Wednesday, January 22, 2003

Modern Political Philosophers

I told my class today that the three foremost modern political philosophers in academia, Marx, Rawls and Nozick, are all sophists who are not serious about finding the truth. These are the three an introductory textbook in philosophy will give the student to read when it comes time to study economic justice. But none of them have serious arguments or demonstrate a willingness to consider intuitively compelling alternatives to their views. They spin ingenious arguments meant to convince, but they avoid and conceal uncomfortable spots, falsehoods in the foundations of their arguments. This makes them sophists and not philosophers. Marx is the communist, Rawls the welfare leftist, and Nozick the libertarian. I've blogged about Marx and Rawls enough. As for Nozick, I'll be brief. I know the blogosphere is loaded with libertarians. So be it. But just don't use Nozick's book as your Bible.

Nozick says that if a distribution of wealth is just at time 1, and if wheeling and dealing transpires, business of a fair kind in which no one is cheated, injured, stolen from, etc., then the distribution of wealth at time 2 is just, as well. If you have no injustice at time 1, and you put no injustice into the pot, then you can have no injustice at time 2. In other words, if some are rich by time 2 and some are impoverished, this is not unjust. Of course, you might wonder about five-year-olds with no shelter or food, or adults who, through some misfortune, have no arms or legs, and you might inquire of Nozick whether it might be unjust if at time 2 these people are left to die by the very wealthy; you don't have to be a lefty to suppose that perhaps a minimal welfare net for such awful cases is a requirement of justice. But you won't get any reply from Nozick. He will merely repeat the argument: If at time 1 there was no injustice, and if wheeling and dealing.... Nozick is right that it is unjust to take from the very rich and give to the lazy or the middle class. But if you ask him about dying five-year-olds and the injustice of leaving them to die, he'll just change the subject, or, my favorite, ask a rhetorical question, What would be unjust about that? His premise is that justice has nothing to do with distributions of wealth but only to do with the fairness of economic transactions. This premise begs the question. Nozick avoids the issue. He's a sophist.

Yes, Marx, Rawls and Nozick are the best. Are any college classes teaching John Adams, Oakeshott, or John Kekes? Of course not. Only the finest make it to the syllabi of political philosophy in America.