Bryan Caplan  

Huemer's "On Liberty and Philosophy"

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Risk of Nuclear War... Mao's Murderousness...
I've started scanning the early writings of my favorite philosopher, Michael Huemer.  I have quite a few in my possession.  First on the menu: his prize-winning graduate student essay, "On Liberty and Philosophy," which addresses the philosophical side of what I've called the libertarian penumbra.  One highlight:
The emotional significance of materialism is something more vague but probably more evident than its logical implications (or quasi-implications).  A world-view which reduces all of us to physical mechanisms essentially indistinguishable from mindless automata simply has the effect of undermining one's respect for human beings and sense of human dignity on an emotional level. Such a theory produces the feeling of being stranded in a universe devoid of meaning.
Huemer has asked me to include the following advisory label:
I think the essay contains some false statements about the state of the field (including a mis-definition of "rationalism"), which is unfortunate. However, the most important philosophical points are nevertheless right and important... [Y]ou should probably note that they're from college, about 24 years ago, and that in the meantime, I've become nicer to people like Brian Doherty, and better at spelling.
If the Brian Doherty reference puzzles you, stay tuned.


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COMMENTS (3 to date)

Huemer is a good political philosopher but when it comes to metaethics he falls short, and that's evident here. For example, it simply isn't true that physicalism has any necessary relation to respect for human dignity (not that "human dignity" is a good source of rights anyway). His attempt to find "correlations" is questionable - there are plenty of "mystical" authoritarians too.
The following quote is typical:

There is a second, worse difficulty for materialists which I shall mention in passing. It is that it is hard to see how the materialist's universe can accommodate any values whatsoever, liberal or other. Value properties ostensibly do not have any physical existence. Therefore, prima facie, anyone who truly believes that the universe is entirely physical cannot accept any moral theory.
He assumes that values are something "out there" in the world for us to discover, which is indeed difficult to make compatible with physicalism, but that is not the only possible account of values. Values are a relation between ourselves and the world, and are assigned by us - we are psychologically constituted to be able to assign value, and that is prima facie compatible with physicalism.

Koen writes:

[Comment removed. Please consult our comment policies and check your email for explanation.--Econlib Ed.]

Eliezer Yudkowsky writes:

That distant drumlike sound you hear is the sound of me beating my head against the wall.

See also: Rescuing the Utility Function.

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