Libertarian Philosophy in the Real World: The Politics of Natural Rights
Nozick’s Libertarian Project: An Elaboration and Defense
Search Results for: truth
In 2005, Larry Summers, the illustrious economist and former president of Harvard University got himself into considerable hot water when he articulated the following hypothesis regarding why relatively few women occupy senior-level science and engineering positions:
So my best guess, to provoke you…[is] that in the special case of science and engineering, there are issues of intrinsic aptitude, and particularly of the variability of aptitude, and that those considerations are reinforced by what are in fact lesser factors involving socialization and continuing discrimination. I would like nothing better than to be proved wrong, because I would like nothing better than for these problems to be addressable simply by everybody understanding what they are, and working very hard to address them. 
Were Summers an academic philosopher, he might have asked himself the following question before speaking: “If it turns out to be an unalterable fact that as a society we can have either a meritocracy or the relatively even representation of men and women in high-level STEM professions, but not both, this will cause many people, especially feminists and egalitarians, great anguish; so wouldn’t it be better to simply keep my mouth shut on this subject?” In other words, if the dissemination of a particular truth will produce more harm than good under a utilitarian calculation, why should we not suppress it? (assuming of course that this were somehow within our power) Continue Reading »
As noted in my last post, Libertarian Philosophy in the Real World (“LPRW”) received a favorable review from Dr. Matthew Post in Interpretation: A Journal of Political Philosophy. At the risk of “looking a gift horse in the mouth,” I offer my thoughts here about his comments. As mentioned in my earlier post, this review occurs in connection with the author’s efforts to find a plausible way to justify political liberalism in face of what he regards as the formidable obstacles erected by Richard Rorty. This contemporary philosopher has offered a highly influential critique of all attempts to ground philosophical reasoning, including with respect to politics, in any underlying objective truths or “foundations,” which he regards as disguised appeals to social conventions and practices. See Post, 478-9. Continue Reading »
I am delighted to learn that my most recent book received a quite favorable assessment by Matthew Post in his essay, “The Foundations of ‘Our Culture’: A Review of Three Works on Liberalism and Rights,” which appears in Interpretation: A Journal of Political Philosophy 42:3 (Spring 2016), 477-94. Perhaps my favorite part is this:
It would be misleading, however, to suggest that Friedman simply speaks to shared beliefs. He often offers arguments that are remarkably lucid, succinct, and thorough, and he is honest when he does not know how to solve a problem (489).
I will respond in greater depth to Professor Post’s review as soon as I am able. But for the moment I will simply say that, as may be apparent from his title, my humble defense of libertarian rights against the encroachments of the welfare/regulatory state has been swept up in Post’s search for an answer to the much more daunting question of whether it is possible to establish a foundation for liberalism “while avoiding the problems Rorty identified” (492); meaning, roughly, if we give up our traditional notions of knowledge. Thus, while perhaps I am the first philosopher to in history to say this, I am not sure that Post’s praise (although welcome) is entirely justified.
The epithet “limousine liberal” was apparently first used in 1969 to deride those politicians, celebrities, and other affluent members of society who advocate “feel-good” policies that impose huge costs on other segments of society, but from which they are completely or largely insulated. Although we might consider updating this epithet to “Tesla liberal,” it is clear that nothing else has changed since then. Below I briefly catalog the many programs enacted by our politicians and supported by affluent progressives that harm the poor, while not affecting (or even benefiting), the wealthy. The evidence showing such consequences is provided in my book, Libertarian Philosophy in the Real World (LPRW), as referenced in the citations below. Continue Reading »
Guest post by Danny Frederick
The traditional problem of free will arose out of theology. God was supposed to know everything, in which case He would have perfect foreknowledge. But if God knows beforehand what we are going to do, how can we be free either to do it or not?
In the Enlightenment, the problem arose out of science, specifically, the success of Newton’s theory. For here was a clear and (relatively) simple theory of the world, expressed in precise mathematical formulae, which made predictions about the motions of every kind of matter, whether large or small, whether on earth or in the heavens, whether solid or fluid; and the predictions were borne out by experimental testing. Furthermore some of the predictions were very surprising and counterintuitive, so people expected them to fail; yet they also survived testing. The theory was even used to predict the existence, size and orbit of a planet in the solar system which no one had previously known about; and when telescopes were pointed in the relevant portion of the night sky, there it was! Neptune was discovered. People could not believe that this theory could be false. It was generally accepted as firmly established truth. The success of Newton’s theory marked the transition from the open-minded and critical Renaissance to the dogmatic Enlightenment. Continue Reading »
I believe that no political controversy generates more misinformation, grossly erroneous historical claims, and outright lies than the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Libertarians are perhaps more afflicted than most with this disease, which often lapses over into anti-Semitism. I do not mean the classical, overt hatred of Jews, but rather an eagerness to apply one set of ethical standards to the sole Jewish state and a radically different, much more lenient standard, to all other nations.
This recently hit quite close to home, when the fifth grade teacher at the private school my eldest boy attends chose to illuminate her “political systems” module with a case study of the above-mentioned dispute. She then published on the school blog the essays written by her students regarding this struggle, which had a decidedly anti-Israel slant. The centerpiece of her educational program was an (undated) report prepared by the Council for Arab-British Understanding, titled “Israeli-Palestinian Conflict” (the “Report”). Continue Reading »
In an earlier post I offered my perspective on Prosecutor Robert McCulloch’s conduct in directing the St. Louis County grand jury investigation that found no basis for indicting officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown. There, I argued that based on the information then available the prosecutor acted correctly in not seeking an indictment, a position now borne out by the U.S. Department of Justice’s report on the shooting, which found that: Wilson’s use of force was not “objectively unreasonable” under the applicable federal statute, and thus no federal grand jury indictment was warranted. However, a second DOJ report blasted the small city of Ferguson, Missouri (the location of the incident) for various forms of racism, not related to Brown’s death.
Before proceeding further, we would be wise to consult the analysis of the DOJ reports offered by Professor Richard Epstein, one of the preeminent scholars now working in the classical liberal tradition. With respect to the report concerning Wilson, he notes that based on the facts and circumstances he cites, “It is not just the case that there is insufficient evidence to support a criminal prosecution. It is that, beyond a reasonable doubt, the evidence supports that Wilson’s conduct was fully justified.” In other words, it is clear that he acted righty in defense of his own life and in defense of the public at large (what would have happened if Brown had walked away with the officer’s gun?). Continue Reading »
Reply to Danny Frederick’s Review Essay of Nozick’s Libertarian Project (“NLP”), in Reason Papers Vol. 36, no. 1 (henceforth “RP”)
I wish to start by thanking Danny Frederick for investing his time in reading and carefully critiquing my book. If all critics were as meticulous and fair as Danny has been to me, there would be far more constructive engagement between philosophers, and much less of theorists fruitlessly talking past each other. I concentrate below on which I regard as the key points raised in his Review Essay. Continue Reading »
I start with the premise that in the recent (and ongoing?) military engagement between Israel and Hamas, the leaders of the former are acting, at least in relative terms, justly, while the leaders of the latter are not. Meaning specifically, that (again, at least relatively) Israel’s leaders are fighting for a just cause and using morally permissible means. Those interested in my reasoning on these matters may consult these blog threads on the popular Bleeding Heart Libertarians website: http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2014/07/hang-tough-israel/; http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2014/07/israel-tough-enough/; and http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2014/07/fernando-tesns-hang-tough-israel-a-response/. Continue Reading »
Depending on one’s perspective, one of the joys (or frustrations) of reading Nozick is his unique style. As Matt Zwolinski recently wrote in reviewing The Cambridge Companion to Nozick’s Anarchy, State, and Utopia, (Bader and Meadowcroft eds): “One cannot read too far in it without coming across an idea that is brilliant, fecund, intriguing . . . and dropped almost as soon as it is introduced. Whole books, if not whole academic careers, could be devoted to working out in detail the ideas that Nozick relegates to mere footnotes and asides.” One supposed example of Nozick’s tendency in this regard is his thought experiment involving the “experience machine” (see ASU, 42-5).
This apparent digression has been the subject of extensive analysis and discussion in the literature, and is thus the subject of one of the essays comprising The Cambridge Companion, Fred Feldman’s “What We Learn From the Experience Machine,” at 59-86. I will cut to the chase, and simply say that Feldman’s contribution represents a classic case of not being able to see the forest for the trees. More explicitly, while he correctly identifies what this imaginary case is not about, he misses its point entirely. Continue Reading »