Human Rights in Relation to Ethics, Morality & Aesthetics

I want to set something straight for future reference.

Ethics, as I explained before, is the process of examining the logical consistency (validity) and the empirical proof (accuracy) of statements regarding universally preferable human behavior.

If a statement about preferable human behavior cannot be logically universalized it automatically fails the test of validity and can be discarded easily. For example, the proposition “Theft is universally preferable.” faces a rather insurmountable logical contradiction. If it was universally preferable to steal things from others, then that would mean that, in order for the victim to be in compliance with this theory, he would need to prefer non-ownership to ownership. But the thief only steals something in order to obtain ownership over that thing. But then ownership would have to be both valid and invalid at the same time, valid for the thief and invalid for the victim. But then theft cannot be universally preferable, since it can’t be applied to all humans at all times and at all places.

The issue of rights falls right into the realm of ethics, in particular morality, that subset of ethics that deals with logically consistent universal rules involving the use of violence.

In common debates, the term is used all too often without any clear conceptualization behind it. The most helpful and most consistent way to define a right is, in my opinion, only this:

A right is a universally defensible claim.

For example, when I say “Everyone has a right to his body.”, then what I am really saying is: “Everyone has a universally defensible claim to his own body.” And what I am really saying with that is: “It is a logically consistent proposition to say that all humans at all places at all times may violently assert their ownership over their own bodies when aggressed against.”

This is a logically consistent and thus a completely valid proposition. It faces no inner contradictions.

This works in exactly the same way with the proposition “I have a right to my property.”

In this manner we can also easily test propositions such as “Healthcare is a fundamental human right”. This proposition would more precisely read “Every sick human has a right to another human’s resources to heal his own illness.” This could be translated into: “Every sick human has a universally defensible claim to another human’s resources to heal his own illness.” or “Every sick human may violently and universally assert his claim to another human’s resources to heal his own illness.”

This proposition faces several severe challenges:

  1. By introducing the word “sick”, one has left the realm of universality. To say that “only a sick human being has a universally defensible claim …” is an inherently contradictory statement. The criterion for universality is that it apply to all humans at all times and at all places, not just to certain humans with certain conditions.
  2. Another problem is that we have already proven above that every human being has a right to his property and in particular to his body. Even if introducing the term “sick” was valid, the above proposition breaks down because it is logically inconsistent to say that a person has a right to his body and his property but another person simultaneously has a right to this same person’s body or property. So in order to proceed on the proposition at hand, one would first need to disprove the validity of the, so far, valid theorem of self-ownership and property rights.
  3. Another possibility would be to remove the term “sick” from the proposition in order to rescue its universality. But the problem with this would be that the proposition would read “Every human being has a universally defensible claim to another’s owned goods and body parts.” This proposition, however, is equivalent to the one of theft, which suffers from inner logical contradictions. If one had a claim over another’s property or body that may be violently asserted, then he would never have a defensible claim to the obtained goods. But the very objective of such an action would be the assertion of such a claim. Thus the proposition is invalid.

To be sure, the moral invalidity of such a violently asserted right to health care in no way discourages from the validity of other potential ethical propositions, in particular in the field of aesthetics, which deals with propositions involving non-violent behavior such as, “It is universally preferable to help suffering people in need.”

It is just important to understand that rights are fundamentally a concept that falls in the realm of morality, meaning that of universally preferable behavior involving violence, not in the realm of aesthetics, which deals with all other universally preferable behavior propositions.

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Universally Preferable Behaviour – A Rational Proof of Secular Ethics

Universally Preferable Behaviour – A Rational Proof of Secular Ethics by Stefan Molyneux from Freedomain Radio is, next to Rothbard’s The Ethics of Liberty, probably the most remarkable book on morality that I have ever read.

Rothbard heavily relied on the conclusions of Natural Law philosophers as a basis to mount his framework upon and derives ethical rules, an “ought”, from man’s nature, an “is”.

Stefan Molyneux completely rejects this approach. Instead he points out that there is in the realm of human behavior really no such thing as absolute, unconditional and universal “oughts”. There is nothing in the pure nature of humans that requires that they be peaceful and good to each other, in the sense that there are indeed physical laws that require that, say, a rock fall down to earth.

One more important thing he points out is this: The main task we need to surmount in terms of establishing a scientific moral framework, is not to evaluate individual actions per se. What we need to evaluate is rather rules regarding actions. The problems of this world are not the petty burglar or killer. Virtually everyone understands the immorality in their acts intuitively. The most dangerous thing are rather ideas about behavioral rules held in people’s minds, general concepts that justify hugely immoral acts under the cloak of morality.

Thus, Universally Preferable Behavior (UPB) is not a framework for evaluating specific actions, but rather one for evaluating behavioral rules.

Understanding Universally Preferable Behavior

Here is how I understood the chain of reasoning. I am mostly taking this from the book, and injecting my own thoughts where I deem appropriate:

1. Reality is composed of objects in the universe, all of which have certain natures, meaning certain specific, and delimitable inputs on them and certain interactions between them yield certain specific, and delimitable outputs (events). These events are, all other things being equal, reproducible or consistent.

2. Logic is the set of objective and consistent rules derived from the consistency of reality:

– Identity: A = A – An object/event is that object/event and not another object/event. A rock on earth is that rock on earth, and not a tree at the same time.

– Non-Contradiction: A AND non-A is false – A proposition that states that something is a thing/event and not that thing/event at the same time is always false. A thing can’t be a tree and not a tree at the same time. An apple can’t fall downward and upward at the same time.

– Excluded middle: A OR non-A is true – A proposition about a thing/event is either true or false. A thing is either an apple or not an apple. An apple either falls down or doesn’t fall down. There is nothing in-between.

3. Validity: A human’s statement about objective reality is a theory. A theory that complies with the 3 laws of logic is valid.

4. Accuracy: A theory that is confirmed by observable evidence in reality is considered accurate.

5. Truth: A theory that is both valid and accurate is true.

6. Preference is the level at which a human being places the desire to perform an action in relation to the desire to perform other actions at any given moment in time. For example at nighttime one prefers sleeping over running. But on the next morning one may prefer running to sleeping. Preferences only exist in people’s minds, meaning they are subjective. Observable human actions, however, are the objective manifestations of subjective preferences. When someone can be observed running then he is showing by his very action that he set out to run because he preferred the act to that of sleeping.

7. Preferable Behavior: When somebody says that some other human being should do something he is making a statement about preferable behavior.

8. Universally Preferable Behavior: When somebody says that all people at all times and at all places should do something, then he is making a statement about universally preferable behavior (UPB), he is proposing a “universal rule”. In short: UPB is any behavior that all humans at all times and at all places should follow. Arguing against the conceptual existence of UPB requires engaging in a debate. But once someone engages in a debate to convince another person, he inevitably implies that all people at all times and at all places should rather prefer truth to falsehood. Once he starts advancing arguments and reasons as to why he is right, then on top of that he affirms that everyone should base his beliefs on universal standards of validity and accuracy. He also affirms that using the same language as your conversation partner is universally preferable. It is impossible to attempt to refute UPB without affirming it in the process. Thus the act of debating and arguing implicitly and inevitably affirms the conceptual existence of UPB.

(I would actually suggest that the commonly known term “Ethics” is a good substitute for the word “UPB”. Molyneux, meanwhile, equates “Ethics” to “Morality”. This is just about semantics, but it does seem to make sense to me and it helps put existing terminologies into context with this new approach.)

9. Morality is defined as the examination of all those universal rules where avoidance of the inflicted effects of the behavior in question would require the use of violence or considerable effort, for example “It is universally preferable to murder.”

10. Aesthetics is defined as the examination of all those universal rules where the inflicted effects of the behavior in question can be avoided without the use of violence and without considerable effort, for example “It is universally preferable to be on time.”

11. The UPB Framework is the process of examining the truth (validity+accuracy) of moral and aesthetic rules. This means that, just as physical or mathematical theories, any true ethical theory needs to be logically consistent (valid) and empirically verifiable (accurate).

Application of Universally Preferable Behavior

Thus there are in general 3 categories that statements about preferable behavior may fall into: morality, aesthetics, or other (all those statements that do not refer to universal, but rather personal preferences). We are here not concerned with those statements that fall in the category other, but mostly interested in morality and to a lesser degree aesthetics, where we have to keep in mind that the differences between the two may not always be black and white, but rather on a fading scale.

Rape: Rape clearly involves the use of violence. Thus any statement about universally preferable behavior involving rape falls into the category of morality. The statement “It is universally preferable to rape.” fails the test of logical consistency. If there are two persons in a room, the statement can’t apply to both people at the same time. One person needs to do the raping, the other needs to be raped. But then the person who is being raped can’t himself rape the other person. Thus the only valid moral statement regarding rape is “It is universally preferable NOT to rape.” or put differently “Rape is immoral.”

Murder: Murder clearly involves the use of violence. Thus any statement about universally preferable behavior involving murder falls into the category of morality. The statement “It is universally preferable to murder.” already fails the test of logical consistency. If there are two persons in a room, the statement can’t apply to both people at the same time. One person needs to do the murdering, the other needs to be murdered. But then the person who is being murdered  can’t himself murder the other person. Thus the only valid moral statement regarding murder is “It is universally preferable NOT to murder.” or put differently “Murder is immoral.”

Theft: Theft involves the use of violence. Thus any statement about universally preferable behavior involving theft falls into the category of morality. The statement “It is universally preferable to steal.” again fails the test of logical consistency. If there are two persons in a room, the statement can’t apply to both people at the same time. One person needs to do the stealing, the other needs to be stolen from . But then the person who is being stolen from can’t himself steal from the other person. Theft also implies the theory that property rights are invalid. But if property ownership rights are invalid it is logically inconsistent to prefer to violently obtain ownership over property, since it is supposedly invalid. Thus the only valid moral statement regarding theft is “It is universally preferable NOT to steal.” or put differently “Theft is immoral.”

In the same manner, many other behavioral theories can be examined using the UPB framework.

Moral Conclusions Regarding Universally Preferable Behavior

The book concludes via this analysis that our political institutions are founded upon inherently and blatantly immoral premises. The idea that “A government is a moral or necessary institution.” by necessity implies that theft is a fundamentally moral action which, as we all know, simply cannot hold.

The military, a group of people sent to another country in green costumes to murder individuals who never attacked them, is of course also an institution founded upon blatantly immoral ideas that are riddled with logical inconsistencies.

The conclusion that I and many other people like Molyneux himself have thus come to is of course that the only moral system is that of voluntaryism.

Summary

I believe that that the genius in the UPB framework lies in that it fundamentally and flawlessly explains our natural appreciation for the inherently reciprocal nature of the relation between all elements in the universe, and humans in particular. Logical consistency demands the acknowledgment of this relation. We feel emotionally repulsed against theories about human behavior that fail to recognize this reciprocity, but have been struggling for millennia to explain precisely why that is so.

The UPB framework beautifully integrates the economic concept of value preference into ethics. As far as I know it was the Austrian school’s accomplishment to fully recognize and consistently integrate the notion that value is never an objective or absolute measure, but rather a subjective and ordinal scale where the differentiating operator is simply “better” or “worse”, but nothing like “good” or “bad” or “+/- 100 happiness points”, etc. In that same fashion Molyneux looks at human behavior as nothing but a choice of one action over multiple other actions, and establishes that moral rules are not behavioral absolutes, but rather optional statements about preferable choices, the validity of which, however, remains absolute subject to the laws of logic and proof.

It is my opinion that in this first version, formally and aesthetically Molyneux has unfortunately failed to make this book a pleasant read, in particular for newcomers. The amount of terminological confusions and inconsistencies (I pointed out some here), the abundance of repetitive metaphors, the unnecessary repetition of certain established proofs, and the seeming lack of a consistent and traceable thread at times, really made this relatively short book a tough read for me. To put things into context: This is coming from a guy (me) who enjoyed reading Mises’ Human Action, Socialism, and Theory of Money and Credit with great pleasure! I listened to the audio book twice and read the PDF again before I even remotely felt like I was able to ask qualified and helpful questions.

You will find a lot of criticisms of this book on the net that were written by people who clearly had no real interest in the subject and who deem it necessary to immediately jump on all the terminological weaknesses and inconsistencies that this book is riddled with, rather than being curious and looking beneath the surface. Then there are other criticisms by people who were absolutely and 100% dedicated to understanding the book, but who, in my humble opinion, missed the core aspect of UPB: That it is, just like the scientific method, a scientific framework to examine the validity and accuracy of theories, not of actions, for the simple reason that it is impossible to examine the validity of an individual action.

I think that the actual content, the idea, and the conclusions, when properly understood and connected, are revolutionary, groundbreaking, eye-opening and ingenious. Anybody who is interested in the field of ethics should read this book very carefully and not despair if it doesn’t all get to him as easily as baking pie right away.

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Reality, Concepts, The State, and God

Reality vs Concepts

Objects are tangible things in within the universe, for example a rock, a tree, a chair, or a human being. We humans can observe the attributes of such a thing and place it in a group with other similar items.

For example, there are different types of rocks, big ones, small ones, granite, marble, or limestone. But they all share the characteristics of being more or less solid pieces of accumulated, rather inorganic mass, they all behave in similar ways when touched or thrown, none of them possess the ability to act, etc …

Thus we group all those things into the concept of “rocks”. But the concept is a mere imaginative category of thinking. Grouping things into concepts helps us establish rules and expectations as to how certain things will react when their present state of nature is changed. For example, we deem it proper to use a hammer to work on rocks in mine shafts. We would certainly not evaluate the same action performed on a human in the same way.

But a concept does not exist in the universe, except for in the form of neurological reflexes in our brains, which to date we are still unable to fully capture and understand. A concept only emerges once we can actually observe objects that we can group into it. Thus empirical observation of objects always precedes and trumps over the concept itself. The concept is only a helpful construct if the objects that we conceptually assign to it by and large possess the attributes established as part of the concept.

For example, if we see something that looks like a rock at first, but then it starts moving around and turns out to be an organism, we would never maintain that it be a rock, but rather determine that it belongs to a different concept, say, that of seashells.

But it is completely counterproductive for us humans to establish a concept and group into it objects that don’t at all possess the attributes established in the concept. Just as it is completely useless, even harmful, for us to establish concepts that can’t be assigned any empirically observable objects whatsoever.

When I say there are solid objects on planet earth that vaporize once a human looks at them, I am proposing a concept, say “That Which Vaporizes Upon Sight”. But it is a completely useless concept as long as I don’t find observable objects that fulfill this criterion.

Whenever I claim that there is something that exists, but can’t point to any (at least yet) observable objects or instances, then I am proposing a mere concept. But it is an empty, meaningless concept. To give any meaning to it I need to go about and find empirical and observable objects that possess the attributes I ascribe to that concept. For as long as I don’t, the concept I am proposing is empty, meaningless, unproven, and thus simply false.

It is in the nature of such a fuzzy, meaningless concept, that man can ascribe to it any attribute he wants. For since there is no empirical and reasonable proof for any instances of this concept, there also isn’t any proof that the attributes assigned are false ones. Once can always claim that once the object is discovered it will possess all those attributes. To be sure, it is completely irrelevant whether or not the attributes are false, because, as long as it is unproven, the entire concept is already false to begin with.

When I establish such a fuzzy concept, yet manage to convince people that in order to be “good” they need to believe that this concept exists, need to worship it, bow down to it, and follow its decrees, I have free reign to make them do whatever I want. Why? Because as I outlined above I can assign whatever attributes I want to it.

The Concept “State”

As explained, some concepts are either falsely described or are assigned the wrong objects. Such is the case with the belief in the state. The state, in most people’s minds, is a false concept. It possesses all the good and virtuous attributes we can think of. It regulates, curbs our greed, re-distributes unjustly earned incomes, represents the “common good”, prevents pollution, maintains the peace, and protects us from harm. How could anyone object to such a glorious concept? The problem is that actually there is no such thing as that state. You can’t go up to the “state” and shake its hands. You can’t have a conversation with it. You can’t take a picture of it, touch it, etc.

What does exist in society as observable objects are people. And some of those people possess guns, bats, tanks, grenades, prisons, etc. They tell us to give them our guns and money because they will do good things for us. Surely we would be willing to voluntarily hand over our money if this was true. But unfortunately there is no such choice. For if we don’t pay them our tribute on a regular basis they will throw us in prison or shoot us in case we raise a gun to defend our property.

This is what people do under the sublime cover of the “state”, plain and simple. (To anyone who disagrees: feel free to refute this statement.) We call those people “the state”. But what they actually do has nothing to do with the concept “state” that most people have been raised to hold in their minds. This is of course not a surprise. For those same people who threaten us at gunpoint to hand over our property, also happen to run the public school system and determine its curriculum, subsidize higher education facilities, and grant or revoke concessions to utilize the airwaves for radio and TV stations, in other words fully or partially control all the means of communicating ideas about the concept “state” to the majority of those who carry the concept, the people.

The implications are predictable: If the concept of state embodies all that is good and just, then naturally, every action taken by those who are considered to belong to the state are considered good, heroic, and justified, no matter how cruel, base, or immoral they may be. One person taking money from another by use or threat of violence is theft, but when the minions of the state do it it is just taxation. A man who takes money to invade other people’s homes and shoot at them because someone told him to is a heartless hitman. But put a helmet and a green costume with a state coat of arms on him and he is a heroic solider.

All proper perception of reality is lost when concepts overshadow it. Any excuse will do. “The people who are the state are stealing and murdering? Well, we voted for them so it is just by majority rule.” This again is a concept that immediately breaks down when examined from a realistic view point. For how does an unjust act become justified just because more people have agreed to it than objected? If I am not justified to kill my neighbor and take his property, then does it become just when all other people in my building agree that I may do it? I hope not. Does it become just when the entire world agrees? Of course not, quite the opposite, it turns into mass tyranny.

Then there are those who say that we humans are just too selfish, greedy, stupid, immoral, sinful, dangerous, base, and filthy to be left without oversight from the state. This argument is self-refuting. For who is it that sits in the state apparatus? Are they super-humans? Would anyone dare to argue that out of all people politicians are mankind’s shining beacon, society’s prime example of perfectly altruistic, humble, intelligent, moral, virtuous, and trustworthy human beings?

Most people who are for the first time in their lives confronted with these ideas will try to do one simple thing: bend reality. They will come up with excuses such as the one above or things like “taxation is really voluntary because we chose to live here”, “we have entered into a social contract with the state”, “but someone has to do it”, “public goods can only be provided by the state”, etc.

This is of course understandable. Again, if one has been raised for his entire life with the idea that the state represents the common good, it is hard to accept the exact opposite, no matter what meets the eye when peeking through the foggy concept. It is important to realize that one can always concoct an excuse for any act one performs, no matter how immoral it is. Any excuse will do. Most people will thus choose to shrug at the facts above and find excuses, they will try to bend and mold reality in order for it to fit into their form of the concept “state” as they know it and as they want it to be.

It is not my objective to convert those people right here and now. To believe I could do that would be completely foolish. All I intend to do is give them an opportunity to question established concepts, use their own best judgment, and to lift the veil for at least a few seconds. Who knows, maybe I am wrong? In that case I would be truly delighted if someone can point out what I missed and help me improve my theories and ideas. However, what I do have little patience with are arguments that have been long refuted and that introduce nothing new at all into the debate.

The Concept “God”

As explained, some concepts don’t find any instances in reality whatsoever. Such is the case with the concept God, “the Being perfect in power, wisdom, and goodness who is worshiped as creator and ruler of the universe”.

The well known contradiction of this concept is of course this: If a being is perfect in wisdom this implies that this being knows all its future actions beforehand. But if it is perfect in power then it should be able to alter the course of action it will take in the future at any point in time. But then it can’t be perfect in wisdom.

But it doesn’t just end there! God cannot be detected materially, yet possesses consciousness (which is by definition an effect of material brain matter), and exists (while the definition of existence is the consisting of one or more particles). God is alive, yet has never been born and will never die (while the definition of being alive live involves birth at least), etc.

Thus the commonly understood concept of God faces a whole array of insurmountable logical contradictions.

Furthermore, there are no observable objects that can be placed in that category whatsoever. There is no evidence that would prove that this (contradictory to begin with) concept is a derivative of observable matter in reality.

Thus, whenever humans talk of God they are not talking about any specific thing, they are referring to an empty, unproven, logically inconsistent and contradictory concept.

One can arguably say that the proposition of the existence of God is the most unfounded, contradictory, illogical, and bigoted proposition ever advanced and defended in the history of mankind.

Thus, agnostics who take the high road and say “What’s so difficult about saying I don’t know?”, need to be aware that in that in uttering such a statement they are rendering the word knowledge completely and utterly meaningless. If you can’t even say you don’t know whether the most ridiculous, contradictory, and unproven proposition is false, then what in the world can you actually know?

There are certainly differences in degree in the empirical proof of concepts. The galaxy, distant stars, planets, black holes for example are rather remote objects which we humans believe to observe via helpful devices. But they remain distant and unclear. We believe to know what the attributes of a black hole are, and we base those ideas on strenuous research and we try to obtain as much information as humanly possible, yet remain open to differing theories.

But it is quite striking to see that many people are so sure that a “God” exists that they will make their religion the moral compass of their lives, while not even that low a level of evidence exists to support their beliefs.

Some will say that God is outside the universe and thus not open to such base human inquiry. But by saying that something is outside the universe, one may as well say that it doesn’t exist. It is impossible for someone to say that a thing is outside of the universe, yet it exists. Anything that is outside the universe is by definition and for all practical purposes non-existent.

The point is that those who ask people to worship God, claim that God does interfere inside the universe. But by making that claim they do concede that their claim is that God does exist, at least partially, inside the universe which then again most certainly opens the concept up to human inquiry.

The Bible, just as one example, is full of stories where God talks to humans and asks them to do things. If that was the case, then surely there should be at least the slightest empirical evidence, before one unconditionally submits oneself to such a being as God.

Seeing Through Concepts

This is not an assault on concepts per-se, it is a reminder that not all concepts are valid by the virtue of their mere existence and acceptance in the minds of most people. An object is an object, and a concept is a concept. A concept helps explain the attributes of different objects, but it can never become an object in and of itself.

In order to understand one’s surroundings, explain phenomena, make proper decisions in life one needs to understand what is behind the concepts that most people commonly accept in society. So long as false or empty concepts remain in one’s mind as such, it will always be difficult to make sense of complex historical and present phenomena.

It is, for example, impossible to truly come up with an ethical framework that tells us what is good and what is bad in human society without applying observable facts about human beings in the process of arriving at such a framework.

Use your own nature given capabilities of human reason, question existing concepts, make sure they match up with reality, and you will know what is good for yourself and your fellow humans.

Try to look for concepts that have seemingly morphed into actual objects in people’s minds, and you will quickly discover the roots of all evil in society.

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Ethics, Human Nature, and Government – A Manifesto for Liberty

The Scope of Normative Ethics

The universe is an ongoing sequence of events. Every event is an effect of something and a cause of something else at the same time. An event describes the movements of objects within specific limits. Objects are atoms or combinations thereof. The nature of an object is a complete set of rules about what specific effects specific events involving that object will have on it. (For example: An apple, let fall, will drop to the ground.) The total collection of all events and the natures of all objects I will refer to as reality.

Humans are objects within the universe. They possess the ability to utter statements about events and the natures of objects. These statements are beliefs. The total of all those beliefs that match reality is referred to as truth. The pursuit of truth is what we commonly refer to as science.

Science enables humans to understand what events enable objects to let their natural faculties come to full fruition, and what events are destructive to them. The former are referred to as good, the latter as bad.

By virtue of the fact that humans are objects in the universe, a human being, too, has a nature. Specific events affecting a human, will have specific effects. A human action, or simply an action, is an event consciously precipitated by a human. A group of humans, connected via actions, is what we refer to as society. To discover which actions are good and which are bad for human society, and thus to establish a set of rules that is universally applicable to every human being at any given point in time, is the objective of normative ethics.

Human Nature

Every human being, man, once born, possesses full ownership, meaning control, over his body. This is an irrefutable truth. Anyone who tries to refute it would be exerting ownership over his own body in the very process. This self ownership is in the very nature of man. It is a necessity for the development of his faculties.

The desire to stay alive, too, is in the nature of man. Whoever tries to refute this truth would be doing so while being alive. If he didn’t want to live he would have no business arguing the point in the first place. If he were to shoot himself he would cease to exist and no ethics would be necessary to determine what would be good or bad for him. Thus life becomes the most commonly pursued good among humans.

But man cannot survive without utilizing the land around him. In fact, he cannot even exist without it. The existence of man would be unthinkable without his environment. Even if he was not consuming anything, wearing anything, or putting his hands on anything, at the very least, and before anything else, he needs to occupy standing room.

He possesses the ability to fully comprehend and memorize cause and effect of specific events involving specific objects, the ability to reason. Thus he can obtain and retain knowledge. He possesses the unique ability to first and foremost let his reason guide his actions. The animal’s actions are, on the contrary, first and foremost guided by its instincts. Action guided by reason is referred to as rational action while action guided by instincts is reflexive action. This is what we mean when we say man is a rational being. He can apply his knowledge to objects and events that he has already memorized, or infer from the nature of certain known objects that similar unknown objects will have a similar nature, and put this knowledge into action.

Once the desire to live is satisfied, man strives for objectives beyond that. At any given point in time, he feels uneasy about something. This uneasiness is a purely subjective phenomenon and differs from person to person. It may also be more broadly referred to as “that which makes man act” in case the term uneasiness causes misunderstandings. He thus always acts in order to remove uneasiness. In fact, every rational voluntary action is only performed because man feels that it will improve his condition. He would never perform a rational action that he’d deem detrimental to his own perceived condition. The fact that men aim at objectives and employ means to attain them is, again, irrefutable. Whoever sets out to refute its correctness would be aiming at an objective, employing means to attain it.

The Scope of Political Philosophy

Man can thus employ his reason to utilize the scarce land around him by applying his acquired knowledge. He can mix his labor with this land in order to create consumer goods or factors of production. He utilizes those goods in order to remove perceived uneasiness.

When he utilizes and transforms unused land, he obtains ownership over new objects. Ownership over such objects is called private property. Thus his self-ownership over his body is extended to ownership over material objects. He can utilize those objects as means to his ends. By the virtue of this he shows that this procedure, too, is in the very nature of man.

Other men can do the same thing. They can then, if they so desire, enter into exchange transactions. All these acts are performed voluntarily and enable men to extend their scope of removal of uneasiness and let their natural capabilities come to fruition. All property obtained via initial appropriation (homesteading) or voluntary exchange is considered to be justly acquired property. During an act of voluntary action both parties enter because each of them prefers to own the good to be obtained to the one surrendered. They both attain the objective aimed at. By the virtue of this, these acts are to be considered good.

But when one man obtains ownership over goods owned by another man without that man’s consent, or alters their condition in any form, or physically harms that man’s body, all acts of aggression, he only removes uneasiness for himself, but adds to the other man’s uneasiness. Thus, this act cannot possibly be in line with a normative ethic which is supposed to spell out universal rules applicable to every human being. If, furthermore, all people were to perform such acts on everybody, mankind would at once cease to exist. Such an act can thus not possibly be considered good in any way.

But the fact that some men desire to perform such acts makes it necessary (for the preservation and further development of mankind) for the attacked to perform violent acts of defense. A right is defined as a defensible claim to an object, meaning a claim that, if necessary for the preservation and development of mankind, may be defended violently. Man thus has a right to the ownership of his body and his justly acquired property. The absence of aggression or threat thereof against his body and property is referred to as liberty. That part of normative ethics that ultimately deals with questions of the proper use of violence in different cases is called political philosophy.

Morality

Morality really falls under the sphere of political philosophy. It defines which binding behavioral rules about inflicted behavior are logically inconsistent and/or can in no way be universally applied to all humans at all places and at all times. It defines such rules as immoral.

A binding behavioral rule is a statement about what a human should or should not do. A binding behavioral rule about inflicted behavior is a statement about what one man should or should not do to another man. Example: The rule “One person should rape another.” could in no way be applied to the latter person while the former performs the act. It thus qualifies as a binding behavioral rule about inflicted behavior that is not universally applicable, viz. immoral. The same goes for acts like murder and theft.

Abstaining from immoral behaviors can be referred to as moral. All rules that we intuitively perceive as immoral can be successfully examined via this rationale.

The Nature of Government

The idea that man has a right to defend his property and his body is not a mystical or arcane one. It is, in fact, commonly understood. Most people agree with it and condemn those who initiate aggression against others. There has, however, throughout history been one type of organization, which has, again and again, been able to aggress against individuals with impunity and with support by public opinion. This organization is referred to as government. It obtains goods by aggressive means, also known as taxation. This is the inherently unethical, anti-social, or simply bad nature of government.

Nowhere has the essence of the State as a criminal organization been put as forcefully or as brilliantly as in this passage from Lysander Spooner’s No Treason where the actions of a robbing highwayman are compared to the government’s modus operandi:

It is true that the theory of our Constitution is, that all taxes are paid voluntarily; that our government is a mutual insurance company, voluntarily entered into by the people with each other. . . .

But this theory of our government is wholly different from the practical fact. The fact is that the government, like a highwayman, says to a man: “Your money, or your life.” And many, if not most, taxes are paid under the compulsion of that threat.

The government does not, indeed, waylay a man in a lonely place, spring upon him from the roadside, and, holding a pistol to his head, proceed to rifle his pockets. But the robbery is none the less a robbery on that account; and it is far more dastardly and shameful.

The highwayman takes solely upon himself the responsibility, danger, and crime of his own act. He does not pretend that he has any rightful claim to your money, or that he intends to use it for your own benefit. He does not pretend to be anything but a robber. He has not acquired impudence enough to profess to be merely a “protector,” and that he takes men’s money against their will, merely to enable him to “protect” those infatuated travellers, who feel perfectly able to protect themselves, or do not appreciate his peculiar system of protection. He is too sensible a man to make such professions as these. Furthermore, having taken your money, he leaves you, as you wish him to do. He does not persist in following you on the road, against your will; assuming to be your rightful “sovereign,” on account of the “protection” he affords you. He does not keep “protecting” you, by commanding you to bow down and serve him; by requiring you to do this, and forbidding you to do that; by robbing you of more money as often as he finds it for his interest or pleasure to do so; and by branding you as a rebel, a traitor, and an enemy to your country, and shooting you down without mercy if you dispute his authority, or resist his demands. He is too much of a gentleman to be guilty of such impostures, and insults, and villainies as these. In short, he does not, in addition to robbing you, attempt to make you either his dupe or his slave.

Thus economic policy, if it wants to attain its objectives, can do nothing but limit the extent to which matters are organized by government and the scope of its intrusion into the lifes of individuals within the territory it oversees, or ideally completely abolish the institution of government itself. So long as the government confines its activity to the protection of individuals against aggression and theft only little harm can be inflicted. Every expansion of governmental powers, however, will inevitably expand the use of unethical and destructive action within society.

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