Tag Archives | Praxeology

Philosophy By Mail

[cross-posted at Liberty & Power]

My copy of A Treatise of Legal Philosophy and General Jurisprudence, Volume 6: A History of the Philosophy of Law from the Ancient Greeks to the Scholastics, edited by Fred Miller (author of Nature, Justice, and Rights in Aristotle’s Politics) and Carrie-Ann Biondi, has just arrived. Xenophon It contains a couple of articles by me on the contributions to philosophy of law (and libertarian aspects thereof) by Xenophon, Cynics, Cyrenaics, Academics, Peripatetics, Polybius, Epicureans, and Stoics. Other entries include Michael Gagarin and Paul Woodruff on early Greek legal thought; R. F. Stalley on Socrates and Plato; Miller on near eastern legal thought, Aristotle, ancient rights theory, and early Jewish and Christian legal thought; Brad Inwood on Cicero and the Roman Stoics; Janet Coleman on Augustine; Charles Butterworth on medieval Jewish and Islamic thought; Thomas Banchich on Justinian’s Digests; John Marenbon on Abélard, the early Scholastics, and the revival of Roman law; Charles Reid on canon law; Anthony Lisska on Aquinas, Scotus, and other Scholastics; Brian Tierney on William of Ockham; and M. W. F. Stone on the Spanish Scholastics. You can buy it from Amazon, but when you see the price, you won’t. (I got mine for free.) Hope for it to show up at your friendly neighbourhood university library instead.

Today’s email also brings me the latest issue of Liberty, which contains Leland Yeager’s review of Tibor Machan’s anthology Liberty and Justice. In the following excerpt Yeager discusses a left-libertarian contribution from Jennifer McKitrick, vice-president of the Molinari Institute and Molinari Society:

Jennifer McKitrick devotes her “Liberty, Gender, and the Family” to summarizing and commenting on Susan Moller Okin’s “Justice, Gender, and the Family” (Basic Books, 1989). Okin had bewailed women’s having Jennifer McKitrick heavier burdens and slighter opportunities than men because, for example, family responsibilities impede their uninterrupted pursuit of careers. McKitrick warns libertarians against merely brushing such concerns aside. She regrets that even such an early feminist as John Stuart Mill, in his “The Subjection of Women” (1989), had accepted conventional ideas about the division of labor between the sexes. Yet she also warns against Okin’s program of comprehensive governmental remedies, which might include requiring employers to grant pregnancy and childbirth leave, arrange flexible part-time working hours, provide high-quality on-site day care, and “issue two paychecks equally divided between the employee and his partner” (94). McKitrick prefers facilitating marriage contracts whereby a man and a woman can tailor the terms of their marriage to their particular circumstances and preferences. She denies that women would be at a clear disadvantage in negotiating such contracts. Her article serves as an example of how a thoughtful person can have both feminist and libertarian sympathies.


It Came From France

[cross-posted at Liberty & Power]

Eiffel Tower Forget those 700-page libertarian books; they’re for sissies. The libertarian book I just received in the mail is over 1400 pages long; plus it’s in French, and it has no frakkin’ index.

The tome is Histoire du libéralisme en Europe, edited by Philippe Nemo and Jean Petitot. Topics include the School of Salamanca, the French Liberal School, and the Austrian School, plus liberal thinkers in Germany, Italy, and elsewhere; contributors include Ralph Raico, Guido Hülsmann, Barry Smith, Josef Šima, Jesús Huerta de Soto, Roberta Modugno, and Johan Norberg.

Well, this should keep my idle hours occupied. Now all I need is some idle hours.


Suffer A Witch

In 1937, anthropologist Edward Evan Evans-Pritchard (father of the less awkwardly named contemporary journalist Ambrose Evans-Pritchard) published his famous monograph Witchcraft, Oracles, and Magic Among the Azande, in which he claimed that the beliefs of the Azande (a tribe of north central Africa) concerning witchcraft were logically contradictory. Given the Azande’s beliefs about how witchcraft is inherited, together with their beliefs about which members of the tribe actually are witches, it logically follows, Evans-Pritchard assures us, that every member of the tribe is a witch. Yet the Azande do not draw this conclusion, even when it is pointed out to them: “Azande see the sense of the argument but they do not accept its conclusions, and it would involve the whole notion of witchcraft in contradiction were they to do so. … They saw the objection when I raised it but they were not incommoded by it.”

I'm melting under the force of your incisive logic! In the years since, philosophers and social scientists have debated ad nauseam how to interpret these facts (assuming they are facts – one would hope that further anthropological studies have been done to confirm or disconfirm Evans-Pritchard’s claims, but if so I haven’t heard about them). Are the Azande incompetent practitioners of logical inference? Or are they, perhaps, competent practitioners of some alternative logic, perhaps a three-valued logic? Or are their pronouncements about witchcraft best understood as something other than straightforward declarative statements about a language-independent reality, making the application of logic somehow irrelevant? (See Mark Risjord’s Woodcutters and Witchcraft: Rationality and Interpretive Change in the Social Sciences for discussion of the options.)

What I find puzzling about this debate is that it proceeds on the assumption that in (purportedly) manifesting this inconsistency in belief, the Azande are showing themselves to be importantly different from us in some way that requires special explanation. But in fact nothing is more common than for people to see the force of an argument and yet reject the conclusion, on the grounds that the conclusion is so contrary to their basic worldview that they assume there must be something wrong with the argument even if they can’t see what.

Consider how people – especially non-philosophers – react to philosophical paradoxes like the Liar, or the Sorites, or one of Zeno’s paradoxes of motion. Or consider how atheists react when confronted with the ontological argument, or how theists react when confronted with the argument from evil. Or, again, how statists react when confronted with the contradictions in statist morality (e.g., taking property without the owner’s permission is wrong, taxation involves taking property without the owner’s permission, yet taxation is not wrong), or as slaveholders formerly reacted when confronted with the analogous contradictions in slaveholding morality, or as Socrates’ interlocutors reacted when he exposed their inconsistent triads. In all these cases, there’s a tendency to assume that the argument is a sophism, that given its unacceptable conclusion it must have some flaw justifying its dismissal, even if this flaw can’t easily be identified or articulated. In Pericles’ words: “At your age we were clever hands at such quibbles ourselves.”

As these examples suggest, this reaction is sometimes justified and sometimes not. In the case of philosophical paradoxes, I agree with Moore’s argument that we are perfectly justified in rejecting the case for a crazy conclusion even when we can’t pinpoint where it goes wrong. We don’t, e.g., have to solve the Liar Paradox before we’re entitled to keep on using the concepts of truth and falsity. (Though I do think lack of curiosity about what’s wrong with the argument is an intellectual vice.) But there are other cases, like the slavery and statism ones, where the reaction was not justified. And that raises the question of how to distinguish propositions that really are fundamental data of common sense from those that merely strike us as fundamental data of common sense.

That’s a thorny philosophical question which I don’t intend to tackle in this post. My present target is smaller game: I merely wish to suggest that if the Azande did in fact a) hold the beliefs Evans-Pritchard describes, b) understand his argument, and c) reject his conclusion, we needn’t ascribe to them anything bizarre or unusual to explain this. Why not instead assume that they, just like us, tend (whether justifiably or unjustifiably) to dismiss, as probably flawed in some yet-to-be-identified way, arguments for conclusions that run against their basic worldview.

As Mises wrote:

Explorers and missionaries report that in Africa and Polynesia primitive man stops short at his earliest perception of things and never reasons if he can in any way avoid it. European and American educators sometimes report the same of their students. With regard to the Mossi on the Niger Levy-Bruhl quotes a missionary’s observation: “Conversation with them turns only upon women, food, and (in the rainy season) the crops.” What other subjects did many contemporaries and neighbors of Newton, Kant, and Levy-Bruhl prefer? … No facts provided by ethnology or history contradict the assertion that the logical structure of mind is uniform with all men of all races, ages, and countries.


Islands of Chaos

Won't the size and complexity of the database make it impossible to know what's really happening? This Dilbert strip irresistibly reminded me of Kevin Carson’s series of posts on why Mises’ and Hayek’s arguments against the possibility of rational economic calculation under state-socialist central planning apply also to the size of the firm (see here, here, here, here, and here). The obvious corollary is that firms in a genuine free market are likely to be a good deal smaller than those in the kind of governmentally subsidised and artificially cartelised market context that prevails today.

Kevin may be seen as extending and radicalising Rothbard’s “One Big Cartel” analysis here. The strip’s final panels are also relevant to my post on wage gaps here.


Anarchy Among the Austrians

As aforementioned, I spent last weekend at the Austrian Scholars Conference. Here’s a list of some of the presentations most likely to be of interest to readers of this blog:

  • Irish anarchy Irish philosopher Gerard Casey argued that recent historical research has largely confirmed Joseph Peden’s theses (see here and here) concerning the stateless or near-stateless character of ancient and medieval Ireland.
  • Those who admit that stateless legal mechanisms might work for small tribes often deny that they could be effective in an advanced economy; Ed Stringham countered this objection by explaining how various sophisticated financial transactions in 17th-century Amsterdam received no protection from the state but nevertheless secured compliance via reputation effects.
  • Vedran Vuk presented a paper detailing how a free-market military defense might operate, and in particular how it could avoid the free-rider problem.
  • Gil Guillory presented a plausible and attractive business model for a private security agency.
  • Gerrit Smith Geoff Plauché defended Aristotelean liberalism, whatever that is.
  • Laurence Vance lectured on the libertarian ideas of Gerrit Smith, the 19th-century abolitionist, feminist, free-trader, and land reformer. (Laurence has also reprinted one of Smith’s books, The True Office of Civil Government; go to this page and scroll down to no. 123.)
  • Tom Woods lectured on the significance for Austro-libertarians of the work of Seymour Melman, New Left critic of the military-industrial complex.
  • Tom also described a forthcoming posthumous book by Murray Rothbard, Betrayal of the American Right, which apparently is as much an autobiography as it is a critique of the increased sidelining of libertarian ideas in the 20th century conservative movement.
  • Joe Salerno argued that Lionel Robbins’ classic quasi-praxeological 1932 Essay on the Nature and Significance of Economic Science (1st edition here; 2nd edition here) was not only influenced by Ludwig von Mises but, more controversially, was also an influence on Mises.

A few of these talks are online as audio files here.


Anscombe in Alabama

At the end of this week I’m off (if traveling a few blocks from my office counts as “off”) to the Austrian Scholars Conference, where I’ll be giving a paper on Austro-libertarian themes in the work of Elizabeth Anscombe. Here’s the first paragraph:

Gertrude Elizabeth Margaret Anscombe (1919-2001) – better known as Elizabeth Anscombe, Liz Anscombe, or G. E. M. Anscombe – was one of the foremost figures of 20th-century Anglophone philosophy, making important Elizabeth Anscombecontributions to philosophy of language, philosophy of mind, philosophy of action, and moral philosophy. Yet this monocle-wearing, cigar-smoking, multilingual Cambridge don and mother of seven, a Catholic social conservative who ate out of tuna cans while lecturing and once intimidated a mugger into leaving her alone, who shocked the right with her antiwar activism and the left with her anti-abortion, anti-contraception activism, and who coined the term “consequentialism” (she was against it), is far less well known among Austro-libertarians than among professional philosophers. The aim of this paper is to show why Anscombe deserves the attention of Austro-libertarians.

Read the rest here.


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