Ethics and Politics

Dan Fabulich (
Sun, 14 Sep 1997 15:23:33 -0400

People, as a rule, tend to disagree about ethics. Ancient Greeks were
contemplating exactly the same ethical problems as we face today.
Philosophy has been struggling with proposed principles for ethical
government for thousands of years. Yet we still don't agree on even the
most basic ethical questions.

So, instead, I offer this philosophical argument for discussion, based on
John Stuart Mill's _Utilitarianism_. I use his definition of "utility."

1) Any political system which maximizes utility is an ethical political

2) Libertarianism maximizes utility.

3) Therefore, libertarianism is an ethical political system.

Now, I think most would agree simply by looking that my argument that it at
least VALID; my conclusion follows directly from its premises. Anyone who
would argue that my argument is false must take issue with my premises.

Unfortunately, I do not consider myself qualified to defend these claims
sufficiently. Instead, I will allow the great thinkers to defend their own

First, is utilitarianism really an ethical political philosophy?. John
Stuart Mill's _Utilitarianism_ is arguably the most important text in
defense of utility. Any attacks on utilitarianism itself must be directed
at HIS arguments. Mine would barely pale in comparison.

But even if we grant that utilitarianism is an ethical political
philosophy, does libertarianism actually maximize utility? Again, I am not
the man to argue this point. Who is? John Stuart Mill is, in _On
Adam Smith is seminal in this discussion of capitalism and well-being, in
his _Wealth of Nations_.
David Friedman provides a fascinating argument in his book, _The Machinery
of Freedom_, which argues that utilitarianism and libertarianism tend to
overlap. This book is not available for free redistribution; however, a
few of the relevant chapters of his book are available on-line. Read
chapters 41-43.

This list is nowhere near complete... However, it does cover some of the
significant authors relevant to my argument. Off the top of my head I can
already think of two or three relevant authors... I chose these because
they are well-known and because I knew I could find them on-line.

Read them, if you haven't already. And if you STILL want to argue moral
philosophy, then please provide a point by point demonstration as to why
these political philosophers are wrong.

Until then...