The Future of Libertarianism

by Lew Rockwell http://www.lewrockwell.com/2014/05/lew-rockwell/the-future-of-libertarianism/ Note: Sound words here from Lew. The only liberty that has any meaning – or any chance of being achieved – is defined by the non-aggression principle. I suspect that a libertarian society would be somewhat more equal in terms of wealth and income. I also think there would be a lower ceiling to the growth of firms. But I may be wrong. What really matters is getting to a society in which coercion is less omnipresent than it now is.

I do, however, make one concession to the thick libertarians. It is theoretically possible for a society of the bigoted to adhere to the non-aggression principle. In practice, I think arguments would be developed to set the principle aside in much the same way as arguments about market failure have been used to set aside an abstract belief in laissez-faire. As in ancient Athens, or 18th century England, or the American West, libertarianism flourishes best in a spirit of easy-going toleration. But I agree otherwise with Lew. We just don’t need all this recent talk about patriarchy and transgenderism. SIG

Marxists were notorious for infighting over the most trivial differences. One group would secede from another, reverse the word order of the group it had seceded from, and declare itself the new and pure group. The first group, the new group would declare to the world, was part of the fascist conspiracy to suppress the coming workers’ triumph, even though the differences between the two groups were completely undetectable even to an expert.

An informal debate taking place among libertarians these days, regarding whether people ought to be “thick” or “thin” libertarians, is of a different character. It strikes at the very heart of what libertarianism is.

The “thin” libertarian believes in the nonaggression principle, that one may not initiate physical force against anyone else. The thin libertarian thinks of himself simply as a libertarian, without labels. Most “thick” libertarians likewise believe in the nonaggression principle, but they believe that for the struggle for liberty to be coherent, libertarians must be committed to a slate of other views as well.

Before I proceed, let me anticipate an objection. Shouldn’t I spend my time attacking the state instead of criticizing other libertarians?

For one thing, look around at this website: it’s a veritable treasure trove of articles on every subject under the sun. Over the years at LRC we have left no stone unturned in exposing the evils and lies of the state, and building up the libertarian alternative. As a matter of fact, I have a new book on the verge of release that continues in that tradition: Against the State: An Anarcho-Capitalist Manifesto.

Secondly, there’s nothing wrong with what some people disparage as “infighting.” A respectful exchange of ideas is how a school of thought develops. And I agree with Tom Woods: it is not true, as many allege, that libertarians are uniquely prone to arguments among themselves. Just observe the Democrats, the Republicans, your homeowners’ association, Catholics, Protestants, Muslims – or, for that matter, just about anyone.

Proponents of a “thick” libertarianism suggest that libertarians are bound to defend something more than the nonaggression principle, and that libertarianism involves commitments beyond just this. One such proponent recently said, “I continue to have trouble believing that the libertarian philosophy is concerned only with the proper and improper uses of force.” But no matter how difficult it may be for that person to believe, that is precisely what libertarianism is, and that is all it is.

As Murray Rothbard, Mr. Libertarian himself, once explained:

There are libertarians who are indeed hedonists and devotees of alternative lifestyles, and that there are also libertarians who are firm adherents of “bourgeois” conventional or religious morality. There are libertarian libertines and there are libertarians who cleave firmly to the disciplines of natural or religious law. There are other libertarians who have no moral theory at all apart from the imperative of non-violation of rights. That is because libertarianism per se has no general or personal moral theory.

Libertarianism does not offer a way of life; it offers liberty, so that each person is free to adopt and act upon his own values and moral principles. Libertarians agree with Lord Acton that “liberty is the highest political end” – not necessarily the highest end on everyone’s personal scale of values.

We have been told by some libertarians in recent months that yes, yes, libertarianism is about nonaggression and private property and all that, but that it is really part of a larger project opposed to all forms of oppression, whether state-imposed or not. This has two implications for the thick libertarian. First, opposing the state is not enough; a real libertarian must oppose various other forms of oppression, even though none of them involve physical aggression. Second, libertarianism should be supported because the reduction or abolition of the state will yield the other kinds of outcomes many thick libertarians support: smaller firms, more worker cooperatives, more economic equality, etc.

Let’s evaluate these implications one at a time.

To claim that it is not enough for the libertarian to oppose aggression is to fall into the trap that destroyed classical liberalism the first time, and transformed it into modern liberalism. How, after all, did the classical liberalism of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries become the state-obsessed liberalism of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries? How did the once-venerable word liberalism become perverted in the first place? Precisely because of thickism. Sure, twentieth-century liberals said, we favor liberty, but since mere negative liberty – that is, restrictions on the state – doesn’t appear to yield a sufficiently egalitarian result, we need more than that. In addition to restrictions on some state activity, we need the expansion of other forms of state activity.

After all, the new liberals said, state oppression isn’t the only form of oppression in the world. There’s poverty, which limits people’s ability to make life choices. There’s private property, whose restrictions limit people’s ability to express themselves. There’s discrimination, which limits people’s opportunities. There’s name-calling, which makes people feel bad. To focus entirely on the state is to miss these very real forms of harm, the new liberals said.

Sound familiar? Is this not precisely what many thick libertarians are now saying? Attacking the state is not enough, we hear. We must attack “patriarchy,” hierarchy, inequality, and so on. Thick libertarians may disagree among themselves as to what additional commitments libertarianism entails, but they are all agreed that libertarianism cannot simply be dedicated to eradicating the initiation of physical force.

If some libertarians wish to hope for or work toward a society that conforms to their ideological preferences, they are of course free to do so. But it is wrong for them – especially given their insistence on a big tent within libertarianism – to impose on other libertarians whatever idiosyncratic spin they happen to have placed on our venerable tradition, to imply that people who do not share these other ideologies can’t be real libertarians, or to suggest that it would be “highly unlikely” that anyone who fails to hold them could really be a libertarian. That these are the same people who complain about “intolerance” is only the most glaring of the ironies.

Thus the danger of thick libertarianism is not simply that vast chunks of the American population will fail to pass its entrance requirements, not keeping up every ten minutes with what MSNBC informs us is acceptable to believe and say. The danger is that thick libertarianism will import its other concerns, which by their own admission do not involve the initiation of physical force, into libertarianism itself, thereby transforming it into something quite different from the straightforward and elegant moral and social system we have been defending for generations.

Now for the second implication, that opposition to the state should be favored because it will yield egalitarian outcomes. (Of course, the abolition of the state will necessarily increase the level of egalitarianism from the point of view of status; the inequality of status between state officials on the one hand, who today may carry out all kinds of moral outrages with the legitimacy of the state to support them, and ordinary people, who are constrained by the traditional moral rules against theft and aggression, on the other, will no longer exist when the state disappears.) But what if it doesn’t? The claim that firms will tend to be smaller on the free market, and that government policy encourages bigness in business, is far too sweeping a statement about far too complex a phenomenon. What if the absence of the state leads to no change in firm size, or in the employer-employee relationship, or in wealth inequality?

At that point, the question would become: to which principle are thick libertarians more committed, nonaggression or egalitarianism? What if they had to choose?

Lew RockwellLikewise, the hatred of some classical liberals for the Church motivated them to confiscate Church property and impose restrictions of various kinds on Church activity. When it came down to a choice between their belief in liberty and their personal hatred for the Church, their personal hatred won the day, and their supposedly principled opposition to violence was temporarily suspended.

How people arrive at libertarianism is also immaterial. There are various schools of thought that culminate in the principle of nonaggression. Once there, we may of course debate what precisely constitutes aggression in particular cases, and other foundational questions within the general framework of the impermissibility of aggression. But if the school of thought you belong to takes you only partly toward nonaggression, it is not the case that you have discovered a new or better form of libertarianism. Such a case would mean only that you are partly a libertarian, not a different kind of libertarian.

Whether it’s the claim that self-defense laws are “racist,” that Bitcoin is “racist,” or that libertarians ought to throw off “white privilege” – all of which have been advanced by libertarians claiming to have moved beyond our alleged fixation with the nonaggression principle – the various forms of thick libertarianism are confusing the core teaching of what we believe. None of these concerns have the slightest bit to do with libertarianism.

All of these additional claims are a distraction from the central principle: if you oppose the initiation of physical force, you are a libertarian. Period. Now how hard was that?


  1. I have long found the anti clericalism of so many 19th century liberals (less in the United States and Britain than in Continental Europe and Latin America) confusing.

    Property rights – apart from when we are looting the Churches.

    Freedom of speech – apart from when are kicking out the Jesuits.

    And on and on.

    Perhaps it can be explained by aspects of the history of the Roman Catholic Church (terrible Popes such as Innocent III and so on) – but passed crimes, do not justify present crimes.

    That Catholics did bad things in the past does not justify the persecution (and “persecution” is not too harsh a word) of different Catholics in the 18th, !19th, and 20th centuries.

    Also it invites in THE STATE.

    Undermine church schools – and you end up with STATE schools.

    Undermine church welfare – and you end up with STATE welfare.

    Of course it is wrong for the Church to use aggressive force – totally wrong (and wicked).

    But looking to the state as some sort of St George out to slay the evil dragon Church (as so many liberals did – both in Europe and Latin America) leads to exactly that sort of state worship that liberalism was supposed to be fighting against.

    Nor was the English speaking world totally free of this.

    Some of the Westminster Review crowd were anti clericals (seeing the Church of England, of all things, as some sort of evil forces – which needed a much stronger state to destroy) and they also had a weird obsession with attacking the “land monopoly” (based on the confused economics of David Ricardo – eventually refuted by Frank Fetter).

    In my home town of Kettering the 19th century liberals were a bit mad.

    Obsessed with setting up a town council (whether the people wanted one or not).

    And also obsessed with state education (out of the horror that children might go to Anglican schools – even though their were dissenting schools as well).

    And even thinking about “land nationalisation” (as if the state was better than the local land owners) and banning booze.

    Not a road that libertarians should follow.

  2. Horace Mann (and other Prussia worshippers) spring to mind in the context of the United States – people with a deep horror not just of the Catholic Church, but of the Protestant Churches also.

    Again the State as a sort of Saint George out to destroy the evil dragons (the dragons being the churches) with state schools and so on.

    And the ever bigger state being considered “freedom” and “liberty”.

    To this day American “liberals” (this strain or faction of liberals) sincerely see themselves as working for liberty – by working for any ever bigger government. As they do not see the state as the great threat to liberty – they see Christianity as the great threat to liberty.

    Perhaps it is fear of Christian hostility to such things as homosexuality?

    I AGREE that it is wrong for Christians to use aggressive force against homosexuals (or anyone else) – but surely non violent disapproval is not a crime?

    What sort of “thick libertarian” holds that people should be FORCED to express approval of (and to associate with) those they do not approve and do not wish to associate with?

    Surely Lew Rockwell (and, in this case, Sean Gabb) are correct, What matters is the NON AGGRESSION PRINCPLE.

    Not whether (for example) one “celebrates” homosexual acts – but whether or not one uses aggressive force against homosexuals.

    Still let us get down to “brass tacks”.

    For example, is less anti libertarian – California or South Dakota?

    To me the answer is obvious – South Dakota (lower taxes, less government spending, less government regulations).

    So if someone answers “California is more libertarian – because the government celebrates my lifestyle there” I am confronted with a form of “libertarianism” which makes no sense.

  3. Why cannot Libertarians say they favour liberty rather than non-aggression?

    Is stealing usually aggression? I would think not. It would seem that stealing is usually not even noticed by the person robbed yet it is still illiberal. Aggression is not even germane.
    Similarly, whilst private property and the market suits liberty and it is often a good problem solver, too many libertarians [I do not like this longer word, by the bye] seem to think that mere property is more vital than liberty itself.

    But liberty need not include property all, though it will do so in most cases. Liberals value property only as it respects liberty, similarly the market, but liberty itself is the principle and private property and the market the mere means to social liberty. Or we might embrace what Kant called the moral law, that all persons are to be seen as ends, so only as means with their expressed permission. That too seems to respect liberty.

    Posing a ceiling to the growth of firms looks like a mere fetish, Sean, as firms do fade on customer neglect or they grow on customer patronage anyway, so why is any other control needed? The anarchic control of the market seems to be enough.

    Adam Smith was right that there is a long run equality of income embedded in the price system as any high price draws others in to share it that tends to thereby lower it. Short run innovation, changes of fashion, lack of mobility and other things tends to put off the long run price inequality indefinitely but most of those also tend to ensure that the levelling of the market is a levelling up process.

    I do not agree that the liberty of people should be set aside just because the free are bigoted in some or even in many ways. Refusing to reason is an elementary civil liberty.

    What market failure consists of is far from being clear.

    Liberals should, ideally, not tolerate the state.

    Lew Rockwell seems to err in seeing a mere debate as some sort of fighting. His error seems to indicate that he is a Romantic, which is maybe the chief fault in society since the French Riot of 1789. One sign of a Romantic is in imagining that that set of riots was best called a revolution, which in this sense was a completely new start, thus most unrealistic in any case.

    Debate is co-operation with the institutional aim of truth in common between both sides, no matter how eristic or polemic one side or both sides set out to be. To score points in any debate each side needs to have truth-like points.

    There is nothing illiberal in debate.

    As saidabove, pristine liberalism is about liberty and only against proactive force as it scotches someone’s personal liberty.

    Rothbard seems to err if he thinks he has found anyone human who is amoral.

    Liberalism is a moral paradigm but it is logically possible to hold it as a means to some end. It is also possible to reject it on only factual grounds.

    What are the non-state forms of oppression? It is not clear what those are imagined to be. Indeed, mere Political Correctness [PC] alone is indicated here by Rockwell, but that is a stance against liberty.

    Modern liberalism/Statism arose from pristine liberalism owing to love of management and the state by the likes of Joseph Chamberlain. Pristine liberalism did not ever reject the state as clearly as the LA does. But even the LA is an alliance of anarcho-liberals with statists.

    Men like J.A. Hobson loved the state and also politics in the1870s. He hated the free market. Most people in the Liberal Party, from 1870 on, where in agreement with Hobson, largely owing to the influence of Joseph Chamberlain, who attacked Gladstone on a generational meme. He thereby won over most under 40 in the Liberal Party of the UK. He later left in 1886 over Home Rule for Ireland to join the Tories.

    The thing about all those PC aims is that they involve outlawing civil liberties. They go in for privilege for pet groups and under-privilege for the rest of the people rather than for liberty for all.

  4. I think the point here is that we’re asking too much of libertarianism. Libertarianism is just a tendency, like its negative space collectviism. There isn’t a “Collectivist Movement” and nobody asks the fine detail of collectivism. Within collectivism there are various approaches which are movements; socialism, fascism, progressivism, some religious movements, and so on.

    I am currently the one member of the Minarcho-Libertine movement (there is also an Anarcho-Libertine movement, with even fewer members). Minarcho-Libertines prefer the smallest practicable state and reject moral coercion in both the State, civic and private spheres. Minarcho-libertines believe that, so long as no aggression occurs, what other people get up to is none of their business, so Minarcho-Libertines actively oppose peer group pressurisation of others in society. Minarcho-libertines believe in a public square, and the right to shout “knickers” in it, even if that offends someone. Minarcho-Libertines of faith oppose Calvinism and prefer forms of worship which are jolly, and believe that salvation is for all, not just an Elect. Minarcho-Libertines believe that beer and skittles (and internet porn) are positive elements in society, not just merely things to be tolerated, but Minarcho-Libertines even more strongly believe that nobody should feel oligated to indulge in them, or any other thing. Most importantly, Minarcho-Libertines cleave to the mission statement, “mind your own bloody business”.

    I could try to make every libertarian agree with the Minarcho-Libertine movement, and say other libertarians aren’t real libertarians if they prefer somber worship or tut-tutting because the two men at number 27 are “that way”. But that would be wrong. Min-Lib, like An-Cap, and thicks and thins, are all forms of articulation of a libertarian tendency. We shouldn’t ask more than that from Libertarianism.

  5. This is a really excellent piece by Lew Rockwell and I thank Sean for posting it. It sets out clearly and cleanly what libertarianism is and is not, and it seems to me that there is a great tendency for people to lose sight of that. “Yes, we are certainly libertarians, but libertarianism must be about more than just liberty….” Huh?

    Well done.

    Ian, the issue of private (social) moral coercion is a most vexatious one. Sometime we all should discuss it.

    For now I just want to enjoy the excellent posting. :>)

  6. I think one small thing that brought it home to me was a comment by Sir William Hamilton (and it was in his book on logic – of al things).

    Now Hamilton was not one of the Westminster Review crowd (I had come to expect sometimes dodgy things from J.S. Mill and co) indeed he was supposed to be a philosophical rival of Mill (father and son).

    And yet there it was – a university DEFINED as something “established by the state” (historically false as most universities in Europe were established by the Church – and in Hamilton’s day. the early 19th century, many DIFFERENT Churches were setting up universities in the United States).

    And it was not a throw away line – it was in the context of arguing that the state should intervene in the affairs of the University of Edinburgh (really because Hamilton had lost an election for Professor of Philosophy – but he does not make his personal grudge clear).

    And it was not an isolated case……

    Many 19th century Liberals (they called themselves liberals) believed that the state should intervene in the affairs of universities such as Oxford and Cambridge (which received no real taxpayer funding at the time) telling them how to organise their affairs (what they should teach and so on).

    And, David, they did this in the name of LIBERTY or FREEDOM.

    Like 18th Frederick the Great before them (who so many 19th century, and later, people admired) they viewed the state as (at least potentially) a liberater.

    The State would bring “liberty” – “freedom” – freeing humanity from “superstition”, and outmoded traditions and customs.

    This is why one must stand for the NON AGGRESSION PRINCIPLE.

    Just saying “liberty” or “freedom” is not enough – because historically (even back in the 1700s and certainly in the 1800s) many of the people who shouted “liberty” and “freedom” the loudest in practice actually wanted a bigger more interventionist STATE.

    It is still true today – show me a 20th century (or 21 century) Revolutionary or “Liberation” movement (fighting for COLLECTIVISM) and I will show people who say (endlessly) that they are fighting for “liberty”, for “freedom”.

    Because these are nice vague words and always have been – remember Franklin Roosevelt and his “freedom from want” (which he intended to use as an excuse to replace the old American Bill of Rights with a new, collectivist Welfare State Bill of Rates – fortunately “FDR” died) .

    Saying “liberty” or “freedom” is no indication of where someone stands (none) – he (or she) could mean “freedom from want” or “freedom from Christianity” or “freedom from superstition” or “freedom from reactionary traditions and customs” (like some Maoist “Naxal” planning a bomb on some road in India).

    The non aggression principle is a bit less vague – and therefore a bit more useful.

    Although there is a better guide still…….

    Historically collectivists (whether of the Red Flag or the Black Flag sort) have shied away from the word PROPERTY in a positive sense.

    If an organisation has the words “freedom”, “liberty”, “liberation” in its title it is no guarantee of anything good (indeed most such organisations are, and have always been, BAD), but if an organisation has the word “property” in its name – things tend to be better.

    For example John Reeves and his national “Association” (really a private army – although one that operated only within this island, no external war for David to condemn) for the preservation of liberty and PROPERTY against those who supported a French style Revolution WITHIN-THIS-ISLAND.

    See the book “The Loyalists” (University of Kentucky Press) about this private army, sorry “Association”, which in the early 1790s was actually bigger than the regular British army.

    Moving to the late 19th century – the Liberty and PROPERTY Defence League was again a reliable opposition force to the “liberators” of the day (the people who wanted a bigger and more interventionist state).

    What I want to know is if someone supports private property (in the full sense of its CIVIL USE, not just legal-fiction “ownership” as with German “War Socialism” during the latter period of the First World Wart) in large scale means of production, distribution and exchange.

    For a person to tell me that he (or she) supports “liberty” or “freedom” historically (and presently) does not answer that question.

    Even if someone says they are “anti state” it does not answer the question – as they may (as so many Black Flag people do) have simply renamed the state they want “the people” or “the community”.

  7. My apologies – the proper title is “For King, Constitution and County: The English Loyalists and the French Revolution” (oh well at least I remembered publisher correctly – the date of publication is 1983).

    The basic point is not a complicated one.

    Both sides in this (and most) conflict said they supported “liberty” and “freedom” – but only one side said they were fighting to defend PROPERTY.

  8. Good reminder, Paul. This is where the Bleeding Hearts’ theories and vision go off the rails.

  9. Well indeed. For me, to be a libertarian you have to be a propertarian. It seems to me that the anti-propertarians only look at the downside of property- that some people have no land- but not the downside of collectivism- nobody has any land.

    I think one other point worth reflecting on is that socialists have always waxed lyrical about how our primitive ancestors were communists. This is (simplistically) true; there was no individual land ownership as such as we recognise it. But they were also fierce propertarians communally, defending a tribal territory with great ferocity. Being caught on a neighbouring tribe’s land meant certain death. The idea of a utopian past is a myth.

  10. I think the Mills [father and son] were not too bad, Paul.

    Yes, the liberals of the nineteenth century were the LA’s forerunners. They never did see the state as most LAers see it but rather they thought it had its uses. Some LAers still agree there, but I do not.
    Yes, some liberals thought that the state could even promote liberty. They usually also denied it was aggressive. Few see democracy as proactive aggression for example. Debate is needed. No words can dodge all misunderstanding. But I find that understand soon flows. It takes a it of time and discussion, that is all.

    The non-aggression principle is inept for the reasons I said above. Social liberty [we already have individual liberty, as Hobbes said, but we need to respect the liberty of one and all as Locke thought the natural law upheld; rather than mere no proactive aggression though that is part of liberalism] rather than mere non-aggression [meaning no proactive, or gratuitous, aggression but only reactive aggression used in self-defence] is what liberalism aims at. Nor is property directly germane, as I said.

    It is odd what people said in the past but also often odd what they say now. What seems stupid is the “us and them” meme, or the crass idea of enemies. Social liberty has no enemies. The Romantics hate the enlightenment movement but the enlightenment liberals still feel that the thing to do is to enlighten the Romantics.

    Yes, people like the word freedom. I do not think that matters much.
    It is clear enough what liberalism means by social liberty. Many say that the state is social but it is clear enough that the state is anti-social; as well as negative sum and wasteful.

    It is also clear that mere custom or tradition or religion cannot get rid of liberty without the use of the state.

    It is not immediately clear that property is a good problem solver. It is not vital to liberty anyway. Similarly, it is not clear to all that the market is a problem solver. But both do serve liberty.

    There was exactly no chance of what happened in France 1789 spreading to Britain at the time.

    I condemn any gratuitous coercive attacks on others, Paul.

  11. The Mills defended David Ricardo’s economics David.

    Now that would not be too bad if the standard story, that Ricardian economics, was unchallenged was true – but it is NOT true.

    In fact not just German, Italian and French economists opposed such things as the Labour Theory of Value – but many English economists (such as Richard Whately and Samuel Bailey) also opposed it in the 1820s and 1830s.

    So why did these people (basically) go down the memory hole – and the whole thing (the refutation of the Labour Theory of Value) have to be done again in the 1870s?

    Because of the influence of the Mills (father and son) – they used the old method of not refuting opposition, but pretending it did not exist (and that is what the young were taught – the young who used such things as J.S. Mill’s “Principles of Political Economy” as their guide to economics).

    And it was not just the Labour Theory of Value.

    It is also the Ricardian theory of land and rent – the Mills (and those who supported them) managed to make all dissent hopeless (i.e. not reach young minds).

    It was not after the Mills were dead that refutations of Ricardo on land could actually have an a real impact – must importantly that of Frank Fetter.

    Still remember my point about Sir William Hamilton?

    The Mills are NOT to blame for Sir William Hamilton – on the contrary he was a the great rival (in liberal circles) to J.S. Mill in things such as the study of logic.

    And yet Sir William Hamilton also sees a REFORMED state as a liberator.

    The noble State – driving back the forces of ignorance, of superstition, of the Church, of the Tory landowners, of evil Edinburgh University graduates who will hot vote for the great SIR WILLIAM HAMILTON as Professor (unless the noble state makes them – which it should…….).

    This is NOT the liberalism of the Mills (not even I would claim that) this is the “liberalism” of Frederick the Great.

    There is whole faction of liberals (all over the world) who viewed the STATE as the way to freedom, and to enlightenment.

    As long as the state is REFORMED of course – i.e. in the hands of people like themselves.

    Libertarians think otherwise.

    We do not celibate Frederick the Great.

    Or Italian and German “unification” (what did it bring – apart from higher taxes and conscription?).

    Of the state “reforming” things it did not finance.

    So what if universities were in the hands of the “wrong” people if the state does not fund them? And who is the state to decide who are the “correct” people anyway?

    And on and on……….

  12. The French Revolution.

    It is pointless us discussing it David.

    I accept the standard account – for example that the various factions of Revolutionaries murdered hundreds-of-thousands of people all over France And that they had networks of supporters in other nations whom the supported with wars of aggression.

    You utterly reject this history – claiming that the Revolution was just a riot (that the hundreds of thousands of people all over France were not killed) and that there was no chance whatever of it spreading (indeed that there was nothing much to spread).

    I am NOT in the position that Eric Brown (who I met the other day) is over Belson.

    When Eric Brown meets someone who denies what happened at Belson he can say “I know what happened at Belson I WAS THERE”.

    I can NOT say that about France in the 1790s – I was NOT there.

    Therefore I can not say “I was there” to someone who rejects all the normal historical accounts (about both France and Europe).

    So fair enough David – I was not there.

    If you remember my actual comment – I was talking about the “association” (really private army) in Britain at the time.

    They may have all been wrong also.

    By the way……

    This is why intellectual history is less difficult than history-history.

    With intellectual history was is dealing with TEXTS – I can hold a piece of writing by J.S. Mill in my hands and say “well he says here that…”.

    With history-history it is much harder.

    I have no time machine – I can not know for certain anything that happened outside my own experience.

    And YES establishment historians can be wrong.

    When I was a child (many decades ago) I (and other young wargamers) got into an argument with established historians.

    They (basically all of them back then) said that late Roman heavy cavalry could not shock charge.

    “They had no stirrups they would have fallen off their horses”.

    “Then what were the heavy armour and the lances for?”.

    Asked young wargamers.

    “Shut up” explained the learned ones (not quite in those words – but the meaning was plain).

    Well then some people (not me) took a good hard look and Roman saddles.

    The are not like modern saddles they are not flatish – they have raised corners, (like horns).

    They are to keep you in the saddle (without stirrups) which is why late Roman heavy cavalry COULD shock charge (even without stirrups).

    • Yes, the Mills certainly thought that Ricardo was right, Paul
      You are against Ricardo, are you? Why?

      Any idea in economics is going to be challenged. Indeed, we need to challenge any idea at all just to give it proper consideration.

      Yes, there was no end of economists who were not classical economists. The term is from Marx just for those economists who held that there was objective value, that he adopted. Marx called the many others who rejected this idea of objective value “the vulgar economists”.

      In the early 1870s, it was shown that Marx had backed the wrong horse [as had the Mills too, of course] for then Walras, Menger and Jevons introduced in three the marginal theory that affirmed what Marx called vulgar economics. This was a big blow for Marx as he was more devoted to what he called classical economics than he was to communism/socialism. It was more like his whole life’s work than ever was politics.

      Gossen had marginalism in the 1850s but the likes of Whatley were weaker than the classical economists, which is why Marx placed himself with the stronger side.

      However, it is not really the case that any of that matters to liberalism. Marx attempted in his own version of the labour theory to bent it towards socialism with his distinction between labour and labour power but that was thin so he seemed to fail there too.

      The idea of objective value is a howler but Whatley was hopeless in his ideas. He was right that it matters greatly whether we put truth first or in the second place and Marx did habitually put it second. This is why he wrote in get-out ambiguity rather than in Popperian risky bold categorical statements that might be clearly refuted.

      Marx ironically thereby put honour before honesty, or rather the mere appearance of honour before honesty, whenever he used ambiguity in his writings, which was very often. To be honest is to openly accept the risk by being as clear as possible.

      The vulgar economists were not forgotten by Marx. His books are full of them.

      The Mills ignored their opponents? Why do you hold that, Paul? Their books are not ignoring their opponents but criticising them. Which book of the Mills ignored what his opponent held?

      Where in Mill’s 1848 book on economics does he advise we should ignore criticism? You seem to be imagining things, Paul.

      Authors cannot make dissent hopeless, can they?

      I have not read Frank Fetter but he was way later than the Mills. He wrote in the twentieth century, I seem to recall.

      Mill’s rival in logic and the philosophy of science was Whewell rather than Hamilton. Whewell was a forerunner of Popper. But Mill was brave on logic and mathematics; though a failure in many, but not in all ways, on that.

      What is your point about Hamilton, that he was a statist? Even half of the LA still remains statist. But the less of the state we have the better, the lower taxation is, the better.

      Your difference from me seems to be that you want to use the Romantic word revolution for the French Riots of 1789, Paul. There is no revolution in the Romantic off on a tangent sense as there can be no clean beginning or completely fresh start, as Burke saw; but he still used the Romantic sense.

      The standard accounts were written by Romantic statist historians. They always imagine Reds under the bed and they over-rate what the Reds can do.

      You merely imagine that I said that no one was killed in the French Riots or in the wake too. Many were killed in the wake of the Bolshevik coup of 1917 also, that the Romantic ideas of the French riots influenced. But they had no fresh start either. So it is the meaning of Revolution that I reject, for it is as null set as is the meme of faith. There are way more things in the Romantic imagination than there are in reality.

      I fear that I have no idea who Eric Brown is, Paul.

      The Church and King mob showed clearly how things were in Britain from the Gordon Riots onwards. As you know, Burke might well have been killed in those riots. There is nothing liberal about any riots.
      I do not think it is an advantage being there. How many in Northern Ireland from 1969 on understood what was going on there? Not one that I know of.

      The backward historians were not there more often than not, anyway. Walter Scott thought up a lot of their labels like the War of the Roses many decades later.

      Why do you need to be there to sort out whether it was a Romantic Revolution, or not, Paul? Were you also not there when the three bears found that someone had been at their porridge? Burke worked out what was going to go on even before the events. So he did not need to be there.

      There may well have been private armies but they are not what stopped Tom Paine from being right about what he was fool enough to call a revolution. As he left Britain for France he saw the sort of mob that were the exact opposite to his aims but rather more akin to Burke’s, [though they nearly killed him a decade, or so, earlier].
      The thing about what you call history/history is that it hardly matters to anything now, Paul.

      I am not concerned so much with the past in criticising the Romantics but rather with their current bogus ideas.

      Why you feel your past experience aids you to sort things out is far from clear.

      Anyone can get things wrong, as John Locke rightly said. Expertise is no immunity from the dire epistemological problem.

  13. Actually I said that whilst the stranglehold was in place refutations of Ricardo (on land or whatever) could not have an effect – Frank Fetter was fortunate enough to be writing later.

    J.S. Mill on value – “the theory of value is settled”.

    And generally (when Mill is writing on what local government should do – or other matters) I got used to the line “everyone agrees” coming up. which generally meant that lots of people did not agree, but he was not going to mention them (indeed he was going to pretend they did not exist).

    It is a highly effective method.

    Another method is the straw man.

    Mil presents Bentham as the typical liberal (not good – 13 departments of state covering just about everything, I wish Mill has picked someone else as his example of a liberal).

    But, in the same essay, who is presented as the spokesman for conservatives?

    The poet Coleridge – not exactly a good example.

    Did actual conservative politicians (such as Canning or Robinson) go around citing Coleridge in their political speeches and so on?

    Not really – they normally cited Edmund Burke.

    But discussing Burke (even to refute him) would have brought him to the attention of the young – so chat about Coleridge instead (the straw man).

    A tactic the Westminster Review people inherited from the Bowood Circle (Bentham. James Mill and so on – supported by the Earl of Shelburne)

    And from Shelburne we go back to Sir William Petty (right back in the 1600s)and to Thomas Hobbes (pushed by SOME of the Westminster Review crowd in the early 19th century – and by the “New Liberals” in the late 19th century and early 20th centuries).

    And before him – to Francis Bacon.

    Oakeshott tended to stop with Bacon in his account of what we would call “statist” thinking in England – but (as Oakeshott himself later admitted) it goes back further.

    For example Thomas Cromwell had ideas for government departments covering XYZ in the 1500s that are oddly similar to Bentham’s ideas in the early 1800s….

    I hear the not so gentle footsteps of Ian approaching…………..

    And I am tired.

    Sunday nastiness today – Bank Holiday nastiness tomorrow.

  14. —–
    And generally (when Mill is writing on what local government should do – or other matters) I got used to the line “everyone agrees” coming up. which generally meant that lots of people did not agree, but he was not going to mention them (indeed he was going to pretend they did not exist).

    It is a highly effective method.

    Yes, it is. And it’s still used very often today, along with its sibling “nobody wants” or “nobody is advocating.”

    I cannot think of a single proposition that “anyone agrees with” or that “no one wants/advocates,” no matter how silly.

    Hell, I sometimes run into the “we can’t prove that we exist” BS, even though anyone saying that is proving that he exists BY saying it (if you don’t exist you can’t say anything at all).

  15. The only manner in which one might say that perhaps existence does not exist is that it might be a fabrication, the “brain in a jar” or, these days, “we are actually in a Matrix type simulation”.

    My own conclusion regarding that is that it is irrelevant. In exploring reality, we mean the reality we perceive, even if it turns out that there is a metareality. We have no access to the metareality so it is pointless to discuss it.

    One thing has somewhat bothered me of late, and that is dreaming. An old philosophical question is “how do you know you are awake? What if this is all a dream?” and the usual answer to that is that being awake “feels” different to dreaming. Once I wake up, I am absolutely certain I am awake.

    But, a few months ago I had a dream in which I suspected I was dreaming. Everything was totally normal in it, and I distinctly remember within the dream concluding that I “felt awake” so I surely must be. And then I woke up. This has left me feeling, in quiet moments, a little worried.

    To further elucidate on that point, it’s my opinion tha…

    Oh my god, a big red GAME OVER just appeared!

    • —–
      The only manner in which one might say that perhaps existence does not exist is that it might be a fabrication, the “brain in a jar” or, these days, “we are actually in a Matrix type simulation”.

      Yeah, I’ve done some skull sweat on that. And came to the same conclusions as you. If we exist as pieces of a simulation,well, we still exist. We are what we are … and we are SOMETHING.

      Or at least I am. I can’t be entirely sure about the rest of all y’all, but it seems to me that the only rational way forward is to assume that you’re real and deal with you as such.

      • I did once toy with the idea that, perhaps, Earth and us exists, but I am a person of the future deliberately experiencing a technological simulation of the past (May 2014) in order perhaps to understand what it was like to live there. Here. Whatever. Perhaps it’s really they year 2525, and “I” am a woman who is being 21st century man for an hour in a simulator.

        Then The Matrix stole my idea, the bastards.

  16. A lot of it was an honest mistake – or at least started out that way.

    For example liberals promised that the new council in Manchester (under the Municipal Reform Act of 1835) would mean lower “rates” (property tax) – but the rates went UP under the new council (which replaced the old Closed Corporation).

    Yet (and here is when the honest mistake, I think, stops) there was no “well we were mistaken” moment – instead Manchester (long before Radical Joe in Birmingham) went for council controlled water, gas (and on and on).

    There is no reason why “basic services” can not be provided privately (although the Tory Disraeli Act of 1875 did compel local councils to do many things – whether local tax payers wanted them to or not) , for example in Newcastle many things were still provided privately in to the 1900s.

    There is no evidence (at least no evidence I have seen) that services were inferior in Newcastle to what they were in Manchester.

    David highlights Tory statism in the 19th century, and I highlight liberal statism – but the truth is that neither party really stood for liberty (for “Old Whig” principles).

    It is all very depressing.

  17. By the way if one wanted a report saying that it was impossible to provide X voluntarily – then Bentham’s man Edwin Chadwick was the person to go to.

    It did not matter what it was (policing, water supply, taking away the trash – whatever…..) Chadwick could be relied upon to provide a detailed report (full of impressive sounding words and lots of numbers) “proving” that the state (local or national) had to do it.

    He filled the role in the early 19th century that the Fabians (especially Mr and Mrs Webb) filled in the early 20th century (accept that they were about one million times more statist).

    Politicians out to make a name for themselves by “doing important things” love reports like this.

    If the Joe Bloggs gas company lights the streets or the Joe Bloggs detective agency reduces crime – what it is it do with me (Mr Reforming Politician)?

    It has got naught to do with me – but if an OFFICIAL agency is set up, backed by an OFFICIAL report………

    And it really does not matter how absurd the report is.

    For example there were two rival reports into government the Poor Law in the early 1900s.

    The Majority Report (written by people who had spent their lives, in the tradition of Octavia Hill and C.S. Locke – helping the poor with their own hands) recommended no real expansion of government Poor Law efforts.

    But the Minority Report (written by a bunch of Hampstead intellectuals who had never emptied a bed pan in their lives) recommended a vast new government system.

    Which report do you think impressed politicians (of all parties)?

  18. Well, it seems to me that both ignoring criticism is not very effective and that J.S. Mill did not often do it, if he ever did it at all.

    We cannot prove most facts, Thomas Proof belongs in geometry and logic Proofs exist but they never justify, as so many people like to think. Bertrand Russell was right to say that the chief virtue of proof is that it distils disbelief.

    To say that we do not exist is a paradox but that does not mean we have a proof that we exist. But to assume that we do is true. There may be many proofs that we do exist, but I know of none.
    There is only one way to know i.e. by mere assumption. But any assumption risks being false, that is the epistemological problem.
    It is common to dream that we are awake. Dreams do not last long in any case.

    It looks like Ian and Thomas agree on Descartes “I think therefore I am”.

    Paul, I take it that you noted that Chamberlain up to1886 was a Liberal yet you say I was emplacing Tory Statism. Party labels simply do not matter to me.

    No party will ever be safely liberal, for politics is in the business of being intrinsically illiberal; for all government is bound to scotch people as ends.

    Democracy cannot undo this illiberal nature of politics but tax cuts by politics is the negation of the negation so that can be seen as reactive or defensive. With a liberal public we can use democracy to get rid of the state but hardly before that achievement of that basically liberal public. Party politics can normally be expected to be illiberal.

    • “To say that we do not exist is a paradox but that does not mean we have a proof that we exist.”

      You just proved that we exist three times in one sentence. If “we” exist, there is a “we” for you to talk about. If “we” don’t, there isn’t. That’s not a paradox, it’s an axiom.

  19. In this case, more than a mere assumption, it’s a logical necessity. It’s effectively a specific restatement of “A is A”.

  20. On the contrary David – ignoring opponents (IF one is in a position of intellectual power).and the Mills were not the only people to effectively use it (by the way Richard W.s logical refutation of the Labour Theory of Value was brief but clear – and Samuel Bailey’s was much longer).

    The late W.H. Hutt was once asked “how did the Keynesians win the debate?”

    He replied (quite correctly) “there was no debate, the Keynesians did not allow a debate – they just gained control of the appointment of lecturers and the setting and marking of examinations, and that was that”.

    Murray Rothbard (in his history of economics) pointed out many times and places (including the modern world over the last many decades) were false economic theories (or rather those who support them) have pushed out true economic theories. Where the subject has regressed.

    Turning to politics……

    I agree with you that (especially in the 19th and early 20th century) party labels were not very helpful.

    W.H. Greenleaf (in the “British Political Tradition” – two volumes) carefully pointed out there were libertarians and collectivists in both political parties.

    So finding out whether someone was a “Liberal” or a “Conservative” did not really show anything of importance.

  21. A is A does not imply that A has existential import, Ian. No assumption does. Logic is about validity not truth, Ian. Any axiom is a mere assumption and all assumptions risk being false.

    Bertrand Russell [BR] hated the axiomatic method. He famously said that it had all the merit of theft over honest toil but sadly for BR, there is no alternative way of honest toil yet assumptions are very risky. To be true any assumption needs to cite an external fact. Facts are contingent. Most of them are unknown. It is easy to get them wrong.

    Paul, you simply get it wrong, There was a debate. See “The Hayek Story” in Critical Essays in Monetary Theory (1967) J.R. Hicks.

    London was won over by Cambridge. Hayek was the only one who did not go over to Keynes. Hutt simply gets it wrong. It is a great pity that WW Bartley dies before getting his volume of the Hayek/Keynes debate out. Hayek did not lose on the logic but he did not win it ether. Our side deserted on emotional grounds but also owing to many inadequacies of our e3conomic theory that we still need to put right. I think the Keynesian claptrap is way more hopeless though, but the emotional point was there were all those men out of work. In the end, even Robbins went over to Keynes.

    Rothbard largely follows Schumpeter who largely followed Cannan on the history of economics. I have seen no sign that Rothbard is adequate on all this. Or that Hayek or that Hutt is. The latter two score many good points but they lack a theory to win the day with. I think that Keynes was wrong but not that that there is a clear theory that fully explains the slump 1930s. I do blame the state but there are oddities in what happened, as Hicks says. They need an explanation.
    Burke’s idea of political parties is not a public boon, Paul. His rejection of Fox was simply silly. Fox had faults, of course, but Burke’s silly rejection of his friend was still silly.

    Politics itself is intrinsically anti-liberal. It seeks to rule the people but the market seeks to serve them.

    Yes, it does not really matter what a person calls themselves as long as they are willing to debate. We need less Romance and more reason. We are all ignorant but debate is mutual aid.

    • “Any axiom is a mere assumption and all assumptions risk being false.”

      One cannot ASSUME if one does not EXIST.

      If one ASSUMES, one EXISTS.

      Which is not to say that an axiom is an assumption. Anyone who says that doesn’t understand either term.

      • Furthermore, in philosophical language, David is asking us to prove existence, and to so one would start, “There is an A such that…”

        The word “is” is key there. Philosophy itself presumes existence. The logic employed is itself an existential artifact.

        The question is literally meaningless.

        Many problems we have come about because human language can produce grammatically correct sentences which are not meaningful. “Thomas Knapp is not Thomas Knapp” is one such example[1].

        This is similar to a recent bunfight with Paul Marks over determinism. The claim that human thought is neither-determinist nor random reduces to the assertion that “there exists a B which is neither A nor not A” which is, again, a logical impossibility.

        The flexibility of human language has a lot to answer for, frankly. It allows us to come out with any old tripe. If you’re Hegel, you get to make an entire career out of that.

        [1] As any philosopher knows, presuming that Thomas Knapp has the same sense and time in both instances in the sentence.

  22. David – Hutt was talking about what actually happened in the universities, he was there and you were not.

    Also as someone who spent quite a few years in universities myself I am inclined to believe what Hutt said.

    The average academic, certainly in the “social sciences”, could not care less about honest argument.

  23. An axiom is a mere assumption.

    It risks error as what it assumes may not exist. This is all very simple stuff, Thomas. No assumption is self evident. Mere logic is not about truth but validity; that can only emerge between assumptions and that says nothing about the external facts.

    You are free to deny that axioms are assumptions, of course, but it is clearly false to say so.

    Your Descartes meme that if one assumes then one exists is fine as far as I can see but if one assumes that one does not exist them we have a paradox.

    • “An axiom is a mere assumption.”

      “It” cannot “risk” or “assume” anything if it doesn’t exist.

      That which does not exist can’t do anything. To assume is to exist. That’s not an assumption. That’s a fact.

      “if one assumes that one does not exist them we have a paradox”

      No, we have an error. There’s a difference.

  24. A side-note on Vilfredo Pareto and the Liberty and Property Defense League, from


    ‘Although the LDPL was formed in England, its ideology was shared by Pareto. The first victory of the LDPL was in Italy in 1922 when Mussolini put an end to progressive taxation. In 1922-23, Pareto ‘breathed a sigh of relief at the coup d’état that finally averted threats, if not to liberty, at any event to property” (D. Losurdo 2011: 327)’

    Wikip. includes a link to a short piece by Leonard Read on the LDPL:


  25. No, Paul, Hutt was not there but in South Africa. Hicks was there.

    However, it is not one whit germane who was there. Anyone can see that the LSE did not employ Keynesians just as they can that there was a debate. Hutt was confused on all those things.

  26. We are taking at cross purposes David.

    Hutt was talking about universities generally – not the LSE in particular.

    As for Keynes – the “General Theory” is rubbish (you know that as well as I do – you have read it). One does not need to read something like Henry Hazlitt’s “The Failure of the New Economics” to know this – it is obvious by just looking at the basic Keynesian doctrines (more printing money and more government spending presented as good things – rather than the obviously bad things they are).

    Therefore if someone says they are convinced by it (by the “General Theory”) I know I am either dealing with an idiot – or (far more likely) I am dealing with someone with a political (and-or academic) agenda, who thinks that saying he is convinced by the arguments of Keynes will further that agenda.

    After all – even in Keynesian terms………

    By 1936 (when the “General Theory” was published) there was no “deflation” to reverse.

    Nor does Keynes offer any real economic theory of how a bust is caused in the first place (in reality the problem starts with the artificial boom before it – but then you know that) all he can do is talk vaguely about animal spirits (confidence).

    The real source of Keynesian success is the cultural and political context of the time (not the idea that he made good economic arguments) – Keynes not only appealed to people who wanted a bigger government, he also appealed to people who were in MORAL revolt against the Victorians.

    I am not just pointing at his homosexuality (that was a very small part of this) – it was his general immoralism (and the contempt the rising intellectuals had for beliefs in such things as honour and truthfulness).

    Well described in the book “”Where Keynes Went Wrong”.

    There people were in revolt against such things as thrift and hard work – in moral terms.

    The “economics” was just a tap dance they did, to justify what they believed anyway.

  27. Julie – there was a very brief period (a couple of years) under the Finance Minister of Mussolini when some economic stabilisation did occur (including the reduction of government spending and taxation).

    However, Mussolini (when he was securely in power) swept away the policies of his first Finance Minister and made Italy the most statist country in Europe (with the exception of Russia).

    This should not be a shock – after all the Mussolini had been the most famous collectivist in Italy before 1914 (the editor of the Marxist newspaper “Forward” and senior to Lenin in the international movement).

    As for Pareto.

    He was deeply embittered man.

    Like most Italian liberals he had supported Italian “unification”.

    But he was honest enough to see that the results had been to create a corrupt Big Government mess.

    However, he would not accept (at least as far as I know he would not accept) that “unification” has been an error (both in the case of Italy and the case of Germany).

    He groped for something that would preserve the “unity of Italy” (an article of faith among the intellectual classes – as is “the unity of Europe” now) without the corrupt mess of democracy…..

    Other Italian theorists were also looking for this “something”.

    I think they were engaged (and are still engaged) in a fool’s quest.

    “Unification” was an error leading to bigger (not smaller) government – period.

  28. Thanks, Paul. What very little I knew of Pareto I got from Richard Epstein and, just today, the tiny Wiki article. But all I can say is, “If one person is made better off and no one is made worse off”: Who is to make this judgment? Me? You? Mr. Obama?

    It’s a seductive idea, I suppose, but silly on its face. Consider the smallest “society” possible, the one with just one member, Me. Or You. (Yes, this stretches the def. of “society.” So much the worse for S. Pareto.) Are there not many occasions when I have taken some action and never was able to figure out whether I was better or worse off for it?

    As I am wont to remind people, Everything has downside. If you early find and marry the love of your life, and enjoy 90 years of uninterrupted married bliss (hah! *g*) there is STILL a downside. You’ll never know what it’s like to be unattached and fancy-free, smelling various flowers as you go through life.

    The economists (I gather) refer to such a downside, or price, as “opportunity cost.”

    It’s hard to see how someone as bright as Prof. E. doesn’t get this simple and obvious fact.

    However, I’ll endeavor to learn a little more about the man. Thanks again for your introduction. :>)

  29. Ian B, 5/5 at 9:09 p.m.:

    “As any philosopher knows.” Would that it were so! I am continually amazed at the number of living intellectual giants of philosophy who seem to have missed that smallest, most insignificant of points.

    Actually, there’s a good deal more to say about the downside (speaking of “every silver lining has a cloud,” as above) of the magnificent gift of language. Including the possible interpretations of the verb “to be.” I have sought for years a transcript of the actual testimony in which Mr. Slick Willy (a.k.a. former Pres. *gasp, choke* W.J. Clinton) is said to have said “it depends on what the meaning of ‘is’ is.” Everybody laughs at this, What a fool, what a blithering idiot! But I (who am disgusted by the man, his looks, his lying, his personal behavior, his deals with the Chinese, the famous charisma — which, by the way, he did have, and the present incumbent does not) — I have always thought that depending on the context he might have been making a very good point.

    I will spare everyone the full lecture on the interpretations or meanings (plural) of the statement “A is A” and also of the slightly different statement “A=A.”

    And the crowd goes wild! :>)))!!!

  30. Julie – as you know, beating up the Pareto test is one of my hobby horses.

    A policy that makes no one financially worse off is rather hard to find for a start – say I want to stop the local council funding various groups (which I do) how does this not make these groups worse off?

    Even if one discovered a wonderful Stewart Varney (Fox) “go for growth” (how I HATE that slogan) policy that shrank the state without actually cutting government spending that goes to anyone – some people would be made “worse off” as profit is MENTAL (not just financial).

    Some people (quite a lot of people actually) love big government because they love big government (because they love power).

    For example they may hand out millions of Pounds to a local cricket club (and to a theatre) – out of the deep dark fear that they might not have an excuse to increase the Council Tax if they did not.

    And, yes, we are now hearing the “we must improve education” song.

    As you know “education” can be turned into a limitless reason to spend more money – it is perfect, for this sort of politician, as no matter how much money is spent on it they can (quite TRUTHFULLY) say “our education results are not good – therefore [only at this point does the dishonesty creep in] we must spend more money”.

    Governor Nelson R. of New York springs to mind.

  31. About the only thing that can really concentrate the mind (even of some politicians) is the risk of bankruptcy (de facto – if not legal).

    For example many people who are not kept up at night by the fear of what might happen to people like Thomas into harms way, are concerned by the FINANCIAL cost of such wars.

    That is why the recent Economist magazine front page “For what would America fight” got such a negative reaction. Even among people who played toy soldiers (hand up – that means me) when they were young (and not so young).

    Do these idiots not understand that there is no money for these wars?

    True the Welfare State is the main driver of unsustainable government spending – but crazy wars do not help prevent de facto bankruptcy.

    There is no “good side” in the various struggles in the Islamic world (period).

    And the Ukraine is a terrible mess – no intervention is going to do any good there.

    YES uphold formal treaties of alliance (I have not been converted to Rothbardianism) – but no seeking out monsters to destroy.

    There is no money for that stuff any more.

    Containment of enemies yes, wars-for-democracy NO.

    • Thomas, you look confused to me.
      Is your point that if we assume something then the assumption exists? How is that germane to the fact that it is either true or false.

      For someone to assume they do not exist and to say it then it will only be an error if they did not mean to say it or they do not see the paradox. It is a paradox in both cases but it need not bean error at all. .

      • “Is your point that if we assume something then the assumption exists?”

        No, my point is that in order for us to assume anything, WE must exist.

        If you don’t exist, you can’t assume things (or do anything else, for that matter).

        If you can ask the question “do I exist?” you exist — because you COULDN’T ASK THE QUESTION IF YOU DIDN’T.

        Saying that you don’t exist isn’t a “paradox.” It’s an error. If you don’t exist, you can’t say anything.

        Which is why existence is an axiom, not an “assumption.”

      • David, try addressing the question, “is green green?” and hopefully you’ll see the error in asking whether existence exists.

        • I think you’re verging into identity rather than existence per se there, Ian.

          “Existence exists” is the axiom. An axiom is something you can’t ponder unless it is true.

          “A is A” is shorthand for the law of identity per Aristotle’s framing of same. I’m not sure whether or not it qualifies as axiomatic, as it seems to rely on a premise of non-contradiction.

  32. But the debate was between the LSE and the University of Cambridge. Paul.

    As I say, it hardly matters that Hutt was not there but it’s the case. How could he be there in general college appointments of staff? But yes, even Hayek was turned down at Chicago by the Keynesian Milton Friedman and his superiors at the University of Chicago after Keynes won the debate by the democratic theory of truth.

    Yes, I have read Keynes 1936 book many times. It might be rubbish but it soon became important rubbish. But I agree that it was a problem rather than a solution. It is an attack on economics in favour of state management. Keynes hated businessmen but rather liked civic servants,

    Keynes was backing G.E. More on morals but that is distinct from the economics debate.

    Keynes saw in economics what few see in it but those few are in the anarchist wing of the LA in abundance. He saw economics as a threat to the state.

    Yes, he was against thrift and saving.

    Who is the author of where Keynes went wrong?

    But justification is a myth in any case. Like God, it never existed.

  33. The statement that I do not exist is not an error unless it is not understood or not meant in some way. It is a paradox as flouts common sense. It is a paradox of the absurd or contradictory type.

    There is no reason why any axiom is not an assumption as it always is an assumption, ipso facto, but not all assumptions are axioms. An axiom is usually a starting assumption in logic or geometry.

    • I’m ambivalent about Ayn Rand.

      Someone’s an ass here, but it’s not me and she’s not here so that kind of narrows it down, doesn’t it?

      Get back to me if you ever come to understand the difference between an axiom and an assumption.

  34. Ian, I do not recall asking whether existence exists. But Heidegger asks that sort of thing. I do not think he errs there as he seems to know what he was about. Is green green? Does this mean is the idea like what it refers to? What existence clearly is not is an axiom, as Thomas seems to want to say. Maybe the word “prerequisite” would be more apt.

  35. No David, it isn’t that at all. Asking “is green green?” is asking whether the thing-in-itself is the thing-in-itself, to which the answer is inescapably yes. By asking if existence exists, you are also asking if the thing-in-itself is the thing-in-itself, since existence is not an ideation but a thing-in-itself.

    At which point, I think that’s enough of this Prussian codswallop.

  36. David the author of “”Where Keynes Went Wrong” is Hunter Lewis.

    As for debates – debates are only real when the people engaged in them are really opposed. For example a debate on the existence of God between atheists and disguised atheists is not really a debate.

    Take Robbins (the leading young “Austrian” at the LSE in the 1930s) – this is the same Robbins who wrote the infamous “Robbins Report” in the early 1960s (demanding a vast expansion in government higher education) – and there is no evidence that I have seen that his political opinions were really different even in the 1930s (he was a “reformer” in the modern statist sense, even then). To such a person (i.e. someone who supported the state doing X, Y, Z,) Keynesianism was perfect (it seems to allow the state to provide all the nice things that people like Robbins wanted it to provide) – so to expect people like Robbins to IN THE END take the side of Hayek was too expect too much.

    Hayek was not someone who would support people like Robbins having the government spending they wanted (contrary to the statements of “Russia Today” – for example today the “Keiser Report” pretended that Hayek supported the state giving everyone a basic income – something “RT” is pushing at the moment – in the West, not in Russia). Actually Hayek may have been no pure libertarian – but he believed there were clear limits to what the state can (or should) provide.

    Hayek was rather “Victorian” – a limited state (not a minimal state – let alone anarcho capitalism) but state benefits to be limited to a small group of unfortunates – not the majority of the population.

    If the audience are people who want the state to provide X, Y, Z the results of the “debate” are decided before it starts.

    It would belike a debate on the U.S. Constitution between the cousins Roosevelt.

    “Teddy” would be open with his hatred of the idea of limiting government (“to Hell with the Constitution”) , Franklin would pretend to revere the Constitution (whilst doing everything he could to undermine it). Different sorts of people – but neither friends of limiting government.

    Turning to other matters……

    Hegel has his good moments (for example when he attacks Kant for holding that marriage was a contract to use the other person’s sexual organs – the legalised rape view was quite common in legal thought, but Hegel rejected it), but generally yes he was awful.

    He looks O.K. compared to some German thinkers of the time (such as Fichte and L.) only because they were off-the-scale awful.

    The blue books are useful.

    The “Political thinking of ……” (various thinkers) various letters and short essays collected by Q. Skinner and his co-workers.

    One does not have to agree with Skinner’s way of interpreting past philosophers (I am prefer “crude” old Cook Wilson in Oxford – there are two questions, the historical question “what did so-and-so think?” and the philosophical question “were they right?”) to find the blue books useful.

    At my age (and with my lack of concentration – too many blows to the head?) facing (or trying to remember) works the size and complexity of the “Philosophy of Right” is a bit much.

    Better a letter or short essay by Hegel – if I have to read him.

  37. Ayn Rand is often attacked for saying that people can know what Kant (not Rand) called “the thing in itself”. It is suggested that no university philosopher (only a refugee Russian – who had trouble with the English language at least in high level philosophy…..sneer-sneer) could possibly hold that humans could have knowledge of objective reality.

    Among “university philosophers” who held that people could have knowledge of objective reality there are not only the Aristotelians (of various factions), and also the Common Sense school (basically Thomas Reid to James McCosh), but also such 20th century philosophers as Cook Wilson, Harold Prichard and Sir William David Ross.

    Of course this does NOT prove that Rand was correct (about the existence of the objective universe, or the existence of the human “I” personhood, or about good and evil being real – not just “boo and cheer words”) – that there have been university philosophers who have argued for X does NOT make it correct – no more than there not being university academics who argued for X does NOT make it incorrect.

    • Now that’s a criticism of Rand that I’ve never heard before. In fact, she studied philosophy under Lossky at the University of Leningrad and read in French and German as well as Russian before moving to the US, where she quickly picked up English well enough to work as a script writer for DeMille (and later as a screenWRITER).

      She got her metaphysics from Aristotle, and seems to have understood what it was she got.

      Just as a side note, I’ve made no argument here for “objective reality,” merely for the fact that existence is axiomatic, not assumed.

  38. Ian – if by “green” you mean electro-magnetic radiation of certain wavelengths, then I think we can have knowledge of it (knowledge of something that is external to ourselves).

    But then I also believe that if a tree falls in a forest and no one is there (and no recording equipment either) it DOES make a noise – i.e. there is a air pressure wave.

  39. Paul, the word “green” could have been replaced by anything, I just happened to choose a colour. The point I was trying to make was that you can’t ask logically whether a thing in itself is a thing itself, since by definition it is. Existence by definition exists.

    The ultimate of this I just thought of is the sentence,

    “Is is is?”

    Which cannot even be parsed if the answer presented is “no”. The answer must in logic be “yes”.

  40. This thread by the way seems to demonstrate why so many philosphers end up going mad.

  41. Although (at the risk of offending Julie I will use the words “of course”) Rand’s development of Aristotle was attacked by other Aristotelians (as well as by non Aristotelians. Aristotle has always been a starting point – rather than an end point. His work is very much open to development – sometimes radically transforming it in some aspects (whilst keeping other aspects).

    Although (having now read Henry Veatch’s “Rational Man”) I think there was more overlap between Rand and “mainstream” (i.e. normally Catholic) Aristotelians (even in ETHICS) than either side might like to admit (Douglas Rasmussen was right to imply that).

    By the way Veatch is a little unfair to “Oxford philosophers” (at least those of 1962) – after all not everyone at Oxford at the time was a smarty pants Logical Positivist (although C.S. Lewis came to see Oxford in much this way – hence his move to Cambridge), there were (for example) Aristotelians (of various sorts) still there – even in philosophy (not just Tolkien – over in English Language).

    There is a bit (just a bit – Indiana is not Nebraska. where the Senator for Warren Buffett, now Defence Sec, comes from, Indiana was only a BIT isolationist, only a bit worried about getting involved in corrupt sugar-sweet Europe) of Mid Western Anglophobia – concerning the “smug” English.

    The English do appear smug and to not take things seriously – but (as with Tolkien’s hobbits) things are not quite what they seem.

    In the off chance that anyone wants to understand the English – I suggest they watch “Carry On Up the Kyber”, even though it is about a fictional Scottish Regiment (the “Third Foot in Mouth”) and the lead role is played by a South African – Sid James (and, unlike Tolkien, Sid James did not come from South Africa when he was a child – he came when he was an adult).

  42. If people do not have the time to watch the whole film – watch the last few minutes.

    • Thanks for letting me know the author’s name, Paul. I will look out for it.

      It is best that debaters are believers in their cause in any debate, but there can be a useful debate where one side merely adopts the opposition for the sake of the argument too.

      Motivation matters to performance in all things, though not as much as is often supposed. Note that most who work today do so on the disutility of labour rather than as a labour of love. However, and many people falsely think the contrary, but all should know better, motivation matters not one whit to what we see as the truth. In particular, not one person can ever believe as they wish to believe; though many might be content with what they do happen to see as true, We can say what we like but never ever believe as we like. Thus all are open to reason, whether they like it or not but none need ever admit it. Thought is not behaviour but speech is.

      So we need to be clear so we can be understood. We need not get others to admit they have understood us. That remains their choice.
      So I would say that anyone preparing a case that he thinks is silly might, nevertheless, see some points that look true, even if he is just adopting a case for the sake of some debate in a school Debating Society as a mere exercise.

      At the Debating Society at Warwick we got the various student societies that looked opposed to each other to debate with each other. It is way better, but not vital.

      Lionel Robbins was an interesting man. He liked Mises but Misers is not the only Austrian economist, and many were the opposite to Mises in being socialists, e.g. Friedrich von Wieser, the innovator of the meme of opportunity cost. The extreme a priori method comes from J.E. Cairnes, the friend of J.S. Mill. It is more like Irish economics than Austrian economics. But it is clearly not practical. We all use both observation and logic too. TINA. But Mill is no better in being the complete opposite of Cairnes.

      Yes, Robbins wrote the report on education in the 1960s. Do you truly believe this cock and bull story that Robbins was always a Keynesian in the making as he was a statist, Paul? You are on about a man that Keynes felt would never come over and who bothered him way more than Hayek ever did.

      Edwin Cannan had earlier been critical of Keynes and Marshall before him, but Robbins was way more in his face. It was Robbins that brought Hayek to the LSE to hit Keynes harder. This is why the actual debate was in the economics journal of the LSE, The Economca. It was a good debate. WW Bartley would have been marvellous on it.

      No, it was not too much to expect Robbins to back Hayek up all the way. Had Hayek, or even Robbins himself, been better in the debate [Hayek won on points but no knock-out, if I may use the rather inept boxing analogy; for debates are not fights] but the background of mass unemployment got many to go over to the state imperative to do something about it.

      Robbins felt he had been wrongheaded, as did others like Hicks. He repented. He withdrew his wonderful, if not quite adequate, book on The Great Depression (1934).

      Robbins was right in the fact/value distinction. He also gave the correct idea as to what economics were in his book on the scope of economics. It is about costs and options not about values, though the values of others are external facts to any one of us. No one has bettered Robbins on that. It was about only scarcity of means.
      Robbins adopted and reinforced what Marshall did, i.e. replace political economy with mere economics. Crass politics was not germane; it was to do with values rather than the facts of mere means. Keynes long to reverse this but, for all his persuasive skills, he failed to do so.

      Skidelsky set up a chair in Political Economy at Warwick and there is one in Scotland too but it looks futile for the immediate future.
      Keynes was kind enough to invite Robbins onto the Economic Advisory Council [Keynes was good in that respect] in 1930 but soon found that he was going to get no end of opposition as a result. Robbins supported free imports and free trade that Keynes felt might be overdone, and he opposed state spending that Keynes felt might be useful at times.

      Later, Robbins felt that the causes of the slump was roughly right but that Keynes was right that more saving would not get us out of it but that maybe the state spending might so he opposition to Keynes seemed to be wrongheaded to him. He deeply regretted it. He remained opposed to tariffs. He pointed out that statist economics was warmongering in later books, especially three short books written on the 1939 war itself. But he was no longer so opposed to Keynes as a remedy for mass unemployment.

      I have not looked into his ideas on education but like Cobden he might have thought the state apt in education. If so, he was wrongheaded there.

      But this mass unemployment also aided the then socialist fashion and many students, and younger members of staff, at the LSE converted to that, be it merely Labourite or even Bolshevik. The LSE had been founded by the Webbs, who got the Labour Party to adopt clause 4 in 1918. It always had a staff and students who were “left” in the Fabian sense of socialism [a new word for Toryism introduced to the English language by Robert Owen] was held to be to the left of liberalism, so it soon became, by a flip, anti-capitalist, and the like of Nicholas Kaldor was soon hectoring Hayek in both classes and in the weekly seminars. He had earlier translated Hayek’s books but later he felt that Hayek was simply silly. This cheek of Kaldor aided the socialist fashion at the LSE, which though, like the University of Warwick and the LSE students in the late 1970s and early 1980s, did have a reputation for being a hotbed of liberalism, but really it was just an enthusiastic few, like an oasis in a surrounding desert of anti-economics crass politics. Hayek did hang out where Robbins, and others, fell but had they came up with better ideas against Keynes then they would have been like Samson amongst the Philistines. We still need those better ideas now.

      Hayek favoured a safety net but the real safety net is the cleared market. Any dole will mess up the market by causing mass unemployment; especially in the long run. Only a cleared market maintains a cleared market. Any dole will soon attract those who see it as a bargain. Given the near universal disutility of labour, it often is.

      This silly idea you have that it matters how you start, or where you come from, is quite false, Paul. What matters is only that you do enter into debate. If you do that then you are more likely to home in on the truth. Any idea or outlook is good enough to start from, but sheer apathy is not easy to motivate.

      Hegel was a complete Romantic. There are lots of gems in the mud but his books are mainly composed of metaphorical mud. Like you, Paul, he thought that Christianity needed to be defended against the Enlightenment.

      Kant also liked Christianity and the metaphorical mud. He showed that he could write clearly in his early writings but he felt that the students would be on par with himself, once they grasped his ideas, so he hid them in crass obfuscation. His new obscurantist books were only a very inadequate reply to Hume anyway, rather like Hayek’s reply to Hicks in New Studies (1978).

      The nearest I got to the blue books was in reading Marx

      I doubt if I will ever find much to agree to written by Politically Correct Quinton Skinner.

      I hope you do not imagine that I recommended you to read Hegel, Paul. Read Julian Simon The Ultimate Resource (1981; II 1996). That is what I call a book well worth reading.

  43. Ian, “is is is” is not a sentence. We do assume that we exist. We never dodge epistemology as the thick-head Reid [more or less]said. Priestley answer him for Hume quite well. Locke was basically right on all that. as was Hume to follow him.

    Rand loved the jackass Nietzsche, who wrote a fresh stupidity with each sentence but Rand lacked the wit to realise that. As Hospers reported, though unwittingly, Rand hated thought like it was the very devil. Hospers attempted to teach here philosophy but she did not want to know. All that interested her was if he was thick enough to consider her a great thinker. I believe that he was!

    I can say only one good thing about Rand here: she was not as backward as Nietzsche was.

    Her later move to Aristotle was a better move than she realised in terms of the obfuscation of her true master.

  44. David, yes it is. Both “Is is is?” (a question) and “Is is is” (the answer to it) are both valid.

    • Yes, Rand started off as a Nietzschean.

      Yes, she fell victim to lots of logical errors even after she moved in an Aristotleian direction — usually through temperamental failure to apply the logic she advocated.

      But at least she wasn’t stubbornly dumb enough to stick to a howler like “existence is an assumption.”

      Yes, we “assume” we exist — because if we do exist, we can’t “assume” anything else, and if we don’t exist, we can’t “assume” anything at all.

  45. We can assume anything we like, Thomas.

    That we might assume that we do not exist does not mean we need to believe it, but it is also a likely belief too; under some circumstances, e.g. on drugs like LSD.

    I never said that existence was an assumption but I did say that to say that we did not exist was a paradox, which it clearly is.

    You replied that it was an error but it is not such; unless it is not meant for some reason. Any error depends on what we meant. It is always owing to ignorance.

    The assumption that we do not exist is a paradox in any case.

    And any axiom is also an assumption in any case.

    I might say that to assume that we exist is an assumption but no fact is an assumption. That seems about the only thing that you get right but what you overlook is that to be aware of any fact, including the one that you exist, you need an assumption. TINA means to the facts but there is always the risk of error. .

    I doubt if Rand read any Aristotle. She was no intellectual. She did not even bother to read Hosper’s book that he gave her as a gift. She hated reading, that is why.

    But Hegel did read a lot of Aristotle.

  46. Perhaps I ought to add that to assume that we exist is not the same as to assume that existence is an assumption, or that any true assumption is thereby a fact. Existence is a matter of external fact.

  47. Paul, OF COURSE I am offended beyond all knowing by your words “of course,” but the problem is, I hate being offended without knowing why I’m offended. I think I will have to have a cup of warm milk to soothe my nerves, and go lie down. :>))

    Paul, Ian, Thomas, excellent points all. Most encouraging discussion.

    David, human reason in the sense of logical thought rests on a very few fundamental principles, to deny any of which is to make such thought literally impossible at all. Among these is the Law of Non-Contradiction, which may be stated thus:

    A thing cannot both be and not be, in the same sense and at the same time.

    It’s not that the quoted statement rests upon the Law of Non-Contradiction (and thus loses “axiomaticness,” i.e.. the quality that makes an axiom an axiom); rather, the “Law of N-C” is the NAME of the statement.

    Since we can only engage in reason if we observe this principle, it is rightly called an “axiom.” It is a fundamental principle of human reason, which “reason” in the broader sense takes as applying to Reality in all its aspects and with all its phenomena.

    I see you have posted more comments above, which I haven’t read, but to take this Law as an “assumption” on a par with most assumptions, premises, postulates is an error. Can we “prove” Reality exists? You have to “assume” it exists, otherwise the question itself makes no sense. For if Reality does not exist, then its very non-existence is necessarily unReal. You have to accept the Law of N-C, or no “conclusion” you reach by alleged “reason” will have any rational validity.

    It is like the stone which the philosopher uses to refute the hypothesis that there is no objective reality: “I refute it thus!” The Law refutes all fuzzy or irrational attempts at logical thought. It is a given of the nature of human reason, and all a person can say is, *g*, “Deal with it!”

    • Julie,

      Thanks for clarifying “identity as axiom.”

      What had me flummoxed is that identity seems more a function of epistemology than of metaphysics. That is, I am not sure it is axiomatic as a metaphysical concept, but it obviously is as an epistemological necessity … but then, I try to ascribe as little to metaphysics as possible.

      • Thomas,

        I’m glad if you got something out of my comment. Thanks. :>)

        As for Metaphysics, although no doubt you’re aware if it, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy begins its article on Metaphysics thus:

        “It is not easy to say what metaphysics is.”

        Of course, if Metaphysics is understood as “the investigation of Be-ing,” then the Law of Non-Contradiction states one of the Facts about Be-ing, i.e. one of the facts of Reality: “A thing cannot both BE and not-BE…etc.” Yet, that’s true only if we assume/believe/understand/take-it-as-read that we can KNOW something about the construction of Reality (which already assumes that Reason Works), the underlying nature of it in the sense of “that which is applicable to all things in Reality.” But if we don’t accept this assumption or belief, then what the heck are we talking about?

        I’m not sure if such musing does anything to clarify the issue, however….

        • Julie,

          Again, thanks for the enlightening information.

          Not being a philosopher by education/training, I’m going to satisfy myself with planting my feet, and perhaps a .50 caliber machine gun, atop existence as axiomatic and content myself with defending that one small foxhole 🙂

    • Julie, there is no getting away from human reason. Logic holds that we can assume anything. So there is nothing beyond reason, in principle.
      You exaggerate when you say that to deny the law of non-contradiction makes thought impossible. Only successful suicide ever does that. To deny something will not usually affect it at all.

      The law of non-contradiction is questioned in nearly every logic class, Julie, and many versions of logic attempt to drop it altogether, rather like many new geometries drop axioms like parallel lines never meet. To consider anything adequately at all will involve some questioning of it.

      What you say about the law of non-contradiction being a prerequisite of reason is false. Rationality is innate; and not only in humans, as Aristotle held, for the Stoic logicians, who found most of what Frege found again in the nineteenth century, noticed that about 2500 years ago. They held that dogs used logic.

      Axioms are just assumptions. Some mathematicians, like Bertrand Russell [BR], hated them. He thought that all assumptions needed to be dodged.

      As all axioms are assumptions, a proper subset just like all tigers are cats, we will be correct if we call them assumptions, so no error there, Julie.

      Proofs exist but they never justify. Justification does not exist. This fact is not popular but that hardly matters.

      When I studied logic closely in the 1970s getting first the “O” level, then later also the “A” level, I was so often surprised by what could be proved with ease, and what was not easy to prove at al,l that I became reluctant to say what can be proved and what cannot. I will just say that I know of no proof of reality; or that I have a nose on my face either.

      However, proof is no prerequisite of knowledge for a mere assumption is the only way we can know anything at all as well as the only way to any proof. But any assumption risks error. That is why BR hated axioms; he craved Descartes-like certainty.

      But that form of certainty is a myth. Only the mere feeling of certainty exists and that is irrelevant to the truth.

      We do not have to accept anything in logic, Julie. Whatever we do believe is automatic anyway so not a matter of what we accept.

      Lewis Carroll wrote a wonderful article called “What the Tortoise said to Achilles” (1895) that illustrates that we do not have to accept any proposition in logic. It might be on the Internet somewhere. I do not really know much about the Internet.

      Dr Johnson kicking the stone did not give a very good reply to George Berkeley, though both Karl Popper and David Deutsch, the Popperian and Oxford professor of physics think Dr Johnson was right. The majority of philosophers, including many Popperians like Bryan Magee, disagree, as kicking the stone is mental in Berkeley’s sense, so it fails as a clear counter example.

  48. Thomas– Come to think of it, I consider axioms, properly speaking, as the fundamental principles of human reason (without which you don’t have reason, anymore than a car without wheels and an engine is a car).

    By definition, then, axioms only exist within the realm of epistemology.

    There may (MAY) be axiom-like constructs within the field of what we call Metaphysics (which I will still take as “the investigation of Be-ing), but really they are fundamental to our view of Reality because our Reason says they must be fundamental.

    I am greatly disapproving of the fact that “axioms” and “postulates” have not been upheld as rigorously distinct, going back to the 1500’s if I recall my OED correctly. One cannot escape axioms. Postulates, on the other hand, are fundamental premises of some particular logical system. (Fundamental in the logical sense, not in the sense that we construct our observations and conclusions of actual reality on the basis of them. That we do only to some extent, and in that case they’re always open to revision.) So a postulate can apply in one logical system but not another. Whereas an axiom must BE APPLIED in both (and any other) systems.

    I think this distinction is of profound importance, and the fact that people don’t distinguish rigorously causes all sorts of philosophical mischief. (Even though in a particular community, say some subgroup of mathematicians, they may know perfectly well what they mean by “axioms.” Or not, of course. *g*)

  49. I’ve been kept awake all night by the worry that I’m a nonexistent unperson arguing with other nonexistent unpersons about nothing.

  50. Oh, you poor baby, what a shame. 🙁 You just forget about it now and count some nonexistent sheep, with some nonexistent number of nonexistent feet, so as to get some sleep. The problem will still be there in the morning. 🙂

  51. Metaphysics is just the study of what there is. But it also studies things that do not exist too.

    Epistemology is only asking how we can know things.

    Logic studies valid reasoning

    Ethics studies right and wrong.

    Aesthetics studies beauty.

    Philosophy studies all of the above.

    Many, including posters above, confuse and conflate epistemology with metaphysics. The logical positivists attempted to limit metaphysics by epistemology but they, ironically, held a metaphysical outlook.

    How did we get onto philosophy? It was all supposed to be about the future of liberalism!

  52. Julie – you once said that you did not like it when people used the line “of course” as it was a sign of intellectual laziness (not bothering to explain why one thing led to another thing).

    That is why I covered myself from the possibility of your wrath.

  53. I did? Huh! How perspicacious of me! Well, I stand convicted of Major Sin, then, because I have a stylistic mannerism — a definite fault — of positively littering my paragraphs and even sentences with “of course’s.” Of course, you can hardly blame me, because of course one needs to get a certain rhythm into one’s writing, and if there’s nothing to say at some point then of course “of course” makes a very good filler.

    Besides, it can sort of imply that you know the deeper aspects of your topic. Which, I guess, somewhat brings us back to what you say I said. Which statement I do believe, of course. 😉

  54. One little thing. David, you didn’t absorb the whole sentence. What I wrote was (putting the salient word in boldfaced type):

    “…[H]uman reason in the sense of logical thought rests on a very few fundamental principles, to deny any of which is to make such thought literally impossible at all.”

    “SUCH thought”: i.e., LOGICAL thought, as explicitly so described in the first part of the sentence.

    • It is not clear to me how that renders my reply to you lame, Julie. I just feel like repeating it but you can read it again and explain to me why it is not pertinent. I feel it is.

      No theory stops us from thinking afresh and logic certainly does not. As I said, any idea, including an absurd or contradictory one, is fine to debate with. It lets others show us what is wrong with what we say but there is no harm in that.

      Many contradictions are quite unwitting, even the likes of Frege or Bertrand Russell famously had them. We will reject a contradiction when as see it as such but we can often have them unwittingly and they do not stop us thinking!

      But your basic idea that there are not contradictions outside the confused mind,or of texts, and that they are unrealistic in any account we may give of external things is quite right: of course!

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