The justification of libertarian political institutions follows logically from relatively uncontroversial moral intuitions held by a broad range of reasonable people. This essay is excerpted from Arguments for Liberty. I am an advocate of two controversial philosophical views: ethical intuitionism and libertarianism. Ethical intuitionism is a general theory about the nature of values and our knowledge thereof. The theory is logically consistent with almost any moral or political views.
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The justification of libertarian political institutions follows logically from relatively uncontroversial moral intuitions held by a broad range of reasonable people. This essay is excerpted from Arguments for Liberty. I am an advocate of two controversial philosophical views: ethical intuitionism and libertarianism. Ethical intuitionism is a general theory about the nature of values and our knowledge thereof. The theory is logically consistent with almost any moral or political views. Nevertheless, certain ethical views are especially natural ones for an intuitionist to hold.
Furthermore, those ethical views fit naturally with libertarian political philosophy. In what follows, I aim to explain why. I have written about intuitionism at length elsewhere. Two main ideas are central to any ethical intuitionist position.
The first tenet of intuitionism is moral realism. This is the view that there are objective values or objective evaluative properties, objective evaluative facts, objectively true value statements.
Who would disagree with moral realism? A number of people do. Some believe that what is right or wrong is determined entirely by what society approves or disapproves of. Others believe that what is good, bad, right, or wrong depends on the attitudes of the individual. Others believe that evaluative statements, in general, are neither true nor false. Finally, some believe that all positive evaluative statements are false, because in reality, nothing has any evaluative properties.
The intuitionist rejects all four of those views. What would be an example of an objective evaluative truth? He was finally executed in Florida in Nor is it true because I said so. If I somehow approved of Bundy, I would just be horribly misguided.
There are many similar examples. The second main tenet of intuitionism is that ethical intuition enables us to gain knowledge of at least some of the objective evaluative truths. In my view, an ethical intuition is a type of appearance. An appearance is a type of mental state, in which something seems to one to be the case. This appearance differs from belief, because it is possible to either believe or disbelieve what seems to one to be the case.
Appearances typically cause beliefs. There are several species of appearances, including sensory, mnemonic, and intellectual. For example, when I see a squirrel outside my window, I have a sensory appearance in which it seems that a squirrel is outside the window. When I think back to this morning, I have a mnemonic appearance in which I seem to remember having a delicious tofu scramble for breakfast.
When I think about geometry, I have an intellectual appearance in which it seems to me that the shortest path between any two points must be a straight line. An intuition is an initial, intellectual appearance. That is, it is a mental state in which something seems to one to be the case upon intellectual reflection, where this appearance does not depend on entertaining an inference to that conclusion.
When I think about what is the shortest path between two points, I do not entertain an argument that it must be a straight line; rather, it just seems immediately obvious that it must be a straight line. It is an initial, intellectual appearance that something is good, bad, right, or wrong. For example, when I reflect, it just seems obvious that pleasure is intrinsically good good for its own sake. All rational beliefs are based on appearances. With few exceptions, when you believe that P , you believe it because it seems to you that P , or perhaps because it seems to you that Q , and it seems to you that Q supports P or it seems to you that R , and it seems to you that R supports Q , and it seems to you that Q supports P , etc.
Your belief is thus caused by and based on one or more appearances. The exceptions are cases in which you form beliefs based on emotions, desires, leaps of faith, or some such obviously nonrational source. No other alternatives exist. There is not, for example, the alternative of a belief based on an infinite series of other beliefs or a belief based on a fact that is never presented in any appearances. A belief is justified, in my view, provided that the belief is based on an appearance that one has no reason to doubt.
If P seems true to you, and there are no reasons to doubt P or to doubt the reliability of the appearance, then it makes sense to believe P. There is more to say about knowledge , but the preceding is the most important part. The preceding explains how we are sometimes justified in believing evaluative truths. In addition to the above two essential points, there is a third important aspect of the approach taken by many intuitionists myself included : intuitionists tend to be antitheoretical.
That is, we tend to think that relatively specific, concrete judgments take precedence over general, theoretical judgments. Four closely related things can be said to explain it. First, the way human cognition normally works is that we come to know concrete, specific things first, and general, abstract things later—if at all.
In fact, the justification for a general theory usually depends on our first having justified beliefs about specific cases. For instance, to be justified in accepting some general account of what justice is, one must first know in many individual cases what is a just or unjust action.
Second, specific judgments are usually more reliable and better justified than general, theoretical judgments. Consider beliefs about the physical world to start with. I think much the same is true in almost every field: most abstract theories are false, whereas most concrete judgments are true. The record for philosophical theories, by the way, is especially bad.
Third, as a corollary to the preceding two points, if you have a general theory that turns out to conflict with the judgment you would be inclined to accept about some particular case, then, almost always, the theory is wrong. The former choice is the correct one. Fourth, suppose you are interested in the answer to some relatively specific question say, what is the right immigration policy? You should usually try to answer the question using the most concrete premises that will provide an answer and that are also highly plausible.
You typically should not take a detour through some very general theory say, a general theory of when coercion is justified. As a rule, such detours will make you much less likely to arrive at the truth. Why, then, have I been addressing abstract, theoretical questions throughout this section?
Do we really need to address such questions to figure out what is the best political ideology? You could follow my argument for libertarianism without knowing about intuitionism. My book on political philosophy never mentions intuitionism. But for this chapter, I was specifically asked to address the relationship between intuitionism and libertarianism. And it is true that my views on those two subjects cohere. But I think you should be a libertarian whether or not ethical intuitionism is true, and I think you should be an intuitionist whether or not libertarianism is true.
I have discussed the case for libertarianism at length elsewhere. I believe that political philosophy ought to start from ethics: to figure out how the government should behave in some situation, we should first reflect on how we think people should behave in analogous situations, because the government is just a certain group of people.
That conflict is particularly common when it comes to intuitions that bear on controversial political issues. Of particular import, those of differing political ideologies will often have conflicting ethical intuitions. For instance, those on the left and those on the right of the political spectrum tend to have different intuitions about the value of equality: leftwing thinkers find wealth inequalities intuitively, intrinsically problematic, whereas rightwing thinkers are much less likely to see any intuitive problem with it.
However, we have no good reason to assume that other people are much more likely to have mistaken intuitions than we ourselves are. On what, then, should we base our ethical beliefs? A natural methodological approach is this: one should look for the least controversial ethical intuitions and try to build other normative beliefs upon those. In the realm of politics, it is especially important to seek evaluative premises that would seem correct to reasonable people of different ideological inclinations, whether they be leftwing, rightwing, libertarian, or something else.
No premises are accepted by everyone, but if some ethical premise seems obvious to the great majority of people regardless of their political orientation, then that premise should be assumed correct unless and until we have good reasons for thinking otherwise. In addition, the ideas presented earlier suggest that these should mainly be intuitive ethical judgments about specific cases.
If we have a widespread, specific intuition, that is a reasonable starting point; no further theory or argument is needed. Here is an example. Imagine that I live in a village that has some poor people who are not being adequately cared for.
Suppose I go around the village demanding contributions for a charity that I run to aid the poor. If anyone refuses to contribute, I kidnap them at gunpoint and lock them in a cage for an extended period. What is the moral status of my behavior? Most people intuit that this behavior would be wrong. It is of course laudable to run a charity to aid the poor; what is not permissible is to collect contributions by force and to imprison noncontributors. One need not give a theory of why this is wrong nor argue that it is wrong, because it just seems wrong to nearly everyone, regardless of whether one is leftwing, rightwing, libertarian, or other, and this appearance suffices for justified belief, in the absence of specific grounds for doubt.
On its face, my behavior in that scenario seems analogous to that of a government collecting funds for social welfare programs through taxation, where those who refuse to pay the taxes will be arrested and jailed. If the defenders of government social welfare programs cannot discharge this burden, then we should conclude that government social welfare programs are impermissible.
Note how this argument differs from the sort of arguments traditionally advanced by libertarian absolute rights theorists, such as Murray Rothbard, Ayn Rand, and perhaps Robert Nozick. By contrast, I argue that because taxation for the purpose of supporting social welfare programs is on its face analogous to behavior that would seem wrong if it were done by anyone other than the government, there is a presumption that such taxation is wrong.
It is the burden of those who support social welfare programs to rebut this presumption. My argument, I think, has a more reliable ethical starting point. Of course, this also makes the rest of the argument more difficult, because we must listen to what the defenders of social welfare programs have to say in their defense and because we can never be sure that they will not devise some new argument for why government social welfare programs are really disanalogous to the seemingly wrongful behavior in my example.
This kind of argument can be made on behalf of any of the standard libertarian political positions.
An Ethical Intuitionist Case for Libertarianism
Michael Huemer's book is a vigorous defense of ethical intuitionism. Since different folks mean different things by this term, I should say that Huemer's conception can be briefly summarized as the view that there are irreducibly normative or evaluative properties which things states of affairs, events, people, etc. Some moral truths are known intuitively; that is, non-inferentially, but not through sense-experience. Huemer's book is, in parts, polemical: it is designed to persuade and, in my view, his arguments for his central claim are indeed persuasive. In delivering that verdict, it is only fair to warn the reader that I needed no persuading, being already a convinced ethical intuitionist.
Ethical Intuitionism is a book hardcover release: , paperback release: by University of Colorado philosophy professor Michael Huemer defending ethical intuitionism. It is generally clear, well-argued, timely, and thought-provoking. Not the least of its merits, however, is that it contains a large element of truth. Huemer is understandably frustrated that so many people still misrepresent intuitionism and fail to take it seriously. But it is making a return, and currently has more proponents than he sometimes seems to suggest. His book should help create some more.
It seems that you're in Germany. We have a dedicated site for Germany. A defence of ethical intuitionism where i there are objective moral truths; ii we know these through an immediate, intellectual awareness, or 'intuition'; and iii knowing them gives us reasons to act independent of our desires. The author rebuts the major objections to this theory and shows the difficulties in alternative theories of ethics. He is the author of Skepticism and the Veil of Perception and Ethical Intuitionism , as well as more than 40 articles in ethics, epistemology, political philosophy, and metaphysics. It is the best book ever written on meta-ethics.
Intuitionism in Ethics
Ethical intuitionism also called moral intuitionism is a view or family of views in moral epistemology and, on some definitions, metaphysics. It is at its core foundationalism about moral knowledge; that is, it is committed to the thesis that some moral truths can be known non-inferentially i. Such an epistemological view is by definition committed to the existence of knowledge of moral truths; therefore, ethical intuitionism implies cognitivism. As a foundationalist epistemological position, ethical intuitionism is to be contrasted with coherentist positions in moral epistemology, such as those that depend on reflective equilibrium. Despite the name "ethical intuitionism", ethical intuitionists need not though often do accept that intuitions of value or of evaluative facts form the foundation of ethical knowledge; the common commitment of ethical intuitionists is to a non-inferential foundation for ethical knowledge, regardless of whether such a non-inferential foundation consists in intutions as such. Throughout the philosophical literature, the term "ethical intuitionism" is frequently used with significant variation in its sense. This article's focus on foundationalism reflects the core commitments of contemporary self-identified ethical intuitionists.