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Author Topic: Natural law and morals  (Read 3921 times)

memenode

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Natural law and morals
« on: April 18, 2008, 02:27 PM NHFT »

In the interest of better understanding anarcho-capitalism I explored a bit the issue of natural laws, what exactly they are or how can they be defined and what is their relation to morals.

At first I understood non-coercion as actually a part of the inescapable natural law. But then I realized, through some discussions (with Kevin mostly) and thinking that this is a fallacy. To cut to the chase, what I ultimately concluded was the following.

Nature is everything that is not artificial, not by a human.

Natural law is the sum of all factors beyond human control.

Law of human nature is the sum of all factors pertaining to human interaction which are not under control of the humans involved.

These definitions are, however, merely conceptions of what these natural laws should be, but they obviously do not describe their practical consequences. This can only be done by a scientific process. We observe a particular action by a human individual in the particular context and then note the results that follow. Once we have a pattern we can begin to formulate a theory that fits the above conception of "natural law" (we take as law only those factors which aren't under control of humans observed). One such theory I think we can easily formulate is the following:

Every act by a human individual in any given moment is in pursuit of the maximum subjective value perceived in that moment.

This applies even when a human is acting irrationally and emotionally. An outside observer could say that someone is acting against his well being, but he can't claim that this someone isn't pursuing what he in that particular moment perceives as most valuable, even if his act involves putting a needle in his vein in order to drug himself (to pose an extreme example).

I would not say that this description of natural law is the only one. Natural law is what it is and can never be described directly, only through a given case in a given context (like the case of undertaking an action, like above). Other ways to describe natural law as it applies to humans is to say that every human individual is capable of thinking, making choices etc. - as other inescapable factors that constitute a human being.

It seems easy to conclude that capitalists and anarcho-capitalists are right when we say that that by the virtue of living as intelligent, self aware and capable of choosing, every human individual is entitled to freedom of action in pursuit of maximum value he perceives and is entitled to the product of this pursuit (property). This philosophy seems to perfectly fit the natural law as described above.

Where things get tricky is when we speak of morals though. A description of the law of gravity can be that "a rock falls". This is a valueless description. But if we would say "it is wrong for this rock to fall on that field" we are doing a value judgment based upon our individual moral standards.

Similarly for natural law applying to humans, we anarcho-capitalists say "coercion is wrong" or "destruction of value is wrong" and we say that it is wrong because the natural consequence of doing coercion or destruction is bad, negative etc.. But the thing is, saying that this consequence is "bad" is a mere value judgment of the individual judging. Someone might theoretically say that a consequence we consider utterly "bad" is actually good. This is if we take that morals are relative to the individual holding them.

So what our whole anarcho-capitalist movement is based upon is the mutual agreement on the moral judgment of coercion as "wrong". But by virtue of agreeing to this moral standard we can't bring ourselves to "coerce" anyone into believing otherwise. :)

And now, finally, the question. What if this leads us into a trap? We are considering "non-coercion" as so fundamental a principle that the result may be de-emphasizing all other moral standards. Someone observing us from the outside might conclude that we morally tolerate everything as long as it's not involving coercion. So suddenly someone killing his dog is morally right (tell that to animal rights people) or a bunch of people consenting to a battle to the death or whatever. I'm deliberately picking extreme examples to illustrate the inherent danger in considering non-coercion as the only moral standard, not that we are doing it. The question is, doesn't this risk exist? Isn't emphasizing non-coercion as the moral that is more fundamental than all others lead to a slippery slope towards finding all other morals as pretty irrelevant?

Thanks
« Last Edit: April 18, 2008, 02:37 PM NHFT by gu3st »
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John Edward Mercier

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Re: Natural law and morals
« Reply #1 on: April 19, 2008, 10:39 AM NHFT »

Not bad.
But nature includes humans and their creative outcomes... not true separation exists except as a mental construct.
There is also no mutual agreement amongst the masses of 'non-coercion'. It is simply a moral judgement.
History has ended the debate that coercion can, and has, been used to increase maximum subjective value.

IMO... what anarcho-capitalism is more about is explaining that economic control through outside directive is highly limited in its scope.
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memenode

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Re: Natural law and morals
« Reply #2 on: April 19, 2008, 11:04 AM NHFT »

Could be so.. I actually later concluded though that, while it is indeed a moral judgment, non-coercion is usually most likely to be agreed upon in a society devoid of coercive monopolies. It has to do with that nature always follows the path of least resistance. Humans make their choices based in pursuit of maximum value yet coercion in effect destroys value of not only the one being coerced, but also the one coercing (value put in freedom, since one who initiates force is likely gonna be sought for, apprehended and forced to pay retribution).

So in other words, using coercion in a free market would in most cases be too expensive (hence facing too much resistance) and therefore the likelihood of it happening is so much smaller than the likelihood of it happening in the system today, which in fact institutionalizes coercion as a norm.

We don't really need to prove that Laissez Faire Free Market is 100% perfect, having 100% no coercion. It is enough to compellingly prove that it is much more likely to work better than the current system.

Of course, the reason why this is so, I'd say, is that unlike most other systems, ours actually takes human nature into account and deals with it seriously, allowing a human to really be a human to the fullest extent that he/she can muster.

Cheers :)
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memenode

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Re: Natural law and morals
« Reply #3 on: April 19, 2008, 03:44 PM NHFT »

I'd like to add something here.

When I clean up the forest of all of the sub-ideologies, connotations, suppositions, disagreements.. whatever and look right to the core of what my recent paradigm shift made me believe it all comes down to this:

The only axioms are proven laws of human nature and the only moral I seek agreement on is non-coercion. This is voluntaryism.

So fundamentally, morally, whatever.. I am a voluntaryist. I see market as naturally arising from human behavior and I see individualistic economic systems as naturally arising from them (such as capitalism) and then less individualistic ones built on top of them (socialism, communism, etc.) as long as they can arise without coercion.

Therefore, human nature requires a market to interact in. A market requires principles of capitalism to function. Socialism requires the principles of capitalism to function etc. It's a layered pyramid, from more fundamental to less fundamental - from more individualistic to more socialistic. And it ALL coexists because there is no coercion.

This means that it might actually hurt my cause to keep talking about "capitalism" or "anarcho-capitalism" as much as I should talk about non-coercion and human nature. It's like going back to the basics, back to the core, back to Earth and then carefully examining the answers nature gives by itself.

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dalebert

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Re: Natural law and morals
« Reply #4 on: April 19, 2008, 07:34 PM NHFT »

I'm not fond of the term anarcho-capitalism or even capitalism. I use those terms in the right context, depending on who I'm talking to but you have to take into consideration who your listener is whenever you communicate because words mean different things to different people.

I think you should choose your words carefully but I wouldn't focus on "coercion is bad" necessarily. The way I look at it is that someone who claims authority over another person has the burden of proof in claiming such authority. If you look at it logically, government fails dramatically to justify such a claim of authority. People have come to accept certain belief systems simply because they're so ingrained in our culture but that's insufficient to prove such belief systems as valid. In the same way that I was raised a Southern Baptist and later rejected the belief system as irrational, I also was raised a statist and have rejected that belief system as irrational. Taking a rational viewpoint forces us to reconsider the things we have grown up to take for granted. This leaves us in a place where the answers are not simple anymore, but that's a reality we must deal with. That's what an anarchist philosophy is all about. You can even avoid the word "anarchy" if you feel it's best to do so depending on your listener, but the principle remains. A world full of anarchists would not be morally perfect. It would just be a world with a much greater disdain for aggression and therefore peaceful. There will always be disputes about who is right or wrong in a conflict, but these disputes will be better resolved in a world that frowns on aggression in a more consistently rational way.
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memenode

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Re: Natural law and morals
« Reply #5 on: April 19, 2008, 10:50 PM NHFT »

That's quite true. I agree on adapting terminology depending on whom we speak to, although I may still have a "default" terminology that I apply to myself when I can easily explain what I mean by it.

To be honest, I feel the need to explore issues from the very bottom and then carefully build it up from there. So I try to observe the most fundamental concept I can think off and then see what these concepts in themselves make up. The consistence of fundamental concepts are the new less fundamental concepts. I feel this to be consistent with the way the whole universe is made up. You have atomic particles making up atoms which make up moleculs which make up materials which make up objects which make up various constructions (including living organisms) etc. etc.

I apply this same principle to everything else. That's why I first defined nature above and then, since social systems are about humans, turned to defining human nature and determining what constitutes it in order to be able to see what these properties result in on a social scale (two or more people interacting). By the same process I would conclude that since we are all humans and we all have no other than individual human perspectives, the universe relative to us begins with us individually. Otherwise the universe, to us, does not matter. This is why I find an individual to be the most fundamental human unit and would therefore place individualistic ideologies like capitalism and anarcho-capitalism as fundamental to even socialism, if socialism is to be just.

And this clearly leads to the conclusion that if an individual does not want to be harmed he must agree not to harm others - non-coercion. It also means that if a human wants to maximize his mental reward (pursue maximum values) he must engage in trade therefore establishing a market. This may be a bold statement, but at this point and with this reasoning I find it perfectly logical: socialism cannot justly exist without capitalism underneath it and if someone tries to impose socialism *before* accepting the capitalist base first he is likely trying to coerce others into behaving the way he/she wants. And when I say "capitalism" here I mean a bug-fixed capitalism that anarcho-capitalism really is (everything except the government and democracy). ;)

EDIT: Just a little clarification here. What I essentially mean is that socialism must answer to the free market, not vice versa. Establishing a coercive monopoly is a violation of this principle because market with a coercive monopoly in it, is no longer a free market. I can see statist socialists screaming at this, but frankly I don't give a ****. Someone must be wrong. I feel this conclusion to be based on human nature and it is therefore largely inescapable. :)

I think this is fairly consistent with what you say about the burden of proof for authority. Indeed, if everything starts with an individual then it follows that this individual according to his values has to be the one to first *authorize* whatever *authority* he wants or needs. Otherwise, authority is baseless. And those who did authorize authority have to ask themselves WHY exactly and of what benefit is this to them.

Many may find answers they find surprising.

So if I put voluntaryism as a fundamental principle here this is only because nothing else really pursues true change in the way we humans interact. Coercion has been tried time and time again in various forms and it always ultimately led to destruction of values. Obvious anti-dote then seems to be non-coercion. I'm sticking to this principle so much because it is pretty much the single switch between the currently prevailing paradigm and a new one we're trying to spread. But then again I guess saying non-authority is just another way of putting the same thing.

Uh.. a long post again. :)

Thanks
« Last Edit: April 19, 2008, 10:58 PM NHFT by gu3st »
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dalebert

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Re: Natural law and morals
« Reply #6 on: April 20, 2008, 02:12 PM NHFT »

I think that's on the right track. If I were to try to explain it in shorter terms, I'd say that coercion is accepting the premise that might makes right. If two people are having a reasoned debate, the moment one of them loses his temper and beats the other into submission, then reason has been abandoned. So reason ends where force begins.

Some socialists will argue that you have might makes right if you don't have a government because we need someone to protect the rights of the weak. Well, that is an unfortunate problem of reality, that we don't all share the exact same amount of ability to do force, but the serious flaw in that proposed solution is that it makes an exception for government and that brings us back to the justification for government authority. What makes them morally superior so that they aren't just a big thug with all the power? What people must face if they think about it, is that ultimately the only thing backing up government authority is force so we're right back to might makes right and reason being abandoned. So socialists are acknowledging a legitimate problem, but not proposing a legitimate solution. And I think why they keep coming back to that solution is because they want a perfect world and cannot face the reality that the world we live in is not perfect and never will be. We have to acknowledge reality so that we can move forward and make it the best world we can.

Acknowledging these facts of reality doesn't instantly solve all the worlds problems. What it does do is put us the right path to those solutions.

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memenode

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Re: Natural law and morals
« Reply #7 on: April 20, 2008, 03:41 PM NHFT »

Well said. That might makes right seems quite a true characterization of pro-government ideas.

That we don't advocate some sort of a perfect society, but merely a better way, is also a crucial point. It's so easy to get into an endless argument about the specifics of how will a free market address this or that situation where a socialist might feel like he's having the edge because he keeps pointing out all the negative human traits that tend to make us do stupid things, including initiation of force, fraud etc. And then it's easy to forget to say "but hey man, I never said it wont have any problems, I just don't think government is the solution".

Well, of course, many would disagree and I guess there comes a point to simply agree to disagree. I remain convinced that evidence proves them wrong. We've had centuries of governments, from smallest to biggest, and every time we've had oppression of basic freedoms, a whole lot of violence, not to mention war, poverty etc. Just the same the history of free markets has shown that they tend to produce prosperity proportionate to the amount of freedom that they are allowed.

Heck, you know what I've read in some article about governments war against tax evasion? I'll quote (translated from Croatian):

"Grey economy takes away a pretty big share of social product. The state is trying to, in a variety of ways, lessen its effect, but in that job is often unconvincing. The existence of the grey economy maintains a greater level of the overall social prosperity, that is, secures social peace. In its approach to tax evasion and tax avoidance, the state has a difficult task of deciding between higher tax incomes and social peace secured by the hidden grey economy.. In case anyone can read Croatian here is the source: http://www.ijf.hr/pojmovnik/izbjegavanje_i_utaja_poreza.htm It comes from an Institute for Public finances (which is apparently a public institution).

When I've read this I felt outraged. I thought to myself, gosh.. this is so incredibly crazy. It basically implies that even the state knows that freer markets bring more prosperity yet keep hampering on it for the sake of keeping their "tax income". It's like deliberately and with full awareness oppressing the overall prosperity of the individuals in the market.

Socialists can argue all they want how, if governments so far failed to solve certain problems, it just means they weren't implemented properly, but to me this seems more and more like arguing how the hammer can be successfully used to paint pictures if you just use it right despite the fact that a brush could do so much of a better job. "We just have to use it right and it'll be good.".. Yeah, for how many freaking centuries more are we supposed to wait for someone to use government "the right way"? Really, it's time for it to stop.

Cheers
« Last Edit: April 20, 2008, 03:43 PM NHFT by gu3st »
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John Edward Mercier

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Re: Natural law and morals
« Reply #8 on: April 20, 2008, 07:54 PM NHFT »

'Might makes right' is a pro-government idea?
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memenode

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Re: Natural law and morals
« Reply #9 on: April 21, 2008, 01:42 AM NHFT »

No, obviously, but that's what their ideas come down to. A given set of rules is enforced by the coercive might of the police force regardless of whether you consider those rules morally right or wrong. It is imposed as "right".

It stems from that whichever set of rules has a majority vote must be the right set of rules, and "majority" is again just another form of "might". Unfortunately, it is in practice even worse as the majorities merely choose who makes laws rather than what exactly will those laws be.
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John Edward Mercier

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Re: Natural law and morals
« Reply #10 on: April 21, 2008, 09:48 AM NHFT »

True, but an individual could 'enforce' their moral 'right' just as easily... most likely with the death sentence being the only punishment.

The 'Might' of the majority is a herd mentality. Its generally controlled by greed/fear... and has been used for eons. Ancient hunters would slaughter whole herds of bison by controlling the fear and leading them to a cliff.
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memenode

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Re: Natural law and morals
« Reply #11 on: April 21, 2008, 10:09 AM NHFT »

That's why the basic agreement required of all those with whom we might build a voluntaryist free market is that to the moral of non-coercion. If we can't convince people of that much then we might as well just accept the status quo or merely try to minimize government the way libertarians want it (I wont deny it would be better than what we have).

However, although I still am in search of the best possible way to express this, I think that non-coercion is a semi-universal belief already. I wont go so far to claim that it is an absolute objectivist thing. It certainly is a subjective moral value. However it is one subjective moral value which, considering human nature, is most likely to prevail.

In other words I find it more natural for someone to believe in non-coercion and stick with it than not to. I find it more likely for someone, once really faced with the issue, to accept to do to others as he wishes others to do unto him - and if (s)he does not want to be harmed this translates to non-coercion. :)

Cheers
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dalebert

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Re: Natural law and morals
« Reply #12 on: April 21, 2008, 10:16 AM NHFT »

True, but an individual could 'enforce' their moral 'right' just as easily... most likely with the death sentence being the only punishment.

The 'Might' of the majority is a herd mentality. Its generally controlled by greed/fear... and has been used for eons. Ancient hunters would slaughter whole herds of bison by controlling the fear and leading them to a cliff.

I see no basis for anyone's right to punish. This is another notion that presumes some kind of superiority to another person, i.e. you did something wrong IMO and I am now going to assign a punishment. One can argue a basis for self-defense and restitution on the basis of individual rights, but not punishment. And how can you think an individual can enforce their views of right and wrong just as easily as an organization of consolidated power? Besides that, an individual is directly connected to the responsibility for his actions. He might incorrectly justify his actions, but he will still be directly tied to them whereas with government, almost everyone involved feels unconnected to the harm being done. Politicians are enacting the will of the people. Cops and military are just following orders. Judges are making decisions based on the law. Voters are performing their social responsibility and picking from an extremely limited set of choices which then circles back and justifies the politicians. The nature of collectivism disconnects all the actions being taken from any sense of responsibility by the people actually taking the actions.

And yes, absolutely, the authority of government ultimately comes down to nothing more than might because no one has ever established a basis for that authority. It comes down to the idea that because we supposedly must have "something" we will make it so with consolidated might. Lately we just use more elaborate justifications than the divine right of kings.
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J’raxis 270145

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Re: Natural law and morals
« Reply #13 on: April 21, 2008, 11:33 AM NHFT »

I consider the Non-Aggression Principle (essentially the same as what you’re referring to as non-coercion) to be the only moral principle. Everything else is personal preference.

The logic behind this is simple: Describing something as immoral implies that it’s something that one believes ought to be prevented, stopped, or perhaps punished after the fact. The NAP states that initiating force is immoral, and any use of force except in response to initiation is initiation itself, and thus immoral. So attempts to use force to prevent, stop, or punish any other acts beyond initiation of force itself are immoral, because such acts are an initiation of force.

There was an elaborate debate about this on the FSP forum between myself and a few other NAP supporters, and Jason Sorens, in these threads, that you might find interesting:—

http://forum.freestateproject.org/index.php?topic=14942.0
http://forum.freestateproject.org/index.php?topic=15005.0
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Caleb

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Re: Natural law and morals
« Reply #14 on: April 21, 2008, 11:45 AM NHFT »

But then again, a cynic might say that your desire to prevent violence is personal preference.  ;)
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