NAP: Legal or Moral Principle?

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  • #21187
    p.jeffgodley
    Member

    I’m trying to find a satisfactory answer to this question: is the non-aggression principle more properly considered a legal principle, or a moral principle?

    Walter Block, to use one example, seems to think that the NAP is a legal principle which has nothing whatever to do with moral theory. It is simply a legal justification for force.

    Stefan Molyneux, to use an example of the apparently opposite position, believes the NAP is a deeply moral principle. Aggression is not merely unjustified, it is morally wrong.

    I see rhetorical merits to both positions. If one takes a legal-only position then one avoids having to answer questions of the lifeboat-situation variety. The NAP does not say, for example, that the person who steals to feed his starving child is an immoral person who should be regarded as a villain – it simply says that his actions should be treated as theft.

    On the other hand, if one takes a moral position, one can point to the moral outrage of the State: look at this institution which constantly aggresses and uses force to achieve its ends! Why do we tolerate this?

    It seems to me, that the way we understand libertarian theory changes significantly based on what role the NAP is playing in our philosophy: legal or moral. And since the conflation of the moral and the legal in its institutional form is called “the nanny state”, I have a hard time seeing how the NAP can be both.

    But perhaps I’m wrong. Can the NAP be both a moral and legal principle? Or can it be only one of these, and if so, which?

    #21188
    jhendon5
    Member

    I’m curious about this statement in your post: “Walter Block, to use one example, seems to think that the NAP is a legal principle which has nothing whatever to do with moral theory. It is simply a legal justification for force.” How can the NAP be used to justify force? Can you provide a link or some other reference to Block’s argument to this effect?

    And you write “And since the conflation of the moral and the legal in its institutional form is called “the nanny state”, I have a hard time seeing how the NAP can be both.”

    It doesn’t seem to me that the conflation of the moral and the legal in institutional form is necessarily the nanny state. Isn’t the U.S. Constitution a conflation of the moral and the legal which, by attempting to enumerate government’s legitimate powers , would largely negate government’s inclination to become a nanny state?

    #21189
    gerard.casey
    Participant

    There are three ways to think about the relationship between the legal and moral realms. First, either they perfectly coincide so that everything legal is moral (and everything illegal is immoral), or second,they don’t overlap at all or, third,they partially overlap so that some actions, such as murder would be both illegal and immoral while other actions, such as adultery might be immoral without being illegal and yet other actions, like insider trading, might be illegal without being immoral.The history of man shows some interesting differences between societies and within societies over time in what is and what isn’t adjudged to be a matter of both legal and moral concern.

    I would think that most people would consider the rejection of murder to be something that falls within the scope of both legality and morality. The NAP, then, would be a moral principle which ought to (and frequently does) form the core of the law of most functioning societies. What is unique to libertarianism (at least, libertarianism of the Rothbardian variety) is that it holds that only actions prohibited by the NAP ought to be prohibited by all and every society. Everything else is a matter of regulation to which one is free to subscribe or not as one sees fit. The rules and regulations of a chess club only apply to its members and you’re free to join or leave as you choose.

    #21190
    patriciacolling
    Participant

    Sometimes I have to remember that the order we develop on this side of life is the best we can do in a paradoxical universe. There are grey areas as far as I can tell with NAP–at least on moral grounds. The legal use of NAP would be the order for societal function that is widely accepted or adjudicated. How a conflict is adjudicated in these grey areas is a resolution we accept to continue functioning. Even in the police state today, the excuse is about what constitutes injustice (or aggression) and it would appear that those reasons are propaganda for those who really want to benefit from using aggression themselves. There is always choice because choice involves opportunity costs–there is always an opportunity and a cost to our action. In my opinion, I guess, there are always trade-offs no matter what the order of society. I’m glad for this conversation–it’s the closest I’ve seen to my own philosophical dilemma and previous inquiries.

    #21191
    gerard.casey
    Participant

    What you call ‘grey areas’ is another way of naming the sorties problem (or boundary issues)

    When, for example, does a child become an adult. In law, this occurs at a specific point in time. Before that point, a child; after that point, an adult. In reality, we know that the transition from child to adult is a process that itself takes time. At age 5, child; at age 25, an adult. Somewhere in between, the change takes place. The sorties problem is often used in argument to argue that if we cannot point to a bright line point of transition from A to B, there’s really no difference between A and B. That, of course, is nonsense.

    let’s see how we deal with this in practice. If your neighbour is having some friends over and they’re having a barbecue in their back garden, your likely to hear some sound and smell some hamburgers cooking. Is this an invasion of your rights as a property owner? Most people would say no – that’s what you get when you live adjacent to someone else: a little noise, some smells, etc. However, now let’s have the same party take place at 3 a.m. when you’re trying to sleep. This time the noise prevents you from sleeping. Do we now have an invasion of your rights as a property owner? Most people would say yes.

    What does all this tell us, if anything?

    We have and exercise our rights in a context of social conventions which are rarely completely (sometimes never) realised in law. Most properly socialised people understand and abide by those conventions and that’s what makes life together possible.

    GC

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