Links, Libertarianism

3 AM Magazine interview with me about, well, everything.

Read it here.

Jason Brennan is a new kickin’ kid on the block of political philosophy. He writes about J.S. Mill, communitarians, alienation, paradoxes of justice in Rawls, whether legal guarantees are real, the use and abuse of ideal theories, the virtue of modesty, gets feisty with Richard Posner, isn’t firmly in any political camp, doesn’t find market society repugnant and finds G.A. Cohen not very interesting, explains what modern libertarians say and why, thinks Globalisation leaves the world poor sitting ducks, thinks right and left have no place in philosophy even though they’re sociologically useful and that an incompetent electorate shouldn’t be allowed to vote. You’ve got to hand it over to this pugnacious dude, he’s flaming up our thoughts to get us all philosophicaly embroiled. Smokin’!

Ah, old picture from back when I was cuter.

Another excerpt:

3 am: You’re a new political philosopher on the scene. What made you become a philosopher? Is it politics or philosophy that drives you?

Jason Brennan: At the end of my junior year, I was broke. I realised I would have to take a semester off to work full-time in a factory, pay off my debts, and make enough money to transfer to and pay for my state university. I can tell you the exact date I realised I wanted to be a philosopher: May 2, 2000. On that day, I was packing my dorm room, sweating with worry that I would never finish college, that I would disappoint my grandmother, who’d hoped I’d be the first person in the family to get a college degree. I was wondering what I’d do even if I did go back. As I was packing my bookshelves, I realised that — despite having taken only two philosophy classes at that point — my shelf was packed with philosophy texts. On a whim, I decided to investigate what it took to become a philosophy professor. When I read on the internet that graduate school was not only free, but that they paid you to go, I realized I actually had a chance. Four days later, I was working full-time, making semi-conductors at Analog Devices. But I had already crafted a life-plan — I was going to be a philosopher.


  • ” They ask, how do you make choices about what ends to adopt? Either at some point, you make reference to an external, given standard, in which case ethical individualism is false, or you make choices without reference to any such standard at all, in which case Millian individualism just ends up leading to existentialism.”

    You say that like it’s a bad thing.

  • Jason, you say in the interview ‘

    [Communitarians think that] Either our values are not really chosen, or they’re
    You reply:
    Now, suppose I make an accurate self-assessment, and recognise that X
    would make a good final end for me. I pick X as a final end.’

    My question is: how to avoid your choice of X rather than Y as your final end, being arbitrary? If it simply depends upon contingent features of you – features which are the product of the genes, upbringing and past experience you chanced to have – then your choice is contingent and thus arbitrary.

    Kantian pure a priori reasoning claims to offer an escape from arbitrariness, but I do not see how your account does….

  • Your response on ParetoSuperiorLand versus FairnenessLand has the great virtue of posing some of the issues succinctly and sharply. I see two possible lines of response. 1. A social democrat could deny that social democratic intervention is costly for growth in the way you assert and would use comparative international data to counter Econ101 style arguments. 2. (My own favoured reply) would be to say that Rawls was wrong to focus on the primary goods of wealth and income because doing so inevitably both neglects the very small contribution that W&I make to real well-being beyond a certain point and also neglects the direct negative effect of inequality on the real-well being of the least advantaged. I’d been thinking of writing a little post at CT on the ambiguities of the difference principle (such as how is the standard interpretation compatible with Rawls’s liking for Mill on the steady state economy), so I may say more there if I have the time.

  • Sean II

    The description of you as a “new…kid on the block” has obliged me – quite against my will – to imagine you and some of your co-bloggers touring the country as a libertarian boy band.

    I wonder: is that the sort of cultural outreach Julie Borowski had in mind?

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