An important new book by J. C. Lester, defending his own robust and ground breaking form of libertarianism – without foundations – in a critical rationalist manner: Explaining Libertarianism: Some Philosophical Arguments
Except his ‘groundbreaking’ argument, deducing subjective value from the colloquial use of the term ‘liberty’, is a meaningless verbalism; and worse, his abuse of critical rationalism amounts to ‘I can get away with saying this’ rather than ‘I have tried to falsify this every possible way, and can’t, and I’m going to ignore existing theory that is causally and operationally explicative rather than merely verbally metaphorical’.
He pretends to circumvent property, but it’s simply an act of creative application of the term liberty (the demand that the state also adhere to interpersonal prohibitions on parasitism). I thought it was so ridiculous that I didn’t bother refuting it. But then, the difference between meaning and action appears to be lost on most practitioners of philosophy who happily engage in empty language games. And he’s making an empty language game – even if by doing so he stumbled on the correct origins.
Humans, like all mobile creatures, are acquisitive. Emotions are expressions in changes in state of property. We defend our property. We seek opportunities for cooperation because it’s more productive than solitary efforts. But cooperation must be productive and therefore non-parasitic to be rational. So we punish free riders (aggressors) aggressively. Therefore impose no costs upon others for property en toto, else we return to violence, since cooperation is no longer valuable.
Where Lester is potentially right and the Anarchists are definitely wrong, is that his theory does not seek to justify the conclusion that several (private) physical property alone is definable as property, and enforceable as property rights, but that any cost that the individual bears is defined by the individual as property. in other words, property is subjective: that which we have invested in acquiring without parasitism upon that which others have invested in acquiring.
Cooperation also determines the scope of property rights that we are willing to enforce, despite the subjective value definition of property. So we cooperate to produce property rights as well as cooperate to produce that which we subjectively determine is property.
Liberty deserves better than empty verbalism.
Lee C Waaks <He pretends to circumvent property, but it’s simply an act of creative application of the term liberty (the demand that the state also adhere to interpersonal prohibitions on parasitism). I thought it was so ridiculous that I didn’t bother refuting it.> Apparently you thought it so ridiculous you may not have actually read his book. Lester does not equate liberty with property because he has a “pre-propertarian” theory of liberty. There is nothing wrong with eschewing a colloquial use of the word “liberty” if it helps to clarify what we mean by liberty. In his view, liberty is the absence of proactive impositions. Liberty is not equivalent to property/property rights because property rights are a solution to a problem. What is the problem? The reduction of impositions. What are impositions? A flouting of our liberty. In any event, liberty is hardly synonomous with liberty in today’s academy or popular culture.
Lee C Waaks <Where Lester is potentially right and the Anarchists are definitely wrong, is that his theory does not seek to justify the conclusion that several (private) physical property alone is definable as property, and enforceable as property rights, but that any cost that the individual bears is defined by the individual as property. in other words, property is subjective: that which we have invested in acquiring without parasitism upon that which others have invested in acquiring.> Lester does not attempt to justify any conjecture as he states repeatedly in several essays/books. His unjustified conjecture is that liberty delivers more want satisfaction and liberty. Why does he thinks this? For many of the reasons that you do.
—“Lester does not equate liberty with property because he has a “pre-propertarian” theory of liberty.”—
[N]o. That’s just the word-game he uses. (And in doing so abuses critical rationalism on a scale that only a rationalist could.) It’s embarrassing really.
Oh wait, “People use the term liberty as such… therefore….”. OMG. Honestly?
– We move, we remember, so we can acquire.
– We acquire. When we acquire, costs are subjective, therefor value is subjective.
– We developed emotions to reward us for acquisition and punish us for loss.
– We defend what we remember having acquired (property). We developed emotions to reward us for defense, and punish us in the presence of theft or loss.
– We cooperate (to increase production). We developed emotions that reward us for cooperation, and punish us for failure.
– Cooperation evolved in-group (kinship), We evolved to grant priority to in-group members. (males more so than females who were portable between groups of males)
– We prohibit free riding (to preserve the incentive to cooperate) even in kinship groups, by defending production with the same vehemence we defend our property. We developed emotions (moral intuitions) to prevent parasitism.
– We developed moral intuitions to eliminate or control alphas (to wider distribution of mates).
– We developed norms for more elaborate rules preventing parasitism.
– We developed myths rituals and religions for institutionalizing them.
– We developed laws to institutionalize them further.
– We developed property rights as a contractual limit upon what our group of mutual insurers (those we cooperate with) are willing to act to enforce without damaging the cooperative incentive itself.
– We developed prohibitions on parasitism via alphas, authorities, norms, rules, rituals, and institutions because it is reproductively to our advantage to control our options.
[N]O PRE-PROPERTY LIBERTY CAN EXIST BECAUSE PROPERTY (Defense of one’s acquisitions) EVOLVED PRIOR TO COOPERATION – MORAL RULES – AND COOPERATION PRIOR TO MORAL CONSTRAINT UPON INSTITUTIONS/AUTHORITY/ALPHAS: LIBERTY.
I don’t disagree with him that (a) value is subjective, and (b) that imposing costs upon others is a violation of the necessary physical law of cooperation, and that this law is the cause of moral intuitions, and moral facts. What I disagree with is that he abused critical rationalism, and committed the kind of rationalist word-game that I would like to see made illegal in matters of property (of all kinds), because it is precisely the vehicle that the other side uses to lie, cheat, steal, free ride AND IMPOSE COSTS upon us with.
You kept advocating his work, and I finally read it. But it’s nonsense. It’s 20th century pseudoscience.
So, it’s not that I don’t understand. It’s that he worked backward from liberty and therefore justified it rather than constructed it from first principles by causal necessity and then criticized it.
He said that I wasn’t doing philosophy, that he was doing philosophy, and that I was doing anthropology or social science. He’s right. That’s what I’m doing. Worse: I’m actively trying to outlaw what he is doing, as Hayek’s warning against 20th century mysticism.
The only reasons philosophy and science are not synonyms are (a) that prior to now, we didn’t understand that there is but one logical rule to morality – prohibition imposition of costs, or positively stated, requirement for voluntary transfer. And (b) that without operationalism (action) it is impossible to eradicate imaginary information from rational content. In other words, there isn’t any difference between philosophy and science any longer, and it’s time to put rationalism to bed along with mysticism.
Lee C Waaks <No. That’s just the word-game he uses. (And in doing so abuses critical rationalism on a scale that only a rationalist could.) It’s embarrassing really.>
There is no word-game here. He’s simply trying to get to the meaning of liberty. It’s an exercise in clarification. Liberty — in a political sense — is about interpersonal relations. We can see (and daily experience) the myriad ways in which we can impose upon each other. Why a “pre-propertarian” theory of liberty? Because it brings into great relief the problem we are trying to solve, i.e. how to all get along; a modus vivendi. Property is a solution to that problem but property is not liberty itself.
<He said that I wasn’t doing philosophy, that he was doing philosophy, and that I was doing anthropology or social science. He’s right. That’s what I’m doing. Worse: I’m actively trying to outlaw what he is doing, as Hayek’s warning against 20th century mysticism.>
Of course, Lester incorporates sociology/anthropology (economics) into his views. It informs his conjecture that liberty will serve mankind best.
You accuse him of word-games and mysticism but all he has done is conjecture that libertarianism will best promote liberty and welfare. His writing is very lucid and practically devoid of academic jargon.
Meaning(Allegories of experiences) = “Recursive”, un-laundered of imaginary content. bias and error.
Description(Names of operations) = “True”, laundered of imaginary content, bias, and error.
You have to ask you self how silly it is to say “I am trying to find the meaning of x”. That it itself is a fascinatingly ridiculous question.
It’s a violation of existence. How does that ‘meaning’ exist? how did it come to be? Why is it possible to deduce ‘truth’ from ‘meaning’?
Liberty has a long etymological history. We can observe the content that was added and removed from it (which is how words evolve, and analogies evolve).
This is why philosophy is relegated to comparative religion. That at postmodernism.
Lee C Waaks <You have to ask you self how silly it is to say “I am trying to find the meaning of x”. That it itself is a fascinatingly ridiculous question.>
Words don’t matter too much. A definition is a tautology. But what happens when a socialist claims he is for “liberty” and a libertarian claims he is for “liberty”? We might want to clarify; try to get at something. What is liberty? Surely it relates to how we get along? And surely this has to do with not imposing on one another? Hence, his view of liberty. It’s not much of a stretch and it’s very coherent. Lester’s argument is pre-properarian, so it avoids equating liberty with property, thereby avoiding accusations from socialists of question begging. It’s also objective: whatever the moral implications, we cannot deny an imposition is real if someone says he has been imposed upon (unless he/she is lying). It would be hard for a socialist to argue that he prefers to be imposed upon! That’s where the issue of welfare comes in: Lester can argue/conjecture that libertarianism produces more welfare *in addition to minimizing impositions* by employing sociological/empirical arguments. Clearly, if libertarianism (or propertarianism…whatever) led to horrible outcomes, we would not want it, so we might have to surrender some liberty. But liberty and welfare appear to be highly compatible.
[Y]ou mean, justify.
It’s ok. It’s hard to accept, but it’s an elaborate justifiation that relies upon the fact that you (and he apparently) cannot intuit or articulate the causal relations under the analogies that you (and he ) are using.
His argument is not pre-propertarian. It can’t be, because imposing costs upon others whehter yo ucall them psychic or some other point of view, is tautological with property, since all changes in state that cause decreases in satisfaction (that we know of) are changes in property (that which one bears costs to gain or lose). If we say he experiences a cost, or he feels a negative emotion, or his satisfaction is decreased, or his anticipated inventory has declined is merely verbal – tautological. In the end, it’s subjective value. The objectve change in state is the one I described.
The fact that this verbalism fools you is understandable, although it does frustrate the hell out of me, because it’s evidence of how difficult it is to require truthful speech: internally consistent, externally correspondent, operationally defined, falsified, and moral (free of imposed cost/involuntary transfer).
His argument fails the requirement for operational definition. It is non-causal, but merely allegorical. The fact that the allegory overloads your rational ability is no different from the fact that you cannot anticipate the consequences of declaring a set of axioms in mathematics, despite the fact that all such consequences are deterministic.
Hoppe justified his arguments. Rothbard his. Mises his. And Lester his. It’s convenient to work from the conclusion to the premise.
The question is not whether you CAN say something, but whether having tried to defeat it, the answer remains. He didn’t falsify his argument. I did.
His argument fails the test of operational (causal) articulation. It is constructed of analogies taking advantage of the confusion of mixing the point of view of the observer and observed phenomenon.
Conversely, the operational example I gave survives scrutiny under evolutionary necessity, is operationally possible, and etymologically correspondent. Liberty means that no authority violates moral rules, and moral rules evolved in interpersonal cooperation, prohibiting free riding (the imposition of costs) and
Rationalism is the best way to lie. It works as a means of lying because it is possible to overload us by analogies, and not know it, whereas operational definitions, if they overload us, we do know it.
We can make such catastrophic errors because we WANT TO MAKE THOSE ERRORS. That’s th epurpose of justification. If we overload our reason, we can activate our intuition. Others can use suggestion on us. But we can use it on ourselves.
Science isn’t anything other than a set of moral rules of falsification. And falsification isn’t anything other than eliminating our abiilty to overload, intuit, bias, lie, and err.
Lee C Waaks <His argument is not pre-propertarian. It can’t be, becasue imposing costs upon others whehter yo ucall them psychic or some other point of view, is tautological with property, since all changes in state that cause decreases in satisfaction (that we know of) are changes in property (that which one bears costs to gain or lose).>
We can, conceptually speaking, think in pre-propertarian terms. Yes, costs are tautological with property in the sense that imposing a cost means imposing a cost on someone’s person (assuming self-ownership) or an external physical object one seeks to own/control. But we can easily imagine a state of affairs without clear (or no) property rights and then see the problems/impositions that exist without them and the solutions/minimization of costs that result when we implement property rights. For example, if you were marooned on a deserted island and Friday shows up, it would impose upon Friday if you were to claim the entire island and all its resources for yourself, thereby forcing Friday to starve to death (assuming he doesn’t choose to kill you). On the other hand, Friday shouldn’t take your harvested food supply as that would impose upon you. But you could both share the island’s food stuffs and even cooperatively hunt/gather. You could even create property rights in a lagoon for bathing, i.e. you bathe on Tuesday/Thur and he bathes on Mon/Wed. You seem to argue as if property rights inhere in the physical objects you have created or fenced in or are currently farming, etc.
—“We can, conceptually speaking, think in pre-propertarian terms.”—
That’s Verbalism. (You should try to state that operationally. Meaning: existentially.) I know of no circumstances in which humans can possibly exist without property, nor can I imagine how humans would act without the existence of property. There are no conditions under which humans exist and are conscious and capable of action in which property does not exist: that which the human is willing to defend from taking or destruction or punish because of taking or destruction.
No pre-property condition exists. Emotions reflect changes in state of property.
I may have obtained property rights by your consent, and property rights cannot exist without your consent, but I can demonstrate the existence of property in all cases where human beings also exist. Humans cannot exist without it. Whether alone or in groups.
–“Yes, costs are tautological with property in the sense that imposing a cost means imposing a cost on someone’s person”—
Actually, both Jan and I agree that this is **causing someone to experience a negative sensation***, and that the negative sensation is caused by the perceived increase or decrease in one’s expended effort to obtain, or required effort to replace(whenever one discovers such an affect, if ever).
–“(assuming self-ownership) or an external physical object one seeks to own/control.”–
Self-ownership is an unnecessary, justificationary nonsense-term. Either I expended effort to obtain something, would be required to expend effort to defend something, or would be required to expend effort to replace something, or I anticipate obtaining something that now I cannot, or must bear additional costs to obtain.
My property is that which I expended effort to obtain, I choose to defend, seek restitution for, or seek to punish the taking or destruction or taking of.
–“But we can easily imagine a state of affairs without clear (or no) property rights”–
Corrected: we can imagine a state of affairs in which parties have not agreed to grant one another the promise not to impose costs upon the other of one or more kinds.
And as such we can say that we can imagine a state of affairs in which no property RIGHTS exist, because no such RIGHTS exist until an agreement (tacit or explicit) has been made between the parties.
—“and then see the problems/impositions that exist without them and the solutions/minimization of costs that result when we implement property rights.”—
Now we are talking about a contractual right not to impose costs upon others, but property demonstrably unconditionally existed prior to any such agreement. Property precedes the contractual agreement not to impose costs upon each other. This is a purely empirical statement. Almost all creatures demonstrate this to behavior. They must. It is a necessity.
—“for example, if you were marooned on a deserted island and Friday shows up, it would impose upon Friday if you were to claim the entire island and all its resources for yourself, thereby forcing Friday to starve to death (assuming he doesn’t choose to kill you).”—
His presence is an imposition, unless we come to agreement. If no such agreement is reached, then killing each other is clearly the preference. One is not better than the other per-se. Cooperation is a better alternative only if it is indeed a better alternative. Otherwise simply killing him seems to be a better idea.
—“On the other hand, Friday shouldn’t take your harvested food supply as that would impose upon you. But you could both share the island’s food stuffs and even cooperatively hunt/gather. You could even create property rights in a lagoon for bathing, i.e. you bathe on Tuesday/Thur and he bathes on Mon/Wed.”–
Well you, it may be a linguistic artifact, but you are now entering into ‘should’ territory. I don’t make should arguments. I leave that for priests. And I dont resort to intuition and emotion in order to make decisions. Logical Decidability cannot depend upon introspection. Science requires that we eliminate those contaminants from our judgements – otherwise we cannot warranty that we are speaking truthfully.
So, Friday “can or cannot, usefully can, or cannot usefully, prefers to or prefers not to.” Now, it is possibly wiser to keep the option open for cooperation since cooperation is terribly valuable, but the question of ‘should’ never enters the conversation. It is either an advantage or not.
–“You seem to argue as if property rights inhere in the physical objects you have created or fenced in or are currently farming, etc.”—“–
I say nothing of the sort. I say that man universally demonstrates that which is his property by that which he defends, as demonstrated, visible, empirical evidence of experiencing an imposed cost upon him.
A property RIGHT is obtained by entry into a contract. So, it is not, and cannot be, that I have a property RIGHT prior to the contract, it is that I have incurred costs and as such defend my property from destruction or theft.
However, property is a name for an experience, which produces an action. The right is external to the property.
There are no conditions under which property does not exist because human perception of negative or positive experience could not exist, because human positive and negative experience is caused by the change in the state of property, wehre property is that which the individual experiences cost in the accumulation, defense, and loss.
Lee C Waaks
Thanks for your reply Curt.
<I know of no circumstances in which humans can possibly exist without property, nor can I imagine how humans would act without the existence of property. There are no conditions under which humans exist and are conscious and capable of action in which property does not exist: that which the human is willing to defend from taking or destruction or punish because of taking or destruction.>
Of course, even the USSR had property. There has always been property, even prior to the state. And there has also been collective ownership, too. A pre-propertarian theory does not deny that physical control over resources (private, collective or mixed) is necessary for human flourishing but it does allow us to show what liberty is without making it synonymous with property or property rights. Property rights are not synonymous with liberty because property rights are what we use as a defense against impositions. For example, if I paint a picture with resources I have gathered, we could argue that I own it even in a “state of nature”. If you come along and destroy it, you have imposed upon me. This is an objective fact. Property rights are not synonymous with liberty because property rights are designed to stop impositions like e.g. you destroying my painting. “Pre-propertarian” is not referring to a world without property; it’s referring to a theory of liberty not based on property rights themselves. This theory does not deny the near timeless existence of property; it merely states what liberty is in terms of a modus vivendi in a world where property (collective and private) already exists.
3) normative rules->property ‘rights’->law of property rights.
4) expansion of cooperation and reduction of transaction costs and local rent seeking by centralization(monopoly) of rules->
5) political application of morality(liberty) in response to centralization.
6) expansion of norms to enforce political morality (liberty)
7) expansion of laws to enforce political morality (liberty)
That is the historical, causal, and praxiological evolution of our institutions in biological, normative, and institutional forms. That is not only what occurred, but what MUST occur since information does not exist in the prior states. Just as ‘liberty’ does not exist in prior states, because ‘liberty’ requires an organized means of imposing costs upon others. That does not exist, and cannot exist, prior to property.
There is no condition under which property in fact does not exist, because it exists prior to cognition of it, prior to cooperation, prior to society, prior to norms, prior to government, prior to state.
Property is a demonstrable, empirically observable, empirically testable, universal behavior. Property rights whether in normative or legal form, exist after the evolution of cooperation.
At this point I am talking science, and you are not.
As such, any position you take is, of necessity, for the purpose of justifying some unscientific argument or unscientific position.
Verbalisms are nonsense stories we tell ourselves in order to justify our wants.
As far as I know quod erat demonstrandum.
Lester’s work is nonsense. It isn’t evil nonsense. Since his arguments justify his presuppositions, then his justification is at least a moral one.
[S]o I have tried multiple times now to separate existential property: that which we defend – from property rights: that which a community consents to enforcing. But this seems to be escaping you. Individuals demonstrate ‘property’ without the existence of other humans. Just as all animals do.
Demonstrated property(existentially observable) versus property rights(“promises to insure”).
QUESTION: Curt, would you say that those steps that you list in our evolution are provable? Is this argument provable using current scientific literature? For example, “We developed emotions to reward us for acquisition and punish us for loss.” Is there science lit on this?
Maybe a better question: Does every step need to be provable in the scientific literature?
This is a great question.
Science does not ask us to prove so much as attempt to disprove that which corresponds to the facts. Theories demonstrate explanatory power, and increasingly parsimonious (simple), internally consistent, externally correspondent, operationally possible theories, are pretty good theories. The more durable they are the better.
Yes, the literature exists on evolutionary development. Most of it is listed on my web site’s reading lists. Most of it has been developed in the past thirty years. It is getting so consistent that it is hard to argue with it. (Which is good, because it contradicts postmoderns and progressives).
But we can also look to evolutionary necessity, which is an operational argument: each of these behaviors that I describe exists at different states of development in many different organisms. (See Butler Schaeffer’s book for a non technical discussion.) But each depends on a prior state of development. You have to have the prior before you can have the latter.
(There aren’t any exceptions – evolution largely increases complexity – although having that argument is not an easy one given the simplicity of a virus as a suite of parts, versus the evolution of a virus into a complex organism and then the gradual loss of increasingly unnecessary parts).
Now, next, if we take the physicist’s methodology and say what information was necessary to construct X, the information does not exist in prior states, only in later states. (I hope this is obvious, but if it isn’t then tell me).
So the argument is internally consistent, externally correspondent, operationally possible, and it is extremely parsimonious. Extremely. It is a very simple argument: We move so that we can access more calories. We remember so that we can access them better. We collect because we can access them better and more consistently. We cooperate because it is more productive (vastly so), we evolved morality (anti-parasitism) as a warning against punishment by others for free riding upon them, and as an instinct to punish free riders. We developed language to teach offspring, to negotiate, and control by gossip. As numbers increased we developed norms, traditions, religions, and laws, and political systems to maintain the incentives to both produce and to abstain from parasitism (outside of kin).
This is an extremely simple argument. It will be very difficult to find a superior argument. Just as it is turning out that almost all of nature is far more violent than we humans are – despite our status as super-predators.
So, briefly, I am very confident that while no scientific argument is provable, scientific arguments are defendable from criticism, and can survive. A law is a theory we simply cannot discover a means of disproving. The problem for anyone with an opposing theory would be in providing a more parsimonious (simplistic) correspondent consistent, and operationally possible argument.
I am not saying that such a thing is impossible. Just that I know the literature, and no such argument exists. And I am pretty confident that any future argument that improves upon my argument will in fact, improve it, not falsify it.
Thanks as always.
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