Convention and Nature

The Greek Sophists were often known for making a distinction between Convention (nomos) and Nature (physis) in an effort to tease out what was truly beneficial to man.

Antiphon, in Book 1 of On Truth, in a fragment that survived the ages wrote:

For the demands of the laws are adventitious, but the demands of nature are necessary; and the demands of the laws are based on agreement, not nature, while the demands of nature are not dependent on agreements. So if a man transgresses the demands of law, and is not found out by those who are parties to the agreement, he escapes without either shame or penalty; but if he is found out, does not.

If, on the other hand, a man – per impossibile – violates one of the inherent demands of nature, even if all mankind fails to notice it, the harm is no less, and even if everyone is aware of it, the harm is no greater.  For the injury which he suffers is not a matter of appearance but of truth. (Dillon, “The Greek Sophists”)

When I was reading Antiphon, it brought to my mind how a modern day philosopher, in Hans-Herman Hoppe, was still making the convention/nature distinction.  Hoppe, in Democracy The God That Failed, makes a distinction between Monarchy, Democracy, and the idea of the Natural Order.  From Wikipedia:

Hoppe characterizes democracy as “publicly owned government”, which he compares to monarchy—”privately owned government”—to conclude that the latter is preferable; however, Hoppe aims to show that both monarchy and democracy are deficient systems compared to his preferred structure to advance civilization—what he calls the natural order, a system free of both taxation and coercive monopoly in which jurisdictions freely compete for adherents. In his Introduction to the book, he lists other names used elsewhere to refer to the same thing, including “ordered anarchy”, “private property anarchism”, “anarcho-capitalism”, “autogovernment”, “private law society”, and “pure capitalism”

Back when I read the Hoppe book referenced above, it struck me that calling anarcho-capitalism the natural order was weird.  If it was natural, then why do we have no examples of it in our world?  If it was natural, then why has there been states through-out the ages? If man is a natural inhabitant of the earth, then how could his actions and conventions be anything but natural? I have come to think of the distinction more as a literary device to help think out what would occur without the convention of laws and state.  As such a device, it can be used to justify or criticize the state.

As a believer in God, the Creator of our world, it seems to me that all in our world is of a natural order.  Men claiming rule over other men is a natural tendency of human nature.  It is egotistical, to be sure, but it is something we witness over and over.  I don’t see how there can be a true distinction between nomos and physis, since man has a nature inherent to him.  I see the tendency of man wanting to rule others as the result of Original Sin, of wanting to “be like Gods who know”.  I see the remedy in Christ, who admonished James and John (Matthew 20) when they wanted to sit on Jesus left and right:

25 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them.26 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Christ calls us to humbly serve one another, not to take command of our brethren.  He calls us to reject the part of our nature that makes us want to act as gods, and to follow his example of service instead, to follow the part of our nature that wants to please our Heavenly Father.


At Gunpoint

I’ve noticed that many libertarians will describe government coercion as forcing people to act at gunpoint or at the point of a gun.  Normally, I shy away from such imagery, but found myself using the phrasing in my last blog post.  While, not very original, it seemed like a pithy way to make my point.

On one hand, I like the phrase because it strikes at the heart of the matter.  Why should we go around pretending that governments doesn’t back up laws with guns and confinement?  We should acknowledge the truth because it helps us to comprehend that when you call the “authorities” you are threatening someone with a gun, with jail time, for not bending to your will.  Is that really the way to “love thy neighbor”?   No, when you have a problem with someone you love, you speak to them yourself, try to find some resolution.   To threaten someone with violence is intimidation.  Pulling a gun on someone, or threatening to do so, should only be resorted to in the most dire of situations, otherwise, you are acting as a bully.

Somehow, I’m not very comfortable speaking in that manner in most situations. I think it is how this kind of talk is received by non-libertarians.  I’ve found that most people are uncomfortable with anti-government rhetoric.  They will agree with you that the government has acted badly here and there, but then turn around, unsolicited, and defend the need for the state.  They don’t want to appear too anti-government, I think, in large part because how anti-state people are disparaged as wackos.  They don’t want you to be too anti-government either, because they are embarrassed that people will think you are a wacko.

So who cares what people think?  Shouldn’t we just spit out the truth?  I don’t think it is that simple.  Of course, speak truth.  Sometimes, though, there simply is no point to say anything so blunt because people will be too busy being offended to actually listen.  The easily offended might be better approached through addressing their concerns about what they find problematic with the existing order.  If the point is to reach people, knowing your audience is important.  If you can sense your audience is going to be turned off by calling government coercion, forcing someone to act at the barrel of a gun, then there isn’t any point in saying it.

Orkambi Price Tag

CF specialists up in arms about $259K price for new Vertex med Orkambi

I heard about this on the news recently.  Here is a brief overview of the issue:

Vertex ($VRTX) had a pretty good idea that drug pricing critics wouldn’t be so keen on its $259,000-per-year tag for cystic fibrosis med Orkambi. And sure enough, less than three weeks after the combo med won the FDA‘s green light, the pushback is here.

A group of prominent cystic fibrosis specialists is going public with its pricing fight, which has been brewing ever since the company rolled out its first treatment,Kalydeco, more than three years back, The Boston Globe reports.

“It’s egregious,” Paul Quinton, a professor of biomedical science at the University of California at San Diego, told the newspaper. “This is more than 5 times the annual salary of the average American family. How can they in good conscience charge that much?”

This seems like a good question on the face of it.  How is anyone going to be able to afford $259,000 a year for this drug?  The average family income in the U.S. is just over $50,000 a year.  However, the question ignores health insurance.  This isn’t about individual affordability, it is about what the insurance companies are going to pay.  Heck, I wouldn’t be surprised if Vertex set the price so high in an effort to see what they could get the insurance companies to pay.  This drug has only been approved for sale by the FDA since July.  They are probably still working out pricing structure.

The news story I saw featured a young lady with cystic fibrosis.  This genetic disease puts her at risk for continued lung infections and lowers her life expectancy.  Orkambi is touted as a more effective treatment than what is currently available.  Of course, the young lady wants to try it, her life could be greatly improved and lengthened by better treatments.  Who could blame her?

I hate to be hard on a person in such a situation, but she puts forth the same old narrative.  The evil corporations are going to be the cause of people’s deaths because of their greed by not selling their product at a price everyone can afford. Let us be truthful about the situation.  The disease, complications from the disease, will probably claim her life at some point.  If the corporation had not bothered to develop the drug, that would be perfectly obvious.  This fact, that it is the disease that threatens her life, does not change just because a company developed a promising treatment.

Why then, is she, and other factions, so quick to blame the company who developed a new treatment for what the disease is going to cause?  It is all about worldview.  They come from a worldview where if something is available, and you need it, that the other party must provide it to you, at a price you are willing to pay.  If the other party isn’t willing to meet you on price, then they must be evil.  They come from a worldview where voluntary exchange is thought bad, and exchange at gunpoint is thought well and good.

There is good news for this young lady, though.  Her insurance company has agreed to cover this drug for her.  Now, I know people will be thanking Obamacare for that.  They might say that without ACA, that she would have been denied insurance, and thus denied access to this drug.  They would say this without understanding how forcing everyone into the health insurance paradigm is going to create more situations like this.  It creates situations where companies don’t have to think so much about what the consumer of their medications can afford, but think about what they can get the insurance companies to pay instead.

Art as Expression

“Art as expression, not as market campaigns.”

This line keeps returning to my mind, and I continue to contemplate the implications of it.

In the context it was written, I believe it to be about doing what you love versus trying to create something the masses are going to like.  Which, I find this a very appealing sentiment.  I’m drawn to what I view as self-indulgent works, usually writing and music, but other things, too.  A beautifully decorated home, gorgeous landscaping, a well put together outfit, etc, while I personally don’t put much effort into these kind of things, I appreciate the efforts and talents of those that do.

Why then, does this little statement nag at me?  Market.  The word market.  I have such great respect for the workings of the market, that I don’t like to see it disparaged.  The implication I take away is that it is somehow dishonorable to use your art to serve others in the way they need.  For example, if you put your efforts into graphic art to help someone sell their product, you would be selling out to market campaigns.  But that is ridiculous!  We all have to make a living.  We are all gifted with certain talents.  Should we not use those talents to provide for what we need?  Should we not use those talents to aid others in their endeavors, so that they can gain what they need in life?

I submit that being able to create self-indulgent art, the kind of thing I truly love, is a luxury.  A luxury brought to us by the workings of the market, which I also love.  Be creative, do what you love, but use what you love to help out your fellow man in his need as well.


“My purpose was to compose a speech as an encomium of Helen and an amusement for myself.”

This is how Gorgias concluded his work The Encomium of Helen.  I love this kind of thing,  writing for his own entertainment.  I really think that is the way to go.  Even if no one else cares for what you have to say, at least you are amused.

The second chapter in my Greek Sophists book deals with what is known about Gorgias.  I thought his work The Defence of Palamades was superb.  Before the book got to that, it presented his piece On Not-Being.  I was thrown for a loop with that work.    It was to establish the points that nothing exists, even if it did, it is inapprehensible by man, and if it were apprehensible, it was inexpressible and incommunicable.  I thought it was worse nonsense than any of the twisted logic I have read on the internet.  Then I read that the authors thought it was a spoof of some of his contemporaries, their lines of thought.  It had to be.  Someone that put forth such an elegant defense of Palamades could not have thought such absurdity.  If it was done as satire, then he probably did this for his own amusement as well.