Opinion from a Libertarian ViewPoint

Posts Tagged ‘morality’

Nozick on Morality and Evolution

Posted by M. C. on July 16, 2022

Further, why do those who claim direct access to real values have to say that propositions about value are necessary? Why isn’t it enough to assert that the value propositions are true in the actual world, and in “nearby” possible worlds? To me, the “moral” of Nozick’s account is that we should be reluctant to throw away what seems manifestly true because of difficulties in reconciling this with evolution.

You think this post is a tough read? Try reading Nozick’s work. He is good but I need a Wikipedia open while I read.

David Gordon

Robert Nozick is probably most familiar to readers of this column as a libertarian political philosopher, but this week I’d like to look at another issue, relevant not only to libertarians but to anyone interested in moral and political thought, which he discusses in his last book, Invariances (Harvard, 2001.) This is whether our beliefs about these subjects are objectively true or merely the expression of preferences. If we say, e.g., that people own themselves, is this something that is true or is it just a preference that we have?

Nozick doesn’t think it’s true. Not that he thinks it’s false—i.e., that it’s true that people don’t own themselves. Rather Nozick questions whether ethical truths exist at all.

How can ethical statements be true, if truth consists in correspondence to the facts? Are there special kinds of facts, ethical ones, and if so, by what route do we discover them? … The history of philosophy is abundant with unsuccessful attempts to establish a firm basis for ethical truths. Inductively, we infer that the task is unpromising.

But don’t our considered moral judgments put us in touch with moral facts? Nozick finds no basis in evolutionary theory to account for this claimed grasp of moral facts. Suppose he is right that we cannot explain by use of Darwinian evolution how we can grasp ethical truth. Why should we take this as a decisive reason to abandon the claim that we know such truths? Perhaps we instead have grounds to doubt that Darwinian processes account for all our knowledge.

We might press the point further. It is hard to explain through evolution how we know any necessary truths. Does this give us reason to abandon necessary truth? If not, why should we toss moral truths overboard on Darwinian grounds?

Nozick fully anticipates this response, but his answer I find astonishing. He does propose abandoning necessary truth, in large part because by evolution he cannot account for how we might attain such knowledge. Why he accords evolutionary considerations such enormous weight escapes me.

But my skepticism is not an argument, and Nozick’s intricately elaborated alternative to ethical truth merits attention. Once again, Darwinian evolution exerts decisive weight. Nozick endeavors to determine the evolutionary function of ethics. Why has natural selection endowed us with the capacity to make moral judgments? He plausibly suggests that cooperative behavior in some circumstances increases “inclusive fitness.”

Again, suppose Nozick is right. Why does this matter for ethics? As always, he has considered the objection:

Derek Parfit … asks the pertinent question of what difference is made by something’s being the function of ethics. Many things have bad functions (war, slavery, etc.). And even when the function is a good one, as evaluated by the standards instilled to go with cooperation, is normative force added by saying that this good effect of ethical principles (namely, enhancing mutual cooperation) also is the function of ethics?

Nozick’s response brings out a key feature of the book. Ethical rules not only have a function but also exhibit certain properties that enable them to carry out this function effectively. One of these has decisive importance to our author. “Objective ethical truths … are held to involve a certain symmetry or invariance…. The Golden Rule mandates doing unto others as you would have others do unto you.” As Nozick sees matters, invariance under transformation is the mark of truth. Once we combine function with invariance, in a vastly more complicated way than I can here explain, we arrive at a close substitute for objective truth.

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Morality is Dead. Hollywood Killed It

Posted by M. C. on June 30, 2022

What’s with all the nihilistic, amoral, dark anti-hero leads in movies and shows? Are we supposed to treat horrible characters as pinnacles of human behavior now? The bleak content that’s crept its way mainstream over the last 10 years should concern us all. The stories we tell matter, for they influence what we believe and what values we adopt. Fortunately, a renewed appreciation for natural rights and individualism could be the antidote to the immense darkness that’s blanketed American culture as of late. That’s what we’ll get down to on this feature episode of Out of Frame.

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Why Today’s Abusers of the Scientific Method Are So Dangerous | Mises Wire

Posted by M. C. on October 12, 2021

The issue, then, with slogans like “believe in science” is the tendency to conflate science with morality and value. When science is wielded to make laws, it is most often done with a moral code attached. It has been shown that science is not able to do this, so the only way science can be used to make law for is someone, some real person or persons somewhere, to draw a moral conclusion based on the science. This personal, individual moral conclusion is then applied wholesale upon all that the law will reach. It is for this reason that science should never be used as a justification in any government action to enforce moral systems.

Michael Roberts

Over the past half decade, there has been a growing trend signaling a shift in the perceived and accepted role of science. It is not uncommon to see slogans and mottos such as “the science is settled” and “believe in science.” Statements like this present two major problems: first, science is determined to be final and indisputable; second, it is accompanied by a value or moral judgment. For example, scientific studies indicate that wearing a helmet can “reduce head injury by 48%, serious head injury by 60%, traumatic brain injury by 53%, [and] face injury by 23%.” While it takes little effort to align with science on such a matter, I intend to demonstrate that an application of the first behavior is contradictory to the foundation of science and the second lies entirely outside its purview.

To establish common ground, we begin by reviewing the merits and fundamentals of the scientific method. First, an observation is made, followed by a question regarding the observation. A hypothesis is then formed that could potentially answer the question. A prediction about future results based on the hypothesis is then tested via experiments. Analysis of the results of the experiments are utilized to confirm or reject the hypothesis. If the results seem to demonstrate that the hypothesis is correct, then confidence begins to build in the predictive power of the hypothesis and its ability to describe the real world. If the results seem to demonstrate that the hypothesis is incorrect, then the scientific method loops back on itself and the hypothesis is challenged, refined, modified, or discarded. The process is rigorous, thorough, and exacting. It is also deeply empirical, meaning it relies on information from the real world; it can only extract data from things that have already happened. In its most basic form, this process is what constitutes “science” as commonly referred to in media and conversation.

With common ground established, the first major problem can be addressed. It is, ironically, antiscience to ever declare that science is settled. There are a few characteristics of the scientific method that substantiate this claim. Since the scientific method is based on empirical data in relation to a hypothesis, it is reliant on the senses and perceived experiences. This means it is wholly dependent on the past. Science cannot properly predict the future; it can only model what has happened and make a reasonable projection about what could happen. All scientific law hangs desperately on statistical probability. 

In addition, since man is not omniscient, the future will forever remain unknown. As man continues to explore the physical world, there always exists the possibility that enough data will accumulate to falsify, or at least cast into doubt, a well-established scientific conclusion. Because of these conditions, statements declaring the science to be settled are altogether unscientific: they reject the core principles and practices of the scientific method and the nature of human experience. Such conditions expose the ridiculousness of any insinuation that science is settled. Strictly speaking, science is unable to ever be settled. Imagine the carnage if scientists around the world had retired their lab coats and accepted the leading theories of the early twentieth century that cigarettes were good for human health. Fortunately, continued use of the scientific method has built a compelling counterargument that cigarettes are in fact very detrimental to the body.

The second major problem may have more perilous implications when thoroughly examined. In the preceding discussion, it is clearly shown that science is only able to approach statistical truth based on empirical evidence. Science is, however, utterly unable to tell us what is right or wrong. There is nothing naturally occurring within the scientific method that empowers it to make value judgments or moral decisions. It cannot tell us what is good, bad, better, or worse. In essence, science is never able to say “should” or “must.” To return to our previous example, science may conclude that wearing a helmet prevents head injuries in motorbike accidents, but it is powerless to dictate that motorists should wear helmets. To do so is to make a value judgment that can only be made by individuals. 

Wearing a helmet is only prescriptive if the individual motorist values the possibility of preventing a cracked skull over riding freely in the wind. Knowing the risks and being informed by science, most motorists would likely choose to wear a helmet, but science is unable to tell them that is the choice of highest value, since individuals have different, and differing, value systems. In regards to science, what is right is dependent on the precise ends desired by individual actors and their values. As Ludwig von Mises stated, “There is no use in arguing about the adequacy of ethical precepts…. Ultimate ends are chosen by the individual’s judgments of value. They cannot be determined by scientific inquiry and logical reasoning.”1 

Allowing science to make universal value judgments also enables it to define morality. An example of this can be found in the debates surrounding abortion law. Science can tell us when a heartbeat begins, how developed a baby is in the first, second, and third trimester, and even the sex of the baby. But again, it is absolutely powerless to tell us whether it is or is not moral to abort the baby. Such an evaluation would rest on the value judgments and moral code of the individual.

The issue, then, with slogans like “believe in science” is the tendency to conflate science with morality and value. When science is wielded to make laws, it is most often done with a moral code attached. It has been shown that science is not able to do this, so the only way science can be used to make law for is someone, some real person or persons somewhere, to draw a moral conclusion based on the science. This personal, individual moral conclusion is then applied wholesale upon all that the law will reach. It is for this reason that science should never be used as a justification in any government action to enforce moral systems. Doing so results in the morals and values of the few being imposed upon the many. It is only individuals who can make decisions about what they will do in regard to any scientific consensus. F.A. Hayek put this neatly when he said that “individuals should be allowed … to follow their own values and preferences rather than somebody else’s.”2

The results of any scientific study require interpretation and any interpretation is necessarily subjective. The interpretation of results can go on to inform value judgments and moral codes. But if science moves into a space where its conclusions can never be challenged and it also determines morality, then it suddenly ceases to exhibit characteristics of science and has assumed characteristics of religion. When conveniently married to power, an exaltation of science to this status can have disastrous effects, as evidenced by the acts committed by the Third Reich and other horrific occurrences. The further science drifts from the scientific method and embraces religious zealotry, the more dangerous its potential to restrict choice, destroy human liberty, and harm real people. It should always be remembered that while science can tell us that a phone will carry our voices through the air, it will never be able to tell us what should be said.

  • 1. Ludwig von Mises, Profit and Loss (Auburn, AL: Ludwig von Mises Institute, 2008), p. 33.
  • 2. F.A. Hayek, “Planning and Democracy,” in The Road to Serfdom (London: Routledge, 2001), p. 62.


Michael Roberts

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Morality of Free Markets

Posted by M. C. on December 11, 2019

Free markets are morally superior to other economic systems. To have a claim on what my fellow man produces, I’m forced to serve him. Contrast that requirement to government handouts, where a politician says to me: “You don’t have to get out in that hot sun to mow your fellow man’s lawn. Vote for me and I’ll take what your fellow man produces and give it to you.”


…For many people, profit has become a dirty word and as such has generated slogans such as “people before profits.” Many believe the pursuit of profits is the source of mankind’s troubles. However, it’s often the absence of profit motivation that’s the true villain. For example, contrast the number of complaints heard about profit-oriented establishments such as computer stores, supermarkets and clothing stores to the complaints that one hears about nonprofit establishments such as the U.S. Post Office, the public education system and departments of motor vehicles. Computer stores, supermarkets and clothing stores face competition and must satisfy customers to earn profits and stay in business. Postal workers, public teachers and department of motor vehicles employees depend on politicians and coercion to get their pay. They stay in business whether customers are satisfied with their services or not…

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Auchter's Art: Free market capitalism charade | Michigan Radio



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Embracing Reality – by Robert Ringer

Posted by M. C. on September 21, 2018

I further believe that one of the most important steps in a person’s personal growth is to become adept at transcending his world of delusions.  This is not an easy task, due in no small part to the fact that we are surrounded by delusions each and every day.

by Robert Ringer

As the lying, corruption, and craziness continue unabated in Washington, it’s a reminder of just how important it is to one’s sanity to embrace reality.  Reality is synonymous with truth, but, as Baltasar Gracian, the insightful and pragmatic 17thcentury Jesuit priest, cautioned, “Truth is abhorred by the masses.”

Instead of loving truth, most people try to make true that which they love, which is a self-delusive practice that virtually guarantees frustration and failure.  Thus, most people live in an unreal world, a world they create in their own minds based on the way they would like it to be rather than the way it actually is.  They seem to have adopted the philosophy of Ashleigh Brilliant, who once remarked, “I have abandoned my search for truth and am now looking for a good fantasy.”

It is absolutely essential that a person intellectually and emotionally recognizes that reality isn’t the way he wishes things to be or the way they appear to be, but the way they actually are.  The individual who is not able to make this distinction finds it virtually impossible to make decisions that lead to positive results.     

Which brings me to principles.  A principle is synonymous with a law of nature, as opposed to a law of man.  Most manmade laws are nothing more than legalized aggression against the sovereignty of peaceful individuals and rarely bear any relationship to Natural Law, reality, or morality… Read the rest of this entry »

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Are American Wars Just and Moral? – LewRockwell

Posted by M. C. on July 26, 2017

In which of the countries we have attacked or invaded in this century — Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen — are the people better off 
than they were before we came?

And we wonder why they hate us.

Just like here at home it is about control. Not improving life.

The problem is there are fewer sheeple over there than here.

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