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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/6137/introduction-to-natural-law/

Introduction to Natural Law

January 12, 2007 by

  1. Natural Law and Reason
  2. Natural Law as ‘Science’
  3. Natural Law versus Positive Law
  1. Natural Law and Natural Rights
  2. The Task of Political Philosophy
  3. Notes

Among intellectuals who consider themselves “scientific,” wrote Murray Rothbard in The Ethics of Liberty, the phrase “the nature of man” is apt to have the effect of a red flag on a bull. It is indeed puzzling that so many modern philosophers should sniff at the very term “nature” as an injection of mysticism and the supernatural: the brusque rejection of the concept of the nature of man is arbitrary. If natural-law theory has one great flaw, it is not its supposed mysticism, it is that the tradition has been profoundly statist rather than individualist.
It is not the intention of this book to expound or defend at length the philosophy of natural law, or to elaborate a natural-law ethic for the personal morality of man. The intention is to set forth a social ethic of liberty i.e., to elaborate that subset of the natural law that develops the concept of natural rights, and that deals with the proper sphere of “politics,” i.e., with violence and non-violence as modes of interpersonal relations. In short, to set forth a political philosophy of liberty. FULL ARTICLE


T.G.G.P January 12, 2007 at 6:55 pm

So what if Hume failed in establishing a system of ethics? Who says anybody who doesn’t accept natural law has to believe in his ethical system? What if no system of ethics is in any way correct? The comparison to disputes in physics and chemistry is laughable. People with a dispute in that area can test their beliefs experimentally, and the result of experiments is for one belief to triumph over another. There has never been anything similar in ethics. There is good reason not to disbelieve in the existence of facts, because doing otherwise could result in say, falling off a cliff. What reason is there not to disbelieve in objective values? There is sense in Voltaire’s saying not to “speak of atheism in front of the servants, lest they steal the silverware”, but even that is less persuasive with regards to believing in anything than Pascal’s wager. Finally, I’d like to add that the Platonic essentialism of this Rothbard piece with regard to humanity is hardly tenable after Darwin and Mengel, and has a confused comparison of the physical nature of “apples and stones and roses” and man, when it is the relativists who say there is nothing special with regard to man. Count me as one unconvinced emotivist/egoist.

Björn Lundahl January 13, 2007 at 8:59 am


Human Action:

“However, the sciences of human action differ radically from the natural sciences. All authors eager to construct an epistemological system of the sciences of human action according to the pattern of the natural sciences err lamentably.”

“The history of the natural sciences is a record of theories and hypotheses discarded because they were disproved by experience. Remember for instance the fallacies of older mechanics disproved by Galileo or the fate of the phlogiston theory. No such case is recorded by the history of economics. The champions of logically incompatible theories claim the same events as the proof that their point of view has been tested by experience. The truth is that the experience of a complex phenomenon–and there is no other experience in the realm of human action–can always be interpreted on the ground of various antithetic theories. Whether the interpretation is considered satisfactory or unsatisfactory depends on the appreciation of the theories in question established beforehand on the ground of aprioristic reasoning.

History cannot teach us any general rule, principle, or law. There is no means to abstract from a historical experience a posteriori any theories or theorems concerning human conduct and policies. The data of history would be nothing but a clumsy accumulation of disconnected occurrences, a heap of confusion, if they could not be clarified, arranged, and interpreted by systematic praxeological knowledge.”


Björn Lundahl
Göteborg, Sweden

Björn Lundahl January 13, 2007 at 12:44 pm

I do believe that theories and facts influence our political views.

I for instance, when I was about 18-19 years old, thought that strong unions were needed to support high wages because otherwise workers would be very poor. I did not like the unions but I just could not tolerate low wages when it was no need for them. I also thought that high wages supported by unions would keep up aggregate demand in times during recessions. In the “interest of society and of my fellow citizens”, it morally and emotionally obliged me to accept the existence of unions. I accepted the unions despite the fact that in Sweden they are connected and involved with the Social Democratic party.

I believed as well, that a large public sector and deficit spending were necessary to combat recessions. Otherwise the depressing 30s would be back again.

To put it in another way:

My love for pure liberty might have been in my heart in my early years, but to accept poverty, depressions and therefore also injustice, just for the sake to uphold this value was too much for me to swallow and the price was too high to bear. I just could not “push the button” for pure liberty and close my eyes to ignore the rest which I have been taught to believe to be true. I was morally obliged to compromise and to analyze my personal subjective trade offs.

Well then, apart from accepting strong unions and a large public sector, I supported a free market. Not so much room left for a free market, though, but still a great difference between my own views and that, for example, of Kenneth Galbraith’s. Politically, I was a conservative.

It was not until I read Capitalism and Freedom, by Milton Friedman that my political views gradually changed. Actually, this gradual change also started when I was 19.

So, now there existed a rationale to not accept strong unions and deficit spending and that was Monetarism.

A few years later I read For a New Liberty and The Ethics of Liberty, by Murray Rothbard. Gradually the seeds of those books through the years influenced my political views. If you think something is good, logically true and interesting, you often want to find out more about it, so I read Human Action, by Ludwig von Mises and Man, Economy, and State, by Murray Rothbard, as well.

We all support different and several political values. I support Libertarianism because of liberty, justice and prosperity. Libertarian ethics (explained and defined in the masterpiece The Ethics of Liberty) and Austrian Economics are extremely important rationales to justify such a consistent support.

An Animated Introduction to the Philosophy of Liberty:


The animation in full-sized window:


Björn Lundahl
Göteborg, Sweden

Björn Lundahl January 14, 2007 at 5:30 am

Life and self-ownership

Mark Humphrey “I don’t want to precipitate trench warfare with devoted Rothbardians, but I strongly suspect that Rothbard owed his insight about “life as the standard of moral value” to Ayn Rand. I can’t prove this, of course. Sadly, in “The Ethics of Liberty”, (published in the early Eighties) Rothbard chose to, in a sense, blacklist Rand by claiming that NO ONE, other than himself, in the libertarian movement was working to develope a system of rationally defensible ethics. (Maybe Rothbard meant “at the moment I am writing this statement”.)”

Björn That life is an axiomatic value and functions “as the standard of moral value” in an ethical system, Rothbard could, alternatively for example, have gotten this insight from Mises himself through analyzing his statement in his book, “Human Action”, page 11:

“We may say that action is the manifestation of a man’s will.”


I am not saying that Rothbard did get his insight from Mises; I am only saying that it was possible. Surely, many other possibilities exist which we do not know anything about.

Mark Humphrey “It has been awhile since I’ve read Hoppe, and Rothbard; but I suspect Hoppe’s reasoning goes: either we all own ourselves, or everyone owns everyone else. Since the first proposition is clearly more defensible than the latter absurd proposition, one can affirm self ownership as valid. But if this is the argument, it fails. For that argument assumes that which it sets out to prove, namely that an ethical concept, “ownership”, exists. But on this basis, ownership remains unproven, so that one could just as well assert: “no one owns anything, and anything goes.””

Björn Self-ownership is a natural fact, since a man in his very nature controls his own mind and body (natural disposition), that is, he is a natural self-owner of his own will and person (having a free will) and if this was not true, neither could he effectively control any property and, therefore, not own it. In other words; “nothing could control and own something”.

Naturally, praxeology the science of human action, by itself logically confirms the natural fact of self-ownership, since praxeology is based upon “the acting man consciously intending to improve his own satisfaction” and I quote from answers.com:

“From praxeology Mises derived the idea that every conscious action is intended to improve a person’s satisfaction. He was careful to stress that praxeology is not concerned with the individual’s definition of end satisfaction, just the way he sought that satisfaction. The way in which a person will increase his satisfaction is by removing a source of dissatisfaction. As the future is uncertain so every action is speculative.

An acting man is defined as one capable of logical thought — to be otherwise would be to make one a mere creature who simply reacts to stimuli by instinct. Similarly an acting man must have a source of dissatisfaction which he believes capable of removing, otherwise he cannot act.

Another conclusion that Mises reached was that decisions are made on an ordinal basis. That is, it is impossible to carry out more than one action at once, the conscious mind being only capable of one decision at a time — even if those decisions can be made in rapid order. Thus man will act to remove the most pressing source of dissatisfaction first and then move to the next most pressing source of dissatisfaction.

As a person satisfies his first most important goal and after that his second most important goal then his second most important goal is always less important than his first most important goal. Thus, for every further goal reached, his satisfaction, or utility, is lessened from the preceding goal. This is the rule of diminishing marginal utility.

In human society many actions will be trading activities where one person regards a possession of another person as more desirable than one of his own possessions, and the other person has a similar higher regard for his colleague’s possession than he does for his own. This subject of praxeology is known as catallactics, and is the more commonly accepted realm of economics.”



The Ethics of Liberty, page 45:


“[1]Professor George Mavrodes, of the department of philosophy of the University of Michigan, objects that there is another logical alternative: namely, “that no one owns anybody, either himself or anyone else, nor any share of anybody.” However, since ownership signifies range of control, this would mean that no one would be able to do anything, and the human race would quickly vanish.”


Or in my own words from the essay “Normative principles”:

“Why must anybody own anything?

In accordance with our objective test to find out if something is a condition for something else, we grasp a state of things where the following principle is none existent anywhere and at all:

“Everybody owns themselves and their Justly owned property rights”.

Nobody would be able to do anything, since nobody has the right to control anything. Not even themselves (see below about property rights in your own person).

This question is not only a contradiction it is also silly. You ask a question which means that you control yourselves (natural disposition), that is owning yourself (see below the excellent writing of Hans-Hermann Hoppe). The other contradiction is that if nobody would own anything, nobody would be able to hinder anyone to own anything either since they would otherwise have an invalid control (having the disposition to) of everyone else, that is having an invalid ownership to everybody else (see below about valid property rights in your own person).

Ownership itself is, therefore, an objective condition for the preservation of human life.”


Björn Lundahl
Göteborg, Sweden

Björn Lundahl January 14, 2007 at 9:29 am

If we were going to discover objective ethical norms with the use of reason, it would be a quite funny thing if we started to analyze the basic inclinations of the nature of ants, grasshoppers, plants, giraffes, elephants etc. As this would not be a successful inquiry, the nature of man must at least be implicitly assumed to exist and, therefore, to be studied in such an examination.

Ethical norms and rights are also, only, related to the species man. The proof of this is that “if man did not exist nor would any ethical norms and rights persist”.

In other words, ethical norms and rights by themselves, reveals the existence of a nature of man.

Björn Lundahl
Göteborg, Sweden

Neil Parille January 14, 2007 at 11:24 am

What Rothbard said was that life is “an objective ultimate value” which appears different from Rand’s view that life is the value. Nor did Rand (so far as I can tell) consider it axiomatic as did Rothbard.

Björn Lundahl January 18, 2007 at 4:28 pm

“Count me as one unconvinced emotivist/egoist”

This message of relativism is surely also the following:

“Hitler, Stalin, Saddam, Mao, Pol Pot and all the “criminals” in history, they did not really do anything wrong. I might feel that they did but that is only what I feel. What they felt counts too! Their “bad actions” were not really destructive because they did not undermine mankind and in this objective sense were totally okay.

Criminals all over the world unite! You are a suppressed lot. You have the right to kill, “steal”, rape and to do so called criminal acts. If you blow up the whole world it is objectively and therefore, also, totally okay.”

Björn Lundahl
Göteborg, Sweden

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