5 votes

Some Hard Truths For Libertarians

In some recent threads I have seen people flailing about to define some rational basis for their views about what is moral. They hold to a general moral worldview about how people ought to behave, in line with traditional precepts, and in particular to justify their libertarian creed. But when pressed, they have very poor and incoherent reasons why this ought to be. They are attempting to affirm an objective morality in a way consistent with a purely naturalistic world, where we are just animals.

I would submit it is not possible to do so coherently, and you have to take your pick. Keep the naturalism and abandon the objective morality; keep the objective moral demands, and abandon the naturalism; or, hold to both but be incoherent.

The third option is probably the most feasible and what most will choose. Well, have at it! On a naturalistic view, there's nothing wrong with irrationalism, self deception, and incoherence, so long as it gets the job done. Hopefully it will be more politically effective than a hard nosed realism like the cultural and economic elites hold. Somehow, I doubt it.

Usually after being pressed a few times, the confused person ends up making a lame appeal to the animal world for an 'evolved sense of right and wrong' where human beings simply know what's right naturally. While all of recorded history, experience, and modern biology refute all this, it is the best they have.

You really have to self deceive hard to think the animal world is an example of libertarianism at work.

Primates groups have a variety of instinctive behaviors. None are individualistic or morally fair or respect the rights of individuals. Among primates, the group is run by the violence of the strongest members and challengers are fought down, killed or exiled. Reproductive access is regulated by power. Rape and violence prevail. There is no law, or rights, no appeal to objective rules.

Human ideas about individual worth, when and where such ideas arose in a culture (rarely enough), were always rooted in the belief in a soul or some sort of equality before a judging God. Whether that view is false or not, it is the only objective basis for belief in the individual objective worth or 'rights' of a person.

They may linger on after such belief has dissipated, but that is just sentimental twaddle. Anyone who takes the implications of naturalism to heart will realize values are totally subjective, standards are individually defined, and social outcomes will just be the consequence of which groups have the power or the loudest megaphone to brainwash others.

Whoever understands social manipulation best and has the strongest motivation to control, the most skill, intelligence, organization, and ruthlessness, wins. And that's who is running the show now, and they're getting better and better at it. You better hope there's some higher tribunal than 'nature,' or else you are gonna lose.

And really you ought to lose, if nature is the highest tribunal. Why would you think you have any rights against the stronger and better able to compete than you? Human society is just a staging ground for the struggle for reproductive success with other means than raw violence. It's a more sophisticated and picturesque continuation of 'nature' - reproductive competition - sublimated into culture and morality and law and business and all these other avenues of competition for resources. But violence always lurks just in the background to enforce the will of those with the power if the other methods fail.

This is the world on naturalism. It has its beauty if you can stand it.

On a naturalistic view, the person is just an animal. A short lived, predictable, mediocre copy of the other 7 or 8 or 9 billion, among whom very few stand out, and all ruled at bottom by base instincts and selfish motives, all competing for the same limited resources.

We might have cultural paradigms imposed on us by tradition, where we work together to advance our interests. But none of those rules are objectively binding, and they can be thrown overboard if they cease to serve some individual or group. In fact, anyone can intelligently choose to chuck such ideas overboard once he realizes they aren't objectively true. Why not do so?

In a world where nothing is true, we are back to pre-civilization: Our interests and our immediate family are first, and beyond that we can trust nothing. No person, no institution. And that is exactly where we're heading.

On naturalism, if some people advocate views about their individual rights, they are just making a plea for their private interests under the guise of moral demand that others to 'play fair.' Brow beating superior individuals into a guilt mode so they won't pursue their own interests aggressively.

On naturalism, morality and culture are just ways to get others to put their own interests aside for 'the group' or for weaker parties. Equality before the law is just as unnatural as equality of outcomes, and both are absurd as moral dictates. They might be useful temporarily for individuals, classes or factions to advance their material interests, but int he long run they are means, not ends.

Nothing is right or wrong on this view of reality, as survival is its own justification, and whatever culture system or rules or morality advance the material interests of the ruling group, that is right. That's how we got here, and that's where we are going.

If you insist and cling to some universal morality, absent God and the soul, you are just fooling yourself because you can't swallow the harsh pill.

Me personally, I'm cool with either one. I can live with either one, whichever turns out to be true. At least for now, in my life I am just obsessed with accuracy and rigor wherever it leads.

I have the luxury of taking the possibility of theism seriously, with all its implications, because for the past decade I have rationally accepted the harder conclusions that atheism demands. I am free to weigh all the arguments, without worrying that I'm gonna be out of step with the smart set, or that I would have to abandon all objective values. I can accept either.

I can accept all the implications of naturalism if it is true. You amateur atheists can't do either. You want your cake and to eat it too. You want to be bright little atheists and at the same time pretend you have some intellectual ground to stand on with "rights" and your other mundane, run of the mill beliefs that are just the residue and lingering fog of a theistic worldview where god and the immortal soul existed. You are nourished intellectually on the shadow of a dead God.

Its really the most pathetic anti-intellectual combination imaginable.

Pick your evil. God, or nature, with all the implications they carry with them. You don't get to be cafeteria atheists who pick and choose which beliefs you like from each, without regard for their logical implications. You don't get to get rid of the 'man in the sky' and the soul and still make moral demands of other animals you are in evolutionary competition with.

If you want to keep humanity and morality, as being unconditionally bound to moral absolutes, you are stuck with God. If not, you need to accept that your moral demands of others are empty bluffs to get others to act the way you want them to.

To be honest, you would need to couch your political beliefs not in moralistic terms but in terms of self interest, group interest. And to be at all effective, you would need to strategize accordingly. Figure out how to manipulate the politically inert herd of shallow, thoughtless voters to think and vote in line with your interests.

You have to become your enemies, in effect, and become the elite that teaches the average person what to think. Say goodbye to truth, say goodbye to 'telling it like it is.' If your libertarian principles have any hope in such a world, it will be in training the befuddled masses in some new dumbed-down, secular religion to respect property and rights and not think too deep into it.

If they actually think about it, they will realize its a cruel world, there is no god, they can't trust anyone to advance their interests but themselves, and they should throw in with whatever political party or group that will get them the most material benefit and economic security in their life time and get their children and immediate family the best economic prospects.

That's what they have learned, that's what they are doing, and it's what they ought to do on a naturalistic view.

If you want them to behave anything like civilized humans, you better at least trick them into believing there is something more than nature. Even if naturalism was true, you have every reason, as libertarians, to pray to non-God that the average person doesn't realize it.

Trending on the Web

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.

Not sure emotion and morality are necessarily tied

But I would agree as a human I want my emotions linked to my morality. If you get to experimental with morality you can end up a psychopath or an Ayn Rand. But I have to give her credit for offering the objective definition of morality as mainly a means-ends statement with a value structure.
Alot of moralities tell you when you can stop having empathy and kill or hurt the other.
I think If you want a human morality, one easily associated with positive/negative emotions, you are very constrained in the kinds of things you can select as goals unless you are psychologically disordered. Mammals reflexively signal their emotional state to each other (all mammals read and make facial expressions) and read emotional states using empathy (unlearned) or sympathy (learned).
Im not really interested in that angle but it is true that people treat robots that display emotional expressions differently than they treat boxcar robots.

I think this touches on a false reason/emotions dichotomy

I understand where you are coming from, but I personally don't believe that you can have a complete separation of reason and emotions. I subscribe to the view that emotions are a complex conceptual process that includes a heavy reasoning component and processing of feelings. Also, I believe it is impossible to reason to a decision without having an emotional tie to the decision. Studies have been done to demonstrate this latter assertion.

I think there is a heavy emotional component to any semantic reasoning. So far, robots only do syntactic reasoning.

“The welfare of the people in particular has always been the alibi of tyrants.” — Albert Camus

Long one.

You're probably right that no human decisions will be free of the emotional component, influencing reasoning and decision making. Reason is perhaps ill defined.

But what about logic? Would you extend the domain of emotion into the rules of logic? If logical rules are necessarily true, at least for human beings, then logic should stand outside of emotional states.

It might not survive all mental states though, as heavy hallucinogen use might prove anecdotally and biochemistry prove scientifically.

But do you think logic is a property of the mind, true only because 'true' only means 'true for this mental structure,' and is just the analog of a particular mental structure?

Or do you think human cognitive faculties in fact accurately apprehend reality and that the rules of logic hold for every possible consciousness?

If you recall I developed an argument on a thread months back, which you mistook for the Kalam argument, but which was actually an argument for skepticism of our rational and logical faculties. I argued on the basis of our inability to logically grasp things which must necessarily have happened, with or without God as a backstop, that our soundest conclusion would be that our cognitive faculties are not 100% reliable.

At the time I was a hard skeptic of all cognitive faculties not just senses but logical structure as well, and my argument was actually anti theistic or at least neutral, since unreliable cognitive faculties are possible on either hypothesis.

Although this position might be technically true, I see more clearly now that it can't be logically affirmed, because it contains in itself a defeater for its conclusion, since one of the premises is that its own logical structure is untrustworthy. So it might be true, but can't be logically affirmed.

I developed this argument before discovering Alvin Plaintinga's similar argument against naturalism. His argument is that, on naturalism, the likelihood of our having evolved reliable cognitive faculties is lower than 50%. Therefore, it can't logically be affirmed that our cognitive faculties evolved naturalistically. Since on naturalism our reasoning faculties would be unreliable, concluding in favor of naturalism defeats all beliefs we would hold, including naturalism itself. So naturalism might be true, but it couldn't be logically affirmed, just like my argument.

I think we're both agreed that on naturalism all morality would technically be subjective, and not 'true' in the absence of the human perciever or agent, having no existence detached from the human agent.

But how do you avoid succumbing to complete skepticism of logic and the other cognitive faculties, if you accept a purely naturalistic process building consciousness? As long as the logical structure, senses, mental hardware, etc. conferred survival advantage in our environment, it would be selected regardless if belief content was strictly true.

You could flip the argument, as some have, and say that 1) our cognitive faculties are demonstrably unreliable in some ways 2) we would expect this on naturalism, but less so on theism 3) therefore, naturalism is true or more likely true.

This argument could only hold if our skepticism was corralled before going on to undermine the logical process, so I am not sure which holds.


What do you mean by truth?

As I see it, the concept of truth can refer to two different ideas, which I will refer to as syntactic truth and semantic truth.

By syntactic truth, I mean that a statement in a formal system is true if it is consistent with the axioms and the production rules of the formal system. You can also talk about whether the production rules are consistent with each other. So when you ask whether logic is true, you are in this case asking whether the rules of logic are consistent, which can be proved. The problem is that every formal system will have undecidable statements, meaning statements that are true (i.e., consistent), but whose truth cannot be proved within that formal system. So logic can take you only so far.

In semantic truth, we are talking about whether a formal system statement decodes into some verifiable observable event in a natural system. Specifically, if we encode a first observable event into some first formal statement, manipulate the formal statement with the production rules into a second statement, and decode the second statement into a second observable event, does this correlate with what we observe? Did we observe the second event in response to the first event? In other words, did the formal system predict the second event correctly? In yet other words, to ask whether the formal system is true is to ask whether the formal system captures the entailment structure of the natural system. This is much harder, because we may not be able to tell whether the failure of a prediction arises out of faulty encoding, a faulty the formal system, a faulty decoding, or faulty observation.

When you say "So naturalism might be true, but it couldn't be logically affirmed, just like my argument," you may be referring to either of these issues. Ghosts of Godel and whatnot.

There are my thoughts at 3:30 in the morning :)

“The welfare of the people in particular has always been the alibi of tyrants.” — Albert Camus

I'll read this over more

I'll read this over more thoroughly later, I should have clarified what I mean by truth. I don't have formal training in philosophy and all the accepted terms, but if memory serves, I mean truth in the sense of correspondence. That truth is a statement that corresponds to how the world is, independent of any observer or rendering.

We already know that our senses don't perceive things as they are objectively, but renders them to us in the forms we see, sounds we hear, etc. And that there's a lot going on we don't observe.

But when it comes to logical statements hat are apriori true, do you think they are true independent of our minds, or only within our minds?

Do you think the human mind apprehends objectively reality as it is, or do you think objective reality is only apprehended subjectively and there can be nothing objectively true?

I guess once you answer that the next question would be: Regardless of our ability to apprehend it, supposing even that no one ever could, do you think objective reality even exists itself? Or is it always subjective to the observer and has no reality detached from the observer. Perhaps the mind is just imposing order and rules on a chaos that can't even be said to exist.

I think if you get rid of theism you are stuck with subjectivity and skepticism for all truths and impressions on our cognitive faculties, including all statements of truth like "Reality exists," "Physical objects are really at a specific place, "Time exists regardless of the perspective of the one who perceives it," or "A cannot be non-A," etc.

If the faculties we use were chosen randomly, by a selective process concerned with survival alone, then we would have every reason to expect all of our faculties to have no priority for truth in perception or logical structure, for axioms or intuition.

I'm comfortable with either, but I think you have to pick one or the other.

Well you've already defined

Well you've already defined morality in a different way than is normal, before going on to grant that robots can have morality. As always, shared definitions are the only way to have a coherent discussion.

The post concerned whether people can consider their moral demands as actually true and binding, or just subjectively valid for a specifc end-goal (equality, liberty, nationalism).

Is there a universal morality?

I think what you are asking is whether there can be any universal morality.
Morality is mainly means-ends. Means-ends relations are real and causality arguments can be evaluated or proven. That said it is pretty rare that there is one way to skin a cat. So people with the same or similar goals can behave very differently. I guess the more common goals you have the more likely behavior in the same environment will be similar.
As for the selection of goals, If you want your morality to be associated with positive emotions, i.e. a human morality, you are very probably constrained in the kinds of things you can select as goals unless you are psychologically disordered.
Your cultural training will likely influence you as well. Athiest people I know in Singapore have emotional ties to the Goddess of Mercy and a fear of ghosts. My morality upbringing is Catholicism/Orthodoxy, Ayn Rand/Leonard Peikoff (psychology of self-esteem by nathaniel branden), Decision Theory/Reinforcement Learning. From Christianity I learned there was God's morallity. From Ayn Rand the claim that morality is only needed if one chooses to live. From decision theory and reinforcement learning how to structure and compute outcomes and the usual uses of these methods in framing government policy, risk management, and robotics.

If I had all the answers Id finish writing a book but I would be just as happy writing a book that didnt have all the answers so if there are any collaborators out there anywhere interested in publishing something let me know.

Do you think libertarians are interested in

forcing the equality of wealth or health? I ask because you said
"The post concerned whether people can consider their moral demands as actually true and binding, or just subjectively valid for a specifc end-goal (equality, liberty, nationalism)."

I also ask because equality and nationalism seem to be a bad category to also list liberty in. It actually seems contradictory to the essence of individual freedom (liberty). I could see you listing, equality, tyranny, and nationalism, but please help me out on why liberty is listed among equality and nationalism.

kind people rock

Thanks. No liberty, equality

Thanks. No liberty, equality and nationalism are completely different value choices or ends, that's why they are in the same category. They are value judgments someone can simply put forward as a given, their highest goal. They aren't the same choice, but each is an example of an end rather than a means. That would be an example of libertarianism as an ultimate value judgment, and would therefore be subjective.

This would contrast with libertarianism as a means to an end, as a utilitarian programme for the achievement of a separate end, say prosperity or the most economic production or well being.

In the first kind, liberty or anarchism or whatever would be a value higher than economic prosperity, chosen even if productivity was reduced.

Another kind of libertarianism would just be particularism. Supporting libertarian policies because of one's own self interest.

All three examples are subjective. They aren't binding on others.

A fourth kind would be the claim that libertarianism is consistent with some absolutely binding moral truth. Such a formulation would go "It is morally wrong to violate another's God given rights, which God bestows upon the individuals he created." In a theistic worldview where God exists and souls exist, the individual might have objective worth, and be an end in itself, with all such issues standing before the higher moral tribunal that is already established within the existing theism.

The question I have for you is,

does the majority have the right to rule over the minority and take away their liberty and prosperity in exchange for more equality?

kind people rock

Well the term 'right' would

Well the term 'right' would be incoherent on naturalism. There would be no ought, only is. You'd need to develop a non moralistic basis for advancing libertarian goals, which could actually persuade others.

Your best bet would be to use the levers of social power to replace the existing political correctness purveyed by our social controllers by a new one in which the average person adopted respect for property and other arbitrarily defined rights, fearing social calamity if he departed from the official line.

Your next best bet would be to sell libertarianism as consistent with some widely held morality rooted correctly in theological claims. The millions of people already accepting such morality would have to be persuaded that respect for the rights of others flowed naturally from their existing beliefs. This would seem to be fertile ground for astute political operators.

Your third best bet would be to promote libertarianism as in the best long run material interests of the majority, but that's already being pitched, it is the utilitarian argument for libertarianism. It's a hard sell for people who consider their immediate self interest better served by some other politics, and it is a non starter for the existing political elite, which advances its interests by violating libertarian norms and rules.

You could also stick with intellectually incoherent moralistic libertarianism, coupled with atheism, which neither appeals to the uninterested voter nor is capable of persuading the well served elite, which is far more adept at manipulating democracy and engaging in social control than the moralistic libertarian. That is a path of failure, but it is clearly pleasing to the psychological needs of some on our corner of the political fringe.

Haha, come on BILL3 you can't answer that, maybe try this

wording, hopefully this is easy enough to not go off topic on some lecture.

Should the majority rule over the minority and take away their liberty and prosperity in exchange for more equality?

kind people rock

With your new wording, you're

With your new wording, you're asking what my opinion is on what a bunch of voters should do. That really depends on whether they're just animals or whether they're something more. That was the whole point of the post.

If they're just animals, then my opinion on what they should do is meaningless, they should do whatever they want. I might say I want them to do x, but whether I can persuade them to do it or not pretty uncertain.

And why do I want them to do x? My self interest, because I want people to agree with my priorities, because I want humanity to value what I value? Who knows. On naturalism, this is all pretty incoherent and meaningless, as the elite has things pretty sewn up and I'm just a small voice on a small forum.

My own well known preference (I have 150 original posts) is that people not vote at all, as its not a healthy political system according to my judgement and my own priorities.

Hmm, what if the self interest for libertarians was to give

freedom to everyone equally, maybe that would allow everyone to have more freedom and less tyranny. BILL3 how did you come to message of liberty? Do you still advocate for individual freedom?

kind people rock

Well your response there was

Well your response there was just a repetition of my description of the libertarian position from self interest. By definition, the libertarian from self interest would have a self interest in libertarian political order.

As for my background, I've been of the Mencken school of libertarianism, what you might call libertarianism from elitism. You can find it in Nietzsche, arguing for a free play of political forces in order to bring the best to the top, as is natural.

You could call this libertarianism from opposition to egalitarianism, and there is a strand of this tradition going back through the Hoppe wing of the Mises school. Explore it, the anti democratic libertarian tradition is the most interesting one.

But this is all presuming a purely naturalistic reality. If that presumption is false, there is a second possibly valid argument for libertarianism, which would be rooted in objective moral truths. It would be the only sound moralistic basis for libertarianism.

I don't think it's fair to say that there is self interest if

you believe in the concept of leave me alonism from your own government, because you actually may not be thinking about yourself, but for the future generations. It seems using liberty as a self interest could be to one's liking of course, but doesn't it give more value than to one's self such as everyone else to have more freedom and prosperity?

kind people rock

You're wading into unclear

You're wading into unclear thinking again.

Extending self interest to future generations needs to be clarified. Future generations in general, or one's own descendants?

Those are very different. If your concern is with the former, it is still in the self interest category, where your self interest extends to your family and posterity.

If the latter, than you're back in a different category, either social utility or some sort of ideological commitment to x goal. That would be libertarianism on the basis of some value judgment, that liberty is the highest good for others. Or utilitarianism where liberty is the best path to universal prosperity.

Trust me, I've covered all the bases.

I respectfully disagree on a couple of points...

There is a natural law of human behavior. Humans are hardwired with some basic instincts, and in order to create a functional, optimal society, it must consider these human instincts in its design. i.e. Babies have a natural understanding of "property". Give a baby a pacifier, let him "work" on it for a while, and then take it away from him. He will be offended. Another example: try poking at a baby and it will try to block you and "defend" itself. These behaviors are "natural laws" of human behavior, and morality is generally built around respecting these inclinations in humans to avoid conflict. Therefore, building a society with the incorporation of respect for these natural laws is a matter of practicality, and is not "irrational" or based merely on arbitrary feelings.

Gilligan's picture



Google is government.

Children will also take

Children will also take things from others naturally. So your basic premise is false. Only some natural behaviors are sanctioned as moral while others are condemned and suppressed. If natural impulses were the proper grounding, then it would follow that everything anyone does is moral.

It is true that

children have negative tendencies as well, but it does not negate my point. These negative behaviors are also "natural law", and is the reason power over others should not be delegated to people in the form of "government". Morality is determined by deciding which behaviors are acceptable and which are not. It is possible to use logical deduction to decide which behaviors are beneficial to a society and which ones are not. My point is that there ARE natural laws regarding human behavior, and that a social system has to take these into consideration in its design. In other words, morality is not "arbitrary" if the people creating a society have a common end they wish to achieve (peace and prosperity).

So stealing from others is

So stealing from others is also naturally lawful because its a natural impulse?

Sorry, that makes no sense in light of your first statement. You seem to be flailing around.

Then you said morality is which behaviors are acceptable or not. Acceptable to whom?

Not to mention that's a totally different basis for morality. As is, " decide which behaviors are beneficial to a society." According to who's definition?

Come on, man.

You finally rounded it out with a democratic basis for morality, what the majority decide. I think you've run the entire gamut of possible errors, each contradiction the others.

haha ok man

You have either unintentionally or willfully missed my point twice now (misunderstood my "basic premise"), and you seem like somewhat of a douche that assumes you have some amazing insite that no one else can comprehend, so I will leave you with your remarkable mind ninja skills to solve the puzzles of our universe. Good day sir.

P.S. All of this "flailing around" is growing tiresome. Perhaps a brick wall would be a more suitable opponent for you. Dick.

I didn't miss your point it

I didn't miss your point it was just invalid. And you can't spell insight.

Dude...relax already.

How do you make the leap of logic that all Libertarians are atheist as the title of your post suggest preceding the diatribe forth spewed?

Many Libertarians believe in a higher power. We just don't believe any individual or group should dictate by government force how they believe that higher power wants us all to live.

We're not interested in replacing the Constitution with biblical interpretation. One has nothing to do with the other, other than the Constitution allows YOU to follow YOUR religious beliefs, not morph them into law for everyone else and label it Liberty.

This notion that the nation will suffer the smite of God if we don't replace God with government by taking away the choice God gave man to follow him by free-will is a violation of the first commandment. Please, spare us the narcissism.

You're stumbling over your

You're stumbling over your assumptions. The post addressed those whose libertarianism is held along with naturalism, it didn't deny the existence of other kinds. You also seem a little worked up about it, looks you you didn't even read the post, so you might want to circle back around and start by reading it. That usually works best!

It works best when you clarify Naturalism Libertarians in your..

title. Had I read that first, I would have skipped the whole post because it would not have interested me.

But you didn't. It would be like me titling a post along the lines, "Hard Truths for Republicans" and questioning their lust for war and when Libertarian Republicans question how I came to that conclusion, I could backtrack and say, "Oh, I was talking about Neo-cons. You assumed incorrectly."

Broad-brushing never works well. You made the assumption that Libertarians reject a higher power over naturalism.

Well if all you do is read

Well if all you do is read the title and then reply half cocked you're not of much use to the discussion, eh?

I did read your article.

Had you titled it honestly and fairly, I would have skipped it.

Ahhh we both know ya didn't.

Ahhh we both know ya didn't. It's okay.