Monday, October 02, 2006

 

Violence

When is violent action legitimate?

This could be in protest, or escaping injustice and imprisonment, or even a "just" war.

Is violence ever an appropriate response? What legitimizes it?

Comments:
Didn't we already go over this in our discussion of Gandhi?

In any case, I believe that yes, sometimes force is necessary to defend one's person or property (or that of one's family). It's just the initiation of force that's wrong.
 
Jenna,

But it’s hard to find an argument that backs up those assertions. Aside from the fact that natural rights arguments (as they have been presented here) have no reasonable foundation, they also lead us to very undesirable conclusions.

Maybe we should start by answering a more fundamental question: Is our moral approval/disapproval of violence (or certain cases of violence) a rational judgment about the facts at hand or an emotional response to them?

Let’s assume that all of a “rational” beings knowledge comes from observation (sight, taste, touch, smell) and reason (logical deduction). One day that rational being sees a man stabbing a little old lady for no apparent reason. The rational being observes a variety of things about the incident, but how can he deduce a moral judgment from these observations? He can’t. So even if there were “moral truths” out there, rational man could not know them. But we already know from our own observation that people do make moral judgments, and those judgments must be coming from somewhere. The simplest answer is that our moral judgments are emotional responses.

This means that moral rationalist arguments, including “natural rights”, are a dead end. But that doesn’t mean we have to give up on morality. It only means we have to take a different road. It’s actually the same path taken by David Hume, Adam Smith, and many other philosophers. Can you think of a better place to start?
 
Of course those are all just my impressions of things. I'm still open minded about the issue.
 
All that proves is that we shouldn't choose violence without all the information. Not that violence is never appropriate.

In a situation in which it's not an unknown old lady being stabbed, but you, yourself being stabbed, you probably do know all the information, especially if you're on your own property.

So, if someone comes into my house and threatens my life, liberty, or property, it is within my rights AND a rational decision to meet that threat with a violent defense.
 
Well, actually, i am arguing that moral justification of violence cannot be achieved through reason alone (or maybe even reason at all). That is the essense of Hume's Is-Ought problem. This argument applies to ANY moral judgement (including those regarding chastity, theft, murder, etc.).

If moral judgements are not the result of reason, then what are they? As best as I can tell, Hume argued they were emotional responces to certain observations.

From here, one can take a variety of ways to approach moral questions, but there would be no room for "natural rights" ideas.

If you believe there are natural rights and that moral judgements are not simply emotions, then you will have to explain (at least to yourself) how you arrived at that conclusion.

Obviously, you did not observe any moral facts about the world through your traditional senses. So how did you do it?
 
I'm not sure I'm really buying this senses-only argument.

How would that go? Gruyere smells bad, therefore Gruyere is evil? Limburger is worse? Skunks are the devil incarnate?

Murder via stabbing is sticky and warm. Is that a good or bad thing? Or is it different for everyone?

Here's my logic. Death is stinky. Therefore death is bad. Especially on my property. Really, is there anything even remotely objective about this senses and logic argument?
 
Haha, nice examples, though I think you are saying exactly what Hume means to say. Trying to derive moral judgments (murder is wrong) strictly from sensual observation (murder is sticky) is impossible. So Hume proposes that moral judgments are not derived (strictly) from reason and observation at all, but are instead emotional reactions.

Is there anything objective about this argument? Well, it depends on what you mean by objective on who you ask.

Personally, I think that if you are looking for answers to moral questions that will always be true, no matter what situation/time/or place, then you won't find them down this road. But who needs that kind of morality anyways? What are “moral truths” in that world? Abstract ghosts that exist separate from and beyond man? If so, how do we discover them (epistemological problem)? And once we do find them, why should I listen to what they have to say (motivational problem).

Hume at least gives us a starting point for answering these questions.
 
*** Revisions

Haha, nice examples, though I think you are saying exactly what Hume means to say. Trying to derive moral judgments (murder is wrong) strictly from sensual observation (murder is sticky) is impossible. So Hume proposes that moral judgments are not derived (strictly) from reason and observation at all, but are instead emotional reactions.

Is there anything objective about this argument? Well, it depends on what you mean by objective and on who you ask.

Personally, I think that if you are looking for answers to moral questions that will always be true, no matter the situation/time/or place, then you won't find them down this road.

But who needs that kind of morality anyways? What are “moral truths” in that world (if they are not simplye emotional reactions)? Are they abstract "ghosts" that exist separate from and beyond man? If so, how do we discover them (an epistemological problem)? And once we do find them, why should I listen to what they have to say (a motivational problem).

Hume at least gives us a starting point for answering these questions. Men are motivated by their emotions and moral judgements are emotional reactions.

At least that's how see things. I'm hardly a philosopher, but I can't see any better options.
 
Ah, the web we weave. I love these expositions Student makes. I hope they will nudge some of the Natural Rights folks a little further in my direction. Abstract holy ghost exists seperate from and beyond man except when it chooses to become "abstraction-made-flesh", it provides revelation to fill in the mysteries beyond our reason, and leaves adherance to such an emerging ethic completely voluntary for any willing to recieve the call. Ethics does creep in.
Nathan
 
I think reason and observation are different things. Observation (as I demonstrated above) won't get one very far. And I think Hume constrains reason in an unreasonable way.

That said, I think we can arrive at some useful conclusions. And maybe even derive natural rights. I've not read enough to lay out the argument here.

For myself, it's not necessary. Since I believe in God, I can simply state that rights come from God, full stop. But in order to convince others (especially in the political world), I need something more.

A task for everyone (including me): Actually finish reading Ethics of Liberty. I'm being unbelievably lazy about this.
 
I made it to the sections with applications to policy and stopped. I was unsatisfied with the theory itself. Not that it's impossible to build a natural rights philosophy entirely on reason, just that Rothbard didn't quite pull it off.

Do we know of anyone who came closer than Rothbard? How about just anyone who tried after Rothbard?
 
Disappointing that Rothbard couldn't pull it off. I'd really like to see a Natural Rights philosophy based entirely on reason. No idea if anyone tried before or since Rothbard.

I'll look around. Hopefully, there's something out there.
 
What makes reason "better" than revelation? Both have the potential to be internally consistent. Both have the potential for internal contradictions. Is either more likely than the other? To judge revelation, we use reason. But reason is dependant upon first principles, which revelation can provide.
 
The point is to lay out the natural rights doctrine with reason alone. That way, it works universally--across all religions and equally well for atheists.

Different religions give you different "first principles," which lead to very non-universal ethics.

This is only a problem if you care about universality, and I do.
 
Which religions have different first principles? I see two categories myself. Some are monotheistic...

Could all religions agree to:
1)Do all you have agreed to do.
2)Do not encroach upon others or their property.

I think so.

Only when religion colludes with government do we get things confused.
 
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