[Paleopsych] Sigma Xi: A letter on Patricia Churchland's use of the term "libertarian" in a review of The Ethical Brain , and a reply from Churchland

Premise Checker checker at panix.com
Sat Sep 10 02:06:51 UTC 2005

A letter on Patricia Churchland's use of
the term "libertarian" in a review of The Ethical Brain ,
and a reply from Churchland 

    Letter to the Bookshelf

    A letter on Patricia Churchland's use of the term "libertarian" in a
    review of The Ethical Brain, and a reply from Churchland
    July 26, 2005

    To the editor:

    In reading through the book review "Brain-Based Values," by Patricia
    Churchland (July-August 2005), I was astonished to see that she has
    named a subset of philosophers, who believe that voluntary decisions
    are created only by the will, "libertarians." She then likened these
    so-called libertarians to naive flat-earthers and creationists. I have
    no idea to whom she is referring, but as a lifelong libertarian and a
    30-year member of the Libertarian Party, I would like to set the
    record straight.

    Libertarianism is a social, political and economic philosophy grounded
    in the liberal political ideas that emerged in the 18th and 19th
    centuries and upon which the founders of our nation based much of the
    design of our system of government. In essence, we believe that the
    use of government force should be strictly limited to its legitimate
    role in the justice system and national defense and that individuals
    should be given maximum choice in their actions as well as
    responsibility for those actions.  In the economic sphere, our beliefs
    are best expressed in the works of Friedrich August von Hayek, Ludwig
    von Mises and Milton Friedman. And, while he denies the label
    libertarian, Robert Nozick in his Anarchy, State, and Utopia expresses
    the libertarian philosophy quite thoroughly. This is not exactly a
    naive group. I highly recommend them to your readers, and particularly
    to Ms. Churchland. It has been my experience that, in general,
    libertarians are more sophisticated than average, both politically and
    scientifically. Whoever this group of philosophers are, they most
    assuredly are not libertarians.

    Malcolm Johnson
    Lapeer, Michigan

    Patricia Churchland replies:

    Thank you for your note. I do apologize for the confusion. In the
    context of free will discussions, philosophers use the term
    libertarian as I specified. I do think this is a most unfortunate use,
    however, and for exactly the reasons you point out. By using it that
    way, philosophers have created an ambiguity, to no good purpose. I
    should have inserted a comment to clarify that the philosopher's sense
    of libertarian as used in free will discussions has NO relation to
    that term as used in a political context. As it happens, I share many
    of the views of libertarians (political, not free will) and have been
    a great admirer of John Stuart Mill for as many years as I have been
    studying philosophy.

    Best wishes,

    Patricia Smith Churchland, Chair
    UC President's Professor of Philosophy
    University of California San Diego
    La Jolla CA 92093

More information about the paleopsych mailing list