacy, Piracy, State Power, Citizenship & the Ethics of Voting 12.09.13

A grab-bag of discussion topics centering around the ethics of democracy. Background on each of the topics covered provided in original posts collected here:

 

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Ethics Discussion: Euthanasia, Capital Punishment & Safe Injection Sites 12.06.13

Here is the second Ethics discussion from our unit, concerning the questions of Euthanasia, Capital Punishment & Safe Injection Sites. You can read more about each of these topics on their introductory posts:

 

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Ethics Discussion Schedule & Posts

Screen shot 2013-12-04 at 12.46.29 PMAbove you’ll find our rough schedule for discussions on various ethical topics we plan to address in the coming days. In addition to being able to join our class proceedings via #ds106radio, or Google Hangout (stay tuned to the #Philosophy12 hashtag on Twitter or @bryanjack’s account to find links to these talks) beginning at approximately 10:20am (PST) on the days listed, Philosophy 12 invites you to engage in dialogue around these topics on posts coming across the course site as of today.

Here are links and brief excerpts of the ethical issues we are investigating:

I have the Right to Die – Andrea R. and Ramona K.

Immanuel Kant believed that the moral rules can, in principle, be known as a result of reason alone and are not based on observation. He believed that reason can be revealed in the basic principles of morality. These principles are goodwill, duty and categorical imperative. His categorical imperative states that we should act in such a way that we can all will the maxim of our actions to become a universal law. An objective principle, in so far as it is obligatory, is called a command (of reason), and the formula of the command is called an imperative. All imperatives are expressed by the word ought, and indicate the relation of an objective law of reason to a will which is not necessarily determined by it. They say that something would be good to do, but they say it to a will which does not always do a thing because it is conceived to be good. “What makes a moral act right?” And this happens to be what we are looking for, in the sense of what makes euthanasia right?

The Ethics of Voting: Not Efficient, Not Ethical, What’s the Point? – by Aidan C. and Lazar A.

The problem is, that we, as members of a democratic system cannot view voting as an ethical task. It must be an act which is performed at the out-most interest of oneself, so that the leaders of our country can take action as our representatives. We ask, that shouldn’t the very foundation of a democratic system be ethically correct towards its people, since the system itself is made upon ethical views? No, it does not, because the second you begin voting for the wants and needs of those around you, a) you cannot know what they want, and b) which person’s wants and needs do you vote for? For instance, what everyone votes for the wants and needs of one person…that does not bring a greater good to the most people either, therefore, once again at an ethical stale mate. Concluding, although unethical, voting is the key to a system which strives to be ethical.

Wikileaks vs. the Government – by Julian P. and Imtiaz P.

“Big brother is always watching you” is a widely used phrase that was written by George Orwell, to emphasize an omnipresent, seemingly benevolent figure that represents oppressive control of individual lives, who is absent in the believe of morals and or ethics…

Online Piracy – by Dylan A. Cassidy P.

Is piracy actually theft? Technically speaking, theft happens when person A takes something from person B. Person B now does not have that thing which they originally had and person A now has that thing which person B had. Because this object is not being physically stolen from anyone, is it truly considered stolen? This isn’t the case for Internet piracy. When you download something online, you aren’t taking that thing, you’re making a copy of it. The original author hasn’t lost their work, there’s just more of it around now. Now that’s not to say that if the author didn’t originally put their work up for free online that they aren’t getting the money that they asked for, so in that way people would argue that it is stealing. So that’s when online piracy becomes very messy, and we’re stuck in between two sets of views that are both agreeable yet can’t exist together within the current ways that copyright infringement is dealt with.

The Ethics of Animal Experimentation – by Katherine B. and Jessica P.

Mill’s utilitarian ethics would agree to medical animal experimentation, as we see an exponentially greater amount of “good” brought into the world from the harms we committed in order to bring about that good. Animal testing for medical research and drug development also satisfies a higher level of utilitarianism. The “good” (of progression in medical research), brought about by the “harm” (of testing on animals) is being created for an altruistic reason; to benefit and improve the health of all human lives. In contrast to cosmetic animal testing whose purpose is to satisfy debateably superficial wants, scientific animal testing is being used to grant people a higher quality of life.

Ethnics: Get Out! – by Julie, Aman & Emily

…citizens are wondering if multiculturalism is a failed experiment but Habermas disagrees and states that they should continue to embrace multiculturalism and not resort to tactics such as relying on the support of right-wing populists like the Netherlands or having a ban on building minarets like Switzerland. Although xenophobia seems to be spreading in some areas of the world Habermas believes that if we get to know people from other countries and we get to experience their culture, then we will realize that this is the best way to live.

Power: State vs. People – by Jade, Ayden & Deion

Questioning the government seems to be somewhat of a common thing amongst the population. We criticize the amount of power that our state has, yet we do nothing to make a change. The idea of having no control in our own society enrages many of us. If this is a fear that we all have, why don’t we step up and take the power?

Democracy gives us of legal age and registration the ability to vocalize our preference in political leaders. But with the ability to control the majority in government, what do we do with it? Sheep give their trust to their herder in where they choose to guide them. Similarly, people invest their trust in an elected leader. Ironically, people can be lead to ignorant knowledge.

Stay away from the Bacon! – by Heather M. and Kristina S.

Pigs are the 4th smartest animal (excluding humans.) They are only outranked by elephants, dolphins and chimps (and humans.) They learn as quickly as chimps. They can recognize their own name within only a week of being born. Guess how long it takes a human baby.

HALF A YEAR.

And their names are probably called a lot more than these piglets, so consider those implications. They continue exceed the capability of any 3 year old child, and most toddlers speak by then. They are far more intelligent than your cat or dog, too.They can recognize and remember up to 30 other pigs.

Capital Punishment – by Tyler L. and Leon C.

“As long as human justice remains fallible, the risk of executing the innocent can never be eliminated” said Amnesty International. In 1973, over 140 people had been released from death rows in 26 states because of innocence.  Hugo Bedau, a philosopher, who’s most ambitious work was “The Death Penalty in America” and took up the issue in “The Case Against the Death Penalty” which was a pamphlet distributed widely by the American Civil Liberties Union. He was the first to make general empirical argument against the capital punishment as said by Michael Radelet.

Safe Injection Sites – Ashley A. and Sophie T.

Many argue that providing a place for drug addicts to continue using is logically and ethically wrong, as it is encouraging illegal activity with no legal intervention or consequences. People who oppose these safe injection sites also believe that it isn’t right to enable these people to continue using, rather than helping them decrease the amount of drugs they are taking or getting off of the drugs all together. To some people, giving addicts a place to consume illegal, dangerous intravenous drugs is equal to giving people with chronic depression a place where they can “safely” kill themselves. The only safe place that these people believe that drug addicts belong is in jail and/or a rehabilitation program.

Economics, Inequality & Enlightenment – by Mr. J

…should the goal revolve around creating *enough* social cohesion to bring about greater justice than presently experienced? I was watching another talk hosted by Sandel the other night (about the moral justification for wealth-redistribution) where someone in the audience said that those in favour of redistribution don’t put their best foot forward when they present the “selfish” argument for paying higher taxes: “You will have a better healthcare system if we all pay.” The more powerful argument, this person posited, was that members of a community (family, province, nation… planet?) have an inherent obligation to one another. We are all members of the same family, in other words, and thus taxation for the benefit of all not so much a case of taking from one to give to another, but something we all do for the good of all (which includes each of us).

 

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Rawls’ Theory of Justice, Economics 12 and Enlightenment

In discussing RawlsTheory of Justice this week, you might find the above lectures and discussions on “What makes a fair start?” inspired by the former Harvard philosophy prof:

Part 1 – WHAT’S A FAIR START?
Rawls argues that even meritocracy—a distributive system that rewards effort—doesn’t go far enough in leveling the playing field because those who are naturally gifted will always get ahead. Furthermore, says Rawls, the naturally gifted can’t claim much credit because their success often depends on factors as arbitrary as birth order. Sandel makes Rawls’s point when he asks the students who were first born in their family to raise their hands.

Part 2 – WHAT DO WE DESERVE?
Sandel discusses the fairness of pay differentials in modern society. He compares the salary of former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor ($200,000) with the salary of television’s Judge Judy ($25 million). Sandel asks, is this fair? According to John Rawls, it is not.

Touching on topics such as affirmative action policies, taxation, and just what should be done about inequality, Rawls provides an excellent point of crossing-over between our Economics and Philosophy classes this week.

If you are interested in pursuing the ethical, social and political import of inequality, Mr. Lloyd’s class has been reading and discussing the Globe and Mail‘s recent series, The Wealth Paradoxwhich tells the story of:

Canada […] at a crossroads. A gap has grown between the middle class and the wealthy. Now, that divide is threatening to erode a cherished Canadian value: equality of opportunity for all.

For those of us immersed in Rawls this weekend, what would he say about Canada’s “Wealth Paradox”? What about the Utilitarians? Immanuel Kant?

And for the economists in our midst, what is the epistemological basis for our understanding of inequality:

    • What do we know?
    • How do we know it?

If we look to gain such knowledge as a means to making our world more ethical, and more oriented toward justice, what is there to be known on the matter of inequality?

What questions must be asked?

And do these questions have answers sufficient that we can then act, and create systems of government and society that reflect our individual and collective notions of “justice”?

I look forward to engaging in this topic this week with the Philosophy 12 bunch, as well as our friends in AP Economics, and anyone else who finds themselves here, reading this post.

In the interest of enabling and creating a public sphere that might be equal to the tasks and questions raised by the ongoing Project of Enlightenment, where Kant (along with we here at Philosophy 12) invites you:

“Have the courage to use your own reason – That is the motto of enlightenment.”

 

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Idealism and Pragmatism – Derek & Jonathan

In analyzing the balance between pragmatism and idealism, we concluded that the most important subject of discussion is the goals of democracy. While we have many different ways to run it, the aim of government is what affects its quality and style the most. As time has progressed, we have seen a dynamic change in the way that we as a society, seek specific goals. As we entered the modern era, we have allowed more room for idealists, and have been awarded then by the goals that we have sought.drawing idealist pragmatist w800

Our modern government today has approached their democracies in a varieties of ways, but these methods can all be encompassed by two major ideas: pragmatism and idealism. The challenge that our governmental system faces today is how to balance these major pillars of ideology.

The direction in which we progress, however, has still been logically and largely pragmatic. This is due to the nature of pragmatic approaches. If we consider pragmatism, which literally means a practical approach, we see that it is simply looking for the best available option. Many issues are solved daily with pragmatism and it has done relatively well so far. Pragmatism, unfortunately, is limited by it’s own definition. When issues are considered in a pragmatic way, whatever changes exacted will be within the current method of thinking. A parochial solution if you will. Not to say pragmatism does not solve problems, but the nature of pragmatism inhibits the growth of idealism and subsequent major developments in the social paradigm.

Idealism is, well, idealistic. To seek an idealistic society is to seek the best possible that the system may offer, regardless of its potentiality. Admittedly, there are many great components to this resolution. An idealist would say that why not seek the best possible options? We must aim for the best, in order to attain the best for the citizens of this planet.

Idealism would also argue that there must be a catalyst, an instigator for change, in order to make the monumental progress that is possible. How could we possibly know what’s possible, if we don’t try? It parallels the ideas of Kuhn in epistemology, as he suggests we challenge the basis of the paradigms we remain trapped in today.

You could say “shoot for the moon and you might just land in the stars”. But a pragmatic approach combats this with a different idea: if you shoot for the moon, you might just end up floating in the middle of space, with nothing accomplished. This is one of the undeniable flaws of idealism, and one of the major points of contention from both sides – what happens when one falls short of the goals presented by idealism? Have they achieved the distance they have covered? Or is it an all-or nothing challenge?

Pragmatists have also challenged the idealists in terms of limitations. Is there a potential limitation to the goals you can seek? One could ask: when do the possibilities of ideals end? Human nature can only conform to the ideals of this world to a certain limit. Mengzi once said that “the great man is the one who does not lose his child’s heart” – this goes on to say that all men are eventually corrupted. If so, this means that an idealistic world cannot exist (or only exists to a certain point). This asks the question: when should we stop searching for a greater society? Is there a point when we have reached the peak of our abilities?

Furthermore, it is important to note that, due to the differing areas in which pragmatism and idealism may be applied, the answer to which is better depends on the questions you ask and the area you wish to broach. Like Quantum Mechanics if you will. You may be considering these two ideas in terms of their social, political, religious or even moral aspects. The plausibility of these two may change significantly depending on what aspect you are looking from.

As seen above, there are many questions to consider when dealing with these two ideas. If they were to be simplified to a select few, these are the most important questions to ask:

1. Should democracy seek idealism or pragmatism?
2. Is there a limit to idealism?
3. Should we treat idealism and pragmatism differently when dealing with unique topics (eg political, social, moral, etc)
4. Is there a balance between idealism and pragmatism? If so, where is it?

 
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