Today the Mises blog had the occasion of an incredibly pessimistic post by Mr Oliva. I don't agree with its tone, and I think it's counterproductive.
As Barack Obama continues to cry and stomp his feet over his
inability to spend trillions of dollars at whim, those who consider
themselves libertarians face the interminable conflict between optimism
and pessimism. Wendy McElroy
recently addressed this subject and concluded the best course is to opt
out of the debate altogether, "because I am tired to death of caring
deeply about matters over which I have no control."
I have a suggestion then: don't care so much. Libertarians would do well to become somewhat more stoic. I think many of us are too emotionally committed to the idea of changing the world. Why should we be? What do we owe them? If people are too heavily inculcated to liberate themselves from decades of being forcefed nonsense, to the point they cannot even reason properly, should we really be so disenchanted and frustrated at our inability to effect any change in how many of them think? Should this cause us to despair? Why? If anything, libertarians should continue educating the public, in the hope that if not the elders, at least the young will pick up on the mistakes perpetrated by those who exceed them in years (but certainly not wisdom.)
A number of Mises Institute folks have made the case for optimism,
specifically that the current economic situation will lead to a revival
of Austrian thought. Even if that's the case, it will come far too late
to prevent a collapse that has already begun. Ron Paul will not pull
some Austro-libertarian rabbit out of a hat and reverse the centuries
of decay brought about by the Government of the United States.
Individuals who've constructed their entire lives around the lies of
Keynesian mythology and American imperialism won't have an epiphany and
renounce their ways. They will continue marching themselves - and the
rest of us - into economic and political hell.
Stop crying over spilled milk! This is a key Austrian notion with regard to how it views costs. In fact, I think this collapse shall be both instructive and act as a good cathartic. Many people refuse to learn - and they will refuse to learn from it. We cannot stop informing them of their idiocy, so that they later can turn around and say they "didn't know"; they knew, or they chose not to know. The LVMI and many other institutes work ceaselessly to make knowledge of Austrian economics and libertarianism as widespread as possible. Those who ignore it, who choose to listen to the talking heads and the morons on soapboxes instead &c. were warned. Caveat emptor. Let them fall through the cracks. Perhaps such a purge is just what is needed. What we need to do is focus on those willing to listen, silence the naysayers through an intellectual onslaught (show no mercy!) and render socialist and statist ideas as pathetic as they are in their true form, when stripped of emotive rhetoric. Despairing over seemingly unalterable realities is pointless and detracts from this project libertarians can embrace. Libertarians need to toughen up, stop whining and stop despairing when they're not listened to, and instead be more proactive and figure out what they're doing wrong. Even if none of it is our fault - and I'd venture to say very little of it is - we cannot stop our goal of approaching the light, the truth as it were, and leading others to it, whosoever be inclined to follow. Mises, Hayek and Rothbard were adamant in the face of powerful adversity. They suffered far more than any of us pampered brats ever will. We should mimick their example, instead of reducing ourselves to shrivelled, moping gnats.
said, there's certainly a valuable role for organizations like the
Mises Institute and libertarianism in general - but it's to preserve
certain ideas for the benefit of future generations that survive the
current collapse. But make no mistake about it - almost everyone
reading this blog will be dead before any tangible benefits will be
Good, finally a glimmer of hope. Yet it is drowned out in sorrow and self-pity. Why?
Speaking for myself, I know my life has no purpose. I wake up every
day knowing I'm a step closer to financial destitution. I have no
regular income and no prospects on the horizon. I'm simply running out
the clock of my life to an inevitable conclusion. I can accept this
knowing that sometime in the future - maybe 100 or 150 years from now -
humanity will finally be in a position to begin the rebuilding process.
But I also know that nothing I write or say now will have any impact on
that future. And that's true of most libertarians who rant and rail on
a daily basis.
The end-result of excessive idealism: nihilism. Temper your enthusiasm, adopt a more stoic tone, cease taking things personally and desist from bewailing eventualities out of your control. 'Tis very Marxist. I know I have a purpose, of my own making: knowing the truth and helping others reach it, and silencing those who wish to spread nonsense and lies. If failure is striking due to powers outside your control, repurpose your existence and go on living. To the wilfully ignorant and the devious, well as far as I am concerned let them burn in hellfires of their own fabrication...
Tu ne cede malis, sed contra audentior ito.
I'm well over half way into BonJour's excellent book, and have read his rejoinders to objections to the tenability of a moderate rationalist epistemology. I won't concern myself much with these (but I believe he's done an excellent job of deflecting the various criticisms, many of which are ill-conceived, like the charge of "dogmatism"), and will note that unlike many modern philosophers (particularly of the neo-analytic tradition), BonJour takes the notion of concepts seriously. In so doing, he quotes an author who acts as though there's a clear divide between our "concepts" and the world of things and objects. BonJour, in characteristically good sense, poses the question "but why should we think of them this way" (my own words)? He notes we can all agree that the possession of a concept of a given thing X suggests at least that we can think of X's, classify things as X's and often recognize X's in appropriate circumstances. However, why should this lead us to think that concepts are in any way dichotomous with the notion of reality? He asks, if not reality, whence do our concepts ultimately derive? My concept of redness derives from my encountering things which instantiate the property; one may object that the claim that "nothing can be red and green all over, in the same respects", pertains solely to my concept of redness, but why should we think that it follows from this that what is represented in mind is merely some subjective entity and not an objective property of something? With no good answer to count in the favour of such a view, we have no reason to do so. I am glad that BonJour gives such serious consideration to the role of concepts, because many seem to merely gloss over it; yet it is vital for any epistemological viewpoint to take their role most seriously, lest one confuse how that role might be filled. BonJour is of course concerned with concepts and their interrelation with the world conceived of as a ding an sich, and given his criticism of Kant, I think he'd agree that the Kantian worldview (particularly the impositionist strain) is hard-pressed to give a good account of our concepts and their relation to reality without lapsing into subjectivism.
BonJour later, in a section focusing on metaphysical objections to rationalism, goes on to consider the nature of various objects of a priori cognition (e.g. numbers) and recounts some alternative ways of explicating concept-formation. Though he seems to favour a sort of Platonism, he gives positive consideration to the Aristotelian notion of forms being instantiated by various things in the real world, as well as concept empiricism (roughly similar, and closer to the Objectivist epistemology, where abstraction from concretes allows the formation of concepts), and claims that it at least can account for the causal role which abstract concepts figure in justifying various a priori claims. The book should thus be of interest to Aristotelians as well as other rationalists of the moderate sort, for its close examination of various oft-neglected areas of philosophy.
Been a while since I've last compiled one of these, and as I'm taking a break from the forum to catch up on some reading, what better time than now? I'll be rather brief this time round - primarily because I've yet to finish the book in question. At any rate, I'd recommend to anyone interested in epistemological issues to pick up Laurence BonJour's excellent In Defense of Pure Reason. As an author he is anything but unclear or pedantic. He writes in remarkably clear, jargon-free prose (to the extent that the subject allows for, anyway), and is of a kind with Hans Hoppe who is himself known for his rigorous, logical method of presenting arguments.
BonJour's purpose of authoring this fine book is a rehabilitation of rationalism against a growing tide of scepticism and the failed doctrines of radical empiricsm. He does so by first undermining the arguments and rationale for moderate forms of empiricism, e.g. the evocation of the analytic-synthetic dichotomy by moderate empiricists in the defence of their doctrine (which allows them to conflate all a priori truths with analytic truths, which they take to be necessary in virtue of their logical structure or often their meaning, thereby allowing them to entertain a weakened notion of the a priori.) BonJour artfully explodes the doctrine of apriority being tantamount to analyticity, by deftly demonstrating that if such a conflation is made, it allows analyticity no useful role to play, and will at any rate rely on a rationalist notion of intuition (i.e. grasping that the logical truths analytic statement depend on, are, in fact, valid.) Even so innocuous a notion as reasoning (e.g. inference from premises to conclusion) is not free from an element of a priori justifiability, meaning the moderate empiricist is hard-pressed to escape the force of BonJour's arguments. Besides, the notion of analyticity as is commonly advanced (containment of a predicate in the subject) cannot even characterize most obviously analytic truths (e.g. "either A exists or A does not"), and where the notion of meaning or contradiction is borrowed upon, one must first assume the justifiability of the logical truths in question. The author demonstrates how empiricists often equivocate between different meanings of the term "analytic" in defence of their doctrine. He also demonstrates the utter vacuity of the notion of the analytic being a matter of linguistic conventions, as he shows that this cuts no philosophical ice as far as justifiability goes (which is what the a priori is, after all: a form of justification.) Most interesting, perhaps, is BonJour's unseating of Kant as arch-rationalist, by showing that his belief in the imposition of stucture by the mind on reality deprives Kant of the ability to argue for a genuinely coherent notion of synthetic apriority, thereby rendering him at best a moderate empiricist. He closes his chapter on moderate empiricism by noting the self-refuting nature of the epistemological doctrine (familiar to anyone conversant in Austrian methodology.)
Present also is a clear, rigorous delineation of the questions at hand: BonJour separates the ontological question of the necessity or contingency of a truth from the epistemological question of its justifiability (i.e. apriority or aposteriority) and from syntactic matters (analyticity vs. syntheticity.) The categories are all too often confused, even amongst the more incautious of the Austrians. I've not arrived at BonJour's criticism of Quine and radical empiricism yet, or his positive account of the a priori, but I'm aware that like Barry Smith, he too advances a fallibilistic notion thereof, and as such classifies his rationalism as "moderate". What he has written is pretty much in line with the writings of the likes of Hoppe, and should be read by anyone interested in advancing a coherent defence of the Austrian method. He neatly evades the pitfalls of Cartesian rationalism and excessive faith in reason, and thereby aligns himself with those more moderate rationalists such as Aristotle (whom he explicitly identifies as such.)
All in all, a book well worth reading. I look forward to seeing his solution to the problem of induction. This is not a work for beginners, but for anyone who's read Mises's, Hoppe's or Martin Hollis's works (or those of Brand Blanshard), this work should bring them up to date with modern arguments in the area of epistemology, exposing them to cutting edge thought on the matter. Henry Veatch's Two Logics should also be read for a similarly sustained attack on modern scientism and radical empiricism.
PS: I'd also like to promote this great article by BonJour, though it's not really germaine to this post.
On a lighter note than usual, one of the games I've been looking forward to is Warhammer Online. It seems basically Warcraft, minus the small fact that Warcraft is in fact a cheap rip-off of it. I'm not much of the MMORPG enthusiast, but I'm willing to make an exception for this gem. So, I was looking to buy the collector's edition, only to find out that no more than 50, 000 were released in Europe and 60, 000 in the US. Talk about a let down! Collector's editions are rarely worth the while, but WAR's definitely seemed to offer a lot of bang for the buck. I suppose I'll just have to settle for the pre-order version. God knows how EA expects to maximize profits by limiting the collector's edition to 110, 000 copies in the aforementioned regions at £47.00 or so...
Oh well, in case anyone else is looking in to playing the game, and happens to hail from Europe, let me know if you're interested in playing with a High elven archmage or dark elven sorceress of some sort, depending on what I feel like creating.
Recently, I’ve taken up reading again in my free time. Currently, I am half-way through the excellent Norms of Liberty by Douglas Rasmussen and Douglas den Uyl. I’m not going to review the book here or engage in a full summary of their views, but I shall look at some interesting concepts they have focused on.
Perhaps the most interesting feature of the book is its underlying theme. It examines the crisis liberalism currently finds itself in, a crisis largely due to a lack of a deep foundation on which the political ideology can be grounded, or perhaps even due to a foundation that is not conducive to such an end. The authors here propose an innovative solution, which does have a degree of historical precedent within liberal theory. They propose to ground a defence of liberalism in Aristotelian teleocentric, virtue ethics. Liberalism thus becomes a matter of social cooperation and establishing the conditions necessary for flourishing, or in the words of the authors, defines the metanormative prerequisites for individual flourishing. Liberty thus is seen as the primary political principle. What the authors can claim success for is the fact that, they can thus commit themselves to political non-perfectionism and raise liberty to the status of the paramount political principle, without thereby committing themselves to moral minimalism or conflating the good with the right, at the expense of the former. It is interesting to see just how the authors achieve this. They do so by noting that given the sociality required by human flourishing, which will involve conducting relationships with a wide variety of individuals, the key question becomes how does one resolve and avoid potential conflict, such that social relations remain harmonious and individuals can develop the relations they need that are necessary to their flourishing? Given eudaemonia’s (i.e. flourishing) diverse nature, this is not an easy question to answer – yet the authors do so by responding that a feature of all human flourishing is that it must be self-directed. It is protection of this self-direction that allows the possibility of flourishing (note, this is not a consequentialist-maximalist approach) and the avoidance of conflict. Sheer brilliance.
So, how do the authors see morality then? Interestingly, they see the sharp distinction between the good and the right as untenable and undesirable. Rather, for them, as for other Aristotelians, the good is that which is the mature state of a living organism, that to which it tends towards by its very nature (thus a commitment to moderate essentialism is inherent in this approach.) Just as one may say that a tree that is infested by disease or lacking water is in a “bad” condition, one might say that a human whose life consists in little more than the pursuit of the most base pleasures is bad. By contrast, one that is consonant with man’s natural end as rational animal, will be characterized by principled, rational pursuit of and conduct in accordance with rightly considered desires. It is of utmost importance to note that the authors do not believe the political system ought to force individuals to pursue self-perfection, or that it is contingent on their pursuit of it that it will guarantee their rights. No, rather, it is up to the individual to achieve self-perfection, due to its highly self-directed nature. Moral behaviour cannot be coerced or “nudged” behaviour, so to speak (this directly contradicts the notion of a paternalistic “libertarianism”.)
At this stage, I should like to note the features of flourishing as outlined by the authors in question. They highlight that it is 1) objective (think Euthyphro dilemma here; is something good because the gods want it, or because of its very nature? Same with individuals – we desire things because they have qualities such that they fulfil our needs), 2) agent-relative (a value is such that the presence of a given value F in world W1 makes it preferable to W2 for a given agent X1, but not necessarily for an agent X2-Xn), 3) individual (what particular form flourishing will take, which virtues one will focus on &c., these are all matters to be left to the individual; the ethical theorist can only specify the generic features of flourishing), 4) inclusive (this means that flourishing is not the dominant end to which one is oriented at the expense of all other ends; indeed, the virtues are constitutive and expressive of flourishing, in the way that competing in a sport is part of the experience as much as winning is), 5) social (we need others in order to flourish; the atomist view of man is profoundly mistaken and not conducive to his flourishing) and 6) self-directed (human flourishing requires human action, judgement and coordination; it is not an automatic process nor can it be coercively attained.) Of all, self-direction is perhaps the most important and indeed is both the guide of the process and part of it. Humans are oriented towards their potentiality in virtue of their self-direction; it is not something they can avoid. A good analogy with respect to self-direction, and failure to carry it out, is a heart on a blood pump. On the one hand, we cannot say that this is a "good" heart - it clearly has failed in many ways, and is not a healthy specimen. On the other, it is not performing its function. It is dependent on another device to do so. This is not a perfect analogy, but it's good as a vivid illustration.
This brings up another interesting matter –whether the morality in question is assertoric, hypothetical or categorical in its classification as an imperative? The answer the Aristotelian must give, is that it is assertoric. Since it is in one’s nature to be the kind of thing which has the potential for self-perfection, the good will be the realization of that potential state. Right and good are harmonized by noting that it is right conduct that will lead to the good state. Man’s ultimate end is choice-worthy, and thus that which ought to be realized. Humans are choosing beings, but not to the extent that they are free to choose absent reasons. It is inherent in our nature to act with reasons in mind, whether good or bad (this, Henry Veatch has shown, is the ontological basis for morality.) This precludes the possibility of morality being merely hypothetical in nature (of the form, if you want X, then do Y to achieve X. Self-direction is not merely instrumental to our well-being – it is part of it.) Morality cannot be categoric, in that anything which we ought to do must have an end. To say we ought to be virtuous because we ought to, is to beg the question and to fail to show why exactly virtuous conduct of our actions is the sort of thing that’d matter to us. Such is the result of neglecting human nature. It makes both the explanation of and justification for morality seem arbitrary and groundless.
Finally, the authors develop interesting ideas with regard to the right to property (which is a right that stems from the fact that man is a being which is not merely noumenal, not an ethereal wraith, but a being that must command resources in the real world so that it may direct its activities so as to achieve its purposes.) The right to property is a right to action, the particular characteristic of which is the legitimate exploitation of opportunities (all action consists in seeing opportunities; the right to property involves the exploitation of them.) Because man by his nature has the natural, negative basic right to liberty (basic in the sense that it is the foundation of all other rights), he must be free to direct his actions so as to bring material goods under his control so as to achieve his goals. This is a highly personal, individual affair. Rather than seeing objects in the world which must somehow be allocated, we now see unowned, un-transformed opportunities that man must transform in order to bring under his control and exploit to his advantage. Given that man’s self-direction must be protected in order for flourishing to be possible, and given that no one has a right to an opportunity per se, any interference with property rights now becomes a matter for which a third party advocating interference must bear the burden of proof. Because, all that has occurred when unowned resources are transformed is that an opportunity has been exploited. No one has been deprived of anything that was their due. So out of the window goes the Lockean proviso. What particular form appropriation (i.e. transformation) must take will vary with local standards and is a contingent, particular matter that cannot be determined a priori. Likewise, any exchange of legitimately acquired goods cannot be interfered with absent justification, so long as it is consensual. All this may seem somewhat confusing to the libertarian accustomed to seeing the right to property as the corollary of the right to self-ownership. However, I believe this mode of analysis is superior in that it avoids pitfalls that the traditional approach is prone to (such as the Lockean proviso), has a better justification than the so-called axiom of self-ownership and is consistent with teleocentric forms of ethics. Given that politics is concerned with matters of social cooperation, and given that scarcity is the ultimate source of all conflicts, one can retain Hans-Hermann Hoppe’s observations on the matter, and insure that scarcity remains the prime requisite for legitimate appropriation, thus potentially ruling out the possibility of intellectual property rights. Another benefit of this way of regarding matters, is that action is inherently part of oneself, and is not merely separable in the way objects are. Thus, appropriation becomes a matter of extending oneself, and one’s boundaries, which by right are not to be interfered with.
Well, that was an unusually long entry for one as laconic as myself... let me know your thoughts. I apologize in advance for any misrepresentations of the authors’ views I might have made, and if anything is unclear please ask for clarification. I am still learning the basics of Aristotelian natural-end ethics myself, so my understanding is by no means complete, but I’d be happy to try and discuss these matters in further depth.
Reading the comments on this article, the thing that must surely strike one as amazing: the readiness with which the words "greed" or "profit" are demonized, and, on the other hand, with which words like "non-profit" or "selfless" are elevated. It is as though an action characterized by being "not-for-profit" is inherently more coloured with moral dignity than one which reveals pecuniary motives. No doubt, this is in part due to movements calling for "corporate responsibility", mistaken religious doctrine and the like. Yet surely this is a fallacy, and I intend to show in precisely what terms it is so. I want, here, to avoid any moral argumentation whatsoever. My analysis will be purely in the realm of "is", and will avoid any moral connotations whatsoever.
When one acts, it is a matter of apodicticity that they do so in order to substitute their current state of affairs for a better one, or perhaps even to prevent a worse one from materializing. That is to say, they act in their self-interest. At the most basic level, when one's expectations are realized, they will profit, as the benefits their action yields will exceed the costs involved. Here, already, at the most fundamental level of human agency we have the category of profit (or, in the case one fails to reach their goals, loss.) This has implications that are of no small significance. When the social worker gives up her free time to aid the needy, she does so because she feels that aiding them is a noble goal. It satisfies her, psychically, to see the poor being helped. She profits psychically. Man cannot survive on charity alone though, so we must go further than this. In order to acquire his most basic needs, man must engage in the division of labour and exchange goods. When he values the goods of another more than those he currently holds, and this other individual values his goods more than he values his own, trade will instantiate. Both will profit to the extent that the exchange yields benefits exceeding the costs they incurred. Again, we see the phenomenon of profit. Man's ends being virtually limitless, he will seek ever more means to help attain his goals. He is by his nature an acquisitive being. All that changes when money enters into the picture is that exchange is indirect, and measurable in terms of the monetary unit. So there we have it - at the most fundamental level of human action, we encounter profit and acquisitiveness as natural phenomena.
Be not fooled - the sanctimonious preacher, the moralizing politician, the devout humanist, these individuals all act to realize a profit, and gain ever more of it, their rantings to the contrary notwithstanding. The cognitive dissonance with which people analyze exchanges involving purely psychic profit and barter on the one hand and indirect exchange on the other must be purged from the intellectual realm.
People will often sneer dismissively when one makes mention of fields of inquiry such as epistemology. Naturally, such idle endeavours must be hopelessly abstract and disconnected from the world of fact - perhaps a mere curiosity for those stranded in the Ivory Towers of academia. Not so. Epistemology profoundly affects every single aspect of philosophy it governs, and subsequently the sciences and political institutions of a given society. One can do no better than to consider the case of Ayer. He, like many other influential philosophers of the 20th century, was a logical positivist. Briefly, he posited that all knowledge is either factual - as in empirical - or pertaining to definitions (this is what constitutes the well-known analytic-synthetic dichotomy in philosophy.) For Ayer, the notion of a necessary truth that existed in the world as is would be fiction. The holes in logical positivism are many, and I will not here take the time to discredit a philosophy already mired in cobwebs. Allowing, for the purposes of this entry, the truth of logical positivism, where does this leave moral theories one might ask? What is a moral fact, if neither synthetic nor analytic (i.e. empirical or a matter of definitions)? But wait - moral fact? There's no such thing! At least, this is what Ayer would have us believe. As a consequence of his epistemological views, moral properties are mere emotive ejaculations. Why? Because clearly they are not empirical facts. Nor could they be analytic - for analytic truths are meaningless in the world solar systems, men, rivers, and the like. For Ayer, at best a statement such as "theft is wrong" is equivalent to "theft: boo!". Morality is thus rendered a matter of mere preference, of "anything goes", whether Ayer would admit it or not. As a matter of fact, it is interesting to note that in advancing his theory on morals, Ayer was hoping to dispose of a potential objection to his adherence to the analytic-synthetic dichotomy, and strengthen its plausibility. Personally, I view his attempt as entirely circular and wrong-headed. Logical positivism is dead. But it is a key example of how a theory of knowledge fundamentally affects every single aspect of how we view and interact with the world.
A popular contrast between capitalism and socialism is that the former is an anarchic, imperfect system, ruled by emotions, whereas the latter is a rational, planned system. The truth is the precise reverse of this. The market system is the expression of man's rational faculty taken to its fullest extent. It is governed by reason, predicated on man's nature qua rational animal. All the system requires is the recognition of property rights as objective boundaries of man's spheres of autonomy (that is to say, resources he commands by virtue of having employed them in his various schemes of action - action being purposive behaviour aiming at satisfying one's ends with scarce means - and of course, command over himself) and the freedom to exchange titles over this property. The rest follows naturally, all setting into motion in a deceptively mechanical fashion. Reverse valuation of goods leads to ever widening circles of exchange, and the social division of labour sets in; as trade grows, the desire for a common medium of exchange arises. Money is born. Prices - objective ratios of exchange, past and present - are concretized cardinally and homogeneously. Man now has it in his power to extend his plans ever farther into the future and to ever more spatially distant localities. The power of his conceptual faculty, of his reason is infinitely multiplied. His store of wealth increases as his command over nature grows. All he needs is this minimal amount of knowledge, and he is able to direct his activities where they are most urgently needed; the system is self-regulating. It is impersonal, objective and at the same time inherently human. Now, compare this to the bleak image of socialism. Here, we have one central authority - often adopting the facade of "democratic" management - in control of all resources. It is faced with utter chaos. Its decisions are arbitrary, divorced from the desires of market participants, unable to correctly appraise land and capital. It is disorder in the extreme. In trying to sacrifice freedom for certainty, it eliminates both. In the case where it claims to advance freedom by absolving man of "need", it only does so by enslaving one set of men at the behest of another set, to provide for them their survival; Heaven forbid they should think for themselves, act for themselves! Such a notion of freedom is confused, contradictory and little more than an anti-concept. It is to be rejected, summarily, and substituted with a notion of freedom derived from a proper conceptual analysis of man's nature - via abstraction in the Aristotelian sense. Freedom can only arise alongside its correlate: responsibility. To desire freedom yet at the same time evade responsibility is to evade reality. Only the market can advance freedom, as well as increase man's wealth and control over nature. It is by no means perfect - nothing human is. But it is as close as man can get.