Libertarian Ethics, Lecture 1 with David Gordon - Mises Academy


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Libertarian Ethics, Lecture 1 with David Gordon - Mises Academy

  1. 1. Libertarian Ethics, Lecture 1 Introduction to Ethics
  2. 2. Three Types of Libertarian Ethics ●In this course, we’ll discuss three main approaches to libertarian ethics. One of these is a variant of utilitarianism, supported by Mises and Henry Hazlitt. (Danny will be giving three lectures on this view.) ●The other two approaches are Murray Rothbard’s natural law theory and Hans Hoppe’s argumentation ethics. In this lecture, I’ll make some general points about ethics and describe the three approaches.
  3. 3. Ethics and Value Judgments ●In some contexts, it’s important to distinguish between judgments about what ought to be the case and judgments about what is good and bad, but I’m not going to do that here. I’m calling both “value judgments”. These judgments are the subject mater of ethics.
  4. 4. Two Questions ●We can distinguish two questions about value judgments. ●1. Do value judgments have truth value? That is, does it make sense to say that a value judgment is true or false, in the same way that we say, e.g., that it’s true or false that the earth revolves around the sun? ●2. Why should we do what ethics prescribes?
  5. 5. Can an “Ought” Be Derived From an “Is”? ●There is a famous passage in Hume’s Treatise that is usually interpreted to mean that you cannot derive a judgment of what ought to be the case from what is the case.
  6. 6. Hume on “Is” and “Ought” ●“In every system of morality, which I have hitherto met with, I have always remarked, that the author proceeds for some time in the ordinary ways of reasoning, and establishes the being of a God, or makes observations concerning human affairs; when all of a sudden I am surprised to find, that instead of the usual copulations of propositions, is, and is not, I meet with no proposition that is not connected with an ought, or an ought not.
  7. 7. The Passage Continued ●This change is imperceptible; but is however, of the last consequence. For as this ought, or ought not, expresses some new relation or affirmation, 'tis necessary that it should be observed and explained; and at the same time that a reason should be given; for what seems altogether inconceivable, how this new relation can be a deduction from others, which are entirely different from it.”
  8. 8. Hume’s Law and Ethical Objectivity ●If Hume’s Law is true, this does not rule out an objective ethics. An objective ethics means that ethical judgments are true or false, not dependent on subjective opinions.
  9. 9. Why Mises Rejected Objectivity ●Mises claimed that theories of objective value make arbitrary assertions. What happens if someone denies that a value is objective; how can the issue be resolved? ●Kant said we can show that certain ethical rules are required by reason. (“The categorical imperative.”) Mises rejected this. Reason only enters the picture when an end is specified. ●Even though Mises had affinities with Kant in epistemology, he didn’t in ethics.
  10. 10. Mises on the Motive to be Moral ●Given Mises’s rejection of Kant’s argument, he has another criticism to offer of moral objectivity. ●These theories confront us with demands: you ought to do so-and-so. But why should we? Unless the theory can show that it is in our interest to follow the rules, the demand is arbitrary. This is the second question: why should you be moral?
  11. 11. A Contrasting Position ●Mises’s position can be usefully compared with the article of H.A. Prichard, “Does Moral Philosophy Rest on a Mistake?” Mind, 1912. ●Prichard says that it is a mistake to seek a non-moral reason to be moral. Moral rules make their own direct demand on us. ●Mises thought that that this position leads to intolerance. John Stuart Mill also argued that appeal to moral intuitions leads to intolerance
  12. 12. Mises and Value Objectivism ●Mises rejected value objectivism. He thought that there were no further judgments one could make about the values people have. He thought that final ends weren’t subject to objective assessment ●He also rejected another kind of objectivism. This holds that certain moral principles are constraints that people must follow, regardless of the ends they have.
  13. 13. Mises and Utilitarianism ●If final ends are subjective, this raises the question, what did Mises himself take to be the final end? ●His answer was happiness. This makes him a utilitarian, broadly speaking. The position is also called eudaemonism, i.e, the position that well-being is the ultimate goal of life. Aristotle and other Greeks were eudaemonists
  14. 14. Mises’s Utilitarianism ●Mises is not vulnerable to objections usually raised against standard utilitarianism. ●Mises does not compare or add-up interpersonal utilities. He also does not call for sacrificing some people to promote overall happiness. The hanging-the-innocent man case.
  15. 15. Utilitarianism and Social Cooperation ●Mises’s sort of utilitarianism is much less demanding than standard utilitarianism. ●Its key point is that social cooperation through peace and the free market is the main way people can advance their ends, whatever these might be.
  16. 16. Rothbard and Mises ●Rothbard agreed with Mises on the benefits of social cooperation through the free market. ●But he disagreed with certain parts of Mises’s ethics. ●Rothbard, in contrast with Mises, thought that ethics is objective. If we say, e.g., that we ought to promote the free market, this tells us what we ought morally to do. It’s isn’t only a claim about how we can realize the preferences for peace and prosperity that we in fact have.
  17. 17. Rothbard and Natural Law ●If Rothbard thinks that ethics makes claims that are objectively true, how are these claims established? ●If you are to flourish, you need certain things. These requirements are dictated by human nature. ●So far, this is parallel to Mises: it just says, “If you want to flourish, you should do such-and- such”. This is like Mises’s claim, “If you want peace and prosperity, you should favor the
  18. 18. Rothbard and Natural Law Continued ●Rothbard does not take human flourishing as a mere hypothetical. In the natural law view, it’s objectively true that this is a good---you should want to flourish. ●Rothbard rejects Hume’s Law. From the fact that certain things are needed for human beings to flourish, Rothbard thinks that it follows that we ought to want these things.
  19. 19. Self-Ownership ●What do we need in order to flourish? Rothbard thinks that each person needs to be a self-owner. Each person has the right to decide what to do with his or her own body. ●You don’t have to donate a kidney or blood to someone even if he needs one of these items more than you do. It’s
  20. 20. More Self-Ownership ●Rothbard makes the case for self-ownership by contrasting it with alternative principles. These include slavery and a system in which each persons “owns” parts of everyone. ●Given self-ownership, Rothbard proceeds to develop an account of how persons acquire property. Property rights leave no room for a legitimate State.
  21. 21. Hoppe, Habermas, and Apel ●Hoppe was a student of Juergen Habermas who developed discourse or argumentation ethics. ●Another German philosopher, Karl-Otto Apel, came up with a very similar approach. ●These writers aren’t libertarians. Habermas began as a Marxist associated with the Frankfurt School. Although he has become more moderate than he was in his younger days, he is still well to the left-of-center.
  22. 22. A Fundamental Mistake ●Discourse ethics, as Habermas and Apel develop it, is an attempt to discover the rules of conduct toward one another that people would reasonably accept. ●It is not an attempt to show that certain moral judgments are requirements of logic, i.e, that if you reject AE, you are
  23. 23. Argumentation Ethics and Reason ●Here the issue is, what would it be reasonable for people to agree on, under the requirement that they agree on rules that apply to everyone equally. ●These rules express our respect for persons.
  24. 24. AE and Reason, Continued ●The basic idea here comes from the second version of Kant’s Categorical Imperative. This requires us to treat every person as an end- in-himself, not as only as a means. ●AE says that they way we do this is to reason together about the norms that should apply in our relations with each other. ●AE applies only to this part of morality. It doesn’t apply to ethical issues that concern how to lead a good life.
  25. 25. Hoppe’s Innovation ●Hoppe suggests that the AE norms would be libertarian. ●Wouldn’t people accept the rule that everyone was a self-owner? If someone suggested that one group of people should enslave others, this wouldn’t win agreement. This is an important point.
  26. 26. Performative Contradictions ●To understand the next argument we have to grasp the notion of a pragmatic paradox or performative contradiction. ●This is different from a logical contradiction, e. g., “HHH is both German and non-German”. ●A performative contradiction is a statement that is false if you say it. E.g, you could say “I am totally unconscious”, only if you were conscious, so your saying it shows the statement is false. Note that the statement need not be self-contradictory. I could be
  27. 27. Self-Ownership and Performative Contradiction ●Is it a performative contradiction if you deny that you own yourself? Suppose you say, “I don’t own myself.” Could you say this only if you do own yourself? ●Why is there supposed to be a performative contradiction? The contention is that in order to say something, you must have control over your own body. So just what you are implying if you deny that you own yourself is that you do have such control. This contradicts what you say when you deny self-ownership.