Some thoughts after starting Nozick.

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William Brafford

William Brafford grew up in North Carolina, home of the world's best barbecue, indie rock, and regional soft drinks. He just barely sustains a personal blog and "tweets" every now and then under the name @williamrandolph.

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  1. Avatar Bruce Smith
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    It would seem better that we acknowledge we are sensibly hard-wired to be both selfish and altruistic but need to impose checks and balances upon ourselves to determine our rights in democratic fashion. Then perhaps we could achieve a consensual capitalism rather than the Dictatorship of the Corporateriat we are currently stuck with.Report

  2. Avatar Jaybird
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    “Rhetorically and politically, “I have a right to X” is a stronger claim than “You owe me X.” ”

    I imagine that it would depend on X.

    “You owe me the opportunity to respond!” is a very, very strong claim. “I have the right to the opportunity to respond!” is trivially true.

    When you start substituting more tangible things in there, it’s easy to see how the libertarians get to their conclusions about what is and is not a right.

    “I have the right to quality health care!” is a fine, fine sentiment.

    “You owe me quality health care!” is presumptuous as hell, if not laughable on its face. “Dude, I’m a humanities type” is the kindest of the thoughts that come to mind (and I had to search for that one… the first thought was “the hell I do!”).Report

  3. Avatar Jaybird
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    Thinking about your web some more, this strikes me as an exceptionally good way to run things so long as every individual remains constantly cognizant of his or her obligations to others.

    The moment a tipping point is reached and there is a significant segment thinking of the obligations *OF* others, this model will implode. Or so it seems from here.

    (Personally, any model that relies on the goodness of people strikes me as unsustainable.)Report

  4. Avatar mike farmer
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    “I’m more an obligation-web kind of guy, and I tend to see the individual as a node of a web of obligations of various strengths.”

    This is frightening.

    Read Tibor Machan for a better understanding of natural rights — Defending Libertarianism is a good place to start. He diverts from Nozick somewhat and does a good job of explaining why. Many people think Nozick is the last word on libertarianism because of his stature as an intellectual — but Machan does a much better job of laying it out, in my opinion.Report

    • Avatar William Brafford in reply to mike farmer
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      Sorry for scaring you. Please note that I haven’t really said anything about which of these obligations should be enforced, how they should be enforced, and/or who should enforce them. Just that the obligations are real and morally relevant to my decisions, as seen from my point of view. Hope that makes it a little less frightening.Report

  5. Avatar Mark Thompson
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    I just want to comment that I’m interested in reading more posts on Nozick from a non-libertarian’s perspective.Report

  6. Avatar Kyle
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    I’m averse to a theory that leaves the individual as resident of a rights-bubble, within which she may anything she pleases, and outside of which she may act only with the consent of the others whose rights-bubbles she’s dealing with.

    I don’t know how I feel about this. I mean aren’t all of the relationships you cite when discussing your conception of a Human interwebs based at least somewhat on consent. After all, if your friends stop consenting to your friendship, wouldn’t continued involvement in their life, or heavy handed involvement in their life be highly inappropriate?

    It seems to me that the foundation of Lockean natural rights theory is that one has the right (whether they opt for it or not) to be master of themselves and the right to defend logical extrapolations of that central idea.

    Maybe it’s just me but consent in all our relationships, contractual or otherwise, is an important bulwark against slavery, de facto and de jure.Report

    • Avatar William Brafford in reply to Kyle
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      I’ll grant that human relationships are based at least somewhat on consent, with the possible partial exception of some examples of really profound dependence. And my interactions with strangers (i.e. most other citizens) should be based on consent. But when we’re talking about my mother or my brothers, I think there’s more going on than consent all by its lonesome. I’m not signing on to divine right of fathers or anything like that — it’s just that (perhaps naively) I think family ties go deeper than contract.Report

  7. Avatar Bruce Smith
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    Mike. I looked up Tibor Machan and downloaded his “A Passionate Defence of Libertarianism” PDF. In that PDF he states: “Recently, a young student from Pecs, Hungary, visited with my family. I explained to her how Hungarians viewed America back in Budapest during the reign of Stalin and Rakosi. I said we all look to America as the bastion of individual liberty, as the culture that gave the greatest practical expression to the most radical, revolutionary ideals yet introduced into human political thought: that each person is a moral sovereign, that each person can be good or bad largely as a function of his or her choice.” Well somehow I don’t think this quite computes for me after reading a few weeks ago about how Inuit tribes deal with “free-loaders” who refuse to go on hunts with the men and hang around camp trying to make out with their wives. When they finally do get the “free-loader” to go on a hunt with them they quietly push the Libertarian off the ice! This would kind of suggest that human beings develop and live by quite clear-cut social norms to deal with the selfish aspect of human nature and it is these norms that curtail the theoretical liberty that Machan talks about. If free-loading is not dealt with as rigorously in our economies as it should then this is most likely to be a function of capital as power.Report

    • Avatar mike farmer in reply to Bruce Smith
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      I’m not sure where free-loading fits into libertarianism. I certainly don’t want to live in a society that kills me for not going hunting with the men. Instead of making out with the wives, a productive iconoclast could have been staying behind designing a means to meet the basic need for food which would make hunting and killing animals a waste of time.Report

  8. Avatar Julian Sanchez
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    Lest anyone think that Machan is as good a case as one will find for a libertarian scheme of rights (shudder) allow me to suggest instead David Gauthier’s “Morals by Agreement” (and Narveson’s “Libertarian Ideal,” which piggybacks on Gauthier) or especially Loren Lomasky’s “Persons, Rights, and the Moral Community.” Not that I’d endorse either without qualification, but they’re substantially more serious efforts.Report

    • Avatar mike farmer in reply to Julian Sanchez
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      Just out of curiosity, once you recover from the shuddering, can you tell me why Machan’s scheme of rights is less than serious?Report

        • Avatar Julian Sanchez in reply to mike farmer
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          I doubt anyone is capable of doing serious ethical work in the space of a newspaper column, but to the extent one can detect an argument in the one you link—as opposed to a conclusory assertion about the scope of rights—it’s circular. The claim that moral agents require (in what sense? as opposed to, say, food?) freedom of action except when they invade another person’s “realm” is just question-begging: The problem of what constitutes a “realm” *just is* the question of what rights we have. Obviously, this is a vast oversimplification of what he’d say in a proper book or paper, but frankly, I’ve found that at that length, he tends to be even more obviously sloppy—blundering from questionable empirical assertions to flat non-sequiturs in the prose equivalent of a drunken stupor. This is not the place to pick nits in detail, but to the extent he’s cribbing from Rand, most of what Nozick says in “On the Randian Argument” cross-applies.Report

          • Avatar mike farmer in reply to Julian Sanchez
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            “Obviously, this is a vast oversimplification of what he’d say in a proper book or paper, but frankly, I’ve found that at that length, he tends to be even more obviously sloppy—blundering from questionable empirical assertions to flat non-sequiturs in the prose equivalent of a drunken stupor.”

            Whereas, I find him to be quite compelling in his arguments and his prose clear and to the point. His points on human nature and what we can best determine promotes human flourishing are reasonable and (although he admits in such matters that nothing is absolute, only the best we can determine) a very good explanation why negative rights are the true, natural rights, and are true and natural regardless what governments determine or what laws are created.Report

            • Avatar Travis in reply to mike farmer
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              Tosh.

              The right to free speech, as applied in America, for example. How is that a “true, natural” right against intruding on others?

              I have, under that right, the right to insult you,impugn your person and your family, attack your most very personal beliefs and, generally, destroy you in the public eye. I can even tell lies about you and mostly get away with it. Proving a libel suit is next to impossible.

              There is nothing “natural” about that in the least. Without government to punish the transgression, you might well come punch me in the face for saying much of it – and I would probably deserve it. It certainly may “invade your realm” to the extent of public humiliation, loss of employment, etc.

              But we, as a society, have decided that the consequences of the government punishing such speech are worse than the consequences of the government not punishing it. So we say that one has a right to free speech.

              The balance we have struck with regards to free speech is neither natural nor in any way preordained. It is merely one point on a political continuum of attitudes toward the regulation of speech and expression.Report

              • Avatar mike farmer in reply to Travis
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                Travis,

                The rights I’m talking about are the basic rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness — if speech violates an individual’s rights then there are laws addressing that.Report

              • Avatar Travis in reply to mike farmer
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                Liberty meaning what? Free speech is part of liberty, is it not? Seems a rather hollow liberty if not. What use is it to be free to walk around but not free to speak your mind?Report

              • Avatar mike farmer in reply to Travis
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                Travis, yes, you have the right to free speech, but not libel or slander where it can be proved to violate one of the basic rights, like pursuit of happiness. I think you understand this. You should have right to act and speak as you wish as long as you don’t violate the rights of others — this is not complicated.Report

            • Avatar Julian Sanchez in reply to mike farmer
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              Well, put it this way: In purely probabilistic terms, my experience is that your high opinion is shared by so few people with philosophy training—libertarian or not—that he’s a poor bet to persuade a non-libertarian with a philosophy background that we have people doing rights theory deserving of attention.Report

  9. Avatar Julian Sanchez
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    Oh, and that said, Brafford reads my own view (and I’m pretty sure Will Wilkinson’s) correctly: I’m more or less a Rawlsian here, and don’t much think we need a libertarian view of rights tout court in order to have a libertarian view of the legitimate bounds of state action. The traditional libertarian move is that state actors can’t be seen as endowed with any prerogatives we’re not willing to ascribe to every other citizen. This now seems to me as off-base, because likely to lead to stunted and simplistic ethical views, as the complementary error of ascribing personal virtues (like “generosity”) to political institutions.Report

  10. Avatar E.D. Kain
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    Excellent post, as per usual William. I think there’s an interesting tension between the Porchers’ “place, limits, liberty” view of politics, government, and markets, and the more traditional libertarian view. Oddly enough, on my own pursuit of a Porcher-based localist, communitarian conservatism, I have come to believe that a more libertarian approach is pretty much essential (however at odds they may seem at times). But this tension is somewhat dissipated when you approach the discussion of rights in the way you have here:

    So there’s a big difference between (1) “As long as I’m not infringing anyone’s rights, nobody can tell me what to do,” and (2) “As long as I’m not infringing anyone’s rights, the government can’t tell me what to do.”

    So can the Porcher ethic exist in the libertarian market-capitalist society? I think so, unless that ethic begins dictating state-involvement to “protect” or “plan” things. Because then everything is disrupted, and we start to abandon our capacity to make decisions for ourselves, and become reliant on others to do that for us.

    Anyways, this is all very much off the top of my head and in a hurry.Report

  11. Avatar Bruce Smith
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    I’ve just read a customers review of Jan Narveson’s book “The Libertarian Ideal.” on Amazon where I’m told Narveson is concerned in Part I of the book with “a detailed refutation of the idea that by acquiring unowned property, one is infringing on the liberties of everyone else.” Now I’m just coming off the back of reading Jared Diamond’s book “Guns, Germs and Steel.” where he argues most native Americans stuck to the hunter-gatherer way of life because North America was poor in suitable plants and animals to domesticate in comparison to the Fertile Crescent. Jared argues it was the greater availability of suitable plants and animals in the Fertile Crescent that ultimately led to the European invasion of the American continent. In this light Narveson’s view sounds a bit rich to me if not down-right selfish. It also begs the question if Libertarianism and Locke is not in fact predicated on an ecological throw of the dice and this makes Libertarianism a contingent philosophy and not a universalism.Report

  12. Avatar Bruce Smith
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    When as individuals composing a society we become uncertain whether to behave selfishly or altruistically that’s when we search for norms through laws and that’s one reason we need governments.Report

    • Avatar mike farmer in reply to Bruce Smith
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      And what makes you think that the same confused humans in government positions can figure it out better than we humans, outside government, can?Report

      • Avatar greginak in reply to mike farmer
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        Government provides/is a set of laws and systems with which to solve the problems of living together. If you have a legal disagreement about a contract, there are courts to decide the merits of the case. Is there a piece of public land with multiple uses, the gov provides a mechanism for managing it and trying to accommodate peoples needs.

        People then get to vote on who makes the rules and stuff. They can go to public meetings, send letters, call politicians, campaign for initiatives and join advocacy organizations to increase their influence.

        And since it is impossible to make everybody happy Americans can then complain about every fricking thing the gov does they don’t like.Report

      • Avatar Travis in reply to mike farmer
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        Because the existence of a government provides a dispute-resolution and decision-making system for civil society which allows for the resolution of conflicting needs and values in a manner other than “You disagree with me, I kill you.”Report

        • Avatar mike farmer in reply to Travis
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          If the basic rights are protected by a minimal form of government then murder is against the law. I am not not advocating no government, nor is, in the main, libertarianism. What you are talking about is government establishing norms to force people to decide between selfishness and altruism, which is much more than protection of basic rights. Government has no business forcing me to choose altruism, although I might freely choose such if left alone.Report

          • Avatar Travis in reply to mike farmer
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            All fine and good, Mike, but the Constitution explicitly empowers Congress to levy taxes in order to provide for the general welfare of the United States. So yes, the U.S. government does have business forcing you to be “altruistic” and help fund social programs. Amend the Constitution if you’d like to change that.

            The general welfare of the United States is inarguably aided by the existence of a bare minimum level of subsistence (and thus the relative absence of people starving and homeless in the streets) in that a society with such a populace is inherently unstable, liable to commit crime and subject to civil disorder and upheaval.

            If you want to live in a country with a massive disparity between rich and poor, and a government which does little about it, move to Mexico and enjoy the drug wars, kidnappings, murders and public corruption that come with itReport

            • Avatar mike farmer in reply to Travis
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              Travis,

              I think if the Founders were alive they would change this part of the constitution. Taxes were meant to pay for public goods which are best paid for collectively — this had nothing to do with altruism. The welfare clause has been misused — it was meant for cases of national emergencies, not to take from the rich and give to the poor.

              In a free society, charity would be enough to help those who can’t help themselves. People don’t have to be forced to be charitable, they will freely choose to be charitable — this is the only moral way to do it. Early on, this is what Alexis de Touqueville was impressed with, the associations created among Americans to deal with societal problems. I’m sure you believe people are too selfish, and that our wonderful government efforts are necessary to create equality, but i disagree, and I think our welfare system has done more harm than good.Report

  13. Avatar Bruce Smith
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    Or I’m going to take all your land off you and your neighbors knock the buildings down and turn it back into a hunter-gatherer reservation.Report

  14. Avatar Travis
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    The nonexistence, in human history, of any stable, functioning anarcho/libertarian paradise tends to suggest that such a thing cannot exist.

    If it can, why isn’t there a stampede of capital and well-heeled libertarians flooding to whatever chunk of land they can set up shop in?

    Oh, right – they like living in a stable nation-state with regulated, enforced market standards, equitable and generally corruption-free systems of law and law enforcement, a highly-educated populace, extensive transportation networks that enable the free flow of goods and services, clean drinking water and (relatively) unpolluted air, access to public lands for recreation, etc. etc. etc.

    Hell, the “Free State Project” couldn’t even get enough people to take over a *town* in New Hampshire.Report

  15. Avatar Bruce Smith
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    Except in hunter-gatherer times when there was more leeway for differing norms. If you fell out with the rest of your tribe you and your followers simply moved off to some place else in the wilderness. Those days, however, are long gone unless you head off to the few untamed wildernesses left but once again consensual tribal norms would quickly be established.Report

    • Avatar Travis in reply to Bruce Smith
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      Good point. The “let’s go find our own place to live” thing worked when there were 2 million people in North America. Not so much when there’s 350 million.Report

    • Avatar greginak in reply to Bruce Smith
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      What do you base this assertion on? H-G societies require/involve extensive interdependence and cooperation. The ability to just pick up and leave to a far away place is a relatively modern phenomenon and mostly for westerners. Even for immigrants to the US in the 19 and 20 centuries it was an arduous process. Most immigrants moved into deeply interwoven ethnic communities for support.Report

  16. Avatar Bruce Smith
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    And how do you get to know 350 million people in one lifetime to work out consensual norms ? Guess you don’t so you choose representatives who seem to share your norms.Report

  17. Avatar Bruce Smith
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    Greginak. Check out the history of the Fayu tribe in New Guinea. A reason for moving on in a hunter-gatherer society such as New Guinea would be because your clan would become severely weakened by revenge killings which in turn relates to the cult of head-hunting and canibalism which is linked to the shortage of protein in diets. Clearly being able to develop to the stage of acknowledging obeisance to the leader of a chiefdom, or government, as referee to stop the human inclination to engage in revenge killings is necessary as population densities increase.Report

  18. Avatar Bruce Smith
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    Greginak. There is another example closer to home. Native Americans split in their response to European coloniser encroachment. Some wanted to stand and fight others wanted to move further West away from the whites and they did.Report

  19. Avatar Bruce Smith
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    Mike. I think we could have a government that would figure things out better and allow more people to flourish if capital was devolved and rules changed to resist corruption of politicians. As it stands a lot of government is a Dictatorship of the Corporateriat where big money talks. For example, between 2000 and 2008 Wall Street spent $5 billion on campaign contributions and lobbyists to get things their way including increased deregulation. In addition if people had more power through capital a reduction in the role of the state would ensue since demand for a welfare machine would fall. The climate of opinion would also change and it would also be possible, for example, to fund more non-profit businesses like hospitals which the Japanese insist on by law and which helps contain healthcare costs.Report

  20. Avatar Murali
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    Mr Bradford, if your refer to page 33 of ASU (under the section “why side constrants?”) Nozick, I think inadvertantly* gives a possible origin to “natural” rights.

    This is the part where he says that a tool is something that you can use however you want to. However, I could ennumerate a number of ways in which you may not use that tool. Similarly, I can also ennumerate a number of constraints such that you may not use people without consideration for their ends.

    This reflects the 2nd formulation of Kant’s categorical imperative:

    So act such that you treat humanity in your own person or in that of others as an end in itself and never as a means only.

    Therefore rights are just instantiations of the general obligation to give others due consideration.

    Now, admittedly, there are more moral duties than just the categorical imperative. However, the Kantian-Libertarian argument is that such duties as demanded by the categorical imperative are formal and demanded of pure reason necessarily and actually entail a framework which all other moral duties must fit into, if other maxims are to be called rational at all (even though the categorical imperative may not analytically call for those maxims). This is about the duty of right and duty of virtue distinction with only the former being legitimately enforceable.

    For example I think that we have a duty of virtue to avoid eating meat. But I cannot enforce that by law even though vegetarianism is universalisable and does not in itself use people as a means only (although forcing people to be vegetarian would)

    The moral obligation to bring about the kingdom of ends, then requires us to set up said framework which just is a Republic which enforces only these formal duties**

    *Nozick only mentions Kant that once and doesnt seem to rely on Kant ever again. Also, Nozick was trying to justify a side constraints view vs a moral goal view. i.e. it may just have been a convenient argument (the argument being that that the CI is stated in a side constraints manner therefore rights are side constraints).

    **The republic can also set up any law which is required to maintain the integrity of the republic, giving such concessions that would be necessary to induce everybody into participation in the polity. (i.e. safety net, conscription etc)***

    ***Kant explicitly rejcted the aim of providing for the welfare qua welfare of the citizens. He said that such would actually be a tyranny as people would be forced to pursue a good that they had not necessarily chosen. (which is of course to be avoided)Report

    • Avatar Murali in reply to Murali
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      Just to add:

      Considering that rights are just instances of the CI, then it really is just a matter of what I dont want tyou to do to me. i.e. there is a lot of space in the way people do not want to be used that can be filled in differently.

      For example, in communal societies where the product of everyone’s labour by default goes to a central pile from which everyone can draw as an when they like, the aggressor is the one who keeps back some of the stuff, or does not contribute to the communal “pile”

      However, in one where property rights are completely private, (i.e. I have a right to everything that I produce or exchange my produce for) then taking some from me violates that right.

      i.e. property rights are quite fluid and contingent on the nature of the society one is embeded in, even though they are based on universal rules (the CI)

      Whether these can be called natural rights is somewhat questionable, but the CI seems to be the best bet to developing some system of moral rights.

      P.S. CI=Categorical ImperativeReport

  21. Avatar Bruce Smith
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    Murali. I used to think it was important to follow the Golden Rule preached by religion but I actually think it is less dangerous and more useful for human beings to design their norms, laws and institutions based on an acknowledgment their nature is dual; both selfish and altruistic. Relying on the Golden Rule as motivation leads to theocratic tyranny where beating perfectibility into people like Al-Queda, the Taliban and the Iranian mullahs prevails. Nevertheless, you are spot on that property rights are contingent upon the society you live in. Since property is commoditized nature and money is too then capital ownership is also contingent upon the society you live in.Report

  22. Avatar Murali
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    Relying on the Golden Rule as motivation leads to theocratic tyranny where beating perfectibility into people like Al-Queda, the Taliban and the Iranian mullahs prevails.

    1. There is a distinction between the golden rule and the categorical imperative.

    2. As Jaybird has said previously, morality is a vector.

    Hence, in the very end, we shouldnt want things like Iran, and the taleban etc except as purely voluntaristic communes. The question is: what can we do at the margins in order to reach that end state?

    We may not achieve a libertarian society in my time, or achieve Kant’s perpetual peace, but that doesnt mean that we can’t do more to change things at the margins. Maybe, when my grandchildren have grandchildren, we would be a lot closer to that goal. And maybe in a million years, if we evolved to be much more rational beings, we could eventually achieve a libertarian society.Report

  23. Avatar Bruce Smith
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    Murali. Neuro-scientists today believe from brain scanning observations that many moral decisions are based upon both reasoning and emotional processing in the brain. Where do you think Kant’s Categorical Imperative fits into this knowledge?Report

  24. Avatar Bruce Smith
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    Is the Categorical Imperative reliant entirely upon pure rationality?Report

  25. Avatar Murali
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    Depends on what you mean.

    If you mean about application of the rules that to our daily lives, not necessarily.

    We dont kill people, rob them or do other rights violations entirely because we are rationally aware of it, part of the human condition involves emotional responses. We have the whole unsociable sociability thing going on. (The love-hate relationship with our fellow man) Im talking about the tension between socialising with others in order to take advantage of them and at the ame time distancing ourselves so that we’re not taken advantage of. Many of our emotional responses are right, and many of them are wrong. Not so long ago, people thought it was acceptable to force blacks to sit at the back of the bus. That said, we have made moral progress, even though the emotional component of our moral reesponse hasn’t changed (at least not how much of the moral response on average it forms a basic component of )

    What I’m trying to say is that we dont necessarily have to remove all emotional aspects to our moral responses in order to make moral progress. And lots of people in the world live well within the formal parameters defined by the categorical imperative (at least a lot of the time they do). However, moral perfection on an individual basis, may require more emotional control and more rational thinking, to the extent that absolute moral perfection may require more out of us than is ever possible out of any sentient being short of God.

    On the other hand, if you are asking whether the theory takes these emotional responses into account when talking about morality, it doesnt really do so.

    When thinking about what we morally ought to do, being wrong (morally) simply is being wrong philosphically i.e. being irrational. So in so far as we resons about what we ought to do, or how we ought to run society or what duties and obligations we have, we are trying to use pure practical reason. (Well, philosophers all claim that they are using reason only but there are so many competing moral theories out there, most of them except my theory must be wrong in some way or another 🙂 ) So, when I say that the categorical imperative is true, I’m trying to say that

    1. It can be derived from purely rational priciples and
    2. A purely rational being would adhere to it perfectly.

    However, that would be true of any moral theory. Unless, of course if one is an ethical sentimentalist or a moral non realist, then you would argue that morality is not rational at all.Report

  26. Avatar Bruce Smith
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    Thanks for that information Murali. Could I ask you another question please. How in your view does the Categorical Imperative link up with Libertarianism?Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Bruce Smith
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      If I had to guess, I’d say “treat each individual person like a Moral Actor in his or her own right and allow him or her the decision-making abilities for his or her own spheres that would allow you to be more than a means only.”

      But that’s just me throwing that out there. I’m sure that Murali has a better answer than that one.Report

    • Avatar Murali in reply to Bruce Smith
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      What jaybird said. The key Kant-libertarian connection however is where Kant argues that the only legitimate duties that the state can enforce are the duties of right (i.e. that which is expressly required by the categorical imperative). Even though he acknowledges the existence of duties of virtue, he denies that these can be legitimately enforced by the state.Report

  27. Avatar Bruce Smith
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    Thank you Murali. I’m not sure what Kant would say about the current legislation passed by the US House of Representatives but not yet the Senate setting restrictions on the payment of bonuses to employees of the big banks and financial institutions. Representatives clearly thought it was in the public interests that virtue should prevail. These institutions were paying out million dollar bonuses and above even though they knew their businesses were failing. This though was of no concern to them because they knew the people would be too scared to let them fail and would cover their losses. Why is it wrong for the state to enforce virtue in these circumstances?Report

    • Avatar Murali in reply to Bruce Smith
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      I havent read all of Kant, so Im conjecturing a bit here from what I’ve read.

      1. Aside from anything Kant said, from a policy perspective, wage controls are a terrible idea. Even if we were paternalistic, we still shouldnt do it.

      2. It is not even clear that the virtuous thing to do is to take a pay cut.

      3. Kant would have said that forcing people to do virtuous things does not really make them virtuous people.

      4. While Kant recognised that there was some substantive notion of the good, (to contrast with the purely formal), He was kind of agnostic as to what exactly the virtue/ the substantive good was, to the extent that he was wary of coercing people to pursue some specific notion of virtue.

      I’m not sure I accept everything Kant says either. Kant had rather strange notions about Kings being absolute and it being immoral to rebel against tyrants (even though kings were not supposed to be tyrants) He also had strange notions about suicide etc.

      I’m working on a moral theory that combines elements of Kant, consequentialism, nichomachean virtue ethics, and Confucius. Its still in its early stages, and since philosphy is only a hobby and not a job, progress is quite slow. It looks quite promising.Report

    • Avatar Murali in reply to Bruce Smith
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      says:

      Actually, 3 should run more like

      3. treating people like they cannot make their own decisions is paternalistic and violates the principle of treating people as ends in themselves instead of as means for our own ends.

      It would only have been justified if it would have staved off the collapse of society (riots in the streets, mass exodus) or the state.

      From what I can tell, duties of right are the bare minimum standard that is required of a person for his actions to be considered rational. Kant envisaged a future where everybody was morally perfect (kingdom of ends). We have a duty to work to bring about the kingdom of ends. (Third formulation of CI)

      Since morality is consonant with rationality, duties of right should not contradict duties of virtue.

      Thus, in the Kingdom of ends, where everybody acted as rationally as it is logically possible to be, the duties of right and virtue would have colinear vectors. However, it would be impossible to reach that state if the government imposed various perceived duties of virtue which clearly violated duties of right. i.e. it is likely that what we perceive as virtuous is not necessarily so if they entail rights violations.

      Hence, its not just that people out of self interest, would form the minimal state, but that people in a state of nature are obligated to do so in the first place. i.e. people are required to enforce the duties of right so that the duties of virtue may eventually emerge from that framework.

      The categorical imperative and the formal duties that emerge from it directly, are like a filter. Basically, the argument for the categorical imperative is that if there is objective value, virtue etc, then there are certain things that it would be utterly impossible that virtue would demand. i.e. there are certain constraints upon individuals regardless of the actual shape virtues will take. These constraints are the CI and the formal duties it entails.Report

  28. Avatar Bruce Smith
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    says:

    Thank you very much for all your information Murali. I wish you well with your Moral Theory.Report

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