Learn Liberty

Category Archive: Philosophers

  1. The Walking Dead, Tocqueville, and Voluntary Cooperation

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    What can The Walking Dead teach us about prosperity? A lot, according to Professor Dan D’Amico of Loyola University. While The Walking Dead has shown viewers what zombies do to society since 2010, political thinker Alexis de Tocqueville wrote about shambling, lonesome, soulless creatures and the decline of society long before the show debuted. D’Amico explores what The Walking Dead and Tocqueville’s writings have in common, and what they reveal about the key to human prosperity.

  2. Existentialist School of Economics

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    (We hope you enjoyed our slightly-over-the-top April Fool’s release – LL)

    The truths governing economic order are hidden from ordinary men. Glimpses have been given to far-sighted dynamos. Nicolaus Copernicus wrote on both heliocentrism and the debasement of currency; Theodor Seuss Geisel wrote on both feline haberdashery and imperfect knowledge in the egg and ham market. For the 21st Century, there is Art Carden and his groundbreaking work in the Existentialist School of Economics.

    Speaking aloud the sacred and esoteric truths, Carden’s radical apathy draws on Sumerian scrolls left by ancient astronauts. He displays his mastery of Japanese Literati technique, which he learned during a family vacation to Hokkaido. Though most Westerners try and fail to grasp the principles of Nanga, Carden (already experienced in the Chinese Southern School) compassionately displays his arrogance in the core traditional arts of painting, calligraphy, and poetry.

    Carden’s brief hiatus from iconography allowed Learn Liberty to capture this timeless, furtive wisdom, given for our benefit in haiku. Carden continues to strive after perfect personal equilibrium through rejecting abstractions of perfect knowledge and perfect competition.

  3. Adam Smith and the Follies of Central Planning

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    Architects create blueprints for buildings; could a person create a blueprint for society? Could such a person choose how many people will be lawyers and how many will be policemen? Adam Smith discusses such a designer in his book The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759). He calls this person the “man of system,” saying that such man is “apt to be very wise in his own conceit; and is often so enamored with the supposed beauty of his ideal plan of government that he cannot suffer the smallest deviation from any part of it.”

    Professor James R. Otteson explains Smith’s man of system. The man of system faces a problem: individual people are not chess pieces to be moved only under someone else’s authority. Individuals make their own decisions and move on their own. When individuals are constantly butting up against demands from the government that they find imposing or contrary to their desires, Smith says, “society must be at all times in the highest degree of disorder.”

  4. Giants of the Scottish Enlightenment Part Three: David Hume

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    Prof. James Stacey Taylor discusses the work and contributions of David Hume, who, like Adam Smith, was heavily influenced by Francis Hutcheson. Hume’s philosophy took Hutcheson’s views towards sentimentalism to their logical conclusion.

    Although Hume was heavily influenced by Hutcheson, Hutcheson did not approve of Hume’s views. Hume thought that our passions and our affections naturally lead us to perform certain actions with reason acting only as a guide. Put another way, when we act in the real world, reason is a slave to our passions.

    If this is true, there are large implications for morality. Essentially, it means that morality cannot be rationally based. We act based on what we think is right and wrong, and therefore, our morality is based upon our sympathies, our passions, and our sentiments.

    Hume’s view of sentimentalism does present an issue in large impersonal commercial societies. We naturally are sympathetic towards people who are close to us, such as our family and friends. This type of sympathy is what Hume referred to as a natural virtue. However, we are less sympathetic to strangers. In a society full of strangers, Hume argued that a sense of justice is important, which is an artificial virtue based on reason.

    To Hume, justice is narrowly concerned with respecting people’s property. Using reason, Hume argued that we are motivated, and wish others to be motivated, by justice. Therefore, a just society based on property is the best way to organize society.

    Watch part one featuring Francis Hutcheson

    – or –

    Watch part two featuring Adam Smith

  5. Giants of the Scottish Enlightenment Part Two: Adam Smith

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    Prof. James Stacey Taylor discusses the contributions of Adam Smith with a particular focus on his philosophy. Smith is most famous for two works: The Wealth of Nations and The Theory of Moral Sentiments.

    The Wealth of Nations is an important book on economics, so important in fact that Smith has been called the father of modern economics. His second book, The Theory of Moral Sentiments, was heavily influenced by Francis Hutcheson (See our video on Francis Hutcheson).

    In The Theory of Moral Sentiments, Smith advocates for a form of moral sentimentalism. We naturally link sympathy to either approval or disapproval of an action or reaction. For instance, if an individual insults another person, we attach sympathy to the reaction of the person who was insulted. If the person insulted underreacts or overreacts, we will disapprove of the response morally. If the reaction seems right, we will approve of the response morally.

    We will also sympathize with parties who are not sharing a similar sentiment. For instance, if a person loses their mental capacity or passes way, we will sympathize with that person even though they themselves are not feeling the same sentiment.

    Lastly, using Smith’s moral sentimentalism, we can judge our own actions. We can do this by looking at our own actions from a third person point of view.

    Watch part one featuring Francis Hutcheson

    – or –

    Watch part three featuring David Hume

  6. Giants of the Scottish Enlightenment Part One: Francis Hutcheson

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    Prof. James Stacey Taylor discusses the contributions of Francis Hutcheson, an intellectual of the Scottish Enlightenment who was instrumental in advancing the sentimentalist approach to morality. In this approach, Hutcheson acknowledged the conventional five senses, but in addition, identified three additional senses:

    1. The public sense
    2. The sense of honor
    3. The moral sense

    Hutcheson had a tremendous influence on his contemporaries, including Adam Smith and David Hume, and is still important and influential today.

    Watch part two featuring Adam Smith.

  7. Ayn Rand: A Leading Lady of Classical Liberalism

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    How should we understand Ayn Rand’s political thought?  Prof. Jennifer Burns argues that Rand was a part of the broad classical liberal tradition. Rand’s novels, including Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead, emphasize individualism, a fundamental theme in classical liberal/libertarian thought. Rand also contributed to that tradition by modernizing and popularizing the ideas, which led to the creation of new social movements for freedom in the 20th century.

    Jennifer Burns is an assistant professor of history at the University of Virginia and author of Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right.
  8. On Robert Nozick and Liberty

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    From the IHS Vault: Professor Chris Freiman gives a lecture on the political philosophy of 20th century American philosopher Robert Nozick, including his views on fairness, justice, and equality.