Tag Archives | Ethics

Left-Libertarians at Libertopia

[cross-posted at C4SS and BHL]

Next month (3-6 May) in San Diego I’ll be speaking at the Libertopia conference, which is back after several years’ hiatus. Here’s my topic and abstract:

Hoppean Libertarianism as Right-Wing Tribalism: A Critique
Roderick T. Long

One of the main conduits by which many libertarians in recent years have been drawn into the orbit of the Alt-Right is the work of Hans-Hermann Hoppe. I argue that Hoppe’s views on such matters as racial difference, immigration, monarchism, and the desirability of culturally homogeneous communities are systematically mistaken, as well as incompatible with a libertarian understanding of human action.

My Molinari Institute / Center for a Stateless Society / Alliance of the Libertarian Left / Bleeding Heart Libertarians colleague Gary Chartier will also be speaking; here’s his topic and abstract:

How to Think About the Constitution
Gary Chartier

Libertarians often defend particular theories of constitutional interpretation. But, at least for those who are skeptical about standard defenses of state authority, there’s a prior question: are we obligated to follow the Constitution? If we’re not, I suggest, then there’s no right answer to questions about the right way to read the Constitution. Instead, we should make constitutional arguments likely to advance liberty.

Other speakers include David Friedman, Scott Horton, Jeff Tucker, Spencer MacCallum, and many more. Check it out!

Upcoming Panels: Marriage and Anarchy

[cross-posted at BHL]

Two Molinari/C4SS panels are coming up at two different conferences later this week:
1. The Molinari Society will be holding its mostly-annual Pacific Symposium in conjunction with the Pacific Division of the American Philosophical Association in San Diego, March 28-April 1, 2018. Here’s the schedule info:

Molinari Society symposium:
Author Meets Critics: Gary Chartier’s Public Practice, Private Law: An Essay on Love, Marriage, and the State

G9C. Friday, 30 March 2018, 7:00-10:00 p.m. (or so), Westin San Diego Gaslamp Quarter, 910 Broadway Circle, San Diego CA, room TBA

Roderick T. Long (Auburn University)

Jennifer Lockhart (Auburn University)
Lori Watson (New Mexico State University)
Roderick T. Long (Auburn University)

Gary Chartier (La Sierra University)

2. We’ve also organised a panel at the Association of Private Enterprise Education conference in Las Vegas, April 1-4, 2018. Here’s the schedule info:

Topics in Free-Market Anarchism

4.A.6.. Wednesday, 4 April 2018, 8:00-9:15 a.m., Caesars Palace, 3570 Las Vegas Blvd S., Las Vegas NV, room TBA.

Roderick T. Long (Auburn University)

Gary Chartier (La Sierra University)
Jason Lee Byas (University of Illinois)
Nathan Goodman (George Mason University)
Roderick T. Long (Auburn University)

Nathan is also on a bunch of other panels; he’ll be speaking on “Social Capital and Social Justice: Why Liberalism is Essential” (Monday at 1:10 p.m.), “Voluntary Associations as an Alternative to State Social Welfare Provision” (Monday at 2:30 p.m.), “The Political Economy of Whistleblowers” (Tuesday at 8:00 a.m.), and “Policing, Civil Society, and External Aid: A Polycentric Perspective” (Tuesday at 2:30 p.m.).
In other news, for a brief report on the recent PPE Society meeting in New Orleans, see here.

To and Fro Upon the Earth

Last week I gave a talk on Lockean vs. Kantian takes on property rights in a state of nature at the PPE Society meeting in New Orleans. The conference had loads of libertarian academics; check out the participant list. Ann Cudd gave a keynote address criticising libertarians for being social atomists who don’t believe in any positive moral obligations; she seemed genuinely surprised that the assembled libertarians took exception to this characterisation. As a culminating irony she even offered, as a supposed critique of libertarianism, an analysis of Robinson Crusoe virtually identical to Bastiat’s.

(Incidentally, for anyone visiting New Orleans I highly recommend the shrimp and grits at Café Fleur de Lis and, as always, anything at Sukho Thai.)

Upon my return, I gave a talk on the relation between philosophical thought-experiments and fantastic fiction at the Auburn Philosophy Club’s panel on Fantasy, Fiction, and Philosophy here in Auburn.

Tomorrow I leave for gigs at the Pacific APA in San Diego and the APEE in Las Vegas; see the next post for details.

Then I’ll be coming back just in time for the Auburn Philosophy department’s conference on Practical Reasoning.

True Grit

I recently came across the following striking passage in William Hope Hodgson’s 1912* story “The Thing Invisible”:

I was fighting with all my strength to get back my courage. I could not take my arms down from over my face, but I knew that I was getting hold of the gritty part of me again. And suddenly I made a mighty effort and lowered my arms. I held my face up in the darkness. And, I tell you, I respect myself for the act, because I thought truly at that moment that I was going to die. But I think, just then, by the slow revulsion of feeling which had assisted my effort, I was less sick, in that instant, at the thought of having to die, than at the knowledge of the utter weak cowardice that had so unexpectedly shaken me all to bits, for a time. …

Do I make myself clear? You understand, I feel sure, that the sense of respect, which I spoke of, is not really unhealthy egotism; because, you see, I am not blind to the state of mind which helped me. I mean that if I had uncovered my face by a sheer effort of will, unhelped by any revulsion of feeling, I should have done a thing much more worthy of mention. But, even as it was, there were elements in the act, worthy of respect.

What’s noteworthy about this passage is how closely it follows (whether intentionally or by coincidence, I can’t say) the ethical doctrine of Immanuel Kant. On Kant’s view, a moral action is worthy of respect only if it is motivated by a good will – a respect for the moral law for the moral law’s own sake. If it is motivated instead by some sort of inclination or sentiment (such as charitable acts being motivated by feelings of sympathy), the action is no longer worthy of respect, because if one’s actions depend on favourable sentiments – sentiments whose presence or absence is not under the control of the agent’s will – then that implies that if those favourable sentiments had happened to be absent, the agent would not have performed the action, and so the agent’s having done the right thing is fortuitous and not the expression of a reliable commitment to duty.

Hodgson’s narrator is making a similar point here, holding that since his act of courage was largely motivated by a feeling of revulsion at his own cowardice, it is less worthy of respect than it would have been if motivated by “a sheer effort of will.”

The narrator does not follow Kant entirely, however, since he suggests that his action is still worthy of some respect. For Kant (as I understand him), if an action is motivated partly by duty and partly by inclination, the crucial question is whether the dutiful part of the motivation would still have been sufficient to produce the action, had the inclination been absent. If the answer is yes, then the action is wholly worthy; if no, then the action is wholly unworthy. There is no room in Kant’s account for Hodgson’s notion that an action of mixed motivation might have an intermediate degree of worthiness.

This possibility of intermediate worthiness aligns Hodgson’s conception more closely to Aristotle’s view than to Kant’s, though the alignment is not perfect. For Aristotle, a continent person is one who has to overcome strong temptations in order to do the right thing, whereas a temperate person is able to do the right thing with little or no contrary temptation – though (and this aspect of Aristotle’s theory is often missed) the temperate person is such that he would still do the right thing if strong temptations were present (so the objection that temperate people don’t really deserve credit because right actions are too easy for them doesn’t apply). In Kantian terms, then, both the temperate and the continent person act from duty and not merely inclination, though in one case the inclinations favour the action and in the other case they oppose it.

Kant would regard the temperate and continent persons (and actions) as having equal merit; but Aristotle regards the temperate person (and action) as superior to its continent counterpart, since for Aristotle a virtuous action is supposed to express a healthy and harmonious character, not one (ordinarily) riven by conflict. However, the continent person and action do have some merit. So Aristotle, unlike Kant, allows for intermediate merit here.

But this doesn’t quite apply to Hodgson’s example. In Hodgson’s case it’s not that will is sufficient though inclination is lacking; it’s that inclination is sufficient though will might not have been. Since Aristotle in effect treats will-plus-inclination (temperance) as having more value than will alone (continence), that might mean that he grants some positive moral value to inclination alone (which is more or less what he calls “natural virtue”). But I can’t recall his saying so explicitly.

* Strictly speaking, although the story was first published in 1912, the quoted passage occurs in this form only in the revised 1948 version, the corresponding passage in the 1912 version being much less interesting. But since Hodgson died in the First World War, the revision was presumably made closer to 1912 than to 1948.

The Invisible East

In the 3rd edition of Classics of Philosophy – which is, ironically, one of the texts I’m using in my “Philosophy East and West” course – Louis Pojman and Lewis Vaughn write:

The first philosophers were Greeks of the sixth century B.C. living on the Ionian coast of the Aegean Sea, in Miletus, Colophon, Samos, and Ephesus. Other people in other cultures had wondered about these questions, but usually religious authority or myth had imposed an answer. … The Great Civilizations of Egypt, China, Assyria, Babylon, Israel, and Persia … had produced art and artifacts and government of advanced sorts, but nowhere, with the possible exception of India, was anything like philosophy or science developed. Ancient India was the closest civilization to produce philosophy, but it was always connected with religion, with the question of salvation or the escape from suffering. Ancient Chinese thought, led by Confucius (551-475 B.C.), had a deep ethical dimension. But no epistemology or formulated logic. (pp. 3-4)

Is this true?

The two earliest Upanishads – the Brihadaranyaka-upanishad and the Chhandogya-upanishad – are generally dated to the 7th century BCE or earlier. They contain clear examples of philosophical argumentation. So why don’t their authors – or the thinkers whose views they purport to record (e.g., Yajñavalka and Uddalaka) – count as Indian philosophers antecedent to the Greeks?

Apparently because their views were “connected with religion” and “the question of salvation.” Yet Classics of Philosophy contains writings by Augustine, Anselm, Maimonides, Aquinas, Pascal, and Kierkegaard – for all of whom philosophy was closely bound up with religious questions. If this connection doesn’t invalidate their claim to be philosophers, why does it invalidate the like claim of their Indian predecessors?

In any case, it is not even true that all early Indian philosophical thought is connected with religion. The Charvaka or Lokayata school, which was atheistic, materialistic, and hedonistic, is generally dated to the late 7th century BCE as well – thus again antedating the Greeks.

As for why the early Chinese thinkers are ruled out as philosophers, we’re told it’s because, although they had a “deep ethical dimension,” they had “no epistemology or formulated logic.” So epistemology and logic are philosophy but ethics is not?

And anyway it’s not true that early Chinese thought had no epistemology or formulated logic. Even if we leave aside the exploration of logical paradoxes by such thinkers as Zhuangzi, Hui Shi, and Gongsun Long, we have a pretty clear example of epistemology and formulated logic in the Mohist Canons.

Of course the Mohist Canons date to around the 3rd century BCE, so if Pojman and Vaughn are making only a claim of chronological priority, they’re entitled to dismiss them. But the tone of the passage certainly offers no hint that these Chinese and Indian traditions got more philosophical later. And the fact that no Indian or Chinese sources appear in an anthology titled Classics of Philosophy (rather than, say, Classics of Western Philosophy) suggests that they don’t regard even later Chinese and Indian thought as containing anything worthy of the status of philosophic classic. The sophisticated logical and epistemological debates among the Navya-Nyaya, Purva-Mimamsa, Vyakarana, and Sautrantika-Yogachara schools, for instance, count for nothing, apparently.

It was bad enough when Antony Flew ignorantly declared in 1971 that Eastern Philosophy contains no arguments, but this is the 21st century, for petesake.

CFP: Alabama Philosophical Society 2017

Owing to a time- and energy-consuming family medical crisis, I’m about two months late in announcing this – the submission deadline’s just over a week away.

But anyway, this year’s APS will be September 29-30 in Pensacola; submission deadline is August 1st. Note also the undergrad essay contest (Alabama students only), which pays $100 plus one night’s stay at the conference hotel.

More info here.

Alas, I won’t be able to attend this year. Hoping for next year.

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