I don’t think anyone has ever asked me the question posed
above. When I tell people that I am an economist, some of them ask about my
views on economics before regaling me with their opinions. When I tell people
that I am a blogger, they usually ask what I blog about before telling me what
I should blog about. I don’t claim to be a philosopher, so there has been no
reason for anyone to ask me to describe my philosophy.
However, a comment by Ed Younkins in the addendum to the
preceding post on this blog prompted me to think about whether it would be
possible for me (as a casual reader of philosophy) to prepare a coherent
summary of my philosophical beliefs.
Some readers might be interested in the process I used to
summarise my views. I asked ChatGPT to ask a series of questions to help me to
explore my philosophical beliefs. I responded to her questions by providing
copies of extracts from blog posts etc. that I had written, and asked her to
summarise my responses. The summary she produced was done competently, but I
did some further editing.
I view the outcome as a work in progress. If anyone points
to holes in my reasoning, I will endeavour not to be excessively defensive in
I am a Neo-Aristotelian classical liberal.
As will be apparent from what follows, I am strongly of the
opinion that it is appropriate to consider what kind of thing an individual
human is before engaging in philosophical reasoning related to any aspect of human
experience. That is why many of my beliefs are grounded in current scientific knowledge
(and speculation) about human evolution, neurology, and psychology.
It seems appropriate to begin with philosophy of mind
because awareness of our own awareness is the starting point for all
consciousness reasoning. I will then proceed to outline views on epistemology,
metaphysics, human nature, ethics, and political philosophy.
Philosophy of Mind:
We cannot doubt that we think. When we are thinking, we may
be aware of the flow of inner thoughts and feelings and of our experience of
the world in which live. Our observations of other animals suggest that they
share with us some awareness of their surroundings. That awareness is a product
of evolution – it serves a purpose in helping animals to survive and reproduce.
Similarly, our awareness of our own awareness is just another step in the
evolutionary process – the purpose it serves is to help individual humans to
flourish within the cultures in which they live. (Main influence: Richard Campbell).
Humans are born with a potential to acquire knowledge that
is particularly relevant to human flourishing. However, knowledge acquisition is
primarily experiential. Experiences during early childhood have a major impact
on brain development. As brains mature, neural maps become increasingly
solidified, but brains retain some plasticity throughout life. Brains learn by
evaluating feedback from actions taken – they adjust internal models when
predictions are incorrect.
Conscious reasoning plays a crucial role in determining what
knowledge adult humans acquire. It makes sense to use probabilistic reasoning
when considering alternative explanations for observed phenomena.
Practical wisdom (wise and well-informed self-direction) is
integral to individual flourishing. As well as being important in its own
right, it helps individuals to maintain good physical and psychological health,
good relations with other people, and to live in harmony with nature. (Influences:
Aristotle, David Eagleman, Michael Huemer).
Metaphysical realism: We exist as part of a real world.
Beings exist independently of our cognition of them. (Influences: Douglas
Rasmussen and Douglas Den Uyl).
Humans have inherent potentialities that are good. (Main
influence: Abraham Maslow).
Our awareness that we need to make something of our lives
emerges before we can make conscious choices relating to our individual
flourishing. Ethical intuitions relating to traditional virtues – practical
wisdom, integrity, courage, temperance, justice – are a product of social
evolution and family upbringing.
Ethical intuitions provide only a foundation for ethical
reasoning. Although everyone has a natural inclination to engage in activities
that contribute to their own flourishing, actualization of their individual potential
requires some understanding of that potential, and the application of practical
wisdom that is linked to that person’s dispositions and circumstances. Each
individual is responsible for developing his or her own character, and adopting
the good habits required to flourish more fully. (Influences: Robert Nozick, Aristotle,
Douglas Den Uyl and Douglas Rasmussen).
Individuals should be free to pursue their own ends provided
they do not encroach upon the rights of others. Recognition of individual
rights enables individuals to flourish in different ways without interfering unduly
with the flourishing of others.
The role of government is protection of individual rights. Performance
other roles should be contingent upon consent of the governed. (Influences:
Friedrich Hayek, James M Buchanan, Douglas Rasmussen and Douglas Den Uyl).
The summary presented above focuses on some broad categories
of philosophical beliefs. I have left out some categories of beliefs (philosophy
of science and methodology of economics) because they are too specific to be
covered in this overview. One
of the most popular posts on this blog is about aesthetics, but I have not read
widely on that topic. Some other important categories (e.g. religion) have been
left out because I prefer not to display my ignorance.
Anyone interested in further explanation of my beliefs is
welcome to ask me. Many of the relevant topics are covered in my book, Freedom,
Progress, and Human Flourishing. There are also relevant
articles on this blog that have been written since that book was published e.g.
a discussion of Richard Campbell’s views on the emergence of consciousness (here),
and David Eagleman’s views on neural mapping and plasticity (here).
Philosophy of Mind
Campbell, Richard, The Metaphysics of Emergence, Palgrave
Aristotle, The Complete Works (Kindle Edition), ATN
Eagleman, David, Livewired: The Inside Story of the
Ever-Changing Brain, Canongate Paperback, 2021.
Huemer, Michael, Understanding Knowledge, 2022.
Douglas B., and Den Uyl, Douglas J, The Realist Turn,
Palgrave Macmillan, 2020.
Maslow, Abraham, Toward a Psychology
of Being (Chapter 14), D Van Nostrand, 1962.
Nozick, Robert. Invariances,
The Structure of the Objective World, Harvard University Press, 2001.
Nichomachean Ethics (Translator: F.H. Peters) Online Library of Liberty,
Douglas J., and Douglas B Rasmussen, The Perfectionist
Turn: From metanorms to metaethics, Edinburgh University Press, 2016.
Douglas B., and Den Uyl, Douglas J, Norms of Liberty,
Pennsylvania State University Press, 2005.