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Wednesday, 25 May 2005

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Jason Pratt

Based on some things Tony was saying earlier, I'll make a guess that he will reply that he isn't so much against (2), as he is against a _monopoly_ of (2). There shouldn't be one FDA, for instance, but a competitive number of FDA equivalents. (And, should enough of those fail due to ineptitude, such that a monopoly or oligarchy results; the winner(s) should be divided up into independently competitive parts again--somewhat like Ma Bell/AT&T.) I have questions about the practicality of this; but I'll reserve them until I know whether I've guessed correctly. One other point that I think should be kept in mind, though: the 'state' (whether capped or not {g}) is a multiply-derivative abstraction. We speak for convenience as though 'it' 'does' this-or-that. In reality, there are persons who are doing this-or-that. Premise (2) thus means in effect: "The only means to the end of an increase in substantive equality, is via the exercise of the power of such-in-such persons over persons (themselves and/or others)." What does this do to the notion of substantive equality, whether ideally or practically? Along similar lines: philosophical beliefs about what persons themselves are, and what they (we) are ourselves dependent upon in various ways and degrees, could easily make significant differences about the grounds for behavior of persons engaged in the practice of government.

AnthonyFlood

Both, Bill: [1] is gratuitous and [2] is empirically false. [1] Except in those cases where A is worse off materially than B because A made B worse off by violating his rights, B has no case against A’s being better off. We may generalize this conclusion throughout society. The notion that the mere fact of inequality, in itself, is actionable is the spawn of envy, and goals born of envy are not choice-worthy. [2] The libertarian should not be understood primarily as a "sensitive soul" for whom coercion is spiritually offensive and whose idiosyncratic sensitivity about liberty may blind him to other claims on our moral energy. To the contrary, he is more likely to be one who is inspired by the material and cultural wealth people create, and enjoy, when they are free to apply their creativity and intelligence and trade the fruits thereof. The avoidable suffering that befalls people because the principle of liberty is violated enrages him. With the exception of the relatively few net gainers of State predation, the State makes us all worse off than we would have been without its intervention as each of defines “worse off.” That is the consequentialist side of the libertarian case. The egalitarian Statist – the one who justifies the State as an indispensable means of social leveling – trains the eyes of his audience on extant relative inequality, compared to which the absolute improvement of the lot of the masses – hitherto undreamt-of but just as extant – is deemed morally irrelevant. I see nothing attractive intellectually, morally, or esthetically about his position. But my present argument, only outlined above, is that even by his own standards, egalitarian Statism has been, and only can be, a failure. Tony

Bill Vallicella

Jason, You are right: the State is not some one entity over and above certain individuals with certain powers. For example, if I refuse to pay income tax, or enough income tax, it is not the state that comes after me, strictu dictu, but the IRS. And what that means is that certain agents of the IRS, working in concert, come after me through through a long series of procedures which culminate, if I am recalcitrant, with IRS agents contacting local law enforcement who then come and take my furniture or impound my car or imprison me. Something like that.

Bill Vallicella

Tony, By 'gratuitous' I take you to mean that (1) is a groundless assumption, a proposition no one has any reason to accept. Is that right? "The notion that the mere fact of inequality, in itself, is actionable is the spawn of envy, and goals born of envy are not choice-worthy." This sentence is a conjunction of two claims. The second I agree with. But I believe you are quite mistaken regarding the first. Although some egalitarians are envious, envy is no more at the root of egalitarianism than greed is at the root of capitalism. I explain myself more fully here. The egalitarian has a certain moral intuition about justice. It strikes him as unjust that some people, through no fault of their own, end up without even the minimum required for a decent human life, when others have vastly more than they need in terms of money and power and use their money and power to gain even more. I say this as a hard-assed conservative, not as some mushy welfare liberal. It is just that I have no objection to certain safety nets that would keep the truly needy from falling into destitution. Are you not psychologizing the egalitarian, trying to explain away his moral intuition in terms of the vice of envy? I don't think that will work. And if it does work, then why wouldn't he be within his rights in psychologizing you and saying that your absolute interpretation of individual liberty, and your refusal to acknowledge the competing value of equality, are rooted in your greed and selfishness? Wouldn't is be better to avoid the psychologizng and agree that we have two competing values here, liberty and equality, and corresponding to them two senses of justice?

AnthonyFlood

Bill, I did not mean that no one can offer or has ever proffered a defense of something like your syllogism’s first premise, but only that it seemed to me be lying there utterly undefended. Quod gratis asseritur gratis negatur. To the extent that I understand what is meant by “substantive equality,” I reject it as a morally defensible goal. (Is it the same as “substantial” or “rough” equality?) It seems to me that what we want to do – and spontaneously, without pressure from others – is to improve the lives of people who “through no fault of their own, end up without even the minimum required for a decent human life.” Justice is served when one is receives what one is due. In no sense are these “withouts” due that minimum. The goods that satisfy it are scarce. They have to be produced. Their production exacts costs (in the sense of foregone opportunities) on their providers. To say that justice demands that those costs be forcibly imposed on those others rather than charitably self-imposed squares with no intuition of mine. Such forcible imposition amounts to depriving many of what is their due, and that is an injustice. “Fairness” might require injustice, but justice cannot. “Justice as fairness” is a blunder. There are not two competing sense of justice, but only the genuine article defending its integrity against a counterfeit. If there a basis other than envy for treating the mere fact of inequality of holdings as actionable (i.e., justifying the legal use of force against those with greater holdings to improve the lot of those with fewer), I am not aware of it. The egalitarian indeed has an intuition, in the sense of a bright idea that “strikes” him, but it’s not about justice, but about its inversion. And it is the enemy of the charitable impulse to weave safety nets as well as of justice. People succeed on free markets only by being extraordinarily other-oriented, and not avaricious. Greed will lead to failure on free markets. So let those who would psychologize me over my defense of markets (“capitalism”), try. Envy is a disposition that helps account for why some people are intolerant of peacefully arrived at, unintended, but undesirable outcomes (i.e., A has more than B). (In another context, I agree with Kai Nielsen when he argued that if one is intellectually convinced that atheism is true, then one is entitled to seek psychological explanations of the persistence of religious belief, e.g. “opium of the people.” This is not to psychologize fallaciously, but merely to adjust one’s method to one’s object.) The superficial innocence of egalitarian “intuition” is not enough for me to retract my diagnosis of mental scotosis. They are at the very least dangerous. In their socialist incarnation, they are murderous. No calamity or atrocity, no matter how enormous, that issues from their attempts to realize their Vision may count against their hallowed “intuition,” i.e., their benevolent intention, which is all their intuition amounts to. The evil outcome is always regarded as accidental to their plans. “We’ll do better next time,” they promise, “when people who think correctly (i.e., as we do) are at the helm.” These days one does not so much hear frank calls for the abolition of private property, i.e., communism, as for its “redistribution.” All of the same issues come up, however, and in response to and in debate with others I expressed my views on them across five articles a couple of years ago. Some of them link to other, shorter writings of mine. I invite the interested reader to visit this page on my site. Bill, I appreciate the generosity you have displayed by allowing me to “hog your blog” as I have the past few days. If I cannot keep this up, it’s only because I really do have to turn my attention to setting up my own! Tony

Bill Vallicella

Tony, In every argument, its premises are gratuitously asserted. That is the nature of premises. For the premises of a given argument to be defended, further arguments need to be adduced. Eventually one comes to premises that cannot be supported by argument (except circularly or via infinite regress). But I got the answer I was looking for. You reject both (1) and (2). I am simply trying to understand your view. I am not committed to rejecting anarchism in the way I am committed to rejecting, e.g., Russell's theory of existence. It occurred to me that one might hold that justice demands equality (or a movement toward equality or the provision of a social minimum below which no one is allowed to fall), but that it ought to be achieved without state apparatus. But that is not your view. You reject equality as "a morally defensible goal." Your view implies that if I give money or food to extremely needy people, then I engage in a supererogatory action, one that I am not morally obliged to perform, one that is not 'demanded by justice.' What justice demands is that I not harm the needy individuals; justice does not demand that I help them. Now if I am not mistaken, this is equaivalent to sdaying that all rights are negative and that there are no positive rights. Thus there is no right to be fed, clothed, housed, etc. There are simply the rights not to be killed, harmed, stolen from, etc. Is that right? "The superficial innocence of egalitarian “intuition” is not enough for me to retract my diagnosis of mental scotosis. They are at the very least dangerous. In their socialist incarnation, they are murderous." You view that justice is exhausted by "what one is due" is itself an intuition, is it not? But I won't pursue that now. But there may be a confusion in the quoted passage. Are not the following logically consistent: 1. Certain people in certain conditions have the (positive) right to be helped, and we who are in a position to help them are morally obliged to help them. 2. No state or other coercive agency may force me to do what I am morally obliged to do. It seems to me that someone could accept both (1) and (2) and that such a person could not be tarred with the "murderous socialism" brush. Political theory rests on moral foundations. I take it that the logically prior task is to get clear about the moral foundations. This is why I distinguish (1) and (2). Of course, you are right to point out how murderous socialism can be. The Commies killed some 100 million in the 20th cent -- and despite that prodigious breaking of eggs the omelette has yet to appear. But can you prove that any move in the direction of socialism -- say the minimal move of providing destituition insurance -- will of necessity eventuate in murderous socialism?

Jason Pratt

Tony; I agree with very much of what you're saying; but I do have some criticisms. Bill's premise (1) may be just hanging there unsupported (or, rather, implying that other conclusions have already been settled for grounding it); but your counter-premise [1a] looks to be hanging with as much support as (1). (By [1a] I mean "Except in those cases... being better off.") It's hardly a conclusion, as it stands (whether it can subsequently be generalized throughout society or not); it's as much an assertion as (1). If you reject (1) on the ground that it is gratuitous, [1a] (as presented) should fare no better. (Not saying you don't have good reasons for [1a]; but they weren't given, as [1a], any more than Bill's premise (1).) [1b] works better, I think. (Note: there is no evident link between [1a] and [1b] presented in your rebuttal. The notions are quite distinct. That doesn't mean a link cannot possibly be validly forged, only that it isn't self-evident.) I tend to agree that the attempt to justify equitable action _merely on the fact of inequality in itself_, is not merely born of envy; it _is_ the action of envy. Bill is also right, though, that people attempting to achieve equality may be doing so in order to correct a perceived injustice; but then, that isn't a justification on the ground of the _mere fact_ of the inequality. Their perception may be wrong, or their judgment about their perception may be wrong--it may in fact not be 'just' to do what they are trying to do. Nevertheless, they may still truly believe it _is_ justice, and so act on the conjunctive belief (which I don't think you denied) that what is just _should_ be done. There is a difference between them being accidentally wrong about this, and being intentionally (including self-)deceptive about this. (Relatedly, it _is_ possible for a former member of a belief-system to be galactically mistaken about what his belief-system most consistently entails; then to reject his former beliefs when he perceives his mistakes; without ever subsequently learning to understand the real strengths of his former belief-system any better. I wouldn't say that 3/4 of the Jesus Seminar members, are only pretending to have once been fundamentalist Christians, for instance. {wry g}) In sum: there is no good reason to suppose that it is impossible for people to act against what is objectively just while also truly believing they are acting in favor of what is just. There _can_ be two competing senses of justice, both of which are genuine. (There can also be the genuine Justice, prosecuting a counterfeit; but no human, much less no human 'sense-of-justice', can be _that_ Genuine Article. {s!}) Still, I also think Bill jumped the gun slightly in an accusation of psychologizing (though not incorrectly, as you seem to have gone on to do it anyway...) His defense against your criticism of equalizing actions taken on the ground of mere inequality (which is patently all that his premise (1) involved, on the evident face of it), involved switching to an example of people who are definitely _NOT_ acting on the ground of equalizing a mere inequality. If he was conflating the two, you shouldn't have followed suit (which you seem to have done); if he was expecting you to conflate the two, there were better ways to have proceeded than to apparently conflate the two himself (i.e. offering one in defense of an attack on the other, as if they were equivalent). Anyway, since Bill's (1), as it stands, makes no distinction of grounds for action beyond the mere fact of inequality, then I'm quite prepared to accept your [1b], with perhaps a bit of polishing as follows: The attempt to enact an equalization, merely on the grounds of a factual inequality, is itself the action of envy; the action of envy is not choice-worthy; therefore (1) should be rejected. After which, the question would probably turn to _why_ the first two premises of _that_ conclusion (which is actually a conclusion, unlike the mere assertion of [1a]) should be accepted. {self-critical g!} But that can be a proper flow of dialectic. Meanwhile, on a somewhat different note... You wrote, "Justice is served when one receives what one is due." (I trimmed an apparent rewrite-blip 'is' out of that, btw.) I have no problem with this. In the same paragraph, though, you also wrote, "'Justice as [is?] fairness' is a blunder", and "'Fairness' might require injustice." Is it _not_ fairness, then, when one receives what one is due? Also, I can imagine some cases where acting in fairness might easily make an injustice possible; but I'm having a difficult time imagining a case where fairness _requires_ injustice. Furthermore (and more disturbingly), you have said, in regard to those who are without even the minimum required for a decent human life: "In no sense are these 'withouts' _due_ that minimum." [your emphasis] Now, we agree that justice is served when one receives what one is due; and that depriving many (or even one) of what is their due, is an injustice. But if you say that these 'withouts' are _in no sense_ due something, then there is _no_ injustice _in any sense_ in depriving these 'withouts' "of even the minimum required for a decent human life". So, why the invective elsewhere against people who use State power to deprive other people of such resources? Is it unjust for those people to deprive some people of resources, as long as the ones being deprived are _not_ these 'withouts'?? I do not think I could coherently claim that it is unjust (I would also say 'unfair', meaning much the same thing) for the people in power in the State to deprive me of money they did not earn, but _not_ unjust for the same people to deprive others considerably worse off than myself of having even the minimum required for a decent human life (in whatever way this is supposed to be defined). You may reply that you weren't talking about _depriving_ the withouts, but of the withouts _receiving_ a due minimum (which reception they are "in no sense due"). So why should others charitably self-impose giving for the withouts to receive? You have said that the withouts are _in no sense_ due even a minimum. True, I may perhaps have a "spontaneous want" to give something for them to receive. To quote Lewis, "When that feeling happens to be strong... I suppose I shall obey it. When it is weak, I shall put my money into cheese! [i.e. toward myself]" Y'know, honestly--I _don't_ have much of a spontaneous want to improve the lives of people who "through no fault of their own end up without even the minimum required for a decent human life". If you tell me that these withouts are in _no_ sense due a minimum, do you seriously think this will help encourage that flickering spontaneous want in me (assuming I happen to believe you)? Or will it not rather be an enemy to what little charitable impulse I happen to possess? I can tell you from experience, that what headway I've managed to achieve in acting to foster and encourage that particular want (and to act in charity anyway even when I don't happen to want to), has come from believing that certain things _ought_ to be done, because certain people _deserve_ my help. (Not that they themselves have necessarily acted to deserve it, though.) And that involves my recognition of a _due_. Justice is served when one receives what one is due. If it is just to help the needy, then the needy must be _due_ some help. Do I mean that justice == charity? No. But I would never imply that justice is opposed to charity. On the contrary, I would say that justice sure (as hell!) _depends_ upon charity. Without true love, there is no true justice--only the sort of 'justice' of that warlord state everyone here is so (rightly) anxious to condemn and avoid: the 'justice' of the affronted ego. Which is nothing more than mututal competition toward domination. Which is the behavior of deo-fols. (But that's rapidly getting us into metaphysics... {s}) Jason Pratt

John Gallagher

Liberal isn't a dirty word to me. I'm pround to call myself a liberal. The point of progressive taxation is not to acheive equality, the point of progressive taxation is to pay for government services that by taxing those most who can most afford to pay and who receive the greatest benefits from living in our society. Now Mr. Flood claims that: With the exception of the relatively few net gainers of State predation, the State makes us all worse off than we would have been without its intervention as each of defines “worse off.” Can he honestly mean that someone who receives necessary medical care that he could not otherwise afford as a result of government programs is actually "worse off" as each of us defines worse off? Or does he mean to say that such an individual is one of the relatively few net gainers of State predation? It's statements like these that make it hard for me to take liberianism seriously anymore.

AnthonyFlood

Bill, before a few hundred years ago, it never entered anyone’s head to suggest that the term men used to denote the imperative to treat equals equally and unequals unequally (“justice”) could also stand for making unequals equal. The latter is the modernist inversion and confusion. Equality, i.e., identical holdings (not just a “safety net”) has ever been the goal a “professional compassionate class.” It has nothing to do with benevolent feelings for the less fortunate and the actions one might undertake in accord with them. You read me correctly: There is no positive right to be fed, clothed, housed, etc., unless one has (or is in the care of one who has) paid for certain units of food, clothing, shelter, etc. Honoring negative rights costs nothing; honoring positive rights always costs something. If those costs are not voluntarily incurred, via contract or charity, then an injustice is lurking. If we make a trade and you deliver the goods to me, then you have a positive right to payment from me. You do not have a positive right to that money just because you claim to "need" it. Egalitarians blur the distinction between the two situations. That they cannot state their program coherently is made clear, to the point of a reductio, by Murray Rothbard in the article I cited before and which I urge everyone to read. Doing so will obviate many of the prima facie concerns I’m reading in this thread. As I had said, there is a traditional understanding of justice and there is the modern counterfeit (“fairness”) whose advocates then try to show that the traditional understanding is “just another point of view.” No conservative should buy into their abuse of language. For that matter, no one should. Therefore, if “[c]ertain people in certain conditions have the (positive) right to be helped,” it is only because they have contracted for that help. We have a moral obligation to perform contracts to which we are party. We also have a moral obligation to be charitable with as many people as we can but only to the extent that doing so is consistent with performing our other obligations. Charity beyond that is heroic, but cannot be required. That’s all I can say on this point in this space. Moral foundations pertain to the range of physical objects over which one may (not merely physically can) exercise control. In short, Who owns what? Get clear about that, and many otherwise sticky problems can be managed. Egalitarians at their worst are murderous. “Any move” does not necessarily eventuate in murderous socialism because there need not be a subsequent move. But subsequent moves along the same lines lead to the abattoir. I do not regard egalitarians as merely more expansively and consistently compassionate and charitable, as you seem to. To make men equal – identical in holdings and, ultimately, traits (read Rothbard!) – requires the abolition of private property, including the right to control one’s own body. If one is serious about that, then one must be prepared to crush the resistance that spontaneously erupts in self-defense against the program. And so egalitarians at their worst are egalitarians at their most serious and therefore most murderous. The goal of equality is not just stupid like the minimum wage or rent control. It is evil, like pederasty. Tony

Bill Vallicella

Tony, Presumably all agree that there are contractually acquired positive rights. One contested issue is whether all nat'l rights are negative, or whether some are positive. You say all are negative. I see the force of that. A separate issue is whether or not the state is morally justified. One can hold that all rights are negative but that a minimal state is justified (Nozick, 1974). That suffices to show that the two issues are separate. There are four possible combinations: A. No pos rights, no state. B. No pos rights, minimal ('night watchman')state. C. Some pos rights, substantial state that does more than protect life, liberty, and property. D. Some pos rights, no state. Do you think (D) is a possible view? For example, is it possible to hold (reasonably) that certain people have a positive nat'l right to be fed, which generates in others the duty to feed them, but no state has the moral authority to force anyone to feed them? (I am assuming what I take you to be assuming, namely, that a state to be a state must have the power to coerce the unwilling.) There is a third issue. You seem to be saying that there is a moral obligation to be charitable (within certain limits) but that this obligation is not grounded in anyone's having a positive right to be helped. What then is the ground of the obligation to be charitable? Why are not charitable actions supererogatory actions, i.e., actions above and beyond the call of duty? Finally, I take you to hold that justice is a property of agents (primarily) and of their actions and ommissions (secondarily), but of nothing else. Thus one cannot (legitimately) describe a collection of individuals, or a constitution, or a set of bylaws, or a social arrangement as just. Am I right?

AnthonyFlood

Bill, I’m not clear about your first question to me, i.e., is “There are some positive rights, but no State,” a possible view? I think you meant noncontractually assumed positive rights without a State. There are none, in my view. (Contractually assumed rights are positive and enforceable.) Whenever people do things that transgress our moral sensibilities, we are free to shun them. Morally, that’s what we ought to do when, for example, a parent withholds food from their children to the point of endangering their lives. And shunning would suffice. No State need apply for the job. No individual has the moral authority to force anyone to feed those children, and therefore no State has it. If I am aware of starvation or some other abuse looming for a child, I may physically intervene to separate the children from their legal custodians in order to feed or otherwise protect them, so long as I am prepared to stand public trial, if necessary, to justify my action. I believe obligations – the lig-aments that morally tie each of us to others – ground rights, which are the moral "boundary lines" that obligations radiate. Every person’s obligation not to enslave another generates the right (boundary line) not to be enslaved. I believe we most fruitfully discuss obligations and rights in the context of the challenge each of us naturally and spontaneously faces in constructing good lives for him- or herself with and through other persons. My perception of others as bearing the dignity of fellow good life-seekers is critical to my own pursuit of the good life. (I guess I’m a "eudaimonist," but don’t hold me to it.) Obligations are many, and they include the obligation to help others achieve good lives as part of one’s own pursuit of the good life. One therefore needs the wisdom to harmonize the meeting of all one’s obligations. One should not, for example, be charitable at the expense of feeding one’s family, which is a noncharitable obligation. On the other hand, I am not prepared to say that one should never, say, attempt to rescue someone from a burning car wreck, even though that action might eventuate in my death. That would be above and beyond and not morally required, but morally heroic and admirable. I cannot say that one should never be heroic. What would be morally required in that case is interest in helping as much as one can (e.g., calling 911). Again, individuals who flout the moral code risk be shunned and, depending on the offense, shunning could effectively amount to capital punishment. (Sorry if these thoughts are falling out into a jumbled pile.) I work out some of this here. Unfortunately I cannot now take the time to elaborate upon it or revisit this topic in the depth it deserves. I offer it only to satisfy a request for information about what I believe. One may ascribe justice to a collective, so long as it is understood that its justice is not independent of that of its individual members; or to a constitution, so long as one makes clear that it is wholly dependent upon the justice of its authors. On Nozick, I highly recommend Rothbard, “Robert Nozick and the Immaculate Conception of the State.” Tony

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