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Monday, July 25, 2011

My Strawman Has Another Firstname, It's 'W' 'A' 'L' 'T' 'E' 'R'...

and the last name is Block. Right in the first paragraph, what does Dr. Block say? "In [libertarianism], there are only negative obligations."

Damn that Block and his hatred of libertarians, always setting up "strawmen" to try to "smear" their good name!

8 comments:

  1. Gene,

    A negative obligation is still an obligation, is it not? I never consented to refrain from murdering my neighbor, but libertarians would nonetheless impose an anti-murder law on me. (And rightly so). So it seems problematic to accuse libertarians of denying "obligation" generally.

    Libertarians are clearly distinguishable in this regard from nihilists, Thelemites, Stirnerite egoists, etc., all of whom do indeed deny the legitimacy of obligation in the general sense. It's understandable that a libertarian reading your original post might (mis?)interpret it as lumping him together with the above-mentioned groups and feel offended. Perhaps if you had qualified your post to take into account the more specific type of obligation with which you were concerned (and which libertarians do in fact deny), it would not have provoked the response it did.

    Full disclosure: I am a libertarian, myself. But I enjoy reading your blog even (especially) when I disagree with it. You are one of the very few informed critics of libertarianism and often challenge me to re-think my views, so thank you for that!

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  2. Mike, sure, but:

    1) Here is a definition from dictionary.com: "a duty imposed legally or socially; thing that one is bound to do by contract, promise, moral responsibility, etc."

    So it is more common to view an obligation as something you are obliged to *do*, not *not do*. So I thought it would be obvious what I meant. And, indeed, some people did get it immediately.

    2) And I believe I clarified as soon as any confusion appeared.

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  3. "Full disclosure: I am a libertarian, myself."

    Don't worry, it can be cured.

    "But I enjoy reading your blog even (especially) when I disagree with it."

    Thanks for your kind words.

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  4. "Don't worry, it can be cured."

    Ha! Well, naturally, I think *you* can still be cured. But we'll see.

    Anyway, a more important concern to me than statism, at the moment, is eliminative materialism a la Patricia Churchland. On that issue, at least, I think we're on the same side. This was a very amusing article, by the way: http://www.lewrockwell.com/callahan/callahan149.html

    Was it really based on a paper you were grading?

    If you have any good recommendations along these lines (non-reductionistic/eliminativst account of the intersection between neuroscience and philosophy of mind), they'd be much appreciated.

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  5. EDIT: Sorry, didn't mean to hijack/divert the subject like that. Also, I just realized I misread your introduction; I see now that it was an "assigned" paper, not a student paper.

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  6. Mike, yes, it was a paper I was assigned to read, I think in the course at LSE that we called "The greatest hits of analytic philosophy."

    No worries about threadjacking.

    My friend David Chalmers has done some great work on the philosophy of consciousness. You might check him out.

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  7. Actually, I recently had a discussion with a friend who is an eliminative materialist. In response to some of the things I was saying, she told me (with evident frustration and distaste) "See, now you sound just like David Chalmers."

    So, he was already on my radar screen; your recommendation gives me a second reason to check him out. :]

    BTW, I find it bizarre when eliminative materialists go on about how science can inform our understanding of ethics. But there can be no ethics within an elminativist framework, where agency and free will are denied! The only metaethical position that is logically consistent with eliminative materialism is moral noncognitivism. The fact that prominent eliminativists have written entire books on "morality" without recognizing this obvious truth casts serious doubt on their ability to reason properly or think through the logical implications of their position. They're either terribly confused about what what "ethics" means, or else lack the courage of their conviction to accept the inevitable consequences of their eliminativism. But I digress...

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  8. "But there can be no ethics within an elminativist framework, where agency and free will are denied! The only metaethical position that is logically consistent with eliminative materialism is moral noncognitivism."

    Yes, Mike, this ought to be obvious! That to these people it is not means we are dealing with sophists, with philodoxers. These folks cannot be reached by rational argument: as Socrates/Plato saw, only personal contact, in an attempt to reach their soul and make them aware of the pathos of its state, has any hope of success.

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