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Libertarian ethics and world views

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Trianglechoke7 Posted: Fri, Dec 21 2007 9:20 PM

It seems to me that with any justification of a theory of ethics, it must be based upon a world view. 

For example, imagine that you are having a conversation with someone who is a murderer and a thief. The murderer/thief proclaims that murder and stealing are not immoral, and you say that it is immoral because you are a libertarian and that's what libertarians believe. Without arguing that a world-view is true from which it follows that the propositions (1) murder is immoral and (2) stealing is immoral are true, what justification could you possible have that would convince the murderer/thief that he is wrong? 

It seems to me that the only way to prove the existence of property rights which is the basis of libertarian ethics, you must show:

(3)world-view --> property rights 

(4) world view

(5) Therefore, property rights 

To argue that property rights exist independent of the truth of a particular world view from which it follows that property rights exist is illogical because it presupposes the falsity of any world-view from which it does not follow that property rights exist:

(6) world-view' --> ~property rights

(7) property rights

(8) therefore, ~world-view

But I just don't see any evidence for (7) unless it came from (3)-(5). The only evidence that you would have is your intuition, but the murderer/thief has an equally sincere intuition to the contrary and when you get to that point you have to throw your hands up in the air which is something that bugs me very badly about philosophy.

So, now we've come to my questions: do you agree with my argument that an ethical theory must be based upon a world view, and if so, what world view is the libertarian ethic based upon?

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It depends on what you mean by world view. Perhaps what you're getting at is that you cannot argue for libertarian ethics very effectively without a solid epistemological and metaphysical framework to work from. I think that the "worldview" necessary to justify such things are epistemological objectivism (I.E.such claims would be meaningless if we accept a nihilistic or ultra-subjectivist view of truth) and universalism, in that claims about right and wrong must apply to all human beings (I.E. all moral agents), otherwise there is cognitive dissonance and a breach in logic. If we do not accept that an objective reality exists, that humans possess reason which enables them with the capacity to choose and to understand the world around them, then justifying libertarian ethics is a pointless endeavor. Something as fundamental as self-ownership has even more fundamental axoims to draw from which are necessary to affirm it (such as "existance exists" and the law of identity).

In argueing with the murderer or thief, you both have to implictly accept the existance of an objective reality that can be observed in order to even debate the matter; otherwise the entire thing is a Wittgensteinian language game. Furthermore, in even debating the matter, the murderer and thief affirms the existance of volition and the self. In short, the murderer affirms self-ownership in even trying to debate you. If the murderer or thief claims that they should not be murdered or stolen from themselves and they justify this on the grounds of their own self-interest, then they are bound by logic to universally apply this to all beings that share their same fundamental characteristics, I.E. every other human being. Unless they can show that any other individual does not possess the same fundamental human characteristics (I.E. nature) that they do, they are bound by logic to apply the exact same "rights" to others that they attribute to themselves. If they do not attribute any rights to themselves to begin with, then they are in a heavy state of cognitive dissonance and performative contradiction in even peacefully debating with you.

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You are looking at this the wrong way round. Your view seems to be a subjectivist one, and on another level an intuitionist one. Rather, if ethics can be derived from objective starting points, e.g. logic, it is immaterial that any worldview conflicts with it. It is a sign that the worldview is incorrect, and false. Ethical theories are governed by metaphysical/epistemological postulates. If they fail to adhere to the laws of logic, they are nonsense that can be discarded, regardless of what the murderer, or anyone, feels.

Convincing, on the other hand, is a matter of rhetoric.

Good post btw Brainpolice. I agree for the most part. 

 

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When I say world-view I mean your overall philosophy about the origin, purpose and nature of the universe and man. For example, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, naturalism, ect.

So, what I want to know is if you can you give an argument for the existence of property rights without arguing like this:

 (1) Christianity --> property rights (because "thou shalt not steal," and Jesus says it is lawful to what you want with your own, ect)

(2) Christianity

(3) Property rights

 For example, in one of Robert Murphy's lectures on anarchy he said he was almost convinced that property rights do not exist by non-property anarchists, but then realized that the 10 commandants say "thou shall not steal," therefore, property rights must exist. I want to know if it's possible to prove the existence of property without doing what he did.

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Inquisitor,

I was about to say something like that. You can certainly prove the negation of something by shown it to be logically incoherant and hence the world view it follows from:

 (1) world-view --> moral postulate

(2) ~moral postulate

(3) ~world-view

But what I want is the positive argument for property rights without reference to the truth of a world-view. 

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Inquisitor replied on Sat, Dec 22 2007 10:53 AM
I.e. an ethical theory independent of metaphysics? Hoppe's theory on property (not just his argumentation ethics; he has separate arguments that can work even without it) seems to be the closest one can come up with that resembles what you're asking for. Logic is the only possible form of knowledge that applies regardless of place and time. You should ask gplauche to chime in on this matter, as he is well-versed on the topic. He will probably answer that property rights only make sense in the context of a broader ethical theory (such as Aristoteleanism.)

 

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You might look into the philosophy of Kant; he tries the approach you're describing, and his ethics are at the root of some of the most influential libertarian frameworks (Nozick's comes immediately to mind) 

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While in terms of ethics if given a one-dimensional choice between deontology and utilitarianism, I always choose deontology, I don't believe that Kant's deontology is entirely compatible with libertarian ethics. It can be construed to bestow positive obligations/duties, and to my knowledge libertarianism is void of positive obligations. It has negative obligations, to be sure, such as not harming anyone else, but it seems to me that positive obligations would run against the grain of libertarianism. I don't entirely share the Objectivist's vehement (and sometimes irrational) distain for Kant (they basically conclude that Kant = post-modernism = Kant), but some of their criticism of him seems sound to me.

Virtue ethics is a unique 3rd route that strikes me as interesting, but I admit that I haven't looked into it that much. Geoffery Allan Plauch has some interesting papers on an Aristotilean approach to libertarianism. And I have to admit that, while I've never been an Objectivist with a large O, I do think that Objectivism provides a more solid framework for libertarian ethics then what most libertarians espouse. I agree in part with Rand's criticism that libertarians tend to avoid addressing any solid reasons for the WHY, that the big tent approach has avoided the persuit of a solid foundation for libertarian ethics. Of course, Rand had her own set of flaws, many of which I think Stefan Molyneux's approach has corrected (see his "Universally Preferable Behavior" concept).

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Stranger replied on Sat, Dec 22 2007 1:48 PM

 A murderer could never advocate that stealing or killing is just and ethical. If he did, that would mean he allowed you to steal from and kill him without retribution.

Reciprocity-universality is sufficient grounds to establish a system of justice. 

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I agree that universality makes a very strong case. They are bound by their own logic in recieving back whatever they give out. And a world of universal plunder is hardly beneficial to anyone's self-interest. The individual respects the rights of others to the extent that they respect their own rights. One cannot expect to be free from the control of others if they do not realize that they cannot have any others under their control. It's universal, kind of like an equilibrium.

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pairunoyd replied on Sat, Dec 22 2007 4:11 PM

Trianglechoke7:

It seems to me that with any justification of a theory of ethics, it must be based upon a world view. 

For example, imagine that you are having a conversation with someone who is a murderer and a thief. The murderer/thief proclaims that murder and stealing are not immoral, and you say that it is immoral because you are a libertarian and that's what libertarians believe. Without arguing that a world-view is true from which it follows that the propositions (1) murder is immoral and (2) stealing is immoral are true, what justification could you possible have that would convince the murderer/thief that he is wrong? 

It seems to me that the only way to prove the existence of property rights which is the basis of libertarian ethics, you must show:

(3)world-view --> property rights 

(4) world view

(5) Therefore, property rights 

To argue that property rights exist independent of the truth of a particular world view from which it follows that property rights exist is illogical because it presupposes the falsity of any world-view from which it does not follow that property rights exist:

(6) world-view' --> ~property rights

(7) property rights

(8) therefore, ~world-view

But I just don't see any evidence for (7) unless it came from (3)-(5). The only evidence that you would have is your intuition, but the murderer/thief has an equally sincere intuition to the contrary and when you get to that point you have to throw your hands up in the air which is something that bugs me very badly about philosophy.

So, now we've come to my questions: do you agree with my argument that an ethical theory must be based upon a world view, and if so, what world view is the libertarian ethic based upon?

Hey, this sounds like my tangent about 'Is procreation murder', except you're much more coherent than I was. I guess my incoherency is due to my compulsion to share 'inspiration', ie nebulous ideas. ;)

"The best way to bail out the economy is with liberty, not with federal reserve notes." - pairunoyd

"The vision of the Austrian must be greater than the blindness of the sheeple." - pairunoyd

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JAlanKatz replied on Sat, Dec 22 2007 4:46 PM

On the one hand, I've had some philosophy professors who I know would not be much convinced from "self-ownership" arguments, since they argued against the existence of the self.  I think that libertarians often assume, or take as obvious, things which really are based in difficult philosophical arguments.  That said, I do generally believe in something of a realist-Kantian approach, with Hoppe as the most obvious example.

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We often assume things that are difficult to explicate; often for good reason. Hoppe offers a proof of self-ownership in Kinsella's How we come to own ourselves for those interested. I would be interested in seeing a reconstruction of Hoppe's arguments in the context of Aristoteleanism.

 

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I brought up Kant because he tries to work from a view about the world to a view about ethics, and is probably the best example of someone who does that in a philosophically respectable manner.  Ayn Rand did try to do the same thing in The Virtue of Selfishness, and I guess you might be interested in reading it for the basic thrust of her argument, but as a piece of philosophy it was pretty awful.  Hoppe tries to argue that libertarian ethics are presupposed in argumentation, and Molyneux tries to argue a similar point on the basis of universally preferred behavior, but Hoppe's errors have been widely discussed (including by me), and Molyneux wasn't able to explain what he meant by "universally preferred behavior" when I asked him about it a while ago.  So right; if you want to read the work of a thinker who takes the approach discussed in this thread and is also a respected and worthwhile philosopher, then Kant is pretty much the way to go.

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Junker replied on Thu, Dec 27 2007 12:19 AM

 http://www.friesian.org might be of interest:

The Project of the Friesian School

The Proceedings of the Friesian School, Fourth Series seeks to promote the further development of the Critical Philosophy of Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) in the direction indicated by Sir Karl Popper's remark in The Open Society and Its Enemies that "serious men," uch as Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860) and Jakob Friedrich Fries (1773-1843), did not at first take seriously the "senseless and maddening webs of words," as Schopenhauer put it, of G.W.F. Hegel.

 

 

If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face—forever.
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I think that the most fundamental support for property rights is Hoppe's argumentation ethics, in which he shows that to determine whether something is even valid one must rely upon argumentation, which shows one's preference for discovering truth through proposition. And since this proposition necessarily requires the use of property- one's mind, will, body, and physical surroundings attained through a visible and just (i.e. not arbitrary, and therefore a first-comer ethic)- one necessarily concedes the validity of property rights through the very act of argumentation.

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