Free Capitalist Network - Community Archive
Mises Community Archive
An online community for fans of Austrian economics and libertarianism, featuring forums, user blogs, and more.

Can You Define Natural Rights as a Meaningful Concept?

This post has 246 Replies | 17 Followers

Top 50 Contributor
Male
Posts 2,551
Points 46,635
AJ Posted: Fri, Aug 7 2009 4:06 PM

In another thread I issued the challenge to provide a valid logical proof of any theory of natural law stated using precisely and unambiguously defined terms. (If you'd like to try, feel free to answer in that thread.) However, so far no such proof has been supplied.

In light of this, I issue an even easier challenge:

Provide a logically meaningful definition of "natural law," in which each term used is unambiguously defined.

Or, if you prefer:

Provide a logically meaningful definition of "natural rights," in which each term used is unambiguously defined, without making reference to "natural law" (unless you also define "natural law" as above).

In so doing, be careful that the resulting theory does not boil down to subjective approval/disapproval, consequentialism/utilitarianism, or mere persuasion or advice - that would seem to defeat the purpose of calling something "natural law" or a "natural right."

Note: If you use words with multiple interpretations, such as "ought," "should," "right/wrong," "good/bad," "objective value," or "man's nature," etc., please define these terms precisely and unambiguously.

  • | Post Points: 260
Top 10 Contributor
Male
Posts 5,538
Points 93,790
Juan replied on Fri, Aug 7 2009 4:10 PM
AJ, I suggest that for EVERY word you use, you start a new thread to discuss what the word really means.

February 17 - 1600 - Giordano Bruno is burnt alive by the catholic church.
Aquinas : "much more reason is there for heretics, as soon as they are convicted of heresy, to be not only excommunicated but even put to death."

  • | Post Points: 5
Top 150 Contributor
Posts 515
Points 8,495
fsk replied on Fri, Aug 7 2009 4:26 PM

One good start is the Non-Aggression Principle, which is "You can do whatever you want as long as you don't injure anyone else."

Another good start is "Stealing is wrong (when individuals do it)."  That rapidly leads to "Stealing is wrong when groups do it." and "Stealing is wrong when government bureaucrats do it." and "Taxation is theft!"

Another important point is "Private property is legitimate."  Otherwise, why bother working or doing anything?

When you have an argument, at some point you need to have axioms.  I take the above as axioms.

If you have ZERO axioms, you can't prove anything.  If your goal is "Starting from absolutely no axioms, prove natural law!", you can't do it.  You have to have some assumptions just to get started.

That's like saying "Starting from zero axioms, prove that 2+2=4!"  You can't do it.  You have to have some axioms about the way arithmetic works, in order to prove that 2+2=4.

I have my own blog at FSK's Guide to Reality. Let me know if you like it.

  • | Post Points: 20
Top 50 Contributor
Male
Posts 2,551
Points 46,635
AJ replied on Fri, Aug 7 2009 4:49 PM

fsk:
Another important point is "Private property is legitimate."  Otherwise, why bother working or doing anything?

For example, this appears to be consequentialism. See the OP.

  • | Post Points: 20
Top 10 Contributor
Posts 7,105
Points 115,240
ForumsAdministrator
Moderator
SystemAdministrator

if actions did not have consequences then morality really would be bunk.

Where there is no property there is no justice; a proposition as certain as any demonstration in Euclid

Fools! not to see that what they madly desire would be a calamity to them as no hands but their own could bring

  • | Post Points: 20
Top 50 Contributor
Male
Posts 2,551
Points 46,635
AJ replied on Fri, Aug 7 2009 4:56 PM

Can I interpret your position as stating that morality is merely advice, as in, "Do this if you want these consequences?"

  • | Post Points: 20
Top 10 Contributor
Posts 7,105
Points 115,240
ForumsAdministrator
Moderator
SystemAdministrator

no.

Where there is no property there is no justice; a proposition as certain as any demonstration in Euclid

Fools! not to see that what they madly desire would be a calamity to them as no hands but their own could bring

  • | Post Points: 5
Top 500 Contributor
Posts 280
Points 5,590
Zavoi replied on Fri, Aug 7 2009 6:28 PM

AJ:
Provide a logically meaningful definition of "natural rights," in which each term used is unambiguously defined, without making reference to "natural law" (unless you also define "natural law" as above).

Let me begin by saying that I will not attempt to defend "natural law," if by that we mean attempts to derive ethics from supposedly objective ends such as "the fulfillment of human nature" or "human flourishing." I agree with the OP that these approaches are dead-ends because they are too vague and they assume too much. Wouldn't history suggest that human nature is characterized more by war and statism than by peaceful interaction? And don't people like Stalin and Kim Jong-il "flourish" in their own way? In any case, this sort of natural-law argument does not prove that anyone should do anything.

However, that does not mean that entire concept of objective ethics must be rejected. Indeed, it is impossible to do so consistently, as I hope to demonstrate below.

First of all, an argument between two individuals only arises as a result of an actual disagreement between those individuals. If Alice says "I like chocolate," and Bob says "I don't like chocolate," then there is no actual disagreement because the term "like" refers to subjective preferences, and there is no contradiction involved when subjective preferences differ from one individual to another.

Thus, when Alice argues with Bob about whether something is "good" or "bad," she must assume that there is a standard of good and bad that is objectively valid for both her and Bob, and not merely a subjective preference.

So you might ask, "Why would anyone bother arguing about good or bad? Don't they see that such an argument would be just as meaningless as a debate about whether chocolate tastes good?" I'll get to that in a moment.

When Bob does something that Alice (subjectively) doesn't like, she has a choice: She can object, or she can refrain from objecting. If she does not object, then the question of ethics does not arise, and it would be meaningless to speak of Bob's action as "immoral." If, however, she does object, then she is engaging in an argument, which means that she assumes an objective standard of good and bad. Thus we see that Alice must argue about good and bad if she is to object to Bob's action.

Now that we know that Alice accepts objective ethics in order to object to Bob's action, we know that she must also have a reason why her objection is correct, if she is engaging in an argument. If she says "X is true, because I said so," then Bob will reply, "X is false, because I said so." As with the chocolate example, the lack of an objective standard of truth makes meaningful argumentation impossible.

But from all of this, where do we derive "natural rights" such as the right to life, liberty, and property? I will save that answer for another post, since I first want to know if anyone disagrees with what I have written here, but I'll give an example of the type of reasoning that leads to natural rights:

  1. Suppose that someone claims that "It is always right to kill another person."
  2. If this claim is meant to constitute an objection to being interfered with while killing a person, then it must also entail the claim that "It is always wrong to interfere with someone's ability to kill another person."
  3. The action "killing a person" is a subset of the category of actions "interfering with someone's ability to kill another person".
  4. Therefore, Statement #2 implies "It is always wrong to kill another person."
  5. Since this contradicts the hypothesized claim, we know that the hypothesized claim is false.

This proves that "It is not always right to kill another person," but falls short of proving that murder is wrong in all circumstances. In order to prove this, it is necessary to prove that the statement "Murder is right in some circumstances" implies that "Murder is right in all circumstances." (The same applies to the question of theft.) If this is successful, then we will see that there are certain types of actions with which interference cannot be rationally justified without leading to a contradiction. It is these actions that may be referred to as "natural rights."

Well there you have it. Pick it apart as you will. Smile

  • | Post Points: 35
Top 50 Contributor
Male
Posts 2,551
Points 46,635
AJ replied on Fri, Aug 7 2009 8:04 PM

Thank you, Zavoi.

Zavoi:
When Bob does something that Alice (subjectively) doesn't like, she has a choice: She can object, or she can refrain from objecting. If she does not object, then the question of ethics does not arise, and it would be meaningless to speak of Bob's action as "immoral." If, however, she does object, then she is engaging in an argument, which means that she assumes an objective standard of good and bad. Thus we see that Alice must argue about good and bad if she is to object to Bob's action.

Cannot Alice also object on the grounds that she doesn't like the action? And possibly, that if Bob really thought about it he would stop liking it, too? Neither assume an "objective standard of good and bad" (not to mention that we have yet to define "good" and "bad" in this context).

But for the sake of argument, let's go ahead and assume Alice recognizes "objective ethics," ignoring for a moment the possibility that "objective ethics" may be a nonsense term - a possibility that will be important to keep in mind.

Zavoi:
Now that we know that Alice accepts objective ethics in order to object to Bob's action, we know that she must also have a reason why her objection is correct, if she is engaging in an argument.

Well now it depends on what kind of reason she has for her objection. If the reason refers to consequences, for example, it is consequentialism. That would constitute a case for objective ethics, but only if "objective ethics" are defined as "helpful advice for achieving certain consequences." Sounds more like praxeology than ethics. Else please define "objective" more precisely to distinguish the two.

Zavoi:

I'll give an example of the type of reasoning that leads to natural rights:

  1. Suppose that someone claims that "It is always right to kill another person."

I've refrained from asking until absolutely necessary, but here how are you defining "right"? I know it's tempting to say, "Whatever that 'someone' means by it," but then it gets confusing in (2) where you make guesses at what that someone might mean by "right."

Zavoi:
2. If this claim is meant to constitute an objection to being interfered with while killing a person, then it must also entail the claim that "It is always wrong to interfere with someone's ability to kill another person."

And note that this allows for the person to merely claim an objection to them being interfered with while killing a person, in which case the conclusion would not follow.

  • | Post Points: 20
Top 25 Contributor
Male
Posts 4,914
Points 70,630

Natural rights are.

Life is.

Liberty is.

Property is.

Without these rights that are, then no defining will happen.  No exploring can even occur without these rights.  How do you explore human nature or otherwise without living (life), choosing [(liberty) i.e. without being able to choose to explore this, that, or other], or person [(property) i.e. without being the human that you are? can't  

As for natural law:  A=A

A proof is a human is alive.

"Do not put out the fire of the spirit." 1The 5:19
  • | Post Points: 5
Top 500 Contributor
Male
Posts 230
Points 5,620

After reading The Ethics of Liberty for the third time, I think Rothbard has defined 'natural rights' as the methodology in developing ethics from systematic reasoning, contrasted to god, tradition, and arbitrary whim.  He has labeled John Locke, Herbert Spencer, and Lysander Spooner as proponents of the 'natural law' methodology.

I think in order to critique Rothbard, one must not critique 'natural law', but to refute his specific approaches in developing ethics.  Rothbard has made mistakes similar to Molyneux's Universally Preferable Behavior and Kant's categorical imperative.  For instance, I claim the notion of 'universalizability' and the Kantian Golden Rule as meaningless concepts.  In addition, I claim the notions that survival presupposes 'natural law' and that 'natural law' necessarily implies that the organism must maintain his future lifespan as non sequiturs.  Furthermore, I believe that Rothbard rationalized his 'moral' intuitions in many (but not all) cases.

  • | Post Points: 20
Top 50 Contributor
Male
Posts 2,551
Points 46,635
AJ replied on Fri, Aug 7 2009 10:17 PM

I'm not looking for proof or refutation here, just an unambiguous definition.

  • | Post Points: 35
Top 25 Contributor
Male
Posts 4,914
Points 70,630

since you are facilitating these natural rights, then you are also able to do this yourself...

to pick an analogy it's time to cut the cord and walk on your own...

"Do not put out the fire of the spirit." 1The 5:19
  • | Post Points: 5
Top 10 Contributor
Male
Posts 5,538
Points 93,790
Juan replied on Fri, Aug 7 2009 10:41 PM
Here, for the little trolls. So many words you can quibble about !!
Lysander Spooner:
The question still remains, how comes such a thing as "a nation" to exist? How do millions of men, scattered over an extensive territory --- each gifted by nature with individual freedom; required by the law of nature to call no man, or body of men, his masters; authorized by that law to seek his own happiness in his own way, to do what he will with himself and his property, so long as he does not trespass upon the equal liberty of others; authorized also, by that law, to defend his own rights, and redress his own wrongs; and to go to the assistance and defence of any of his fellow men who may be suffering any kind of injustice --- how do millions of such men come to be a nation, in the first place? How is it that each of them comes to be stripped of his natural, God-given rights, and to be incorporated, compressed, compacted, and consolidated into a mass with other men, whom he never saw; with whom he has no contract; and towards many of whom he has no sentiments but fear, hatred, or contempt? How does he become subjected to the control of men like himself, who, by nature, had no authority over him; but who command him to do this, and forbid him to do that, as if they were his sovereigns, and he their subject; and as if their wills and their interests were the only standards of his duties and his rights; and who compel him to submission under peril of confiscation, imprisonment, and death?

Clearly all this is the work of force, or fraud, or both.

February 17 - 1600 - Giordano Bruno is burnt alive by the catholic church.
Aquinas : "much more reason is there for heretics, as soon as they are convicted of heresy, to be not only excommunicated but even put to death."

  • | Post Points: 35
Top 50 Contributor
Male
Posts 2,551
Points 46,635
AJ replied on Fri, Aug 7 2009 10:50 PM

<Bush>No definitions there. How 'bout over here? Nope, no definitions here. Those definitions gotta be somewhere.</Bush>

  • | Post Points: 35
Top 10 Contributor
Posts 7,105
Points 115,240
ForumsAdministrator
Moderator
SystemAdministrator

definition, a way to explain to someone the meaning of a word they are unfamiliar with by describing the meaning of that word through a collection of some other words. (which they are familiar with)

 

so, please provide a list of all the words you are familiar with.

 

Where there is no property there is no justice; a proposition as certain as any demonstration in Euclid

Fools! not to see that what they madly desire would be a calamity to them as no hands but their own could bring

  • | Post Points: 35
Top 10 Contributor
Male
Posts 11,343
Points 194,945
ForumsAdministrator
Moderator
SystemAdministrator

nirgrahamUK:
so, please provide a list of all the words you are familiar with.

Include a french copy.  I am working on a second language over here.

"When you're young you worry about people stealing your ideas, when you're old you worry that they won't." - David Friedman
  • | Post Points: 20
Top 100 Contributor
Male
Posts 985
Points 17,110
Stephen replied on Fri, Aug 7 2009 11:24 PM

liberty student:

nirgrahamUK:
so, please provide a list of all the words you are familiar with.

Include a french copy.  I am working on a second language over here.

I wish they would just expel Quebec and save us all the headache. Of course, our unemployment level would go up by the number of French teachers.

  • | Post Points: 5
Top 50 Contributor
Male
Posts 2,551
Points 46,635
AJ replied on Fri, Aug 7 2009 11:30 PM

nirgrahamUK:
so, please provide a list of all the words you are familiar with.

I see your point, that might take a while.........Tongue Tied

  • | Post Points: 5
Top 500 Contributor
Posts 280
Points 5,590
Zavoi replied on Sat, Aug 8 2009 12:15 AM

AJ:
Cannot Alice also object on the grounds that she doesn't like the action?

If all that Alice claimed was that she didn't like Bob's action, then this does not constitute an actual objection because it does not contradict anything that Bob is claiming—just as Alice's claim "I like chocolate" is not an objection to Bob's claim "I don't like chocolate." It would be as if Bob said "The sky is blue", and Alice replied "The ocean is blue." If there is no disagreement, there can be no real objection.

AJ:
And possibly, that if Bob really thought about it he would stop liking it, too? [Emphasis added]

This is more interesting. Notice that it is only possible for Alice to make such a sure statement of cause-and-effect if she has determined the standard by which Bob likes or dislikes things. If Bob's likes and dislikes ("values") are subjective, then he is able to determine them for himself, and Alice cannot know for sure whether her claim is true. If, however, Alice's claim is true, then Bob's values are independent of his preferences, and are therefore objective, at least as far as Alice and Bob are concerned (see the definition for "objective" below).

AJ:
Well now it depends on what kind of reason she has for her objection. If the reason refers to consequences, for example, it is consequentialism. That would constitute a case for objective ethics, but only if "objective ethics" are defined as "helpful advice for achieving certain consequences." Sounds more like praxeology than ethics.

I haven't gotten into the types of reasons that might be supplied as justifications for an objection. All I wanted to show is that some reason must be supplied (rather than no reason at all) if the objection is to be a meaningful one.

AJ:
Else please define "objective" more precisely to distinguish the two.

"Objective" means "true or false independent of the preferences of people." It contrasts with "subjective," which refers to statements that do nothing more than describe someone's preferences, as in the chocolate example.

AJ:
I've refrained from asking until absolutely necessary, but here how are you defining "right"? I know it's tempting to say, "Whatever that 'someone' means by it," but then it gets confusing in (2) where you make guesses at what that someone might mean by "right.

By "right," the person means "consistent with the objective ethical standard whose existence must be accepted by those who disagree with my claim."

AJ:
And note that this allows for the person to merely claim an objection to them being interfered with while killing a person, in which case the conclusion would not follow.

The claim disproven by the numbered argument is the claim that "killing is always right." This is just one of many claims that a killer could use to justify their objection to being interfered with in a particular instance. The killer could also say "Killing is right in circumstance X, but not in circumstance Y," and indeed I have not here succeeded in disproving this claim, only in disproving the stronger and more generalized one.

  • | Post Points: 35
Top 25 Contributor
Male
Posts 4,914
Points 70,630

AJ:

<Bush>No definitions there. How 'bout over here? Nope, no definitions here. Those definitions gotta be somewhere.</Bush>

I assume you are Bush here.

Life is.

Liberty is.

Property is.

AJ, you have to have a definition of natural rights before you can make the assertion that 'there are no definitions of natural rights' in those locations you mention.

"Do not put out the fire of the spirit." 1The 5:19
  • | Post Points: 5
Top 25 Contributor
Male
Posts 4,850
Points 85,810

Juan:
Lysander Spooner:
The question still remains, how comes such a thing as "a nation" to exist? How do millions of men, scattered over an extensive territory --- each gifted by nature with individual freedom; required by the law of nature to call no man, or body of men, his masters; authorized by that law to seek his own happiness in his own way, to do what he will with himself and his property, so long as he does not trespass upon the equal liberty of others; authorized also, by that law, to defend his own rights, and redress his own wrongs; and to go to the assistance and defence of any of his fellow men who may be suffering any kind of injustice --- how do millions of such men come to be a nation, in the first place? How is it that each of them comes to be stripped of his natural, God-given rights, and to be incorporated, compressed, compacted, and consolidated into a mass with other men, whom he never saw; with whom he has no contract; and towards many of whom he has no sentiments but fear, hatred, or contempt? How does he become subjected to the control of men like himself, who, by nature, had no authority over him; but who command him to do this, and forbid him to do that, as if they were his sovereigns, and he their subject; and as if their wills and their interests were the only standards of his duties and his rights; and who compel him to submission under peril of confiscation, imprisonment, and death?

Clearly all this is the work of force, or fraud, or both.

There's the man who converted me to anarchism in a day and he still has the ability to wow me.

'Men do not change, they unmask themselves' - Germaine de Stael

 

  • | Post Points: 5
Top 500 Contributor
Male
Posts 230
Points 5,620

Zavoi:

AJ:
Else please define "objective" more precisely to distinguish the two.

"Objective" means "true or false independent of the preferences of people." It contrasts with "subjective," which refers to statements that do nothing more than describe someone's preferences, as in the chocolate example.

You had defined 'subjective' to refer to things that do nothing more than arbitrary whim.  You seem to have defined 'objective' to incorporate at least some 'preferences' immutable and 'universal' to the 'nature of man'.  Rothbard and Ayn Rand had defined 'subjective' in this way.

Zavoi:

AJ:
I've refrained from asking until absolutely necessary, but here how are you defining "right"? I know it's tempting to say, "Whatever that 'someone' means by it," but then it gets confusing in (2) where you make guesses at what that someone might mean by "right.

By "right," the person means "consistent with the objective ethical standard whose existence must be accepted by those who disagree with my claim."

The accuracy of that sentence depends on the definition of 'objective'.  I agree with this sentence if you had defined 'objective' as I predicted.

Top 50 Contributor
Male
Posts 2,551
Points 46,635
AJ replied on Sat, Aug 8 2009 7:27 PM

Zavoi:

AJ:
Cannot Alice also object on the grounds that she doesn't like the action?

If all that Alice claimed was that she didn't like Bob's action, then this does not constitute an actual objection because it does not contradict anything that Bob is claiming—just as Alice's claim "I like chocolate" is not an objection to Bob's claim "I don't like chocolate." It would be as if Bob said "The sky is blue", and Alice replied "The ocean is blue." If there is no disagreement, there can be no real objection.

Alice: "I don't like it when you touch me." (She doesn't like Bob's action)

Bob: "I like it plenty, baby."

No disagreement? No objection?

Zavoi:
All I wanted to show is that some reason must be supplied (rather than no reason at all) if the objection is to be a meaningful one.

Does she need a reason to object to Bob's advances, besides personal preference?

Zavoi:
Thus we see that Alice must argue about good and bad if she is to object to Bob's action.

(From before) Seems not so, if I read you correctly above, unless, again, you mean personal preference by "good" and "bad."

Zavoi:

AJ:
And possibly, that if Bob really thought about it he would stop liking it, too? [Emphasis added]

This is more interesting. Notice that it is only possible for Alice to make such a sure statement of cause-and-effect if she has determined the standard by which Bob likes or dislikes things. If Bob's likes and dislikes ("values") are subjective, then he is able to determine them for himself, and Alice cannot know for sure whether her claim is true.

It's true that Alice cannot know what Bob likes and dislikes, and of course likes and dislikes are subjective, and cannot be objective in the usual sense. Agreed? However, you have included this: "...Bob's likes and dislikes ('values')...," presumably either indicating (a) that likes and dislikes are merely a type of values, or (b) that values are defined to be merely likes and dislikes. If (b), then your thesis would not hold, so I can only assume you meant (a), and that therefore you mean that "values" encompass more than just likes and dislikes (preferences). But in that case...

Zavoi:
If, however, Alice's claim [that Bob would like something] is true, then Bob's values [obviously you mean only "likes and dislikes" here, because those are the only values under the scope of Alice's claim] are independent of his preferences, and are therefore objective, at least as far as Alice and Bob are concerned (see the definition for "objective" below).

...Please note my inline comments within your quote. Unless I have misinterpreted you here (please indicate where I have if so), your statement includes the fact that "Bob's likes and dislikes are independent of his preferences." Either you have a rather uncommon definition of "preferences" or we have a contradiction here.

Can we go ahead and establish an agree-upon meaning for the word "value" if you'd like to continue?

It seems that the common-sense meaning of value (verb) is given by

"X values Y" = "X perceives Y to be important"

And so the common-sense meaning of value (noun) is, "Something that X perceives to be important."

Agree? Refine?

Zavoi:
"Objective" means "true or false independent of the preferences of people."

Zavoi:
By "right," the person means "consistent with the objective ethical standard whose existence must be accepted by those who disagree with my claim."

Thank you, and duly noted. Now before proceeding we still have the problem with Proposition 2:

Zavoi:

AJ:
And note that this allows for the person to merely claim an objection to them being interfered with while killing a person, in which case the conclusion would not follow.

The claim disproven by the numbered argument is the claim that "killing is always right."

By "conclusion" I meant the conclusion in the latter half of Proposition 2, that is, the bolded portion below. It appears to be a non sequitur :

AJ:

Zavoi:
2. If this claim is meant to constitute an objection to being interfered with while killing a person, then it must also entail the claim that "It is always wrong to interfere with someone's ability to kill another person."

And note that this allows for the person to merely claim an objection to them being interfered with while killing a person, in which case the conclusion would not follow.

 

  • | Post Points: 20
Top 500 Contributor
Posts 280
Points 5,590
Zavoi replied on Sat, Aug 8 2009 7:30 PM

Anarcho-Mercantilist:
You seem to have defined 'objective' to incorporate at least some 'preferences' immutable and 'universal' to the 'nature of man'.  Rothbard and Ayn Rand had defined 'subjective' in this way.

Can you elaborate on this? Where does "the nature of man" come in? I was using "objective" to mean simply "not subjective," or, equivalently, "referring to something other than a person's preferences."

  • | Post Points: 5
Top 50 Contributor
Male
Posts 2,551
Points 46,635
AJ replied on Sat, Aug 8 2009 7:43 PM

Edit for Zavoi: I see you mean that you could change Proposition 2 to

  1. Suppose that someone claims that "It is always right to kill another person."
  2. If this claim is meant to constitute an objection to being interfered with while killing a person, then it must also entail the claim that "It is sometimes wrong to interfere with someone's ability to kill another person."
  3. The action "killing a person" is a subset of the category of actions "interfering with someone's ability to kill another person".
  4. Therefore, Statement #2 implies "It is always wrong to kill another person."
  5. Since this contradicts the hypothesized claim, we know that the hypothesized claim is false.

Although that clears up the non sequitur, what do you say if we rephrase Proposition 1 to be

1. Suppose that someone claims that "It is always right to kill another person, except me." ?

  • | Post Points: 5
Top 500 Contributor
Posts 280
Points 5,590
Zavoi replied on Sat, Aug 8 2009 8:09 PM

AJ:
No disagreement? No objection?

There is no disagreement because they are not talking about the same thing. Alice is talking about her preferences, and Bob about his own.

AJ:
Does she need a reason to object to Bob's advances, besides personal preference?

Yes, because personal preference does not constitute an actual objection, at least not in the sense that I use the term "objection" (a statement expressing disagreement).

AJ:
It's true that Alice cannot know what Bob likes and dislikes, and of course likes and dislikes are subjective, and cannot be objective in the usual sense. Agreed?

Agreed.

AJ:
However, you have included this: "...Bob's likes and dislikes ('values')...," presumably either indicating (a) that likes and dislikes are merely a type of values, or (b) that values are defined to be merely likes and dislikes.

I only used the term "values" in this paragraph to avoid having to write out "likes and dislikes" repeatedly. So you may take (b) to be the case, for our purposes. (Perhaps my choice of words was confusing.)

AJ:
If (b), then your thesis would not hold,

Which thesis are you referring to? Are you referring to my overall thesis that "natural rights" are definable and meaningful, or to this paragraph's thesis that Alice's "If you really thought about it you wouldn't like it either" claim is flawed?

AJ:
Unless I have misinterpreted you here (please indicate where I have if so), your statement includes the fact that "Bob's likes and dislikes are independent of his preferences." [...] we have a contradiction here.

You are correct. The contradiction was the goal, in order to show that Alice's claim "If you really thought about it you would stop liking it, too" is invalid because it assumes that Bob's likes/dislikes are both subjective and objective. The point is that it is impossible for Alice to object to Bob's action without claiming that his action is objectively bad.

AJ:
Edit for Zavoi: I see you mean that you could change Proposition 2 to...

I assume you would also change "always" to "sometimes" in Proposition 4, right?

AJ:

Although that clears up the non sequitur, what do you say if we rephrase Proposition 1 to be

1. Suppose that someone claims that "It is always right to kill another person, except me." ?

That would fall under the category of "Killing is right in circumstance X, but not in circumstance Y." Again, I haven't yet provided a disproof of this type of claim. All I wanted to show was that there is at least one ethical claim that is capable of being rationally disproven.

  • | Post Points: 20
Top 50 Contributor
Male
Posts 2,551
Points 46,635
AJ replied on Tue, Sep 8 2009 4:57 AM

Zavoi:

AJ:
No disagreement? No objection?

There is no disagreement because they are not talking about the same thing. Alice is talking about her preferences, and Bob about his own.

AJ:
Does she need a reason to object to Bob's advances, besides personal preference?

Yes, because personal preference does not constitute an actual objection, at least not in the sense that I use the term "objection" (a statement expressing disagreement).

As I understand you here, you are choosing to interpret the words disagree and object (verb) in a narrow sense for purposes of the current discussion. I am agreeable to that, but I am wondering exactly what kinds of statements you wish to define as disagreements or objections. Earlier you wrote,

Zavoi:
When Bob does something that Alice (subjectively) doesn't like, she has a choice: She can object, or she can refrain from objecting. If she does not object, then the question of ethics does not arise, and it would be meaningless to speak of Bob's action as "immoral." If, however, she does object, then she is engaging in an argument, which means that she assumes an objective standard of good and bad. Thus we see that Alice must argue about good and bad if she is to object to Bob's action.

Firstly, "If she does not object, then the question of ethics does not arise," leads me to think you mean that the kind of statements that can be considered objections are ethical statements. Then when you go on to say, "and it would be meaningless to speak of Bob's action as 'immoral'," this seems to imply that only if Alice makes some kind of ethical statement can Bob's actions be spoken of as immoral.

However, above you state, "personal preference does not constitute an actual objection." Can I infer that if Bob advances on Alice against her will, and she makes it clear that it is against her will (preference) but does not actually call it "bad" or "wrong," you mean to say that "it would be meaningless to speak of Bob's action as 'immoral' "?

Zavoi:

AJ:
However, you have included this: "...Bob's likes and dislikes ('values')...," presumably either indicating (a) that likes and dislikes are merely a type of values, or (b) that values are defined to be merely likes and dislikes.

I only used the term "values" in this paragraph to avoid having to write out "likes and dislikes" repeatedly. So you may take (b) to be the case, for our purposes.

This seems at odds with your thesis, from your original response to the OP: "However, that does not mean that entire concept of objective ethics must be rejected. Indeed, it is impossible to do so consistently, as I hope to demonstrate below." Because you here state that (b) is the case, i.e., "values are defined to be merely likes and dislikes." Or do objective ethics not imply objective values? If not, what exactly do you mean by ethics?

Zavoi:

AJ:
Edit for Zavoi: I see you mean that you could change Proposition 2 to...

I assume you would also change "always" to "sometimes" in Proposition 4, right?

Yes, and indeed the resulting syllogism is no less sound than before. To keep this organized, I'll re-copy it here:

  1. Suppose that someone claims that "It is always right to kill another person."
  2. If this claim is meant to constitute an objection to being interfered with while killing a person, then it must also entail the claim that "It is sometimes wrong to interfere with someone's ability to kill another person."
  3. The action "killing a person" is a subset of the category of actions "interfering with someone's ability to kill another person".
  4. Therefore, Statement #2 implies "It is sometimes wrong to kill another person."
  5. Since this contradicts the hypothesized claim, we know that the hypothesized claim is false.

However, there seems to be a more fundamental difficulty. Earlier you wrote:

Zavoi:
By "right," the person means "consistent with the objective ethical standard whose existence must be accepted by those who disagree with my claim."

But the word "right" is used in P1 of the syllogism, tacitly asserting, "one must accept the existence of an objective ethical statement to disagree with the person's claim." It seems here that you are assuming what you wish to prove in your thesis. Can you clarify?

  • | Post Points: 20
Not Ranked
Posts 48
Points 660

I am!

I think and I feel; I evaluate and I decide; then I act

All this by myself and for myself... Outcomes of my action are mine.

If there are others alike - they are!

They think and they feel; they evaluate and they decide; then they act.

All this by themselves and for themselves... Outcomes of their action are theirs.

If there are others alike - we can communicate, agree to something and then act together.

Outcomes of our action are ours; we share them between us as it has been previously agreed.

All else - exact particularities.

This is - my - "natural law"! If you want to break it - "molon labe"!

If I win, I will live happy; If you win, I will die happy... :-)

And after all - I think you know well - every word is to some extent ambiguous.

Semantics... ;-)

So your challenge is unanswerable. "Unanswerable " - what an ambiguous word!

Don't you think? ;-)

 

  • | Post Points: 35
Top 25 Contributor
Male
Posts 4,914
Points 70,630

Excellent! MariusAureus!

molon labe!

"Do not put out the fire of the spirit." 1The 5:19
  • | Post Points: 5
Top 10 Contributor
Male
Posts 6,885
Points 121,845
Clayton replied on Tue, Sep 8 2009 1:56 PM

 

Zavoi:

AJ:
Provide a logically meaningful definition of "natural rights," in which each term used is unambiguously defined, without making reference to "natural law" (unless you also define "natural law" as above).

Let me begin by saying that I will not attempt to defend "natural law," if by that we mean attempts to derive ethics from supposedly objective ends such as "the fulfillment of human nature" or "human flourishing." I agree with the OP that these approaches are dead-ends because they are too vague and they assume too much. Wouldn't history suggest that human nature is characterized more by war and statism than by peaceful interaction? And don't people like Stalin and Kim Jong-il "flourish" in their own way? In any case, this sort of natural-law argument does not prove that anyone should do anything.

Refreshing! I have exactly these objections to the Rothbardian/Hoppean approach to ethics. I like how they start their analyses of ethics, but I find their conclusions to be less than satisfying and to fall short of their stated objectives.

However, that does not mean that entire concept of objective ethics must be rejected. Indeed, it is impossible to do so consistently, as I hope to demonstrate below.

First of all, an argument between two individuals only arises as a result of an actual disagreement between those individuals. If Alice says "I like chocolate," and Bob says "I don't like chocolate," then there is no actual disagreement because the term "like" refers to subjective preferences, and there is no contradiction involved when subjective preferences differ from one individual to another.

Thus, when Alice argues with Bob about whether something is "good" or "bad," she must assume that there is a standard of good and bad that is objectively valid for both her and Bob, and not merely a subjective preference.

I think you have to be very careful here, especially with the word "objective." Objective knowledge is shared - or, at least, shareable - knowledge. For example, it is an objective fact that the Moon is observable in the night sky on a clear day. This is the case because anyone who can see may go out and look up to see the Moon with their own eyes. How I felt the first time I heard Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata is subjective knowledge. Subjective knowledge is not less real than objective knowledge... I really did feel a certain way when first I heard the Moonlight Sonata. Subjective knowledge is not more fuzzy or ill-defined than objective knowledge because I definitely felt a certain way when first I heard the Moonlight Sonata and not some other way. But I cannot share with you how I felt when I heard the Moonlight Sonata, that is, you may not directly observe the feeling I had (like you can directly observe the Moon in the night sky) because my emotional state is concealed to you (only accessible to my consciousness) and now only exists in my memory.

So, to come back to objective morals - a person's ethic is the strategy (in the game-theoretic sense) by which he make choices in time. At each point in time, we are constantly making choices and the patterns in the choices we make constitute a strategy or ethic. There is an objective and subjective component to our decision-making strategy. The objective component is comprised of the choices made, or "revealed preference." If I regularly get slobbering drunk, others can observe my ethic in the choice I make to get wasted rather than remain sober. The subjective component is the "internal algorithm" by which I make choices, that is, the stew of neurological, electrical, chemical, quantum, computational (spiritual?) forces that, combined with the particular circumstances of my life history, cause me to choose X versus Y. Please note that, in assigning causes to choices, I am not arguing for determinism or the absence of free will. If you want me to elaborate on how this can be the case, just ask.

When I say to my kids, "You should chew your food before talking", I am not saying they, in fact, share the same ethic that I do. In fact, if they did share my ethic, I wouldn't have to say it. Nevertheless, in a childish manner of speaking, I could also say, "It's bad to speak with your mouth full." These two are equivalent. I am, in fact, attempting to persuade my child to adopt my ethic (shared by most people) that you should not talk while chewing food. When I say, "Action X is bad" I am recommending an ethic that proscribes action X. That is, I am recommending that the person I am talking to alter the subjective component of their ethic, that is, their internal decision-making algorithm.

As you correctly note, however, debates over morals are meaningless until there is an actual conflict. In this situation, I think you are neglecting the adversarial nature of conflict. You are assuming that the aggressor will be a gentleman and not reject the axiom of universalizability or any other axioms he needs to reject - including the axioms of logic itself - to achieve the goal of making the proposition "The aggressor acted wrongly and should be held liable for his actions" at least unprovable, if not false.

That is, unless the aggressor has a reason to desire to resolve the conflict by non-violent means. This is the oft-unstated assumption that the victim must be a potential threat to the aggressor in order for the aggressor to have any incentive to stick around and participate in non-violent conflict resolution (moral argument). If a bully pushes you down and steals your baseball cards, he will not sit down with you and have a moral argument over whether his actions could be justified. It is only if he fears that you can visit some worse fate on him than merely having to return the stolen baseball cards that he might be interested in sitting down to argue verbally over rightful possession (ownership).

Might does not make right but without might, there can be no rights.

When Bob does something that Alice (subjectively) doesn't like, she has a choice: She can object, or she can refrain from objecting. If she does not object, then the question of ethics does not arise, and it would be meaningless to speak of Bob's action as "immoral." If, however, she does object, then she is engaging in an argument, which means that she assumes an objective standard of good and bad. Thus we see that Alice must argue about good and bad if she is to object to Bob's action.

I think you're not going far enough. If Alice and Bob disagree about an action (this is real conflict, not just friendly expression of divergent opinions on the palatability of chocolate), then a dispute has arisen. The dispute may be violent or non-violent. One person is aggressing on the other (except in the situation of simultaneous attempts to homestead an unused resource). Since humans can predict, it is usually the case that the aggressor would not have aggressed in the first place unless he believed he could get away with it. The bully knocked you down because you were physically smaller than him and he predicted, on that basis, that you would be unable to offer resistance or retaliate. Hence, for Alice to object to Bob's actions is not a sufficient condition for there to be a non-violent dispute (moral argument). Not only must Alice intend to show that Bob was in the wrong through non-violent dispute, but she must be able and willing to threaten Bob with violent retribution if he does not participate in non-violent dispute. Only then does Bob have an incentive to participate in a non-violent dispute.

Once Alice and Bob are locked into a non-violent argument over who is in the right, the argument has entered the realm of morality. Here, we have to go back to evolution to explain human mores. The right of first use or the axiom of universalizability or the axiom of self-ownership have clearly identifiable origins in evolutionary history and it is the strength of these mores that makes them a powerful basis for moral reasoning (from which "natural rights", if you will, emerge). Disputants who agree to these principles as a basis for non-violent dispute resolution are more likely to succeed in resolving their dispute non-violently. Here, we are almost to some kind of "objective ethics" but I think that, even here, we must tread lightly with the word "objective". Insomuch as there is shared knowledge here regarding rightful actions, it is not in the same sense in which the Moon's position in the night sky is shared knowledge.

Clayton -

 

http://voluntaryistreader.wordpress.com
  • | Post Points: 20
Top 500 Contributor
Posts 280
Points 5,590
Zavoi replied on Tue, Sep 8 2009 9:57 PM

AJ:
However, above you state, "personal preference does not constitute an actual objection." Can I infer that if Bob advances on Alice against her will, and she makes it clear that it is against her will (preference) but does not actually call it "bad" or "wrong," you mean to say that "it would be meaningless to speak of Bob's action as 'immoral' "?

You can infer that, although that would perhaps be interpreting Alice too literally. In any real-world situation, no reasonable person would conclude that someone's failure to actually say "bad" or "wrong" implies that they really raise no ethical objection. However, given that everyone is speaking extremely precisely and leaving nothing to implication, then we would conclude that Alice does not believe the ethical statement that her preference should be binding on Bob—in the same way that I could find something distasteful but not believe that it should be banned.

AJ:
Or do objective ethics not imply objective values? If not, what exactly do you mean by ethics?

If it helps, you can replace every occurrence of "values" with "likes and dislikes" and forget that I ever used that word. Objective ethics do not imply that all likes and dislikes are objective: I can believe that there are objective ethics without believing that there is one true answer to the question "Is chocolate good?"

Ethics, as distinct from likes and dislikes, refers to the method by which different people's conflicting likes and dislikes are reconciled. For example, I might like to take all of your money from you, but you would dislike it, and in this situation ethics will tell me that I should not act on my desire because it cannot be justified without leading to a contradiction (more on that later).

AJ:
But the word "right" is used in P1 of the syllogism, tacitly asserting, "one must accept the existence of an objective ethical statement to disagree with the person's claim." It seems here that you are assuming what you wish to prove in your thesis. Can you clarify?

Proving that "one must accept the existence of an objective ethical statement to disagree with the person's claim" was the purpose of the whole Alice-Bob-chocolate example. I hope to have addressed that issue above.

ClaytonB: That's quite a lot to think about. I'll get back to you once I've had a chance to digest it.

  • | Post Points: 20
Top 50 Contributor
Male
Posts 2,551
Points 46,635
AJ replied on Tue, Sep 8 2009 11:00 PM

MariusAureus:
So your challenge is unanswerable.

Can I take that as a "No," or was this post tongue-in-cheek?

  • | Post Points: 20
Top 50 Contributor
Male
Posts 2,221
Points 34,090
Moderator

 

MariusAureus:
So your challenge is unanswerable.


I disagree. 

Natural law can & should be scrutinized, as with anything else, for that matter, mainly because people like me are not entirely convinced at all by natural law, despite previously being emotionally swayed by it in the earlier months of reading and/or being a libertarian of some sort.

Would be nice if people stop acting like children & shouting troll every 2 blasted posts, though; there's enough of that nonsense on everyone's daily Tweety page or whatever nu dope pop fly web trend is currently in fashion.   

"Look at me, I'm quoting another user to show how wrong I think they are, out of arrogance of my own position. Wait, this is my own quote, oh shi-" ~ Nitroadict

  • | Post Points: 35
Top 10 Contributor
Male
Posts 11,343
Points 194,945
ForumsAdministrator
Moderator
SystemAdministrator

Nitroadict:
Natural law can & should be scrutinized, as with anything else, for that matter, mainly because people like me are not entirely convinced at all by natural law, despite previously being emotionally swayed by it in the earlier months of reading and/or being a libertarian of some sort.

Hear, hear.  There is nothing wrong with questioning our premises or the "popular" premises of libertarianism at large.

Nitroadict:
Would be nice if people stop acting like children & shouting troll every 2 blasted posts

The problem is, there are a couple NR advocates on this forum who behave like religious fanatics, and not rational actors engaging in thoughtful debate among peers.  Personally, it is a big turnoff for me when people are heavy handed with their opinions.  I am sure it is a turnoff for the many readers of this site as well.

"When you're young you worry about people stealing your ideas, when you're old you worry that they won't." - David Friedman
  • | Post Points: 5
Not Ranked
Posts 48
Points 660

I say only this - "natural" is *subjective* for every particular man - and more - expressed in words inevitably becomes ambiguous.

After all... Even Rothbard understood clearly that there will always be conflict and violence in social relations.

Sad to say, but...

I am as free as my ability to defend my freedom and I have such rights as my ability to execute them.
Others may be helpful, but... Only if they see their own benefit in helping me.

Outwardly ("in practice") of course - inwardly I am as free as I think and feel I am... :-)

 

  • | Post Points: 20
Top 25 Contributor
Male
Posts 4,914
Points 70,630

MariusAureus:

I say only this - "natural" is *subjective* for every particular man - and more - expressed in words inevitably becomes ambiguous.

After all... Even Rothbard understood clearly that there will always be conflict and violence in social relations.

Sad to say, but...

I am as free as my ability to defend my freedom and I have such rights as my ability to execute them.
Others may be helpful, but... Only if they see their own benefit in helping me.

Outwardly ("in practice") of course - inwardly I am as free as I think and feel I am... :-)

I find your posts very agreeable with what I think.

"Do not put out the fire of the spirit." 1The 5:19
  • | Post Points: 5
Top 500 Contributor
Posts 280
Points 5,590
Zavoi replied on Sun, Sep 13 2009 2:30 AM

ClaytonB:
You are assuming that the aggressor will be a gentleman and not reject the axiom of universalizability or any other axioms he needs to reject - including the axioms of logic itself - to achieve the goal of making the proposition "The aggressor acted wrongly and should be held liable for his actions" at least unprovable, if not false.

When I say "conflict," I mean a genuine disagreement over some fact, not necessarily a violent disagreement. Of course, it's possible that one of the arguers might reject the axioms of logic, but I haven't pursued this possibility because it's not interesting or informative. If somebody is rejecting logic, then there is no need to offer them logical arguments in turn, and resolving the conflict just becomes a matter of mustering enough force to fend off the aggressor.

ClaytonB:
That is, unless the aggressor has a reason to desire to resolve the conflict by non-violent means. This is the oft-unstated assumption that the victim must be a potential threat to the aggressor in order for the aggressor to have any incentive to stick around and participate in non-violent conflict resolution (moral argument). If a bully pushes you down and steals your baseball cards, he will not sit down with you and have a moral argument over whether his actions could be justified. It is only if he fears that you can visit some worse fate on him than merely having to return the stolen baseball cards that he might be interested in sitting down to argue verbally over rightful possession (ownership).

Again, with an "amoral" person such as this, the need to engage in rational argument does not arise, and we start to ask, "What's the best way to incentivize this aggressor to stop?" This is a practical, not a philosophical, question, and it's not what I'm primarily concerned with. I'm primarily concerned with showing that there are certain acts (murder, theft, etc.) which lack a rational justification, and so anyone who commits them relegates themself to amoral status.

ClaytonB:
Once Alice and Bob are locked into a non-violent argument over who is in the right, the argument has entered the realm of morality. Here, we have to go back to evolution to explain human mores. The right of first use or the axiom of universalizability or the axiom of self-ownership have clearly identifiable origins in evolutionary history and it is the strength of these mores that makes them a powerful basis for moral reasoning (from which "natural rights", if you will, emerge). Disputants who agree to these principles as a basis for non-violent dispute resolution are more likely to succeed in resolving their dispute non-violently. Here, we are almost to some kind of "objective ethics" but I think that, even here, we must tread lightly with the word "objective". Insomuch as there is shared knowledge here regarding rightful actions, it is not in the same sense in which the Moon's position in the night sky is shared knowledge.

I would disagree with you on the claim that evolution can explain the ought-aspect of morality. It's entirely possible that evolution can explain some of the customs that we factually observe to be practiced by human societies-for example, we could say that violent dispute-resolution results in a net destruction of wealth, and so societies that employ it will grind themselves into the dust more quickly than non-violent societies. But then we must also explore the moral consequences of the fact that historically, societal evolution seems to have favored the statist over the anarchist model. In any case, how can the evolutionary explanation of "morality" cross the is-ought divide? From where comes the statement that humans ought to act in accordance with the mores produced by evolution? It seems that we're back at the naturalistic argument, which you indicated that you reject.

  • | Post Points: 5
Top 50 Contributor
Male
Posts 2,551
Points 46,635
AJ replied on Sun, Sep 13 2009 6:17 AM

Zavoi:

AJ:
However, above you state, "personal preference does not constitute an actual objection." Can I infer that if Bob advances on Alice against her will, and she makes it clear that it is against her will (preference) but does not actually call it "bad" or "wrong," you mean to say that "it would be meaningless to speak of Bob's action as 'immoral' "?

You can infer that, although that would perhaps be interpreting Alice too literally. In any real-world situation, no reasonable person would conclude that someone's failure to actually say "bad" or "wrong" implies that they really raise no ethical objection. However, given that everyone is speaking extremely precisely and leaving nothing to implication, then we would conclude that Alice does not believe the ethical statement that her preference should be binding on Bob—in the same way that I could find something distasteful but not believe that it should be banned.

What if she simply says, "Don't do that"? That is not an ethical statement, but it does seem to make Bob's further advances immoral.

Zavoi:
Ethics, as distinct from likes and dislikes, refers to the method by which different people's conflicting likes and dislikes are reconciled.

If I understand you correctly, here you state that ethics is defined to be "a method of reconciling conflicting preferences among people."

Zavoi:
For example, I might like to take all of your money from you, but you would dislike it, and in this situation ethics will tell me that I should not act on my desire because it cannot be justified without leading to a contradiction (more on that later).

I can't really respond to this until you continue with the "more on that later."

  • | Post Points: 20
Top 500 Contributor
Posts 280
Points 5,590
Zavoi replied on Sun, Sep 13 2009 9:41 AM

AJ:
What if she simply says, "Don't do that"? That is not an ethical statement, but it does seem to make Bob's further advances immoral.

"Don't do that" is an ethical statement. It's equivalent to saying "You should not do that" or "It is objectively bad for you to do that" (although, again, nobody actually talks like that).

AJ:
If I understand you correctly, here you state that ethics is defined to be "a method of reconciling conflicting preferences among people."

Yes.

AJ:
I can't really respond to this until you continue with the "more on that later."

I just want first to make sure that the argument so far is sound, because the rest of the argument relies on it.

  • | Post Points: 35
Page 1 of 7 (247 items) 1 2 3 4 5 Next > ... Last » | RSS