Thursday, January 23, 2020

Adventures in the Old Atheism, Part IV: Marx

I have never been remotely attracted to Marxism.  Its economic reductionism, vision of human life as a struggle of antagonistic classes, hostility to the family, and the hermeneutics of suspicion enshrined in its theory of ideology, are all repulsive and inhuman.  Other elements, such as the theory of surplus value and prophecies about the withering away of the state and the idyll of life under communism, are sheer tosh.  These flaws are grave and real whatever one thinks about capitalism.  Indeed, opposition to Marxism is in my view a prerequisite to being a serious critic of capitalism, for Marxism contains none of the good that is in capitalism, much of the bad that is in it, and adds grave evils of its own to boot.
All the same, let’s give that old rascal Karl Marx his due, because that is the point of this series.  As with Nietzsche, Sartre, and Freud, Marx’s atheism exhibits far more gravitas than that of any of the New Atheists.  The reasons are twofold.  First, the brand of philosophical naturalism that underlies Marx’s atheism is less crude than that of Dawkins and Co.  Second, as with the other Old Atheists, you won’t find in Marx the chirpy naïveté about the consequences of naturalism and of abandoning religion that you see in the New Atheists.

Red Aristotelianism

Marx was, of course, a materialist, as are the New Atheists.  Now, materialism is often associated with a rejection of teleology.  This was the case with the ancient atomist form of materialism, which rejected explanations in terms of what Aristotelians call final causality, in favor of those appealing only to efficient causality.  It is true also of the materialism of New Atheists like Alex Rosenberg, who insists that teleology can play no role in genuinely scientific explanations. 

An interesting feature of Marx’s materialism is that he evidently took teleology to be precisely part of the explanatory toolkit of the materialist, as Allen Wood plausibly argues in his book on Marx.  (See especially pp. 104-11.)  It is sometimes assumed that the specific way this is so is that Marx took history to have communism as its inevitable culmination, but as Wood notes, the positing of a grand goal of that sort is not the fundamental way in which Marx makes use of the notion of teleology.  Naturally, as an atheist, he also did not have in mind divine directedness – nor direction by any human mind nor any other sort of mind, for that matter.  What he had in mind, fundamentally, is simply the idea that material systems reliably exhibit tendencies toward certain outcomes, and that identifying the outcome toward which a component of the system aims or for the sake of which it operates is a crucial part of explaining it.  For example, Marx deploys this mode of explanation when he claims that certain kinds of social relations exist within an economic system in order to allow it to make efficient use of its productive powers, or that moral and religious ideas prevail in a society in order to uphold its basic economic structure.

In other words, the notion of teleology Marx deploys is an essentially Aristotelian one, even if he applies it in ways Aristotelians would not necessarily agree with.  And as Wood points out, the basic soundness of this general mode of explanation does not stand or fall with the soundness of this or that particular application Marx makes of it.

Writers like Scott Meikle have also argued that a kind of Aristotelian essentialism underlies Marx’s social theory.  The consequence is that Marx understands human well-being in a way that is at least in very general terms Aristotelian.  As Wood writes, “the good life, for both Marx and Aristotle, consists chiefly in the actualization of one’s powers” (p. 37).  The difference – needless to say, not a small one – is that Marx’s conception of human nature and of human powers is far more narrowly economic than Aristotle’s, and the economics in question is, well, Marxist.

Though a materialist, then, Marx’s conception of the material world is not quite as desiccated as that of a Democritus or a Rosenberg, and thus affords more metaphysical common ground with the Aristotelian theist, and even with the Aristotelian natural law theorist – albeit they reach very different conclusions about morality.  But that brings us to the next point.

Marx contra moralism

One of the more preposterous features of New Atheist rhetoric, and of secularist rhetoric in general, is the shrill moralism with which it often condemns religious believers.  For in at least many cases, the metaphysical presuppositions of the one flinging the rhetoric undercut any grounds for moralism of any kind.

I am not appealing here to the idea that atheism can’t support moral judgments insofar as morality rests on arbitrary divine commands.  Morality doesn’t rest on arbitrary divine commands.  What I have in mind instead are other philosophical presuppositions of morality that at least many secularists reject.  For example, morality presupposes free will.  Some New Atheist types (such as Jerry Coyne) make a big show of the claim that free will is an illusion.  But no one who denies free will has any business pouring contempt on religious believers, or on anyone else, for their alleged moral and rational failings.  For if free will is an illusion, they can’t help what they do, any more than the rain can help falling.

Or consider evolutionary theories of knowledge, such as Dawkins’ “meme” theory, on which concepts and beliefs are characterized as competing by way of an analogue of natural selection.  Ideas spread insofar as some concepts and beliefs get themselves replicated and others die out, just as some organisms survive and reproduce and others fail to do so.  If this is all that cognition amounts to, then truth and falsity go out the window.  An idea might become widespread even though it is false or it might disappear even though it is true, and it is survival value rather than truth or rationality that determines what happens.  Indeed, even a belief’s appearance of being more true or rational might itself be an illusion that persists because of its survival value.  Now, if this sort of view were true, there would be no point in condemning religious beliefs as false or irrational, or praising atheist beliefs as true and rational.  What matters is ability to replicate, and religious ideas – as New Atheists are always complaining – are very good at that.

I would also argue that morality is impossible without teleology of some kind, even if just the thin kind Marx is willing to countenance.  For, as Aquinas notes, the notion of the good is inextricably linked with the notion of an end.  Goodness is on analysis always a matter of realizing an end, and badness a matter of failing to realize it.  Hence if there is no teleology of any kind in the objective world, there can be no objective goodness and badness, and thus no objective morality.  In which case, while an atheist system of morality might be possible for an atheist who affirms teleology (as Marx does, and as Thomas Nagel at least toys with doing), no atheist who regards teleology as an illusion has any business engaging in moralism.  Some atheists realize this (Rosenberg, for example) but many do not.

Now, Marx is not guilty of this particular error, or at least not entirely.  For though, like anyone else, he often falls into criticizing others in terms that seem to imply moral disapproval, his official stance is to eschew moral categories when defending his characteristic positions.  Famously, his critique of capitalism is not a critique on grounds of justice, and he was dismissive of socialists who made their case on moral grounds. 

The irony is that, given his essentialism and teleology, he could, unlike other atheists, develop a kind of natural law approach to ethics and try to defend socialism that way.  But he does not do so, because of his economic reductionism.  For Marx, the cultural “superstructure” of law, morality, politics, religion, etc. necessarily reflects the economic “base” of a society.  For example, modern notions of property rights, of the duty to honor contracts, etc. reflect the needs of a capitalist economic order.  They are necessary to keep the motor running, as it were.  Similarly, the assumption that slavery was legitimate reflected the economic structure of Roman society, the assumption that serfdom was legitimate reflected the economic structure of feudal society, and so on.

Now, for Marx, there is nothing else for morality to be than something like the rules of a society’s economic game.  There is no set of moral principles that transcends different possible economic systems and by reference to which they might be judged, any more than there is a set of meta-rules governing board games, by which Monopoly and Risk might be judged.  But that means that there is no way, from within an economic and social order, to criticize that order on moral grounds.  Criticizing capitalism on socialist moral grounds, but from a position within the capitalist economic order itself, is for Marx like playing Monopoly while trying to justify certain moves by appealing to the rules of Risk.  It’s just muddleheaded.  Hence his rejection of attempts to critique capitalism from a moral point of view.  Indeed, he even goes so far as to deny that capitalism is unjust.  Injustice is not the problem with it, in his view.  To be sure, he thinks it is harmful in various ways, but he doesn’t think those harms can be objected to on moral grounds.  Rather, they are something like the monkey wrench in the motor of capitalism that is going to bust it apart from within and transform it into socialism.

For Marx, then, morality is an inherently conservative institution, always reflecting the deepest assumptions of the established order of things.  To appeal to morality in critiquing an established order as a whole (rather than merely this or that part of it) is precisely to play by the rules of that order, and thereby to set oneself up for defeat.  It’s like appealing to the rules of Monopoly to justify condemning the entire game of Monopoly as illegitimate – something not just mistaken but incoherent.

Now, this would apply to any moral critique of religion as well, since that too is part of the superstructure that reflects the economic base.  Marx’s position would entail that a sweeping moral condemnation of religion is as incoherent as a moral criticism of capitalism.  When religious believers complain that atheist critics who appeal to morality are living on borrowed capital, I think Marx would have to sympathize.  He would have to regard that particular brand of atheistic criticism as no less naïve than the moralistic brands of socialism of which he is so dismissive.

Against bourgeois atheism

Of course, Marx famously characterizes religion as the opium of the people, but it is extremely superficial to think that he is here issuing a glib zinger, after the fashion of some pimply atheist teenager mouthing off on Reddit.  Let’s take a look at the context of the remark, in Marx’s Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right.  He writes:

Religion is the general theory of this world, its encyclopaedic compendium, its logic in popular form, its spiritual point d’honneur, its enthusiasm, its moral sanction, its solemn complement, and its universal basis of consolation and justification.  It is the fantastic realization of the human essence since the human essence has not acquired any true reality. The struggle against religion is, therefore, indirectly the struggle against that world whose spiritual aroma is religion.

Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering.  Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions.  It is the opium of the people.

The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness.  To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions.  The criticism of religion is, thereforein embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo.

End quote.  Now, notice that while Marx certainly regards religion as a tissue of falsehoods, there is no contempt here whatsoever for the religious believer.  Quite the opposite.  To see how and why, let’s note a few things about Marx’s analysis and its implications.

First, Marx is here giving a teleological explanation of religion.  He is saying that it serves a certain function in the economic order of a society, namely that of making that order intelligible to the oppressed members of that society in a way that reconciles them to it and affords them an illusory kind of happiness despite their oppression. It is part of the superstructure that is supported by, but also in turn reinforces, the base.

Second, there can be no question, then, of peeling away religion and understanding it in isolation from the larger order of which it is a part, or of discarding it while keeping the rest of that order intact – any more, say, than one could understand a heart in isolation from the whole organism, or chuck it out while keeping the rest of the organism alive.  Religion and its larger social context, especially its economic context, are a package deal.  Its disappearance presupposes the disappearance of that entire larger context.

Third, religion is for that reason not fundamentally a matter of some misguided or dishonest leaders taking advantage of ignorant masses, and its remedy is not to be found in exposing those leaders or in intellectuals correcting their errors.  It goes much deeper than that, into the very roots of the social order, so that the leaders and the intellectual class are just as much shaped by it as the masses. 

Fourth, while Marx’s “opium” remark is certainly intended to compare religion to a drug-induced stupor, the accent is clearly not on the stupor itself but rather on the conditions that make the stupor attractive and indeed necessary – which, Marx emphasizes, involves “real suffering.”  Imagine a man whose leg is being amputated and whose agony is soothed only by the use of literal opium.  Suppose you take the opium from him, bring him out of the euphoria he was feeling, and convince him that whatever experiences he was having were delusional – while all this time the doctors continued sawing on his leg.  Given Marx’s analysis, this is analogous to what undermining religion while keeping the rest of the existing social order in place would involve.  And telling religious people what fools they are is comparable to lecturing the man whose leg is being sawed off about what a fool he is for taking opium and believing the delusions it afforded him.

The difference between Marx and your typical New Atheist should be obvious.  For the New Atheist, religion is the cause of our unhappiness, and getting rid of it the key to securing happiness.  For Marx, religion is a palliative for our unhappiness, unhappiness which can only be increased if religion is taken away while the sources of our unhappiness remain.  For the New Atheist, religious believers are objects of scorn and condemnation.  For Marx, they are objects of pity and concern.  For the New Atheist, eliminating religion is basically a matter of educating people (by means of books, etc.) about an intellectual error they are making.  For Marx, it is a matter of nothing less momentous than an entire social order giving way and being replaced by something so radically different and historically unprecedented that we cannot now even imagine it, where this utopian transformation can ultimately be secured only by impersonal economic processes rather than propagandistic efforts on the part of individuals.

In short, given Marx’s analysis, the New Atheist keen on destroying the convictions of ordinary religious believers is, to the extent he succeeds, cruel – but also wasting his time insofar as he is not going to succeed in any large-scale way so long as the overall existing social order persists.  For a serious Marxist, it can only add insult to injury that Dawkins and Co. peddle their wares like any capitalist, at $15.95 a pop, thereby getting rich while the condition of the masses remains unchanged.  And affluent secularists’ broadcasting banalities like “There’s probably no God.  Now stop worrying and enjoy your life” is essentially an update of Marie Antoinette’s “Let them eat cake.”

As Denys Turner remarks in his essay on Marx and religion in The Cambridge Companion to Marx, Marx “appeared to believe that simple atheism – atheism that rests on the straightforward negation and reversal of what theism claims – is as ideological as the theism it all too simply rejects” (p. 336).  Just as the communism of the future will in Marx’s view simply move beyond the moral categories in terms of which human beings now evaluate their actions, so too will it move beyond the dispute between religious believers and their critics.  Turner concludes: “Marx’s atheism is not anti- but posttheistic.  It is therefore postatheistic” (p. 337).

Lessons for conservatives

That is all well and good if you buy Marxism.  But is there anything even us devoutly non-Marxist types might learn from Marx, other than the interesting implications of his false premises?

Not a whole lot, in my view.  As with so many modern thinkers, what’s true in Marx (such as his Aristotelianism) isn’t new, and what’s new (such as the specific application he makes of Aristotelian ideas) isn’t true.  And much of it isn’t just untrue, it’s awful.  In my opinion, there’s too much of Marx’s distinctive errors lurking behind most of his insights to make them salvageable.  For example, it seems to me that you have to buy too much into his economic reductionism (and bad Marxist economics to boot) to find much of value in, say, his account of exploitation and alienation under capitalism.  That’s not to say that there isn’t any such thing as exploitation and alienation under capitalism, but only that if there is, Marx’s analysis isn’t too helpful in identifying it.  I suspect that because Marx uses words like “alienation” and “exploitation,” and it seems plausible that capitalism can be alienating and exploitative in some sense, people wrongly suppose that there must be real insights on these topics lurking in Marx.  (For discussion of some senses in which capitalism can indeed be said to have alienating and exploitative features, see my Claremont Review of Books essay “Hayek’s Tragic Capitalism.”)

However, that is not to say that there is nothing at all of interest in Marx.  Roger Scruton, in The Meaning of Conservatism, plausibly suggests that Marx was onto something in his analysis of “commodity fetishism.”  Scruton distinguishes the consumption of property from its possession, where the former involves treating property as a mere means, while the latter involves treating it as an end in itself.  Think of the way that people can be attached to an heirloom, to a work of art, or to a piece of land or a home, and desire to preserve it and pass it down as a heritage for their children – whether this is something grand like an aristocratic estate (think of Lord Grantham’s attitude to Downton Abbey), or a more humble abode of the sort most of us have to settle for.  This sort of example illustrates what Scruton means by the possession of property, the enjoyment of it for its own sake.  By contrast, property is merely consumed when it is used for the sake of something else, usually only temporarily.  Pencils and paperclips, candy bars and soft drinks, and stocks that are bought and then sold as soon as sufficient profit can be drawn from them, would be examples.

Both consumption and possession are innocent in themselves, but the essence and legitimacy of property as an institution, Scruton argues, is to be found primarily in possession.  For we cannot flourish as the embodied creatures we are without the stable extension of ourselves constituted by home and other possessions.  The Marxist attack on property presupposes a conception of property primarily in terms of consumption – property thought of essentially as a commodity – but property-as-mere-commodity is not property as such, but rather a corrupt or degenerate form of the institution of property. 

However, Scruton thinks Marx is right to hold that under capitalism property tends to be conceived of primarily in terms of consumption or commodity rather than in terms of possession.  Indeed, the individualism and consumerism of capitalist societies tend to lead to treating everything as a commodity, and thus as a means rather than an end in itself.  Think of the way people talk of their “brand,” of “selling themselves,” of the re-description of prostitution and pornography as “sex work,” of the home as something to “flip” for a profit rather than to possess and pass on, of “starter marriages” no less than “starter homes,” and on and on in a culture of increasingly ephemeral attachments rather than rootedness.  The very idea of intrinsic value tends to dissolve into the cash nexus.  Mass production reinforces this tendency, since it facilitates our thinking of things as essentially indistinguishable, disposable, and replaceable.

Marx didn’t think this wholly bad, because it contributes to the erosion of traditional morals and institutions and thereby helps prepare the way for the socialism he welcomed.  But precisely for these reasons, no conservative can approve of it.  That doesn’t entail that a conservative must oppose capitalism full stop, and Scruton doesn’t.  But neither should any conservative regard capitalism as an unmixed blessing, nor acquiesce to the libertarian tendency to make of the market a model for political and social relations in general.

“Capitalism,” after all, is a sweeping term that is used to label all sorts of phenomena, some good and some bad.  Too many of capitalism’s critics foolishly try to attack it at its strongest point.  They follow Marx in the by now manifestly falsified claim that capitalism leads to greater material impoverishment.  In fact capitalism has greatly increased general material prosperity.  The real problem – and it is a much more serious problem than many modern American conservatives want to acknowledge – is that it tends to do so at the cost of impoverishing us spiritually. 


  1. Excellent analysis of Marx. I'm going to re-read it. I'm also curious to get your opinion on Hegel a strong Aristotelian and whos philsophy Marxism is a distortion of. More specifically I'd like to hear your thoughts on his theology particularly his "true infinite" argument from the logic the conclusion of which suggests that God while not identical to the world, is also impossible to define as completely outside the world.

  2. Great post, I really dislike capitalism but I am not sure about the Marxist alternative either due to its unattractive metaphysics.

    1. Just because one pig is very ugly, it doesn't follow that the next pig must be prettier.

    2. it's simple: Capitalism is bad,
      Communism is worse.

  3. Great post, Dr. This almost aristotelianism of the german was a thing i kinda noted while studying him, but this and his actually consistent view of religion where quick viewed so i did not think much on these.

    The fact that a lot of marxist here focus more on the part of religion being a manipulation of the masses by the leaders did not help much.

  4. Don't confuse surplus value and the labour theory of value (also held by Ricardo and Smith). The latter is obviously wrong. The former is easily reformulated as an analytical tool and, although renamed in contemporary economics (labour market monopsony), is regularly discussed - especially post-2008.

    1. When you say the labour theory is obviously wrong, are you just thinking in terms of the fact that prices aren't generally proportional to labour time in reality? I've been reading some Marx lately and I think it might be most fruitful to see the labour theory in terms of what would be true in the equilibrium of a simplified model economy similar to the microeconomic model of a market with "perfect competition" in neoclassical economics.

      This interpretation could answer some common objections to the labour theory. One common one, made for example by Robert Nozick, is that different goods might have different labour times but there might be little or no demand for some (Nozick used the example of a worker spending time tying knots in cords) and high demand for others. But it is also true in the long run equilibrium of a perfectly competitive market that prices don't depend on demand, that all firms earn zero profits in the long run meaning the equilibrium price of any good ends up being equal to its production cost. In the case of perfect competition, I assume the explanation is just that for two goods A and B with the same production costs but different levels of demand, at the equilibrium there are more copies of the higher-demanded good A being made than the lower-demanded good B, so the differences in supply balance the differences in demand and they will both sell out at the same price. If Marx is also thinking in terms of an equilibrium of a simplified model, he could answer this objection in the same way.

      I haven't read that much of Marx's work, but I did find a quote here which seems to suggest he was thinking in these kind of terms, assuming an equilibrium and also assuming a simplified competitive market without the complication of monopolies (or presumably oligopolies):

      It suffices to say the if supply and demand equilibrate each other, the market prices of commodities will correspond with their natural prices, that is to say with their values, as determined by the respective quantities of labour required for their production. But supply and demand must constantly tend to equilibrate each other, although they do so only by compensating one fluctuation by another, a rise by a fall, and vice versa. If instead of considering only the daily fluctuations you analyze the movement of market prices for longer periods, as Mr. Tooke, for example, has done in his History of Prices, you will find that the fluctuations of market prices, their deviations from values, their ups and downs, paralyze and compensate each other; so that apart from the effect of monopolies and some other modifications I must now pass by, all descriptions of commodities are, on average, sold at their respective values or natural prices.

  5. Hobhouse said that 100% free market in England turned out in the middle of the 1800's not to be so great. So in England there was tried instead in the middle of that century a mixed approach that Hobhouse approved of. Steven Dutch says essentially the same.

  6. This is a very strong and interesting analysis of Marx's atheism.But in my Russia there were two marxisms - one Marxism is a theory, the other Marxism is a practice. And practical Marxism-Leninism, Stalinism - was very cruel to believers.The atheistic Stalinist state was not limited to the prohibition of religious thought and education. This state simply exterminating the believers. And the Soviet Marxists treated religious people with undisguised contempt. Some relief from this situation came only during the Second world war. Religious freedom came only in the late Soviet era. But this was a period of degradation of Marxism.But even in the late USSR, my grandmother could not take me to Church for the celebration of Easter. Communists stood around the temple and allowed only elderly people into the temple. Frequent provocations of Komsomol activists. This was in the 1970s. It turns out that Marx was a more subtle and sophisticated opponent of Christianity than the Marxists, who acted as simple terrorists.

    1. One of the things that struck me when I was getting to know ordinary people and families in the former USSR was that the women were nearly always Christian, and were likely to hold all kinds of other spiritual beliefs even if they don't actively practice. And, at least in rural families, their mothers and grandmothers who were growing up under Stalin and in WW2 also held these beliefs despite the official persecution.

      The men (especially those who grew up pre-1970) seem much more likely to be atheists
      and critics of religion, but the criticism and arguments were very crude and inconsistent, fairly unreflective, even from pretty intelligent guys.

      A while ago I read a book about Soviet moral and ethical philosophy and noticed the realist and teleological aspects to the analysis of morality, Ed's post is a good short explanation of where this tendency was coming from within Marxism, something I wasn't previously familiar with.

    2. The men (especially those who grew up pre-1970) seem much more likely to be atheists and critics of religion...
      You are right. But it is not coincidence.This is a consequence of purposeful social selection. If you are a man, then the choice of religion was a choice of social and public failure, a questionable occupation. Women were not so focused on public success,publicity and political career. In my Orthodox Church, there is even an opinion that the "white headscarf" - our mothers and grandmothers preserved the Church during the atheistic terror. Demographics support this view - the loss of the male population in the 1920s and 1950s was monstrous. Very often, the family tradition of faith was preserved only in the female line.

  7. Is there a coherent, worked out system as an alternative to capitalism from a conversative perspective informed by an A-T philosophy? I'm aware that there's relevant work in the field of ethics and people have argued on moral grounds both against socialism and capitalism from an Aristotelian perspective, but what about economics? How would an Aristotelian, a Thomist respond to say Austrian economic and pragmatic arguments for libertarianism?

    1. The first thing that needs to be done in addressing these issues is to disambiguate the term "capitalism" so that we know exactly what we are talking about. It's one of those hot button terms that is used too loosely and polemically by both critics and defenders, and I don't think it is helpful to begin by asking about "alternatives" to capitalism before it's made clear exactly what one means by capitalism. The popes of the great social encyclicals -- e.g. Leo XIII, Pius XI, and John Paul II -- are always careful to emphasize that there are different strands in the modern so-called capitalist economic order that need to be carefully distinguished, and that just as it is wrong to endorse all of them uncritically, it is also a mistake to condemn them all en masse.

      Consider that, when people hear the word "capitalism," some of the things they might have in mind are:

      1. Private property, including in the basic means of production
      2. Market competition
      3. The existence of corporations as legal persons
      4. Inequalities in wealth and income
      5. An economic order primarily oriented to the private sector, with government acting at the margins and only where necessary

      Now, there is nothing wrong with any of this per se. Indeed, some of it is required as a matter of natural law (e.g. property as an institution, subsidiarity).

      On the other hand, other people using the term might have in mind things like:

      6. Doctrinaire laissez-faire
      7. The market as the dominant social institution, with an ethos of consumerism and commodification of everything as its sequel
      8. Corporations so powerful that they are effectively unanswerable to government or public opinion
      9. Doctrinaire minimalization or even elimination of social welfare institutions, even when there is no feasible private sector alternative
      10. Globalization of a kind that entails dissolution of corporate and individual loyalties to the nation state

      Now, these things are all bad and should be opposed on natural law grounds.

      The list is not meant to be exhaustive, but just illustrative. And what they illustrate is that it is just unhelpful to talk about either embracing or rejecting capitalism full stop. And the way the issue is usually framed generates heat and reduces light. When people say "I support capitalism," they often mean "I support 1-5" but their opponents hear them as saying "I support 6-10." And when people say "I oppose capitalism," they often mean "I oppose 6-10," but their opponents hear them as saying I oppose 1-5."

      An important further issue, of course, is whether you can in principle or in practice have (all of) 1-5 without (at least some of) 6-10. To analyze this issue no doubt requires further disambiguation.

      Anyway, as this shows, the issue is more complex than many friends and critics of capitalism realize.

    2. Distributism claims to be an alternative to both capitalism and socialism and claims adherents of the stature of Chesterton and Belloc. However, what Distributism actually is, is not so easy to say other than some vagaries about the "widespread distribution of the means of production" (ala pope Leo XIII's encyclical Rerum Novarum).

      The widespread distribution of the means of production is a fine idea in my opinion. But how it is realized as a particular feature of Distributism specifically as opposed to capitalism is not at all clear. In my experience, the apologists for Distributism are often very zealous but have little to offer other than an often credible critique of capitalism.

      I do love me some Chesterton, but Distributism (like the French Revolution) was not an example of his genius.

    3. Not to mention that Distributism is not contradictory to capitalism - the kind of capitalism that instantiates 1-5 of Feser's list but not 6-10. Distributism could then be said to be one refined strain of capitalism.

      I don't know whether this is a fully accurate idea, but it occurs to me that the American income tax deduction for mortgage interest is perhaps the single most "distributist" practical idea that has ever been employed, since it puts private property into the hands of the little guy by the millions. The publicly traded corporation is another, but undoubtedly even more controversial in terms of its being an unqualified benefit to society.

    4. @ Tony:

      True. If you own common stock (as 50% of Americans do through their 401k) you own the means of production.

      Capitalism--with all its flaws--is a big democratic machine. I often discuss this with well intentioned but, frankly naive, so called "democratic socialists". They can't really explain how the "democratic" part works other than some vagaries about workers having a say in the direction of economic endeavor, but what is more "democratic" than everyone voting with their dollars?

      Everyone reading this voted (with their dollars) to make Bill Gates rich because they wanted a computer. Why should we now say we want to use the government to take it back?

    5. @Anon
      Austrian economic arguments (and consequent pragmatic arguments) are generally problematic because of the pure subjective theory of value. Economic value has a subjective component, but it remains irreducibly objective. Austrian argument grounded on this theory are therefore fallacious.

    6. Where do you get "irreducibly objective" economic value from?

    7. @TN
      The meaning of "owns" is being used equivocally here with respect to what distributism appears to say and common stock. I own the miter saw in my garage, but my common stock doesn't entitle me to make use for my own needs any of the means of production held within a company.

    8. But it does. Common stock is ownership of the corporation--you are an owner in the proportion of the amount of stock you own. That's just what the terms mean. You get to make decisions that owners make (that's what proxy voting is).

      So, I'm still wondering where you get "irreducibly objective" economic value from? I have an old car I want to sell. Where can I get the "irreducibly objective" value of the car?

    9. "But it does."
      Sure in an equivocal sense. You can sell your stock, but you can't go take assets from the company and sell them. That is you don't own the means of production in the same sense as you own, say, your car.

      "Where can I get the "irreducibly objective" value of the car?"
      Most people own cars because as an objective matter it takes them places.

    10. @ Michael Humpherys

      The price you get when you sell your stock represents the value of the assets you own. I can't walk into a public building and remove valuables. Does that mean that, as a taxpayer, I don't "own" the building? The public "owns" it collectively.

      I own a corporation in proportion to the number of shares I own. If my shares represent .00001 percent of the company, why would I be entitled to ransack the place and infringe on the rights of the other owners? My authority and my claim on the assets is in proportion to the percentage of the shares I own; owning .0001 percent of the shares does not make me a dictator.

      Obviously cars take people places. The question is how do you know the "irreducibly objective" value of someones desire to go places? Obviously you don't, and obviously this fact does not make Austrian economics a "fallacy".

      Economic value is set either by a centralized authority that sets prices, or the market. There is no reason I should think that a centralized authority should be better at setting prices than all market participants voting with their dollars.

    11. Your scare quotes get to my point. An equity claim against a company is different from simple ownership. In simple ownership, I am entitled to sell and make use of the thing I own. In common stock, I do not have these entitlement even against .0001 percent of the asset. I do have entitlements to a portion of the dividends, voting rights, and liquidation of assets. There I don't have ownership of those means of production in the sense I under the broad distribution of the means of production.

      As for economic value, the question is just a change of topic. I did not make a claim about who or how prices should be set, but rather that Austrian economic value theory is false. Obviously, it does not follow that some theory of value is true because some method of price determination is beneficial under some implicit standard.

    12. Since Austrian economic theory is false, you do know some times what prices should be. For example, even if a bunch of arsonists get together, the value and price of arson is not greater than zero and is in fact, in a sense negative, because it destroys value.

    13. The Austrian theory of value as subjective rather than objective is one of the things it gets right. It's a very important insight.

      That being said, there is much wrong with Austrian economics.

    14. @Dr. Feser,
      Your list of capitalism's characteristics is very misleading. I know that capitalism is a vague term, but precisely for that reason it would be more helpful to clear up what you mean by it, rather than talking airily about what people have in mind when they hear it. Especially since you seem to conflate it with a critique of "doctrinaire laissez faire".

      1-5 are fine in so far as they go. 6 begs the question: just what is wrong with laissez faire, doctrinaire or otherwise?

      7 does not in fact follow. The family or the church may well be the most dominant institution in a completely laissez faire society. There is nothing that forces people to buy and sell services; in fact, it may very well be that most of life takes place outside the market under doctrinaire laissez faire. This is entirely up to the goals and culture of the people involved.

      8 is, I fear, simply wrong. It's an old Marxist canard that corporations will tend to grow bigger and bigger until they swallow up everything in the free market. The opposite is the case: the size of companies is not arbitrary but determined by the ability of the entrepreneurs in question to satisfy consumer wants in the best and cheapest way possible. The moment they fail to do this, they lose market shares, or other companies emerge that are simply better, more successful.
      It is government intervention that is most likely to lead to immoderate corporate power. The tariff is the mother of trusts, as they used to say: government intervention raise the barriers to entry allowing incumbents to exert undue power over their customers and workers. Progressive taxation has the same effect, as it prevents effective competition from emerging entrepreneurs.

      9 is ambiguous in its use of social - one imagines state or government institutions is meant, not simply mutual societies. It is also question begging, as you need to prove that there are no feasible private alternatives. I understand this is not practicable in a comment on a blog post, but your wording implies that there are none, which is simply not the case. Private charitable and mutual help societies were ubiquitous in liberal countries, and the doctrinaire liberals were often the greatest promoters of them (e.g., Bastiat in France).

      10 is very hard to criticize as I'm not sure what is meant. If you mean that capitalism necessarily dissolves local and national loyalties, I think it's simply wrong. Liberalism is likely to strengthen such ties, as people will be much more enthusiastic about voluntary freely chosen ties, rather than obligatory patriotisms. It's possible that this would reduce loyalty to the state, but I don't see how that's a bad thing.


      A laissez-fairist

    15. @Michael Humpherys,
      You're mistaken about value theory. You seem to think that there are ethical propositions involved when it is said value is subjective, but this is not so.
      What it tries to explain is existing facts: prices as they are. That I buy a used car for $1,000 simply means that I value the car more than the $1,000. This is my subjective value judgment and says nothing about what other people's value judgments are, nor anything about the "true" value of the car - I might be mistaken and the car turn out to be a lemon after all.
      The same with arsonists. Whether you should fire on buildings or not is an ethical question, usually answered in the negative. But it's a factual statement if I contract with you to set fire to the Eccles building in exchange for a sum of money. Not only is it doubtful that any of us has done anything unethical in this situation, it is simply a matter of fact that I did put a price on arson, and I did value you burning down the Eccles building more than the money I gave you to do so.

    16. @ Michael Humphreys

      There can be no proportional ownership of a company? Everyone gets three acres and a cow? Tell me how it works.

      How do we build a microprocessor that way?

      In a socialist system, do I get to walk into the chairman's office and use/sell any assets I want?

      Last time: where do you get "irreducibility objective" value?

    17. @Kristoffer
      If you read what I wrote, you'll notice that I admit that economic value is subjective, but that it is also irreducibly objective, that is it is not purely subjective.
      The analogy of car and arson fails and begs the question. A car has objective qualities that render it valuable, whereas arson destroys economic value. This difference is the point of dispute.

      You may attack strawmen at your leisure. To reiterate for the third time, there is proportional ownership of a company, however, these entitlements are different from simple ownership of the actual means of production.

      To be clear, I have no problem with this, but it seems to me that to claim this is equivalent to what distributist mean is simply mistaken and conflates different sorts of entitlements.

      "Last time: where do you get "irreducibility objective" value?"
      One need not have a complete theory of pricing to know that Austrian value theory is false. I'm not a positivist.

    18. Dividing the ownership of an enterprise such that its endeavors are determined collectively rather than by a single owner does not negate the fact that the means of production is widely distributed. Collective ownership is different than individual ownership only in degree, not in kind. Distributists may try to make this some sort of injustice, but it just isn’t.

      Distributism cannot scale to provide the advancements we take for granted in the modern world: Giving everyone three acres and a cow will not build a microprocessor or discover penicillin.

      “Economic value” means setting prices. That’s what the expression means--it doesn't mean moral value, or metaphysical value, it means economic value. Of course it is an objective fact that people want cars, but what the “economic value” of the car is, is subjective. This is perfectly consistent with Austrian economics--they aren’t stupid.

      Thanks for the discussion.

    19. TN: Distributism cannot scale to provide the advancements we take for granted in the modern world

      So what?

    20. @TN
      The subjective nature of economic value was never in question. The economic value as reductively subjective was. That is false for reasons stated and ignored.

    21. @Michael Humpherys
      I have no idea what you mean by irreducibly objective then. Your example with arson was outside the field of value theory, it was an ethical judgment.
      It's a simple fact that people value things irrespective of whether they're good for them or not, and even despite their not being suitable for attaining the ends people want to use them for. This changes nothing for the field of economics, these are ethical and technological questions.

    22. @Kristoffer
      I mean that there is an objective ground to economic value that cannot be reduced to merely subjective considerations. Economic value cannot be purely subjective as Austrians believe. Economic value is both essentially objective and subjective.

      Treating arson under an ethical perspective misses the point. Under pure subjective value theory, if arsonists come together and value arson, then it has economic value. This is manifestly false because arson destroys economic value. This does not proceed along any ethical consideration.

      I also do not concede that there is such a sharp distinction between economics and ethics. From my perspective this implicitly begs the question as if the human behavior of economic valuation was merely a private consideration without objective ground susceptible to objective judgement.

    23. Michael,

      It seems you're not talking about economic value. Economic value, here, is subjective. It is purely subjective in fact. You're smuggling in ethical considerations, such as when you talk about arson and how it "destroys economic value" - that's not at all part of the analysis with which Austrian economists are concerned with. Their point is simply that if you pay 1000 bucks for someone to set fire on a building, you clearly value that arson more than your 1000 bucks. This kind of subjective value guides understanding of prices and allows for a technical analysis of economics. That is all. Austrians don't have to say that all our thinking about economics must be reduced to the subjective value of prices or anything like that. They're just pointing out that economic value is subjective, and you've failed to show otherwise.

      You're just talking about something else, which is why you then have to say that "you do not concede there is such a sharp distinction between economics and ethics". Well, conceptually, there is. Whether the study of economics should be dissociated from ethics is a different question. But this doesn't change the fact that economic value for pricing etc. is purely, hardcore subjective.

    24. I don't want to get too down in the weeds about this, but I can offer some thoughts.

      On Distributism, I guess it depends how localist/decentralist your vision of it is, but I would say one of the easiest ways to move in that direction would be a Land Value Tax. Another policy would be getting rid of all corporate welfare and corporate personhood. Getting rid of intellectual property would also be a major advance towards something like Distributism. Intellectual property rights, unlike other forms, protect what isn't in itself scarce. They are a form of monopoly and tend to favour centralisation. Other policies would be to lower restrictions on mutual banking, zoning, and other areas in which regulations raise entry requirements for small businesses. For example, if you have spare capacity now in your house, where you could open a small café or restaurant, you can't do it in much of the West. You are blocked by zoning and by regulations that require you to have an industrial kitchen, etc. You need to rent a larger site, with all the capital outlay and risks that entails. One of the problems with actually existing capitalism is that it isn't free market enough.

      Also, to say that Distributism can't scale to modern industry is rather behind the times. That may have been true for what Mumford called paleotechnic industry - that powered by steam, where you needed to harass as many machines as possible to the one power source. But since the invention of the electric motor and the internal combustion engine, it hasn't really been true. Ralph Borsodi showed how, despite the modest economies to scale of mass production, many goods and services can be supplied more cheaply by home machine production. That's because the large capital outlays of mass production require huge production runs to recoup the investment. But this in turn requires the expense of larger distribution chains needed for the larger market these increased production runs require, plus the costs of the push-distribution models (marketing, etc.) naturally involved to sell them. Borsodi worked out the distribution and marketing offsets the economies of scale for many products of modern mass production. Of course, in our state capitalist system, distribution costs are partly socialised, and not just in the obvious way that the taxpayer pays a good part of the initial and ongoing costs distribution and transportation infrastructure, but that even when there are user-fees, they rarely target the right users to the correct degree. For example, large lorries cause nearly all damage to roadbeds, but it's rare for them to pay even half of the upkeep costs for roads, and often they pay less than that. Large lorries are obviously the lifeblood of modern mass distribution. If Tesco (or Wal-Mart) had to pay the higher costs that truly reflect the cost of their distribution models, it's an open question whether they could actually compete with corner shop. Obviously, some will retort that we all gain by infrastructure spending, but that misses the point, which is that some users are subsidised by other users (and non-users). The problem here is, again, not enough of a free market. Aiming to reflect the cost principle, by having infrastructure paid for by users, would be another important move towards Distributism.

    25. @Atno
      If I proposed that a cursory glance at Tesla's income statement shows that it is destroying economic value, because it consistently loses hundreds of millions of dollars every quarter, you may dispute my assessment, but you would not suggest this was merely an ethical statement. Arson destroys economic value irrespective of any assessment of its ethical position. Austrian value theory insists that something which destroys economic value has economic value merely because people come together and decide it is valuable.

      I agree that Austrians and I are talking about different things. Austrians are talking about subjective preferences that motivate people to pay certain prices. I'm talking about economic value. Austrians think they are talking about economic value but they are not and the arson example shows that.

    26. Cont.

      And since Borsodi's day, there have been exponential improvements in multi-purpose,m smaller scale machine tools, networked and peer production technology, etc. Borsodi may have been right about home production, but he neglected those forms of production between mass production and home production, such as small scale commercial or networked production using multipurpose machinery and lean production runs. These can capture most of the efficiencies of mass production and yet require a fraction of the capital outlay, so don't require huge production runs, and the associated mass distribution and advertising networks. They are also flexible, so can more easily adapt to actual consumer demand, switching between small production runs. This kind of method has even been taken over by large corporations, starting with Toyota's lean production model. Many corporations often are simply a face for networked small scale production. I believe that craft production, of which the kinds of small-scale producers I'm talking about are a high-tech example, took over again from mass production as the biggest proportion of production around 2000. Corporations keep their role at the moment largely because of intellectual property rights. Get rid of these, and get lower regulations and restrictions on mutual banking, zoning, etc, pass an Land Value Tax, and try to enshrine the cost principle for infrastructure,and most modern industry will tend to become decentralised. I think contemporary industry actually vindicates the Distributists.

      On value, I think the classical economists recognised that for goods that couldn't be simply reproduced - like a work of art - the exchange value is subjective. It's reproducible goods whose exchange value should approximate their costs and (going back through the production chain), ultimately labour. That makes sense in a competitive market.

      My understanding is that the just price is Catholic price, and that the just price is not simply what the market will bear. It does reflect cost of production.

      I'm not an expert on Austrian economics, but I'd be interested in how their technical analysis fleshes out the notion of subjective value to a full economic analysis. Their cousins in marginalism, despite some basic insights about some economic behaviour, have failed to turn the marginalist theory of value into a coherent economic analysis. Sraffa's criticisms of their theory of the firm, the Cambridge Capital Controversy that overthrew the marginal productivity theory once and for all, the problems with the standard neoclassical theory of demand discovered by some of the neoclassical mathematical-economists themselves, etc. Does Austrian economics have to assume, for example, that one can create a utility schedule of every possible combination of goods in the supermarket instanteously, as the standard neoclassical models of price theory do?

    27. Sorry for the typos in that post. Ten cousins in marginalism are, of course, the neoclassicals.

    28. Michael Humphreys is of course correct that stock ownership isn't the kind of ownership that Distributists are primarily concerned with. They are concerned with the ownership and use of businesses by families and small enterprises. There is a qualitative difference here. The point is to make families and local communities not just more abstractly prosperous, but stronger and more stable. A family owning some stock in a massive corporation obviously isn't the same as it owning and running a small business.

      It might be worth pointing out, as well, that the manner in which shareholders own a corporation is highly attenuated. The whole point of the corporate structure is to separate legal ownership from control. Shareholders are positively enjoined to not interfere too much in the company, less they pierce the corporate veil and risk liability for its actions. This is the opposite of the common law idea that an owner is responsible for the use of his property by his agents. It takes a lot for shareholders to legitimate exercise control of a company, and then it's indirect, through appointing the board. The whole point is to make accumulation of capital easier, but it comes at socialising the risk involved, not to mention encouraging the spread of particular firm structure. Those who more normally control the corporation are the managers. They go out of their way to maintain control, which is one reason most investment capital in US firms comes from reinvestment of profits, rather than loans or share issues. Shareholders are often little more than residual owners at this point, especially the non-institutional ones.

    29. @Michael
      I think you need to provide your own definition of economic value. That an action is physically destructive does not mean it is economically destructive. Otherwise you'd have to claim that demolishing an old building, no matter how derelict, is economically destructive.
      @Jeremy Taylor
      The problem with classical value theory is that costs are not given - they too are in fact subjective, what we now call opportunity costs. There's no need for us to have separate theories of value for reproducible things and irreproducible things - it's subjective all the way down.
      How Austrians have elaborated economic analysis is a huge topic, and I don't think there're any short-cuts - the works of Mises and Rothbard are essential here. They've done what you ask for.
      Austrians do not think you need to create such a utility schedule, the very notion is absurd and superfluous. We don't have to make these assumptions about perfect knowledge and completely rational, utility maximizing actors in a narrow sense. All we have to assume is that every actor has some ends he wants to achieve and that the means available to him for achieving them are limited. With this we can understand action, price formation, etc.

    30. I'd be interested in a further explanation of the meaning of subjective here. It seems to me that, in a competitive market, indefinitely reproducible goods should be driven down to the cost of production. This is the only situation where it can be said that prices should largely just reflect cost. This will not be an precise, timeless amount in fact, and some of it may vary between time and place (social factors), but some is likely to be similar across time. Subjective to me implies it is completely personal, whereas that seems unlikely in most cases. I think the mainstream economic neglect of sociology on the one hand and psychology on the other is a problem. Knowing that humans are humans, with a similar physiology and psychology, why would we, absent peculiar social conditions, not expect prices to roughly reflect costs in the context I'm talking about? If you produce above cost, then, in a competitive market, there will be someone willing to charge less.

    31. @Kristoffer Hansen

      The trouble with your point #8 is that it assumes a different world, or a different species, than what we have. Let Mises, Hayek, and Rothbard write the Constitution and Laws. So be it. There will still be more than enough crooked or corruptible judges, cops, and even the bureaucrats (few though the latter may be) and enough corrupt people in charge of big companies to bribe them. You will still get extortion and fraud unpunished when those with the means to buy protection.

      It wasn't socialist laws that made Jeffrey Epstein and Harvey Weinstein get away with it for so long.

      And of course, there will be crooked pols to corrupt the constitution and laws, however pristine they started.

    32. Chris Ferrara's The Church and the Libertarian is an interesting critique of Austro-libertarianism from a Catholic perspective. He points out some rather obvious issues with Austro-libertarianism, like it's essential liberalism, in the broad sense, and the fact even many of its Catholic spokesmen have problems sometimes not following the moral modernism of their fellow Austrians. For example, he quotes several of them seeming to affirm things like gay adoption and gay marriage on liberal lines, and even parroting the pro-choice lines about being personally pro-life, but legally letting women decide, on the grounds of self-ownership. He also mentions the constant temptation for the Austrians, as a kind of self-parody, to defend Scrooge:

      Pope Murray and Saint Ebenezer!

      But I am more interested in his claim that the just price is Catholic doctrine. That is, there is a moral duty for the individual to individual to offer and accept the just price for something or within a limited range whose centre is the just price - which is distinct from the market price at any given time. Anyone have more information on this? He also notes that Popes, going at least back to Leo XIII that the just price for labour in a full time job is a living wage, enough, in fact, for the husband to support a family properly. He talks about that there may be economic reasons why a firm cannot achieve this, but if the reason is the boss would rather buy a new sports car or holiday home, rather than pay a just, living wage to his employees, he is acting immorally according to Catholic doctrine.

    33. @George LeSauvage,
      You've got it precisely wrong - it's the advocates of big government who have to postulate a new species to avoid corruption. Since corruption is primarily about control of and influence over governments, limiting the sphere of government will limit the damage it can do, and the incentives to control it will also be limited. The argument that a free society cannot work because man is inherently corrupt redounds a thousandfold on the advocates of socialism and big government.
      It was precisely big government that allowed Epstein to flourish. Who were he connected to, who were his best friends? Neither the Clintons nor Mossad are paragons of virtue, let alone liberty. As for Weinstein, life is too short to spend on Hollywood gossip. From what I've heard, he mainly told women that they had to sleep with him if they wanted a job. That's pretty disgusting, but it says more about the moral standards of Hollywood as a whole (and the people who sponsor it by watching their movies), it's not an indictment of the free market.
      @Jeremy Taylor
      I'm not sure what arguments Ferrara has produced that are so compelling. I have no idea what liberalism in the broad sense is supposed to mean, as the term has been so abused in English that it can mean just about anything. Ferrara clearly lacks a sense of humour if that's how he regards those pieces on Scrooge. Here's my own take for good measure:
      On the just price, people have to realize that this is a misleading concept at best. The late Spanish scholastics argued that the market price simply is the just price, although they usually admitted the king had the right to set prices. Why did they admit this? Because it was in the Roman law. Why was that in the Roman law? Because Diocletian decreed it. It's a strange day when Christians argue the decrees of Diocletian are the pinnacle of morality.
      "Living wage" is about as empty a concept as just price. There has never been a time for the past 3 centuries (and longer, but we're discussing capitalism here) when a laborer could not earn a wage that allowed him to feed his wife and children. In fact, rising population since about 1700 is largely due precisely to laissez-faire and free markets, as breaking guild monopolies and such like greatly increased the productivity of labour, as men were now free to apply their talents in the best way possible.

    34. Kristoff,

      Liberalism in the broad sense means the philosophy that started with those like Locke and emphasised individual autonomy above all else. It would be hard to deny that the Austrians aren't liberals. Their whole ethic, at least the f the Rothbardians, is founded on the principle of non-aggression.

      I don't think those pieces are satirical. That doesn't really make sense. What is being mocked? Austro-libertarianism?

      I don't know whether what you say about the just price is correct, though I mistrust the Austrian picture of the School of Salamanca. I do know that what you say about what caused the rise in population around 1700 is mostly wrong. There wasn't laissez-faire around 1700. This was the age of enclosures, the laws of settlement, mercantilism, the combination laws, etc. It seems a hollow joke to talk of laissez-faire when poor men's property was being taken and they were forced to obtain a pass from to move to another parish, which was exploited to the hilt by the early factory owners. What caused the rise in population was probably the agricultural revolution of the seventh century, as well, perhaps, as the beginnings of industrial production. In England, the guilds were cutted by Henry VIII one hundred and fifty years earlier.

    35. @Kristoffer
      Obviously I do not need a complete definition of economic value to know that one is incorrect. The labor theory of value is incorrect on its own basis irrespective of any number of other possible definitions. Austrian value theory is false for reasons given.
      For the arson example, you seem to think I'm supposing something much more than I am, however, to show that economic value is not purely subjective requires only a very narrow example. If a group of arsonists come together and consider the destruction of active office buildings (or other things of unquestionable economic value) as valuable, then by subjective value theory the destruction of economic value is economically valuable. This is incoherent and consequently subjective value theory must be false.

      @Jeremy Taylor
      With respect to just price and Catholic doctrine, John T. Noonan has several citations to papal authorities that may be of interest in his "The Scholastic Analysis of Usury." He is of course approaching it from a usury perspective and his commentary is largely tainted by fundamental errors, but the citations of Magisterial sources may be valuable. I could send you some scanned copies of a few of the pages for your own study since the book is very difficult to find.
      Also, Fr. Jeremiah O'Callaghan's "Usury, Funds and Banks" has many primary sources of Magisterial teaching that implicitly touch on just price that may be of interest. For example, Pius V's papal bull "Cum Onus" makes certain demands as to the price of a census contract in order for it to be just and free of usury. Again, O'Callaghan is approaching all of this from the usury perspective and his commentary is off, but the primary sources are well worth consideration.

    36. Kristoff says

      7 does not in fact follow. ...
      8 is, I fear, simply wrong. ...

      Kristoff, perhaps you might re-read Feser's comment, and notice that these points were not assertions, nor propositions, so it would be odd indeed if they could have the quality of being "right" or "wrong". They were conditions, i.e. states of affairs. Further, Feser was saying that "other people using the term might have in mind things like..." In other words, they might associate those conditions with capitalism. Now, it might be true that capitalism is not the cause of some of them, or at least not the sole or primary cause, or not the cause absent other disorders, but it would be quite silly to claim that these conditions do not happen under capitalism. It is, then, open to debate just what parts of the capitalist notions make a capital society open to having these conditions come up, as well as whether these conditions are good, bad, or partly good and partly bad.

    37. He also notes that Popes, going at least back to Leo XIII that the just price for labour in a full time job is a living wage, enough, in fact, for the husband to support a family properly. He talks about that there may be economic reasons why a firm cannot achieve this, but if the reason is the boss would rather buy a new sports car or holiday home, rather than pay a just, living wage to his employees, he is acting immorally according to Catholic doctrine.

      Jeremy, perhaps I am simply forgetting the relevant passages of Rerum Novarum, but from what I do recall this is an oversimplification both of Leo XIII and of official Catholic teaching: I simply do not recall the "just" wage concept ever being sufficiently cashed out into enough detail to get to that conclusion that the just wage implies a living wage, for this primary reason: the "just" wage must necessarily be related to the amount of wealth a given job can reasonably be expected to produce, whereas a "living wage" has a different measure that can be completely unconnected to how much wealth a given job can produce. Put into concrete: the kind of work that we typically assign to unskilled student-aged labor (flipping hamburgers) need not produce a living wage, because (a) it is produces too little wealth to justify a person (much less a family) living off of it, and (b) for this very reason it is reasonable to expect only those whose living is taken care of off somebody else's job to perform these kinds of scut-work jobs. But that necessarily means that if a man has not enough energy, ambition, and intelligence to pursue a more intensely productive job, he cannot reasonably expect to command a living wage - REGARDLESS of how moral the boss wants to be. If the man would complain to the boss that he is not being paid a living wage, the boss should equally complain that he should take on a real man's job, not a piddly boy scout's job.

      I am reminded of a simple and easy dichotomy that I find never mentioned by the living-wage theorists. I knew, growing up, more than one self-made men who were the proprietors of a small business, built from the ground up by their own hard work and creativity. Typical of that group was the fact that not only did they not expect to get rich off their business, when they didn't put in 14-hour days (in the early building-up period), it was because they were putting in 18 hour days. As a measure of hourly-wage, their take was often below minimum wage. We have become grotesquely certain that a "just" day's work is 8 hours long, 40 hours per week, but these businessmen usually worked not less than 60 hours in a week unless they closed down to go on vacation - which was rare. Their "pay" was whatever was left after they paid the bills, and it wasn't a tycoon's take. And, by the way, some of these guys were restaurateurs - and half of all restaurants fold within a couple years. It seems inherently impossible to insist that a paid employee make more than these guys per hour, but that is often exactly what the living-wage theorists seem to be saying.

      "Just wage", yes. "Living wage" has a lot to be worked out before it can fly.

    38. @Jeremy
      That is an extremely broad definition of liberalism and one that does not match most of what I'd call liberals. It may describe what Americans call liberal, but that's another thing entirely.
      Your claim about Austrians and Rothbard/Rothbardians is simply wrong. Their whole ethic is not founded on the non-agression principle, their political philosophy is. That's just a subset of ethics.
      I never said they were satirical, only humorous. Humour isn't the same as mockery.
      I'm exactly right about rising populations and economic development. If you want to argue rising populations were caused by agricultural and industrial revolution, you have to explain what caused these phenomena. They were only made possible by somewhat freer conditions.
      There never has been such a thing as complete laissez-faire, but there was a definite loosening of restrictions beginning in the first half of the 18th century.

      You need to explain what there is more to value than the subjective element. WHat reasons have you given? I see only examples. If you want to assume office buildings "of unquestionable economic value" you have to explain just why it can't be questioned.
      Now, I have a very good argument for why arson is destructive: the arsonist acts at the expense of other people in violation of their property rights. This is why he destroys economic value as well as physical structures - he doesn't have to experience the cost of his actions. If he owned the building himself, we'd have to conclude that he valued the nice bonfire more than the building.
      I think you're the one who needs to read the comments twice, not me

    39. @Kristoffer
      If we can agree to the premise that there exists something destructible with economic value, then the argument follows irrespective of the reasons for its economic value. If a defense of Austrian value theory cannot admit that premise, then it is worthless as an economic theory.
      Yet, we are agreed that arson is destructive of economic value. However, under subjective value theory it is destructive of economic value while being economically valuable. This is the central present contention with Austrian value theory, not the presence or absence of a complete alternative theory.
      Again if Austrian value theory is just about the ordinal ranking of subjective preferences motivating particular actions, ok. That is not economic value as the example shows.

    40. Kristoff,

      It was a very brief description, of course, but I don't think anyone doubts that that is where liberalism came from and its core principle. The idea that Austro-libertarianism isn't an extremist version of liberalism is preposterous. Do we really have to have a long conversation in establishing what almost every informed person should see as obvious: the Austro-libertarianism is an extreme variant classical liberalism?

      The fact remains that they were trying to show Scrooge was misunderstood. They were serious enough in that.

      To say things got freer is extremely vague. It isn't even clear it is true. The Laws of Settlement, for example, were introduced in the middle of the seventeenth century, and the Law of Articers was introduced in the middle of the sixteenth century. These were significant restrictions on the freedom of poor, as were the statue of labourers and combination acts, which began to be enforced much more strongly from the middle of the sixteenth century onwards. Enclosure had roots earlier, but it was in full flush in this period.

      To say that the agricultural revolution of the seventeenth century was caused by greater freedom is both vague and a bald assertion. It also doesn't follow that even if there is some truth in it, that laissez-faire capitalism can claim control. That's like saying that part of the great taste of a cake is in sugar used, so we can get rid of all the other ingredients and just use a mass of sugar. At best, you'd have to go far beyond the available evidence or do detailed analysis of historical events and trends I have never seen from any free marketeer to show that free exchange is responsible for all the good things and none of the bad in history.

      The industrial revolution, as Lewis Mumford pointed out, was not a sudden event. In fact, in a sense it began centuries earlier, as early as the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, with important medieval inventions. Of course, it picked up pace in the eighteenth century, but what this has to do with increased freedoms - and whether there was truly such an increase, on balance - rather than other factors, like the development of technics and science themselves, the impact of mercantilism, the masses of capital that flowed in from European colonisation (part of Marx's primitive accumulation), the restrictions on workers like the laws of settlement, which, after enclosure robbed them of self-sufficiency, funneled them as cheap labour to the mill owners, etc. In fact, as Mumford notes, there isn't necessarily one linear evolution of technology. He describes what he sees as the abandonment of the eotechnic complex, which had begun in the middle ages and picked up pace in the early modern period, and its replacement by the paleotechnic, whose hallmarks were steam and coal and iron. The eotechnic was marked by the integration of clockwork and wind and water into craft production. As Mumford argues, there was nothing inevitable in its eclipse. Indeed, it wasn't necessarily less efficient than the paleotechnic, far from it. The attention had been taken by the paleotechnic, but Mumford notes that late eotechnic inventions, like improved water pumps, would have allowed the eotechnic to compete with the new steam and coal production, and might have been developed a century or more earlier, if the paleotechnic had not interrupted. The paleotechnic forms of production didn't supercede the eotechnic because of greater freedom, not for the most part. Ironically, they relied on the opposite of freedom. They relied on the enclosure to drive the poor from their land, and on the Laws of Settlement to drive them to the factory districts and keep them trapped their, in numbers enough to keep down wages. They also relied on the wealth of colonisation to help fund the capital investment and the mercantilism of the early British empire to bring in cheap resources and dispose of the products of the new paleotechnic industry in the most advantageous terms.

    41. @Kristoffer
      For clarity, I'm not denying that the sort of ordinal subjective preference analysis you've employed is important or part of economic value. What I'm denying is that economic value can be reduced to nothing but this; economic value is irreducibly objective.

    42. Tony,

      Those are reasonable points. I may be butchering what Ferrara wrote. I don't remember the details, except he did make it clear that economic reasons are acceptable for not paying a living wage. It's when you do so for your own luxury. I don't recall exactly which documents he cited nor the issue of part-time or student jobs. I suppose one response would be that for full-time jobs, there shouldn't be jobs that pay less than a basic living wage. But how this is spelt out (if it is) or what could count as a legitimate economic reason not to pay a living wage, I don't recall. I will try to dig out the book. It's worth reading, if you aren't aware of some of the more egregious faults of the Austrian school, like Rothbard's offensive moral views or Mises attack on Christ and Christianity. Here's an open letter by Ferrara, against Thomas Woods, a worshipper of Pope Murray, which ends with quotes from Mises against Christ:

      Here's a taste:

      "Historically it is easy to understand the dislike which the Church has shown for economic liberty and political Liberalism in any form. Liberalism is the flower of that rational enlightenment which dealt a deathblow to the regime of the old Church and from which modern historical criticism has sprung. It was Liberalism that undermined the power of the classes that had for centuries been closely bound up with the Church. It transformed the world more than Christianity had ever done. It restored humanity to the world and to life. It awakened forces which shook the foundations of the inert traditionalism on which Church and creed rested. The new outlook caused the Church great uneasiness, and it has not yet adjusted itself to even the externals of the modern epoch."

      But apparently the Austrians aren't liberals...

    43. I suppose one response would be that for full-time jobs, there shouldn't be jobs that pay less than a basic living wage.

      Jeremy, I get the point that Ferrara perhaps allows for (a) only part-time jobs, and (b) the case of a troubled firm that might collapse if it pays a living wage, as sort of special cases where it is reasonable not to pay a living wage - i.e. as sorts of "economic exceptions", special cases out of the ordinary. I fear that thinking of it this way is untenable. When you consider the principles of the matter, there will ALWAYS be persons who either out of lack of ambition or lack of capacity simply will not do work which generates enough wealth to justify paying them a living wage. It need not be some kind of exceptional situation, at all. It could be a person whose mental capacity is reduced (whether it be someone actually retarded enough to necessarily make them legally incompetent, or merely just a very slow learner with low IQ but still legally competent), or a person who is content to work a full-time job only if it is "easy enough" by which he means that it neither demands he think nor that he work up a sweat. It is an economic impossibility for there to be no such thing as jobs that produce wealth but not enough wealth to live on. The whole point of economic value is that there is necessarily a continuum of value, from 0 value (or even negative value, such as jobs that use up energy and time and produce less than they use up), to value just barely above 0, to value a little more, etc. What forms the difference between a "hobby" and a "job" is, often the fact that a the hobby, while it produces something of value, its value is only SLIGHTLY more than the value of the labor and materials that went into it - enough value for the person to want to do it, but not enough to live on. (Which is why he doesn't quit his day job and just work at the hobby.) It is, likewise, economically impossible that there NOT be useful jobs that are worth a wage but not a living wage, activities that produce something useful but not useful enough to live off of. These are (usually) the sorts of things that can be entirely reasonable pursuits for a person whose living is already accounted for through some other means - such as the child, the mentally incompetent, the retired person, the handicapped person who can do some labor but only a little, and even the lazy adult who is living off his inheritance. And, notably, the person who receives a living wage at his day job, but wants just a tiny bit more to supplement, but with a lesser level of demand - something easy. To treat an economy as consisting ONLY of jobs that produce enough new wealth to justify a living wage is to necessarily treat as "out of bounds" work that is, otherwise, perfectly legitimate work that produces wealth, but not at that LEVEL of productivity. This view of economics must damage the whole social order. (Just for example, it must necessarily result in making certain mentally and physically handicapped persons WHOLLY unemployed, WHOLLY dependent on charity, by forbidding them to hold down any job at all, by forbidding any potential employer to offer them a job that produces only enough new wealth as to be a small portion of a living - it cuts such persons off from ALL economically gainful activity (unless they become entrepreneurs as their own bosses running their own business - and paying themselves a below-living-wage rate if that's what their business produces.)

      There can't NOT be activities that produce new wealth at a rate lower than a living wage rate. And there will ALWAYS be persons prepared to do such activities, who are not prepared to do more difficult jobs.

    44. Those are good points. I will try to find what Ferrara actually wrote. I recall he didn't spend long on this issue compared to the just price.

  8. I think one of the greatest dangers capitalists take from Marx is the idea of Utopianism. There is this assumption that if the right policy is put in place, we will live in political and economic perfection.

    But this ignores the fact that humans are fallible creatures. There really is no perfect system, although capitalism is worlds better than Marxism.

    I think your earlier post on Original Sin is relevant here and worth reading for those who like this blog but have not read the other one.

    1. If nothing else, it certainly makes the claim that one is transcending morality look like the naivete that it is.

  9. So it would seem then that Marx did not really deny morality in the abstract philosophical sense because once you claim that one macro system is "better" in some way to another system, you have implicitly made some moral commitments. Therefore, I assume that (for purposes of this analysis) the "morality" that Marx rejected was the more narrow required behaviors within a given system.

    1. This is an interesting issue. Allen Wood deals with it by drawing a distinction between moral and non-moral senses of goodness and badness, and argues that Marx's disapproving characterization of this or that aspect of capitalism should be understood as the attribution to it of a non-moral kind of badness.

      The idea would be that it is (for example) bad for a human being to have the surplus value of his labor extracted from him, in something like the way it is bad for a tree to have its bark stripped off. (The example is mine, not Wood's.) But just as this fact about the tree is not a moral one (since trees aren't moral agents) neither is that fact about workers a moral one.

      However, from an Aristotelian point of view, the distinction between non-moral and moral senses of goodness in the case of human beings is dubious, and involves a shrinking of the domain of morality. Anything that is part of our flourishing has moral value in the relevant sense. And since Marx was a kind of eccentric Aristotelian, he could in theory have said the same, but he didn't. He's working with a modern philosophical context in which the very idea and grounds of morality came to seem problematic, so thinking of goodness and badness in moral terms seemed to him problematic. It's like he accepted the shrunken modern idea of morality as somehow concerned with just one aspect of human action, and since he found that idea problematic, chucked out morality as such rather than expanding the range of morality in the Aristotelian way that he himself had implicitly available in his essentialist and teleological premises.

    2. Interesting. I'll have to think about it more, but on the face of it the distinction seems arbitrary and ad hoc.

  10. But no one who denies free will has any business pouring contempt on religious believers, or on anyone else, for their alleged moral and rational failings. For if free will is an illusion, they can’t help what they do, any more than the rain can help falling.

    I suppose a superasshole could argue that he or she can't help hating them despite knowing that they are only operating according to nature because he is predestined to be a superasshole by nature as well.

    1. They could. Of course the belief that one has the ability to evaluate the question in an abstract and objective way (as your post assumes) would be an illusion as well.

      We could also say that we are actually in a computer simulation or that the world was created 5 minutes ago along with all your memories. None of the above could be proven wrong. In fact, any attempts to prove them wrong could be argued to be proof of the very thing denied. So why bother at all?

    2. Balanced,
      Your quote goes to the heart of the key points Dr. Feser treats simplistically.

      Contempt, like fear, passion, pain, and the whole range of emotional and sensory experiences is a mechanism by which a complex system lacking in free will operates.

      Atheistic materialist morality is certainly coherent and not difficult to account for, as are our reactions to the actions of others, the judgements we pass on others, and the criminal penalties we impose on, well, criminals.

      Ultimately, yes, free will is an illusion and morality is relative. But we are such vastly complex mechanisms that there is a perception of a seeming free will and a sense that certain moral propositions simply are absolute, even though those assertions break down under careful analysis.

      Does a self drive car equipped with sophisticated sensors and artificial intelligence processing have free will? Clearly not, yet its behavior can be influenced and changed.

      For example, thousands of AI self drive cars can be networked together. Their "prime directive", as it were, is to drive from place to place without crashing. The cars can and will influence each other by communicating details of how crashes occur so that each car can learn how to avoid a crash under those circumstances.

      Suppose one networked AI self drive car goes a bit haywire, some of its circuits short out and it begins to drive erratically, endangering the other cars on the road. The majority of cars may well have "contempt" for the "bad" car and even take actions to isolate the "bad" car for the protection of all the other cars that agree to drive according to certain limits that have been calculated to be mutually beneficial.

      Sound far fetched? Hardly. Much of what I just described is already in place.

      Marx's sort of dialectical materialism is old, faulty, has some noble aspects, has some abhorrent aspects, and was easily co-opted by some of the worst tyrants of the last century.

      Dr. Feser's accompanying discussions of free will and atheistic morality are shallow and simplistic relative to a modern sophisticated accounting for morality on atheistic materialism absent free will.

    3. Don't feed the trollsJanuary 26, 2020 at 6:01 PM

      Remember SP is banned and noxious troll. Don't feed him.

    4. Thanks for stopping by (blank), what is your opinion on materialism, free will, and morality?

      On atheistic materialism absent free will morality and the full range of human experience are all easily accounted for.

      Morality is individual and relative. No demonstrable absolute moral proposition has ever been published in presently available general circulation.

      The appearance of moral absolutes is a simplistic approximation of near universals among humans to be actual universals. Most of us broadly agree on certain moral fundamentals because we nearly all share a very high degree of our physiological structure, which includes behaviors evolved for a social species.

      Emotions and sensibilities are the evolved mechanisms by which each of us functions, the absence of free will being irrelevant to the experience of the human condition. For example I am afraid to die. It doesn't matter that I can reason my way to understanding that once I am dead there will be nothing for me to fear. I simply do feel fear of death because that is an evolved trait of animals that is advantageous to survival to reproduction, animals that don't fear death being likely to die before they reproduce.

      I am perfectly justified in feeling outrage toward the moral and rational failings of the religious because that is also in my evolved mechanistic nature, and is part of the mechanism by which organisms influence each other.

      Realizing that free will is an illusion does not turn off all the sensibilities and aspects of the human animal, evolved over hundreds of millions of years.

      I don't need to absolutely prove that moral failings of the religious are wrong or that they have free will to choose otherwise. Most of us share fundamentals of applied ethics and on that basis I have contempt for the most egregious examples of religious ignorance. We can and do influence each other by our words and actions, not because of free will, but by presenting social environmental conditions to others that influence others absent free will.

    5. Alternatively, the superasshole, removed from the moral question, could simply take his reasoning to the next station down the line: which is where any question of value judgment is simply reduced to personal taste and emotional response. Thus, the new atheist contempt for the religious is as rooted in truth as any value judgment can be.

      Naivete will be an aid, here, since the same logic provides the religious with equal imperative to hate and oppose the atheist. Success, in the end, and by those rules, will simply be decided by numbers and political will to war. And as many atheists confess, religious memes, whether true or not, at least tend to be reproductively successful.

      As such, the religious will always have the numbers. The will to war may be an advantage of the atheists. Such a will to war is divorced from reason, and thus always doomed to fail. Unfortunately, as we have seen, such failure always follows incredible death tolls.

    6. Jummy,
      "As such, the religious will always have the numbers."
      No, that's not the trend or the numbers in a great many countries.

      "Not religious", sometimes called the "nones", has grown to be the large majority throughout most of the West as well as East Asia. Even the USA is near 40% now and steadily rising.

      The global trend including in the USA is sharply down for the religious, and up for the non-religious.

      You appear to be denial of the most glaring trends regarding religion, namely, that people are increasingly ridding themselves of it.

    7. Dont know which “global trends“ you are talking about, as the percentage of religious people in the world is on the rise, as pretty much every study indicates. It will rise in western europe again, too, after 2035. And the secularization hypothesis in sociology has been dispriven, too.

    8. Looks like Stardusty is not aware yet that demographic trends are going strongly in the opposite direction. There seems to be plenty of data suggesting that atheism is linked to low/very low fertility and is a maladaptive phenomena in evolutionary terms.

      I've seen it suggested that it's spread in Western populations is a symptom of rising levels of mutational load among these groups.

    9. Don't feed the trollJanuary 29, 2020 at 4:50 PM

      It seems that posters here are not aware SP is a noxious, banned troll, and best ignored. There's literally no point in responding to him. He won't engage you in any worthwhile way. He will spew forth his usual sophistry, sprinkled with dishonesty.

    10. Dominik, Breadroll,
      The global trends I was referring to were countries that are going majority non-religious. Also, the trend among the most economically and educationally advanced countries, especially here in the USA.

      It is true that in the poorer and less educated countries religiosity is high, much higher in general than in the economically and educationally more advanced countries. It is also the case that birth rates tend to be higher generally for the less advanced economically and lower educated.

      So, for example, a lot of people are expected to be born in sub-Saharan Africa, which will skew the overall global population toward religiosity, assuming the younger generation remains as the older generation in those nations, which is a big assumption for which counterexamples abound.

      The original statement by Jimmy was "As such, the religious will always have the numbers." That's what I was responding to.

      I am optimistic that it is the more economically advanced and more educated countries that will lead the long term trends, and clearly, among that sector the trend is down for religiosity.

      People globally aspire to greater economic development and education. As people globally fulfill their aspirations toward increased education they will likely follow that same trend, a reduction in religiosity.

    11. Again, you are reformulating the “secularization hypothesis“ (the more modern the less religious), but that has been refuted in the last century, so you rely on outdated data. So wether or not a country secularizes is pretty much independent of their state of modernity (several african states are communist and anti-theist). Further more states like Turkey and India have been way more secular in the last century, but have seen a substantive regrowth in religiosity despite becoming more modern

    12. It is true that in the poorer and less educated countries religiosity is high, much higher in general than in the economically and educationally more advanced countries. It is also the case that birth rates tend to be higher generally for the less advanced economically and lower educated.

      So, for example, a lot of people are expected to be born in sub-Saharan Africa, which will skew the overall global population toward religiosity, assuming the younger generation remains as the older generation in those nations, which is a big assumption for which counterexamples abound.

      Having lower IQ is correlated with openness to religious belief and at present in Western countries lower IQ people have more children than people with higher IQ. Regardless of IQ strongly religious people in Western countries also have more children than secular people in the same countries. Religiosity and IQ are partly heritable as is the tendency for religious experience. So even among Western populations, as these demographic trends begin to influence things, a reemergence of religious belief could be expected.

      As well as the fact that African countries with rapidly rising populations are more religious, there is also the point that outside Africa religious people tend to at least maintain around about replacement levels of fertility while the more secular and atheistic are sub-replacement (often significantly, to the point of half replacement level). The impact of this should become more clearer later in this century.

      I am optimistic that it is the more economically advanced and more educated countries that will lead the long term trends, and clearly, among that sector the trend is down for religiosity.

      In demographic terms the more secular parts of the population of advanced Western countries is set to nose dive during this century and so far there is little indication of anything happening to reverse these trends, in fact they may even worsen. The remaining parts of these populations will be disproportionately made up of instinctive, low IQ but fertile people and the children of the highly religious. The other new inhabitants of the countries will come from parts of the world which are still more religious.

      One of the problems with the secularisation theory is that it doesn't take account of differences in the characteristics of the countries involved (the populations may not all ressemble Western Europeans or East Asians), nor the fact that secularism and atheism may turn out to be maladaptive in evolutionary terms and over time be continually selected against.

    13. Dominik
      "Again, you are reformulating the “secularization hypothesis“"
      Strawman. I am not reformulating anybody else's hypothesis, I am stating my words. If you see a similarity, that is up to you.

      "(the more modern the less religious), but that has been refuted"
      You have not refuted my words by strawman connecting them to what somebody else hypothesized.

      "So wether or not a country secularizes is pretty much independent of their state of modernity"
      False. The trend is obvious from the link I provided, and much else.

      My statements were worded very generally. You have failed to refute my statements by citing what you claim to be counter examples, because I made no claim that my generalized statements never have counter balancing or negating factors in some cases.

      If you want to deal with what I actually said, fine, but you haven't. If you simply wish to make your own statements fine.

      But your strawmaning of my statements is of no responsive value.

    14. Don't feed the trollsJanuary 30, 2020 at 7:20 PM

      Go away

  11. I have always suspected that Marxism is a teleological system. In Russian non-Marxist philosophy there is even an opinion that Marxism-especially Russian Marxism-is a secular parody of Christianity, a chiliastic heresy. Berdyaev spoke about this. But officially teleology in our Marxism has always been cursed. In Russian scientific textbooks it is written that teleology is a terrible scientific mistake. Teleological interpretation is forbidden because it is methodologically incorrect. Because cause follows effect in a teleological explanation. In other words, an effect precedes a cause that does not produce an effect. But it is methodologically incorrect. And the purpose or reason cannot be understood. It is believed that this interferes with scientific knowledge.

    1. Substitute "teleology" with "natural selection" and the objections disappear.

    2. You are right, I think. There are quite a few implicit teleological tendencies in Darwinism.For example, I don't know if sexual selection is real, but it's 100% teleology. By the way, in first russian edition of Darwin's book there is Darwin's preface. In this Preface, Darwin mentions Aristotle as his predecessor in the pre-scientific era.

  12. I think next post in this series should be on Schopenhauer.

    1. Him or Mackie I'd say. Though I think the latter is not that interesting although he was a great critic of the arguments, his positive accounts weren't that great and Ed has attacked others with accounts like his in his books (e.g. Mackies endorsement of Dawkins' “Selfish Gene“ and his subsequent conflict with Mary Midgley).

  13. Being a Marxist in 2020, or even the 1910s, is like being a Millerite after 1844. Marx's predictions simply didn't come true, like Miller's predictions the world was going to end. In order to keep the creed afloat huge additions and revisions were needed. Further, in Marx's case, many of his key ideas were so vague and impossible to falsify or verify that disagreement about what constituted "real Marxism" was inevitable - such as the idea that "superstructure" is just a byproduct of "economic base".

    If you want to be a Millerite in 2020, you have to settle with Seventh Day Adventism or the Jehovah's Witnesses, which share a historical connection to Millerism and some of the ideas, but add radical differences to the initial creed. The two are also radical different from one another (HUD secretary and neurosurgeon Ben Carson is a 7DA, JWs are banned from going to college).

    Likewise, today you can be a mainstream/academic Marxist (basically a liberal with some big words borrowed from the Marxist tradition thrown in) or a Leninist, but you can't really be a Marxist as one could circa 1880. This was already the case by the 1910s, compare Lenin and the Bolshevists to Karl Kautsky and the German Social Democrats. (This argument comes from A. James Gregor)

  14. Michael Huemer has a nice refutation of Marx.

  15. One unintended and often ignored place where Marx's thought is influential is on the racialist far-right, though neither the far-right nor Marxists ever acknowledge it.

    White Nationalists seem to speak like Marxists with "economic base" replaced with "genetic base" and "class struggle" replaced with the Darwinist struggle among genetic clusters (i.e. races, tribes, and ethnic groups). WNs will state that the achievements of Western Civ where the direct cause of the material, biological makeup of Westerners, and philosophical or religious factors ("superstructure") were unimportant or simply the byproduct of genetics (see James C. Russell's "The Germanization of Early Medieval Christianity"). Similarly, the anti-Semitic evolutionary psychologist Kevin MacDonald posits that Jewish support for various left-wing causes and avant garde intellectual movements is somehow entirely reducible to material, biological causes, while Northern Europeans are likewise genetically pre-determined to have a bias toward individualism (this conveniently provides an intellectual, "scientific" justification for anti-Jewish discrimination, on the basis of biological descent, by any future far-right regime). The racialist far-right also has a similar relationship to religion as orthodox Marxists: it can serve a utilitarian purpose and be "good" in that sense, but it is ultimately an illusion that will be replaced by "science", Marxist theory in one case and race-worship in the other.

    Gregor's work shows that this sort of racialized Marxism goes back to German Marxists like Ludwig Woltmann, though I'm not sure if Gregor has made the connection to the modern far-right or MacDonald.

    1. I've noticed that myself, the parallels between Marxist and White Supremacist models. Though I'm not sure "white supremacist" is quite the right word; I've seen a few cases where the model is similar, but less racist.

    2. Both are based on a physical-only theory of history. Except Marx was reflective enough at least to know that there aren't values that can exist in white people's minds alone and that core values aren't bound to race.

  16. The Lonely ProfessorJanuary 25, 2020 at 10:04 AM

    As long as the right continues to shriek "USSR! Venezuela! Marxism!" at the hint of any government involvement in the economy (unless it's big $$$$ to defense contractors, which is perfectly fine) without coming to grips with modern critiques of capitalism, which are valid and have nothing to do with Marx or the Soviet Union and have everything to do with real problems of today, it will continue to lose the argument (as indeed, Gen Y/Millennials decidedly favor socialism over capitalism). I'll just cite two here (there are others).

    1) Business interests want to privatize the profits, but socialize the costs (what economists call "negative externalities") of their activities. This is essentially unjust. A private equity firm comes in and guts a local business which employs a lot of people, resulting in dire consequences for the local economy, with more crime, drugs, etc. The private equity "investors" (should be called "vultures") make out like bandits while the local community has to pick up the tab. There are plenty of examples like this.

    2) There are many cases where there is a crying need for a public good, but unfortunately there is no immediate profit to be made and hence the initiative to do so won't be taken by economic interests (e.g. "market failure"). Or, the government must artificially create such incentive by means of patents, copyrights, etc. which enable rent-seeking (which is how the super-rich really get rich, notwithstanding rightist rhetoric about how they "earned" all their wealth), which makes things much more expensive for everyone else and creates huge income/wealth inequality. Example: Pharmaceutical companies won't take the risk of developing new drugs unless they can recoup their investment and sell at a profit, hence the need for a patent (since the cost of research far exceeds the cost of production). But once they get that patent, they can in theory charge what they like, whether patients can afford it or not. No, public goods (like knowledge of how to create life-saving drugs) should be obtained via public effort and with public resources and cannot be left to the vagaries of private initiative.

    1. @ The Lonely Professor

      I would certainly agree that there are valid critiques of capitalism that should be taken seriously. I think Marx was very good at critiquing capitalism—but that’s about all he was good at. Speaking for myself, I would not appeal to a group of people (millennials) who have no real-world experience and who believe whatever activist professors tell them to think as proof of an issue as complex as economics, but that’s just me.

      I’d agree that regulation/government has many valid functions; eliminating rent seeking via regulation may be one of them in a given circumstance.

      As far as private equity gutting companies, I would ask if you think said robber barons would destroy a profitable company for which there is consumer demand, or a dying company for which demand is decreasing or nonexistent? For example: at some point companies that made horse buggy whips were “gutted” and destroyed. Should those companies have been artificially propped up instead? Does anyone need buggy whips anymore?

      I can agree with much of your complaint about drug prices, but you seem to be complaining about one of the most highly regulated industries in human history as a way to defend regulation. Shouldn’t you instead be arguing for removing patents (regulation) and subjecting drug companies to competition from generics sooner?

    2. @T N "Would robber barons destroy a profitable company for which there is consumer demand"?

      Emphatically yes. I don't know if you've heard of asset stripping, but it is a "legitimate business practice" (at least before the law) to buy a company, dismantle it and auction off its assets, and keep the profits to yourself. Of course the employees might not see it in such a positive light.

      And that is just the legitimate side of the ledger; more dubiously you have cases where a profitable business is deliberately destroyed by loading it with toxic debt to make a quick buck on the liquidation.

    3. @ anonymous:

      Really? Let's say a robber baron buys Amazon just to strip it of it's assets. Do you really contend this could happen? If someone bought Amazon why wouldn't they keep it going for the profit or sell it for it's true value (tangible assets plus good will)?

    4. If you bought Amazon and sold it for book value, you would lose the goodwill on the balance sheet (and for Amazon, that is a large amount). In other words, a company's balance sheet contains much more than tangible asset value; it includes intangible assets and goodwill, which is the amount above tangible value that represents all the future free cash flows of the business.

      Yet you contend that a robber baron is going to forgo all this unrealized value just because it fit the "capitalism bad" narrative?

    5. Bringing up Amazon like a literal trillion dollar behemoth is at all representative of a regular company is extremely disingenuous. Amazon is immune to that sort of petty profiteering by virtue of its size and power, but the smaller businesses that capitalism's champions celebrate certainly are not. Asset stripping, "phoenixing", what have you, are not hypotheticals, but real occurrences on the market, and they do not happen only to companies doomed to fail (except in a self-fulfilling prophecy).

    6. The principle is the question; the size isn't. A company is worth it's assets plus all it's future cash flows discounted to the present. If a company has poor prospects for future cash flows (like the company that makes buggy whips), it is worth only it's assets. If a company has at least good prospects for future cash flows it is worth more than merely its assets. No robber baron is going to sell a company whose future cash flow prospects are at least good for only it's assets. It doesn't matter if it's Amazon or whatever.

      See the principle? Buggy whip companies go out of business and are sold for asset value. The Amazons of the world are not.

    7. TLP,

      Government involvement in the context of a broader market economy with private property rights is not socialism. Socialism is public or worker ownership of the means of production.

      What you are getting at with the examples of negative externalities and the provision of public goods are just tokens of a broader type which me might call collective action problems, i.e. when individual rationality departs from group rationality. But it's just obvious these problems aren't limited to markets; if anything, they're typically more problematic in non-market institutions.

      So to point out that there are imperfections in market economies, as if this constitutes a sufficient reason to opt for alternative approaches, is just blatantly question-begging. What has to be decided, on a case by case basis, is which kind of institutional structure is likely to be the best relative to alternative possibilities. In some cases, indeed, we might have good evidence that markets just don't work, and government might be able to provide a solution; but the presumption should be against that, unless and until we have very good reasons for doubting it.

    8. @T N And said principles *don't* apply when the robber baron in question is not an honest actor who intends to extract the greatest possible worth out of a company where they can dump it for a quick profit. Of course it's not the most economically rational decision, but what does that count for when the CEO's already fled to the Bahamas with his cash, or got himself put in charge of another company to do it all over again? Economics is an exact science until we put real people in the place of our theoretical actors, which is the very problem that separates Marx's cornucopian utopian pipe dream from the socialist states that are supposed to achieve it.

    9. @ Anonymous

      If you want to complain about bad actors, I’ll agree with you all day long. I think we need to tie CEO compensation to long-term performance and ban compensation based on short-term metrics like share price. It is intolerable that a CEO can ruin a company and then receive huge bonuses. And this leads to the “moral hazard” problem we saw in 2008, but that’s a different subject.

      However, as a critique of capitalism per se, it is simply not the case that it is profitable for a bad actor to forgo the value of a given [healthy] company’s future free cash flows and sell the company for only it’s tangible asset value. And the sellers are not stupid either so they are not going to sell those future free cash flows for zero dollars; they will want to be paid for those future cash flows.

      Only company’s that have no or poor prospects (i.e. have no future cash flows like the buggy whip company) can be sold profitably for tangible asset value.

      Therefore, this is not a good critique of capitalism.

      Thanks for the discussion.

    10. One reason you might sell off assets is a company that still has life in it - Amazon is not the right example - is for a quick buck. Yes, perhaps the venture capitalists might gain more value if the company was run properly and turned around and improved, but that takes time. A smaller, perhaps, but quicker profit, and one more easily turned into liquid assets, can often be made by what's called asset stripping. Besides, often the asset strippers have bought at an inflated value or are trying to sell at an inflated value. There's a long and dubious history of inflated stock and capital prices. Look at the shady goings on in the hey-day of railway speculation in both Britain and Australia.

      You're describing a world without speculation and short-termism.

    11. The Lonely ProfessorJanuary 27, 2020 at 10:06 AM

      @ T N:

      As a practical matter, it doesn't matter who you appeal to, but who votes and who will be voting in the future, and that is young people. Moreover, while it's fashionable for older people to bash Millennials, they aren't all wrong for all that, and the epithet "OK Boomer" is particularly applicable to the generation which benefited the most from government intervention in various ways (see, two can play the game of generation-bashing). As I said, if the right's knee-jerk response to any proposal for government involvement in the economy, no matter how warranted, is "USSR!!! Socialism!!!" (even though indeed, it isn't Socialism) the right will lose because 1) its argument is disingenuous, and 2) if government action is warranted and is "Socialism", then let's have Socialism.

      The private equity game is structured such that the "robber barons" make a nice tidy sum regardless of the eventual fate of the portfolio company. You assume they must act in the best interest of the portfolio company, and that it must do well, to make money for themselves. That assumption is false. Companies that could perhaps survive a rough patch (even if some restructuring would be necessary) cannot with the huge debt burden they are forced to carry as a result of the leveraged buyout. On top of that, the managers get the nice "carried interest" tax loophole where some of their profits are taxed as capital gains instead of ordinary income. They make millions and billions, while thousands of low-income employees are out of a job and on the streets.

      You evidently misunderstood the point about drug companies. The point is that human health is a public good and cannot be left to the vagaries of private enterprise and the possibility of profit. To say that it is to say that manufacture of designer yachts as of much priority as development of life-saving drugs. If you remove patents, drug companies can't develop drugs and sell them at a profit. Thus, research into development of new drugs should be considered a proper sphere for government action every bit as much as public roads.


      Sorry I don't accept your characterization of the problem as individual rationality departing from group rationality. The problem is individual self-interest acting against the common good. And that is not "rational" self-interest, but irrational self-interest, just like theft.

      I gave you evidence that the market solution doesn't work when it is question of public goods, such as development of live-saving medications. Therefore the presumption (whether legitimate or not) of markets doesn't apply here.

    12. I've once said that people should radically support laissez-faire just because the other way sometimes tempt people with retarded socialism.

      I still think like that. I'm not really a defender of laissez-faire per se, I actually have a lot of sympathies for social democratic ideas, Christian democratic principles, some welfare state stuff, etc. But I'm willing to ignore all that just for the sake of fighting socialism.

      We won't be able to advance and have decent political progress until people start treating socialism, communism etc. the same way we treat nazism. It might take us another 100 years.

    13. Apart from any other issues, that assumes socialism and laissez-faire are opposite extremes. In various ways they need not be. For a start, there are free market anti-capitalist ideologies, like Mutualism, Individualist Anarchism, and Ricardian socialism. Arguably these are more consistently free market than the vulgar libertarianism* associated with the likes of Cato or Reason, which takes actually existing state capitalism minus the welfare state as it's vision. A vision moreover likely to send as many people towards socialism in trying to execute it than away from it.**

      * This phrase of Carson's is a direct reference to Marx's about the vulgar political economists of the preceding generation, so seems particularly apt here.

      ** Social democratic and even
      socialistic policies have very often been what prevented more revolutionary ones being adopted. Heck, according to many revolutionary socialists, not to mention left-libertarian theorists of the welfare-warfare state, that is one of their primary purposes - to facilitate social acquiescence - alongside helping to manage demand.

    14. Yeah, I'm aware. As I said, I myself have some social democratic sympathies. It's just that the priority is to fight socialism until it gets rightfully destroyed, and brute libertarianism, being heavily ideological, seems a better candidate for becoming a monster capable of devouring socialistic sentiments, by turning socialists' ideas and feelings up their heads.

      This might require ignorant fanaticism, revolutionary ideology, etc. It's just hard to think of a price too high to pay when it comes to opposing socialism.

      Adopting socialistic policies as a way to appease them and curb revolutionary sentiment, however, is a cost too high to pay, unless there's really no other alternatives left. I am not convinced by this narrative. Especially when a lot of people from my generation are actually heavily attracted to free market libertarianism. There's all the rage about millenials favoring socialism, but a lot of us are attracted to the very opposite of it as well - laissez-faire libertarianism.

      (I'm not; my real position is more moderate, I have neoliberal, laissez-faire sympathies but also social democratic ideas, an attraction to Christian Democratic principles, etc. But I'm willing to leave everything behind just to oppose socialism in any way possible. I might not be the best representative of anything anyway, since I have an almost irrational hatred of socialism. But I still think laissez-faire libertarianism has the best shot at being the ideological opponent to socialism).

      Especially since the masses are supposed to be stupid and brutish. People are not supposed to follow truth or adhere to sensible economic theories or ideas; their nature is to parrot propaganda, simplistic slogans, emotional diatribes, and animalistic needs. If we are to have a mass movement in opposition to socialism, we need ideologization, fanaticism, etc., and we gotta learn to deal with it.

    15. If by laissez-faire is meant (assuming we are only talking about their economic aspects) Mutualism or Geolibertarianism or even Left-Rothbardianism, I might almost about able to get on board.

      We have discussed previously the basic morality of the proposal and I won't rehash it. I can understand the desire to set up ideology against ideology. I do wonder though about the prudence of it, aside from anything else. As mentioned above, how can you be sure pushing laissez-faire capitalism to offset socialism wouldn't lead to just the opposite effect? Of course, if everyone did become laissez-faire capitalists it wouldn't, but that is unlikely to happen at once. Most would wait on things like the outcome. There would be opposition. Depending on events, too strident a free market position (specifically here we're talking the dubious neoliberal counterfeit, of course) could drive more towards socialism as away from it. To take an example, I have a feeling Britain might be in the second month of a Corbyn premiership if the Tories had announced they were going to privatise the NHS prior to the election.

      The other issue is that laissez-faire has never been a mass movement. It's always been a fringe. It's not really the stuff mass movements are made of - chirping sectaries was the apt name that Russell Kirk in his days had for Americans call libertarians. It seems a forlorn hope to build an anti-socialist movement on such foundations.

    16. I have an almost irrational hatred of socialism.

      That certainly is regrettable. You should perhaps rethink this position of yours.

    17. "That certainly is regrettable. You should perhaps rethink this position of yours."

      Not possible; I find nothing attractive in socialism. Any "good" things it might have can be found (often better) in other systems and ideas, and the amount of evil and stupidity in it is way, way, way too much.

      Besides, the situation is personal for me (and a lot of people); I won't go into detail but socialists and their vile ideas have seriously damaged my life.

      I really do think socialism will eventually receive the same treatment that nazism does. But it'll take some time, probably another century or two, until humanity in general throws that cancerous insanity into the garbage bin for good.

    18. Well in that case. There is nothing much else I could say. I would say this though: I think this is not the area where you should let these sorts of consideration guide your theory choice, mostly because of high importance of the choice for you any many influenced by you. and just think that exact same but with any alternative swapped with "socialism" in your post can be and is said by many.

      I write this as someone who just started learning about matters related to these issues. Just my thoughts.

  17. The USSR did not discover a single new life saving drug. Nor any other invention.

    1. "The USSR did not discover a single new life saving drug. Nor any other invention".
      You are absolutely wrong. For example, the USSR received the Nobel prize in Physics in 1958,1962,1964,1978, in Chemistry in 1977, and in Economics in 1975.

    2. The Lonely ProfessorJanuary 27, 2020 at 10:09 AM

      They launched the first satellite.

    3. My point was the idea of no new inventions. I agree with some of the good points. But the prediction one the abundance of material goods was not true. Nor was the prediction of new inventions. [However I do agree about space travel and mathematics.]

    4. The question of science and inventions in the USSR is quite complex. And in tsarist Russia there was science - just remember the academician Pavlov (Nobel prize in Physiology) and the chemist Mendeleev. But in tsarist Russia there were about 30% of literate people. The country was in need of modernization and the Imperial government sought it. But these efforts seemed insufficient. The Communists proposed a Marxist plan for modernizing the country. On the one hand, the Communists destroyed the old intelligentsia and banned entire Sciences as bourgeois and false. For example, they pursued Genetics, Cybernetics, a number of areas in pedagogy, psychology, history, etc. On the other hand, they invested a lot of money in scientific and technical developments. Especially in military developments. After Stalin, the Soviet intelligentsia emerged.The intelligentsia in Russia is a class of educated people who are engaged in science, culture, and creativity. In the USSR, there were scientific and technical achievements. However, in General, the Communist modernization project was too expensive for the people, and also a failure. The country lost to the United States and the West.

    5. my point was about the USSR, not tzarist Russia

    6. I said about tsarist Russia for the background of the question.My main thought was about the failure of the Communist modernization plan.

    7. @Unknown what do you know about the relationship between cybernetics and systems theory?

    8. @Unknown what do you know about the relationship between cybernetics and systems theory?
      Cybernetics and system theory are not my area of research. I know a little about it, and in General terms. Cybernetics is the science of complex living and non-living systems, their management, control, connections, and self-organization.That is, about the management and processing of information in systems, including society. The General theory of systems is a separate area and intersects with Cybernetics. Why did you ask?

    9. I need to learn cybernetics to develop a comprehensive system of OS types.

  18. I meant any life saving drug or invention. I was not refering to Nobel prizes.

    1. OK, I see. But Nobel prizes are awarded for contributions to science and scientific inventions. For example, Vladimir Demikhov was one of the founders of the Transplantology. Please, read about him...


      trolling 10/10 would rage again

  19. That was very good. Though I am not a Marxist scholar, I have spent some considerable time studying Marxism, in the classroom and out.

    It was precisely this question of the nexus between the possibility of moral claims on the one hand and the Marxist view of reality [and here some modern Marxists get a little tricky with what is meant by "materialism" as you implicitly allude to early on***] and categorical moral propositions, on the other which occupied some of us as the puzzlingly, "missing question".

    Of course that was in our classroom. Certain required reading coursework authors specifically mentioned the status of moral claims in a presumed Marxist reality, as one students were likely to pose.

    Good work.

    *** "This was the case with the ancient atomist form of materialism ..."

    1. Those tricky Marxists just never learn. I sincerely hope you can put your classroom experiences behind you.

    2. One issue is that Marxists and use pseudo science jargon that sadly make it easy for Marxists to hide what they are doing under the cloak of dialectics etc. Under the rhetoric is always the basic principle --whatever hurt the USA or what makes the USA look negative.

    3. "One issue is that Marxists and use pseudo science jargon that sadly make it easy for Marxists to hide what they are doing under the cloak of dialectics etc."

      When it comes to polemics and rhetoric, Marxists do commonly deploy redefined (especially sociopolitical) terms in order to persuade or deceive. Thus, in that vein "democracy" is as we have all seen redefined to imply public control of the means of production; and "worker" to mean a broad class of persons, many of whom do not hire their labor out, involve themselves in "work" or produce anything of utility of exchange value.

      But what I was referring to specifically was something more akin to the move some philosophers had made to identifying as naturalists rather than materialists, when the billiard ball materialism that they once assumed as a model and process, evaporated away - and with it, the mechanical illustrations supposedly useful to their arguments. Which is why I quoted Feser as to "atomists", and as making by implication I judged, a parallel observation in that regard.

      "Tricky" then, refers to a the problem of some modern Marxists bracketing "materialism" as traditionally understood, an assumption; yet somehow still supposedly deriving Marxist theory from what becomes a bafflingly vague notion of what constitutes reality.

  20. hey guys had a question,
    i was talking to an atheist online and i presented Feser's version of the Aristotelian argument for the existence of G-d and he had an objection to the effect of: "this argument is pure nonsense because the universe is a closed system therefore G-d cant exist and Feser's argument doesn't work." what would be the proper response to this? thanks.

    1. Only what is actual and actualise a potential. In a closed system, if there are any potentials within the system, they must be actualized by what is already actual in that system, but then the chain of actualization breaks down.

      If he is arguing that the chain is circular, in which case it can't be because if it comes around back to the potential being actualized at the end of the chain, eell that would be potential still and a potential can't actualise anything.

      If its closed in the sense that the universe as a whole purely actual and provides the actuality to the potentials inside it, well the mere fact the universe has potential contradicts any attempt to claim it is purely actual.

      If he is saying there are no potentials, the parmedian-ish block universe, then he has to be concluding that there is no change, in which case he would never be able to reason his way to that conclusion. He won't be able to change from one step in the reasoning process to another, because there wouldn't be any process. He'd be stuck with the unchanging eternal being of Parmenides, which is not only incoherent but ridiculous radical thing to believe for no reason.

  21. David,
    "what would be the proper response to this? "
    The proper response would be "you are right for the wrong reasons."
    All arguments for the existence of god that are available presently in general circulation are pure nonsense, so to that point that atheist is correct.

    The rationale provided, that the universe is a closed system, thereby making god strictly impossible, is not a sound argument. The Thomistic arguments for god are unsound for many reasons, but not because one asserts that the universe is a closed system.

    If you wish to state the argument for the existence of god you related to that atheist I can easily point out the actual failings of it.

    1. Lol, yeah you see Stardust is smarter than everyone. He can address all of these arguments and he is smarter than all of the professional philosophers who are arguing these points.

    2. "He can address all of these arguments"
      Indeed. All I ask is that you present your arguments for the existence of god very clearly and accurately, rationally, on the logical merits given the provision that the axioms of logic are considered to be true.

    3. No issue with that dude. The issue we (I think I speak for everyone) have is your pompous attitude and your flippant approach for which you treat these arguments. I love discussion and debate as much as the next guy, but i would equally be annoyed at a theist who is running around saying “Let me at em!!” every time an atheist comes by.

    4. Cool, dude. Yeah, that really encapsulates what I have always felt was the indubitable truth. Stardust has been the recipient of continual and explicit communications to the effect that he must cease his temporizing on inconsequential and unstimulating areas of discussion.

    5. are you trying to impersonate me or are you legit another David Y?

    6. i don't get this guy Stardusty.. if all the arguments for God suck.. why are you on this blog then? if you've seen all the arguments and have debunked all of them.. why bother anymore..?

    7. You must have an identity problem dude.

    8. Or maybe it's you with the identity problem...

    9. Coming from someone who uses half a dozen names as well as anonymous, and often maintains conversations with himself, it's sort of funny. Still, no harm done, even if half the comments on this combox are your own work. Hard to say why you do it though...

    10. Nah pretty sure that's just you (whoever) you are playing a prank. My comments were the original question that I asked, when I thanked Billy for answering it, when I asked why you're impersonating me, when I asked why Stardusty bothers to come here, when I responded to your accusation that I have an identity issue when it was really you, and finally this comment. So quit with your low level pranks trying to make me out to be some sort of a schizophrenic clearly you've got nothing better to do with your time than impersonate others.

    11. Your employment of informal English and slang is also very unconvincing. Far from advisable in fleshing out different personae.

    12. Really, that's your big response? What a pseudo intellectual you are keep on being a moron who uses others names you'll go far in life.

    13. Don't feed the trollsFebruary 2, 2020 at 12:50 AM

      I suppose it could be SP himself, but I'd say Miguel Cervantes is most likely. The latter likes to go anonymous to defend himself from those calling him a troll. He also has a history of impersonating other posters. He's a real creep.

    14. whoever the hell it is has some serious problems

  22. How come energy is contingent

    1. Because energy can change. That which is inherently necessary must have existence inherent to it. If that were the case, it couldn't change, since to change would entail some aspect of it to come in to or go out of existence. If existence is inherently, it can't lose any existence. Energy changes, thus it can't be necessary.

      Also, energy is everywhere. The gravitational energy pulling the moon toward the earth is not the kinetic energy that is propelling the moon perpendicular to the earth. Both together generate the rotational behaviour of the moon, but clearly they aren't the same energy, let alone are they the same as all the other energy there is out there.

      If something is necessary, there cannot be more than one of it. If there were two, at least one of them must have a feature the other doesn't. If one cannot bring that feature in to existence, existence cannot be inherent to it, thus is cannot be necessary. Thus whatever has inherent existence must be be the only one to inherently exist.

    2. How come energy is contingent

      Simple answer: Energy is a property, not a substance. It is contingent as it characterizes contingent substances.

    3. Interesting. So what does energy depend on, per se?

    4. existence of the substances that it characterizes.

    5. So you would contend that energy doesn’t exist without any substances for it to depend on?

      I’m not arguing just trying to understand btw so if I sound like I’m being confrontational I’m not trying to

    6. When he says energy is a property of substances that already exist, that should help you understand why energy isn’t a “ necessary being,” and that it is philosophically contingent.

      This may perturb my fellow science bros, but it isn’t dissimilar to saying that “sympathy,” is contingent because without beings to actually be sympathetic to one another, it’s a worthless term and has no meaning. Energy is simply a term used to describe a trait of matter and non-matter fields - it’s a mathematical abstraction essentially describing the function of already existing bodies.

    7. Or maybe even how “height” is an abstraction contingent on there being someone whose height to measure.

  23. Startdust, you have been thoroughly argued down by the professional philosophers here. Our names are legion.

    1. David Y,
      Who are the professional philosophers here? Are you a professional philosopher? Can you provide a list, at least partial, of this "legion"?

      And "argued down" on what subject? You did not specify. The subject of this thread is Marx, so that leads, of course, to dialectical materialism, which in turn led the owner of this site to comment on the relationship between materialism, free will, and morality.

      By "material" I mean matter/energy/space-time/fields or whatever turns out to be the most fundamental "stuff" that exists. On materialism, then, morals are personal sensibilities and relative to the individual sense of ought.

      On the principle of sufficient reason, as well as for other reasons, free will is an illusion. Since each thing that happens must have a reason for it to happen then there can be only 1 set of conditions in the universe at any particular moment and at the next moment the new conditions can only be what there was reason to progress too, not fundamentally stochastic, since a truly random event would occur without a reason, which is irrational.

      Therefore the universe is strictly deterministic, thus rendering free will an illusion. You think somebody has "thoroughly argued (me) down" on these, or any other subject? Hardly, all most posters here do is spew boring invective,

      As for the above discussions of what is necessary, everything that presently exists is necessary. We know the probability that all existent things do in fact exist is precisely 1, a statement with the truth of a tautology. Since things only occur with sufficient reason then everything that exists must exist necessarily, else things would simply pop into existence for no reason, which is irrational.

      Taken by itself, the term dialectical materialism is a very good one. The process of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis is borne out again and again in life. Materialism is the rational stance that leads inexorably to atheism, determinism, the illusion of free will, and relative morality. You think these views have been "thoroughly argued down"? Hardly, but you are welcome to give it a go if you wish.

    2. all of what you’ve said is the same stuff you say on every single theist blog you post on and it’s been argued down into oblivion and you still keep reposting it dude.

    3. Don't feed the trollsFebruary 1, 2020 at 3:27 AM

      The problem is people answer him. He's a troll. He has shown again and again he can post nothing except timewasting sophistry. Ignore him or tell him to go away. Don't engage, because it just isn't worth it. He has nothing at all to offer and feeding him will just cause him to spread his idiocy further.

    4. Hi (blank), maybe you can point out my "sophistry"?

      Dr. Feser said "But no one who denies free will has any business pouring contempt on religious believers, or on anyone else, for their alleged moral and rational failings. For if free will is an illusion, they can’t help what they do, any more than the rain can help falling."

      My contention is that his analysis is simplistic and entirely misunderstands how vastly complex mechanistic organisms have evolved to interact with each other.

      By Dr. Feser's statement, absent free will, we would have to do away with any findings of responsibility, intent, or malice of forethought not only in our criminal justice system but in our personal interactions. Like I said, his position is very simplistic and lacking in understanding of how complex mechanisms have evolved and interact.

      Organisms make decisions, not just human beings, but animals large and small. Do you suppose that a rodent has free will to choose either to try to grab the cheese or not? Yet animals do in fact make countless decisions, so clearly most decisions that are made across the animal population are not free, they are simply the motor actions of a mechanistic sensory processing mechanism responding to the environment.

      In more advanced animals, most especially in homo sapiens sapiens, we experience a complex range of sensibilities, emotions, and rational calculations, whether one recognizes that free will is an illusion or not. If somebody punches you in the nose you do not merely rationally calculate a response, there is an ingrained sensibility of outrage, defensiveness, possibly a desire for revenge, and a sense of vindication if revenge is successfully inflicted. These are among the mechanisms of the human organism. That is part of how we interact and how we influence each other absent free will.

      Morality is relative to each individual's personal sensibilities. Each of us simply does, as a consequence of our evolved physiology of a social species, experience and act upon our full range of sensibilities and rational calculations absent free will.

      To suggest that those of us human beings that realize free will is an illusion should then abandon our innate physiological processes is absurd.

      My sense of contempt, and expression of that sensibility, for the corrosive and destructive influences and actions of the most egregious examples of religious zealotry are fully valid, justified, meaningful and very much my "business", because that is part of how human beings mechanistically interact in the marketplace of ideas and interactions within our social structure.

      Or is all that merely "sophistry"?

    5. We've decided that it's sophistry.

    6. In Russia, this form of trolling is called "throwing shit on the propeller". Troll throws a lot of theses that are not related to each other, often just wrong, have huge logical holes in the reasoning. Many of these statements require proof and argument, but are presented as apodictic truths. Because the unwary opponent who gets these slogans sees their obvious inconsistency and tries to explain it, he falls into a trap. The flow of slogans and non-documented statements increases like an avalanche. Troll writes huge texts of logically unrelated and internally contradictory reasoning. Forum participants simply get tired of the endless and meaningless conversation with the Troll. The Troll creates the illusion that he is a good debater. It seems to me that Dr. Feser does not ban him, because he is amused by "school atheism" and hopes to see the oft-repeated characteristic slogans of the average atheist. You Americans have not experienced all the delights of atheistic rule, but we Russians have experienced atheistic terror, the suppression of any dissent, and the horrors of atheistic fanaticism.

    7. Anon,
      "but we Russians have experienced atheistic terror, the suppression of any dissent, and the horrors of atheistic fanaticism."
      Indeed, both theist and atheist alike are capable of suppression. That is why the Marxist idea of a supposedly temporary dictatorship as a necessary phase after the revolution was, and is, so terribly wrong. Dictators do not give up power once they gain it, theist dictator and atheist dictator alike.

      Here in the USA our constitution calls for government that is neutral toward religion and the freedom of the individual to hold and express whatever theistic or atheistic views one wishes.

      No test of religion is allowed for a person to hold public office, and if I go to court I can choose my own oath on my preferred book or deity or no deity at all.

      For the few who are in power a dictatorship provides advantages, but the great majority living under theistic dictatorship or atheistic dictatorship live an oppressed life.

      But you are not speaking to a Russian in Russia when you speak with me, rather, a citizen of the USA. What Russians in Russia would call my words in the context of their (your) experience is of little relevance, because I am in America writing on a SoCal based blog, and that is my context.

      If you read the quote from Dr. Feser and then you read my words from a SoCal perspective you will find that I have directly addressed and refuted, at least broadly, the quoted words of the site owner.

    8. You didn't refute anything from Feser. Because in order to refute something, it is necessary to show the logical inconsistency of the statement or its inconsistency with the experimental facts. At the same time, your interpretation must exclude implicit presumptions that your opponent cannot accept or believes to be false. You don't have anything like it. For example, take your statement: "I simply do feel fear of death because that is an evolved trait of animals that is advantageous to survival to reproduction, animals that don't fear death being likely to die before they reproduce". This is a typical ultra-Darwinian mistake. Why? Because there are a lot of logical and methodological errors hidden in this statement. The first mistake is the extrapolation of modern human psychology into the evolutionary past. This is not a criminal error,this method is acceptable, but it makes such statements questionable and unverifiable. The second mistake is the anthropomorphization of animals, that is, the attribution of human emotions, feelings, and thoughts to them.But this is not true, because animals have the instinct of self-preservation (innate reflexes), but do not have the fear of death. Fear of death is a complex psychological and cultural trait of a person. There are experienced facts that animals do not understand what death is at all. For example, primates and elephants do not leave dead children until they begin to decompose. It is believed that prehistoric man did not understand death as it is understood by modern atheists. Ancient burials in the fetal position indicate other ideas of death as a dream or a return to non-existence before birth. So you are confusing a number of problems. Another mistake is fanatical selectionism. Popper,D.Stove, A. Lyubishchev, M. Golubovsky, and others have shown that the circular selectionist explanations of ultra-Darwinists do not stand up to criticism. In a selectionist manner, you can explain anything without worrying about actual evidence.Your other problem is reductionism of explanations, when a complex and controversial problem is falsely presented as a simple apodictic fact reduced to separate simple elements.

      So I took only one of your little statements and it became clear that it was either completely false, or some parts of it were false. You philosophize like an Amateur, not understanding your mistakes.

  24. Of interest:

  25. Anon,
    What you call "ultra-Darwinist" is what scientists call "evolutionary science".

    "when a complex and controversial problem is falsely presented as a simple apodictic fact"
    That is what is known as stating a position.

    "So I took only one of your little statements"
    Indeed, you expanded upon just one small aspect of what I wrote and that became a moderately long post by itself filled with "amateurish" false statements presented as "apodictic facts". Tut tut, perhaps I should have expected you to fill this blog with tens of thousands of words of argument containing all the necessary grammatical structures and citations to avoid your manifestly "amateurish philosophizing".

    No, anon, concision is called for in this context and with it some degree of allowance for it while reading.

    For example, clearly when I say "animals fear death" that is neither an anthropomorphization, or an attribution of complex psychological responses to relatively simple organisms. Other animal species clearly exhibit fear of potentially fatal circumstances. The immediacy of the response and the extent of understanding and foresight are a function of the complexity of the organism. At some point when I write I expect such obvious assertions to be clear in a concise statement, but apparently that expectation was misplaced in your case.

    "The first mistake is the extrapolation of modern human psychology into the evolutionary past."
    Really? Interesting. So your assertion is that human psychology is divorced from our evolutionary past? How and what we think and feel has nothing to do with how our ancestors evolved? That is a rather extraordinary claim. How do you suppose, then, that human psychology came to be as it is? Just poof?

    But, getting back to Dr. Feser's contention that I have no "business pouring contempt on religious believers, or on anyone else, for their alleged moral and rational failings", given my position that free will is, ultimately, an illusion.

    Human beings think and feel and act as we do by virtue of our innate physiology. Those mechanisms of social interaction remain whether one holds to the illusion of free will or not, making the full spectrum of the human condition as much my business as it is everybody else's.

    1. Your comments brilliantly confirm what I said. You don't understand anything about the problems you are trying to judge. You require brevity because you find it difficult to understand complex problems. You are used to using primitive ideological slogans that are always brief.

      For example: "So your assertion is that human psychology is divorced from our evolutionary past? How and what we think and feel has nothing to do with how our ancestors evolved? That is a rather extraordinary claim. How do you suppose, then, that human psychology came to be as it is? Just poof?" This is typical trolling, when the opponent's statement is turned upside down. References to the evolutionary past of animals will not give you anything. Because such appeals are based on conditional reconstructions and presumptions. They ignore the huge cultural and social evolution that man has gone through. In addition, such appeals are not logically related to the topics you are discussing. This is detailed in Cunningham, 2010.

      You, as an Amateur, explain to me, a person working in science, what and how some anonymous abstract scientists are called. What for? And this is not true, because evolutionism is very different, there are many evolutionary trends and interpretations. The whole point of your comment is to say, " I'm not a fool, you're a fool." This is an empty and meaningless conversation. I don't see any point in continuing it. It's like talking to a parrot.

    2. Don't feed the trollsFebruary 2, 2020 at 12:41 PM

      Please stop feeding the troll. He is banned here. Long experience has taught us it is absolutely pointless to try to interact with him. He has severe personality issues, is dishonest, and just doesn't engage in any real sense. Ignore him.

    3. Thanks for stopping by again (blank).
      "just doesn't engage in any real sense"
      Dr. Feser really said that on an assertion of the illusion of free will it is not my business to hold the religious in contempt for their moral failings.

      I say all the folks here have an innate physiologically rooted complex set of emotions, sensibilities, and motivators that really are the case irrespective of the illusory nature of free will, including contempt for perceived egregious behaviors, making the whole range of the human condition as much my "business" as it is for others. I say his assertion really seems like a case of an assertion of Christian exceptionalism whereby Christians claim a divinely imparted right to conduct themselves beyond what others are justified in doing.

      What is your real on-topic engagement for that specific subject?

  26. Anon,
    "They ignore the huge cultural and social evolution that man has gone through. "
    Ok, so you acknowledge that human psychology is an artifact of biological evolution but you want to make sure we consider the potential effects of cultural and social evolution as well.

    Has cultural evolution changed human psychology, say, in the past 3000 years, for example? Based on available writings of, for example, the Greeks and Hebrews, it seems to me the range of human sensibilities was pretty much
    the same then as it is now. Yes, a great deal has changed in our scientific knowledge and attitudes toward slavery, for example, but human fears, love, hate, lust, and in particular "contempt" seem to be pretty much unchanged as aspects of the human organism.

    "In addition, such appeals are not logically related to the topics you are discussing."
    What is the Russian equivalent expression for "can't see the forest for the trees"?

    This is a blog, a commbox, not a book, a PhD thesis, or even a published article. A "prime directive" of sorts is to post on topic, to leverage off the words in the OP and make some effort to avoid going off in myriad directions with tens of thousands of words addressing every tangential point.

    The point that is relevant to my critique of the words of the OP is that human psychology is an artifact of evolution that can be traced back in its most rudimentary forms to our ancestors in the deep past and has come to be embedded in our physiology as it is through a long and complicated process, the historical details of which are not the subject of the point. The point being that I, you, and everybody else here does in fact have a highly complex human psychology rooted in our adult physiology.

    The further point is that coming to understand that free will is, ultimately, an illusion, does not neutralize or nullify that human condition.

    A Christian believing a mythological book that says an imagined god imparted an incoherent notion called "free will" does not give the Christian license to interact as a human being, and whereby I have somehow lost my "business" to such engagement.

    1. I think you missed the point of his argument on free will. What Dr Feser says is that if we don't have free will, then "we" is a mere illusion, because any of us is just a bunch of particles moving around in the universe, which makes desert only a theatrical feature, a simulacrum. A relevant criticism here would be to say that even if desert is just an illusion of our psyche, it has the function of making us able to understand who is wrong and who is right in regards to politics and morality, and what action make our everyday life more better in the long run. However, this would still leave unanswered the question whether we do exist or not, as our mental states would be mere epiphenomenons and our words, and indeed the whole discussion we have, would not mean anything (Jerry Fodor), because we would be like Putnam's brains (Reason, Truth, and History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981), who would not have any extra-linguistic references and thus would not really think at all.

  27. Someone is really crying for attention out there. The last twenty comments almost exclusively (apart from SPsyche), and many more before that (using names like David Y, joe D, Don't feed the Trolls - it's sad where he twice talks to himself under another name - Anonymous, David Yusupov), are the work of one person. It's a bit rich where one identity chides other another for talking to trolls and then, as anonymous, goes on to have a long conversation with SPsyche, who the same writer says must be ignored.

    It's intriguing to ponder what it might be like to be a matryoshka doll trapped inside something else again. Never fear, we're all here for you. Pour out your frustrations - no need to argue at yourself, or hogg the limelight. We won't ignore you. Feel better now?

    1. Don't feed the trolls.February 3, 2020 at 8:18 PM

      Cervantes, get lost. We all know it's you calling yourself David Y and going around worrying about the identity of various posters. Joe D is a long time contributor here. I am certainly not him not am I David Yasupov. You're a creep.

    2. Under the name of an anonymous commentator, I am speaking here - a person from Russia. I have nothing to do with any other commenters on this blog. I made comments in 3 topics. I was interested in understanding the level of discussion. This discussion was almost entirely uninteresting. I realized that comments in blogs are the same everywhere - both in Russia and in the United States. And trolling is also the same. Now I will only read Dr. Feser - it is much more interesting. Best wishes to all participants in the conversation, Paul.

  28. Sadly, when you and "David Yasupov" etc. etc. etc talk to each other, it's you talking to yourself. There's more chance of me being Santa Claus than that not being the case. Time for another dose of the confessional for you.

  29. I realise, I'm a little late for the party, if you'll refrain from sending me to gulag for the pun, but have you ever engaged with the later critical theorists, such as Lacan, Adorno et. al. of the Frankfurt school?

    I find that they have very interesting criticisms that escape the dead ends of Marxism (indeed, avoids any positive project at all), and that often fit well with a teleological understanding of man, as opposed to a materialist one. One example is the central criticism (Adorno) of Capitalism as having a tendency to alienate the worker from his labour. This, I think, could easily be put in Aristotelian terms.

  30. I find most points relevant in this article, but I'd say that making mistakes an author's fault is too individualistic. As individuals, we are epistemically dependent on one another, making it impossible to know every and any truth for one sole individual. The work of science and the liberal arts could be said in its essence collective, and it is the intention that manifests itself in our actions that makes us true seekers of truth.
    This could be appied to Marx, because in his time, the ideas he was contemplating and explaining had not been discussed yet, so even at the cost of mistakes, he was able to make advancements in economics, philosophy and politics. Thus, it is a methodological and epistemological mistake to call him evil, because the evidence we have shows him as rather keen on seeking truth.
    This entails (1) that any persons who just takes Marx's (or any other author's) words literally, without any form of criticism whatsoever, is comitting plagiat, and doesn't seek truth but rather wants their non-epistemic interests to crush the epistemic ones and (2) one should beware of any ad hominem falacies, accusing an author of being evil for example.

    Thank you for reading.