Sunday, 1 November 2009

Some Good Links: Persons, Ethics, Politics, Economy

1. Persons (and ethical agency)

‘The I in Me’.. Thomas Nagel reviews Galen Strawson’s book Selves: An Essay in Revisionary Metaphysics. London Review of Books. 5th November 2009.

Nage; a distinguished figure in metaphysics and ethics discusses Strawson’s view that there is no deep ‘I’ or ‘self’ that endures over time. Nagel does not add much of his own views, but an excellent account of Strawson. One thing Nagel does not mention is that the title of the book is a riposte to Individuals: An Essay in Descriptive Metaphysics (1959), well known book by his father Peter Strawson. P.F. Strawson though metaphysics should be descriptive, that is should be close to our common sense and everyday language, and was a strong defender of the view that the ‘self’ or ‘person’ is a basic substance of metaphysics. G. Strawson is a critic of common sense and everyday language, claiming that these are responsible for misleading notions like the substantive ‘I’, leading him towards what his father called ‘revisionary metaphysics’, that is a metaphysics which looks for structures concealed by common sense and everyday language. There are questions of moral responsibility that arise in discussion of personal identity, that Nagel only refers to briefly. G. Strawson’s view poses a challenge to ideas of moral responsibility, by questioning the existence of a person who can be held responsible. The next link refers to the issue of personhood and ethics from another direction.

Ethics (personhood and virtues)

‘Integrity and Fragmentation’ by John Cottingham. Clicking on the link starts automatic download of .doc file from Cottingham’s website. The paper will be published as an article in the Journal of Applied Philosophy in 2010.

Hat tip philpapers

Cottingham looks at the role of integrity in ethics, drawing on the virtue theory tradition, which is concerned with the kind of character and habits conducive to human flourishing and ethical actions. Drawing on ‘Athens and Jerusalem’ (Greek philosophy and Judaeo-Christian religious texts), Cottinghman finds an implicit role for ‘integrity’, partly captured by Aristotle as ‘the unity of the virtues’. From these sources, and their coming together in Aquinas, we understand that the unity of live over time, and the unity of our character traits, is necessary to the good life, if not all that is necessary. Cottingham brings the more recent ethical philosophy of Bernard Williams and Harry Frankfurt into the discussion, particularly with reference to the inadequacy of integrity on its own, to fill us with a sense of obligation. As Cottingham points out, this is a central insight of Nietzsche’s. G. Strawson takes Nietzsche as the source of arguments against the idea of a deep self over time, so we see here how metaphysics and ethics connect.

Politics (ethics and economy in republican political theory)

‘Freedom in the Market’ by Philip Pettit, a freely available pdf of a 2006 article in Politics, Philosophyy & Economics.

Hat tip philpapers

Pettit’s best know book Republicanism produces a theory of freedom in which the ethical value of individual freedom is not just freedom from constraint , but freedom from ‘domination’, where domination means being bound by laws or commands to which we have not consented, directly, or indirectly through representative political procedures. That leads into ‘republicanism’, the tradition in political thought, which refers to freedom, and human flourishing, as including political rights and participation, at their centre. Pettit approached this tradition in Republicanism in a perspective which seems indifferent to the freedom of individuals in the market, and very concerned with rectifying apparent threats to freedom in capitalist society. I sometimes get the impression in that book that the republican critique of a minimal liberal commitment only to freedom from direct coercion, is embedded in a negative attitude to the liberal market economy. However, in this paper Pettit does pay tribute to the importance to freedom in the market place, he notes the importance of property rights and free exchange in the economy as ways of escaping the coercive subordination to a master that is the fate of many in a economy lacking in markets. Markets create choice including a choice of employer/master. Pettit distances himself from ‘libertarian’ notions that all regulatory constraints on exchange and property are wrong, but he puts himself in the same territory as moderate libertarians (in recent political theory Jerry Gaus, going back a bit further early Hayek,and going back even further most of the Classical Liberals) by referring to trade offs between property rights and the more collective public kinds of goods. That is we have to choose which combination maximises liberty.

Politics (Political and Economic Liberalism)

‘From Liberalism to Social Democracy’. Geoffrey Kurtz reviews Liberal Beginnings: Making a Republic for the Moderns by Andreas Kalyvas and Ira Katznelson. Dissent. 26th August 2009. A bit late with this link, but the story is still on Dissent’s homepage. so I can just about include it.

`Kurtz, following Kalyvas and Katznelson, refers to the way that Classical Liberalism of the late Eighteenth and very early Nineteenth century, was constituted through a move from Antique Republicanism to a consciousness of a more modern individualistic kind of liberty. Thomas Paine, James Madison, Adam Ferguson, Adam Smith, Madame de Staël and Benjamin Constant are considered, That is an advocate of the American and French Revolutions, one of the main figures in the early American Republic as a President and political writer, a Scottish Enlightenment historian and political thinker, a Scottish Enlightenment professor of moral philosophy who wrote a great work of economics, two French writers of literature and political thought. These were all people concerned with the kind of freedom pertaining to the ancient republics, based in civic duty and participation, the death of those republics, and the kinds of liberty possible in a modern individualistic commercial society. Completely the right context for discussing the origins of liberalism. The argument goes onto the suggest the inevitable evolution of classical liberalism into social democracy, which to my mind is not as necessary an evolution as claimed, but it is certainly an outcome of that republican-liberal moment, rooted as it was in appreciation of the liberty of commercial society.

Economics (a return to Political Economy)

Econ Journal Watch

It’s free to download, economists of reputation write in it, and it contains no equations. It can certainly be read by anyone with a basis understanding of political and social issues. Any reader of Adam Smith would have gone beyond it in dealing with economic complexity. The basis of the journal is that contributors criticise articles in established economics journals, and the author(s) of the piece under criticism are offered the chance to reply and have the final word, which they often take up, if not always. I haven’t had to go through it systematically yet, but so far I’ve read some very interesting debates about interpretingAdam Smith and the success of Swedish welfarism. Something else that caught my eye, but have’t read yet is a debate with Bill Easterly, one of the world’s leading development economists. and a major contributor to debates about ending Third World poverty.

The journal has a methodological bias and a political bias. The methodological bias is towards non-mathematical economics, the belief that economics is a broad discussion of individual and social rationality and action, in which maths may be useful but which is distinct from mathematics. The political bias is towards free market classical liberal and libertarian thinking. The methodological and political orientation come together as ‘Austrian Economics’, most famously represented by F.A. Hayek, who was preceded by Carl Menger, Eugen von Böhm-Bawerk and Ludwig von Mises (the latter is the most important figure for many ‘Austrians’). The beauty of the journal is that in some ways it gives the advantage to those who are most against the journal’s approach, so in some ways it’s the Keysians and non-free marketeers who should read the journal to see sympathetic views, rather than ‘Austrian’ liberals and libertarians.

The editor, and founder, Daniel Klein, is someone who is very interested in, and aware of, bias in economics and takes very seriously the idea of exposing bias in the most serious and consistent way, of admitting to his own biases, and finding ways of formulating discussion between those with differing biases.

This journal deserves to be read by a broad audience. Please have a look.

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