Friday, July 22, 2011

Massimo Pigliucci on Libertarianism: A Response

Oddly enough, in a critique of Larry Summers, biologist and philosopher Massimo Pigliucci makes the following claim: "I simply do not buy the fundamentalist (yes, I’m using the term on purpose) libertarian idea that economics is all there is or that should count in pretty much all human transactions and social problems".

Simply put, Pigliucci errs if he labours under the impression that such an idea is a libertarian one. Libertarianism is a political philosophy, hence it contains a set of prescriptions concerning relations between human beings. Various kinds of libertarianism exist, but if one unifying proposition is a constituent of all of them its the notion that initiated physical force or the threat of initiated physical force should be minimized. Since the government is the most prolific initiator of physical force and threats of physical force, naturally it is the bete noire of libertarians.

Libertarians typically employ economics to attempt to demonstrate the alleged prudence of minimizing government coercion. They argue the discipline of economics proves that maximizing social welfare requires the circumscription of government power. Economics is but one method they use to attempt to prove the wisdom of their creed of "non-aggression". The pervasiveness of economic deliberation and reasoning among libertarians stems from the fact that it enables them to identify and understand the mal-effects of government intervention. Libertarians do not treat economics as the be all and end all of intellectual life. It would be inappropriate to employ economics at the expense of other approaches. But if an issue involves the use by humans of scarce means to achieve ends, then economics has got something to say about it.

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