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Mises and Impartiality

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Reading the SEP entry on impartiality, I became curious where Ludwig von Mises’ thought might fit within that spectrum.  In Liberalism, Mises locates his thought as consequentialist: “Everything that serves to preserve the social order is moral; everything that is detrimental to it is immoral;” discussing the short term sacrifices that at times citizens must make in the interest of preserving society, “what is morally valuable is not the sacrifice, but the end served by the sacrifice” (15.)  Mises’ thought fits the three criteria in §3.1.

First, “consequences can be determined,” though per Mises to see them there are epistemic conditions that require “a certain insight into the connections between things” (15.)

Second, “the impersonal good … is largely … composed of the interests of individual persons;” this is squarely in Mises’ capitalist liberal tradition.  Additionally in the second qualifier, the interests of each citizen must count equally; for Mises, though people are “altogether unequal” (9,) they “should receive equal treatment under the law” (10.)

Third, it must be act consequentialism, in which “the actions of agents … maximize the impersonal good;” again, in the classic liberal tradition, Mises leaves it to each to act toward the common good.

Regarding partiality, Mises focused on government; restricting areas of discretion may be a way to limit its scope (85-86.) Mises does not seem to discuss partiality apart from the State, fitting the third strategy of §3.2 that “consequentialism permits the agent both to give preference to her own projects and concerns, and to favor particular other individuals … this is consistent with the agent’s … maximizing of the good. This would fit the “common-sense view [that impartialities] are restricted to judges and bureaucrats acting in their official capacities” (Barry, §3.1.) Against the §3.2 criticism that consequentialism does not prohibit certain acts, Mises appeals to equal treatment under the law: “it is well-nigh impossible to preserve lasting peace in a society in which the rights and duties of the respective classes are different. … Class privileges must disappear so that the conflict over them may cease” (10.) Mises seems fundamentally, rather than strictly, impartialist (§6.)

Jollimore, Troy, “Impartiality”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2011 Edition), Edward N. Zalta  (ed.), URL = <http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/sum2011/entries/impartiality/>.

Mises, Ludwig von (2005 [1927].)  Liberalism: The Classic Tradition.  Indianapolis: Liberty Fund.

This is adapted from a series of responses I wrote for an independent study in analytic ethics of partiality and consequentialism.

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