Thought of the day

Utilitarianism is the only approach that makes sense in government (and personal) policies. It takes into account the need for freedom and personal autonomy by virtue of those being things which increase the net good and decrease pain, but it doesn’t tie us down to ridiculous conclusions, such as libertarianism does. For example, libertarianism forces this absurd idea that fire departments don’t need to respond when the burning structure belongs to someone who owes a fee or pays taxes in a different but immediately neighboring district. These things do not happen as a result of utilitarianism.

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10 Responses

  1. I fail to see how Libertarianism leads to fire departments not responding to fires. I’d be curious to know if the fire chief at that station was a libertarian.

  2. I think it’s pretty clear. Libertarianism is nothing if not an abdication of social responsibility and doing what’s right when there’s no quid pro quo in place. In this instance, we see fire departments failing to do what’s in the interest of being decent human beings (not to mention economic interests) because someone failed to pay some fee or because someone else is located on the wrong side of an imaginary line. This is exactly libertarianism in action (regardless of whether the chief is a libertarian, Nazi, or PETA volunteer) because the fire departments are claiming that they have no ethical responsibility to put out fires even when they are able to do so at limited expense to themselves.

  3. I disagree, libertarianism doesn’t call for an abdication of social responsibility, it’s simply a rejection of the idea that the state must compel(by force) society to behave in certain ways. It’s the idea that society benefits the most when people are free. You seem to be implying that libertarians have no sense of social responsibility, or that libertarians aren’t charitable.
    While these stories are tragic, they are clearly not libertarianism in action. 99 times out of 100 fire departments respond to fires without looking to see who is up to date on their property taxes. Districting can be tricky because the question then becomes “where do you draw the line?” I agree, it’s absurd that the station 3 miles away wouldn’t respond and I think that reflects a breakdown between the two neighboring agencies, not libertarianism.

  4. I’m not saying libertarianism excludes one from doing whats right or engaging in charitable works. It’s simply that it says it is perfectly ethical to not do what’s right in most circumstances, lest there be a previous arrangement. For instance, a libertarian could watch a child drown in 3 feet of water while claiming he had zero responsibility to act. A utilitarian can’t – and won’t – do this. Just the same, it is libertarianism which allows these fire departments to argue that it was not merely legally acceptable, but that it was also ethically acceptable for them not to act.

  5. But, of course, districting and legal BS probably played some role here (at least with one of the stories, and maybe both).

  6. I think you’d be pretty hard-pressed to find a libertarian who wouldn’t rescue a child drowning in 3 feet of water. Of course, there are plenty of assholes in the world. Libertarianism doesn’t abdicate morality, it simply says that one group of people (the government) shouldn’t force their morals (by using a gun) on the rest of society, and that government’s only job should be to protect life, liberty and inalienable human rights.

  7. The problem is that libertarianism says that it’s perfectly ethically acceptable not to save that child. I’m sure most libertarians would go to the rescue, but they wouldn’t be doing it because of their ethical framework.

    I think you oversimplify when you limit the discussion to the government. Libertarianism is an ethical philosophy first and a political philosophy second. (Really, I don’t even like calling it a political philosophy.)

  8. Again, I don’t think libertarianism makes any such assertion, but I can see the point you’re trying to make. Libertarianism essentially says that you don’t sacrifice the rights of the few for the “happiness” of the many.
    Rescuing a child from drowning doesn’t violate anyone’s rights, but, to use another example, what if I steal a $1billion from Bill Gates and spread it amongst all the homeless people in the world.
    I would certainly make a lot of people happy, but what I’ve done is still immoral.
    Also, I don’t think that utilitarianism and libertarianism are necessarily mutually exclusive.

  9. For any required active (as opposed to passive) action from a person, libertarianism really first requires some sort of quid pro quo. So, in order for someone, by virtue of libertarianism, to be ethically required to act, there generally needs to be some sort of previous agreement in place. (Of course, libertarianism also supports the protective nature of police/military in society, so I don’t see a problem with arguing that it can require active action in order to protect another person’s rights.)

    I presume you’re asking how utilitarianism works in terms of a Robin Hood scenario with someone like Bill Gates, but I’m not sure, so correct me if I’m wrong. In that case, we might find that rule utilitarianism works better. Alternatively, it could be argued that liberty and personal autonomy are good, not by their inherent nature as per libertarianism, but because they increase happiness and decrease pain, so if we violate Bill Gates’ liberty, we’re acting count to utilitarianism.

    How do you think utilitarianism and libertarianism overlap?

  10. You seem to be arguing that since “moral” actions (aside from a prior agreement) are not required by libertarianism, that it is somehow flawed. This is where I disagree. While I think it is a fair argument, I don’t think it invalidates libertarianism as an ethical or political philosophy. I certainly agree with the utilitarian idea of “doing the most good,” but I think it comes with a lot of baggage, especially if we are talking about government.

    Liberty, by its very nature, is perceived as a good thing, and good things usually increase happiness and decrease pain. I think you and I can agree on this. I think the differences arise when we talk about the value of liberty over everything else. You seem to be arguing that liberty is only acceptable insofar as it leads to happiness. Well whose happiness are we talking about here? Bill Gates or the 200 homeless people who now own Ferraris? While utilitarianism certainly sounds nice and squishy in theory, there’s no way to quantify “happiness.” And who gets to decide who gets to be happy and who doesn’t? That’s not to say utilitarianism invalid, just that it’s not as practical as it seems on paper.

    In government, utilitarianism can get dangerous because now you can have a small group of people with power that impose their subjective views of “happiness” on the rest of the population. (Much like we see with our own government).
    The libertarian views liberty as the ultimate happiness and should be preserved at all cost.

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