Skepticism and Freedom: A Modern Case for Classical Liberalism

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University of Chicago Press, Jun 1, 2003 - Philosophy - 311 pages
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With this book, Richard A. Epstein provides a spirited and systematic defense of classical liberalism against the critiques mounted against it over the past thirty years. One of the most distinguished and provocative legal scholars writing today, Epstein here explains his controversial ideas in what will quickly come to be considered one of his cornerstone works.

He begins by laying out his own vision of the key principles of classical liberalism: respect for the autonomy of the individual, a strong system of private property rights, the voluntary exchange of labor and possessions, and prohibitions against force or fraud. Nonetheless, he not only recognizes but insists that state coercion is crucial to safeguarding these principles of private ordering and supplying the social infrastructure on which they depend. Within this framework, Epstein then shows why limited government is much to be preferred over the modern interventionist welfare state.

Many of the modern attacks on the classical liberal system seek to undermine the moral, conceptual, cognitive, and psychological foundations on which it rests. Epstein rises to this challenge by carefully rebutting each of these objections in turn. For instance, Epstein demonstrates how our inability to judge the preferences of others means we should respect their liberty of choice regarding their own lives. And he points out the flaws in behavioral economic arguments which, overlooking strong evolutionary pressures, claim that individual preferences are unstable and that people are unable to adopt rational means to achieve their own ends. Freedom, Epstein ultimately shows, depends upon a skepticism that rightly shuns making judgments about what is best for individuals, but that also avoids the relativistic trap that all judgments about our political institutions have equal worth.

A brilliant defense of classical liberalism, Skepticism and Freedom will rightly be seen as an intellectual landmark.
  

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Contents

Two Forms of Skepticism
13
The System of Liberty 3 2
32
Moral Relativism
65
Moral Incrementalism
84
Conceptual Skepticism
108
A Preference for Preferences
139
Metapreferences Relative Preferences
164
Behavioral Anomalies
194
Cognitive Biases
228
Staying the Course
259
Notes
265
Table of Cases
294
Copyright

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About the author (2003)

Richard A. Epstein is the James Parker Hall Distinguished Service Professor of Law at the University of Chicago Law School and the Peter and Kirsten Bedford Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution. He is the author of a number of books, including Simple Rules for a Complex World and Principles for a Free Society, and coeditor of The Vote: Bush, Gore, and the Supreme Court, published by the University of Chicago Press.