In his most recent post, Kevin Vallier argues that as potential moral foundations for libertarianism, “Utilitarianism is too consequence-sensitive and self-ownership is too consequence-insensitive.”
I agree with him, almost. (I think that utilitarianism is too consequence-sensitive and that most versions of self-ownership theory are too consequence-insensitive; but I think self-ownership itself escapes the charge if it is grounded in a consequence-sensitive way.) But before we plunge into the treacherous waters of public-reason contractualism — Kevin’s suggestion for a third approach that avoids “the Scylla of consequence over-sensitivity and the Charybdis of consequence-insensitivity” — I want to say a bit on behalf of a different third approach, the eudaimonistic virtue ethics of the Aristotelean (and more broadly Hellenic — I’m inclined to include Platonic and Stoic elements as well) tradition.
In an earlier post, Kevin considers the possibility that Aristotelean eudaimonism might constitute a third approach; but on his reading of “Aristotelian libertarians like Douglas Rasmussen and Douglas Den Uyl and our very own Roderick Long,” our view is that “a proper understanding of the virtue of justice entails complying with at least some general principle of non-aggression, a corollary of the self-ownership principle.” Hence Kevin concludes that eudaimonistic libertarianism simply amounts to another self-ownership view, and so “does not provide a third approach” after all.
I won’t speak for the Dougs, whose version of Aristotelean libertarianism I take to be significantly more consequentialist than mine. (They see libertarian rights as part of a “meta-normative framework” to safeguard human flourishing, whereas I see respect for rights as a constitutive part of human flourishing.) But one of the advantages of the eudaimonistic approach, as I understand it, is that it avoids both the excessive consequence-sensitivity of utilitarianism and the excessive consequence-insensitivity of deontology.
Central to most major schools of Hellenic thought is the principle of the unity of virtue. This is usually defined as the claim that one can’t have one virtue without having them all. (The doctrine comes in both a weak form, that one can’t have one virtue completely without having them all, and a strong form, that one can’t have one virtue to any degree without having them all. For the record, I defend the weak version but not the strong one.) But the claim that each virtue entails all the rest is better understood as a corollary of the real unity-of-virtue thesis, namely that the content of each virtue depends reciprocally on the content of all the other virtues. For example (to simplify somewhat), if courage is the virtue of responding appropriately to danger, and generosity is the virtue of responding appropriately to others’ needs, then when meeting other people’s needs is dangerous, there is no way to define what course of action generosity requires independently of defining what course of action courage requires, and vice versa. The final contents of the virtues are thus constructed out of their prima facie contents, subject to the constraint of mutual determination.
The upshot of all this, for present purposes, is that virtues with prima facie consequentialist content, like benevolence, stand in reciprocal determination with virtues with prima facie deontological content, like justice. Since the content of justice is partly determined by benevolence, justice will not be indifferent to good consequences. But on the other hand, since the content of benevolence is partly determined by justice, deontological considerations will play a role in determining what counts as a good consequence. Hence on a eudaimonist conception, justice will avoid both excessive consequence-sensitivity and excessive consequence-insensitivity.
I take the self-ownership principle to be a reasonable interpretation of justice’s prima facie deontological content; I also take it (on the basis of libertarian economic and social theory) to be on the whole reinforced, rather than moderated, by the consequentialist considerations emanating from some of the more result-oriented virtues. Hence while the self-ownership principle is not particularly consequence-sensitive in its own right, that is no objection when it is embedded in a eudaimonist context, because it has been grounded via a consequence-sensitive process of justification, and asking for further consequence-sensitivity would be double counting.
One final quibble: when Kevin says that “left-libertarians conjoin self-ownership with a principle of equal resource ownership,” it’s worth pointing out that this is only one (relatively recent) use of the term “left-libertarian”; there are other, older uses that do not call for equal resource ownership.