Should I use consequentialist arguments ?

I've been arguing with many people about politics, and, over the time, my argumentation power has steadily decreased. This may seem paradoxical, as I should be gaining experience but here is what happened.

As David Friedman says, people are generally more convinced by consequentialist arguments. Not all people are though. I was exposed to many consequentialist arguments, stemming from economics for a long time. I even wasconfronted with libertarians arguing this way but I never really espoused their views. And why should I have, there were also convincing arguments from other economists. When I was exposed to libertarianism as a moral theory of right, I became an ancap in a matter of days.

When I first started to argue with people on this topic, I was relying extensively on consequentialist arguments. I would generally start with a moral argument and then end up pointing out the "good" consequences brought by this position. I had some moderate success with that approach, but the more I was  using it, the more I grew disatisfied with it. I realized that all I was achieving - when I was successful- was to convince people that certain policies should be or should not be followed. While a very practical goal, I felt it was not what I was looking for. I wanted to convince people to be moral, to recognize the immorality of agression in all its forms. When presenting  a moral argument tied to a consequentialist argument, I felt I was cheating by providing the consequentialist argument as a carrot. Fiat justitia ruat caelum, but I will only reassure you about the sky once you accept justice.

I don't want people to accept moral ideas because there are good consequences, I want them to recognize that they ought to be respected. Sadly, the only way to do that is to refrain from using any consequentialist argument, which I started  doing. This is when my argumentation started becoming less and less effective. To be sure, if someone claims that anarchy couldn't work, I feel answering the question is not cheating as one cannot claim that morality requires the impossible. The basic requirement of morality is that we can live moraly. I do, however, refrain to try and convince people anarchy would be a merry happy place. This should  be reserved for dessert : they have to eat  the ethical meal first... only once they're done accepting justice can I tell them the sky will not fall.

While my approach may seem a bit quixotic, I believe it is not. One of my goal for example is to encounter someone similar enough to myself so that, when exposed to the same argument, he will become an anarcho-libertarian on the spot. I am really following a very skewed strategy : low success-rate, but total success once in a while. Although these types of strategy may be depressing during long losing streaks, they are useful. There's also an argument, from Rand, to which I agree ... to a certain extent. She somewhat famously opposed Milton Friedman's tract on rent control as it did not rely on property right but on altruistic considerations to attack the policy. While I do believe the net effect of teaching people about the economic problem of rent control was positive, I agree with Rand that it is a dangerous path. (More powerful ? No, quicker, easier, more seductive)

Consequentialists arguments are very efficient because people are generally willing to change their mind easily on those matters... but what make them successful also makes them weak : they can be replaced with other consequentialist arguments. Moral arguments are much tougher to make because people are more reluctant to accept a new moral philosophy, but they are also much more stable, and will likely be successfully passed onto children. Every consequentialist argument however is a step away from freedom as an end instead of freedom as a mean. On the long term, the fate of the new belief is unknown... it may  be replaced with an economic fallacy. It's negative effect on morality will always be damaging though.

To go back to my initial problem, my rate of success has indeed considerably dropped, but I believe I am doing the right thing. While consequentialist arguments may be useful for short term political goals, as long as conquering the noosphere is concerned, I believe they should seriously be avoided.

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I already refuted it

The Argument from Marginal Cases proves that non-human animals have the same rights as humans. Pse refute the argument.

I already did, by presenting a theory of rights that is not exposed to the critique. You rejected that theory of rights for a reason that, had you applied it consistently, would have caused you to reject your own theory of rights.

Are you aware that, while you support a political philosophy built
entirely around the individual, you now resort to democracy (also known
as ‘mob rule’) ? Pse take this argument back.

The mob truly rules when it comes to the meaning of words. The word in question here is "libertarian".

Learn Chinese ! 1,3 billion people cannot be wrong !

Indeed, they are not wrong when it comes to Chinese.

 

 

Bon Appétit !

“I already did, by presenting a theory of rights that is not exposed to the critique.”

But it is. Though in the animal kingdom parents sometimes eat their offspring, people (not only libertarians) would consider it totally immoral if humans ate their children. Yet your above assumption that children are not human (i.e. “not people”) and are actually their parents property makes eating one’s children completely acceptable/legal. Also your theory at no point indicates when these children do become “people”.

You either accept the concept of inalienable natural rights, or you don’t. If you don’t then we enter the realm of privately made law straight away (I have given the Friedman and Bell links above) and, depending on the balance of power, anything goes. If you however, do accept the concept of natural rights we should discuss on their criteria as well as their practical implementation.

The Argument from Marginal Cases is based on the concept of natural rights. So even if you don’t support those, pse refute the argument in the framework it has been presented to you. If you can’t (and I have to warn you, because no libertarian has yet been successful) then we need to go back to our starting point and discuss libertarian basics.

===
“Way to many taxes solution: overthrow the government, hire the mafia, they take their 10 percent, country runs like clockwork!”
- Bill Balsamico (owner of Casa D’Ice)

Abortion and Interventionism

In discussing abortion and interventionism I have tried to make clear that for any human individual there is a continuous line of development of its (physical and mental) abilities. This line starts with conception, growth, then birth, further growth, peaking at a maximum level, stabilization at a lower level, decay later in life and finally death.

Because of the continuity of this process it is impossible to say a person’s mental capability to reason and to make moral judgements is absent from day 1 to year 5 and only starts after year 5. Also the level at which each individual adult can reason and make moral judgements differs considerably, depending on one’s physical and mental condition, education and genetics, amongst others. Therefore the abilities to reason and to make moral judgements can never be criteria for respecting an individual’s natural rights.

The ONLY reason why one should respect an individual’s natural rights is the fact that we are dealing with a human being in various forms and conditions during various stages of its life. The non-aggression principle applies to ALL kinds of human beings in whatever shape, condition or age they manifest themselves.

If two consenting adults decide to have sex and this results in a pregnancy, be it wanted or not, they are responsible for the life of the child from the moment of its conception. As from the very beginning the child is an individual human being (it is alive and has unique human DNA) it possesses its inalienable right to self-ownership. Therefore the parents do not own their child and they are not allowed to harm it.

But the parents are also not allowed to let their child be harmed. The young child cannot stay alive on its own and it is in that situation not on its own accord but because of a decisive action of the parents. Until the child can stay alive independently the parents are responsible the child is not harmed. That’s why parents are obliged to pull the child away from the hot stove and need to prevent the use of drugs against the child’s will. So these are not options, they are required. And for severely handicapped children the parents carry a lifelong responsibility (which they may transfer to others, like professional caretakers, of course).

The issue is at what stage in life the child can stay alive independently from its parents. As with any such ‘business-like’ relationship between two parties it is between these parties (i.e. child vs parents) that any conflict needs to be solved. It is not anybody else’s business.

Continuum argument

Because of the continuity of this process it is impossible to say a
person’s mental capability to reason and to make moral judgements is
absent from day 1 to year 5 and only starts after year 5. Also the
level at which each individual adult can reason and make moral
judgements differs considerably, depending on one’s physical and mental
condition, education and genetics, amongst others. Therefore the
abilities to reason and to make moral judgements can never be criteria
for respecting an individual’s natural rights.

You are arguing that since X forms a continuum from zero to one, then X cannot be a criterion for rights. This is a familiar kind of argument. I am not sure of its name. Anyway, it is a kind of argument that I know well and that I reject in this case.

Most - maybe all - concepts are fuzzy. The criteria for membership in the category defined by a concept are fuzzy. There is a continuum from "clearly in the category" to "clearly not in the category", with a continuum in between. This does not invalidate the concepts. To believe otherwise is to commit a profound error, profound because if you rigorously apply this (false) belief in the invalidity of such categories to all such categories, you will end up rejecting all categories. The only way to avoid this outcome is to be inconsistent, to apply this idea selectively. And that is its own kind of error.

The ONLY reason why one should respect an individual’s natural rights
is the fact that we are dealing with a human being in various forms and
conditions during various stages of its life. The non-aggression
principle applies to ALL kinds of human beings in whatever shape,
condition or age they manifest themselves.

But the species homo sapiens is itself a fuzzy category. It is only an accident of natural history that the forms of life that link us to other now-living species have died out. If we work our way backwards through our common ancestry, there is no sharp dividing line between the human and the non-human. So you have rejected one criterion because it was fuzzy, but accept another criterion despite it being fuzzy as well.

Children are not owned by their parents

Children are not owned by their parents. No more so that orphaned children are owned by their guardians. No more so than any human of diminished capacity is owned by whoever takes care of them, whether that diminishment is permanent or temporary.

Now it may be that this was true in some distant past or in some other culture, but it isn't in ours.   Ours happens to be the correct solution for the cultural environment we have created.   Like the issue of slavery or the treatment of women as chattel.   It might have made sense to do these things in the past given the realities of tribal warfare and the state of political technology, but that is no longer the case.

Exclusion

Our society is perverse in many ways, sickened by the state. The child labor laws that the upper classes crammed down the throats of the lower classes to force them to raise their children the way the upper class did is just the tip of the iceberg. But for the most part, the law does not depart too strongly from natural law regarding children and so there is not, yet, a parental revolt. But the law is, sadly, making children more of a burden on parents and is discouraging reproduction. This unnatural state of affairs however is spotty, as some parents still assert their parental privilege without trepidation. Ownership I might remind you is the right to exclude. This means, the right to keep their children away from other adults. They still more or less have, and exercise, this right, except against the agents of the state, who have forced themselves into the family home. The wisdom of ownership is encapsulated in all the associations of the phrase, "don't talk to strangers", a formula that succinctly expresses the parent's ownership of the child.

Public goods

Public goods is the problem with libertarianism, and with capitalism. It's the biggie, IMO. However, as Coase showed in the example you remind us of, what seems to be a public good is often not really a public good. You nevertheless make a distinction between types of lighthouse. Even so, I would answer that we can take a general lesson from Coase, which is to be careful about what we label "pure public goods that can never be provided for by free enterprise." We were wrong about some goods, we could very well be wrong about others. We also need to keep in mind workarounds, ways of dealing with the problems that public goods deal with, and we mustn't ignore the progress of technology, which can render examples of public goods quickly obsolete. In today's world, ship radar, inertial navigation systems, complete maps of the coastlines, and other tools can take the place of lighthouses. Certain of these do of course piggyback on government-provided infrastructure (GPS) but others do not.

The point remains that there are some public goods. However, there are various answers to this, and one answer is that restraining government is surely the preeminent public goods problem. So the truth is that public goods problems are in some measure unavoidable. Beyond a certain point all you can do is trade one for another. So the public goods problem, being always with us, does not obviously favor a less free political order over a more free political order.

Live Free or Die !

You’re right Constant, the field is not static. Technological development can certainly change the character of public goods.

But the point I am trying to make (and please keep in mind English is not my native language so I am struggling a bit on this difficult topic) is that at some point in time people have found it more convenient, or necessary, or maybe even the lesser evil, to establish a government in order to increase their wealth by eliminating obstacles the free market apparently could not do away with.

The general theory is that too large a government hampers economic development, but too small a government does to, as free enterprise cannot provide the necessary public goods. The coercive nature of the government is therefore essential to ‘oil’ the economy, as it were. That’s why almost all economic systems in the world today are mixed economies. To optimise wealth, not necessarily freedom.

All this may be true or not, and in specific cases like the GPS system, or the NYC taxis Arthur mentioned above, one might be able to establish that it actually is not true. But only if libertarians can address the issue, not on a case by case basis, but in a general sense can we hope to win sceptic people like Dave, above.

Personally, I am convinced a society without free-riders, and therefore without any government, is possible (David D. Friedman dealt with the law&order issue most definitely, as far as I am concerned).

It may not be a very prosperous society (consider my Dutch example) but I couldn’t care less as long as my freedom is maximized.

===
“The United States is a no-smoking, no-drinking country. No women, unless you are married. No faul language. No red meat.”
“The land of the free…”

- Snake Plisskin (Escape from LA)

Throughout its history,

Throughout its history, humanity has permanently displayed a physical condition classified in ordinary language as “illness” or “disease.” There has always been what Hume would call a “constant conjunction” between human life and illness.

The Hobbesian hypothesis that illness is a necessary condition of the human species has strong empirical support. It has never been falsified.

Throughout its history, humanity has permanently displayed a social condition classified in ordinary language as “the state” or “government.” There has always been what Hume would have called a “constant conjunction” between human society and government.

The Hobbesian hypothesis that government is a necessary condition of social life has strong empirical support. It has never been falsified.

Arguments in favour of the prevention or eradication of disease are evidently misguided, and may be dangerous. They are often put forward by naive persons with little understanding of reality.

Arguments in favour of fostering society’s capacity to evolve anarchic orders and live with less or no government are evidently misguided, and may be dangerous. They are often put forward by naive persons with little or no understanding of reality.

- Anthony De Jasay, Justice and Its Surroundings

Protection against the state a market failure ?

Interesting point, Micha ! One of the reviewers writes:

“... de Jasay concludes that the problem with stateless social orders is not that they are inherently unworkable, but rather that "states stop them from emerging, and intrude upon them when they do emerge" (p. 15). It is difficult to know what moral the anarchists among us should draw from this conclusion. On the one hand, de Jasay brings us the cheery news that social order can be maintained without a state. On the other hand, he observes more gloomily that stateless social orders have not succeeded in holding their own against predatory states. Is protection against the state, then, one good that markets have trouble supplying? One would like to hear more from de Jasay about this apparent instance of market failure.”
(emphasis by me)

States stop them from

States stop them from emerging, and intrude upon them when they do emerge

On the other hand, he observes more gloomily that stateless social
orders have not succeeded in holding their own against predatory states.

 

These are actually two different claim, I believe the former, I am not so sure about the later. The former merely means that stability of society does not merely rely on institution, it is highly sensitive to hysteresis. Which leaves the door open to anarchy is  sufficient momentum is gathered.

I agree

I agree with this argument. Although I cannot "prove" that anarcho-capitalism can't work I think the empirical evidence via human experimentation is that it fails, and in particular it fails to protect against external attack by states.

In addition, I think that it would degrade into tribalism, religious sectarianism, etc.   Again, I can't "prove" it.    

Comments bonkers

The comments mechanism for this entry had gone bonkers. Some weird threading issues.

Layout

You're right Constant. I have to say I find the 'indent' feature on this blog a bit awkward. I am used to blogs that serially post all entries and have replies referring to a particular comment by (linked) number, not by indentation. That way all entries have the same line width. Its a bit easier on the eyes.

I think this blog might

I think this blog might slowly be turning into a forum.

Indenting great in theory

It worked great with Usenet newsreaders, and Usenet discussion would have been next to impossible without it. Unfortunately most of the web implementations of indentation leave a lot to be desired. I'm not a fan of the serial commenting format that you mention, but it may be a better fit for the web.

Actually, identing doesn't

Actually, identing doesn't really make sense in a discussion. In real discussions, there are no such things as trees, people argue linearly. What is needed is a strong quotation mechanism where the quote links bacl to the original message. Identing creates forks, and forks  quickly become off topic. They might be interesting side ideas of course, but then they should be cut ouf the commenting thread and put as a new blog post.

Threading

Actually, identing doesn't really make sense in a discussion. In real
discussions, there are no such things as trees, people argue linearly.

A strong quoting mechanism that links back to the original message is forking. Just because it's not represented visually doesn't mean it's not there. If you indent and place the responding message with the message that it responds to, you are assisting the reader in seeing the context from which the quote was taken. Sure, you can link back instead, but that's just a different way of solving the same problem. You're replacing visual branching with non-visual branching. (The main exception is if a particular message quotes from two separate messages, in which case it belongs in two branches, but that is rare.)

On Usenet, this is how threading worked! Messages merely contained within them codes that identified the message they were in response to - much like your strong quotation mechanism. They were not intrinsically indented. But newsreaders did indent the messages, because it was just so much easier to follow the flow of the discussion that way. What made newsreader indentation work was that there were separate panes, one for the tree, and another for the individual messages. That's what kept the whole thing from becoming unwieldy.

That is not similar to

That is not similar to usenet because you can quote multiple persons at a time, you're building a DAG, not a tree. But what matters really is the presentation. If the standard view is flat, people will not be tempter to fork to much, the subject will evolve, but not split.

I already brought up and

I already brought up and addressed multiple quoting (unless I deleted that comment - not going to check now). To repeat, it is rare enough not to undo the value of indentation. Anyway a key element is that the indentation occurs on the client end and is user selectable. Both serial and threaded presentations are key and it is useful to flip between them. Google groups tries to approximate this, with partial success.However, the blog commenting here is really broken, I don't mean not to my taste but actually broken, obviously unintended by the programmer. An early thread bizarrely got appended to a later thread, messing up the order. This is on top of the fact that comment linking from the "recent comments" window is broken.Anyway, the key problem that Jonathan brings up is not enough people, not enough diversity, not enough discussion - i.e. where is everybody. Worrying about out of control comment threads is a problem for blogs which have solved the where-is-everybody problem. Sorry, iPhone killing me here, wants me sacrifice my first born before it will create separate paragraphs.