Kroy’s insight

In a little-read paper from 1977, the philosopher Moshe Kroy almost casually expressed an insight that I find breathtakingly daring. Apart from its political significance, it has implications for taxonomy – which is why I’m including it in this blog – and for many other things as well. Kroy was analysing a seemingly trivial disagreement between two schools of Libertarians represented by Ayn Rand and Murray Rothbard to reveal its deeper roots. He resolved it by recognising that the problem only arose from the assumption made by Rand and many 20th century philosophers that individual humans are deterministic entities within the deterministic system that we call Community or Society. He wrote:

“Actually, within a deterministic context, any concept of entity as an ultimately discrete existent loses all significance. All entities easily reduce to parts of larger systems”.

“Only the stress on the individual as ultimately free establishes his individuality – being a distinct first cause.”

Entities are anything that we postulate and identify as complete units, separate from other such units. They range from planets to atoms, with our own bodies and the objects we use in daily life somewhere in the middle of that spectrum. The mental life of humans is all about perceiving entities in the world around us, understanding how those entities interact and using them to achieve our purposes. But the entities that we perceive in the universe of matter, energy, space and time are little more than convenient fictions. They reduce to parts of larger systems because they all ultimately have a common origin and are part of one big ‘machine’.

Taxonomists are concerned with organisms that are all products of a single evolutionary process from a common origin: the evolution of Earth’s biota, however many billion years it has taken, is a single event. No plant or animal is an individual since it has organic continuity with its ancestors and its siblings. Nor do species, genera and other taxa exist objectively as irreducible entities. At best, these are working hypotheses, useful divisions of the diversity that exists within biota. It is not surprising that taxonomists continue to have differing opinions on the extent to which some genus should be divided into species. The boundaries drawn between taxa may legitimately depend on the purpose of the classification.

In this paper, Kroy is concerned with the political freedoms of human beings, and he rightly saw that these freedoms have no theoretical basis as long as we consider people merely as physical entities in a deterministic system. On the other hand, each person – as distinct from the material body, the organism they temporarily inhabit – is a true individual. We are not products of evolution, or creations of some occult power, but are each the first cause of our own existence.

Kroy’s second paragraph demonstrates the influence of L. Ron Hubbard on his thought. He had encountered Scientology in his native Israel, and during 1976 was studying at Melbourne’s Church of Scientology while also lecturing in the Department of Philosophy at La Trobe University, but later diverged to follow his own intellectual path.

In a long footnote Kroy attributed this insight to Spinoza, who argued from an assumption of determinism in the Ethics that only one self-existent substance (substantium in the old scholastic sense) could exist in a universe, since everything else in that universe would be contingent on that substance. But it took a 20th century Libertarian to see the implications of Spinoza’s statement.

Reference

Kroy, M. (1977) Political freedom and its roots in metaphysics. Journal of Libertarian Studies 1(3): 205-213.

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