Free To Be You And Me

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New at Reason: Is the individual always prior to the state? Loren Lomasky looks at the arguments of William Galston.

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  1. Galston must really piss off Randroids; they do believe that there is “a” good life, including a proper sexual morality, etc.

    Its always interesting to note that Locke was the last major philosopher to defend slavery. David Brion Davis comments on this in “The Problem of Slavery in Western Culture.”

    Excellent review. 🙂

  2. Sorry to break a thread.

    I need help re: town selling selected deliquent property taxes to collection agency.

    I believe it is immoral and hopefully illegal. Privatize the sewer comish, not tax collection, or make the cops collect taxes. (Nice thought, no?)

    Proponents petitioned a New England town meeting on Wed. I guess I’ll have to stand up in public to speak with reason. Think me strength and give lotsa advise.

    Thanks, a sleeping Libby

  3. I don’t quite know if I am an apriori individual but I do know I am an apriori cracka.

  4. I have an old friend who’s a neonatologist and I’ve seen excerpts from some of his papers and noticed I grok about one word in three, and I understand the urge of philosphers to likewise sling their own jargon, but I’m more willing to be tolerant of it from an MD.
    If you professor/philosopher-types would try to speak the Queen’s english rather than textbookeze, I have a suspicion you might have something relevant to reveal.
    A thousand pardons, but I’m a linear sort of guy and while I’m trying to go from a to b to c, etc., I’m hopelessly detoured by “theory of incommensurability” and the like.
    Especially after I’ve had a nip here in the comfort of me own castle.
    Idea: for a reasonable fee, I could lay off the hooch and try to translate.

  5. Theory of Incommensurability:

    The theory states that two values which are incommensurable are really incomparable. If A and B are incomparable values, then A cannot be better, worse, or as valuable as B.

  6. Thought experiment on incommensurability (BTW, I didn’t come up with this experiment, I read about it elsewhere):

    A = the taste of cocoa; B = taste of coca-cola

    Suppose you offer a friend a choice between the two; and that both are the most excellent quality of cocoa, etc. possible to find. Your friend takes the cocoa. Now suppose you offer her a second choice; one which pits a marginally less fulfilling cocoa against the above “excellent” coca-cola, and your friend chooses the latter. You continue to offer your friend lower qualities of cocoa until you offer her the worst cocoa possible, up against the same excellent coca-cola. Now, some philosophers, using this scenario, declare that this undermines the notion that there are in fact incommensurable values. What rational person would opt for the worst possible cocoa, in other words?

  7. I haven’t read Galston, but I hardly think the concept of incommensurability is novel. Economists have been asserting the fundamental incomprehensibility of interpersonal utility comparisons for some time now, which amounts to much the same thing.

    In any case, insofar as epistemology and ontology are often only the two sides of the same philosophical coin, it remains an open question whether there is, in principle, such a thing as “the good life” and, also, if there is, whether it is knowable. So what?

    I would remove the question one level further and ask whether, in principle, even if we did know what the good life was, we would have the collective right to impose it on someone who chose, for whatever reason, not to live it. (And, please, no tautological replies that for that person living the anti-good life would maximize his utility or definitionally be *his* good life!)

    Individuals are morally prior to society in the sense that, insofar as society desires to limit an individual’s freedom it bears the moral burden of justifying that limit. Such justification might, one supposes, be utilitarian or deontological or both, but the moral burden remains on the party desiring to proscribe the other party’s otherwise inherent freedom.

    Thus, for example, and (I believe) fully consonent with a libertarian perspective, society does have both deontological and utilitarian grounds to regulate, within reason, the parent / child relationship. Deontologically, insofar as the raison d’etre of society includes protection of individuals and children are individuals, society properly says, for example, you can’t rape your children. Prudentially, also, society has some right to insist that children not be raised such that they subsequently become burdens on or dangers to society if only because they cease being children and parental responsibility ends at some point.

    This is, I know, all very general and the devil is in the details; but, hey, this is just a post, not a dissertation.

  8. I hereby acknowledge your kindness, “The Merovingian” (by the way, is that anything like my southern cousins, the melungeons?), for the attempt at clarification, but it has only driven me to another nip.
    Well, something else: wharf rats in the cocoa. On the commodity markets, they can drive up the price of chocolate.

    I get no kick from Coca Cola.

  9. “Such justification might, one supposes, be utilitarian or deontological or both, but the moral burden remains on the party desiring to proscribe the other party’s otherwise inherent freedom.”

    Telling me that humans have inherent freedom raises some tough philosophical issues in itself. If human history were the metric, I would say that humans do not have such freedom inherently – or that at least it has not been something that has been easy to recognize. Are you arguing this from a standpoint of natural law, etc.?

    BTW, I’ve met my fair share of theonomists who argue that the notion of human freedom is hogwash; that they are ruled by “otherworldly” dictator, etc.

  10. DA Ridgely,

    BTW, your de-ontological example doesn’t seem to fit; can you draw it out a bit more. Thanks. 🙂

  11. “Deontological” is just philosophical jargon for an ethical principle or theory that derives from the notion of duty or obligation. Thus, Kantian ethics are deontolological. If someone argues that one should keep one’s promises because promise keeping is a valuable institution to the promise maker which depends upon its being honored to derive its value, one is making a prudential or utilitarian claim. If one argues that keeping promises is the right thing to do because the promise maker imposes a moral obligation upon himself irrespective of the outcome of that promise or promise keeping in general, one is making a deontological claim.

  12. Sorry, hit the post key too quickly.

    No, I’m not making a natural law argument, I’m making a conceptual argument. One is inherently free insofar as one is an intentional agent in fact able to do as one pleases (within certain physical limitations, of course) unless impeded by others. Simply put, I am free to walk where I wish unless and until someone attempts to stop me. In that sense, freedom is a given. The attempt to stop me raises the moral question by what right does one intentional agent interfer with another. In that sense, individual freedom is morally prior to the desires of any other intentional agent (including, by extention, society or the state) and the latter bears the moral onus of justifying its interference.

    As for incommensurability, interpersonal utility and such, my point was only that the gist of these concepts is similar and has been well known for a long time. In large measure, all these arguments depend upon how the key concepts are defined (let me define the terms of an argument and I can generally guarantee I’ll win) and they all border dangerously on collapsing into tautology. Acknowledging that I prefer steak to hamburger does not entail that I will prefer a bad steak to a good hamburger. However, claiming that a person always chooses what he believes to be in his best interests is merely asserting that “chooses X” and “believes X is in best interests” are functionally synonomous by definition.

    Ruthless: I’d have more sympathy for your complaint if you didn’t use the term “grok,” implying that you have read Heinlein’s most famous (and, IMHO, worst) novels. (Bonus points: Where did Heinlein lift the title “Stranger In A Strange Land” from?) Seriously, jargon users use jargon to save time and cut to the chase, but your point is well taken. I believe most of the people who seriously discuss issues here have some nodding acquaintance with the language of ethical theory, but the point of communication is, well, to communicate and this is a pretty silly venue to try to impress others with one’s arcane vocabulary. My apologies.

  13. “Thought experiment on incommensurability (BTW, I didn’t come up with this experiment, I read about it elsewhere):
    A = the taste of cocoa; B = taste of Coca-Cola
    Suppose you offer a friend a choice between the two; and that both are the most excellent quality of cocoa, etc. possible to find. Your friend takes the cocoa. Now suppose you offer her a second choice; one which pits a marginally less fulfilling cocoa against the above “excellent” coca-cola, and your friend chooses the latter.”

    WAY too complicated. Given the choice, my wife would choose medium-quality cocoa over excellent Coca-Cola any day. I would choose medium-quality Coca-Cola over the best cocoa. I like Coke; she prefers anything remotely chocolate.

    The “one-best-way-to-live” crowd would have us both drinking herbal tea.

  14. Stranger in a strange land: A line that good has to be Biblical. It turns out that it is. It’s the King James translation of Gershom – Moses’ first born after he had fled the Egyptian court.

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