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Libertarianism and Modern Philosophers, Lecture 5 with David Gordon - Mises Academy

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  • 1. Libertarianism and the Philosophers Lecture 5 Contractarian Approaches: David Gauthier and T.M. Scanlon
  • 2. Contractarianism ●One of the most important features of Rawls’ theory is that the principles of justice are the ones that would be chosen in the original position by self- interested choosers behind the veil of ignorance. ●Rawls doesn’t suggest that agreement underlies morality, although he doesn’t
  • 3. David Gauthier ●I’m going to discuss two philosophers who do make contract integral to morality: David Gauthier and T.M. Scanlon. ●Gauthier asks, why is it rational to be moral? Morality imposes restrictions on us. Why should we accept these restrictions?
  • 4. Gauthier on Rationality ●Gauthier’s view of rationality is like that of Mises. ●Each person has subjective preferences. An action or policy is rational if it will get us what we want. Gauthier rejects conceptions of rationality that are more demanding, e. g., that you are rational only if you
  • 5. A Problem for Gauthier ●We are all better off in a society where people generally observe moral rules. We wouldn’t want to live in a society where people live in fear of physical attack or being robbed. ●We are also better off when a free market economy exists. Again, Gauthier’s position is like that of Mises.
  • 6. The Problem Continued ●Sometimes, we might benefit ourselves by violating moral rules. E.g., suppose I could steal something with no chance of detection. Why would it be irrational of me to take it? Suppose you say that if people stole when they thought they could get away with it, this would destroy, or at least weaken, property rights and the market. We would then all be worse off.
  • 7. What’s Wrong with This Answer ●Even if we would all be worse off, that doesn’t give me a reason not to steal now. I can’t affect what other people do. ●We have a Prisoner’s Dilemma. If everyone acts on what is individually rational for him to do, the result is that everyone will be worse off than if he refrained from this action.
  • 8. What’s Wrong Continued ●There is a dissident view on Prisoner’s Dilemma problems. This says that if you know the other people are rational, you know that they will choose the same way you will. Therefore you should choose the outcome that would be best for all. This is a minority view and Gauthier doesn’t accept it.
  • 9. Wrong Still Continued ●Suppose that people just agreed to follow moral rules and not to violate them when this was to their advantage. Why would people keep such an agreement? This would just generate a new Prisoner’s Dilemma.
  • 10. Gauthier’s Solution ●Suppose people had a disposition to cooperate in Prisoner’s Dilemmas. Then, the problem would be solved. When faced with a PD, they wouldn’t ask themselves, should I defect? ●Would it be rational for people to acquire such a disposition? Gauthier says it would be, because this would make us better off overall.
  • 11. Does Gauthier Solve His Problem? ●To reiterate Gauthier’s solution, people don’t adopt a “what’s in it for me?” attitude when faced with moral issues. This is not irrational for them, even on Gauthier’s view of rationality. Why? Because it is rational for people to acquire this disposition.
  • 12. Objections To Gauthier ●Gauthier’s solution has the consequence that it would be rational to act in ways that would be radically against your self-interest. ●Suppose that the US and Russia threaten each other with nuclear annihilation, in case of attack. To make the threat more convincing, they acquire the disposition to launch a retaliatory nuclear nuclear attack . This would be equivalent to a doomsday machine.
  • 13. Objection Continued ●Gauthier would have to say that it is rational to acquire this disposition. Doing so makes it extremely unlikely the other side would launch a nuclear attack. ●Gauthier in fact does say this. ●But suppose that one side, against expectations, did attack. Then Gauthier would have to say it would be rational to continue a nuclear war to no purpose.
  • 14. Gauthier’s Agreement ●Gauthier thinks he has shown it is rational to be moral. It would be rational for people to agree on certain moral rules, in order to avoid PDs. But which rules? ●He thinks that rules are those that people would agree on, in a situation where no one uses force or worsens anyone else’s initial position. This is Gauthier’s Lockean Proviso. Unlike Rawls’ original position, Gauthier’s contractors have full information about themselves.
  • 15. Why the Market Isn’t Enough ●Under this Lockean Proviso, why not say that people would choose the free market? ●Gauthier does accept private property acquisition, so long as this doesn’t violate the Proviso. ●Also, Gauthier accepts that the market permits voluntary transactions between people. But he thinks that the market requires correction.
  • 16. Problems of the Free Market ●Gauthier thinks that a genuine free market has to be perfectly competitive. This requires a large number of buyers and sellers, so no one can influence prices. ●Also, there are positive and negative externalities. There are public goods, such as defense, that the market can’t
  • 17. Equal Division ●How would people pay for these activities, i. e., correction of externalities and provision of public goods? ●Each person would want to pay as little as possible, provided he could secure an agreement with others. This is the minimax concession principle. ●It leads to an equal division of the cooperative surplus. This in practice means proportional taxation.
  • 18. Scanlon and Contractualism ●Scanlon’s approach is entirely different from Gauthier’s. Gauthier is a reductionist. He says, why should we be moral? This is to be answered by showing that dispositions to obey moral rules would be chosen rationally. ●Scanlon rejects this. He thinks that this doesn’t take the force of morality seriously. On Gauthier’s theory, actions aren’t really right or wrong. It’s just to our advantage to act as if they were.
  • 19. Prichard’s Dilemma ●If something is morally wrong, then its being wrong gives us a reason not to do it that isn’t reducible to anything else. ●This point was made in a famous article by H. A. Prichard, “Does Moral Philosophy Rest on a Mistake?” (Mind, 1912) ●But if you say that, moral demands appear arbitrary: Do this, because you must. The dilemma is that you must either reduce morality to something else or take it to make arbitrary demands.
  • 20. Scanlon’s Solution to the Dilemma ●Scanlon thinks that he can escape the dilemma by coming up with a general characterization of wrongness. This applies to the part of morality that concerns our relations with other people. ●He can thus escape Prichard’s Dilemma by showing that moral demands aren’t
  • 21. Scanlon’s Solution Continued ●His general principle is that moral rules are those that no one could reasonably reject, given the wish to come to agreement with other people who want to agree on this basis. ●If you act in a way counter to the rules people couldn’t reasonably reject, you are showing lack of respect for people. Scanlon’s contractualism is very different from Gauthier’ s contractarianism.
  • 22. The Circularity Objection ●The main objection to Scanlon’s solution is that it is circular. We wouldn’t know what rules it wouldn’t be reasonable to reject unless we already knew which acts were wrong.
  • 23. Scanlon’s Answer ●Scanlon’s answer is that he isn’t trying to determine what is wrong, without reference to our moral intuitions. Rather, he is trying to answer, what is the nature of wrongness? Not what makes something wrong, but what is it to be wrong? ●Also, thinking about what would be reasonable to reject can sometimes guide us to substantive conclusions.
  • 24. Scanlon and Libertarianism ●One example of such a substantive conclusion involves libertarianism. ●He says that inequalities require justification. Why wouldn’t people who end up with unequal shares of income or wealth have grounds to reject rules that allowed this?
  • 25. Scanlon’s Response to Hayek and Nozick ●An answer to Scanlon’s claim, given by Hayek and Nozick, is that inequalities simply result from the free actions of people. They aren’t the result of a central distribution. ●Scanlon’s answers that this just pushes back the problem. What is the justification for the market system? ●He also rejects natural rights to property. In a state of nature, we would have the right not to be interfered with, but Scanlon doesn’t think this would support long lasting claims to