'NAP' is not an axiom

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'NAP' is not an axiom

  • Andrew David

    Wanted to write a brief message to stimulate some discussion. I know many liberty-minded people (esp. As) believe the non-aggression principle (NAP) is a moral axiom. Those who are familiar with Rand will know she was absolutely against this and believed it was a false start for any political theory. I think she would call it arbitrary but I think another way of critiquing it would be that it is not a metaphysical property of this existence. You simply cannot command everyone obey NAP, nor Nature. You may be able to in some other kind of existence, including commanding no one gets hungry, but not in this world. Rand conferred with NAP because it interfered with man’s survival (the use of his mind), but this contingent factor is important. The agreement that NAP is wrong by Objectivists is because of this fact; the point is NAP is not an isolated or autonomous axiom. When Objectivists criticize Liberty-minded people for not having a ‘system’ or supporting structure for their ideas, this is one example.

    On the practical side, NAP doesn’t consider the instance where initiating force would prevent harm to yourself. I don’t assume NAP = pacifism but maybe some would equate them.

    And one last point, for those familiar with Molyneux. I recall him saying that the US constitution is just a piece of paper and doesn’t stop bullets nor (really) stop the US government from doing what they want. In the same fashion, nor does declaring the NAP to be an axiom stop violence. It may be better to decide how we should deal with violence in society rather than assuming it wont exist.

    I look forward to comments.

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  • Todd Markey

    Andrew, thanks for posting this.  The NAP is a logical conclusion of self-ownership.  It is illogical to hold that I have a higher claim on the body of some other person.  That person automatically has a higher claim on his body because he has direct control over the body, whereas my control over his body would necessitate the use of outside forces to control it.  Therefore, it is illogical for me to make a claim of any kind of ownership over him.

    The fact that it is illogical doesn’t mean that people don’t do it.  This simply gives me an understanding that it is wrong to initiate force against someone else, and I can then take that to its logical conclusion and realize that its also wrong for governments or any other supposed authority to try to control others through initiatory force.

    Also, Molyneux constantly addresses how to deal with the violence in the world rather than assuming it won’t happen.  Do you listen to him?

    This is how I understand this.  I’m just an amateur philosopher but this makes sense to me.  I’d love to have anyone with more knowledge of these ideas to comment.

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    Andrew David

    Yes I’ve heard the self-ownership argument. The problem is that it requires one to use the word ownership as both subject and object, ie. to self-own would imply you are both owner and owned. What is really comes down to is a property rights argument, that you are your own property. Thus property as a primary or axiom.

    Objectivists instead ground one’s liberty or rights based on the conditions of this existence. Without survival, no discussion of any of this is possible. What do we need to survive? The use of our minds. What disrupts this faculty of survival? The use of force upon us. Our minds also produce things, and these things rightly belong to us in aid of our survival. This is the logical chain. The self-ownership argument reduces and begins with a property argument, but ‘property’ is not a concept on its own, its not part of metaphysics. Its a social concept, to own something is not only to possess it but also to be acknowledged by others of being the rightful owner. This is why, at least according to O, you cannot begin a social system with the idea of property. Instead you should begin with the idea of ethics, what is required for the survival of humans in this existence. I hope that wasn’t confusing but it is a fundamentally different route of argument.

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    Todd Markey

    How do you define “aid of our survival?”  Do you mean what is good for the collective is what is good or do you mean what is good for a certain individual is what is good?

    Self-ownership actually is a part of metaphysics.  I can move my arm all by myself.  You have to use force on me to make me move it.  No one needs to recognize this for it to be true.

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    Kevin Victor

    What about egoism and being selfish? Should everyone act on their own self interest? You can argue against this claim from being self-evident or necessarily true.

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    Jeffrey Tucker

    I do find it interesting that in common libertarian parlance, this axiom is more commonly called a principle, which seems correct to me. I’m unsure why Rothbard would have called this an axiom in the first place since it is clear that property rights as we understand them are social constructs in any case, managed entirely by rules made according to the circumstances of time and place. I wonder, however, if this is really a semantic distinction, maybe an important but nonetheless merely a matter of the language we choose to choose.

    That said, I agree that non-aggression alone is not enough to make for a robust philosophy of law and politics, mainly because what does and does not constitute aggression is very much the disputed question, even among those who adhere most firmly to the NAP.

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      Mike Vroman

      because what does and does not constitute aggression is very much the disputed question, even among those who adhere most firmly to the NAP.

      I’m glad you brought this up. This one question, at least in the conversations I have been in, more often leads to impasse than anything else which comes to mind, as soon as someone brings up the topic of whether or not threats should be considered as violence.

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      Jeffrey Tucker

      That’s just the beginning. There is no agreement on what is or is not property, what is or is not fraud, what is or is not deception, and so there is no way to determine what is or is not aggression so long as there are such fundamental disputes on these main topics. So even if you completely and exclusively rally around NAP, there are vast vast questions left to be answered.

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      Mike Vroman

      That’s why I like this site so much (one of the reasons); I can discuss these things in a civil manner, where most other places it leads to antagonism, and the take the new knowledge and insights with me everywhere else.

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      Jeffrey Tucker

      oh gosh, I feel the same. Tranquility and civility. Wow. It’s easy to forget what those are like actually! And yet, the flourishing of ideas absolutely requires civility.

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      Todd Markey

      You have created a beautiful thing here!

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    Objectivist Dad

    I’m stuck on the bit about “NAP doesn’t consider the instance where initiating force would prevent harm to yourself.”

    If I am in danger, then someone else has initiated force and thus I am simply responding to it. I don’t mean to imply that you can attack someone simply because they want to harm you. It would require them to take some action, and even then your response would have to be appropriate.

    Feel free to let me know if I missed something. Relatively new to all this, though the NAP has been my principle all along, I just didn’t know it. 🙂

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    Youliy Ninov

    Andrew,

    I would like to ask you the following question since you seem to have a deep interest in Ayn Rand’s works:

    Ayn Rand agrees that initiated violence has to be punished but it is not clear to me if she says:

    1. Initiating aggression is morally wrong and it must be punished always and without exception

    or

    2. It is morally justified to punish initiated violence, so if one so chooses then he can do it and this would be right (In short: Initiated violence may be rightfully punished if one so chooses, which means: not always).

    It is interesting  because choice 1. corresponds roughly to Minarchism and choice 2. to Anarcho-Capitalism. Just to make sure it is clear: the context is a certain society itself, not inter-country/society relations, i.e. the question is not whether the USA must have attacked Saddam Hussein. The initiation of aggression happens within the particular society.

     

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    Devin Jell

    ‘NAP’ is not an axiom

    Correct. I have never understood why Rothbard would refer to it as an axiom. It is a principle. That is the “P” in NAP.

    It may be better to decide how we should deal with violence in society rather than assuming it wont exist.

    There is no such assumption in the NAP. Again, its simply a moral principle intended to guide the actions of people. Can it be violated? Obviously. That is an axiom.

    Yes I’ve heard the self-ownership argument. The problem is that it requires one to use the word ownership as both subject and object, ie. to self-own would imply you are both owner and owned.

    There is no logical problem with that. I can be the subject and object in all sorts of statements.

    eg: I fed myself. I washed myself. I dressed myself. I prepared myself. I respect myself.

    I am the one doing the washing and the one being washed. No contradiction.

     

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    Andrew David

    To Youliv, Objectivists tend to wrap everything in a context. Rand does declare the initiation of force to be evil in a society, but wouldn’t project this on, say, invading Iran.

    To Devin, you are right to point out NAP is a principle not an axiom, and I wasn’t using the word axiom correctly. Axioms are something that cannot be denied. Principles are a guide to action. What I meant was for libertarians (and what Rand criticized) is that NAP is the starting place, its the metaphorical axiom, or pillar, or fundamental.
    On the self-ownership question, what you have listed are actions. No one disputes you can punch yourself, the question is can you designate a property or condition on yourself. To say you own yourself is not an action, it is a property recognition, and this only comes out of the consent of those around you, a social context. A lion would not recognize your property, and a thief chooses to ignore yours but maintain his. To put it another way, acting in the world changes the world (punching yourself). But saying you own yourself changes nothing. It grants nothing but what others consent to. It sounds strange, but to truly ‘own’ yourself requires others to agree.

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      Youliy Ninov

      You avoided answering my question directly. My guess is that you yourself are not clear about it.

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      Devin Jell

       

      You’re walking down the street when you see a man lunge towards a woman ahead of you and start to grope her. She yells: “Get your hands off of me!”

      What immediately crosses your mind?

      A: The man is violating the woman’s personal boundaries.

      or

      B: Silly girl. Did you hear what she just said? She implied that man owns his hands and she owns her own body! What a nut. Hasn’t she read Rousseau?

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        Devin Jell

        Sorry, that last response wasn’t very helpful.

        Ownership can be defined as the right to use, control, dispose of and exclude as you see fit.

        If you don’t own yourself then who has a higher claim over your mind, body and life? Who else can rightfully control you, use you, dispose of you and exclude others from interacting with you?

        There are only four possibilities here:

        1. You own yourself

        2. Someone else owns you

        3. You are unowned

        4. You are owned collectively by all humans

        There is no other alternative. Which of these four options do you hold to be true?

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    Andrew David

    My main and only point is that self-ownership must already accept a social context. Self-ownership is not part of reality, nor a fact. Your post would suggest it is a metaphysical concept, our ownership over ourselves. Or put another way, you seem to be suggesting “exclusivity of control” is a metaphysical concept. Now it could be, in a game for example. You walk around in a FPS, you are the only who can move your character – the game’s nature is designed as such that only you can move yourself, change your weapon, fire your weapon, etc. That is NOT the case in the real world – it is not so constituted or designed so as to permit anything exclusivity of control over anything. Designating ‘property’ or ownership are all inventions of social systems.
    Rather, self-ownership can only exist as an agreement. It is a consensual arrangement, a rule which must be observed and respected by others before it has any meaning or effect. If you keep your hands to yourself, I’ll keep mine to myself. If you don’t, neither will I. This is why the Objectivists place this concept and NAP far down into politics, it is not a proper concept within ethics, metaphysics, or epistemology.
    The only thing that has tried to dispute what I have said above is the Natural Rights argument however it is often based in religion (ie. notice its a metaphysical argument) and in my case therefore not at all convincing being an atheist.
    If there are other arguments grounding ownership before politics, I’d like to hear them. I haven’t read anything on Rothbard so maybe he does?

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      Devin Jell

      I’m not merely suggesting that each person has exclusive use and control of their own mind and body; I consider it to be axiomatic.

      I certainly have never had the ability to exercise the use of any body other than the one typing to you right now.

      If you claim that such a thing is possible then the burden of proof would fall upon you to demonstrate. I’m an inefficient typist, so to save me some effort please use my wife’s brain, tongue and trachea to make your rebuttals to me. All are in fine working condition. It would save us a lot of time, and I would consider it an incontrovertible defence of your position.

      But I suspect you won’t be able to argue your position through my wife’s mind and body, since she alone has exclusive control of them.

      There’s my metaphysical argument for self-ownership. Now we can move on to ethics.

       

      Ethics, as I’m sure you’ll agree, involves systematizing, defending and recommending concepts of right and wrong conduct. For conduct to potentially be either right or wrong presupposes a potential for conflict, which in turn presupposes scarcity. It is only because scarcity exists that concern with economics and ethics is required for human society.

      But scarcity alone does not necessitate ethics. For an ethical problem to arise also requires that the conflicting actors are each rational beings. For me to avoid a conflict with a coyote over the consumption of my chickens would be a technological problem, not an ethical one.

      That the conflicting actors are rational requires that they be capable, in principle, of argumentation. Only through argumentation are truth claims of any kind made. Only through argumentation does the idea of validity emerge. Any claim of ethics must be formed as an argument.

      Any argument requires an arguing person. Arguing does not consist of free-floating propositions. Arguing is an action. It requires an actor. It requires a mind and a body. It requires the actor to have exclusive control over the scarce resources of his mind and body.

      Exclusive control over your mind and body is presupposed by your very act of arguing. As long as there is argumentation, there is mutual recognition of each other’s exclusive control over one’s own body and mind. Arguing against self-ownership is a practical contradiction. Arguing against self-ownership requires one to imply acceptance of the very same norm he was disputing (i.e. exclusive control of his mind and body). One cannot argue that one cannot argue. If he were right, he would be physically incapable of even opening his mouth. The fact that he does open his mouth, proves that what he claims is wrong.

      Self-ownership is a pre-condition of argumentation.

      Argumentation is a pre-condition of ethics.

      Just try and argue otherwise. 😉

       

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        Youliy Ninov

        “I’m not merely suggesting that each person has exclusive use and control of their own mind and body; I consider it to be axiomatic.”

        As to the “body” part this view is not “axiomatic” for sure but plain wrong. Can you force somebody to do something? For instance to serve you (slavery)? Of course you can. Just take a look at the history. So, you exercise control overy his body, therefore his control over his body is not exclusive.

        But your arguments rely on the statement that this contorol is exclusive. As I showed it is not. So, your argumentation is wrong. The last however does not mean that what you want to prove is wrong. It only shows that your way of proving it is wrong.

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        • Devin Jell

          Coercion and persuasion are simply influence over another person.

          If you put a gun to my head and order me to fold your laundry, you are merely exerting coercive influence over the course of my actions. You do not properly control them. I always have a choice to refuse and take the bullet.

          In order to prove my point wrong you would need to somehow use my hand to hold a gun to the head of a third party and force him to do your laundry. But you can’t do that.

          The electrical impulses of your nervous system are not connected to my muscles.

          If you do put that bullet through my head, I will be dead. I cannot move on and carry on my life in some other body.

          I am my mind and body. My body and mind are me. Exclusively.

          The scandal of slavery is not in the fact that slaves are not self-owners, but in the fact that the people held as slaves are self-owners, unjustifiably deprived of their freedom by aggression.

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        • Youliy Ninov

          What you want to say is that in some ways your control of your body is exclusive. The last may or may not be true, or may be true now but not in the future (technology develops).

          The problem is that you use the absolute, all-inclusive statement that you control your body exclusively. I.e. in any possible way, at any time, etc. And from this absolute statement you advance your argument. However the statement is not absolute (as I showed).

          What you have in fact done is to take a specific case and make it general (unjustifiably). And then from this (allready general) statement to prove something. The last is logically inconsistent.

           

          And about :” I always have a choice to refuse and take the bullet.”

          Yes, but you do not have the choice NOT to take the bullet. Your ways of action are limited. And the limitation is not imposed by you but by me. So, your control over your body is not always absolute.

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        • Devin Jell

          All that you have shown is that aggression exists.

          Can my actions be influenced or manipulated by outside forces, including other people? Of course.

          But you are able to control me only in an indirect way, never directly. Direct and immediate control of my self is exclusively mine. When it comes to assigning ownership, direct control must obviously have logical-temporal priority (precedence) as compared to any indirect control. Knocking over your mailbox does not give me ownership of it.

          The relationship between my mind and body is unique. No other human has a direct and immediate control of me. This objective relationship is mine exclusively. A similarly unique relationship exists between the mind and body of all other humans across time and space.

          To prove otherwise would require one to control my actions without a threat of aggression or the use of persuasion (i.e. an argument).

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        • Youliy Ninov

          “All that you have shown is that aggression exists.”

          Yes. And it is enough to make your argument: quote:”..each person has exclusive use and control of their own mind and body..” invalid.

          Let me rephrase it in another way. You say, quote :”But you are able to control me only in an indirect way, never directly. ”

          So, according to you there are two types of control and one of them is not yours to use. However in your original statement you say “exclusive control”, i.e. you lump together all types of control in it, direct and indirect. In such a way you reach a contradiction.

          An suitable analogy would be:” This cat is black. And because all cats are black it follows ……….”. Improper generalization.

          In my humble opinon it is becuase of such generalizations that philosophy is useless to read. Any Rand’s one is just one step better than the others and that is why I like it.

           

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        • Devin Jell

          I have made a distinction between the direct control of self and influence by others. One is true control, one is not. You are the one that conflates them as equal concepts.

          Ayn Rand influenced millions through her arguments. Persuasion. Does this give her ownership over those who read her works?

          Police arrest millions of people each year, influencing the arrestee’s behavior with threats of force. Coercion. Does this give ownership of the arrestee to the arresting officer? If so how and why? It gives the cop possession at most, but possession is not the same as ownership.

          Showing that aggression exists does not invalidate my argument. It reinforces it since aggression pre-supposes self-ownership. One cannot identify an act of aggression without implicitly assigning a corresponding property right to the victim.

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        • Youliy Ninov

          “I have made a distinction between the direct control of self and influence by others.”

          You think you did and you are convinced. However it does not show in  your statement, namely:

          “..each person has exclusive use and control of their own mind and body..”

          I will stop here. It is up to you to accept my criticism or not. Please, take into consideration that I am not against you or your convictions in any way.

          Ayn Rand has said that one should not accept contradictions. I saw one and discussed it  with you. It is up to you to accept it or not. Bye!

           

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    Matthew John Hayden

    Non-aggression as a categorical imperative in ethics was probably what Rothbard had in mind. Perhaps? Cos if you can demonstrate that it is the soundest single point around which all ethical conduct flows then you’ve arrived at an axiom of ethics (an axiomatic ought), though not an axiom of practice (an axiomatic is).

    Trying to assert anything other than self-ownership and non-aggression, in other words to contradict a non-aggression axiom, invites absurdity because any ethics permitting such a thing some of the time will effectively permit it all of the time, absent some forceful agency (the state in practice).

    Perhaps. Perhaps. Perhaps.

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    Cameron T. Belt

    I’d love for you to read my own thoughts on this subject, i just posted an article the other day and would love to hear what you have to say! http://freeelectron.liberty.me/2015/04/13/ethics-and-the-n-a-p/

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