The epistemic approach to liberalism not only clarifies some of the core features of progress-based arguments for liberty. For two reasons it provides grounds for doubting those arguments’ persuasiveness. The first reason emerges from the epistemic liberal explanation of economic recessions and of social regress as necessary consequences of our enjoying the individual liberty to adapt to our circumstances. Precisely because it secures personal choice with respect to the ends of life and the means to pursue them, liberty must be construed as at best necessary for the imperfect and costly realization of the interest individuals may have in personal advancement. Second, and in revealing the underlying logic of the economic and cultural processes that liberty makes possible, epistemic liberalism shows that it is to the notion of complex adaptation that we must look when seeking to evaluate the overall or aggregate results of liberty. Crucially, however, this means rejecting the notion of progress as fit to perform this ethico-historical evaluative role.
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