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Richard Posner is an influential legal theorist and author and currently a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. Posner attended Yale as an undergraduate,[…]

Richard Posner’s Hobbesian outlook.

Question: Do you have a personal philosophy?Richard Posner:    I don’t think so.  If I had some of the basic outlook, it would be that people are monkeys with large brains, period.  And that’s the way you have to think about it.  It does make me cynical about human motivation.  And it makes me think, you just have to be very practical, very realistic. 

I don’t put any faith in utopian dreams.  I don’t think people are basically good or anything like that.  You know the promises of politicians and the baloney that judges spew out in their opinions.  I think one wants to have a caustic view of people.  Of all people, not, you have to recognize severe problems of criminality.  We all have problems with abuse of authority, and with mistreatment of all sorts of people, and overextension of criminal law as excessive criminal synthesis.  So the problems are everywhere. 

I very much dislike the extremes of left and right.  And anything that is faith-based – whether it’s religious, or whether it’s the left, they’re just as religious, but they don’t have a god.  But they’re just religious in the sense that it’s based on faith rather than fact.

I think we should always be trying to penetrate to the level of fact.  The criticism of this – of the pragmatic position – is that it’s not enough to know what the facts are and know what the consequences are because they have to be valued. 

There’s a disjunction between “is” and “ought” – that you can’t infer “ought” from “is”.  I agree with that.  But there is a degree of consensus in societies that you actually know the consequences of particular policies.  That most people will be brought to--

There is a basic moral. I don’t like moralistic vocabulary or moralistic reasoning.  But obviously there are people who have moral feelings.  They do react to things.  So if everything was known about abortion – who gets it, why, there are other ways of preventing it, and this and that, and the other thing – if we really understood it, I think we would, most people – not 100 percent, but maybe 60 percent – would think, “Yes, we should deal with the problem.”


Recorded on: Nov 21, 2009.