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Is Libertarianism Compatible with Subjective Morality?

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shazam Posted: Sat, Oct 6 2012 1:12 AM

The argument that most of us use to advocate libertarianism as a political philosophy is the Non-Agression Principle, that no individual can initiate force against another individual. However, on the surface this seems to rely on the idea of objective morality, that everyone can agree to universal ethical principles. My question is if the existence of objective morality is necessary for libertarianism to be a valid system? 

If on the other hand morality is subjective, individuals could each have their own moral attitudes toward certain subjects. One person could extend the NAP only to adult humans, another could extend the NAP to animals, another could define mutually consentual actions between two others as against their ethical system, another could have no moral regulations whatsoever. As an obvious consequence of this, conflicts will arise between competing ethical systems. The person killing livestock will be in violation of the animal rightist's ethical system, the gay couple will be in violation of the devout Christian's ethical system, the mugger will be in violation of the property rightist's ethical system. Clearly  there must be some dispute resolution system to arbitrate in conflicts arising from competing ethical systems, whether this be simply might-makes-right, NAP, or some other method to settle disputes. This seems to leave us right back at square one, and having conceded that morality is not objective, this would also leave us without an objective way to settle disputes. Thoughts?

Anarcho-capitalism boogeyman

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Neodoxy replied on Sat, Oct 6 2012 1:24 AM

Well I'm thoroughly subjectivistic and I'm a libertarian... So I'm going to go out on a limb and say that my answer to your question is "no".

Even if morality is objective, whatever this ultimately means, the fact is that there is nothing to stop people from believing that morality is subjective. This means that it ultimately comes down to could a libertarian society survive if everyone decided to fight over their different ethics, the ultimate answer being "no", but neither could the state exist under these conditions. With this said, the fact is that we have relatively little reason to believe that if libertarianism was a generally supported system of organization, that even if individuals believed that their ethics were superior to those employed by other people, then the law and an understanding of the disadvantages to themselves if they were to engage in violent action would cause the vast majority to think twice before violently enforcing their morality.

This is to say, what are the things that we can all agree on? There must be some property norm in society, this is something that 99.99 percent of all men agree upon, even if they disagree over the interpretation of what property should be. This means that ultimately the system which is easiest to maintain, and what society will necessarily gravitate towards if an understanding of libertarian-leaning economics is generally reached, is libertarianism, because it is the easiest to enforce.

The biggest thing that libertarianism has going for it is the economics behind it. If most of the propositions of AE are right then the fact is that the vast majority of all moralities instantly gravitate towards the support of the libertarian system.

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shazam:

My question is if the existence of objective morality is necessary for libertarianism to be a valid system? 

Morality is necessarily subjective. Subjects (people) value. Communists and anarcho-capitalists have entirely different values. Neither is objectively right, as it would be nonsensical. Don't think of it in terms of morality. Let's look at humor. We might say, "That joke is funny". But what do we mean by that? Someone might try to say that the joke is objectively funny. But what does that even mean? The joke values funniness? The joke must be valued as funny by all people? The only way to make proper sense of that statement is in terms of subjectivism. "That joke is funny to me". There might be some universal or really common traits of good humor, but it is literally nonsensical to conceptualize humor as objective.

It's the same with any value, morality included. We might say, "Aggression is wrong". But what do we mean by that? Aggression values wrongness? All people ought to view aggression as wrong? Again, the only way to make proper sense of that statement is to understand it as: "I consider aggression to be wrong" or "Aggression is wrong to me". Again, there seem to be really common values about morality among humans. The vast majority of people seem to not like aggression in their personal lives. And they certainly don't want to be aggressed against, but that is a tautology, as if they wanted the coercion, it wouldn't be coercion.

So, libertarianism absolutely makes sense through subjectivism, as morality doesn't make any sense through objectivism. That doesn't stop people from claiming objective morality, but their statements are essentially nonsensical.

shazam:

If on the other hand morality is subjective, individuals could each have their own moral attitudes toward certain subjects. One person could extend the NAP only to adult humans, another could extend the NAP to animals, another could define mutually consentual actions between two others as against their ethical system, another could have no moral regulations whatsoever. As an obvious consequence of this, conflicts will arise between competing ethical systems. The person killing livestock will be in violation of the animal rightist's ethical system, the gay couple will be in violation of the devout Christian's ethical system, the mugger will be in violation of the property rightist's ethical system. Clearly  there must be some dispute resolution system to arbitrate in conflicts arising from competing ethical systems, whether this be simply might-makes-right, NAP, or some other method to settle disputes. This seems to leave us right back at square one, and having conceded that morality is not objective, this would also leave us without an objective way to settle disputes. Thoughts?

This has more to do with the role of law than morality. I suggest you read What Law Is and A Praxeological Account of Law by Clayton, and I recommend Crusoe, Morality, and Axiomatic Libertarianism by Nielsio. Feel free to ask more if you feel those don't answer your questions.

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Neodoxy replied on Sat, Oct 6 2012 1:56 AM

"Morality is necessarily subjective. Subjects (people) value. Communists and anarcho-capitalists have entirely different values. Neither is objectively right, as it would be nonsensical"

Very well said.

I've been working on a critique of objectivism lately and I found a contradiction which pretty much destroys the very concept of ethics as an objective or all-encompassing system. This is that if we define ethics as "The science of what man should value" then we run into the problem that the very concept of "should" within this definition necessitates that there is a reason why someone believes that something should be valued in the first place. Thusly the very existence of ethics as a science necessarily depends upon preexisting values, and cannot exist devoid of these values, because devoid of values there is no standard by which we could possibly say someone "should" do something over another in the first place. This means that ethics presuppose value and therefore what ethics are theoretically "optimal" to any individual depend upon his preexisting values, which inevitably vary from person to person.

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Btw, this is quite a good article on ethics. Whoever wrote it has a pretty good breakdown of subjective vs objective morality, among other things.

Neodoxy:

I've been working on a critique of objectivism lately and I found a contradiction which pretty much destroys the very concept of ethics as an objective or all-encompassing system. This is that if we define ethics as "The science of what man should value" then we run into the problem that the very concept of "should" within this definition necessitates that there is a reason why someone believes that something should be valued in the first place. Thusly the very existence of ethics as a science necessarily depends upon preexisting values, and cannot exist devoid of these values, because devoid of values there is no standard by which we could possibly say someone "should" do something over another in the first place. This means that ethics presuppose value and therefore what ethics are theoretically "optimal" to any individual depend upon his preexisting values, which inevitably vary from person to person.

I like it. My only criticism is about how you define ethics. There are typically three categories of ethics, and your criticism applies to normative and applied ethics. But it seems metaethics is where it seems some people try to make morality objective. In other words, "Murder is wrong and that's an objective fact!" Treating it as objective is nonsensical, and as you pointed out, even if it were the case that it were an objective fact, so what? Some people still murder. So where does it get you that "murder is wrong" is objective?

Anyway, do you see a way to make your criticism work against the people who just claim "X is moral/immoral and that's an objective fact!"? I mean, whenever someone says that "X is objectively wrong", it seems like they are adding in an implicit premise that everyone ought to agree with that statement, and that anyone who disagrees is wrong. So maybe that is how your criticism would stick against the metaethics category? By talking about objective morality, these people are adding in an implicit premise that presupposes value? After all, if they aren't trying to describe how people ought to act, then why are they studying ethics?

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No, because libertarianism says that libertarianism is correct, and that statism is wrong.  If we say that morality is subjective, then libertarianism -- or any other position --- becomes meaningless.  Since one is as good as the other.  One can follow certain libertarian positions, but they should not consider themselves something or give themselves a name that traps them into a particular position.  What they really want is to be nameless.

Ethics is about the means.  Values are about the ends.  So Libertarianism is compatible with subjective values, but not subjective morality.  But ethics is only necessary for two reasons:  because of the conflicts in social reality, and because of competing ideas about right and wrong behavioral means.  Both of which call for an objective epistemology/investigation into a matter.  So it cannot be subjective.  If it is subjective, then there is no reason to talk about ethics at all.  Likewise if values were objective, it would mean that praxeology is pointless.

Values and ethics are both subjective and objective, in some sense, but in different ways.  This is where the confusion arises.  Since there is ontological subjectivity and objectivity (existence), and epistemological subjectivity and objectivity (whether or not it can be investigated).  These are different categories, and cannot be confused with each other.

I want a banana is about a value.  This is subjective from an ontological point of view, but it can become objective through epistemology.  That is, by my statement to another and the acknowledgment that my brain is producing this thought in material reality.  This then reifies the statement into social reality via a medium like writing or speech.  The problem here is that we demonstrate that objective does not equal ' truth', but it is objective nonetheless.  Once we get rid of this confusion, it is more easy to say that it is objective.  Objectivity comes before the statement about whether it is true or not.  For instance, 2+2=5 is an objective statement that we can explore through proofs within the language of mathematics.  But it is also false by the way of the investigation into that equation.  2+2=4 is equally objective, but it turns out to be true.

'I can steal a banana' is about ethics.  This is subjective from an ontological point of view, but it can become objective through epistemology as well.  For instance, we can investigate the legal, social, or logical legitimacy of the statement.  It might not be against the law to steal it, the man might not care if you steal it, or it might contradict logic if he can simply steal it back.  All of these can be demonstrated objectively. Here we are looking at only the means to obtain the banana, instead of the value of the banana or if one should value bananas.  We only look at the banana (or the actor), if we want to say see if it changes the type of means.  And then we go back to talking about the means.

Ethics itself is not about the means and ends of itself, because it itself is not something that has an object outside of itself.  For instance, it is not the case that one can kill in order to find the truth about ethics or steal it.  We also do not justify it based on a value, but based on the acceptance that it is right inherently to accept ethics.  Since nothing seems to contradict it, and it is necessary to so much of language and social reality.  If it were a value, it would be a value for something other than ethics or the resolving of certain conflicts themselves. Which isn't necessary, even if other conclusions such as liberty and peace coincidentally rely on them.  It's true that it is necessary for something other than ethics, but this isn't necessary to prove in order to have ethics.  It could also be said that values require ethics.  That is, we must say that having values or working towards them is good.  Because for instance there is altruism which says that sometimes, or all the time, one must do the opposite of what one values. 

We can't take it for granted that we have a right to values.  First of all, we must investigate this very right, so to speak, via ethics and the acceptance of ethics.  That is that the means to values must be good and not bad, and others' means to prevent our obtaining the value is good or bad.  Some values will not be our right because of the problematic of the means.  While others might be our right if the means are ethical.  At other times, values can be both our right and not our right depending on the means.  So a statement about a banana waits for the justification about the means I imagine for obtaining it.  It is my right if I pay for it, but not if I steal it -- that is probably more likely to be the case.  But not both.  And the means do not always justify the ends, obviously.

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hashem replied on Sat, Oct 6 2012 2:33 PM

shazam:
The argument that most of us use to advocate libertarianism as a political philosophy is the Non-Agression Principle, that no individual can initiate force against another individual. However, on the surface this seems to rely on the idea of objective morality, that everyone can agree to universal ethical principles. My question is if the existence of objective morality is necessary for libertarianism to be a valid system? 

If on the other hand morality is subjective, individuals could each have their own moral attitudes toward certain subjects. One person could extend the NAP only to adult humans, another could extend the NAP to animals, another could define mutually consentual actions between two others as against their ethical system, another could have no moral regulations whatsoever. As an obvious consequence of this, conflicts will arise between competing ethical systems. The person killing livestock will be in violation of the animal rightist's ethical system, the gay couple will be in violation of the devout Christian's ethical system, the mugger will be in violation of the property rightist's ethical system. Clearly  there must be some dispute resolution system to arbitrate in conflicts arising from competing ethical systems, whether this be simply might-makes-right, NAP, or some other method to settle disputes. This seems to leave us right back at square one, and having conceded that morality is not objective, this would also leave us without an objective way to settle disputes. Thoughts?

Objective:
- not influenced by personal feelings, interpretations, or prejudice; based on facts; unbiased
-
dealing with things external to the mind rather than with thoughts or feelings
- of or pertaining to something that can be known, or to something that is an object or a part of an object; existing independent of thought or an observer as part of reality

Clearly, morality isn't objective. Whether behavior is evil or righteous is perfectly not objectively right or wrong, being manifestly dependent on the various feelings of people. This also alludes to the manipulation used by moralists who talk about behavior being "right" or "wrong". If they were honest, they'd say evil or righteous, or at least "morally right" or "morally wrong", or if they were entirely honest they'd say "moral" or "immoral" in their opinion—but that will never happen since it would beg the question: who gives a shit about your opinion on what's immoral in a world where aggression isn't institutionalized by so-called "libertarians" or statists. But they want to force the association between emotional feelings about morality with objective words like right and wrong, these are the same people who want to use aggression so long as some people voluntarily buy their court or police service or, in there wet dream where their favorite libertarian mafias are institutionalized, people have no choice but to buy into some such scheme.

As for my thoughts, I'm coming to the conclusion that libertarians scare the hell out of me. They think Statism is evil because it permits some people to use aggression against people who are opposed to it, but they turn around and support the use of aggression against people who are opposed to it so long as SOME people willingly pay for the "service". I'm for liberty, the FREE market. Liberated and free from institutionalized aggression of all colors.

Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it's time to pause and reflect. —Mark Twain
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What is the definition of 'evil and 'righteous'?

I've not seen them used in a discussion about ethics.  I don't know the significance of these terms, or why it is different from right or wrong.  I'm guessing wrong is evil, and right is righteous.

I don't think ethics is my opinion, or my feelings.  I think it requires an impersonal investigation into certain claims.

I'm not sure what you mean when you talk about libertarians supporting aggression because people pay for a service.  I don't know the meaning of this sentence.  Or what you are referring to.

But you are afraid of libertarians.  So I assume you are not one.  So at least we have an example towards the thesis that 'libertarianism is not compatible with subjective ethics'.

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hashem:

As for my thoughts, I'm coming to the conclusion that libertarians scare the hell out of me.

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Neodoxy replied on Sat, Oct 6 2012 3:41 PM

Gotlucky,

OMG is that Ron Paul without his makeup on?

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hashem replied on Sat, Oct 6 2012 3:41 PM

I don't know what "the" definition is, but evil and righteous seem primarliy to be understood explicitly in regards to morality, whereas right and wrong are generally understood as referring to objective facts, except when discussing morality.

John Ess:
I don't know the significance of these terms, or why it is different from right or wrong.

To borrow from your very well written last post, it's as important as the distinction between ethics and morality. Ignorant people may not care about the difference, but it might also said that they don't care about the difference precisely because they're ignorant.

John Ess:
I'm not sure what you mean when you talk about libertarians supporting aggression because people pay for a service.

I think you're lying; you do know. With 950 posts and judging by your last post, I'm confident you know quite a bit about popularly proposed libertarian solutions of free market courts and police. But I'll address this for the sake of those lurking.

Libertarians think aggression is "wrong", which is to say they feel it to be immoral, except when used in accordance with their morals. So State courts and police are illegitimate, but "free market courts" or "free market police" are fine, and may have authority over people who don't buy their services. Or, libertarians like Stefan Molyneux may support a "contractual society" where insurance agencies run everything, so you ultimately either need to buy into an insurance scheme and go along with whatever rules are popular or you can't really live in that world.

So I am afraid of libertarians in the same sense that I oppose any radical aggression-supporting movement which proposes violent solutions to violence.

Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it's time to pause and reflect. —Mark Twain
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Neodoxy, how did you know? I thought Ron Paul tried to cover up his zombietarian conspiracy!

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Neodoxy replied on Sat, Oct 6 2012 4:48 PM

Well yea but I'm in the evil libertarian circle of doom, I know these things. I'm just surprised that you actually managed to take a picture of him in that form. He usually only takes off his disguise at night in order to go hunting for statist flesh.

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My main problem is not that it addresses libertarian positions, more that it seems like a long and awkward sentence.

"They think Statism is evil because it permits some people to use aggression against people who are opposed to it, but they turn around and support the use of aggression against people who are opposed to it so long as SOME people willingly pay for the "service"."

By the time I got to the end of this sentence it was difficult to tell what I just read.

I presume you think that there should be no service or anything else to stop or punish rape, fraud, theft, or other crimes?  Because these are only subjectively bad?  And possibly good in someone's opinion?  And this opinion is as valid as anyone's.  And thus there is no objection in your mind about any of these things.  And yet you believe aggression is 'wrong', which is why you say that you oppose it in every institution.  And you think it is 'wrong' to hold the views of libertarians, and wrong to have libertarian services.  This seems to be self-detonation in your argument.  The free market depends on protection of private property and life, and hence services to protect them.  That is all libertarians argue for.  Not for services to arrest people who go against what is popular.  No one ever argued for that.

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hashem replied on Sat, Oct 6 2012 9:16 PM

John Ess:
I presume you think that there should be no service or anything else to stop or punish rape, fraud, theft, or other crimes?

This vindicates what I've been saying. Libertarians say, "Crimes should be punished," and they base it on their moral values. As for myself, I'm a rationalist; I'm not pompous or arrogant enough to claim to have bridged the is/ought gap, and that people should do anything, especially not based on my limited subjective perspective of the world. That takes care of the 'should' portion of your question. Being a rationalist, I also acknowledge there's no objective standard for what deserves punishment, that's the second part of your question. Neither do I claim to classify behavior as criminal, implying either or both: that it is immoral, or that it should be punished.

But I love knowledge and consistency. I'm learning a lot about anthropolgy, biology, psychology, and similar things. I don't claim to think homo sapiens will live non-aggressively until we reach such a point where technology unites us in some sort of a hive mind—that is, a state of technology where communication is so efficient that humanity as a species acts effectively as a single organism. Like social insects, or picture a school of fish.

John Ess:
The free market depends on protection of private property and life, and hence services to protect them.

What ****ing free market??? By the time a free market exists, it will exist because technology will have us communicating so unimaginably efficiently that our daily experience will be as a hive mind, and nobody will be attempting to aggress against others because in such a world aggressors would effectively be aggressing against their own future, with effectively immediate ostracism—if the communication wasn't so effective as to prevent any aggression altogether.

Until then, aggression and dominant hierarchies are fundamental realities of the psychology of homo sapiens. Nobody is going to eradicate them before technology limits them to such a point that they become effectively moot anyway.

John Ess:
Not for services to arrest people who go against what is popular.

What then, services to arrest people who act in accordance with what is popular?

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This seems to be just an argument from ignorance.  Knowing something to be true does not require a higher quantitative 'perspective' than is given.  And limitation is relative.  You are using this word, which describes some things, but cannot be true in an absolute sense.  For instance, because we cannot do anything and everything, that we are limited in an absolute sense.  But only some things are outside our limitation, but not all of them.  You also seem to indicate that some omniscience could solve such a problem, but that neither exists nor is necessary.

Basically, your morality comes down to saying that one day immorality won't exist so there is no point in talking about it or preventing it.  This would obviously require the omniscience you claim you do not have.  But yet you claim it for yourself here in order to make such a prediction.  This seems to be a replacement for the eschaton in Christianity, except expressed in secular terms.  That man is inherently sinful, but he will be redeemed in some imagined future.  And again, the previous argument against moral knowledge relies on 'omniscience', which is eerily similar to the Garden of Eden myth and Biblical definition of justice.

You have said that you support free markets.  And then you reneg on this position.  If you oppose hierarchies and protection of property, and advocate, the so called hive-mind.  Then we are dealing with something other than free markets, called communism.   Which of course emerges out of the technology of capitalism.

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gotlucky replied on Sun, Oct 7 2012 10:14 AM

hashem:

But they want to force the association between emotional feelings about morality with objective words like right and wrong, these are the same people who want to use aggression so long as some people voluntarily buy their court or police service or, in there wet dream where their favorite libertarian mafias are institutionalized, people have no choice but to buy into some such scheme.

Right and wrong are not objective in any way, shape, or form. The meanings of the words are intersubjective.

hashem:

As for myself, I'm a rationalist; I'm not pompous or arrogant enough to claim to have bridged the is/ought gap, and that people should do anything, especially not based on my limited subjective perspective of the world.

Well, on the one hand you state that right and wrong are objective, and on the other you state that you are not pompous enough to state such a thing.

hashem:

They think Statism is evil because it permits some people to use aggression against people who are opposed to it, but they turn around and support the use of aggression against people who are opposed to it so long as SOME people willingly pay for the "service".

Quotes or it didn't happen. It seems like you are equivocating on the definition of aggression.

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Morality is subjective because it is Mind Dependent, some take the subjectivity of morality to the extreme, using subjective to mean "Each person decides what is right or wrong." The latter being downright absurd, for understanding morality in that way would mean each person's morality is correct, which just isn't so since morality is a social construct. Morality also has a "objective" element to it, you can see for instance that murder is wrong, not because of any "moral object" but because of the concrete affect murder has on a society.

Is Libertarianism Compatible with Subjective Morality? Yes, more compatible than objective morality if you think about it.

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Malachi replied on Sun, Oct 7 2012 11:12 AM
Youre getting somewhere but you need to be more rigorous. Murder is wrong by definition, orin other words a priori. Wrongness is a property of murder, not necessarily so with all deaths or all killings.
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hashem replied on Sun, Oct 7 2012 11:50 AM

John Ess:
This seems to be just...Basically...

If you quote something I actually said you wouldn't be guilty of oversimplification and would probably be less confused. Beyond that, I apologize for not understanding what you mean by your entire first paragraph.

John Ess:
your morality comes down to saying that one day immorality won't exist so there is no point in talking about it or preventing it.

Your view of fantasy is that one day the pink unicorn won't exist so there's no pointing in talking about or preventing it.

Objectively, the pink unicorn doesn't exist, and action isn't immoral. There is no point in talking about morality as though everyone should agree, and since everyone isn't bound by the same moral views, nobody should be punished according to anyone's morals. Moral views don't provide objective grounds for the use of aggression—initial or retaliatory.

Libertarians say, "X is immoral (e.g. initiating aggression), and therefore should be punished." I'm saying that's inconsistent and dangerous, probably more dangerous than statism which is at least transparently and obviously ridiculous.

I don't know what you mean by the rest of that paragraph. It seems like a red herring and doesn't appear to have anything to do with what I said.

John Ess:
You have said that you support free markets.  And then you reneg on this position.

I support that theoretically markets free of aggression are certainly the most efficient, and probably the closest to any universally acceptable view of being consistently "morally right". Note, a free market is by definition free from aggression. It is therefore a theoretical model. Further, to be consistent, it's free of initial and retaliatory aggression.

Like the theory of free markets, so also I believe ostracism is the most efficient form of punishment, and probably the closest to any universally acceptable view of being consistently "morally right". I don't accept that anyone is justified in using aggression—that doesn't mean society shouldn't allow some forms, because I don't claim to have solved the is/ought dichotomy (neither does it mean they should allow some forms). It just means if they're honest and consistent then they'll admit they don't have any objective grounds for aggression, intitial or retaliatory.

To be clear, I'm opposed to claiming that one has objective grounds to use aggression, initial or retaliatory. That doesn't mean I'm opposed to aggression, just to people using manipulation to convince others that aggression can be objectively justified.

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gotlucky replied on Sun, Oct 7 2012 11:51 AM

Serpenis-Lucis:

Morality is subjective because it is Mind Dependent, some take the subjectivity of morality to the extreme, using subjective to mean "Each person decides what is right or wrong." The latter being downright absurd, for understanding morality in that way would mean each person's morality is correct, which just isn't so since morality is a social construct.

Each person decides what is right and wrong, but they only decide what they consider to be right and wrong. This doesn't mean everyone's morality is correct, it means that any given person's morality is correct insofar as they are talking about what they consider to be right and wrong. In other words, Obama thinks it's moral to aggress against others in order to fund wars (in this case it is further aggression). I think this is wrong. We are not both correct at the same time in the same way. According to my worldview, I am right and Obama is wrong. According to Obama's worldview, he is right and I am wrong. But we are not both right at the same time any more than we are both wrong at the same time.

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@ Malachi

I've been planning on writing a more rigorous essay on morality for a while now. Just haven't gotten around to it. (Probably because writing a essay isn't fun, even when the subject is interesting, morality can be interesting at times but usually it is dry.)

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gotlucky, not much emphasis was placed on morality being a social construct in my post, the fact it is a social construct is of crucial importance in the context of the discussion. Sociality is what makes it impossible for each person to have their own morality. Besides the view you propose would be a very weak morality, setting aside that it lacks a social element which morality must have, surely you would agree that we can determine that some "moralities" are superior to others based on how they affect society? If we can't determine which morality is superior then each morality has the same merit. (ie Each person's morality is right.)

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gotlucky replied on Sun, Oct 7 2012 12:32 PM

Serpentis-Lucis:

gotlucky, not much emphasis was placed on morality being a social construct in my post, the fact it is a social construct is of crucial importance in the context of the discussion.

Well I agree with morality being a social construct. If you wrong yourself, are you the plaintiff or the defendant? If you wrong yourself, which part of you was in the right? It doesn't make much sense. The reason I didn't address this in your post was because I agreed with it. I addressed the part that I disagreed with, which was that everyone would be right at the same time. But if we follow that train of thought, we can say that everyone is wrong at the same time too. So it only makes sense to say that someone is right according to his worldview, not that everyone is right.

Sociality is what makes it impossible for each person to have their own morality.

Everyone does have their own morality. Everyone has their own opinions on what is right and wrong. If two people are in an accident, it is usually the case that someone had right of way. This would mean that, according to the relevant norms, someone acted rightly and the other wrongly. But, just because we can point to norms and laws does not mean that people do not have opinions about what those norms and laws ought to be. So while you may find a high degree of agreement about what morality/ethics/norms/customs/laws are, this does not mean that each person cannot have their own morality. When people agree, it is intersubjective agreement. The subjects still retain their opinion on morality.

Besides the view you propose would be a very weak morality, setting aside that it lacks a social element which morality must have, surely you would agree that we can determine that some "moralities" are superior to others based on how they affect society?

I'm not proposing a view. It's a description about what morality is. I'm not saying that Obama ought to be viewed as right. I'm saying that according to his worldview, he is right. According to mine, he is wrong.

If people want to live in a society based on social cooperation, then libertarianism is superior to other views on politics. This does not make libertarianism objectively superior. It depends upon one's goals. The Castros love their system; they get to rule a whole country. Their goal is not social cooperation. Their goal is to be the rulers of the Cuban people. Their system is far superior to libertarianism regarding that goal.

But my desire is to have a society based on social cooperation. So as far as I'm concerned, libertarianism is superior.

If we can't determine which morality is superior then each morality has the same merit. (ie Each person's morality is right.)

If we can't determine which morality is superior then each morality has the same merit. (ie Each person's morality is wrong.)

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"Objectively, the pink unicorn doesn't exist, and action isn't immoral."

You say the state exists, and various types of aggression.  That is what we know is the case.  I listed things which exist currently.  We are not talking about a concept that we have not agreed to.

But instead of confronting the various types of aggression and their justifications, you fast forward to the future where they don't exist.  This is to avoid the question completely with a hypothetical.  Obviously this assumes that all people in all systems do not wish for the same obedience.  For instance, modern statist might wish for total cooperation wherein there is no violence, either initial or retaliatory.  This could be done through increased propaganda and ideological training to a common cause. This is a wish of any system ideally.  However, differing and conflict demands corrupt this possibility.  And one must minimize violence before getting rid of it entirely.  We agree that ostracism is better, but one cannot ostracize a stabbing or rape or someone walking away with your children or car.

There is no reason to think something is a market if no retaliation is possible, whether to person or property.  Since all would be owned in common in that case.  Just like there is no reason to think you own your own body if the same is not possible.  For instance, if murder, rape, and assault are okay.  If there is a hive where people take what they want, there is no need for a market.  But this is the same problem as socialism.  Somehow in such a society everyone knows what everyone else needs without prices; and presumably also without one who makes plans.  This is also seems to be an impossibility, but at least we can say that your vision is not a market.

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"Morality is subjective because it is Mind Dependent"

This would mean that nearly everything is subjective.

Including numbers, colors, any type of measurement, etc.  It is subjective initially, but can be put into an objective system quite easily.  In this case, called ethics. 

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hashem replied on Sun, Oct 7 2012 2:48 PM

You're confused or we're talking past each other. We were talking about free markets because you were suggesting (presumably that they were the libertarian ideal, which you were proposing I was against) they depended on aggression. The free market is a theoretical model of property exchange in the absence of aggression. My point then was that no, it doesn't need aggression, it is in fact free of it by definition.

Now you're talking about markets in general. To me that seems off topic. Judging by your brilliant first post in this thread, I know you have clarity in thought so I'll try to assume the failure in communication here is mine. Again, it would help if you respond with at least a few direct quotes to help me understand where you're coming from.

John Ess:
There is no reason to think something is a market if no retaliation is possible

I'm not proposing a scenario where retaliation is impossible. Again, "To be clear, I'm opposed to claiming that one has objective grounds to use aggression, initial or retaliatory. That doesn't mean I'm opposed to aggression, just to people using manipulation to convince others that aggression can be objectively justified."

John Ess:
If there is a hive where people take what they want

I was willing to give you the benefit of the doubt but this is testing my patience. Where did I ever propose a hive where people take what they want??? A market is an exchange of property, a free market is such without aggression. I already said I support free markets, "I support that theoretically markets free of aggression are certainly the most efficient, and probably the closest to any universally acceptable view of being consistently "morally right"."

Also, we are in agreement about the fact that in practice, in reality, aggression and dominance hierarchies are fundamental characteristics of the psychology of homo sapiens in society. My main point has been that there aren't objective grounds by which to justify aggression (i.e. it's just a brute fact), and the implication I raised was that libertarians are a scary bunch because like statist they seek to justify and legitimize and institutionalize aggression on moral grounds.

John Ess:
You say the state exists

Please at least quote me saying that. I really think we can avoid the confusion here if you talk about what I actually say, in context, instead of talking about your interpretation of what you think you remember me saying.

 
Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it's time to pause and reflect. —Mark Twain
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@ John Ess

Correct, many things are indeed subjective, such as language, numbers, ethics, etc. etc. There is nothing wrong with those things being subjective, unless people take it to the extreme. Moral objectivists find it difficult to accept that morality is subjective, they believe that if it is subjective then it is somehow meaningless, yet so many important things are subjective without it diminishing them. Language is subjective, without a mind there would be no language, does that make language less significant? I think not.

I'll go into more detail in another post.

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gotlucky replied on Mon, Oct 8 2012 12:22 AM

@Serpentis-Lucis

You might find this article on Mathematical Platonism interesting. I am leaning towards that idea, that math is really objective and abstract. The way that I've been leaning towards viewing certain concepts as obective instead of subjective has to do with properties versus values. Properties are the qualities that make up an object, and values are the qualities that subjects perceive in an object. Consider sound, for instance. We perceive sound as something we hear, but sound is really just waves moving through space. There are actual properties of sound, but as subjects we perceive sound differently than what it really is.

In terms of math, the way I see it is that the concept of adding or uniting or increasing is a property of addition. It wouldn't be addition if it were subjective, as the very properties that make addition addition would be different. While the abstract concept addition seems to require a subject to think it, I don't think that makes it subjective. After all, dogs are not subjective; they are concrete objects. And when we think of the abstract concept "dog", this does not make "dog" subjective. It's just an abstraction of dogs.

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The problem with arguing against moral objectivism is that it is not a monolithic position.  It is a just the name given to a group of related positions on morality.  So statements like the following don't actually address the issue:

Morality is necessarily subjective. Subjects (people) value.

Morality is subjective because it is Mind Dependent

The first quote assumes that all theories of moral objectivism rely on an objective theory of value, while the second assumes that they claim mind independence; neither of which is necessarily the case.  To complicate matters further, Objectivists reject the objective-subjective dichotomy in favor of an intrinsic-objective-subjective trichotomy, where the term "intrinsic" functions as the opposite of subjective while "objective" functions as a middle ground between the two.  Essentially, an "object" is always in relation to a mind.

Moral objectivists find it difficult to accept that morality is subjective ... Language is subjective, without a mind there would be no language

Moral objectivists (or at least big-O Objectivists) don't deny that morality is mind dependent, they deny that mind dependence is the defining characteristic of subjectivity.  If we break up existence into the mind dependent and mind independent, we find a whole lot of things end up being mind dependent: emotions, values, concepts, language, numbers, abstractions, hallucinations, pain, etc.  The problem is that there is a difference between a concept and a hallucination.  Even though a concept is mind dependent, its existence straddles consciousness and external reality.  As a result, it can still be recongnized as right or wrong -- that is, you can hold a concept of a square, and be wrong if your concept has 5 angles or sides of varying lengths.   As such, it makes no sense to call concepts (language, etc.) subjective without any qualifications. 

This is essentially the view that a lot of moral objectivists hold regarding values.  Yes, they are subjective in the sense that they are mind dependent they aren't qualities instrinsic to objects.  However, it just doesn't follow from this fact that values cannot be considered right or wrong from the view of a third-party, and to call morality subjective obfuscates this distinction.

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gotlucky replied on Wed, Oct 10 2012 3:10 PM

mikachusetts:

The first quote assumes that all theories of moral objectivism rely on an objective theory of value, while the second assumes that they claim mind independence; neither of which is necessarily the case.  To complicate matters further, Objectivists reject the objective-subjective dichotomy in favor of an intrinsic-objective-subjective trichotomy, where the term "intrinsic" functions as the opposite of subjective while "objective" functions as a middle ground between the two.  Essentially, an "object" is always in relation to a mind.

You ignored the rest of my paragraph. Jokes are not intrinsically funny. Jokes are not objectively funny. Jokes are only subjectively funny. There may be universal or near universal beliefs about the characteristics of funniness, but jokes are neither intrinsically nor objectively funny. It's the same with morality. The act of killing another human is homicide. Homicide is not intrinsically right or wrong. Homicide is not objectively right or wrong. Homicide is only subjectively right or wrong.

Even within libertarianism, homicide is not necessarily right or wrong per se. It depends upon context. And if you take Gandhi, he considered homicide to be always wrong. But where in the act of killing another human is there some essential quality of rightness or wrongness? These qualities don't exist intrinsically or objectively within the act of homicide. They only exist insofar as a subject considers the action to be right or wrong.

And Neodoxy made an excellent point:

Neodoxy:

Even if morality is objective, whatever this ultimately means, the fact is that there is nothing to stop people from believing that morality is subjective.

While it's true that there is nothing stopping people from calling a polygon with three sides and three angles a square, this is an entirely different animal. The Japanese don't call a polygon with three sides and three angles a triangle. Neither do the French. Or the Germans. Or the Russians. Etc. The concept of a polygon with three sides and three angles is just that, an abstract concept. We might see concrete triangles in the physical world. But a triangle is a polygon with three sides and three angles. Those are the qualities that may a triangle a triangle, or whatever word you might want to use.

But the act of killing another human being, what we call homicide (and the Germans, French, Japanese, Russians, etc. all have different sounds and symbols for this concept), those are the qualities of that concept. Some people choose to equate homicide with murder under all circumstances. Other people do not. But so what? The fact is that the act of killing another human being is the act of killing another human being. There are not other "intrinsic" or "objective" qualities to it.

If someone views homicide as wrong, that is their value. It is not an intrinsic or objective quality of homicide. Subjects must attribute the qualities right and wrong to homicide. This is why morality is subjective.

mikachusetts:

This is essentially the view that a lot of moral objectivists hold regarding values.  Yes, they are subjective in the sense that they are mind dependent they aren't qualities instrinsic to objects.  However, it just doesn't follow from this fact that values cannot be considered right or wrong from the view of a third-party, and to call morality subjective obfuscates this distinction.

The third party is necessarily a subject. This third party has his own values. So sure, the third party can consider something to be right or wrong...but so what? I've already said that.

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GotLucky,

Is your main point that only agents can value and as such saying anything has value independent of actors is nonsensical? Even if this is the case it does not follow that morality is necessarily subjective as there could be norms which have value to all actors in the long run which they do not at present recognise. Analgously an agent may well like driving his car on ice near a cliff edge so much that he fails to notice the cliff and as such falls off which he didn't want to.

Further, is it possible that some agents are qualitatively different, apart from agency of course (it seems you are treating all agents equally which you haven't yet justified)?  If so would this have any bearing on your moral theorising?

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gotlucky,

Correct me if I'm wrong, but this seems to be your general argument:

  • Right and wrong are simply peoples attitudes towards behaviors
  • Attitudes towards behaviors are subjective
  • Therefore, morality is subjective

First off, the initial premise is the very point of contention.  When people are arguing about whether morality is subjective or objective, they are really arguing about what it means for actions to be right or wrong.  You haven't really made a case why it must be a matter of personal opinion.

Second, I think even if we accept that right and wrong are subjective is some sense, it doesn't follow that morality is subjective in all senses.  Consider money, for example.  A dollar bill is money because people value it as a medium of exchange; it doesn't have an intrinsic quality of "moneyness."  However, we do not generally call money a subjective matter.  If any given person ceases to use the dollar as a medium of exchange, it doesn't stop being money.  At best you might say it ceases being money for that individual, but what if I'm the only person who values sand as a medium of exchange -- does that make sand money, for me?  Of course not, because it is still not actually a medium of exchange.

 I think its clear that there is a diference between something being money and being considered money.  So the question is whether there's a difference between something being right and being considered right?  And additionally, what kind of facts would we need to actually answer this question?

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I would say it is compatible. 

Morality is subjective but I do think that some basic forms of ethics are universal or objective. I refer to Stefan Molyneux universally preferable behaviour. An example, where he uses logic to show that stealing is universally perceived as a bad or wrong. By definition if someone does not mind an item being "stolen" then the item is not actually stolen. Libertarianism is quite clear about the non aggression principle and the right to self ownership. These are not so much as objective but universal. Even if someone is born in a muslim family and believes that culture but one day suffers trauma due to the culture, that person is free to seek arbitration and security in a liberation society. Conflicts between two parties with different sets of ethical value systems, would be forced in to finding a middle ground or the conflict would remain unresolved. Over which form of ethical values would eventually turn out to be dominant would be subject to the region and historic culture of that area. But that variation in values can be observed in the current legal system between different countries and between different regions within countries. So it would be reasonable to presume that this would be the case within a libertarian society.

In some ways though it would be incompatible as types of cultures or ethical value systems that violated the nap would not be tolerated within the region where libertarianism is present. Especially if it started to create a lot of conflicts. So it is compatible but only to some extent, I would say it is lenient or broad or not petty. Libertarianism only needs a few basic principles, god needed 10, the government needs 35608.

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Autolykos replied on Fri, Oct 12 2012 11:53 AM

shazam:
The argument that most of us use to advocate libertarianism as a political philosophy is the Non-Agression Principle, that no individual can initiate force against another individual. However, on the surface this seems to rely on the idea of objective morality, that everyone can agree to universal ethical principles. My question is if the existence of objective morality is necessary for libertarianism to be a valid system?

If that's how you're defining "objective morality" (i.e. "everyone agreeing to universal ethical principles") then objective morality certainly can exist, because everyone can agree to universal ethical principles. But that in no way means everyone will.

Aside from that, what do you mean by "valid system"?

shazam:
If on the other hand morality is subjective, individuals could each have their own moral attitudes toward certain subjects. One person could extend the NAP only to adult humans, another could extend the NAP to animals, another could define mutually consentual actions between two others as against their ethical system, another could have no moral regulations whatsoever. As an obvious consequence of this, conflicts will arise between competing ethical systems. The person killing livestock will be in violation of the animal rightist's ethical system, the gay couple will be in violation of the devout Christian's ethical system, the mugger will be in violation of the property rightist's ethical system. Clearly  there must be some dispute resolution system to arbitrate in conflicts arising from competing ethical systems, whether this be simply might-makes-right, NAP, or some other method to settle disputes. This seems to leave us right back at square one, and having conceded that morality is not objective, this would also leave us without an objective way to settle disputes. Thoughts?

In theory, everyone can agree to a particular way to settle disputes, but again that doesn't mean everyone will. However, I think one advantage that voluntaryism has over other ways to settle disputes is that it's more abstract and therefore more encompassing. For example, if two people decide to settle a dispute by waging a duel, that's fine with me. They clearly agreed to it in advance, they're aware of the risks, etc. I may not want to resolve a dispute that way, but how they resolve their dispute between themselves isn't my business.

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Conza88 replied on Fri, Oct 12 2012 9:11 PM

"Do you happen to think that political philosophy is objective, while personal ethics is subjective?"

No. This gives an outline really.

"Rasmussen and DenUyl are not satisfied. The view just canvassed confines ethics to rules that apply to everyone. Questions about the good life have no objective answers: here mere preferences reign supreme. In brief, the right is prior to the good:

"The general tendency has been to consider the good as essentially privatized and the right as universalized. The good. . .has come to be regarded as the object of one's own interest, the object of one's desires, or those things one regards as beneficial. It is said to stand in contrast to what one may do with any right. What one may do by right is what is allowed to, or demanded of, or required by, all agents equally and universally. . .there is an inevitable tendency in the distinction between the good and the right to deprecate the moral nature of the good to the enhancement of the right. In other words, what is impartial and universal tends to take precedence over goods, which are, almost by definition now, partial and particular."(pp.22, 26)

They defend instead an Aristotelian view. The good for a person does not consist of his whims and desires, whatever they may be---far from it. Rather, each person has a natural end or function: his leading a flourishing life. This view, which they term perfectionism, "holds that eudaimonia [happiness or flourishing] is the ultimate good or value and that virtue ought to characterize how human beings conduct their lives."(p.111)

Does not a problem at once threaten them? They deny that the good life reduces without remainder to preferences: the good is objective. Yet they are also favor a political system in which people are free to act as they please, so long as they do not initiate or threaten force or fraud. But are there not many actions that fall within these bounds that an objective ethics would condemn? Suppose that I spend most of my days drinking myself into a stupor. I threaten no one with force, but surely I am not living in accord with my Aristotelian natural end. I am doing what is objectively wrong: how then can I have a right to do it?

Many supporters of natural law view matters exactly as these questions suggest. There can be no right to violate the demands of morality. Thus, Heinrich Rommen, a distinguished historian of natural law, remarked that rights are: "the sphere of right that is 'given' with the nature of a person."(p.64) Your rights are defined by your duties, and there cannot be a "right" to do what is wrong.

The authors answer with their key thesis: The mandates of personal ethics do not directly determine the nature of political arrangements. Liberalism is not  "a 'normative political philosophy' in the usual sense. It is rather a political philosophy of metanorms. It seeks not to guide individual conduct in moral activity, but rather to regulate conduct so that conditions might be obtained where moral action can take place. To contrast liberalism directly with alternative ethical systems or values is, therefore, something of a category mistake."(p.34)

The combination of an objective personal ethics with a political system of freedom is, then, logically consistent. But why should we adopt it? Why not, rather, enact a political system whose metanorms require that people conform to their objective end?

The authors' version of ethics excludes this suggestion. They embrace "individualistic perfectionism." There is no fixed pattern to which every individual, in his pursuit of eudaimonia, must conform. Rather, "the generic goods and virtues that constitute human flourishing only become actual, determinate, and valuable realities when they are given particular form by the choices of flesh-and-blood persons. The importance or value of these goods and virtues is rooted in factors that are unique to each person, for it is not the universal as such that is valuable. . . Human flourishing is not simply achieved and enjoyed by individuals, but it is individualized."(pp.132-33)"

Ron Paul is for self-government when compared to the Constitution. He's an anarcho-capitalist. Proof.
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Conza88 replied on Fri, Oct 12 2012 9:16 PM

The above post is how I would have responded previously when I was entrenched in natural rights. I like Rothbard, don't see a conflict. As such though, I prefer to adopt AE as it is a stronger argument (per Rothbard's opinion as well).

Re: "The argument that most of us use to advocate libertarianism as a political philosophy is the Non-Agression Principle, that no individual can initiate force against another individual. However, on the surface this seems to rely on the idea of objective morality, that everyone can agree to universal ethical principles. My question is if the existence of objective morality is necessary for libertarianism to be a valid system?"

This is how I'd quickly respond now. Ethics has nothing to do with libertarianism. So it's irrelevent.


Deductive  legal  theory,  when  properly  applied  in  a  given  context, objectively and descriptively defines the parameters of what justice is in relation to questions of property rights, contracts, torts, and other legal matters. This yields  a  deeper-than-expected  foundation  for  the  traditional  libertarian insistence  on  not  mixing  law  with  morality  and  the  corollary  opposition  to “legislating  morality.”  Legal  theory  is  a  discrete  field  that,  like  Mises’s conception of economic theory, can provide descriptive, categorical input for use in “ought” considerations, even as legal theory and ethics remain distinct in foundations, scope, and method.

Deductive  legal  theory,  when  properly  applied  in  a  given  context, objectively and descriptively defines the parameters of what justice is in relation to questions of property rights, contracts, torts, and other legal matters. This yields  a  deeper-than-expected  foundation  for  the  traditional  libertarian insistence  on  not  mixing  law  with  morality  and  the  corollary  opposition  to “legislating  morality.”  Legal  theory  is  a  discrete  field  that,  like  Mises’s conception of economic theory, can provide descriptive, categorical input for use in “ought” considerations, even as legal theory and ethics remain distinct in foundations, scope, and method.

The above is an excerpt from:

"If you’re just starting out it is probably best to study the classics and introductory books. However, understanding the framework of knowledge, praxeology — the science of human action and where the two important fields of economics and jurisprudence (political philosophy) reside is very helpful. This is the most cutting edge article out there that exists today. 

“Action-Based Jurisprudence: Praxeological Legal Theory in Relation to Economic Theory, Ethics, and Legal Practice”    by Konrad Graf

Action-based legal theory is a discrete branch of praxeology and the basis of an emerging school of jurisprudence related to, but distinct from, natural law. Legal theory and economic theory share content that is part of praxeology itself: the action axiom, the a priori of argumentation, universalizable property theory, and counterfactual-deductive methodology. Praxeological property-norm justification is separate from the strictly ethical “ought” question of selecting ends in an action context. Examples of action-based jurisprudence are found in existing “Austro-libertarian” literature. Legal theory and legal practice must remain distinct and work closely together if justice is to be found in real cases. Legal theorizing was shaped in religious ethical contexts, which contributed to confused field boundaries between law and ethics. The carrot and stick influence of rulers on theorists has distorted conventional economics and jurisprudence in particular directions over the course of centuries. An action-based approach is relatively immune to such sources of distortion in its methods and conclusions, but has tended historically to be marginalized from conventional institutions for this same reason.

I don’t think the above will be bested in a very long time. It is a big read for a journal article, but do not let that put you off. It is well worth it. If you’re not a fan of reading online, I would suggest printing it out - which can be done very easily for around $5. It’s something you will come back to often. A one stop shop for understanding Austro-Libertarianism in one read."

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Autolykos replied on Fri, Oct 12 2012 10:13 PM

Conza, what are your definitions of "objective" and "ethics"? I'd very much appreciate it if you answer in your own words rather than quoting someone else at length.

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Bump. This thread was getting interesting then everyone kind of disappeared.

The atoms tell the atoms so, for I never was or will but atoms forevermore be.

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gotlucky replied on Mon, Oct 15 2012 8:22 AM

Sorry I took so long to respond. Last week was really busy for me, and I only had time for a couple of short posts throughout the week.

Physiocrat:

Is your main point that only agents can value and as such saying anything has value independent of actors is nonsensical? Even if this is the case it does not follow that morality is necessarily subjective as there could be norms which have value to all actors in the long run which they do not at present recognise. Analgously an agent may well like driving his car on ice near a cliff edge so much that he fails to notice the cliff and as such falls off which he didn't want to.

Right, I think you summed up my point accurately. What you go on to describe after sounds more like universal (or near universal) qualities of morality or value, but not inherent qualities. In other words, most people prefer life to death for themselves (as the people who actually prefer death for themselves commit suicide). But this does not mean that life has an inherent quality of goodness or value. It's just near universally preferred. People tend to like being alive, but this doesn't mean that they would like being alive under all circumstances. Some people prefer death because of severe depression, shame, physical pain, etc.

Regarding the person driving on the icy edge of a cliff, does he not enjoy the risk? Falling off is not his intention, but the act of driving on an icy cliff seems like the sort of thing a daredevil would do. But even if he is doing it because he wants to go from A to B (and the icy cliff is inbetween), we can still say that he preferred the risk (even if he didn't "enjoy" it) over not taking the risk. So if he drives off the edge, he probably didn't want it nor does he consider it a good thing, but he still considered the risk to be worth it.

Physiocrat:

Further, is it possible that some agents are qualitatively different, apart from agency of course (it seems you are treating all agents equally which you haven't yet justified)?  If so would this have any bearing on your moral theorising?

Do you mean the difference between children and adults, between humans and chimps, or between anarchists and statists, maybe something else?

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