08 Nov 2013

The Government Should Not Legislate Colors, or Morality

Gene Callahan, Law 312 Comments

Suppose you heard the following:

BOB: The government shouldn’t legislate colors!

GENE: You don’t really believe that. You think it’s OK for Maxwell to go around bashing people’s heads in with his silver hammer?

Replace “colors” with “morality” and you’ll see what’s wrong with Gene Callahan’s recent post.

312 Responses to “The Government Should Not Legislate Colors, or Morality”

  1. Major_Freedom says:

    “A terrible argument: “The government should not legislate morality”

    “No one really believes this.”

    OK, so we’re told that nobody really believes the government should not legislate morality. This of course implies that nobody really believes that the government should not exist if raping occurs. After all, if none of us reject the government legislating morality, then that requires us to not reject the existence of government itself. We can’t be in favor of the government stopping rape, and be in favor of anarchism, at the same time.

    That alone is enough to reject Callahan’s argument.

    But this comment is a non sequitur:

    “No one is out there saying that rape should be permissible, because “the government shouldn’t legislate morality.”"

    Have we not emphasized Bastiat’s critique of socialists enough times? Bastiat wrote:

    “Socialism, like the ancient ideas from which it springs, confuses the distinction between government and society. As a result of this, every time we object to a thing being done by government, the socialists conclude that we object to its being done at all. We disapprove of state education. Then the socialists say that we are opposed to any education. We object to a state religion. Then the socialists say that we want no religion at all. We object to a state-enforced equality. Then they say that we are against equality. And so on, and so on. It is as if the socialists were to accuse us of not wanting persons to eat because we do not want the state to raise grain.” ― Frédéric Bastiat, The Law

    It is not pro-rape to argue that the “government” should not prevent rape. One can believe the government should not exist at all, but that “private” activity should prevent rape. One can be against everything and anything the government does on the basis that the government should not exist in the first place. But that is not the same thing as saying one supports that which a government might stop when it isn’t killing and stealing from other people.

    So the argument that the government should not legislate morality is not the equivalent of arguing that everything the government endeavours to stop, like rape, should be done. I can argue that Hitler should not be let out of prison, even though Hitler may stop a rape or murder or robbery on the street once in his life. To be against Hitler on the street stopping rapists, is not the same thing as supporting rape.

    • Rick Hull says:

      Is that what Bob is getting at, though?

      I’m having trouble understanding what government *should* do.

      Thought experiment: If we accept its existence as the largest private security firm, and that it has the means to be the final arbiter for, let’s say, a property dispute, then should it not have rules that would uphold the rightful owner’s claim? Wouldn’t that be the moral thing to do? Isn’t identifying the rightful owner ultimately a question of legitimacy of action, based upon morals?

      • Tel says:

        No one really believes this. No one is out there saying that *INSERT WHATEVER YOU LIKE HERE* should be permissible, because “the government shouldn’t legislate morality.”

        The implication being that the one and only factor in considering something permissible is government.

        If other factors were involved, there would be no way to jump from “the government shouldn’t legislate morality,” to any conclusion about what is permissible.

        • Rick Hull says:

          D’oh. I see. Gene’s argument is meaningless because there are plenty of anarchists saying “X is permissible because the government shouldn’t legislate Y”.

          Thanks.

          • Tel says:

            Consideration of whether rape is permissible is obviously a subset of morality. Most people would not need that explained.

            However, if you take some moral issue (whatever that may be) there’s a great many additional factors weighing up good vs bad than just whether some policeman happens to be pointing a gun at you right this minute.

            If all morality came down to police, society would very quickly fall apart.

        • Ken B says:

          Tel, did you other to read Gene’s post? In no way at all did he say that the govt sets what is moral or that morality is decided by legislation.

          • Tel says:

            No one is out there saying that rape should be permissible, because “the government shouldn’t legislate morality.”

            How hard is this to understand?

            As soon as you point out that government does an amazingly crap job of moral enforcement… by implication Gene is going to call you a wannabe rapist.

            • Ken B says:

              Read the whole thing Tel. He means legally permissible. Look at the whole structure of the argument. I know willfully hostile misreading is a hobby here at FA, but this is pretty extreme even so.

              • Major_Freedom says:

                Ken B you’re ignoring the flaw we’re considering in Gene’s post, and instead focusing on the semantics of “permissible”.

                Gene claimed that the argument “The government should not legislate morality” is a “silly” argument that “nobody believes”.

                I believe that the government should not legislate morality.

                But I do believe that private providers of defense subject to private property rights should “legislate morality”.

                Now, you can go off an a tangent about whether private property rights is itself a morality, but it would totally miss the mark because the issue is that Gene thinks it is “silly” to believe that the government should not legislate morality.

                His reasoning for why he considers it silly is the idea that no one is out there saying that rape should be permissible on the basis that “the government shouldn’t legislate morality.”

                This reasoning is flawed because Gene has equated “I believe the government should not legislate against rape” with “I believe rape should be permissible.” The only excuse in his mind for why anyone would want the government not to legislate morality, would be if they are in favor of people engaging in that activity.

                It’s a non-sequitur.

              • Bharat says:

                “This reasoning is flawed because Gene has equated “I believe the government should not legislate against rape” with “I believe rape should be permissible.” The only excuse in his mind for why anyone would want the government not to legislate morality, would be if they are in favor of people engaging in that activity.”

                But this is exactly why the semantics of the word “permissible” are important.

                If you say it means legally permisslble, then what you said becomes:

                “Gene has equated “I believe the government should not legislate against rape” with “I believe rape should be legally permissible.” ”

                And this is not a non-sequitur.

                Please apply the principle of charity. Only the arguments Dr. Murphy is making are relevant. Dr. Callahan is not so stupid as to think that someone who thinks that using drugs, for example, shouldn’t be illegal, simultaneously must think it is a good thing to use drugs.

              • Ken B says:

                Bharat, it’s hopeless. They WANT to make Gene look stupid so they will insist on their absurd misreading and complete ignore the principle of charity. When I first mentioned that on FA Murphy thought it meant saying nice things not a principle of interpretation.

              • Major_Freedom says:

                Bharat:

                “But this is exactly why the semantics of the word “permissible” are important.”

                “If you say it means legally permisslble, then what you said becomes:”

                “Gene has equated “I believe the government should not legislate against rape” with “I believe rape should be legally permissible.” ”

                “And this is not a non-sequitur.”

                But that still does not imply government, Bharat. Gene is attacking an argument concerning government. He is the one who argued that to be against the government legislating morality, is a “silly” argument.

                I am merely pointing his attention, if he cares to read what I say, to the fact that it is NOT a silly argument, because one can indeed be against the government legislating morality, on the basis that one is against the existence of government.

                Gene is claiming to speak for me when he says nobody really believes the government should not legislate morality. But that isn’t speaking for me. I exist, and I believe the government should not legislate morality. There is nothing “silly” about that.

                “Please apply the principle of charity.”

                I am. Please apply the principle of rationality instead of defending the guy being attacked.

                “Only the arguments Dr. Murphy is making are relevant.”

                No, the arguments I am making are also relevant.

                “Dr. Callahan is not so stupid as to think that someone who thinks that using drugs, for example, shouldn’t be illegal, simultaneously must think it is a good thing to use drugs.”

                That isn’t what I am saying he’s saying. You are confused over the issue being addressed.

              • Major_Freedom says:

                Ken B:

                “Bharat, it’s hopeless. They WANT to make Gene look stupid so they will insist on their absurd misreading and complete ignore the principle of charity. When I first mentioned that on FA Murphy thought it meant saying nice things not a principle of interpretation.”

                Ken B, I’m not “misreading” Gene, and no, I am not criticizing his post because of any dislike I have for him due to him calling for my death.

                He said in black and white that nobody really believes that the government should not legislate morality.

                I am an anarchist. There are many other anarchists. It is not inconsistent for us to reject his labelling of the title as “silly.”

                You are not being rational. You are misreading Callahan because you want to stop others from making him look stupid. You believe you are on the right side, but you’re not. In your zeal to defend a piss poor argument, and in your zeal to claim knowledge over my psychological motivations, you ended up looking as foolish as Gene with his argument about government.

                If you want to go down with the Titanic with him at the helm, by all means. But don’t drag me down with you.

                I am not making a “silly” argument by rejecting any morality legislating on the part of government, on the basis that the government should not exist in the first place.

                You are making a silly argument by going off on these ridiculous tangents about whether Murphy is right or wrong about private property being a moral question or another question. You are ignoring the argument I am making, and you are clearly only siding with Bharat because he is as confused as you are and thus defending Gene’s argument too.

              • Major_Freedom says:

                And Bharat, even if you try to identify “permissible” as “legally permissible”, it is still a non-sequitur, because private law can and does exist.

                I can be against government laws against X, but be in favor of private protection against X.

                It is a non sequitur to assert from being against the government enforcing laws against X, that one must believe X should be “legal”.

                You and Ken B are out to lunch.

              • Bharat says:

                The thing about Callahan’s point is that it’s applicable to an anarchocapitalistic society, not just to the State (some libertarians make a distinction between government and the State, so I’ll maintain that distinction). That’s why I think you’re missing the point.

                Your criticism isn’t one about the State legislating morality. You’re apparently against the State legislating anything.

                Okay, well, sure, morality is a subset of anything, so if you’re making the claim that the State shouldn’t legislate anything, it shouldn’t legislate morality. In fact, it shouldn’t legislate, PERIOD. Of course, many, if not most, libertarians, are fine with the State legislating certain rules as long as it is in power. I, for one, am not against laws against rape even if the State is the one legislating it. You would seem to be a different case.

                So we have two reasons to charitably interpret Callahan differently than you are interpreting him:
                1) Some libertarians make a distinction between government and the State. The State is financed from taxes and is a monopoly of force, but government could even refer to anarchocapitalistic “government.” Even if you don’t call this government, human beings in the society are still legislating morality – the morality of private property rights. So Callahan’s point can be said to go beyond mere “government” (the State).
                2) Most libertarians are completely fine with the State making laws against theft and murder, but not fine with it making laws against prostitution and drugs. Dr. Callahan probably has these libertarians in mind in his post, and is saying that even their private property legislation is “legislating morality.”

              • Bharat says:

                MF, in other words, Dr. Callahan does not have you in mind at all. You would never say, unprovoked, “the government [the State] should not legislate morality.” You would simply say “the government should not exist” or “the government should not legislate.”

                To make such a claim specifically about morality, unprovoked, is to imply there is something special about what government should legislate versus the simply moral acts it shouldn’t legislate.

              • Major_Freedom says:

                Bharat:

                “The thing about Callahan’s point is that it’s applicable to an anarchocapitalistic society, not just to the State (some libertarians make a distinction between government and the State, so I’ll maintain that distinction). That’s why I think you’re missing the point.”

                No Bharat, you’re missing the point.

                Even if you redefined the term “government” to be something that Gene couldn’t have been considering, since after all Gene is talking about a popular argument that many people make, i.e. “The government should not legislate morality”. That argument is about the government, meaning the government that exists. The argument Gene is addressing is not one that included a hypothetical anarchist law society.

                But even if we assumed that Gene meant an anarchist law society when he said “government”, then his argument would be even worse, because then he would be saying this:

                A terrible argument: “A private protector should not legislate morality”

                No one really believes this. No one is out there saying that rape should be permissible, because “the private protector shouldn’t legislate morality.”

                What the person making this argument usually really means is that in the area under discussion (typically something like sex, drugs, gambling, etc.) that person believes that private protector regulation should have little or no role. That is fine, and perhaps they are right. But make that argument, and not the silly one in the title of this post.

                I hope you can see, this argument would be nonsensical, because Gene would be saying that “it would be fine” and “perhaps that is right” if there were no protecting at all against rape and murder.

                I was using the principle of charity in assuming that by “the government” Gene meant the government that exists now, today. If we used your redefinition of government, and attribute that to Gene, you’d not be giving him charity at all, and would be accusing him of being pro-rape and pro-murder.

                “our criticism isn’t one about the State legislating morality.”

                Honestly, I am not as concerned with your criticism with Bob, as I am with making sure you understand the criticism I made of Gene’s post.

                My argument is about what Gene said, not what you are saying in response.

                “You’re apparently against the State legislating anything.”

                According to Gene, this is “silly” and “nobody really believes it.”

                “Okay, well, sure, morality is a subset of anything, so if you’re making the claim that the State shouldn’t legislate anything, it shouldn’t legislate morality. In fact, it shouldn’t legislate, PERIOD.”

                Now hopefully you see why Gene’s comment is flawed.

                “Of course, many, if not most, libertarians, are fine with the State legislating certain rules as long as it is in power. I, for one, am not against laws against rape even if the State is the one legislating it. You would seem to be a different case.”

                Gene included me when he said “nobody believes”. You must understand that when A speaks on behalf of B, A had better be right.

                “So we have two reasons to charitably interpret Callahan differently than you are interpreting him:”

                No, I am not uncharitably interpreting him. You are. By attributing the possibility that “government” might include anarchist enforcement of law, you are seemingly unaware that you are accusing him of being pro-rape and pro-murder.

                “1) Some libertarians make a distinction between government and the State. The State is financed from taxes and is a monopoly of force, but government could even refer to anarchocapitalistic “government.” Even if you don’t call this government, human beings in the society are still legislating morality – the morality of private property rights. So Callahan’s point can be said to go beyond mere “government” (the State).”

                Nope.

                “2) Most libertarians are completely fine with the State making laws against theft and murder, but not fine with it making laws against prostitution and drugs. Dr. Callahan probably has these libertarians in mind in his post, and is saying that even their private property legislation is “legislating morality.”

                You are ignoring a possibility that applies to many, such as myself:

                3) Many libertarians are completely against the state making any laws, including laws against theft and murder, and prostitution and drugs. Dr. PhD Callahan is only talking about the government we have, where he claims nobody, NOBODY is really against the government legislating anything.

              • Major_Freedom says:

                Bharat:

                “MF, in other words, Dr. Callahan does not have you in mind at all.”

                Dr. PhD Callahan has everyone in mind, because he said “nobody” really believes it.

                If for argument’s sake you were a Christian, and you told me unprovoked that the government should not legislate morality, then you could be having in mind the notion that only God should legislate morality. You wouldn’t necessarily be claiming that the government should legislate other activity.

                “You would never say, unprovoked, “the government [the State] should not legislate morality.”

                Who ever said that argument has to be “unprovoked”?

                Someone could say it in response to someone who said that the government should legislate morality. This response is included in the population of times this statement is made, that Gene is referring.

                “You would simply say “the government should not exist” or “the government should not legislate.””

                That’s what I would say yes, but I can also say the government should not legislate morality.

                Gene said that “nobody” really believes it. He isn’t saying no minarchist really believes it.

                “To make such a claim specifically about morality, unprovoked, is to imply there is something special about what government should legislate versus the simply moral acts it shouldn’t legislate.”

                Who said that argument had to be “unprovoked”? How do you know Gene didn’t provoke someone by saying the government should legislate morality, and he got pissed at the response he was given?

                Besides, someone can be in favor of government, but be against the government legislating morality, and yet be in favor of the government legislating other activity that has no moral implications. They would be rare though, because of what it means.

                That person can be in favor of a government taxing and coercing a population, and for that government to legislate for its own benefit and not seek to stop immoral behavior amongst the population themselves. In other words, a master slave society.

              • Mark Geoffriau says:

                Again, a charitable reading would suggest that he intends “nobody WHO MAKES THIS ARGUMENT” really believes this.

              • Major_Freedom says:

                I make that argument.

                If someone tells me “The government should legislate against [moral behavior X]” then a reasonable response that one can give is “The government should not legislate against [moral behavior X]“.

                You and Bharat are trying to make it sound like Callahan has a whole bunch of strangers outside his door chanting “The government should not legislate morality” over and over unprovoked.

                The fact that the statement is a negative one, should clue you both into the fact that it is almost certainly a reactionary statement in response to the notion that the government should legislate morality, and there are a lot of people who believe the latter and are more than willing to say so “unprovoked”, far more so that someone who said the opposite.

              • Mark Geoffriau says:

                Honestly, I’m kind of surprised. It IS a commonly expressed opinion by anyone who wants to keep their personal issue outside the bounds of government legislation DESPITE the fact that they are fine with government legislating all kinds of other things. Go read Facebook arguments about abortion, or the legalization of marijuana, or any number of common policy questions.

                But sure, someone ask Callahan if his argument was directed at anarcho-capitalists. I’m guessing he says no. What’s your guess?

              • Major_Freedom says:

                Considering that he claimed nobody believes it, despite the fact that I believe it, would make this whole exercise a ridiculously moot one.

                If I said “nobody really believes” something, and someone piped and said “I believe it!”, then I would consider myself a very sloppy rhetorician, not to mention uncouth, if I responded not with “Sorry, my bad”, but with “I wasn’t talking about you“.

                Either way, the argument he WROTE is wrong.

              • Mark Geoffriau says:

                We’ve already covered this ground. It’s clear from context that he’s responding to those who want to exclude certain things from government legislation while allowing other things.

                Stripping individual statements from context in order to interpret them in the least charitable way possible indicates to me that you’re looking for a straw man to knock down.

              • Bharat says:

                MF, I agree with you, you’re right. You’re making a Captain Obvious argument that is clearly correct. If the government shouldn’t exist, then ideally, it shouldn’t legislate, because it needs to exist to legislate and it shouldn’t exist. Bravo! If and when Dr. Callahan sees this, he will likely say “Alright, but not the point I was trying to make.” So then we move on to Murphy’s arguments. Ironically, from your own statements, you disagree with Murphy: you think the NAP should be legislated because you think it’s the only correct morality. So perhaps you should argue with Murphy further below instead.

                I don’t agree with everything you’ve said in some of your above responses, but I don’t think there’s any point for me to respond to them. Let’s just move on to the other arguments.

              • Major_Freedom says:

                Mark:

                “We’ve already covered this ground. It’s clear from context that he’s responding to those who want to exclude certain things from government legislation while allowing other things.”

                Yes, we’ve covered this. Your intepretation would imply he doesn’t know the difference between some people and every person.

                “Stripping individual statements from context in order to interpret them in the least charitable way possible indicates to me that you’re looking for a straw man to knock down.”

                It was not stripped by me. It came pre-stripped. I am giving the interpretation more charity than you, because if I took your line, then I would have to assume Gene doesn’t know how to count.

              • Major_Freedom says:

                Bharat:

                “MF, I agree with you, you’re right. You’re making a Captain Obvious argument that is clearly correct. If the government shouldn’t exist, then ideally, it shouldn’t legislate, because it needs to exist to legislate and it shouldn’t exist. Bravo!”

                I love the fact that after all your reluctance and attempts to deflect, you finally understand the criticism but don’t even have the class to refrain from sarcasm. Is that really how you are going to go about this? I make one counter-argument on account of a problem I see in an argument someone made, and you feel compelled to patronize. Outsanding.

                And you were speaking of “charitable” approaches…you’re a hypocrite.

                “If and when Dr. Callahan sees this, he will likely say “Alright, but not the point I was trying to make.”

                Whatever. If that’s how we go about it, then anything wrong I say is not what I meant to say, and hopefully I’ll have you in my corner as schizophrenic charity enforcer.

                “So then we move on to Murphy’s arguments. Ironically, from your own statements, you disagree with Murphy: you think the NAP should be legislated because you think it’s the only correct morality. So perhaps you should argue with Murphy further below instead.”

                I’ve already made a comment on that.

                “I don’t agree with everything you’ve said in some of your above responses, but I don’t think there’s any point for me to respond to them. Let’s just move on to the other arguments.”

                Yes, let’s make sure you write immature responses as the last word.

              • Bharat says:

                Sorry for the immaturity, the frustration was killing me, but I’m sure you were somewhat frustrated as well. Either way, not a good reason for my attitude.

                I’ve understood your argument for a while, I just didn’t think it was the correct interpretation of Callahan. I’ll respond to some of what you said so I don’t leave on a sour note. I think another reason you have the wrong interpretation is as follows:

                You yourself say “I was using the principle of charity in assuming that by “the government” Gene meant the government that exists now, today.”

                If we are talking about government, as it exists, then I don’t think your argument flies.

                Your argument is essentially as follows:
                1) The government (the State) should not exist.
                2) If it should not exist, it should not legislate. Existence is a prerequisite for action.

                I have no issue with this argument per se. I have an issue with it being applied to Callahan’s argument., because the government does exist. If we are discussing the government, as it exists now, the relevant question becomes: if the government exists, should it legislate morality?

                3) If the government exists, it should not legislate.

                This premise does not follow from 1 or 2. That’s why I don’t think your objection really works and why you should interpret Callahan differently.

                Further, your point about Gene being pro-rape if his use of the word “government” really is inclusive, meaning anarchocapitalist government and government as it is, doesn’t really work if we use the “if it exists, should it legislate?” question. Cause he probably prefers private companies to legislate against rape if they do exist.

                I do stand by my criticism that your point that government should not legislate morality, because it should not legislate, because it should not exist, is rather obvious and that Callahan won’t bat an eye when he sees it. The response will likely be “ok, but not what I meant.” But I do apologize for the attitude I stated it with.

              • Bharat says:

                One more thing, I looked below but don’t see how you addressed your disagreement with Murphy. He is clearly ignoring the distinction between government legislation and private companies legislation for the sake of argument (as I believe one should). His counterargument is that something beyond morality makes it right to have certain things, such as rape and murder, illegal, but not other immoral acts. You, meanwhile, have said that the reason aggression should be illegal and other, “immoral” acts should not, is precisely because the former IS immoral and because the latter are not.

              • Major_Freedom says:

                Bharat:

                “Sorry for the immaturity, the frustration was killing me, but I’m sure you were somewhat frustrated as well. Either way, not a good reason for my attitude.”

                Apology accepted. I know very well that I tend to bring out the intellectual harshness from others, and I do so purposefully, because I believe it brings out the best of people as well. When people are a little on edge, I find that their minds work a little better.

                “I’ve understood your argument for a while, I just didn’t think it was the correct interpretation of Callahan.”

                “I’ll respond to some of what you said so I don’t leave on a sour note. I think another reason you have the wrong interpretation is as follows:”

                “You yourself say “I was using the principle of charity in assuming that by “the government” Gene meant the government that exists now, today.”

                “If we are talking about government, as it exists, then I don’t think your argument flies.”

                “Your argument is essentially as follows:”

                “1) The government (the State) should not exist.”

                “2) If it should not exist, it should not legislate. Existence is a prerequisite for action.”

                “I have no issue with this argument per se. I have an issue with it being applied to Callahan’s argument., because the government does exist. If we are discussing the government, as it exists now, the relevant question becomes: if the government exists, should it legislate morality?”

                “3) If the government exists, it should not legislate.”

                “This premise does not follow from 1 or 2. That’s why I don’t think your objection really works and why you should interpret Callahan differently.”

                OK, your argument is a logical one disconnected from Callahan’s argument. You’re saying that because, logically speaking, any government that exists must of necessity be legislating some morality or another, it makes no sense to then say that the government should not legislate morality.

                I don’t think that’s right, because I believe a master and slave society can exist, enforced by a government, but where the government does not enforce any moral law. They only enforce protecting themselves, and enriching themselves. I may be wrong on this, but I don’t think this qualifies as an example of a government that is legislating morality as such. It is legislating its own interests, but not a morality (which is universal). There is no moral statement that I can see, that would be of the form “It is wrong for anyone to do X to someone else”.

                But I don’t think you can apply that to Callahan anyway, because he is saying that it is silly to make the argument that the government should not legislate morality, period. I can say and I can believe that the government should not legislate morality, and you agree with me but only because you now know my premises. But that’s exactly my point. If you’re going to claim nobody believes something, because you thought you knew everyone’s premises, then it is reasonable for someone to pipe up and say “Hold on a second, I believe that, and here’s why…”

                “Further, your point about Gene being pro-rape if his use of the word “government” really is inclusive, meaning anarchocapitalist government and government as it is, doesn’t really work if we use the “if it exists, should it legislate?” question.”

                If we include private law, then Callahan’s argument would be equivalent to:

                A terrible argument: “Private protection should not legislate morality”
                No one really believes this.” No one is out there saying that rape should be permissible, because “private protection shouldn’t legislate morality.”

                What the person making this argument usually really means is that in the area under discussion (typically something like sex, drugs, gambling, etc.) that person believes that private regulation should have little or no role. That is fine, and perhaps they are right. But make that argument, and not the silly one in the title of this post.

                In other words, in an area of discussion of morality, private protection should have little or no role. Do you appreciate the implications of that statement?

                Quite rightly, it would be absurd to argue that private law, i.e. the sovereign individual, should not legislate morality. It would be tantamount to arguing that rape victims ought not defend themselves from their attacker, because private protection of course includes self-protection, and if private protection is banned, so would self-protection be banned.

                “Cause he probably prefers private companies to legislate against rape if they do exist.”

                I doubt it, because Gene has a penchant for writing critiques of anarchists with a gusto he seems not to dish out to archists.

                “I do stand by my criticism that your point that government should not legislate morality, because it should not legislate, because it should not exist, is rather obvious and that Callahan won’t bat an eye when he sees it. The response will likely be “ok, but not what I meant.”

                That would assume Callahan cannot count.

                “But I do apologize for the attitude I stated it with.”

                I’m used to it.

              • Major_Freedom says:

                Bharat:

                “One more thing, I looked below but don’t see how you addressed your disagreement with Murphy.”

                I only said that Murphy seemed to identify moral behavior with non-legal implicated behavior, and that this got him into trouble with those who rightly believe that private property rights implicates morality as well.

                I don’t see a need to argue the point, because I think Murphy knows.

                “He is clearly ignoring the distinction between government legislation and private companies legislation for the sake of argument (as I believe one should). His counterargument is that something beyond morality makes it right to have certain things, such as rape and murder, illegal, but not other immoral acts. You, meanwhile, have said that the reason aggression should be illegal and other, “immoral” acts should not, is precisely because the former IS immoral and because the latter are not.”

                That’s because I know Murphy’s moral worldview includes moral prohibitions as laid out in the Bible, specifically the New Testament. I chose to not get into a debate on religion at this time. I have already posted some morality related counter-arguments and challenges on his Sunday blog posts, but they did not get convincing responses. I didn’t want to go down another rabbit hole.

                Callahan’s post that I don’t believe the government should not legislate morality, notwithstanding your argument that a government that exists must be enforcing some morality, is enough I think.

              • Bharat says:

                “You’re saying that because, logically speaking, any government that exists must of necessity be legislating some morality or another, it makes no sense to then say that the government should not legislate morality.”

                No, I’m merely pointing out your own, stronger claim doesn’t work. My own claim is a weaker one than you think. I am only saying that your belief (if you believe it) that if the government exists, it should not legislate, is unfounded.

                I think you have to do a better job showing this before you can say that Callahan is wrong.

                “In other words, in an area of discussion of morality, private protection should have little or no role. Do you appreciate the implications of that statement?
                Quite rightly, it would be absurd to argue that private law, i.e. the sovereign individual, should not legislate morality.”

                I’m not following the application of this turnaround. Callahan would instead be arguing that private company legislation should involve morals, as in the case of rape, murder, and theft. Thus, he would be saying that those three should be illegal.

              • Major_Freedom says:

                Bharat:

                “No, I’m merely pointing out your own, stronger claim doesn’t work. My own claim is a weaker one than you think. I am only saying that your belief (if you believe it) that if the government exists, it should not legislate, is unfounded.”

                On the contrary, it is precisely the belief that existing governments must necessarily be legislating a morality is what is unfounded.

                A government can exist by virtue of pure self-aggrandizement, with no regard for upholding any moral principle for society, including rape, murder, and theft.

                In fact, I am starting to think Murphy’s arguments are more nuanced that I originally thought. If a government necessarily steals from people, can it really be regarded as legislating a morality of no theft? If a government kidnaps people who disobey its rules, whatever they are, can it really be regarded as legislating a morality of no kidnapping?

                Are you not conflating a desire of violent self-interest, with a desire to promote a universal morality for all, which is what a moral code must be for it to be a human morality, and not a “do as I say and not as I do” commandment?

                “I think you have to do a better job showing this before you can say that Callahan is wrong.”

                I already showed Callahan’s wrong. I showed he is wrong by claiming “nobody really believes it.” The refutation is that I myself believe it. I believe that the government should not legislate morality. My premises are irrelevant, because Gene made a comment that includes my beliefs.

                Your responses have not been convincing in this respect. It’s been continual dodges of trying to frame Gene’s argument in a contorted way that might finally work. Yet your attempts have all failed. From the claim that we can assume he included anarcho-capitalist protection (which was a farce, let’s admit it), to your claim that a government that exists must of necessity be legislating morality, I think it’s about time we call a duck a duck.

                “In other words, in an area of discussion of morality, private protection should have little or no role. Do you appreciate the implications of that statement?”

                “Quite rightly, it would be absurd to argue that private law, i.e. the sovereign individual, should not legislate morality.”

                “I’m not following the application of this turnaround. Callahan would instead be arguing that private company legislation should involve morals, as in the case of rape, murder, and theft.”

                First, no, it isn’t my “turnaround”. It was something you suggested might be a valid interpretation of what Gene wrote. You said he wasn’t necessarily excluding private protection by saying “government.”

                Now you’re telling me I made that turnaround? Gee whizz.

                Secondly, even if Gene “would” argue that a private protection system should involve morals, that is irrelevant to the argument I made about his post as it stands, and it is also irrelevant to my responses to your statements.

                “Thus, he would be saying that those three should be illegal.”

                But in his post he said that “that person believes that government regulation should have little or no role. That is fine, and perhaps they are right.”

                If he believes it is fine and that maybe they’re right to say that government should play little or no role in those three areas, then it stands to reason that he would argue private law enforcement should play little to no role in them as well.

              • Bharat says:

                Going to respond to this in full tomorrow, but a quick reply for now about one specific point:

                “First, no, it isn’t my “turnaround”. It was something you suggested might be a valid interpretation of what Gene wrote. You said he wasn’t necessarily excluding private protection by saying “government.”
                Now you’re telling me I made that turnaround? Gee whizz.”

                I said your turnaround only because of the strange implications you drew from it. But sure, you’re right – I was the one that initally proposed that possibility.

                “If he believes it is fine and that maybe they’re right to say that government should play little or no role in those three areas, then it stands to reason that he would argue private law enforcement should play little to no role in them as well.”

                Yes, but he’s drawing a distinction between activities such as rape, murder, theft, and activities such as drugs. In the private situation, he’d be saying that the other guy would REALLY believe that private company legislation in the former was okay, but in the latter, it didn’t have a role.

              • Bharat says:

                Okay, I said pretty much what was important to say, but some points of clarification:

                1 – I’m unable to follow you how you draw such inferences from Gene’s post if it is applicable to anarchocapitalistic “government.” If you apply my interpretation consistently, it seems that, instead, Callahan would be arguing that the private governmentshould legislate morality. The person who is saying he believes private government should NOT legislate morality when he is talking about cases such as drugs, does not REALLY mean it, because he is in favor of legislating morality in cases such as rape. That is the point Callahan is trying to make in terms of “government” and it works whether we apply it to State government or private government.
                2 – Once you accept that this is a working interpretation, you have to accept that this is the charitable interpretation as well. Any other interpretation leads to quite frankly, obvious, absurdities, such as the one you have pointed out regarding being able to state that some entity other than “government” (the State) can legislate.
                3 – Once you accept this as the charitable interpretation, you should be arguing against or for it (if the argument interests you in any way), rather than the poorer version which is easily refutable.

              • Bharat says:

                Lastly, just going to respond to this out of interest:

                “n fact, I am starting to think Murphy’s arguments are more nuanced that I originally thought. If a government necessarily steals from people, can it really be regarded as legislating a morality of no theft? If a government kidnaps people who disobey its rules, whatever they are, can it really be regarded as legislating a morality of no kidnapping?”

                Many commentators who don’t hold the view that property rights are absolute have no issue in their frameworks with saying that government has the right to steal. For example, Edward Feser holds that if a person is starving in the woods and finds a cabin, he has a right to “steal” food from it. But he would not consider it theft. Whether such beliefs are correct is another question, but it’s clearly possible to have a morality of no “theft” even with government (State) if you have arguments for how theft should be defined differently than libertarians do.

              • Major_Freedom says:

                Bharat:

                “1 – I’m unable to follow you how you draw such inferences from Gene’s post if it is applicable to anarchocapitalistic “government.” If you apply my interpretation consistently, it seems that, instead, Callahan would be arguing that the private governmentshould legislate morality.”

                No, Gene specifically said that “Perhaps it’s right” if “government” played little to no role in morality.

                “The person who is saying he believes private government should NOT legislate morality when he is talking about cases such as drugs, does not REALLY mean it, because he is in favor of legislating morality in cases such as rape.”

                But the problem here is not whether they mean it, but whether private protection should legislate morality, and my position is that yes, they should.

                “That is the point Callahan is trying to make in terms of “government” and it works whether we apply it to State government or private government.”

                Sorry, I think you’re still missing the point here.

                “2 – Once you accept that this is a working interpretation, you have to accept that this is the charitable interpretation as well. Any other interpretation leads to quite frankly, obvious, absurdities, such as the one you have pointed out regarding being able to state that some entity other than “government” (the State) can legislate.”

                That’s precisely why I piped up and said what Gene said doesn’t apply to me, even though he said it does.

                “3 – Once you accept this as the charitable interpretation, you should be arguing against or for it (if the argument interests you in any way), rather than the poorer version which is easily refutable.”

                Your interpretation is worse, because it implies Gene can’t count.

                “Many commentators who don’t hold the view that property rights are absolute have no issue in their frameworks with saying that government has the right to steal. For example, Edward Feser holds that if a person is starving in the woods and finds a cabin, he has a right to “steal” food from it.”

                Feser is, quite honestly, a poseur. His thinking is bereft of nuance. At any rate, if Feser holds that a starving person has a right to steal, then by logical implication he ought to hold that a person who is starving more so than the first starving person, has a right to steal from the first starving person. And, continuing, a person starving even more than the second has a right to steal from the second.

                The logical end point is that the world’s most starving individual has ownership rights over everything in the world, and he would have to be regarded as having not only the right to steal from anyone, but the right to shoot at anyone who defends their property. He would have to have the right to kill anyone or else his “right” to all property would become moot.

                Furthermore, Feser ignores the rights of the cabin owner. If the cabin owner does not have exclusive ownership over the cabin, but rather the world’s hungriest person does, then the cabin owner should he decide to defend his own cabin, would be committing a violation of the starving person’s rights. But then if he is violating the starving person’s right due to his use of force to protect his ownership of the cabin, and the starving person intends to steal the cabin and thus violate the ownership rights of the cabin owner, then it follows that Feser not only believes that the world’s most starving person has ownership rights over the world, but he also believes it is a violation of rights to defend against a violation of rights. A rank contradiction.

                What Feser should have did was lay out the logical implications of his obviously passion driven desire. He has provided no argument for why the cabin owner cannot defend his property.

                “But he would not consider it theft. Whether such beliefs are correct is another question, but it’s clearly possible to have a morality of no “theft” even with government (State) if you have arguments for how theft should be defined differently than libertarians do.”

                Theft isn’t solely a libertarian concept. Theft is applicable to the individual. Regardless of what political beliefs the cabin owner has, he would likely defend his cabin from the starving person, or else he would grant the starving person a meal through charity. He doesn’t need to be educated in complex politico-libertarian thought to know the visitor is in the wrong should he steal the cabin. Allowing starving people the right of ownership through their bodily feelings only is an anti-rational foundation that invariably leads to contradiction. If you don’t care about contradiction, then nobody should care about Feser’s beliefs.

              • Bharat says:

                K, MF, now it’s time for you to pick your game up.

                This in the interpretation I am posing for Callahan’s argument applied to “government”. We’ll separate government into two types: 1) State government and 2) private government.

                Callahan is making another distinction: between 1) acts such as rape, murder, and theft, and 2) acts such as doing sex (non-rape, e.g. whether you can have anal sex or not), drugs, and gambling.

                When applied to State government, Callahan would be saying that no person really believes State government should “not legislate morality” because they would be in favor of legislation against rape. It would perhaps be fine to be against legislation against the second category of acts, however, and an individual against those cannot simply say “don’t legislate morality” because he is in favor of legislation for the first category.

                Now you respond “No, I am against State legislation because I don’t think the State should exist. Hence, the State should not legislate.”

                Hence, I respond “you can apply the important point of Callahan’s argument to PRIVATE GOVERNMENT too.”

                Callahan’s argument applied to the private government would say that no person, who says “the (private) government shouldn’t legislate morality” really means it, because they are in favor of private gov. legislation in category 1 above. Now, they may not be in favor of private gov. legislation for category 2, but then they should say that, and not make the incorrect statement “the private government shouldn’t legislate morality” because they are really in favor of legislating morality in the first category.

                Therefore, the essence of Callahan’s argument about “government” applies to BOTH private gov. AND state gov. Callahan can indeed count, because no one really believes “government” (as in one of the two govs, private gov. or state gov.) shouldn’t legislate morality. You believe private gov. should legislate morality for the non-aggression principle, but not legislate morality for some random drug act because that would go against the nonaggression principle and it would no longer be private (unless it is within the scope of private gov.). But even so, you would never say “the government should not legislate morality” you would say “the government should not legislate in particular areas but it should legislate in others and wherever it legislates it is legislating morality.”

              • Bharat says:

                “No, Gene specifically said that “Perhaps it’s right” if “government” played little to no role in morality.”

                Here is the quote from Callahan:

                “What the person making this argument usually really means is that in the area under discussion (typically something like sex, drugs, gambling, etc.) that person believes that government regulation should have little or no role. That is fine, and perhaps they are right. “[emphasis mine]

                In that bolded part, he is referring to category #2. Not, they should not legislate morality period, and that is fine.

              • Major_Freedom says:

                Bharat:

                “This in the interpretation I am posing for Callahan’s argument applied to “government”. We’ll separate government into two types: 1) State government and 2) private government.
                Callahan is making another distinction: between 1) acts such as rape, murder, and theft, and 2) acts such as doing sex (non-rape, e.g. whether you can have anal sex or not), drugs, and gambling.
                When applied to State government, Callahan would be saying that no person really believes State government should “not legislate morality” because they would be in favor of legislation against rape. It would perhaps be fine to be against legislation against the second category of acts, however, and an individual against those cannot simply say “don’t legislate morality” because he is in favor of legislation for the first category.
                Now you respond “No, I am against State legislation because I don’t think the State should exist. Hence, the State should not legislate.”
                Hence, I respond “you can apply the important point of Callahan’s argument to PRIVATE GOVERNMENT too.”
                Callahan’s argument applied to the private government would say that no person, who says “the (private) government shouldn’t legislate morality” really means it, because they are in favor of private gov. legislation in category 1 above. Now, they may not be in favor of private gov. legislation for category 2, but then they should say that, and not make the incorrect statement “the private government shouldn’t legislate morality” because they are really in favor of legislating morality in the first category.
                Therefore, the essence of Callahan’s argument about “government” applies to BOTH private gov. AND state gov. Callahan can indeed count, because no one really believes “government” (as in one of the two govs, private gov. or state gov.) shouldn’t legislate morality. You believe private gov. should legislate morality for the non-aggression principle, but not legislate morality for some random drug act because that would go against the nonaggression principle and it would no longer be private (unless it is within the scope of private gov.). But even so, you would never say “the government should not legislate morality” you would say “the government should not legislate in particular areas but it should legislate in others and wherever it legislates it is legislating morality.”

                Like I said to Mark, if we interpret the term “government” to be anarcho-capitalism, which is awkward to say the least, then I would agree with Gene’s argument. I would not have said anything against it.

                But the whole point of my initial argument was that Gene was NOT talking about an anarcho-capitalist government when he made that argument. He was talking about a common thing he hears, and I can tell you that the common understanding of government is not anarcho-capitalism. It is states.

                Hence, my original response is valid.

                I don’t believe that interpreting government as anarcho-capitalism is “charitable”. I believe it is changing the argument altogether.

                “In that bolded part, he is referring to category #2. Not, they should not legislate morality period, and that is fine.”

                I know. My point however was in response to your claim, which was:

                “If you apply my interpretation consistently, it seems that, instead, Callahan would be arguing that the private government should legislate morality.”

                I am saying that no, Gene said that the government playing little to no role in morality is “perhaps right”.

              • Rick Hull says:

                > I know willfully hostile misreading is a hobby here at FA

                Says the guy defending rape analogies…

                FWIW I consider it all inbounds. Shocking metaphors are great, in their reductio ad absurdum way, for discerning between otherwise wavering moral characteristics.

                But pot, please don’t call the kettle black.

              • Bharat says:

                “I am saying that no, Gene said that the government playing little to no role in morality is “perhaps right”.”

                MF, you need to make distinctions. Are you saying you think Callahan believes it would be perhaps right for someone to say that the government should not regulate morality PERIOD or that you think Callahan believes it would perhaps be right for someone to say that government should not regulate morality in cases of drugs, etc.

                Also, are you talking about the case of private government, or State government, or both.

              • Major_Freedom says:

                Bharat:

                “Are you saying you think Callahan believes it would be perhaps right for someone to say that the government should not regulate morality PERIOD or that you think Callahan believes it would perhaps be right for someone to say that government should not regulate morality in cases of drugs, etc.”

                I am saying that Gene is wrong to assert that “nobody believes” the government should not legislate morality. That’s my only analysis of GENE’S post.

                Now, there is a lot I have said about what you have said. In my prior few posts, I have said among other things that your claim:

                “If you apply my interpretation consistently, it seems that, instead, Callahan would be arguing that the private government should legislate morality.”

                Is not right. Gene said that the government playing little to no role in morality is what is “perhaps right”.

                “Also, are you talking about the case of private government, or State government, or both.”

                What I said in my prior post includes a number of considerations, depending on the context and argument, which are at this point quite numerous.

              • Bharat says:

                MF, my interpretation is that Callahan is arguing that everyone who wants government to legislate is actually legislating morality, whether they think it or not. This can apply, whether it’s State government or private government. Do you understand my position? (I’m just checking, because it’s pretty clear I understand where you’re coming from since I summarized your argument earlier and you checked it off).

                Even if it was a private government, if someone said they didn’t want it to “legislate morality” while talking about activities such as drugs, they REALLY would be in favor of legislating activities such as rape, and thus REALLY be in favor of legislating morality.

                The reason I’m saying we should interpret “government” as State OR private is because that allows us to get to the heart of Callahan’s argument.

                So Callahan, himself, is in favor of legislating morality. Because his point is precisely that legislating is always legislating morality. As long as you are in favor of some sort of legislation, you are in favor of legislating morality.

                When you respond that government only means State government, you don’t think State gov. should exist, and therefore you’re not in favor of government legislating, you’re missing the main point of his blog post. His point isn’t some sort of attack on anarchocapitalism; his point is that legislating is equivalent to legislating morality. Thus I say “ok just replace State gov. with private gov.” so that you can see the main point he’s making: because you’re in favor of private gov. legislation, you’re in favor of legislating morality <– that is the heart of his blog post.

          • Tel says:

            OK here’s my position:

            No I do not accept that government should be legislating morality.

            No I do not believe that rape should be permissible.

            Since these two beliefs are perfectly consistent with one another, there’s not much more to discuss.

            • Major_Freedom says:

              Bingo.

              I think Bob is limiting “moral behavior” to non-legal things. I think that is what got him into trouble.

      • Major_Freedom says:

        “Is that what Bob is getting at, though?”

        I am getting at Gene’s point, not Bob’s point.

        “Thought experiment: If we accept its existence as the largest private security firm, and that it has the means to be the final arbiter for, let’s say, a property dispute, then should it not have rules that would uphold the rightful owner’s claim? Wouldn’t that be the moral thing to do? Isn’t identifying the rightful owner ultimately a question of legitimacy of action, based upon morals?”

        Notwithstanding the fact that by “government”, Gene was referring to the type of government that exists now, not to private providers of protection…

        To answer your thought experiment, of COURSE there should be rules on prohibitions on initiations of force. But this is neither here nor there to Gene’s argument. He’s claiming to be against the government legislating morality, that one is in favor of people doing what the government might legislate against.

      • Samson Corwell says:

        Rick Hull says: “If we accept its existence as the largest private security firm, and that it has the means to be the final arbiter for, let’s say, a property dispute, then should it not have rules that would uphold the rightful owner’s claim? Wouldn’t that be the moral thing to do? Isn’t identifying the rightful owner ultimately a question of legitimacy of action, based upon morals?”

        My reply: And there is the reason why a private defense firm is no different than a government.

        • Major_Freedom says:

          What he described is a government, Jasper.

          He wasn’t describing private defense. He is using the ol’ “from the beard” argument. If a private defense provider, which is not government yet, grows by a little, then a little more, then a little more, until there is a point of departure, after which it declares, verbally or through its actions, that any who want protection, must appeal to it for final arbitration, then it’s the same thing as a government!

          Well yes, it would be a government, but it’s not a private defense provider subject to consumer sovereignty.

          And no, a monopoly government is not “inevitable” either. It’s constrained to human choices. Humans must choose it. Enough people living today are foolish enough, at this time, to choose it, just like most people 500 years ago were foolish enough to believe Kings were divinely put on Earth to be obeyed.

          We are just in the lead when it comes to political consciousness. Or if you prefer pejorative smears, we “fringe”. Same thing.

          • Samson Corwell says:

            You keep using the term “monopoly” to describe governments. That’s not what “monopoly” means. Stop thinking in economic terms.

            • Major_Freedom says:

              You’re wrong. Monopoly is an accurate and fair description of government.

              I challenge you to provide an argument for why governments cannot be regarded as a monopoly in offering the services of protection and security.

              Economics can be used to study politics. Look up public choice theory.

              • valueprax says:

                What is politics if not a series of arguments about the tradeoffs to be made with regards to the disposing of stolen property?

              • Ken B says:

                Oh valueprax, Proudhon from you!

                :)

  2. Tel says:

    Gene’s argument rests on the belief that all things are permissible except for those specific things where government steps in and prevents the action from happening. But by that argument government has not yet prevented every single murder and rape, bad things still happen, therefore those things apparently remain still permissible.

    This is the big problem when you make a philosophy around government being the only source of any moral authority… the results delivered by government are not all that good.

    • Rick Hull says:

      > Gene’s argument rests on the belief that all things are permissible except for those specific things where government steps in and prevents the action from happening

      Can you demonstrate this somehow?

      > But by that argument government has not yet prevented every single murder and rape, bad things still happen, therefore those things apparently remain still permissible.

      Aren’t you completely ignoring the distinction between legislation and enforcement?

      • Tel says:

        Hang on, I tried to answer this one, and my answer ended up above.

      • Tel says:

        Aren’t you completely ignoring the distinction between legislation and enforcement?

        What’s the point of legislating without enforcement?

        More than that, what else does government do other than control the use of force? Legislation is exactly the codification of how government intends to use force against people. Sometimes it is selectively enforced of course, very few governments actually follow the letter of their own law, but ultimately the purpose of the system is what it does.

        • Rick Hull says:

          I’m just saying that a failure of enforcement is not a failure of legislation. It’s one thing to make the rules and another to prevent or punish their breakage. Their breakage, I hope, would be a given.

          • Tel says:

            I would say a failure of enforcement is part and parcel of a failure of legislation. It doesn’t makes sense to say, “I only worry about the cause, never look at the effect.”

            • Rick Hull says:

              If we both accept rule breakage as a given, and your denial hinges on “government has not yet prevented every single murder and rape”, then that line of argument is not compelling.

              • Tel says:

                Gene is attempting to claim that anyone who believes “The government should not legislate morality” must also believe that rape is permissible.

                My “denial” is that such a leap can be made.

                Since the government does not and cannot prevent immoral actions from happening (generally the police turn up after the fact), attempting to depend on government as your fundamental moral enforcer is a doomed strategy. Gene simply ignores every other factor that goes into morality and says basically, “it’s government or nothing!”

    • Ken B says:

      No it does not. Gene is not saying law = morality. He is saying everyone actually accepts that some laws should exist solely to help enforce moral behavior.

      • Tel says:

        He goes far beyond that, and says if you don’t like it then you must think rape is a great idea.

      • Major_Freedom says:

        No, he is saying that everyone accepts that some government laws should exist solely to help enforce moral behavior.

        You seem to be wilfully blind.

  3. Lord Keynes says:

    Callahan’s argument is better reformulated as the idea that nobody — except those who want lawless anarchy — really rejects the need for important moral areas of human behaviour to be subject to legislation, provision of law and order and justice.

    Force is the ultimate basis of all market societies. Even Rothbardianism has a private law code and private justice system, which would still ultimately require force to enforce and maintain order. The only difference between a state-based system and a Rothbardian system is that in the latter the coercion and force is done by competing private protection agencies and a private justice system.

    • Ken B says:

      +1

      Queue MF denying that the force he approves of really counts as violence or coercion ….

      • Bob Murphy says:

        Queue MF denying that the force he approves of really counts as violence or coercion ….

        What if we cue him instead?

        • Andrew Keen says:

          +1

        • Ken B says:

          Queuet

        • valueprax says:

          Ken B was thinking about MF’s response in terms of a computer program which must be run within a queue of other programs, so it was necessary for the response to queue in between other operations competing for computational cycles.

      • Major_Freedom says:

        The force I approve of is not initiations of force, which are required in order to create a non-market-based world.

        I guess I should “cue Ken B” claiming that a rape receiver who gives the knife stab, and the rape giver who receives the knife stab, are “coercing” each other, so why not believe that in order to bring about a voluntary trade of sex for knives, the same “coercion” is required. It’s all just a matter of personal preference of what violence is good and what is not good, instead of what is physically required for a market-based world to occur versus what is physically required for a non-market-based world to occur, and thus no value judgments are implicated for this particular argument.

        • Samson Corwell says:

          This obsession with markets is the thing about anarcho-capitalism that kills me.

          • Major_Freedom says:

            Well, try not to get fixated on the word “market” so much.

            Think of it as wanting oneself, one’s friends, family, colleagues, and strangers, to appeal to one another voluntarily and peacefully, given the reality of human life in a world of scarcity.

            I used to be a full fledged Marxist. I read Marx’s entire works, Engels, Plekhanov, Luxemburg, Trotsky, Lenin, Lukács, you name it.

            Then because of the internet, I was able to read authors that radically altered my thinking because of the incredible holes they poked in what I thought were correct convictions.

            If you are against obsessions with markets, then what you are saying is that you are obsessed with violations of them, to whatever degree and occasions that you believe will suit your interests. As such, you are, whether you know it or not, an enemy of peaceful cooperation, and thus of society.

            Tell me, why should I be concerned with your obsession with self-serving violence, so much so that I cease being obsessed with markets?

            • Samson Corwell says:

              Well, try not to get fixated on the word “market” so much.

              Think of it as wanting oneself, one’s friends, family, colleagues, and strangers, to appeal to one another voluntarily and peacefully, given the reality of human life in a world of scarcity.

              Ugh. No, I won’t think of it like that. The way you throw in “world of scarcity” is telling. Your thinking process is permeated by wrank economism.

              I used to be a full fledged Marxist. I read Marx’s entire works, Engels, Plekhanov, Luxemburg, Trotsky, Lenin, Lukács, you name it.

              Yeah, I don’t think you’ve really left it behind at all.

              • Major_Freedom says:

                Samson:

                “Ugh. No, I won’t think of it like that.”

                I know, isn’t it difficult to admit that you are a supporter of violence against innocent people?

                “The way you throw in “world of scarcity” is telling.”

                It’s a true statement. Are you saying that making true statements suggests somme flaw in that person’s mentality?

                “Your thinking process is permeated by wrank economism.”

                As opposed to what? The rainbows and lollipop naive romanticism that you seem to be advocating, which is antithetical to enlightenment?

                “I used to be a full fledged Marxist. I read Marx’s entire works, Engels, Plekhanov, Luxemburg, Trotsky, Lenin, Lukács, you name it.”

                “Yeah, I don’t think you’ve really left it behind at all.”

                You’re clueless. Not only was Marx against the teachings of economics, but Marx was dead set against private property as well. One who is an absolute private property advocate, and one who recognizes economics as a field of inquiry that broadens our knowledge of the world, is on the other side of the universe from Marx.

                Get a grip dude.

              • Major_Freedom says:

                Samson:

                You seem to be upset at the fact that resources are scarce. You seem to want to avoid accepting this truth, because it makes the world seem so much more cruel than the world you thought it was.

                Prove me wrong.

    • Major_Freedom says:

      “Callahan’s argument is better reformulated as the idea that nobody — except those who want lawless anarchy — really rejects the need for important moral areas of human behaviour to be subject to legislation, provision of law and order and justice.”

      No, he said nobody really rejects the need for important moral areas of human behavior to be subject to governmental legislation.

      Governments are not the only mechanism by which legislation is made and enforced.

      “Force is the ultimate basis of all market societies. Even Rothbardianism has a private law code and private justice system, which would still ultimately require force to enforce and maintain order. The only difference between a state-based system and a Rothbardian system is that in the latter the coercion and force is done by competing private protection agencies and a private justice system.”

      You overlook the crucial difference. Force is not needed to create voluntary cooperation, i.e. market activity. Force is needed to create involuntary cooperation, i.e. non-market activity.

      What this means is that force is not the “ultimate basis” of a market-based world. Force is something that might occur given that the actual “ultimate basis” of a market-based world, i.e. voluntary cooperation, is already in place by voluntary individual choice, and is now being destroyed afterwards by individual aggressors to the order. Force from individuals in a market-based society is only required when force is first introduced into it, in order to maintain the order. It is not required to create it.

      Contrast this with non-market societies. Force is the “ultimate basis” of non-market societies. Force is something that not only might occur, but is absolutely required for a non-market world to be created. Force must be used to create such a world.

      Likely responses: “Communes could be voluntary!”

      Yes, they could, but that presumes private property at the sub-group level, and also presumes the individuals are free to EXIT the commune and live according to private property at the individual level. But given that individuals exist who do not want to live in a world commune, force would be required to create a world commune. Force is NOT required to create a market-based world. All that is required to create a market based world is absence of force. The “ultimate foundation” of a market-based world is peace and voluntarism. Where people like LK go wrong is that they treat those who initiate violence as a given natural right, and who would thus be “initiated with force” if others started to “enforce” a market-based world. This of course is self-contradictory, because initiations of force are what are coming from those who LK believes have a natural right to do so, and the force from other individuals is a defensive measure, not a hostile measure. LK believes the flawed reasoning that “Because force is needed to maintain a market-based world, force is therefore “the ultimate foundation” of a market-based world.” This isn’t right, because if we assume defensive force is not used, and those who initiate force run rough shod over everyone else, then he is in fact describing what is required for a non-market based world to exist, i.e. force as the “ultimate foundation”! It’s not force that is required for a market-based world to be created, but an absence of force. Where force is absent, markets reign. Were force is used, markets are destroyed. Creations of markets requires voluntarism, not force.

    • Major_Freedom says:

      And your assertion that the only alternative to government is “lawless anarchy” shows your lack of understanding anarchy at any deep level.

      One can be against government law, and be in favor of private law. An anarchist is not necessarily in favor of “lawlessness”. They could be, but those “anarchists” are in a contradictory position, because by being seemingly against all laws, they would support any activity to occur, including archist activity.

      In order to enforce anarchy, that is, in order to ban archist activity, there must be anti-violence laws in place, and acted upon if necessary.

      You, and your socialist ilk, constantly conflate anti-government with anti-law, order and justice.

      If a private property owner communicates to his potential visitors that they must abide by certain rules of conduct, such as no fire setting, no destroying of furniture, etc, then contrary to what you might believe, these are “laws”. They are laws because they originate with the rightful owner of the property.

      Socialists like yourself on the other hand believe the state is owner of everything, and so the only true “laws” are laws set by the state.

  4. Russ says:

    Morality applies to subjective thought individually. Law applies to objective action universally.
    Morality guides that which an individual chooses while law punishes those choices.

    • Ken B says:

      Does that imply we can never enact a law to enforce a moral judgment?

      • Russ says:

        No.

        • Ken B says:

          Then you agree with Gene.

          • Russ says:

            Just because an individual or group of individuals may enact a law enforcing his/they’re moral judgment does not mean that all people hold that moral judgement but they are forced to be bound by that law regardless of they’re moral view.
            I.e. They do not recognize that the thing is illegal and immoral, they only recognize that it is illegal and accept the illegal thing as being either moral or nonmoral.

            If I understand Mr Callahan correctly he is saying that nothing can be illegal if it is not immoral because the mere act of making it illegal there by defines it as immoral.
            Am I correct in my understanding?

            • Keshav Srinivasan says:

              No, you’re not. Gene is talking about whether the laws we pass should depend on what’s moral or immoral. He’s not talking about whether what’s moral or immoral depends on the laws we pass.

              • Russ says:

                1. Why does acknowledging that it’s possible that a law might be enacted to enforce a moral judgement mean I agree with Gene?

                2. Isn’t that essentially what I said he was arguing below?

      • RPLong says:

        It means that morality/immorality is an insufficient basis for an act of legislation. You may support Policy X on moral grounds, but if that is the only grounds on which you support Policy X, then I’d say your case for it is extremely weak.

        • Ken B says:

          Agreed in most cases, becuase enforcement and laws have downsides you need to consider too. But we’re arguing logic here.
          How about boiling puppies? Is there some reason other than morality why we might want to bad boiling puppies or other forms of animal cruelty?

          • RPLong says:

            Not as far as I can see, as long as you only boil the puppies you own. It’s obviously morally reprehensible (unless you need the food), and should probably raise red flags in the community, but I think these kinds of laws are genuine attempts to legislate morality, and I think that’s a bad idea.

  5. Bob Murphy says:

    Guys, you’re right that Gene is wrong purely on Rothbardian grounds if we take “government” to mean “the State.”

    But I’m not even getting into that. Gene’s argument has a much more serious defect. Let’s stipulate for the sake of argument that we’re either (a) all believers in at least a nightwatchman State OR (b) when we say “government” we are referring to “the network of private judges who collectively determine, through their rulings, what ‘the law’ is in an an-cap world.”

    Either way, it still makes perfect sense to say, “The government shouldn’t legislate morality,” and we can add, “And in fact, it does NOT legislate morality.”

    First: There are clearly things that are immoral, that just about no one thinks should be illegal. For example, cheating on your girlfriend is immoral, in standard circumstances. Yet I hope nobody thinks it is a crime. Or, when your grandma calls you on your birthday to say hi, it is immoral if you tell her she should drop dead. Again, I hope nobody thinks this action should carry a jail sentence.

    Second: There are things that the government legislates, that have nothing to do with morality. If we’re talking modern-day governments, consider that it’s illegal to drive on the left side in the US, but illegal to drive on the right side in England. Is that because of moral relativism? No, of course not: It’s because the government legislates in areas that have absolutely nothing to do with morality, in the sense of, “We need to outlaw immoral things.”

    So immorality is neither necessary nor sufficient for illegality. It is thus perfectly fine for someone to say, “The government shouldn’t legislate morality,” when the person MEANS by this statement, “Just because you find something horribly immoral, isn’t proof it should be illegal.” That is a perfectly fine position, and the summary is also perfectly fine in the standard glib statement.

  6. Bob Murphy says:

    Let me try it like this guys. I have three more statements to clarify what’s going on:

    (1) If Gene’s argument worked, then it means “the government SHOULD legislate morality” would be a true statement, so long as there existed just one example of a thing that is simultaneously illegal and immoral. Even if every other illegal thing were moral, Gene would still be able to “blow up” the claim that morality and legality are distinct, by pointing to that one example. So that’s what my silver hammer example was intending to illustrate. If you agree with me that, “The government shouldn’t legislate color,” then you also should agree, “The government shouldn’t legislate morality.”

    (2) Focusing on things like homicide and rape: The reason these things are crimes is not merely that they are immoral. If it were, then all immoral acts would be illegal, which nobody supports.

    (3) If you’re a Christian, there are far worse sins than murder and rape. Yet most American Christians of today (I’d guess) don’t think it should be a crime to denounce the Holy Spirit, or (here I’m on shakier ground) even think what Judas did was necessarily criminal. (It’s tricky because for it to be criminal, the law itself would have to recognize that the “legal” punishment meted out to Jesus was invalid.) Yet from a Christian perspective, Judas did the most immoral thing in human history (see Dante), and blaspheming the Holy Spirit is an unforgivable sin. (Though the discussion of what Jesus meant by this is very nuanced; see this for example.)

    • Mark Geoffriau says:

      [i](2) Focusing on things like homicide and rape: The reason these things are crimes is not merely that they are immoral. If it were, then all immoral acts would be illegal, which nobody supports.[/i]

      Could you finish this argument? I’m curious why you think homocide and rape are illegal, if not for the immorality of the act.

      • Dan says:

        They are a violation of property rights.

        • Ken B says:

          Ad arguendo, is violating your property rights moral? You are not rebutting Mark at all by labeling your rights with the word property.

          • Dan says:

            Always trolling

            • Ken B says:

              You know Dan, you are the worst commenter on this blog because you never ever respond to arguments you just call names. Not even clever ones.

              • Dan says:

                Stop constantly misrepresenting people’s views and attacking these strawmen that you love to create, and I’ll take you more seriously. As is, arguing with you is completely unrewarding.

              • Ken B says:

                Do please stop then.

              • Dan says:

                Ken, I stopped a long time ago.

            • Bharat says:

              How is he trolling? It’s a perfectly legitimate point. If you believe that “because they violate property rights” is a property response to “why are homicide/rape illegal if not for the immorality of these acts?” you should be able to show how violating property rights, at the very least, goes beyond being an immoral act. Simply labeling it a violating of property rights does not answer the question.

              • Dan says:

                I say he is trolling because he has no interest in an honest discussion. He doesn’t want to understand the actual positions of his opponents. Look how he responds to even polite commentary where someone simply tried to explain the other sides actual views to him.

                “Thanks Bob and Keshav for clarifying. Bob’s position is absurd: the law SHOULD protect property rights but that should does not derive from any moral calculus at all in any way.
                Nice of Bob to fess up to this nonsense.
                The complete denial of any moral basis is required for that position to fit with what Bob now says he meant.”

                You think it would be productive to explain my views to a person like this? Even if I could make him understand what my view is, he’d simply act like an arrogant jackass and try, but fail, to come up with a humorous insult.

              • Bharat says:

                Alright then, nevermind Ken, I have the same objection and am interested in why you think property rights should be legislated but not other immoral acts. More specifically, I am interested in how you justify legislation of private property on a basis other than, or at least, beyond, morality.

              • Dan says:

                If you genuinely are curious about this, then I would recommend checking out The Ethics of Liberty by Rothbard and Argumentation Ethics http://mises.org/daily/5322/

                Murphy and Callahan wrote a critique to argumentation ethics, and Kinsella responded to their critique, so those are worth checking out.

              • Ken B says:

                Bharat for about a year Dan has relentlessly followed me around crying “troll”. And not just me, others here with the temerity to criticize Murphy or even sometimes defend Krugman. As you’ve noted he doesn’t pay attention to whether one is making an argument or not.

              • Bharat says:

                Thanks Dan, I actually read Ethics of Liberty 2 years ago, so I needed a reminder on what Rothbard had said in it that applied to what we’re discussing. But now it seems extremely obvious. I’ll summarize my findings in a comment further below.

          • Major_Freedom says:

            “Ad arguendo, is violating your property rights moral? You are not rebutting Mark at all by labeling your rights with the word property.”

            Is property created through moral activity though? No, it isn’t. Property is created through individual activity without any necessary morality attached, that is, through only “what is” considerations, as opposed to “what we ought” considerations.

            For example, if an individual appropriates a piece of land not previously appropriated by another, and builds a farm, then this farm is the individual’s private property. Now, if you want to ask “What would happen if someone else came by and declared the farm his own? Wouldn’t your claim that this is “private property” require some moral consideration of what the farmer and the visitor ought to do if they disagree?” The answer to this is that yes, a moral consideration would be implicated, but this is secondary to the pre-existing private property. It isn’t something that determines whether or not private property exists.

            In this example, private property was not created by the visitor respecting the farmer’s exclusive claim to the farm. The visitor’s beliefs and actions are secondary to the already existing private property that was actually created through the farmer’s initial activity.

            Many people believe in the myth that private property is a convention, contingent upon a “social agreement”. But in reality private property is a consequence of individual activity that requires no permission or sanction from any other individual.

            Private property falls under praxeology, not morality.

            • Bharat says:

              Is property created through moral activity though? No, it isn’t. Property is created through individual activity without any necessary morality attached, that is, through only “what is” considerations, as opposed to “what we ought” considerations.

              This seems like a non-sequitur, MF. Objects “are created through individual activity without any necessary morality attached.” To say that a property “right” in something was created is necessarily to add some sort of moral meaning to that original claim.

              Private property does not pre-exist morals. Only matter and human being acting upon matter exist prior to morals.

              Now, if you’re simply defining what I say in my second paragraph, that a particular configuration of human beings acting upon matter, is what we call private property, then your claim is correct – this is only an is statement. But then your entire point is irrelevant. We are discussing why someone thinks things like homocide and rape should be illegal, if not for the immorality of the acts. Saying “because it’s private property” and defining private property as particular configuration of humans acting upon matter does not answer this question, at all.

              • Major_Freedom says:

                Bharat:

                “This seems like a non-sequitur, MF. Objects “are created through individual activity without any necessary morality attached.” To say that a property “right” in something was created is necessarily to add some sort of moral meaning to that original claim.”

                Where did I say “right”? I said private property. Not private property rights.

                I attach the conception of private property to an object that was created by someone.

                Whether or not I will respect any “rights” associated with this, from the “right” being one where anyone else can take possession regardless of the creator’s consent, or if the “right” where that consent is required, is a different question from the one I am making. Here, I am not saying you ought to recognize that person’s claim to property by refraining from using the property in ways not consented to by the original creator, I am just saying how private property arises. Respect or disrespect of any “rights” is a separate issue.

                “Private property does not pre-exist morals. Only matter and human being acting upon matter exist prior to morals.”

                Wrong. Private property arises through individual activity as such. It does not arise on the basis of convention, or social agreement, afterwards.

                “Now, if you’re simply defining what I say in my second paragraph, that a particular configuration of human beings acting upon matter, is what we call private property, then your claim is correct – this is only an is statement. But then your entire point is irrelevant. We are discussing why someone thinks things like homocide and rape should be illegal, if not for the immorality of the acts. Saying “because it’s private property” and defining private property as particular configuration of humans acting upon matter does not answer this question, at all.”

                But that’s not what private property is, nor is it how it is created. I do not “define” private property as a “particular configuration of humans acting upon matter”. I identify it as a “necessary consequence of individual activity in a world of scarcity.”

                By identifying the farmer’s farm as his private property, although I believe the farmer ought to have exclusive control in the face of disagreements from others, that isn’t what I am saying. I am saying private property arises by virtue of the farmer’s actions in creating the farm.

                Merely calling it private property is not in itself a normative declaration.

              • Bharat says:

                Well, now it seems like you’re just explaining how something arises, rather than defining that something, but regardless: I still don’t think what you’re saying has any relevance to the question we are discussing. Why do you think saying what private property is, answers the question “why should legislation protect private property, beyond moral reasoning?”

              • Major_Freedom says:

                Bharat:

                “Well, now it seems like you’re just explaining how something arises, rather than defining that something, but regardless”

                Excuse me, but no, I am showing how it arises, which is equivalent to describing what it is. Property is a creative phenomena of action. It isn’t a verbal stipulation.

                I define property as those objects appropriated and/or produced by an individual through his activity.

                “I still don’t think what you’re saying has any relevance to the question we are discussing. Why do you think saying what private property is, answers the question “why should legislation protect private property, beyond moral reasoning?”

                I DIDN’T ARGUE IT DID. I specifically argued that what private property is, and whether or not any rights associated with it should be respected, are two different categories of arguments.

                You and Ken B need to be way more sharp. You are not only failing to see the argument being made by Gene, but you’re also failing to see the arguments being made by people on this blog.

            • Keshav Srinivasan says:

              Major_Freedom, let me put it like this: why is it morally acceptable, in your view, to use violence in response to property rights violations, but not morally acceptable to use violence in response to other immoral acts?

              • Major_Freedom says:

                Because what you call “immoral” acts are acts that I do not consider immoral at all.

                The only immoral activity that I recognize is an initiation of violence against an individual’s person and/or property.

                Every other act, be it group sex without protection, gambling, euthenasia, drug usage, if they do not implicate immoral activity as explained above, then I do not recognize these acts as immoral in any way.

                If I use the term immoral, then it is only in reference to activity where force is justified against it. I find that calling something immoral, but calling for no force to stop it, to be misleading rhetoric. For then the term immoral would have to be distinguished into two kinds of immoral. One where force is justified to stop it, and one where it isn’t. I believe confusions arise of the type Callahan made if we aren’t clear on what we mean by “immoral” behavior.

              • Bharat says:

                In other words, MF, you are FOR legislating morality. You simply think that what other people believe are immoral are really not actually immoral, and that they are legislating the wrong morality. But this is exactly Callahan’s point: that libertarians legislate morality too.

              • Major_Freedom says:

                Bharat:

                “In other words, MF, you are FOR legislating morality.”

                I am FOR private providers of protection legislating morality.

                I am AGAINST governmental legislations of morality.

                Can you seriously not grasp the distinction here, and why Gene’s argument about being against government legislating of morality is not “silly” as he claims it is?

                “You simply think that what other people believe are immoral are really not actually immoral, and that they are legislating the wrong morality. But this is exactly Callahan’s point: that libertarians legislate morality too.”

                No, that is not his argument Bharat. Sorry for being a little harsh here, but you’re testing my patience.

                Gene’s exact point is that it is silly to be against a government legislating morality. He is not making the point that it is silly to be against legislating morality qua legislating morality.

                Do you see the word government in his title? I do.

              • Mark Geoffriau says:

                “Gene’s exact point is that it is silly to be against a government legislating morality. He is not making the point that it is silly to be against legislating morality qua legislating morality.
                Do you see the word government in his title? I do.”

                I see the word “government,” but I think it actually shifts the argument in the opposite direction.

                The fact that Gene directs his argument to those who claim “governments should not legislate morality” indicates that the intended audience are those who believe that government should legislate whatever isn’t morality.

                It’s not directed at those questioning the right of government to legislate at all — it’s directed at those who accept that government has the right to legislate, but want to prevent government from legislating “morality.”

              • Major_Freedom says:

                Mark:

                “The fact that Gene directs his argument to those who claim “governments should not legislate morality” indicates that the intended audience are those who believe that government should legislate whatever isn’t morality.”

                But he said NOBODY really believes this. He didn’t say “nobody who supports government really believes this.”

                “It’s not directed at those questioning the right of government to legislate at all — it’s directed at those who accept that government has the right to legislate, but want to prevent government from legislating “morality.””

                He said “nobody”. That means it is directed at everyone. I can and I do make the statement “The government should not legislate morality.” I say so typically when someone tells me that the government should legislate morality.

                I think it’s better to go by what people write.

                If Gene meant “nobody who supports government really believes it” then I would not be here saying what I am saying.

              • Major_Freedom says:

                The most important thing about this, Bharat and Mark, is that for me to believe the statement “The government should not legislate morality” is true, I do not in any way have to actually verbalize it or write it down anywhere for anyone else to read. Gene is talking about people’s beliefs, not what they say.

                So you can’t claim that his audience is distinguished by what they say regarding their political convictions. He is addressing a belief, and everyone can have a belief.

              • Mark Geoffriau says:

                “If Gene meant “nobody who supports government really believes it” then I would not be here saying what I am saying.”

                Fine. I’m contending that yours is an uncharitable (and ultimately, a nonsensical) reading of his argument. Read it in the context of his entire post and it makes sense.

              • Major_Freedom says:

                “Fine. I’m contending that yours is an uncharitable (and ultimately, a nonsensical) reading of his argument. Read it in the context of his entire post and it makes sense.”

                If he was only addressing minarchists, then saying “nobody” doesn’t make any sense. I am the one giving a charitable interpretation. Bharat’s “charitable” interpretation of including “anarchist law” in Gene’s use of the phrase “government” would have Gene being pro-rape. Your “charitable” interpretation would have Gene not knowing the difference between some people and every person.

              • Keshav Srinivasan says:

                Major_Freedom, is this a matter of definition, or do you actually believe that the only acts which should be considered evil are the ones for which force is justified in response?

                In any case, let me ask you this: what is your criterion for the circumstances in which force is or is not justified? And what is the justification for that criterion?

              • Major_Freedom says:

                Keshav:

                “Major_Freedom, is this a matter of definition, or do you actually believe that the only acts which should be considered evil are the ones for which force is justified in response?”

                I don’t think that way, but in your second option I believe you are referring to something that I do think. I do not think that the only acts that are evil are ones where force is justified in response. I think that the only acts that are evil are initiations of force, and that force is justified in response to those initiations of force.

                Whether people choose to fight evil, indeed whether people even recognize evil, determines the extent of evil. I don’t think in terms of good and evil, even though they refer to a distinction that I think is made, and should be made.

                “In any case, let me ask you this: what is your criterion for the circumstances in which force is or is not justified? And what is the justification for that criterion?”

                I think the idea with the fewest amount of inconsistencies (which includes zero) is the idea that force is only justified in response to initiations of force.

                I ought not introduce killing, but killing someone is justified in response to them intending to kill me.

                I ought not take from others without their consent, but taking from someone is justified in response to them taking from me without my consent.

                Etc.

              • Major_Freedom says:

                Missed a word:

                “I ought not initiate taking from others without their consent, but taking from someone is justified in response to them taking from me without my consent.”

              • Ken B says:

                MF, how does Bob’s color substitution fit then? For your argument, keying on government, Bob would need to be saying private enforces can legislate color. You’d also have to deal with Bob’s explicit disclaimer of what you are saying in one of his comments here.

              • Ken B says:

                Hers bob’s disclaimer

                “Guys, you’re right that Gene is wrong purely on Rothbardian grounds if we take “government” to mean “the State.”
                But I’m not even getting into that. Gene’s argument has a much more serious defect. Let’s stipulate for the sake of argument that we’re either (a) all believers in at least a nightwatchman State OR (b) when we say “government” we are referring to “the network of private judges who collectively determine, through their rulings, what ‘the law’ is in an an-cap world.””

              • Major_Freedom says:

                Ken B:

                “MF, how does Bob’s color substitution fit then?…”

                I never said it did fit.

                I have found that I tend to disagree with Murphy when he reasons from the Bible. That may be what is going on here, but I am not sure. It’s about morality, so maybe that really is the case.

                To answer your question though, I believe Murphy is arguing that if it were true that the government were legislating morality (as he understands the term), then the government would be legislating cheating on your girlfriend, swearing at your grandmother when she calls to wish you a happy birthday, and other morally implicated behaviors.

                But because it isn’t legislating these moralities, Murphy reasons that the government is not legislating morality as such at all. It is legislating something else. It may happen to legislate behavior that we can all agree has a moral implication, but the purpose for why the government legislates against murder and rape for example, is not because they are considered immoral behaviors by most people. It is because of some other reason.

                The key point of disagreement between you and Murphy is that you believe that because the government is legislating behavior that one can reasonably identify as morally implicated behavior, it follows that the government really is legislating morality. Murphy on the other hand believes that because there are moral “violations” taking place in society (again, “moral” as he understands the term), the fact that the government is not legislating against them, purposefully, shows that the government isn’t legislating morality as such like Gene claims everyone believes, but rather legislating particular behaviors for another reason besides moral considerations.

                So Murphy gives three considerations to try to illustrate this. He argued that the government is legislating against murder not because murder is immoral, but rather something else, because if it really were because murder is immoral, then it would legislate against ALL immoral behavior, such as swearing at your grandmother, or cheating on your girlfriend/spouse.

                He also argued that many Christians find certain behavior as immoral, and yet the government isn’t legislating against those behaviors. I think this is the crucial part that has “colored” his entire position on Gene’s post. Murphy thinks that because the government isn’t legislating the Bible, it cannot credibly be considered as legislating morality. After all, “true” morality comes from the Bible only, right?

        • Keshav Srinivasan says:

          Are property rights violations crimes merely that they are immoral, or is there some other reason? If property rights violations are crimes merely be because they’re immoral, then why aren’t all immoral things crimes?

          • Ken B says:

            The argument some are making here Keshav is that it’s wrong to legislate on the basis of morality but that legislating to protect property rights is not based on a moral position. Property rights should be protected for some mysterious reason unconnected to any moral basis whatever. It’s a silly argument.

            • Keshav Srinivasan says:

              Bob claims that the mysterious reason (or at least *a* reason) can be found in Rothbard’s book “The Ethics of Liberty”: http://mises.org/rothbard/ethics/ethics.asp

              But I’m not sure what this reason is.

            • Major_Freedom says:

              “Property rights should be protected for some mysterious reason unconnected to any moral basis whatever”

              Are you saying non-moral reasoning is inherently “mysterious”?

              • Ken B says:

                We are saying Bob claims he has reasons that have no moral content sufficient to warrant should. He has failed to provide them. They are to Keshav and myself a mystery.

                No that does imply we approve of dog humping.

              • Major_Freedom says:

                So if someone is against the government legislating dog humping, then you can understand the possibility that they are not necessarily permissive of dog humping.

              • Ken B says:

                If they are against prohibitions on dog humping then they are in favor of dog humping being legally permissible yes. thats just logic. They might feel it is morally impermissible.
                There’s lots I think immoral that I also think should be legal, whatever legal system you prefer.

              • Major_Freedom says:

                Read what I said Ken B, this time without ignoring certain terms:

                I’ll put the important point in bold:

                “So if someone is against the government legislating dog humping, then you can understand the possibility that they are not necessarily permissive of dog humping.”

                Can you see how your response, while true in and of itself, does not address my argument?

                I can be against the government legislating against dog humping, but I am not obligated to them believe I favor “legalization” of dog humping. I could be in favor of legally banning it, as long as – and not limited to this – the ban does not come from individuals acting in a “governmental” capacity, but rather a private legal capacity.

                If for example a private owner of a dog prohibits his neighbors from humping it, then that is a “law” from a “private party” that is not inherently coercive or violent towards other people’s persons or property, and would hence be a legitimate “law” in the strict sense. I would consider that a valid “legal” ban on the behavior.

        • Samson Corwell says:

          They are a violation of property rights.

          The inanity.

        • RPLong says:

          Dan, with respect, I think this is the wrong answer.

          Killing someone isn’t illegal “because it’s a violation of property rights.” Killing someone wasn’t even illegal until relatively recently. It has always been legislated, but it has not always been illegal. If you disagree, then consider reading up on the laws that govern dueling (seriously).

          Murder is illegal because it is flat-out impossible to sustain a social order in which anyone can kill anyone else at any time. That’s not a society that even has a government, not even in the an-cap sense of the term.

          To be sure, murder is immoral but the primary reason why it is also illegal is because a world in which murder is perfectly legal is a world in which no one has any rights at all.

          The minimum condition for a social order is a right to life. This is true at a mere practical level. We need not bring morality into the picture at all. If a social order does not at least guarantee that it will act to protect your right to life, then you have no business participating in that kind of community. You’d be better off on your own.

          That’s why murder is illegal.

      • Bob Murphy says:

        I’ll turn it back on you, Mark. If homicide and rape are illegal because they’re immoral, why isn’t cheating on your wife illegal? Once you come up with that, you’ll start to see my point.

        Incidentally, here’s a whole book on one way of constructing property rights aka the things that are legally defensible. I’m not endorsing the whole approach, but explaining that there’s a lot more to something being illegal than just “it’s immoral.”

        • Mark Geoffriau says:

          But that’s not my position. I haven’t argued that all immoral actions are the same in kind or degree, nor that secondary factors may change to what degree the law should prohibit them. I don’t have to defend a position that all immoral things should be illegal, because my question doesn’t necessarily imply that conclusion.

          My question remains — if the law against rape and homocide is not based on the immorality of those acts (that is, because the moral code says they are wrong), then on what is it based?

          And if your answer is “property rights,” then I need further elucidation — why should property rights be protected by law, unless we are in fact still making some moral calculation?

          • Mark Geoffriau says:

            My kingdom for an EDIT button. Second sentence should read:

            “I haven’t argued that all immoral actions are the same in kind or degree, nor have I ruled out that secondary factors may change to what degree the law should prohibit them.”

          • Andrew Keen says:

            Murder is illegal because the makers of the law thought it necessary to outlaw murder in order to maintain an orderly and civil society.

            • Tel says:

              Murder is illegal because people who pay tax every year will stop paying tax should they end up dead.

          • Major_Freedom says:

            “And if your answer is “property rights,” then I need further elucidation — why should property rights be protected by law, unless we are in fact still making some moral calculation?”

            You’re saying private property rights antedate laws concerning private property rights.

            • Mark Geoffriau says:

              “You’re saying private property rights antedate laws concerning private property rights.”

              ….yes.

              It’s my position that laws (imperfectly) describe and enforce a moral order that exists prior to and independently from those laws.

              I could understand if Bob’s argument was that private property rights was the ONLY part of the moral code that justified enforcement via legislation; I would want to see the argument spelled out, but the structure of the argument would make sense.

              But it seems like Bob’s argument is actually that private property rights are not part of the moral code; that they are something that are categorically different. What I can’t escape is that “morality” is an awfully broad philosophical category — it’s the discussion of right and wrong actions, the “ought”, not the “is.”

              As such, I can’t see how enforcing protection of private property rights (and punishing violation of those rights) is not a part of the moral code — private property laws are most certainly legislating what people ought and ought not do.

              • Major_Freedom says:

                Mark, I agree with you.

                Questions concerning whether or not “rights” of property should be respected, definitely have moral implications.

                Morality as such includes what we OUGHT and what we OUGHT NOT do concerning the individual’s property.

                Some people however believe that even recognizing the property of someone, automatically carries with it a moral claim on what we ought to do in the face of it. They believe that by calling X the “property” of Mr. Smith, that we are at the same time claiming that private property enforcement from Mr. Smith is morally justified.

                My position on this is that private property comes into being by virtue of individual activity in a world of scarcity. It does not arise from “convention” or “compact” or “social agreements.”

                Even if we postulated a hypothetical world of no oughts or ought nots, nothing about what anyone should or should not do with material objects, then private property would still exist. any “rights” we temporarily ponder in relation to material goods would of course be violated left, right and center, but that doesn’t mean private property isn’t being created at all.

      • valueprax says:

        If we think about law in terms of means-ends, then perhaps it is because people want to pursue the end known broadly as “civilization”, and so they have chosen the means of “individuals interested in participating in civilization are not permitted to murder or rape one another” to try to achieve this end?

        Then, it doesn’t matter if something is immoral or not. It could be moral but does not serve the stated end (according to people’s knowledge of effective means).

        It could get tautological pretty quick because I think what most people MEAN by civilization is that state of social affairs which tends to exist in the absence of coercive violence (mutually beneficial exchange, capital accumulation and productive economic activity generally, etc.) so to say “I want the end of a social environment devoid of random acts of coercive violence by means of prohibiting people from engaging in random acts of coercive violence” sounds a lot like “I want X by means of X”, but, well, there it is.

        That’s why it’s so funny to hear people support government (which engages in coercive violence) as a means of arriving at civilization (which, again, I can’t think of many people who envision this ideal as a place where one might be suddenly and viciously attacked by another person, foreign or domestic, as a predominant condition of that society). They’re antithetical. Regardless of the morality involved.

        Of course, the other angle here is that morality is inescapable. If we simply define morality in terms of the ends we choose, where any means that arrives at the ends is morally “good” and anything which takes away from it is morally “bad”, then I suppose even in that sense prohibitions against anti-civil acts could still be attempts to make rules against “immorality.”

        But I don’t think that’s the way in which most people think about the issue and I don’t think that’s typically what they mean by it. They have in mind something objective, rather than subjective (but objective within the subjective framework of a given end…)

  7. Ken B says:

    Should there be laws against theft? Substitute “property rights” for “colors” in this post to see what wrong with Bob’s argument.

    Bob’s is an example of argument by syntax: treating a noun as an unbound variable and replacing it at will.
    Weak weak weak.

    • Bob Murphy says:

      Should there be laws against theft? Substitute “property rights” for “colors” in this post to see what wrong with Bob’s argument.

      ??? On the contrary, it demonstrates what is right with my argument.

      • Ken B says:

        This is bizarre, and i can only charitably assume you are playing some word game about “government” as opposed to competing bands of thugs making laws. Rothbardianism relies on property rights being enforceable. That’s law and legislation and governance.

        lets return to mf’s frequent question. Can god make laws about morality? You claim the same morality for men as for god.

        • Bob Murphy says:

          Ken at this point I have no idea what you are talking about. From a Rothbardian perspective, there are two things (at least) that are wrong with Gene’s post:

          (1) He assumes the government should be legislating ANYTHING. But for the sake of argument, I said let’s put that issue aside, and either pretend we are all minarchists, or pretend that “government” refers to whatever the legitimate institution is for law enforcement in a society.

          (2) He thinks that just because some things that are illegal are also immoral–and that that immorality has a large part to do with the illegality–proves that it is OK to “legislate morality.”

          I have been arguing against (2). To combat that, you said “substitute ‘property rights’ for ‘color’ in Bob’s post.” But no, that just shows I’m right: If you said to a Rothbardian, “Should the laws be about property rights?” he would say yes. In contrast, nobody thinks the law should be about color, even though everyone agrees it is a crime to bash someone’s head in with a silver hammer.

          Law enforcement is intrinsically related to property rights. It is NOT intrinsically related to morality, even though the two often overlap.

          • Ken B says:

            Bob, no on 2. That is emphatically NOT what Gene means. That’s the same misreading Tel is making. See LK’s comment or my earlier reply to Tel.

            The argument Gene rejects is the blanket rejection of the claim that govt should not try to enforce moral behavior. The opposite is that sometimes govt should try to enforce moral behavior. That is what Gene is asserting, that morality can be sufficient warrant for legislation. Like theft or Maxwell and his hammer.

            • Mark Geoffriau says:

              Ken is on it. The negation of “Govt should not ever legislate morality” is not “Govt should always legislate morality” but instead “Govt should sometimes legislate morality”.

              • Dan says:

                That’s not what a Bob was saying. You are completely missing the point he was making.

              • Ken B says:

                ,and legislate morality means enact laws to enforce a moral judgment, not create moral judgment by fiat.

              • Bob Murphy says:

                Mark (and Ken B.): You then agree with me that government should sometimes legislate color, right? And if someone said, “I don’t think legislation is about color,” you will accuse him of endorsing murder?

              • Ken B says:

                Are you nuts Bob? This is other worldly. I want to ban rape on the basis rape is immoral. You interpret that as me saying rape is immoral because it is banned. That’s bizarre.

              • Tel says:

                Wait a moment, if you want to ban rape because rape is immoral, then rape must have already been immoral before you wanted it banned.

                Thus, you already have some source of moral authority outside of government to help you consider your decisions… but Gene pretends that no such thing exists.

              • Bala says:

                “I want to ban rape on the basis rape is immoral.”

                I think Bob is saying that the proper justification for a ban on rape is that it is a violation of rights, not that it is immoral. That a rights violation is also immoral is not relevant to the argument (as I understand Bob and I think he is right).

              • Bharat says:

                Tel, where are you getting this idea that Dr. Callahan thinks morality is derived from the force of government? Please provide quotes.

              • Bharat says:

                Disregard this ^ , Tel. I responded further below.

            • Bob Murphy says:

              Bob, no on 2. That is emphatically NOT what Gene means.

              Wait a second: In this debate we actually care what our opponents MEAN by certain things? So you and Gene think the people who say “The government shouldn’t legislate morality” actually mean, “Nothing that is illegal can be immoral”? Or that “our moral intuitions must play no role whatsoever in the legal code”?

              • Ken B says:

                They mean the second, or at least the ones Gene is criticizing do. That is unambiguous in his second para. Gene is saying “don’t legislate your moral judgments into law” is a weak argument from people who want to make rape illegal because of their moral judgment about it.

                As for the other points, saying rothbardtopia cannot exist without the enforcement of property rights does not say WHY we should enforce property rights; moral arguments do. So you too want to enforce some of your moral judgments by law.

            • Tel says:

              Gene is attempting to make the claim that anyone who believes the statement, “The government should not legislate morality” by implication must also be making the claim that rape is permissible.

              This argument presumes the state being the one and only source of moral authority.

              • Ken B says:

                $10 bet. Write Gene and ask him whether you read him aright or I do. Loser pay pals winner $10 usd.

              • Ken B says:

                Tel, have you given any thought to the possibility permissible means legally permissible in Gene’s argument?

              • Tel says:

                The argument is what is written, not what’s in Gene’s head when he wrote it.

                The whole trick of Gene’s rhetoric is to conflate the idea of desirable outcomes, with the process of government writing legislation declaring those outcomes.

                For example, if government encouraged everyone to be armed for self defense purposes, there would be a lot less rape without requiring police to even get involved. The only thing the police do is turn up after the fact and maybe stop that particular rapist from doing it again.

              • Bharat says:

                Nevermind my above response to you asking for a quote, I see where you’re coming from now.

                However, he definitely means legally permissible. You are not following the principle of charity.You have to read an argument in context.

                Using “permissible” to mean permissible in the common, nonlegal sense would be a non-sequitur. Because one believes the government should not legislate morality does not mean that he thinks a certain action is permissible. It does mean that he thinks the action should be legally permissible.

    • RPLong says:

      Ken B, as I think Bob mentions below, you are perfectly articulating why morality is a weak argument for legality. If the whole concept of property rights came down to mere morality, then I could easily justify depriving you of your property rights as long as I could make a moral case for doing so.

      Obviously that’s not what you have in mind, right? There has to be more to it than morality.

      • Bharat says:

        If you could make a correct moral case for depriving someone of their property rights, you’d be showing that their right was immoral. If you could show that a right was immoral, it wouldn’t be a right. A right is a moral concept, which does go beyond “mere” morality in a sense: the special case of a right is that force may not be justly used by another human being to prevent the exercise of the right.

        • RPLong says:

          I disagree with you because the right to life is not any kind of moral concept at all. It is a precondition for having any kind of interaction with the universe. We preserve this right not because we deem it morally correct, but because we cannot even experience morality unless we are alive. Life has a kind of value that supercedes morality and exists logically prior to it.

          I think if a right fails that kind of condition, then it is not truly a right. Another example: We have a right to free speech because making mouth-noises and communicating is part-and-parcel to being a human being. It has nothing to do with morality, it is yet another precondition for living in any sort of society.

          If depriving people of something undermines social operations in such a way that everything else breaks down when we fail to protect that thing, then I think that’s our clue that it truly is a right.

          • Ken B says:

            The question RP is not rights but respect for rights and whether law — even private lawby thug armies for hire — should enforce that respect. Which is a moral choice. After all you are deciding that “else breaks down” is a bad thing.

            • RPLong says:

              No, Ken B. We’re all made better off by living in an effective and orderly community. I agree that such a community is also more moral than the alternative, but the primary reason we prefer order to chaos is because it enables us to have more of what we want and less of what we don’t. It’s not morality, it’s just the same kind of plain old self-interest that monkeys and apes and ants experience in their own communities.

              • Ken B says:

                No, its not just self interest since we’re not talking a Ken B – RPLong oligarchy. Alas.

              • Major_Freedom says:

                If you were put in charge of General Motors, you and the world would be worse off, because not only will your driving GM into the ground mean fewer cars, but it will also mean the world was deprived of the output that you would have contrinuted to in the division of labor had you not been in charge of GM.

                While your short run interests might be better off being in charge, in the long run you’d be worse off due to your ineptitude of running an entire society.

                Maybe you haven’t noticed, but Kim Jong Un does not even have access to good quality healthcare. He has to go to another country. He is in charge of a whole country, but he’s not very wealthy in real terms.

          • Bharat says:

            Being a precondition for other moral truths does not mean it is not a moral truth itself. Anytime you say that someone has a right to something, you are logically saying no one else should interfere with that right. This is thus a normative and moral statement.

            If someone could show that the right to life was immoral, then it would not be a right.

            • Ken B says:

              +1

              The Rothbardian approach is an interesting attempt to narrow the demands one makes, and to find a minimal coherent set of moral choices to impose. That’s a worthy attempt (even if unconvincing). But it still involves a moral choice.

            • RPLong says:

              This is kind of a weak position. You can’t just declare something to be moral and leave it at that. I agree that the right to life can be seen through a moral lens, but my position is that it need not be, and that makes all the difference.

          • Bharat says:

            I agree with you to the extent that you’re saying that there more to a right than to “mere” morality. But that does not mean it is not a subset of morality. By saying that rights are necessary for other moral truths, you argue that therefore a right is not itself a moral truth. But this simply does not follow.

            To term morality is used “normatively to refer to a code of conduct that, given specified conditions, would be put forward by all rational persons.”

            Rights, by definition, tell us that people should not interfere with the exercise of a right. It therefore is a code of conduct for human beings.

          • Bharat says:

            “I disagree with you because the right to life is not any kind of moral concept at all. It is a precondition for having any kind of interaction with the universe. We preserve this right not because we deem it morally correct, but because we cannot even experience morality unless we are alive. Life has a kind of value that supercedes morality and exists logically prior to it.”

            This whole thing is a moral argument being made for a “right to life.” Fixed, it would say:

            “The right to life is a kind of moral concept . It is a precondition for having any kind of interaction with the universe. We preserve this right because we deem it morally correct, but also because we cannot even experience other forms of morality unless we are alive. Life has a kind of value that supercedes other forms of morality and exists logically prior to it.”

            You have not established that the right to life is NOT a moral concept.

          • Bharat says:

            Sorry, you have also not established that it NEED NOT BE a moral concept. A right is and always is a moral concept and cannot be viewed with any other lens. In the argument that there should be a right to life so we can experience morality, there is an implicit argument that experiencing morality is good, and thus this is a moral argument. The right to free speech because communication is “part-and-parcel to being a human being” implies that being able to use the communicative faculties of a human being is good: thus, this is a moral argument as well.

            • RPLong says:

              Bharat, I’m not sure what to tell you. Every aspect of existence, including morality, is dependent on a consciousness capable of experiencing it. I see this consciousness as being a practical necessity, not a moral one. I’m not sure what else to tell you. You certainly haven’t made a case that it is moral and not practical, or that it is in all circumstances moral and never amoral.

              What am I missing?

              • Bharat says:

                It is a practical argument for the experience for other moral truths. But this implies that the experiencing of other moral truths is a good thing. Thus, all of this is a moral argument. It is a practical argument WITHIN a moral one, and thus it is always able to be refuted by moral arguments. E.g. “no, experiencing other forms of morality is not a good thing.” Of course, a statement like this is ridiculous, and as such we wouldn’t reject the claim that there is a right to life on that basis.

              • RPLong says:

                I’m not sure about that Bharat. A preference (to experience anything) is not the same thing as a moral preference (it is moral to experience something).

                Yes, it is true that my argument assumes that life is preferable to the alternative, but it does so in an amoral way. I’m not saying people “should” experience life, I’m saying everyone has an instinctive drive toward self-preservation.

                Instinct is pretty much the opposite of morality.

              • Bharat says:

                How does that establish it as a right? Then all you’re saying is “You have to be alive in order to experience morality.”

                Well, ok.

                Now, if you add in an amoral preference, you’re saying “You have to be alive in order to experience morality. I prefer experiencing to not experiencing.”

                Well, ok. Where is a right in there?

                If you have a response, do me a favor. Spell out your logical argument for why a right should exist:

                e.g.
                1) Birds can fly.
                2) Anything that can fly can land.
                3) Therefore, birds can land.

                But spell it out for the existence of a right to life.

              • RPLong says:

                Bharat – I get it now. You think I’m making an argument about what rights are. That’s not really the case. What I’m doing is making an argument for why morality is neither necessary nor sufficient for legislation.

                Why do I feel that rights should exist? Is that your question? I’m not sure that rights “should” exist. I think they do exist insofar as human institutions have codified them.

                Part of what I’m suggesting is that any law that is justified solely on moral grounds is very weakly justified – and this holds true of rights.

                Thus, I did spell out why I thought the right to life was a true life, and I did so without resorting to morality. I did the same with the right to speech.

                All I’m saying is that those kinds of rights are easy to justify because one need not resort to morality in order to do it.

                I’m also saying that if your view of rights is founded entirely on morality, then your view can be completely undermined by any convincing moral argument against your view of rights.

              • Bharat says:

                “What I’m doing is making an argument for why morality is neither necessary nor sufficient for legislation.”

                Do you see how this could be rephrased as “why mere morality is neither necessary nor sufficient for legislation.”?

                I’m asking you to support why you believe, specifically, the right to life exists.

                “I’m not sure that rights “should” exist. I think they do exist insofar as human institutions have codified them.”

                You think a right to something is derived from legislation? I think you misunderstand the word right as Rothbard and others have used it: a right for something means no one else should interfere with it. Whether the right exists or not has nothing to do with whether the government has a law on its books regarding it. The whole idea Rothbard writes The Ethics of Liberty with is that our reason can discover what rights we have, and thus we can criticize government policy from that position.

                “Thus, I did spell out why I thought the right to life was a true life, and I did so without resorting to morality. I did the same with the right to speech.”

                I don’t think you have established this, and that’s why I’m asking you to spell it out exactly as I did in my bird example above, so you can see for yourself where you go wrong. The final statement, the conclusion, should be something such as “Therefore, human beings have a right to life.”

              • Bharat says:

                And if you can’t do this without appealing to morality, you’ll see exactly what I’m talking about when I say you’re committing a non-sequitur fallacy.

              • RPLong says:

                Bharat, you definitely misunderstand my position. Let me try to clear up a few things:

                1) I did already explain why I thought the right to life exists: Because in its absence the social order offers no tangible benefits to members of that society. Offering a right to life is pretty much the bare minimum we can expect of a functional social order. If we don’t get at least that much, then we’re better off being hermits.

                2) I do not think a right is derived from either legislation or morality. Or, more specifically, I think people call all kinds of things “rights” for all kinds of reasons, but the only things I believe to be rights are things whose absence would result in a collapse of functional society. See point #1 above.

                3) Part of what you’re doing is reading what I say, and then attaching all your beliefs about rights to it. I’m not using “Rothbard’s” definition of rights. I’m trying to describe a concept using the best words available to me. Part of my message is sure to be obscured by my own inability to communicate perfectly (and your ability to understand perfectly).

                4) More specifically, I think you’re affirming the consequent (if we want to talk fallacies). To you, “rights” are defined in advance to be moral concepts. Therefore, if I use the word “right” at all then you’re going to tell me that I am talking about morality.

                MF does this a lot, and it’s not entirely unreasonable. But if you’re genuinely curious about what I mean then you have to agree to tolerate my use of language when reading my posts. I don’t know how to do it otherwise. I don’t know enough about Rothbard to express myself in perfectly Rothbardian language such that you’ll understand what I mean.

                5) So you have to accept that, to me, rights are more like personal conclusions about morality, and that there is nothing particularly universal or sacred about them. I think they are a kind of social institution designed to ensure a cohesive, effective, productive social order. So long as they affirm that social order, they are rights. The minute they fail that test is the minute we know they’re not rights.

              • RPLong says:

                I muddled that last point. Obviously, I am not arguing that rights are morality. I am arguing that morality is a subjective personal conclusion and that rights are social institutions designed to uphold community rules that result in universal benefit within that community.

                The implication is that any rule that isn’t universally beneficial isn’t enforcing a right and probably ought not be a rule. When I say “ought not be a rule,” I’m talking about my own, personal moral guidelines.

                THUS: (A) If it’s universal, then it’s a right, and not a morally justified one; (B) if it’s NOT universal, then it is probably justified in part on moral grounds, and for that reason, I’m morally suspicious of it.

                Sorry for not getting it right in that earlier comment.

              • Bharat says:

                Alright, cool, that clears up the confusion…well, in a way it adds a bit more.

                You have an extremely strange definition of rights.

                You define a right as being something whose absence would result in the collapse of functional society.

                Ok, why? Do you think that the collapse of a functional society is a bad thing? If not, isn’t it purely arbitrary to pick this as the definition of a right? Why can’t I define a right as something that makes the moon go around the earth?

                Now if you agree that you’re calling it a right because the collapse of functional society is a bad thing, then you’re making a moral statement.

                Now if you’re saying you call it a right because you prefer the existence of society to the collapse of society, then once again you are making an arbitrary statement. I like vanilla ice cream better than chocolate. So can I define something that protects the former as a right?

                Do you think that if a person has a right, that means that no one should use force to prevent him from exercising that right?

                If you say yes to this, then that falls under morality: a code of conduct for human beings.

              • RPLong says:

                Bharat, let me try to explain it this way:

                When you make the point you’re making, I wonder whether you think repairing a car is a moral act? After all, repairing a car assumes that one thinks that car repair is a good thing, right?

                If I walk down the street, this is a moral act, because it assumes that I value arriving at my destination.

                Etc. etc. This is why I’m telling you that you’re affirming the consequent. Not everything that I prefer is specifically a moral preference. Some preferences are just preferences, sort of how I prefer Granny Smith apples to Gala apples and so forth. It’s just an amoral preference.

                Now, I can explain to you what I like better about Granny Smiths, but that’s not a moral argument, that’s just me explaining that more highly acidic apples taste better to me than sweeter apples.

                Similarly, the fact that I prefer order to chaos is not a moral preference, it is simply a preference. I prefer life to death and maach bharta to chicken biriyani.

                I can explain my preference for order – I prefer safety to danger, I prefer trade to aggression, I prefer cooperation to antagonism – and these explanations for why I prefer order are not moral in the slightest. They simply are what they are.

                And, funny enough, most people agree with me. It is a very rare person indeed who would rather exist in a chaoticly antagonistic, looting, violent community than a peaceful one.

                However, if it so happened that one day all of human society determines that chaos is the way to go, I will no longer have any claim on my right to life. I will simply have to fight back. No one will care what Rothbard had to say about it.

              • RPLong says:

                And to address your additional questions:

                * You may define rights however you please, and we can talk about your definition of rights, too. :) I don’t mean to monopolize the concept of rights or to claim that my definition is the only one that flies. I just disagree with the others I’ve read.

                * Can you arbitrarily decide that a preference for vanilla over chocolate is a right? Well, maybe, but that would fail my test about how rights work, subject to my definition. If you decide that vanilla-over-chocolate is your right, and someone doesn’t play along, nothing really happens to society as a result of that. So the social order continues as though nothing happened. It’s impossible for the social order to collapse in a chocolate-over-vanilla counter-scenario. Not so with a right to life. If you no longer enforce a right to life, then no one has any incentive to participate in the social order at all.

                If for some reason chocolate-over-vanilla drove people into the hills to live as hermits, then I would agree that vanilla-over-chocolate is quite possibly a right.

                * I do have moral beliefs about rights, but my moral beliefs do not define what I consider to be rights. So I believe that force ought never be used to deprive someone of their freedom of speech, for example, but it is not this moral concept that leads me to believe that free speech is a right.

                I try to separate the morality from the right-ness.

              • Bharat says:

                So you don’t define a right as something that no one else may morally use violence to interfere with? I really feel like this is an abuse of words, but regardless:

                You originally said (in the first statement I responded to):

                “If the whole concept of property rights came down to mere morality, then I could easily justify depriving you of your property rights as long as I could make a moral case for doing so.”

                How does defining a right as something that protects the social order (forget exactly what you said) stop someone else from saying that because of moral reasons, we should deprive someone of their “right.”

                You cannot make this claim that the other person is devoid of argument without making a moral argument. E.g. You “should” not use violence to aggress against someone’s right.

                Regardless of how you define right, you ultimately are trying to make this statement, and this is the relevant situation.

              • RPLong says:

                So you don’t define a right as something that no one else may morally use violence to interfere with? I really feel like this is an abuse of words,

                For the record, I don’t know anyone who defines rights that way.
                http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/right?s=t

      • Ken B says:

        Well there’s conflicting moral goals for a start. I might think abortion immoral but think the kind of intrusive policing needed to ban it worse. That’s not my position but its a coherent and possible one. Or I might think the immorality so slight it is not worth the cost. Or I might worry about incentive effects or possible abuses. Or I might worry if the crime is actually knowable or just guessable. No one thing is ever enough. But Gene never said a moral preference was by itelf a sufficient reason to support a law.

        • RPLong says:

          No, Gene never said that. And that is precisely Bob’s point. Morality isn’t sufficient to justify legality. There is a lot more to it and, in my opinion, laws whose sole justification – or even primary justification – are merely moral tend not to be good laws.

          Realistically speaking, we can morally justify virtually anything. It looks like we all agree that there is more to it than that.

  8. Ken B says:

    Bette: abortion should be legal because its my body my choice.
    Gene: you don’t really believe that Bette. I know you oppose letting people sell their kidneys or take heroin. So actually the principle you cite is not one you actually endorse.
    Bob: your argument is wrong Gene.
    Tel: gene say we should control Bette’s body.

    • Tel says:

      My actual position is that heroin should be legal exactly because the War on Drugs has been a disastrous failure, we tried it and we know from observation that it does not work.

      I’m opposed to people taking heroin. I’m also opposed to government telling people what they should do with their own bodies and that includes making legislation against heroin.

  9. Andrew Keen says:

    I’ve never seen so many people pretend they don’t know what “the government should not legislate morality” means. It actually scares me. I can understand a person saying that they think the government should legislate morality. But to honestly believe that “no one believes the government should not legislate morality…” The lack of awareness is staggering. Are we really that far gone?

  10. Bala says:

    Bob,

    Just trying to be useful here by trying to present your point in my words. What you are saying is either

    (1) Government should not legislate at all (the ancap position)

    or

    (2) If it should, it should legislate rights and not morality. That rights are a moral concept is not relevant to the discussion because only that subset of morality that classifies as rights is open to legislation. So, the reason legislation government is even halfway acceptable is that it just legalises the enforcement of a right and not of morality.

  11. Keshav Srinivasan says:

    Bob, for those of us who haven’t read Rothbard’s book “The Ethics of Liberty”, can you summarize his argument for why rights violations should be illegal but other moral acts should not?

    I should also point out that some religious fundamentalists do in fact believe that all immoral acts should be illegal. And on the other extreme, there are some moral relativists who believe that relatively few things are absolutely immoral to begin with, so they might well believe that whatever is immoral must be illegal.

  12. Keshav Srinivasan says:

    Ken B, I think you’re misunderstanding what Bob is saying. Gene said “Some people claim to believe that government should never make something illegal simply because it’s immoral. But they don’t really believe that, because otherwise they would believe that murder should be legal.” Bob is responding “No, those people genuinely do believe that the government should never make something illegal simply because it’s immoral. The fact that they believe that murder should be illegal does not imply that they believe that murder should be illegal because it’s immoral. They believe that murder should be illegal because it’s a violation of property rights, and properly rights violations should be illegal due to some other reason.”

    Bob is not saying that anyone believes that morality comes from law. I’m not sure why you think he’s saying that.

    • Bob Murphy says:

      Keshav, thanks for so succinctly and beautifully summarizing my position.

      • Ken B says:

        Thanks Bob and Keshav for clarifying. Bob’s position is absurd: the law SHOULD protect property rights but that should does not derive from any moral calculus at all in any way.
        Nice of Bob to fess up to this nonsense.

        The complete denial of any moral basis is required for that position to fit with what Bob now says he meant.

        • Bala says:

          I wonder who’s coming out with the nonsense.

          “The complete denial of any moral basis is required for that position to fit with what Bob now says he meant.”

          Moral basis for what? Property rights or legislation? Don’t you think you are repeatedly mixing the two?

          • Keshav Srinivasan says:

            Ken B is talking about a moral basis for legal protection of property rights.

            • Bala says:

              And Bob’s point (as I understand it) is that that is irrelevant for the question of legislating rights into law.

              • Keshav Srinivasan says:

                I think Bob’s point is that the reason property rights violations should be illegal is not that property rights violations are immoral. But that doesn’t mean that he believes there’s no moral basis for the statement that property rights violations SHOULD be illegal, because “should” has to do with morality.

            • Ken B says:

              Exactly. Bob as a Rothbardian thinks property rights SHOULD be enforced. I am asking if that should comes from a moral judgment or from Russell and Whitehead’s Principia.

        • Keshav Srinivasan says:

          I don’t think that’s quite Bob’s position. I think that Bob thinks that the reason that property rights violations should be illegal does depend on some argument concerning morality (although I’m not sure what the argument is), but he does not believe that it rests on the immorality of property rights violations.

          • Ken B says:

            Then he is NOT a counter example to Gene’s because he wants to legislate his moral preference. That’s what’s causing the confusion. Bob claims he is refuting Gene, and cites color. Well of course the govt can no more make red black by fiat than it can make rape moral or pot immoral by fiat. So that’s the natural reading of bob’s post I think, but then it gets gene’s contention wrong. So you clarify and bob agrees that really he meant he’s a counter example ( the color seems off base then but whatever). Ok, but to be a counter example he must have a completely morality free basis for preference on property rights.

            • Keshav Srinivasan says:

              Yes, if you interpret Gene’s argument as “No one believes that law should be independent of morality”, then I think Bob’s argument for the illegality of property rights (whatever that argument is) wouldn’t be a refutation of Gene’s point. If, on the other hand, you interpret Gene to mean “No one believes that no act should be illegal simply because it’s immoral”, then I think Bob’s mysterious argument would be a refutation of Gene’s point.

              • Ken B says:

                And how would legislating colors be on point? The legislating colors thing fits with Tel’s reading: legislating to make morality. Because then that’s like legislating color. (What else can it mean to legislate color except things like declaring snow to be green? )

              • Keshav Srinivasan says:

                Legislating color means the government passing a law saying what colors things are allowed to be. (That’s akin to the government passing a law saying that only moral acts are allowed.). Bob gave the following analogy involving color: suppose Gene said “No one believes that the government should never make something illegal simply because of its color, because otherwise people would believe that hitting people with a silver hammer should be legal.” And then Bob would respond, “No, some people genuinely do believe that the government should not make something illegal simply because of its color. The fact that they believe that hitting people with silver hammers should be illegal does not imply that they believe that hitting people with silver hammers should be illegal because the hammers in question are silver. They believe that hitting people with silver hammers should be illegal for some other reason.”

              • Ken B says:

                Ok Keshav, that makes some sense, but then Bob’s writing here is sloppier than Gene’s. and Gene of course said no such thing.

                Of course the govt does legislate color in your sense.stop signs and brake lights are red, and that’s a reasonable law.

            • Mark Geoffriau says:

              Ken is still on it.

              My problem is that by renaming the discussion in terms of property rights doesn’t avoid the fact that you are still making a moral calculation — if violating property rights is wrong, and protecting property rights is right, then we’re still having a discussion about morality.

              • Bob Murphy says:

                if violating property rights is wrong, and protecting property rights is right, then we’re still having a discussion about morality.

                OK, and then biology is the study of morality, right? Or do you think humping your neighbor’s dog is moral?

              • Mark Geoffriau says:

                Bob, I’m doing my darnedest to be clear and direct in my argumentation. Spell out your argument for me.

              • Keshav Srinivasan says:

                Bob, Mark is saying that insofar as political theory discusses what the government should or should not outlaw, it is necessarily dependent on some notion of morality. Similarly, if biology discussed what you should or should not do to your neighbor’s dog (which it doesn’t as far as I’m aware), than it too would depend on some notion of morality.

                I’m not sure what point you’re making in response. But in any case, a satisfactory response to Mark might be to spell out your argument for why property rights violations should be put in a different category than other immoral acts.

        • RPLong says:

          Ken B – see my response to Dan above. I don’t think property rights is the right answer, either. Mises said it was “preserving the social order,” and I think I agree with him.

          • Ken B says:

            I suspect I do too for the most part. It’s a good minimalist demand. But it still has a moral dimension, that it’s a good thing to preserve the social order (for the benefit of others notice). Hitler decided not to preserve the social order; i think that was a morally freighted choice.

            • RPLong says:

              Well, I’m not sure I agree that favoring order to chaos is specifically a moral choice. It might just be a preference in the same sense that I prefer driving to work to walking. Driving is more comfortable, saves me a lot of time and effort, and makes me happier. I don’t consider that a moral choice. My desire to live in an orderly society is similar to me: It saves me a lot of effort having to fight for everything I have.

              Later, I might decide that order is also a moral imperative, but I would only do so after having convinced myself that I have an amoral preference for order.

      • Keshav Srinivasan says:

        Bob, can you return the favor by summarizing Rothbard’s arguments (or your own arguments) for why only property right violations should be illegal?

        • Major_Freedom says:

          I won’t answer for him, but my thought is that only property violations can remain illegal without introducing new violations of the same sort that leads to a reductio.

          For example, if we suppose that other behavior other than property violations should also be illegal, then the only way to enforce them would be through introducing new property violations. But if property violations are already illegal, then one is prohibited from legislating against other activity besides property violations.

          • Keshav Srinivasan says:

            OK, then the question becomes, what is the reason that a (private) legal system should legislate against property right violations in the first place?

            • Major_Freedom says:

              Because it is the only system that can do it.

              Statist systems are inherently property violations systems. In order for states to even arise, and be maintained, some private property owners must violate the property rights of others in such a way that a territorial monopoly on such violations persists.

              If property rights violations is to really be prohibited, in practise, then a state cannot arise. States are incompatible with property rights.

              So the even more fundamental questions become: Why should there be a universal prohibition on property violations at all? Why can’t we have a state that by its very nature perpetually violates property rights? Why can’t we have property violations, but only at the hands of states? Why can’t we assume that because property violations are likely to occur, to simply accept states as inevitable?

              • Keshav Srinivasan says:

                I think you misunderstood what I was trying to ask. I wasn’t asking why a private legal system should do it as opposed to the state. I was asking why any system at all should protect private property, I.e. why is private property worth protecting? I was asking the fundamental question you stated: “Why should there be a universal prohibition on property violations at all?”

              • Major_Freedom says:

                “I was asking why any system at all should protect private property, I.e. why is private property worth protecting?”

                To avoid perpetual conflict, and its consequences of war, destruction and death.

              • Ken B says:

                Which sounds like a moral stance. Peace and love and prosperity and a good five cent cigar being better than destruction conflict death and lousy twelve dollar cigars.

              • Major_Freedom says:

                Ken B:

                Of course that is a “moral stance.” The question I was asked is a moral question. He asked me why we OUGHT to do this and that. So, I answered his moral question with a moral answer.

                What, did you want me to do what you do, and avoid answering with “Pigeons playing chess” instead?

                I am not in agreement with Murphy that private property is wholly disconnected from morality. I only hold that private property originates without any moral considerations of how people ought to treat each other, but rather, that private property arises through individual activity in a world of scarcity. Whether or not other individuals respect the desires of the creative individuals concerning that property, is a secondary question, a moral question.

              • Ken B says:

                Ok, I’m not arguing how private property originates. You agree that saying ” private property should be protected” is a moral stance, as Mark, Keshav, and I assert It is what Dan and Bob and maybe others deny.

              • Keshav Srinivasan says:

                Major_Freedom, if someone was able to convince you that as an empirical matter, some other kinds of behavior led to even worse preferences than those you believe follow from property rights violation, would that justify violating property rights to stop that other behavior?

              • Major_Freedom says:

                Violations of property rights are necessarily not capable of increasing “preferences” (you probably meant to say utility).

                The fact that property rights violations occur without the owner’s consent by definition, it follows that the owner would have preferred it if his property rights were not violated. But because they were, he is worse off.

                There is no “empirical” testing that can disprove or prove this. Property violations necessarily make the victims worse off.

                Go ahead and try giving me an example where property violations make the victims better off. And no, “tackling someone to stop them from accidentally running off a cliff” is not necessarily a property rights violation, because we don’t know until we ask the person who was tackled if he consented to it.

                But GIVEN a property violation occurred, you have to show how a person can be made better off.

                Good luck. You’ll be trying to square a circle.

              • Keshav Srinivasan says:

                Sorry, I meant to say consequences, not preferences. You say the consequences of property rights violations are war and destruction. What if you found out that there was some behavior with even worse consequences? Then would it be justified to violate property rights to stop that other behavior.

              • Bala says:

                Keshav,

                You are making very fundamental mistakes repeatedly. You asked MF

                if someone was able to convince you that as an empirical matter, some other kinds of behavior led to even worse consequences (I made the correction) than those you believe follow from property rights violation, would that justify violating property rights to stop that other behavior?

                Do you realise that worse is always worse according to a specific yardstick used by a specific person? Combined with demonstrated preference, don’t you see how it demonstrates that you are asking all the wrong questions?

              • Keshav Srinivasan says:

                Bala, I mean morally worse.

              • Bala says:

                Keshav,

                Adding the adjective morally does not change the fact that words like better and worse are subjective valuations of individuals and no amount of empirical evidence can demonstrate that one outcome is better or worse than another. On the contrary, the very imposition of violence to bring about a certain outcome demonstrates that it was the less preferred outcome for the victim of the violence. So, your question still remains incorrect.

              • Bala says:

                Sorry….

                morally is an adverb. Just defending myself from the Grammar Nazi attack (which I have seen a lot of, of late).

  13. Russ says:

    Am I wrong or am I the only who sees this. (Or did I miss someone else arguing this)?

    “The government should not legislate morality” – Morality is thoughts, a belief structure. Let’s take another belief structure and substitute it for morality.

    “The government should not legislate religion” – He continues to argue that nobody thinks rape should be permissible because government shouldn’t legislate ‘religion’ – Does this make sense?

    He states one premise; The government should not legislate morality.
    He argues against a completely different premise; Morality should have no influence on legislation.

    • Ken B says:

      Keshav, please note that Russ and Tel are both reading “legislate morality” as establish morality by law. Which is not what Gene or his postulated interlocutors, or anyone else, mean by the phrase.

      • Keshav Srinivasan says:

        Yes, I agree wholeheartedly that Russ and Tel have misunderstood Gene’s argument. What’s your point?

        • Ken B says:

          I thought you were denying anyone could make such an error. If you weren’t then apologies. But the fact that so many here do, and that THAT is really the only interpretation which fits with the colors substitution explains why I think Bob did at first read Gene that way.

          • Keshav Srinivasan says:

            No, I was just saying that Bob wasn’t making the error you were talking about. Other people are making that error, unfortunately.

      • Tel says:

        Once you have accepted that government is not, nor will ever be, the fundamental source of moral authority (and I’m still missing the bit where Gene does accept this, but at least others do accept it) then the best you can expect from any government is some assistance with regards to the practical implementation of moral behaviour.

        But wait! How did you manage to miss the part where attempts by government to enforce moral conduct have never really been successful, and in some cases caused more damage than if they had done nothing at all? I’m sure I mentioned it more than once, the failure of government enforcement to actually solve the problem they set out to fix.

        So not only is it not possible to establish morality by law, it is also not possible to use law enforcement as your primary vehicle to enforce morality either… and yes that includes rape. As the saying goes, when every second counts the police are only a few minutes away.

        So explain to me one more time how Gene comes up with this:

        No one really believes this. No one is out there saying that rape should be permissible, because “the government shouldn’t legislate morality.”

        Explain how we start from “The government should not legislate morality” and somehow get to the point where unless you disagree with this statement you are a supporter of rape.

        • Keshav Srinivasan says:

          Gene is a Christian, so that itself should tell you that he doesn’t believe that government is the source of moral authority. So no one is talking about establishing morality by law. Gene is talking about writing laws based on morality, or to use your words, to write laws to enforce morality.

          When Gene says “permissible” in his post he means legally permissible, not morally permissible. His argument is that if you think something should never be illegal simply because it’s immoral, you would be fine with murder being legal. But of course pretty much no one believes that murder should be legal. (Even Rothbardian anarcho-capitalists think murder should be illegal in private law systems.)

        • Samson Corwell says:

          Hey, how do you do the indent thing with these comments?

          • Major_Freedom says:

            To open a blockquote:

            Type a “less than” symbol, then type in the word “blockquote” without the quotes, then type in the “greater than” symbol.

            To close the blockquote:

            Type the same thing, but add a forward slash to the left of the letter “b” in the word “blockquote.”

            Try it

            • Samson Corwell says:

              Thank you. I thought the comments used a Markdown-like syntax.

              • Major_Freedom says:

                No worries.

                Let this not suggest that I am going to cease being a douche when you write posts I disagree with.

              • Samson Corwell says:

                Fair enough. At least you admit it.

      • Russ says:

        I can only agree or disagree with what he wrote. I can not agree or disagree with what he did not write.

        • Keshav Srinivasan says:

          The thing is, you’re misinterpreting what he wrote. When he says “legislate morality”, he does not mean using the law to determine what’s moral and immoral. He means using morality of an act to determine whether it should be legal or illegal. In other words, to pass a law that’s based on morality.

          • Ken B says:

            Exactly. A point I have made a dozen times on this thread, to no effect. Gene is disliked here (not least by me in fact) and that seems to influence readings.

            • Keshav Srinivasan says:

              Why is Gene disliked? Is it because he became a Keynesian?

              • Ken B says:

                Yeah, plus he’s rude and reacts personally to disagreements. He often fails to engage arguments just cites Aquinas sneeringly.

            • Major_Freedom says:

              You aren’t speaking for me.

              • Ken B says:

                No I’m not. I’m speaking about you though.

              • Major_Freedom says:

                You aren’t speaking about me either.

          • Russ says:

            So you’re saying when Mr. Callahan uses words they are defined differently then they otherwise are?

            Why are we to assume that he is interpreting the original argument correctly? Is it not possible that he is misunderstanding the arguments of others? If it’s true that others are arguing one thing but mean another then they are wrong in doing so and he should point that out before arguing against what they mean, ideally with an actual example to show he is correct in his interpretation.

            Can you sum up what the argument actually is then?

            • Keshav Srinivasan says:

              An example of someone making the argument Gene is critiquing is Bob Murphy.

              When you say “sum up what the argument actually is then”, do you mean the argument Gene is critiquing, or Gene’s argument?

              • Russ says:

                Dr. Murphy’s reply to Mr. Callahan’s argument is an example of what Mr. Callahan was arguing against?

                If I argue people say X but they’re wrong in saying X because they mean Y then I should provide a real world example of this to show that I’m interpreting correctly. Otherwise I should either accept that X means X or state people say Y and continue from there.

                Can you sum up his entire premise? I.e. ‘All things illegal are immoral because no moral or nonmoral thing can be illegal’.

              • Keshav Srinivasan says:

                Gene argues that no one believes that acts should never be illegal simply because they’re immoral. He argues that even people who claim to have that belief make exceptions in the case of murder, for instance. Bob is an example of someone who claims to have the belief that Gene says no one really has.

              • Russ says:

                Is the only argument against murder that it is immoral?

            • Ken B says:

              Let me put on my RussTel hat. “You cannot sum an argument because an argument isn’t numbers. I am only reacting to what he wrote.”

            • Samson Corwell says:

              Laws are normative. When you that morality should not be legislated, then any conception of justice goes out the window.

              • Major_Freedom says:

                Not if someone says morality should not be legislated by governmental activity.

  14. Ken B says:

    “Gene said permissible.”
    “Look at the argument and the wording. He meant legally permissible.”
    “He said permissible! He said permissible! He said permissible!”

    • Russ says:

      I said he said permissible.

    • Tel says:

      So Gene’s argument comes down to this (when paraphrased in less ambiguous terms):

      No one really beilives that government is an innapropriate institution for the enforcement of morality. No one wants a potential rape victim to be given the opportunity to defend herself. No one wants family members to be able to look out for each other. We just accept that government enforcement is the best way to handle this, regardless of how many times it has failed in the past.

      So, after putting his argument into such precise terms, I can’t imagine what counter argument anyone might come up with.

  15. Samson Corwell says:

    Laws are normative, so you’re objection goes out the window.

    • Samson Corwell says:

      “you’re” → “your”

    • Samson Corwell says:

      Never mind. I see what you mean here. I think.

      • Samson Corwell says:

        Never mind, again. I’m actually not sure of what you mean.

  16. Mark Geoffriau says:

    Good grief, this format for comments gets unwieldy after a few dozen responses. Very difficult to scan through for new comments.

    • Ken B says:

      Considering the quality of some of the comments that’s not a bad thing.

      • Major_Freedom says:

        Oh come now Ken B, while I will agree that your posts may be bad, at least they’re capable of being used as fodder.

    • Keshav Srinivasan says:

      Look at the left side of the page, where the last five comments are listed.

      • Ken B says:

        Or the comments RSS feed at the bottom left, which works well in IE.

      • Mark Geoffriau says:

        Yeah, I’ve been using the Recent Comments links, it’s just difficult to catch up when there’s more than 5 comments since I last checked.

  17. Bharat says:

    After looking at The Ethics of Liberty, this actually seems extremely obvious to me. The response of “property right” is in fact a sufficient answer to how one goes “beyond” morality. Of course, a right is itself a moral concept, which creates confusion, but I’ll quote the relevant sections from the book first before I respond to that:

    “We shall be speaking throughout this work of “rights,” in particular
    the rights of individuals to property in their persons and in material objects.
    But how do we define “rights”? “Right” has cogently and trenchantly been
    defined by Professor Sadowsky:

    When we say that one has the right to do certain things we mean
    this and only this, that it would be immoral for another, alone or in
    combination, to stop him from doing this by the use of physical
    force or the threat thereof. We do not mean that any use a man makes
    of his property within the limits set forth is necessarily a moral use?

    Sadowsky’s definition highlights the crucial distinction we shall make
    throughout this work between a man’s right and the morality or immorality
    of his exercise of that right. We will contend that it is a man’s right to do
    whatever he wishes with his person; it is his right not to be molested or
    interfered with by violence from exercising that right. But what may be the
    moral or immoral ways of exekising that right is a question of personal
    ethics rather than of political philosophy-which is concerned solely with
    matters of right, and of the proper or improper exercise of physical violence
    in human relations. The importance of this crucial distinction cannot be over-
    emphasized. Or, as Elisha Hurlbut concisely put it: “The exercise of a fac-
    ulty by an individual] is its only use. The manner of its exercise is one thing;
    that involves a question of morals. The right to its exercise is another thing.” (p. 24)

    Once we understand the definition of the right, we can understand how it goes beyond morality in some sense. A right is a moral concept that defines where force can be properly used. If a person has a right to something, no one can legitimately use force to stop him from doing so.

    Now, the Rothbardian concept of rights is that an individual may do as he wishes unless he is aggressing against another individual. Thus, all “personal” morality (morality having nothing to do with this specific right) goes out the window in terms of legislation.

    Now a person reading this comment might object “But a right is still a moral concept. How does saying it’s a right answer Callahan’s critique?”

    Well, this really depends on what Callahan means and what the person (let’s say Jimmy) saying “the government should not legislate morality” means. In a technical sense, the objection is right: appealing to a right does not answer Callahan’s critique, if Jimmy is saying that the government should not legislate morality, PERIOD, END STORY. But if Jimmy simply means that the government should not legislate simply based on something being immoral, the sufficient but not necessary line works against “simple” morality and the concept of right is what is necessary to legislate.

    • Ken B says:

      Thanks for this Bharat.
      “A right is a moral concept that defines where force can be properly used.” Is that you or Rothbard? Anyway whoever said it disagrees with Bob and agrees with me, Keshav, Mark, and even MF. If you want rights enforced by law, whatever kind of law public or private, you are enforcing a moral choice because it is morally desirable.

      • Ken B says:

        I forgot to add: agrees with Gene too.

      • Bharat says:

        I said that, but I think that accurately describes what Rothbard is saying.

        I think this is one of those situations where everyone is right, just depending on the meanings of the original claims. I take Murphy to be saying color and a silver hammer is analagous to morality and a moral right. Technically, a moral right falls under morality, but it is something beyond “mere” morality: its status as a right is that something.

        If “Jimmy” in Callahan’s original post is making an argument for morality end of story, then Callahan has a point. If Jimmy is making an argument for “mere” morality, then Murphy’s point works.

        Callahan here states that he thinks Jimmy is saying not to legislate “personal morality” and argues that then we’d be debating over what is “personal” and that gets us nowhere. I don’t think that is the same as the rights objection Murphy is bringing up, and thus I don’t think he anticipated that objection. That’s why I’m leaning toward Murphy’s side on this.

      • valueprax says:

        I’m not sure who I agree with now because a lot of these arguments devolve into “By X, he meant Y; no, by X, he meant Z!” ( http://lesswrong.com/lw/nv/replace_the_symbol_with_the_substance/ ) and frankly it doesn’t matter to me whose side I am on, though maybe people are “keeping score” and forming ranks in an effort to clarify the decisive elements of the arguments.

        But I will observe the following which I don’t believe anyone has made reference to (though Bob might’ve come close with his dog humping and biology comment): animals don’t have morality and they don’t have rights (within the context of animals QUA animals… I understand some humans might project such value systems onto them).

        When an animal kills, it is not murder. If it was being attacked, it’s not even clear it’s “self-defense” as we don’t have a clear understanding of animals understanding themselves as themSELVES. And it’s most definitely not self-defense in a moral sense of the animal was right to defend itself against aggression.

        It is just the way of animals. Some kill, some are killed. All animals are feeding off one another to some extent (okay, there are a few bacteria and mollusks deep in the ocean that seem to live off of thermal vents and such)… my point, in spite of the symbols I choose to represent it, is simply that we don’t talk about rights and morality and property for animals because they aren’t meaningful in the context of their lives.

        And humans aren’t different from animals in that regard, EXCEPT for the fact that we’ve got the ability and willingness to add that superstructure of rights and morality and such because we have intelligence (human intelligence) and see it as a viable technological means for securing our ends.

        In a cosmic (read: “objective”) sense, what one person does to another is not good or bad, morally. It just… is. Can’t get an ought from an is, right?

        But to the extent that we choose ends for ourselves, we develop all kinds of oughts, our means, and as Mises was always trying to explain, we can always analyze whether some of these means are more or less appropriate for achieving the stated ends. In fact, some times we might find that certain means give us no chance, whatsoever, of achieving a given end. And so, from that standpoint we might be able to judge or in this case condemn such means as “bad”.

        For me, as a “libertarian”, this is my beef with all the other schools and thoughts. I don’t really find all the “Well property rights are just another form of arbitrary coercion!” pseudo-philosophizing to be that impressive, first because the people advancing those criticisms don’t ever offer a positive replacement for the vacuum they think they’ve created… they think their arbitrary preference is made more secure by pointing out how insecure another person’s is— wrong, you’ve just enhanced the insecurity of both, if you’ve done anything.

        But the second reason I don’t find it impressive is it just doesn’t matter. I agree that “civilization”, broadly understood, is an arbitrary end or value to pursue. One could just as easily prefer barbarianism, the power principle, etc., and hell, many do (though always inconsistently, they want the fruits of civilization but they want to make use of it on their terms of not having to contribute anything to its flowering)… but so far as you DO prefer civilization and have that as a valuable end in mind, then your possible means of achieving it become pretty limited in a moral/political sense.

        And that seems to really piss people off. They don’t like wrapping their head around the fact that civilization comes with certain risks and tradeoffs, just as barbarism does. They think they can mix a little barbarism in there to create an outcome set that more closely matches their preferences for how property and prestige should be distributed within the confines of “civilization”. They ignore Mises dictum that there can be no middle-of-the-road.

        • Ken B says:

          Not so clear chimps, mokeys, bonobos, and apes don’t have morality. By which I mean there is some evidence they have a notion of it.

          • valueprax says:

            Are you trolling me or do you think this is a substantiative response to the point I was making, which was not, “Animals don’t have morality” but rather, “Morality is not as objective and universal as people often seem to think it is.”

            I used the lack of animal morality to try to illustrate the point that other animals killing each other doesn’t throw the earth off its axis so maybe it isn’t that wild to think that humans doing things typically called “immoral” don’t have the cosmic weight they might like to think they do.

            If chimps, monkeys, bonobos and apes have morality, it just throws them into the camp of humans who are potentially confused about how cosmically weighty their morality is.

            • Ken B says:

              I’m just pointing it out, as it’s an unreliable premise. FWIW, I endorse this statement: “Morality is not as objective and universal as people often seem to think it is.” I agree and am often struck by how strongly people can disagree on morality without concluding that maybe that very disagreement means something.

              • valueprax says:

                What is a more reliable premise I could’ve used to make the same point, in your mind?

              • Keshav Srinivasan says:

                People disagree about a lot of things. Does that mean that truth isn’t objective?

              • valueprax says:

                No, Keshav, it doesn’t.

              • Ken B says:

                “People disagree about a lot of things. Does that mean that truth isn’t objective?”

                No. But what if people *perceive* differently?
                When people strongly disagree about morality they usually do so in the firm conviction that they see the truth and its easy to see. For a lot of people this is considered rather like a perception. “Can’t you see why rape and puppy boiling are bad”, and not the conclusion of a syllogism. Strong disagreements like this should suggest that perhaps there is something going on. If we disagree on color maybe color isn’t as simple as it seems. Nothing to do with objective truth not existing.

        • Keshav Srinivasan says:

          A lot of people believe that there is something called good and evil which objectively exists in the world, and would exist even if there were no humans.

          • valueprax says:

            Great.

            A lot of people believe in aliens and believe aliens exist even if there were no humans.

            They either do or they don’t. Whether a lot of people believe in them or not is not important to their existing. Same with morality.

            For morality to exist regardless of the existence of humans you’d have to be able to logically explain what the “purpose” of humans are, and then within that context you could argue whether given people’s actions are “good” or “bad” in reference to that value.

            But then it’s another matter entirely whether any individual human chooses to let that value guide his life (ie, there could be a god, for instance, but I could choose not to set his purpose as my own).

            The other thing that is confusing here as you state it is what would be the significance of morality if there was no one around to live within its guidelines?

        • RPLong says:

          Outstanding, sir. Gold medal comment.

  18. Tony N says:

    I know I’m terribly late to this discussion, but I see a real divide here. So I’ll say what’s already been said a dozen or so times by others, just because …

    Every bit of legislation, every law that says one shall or one shall not, has a moral component to it. That component is the normative statement being made by the law. A law without a normative component is not a law, it is merely an observation, a fact statement, a positive statement, whatever, right? Even something as generic as a simple rule “you have 10 days to respond or you will be fined” can always be found tied to a moral assertion because the basis for penalizing someone for not responding always revolves around the fact that a failure to respond will result in something undesirable (normative) in the eyes of the law. The law can’t penalize just because, someone has to be doing something it deems unacceptable/wrong (normative).

    That “murder has X effect on society” is a positive statement; that ”X is undesirable and therefore murder is strictly prohibited” is the normative statement. The first statement is useless by itself. But once you add the second, presto, you have a law.

    In turn, “safeguarding one’s ability to keep private property produces Y effect on society” is positive; “Y effect is desirable and worth promoting via private property laws” in normative, and utterly moral in nature.

      • Tony N says:

        Very nice. And yes, everyone on the other side of this question is implicitly claiming to have defeated Hume’s greatest contribution to philosophy. Really, that alone would convince me to seriously rethink my position were I them.

    • RPLong says:

      Not every normative statement is a moral statement.

      • Tony N says:

        Didn’t say they were. I implied that the reverse is true though, that all moral statements (assertions is better) are normative, or at least can be traced back to a normative statement. I pointed that out to establish where within a law one should look to find the moral component.

        And I can’t think of a law whose normative component isn’t, at the very least, derived from a moral assertion (which seems natural for something that regulates).

        But then again, there are innumerable things of which I’m incapable of thinking. :)

        • RPLong says:

          And I can’t think of a law whose normative component isn’t, at the very least, derived from a moral assertion (which seems natural for something that regulates).

          That’s an interesting point. Thanks – I’ll give that some thought. :)

        • Ken B says:

          And pretty much what I quote even Rothbard saying below. I say ‘even’ because many self styled Rothbardians are the deniers here.

  19. Tony N says:

    Thanks, Ken B. I’ll take a look.

  20. Ken B says:

    “If ethics is a normative discipline that identifies and classifies certain sets of actions as good or evil, right or wrong, then tort or criminal law is a subset of ethics identifying certain actions as appropriate for using violence against them. The law says that action X should be illegal, and therefore should be combated by the violence of the law. The law is a set of “ought” or normative propositions.”

    Interesting. Tell me more.

    “The normative principle I am suggesting for the law is simply this: No action should be considered illicit or illegal unless it invades, or aggresses against, the person or just property of another. Only invasive actions should be declared illegal, and combated with the full power of the law. The invasion must be concrete and physical.”

    Very clearly expressed. Thank you, Dr Rothbard.

    • valueprax says:

      Ken B,

      With all due respect and sincerity, I am looking forward to the day you put forth a positive position on something and tell us what truths you hold to be self-evident. At this point, I am quite clear on what you’re against (still struggling with the why now and then), but I have no idea what reason and truth you offer in place.

      It will be a glorious day, sir!

      • Ken B says:

        1. Nature has no mind.
        2. Bach fast, Mozart slow.

      • valueprax says:

        Ken B,

        I believe this 10 second sequence from my beloved Arrested Development sums up succinctly, and with wit, what it is like for me to experience every single attempt I’ve made (and likely ever will make) to get inside your head and actually understand something about what you think and why:

        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YUKmq7UMJys

        • Bob Murphy says:

          You are awesome valueprax.

        • Ken B says:

          But valueprax I’m not trying to lay out my political philosophy. I’m responding to issues and arguments (and errors) as they arise.

          But I’m serious about point 1 above. I’m a hard line reductionist materialist atheist.

          • Ken B says:

            Anyway VP If you are curious I usually agree with Landsburg, except on law, and metaphysics, and Matt Ridley, to name the bloggers whom I agree with most often. The Rational Optimist book captures my views very well indeed.

    • Keshav Srinivasan says:

      Does Rothbard provide any justification for why “only invasive actions should be declared illegal, and combated with the full power of the law”?

      • Ken B says:

        He’s trying to distinguish that from harm I do your property, such as your VCR factory, by making better competing products etc. I’m not sure that’s really a sufficiently careful rule; you built a brand on the quality of your gummy bears and I spread rumors about them being poisoned, etc. But for the purposes of this thread I didn’t need to delve into that; even Rothbard agrees with Gene. Ca suffit.

      • Ken B says:

        I generally get the impression when I read this sort of thing that the writer is working backwards from his desired end. Rothbard’s desired end is an unfettered free market where all rights are property rights. (It does have a certain tidiness to it, like many wrong ideas do.) This particular no-invasion rule seems crafted to achieve that, and is explitly designed to avoid competitive harm like the VCR thing I cited. But I haven’t read enough Rothbard to really know.

  21. Ken B says:

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