Reality, Reason, and Rights


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Reality, Reason, and Rights

(Lexington 2011)

This festschrift for Tibor Machan has been a long time in the making, and it appears it will have been worth the wait. It looks to be a collection living up to the caliber of Tibor's philosophical achievements.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1. Tibor Machan

Nicolas Capaldi

Chapter 2. Machan on Egoism and Altruism

Aeon J. Skoble

Chapter 3. Aristotle and the Roots of Individualism

James E. Chesher

Chapter 4. Injustice and the Welfare State

Douglas J. Den Uyl

Chapter 5. Reason and Precedent in the Law

Lester Hunt

Chapter 6. Liberty and the Virtue of Patience: A Vindication of Machan’s Project

Jonathan Jacobs

Chapter 7. God, Aquinas and Revisionist Natural Law Theory: The Question of Natural Kinds and Natural Rights

Anthony Lisska

Chapter 8. How to Think about Economic Justice

Eric Mack

Chapter 9. Neo-Aristotelian Theories of Natural Rights

Fred D. Miller, Jr.

Chapter 10. Liberty to Equality: Yet Another Try

James Sterba

Chapter 11. Machan, Realism, and Objective Value Judgments

Douglas B. Rasmussen

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Stephen, I liked Machan's book on Ayn Rand, but I've long had the sense of him as writing at sometimes wordy length and many volumes on issues I was already familiar with as a longtime Objectivist, the way a good popularizer might do. Which is certainly a very important function, but is for readers at a different stage than I'm at.

Nothing I can recall specifically, though. Am I unfair to him? Given that one can't keep up with all the Oists and libertarians writing, do you plan to read this and report on the above issue?

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I’ve sensed that wordiness at times also. Although, at least there was a loveliness to the expression.

Kat has a list of Tibor’s works here. The impressive book of his with which I am familiar is Human Rights and Human Liberties (1975). I should say it was impressive in its treatment of fundamental philosophy required for the intellectual defense of individual rights. When it came to treatment of current political issues within the framework of individual rights, then, as you say, not much new, at least by that stage of my libertarian education.

I'm pretty sure this festschrift is a good way for getting oneself to the frontiers of the topics in its Table of Contents and getting versed in what Prof. Machan has written on these topics. I’m especially looking forward to the chapter by James Sterba in that regard.

I’m going to order this book, and I’ll let you know, in this thread, what I find. Don’t hesitate to beat me to it. I think I should order Tibor’s Individuals and Their Rights (1989) as well. I’ve heard a number of times that in this work he made significant advances beyond his 1975 work.

I should mention one Machan essay with which I am very familiar. It is without excess words, the discussion is original and sophisticated, and it remains a milestone for its topic in Objectivist philosophy. It forms chapter 2 of his Ayn Rand. That was his Objectivity essay “Evidence of Necessary Existence” (1992).


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  • 2 years later...

Back when I considered the academic life as a way to pursue my interests in Objectivism, Tibor Machan was one of the few people publishing and fighting in those particular barricades. It's good to see him still doing so. I sometimes have the impression that he has written and rewritten the same book several times, but that may be because Rand occupies his space so fully there isn't all that much else left to say.

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Tibor Machan has championed what he calls classical egoism as the correct morality. It is a form of rational egoism exceedingly close to Rand’s, though with much alliance of Rand’s egoism and conception of ethics with the Greeks, especially with Aristotle. Drawing out certain ways in which Greek ethics is precursor to Rand’s is a distinctive contribution Machan has made to setting Rand’s ethics in the history of ethics.

Aeon Skoble notes further:

If Machan’s discussion of a “classical egoism”—informed by virtue ethics, consistent with benevolence and sociality, and evocative of not only Aristotle but also Adam Smith—seems familiar, it is worth noting that this itself signifies Machan’s importance. In 1975, when he published Human Rights and Human Liberties, nothing of this approach was common at all. The prevailing conception of egoism was the Hobbesian sort . . . . The neo-Aristotelian egoism . . . was generally unfamiliar to mainstream moral philosophy . . . . Machan’s 1975 book was the first book in academic moral philosophy to explicitly connect libertarianism with virtue ethics and to show how rational self-interest is compatible with benevolence and sociality and indeed presupposed in the structure of American constitutionalism.

Machan’s linkage of ethical egoism to Aristotle has been criticized. Rejoinder by Machan is here. James Chester defends Machan’s linkage in chapter 3 of Reality, Reason, and Rights (RRR).

Fred Miller writes:

In the 1970s Tibor Machan defended a theory of natural rights that incorporates elements from Ayn Rand and Aristotle, whom he interprets as a classical ethical egoist. According to Machan’s understanding of this sort of egoist, “to evaluate the alternatives facing one with respect to the (implicit) decision (or choice) to live one’s life, one should invoke the criterion: ‘Whatever will most effectively contribute to one’s happiness (that is, success as a human individual’.” Although this sounds similar to Rand’s approach, Machan understands happiness along the lines of Aristotle’s concept of flourishing (eudaimonia). Flourishing for Aristotle involves the development and actualization of the highest human potentialities, including the activities of intellectual and moral virtue and deliberate choice. The obvious advantage of such an approach is that the theorist can draw on the rich resources of the Aristotelian theory of the human good and thus invest the notion of rational self-interest with greater content.

Machan contends that one can reason from such an egoistic standpoint to the endorsement of rights. . . . (RRR 137)

It is worth mentioning some oft-expressed worries about eudaimonistic approaches. First, insofar as a theory relies on narrow assumptions about the human good, it cannot make use of arguments like Rand’s that the proposed end is a necessary condition for all human action and valuation. Hence, the theory must provide an alternative demonstration that there is an objective end for human beings that is constituted by flourishing and that freedom of choice or autonomy is an invariable component of flourishing, even if flourishing takes different forms for different individuals and different cultures (which seems likely). Further, it is hard to see how such a theory can defend any right apart from the right of an agent to perform acts that are constitutive of, or instrumental to, objectively defined human flourishing. But this would seemingly afford no protection to individuals who do not opt for a flourishing life plan. Nor does there seem any principled objection against paternalist arguments that the state should “make men moral” by means of coercive laws. (138–39)

A couple of Tibor’s papers online are these:

Epistemology and Moral Knowledge (1982)

Evidence of Necessary Existence (1992)

What follows is an exposition and defense of a core element of Ayn Rand’s form of philosophical foundationalism, namely her “axiomatic” concepts of existence, identity, and consciousness. I shall proceed in five steps. In the first part of this paper, I shall set out Rand’s axioms, focusing on her axiom of existence: Existence exists. In the second section, I shall discuss the nature and function of such linguistically curious expressions as “Existence exists.” In section three I shall explicate Rand’s method of validating these axioms by focusing on Aristotle’s defense of the Principle of NonContradition. Aristotle’s and Rand’s approaches are similar, and Aristotle’s ideas on this topic have been widely contested on a number of different grounds, so reviewing Aristotle’s position will shed light on Rand’s. In the fourth part of this paper, I wish to consider the kind of “evidence” we may have for the kind of propositions which both Rand and Aristotle regard as identifying basic facts, giving special consideration to the role that self-knowledge plays in providing such evidence. Finally in section five, I shall consider some contemporary objections to the Aristotelian/Randian approach.

In the latter paper, Machan extended Rand’s treatment considerably. To date this amplification of Rand’s axiomatic concepts is without equal. This paper became chapter 2 of his book Ayn Rand (1999).

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