20 July 2005

When is a right not a right?

Well, when you are a moral relativist for one. The arguments for and against natural rights theory are long and intricate, so for this piece of commentary I will assume one is a moral relativist and explore how this would affect holding Anarcho-Capitalist principles.
The essence of moral relativism is that morality is subjective and hence an individual creation, be it through the prism of genetics and/or upbringing. Since all morality is derived from an individual perspective it follows that there can be no objective moral definition outside of the individual, in other words there are ethical systems intrinsic to us as subjective beings, but no independently verifiable moral code that we should follow. This point of view has some immediate benefits, the most obvious being that if morality is subjective there is no right to impose your version of morality on others. At first glance this all ties in well with the general consensus of Anarcho-Capitalist ethics, i.e. the principle of non-coercion and/or non-aggression.
Unfortunately it is not as straightforward as this. For example if morality is subjective an individual can, from their point of view, quite self-coherently create what they consider a set of moral absolutes. Then we are back to the situation of the potential imposition of morals with force, one of the hallmarks of the state. However, this situation can be avoided. This is so because it is still a logical truism to say that positive hypothesis need proving whilst negative hypothesis stand until a positive hypothesis can be verified to counter the negative situation. In more simple terms, the Anarcho-Capitalist does not need to acquire absolute rights to go about his or her business, but only to take the logically sound position that no such right exists to impinge upon their business until such time as a positive right can be objectively verified.
To my knowledge no one has ever conclusively verified a positive right and, as such, Anarcho-Capitalists can be moral relativists without accepting either the 'ethics' of those who wish to impose an absolute morality or those who in any other way act as if they held positive rights to another's liberty.


idlejimbo said...

Does anybody living by the Ten Commandments stay true to them whilst still disagreeing with one or two on a personal level?
My point is, absolute morals are probably only ever accepted by people who accept them on a personal, relative level anyway, so are 'absolute morals' merely a subset of the relative morals of a given population?
[not pretending to know too much about the field]

kbi said...

I have trouble understanding the last paragraph. You seem to be saying:

a) It is bad that an ancap moral relativist can get along in business without accepting the 'ethics' of an absolute moralist (objective moralist?).


b) It is bad that an ancap moral relativist can get along in business without accepting the 'ethics' of those who act as if they held positive rights to another's liberty.

But you don't go further and explain why you see these as problems. ... Or am I just not making a connection here?

cuthhyra said...

Hi kbi,

I think it is a very good thing that anarcho-capitalism doesn't require an objective definition of rights to be valid! Maybe the entry was a bit unclear on where I actually stood on the issue, but I suppose my point was that ancap doesn't have to justify itself with an objective ethics, whereas a politcal system such as socialism does need an objective (i.e. universally accepted) ethical basis. If I am correct, subjective morality makes the case for ancap stronger, not weaker as some have claimed.

idlejimbo, I agree the 'absolute' morality held by some individuals is a subset of subjective ethics (although obviously not recognised by them personally), but the fact that they are a subset supports the subjective thesis.

Unfortunately I think on a practical level if enough people agreed on a certain ethics it would become the de facto 'truth', which is why it is still worth convincing people that the reciprocal agreement of non-aggression (especially not forcing others into your conception of morality) is a good thing. Ideas are important and the idea of freedom, be it moral freedom or any other kind, is key to actual freedom.

kbi said...

Ah ok, thanks. Seems we see eye to eye on this issue then.