Tuesday, December 03, 2002

Three Values

Here are three commonsense values:

1. One ought to promote the happiness of good people. The chief duty here is to give aid to miserable innocents who have encountered dire circumstances through no fault of their own. Once people get above that level and into positive territory, in which their lives count as good, then the duty to aid them is almost entirely cancelled. The mistake of leftist philosophy is to suppose that any gaps in happiness, or gaps in wealth, are inherently questionable. I've demonstrated before that gaps in wealth are not inherently unjust. The reason is that if, for example, person A is very rich, and person B is upper-middle class, then (unless one has harmed the other) there is no injustice in the gap between them. The gap doesn't even weigh at all in favor of concluding that their mutual standing is unjust. Therefore, no gap in wealth is inherently unjust. Injustice arises because of a gap only when those at the bottom are innocent and miserable and may be easily helped by those of wealth. Justice has nothing to do with gaps in wealth. It does have to do with not harming others and with giving assistance to miserable innocents. Where no one has injured another and no one is miserable, there is no injustice. Nevertheless, instituting a leftist political and economic system greatly impedes people's happiness, liberty and wealth accumulation. Leftism bungles this commonsense value of happiness by confusing it with talk about gaps.

2. One ought to be self-reliant. This is the duty not to be a burden on others. If you embrace this value fully, then you would not want to live in a lavish welfare state; you would not want rich Canadians to pay for your health care if you were a not-so-rich Canadian. You would hate to be such a burden on others. Harvard philosopher John Rawls has recently died (see the post below). According to Junius, Rawls was the greatest American of our time and will be studied as a great philosopher for generations to come. Rawls said that a disposition to be self-reliant was not a prerequisite for desert of wealth. For if you didn't know whether you were going to be a lazy and untalented person, you would choose a lavish welfare system, just in case you were. (Again, see the Rawls post below for details.) In addition, leftists, such as Rawls, value equal opportunity highly. But there is no injustice in a lack of equal opportunity. No one has a right to succeed, so no one has a right to an opportunity to succeed. (Though, of course, for one person to injure another so as to impede his opportunity is another story.) Thus, Rawlsian philosophy, like any leftism, is is a dereliction of a commonsense value. Rawls to me is one of the most important examples of the bankruptcy of contemporary academic philosophical ethics. No interesting, novel, and true moral philosophy has emerged from the academy in fifty years. Please correct me by naming an important and true moral theory if you can. It has crashed and burned in the philosophy journals. Common sense never has.

3. There are rights to property. These are rights not to give one's possessions to others, even those who need them more. There must be good reasons if these rights are to be overridden. There is no point in demanding justification for them. Questioning them is as worthwhile as wondering whether it really is wrong to torture innocents for fun. It's a matter of common sense.

What you can see from 1, 2 and 3 is that people ought to be left alone to fend for themselves in a free market economy, save their duties to act so as not to make themselves a burden on others and to act so as to help miserable innocents. This is conservative, moderate, commonsense philosophy.

Leftist moral theory, reigning in philosophy departments today, with the paradigm case of Rawls, seeks to undermine all three of these commonsense values. Leftism is therefore inherently radical. But there is an astonishing fact: There is no good argument for leftism. The reason is that no one has any idea how to ground a moral principle except by appealing to commonsense values. In the academy, leftist ethics professors claim that morality can be grounded on pure reason. Look out. That's nonsense talk. It comes from Immanuel Kant. Kant is upheld as a great philosopher by ethics professors today. The problem is that Kant's views, like Rawlsianism, have suffered repeated and devastating criticisms since he first proposed them (beginning with ol' Hegel). And yet Kant is a philosophical leader in the academy.