Tibor Machan on Private Morality Versus Government Perfectionism – and Who Wins ...
The editors of The Daily Bell are pleased to present an interview with well-known libertarian philosopher Tibor R. Machan (left).
Introduction: Tibor Machan is currently Professor Emeritus, Department of Philosophy, Auburn University, Alabama, and holds the R. C. Hoiles Endowed Chair in Business Ethics and Free Enterprise at the Argyros School of Business & Economics, Chapman University. He is also a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University. Machan, who earned BA (Claremont McKenna College), MA (New York University), and Ph.D. (University of California at Santa Barbara) degrees in philosophy, has written numerous books and papers in the field of philosophy, including on issues surrounding the free-market. Machan was selected as the 2003 President of the American Society for Value Inquiry, and delivered the presidential address on December 29, 2002, in Philadelphia, at the Eastern Division meetings of the American Philosophical Association, titled "Aristotle & Business."
Daily Bell: Hello again. One of your recent articles on Reason magazine was a big hit and received many responses here at DB. Can you explain why?
Tibor Machan: I don't know why it caused a stir, except perhaps that I touched a nerve with some. At Reason, I think there is now leadership that rejects the possibility of objectivity in ethics or morality and I criticized this stance. But you would have to ask those who found it provocative or objectionable to figure out why.
I used a quote from a book review in Reason magazine as an example of this growing subjectivism and expressed disappointment that Reason magazine seemed to have come down on the wrong side of the issue. I quoted a passage from them as follows:
"Every one of us has our perceptions filtered by the thousands of stories and assumptions and rituals that constitute our culture. Every one of us has held beliefs that seemed self-evidently accurate but were actually contingent elements of the time and place that produced us. This is true not just of the people reading this article, but of every person, in every era, who has been capable of perceiving anything at all. You can stretch those perceptions, expose yourself to new worldviews, learn new things, but you'll always be embedded in a cultural matrix...."
Daily Bell: You have a personal relationship to Reason Magazine, don't you?
Tibor Machan: I helped found Reason magazine and therefore I was doubly disappointed with the suggestions that there is no such thing as moral objectivity.
Daily Bell: Why is it important for people to be objective regarding morality?
Tibor Machan: It is important for people to TRY. If people simply accept the notion that they can never be objective – and that judgments are impossible in this modern age – then this is an open invitation for government intervention, among other bad things since those who support such intervention can just say, "Well, from our perspective, from where we stand, it's OK to meddle in other people's lives." That is just what defenders of so-called libertarian paternalism or nudging (e.g., Prof. Cass Sunstein) would maintain.
Morality is an important part of a private social order. No one should try to argue that modern progressivism precludes moral objectivity. Individuals can try and sometimes even succeed at being objective and reasonable. Nothing impossible with that.
Daily Bell: People seem to think so ...
Tibor Machan: Well ... it's always difficult. You have to discard your frame of reference and think outside the box. Try to get a good education and then try to discipline your emotions, especially as regards issues that are important to you. Try to be impartial as much as you can.
Daily Bell: Is this what Ayn Rand taught with Objectivism?
Tibor Machan: Rand believed in logic and that rational people were the hope of a better world. People should try to confront their prejudices so that they can act rationally in life instead of irrationally.
Daily Bell: You believe that Reason has departed from that goal?
Tibor Machan: I think if you look at the Reason of today, it's sometimes timid in terms of pursuing its mission as regards commenting freely and judgmentally on issues. Like CATO, it sometimes falls into the habit of focusing on the details rather than larger statements that could be construed as judgmental. We need more judgmentalism when it comes to opponents of the free society and free markets, not less.
It's common sense. But as I have pointed out, objectivity is not a fashionable talking point in the 21st century. You can trace this back to 18th century philosophers, especially Immanuel Kant and especially positivists such as A. J. Ayer and even some neo-classical economists. Kant believed humans could not have confidence in any of their judgments, moral or not. They might on occasion be right but they could never tell for sure.
Daily Bell: Yes, you explained that Kant believed everyone may be biased and therefore whether one is being objective is impossible to ascertain.
Tibor Machan: We can never rid ourselves of bias, subjectivists believe, because in ridding ourselves of bias we are merely indulging in a new bias. We can never overcome the obstacles listed in the paragraph I quoted from Reason magazine.
Daily Bell: Obviously, you don't think Kant was correct.
Tibor Machan: Kant was mistaken, mainly because he believed that the human mind was not capable of objectivity but was an obstacle to it. Interestingly, this was his assumption. He attempted to prove it rationally, but at the end, it remains a paradox. I used the examples of spoons and eyes in my article. As an example of Kant's logic, he would claim that spoons may well be an impediment to eating and eyes to seeing, we can never tell for sure. He would no doubt reject this as simplistic, but I think it fairly sums up the gist of his approach.
I pointed out that the only solution to Kant's skepticism was to defend the idea that people are capable of being objective and so they can TRY to be. Kant's statements would, of course, get hoisted on their own petard, just as does the statement in Reason. I am disappointed with Reason Magazine adopting the Kantian line since the magazine was founded precisely to counter this trend of thinking.
Daily Bell: Let's turn to the issue of government involvement in the perfectibility of humans versus private efforts. It's an Age of Reason argument.
Tibor Machan: You're speaking of modern (as distinct from classical) liberalism in my view, the idea that people's better natures can be coaxed out of them via government action. And if not, the best and brightest are authorized to coerce good conduct from them (as they understand that).
Daily Bell: And you also wrote of dogmas ...
Tibor Machan: Yes, before you have government action, you need dogma. Otherwise, you have no operative or animating principles. Two central dogmas of contemporary liberalism, as I've written previously, are that the rich are to be blamed for all our ills and that in the end all people are the same and no one is more or less worthy than anyone else.
Daily Bell: Are there exceptions to this dogma?
Tibor Machan: Well, the entirety of the dogma is contradictory. Everyone is supposed to be equal, but the dogma acknowledges that everyone is NOT. Those who are well off get a lot of criticism for not being generous and charitable. They have committed the crime of not being like everyone else and thus they need to be nudged and leveled. The leveling occurs through taxes, which are plain extortion, as I understand them, a legacy of feudalism. The average serf was taxed around 30 percent and that was later thought intolerable. These days in progressive countries, especially Europe, much higher rates are common. And of course the modern liberal holds that though everyone is equal, some are, to quote Orwell's Animal Farm, more equal than others and may, therefore, rule others.
Daily Bell: You had a technocratic point to make as well.
Tibor Machan: Technocracy, as DB has well argued the point, is the application of science and engineering to morality. It was very popular in the 1930s and 1940s and gave rise as you've pointed out to such controversial memes as Peak Oil. Now, Peak Oil may exist or may not, but it's obvious that the technocratic movement invented it as a problem to solve. People need to be frightened before they will accept the wisdom of so-called experts. You can't use an empirical scientific method to improve the human condition. You can't use it to abolish moral principles.
Daily Bell: But is it correct, say, to be judgmental about the less fortunate?
Tibor Machan: Not at all. On the other hand, it doesn't PRECLUDE it. Not all poor people are victims of circumstance or lack of education. Everyone can be subject to moral assessment. This would include people who make no effort to remove themselves from poverty or produce more children than they can care for. Using this perspective, we can also arrive at an opposite conclusion, thatt he rich can be admired for having worked and used their talents in a way that generated benefits for themselves and society.
Daily Bell: But certainly you're not saying that all impoverished people are to be judged as morally deficient or all rich people are immediately to be held up as paragons.
Tibor Machan: Of course not. But the idea that people exist in a moral-free zone is a pernicious one and leads to confusion. It also removes tools from the private sector. Unlike government, the private sector demands morality because it doesn't administer coercive laws. Morality – engaging in shaming, in boycotting and in ostracism – these are all methods of private social building blocks. Their removal has often been purposeful as certain people and institutions seek to reduce the tools that people have to create civil societies that are not dependent on government.
Daily Bell: This leads us back to your previous point that government wants to substitute technocracy for morality. Or the extrapolation of the scientific method, as you said.
Tibor Machan: Yes, there is no reasonable doubt about this. Remove morality and all you have is the sterile solution of government progressivism based on how the elite feel! That's been proven not to work and even – eventually – to be dangerous and to result in violence and even genocide as society becomes increasingly dysfunctional as it must.
Daily Bell: Let's try to anchor this in some sort of real-life context. You live in America. Is the Obama administration attempting to substitute a kind of scientism for morality? Are they trying to rule via technocracy?
Tibor Machan: It does seem so to me. One can see this split between morality and science being played out in numerous levels. The Tea Party intends to use morality as a tool to reinforce civil society. The Obama administration believes in various government methodologies and what Sunstein calls "nudging" – low key but pervasive pushing people around.
Daily Bell: It runs right through Western society – not just America – like some sort of geological rift.
Tibor Machan: It is a fundamental issue. Free-market champions believe the private sector has the tools, moral and otherwise, to create peace, culture and prosperity without government interference. They believe the best way to build society is through private initiative rather than state action which is fraught with corruption.
This is where we get Keynesian economic doctrines and other philosophical disciplines that egg on government activism. Those involved with these sorts of dogmas tend to look down on free-markets as disorganized and lacking the requisite discipline. They see the idea of free-market initiative and Hayek's spontaneous organization as something almost primitive.
In doing so, they are discarding a formidable philosophical tradition. John Locke based much of his philosophy on the idea that people have free will. Adam Smith believed that a regime of liberty was far preferable to the dead hand of government. In fact, he coined the phrase Invisible Hand to describe the competition's impact on free markets.
This is not to say government is entirely useless. Governments can help in keeping the peace and defending society, just as referees at games uphold the rules. But for the most part, people can get on without government, without the bullying and prodding that too many governments are responsible for introducing as the 21st century stretches out in front of us.
We've had a ringside seat to the stimulus that the Obama administration used to try to beef up the infrastructure of the US and to create jobs. It hasn't worked (in my view and that of many others). The free market argument is that he should have gone the other way, letting the economy wring out distortions without pump priming or artificial job creation.
This is a big dispute, a substantive one, playing out again today between those who believe that society works best in a laissez faire – including the applications of morality – and those who believe in government programmatic elements.
Daily Bell: All good points, but let's back up. How has it come to this?
Tibor Machan: Those who are government activists don't proclaim it. They disguise what they're after. They have to do so in this country because traditionally American citizens have not been well disposed to government activism, even though there's quite a lot of it. And often they come to believe it is necessary, that their wisdom is supreme, just as did heads of state for centuries. So, in fact, the so-called progressives are utterly reactionary!
Daily Bell: You've referred to what they do as "nudging."
Tibor Machan: It's not my term. The influential pragmatist Professor Cass Sunstein, who is now President Obama's regulation czar, wrote a book called Nudge with Richard H. Thaler. The full title was Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness (Yale UP, 2004).
Daily Bell: Can you give us a little summary?
Tibor Machan: It has to do with the old chestnut of boiling the frog slowly. You find the same strategy advanced by the Fabian Society in Britain. The idea is that you don't want to use brute force to move people toward a society based on government activism. Instead, you want to nudge people, to move them in tiny increments so they do not find it worth their while to object, or at least not forcefully.
Nudging can take place in numerous ways but a lot of it has to do with creating social norms that people will feel they have to conform to. Recycling might be seen as part of this nudging. Regardless of how you feel about recycling and environmentalism in general, recycling is seen within the public dialogue as a general "good." Thus, people will conform to the demands of recycling because they see it as a "good citizen" thing to do. They won't complain or protest that they have been imposed upon. (Just last week the feds banned over-the-counter inhalers on these grounds!)
Let me give you another example. In public policy, an example of nudging would be some sort of tax exemption, maybe for married couples or for first-time homebuyers. On the surface, these seem innocent enough. But the former encourages marriage – indeed, any kind of marriage – while the latter seeks to even out disparities of income by making a home affordable to all at others' expense, of course.
We've found out in the past few years that making home buying affordable to everyone is ruinous. Meanwhile, making marriage a desirable and financially rewarding situation encourages people to marry that would not have sought marriage in the past.
Daily Bell: It sounds like tolerance but in fact, it is manipulative.
Tibor Machan: Such techniques may seem harmless but it's been called "paternalism" for good reason. It's also effective, as I pointed out, because it's low key and gradual so most people won't bother to resist. Over time, however, it's bound to create a good deal of acrimony as the nudging ends up creating really major changes in society over time.
Daily Bell: Have we already seen pushback?
Tibor Machan: The Tea Party could be seen as one such pushback, and that's no minor matter. In the past, especially in America, there has been a good deal of tolerance of social activism, more than elsewhere for sure. Most people tend to be polite and do not seek out confrontation, which is an advantage to activists. But this has also allowed activists fairly free rein.
Daily Bell: So to sum up, we're in a situation – in America and the West generally – where those who believe in governmental activism are gradually trumping those who are trying to wield private morality on behalf of non-governmental civil society. Is that a fair statement?
Tibor Machan: It is certainly fair to say this in an ongoing argument. Whether or not the "gradually trumping" part is correct, only time can tell.
Daily Bell: Well, we've often made the point that the Internet is changing the balance of power between government and private citizens.
Tibor Machan: There is certainly some truth to that. On the other hand, there's a lot of different kinds of information on the 'Net, and misinformation as well, that can work to the advantage of centralization and government power.
Daily Bell: Where do you think this issue of morality versus paternalist government will end up?
Tibor Machan: Right now, when scientism is a dominant force in government, prospects are not good for liberty. The governmental habit hasn't yet been adequately contained. Folks seem to think that if some government can be good locally and regionally then it can also be good nationally or internationally. That's the illogic, anyway. But as you've observed, there is pushback, too. People all over the world want to be in control of their own lives and are wiling to accept traditional morality without thinking it is old-fashioned or not progressive enough.
Daily Bell: It's certainly an old argument.
Tibor Machan: We won't see it resolved during my lifetime or yours. What's interesting is how it reoccurs. The Internet has intensified the battle – one could say that without contradiction, in my opinion. But will it be settled as a result? Of course not. The best we can hope for is that more people recognize the fundamental struggle and how it is being pursued. If people wake up to their own moral agency and power, then some of the negative trends of the 20th century and early 21st stand a chance of being reversed.
Daily Bell: Good points – and an interesting discussion. We hope to see more writing on this subject.
Tibor Machan: Probably so.
Daily Bell: Thanks for your time.
Tibor Machan: Thank you.
This was a very interesting interview because it put a lot of modern philosophy into perspective. A large part of the evolution of philosophy over the past few hundred years has to do with whether human beings can actually make judgments and if they are equipped physically, mentally and spiritually to do so.
Tibor Machan does us the favor of explaining clearly what Kant had to say on the subject and why he is such an important philosopher. You could say Kant was a precursor to nihilism – that most prominent of 20th century movements – because of his insistence that humans were not equipped to make moral judgments. Life is meaningless because we can't understand it.
Much of British and American libertarian perspectives can be seen, then, as a reaction to Kant. The thrust of Austrian economics and the freedom movement generally is one that is profoundly objectivist in the Randian sense. It insists that people are perfectly equipped to make sound judgments on their own and to pursue their lives using their senses in a rational way.
Tibor also puts the Kantian conversation into a sociopolitical context. He shows us that Kant's perspective leads to a modern insistence that people are not equipped to make their own moral judgments. And if they cannot make moral judgments then they are certainly not able to build prosperous private societies.
The absence of morality – as defined within the community itself – virtually demands government interference. Government officials are only too eager to substitute their judgment for the private community's. Tibor shows us that this battle has been ongoing for several hundred years at least. It is the clarity of his explanation that made his article "Goodbye Reason" a popular one among our readers, with a good amount of feedback and discussion.
These are important issues and Tibor sheds light on them – as he does in this interview as well. We look forward to a further explanation of these concepts in future articles.
Posted by codrus on 10/04/11 04:54 PM
"This is not to say government is entirely useless. Governments can help in keeping the peace and defending society, just as referees at games uphold the rules."
And why wouldn't a free market be better at that too as it is with everything else?
Posted by John Danforth on 10/04/11 08:10 AM
And thank you for your well-stated thoughts, too.
The argument from authority is not convincing to me, any proposition must stand on its own merits. Obviously, that's a thought system I employ, I cannot enforce it on anyone else. Votes in favor of something over a long period of time do count for something, and perhaps wiser people than me can see something in a proposition that I cannot. The votes or proclamations indicate that the proposition deserves examination, but alone they do not constitute truth. Before I can accept something as reliable enough to count as knowledge, all available evidence has to support it, and it can't incorporate logical impossibilities.
I'm not sure what definition of the word 'faith' you are using, but if it means the belief in something for which no proof exists, I can say that I strive to eliminate it to the extent possible. To each his own, though, as always. Some people get comfort from it. It is not for me to deny them their comfort. I do not get any comfort from it.
As for the reason for being, that is for each person to decide as well. For most people, their first half-century of life is spent trying to satisfy their hormonal urges without getting into too much trouble over it; generally without even realizing it. That our own intellectual equipment forms a prism that we try to decipher images through is beyond question, but that does not mean it is impossible to know certain very basic truths. But we cannot recognize them, agree on them, or build any consensus from there without a lot of effort, and most people are not interested in putting forth the effort.
And that was what I was lamenting, when I pointed out that we have to rely on people holding life as a value but that strategy turns out to have risks. It doesn't mean I would discard it, in fact I have no choice but to serve my highest values, and I do. It seems various civil-behavior stratagems have evolved to allow a society to exist without requiring too much thought by the participants. If people won't be bothered to perform these mental calisthenics, then it would probably be dangerous to throw these institutions out. That was what I was trying to imply. I don't have a better answer (and I couldn't throw those institutions out anyway, I'm just an angry engineer).
All that being said, it pays to be cautious.
Thanks again for your thoughtful reply.
Posted by Summer on 10/03/11 07:42 PM
'The implication is, again, that rationality is impossible and morality must come from some ancient authority on mystical grounds or from the state.'
So my view is wrong because "ancient authority" has no relevance or truth; not an Aristotle fan eh? 'Faith' is *the* most rational and logical answer to 'the reason for being' - What philosophical question has more import?
'... Once you realize that rationality IS possible, then Kant's work is destroyed.'
Rationality is important and useful in deciphering truth, not in inculcating wisdom. Wisdom combines morality *and* intelligence - of course hinged by logic - at least for Islam. The problem is when religious scholars divorce metaphor from religion. This has been a reason for labelling religion as illogical and irrational.
I think it is highly irrational for anyone to 'believe' they have any right to aspect justice when there is no appreciation of the importance morality and merely the presence of rationality (it may be rational for a man to steal for his family but it certainly is not moral).
'... we discover that we must rely on the universal bottom line of morality (that human life is a value). Which is a forlorn hope, as periods of peace are short and uncertain.'
What if I said to you a period of true 'free-markets' was adopted but didn't last long and therefore it was pointless - rational?!
'We find that we cannot trust universal acceptance of this basic conclusion, we find that people pervert the ancient teachings to their own ends, and others pervert logic itself, with the result being a lot of killing and stealing on a massive scale.'
Day in and day out we read at DB that all manner of 'good' things are "perverted", so should they tossed away, being useless and anachronistic, or reclaimed?
'I cannot discount the pragmatic proposition that the only way to stop people from behaving like apes is to inculcate them with strict religious principles or to imprison them in a police state, or both. Perhaps that is the only way to impose civility on the common man.'
Islam does not allow religious coercion. It is the *voluntary* abandonment of moral standards/religion that causes man to devolve to lowly behaviour - a self-imposed prison.
Thank you for your valued thoughts...
Posted by Ralph Tamm on 10/03/11 03:34 PM
Epistomologist Arthur Eddington proved that total objectivity is not possible. Say - One can't divorce an atom from the universe to look at it objectively. If true in the physical it must be true in the social. This does not mean we can't improve conditions in the social arena. Defining the social terms we use will go a long way toward understanding the real world. Say "moral conduct" definition could be assigned to mean - Any non-coercive action an individual chooses to take. Andrew J Galambos in his Theory of Property.
Posted by rossbcan on 10/03/11 11:12 AM
"That link is to the very same video"
... great minds think alike and, fools seldom differ:)
Posted by John Danforth on 10/03/11 08:18 AM
Woops. I wrote the above before even checking today's stories. That link is to the very same video featured prominently in today's article. Heh.
Posted by John Danforth on 10/03/11 08:10 AM
So. Strip man of faith, and he is rudderless.
Unless the reason for it is to impose a different kind of faith through government indoctrination -- faith in society, democracy, and pseudoscientific government. Or at least to deliberately leave him rudderless, pretending that philosophy is a smorgasbord of choices from which one can choose different premises to suit the moment, leaving a vacuum of uncertainty -- with the reasoning of Kant and others to reassure him that he is incapable of figuring any of it out for himself. Naturally, the vacuum will be filled with a mish-mash for most people (and it truly is). Until it is replaced by authority by the exigency of an emergency.
This is another Hegelian false choice.
The implication is, again, that rationality is impossible and morality must come from some ancient authority on mystical grounds or from the state.
Just like the campaign of Ron Paul, the two-choice model falls apart when you realize that there is an alternative outside the blinders. Once you realize that rationality IS possible, then Kant's work is destroyed.
The problem with both the ancient mystical source of faith and the more modern state-inculcated faith is that both are subjectivist, both being asserted from authority without being built from a logic base, both having logical fallacies that violate axiomatic premises at their roots. To point up the legacy of both should not be necessary.
Because people are not taught logic (and who knows, maybe most people would be bored to death with the subject), we discover that we must rely on the universal bottom line of morality (that human life is a value). Which is a forlorn hope, as periods of peace are short and uncertain. We find that we cannot trust universal acceptance of this basic conclusion, we find that people pervert the ancient teachings to their own ends, and others pervert logic itself, with the result being a lot of killing and stealing on a massive scale.
I cannot discount the pragmatic proposition that the only way to stop people from behaving like apes is to inculcate them with strict religious principles or to imprison them in a police state, or both. Perhaps that is the only way to impose civility on the common man. To accept that is to conclude that mankind is impermeable to reason, and must be trained for obedience or caged like an ape if there is to be peace. I can't help but be dismayed by that prospect.
If you had the reins of power in your hands, and you wanted to be able to keep a people from being able to mount a defense against your depredations, one way to blunt their effectiveness would be to raise them all to be unsure of anything, to dissipate that universal morality that we hope for and assume in others. Then you would be able to get away with murder. Just look at the comment boards across the internet with regard to the death sentence carried out by the U.S. government for thought/speech crime last week. If that is any measure of this, the PE has nothing to worry about. When the mob finally revolts against its own government, it will be putting its own head into a different colored noose.
I wonder how much we can trust of the universal morality when the chips are down, in light of this video;
Click to view link
Thank you all for your insight.
Posted by rossbcan on 10/03/11 07:49 AM
"I figure they meant equal rights."
I figure they meant equal treatment by law, in the mathematical sense "in all dimensions" which resolves to:
equality in terms of MEASURABLE terms of rights and responsibilities. Right to choose life, property rights, right to be left alone (not aggressed against), not threatened nor coerced, not special treatment for those deemed disadvantaged / threats (unless they actually act on it) ...
Posted by Summer on 10/03/11 04:31 AM
What role does objectivity serve? The implication is that one has to be totally objective in order to have a universal moral perspective that does not lead to injustice. Indeed, leading to a high moral tone, thus a decent society.
What interests me, is the relationship between: objectivity, justice and morality viz., conscience. If we share similar form in our souls, as in other 'parts' of the body etc. Then shared/similar notion of conscience or a basic sense of right and wrong is logical too.
In my view, universalism is inherent as a minimum content of morality in all cultures and peoples (i.e. do not steal, keep covenants and contracts, be truthful, be kind etc.) - within all souls. Of course, on finer points of morality there is a less instinctual sense of correct/desirable behaviour just as in any case of deciding a 'course' of action - major points are easier to determine.
If morality is individually 'built-in', objectivity then, is not a main point. What becomes important is judging on the basis of our spiritual perspective (we *can* judge *correctly* on major moral issues), on certain conduct(s) - whether it's 'good' or 'bad'.
Then, just behaviour would be to apply standards of morality with equality among a people i.e. crime etc., within a society. In accordance with morality - wherever that standard is derived from - differing cultures/nations/religions etc. - having, often, similar basic standards. However, the more sophisticated the moral order/standard, so the society is. If a code has wisdom and truly accommodates the subtleties of human nature it will be the most perfect - formulated by the Fashioner.
If the inherent instinctual capacity to *judge* moral behaviour from immoral behaviour is intrinsic then the question is where does it come from? Indeed, where does consciousness come from, and why do we feel, in our souls, the need for 'good' conduct? Why does one feel 'peace' doing 'good' and 'guilt' when not, and why and where do these feelings come from?
How could man have consciousness without a conscious Maker, where would consciousness come from if we evolved (unguided) merely as physical beings that can make choices like computers? The answer is a conscious and intelligent Creator (not the 'Blind Watchmaker'). The created cannot be more complex than the creator(s).
To summarise, philosophical arguments made by those within the positivist tradition - Kant, H.L.A Hart, Kelsen and many others, were merely an attempt to sow doubt into innocent/unsophisticated/arrogant minds about faith and moral choice. The aim to manipulate and tear the wisdom of greats of 'natural law' such as Aquinas from Western minds is complete. After that man became easy prey, loosened from roots of moral strength that were resistant to exploitation.
The hope is that man will realise the value of morality and true religion (as practised by prophets) as an antidote to every ill under his control.
'The Philosophy of the Teachings of Islam' - dealing with, among other things - the physical, moral, and spiritual states of man:
Click to view link
Reply from The Daily Bell
Posted by John Danforth on 10/03/11 02:08 AM
Thanks for your insight.
I stumbled across this quote, which made me think of Kant's position;
"Those who know that they are profound strive for clarity. Those who would like to seem profound to the crowd strive for obscurity. For the crowd believes that if it cannot see to the bottom of something it must be profound." ~Nietzsche
I am not a fan of his, but this is a pretty good point, I think.
Posted by lejano on 10/03/11 01:43 AM
This was an excellent Q and A exchange and very enjoyable. Apart from the philosophical though, Here in the US of A, despite all the recently "nudged" changes, I'm pretty sure that "nudging" itself, is little more than pushing and shoving on a narrow-minded scale. If nudging is to be tolerated, then nudging back must be allowed.
Posted by gmallast on 10/03/11 12:58 AM
I am swamped with too much to do on a survival level right now, so I can only pursue this fascinating issue so far. At any rate Dr. Machan is fundamentally correct and his criticism about Reason magazine, is justified.
But how could we do this discussion without bringing up those two most dogged rationalist moral philosophers, St. Thomas Aquinas and John Locke--especially since they both backed a doctrine of natural law discernable by human reason and with it a natural limit on government authority? I bungled across interesting article on this subject: "Aquinas and Locke on Politics' by Sara A. Gasser,' Click to view link
Both agreed, of course, that there is natural moral law which is that part of the divine law discernable by human reason without the aid of divine inspiration (i.e. Sacred Scripture) and that all, including those in government, are bound to learn and obey it. Further positive laws which contradict the natural law are not binding. Aquinas's British contemporary, Henry Bracton (1210-1268), famously argued that the king is subject to the law because the king is the creature of the law. Also refer to William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England, 'The Nature of Laws,' 'Law of Nature.' The notion of a natural law discernible by human reason and binding on all even in a state of nature is fundamental to libertarian thought. If the essential content of the natural law cannot be determined by human reason or it does not exist, then anything goes. Statists generally abhor Aquinas and Locke for this reason. If I remember correctly, Thomas Hobbs' Leviathan starts out with a diatribe against Aquinas.
Of course the Salamanca school constitutes something of the bridge between Scholasticism and libertarian thought-something of a forgotten bridge. The Mises Institute has been putting a lot of effort into studying and exposing the influence of the Salamanca school, so you might want to interview Lew Rockwell about that.
Posted by John Danforth on 10/02/11 11:11 PM
What context of the word equal do you think was intended by the founders?
I figure they meant equal rights.
Posted by piolenc on 10/02/11 08:54 PM
TM doesn't bring up here the most obvious objection to moral relativism as justification for government intervention, namely the fact that government is staffed with human beings. How is it (I ask rhetorically) that humans who can't be allowed to trust their judgment as private citizens are anointed by government service, not only with the ability to make faultless judgments, but the right to impose them on the rest of us? That's the crux of the matter.
In this connection, does anybody recall the book Can Modern Man Survive Modern Government? by (I think) somebody named Costello? Early 1980s. It helped me see the thing that had been tickling the back of my mind, namely the convergence of all governments toward a single type, regardless of their ideological roots. I lost or gave away my copy a long time ago, unfortunately.
Posted by Avatar on 10/02/11 08:39 PM
"average serf was taxed around 30 percent and that was later thought intolerable." This was a taxing of the poor to support the richer lords; the exact opposite of that advocated by Warren Buffett and Bill Gates. All earth-bound human thinking is ALWAYS TENTATIVE at best and at least scientists acknowledge this as the basis of theory. It certainly has a plethora of actual historical instances wherein humans were completely wrong. The all men created equal myth to support libertarianism is insane. A child born with physical and mental deformities is not equal to one born healthy. Thus any logic extending from this first error is also wrong.
Posted by rossbcan on 10/02/11 06:17 PM
Feel like translating some of my key articles into Russian, which I will host? I get a lot of hits (interest) from your neck of the woods.
Posted by John Danforth on 10/02/11 04:54 PM
It IS a contradiction because the statement that there are no absolutes is the declaration of an absolute. In other words, you have to accept that absolutes exist before you can declare that they can't. So it is nonsense on the face of it. You cannot negate an axiom, because you have to accept it and use it even in the attempt to argue against it.
Consider the implications. That means you can't know anything for sure, not even whether you exist or not.
It is an attempt to get you to willingly negate the power of your own mind to know anything.
People accept it because it allows them to have their cake and eat it too. That way they can go through life dealing with realities that confront them, and have an excuse for whatever immoral acts they commit or irrational beliefs they want to cling to. This is how you convince soldiers to kill, to bomb civilians, to commit acts they would consider horrific if done to their own families, by getting them to FEEL that the enemy is evil and not human. It is an evil philosophy, because it pretends that rationality is impossible (while pretending to be rational in stating it), and its purpose it to make people easily led around by the nose.
Absolutes do exist. Logical contradictions don't. Existence exists. A thing is what it is, and cannot be something else at the same time. Human life as a value is universal morality, and murder is universally immoral, and no amount of redefinition or self-doubt will ever change that.
Kant was wrong. His philosophy is a philosophy of death. It is incompatible with a philosophy of individual rights and non-coercion.
Posted by rossbcan on 10/02/11 04:33 PM
If you differentiate offense from defense and unwind the tit for tat action / consequence sequence and timeline...
... matters become very clear: those who initiate aggression, so long as they are unchecked spawn a tit for tat conflict sequence, spreading by positive feedback to consume all peace and civilization until it is checked or, peace and civilization is GONE.
abortion is a tricky one. I believe it is better to at least get the state out of the business of collecting tax dollars that the pro-lifers rightly interpret as making them pay for murder.
In general, if states are to exist, they must penalize nor favor none, meaning "stick to common interest" which is protect right to life, persons and property from predators. And, states choosing to be "master predator" is clearly a very BAD long term choice from all, including their own perspectives.
Posted by tsunami on 10/02/11 04:18 PM
So then their morality usurps the laws and also the attendees rights to free assembly and freedom of speech?
I then could apply that same thinking to those who bombed abortion clinics?
To those who bomb tax offices as they feel their taxes are going to support unjust wars or to most anything else they disagree with?
Posted by Dave Jr on 10/02/11 04:17 PM
Peaceful people exist. Though some leaks in, violent people are shunned and tend to direct their violence toward other violent competitors. Gang on gang, mob on mob, army on army murderers, tend to keep their violent selves in a minority.
It may be a natural development of humanity?
To try to cure violence, is to foster it, tolerate it, accept it and bring it indoors. Only thugs would advocate this. Households don't do it, business does not do it, even Churches do not do this. GOVERNMENT does this. Government is rule by thugs.