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Inherent and Inalienable Rights

 
 
joefromchicago
 
  1  
Reply Mon 14 Jul, 2008 11:45 am
Lash wrote:
I have to go to work---but would you make that argument?

No. Ask Thomas, he's a utilitarian-social contractarian. He can make any argument you like.

Lash wrote:
Does "disutile" mean it wasn't a good economic practice? (Dictionary doesn't have it)

"Disutile" means "not utile" (so does "inutile" -- you might find that in the dictionary instead). Something is "disutile" or "inutile" if it leads to disutility or inutility -- in simple terms, if it leads to things being worse than they were before. Thus the utilitarian (or, more particularly, the rule utilitarian) might argue that creating the institution of slavery is inutile because it would lead to a general loss of freedom that would leave society worse off than if there hadn't been any slavery in the first place, even if a few people (e.g. slaveowners) would be better off.
0 Replies
 
Lash
 
  1  
Reply Mon 14 Jul, 2008 12:42 pm
joefromchicago wrote:
Lash wrote:
I have to go to work---but would you make that argument?

No. Ask Thomas, he's a utilitarian-social contractarian. He can make any argument you like.

Lash wrote:
Does "disutile" mean it wasn't a good economic practice? (Dictionary doesn't have it)

"Disutile" means "not utile" (so does "inutile" -- you might find that in the dictionary instead). Something is "disutile" or "inutile" if it leads to disutility or inutility -- in simple terms, if it leads to things being worse than they were before. Thus the utilitarian (or, more particularly, the rule utilitarian) might argue that creating the institution of slavery is inutile because it would lead to a general loss of freedom that would leave society worse off than if there hadn't been any slavery in the first place, even if a few people (e.g. slaveowners) would be better off.

Thanks. I was wondering --useless on the basis of what? I was thinking economics...I guess someone may say socially as evidenced by contemporary social problems--but who decides the resulting worth? There are some who would argue that America wouldn't be what it is today--had it not been for slavery.

I googled and found a few things that interested me:

Liberty itself is important for maximizing the public good, because freedom empowers individuals to deviate from the norms, and thereby envision new ideas, invent new technologies and thereby advance society in a way that benefits all. Advance for all is conditional on individual liberty. If we try to eliminate deviation, we kill innovation that leads to advance. Liberty itself is justified, not by natural rights, which are "nonsense built on stilts" but by the best way to organize society to maximize the public good. It is the public good that justifies liberty, because a society organized by liberty is one that benefits the most people. Since central planning and human analysis cannot successfully fathom how to achieve the social good, the best way to achieve the social good is to leave things in the hands of individuals, who following their own interests, produce outcomes that are beneficial to all.

I completely agree with this utilitarian perspective on liberty but believe its full implications have not been fully understood by those who endorse this view of liberty. As a consequence, we have not yet taken this utilitarian view of liberty to its logical conclusions. If we are really to adopt liberty, then we must be strict in adhering to the logic of liberty. If we do so, we have some changes to make to fully implement a society that fully embraces liberty. Today we miss the mark by relying on liberties that derive from the older natural rights justification of liberty. I wish, therefore, to make a modest proposal that takes the utilitarian view of liberty to its logical and necessary conclusion.

My modest proposal is this: that if we really embrace a utilitarian view of liberty, we should change our laws to permit suicide and slavery. Specifically, we should immediately acknowledge that a society that is truly free in this sense allows people to take their own lives, sell themselves into slavery, and therefore allows others to purchase and traffic in slaves, under certain conditions. This sounds on the surface contradictory. How can a free society endorse slavery? But we shall see that if liberty is really founded on utility, then slavery and suicide should be embraced. Moreover, I have a specific proposal about which group of people would make the best class of slaves, a point to which I return later, after first justifying slavery as an institution in a free society.

http://libertyandcapitalism.blogspot.com/2007/02/liberty-and-public-good-endorsing.html

So, I read further and see that this guy feels like I do--and he's spoofing the utilitarian explanation of liberty (or inherent rights).

Yeah. I have to say that people who pretend to avoid unalienable/ inherent rights when arguing against slavery don't get too far.

I DO realize most everyone here has read and discussed this more than I have. I get the feeling most everyone is satisfied with their opinion on the subject---so, don't feel bad if you don't want to respond. Maybe some hapless soul who still has questions will wander by.
0 Replies
 
joefromchicago
 
  1  
Reply Mon 14 Jul, 2008 01:52 pm
Lash wrote:
Thanks. I was wondering --useless on the basis of what? I was thinking economics...I guess someone may say socially as evidenced by contemporary social problems--but who decides the resulting worth? There are some who would argue that America wouldn't be what it is today--had it not been for slavery.

"Utility" and "useful" are not the same thing. "Utility," in a philosophical context, means "the greatest good for the greatest number of people." Who gets to decide what is utile? The people, ultimately -- not through their votes, but through their expressed preferences.

Howard Schwartz wrote:
My modest proposal is this: that if we really embrace a utilitarian view of liberty, we should change our laws to permit suicide and slavery. Specifically, we should immediately acknowledge that a society that is truly free in this sense allows people to take their own lives, sell themselves into slavery, and therefore allows others to purchase and traffic in slaves, under certain conditions. This sounds on the surface contradictory. How can a free society endorse slavery? But we shall see that if liberty is really founded on utility, then slavery and suicide should be embraced. Moreover, I have a specific proposal about which group of people would make the best class of slaves, a point to which I return later, after first justifying slavery as an institution in a free society.

That's a rather simplistic interpretation of the utilitarian position. A utilitarian would probably argue that institutionalizing slavery threatens freedom for all people (thinking here of slavery as practiced, e.g., in ancient Rome, rather than race slavery as practiced in the antebellum US). That being the case, it would be inutile to condone slavery -- even if some people might benefit from having slaves -- because it would endanger the far more utile institution of freedom. It's a strawman argument to claim that utilitarians merely add up the costs and benefits of a practice from the point of view of the individual. Utilitarians are not committed to a maximum amount of freedom for the individual simply for the sake of freedom -- even to the extent of allowing someone to freely sell himself into slavery. That's not utilitarianism. That's more like libertarianism -- which isn't a consequentialist doctrine at all, it's more in line with an inherent rights position.

Lash wrote:
Yeah. I have to say that people who pretend to avoid unalienable/ inherent rights when arguing against slavery don't get too far.

I DO realize most everyone here has read and discussed this more than I have. I get the feeling most everyone is satisfied with their opinion on the subject---so, don't feel bad if you don't want to respond. Maybe some hapless soul who still has questions will wander by.

An inherent rights/social contractarian would argue that slavery is wrong because it violates one's inherent rights.

A utilitarian would argue that slavery, as an institution, is wrong because it's inutile.

A Rawlsian would argue that slavery is wrong because no one would agree to it in an "original position."

A Kantian would argue that slavery is wrong because it would be a rule that cannot be universalized.

There are many ways to come to the same conclusion that slavery is wrong. It doesn't require a belief in inherent rights.
0 Replies
 
Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Mon 14 Jul, 2008 01:54 pm
The best utilitarian argument against slavery can be made by extension from the experience of the Roman Empire or the United States with the institution of slavery. In both cases, the localized use of slavery meant a competition that small holders and individual practitioners of a trade could not sustain. So, if you were a blacksmith, your only customers would likely be the other free small holders or craftsmen, because slave holders would use one or more of their slaves for the purpose, and would rent out a slave with such skills to other slave owners, often bartering one slave's particular skills for another slaves particular skills. Furthermore, given sufficient initial capital to purchase slaves, slave owners can practice economies of scale which effectively assure that those who do not own and employ slaves cannot compete in the production of commodities.

The latifundia (it literally means a large estate or farm) of the late Roman Empire can be said to have economically destroyed that portion of the empire. The western portions of the empire eventually fell into the hands of arriving Germanic tribesmen (Goths, Vandals, Burgundians, Avars, Alans, Lombards, etc.), while in the east, the imperial administration remained effective and the economy viable. Small holders and individual practitioners of trades were increasingly unable to make a living, and most drifted to the cities to work in building trades (the members of the orders of Equites and Patres as well as the imperial administrators had sense enough not to entrust the building of the roofs over their heads to slaves), or to simply live off the public dole. Completely failing to the understand the mechanics of a comsumer society, the Patrician owners of the latifundia, which they managed by employing members of the order of Equites, eventually reached the point at which the imperium itself was their only reliable customer. This staggered along until the end of the Antonines. Even thought the empire reached its greatest extent under Septimius Severus, by then the economy in the west was collapsing. Severus debased the currency, as was common in those times, which created an artificial inflation at the same time as the production of the latifundia were chasing too few customers. Since the imperial customer could not be cajoled or bullied into increasing prices paid for the production of the slave-driven enterprises, many of the owners of latifundia were driven out of business, and their properties were bought up my other members of the order of Patres or by the emperors themselves, so that land became concentrated in a few hands. As early as a century before the end of the Antonine period, in the Flavian era, Pliny the Elder was arguing that the latifundi had ruined Italy, and would ruin the rest of the empire (not everyone was then an economic idiot). Pliny claimed that just six men owned half of the province of Africa (corresponding to what is today more than half of the coast of Libya, and of Tunisia and the eastern half of Algeria)--which was the "breadbasket" of the empire at that time.

As the state, the imperium, fed Roman citizens in those days if they could not feed themselves, and as the latifundia were not subject to a tax on land, they only remained profitable so long as the imperial administration continued to expand the territory they controlled (opening new markets for the grain, olive and wine produced by them), and so long as the imperium bought the production to give to the people, or subsidized the purchase of their production by the people. It was a house of cards which began rapidly to collapse by the time of the end of the Severan dynasty. In order to support the imperium, other forms of taxation were increased, which impinged even on the portion of the empire east of Italy, where the latifundia were unknown. Higher taxation combined with the debasement of the currency only helped to accelerate the economic collapse in the west.

These conditions did not, of course, apply in exactly that manner in the United States. However, the inability of the small holder and the individual craftsman to compete with slave labor did mean that the economy of the southern United States relied upon monocultures of export--tobacco and cotton--which exhausted the soil, and lead to the demand for more land by slave holders, which fueled the contests between slave and free states for the control of new territories which were to become states, and might reasonably be said to have been the major factor leading to the Mexican War (certainly many in the North believed that was so). The three-fifths compromise in the constitution gave to Representatives from the South an inordinate power, in that they were apportioned based on a population with proportionately far fewer voters than was the case with Representatives elected in the states of the North. That was yet another spur to enter new states in the Union as slave states. It remained true in the American South that there was an immense gulf between the rich and the poor in the white population, since poor whites--farmers or craftsmen--simply could not compete with slave labor.

Whether or not these conditions would obtain in the moder world is difficult to say. However, the argument that if all of the laborers who produce goods are slaves there will eventually be no one left to buy their products seems to be the best argument against wide-scale slavery.
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Lash
 
  1  
Reply Mon 14 Jul, 2008 02:05 pm
(smiling) It certainly expands my opinion...

Many thanks for your time and expertise.
0 Replies
 
 

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