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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

"Libertarianism Is an Objective Political Philosophy"

I run across the above sentiment in discussion groups, usually when someone is arguing something like, "Well, if Hoppe is anti-free-immigration, then he is no libertarian!" (Not to pick on Hoppe: it might be Milton Friedman, or Hayek, or whoever, who is not a "real" libertarian.)

This idea apparently exhibits a severe misunderstanding of why a word means this or that. It is the community of users of a language that decide what a word means, and they decide it by using it. So if most people call both Hayek and Hoppe libertarians, then libertarianism encompasses both their views.

That doesn't mean you can't argue for a more restrictive definition. But then you have to say, "Libertarianism ought to mean X," not "Libertarianism does mean X." You could even continue to use libertarianism in your preferred way, but then you have to declare as much. ("I'm using libertarianism in the restricted sense of...") But, if you fail to convince the community of language users that their common usage is wrong, it is silly to keep trying to insist they are using the word incorrectly. Common practice creates the correct usage of a word, and therefore it cannot be wrong. (Language pedants fight new usages for years, even decades, but they always lose in the end. In a few decades "gooder" and "goodest" will be perfectly acceptable.)

Now, was I violating this principle myself recently? Nah, that post was just a way of getting atheists' goats. If Dawkins and Dennett can call atheists "brights," then I can claim that Dennett is not even a philosopher. Turn around is fair play. I know there is not a line-of-coke-on-Lindsey-Lohan's-dashboard's chance of me getting Plato's definition revived. In normal practice, I will simply hold down my bile and continue to call Daniel Dennett a "philosopher."

9 comments:

  1. I agree completely with your Wittgensteinian approach, except for the snarky remarks about Dennett. But that's expected from an atheistic pseudo-philosopher like me :)

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  2. So Dennett is allowed to call atheists "brights," but no one is allowed to hit back? In any case, Dennett committed what another atheist philosopher called "the worst blunder in the history of philosophy" in calling consciousness "an illusion," since illusions assume consciousness. (Can't find the critic right at the moment, but with a little search it's locatable.) So Dennett is a very silly man, quite apart from his atheism.

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  3. I recall that, during the philosopher/atheist discussion, I madeg the points in your last paragraph, and you didn't seem to agree with them then, or otherwise admit you were just trying to get someone's goat. Instead, you just dug your heels in when others (including me) pointed out the ridiculousness of using that standard.

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  4. Well, Silas, my anticipation that you might say this was a reason for paragraph four. BUT... look at paragraph three. It's fine to point out, "We've lost something by not having Plato's definition." I think that is right.

    Did I write that I actually hoped to *change* the modern definition? I don't think I did.

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  5. From that thread: "I am not trying to define philosophy. I am pointing out something lost from the original usage."

    So, there you have it. What I said there is entirely consistent with what I am saying here.

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  6. "So Dennett is a very silly man, quite apart from his atheism."

    I would argue that Dennett's views on consciousness are not "quite apart" from his atheism at all; in fact, they're closely related. The same reductionist, mechanistic worldview which leads him to atheism *also* forces him to deny qualia, consciousness, and the like (although, strangely enough, not free will). Just like it leads other philosophers to deny mathematical reality, with silly results. They can't take the idea that there might possibly be something more to the world than pure "matter" (whatever that means!).

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  7. Well, Mike, I agree that there is a connection, there are plenty of atheists who do not call consciousness an illusion. (Like the one who said D. had made the worst philosophical blunder in history!)

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  8. Right, I didn't mean to suggest that atheism necessarily implies any particular views about consciousness, materialism, or determinism.

    I simply meant that, in Dennett's particular case, I have the sense that both his atheism as well as his views on consciousness stem from his general worldview, which ironically suffers from a kind of "greedy reductionism" that Dennett himself is wont to criticize in other philosophers.

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  9. "I simply meant that, in Dennett's particular case, I have the sense that both his atheism as well as his views on consciousness stem from his general worldview, which ironically suffers from a kind of "greedy reductionism"..."

    I agree.

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