1. Skip to navigation
  2. Skip to content
  3. Skip to sidebar
Source link: http://archive.mises.org/9839/the-division-of-labor-as-the-source-of-grundnorms-and-rights/

The Division of Labor as the Source of Grundnorms and Rights

April 24, 2009 by

In a previous post, I argued that empathy is the source of rights. The idea is that any norms that are abided by in society are necessarily norms that are self-undertaken by a community of people who share that value. Civilized people value various grundnorms, which are compatible only with the libertarian private property principles (or so we libertarians believe; this is at the root of Hoppe’s argumentation ethics and my estoppel defenses of libertarian rights, discussed in New Rationalist Directions in Libertarian Rights Theory).

But why do civilized people adopt the various libertarian-related grundnorms, such as peace, prosperity, reluctance to engage in unjustified violence? I think that it is the trait of empathy. Empathy for others is what gives rise to a general reluctance to engage in violent interaction–at least, without a good reason (justification). It is what leads to the “civilized” predisposition—hence the desire for most people–not criminals or outlaws, but civilized people–to find justifications for force, and to engage in it only when they satisfy themselves that despite their prima facie reluctance, it is justified in this type of case. (My view is that the person who is most relmuctant, and has the highest standards or thresholds to be satisifed for justifying proposed or desired violence, are just libertarians. And that the most consistent among them recognize that the only good justification to be found is for force that is in response to aggression, or initiated force; and the most hyper-consistent among them are the anarchists. In short, the most “true” libertarians are those who oppose all aggression.)

But why is there empathy? Why do most of us place some value on others’ well-being? I ventured in the previous post that “evolution is probably what led to this trait, as a psychological matter, but that is not that significant to me. So, in a sense, if we must find a ‘source’ of rights, I would say–it is empathy.”

At the time, I overlooked the significance of a Mises quote called to my attention in the comments by Gil Guillory. Gil’s notes Mises’s “contention … that the Ricardian Law of Association gives rise to cooperation and that empathy grows out of cooperation, not the other way around. So, if we are insisting on a source of rights, and we follow Mises in this regard, then it is the self-interested motivation to cooperate that is the source of rights.”
Now I was listening recently to the absolutely riveting 10-part Economy, Society, and History lectures (audio here) delivered by Hans-Hermann Hoppe in 2004. (These lectures set forth the preliminary outlines of Hoppe’s forthcoming major book, tantalizingly mentioned in this interview; his paper On The Origin Of Private Property And The Family is described on his site as being the “abstract of a long chapter within the framework of a major book project.”) In lecture 3, “Money and Monetary Integration: The Growth of Cities and the Globalization of Trade,” starting at around 5:30, Hoppe mentions various passages of Mises related to those noted by Guillory.

According to Hoppe, Mises points out that psychologists and sociologists often explain the origin of the division of labor in some kind of instinct to “truck and barter,” as did Adam Smith. But Mises says we do not need to assume this; we can assume that everyone hates everyone else, and still explain why the division of labor emerges.

After Hoppe explains why the division of labor will arise, he quotes from Mises (Hoppe, lecture 3, around 13:47) here:

If and as far as labor under the division of labor is more productive than isolated labor, and if and as far as man is able to realize this fact, human action itself tends toward cooperation and association; man becomes a social being not in sacrificing his own concerns for the sake of a mythical Moloch, society, but in aiming at an improvement in his own welfare. Experience teaches that this condition–higher productivity achieved under the division of labor–is present because its cause–the inborn inequality of men and the inequality in the geographical distribution of the natural factors of production–is real. Thus we are in a position to comprehend the course of social evolution.

And at 15:03, Hoppe explains that Mises derives a very important insight from this. Contrary to those like Adam Smith who stipulate some kind of inborn sympathy among mankind as the ultimate case of the division of labor, Mises reverses this and says that it is precisely because of the higher productivity of the division of labor, which makes us dependent on each other, based on our recognition that we all benefit from this dependency on others, that we then develop, so to speak, sympathetic feelings toward others. In other words, sympathy results from, but is not the cause of, the division of labor.
He then quotes Mises:

there can emerge between members of society feelings of sympathy and friendship and a sense of belonging together. These feelings are the source of man’s most delightful and most sublime experiences. They are the most precious adornment of life; they lift the animal species man to the heights of a really human existence. However, they are not, as some have asserted, the agents that have brought about social relationships. They are fruits of social cooperation, they thrive only within its frame; they did not precede the establishment of social relations and are not the seed from which they spring.

and, from this section:

The mutual sexual attraction of male and female is inherent in man’s animal nature and independent of any thinking and theorizing. It is permissible to call it original, vegetative, instinctive, or mysterious; there is no harm in asserting metaphorically that it makes one being out of two. We may call it a mystic communion of two bodies, a community. However, neither cohabitation, nor what precedes it and follows, generates social cooperation and societal modes of life. The animals too join together in mating, but they have not developed social relations. Family life is not merely a product of sexual intercourse. It is by no means natural and necessary that parents and children live together in the way in which they do in the family. The mating relation need not result in a family organization. The human family is an outcome of thinking, planning, and acting. It is this very fact which distinguishes it radically from those animal groups which we call per analogiam animal families.

I.e., it is the recognition of the advantages of the division of labor that makes stable family relationships rather than people breaking up and going their own way. And, as Mises notes in this section:

The fundamental facts that brought about cooperation, society, and civilization and transformed the animal man into a human being are the facts that work performed under the division of labor is more productive than isolated work and that man’s reason is capable of recognizing this truth. But for these facts men would have forever remained deadly foes of one another, irreconcilable rivals in their endeavors to secure a portion of the scarce supply of means of sustenance provided by nature. Each man would have been forced to view all other men as his enemies; his craving for the satisfaction of his own appetites would have brought him into an implacable conflict with all his neighbors. No sympathy could possibly develop under such a state of affairs.

Some sociologists have asserted that the original and elementary subjective fact in society is a “consciousness of kind.” [1] Others maintain that there would be no social systems if there were no “sense of community or of belonging together.” [2]One may agree, provided that these somewhat vague and ambiguous terms are correctly interpreted. We may call consciousness of kind, sense of community, or sense of belonging together the acknowledgment of the fact that all other human beings are potential collaborators in the struggle for survival because they are capable of recognizing the mutual benefits of cooperation, while the animals lack this faculty. However, we must not forget that the primary facts that bring about such consciousness or such a sense are the two mentioned above. In a hypothetical world in which the division of labor would not increase productivity, there would not be any society. There would not be any sentiments of benevolence and good will.

I think Hoppe is right. This is an important insight of Mises. Sympathy (and empathy) arise from the division of labor. Since rights stem from empathy, the division of labor is the source of rights. Q.E.D.

{ 33 comments }

twv April 24, 2009 at 1:36 am

Surely Mises (or is that Hoppe?) is wrong to assert that “animals obviously lack” the ability to sense advantages in mutual co-operation. Such activity is common in the natural world, especially amongst mammals, and I do not believe that this common activity must be ascribed to instinct. Animals can be quite purposive, though their abilities to construct models of causation and thus plan activities and strategies is often shallow.

Much work has been done, recently, on the subject of the emotional and cognitive aspects of human evolution, with a great deal of reference to the other Hominidae, our nearest cousins in evolutionary advance. I recommend the fairly recent work by sociologist Jonathan Turner.

Of course, none of the ideas are new. The importance of sympathy for our complex moral systems (and they are complex) was insisted upon, eloquently, by Adam Smith in THE THEORY OF MORAL SENTIMENTS. This was taken in an explicitly evolutionary direction by Herbert Spencer (see THE PRINCIPLES OF PSYCHOLOGY and later books of his Synthetic Philosophy). Indeed, Turner’s recent work echoes Spencer’s basic approach fairly closely, but with a lot more specific scientific study to back his speculations and arguments up. (We know a lot more about primate evolution since Spencer wrote “PRINCIPLES OF SOCIOLOGY and PRINCIPLES OF ETHICS, the two main relevant texts.)

Mises was quite aware of Spencer’s work, and Mises’ own emphasis on co-operation in social theory, instead of competition, follows directly from Spencer. But, alas, he goes off in a different direction with his notion that the division of labor precedes sympathy. It seems quite evident from primate studies that each of great apes has some capacity for empathy, and each exhibit varying degrees of social cooperation and a division of labor.

Empathy expanded with the expansion of emotional capacity, which grew out of growing brain size and increasing neural complexity. These things allowed greater co-operation which increased survivability — indeed, a propensity to thrive — which in turns helped select (“by survival of the fittest” in Spencer’s terminology) for increases in emotional intelligence and in empathy itself.

This dialectical dance of mutually reinforcing factors is typical of evolutionary processes. It also seems, to me, to undercut any “rationalistic” formulation of rights. But that’s another story.

The importance of empathy for sociality is an important topic. It’s good to see this Spencerian theme reintroduced into the Misesian tradition.

Les April 24, 2009 at 3:56 am

And don’t forget the insects (bees and ants). They have highly developed communities and defined division of labor. I think the major difference is that they lack freedom of choice.

Chad Rushing April 24, 2009 at 6:11 am

If libertarianism’s espoused human rights are founded solely upon human emotional states (empathy) or past practices of early human communities (traditions?), how can libertarianism possibly claim any moral imperatives whatsoever? In such a situation, the bases of those human “rights” are purely subjective in nature meaning that libertarian “principles” are in fact just eloquent opinions and nothing more. The admonition “people should …” with its implied moral obligations should be replaced by the phrase “we would prefer people to …” in all libertarian literature.

The only way that anyone has any unequivocal moral obligations to promote or support human rights (including economic rights) is for those rights to be based on an objective, absolute, moral code that applies to all humanity, past, present, and future, one of a distinctly theistic and, therefore, transcendent nature. Otherwise, it is just a matter of the libertarians and the authoritarians (and the conservatives, liberals, socialists, monarchists, tyrants, etc.) squabbling over differing opinions based on personal preferences as to how human society should work or be organized, none of them being more morally authoritative than any of the others in actuality.

Skye Stewart April 24, 2009 at 6:52 am

As Roderick pointed out in his Wittgenstein, Austrian Economics, and the Logic of Action, Hoppe, and Rothbard mischaracterized Smith on this point,

“Contrary to Rothbard’s suggestion, what Smith actually says is:

“This division of labour, from which so many advantages are derived, is not originally the effect of any human wisdom, which foresees and intends that general opulence to which it gives occasion. It is the necessary, though very slow and gradual consequence of a certain propensity in human nature which has in view no such extensive utility; the propensity to truck, barter, and exchange one thing for another. Whether this propensity be one of those original principles in human nature of which no further account can be given; or whether, *as seems more probable, it be the necessary consequence of the faculties of reason and speech,* it belongs not to our present subject to inquire.” (Wealth of Nations I. 2)

From wiki, on empathy and mirror nuerons,

“In Philosophy of mind, mirror neurons have become the primary rallying call of simulation theorists concerning our ‘theory of mind.’ ‘Theory of mind’ refers to our ability to infer another person’s mental state (i.e., beliefs and desires) from their experiences or their behavior. For example, if you see a person reaching into a jar labeled ‘cookies,’ you might assume that he wants a cookie (even if you know the jar is empty) and that he believes there are cookies in the jar.
There are several competing models which attempt to account for our theory of mind; the most notable in relation to mirror neurons is simulation theory. According to simulation theory, theory of mind is available because we subconsciously empathize with the person we’re observing and, accounting for relevant differences, imagine what we would desire and believe in that scenario. Mirror neurons have been interpreted as the mechanism by which we simulate others in order to better understand them, and therefore their discovery has been taken by some as a validation of simulation theory (which appeared a decade before the discovery of mirror neurons). More recently, Theory of Mind and Simulation have been seen as complementary systems, with different developmental time courses”

. . .

“Stephanie Preston and Frans de Waal, Jean Decety, and Vittorio Gallese have independently argued that the mirror neuron system is involved in empathy. A large number of experiments using functional MRI, electroencephalography and magnetoencephalography have shown that certain brain regions (in particular the anterior insula, anterior cingulate cortex, and inferior frontal cortex) are active when a person experiences an emotion (disgust, happiness, pain, etc.) and when he or she sees another person experiencing an emotion. However, these brain regions are not quite the same as the ones which mirror hand actions, and mirror neurons for emotional states or empathy have not yet been described in monkeys. More recently, Christian Keysers at the Social Brain Lab and colleagues have shown that people that are more empathic according to self-report questionnaires have stronger activations both in the mirror system for hand actions and the mirror system for emotions, providing more direct support to the idea that the mirror system is linked to empathy.”

Brian Macker April 24, 2009 at 7:08 am

What about all those empathy based rights violating philosophies? Surely property rights need to be violated in the name of empathy. Clearly you have way too much stuff precisely because there are people starving in Africa. Where is your empathy for all those starving Africans?

David Ch April 24, 2009 at 7:24 am

this excerpt piqued my interest:

‘But why do civilized people adopt the various libertarian-related grundnorms, such as peace, prosperity, reluctance to engage in unjustified violence? I think that it is the trait of empathy….’

which I would like to expand on from an evolutionary biology perspective.

the trait of empathy was hardwired into pre-civilisation man, who shares it with other social primates. However, this empathy is not universal – He lived in small family groups whose survival and thriving depended on co-operation, and the propensity for empathy evolved to foster the behaviours conducive to improved group survival. His ‘default’ position was ( and often still is) close empathy with intimates, and hostility to ‘strangers’ or ‘outsiders’, who invariably presented a threat whenever encountered. the co-operation ( = division of labour) among intimates (invariably fewer than about 130 individuals, which neuroscientists tell us is the maximum number of personal relationships that any one individual can sustain without getting muddled), permitted each person within the group to keep track of who did what for whom, and those not pulling their weight were either told to shape up or ship out, which propensity is also still reflected in our keen human ability to sniff out cheats or free riders, and our rather keen desire to punish percieved ‘wrongdoing’.

this insider-empathy/outsider-hostility split is still very close to the surface in the human psyche, and it emerges in terrifying reality wherever violent conflict breaks out – witness the hatred and lack of empathy, indeed, outright brutality between Israelis and Palestinians, each of whom who might well be models of empathy, rectitude, and devout religious observance among their peers. Simply because ‘outsiders’ were not seen as fully human.

‘Civilised’ man, by contrast is marked by a propensity to co-operate with strangers – people he has never met before, but with whom he can empathise through a mutual recognition of the other as an ‘insider’ rather than a (feared and loathed) ‘outsider’. This is achieved through the emergence of all sorts of institutions – reference frameworks, or rules of engagement, that permit any two people who are strangers to one another, to regard each other as ‘insiders’ rather than ‘outsiders’. Such institutions can still be recognised today….. the ‘brotherhood’ and mutual recognition evident among freemasons, for example, or members of a particular church congregation that crosses national borders, or any one of a multitude of other social institutions ( I myself have a habit of visiting Aikido dojos in foreign cities , and immediately make contact with a whole bunch of strangers with whom I have an institutional affinity, and can engage with them comfortably as insiders with a high degree of mutual trust right from the first handshake).

In the light of this perspective, I regard money as the mother of all these civilising institutions, arguably the one which enabled th eemergence of civilisation in the first place. The evolution of money became necessary the moment men started to co-operate with larger numbers of people than the maximum size of the average hunter-gatherer group.

In the last analysis, money is nothing more than a robust mechanism for keeping score in the co-operation stakes – who did what for whom among large numbers of people who do not know each other personally. That is the defining mark of civilisation – co-operation to mutual benefit between strangers.

David Ch April 24, 2009 at 7:43 am

Les said:

‘And don’t forget the insects (bees and ants). They have highly developed communities and defined division of labor. I think the major difference is that they lack freedom of choice.’

The ‘individuals’ within a hive are not fully functioning, breeding organisms that can pair and procreate, or even function autonomously, ( all those worker bees or ants exist solely to facilitate the passing of the ‘queen’s’ genes into the next generation). So it is perhaps more accurate to regard a community of ants (or bees) as a whole as a single organism. Its components ‘co-operate’ in the same way as our nerves, muscles and bones co-operate to move a fork full of food into our mouths. It is absurd to regard a single ant as an independent entity.

The social nature of mammals such as humans or bonobos is very different – the group is a collection of bona fide individuals – each capable in principle of independent existence – whose interests as individuals are limited and moderated by the interests and responses of the other individuals in the group.

fundamentalist April 24, 2009 at 7:58 am

Empathy as a source of rights seems like a dangerous course to take. After all, the primary claim of socialists against capitalists is that capitalists lack empathy for their fellow man. Socialists claim that their desire for equality of wealth issues from empathy for the poor. That’s why they call it social justice. Does socialist empathy trump capitalist empathy?

fundamentalist April 24, 2009 at 8:51 am

I think if you look at actual history, our knowledge of which is limited to the past 7-8 thousands years at most, instead of imaginary pre-history, you’ll find that the modern concept of rights came out of European Christianity. Before that, and in non-Christian parts of the world, individual rights didn’t exist. People were the property of the ruler who was sovereign as a god.

So the attempt to fabricate a pre-history story that gives rise to rights without religion seems futile. And I think most people will see it for what it is, interesting fiction.

Keith April 24, 2009 at 9:32 am

Hmm….it seems to me that Mises’ contention about social cooperation coming first and then empathy growing out of cooperation seems more suitable.

I say that because if it were not then wouldn’t the whole crux for totally free trade between nations kind of fall apart? It seemed to me that one of the basic assertions of free trade (which I agree with) was that since you have a situation where people are now cooperating with each other for their own mutual benefit they are now less likely to commence any sort of hostilities with each other. Since the cooperation occurs first, and then tolerance and eventually mutual respect build on it, wouldn’t that help buttress the idea of DOL–>Empathy?

fundamentalist April 24, 2009 at 9:40 am

Keith: “…since you have a situation where people are now cooperating with each other for their own mutual benefit they are now less likely to commence any sort of hostilities with each other.”

That doesn’t seem to be the case, historically. What amazes modern readers of history is that trade between nations continued during war in most of the European wars up to WWI. That’s particularly true of the many wars in which Spain, France and England attacked the Netherlands during the 17th and 18th centuries. Merchants kept trading with each other in spite of the war. That may have been because people used to consider war as a matter between kings and none of their concern.

The rise of nationalism changed that attitude and brought about total warfare which included trade. In fact, mercantilists considered trade to be merely a different kind of warfare.

Keith April 24, 2009 at 10:07 am

That is true but that does not disprove exactly what I was originally getting at.

Let me clarify my position, when I said “…since you have a situation where people are now cooperating with each other for their own mutual benefit they are now less likely to commence any sort of hostilities with each other.” what I was getting at was that hostilities between the parties WHO WERE ACTUALLY TRADING WITH EACH OTHER decreased.

But after reading your comment I would have to agree with you that during those earlier wars the common man probably didn’t think war was their business, but it was of the monarch. I had not considered that before.

Stephan Kinsella April 24, 2009 at 10:10 am

twv:

Mises was quite aware of Spencer’s work, and Mises’ own emphasis on co-operation in social theory, instead of competition, follows directly from Spencer. But, alas, he goes off in a different direction with his notion that the division of labor precedes sympathy. It seems quite evident from primate studies that each of great apes has some capacity for empathy, and each exhibit varying degrees of social cooperation and a division of labor.

Empathy expanded with the expansion of emotional capacity, which grew out of growing brain size and increasing neural complexity.

Twv, my basic point is simply that rights are complex norms based on more basic norms that most (civilized) people happen to hold. I think the idea of “empathy” helps to explain why the do in actuality adopt and have these values. This idea about empathy is not essential to the case for rights; the case for rights relies on showing that (for whatever reason) anyone who challenges rights in a coherent way is incoherent because he is and has already adopted the grundnorms that imply libertarian ethics. (This is the point of the Hoppean type of argumentation ethics.) It simply helps flesh out the case to try to get “beneath” this (undeniably presupposed) set of grundnorms; to my mind, the notion of “empathy” helps explain it. As I said before, empathy no doubt arises due to any number of psychological, sociological, and historical and evolutionary factors, but that it exists seems clear. And I do believe Mises’s point that we can expect empathy to arise when and to the extent people are beneficial to each other; when society is helpful to all–and that this is pronounced when the division of labor is introduced–is an intriguing point, and one that seems more or less sound to me. It is, really, irrelevant to the case for rights where empathy come from (or even why people do adopt the grundnorms); but it is interesting to explore this.

“This dialectical dance of mutually reinforcing factors is typical of evolutionary processes. It also seems, to me, to undercut any “rationalistic” formulation of rights. But that’s another story.”

Even if there is this evolutionary dance of mutually reinforcing factors–empathy gradually growing, along with division of labor, etc.–I don’t see that this by itself undercuts the Hoppean argument ethics at all. In fact, even if only some peopel were civilized, and adopted basic norms for totally arbitrary reasons, his argument would still work. IT’s not dependent on these speculations about empathy and so on.

Chad Rushing:

If libertarianism’s espoused human rights are founded solely upon human emotional states (empathy) or past practices of early human communities (traditions?), how can libertarianism possibly claim any moral imperatives whatsoever?

Chad, see my reply above to twv. I am merely elaborating and speculating on why humans might have empathetic feelings toward one another, that makes them engage in cooperation and value others’ well-being. But *given this* “civilized stance* (whatever its origin), it is the civilized stance itself that is used by establish rights. Basically, Hoppe shows that anyone argumentatively disputing rights contradicts himself since by engaging in argumentation, he has presupposed the validity of certain norms that imply libertarian rights. My talk about empathy etc. would be aimed at explaining why people *do* engage in argumentation (a civilized type of activity), etc., but whether or not it is right does not affect the basic argument itself.

The only way that anyone has any unequivocal moral obligations to promote or support human rights (including economic rights) is for those rights to be based on an objective, absolute, moral code that applies to all humanity, past, present, and future, one of a distinctly theistic and, therefore, transcendent nature. Otherwise, it is just a matter of the libertarians and the authoritarians (and the conservatives, liberals, socialists, monarchists, tyrants, etc.) squabbling over differing opinions based on personal preferences as to how human society should work or be organized, none of them being more morally authoritative than any of the others in actuality.

Well, the “code” — any moral code– as a fundamnetal practical matter has to be based on basic values widely held by people. We libertarians are basically in favor of peace and prosperity, harmony and productivity. It is no coincidence that this is compatible with the same norms that underlie civilized discourse in the first place.
Skye Stewart:

As Roderick pointed out in his Wittgenstein, Austrian Economics, and the Logic of Action, Hoppe, and Rothbard mischaracterized Smith on this point,

“Contrary to Rothbard’s suggestion, what Smith actually says is:

“This division of labour, from which so many advantages are derived, is not originally the effect of any human wisdom, which foresees and intends that general opulence to which it gives occasion. It is the necessary, though very slow and gradual consequence of a certain propensity in human nature which has in view no such extensive utility; the propensity to truck, barter, and exchange one thing for another. Whether this propensity be one of those original principles in human nature of which no further account can be given; or whether, *as seems more probable, it be the necessary consequence of the faculties of reason and speech,* it belongs not to our present subject to inquire.” (Wealth of Nations I. 2)

This seems compatible with Hoppe’s point. Smith here says the division of labor is a consequence of the tendency or instinct to truck and barter. Isn’t this what Hoppe says?
You lost me on your comments about mirror neurons. I don’t see how this provides a coherent explanation of the origin or nature of empathy.

Brian Macker:

What about all those empathy based rights violating philosophies? Surely property rights need to be violated in the name of empathy.

Think of it this way. Because of the division of labor (or other reasons), most humans are social animals; they have empathy for others. This is the reason why we are more or less reluctant to engage in interpersonal violence–without some justification. Now not everyone is consistent in coming up with justifications. They often adopt a norm that is in conflict with the more basic norms that are presupposed in their civilized search for justification.

This is why I wrote above: “(My view is that the person who is most reluctant, and has the highest standards or thresholds to be satisifed for justifying proposed or desired violence, are just libertarians. And that the most consistent among them recognize that the only good justification to be found is for force that is in response to aggression, or initiated force; and the most hyper-consistent among them are the anarchists. In short, the most “true” libertarians are those who oppose all aggression.)”

In other words, they are not libertarian because they are not consistent enough in abiding by the civilized grundnorms they necessarily adopt by virtue of engaging in argumentative justification and peaceful interaction with others (which they only engage in, in the first place, b/c of the background motivation of empathy or something like it).

David ch:

“In the light of this perspective, I regard money as the mother of all these civilising institutions, arguably the one which enabled th eemergence of civilisation in the first place.”

Yes, this is a good point. If I recall, in his lectures Hoppe points to a few factors as hallmarks of human civilization, including language, division of labor, and money (if my memory serves).

geoih April 24, 2009 at 10:37 am

Quote from fundamentalist: “Before that, and in non-Christian parts of the world, individual rights didn’t exist. People were the property of the ruler who was sovereign as a god.”

That’s an over simplification. I think if you consult the history of China and India you’ll find the Christians were hardly the only group with a concept of individual rights, And it isn’t like the Christians didn’t have their own divine rulers.

fundamentalist April 24, 2009 at 10:51 am

geoih: “That’s an over simplification. I think if you consult the history of China and India you’ll find the Christians were hardly the only group with a concept of individual rights, And it isn’t like the Christians didn’t have their own divine rulers.”

It was an over simplification, but that’s usually necessary when commenting on blogs. What I know of the history of China and India indicates that whatever individual rights people had were granted by the emperor at his pleasure and could be taken away as easily. They didn’t seem to have the concept of natural rights outside of those granted by their emperor.

fundamentalist April 24, 2009 at 10:53 am

PS, You’re right about Christianity, too. After the take over of Christianity by the state thanks to Constantine, Christianity had no individual rights. They didn’t reappear until the rise of natural law, and didn’t leave the monastery until the founding of the Dutch Republic.

Dick Fox April 24, 2009 at 11:37 am

Actually as a concept I see no disconnect between this idea of empathy growing from the division of labor provided we understand that each supports the other.

To reject this because socialists criticize capitalists for a lack of empathy simply once again cedes an incorrect premise to the left.

It is important to note that the division of labor supporting empathy and that supporting moral action seems logical in a world created by a God of Love.

But the element that is much more difficult is, if this is the case why are there those who act against the division of labor, empathy and moral action? It is much easier to find reason and support for good moral action. The greatest challenge to reason is why does evil exist? This is one reason that most who reject God also reject evil.

2nd Amendment April 24, 2009 at 11:51 am

” I argued that empathy is the source of rights.”

There is no such thing as a “right”, only might !

If you don’t have might, you don’t have right !

Michael A. Clem April 24, 2009 at 11:52 am

What about all those empathy based rights violating philosophies? Surely property rights need to be violated in the name of empathy. Clearly you have way too much stuff precisely because there are people starving in Africa. Where is your empathy for all those starving Africans?
Such philosophies are incoherent, because they attack the very system that allowed for the production of “too much stuff” in the first place. Destroy that system, and there would quickly be not enough stuff for everybody, and nothing to redistribute, to starving Africans or anyone else.

In short, wealth-destroying philosophies are “sympathetic” in intentions, but not in practical results.

2nd Amendment April 24, 2009 at 11:53 am

A “right” is a mighty wrong !

A “wrong” is a right too weak to defend itself.

2nd Amendment April 24, 2009 at 11:55 am

Empathy for others is the best way of letting others take advantage of you. Empathy is for fools.

In life, only the strong survives !

I pitty the fool who has empathy for government officials and police officers for those crooks have empathy nor mercy for no one.

Michael A. Clem April 24, 2009 at 12:04 pm

2A, a right is a concept of what people ought to be free to do. As such, rights clearly exist, just as many other concepts exist. As to how to defend and protect rights, that is another question, a fair question, but still a different issue.
I also take exception to the Social Darwinism that you seem to be supporting. The powerful still only exist on the production of the creative, and thus anything that diminishes or destroys productivity is to be considered bad or evil. Thus, “might makes right” is itself an incoherent or contradictory philosophy, just as socialist redistributive philosophies are.

(8?» April 24, 2009 at 1:58 pm

I do not have now, nor have I ever had any rights, as it is an incoherent concept (noted by Michael A. Clem) utilized in order to control the behavior of others. What is truly being discussed are privileges, which may be granted/denied by individuals or collectives of individuals who will exercise some sort of social tool to enforce the group norm. All of which are based upon the premise of whether the individual deserves to be allowed to do exercise their right (so-called justice). This gets us back to David Ch and his comment on insiders vs. outsiders, and seeing others as less than human.

If all I have to do to invalidate a right is to invalidate the worthiness of the humanity of another, then it isn’t a right. It is to pass judgment about allowable privilege.

That said, I do like the discussion of empathy concerning the growth of civilization through voluntary cooperation. It is very relevant. Rights, on the other hand, seem to be nothing but another divide and conquer trap, designed to drive those who favor such concepts as being “a good thing,” into incoherent dead-end “intellectual” battles.

In other words, how can you be for voluntary cooperation when you are busy using coercion in fighting others for “your” rights. Or worse yet, fighting for mine?

Let it go, folks. Voluntary cooperation and empathy themselves are sufficient to understand and explain civilization. There is simply no need to invent artificial constructs such as rights. All they do is confuse the moral issue (that ole “ought to be” part).

I challenge anyone to name a single right they have that cannot be denied by someone else. There simply aren’t any. Even the right to life is revocable.

(8?» April 24, 2009 at 2:13 pm

Ooops, need to clarify since I didn’t notice Michael had used the word incoherent in his 2nd paragraph, which wasn’t what I was referencing.

My reference to his post was concerning his “a right is a concept of what people ought to be free to do.”

My claim is that the word “ought” invalidates the idea of a right (making it into a privilege), as it gives wiggle room to the idea of rights being inalienable.

For rights to actually exist, the word ought has to be changed to are without exception. That one change, makes the incoherence of the idea of rights, blatantly obvious.

twv April 24, 2009 at 2:31 pm

There are a lot of mixed-up notions flying about in the comments thread. I’ll have to respond to Stephan’s comments on my comments at a later time (I am under a deadline), but I do wish to say something about the inevitable Christianity theme flown up the flagpole: The New Testament contains no notion of rights not also found, better and more robust, throughout the world. The idea of individual rights developed in civilization, as a legal tool to rationalize obligations. The rights ideas that grew up in Christendom owed as much or more to Roman Law and other ancient traditions as it did to Christianity.

I regard rights as an extremely useful tool that precipitated out during the course of social evolution. It is always a normative concept. We can try basing it on various notions of being (of “is” not “ought”) but these efforts will always have some problems with them.

More later.

Freiheit April 24, 2009 at 2:49 pm

Henry Hazlitt offered the best foundation for rights in his book Foundations of Morality.

Moral laws are merely “oughts” (recommendations for action) that apply to human action itself, and thus apply to all acting humans at all times and places. Oughts connect desired ends with the means most appropriate to achieve those ends.

Thus, in order for there to be a moral law that applies to all acting humans, there must be an end that all humans desire. That end, as shown by Mises and Hazlitt, is the long-run maximization of personal satisfaction. Behind each and every action is an attempt to substitute a more satisfactory state of affairs for a less. Thus, the ultimate end that all acting humans strive for at all times, whether knowingly or unknowingly, is maximization of personal satisfaction in the long-run.

How do we derive moral laws? Not by trying to guess the consequences of each individual action in isolation. Any particular action will have an infinite chain of unforseeable effects and consequences, and, hence, we can never know the ultimate effects of a single action on our long-run satisfaction. We can, however, deduce via the logic of human action GENERAL RULES for action based on the general consequences of general types of action.

This is where more Rothbardian ethical extrapolations tie in with Hazlitt’s ethical foundation. Given the fact that a human’s ultimate desired end is to maximize their personal satisfaction in the long-run, what is the most appropriate ethic (means) to employ in regard to the self? Before we can determine how humans ought to behave in relation to other things, it must be determined the moral status of selves.

As Rothbard said, there are only three possibilities for a general rule (ethic) regarding the self. A). Self-ownership B). Ownership of self by another person or group, or C). Universal co-ownership of all selves. Option B fails straightaway as it is not a general rule applicable to all humans. Option C fails because the consent of all co-owners would be required for a person to use his or her self in any way, yet even the act of seeking consent would need consent of all co-owners, hence morally paralyzing all action. Option C is not a functional ethic in a world of scarcity. Only Option A is the appropriate ethic (means) to employ in order for humans to achieve the ultimate desired end.

And, of course, on the foundation of self-ownership, the rest of property rights may be deduced in the same way.

fundamentalist April 24, 2009 at 3:42 pm

twv: “The rights ideas that grew up in Christendom owed as much or more to Roman Law and other ancient traditions as it did to Christianity.”

Then why don’t we see them appear in the Roman Empire? They don’t make their appearance until natural law theory developed in Christian Europe.

Skye Stewart April 24, 2009 at 7:36 pm

Stephan,

You originally stated,

“According to Hoppe, Mises points out that psychologists and sociologists often explain the origin of the division of labor in some kind of instinct to “truck and barter,” as did Adam Smith.”

my main point was to show that smith didn’t just refer to the “instinct” or tendency to barter, but rather,

“. . as seems more probable, it be the necessary consequence of the faculties of reason and speech”

he specifically stated it was the purposeful aim. minor point, but worth pointing out.

not that smith deserves it, but for posterity.

The bit on mirror neurons was only additional material i thought of interest, in regards to the evolutionary and neuropsychological aspect of empathy

Mark April 24, 2009 at 9:05 pm

We adopt the social norms that best enable us to pass on our genes.

Peter April 25, 2009 at 1:42 am

There is no such thing as a “right”, only might !

So if someone breaks into your home, rapes your wife, and murders your children…you won’t complain since obviously he had the “might” to do it, and therefore he had the “right” to do it…and you lacked the “might” (and thus the “right”) to do anything about it. Glad I’m not related to you.

Dick Fox April 25, 2009 at 7:45 am

I repeat my challenge to all those who have found ways to define rights, or obgligations, or oughts, or whatever, if these things are rational then why is there evil?

2ndA seems to be closer and more honest in his assessment, because those who cannot find a rational explanation of evil in their philosophy are ignoring half of the equation. 2ndA is correct if reason is the only basis of “right” and that is a horrible world.

A right versus a wrong can only come from a creation where there is a higher morality. It is this higher morality that we all strive to find and define, but without a priori assumptions this is impossible.

Mises is by far the greatest economist, and his discussion of a priori in connection with economics is important. It is just too bad that he did not see that there is the same a priori connection to life.

Rights are a priori conditions of the utopian concept we all have and strive toward whether we admit it or not but these a priori conditions must have a source beyond our ability to understand or reason. They are the essence of creation.

Gil April 25, 2009 at 8:14 am

“So if someone breaks into your home, rapes your wife, and murders your children . . .” – Peter

No, the point is having the might so no one can just break into your home and so on. It’s pointless talking of what ‘freedoms’ you think you have if people keep trampling on them. Hence it’s pointless of talking about what governments should and shouldn’t be doing or whether they have a right to exist. Governments do exist and they are very strong whilst Libertarians are very weak hence Libertarians like to theorise and that’s about it. Libertarians should be theorising on practical methods to become so strong that governments can’t affect them. Where they can secede and repel anything the governments try throw at them. Otherwise they’ll be just like Milhouse and have their lunch money stolen and be hanging upside-downand have their heads flushed in a toilet bowl.

Anthony Flood April 25, 2009 at 9:29 am

This hypothesis is worth pursuing so long as it is regarded only as an effort to make praxeology bear the enormous weight of an anthropology and psychology as well as economics. (I think somewhere Hoppe wrote [I paraphrase] that something like metaphysical dualism [mutually exclusive realms of efficient causality and final causality co-exist in this universe] must be true because the concept of human action implies it. There are other ways to go about working out a metaphysics.) I hope the final Hoppean product will be free of any taint of Hobbesian and Darwinian presuppositions. I have so far seen no reason to exclude the possibility that our recognition of our mutual dependence is given to us (by Nature or Nature’s God) simultaneously with our mutual empathy/sympathy (which we can feel also for non-human sentient creatures, to whom we are after all also genetically related). I find nothing theoretically attractive about taking the Hobbesian-Darwinian starting point as the “hard” default position to which “soft” attributes like empathy/sympathy might be added or not. And now someone can show me how spectacularly I have missed the point.

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: