Self Criticism!

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Murali

Murali did his undergraduate degree in molecular biology with a minor in biophysics from the National University of Singapore (NUS). He then changed direction and did his Masters in Philosophy also at NUS. Now, he is currently pursuing a PhD in Philosophy at the University of Warwick.

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292 Responses

  1. Avatar James K
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    This is an important and worthy post Murali. It’s important for everyone to root out the sources of error in their own in-group. How else can you have confidence you’re on the right team in the first place?

    As far as criticising other libertarians, I’ll link back to one of my early posts on what libertarians can learn from liberals, and also my post on the Gold Standard.Report

    • Avatar Just Me in reply to James K
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      “How else can you have confidence you’re on the right team in the first place?”

      This is my problem with politics. We treat it like a sport. You against us. It seems to be more about the “team” than anything else.Report

  2. Avatar Michael Drew
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    Do libertarians get to feel smug about themselves if it turns out that liberals and conservatives have not done the appropriate criticisms of cartoon versions of themselves?

    Whoa there, slow down a second. Every libertarian did not write this blog post. One of them did.

    That said, it’s a fair question whether liberals and conservatives have done self-critique to this degree. Generally, I think they haven’t. I can think of a couple of reasons for this. First is that left-liberalism and conservatism are much broader doctrines than libertarianism – at least than the parts of libertarianism that Brennan’s post is directed at. You would almost have to go by issue area, and you’d find that what is the “liberal” or “conservative” position on this or that issue, and thus what the cartoon versions thereof to criticize would become quite quickly muddied. So a liberals could construct a set of points like this, bu I feel like it would really be pretty much just a mish-mash of references to bad arguments about this or that, rather than the kind of systematic removal of the detritus that obscured a clear, crystaline system of belief like the Brennan post. This isn’t a reason not to do it, but it’s a reson why there’s less clarity about what the direction the project is supposed to go in. As has been discussed in these pages, for all the criticism that libertarianism gets for being hard to define at times, both liberalism and conservatism are nearly inchoate by comparison. So, while one liberal can say that another liberal is wrong about something, it’s much less clear that any liberal has the standing to say that another is a cartoon liberal if they believe that thing. Same for conservatives, from what I’ve seen.

    …Which leads to the second reason why this kind of undertaking is complicated for liberals and conservatives: much more institutionalized and well-defined factionalism within each camp. A liberal could write a list like this, but it wouldn’t be seen as a legitimate corrective by a “sane” liberal to cartoon liberals (well, it might by libertarians or conservatives…), but instead would just get filed as another entry in the ongoing neoliberal/labor-left struggle, etc. A conservative calling out fellow conservatives for unwise foreign policy would become just another paleocon attacking neocons. Etc. Perhaps Brennan’s piece is subject to those kinds of categorizations within libertarianism, but my sense is that the identity group is small enough that the factions won’t have the same effect of simply swallowing up the whole enterprise and making it a part of ongoing battles.

    All that said, policing one’s own side is important, and everyone who identifies with a particular ideological group or label should make an effort to do it, even if they don’t end up producing a list quite as comprehensive as this. It’s an admirable effort by Brennan.Report

    • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Michael Drew
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      …One other thing – while we needn’t award points for doing so, it seems to me unlikely to Brennan’s list was unlikely to have been developed completely without reference and correspondence with non-libertarians who offer critiques of some of libertarianism’s more excessive arguments (while perhaps retaining but putting temporarily a more direct critique of the doctrine itself). So I don’t see any reason to cut off communication between liberals and conservatives and their critics in coming up with candidates for singling out as cartoonish arguments.

      The thing to note with that, though, is that it does require countenancing the possibility that some basic aspects of a worldview you don’t share may at least be somewhat less illegitimate than some other aspects, and suspending one maintenance that the whole worldview is fundamentally misconceived, and all the specific absurdities that result from that are no more or less absurd than the basic viewpoint, because they’re all just instantiations of the basic error.Report

    • Avatar Jason M. in reply to Michael Drew
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      “Whoa there, slow down a second. Every libertarian did not write this blog post. One of them did.”
      Yeah, that last bit was wildly presumptuous. I would also add that while libertarianism is a slimmer ideological portfolio than either liberalism or conservatism, the heavier individualist emphasis of libertarianism make it harder to nail them down as well. Many past comment threads here at LOoG concerning libertarianism turned no-true-Scotsmany pretty quickly.Report

  3. Avatar NewDealer
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    I think a lot of people on the left criticize each other but the debates I can think of tend to be about policy issues and other stances. I can’t think of a list like this. Here is where I think the fights on the left are:

    1. “More Left Than Thou”: This can also come up among libertarians and conservatives as well but people do like their purity. You saw this in 2000 with people who argued that it was better to vote for Nader over Gore. It also came up in 2012 when some figures on the left argued that they could not vote for Obama. In fact they argued that it was important for Romney to win because that would bring in a truly left-wing government. This is the most famous incident from the 2012 election:

    http://www.nybooks.com/blogs/nyrblog/2012/jun/18/curse-political-purity/

    2. Israel/Palestine: Another controversial issue on the left. I am not arguing the merits of either side for this post. Needless to say that some people on the left are supportive of Israel and Zionism but there are others who are not.

    3. Science Left v. Non-Science Hippie Left: This one has flared up for the past few years and seems largely to revolve around public health and medicine especially Western medicine. A lot of people on the left dislike big Pharma and they dislike it so much that it causes them to lose confidence in the entirety of Western Medicine. I agree that big Pharma has released many drugs without adequate trial periods but this does not destroy the scientific basis for Western medicine. Some of my friends are a bit hippie and I see them post things on facebook about how cinnamon and honey can cure most illnesses (not true) or they are against flouridation in water. Flouridation is one of the best public health measures of all time.

    5. Anarchist v. Non-Anarchist Left: There are a lot of people who identify as left and have a thought process like Mr. Naive in the cartoon in your post.Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to NewDealer
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      I think thinks this sums up the division on the liberal/leftist side but it doesn’t quite show what a cartoon liberal would be. To me a cartoon liberal or leftist like a cartoon libertarian or conservative has to be one that sees the liberal solution as so obviously correct that they can’t understand why somebody would reach a different conclusion. These are the types that see libertarians and conservatives as strange creatures, not quite human, that can’t be understood.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to LeeEsq
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        An example of a cartoon liberal/leftist would be like the people who see the United States as the source of all evil in the world and any American foreign policy as imperialist. Sometimes they extend this to an entire Western discourse. The liberals and leftists that keep talking about privilege also strike me as cartoonish.Report

        • Avatar Murali in reply to LeeEsq
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          But that hardly describes a lot of leftists. The problem that I see with looking for cartoon leftists is one that which our own Conor Williams has brought up; namely that there is a paucity of foundational philosophical discussion among leftists. The most I can think of is the idea that no one (especially the rich) really deserves their wealth because either 1 or both of the following are true.

          a) The wealth could not have been produced without the cooperation of the rest of society (Elizabeth Warren, Barack Obama)

          b) People do not deserve the traits that earned them the wealth up to and including their talents and character. (Ronald Dworkin)Report

          • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Murali
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            This is also sort of what I was getting at. Liberals can always point out bad arguments from other liberals, but they’re going to have a hard time telling each other, “That – that’s too far out there; that’s just way past what the True, Defensible Liberal (or Leftist) position is.” It’s just all way too contested and unclear, and beyond that, those contestations are totally institutionalized. A neoliberal can call a communist too far left, but like, we knew they thought that, and we knew that split was there. There’s not just one “us” under Leftism or Liberalism (either one). There are lots of “us”es on the left, and they’re already far down the path of other-zing each other. They can certainly criticize each other, but they’ve pretty much eroded all the remaining broad “Left” ing-group standing among the sub-groups in order for it to really be *self-*criticism anymore. So you almost have to find neoliberals who will say other neoliberals are beyong the pale; commies who’ll say that about commies, etc.Report

          • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Murali
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            This makes a lot of sense. Modern liberalism and leftism isn’t a coherent political ideology in the way that Libertarianism or Marxism or Amatchism. All three of the previous philosophies have a lot of variation but have a common foundation or end point be it the minimal state or the dictatorship of the proletariat. Modern liberalism has numerous foundations and no clear end point. To a certain extent it’s a strength because it allows for flexibility. It’s also a weakness for the reason you mentioned.Report

          • Avatar MikeSchilling in reply to Murali
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            no one (especially the rich) really deserves their wealth

            That’s a severe mischaracterization. The actual statement is that taxation of that wealth to help support the commons is justified because the commons contributed to the environment in which that wealth was created. It’s a denial of cartoon Islandism.Report

        • Avatar Stillwater in reply to LeeEsq
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          My first thought was John Cole’s criticism of Firebaggers.Report

        • Avatar Bruce Webb in reply to LeeEsq
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          The problem with this line of questioning vs liberalism is that liberals historically were in conscious and open opposition to radicalism and specifically that line of radicalism manifested in the 2nd International and then which defended Stalin through the 30s Show Trials and Molotov-Ribbentrop (hence ‘premature anti-fascism’) and for the die hards to the Purges etc of 1956.

          That is American Liberalism in its New Deal confirmation accommodated Socialism or at least Social Democracy while rejecting Communism and in its postwar ADA form explicitly embraced a policy of opposing Communism while accommodating Social Democracy. That is it was already engaged with combat against cartoon leftists/Party Liners.

          Meanwhile Libertarians were embracing Hayek’s Road to Serfdom which in the form generally received not only saw no difference between State Communism, Social Demoecracy, and your local Planning Commission but equally saw no difference between those and Fascist Germany ‘s industrial policy. I find it enlightening that the Road to Serfdom was literally adapted to 20 panel cartoon form in a Look magazine pamphlet series sponsored by GM and still available on the Mises.org website (Google ‘Road to Serfdom in Cartoons’. Particularly amusing is Panel 18 that implicitly equates Freedom with Golf and Tyranny with Calisthenics.

          God Knows there are and we’re cartoon characters on the Left, indeed old timey liberals like me would dismiss much of the 70s New Left as such. But he’ll by the 80s even Hayek had admitted that Road to Serfdom (in its book form) was overstated. Even as ‘serious’ libertarians were appealing back from Atlas Shrugs to TRTS .

          Don’t want to be considered cartoons? Don’t comment on left econoblogs using language from the 20 panel cartoon version of TRTS.Report

    • Avatar Rogue Economist in reply to NewDealer
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      I’ve heard it uttered that Rush Limbaugh doesn’t speak for the conservatives, it’s just that no elected Republican or hopeful candidate can denounce him without being primaried. I don’t believe the truth of the statement but that’s the claim.

      Is Rush a cartoon or is he an actual entity?Report

  4. Avatar NewDealer
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    There are also a lot of fights between the neo-Liberal left (Michelle Rhee and Matt Y) and those of an old-school kind of liberalism. This goes along the lines of more Left than Thou. The old-schools accuse Rhee and Y of being agents of the right-wing.Report

  5. Avatar Kazzy
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    FYI, the link for #4 takes you to a login page.Report

  6. Avatar LWA
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    I think its easy to become a cartoon when we foreget that all worldviews hold internal contradictions.
    We value individual freedom, but also communal bonds; tribal identity, but also peaceful coexistance;Freedom but security; and so on.

    So sometimes we value one side of the coin and can’t imagine the perspective of someone valuing the other.Report

    • Avatar Murali in reply to LWA
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      I think its easy to become a cartoon when we foreget that all worldviews hold internal contradictions

      really? It is trivially easy to show that this is false. Take a worldview W1. show internal contradiction. Modify W1 to resolve contradiction W2. Rinse and repeat. There will eventually be some n such that Wn contains no internal contradictions. Or at the very least, there will be some n so large that it is not humanly possible to find the contradictions in it.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Murali
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        Presumably, a complete description of the world would contain no contradictions. (Or would it?)Report

        • Avatar Murali in reply to Stillwater
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          The complete description of any possible world would contain no contradictions. If it did, it wouldn’t be possible.Report

          • Avatar MikeSchilling in reply to Murali
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            A complete description would be so large as to be useless. A worldview is a set of principles from which that description could be derived. The interesting question is whether one exists that’s at once

            * sufficiently small for humans to grasp
            * sufficiently accurate to be useful
            * wholly non-contradictory

            I see no reason to assume the answer is yes.Report

          • Avatar Shazbot3 in reply to Murali
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            Maybe not.

            On some views (Graham Priests Dialetheism, for example) there are contradictions that are true in this, the actual world. Yet clearly the actual world is not impossible.

            Note that we do use an expression in logic about what would happen if contradictions were true. (Then you could prove everything, in crude terms.) They call this “explosion.”

            I’m not sure I disagree with you, but this is more controversial than you suggest.Report

        • Avatar Shazbot3 in reply to Stillwater
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          If, for example, the liar sentence (“This sentence is false.”) is meaningful, which it sure seems to be, then a complete description of this world contains contradictions.Report

          • Avatar Murali in reply to Shazbot3
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            How the hell could that sentence be meaningful?Report

            • Avatar Shazbot5 in reply to Murali
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              Well, meaningful sentences are meaningful to people. And most people say the sentence is meaningful to them. (Not an argument ad populum, because meanings are determined by what people find meaningful.) That is one point.

              Also, why not see it as meaningful given that most people find it meaningful? That is a second point.

              A third point is that if you deny that the liar is meaningful, you have to deny that a lot of other contradictions are meaningful too, which will become implausible.

              Here is an analogous sentence to “This sentence is false.”:

              “This sentence is written in English.”

              Note that my sentence can’t be false. If it were, it wouldn’t be meaningful. Or think of “This sentence isn’t written in English.” which must be false. These sentences are perfectly meaningful, even though they have strangely analytic truth conditions.

              Now take the sentence “This sentence is and isn’t written in English.” Is it meaningful? If it is meaningful, it sure seems true, because it is written in English. But it also is says it isn’t written in English, so it is false. Or maybe it isn’t meaningful?

              What about a statement of the law of non-contradiction: “A=A” For any meaningful sentence, we can create a new meaningful sentence by attaching a negation: not(A=A). A denial of the law of non-contradiction can’t be true or false. Is it not meaningful? If so, is the law of non-contradiction meaningless?

              So the liar sentence, which if it is false, must be true. It can’t be false, by definition. And it can’t be true by definition. But that doesn’t make it meaningless, just like the denial of the law of non-contradiction isn’t meaningless either.

              The liar sentence is meaningful, it just has weird truth conditions. It is both true and false, or neither true nor false, or something even weirder. But it makes perfect sense.Report

      • Avatar MikeSchilling in reply to Murali
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        The real world is a complex and contradictory place; the larger the n, the less of it Wn will describe with any accuracy. Being derived from a few “self-evident” axoms is a weakness of systems like Objectivism, not a strength. Neither politics nor economics is physics.Report

      • Avatar CK MacLeod in reply to Murali
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        (I’m thinking that if Murali reflected on his statement he would soon recognize the absurdity of defining “worldview” in such a way that any example of one would be susceptible to the “trivially easy” proof he offers.)Report

        • Avatar Murali in reply to CK MacLeod
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          A worldview is just the set of (truth-apt?) propositions you think are true right? Unless you are thinking that we should be building in non-cognitive dispositions as well.Report

          • Avatar CK MacLeod in reply to Murali
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            When you say “worldview,” I read “Weltanschauung,” which is, or may be according to your Weltanschauung, or alternatively according to your theory of language, or alternatively according to your theory of knowledge or theory of theory, among other alternatives, something much different from and broader than a “set of propositions” held to be true. Very much might depend, or all might depend, on what those propositions were. It ignores the self-reflexivity and totalism of worldviews: Every worldview is primarily a view regarding worldviews.

            For our purposes I think a simple illustration will be on point. If I hold the truth to be self-evident that no comprehension of existence can be reduced to any set of simply falsifiable propositions, then, under my worldview – Wck – your trivially easy proof is absurd. You write:

            Take a worldview W1. show internal contradiction. Modify W1 to resolve contradiction W2. Rinse and repeat. There will eventually be some n such that Wn contains no internal contradictions. Or at the very least, there will be some n so large that it is not humanly possible to find the contradictions in it.

            We will have to assume for sake of argument that there can be worldviews of interest to us, as possibly valid worldviews, that are reducible to sets of simply falsifiable propositions. Even if we take this perspective centrally in contradiction with Wck, or held to be impossible by Wck, as possibly true, we would still have the problem of knowing whether your Wn, which you put forward as W1 purged of internal contradictions, resembles W1 closely enough to be considered an improved version of W1 or whether it must in fact constitute a different worldview altogether. This would obviously be the case if, for example, if we take as Wck as the test case: If what is wrong with my worldview Wck, here taking the place of W1, is its central proposition of the non-reducibility and non-falsifiability of valid worldviews, then your Wn purged of my error – my notion that no worldview can be reduced to a set of propositions subjectable to a formal contradiction test – would clearly not be Wck at all. It would be Wmurali or Wm replacing Wck.

            I think that the essence of your reductive position itself reduces to the proposition of one true and comprehensive worldview whose central tenets include or may simply reduce to reducibility and simple falsifiability. In other words, contrary to the superficial implications of your proposition, there are not really for you multiple co-existent Wns resolving the contradictions of multiple imperfect worldviews W1, W2, etc., but in fact one all-encompassing Wt or true worldview in relationship to which all alternative worldviews are false worldviews or incomplete worldviews containing contradictory propositions that are not truly valid and comprehensive views, so are only falsely called worldviews at all. They are pretend worldviews, worldviews awaiting the simple purge.

            My suspicion about your actually Wm, which all Wns would reduce to, is, I think, confirmed by your statement regarding Dialethism. You say you cannot see “how it could be true.” In other words, for you, there is no possible world that includes Dialethism, but the opposite is the case: There is no possible world that excludes it. There are only imaginary worlds, or worlds that are not, without it. Or, the notion of a non-contradictory world is a contradiction in terms. World implies contradiction. The disappearance of contradictions is the utopian moment definitionally beyond or before “world” – it is the existent-only-as-pure-idea moment that in Christian discourse is called union with God and that the Rawlsian puts on the other side of a mythical veil of ignorance: same (non-)thing. (Very typically, Rawls came up with his idealized Protestant rationalism around the time that the contradictoriness of the world drove him from away from the religion of his fathers, but this is another discussion).Report

            • Avatar Murali in reply to CK MacLeod
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              If I hold the truth to be self-evident that no comprehension of existence can be reduced to any set of simply falsifiable propositions, then, under my worldview – Wck – your trivially easy proof is absurd.

              I don’t think I need to suppose that the sets of propositions needs to be falsifiable. I’m not reductive in that sense. All I was talking about was contradictions, and that is compatible with people holding two non-falsifiable but mutually incompatible propositions to be true. There may be no particular grounds to modify one rather than another, but any such modification would elminate the incompatibility.

              About reductiveness, suppose it was the case that no comprehension of existence was reducible to a set of propositions. Presumably, the bit about comprehension makes it the case that some kind of engagement by the knower is required. I think I could get on board with that. But, this does not invalidate my thesis. All this means is that I would have to state my case less crudely. Nevertheless the parts of a world view that do not consist of propositions are not liable to being contradicted either. I am only interested in the sense in which beliefs can be contradictory and when pushed, what I really mean is that credences should abide by the probability axioms.*

              So, it may be that Wck is wrong after all, but unless Wck include dialetheism, I don’t see how it has any internal inconsistencies yet.

              In other words, for you, there is no possible world that includes Dialethism, but the opposite is the case: There is no possible world that excludes it.

              You say this, but nothing you say after that actually gives me reason to think differently.

              *This is to accomodate modest preface and lottery cases.Report

              • Avatar CK MacLeod in reply to Murali
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                Murali, can you give an example of of what you mean by incompatible but non-falsifiable propositions?

                In my comment above, “simply falsifiable” was in part my own shorthand for contradiction resolvable prior to the end of time or all conceivable human patience and thus susceptible to in this sense simple removal via modification, as per your proof, but I do think that you are also writing from an outlook that effectively equates internal contradiction on the level of worldview with incompatibility, and both contradiction and incompatibility with falsification of the worldview as worldview, because incomplete or defective so not really a world view, but a partial view even on its own terms.

                Reducing a worldview to a set of propositions is in this sense crucially different from reducing a worldview to a set of in theory simply falsifiable, or simply non-contradictory propositions. To say that a worldview can be described or reduced to a set of propositions might merely be to state that for us to discussed a worldview at all, we need to have in mind a thinkable concept of some kind, expressible as propositions, or we are not having a discussion at all, or are discussing that which we have defined as non-discussable. It may be, however, that not all propositions are simple in the sense that that are either true or false, or that the existence of contradictions necessarily implies their annihilation, absurdity, defectiveness, or, especially, their incompleteness. It may be that the existence of contradictions is alone what provides for their completeness or their existence at all.

                The necessary engagement of a knower is, indeed, a central premise here, if we are to explain how “This sentence is false” can be meaningful, or if we are to explain how Kant’s antinomies – i.e., free will and determinism – can remain unresolved, or that their subsidiary propositions can be both contradictory and non-contradictory, in contradiction with a law of non-contradiction and, contradictorily, not in contradiction with it.Report

              • Avatar CK MacLeod in reply to CK MacLeod
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                (On Kant’s antinomies, “e.g.,” not “i.e.,” but #3 is very on point both for our exchange and for the larger discussion of libertarianism.)Report

              • Avatar CK MacLeod in reply to Murali
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                (also thanks for playing… I always find discussing these matters with you educational, since you seem to be so well-read in analytic philosophy)Report

              • Avatar Murali in reply to CK MacLeod
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                Aww Shucks (Blushes, shuffles feet)Report

              • Avatar Murali in reply to Murali
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                Murali, can you give an example of of what you mean by incompatible but non-falsifiable propositions?

                Consider the following 2:

                P1: I am a brain in a vat and am being systematically, completely and inescapably deceived by my sense impressions.

                P2: An Omnibenevolent God exists Who wouldn’t let anyone be systematically and inescapably deceived by their sense impressions.

                Each of P1 and P2 are unfalsifiable. They in principle cannot be shown to be true or false. Yet P2 implies the negation of P1 and so, someone cannot hold both P2 and P1 to be true at the same time.Report

              • Avatar CK MacLeod in reply to Murali
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                The example may suggest what incompatible but non-falsifiable propositions might look like, but they’re not well-formed propositions, so I’m not sure how they support contentions about any worldviews actually held or holdable.

                It’s not P1 that’s incompatible with P2, but multiple unstated additional propositions that merely seem to conflict with each other. For example, if you’re a brain in a vat, maybe it’s better for you to be deceived. On the other hand, you’re not actually deceived, since by making that statement you signify that are aware of the truth of the your brain-in-vat status, so that deception is in fact escapable. So if deception is always wrong, God at least escapes that charge as far as you are concerned. Of course, we do not know that deception is always wrong, or that anyone who believes that deception is always and invariably wrong also believes that God deceives. More common is the belief that deception is sometimes right, and, among believers in God, that actions wrong for human beings might be right for God, or that, if God deceives us, it must be right for Him to do so.

                More likely “brain in a vat” is a tendentiously grotesque statement of the simple fact that that we can not feel beyond our feelings or see beyond our sight, that there is no final difference for us between objects and perceptions of objects. If so, then it is irrelevant to the question of the benevolence of God, and either there is no deception or the particular form or notion of deception is inherent in any conception of reality. Put differently, the deception as described is not really a deception. We are all brains in vats for all intents and purposes, and another word for brain-vat might be “skull.” Or, put differently again, reality for us is never more nor less, nor ever can be more or less, than sense impressions which – inescapable contradiction, but not an incompatibility – are both totally deceptive and totally accurate.

                Maybe the propositions reduce to God is bad and God is only good, and you find those statements incompatible, but no one believes that either: People who define God as only good reject the notion that the bad is ascribable to God, by definition.

                So I can imagine the form that unfalsifiable but truly incompatible statements on the level of worldview would have to take, but I do not yet know that they actually exist or arise, or can exist or arise.Report

      • Avatar LWA in reply to Murali
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        Murali, you have lost me; or perhaps I was using the word “contradiction” incorrectly.

        Meaning that we hold values that are in tension; none of which can be maximized, only optimally balanced.

        So we can’t have maximum freedom and maximum security, for example.Report

        • Avatar Murali in reply to LWA
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          Oh that’s for sure. When you said contradiction, I thought you were referring to the idea that some proposition P was both true and false at the same time. So, I thought you were saying that everyone’s worldview contained some kind of beliefs or set of beliefs that implied that something was and was not the case at the same time.Report

  7. Avatar Stillwater
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    Bryan Caplan’s paper at point 8 – Why I am not an Austrian Economist – is worth a read, I think. For anyone who takes BHL seriously, anyway.Report

    • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Stillwater
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      Or for those who don’t. Caplan explicitly identifies as a “non-bleeding-heart libertarian” (this was long before the BHL blog existed), and is a vocal proponent of the idea that the first-world poor are poor largely due to personal failings. That said, he does promote open borders specifically as a way to give the third-world poor access to greater opportunities.

      IIRC (it’s been years since I read it, though I scanned it just now to confirm), Caplan’s objections to Austrian economics in that piece are largely academic and have nothing to do with BHL.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Brandon Berg
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        BB, the point of Caplan’s paper was to punch holes in the Mises/Rothbard conception of libertarianism and the radical conclusions that are drawn from what he identifies as radical libertarian premises. You’re correct that it doesn’t get you to BHL, but it gets you away from Teh Crazy that is only held by the fringe.Report

        • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Stillwater
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          Caplan’s libertarianism is for all that surprisingly extreme.

          He’s not an Austrian economist, sure, but he’s still an anarchist. Really I don’t think I would read his dissents from Austrian economics as an attempt to back away from hard-core libertarianism at all. The guy’s a good deal more radical than I am — and I do consider myself an Austrian, insofar as I consider myself an economist at all.Report

          • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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            says:

            Really I don’t think I would read his dissents from Austrian economics as an attempt to back away from hard-core libertarianism at all.

            Agreed. And I’m not. I just think his paper presents some very compelling criticisms of a type of hard-core libertarianism that’s easily lampooned because the principles upon which it’s constructed are held with a certainty that isn’t matched by the arguments.Report

            • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Stillwater
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              says:

              Also: if you read the comments of Jason Brennan’s post over at BHL, lots of commenters are arguing that Brennan’s thesis is wrong because compelling people to act the right way independently of the reasons is a worthy goal. I think that entirely misses the point of Brennan’s post, myself, but ironically acts to reinforce his main thesis.

              To go Jeff Foxworthy on this: If you think the reasons for adopting libertarian principles don’t matter but you’re emotionally invested in whether other people act on them, you might be a cartoonish libertarian.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Stillwater
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                says:

                whether other people act on them

                Just as the cartoon above shows, there are dozens of kinds of libertarians.

                I hesitate to speak for the other kinds. From here, however, the problem with that phrasing is that Libertarianism is a philosophy of *NOT* acting. I am not going to intervene in your life. I am not going to make you live in accordance with my taboos. I am not going to make you worship my gods, pledge allegiance to my flag, or pay for my hobbies.

                If you say “you know what, I’m not going to intervene in your life either”, I’m thrilled… even if your reasons are “bad”. Your actions (or, in this case, your failure to act) is the thing worth investing in.

                (Note: as I said, there are dozens of kinds of Libertarians. It seems to me that there is a non-trivial chunk of us here because we are *NOT* things rather than because we *ARE* things.)Report

  8. Avatar Dan Miller
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    says:

    It’s a more grassroots, hivemind type effort, but I’d recommend checking out the “College liberal” meme that’s popular on Reddit and similar link-sharing sites (here are a few examples). Due to the nature of the medium it’s tough to establish authorship, but looking through these at least some of them have to have been authored by liberals.Report

  9. Avatar Shazbot3
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    says:

    Murali,

    Has a left wing person ever criticized Marxism?Report

    • Avatar Murali in reply to Shazbot3
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      says:

      Probably, but see the discussion with LeeEsq for why thay is not entirely dispositive. Offhand, even though I’m no Marxist, I suppose that it is possible to be a sophisticated marxist. Also, I don’t know whether neoliberals criticising marxists counts. Since Neoliberals are closer to my position, I would love to consign all marxists to cartoonhood, but I’m not sure that do so would be fair. Are there sophisticated neoliberals calling other neoliberals too simplistic? Are there sphisticated marxists calling other marxists too simplistic?Report

      • Avatar Shazbot3 in reply to Murali
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        says:

        As a philosopher, you should know the answer on the Marxist question and the Frankfurt school:

        “The Frankfurt School (German: Frankfurter Schule) was a school of neo-Marxist interdisciplinary social theory,[1] associated in part with the Institute for Social Research at the University of Frankfurt am Main. The school initially consisted of dissident Marxists who believed that some of Marx’s followers had come to parrot a narrow selection of Marx’s ideas, usually in defense of orthodox Communist parties. Meanwhile, many of these theorists believed that traditional Marxist theory could not adequately explain the turbulent and unexpected development of capitalist societies in the twentieth century. Critical of both capitalism and Soviet socialism, their writings pointed to the possibility of an alternative path to social development.[2]”

        Moderate versus more extreme Marxists is a pretty old debate. (Will you find a single blog post on this? Who knows.)

        Not sure about neo-liberals, but I’m sure you’ll find one neo-liberal pointing out what others do badly. (This is problematic, though, because the term “neo-liberal,” IIRC, was started as and still sometimes is used as a perjorative, so you find few people self-ascribing to it. Yglesias debated this a while ago, IIRC.) Also “neo-liberalism seems committed to pragmatism pretty hardcore, so you’ll have to find neo-liberals critiquing the absence of principles.Report

        • Avatar Chris in reply to Shazbot3
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          says:

          The history of the Marxist and socialist Left is a history of harsh self-criticism, with the exception of the times when it devolved into authoritarianism, at which point the very fact that dissenters within the Left were primary targets of political eliminationism is an existence proof. That is to say, self-criticism on the Left, when it gets extreme, gets violent, but it’s pretty much always been there.

          The Frankfurt School is a good example of this in the academic left, of course. And then there was what came after the Frankfurt School and after the fall of the Soviet Union. I’m thinking of something like this, but also, for example, the move to market socialism in many academic and political Marxist circles.Report

          • Avatar Shazbot3 in reply to Chris
            Ignored
            says:

            Yeah, we are agreed. There is a long history of internal dispute within Marxism. So Murali’s challenge is met there.

            And I agree with Snarky below that liberalism isn’t a single coherent ideology that could have a single “cartoon” version.Report

          • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Chris
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            says:

            I don’t think infighting among groups with broadly similar ideologies but different policy goals really qualifies as self-criticism. Or at least not a particularly admirable form of it. In the context of the specific issue in question, they’re not really allies. The more interesting form is calling BS when someone makes a bad argument for a position or goal you both support.Report

            • Avatar Chris in reply to Brandon Berg
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              says:

              Oh, I don’t think it was admirable, but the violence came out of intellectual and political, often internecine battles between various schools of Marxism, socialism, and anarchism, each of which was often highly critical of the other even when they had the same broad goals.Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Shazbot3
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      says:

      Its an interesting question. A lot of people on the Left have criticized Marxism as practiced but I can’t recall anybody that argued that Marx’s writings themselves are completely lacking in value. Even many people who are Liberal find at least something of value in Marx.Report

    • Avatar ThatPirateGuy in reply to Shazbot3
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      says:

      I’ve never criticized marxism as I have never examined it.

      Seems unfair.

      Most of the liberal people I know have completely ignored it as well.Report

  10. Avatar Shazbot3
    Ignored
    says:

    Here is a point I’ve been trying to make for a long time, and it is relevant to Murali’s question:

    All of the following terms have a very broad use in describing a fairly wide array of often quite different political philosophies. These terms really describe very literal because they can be used to describe so many very disparate ideas:

    “left-wing,” “right wing,” “conservative,” “liberal”

    All 0f the following describe much more specific, less varied political philosophies:

    “anarchist” “Marxist,” “socialist,” and “libertarian”

    Thus, there are much stricter criteria for whether someone counts as one the latter than the former.

    To answer Murali’s challenge, it would be difficult to offer a critique of extreme liberals, because extreme “liberals” could be all sorts of different things. (The same is true of extreme “conservatives,” who could be extreme traditionalists or extreme lovers of authority or morality). No one criticism would be possible. Rather, there should be a lot of dispute amongst the many parties in the liberal camp.

    There are lots of critiques of extreme Marxists or Anarchists. And lots of critiques of neo-liberals. There are critiques of Rawlsians if you look for them. (Indeed, I would say bleeding-heart-libertarians are best thought of as a species of liberal, and there are criticisms of their views from liberals.)Report

  11. Avatar Shazbot3
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    says:

    Put slightly differently.

    There is no one thing that is described with the term “extreme liberal” that someone can write a blog post about. There is one thing called “libertarianism” or “extreme libertarianism” that can be held and criticized.Report

    • Avatar Glen Raphael in reply to Shazbot3
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      says:

      IS there just one thing called “libertarianism”? It may not be as bit a tent as “liberal” or “conservative”, but there’s room for conflicting views within it. For instance, “Bizarrely Hypocritical” is supposed to be a libertarian who believes in government laws against abortion. “libertarianism” as such doesn’t imply any particular position on abortion and the movement is full of people who call themselves “pro-choice on EVERYTHING” so to make that particular cartoon criticism, the writer had to focus on a particular SORT of libertarian who is not particularly representative of the movement as a whole. It should be possible to do that with liberals too. A “24 types of liberal (or conservative)” cartoon would be poking fun at 24 categories of people falling into different failure modes, not at a single “one thing” that liberalism is.

      Incidentally, this seems like a decent start: http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/files/2010/07/Authori241.jpgReport

      • Avatar Drew in reply to Glen Raphael
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        says:

        You consider that a criticism of 24 types of liberal? Some of those are libertarian straw men, some are conservatives and some are liberals. You will mostly not find “Xenophobe,” “Love It Leave It,” or “Theocrat” on the left wing.

        Also: Comic Sans? Have some self-respect!Report

      • Avatar Major Zed in reply to Glen Raphael
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        says:

        Loving that! And it was appropriately aimed at authoritarians, being the opposite of libertarians. Just sort them into right- and left- flavors if needed.Report

  12. Avatar Snarky McSnarksnark
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    says:

    Hmmm… I’m not so sure that the kind of self-criticism you refer to (as exemplified by the “cartoon libertarian” questions) is even possible with liberalism, at least as it certainly exists.

    Cartoon libertarianism can exist because libertarianism has, at its core, an abstracted model of how the world really works, and excessive orthodoxy to any abstract construct is always a danger.

    Modern liberalism is not really an ideoglogy, but a set of moral priorities or predispositions. It doesn’t really have an orthodoxy. It is not based on a well worked-through critique of society, or theory of human nature, as is libertarianism (or, for that matter, movement conservatism).

    So, it seems to me, that there is no parallel kinds of self-criticism on the left because they are not remotely parallel world views. Persons of the left criticize and critique the views of other persons of the left all the time. But there really is no orthodoxy to cling to.

    On those occasions when a liberal orthodoxy arises, or threatens to, I do see critiques of “cartoon liberalism” arise quite quickly: think of reactions and writings about the “political correctness” of the 80s, or the prohibition of “judging” others in the 70s. The New Republic seems to exist primarily as a watchdog against the ascendance of liberal orthodoxies.Report

    • Avatar RTod in reply to Snarky McSnarksnark
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      says:

      Is this a function of liberalism, though, or a reflection of where it is right now? I largely agree with this, but my memories of, for example, the 80s had a lot of internal orthodoxy witch hunting.Report

      • Avatar Snarky McSnarksnark in reply to RTod
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        says:

        An excellent question.

        Partly because we are a two-party country, I don’t think America, as a whole, has very fine-tuned ideological antennae–we lump ideology into either “liberal” or “conservative” camps, and don’t know much beyond that. That is partly why, for example, many on the right lump Obama-style neoliberalism together with Marxism.

        Just speaking for myself, I see a great distinction between “liberalism” and “leftism” (just as I see a great distinction between “conservatism” and “right-wing”–the current Republican party is quite right wing, but not at all conservative). “Leftism” has its doctrines, whether Marx or Marcuse, but “liberalism” seems to be another kind of beast.

        Liberalism (at least in my definition) is a reformist urge, combined with an egalitarian bent. Liberals look at the current political and social landscape, and think “y’know, this could be done better. Liberalism doesn’t have a doctrine, or an end-point, or a model of a unique society or social structure. It is just a bent toward improving what one encounters.

        So, to address your question directly, I think it’s a function of liberalism. In eras past–particularly during the cold war when the outmost boundaries of the left were defined by state ownership of virtually all property, the “liberal” wing of American politics was quite a bit more diverse, and included some Marxism, some socialism (a’ la Michael Harrington), some radicalism (the New Left, black nationalism), and some non-conformism (beatniks, hippies, etc.). All of these guys had doctrines, and their share of dogmatic believers. But now that all of the American left’s more leftward flanks have been trimmed, all remains–in this historical moment– is “liberalism.”Report

        • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Snarky McSnarksnark
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          says:

          Interesting. So would you say then that the counterpoint to movement conservatism is leftism? When I think of the 80s leftists (to use that word) as “liberals,” am I doing the same thing everyone often does when they call movement conservatives simply “conservatives” – with conservative basically being an urge to hang on to tradition and status quo?Report

          • Avatar Snarky McSnarksnark in reply to Tod Kelly
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            says:

            I think that’s right.

            I don’t see much that’s “conservative” (in the dictionary or historical senses of the word) in the “movement conservatives”–they are a right-wing radical force, mostly. And the differences among them (the nationalists vs the nativists, vs the traditionalists vs the reconstructionists) are as diverse as among the differences among the left-of-liberal leftists.

            I wish the distinctions between “conservtism” and “right-wing activism,” and between “liberalism” and philosophically-guided leftists was more reinforced in the media. Because both traditional liberalism and conservatism are pretty pragmatic positions, and I would personally guess that 75% of America is inside that middle spectrum.

            But our “lumping” everything into two sides just increases our tribalism. Genuine liberals and genuine conservatives could get a lot done with each other if they were peeled away from their respective “bases.”Report

            • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Snarky McSnarksnark
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              says:

              I think that culture is the biggest barrier there. There is a lot of common ground between a good solid chunk of the Tea Party and a good solid chunk of the Occupy Movement. This common ground is secondary to culture.Report

              • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                Aren’t most things secondary to culture?

                I am intriguing by your hypothesis but not sure I agree. Occupy strikes me broadly as being part of the left and very warm to the idea of a robust welfare state and government intervention in the economy.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to NewDealer
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                says:

                It seemed to me that the number one thing that Occupy was protesting was government intervention in the economy.Report

              • Avatar Chris in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                This is true, but there are different kinds of government intervention in the economy. There are the ones that the Tea Party focused on, and the ones that Occupy focused on. There is not a lot of overlap between the two, which is not to say that the Tea Party doesn’t care about (the lack of) banking regulations, but I’m not sure that if they do, they care about it in the same way, or the same direction, that Occupy did.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Chris
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                says:

                To my recollection, they were both nutso about such things as TARP in specific and the bailouts in general.

                Whatever they disagree about what should be done, they seemed to be in 100% agreement on what should *NOT*.Report

              • Avatar Chris in reply to Chris
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                says:

                Yeah, TARP or bank bailouts generally (I don’t remember Occupy folks complaining about the auto manufacturer bailouts, but maybe they did) were a common cause, but I suspect most Occupy folks would have wanted more regulation of the financial industry. Would Tea Partiers?

                I think they could have found some common ground in what they didn’t like that the government had done, but their solutions would have been different.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Chris
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                says:

                but I suspect most Occupy folks would have wanted more regulation of the financial industry. Would Tea Partiers?

                The original Tea Partiers wanted less public-private collusion in policy formation, so they might have accepted more regulation. Not necessarily on the retail side of the financial sector, maybe somewhere further upstream.

                Of course, once the TP went mainstream it became an incoherent mess, so there’s no telling for sure.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Chris
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                says:

                I still remember 2008’s campaign season in which there was that special vote for TARP that Obama had voted for and then John McCain said “OHMYGOSH I HAVE TO STOP CAMPAIGNING IN ORDER TO VOTE UPON THIS IMPORTANT LEGISLATION!” and I thought “oh, he must be going back there to vote against it. You know, a choice not an echo and all that.”

                Nope. He stopped campaigning so he could vote for it too.

                While it is certainly true that both sides might never, ever agree on what laws should pass, I can’t help but think that their agreement on the stuff they agree should not pass should provide some room for strange bedfellowdom…

                And the fact that it hasn’t (so far, anyway) strikes me as being attributable to culture more than on disagreements on what the government ought to be doing instead.Report

              • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                To the extent that they were protesting government intervention they think only helps the top strata of society and corporations, yes. However, a lot of the Occupy movement is not opposed to government intervention in the economy as a matter of principle. I think that most of them would support government intervention that would help the masses.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to LeeEsq
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                says:

                No doubt. Surely that intervention is coming any day now.Report

        • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Snarky McSnarksnark
          Ignored
          says:

          But you can even see divisions among people who are liberals.

          I consider myself a liberal and center-left but in a New Deal-Great Society kind of way.

          I still get driven batty by the Matt Y/Michelle Rhee/Neo-Liberal/Privatize everything school of thought. Matt Y drives me up the wall, the way I probably drive far-lefties up the wall.Report

    • Avatar Shazbot3 in reply to Snarky McSnarksnark
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      says:

      Great comment.Report

    • Avatar CK MacLeod in reply to Snarky McSnarksnark
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      says:

      What we call “liberalism” appears to be typified by a set of “priorities or predispositions” rather than by a coherent ideology or philosophy, because the ideology and its political-philosophical commitments are preceptual and effectively consensual: Liberalism does not appear “ideological” because its main ideological precepts are treated as simply true or as unquestionable for all intents and purposes (i.e., for the continued maintenance of the social-cultural whole as well as the governmental-juridical-administrative “state”). We can (always idly) question the philosophical validity of our foundational concepts, but we are precluded from taking any negative conclusions truly meaningfully into the public square. (In regard to libertarianism specifically, the meaningful taking into an always already pre-defined or collective-communitarian-authoritarian public square already points toward or commences a violation of its Ripperian purity of essence of purity….)

      These unquestionable premises tend to come forward and become identifiable as ideology under conditions of stress or crisis, most obviously as a result of an external or seemingly external impetus under conditions of war with opposed or seemingly radically opposed alternative ideologies – fascism, totalitarianism, etc. – which is another way of saying that the actual (as opposed to merely intellectual or idle) bringing forward of these premises as ideology will be definitional for a crisis of the whole state. Under “normal” conditions, they operate as ingrained presumptions and the subject of politically meaningless speculation.

      In that sense, what demonstrates that “liberalism” (as modern American center-left social liberalism-progressivism) is in fact very highly ideological is that so many people can subscribe to it without thinking of it as subscribing to an ideology at all, or without thinking at all. The preceptual character of the ideology also contributes to common confusion about the relationship of post-war or contemporary American liberalism to conservatism, libertarianism, progressivism, leftism, etc.: All exist within the same framing presumptions or horizon of modern liberalist political philosophy. They are siblings. The relationship is somewhat akin, and I think not merely serendipitously, to the relationship of the Abrahamic faiths to each other: The libertarians are like the Jews of liberalism…Report

  13. Avatar Kolohe
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    says:

    Good post, though I’m critical of any blogpost that doesn’t link directly to what it is referencing, and furthermore doesn’t allow one to click on the pic to see a full res version.

    Objectively speaking, of course.Report

  14. Avatar Brandon Berg
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    says:

    The OWS movement strikes me as having been a good example of cartoon leftism.

    I can’t think of any specific examples since I never got around to resubscribing after he left ThinkProgress a few years back, but I do seem to remember that Matt Yglesias has done some criticism/correction of cartoon leftism. I could be wrong about that, but it certainly would explain why cartoon leftists hate him so much.Report

  15. Avatar Rogue Economist
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    says:

    From my personal experience self-avowed libertarians fall into approximately 11 different types.

    – anarchists posing as minarchists.
    – minarchists whose views asymptotically approach anarchism.
    – social conservatives who give lip service to libertarian fiscal conservatism as a method for tricking people into joining conservative movements, only to accuse social liberals who joined them of being RINOs later.
    – republicans who don’t want to admit to being republicans.
    – throwbacks who see libertarianism as a haven to re-fight lost cultural wars.
    – people who think the goal of libertarianism is a zero-taxation society.
    – social conservatives who think that free-market anarchism is a smart way to run an economy.
    – goldbuggers.
    – conspiracy theorists who self-identify as libertarians because it’s cooler than identifying with a party that might eventually have to do some governing.
    – people who are too stoned to remember what they were arguing about.
    – people who aren’t too stoned to remember what they were arguing about, but would like to be.

    This list is somewhat facetious but I would like to make the serious point that in my past experience those giving lip service to the words liberty, freedom, or libertarian values are more likely to be conservatives appropriating libertarian talking points because they think it sells better than admitting they’re just conservatives.Report

    • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Rogue Economist
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      says:

      You should check out the Bleeding Heart Libertarian site. You might find the views expressed there harder to ridicule.Report

      • Avatar Rod Engelsman in reply to Stillwater
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        says:

        Hmmm… FWIW, I found my way to this site by way of the BHL blogroll. Frankly, the name intrigued me, with a kind of 19th century steampunk feel to it.

        I had spent several months hanging out there the way I do here now. I actually went back to the beginning and spent about two months catching up on all the most interesting essays before I seriously engaged as a commenter there. I was intrigued by the premise of the site since I spent some time, maybe a decade and a half, self-identifying as a libertarian but eventually gave it up for the unsympathetic attitude toward the economically disadvantaged.

        It seemed to start out well enough, seeming to be seeking a kind of rapprochement between the left and libertarians, but then it seemed to quickly devolve into a kind of marketing ploy. Essay after essay would be a treatise patiently explaining to us poor, well-meaning but ignorant liberals how the bestest way ever to achieve our stated ends was through bog-standard libertarian means. One writer even had the temerity to pen a screed blaming the rise of corporate dominance from the Reagan years on liberals; not the conservatives who actually authored it or the libertarians who cheered it on, but liberals. That still rankles.

        In the end the BHL project is just standard-issue Nozickian libertarianism with a lip-service of concern for the poor and a grudging accession to some minimalist welfare provisions–but only on a very temporary and contingent basis!

        I still believe that a left/libertarian fusion is possible, perhaps even inevitable, but it’s going to take more than just rhetoric. It’s going to take real movement on some fundamental notions held by both sides.Report

        • Avatar greginak in reply to Rod Engelsman
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          says:

          I’ve had the same disappointment with BHL. Most of it boils down to “here is why libertarians are the bestest ever.” Which is fine if that is what they want, but they did seem to want to aim for finding common ground and reaching beyond divisions. They aren’t looking to comb various groups for the best ideas, just trying to tell us why they always had the best ideas in the first place. It is an echo chamber mostly in the comments.Report

        • Avatar Shazbot5 in reply to Rod Engelsman
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          says:

          I would say contemporary liberalism is a left-libertarian fusion.

          Libertarian on most social issues: freedom for gays, women’s bodily rights, etc.

          Socialist on equality of opportunity, education, healthcare.

          For redistribution of wealth interence (especially through progresssive taxation) to protect the poor. For interference in markets for utilitarian reasons: worker safety laws, anti-pollution laws, seat belts, gun control, preventing fertilizer plants from being built near schools, etc.

          For somewhat Keynsian manipulation of markets too eliminate boom and bust cycles.

          Left-libertarians are liberals.Report

        • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Rod Engelsman
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          says:

          Essay after essay would be a treatise patiently explaining to us poor, well-meaning but ignorant liberals how the bestest way ever to achieve our stated ends was through bog-standard libertarian means.

          Complaints that this site is just too libertarian leave me wondering if the editors are doing some kind of A/B testing, because that’s not how it looks from where I’m sitting.

          Jason’s really the only regular and clearly identifiably libertarian front-page poster. Jay’s a libertarian in the comments, but sticks to mostly apolitical topics for original posts. James K’s a libertarian but doesn’t post much. Murali’s a libertarian but doesn’t post about libertarianism much. Burt and Mark are (as far as I can tell) libertarians, but since they post almost exclusively on legal and civil liberties issues, they’re not easily distinguishable from leftists. Elias, Nob, and Sam are leftists. Tod’s a centrist. David Ryan posts about boats. Ethan….I honestly can’t tell. I’m pretty sure Erik’s dead, and he was moving left anyway. Guest is all over the place. I don’t know what’s up with him.Report

          • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Brandon Berg
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            says:

            Guest suffers from dissociative identity disorder.Report

          • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Brandon Berg
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            says:

            I think Rod was referring to Bleeding Heart Libertarian with that bit you quoted.

            That doesn’t make any of what you say any less true (even if I do bristle at the word centrist.)Report

          • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Brandon Berg
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            says:

            What you’ve quoted was a description of BHL, not this place.Report

          • Avatar Art Deco in reply to Brandon Berg
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            says:

            I’m pretty sure Erik’s dead, and he was moving left anyway.

            https://twitter.com/erikkain

            Still alive as of this morning.Report

          • Avatar Shazbot5 in reply to Brandon Berg
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            says:

            It’s hard to tell how libertarian the OP’s are, because -as you point out- many of them are apolitical.

            But if you look at each comments page, and try to get a sense of how many libertarians are commenting and how often a libertarian point of view is expressed on any given thread, I’d say there are slightly more libertarians and libertarian comments than liberals. And conservatives are in 3rd place. So the conversation is pretty much split down the middle between liberals and libertarians, with a few conservatives who appear libertarian more often than not.

            That isn’t a bad thing. Not at all. The sturm and drang is why we all come here, and it wouldn’t be here if there weren’t ideological disputants.

            Jaybird, and James H were (IIRC) the winners for most comments in 2012. (And both often post cool comments.) Jason K and James K are often pretty heavily involved in debates. Burt, Murali, and Mark, too. Then there are a few more who post less regularly and some of whom are a little extreme.

            That leaves Nob, Sam, Elias, Stillwater, Noonan, Rod, zic, Mike S, Jessie and (if I count) me, and a few others on the opposite side. Elias seems never to comment very much and only does OP’s. Jessie is a rare ghost. Noonan is gone, apparently. That leaves Nob, Sam, Still, Rod, Zic, Mike S, and me. And then there are other liberals who post rarely or ineffectively.

            In the middle are a few others like Kazzy and the various Tods. They are all friendly to libertarianism, I think, but pragmatic more than anything.

            The conservatives seem more often on the libertarian side, and those conservatives are pretty common commenters too. I’m thinking of Mike D, Will T and Will H, especially. Expecially Will T.

            Forgive me if I missed anyone who comments a ton, or mischaracterized your views.Report

        • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Rod Engelsman
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          says:

          In the end the BHL project is just standard-issue Nozickian libertarianism with a lip-service of concern for the poor and a grudging accession to some minimalist welfare provisions–but only on a very temporary and contingent basis!

          Do you think that’s true of Matt Z and the other main contributors or the commentariat? I’m actually really impressed with Matt’s work. He identifies lots of the same problems I see with capital-L libertarianism and tries to argue (persuasively!) for revisions in big-L’s core beliefs. I don’t know how far he and the other writers can take it but it’s certainly more interesting to me than classical libertarianism.Report

          • Avatar Rod Engelsman in reply to Stillwater
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            says:

            Yeah. That’s really what I think, man. I mean… sure, Matt and a couple others like Kevin V. with his accounts of Public Reason are interesting. And the main contributors aren’t really hard-shelled libertarian types of the Rand and Rothbard mold. And I will give them props for being willing to entertain other/new ideas. For instance adding Jessica (forgot her last name) to the roll. She seriously advocates for a guaranteed minimum income scheme, which I think is an interesting alternative to the existing welfare apparatus. Also, and I believe it was mostly because the noise that I and maybe one or two others were making, they put together a symposium on land and invited a guest post from someone I recommended. But even then that symposium was heavily weighted toward the conventional libertarian view.

            Maybe I missed it but at the end of the day, what substantial departures from bog-standard libertarianism do they actually advocate? Not much that I can tell but I’m willing to have my mind changed. I very much support the initial idea behind the project.Report

            • Avatar Murali in reply to Rod Engelsman
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              says:

              Policywise, most of them are fairly comfortable with public goods being provided by the state whereas a lot of “standard libertarians” aren’t. They certainly accept some form of the welfare state (of course that may be becoming all too common now). The biggest difference is in what they think justifies any political order. On that, they go Rawlsian and say that everyone (including the worst off) must find that ordering acceptable.Report

              • Avatar Rod Engelsman in reply to Murali
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                says:

                Aye… but there’s a lot of wiggle room in there, eh?

                Policywise, most of them are fairly comfortable with public goods being provided by the state whereas a lot of “standard libertarians” aren’t.

                But what counts as a public good? I would count education and healthcare. Would they? I mean, if all they’re willing to commit to is a publicly funded judicial system and perhaps a military then they can claim to support public goods while still not really moving much. Note: I don’t really know what they do or don’t count as a public good; just making the point that the term “public good” is sufficiently abstract to allow for quite a bit of interpretation.

                They certainly accept some form of the welfare state (of course that may be becoming all too common now).

                Again, details matter quite a bit. Bare minimum? What we have now? More robust? And what are the delineations between public good and welfare? For instance, you can treat healthcare delivery as a public good or you can subsidize the private delivery through a welfare system.Report

    • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Rogue Economist
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      says:

      Another option is to attribute some minimal intelligence to the statements made by Jason Kuznicki, Jaybird, Kolohe, Roger, Hanley (when he’s not trolling), James K, Brandon Berg and others at this site, and evaluate the claims they make objectively. It’s not hard to do. They might be wrong about everything at the end of the day of course – or correct! – but they’re views don’t reduce to a simplistic psychological analysis.Report

      • Avatar Rogue Economist in reply to Stillwater
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        says:

        Given that none of them will bother to engage and I have yet to see Hanley do anything but troll, I don’t have any reason to trust your assertions regarding them.

        In fact after seeing how Mr. Blue responds to logical dialogue and how Will Truman dismisses logical points by making vague ad hominem attacks, I am left to wonder if there is an honest individual in this entire sad assortment.Report

        • Avatar Murali in reply to Rogue Economist
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          says:

          The reason for that is that you do not engage with arguments. When people present their argument to you, you either twist their words to mean something they did not say or just restate what you originally said. It gets tiresome after awhile.Report

        • Avatar trumwill in reply to Rogue Economist
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          says:

          Your definition of “logical argument” and my definition differ. Your arguments rest on overwhelmingly negative assumptions of those who disagree with you. I was reminded in the course of our comments that, ultimately, every argument is going to come down to how despicable the other side is. Thus, my comment.

          If you can’t find people with which you disagree to have conversations with, I’m not sure that’s on the shoulders of everybody else.Report

          • Avatar Rogue Economist in reply to trumwill
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            says:

            I present a reasoned argument why the Tea Party structure and political stances are similar to that of the Know-Nothings. Replace the word Irish with the word Mexican and you’re 90% there.

            Rather than answer, you insist my points are not worth “remotely serious discussion.”

            If that’s the case, if the Tea Party aren’t full of nativists, then take it up with your hero George W.Report

            • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Rogue Economist
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              says:

              “I present a reasoned argument why the Tea Party structure and political stances are similar to that of the Know-Nothings. “

              Except that you actually didn’t.

              You used “tea partiers = know nothings” as a rebuttal to Will saying that different tea party groups are largely autonomous and are not a single organization. You may have gone through many steps to get from Will’s point about “some tea party groups being different from other tea party groups” to “tea partiers = know nothings” in your head, but those steps were just that: in your head.

              It was a truly bizarre non-sequitor, and since you seem to be asking everyone and their brother why no one responded to it, may I suggest this may be the reason why.Report

        • Avatar Rod Engelsman in reply to Rogue Economist
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          says:

          Dude, you’re the cartoon liberal around here.

          First of all, unless you’re a sock-puppet, you haven’t been here nearly long enough to have any kind of feel for the actual positions of most of those guys on various subjects.

          Second, I’m a pretty bog-standard liberal in my sentiments at least, if not my policy prescriptions, and I’ve had many enjoyable, respectful, and even productive conversations with all of the above (with the possible exception of Brandon, and I attribute that more to personality clash). By and large these guys do not hold to extreme or cartoonish libertarianism.

          There always seem to be one or two hanging around. Right now it’s you on the left and Art Deco on the right, bogging down the comment threads with much more heat than light, and providing the rest of us with examples of “cartoonism” at its finest.Report

        • Avatar Dave in reply to Rogue Economist
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          says:

          Rogue Economist,

          Given that none of them will bother to engage and I have yet to see Hanley do anything but troll

          I am left to wonder if there is an honest individual in this entire sad assortment.

          https://ordinary-times.com/commenting-policy/

          If you’re that concerned about the character of the people here, then please post elsewhere.Report

        • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Rogue Economist
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          says:

          You calling out Will for making non-logical, ad-hominem attacks on others might be my favorite comment on this site ever.

          Seriously, that was fishing awesome.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Rogue Economist
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          says:

          “Rogue Diogenes”Report

        • Avatar Shazbot5 in reply to Rogue Economist
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          says:

          I am more liberal than thou, and I want you to go away.Report

        • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Rogue Economist
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          says:

          Given that none of them will bother to engage

          With you. Won’t bother to engage with you.Report

      • Avatar Rogue Economist in reply to Stillwater
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        says:

        One exception. Jason Kuznicki has offered me a well thought-out response, once. It’s still sad that when I responded to his points in kind, even taking the time to secure a definitive response to a question he requested the answer to, he couldn’t be bothered do the simple courtesy of acknowledging the response.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Stillwater
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        says:

        Hanley (when he’s not trolling

        The irony is thick with this one.Report

    • Avatar Chris in reply to Rogue Economist
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      says:

      I’ve encountered three general types of self-identified libertarians: the old school, southern libertarians who I knew growing up, and know to this day, who are socially conservative (a lot of them are old school southern racists, but not all of them), reflexively anti-government (to the point of paranoia, as indicated by their posts on Facebook and email forwards about FEMA camps and the government buying up ammunition to take their guns), gun-toting, usually ex-military (often retired with a military pension, so they were in the military for a while), pro-military and definitely not anti-interventionist, often (paradoxically?) working for the state of federal governments, and so on. I’m sure we’ve all met them. When they’re not raging racists, they tend to be pretty cool people, even if I’ve always felt like they’re living in the past. They like to party, they often have what I would consider odd hobbies or pet projects (I used to know one who had an M3 General Lee in his back yard), and if you need help, they’ll be the first ones to offer it. This type has a lot of strong political ideas, but rarely has much in the way of policy knowledge, so if you wanted to have an intellectual discussion about libertarianism, they’d be the wrong people to go to.

      The second type I’ve met largely through academia, though there are a bunch of this sort in the tech world too I think. They’re exceptionally smart people who specialize in something other than economics or political science/policy, who’ve read a lot (a whole lot, mostly non-fiction, because fiction is a waste of time), who may or may not have liked Rand at 17 but have moved on if they did. These people tend to be anti-war, pro-legalization (and they may have been known to partake of illegal substances, and not just pot), anti-government intervention in the economy, anti-police state, often as you put it asymptotically approaching anarchism (if they’re not already there), with high levels of knowledge of history, politics, policy, and theory (and maybe economics). Many of them could probably argue circles around both you and me on these subjects. You should definitely talk to this sort if you want to understand libertarianism.

      The third type I’ve been around, mostly on the internet, are what we might call professional libertarians, either people in economics, law, or a related field (or like Jason, working in a libertarian think tank) whose work promotes libertarian ideas. These people also tend to be really, really smart, and really, really well read, less socially-inept than the previous group, but also a bit more myopic (as specialists tend to be). In my experience, this group tends to be significantly further from anarchism than the previous group, and probably as a result of this, more politically active. Their policy positions overlap a lot with the second group. Their thinking is the least amenable to cartoonization, because they do this for a living, so they know how to cover all of their bases. I haven’t known a lot of these people socially, so I’m not sure if they party well, but Jason certainly sounds like he knows his food and liquor, so if he is representative, I imagine I’d be crashing their parties if I did know them socially. Oh, and this group often has money (the two previous groups may not have a lot). These are also people who, on these issues, can in many cases argue circles around you and me, so I’d recommend talking to them too.

      Now, these groups don’t have hard and fast boundaries, so there are overlaps (Jason, for example, came out of a history department, and now works for Cato, so he has at least at some points probably spanned the boundaries between two and three). The first group also has a lot of overlap with movement conservatives, which, if you find movement conservative distasteful, probably means you’ll find their world views distasteful. Some in each group might be genuine FYIGM libertarians (I’ve known a few in the first two groups, for sure), but most of them are people who actually care about this stuff, a lot, and who are very engaged and engaging. I honestly think that you’d benefit from getting to know some of each.Report

      • Avatar Rogue Economist in reply to Chris
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        says:

        As said to Stillwater, I’d love to. I have yet to see any of them genuinely engage here.Report

        • Avatar Patrick in reply to Rogue Economist
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          says:

          I have. So now the question is one of observer bias.

          Perhaps you should start by looking at conversations where libertarians *have* engaged with conservative or liberal people here, and see how that worked out. And then try the approaches used by those conservative or liberal people. Especially given that a lot of the commentors have pointed out that they don’t like engaging with you… you know… that might be an indicator that it’s something you can fix.Report

      • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Chris
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        says:

        Oh, and this group often has money (the two previous groups may not have a lot).

        Do think tanks pay better than I thought? I would have guessed that group two would be the highest-earning one. In fact, I know a guy who went from two to three and then back to two again because he needed the money.

        but Jason certainly sounds like he knows his food and liquor, so if he is representative, I imagine I’d be crashing their parties if I did know them socially.

        Typical leftist—no respect for property rights, and always on the lookout for a free lunch.Report

  16. Avatar D.A. Ridgely
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    says:

    Well, I haven’t bothered to see if I could pass an ideological Turing test — there are those who probably suspect I couldn’t pass a regular Turing test — and I do suspect social justice is an incoherent concept, but only because I think justice is an incoherent concept and adding “social” to it doesn’t help. Otherwise, I’m happy to report that the remaining fifteen litmus tests do not apply to me, at least not obviously.

    FWIW, I don’t think libertarians, however described or defined, have a lock on either cartoonish shallowness or self criticism. Ideologues of any sort usually fall into the first category if only because ideologies of any sort usually require an unhealthy dose of cognitive dissonance as the price of admission.Report

    • Avatar Rod Engelsman in reply to D.A. Ridgely
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      says:

      …I do suspect social justice is an incoherent concept, but only because I think justice is an incoherent concept and adding “social” to it doesn’t help.

      I’m sure one of our resident philosophers, like Murali or Stillwater, could offer a better account, but on one level it seems to me that justice is roughly about fairness but has a more formal and legalistic flavor to it.

      As I understand it, the Thomistic philosophers identified four principal kinds of justice: Commutative, Restorative, Retributive, and Spiritual. We can dispense with the last for our purposes here since it’s specific to Catholic theology. Commutative is about justice in exchange; basically, fair dealings in the marketplace. Restorative and Retributive are about criminal justice; restitution and punishment.

      Social justice got tacked on later as an addendum to Commutative; it deals with justice in distributions. It’s about the moral side of economics. It’s where you overlay questions of right and wrong over the positivist substrate of economic “what is.”

      It’s also what we spend about 90% of our time arguing about in the political sphere. If you don’t have some conception of social justice–and everybody has one, even libertarians despite their protests–you really have no basis on which to judge the rightness or wrongness of things.Report

      • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Rod Engelsman
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        says:

        What he means, I suspect, is that all definitions of justice are arbitrary. We may like certain types of behavior to be rewarded or punished in certain ways, but there’s no sense in which these preferences can be said to be objectively correct. They’re ultimately just preferences.Report

        • Avatar Rod Engelsman in reply to Brandon Berg
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          says:

          Really? I admit it can look a lot like that around the edges, but is a statement like “It would be wrong to put a bullet in Brandon Berg’s head just to watch him die.” really just an expression of a preference? (Admittedly a strong preference on your part. :P)

          Now I don’t hanker to most objective accounts of morality any more than you apparently do. I’ve more or less settled on an account of intuition forged by evolution. But even so, it seems to me that there’s more to morality and justice than just a kind of aesthetic preference.Report

        • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Brandon Berg
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          says:

          but there’s no sense in which these preferences can be said to be objectively correct. They’re ultimately just preferences.

          So, the benefits society derives from a regime of protected property rights isn’t objectively correct? You sure you want to go down that road, BB?Report

          • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Stillwater
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            says:

            Correct. People can be objectively wrong about policy, but only by being objectively wrong about the likely effects of different policies. For example, if someone supports the abolition of private property because he thinks it will make the average person much wealthier, that’s objectively wrong. But if he supports the abolition of private property because he wants to throw the world into deep poverty, then that’s not objectively wrong.

            It’s not a plan I strongly endorse, nor is it something that I think any but a very small minority of the population would endorse, but in what sense can I say that my preferences are right and his are wrong?Report

            • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Brandon Berg
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              says:

              But if he supports the abolition of private property because he wants to throw the world into deep poverty, then that’s not objectively wrong.

              So, there is an objective standard by which a rights regime can be measured.

              Whew!

              Look, no one would dispute that a preference is a subjectively determined psychological state. I’d like to think, tho, that rights aren’t preferences (tho people can have preferences for them!) and that they in fact are objective features of the world. Maybe I’m wrong about that. Do you think I’m wrong about that?Report

              • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Stillwater
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                says:

                I don’t believe in rights anymore. I tried to come up with a rigorous proof for my theory of rights, and I realized that it just couldn’t be done without fudging the fundamentals. Then I read some stuff by other philosophers, and saw that they were all fudging the fundamentals.

                I don’t want to get killed. And I don’t particularly want to kill anyone else. In fact, I have a pretty strong preference for a world where people don’t go around killing each other. So I’m in favor of social norms against murder, and punishing people who commit murder. But that’s about as much as I can say without just making stuff up.

                In what sense do you mean that rights are objective features of the world?Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Brandon Berg
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                says:

                and punishing people who commit murder.

                Well, there’s your pathway to rights. Are you justified in punishing people who commit murder? If yes, then you have a theory of rights. If no, then you don’t. But presumably you think punishing murders is justified, yes?

                If you’ve read my comments on rights then you know I have a very skeptical view of them as well. Their constructs, in my view. But being a construct doesn’t mean they aren’t real.Report

              • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Stillwater
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                says:

                Justified in the sense that it helps further the realization of my preferences. But not morally justified, because I don’t believe in moral justification.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Brandon Berg
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                says:

                Pragmatically justified, given individual preferences. Presumably, no one wants to be murdered. No one wants to have their stuff taken from them. And so on.

                Rights are constructs which limit, via force!, the types of actions individuals in a society can engage in. Tim K thinks they’re self-evident and a priori knowable. Jason K thinks they necessarily follow from considerations of human nature. Roger thinks they’re justified purely pragmatically. I agree with Roger on this one. But their effects in practice on a society are measurable in any case.

                So rights might accord with individual preference, but they are distinct from it. Or so it seems to me.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Brandon Berg
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                says:

                Did I make you read my moral theory? If so, I’ll shut up and go back to vacuuming the stairs.

                (Edit: Brandon, I mean.)Report

              • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Brandon Berg
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                says:

                Jaybird:
                I don’t think so. But you should still finish vacuuming the stairs. They’re filthy!

                Stillwater:
                But aren’t “rights” then just conventions we choose to enforce, rather than something that objectively exists? Also, in practice, the concept of rights seems to me to be used mostly as an appeal to higher authority. If rights are merely conventional, then they’re up for debate.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Brandon Berg
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                says:

                Alright, I finished. I even used the triangle tool on them.

                In any case, my attempt to find “morality” in a universe without an architect is here.Report

              • Avatar Shazbot3 in reply to Brandon Berg
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                says:

                So you don’t have a belief about whether, say, the claim “Slavery was morally justified.” is true. You just prefer no slavery, but someone else’s preferences are as good as yours.

                Also, the social contract can be a thing, even if the ontological status of it is very weird. I don’t know what the number five is (a Platonic entity, the set of all sets with five members, some spatial relation, etc.), but that doesn’t mean that there is such a thing as the number 5. Just because the ontolgical details of an account of what something is are fuzzy, doesn’t mean that there isn’t such a thing.

                Morality is a consequence of the social contract, which is a construct of rational beings who mutually recognize the value of all sentient, conscious creatures that they could imagine being. Something like that.Report

              • Avatar Rod Engelsman in reply to Brandon Berg
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                says:

                Brandon,
                I see rights as kind of mutually granted privileges. I’ll agree not to kill you if you agree not to kill me, I’ll agree not to take your stuff if you agree not to take mine, etc.

                Now, the thing here is, incentives matter. For this sort of mutualism to function stably, what I get out of the deal has to at least feel roughly proportional to what you get out of the deal. Conversely, large disparities in wealth break down this mutual regard. Demanding that the poor person strictly respect the property rights of the wealthy person may or may not comport with a particular moral vision, but it simply fails the test of “what works.”Report

              • Avatar Shazbot3 in reply to Brandon Berg
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                says:

                Also, is there anything wrong with medical testing on people born with severe cognitive disabilities? If everyone preferred that it happened, wouldn’t it still be wrong?

                If the people with severe cognitive disabilities couldn’t advocate for their rights, if they couldn’t conceive of a right, wouldn’t it still be wrong? Or is that just my preference?

                It is always shocking to me how many right-leaning people are total moral relativists, which was once the province of the hard-core hippy left.Report

              • Avatar Shazbot3 in reply to Brandon Berg
                Ignored
                says:

                I mean, that doesn’t mean that there is no such thing as the number 5.

                I iz bad typer.Report

              • Avatar kenB in reply to Brandon Berg
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                says:

                If everyone preferred that it happened, wouldn’t it still be wrong?

                How do you define “wrong”? How do you determine it? If it’s possible for something to be “wrong” when everyone including you thinks it’s right, then how can you have any confidence in any of your own moral judgments?Report

              • Avatar Roger in reply to Brandon Berg
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                says:

                Rod,

                Why the focus just on inequality of wealth? What about inequality of intellect? Rhetorical skills? Family connections? Political influence? Sex partners? Health?Report

              • Avatar Rod Engelsman in reply to Brandon Berg
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                says:

                Why the focus just on inequality of wealth? What about inequality of intellect? Rhetorical skills? Family connections? Political influence? Sex partners? Health?

                Roger, I’m going to assume for the moment that it’s early in the a.m. for you and you haven’t had a cup of coffee yet. Otherwise my reply would be substantially snarkier.

                We were talking about rights. Property rights are a cornerstone of libertarian and conservative political/economic theory. It’s precisely what gets you all upset at liberals. When’s the last time you heard anyone claim a right to any of these other things you listed? Indeed, how would that even work anyway? The closest you might be able to come historically would be “sex partners” when women were basically treated as chattel. And don’t confuse the claim that some make to a right to healthcare with a right to health itself. (And your objection to a claim to a right to healthcare would be founded on property rights anyway.)

                So I’m just going to charitably assume you’re not fully awake and also that you’re not actually that obtuse. Have a nice one, dude!Report

              • Avatar LWA in reply to Brandon Berg
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                says:

                Brandon I am sure you are sincere in your belief that you make perfect logical sense- but for the rest of the people who read this, it reads like cartoon libertarianism in its most pure form.

                That is, a terribly bright and well-educated man, struggling mightily to grasp and comprehend the most basic fundamental assumptions and beliefs that the rest of the world shares. All this, while failing to see how odd and bizarre it sounds to human ears.Report

              • Avatar Roger in reply to Brandon Berg
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                says:

                Thanks for the hospitality. It was early, but I’ve now had more than enough coffee, and the same question holds.

                The conversation was about the nature of morality and rights, with property as an example. Your comment started with the example of right to life and the non aggression principle (which was the original BHL topic that Murali is riffing off of). But yes, I see you did delve specifically into property rights.

                On a side note, I disagree that property rights are a cornerstone.  I think they are great conventions. I am aware that many libertarians try to build up a coherent philosophy on property rights, but I find the approach misguided, to say the least. 

                Anyways, to clarify, my question aims at your comment that rights are mutually granted privileges or as I call them shared conventions.  I disagree that conventions require roughly equivalent or proportionate outcomes. I view a game as fair if the rules are fair and impartial even if in the act of playing one side gets a hundred points and the other gets zero. Granted, if one side always wins, I would suspect that maybe the rules are not fair, but this would just be one hypothesis of many.  Another being that one side is following a losing strategy.

                The poor depend upon fair rules and opportunity more than the rich, and have more to gain from property conventions than the wealthy. Historically, it is the poor that have gained the most.

                In brief, I fail to see why large disparities of wealth make property rights a bad mutually shared convention as well as why this particular disparity is more important than intellect, health, political connections and so forth.  Perhaps you could clarify.

                I suspect some of the difference in opinion is that I see property conventions as great proven tools leading to the expansion of wealth, rather than as a zero sum game. In other words, I am not battling the wealthy for a share of a set amount of existing wealth as much as I am trying to create more. Property “rights” are essential in doing so.Report

              • Avatar Jam3s Aitch in reply to Brandon Berg
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                says:

                but for the rest of the people who read this,

                Please don’t presume to speak for all of us.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Brandon Berg
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                says:

                That is, a terribly bright and well-educated man, struggling mightily to grasp and comprehend the most basic fundamental assumptions and beliefs that the rest of the world shares. All this, while failing to see how odd and bizarre it sounds to human ears.

                Over on the Journeys in Alterity site, there was a discussion between Catholics and atheists about how Catholicism is obviously the church founded by Christ. Listening to Catholics tell me about the special relationship between Jesus and Peter (the First Pope) is surprisingly similar to reading about the fundamental assumptions and beliefs that the rest of the world shares.

                If the emperor appears nude to me, is it incumbent upon me to agree with my neighbors on the quality of his finery? Because being told about how everybody else is in agreement about the quality of his finery is one of those things that goes straight over my head.

                I mean, sure, maybe you see an awesome outfit. I can’t rule it out.

                But, from here, the dude’s swinging in the breeze. And being told how, seriously, everybody is in agreement that he isn’t tells me more about everybody in agreement than it tells me about his outfit.Report

              • Avatar Roger in reply to Brandon Berg
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                says:

                Yeah, LWA, tell us more why it seems odd and bizarre. Just asking… I may or may not agree, I need to know more.Report

              • Avatar Jam3s Aitch in reply to Brandon Berg
                Ignored
                says:

                @Roger,
                I disagree that property rights are a cornerstone. I think they are great conventions. I am aware that many libertarians try to build up a coherent philosophy on property rights, but I find the approach misguided, to say the least.

                Exactly. But I’ve lost all hope and am sure it will fall on deaf ears here. If it’s not simply ignored because if its inconvenience, it will be taken as evidence that you’re actually just a garden-variety liberal.Report

              • Avatar Rod Engelsman in reply to Brandon Berg
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                says:

                LWA, I don’t think that’s really fair to Brandon. I share his skepticism in the reality of some kind of objective morality and, by extension, a system of rights. There is no world of Platonic ideal forms. I understand people that want to point to Scriptures but that isn’t universalizable.

                But I also think calling moral precepts mere preferences unnecessarily trivializes something incredibly important.

                A more interesting question to me is to ask ‘Why do people gravitate toward accounts of objective morality?’ Why do we speak of self-evident truths in the moral sphere?

                The only coherent explanation I find is that evolutionary pressures of group and kin selection have endowed us with certain psychological traits, primarily empathy and a sense of fairness, that are expressed in the form of moral intuitions. In-group/out-group dynamics also play heavily into this.

                These are the self-evident truths that undergird accounts of “objective” morality. The reason Brandon couldn’t derive a logically rigorous system of rights is that he was unwilling to treat these moral intuitions as axiomatic, insisting instead that they be derivable from more basic precepts. Well, they are, in a way. They’re derived from the mathematical laws of natural selection applied to a certain kind of social animal. It should be noted as well that this account is perfectly compatible with accounts of objective morality that proceed from assumptions of the “nature of man.” Because the nature of man is the product of… natural selection!

                Now you don’t have to take the word of a dumb old truck driver, but it works for me and I’m sticking with it.Report

              • Avatar Roger in reply to Brandon Berg
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                says:

                Awesome comment at 11:45, Rod. My favorite of the thread.Report

              • Avatar Roger in reply to Brandon Berg
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                says:

                James,

                Have you noticed how nobody seems to represent this view over at BHL though? They really are assuming rights are objective and the emperor is wearing clothes.Report

              • Avatar Jam3s Aitch in reply to Brandon Berg
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                says:

                I neve go over to BHL, so I couldn’t say. I read a few posts first time I heard of them, but somehow it didn’t catch my interest, and I never even think about them unless someone mentions them. So I really have no impression of them, good or bad.Report

              • Avatar LWA in reply to Brandon Berg
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                says:

                The reason this all sounds so bizarre is that concepts like “rights” are for most people a foundational assumption; It is Day 1, Chapter 1, Page 1 of Moral Philosophy for most people.
                Yet here we are Brandon telling us that after much thought and struggle, after considerable thinking and study, he has concluded that we shouldn’t go around killing each other.

                And yes, I did read the various posts postulating how terribly deep and philosophical this is, how we can never really know what “reality” is, but that just makes it worse; when you challenge the foundational works of moral philosophy, I would expect a cogent and well presented argument not navel-gazing.
                Yet all we get is an airy nonchalant statement, tossed out like a bon mot at an after hours dorm room session.

                Which makes it difficult to take seriously- it is a half-formed thought, without any evidence presented that he has thought through the consequences of its logical ends.

                Roger’s follow up is even worse yet- it reads like one of those clever Slate contrarian pieces that in the first paragraph challenge conventional widsom (“Everything You Thought About X is Wrong”) but then by the end reaffirm the most bland conventional wisdom possible (But You Should Treat It Like It Is Right Anyway”).

                Are these serious thoughts, intended to postulate a world different than we live in now? I’m not seeing anything like that.Report

              • Avatar Jam3s Aitch in reply to Brandon Berg
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                says:

                concepts like “rights” are for most people a foundational assumption

                Argumentum ad populum.Report

              • Avatar Roger in reply to Brandon Berg
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                says:

                Not sure why you are so dismissive of a series of, by necessity, brief internet comments. Do you expect us to tear down the dominant paradigms and illusions of our age in a comment or two?

                Granted this doesn’t mean we are right, but I would think a fair shake would be for you to ask us to present our full arguments. I think Rod has done a good job in his 11:45 comment of getting it started.

                Yes, I believe that our moral sense is an objectively real evolved response to living in small bands of hunter gatherers. It involves a class of actions toward others that are best treated as sacrosanct, because treating them pragmatically leads to suboptimal results in terms of survival and marriage quality. In evolutionary terms, it is a good trick. Emphasis on GOOD.

                My thoughts were influenced greatly by the writings of Richard Joyce (The Evolution of Morality) and Christopher Boehm ( Moral Origins).Report

              • Avatar Shazbot5 in reply to Brandon Berg
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                says:

                Well, all of you have some pretty bizarre meta-ethical views.

                I recommend reading RM Hare. He might have got some of the details wrong, but he explains “what morality is” in a way that allows you to deny the ontological reality of morality as a thing, while also seeing how we all have a reason to act morally, as long as we are rational. (Jaybird would like his view, I think, especially.)

                For Hare, we all have a concept of what the term “is moral” means. It means that we prescribe the act described as moral, but we prescribe that everyone does it, universally. Our concept of morality is a concept of a universal prescription.

                And it is clear that there are such things prescriptions and some of them are universal. Prescriptions are like commands. “Go to the dentist” is a command. That is a command that my wife has prescribed to me. It is.

                Of course, the ontological status of a prescription as a mental state or abstract rule is as difficult to determine as the ontological status of the number 5. But there is such a thing as a.) the number 5, b.) the proposition that the cat is on the mat, and c.) the prescription that you should not murder a person for pleasure.

                A more important question than the ontological status of morality is whether we can explain why we all oght to follow moral rules. Hare’s explanation is (like Kant’s, Jesus’s, and Jaybird’s) fairly simple. If you assume that you are a person and there are prescriptions that you make universally, then if you have a reason to want others to follow those prescriptions, then you have a reason to want yourself to follow those prescriptions. Clearly, you do have a reason to want to have others (universally) not do (or to do) X, Y, and Z to you, so you have a reason not to do (or to do) X, Y, and Z to others.

                Hare points out that you could encounter a psychopath who says, I recognize that I have a reason to want others to treat me this way, but I don’t feel that the same applies to how I should treat others. This person does not believe that the prescription applies to them.

                There is a kind of logical consistency to this psychopathic position. But Hare suggests that to maintain this consistency, the psycho needs to either a.) justify how he is different from others in that the rules apply to others but not him or b.) not understand that the prescription is universal.

                But you never will find a good reason to believe a.). You could try to say “I am more loved by God.” or “I am of a superior race” but these claims will always themselves be unjustified, as we have seen throughout history.” And Hare argues that if you believe b.) that means you simply don’t understand the concept of a universal prescription (which may be true of the true psychopath.) But the rest of us do have a concept of universal prescriptions, so we do have a reason to follow universal prescriptions,

                Hare concludes that if he is right about meta-ethics, we should all be preference utilitarians. IMO, this is what Jaybird has missed. You do have a reason to treat others a certain way: to not kill them, not steal from them, not enslave them. But you also have a duty to treate them a certain way also. You would want to be saved if you were drowing and a healthy person who could swim well walked by. The person walking by is no different, morally speaking, than the drowning person. So, when we universalize, we get the claim that the swimmer ought to save the drowner as a moral duty.Report

              • Avatar Shazbot5 in reply to Brandon Berg
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                says:

                I mean to say that Hare shows that morality is a kind of prescription or command. And commands are like propositions. What is the ontological status of propositions like “I have seven dollars.” or “2+2 is 4” or “This sentence is English.”?

                I don’t know. They are abstract entities. And commands and prescriptions abstract too. Do they exist? Yeah. Are they “things”? Meh, depends on what you mean by “thing.” Does it matter mich whether prescriptions are things for determining if we all have a reason to follow them? No.Report

              • Avatar LWA in reply to Brandon Berg
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                says:

                The argumentum ad populum is meant to illustrate why this seems unusual, strange, and bizarre. That is, nearly everyone in the world believes differently than Brandon.
                Maybe everyone in the world is wrong; but in any case, tossing out something like this then pretending to be surprised that people edge away from you on the bus is naive.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Brandon Berg
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                says:

                Do you expect us to tear down the dominant paradigms and illusions of our age in a comment or two?

                No, that would take an 80-page speech in the middle of a 500-page novel.Report

              • Avatar j@m3z Aitch. in reply to Brandon Berg
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                says:

                LWA,

                If all you had been trying to do was comment on how unsurprising it is that people react poorly to Brando’s claims, I’d buy your latest comment. But I don’t think that’s all you were doing. It looked to me like the argumentum ad populum was part and parcel of your critique of his claims.Report

              • Avatar j@m3z Aitch. in reply to Brandon Berg
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                says:

                Mike,

                For a second I thought you were talking about Tolstoy. Then I realized you were talking about only a 500 page novel.Report

              • Avatar Roger in reply to Brandon Berg
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                says:

                Great comment Shazbot.

                I agree with you and Mr Hare that we all have “a reason to act morally.” I agree we share concepts of what morality is and that we view them as universals.  Immorality is not just something which is unaccepted, it is unacceptable. It is something which should not be done, even when or especially when it would be pragmatic to do so.  

                The place where I part with Hare is on his assumptions on the importance of logical consistency.  He is sneaking in a value from logic and science into human behavior.  Where I agree with him is that in game theory, it makes sense to agree to play by a set of fair and universal rules. If we don’t apply the rules to ourselves, we can’t expect others to either, and we know that if we cheat, eventually the game will be over as we are sure to be discovered sooner or later.

                The scoring for this game has of course been evolution within a Paleolithic environment. We are evolved to treat morality as an objective thing.  It is a good trick which, with proper protocols and institutions can be built into a very successful society. 

                I believe that target for social conventions and institutions is to find the sweet spot where egoism, altruism and utilitarianism intersect. In this place, people do not steal, harm others, project intolerance, or fail to save drowning children,and government’s share of GDP is never more than 14.7% It is of course an ideal, or in Jaybird’s term a vector, more than a destination.Report

              • Avatar Shazbot5 in reply to Brandon Berg
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                says:

                A more charitable interpretation of LWA’s claim is that we all (save the psychopath) have strong intuition that some actions are immoral (even if we might be tempted to engage in them in times of trouble).

                Intuition can be (arguably) used to prove some very basic things. For example, the only way to disprove philosophical solipsism (the theory that only I and my experience exist) is to say we all have an intuition that the world exists. Or similarly, intuition tells us that reason sometimes yelds the truth, and so we believe that reason will sometimes give us the truth.

                There is a question about how far intuition goes, of course. I can’t use intuition to prove there are other planets outside of the solar system. But I don’t think you can just dismiss the argument that we have intuition that there are some truths about morality, so therefore there are such truths simply by saying it is an argument ad populum.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Brandon Berg
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                says:

                Dude. I will check him out.Report

              • Avatar j@m3z Aitch. in reply to Brandon Berg
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                says:

                I don’t think you can just dismiss the argument that we have intuition that there are some truths about morality, so therefore there are such truths simply by saying it is an argument ad populum.

                I’m not dismissing the underlying claim on that basis I have other bases for that). I was just pointing out that a good argument for that claim cannot be derived from the brute fact that most people believe it.

                Or let me put it this way. If someone wants to persuade us skeptics that there are objective moral truths in this universe, the arguments “because God” and “everyone feels that way” are probably not the best lines of approach.

                Sure, there are moral feelings that are probably more or less universal–a product of our evolutionary past, rather than being mere cultural artefacts. But they don’t rise to the level of objective truth because of that. And given our species’ propensity for hating and killing the “other,” I’m dubious that that “we all feel that way” is, by itself, a very satisfactory standard for adjudging the value of moral claims: certainly it’s not one we want to apply with a foolish consistency.Report

              • Avatar Shazbot5 in reply to Brandon Berg
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                says:

                Fair enough James,

                Intuition alone doesn’t prove that there objective moral truths like rape and murder are morally wrong.

                But we do have some acts that we want all persons to engage in, universally,intheir dealings with us. If we recognize that we are no different, in any way relevant to how we should treat others than how others should treat us, then we have a reason to treat others in certain ways. We have duties and obligations that are rational.

                This system of prescriptions that determines our duties and rights might not be a thing that exists in space-time like a table or a chair, but it is clearly “there,” just like the number 5 or the proposition that the cat is on the mat is “there.” (What are numbers, propositions, commands, contracts, laws, intentional states, etc.? I have no idea, but they are there.)

                Some propositions are rational to believe. All people ought to believe them. So too some prescriptions are rational and all people ought to follow them, universally.Report

              • Avatar LWA in reply to Brandon Berg
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                says:

                My comments are not intended to persuade Brandon and Hanley of the rightness of my viewpoint, so much as to illustrate why this is cartoonish;

                A bunch of intellectuals, who after much thought and deliberation, having read Sartre, Kant, Hume, and Locke, are tentatively of the opinion that walking into a preschool with a Bushmaster and opening fire is- ceteris parebus- a suboptimal outcome or at least, not a preferred outcome. For them as individuals, of course, and not necessarily to be applied universally.

                However, the debate is still to be had, so alternate realities are still possible.Report

              • Avatar j@m3z Aitch. in reply to Brandon Berg
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                says:

                Shazbot–I fully agree with your second paragraph, and can’t see how it is substantively different from Roger’s game-theoretic approach.

                LWA–It’s rather impressive–every time you decide something is cartoonish, you manage to present it in a way that really does look cartoonish.Report

              • Avatar Shazbot4 in reply to Brandon Berg
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                says:

                Not sure, James.

                On my account, morality is objective. Moreover, on my account, it is rational to act in certain ways, just as it is rational to believe that “2+2 = 4”. Finally, my account is true, regardless of what turns out to be true about evolution and the biological origins of reason and evolution.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Brandon Berg
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                says:

                LWA–It’s rather impressive–every time you decide something is cartoonish, you manage to present it in a way that really does look cartoonish.

                Well, when viewed from a certain perspective Brandon’s views are pretty cartoonish. It may be disrespectful to present them as cartoonish, of course. And if you made that argument I’d agree with you. But that’s not what you argued. So I don’t agree.Report

              • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to Brandon Berg
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                says:

                Find me something that doesn’t look cartoonish from some angle, particularly the angle of people determined to see it that way. Then get back to me. Or just chalk my arguments up to more trolling and just forget we had this conversation.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Brandon Berg
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                says:

                Arguments? ARGUMENTS?

                I didn’t see no stinkin arguments!!Report

              • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to Brandon Berg
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                says:

                Trolls don’t make arguments, right?Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Brandon Berg
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                says:

                I think I’ll get out of this convo while the gettin’s good. Your efforts are noted, tho. I’d hate for you to think they went unnoticed.Report

              • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to Brandon Berg
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                says:

                Ummm…OK? I don’t really understand, but I don’t really care enough to ask.Report

              • Avatar Rod Engelsman in reply to Brandon Berg
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                says:

                Roger, sorry I didn’t follow up on this earlier, so let me do so here.

                On a side note, I disagree that property rights are a cornerstone. I think they are great conventions. I am aware that many libertarians try to build up a coherent philosophy on property rights, but I find the approach misguided, to say the least.

                Good. And I’m also glad that James H. is in agreement.

                It should be noted I believe, that “property rights” and/or “property rights conventions” is an awfully big bucket. There are numerous forms of property with differing characteristics and provenance and all sorts of conventions to describe individuals’ rights therein. For instance, the Soviet system was a “property rights convention” but one which both you and I would strongly disagree. I’m certain that you and I, and likely everyone here, has their own particular conception of what a good and proper property rights regime would look like. Just because I may disagree with your conception in some ways doesn’t mean that I don’t believe them to be important. Quite the opposite, since I hold that a large number of our current economic difficulties are the result of the current property rights conventions.

                Anyways, to clarify, my question aims at your comment that rights are mutually granted privileges or as I call them shared conventions. I disagree that conventions require roughly equivalent or proportionate outcomes. I view a game as fair if the rules are fair and impartial even if in the act of playing one side gets a hundred points and the other gets zero. Granted, if one side always wins, I would suspect that maybe the rules are not fair, but this would just be one hypothesis of many. Another being that one side is following a losing strategy.

                The question isn’t whether the rules are fair from a game-theoretical perspective. The question is whether the rules are such that all, or at least the great majority, of players see the game as worth playing under the current rules.

                The thing is… this isn’t a fucking game. This is real life. And the numbers on the scoreboard have very real consequences. And to put it baldly, your notion of whether the game is fair or not isn’t the only one that matters. Nor does it really matter that much why you’re losing the “game” when you’re living under a bridge and eating out of garbage cans.

                The poor depend upon fair rules and opportunity more than the rich, and have more to gain from property conventions than the wealthy. Historically, it is the poor that have gained the most.

                Again, you’re treating “property conventions” as if it were a fixed, unitary thing inscribed on tablets of stone by the finger of God. And while I can certainly agree with the first clause of your sentence, the second bit is contentious in my mind. Our current property conventions are pretty explicitly designed to lock in gains. Poor people are poor precisely because they have very little property. How exactly are conventions that lock in the property gains of the wealthy helpful to folks with no property?

                In brief, I fail to see why large disparities of wealth make property rights a bad mutually shared convention as well as why this particular disparity is more important than intellect, health, political connections and so forth. Perhaps you could clarify.

                Again, it’s not property rights per se, it’s the current incarnation that’s problematic. Adam Smith in WoN laid it out long ago; three factors of production and three species of revenue. Labor & Wages, Land & Rent, and Capital & Interest.* Our current system of property rights protects the latter two at the expense of Labor/Wages. Wages are taxed much more heavily than Rents and Interest and those disparities only help a small fraction of folks at the top of the pyramid. The system is designed with a positive feedback loop that anyone with a passing acquaintance with control theory would recognize.

                Health and intellect are advantageous but don’t have the positive feedback characteristics of property. And in our current system practically all political connections arise from property ownership as well so that’s a strange on for you to point to.

                I suspect some of the difference in opinion is that I see property conventions as great proven tools leading to the expansion of wealth, rather than as a zero sum game. In other words, I am not battling the wealthy for a share of a set amount of existing wealth as much as I am trying to create more. Property “rights” are essential in doing so.

                Yeah. For the owners of property. If you’re not a property owner and you sign on to this system you’re just another chump. Because the owners of capital and land have it in their power–and they exercise this power!–to effectively confiscate a great deal of the fruits of your labors. It’s just the way the system is set up.Report

              • Avatar Roger in reply to Brandon Berg
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                says:

                Thanks, Rod, another noteworthy comment.

                My take on a successful set of property conventions is one which aligns the interests of the property with the person making the decision. It encourages creativity, productivity, conservation, and efficient tradeoffs and exchange. The rules should be impartial, and it should facilitate widespread, growing prosperity and encourage everyone to enter the game. Societies have been haphazardly experimenting for thousands of years and the ones that currently dominate are proven to work pretty well compared to alternatives.  

                I am not sure what economic difficulties you are concerned with. Worldwide, prosperity and poverty reduction are pretty much as good as they have been since records began. I agree there are growth problems in the West, but see most of the issue as interference with markets not the markets themselves.

                I accept your distinction that the rules need to be fair and impartial and worthwhile for participants to want to play by them. The record for the poor is that those that play by the game tend to quickly emerge out of poverty. The latest stats show about a billion people have risen out of severe poverty in the past decade, a new milestone for humanity. Mr Smith would attribute this to the invisible hand of markets.

                “The thing is… this isn’t a … game. This is real life. And the numbers on the scoreboard have very real consequences. And to put it baldly, your notion of whether the game is fair or not isn’t the only one that matters. Nor does it really matter that much why you’re losing the “game” when you’re living under a bridge and eating out of garbage cans.”

                I agree completely.  Game theory isn’t the study of games, it is the study of interactive decision making, or “the study of mathematical models of conflict and cooperation between intelligent rational decision-makers.” The numbers do matter, such as the fact that the average standard of living has improved conservatively worldwide by a factor of sixteen even while population has increased by sixfold in about two and a half centuries. Or the fact that lifespans of the poor are double or triple over the same period. Or the billion people that emerged out of subsistence levels of poverty in past decade.

                I also agree that my opinion doesn’t mean diddly. What matters is that the participants see it as worthwhile to play by the rules, compared to other potential rules and conventions. 

                I guess my response is the same as it was to CK last month when we talked about markets. If you say that property rights don’t work well, my question back to you is “compared to what?”

                “Our current property conventions are pretty explicitly designed to lock in gains. Poor people are poor precisely because they have very little property. How exactly are conventions that lock in the property gains of the wealthy helpful to folks with no property?”

                Because the conventions also align labor, creativity and ingenuity with property. When I was twenty one, my wife and I moved to Colorado in our twenty year old car and I got a job. I exchanged my labor for wages. My kids did the same when they came of age.  That is what billions of people do, and as above it works substantially better than any other system that I am aware of.  Granted, we could both suggest various improvements and non market support mechanisms to supplement outcomes. 

                “Our current system of property rights protects the latter two at the expense of Labor/Wages. Wages are taxed much more heavily than Rents and Interest and those disparities only help a small fraction of folks at the top of the pyramid. The system is designed with a positive feedback loop that anyone with a passing acquaintance with control theory would recognize.”

                So your argument is over taxation, more than property conventions? My quibbles would be that we need to consider the effects of positive feedback on capital before blindly discouraging it via taxes. If higher taxes on capital gains or interest led long term to fewer jobs and more poverty compared to lower taxes, would you still support it? I wouldn’t. In addition, we must consider the time value of money and the treatment of risk and reward. I know of no reason why anyone would assume optimal taxes on interests and rents should be exactly the same as taxes on wages.

                But this misses the point by a mile.  In the US, the taxes on wages for the poor are pretty much zero or even negative. Tax policy is overwhelmingly friendly to the poor, right?

                “Health and intellect are advantageous but don’t have the positive feedback characteristics of property. And in our current system practically all political connections arise from property ownership as well so that’s a strange on for you to point to.”

                The first sentence I disagree with because it assumes incorrectly that the positive feedback only benefits those with property. This is completely wrong. In relatively free markets, Bill Gates converts his billions into more billions by designing new products, investing capital, creating jobs and selling us products which we value more than our hard earned wages. The system is positive sum not just for Bill, but for all of us not competing fairly with him (Apple). I don’t care if Bill is a zillionaire. As long as he does it in a way which also creates prosperity for the rest of us.

                I also disagree that property ownership is the primary type of political connection. Certainly it is one, and I would reduce it and all others by limiting the interference in markets by government. Governments shouldn’t be allowed to design rules, tax rates or subsidies to play favorites. To the extent that Bill or Steve got their wealth by crony capitalism, I oppose it. The problem though isn’t with their wealth, it is with an activist government playing favorites. If the town marshall can be bought with money or favors, he will be. The problem is with the marshall and the institutions, not with wealth. 

                You assume that the poor, who have gained so much via the system, are “chumps” for playing. I would like to know what rules and conventions you recommend instead. What case can you make to persuade them to abandon property “rights”? What does your system’s proven scorecard look like?Report

              • Avatar Roger in reply to Brandon Berg
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                says:

                Bravo Brandon!

                Getting back to the BHL series on NAP, this closely mirrors my reaction to the Bleeding Hearts discussion*. I felt like I was witnessing a heated argument between smart people sharing the same incorrect assumption that as you cleverly highlight “are objective features of the world.”

                Rights are really important social conventions. So important that they need ( in practice) to be treated as objective and sacrosanct. But they aren’t, and trying to build a coherent philosophy on this fallacy gets nowhere.

                *when I started reading the BHL discussion I immediately wrote out a response which pretty much breaks down to what you said more succinctly in the above comment.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Roger
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                says:

                We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

                I know, what crap, right? No wonder this country is so fished up.Report

              • Avatar Roger in reply to Mike Schilling
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                says:

                Not following your argument. Am I supposed to believe the Declaration was a flawless philosophical cornerstone?

                To clarify my argument, I think the above quote reflects excellent conventions upon which to establish a set of institutions. They are best treated as unalienable. They aren’t actually unalienable though.

                In a sentence, rights are a class of conventions which are best treated as sacrosanct, even if they really aren’t.Report

              • Avatar Jam3s Aitch in reply to Mike Schilling
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                says:

                Mike,

                I’m struggling to see how “really important social conventions” gets transmuted into “crap.”Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Mike Schilling
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                says:

                It’s “sel-evident”, “endowed by their Creator”, and “unalienable” that are crap. Jefferson should have made it clear that they’re merely useful fictions. Then the Revolution could have been fought for objective truth.Report

              • Avatar j@m3z Aitch. in reply to Mike Schilling
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                says:

                It’s “sel-evident”, “endowed by their Creator”, and “unalienable” that are crap.

                To be fair, those are. As a matter of logic, they’re not “self-evident” at all, even if they’re very compelling. That “creator” business is little more than an attempt to claim the moral high ground. And “unalienable” is belied by events every day in this country that kinda-sorta began with those words.

                Still doesn’t get you out of the trap you’ve created, which is that you haven’t actually made any meaningful rebuttal to Roger, even with the Jefferson/fictions line. It doesn’t work as an argument, and it didn’t even work as a one-liner.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Mike Schilling
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                says:

                It’s just great that as of 2013 we’ve solved all the philosophical problems that have bedeviled mankind for so long.

                God? Nope.

                Good and evil? Meaningless.

                Meaning of life? Stuff.Report

              • Avatar j@m3z Aitch. in reply to Mike Schilling
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                says:

                One plausible reason we’ve never stopped arguing about those things and come to any kind of consensus is that they don’t actually exist outside the human imagination.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Mike Schilling
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                says:

                You say that is if “Don’t exist outside the human imagination” meant “unimportant”. How many of the things that make your life worthwhile do?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Mike Schilling
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                says:

                “Constructed like gender is constructed” tends to lead to “therefore we should treat it as fluid the way that gender is fluid” and that tends to lead to “therefore I have a right to your time, money, labor, etc”.Report

              • Avatar Roger in reply to Mike Schilling
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                says:

                Oddly, I don’t agree with any of your presumed conclusions. I did not deny God, I do not find good and evil meaningless, and I think materialism is indeed shallow. Perhaps Brandon or James disagrees… Perhaps not.

                One other thing. What year other than 2013 would you expect to find better explanations? If it is any other year, it seems you are expressing cynicism or pessimism on the entire philosophical endeavor. In other words, if philosophical progress is possible, one would expect (or at least hope for) better explanations now than any time in the past….no? (this may not apply to CK, who I believe is very skeptical of the concept of possible progress)Report

              • Avatar Shazbot5 in reply to Mike Schilling
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                says:

                The difference between morality and something like gender is that rational beings with interests (like survival, happiness, etc.) can’t help but think morally. Morality is a consequence of our natures as conscious, rational, reflective beings. It is not constructed by society. It is prior to anything social.Report

              • Avatar Shazbot5 in reply to Mike Schilling
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                says:

                Of course, sex organs are not social constructions either, but how we treat and conceive of people with different sex organs is a social construction.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Mike Schilling
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                says:

                I’m pretty skeptical about philosophical progress too. I think that value of philosophy is that we discuss and think about the big questions, not that we’ll ever answer them in any definitive way.Report

              • Avatar j@m3z Aitch. in reply to Mike Schilling
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                says:

                Morality is a consequence of our natures as conscious, rational, reflective beings. It is not constructed by society. It is prior to anything social.

                If I could quibble, your last two sentences aren’t really using the same referent. I agree with the first, that morality “is not constructed by society.” I.e., morality not as a system but as the moral sense is not constructed by society. But it almost certainly exists only because we are social–it is a product of human evolution, just as, and because of, our evolution as a social species. So not really “prior” to anything social.

                But I think I’m just quibbling with phrasing, not your actual meaning.Report

              • Avatar j@m?z Aitch. in reply to Roger
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                says:

                “really important social conventions.”

                (sorry to yell, but you didn’t seem to hear me…or Roger)Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to j@m?z Aitch.
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                says:

                Like using the right fork, but even moreso.Report

              • Avatar j@m3z Aitch. in reply to j@m?z Aitch.
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                says:

                I’m pretty sure we’re talking past each other at this point.Report

              • Avatar Roger in reply to j@m?z Aitch.
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                says:

                If pinching someone’s butt is basically the same as kidnapping and raping them, yeah. Just like that.Report

              • Avatar Shazbot5 in reply to Roger
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                says:

                Usually, people think of rights as constructions out of reason and rationality: Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, etc. That tradition carries on the contractarians like Rawls and even Nozick, in a way. Thus, all rational peoples have, by their Nature as rational beings, certain rights and governments should be constructed to protect and respect those rights.

                That is one of the big themes of the enlightenment. Even if a culture or a state doesn’t respect rights, those rights are still there. Culture and government don’t determine rights. Human nature as rational beings determine rights.Report

              • Avatar Patrick in reply to Brandon Berg
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                says:

                I don’t believe in rights anymore. I tried to come up with a rigorous proof for my theory of rights, and I realized that it just couldn’t be done without fudging the fundamentals. Then I read some stuff by other philosophers, and saw that they were all fudging the fundamentals.

                Brandon, a lot of things become much clearer. I think I might be able to read you much better from here on out.

                I also think you’ve learned something of the wrong conclusion from the right lesson (but then, I would). All I can say about that is… when coming up to intractable problems, you can assume that they’re intractable because they don’t have a special meaning, or you can assume that they’re intractable because they have a special meaning, or you can assume that they’re intractable because some problems are intractable, and there’s nothing particularly interesting about intractable-ness except intractable-ness.Report

              • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Patrick
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                says:

                Really? To be honest, I think of all this largely as an academic question, and not something that, to my knowledge, significantly influences my thinking on other topics. In practice, there’s overwhelming agreement on a core set of “rights” that most people would like to see protected. And that’s not coincidental—most theories of rights are designed to conform to the theorists’ preferences. Which makes them not at all informative.

                Where the idea that rights aren’t real really matters is in the areas where there’s not universal agreement. Rights not to be taxed, or to have free health care, or free postsecondary education, or the right to smoke crack, or to walk around naked in public. As noted in point 3 above, asserting these rights proves nothing.

                Which is why I got a bit of a chuckle out of LWA’s statement that this, of all things, is what makes me a cartoon libertarian. I’m explicitly rejecting one of the key foundations of cartoon libertarianism.Report

              • Avatar Jam3s Aitch in reply to Brandon Berg
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                says:

                Which is why I got a bit of a chuckle out of LWA’s statement that this, of all things, is what makes me a cartoon libertarian. I’m explicitly rejecting one of the key foundations of cartoon libertarianism.

                This.Report

      • Avatar D.A. Ridgely in reply to Rod Engelsman
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        says:

        Ah, well, I know little about Thomism except indirectly from Aristotle. Ever since Rawls, the notion of justice being in some sense fairness has been in the philosophical air rather like pollen on a Spring day. I’ve little doubt we all do have some conception of what the phrase “social justice” does mean or should mean — note clever shift from positive to normative there! — but we all have some sense of what “unicorn” or “square circle” or “present king of France” means, too.

        One can, of course, stipulate a definition of justice or social justice or brillig and slithy toves, for that matter; the question becomes whether the rest of us buy off on that definition. Anyway, I suspect Murali knows what I meant, as we have discussed these things before. He probably knows also that I have a peculiar sense of humor about such matters.Report

    • Avatar Murali in reply to D.A. Ridgely
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      says:

      and I do suspect social justice is an incoherent concept, but only because I think justice is an incoherent concept and adding “social” to it doesn’t help

      Well, nowadays, social justice is not two words with social modifying the term justice, but rather refers rather specifically to the idea that how well the worst off fare under a particular set of institutions matters in the justification of those institutions.

      Justice nowadays is also primarily regarded as a virtue of institutions and only derivatively as individuals (although I think there are still a few hidebound natural lawyers who may object)

      Things have changed Ridgely, from way back in the stone age when you got your degree. *grin*Report

      • Avatar D.A. Ridgely in reply to Murali
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        says:

        Pish posh! As I noted originally, anyone can stipulate a definition and it may well be that the circles you currently frequent have done exactly that, though it’s hard to tell when the claim is couched in the passive voice. I can’t imagine why anyone would think everything that is philosophically interesting about justice, social or otherwise, could be defined away, but I’ll chalk that up to callow youth in your case. *grin*

        It is true that I’m old enough to have witnessed the faddishness of philosophy. Which raises the following cautionary note: any question that can be settled dispositively is only fleetingly interesting. To paraphrase Sextus Empiricus — and no, there is no truth to the rumor we were schoolmates — eventually, someone will come along and discredit or at least call into serious question every position you now hold to be true. I don’t know who will do it or how, but I agree with him.Report

        • Avatar Murali in reply to D.A. Ridgely
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          says:

          The reasonn I couched it in the passive voice is because definitions can be an emergent phenomonena: A product of human action but not of human design if you will. If the particular circle of people who define social justice in this way dominate the field, others, who disagree with them but still have to account for their objections will also end up adopting that definition because they gain more from adopting the definition than they lose. i.e. the standard coordination game dynamics apply. This causes the definition to spread even to those who are opposed to the idea that the word now points to. I suspect that under such conditions, the definition is likely to be stable. But then hey, what do I know, I’m just a young whipper-snapper, it’s not like I played football with Marcus Aurelius. So, there may very well develop conditions that will destabilise the meaning of social justice. But until that happens, it is undeniable that today, there is a definition that is widely accepted among contemporary political philosophers of all or almost all persuasions.Report

        • Avatar kenB in reply to D.A. Ridgely
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          says:

          To paraphrase Sextus Empiricus …eventually, someone will come along and discredit or at least call into serious question every position you now hold to be true.

          Yes, but this position was subsequently discredited.Report

  17. Avatar Damon
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    says:

    Interesting post. Comments TL/DR (all of them)

    One of my essential arguemnts with both the “left” and “right” is that hypocracy and lack of consistent logic. Bush was the DEVIL for all that torture stuff but when BOB continues the same policy the level of outrage drops to a whisper. This goes for both sides of course for any issue. It’s never about what’s right, it’s about political advantage.

    At least the Libertarians I’ve look into and read were consistent in their application of logic to laws and policy.Report

  18. Avatar Major Zed
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    says:

    Reading #9 makes me angry because it is black type on blue background. That is an Affront To Reason.

    #11 is where it gets interesting. I believe the nature and scope of such alleged duties is the crux of the disagreement between liberals and libertarians. More to the point, when do such duties rise to the level where it is permissible for the aforementioned “others” (or their agents) to compel the performance of such duties? There’s the rub. Is it consistent for me to think that I should give to charity but that the state should not compel me to do so?Report

    • Avatar Murali in reply to Major Zed
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      says:

      Is it consistent for me to think that I should give to charity but that the state should not compel me to do so?

      Yes. It is also consistent to think that you should give to charity, the state should not compel you to do so, and that social safety nets are not about charityReport

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