Rejoinder to the Kyle Swan Response


Contra critical rationalism, the response begins by referring to “the variety of internalist and externalist versions of foundationalism” (Liberty, December 2002). But it makes no attempt to explain or defend any of them. Hence, no further criticism is due here. The response then argues that, “The critical rationalist method seems to suggest that Lester’s extreme compatibility thesis is probably false” because—quoting Escape from Leviathan (EfL)—“bold universal theories might be false, and probably are” and yet “he doesn’t think the thesis is probably false”. And so this is, by implication, an inconsistent belief. But the Compatibility Thesis (CT) is not one of the “bold universal theories” of science. The review and the response appear, at times, to assume that the CT is a bold universal theory about the perfect compatibility of applying the relevant conceptions, or theories, of rationality, liberty, welfare, and anarchy. Then, at other times, they assert that it is not bold at all but merely about definitions designed to be compatible. In fact, the CT asserts both that there are no theoretical incompatibilities among relevant and plausible versions of the theories, and that there are no actual long-term, systemic, and practical conflicts among applying them. That is still a bold theory (perhaps even most libertarians would disagree with it), but it’s not a universal thesis of perfect compatibility. And if it were good practice to reject a theory just because of its boldness, then all scientific theories would be immediately rejected without even trying to produce a falsification. In any case, as stated in the reply to the review, anyone’s mere beliefs are irrelevant to the truth of objective theories and the soundness of objective arguments.

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J. C. Lester
London School of Economics


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