February 21, 2012 columns

Critical-Rationalist Libertarianism

J.C. Lester introduces himself and his political philosophy.

Hello, I am Jan Clifford Lester (usually published as “J. C. Lester”). I am a philosopher specializing in libertarianism. Apart from articles and book chapters, I am the author of Escape from Leviathan (hardback 2000, paperback due out soon), Arguments for Liberty (2011), The Dictionary of Anti-Politics (forthcoming), and two philosophical dialogues: The Philosophical Genie, and The Naked Politician (both forthcoming in book form but also available online now).

Here are what I consider to be the three main differences between my approach to libertarianism and that of other libertarian philosophers:

1) I am a critical-rationalist libertarian. Following Karl Popper, I think it is epistemologically impossible to justify theories. One can only admit that libertarianism is a conjecture and deal with criticisms of it.

2) I have a pre-propertarian theory (including pre-self-ownership) of interpersonal liberty as the absence of proactively imposed costs. I attempt to deduce libertarian solutions to problems using this.

3) I advocate a (refined, extreme, and value-free) version of what I call the classical-liberal compatibility thesis: there are no systematic theoretical or practical clashes among the most relevant and plausible conceptions of economic rationality, interpersonal liberty, human welfare, and private-property anarchy. The most significant consequence of this is that we do not need to strike a balance between interpersonal liberty and human welfare.

I’d like to begin by discussing critical rationalism. A summary of my position, taken from my upcoming book, is now available as an essay on Libertarianism.org. It begins,

Put simply and starkly, critical rationalism is the view that absolutely all alleged knowledge is ultimately only fallible theory: mere guesses that we can test but which never become more probable by passing those tests. No truth is ever established to any degree at all. What follows can only outline an explanation of this counterintuitive view.

I encourage you to read the rest of the essay and then come back here to discuss it. I’m happy to take any criticisms, comments, questions, etc., based on the above, and let one topic lead to another (with me posting some short writings where it seems relevant).

We can continue until the discussion is judged by the moderator to have reached a suitable stopping point.