Legislating Values

Sunday, June 24, 2007
First Aired: 
Tuesday, January 31, 2006

What Is It

To legislate is to choose, and choices are made for the sake of values. But what values should, and which values do, guide our legislators? And why? Does the majority always rule? What attention must be paid to deeply held religious values? Or deeply held secular values? Ken and John discuss these issues with Representative Anna Eschoo (D-Cal).

Listening Notes

How should we decide what laws to pass? Should majority rule, even when they are legislating values? Ken thinks this results in tyranny. What kinds of values are there? There are values that are essential to democracy, e.g. education. Ken introduces the guest, Anna Eshoo, congresswoman of the 14th district of California. Are we in a culture war? What are the casualties like in a culture war? Is the current political climate different than it historically has been? John points out that certain issues have always been contested, such as abortion.

What happens when the legislature does not act to support values it should? The Warren court ordering desegregation of the schools was not legislated but it was certainly a social good. Should we follows Rawls's principle that only reasons acceptable to any reasonable person should be admitted when the government is involved? Eshoo thinks that Rawls's principle is divorced from the way democracy actually works and so is not applicable. Do we need to distinguish between public and private spheres of values to allow the maximum number of citizens to be engaged politically? Is liberty or democracy a more fundamental American value? Eshoo thinks you can't let one take precedence over the other. Both minority and majority desires are important.

Rawls thought that there was an overlapping consensus of opinion, a set of things that everyone could agree on. Legislation could proceed from that. Ken thinks that this is a problematic idea. Why should people agree to set aside fundamental beliefs in order to engage each other? Who is responsible for the divisions in society? Ken thinks the political class exploits these differences to destructive ends. Should people vote their values to the detriment of their economic status? How can we not vote our values?

  • Sixty-Second Philosopher (Seek to 05:20): Ian Shoales summarizes the history of Anthony Comstock's anti-obescenity activities.