The worst libertarian argument ever

Surprise! I am not going to criticize libertarianism here, and I expect that most libertarians will agree with me on this point. Certainly, people like Rand and Rothbard would.

But there is a certain subspecies of libertarian who makes the following sort of argument:

"We know that morality is all just subjective preferences. So no one has any right to interfere with these subjective choices of others, so long as they concern consenting adults."

But if the first sentence is true, then the second sentence appears to be nonsense, as it seems to assert that it would be objectively wrong for someone to interfere with these choices. But that, of course, contradicts the assertion of the first sentence.

In short, if the Taliban enjoy stoning an adultress now and then, where does this sort of libertarian get off griping about their subjective preferences? After all, it is just his subjective preference that they stop.

By the way, it is not just this type of libertarian who has this problem: John Rawls' theory of justice runs aground on similar shoals.

8 comments:

  1. I asked you this In a previous thread as well, but have you read Rothbard's "Ethics of Liberty"? Bob Murphy claims that in that book Rothbard makes an argument for the protection of libertarian property rights that does not depend on the immorality of property rights violations. That such an argument could possibly work seems absurd to me, but is Bob right that Rothbard makes such an argument?

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    1. I've read it but don't recall the argument.

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    2. have you read Rothbard's "Ethics of Liberty"? Bob Murphy claims that in that book Rothbard makes an argument for the protection of libertarian property rights that does not depend on the immorality of property rights violations. That such an argument could possibly work seems absurd to me, but is Bob right that Rothbard makes such an argument?

      I just had a horrible vision where I get hit by a bus, and then the only thing people have of my legacy is a YouTube of, "An Oral History of the Work of Robert Murphy, as Told By Keshav Srinivasan."

      Keshav, I'm sure I said something that made you think I meant the above, but I don't agree with that statement either.

      The title of the book was the "Ethics" of Liberty. So clearly Rothbard was building up a normative framework.

      Indeed, part of why Rothbard was so giddy upon reading Hans Hoppe's argumentation ethics, was that Rothbard had previously thought that you had to start with a normative premise in order to derive libertarian property rights.

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  2. Gene, I don't have a horse in this race, but I'm curious about something. Do you differentiate between ethics and morality, and if so, how? If not, why?

    Serious question. It's something that I've been thinking about lately.

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    1. In general use, they seem interchangeable to me.

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    2. I think ethics, at least in many situations, implies adherence to a stated code of conduct. It may not be immoral for a professor to boink a student, or a juror vote to acquit a guilty man.

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  3. Gene, I think you are pointing to the profound inability for folks to understand the terms "subjective" and "objective". Professional philosophers would be *embarrassed* to make this kind of argument!

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  4. Your comment about Ralws is interesting. Could you expound on that in a seperate blog entry? Explain how his theory of justice runs aground on similar shoals...Thank you

    senyoreconomist

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