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meta-ethics of natural law

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mikachusetts Posted: Sun, Apr 8 2012 10:46 AM

I've recently changed my opnion on natural law, from "no way, this is stupid" to "this can make a whole lot of sense when treated properly."  One of the things that I think turns a lot of people off though, is the meta-ethical stances of people like Rand and Rothbard which seems to say something along the lines of "this is true in all cases for all people no matter what."

But when you go back to Aristotle, it really doesn't look this way.  A typical question to counter the natural law position usually asks why someone should do X in order to achieve Y if they don't hold Y as an end at all.  Rand (or Rasmussen) might say because Y is part of Z (rational life), and you demonstrate a preference for Z every time you make a choice at all.  Rothbard was sparse on his meta-ethical stance, but I think he would say that any other rule besides his (the NAP) would be impossible in reality.

But Aristotle's answer is way better.  He would say that if you haven't been raised to desire a virtuous life, you won't understand why you ought to live a virtuous life, and this just won't apply to you.  Yes, you should do X in order to achieve Y, because Y is a good thing.  But if you honestly don't want Y or Z, that is, you don't desire to be the best person possible, then don't worry about it.  Go read about something else besides ethics.  

 

 

 

they said we would have an unfair fun advantage

"enough about human rights. what about whale rights?" -moondog
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Right,

I think when we look at "natural law" from a POV of people like Burke, Aristotle, de Jassay and the like one might say that is the only way for things like this to make any sense.  

Without arguing this - as this is probably going beyond me / would take too much time; one could say something like "there is no way to subvert such such a thing" / "you can't outskeptic something up to a certain point"

While I don't agree with it (once again I don't want to argue it) Hoppe's argumentation ethics may have a little bit of such a notion built into it - asI do think the Rand / Rothbardian positions are fundamentally unsound and flawed.

 

But Aristotle's answer is way better.  He would say that if you haven't been raised to desire a virtuous life, you won't understand why you ought to live a virtuous life, and this just won't apply to you.  Yes, you should do X in order to achieve Y, because Y is a good thing.  But if you honestly don't want Y or Z, that is, you don't desire to be the best person possible, then don't worry about it.  Go read about something else besides ethics.

To bring this back up; If there was such a course, I would go back to school to help discipline my mind and force myself to engage this more seriously.  The two thinkers I tend to be most in line with are probably incompatible - yet I tend to keep going in to and out of Aristotle and Wittgenstein (in his totality, not just Tractus) modes somewhat carelessly. I would translate this into "language games" also.

"As in a kaleidoscope, the constellation of forces operating in the system as a whole is ever changing." - Ludwig Lachmann

"When A Man Dies A World Goes Out of Existence"  - GLS Shackle

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"you can't outskeptic something up to a certain point"

And this is exactly the issue (I think) with meta-ethics.  No one denies the meaningful analysis that we can make about the consequences of actions, the expectations people have towards following the rules, etc.  But when we talk about ethics, its always a question of where to draw the line and just accept the words "right" and "wrong."  

At the far end, you have non-cognitivists who just refuse to grant any meaning at all.  Then you have reletivists who will grant meaning within the framework of the social group.  And so on until you get to the more hardcore moral realists at the opposite end.  But I think there is a point in the middle, where we can just say fuck it, and let "right" and "wrong" exist as if they are "real" and go on with what we have to say.  Its not relative to the individual or society, but its not some absolute Thing floating in the universe.  Its just right and wrong, and you (not you, but you know, anyone in general) know damn well what I mean.

 

they said we would have an unfair fun advantage

"enough about human rights. what about whale rights?" -moondog
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This may be off the cuff:

I wonder if it is thinking like this that is drawing me more towards investigating the more Aristotlian Menger  - Mises - Shackel -Lachmann axis of AE; rather than a straight up Mises axis.

 

"As in a kaleidoscope, the constellation of forces operating in the system as a whole is ever changing." - Ludwig Lachmann

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Clayton replied on Sun, Apr 8 2012 3:58 PM

I was just listening to some lectures on the Nicomachean Ethics last night - good stuff.

Here are my most recent thoughts on this very subject.

We can separate asocial from social action. The former is decidedly less complicated. It's simply a matter of establishing a) what your ultimate end is and b) what the factually correct means for attaing a) are.

This leads directly to consideration of human nature. If my ultimate end is "happiness" or "satisfaction" in the most general sense (what Aristotle describes as "an end which is never a means to some other end"), then b) becomes a question of what are the conditions that will actually bring about my happiness? In the case of asocial action, right and wrong are simply a matter of choosing the correct means to bring about an individual's happiness.

Because of the fact of individual variation, we have to understand that there will significant variations from individual to individual for b). This isn't the same thing as "moral subjectivism" since there are also invariants. I believe the invariants of human happiness are what we can call human nature.

In the case of social action, things become more complex. In fact, I think the vast majority of what we mean by "right" and "wrong" is really concerned with social norms - what are the right or wrong ways to interact with other human beings. But this leaves open the question, right and wrong relative to what? My ultimate end remains the same whether I am interacting with other human beings or with inanimate objects: My own happiness/satisfaction.

In the case of social action, however, the choice of the correct means is more complex and frequently requires negotiation with other human beings. That is, it is always possible that my chosen means and your chosen means can come into conflict. This conflict may not even be the result of my own positive action. Perhaps you whisked away some bread that I was cooking. Do I just allow you to keep the fruits of my labor or do I take issue with you?

Whenever a substantial conflict arises it can become a matter of law. At this point, the full complexity of the meaning of right and wrong becomes inextricably linked with consideration of what is lawful and unlawful.

In contrast to Rothbard et. al. I believe the answer to the question - "what is human nature?" - can only be found using a posteriori methods like those used, for example, in evolutionary psychology. The answer to the question "what is right and wrong" can only be found using a posteriori methods, for example, looking at human beliefs about what sorts of behaviors are taboo or virtuous. These beliefs are not arbitrary, they're based on the long experience of humanity in repeatedly observing the birth-to-death process of the human life. This is what sociologists ought to be doing instead of propagandizing the State's latest Zeitgeist. The answer to the question "what is lawful and unlawful" likewise can only be found using a posteriori methods as I describe in my article linked above.

I think where people get into trouble is trying to apply a priori methods to normative issues. There are no armchair answers to the question "what is right and wrong." The answer to the question is inextricably bound up with the particular conditions of the real world. Hence, it has no a priori answer.

Clayton -

http://voluntaryistreader.wordpress.com
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Conza88 replied on Tue, Apr 10 2012 3:52 AM

Re: "I've recently changed my opnion on natural law, from "no way, this is stupid" to "this can make a whole lot of sense when treated properly."  One of the things that I think turns a lot of people off though, is the meta-ethical stances of people like Rand and Rothbard which seems to say something along the lines of "this is true in all cases for all people no matter what."........

Eh? They are dealing with political philosophy. Stuff that is universalizable. It's meta-normative, they're not saying what you OUGHT to do or SHOULD do, it's what you have a RIGHT to do. That's it.

Properly framed, it's not 'ethics' at all.. it's action based jurisprudence.[1] The natural law argument is axiomatic-deductive in that it shows the praxeolgical absurdity of all other ethics. The a priori of argumentation and communication as per Hoppe (which Rothbard also agreed to), establishes praxeology within the 'legal sphere' (i.e what Rothbard's TEOL was all about) and other Austro-Libertarian scholars have put forward, but just from a more evolved foundation - although there need not be any contradiction.

"Nevertheless, by coming out with a genuinely new theory (amazing in itself, considering the long history of political philosophy) Hoppe is in danger of offending all the intellectual vested interests of the libertarian camp. Utilitarians, who should be happy that value-freedom was preserved, will be appalled to find that Hoppean rights are even more absolutist and “dogmatic” than natural rights. Natural rightsers, while happy at the “dogmatism,” will be unwilling to accept an ethics not grounded in the broad nature of things. Randians will be particularly upset because the Hoppean system is grounded (as was the Misesian) on the Satanic Immanuel Kant and his “synthetic a priori.”

Randians might be mollified, however, to learn that Hoppe is influenced by a group of German Kantians (headed by mathematician Paul Lorenzen) who interpret Kant as a deeply realistic Aristotelian, in contrast to the idealist interpretation common in the United States.

As a natural rightser, I don’t see any real contradiction here, or why one cannot hold to both the natural-rights and the Hoppean-rights ethic at the same time. Both rights ethics, after all, are grounded, like the realist version of Kantianism, in the nature of reality."

— Murray N. Rothbard, Beyond Is and Ought

[1]

"Deductive  legal  theory,  when  properly  applied  in  a  given  context, objectively and descriptively defines the parameters of what justice is in relation to questions of property rights, contracts, torts, and other legal matters. This yields  a  deeper-than-expected  foundation  for  the  traditional  libertarian insistence  on  not  mixing  law  with  morality  and  the  corollary  opposition  to “legislating  morality.”  Legal  theory  is  a  discrete  field  that,  like  Mises’s conception of economic theory, can provide descriptive, categorical input for use in “ought” considerations, even as legal theory and ethics remain distinct in foundations, scope, and method."

Ron Paul is for self-government when compared to the Constitution. He's an anarcho-capitalist. Proof.
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