Tag Archives: ethics

Review of Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do?


Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do by Michael J. Sandel

Michael J. Sandel‘s book Justice, is a worthwhile read for anarcho-capitalists who have already read the greats in their own tradition: Murray Rothbard, David Friedman, etc., and are ready to hone their thinking by exploring some different viewpoints. Sandel’s book is especially good for this purpose because he tries to find a theory of justice by contrasting three different perspectives: libertarianism, utilitarianism, and virtue ethics. Not only does libertarianism feature prominently in the book, it is portrayed in a reasonable way.

Sandel also makes good use of both hypotheticals and real-life examples to explore the idea of justice. Familiar ones like the Trolley Problem get a standard treatment, but less common examples like invitro fertilization and surrogacy are also explored. The real world problems are taken from present day as well as centuries ago when, for example, people who were drafted into the military could hire someone to take their place. These analyses are deep enough to be interesting, but do not drag on so long that they become a waste of time.

Although Sandel’s approach is good, he ends up with a rather confused notion of justice. This is partially due to the fact that he conflates ethics with morality. He is not simply trying to define justice as a core ethical concept, but also bolt on moral ideas about how a person should live their life. This leads him to choose virtue ethics from the three options he explores. Thus the ideas of honor and living a good life get mixed up with his view of justice, when a more focused approach would have served better.

So what is justice? Libertarians think of it like this. If someone commits a crime, the world is altered from what it would have been if everyone had lived together peacefully. Justice is getting the world back to what it would have been, had no aggression occurred. If a thief steals your money, part of justice is returning the money. Part of justice is also getting extra money from the thief that would have been earned if the money were never stolen, but instead placed in a bank account (or whatever the money would have been used for). Part of justice is making sure that the victim does not have to live in fear of being robbed again. And so on.

So justice is simple idea. When aggression pulls the world away from the libertarian ideal, justice is bringing it back in whatever way necessary. Other moral notions are important as well, but should be explored on their own, lest young, impressionable people get the wrong idea.

A book that confuses ethics and morality, but contains interesting ethical problems and a good discussion of different alternatives, including libertarianism. Three Murrays.

3_content_murray 3_content_murray 3_content_murray


Review of Libertarian Quandaries

libertarian_quandriesJakub Wisniewski‘s book Libertarian Quandries is a thoughtful and accurate account of the libertarian ethical system. Though the language is a bit academic at times, the chapters are short and pithy. This makes the book an excellent choice for those who are familiar with libertarianism and want to take their understanding and arguments to the next level.

Wisniewski addresses a wide range of objections to libertarianism, be they economic, ethical, or simply a question of what is practical. Similarly, he mounts a calm but relentless attack on arguments in favor of government. Ancaps will appreciate his consistent anarchist message, while libertarians who are still holding on the idea of limited government will find some interesting food for thought.

That said, there are a few things that call for clarification: Continue reading

Review of Ethics: A Very Short Introduction


In his book, Ethics: A Very Short Introduction, Simon Blackburn takes the reader on a semi-structured tour of various ethical topics. He tackles a variety of bad ideas that have made their way into the ethical arena and spends the majority of the book focused on putting them down. Blackburn mostly refrains, however, from developing or advocating any particular ethical theory.

Surprisingly, given the title, the book is not overly friendly to the uninitiated. The reader is often expected to already be familiar with major ideas, figures, and schools of thought in ethics and philosophy. While in the beginning Blackburn does do a good job explicitly motivating why ethical systems are important, by spending the bulk of the work on focused on flawed systems, the book might be discouraging to individuals looking for an ethical system to live by. Blackburn does drop a few hints at what he thinks a good ethic might look like, but sadly it seems to be some sort of democratic socialism.

The book is structured into three sections. The first Continue reading

Review of A Spontaneous Order: the Capitalist Case for a Stateless Society

spontaneous_order_chase_rachelsIn his book, A Spontaneous Order: The Capitalist Case for a Stateless Society, Chase Rachels does an excellent job conveying insights from both libertarianism and economics. He uses clear explanations of basic concepts and persuasive examples for applications. He relentlessly identifies aggression as the root cause of society’s problems, and the state as the primary source of aggression. Most importantly, the book is permeated by a Rothbardian hatred of the state, which will make it an enjoyable read for any ancap.

Rachels makes frequent use of long passages quoted from other works. Thankfully these are drawn from some of the best sources on libertarianism and economics: Continue reading

Libertarianism is an Ethical System

Murray Rothbard in 1989

Murray Rothbard in 1989

Libertarianism is a system for resolving conflict. In other words, it is an ethical system. Libertarianism simply tells you not to commit crimes like theft and murder. So, it only applies to how you interact with other people, and even then only sets some bare minimum of acceptable behavior.

This invariably leads people to ridicule libertarianism because it does not give any guidance on activities that are not crimes. Should you donate to charity? Libertarianism doesn’t say. People who don’t like libertarianism phrase this as, “libertarianism does not support charity, ” which is technically true but very misleading. Many libertarians give to charity, but they do not do it because they are libertarian. They have other codes of behavior that motivate them.

These other codes are called moral systems. They help people decide what is good and what is bad. For example, Jainism says that drinking alcohol is bad. Like libertarianism, a moral code might dictate how to interact with others. On the other hand, moral codes can also deal with how to behave when you are all alone. Continue reading

The Role of Intentions in Ethical Analysis

Dudley Do Right's attempted arson

Dudley Do-Right fails to commit a crime in “The Disloyal Canadians”

How do intentions factor in to ethical analysis? Can one be forgiven for doing something evil if they had intended to do something good? Deontological libertarians only care about whether the NAP is violated, so intentions do not appear to be relevant at first glance: all that matters is who is responsible for conflict.

So if someone attempts to do something evil, but ends up doing something not-evil, then from a libertarian perspective that is okay. If you try to build a death ray, shoot your neighbor with it, and unintentionally cure his cancer then you have probably not done anything unethical, even though you tried to. Similarly, if you try to do something peaceful, like give someone a massage, but you accidentally kill them then you have unintentionally done something unethical.

So intentions are not sufficient to determine ethical outcomes, and cannot be used as an excuse for some crime. Honor killing is still murder. However, intentions can affect who is responsible for a crime and thus indirectly affect an ethical conclusion under certain circumstances. Continue reading