I seem to be revisiting a lot of things lately–first reparations, now this. Anyway, you may have noticed this down on the pingbacks, but there’s a long response here to my November 2 post (and exchange with Roderick) on the tensions between Aristotelianism and libertarianism. The post is called “The Shallowness of Secular Ethical Systems,” the blog is called Politics and Prosperity, and the author’s pen-name is Loquitur Veritatem, or truth teller. This last piece of information will come as a shock to anyone who (like me) thought Policy of Truth was the repository of all truths worth knowing.
Anyway, while I found the post interesting, I didn’t think it accurately characterized what I said in my post. The author kind of admits that:
Rather than get bogged down in the details of Khawaja’s dilemma, I will merely point out what should be obvious to him (and to millions of other true believers in this or that ethical system): Any system that optimizes on a particular desideratum (e.g., minimal coercion, maximum “social” welfare by some standard) will clash with at least one other system that optimizes a different desideratum.
However miffed I may be at the author’s refusal to join me in the bogs, I can’t disagree with the point he makes here: for any p, the more you insist on p, the less room to insist on ~p. I just think that having bypassed the “details” of what I said, he bypasses what I said, not just in detail but in most other respects. So, considered specifically as a response to my post, I found much of what he said a set of strawmen and red herrings. If I had more time, I’d explain that claim in more detail, but I don’t. And of course, if the details didn’t matter the first time around, they might not matter this time around, either.
That said, as a discussion of issues related to my post, LV’s post has some interesting things to say. Most interesting is his challenge to the non-initiation of force principle maybe two-thirds in:
Here’s a tougher issue for libertarians (the extreme pacifists among them excluded): Does the prohibition on the initiation of force extend to preemptive self-defense against an armed thug who is clearly bent on doing harm? If it does, then libertarianism is unadulterated hogwash.
His point is that if it doesn’t, we’re led to a problem that the non-initiation principle can’t solve, from which he infers that if the principle can’t solve it, libertarianism can’t solve it (the principle being constitutive of libertarianism). So (he concludes) libertarianism faces an unsolvable dilemma, which demonstrates its defects and illustrates a defect common to all secular systems of its type: they claim to prescribe to and for us, but can’t resolve the problems generated by their prescriptions.
I don’t have time to respond to LV now (and can’t make promises for later), except to say that while it’s a fair criticism for which I have some sympathy, it’s also one that libertarians in principle have the resources to address. If so, the dilemma is not obviously unsolvable, and doesn’t demonstrate or illustrate what LV takes it to. Of course, it’s one thing to say that and another to prove it, but for now I thought I’d leave things at the former and just draw your attention to the post.