April 7, 2011

Demonize and Delete the Austrians (V): Adventures in Meta-Ethics

To continue with Mr. Ferrara’s mood-setting (long on assertion, short on documentation and argument). We’re still at the top half of page 8:
The Austrian defense of the “laws” of economics, however, consistently judges moral abuses in the market according to the supposed greater good that accrues or greater evil that is avoided if these “laws” are allowed to operate unhindered—a morally invalid consequentialist and utilitarian ethic the Church condemns.  (See Chapter 8) (8)
What are we to read into the scare quotes this time? That economic laws are figments of the imagination? Or that they are real, but Austrian economists have not correctly identified them?
Since he will announce just a few pages later that he has no intention of dealing with the “technical matters” of economics—except for the “seemingly technical matter” of Austrian utility theory! (11)—we’ll never know. A convenient inconsistency, as I see it, which we will examine in due course.
In the syntactically challenged sentence under scrutiny, the meaning of its subject, “the Austrian defense,” is ambiguous. (Recall the point made in the preceding post: “in the interest of promoting certain values, we must prescind from them in order to discover and understand causal relationships. But both interests, cognitive and ethical, motivate the self-same person.” The Austrian economist focuses on those causal relationships, the Austrian political theorist focuses on the grounding of values in the nature of reality. From the fact that someone self-identifies as “Austro-libertarian” one cannot confidently infer the philosophical ground on which he or she stands. We will recur to this distinction again and again.)
The predicate of the sentence under review is “judges.” Now, who or what judges? Why, the “Austrian defense.” Which one? No answer is possible, because “defenses” don’t judge: people judge when they defend, and Austrians do not form a philosophical monolith. That's part of what I meant by "syntactically challenged."
In more than a quarter-century of study and experience, I have never met, read, or heard of an Austro-libertarian who, in the course of “defending” (expounding?) the laws of economics and having ascertained that a particular market transaction constituted a moral abuse, judged the occurrence of that abuse as morally acceptable because it transpired “in accordance with” the unhindered operation of those laws—excuse me, “laws.” 
(Mr. Ferrara may seek wiggle room in the fact that he did not use the words "morally acceptable," but I submit that that is the clear meaning of "judges moral abuses in the market according to the supposed greater good . . ." I leave it to the reader to decide if Mr. Ferrara would be successful in that effort.) 
What I have found to be the case is that we Austro-libertarian Catholics find the recommended market-hampering or market-hindering to be an intrinsic evil that we cannot countenance “that good may come” or another evil averted. (Romans 3:8) 
And Mr. Ferrara never cites the allegedly offending Austrians. Oh, he cites Austrians right and left, but not as having done what he slanderously insinuates that they do. (Not even in Chapter 8, still many moons away.) 
To the sentence we are parsing, which Mr. Ferrara apparently did not think was long enough, he appended an opinion that suggests that the Church takes a position on the terms set by his confusion. Since that appendix has so far receded in space, I will reproduce it here:
. . . a morally invalid consequentialist and utilitarian ethic the Church condemns. (8)
Mr. Ferrara will later elaborate upon what he means by this, but for some reason in a skimpy (i.e., five-page) chapter professedly dedicated to “meeting the Austrians,” he felt the need to throw in the kitchen sink-size issue of meta-ethics. Our response in this already overlong post can only glimpse the longer examination we will undertake at the appropriate time.
To express the matter with almost intolerable compactness: the consequentialist-deontological dialectic—the false alternative alleged between looking only, or never, to consequences—is a modernist dilemma and dichtomy. Since Mr. Ferrara knows that the Church predates modernity by a few centuries, he should never create the impression that She simply condemns one side of a modernist spat, because that impression would make it natural to infer the false conclusion that she supports the other.  
If one asserts without qualification that the Church "condemns" utilitarianism or consequentialism, one invites the inference that She favors some form of deontological metaethics, because that is the option to which utilitarianism is dialectically tied!  No one seriously argues, however, that a Catholic must be some kind of Kantian if he or she is not some kind of Benthamite.
Good consequences are the fruit of acting upon good principles, and the attractiveness of good consequences is germane to the thinking by which we arrive at good principles. (Matthew 7:16-24) But we’ll have to leave the matter there for now.