Sunday, August 03, 2008

Who's to Say What's Right or Wrong?

this article on philosophers telling us what is right or wrong is quite interesting. Not so much for the actual point but for the methodology and hidden assumptions going on there.

first is the linguistic nitpicking.
he has a list of things that philosophers know including gems like "there is no right to life" he argues that for example you have no right to take another persons kidney in order to preserve your life - therefore no right to life.

fair enough but if he is going to nit pick lets take one of his statements
I have a right to free speech and publication I have no right of publication

you don't have a right to free speech - what if you freely said fire in a theater - or freely said it through a loudspeaker next to a guys head and killed him? Either you discount such things as obvious exceptions or you cant say much at all about rights. Non philosophers (for example politicians and lawyers) are not unaware of those issues.

the second is it seems to assume a reasonably right leaning perspective

For similar reasons, (F8) Article 25 of the 1948 United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, which says that everyone has a right to food, clothing, and housing, is simply false.
If this were true, then a state that failed to furnish such things to someone would be violating his rights.

Is that supposed to be a disproof? all it means is that most states are breaching the rights of their citizens - well this is in the journal of libertarian studies - do any libertarians doubt that the state is breaching citizens rights?
he also uses the starving African example to argue that we don't have an obligation to prevent harm - but now its the non libertarian philosophers who could be looking at him a bit strangely.

Funny he also devotes a large section to a ridiculous unfounded critique of deference to authority.

A brighter hope is that a superior species will evolve that lacks this perverted tendency to worship authority, and that it will wipe out homo sapiens

the problem with this (besides him wanting to wipe us out) is that he assumed bad authority that wants to hurt people - in reality the law is generally better than anarchy and for example if we fully privatized all nuclear weapons the world would probably not be a safer place.

After all this drivel he goes on to conclude that we should defer to philosophers just like we might defer to doctors or engineers. Well to actually put a libiterian hat on - the reason why we can be confident a doctor will give good advice is because his job and financial wellbeing depends on it and the medical associations reputation depends on it too so they will ensure he is trained in such a way as to 'do no harm'. Similarly with engineers. Philosophers - not so much.

A famous philosopher is a person who is able to explain his positions well in the form of publishable articles. He is probably very smart but if he gives you bad advice you probably can't tell and no one else will care because thats not the standard he is assessed on.

They also are not much use for public policy either becuase public policy is about two things pragmatically trying to achieve simple goals (like GDP, life expectancy etc) or getting reelected. the politicians dont need philosophers to tell them what GDP is nor do they need philosophers to tell them how to get relelected, the philosopher can only tell them what they "should" do. Which at it's best seems like an inferior way to target the first issue (or in as far as its based on intuitions and inferior way to achieve the second).


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