lunedì 12 maggio 2008

Mitjashin, Alexander, Liberalism and Skepticism.

Newcastle, Cambridge Scholar Publishing, 2007, pp. 200, £ 34,99, ISBN 9781847183491.

Recensione di Fabio Lelli - 12/05/2008

Filosofia politica

The book by Alexander Mitjashin is not a conventional essay in political philosophy. Its purpose is to prove the effectiveness of libertarianism starting from a theory of human knowledge. It is not the case that, as the author puts it in the introduction, we deduce political concepts out of a philosophy of knowledge. Instead, the methodological line of a theory of knowledge should be seen adequate as well for a political theory. Mitjashin follows a complex and solid argument, and I will go through its main points.
The fundamental idea is the predictions’ proving avoidance, a law that forms the mind of any individual in the society: every single fact is represented as an instance of some general course and, given rationality and selfishness of each member of society, it is rational to warp its design. The result is known as the Oedipus effect: no public prediction or iteration of events is possible.
One can think that society can exist only with something contrary to this mechanism. This competitive field presupposes a common background for competitions, that is the rules of society. But Mitjashin argues that the conception of the mind as an iterations crushing machine presents the mind’s main function, that is what always remains in every possible society. Moreover predictions’ proving avoidance allows the conception of something “general”, and therefore of a intersubjectively accepted rule (a revisited version of the impossibility of private language).
This peculiar kind of skepticism create the possibility of knowledge itself. Representing every single fact as a point in a segment (say the rational numbers between 0 and 1) allows to use the Brouwer’s Fixed Point Theorem. Our mechanism can be (mathematically) seen as a function that maps events onto events: if there’s no iteration at all there can be no f such as for x0, f(x0)= x0. But this contradicts Brouwer’s theorem based on the concept of “neighbourhood” of infinitesimal calculus, and this is to say that for a certain x0, f(x0)= x0: sooner or later an event should repeat. We can beat old-style skepticism proving the possibility of society and of science (what are scientist doing but searching facts that do not change?) grounding on the nature of mind, justifying the existence of the laws of nature (i.e., iterations beyond our will), but not guarantee further instances of a given law. We are “just a bit less skeptical” (chapter 8), but we are not assessing a kind of philosophical realism. The concept of predictions proving avoidance doesn’t justify induction but justifies the necessity of laws of nature or regularities in experience. If it is not guaranteed that given facts will iterate, it is guaranteed that facts may iterate. This leads to an epistemological account grounded in falsifiability, and this closeness to Popper is not unusual for a libertarian thinker. The paradoxical conclusion is that this kind of skepticism does provides the possibility of knowledge itself.
For Mitjashin some well-known theories can be seen as illustrations to the concept of mind as iterations crushing machine. Let’s consider Social Choice Theory and its fundamental theorems by Kenneth Arrow and by Gibbard and Satterwaite. The concept of “manipulation” is a particular case of predictions’ proving avoidance, and the previous mentioned theorems show that without it political institutions (even the Nozickian Minimal State) are to be overwhelmed by dictatorial orders; that is, the outcome of voting is indeterminate (without iterations).
Market is another example. In a competitive economy prices may be compared with publicly made predictions: the existence of equilibrium is nothing but an application of Brouwer’s Fixed Point Theorem. In other words, it is just an independent iteration of the subject’s wills.
Mitjashin now can argue that the lesser number of restrictions are set on this mechanism, the better these activities (science, voting, market) work. Our attempts to yield better results applying some constraints are doomed to failure. The mind as iterations crushing machine is the inevitable condition to any other activity; it is an higher order phenomenon, not a product of a certain culture or tradition. Thus the society must be organized accordingly: the steps of the members must not have restrictions, each member knows about the steps of each other member. It’s a libertarian account, but Mitjashin’s aim is to be a little more libertarian than a libertarian: the people should be freer than they wish, thus there should be some power which could enforce such order. This power is the State through the human rights, and there are no rights before the State. On this respect Mitjashin criticizes Nozick, whose theory starts from a moral tenet (i.e., rights of the people are independent from the State) and considers the State only as “night-watchman”, its functions reduced to protecting citizens from violence, theft, fraud, and so on. But we know from Gibbard-Satterwaite theorem that this State is going to fall into dictatorship.
Liberal order, according to these results, will be ever weaker than any non-liberal (or dictatorial) order. But since only this complete version of liberal order grants the fundamental mechanism of mind (iterations crushing machine and the subsequent revealing of iterations, that is the condition of any process of optimal decision-making), we have to redistribute restrictions: remove restrictions from institutions and place under some control organizations with non-liberal order. The political outcome of this complex argument is the opposite of Plato’s political theory (that «represents conservatism in its higher degree» (p. 195)): «we necessarily yield a kind of society where the influence of hierarchical structures should be diminished to the utmost» (p. 195).
Mitjashin builds up a fascinating model mixing ideas from social choice theory, game theory and Popper’s epistemology. Relating political philosophy to philosophy of knowledge make his ideas autonomous from any arbitrary tenet, contrary to other libertarian (e.g., Nozick’s) or liberal (e.g., Rawls’) views. However, even Mitjashin needs some thick starting points (about the natural behaviour of the mind and the handling of Brouwer’s Fixed Point Theorem), maybe not fully undisputed.

Table of contents

Oedipus Effect
The Community’s World
Community of Skeptics
The Metaphor of Mechanism
A System of Rules
The Predicament of the “Mechanism”
The Mechanism at Work
Just a Little Bit Less Skeptical
No Realism
Not Sound Voting
Manipulability as a Particular Case
Equilibrium as a Particular Case
Just the Same Mechanism in Different Disguises
Machinery with Larger Function
The Ideal and the Real
The Mind but not a Culture
Clashing Reality
The Libertarian Program
Rights and the State
Another Approach
A Logic of Rights
A Handicap
Rights as Acquiescence
Superfluous Manipulability
Manipulability and Real Issues
Ugly Win of the Pious
Mentality as a Function
Liberal versus Non-Liberal Clash
Mentality and Mentalities
The Idea How to Treat Ideas
Order and Evolution
Two Evolutions
Men’s Rules
Prediction’s Proving Revisited
The Universe of Facts
Humean Orthodoxy
Iterations and Causality
The Role of Skepticism
Limited Knowledge
The Cartesian Demon
The Alligator Argument

The author

Alexander Mitjashin is a lecturer at St. Petersburg University, from which he received his Ph.D. in Philosophy. Alexander Mitjashin is also the author of The World and Language: The Ontology for Natural Language (University Press of America. 2006).

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