Libertarian Ethics, Lecture 3 with David Gordon - Mises Academy


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Libertarian Ethics, Lecture 3 with David Gordon - Mises Academy

  1. 1. Libertarian Ethics, Lecture 3 Rothbard’s Ethics
  2. 2. Rothbard and Mises ●Rothbard and Mises have very similar views about policy. Both support the free market and oppose socialism and government intervention in the economy. ●There are differences about property rights,but I’ll discuss this topic later. ●The main difference between them concerns the foundation of ethics.
  3. 3. Difference About Objectivity ●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. ●Rothbard would not say that morality is just a social institution or device. It is discovered rather than invented.
  4. 4. Is Ethics Objective? ●One of the most important controversies in ethics is whether morality is objective. As most philosophers understand this, the question means, “Can moral judgments be true or false”? ●To answer “No”, is to accept subjectivism. Suppose I like vanilla ice cream but you don’t. Neither of us is correct or incorrect. Subjectivists think that moral judgments are like this.
  5. 5. Where Mises and Rothbard Disagree ●It’s important to see exactly what the issue is between Mises and Rothbard about objectivity. ●Mises certainly thinks that many judgments that have something to do with ethics are true or false. E.g., “The free market enables people to attain their preferences” is true.
  6. 6. Disagreement Continued ●Ultimate value judgments, according to Mises, are neither true nor false. E.g., if someone doesn’t want to be in pain, and this is not a means to some further end, Mises would say it doesn’t make sense to claim that this preference is correct or incorrect. ●Rothbard would disagree. He thinks that value judgments are objective, in the straightforward sense in which judgments about facts are true or false.
  7. 7. Natural Law ●How can Rothbard show that ethics is objective? ●He does so by appealing to natural law, especially as developed by St. Thomas Aquinas. ●This raises a problem: Aquinas was a Catholic theologian, who argued that natural law was part of Divine law. Does accepting natural law commit you to accepting the claims of a particular religion or, if not that, at
  8. 8. Natural Law and God ●Rothbard argues that even though Aquinas thought natural law was part of God’s law, it depended only on human reason. It wasn’t dependent on accepting Biblical revelation. ●Rothbard is here in accord with Aquinas himself. ●The great Dutch legal theorist Hugo Grotius said, “What we have been saying would have a degree of validity even if we should concede [etiamsi daremus] that which cannot be conceded without the utmost wickedness,
  9. 9. Divine Command Ethics and Positivism ●Rothbard draws an interesting parallel between divine command ethics and positivism. ●According to divine command ethics, at least in certain versions, ethics has no basis in reason. Ethical rules are just commands of God. ●Legal positivists hold that laws are just commands of the legislator.
  10. 10. Essences ●How does natural law show that ethical judgments are objective? ●Rothbard appeals to essences. ●An object’s properties can be divided into two classes. One class is the essential characteristics. The object wouldn’t be the object that it is without these properties. E.g., it is water’s essence to be composed of hydrogen and oxygen. Nothing without this property is water. ●The rest of the properties of the object are are
  11. 11. The Human Essence ●Rothbard suggests we can determine the essence of human beings, just as we can for other things. ●But isn’t he open to objection here? Wouldn’t an account of the human essence be part of anthropology, not ethics? How could an account of the human essence tell us what we should
  12. 12. Essence and Flourishing ●Rothbard answers these questions by appealing to the concept of flourishing or happiness. ●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
  13. 13. Flourishing 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.
  14. 14. Rejection of Hume’s Law ●How is it supposed to follow from the fact that we need to do certain things to flourish that we unconditionally ought to do these things? Most people certainly want to flourish, but what if someone didn’t? ●Suppose you respond, Well, if you want to flourish, you should do what you need to flourish”? This is Mises’s position, and also Ayn Rand’s, but it isn’t standard natural law theory.
  15. 15. Natural Law and Hypotheticals ●But in standard natural law theory, what you ought to do isn’t dependent on your choosing something. You simply ought to do it. ●If you have a choice, then morality consists of hypothetical imperatives: if you choose to live, you should. . . ●Standard natural law theory isn’t satisfied with this.
  16. 16. Tendencies ●How do we get these non-hypothetical oughts? ●Rothbard notes that living things have certain tendencies. E.g., a normal colt will develop into a horse. A colt that failed to do this would be defective. A good horse is one that develops normally. ●A animal “should” develop according to its tendencies; this is just what “should” means. Thus, we should want to flourish. A person who didn’t do this would be abnormal.
  17. 17. An Objection ●There is a famous objection to arguments of this sort. Suppose we ask, “Ought we to do what we need to flourish”? If “ought” means “what we need to do to flourish”, the question would make no sense. It would be asking, “ought we to do what we ought to do?” ●But the question does make sense, or at least seems to. This is a variation of G.E. Moore’s famous “open question” argument. Rothbard could reply that if we think the question makes sense, we are mistaken.
  18. 18. Natural Law and Political Philosophy ●Rothbard says that political philosophy is concerned with only part of ethics. ●It is confined to delimiting the permissible use of force. Ethical issues that don’t involve force are not covered. Political philosophy establishes people’s rights, i.e., claims that people can use force to secure. ●The separation between political philosophy and other parts of ethics comes from Locke. The 19th century German philosopher Fichte also stressed it.
  19. 19. Natural Law and Custom ●According to Rothbard, we use reason to determine what we need to flourish. ●In contrast to Hayek and Hazlitt, Rothbard is suspicious of the role of custom and common law. ●The results of common law must be tested by reason. They don’t have a presumption of truth.
  20. 20. 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
  21. 21. Self-Ownership Continued ●Self-ownership isn’t a philosophically problematic concept, contrary to what some people think. All it means is that each person should be in control of decisions about his own body, such as the kidney and blood donations examples just mentioned. ●Self-ownership does not imply that the mind is separate from the body and owns it. It involves no assumptions about the mind-body relation.
  22. 22. Alleged Problems With Self- Ownership ●The “self” in “self-ownership” is reflexive. Suppose we say that someone lacks self-esteem. We don’t mean that the person’s self lacks esteem for something else, e.g., the person’s body. We just mean that he doesn’t regard himself very highly. In like fashion, a self-owner controls
  23. 23. Problems Concluded ●Some people still object. They say, “This isn’t real ownership. Ownership must involve a separation between owner and what is owned.” ●I find this an odd objection. “Ownership” isn’t a thing in the world, but a term invented for our convenience. It doesn’t have an essence: we can define it as we please. ●If you don’t like the term self-ownership, feel free to use some other term. Nothing turns on what word we use.
  24. 24. The Case for 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. The latter system couldn’t work. ●Isn’t it obvious that slavery is wrong? Rothbard is, at least at some points, a moral intuitionist, someone who thinks that we can grasp the truth about at least some moral claims. “E.g., “it’s wrong to kill babies for fun”. If someone asked why this was true, he
  25. 25. Property Rights ●Given self-ownership, Rothbard proceeds to develop an account of how persons acquire property. ●Land and other resources start out unowned. People own their own labor and when they mix their labor with the unowned land in an appropriate way, they acquire the land. ●Property rights leave no room for a legitimate State.
  26. 26. Mises on Property Rights ●As Danny mentioned in his lecture, Mises thinks we need a legal system that gives people stable property rights. The free market couldn’t function without them. ●It doesn’t follow, though, that for Mises these rights have to be acquired through homesteading; any stable system that permits the free market to operate will suffice.
  27. 27. Mises Continued ●Mises rejects the Lockean account on the ground that existing property titles can’t be traced back to acts of Lockean acquisition. ●Mises stresses that in the free market, the real owners of productive property are the mass of the consumers. Their spending decisions determine gains and losses in ownership. It’s open to a Misesian to support a homesteading system as the best option; but, unlike Rothbard, a Misesian won’t say that people have a natural right to property.