Category Archive: Philosophy

  1. Value is Subjective: The Copernican Revolution in Economics

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    What makes something valuable? Today, we know that value is in the eye of the beholder—that is, value is subjective. But for many years, people subscribed to the theory that the value of goods came from the amount of work that went into creating them: the “labor theory of value”.

    Professor Steven Horwitz explains it like this in a piece in the Freeman:

    For thousands of years, humans were sure that the earth was the center of the universe and the sun revolved around it. With the advent of systematic inquiry, scientists had to develop more and more complex explanations for why their observations of the universe did not fit with that hypothesis. When Copernicus and others offered an alternative explanation that was able to explain the observed facts, and did so more clearly and concisely, the heliocentric model triumphed. The Copernican revolution changed science forever.

    There is a similar story in economics. For hundreds of years, many economists believed that the value of a good depended on the cost of producing it. In particular, many subscribed to the labor theory of value, which argued that a good’s value derived from the amount of work that went into making it.

    Today, very few economists subscribe to the labor theory of value. But for those not educated in economics, the labor theory of value crops up all the time. Professor Horwitz uses the example of college students who think they should get a high grade, not because their essay was good, but because they worked very hard on it.

    Have more examples of arguments based on the labor theory of value? Leave them in the comments!

  2. Equality and Respect: How You Are Equal to Hugh Jackman

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    Being equal in the eyes of the law is something most if not all can agree on, but do you think governments should strive to assure at least a minimum level of equality in certain aspects of life? For example, everyone should have free drinking water, basic health care or some other necessity? Professor Aeon Skoble tackles these issues in this Learn Liberty video. Let us know what you think in the comments.

  3. Doing Bad by Doing Good

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    Should you save the spider in the toilet? That’s the philosophical thought experiment explored in the new Learn Liberty video below. Despite the good intentions of those who want to save the spider, there is no guarantee that they will result in it being saved. In fact, good intentions may make the spider worse off. What is the equivalent of the “saving the spider” in today’s public policy environment?

  4. Quote of the Day

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    (POSTED) Tocqueville-3
    Alexis de Tocqueville on the paradox of freedom. Freedom comes with risk but the risk is well worth the reward of owning yourself. What do you think about this quote? Tell us how you feel in the comments.

  5. Learn Liberty’s New On Demand Program: Liberty 101

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    Pro civil society, pro individualism, pro market process, pro rule of law, pro limited government, pro peace, pro skepticism of power, pro spontaneous order, pro toleration, and pro liberty. These are the 10 fundamental principles of a free and prosperous society that will be explored in Learn Liberty’s new On Demand program, “Liberty 101”.

    Led by Prof. Peter Jaworski from Georgetown University, Prof. Diana Thomas from Creighton University, and Prof. Christopher Koopman from George Mason University, this program will investigate the various definitions of liberty and explain why the political libertarian vision of it should be promoted.

    Check out the program trailer below and sign up!

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  6. Liberty 101: Principles of Libertarianism

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    Few people will say they are anti-liberty, so what makes the libertarian commitment to liberty stand out from the crowd? We teamed up with Students For Liberty to explain the basics of libertarian philosophy, law, and economics in our new On Demand program, Liberty 101. Check out the first video below.

    For more videos just like this, be sure to check out our free Liberty 101 On Demand program by clicking the button below. You’ll get a crash course in topics near and dear to libertarians’ hearts like individualism, spontaneous order, skepticism of power, and more!

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  7. Open Inquiry Is Integral to the University Experience

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    Increasingly, the expectation of rigorous debate and discussion on controversial topics has diminished on college campuses across the nation. Students are now more content or even encouraged to coast through higher education without having to encounter beliefs or opinions that offend their preconceived notions about the world. Students are treating the college experience as less of an opportunity to broaden their horizons and more as a mere means to obtain a college degree. But this view of higher education is flawed because it fundamentally misunderstands the role that universities play in our society.

    In a recent Learn Liberty video, Donald Downs, professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, describes this phenomenon when he says, “What could be more anathema to the spirit of the university and tolerance than to believe that you have nothing left to learn?”

    This problem manifests itself in the increased use of speech codes to censor speech that administrators and students find offensive. Universities are meant to foster an environment that allows for a marketplace of ideas to emerge. The fact that students are being led to believe that their worldviews are safe from criticism or scrutiny results in a growing population of ignorant and close-minded people. University administrators have abdicated their responsibility as defenders of open inquiry and academic freedom in exchange for an environment that is anything but conducive to learning. Orwellian “free speech zones” populate campuses, dictating to students when and where their opinions may be voiced, often relegating them to poorly trafficked corners of the university’s campus.

    And that is why we need academic freedom and open inquiry on college campuses. So what can you do to stem the tide? Host a Learn Liberty Free Speech Challenge on your campus!

    All you have to do is request a free kit. Once it’s delivered, find a space on your campus to invite people to participate. Ask them to express their mostly deeply held opinions in the name of free speech and open inquiry, and use your cell phone camera to film the event!

  8. What Does It Mean to Be a Libertarian?

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    Libertarians have a unique perspective on how government force should be used. As Jeff Miron, Director of Undergraduate Studies at Harvard University, points out in this video, libertarians consider using government force to coerce others into action to be immoral. This is what separates them from other philosophies which are more permissive when it comes to using the force of government to achieve economic and social goals. Take a look at the video, and tell us what you think in the comments!

  9. Quote of the Day: On Coercion and Equality

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    Today’s quote is brought to you by none other than F.A. Hayek from his book The Constitution of Liberty:

    “If one objects to the use of coercion in order to bring about a more even or more just distribution, this does not mean that one does not regard these as desirable. But if we wish to preserve a free society, it is essential that we recognize that the desirability of a particular object is not sufficient justification for the use of coercion.”

    This quote encapsulates much of the classical liberal tradition of toleration in that it rejects the use of coercion to attempt to make people equal. Our individual differences and preferences are what make our society pluralistic, and attempts to create equality through government fiat deny individuals their autonomy and often lead to negative, unintended consequences.

    Aeon Skoble discusses the idea of coercive attempts at creating equality in the following Learn Liberty video, “Equality and Respect.” Let us know what you think in the comments!