Ought Implies Can - The Best Argument For The State

Paul Gowder makes what is one of the strongest arguments against anarchy and for the state in response to Crispin Sartwell's anarchist challenge. Summarizing his own longer and detailed argument, Paul puts it like this:

I’d submit that the impossibility of anarchy, which you accept (assert) is good reason to say the state is legitimate, on the “ought implies can” principle.

Which just takes us back to Will Wilkinson's original deontological/consequentialist distinction.

The problem here, I think, is that deontology is simply blind to possibility arguments. If you as a deontologist maintain that aggressive coercion is always wrong, than it matters not to you if it just so happens to be the case that a society in which there is no legitimized-by-the-state aggressive coercion simply cannot exist. The fact remains that aggressive coercion is wrong, even if removing it entirely remains impossible.

Paul (and Will) are asking deontologists to accept this impossibility (and some do, at least for the sake of argument), and then make the second step to choosing between preferred possible worlds. But deontologists who are true deontologists, deep within their bones, will refuse to take this second step.

So when Paul writes,

Moreover, don't be deceived by the fact that I speak of states of affairs -- this isn't a premise that is only limited to teological normative standards. A deontologist could say that the best possible state of affairs by that normative standard is one where nobody has violated side constraints, etc.

He is simpy asking too much of deontologists. They will indeed be "deceived" by this sort of talk, because deontology is sufficiently divorced from possibility claims of likely results; it is simply a guide to just action.

And Paul's argument is even weaker than mere possibility. In the comment thread to the post, Paul seems to concede that he is not necessarily talking about mere possibility:

It seems like "ought implies can" ought to demand more than just metaphysical possibility, though. For example, it's not metaphysically impossible for us to establish a mars colony by 2010, but presumably we'd reject any normative argument that led us there on grounds of practical impossibility.

But this is exactly what a strict deontologist would reject. If the deotological argument leads us to the conclusion that we are morally obligated to establish a mars colony by 2010, then we are morally obligated to establish a mars colony by 2010, even if this is practically impossible, and perhaps even if it is logically impossible. The deontologist might simply respond that there is no practical or logical guarantee that justice is always possible.

Of course, by conceding this, the deontologist makes the case for deontology much weaker. If deontology is so far divorced from "facts on the ground", then it seems not very useful for determining the right course of action - if no courses of action are permitted. And what good is it as a normative ethic then?

Incidentally, Kitt Wellman gives a nearly identical argument in his book, with A. John Simmons, Is There a Duty to Obey the Law?

This is why I think libertarians should focus on consequentialist concerns, at least to some extent. Unless someone is already a gung-ho deontologist (and very few people are, when it comes down to it), a focus solely on legitimacy concerns while ignoring possibility is not going to convince.

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Best argument for rape

I’d submit that the impossibility of anarchy, which you accept (assert) is good reason to say the state is legitimate, on the “ought implies can” principle.

Well, no. This confuses the "ought implies can" principle. Let us spell this principle out clearly:

If I am unable to do X, then it is not the case that I ought to do X.

Okay? Now, let's apply this carefully. What is asserted above is that anarchy is "impossible". But anarchy is not something that a person does. Rather, what the above is saying is:

It is inevitable that somebody will form a state, thus ending (or even preventing) anarchy.

But notice that this has exactly the same form as:

It is inevitable that somebody will rape someone.

That happens to be, in all likelihood, true. It's a big world, and it is unlikely that rape will entirely disappear from the world. But it does not follow from the "ought implies can" principle that the rape that occurs is legitimate. Let us see how this principle really applies to rape:

If I am unable to avoid raping someone, then it is not the case that I ought not rape someone.

Notice what the inability refers to. It refers to the inability of the rapist to avoid raping. It does not refer to the inevitability that someone somewhere will rape someone. These are two very different things:

a) It is inevitable that rapes will keep on occurring.

b) An individual rapist is unable to prevent himself from raping.

(a) is (probably) true but neither requires, nor implies, (b). Rather, each individual rapist is perfectly capable of avoiding rape, but inevitably, in our world, some will choose to rape despite their ability to avoid raping. Since individual people are in fact perfectly capable of avoiding rape, then rape is illegitimate even though it is inevitable that some rape will occur.

If you as a deontologist maintain that aggressive coercion is always wrong, than it matters not to you if it just so happens to be the case that a society in which there is no legitimized-by-the-state aggressive coercion simply cannot exist. The fact remains that aggressive coercion is wrong, even if removing it entirely remains impossible.

Sounds pretty reasonable. To continue the analogy, we are probably not going to catch all the rapists let alone deter all rapists, so there will always be some level of rape, removing it entirely remains impossible. But rape is still wrong.

If the deotological argument leads us to the conclusion that we are morally obligated to establish a mars colony by 2010, then we are morally obligated to establish a mars colony by 2010, even if this is practically impossible, and perhaps even if it is logically impossible.

I'll attempt to connect this quote with what had been said before. What had been said before was that anarchy is impossible, so what this quote (which talks about impossibility) seems to be talking about is a purported obligation to bring about anarchy. But as far as I know there is no purported obligation to bring about anarchy (i.e., no anarchist purports that any individual person - that is, any moral agent - is personally responsible for bringing about anarchy - and since moral obligation inheres in individuals, that's where the matter ends).

There is, rather, an obligation that each person has to avoid aggressing against others, an obligation which, were everyone to fulfill it, would bring about anarchy. Each person is, surely, perfectly capable of avoiding aggressing against others (just as each person is perfectly capable of avoiding committing rape). So it is practically possible for each person to refrain from doing wrong. This is distinct from the impossibility of eliminating all wrongdoing. Any ordinary person can refrain from wrongdoing, but not even Superman can eliminate all wrongdoing.

Constant, The problem with

Constant,

The problem with your rape analogy (apart from being overused here on DR, methinks) is that it lacks the game-theoretic violence that other forms of coercion exhibit. The primary arguments laid forth in favor of the state tend to involve either the need for state provision of military defense or police power. The idea being that the lack of such creates a vacuum which will inevitably be filled by something even worse than a state, so we had best fill the vacuum with the least-bad solution, even if the least-bad solution isn't justified (apart from being justified by the above argument).

Of course, a deontologist isn't going to accept this line of reasoning because it is itself a form of consequentialist logic inherently at odds with deontological reasoning.

There is, rather, an obligation that each person has to avoid aggressing against others, an obligation which, were everyone to fulfill it, would bring about anarchy. Each person is, surely, perfectly capable of avoiding aggressing against others (just as each person is perfectly capable of avoiding committing rape). So it is practically possible for each person to refrain from doing wrong. This is distinct from the impossibility of eliminating all wrongdoing. Any ordinary person can refrain from wrongdoing, but not even Superman can eliminate all wrongdoing.

I agree, and this is a point I wish I had made clearer. Deontologists and consequentialists often speak in mutually incompatible moral languages. The deontologist cannot see the forest for the trees. The consequentialist cannot see the trees for the forest.

Daphne's Anarchist made a really helpful analogy here:

[T]he state is analogous to a loaded gun in someone’s hand. The anarchist is asking the one holding it, and in every direction pointing it at someone, to calmly place it on the ground.

The anarchist is also, with the same arguments, trying to persuade everyone else not in possession of the gun to not pick it back up once relinquished.

From this point of view I don’t understand the statement; “Even though you defeated every argument presented for someone getting to have the gun, I still get to have the gun.”

Why don’t we put the gun down first, then argue the merits of the gun.

Consequentialists just don't reason this way.

Not really analogy

A pure argument from analogy is never decisive - you can always claim that there is some important dis-analogy. So when people mistake an argument for a pure argument from analogy, they seem to feel more comfortable setting it aside. But in this case, the rape analogy is simply a re-application of the general point to another specific case, demonstrating a general point with an example. Specifically, I pointed out that there is a distinction between the inevitability that somebody somewhere will do something, and the inability of an individual person to avoid doing it, and that it is to the latter that "ought implies can" applies. This is a general point that applies both to imposing a state and to raping. The rape analogy merely illustrates the general point, which stands whether or not you ignore the rape analogy for not having the proper game theoretic qualities or whatever.

A deontologist might in fact accept "ought implies can" without thereby accepting that the inevitability of the state legitimizes the state, for the reason that "ought implies can" doesn't imply it.

A deontologist might in fact

A deontologist might in fact accept "ought implies can" without thereby accepting that the inevitability of the state legitimizes the state, for the reason that "ought implies can" doesn't imply it.

Oh, I completely agree. Because to the deotologist, whose focus is individual action and nothing else, "ought implies can" simply refers to what an individual person should do and can do. Whereas a consequentialist's focus is generally not on individual action but on bringing about states of affairs, and to whom "ought implies can" refers to states of affairs we should bring about and states of affairs we can bring about. Those two separate meanings of "ought implies can" are unlikely to always line up the same.

You are perfectly right. The

You are perfectly right. The argument is collectivist in nature but ought is individualistic, and every individual can refrain from forming a state.

Keeping up with DR, Seasteading,Space Probes or Brain Vats

Keeping up with DR posts makes me dizzy. To summarize what has been accomplished in the last few days I will tell a story. Forward 25 years. Patri has just launched the Global Explorer his first fully working Sea Stead. Enthusiastic libertarians have signed on including
all the members of DR.

The Global Explorer is a massive carbon fiber composite construction powered by lashing together thousands of 25 foot fishing boats each equipped with a sleep center, porta potty, laptop and mini-library with the complete works of Hayek, Rand, von Mises, and Kant. It is powered by hydrogen ion fueled outboard motors on each boat. There is a central common infrastructure.

This is in keeping with modular composition so that each person may leave they desire. Strict anarchist deontology is observed, meaning non- aggression, or does it? Constant's module is located a hundred yards from the perimeter. Steve Jobs comes by and says he is asking for a contribution to establish a school to teach kids how to fish because food is running short.

“Go to hell!” says, Constant, “I don't have kids and won't contribute.”

Jobs “Well everyone else is contributing. If the kids learn how to fish we will all eat better.”

Constant “Well it wasn't in the contract I signed so I won't do it.”

Jobs “You are being a free rider. The rest of us formed a committee and voted to start a school. Everyone has to contribute.”

Constant “That’s immoral. That is a government. Democratic rule is wrong. You are violating the nonaggression principle. Besides you raped my wife.”

Jobs “I did not. She was asking for it. Also, a man's got to do what a man's got to do. Besides, the Global Explorer is like a condominium. We have a homeowner's association, not a government.”

Constant. “We need to adjudicate this. Let's form a court, and hire a police force.”

Jobs “We already have this. The other homeowners have already appointed me Chief of Sea Stead Security. My officers have guns in order to repel pirates. Micha is our paid judge who has already been hired by the homeowner's association to adjudicate all cases. You can start your own private police force and hire your own judge too.”

Constant “I can't afford it. I don't have as much money as you do. This is worse than being on land. I'm taking my module and leaving.”

Jobs “That’s fine. But this is a partnership so all partners share expenses. There will be a disconnect fee of ten thousand dollars we just voted in and, and you will still owe a monthly fee for infrastructure and worker’s retirement plan. Those lawsuits we are paying off where we hit a drilling rig and caused a major oil spill, ran over a fishing boat, and desecrated a Hawaiian burial ground are still part your responsibility.”
“Oh and we are a thousand miles from the nearest port. They won't allow us within two hundreds miles of any other country’s territorial waters. Also the Us Navy is pursuing us because they say drug kingpins, child pornographers and a Nazi Doctor are on board, though we didn't know it. The Chinese and Iranian Navies are after us because we are harboring dissidents. We will send you the bill.”

Constant “When I get to shore I am getting on that new space probe that’s being sent to Mars. I just hope they don’t have trouble with those Klingons like they had with the last one. Or maybe I should just put my brain in a vat.”

Constant.—not picking on you, just having a little fun.
Dave

No way

Keeping up with DR posts makes me dizzy.

No way. This site is slow as molasses. It's been an hour and nothing has been added. Sometimes a whole day goes by with nothing posted, forcing me to check the obituaries for any familiar names.

There's an easy way to fix that

It's been an hour and nothing has been added. Sometimes a whole day goes by with nothing posted...

There's an easy way to fix that

I guess. But don't you think

I guess. But don't you think our readers would catch on to the Lorem Ipsum posts pretty quickly?

They haven't caught on so far

Hm... Wait a second. Is Scott actually a real person?

RUN: Automated Response 318Q-H

Technically, I'm a corporation.

Sort of

Scott's actually a small team of Chinese ghostbloggers. You may have noticed that his posting frequency has declined over the last couple of years--with the dollar as weak as it is these days, we've had to lay off a few of them.

Those in Glass Houses

Ok, so maybe we are but--while we're revealing embarrassing secrets--at least we're not a lesser known Baldwin brother, like Brandon.

You know, I'm all for

You know, I'm all for seasteading skepticism, primarily because I wish I'd thought of the idea first, and I'm all for comedic criticism, but I do wish that the skeptics would develop some fresher satire.

Seasteading, No Laughing Matter

OK, drop the satire.
1.) In my opinion Seasteading will encounter technical problems that will render it unfeasible and incredibly expensive. Any boat owner will tell you.

2.) Seasteading based on libertarian/anarchist principles will run into political problems bases on present laws of the sea as well as new unanticipated legal problems having to do with its statelessness.

3.) Seasteading will face free rider problems.

4.) Seasteading will not be anarchistic, as it will develop its own laws, customs,hierarchies, cliques, interpersonal squabbles and other social problems inherent in humans. Its inhabitants being unable to appeal to higher authority ,it runs a good chance of becoming a tyranny at least for some people.

5.) Getting out of the deal won’t be easy.

6.) I don’t see where anyone has really addressed these issues well.
Dave

Pirate society?

I haven't read it, but I heard indirectly about an article that came out which seemed to claim roughly that pirates formed a fairly libertarian society among themselves. Pirates were to some fairly large extent sea-based, so their solutions might be relevant to seasteading.

Various types of pirates

Yes, I think some American based pirates did do this. I don’t know how permanent these groups were. Cooperative ventures between groups of adventurers are not unprecedented. The Barbary pirates operated on different principles, capturing slaves, hardly a thing libertarians would approve of. Dave

Everyone had slaves

The Barbary pirates operated on different principles, capturing slaves, hardly a thing libertarians would approve of.

By itself this doesn't mean much. The United States had slaves and then it didn't, and legally this was more a tweak than a fundamental shift (i.e. it didn't require all the great minds of the world to gather together and work out a completely fresh legal system from scratch, but merely required mediocre minds to recognize the obvious). It didn't render pre-emancipation US useless as a model for a free society, since after all pre-emancipation US was in fact a model followed very closely by one free society, namely, post-emancipation US.

Have you read Patri's book?

Have you read Patri's book?

This is why I think

This is why I think libertarians should focus on consequentialist concerns, at least to some extent. Unless someone is already a gung-ho deontologist (and very few people are, when it comes down to it), a focus solely on legitimacy concerns while ignoring possibility is not going to convince.

Presumably then, libertarians should also focus on deontological concerns, "at least to some extent." Few people are gung-ho consequentialists either, when it comes down to it. Most people stay in a gray area between extremes. I agree, incidentally, so far as pragmatism goes, that at times consequentialist arguments will prove persuasive when deontological arguments do not. Of course, what proves rhetorically persuasive is not guaranteed to be intellectually honest or coherent.

Much of what Constant says is true--and this reminds me, strangely enough, of our previous discussion on monogamy, where your argument was something like, most people cheat, therefore, the monogamous ideal should be abandoned, and my response was that even unattainable ideals are sometimes worth pursuing.

As you say, there is no guarantee that the just outcome will be practically possible (I do not, however, think that the logically impossible can ever be the just course--are there deontologicalists who think otherwise that you know of?). But if our criterion for justice was simply how easy it was to achieve it, then we might as well define justice as the ever-shifting status quo, and, in so doing, make injustice impossible.

thanks for these thoughts...

On the deontology/consequentialism distinction: There's nothing inherent to deontology that rules out acceptance of the ought implies can principle. I take it that the chief distinction between deontology and consequentialism is the one spelled out by Nozick -- that deontologists admit of side constraints. But it's perfectly coherent to admit of side constraints that apply only when it's possible to obey them. For example, suppose you subscribe to a morality with a rule forbidding the killing of others. And suppose (warning: crazy philosopher's example coming here) that an evil neuroscientist takes control of your body and forces you to shoot someone. It's perfectly plausible for the deontologist to say that you haven't done anything blamable, even though it was your hand that pulled the trigger.

Constant: thanks for the really sharp comment. I don't think it's quite right, but it's very challenging. I think you go wrong in identifying the anarchist's claim. The anarchist's claim isn't only "you ought not to coerce others," it includes things like "there is no obligation to obey the state, because the state represents illegitimate coercion." That second claim is more complicated, it's not easily reducible to claims about the duties of individuals. And I stand behind my application of the ought implies can principle to that second claim, which I see as the most interesting one.

(However, I need to think more about Constant's point -- this is just an off-hand response, and I think it's worth more.)

Obey the state

The anarchist's claim isn't only "you ought not to coerce others," it includes things like "there is no obligation to obey the state, because the state represents illegitimate coercion."

The reason may depend on the anarchist. For my part, I would say that if you claim "there is an obligation to obey X", then the burden of proof is on you to prove it, and furthermore, that if "X" is "the state", this fact does not constitute particularly good evidence that there is an obligation to obey it. But the reason isn't that the state "represents illegitimate coercion", because the very same position of non-obligation applies to virtually any non-state entity. Say, Steve Jobs. I am not obligated to obey Steve Jobs (with obvious exceptions - if I am in his house and he asks me to leave then I am obligated to leave). But the reason for my non-obligation to obey Steve Jobs is not that Steve Jobs represents illegitimate coercion. He doesn't (as far as I know). My reason (at least, the one that comes to mind at the moment) for taking the position of non-obligation is that I consider the burden of proof to rest on those who take the position of obligation to any entity at all - be it Steve Jobs, the state, or anybody else.

Steve Jobs and the state are

Steve Jobs and the state are different, though. Ordinarily, we do think that one of the features of a state is an obligation to obey. That's why Weber defined the state as the holder of a monopoly of legitimate use of force (though I'd say that we can think of illegitimate users of force who are trying to become legitimate -- e.g. conquerors, warlords -- as states, or candidate states.) -- inherent in our concept of state is an entity that can tells us what to do and send people with guns to beat on us if we don't do it. So once we posit a state, it requires some extra argument to show that it doesn't have the right to coerce us to obey its commands.

So I think the dialectic is something like the following:
STATE: "I'm a legitimate entity, my government is democratic, etc. Here's a law. Obey it."
ANARCHIST: "No. Coercion is wrong. You represent coercion."
STATE: [My argument].

(Incidentally, I take it that "I ought to obey X" and "X has a right to coerce me to obey its commands" are equivalent. You might disagree with that, but that argument would go pretty far off track...)

What we would ordinarily think

I'm not sure what your argument is. If you are arguing by definition, then I simply decline to use your definitions. I've had plenty of experience with Marxists who define capitalism as incorporating specific Marxist claims about capitalism which I dispute. The argument goes something like this:

Marxist: [Marxist claim about capitalism]
Me: I dispute that.
Marxist: [Definition of capitalism incorporating Marxist claim]
Me: Well in that case there is no capitalism (as you define it).
Marxist: You are denying that there is capitalism? Next you will deny that there are trees and grass.
Me: I am merely denying your definition.
Marxist: But Karl Marx invented the idea of capitalism.
Me: So he's the one to blame for incorporating debatable claims into the definition.
[and so on back and forth forever]

If you are arguing on the basis of what we ordinarily think, if you are arguing that a disagreement with what we ordinarily think carries the burden of proof, I will (a) dispute that this is necessarily the case (since it amounts to an appeal to popularity and an appeal to tradition, which are unlikely to be strong enough to make a prima facie case), and (b) point out that I have in fact given an argument. If you want to give it a name, call it a moral Occam's razor. One should not multiply the number of obligations beyond those required by reasons. (And the mere popular or traditional presumption of an obligation is not a reason.)

I don't, by the way, mean to argue entirely against tradition. But (a) there are sometimes considerations which outweigh the authority of tradition and I believe that's the case here, and (b) the authority of tradition is contingent on the source of that tradition, and the way this plays out here is not pretty.

Reasons for state authority: there are gajillions.

The moral occam's razor doesn't work on state authority, because there are numerous reasons for having some kind of state. Here's the easiest one: the state allows us to overcome public goods problems. We can think of countless others, although none as knock-down obvious as the public goods thing (e.g., the state is particularly efficient at protecting property rights, people are political animals who thrive best in that kind of organization, etc.).

I appealed to tradition as an easy way of capturing the numerous arguments for the state that rely on things like public goods problems. The anarchist objection to the state is totally uncompelling in "moral occam's razor" form, because the tradition captures all of these things. This is why the burden is on those who object to the state.

Instead, the anarchist objection has force only if it takes those things on and raises the coercion issue: "sure, the state provides public goods etc., but it does so by coercion, and coercion is wrong -- it violates a deontological side constraint." And so I direct my efforts at answering that objection -- the serious one.

I see, so it does come down to a practical disagreement

Here's the easiest one: the state allows us to overcome public goods problems. We can think of countless others, although none as knock-down obvious as the public goods thing (e.g., the state is particularly efficient at protecting property rights, people are political animals who thrive best in that kind of organization, etc.)

Without arguing I'm simply going to outline my position. The state does much more harm than good, and the state itself is the greatest public goods problem - that is, it is hard to eliminate the state because if I manage to eliminate the state for myself, then I have eliminated it for my neighbors as well. Whoops, I said no argument, so I'll try to refrain. The state does little if anything to protect property rights. It is in fact people who protect their own property rights. The state is the greatest violator of property rights. If anything the state prevents people from going to the extremes they would otherwise go to to protect their own property rights (think vigilante justice). To say that "people are political animals" is vague at best, and most people are not actually in the government.

Anyway, these are all disagreements about the practical effect of the state. I had been pursuing a moral argument but in the end you gave me a bunch of practical claims which simply fly in the face of my own views on the practical matters.

The anarchist objection to the state is totally uncompelling in "moral occam's razor" form, because the tradition captures all of these things.

The tradition is a result of raw power. We adapt to circumstances. What seems inevitable, we come to think of as okay, even as fortunate. We see this at work in Stockholm Syndrome, in which a captive comes to love his captor. There are very good reasons for this psychological mechanism to exist: a captive who falls in love with the captor is less likely to be murdered by the captor. There are a lot of excuses surrounding the state, but the active, effective argument for the state has always been, believe it or suffer. The fundamental argument for the state is an appeal to force.

Fair enough.

The anarchist moral argument that I find most convincing is the one that accepts all the various practical claims that I make, and objects anyway based on the coercion thing. My argument isn't directed at an anarchist who just denies that the state has the useful functions noted. Which isn't to say that there aren't answers to such an anarchist (answers pointing to everything from Locke to contemporary rational choice political science), but that I'm not particularly interested in making them.

Okay then, for the sake of argument

Suppose that the state provides nice things. I would, however, argue that the provision of nice things does not create an obligation. Suppose that someone makes me the following offer: if I will just say "uncle", he will give me half a billion dollars. This is, surely you will agree, a pretty hefty reward, arguably more compelling than the reward given to us by the state. And yet - and here's the important bit - it does not follow that, having been given this offer, I am now obligated to call him "uncle".

So my argument remains the same as before: that you have not managed to argue successfully that there is an obligation to obey the state, and in the absence of a successful argument for such an obligation, the entirely reasonable default position is that there is, in fact, no obligation.

But the nice things the

But the nice things the state provides are constituted by the obligation (or, more to the point, the enforcement of the obligation). The state can provide public goods because it can stop free-riders. How does it stop free-riders? By passing a law, and using force on people who violate it.

anticipating your next reply...

"But," you might say, "suppose I wanted to turn down the public goods provision?"

And my answer, roughly, will be,
1) then you'd be behaving antisocially by unreasonably depriving others as well as yourself of the benefits of cooperation, and so you ought to take the public goods provision, and

2) fine, but suppose someone else points a gun at your head and tells you to do so. We can drop the idea of obligation completely and ask on what grounds you have an objection to being made to play at gunpoint, without an obligation. And that objection will turn on the unjustifiability of coercion. In which case, we're back to the start, and to the basic answer I offer -- you can't get any state of affairs in which there isn't someone pointing a gun at your head.

Market transactions

1) then you'd be behaving antisocially by unreasonably depriving others as well as yourself of the benefits of cooperation, and so you ought to take the public goods provision, and

And yet we don't say this of ordinary market transactions. If someone makes me an offer, a good offer, and I turn him down, that is my right. If he then claims that I am behaving antisocially by unreasonably depriving him as well as myself of the benefits of my cooperation, then he is being presumptuous, and if he pulls out a gun to force me to transact, he's a thug.

you can't get any state of affairs in which there isn't someone pointing a gun at your head.

Maybe so, but that doesn't justify the gun. The inevitable is merely inevitable. And why even bother justifying it? If it's inevitable, why should we feel compelled to justify it? Is it just to feel comfortable with it, so we stop struggling in our chains? Why insist that the victim accept that the gun is justified? Why not be satisfied knowing that the victim with the gun pointed at his head can't get away from the gun?

I'm reminded of the novel 1984. The government man wasn't satisfied with the protagonist's reluctant obedience. He wanted his love. An interesting desire, but not one which we victims should necessarily go happily along with, however much the state might want our love.

But that weakens the argument for obligation even further

It's like saying that the half billion dollars being offered me comes from selling my organs. That doesn't increase any obligation I might have (e.g. to give my organs), but decreases it. And since the starting point was zero obligation, now it's negative.

If the gift given to me by an entity or organization (call it Bob) were a pure gift, then I might feel socially obligated to express my thanks (though not strictly obligated in the sense that it would be a crime for me not to). But if it turned out that the gift was in fact bought at my expense in some way, that would completely eliminate any feeling I might have had of obligation.

getting the dialectic clear again

Here (including the first half of my addendum to the last comment -- ignore the second half for now, I think it may have been unwise) is where I see the series of claims:

Anarch: Why should I take the state in the first place?
State: Because I provide public goods, which require coercive force.
Anarch: Why should I take public goods?
State: You have an obligation to the well-being of your fellow humans, plus you'd be rational to do so.
Anarch: Fine, but what about the coercion? Isn't coercion wrong?
State: See Paul's original argument.

This should make the train of thought clear, and answer your last objection (in the state's second line)

Anarch: Why should I take

Anarch: Why should I take the state in the first place?
State: Because I provide public goods, which require coercive force.
Anarch: Why should I take public goods?
State: You have an obligation to the well-being of your fellow humans, plus you'd be rational to do so.

No I don't. Leave it up to me to make rational decisions or not.

taking a break from this

(Anyway, you can have the last word on this -- I need to step back and reformulate. Blog comments are a terrible place to try and make extended philosophical arguments, and I think I conceded too much a few comments back.)

Paul

Blog comments might be terrible, but blog posts might be better. Register on the right sidebar and you can make your own blog posts here.

Positive and Normative Conceptions of Legitimacy

Ordinarily, we do think that one of the features of a state is an obligation to obey. That's why Weber defined the state as the holder of a monopoly of legitimate use of force (though I'd say that we can think of illegitimate users of force who are trying to become legitimate -- e.g. conquerors, warlords -- as states, or candidate states.) -- inherent in our concept of state is an entity that can tells us what to do and send people with guns to beat on us if we don't do it. So once we posit a state, it requires some extra argument to show that it doesn't have the right to coerce us to obey its commands.

That's not how I've always understood Weber's definition. I've always understood his definition as a positive, value neutral definition: an entity counts as a state if and only if it enjoys a monopoly on the legitimate use of force within a geographic territory. This is merely a third-party neutral observation that a sufficient portion of the population views the state's monopoly as legitimate, not a normative claim made by the speaker (Weber) that the monopoly is in fact legitimate.

The question of whether the people who view the state as legitimate are in fact correct in their belief is entirely separate question.

Also, Constant, you might

Also, Constant, you might want to check out the comments to my post, and particularly the exchange I had with Crispin, which covers some of these matters (see his Martin Luther King example, and my response), as well as the way in which I formulate the ought implies can principle in the original post -- I think these will clarify the way in which I mean to use the principle.