Posts Tagged ‘Individuals Responsible for Actions’

I Wonder If I Am A Libertarian # 2

May 30, 2013

I Wonder If I Am A Libertarian # 2

Key Concepts of Libertarianism


David Boaz

January 1, 1999

The key concepts of libertarianism have developed over many centuries. The first inklings of them can be found in ancient China, Greece, and Israel; they began to be developed into something resembling modern libertarian philosophy in the work of such seventeenth- and eighteenth-century thinkers as John Locke, David Hume, Adam Smith, Thomas Jefferson, and Thomas Paine.

What follows is first a quote by the author and then an analysis of the components of that quote, by me.


Individualism. Libertarians see the individual as the basic unit of social analysis. Only individuals make choices and are responsible for their actions. Libertarian thought emphasizes the dignity of each individual, which entails both rights and responsibility. The progressive extension of dignity to more people — to women, to people of different religions and different races — is one of the great libertarian triumphs of the Western world.

End of Quote.


The individual as the basic unit of social analysis.

I am persuaded that the individual us useful as a basic unit of social analysis.That is the basis of analysis for a great deal of the science of behavioral psychology, from which the principles of behavior that influence that thoughts, emotions and actions of humans have been discovered. These principles also produce similar outcomes when applied to groups of people, making their intelligent use essential to any socioculture that wishes to live very long and well.

Only individuals make choices and are responsible for their actions.

An individual is capable of making many “choices” ,among options available, at any given moment (eat, sleep, go to work, drink alcohol, take drugs, go to church, etc.) What they actually do under a circumstance is heavily influenced by the behavior principles experienced in their up-bringing, education, and acculturation processes.

While the individual can be free from certain governmental controls, they are never free from the influences of their biology or their history of learning (or lack of learning) involving these principles of behavior.

Holding an individual responsible for their behaviors is normally a simple matter of good teaching. The consequences of a childs behavior (rewards or punishment, or no effects) influence whether that child will (“choose” to) repeat that behavior more or less often in the future.

However, in the teaching of all of us, as children, our parents and teachers had to judge at what stage of development it was appropriate to began to finally ”hold us responsible” for our actions (I.e., the baby soils its diaper, the two-year old spills the milk; vs. the seven-year old hits his sister or the 16 year-old comes in late for curfew).  Smart parents and teachers do not try to teach with consequences, that which cannot yet be learned.

In adult life, it is clear that failing to “hold people responsible” for their own behavior (even if it is the result of a history of bad teaching in their family or subculture) is an irresponsible sociocultural thing to do. This is so because protecting people from the consequences of their bad behavior actually teaches them to do irresponsible and self-defeating behaviors that damage them, those close to them and the socioculture.

Libertarian thought emphasizes the dignity of each individual

I take the word “dignity” to mean the worth of each individual. I agree with Albert Ellis, that the great worth of any individual is inestimable, and that worth has nothing to do with any worldly measure of health, intelligence, material possessions, or stations in life. All people are worthy of respectful and kindly treatment. Therefore, all people should be accorded the right to do as they have learned to do and are capable of doing, so long as their actions do not damage, physically injure, abuse, or coerce other adults to do things against their will by penalty of law.

Within this framework, the special rights of children to be taught the many skills needed for a normal adult life and not to be neglected or abused must also be protected by penalty of law.

Please stay tuned for more!

V. Thomas Mawhinney, Ph.D., 5/29/13

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