At My Real Job: Huemer, Intuitionism, and Anarchy


Jason Kuznicki

Jason Kuznicki is a research fellow at the Cato Institute and contributor of Cato Unbound. He's on twitter as JasonKuznicki. His interests include political theory and history.

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147 Responses

  1. Avatar Jaybird says:

    Sometimes I have trouble telling the difference between “society” and “a large group of persons”.Report

  2. Avatar Fnord says:

    I would say that if we judged our individual friends and neighbors by the standards which we judged the state, they’d come out wanting, too.Report

    • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Fnord says:

      That’s a fair counterpoint.Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Fnord says:

      But in what respect? They don’t start nearly enough wars?

      Here I think Huemer has sort of a point — the state is a very weird thing, a thing apart from ordinary experience.Report

      • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        Well, yes, that’s the thing.

        We don’t regard the state as similar to a collection of individuals, nor do we regard it as an organization like other organizations.

        It *is* a very weird thing.

        We might understand how a neighborhood father whose daughter has been raped may want to hang that guy high. Human reaction. She was a lovely girl. Watched my kids from time to time. Hell, that guy has it coming!

        We would judge a state harshly for summarily executing that guy. We might claim that father is guilty if he summarily executed that guy, too, but it’s just a terrible thing in the the case of that father flying off like that, whereas it’s an egregious misuse of state power if the state does it.

        (note: I’m aware that not everybody would feel the same way about this example) 🙂Report

        • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

          In essence, we grant the state looser moral obligations in order to better keep ours?Report

          • Avatar Russell M in reply to Mad Rocket Scientist says:

            well yeah. not sure how many of us would have made the call truman did if he was not in a very real way our avatar within the state. or Madness by numbers.Report

            • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Russell M says:


              I like that, the state is society’s avatarReport

              • Avatar Russell M in reply to Mad Rocket Scientist says:

                thank you. sometimes I think the public needs reminded that the government is not some abstract evil but is the combined evil of it’s citizens. when things go well it is the combined good of it’s citizens.Report

              • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Russell M says:

                Lately, I think we’ve been allowing the evils to take center stage…Report

              • Avatar Russell M in reply to Mad Rocket Scientist says:

                I think that mostly has to do with how a deep abiding fear has set into the population at large. can you see the patriot act passing without the (mostly trumped up) fear of terrorist attacks? would we be a state sponsor or torture if we were not terminally afraid that we would be attacked?

                I see a lot more fear in america now. that does nicely explain how liberals like me felt that during the bush years we were going to be a Chenytatorship and nowadays the conservatives feel we are only a 1/2 step away from being soviet Russia. Fear has short circuited our ability to think and reason. If we dont snap out of this national funk we may not like what kind of country we are in 15-20 years. not saying we should not worry about a terrorist attack or the encroachment of gov onto our civil rights. just saying we should stop wetting our pants every time something happens.Report

              • Honestly, this is metaphysical nonsense. As tough as I’ve been on Huemer, I’ll be tougher on this.

                Was it the “avatar” of society when Stalin sent someone to the gulag? Really?

                I mean, we can go the route of “your society was corrupt, you reap what you sow,” but that seems rather uncharitable on a rather large scale, doesn’t it? And also wholly unnecessary, I’d add.

                States are what they do. They’re not avatars of anyone.Report

              • Avatar Russell M in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

                states are representative of the people they, you know represent. so yeah Stalin was the avatar of communist Russia. the ruskies have been under the rule of a despot of one form or another for the past 300-500 years. even now you have people in Russia lamenting that they are not under the warm embrace of the communist state. Stalin is the apex of what you get when you mix an authoritarian form of gov with a populace that is used to having a Czar ruling them. not to say he represented all of the people. But you can’t say he did not represent what the Russian people wanted.

                and we can indeed blame the people in a society when the society is willing to accept the corruption as the cost of living in their mother/father land.

                and if you don’t think of the state as your national Avatar it seems you are saying that the state does not have a close relationship to the character of the people it represents. just as an example you can tell a lot about our states from the laws their legislators pass. in Kansas for example the majority of the people would seem to oppose pre-marital sex from their abstinence only sex-education and the fact that they make it very difficult to keep an abortion provider open. I mean if you are not taught the facts about contraception and know that if you get preggo you will more than likely not be able to abort if you so chose seems like a very stick and stick approach. Sounds like every disapproving parent who has ever just found out their son or daughter is sexually active when they are told about the baby.Report

              • In a democracy, representatives are said to represent their constituencies.

                The Soviet Union was not a democracy, it was a totalitarianism that claimed to represent the working class.

                Perhaps you should only be blaming the working class for the gulags?

                Not that I seriously believe this, mind you, but I think it’s a good example of the silliness we get into when we assume that the state is somehow us, rather than a separate thing over which we have virtually no control at all.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Russell M says:

                My avatar is a lot better than (insert region of the world here)’s avatar.

                To what extent does that implicate (insert region of the world here)’s character?Report

              • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Russell M says:

                Hrmmm… Good question, at what point does the state cease to be an avatar of the people, and become the tool of a party, a class, or a man?

                One could argue that in the US, the state is more a tool, and less an avatar.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Russell M says:

                I usually run with “consent of the governed” but, seriously, False Consciousness is an actual thing that has actually happened and, if Kim Jong Il’s funeral is any indication, still happens today.

                Noam Chomsky had a point with “Manufactured Consent”. I just wish he weren’t such a grotesque.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Russell M says:

                if you don’t think of the state as your national Avatar it seems you are saying that the state does not have a close relationship to the character of the people it represents

                I can assure you the American state does not have a close relationship to the character of me. That’s why I so frequently vote against both the Democratic and Republican parties.

                This puts the criticism I get for “wasting” my vote on third party candidates in quite a new light. Perhaps the underlying criticism is that I’m not surrendering my soul by more closely identifying with the state?Report

          • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Mad Rocket Scientist says:

            I think there’s something to this. Our intuitions about ordinary people are formed in an environment that already contains a state. State of nature theory is in part an attempt to avoid this problem, but then — what exactly would we be like in that state? Answers have varied considerably, to say the least.Report

        • Avatar Murali in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

          Precisely, we expect non-discrimination, due process, transparency etc from the state. We don’t expect it from our neighbour.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        It’s a weird, recent thing, at least as we conceive it, isn’t it?Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        We ask the state to provide protection, justice, and a safety net to friends and strangers alike, and we’re disappointed in it when it fails. I don’t know any individuals I’d even ask that of, much less expect it.Report

        • Avatar Citizen in reply to Mike Schilling says:

          “We ask the state to provide protection, justice, and a safety net to friends and strangers alike, and we’re disappointed in it when it fails.”

          We pay the state for much of this. When it fails yes we are disappointed but also we end paying for it again directly. In effect paying for it twice with limited results.Report

  3. Avatar Mike Schilling says:

    I often see reports of an attorney’s public statements where he’s telling obviously absurd lies to make his client appear innocent. He’s being an awful human being, but since he’s doing his job by aggressively defending his client, we give him a pass. Likewise, when a corporation does something awful in the pursuit of profit, that’s justified as its job beng to represent its stockholders by giving them the highest possible return on their investment. When the state executes someone for a crime, that’s justified as upholding the law in the interests of society as a whole, not just killing some guy. The common thread in all this is that actions that would be condemned if done for purely selfish reasons are often tolerated or even praised when done in the interests of others.Report

    • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Mike Schilling says:

      state executes someone for a crime

      Provided there was the appearance of a public & fair trial. Secret evidence & drone strikes rubs some of us the wrong way.Report

    • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Mike Schilling says:

      I think the problem is that no one is consistent about who, when, and how they judge.

      There are 7 Billion people in the world. This leads to a lot of differences in opinion especially when it comes to judgment, forgiveness, ethics, morality, and grace.

      Some people are willing to drop friends at the mere hint of failure in ethics/morals. Others are willing to standby loved ones through thick and thin even if said friend committed an act that society considers to be a serious moral/ethical wrong.Report

    • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Mike Schilling says:

      I agree with your comment overall. But I am not sure that many people see that way.

      I see people make the how dare they arguments on lawyers and/or juries reach an unpopular decision or defend an unsympathetic/unpopular client. I hope that this is all venting but sometimes I wonder if most people simply just want kindergarten.Report

      • Avatar RTod in reply to NewDealer says:

        “Those jurors who sat hearing testimony for three weeks know nothing! All I heard about the case was what a guy at my office told me and a few minutes of commentary by an AM radio host, and that’s all I needed to hear to know he was guilty.”Report

        • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to RTod says:

          The one thing I’ve learned from personally serving on a jury, in a case that produced several local news stories, is that the jurors will know vastly more than anyone else about what’s going on, at least if they pay attention and are not misled.

          Now, “misleading” is a thing done by both media and attorneys alike, so on that score it’s at worst a wash. So I’d say juries really do tend to produce by far better verdicts than the court of public opinion. Don’t second guess a jury’s finding without some very, very clear reason why — witness perjury only later discovered, or fabrication of evidence, or the like. Absent any of that, they almost certainly made a better decision than anyone else might have made. Not perfect of course, but better than any other method I can think of.Report

          • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

            I ‘ve only been a juror on a case of any note once; it was a product liability suit against a product that’s since become infamous. I think we made exactly the right decision on the evidence presented, which is not necessarily the decision anyone familiar with how much damage the thing has done would make. But, of course, no one with that knowledge would have made it onto the jury. In fact, the first step in voir dire was answering a questionnaire with only the attorneys and judge present, no doubt to prevent anyone saying in front of the entire jury pool “But isn’t that the thing that hurt all those people?” So there were several newspaper articles saying that we, the jury, fished up our decision, which, of course, took none of the context into account.Report

            • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Mike Schilling says:

              After the trial, I did a thorough search of local news outlets for everything I could find on the case — a modest attempted murder case, nothing to make really big headlines.

              I was astounded at how little information was out there compared to what we had at our disposal. Much of it actually contradicted the testimony or botched it in one way or another.

              I was left with two strong inclinations: First, trust juries by default. Second, don’t trust local media very much.Report

              • Avatar Kim in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

                I tend to think this is civil versus criminal. (or maybe conspiracy versus individual).
                My trial involved a rogue office of metlife (apparently it’s part of their business model). But we were told it was just about one lady ripping off some older women.Report

    • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Mike Schilling says:

      The common thread in all this is that actions that would be condemned if done for purely selfish reasons are often tolerated or even praised when done in the interests of others.

      I remember when Bush II was elected and the chatterers were wondering what principles would define his cabinet appointments and the answer came back – almost universally – that Bush valued loyalty above all other things. Now, I know that loyalty is supposed to be a rare and hard won virtue in people, something to strive for but sadly lacking in most ordinary folks. Or something like that. To me, the defining characteristic of loyalty as a concept applied to government or corporate relationships is strange and dangerous. It gets things backwards, it seems to me, and places fealty to The Leader’s prerogatives above all else. Lying to the public or acting illegally, for example, not only demonstrate loyalty, those things follow from being loyal. That, in fact, is what the concept means to me (in that context). So it was very strange to my ears to hear the Bush White House so openly claim that loyalty was the central value they were looking for in making appointments. It was very close to an admission that hiring people who will lie out of a sense of commitment to other values was their highest priority.

      But, maybe I’m being unfair…Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Stillwater says:

        In the waning days of the Clinton administration, James Carville published a trifle of a book called “Stickin'”. In it, he explained why loyalty was one of the highest virtues.

        I’m thinking that this is common thinking for those who find themselves associated with power… at least, among those who would like to continue being associated with power.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Stillwater says:

        Believe that’s Barbara’s fault.
        (seriously, any exposure to psychopaths is likely to lead a non-psychopath to extremes…)Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Stillwater says:

        If you consider the Bush Administration a single entity, it gets little or no credit for unselfish behavior.Report

  4. Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

    If in fact we’re working with a Weberian conception of the state, then we WANT the state to be intuitively different from everything else. It says that non-state intuitions are based on something other than force relations (which is ultimately good). If we’re in a situation where the state and other institutions must be judged on the same intuitive perceptions, then I think we’re in trouble. Much as we’d be in trouble if we expect moral institutions like religious institutions or charities to have the same motives or standards as a government or mine owner.

    The segmentation of expectations and standards is I think as much a mark of stability and civilization as it might be problematic.Report

    • Avatar Chris in reply to Nob Akimoto says:

      Right, the whole purpose of the state is that it can do things that your neighbor can’t. The idea that my neighbor could arrest me and imprison me because he felt that he had sufficient evidence that I’d stolen from him, is appalling. The state, on the other hand, should be able to do that, right?

      Of course, the state looks much better, and behaves much better, if it is accountable to those who fall under its authority. I think if you want a justification for anarchism, it comes from the idea that the state can, at some point, become indistinguishable from those to whom it is accountable.Report

    • Avatar zic in reply to Nob Akimoto says:

      I guess I’d even want a definition of what ‘the state’ means; because as used, it’s some ‘other’ that doesn’t involve me, it does stuff to me; it’s separate from me.

      I don’t believe that.

      More, I think treating ‘the state’ as other implies we don’t have an obligation, as citizens, to participate. It fosters apathy, and leaves power in the hands of the few who see they can manipulate others because they’re not involved.Report

      • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to zic says:

        Would the state have been you in Nazi Germany? I don’t think anyone here thinks that badly of you. Why think it of yourself?Report

        • Avatar Rod Engelsman in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

          Hitler was popularly elected and the Nazi program had the support of the majority of the German people.Report

          • Avatar Jesse Ewiak in reply to Rod Engelsman says:

            To be fair, he had the support of about 35% of the German people and then he made a deal with the Conservative Party as the Commie and Socialists said, “this is a bad idea!”Report

          • It’s a heck of a leap even from “majority support” to “I’m personally responsible.”Report

            • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

              After WW2, the German people were sorted out into

              Serious offenders: the Hauptschuldige
              The militants and profiteers, the Belastete
              The somewhat less-militant, the Minderbelastete
              The hangers-on, the Mitläufer
              And the honourable Entlastete

              The entire society was thus sorted out, based on personal responsibility. You might say that’s Victor’s Justice, but yes, personal responsibility for the actions of the Reich was held up as a working standard.

              Your Godwin-ing has proven to be less-amenable to your purposes upon inspection. A state only exists if people believe in it.Report

              • Avatar Kim in reply to BlaiseP says:

                How many of these actually died? The Belastete is still going strong, from all that I’ve read.

                I posted about a rather wealthy storeowner that was being hunted by Mossad…Report

        • Avatar zic in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

          This response certainly make me think badly of you.

          Over the course of my lifetime, things have changed, and much for the better. Because of the ‘state.’ Because of people like you and me demanding change. I grew up on one of the most polluted rivers in this country. You can safely swim in it now. My mother had seven children; this was common. I had two, which is now common. My grandmother was born into a world where women couldn’t vote. My brother will marry his partner of 25 years at the end of the month, the first same-sex marriage in our family. My uncles were drafted into war. Despite a decade of war, I haven’t had to see either of my 20-something sons so conscripted. I live in a place where you can legally obtain medical marijuana, where anything under 1.5 oz. is a civil misdemeanor, and where the legislature is going to here a bill for legalizing recreational use. The president of our country, a country much built on the horror of enslaving blacks, is black.

          All those changes — many still works in progress — happened because we worked for them, we pressured the ‘state’ to change. It is not easy. But the reality is that the state reflects us. So my take on it is running around, thinking that it’s some entity separate from you, suggests the changes you’ll agitate for will create the vision you hold. If you see the state as Nazi Germany, welcome to it. I see a state of people working to improve things for everyone, with some success.

          But this othering of government that you and I create seems beyond silly and childish. Responsible adults work to improve instead of working to create a bogeyman.Report

          • Avatar Citizen in reply to zic says:

            The good with the bad. I look at our fellow citizens and have a firm understanding we are falible creatures.
            The magnitude and attrocity wrapped up in the state bad is not easily skirted.Report

          • Avatar dhex in reply to zic says:

            the sheer size of the population and expanding scope of the federal government makes this “othering” impossible to avoid. it is simply too vast to consider on any human scale. this kind of anthropomorphizing (not sure if that’s a correct term here) from viewpoints seeing it as either good or ill is probably unavoidable as well.Report

            • Avatar Glyph in reply to dhex says:

              Jason may have made a mistake Godwinning the convo by using the Nazi example- but is it really controversial that when humans start to act en masse in concert (which almost by definition requires a deference or submission to authority/hierarchy), they can get up to all kinds of mischief that they mightn’t on their own (Milgram et al)?

              IOW, how can we help but see ANY mass of people as potentially very, very different from any single person that comprises it, even if that group is not as massive (or as heavily-armed) as the fed govt.? Bureaucracies (and mobs) definitely have a mind of their own.Report

              • Avatar Kim in reply to Glyph says:

                *snort* you should read more psychology. Mobs tend to have inciters, and leaders of a fashion.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Kim says:

                Some tinder is easier to ignite.Report

              • Avatar Kim in reply to Jaybird says:

                Yes. Like San Diego, last time I was there.
                Being in a place that just needs a match to explode is … not fun.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Jaybird says:

                Things don’t always burn in predictable fashions, either. Ask Robespierre.

                Organizations (or generally collectives) don’t act like a collection of binary switches.

                Bureaucracies don’t have minds of their own. Organizational intelligence, if that’s what you want to call it, isn’t like individual intelligence.Report

              • Avatar Kim in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

                and is a whole different ballgame than extelligence, which does tend to behave in a more communal fashion.Report

              • Avatar Kim in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

                Yes, Chessmasters hate Xanatos Speed Chess 😉
                Watch out for the Trickster though, his specialty is chaos.Report

              • Avatar zic in reply to Glyph says:

                Bureaucracies (and mobs) definitely have a mind of their own.

                Have you ever worked within a bureaucracy, for a town, a state, or the feds?

                I have. For and, as a journalist, with. I just don’t see the mindless mob monster you equate government to being. I see a lot of individuals, for the most part, caring and dedicated individuals, working within an organization to do what they perceive to be an important job. And they often do this despite earning lower pay then they might in the private sector and despite the constant public ridicule and scorn heaped upon them.

                Is there room for improvement? Yes; vast room. Often, the very rules we make to keep people from taking advantage of systems stymie and handcuff the reasonable people working within those systems. But you know what, the same thing happens in private industry. The rules themselves are subject to hijack by special interests. But you know what? The private sector is often the perpetrator of that hijacking.

                I don’t think government perfect, in my town, my state, or my country. This seems a fixed measure; fixing it now for perfection for all time; and that’s about as nonsensical an idea as I can imagine. Government shifts and changes as people shift and change, as their needs shift and change. We can work to make those changes better, for the most part. We can reconsider actions, try to suss out the negative consequences and remedy the situations.

                But the only fixed measure is that change is a constant. And that change will be as good or bad as the people who demand it and the leaders we select to implement it.

                Demonizing government, the state, as a negative seems a pointless exercise. We are not going to get rid of all government, not going to become anarchists, we’re not even going to live in some Libertarian utopia. Analyzing how we govern, working to do a better job at it? That’s seems worthwhile.

                But I have to ask: what do you do? Do you serve on a local board or committee? Have you run for office? Do you attend your local legislative body’s meetins? Do you attend hearings at your state office? Do you communicate with your local and state representatives, and express your desires for how government should be?

                Or do you complain about the evils, opt out of participating, and moan it’s all subject to the worst of human nature? Because if that’s your answer, then you are expressing the worst of human nature when it comes to the process of governing; all whine and not time committed to the process of people acting together.Report

              • Avatar Kim in reply to zic says:

                *whistles a cheery little tune* The plan for getting a new mayor is coming along smashingly well. I guess we can thank the FBI for that!Report

              • Avatar Glyph in reply to zic says:

                zic – I work for a bureaucracy in the private sector, and I see venality and waste and stupidity there every day; luckily, we have neither guns nor jail cells to utilize on others when our collective stupidity becomes too rampant.

                Many libertarian-leaning persons like myself would be much more apt to trust the state if the state weren’t so frequently demonstrated to be untrustworthy, particularly in its spear-point of the police; and if the incentives in *any* large organization (public OR private) did not lend themselves to abuse and short-sightedness.

                Take, again, the WOD as an example – here we have something that lots of people agree is at least problematic/in need of reform at minimum. And yet for many, many decades, the incentives aligned in such a way that we have filled concrete cells with generations of people; destroyed families and lives; killed people rather than helped them (or at minimum left them the hell alone to die in peace). We are only now, haltingly, starting to lift our heads out of that morass.

                And the people who prosecuted that “war” thought, and continue to think, that they are “helping” people. That they are doing the right thing. That some things are so important that they justify violating someone’s right to autonomy in their own home and mind.

                I have no doubt that many of these people are good people, doing the best they can. But the special interests and incentives ran away with the thing long ago. And they could do that because we said “this thing is the government’s – and by extension everybody’s – business”.

                I know “The Wire” was fiction, and I know not every city is Baltimore; but I suspect that’s a better picture of how government often works than is “The West Wing” or “Parks & Rec”. People in aggregate can do great things, or terrible things; just as often, large institutions have their own unstated goals, chief among them self-perpetuation; and as in nature, it’s usually grow or die.Report

              • Avatar zic in reply to Glyph says:

                Right. You work for the private sector; so you want to get rid of the public sector because of the venality and waste you see where there is profit motive. Gotcha. You think the PD and the WOD is the biggest contact you have with the public sector.

                based on TV shows.

                You avoided the second part of the question — what do you do to improve things?

                Glyph, I don’t mean to single you out; you are just one of millions, and I like you. But, that shit’s idiotic.

                Sit down and make a serious list of where your life and the government intersect. Everything. Schools. Roads. Snow removal. Weather reports. Cancer research. Studying climate change. Regulating your mortgage company and the factory down the road. Maybe trash pickup. The internet. Fact is, you probably cannot make an inclusive list; and the list you do make, if it’s honest, will show a lot more benefit then it will harm.

                I get the WOD is bad; it pisses me off, too. I had a family member looking at serving 6 months in Utah for a roach. I graduated HS in 1978; the single biggest year of users on record, and I’ve spent my adult life with musicians. But there’s more to our lives then that. Way more.

                And we can end the WOD. But not if we toke up, turn on, and tune out, we get nothing. The person who wrote Maine’s Medical law is a friend of mine; he worked hard to get that law passed. He organized folks to collect signatures, made sure they know how to legally collect so that the sigs weren’t thrown out, and turned in thousands more then were required. He spent a lot of time talking to the media, answering questions, and as much working with growers to makes sure they were well cared for in the process; that they could legally support themselves.

                that’s how you win. Not by shutting down.Report

              • Avatar Glyph in reply to zic says:

                You misunderstand – I don’t think venality and waste and power trips exist only where there is a profit motive. That would be idiotic.

                I think they exist everywhere humans do. I don’t single out government because government’s uniquely bad; no, they are groups of humans, like any groups of humans, subject to the same sorts of incentives, biases, power plays and stupidity (all of which can be force-multiplied by group dynamics and sheer numbers) as the private sector. If there’s demonization going on here, it ain’t by me.

                You ever deal with one bully? How about five at once? Ten?

                Which is easier?

                The biggest difference is, again, that the govt. has the unique ability to fish one up. They have the guns. They have the barred-window rooms. They can use them – legally – on me, or you, or anybody they want, pretty much (though it’s always easier to use them on the poor, and the non-white, and anybody else who sticks out.)

                What do I do to improve things? Same as anybody. I vote. I spend my money and my time where I think it should be spent, whenever I can. I get on the internet and explain how I view things and make stupid jokes.

                You can tell me a million times to get with the program, and it probably won’t take. Some of us just aren’t joiners. But if you want to convince us to trust government, a good start is reforming its spear-point. A government that isn’t shoving guns in people’s faces for consensual “crimes” is one that I’d be more inclined to view favorably; and if I’m not inclined to actively support every project they undertake, I’d be more inclined to at least abstain from opposing them.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Glyph says:

                Just how far back would you retreat from the current battle lines in the War on Drugs? There was a day in this country when cocaine and laudanum were staple ingredients in most of the snake oil remedies and tonics. The laudanum addiction rate was staggering. In those days, daguerreotypes required several seconds of exposure time. Ever tried to photograph a wriggling baby? The photographers would fill those kids full of laudanum and paralyse them, then perch their limp bodies in armchairs. Problem solved.

                Folks can say what they want to about the abuses of power inherent in the War on Drugs. They can point to Portugal as some sort of success story but even Portugal punishes dealers and people are still arrested for possession. They just go before another sort of court.

                The Libertarian predisposition to distrust government is not entirely wise. Some distrust of government is warranted. But lest anyone confuse deregulation with decriminalisation, those old daguerreotypes are proof enough some regulation is entirely warranted and yet another chorus of The Market Shall Solve Our Every Problem won’t convince thinking people. We’ve seen how Markets “solved” the problem.Report

              • Avatar Kim in reply to BlaiseP says:

                *spits* Ban meth. It’s an active environmental hazard like mercury.
                Everything else can stay.

                Yes, we really ought to label drugs. Umm, like duh?
                It’s striking how much the libertarians like regulations when they’re about “knowing stuff”. Oughta get some of them to push for labeling pseudo-estrogens in, um, like everything.

                And yes, some people will get horribly addicted. We’ll have the money to pay for treatment because we won’t be spending it on prisons.Report

              • Avatar Glyph in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Well, I’m admittedly an outlier. I frankly think that ANYTHING should be allowable to adults; even the harder stuff. I am OK with any regulations to the extent that they are geared toward making sure drugs are:

                Kept from children

                Labelled with as many warning labels as you want

                Manufactured under specified conditions, sold in special establishments, dispensed in limited doses

                Penalized for DUI (though this one is tricky enforcement-wise, since for ex. THC remains in the bloodstream long past the point where it has appreciable effects)

                Basically, liquor and cigarette-type rules.

                I think we know much more about addiction than we did then. If heroin were made legal tomorrow, a non-zero number of idiotic people will become addicted that would not have otherwise (though *I* won’t be rushing to buy any, ‘cos that’s just stupid); this is a price we pay for freedom, and for not hounding the many, many people who use drugs recreationally, or for a brief period, with no serious long-lasting issues (at least, no more serious than booze).

                But I know that there would be no way we’d ever do that. Contrary to most people’s view of libertarian-ish folks, we’d be happy just to compromise and get partway to what we see as sensible. So keep all the hard drugs (either highly addictive, and/or highly toxic) illegal, fine…can we just get to a place where we are screwing fewer people than we do today?Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

                There are ways to test the efficacy of regulation. In Adams’ perfect world, men would be angels, no need for government, etc. But in our world, featuring Glyph and Blaise and the meth whore in Dubuque, Iowa, some regulation is needed. We mustn’t pity the meth whore: she deserves better than pity, we’d say pity is contemptible in this situation. She needs to get cleaned up and I’m not averse to treating her as a victim, not a criminal.

                But I’d crucify the meth makers and leave them to rot on their crosses. It’s that serious a drug: meth’s consequences and costs to society at large are just that bad. Maybe it wouldn’t attenuate the use of meth but it would make me feel better and that’s one positive outcome.Report

              • Avatar Glyph in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Can I ask a dumb question about meth, if anybody knows the answer?

                What makes it worse than speed, which is nothing new, and has long been known to have bad effects (“SPEED KILLS”)?

                Is meth more refined/potent/addictive/toxic than “mother’s little helper”, and Kerouac’s Benzedrine, and biker speed, and what Johnny Cash took, and on and on back to WWII pilots?

                Basically, is speed:meth::coca tea:cocaine?

                Or is this another example of a drug hysteria, with the added bonus that toxic clandestine manufacturing occurs, because we don’t manufacture “legal” speed under lab conditions anymore (except of course we DO, Adderall and Ritalin and the like).

                And even if meth IS worse; wouldn’t having a safer, legal replacement stimulant likely mean that many people would never have reached for meth in the first place?Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

                There’s a difference between amphetamines, and the methylated molecule, methamphetamine. The methylated form has a particular twist to it. Left hand twist, not a big problem. Right hand twist, horrible problem. Regular old amphetamines have been around for centuries. The khat chewed in East Africa and Yemen, not nearly so addictive. It’s not much different than the stuff you get in decongestant, which is why they’re regulated now.

                But once it’s methylated, amphetamine becomes a beast. Even if you get someone off meth, there seems to be long-term damage to the CNS. They get cleaned up but for many years thereafter, they’re incapable of feeling joy or pleasure. And it’s very hard to get them cleaned up. The withdrawal is hell. They’re constantly longing for it, well after they’re cleaned up.

                Benzedrine and the other related molecules don’t begin to compare with methamphetamine.Report

              • Avatar greginak in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Meth is highly addictive and very destructive on bodies. It is not hysteria to say it is really dangerous drug. Part of what makes a drug like meth bad is using it does significant physical harm to a body quickly. Some things like booze don’t harm your body unless you do a lot of it over a long period. Heroin doesn’t do a lot direct damage to your body except for the injection sites which can become infected and nasty. Meth is hell on a body: it wears away your teeth ( Meth Mouth). Lots of addicts report Meth is far more addicitive then other drugs. It does seem to hook people quickly.

                One of the ways we look at drugs is how often you need to use them to get high. A short half life means addicts needs a lot of fixes which leads to the obvious problem of how to get it. A drug like heroin has a long half life, so does pot. So you don’t need as many fixes. Meth has a short half life so addicts are constantly searching for more drugs and more money to get drugs and more drugs and more money…

                Meth is all cooked up from a mix of chemicals that are themselves nasty. Meth labs need to be cleaned by guys in Hazmat suits and are poisonous themselves. The labs also tend to blow up real good.

                Take a look at this slideshow of the affects of Meth.

                I’m generally for legalizing drugs. But not meth, its poison. And if Jay wants to chime here he can call me a Prohibitionist for that.Report

              • Avatar Glyph in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Thanks, that was sort of what I was gathering. I’m not sure that it changes my feelings in principle (Everclear is a beast compared to Rolling Rock, and I don’t think either should be banned outright), but in practice, like I said, if certain substances are much more toxic and/or addictive than others, then I am OK with locking the worst of the worst away, both as compromise to people who feel differently from me, and also on the theory than oftentimes the most potent/toxic variants only come into widespread use due to the prohibition of less-dangerous alternatives.

                I forgot about mathematician Paul Erdos, another heavy amphetamine user. The Man Who Loved Only Numbers was a good book.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Though I get what you’re driving at, the alcohol comparison doesn’t work. We’re talking about two different molecules. Weirdly, despite all the War on Drugs talk from Our Gummint, when it comes to War itself, Our Gummint is not above handing out amphetamines to our aviators, who get all crazy aggressive and drop bombs on friendlies, as in this horrific Tarnak Farms clusterfugg.Report

              • Avatar Glyph in reply to BlaiseP says:

                I’ll take your and others’ words for it.

                I will just note that in light of the continual hit parade of Worst Drugs Ever (Booze, and jazz cigarettes and cocaine turning the Negro into White-Woman-Chasing Fiends, and LSD causing people to attempt to fly off of buildings, etc., etc.) a little skepticism w/r/t the proposition that “This Time, No, Really, We Mean It, Methamphetamine Is The Wolf , For Real”, is not totally wacky IMO.

                Another sad byproduct of the policies we have pursued, is that when a real and serious danger appears, people don’t take it seriously, because they’ve heard so much ginned-up nonsense before.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Glyph says:

                One point of The Wire is that organizations are more alike than different: the cops, the drug dealers, the stevedores, the schools, the city government, the newspapers, all fished up in similar ways. There’s no good news there about private enterprise.Report

              • Avatar Glyph in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                Yes, this is what I was trying to get at. Institutions, be they private or public, follow their own logic. I am not saying govt. is uniquely bad.

                But they do have the guns, and I think that’s salient.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                Government isn’t the only ones with the guns.

                “Where’s Wallace? Where’s Wallace, String?”Report

              • Avatar Glyph in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                Well, then let me rephrase. They have the guns that can be used with little fear of reprisal. 😉Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                Vondos and The Greek didn’t seem too concerned about it, either.Report

              • Avatar Kolohe in reply to zic says:

                Well, I’m not doing much, tis true.

                But you know what I’m not doing? I’m not at the leading Progressive magazine of our time complaining that the sequester is putting a crimp on the overt militarization of the drug warReport

              • Avatar Glyph in reply to Kolohe says:

                The tone in that piece is sort of ambiguous. I’m not sure it’s “complaining”. Maybe he’s looking forward to an early snowfall. I mean, they’re hippies over there, right? 😉Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Kolohe says:

                The piece itself is just the fact, ma’am, and the commenters seem mostly pleased, though quite willing to make fun of the GOP stance favoring the drug war and the shutdown of the government simultaneously.Report

          • Avatar Russell M in reply to zic says:

            better than i said it


        • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

          Yes, each Nazi was the State. That was the essence of the Nazi takeover, that Hitler made the army swear a personal oath of loyalty to himself alone.Report

  5. Avatar Chris says:

    Also, presumably your daughter doesn’t behave like the dinner you’re cooking. To the extent that states behave like your neighbors, it seems reasonable to at least entertain the idea of holding them both to the same standards.Report

  6. Avatar Shazbot3 says:

    “A number of suggestions have been made as to how, despite my protestations to the contrary, I really have agreed to all those things. Here I will just mention one, because it is the one most often heard in conversation. This is the suggestion that I have “implicitly” agreed to have a government merely by residing in the government’s territory. (“If you don’t want a government, simply move to Antarctica!”) Very briefly, the problem with this suggestion is that it presupposes that the state owns all the territory over which it claims jurisdiction, or that for some other reason it has the right to exclude people from that area. But there is no way to establish such a right on the part of the state, unless one has already shown that the state has legitimate authority. This therefore cannot be presupposed in an argument designed to establish the state’s authority. In this case, the statist’s claim seems analogous to the leader of a protection racket claiming that his victims have voluntarily agreed to pay him protection money, merely by living in their own houses. There are other ways in which social contract enthusiasts claim that we have accepted the social contract, but as I explain in the book, each of them falls to equally serious objections, which show that the social contract does not come close to satisfying the generally accepted principles of real, valid contracts.”

    As long as we agree that you are bound by the social contract, Huemer’s worries are moot, because the social contract treats the state differently than other individuals.

    I haven’t read the book that Huemer refers to, but he has a tough hill to climb in arguing that the social contract isn’t binding. It’s not just that you agreed to the contract by not moving to Antarctica. Not at all.Report

    • Avatar Murali in reply to Shazbot3 says:

      As long as we agree that you are bound by the social contract

      Only we don’t. That is the problem. Huemer doesn’t think that he is bound by social contract.

      Also, social contract doctrine has always been about hypothetical non-historical contracts. No one is ever actually bound by social contract because there is no actual contract. Only actual contracts are binding. Note that even implicit contracts are actual, but there was no actual handshake or other action which we would take to be agreement in other situations that we have when we are talking about the social contract.

      The purpose of social contract theory has historically been to ask whether you have any reasons to submit to the authority of the state. The answer is that yes you do, because giving up some of the ability to pursue all of your ends unilaterally and without concern for others’ judgments is worth it if others have to similarly give up theirs similar ability too.Report

      • Avatar b-psycho in reply to Murali says:

        That submission for the purpose of equalizing though falls apart when it’s realized that officials of the state (and the most favored interests of them) do not have such restraint. No reliable method of keeping government from acting as self-interested agent in its own right has been found thus far.Report

        • Avatar Murali in reply to b-psycho says:

          No reliable method of keeping government from acting as self-interested agent in its own right has been found thus far.

          The government doesn’t need to not be self interested in order for the equation to work. It just has to have sufficient public authority that people substitute the judgments of the state for their own in a certain broad class of central cases. The state doesn’t have to act for the common good, some level of common good can arise simply by its existence so long as it doesn’t do something too stupid and horrible. Think of stationary bandits.

          Also, modern liberal constitutional regimes may be problematic and unjust in a number of ways, but they are still better than a state of nature. and arguably, better than a purely self interested stationary bandit.Report

      • Avatar Shazbot5 in reply to Murali says:

        “No one is ever actually bound by social contract because there is no actual contract. Only actual contracts are binding.”

        1. I’d say this is false. I’d say you have binding obligations to your children, even though you have not entered into a written or unwritten agreement with them, for example.

        2. My point isn’t that Huemer is wrong, only that whether he is right ot wrong will turn on whether the social contract is binding, which he says he argues about in his book, but only mentions in the post in a hand-waving kind of way.Report

        • Avatar Murali in reply to Shazbot5 says:

          I’d say this is false. I’d say you have binding obligations to your children, even though you have not entered into a written or unwritten agreement with them, for example.

          This may very well be true, but all that means is that the bindingness of contracts is not what justifies our binding duties in situations where we have not actually made any contracts, implicit or otherwise. These binding duties to our children will have to be justified in other ways. In fact we may even ask: Why are contracts binding in the first place? The answer to this and the bindingness of familial obligations is that some kinds of institutions with their binding obligations are the kinds of institutions that give us the kinds of things we ought to get out of social institutions. Families are justified because families solve a massive social coordination problem: how do we feed, clothe and socialise our vulnerable young. Supposing that society is an ongoing system of coordination over time. In order for society to be persistent through time children who are not born knowing how to feed or clothe themselves or for that matter interact peacably with others have to learn how to do these three things and have these things done for them until they do learn. Families perform these functions on behalf of these children throughout much of their minor-hood and in some cases well into their majority. Similarly, institutiosn like promise keeping and contracts and property are justified because they allow us to make plans for the future with the reasonable expectation that the plans will bear fruit in the relevantly favourable ways*

          2. My point isn’t that Huemer is wrong, only that whether he is right ot wrong will turn on whether the social contract is binding, which he says he argues about in his book, but only mentions in the post in a hand-waving kind of way.

          Huemer and in turn you are missing the point. The idea of the social contract is not about its bindingness. It never really was except in the minds of those who misunderstood it. The idea is that if you would agree to a particular system of coercive rules from the state of nature, then you have reasons apart from the fact that you are currently being coerced to abide by those rules.

          *It is slightly more complicated, but that is the gist of it. The complication has to do with people themselves being poor planners and that we cannot reaosnably expect our poorly made plans to go as planned. But a more careful specification in the way in which such institutions are justified can work around this problem I’m just not up to doing that careful specification now.Report

          • Avatar Shazbot5 in reply to Murali says:

            “These binding duties to our children will have to be justified in other ways. In fact we may even ask: Why are contracts binding in the first place? The answer to this and the bindingness of familial obligations is that some kinds of institutions with their binding obligations are the kinds of institutions that give us the kinds of things we ought to get out of social institutions.”

            You seem to be laboring under the assumption that we haven’t justified an obligation as binding on person X until we have shown that following that duty is in X’s self-interest. This assumption is entirely unwarranted and sets up a bar on what counts as justified that will never be met. (Though some social comtract theorists seem to have held this view of the social contract, especially the arch-egoist Hobbes.)

            Here is where I think (to oddly link to another thread) feminists have a lot that is correct to tell us about political philosophy. Male philosophers throughout history often thought of all mutual obligations as being entered into out of self-interest, and justified as being binding on the basis of being freely entered into, at least partially because their favored example of a mutual obligation is a financial contract entered into by two men (always men back then) who are both trying to get something they want, e.g. trading labor for goods. (See Hobbes, whose overly reductionist and mechanistic psychology makes no room for empathy or care, as in the care a mother feels for a child.) But in a traditional society, women were more likely to be engaged in relationships where the love and care that they felt for a child justified that they should believe that they had duties of care towards the child. Note, I am saying I have a binding obligation towards my children simply because I care about them.

            IMO, and this is just a hypothesis, this is why women are generally adverse to libertarianism. Libertarian political philosophy generally treats the social contract as being like an economic contract. Women will think (and IMO they are right to think) that there are justified, binding obligations that X has to others in society that are justified even if following that obligation isn’t in X’s interest. That is to say, women rightly recognize that ethical justifications don’t bottom out in self-interest, but in feelings of care.

            The interesting question is whether the justified, binding obligations that we have towards our children are the basis of the bindingness of the social contract. I’d say yes. All people in society do have some degree of care and love for human beings in general that you interact with. And this justfies, (just as it does in the case of children) that you have an obligation towards all people in the world around you. The only question is ow do we balance our duties of care with respect for the ability of others to make free and rational choices, etc. And the social contract will have to take care of all of that.Report

            • Avatar Murali in reply to Shazbot5 says:

              You seem to be laboring under the assumption that we haven’t justified an obligation as binding on person X until we have shown that following that duty is in X’s self-interest.

              I certainly didn’t mean to imply this. What I was trying to say was not about self interest, but about what makes society possible in the first place. One important and I think necessary desideratum of any social morality is that a society in which that social morality is realised must be not just logically possible, but nomologically possible if not plausible. The argument I actually made was not about self-interest. In fact, as you would probably agree with me, acts of care in raising one’s child or fidelity in keeping one’s promises can in fact hinder one’sself interest narrowly construed. (Although the former may in fact further one’s self interest more broadly construed)

              Now as a matter of fact, I do think that a particular system of rules is justified to you when you have reasons given your current beliefs and commitments (barring bizarre and obviously perverse and contradictory beliefs and commitments) to endorse that system of rules. But I don’t think your own beliefs and commitments needs to be narrowly self-interested. In fact, many of our commitments may be family oriented or have a moral aspect to it etc.

              Hobbes IIRC, is a lot more subtle. He, I think, correctly identifies the problem. It is not merely self interest (narrowly construed) that is the problem, but people using their own judgment to pursue their commitments to the furthest possible extent. Thus, even when we are appropriately concerned for others, because we have conflicting judgments about what is morally required and are unwilling to compromise, there is conflict and war of all against all…

              The interesting question is whether the justified, binding obligations that we have towards our children are the basis of the bindingness of the social contract.

              As far as I can tell, you were arguing that that the bindingness of the social contract is the basis for the bindingness of our other duties for example to our children. And I was denying that we need social contract theory to justify such obligations.*

              As to whether the reverse is the case (i.e. that the bindingness of the social contract is based on the bindingness of our other other-regarding duties) it may seem superfluous to posit a binding social contract when we already have an account of binding other-regarding duties. Or it may just be the case that you are arguing that the social contract is binding because it lays out a framework in which we can reasonably fulfill our other antecedently binding other-regarding duties. If you are making the latter argument, then I don’t really disagree with you.

              *It is not clear to me whether our familial obligations are properly a part of social morality or part of some other aspect of our moral life. What are your thoughts?Report

          • Avatar Shazbot5 in reply to Murali says:

            “The idea of the social contract is not about bindingness”

            Not that it matters, but this seems like the kind of claim that needs to be justified, which you didn’t do. You’d have been better off writing, “It seems to me that, the idea of the social contract is…” After all, it isn’t your idea, that you get to tell us what it is about. And it is an old as the hills and has been discussed by legions of philosophers, so there are likely to be very few true generalizations about what the idea is meant to do, simce different people will have used it for different purposes. To justify your claim you’d have to show that all or most philosophers who discuss (approvingly) the social contract don’t use it in the way that I mentioned, which would be a long task.

            But I get your point. The social contract may be something that we all have a self-interested reason in entering. It may be a kid of hypothetical device. It may have nothing to do with bindingness. Etc., etc.

            I’m willing to concede any point about the history of the idea, but just wanted to point out that your claim can’t just be stated and accepted like that.Report

  7. Avatar GordonHide says:

    I think people would think more clearly about this subject if they recognised that the state is not a moral agent bound by the shared moral code of conduct of the society members. In fact the elected legislative assemblies allocate powers to agents of the state to act specifically outside the bounds of the shared moral code of conduct. Now a philosopher might say; but why should that be? Unfortunately the answer is pragmatic and practical. It’s the only way we know that works.Report

  8. Avatar Rod Engelsman says:

    I don’t know about all this. To me, something very state-like seems like a natural development from the state of nature under an AnCap paradigm.Report

  9. Avatar BlaiseP says:

    Once again, a resort to brittle analogies where facts are required. “Sam” does not have a problem. His poor nephews and nieces have problems. He goes forth to extort money from his neighbours on that basis. It’s a very bad example. I will soon explain why.

    To put it as kindly as possible, Huemer’s reification of Uncle Sam is the first of his many intuitionist fallacies.

    If the State has obligations to provide for the poor, the State is the sum of its laws, passed by elected legislators on behalf of their constituencies. If the USA has become a Welfare State, so has every other nation worth more than a bucket of warm piss. From a strictly cynical standpoint, the poor are dangerous: let a core of disaffected people form in any society and some silver-tongued rogue will appear to lead that mob. A society which tolerates the suffering of the poor will not last long. It’s bad for business. The poor and uneducated fill our jails.

    But from a small-d democratic standpoint, why shouldn’t a nation decide to tax itself for whatever reason?

    The world is losing faith in Democracy. In a changing world, people are willing to tolerate far more authoritarian constructs. Joshua Kurlantzick over at FP has useful article about this emerging phenomenon, a must-read IMHO.

    People do not agree to live in a society any more than they can choose to be born into a family. The Social Contract was never drawn up by the Citizen, nor did Society sign it. Membership in a society resolves to Artifacts: birth certificates, adoption papers, passports, drivers’ licences, notarised documents. We have the right to live in a civilised society and we have made it such. We call this construction the United States of America.

    Hegel had more to say about the State than the famous March of God line.

    In contrast with the spheres of private rights and private welfare (the family and civil society), the state is from one point of view an external necessity and their higher authority; its nature is such that their laws and interests are subordinate to it and dependent on it. On the other hand, however, it is the end immanent within them, and its strength lies in the unity of its own universal end and aim with the particular interest of individuals, in the fact that individuals have duties to the state in proportion as they have rights against it

    If anything, the State more closely resembles a Family than some corporation. If Sam goes about demanding benefits for his nephews and nieces, he will not need to extort if he goes thus-begging/extorting within his own family on the basis of family obligations and mandate.

    Plutarch’s “Life of Lycurgus” tells of a Spartan leader who travelled far and wide to study various forms of government.

    And indeed Lycurgus himself seems to have been short and sententious in his speech, if we may judge from his recorded sayings; that, for instance, on forms of self-government, to one who demanded the establishment of democracy in the city: “Go thou,” said he, “and first establish democracy in thy household.” Report

  10. Avatar Michael Huemer says:

    I just have time for brief comments. Sorry if this repeats anything said above:

    – I anticipated Jason’s concern to some extent on pp. 16-17, and chapter 6. That is, the concern that common sense “political intuitions” support belief in authority. I gave some reasons why one would favor common sense morality over common sense political philosophy, given the conflict between the two. Ch. 6 explains the biases affecting our political intuitions.

    – With regard to Jason’s analogy of applying chess intuitions to fixing his car, it seems that it just doesn’t make sense to talk about applying chess intuitions to fixing a car. Find a pawn weakness? But the car doesn’t have any pawns, so that doesn’t make sense. In contrast, it makes perfect sense to apply morality to the state. We have moral intuitions about how agents ought to treat each other. These intuitions are frequently (and rightly) applied to large organizations, e.g., a corporation. It is very easy to understand how they can be applied to a government. It is hard to see why they shouldn’t be.
    Now, one could try to argue that governments are relevantly different from both individuals and private corporations, in some way that explains why we nevertheless *should not* apply our moral intuitions to governments. If they are, it should be possible for someone to explain that difference, shouldn’t it? If all attempts to explain the difference fail, shouldn’t we at some point conclude that, well, there is no relevant difference?Report

    • Avatar GordonHide in reply to Michael Huemer says:

      The relevant difference between the state and the individual is that the state is not a moral agent participating in shared moral code of conduct of the society members. It is therefore not constrained by that code nor is it entitled to the protections of that code.Report

    • Avatar Shazbot5 in reply to Michael Huemer says:

      “it makes perfect sense to apply morality to the state. We have moral intuitions about how agents ought to treat each other. These intuitions are frequently (and rightly) applied to large organizations, e.g., a corporation. It is very easy to understand how they can be applied to a government.”

      I disagree.

      We sometimes improperly anthropomorphize an object and our intuitions can become confused and misleading. For example, I might think that the Bank always wanted to take grandma’s house, but in reality a Bank can’t form an idea about my grandma, nor does it want things. The bank is not an artificially intelligent computer (unless it’s Citibank, those bums). Rather, I should think something like “Some of the people at the bank have always wanted to take grandma’s house. If I wanted revenge, note how misleading it would be to aim my revenge at “the bank” instead of “the individuals at the bank who wanted,” but clearly we can imagine a case where a person would feel a strong intuition to take revenge on the bank and not the individuals because their intuition had been so misleading.

      I think some of your worries about our intuitions about the state and individuals will dissolve when you reflect on the wrongness of this kind of anthropomorphizing, whether it be a bank or a state. By analogy, it is wrong to think that the IRS or the U.S. Government wanted to take grandma’s house, too. States don’t want or think. Rather, we should think that the agents at the IRS wanted to follow the law, legislators in some past Congress wanted to be reelected, large numbers of people wanted such and such a piece of legislation that allowed grandma’s house to be seized, etc., and that is why Grandma’s house was taken.

      Even though we engage in loose talk about what the state wants or is trying to do, it is all -taken too literally- false. The truthmakers for our statements about what the State wants or wills or thinks are very complex states of affairs about what individual voters, legislators, and members of the executive want, think, feel, etc.Report

      • Avatar Michael Huemer in reply to Shazbot5 says:

        Shaz, I think you are making an important point, which I touch on, by the way, on pp. 204-5. But I don’t think you are disagreeing with me as you believe you are.

        I did not mean that a state’s actions can generally be explained in exactly the same way as an individual’s actions (I deny that on pp. 204-5). I was talking about moral principles, rather than factual explanations of action. And I wasn’t really saying that there’s no important distinction between *individual* and *collective* agents. I was saying that there is no morally relevant distinction between *governmental* and *private* agents.

        So we can eliminate irrelevant concerns by just comparing a private organization to a government — both collective (not individual) agents. No private organization would be considered ethically entitled to behave in the way that the state does. So, if someone wants to defend this double standard, they have to explain the morally relevant difference between a private organization and a government.

        You aren’t doing that; in fact, you’re drawing an *analogy* between a private organization (a bank) and a state. But now, just as a bank would not be justified in extorting money from people under threat of kidnapping and imprisonment, it seems that the state would not be justified in doing that either . . . unless there’s some good reason why the state would be morally very different from the bank.Report

        • Avatar Murali in reply to Michael Huemer says:

          Michael, a few questions for you:

          1. What do you think about the ways in which our intuitions see some actions as okay for people but not for governments? e.g we think its okay fr ordinary corporations to maximse profits, or for them to not care completely about poverty in society etc, while we don’t ordinarily think its okay for governments to ignore the poor (there are contrarians who believe otherwise, but they are called contrarians for a reason), or to maximise their revenue etc. i.e. it is not just that we excuse the government of actions which we would otherwise criticise them for, we excuse actions by private organisations and persons which we would criticise them for if they were public.

          2. The kinds of moral demands people ordinarily make on families and clan is different from what we would make on strangers. In general, we demand non-interferece from strangers, but from our own families we demand more in the way of positive aid.

          It seems that we don’t in fact have uniform expectations of people. Our moral expectations are conditioned on the kind of relationship we have with them. (At least if we care about moural intuitions) i.e. The distinction we make between governmen and private organisations is not a one-off distinction, it seems to be one instance of a certain kind of distinction we make in other parts of our moral lives as well.

          3. This brings me to the third question. Why care about our moral intuitions at all? Do we have any reason to think that our intuitions track moral properties at all? Moreover, suppose we did come up with some explanation as to why our moral intuitions tracked moral truth in at least some cases, wouldn’t that explanation have to antecedently specify what the moral properties are in the first place?Report

          • Avatar Michael Huemer in reply to Murali says:

            Thanks, Murali; excellent questions.

            1. The special obligations that we ascribe to government might be consequences of their other (largely wrongful) behavior. If you’re (wrongfully) forcing people to buy your product, you might be obligated to make sure the product is good for everyone who’s being forced to buy it, where you wouldn’t have any such obligation if customers voluntarily chose to buy it. A similar point applies if you force everyone to obey your rules.

            2. I’m not saying “there are no cases in which someone has different obligations or entitlements from someone else”. I’m saying, “If you claim to have special entitlements, there has to be a reason why.”

            3. Read _Ethical Intuitionism_ ( I don’t think it’s my job to answer moral skepticism in a book about political philosophy. If you’re a moral skeptic, then you’d reject *all* political philosophies (as well as all moral theories).Report

            • Avatar Murali in reply to Michael Huemer says:

              I’m not a moral sceptic, I’m just sceptical about the ability of intuitions to guide us in moral theorising. The dilemma is like this: Either we do not know how or if our moral intuitions track moral properties or we do. If the former, then we have no reason to think that having an intuition about something makes it more likely to be true. If the latter, then we have somehow managed to answer Moore’s further question in a satisfactory manner and already have an account of what makes the properties our intuitions track the moral properties. But once we have an account of such properties, our moral intuitions do not tell us anything further.Report

          • Avatar GordonHide in reply to Murali says:

            “This brings me to the third question. Why care about our moral intuitions at all?”.
            Your moral intuitions come from your instincts. Provided you can tell the difference between innate instincts and those culturally impressed by repetition or frequently observed usage it is reasonable to pay attention to moral intuitions. You wouldn’t be here today if these instincts which promote co-operation hadn’t been largely successful in ensuring the survival of your genes through countless generations when your animal ancestors had little recourse to reason.Report

            • Avatar Murali in reply to GordonHide says:

              So my instincts supposedly track what is required for cooperation? What maks cooperation morally salient?Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Murali says:

                Murali’s question has a Socratic ring to it, I’d say.

                If our intuitions directed us away from cooperation, it might still be the case that cooperation was good. In which case, intuition would not point at the good, but at some other thing, and we ought to reject it in our search for the good.

                Intutitionism would appear to have to justify the claim that intuition tends toward the good, and it can only do that by pointing at something outside of itself, which is the good — rather than intuition.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

                I don’t know Michael’s version of intuitionism, but there are types.

                On is instinct. Another, tho, is a more philosophical conception of intuitions such that there are cognitions that present themselves as necessary. A favorite example of mine is this: is it ok to stick knitting needles in baby’s eyes? It seems like the answer to that is no. And necessarily so. Of course, utilitarians chirp in and fabricate a hypothetical scenario where sticking needles in baby’s eyes might be justified. How do we know???

                So there is a concept of moral intuitions which isn’t equated with empirical, gut-level, emotion-based and conditioned reactions to moral problems.Report

              • Avatar Murali in reply to Stillwater says:

                Is sticking knitting needles in baby’s eyes really wrong?

                See I can do this all day!Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Murali says:

                Nice. That gave me a laugh.

                But as LvW once explained to us mere mortals, justification has to end somewhere.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Murali says:

                Intuition will tell us that sticking needles in a baby’s eyes is wrong.

                Intuition itself is often wrong.

                The same intuition that prohibits the use of knitting needles would also prohibit the use of hypodermic needles. And, once upon a time, it did.

                This is why I’m skeptical of intuitionism as a foundation.Report

        • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Michael Huemer says:

          But now, just as a bank would not be justified in extorting money from people under threat of kidnapping and imprisonment, it seems that the state would not be justified in doing that either . . . unless there’s some good reason why the state would be morally very different from the bank.

          But there is a moral difference between the two. A bank’s actions are justified internally if they maximize ROI (or whatever), and externally justified insofar as they conform to the law.

          A state, at it’s best, is remediating collective action problems that require coercion to be efficacious. So insofar as the state is relevantly different, it’s because it and not a private entity is tasked with using the justified use of force compel people to honor obligations to institutional arrangements where the benefits far outstrip the costs.Report

        • Avatar Shazbot3 in reply to Michael Huemer says:

          “So we can eliminate irrelevant concerns by just comparing a private organization to a government — both collective (not individual) agents. No private organization would be considered ethically entitled to behave in the way that the state does. ”

          Yeah, but my claim is that we shouldn’t think of the state or a bank as an agent. Agents have intentionality, and states are not agents. Only individual persons have intentional states. Our intuitions can become confused and misleading when we start to see intentionality where it isn’t.

          I am suggesting that participants and employees and electors in the state are and should be judged by the same standards as every other individual member of the state.

          My example suggests that we are justified in believing that there is a moral difference between the owners of a bank “extorting” grandma and members of the IRS requiring her to pay money that other members of the state have, through voting, required them to do. Any individual working at the IRS would be justified in following the laws that other individuals have voted for. Any individual at the bank would not be justified in extorting grandma.Report

          • Avatar Michael Huemer in reply to Shazbot3 says:

            I’m not following that. Are you saying that the procedure of _voting_ has some kind of power to negate individuals’ rights? Does this mean that if the bank’s customers _voted_ that the bank should extort Grandma, then it would be okay?Report

            • Avatar Shazbot5 in reply to Michael Huemer says:

              Sorry, I wasn’t clear.

              I do think the context around an action should and does determine whether it is justified as moral. So, A killing B during might be justified in WWII, but not during a barbecue.

              And yes, our moral judgments of the individuals who represent the state should be (and usually are) effected by the context of the fact that these individuals are required to execute laws that are passed by the majority, and everyone over the age of 18 can vote, etc.

              My intuitions about the banker would be effected by the context in certain circumstances. If I learned that the banker was simply following a rule that the shareholders of the bank had approved, I might forgive the banker and move my moral disapproval to the individual voters. Or maybe I would forgive them too. It all depends on the context.

              When you take context into account, and you stop thinking we can make moral judgments of the state, instead of the individuals who execute the state and the voters who vote for legislation, I don’t see anyway to maintain your position that there is an inconsistency in how we judge individuals and the state.

              Can you give me a case where we intuitively feel that we should judge some individual who represents the state, say the POTUS, one way, but we also feel that we shoould judge an ordinary citizen doing the same thing differently? (Of course, I’m just going to respond that the contexts that the POTUS and the citizen are operating in are different, so our moral judgments of the two cases aren’t inconsistent.)Report

          • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Shazbot3 says:

            Only individual persons have intentional states.

            Couldn’t it be said that the individuals who play a role within an institution accord that institution with intentionality insofar as they are acting on and furthering institutional aims?Report

            • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Stillwater says:


              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to James Hanley says:

                Elaborate. What you’ve said seems categorically false.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Stillwater says:

                Institutions remain categorically separate from humans. Only beings with some degree of sentience can have intentionality. We can, for casual purposes, say “The Department of Justice intends,” but what we really mean is that certain people with the DOJ intend, and are using the institution to achieve their intentions.

                I’ve hit this theme many many times before here. I’m aware that not everyone agrees, and I’m aware that I’ve not made an argument that is persuasive, or perhaps even understandable, to everyone. But I stand absolutely, resolutely, immovably firm on this issue. Institutions do not have intentions, goals, ideals, values, etc., because only beings with minds can have those things. Institutional structures can shape people’s intentions, goals, etc., but an institution is nothing more than a set of procedures, rules, practices, etc. They cannot be infused with intention, they can only appear to be.

                Again, for casual speaking, it’s not really problematic to talk as though they have intention. But for serious analysis, it’s always an error.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to James Hanley says:

                This issue warrants further conversation. For my part, I think people accept a role at an institutional structure and their actions, pursuant to the institutional goals, are both a) not necessarily the actions they would take if they weren’t a part of the institution, and b) accord indirectly the institution with agency. I mean, that’s just descriptive, I think. Most people who work for the DOJ don’t do so to further their idiosyncratic goals regarding justice. They want job. And insofar as they adopt the role of “employee of the DOJ” in their personal decision calculus – a fact about people I have a hard time believing you’d disagree with! – they accord the institution with intentionality. Secondary and derivative, perhaps, but all too real nonetheless.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Stillwater says:

                I noted that institutional structures shape goals, preferences, etc. That’s not the same as the institution itself having intentions.

                And those who come into an institution encounter the institutional culture, which is a product of various factors, including the institution’s structure, its designated purposes, its constraints, and its people, and they either adapt (to greater or lesser degrees of course) or leave (only in in very very rare cases do they manage to change the culture), and that continuation of culture, passed on from one generation of employees to the other, appears to create institutional intentionality, but ultimately it is embodied in the people–the set of rules itself has no “sense” of purpose or intention because it has no sentience.

                Now if by “accord,” you mean people treat the institution as having intention, believe it does, then I’d agree (while arguing that they’re wrong). We also “accord” intentionality to weather events (“it’s just waiting for me to wash my car, then it’s going to rain”) in this sense.

                If by “accord,” you mean that the institution actually takes on intentionality, can truly be said to have intentions, in the way a person can, then I’d disagree (the weather is not, in fact, in any way, intending to rain because I washed my car).

                I tend to think it’s the human instinct for according intentionality to so many aspects of the physical world–an instinct that helped us create a relatively coherent understanding of the world before we developed better empirical techniques–that leads us to see institutions as intentional, as having preferences, and so on. It’s natural, but that doesn’t mean its accurate.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Stillwater says:

                Well. maybe we don’t disagree that much (tho I think there’s some disagreement here). I certainly don’t think institutions have sentience since they’re abstract entities. My argument is that institutional thinking – decisionmaking that’s determined by institutional structures – is real and not exclusively the product of indivdiduals who comprise the institution.

                Eg., it’s possible for every individual member of an institution to individually concede to a certain decision calculus or outcome, and yet disagree with it.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Stillwater says:

                Yes, but for all love please let us speak of institutional incentives and institutional culture, rather than institutional intentionality.

                And with that, I must go to bed. Cheerio.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Stillwater says:


                But! How can you talk about institutional incentives without mentioning institutional intentionality?Report

              • Avatar Shazbot5 in reply to James Hanley says:


                Hanley and I agree. Entirely.

                Prepare for the rapture.Report