Being objective means that one is not influenced by personal feelings or opinions in considering and representing facts. This is contrasted with subjective, which is based on or influenced by personal feelings, tastes, or opinions. Morality consists of principles concerning the distinction between right and wrong or good and bad behaviour. A principle is a fundamental truth or proposition that serves as the foundation of a system of behaviour or for a chain of reasoning. Truth is that which is in accordance with fact or reality. A fact is a thing that is indisputably the case, unable to be challenged or denied, which is in contrast to opinion, which is a view or judgement formed about something, not based on fact or knowledge. Reality therefore is the state of things as they actually exist.
Individual sovereignty is the natural state of being whereby consciousness has exclusive authority over the physical body it inhabits, authority meaning the power to give orders, make decisions, and enforce obedience. The body is subject to the will of the individual. This is fact, not opinion. Individual sovereignty, also known as self-ownership, is an observable phenomenon that exists in reality. Anything that interferes with this natural state is unnatural, an attempt to deny reality, in other words it is incorrect. Aggression interferes with individual sovereignty and is an observable action. Defensive action is a reaction to aggression and is observable in reality as well. Defensive action is natural, an attempt to affirm reality, in other words it is correct.
Aggression is the state of initiating the threat and/or use of force, violence, and/or coercion. This is the equivalent of wrong, incorrect, or bad. The opposite of aggression is defence. Defence is the state of retaliation against aggression, also known as self-defence. This is the equivalent of right, correct, or good. Therefore, any action that is aggressive is morally bad, and any action that is defensive is morally good. Any action that does not fall into the aggressive or defensive categories is morally neutral and therefore has no objectively moral content.
Morally neutral actions are subjective because they are not based on any objective standard of morality. While the actions themselves are objective in the sense that they exist in reality, they are still expressions of individual preferences. Preferences are not observable in reality except through the actions of each individual, however not all preferences can be known as they exist within consciousness and memory, nor can they be independently verified because of this fact. The same holds true for opinions and subjective experience. Anything that is subjective is neither correct or incorrect, nor is it moral or immoral.
An action is morally good if it is a defensive action carried out against an aggressive (morally bad) action. For an action to be morally good it requires an opposing morally bad action.
An action is morally bad if it is an aggressive action carried out against a defensive (morally good) action. For an action to be morally bad it requires an opposing morally good action.
An action is morally neutral if there are no aggressive or defensive actions.
A morally bad action will:
Morally Bad actions include:
Morally Neutral actions include:
Morally Good actions include:
The reality of individual sovereignty places it within the realm of moral neutrality. Any attempt to deny the reality of individual sovereignty is morally bad, and conversely any attempt to affirm the reality of individual sovereignty is morally good.
Sheldon Richman made the following comment as a general criticism of libertarianism that is applicable to this moral theory:
More than a few libertarians appear to hold the view that only rights violations are wrong, bad, and deserving of moral condemnation. If an act does not entail the initiation of force, so goes this attitude, we can have nothing critical to say about it.
Objectively speaking, libertarians have nothing to say about it, because it isn’t objectively immoral behaviour.
On its face, this is strange. If you observe an adult being rude to his elderly mother, it is surely reasonable for you to be appalled, even though the offender did not use force. And, being appalled, you may be justified under the circumstances in responding, such as by cancelling a social engagement or telling others of his obnoxious behavior. One can reasonably say that this person’s mother is owed better treatment, without the word owed implying legal, that is, coercive, enforceability. (Words can have different senses, of course.) Therefore, the rude son may be judged culpable.
This sort of behaviour falls under the category of subjective aesthetics or preferences. What one person deems obnoxious or rude isn’t going to be true for everyone.
What I’m arguing for is a commonsense category of noninvasive moral offenses, wrongful acts that do not involve force. Since force plays no part, the remedies must not entail force (state-backed or otherwise) either. But forced-backed remedies are not the only — or even the best — remedies available. Nonviolent responses, including boycotts, shunning, and gossip, can be highly effective.
Such a category already exists (although common sense does not), it’s called aesthetically preferable behaviour (or in this case, non-preferable, since it is undesired behaviour). The remedies put forward are the sort of things that libertarians already advocate when dealing with such things as prejudice and discrimination, whether it be sexism, racism, homophobia, etc, so this is nothing new.
Libertarians ought to beware of embracing such a narrow view of morality that only forceful invasions of persons and property are deserving of moral outrage and response. Think of all the cruel ways people can treat others without lifting a hand. Are we to remain silent in the face of such abuse?
There is nothing narrow about making a distinction between objective and subjective morality, one is just clearly more important and deserving of attention than the other. (Hint: Objective > Subjective)
The erroneous belief that only conduct for which a coercive response is appropriate — that is, rights violations — may be condemned leads too easily to the corollary error that if some conduct is deserving of condemnation, it must somehow be a rights violation. The initiation of force is not the only bad thing in the world.
Erroneous for whom? Who are the people making this error? The unwanted initiation of force is the only objectively immoral thing in the world. Subjective morality is another thing entirely and will differ person to person. I would think it more important to deal with the pressing matter of the threats and use of physical violence before dealing with aesthetics. There’s no point advocating for a world free of ugliness if everyone is dead.
New Age Conservative made the following comment:
Two questions (both derived from Aristotle’s Ethics). The first what is the purpose of your ethics. Ethics traditionally has been tied to some point of life . . . i.e. virtue based ethics say that the point of life is Happiness (I capitalize it to distinguish the philosophical concept from the simple emotion), deontological ethics say it is to fulfill our duties, consequentialist ethics to achieve the most pleasure either for ourselves or for the most number of people. But I don’t see what the goal is in the ethics stated here. You seem to put liberty to do what you want as a your chief end, but that would suggest someone left on a deserted island by themselves would have achieved the sovereignty you’re looking for . . . but that somehow doesn’t strike me as particularly ethical in and of itself.
The preservation of individual sovereignty in the face of aggression is the only real goal of this ethical theory. If an individual wants to pursue other values, those values would be morally neutral (unless, of course, those values involved aggressing against others). You are correct in saying that someone living on a deserted island by themselves wouldn’t be ethical, because the situation is devoid of moral content, it’s morally neutral. It is neither ethical or unethical.
Second are actions always morally good, bad, or neutral no matter the context? You list murder and rape as bad . . . but if I kill a rapist in attempting to stop them in the middle of the act of rape, is my act of killing them bad. And you list eating as neutral . . . is there any degree tied to this? Is eating to the point of making myself Jabba the Hut and thus harming my own ability to live out my life still morally neutral?
The example you outline of killing a rapist to stop them raping would not be murder as it falls under the category of self-defence by proxy and would thus be morally good. As for your example of someone eating excess amounts of food and becoming overweight or obese, as that is the value the individual has chosen to pursue it is morally neutral. It would not be particularly healthy, but then the ethical theory does not condemn self-destructive behaviour.
Libertarian Taoist made the following comment:
I would generally agree with this. My question is with regard to the assertion that pacifism renders a morally bad thing morally neutral. I need to chew on that one awhile. I am all for the right of self-defense. But I would think that self-ownership should include the right to not defend yourself; and that that right does not change the act of aggression from being one.
An act is morally neutral when it lacks moral content. To put it another way, it is aesthetic or preferential in nature, like an opinion: Neither right nor wrong.
Taking pacifism as an example, what would normally be considered an act of aggression against an individual (morally bad) is actually a morally neutral action because the one having violence inflicted on them has made the conscious decision to refuse to defend themselves. This means pacifism is equivalent to euthanasia/assisted suicide, because they value their life less than the one initiating the violence and they have consented to said violence by refusing to act in their defence. It is not so much an assertion as it is a logical conclusion from the premises.
Rights are nothing more than the exclusive claims of individuals. Only the consciousness inhabiting its own body can claim to satisfy the conditions of individual sovereignty and self-ownership. From there, exclusive claims to the effects of one’s self, and thus property external to the self, can be validated and justified. At no point did the theory state that one had a duty to defend themselves and thus invalidate any preferences to the contrary. What the theory did state was that if one wants to be morally good they are required to defend themselves against any aggressive action. If one’s preference is to be a pacifist then they need to examine the consequences of such a choice: To refuse to defend oneself against the initiation of force means to commit suicide.
Reading that last sentence one might think: “Hang on, what about the acts of aggression committed by agents of the State? People usually don’t defend themselves from government thugs.” This is true, most people don’t. Is it because they are pacifists? Hardly. In the theory I outlined the following:
A morally bad action will remain morally bad if the individual being aggressed against is unable to defend themselves. Capacity is the necessary precondition for defence and as such the individual is considered morally good so long as they would have been willing to defend themselves had they been able to do so.
When faced with the overwhelming force of State aggression, one can only conclude that they lack the capacity for meaningful defence. That is, a defence where they stand a chance of surviving the ensuing conflict. Once upon a time such a confrontation would have been survivable as both sides of the conflict were more equally matched, however as things stand today they are much more one-sided in favour of the State. The militarisation of the police and the disarming of peaceful people through prohibitions on weapon ownership has seen to that.