As promised, here is my reply to Professor Narveson on the subject of libertarianism and the ethics of abortion, just published online in Libertarian Papers. The Abstract for my essay is as follows:
Jan Narveson criticizes the view expressed in my Libertarian Philosophy in the Real World that there is no orthodox libertarian position on the ethics of abortion. He asserts that fetuses lack the defining characteristics of personhood, and thus are ineligible for what he terms “intrinsic” rights under his, and presumably any other, plausible libertarian theory. My counterargument is threefold: (i) Narveson’s contractarianism can be interpreted in a way that is consistent with the pro-life perspective; (ii) because his theory permits no principled distinction between the moral status of third trimester fetuses and newborns, the contrary reading of his social contract produces a result that is implausible and even repellent; and (iii) even if his version of contractarianism does imply a unique, aggressively pro-choice stance on abortion, there are competing libertarian theories that are receptive to pro-life views.
This dialog occurs against the backdrop of Chapter 10 of LPRW, titled “Political Issues for Which There is No Doctrinaire Libertarian Position.” More specifically, I note that there are “dominant views among ‘movement’ libertarians and in the writings of prominent libertarian intellectuals regarding national security, abortion, and immigration.” I then analyze whether “these judgments can be derived from our first principles, or just happen to be the views of a majority of committed libertarians based on a different set of normative judgments, or on controversial empirical assumptions.” I conclude that the latter supposition is correct.
Had I the space, I might have included intellectual property protection in the mix, but that seemed to me to be a subject of less general interest. In any event, my view is that libertarians (and our doctrine) would benefit if greater attention were paid to demarcating the useful limits of natural rights theory.
There is an interesting debate now underway between two of the moderators of the popular Bleeding Heart Libertarians site, who also happen to be co-authors of a book on the morality of humanitarian military interventions. One author, Professor Teson, takes the view that such intercessions are permissible if they are in support of a just cause; if the harmful consequences of the military strike are proportional to the number of innocent lives at risk; and if the leader(s) authorizing the intervention have soberly and in good faith attempted to calculate the costs and benefits of their actions. Professor van der Vossen, in contrast, holds that the track record of such intercessions is so poor that Teson’s second condition can almost never be satisfied.
This is a timely and well-reasoned debate on an important ethical issue, and certainly worth reading. For the reasons outlined in my comments on the second of van der Vossen’s posts, I side with Teson. However, this piece is directed towards a separate, distinctly libertarian objection to humanitarian interventions. That is, even if we accept that such measures may sometimes satisfy Teson’s conditions, they are still impermissible because financed by coercive means. Continue Reading »