From the Comments: An embarrassment of riches, a stable full of straw

Below are some more thoughts on “total liberty” and bad faith.

My argument in the threads with Marvin has intended to be one that displays two points of view, rather than to be one of persuasion. Due to his responses to Dr Foldvary’s argument, I realized that he was uninterested in having an honest debate. I also realized that persuading him would be futile. So I instead have tried to illustrate – to readers and curious passersby – how Marvin’s arguments are fallacious (dishonest) and what to do about them by exploiting Marvin’s position. In order to do this I have kept it simple and tried to argue on Marvin’s terms (“speaking past one another”). Rick has an insightful, must-read summary of our arguments, and he also furthers our understanding of freedom in the process.

I am not quite done, though. I am still unsure if I have accomplished my task of exposing Marvin’s arguments as fallacious. I want to be sure that readers don’t take him seriously in the future should he decide to continue trolling the ‘comments’ section. Marvin states matter-of-factly that:

The problem is that I have a better handle on the truth than you do.

Now, in the interest of honest debate, I hope that everyone can see how Marvin’s assertion shows how he is being dishonest. I have pointed out his straw man fallacies for a while now, and I want to get the point across that Marvin’s characterizations of libertarian ethics are based upon the above-quoted viewpoint.

Given that Marvin believes he has a better handle on truth than I, how can I (or you as a reader) expect to get an even-handed argument from him? If you believe that I have mischaracterized Marvin’s arguments (as he has done to mine and Dr Foldvary’s and soon-to-be [?] Dr Weber’s), please point out where in the ‘comments’ thread.

Again, my task is much more simple than Rick’s. I wish to merely show how Marvin’s argument is based on falsehoods. I think his comments elsewhere suggest my hunch is right. (Rick, by the way, has been much more generous to Marvin than I, a position for which he has been rewarded by being called a homosexual with an unhealthy obsession for Marvin (“My name can’t stay off of Rick’s lips,” according to Marvin the Truthspeaker).)

Marvin’s main error in reasoning, in my judgement, is that he creates positions that nobody has made and then draws conclusions from those created positions. Sometimes he restates arguments that nobody has contested as if they were contested and then proceeds to explain why libertarians should not (or do) contest such an argument. This is sophistry at its most vulgar.

Does everybody follow? Dr Amburgey?

His last response to me in the ‘comments’ is a good example of what I mean. Marvin writes:

Brandon [quoting me]: “Society A (the one with no rules prohibiting murder) does not have total liberty because its members do not have freedom from unwarranted aggression.”

[Marvin:] If a society has a consensus that murder should be punished then it effectively has a rule prohibiting murder whether the rule is explicitly written down or not.

Yes, and what exactly does this have to do with my argument? With Fred’s? With Rick’s? With Hank’s? Marvin continues:

If a society has no agreement that murder is wrong then its sense of justice either presumes any murder is justified or is indifferent to it until it affects them personally.

Again, this may be true, but what exactly does this have to do with my argument that “Society A (the one with no rules prohibiting murder) does not have total liberty because its members do not have freedom from unwarranted aggression”? Where does it follow from this statement that rules prohibit total liberty? It’s almost as if Marvin is talking to himself rather than to a group of people. There is nothing wrong with thinking out loud, but it seems to me – based on this response and on past responses – that Marvin thinks he is replying to an argument somebody else has made rather than thinking out loud.

Marvin continues to pummel me:

(b) The meaning of “liberty” is “freedom to”, not “freedom from”. “Freedom to” means you can pursue your happiness with minimal restrictions (“total freedom” would imply no restrictions at all, a liberty to do what you please without fear of punishment).

Marvin goes on and on (and on) from there. However, this is simply wrong. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy has a good summary of the ‘freedom to’ versus ‘freedom from’ distinction. Basically, the ‘freedom from’ folks look at external factors (such as government) that inhibit liberty, whereas the ‘freedom to’ folks look at factors that are internal to individuals (such as class). I don’t want to get into the details here, but suffice it to say this is not Marvin’s understanding of the distinction. Normally I wouldn’t have a problem explaining this misunderstanding, but given Marvin’s track record I’m going to skip out on doing so (unless somebody wants me to).

I’ve got one more example I’d like to use to hammer home my point that Marvin is not interested in having an honest debate. He writes:

Brandon [quoting me]: “Your attempt at distinguishing “private punishments” within Society A from “punishments of society” is also fallacious. Is society composed of numerous factions – most of them private – or is it a monolithic, dissent-free, homogeneous unit.”

[Marvin:] A consensus is not monolithic. If everyone had to agree to everything then nothing would be possible. To make cooperation possible, we created a democratically elected government with many checks and balances. And we agreed to respect the authority of the laws it creates, even laws we may disagree with, because we would expect others to respect the laws that we do agree with that they don’t. And the democratic process may correct or remove an unsuccessful law in the future. I may win the case today and you may win the case tomorrow.

My argument is that Marvin’s assumption about society is monolithic, not society itself. If you read my argument with an eye for understanding it you can easily see that. If you read my argument from a position of Truthspeaker it may be harder to do so.

One last point I’d like to mention is that Marvin also has a habit of changing definitions to suit his argument. Often he simply provides his own. This, of course, helps him to have that “better handle on truth” that nobody else at NOL seems to have.

Has this cleared anything up? Muddled it further? Am I coming off as an ideologue or somebody who is trying to weed out falsehoods?

There are plenty of rules in a libertarian society. The fact that there are rules does not mean that ‘total liberty’ is lost because of it. Such a characterization is the epitome of a straw man. Rick takes the idea of total freedom to the next level (so read up!), so all I’m trying to do here is make sure that everybody understands Marvin’s sophistry. I think understanding sophistry is important because it tends to mellow people out: If you can understand the falsehoods in an argument you can craft up a cooler response.

11 thoughts on “From the Comments: An embarrassment of riches, a stable full of straw”

  1. “My argument is that Marvin’s assumption about society is monolithic, not society itself.”

    I buy that. I missed that whole branch of the comments! I think I might have had it from the beginning, that this is a semantic problem, but with a twist in rhetoric. At this point I think I would summarize Marvin’s position (somewhat unfairly… I’m tired and this is the Internet) as below, using “M-freedom” for Marvin’s conception of freedom:

    “Libertarianism is wrong because they say they want freedom, but they don’t want to maximize M-freedom. Instead they should want less M-freedom than the amount of freedom they say they want. And although rules change over time, an emergent order requires a monolithic governance structure. Libertarians should embrace democracy because it would be unanimously supported as the appropriate decision structure in the pre-constitutional moment.”

  2. Your phrase “freedom from unwarranted aggression” implies a protection against criminal force. For example, the freedom from being car-jacked or the freedom from being mugged in an alley.

    I’m going to take a wild guess at this point that what you mean is “any requirement by government that you do anything different from what pleases you”.

    Is that correct?

  3. Brandon: “The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy has a good summary of the ‘freedom to’ versus ‘freedom from’ distinction. Basically, the ‘freedom from’ folks look at external factors (such as government) that inhibit liberty, whereas the ‘freedom to’ folks look at factors that are internal to individuals (such as class).”

    I’ve read the beginning of the definition, and I understand “negative freedom” to be the absence of barriers to doing what you want and “positive freedom” to be the ability to do what you want.

    I’m using the concept of freedom with neither prefix. The distinction is a division of freedom into categories that are interesting but unnecessary to my usage. The semantic content that is present in both is the ability to do what you want without external restrictions.

    Therefore, “total” freedom is simply the ability to do what you want without “any” restrictions.

    A societal rule against stealing and/or the threat of punishment for stealing is a restriction of one’s freedom.

    Brandon: “Really quickly: Society A (the one with no rules prohibiting murder) does not have total liberty because its members do not have freedom from unwarranted aggression.”

    The freedom to commit aggression implies someone else being subject to acts of aggression. The freedom to steal implies someone else being subject to theft.

    The only way to be “free from” aggression and “free from” theft is by restricting the liberty of those who would commit aggression and those who steal.

    I think you have turned the issue inside out to make your argument.

    Brandon: “If Society A did have total liberty then your argument would carry much more weight.”

    Total liberty implies being subject to the total liberty of others, including those who might harm you. That risk is the cost of total liberty.

    Brandon: “As it stands, you’re just straw manning libertarianism.”

    It has nothing at all to do with libertarianism. The fact that the introduction of rules must necessarily diminish liberty is a fact of life.

    In order to impose a rule upon others, I must be willing to be governed by that rule myself (I think that’s from Kant). To be governed by any rule is to be less free.

    Brandon: “The members of Society B, on the other hand, do have total liberty because their rules against murder support freedom from unwarranted aggression.”

    If you punch me in the nose, you harm me physically, but you have in no way affected my liberty. On the other hand, to be “free” from harm, the liberty of the puncher must be curtailed.

    That’s the way it works. I believe your argument is incorrect.

    1. Oh wow. You mean you’re ignoring all of the literature on the concept of freedom and making up your own?

      What a surprise.

      This blog is not a place for grown-ups to hang out and pretend to play Candyland, Martin.

      1. Brandon: “Oh wow. You mean you’re ignoring all of the literature on the concept of freedom and making up your own?”

        Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: “Negative liberty is the absence of obstacles, barriers or constraints. One has negative liberty to the extent that actions are available to one in this negative sense. Positive liberty is the possibility of acting — or the fact of acting — in such a way as to take control of one’s life and realize one’s fundamental purposes.” (see for full article).

        If you find any inconsistency between my usage and their definition, then please enlighten me.

      2. I suppose it was when I was chairman of the Honor Court at RPI that I really started some heavy thinking on these matters. I had to do a freshmen orientation speech in the upcoming year, so I spent the summer trying to figure out how to explain the purpose and meaning of the court.

        I ran across the Jefferson quote from the Declaration, “to secure these rights Governments are instituted among men”. And I began realizing that the court is not so much for the benefit of someone’s personal honor, but rather for the protection of the rights of others not to be cheated, not to be lied to, not to have their property stolen.

        That year the Honor Court and the Student Congress passed an amendment to the Student Government Constitution, changing the words “Honor Court” to “Student Court” and “Honor Code” to “Student Law”.

        Unfortunately, at that point I was flunking all my classes and had to drop them all before the cutoff point to keep them off my permanent record.

        I did come back the next year, but found myself caught up in the Chess Club, and playing all day long. Never did get my degree, though I did have about 3 years of credits. Oh well.

    1. Lol.

      Hi Martin. Do you have an argument that does not rely on strawmanning (or arbitrary definitions!) to put forth, or are you just here for the shits and giggles now?

      If you cannot put forth an argument that is based on a blatant mischaraterization of the other side’s position, and if you cannot refrain from creating definitions out of thin air to suit your argument, what exactly would you call that?

      To date: You have done nothing to refute my charge of strawmanning or of moving the goalposts. Indeed, you’ve just continued to prove my point.

      I agree that we’re in different leagues, Martin, but you’re playing softball with a fourth grader’s grasp of American civics.

Please keep it civil (unless it relates to Jacques)

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