Day 220 – Philosophical vs Utilitarian Arguments

August 8, 2009

Brad and I drove up to his house on Chautauqua Lake this morning. On the way, we discussed some of the recent health care issues taking place in this country. (We also discussed various other things, but that is not the topic of this post.) While discussing the arguments against the health care reforms and how effective these arguments are, I was reminded of the importance of using philosophical arguments to win these types of battles.

Though utilitarian arguments are useful for certain situations, I think individuals defending liberty ought to seldom use them. Most utilitarian arguments are single-use, since they are special tailored to each situation. If you are going for a one time, quick win, utilitarian arguments can be very useful and the statistical evidence can be easily shown to everyone. Defenders of liberty, however, need to focus their arguments a little more long-term. The downside to using utilitarian arguments is that, because they are tailored to each situation, one might need many additional arguments in the future for all the new situations that arise. “You’ve won the battle, but not the war” seems to fit this–a utilitarian argument shows why one should support/oppose X but usually says little to nothing about all situations similar to X but with different particulars.

Philosophical arguments, on the other hand, strike at the root of the issue. If one can convince others that X is wrong on philosophical grounds, other arguments in the future on issues with similar foundations can be avoided. Instead of convincing people that your position on a single issue is correct, you can convince them that your philosophical outlook is correct and it will cover a whole range of issues.

As for arguing against the proposed healthcare reform, instead of attacking it as costly and poorly designed, defenders of liberty should try to convince people using one of these arguments or something similar:

Using coercion to justify and fulfill one’s preferences is wrong.

Stealing money from individuals to support other individuals is wrong.

Of course, there are many other ways to argue against the proposed health care reform. Here is a good article I recently read from the Center for a Stateless Society on a market anarchist approach to health care.