In contemporary philosophy it often seems as if all possible views have been formulated and defended. It’s been argued that only the present exists, that the past and future exist (and thus that dinosaurs and future people exist too), that Sherlock Holmes really exists, and that we don’t exist. One Christian philosopher has even suggested that when we die, God exchanges our corpse with a perfect copy; the copy decomposes in the earth but we remain intact, to allow for reincarnation.

But despite this plurality of bizarre opinions, there is a reasonable amount of consensus on certain issues related to material things and their parts. Everyday objects like tables, chairs, cars, and televisions are generally agreed to be built up out of parts: I can disassemble a car into its tires, engine, doors, etc. In that sense, the car exists because its parts are put together in the right way; if they are not assembled correctly, there is no car. The car is not basic.

Noticing this unusual consensus, a certain Scott Wenz has boldly staked out an opposing view in pursuit of fame and articles that might get accepted for publication in The Philosophical Quarterly. He has recently made the exciting claim that cars are basic.


Perhaps believing that his radical ideas will not be received warmly by the philosophical establishment, Wenz has—like David Birnbaum—sought to advance his theory outside the confines of academia. He has even started his own nonprofit in order to better reach a receptive audience.

Scott Wenz’s theory is complicated and highly abstract, but he has made admirable efforts to explain the essential points in clear, straightforward language. He begins his précis by explaining why such things as the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART), high-speed rail, and buses are not basic:

[1] An Associated Press article printed Monday states that BART General Manager Dorothy Dugger resigned under presser [sic] in May 2011, but collected $330,000 in pay and additional benefits that included two added months of vacation!

BART is part of the heavily subsidized and expensive commuter rail system that has failed in the San Jose area and has questionable ridership outside of the San Francisco Bay.

[2] The connection to an extravagant and unneeded high-speed rail project is the initial billion-dollar bond recently approved to build “stupid is as stupid does rail.” A good portion will be spent not on the rail but multimillion-dollar spinoffs for inefficient BART and projects not related to the bullet train.

[3] Santa Barbara MTD under similar type management problems in the past decade has seen most of its board resign for lousy decisions, and MTD’s director forced out. Remember the “all electric bus” that failed to meet freeway specifications, fuel efficiency (batteries), violated federal contract provisions, etc.? What did the South County cities do? Appointed new board members who gave the disgraced MTD director a golden parachute, approving more routes that are badly used, and don’t forget the failed (and expensive) long-distance commuter buses to Santa Ynez and Lompoc.

The main thrust of Wenz’s theory is starting to emerge. Trains and buses (and bikes!) are not basic because their usability requires government support. The operation of trains and buses and the infrastructure required for bicycles must be provided by the government. But the government is inherently corrupt, so these non-basic forms of transportation are inherently flawed and should not be funded. (There was literally nothing California could have done to make high-speed rail work.)

Cars, on the other hand, are basic, according to Wenz. My use of a car does not depend on the government in any way. I purchase a car from a private dealer, I certainly do not register it, I siphon gas rather than pay the gas tax, and I drive it wherever I choose. It is that freedom provided by cars that makes them basic:

The right to choose the mode of transportation is at the core of a free society. Designing and maintaining core routes with capacity to efficiently handle vehicles, allowing for safe and flexible personal transportation decisions is essential.

Freedom to choose. In a free society, everyone is able to choose how they travel: by Ford, Honda, Toyota, or any of the many fine brands of automobile that truly anyone can afford. The criterion of liberty is having this personal transportation decision—and what more could one want?