Libertarianism in Political Philosophy: Theory and Practice (2016-06-08)

Libertarianism is a well-established yet controversial theoretical framework within political philosophy. The aim of this workshop is to gather researchers with a shared academic interest in libertarianism and to explore theoretical as well as practical aspects of this framework. The workshop is free of charge and open to all.

Workshop: 8 June 2016

09.15 – 09.30 Introduction

09.30 – 10.30 Mikael J. Olsson

10.45 – 11.45 Olle Torpman

11.45 – 13.00 Lunch

13.00 – 14.00 Jesper Ahlin

14.15 – 15.15 Lars Lindblom

15.30 – 16.30 Marcus Agnafors

18.00 Dinner at a restaurant in town


Mikael J. Olsson, PhD

“Justifying the State from Rights-Based Libertarian Premises”


Although many libertarians share similar moral foundations, they disagree about whether the state can be justified. The most famous libertarian attempt to justify the state is that of Robert Nozick. This attempt has been criticized by, among others, the libertarian anarchist Murray Rothbard. In this article, Nozick’s theory and Rothbard’s critique are discussed, as well as some other attempts to justify the state from libertarian premises. Keeping the criticisms of those theories in mind, an alternative theory, which attempts to bypass the criticisms, is put forward. This alternative theory explains how a state—most probably a nonminimal democratic state—can legitimately be formed in a condition of anarchy without violating anyone’s libertarian rights. One result of this is that the rights-based case for minarchism is severely weakened.

See also:

Olsson, M. (2016), “Justifying the State from Rights-Based Libertarian Premises”, in Libertarian Papers, 8:1, pp. 59–80

Olle Torpman, PhD

"Libertarianism and Risks"


Libertarianism is an actualist moral theory. It has it that only actual infringements, and not mere probable ones, count as rights-violations. Since many actions do not actually result in infringements but nevertheless raise the probability of infringements, this might be seen as a problem for libertarianism. If the probability of a disastrous outcome of one's actions would be very high, say 99%, then many people would believe that performing this action is wrong. But could it be wrong, from a libertarian point of view, not only to expose others to actual infringements but also to mere risks?

In this talk, I will try to answer this question. I will do so by exploring the explanations that are potentially available from a libertarian position as to why risk-exposures might be impermissible. I will argue that libertarianism judges mere risk-exposures impermissible insofar as the risks (i) restrict people’s negative liberty or psychologically interfere with people, and (ii) these people do not consent to such interference. I will also argue that risks can also figure in the motivation behind people’s lack of consent for the actions that produce them, as long as these actions in other respects cross their boundaries.

Jesper Ahlin, PhD student

“Is Libertarianism a Thing?”


This presentation is a topic rather than a defense of a thesis. The topic considered consists of a set of questions regarding the distinction between liberalism and libertarianism. Liberalism, broadly construed, is a “good” political theory. By “good” I mean that it is fruitful both for developing stable political institutions and for practical policy-making. I believe that this is due to liberalism being fact-responsive and tolerant to value conflicts. It is a theory that inherently takes the conditions of politics into account. Libertarianism, on the other hand, is not a “good” political theory in this sense. Since libertarianism lacks the theoretical richness and depth that characterizes liberalism, it is less useful for policy-making. However, also libertarians tend to engage in practical politics. I am interested in how that is possible from a strict libertarian stance. What, if anything, makes libertarianism a “good” theory for policy-making? Does libertarianism, as I believe, tend to collapse into liberalism when put into practice? Is libertarianism only for theoretical political thinking? If so, from a political perspective, is it a thing at all?

Lars Lindblom, PhD

“Libertarian Business Ethics, Information and Unions”


In this presentation, I argue that there is a normative argument for unions that can be made from libertarian starting points and on the basis of considerations of information. Milton Friedman has famously argued that the social responsibility of business is to increase profits. It is the role of the state to set up rules for the market, whereas managers should focus on the bottom line. This position implies that all issues of business ethics can be handled by laws and regulation. This is a standard view of business ethics within libertarianism, but arguments concerning information from other important libertarian sources, indicate that the position is problematic. Friedrich Hayek has argued that a reason to prefer a market system over a controlled economy is that the former handles information in a much more effective way than the latter. Controlled economies tend to be unsuccessful since they fail to gather and use information in an effective manner. If Hayek is right about information, Friedman’s libertarian business ethics seems to run into trouble, since it relies on the state being able to collect the relevant information for business ethics. If the market is more effective at gathering information, can it provide the information needed for business ethics? An argument from the Chicago School of economics and Ronald Coase implies that this will not work. Coase’s the theory of the firm shows that the firm is an island of controlled economy surrounded by a sea of markets. Inside firms there is no Hayekian market mechanism that provides information. There are Coasian mechanisms for information transfer inside firms, but the firms is also characterized by hierarchy, which means that there are incentives to not be forthcoming with information that is detrimental to management. To gain full access to relevant information, there must be some checks and balances on that hierarchy and some way of overcoming adverse incentives. A way of handling these two problems is provided by unions. In the ideal case, they balance power and provide an avenue for voice.

Marcus Agnafors, PhD

“Self-Ownership, the Conflation Problem, and Presumptive Libertarianism: Can the Market Model Support Libertarianism rather than the Other Way Around?”


David Sobel has recently argued that libertarian theories that accept full and strict self-ownership as foundational confront what he calls the conflation problem: If transgressing self-ownership is strictly and stringently forbidden, it is implied that the normative protection against one infringement (say, being stabbed) is precisely as strong as against any other infringement (say, touching someone’s hand without that person’s consent). But this seems to be an absurd consequence.

In defense of libertarianism, I argue that the conflation problem can be handled in a way that allows us to honor libertarian basic commitments. It is suggested libertarianism should be characterized as presumptive libertarianism, treating self-ownership as an assumption the content of which remains to be worked out whenapplied, rather than as a dogma ready to be applied; a proposal that relies on a standard market model. Since such proposal is likely to appear to many philosophers – libertarians in particular – as inherently flawed, a considerable part of the article defends the proposal against possible criticisms. It is argued that presumptive libertarianism is not only a coherent and theoretically elegant notion, but a version of libertarianism that honors pre-theoretical commitments to self-ownership and liberty betterthan the mainstream versions of libertarianism.

See also:

Agnafors, M. (2015), ”Self-Ownership, the Conflation Problem, and Presumptive Libertarianism: Can the Market Model Support Libertarianism rather than the Other Way Around?”, in Libertarian Papers, 7:2, pp. 97–124.

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