Problem with the non-aggression principle?

Morality (Photo credit: dietmut)

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.


2 thoughts on “Problem with the non-aggression principle?

  1. I should be forced to suffer because someone else is in trouble?

    People freely donate time and resources to benefit those in need every day. But this isn’t enough for some people. Some people think we have to give up our homes, our livelihoods, anything, to mere strangers, anytime they face a problem!

    I pay for my home, and I keep it for my happiness, safety, and wellbeing. I make decisions to protect my safety. I am not allowing strangers into my home just because they feel threatened – do you think I ought to barge into just anyone’s home anytime I feel threatened?

    Ayn Rand already covered the ethics of situations like this one in The Virtue of Selfishness and Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal. She also especially warned readers to be cautious of absurdly implausible scenarios used to prop up self-sacrifice. Only rational selfishness is a proper course of ethics, and no amount of guilt-tripping over the problems of strangers will change that 🙂

  2. I’m going to walk-it-back a bit because I wasn’t clear. I am totally against theft. By theft I’m referring to the act of denying another the right to utilize their property. It’s always immoral imo. NAP jives with that and to that extent I agree with NAP.

    I don’t feel like NAP provides adequate direction in situations where a property owner uses property in ways that I would consider to be immoral. NAP is all about deciphering what moral action is. I think it drops the ball when it comes to the moral “obligation to rescue”. Extreme scenarios make this point abundantly clear.

    However, rather than throw NAP out the window, I’d rather see it modified with a more robust definition of aggression.

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