November 6, 2010
My Life Would Not Be Very Interesting if Everyone Agreed With Me
Roger Donway has written a reply to my “Capitalist or Socialist” post that you can find here. I’ll ignore the name-calling, except for the assertion that I engage in “superficial scholarship” when I critique the statement that “[e]veryone should be free to do as they choose, so long as they don't infringe upon the equal freedom of others” without acknowledging that the slogan is not intended to serve as “some sort of self-defining axiom.” In fact, my point is precisely that the slogan fails qua slogan because definitions of infringement and “equal freedom” can vary so widely. To be fair, Donway goes on to opine that I am also wrong to assert the statement is empty in this way because it does in fact imply equality before the law. However, this seems to be a non-sequitur because the slogan is often trotted out as part of a defense of what the law should be.
Donway goes on to critique my questioning of property rights as being properly justified on the basis of the individual having “earned” the assets they possess. He suggests that while it may be true in some “absurdly broad context” that if I trace the dominoes of cause and effect back from my acquisition I will eventually find that I am soon out of the picture, I have contributed “intermediate ingredients” that should be respected. None of this, of course, answers the question as to why those inputs should justify anything approaching exclusive ownership, and Donway conveniently forgets to mention that I acknowledge that there may be very sound utilitarian arguments for recognizing some version of property rights consistent with libertarian mores. I believe my acknowledgement of the power of utilitarian arguments also addresses the myriad of questions Donway poses in challenging the “puppy-bowl theory of wealth.”
Finally (at least in terms of addressing criticisms), Donway seems particularly frustrated by my daring to assert that there may be no such thing as free will. Suffice it to say that it is quite possible that more philosophical ink has been spilled on this point than all the above combined, and I seriously doubt that I can add much to that debate here. I recognize that in this day and age there may be no more sacrilegious assertion than that there is no such thing as free will. That doesn’t mean the assertion is false, it just means I don’t expect to convince anyone of the possibility.
On a more positive note, I must commend Donway for his overarching point that philosophy matters to business law. He writes:
One firm belief that I bring to the Business Rights Center is this: Philosophy matters. Without a theoretical defense of the fundamentals—individual liberty, private property, freedom of contract—exposés of alleged injustices against businessmen will not be highly persuasive. Readers may concede that, yes, here was an act of prosecutorial misconduct, and, yes, there was an instance of taking the “insider trading” doctrine too far. But the reader’s reaction to such unjust prosecutions will be limited and spiritless, unless he believes in the right of businessmen to conduct their businesses as they see fit, free from all limits but a ban on force and fraud. Absent that, the reader will naturally think that such injustices are but minor missteps in a crusade that is fundamentally beneficial.
While no one should be surprised to hear that I likely would have used different examples to make the point, I believe the point is spot on. I likewise agree with the suggestion that to the extent my arguments are bad (and I certainly am under no delusions regarding the vastness of my room for improvement here), I may suffer from not having “discovered satisfying refutations of them.” I’ll leave it to you to guess whether I consider Donway's critiques to provide some.
The funny thing is, I completely agree with your points about free will, yet completely disagree that it has anything to do with capitalism or socialism. Much like Ayn Rand herself, you sort of risk the naturalistic fallacy by arguing that since there is no such thing "really" as free will, free will--and the associated concepts of merit-compensation and the like--are not sound concepts for humans to govern themselves by. As for your concession to utilitarianism, isn't the fact that the concept of "deserving" has such a long and robust history in human society sufficient evidence that it is highly useful? You'd be hard-pressed to find equal use of the idea that everybody should get an equal piece of everything just because they exist--we had to wait for Marx to get that concept in its most robust form, and it never really caught on.
Posted by: Clawback | Nov 6, 2010 11:12:59 AM
If doubts about the existence of free will (i.e. rational volition) are based on physical determinism, then the latter should also lead one to doubt the existence of life.
For if everything proceeds only according to physical causation, then it makes no more sense to say of person that she is alive than that she acts as the result of her choices. Everything is just physical bits moving around because of physical forces.
I think the way out of this picture is to distinguish between different types or categories of causation, with each specific to its own conceptual scheme. Physical is one. Functional another. Rational a third.
And to the thought that the physical is in some way "better" or "truer" than the others, Hume's skeptical arguments worries about (physical) causation imply that it faces the same problem of "getting from here to there", in this case, from correlation to causation.
Posted by: Rex | Nov 8, 2010 3:40:16 PM