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Nov 3, 2011

Introductory Post, and Leaping In

Miles Pope discusses his perspective and philosphical interests.



I’m Miles. I know Aaron, whose rosy brainchild this is, from my days as Head (not to mention Sole) Librarian of the Cato Institute’s Roy A. Childs Library. I’m now a second year law student.

So much for what I’ll go ahead and mischaracterize as my bona fides. My value added here arises from one thing I like to do and one thing I don’t like to do. What I like to do - it is close to my favorite thing - is to try to understand various positions and debates within legal and political philosophy. This means I troll the Internet looking for interesting articles. Also because I only understand things when they are idiot-proof, explained in the language of small children, it means I need to write about these subjects clearly in order to get a grip on them. I’ll post what I write when I think (hope) it’s clear enough, and all of you can get a sense of what a literature is about, what moves are characteristic of a particular debate, etc.

What I don’t like to do is stake out positions on the “ultimate questions” that legal and political philosophers seek to answer. Examples of what I’d call ultimate questions include: Does morality necessarily have a role to play in fixing the content of law? (Somewhat related) is the meaning of a law fixed at the moment of its enactment? Etc. Ultimate questions give rise to and sustain philosophical literatures. Once there’s a consensus answer to them – if that ever happens – they cease to be live issues (at least within the relevant philosophical community). Answering them, in other words, is philosophy’s goal.

For whatever reason, I don’t particularly care about answering the ultimate questions – I just like to map out the various answers other people give, and the relationships between them. My lack of commitments may make me a fatuous citizen, but it is good for you because it means I’m not ideologically motivated to be either uncharitable or overly charitable in my elucidations of different points of view. No doubt I suffer from various other cognitive biases, but I’m missing one particularly mischievous one. I’m a better exegete for it.

That’s who I am, what my general program is, and how I’ll proceed. Here’s a tentative schedule of my first few topics. First, inspired by the front page of, I’ll summarize Jan Narveson’s The Libertarian Idea, which is for me the most interesting contemporary defense of libertarianism. That will take three to four posts; one to setup Narveson’s conception of libertarianism, one to recount his defense of it, possibly a third to explain its relationship to the contractarianism of David Gauthier, and a fourth to survey some possible replies. Next, I’ll review some of the recent literature on what’s known as the “Hart/Dworkin Debate,” which concerns the nature or “grounds” of law. This will lead to a discussion of that debate’s relationship to contemporary legal philosophy more generally, and also its significance (if any it has) for libertarians. After that I will turn to my favorite topic, originalism, and do a “greatest hits” of the literature – from Robert Bork’s “Neutral Principles and Some First Amendment Problems” through recent work by Keith Whittington, Lawrence Solum, Randy Barnett, and (writing in opposition) Richard Primus and Mitchell Berman. After that I’m sure something else will come up. And, of course, I’m always open to suggestions.

In closing, I’m grateful for, and humbled by, the opportunity to share a forum with some tremendously smart and accomplished people, and to be able to engage with all who read I anticipate learning a tremendous amount, and having some great fun.

Onward to The Libertarian Idea!