Reply To: Initiatory Force vs. Retaliatory Force


Dr. Casey, your analysis has been extremely helpful, very thoughtful, and painlessly instructive. I admit I have not yet worked through more than 4 lectures of the course, but as a beginner student in logic, I have greatly enjoyed them. I studied mathematics in college, and so I employed logic, but never with much of anything other than mathematical arguments. Here are some of my thoughts in response:

1st Part:
Let me start by saying that I agree with your reformulation of the argument. I would make some (minor?) changes to A and B. If you could let me know if this new argument makes sense that would be awesome.

Let A = Rand rejects initiatory force because it violates man’s inalienable rights.
Let B = Rand permits retaliatory force against man’s inalienable rights.
Let H = Human beings have inalienable rights.

The form of the argument would then be the same:

(1e) If A, then H.
(2e) If B, then not H.
(3e) Both A and B.
Therefore, (4e) both H and not H, a contradiction.

So, if the premises are true, then Rand’s thoughts are shown to be inconsistent here.

2nd Part:
Would this not also be an indictment of Jefferson’s or John Locke’s thought? Simply replace “Rand” with “Jefferson” or “Locke” and the same argument initially seems plausible.

However, as Jerryb225 and I discussed above, Locke attempts to reconcile the contradiction by changing (2e). In Locke’s thought, 2e would transform into something like:

(2e*) If Locke permits retaliatory force against persons that are not human in nature, then human beings do not have inalienable rights.

However, this is plainly false as the consequent is not necessarily true when the antecedent is true. But as I discussed with Jerryb225, I believe Locke’s analysis requires an untenable definition of “a nature.” It seems like a case of special pleading where he has defined “human nature” in such a way to avoid contradicting inalienable rights. Moreover, it appears to be quite a dangerous move regarding ethics, since there is no distinction remaining to prevent all initial aggressors from being treated as mere animals.

Jerryb225 said: “Now that you mention it I do remember her saying the thing about man ceasing to be a man when he violates rights. I might take that to mean that when a man chooses to violate rights he is implicitly saying that rights are not valid thus implicitly negating his own rights which would open him up to being attacked validly by the one being violated.”

This also seems to be odd analysis. If your interpretation is accurate, then would anyone who implicitly or explicitly denies the doctrine of inalienable rights forfeit his own rights? Or are you saying it is the case that such a man would not cirectly forfeit his own right, but rather forfeit his own nature?

I find that untenable and inconsistent with a free society. Moreover, it gets even more odd when you consider the explicit/implicit paradigm. For example, in a free society, we would not be permitted to retaliate with force against someone who explicitly voiced an opinion against the inalienable rights of man (if we could, then then speech is not truly free). However, according to your interpretation above, implicit statements against inalienable rights are grounds for retaliatory force [i.e. punishment]. But upon what basis do we permit retaliatory force if the statement is implicit, yet exclude it if the statement is explicit? I know this is not your personal view, but I just wanted to comment anyway because I found the analysis you offered to be an interesting attempt at reconciling her thought. But I don’t find it do be tenable because it forces you to say: implicit statements against inalienable rights forfeit one’s human nature but explicit statements do not.

Simply ask the question, who is more human?
– The truly repentant sinner who at one time physically assaulted and beat up a homeless person.
– The extreme Marxist who has always desired to treat populations as herds of animals, yet personally engages in no physical wrongdoing.

I think the “more human” or “human or not” questions just become subjective and perplexing real fast. I think it is more consistent to conclude that all members of our species are human regardless of whether they initiate “inhumane” actions.

3rd Part:

Dr. Casey wrote, “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.”

While this may true, I’d continue to argue that it does nothing to save the Randian from contradiction. Even if I grant that retaliatory force and initiatory force are morally distinct, that does not solve the question of inalienable rights. If rights are truly inalienable, then they cannot be alienated and force that permits their alienation should be rejected. One potential solution is the Lockean one that I discussed above, but merely asserting a moral distinction (that I agree with) does not solve the problem.