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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/5781/should-we-force-others-to-shape-up/

Should We Force Others to Shape Up?

October 20, 2006 by

Here I review James Otteson’s wonderful new defense of old-style liberalism. The highlight of the book occurs in a discussion about the distinction between rights and other parts of morality. Classical liberals sharply distinguish between offenses against justice and unvirtuous conduct that does not violate rights. If I steal from you, I may justifiably be compelled to return your property; but if I wish to drink myself to death, the state cannot stop me. People are free to persuade me to modify my conduct, or shun me if I will not; but they cannot use force against me. FULL ARTICLE

{ 6 comments }

Colin Colenso October 23, 2006 at 6:24 am

“Singer places great store on an example called the Pond Case: A person passes by a child who is drowning in a small pond. He could easily rescue the child and has no good reason not to do so. “Singer would have us judge the passerby to be immoral if he does not help the child” (p. 29). From this case, Singer draws the general principle that if one can avert death or suffering at an insignificant cost, one ought to do so.”

The principle at first seems difficult to controvert, but does it not have radical consequences? Are we not required drastically to increase our donations to the poor?”

This argument has been made but it overlooks the fact that donations to the poor or similar projects are inefficient ways to achieve the goal of alleviating the suffering. Actually, the opposite is usually true.

For example, when I give a beggar money, I provide an incentive for their ongoing begging and dissuade them from productive and secure self-reliance.

So if such donations were able to improve the lot of others in an effective praeological sense, then yes, it could be argued that people have a moral duty to help.

But perhaps the only effort that I can think of that makes praxeological sense, in so far as it may benefit the suffering of others with maximal efficiency, is to educate oneself and help spread the word of liberty.

Certainly we’d agree that it would be ridiculous to put the government in charge of regulating such a moral pursuit. So we may argue that it’s also not practical to have the government legislate over moral dilemmas such as the pond case.

Surely a person who refused to save a drowning child would be considered a social outcast and would suffer as a result. The government isn’t required, and would not be the best mechanism for setting up disincentives for such selfish acts.

Jonathan October 24, 2006 at 5:56 am

‘is the trinket worth more to the wealthy person than the meal to the Bengali’

or in the Pond case is the passerby’s effort worth more than the life of a child?

I accept that academically I havent given a whole lot of thought on how one can ‘prove’ this either way but an overwhelming urge to answer a big NO! comes to mind.

How am I obviously wrong here?

Colin Colenso October 24, 2006 at 11:13 am

Jonathan,
I think your heading down the wrong path by trying to consider this through an equivalancy in worth.

For example, it may be WORTH quite a lot to an immoral psychopath to inflict terrible harm on another for their own satisfaction.

Morality or ethics is really just an estimation of what is considered right behavior under various circumstances. I do not believe there can be any systematic rules to determine what is right, considering the vast possibility of circumstances, though some general principles may cover a lot of ground.

Should a drowing child reach for the hand of a passerby to be saved, and that passerby instead prefered to watch and enjoy watching the process of the child’s drowning, then no semi-intelligent human being would condone such an act as right, moral or ethical.

The idea of the non-aggression axiom as a complete guide to determine right behavior is simplistic.

I suspect your tendency to think “NO” is based on an intellectual bias.

Colin

Colin Colenso October 24, 2006 at 11:13 am

Jonathan,
I think your heading down the wrong path by trying to consider this through an equivalancy in worth.

For example, it may be WORTH quite a lot to an immoral psychopath to inflict terrible harm on another for their own satisfaction.

Morality or ethics is really just an estimation of what is considered right behavior under various circumstances. I do not believe there can be any systematic rules to determine what is right, considering the vast possibility of circumstances, though some general principles may cover a lot of ground.

Should a drowing child reach for the hand of a passerby to be saved, and that passerby instead prefered to watch and enjoy watching the process of the child’s drowning, then no semi-intelligent human being would condone such an act as right, moral or ethical.

The idea of the non-aggression axiom as a complete guide to determine right behavior is simplistic.

I suspect your tendency to think “NO” is based on an intellectual bias.

Colin

Jonathan October 25, 2006 at 6:56 am

Colin,
I am not sure what bias you refer to but I do find the extreme libertarian position particularly simplistic and dare I say, naiive.
Because I am supposed to respect the consequences of a sadists’ position (drowning child)as to not do so would upset some libertarian principle (forcing the man to act would break the non aggression axiom I presume?) makes me strongly biased to undermine such a principle, or possibly refine it if I had the mind+effort.

Colin Colenso October 25, 2006 at 7:23 am

Jonathan,
I re-read your post. I had misinterpreted it the first time.

We seem to be in agreement regarding the non-aggression axiom falling short in particular scenarios.

Colin

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