Name Michael Huemer's New Book
By Bryan Caplan
Philosopher Michael Huemer has almost finished a book-length defense of radical libertarianism. I’ve read virtually every book ever written on this topic. Huemer’s is the best. It’s so good, in fact, that I’ve promoted him from my “favorite living philosopher” to “favorite philosopher ever.”
What’s so great about Huemer’s new book? It’s clear and compelling, free of obscurantism and question-begging. Huemer strives to actually convince the vast population of reasonable people who aren’t libertarians. His argumentative strategy:
1. Start with broadly acceptable moral premises.
2. Show that these premises have radical libertarian implications.
3. Explain why these implications are a lot less counter-intuitive than they initially seem.
As Huemer explains:
I aim to start from moral claims that are, initially, relatively
uncontroversial. This seems an obvious plan. Political philosophy is a
difficult field. If we hope to make progress, we cannot start reasoning
from a contentious moral theory; still less can we begin by assuming a
contentious political ideology. Our premises should be things that, for
example, both liberals and conservatives would typically find obvious at
first glance. We must then attempt to reason from these premises to
conclusions about the contested questions that interest us.
When I described Huemer’s plan to Tyler, he immediately objected that common sense morality also tells us to accept a double standard in favor of government. Huemer foresees Tyler’s objection:
My attitudes toward pre-philosophical common sense might seem inconsistent. On the one hand, I consider the most widely-shared ethical intuitions as reasonable premises on which to rely. On the other hand, I claim that some very widely-shared political beliefs are fundamentally mistaken. The claim that there are at least some legitimate governments is not very controversial; nearly everyone, whether on the left or the right of the political spectrum, takes that for granted. So it is very natural to wonder, why do I not accept the existence of legitimate states as a starting premise, just as I accept common sense beliefs about personal ethics?
(Part of) Huemer’s response:
Those who begin with an intuition that some states possess authority may be brought to give up that intuition if it turns out, as I aim to show in the succeeding chapters, that the belief in political authority is incompatible with common sense moral beliefs. There are three reasons why one should prefer to adhere to common sense morality rather than common sense political philosophy: first, as I have suggested, common sense political philosophy is more controversial than common sense morality. Second, even those who accept orthodox political views are usually more strongly convinced of common sense morality than they are of common sense political philosophy. Third, even those who intuitively accept political authority may at the same time have the sense that political authority is initially puzzling-that some explanation is required for why some people should have this special moral status-in a way that it is not initially puzzling that, for example, it should be wrong to attack others without provocation. The failure to find any satisfactory account of political authority may therefore rationally lead one to give up the belief in authority, rather than to give up common sense moral beliefs.
The main problem with Huemer’s book: He still lacks a good title. I think I’ve talked him out of Freedom and Authority (his initial choice), but he’s still looking for a compelling alternative. A good title will be both descriptive and memorable. Imagine blog readers as the marginal buyers. Got a suggestion? Please share in the comments.
To get your creative juices flowing, here‘s the table of contents and first chapter. You’ll never have a better chance to forever change the history of philosophy.