Murder Vs. Morality

It seems like every time I get into a discussion regarding civil liberties and the inherent problems with attempting to "legislate morality," I manage to encounter someone who can distinguish no difference between justice and morality.

The statement I heard today and have heard spouted by at least 3 dozen other people to date is:

"There's nothing wrong with legislating morality. We legislate morality all the time. Murder is illegal and its immoral."

The difficulty with this particular statement is that it is technically correct. Most of the activities that are universally considered to be crimes are also universally considered to be immoral.

Theft, murder, rape, arson, fraud, etc. All of these terms conjure images of extreme immorality if not down right evil. As such its not hard for me to see the difference between activities that fall into that category and activities that are or could be criminalized that do not involve the intitiation of force or fraud.

Smoking marijuana, wearing revealing clothing, eating veal, drinking beer, getting paid to have sex, playing video games of scantily clad females beating each other up, eating meat on fridays, marrying a person the same gender as oneself, etc. Actions in this category will each evoke different thoughts and images for different people. Some will find the idea of a same sex couple disturbing and extreme. Some people will feel as if prostitution were an immoral and reprehensible act. Some people think eating meat any day is disturbing and grotesque. Meanwhile there are plenty of us that will say "pass the beer please," and "I like my cute baby animals to be well cooked."

So let's pull out our guns and have a fight. We'll call it the: "My morals are better than your morals," "My God is better than your God," "My diet is better than your diet," "My clothing is better than your clothing," And "my values are better than your values" war.

Whoever wins gets to force their morality, their beliefs, and their lifestyle on the other person. I'll call up my congressman and you can call up yours. I'll organize my neighborhood into a political action committee, and you can organize your office into a special interest group. I'll make statements and we will call for an end to the obvious evils being perpetrated in your office. You can have a rally and a march to get the public interested in ending the extreme hedonism in my neighborhood.

While we are engulfed in our little war groups who are bigger and better at fighting these kind of battles will take up our causes. They'll pass bills on our behalf. Some of these bills will be meant to appeal to the votes in my neighborhood, and a few will be designed to bring your office to the polls. They'll create committees, boards, and officials to rule over both of us. They'll attach riders to the bills and find new and improved ways to take our money, and spend it on their own projects. They'll create commisions and "authorities" with their own regulatory power who will spend night and day devising new ways to tell us how to ask permission from them for every conceivable form of business or behavior we might want to undertake. And when we are finally sick of our little war we'll be living under the thumb of people with behavior far nastier than those evils we initially set out to destroy.

The point is that when we wonder away from limiting our laws to the application of justice - that is for outlawing the initiation of force and fraud - our laws become a tool for creating injustice. There are plenty of groups and people out there ready, willing, and very adept at using said tools the moment you give them the chance.

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Why take the trouble of

Why take the trouble of agitating for laws?
Why not cut to the chase, meting out whatever sentence you deem appropriate on whatever transgressors cross your path?
:behead:
Maybe because you aren't sure that you're always right about everything, so you'd like to check your impulses against everyone else's?
(When you have the luxury, of course....)
Even this "very" "obvious" distinction between - oh, what was it again? Virtue and morality? The Good and The Perfect? Justice and revenge?
No, wait, I've got it: "Justice" and "Morality."
Yeah, even THAT distinction, surprisingly enough, might be less than clear sometimes.
And one's opinions, then, might bear a degree of filtering and feedback-loop-correction.

I'm trying to figure out

I'm trying to figure out what this post is advocating, and I can't make heads or tails of it.

- Josh

The "legislating morality"

The "legislating morality" trope is insufficient to carry a substantive argument. "Legislating externality," now: that's a far more objective question. Most people can be led to see the differences between the two. However, most will still cling to their political positions in the face of a conflict. Still, it's a start.

The problem with the "murder

The problem with the "murder is immoral; murder is illegal, therefore murder is illegal because it is immoral, therefore legislating morality is fine." argument is not that it would lead to absurd conclusions. It is not that it would destroy civilization as we know it. And it is not that it accomodates some sort of ideal minimalism. None of these is the problem with this argument.

The problem with the argument is that the third statement does not follow.

It's just an obviously invalid argument. It's not particularly rare or particularly strange. We do not forbid murder because it is immoral. If murder were universally morally praiseworthy, it would still be necessary to forbid it in order for people to peacefully coexist.

The "legislating morality" debate spins an invalid argument into a whole house of cards of absurd and unjustifiable silliness. It has to be one of the most tiresome and overdone arguments out there.
--G

The distinction needed here

The distinction needed here is the moral distinction Spooner makes between vices and crimes. Legislation is completely beside the point. Moral crimes are actionable, meaning one can justly respond to them with force, because they entail aggression against others - violations of rights. Vices are morally wrong but they do not entail aggression and thus are not norally actionable. To bring force to bear against vice is a moral crime.

Kennedy, I understand the

Kennedy,

I understand the non-aggression principle and what follows from it (although I don't see how it can be objectively justified). What I've never understood, though, is by what principle or theory can we properly explain vices? Are they just personal preferences? Social norms? What is morally wrong about them? (I understand that you believe force should not be used against them; I'm just curious what they are and how we discover them.)

"Vices are simply the errors

"Vices are simply the errors which a man makes in his search after his own happiness." - Vices Are Not Crimes

Would you say, then, that

Would you say, then, that vices are purely consequential? Since vices are errors, they were not intended or foreseen and could only be realized after the fact.

Are you saying that you believe in a form of consequentialist morality?

Spooner also writes:

Furthermore, each human being differs in his physical, mental, and emotional constitution, and also in the circumstances by which he is surrounded, from every other human being. Many acts, therefore, that are virtuous, and tend to happiness, in the case of one person, are vicious, and tend to unhappiness, in the case of another person.

Many acts, also, that are virtuous, and tend to happiness, in the case of one man, at one time, and under one set of circumstances, are vicious, and tend to unhappiness, in the case of the same man, at another time, and under other circumstances.

It seems to me that Spooner is arguing for a subjective conception of morality; that morality (of vices and virtues) differs from person to person and across time and circumstance.

Are you comfortable with this moral subjectivism? (Or would you rather call it "moral nihilism"?)

I'll turn you into a subjectivist consequentialist sooner or later, JTK. :wink:

that do not involve the

that do not involve the intitiation of force
... eating veal.
There's an argument that objections to "veal" are about justice rather than morality, that initiation of force is involved. Said the aardvark.

"Since vices are errors,

"Since vices are errors, they were not intended or foreseen and could only be realized after the fact."

No, if it could only be realized after the fact it would not be an error.

Do you believe it is possible to err and behave self-destructively?

"It seems to me that Spooner is arguing for a subjective conception of morality; that morality (of vices and virtues) differs from person to person and across time and circumstance."

He's saying it is very difficult to identify vices in others. A shot of whiskey may be harmful to you but not to me. The essence of vice is not inherent in a particular behavior itself, it's inherent in self-destruction.

If morality were subjective vice would be a null concept. That's clearly not Spooner's view.

No, if it could only be

No, if it could only be realized after the fact it would not be an error. Do you believe it is possible to err and behave self-destructively?

I think it is possible to intentionally behave self-destructively, but I'm skeptical about the possibility of intentionally and knowingly making a mistake, at least insofar as we define error in terms of pursuing happiness, as Spooner does. It seems like purposeful action is necessarily defined as intentionally pursuing some goal, whatever that goal may be, and thus it is a logical impossibility to willingly and knowingly pursue a goal one does not wish to pursue.

Do you think behaving self-destructively is a vice? Self-destructive how? By what standard of value is an act self-destructive? A subjective value? An objective value?

If morality were subjective vice would be a null concept. That’s clearly not Spooner’s view.

Maybe not, but even if we grant interpretive charity to Spooner, that doesn't establish the logical possibility of an objective vice, at least until we can properly define the term.

I'm still not clear on what it means to act self-destructively.

Do voters err when they

Do voters err when they place their faith in collective mysticism? It is not the act of pulling a lever or punching a ballot that is self-destructive, it's putting their faith in nonsense that's the problem. And they are all equipped to know better, it's a pretty simple matter.

Voters may err according to

Voters may err according to your values, but do they knowingly and intentionally err according to their own values? If they share you're belief that voting is self-destructive to their own values, why would they bother voting in the first place? It seems like a logical contradiction.

They may be intellectually equipped to know better, just as I may be intellectually equipped to understand that 5*3=15. But if I've never been exposed to basic rules of multiplication, or if I have been exposed but refused to learn them, I cannot err intentionally and knowingly on a math exam, since I do not yet know that 5*3=15.

Arbitrary Aardvark, The same

Arbitrary Aardvark,

The same argument is often made about cutting down trees, and can be made to absurdity when taken out of the context of human society.

Justice is not a meaningful term outside of the context of intelligent beings capable of aknowledging and respecting the rights of other intelligent beings.

I think it is possible to

I think it is possible to intentionally behave self-destructively, but I’m skeptical about the possibility of intentionally and knowingly making a mistake, at least insofar as we define error in terms of pursuing happiness, as Spooner does. It seems like purposeful action is necessarily defined as intentionally pursuing some goal, whatever that goal may be, and thus it is a logical impossibility to willingly and knowingly pursue a goal one does not wish to pursue.

Do you think behaving self-destructively is a vice? Self-destructive how? By what standard of value is an act self-destructive? A subjective value? An objective value?

This is exactly the Austrian argument for rationality that sometimes gets criticized as being 'tautological'. Man pursues his own subjective goals by taking action. By definition, based on his unique evaluation of the situation, he is being rational.

If men are simply pursuing

If men are simply pursuing their values rationally and there is no reason to prefer one value to another then what's the problem?

Why do you offer so many prescriptions if none of them can result in any conceivable improvement?

Jonathan, Yes, I recognize

Jonathan,

Yes, I recognize that my argument is just a restatement of the Austrian defense of rationality. I still think it is tautological; it simply follows from the definition of the terms. Saying that a statement is tautological is not necessarily a criticism of that statement; it's just a question of how far tautologies can take us.

John,

If men are simply pursuing their values rationally and there is no reason to prefer one value to another then what’s the problem?

There is no objective problem. The cosmos doesn't have values and doesn't care what humans do to each other. There is a subjective problem, since individual humans do have values and my pursuit of my own values can conflict with your pursuit of yours.

ou offer so many prescriptions if none of them can result in any conceivable improvement?

There can be no conceivable improvement from an objective standpoint, since values are subjective. There can be conceivable improvements from individual standpoints.

But if we can't err in

But if we can't err in pursuing our values there is no reason you can offer anyone why they ought to modify their values or behavior to better suit you.

We can err in pursuing our

We can err in pursuing our values from someone else's standpoint, we can (unintentionally) err in the means we choose to achieve our values, and we can realize we've made mistakes in the past, but we cannot intentionally and knowingly err while acting, else we wouldn't act. When we try to persuade other people to act differently, we are either trying to appeal to their own values and tell them that they have chosen inefficient means, or that they will regret their decision in the future. Or we could try to convince them to change the goals they are trying to achieve.

>>Do voters err when they

>>Do voters err when they place their faith in collective mysticism? It is not the act of pulling a lever or punching a ballot that is self-destructive, it’s putting their faith in nonsense that’s the problem. And they are all equipped to know better, it’s a pretty simple matter.

If the voters really don't want to be shafted, and are truly equipped to know better than to put their faith in nonsense that will shaft them, then why do they pull the lever?

My suspicion is that they AREN'T really equipped to know better. They lack the necessary rationality, access to verifiable information, intelligence, and/or discipline needed to not participate in the collective shaftage. (Short version: yes, they really are that stupid.)

>>we cannot intentionally and knowingly err while acting, else we wouldn’t act.

Yep.