A common technique of “arguing” these days is to turn any accusation, observation, or comment back on the one who makes it. For example, if you protest that someone who already had a doughnut just grabbed the last Bavarian Cream, he or she snaps back with, “Well, you eat too much, anyway.”
This sort of thing does have the advantage of freeing someone from having to make an actual argument to support or defend some position. For example, we noted in yesterday’s posting that neo-distributists are fond of the straw man argument. We didn’t give an example, although there are quite a few to choose from. Our main point was that neo-distributists as a group almost inevitably employ the appeal to authority — that they then re-edit to serve whatever purposes they have in mind.
We should not be too surprised, then, that the commentator instantly came back with the accusation that we had created a straw man. What it was, he didn’t say, just that we had committed the logical error.
This is just a rehash of the sort of accusation we’re used to getting. We’ve allegedly done something, but the accuser isn’t going to tell us what it is. We have to guess. That being the case, we guess we won’t respond to the accusation.
Our accuser — commentator, rather — also demanded that we give him a “quote or two from the ISI book description that has caused you to be more convinced in your opinion on the book?” He had quoted,
“Since the great Adam Smith tore down this pillar of economic thought, economic theory has had no way to account for a fundamental aspect of human experience: the social relationships that define us, the loves (and hates) that motivate and distinguish us as persons. In trying to reduce human behavior to mere exchanges, modern economists have lost sight of how these essential motivations are expressed: as gifts (or their opposite, crimes). Mueller makes economics whole again, masterfully reapplying economic thought as articulated by Aristotle, Augustine, and Aquinas.”
In retrospect, we should have taken the statement that “loves (and hates) . . . distinguish us as persons.” We’ll correct that now.
The idea that “loves (and hates) . . . distinguish us as persons” is, frankly, a much more astounding statement than the one we selected (and which we’ll get to in the next posting in this series). That’s because it contains an incredible fallacy of equivocation on which, apparently, Mueller builds his case: that emotions (loves and hates) or — to stretch a point possibly far beyond what Mueller meant (but which would be more accurate) — virtues (loves) and vices (hates) “distinguish us as persons.”
Well . . . . . . . . no.
Even stretching a point and assuming that Mueller meant that virtues and vices distinguish us as persons is to confuse what is meant by “person.” At best, he could only have meant it in the popular, not the scientific, sense. Our habits of doing good (virtues) and our habits of doing evil (vices) do not distinguish us as persons, but as individuals. They, along with our physical appearance and other accidentals, reflect not our personality (except in a colloquial sense), but our individuality. Personality relates to our substantial nature, our analogously complete capacity to acquire and develop virtue that defines us as human beings and special creations of God, and which necessarily includes possession and exercise of the natural rights that define us as persons.
This is because a “person” is something very specific, especially when the subject under discussion is the natural law. A “person” is “that which has rights.” A “natural person” is that which has rights by nature, that is, as an inherent aspect of its being. Among creatures, only men and angels are natural persons. Everything else may be created an artificial person, but an artificial person only has such rights as a natural person somewhere along the line delegates (in Aristotle’s terminology, “reflects”) to the artificial person.
It is important to note that, under ordinary circumstances, only a creator can vest a creation with rights. No one else has the power, for to do otherwise would be to make rights less than what they are. Ordinarily only the right holder can delegate his or her rights. If you delegate (usurp) my rights without my consent, you are a tyrant or a thief.
Thus, for Mueller or his publicist to claim that the economic theories of Adam Smith are unworkable because they don’t take into account “the loves (and hates) that motivate and distinguish us as persons” is an argument containing a false premise: that “loves (and hates) . . . distinguish us as persons.” Loves (and hates) do not, in fact, “distinguish us as persons.” Our natural rights “distinguish us as persons.” To say otherwise is simply wrong.