Archives for category: Epistemology

People not tempted by a weird belief express their incredulity. They dismiss the belief out of hand, with a kind of contempt that gives them a feeling of being special, set above the other. They think they are superior.

Pride goeth before the abyss.

I have been fascinated by QAnon, as I occasionally mention. Not fascinated enough to research it much. But contact with Q posts online gave me an extra window into a world I know exists, but which I experience chiefly through fiction: the world of myth, legend, mania. . . .

I have oft repeated two judgments about Q:

I have no evidence against much of the lore, and that the final months of Trump’s administration would put the theories to a falsifiability test.

This last idea seemed especially important. And I was as pleased as anyone to witness QAnon lore largely falsified.

You know, because, come what may, Truth is better than lies.

But those who see in QAnon only insanity and partisan madness, and in their rejection of it see evidence mainly of their own high moral standing? Well, they tend to look at the phenomenon with less open-ended interest. For example, this question-and-answer on Quora:

How can I convince Qanon supporters that Q is a hoax?

Let me summarize Qanon for you.

There is a cabal of Satan-worshipping cannibalistic pedophiles who are running a sex-trafficking ring and are working against Donald Trump in order to ruin the world.

Think about that for a moment.

Let it sink in.

Do you really think that there is anything you can say to a person who believes in that which will change their mind? They must have armor built from the thickest, laminated slabs of fabricated lies welded together that is proof against the strongest facts or logic.

As a coworker once told me (and I’m sure it’s not an original from him):

“You cannot reason someone off of a cliff they didn’t reason themselves onto.”

Or, as another coworker put it (and I suspect this is an original):

If you don’t speak crazy, don’t talk to crazy.

In short, there is nothing you can tell them. They will just assume that you are part of the cabal.

This answer seems all very knowing and savvy. I am sure its author felt very satisfied with his answer. But all of his assumed “wisdom”? It is all as fake as QAnon proved to be.

The main assumption is false. And this is important. Yet it is a falsity sanctified by the very best authorities. It was pithily stated by Jonathan Swift long ago:

Reasoning will never make a Man correct an ill Opinion,
which by Reasoning he never acquired

Fisher Ames restated it:

Men are not to be reasoned out of an opinion
that they have not reasoned themselves into.

But this is more obviously untrue than the QAnon conspiracy accounts themselves. I rejected many ideas using “reason” that I had acquired in a much more careless way. In fact, most of my ideas that are of a controversial nature were so acquired. Writing before Swift, Dryden is more nearly right:

A Man is to be cheated into Passion, but to be reason’d into Truth.

Of course, “reasoning” can err; or, more precisely, reasoning man does not always find the truth. Using evidence and logic, one can conjure up a conjecture, knead it into a theory and proclaim it “verified” in proper positivist fashion and remain completely wrong. Indeed, in my experience, people who do this can be as obstinate (or more) than those who haphazardly accumulate convictions.

The Quoran’s answer was mere pride and prejudice. I would trust nothing about about that person’s epistemics. His core beliefs that he thinks define himself as a rational man bear, likely as not, all the weight of gossamer.

After all, we have seen many a QAnonster drop the more fanciful notions. You have probably even read a report or two about such a recantation: the “shaman” of January 6 has so confessed to having been fooled.

Of course many Q enthusiasts only reject select parts of the lore. And perhaps that is what is warranted. Break the Quoran’s litany into separate points:

  1. There is a cabal seeking to run (ruin?) the world.
  2. Its members worship Satan.
  3. They engage in strange anthopophagic rites.
  4. They are pedophiles.
  5. Many political insiders participate in or are blackmailed by sex-trafficking rings.
  6. One or more of these cabals worked mightily against Donald Trump.

With just the above, quite slight restatement, Q lore looks less nutty. Is there a cabal for global governance? Well, yes; more than likely more than one. Do some of these folks worship Satan? Well, have you heard of the Temple of Set and its status within the U.S. Government, courtesy of lobbying by a man who became a top NSA official? Set may or may not equal Satan. Cannibalism? Yes, it is now being openly defended as a sexual fantasy on lefty websites, and I wouldn’t be shocked to hear of worse. Pedophile sex rings among the very powerful have been uncovered in Britain and Europe, and Jeffrey Epstein may not have killed himself. Finally, Donald Trump was indeed opposed by very connected members of the FBI and CIA etc., and this is not at all controversial.

The questions for Q enthusiasts are:

how organized are the groups they oppose?

how knowingly do how many of their enemies share the negative, lurid attributes Q assigned to them?

how explicit and how extreme are their aims, or are some or all driven by a sort of memetic blindness?

how much of Q lore was hope, how much of it was a prank, and how much was disinformation by masters of psychological operations?

I heard quite a few science fictional scenarios from Q folks. You know, about Trump directing the military to engage in secret operations against underground caverns of devilish pedophile cannibals. That kind of thing. It felt like open-source sci-fi. And while it would be easy to dismiss all this out of hand, I had no trouble just setting it onto my Epoché shelf, carefully filed.

Why not just dismiss it?

Well, were the government not officially disclosing UFO information in dribs and drabs, while ignoring eight decades’ worth of leaked memos about UFOs, I probably would. But we have a huge mystery here, the government has been all over the map concealing, denying, acknowledging and ignoring the UFO lore, making it a huge matzo ball looming over our culture and over our conception of the world. I know that most intellectuals prefer to ignore this. I cannot. In my philosophy, inconvenient evidence requires explanation, not damning. (I relish every Charles Fort reference.) And I recognize what C.G. Jung recognized, that government handling of the UFO issue is driving people nuts.

Nuts enough to believe Q? Yes. But also nuts to disbelieve everything even slightly Q-adjacent.

Oh, and the nuttiest thing in Q? That Donald Trump was going to save us from the bad guys. Turns out: nope. The globalists have taken control, shamelessly engage in a concerted suppression of dissent, and have used the excuse of a contagion to marshal unconstitutional powers to rob millions of the freedoms. And they insist on doing more.

Oh, and not only was Trump unable to stop them, in the key area of COVID insanity, Trump fed the beast.

Q was obviously way off. And I do hope Q enthusiasts can reason their way out of placing inordinate hope in mythic champions who — it just so happens — deliver them to their enemies. For sacrifice.


From page 157 of the Penguin edition.

It is fairly easy to maintain a scientific paradigm if you rule out of consideration anomalous data, scorn, badger and shun disputants, subsidize with conscript funds only your position’s adherents, and treat your “findings” as dogma and the whole subject not as inquiry but as conclusions.

Easy, yet what you wind up with is not scientific, no matter how many lab coats.

What are some ways how to not be bothered by people’s ignorance?

  1. Develop the ability to enjoy explaining things, which would work against their ignorance. Then realize that were they not ignorant you would not have much occasion to educate.
  2. Realize that everyone is ignorant, as Will Rogers wisely explained, only on different subjects. Try a little humility!
  3. Impute responsibility for their ignorance correctly — on forces outside your control. As Hellenistic philosophers sagely advised, there is no point in getting worked up about things you cannot appreciably change.
  4. Develop a grand theory of knowledge and nescience, and take comfort in the fact that though people are largely ignorant, we can at least understand why. Once you have a grasp of the reason for something, it becomes easier to handle.
  5. Feel superior to the ignoramuses. If you are proud in your knowledge, you cannot really be bothered by their ignorance, since their ignorance performatively proves your superiority. Revel in their ignorance!

Hmmm. That fifth method seems a bit suspect, eh?

…as answered on Quora, June 10, 2018….

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.


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.


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.


…change a paradigm!

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence?


“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.


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.

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.

3 Great Errors

It is not a common term, this “agnarchism.”

Do a Google search: most hits come back to me and mine. As I have readily admitted before, it is not my coinage, but it was coined for me. Way back in Liberty magazine days, I would often explicate my basic take on political philosophy: I am more confident of the direction we should go than how far.

I hold that, human nature being neither infinitely malleable nor absolutely adamantine, we cannot know where, exactly, the possibility boundary of social action and policy lies the further we are from instantiations of any given imagined possibility. We must withhold judgment, at least admit a high degree of fallibility about the ideal legal-political realm. Especially if we accept as given that current taboo boundaries enable so much exploitation, misery, confusion, and needless death.

But my agnosticism in ideology is a bit more precise, as well as extreme. I am pretty confident that moral reasoning does not readily justify a State. That is philosophical anarchism. But I am much less confident that moral reasoning is perfectly matched to human nature. I suspect there may be something like an Incompleteness Theorem in the ethical domain. I fully accept that social morality rests upon notions of universalizability and reciprocity — but I am not certain that human beings can, in fact, establish and maintain a workable advanced society solely on the basis of the social statics of universal laws and reciprocal habits of action.

IMG_1239Human beings are primates. We share a lot with other primates. And these similarities are not limited just to violent chimp and peaceful bonobo and hierarchical gorilla. There is some individualistic orangutan in us, too. And, alas, no small amount of baboon.

The human acceptance of hierarchy seems more than adaptable to coercive orders. Indeed, I see a lot of evidence that most humans demand coercion and readily supply coercion. Force is a heady tool, quite addictive. Can man curb the habit not cold turkey but limit it to defense and retaliation?

I do not know.

Which makes me not an anarchist (which is what I confess I would like to be) or panarchist (which is what I am on alternative weekdays), but an agnostic-about-the-state. I do not believe that the State is moral. I just doubt that morality is all it is cracked up to be. The State may be inevitable, an ugly, hateful necessity.

And I have held this position explicitly for more than three decades. Traces of my philosophy can be found in the first twelve volumes of Liberty. But I never really wrote it out in full.

Which brings me to Jan Lester, author of Escape from Leviathan (2000), an excellent and challenging treatise as well as an eminently accessible essay, “The Three Great Errors of Most Libertarians” (2013). I am happy to report that I do not make all three of the errors he identifies. But perhaps I do make one or two. Over the next few weeks, I aim to consider Lester’s “new paradigm” for libertarianism. And I will, if I manage to follow through, report on my explorations here, at

At top, notice Lester’s list of errors, which I have, with some effrontery, perhaps, put in imperative form: J. C. Lester’s Three Commandments for Libertarians. In his original form they are

  1. The error of seeking a foundation or justification
  2. The error of taking sides between deontologism and consequentialism, etc.
  3. The error of having no explicit, necessary, and sufficient theory of liberty

And, to prove that “most libertarians” make these errors, just ask philosophically minded libertarians what they think of this list. I bet most would indeed be shocked by at least one of them, perhaps two or all three.

But wait: I have already made an error!

You see, we cannot prove anything, says Lester. Nothing can be “supported”; there can be no “justification.” All we can do is offer conjectures and respond to criticism.

As you may guess, Lester is a critical rationalist. And by that he means he follows in the tradition of Karl “Conjectures and Refutations” Popper, as elaborated by Imre Lakatos, W. W. Bartley III, and others.

Or maybe that would be Karl “Objective Knowledge” Popper. Or Karl “Realism and the Aim of Science” Popper. Could it be Karl “The Poverty of Historicism” Popper?

But before I draw out some not-very-funny joke about intension and extension and book titles, I will simply confess: I do not really disagree much with critical rationalism, though I come at it from the critical commonsensism of C. S. Pierce and his pragmatics of meaning. What separates me from this philosophy is language, word choice. J. C. Lester insists that words like “proof” and “support” and “justification” have no place in legitimate epistemology (not to mention epistemics). And I see his point about the use of the first of those words, for I still hold (if without much enthusiasm) to a variant of the analytic-synthetic dichotomy, and agree that matters of existence map orthogonally from a logical plane. Logic relates to the realm of essences. It does not provide us truth so much as validity. Logic may track the truth of concepts in the purely conceptual realm, but not existents in the external world.

Or something like that. I could be wrong.

To me, though, good indications of the truth about the world constitute “support.” A preponderance of the evidence “justifies” belief. I am not too disturbed by this sort of word usage. More importantly, I strongly suspect that matters of normativity hold to distinct operations and principles of their own (Bentham coined the term “logic of imperation” to handle this aspect of everyday “reality”), and that justifying a norm and justifying an act and justifying a belief are three distinct things.

So, Lester’s first challenge is something I will have to think about. I may be expressing confusion, here. It is late . . . in the morning . . . (why am I not asleep yet — it is nearly seven antemeridian!) . . . and it has been years since I have read what little I have tried of Popper, or what I have read of Peirce, and all the rest. I have been struggling with Meinong recently, and my struggle has not yet ended.

Miles to go before I sleep.

As I will explore in other entries, I am generally in agreement on Lester’s second contention, and in general approach (if not content) regarding his third. Amusingly, Lester calls himself an anarchist. He seems confident of that, though his method seems so fallibilist I am just no sure why he does not identify, with me, under the agnarchist label.

As I go through Escape from Leviathan, and as I edit a video conversation I had with him and Lee Waaks on Sunday, I hope to “live blog” the Lesterian paradigm in this venue for some time to come.

And I will place the videos here, as I put them into final form. We talked, the three of us, for over two hours.