Thursday Speaker: Aiden P Gregg

Aiden P Gregg

Aiden P Gregg

Our speaker for Thursday is an academic psychologist who wants to talk about a very specific psychological problem in a great deal of depth. “Oh god really?” I hear you cry? “Is this going to be some kind of post-modern lefty bollocks about people’s relationships with their fathers?”. An understandable concern, so let’s deal with that. Here is one random thought shared by Dr Gregg in 2010:

No matter how powerful, knowledgeable, beneficient, discriminating, sophisticated, or sensitive someone is, they cannot change via declaration either the status of an existing act with a particular moral character, or the status of an existing object with a particular moral character. They can only recognize the status of that existing act or object. They can, of course, perform morally good acts or create aesthetically beautiful objects; but that is the limit of their powers.

That sounds to me, and this is speculation, like someone was just starting out on the road to a serious change in their political outlook. Encouragingly, it is entitled “Might makes neither right nor lovely”. Does this still sound like academic bollocks, or more like familiar sensible epistemology?

The next surprising thing about Aiden is his political views. I could have invited a died-in-the-wool lefty to the pub, it might have made for a passionate argument, but Aiden declares himself an anarcho-capitalist. No hardcore lefty, he is a hardcore libertarian… and an academic. That’s not just surprising but strategically important.

Dr Aiden P. Gregg lectures in the School of Psychology at the University of Southampton. He has a degree from Trinity College Dublin, and earned his PhD at Yale. Barnes and Noble list his interests as

  • self-enhancement and self-verification motives
  • the functions of self-esteem
  • the antecedents of implicit attitudes
  • lie detection via response incompatibility.

It might be expected that a libertarian academic would be ostracised and rejected by an intellectually homogenous academia. So far Aiden has defied that expectation and published articles in well cited and influential journals including the Personality and Social Psychology Review ranked 6th in the field. He has also served as reviewer for such journals as Psychological Science, and Journal of Experimental Social Psychology ranked 13th and 45th. If there is anything bad to say about his record, it would be that it is inevitably partially state funded.

And what of the talk? Attendees of the open mic night will have met Aiden before and will be familiar with his brand of fiction. His contribution was to read the story of a murdered tax refusnik to stunned silence. Aiden’s artful fiction, while essentially containing criticisms not positive depictions, certainly brings the moral character of what libertarians are against vividly to life. He may be reinforcing a fear or anger, rather than positivity, but it is nevertheless highly motivating.

This weeks session will focus on the intellectual consequences of what he observes in his fiction. This is how Aiden explained the impact of his work to his previous host (with some links added):

In Western cultures, however, the proactive seizure of a portion of someone’s property (or income, its monetary representation), for the purposes of enriching some while impoverishing others, if democratically elected rulers so dictate, is readily accepted by most democratic voters, and is seen not only as permissible, but also as obligatory, or at all events, regrettably necessary.

In contrast, in the same cultures (though not others), the proactive seizure of a portion of someone’s body, for the purposes of sexually satisfying some while sexually dissatisfying others, if democratically elected rulers so dictate, is firmly rejected by most democratic voters, and is seen as not only forbidden, but also as repugnant, and in any case, wholly unnecessary.

If, ethically speaking, it is not the case that one is legitimate but the other is not – and I shall attempt to rebut several key objections – then the acceptance of the first, but the rejection of the second, is an ethical bias stands in need of explanation.

Quite so.

Before attending this talk at the Rose and Crown, please be sure to prime your intuitions with this short story.

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