Amongst many, though certainly not all, political theorists and economists there is a tendency to believe that in the absence of government, mutually beneficial voluntary economic interactions- and hence property rights- cannot exist, or, if they can, do so only infrequently (see, for instance, Murphy and Nagel (2002); Buchanan (1975); Glaeser et al. (2001); Rand (1967) pp. 329 – 337; Friedman (2002); Epstein (1985) chapter 1; Macpherson (1962)). This view has as its philosophical progenitor Thomas Hobbes, who famously concludes in his masterpiece, Leviathan, that in order to allow for mutually beneficial economic interactions- and thus property rights- a civil authority with the power to create and enforce laws is first necessary. What Hobbes (and by implication most modern political theorists and economists) fails to address adequately is that agents can establish property holdings and facilitate economic transactions in the absence of a government via self-enforcing contracts, particularly given his starting assumptions.
Archive for the ‘Social Philosophy’ Category
Posted in Early Modern Philosophy, Ethics, Moral Psychology, Philosophy of Law, Political Theory, Social Philosophy, tagged anarchism, contractarianism, cooperation, egoism, property rights, Thomas Hobbes on September 1, 2011 | 33 Comments »
If the title of this post sounds familiar, then you may have read or heard of Thomas Sowell’s A Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins of Political Struggles. Essentially, Sowell categorizes two conflicting visions, which shape and determine how social visions develop including economic and moral visions. The two visions, which may often overlap are the constrained vision and the unconstrained vision. After a brief description of the two visions, two videos will be provided that I believe fairly represent each side.
One of the things I greatly enjoyed doing as an undergrad at UNF was being part of the Ethics Bowl. The experience was interesting, engaging, and, despite our loss, enjoyable.
In the course of preparing cases for the competition, we made sure to present our cases to each other in an effort to try to work out any kinks. Fortunately, we had two members who had done this the year before, and another few who had some experience with the Bioethics Bowl, too. This greatly helped us in our prep, and we certainly wouldn’t have done as well as we did without it.
Of course, our ensuing conversations on these cases were not free from contention. There is one that continues to bug me today, about which I am going to dedicate this post to. For those who were on the UNF Ethics Bowl team last year, this contentious issue should be familiar to you. For those of you who were not, don’t worry — just keep on reading and it should all be clear to you.
On Sunday, George Will raised the following question on ABC’s “This Week”: “Does Congress have the constitutional power to require obese people to sign up for Weight Watchers? If not, why not?” Let’s set the legal question aside for a moment and address the following ethical question: Is it morally permissible for the state to require those who are significantly overweight to enroll in the weight loss program of their choice?
Then let’s address two related follow-up questions:
- If you answered “yes” to the previous question, why does the state have that authority, and what else might it mandate, in accordance with that moral principle?
- If you answered “no” to the previous question, why does the state not have that authority, and what else is the state prohibited from mandating, in accordance with that moral principle?
Ah, yes — education. It’s a topic that’s been talked about again and again and again and again and again and again and again and . . . . . . . . . . well, you get the picture. The matter has been mentioned and considered so many times on this blog that one might think “enough is enough.” Yet the importance of the topic overrides the repetition of its consideration.
This time around, in looking at education, I want to turn your attention to an e-mail I received a few weeks ago regarding our educational values. Granted, this e-mail was meant to be funny, and to serve as entertainment more than as a philosophical piece. But in speaking to a couple of “old-timers” who were in the public school system in the 1950s, I’ve found that what’s listed below isn’t as exaggerated as you might first think.
“What is a communist?
One who has equal yearnings for unequal earnings”
- Ebenezer Elliott (1781 – 1849)
Today is International Workers’ Day, a celebration of the workers of the world held by many communists, socialists, anarcho-syndicalists, and unionists the world over. In honor of the celebration, I thought I might offer a lecture which addresses, critically, the organization of labor under the Marxian system, the primary theoretical substructure upon which much of the labor movement’s ideology rests. The lecturer, Williamson Evers, was the assistant secretary of education under George W. Bush (2007 – 2009) and has at various times been affiliated with the Cato Institute, Mises Institute, and, most recently, the Hoover Institution.
As Dr. Vitz pointed out in a previous post, the National Ethics Bowl was held last Friday in Cincinnati Ohio. This was first case of the final round:
Charlie Chan is a fictional Chinese-Hawaiian detective, created by novelist Earl Derr Biggers. Biggers published six enormously successful Charlie Chan novels between 1925 and 1931. Two silent Charlie Chan movies were made in the 1920′s, followed by about four dozen more films, several radio programs, two television shows, and numerous comic book series over the next decades.Critics call the portrayal of Chan by non-Asian actors in yellowface degrading. Chan‘s mangled singsong English and kitschy pseudo-Confucian aphorisms provoked ridicule: some older Asian Americans report that growing up they were mocked by Charlie Chan-inspired racial taunts. Chan’s sons’ flippant attitude toward their father’s methodical investigations undermined the traditional value of respect for elders. Critics charged that Chan‘s apparent subservience to whites and his failure to respond to racial slurs encouraged offensive treatment and the perception of inferiority of Asian Americans.
Posted in Ethics, Feminist Philosophy, General Interest, Interviews, Political Theory, Social Philosophy, tagged Against Politics, anarcho-capitalism, contractarianism, Jan Narveson, Libertarianism on March 10, 2011 | 16 Comments »
While searching through old posts at Against Politics, one of my common haunts, I came across an interview featuring Jan Narveson, professor of philosophy emeritus at the University of Waterloo. Dr. Narveson, whose work I encountered via the work of Robert Nozick and David Gauthier, is an anarcho-capitalist and the author of the influential The Libertarian Idea. Among other things, Dr. Narveson addresses in the interview why natural rights should be rejected and offers his list of the most influential texts in libertarian political philosophy. Here is the link to the interview, a significant portion of which I excerpt here:
The contractarian and utilitarian approaches to libertarianism are often confused. What are the differences between these two views?
Contractarian is not the same as utilitarian, and does not give similar results. The Utilitarian, as in Bentham and Mill, holds that (1) everyone’s utility is cardinally measurable, in principle, and (2) for social and moral purposes, we should count an equal amount of anyone’s utility as equal to anyone else’s, intrinsically.
Utilitarianism is, actually, equivalent to another natural rights perspective—that’s why I stopped being a utilitarian.
In a class discussion about this question, there seemed to be one answer that was continually espoused, by many people, and quite vehemently so. Though there were a few variations, the heart of the answer was something along the lines of the following:
To say that S owns x, means that S (or someone on S’s behalf) can defend x (or S’s right to x). (more…)
An argument erupted in my post Abortion And Baby Murder over the rights and obligations of fathers when it comes to their biological offspring. I believe this is a seriously important topic, an ethical problem with legal ramifications that affect many people’s lives. Aaron struck a question that I think is worthy of its own post. So I will re-ask a question that Aaron posed in an eloquently succinct manner in the comments of Abortion And Baby Murder .
“assert that a woman may choose to absolve legal responsibility for a child by electing either to abort OR give the baby up for adoption, while a man may do neither and instead MUST accept all legal responsibility per the woman’s choice?” (bold added)
I am aware that the consequences of a child spread far and wide, and that the rights, obligations and social and fiscal impact spread beyond the immediate parents and child to culture, state and society at large. But, the intent of this post is to focus specifically on the rights and obligations of the father.
Avoid preaching and just asserting beliefs:
In 2010, Debra Satz published “Why Some Things Should Not Be For Sale The Moral Limits of Markets.” The work is a fairly standard leftist book critiquing free-markets and advocating the banning of certain types of markets, namely what Satz calls ‘Noxious Markets.’ The book is rich in topics for discussion and this brief post focuses on one such discussion.
According to one philosopher, a “nation’s civilization and refinement depends on the superiority of the philosophy which is practised there. Hence the greatest good that a state can enjoy is to possess true philosophers.” Who makes this claim? Descartes. (The quote is from the preface to the French edition to the Principles of Philosophy.)
Is the claim true, or is it false? What is the evidence?
Relying on a study that external reviewers described as “deeply flawed,” “unacceptable,” and “dismaying,” the Pentagon’s health plan refuses to pay for cognitive rehabilitation therapy, which “teaches everyday life skills to those who suffered traumatic brain injuries.” Consequently, as noted in a recent story on NPR, entrepreneur and philanthropist Bernard Marcus is funding a program to care for veterans with such injuries:
In July 2008, he visited officials at the Army Surgeon General’s office to pitch cooperation between Project Share and the military. He got a tepid response …
“It just doesn’t make sense to me. It frustrates me. And it angers me. Kids are wandering around the streets today that will become tomorrow’s criminals that were yesterday’s heroes. How pathetic is that?
“We owe these kids a hell of a lot more.”
Comments on the implications of what this story reveals for social philosophy and political theory are welcomed.
I have been in Madrid, Spain for nearly a week now. From this stay I have made some generalizations, of which the philosophy related ones I´d like to share here. Notions of what Philosophy “is” are different in Spain, and perhaps this applies to all of continental Europe as well. Here, the Philosopher is closer to what I would consider, back in the States, an anthropologist, sociologist, literary theorist, or even amateur psychologist. Back home, Quine is the standard, here it is Foucault. Get into a conversation about Philosophy with an English speaking native and you´ll be likely discussing literary theory, capitalist oppression, or the recent unfolding of history. Here, Philosophy of Langauge, of Mind, of Science, of Mathematics, of Logic, and non-political ethics simply are nowhere to be found. Unfortunate.
However, the average Spaniard is more likely to have heard of Nietzsche, Benjamin, Heidegger, Foucault, and Adorno. The Spanish teach their children the virtues of art much more than Americans do and it is usually through discussions of art that people here hear of the said philosophers. In Spain, philosophers are better respected than they are in the States. There is a respect of the willingness to spend so much time reading, thinking, discussing and writing. No burger flipping jokes here. The philosopher is held in high regard, he is a public intellectual.
I´ll close with this photo that I took today from an exhibit called “Atlas” at the Museo Reina Sofía. Those are the type of bar room conversations I have gotten into, even at the English pub.
Posted in Bioethics, Environmental Philosophy, Epistemology, General Interest, Philosophy of Law, Philosophy of Science, Political Theory, Pragmatism, Social Philosophy on November 5, 2010 | Leave a Comment »
This past weekend I had the opportunity to participate in the UCF ethics bowl. The final round of the bowl included discussion of the following case, which is about virtual (non morphed) images of child pornography.The question for discussion for the final round was this: is it ethically justifiable to allow (legally) the use of virtual child pornography? Chewing on this question and this case over the past few days has been philosophically delicious, so I’m hoping that by presenting the case below, even more delectable dialectic will ensue.
From a recent article in the Telegraph on neuroscience, freewill, and determinism:
“What happens if someone commits a crime, and it turns out that there’s a lesion in that brain area? Is that person responsible? Is the damage to the machine sufficient for us to exempt them from that very basic human idea that we are responsible for our actions? I don’t know.” He refers to a major project in America, where “lawyers, neuroscientists, philosophers and psychiatrists are all trying to work out what impact brain science has on our socio-legal sense of responsibility.”
The University of South Florida Philosophy Graduate Student Organization is pleased to announce:
The Fourth Annual USF Graduate Philosophy Conference “Ipseity & Alterity: Dialectics and Distances between Self and Other”
March 4th & 5th, 2011
Deadline for Submission: December 31st, 2010
Keynote Speaker: Dr. Thomas Flynn (Emory University): “Sartre and Merleau-Ponty on the Dialectic”
We are also pleased to announce a faculty address by Dr. Charles Guignon (University of South Florida)
…is an Adam Curtis documentary about the creation and use of game theory in Cold-War America and how this led to our society’s conception of freedom and of the individual. If you haven’t seen it and if you are at all interested in game theory or political philosophy, then it’s worth watching. Here is the link to the documentary, on Google video. It features interviews with John Nash, Friedrick von Hayek, John Maynard Smith, Jean-Paul Sarte, Isaiah Berlin, Madsen Pirie (founder of the Adam Smith Institute), among others. Even if you ultimately don’t agree with the politics of this documentary or it’s boarder-line polemical tone, the interviews make watching this series (3 hour long installments) worth while.
Contemporary political philosophy, a.k.a. post 1971, entertains many interesting questions. Often the most interesting questions of the said subfield of Philosophy involve public policy questions. These questions, while not an exhaustive list, include issues in policy with regards to public education, the extent of police powers, and what to do with the poor and desperately needy; hard questions indeed. The purpose of this blog post is to present the argument that modern political libertarians should not immediately cringe at social minimum policies and could in fact endorse them as other libertarians have.
In the Second Treatise, John Locke posits the concept of self-ownership: “… every Man has a Property in his own Person. This no Body had any Right to but himself. The Labour of his Body, and the Work of his Hands, we may say, are properly his,” upon which he bases his labor theory of property (LTP). In brief, since one properly owns one’s body, and thus labor, one acquires ownership over a material object because one invests one’s labor in the material object. Ownership, so to speak, transfers from agent through the labor into the material object. So, e.g., one may come to own a flask of wine by investing one’s labor in the growing and harvesting of the grapes, their vinification, and the construction of the flask. A corollary of the LTP is that one may also acquire ownership via trade, wherein one voluntarily exchanges a material object for agreed upon remuneration, gift, and compensation for material transgressions. Although, ideally, if one were to trace the genealogy of an object’s ownership, whether via gift, trade, or compensation, one will find that it begins in original labor investment. In spite of its prima facie strengths, as formulated by Locke, the LTP admittedly suffers from many difficulties, and thus requires modification. When suitably modified, I would argue, the LTP is essentially correct, but its correctness will not concern us at the present moment. Rather, what will concern us here is the plausibility of the self-ownership concept itself, for if the concept of self-ownership proves to be implausible, so too then does the LTP. (However, this last point is contentious; many proponents of the LTP do not postulate self-ownership, but for reasons I shall not state here I think they are wrong not to do so.) While this post does not address every criticism of self-ownership, it addresses the most significant one.
Posted in Late Modern Philosophy, Political Theory, Race and Gender, Social Philosophy, tagged Austrian Economics, Economics, Karl Marx, Political Philosophy, Robert Nozick on June 11, 2010 | 18 Comments »
“Marxian exploitation is the exploitation of people’s lack of understanding of economics.”
Robert Nozick, Anarchy, State, and Utopia
The impetus for this post was provided by two graduate students here at the University of North Florida, Doidos and Solta (not their real names). In conversation with Doidos and Solta, I was made aware that both were rather sympathetic to Marxist political philosophy. (In fact, on more than a few occasions, Solta even claimed to be a Marxist.) Despite their proclamations of capitalism’s “exploitative and oppressive structure” and their palatable antipathy toward the economic system that permits them the luxury of academic pursuit, it occurred to me that neither Doidos nor Solta knew a thing about Marxian economic theory. E.g., they could not for the life of them provide me with a coherent encapsulation of Marx’s conception of surplus-value, use-value, or exchange-value, all of which are necessary for his theory of exploitation. I could only conclude that, for them, “exploitation” and “oppressive” were indicative of a facon de parler rather than an understanding of a political-economic theory. Therefore, it is my hope that both Doidos and Solta read this post (though I am confident that neither will) and listen to the accompanying lecture. Even if they dismiss the critiques of Marx contain herein, perhaps they will learn a bit about their patron saint’s economic thought.
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