Local Optima and Abolitionist Ideals

In The Tyranny of the Ideal, Gerald Gaus draws attention to a trade-off faced by anyone pursuing an ideal conception of justice. What he says here seems almost trivially obvious (at least once he puts it down on paper), and seems to have obvious implications (at least once one sees it set out in print), but I still find it insightful. He calls it The Choice:

The Choice: In cases where there is a clear optimum within our neighborhood that requires movement away from our understanding of the ideal, we often must choose between relatively certain (perhaps large) local improvements in justice and pursuit of a considerably less certain ideal, which would yield optimal justice (Tyranny, p. 82).

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Markets Limited, Friendship Unlimited

The Molinari Society will be holding its mostly-annual Pacific Symposium in conjunction with the Pacific Division of the American Philosophical Association in San Francisco, 5-8 April 2023. Here’s the schedule info:


Molinari Society symposium, part 1:
Author Meets Critics: Gary Chartier, Understanding Friendship: On the Moral, Political, and Spiritual Meaning of Love

G4D. Thursday, 6 April 2023, 6:00-8:00pm, Westin St. Francis Hotel, 335 Powell St., San Francisco CA 94102, Elizabethan C (2nd floor).

Roderick T. Long (Auburn University)

Gary Chartier (La Sierra University)

Neera Badhwar (University of Oklahoma and George Mason University)
Michael Pakaluk [in absentia] (The Catholic University of America)
Roderick T. Long (Auburn University)

Molinari Society symposium, part 2:
Author Meets Critics: James Stacey Taylor, Markets with Limits: How the Commodification of Academia Derails Debate

G7E. Friday, 7 April 2023, 7:00-9:00pm, Westin St. Francis Hotel, 335 Powell St., San Francisco CA 94102, Olympic (2nd floor).

Roderick T. Long (Auburn University)

James Stacey Taylor (The College of New Jersey)

Amy White (Ohio University)
Roderick T. Long (Auburn University)

[Glen Whitman (CSU Northridge), previously announced as an additional commentator, had to withdraw.]

Stephen Nathanson (1943-2023), RIP

I read the other day of the recent death of Stephen Nathanson, professor emeritus of philosophy at Northeastern University. I didn’t know Nathanson very well–we never met–but nonetheless wanted to note his passing. 

I first encountered Nathanson’s work when I did manuscript reviews for Prentice Hall Press back in the mid-1990s. The Press assigned me a manuscript of his to review with the working title Who Gets What?, later called Economic Justice and published in their Foundations of Philosophy Series (1998). It’s a refreshingly well-written and clarifying book. When I first read the manuscript, I held a Rand-and-Nozick-influenced version of libertarianism at odds with the defense of the welfare state Nathanson offers in Economic Justice. It took me awhile, but I eventually came around to something like the view Nathanson defends, and did so partly by reflection on his arguments. I still turn to the book decades after the fact when I want to think things through on the subject. I highly recommend it to anyone who’s looking to do the same. Continue reading

The Lessons of 9/11: Twenty Years Later

I post this every year around 9/11, so here it is again with some revisions.

Today is the twentieth anniversary of 9/11. Here are a few of the lessons I’ve learned from two decades of perpetual warfare. I offer them somewhat dogmatically, as a mere laundry list (mostly) minus examples, but I have a feeling that the lessons will ring true enough for many people, and that most readers can supply appropriate examples of their own.

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Health Care: A Series

This was originally a post on COVID booster shots, but I’ve now broken it into two separate posts, the first a prologue offering a very general summary of my approach to issues in health care, and the second, a post expressing skepticism about the need to wait any longer before we roll out a COVID booster, as well as skepticism about monopolistic institutional arrangements (distributive and/or regulatory) in health care.

I work in health care, but have no worked-out view on the political economy of health care. In fact, part of the reason I accepted the (full time) job I currently have, in hospital revenue cycle management, is to clarify my thoughts on that very subject. So I’m open to being schooled on issues in health care by anyone willing and able to do so–a category that probably includes a very large number of people. For the time being, I’m willing to remain at least temporarily in a state of curmudgeonly skepticism, willing to take pot shots at almost everyone, but unwilling to pledge allegiance to much of anything. You might regard that as a frivolous position to take, considering the stakes involved. But I don’t.

Since I’m going to be writing here at PoT about health care a fair bit in the near future (I’ve done some already), take what I say in the preceding skeptical (or dialectical) spirit. My aim is, through discussion and experience, to work my way from skepticism to something more definite.

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Natural Law Libertarianism in Two Flavours

My two latest Agoric Café videos:

In the first one, I chat with philosopher Eric Mack about walking out on Ayn Rand, clashing with Nazi Sikhs in Seneca Falls, libertarian rights theory, Kantian vs. Aristotelean approaches to fixing Randian ethics, Nozickian polymathy, the unselfishness of Samuel Johnson, the ethics of COVID lockdowns, physical distancing in Durango, the CIA as an argument against anarchism, shoving someone in front of a bus as a form of restitution, and the edibility of matter.

In the second video, I chat with philosopher Gary Chartier about Robin Hood, left-wing market anarchism, natural law, free speech and employer power, libertarian secularism, Seventh-day Adventism, religious epistemology, long-arc television, urban fantasy, Lawrence Durrell, Iris Murdoch, Whit Stillman, the evils of giving extra credit and taking attendance, and the attractions of being emperor.

The Bullets and the Battle: A Dialogue

Imagine a person A who confronts a complete stranger, B, and shoots B out of pure malice. A now encounters C and gets ready to shoot her from the same motivation, but is prevented by D, a police officer, who shoots A before A can shoot C.

Who has initiated force in this scenario, and who has engaged in retaliatory force? It’s an interesting question. Walking through a neighborhood park, I overheard a discussion on the subject, carried on by two interlocutors, Simpleton and Overthinker. Continue reading

“Initial Appropriation and Duty-Creation”

Way back in July, I announced a “forthcoming” discussion here on a bunch of papers that had just been presented at the 36th annual conference of the North American Society for Social Philosophy in San Francisco. Unlike about half of the promises I make at PoT, it looks like I will deliver on this one, so “forthcoming” means “imminent.” Yes, my track record here is about as bad as the Trump Administration’s, but trust me: I have reliable intelligence that all of this is really about to happen.

The first of the two papers will be Jesse Spafford’s “Initial Appropriation and Duty-Creation,” accepted for publication (and yes, imminently about to be published) in the Journal of Ethics and Social Philosophy. It’s a response to Bas Van der Vossen’s “Imposing Duties and Initial Appropriation,” Journal of Political Philosophy 23 (2015): 64-85, so you might want to take a look at that beforehand. Continue reading

Molinari Review I.2: What Lies Within?

The long-awaited second issue of the Molinari Review (the Molinari Institute’s interdisciplinary, open-access, libertarian academic journal) is here! Nearly twice the length of the first issue!

You can order a paper copy from Amazon US, Amazon Canada, Amazon UK, or, I believe, any of the other regional incarnations of Amazon.

(A Kindle copy should be available later this month. In the meantime, the previous issue is available as a free PDF download here.)

So what’s in the new issue? Here’s a rundown: Continue reading

Reason Papers Vol. 41:1 Is Out

The latest issue of Reason Papers–the first issue edited by Shawn Klein (Arizona State University)–is now out. This issue contains (among other things) the long-awaited symposium on Vicente’s Medina’s Terrorism Unjustified, based on an Author-Meets-Critics session held at Felician University in April 2018. Thanks to everyone who worked on the issue, and especially to Shawn, for the work they put into it. Incidentally, though there isn’t one in this issue, the journal often runs a “Discussion Notes” section for responses to material in previous issues. So if you feel inclined to respond to anything you read here, send something along to Shawn via the journal.

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