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Gary M Washburn

According to the Apocrypha, in the Book of Thomas, Christ is quoted as saying: “Give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, give unto god what is god’s, and give unto me what is mine.”

But what is “mine”? Is there something in what it means to be “mine” that generates “basic right” or what intrinsically is a “basic right” or “basic” to what “right” is or means? The literature is perversely vague on these points. Locke, of course, is most especially guilty of this perversion of the idea. And not only in the particularly and offensively perverse shift he makes from ownership by work to ownership by some prior claim upon the activity and actuality of work, such as design or supervision or title, but in the complete absence of any fundamental inquiry into what is meant by “mine” and “basic” and “right”. It is merely by fiat that the whole issue is raised at all. And this remains true throughout the current discussion.

Anglo-Saxon law did not recognize a private property right to the great sweep of country surrounding the clustered croft of each homestead. This perhaps was inherited from the Celts who, being mostly husbandman, used the open country about them for grazing, distributed more according to the needs of their animals than their owners. From this tradition the Anglo-Saxon settlers evolved a most peculiarly democratic system of land ownership known as the “open field” system. Norman law could not initially eradicate this democratic spirit, but it did manage to pointedly overlook it in their law, and by the time of Locke had more or less wiped it off the map of England. Hence the immigration to the New World, where some, mostly in New England, tried to reestablish something like the village communities that had once been typical of the home country. But they were thwarted by religious dogmas, by avaricious land-grabbers, and by theorists like Locke, preventing the spontaneous urges of the people from becoming thematic to the development of the new country. But what is important to notice here is how the ancient distinction between the homestead and the greater possession of territory and capital property was attacked over time until it is become so completely confused that theorists today can glibly claim the rights of personal property over what is clearly a capital property, the disposition of which so impacts the community as a whole that associating it with ‘privacy’ is but yet another perversion.

The issue, therefore, hinges upon what “person” is. And that lovely little enigma revolves around a fundamental incompleteness to the universal qualifier “is” and “is not”. The emergence of person into the world through (or as?) this uncompleted quality is a matter at least as fallow as the “Open Field” system is in “English Common Law” (really a Norman imposition), and requires a mammoth effort to begin to penetrate. An impossible task in the face of an edifice of “philosophy” as dedicated to its perversion and eradication as Norman rule of the English was dedicated to the destruction of the commons. But if the mystery of “person” is hidden the tradition bent upon the obviation of the uncompleted qualifier the methods available to those who are still embedded in that tradition are simply inadequate to do anything but pervert the question. The answer, therefore, is that the question is vexed.

A logical note: “If the full range of economic liberties are
basic rights, then the activities of economic agency should be regulated only to secure
basic rights.” The conclusion does not follow from the premise. It merely begs the question.

Having read ad nauseam the many attacks on Rawls it just seems disingenuous to think these arguments really even assault him at all. Aside from the fact that Rawls, though his heart was in the right place, was not a fundamental thinker, the notion that he is refuted by attacking derivative notions is just impertinence. All Rawls needs to sustain his thesis is that, given the original condition he sets to the remainder of that thesis, people would consent to certain consequents. Attack those conditions on any other grounds you will, you still leave the rationality of that consent completely unscathed. That being as it may, if personhood is the uncompleted qualifier there simply is no unilateral meaning to ownership. And Hegel, as I recall, was quite right, because perfectly logical, in asserting there is no basic property right, being a right entailed to the fact of possession, other than the right to divest oneself of that right. The rest is lost the meaning of “basic”. The very idea, for instance, that it is a fundamental right of property to employ the services of fellow human beings is an atrocity. This is the thinking of the enslaver, and I suspect Straussian dogma at work in such an assertion, or Jeremiah Burroughs.

I have been trying to find a venue to discuss my thought but have only found discussion in which there is very little meaningful thinking going on. So many respondents seem impeccably familiar with the literature but incompetent to reason through it with any incisiveness. It all seems to dissipate. And I am often led to ask myself the old codger’s question: “What do they teach in the schools these days?!” But on this site I seem to have found my answer. I do suppose I have an advantage, being a drop-out from the edifice of acceptable form, in that I can let myself entertain doubts so sweeping and powerful that I could never go to work in front of a class the next day and pretend to know something so well I could give a grade on learning it. This responsibility seems to me hopelessly prejudicial, a severe impediment to penetrating important enigmas. Shop talk is anathema to good philosophy.

A note on modality: “If....,then....” Well, if there is any if about it, there ain’t no if about it, and if there is no if about it, it’s pretty damn iffy! That’s all you need to know about modality.

Gary M Washburn

Another thud! Shall I try again?:

Paul Feyerabend, in The Conquest of Abundance, claims that capital property emerged as abundance permitted the development of a portion of the rural community to delegate the productive use of property to renters, leaving them free to cluster in urbane communities (property rights were invented to empower and justify this). In other words, the more natural relations among the population of a non-quantifiable drama between the character of need and the character of response succumbed to the quantifier. The quantifier, of course, commits the user to the presumption of a hermetic seal between the universal qualifier and its negation (the ontological fallacy). But learning and growing in the capacity to know the good and to adjudicate the just is wholly imminent to that drama of the uncompleted qualifier person is. Committed to the quantifier we use mismeasures of justice and good and malapropisms such as referencing person as “one” “oneself”, where the only count of personhood is the characterology of the uncompleted qualifier each of us is. And whatever credence we might place in the quantification of time and space and matter and all the human issues that can be made to submit to such apparent certitude, it is the exquisite incertitude of the uncompleted qualifier, and the incalculably extensive drama of need and response, through which we are found all the terms of that count. It is neither just nor good, therefore, to subordinate that drama to that count. Love is not patrician! The quantifier pretended to count it is, therefore, nothing “basic” to anything at all.

If Tomasi is saying that agreement to the maximin does not require agreement to the minimax, as I believe is his central offering (if you can wade through all the obscuration of academic jargon) he fails to appreciate the rational authority of the thought experiment Rawls’ original position reveals. He is not saying, as most of his critics claim, that the world is or even can be so designed as to make the rationality of his four grades of fortune a practical roadmap for a real (or Utopian) society, but merely that reason requires a moment of recognition in which the drama of need and response trump number as the measure of Man. That is, if I am right about Tomasi, he is merely making the ancient cry of plutocrats that the “nobility” so often deemed presumptive in great wealth is required for the prosperity of all. A claim history is littered with counterexamples to. Another thing, and this may be most to the point, it is hard to see how economics can be basic at all and throughout if it concentrates its efforts on systems of quantification which commit us to neglect of the human drama that is truly basic to its motivation. My favorite analogy for this is that we have thrown out the baby to keep the bathwater. Long before after all, money is the root of all evil. It is the quantifier that kills the drama of life.

Platz, then, mischaracterizes the issue throughout, and Rawls, though more by implication than explication, has given us everything we need to recognize that property rights are not basic to or necessarily promoting of responsible judgment or economic justice.

Marcus Arvan

Gary: I have a hard time understanding many of your claims, and so I find it hard to say much in reply (I have a feeling the same goes for others, though I do not pretend to speak on their behalf). For example, I just don't know what this sentence means: "In other words, the more natural relations among the population of a non-quantifiable drama between the character of need and the character of response succumbed to the quantifier." Can you explain what you mean by things like "natural relations", "a non-quantifiable drama", and "character of response succumbed to the quantifier"? This is quite a lot of jargon, and if you want to engage in a productive philosophical conversation with people who are unfamiliar with it, you need to provide a clear picture of what you mean by these (and many of your other) claims.

Also, Feyerabend may have *said* (or, rather, written) various things, but why should I believe him? You need to provide some clear explanation, free of impenetrable jargon, of what he said and what philosophical grounds he gave for believing what he said. Absent those things, I just don't know how to respond.

Finally, you say that, "Platz...mischaracterizes the issue throughout." But how, exactly? I see you mention Tomasi and Rawls in the post, but nothing Platz says or argues!

Gary M Washburn


I hope you don’t expect the thought of a lifetime to be conveyed in a few tweets! But it is hardly jargon to point out the failure of analysis to establish a hermetic seal between the universal qualifier and its negation ('is’ and ‘is not’). Even Kant recognizes this, in his ‘square of opposition’ by assigning contradiction to a purely formal relation between the quantifier and the qualifier, implying that there is no real contradiction, and there no real hermetic partition between even the universal qualifier and its negation. This means that in the real world inference is a matter of fact and of formalism quite impossible to secure between them. That is, between empirical evidence and formal inference nothing can be secured except the moment of responsibility for the failure of all conviction in that security. This, because the the relation between one proposition and another cannot exclude meaning not included in either one alone, but only in the rigor of reasoning from one to the other. Eventually the entire entire series of propositions formally or evidently entailed to each other as an isolated inference admit so much undiscovered meaning that all terms are undone. But such is our conviction in the antecedent that we are hard pressed to recognize this accept in the face of (friendly?) critique. That criticism is itself hard pressed to break the proprietary hermeticism of priority. In what ensues, then (and if we are earnest enough to recognize the meaning come through critique, or really simply through unavoidable variations between us) we may find the origin of a common language in that meaning unanticipated in the conviction that evident fact and formal inference are unified in the hermetic seal between the universal qualifier and its negation. The quantifier is that conviction. It is not merely a determinacy how many, but a determinacy which one. And if there is no complete seal between ‘is’ and ‘is not’ that determinacy is a myth and distortion of what truth is, for truth is that meaning recognized that evident fact and formal validity do not amount to truth. But this means, too, that the conviction in the quantifier as that hermetic seal, justified determinacy which one, so seals off that meaning so as to create an obligation between evidence and inference. Money and capital property is the social form of that conviction. As such, it quite deliberately cuts off that drama through which meaning can be mutual between us. It creates an obligation that permits no critique of its conviction admitting unanticipated meaning to intrude upon it, and so can never be the instrument of moral agency, for morality is nothing more nor less than that drama of recognizing meaning that is the ruin of prejudicial conviction.

I’m not great with personalities and references. Referring to other thinkers always feels like pretense to mind-reading to me. Though I do believe Socrates agrees with me in this. It may be his aversion to the written word comes as an old man not able to read the writing, but I suspect what he really is trying to tell us is that becoming competent readers makes us incompetent listeners. A teacher ought to know this. I am not trying to be arcane, but as succinct as can be. I appreciate the effort you have put in, but I also detect perhaps a shade of something I have come across before, the claim that because I am not understood I not making sense at all. I may have been a little unfair to Platz, but I still hold that he is not on the right tack in any of this, for he does imply unjustly that ‘moral agency’ (a term itself problematical because it tends to conceal the dialectical involvement inherent in morality, which means its only ‘agency’ is the moment of recognition that all precedent terms are fatally altered in the effort to preserve the conviction of determinacy which one, ‘is’ and ‘is not’, is which) is a unilateral act and that moral competence is, as it were, counted itself alone. But I make no apologies for crediting Rawls with having his heart in the right place even if his arguments could be more complete (though they are really complete enough to go on with), or for blaming Tomasi for the unacknowledged agenda of affirming the ancient prejudice of “men of substance”. Reasoning is a moral act that only comes to competence through a drama intimating how unalone we are in it. Motives are always at issue however much an author adheres to rules of rigor meant to obviate personal foibles. Perhaps, before after all, truth is ‘psychologism’, but more rigorous for all that. Yes, I am trying to fundamentally alter how philosophy is done, but I do believe I am making sense, and that you have the tools to recognize this.

Marcus Arvan

Gary: I do not expect a thought of a lifetime in a single blog comment. What I ask for -- and what any philosopher asks for -- is (A) clarity, and (B) real defense(s) of controversial claims.

Let's begin, then, with your first claim in this new post. You claim to "point out the failure of analysis to establish a hermetic seal between the universal qualifier and its negation ('is’ and ‘is not’)". First, I have no idea what you mean by "universal qualifier." The word 'is' has, by my counts, two different meanings. It can be understood as denoting identity, or it can be understood in terms of predication. On the first meaning, there *is* a "hermetic seal" between "is" and "is not". Every thing is identical to itself and *not* identical to anything else. On the other hand, if you are talking about the "is" of predication, then the statement you are making is *controversial*, and so, needs defense. I, for one, believe in classical two-valued logic. I do think that any time we predicate a property of an object, it either *has* it or it does *not*. So, here too, I think there is a "hermetic seal" between "is" and "is not." I also think there are good logical and semantic grounds for thinking this. And, if you wanted, we could go into those grounds.

But anyway, what are *your* grounds for thinking there *isn't* a hermetic seal between "is" and "is not"? The only grounds you give is Kant's square of opposition. But why should I -- or anyone else for that matter -- care about what Kant said? What I want to know is: did he have any good reasons for thinking it? And, in order to do that, we need to have an extended conversation about logic and semantics...which is what philosophers do for a living in journal articles, books, and so on.

Anyway, I deny your very first claim. Consequently, I deny everything that comes after it (as the other remarks in your post are predicated upon the truth of your first point). So, then, the question is: are you willing to have a *careful* philosophical conservation on your first point (and all of the others), a conversation in which you attempt to justify your claims to others on grounds they can understand and accept? Or are you not willing?

You say you want to "change how philosophy is done." But how, exactly? Philosophy, as it is done today and has been done since Socrates, intends to be (A) clear, (B) logical, and (C) defend the truth of premises on grounds that others can understand and accept. What about this do you want to change? Why?

A quick response to your remark that, "I also detect perhaps a shade of something I have come across before, the claim that because I am not understood I not making sense at all", and then your remark that, "I do believe I am making sense, and that you have the tools to recognize this."

The way I see it, this is precisely *not* the way to go about doing philosophy: insisting that you do make sense, and that others have the ability to see it. As a teacher -- and I am sure other philosophy teachers have this experience -- one of the most difficult things I have to accomplish is to convince students that "making sense in your own darn head" and expecting others to understand it is not good enough. Philosophers *ask* other people if they make sense, and if other people say, "No, I don't understand you", they attempt to clarify what they mean.

And this is the problem. I still often don't know what you mean. For instance, consider your criticism of Platz in your comment. Where in the world does Platz assume in his paper that moral agency is a unilateral act and that moral competence is "counted itself alone"? And I have no idea what you mean by the following: "[moral agency...]a term itself problematical because it tends to conceal the dialectical involvement inherent in morality, which means its only ‘agency’ is the moment of recognition that all precedent terms are fatally altered in the effort to preserve the conviction of determinacy which one, ‘is’ and ‘is not’..."

In short, while you may be convinced that you make sense, I -- respectfully -- am not convinced of it. I see an array of controversial assertions, most of which seem very unclear to me. If you want to engage in philosophical conversation, I am happy to -- but not unilaterally on your terms. If you want to engage philosophically with others, you need to cooperate with them on their terms. I am happy to continue the conversation if, instead of simply asserting things "at me", you are willing to have a conversation to clarify and defend the claims you want to make.

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