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Initiative and retaliatory force

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John McVey
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[ed: context is this post, D.O]

I define initiation of force as the *deliberate* use of force against an innocent party.

This is in error. As I thought, it treats initiation as a matter of the immediately preceding efficient cause. The real meaning of initiation is deeper than that. This entire discussion is in the realm of a normative science - it deals with morality, and so key concepts within it MUST have that as one of its roots. Initiation properly means the knowing origination of an entire chain of causes and effects that leads to improper physical contact with someone's person or property. Your definition focusses upon a particular cause and effect plucked out from near the end of a chain. The result is an omission of reference to that which identifies the moral character of any given instance of the deliberate use of force. That then lead to the difficulties you have had.

Both initiation and retaliation are subsumed under 'deliberate force'. What distinguishes one from the other is the position along the chain of events taken by any one individual's thoughts that leads to the forceful action by that individual being evaluated. Initiation is the origination of a chain, whereas retaliation is advancing a pre-existing chain further along to try to take it to a rightful conclusion. Both are deliberate uses of force, but there is a huge difference in moral evaluation in great part because of their position in the chain of events.

When, as your examples do, someone gets to the stage of taking a chain of events along a line that affects third parties, standard moral codes of evaluation may or may not apply, on the grounds that morality ends where a gun begins. This situation is not the same thing as starting an entire chain from nothing as the true initiator does. Part of the problem you are having is introducing this kind of complexity before getting the basic framework properly established. For your killer example, I'm strongly inclined to say that someone breaking into his neighbour's house as a last resort is not an initiation against that neighbour by the person escaping the killer. As to how great a dispensation can be had for directing a pre-existing chain in such a fashion as to affect third parties, that's getting into the philosophy of law and I am not qualified to go all that far down there. At the level our immediate discussion started upon, we don't need to as what we're dealing with hear is the meanings of two concepts, initiation and retaliation.

we need a concept to distinguish it from the *accidental* use of force against an innocent party.

That a distinction must be made is true. That an actual concept for it is needed is debatable. For a government, or in the military at least, the euphemism of collateral damage already serves that purpose and just as you yourself employed it in non-miltary contexts. Beyond that, I couldn't say without giving it a fair bit of thought and research into actual examples of where it might be needed. Simply calling it an accident seems suitable enough off the top of my head, though I am perfectly willing to be convinced otherwise just as there is a crucial distinction between murder and manslaughter.

... in avoiding the frozen abstraction fallacy.

Which fallacy, unfortunately, is precisely what you committed, by conflating deliberate use of force with an instance of it.

Just like there are different kinds of morality, as Ayn Rand pointed out, there are also different kinds of initiation of force.

I'd like to see a reference for that, especially given this, from Galt's Speech, on p940: "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."

In terms of the principle, there is one and only one kind of initiation: the origination of a chain that leads to improper physical contact. Within that principle, which means going into the philosophy of law to some degree, there's direct and indirect (eg fraud), and from there further discussion of types of activity and how grave a crime those activities may be and from there what degree of importance to attach to mitigating factors that reduce the severity of punishment due for an initiation after judgement of an act as such. I'm not qualified to go there, so I wont.

It is only in the very narrow gray zone between retaliation and initiation that the concept of retaliatory initiation applies.

The narrow class of situations you describe not in the same boat as a colour shift from green to yellow. The moral distinction between initiation and retaliation are clear-cut, where what you are describing is properly treated as trying to determine finer applications of the dividing line. A person's action that affects a third party in response to the outright initiation of one chain will be either itself a whole new initiation, making the person culpable for it, or it wont. Whether it is or is not will depend on the fact of the case, and if there is culpability then there will be the issue of suitable punishment, but no such case will be grounds for trying to employ an attempt at a blended concept. A given person either furthers an existing chain, in which case the third party has claim against the originator motivating the aforementioned given person, or that given person crosses the line and is thus him or herself also guility of initiation of a second chain and the third party has a claim against that given person arising from that second chain.

What is that limit?

A perfectly legitimate question, but again, I can't answer that. All I can do is reiterate that one cannot even have a hope of answering that question without first keeping the concepts of initiation and retaliation properly distinct.

To my knowledge Ayn Rand never wrote anything systematically about retaliatory initiation, except in the concept of emergency law, where she approves of it.

Again, you're confusing the issue of terminology and the proper meaning of pre-existing concepts with a derivative situation to which you're improperly applying those concepts.

Let me rephrase retaliatory initiation in terms of my definition: retaliatory initiation is deliberate use of force against an innocent party in the context of retaliation. Now, would you call this a "flat contradiction"?

...

there is not even a hint of contradiction in that statement.

...

you are bickering over words, not actual contradictions in reality.

Yup, still do. Your contradiction lies in trying to slap two mutually exclusive concepts together.

I am 'bickering' over your mangling of the meanings of concepts, precisely because in doing so you are omitting a crucial reference to what facts of reality are we to consider in how we evaluate people's actions.

What term other than "initiation of force" would you use as a name for the concept defined as "the deliberate use of force against an innocent party"?

There is always an outright and plain 'initiation,' nothing more fancy than that. Who is guilty of that initiation is a separate issue. As to that issue, speak to those properly versed in the philosophy of law.

Do you agree that this is a valid concept which distinguishes it from "the accidental use of force against an innocent party"?

No. 'Deliberate use of force' is sufficient in its own right to be distinguished from 'accidental use.' If someone crosses the line in involving a third party then it simply an initiation, where only after determination of that fact as such would the mitigating circumstances be introduced in determining sentence.

Do you also agree that "the deliberate use of force against an innocent party" captures all instances of the term that is normally referred to as "initiation of force"?

Absolutely not. 'Deliberate use' of itself does not specify where on a given chain that use lies, whereas initiation and retaliation are perfectly clear on that issue.

JJM

Edited by DavidOdden
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This is in error. As I thought, it treats initiation as a matter of the immediately preceding efficient cause.

I disagree. It IS accurate to say that a person subjected to retaliatory initiation IS being initiated against. This person is innocent. He has done nothing wrong and thus is not subject to retaliation. Someone is initiating force against him. Hence, the correct category of force applied to him is *initiation*. However, in this case the person physically performing the initiation is not the one responsible for it. The responsibility rests with the original initiator that caused the retaliator to deliberately use physical force against an innocent third party.

I use the modifier "retaliatory" to provide the context. This is no different from using a term such as "criminal" to modify "business man." Viewed in isolation a criminal is incompatible with a business man. A criminal is one who uses initiation of force, whereas a business man is one who engages in trade. Yet, it is still not a contradiction to say speak of a "criminal business man." It is obvious from this term that we are talking about a person who engages in trade, but also uses initiation of force in his operation. The same goes with the term "rational egoist" versus "irrational egoist." An irrational egoist doesn't actually act in his own self-interest, but we understand from the modifier that he is acting from self-interest as a motivation, but in an irrational manner.

Now, you are perfectly free to argue that we shouldn't be able to use terms such as "bad morality", "criminal business man" or "irrational egoist," but to me it is linguistically efficient to use modifiers in order to add well-defined context to a concept. It transmits real, unambiguous information. I would also argue that the DEFAULT value of a term (i.e. no modifiers) should be the proper usage of the term. So instead of "good moral" we simply say "moral" for short, or instead of "honest, law-abiding business man" we simply say business man, or instead of "rational egoism" we simply say "egoism." (Culturally speaking it is too soon to remove the "rational" modifier in the latter example.) The same goes, I argue, with the term retaliatory initiation. Here we modify the term "initiation" by the term "retaliatory" to show that it IS an initiation, but that it occurs in a retaliatory context, meaning that the person actually performing the initiation is the retaliator, not the original initiator.

This entire discussion is in the realm of a normative science - it deals with morality, and so key concepts within it MUST have that as one of its roots. Initiation properly means the knowing origination of an entire chain of causes and effects that leads to improper physical contact with someone's person or property.

And the term "retaliatory initiation" properly respects that chain. The third party IS being initiated against, not retaliated against.

Your definition focusses upon a particular cause and effect plucked out from near the end of a chain.

Yes, it provides context for the initiation.

The result is an omission of reference to that which identifies the moral character of any given instance of the deliberate use of force. That then lead to the difficulties you have had.

To me the term is perfectly clear as to the moral character of the action. "Initiation" implies that the person acted upon IS being violated. "Retaliatory" implies that the person performing the action is acting in self-defense and is therefore not morally responsible for the violation. How is this not a clear concept? It perfectly identifies a very unique and well-defined relationship in a chain of events.

When, as your examples do, someone gets to the stage of taking a chain of events along a line that affects third parties, standard moral codes of evaluation may or may not apply, on the grounds that morality ends where a gun begins.

But rather than handwaving with "outside morality" I am actually trying to codify this unique moral situation and bring it inside morality so that it can be objectively understood and analyzed.

This situation is not the same thing as starting an entire chain from nothing as the true initiator does. Part of the problem you are having is introducing this kind of complexity before getting the basic framework properly established. For your killer example, I'm strongly inclined to say that someone breaking into his neighbour's house as a last resort is not an initiation against that neighbour by the person escaping the killer.

I completely agree, but this does not change the fact the neighbor IS being initiated against, and this is captured in the term "retaliatory initiation."

As to how great a dispensation can be had for directing a pre-existing chain in such a fashion as to affect third parties, that's getting into the philosophy of law and I am not qualified to go all that far down there.

But that was the whole point of introducing the term. By properly identifying a situation that frequently occurs in government one brings into the realm of crisp language situations that otherwise would be blurry.

The moral distinction between initiation and retaliation are clear-cut, where what you are describing is properly treated as trying to determine finer applications of the dividing line.

I guess the major distinction is that I define the concept in terms of its end result, i.e. in terms of the "doee" instead of the doer. Initiation of force IS clear cut. Is the party being applied force upon non-initiating? If so, then it is initiating of force. In other words, it depends on where you put the emphasis of the concept, on the doer or the doee.

A perfectly legitimate question, but again, I can't answer that. All I can do is reiterate that one cannot even have a hope of answering that question without first keeping the concepts of initiation and retaliation properly distinct.

And as I have shown, in terms of the person acted upon I am using the concept completely distinctly. Retaliatory initiation means that the object is initiated upon whereas the subject is acting retaliatory.

The point with making such a term explicit is that we now can start to think clearly and coherently about when it is legitimate and what the limits are. There can be TWO sources of collateral damage, 1) retaliatory accidents and 2) retaliatory initiations. From a legal perspective it makes all the difference whether the act was deliberate or accidental. Killing 10 people by accident and killing them intentionally to save your own life is not the same thing.

This is not just a topic that should be confined to court rooms. The lawmakers also need to be familiar with this concept and understand the limitations so that they can make laws that are not thrown out by the supreme court. It is not merely a technicality, but rather a way of thinking. Once you fully understand the concept of collateral damage and start to identify the various situations where retaliatory initiation is used, it becomes much clearer and easier to design objective law.

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