Saturday, May 20, 2017

dbzer0 on the NAP

dbzer0 on the NAP - George J. Dance, Nolan Chart:

May 15, 2017 - "Last week I wrote an article dealing with two claims that the non-aggression principle (or NAP) was useless. In return I received not one but two requests to deal with another such claim: this one on an anonymous blog called A Division by Zer0, which also argues that 'the Non-Aggression principle is useless as a moral guideline.'

"The blog author (dbzer0 for short) defines NAP as the principle that 'no human should aggress over another human. This is meant to mean the initial use of coercive force as well as the threat of such'.... This is fine, as long as 'aggress over another human' is interpreted as 'initiate force against other people or their property' (which does not say anything about what property is, or if there is any, much less who owns what property, so no question is begged).

"Using this principle, a libertarian can derive moral axioms (like 'Rape is wrong, because rape is aggression' or 'It is not wrong to forcibly prevent a rape, because forcibly preventing aggression is not aggression') and make moral judgments (like 'I shouldn’t rape Mary' or 'I should stop John from raping Mary'). That looks pretty useful to me; so why does dbzer0 claim it is useless?

Is NAP unnecessary?
dbzer0’s first argument is that it is unnecessary to have NAP as a rule, because 'other moral systems … already encompass such rules (with stipulation) as a natural consequence of their suggestions.' But one cannot simply follow 'other moral systems' in general instead of NAP; moral systems disagree both in 'rules' and 'stipulations', and where they do disagree one would have to follow one or another. That means either deciding which system to follow, or deciding on a principle that tells one which system to follow in which case. How does one decide that?

dbzer0 claims that every non-libertarian moral system ('anything else') is distinguished 'by the absence of the NAP,' but gives no reason to think that must be. Logically, a moral system can either (1) contain or 'encompass' NAP; (2) partly contain NAP, or (3) not contain NAP at all. Following NAP might indeed be useless if following any one of those systems resulted in making the exact same moral judgments as following NAP. But ... systems that would result in the same judgments would be type (1) systems; but how would following a type (1) system not be following NAP?

To make this clear, let us look at the specific alternatives dbZer0 discusses. One is Christianity, which as he points out has NAP-like rules such as 'Thou shalt not kill'. But, as he also points out, 'Thou shalt not kill' 'can lead to worse results (such as foregoing killing in self-defence)', precisely the result that NAP does not lead to. So that example is no evidence that NAP is useless, but the opposite: that NAP is a better rule than some alternatives."

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