I read the latest (final? I hope not, because I have some critical comments) draft of Tyler Cowen’s Stubborn Attachments, which he describes as follows:
I outline a true and objectively valid case for a free and prosperous society, and consider the importance of economic growth for political philosophy, how and why the political spectrum should be reconfigured, how we should think about existential risk, what is right and wrong in Parfit and Nozick and Singer and effective altruism, how to get around the Arrow Impossibility Theorem, to what extent individual rights can be absolute, how much to discount the future, when redistribution is justified, whether we must be agnostic about the distant future, and most of all why we need to “think big.”
One of the issues that Tyler raises that I think ought to be resolved somewhat differently is that of the role of rights in consequentialism. In a sense, basic rights, like property rights, dangle awkwardly in a consequentialist philosophy. If I can create more happiness by giving your corn to someone else, why should you have the right to keep it?
I am inclined to give a Hayekian account of why you should have the right to choose whether to eat, plant, trade, or donate your corn. That is, you are likely to know the best of use of your corn, including the best moral use of it, thanks to your local knowledge. Thus, the consequences are likely to best if you make the decision rather than I make the decision.
In fact, in cases where we think that you are not competent to make the decision (a child, or someone with severe mental deficiencies), we do not treat property rights as absolute. Thus, our intuition about rights is tied up with the issue of how much we respect the person’s local knowledge.
One view of moral philosophy is that our intuitions are basically right, and it is the philosopher’s job to come up with a system of thought that accounts for and perhaps codifies our intuitions. While I would not go to this extreme, it is always something to consider in moral philosophy.
On the other hand, if you told me that economists’ intuitions about what constitute high-quality research are basically right, and the job of economic epistemology is to come up with a system of thought that accounts for and perhaps codifies our intuitions, I would be inclined to object. But perhaps I am willing to say that it something to consider in economic epistemology.