Le Québécois Libre, February 15, 2011, No 286.
For much of the past decade, Dr. Edward Younkins has been busy synthesizing the ideas and approaches of some of history's most promising schools of thought, in an endeavor to, in his words, “present a broad brush outline of a potential philosophical foundation and edifice for a free society based on the natural law, natural rights, liberal tradition.” The culmination of this effort is his new book – Flourishing and Happiness in a Free Society: Toward a Synthesis of Aristotelianism, Austrian Economics, and Ayn Rand's Objectivism – forthcoming at the time of this review. This book condenses immense knowledge, inspiration, and guidance into under 150 pages and can serve as both an introduction to natural-law, natural-rights ideas for beginners and as a reflection and consideration of further steps to take for those who already study and apply these ideas extensively.
This book is itself a synthesis of three of Dr. Younkins's articles, presented here as three chapters and tied together by an introduction that presents the philosophical and biographical backgrounds of the thinkers being considered and a conclusion that offers guidance as to how to infuse their ideas into the world of today.
Chapter 1 – “Menger, Mises, Rand, and Beyond” – delves into the philosophical underpinnings of the Austrian School's intellectual giants: Carl Menger (1840-1921), Ludwig von Mises (1881-1973), and Murray Rothbard (1926-1995). From Menger's Aristotelian theory of value and attempts to ground value in an objective, biological basis; to Mises's neo-Kantian apriorism and subjective theory of economic value; to Rothbard's placement of natural law on a secular footing and return to an Aristotelian, broadly empirical view of the foundations of economic science – Younkins covers the major ideas animating the history and current development of the Austrian School of Economics. Ayn Rand's philosophy of Objectivism is presented as another fundamentally Aristotelian approach which is compatible with Austrian economics. In my view, one of Younkins's most pivotal points in this work is his extensive demonstration of the compatibility of subjectivity of economic values with objectivity of moral values. Economic value arises out of economic actors' actual preferences, irrespective of whether those preferences are the most desirable ones. Moral values are what should be pursued for an individual who desires survival and flourishing in a reality that is governed by objective biological, physical, and economic laws.
Chapter 2 – “Human Nature, Flourishing, and Happiness” – is an inspiring yet concise presentation of ethical insights from Aristotle, Rand, and contemporary Neo-Aristotelian thinkers such as Douglas Den Uyl, Douglas Rasmussen, and Tibor Machan. The discussion here focuses on happiness and on natural rights and their relationship to personal morality. One can hope that this book will refine many of the prevailing simplistic views of happiness as “positive thinking” or instant gratification or continuous excitement or “that warm, fuzzy feeling.” This book's discussion of happiness and its components, from Aristotle's concept of eudaemonia to Mihaly Csikszentmihaly's idea of flow, is sophisticated and instructive. Moreover, Younkins emphasizes that happiness can exist on multiple levels. Besides happiness arising from particular kinds of experiences, work, or physical goods, there is also metalevel happiness. All too many people claim to pursue happiness without being able to identify it, and Younkins's description of metalevel happiness offers a genuinely beneficial and attainable ideal:
On the subject of natural rights and their
relationship to morality, Younkins's
discussion clearly identifies the
intellectual progress made in this area
since the time of Aristotle, who was himself
inconsistent about whether morality
needed to be enforced by a governmental
entity. The concept of rights as metanorms –
offered by Den Uyl and Rasmussen – offers
useful insights into the distinction between
society-wide, legally enforceable natural
rights and the personal sphere of moral
decision-making. In short, “Natural
rights are metanormative principles that
regulate the conditions under which
moral conduct and human flourishing can take
Natural rights establish the ground rules
within which individuals can make
efficacious moral choices as autonomous
moral agents. Metanorms do not themselves
bring about individual flourishing, since
individuals also have the right to act
immorally or otherwise sub-optimally as long
as they do not initiate force against others.
However, proper metanorms, such as natural
rights, create the environment in which
flourishing can be successfully pursued by
large numbers of people. Another approach by
Tibor Machan at the ethical foundations of
natural rights is also discussed. To Machan,
rights can be derived from rational egoism
in ethics, as it is in an individual's
rational self-interest to protect conditions
that allow him to pursue his flourishing
autonomously, without coercive interference.
* Gennady Stolyarov II is a science fiction novelist and philosophical essayist, and is Editor-in-Chief of The Rational Argumentator. He lives in Carson City, Nevada.