The philosophical underpinnings of the president’s speech in Roanoake
July 24, 2012
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Obama said, “if you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own. You didn’t get there on your own… If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen…”
Harvard undergraduate Dylan Matthews attempts to explain the philosophy behind this for the Washington Post. After discussing Frankfurt-style cases and various responses to them, Rawls, Scanlon, Smart, Singer, Scheffler, GA Cohen, Arneson, Nozick, and McIntyre, Matthews concludes,
So let’s say you built that bridge. Do you deserve the toll money? It all depends on whether you can deserve anything, and on whether or not it even matters, ethically, that you get what you deserve. In short, the answer a lot of philosophers give to “You didn’t build that!” is, “All right, so what?” Which is perhaps why, in general, politicians don’t spend a lot of time listening to philosophers.
Rush Limbaugh doesn’t think too highly of Matthews’ piece.