Monday, January 14, 2008

TMP 15: From Initiation, to The Non-Aggression Principle (NAP)

[Part of The Molyneux Project; read the main critique here]

In this section, Stefan wanders into some extremely dangerous, and perhaps fatal, territory. On page 54, he writes, "A moral rule is often proposed called the non-aggression principle, or NAP. It is also called being a "porcupine pacifist," insofar as a porcupine only uses "force" in self-defense. The NAP is basically the proposition that "the initiation of the use of force is morally wrong." Or, to put it more in the terms of our conversation: "The non-initiation of force is universally preferable.""

To be clear, Stefan is perfectly entitled to propose the claim, "The initiation of the use of force is morally wrong." And this claim does, by Stefan's definition of morality, equate to the statement, "The non-initiation of force is universally preferable." Recall that on page 40, Stefan wrote that "...morals are a set of rules claiming to accurately and consistently identify universally preferable human behaviour..." So there's no problem with this part.

The problems with Stefan's claim are twofold. The first is simply that Stefan's moral claim is controversial. This will be addressed later, since Stefan provides a discussion of his own. The second problem is more severe: the Non-Aggression Principle that Stefan has proposed is not the moral rule which is often proposed by porcupine-pacifists using the same name.

It certainly sounds like it's the same moral rule. The words are pretty much all the same. But Stefan has redefined the important word in the sentence: "morality." When libertarians say that the initiation of force is immoral, they mean that people ought not to initiate force. Stefan has redefined "morality," however, to be a set of statements about what means are required in order to achieve certain ends. So for Stefan to say that the use of force is immoral, he needs to show that all people can't achieve their ends (or proper ends) by using force; it is universally preferable that they avoid using violence. But that's not what matters to libertarians. Even if it were not preferable to avoid initiating force, libertarians would still want to say that initiating force is immoral. If it's logically possible for a use of force to be immoral, without it being preferable that the use of force be avoided, then it must be the case that Stefan is not talking about the same thing as the advocates of the Non-Aggression Principle.

Further, Stefan has suddenly switched from the language of "justifiability" to the language of "morality." This is sort of nice, since it wasn't ever clear what he meant by "justifiability" or how it related to "morality" or "preferability." But it makes me worry that the entire discussion about justifiability Stefan just finished offering will be irrelevant. We'll see if Stefan comes back to this later.

But even if Stefan's Non-Aggression Principle isn't the same as the one most people have in mind when they talk about the Non-Aggression Principle, it would still be extremely interesting to see Stefan prove that it was actually universally preferable for people to avoid initiating force. This would be significant, because it would demonstrate that anyone initiating force was simply unaware of the imprudence of her actions, and that the initiation of force is actually inconsistent with achieving one's ends (or proper ends). Such a claim would not directly determine whether or not people ought to use force, but it would certainly be an interesting observation.

So how does Stefan go about proving his version of the Non-Aggression Principle? He sets out seven possible ways to evaluate the universal preferability of the NAP:
"1. The initiation of the use of force is always morally wrong.
"2. The initiation of the use of force is sometimes morally wrong.
"3. The initiation of the use of force is never morally wrong.
"4. The initiation of the use of force has no moral content.
"5. The initiation of the use of force is never morally right.
"6. The initiation of the use of force is sometimes morally right.
"7. The initiation of the use of force is always morally right."

Stefan correctly acknowledges that his definition of morality is confined to the identification of universally preferable behaviors. Accordingly, he "whittles" the seven statements to the following three:
"1. It is universally preferable to initiate the use of force.
"2. It is universally preferable to not initiate the use of force.
"3. The initiation of the use of force is not subject to universal preferences."

It is clear why numbers 2, 4, and 6 of the first set of possibilities reduce to the claim that "The initiation of the use of force is not subject to universal preferences." The reasoning behind converting 4 in this way seems obvious. And for 2 and 6, Stefan writes, "As we have seen above, however, UPB is an "all or nothing" framework. If an action is universally preferable, then it cannot be limited by individual, geography, time, etc."

But reducing 3 and 5 from the original set seems more confusing, and since Stefan doesn't directly explain his reasoning, I'll do so here. Take 3, that "The initiation of the use of force is never morally wrong." For something to be "morally wrong," it seems like Stefan would want to say that it is universally preferable that it be avoided. If the initiation of the use of force is never morally wrong, then there are two possibilities. The first is that the initiation of the use of force is not subject to universal preferences, which is the new third possibility. The second is that the initiation of force, rather than being morally wrong, is actually morally right. This would equate to saying that it is universally preferable to initiate force, which is the new first possibility. So the old 3 is can be stated as a disjunction between the new 1 and 3. Along the same line of reasoning, the old 5 can be restated as a disjunction between the new 2 and 3.

I'm going to pause again here, because Stefan starts a new section. But it's critical to repeat that what Stefan is now talking about is not obviously related in any way with morality as traditionally conceived. Stefan doesn't come across as wanting to say that people ought to act as would be prudent for them for the achievement of their own ends, given his whole mysterious discussion about "justice." And he hasn't yet offered any claim about there being "proper" ends for people. So how Stefan is going to move from preferable behavior and "morality" (as he defines it) to "justice" (whatever he means by that) is unclear. I guess the only thing to do is keep reading.

2 comments:

Niccolo said...

"Stefan has redefined "morality," however, to be a set of statements about what means are required in order to achieve certain ends. So for Stefan to say that the use of force is immoral, he needs to show that all people can't achieve their ends (or proper ends) by using force; it is universally preferable that they avoid using violence.But that's not what matters to libertarians. Even if it were not preferable to avoid initiating force, libertarians would still want to say that initiating force is immoral. If it's logically possible for a use of force to be immoral, without it being preferable that the use of force be avoided, then it must be the case that Stefan is not talking about the same thing as the advocates of the Non-Aggression Principle."


That's a really good point. I wonder, Danny; are you planning on turning this into a book? Or just a blog by blog piece? Though step-by-step critiques are usually not used in books, I think in this case you could probably format it to object to a wider array of philosophy that Molyneux is trying to represent.

Danny Shahar said...

No, I don't think I'd want to do that. First, I think it would be profoundly disrespectful to Stefan if I actually created a book with the intention of attacking him. Second, I have no real desire to launch a broad attack on an entire style of philosophical investigation.

If I ever get around to finishing this project (I do intend to, but I've been really busy lately), I'd want to write up some sort of concluding piece which would draw together my core objections in one argument, which I could present to Stefan in a self-contained form.

Philosophy Blogs - BlogCatalog Blog Directory Libertarian Blogs Add to Technorati Favorites Back to the Drawing Board - Blogged
"Rational philosophy is on the march. It will f--- up all of your sh-- and leave you without any teeth."