I will describe in this post what I take to be the most plausible form of libertarianism. Because there are so many different topics and issues related to libertarianism, I will mainly sketch over a large variety of topics without going deep into any particular issue. This post is meant as an exercise to formulate, rather than justify, my preferred form of libertarianism.
State activities compatible with libertarian ownership rights
In a previous post, I stated that people have a variety of libertarian ownership rights. The post covered self-ownership rights, world-ownership rights, and some considerations related to the nature of those rights. In this post, I will consider the implications that I believe these ownership rights have on the permissible activities of a state.
Normative skepticism is unreasonable
Normativity is concerned with what we ought to do, how the world ought to be, what we have reason to do, what is good/bad, right/wrong, what is justified/unjustified, warranted/unwarranted, etc. Normative claims can be contrasted with descriptive claims as the latter are concerned with how the world actually is (or has been or will be) whereas the former are concerned with how the world should be. The purpose of this post is to argue against normative skepticism, which I define as the rejection of normative reasons. Thus, I will argue in this post that there are normative reasons.
Delineating libertarian ownership rights: the anti-paralysis postulate
Libertarians are in near-unanimous agreement in their endorsement of ownership rights, both over one’s person and over private property. To say that a person owns a certain entity implies that the person has certain moral rights over the entity, including rights to control the use of the entity, rights to transfer these rights to others, immunities to the non-consensual loss of these rights, etc. In other words, ownership is simply a “bundle of particular rights” (see Vallentyne, Steiner, and Otsuka (2005, p. 204)). However, while it may be intuitive that persons have certain ownership rights (e.g. everyone owns their bodies), there is still an open question regarding how ownership rights should be delineated. In other words, there is still an open question as to which “bundle of rights” come with ownership. So we need principles for delineating the moral rights that stem from ownership. In other words, we need principles that govern how to delineate ownership rights. I will argue in this post that one such principle is what Eric Mack calls the “anti-paralysis” postulate.
Two arguments in defense of affirmative action
Thomas Nagel (1981) distinguishes between two forms of affirmative action. “Weak” affirmative action refers to “to special efforts to ensure equal opportunity for members of groups that had been subject to discrimination”. This can include public advertisement of positions to be filled, active recruitment of qualified applicants from the formerly excluded groups, and special training programs to help them meet the standards for admission or appointment. “Strong” affirmative action refers to “some degree of definite preference for members of these groups in determining access to positions from which they were formerly excluded.” The “weak” vs “strong” distinction has also been referred to as the “minimalist” vs “maximalist” distinction (Beauchamp 1998) or the “procedural” vs “preferential” distinction. As Nagel and Beauchamp note, most people agree that “weak” or “procedural” affirmative action is justified (and perhaps even morally obligatory). However, there is significant controversy regarding “strong” or “preferential” forms of affirmative action. In this post, I will defend “strong or “preferential” affirmative action.
A defense of abortion: bodily integrity, responsibility, and deprivation
The standard pro-life argument against the legalization of abortion is based on the premise that fetuses are persons, combined with the widely held view that it should be illegal to kill persons. Since abortions kill fetuses, it follows that abortions should be illegal. Roughly speaking, the standard pro-life argument can be given in syllogistic form as follows: (1) Fetuses are persons. (2) It should be illegal to kill a person. (3) Abortion kills a fetus. (4) [from 1 and 2] Therefore, it should be illegal to kill a fetus. (5) [from 3 and 4] Therefore, abortion should be illegal. I think a good argument can be given to show that premise 2 is false in the case of abortion. By “good” argument, I mean an argument based on principles that cohere with our shared considered intuitions better than principles supporting any pro-life conclusion. More specifically, I believe that premise 2 can be shown to be false from intuitions that even most pro-lifers hold.
Why I’m not a utilitarian
Utilitarianism, like most consequentialist moral theories, can be broken down into two broad components: (1) a theory of goodness, and (2) a theory of how the goodness of the outcome of an act relates to that act’s rightness. Utilitarianism says that (1) goodness is constituted by the total summation of the pleasure over pain of all sentient creatures where each creature is given equal consideration, and (2) an act is right if and only if the actual consequences of that act have more goodness than any other alternative. Further, I believe that a theory of goodness can be broken down into two subcomponents: (1a) a theory of individual goodness, and (1b) a theory of how the goodness of individuals relates to the collective goodness (e.g. using some sort of aggregation function). Utilitarianism says that (1a) individual goodness is constituted by the total amount of pleasure and pain for that individual, and (1b) the collective goodness is simply the total summation of every sentient creature’s individual goodness. In this post, I will criticize each of these three components of utilitarianism. These criticisms, I believe, provide sufficient reason to reject utilitarianism.
Why consequentialism should be rejected
Following the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (SEP), consequentialism is a moral theory that states that the moral rightness of an act depends only on the goodness of certain consequences associated with the act. In other words, once we know about the goodness of certain consequences associated with an act, we have all the information necessary to determine the moral rightness of the act. I believe that consequentialists are incorrect to state that facts about the “right” depend only on facts about the “good”. While the goodness of consequences is certainly relevant to determining the rightness of an action, I will argue in this post that there are additional features that can be relevant other than the goodness of any consequences associated with the action.
A libertarian justification of mandatory taxation by the state
Libertarianism is notorious in its rejection of regulations by the state that many see as morally permissible. For example, libertarians often reject forms of wealth redistribution, welfare states, and social safety nets. Libertarians believe that, even if these programs produce good outcomes, to coerce people into supporting these programs via mandatory taxation (which is backed by the threat of physical force by the state if one doesn’t pay their taxes) is to violate their ownership rights over their property and their body.The point is that we have ownership rights over our bodies and our legitimately acquired property (i.e. property which was acquired without the violation of any else’s rights); therefore, to control (or threaten control of) someone else’s bodies or property without their consent is to violate those rights. Many libertarian philosophers (anarchists) have taken this point to claim that all mandatory taxation is unjust. If this claim is correct, then it seems that libertarianism is committed to the rejection of the state, as most conceptions of the state involve (among other things) mandatory taxation of its citizens. This post will argue that this conclusion is incorrect. I will argue that an adequate justification of the state can be provided on broadly libertarian grounds.
Reasons Internalism: an argument by analogy with epistemic reasons
I will investigate how well internalism holds as a thesis regarding theoretical or epistemic reasons (i.e. reasons for belief). If internalism seems true regarding epistemic reasons, then that would provide some evidence that internalism is also true regarding practical reasons, as there would be a unified relation that could explain reasons more generally across different normative domains. All else equal, a theory that can explain observations across a wide variety of general contexts in a non-ad-hoc fashion has more plausibility than a theory that must posit many different independent explanations to account for those same observations. On the other hand, if internalism seems false regarding epistemic reasons, then internalists will need to provide an explanation of why actions and beliefs are relevantly different enough to demand different fundamental conditions for their reasons. But it’s not clear to me how such an explanation can be given. After all, the concept of a reason is the same when discussing normative reasons for action and normative reasons for belief. Thus, we would expect the fundamental conditions that govern the presence of reasons to be the same as well. It seems to me then that the viability of internalism rests in part on the success of internalism as a theory regarding epistemic reasons. In what follows, I will argue that internalism is plausible regarding epistemic reasons.