Saturday, July 1, 2017

The Philosophy of Choice (II): Limits to choice

The Philosophy of Choice - George J. Dance, Nolan Chart:
Part I here

Limits to choice

Despite all this, some people worry about choice — perhaps not about choice in general, but quite often about there being “too much” choice. One worry is that people’s choices often conflict. Letting everyone act on their own choices sometimes does lead to disagreement and even violent conflict; some principle that can override individual choice is required to resolve this type of conflict.

That is a legitimate concern.

Libertarians agree that there should be rules and principles governing choice; what they deny is that those rules need to limit or restrict choice by some other, higher principle. Rather, governing rules and principles can be justified by the nature of choice itself. As choosing to do X means choosing to use one’s mind and body to do X, respecting another’s choice means respecting his or her right to freely use his or her own mind and body. What John wants to do by or to himself is a matter of his own choice; but what John wants to do with or to Mary is not simply a matter of John’s choice, but more importantly of Mary’s.

The idea of individual human choice requires the complementary idea of individual human rights — of what philosopher Robert Nozick calls the “moral space” within which each person is governed solely by his own choices. In turn, the idea of human rights helps define, and defend as well as limit, the scope of everyone’s freedom of choice.

Acting on one’s choices requires not just moral but also physical space, and (often) access to physical things. Human choices on how to use these spaces and things are a fertile source of conflict. So choice requires property rights, as an essential part of human rights.

A second objection is that some people make bad choices — some choose to kidnap, some to rob, some to burglarize, some to defraud. Why should those choices be respected?

But this second objection is just a special case of the first — that choices can conflict — with the same solution. Recognizing the principle of human rights, means recognizing that choices which violate the human and property rights of others should not be respected, or even permitted — not because one’s choices are unimportant, but because respecting those others’ basic right to make choices is more important.

That in turn leads to the Libertarian theory of law: that acts which violate the rights of others should be legally forbidden, while those that do not should be left alone. What is important, in judging a law to be good or bad, is the nature of the acts it forbids. Does an action affect only the person acting, or only those who consent (or choose) to be affected? Then it should not be interfered with. Does it hurt those who have not consented? Then it should not be allowed. Whom an action affects, and how; where it takes place (in one’s home? on a public street-corner?); and whose property it uses; are what the law should consider when judging any action.

In this way, the Libertarian theory of human and property rights makes possible a free society, one based on and maximizing individual choice. That society of choice, in turn, makes possible the realization of those other values of morality, justice, liberty, respect, harmony, peace, progress, and abundance.

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  1. And I might add to the end... and to peace.

    1. You're right! I added it after 'harmony'.