Reply To: Initiatory Force vs. Retaliatory Force


JohnD: At last I have the opportunity to respond to your posts. Your reformulation of the argument runs like this:

(1) Rand objects to the initiation of force because humans have inalienable rights.
(2) Rand permits retaliatory force against these inalienable rights.
(3) 1 and 2 are either inconsistent or incoherent. If the rights are inalienable, then upon what basis is retaliatory force that alienates them permitted? If the rights are not inalienable, then the statements are incoherent.
I’m going to try to address the issues that have been raised in logical terms rather than in substantive terms.

First part: As things stand, your propositions 1 and 2 are not immediately inconsistent. What would be inconsistent would be (making minor verbal changes) either
(1a) Rand rejects the initiation of force because humans have inalienable rights
(2a) Rand accepts the initiation of force because humans have inalienable rights
(1b) Rand rejects retaliatory force against inalienable rights
(2b) Rand accepts retaliatory force against inalienable rights
If your 2 were translatable into 2a (keeping 1 as 1a) or your 1 were translatable into 1b (keeping 2 as 2b) then we’d have a clear case of inconsistency but neither translation is obviously possible without changing the semantic content of the propositions.

Second part: If we could get the argument into proper logical form, then we could assess it using the rules of formal logic. You will recall that arguments (formal arguments) can be criticized on two levels. If a formal argument is invalid, then we need proceed no further in our criticism. If, however, it is valid, then our attention turns to the question of the truth of the premises. Should the premises of our arguments turn out to be true and the argument valid, then the conclusion must be true as well.
As things stand, propositions 1 and 2 are not obviously categorical in form. I have made several attempts to translate them into categorical form but nothing I’ve produced has been satisfactory.
I next tried to see if I could deal with them using the forms of the hypothetical syllogism. The way in which you phrase the argument suggests we have something like a dilemma with this significant difference: in a dilemma, we have a disjunction between two propositions as constituent parts of the overall complex argument whereas in your argument, we seem to have a conjunction instead. Let me see if I can illustrate what I mean.

Third part:
Let A represent the proposition “Rand rejects initiatory force”
Let B represent the proposition “Rand accepts retaliatory force”
Let H represent the proposition: “Human beings have inalienable rights”
The argument you give now seems to run:
(1d) If A then H (If Rand rejects initiatory force, then human beings have inalienable rights)
(2d) If B then not H (If Rand accepts retaliatory force, then human beings do not have inalienable rights)
(3d) But (and here comes the conjunction) both A and B (Rand rejects initiatory force and Rand accepts retaliatory force)
Therefore, (4d) both H and not H (Human beings have inalienable rights and human beings do not have inalienable rights)
This argument is valid and its conclusion, being a contradiction, is necessarily false. That being so, the premises taken together must be inconsistent, that is, they can’t all be true together. If, as seems antecedently likely, 1d and 3d are true then the most likely culprit for falsehood is 2d.

Fourth part: The burden of the messages that you and Jerryb225 have posted seem to circle around this premise (or something closely resembling it). A Randian might claim that 2d should read: If B then H (rather than if B then not H) and if pressed for his reason for asserting this, might respond that retaliatory force and initiatory force while both involving physical violence and so being indistinguishable from a physical perspective, nonetheless are morally distinct; just as if I were to drive your car away, what would be physically presented to us would be identical whether I was driving it with your permission or without your permission. Your grant of permission makes no difference to the physical dimension of the act but changes the moral (and legal) character of it completely.
Having read all this (if you haven’t gone to sleep!) you may agree or disagree with this analysis totally or agree or disagree in part. In the end, logic helps to line one’s argument up in the most perspicuous way (or sometimes shows that this can’t be easily done) but, in the end, if an argument is valid, then we have to assess the truth (categorical or probable) of the premises and that is not the direct concern of logic, unless one or more of the premises are themselves conclusions of further argument.