Archives for category: Philosophy

Yesterday I answered a question on Quora. So far, over a hundred views but only one upvote. I realize that my contributions to civilization are not widely appreciated nor easily marketable.

By refusing to hold a position on something, do you, by default, accept all positions or reject all positions?

…as answered on Quora….

Neither. To suspend judgment on something is to set the default position to “Unknown” or “Undecided.”

There is a word relevant here: Epoché.

Sextus Empiricus, from whom our word “empirical” derives, explained the word like this: “Epoché is a state of the intellect on account of which we neither deny nor affirm anything.”

Now, this sort of generalized withholding of assent is, I think, impossible. It is meaningless, for reasons American pragmatist philosopher C.S. Peirce gave when, while discussing Descartes’s Meditations on First Philosophy, he argued that we cannot doubt everything at once:

We cannot begin with complete doubt. We must begin with all the prejudices which we actually have when we enter upon the study of philosophy. These prejudices are not to be dispelled by a maxim, for they are things which it does not occur to us can be questioned. Hence this initial skepticism will be a mere self-deception, and not real doubt; and no one who follows the Cartesian method will ever be satisfied until he has formally recovered all those beliefs which in form he has given up. It is, therefore, as useless a preliminary as going to the North Pole would be in order to get to Constantinople by coming down regularly upon a meridian. A person may, it is true, in the course of his studies, find reason to doubt what he began by believing; but in that case he doubts because he has a positive reason for it, and not on account of the Cartesian maxim. Let us not pretend to doubt in philosophy what we do not doubt in our hearts.

Ultra-skeptical positions are mere poses. You cannot really “reject all positions.”

And by refusing to judge the facticity or the value of something, you are not “accepting all positions,” for by not taking a position on the issue in question, you have indeed not taken that position, and your having taken a position to not accept the position you are merely assenting to that “meta” level of the issue, not the substantive level.

You see we find ourselves in the realm of the paradox. Even if you aimed to be a Pyrrhonian skeptic, by not taking a position on all positions you have taken one position: that of not taking a position on all other possible positions!

This problem of paradox rears its head if you attempt to “accept all positions,” too — for in taking the meta-position of “accepting all positions” you have rejected the position of rejecting all positions.

Bertrand Russell developed his theory of the Logical Types to handle such paradoxes. They are fun little puzzles, the kind of thing Raymond Smullyan wrote wonderful little books about. But, though not trivial, they are not of great moment, either.

So, what can we conclude?

To withhold judgment on a limited number of matters is not only possible but advisable. For, as Marcus Aurelius said:

“You are not compelled to form any opinion about this matter before you, nor to disturb your peace of mind at all. Things in themselves have no power to extort a verdict from you.”

The question at hand is very much something like an attempt to extort a verdict from you — for, odds are, when someone tells you that by not taking a position on something you really are taking a position, they are trying to trick you into changing your opinion.

Caution!

Now, there is one additional way to look at this that we must cover: action.

We are sometimes asked to form an opinion on a matter relevant to action, let us say, whether war or pacifism be moral. If you, not without reason, withhold your judgment on the matter, you are apt to practically favor the pacifist side as a performative matter. The proponent of war will then accuse you of materially siding against war, and, indeed, siding with his enemy by not resisting the enemy in question.

And there is indeed something to this. But by refusing to settle your opinion and, as a consequence, not get involved, out of indifference or confusion, you will take a position on one side of the practice, but not on the matter of ethics, which was the original question. You could take a very different active position: you could, like Arjuna under the advisement of Krishna, take up battle, performing the action with some emotional distance, recognizing that the war is ghastly and complex but your position in the world is less murky. The decision to behave this way is a decision to bracket out the moral question and risk committing an immoral act. Jean-Paul Sartre called this tragic stance “dirty hands,” I believe. Make of it what you will.

Now I’ve gone and put a spin on an ancient text (Bhagavad-Gita) that I have not read in decades! So my position right now is to stop.

twv

Did any Greek political philosophy (500 BC – 500 AD) align with American libertarianism?

…as answered on Quora….

Elements of liberal-libertarian individualism can be found in most schools of ancient philosophy.

Plato’s admonition to favor persuasion over force — seeing civilization as the triumph of persuasion over force* — could ably serve as a libertarian motto.

The idea of natural law, especially as developed by the Stoics, provided an important perspective for the growth of the rule-of-law idea so vital to classical liberalism, and, more narrowly, the tool that is “rights,” from which libertarianism grounds its limited and limiting conception of justice.

But it is in Epicureanism we might see the greatest libertarian foreshadowing among the Greeks. Epicurus, I think, offered a number of important concepts that spurred the growth of the libertarian idea.** Chief among these is a stripped-down conception of justice as the rules that allow people to form compacts for mutual protection. Both utilitarianism and contractarianism find early formulations in Epicurean writings — most of which are, alas, lost.***

And there is something in Epicureanism that is not to be found in Platonism, Aristotelianism, or Stoicism: absolutely no aggrandizement of the State, no conception, even, of its moral legitimacy. The State of Epicurus’ day, and all the associated politics surrounding its warfare and plunder and busybodyism, was something Epicurus advised his followers to avoid. He imagined a better system, in his simpler, non-lofty idea of mutual protection compacts. But they could not be put in place generally in ancient times, so Epicurus advised avoidance of the State. He was a social schismatic, if not a utopian.

In his attitude towards the State Epicurus was, in effect, applying the same approach that he applied to religion: debunking.

The four-fold cure serves, I think, as a good summary of Epicureanism:

  1. Do not fear death;
  2. do not fear the gods;
  3. good things are easy to get;
  4. suffering is easy to endure.

Epicureans argued that much of our phobias about life derive from superstitious myth and religious hectoring about afterlife punishment by vengeful and mercurial deities. Epicurus himself developed a scientific viewpoint to show that there is no afterlife, and thus nothing to fear in that regard, and that the gods, if any there be, would be uninterested in human affairs, so they were no threat. He saw the cosmos as complex but not conspiratorial. The social world, on the other hand, did have malign conspiracies everywhere, and, though one could fear them, the best recourse is pain- and threat-avoidance, for the thing most needful for a happy life was a baseline cheerfulness and a resistance to fear.

A friend of mine told me, recently, that he sees Epicureanism as being all about fear — fear of pain. I think this is exactly backwards. Fear exacerbates pains. One should try to avoid complex habits of life that conjure up more pain than they are worth, that is the Epicurean strategy. But with what pains one is inevitably delivered in life, we had best use philosophy and the therapies of desire to deal with them. I beseech thee: do not get caught up in fear.

Indeed, decades ago I reformulated the four-fold cure as an anti-phobic discipline:

  1. Do not fear death;
  2. do not fear the gods;
  3. do not fear boredom;
  4. do not fear suffering.

And once you have mastered these attitudes, apply them against politics, which is filled with what Max Stirner called “wheels in the head” — made-up and reified notions of State Sovereignty, moral authority, and Divine Justice as imposed via the State. All that is just nonsense that some people use to get you to conform to their outrageous demands. These notions are carried over from religious superstition. They mask what is really going on in the political realm.

De-mystify all that.

There is a pipeline from Epicureanism to libertarianism. It is not for nothing that one perceptive Christian author quoted nearly five full pages from the Data of Ethics by the great libertarian theorist of the 19th century, Herbert Spencer, as exemplary of Epicureanism in modern times.**** The affinity is quite striking.

What is even more striking, though, is how little explored it is.


* “From Force to Persuasion,” in Alfred North Whitehead, Adventures in Ideas (The MacMillan Company, 1954), pp. 87–109.

** See Stephen Greenblatt, The Swerve: How the World Became Modern (W. W. Norton and Company, 2011), for a discussion of the historical importance for the Renaissance and the Enlightenment of the unearthing of the great Epicurean poem by Titus Lucretius Carus.

*** But see James H. Nichols, Jr., Epicurean Political Philosophy: The De rerum natura of Lucretius (Cornell University Press, 1976).

**** William DeWitt Hyde, From Epicurus to Christ (The MacMillan Company, 1904), pp. 10–15.


About the image, above: Harry Browne and a statue of Epicurus. Harry Browne’s How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World was reviewed by philosopher John Hospers in Reason magazine, under the title “The New Epicureans” (March 1974).

It was the bicentennial of Herbert Spencer’s birth, on Monday, so I threw together a celebratory podcast episode, of sorts.

And, in that ninth outing of the LocoFoco Netcast, I blew through the theory of dysgenics so fast that I did not clearly distinguish (a) my thoughts from Spencer’s, (b) the best case for these ideas, especially in the theory of (c) incentives and disincentives, (d) inculcation of virtue and success, and (e) concern for the welfare of the worst off. Indeed, I am pretty sure I came off as a callous Social Darwinist, leaving Spencer and myself open to the usual criticisms.

That is what I get for being in a rush.

But then Jim Gill, who joined me for the final segment, had even harsher things to say!

Which means that I will have to quickly put up a follow-up episode. I am thinking it will have a subtitle: “Let’s ‘Nuance’ This Up a Bit.”

Which is something Bill Bradford used to say.

And Jim and I will do just that.

But how bad, really, did we get? You can listen at LocoFoco.net, or on the podcast on iTunes, Spotify, et al.:

LocoFoco Netcast #9: My Herbert Spencer Problem — and Ours.

The video of the new episode is uploading to YouTube, and will take a while.

twv

A few years ago it came as something of a surprise to me to learn that UFOs and associated paranormal phenomena are not merely dismissible as misunderstood natural phenomena, hallucinations, dream experiences, psychopathological ideations, desperate frauds, and the like. There is a strange-yet-physical reality to these data that I had previously dismissed.

I was aided in getting over my “skeptical” programming — and more open to the vast volume of UFO reports and evidence — by the lesson I was learning, simultaneously, involving new information about the end of the last Ice Age, which turns out to be hugely significant for our understanding of religion, civilization and Homo sapiens sapiens.

How so?

We now know that there were indeed worldwide floods — that, in other words, the Deluge was real, if not entirely congruent with Biblical or other mythic accounts. With a reality now almost certain behind the worldwide mythology of a universal flood — or multiple ones, as Plato’s lore instructs — then other universal myths also had to be considered, including the possibility of a race of superhuman/non-human civilizers, tales of giants, and, of course, the tropes of Enoch and Ezekiel . . . “wheels within wheels.”

But what the reality behind the data is, I know not. The extra-terrestrial alien hypothesis, of which I was familiar from science fiction as well as the popular craze from the days of my youth, Erich von Däniken’s Chariots of the Gods (1968), seems a natural enough conjecture.

But others must be considered, as I did yesterday.

Nevertheless, it remains the case that the ET/Alien Hypothesis looks pretty good. It turns out that the Carl Sagan’s early work involving the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence was a scientific exploration of what we now think of as the Ancient Alien Hypothesis, not SETI:

[P]eople who think they know Carl Sagan invariably know him the way that influential individuals and powerful institutions in charge of his legacy want them to know him. All along, throughout the course of his 40-year professional career, Carl Sagan believed that advanced extraterrestrials exist and that they have been to Earth. Carl Sagan was an ancient alien theorist, convinced that human civilization was a gift from visiting aliens.

The truth is that from 1956, when Sagan was a 22-year-old whiz kid at the University of Chicago hobnobbing with Nobel laureates, until December 20, 1996, the day of his death, Sagan not only believed in ancient aliens, he single-handedly built a scientifically rigorous model that makes it possible for ancient alienism to hopefully, one day soon, become a legitimate field of inquiry.

Donald Zygutis, The Sagan Conspiracy: NASA’s Untold Plot to Suppress The People’s Scientist’s Theory of Ancient Aliens (2013).

Now, sure, author Donald Zygutis may overplay his hand in the passage quoted above. Did Sagan “believe” in the ancient alien hypothesis? Or did he merely continue to float it as a conjecture worthy of scientific investigation?

As I often warn my friends: on matters of an unsettled nature, my beliefs may not be as important or as interesting as my suspicions,

In any case, Sagan did elaborate the ancient alien hypothesis before von Däniken:

Sagan thought that in a few centuries, humans will have developed the technology for interstellar travel. If that is true, he pondered, shouldn’t aliens, having civilizations possibly millions of years older and millions of year more advanced than ours, have already been to Earth? In the 10-year period between 1956 and 1966, he wasn’t writing popular books, appearing on the Johnny Carson Show, or hawking the virtues of space exploration to the masses; he had his nose set to the grindstone, engaged in the most ambitious project of his life: to build an airtight science-based argument that Earth has been visited by advanced extraterrestrials.

Zygutis quotes one of Sagan’s lines of conjecture:

Some years ago, I came upon a legend which more nearly fulfills some of our criteria for a genuine contact myth. It is of special interest because it relates to the origin of Sumerian civilization. Sumer was an early—perhaps the first—civilization in the contemporary sense on the planet Earth. It was founded in the fourth millennium B.C. or earlier. We do not know where the Sumerians came from. Their language was strange; it had no cognates with any known Indo-European, Semitic, or other language, and is only because a later people, the Akkadians, compiled extensive Sumerian-Akkadian dictionaries.
The successors to the Sumerians and the Akkadians were the Babylonians, Assyrians, and Persians. Thus the Sumerian civilization is in many respects the ancestor of our own. I feel that if Sumerian civilization is depicted by the descendants of the Sumerians themselves to be of nonhuman origin, the relevant legends should be examined carefully. I do not claim that the following is necessarily an example of extraterrestrial contact, but it is the type of legend that deserves more careful study.
Taken at face value, the legend suggests that contact occurred between human beings and a non-human civilization of immense powers on the shores of the Persian Gulf, perhaps near the site of the ancient Sumerian city of Eridu, and in the fourth millennium B.C. or earlier.

This is not really all that “out there.” But in this passage Sagan explores one angle of the possibility:

There are three different but cross-referenced accounts of the Apkallu dating from classical times. Each can be traced back to Berosus, a priest of Bel-Marduk, in the city of Babylon, at the time of Alexander the Great. Berosus, in turn, had access to cuneiform and pictographic records dating back several thousand years before his time.

Carl Sagan, in Sagan and Shklovskii, Intelligent Life in the Universe (1966).

There are many reasons to doubt the theory that Sagan developed. But it deserves careful attention. That most “smart people” dismiss it says no more about it than the academic and political support for fiscal stimulus programs says about the merits of Keynesianism.

And “smart people” should wonder: why are they so easily led to shaming techniques and irrational, social bullying paradigm defenses?

Similar to the case of “conspiracy theories,” a term of derision parlayed by the CIA via the major media in the late 1960s to direct citizens’ attention away from the bizarreries of the facts in the case of the JFK assassination, the bad odor of the ET Hypothesis (to explain what we have so far learned about UFOs) and the Ancient Alien Hypothesis (to fill in the lacuna in our knowledge of the fast growth of civilization after the fifth millennium B.C.) may in part be the result of a psy-op from the masters of psy-ops within the Deep State.

Sure, much nonsense surrounds these two related theories. There is a lot of cringe in popular accounts — I have seen Ancient Aliens (2009-) and its ilk, and its standard “could it be” meme gets mighty annoying after its third iteration. But “smart people” are supposed to be resistant to ad hominem and guilt by association techniques. We wouldn’t dismiss Einstein’s two theories of relativity because television science fiction and college freshman get them horribly, horribly wrong. Though we use ridiculousness and poisoned fruit notions as rules of thumb, if we are ruled by intellectual rules of thumb only, and not a philosophical and scientific epistemic, we must relegate ourselves to the lowest form of ideologue.

It has been my experience in dealing with scoffers about UFOs and the like: they do not know much about what they are talking about, and though they keep demanding “evidence,” they tend to ignore lots of evidence.

Applying Occam’s Razor is a fine thing. Considering the simplest theories without multiplying “explanatory entities” is great. But epistemological shavers don’t get to damn whole sets of data. The idea is not to multiply explanatory entities needlessly, not diminish the number of facts to be explained.

twv

Why did Karl Popper criticize the Marxist’s theory, not the Austrian Schools of Economics?

…as answered on Quora, January 31, 2019:

Probably because Marxists have “a theory of history” and are what Popper called “historicists.” Austrian economists were not.

Indeed, Austrian economists were major opponents of historicism.

Also, Austrian economists were generally liberal, in that they supported decentralized power structures (Wieser being a strange exception). Menger, Böhm-Bawerk, Mises, and Hayek were all proponents, in their different ways, of the “open society,” which Popper saw as the civilizational-level analog to the scientific method. Marxists, on the other hand, scorned such views. Remember how Marx pilloried “bourgeois freedom”? Marx also engaged in a rigid theory of ideology that saw it as a mere expressiom of economic class. That is a world apart from Popperianism and Austrianism.

Now, you may be wondering: but Misesian praxeology, following Menger’s “exact science” method, is not exactly a falsifiable procedure!

True to some degree. And one could mention that Hayek was not a praxeologist, and Hayek was the Austrian School economist that Popper knew best, and from whom Popper learned much. But consult Popper’s views on Darwinism. Evolution by “descent with modification” as directed by “natural selection” has also been attacked for its a priori character. Popper’s defense of this method might give us clues to how he would have thought about the rather a priori nature of the Menger-Mises position of the exact science of the discipline of human action.

Evidence of life, by the Pacific Ocean, November 28, 2019.

A stopped clock may be right twice a day, but a stopped military clock is right only once per day.


Just a reminder: the Russia investigation “was a nothing,” as my father used to say. No evidence advanced to show that any American solicited aid from Russia, and no evidence that the meagre “interference” on social media by a bunch of Russians affected any outcome, not so much as one vote:

There is no allegation in the indictment of any effect on the outcome of the election.

. . . There is no allegation in this indictment that any American had any knowledge, and that the nature of the [allegedly Russian] scheme was that the [Russian] defendants took extraordinary steps to make it appear that they were ordinary American political activists, even going so far as to base their activities on virtual private network [VPN] here in the United States so if anybody traced it back to that first jump, they appeared to be Americans.

Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, as recorded by CNBC, February 18, 1018.

The build-up to the final indictments in the Mueller Probe was relentlessly breathless, saying that Trump was doomed. And then? Nothing. Zip. Nada. All we had were pathetic prosecutions, the most ludicrous being of the named Russian “hackers.”

It is worth mentioning that the United States regularly intrudes on other countries’ elections far more thoroughly and effectively. The clutched pearls of the anti-Trumpers is so disingenuous.

And remember, one of the more recent elections that the U.S. Government interfered in was in the Ukraine.

So, naturally, as if led by an invisible hand with a wicked wit, Democrats, Deep State operatives, and the corporate media have pushed a bizarre Ukraine “interference” and “quid pro quo” and “bribery” allegation against the president for allegedly soliciting Ukrainians to “interfere” in our elections by investigating Joe Biden, Trump’s “political competitor.”

This is worth remembering as we gear up for the great fizzle that seems imminent regarding impeachment.


Although we do learn some of our history from hoaxes, we learn far more of it from sources that are unabashedly fictional. Rather than our quest for ammunition or enlightenment, it is our yearning for entertainment that most often leads us astray. A 2001 study, for instance, found that nearly two-thirds of high school students surveyed based their understanding of the Vietnam War on the movie Forrest Gump. The same pattern might hold for the First Thanksgiving if only Hollywood found it more interesting.

Robert Tracy McKenzie, The First Thanksgiving: What the Real Story Tells Us About Loving God and Learning from History (2013) .

The “freedom of assumption” lies at the heart of human ontology, and it is our consideration of non-facts that make us who we are, and even allows us to act:

Dale Jacquette, Alexius Meinong, The Shepherd of Non-Being (2015).

Note to praxeologists and “objectivists”: our values are determined by fancy as well as facts.

Meinong’s innovation is very similar to George Santayana’s doctrine of essences — which Santayana referred to as “promiscuous” in that the objects of our thought require no existence to be meaningful.

And from this line of reasoning we can see where the Ontological Argument fails.

This was my Thanksgiving message on Facebook, expressing my gratefulness for all the important objects of consciousness that do not exist.


The Fourth Estate relentlessly pushes political power, but has no interest in uncovering the truth for our benefit. If the journalists/papers/news channels were really interested in Story they would be all over some of the biggest stories of our time. But their interest in Story is circumscribed by their interest in partisan power-mongering. What they offer, instead, is Ideological Narrative. Not quite the same thing. Because of this, they are easily influenced by the CIA and the rest of the Deep State, and side with it.

Off Reddit.

And they have no interest in ‘protecting women’ or #metoo or anything even slightly noble . . . if it disrupts their narratives of expanding secular power and the subjugation of a free people.


As I understand the current impeachment case, it seems to have problems:

1. Neither the infamous quid or the notorious quo of the quid pro quo actually occurred — at best the case has it that Trump wanted to withhold aid to Ukraine in exchange for a promise to investigate the corruption of the Bidens, but the aid was eventually given and the investigation did not happen.

2. The Ukrainian president was most interested in a meeting with Trump, and appears not to have realized at the time of negotiations that aid was on hold. Negotiating for meetings is trivial b.s. not worthy of review by Congress. Bill Clinton was impeached for lying in a deposition, not for his special White House hotel grift.

3. Testimony from the prime witness has Trump explicitly denying, upon a request for clarification, the withholding of aid as a negotiating tactic.

4. Rep. Schiff and the pro-Deep State press (CNN, MSNBC, et al.) continually characterizes what Trump wanted as ‘investigating a political rival’ and not as investigating obvious and frank and even boasted-about [‘well, son-of-a-bitch’] corruption on the part Joe Biden and his son.

5. The continual denials of any evidence for Biden wrong-doing by Democrats and the Deep State press, is mere stonewalling and denial — lying.

6 The principle of the Double Effect is at play here: we expect more than one motive to go into any complicated maneuver like the disputed Ukraine negotiation. Since investigating corruption is entirely legitimate, that provides more than enough cover even to get what Trump may have wanted regarding his ‘political rival’ Biden.

7. The irony of charging Trump with trying to get foreign powers to help get dirt on a political opponent is PRECISELY what Hillary Clinton did with the Russian Dossier — how pot-and-kettle can they get?

8. And as for the sheer horror of investigating a political rival, that is what Barack Obama did to Trump’s campaign. Quite clearly.

9. The whistleblower heard nothing himself — it was all hearsay, and after the testimonies, that ‘heard said’ turns out to be mere unheard suspicion.

10. It is obvious from the very words and grimaces of testifying Deep State operatives that what they really objected to was that their beloved ‘interagency consensus’ was being derailed by the new president’s very different approach. Anyone with an ounce of skepticism about the FBI, CIA and ‘the interagency’ should not give one vermin patootie for their commitment to their policies — they are not supposed to be in charge. Why any American would be sympathetic to this crowd of professional liars and incompetents I don’t know.

There is more, but this is enough to make me utterly incredulous about the charges, which seem weaker and more indicting of the side marshaling the indictments than of Trump.


Talk about ‘interfering in our elections’! This story is out there, but does not seem to be getting much play:

The story seems interesting, anyway:

Congresswoman Ilhan Omar (D-Minnesota-5th) was recruited by a foreign government, received funding from a foreign government, and passed sensitive information through intermediaries to Iran, a Florida court has been told, as The Jerusalem Post confirmed.
Speaking to the Post, the office of the Congresswoman denied the allegations.
The claims came during testimony by Kuwati-born Canadian businessman Alan Bender, who was giving evidence in the trial of Sheikh Khalid bin Hamad al-Thani. The Qatari emir’s brother stands accused of ordering his American bodyguard to murder two people, and of holding an American citizen hostage. His deposition, obtained by Al Arabiya English, was authenticated by the attorney for the plaintiffs, according to the publication.
Speaking from Toronto by video link, Bender told the Florida District Court that he met with Qatar’s Secretary to the Emir for Security Affairs Mohammad bin Ahmed bin Abdullah al-Masnad and two other senior Qatari officials.
According to his sworn deposition, the three officials told him: “If it wasn’t for our cash, Ilhan Omar would be just another black Somali refugee in America collecting welfare and serving tables on weekends.”Bender testified that the officials asked him to recruit American politicians and journalists as Qatari assets, and that when he objected, was told that several prominent figures were already on the payroll. Omar was described as the “jewel in the crown,” he said.

Donna Rachel Edmunds, “Ilhan Omar denies being ‘Qatari asset,’ witness confirms Jerusalem Post report,” Jerusalem Post, November 28, 2019.

But, that being said, if these accusations prove true, many crimes may have been made in all this. But not treason, since America is fighting no declared wars.


It is well known that the title Benjamin R. Tucker gave to Steven T. Byington’s translation of Max Stirner’s great German work, Der Einzige und sein Eigentum, is far from a perfect analog of the original. The Ego and Its Own does not suggest the original meanings in anything like its fullness. That being the case, what would be a better title? Something, I think, like

  • The Self-Owner and His Property
  • The Self-Owned Self
  • The Properties of the Self-Owned Self
  • Oneself as Owned Self
  • The Self’s Own Liberated Property

A lot of self-help book titles come to mind:

  • Disowning Servility
  • De-Slaving the Self
  • Freer Selves Self-Owning
  • Taking Ownership of Oneself

And perhaps more scholarly visions could hail from the title:

  • Selfism from Max Stirner to Jack Woodford
  • The Properties of Property and the Ownership of Self
  • Oneself as Self–Proprietie: The Ownership of Personhood

And one that I’m working on:

The Self and Its Aptness

A friend suggests “aptitude” is a better word than “aptness,” but the primary definitions of “aptitude” scuttle the intended meaning, and so is not apt.


The above squibs have all been culled from my personal and professional Facebook page, from the last few days’ postings. The photo at top is something I snapped at Long Beach Peninsula today, a bright, sunny, cold day: seagull prints in the sand.

…change a paradigm!

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence?

No.

“Extraordinary claims” are extraordinary in context of accepted dogmas. A very ordinary bit of evidence can falsify an accepted dogma, easily. And with such a falsification, or a series of them, a perspective cascade can invert our notions of ordinary and extraordinary quite fast. We are all aware of paradigm shifts. These are catastrophic/eucatastrophic in nature, and what was once extraordinary becomes ordinary in almost the blink of an eye. 

The maxim “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” may best serve not as a legitimate epistemic standard but as a conceit to preserve status quo paradigm defense, and thus allow corrupt scientists and others to rig data sets, hide evidence, and distract the attention of honest researchers and innovative thinkers.

Claims require evidence. Sure. But claims to facticity are not all we deal with in our thinking. There is conjecture, supposition, assumption, counterfactuals, what-ifs — all are legitimate in their place. 

Of course, juggling these is hard. We all make mistakes. And we need epistemic maxims, like the “extraordinary claims” warning, like (better yet, but still tricky) Occam’s Razor. Unfortunately, folks commonly adopt a lazy attitude regarding these maxims, making of them too much, and of critical thought generally too little. 

Discovering truth is a tricky business.

I have been spotty so far, not being a scientist or a professional philosopher, etc., etc. But many confident assertions made by public professionals appear increasingly iffy and wayward and even perverse.

twv

Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.

Civilization consists in giving something a name that doesn’t belong to it and then dreaming over the result. And the false name joined to the true dream does create a new reality. The object does change into something else, because we make it change. We manufacture realities.

Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet (Penguin Books, 2001), pp. 65–66.
…currently reading…

Philosopher Jan Lester offers what he says is a new paradigm for libertarianism. Though old hands at the philosophy may raise an eyebrow at the daring of such a claim — and I am, by this time, one of those old hands — it is not as if libertarian social philosophy were all shipshape and Bristol fashion.

Looking at his essay “The Three Great Errors of Most Libertarians,” I found myself not at all shocked by his alleged novelty — though novelty there is. From a perspective of critical rationalism (via Popper, Lakatos, Bartlett, and others), Mr. Lester advances three alternatives to most libertarian ideology and rhetoric:

  • Instead of “justificationism” and the eternal search for the Foundations of Ethics and Politics, Lester insists that we stick to the more humble and honest task of offering conjectures about which we are open to debate.
  • Instead of characterizing our normative theories in terms of “deontological” or “consequentialist” terms, recognize that they are “more like two sides of the same coin.”
  • Instead of waffling and arguing in a circular fashion, develop an explicit, sufficient and necessary “theory of freedom.”

This last point points to the most obvious need, but it is not one that many libertarians recognize as an actual problem. There is an awful lot vagueness and hand-waving among libertarian theorists. And some concepts get jumbled together, like “self-ownership” and “negative freedom” and so forth. Hearkening back to classical liberal days, Lester focuses on non-interference — Henry Sidgwick would have understood this — and develops it as a prohibition of “proactive constraint.” I have not adequately confronted this understanding of liberty, so as I prepare to read his book, Escape from Leviathan: Libertarianism Without Justificationism, I will try to keep an open mind.

I am sympathetic to his general perspective, and, so far, seem to agree on quite a lot. I do have a different way of looking at freedom than many libertarians — and this has been one reason for my odd position in the libertarian movement: I am a member of no faction, and hail not from the School of Rand or School of Rothbard, but, instead, from the School of Nozick . . . without having ever been a Nozickian.

Odd man out, I.

So, before I lash out at Lester’s paradigm, or drop mine, I will put them to the test, which would also mean essaying to discover whether the two might be compatible.

As far as the deontic/consequentialist debate goes, anyway, we are on the same side. I found this “controversy” very interesting in my early 20s, since it was a major feature of libertarian intellectual discussion in the 1980s. I soon decided, however, that most discussions of this were hopelessly muddled or, at the very least, red herrings. My late boss R. W. Bradford, writing as Ethan O. Waters, did not exactly make the issue clearer, in the pages of Liberty magazine in its first year. I went a different direction, taking consequentialism chiefly as a meta-ethics.

Regarding Lester’s anti-justificationism, well, this strikes me as a terminological issue. He denies this. I am more in line with C. S. Peirce than Karl Popper, so I see all this “critical rationalist” talk as just another form of fallibilism, whereas he regards it (I think) as quite distinct. I may have read both Popper and Lakatos, I confess to having devoured their work only in small doses: this is not an area of anything but a passing familiarity for me. So, I should practice caution. Still, I will drop a hint: Jan Lester believes that philosophy is not about words, it is about the world. That is certainly a nifty slogan. It reminds me of Husserl’s “to the things themselves!” I think philosophy cannot help but be about words — and definitions, too — because words are our chief tool for engaging with concepts. He calls them theories and conjectures, and that is fine, except it seems a long way around to say something fairly obvious.

But I could be wrong. Indeed, all this jumps the gun of reading his book.

So, if I have not read this book, and the cited essay is brief, how do I know what Mr. Lester holds to? Well, a year-and-a-half ago a friend of mine and I interviewed Mr. Lester at length. And this week I finally turned the Skype session into a video, which is now up as a series on YouTube:

Where Libertarians Go Wrong:

  1. Introduction: Why “Critical Rationalism
  2. Error One: Seeking a foundation or justification
  3. Error Two: Taking sides between deontologism and consequentialism
  4. Error Three: Lacking an explicit, necessary & sufficient theory of freedom

By the way, I had intended to do this all last year. But the best laid plans of mice and men, the gang’s all here in the glee club, and all that.


Jan Lester’s Escape from Leviathan. And me.
Definition of a word most people are not familiar with, from the Century Dictionary.