Libertarianism and Modern Philosophers, Lecture 3 with David Gordon - Mises Academy


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Libertarianism and Modern Philosophers, Lecture 3 with David Gordon - Mises Academy

  1. 1. Libertarianism and the Philosophers Lecture 3 John Rawls: Equality versus the System of Natural Liberty
  2. 2. The Influence of Rawls ●Rawls is the most influential contemporary political philosopher. His best known book is A Theory of Justice (1971). Also important is Political Liberalism (1993). ●Justice is the primary virtue of social institutions. But how do we decide what is just?
  3. 3. Reflective Equilibrium ●We don’t start out empty handed. We have judgments, or intuitions, about particular cases. E.g., a theory of justice that allowed slavery would be wrong. ●Intuitions can be challenged. When we arrive at a theory of justice , we can test it against intuitions. If it doesn’t fit, we can modify either or both. This is like the way science proceeds, according to Nelson Goodman.
  4. 4. Rawls and Intuitionism ●One theory of morality is that we directly grasp values or moral truths and that there is no systematic account connecting these truths. This theory is called intuitionism. W.D. Ross and H.A. Prichard were leading adherents of this school. ●Rawls is not an intuitionist. He believes that it is possible to come up with a general theory of justice.
  5. 5. Intuitions and Equality ●This discussion of moral intuitions is important for us because one such intuition lies at the basis of Rawls’ rejection of libertarianism. ●People in a capitalist economy generally are generally very unequal in income and wealth. Rawls thinks that, other things held constant, this is a morally bad state of affairs. He thinks that equality has an intuitive moral appeal. Libertarians will be unlikely to agree.
  6. 6. Why Not Utilitarianism? ●The emphasis on judging a theory by our intuitions enables Rawls to reject the most popular theory at the time he wrote TJ, utilitarianism. ●Utilitarianism, as Rawls takes it, says we should maximize the good. There are different views about the nature of the good--- pleasure, preferences, preferences under certain constraints, etc.
  7. 7. What’s Wrong With Utilitarianism? ●Utilitarianism doesn’t take seriously the separation between people. It allows sacrifices of some on behalf of others. The case of the sheriff who hangs an innocent man to avert a riot is a famous example. ●Here, Rawls tests a theory by intuition and rejects it.
  8. 8. Misesian Utilitarianism ●Rawls’ objection doesn’t apply to the utilitarianism supported by Mises. He says that people benefit from social cooperation through the free market, but he doesn’t call for maximizing or for sacrificing some to help others. ●Rawls could accept this but say that it leaves some questions unanswered. What is the initial distribution of wealth? Are transfers ever justifiable?
  9. 9. The Problem of Disagreement ●There is a big problem in constructing a theory of justice. People in a society like the US disagree on the nature of the good. They have different conceptions of the good. ●It is crucial that Rawls thinks his theory applies only to societies like the US. These societies are democracies where
  10. 10. The Fact of Reasonable Pluralism ●One obvious idea would be for each group to try to establish the conception of the good it thinks is best. ●Rawls thinks that this would display lack of respect for people with other conceptions of the good. Even if you think your moral theory is correct, the reasons for it aren’t so strong that it
  11. 11. Reasonable Pluralism Continued ●Given the fact that conceptions of the good aren’t completely rationally compelling, it is wrong to impose the one you favor on others. ●To show respect for persons, given the fact of reasonable pluralism, you must justify your policies by reasons every reasonable person could accept.
  12. 12. An Example ●Suppose, e.g., that someone thinks that Bible forbids same-sex marriage. Rawls would say that even if the majority agrees with this view, it can’t impose it on others. They wouldn’t accept what the Bible says as a reason. ●This doesn’t mean you have to come up with reasons that absolutely everyone could acknowledge. You only have to provide reasons to reasonable people. Rawls calls this process public reason.
  13. 13. Reasonable versus Rational ●Rawls distinguishes between the reasonable and the rational. Someone is rational if he picks suitable means to achieve his ends. ●He is reasonable if he wants to come to an agreement with others who share this goal. ●As an example, Nazis might be rational: given their ends, they might select effective means to achieve them.But they aren’t reasonable.
  14. 14. Overlapping Consensus ●How can we reach agreement, even among reasonable people, given the fact of reasonable pluralism? ●People can establish a basic framework of institutions and rules. Within this framework, people can pursue their own conceptions of the good. Each conception of the good will provide reasons to accept the framework. Rawls calls this overlapping consensus.
  15. 15. The Original Position ●How can people establish this basic framework? The framework must be impartial among different conceptions of the good. ●To secure impartiality, Rawls proposes that people decide in an original position in which they do not know basic facts about themselves. They don’t know their own abilities, preferences, or conceptions of the good. They do know facts about how society operates, e.g., laws of economics. Rawls says that people in the original position are
  16. 16. Sandel’s Objection ●Michael Sandel, in Liberalism and the Limits of Justice (1982), objected to the veil of ignorance. ●He said that Rawls is assuming an unencumbered self. Contrary to Rawls, we cannot detach ourselves from our commitments and conceptions of the good. These are basic to our identity.
  17. 17. Is Sandel Right? ●Sandel’s objection rests on a mistake. Rawls does not claim that we should view our commitments as detachable from ourselves. He can accept, though he doesn’t have to, that such commitments form our identity. ●The veil of ignorance is just a thought experiment designed to portray impartial choice. It doesn’t imply that, in real life, we can live apart from our commitments.
  18. 18. Primary Goods ●How would people choose in the original position? Each person is self-interested and wants to live in accord with his own conception of the good, but he doesn’t know what this conception is. ●He does know that, regardless of his conception of the good, he needs certain things in order to lead a good life. Rawls calls these things primary goods. They include rights and liberties, powers and opportunities,
  19. 19. Choosing Primary Goods ●You need a certain amount of the primary goods in order to pursue your conception of the good. Once you get that amount, getting more won’t be as important. ●Rawls thinks that in the original position, your main goal will thus be to make sure you get the primary goods you need. You will not choose a principle that will risk falling below the necessary level, even if the risky strategy might give you more primary goods.
  20. 20. What Will Be Chosen? ●Rawls thinks that people in the original position will pick a framework in which each person has the maximum amount of rights and liberties, consistent with equal rights and liberties for all. ●The rights and liberties include civil liberties, e.g., freedom of speech and religion, and the right of political participation. ●These rights are lexically prior to the other primary goods. They can’t be traded to get more of the other goods, such as income and
  21. 21. Equal Liberties and Property Rights ●Rawls’ equal rights do not include property rights. If individuals have the right to acquire property, then there would be no place for Rawls’ egalitarian redistribution. ●Rawls has set up his system so that income and wealth counts only as a primary good that ranks below rights and liberties. He might say that the libertarian view would be rejected by some people, but so would his position. He has assumed, but not argued, that people don’t have the right to acquire property.
  22. 22. The Difference Principle ●Even if we accept Rawls’ view that property rights aren’t in the lexically prior group, why won't people in the original position choose to establish a libertarian system of property? ●Rawls calls this the system of natural liberty. He thinks that people wouldn’t choose it because it is too risky. What if the system of natural liberty leaves you without much income or wealth?
  23. 23. The Difference Principle Continued ●One suggestion is that people would choose an equal distribution of wealth and income. In that way, you can be sure you would have least as much as anyone else. (Remember, Rawls has strong egalitarian intuitions.) ●This leads to a problem. If people chose equality, they would know that they might not have as much incentive to produce as they would if inequalities were allowed. Rawls does not assume that people outside the original position are motivated by egalitarian
  24. 24. How Rawls Solves His Problem ●Rawls says people want to make sure they have enough income and wealth; but a rule mandating equality may result in less wealth and income that one that allows inequality. What can Rawls do? ●He resolves this tension through the second part of the difference principle. ( The first part covers equality of opportunity). All inequalities have to be to the advantage of the least well- off group in society. Thus, you are assured that you will do at least as well as you would
  25. 25. The Difference Principle in Practice ●It might turn out that a rule allowing unlimited property acquisition, with no compulsory redistribution, will be the advantage of the least well-off group. Then, there would be a Rawlsian argument for the system of natural liberty. Will Wilkinson and other “Rawlsekians” have taken this line, but