Free Capitalist Network - Community Archive
Mises Community Archive
An online community for fans of Austrian economics and libertarianism, featuring forums, user blogs, and more.

The Ancient Chimera of Universal, Absolute, and Objective Value

This post has 224 Replies | 12 Followers

Top 50 Contributor
Male
Posts 2,551
Points 46,635
AJ replied on Fri, Jan 22 2010 11:24 PM

Justin Spahr-Summers:
What makes a lower time preference desirable? You might answer that all we know is that some men wish for a lower time preference. While perhaps correct praxeologically, this says nothing about why every man alive adheres to some sort of moral code.

So you're just asking why all humans have internal moral codes? Ask a psychologist.

Justin Spahr-Summers:

You need no code of conduct, but you do need a code of values. It implies that you value some things over others. Obviously, this is axiomatically true, but this is why zefreak's answer is circular reasoning. Men "value some things over others" for the purposes of trade and cooperation, which they value more than other things.

It seems you're switching between ethical valuation and valuation in general. Let's recap [my comments in brackets and bold]:

Justin Spahr-Summers:
zefreak:
Justin Spahr-Summers:

To subjective ethicists: why do you believe that man needs a code of [ethical?] values? What purpose does it serve?

It facilitates trade and cooperation? [seems he's talking about ethical values]

Which seemingly asserts that men need a code of values for the purposes of trade and cooperation, but this is circular reasoning, because it is impossible to [generally, obviously not ethically] value trade and cooperation in the first place without such a code.

In summary, I think zefreak is saying men may have a code of ethical values because it facilitates trade and cooperation. They in turn value (in the general, non-ethical sense) being able to trade and cooperate.

Justin Spahr-Summers:
To use Ayn Rand's definition, "Happiness is that state of consciousness which proceeds from the achievement of one's values."

Sounds pretty reasonable.

Justin Spahr-Summers:
If we're talking about a loved one, that person is loved because of his value to the actor.

Why not "valued because he is loved"?

Justin Spahr-Summers:
we'd first need to agree that objective ethics are possible.

That's probably going to be a problem Surprise

Justin Spahr-Summers:
Things can only be "for" or "against" us as mortal beings. Pleasure and pain are the most basic, automatic expressions of this. Emotions are higher-level expressions that are based on the values that we hold.

Justin Spahr-Summers:
He doesn't need to be consciously aware, but if he holds his life as his standard of value, that which ex-ante furthers his life will be good (valuable), while that which ex-ante inhibits it will be evil.

I don't see why he would hold his life as his standard of value (whatever you mean by "hold as a standard of value"). I also don't see what you mean by "furthers his life" - again, are we talking about length of survival or enjoyment of life?

Justin Spahr-Summers:
Even if a man or mankind were granted immortality, he would still have values, although I'm not sure what code of values would then be appropriate.

Would be quite interesting. I will keep this thought experiment in mind.

Ayn Rand:
When a “desire,” regardless of its nature or cause, is taken as an ethical primary, and the gratification of any and all desires is taken as an ethical goal (such as “the greatest happiness of the greatest number”)-men have no choice but to hate, fear and fight one another, because their desires and their interests will necessarily clash. If “desire” is the ethical standard, then one man’s desire to produce and another man’s desire to rob him have equal ethical validity; one man’s desire to be free and another man’s desire to enslave him have equal ethical validity; one man’s desire to be loved and admired for his virtues and another man’s desire for undeserved love and unearned admiration have equal ethical validity. And if the frustration of any desire constitutes a sacrifice, then a man who owns an automobile and is robbed of it, is being sacrificed, but so is the man who wants or “aspires to” an automobile which the owner refuses to give him—and these two “sacrifices” have equal ethical status. If so, then man’s only choice is to rob or be robbed, to destroy or be destroyed, to sacrifice others to any desire of his own or to sacrifice himself to any desire of others; then man’s only ethical alternative is to be a sadist or a masochist.

OK, but this is all predicated on objective ethics...which I don't even think is a meaningful concept - at least as usually conceived.

  • | Post Points: 20
Top 200 Contributor
Male
Posts 418
Points 7,525
AJ:

Justin Spahr-Summers:
What makes a lower time preference desirable? You might answer that all we know is that some men wish for a lower time preference. While perhaps correct praxeologically, this says nothing about why every man alive adheres to some sort of moral code.

So you're just asking why all humans have internal moral codes? Ask a psychologist.

It is a psychological question, but I think the answer is necessary before any morality can be prescribed (although, of course, you'll disagree with me that it should).

AJ:
Justin Spahr-Summers:

You need no code of conduct, but you do need a code of values. It implies that you value some things over others. Obviously, this is axiomatically true, but this is why zefreak's answer is circular reasoning. Men "value some things over others" for the purposes of trade and cooperation, which they value more than other things.

It seems you're switching between ethical valuation and valuation in general. . . .

In summary, I think zefreak is saying men may have a code of ethical values because it facilitates trade and cooperation. They in turn value (in the general, non-ethical sense) being able to trade and cooperate.

But valuing "in the general, non-ethical sense" still leads to the question: value for what? I think that it still ultimately reduces to an ethical question, something along the lines of, "Is cooperation good or evil?"

AJ:

Justin Spahr-Summers:
If we're talking about a loved one, that person is loved because of his value to the actor.

Why not "valued because he is loved"?

Because emotions are a response to ethical values. If you love someone, you love their virtues (virtues which you evaluate according to your standard of value). If you hate someone, you despise their vices, or some form of transgression that they perpetrated upon you.

AJ:
Justin Spahr-Summers:

Things can only be "for" or "against" us as mortal beings. Pleasure and pain are the most basic, automatic expressions of this. Emotions are higher-level expressions that are based on the values that we hold.

He doesn't need to be consciously aware, but if he holds his life as his standard of value, that which ex-ante furthers his life will be good (valuable), while that which ex-ante inhibits it will be evil.

I don't see why he would hold his life as his standard of value (whatever you mean by "hold as a standard of value").

A standard of value meaning that by which one evaluates what is good and what is evil.

AJ:

I also don't see what you mean by "furthers his life" - again, are we talking about length of survival or enjoyment of life?

Well, they're related in a way that I seem to be incapable of elucidating. Fundamentally, it's "length of survival." The good is that which works toward "life" in the purely existential sense. But in order for man to survive longer than just the immediate future, he needs a code of values directing his actions. Emotions being predicated on one's values, what he receives enjoyment from will be that which is in concordance with his values.

AJ:

OK, but this is all predicated on objective ethics...

No, because if you assert that ethics is subjective, that means that the actions of different actors all have equal ethical validity, so long as the actor is acting in accordance with his conception of the good. A sociopath who thinks that murder is good and his victim, who thinks otherwise, are both right "in their own way." You cannot pronounce a judgment upon the situation beyond, "The killer did something to the victim which the victim did not like." This, however, is useless for a concept of justice, law, etc., because one can equally say, "In terminating the voluntary employment contract with his worker, the factory owner did something that the worker did not like," and it holds just as much (or rather, as little) meaning as the preceding statement. Chaos ensues, with every man able to proclaim that all of his actions were as morally "right" as his neighbor's, when this is not true. A murderer is not "just as right" as his victim. Also (just for the sake of clarity), the fact that a norm exists says nothing about its ethical validity one way or the other.

Life and reality are neither logical nor illogical; they are simply given. But logic is the only tool available to man for the comprehension of both.Ludwig von Mises

  • | Post Points: 20
Top 50 Contributor
Male
Posts 2,551
Points 46,635
AJ replied on Sat, Jan 23 2010 3:41 AM

Justin Spahr-Summers:
It is a psychological question, but I think the answer is necessary before any morality can be prescribed (although, of course, you'll disagree with me that it should).

I think the psychological explanation is something like, "People have moral codes because they were useful in evolution." If we go for "extending life" as a value, this would work for your argument.

So generally, the contention seems to be coalescing around two issues: the life-based notion of value, and the meaning of subjective and objective ethics. I address both below.

Justin Spahr-Summers:
But valuing "in the general, non-ethical sense" still leads to the question: value for what?

The path may vary, but ultimately for their utility at bringing happiness.

Justin Spahr-Summers:
I think that it still ultimately reduces to an ethical question, something along the lines of, "Is cooperation good or evil?"

OK, so the life-based value idea.

Justin Spahr-Summers:
Because emotions are a response to ethical values. If you love someone, you love their virtues (virtues which you evaluate according to your standard of value). If you hate someone, you despise their vices, or some form of transgression that they perpetrated upon you.

Have you never loved someone who was doing you more harm than good? I wouldn't say that emotions are rational. It seems that values (even ethical values) are a response to emotions, only sometimes aided (or obfuscated) by reasoning.

Justin Spahr-Summers:
Fundamentally, it's "length of survival." The good is that which works toward "life" in the purely existential sense.

I guess the obvious question is, what if someone wants to commit suicide? How can we call that "evil," and if the answer is that the act works against life, isn't this merely tantamount to defining evil as that which works against life? This is the problem I see in the idea of life-based value. Either what is conducive to life is defined as good/valuable, or it seems to collapse down to the fairly mundane observation that "just about everyone wants to live as long and as well as possible."

Justin Spahr-Summers:
But in order for man to survive longer than just the immediate future, he needs a code of values directing his actions.

Before you said you don't mean a "code of conduct," so I can only assume you mean a scale of values, i.e., "Prefer apples to grapes, etc." But again I'd say we value a thing because we want it, not the other way around.

Justin Spahr-Summers:
...what he receives enjoyment from will be that which is in concordance with his values.

Seems like a tautology to me. His values are defined by why he enjoys.

Justin Spahr-Summers:
No, because if you assert that ethics is subjective, that means that the actions of different actors all have equal ethical validity, so long as the actor is acting in accordance with his conception of the good.

That could be a form of either subjective or objective ethics: the judgment that "all ethical conceptions are equal." This is not what I mean by subjective ethics, nor what Mises means by it. I'm glad you mentioned this because I can see now why there is all this confusion about subjective ethics. Ethical language that we are forced to use (out of convenience) often obscures or leaves out  who is doing the judging, because such words were surely coined in the objective ethical context. For example in the context of a village where everyone thinks roughly alike, so they can omit who is doing the judging, and even subtly influence people to "get with the program" through this linguistic trick of speaking as if opinions are objective.

So allow me to clarify by example. You can take all my responses below as definitive statements of what I (and I think Mises) mean by "subjective ethics."

Justin Spahr-Summers:
A sociopath who thinks that murder is good and his victim, who thinks otherwise, are both right "in their own way."

Neither are "right" at all from the objective point of view that you're speaking from. Until we specify who is making the judgment of "right" or "wrong" there is no meaning in such words for me, and once we do specify who is making the judgment, we understand "right" and "wrong" to mean precisely "morally agreeable from that person's perspective" and "morally disagreeable from that person's perspective," respectively.

If it is me making the judgment, right (wrong) means "morally (dis)agreeable from my perspective." All it is saying is that my perspective is not objective; it is "only" my perspective - nothing more. And likewise, other people's perspectives are "nothing more" than their own perspectives. I put quotes around "only" and "nothing more" because a subjective ethicist does not recognize that there can be "anything more" than one's own perspective. Yet one can still judge and take action on those judgments just like all others can.

Justin Spahr-Summers:
A sociopath who thinks that murder is good and his victim, who thinks otherwise, are both right "in their own way."

So my answer to this is that the murderer is most emphatically wrong (i.e., most emphatically morally disagreeable from my perspective), and I may take action against the sociopath based on this judgment. The difference with objective ethics is that I don't claim my perspective has objectivity - given that it's plain to see everyone has their own perspective.

Alternatively, if my goal is to persuade, I could make my claim based on how I conceive of morality internally and see if my statements resonate with others, and since we are all human and share much DNA and experience in common that may take me far, but it's still just a matter of whether other people agree, or how persuasive I can be.

Justin Spahr-Summers:
This, however, is useless for a concept of justice, law, etc., because one can equally say, "In terminating the voluntary employment contract with his worker, the factory owner did something that the worker did not like," and it holds just as much (or rather, as little) meaning as the preceding statement.

If I were an adjudicator - say I worked for a private court - I would find in favor of the factory owner, because his action was not morally disagreeable from my perspective (and also because I think it would produce good consequences to uphold the libertarian notion of justice).

Justin Spahr-Summers:
Chaos ensues, with every man able to proclaim that all of his actions were as morally "right" as his neighbor's, when this is not true.

They can proclaim - everyone already does - but ultimately their fate is decided by others based on their own subjective moral judgments, and rarely if ever on those of the defendants or litigants.

Justin Spahr-Summers:
A murderer is not "just as right" as his victim.

No, not from my point of view. From the murderer's point of view perhaps, but he will have no more influence over his own legal fate than I do. Justice will be served: not necessarily in my eyes, but in the eyes of whoever's in charge. (Even in an anarchy some people are going to be more involved in adjudication than others, if only by virtue of some people not having enough free time.) If I'm intimately involved in the case, I'll be serving up a decidedly libertarian sentence for the murderer.

Justin Spahr-Summers:
Also (just for the sake of clarity), the fact that a norm exists says nothing about its ethical validity one way or the other.

Wait, so by norm you don't mean an ethical norm? Usually in libertarian circles it seems that normative = ethical.

  • | Post Points: 20
Top 25 Contributor
Male
Posts 3,260
Points 61,905
ForumsAdministrator
Moderator
Staff
SystemAdministrator

Conza88:

Lilburne:

Exclusive control.  It is true that economics shows us the prosperity that comes from exclusive control being associated with homesteading and exchange, and continued exclusive control after homesteading and exchange.  But that says nothing about whether such a state of affairs is moral or immoral.

So "exclusive control" is your definition of property, and the theory of how one comes to justly achieve exclusive control over property is through homesteading?

Where in the above did I say anything about justice?

Conza88:
And how does that refute self ownership?

You asked me to define property.  I did.  What does "refuting self ownership" have to do with that?

Conza88:
How does the below not say anything about "political" ethics?

Is your argument, "Hoppe talks about political ethics, therefore ethics (as described in the OP) is a valid science."?

Conza88:

Lilburne:

Of course it's not completely analogous.  ...

That's right, it's not analogous.

You dropped the "completely".  Big difference.

Conza88:
And no, there is no key commonality between the two. Since Rothbard, did not in fact go for "universal absolute, objective values", beyond political philosophy, i.e a "political" ethic as described above. 

I don't mean "universal" in terms of "an all encompassing science".  I mean "universal" in terms of values that are true for everyone/everything.

Conza88:
And I don't see how you have at all shown that a rationalist axiomatic-deductive objective ethics (within political philosophy obviously) is chimeric.

Not in the OP, no.  There I only present its essential similarity to past exploded, chimeric doctrines: a similarity that, at least prima facie, bodes ill for Rothbardian meta-ethics.  It is in many other posts over the past months that I believe zefreak, AJ, Adam Knott, liberty student, and I have shown the incoherency of Rothbardian meta-ethical theories.

"the obligation to justice is founded entirely on the interests of society, which require mutual abstinence from property" -David Hume
  • | Post Points: 20
Top 10 Contributor
Male
Posts 5,538
Points 93,790
Juan replied on Sat, Jan 23 2010 1:22 PM
Where in the above did I say anything about justice?
Because you can say nothing about justice. Oh wait. You have the Mises-Hume socialist definition of 'justice' of course. Whatever promotes 'social cooperation' is 'just'.
Rothbardian meta-ethics.
No such thing. Libertarianism is a system of morality and was certainly not created by Rothbard. It's funny how you deride natural rights because they are too 'intellectual' and yet you try to refute the concept using sophisms, which are a perversion of the use of the intellect.

February 17 - 1600 - Giordano Bruno is burnt alive by the catholic church.
Aquinas : "much more reason is there for heretics, as soon as they are convicted of heresy, to be not only excommunicated but even put to death."

  • | Post Points: 5
Top 25 Contributor
Posts 3,739
Points 60,635
Marko replied on Sat, Jan 23 2010 1:29 PM

Sphairon:

My prediction: this is going to escalate into another flame war between Juanite "true path" libertarians and Lilburnesque "real world" libertarians.

Still, thanks for eloquently pointing out the facts once again, Lilburne. Maybe at some point they will be recognized as such.

Jet it would seem it is these supposed "real world libertarians" who again and again spend their energies on the esoteric rather than the practical.

 

  • | Post Points: 35
Top 10 Contributor
Male
Posts 5,538
Points 93,790
Juan replied on Sat, Jan 23 2010 1:40 PM
My prediction: this is going to escalate into another flame war between Juanite "true path" libertarians
Sphairon, would you steal, rape and murder if you thought that doing so would advance your 'self-interest' ?

February 17 - 1600 - Giordano Bruno is burnt alive by the catholic church.
Aquinas : "much more reason is there for heretics, as soon as they are convicted of heresy, to be not only excommunicated but even put to death."

  • | Post Points: 5
Top 25 Contributor
Male
Posts 3,260
Points 61,905
ForumsAdministrator
Moderator
Staff
SystemAdministrator

Conza88:

J. Grayson Lilburne:

Rothbard via Conza:
And yet as soon as anyone makes any policy suggestion, however narrow or limited, an ethical judgment—sound or unsound—has willy-nilly been made.

Mises via Lilburne:
An economist investigates whether a measure a can bring about the result p for the attainment of which it is recommended, and finds that a does not result in p but in g. an effect which even the supporters of the measure a consider undesirable. If this economist states the outcome of his investigation by saying that a is a bad measure, he does not pronounce a judgment of value. He merely says that from the point of view of those aiming at the goal p, the measure a is inappropriate. In this sense the free-trade economists attacked protection. They demonstrated that protection does not, as its champions believe, increase but, on the contrary, decreases the total amount of products, and is therefore bad from the point of view of those who prefer an ampler supply of products to a smaller. It is in this sense that economists criticize policies from the point of view of the ends aimed at. If an economist calls minimum wage rates a bad policy, what he means is that its effects are contrary to the purpose of those who recommend their application. (Human Action, Chapter 39)

And yet that doesn't refute anything, it only serves to back up what was previously said.

No, it demonstrates how it is NOT the economist who makes "wily-nily" judgments.  It is the "advisee" who has subjective ends.  The economist as advisor only analyzes the suitability of means.

Rothbard:
It is therefore impermissible for the economist or other social scientist to act as if he were a physician, who can generally assume complete agreement on values and goals with his patient and who can therefore prescribe accordingly and with no compunction.

Again....

Mises:

"The liberals do not assert that men ought to strive after the goals mentioned above. What they maintain is that the immense majority prefer a life of health and abundance to misery, starvation, and death. The correctness of this statement cannot be challenged. It is proved by the fact that all antiliberal doctrines--the theocratic tenets of the various religious, statist, nationalist, and socialist parties--adopt the same attitude with regard to these issues. They all promise their followers a life of plenty. They have never ventured to tell people that the realization of their program will impair their material well-being. They insist--on the contrary--that while the realization of the plans of their rival parties will result in indigence for the majority, they themselves want to provide their supporters with abundance." (Mises, HA, ch. 8)

Rothbard:
Since, then, praxeology provides no ethics whatsoever

This is an important truth Rothbard here states which some of his followers don't accept.  Rothbard himself regards natural rights philosophy as non-praxeological.

Rothbard:
The trouble is that most economists burn to make ethical pronouncements and to advocate political policies—to say, in effect, that policy X is "good" and policy Y "bad." Properly, an economist may only make such pronouncements in one of two ways: either (1) to insert his own arbitrary, ad hoc personal value judgments and advocate policy clearly on that basis; or (2) to develop and defend a coherent ethical system and make his pronouncement, not as an economist, but as an ethicist, who also uses the data of economic science. But to do the latter, he must have thought deeply about ethical problems and also believe in ethics as an objective or rational discipline—and precious few economists have done either. That leaves him with the first choice: to make crystal clear that he is speaking not as an economist but as a private citizen who is making his own confessedly arbitrary and ad hoc value pronouncements.

See the first thing I write in this post above.

Murphy:
"Yeager advocates a utilitarianism of the variety articulated by Ludwig von Mises in Human Action.  The normative terms good and bad make sense only in the context of society, and something—be it an action, law, or ideology—is morally good only insofar as it promotes human happiness or satisfaction. 

I do disagree with Mises' depiction of morality as merely a matter of convention, and not of conscience.  But that's a matter for another thread.

Murphy:
Is it really true, for example, that Josef Stalin acted against his interests, even in the long run?

No, but the number of people who would really benefit more from interventionism than from capitalism is so vanishingly small, that as a practical matter, it makes sense to make utilitarian (in the Misesian sense) arguments.

"the obligation to justice is founded entirely on the interests of society, which require mutual abstinence from property" -David Hume
  • | Post Points: 20
Top 25 Contributor
Posts 3,739
Points 60,635
Marko replied on Sat, Jan 23 2010 4:23 PM

J. Grayson Lilburne:


The labels I was rejected were "amoralist" and "moral nihilist", because, to me, those terms seem to indicate people, not entirely unlike Bloom, who profess to reject personal conscience-based morality, who profess to look only to further their own material well-being, and who say that it is only external threats of retaliation that keep them from rape, plunder and pillage. That in no way describes me. I consider my conscience to be a hugely important guide to my action and my judgment of the actions of others. So, I bridle at the labels "amoralist" and "moral nihilist" as completely misleading.


That is not a meaningful distinction. Since you assert that there is no truth in relation as to what constitutes morality you agree with the nihilist that there can be no veracity to any claim about a certain action being moral or immoral.

  • | Post Points: 20
Top 50 Contributor
Male
Posts 2,551
Points 46,635
AJ replied on Sat, Jan 23 2010 4:43 PM

Better to avoid labels, because few people seem to fit cleanly into any of the myriad ethical positions that have recognized titles: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moral_nihilism

  • | Post Points: 20
Top 10 Contributor
Male
Posts 5,538
Points 93,790
Juan replied on Sat, Jan 23 2010 5:23 PM
"For example, a moral nihilist would say that killing someone, for whatever reason, is not inherently right or wrong."

That's exactly the position of the moral subjectivists, OOPS, moral nihilists.

You guys made your bed, now lie in it. Or do you lack the guts ?

And by the way AJ, don't you think you should use better sources than 5th rate wikipedia ?

February 17 - 1600 - Giordano Bruno is burnt alive by the catholic church.
Aquinas : "much more reason is there for heretics, as soon as they are convicted of heresy, to be not only excommunicated but even put to death."

  • | Post Points: 5
Top 100 Contributor
Male
Posts 867
Points 17,790
Sphairon replied on Sat, Jan 23 2010 5:35 PM

Marko:

Jet it would seem it is these supposed "real world libertarians" who again and again spend their energies on the esoteric rather than the practical.

As evidenced by what?

 

Juan:


Sphairon, would you steal, rape and murder if you thought that doing so would advance your 'self-interest' ?

I would certainly prefer not to. And I would support enforcement against those who do. But I don't claim to be on the side of universal truth for doing so.


  • | Post Points: 50
Top 10 Contributor
Male
Posts 5,538
Points 93,790
Juan replied on Sat, Jan 23 2010 5:37 PM
Rothbard : Since, then, praxeology provides no ethics whatsoever

Lilburne : This is an important truth Rothbard here states which some of his followers don't accept.

Praxeology is just a fancy name for economics. And if economics says nothing about ethics, so what. Libertarianism is still a moral system.

Mises was an economist, not a political philosopher at all. As an economist he can talk about economics. But when politics enters the scene he has nothing to offer except statism.

February 17 - 1600 - Giordano Bruno is burnt alive by the catholic church.
Aquinas : "much more reason is there for heretics, as soon as they are convicted of heresy, to be not only excommunicated but even put to death."

  • | Post Points: 5
Top 25 Contributor
Male
Posts 3,260
Points 61,905
ForumsAdministrator
Moderator
Staff
SystemAdministrator

Sphairon:
I would certainly prefer not to. And I would support enforcement against those who do. But I don't claim to be on the side of universal truth for doing so.

This.

"the obligation to justice is founded entirely on the interests of society, which require mutual abstinence from property" -David Hume
  • | Post Points: 5
Top 10 Contributor
Male
Posts 5,538
Points 93,790
Juan replied on Sat, Jan 23 2010 5:38 PM
I would certainly prefer not to.
That is not what I asked.

February 17 - 1600 - Giordano Bruno is burnt alive by the catholic church.
Aquinas : "much more reason is there for heretics, as soon as they are convicted of heresy, to be not only excommunicated but even put to death."

  • | Post Points: 20
Top 100 Contributor
Male
Posts 867
Points 17,790
Sphairon replied on Sat, Jan 23 2010 5:58 PM

Juan:


That is not what I asked.

Since the future is uncertain and I can't predict all the circumstances that I will ever find myself in, I can't give you an apodictic answer. All I can tell you is that I have a strong preference against violence and aggression.

Now you can go off about my "moral relativism" and "ethical flip-flop", but at least I'm honest. If you ever find yourself starving and desperate, who knows what means you'll choose to survive, regardless of the universal ethical truth you claim to have adopted.


  • | Post Points: 5
Top 150 Contributor
Posts 634
Points 12,685

J. Grayson Lilburne:

liberty student:
still not being explored outside the Rothbardian paradigm, and the few who do seem to pursue this (GMU crowd?)

Right, and the GMU non-Rothbardians tend to be more Hayekian than Misesian.  As revered as Mises is, there seems to actually be very few Misesians, in the sense of Mises being their chief influence.

Great post, LS.

In relation to this, I found it interesting that in Horowitz's Rothbard piece the other day (answered by Block),  Horowitz implies that as opposed to a Rothbardian connection to Mises, one might choose a Kirznerian connection to Mises.

What seems to come out of Horowitz's piece---and this is reinforced by Block's reply---is the idea of choosing between students of Mises, with no explicit reason given why one couldn't simply consider oneself a direct student of Mises.  LvMi advocates being Rothbardian, while GMU apparently advocates being Hayekian or Kirznerian, both sides with Mises as common denominator.   Why the interposition of an "intermediary" scholar between themselves and Mises?

My answer: because the scientific method Mises represents is theoretically restrictive.  To subscribe explicitly to the paradigm Mises advances is to accept that one can be scientific but value-free on the one hand, or, express one's values but with no scientific basis on the other hand.  This explains why libertarian scholars want to maintain an intellectual distance between themselves and Mises.  They do this by interposing another scholar between themselves and Mises--a  scholar who does not subscribe to as clear a distinction between value-free science and value advocacy as does Mises. 

Mises writes in Socialism:  "It must be emphasized again: there is no such thing as a scientific ought."

After a lifetime of study under Mises, Rothbard, chafing under the constraints of Wertfreiheit, complains in The Ethics of Liberty that Mises is an "opponent of any sort of objective ethics."

People want to express their concrete desires in scientific form.   They don't want to explicitly say "my desire for concrete thing X has no scientific basis."

They don't want to explicitly confine themselves within a scientific paradigm which includes as one of its fundamental insights, as AJ has referred to:

"We orginally want or desire an object not because it is agreeable or good, but we call it agreeable or good because we want or desire it; and we do this because our sensuous or supesensuous nature so requires.  There is, thus, no basis for recognizing what is good and worth wishing for outside the faculty of desiring--i.e., the original desire and wish themselves."  (Epistemological Problems, p.151)

Mises's system is inconveniently inhospitable to one who would attempt to express one's personal desires as scientifically "justified."  And thus the need for an intellectual buffer between the scholar attempting to scientifically ground his/her  concrete values, and Mises who argues that one's concrete values can have no scientific grounding.

From an arm's length distance, we gain the credibility of Mises's scientific conclusions regarding inescapable market processes.   By staying at arm's length distance, we may ignore the methodological grounding by which Mises reaches his scientific conclusions, and substitute our own methodology more suitable for reaching the moral and ethical conclusions we want to reach.

In Mises's system, desire is "formalized" in the scientific conceptual framework.  Desire is stripped of content and considered in its purely formal nature....desire "as such."

Concrete desires then are the accidental, environmental, particular, individual, etc...  They have no scientific basis.  They are the particular or concrete desires or values that people happen to have, but which they do not necessarily have to have.

This binary system of thought is theoretically confining.  It is self-disciplining.   Scholars who want to provide a scientific basis for their preferences know intuitively if not consciously that they have no friend in Mises or Hume (e.g., the fact-value or is-ought gap).  And thus, as I have argued (and I suppose it is no secret), libertarian normative ethics begins with a critique of utilitarianism (in its egoistic, formalistic, "if-then" sense), and this means a critique of Mises and Hume.

This will also mean a critique of Misesian praxeology (as the search for exact laws of human action)---though not necessarily a critique of the Rothbardian conception of praxeology (conceived merely as a form of supposition/counter-supposition reasoninig).

As Lilburne's original post implies, the divide in libertarian ethics theory seems to be between those who consider Hume and Mises as foundational thinkers whose systems of thought can be built upon, and those who consider Hume and Mises as adversarial obstacles whose propositions must be overcome and proven wrong for the discipline of libertarian ethics to succeed.

And thus, there is a Methodenstreit occurring in libertarian ethics theory: 

http://mises.org/journals/scholar/knott.pdf

I believe it is important to add that this debate is not, as many probably believe, between those who believe that there is a rational basis for ethics, and those who deny that any rational basis for ethics exists.  The debate in my opinion will inevitably reduce to the question of whether a rational framework or theory of ethical phenomena (ethical actions) can be constructed on the basis of an objectively conceived reality, independent of the subjective desires (desires of the subject) of individual actors, or, whether a science of ethical actions must be constructed, as Mises asserts, based on the formal conception of human action as striving for ends.

The debate is not about the assertion of ethics versus the denial of ethics.  The debate is about the objective versus the subjective conceptual foundations of a theory of human ethical actions.

I would like to add one last insight in closing.

In the debate over objective ethics versus value-free science, certain patterns repeat.  One of them is the tendency among some to quickly resort to terms of opprobrium when their views are challenged.  I think I can shed some light on this so that there is a better understanding of why this pattern repeats.

In his 2003/2004 article which appeared in "The Free Radical," and was entitled "Reconciling Austrian and Objectivist Value Theories," Dr. Edward Younkins provides the following insights into Ayn Rand's objective ethics theory:

"For Rand, all human values are moral values that are essential to the ethical standard of human nature in general and the particular human life of who the agent is."

and:

"From Ayn Rand's perspective, every human value is a moral value (including economic value) that is important to the ethical standard of man's life qua man.  Rand viewed every human choice as a moral choice involving moral values."

I don't think we all realize how profound this aspect of objective ethics theory is.  In moral theorizing, the two primary categories are good and evil (moral/immoral, etc....).  In Randian ethics, as a comprehensive theory of human action and human behavior, all values are moral values.  And this means that every object of human action, every object of discussion and analysis, every object of debate, including all participants in the debate, must eventually be categorized as either good or evil or some sub-class belonging to one of these primary moral classes.  E.g., honest/dishonest, etc...

Some of us may be arguing or debating under an implicit belief that in a debate over objective ethics, some of the "values" of discussion (some parts of the discussion) are in some sense "neutral," carrying no particular moral connotation or aspect.

But I believe it is important to realize that in the Randian system, all values are ultimately moral values.  And this means that in the Randian system, and in systems of the same general character, the moral theorizer ultimately makes a moral judgment about every value---every object of action.

If this is the case, if every object of action is ultimately moral or immoral, honest or dishonest, good or evil, then what moral judgment must be applied to any theory or any theorist who contradicts the objective ethics theory or any of its primary assertions?

I trust that we are all intelligent enough to grasp the full implications of this situation.  If this kind of objective ethics theoretical system is a type of closed system of concepts that characterizes all values as moral values---each value (object) under consideration is either moral or immoral, good or evil---then  what moral category do we expect this theoretical system to assign to any object, value, person, or action that contradicts that system?

I believe this explains the constant and repetitive use of opprobrious terms and constant and repetitive resort to character assault, mainly by individuals on the objective ethics side of the debate.

To some extent, this is the unavoidable consequence of adopting a theory of human action wherein the two fundamental categories of action are those of good and evil.

Whereas in Misesian praxeology, actors are conceived as each striving after their ends with more or less appropriate means, in Randian and related moral theories, actors are conceived each as either good or evil, pursuing good or evil ends, with good or evil means.

Under these theoretical conditions, it is at least understandable, if not praiseworthy, that those discussants and any of their notions that contradict objective ethics tend to be characterized by an adjective chosen from the less flattering category of the objective ethics theoretical construct.

It may even be the case that this is considered virtuous by the moral ethicist concerned !

A wonderful passage by Mises helps illuminate the current situation:

"The discovery of the inescapable interdependence of market phenomena overthrew this opinion.  Bewildered, people had to face a new view of society.  They learned with stupefaction that there is another aspect from which human action might be viewed than that of good and bad, of fair and unfair, of just and unjust.  In the course of social events there prevails a regularity of phenomena to which man must adjust his actions if he wished to succeed.  It is futile to approach social facts with the attitude of a censor who approves or disapproves  from the point of view of quite arbitrary standards and judgments of value.  One must study the laws of human action and social cooperation as the physicist studies the laws of nature.  Human action and social cooperation seen as the object of a science of given relations, no longer a normative discipline of things that ought to be---this was a revolution of tremendous consequences for knowledge and philosophy as well as for social action."  (Human Action, 3rd. rev. p.2)

Indeed !   The revolution continues...

 

 

 

"It would be preposterous to assert apodictically that science will never succeed in developing a praxeological aprioristic doctrine of political organization..." (Mises, UF, p.98)

  • | Post Points: 50
Top 25 Contributor
Male
Posts 3,260
Points 61,905
ForumsAdministrator
Moderator
Staff
SystemAdministrator

Brilliant.

"the obligation to justice is founded entirely on the interests of society, which require mutual abstinence from property" -David Hume
  • | Post Points: 5
Top 200 Contributor
Male
Posts 418
Points 7,525
AJ:

Justin Spahr-Summers:
But valuing "in the general, non-ethical sense" still leads to the question: value for what?

The path may vary, but ultimately for their utility at bringing happiness.

What I propose, though, and what you disagree with, is that happiness, sadness, etc. proceed from one's values, not determine them.

AJ:

Justin Spahr-Summers:
Because emotions are a response to ethical values. If you love someone, you love their virtues (virtues which you evaluate according to your standard of value). If you hate someone, you despise their vices, or some form of transgression that they perpetrated upon you.

Have you never loved someone who was doing you more harm than good? I wouldn't say that emotions are rational. It seems that values (even ethical values) are a response to emotions, only sometimes aided (or obfuscated) by reasoning.

Well, I do think it's possible to love someone "who [does] you more harm than good," but precisely because you love them for their virtues. It may be that they continually frustrate you romantically, or are inconsiderate in some ways, etc. (without getting into too much empirical analysis), but I'd still say that the person is loved because of their value to the actor—they aren't valued because they are loved.

AJ:

Justin Spahr-Summers:
Fundamentally, it's "length of survival." The good is that which works toward "life" in the purely existential sense.

I guess the obvious question is, what if someone wants to commit suicide? How can we call that "evil," and if the answer is that the act works against life, isn't this merely tantamount to defining evil as that which works against life?

Yes, it precisely is. Because you and I are conscious beings, we have to choose between the fundamental alternative of "live" and "death" at any given moment. Because we are living beings, electing to continue to pursue life is the morally right action.

I try to avoid quoting Rand in debates, but I really like this: "The fact that a living entity is, determines what it ought to do."

AJ:

Justin Spahr-Summers:
But in order for man to survive longer than just the immediate future, he needs a code of values directing his actions.

Before you said you don't mean a "code of conduct," so I can only assume you mean a scale of values, i.e., "Prefer apples to grapes, etc." But again I'd say we value a thing because we want it, not the other way around.

I think Adam Knott's very impressive contribution to this thread highlights the disconnect we have here. "All human values are moral values," and "every human choice is a moral choice involving moral values."

AJ:

That could be a form of either subjective or objective ethics: the judgment that "all ethical conceptions are equal." This is not what I mean by subjective ethics, nor what Mises means by it. I'm glad you mentioned this because I can see now why there is all this confusion about subjective ethics. Ethical language that we are forced to use (out of convenience) often obscures or leaves out  who is doing the judging, because such words were surely coined in the objective ethical context. For example in the context of a village where everyone thinks roughly alike, so they can omit who is doing the judging, and even subtly influence people to "get with the program" through this linguistic trick of speaking as if opinions are objective.

So allow me to clarify by example. You can take all my responses below as definitive statements of what I (and I think Mises) mean by "subjective ethics."

The immediate issue that I find with such individualized ethics, though, is that it's similar to a Nietzschean "transvaluation of all values." Yet even Nietzsche ultimately found "life" (rather more vaguely defined) to be the highest value—and then just kind of stopped and said that all other values are subjective. If we accept such a premise, though, what makes life a value at all?

If we assume a society where everyone believes that ethics is subjective, it's possible that the sociopathic members of such a society could end up outnumbering the sane ones. Does this mean that murder will and should be condoned? If all the members of such a society adhered to self-destructive values, does that mean that self-destruction of oneself, of society, etc. is an end that we cannot pronounce judgment upon? I, for one, disagree. It is our existence as an end in itself that provides us the standard by which to determine other ends and determine morality—or those actions which are proper to a living being.

AJ:

Justin Spahr-Summers:
Also (just for the sake of clarity), the fact that a norm exists says nothing about its ethical validity one way or the other.

Wait, so by norm you don't mean an ethical norm? Usually in libertarian circles it seems that normative = ethical.

Sorry, I was trying to refer to cultural norms, in the sense of Western cultural norms, Middle Eastern cultural norms, Far East cultural norms, and so on. I guess they are "ethical norms" in the sense that the adherents view them as part of their morality, but my point is that the number of adherents doesn't determine whether such an ethical/cultural norm is actually right.

Life and reality are neither logical nor illogical; they are simply given. But logic is the only tool available to man for the comprehension of both.Ludwig von Mises

  • | Post Points: 20
Top 150 Contributor
Posts 634
Points 12,685

zefreak:

Short version, are moral urges (the feeling of disapprobation and, conversely, approval that arises from a given state of affairs) different in kind from feelings that arise from circumstances that would hardly be considered moral or immoral, such as breaking a computer or valued item? Is the difference merely one of degree (an admittedly large degree, to be sure)?

Is there a necessary distinction between moral sentiment and sentiment?

Yes, Z, in this limited sense:

The moral sentiment that arises from a given state of affairs will require or presuppose the "placement" in spatio-temporality of a secondary consciousness separate from the primary consciousness currently experiencing the feeling you refer to.  Whereas, in breaking a computer, no such "placement" of a secondary consciousness is required or presupposed.

In this limited sense, there is a necessary distinction between moral sentiment and sentiment.

 

 

 

"It would be preposterous to assert apodictically that science will never succeed in developing a praxeological aprioristic doctrine of political organization..." (Mises, UF, p.98)

  • | Post Points: 20
Top 10 Contributor
Posts 7,105
Points 115,240
ForumsAdministrator
Moderator
SystemAdministrator

Adam Knott:
This will also mean a critique of Misesian praxeology (as the search for exact laws of human action)---though not necessarily a critique of the Rothbardian conception of praxeology (conceived merely as a form of supposition/counter-supposition reasoninig).

I'm interested to know how to understand this? and what backs it up? Do other scholars have their own praxeology? 

Where there is no property there is no justice; a proposition as certain as any demonstration in Euclid

Fools! not to see that what they madly desire would be a calamity to them as no hands but their own could bring

  • | Post Points: 35
Top 150 Contributor
Posts 634
Points 12,685
Adam Knott replied on Sat, Jan 23 2010 10:56 PM

nirgrahamUK:

Adam Knott:
This will also mean a critique of Misesian praxeology (as the search for exact laws of human action)---though not necessarily a critique of the Rothbardian conception of praxeology (conceived merely as a form of supposition/counter-supposition reasoninig).

I'm interested to know how to understand this? and what backs it up? Do other scholars have their own praxeology? 

Nir:

Misesian praxeology, as I understand it, is not simply pure logical reasoning from a single axiom, e.g., that "humans act."

Misesian praxeology is built around a central "reference phenomenon" that Mises refers to as action.  The logical reasoning in Misesian praxeology is not simply reasoning from two words "man acts," but more accurately, conceiving consistently the means/ends relationship as that is experienced in action  by means of logical reasoning, so that the formal construct that captures the phenomenon of action is consistent and not contradictory.

In Misesian praxeology, the reference phenomenon of action is central, and logical reasoning, with reference to the phenomenon of action, adjusts and corrects the formal construct, rendering it consistent and free of contradictions.

First, there is the consciousness of the phenomenon of action:

"The starting point of experimental knowledge is the cognition that an A is uniformly followed by a B.  The utilization of this knowledge either for the production of B or for the avoidance of the emergence of B is called action.  The primary objective of action is either to bring about B or to prevent its happening."  (Ultimate Foundations, p.20)

Then there is contemplation on the nature of action:

"The starting point of praxeology is not a choice of axioms and a decision about methods of procedure, but reflection about the essence of action." (HA, 3rd rev. p.39)

"The only way to a congnition of these theorems is logical analysis of our inherent knowledge of action.  We must bethink ourselves and reflect upon the structure of action."  (HA, 3rd rev. p.64)

Thus, Misesian praxeology is based on a "reference phenomenon" which is essentially the regular patterns that we come to notice in our action, and try to formulate into exact laws with the aid of logical reasoning.  This is the general science that Mises is describing.  It is based on the recognition of regular patterns of human action that we come to be conscious of as acting beings, and that we try to formulate, by means of discursive reasoning and logic, as exact laws.  Any regular pattern then, in action, where an A is uniformly followed by or is co-present with a B, is a pattern that is the subject matter of praxeology in Mises's conception, and this includes things outside the scope of economics proper (the study of market phenomena).  If every time a person lies for example (an action), he/she experiences a distinct feeling, then assuming this is the case,  it is the task of praxeology to conceive this phenomenon in an "If X, then Y" format as an exact law of human action.  This is the general science of action of which Mises speaks, and of which economics is merely the best elaborated part.

By contrast, the Rothbardian and Rothbardian influenced interpretation of praxeology generally omits or diminishes reference to the "reference phenomenon" of action (the repeated patterns of action experienced by an actor), and generally omits or diminishes reference to exact laws of human action--clear and explicit reference to the notion that in action an A is uniformly followed by or is co-present with a B.  This conception of things either results in, or is the result of, a further conception that praxeology is a kind of "reasoning" approach to specifically market phenomenna, as opposed to a general science that tries to conceive the regular patterns in all forms of human actions including non-market-related human actions (helping someone, harming someone, trying to figure out a problem, trying to overcome one's fears, etc...).

Regarding the idea that the Rothbardian conception of praxeology is by and large synonymous with supposition/counter-supposition reasoning, here is an example taken from his essay "Praxeology: The Methodology of Austrian Economics".

 

Let us consider some of the immediate implications of the action
axiom. Action implies that the individual's behavior is purposive, in
short, that it is directed toward goals. Furthermore, the fact of his action
implies that he has consciously chosen certain means to reach his goals.
Since he wishes to attain these goals, they must be valuable to him;
accordingly he must have values that govern his choices. That he
employs means implies that he believes he has the technological
knowledge that certain means will achieve his desired ends. Let us note
that praxeology does not assume that a person's choice of values or goals
is wise or proper or that he has chosen the technologically correct
method of reaching them. All that praxeology asserts is that the
individual actor adopts goals and believes, whether erroneously or
correctly, that he can arrive at them by the employment of certain means.
All action in the real world, furthermore, must take place through
time; all action takes place in some present and is directed toward the
future (immediate or remote) attainment of an end. If all of a person's
desires could be instantaneously realized, there would be no reason for
him to act at all.
3 Furthermore, that a ma n acts implies that he believes
action will make a difference; in other words, that he will prefer the state
of affairs resulting from action to that from no action. Action therefore
implies that man does not have omniscient knowledge of the future; for
if he had such knowledge, no action of his would make any difference.
Hence, action implies that we live in a world of an uncertain, or not fully
certain, future. Accordingly, we may amend our analysis of action to say
that a man chooses to employ means according to a technological plan in
the present because he expects to arrive at his goals at some future time.
3 In answer to the criticism that not all action is directed to some future point of time,
see Walter Block, "A Comment on 'The Extraordinary Claim of Praxeology' by
Professor Gutierrez," Theory and Decision 3 (1973): 381-82.
Praxeology: The Methodology of Austrian Economics
60
The fact that people act necessarily implies that the means
employed are scarce in relation to the desired ends; for, if all means were
not scarce but superabundant, the ends would already have been attained,
and there would be no need for action.
Stated another way, resources that
are superabundant no longer function as means, because they are no
longer objects of action. Thus, air is indispensable to life and hence to
the attainment of goals; however, air being superabundant is not an
object of action and therefore cannot be considered a means, but rather
what Mises called a "general condition of human welfare." Where air is
not superabundant, it may become an object of action, for example,
where cool air is desired and warm air is transformed through air
conditioning. Even with the absurdly unlikely adve nt of Eden (or what a
few years ago was considered in some quarters to be an imminent
"postscarcity" world), in which all desires could be fulfilled
instantaneously, there would still be at least one scarce means: the
individual's time, each unit of which if allocated to one purpose is
necessarily not allocated to some other goal. 4
Such are some of the immediate implications of the axiom of
action. We arrived at them by deducing the logical implications of the
existing fact of human action, and hence deduced true conclusions from
a true axiom. Apart from the fact that these conclusions cannot be
"tested" by historical or statistical means, there is no need to test them
since their truth has already been established. Historical fact enters into
these conclusions only by determining which branch of the theory is
applicable in any particular case. Thus, for Crusoe and Friday on their
desert island, the praxeological theory of money is only of academic,
rather than of currently applicable, interest. A fuller analysis of the
relationship between theory and history in the praxeological framework
will be considered below.


There are, then, two parts of this axiomatic-deductive method:
the process of deduction and the epistemological status of the axioms
themselves.

 

I underlined a few brief passages that are characteristic of Rothbard's approach.  With the above as reference, I would summarize the general difference between the Misesian conception and the Rothbardian conception of praxeology thusly:

In the Misesian conception, the "If X, then Y" propositions are propositions of the theory that refer to the regular pattern(s) in the phenomenon

In general, Mises is concerned with the regular patterns in human action, and the supposing of an "X" is the supposing of a phenomenon X, which is followed by or is co-present with, a phenomenon Y.

As you can see, the Rothbardian conception is subtly different.  Rothbard tends to conceive the "if X, then Y" propositions as parts of the theoretical reasoning process.  His "if X, then Y" 's are "discursive suppositions." arguing or building towards a kind of final "proof."  The "X-Y' suppositions are "X-Y" "hypotheticals" that belong to the "praxeological" reasoning process in Rothbard's conception of praxeology.

And as you can see, he plainly states:   "There are, then, two parts of this axiomatic-deductive method: the process of deduction and the epistemological status of the axioms themselves."

He leaves out mention of or reference to the phenomenon of action, regular patterns, exact laws, etc....

So he is not describing exactly the same thing Mises is.  Mises is focused on the phenomenon of action, its regular patterns, and the conception of those regular patterns as exact laws of human action.  Rothbard is focused on a process of "if-then" logical deduction from a so-called "action axiom" largely without reference to the phenomenon of action, regular patterns, and exact laws.

(I'm not aware of Mises ever referring to the "axiom of action" or an "action axiom" though he may possibly have.  I believe Mises thought in terms of a "category of action" meaning, that as opposed to mechanistic nature, there is another phenomenon bringing about change in the world; man's conscious aiming at ends.  This refers to the phenomenon of consciously aiming at ends, and this phenomenon, and conceiving it consistently in terms of means and ends, was Mises's chief concern)

Regarding your question whether other scholars have their own praxeology, I believe that followers of Rothbard including Hoppe and Long have tended to view praxeology more along the lines of "conceptual analysis" and less along the lines of regular patterns of human action conceived as exact laws.

Here is Long's definition:

"Praxeology is the study of those aspects of human action that can be grasped a priori; in other words, it is concerned with the conceptual analysis and logical implications of preference, choice, means-end schemes, and so forth."

"The basic principles of praxeology were first discovered by the Greek philosophers, who used them as a foundation for a eudaimonistic ethics. This approach was further developed by the Scholastics, who extended praxeological analysis to the foundations of economics and social science as well."

"In the late nineteenth century, the praxeological approach to economics and social science was rediscovered by Carl Menger, founder of the Austrian School. The term praxeology was first applied to this approach by the later Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises (portrait at left). Along with his students (including Friedrich Hayek and Murray Rothbard), Mises employed praxeological principles to show that much existing economic and social theory was conceptually incoherent."  (emphasis added)

Thus, Rothbard conceives praxeology as supposition/counter-supposition reasoning, and Long believes that the import of  Mises is his demonstration that other economic theories were conceptually incoherent.

This isn't accurate.  Mises demonstrated that resorting to definite policy means X, must necessarily result in a definite "economic" consequence Y.   His point was, for example, that attempts to artificially lower the voluntary or natural rate of interest X, must have a necessary consequence Y.  His concern was definitely the phenomena.  His concern and focus was on the results that our attempts to influence events must necessarily produce, or what those attempts could not possibly produce.  He wasn't concerned with "conceptual coherence" per se, he was concerned with economic phenomena and the phenomena of human action.

I would speculate that Long is accessing Mises as many American libertarian scholars do, through a Rothbardian lens.  And that is how he comes to the conclusion that the import of Mises and praxeology is conceptual analysis.  But, paraphrasing Long, doing this "just is" interpreting Mises according to a Rothbardian view of things.   To understand Mises as someone who's chief concern is logical deduction and conceptual analysis "just is what it means" to be a Rothbardian (or someone heavily influenced by him).

If a person wants to understand Mises by reference to another scholar, they can get a better idea of what Mises is doing by reading Book 1, chapters 1 through 5 of Menger's "Investigations Into the Method of the Social Sciences." (40 pages in total)

There, a person will see the general blueprint for Misesian praxelogy, what Menger referred to as theoretical exact science.

One who reads these five chapters by Menger will realize that what Menger and Mises have as their aim is exact laws of human or social phenomena.  Their conception of exact science or praxeology cannot be accurately characterized without referring to the idea of exact laws.

As Mises writes:

"Theory as distinct from history is the search for constant relations between entities, or, what means the same, for regularity in the succession of events." (UF, p.16)

"Praxeological knowledge makes it possible to predict with apodictic certainty the outcome of various modes of action." (HA, 3rd rev. p.117)

 

 

"It would be preposterous to assert apodictically that science will never succeed in developing a praxeological aprioristic doctrine of political organization..." (Mises, UF, p.98)

  • | Post Points: 5
Top 25 Contributor
Posts 3,739
Points 60,635
Marko replied on Sun, Jan 24 2010 4:15 AM

Sphairon:

Marko:

Jet it would seem it is these supposed "real world libertarians" who again and again spend their energies on the esoteric rather than the practical.

As evidenced by what?

As illustrated by the appeal these prolonged high flying debates hold to them in comparison to other topics, the length of their posts in them, and the propensity to throw around super-duper smartypants philosophical terms.

  • | Post Points: 20
Top 25 Contributor
Posts 3,739
Points 60,635
Marko replied on Sun, Jan 24 2010 4:44 AM

Adam Knott:

Mises writes in Socialism:  "It must be emphasized again: there is no such thing as a scientific ought."

After a lifetime of study under Mises, Rothbard, chafing under the constraints of Wertfreiheit, complains in The Ethics of Liberty that Mises is an "opponent of any sort of objective ethics."

So? This is supposed to be profound?

Where does Rothbard deny there is no such thing as a scientific ought?

Claiming that there is a morality independent of peoples' attitudes is claiming that there is a scientific ought? How do you make that jump?

  • | Post Points: 5
Top 25 Contributor
Posts 3,739
Points 60,635
Marko replied on Sun, Jan 24 2010 6:09 AM

As far as I can see the whole line of reasoning presented here by the subjectivists consists of assigning positions to Rothbard and likeminded people that they do not hold and then riling up against those. The starting point of the subjectivist critics here is the notion that objectivists are motivated by the desire to lend greater validity to the values they hold. So the very starting point of theirs is a smearful insinuation that objectivists are not intellectually honest.

It is also a notion that is clearly absurd. If a natural law proponent were to actually claim that his own values and the prism of natural law are in perfect sync then he would be making a claim that he is a saintly man. Obviously that is not the case. Every natural law proponent will freely admit that actually it is a struggle to live up the tenants of the unbiased ethic and many will admit that in a certain situation they can see themselves transgressing against it. So no, actually no imperialism of values is taking place.

The reality is that ethicists ask whether there is such a thing as morality that exists independently of personal biases. Subjectivists answer in the negative and then tries to prove this is the case. Objectivist similarly answers in the affirmative and then tries to prove this by discovering this independent morality by extrapolating it through sound reasoning from scratch or from a few common-sensical postulates.

The fact that natural law theory has been developed to such a point where it can offer a point of view on whether any action imaginable is precisely one of right or of wrong without entering into internal inconsistencies is proof enough that yes, actually there exists a way to judge the world free of personal biases.

This is all that objectivist morality states. There is no "ought" involved in it. The idea that people "ought to" act in accordance with morality independent of human biases is not a part of this independent morality. Natural law theory does not state people ought to live up to it. It merely proclaims that there exists a lens through which it is possible to judge their actions free of bias whatever course they chose to follow.

What course they actually take depends on their own values. It is entirely possible for someone to be a moral absolutist and recognize that truth in matters of morality exists jet decide he does not value right a great deal, or even decide he values wrong and knowingly follow a deeply immoral path of action. To such a person (akin to evilfolk in D&D) a moral absolutist who values doing the right thing would be totally powerless to explain why he "ought to" change his ways.

  • | Post Points: 20
Top 50 Contributor
Posts 2,162
Points 36,965
Moderator
I. Ryan replied on Sun, Jan 24 2010 6:43 AM

Marko:

The fact that natural law theory has been developed to such a point where it can offer a point of view on whether any action imaginable is precisely one of right or of wrong without entering into internal inconsistencies is proof enough that yes, actually there exists a way to judge the world free of personal biases.

Tell me whether this restatement of your argument is fair:

1. Because the explanation A exists, produces the result of either 1 or 0, "right" or "wrong", and is consistent, the explanation, A, is correct.

The reason why I am asking this is that I do not know whether, by "there exists a way to judge the world free of personal biases", you meant that "there exists a [correct!] way [via "natural law theory"!] to judge the world free of personal biases" or not.

If I wrote it more than a few weeks ago, I probably hate it by now.

  • | Post Points: 20
Top 25 Contributor
Male
Posts 3,260
Points 61,905
ForumsAdministrator
Moderator
Staff
SystemAdministrator

Marko:

Sphairon:

Marko:

Jet it would seem it is these supposed "real world libertarians" who again and again spend their energies on the esoteric rather than the practical.

As evidenced by what?

As illustrated by the appeal these prolonged high flying debates hold to them in comparison to other topics, the length of their posts in them,

First of all, I've written extensively on Paul Krugman, Ben Bernanke, and other practical, present-day issues.  And I've written much more on economics and history than on philosophy.  So your characterization is way off.

Secondly, that universal, absolute, and objective ethics is chimerical is of great practical importance.  In terms of guiding the movement toward effecting change, I believe it demonstrates the relative strength of the Misesian project (using praxeology to analyze means: particularly to demonstrate the inefficacy of interventionist means regarding the VAST preponderance of ends that are held) over the Rothbardian project (doing the former PLUS spending a great deal of intellectual resources on trying to prove universal ends.  Many of the faults that make universal, absolute, and objective ethics incoherent as a science are also what makes such arguments as Eudaimonism and Argumentation Ethics fail to resonate with people who aren't already libertarian, and thereby don't already rigorously hold libertarian ends anyway.  The movement for truth, freedom, and prosperity would be much better served if its sharpest minds weren't occupied with such ultimately unfruitful questions, and if instead they focused on unresolved or unclarified issues in economic theory and history.

"the obligation to justice is founded entirely on the interests of society, which require mutual abstinence from property" -David Hume
  • | Post Points: 5
Top 10 Contributor
Male
Posts 5,538
Points 93,790
Juan replied on Sun, Jan 24 2010 1:01 PM
The discovery of the inescapable interdependence of market phenomena overthrew this opinion. Bewildered, people had to face a new view of society. They learned with stupefaction that there is another aspect from which human action might be viewed than that of good and bad, of fair and unfair, of just and unjust/
'Bewildered' 'stupefaction'- sounds like cheap rhetoric, not 'value-free' science. And what "people" is Mises talking about ? A bunch of amoralist utilitarians like himself ?

Also, the "interdependence of market phenomena" is something that lots of libertarian economists were aware of and yet they didn't choose amoral utilitarianism as their moral system. It seems as if Mises is rewriting history...
In the course of social events there prevails a regularity of phenomena to which man must adjust his actions if he wished to succeed. It is futile to approach social facts with the attitude of a censor who approves or disapproves from the point of view of quite arbitrary standards and judgments of value.
But isn't Mises censoring people who don't conform to his amoral utilitarianism ?
One must study the laws of human action and social cooperation as the physicist studies the laws of nature.
One must ? Because Mises the positivist says so ?
Human action and social cooperation seen as the object of a science of given relations, no longer a normative discipline of things that ought to be---this was a revolution of tremendous consequences for knowledge and philosophy as well as for social action.
Amoralism was a revolution ? And is Mises using the term 'revolution' in a 'value-free' manner ? Or is it just more utilitarian propaganda and self-promotion ?
Knott:
Indeed ! The revolution continues...
lol.

February 17 - 1600 - Giordano Bruno is burnt alive by the catholic church.
Aquinas : "much more reason is there for heretics, as soon as they are convicted of heresy, to be not only excommunicated but even put to death."

  • | Post Points: 20
Top 25 Contributor
Male
Posts 3,260
Points 61,905
ForumsAdministrator
Moderator
Staff
SystemAdministrator

Juan:
sounds like cheap rhetoric

Juan:
And what "people" is Mises talking about ? A bunch of amoralist utilitarians like himself ?

Juan:
Because Mises the positivist says so ?

Juan:
And is Mises using the term 'revolution' in a 'value-free' manner ? Or is it just more utilitarian propaganda and self-promotion ?

Juan:
Knott:
Indeed ! The revolution continues...
lol.

Juan,

In addition to mockingly laughing at Mr. Knott's highly admirable scholarly enthusiasm, you have accused Ludwig von Mises of having been a self-promoting positivist who uses cheap rhetoric.  That is in DIRECT contravention of forum rules:

 

HeroicLife:

Personal Attacks

Avoid all personal attacks, whether against another user, or any other person--member or non-member, living or deceased (for example, do not post material that berates Ludwig von Mises). These inflammatory remarks have no place in civil, rational discourse.

This, combined with your long history of attacking other members, is proof that you have no place in a venue for learning and civil discussion. Therefore, I am permanently banning you. You have been given a multitude of chances, so this is a measure that is long overdue.

This has nothing to do with the fact that you disagree with my position in this thread. As can be seen earlier in this thread, I will just as readily defend the memory of Rothbard as I will the memory of Mises, even when it is disparaged by people on my "side" in this debate. But obviously zefreak's indiscretion was out of the ordinary for him, while yours is par for the course.

In fact, this measure will probably help the objectivist position you espouse, because if anything, your incivility has probably turned people off from it. Justin, Conza, Marko, and other objective rights advocates who don't feel the need to coat their arguments with spite will have a much easier time convincing people without your input.

I hope some day you will mellow out and be able to promote your ideas regarding libertarianism in a respectful manner. But this forum can no longer wait for that day.

"the obligation to justice is founded entirely on the interests of society, which require mutual abstinence from property" -David Hume
  • | Post Points: 20
Top 500 Contributor
Posts 254
Points 3,955
yuberries replied on Sun, Jan 24 2010 5:44 PM

I'm very sad for Juan's permaban. I've lurked this forums a lot for the past months and sympathized with his indecent posts somewhat. He certainly deserved it, but I wish he would have been able to hold his inner anger back a bit more.

On topic, I have not much to add, but to ask for a clarification here. It seems the moral relativists, amoralists, subjetctivists, whatever you call them (I'm probably one as well) aren't really in conflict with the "objectivists" here, because as I see it, most objectivists here aren't attempting to break the is-ought dichotomy but working inside that which "is". They seem to want to prove only that there exist, may exist, or may be built a moral code very akin to objective facts.

Shouldn't you refrain from calling yourselves "objectivists"?

I know it's a matter of semantics, but am I right to say that... these "objectivists" shouldn't be using the word "objectivist", because that is NOT what an objective moralist normally is or says, in my opinion. A moral objetivist in my experience will infer that you ought to adopt his moral code based on some observational condition. Most "objectivists" here don't seem to be doing anything of the sort.

There needs to be a new term I feel, to dicern between this breed of "objectivism" with the more traditional one, and I'm not the best here to offer a solution since I barely even grasp all the terms thrown around (wikipedia doesn't help either as it seems the people there don't quite understand them either lol)

So far, as I see it, it's been like this:

amoralists (there are no oughts) //// "objectivists" (oughts if you accept certain axioms or whatever) //// objectivists (oughts regardless of what you say or do)

I think this type of "objetivist" is way more of an amoralist than a true objectivist since what's the point of having a moral code if you can't "impose" it on others... and I don't think amoralists deny that there can't be contractual or interpersonal codes for people to follow, there certainly can be, it's just that they're not binding as in themselves. So.. why not just call yourselves amoralists already,I just don't understand, but I don't think I'm the only one here. Juan for example was trying to say that all along :(

Maybe it should be called... "interpersonal objetivism", idk.

  • | Post Points: 35
Top 200 Contributor
Male
Posts 418
Points 7,525
yuberries:

So far, as I see it, it's been like this:

amoralists (there are no oughts) //// "objectivists" (oughts if you accept certain axioms or whatever) //// objectivists (oughts regardless of what you say or do)

Under which category do you classify me? I can't really tell.

Life and reality are neither logical nor illogical; they are simply given. But logic is the only tool available to man for the comprehension of both.Ludwig von Mises

  • | Post Points: 20
Top 500 Contributor
Posts 254
Points 3,955
yuberries replied on Sun, Jan 24 2010 6:18 PM

Justin Spahr-Summers:
yuberries:

So far, as I see it, it's been like this:

amoralists (there are no oughts) //// "objectivists" (oughts if you accept certain axioms or whatever) //// objectivists (oughts regardless of what you say or do)

Under which category do you classify me? I can't really tell.

I think you're in the middle. But you can answer that yourself.

Could a moral code (any you can come up with) be binding to everyone? or every rational agent..

 

  • | Post Points: 20
Top 200 Contributor
Male
Posts 418
Points 7,525
yuberries:

I think you're in the middle. But you can answer that yourself.

Could a moral code (any you can come up with) be binding to everyone? or every rational agent..

I think that oughts exist because of certain axioms. One doesn't need to accept the axioms, but that doesn't falsify them. So, in other words, based on certain axioms which I find to be self-evidently true, there are "oughts regardless of what you say and do." Which is why I found your spectrum confusing.

In a discussion like this, there's more for both parties to gain in the form of calm, rational debate. It means nothing to the other posters here if I say, "My morals are the correct ones regardless of what you say or do," without trying to explain why I think that they can be objectively correct.

Life and reality are neither logical nor illogical; they are simply given. But logic is the only tool available to man for the comprehension of both.Ludwig von Mises

  • | Post Points: 20
Top 500 Contributor
Posts 254
Points 3,955
yuberries replied on Sun, Jan 24 2010 6:38 PM

Oh ok :) So you are pretty much a moral objectivist.

But you do see that others may have different rationalizations and axioms and that screws up the universality of it?

Perhaps the diagram doesn't apply to you, but I just wanted to point out that to be a true moral objectivist, you'd have to assert that people ought to use certain axioms, and if you don't, then... it's all interpersonal interpretations and not universal.

  • | Post Points: 20
Top 150 Contributor
Posts 634
Points 12,685

yuberries:

1)  most objectivists here aren't attempting to break the is-ought dichotomy but working inside that which "is".

 

2)   "objectivists" (oughts if you accept certain axioms or whatever)

 

Yuberries:

You make good points.  But I think you are willing to go farther than those who you are referring to.

Regarding #1, if someone isn't attempting to overcome the is-ought dichotomy, all one has to do is explicitly state that he/she accepts it.   You imply that most objectivists accept "Hume's Law."    I don't think this is accurate.  Can you substantiate the proposition that moral objectivists accept Hume's law, and Mises's insistence that there is no such thing as a scientific (universally valid) ought ?   That doesn't square with my experience.

 

Regarding #2, can you point us to an explicit and elaborated exposition of this theory of objectivism you refer to?  

Explicit:  Explicitly stating that all oughts are contingent on the subjective acceptance (acceptance by the subject) of a given end?

I don't think that is their argument.  I think their argument is that the end is inherent in your nature, and not based on your acceptance of it. 

Elaborated Exposition:  An essay, paper, book chapter.  Not blog posts.

If you know of such arguments, can you please provide a few links or references ?

 

Here is probably the most cogent statement of the is-ought dichotomy in the libertarian literature:

http://mises.org/journals/jls/7_1/7_1_4.pdf

If you read this article, you will see that O'Neil is asserting Hume's Law as against the objectivist ethical theories of Rand, Rothbard, Rasmussen and Den Uyl.   Most objective ethicists on this forum are followers or students of one or several of these scholars.

It is clear to me that all four would have strongly denied what O'Neil is asserting in this article.

You are implying that there are now objective ethicists that by and large accept O'Neil's argument; that in this debate O'Neil was right and those arguing against his position were wrong.

Do you know of any articles, essays, or books, written by objective ethicists, where something to this effect is explicitly acknowledged ?

Please provide links or references if you can.

My point is that while I am sympathetic to the gist of your point, which is that traditional objective ethics can be modified by accepting Hume's Law and trying to go the route of "intersubjective objectivity," I'm still not aware of the explicit recognition by objective ethicists of the reasons for having to make this change, which is obviously not part of the original program of objective ethics.

In other words, the change in conceptions you are noticing, advocating, or recommending, is based on the implicit recognition of problems with the older paradigm, which problems center around the failed attempt to overcome Hume's Law.   Then why do these problems have to remain implicit?

Can you refer us to an explicit, clear, and concise analysis of these problems and the reason for having to make the change to a new concept of intersubjective objectivity?

 

 

"It would be preposterous to assert apodictically that science will never succeed in developing a praxeological aprioristic doctrine of political organization..." (Mises, UF, p.98)

  • | Post Points: 20
Top 200 Contributor
Male
Posts 418
Points 7,525
yuberries:

But you do see that others may have different rationalizations and axioms and that screws up the universality of it?

No. Just because it's objective doesn't mean that our understanding of it is perfect. In the same way that physicists work to expand our knowledge of the universe, philosophers and ethicists can work to expand our knowledge of an objective ethical code.

In fact, this forms the basis for the (admittedly relatively few) objections I have against Rand's specific conclusions.

Life and reality are neither logical nor illogical; they are simply given. But logic is the only tool available to man for the comprehension of both.Ludwig von Mises

  • | Post Points: 50
Top 500 Contributor
Posts 254
Points 3,955
yuberries replied on Sun, Jan 24 2010 7:31 PM

Adam Knott:

Yuberries:

You make good points.  But I think you are willing to go farther than those who you are referring to.

Regarding #1, if someone isn't attempting to overcome the is-ought dichotomy, all one has to do is explicitly state that he/she accepts it.   You imply that most objectivists accept "Hume's Law."    I don't think this is accurate.  Can you substantiate the proposition that moral objectivists accept Hume's law, and Mises's insistence that there is no such thing as a scientific (universally valid) ought ?   That doesn't square with my experience.

No, I meant, objectivists in general are just like you describe. However the way I read some of the posts in this thread, it seemed some were trying to assert that it was possible to have universal moral standards while using descriptive declarations alone. That is, circumventing the is/ought. But maybe I misread!

Adam Knott:

Can you refer us to an explicit, clear, and concise analysis of these problems and the reason for having to make the change to a new concept of intersubjective objectivity?

I apologize, there is no formal elaboration on this, I just started spouting it at that moment. It makes no sense now since it's no different than amoralism or moral nihilism. Maybe I was tripping. Now allow me to go back to my basement and lurk some more until the time perhaps I have something useful to share that is not bottled up and smelling like urine. Ouch that was harsh, bad bad me.

  • | Post Points: 20
Top 500 Contributor
Posts 254
Points 3,955
yuberries replied on Sun, Jan 24 2010 7:32 PM

Justin Spahr-Summers:
yuberries:

But you do see that others may have different rationalizations and axioms and that screws up the universality of it?

No. Just because it's objective doesn't mean that our understanding of it is perfect. In the same way that physicists work to expand our knowledge of the universe, philosophers and ethicists can work to expand our knowledge of an objective ethical code.

In fact, this forms the basis for the (admittedly relatively few) objections I have against Rand's specific conclusions.

I wish you the best of luck on that, but so far, I remain nihilistically unconvinced Smile

  • | Post Points: 5
Top 150 Contributor
Posts 634
Points 12,685
Adam Knott replied on Sun, Jan 24 2010 10:12 PM

Yuberries:

Actually, Kinsella recently posted something similar to what you posted.  He said that Ayn Rand's oughts were conditional upon the acceptance of a given end.  Basically what you wrote:

"objectivists" (oughts if you accept certain axioms or whatever)

 

I believe he wrote that, as you wrote your post, somewhat in the spirit of a reconciliation between objectivist and subjectivist value theories.

 

The way I read this is that it is Kinsella's and perhaps your contention, that the two theories could be reconciled, if one accepts that oughts are conditional on the subject's acceptance of a given end.   "If you want X, then you ought to do Y."  (O'Neil covers this in detail)

 

The problem is, I believe, that this is still the issue in contention, whereas what you and Kinsella are/were seeming to say or imply, is that the conditional nature of oughts was to some extent granted by objectivists or some objectivists.

 

If the oughts are dependent on subjective ends (ends of individual subjects), then we're headed towards means/ends analysis, subjective value, methodological individualism, etc.   As regards ethics specifically, the rejection of this approach (a rejection of Misesian/Humean means/ends analysis) constitutes part of the foundation of objective ethics.

 

Maybe the group you and Kinsella have in mind consists in those who are philosophically and temperamentally comfortable with objective ethics, but who nonetheless perceive that human values, including moral and ethical values, are relative to the purpose(s) of the individual(s) concerned ?

 

"It would be preposterous to assert apodictically that science will never succeed in developing a praxeological aprioristic doctrine of political organization..." (Mises, UF, p.98)

  • | Post Points: 20
Top 500 Contributor
Posts 280
Points 5,590
Zavoi replied on Mon, Jan 25 2010 2:06 AM

Justin Spahr-Summers:
laminustacitus:

Justin Spahr-Summers:
Zavoi:

Whence, then, comes the reason for valuing the lives of others?

There is more to personally gain from cooperation than from coercion.

Not necessarily, there is nothing to gain from cooperation when the others in question desire one dead.

True, but he was asking why one should ever value the life of another (or that's how I read it, anyways). Two actors should value each other because they can obtain more in cooperation than they can from war. If one of them refuses to realize this, then naturally the situation is different.

Whether or not someone values cooperation with others is still a matter of individual (subjective) preference, even if we grant that the value of one's own life is axiomatic (which itself seems at the very least non-obvious). It's easy to imagine someone who doesn't value cooperation - consider a dictator deciding how to deal with a rebel. The fact that the dictator values his/her own life doesn't mean that the dictator "must" or "should" value the rebel's life.

Marko:

The fact that natural law theory has been developed to such a point where it can offer a point of view on whether any action imaginable is precisely one of right or of wrong without entering into internal inconsistencies is proof enough that yes, actually there exists a way to judge the world free of personal biases.

This is all that objectivist morality states. There is no "ought" involved in it. The idea that people "ought to" act in accordance with morality independent of human biases is not a part of this independent morality. Natural law theory does not state people ought to live up to it. It merely proclaims that there exists a lens through which it is possible to judge their actions free of bias whatever course they chose to follow.

1: What do you mean by "ought"? And 2: given that definition, how can you separate "ought" from morality? It's all well and good to have a complete and consistent criterion by which to evaluate actions (e.g., all actions that move matter away from the Earth are "foo", and everything else is "nonfoo"), but there must be something more to this criterion (beyond completeness and consistency) if it is to be a "moral system", rather than just a free-floating set of statements.

  • | Post Points: 20
Page 5 of 6 (225 items) « First ... < Previous 2 3 4 5 6 Next > | RSS