Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Yglesias is a Rortian

Good thoughts here in response to Karl Smith here. Rorty is another one that I'm simply going to want to read before Mises.


  1. Rorty argued that sentiment is means by which to create a credo of universal human rights; this is basically the same argument Diderot made - and it failed miserably. The way you create an acknowledgment of universal human rights is the way Hume described it - via commerce.

  2. And how does commerce create a credo of universal human rights?

    By providing a situation that selects for a sentiment supporting rights as the only possible viable sentiment.

    In a system of war and autarky, other sentiments are viable. Under commerce, they aren't.

    You are creating a falso opponent for Rorty, I think. The only point is that there is no metaphysical claim to be made about rights. You don't demonstrate that this point is a miserable failure by pointing out that a system of human relations is a way to guarantee rights. You don't, by grounding rights in a culture of commerce, demonstrate that rights have any metaphysical reality. This is Rorty's only emphatic point: they don't.

  3. "By providing a situation that selects for a sentiment supporting rights as the only possible viable sentiment."

    That is not what Rorty meant by sentiment. Rorty is one of these types who thinks that in order for human sociability to work it has to be, well, thick - Hume is the exact opposite, like all the Scottish philosophers. So he is a real opponent.

    Plus there is the whole "well, I don't need to accurately describe what past thinkers thought for me to use their stuff" line of argument. That always left me with a "WTF?" moment.

  4. Rorty simply says that we assert and justify rights, we don't derive them.

    How you've construed that to be opposed to Hume of all people is beyond me.

  5. No, that is not what he simply says.

    Besides, how the hell would you know? You apparently have not read Rorty - though you want to read him.

    Look, I realize that Rorty engages you because he was a pragmatist, but Hume wasn't a pragmatist (nor an anti-realist); Hume (as all 18th century thinkers did) based his understanding of humans interact with one another as much on nature as he did on thin sociability created by the marketplace - Rorty expects all the work to be done by sentiment, and not just sentiment created by the essentially random and anonymous interactions of the marketplace, but by some sort of positive action by the state.

    The Scottish philosophers were always very skeptical about the latter, though they never expected a fully formed human society to exist based merely on thin fellow-feeling - they expected the thickness to come from nature in part and from voluntary institutions.

  6. Gary, notice I'm not elaborating in detail on Rorty - what I'm doing is pointing out a bad argument on your part. I did read what you said.

    If you want to be convincing, don't just assume the incommensurability of sentiment and sociability and nature. You're coming across as mimicing those old artificial arguments that Moral Sentiments stands in stark contrast to Wealth of Nations.

    Might there be a distinction between Rorty and the Scottish Enlightenment over the state? That sounds plausible to me (although as you'll guess I'm guessing that's overstated by your rush to brand everybody that even acknowledges the role of the state as a statist), but that isn't the point of a discussion of rights. What is Rorty primarily juxtaposing himself with here? Is that anything like what Hume says? That's the question, and the answer is "no". The fact that they highlighted slightly different issues doesn't imply they are opposed.

    One could point out that human nature and market interactions are incomplete too. Familial and tribal interactions, non-market social interactions, etc. all do this work as well. But by pointing this out I'm not opposing Hume. You always seem far too quick to conceive of positions as fundamentally opposing each other, when really they're looking at a problem in a compatible, but somewhat different way.

  7. "If you want to be convincing, don't just assume the incommensurability of sentiment and sociability and nature."

    I didn't. And there endeth the lesson.


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