George H. Smith

My debate with David Friedman: Which is the better foundation for libertarianism -- ethics or economics?

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This is my 1981 debate with David Friedman, our second public rumble. We had one more years later.

This was posted today on libertarianism.org. I didn't know that a tape of this even existed.

It occurred during my bearded period, which never quite worked out. 8-)

Ghs

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Thanks for this George. I never watch videos, but I watched this one. I cannot say I followed the arguments well, but I did notice the body language, and after two years of knowing you on OL I have seen a commonality between us! Your natural mode when sitting upright is ankle-on-knee. I am guessing that when sprawling it is the same, with the added support of elbow on floor. Sitting formally on floor, upright, it is ankle on ankle(crosslegged). Am I right? And you do not lever up with arms when standing up.

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This is my 1981 debate with David Friedman, our second public rumble. We had one more years later.

This was posted today on libertarianism.org. I didn't know that a tape of this even existed.

It occurred during my bearded period, which never quite worked out. 8-)

Ghs

32 years! My how time do fly!

Ba'al Chatzaf

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Is this David Friedman of the same school of moral philosophy as the other David Friedman and which David Friedman is this David Friedman?

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Is this David Friedman of the same school of moral philosophy as the other David Friedman and which David Friedman is this David Friedman?

This David Friedman is the son of Milton Friedman and the author of The Machinery of Freedom and other books.

Ghs

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Is this David Friedman of the same school of moral philosophy as the other David Friedman and which David Friedman is this David Friedman?

This David Friedman is the son of Milton Friedman and the author of The Machinery of Freedom and other books.

Ghs

Ah. For some reason, I thought there were two David Friedmans who were both ancaps/libertarans. I read about his criticism of natural rights using the Sorites paradox with the examples of normal photons versus a high powered laser. What is your response to this?

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Is this David Friedman of the same school of moral philosophy as the other David Friedman and which David Friedman is this David Friedman?

This David Friedman is the son of Milton Friedman and the author of The Machinery of Freedom and other books.

Ghs

Ah. For some reason, I thought there were two David Friedmans who were both ancaps/libertarans. I read about his criticism of natural rights using the Sorites paradox with the examples of normal photons versus a high powered laser. What is your response to this?

I don't want to get into the details of that now. David has been trotting out his "photon trespass case" since I first met him during the mid-1970s. We argued about it endlessly, both in personal conversations and in public debates, to the point that it no longer interests me. I mentioned it in the posted debate, saying that the most it proves is that libertarianism, like all theories (including theories in the hard sciences), confronts some unresolved problems, but so what? No theory should be overthrown on the basis of a minor issue of the sort David poses. (This is why I called it "a debating trick.")

These "gray areas" exist in every type of theory that involves human action, including economic theory. Rand discusses a similar problem in her essay on supposed gray areas in ethics. I don't recall the title of that piece offhand, but I think it is in VOS.

Ghs

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Is this David Friedman of the same school of moral philosophy as the other David Friedman and which David Friedman is this David Friedman?

This David Friedman is the son of Milton Friedman and the author of The Machinery of Freedom and other books.

Ghs

Ah. For some reason, I thought there were two David Friedmans who were both ancaps/libertarans. I read about his criticism of natural rights using the Sorites paradox with the examples of normal photons versus a high powered laser. What is your response to this?

I don't want to get into the details of that now. David has been trotting out his "photon trespass case" since I first met him during the mid-1970s. We argued about it endlessly, both in personal conversations and in public debates, to the point that it no longer interests me. I mentioned it in the posted debate, saying that the most it proves is that libertarianism, like all theories (including theories in the hard sciences), confronts some unresolved problems, but so what? No theory should be overthrown on the basis of a minor issue of the sort David poses. (This is why I called it "a debating trick.")

These "gray areas" exist in every type of theory that involves human action, including economic theory. Rand discusses a similar problem in her essay on supposed gray areas in ethics. I don't recall the title of that piece offhand, but I think it is in VOS.

Ghs

Ah. Thanks. I've thought that enough thought can resolve these gray areas. Although it might take a long time to do so. As for the trespassing photons, well they don't do any damage, so I think that's the solution to that.

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Ah. For some reason, I thought there were two David Friedmans who were both ancaps/libertarans. I read about his criticism of natural rights using the Sorites paradox with the examples of normal photons versus a high powered laser. What is your response to this?

Ancaps. I like that. It rhymes with knee-caps, high caps and low caps and even night caps.

Ba'al Chatzaf

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No pandering intended, but Ghs kicked Friedman's ass within the first 60 seconds of his opening statement.

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These "gray areas" exist in every type of theory that involves human action, including economic theory. Rand discusses a similar problem in her essay on supposed gray areas in ethics. I don't recall the title of that piece offhand, but I think it is in VOS.

Ghs

Perhaps you are thinking of “The Ethics of Emergencies," in The Virtue of Selfishness, p. 47.

I myself have had similar debates with utilitarians and natural rights skeptics for decades now. Invariably, they quote Friedman's photon invasion argument or a mutation thereof. Rothbard shows us one way to answer it in his discussion of the principle of "coming to the nuisance" in "Law, Property Rights, and Air Pollution."

The quickest response is, if the lifeboat were typical of the conditions of human life on earth, then, no, the "Objectivist Ethics" would not work. But then neither would utilitarianism or any other system that acknowledges moral universalism.

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This is my 1981 debate with David Friedman, our second public rumble. We had one more years later.

This was posted today on libertarianism.org. I didn't know that a tape of this even existed.

It occurred during my bearded period, which never quite worked out. 8-)

Ghs

you convinced me, George. I will go you one further. If one introduces the economic hedge, that will eventually undercut the case for hands off let it bloom capitalism.

Ba'al Chatzaf

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My personal view would be that jurisprudential reasoning, along with some more complex heuristics about customary norms, is the best argument for libertarianism. To get an idea of what I mean, Lon L. Fuller's The Morality of Law and Anthony de Jasay's Justice and Its Surroundings would be good examples.

I am a moral non-cognitivist in some senses, though I think elements of eudaemonism and virtue ethics combined with a Nietzschean (and Randian) appeal to life and flourishing makes a pretty strong case. I am not sure if libertarianism could ever be 'proved' like mathematics, but I think that most alternative social systems are demonstrably haywire and the potential of individualist capitalism is science-fiction outrageous.

Good video, though.

You were the first Objectivish person I ever read, when I was buying atheist books at the mall.

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[...]I think that most alternative social systems are demonstrably haywire and the potential of individualist capitalism is science-fiction outrageous.

Very well said, nailed it. I completely agree.

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On 8/23/2013 at 5:12 PM, George H. Smith said:

This is my 1981 debate with David Friedman, our second public rumble. We had one more years later.

This was posted today on libertarianism.org. I didn't know that a tape of this even existed.

It occurred during my bearded period, which never quite worked out. 8-)

 

Ghs

I just revisited this video. It's one of your best {insert word that encompasses debates, essays, lectures, and so on here}. One the comments on it declared that Friedman crushed you. Being too stupid to know how stupid oneself is comes to mind. Jeez, some of the more economistic types are really deluded. I think they are the movement's biggest problem. Keep up the good work, George. You're among the best.

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