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Eamon Arasbard

The Golden Rule as a basis for rights

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This is something I've been thinking about lately, and I'm wondering what other people think of my reasoning here.

 

So, to start with, I think that the statement "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" is not only consistent with Objectivism, but required by it. The way I want others to treat me is my own rational evaluation of the way I should be treated as a human being. Logically speaking, this means that it is the same way that every human being should be treated. So by violating this principle, I am acting in a way which is inherently irrational.

 

This would also provide the basis for the existence of rights. We want to be free to choose how to conduct our own lives, so we respect that right for others, and expect the political system to do the same. We want people to respect our right to practice Objectivism, even if they disagree with it, so we respect the rights of Christians to practice Christianity, even though we disagree with it. We want the right topublicly express Objectivist ideas, so we expect society to respect freedom of speech. We want the right to due process, so we defend it even when we suspect someone of having genuinely committed a crime.

 

This principle also exists even in the absense of a likelihood of reciprocity. For instance, there might be a certain group of leftists who are lobbying the government to outlaw Objectivism as "hate speech." A proper adherence to Objectivist principles would require us to respect their right to express their views, even though they want to take away our right to do the same. Individual rights are absolute, even for those who do not respect them.

 

I believe that this would also provide a basis for resolving a key disagreement between Objectivism and libertarianism -- specifically, each philosophy's differing position on the issue of civilian casualties in war. Objectivism holds that civilian casualties are acceptable, because civilians on the enemy side are responsible the actions of their government. Libertarianism holds that killing a bystander while waging war on an aggressor is an act of aggression. Based on my reasoning above, I would say that the libertarian position is correct, and that in the course of self-defense we only have the right to harm individuals directly engaged in acts of aggression against us.

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Objectivist Politics is rooted in Objectivist Ethics (of rational self interest). Allowing myself to be murdered, and my country to be destroyed by savages (which is what would happen, if we tied the hands of the people defending free countries the way you're suggesting) isn't in our self interest.

Doing that isn't a reconciliation between Objectivism and Libertarianism, it's the rejection of Objectivist values in favor of whatever whim the nearest despot or savage nation has planned for us.

Edited by Nicky

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So, to start with, I think that the statement "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" is not only consistent with Objectivism, but required by it.

The Objectivist concept of justice prescribes that we give people what they deserve, and expect what we deserve in return, according to a set of objective standards. Not to give them what we expect to be given, no matter who we're dealing with. 

 

The version of that consistent with Objectivism would read "treat others by the same standard you would have them treat you by". 

Objectivism holds that civilian casualties are acceptable, because civilians on the enemy side are responsible the actions of their government.

Again close, but not quite. Objectivism holds that all groups and infrastructure involved in the war effort are legitimate targets, not that every person in the enemy country is, no matter what they're doing.

No Objectivist would consider a civilian who has done nothing to help his government, morally responsible for the war, and a legitimate target.

Of course, Objectivism is also fine with collateral damage, when it is unavoidable. But the reason for that, again, isn't that they deserve it: it is that it is unavoidable, during war. The notion that, since collateral damage is unavoidable, war should never be waged, defies reason. Same is true for simple law enforcement, btw. It also comes with unavoidable collateral damage (less of it, but it's there).

Edited by Nicky

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The version of that consistent with Objectivism would read "treat others by the same standard you would have them treat you by".

 

Okay, fair enough. It is of course rational to act in ways which penalize those who are responsible for harming oneself. But I would still maintain that the Golden Rule is an acceptable standard among rational individuals.

 

 

Again close, but not quite. Objectivism holds that all groups and infrastructure involved in the war effort are legitimate targets, not that every person in the enemy country is, no matter what they're doing.

 

This is a position which I think is reasonable. I would say that a factory which is producing weapons for the enemy is a legitimate target, because they are supporting their government's acts of aggression by overt actions. I would also say that someone who is making propaganda supporting a war of aggression is inciting violence. This can get a bit hazy (For instance someone in Germany might post a rant online calling for the German government to attack the U.S., which I would say falls under freedom of speech) but if there is an ongoing war of aggression, then anyone who publishes propaganda supporting is, in my view, responsible for their government's actions.

 

 

No Objectivist would hold a civilian who has done nothing to help his government, morally responsible for the war, and a legitimate target.

 

I believe that Rand wrote at one point that if there was ever a war with Russia, then she hoped that Russian civilians were harmed, because they were morally responsible for Communism. I have also heard the argument made by people from the ARI that civilian casualties in Islamist countries are acceptable because the civilian populations of those countries are complicit in support fundamentalist Islam.

 

 

Of course, Objectivism is also fine with collateral damage, when it is unavoidable. But the reason for that, again, isn't that they deserve it: it is that it is unavoidable, during war.

 

This would be a separate argument, which would require a different answer. I do not believe that this could be addressed solely on the basis of the Golden Rule.

 

 

The notion that, since collateral damage is unavoidable, war should never be waged, defies reason.

 

But it would require a much higher standard for what level threat would justify war.

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This article is just one example of an orthodox Objectivist using complicity to justify killing civilians, but there are others:

 

http://ari.aynrand.org/issues/foreign-policy/self-defense-and-free-trade/Innocents-in-War#filter-bar

 

 

Moreover, the objection contains a mistaken assumption: it is false that every civilian in enemy territory--whether we are speaking of Hitler's Germany or Hirohito's Japan or the Taliban's Afghanistan or Hussein's Iraq--is innocent.

 

Many civilians in the Mid-East, for example, hate us and actively support, materially and/or spiritually, those plotting our deaths. Can one seriously maintain, for instance, that the individuals in the Mid-East who celebrated by dancing in the streets on September 11 are innocent?

 

Other civilians in enemy states are passive, unthinking followers. Their work and economic production, however meager, supports their terrorist governments and so they are in part responsible for the continued power of our enemies. They too are not innocent-and their deaths may be unavoidable in order for America to defend itself. (Remember too that today's civilian is tomorrow's soldier.)

 

But what of those who truly are innocent?

 

The civilians in enemy territory who actually oppose their dictatorial, terrorist governments are usually their governments' first innocent victims. All such individuals who remain alive and outside of prison camps should try to flee their country or fight with us (as some did in Afghanistan).

 

And the truly innocent who live in countries that initiate force against other nations will acknowledge the moral right of a free nation to bomb their countries and destroy their governments--even if this jeopardizes their own lives. No truly innocent civilian in Nazi Germany, for example, would have questioned the morality of the Allies razing Germany, even if he knew he may die in the attacks. No truly innocent individual wishes to become a tool of or a shield for his murderous government; he wishes to see his government toppled.

 

Earlier in the article, the author argues:

 

 

In fact, victory with a minimum of one's own casualties sometimes requires a free nation to deliberately target the civilians of an aggressor nation in order to cripple its economic production and/or break its will.

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The Golden rule is pretty general. It does not actually tell us what is good or what is right. So, strictly speaking, it is not a rule of Ethics, but more like a meta-Ethical or proto-Ethical rule, saying that whatever ethical rules we come up with should be universal principles, not something that works for one person in one context. No wonder lots of philosophies incorporate something similar.

 

Since it does not postulate a very specific ethics, I don't think says that one should not bomb civilians. The bombing of civilians may or may not be compatible with the rule, depending on how you expect other countries to act toward you.

 

If your ethics says "If the voters in a country vote to attack another country without reason, the other country may bomb them without knowing who voted which way", this does not contradict the golden rule as long as you also say "..and it would be right for a country to bomb civilians here if we vote to attack them without reason". The reciprocity is preserved and thus the Golden Rule is upheld.

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If your ethics says "If the voters in a country vote to attack another country without reason, the other country may bomb them without knowing who voted which way", this does not contradict the golden rule as long as you also say "..and it would be right for a country to bomb civilians here if we vote to attack them without reason". The reciprocity is preserved and thus the Golden Rule is upheld.

 

Yes, but I don't believe it would be in anyone's self-interest to support a moral principle of that nature. The U.S. government could (And has) choose to wage war without just cause, but that does not mean I want to give another country the right to bomb me in my sleep.

 

 

It is irrelevant whether or not killed civilians are innocent or not. The only thing that is relevant is whether or not it is in our self-interest.

 

It is relevant whether or not we have a moral right to kill them.

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It is relevant whether or not we have a moral right to kill them.

Under normal circumstances it would be, but under circumstances in which one's rights are threatened it becomes irrelevant. For example, under normal circumstances it would be immoral to trespass onto someone's property, but if I were being chased by a killer I would be perfectly justified in hiding on that property without the owner's consent.

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Yes, but I don't believe it would be in anyone's self-interest to support a moral principle of that nature. The U.S. government could (And has) choose to wage war without just cause, but that does not mean I want to give another country the right to bomb me in my sleep.

If a whole lot of people in your subdivision support attacking some other country, you should not be surprised if that other country tries to bomb your sub at some point as a way to get them to cease and desist. 

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This article is just one example of an orthodox Objectivist using complicity to justify killing civilians, but there are others:

 

http://ari.aynrand.org/issues/foreign-policy/self-defense-and-free-trade/Innocents-in-War#filter-bar

 

 

Earlier in the article, the author argues:

That's the same exact argument I made above. It states that people who work to help the war effort are legitimate targets. Nowhere does it state that people should be considered accomplices, and therefor targets, simply for living in an enemy country (which is the straw man you built in your OP).

But it would require a much higher standard for what level threat would justify war.

Much higher than who's standard? Edited by Nicky

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Under normal circumstances it would be, but under circumstances in which one's rights are threatened it becomes irrelevant. For example, under normal circumstances it would be immoral to trespass onto someone's property, but if I were being chased by a killer I would be perfectly justified in hiding on that property without the owner's consent.

 

There is a difference of degree between trespassing on someone's property and killing them.

 

 

If a whole lot of people in your subdivision support attacking some other country, you should not be surprised if that other country tries to bomb your sub at some point as a way to get them to cease and desist.

 

In this circumstance, the leaders of the other nation are also in violation of the non-aggression principle.

 

 

That's the same exact argument I made above. It states that people who work to help the war effort are legitimate targets.

 

It states that anyone who helps the war effort through their economic production is a legitimate target. I was under the impression that they were implying that citizens who provide tax revenue for their government by working are complicit, but I may have been mistaken. The article does, however, state that anyone who is genuinely innocent will not object to being killed (The implication being that any civilian who objects to being killed is guilty) and that the government is justified in deliberately targeting civilians.

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It states that anyone who helps the war effort through their economic production is a legitimate target. I was under the impression that they were implying that citizens who provide tax revenue for their government by working are complicit, but I may have been mistaken. The article does, however, state that anyone who is genuinely innocent will not object to being killed (The implication being that any civilian who objects to being killed is guilty) and that the government is justified in deliberately targeting civilians.

Above, when I pointed out the distinction, you avoided the conversation on the issue of collateral damage vs. targeting someone. Now, you're back to equivocating between the two, even though the article you're describing clearly makes the distinction.

The articles says that innocents wouldn't object to their country, and war infrastructure, being bombed. It does not say that they wouldn't object to being treated as guilty of some offense, and targeted. You rephrased that to "object to being killed", which blurs the line between being killed as collateral damage and being a target of a military strike. You did this after I already pointed out the difference, which is why I'm starting ot suspect that you're not giving understanding the article (and the Objectivist position) an honest effort.

Objectivists don't condone the deliberate targeting of the house of an innocent person, simply because he is a citizen of an enemy country. He would have to be wilfully involved in the war to be a deliberate target. He could still die, as a collateral casualty, either by being mistaken as a legitimate target, or in a strike agaisnt a different objective, but he would not be targeted for the reason you claim (simply being a citizen, or simply being forced to pay taxes - as long as he only pays the minimum necessary taxes to survive, of course - if he's Bill Gates, continuing to create massive ammounts of value despite knowing that most of what he produces is going towards an evil cause, then he's a legitimate target).

Edited by Nicky

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The Golden Rule theory of ethics here assumes that everyone is acting in their self interests. 

 

But how do we know to do that? 

 

That is an ethical question and the only ethical thing we are given is to do onto as we expect them to do to us?  You can be irrational and expect others to be irrational to you and not violate the Golden Rule.  Or you could use it as a moral blank check by promising others to not judge them, for example.

 

You are accepting ethical ideas as pre-existing to support your ethical primiary.  That is why it fails as an ethical priciple. 

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If you state the golden Rule in the obverse, saying, 'Don't do anything to others that you wouldn't have them do to you", what you uncover is the concept of 'reciprocity'.

 

In other words, the reason why acting selfishly should be done with extreme caution is because it encourages others to do the same. Then everyone acts in the manner of obtaining a narrow self interest.

 

For example, if there's a written charter that protects civilians in the time of war, violation puts your own non-combatants at risk.

 

To this end, consider the American attitude that they could bomb Iraq, et al, with impunity because no Islamic nation had the means to recriprocate. Hello, 9/11!

 

So now, in order to launch drones, America has turned itself into a torture/security state to protect its own citizens. This is the price of 'acting in one's own selfish interests'.

Edited by frank harley

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It is irrelevant whether or not killed civilians are innocent or not. The only thing that is relevant is whether or not it is in our self-interest.

I would like to elaborate on that.  Collateral damage aside, the ARI article he linked to explicitly advocated the deliberate targeting of noncombatants as a means of destroying the enemy's resolve.

  1. Can it objectively benefit us to deliberately kill civilians?
  2. Does it benefit an individual to apply the golden rule to others?

Since "moral" should mean "self-interested" the OP should be answerable in terms of costs and benefits.  I think that would be a worthwhile line of reasoning.

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I would like to elaborate on that.  Collateral damage aside, the ARI article he linked to explicitly advocated the deliberate targeting of noncombatants as a means of destroying the enemy's resolve.

  1. Can it objectively benefit us to deliberately kill civilians?
  2. Does it benefit an individual to apply the golden rule to others?

Since "moral" should mean "self-interested" the OP should be answerable in terms of costs and benefits.  I think that would be a worthwhile line of reasoning.

In this particular case, there's a mis-calculation. Killing innocent civilians more often than not reinforces the will to resist.

 

Which leads me to the same broader point that Kant discussed in Crit#2 (Practical Reason). Ethics can never be fully self-interested because we don't know what our inerests truly are until we work relationships out with other people. This, in the very least, gives us an opportunity to assess cause and effect.

 

Second, if we follow a path that's duty-bound, we might better understand how our real interests follow a directed course of action.

 

Otherwise, the notion of selfishness collapses into a hopeless tautology in which all ethical actions--charitable, sacrificial, et al-- are 'self-interested'.

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In this particular case, there's a mis-calculation. Killing innocent civilians more often than not reinforces the will to resist.

 

Which leads me to the same broader point that Kant discussed in Crit#2 (Practical Reason). Ethics can never be fully self-interested because we don't know what our inerests truly are until we work relationships out with other people. This, in the very least, gives us an opportunity to assess cause and effect.

 

Second, if we follow a path that's duty-bound, we might better understand how our real interests follow a directed course of action.

 

Otherwise, the notion of selfishness collapses into a hopeless tautology in which all ethical actions--charitable, sacrificial, et al-- are 'self-interested'.

Who or what dictates "duty"(defined by what standard), and what would be an example of nonreal interests?

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Who or what dictates "duty"(defined by what standard), and what would be an example of nonreal interests?

'Duty is to apply one's question,. "How must I act?" to a standard that's detached from sentiments of self-interest. According to Kant, thinking first in terms of direct self-interest will, more often than not, offer you an un-realistic appraisal of the best course of action. In other words, real self-interest necessitates a method for detaching subjective desires from decision-making.

 

For example, in killing innocent civialians in time of war (applicable, as well, in Kant's age), one's first instinct would be to rid oneself of a potential problem.

 

Then, detach the categorical in your mind--"Act only upon that principle which might be willed universal law." (Note how the statement combines both the golden rule and reciprocity!) Indirect self-interest, as it were--But kant was interested in the method whereby we think things correctly thru to the end.

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'Duty is to apply one's question,. "How must I act?" to a standard that's detached from sentiments of self-interest. According to Kant, thinking first in terms of direct self-interest will, more often than not, offer you an un-realistic appraisal of the best course of action. In other words, real self-interest necessitates a method for detaching subjective desires from decision-making.

 

For example, in killing innocent civialians in time of war (applicable, as well, in Kant's age), one's first instinct would be to rid oneself of a potential problem.

 

Then, detach the categorical in your mind--"Act only upon that principle which might be willed universal law." (Note how the statement combines both the golden rule and reciprocity!) Indirect self-interest, as it were--But kant was interested in the method whereby we think things correctly thru to the end.

I view morality as principles to guide man's actions . I understand that these principles apply to all men, but can only be used by individual men. They apply to all men in general, but are used by and benefit men individually.

My 'duty' to myself is to not steal. It's not that there is a 'rule' that states that Tad can not steal, it's the idea that not stealing will benefit my life in that not stealing will , as a rule, help me to live in a manner more consistent with reality. I benefit from my moral actions, that other's are then not harmed by my actions is a consequent benefit to them, but ultimately the actions result from my seeking to do no harm to myself, or from my self interest.

Basing a morality on how individual action affects others, is to make others the standard. If the standard of duty is to others and self interest should be removed , to whatever extent, how can this be a guide to individual action and not obediance to some authority outside of one's judgement?

Civilian death in war results from their proximity to the violence of war and the moral responsibility rests with the aggressors.

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This is something I've been thinking about lately, and I'm wondering what other people think of my reasoning here.

 

So, to start with, I think that the statement "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" is not only consistent with Objectivism, but required by it. The way I want others to treat me is my own rational evaluation of the way I should be treated as a human being. Logically speaking, this means that it is the same way that every human being should be treated. So by violating this principle, I am acting in a way which is inherently irrational.

 

...

An aggressor would not agree with you, and there are impediments to leading by example when one is responding to mortal threats.

 

...

 

This would also provide the basis for the existence of rights. We want to be free to choose how to conduct our own lives, so we respect that right for others, and expect the political system to do the same. We want people to respect our right to practice Objectivism, even if they disagree with it, so we respect the rights of Christians to practice Christianity, even though we disagree with it. We want the right topublicly express Objectivist ideas, so we expect society to respect freedom of speech. We want the right to due process, so we defend it even when we suspect someone of having genuinely committed a crime.

 

...

One must be cautious in asserting what we want, particularily with respect to a right to life.  For example, are suicides a result of dissent or does a right to life subsume a right not to live?  And if a right to life sanctions suicide, are those who attempt to prevent suicide guilty of transgression??

 

...

 

This principle also exists even in the absense of a likelihood of reciprocity. For instance, there might be a certain group of leftists who are lobbying the government to outlaw Objectivism as "hate speech." A proper adherence to Objectivist principles would require us to respect their right to express their views, even though they want to take away our right to do the same. Individual rights are absolute, even for those who do not respect them.

 

...

And yet if those "leftists" win their day in court, an individual right to free speech becomes less than absolute.  Does 'do unto others' imply a duty to respect the will of a majority of others?

 

...

 

I believe that this would also provide a basis for resolving a key disagreement between Objectivism and libertarianism -- specifically, each philosophy's differing position on the issue of civilian casualties in war. Objectivism holds that civilian casualties are acceptable, because civilians on the enemy side are responsible the actions of their government. Libertarianism holds that killing a bystander while waging war on an aggressor is an act of aggression. Based on my reasoning above, I would say that the libertarian position is correct, and that in the course of self-defense we only have the right to harm individuals directly engaged in acts of aggression against us.

I'm not sure that distinction exists as you have described it, but as an example of 'do unto others' it demonstrates one of many impediments to initiating actions presumed to be agreeable to others, or to influence others to respond in kind.

 

I believe ethical reciprocity is a better descriptor of the Golden Rule, and that this premise does support the practice of justice in a legal context, and interactions with others in general.  However leading by example must also respond to actions one wouldn't choose to initiate, yet must adopt to survive if one chooses to survive aggression.

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Killing innocent civilians more often than not reinforces the will to resist.

Yes.  On that point, I'm inclined to agree with you.

 

Duty is to apply one's question,. "How must I act?" to a standard that's detached from sentiments of self-interest. According to Kant, thinking first in terms of direct self-interest will, more often than not, offer you an un-realistic appraisal of the best course of action.

But the question itself, "How must I act," can only be meaningful if you care about the "I".  If you detach your hopes and desires from morality, as such, then you logically cannot give a damn about morality itself.  And if you do not personally care to be good then why bother trying to be?

 

By Kant's own definition his ethics is not and cannot be of any value, to anyone, under any circumstances.

 

Otherwise, the notion of selfishness collapses into a hopeless tautology in which all ethical actions--charitable, sacrificial, et al-- are 'self-interested'.

This is why you need to think about the meaning of your "self".

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Yes.  On that point, I'm inclined to agree with you.

 

But the question itself, "How must I act," can only be meaningful if you care about the "I".  If you detach your hopes and desires from morality, as such, then you logically cannot give a damn about morality itself.  And if you do not personally care to be good then why bother trying to be?

 

By Kant's own definition his ethics is not and cannot be of any value, to anyone, under any circumstances.

 

This is why you need to think about the meaning of your "self".

Kant's view is that we obtain a better decision if we somwhat detach ourselves from our emotions. Rules and principles do just that. So it is for  lawyers when they need legal advice, or doctors when they're ill--by not administering to themselves.

 

From that point onwards, Kant created the categorical as the best, most comprehensive principle.

 

In passing, it's a straw dog to suggest that anyone is purely altruistic, caring nothing for their own personal well-being...

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