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Arguments against the Non-Aggression Principle

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fountainhead Posted: Sat, Dec 1 2012 7:38 PM

I wanted to share this video series from a left-wing anarchist with you guys in case you haven't seen it and also get your thoughts on how you would respond to anarchopac's criticisms.

Funny, I've been a "libertarian" since around 2002 (though, more like a small-government Republican back then) and I studied philosophy, including moral philosophy, in university around the same time, but I'm still relatively new to marrying the moral and political aspects of libertarianism together in the Non-Aggression Principle. So here's my newbie-ish attempt at responding to his criticisms:

1. The problem of personhood - Supposedly, defining "personhood" as being a homo-sapien can't work with the NAP because it would mean that euthanizing someone in order to end their pain and suffering would be a violation of the principle. In order to follow the NAP you would have to keep a suffering person alive. Can't we say that euthanasia may indeed be morally wrong, but depending on the circumstances, to not euthanize someone might constitute an even worse initiation of violence because of the suffering it causes for the person?

2. Verbal vs. physical violence - I would actually limit the NAP to the initiation or threat of physical force only. Calling someone names may be wrong, not polite, etc., but doesn't constitute violence to me. Isn't it true that while the NAP is our guiding principle, it isn't the only moral law? For example, certain people might consider pre-marital sex to be morally wrong on religious grounds, but one could say that's an issue between them and God, not a matter of the State or society. Though, what would you say to someone who's able to manipulate an innocent person via speech only and torment them into hurting themselves or others? Is that an initiation of violence?

3. Pram thought experiment - Here again we have the problem of action through inaction like with the euthanasia example. Which is the worse initiation of violence? Pushing people out of the way to save the baby or doing nothing and allowing the baby to get hurt or die, which is what anarchopac would say is consistent with the NAP? I'm not sure if you guys have a uniform view on whether inaction can constitute action. I think I would still answer this criticism by saying again that the NAP isn't the only moral law we live by. It's just the one we choose as the ideal guiding principle for organizing a society.

Anyway, curious to hear how you guys would respond.

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gotlucky replied on Sat, Dec 1 2012 10:28 PM

1. The problem of personhood - Supposedly, defining "personhood" as being a homo-sapien can't work with the NAP because it would mean that euthanizing someone in order to end their pain and suffering would be a violation of the principle. In order to follow the NAP you would have to keep a suffering person alive. Can't we say that euthanasia may indeed be morally wrong, but depending on the circumstances, to not euthanize someone might constitute an even worse initiation of violence because of the suffering it causes for the person?

Suffering is not equivalent to aggression. The NAP is concerned with the initiation of violence, or perhaps more precisely the initiation of coercion. If the euthanasia is requested, then there was no coercion and thus no violation of the NAP. If the person doing the euthanizing is an angel of death type of killer, then it is absolutely coercive and thus a violation of the NAP.

2. Verbal vs. physical violence - I would actually limit the NAP to the initiation or threat of physical force only. Calling someone names may be wrong, not polite, etc., but doesn't constitute violence to me. Isn't it true that while the NAP is our guiding principle, it isn't the only moral law? For example, certain people might consider pre-marital sex to be morally wrong on religious grounds, but one could say that's an issue between them and God, not a matter of the State or society. Though, what would you say to someone who's able to manipulate an innocent person via speech only and torment them into hurting themselves or others? Is that an initiation of violence?

Violence is physical force. Verbal/emotional violence are really metaphors. Being a jerk to someone is not necessarily initiating coercion. The NAP is concerned with law, not with what is moral or ethical. You can lie to people so long as you haven't initiated coercion. Under certain circumstances, lying is coercive. Under others, it isn't.

If Mr. Jerk is able to taunt Mr. Innocent Person until Mr. Innocent Person hurts himself out of frustration, then that is an unfortunate scenario. This does not make Mr. Jerk guilty of violating the NAP. However, that he is such a jerk is a strong signal that others might want to avoid him.

3. Pram thought experiment - Here again we have the problem of action through inaction like with the euthanasia example. Which is the worse initiation of violence? Pushing people out of the way to save the baby or doing nothing and allowing the baby to get hurt or die, which is what anarchopac would say is consistent with the NAP? I'm not sure if you guys have a uniform view on whether inaction can constitute action. I think I would still answer this criticism by saying again that the NAP isn't the only moral law we live by. It's just the one we choose as the ideal guiding principle for organizing a society.

In this scenario, doing something violates the NAP while doing nothing does not. However, most people would probably forgive you for saving the baby so long as you don't maim them in the process. I mean, maybe some people might forgive you even then, but the point is that people can forgive you for aggression after the fact. If someone forgives you for your aggression, they are demonstrating that they do not consider your actions to have been aggressive after all.

So, yes pushing them out of the way is aggressive, but they can forgive your aggression thus nullifying your crime. If they don't forgive you, then you have to pay restitution for what, a bruise or a broken arm? I'd say that's a small price to pay for saving the life of a baby.

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Blargg replied on Sat, Dec 1 2012 11:19 PM

I think he has a point that the NAP as the central, guiding principle for all actions falls short. I see the NAP as having nothing to add to most situations, and only applying to some which if allowed, cause great harm to society.

In the animal cruelty example, the NAP as I understand it has nothing to say. This is not to say that people have no feelings on the matter or that it's fine, just that it's not an issue of aggression towards other people. I think it's simple-minded to want a single principle to give detailed guidance in every situation.

It's not a failing of the NAP that it doesn't cover everything. It's just one "layer" of society, one that gives great power to other layers. In the example of being verbally harassed, one can simply have the person leave, if the property owner agrees, or go somewhere the person isn't allowed. If there's no violence, this will be fully effective. Or for someone who mistreats animals, others can refuse to have any dealings with them, thus giving the person the choice of hardship or to stop mistreating animals.

In the examples of ending people's lives, it's really a case of deciding not to continue using one's own resources to keep the person alive. Even if the person were paying to be kept alive, to cease this would be to breach your contract with them, not aggression.
 

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As I see it, NAP is the only basis by which to judge others' actions, and is the foundation for what I'd consider an honorable personal moral code.

What I mean is that I might have a moral belief regarding premarital sex but I have no rational grounds to pass judgment on others on that issue.  I can only let my own actions be guided by it. 

Issues that NAP covers are different: I can apply that rule to any rational person I meet.  It's fairly clear cut in my opinion.  The euthanasia example above is handled first by determining if the patient can make the decision for themselves.  If no, they are not covered by NAP because they are too ill or what have you to make choices for themselves.  In that case, it's not a matter for NAP.  It's a decision for the person's caretaker based on their personal morals and their knowledge of the patient's wishes prior to illness.

Verbal vs. physical violence: NAP covers actions and threats of force against the property of another, both material goods and/or their person.  Anything else is not covered by NAP.  The manipulation scenario you describe would be a situation of the person being "manipulated" having made a choice based on information given to them by another.  It's their right to be self-destructive, and nobody is required to interfere in that process.  After all, it's impossible to distinguish morally between forms of argumentation.  If you call it wrong to convince someone to believe a self-destructive thing, you have to also call it morally wrong to try to convince them of a non-self-destructive thing.  You've just outlawed all argumentation.  It can't work like that.  The individual who makes the final choice of who to believe/how to act is in charge of their own destiny.

The pram thing is a scenario we've discussed here before-inaction cannot be called action.  This was spelled out very clearly for me in my first thread on this forum!  If you think it over, you're FAILING to act in others' favor in some way or another every second of your existence.  You can't be held to any requirement toward your fellow man that way.  However, most people have a sense of proportion and a personal moral code that would indicate that violating NAP in order to save a baby (within reason) is worth the risk that whoever got hurt would expect recompense for it.  It would be a matter of what you valued more: the baby's life or the avoidance of a court case. 

NAP doesn't mean that your hands are tied.  It just means you might have to make it up to the guy you hurt, if the situation seemed to require it.

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