My latest Learn Liberty blog post is on the topic above and can be found here. Excerpt: Kant’s moral philosophy justifies extremely strong individual rights against coercion. The only justification for coercion in his philosophy seems to be defense of self or others. His ideal government therefore seems to be extremely limited and to allow … Continue reading Immanuel Kant, Philosopher of Freedom
Is Poverty like a Pond?
New at e3ne.org, I take up Peter Singer's argument that we in affluent societies have far-reaching duties to aid the global poor, possibly to the extent of bringing ourselves down almost to their level. Excerpt: Instead of buying a Starbucks coffee once a week, you could save that money – about $200 over the course … Continue reading Is Poverty like a Pond?
Mill on Paternalism
I have a "nutshell" summary and critique of John Stuart Mill's On Liberty now up at e3ne.org. Excerpt: Mill thus defends freedom of conscience, speech, and lifestyle on completely “practical” grounds, but he leaves some significant loose ends in On Liberty. For instance, there are lots of examples of “harms” that the government shouldn’t regulate, … Continue reading Mill on Paternalism
A Right to Do Wrong?
The latest in my series of blog posts based on discussions with Ethics & Economics Challenge students is up at e3ne.org. It's on whether it's possible for us to have a right to do wrong in some cases, i.e., for there to be some moral obligations that it is not morally permissible to enforce. A … Continue reading A Right to Do Wrong?
Adam Smith on Beneficence & Justice
I've recently begun the Ethics & Economics Challenge program with students at Merrimack Valley High School in Concord, N.H. We've been discussing what Adam Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments can tell us about what types of moral duties may legitimately be enforced. I'm blogging my reflections as we go. Here is a selection from the … Continue reading Adam Smith on Beneficence & Justice
Does Moral Action Depend on Reasoning?
Just came across this Templeton Foundation conversation on the role of reason in moral thought and action. Very enlightening. Over time, I have become more of a "Smithian" in acknowledging the role of moral emotion in guiding our intuitions and appropriately establishing moral commitments, though I also see a role for reason in systematizing those … Continue reading Does Moral Action Depend on Reasoning?
Libertines, Hypocrites, and the Weak-Willed, With an Application to Socialism
Bryan Caplan argues that social conservatives should prefer libertines to hypocrites, contrary to the common meme that "at least hypocrites have moral standards." The argument is pretty simple: hypocrites seem to share your values, but when you least expect it, they will betray you. So far as it goes, the argument is pretty convincing. But … Continue reading Libertines, Hypocrites, and the Weak-Willed, With an Application to Socialism
Is Watching Football Unethical?
Over at Reason, Stephanie Slade has a nice, thoughtful piece on whether watching football - providing the NFL and college football programs with revenue - is unethical, given the immense harms to players through traumatic brain injuries and the diseases they cause. A selection: A person can believe an action is wrong even if she … Continue reading Is Watching Football Unethical?
Can Acting on Moral Falsehood Ever Be Warranted?
I was never persuaded by Aristotle's argument that happiness is the highest good (because it is the only thing that humans seek for its own sake rather than for any other end). The reason I never accepted it is that it is either circular (happiness gets defined as whatever it is you seek for its … Continue reading Can Acting on Moral Falsehood Ever Be Warranted?
The Omnivore’s Duties
We all agree that it's wrong to put cats in microwaves. Animals' welfare matters to us. (I don't think Damon Linker has it right when he says our moral concern for animals is simply a natural "expansion of the sphere of human concern and empathy." My concern for my fellow human beings dictates precisely nothing … Continue reading The Omnivore’s Duties
Emotion, Moral Intuition, & the Social Function of Literature
I was recently with a longtime friend who revealed that he does not believe in morality. He thinks the only ultimate good is his own happiness. Now, he tries to act in a way that others see as moral because he believes that that is conducive to his own happiness, and he acknowledges having emotions … Continue reading Emotion, Moral Intuition, & the Social Function of Literature
An Immoral Investment Opportunity
Newsweek reports on the fundraising woes of cheating website Ashley Madison, despite their profitability: "You're basically talking about a company that's in the sin business," says Lloyd Greif, president and chief executive officer of the L.A. boutique investment bank Greif & Co. "I think there are quite a few institutions that would have some explaining … Continue reading An Immoral Investment Opportunity
Is Free Will a Noble Lie?
Belief in freedom of the will has many beneficial consequences. Lab experiments have shown that people reading deterministic, anti-free will statements are more likely subsequently to cheat in their own favor. Researchers have even identified some of the chemical processes in the brain associated with diminished belief in free will: Since the publication of these … Continue reading Is Free Will a Noble Lie?
Sen, Nozick, and “Breaking Bad”
A moral dilemma from the popular TV show "Breaking Bad" illustrates a critique Amartya Sen made of Robert Nozick's Anarchy, State, and Utopia and the reason why the refutation fails. In On Ethics and Economics, Sen makes the following critique of Nozick's libertarian philosophy (heavily paraphrased because the book has yet to be unpacked, and … Continue reading Sen, Nozick, and “Breaking Bad”
Social injustice and harms
Over at BHL, my friend Andrew Cohen has responded to my post earlier this week making a skeptical case against the normative credentials of the idea of “social justice.” Andrew thinks that part anyway of the problem with my skeptical argument is that is framed in terms of rights. He believes that “harms” are “more … Continue reading Social injustice and harms
Social justice as an emergent property
I have great respect and (in many cases) affection for my friends at Bleeding Hearts Libertarians. But I am not a bleeding heart libertarian, and from the outset I have resisted its siren song, mostly over its endorsement of “social justice” as a moral and/or political ideal. Unlike Hayek, I do not think the concept … Continue reading Social justice as an emergent property
I like a great deal of Bryan Caplan's work, and what I like I like a great deal, but it seems to me he makes a significant inferential error in this recent EconLog post. Caplan notes that "71% of poor families with children are headed by single parents. About 80% of all long-term poverty occurs … Continue reading Deserving Poor
Income Inequality Doesn’t Matter
Roger Koppl argues this week at ThinkMarkets that “Income inequality matters.” He thinks it matters so much that he says it twice. He believes “Austrian,” pro-market, economic liberals should be speaking up more on this “central issue.” I think Koppl could not be more wrong. The issue deserves all the inattention we can muster for … Continue reading Income Inequality Doesn’t Matter
Moral Arguments for the Existence of God
I was originally going to post this as a comment on Sven's interesting and provocative post, "Just chemistry," but it ended up being long enough to make a short post out of it instead. As I read it, Sven's argument that atheists cannot give a rational foundation for morality could also be interpreted as a … Continue reading Moral Arguments for the Existence of God
*The Righteous Mind* by Jonathan Haidt
Jonathan Haidt is everywhere these days, giving interviews and TED talks, promoting his working papers in the media, writing for the websites yourmorals.org and civilpolitics.org, and publishing The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion (New York: Pantheon Books, 2012). A moral psychologist by training, Haidt has successfully cleared the jump … Continue reading *The Righteous Mind* by Jonathan Haidt
Haidt’s Biased Survey Evidence on Libertarians (Updated)
In his book The Righteous Mind (review coming soon) and in a coauthored paper with Ravi Iyer and others, moral psychologist Jonathan Haidt claims that libertarians are essentially amoral(*): they care less about care, fairness, authority, loyalty, and sanctity than conservatives and liberals and care most of all about liberty. (I blogged the latter study … Continue reading Haidt’s Biased Survey Evidence on Libertarians (Updated)
Clifford the Big Red Aristotelian
It’s not all-politics-all-the-time. Today in my “Happiness and the Meaning of Life” class I showed them an episode of Clifford the Big Red Dog. In “Dog for a Day,” Emily Elizabeth’s friend Charlie complains about having to do chores. He notices Clifford playing with his friends Cleo and T-Bone, and it occurs to him that … Continue reading Clifford the Big Red Aristotelian
Interpersonal Comparisons of Dignity and Eleemosynary Duties
"Imagine that a Wall Street billionaire is passing a bag lady on the street. She begs for a dollar. Should the billionaire give it to her? It's just plain obvious that the bag lady would benefit more from the dollar than the billionaire. The donation would detract from his happiness less than it would add … Continue reading Interpersonal Comparisons of Dignity and Eleemosynary Duties
Libertarianism is Not Libertinism, Part the Googolplexth
In case you haven't heard, libertarians on the 'Net have been having another one of those more-heating-than-enlightening internecine debates, this one sparked by a video by Julie Borowski on why there aren't more libertarian women. Sarah Skwire and Steve Horwitz responded on Bleeding Heart Libertarians, accusing Ms. Borowski of "slut shaming" and generally denigrating women … Continue reading Libertarianism is Not Libertinism, Part the Googolplexth
My Introduction to Political Philosophy Final Exam
Here are the essay questions from the final exam I gave in "Introduction to Political Philosophy" last semester. How would you answer these questions? 3.1 Rights to Property Answer one of these questions. 1. What is John Rawls’ “difference principle,” and how does he defend it? What are its implications for the welfare state? Is … Continue reading My Introduction to Political Philosophy Final Exam
Right-to-Work: An Inflammatory Analogy
Left-libertarians are dismayed at the support most libertarians and classical liberals have been giving to right-to-work laws, which withdraw recognition from clauses in collective bargaining contracts that require all employees in a workplace to pay agency fees to the union that represents that workplace. Many libertarians have supported right-to-work laws on the grounds that they … Continue reading Right-to-Work: An Inflammatory Analogy
“Neoclassical Liberalism,” Property Rights, and Capitalism
Matt Zwolinski and John Tomasi have a thought-provoking piece entitled, "A Bleeding Heart History of Libertarianism," in the latest Cato Unbound. They criticize postwar libertarians (specifically mentioning Mises, Rand, and Rothbard) for seeing property rights as absolute and, in their view, regarding the welfare of the working poor as irrelevant to moral justifications for capitalism: … Continue reading “Neoclassical Liberalism,” Property Rights, and Capitalism
Moral Philosophy & Dogmatism
Political libertarians are a motley lot in terms of their moral philosophies. There are three dominant strands - utilitarians like Milton Friedman, deontologists like Robert Nozick, and teleologists like Ayn Rand - but I've also met egoists, postmodernists, and Rawls-style egalitarian consequentialists. In debates over moral foundations, Randians often ally themselves with the deontologists in … Continue reading Moral Philosophy & Dogmatism
A Note on Entitlements
The WSJ has an editorial today entitled "Entitlement Nation" in which it outlines America's political history that has led to so many millions of us today receiving, even living off, payments of money, goods, or services from the government. The numbers are shocking: "50.5 million Americans are on Medicaid, 46.5 million are on Medicare, 52 million … Continue reading A Note on Entitlements
The Libertarian Case for Prescription Laws
In general, libertarians oppose laws requiring a physician's prescription for purchase or dispensing of controlled drugs, on the grounds that these restrictions are paternalistic infringements on an individual's right to choose for himself or herself. But under what conditions might libertarians support prescription laws? Libertarian activist Rachel Mills recently asked on Facebook whether baby formula … Continue reading The Libertarian Case for Prescription Laws
Bleeding Heart Libertarians
There's an interesting new philosophy blog called "Bleeding Heart Libertarians," featuring an all-star cast of Andrew J. Cohen, Daniel Shapiro, Jacob T. Levy, James Stacey Taylor, Jason F. Brennan, and Matt Zwolinski. Actually, some of the participants reject the term "libertarian"; one of the first posts, by Jason Brennan, is entitled, "Neoclassical Liberalism: How I'm … Continue reading Bleeding Heart Libertarians
Well, my guest blogging stint here has gone somewhat awry. My post on trade relations was sent in Tuesday morning last week, my time. By serendipity, the University's public relations office called a half hour later asking if I could do an interview with Canterbury Television that afternoon on US-NZ trade relations. I said I … Continue reading Rumble Rumble
Self-Regarding Duties and the Secular Case Against Porn (updated)
Why we have a duty not to consume pornography.
What If Libyans Had Remained Nonviolent?
I caught a little bit of flak around the Internet for my piece, "Why Isn't Violence the Answer?," during the early days of the Egypt protests. I was galled by official demands from the U.S. government and other places that Egyptian protestors remain nonviolent, no matter what. Thankfully, significant violence wasn't required to get rid … Continue reading What If Libyans Had Remained Nonviolent?
Why Isn’t Violence the Answer?
Mubarak: Sic semper tyrannis, bitch.
Dignity and Preciousness
I gave a talk to the Yeshiva College Philosophy Club recently in which I made the following claim: In my view, what gives people dignity, what is admirable and noble in them, is precisely their capacity for moral agency. It is when they have the liberty to make free choices but are required to take … Continue reading Dignity and Preciousness
Should We Care About Inequality?
Left-libertarian market anarchist Roderick Long argues that worrying about socioeconomic inequality as such does not count as envy. He gives some examples in support of the position, including a utility that will shut off service to a non-paying customer, while a customer can't shut off payment to a utility with poor service, and a tenant … Continue reading Should We Care About Inequality?
Most Underrated Works of Political Philosophy?
This semester I will be teaching a political philosophy course for the first time since graduate school, and have just finalized my syllabus. For all the ethicists and political philosophers out there - what do you consider to be the most underrated works of political philosophy for each period (ancient, modern, contemporary)? To elaborate, I'm … Continue reading Most Underrated Works of Political Philosophy?
Does Disgust Have Moral Force?
An interesting but occasionally infuriating article by Drake Bennett in the Boston Globe argues that research into the psychology of disgust undermines systems of morality. Here are some claims that I find particularly poorly justified: The agnosticism central to scientific inquiry is part of what feels so dangerous to philosophers and theologians. By telling a … Continue reading Does Disgust Have Moral Force?
What Do Parents Owe Their Children?
Most of us rightly think that children are unlike adults in two ways. First, children have a right to positive provision that adults may not enjoy. Second, parents (and perhaps the state) enjoy the right and indeed obligation to treat their children paternalistically in order to guide their development to full rationality. So how do we justify a moral distinction between children and adults?