Front Page Titles (by Subject) IV: Values - Literature of Liberty, April/June 1978, vol. 1, No. 2
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IV: Values - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, April/June 1978, vol. 1, No. 2 
Literature of Liberty: A Review of Contemporary Liberal Thought was published first by the Cato Institute (1978-1979) and later by the Institute for Humane Studies (1980-1982) under the editorial direction of Leonard P. Liggio.
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Liberty and values are intimately joined together. To justify or rationally demonstrate values is crucial if liberty and its kindred concepts are to win respect from individuals and society.
Are such values as liberty, autonomy, rights, and property arbitrary and conventional, without objective foundations? If so, nihilism and other serious personal or social consequences would seem to follow.
This group of summaries questions values in general. The first two raise the spectre of relativism and determinism. They question whether our values are socially or culturally determined in mechanistic fashion or autonomously.
But exposing the contradictions in relativism and subjectivism is a far easier task than establishing a natural, rational, and objective base for particular values. The next nine summaries exhibit the continuing debates to ground various values in nature: health, promises, scientific research, liberty, equality, life, and the social sciences. Controversy, it is evident, still reigns.
Social Determinism and Objective Values
“Godwin, Oakeshott, and Mrs. Bloomer.” Journal of the History of Ideas 34 (1974): 611–624.
The Victorian era's rational dress movement illustrates how the social reformer can sanely evaluate or criticize society's institutions and also escape being passively molded by society.
Michael Oakeshott attacks in his writings such “institution-haters” as William Godwin (1756–1838, author of An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice) and prefers to regard the individual as deriving his reality primarily from social institutions. Curiously, Oakeshott's defense of institutions closely resembles Godwin's attack on them. Both authors worry about conceptual Procrustes' Beds—the blinkering and distorting effects of preconceptions that are floating abstractions not concretely anchored in personal experience. Both authors also resemble cultural determinists: men are molded by society, especially by political institutions. On the one hand, Godwin rebels against political institutions' authority which infantilizes the individual's autonomy and independent moral conscience. On the other hand, Oakeshott piously venerates the way that, traditions and social institutions fashion the individual's personality and beliefs.
As an “institution-lover” Oakeshott, in Rationalism in Politics (1962), seeks to invalidate individualist social reformers who distrust institutions, by citing the alleged blindness of the rational dress movement and its eponymous heroine, Mrs. Amelia Jenks Bloomer. Oakeshott maintains that rationalist reformers (such as Godwin or the creators of bloomers or knickerbockers) must fail because their abstract ideology blinds them to the nature of the social institution they seek to reform. Such reformers, purportedly, also are unconscious of how social institutions subtly influence their own thoughts and desires. Oakeshott would have us believe that the rational dress reformers cavalierly disregarded the complex folklore and social purposes of feminine dress in an exclusive preoccupation with making a costume suitable for women riding bicycles.
However, the history of the Rational Dress Society and the actual motives in designing such women's clothes as bloomers reveal not simplemindedness but complex considerations (including modesty, fashion, functionalism, warmth, hygiene, comfort, economy, and esthetics).
No one disputes that society and institutions can subtly influence us. The real issue is what should individuals do when society places contradictory demands upon us. Women were expected by society to perform household chores, but the same society imposed a cumbersome costume to impede such chores. If society imposes conflicting demands on individuals, how is a person to determine society's real direction and desires? More fundamentally, even if individuals know the true and stable direction of society, why should they obey it if such direction does not satisfy their individual desires and happiness?
Even if society molds an individual's purposes and desires, why should it be irrational to judge society and its institutions by their ability to make individuals happy? Why should not a creature judge his creator? It seems a pointless design for society to create individual aspirations only to thwart them. Individual happiness can serve as a sensible standard for judging social institutions. In reforming such institutions (dress or the state) we can still consult complex purposes rather than remain simplemindedly fixated on one aspect.
In sum, the rational social reformer can choose an independent and objective standpoint for evaluating society. The rational dress example does not demonstrate that the only course is to drift with the deterministic flow of society. Individuals can objectively examine and choose social values.
“Is Cultural Relativism Self-Refuting?” British Journal of Sociology 27 (March 1977): 75–88.
Relativism, in general, claims that all truth is relative, that is, it completely depends on and varies with time, place, age, person, or environment. One truth could hold for John while, at the same time, its opposite holds for Ken. Man thus becomes the subjective measure of all things. A priori cultural relativism is one variety of relativism and asserts that all evaluations and statements about human behavior must be culturally internal and relative. Cultural relativism, so described, requires denying the very possibility of explanation.
The statement, “All explanation must be understood as internal to or relative to a particular culture,” is not necessarily self-refuting. It need not be meant as a universally valid statement (true for all cultures), but rather as one having validity only within the isolated culture in which it is stated. To render cultural relativism self-contradictory, a statement “X is Y” would have to be accompanied by the further claim: “‘X is Y’ is true.“
Thus, a modest, nondogmatic form of cultural relativism is not self-refuting, but it doesn't really explain too much or advance our understanding. We need another approach. From analyzing a number of concepts of rationality we can demonstrate that any explanation requires a “universal principle of rationality.” To make behavior intelligible two crucial presuppositions are essential: a procedural norm for determining what is to count as intelligible, and a firm belief that sharing procedural norms is a precondition of both meaningful statements and the explanation of behavior.
Herein we see the fatal flaw of cultural relativism. It attempts to make the social world intelligible by using explanations which depend on cultural consensus or personal perceptions. However, this presupposes that there is a criterion for judging what is to count as a “cultural consensus” about the meaning of any act or the validity of any particular perception.
More crucially, in attempting to determine “cultural consensus” or personal perceptions, the investigator is forced to look back to “some previously defined concept of social reality.” Here's the rub! The relativist, by the very logic of his own argument, is precluded from using any external judgment to determine what constitutes a “cultural consensus” or a valid perception.
An unsolvable dilemma confronts the cultural relativist. He “does not even allow for the possibility that one can negotiate meaning with other actors, for what basis is there for negotiation of common conceptions if the very notion is epistemologically suspect?”
Health and Objective Values
“Health as a Theoretical Concept.” Philosophy of Science 44 (1977): 542–573.
Is health a value-free concept? The medical view of health as the absence of disease is such a value-free theoretical notion because it is based on nonsubjective and empirical elements of biological function and statistical normality. Health involves freedom from disease and thus means statistical normality of biological function: the ability to perform all typical physiological functions with at least the typical efficiency of the species.
The concept of health thus depends on an adequate understanding of disease. A value-free approach to health starts out with a functional account of its negation, disease. Disease is a matter of fact and not of evaluative decision. Health, as the absence of disease also becomes a matter of fact.
The opposite view, that health is a value-laden concept, arises from faulty assumptions. Our health judgments, in this view, must be “practical” judgments about the treatment of patients; it also recommends commitment to “positive” health beyond the simple absence of disease (theoretical health). The first assumption of “practical health” believes that “choosing to call a set of phenomena a disease involves a commitment to medical intervention”; the second assumption of “positive health” leads to unnecessary ethical dilemmas that no medical procedures can unravel.
In clinical and philosophical literature, the scope of the term disease includes injury, as distinguished from illness (a particular occurrence of the universal “disease”), and should not be confused with what tends to produce disease.
This functional account of health follows the classical tradition of regarding the normal as the natural, and by stressing the biological notions of goal-directedness and function. It differs from that tradition by identifying ideal functioning with the empirically typical (i.e., the ideal is non-normative). Diseases may be viewed as internal states that reduce an organism's functional ability below typical levels for its species. Health, then, is normal functioning ability. Here, normal and typical are defined statistically in terms of the species.
This understanding of theoretical health differs from the currently popular notion of positive health: something more than the absence of disease. It is important to distinguish between health and various kinds of excellence.
This discussion of physical health and disease may also be extended to resolve controversies within the field of mental health. Mental health experts often debate how much values influence health judgments and who gets committed. With a valid distinction between theoretical (mental) health and practical health, we could consistently assert the objective status of mental disease in individuals but still object to subjecting them to involuntary “practical” treatment to render them more “excellent.” We need not believe, with Thomas Szasz, that mental illness is a myth to protest compulsory treatment of the “sick.”
Ought vs. Is
“Institutions, Practices, and Moral Rules.” Mind 86 (1977): 479–496.
Defenses of liberty, to be credible, must rest on demonstrable and objective moral rules. In this light, it is important to keep abreast of attempts to derive an objective “ought” from a factual “is.”
In a now classic article on that subject (Philosophical Review 73 (1964): 43–58) and a later book, Speech Acts (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1969), John Searle argued that the very language of the “institution” of promising commits us to the language of obligation. In effect, if you say “I promise,” you imply that you “ought” to keep your promise. Our language “game” rules require that such words as “promise” entail the subsequent language of “ought” and “obligation.”
Searle's claim to deriving an “ought” from an “is” is defective. Searle based his claim on the grounds that factual descriptions of institutional acts (e.g., promising) generate evaluative “ought” statements. The defect appears if we distinguish between constitutive and regulative rules. Moral rules (and obligations) are necessarily nonconstitutive rules; hence they are “regulative rules.” As regulative rules (R-rules), moral rules and “oughts” cannot be derived from “constitutive rules” (C-rules).
To define these terms: C-rules are those that “constitute,” define, or create (as well as regulate) an activity or “game” which would not exist logically apart from these rules (e.g., the rules of chess do more than regulate the game, they create chess and the very possibility of playing). R-rules merely regulate forms of behavior or games that exist independently (e.g., the rules of etiquette regulate relationships that exist even without the rules).
There is a sense in which institutional acts such as promising can be termed “right” or “wrong,” which goes beyond their mere conformity to C-rules. However this value or normative sense does not arise from the C-rules themselves, but from the fact that society consciously endows C-rules with prescriptive force because such rules promote ends that the society values.
Thus, the C-rules are not intrinsic, objective norms nor values except for society's stipulating it so. Furthermore, this restricted normative aspect of C-rules differs from the normative aspect of objective moral rules, which evaluates something as right or wrong apart from its being relative to a particular institution or practice.
The same distinction applies to those rules that evaluate an institution as being either good or bad. Some rules evaluate whether an institution fulfills the goals intended for it by society; other rules evaluate the institution itself in terms of its actual effects whether intended or not intended. In either case the moral worth of the C-rules as a whole is evaluated “instrumentally” in terms of some goals it helps to achieve.
Contrary to Searle, C-rules do not entail moral rules. Take, for example, Searle's use of the “institution” of promising. The C-rules defining the conditions for an act to fulfill the terms of a promise are merely a factual description of the promise's meaning. But the rule defining the institution of promising does not entail the desirability or obligation to keep the promise itself. The institutional rule merely describes factually what would be a “correct” move in the linguistic game of promising. In order to be obligated to keep a promise one also needs the moral or regulative rules: (1) that it is good to satisfy another's promised needs and interests; and (2) that the act of making and keeping a promise is a good thing.
We commit no logical inconsistency in the following case: we could dutifully observe the linguistic game rules of always applying the phrase “I hereby promise” to the appropriate situations, but still refuse to actually keep the promise on each occasion. Linguistic propriety does not establish an objective ethics. Another base is required to demonstrate objective values.
Values in Research
“Moral Autonomy and the Rationality of Science.” Philosophy of Science 44 (1977): 513–541.
Should ethical judgments play a central role in rational scientific behavior or merely a nonessential role? Ought the scientist qua scientist make ethical value judgments or ought he remain “morally autonomous?” That is, ought he remain wertfrei, accepting or rejecting theories only with a rational eye to attaining the goals of science? It is argued that in their decisions to accept theories, scientists ought to take account of the ethical consequences of acceptance as well as the consequences in attaining “purely scientific” or “epistemic” objectives.
We begin with the assumption that scientific research is publicly subsidized because of its value in advancing understanding and in promoting social utility. Accepting these as the objectives of science, what are the implications for what constitutes scientific rationality?
First, consider the issue of rationality in accepting or rejecting theories and research topics. Here, the “standard view” errs when it claims that such decisions should be made solely on epistemic grounds; that is, science should be morally autonomous.
The decision-theory view of rationality in science, however, advocates deciding among theories on the probability and value of possible outcomes. On this basis, we may defend the “weak value thesis”: that in accepting theories, scientists in fact make value judgments since they must evaluate the strength of the evidence.
If the weak value thesis is true, what goals should we take into account in deciding to accept theories? Here we can advance to a “strong value thesis.” Not only should we follow the standard view that epistemic goals should be heeded, but we should also consider the practical and moral consequences of accepting theories. This is so because policymakers, in contrast to scientists, need more information. Policymakers stand to suffer greater costs in erroneously accepting a theory. This view may increase scientists' responsibilities, for example, by requiring that they do environmental or political impact studies in connection with their research.
The entire discussion rests on the assumption that both the goals of science and the amount of information provided by scientists are made in a nonmarket setting. This creates the absence of market signals which could clarify how much information is needed about research.
Rights vs. Right Judgment
“Dispensing with Moral Rights.” Political Theory 6 (February 1977): 63–74.
Robert Nozick, among others, asserts that men have moral rights which others may not infringe. But such appeals to inviolable rights are often idle and suffer from indeterminateness. Of course, claiming moral rights has obvious tactical advantages despite these grave shortcomings. But can such claims to rights be made legitimately? It may be contended that we really sacrifice nothing by jettisoning the concept of moral rights and simply appealing to judgments based on correct moral principles. Thus, there is no real moral advantage in employing rights language. We will sacrifice nothing important by making claims in the language of “what (objectively) it would be right morally to do.”
A conventionalist rendering of moral rights may be offered. This would, for example, be offered. This would, for example, be sufficient to condemn slavery throughout history even if people in slave holding societies had not arrived at that moral conclusion. This is possible simply by pointing out the errors in moral calculation or fact committed by those societies. Thus, a conventionalist position could accommodate the advantages of a moral rights argument (i.e., that it could condemn violations of rights even if such rights were unrecognized in a given society).
The typical arguments against moral rights are: that lists of these rights tend to proliferate; that there is no single agreed list; and that the definition of these rights is fuzzy. Perhaps the strongest argument is the contention that the proponents of human rights have not yet given an adequate justification of those human rights. The usual properties used to define an equality of rights (e.g., the equality of all persons in some “natural capacity,” or in their liability to pain, or, finally, in their possession of some transcendental properties) seem either to be too weak to justify the whole structure of human rights or to introduce new mysteries that only compound the problem.
The justification of moral rights has been left on rather flimsy grounds, an observation going back over 150 years to Jeremy Bentham.
Prima Facie Values
“Regulation, Liberty, and Equality.” Regulation Nov./Dec. (1977): 11–15.
Many contemporary political and economic academicians are intrigued by “zero-sum” games. Such theorists insist that individuals and policy makers must make trade-offs between opposing values. Supposedly, to advocate any one doctrine necessarily diminishes the viability of other alternatives.
Liberty and equality (absolute varieties), in the abstract, represent two such zero-sum values. When government utilizes its coercive power in the name of equality (e.g., minimum wage legislation or Affirmative Action), it inhibits the capacity of individuals to make choices and act upon them (by reducing their liberty to employ workers freely). Similarly, untethered liberty (Hobbesian anarchy: the victimization of the weak by the strong) endangers basic rights such as freedom from aggression, to which we all have an equal claim at birth.
The critical insight that theorists often avoid making, however, is that the absolute pursuit of either liberty or equality ultimately endangers not only the alternative value (in zero-sum fashion) but the very value advocated itself. Overzealous egalitarian crusades, through which government attempts to level the effects of natural inequalities, generally produce tyrants who enjoy a very unequal control over power and luxuries. And pure liberty, as Camus argued, gives every member of society the “freedom to kill,” ultimately replacing the liberty of each individual with the fear of insecurity.
The relationship of liberty to equality, therefore, cannot ultimately be explained by any uncomplicated zero-sum model. Efforts to pursue either value in the extreme endanger both values. Society thus confronts the choice of blending liberty and equality in the most satisfying proportion. Individuals must periodically weigh, though, the cumulative effects of government policies in order to be certain that absolute power is not leading society towards absolute equality.
Advocates of liberty should realize that in order to maximize their cause they must continually stress that non-violence is a key element to real liberty. By advocating this single restraint on individual interaction, they can greatly diffuse criticisms that their proindividual stance is either extreme or internally inconsistent. Simultaneously, they will promote the greatest possible role for liberty in society.
“Antenatal Injury and the Rights of the Foetus.” Philosophical Quarterly (Scotland) 28 (January 1978): 17–30.
Is it inconsistent to claim, on the one hand, that a child deserves compensation if he is born malformed through injury and negligence done to the fetus, and on the other hand, that the fetus has no rights?
The first claim apparently admits the rights of a fetus. To counter this implication we need a theory connecting rights with interests. Rights function to protect the interests of the bearer of the rights. To say Virginia has a duty she owes to Robin is to say Virginia is obliged to advance and protect Robin's interests. But possession of a right cannot be deduced simply from the fact that Robin has an interest in Virginia's acting in a particular way. In addition we must establish that Robin's interest exhibits the type of moral significance that obliges Virginia or others to protect it by their action or inaction.
We may distinguish two kinds of interests. The first type of interest pertains to conditions needed for a healthy specimen: what can harm it or improve it. Fetuses have this kind of interest (as do plants). However, the second type of interest, moral interest, involves an individual being interested in something with desires, preferences, likes, and dislikes. Only the second type of interests gives rise to moral obligation. A fetus lacks this sort of interest since it lacks desires and purposes. Only when a being shows interests in something does it have rights. Only when a being displays concerns does its harm or benefit have independent moral significance, so that, consequently, rights and duties are owed to it.
There are, however, duties owed “to the child” who does have interests of the proper moral sort. The fetus stands in a causal relationship to the health of the subsequent child. This means that though there are no duties owed to the fetus, there are duties concerning the fetus. (Just as the fact that we owe duties to everyone not to unjustly kill them implies that a builder has duties concerning a building, namely, not to build a faulty structure; the duties are owed to the people but only concern the building.)
That one only owes duties to the child follows from this observation: if we were to assume that no child would be born, the consensus that we have duties to the fetus disappears. Thus no inconsistency arises in asserting that we have a duty to see the fetus is not harmed but no duty to see that the fetus survives. Our duties concerning the fetus are hypothetical, contingent upon assuming that there is a possibility or intention that a child will be born.
This last point, however, raises a problem. If future interests create present duties, why can't the interests of the child-to-be justify the duty not to abort the fetus, on the grounds that the child-to-be will be interested in being born? One way to extricate ourselves from this difficulty is by conceding the possibility that there may be certain interests, or there may be a person that has a bearing in determining our present obligations. But in deciding whether to abort we are deciding whether that possibility exists in a particular case. We can't anticipate the results of our decision in order to make it.
The Greatest Good or Number?
“Should the Numbers Count?” Philosophy and Public Affairs 6 (1977): 293–316.
Consider the following quasi-lifeboat moral dilemma: You have a limited supply of some lifesaving drug. Six people will all inevitably die unless they receive the drug. However, one of the six needs all of the rare drug if he is to live. Each one of the other five needs only one-fifth of the drug. What ought you to do morally?
The general issue is: Should the number of individuals affected by such a “trade-off” action morally determine the ethical decision to do or not do the action? The specific “scarce drug” example is thought-provoking and calls into question an ethical intuition almost universally shared. Most people would tend to answer that the death of five innocent persons is a worse evil and greater loss than the death of one innocent person, “other things being equal.” The example poses an either/or choice. Your situation is to prevent the loss of either one person or five persons. You cannot prevent both losses. You are morally required to prevent the worse evil.
One problem is that “other things” are rarely “equal.” The one person who needs all the drug might be a brilliant scientist on the verge of a medical discovery to make the drug plentiful or cure some other serious illness affecting millions. Again, the five persons in the example might be five “idiot infants” unloved by anyone. Such special considerations are usually not entertained by those who pose the dilemma.
Now suppose that the special consideration has nothing to do with social benefits but with your own personal preference. The individual whose life you choose to save over the other five may be a partner, parent, or close friend. Here the reason for your choice might not be due to any overriding moral obligation to the individual, but simply because you know and like him whereas the other five individuals are strangers.
Or further suppose that you try to argue the one individual into giving up his dose of the drug (which he stipulatively owns) because it would be worse for the five others to die. He might possibly demur and counter: “Worse for whom?” His retort effectively undercuts utilitarian arguments that would attempt to focus on the alleged greater happiness of a greater number of people. The individual simply values his own life more than he values any of the other five. It would seem to be a confusion in any one of the five to try to convince their individual rival by entreating: “None of us is thinking of himself here! But contemplate, if you will, what we the group will suffer. Think of the awful sum of pain that is in the balance here!”
Many more complications might be introduced to the dilemma. But it does not seem cogent that a mere consideration of the relative numbers of people involved in such trade-off situations has significance. Questions raised by this test-case include moral equality, policy choices, and the role of property titles in allocating scarce resources such as lifeboats and rare drugs. The owner of the boat and drug might be the proper one to decide their allocation. Numbers should not dictate choices.
Politics and Objective Values
“Values and Political Theory: A Modest Defense of a Qualified Cognitivism.” The Journal of Politics 39 (1977): 877–903.
Are value judgments merely subjective expressions of the attitudes of particular speakers rather than reflections of the intrinsic goodness or badness of a thing or action?
This moral position, known as value noncognitivism, does not represent an adequate account of the value judgments we ordinarily make about political life. The consequences of accepting value noncognitivism would bring into conflict and render impossible the twofold task of political theory: (1) to offer an objective account of politics, and (2) to address the moral issues involved in politics.
A qualified value cognitivism seems preferable. It would ground moral judgments upon a conception of what it means to be a person, or a “model of man”; would provide a link between normative and empirical theory; and would reconcile the two distinct tasks of politics.
Value noncognitivism fails because it focuses only on the performative use of normative terms such as “promise” or “good” while ignoring their primary meaning.
By concentrating on what a speaker is doing (the prescriptive aspect) this approach is deaf to what he is saying. Noncognitivism fails to distinguish between how a moral judgment functions (to persuade, to commend, etc.) and what those terms mean: a distinction between use and meaning.
A cognitive approach to values can remedy the defects of value noncognitivism. An analysis of the term “good” demonstrates that its ascription to anything is neither subjective nor arbitrary. The criteria of what constitutes the human good, or what contributes to our well-being, are likewise nonarbitrary, because they emanate from a conception of human nature rather than from the subjective preferences of any group of people. Human good is not a statistical compilation of what people actually desire, nor does it express the attitudes of a particular speaker to a certain course of action. Good is an evaluation of what actually contributes to the “functioning well” or “flourishing” of a person (of an agent capable of intentional action). “To make a value judgment is, then, to make an assertion whose truth value can be determined only in relation to the model of man within which the statement is made....”
We can avoid pushing emotivism and subjectivism one step back to the question of what is the proper model of man. Research programs, in the social sciences, when examined are “models of man” which serve as “bridges” between normative and empirical theory. Hence, they can be falsified, or at least discarded in favor of explanations that include more of the relevant data.
To arrive at objective values, it is necessary to refute value noncognitivism and to attempt to ground values, or the human good, on something other than subjective whims.
“A Call for Conceptual Clarification in Value Theory: A Response to Professor Moon.” The Journal of Politics 39 (1977): 904–912.
Has Donald Moon actually made a case for an objective foundation of value terms found in the social sciences?
Arguing against Moon's views on “qualified cognitivism” there are two distinct positions concerning value cognitivism/noncognitivism: the one may be called ontological and the other epistemological. Professor Moon tends to confuse the two. Moon, while ostensibly refuting the positivistic-modernist position on value theory, ends up by embracing precisely that framework by arguing for a “value cognitivism that is essentially epistemological.”
Moon's argument is undermined by a failure to provide an ontological or naturalistic base for his epistemological cognitivism. Furthermore, Moon's enterprise fails to be normative because his “research programs” for deriving conceptions of human nature depend on empirical observations of what men, or societies, regard as “good.” Thus, we are still left with value relativism.
A more coherent alternative is Michael Polanyi's, which combines ontological cognitivism with epistemological noncognitivism.