Bryan Caplan  

What Are Cowenian Rights?

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Negative theology tells us what God is not, but refuses to say what God is.  In his post on "The Politics of Science Fiction," Tyler Cowen embraces Negative Political Philosophy.  He tells us what rights we don't have, but remains silent about his actual position:
The reality is that when it comes to the future, we can "see around the corner" only to a limited degree.  The upshot is that the rights of the individual -- when applicable -- should remain paramount, and no I don't mean Caplanian libertarian rights.  You can only rarely be sure you will get such a great gain from violating rights, so why not do the right thing instead?  Science fiction inhabits the realm of fiction precisely because the building of grand scenarios is denied to us, for the most part.
Consider this a nudge to Tyler to spell out his actual view.


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COMMENTS (9 to date)
Jameson writes:

There are some mysteries that are not meant to be revealed.

R Richard Schweitzer writes:

What happens to all these arguments if we examine "Rights" in terms of the recognition, acceptance, and performance of obligations in human relations which are the essential nature of "Rights" within any social order?

Of course, those obligations may be negative in character, acting as constraints upon human conduct. The right of individuals to freedom of worship exist to the extent of constraints upon, or exercised by, others in interference with that worship. Probably no "Right" exists that cannot be defined in terms of offsetting obligations in the conduct of others. That of course gives rise to the mutuality and reciprocity of obligations in a society.

Perhaps where examination should lead is to an observation of obligations, the extent of their recognition, the extent of their acceptance and the ethical issues of their performance or of the modes of evading performance and the reasons for evasions.

dave smith writes:

I really did not understand Cowen in this post.

David R. Henderson writes:

@dave smith,
I really did not understand Cowen in this post.
I didn’t either.

Dan S writes:

I took the "Caplanian libertarian rights" clarification to mean something like: no matter what your view of rights are, whether they be purely negative libertarian rights like Bryan supports (and that's a reasonable thing to think since MR is a libertarian blog), or if they're social democratic positive rights like the right to healthcare, we should be wary of tossing them aside for speculative visions of a sci-fi future because it's really hard to see in advance how the future will ultimately look.

And when do we get there? When do I get to officially say, "oh boy, it's the future!"?

Pat writes:

I bet he rather enjoys the pleading. "Please oh please Mr Cowen do share with us what you really think."

I plead for a higher proportion of Tabarrok posts.

RPLong writes:

I don't understand the jibe against "Caplanian rights," but that is not the only point on which Cowen is ambiguous. Which science fiction does he consider emblematic of the genre as a whole? Clearly nothing he says in that post applies for fans of, say Edgar Rice Burroughs, whose stories are replete with rugged individualism and racial equality. And since he openly states he's not talking libertarian rights, then he doesn't consider the work of Robert Jordan and/or Robert Anton Wilson, either.

So Cowen is absolutely correct, provided we all agree on the list of authors and the list of rights. But that's the whole question.

David R. Henderson writes:

@Dan S,
I took the "Caplanian libertarian rights" clarification to mean something like: no matter what your view of rights are, whether they be purely negative libertarian rights like Bryan supports
I think you might be right but then it’s strange to call it Caplanian. After all, this concept existed well before Bryan was sentient. I thought there might be some kind of “inside baseball” in which Bryan had articulated a view that he initiated. But maybe not.

Glen writes:

Jameson puts it nicely -- apophatic theology "negates" in order to elevate sacrality and induce awe.

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