Robert Hartford asked recently if I have any thoughts on his paper “A Standard for Absolute Freedom” in JARS
11(1):45–62. I have given it a read now. It is some serious thinking about Rand’s philosophy, a perspective on Objectivist ethical and political philosophy that is stimulating for thinking about the logical relations between them. This work is not an extension of Rand’s theory, I would say. It is a somewhat different and worthwhile piecing together of major elements of Rand’s theory. In that respect, it reminds me of Peter Saint-Andre’s “A Philosophy for Living on Earth”*
and Ronald Merrill’s “Axioms: The Eight-Fold Way.”*
The Abstract for Bob’s paper says:
This paper derives political freedoms from the ethics of egoism, demonstrates the equivalence of absolute political freedom and Liberty, and advocates absolute political freedom as a moral ideal. Protection of voluntary consent along an individual’s entire politically legitimate valuing chain provides a standard for identifying political freedoms. Actions meeting the standard are political freedoms. Actions violating the standard are violations of political freedom. As a political standard, protection of voluntary consent is presented as superior to either the non-initiation of force or the non-aggression axiom.
I’ll only be remarking on what pops out at me on a first read. There is much else—very possibly of great interest to readers here—that will have to go unmentioned in this quick open note to Bob.
I’ll jump into the stream near the beginning of the paper. You write that self-responsibility, respect, and benevolence are encouraged when, as Rand claims,“both parties hold as their moral absolute that neither exists for the sake of the other.” That self-responsibility and mutual respect are implicated and encouraged under that condition of Rand’s is plain. That benevolence is implicated or encouraged by that condition is not plain. A reference to David Kelley’s Unrugged Individualism
would have been natural at this paragraph (p. 46). Tara Smith’s discussion of kindness in Ayn Rand’s Normative Ethics
is also to your point.
I do not see your paper as substantively at odds with Rand, nor an extension beyond her view, but as a different organization and emphasis. You started at a partial view of the center of her approach to egoism and rights in your quote above, from Galt’s speech. Your further development in the essay has egoism as logical center, and that is a somewhat different choice of center. In Galt’s speech, Rand also writes:
Do you ask what moral obligation I owe to my fellow man? None—except the obligation I owe to myself, to material objects and to all existence: rationality. I deal with men as my nature and theirs demands: by means of reason. . . . It is only with their mind that I can deal and only for my own self-interest, when they see that my interest coincides with theirs. . . . The only value men can offer me is the work of their mind. (AS 1022–23)
Any rendition of distinctively Objectivist fundamental political philosophy should include Rand’s idea that the life and life-giving rationality of each individual end-in-himself is the fundamental good to be protected by law. She continues from the preceding quote with the argument that force is inimical to rationality, that no one has a right to initiate the use of force, and that every individual has an enforceable right not to be subject to an initiation of force. That rightness of individual life and individual rationality is the ground of a right against initiation of force is the distinctively Objectivist type of individual-rights-based, limited-government libertarianism.*
You write that “a political context involves situations where the parties are unable or unwilling to voluntarily resolve their conflict” (46). That would be widely accepted among political thinkers. However, most today see that as only one of the principal situations behind the political context. They would disagree with your further thesis that “the role of political philosophy is to derive the fundamental principles and the required institutions to properly resolve such conflict” (46). That uniqueness of role needs to be argued for. Rand had an argument for it. Her argument here needs to be assessed, fortified, or reformed; the opposition should be addressed, at least by citations to works of others attempting to address that opposition.
I think you are mistaken, and somewhat askew with Rand, by supposing egoism the prime timber supporting individual rights. That every individual is an end in himself; that rationality is an individual and volitional function for every life; and that force is anti-mind and anti-life: it is from those a distinctively Randian support for individual rights needs to be argued. In Rand’s system, that every individual is a volitionally rational end in himself (because individual life is an end in itself) yields on the one hand Rand’s form of rational egoism. It yields on the other hand Rand’s conception of individual rights. Randian egoism and Randian rights are two branches from a common main.
The remainder of your paper, from page 48 forward, supplies the fill-in needed to form a coherent picture of Rand’s distinctive ethics and theory of rights and liberty. It makes your view distinctively Randian, even if some elements in Rand’s case might be missing or reweighted or reordered. I do not spot anything not in Rand here, except perhaps the idea that correct political freedoms “must be universalizable and compossible.” Even though Rand does not put it in that way, there are ways in which Rand’s treatment contains this requirement. How this requirement is purported and fulfilled in Rand’s theory differs from its treatment by Kant and Rawls looks like a good field for new cultivation. (Cf. pages 114–30 of Khawaja’s 1997
“A Perfectionist-Egoist Theory of the Good” and Mack’s 2006
It strikes me as odd again, now for the section “Egoism in a Social Context,” that the prior work of Kelley and Smith I noted above is not acknowledged. It is also odd—now to the point of extremely odd—given your topic, and especially the part concerning my next paragraph, that there is no citation or address of David Kelley’s 1984 paper “Life, Liberty, and Property” (Social Philosophy & Policy
The section in which you distinguish your Randian position from a Rothbardian approach, in which one starts with a non-aggression axiom, seems weak. Your opponents would not disagree with the statements you affirm about fraud, property, and ownership; they would only disagree with your rendition of their view. More generally, it would be off the mark to criticize a physics book for relying on mathematics it does not explain. Similarly, for political philosophy. Rothbard, for example, can have presumptions about valuation and rationality at work in one treatise on political philosophy (For a New Liberty,
1978, upon which you remark) that can be addressed in other work (The Ethics of Liberty,
1982). Or not: as Nozick rightly said, “there are words on subjects worth saying besides last words.”
, Mack 1998
, and the nice survey by Fred Miller “Neo-Aristotelian Theories of Natural Rights” in the festschrift for Tibor Machan (2011