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The “Afterward” reminds us, via George Orwell, that, like us, democracies in the past have also endured eras when long-standing principles and practices have been severely challenged. Donald Trump is the epitome of that challenge today, and his figurative presence haunted the writing of this book. Moreover, Christopher Achen and Larry Bartels, in their Democracy for Realists, demonstrate that rejecting the national Story today (which they call “the folk theory”), on the basis of empirical research but without providing a replacement, is something that we might decide not to do within the guidelines of choosing, refraining, and dissembling.
This INTRODCTION shows how leaders (such as Vladimir Putin and Lyndon Johnson) often tell false stories about international affairs but lately have more and more disregarded truth (facts) in domestic policy talk while highlighting stories (like MAGA) instead. Yet truth telling is vital to democracy. Therefore, in post-truth America, political scientists should widen their disciplinary scope to pay more attention to stories than they do today. While doing so, they should (truthfully) criticize those stories within the guidelines of choosing, refraining, and dissembling (which will be explained more fully in later chapters).
According to the Doctrine of Doing and Allowing, there is a moral difference between doing something and allowing it to occur. Its defenders and critics both assume the existence of an ontological difference that the purported moral difference is said to supervene upon. This difference – between so-called positive acts of doing and negative acts of not-doing – was famously introduced by Gilbert Ryle, who argued that the latter (which include neglect) were not really actions at all. He is opposed by Davidsonians who, by contrast, maintain that negative act tokens are just positive acts under negative characterisations. In this chapter, I argue that both the moral and the metaphysical debates rest on the mistaken belief that actions and/or their characterisations can be neatly divided into those that are positive and those that are negative. I use a wide range of examples to demonstrate how all action contains inaction, and vice versa. Moreover, ontological perceptions of what is positive and what is negative cannot be neatly separated from evaluative ones. None of this entails that there can never be any moral difference between doing x and allowing x to happen. But it is not one that can be captured by any principle, not least because any given instance of doing x will involve the not-doing of some other thing (a, b, or c …), and any case of of allowing x to happen will be inseparable from doing some such other thing, where the doing of a involved in allowing x may be morally worse than the allowing of a which occurs in doing x. I conclude that the Bhagavad Gita is right in proclaiming that the ability to reliably perceive one’s action in inaction, and vice versa, eludes us.
In this chapter, I introduce the topic of negative action. I provide a rough account of the distinction between positive and negative actions, of the distinction between two commonly-discussed kinds of negative behaviour (omitting and refraining), and of what distinguishes negative actions from mere failures to do something. Then, drawing on this discussion and the discussion of Chapter 1, I articulate the problem of negative action: negative actions seem to be genuine actions; actions seem to be events; but (at least some) negative actions seem to be, not events, but absences thereof. I trace the widespread acceptance of the latter claim to Deflationism, the view – often held only implicitly – that negative action sentences express negative existentials.
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