If I sat idly and watched you drown, knowing that I could easily save you, according to a strict interpretation of the word, I would not have committed aggression. I would not have violated the Non-aggression Principle and I could very easily conclude that I did not act immorally. What should be clear, however, is that I acted in a manner which I believed would result in harm to another person without their consent, which is immoral.
If the Non-aggression Principle indeed fails to recognize idleness as a potential source of “aggression”, it fails ( in my opinion ) as a universal ethical standard. Doing nothing is not the same as not acting. Ludwig von Mises says in his book, Human Action, “Action is not only doing but no less omitting to do what possibly could be done.”
If NAP would not permit me to willfully allow you to drown, then I think the Libertarian community has done a horrible job accurately describing exactly what “aggression” is as it pertains to the Non-Aggression Principle. If NAP would permit aggression by idleness, then I see it as an incomplete ethical standard, needing desperately a more robust definition of aggression plugged into it for there to be any hope of it being taken seriously.
I have been mulling over what I consider to be a major issue with the non-aggression principle. NAP says that it’s always immoral to take but what about the fact that sometimes it’s immoral not to give. How can it be immoral for one to take what it is immoral for another to keep?
If the definition of aggression, as it pertains to NAP, were broadened to include actions where someone sits by while another person is injured, knowing they could help with little or no risk to themselves, I think NAP would be a more viable basis for determining moral action. As it stands now, NAP grants the property owner the right to passively aggress.
For instance, imagine a property owner who chooses to sit idly by while someone begs to enter their home to escape a viscous wild animal. Are they not acting in self defense to break your window and use your property to save their life? If someone came to own all the food in a given region and claimed property rights permitted him to willfully allow others to starve, would it not be self defense take food by force? How can it be immoral for one to take what it is immoral for another to keep?
It cannot be assumed that there was no immoral action based on the contention that one did nothing. Mises said in Human Action, “Action is not only doing but no less omitting to do what possibly could be done.”
There is no such thing as “doing nothing”. Everything is action and all actions have consequences. NAP wants to be a universal code of ethics but fails to consider anything other than direct violence as an offense worthy of retribution.
Y: It can’t be immoral to steal if you are starving?
X: If taking food when your starving isn’t immoral then it’s not theft because theft is immoral.
Y: I think that taking food for any reason is theft, but sometimes it’s moral and sometimes it’s not. It must be the case that morality is relative. Whether theft is wrong or not depends on the situation.
X: So we just disagree about what theft is. I say that if your actions are truly moral then your actions cannot be theft because the act of theft is always immoral. In this case, there must be more than just the physical act that warrants labeling the act as theft. You submit that there is nothing more to theft than the physical action involved and therefore a hungry man taking food from a market – being physically no different than a rich man taking food from a baby – is only moral or immoral due to the situation in which the same exact physical action is occurring. Is it more likely that for theft to occur there must be some deeper mental process that isn’t necessarily visible to the casual observer?
X: If you see a man shoot another man, is it possible that you did not witness a murder?
Y: Yeah. He could have been killing him in self defense, which isn’t murder.
X: Even though there is no difference between shooting a gun in self defense and shooting a gun to murder someone from what can be witnessed. Both involve the same action. They do obviously differ however. They differ in motive – which cannot be witnessed. Consider another situation. Is it immoral to punch someone in the face?
Y: It would be if you weren’t defending yourself.
X: The outward act of punching someone in the face looks the same whether it is aggression or self defense. The outward act of shooting someone looks the same whether it is aggression or self-defense. Why should we consider the outward act of stealing to be sufficient evidence that the act is aggression and not self-defense? Obviously there is more to determining if something is moral or not than just what can be seen. There is an unseen factor that differentiates two otherwise similar actions. I contend that this unseen factor ( motive ) is critical to determining whether action is defensive or aggressive ( moral or immoral ). So my initial premise that theft is immoral is equivalent to saying, when taking something is motivated by aggression it is theft which is always immoral. To say theft is immoral is not to say that it is always immoral to take something.
There is no reason to jump to the conclusion that theft is sometimes a moral thing to do and as such morality must be relative just because you want it to be OK for the starving man to eat.
“According to a shocking new study that was just released by the Cato Institute, people on welfare are actually better off than minimum wage workers in 35 U.S. states. And in 13 states, those on welfare actually do better than those making $15 an hour.” – http://wp.me/p2WTaD-1lt
Benjamin Franklin is America’s most quoted founding father. Probably because as a printer and author he is one of the most prolific writers of his time. His worlds of wisdom like “early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise” and “a penny saved is a penny earned” are quoted around the world. Today it is not his words to the wise or his quaint folk wisdom that is most applicable but his admonition to those unwilling to fight for the cause of freedom. As many wavered in their commitment to the cause of liberty in the face of war he said,”Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neitherLiberty nor safety.“
Today there seems to be no limit to the lengths to which the U.S. government will go to keep American’s…
Antarctic sea ice extent at the end of July was the highest on record for that day, growing to 18.077 million sq km. The previous record of 17.783 was set in 2010, whilst the 1981-2010 average was 16.869.