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Home | Mises Library | Libertarianism and Contemporary Philosophy

Libertarianism and Contemporary Philosophy

  • MAA_Gordon_ModernPhilosophers2011.jpg

Tags Free MarketsEntrepreneurshipPhilosophy and Methodology

05/18/2011David Gordon

      Those of us who are libertarians often cannot understand why everyone else is not a libertarian too. Isn't the case for freedom easy to make and, once grasped, utterly convincing? Most contemporary moral and political philosophers think otherwise, though; they reject libertarianism and demand a more egalitarian system. This course will consider some of the leading arguments advanced against libertarianism. Do these criticisms have any validity? How should libertarians respond to them? The course will also consider important philosophical arguments raised by libertarian philosophers, e.g., Robert Nozick's defense of a minimal state and the argumentation ethics of Hans Hoppe and Frank van Dun. The nonlibertarian philosophers discussed will include G.A. Cohen, John Rawls, Thomas Nagel, Ronald Dworkin, David Gauthier, and T.M. Scanlon.

       The Marxist philosopher G.A. Cohen posed a formidable challenge to libertarianism. Even if you accept self-ownership as your starting point, he said, a libertarian account of how property is acquired does not follow. Moreover, libertarian property theory can lead to morally bad outcomes. To maintain our libertarian views, we need to be able to answer Cohen.

      The most influential political philosopher of the 20th century, John Rawls, attacked what he called "the system of natural liberty." He argued that the free market permitted too much inequality. We'll look at his famous difference principle, as well as equalitarian arguments advanced by other philosophers.

       If, despite these attacks, we continue to accept libertarianism, we need to ask, what kind of libertarian society do we want? In Anarchy, State, and Utopia, Robert Nozick argued that a minimal state could be justified on libertarian principles. Was he right?

       Libertarians find their vision of a free society appealing, but their opponents do not. Can we get beyond this impasse? Hans Hoppe and Frank van Dun contend that argumentation ethics demonstrates that accepting libertarianism is required by reason. We'll discuss this claim and the controversy it has generated among libertarians.

     The course consists of six lectures, and a tentative schedule follows:

  1. G.A. Cohen's Assault on Libertarianism

  2. John Rawls and the Difference Principle

  3. Other Egalitarians: Thomas Nagel and Ronald Dworkin

  4. Contractarian Approaches: T.M. Scanlon, David Gauthier, and Jan Narveson

  5. Robert Nozick's Argument for the Minimal State

  6. Argumentation Ethics

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