Who\'s Afraid Of Ideas?

So many libertarians reacted with smug indignation about a statement clipped out its surroundings without any attempt to represent the argument with fidelity.

"Did you hear? Max Borders called for boiling foreigners alive!"
"Really? That dirty neocon rat! That welfare-warfare state apologist!"

Did anybody actually read the very sentence following the one which caused the uproar? Here it is in bold.

If boiling people alive best served the interests of the American people, then it would neither be moral or immoral. It would just be grotesque, or indecent, or harsh. But since it doesn’t have any strategic value, we don’t boil people or nuke them. A “sentimental should” means that most of us find such behavior unsavory, even barbaric--but it doesn’t match up against any grand moral standard etched into a Libertarian Rosetta Stone. To momentarily digress into pop-philosophical obscurantism, it’s intersubjectively “wrong,” not objectively wrong (i.e. politically circumscribed).

I repeat: Borders stated that boiling foreigners alive would be grotesque, indecent, and harsh. Yes, Borders said that. And he said it in the very sentence that follows the one plucked midstream from a larger argument. Two sentences down, he even describes the behavior as "unsavory, even barbaric".

Did any of the libertarians making a stink actually read the entire paragraph? Did anyone actually read the entire post? Or the posts that came before it? Borders is not calling for boiling alive any foreigners. He is making a point about morality which started a few posts back in the debate between Justin Logan and him - namely that normative statements of morality cannot be directly derived from postive observations of the natural world, and that libertarians who use objective rights as an argument against the Iraq War should examine their philosophical premises. This is, of course, not a new debate. It has been on the table since Hume and probably before that. Other than Rand and Rothbard, nearly every moral philosopher since Locke has taken the position Borders takes, including libertarians Gauthier, Narveson, and Buchanan.

Regardless, my point is not to write about the origin of morals, but rather to point out the background argument from which Borders' statement came and express my disappointment at the reaction that surrounded it. What makes the blogosphere rewarding is the free exchange of ideas. Unlike stand-alone websites and message boards, blogs engage each other. Opposing viewpoints such as those from Crooked Timber and the Volokh Conspiracy are pitted against each other in civil debate. Though I disagree with Matt Yglesias and find some of his views downright distasteful, I am not afraid of linking to him or debating with him.

Even though bad ideas fester and seethe, good ideas win out eventually over bad ideas over the long term. I think my ideas are pretty good, and I want to show the world why they are better than bad ideas. If I convince others, so much the better for me. If in the process, I am convinced by those ideas which I call "bad" to change my views, and those "bad" ideas become "good" in my mind, so much the better for me. If instead, my views on "good" and "bad" are further reinforced, so much the better for me. By taking on bad ideas, I can't lose. Bad ideas are not something to be feared; they are to be met head-on with better ideas.

Few actually read the Borders' entire post. Fewer looked at the context in which the statement was made. Even fewer traced the discussion back to the deeper ethical questions under consideration. But worst of all, rather than countering a displeasing idea with a better opposing argument, many responded with oblivious outrage and thug tactics.

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Well said, Johnathan.

Well said, Johnathan.

Can I get an "amen"?

Can I get an "amen"?

When I first noticed the

When I first noticed the quote from Borders I figured that it had to have been taken out of context. But when I actually followed the link and read more, I can't say it really says anything better about his philosophy.

I mean, couldn't someone use the same logic to say that:

If committing genocide on all the other people on the planet best served the interests of the American people, then it would neither be moral or immoral. It would just be grotesque, or indecent, or harsh. But since it doesn’t have any strategic value, we don’t commit genocide.

or how about:

If invading our neighbors, killing all their men, raping all their women, and stealing all their stuff best served the interests of the American people, then it would neither be moral or immoral. It would just be sorta passe, I mean, how 12th century can you get?

I'm not excusing Matt B's response to this, but I am kinda disturbed seeing how many libertarians actually go for crap like this. Torture, genocide, and general rape, pillage, and plunder are more than "just" grotesque, indecent or harsh, and arguing otherwise doesn't make us sound sophisticated, intelligent, or open-minded. It makes us look foolish.

I mean, imagine what the stink would've been had an Islamist guy written the same stuff?

Basically, while I agree that Max has the right to post whatever screwed up philosophy he wants on his blog, and he can even call it libertarian if he wants, I am kinda dissappointed at how many people are trying to cover for such an absolutely morally bankrupt philosophy.

~Jon

Jon, Yes, someone could use

Jon,

Yes, someone could use the same logic to say those things. So what? The fact is, under almost all conceivable circumstances, those acts do not best serve the interests of the American people.

Now, one can dispute whether we should use the interests of the American people as the metric for determining how our government should behave. Indeed, I do dispute this metric. But as I've pointed out elsewhere, this is a defensible position for a libertarian.

"'[D]istinctions between people based on geographical location are unacceptably arbitrary and ethically unjustifiable.'

But given the fact that deontological minarchist libertarians do make these sorts of unacceptably arbitrary and ethically unjustifiable distinctions, and those of us who don’t still call them family, it’s only fair to extend the same courtesy to Max."

Micha, While I agree that

Micha,

While I agree that making sure a policy agrees with the best interests of
the American people is a neccessary condition for the policy to be good,
I think that criteria is not sufficient. There are many policies that
while they may be in America's best interest are definitely immoral, and
I think any logical system that doesn't recognize the immorality of those
actions is broken or useless.

~Jon

Jon, I'm actually more

Jon,

I'm actually more extreme in my cosmopolitanism than you are - I don't think it is necessary condition for a policy to be in the best interests of the American people to be good. For example, if outsourcing made Americans slightly worse off while making poor Indians and Chinese workers much better off, it would still be a good policy. (Note that I don't think this is true with outsourcing; I think it's a net boon for Americans too, but I'm just using it as an example.)

That said, I think your argument is begging the question. Max's whole argument turns on his claim that conventional libertarian thinking about natural rights is without foundation. Criticizing Max's argument by saying that any ethical system must reach certain conclusions or else it is flawed is circular reasoning. Or to put it another way, it's not really reasoning at all - it's an appeal to intuition. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but it is not a purely logical argument, and you cannot expect those who don't share your intuitions, or those who do but don't trust appeals to their own moral intuitions, to accept your argument.

"For example, if outsourcing

"For example, if outsourcing made Americans slightly worse off while making poor Indians and Chinese workers much better off, it would still be a good policy."

Outsourcing is the right and prerogative of a businessowner, regardless of its economic effects on anyone. It is not (or at least should not be) a policy issue.

Saying it should not be a

Saying it should not be a policy issue is the same as saying that the government should not stop it, which is the same as saying that allowing outsourcing to take place is good policy while prohibiting outsourcing from taking place is bad policy.

Well... Okay then. :dizzy:

Well... Okay then. :dizzy:

Grotesque, indecent, harsh,

Grotesque, indecent, harsh, unsavoury, barbaric...

But nowhere does he say "wrong". And that's what bothers people. Boiling people is simply wrong, and we all know it, even those of us who descend into moral idiocy for the sake of economic fetish.

- Josh

-----I’m not excusing Matt

-----I’m not excusing Matt B’s response to this, but I am kinda disturbed seeing how many libertarians actually go for crap like this. Torture, genocide, and general rape, pillage, and plunder are more than “just” grotesque, indecent or harsh, and arguing otherwise doesn’t make us sound sophisticated, intelligent, or open-minded. It makes us look foolish.-----

Have you ever read anything on the website that Bargainer is at?

But since it doesn’t have

But since it doesn’t have any strategic value, we don’t boil people or nuke them.

THAT is the sentence that bothers me. Innocent people's lives should not be pawns on the Great Government Board of Strategic Value. It says Max may strongly dislike visiting cruel punishment upon people, but he certainly will if it accomplishes some important collective goal.

Charles, What if you had to

Charles,

What if you had to choose between cruelty to one person and death to 100?

Josh, But nowhere does he

Josh,

But nowhere does he say “wrong". And that’s what bothers people. Boiling people is simply wrong, and we all know it, even those of us who descend into moral idiocy for the sake of economic fetish.

The thing is, "we all" would also violate the rights of an individual in certain cases when "we all" dislike the outcome not of violating rights - lifeboat ethics. You can call it "moral idiocy" and dismiss it as "economic fetish", but as some people are fond of saying, it's reality.

Charles,

It says Max may strongly dislike visiting cruel punishment upon people, but he certainly will if it accomplishes some important collective goal.

Most people, including myself, would inflict small rights violations upon an individual if the consequences of inaction were too gruesome to bear.

Boiling people is wrong,

Boiling people is wrong, John. I don't care what the justification is, when you're boiling people, you're in the wrong.

- Josh

Boiling people is wrong,

Boiling people is wrong, John. I don’t care what the justification is, when you’re boiling people, you’re in the wrong.

Okay, but as I said above, you and I and pretty much everyone else would do it in certain circumstances. That's an unavoidable conclusion.

So, what, boiling is wrong,

So, what, boiling is wrong, and deliberately failing to prevent a much larger number of deaths isn't? This is starting to sound kind of like the War on Drugs...

Alex, if the person I had to

Alex, if the person I had to inflict cruelty upon committed some wrong that deserved that reciprocal cruelty, then I wouldn't have a problem with it. Otherwise, I'd choose the third option you didn't mention: do nothing.

Mr. Wilde, I'm not entirely privy to all your political beliefs, but falling back on "most people would do it" won't hold water with me. You and I are FAR from most people in many crucial aspects. It's also somewhat insulting to simply assume what Josh and I would do. It is not "unavoidable" by any means and the reality that large majorities of people would choose to grievously injure (if not outright MURDER) someone who has not wronged them or another is something I hold in equal contempt with the legions who think voting is a means to get goods and services from taxpayers.

Alex, you make it sound like I have a positive obligation to save lives. Is that the case? To what to I owe them?

Charles, Mr. Wilde, I’m

Charles,

Mr. Wilde, I’m not entirely privy to all your political beliefs, but falling back on “most people would do it” won’t hold water with me.

My arguments about ethics are separate from my views on ethics. You're right, I shouldn't assume what you and Josh would do. I'm not using what most people would do as a justification for what is right; I simply know that when I've pressed deontologists who have a specific view of right and wrong hard enough in the past, they ultimately accede that they would indeed violate the rights of an individual, i.e., what they believe is wrong, if the consequences of not doing so were sufficiently largely displeasing.

It's easy to argue against me when the hypotheticals involve simple cases like petty theft, assault, murder, etc. The argument usually breaks down on lifeboat-type situations, though usually it doesn't even get that far. This is especially true if the rights violations are small, but small and large do not apply to principles. (At least that's what deontologists tell me.)

Alex, if the person I had to

Alex, if the person I had to inflict cruelty upon committed some wrong that deserved that reciprocal cruelty, then I wouldn’t have a problem with it. Otherwise, I’d choose the third option you didn’t mention: do nothing... you make it sound like I have a positive obligation to save lives. Is that the case?



Not at all. In fact, the first portion of your reply puts you completely in agreement with Max Borders: that sometimes, it's necessary to do nasty things in the service of something important - you've just phrased things a bit differently. I very much doubt MB is suggesting that torture be casually used for things like tariff disputes - bringing torture to bear has such strong built-in downsides, any reasonably thorough maker of policy would only use it in extreme situations, such as those involving "reciprocal cruelty"(?). JW's got it right: just because someone isn't a moral deontologist doesn't mean they're a heedless, bloodthirsty monster.

[...] bertarian movement

[...] bertarian movement and/or the schools, I'll emphasize that my main concern here is for the various libertarian webloggers that get all up-in-arms over [...]

Jonathan, "Most people,

Jonathan,

"Most people, including myself, would inflict small rights violations upon an individual if the consequences of inaction were too gruesome to bear."

What rights?

How could you consider yourself to ever be violating anyone's rights when your position is flatly incompatible with the recognition of rights in the first place?

You've been caught in this contradiction for some time, arguing that people ought to behave a certain way while at the same time arguing that there are no objective oughts. Well if there are no objective oughts then you are obviously wrong that people ought to behave a certain way. If there is no right and wrong then all your preaching and criticism is implicitly absurd.

The subject of a sentence

The subject of a sentence ought to agree with its predicate. Is this an objective ought? If most people decided that the subject of a sentence no longer needs to agree with its predicate, would these people be committing some cosmic no-no?

"The subject of a sentence

"The subject of a sentence ought to agree with its predicate."

Why ought it do so?

And why do you routinely argue that people ought to prefer your positions and arguments while simultaneously arguing that there can't be any valid basis upon which to do so?

"“The subject of a

"“The subject of a sentence ought to agree with its predicate.”

(The first line of my previous response was supposed to read:)

Why ought it do so?

Why ought it do so? Because

Why ought it do so?

Because that's what people agreed upon, based on the observation that adherence to uniform rules of grammar facilitates communication.

And why do you routinely argue that people ought to prefer your positions and arguments while simultaneously arguing that there can’t be any valid basis upon which to do so?

For the same reason I routinely argue that people ought to adhere to the rules of grammar. Without uniform rules of grammar, bad things happen (inability to communicate). Without uniform rules of society, bad things happen (inability to maintain social order, pursue happiness, prosperity, etc.).

Why ought people prefer any

Why ought people prefer any given outcome to another?

That's a silly question,

That's a silly question, John: either a person prefers a given outcome as a means to another end or as an end in itself. Ends in themselves need not and cannot by explained with reference to other ends, else they are not ends in themselves.

John: Why ought [the

John: Why ought [the subject of a sentence agree with its predicate]?

Micha: Because that’s what people agreed upon, based on the observation that adherence to uniform rules of grammar facilitates communication.

What about logic? If you show that subjects disagreeing with predicates in sentences leads to logical contradictions, that would seem to make a strong argument for why it shouldn't be done. Ought we ever do anything illogical?

Admittedly, I don't always understand women.

It's a perfectly reasonable

It's a perfectly reasonable question Micha, since you're always telling people what they ought to do, baselessly, by your own theory. When pressed you have to concede there you have no reason to offer why people ought to do what you say they ought to do.

By your theory there is no reason why you, Jonathan, or Borders shouldn't approve of boiling people alive if it results in any benefit to you. Sentimental whim is all that stays your hand from boiling someone alive when you can get away with it, assuming you really believe what you profess.

It's a silly question

It's a silly question because you already know the answer; we've been through this a million times. Since I know you're not an idiot, I must conclude that you are baiting me, even though you already know what my response will be.

I never tell people what they ought to do by my theory. I tell them what they ought to do by their theory. You already know this, of course.

When pressed, you have been consistently unable to give a good reason why people should not do as they please if they can get away with it. Instead, you appeal to some Randian nonsense about a "hierarchy of values," which is no more convincing than when theists appeal to God and Satan.

I never tell people what

I never tell people what they ought to do by my theory. I tell them what they ought to do by their theory. You already know this, of course.

That's not true. In your entry on this you write:

"It’s way out of line to complain to people’s employers for what their employees say informally on their personal blogs."

You're clearly telling people how they ought to behave. How is it telling them how they ought to behave by their own moral theory? I could make sense of this as a appeal to objective morality, or I could make some sense of it as a statement of your own personal preferences. I don't see how any sense at all can be made of it as an appeal to all the various individual moral theories held by potential members of your general audience.

My criticism of Barganier

My criticism of Barganier wasn't a moral criticism. I was claiming that what he did was bad form. (Granted, I don't make a sharp distinction between the two, but I recognize that other people do.)

Notice that Barganier tried to excuse his actions by claiming that he would be perfectly fine with people contacting his employer and complaining about what he wrote on the anti-war blog. This shows that he is trying to avoid the golden rule criticism. Of course, the cases are not analogous since anti-war.com is not his personal blog, but actually part of his job. Further, part of what Barganier did wrong was take a single statement out of context, without first explaining how that statement fit into the larger argument.

I think most reasonable recognize that taking someone else's words of context and quoting what someone said on their personal blog as a way of getting them fired or reprimanded at work is bad form. I am not appealing to any objective notion of right and wrong, nor am I merely sharing my own personal prefence.

In fact, the first portion

In fact, the first portion of your reply puts you completely in agreement with Max Borders: that sometimes, it’s necessary to do nasty things in the service of something important - you’ve just phrased things a bit differently.

I disagree. Mr. Borders did not differentiate between innocents and criminals in his statement and though I haven't followed the discussion closely, I get the sense that few others who agree with him have either. MY statement is on an entirely different side: I'm only for the inflictment of punishment on those who deserve it. Meaning, those who have done a wrong and justice ought to be brought against them. This is in opposition to the much more vague sense of "strategic value" to a nation, a grotesque premise. This can be viewed as doing something nasty to accomplish something important, but that's only from the aspect of a general distaste of mine (shared by most people) who don't like or want to hurt anyone. I have to be motivated by some deed to rise to that occasion, deeds which call for a just response. This way of looking at it cuts out the collectivism in having a government decide these things for us.

Mr. Wilde, given that I've never been in a true "life boat emergency" or anything like it, I also cannot say with complete conviction that I wouldn't act against the principles I've mentioned. I can only promise that I would act out of my greater interest to protect that which I value, and that value set includes not bring force against those who do not deserve it.

How could you consider

How could you consider yourself to ever be violating anyone’s rights when your position is flatly incompatible with the recognition of rights in the first place?

Replace "violate his rights" with "violate his consent" if you prefer.

You’ve been caught in this contradiction for some time, arguing that people ought to behave a certain way while at the same time arguing that there are no objective oughts. Well if there are no objective oughts then you are obviously wrong that people ought to behave a certain way. If there is no right and wrong then all your preaching and criticism is implicitly absurd.

Not at all. I am simply stating what I would do in certain situations, and that includes violating the consent of innocent third parties in order to prevent certain consequences that I do not wish to come about.

It is your argument above that is absurd. Prefering one outcome over another does not bridge is-ought.

Charles, Please, call me

Charles,

Please, call me Jonathan.

This is in opposition to the much more vague sense of “strategic value” to a nation, a grotesque premise. This can be viewed as doing something nasty to accomplish something important, but that’s only from the aspect of a general distaste of mine (shared by most people) who don’t like or want to hurt anyone. I have to be motivated by some deed to rise to that occasion, deeds which call for a just response. This way of looking at it cuts out the collectivism in having a government decide these things for us.

As a reminder, keep in mind that my argument is about morality, not politics. Just because I prefer one ethical outcome over another in certain situations does not imply that I wish government to make the same choices.

Mr. Wilde, given that I’ve never been in a true “life boat emergency” or anything like it, I also cannot say with complete conviction that I wouldn’t act against the principles I’ve mentioned. I can only promise that I would act out of my greater interest to protect that which I value, and that value set includes not bring force against those who do not deserve it.

And I would similarly, in certain situations, choose to protect that which I value - prevention of tragedies - even if it means using force against those who are innocent. It would be a painful decision to make, but life does not show a always clear-cut path.

Charles, What if you're

Charles,

What if you're faced with a situation where your only choices are a) to take an action that will immediately, almost certainly cause the death of a few dozen innocents, or b) not take the action, which will just as certainly lead to the deaths of thousands of innocents a little later? What about these situations where there is no "harm no innocents" choice?

Just because I prefer one

Just because I prefer one ethical outcome over another in certain situations does not imply that I wish government to make the same choices.

Understood.

What if you’re faced with a situation where your only choices are a) to take an action that will immediately, almost certainly cause the death of a few dozen innocents, or b) not take the action, which will just as certainly lead to the deaths of thousands of innocents a little later? What about these situations where there is no “harm no innocents” choice?

Let's concretize this right now: I will assume the action I would have to take against the dozens will be emptying three full 12-round 9mm magazines in my Browning Hi-Power, one shot at a time, directly into the foreheads of these innocent people. If I do not do this, terrorists have stated they will detonate explosives at the base of a building somewhere in the world, eviscerating a foundation that contains 5,000 people. I will assume the terrorists are going to be good to their word and follow through on their promises.

Here's what I say.

I am not responsible for outcomes I do not engineer. Therefore, any guilt I'd feel over knowing I might have prevented the deaths of 4,964 would be far outweighed by the guilt I'd feel for actually killing 36. I value human life, but I will not take human life in order to preserve it. I would say the very same thing to the face of any mother, son, uncle, friend, or acquaintance of the murdered 5,000 whether they called me a monster or not.

This shouldn't be confused with legitimate self-defense, by the way. In order to protect innocent life from criminals, I consider lethal force an option. The two scenarios are different, however. In yours, the 36 I'd be killing are, as you explicitly state, "innocent" and therefore deserve no such force. In mine, the 36 would be aggressors and I'd be protecting the 4,964 from them.

Again I ask: Do I have a positive obligation to save lives and if I do, how do you arrive at that conclusion?

Charles, This concretization

Charles,

This concretization invalidates the whole discussion by 1) making it personally about you and your actions and preferences, and 2) obscuring the issue with an appeal to emotion (specifically, horror/revulsion). Let's go back to what Mr. Borders actually said:

If boiling people alive best served the interests of the American people, then it would neither be moral or immoral. It would just be grotesque, or indecent, or harsh. But since it doesn’t have any strategic value, we don’t boil people or nuke them. A “sentimental should” means that most of us find such behavior unsavory, even barbaric–but it doesn’t match up against any grand moral standard etched into a Libertarian Rosetta Stone. To momentarily digress into pop-philosophical obscurantism, it’s intersubjectively “wrong,” not objectively wrong (i.e. politically circumscribed).

Your last example is irrelevant and distracting - we're talking about policy decisions, not action-movie scenarios. Hell, let's face it - we're actually talking about the Iraq war here, or any other war which involves sending representatives of one's country over to another country and shooting up the place, or any other situation that can only be salvaged by getting one's hands dirty. Is taking - no, is ordering an action (so that we don't get bogged down in personal squeamishness) that will directly cause a scattering of innocent deaths but prevent many times as many that would otherwise have been inevitable immoral or unethical? What carries more weight, the overall consequences of one's actions or the proximity of unpleasant individual actions to oneself? Does any impropriety of means outweigh and invalidate any merit of ends, no matter how much larger the latter may be?

Bonus question: anyone notice any incongruity between the Antiwar guy's assessment of Borders' position and his actions in response to it?

Charles, That is a pretty

Charles,

That is a pretty good example of a moral dilemma.

I am not responsible for outcomes I do not engineer. Therefore, any guilt I’d feel over knowing I might have prevented the deaths of 4,964 would be far outweighed by the guilt I’d feel for actually killing 36. I value human life, but I will not take human life in order to preserve it. I would say the very same thing to the face of any mother, son, uncle, friend, or acquaintance of the murdered 5,000 whether they called me a monster or not.

Whether you "engineered" the scenario or not, your choices would play a critical role in the final outcome. It is in your power to either make a choice such that 4,964 people die or such that 36 people die. I would hope you would save 4,964. I know I would. I could not live with the guilt I'd feel for letting 4,964 people die through the choices I made. I would say the very same thing to the face of any mother, son, uncle, friend, or acquaintance of the murdered 36 whether they called me a monster or not.

Again I ask: Do I have a positive obligation to save lives and if I do, how do you arrive at that conclusion?

I don't think I ever implied that you had a positive obligation to save lives, just that sometimes I would violate an innocent person's consent given the likelihood of sufficiently displeasing outcomes by my own subjective standards.

Let me change the scenario a little bit. Suppose that instead of killing 36 innocents, you simply had to steal a magnet from one of them that could scramble the device that detonates a bomb. However, this bomb is a hydrogen bomb placed in the heart of Manhattan, and if goes off, millions would die. This time, there is no need to kill any innocents; just need to steal an innocent person's magnet to save millions. Would you do it?

Alex, Charles is example is

Alex,

Charles is example is perfectly valid - the original debate between Borders and Logan started out as a debate about objective morality. Similarly, the debate between me, Micha, JTK, and Charles has been about objective morality. Charles states that he would prefer the outcome of 4964 people dead over having to murder 36 innocents to save them. He chooses his moral principles over outcomes. I would make the opposite choice.

Jonathan, "Not at all. I am

Jonathan,

"Not at all. I am simply stating what I would do in certain situations, and that includes violating the consent of innocent third parties in order to prevent certain consequences that I do not wish to come about."

Read the last paragraph of your own post:

"Few actually read the Borders’ entire post. Fewer looked at the context in which the statement was made. Even fewer traced the discussion back to the deeper ethical questions under consideration. But worst of all, rather than countering a displeasing idea with a better opposing argument, many responded with oblivious outrage and thug tactics."

That's not preaching about how others ought to behave?

"My criticism of Barganier

"My criticism of Barganier wasn’t a moral criticism. I was claiming that what he did was bad form. "

Ought one do things which are in bad form?

Whenever you point out that Micha is preaching oughts he attempts to retreat to oughts which are not really oughts.

Micha and Jonathan aren't fooling anyone paying attention, they both think and preach that Barganier did wrong while at the same time arguing that there is no way he could have possibly done wrong. In their guts they reject their moral nihilism and hold that there really is a right and wrong.

Jonatahan, " Prefering one

Jonatahan,

" Prefering one outcome over another does not bridge is-ought."

Would you say that is something a reasonable person ought to recognize and acknowledge?

Because if you don't think that a reasonable person in posession of the same facts as you ought to come to the same conclusion as you, then I can't imagine what you hope to accomplish by rational argument.

Isn't "One ought to reason correctly" an objective ought implicit in any rational argument you might care to offer?

JTK, That’s not preaching

JTK,

That’s not preaching about how others ought to behave?

I never claimed that I don't tell others how they ought to act. That was Micha.

Micha and Jonathan aren’t fooling anyone paying attention, they both think and preach that Barganier did wrong while at the same time arguing that there is no way he could have possibly done wrong. In their guts they reject their moral nihilism and hold that there really is a right and wrong.

I don't know where you are getting this "moral nihilism" stuff. That has nothing to do with my argument.

Would you say that is something a reasonable person ought to recognize and acknowledge?

Because if you don’t think that a reasonable person in posession of the same facts as you ought to come to the same conclusion as you, then I can’t imagine what you hope to accomplish by rational argument.

Yes, many reasonable people should recognize and acknowledge this argument, and many reasonable people do.

Johnathan, Charles's example

Johnathan,

Charles's example neatly obscures the moral dimension of this debate - is he refusing to personally blow people away because it's immoral, or because he doesn't like getting brains on his shirt? The way Charles frames his description, that is not at all clear. I think it would be a great deal more instructive and apropos to restate the equation without the distraction of one choice involving a physically unpleasant task - most real-world life-or-death dliemmas do not involve personally shooting innocents. (Charles's example is actually closer to the movie "Saw" than to any dilemma one is likely to see in making foreign policy, which is the context of the original debate.)

Also, I somehow previously missed Charles's statement that he is "not responsible for outcomes that [he doesn't] engineer." Are you suggesting, Charles, that even if you know an action of yours is going to screw someone over and there are reasonable alternative courses of action available, you'll proceed with the over-screwing and just say, "hey, it's not my fault, this situation is not of my creation"? If so, we're getting into Ayn Rand territory here... :dizzy:

Alex, if we aren't talking

Alex, if we aren't talking about the problems facing individuals in these hypothetical scenarios, then what the hell is the point? I took your framework and added the necessary blood to make it real. I see no problem with doing that in order to illustrate the very same kind of moral blackmail that has been hinted at by those who disagree with me. Meaning, if part of your disagreement with my position is based on the horror of knowing I could have done something to prevent the murders of "thousands of people," then what's the problem with me quite explicitly demonstrating my horror at being an active accomplice in the murders of "dozens of people"?

I mean, shit, here are your own words with my emphasis:

What if you’re faced with a situation where your only choices are a) to take an action that will immediately, almost certainly cause the death of a few dozen innocents, or b) not take the action, which will just as certainly lead to the deaths of thousands of innocents a little later?

Sure, the "you" could be the standard third person pronoun, but the question begs to be answered from a personal standpoint of someone with the power to do something. Only individuals can act, so only individual answers are relevant to me. In my opinion, ordering people to kill when they are under contractual obligation (with threat of punishment) to follow orders makes you as nearly responsible for the killing as the people pulling the trigger. So let's just dispense with the bullshit and be honest. Would you directly kill a few dozen people in order to save a few thousand? It seems you are concerned with outcomes and the murder of dozens as opposed to the murder of thousands is what the outcome would be, wouldn't it?

You had one thing right: the means by which we kill are irrelevant. I picked headshots because it was the first thing that came to me.

I don't think you've paid any attention to my core argument regarding just uses of force in retaliation. If you had, you'd understand that I'd answer your follow-up question about sending troops to war the same way I've answered the other question you posed. Please re-read what I've written because I don't want to keep repeating myself.

Jonathan, I've been aiming that question about positive obligations to Alex. I remain interested in reading his answer.

I will not engage in murder to prevent murder, regardless of the scales involved. Murder cannot be undone or repaired or renumerated. Theft can be, in a variety of forms. As such, I would be willing to steal private property in order to save the threatened. Would I be willing to scale that from a one ounce magnet to a Leer jet or one-of-a-kind jewel? Probably, depending on the circumstances. I wouldn't shirk my liability after the fact, either. If the owner wanted justice, I'd submit.

Alex, how can I be responsible for something I did not do? Taking a positive action creates consequences for which I am responsible. Therefore, I am likely to consider the reasonable outcomes of my actions before taking them. But those outcomes will not override guiding principles.

Charles, Why does the

Charles,

Why does the situation in question need blood, or anything else, to "make it real"? That's what I'm saying - your "making it real" is a cop-out because you introduce doubt as to whether it's the blood or the morality that bothers you. If having to deal with blood is what makes something immoral, then the medical profession is a den of iniquity and nobody should ever have to be a surgeon or dentist. Or are you saying that you can only deal in specific, concrete, unique, individual cases, and that general rules are totally beyond your ken?

Sure, the “you” could be the standard third person pronoun, but the question begs to be answered from a personal standpoint of someone with the power to do something. Only individuals can act, so only individual answers are relevant to me.

Yikes. So you're saying, in essence, that the only possible frame of reference is your, Charles's, personal thoughts and emotions? Let me assure you that that could not possibly be LESS relevant to the discussion - we are talking about moral rules here, and how they apply to actions between people, which inherently requires a non-solipsistic frame of reference. Of COURSE the "you" was generic third-person - not to put too fine a point on it, why would I give a damn about your personal feelings and boundaries in a discussion of what is moral - for me, for you, for Max Borders, for America, for anyone? You are not the world, pal. :smitten:

So let’s just dispense with the bullshit and be honest. Would you directly kill a few dozen people in order to save a few thousand?

So let's just dispense with the bullshit - you don't like the debate the rest of us are having, so you're trying to substitute a different one that's more to your liking.

I don’t think you’ve paid any attention to my core argument regarding just uses of force in retaliation. If you had, you’d understand that I’d answer your follow-up question about sending troops to war the same way I’ve answered the other question you posed. Please re-read what I’ve written because I don’t want to keep repeating myself.

You haven't addressed the core issue at all. You've hidden behind one smoke screen after another: you don't like harming innocents, you don't like headshots, you don't like boiling people. None of those are the issue. The issue as I see it is:

Is there any possible set of circumstances under which it is moral to cause harm or allow harm to come to INNOCENTS in order to achieve a desired result?

No "making it real", no interposing superfluous premises, no dramatic cris du coeur. YES or NO.

Note: don't try to weasel out by interpreting "desired result" narrowly. Imagine it's the most righteous, desirable result in the world - is there ANY result that could ever merit this course of action? Also, don't try to dodge "innocents" by invoking original sin.

Alex, how can I be

Alex, how can I be responsible for something I did not do? Taking a positive action creates consequences for which I am responsible. Therefore, I am likely to consider the reasonable outcomes of my actions before taking them. But those outcomes will not override guiding principles.

Ok, now see, this is different from not being "responsible for outcomes that [you] did not engineer." The latter means, like I said, that you consider any unintended consequences of an action or inaction to be Not Your Problem, no matter how foreseeable and avoidable they are, as long as you didn't set up the situation to have those consequences. That would be disavowing negative obligations as well as positive ones. But that's not what you meant to say, evidently. Ok then.