Shayne Wissler
“… to understand is, above all, to unify.” – Albert Camus

False alternatives in political philosophy: David D. Friedman debates George H. Smith (1981)

December 15 2018

This debate explores the question: What should be the foundation of a proper political philosophy – Economics, or Ethics?

If we were to conclude that reason can’t solve moral problems in an ultimate sense[1][2], then what should we do?

Friedman: Let’s see about solving economic problems and just use our gut to guide us about ultimate moral aims. Analyzing why our gut is leading us where it does is equivalent to navel-gazing.

Smith: Let’s pretend that we have solved these ultimate moral problems and glory in this pretended solution, singing reveries to big names of the past who had allegedly done this and savaging anyone who tries to point out that the moral problem hasn’t truly been solved.

Me: The question is a false alternative; reason is the proper foundation for moral and political philosophy. But even if you disagree that I’ve solved the problem, don’t give up; the stakes are too high.

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Is%E2%80%93ought_problem
  2. Criticizing David Hume's Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding