Jump to content
Objectivism Online Forum

Why is the Initiation of Force Immoral?

Rate this topic


Recommended Posts

I'm new to Objectivism, and have found most of it very insightful, and I certainly classify myself as a potential Objectivist. However, after reading Peikoff's argument for why the initiation of force is evil (or immoral) in OPAR, a question popped into my mind that I haven't been able to resolve through the writings of Rand that I have available: Why is the initiation of force immoral?

Peikoff's essential claim in OPAR is that the initiation of force is evil because reason and cognition are impossible when one is the recipient of the initiation of force. I accept as truth that one cannot use their mind when being forced, but then I fail to see why that qualifies the initiation of force as immoral given Peikoff's early claim that morality is derivative from one's own life, not the lives of anyone else. It seems to me that Peikoff presents an egoist ethical system, yet then claims that the initiation of force is immoral because it violates a pseudo-altruist ethical system. To my understanding, under an egoist system of ethics, the only way to demonstrate that the initiation of force is immoral would be to demonstrate that the initiation of force is antithetical to the values/life of the one who is initiating the force, which Peikoff doesn't attempt to demonstrate in this specific writing of his.

I anticipate that it can be demonstrated to some degree that the initiation of force can act against the values of the one who is initiating the force (because it would destabilize society, because the initiator would be devaluing his own life by devaluing others, because the initiator would suffer from retaliation, etc.) but all of the cases that I can think of are minor. I don't know if Objectivism would subscribe to a scale of morality, but it seems to me that all the violations of egoist morality by the initiation of force would be less severe than violations doing something small to directly injure one's self. For example, murder might be immoral to some degree because of the reasons I listed in parentheses above, but shooting yourself in the foot would seem to be more immoral because it would directly act against your own values on a greater scale. (Does Objectivism recognize such a scale of value? I assume as much, but am not sure.)

Therefore, I ask the question: Why is the initiation of force immoral, and how immoral is it?

I don't mean this to be a criticism of Objectivism, but merely an admission of my lack of understanding of it.

(I would assume that the initiation of force has been discussed many-a-time here, but I couldn't find any times that would adequately answer my question. If such a thread exists, directing me to it would be great.)

Link to post
Share on other sites

Objectivism holds that a man has one fundamental right: a man's right to his own life. In "The Virtue of Selfishness" Rand writes, "Life is a process of self-sustaining and self-generated action; the right to life means the right to engage in self-sustaining and self-generated action—which means: the freedom to take all the actions required by the nature of a rational being for the support, the furtherance, the fulfillment and the enjoyment of his own life."

This right stems directly from the Objectivist ethical code, which upholds the premise that a man is an end in himself, that a man must live for his own sake, and that pursuing his rational self-interest is his highest moral purpose in life.

The initiation of force, therefore is immoral because it violates a man's right to guide his own life as he sees fit. Read some of Rand's writing on Physical Force from the Lexicon.

Link to post
Share on other sites
Therefore, I ask the question: Why is the initiation of force immoral, and how immoral is it?

I don't mean this to be a criticism of Objectivism, but merely an admission of my lack of understanding of it.

(I would assume that the initiation of force has been discussed many-a-time here, but I couldn't find any times that would adequately answer my question. If such a thread exists, directing me to it would be great.)

Well, the essential answer is that force and the mind are opposites, in that the mind can't reason by force. To think and act on our thoughts we need to be free.

Now, as to why you shouldn't initiate force against others, it is because you expect the same from them. If you didn't have reciprocity, then you couldn't have freedom, because you could well be the victim of the force of others and it would be a dog-eat-dog system. In such a system, you would be less able to be productive as would others. Such a society would be extremely poor and barely able to support life. In contrast, a system where everyone is free, unleashes the full power of the human mind of everyone who wants to think and produce and you would gain the amazing benefits of such a society. I mean, it's the difference between the Sudan and Hong Kong, but the contrast would be even starker! because we would have a super Hong Kong in a truly free system.

Link to post
Share on other sites

A good reply to this also lies in Galt's Speech from Atlas Shrugged:

"Whatever may be open to disagreement, there is one act of evil that may not, the act that no man may commit against others and no man may sanction or forgive. So long as men desire to live together, no man may initiate—do you hear me? no man may start—the use of physical force against others.

"To interpose the threat of physical destruction between a man and his perception of reality, is to negate and paralyze his means of survival; to force-him to act against his own judgment, is like forcing him to act against his own sight. Whoever, to whatever purpose or extent, initiates the use of force, is a killer acting on the premise of death in a manner wider than murder: the premise of destroying man's capacity to live.

"Do not open your mouth to tell me that your mind has convinced you of your right to force my mind. Force and mind are opposites; morality ends where a gun begins. When you declare that men are irrational animals and propose to treat them as such, you define thereby your own character and can no longer claim the sanction of reason—as no advocate of contradictions can claim it. There can be no 'right' to destroy the source of rights, the only means of judging right and wrong: the mind.

"To force a man to drop his own mind and to accept your will as a substitute, with a gun in place of a syllogism, with terror in place of proof, and death as the final argument—is to attempt to exist in defiance of reality. Reality demands of man that he act for his own rational interest; your gun demands of him that he act against it. Reality threatens man with death if he does not act on his rational judgment: you threaten him with death if he does. You place him into a world where the price of his life is the surrender of all the virtues required by life—and death by a process of gradual destruction is all that you and your system will achieve, when death is made to be the ruling power, the winning argument in a society of men.

"Be it a highwayman who confronts a traveler with the ultimatum: 'Your money or your life,' or a politician who confronts a country with the ultimatum: 'Your children's education or your life,' the meaning of that ultimatum is: 'Your mind or your life'—and neither is possible to man without the other.

"If there are degrees of evil, it is hard to say who is the more contemptible: the brute who assumes the right to force the mind of others or the moral degenerate who grants to others the right to force his mind. That is the moral absolute one does not leave open to debate. I do not grant the terms of reason to men who propose to deprive me of reason. I do not enter discussions with neighbors who think they can forbid me to think. I do not place my moral sanction upon a murderer's wish to kill me. When a man attempts to deal with me by force, I answer him—by force.

"It is only as retaliation that force may be used and only against the man who starts its use. No, I do not share his evil or sink to his concept of morality: I merely grant him his choice, destruction, the only destruction he had the right to choose: his own. He uses force to seize a value; I use it only to destroy destruction. A holdup man seeks to gain wealth by killing me; I do not grow richer by killing a holdup man. I seek no values by means of evil, nor do I surrender my values to evil.

Link to post
Share on other sites
This right stems directly from the Objectivist ethical code, which upholds the premise that a man is an end in himself, that a man must live for his own sake, and that pursuing his rational self-interest is his highest moral purpose in life.

The initiation of force, therefore is immoral because it violates a man's right to guide his own life as he sees fit.

It seems to me that that line of reasoning is slightly faulty, Brandon. If my own self-interest is what determines morality, then why is it immoral for me to prevent someone else from pursuing their own self-interest? If other's self-interest is what determined morality, then that morality would be a strain of altruism.

It seems to me that your argument, Thales, and (part of) the argument made by Rand through Galt is essentially what I anticipated in my original post: the initiation of force is evil because it destabilizes society, which in the long-run leads to the initiator of force suffering from negative consequences.

Although that is probably true to some degree, it seems rather inadequate to me. The degree of immorality spawned from one action of the initiation of force, if that was why it is evil, seems rather small. If that was the only reason the initiation of force is evil, I think it could well be argued that shooting your toe is more immoral than murdering someone, since you're more directly and to a greater degree hurting your own interests if you shoot your toe. Moreover, I think that there are probably a decent number of isolated cases where you could initiate force without it spilling over to turn society into a more "dog-eat-dog" system.

So I suppose I'm mainly just left with the second half of my original question: How immoral is the initiation of force, and why (if at all) would it be more immoral than just the small amount of decreased ability to pursue my own self-interest due to the destabilization of society?

Link to post
Share on other sites

What is being discussed here is the concept "prudent predator", which is a frequent topic of discussion. The prudent predator believes he can "get away with" violating rights and ultimately achieve happiness through that means.

This thread is probably king of the prudent predator threads on this board, clocking in at 34 pages.

The quick response, gotten from this post, is "It seems predation is prudent, so long as you're the only predator".

Edited by Chops
Link to post
Share on other sites
So I suppose I'm mainly just left with the second half of my original question: How immoral is the initiation of force, and why (if at all) would it be more immoral than just the small amount of decreased ability to pursue my own self-interest due to the destabilization of society?

It is immoral to initiate force for the reason given in the Ayn Rand quotes given earlier. If you want to act like an uncivilized aggressor who decides to deal in threats, force, fraud, etc., then any rational man has the option of treating you in kind -- i.e. we would thereby gain the choice of your premises and can use force to restrain you. So, from the purely egoistic stance, do you want to trade value for value in economic exchange, or do you want to be treated as a brute who, by right, could be forced to do anything by your own premises?

It is not altruism that is at work in Rand's formulation, but rather egoism, that a rational man would not want to exchange punches in order to gain a value, because then he could have much greater force acted against him by right.

Therefore to the rational man, force can only be used to deal with force, and that if the brute wants to use force as his means of "exchange" then the rest of us could comply at any time and take the brute out with force, either by restraining him or by killing him. If that is the terms under which you want to live, then tell us your real name and your address so we can send the police your way.

Link to post
Share on other sites
It seems to me that that line of reasoning is slightly faulty, Brandon. If my own self-interest is what determines morality, then why is it immoral for me to prevent someone else from pursuing their own self-interest? If other's self-interest is what determined morality, then that morality would be a strain of altruism.

If you have the right to prevent someone from pursuing their self interest, then rationally, they would have the right to prevent you from pursuing your self-interest. How could upholding this premise be in your self-interest? Logically, it can't be against your self-interest and for your self-interest at the same time...

If you do not have the right to prevent someone from pursuing their self-interest, then rationally, they do not have the right to prevent you from pursuing your self-interest. Therefore, upholding the premise that the initiation of force is evil, is in your self-interest.

Edited by brandonk2009
Link to post
Share on other sites

It is not in your self interest to iniate force against other rational people (i.e. people who produce something), no matter the context, because in the long run you profit from their independence. E.g. If you rob your favorite artist of his livelihood you won't see another painting from him.

That principle applies even if your victim has no way to retaliate, i.e. theoretically there would be no need for a police in a country where all individuals are rational egoists.

If you really want the best in your life then you let others follow their own way of life. If you don't want to pursuit a better life then go and amass all riches of the world by force and enslave mankind. You might get 'a good life' but not the best life possible.

Link to post
Share on other sites
It seems to me that that line of reasoning is slightly faulty, Brandon. If my own self-interest is what determines morality, then why is it immoral for me to prevent someone else from pursuing their own self-interest?

In essence, if you hold the premise that your own self-interest is what determines morality, then you first establish that you have the right to life and therefore to your mind and to be free from the initiation of force, etc.

At that point it would be the height of unreason and hypocrisy to apply a double standard to yourself and others. If you have the right to your life, and this right is derived from your nature, then logically they enjoy the same right. To establish your own rights, then you must simultaneously establish theirs.

And since morality is based on the recognition of reality, then trying to lie to yourself and hold a double standard is immoral.

All these things are tied together, as are the other arguments presented here about living in a civilized society, the benefits of cooperation, and the arguments against the prudent predator presented elsewhere. So while I'm addressing your point with the above, do please bear in mind that it isn't simply this, but all of the other arguments as well. The initiation of force is wrong on many, many levels.

Link to post
Share on other sites
I think that I've got a pretty good grasp of the essence of the answer, particularly in that (huge) link to prudent predators. Thanks everyone very much for the help.

I'm glad to hear that.

One aspect that we haven't discussed in this thread is the role of justice in a rational man's life. Justice is an Objectivist virtue and it basically comes down to relating to oneself and others on a has earned basis. The thug does not operate on a has earned basis because he takes instead of trading. Somewhere in the back of his mind this has to bother him, unless he is so evasive that his own moral worth means nothing to him. But why would a rational man want to live in that constant state of self evasiveness whereby he doesn't want to ever confront himself by a rational moral standard? The thug, especially modern ones, might be able to rationalize that he deserves something he hasn't earned, when he is told all his life that the haves have because they stole from the have-nots, but I think he knows this is a rationalization and he must hide his true intent from everyone and himself -- that he hasn't earned anything, not even self-esteem.

I've done some things in the past that in retrospect were rather stupid, but in the present context of making those decisions, I did what I thought I ought to do. And if someone wants to confront me with a supposed breach of morality (i.e a breach of rationality), they are welcome to confront me with it. If I did do something that was immoral, I can learn my lesson and change my ways. A rational and self-confident man can say that; an irrational man won't want to face what he did and effectively lives out his live hiding from himself. Not a state of mind conducive to self-esteem, one of the primary values of Objectivism.

All of the virtues of Objectivism are integrated together -- a primary focus on existence and gaining values by thinking and earning. Knocking someone over the head and stealing his wallet is not focusing on existence and being rational; neither is robbing a bank nor trying con someone out of a lifetime's worth of work (as someone tried to do to me recently). A rational man proudly offers value for value, in openly stated terms; a con-man's whole "game" is to hide the true value of what he has to offer, if anything, in an effort to try to cheat reality. But reality cannot be cheated.

Miss Rand had an adage that the murderer wins over the pick-pocket; meaning that once someone accepts that it is OK to initiate force, then there is no limit as to what can be permitted and what cannot be permitted. If you steal something from someone, and thereby initiate force, then, on principle, you have authorized the murderer to come and take everything you own, including your life. So, I think you'd want to be careful of not advocating the initiation of force or it's counterpart, fraud. You might get away with it in the short term, but you will be reduced to the level of a cornered animal when confronted by the honest, rational man.

Link to post
Share on other sites
Objectivism holds that a man has one fundamental right: a man's right to his own life. In "The Virtue of Selfishness" Rand writes, "Life is a process of self-sustaining and self-generated action; the right to life means the right to engage in self-sustaining and self-generated action—which means: the freedom to take all the actions required by the nature of a rational being for the support, the furtherance, the fulfillment and the enjoyment of his own life."

This right stems directly from the Objectivist ethical code, which upholds the premise that a man is an end in himself, that a man must live for his own sake, and that pursuing his rational self-interest is his highest moral purpose in life.

The initiation of force, therefore is immoral because it violates a man's right to guide his own life as he sees fit. Read some of Rand's writing on Physical Force from the Lexicon.

I see a problem with your answer. You start by accepting a principle as a given ("a man's right to his own life") and deduce the rest of your answer from there. But he was asking about the foundation of that very principle; how (and why) it emerges from ethics for a single man living in society. Which means he was asking for induction - a process of building a principle.

To draw a parallel example from science: One approach is to start by writing a formula, and then deducing all kind of mathematical connections from it. The other approach, is to look at entities in reality that behave in similar way due to something common in their nature and form the formula to describe it. (And then of course, deduce all kind of conclusions and mathematical connections from that formula that you want).

[i just learned about deduction and induction, and it's so cool... I can see much more clearly now :lol: ]

I think your question is excellent, Branden. I think others have already said part of what I will, but here is my answer:

If you want to achieve your own happiness, health and wealth, you need to have correct knowledge of reality, and you need to act according to your knowledge, with the guidance of your goals and according to the nature of the entities around you (both objects and people).

The nature of people is such that they survive by using reason and producing stuff.

Now, you have two choices about society: one is to ignore it, and live on your own. Second is to make other people part of how you achieve wealth, health and happiness. Right? Simple so far... and you've already identified all of this.

So now comes the big question: What is the best way to behave with people to achieve those goals (wealth, health, happiness)?

Facts speak for themselves here... People create, produce and think only when they are safe to do so. A person in constant risk of life threat will not contemplate on a new medicine or a motor.

What will be best for achieving health then? Grabbing an apple from a savage by force, or accepting his right to keep the apple, and thousands years later get a drug that fights off cancer (or a week later get a new stick-weapon he has created in exchange for your own goods)?

It is clear which state of existence among people will lead to prosperity and which will lead to misery.

It is only the state of existence which is suitable for man's nature as a thinking animal.

Link to post
Share on other sites
One aspect that we haven't discussed in this thread is the role of justice in a rational man's life. Justice is an Objectivist virtue and it basically comes down to relating to oneself and others on a has earned basis.

That's certainly an insightful way to approach the issue. I think a principle of justice would do a lot to strengthen the case for the non-initiation of force. However, how does one logically arrive at a principle of justice that is "relating to oneself and others on a has earned basis."?

I see a problem with your answer. You start by accepting a principle as a given ("a man's right to his own life") and deduce the rest of your answer from there. But he was asking about the foundation of that very principle; how (and why) it emerges from ethics for a single man living in society. Which means he was asking for induction - a process of building a principle.

I think that was more what I was looking for. Together the other answers helped to clarify, but were coming from a starting point of "men have rights" and then using that to regard the initiation of force as immoral. A more inductive-focused explanation helps.

Link to post
Share on other sites
That's certainly an insightful way to approach the issue. I think a principle of justice would do a lot to strengthen the case for the non-initiation of force. However, how does one logically arrive at a principle of justice that is "relating to oneself and others on a has earned basis."?

That's actually a lot to go into in a brief posting, so I would suggest reading The Virtue of Selfishness by Ayn Rand to get a better grasp of the Objectivism virtues. Basically, however, it comes down to the nature of man and that he must create the goods that sustain his life by his own effort using his reasoning abilities and his labor -- i.e. he must work for it. By working for it, he has earned his keep, and since he did it himself, he can have pride in his accomplishments, such as creating something out of raw materials or thinking his own thoughts. When he trades value for value in economic activities, he is trading the thoughts and labor of another man for his own, using what he has earned by his own effort to buy something from someone else. So long as both sides in the exchange do it voluntarily, it is an earned transaction.

You might also want to read online several passages from The Ayn Rand Lexicon:

http://www.aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/morality.html

http://www.aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/justice.html

Link to post
Share on other sites
That's actually a lot to go into in a brief posting, so I would suggest reading The Virtue of Selfishness by Ayn Rand to get a better grasp of the Objectivism virtues.

I have read The Virtue of Selfishness, although I don't recall Rand talking at any length about the virtue of justice in particular.

Basically, however, it comes down to the nature of man and that he must create the goods that sustain his life by his own effort using his reasoning abilities and his labor -- i.e. he must work for it. By working for it, he has earned his keep, and since he did it himself, he can have pride in his accomplishments, such as creating something out of raw materials or thinking his own thoughts. When he trades value for value in economic activities, he is trading the thoughts and labor of another man for his own, using what he has earned by his own effort to buy something from someone else. So long as both sides in the exchange do it voluntarily, it is an earned transaction.

It seems to me that that line of reasoning fails to provide an account of why it has to be an "earned" transaction on both sides. I would anticipate that the reason it would have to be "earned" on both sides is because of the ethics-based reasons stated previously in this thread, such as negative consequences on whoever was initiating an unearned transaction. In that case, it seems the principle of justice would only be a new way to explain the reciprocal rights argument. That would just be my interpretation, though. Is there another Objectivist account for the foundations of why it is necessary to be just?

You might also want to read online several passages from The Ayn Rand Lexicon:

http://www.aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/morality.html

http://www.aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/justice.html

In reading them, Rand seems to offer a different conception of justice. She claims that

Now, do I need a concept to designate the act of judging a man’s character and/or actions exclusively on the basis of all the factual evidence available, and of evaluating it by means of an objective moral criterion? Yes. That concept is “justice.”

Her interpretation of justice seems to be purely based upon the act of judging someone based upon the facts of reality and ethics. This seems rather contrary to concepts of justice that I am familiar with, which are more based upon whether or not a certain situation is just (arrived at from just principles, or arranged in a just manner). It also seems contrary to your explanation of justice, which (and please correct me if I misinterpret) is essentially "a situation is just if transactions in the situation are made voluntarily by individuals who earned the values being transacted." Although certainly not contradictory to Rand's conception, the two seem to be referring to very different abstractions. Any thoughts on this, particularly on Rand's conception of justice? It seems to be very peculiar, and I wonder if I am missing part of it.

Link to post
Share on other sites
It seems to me that that line of reasoning fails to provide an account of why it has to be an "earned" transaction on both sides. I would anticipate that the reason it would have to be "earned" on both sides is because of the ethics-based reasons stated previously in this thread, such as negative consequences on whoever was initiating an unearned transaction. In that case, it seems the principle of justice would only be a new way to explain the reciprocal rights argument.

Justice is actually a wider concept than mutual exchange of good and services, but you asked the question from the standpoint of the initiation of force and why it is immoral. It is immoral because the person initiating force is taking something that isn't his and that he hasn't earned, in other words, the force wielder is committing an injustice when initiating force.

Her interpretation of justice seems to be purely based upon the act of judging someone based upon the facts of reality and ethics. This seems rather contrary to concepts of justice that I am familiar with, which are more based upon whether or not a certain situation is just (arrived at from just principles, or arranged in a just manner).

Trying to claim that justice is an act in which one follows the principles of justice is circular. One has to start in understanding the Objectivist ethics from the ground up -- i.e. based on man's factual nature and not some hand-me-down code of behavior that isn't grounded in the facts.

Yes, justice has to do with judging a person's character because that person has free will and does things by intent, and one must judge that intent as being for oneself or against oneself by a rational standard.

But this is what I meant by saying it is a big topic.

Probably the best way of understanding it is to follow the heroes of Ayn Rand's fiction, especially The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged because the heroes are men who follow the code of justice -- they judge character and are prepared to be judged. And please keep in mind that Objectivism is not just common sense written out in more clear terms; it is a whole new philosophy and Ayn Rand came at a lot of things differently than one would expect from one's upbringing. That is why it is difficult to grasp at first. In common usage, for example, one wouldn't consider giving the grocer some money for a loaf of bread as an act of justice, but it is under Objectivism. Justice is not just about giving the bad guys what they deserve -- i.e jail time -- but also has to do with judging a person as good -- good for oneself by a rational standard -- and acting towards him appropriately.

Link to post
Share on other sites
There is a chapter in Smith's Ayn Rand's Normative Ethics entitled "Justice", which makes the case for justice. I highly recommend the book.

Its funny you say that. Just yesterday I placed that book on my short list of books to read. I will be reading it soon.

It is immoral because the person initiating force is taking something that isn't his and that he hasn't earned, in other words, the force wielder is committing an injustice when initiating force.

I think that sheds a little more light on what an Objectvist conception of justice is. Thanks for that, since I did (and probably still do) lack an understanding of that area of Objectivism.

I'm pretty satisfied with the answers to my title question. Again, if anyone else has a different answer than what has already been said, I'd be glad to hear it. Otherwise, further explanations aren't needed.

Link to post
Share on other sites
I'm new to Objectivism, and have found most of it very insightful, and I certainly classify myself as a potential Objectivist. However, after reading Peikoff's argument for why the initiation of force is evil (or immoral) in OPAR, a question popped into my mind that I haven't been able to resolve through the writings of Rand that I have available: Why is the initiation of force immoral?

I think I understand what you are asking. There are THREE primary reasons why the initiation of force is immoral from the perspective of the initiator:

1) man is a PRODUCTIVE animal, and by initiating force against other such productive beings he undercuts his own productive rational nature. Man needs to live as a self-sufficient, independent, productive being in order to be happy and prosper. By initiating force, he starts living like a fraud, attempting to cheat reality, and a parasite which destroys his mind and renders him incapable of being happy. THEREFORE initiating force against others is immoral, even if he could get away with it.

2) most of the time he could not get away with initiating force. He will be punished by others. This is not in his selv-interest.

3) what kind of society is better for a selfish person to live in in the long run: 1) a peaceful one or 2) a society in civil war? Naturally the peaceful one. By initiating force one dramatically undercuts the prospects of living in a peaceful society and this will cost one's peace of mind and the prosperity of free trade among rational beings.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Loading...
  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

×
×
  • Create New...