March 1, 2024

News Cymru

Two sides to every headline

Stefan Molyneux – Help Me! I Broke The Cardinal Rule!

Stefan Molyneux on his YouTube channel stefbot and on his website Freedomain Radio does warn us.

As soon as someone thinks they have the moral right to use physical violence against you to make you do something you don’t want to do, you must end the conversation.

I didn’t and this is what happened.

Do I regret continuing the conversation? In a word, no. Let me put it this way, it was a valuable life lesson

I would love to hear what you think.

The following is part 2, part 1 is here.

From socialjusticefirst – Accountability and the Realities of Modern Politics

Alex Green said:
October 2, 2012
4:04 pm

Richard, thank you once again. I am not disputing ‘the smile factor’ as a motivator, merely as an adequate motivator. I would have thought that the existence and persistence of poverty proves that the fuzzy feeling alone does not do enough to motivate people to help the poor in an effective or organized way.

Your definition of just law leaves out quite a lot, for example dispute resolution, rules of democratic participation (if we are going down that route) and the infrastructure necessary to enforce the substantive law you endorse in a fair way. I will assume however that you are just taking those for granted. I am not sure what your distinction between law and regulation is because the sense in which you are using the word ‘law’ makes no references to constitutional structure. Certainly law regulates, or at least purports to regulate, behavior. To that extent I agree that ‘law’ is exhaustive of regulation. However in the context of our own society the distinction is purely one of where these provisions of governance come from. Regulations are generally assumed to come from certain regulatory bodies. I am more concerned with what is regulated in my arguments about business, rather than who regulates. I believe others have argued that with you already. It would be perfectly acceptable to me, for example, for a society to draw up a business constitution with limiting principles on profit that was enforced by some neutral arbitral body. All that I would require was that the regulation in question was at least to some approximation substantively just. In that sense the regulation I am talking about could indeed be called law. I am not sure what you mean by pre-crime enforcement, as that preempting and preventing crime is a major (if not the main) goal of criminal law.

On my argument about poverty: I am afraid I do not understand your criticism. Firstly people most certainly can opt out of receiving state benefits. You have to apply for them in the first place (or go to an NHS doctor etc.). The only reason that people feel compelled to use redistributed resources is because they have no other means to secure their basic needs. I would have thought that this aids my criticism of libertarianism rather than disprove it. Secondly even if all poor persons were forced to receive state benefits, I do not see how that makes my argument a non-starter. My argument is that justice requires that resources be redistributed to meet basic needs. Just because resources are made available to you doesn’t mean you need to take advantage of them. If someone wants to starve to death or refuse medical treatment, be my guest. The point is that the safety net should be there for when it is needed.

I believe that I have already sketched my view as to why coercion is necessary in order to ensure that redistributive justice takes place. Essentially, because history shows us that we cannot assume that people will act in accordance with their moral duties to aid the poor, we must (regrettably – I do not deny it) fall back on the coercive force of law to ensure that there are adequate resources available for redistribution. The extent to which this is done and exactly how this is carried out involves a debate over policies of taxation; however I believe that taxation of some sort is a must right now. I look forward to a time when humanity has evolved to the point where it is not.

Richard said:
October 2, 2012
4:33 pm

Hello Alex – I understand your thinking about regulation, how can you justify inflicting physical violence on your neighbour if they don’t agree with you? But I get it, you think the violence is worth it.

About law, I think you have the cart before the horse. You don’t go to court unless something has already happened.

Third paragraph, if people want to opt out why would you want their taxes? I refer you to the last paragraph of my previous comment re the rich if you need them

“Just because resources are made available to you doesn’t mean you need to take advantage of them.” – Please tell the government

“the point is that the safety net should be there for when it is needed.” – but you don’t think people should be able to chose which net

Your last paragraph, I refer you to the last paragraph of my previous comment.

Alex, it all comes down to the use of physical violence. You believe the end justify the means, I do not. This is the ONLY point we disagree on.

Alex Green said:
October 2, 2012
6:01 pm

Richard, in relation to coercion I would say two things: Firstly, there is more to coercion than physical violence. Social pressure, economic influence and judicial command are all forms of coercion. The salient point is that physical coercion (though not necessarily punitive violence) can be used to back up all these things when absolutely necessary. This brings me to my second point. Physical force can be both morally permissible and morally required. It is no way objectionable to hit someone in the face to defend myself from attack. This is legitimate coercion on my part. In the same way it is not objectionable to use proportionate force to save another, indeed we might be duty bound to do so in certain circumstances. Although the attacker would presumably disagree with my interference, this is also legitimate coercion. I assume that you would agree with these propositions. What I am claiming is that in a similar vein it is permissible to coerce the members of society to pay taxes. I don’t think that we are disagreeing about whether or not it is ever permissible to coerce but rather when it is permissible. Our disagreement is not as categorical as you indicated in your last post.

I also would not say that the ends justify the means as a general rule. I am not a consequentialist and I do believe that certain things are never justified. However, I believe that proportionate coercion is sometimes justified and that redistributive justice is one such case. The reason that I would not want people to opt-out is that I believe that having an opt-out for taxation would render effective redistribution of resources extremely difficult if not impossible. This is because although people can be altruistic, they can also be selfish in the short sighted way I described. I think that you only need to look at the world around you to see that. Indeed, if people were entirely altruistic then taxation would be a non-issue because everyone would volunteer their resources freely to ensure that the least well off were as well off as they could be, taking into account people’s responsibility for their choices.

Turning to the question of law, why is it putting the cart before the horse to assume that problems will arise? Your definition of just law might be fine but it is far too limited in that it fails to account for the complexities of human nature. Disputes happen. That is why we need dispute resolution, administration and the rest. I would rather have those things managed by law than not. I am not putting the cart before the horse because I agree that first order laws are the focus of a legal system. My point is that second order laws are necessary to govern their fair and just application. That is what the Rule of Law is all about.

Richard said:
October 3, 2012
7:14 am

“The reason that I would not want people to opt-out is that I believe that having an opt-out for taxation would render effective redistribution of resources extremely difficult if not impossible. ” – It would make it impossible to redistribute to people in poverty who have opted out, yes. I don’t understand why you wouldn’t want to give people in poverty a choice.

Alex Green said:
October 3, 2012
7:50 am

Richard, if you were to read my posts above, you would see that I am perfectly happy with people not using the resources available, for example if they want to refuse free medical treatment or not collect state benefits. I was referring, in the passage you cite, to people not paying taxes. There is of course no reason to force people to make use of alms and it is no attack upon my position to claim that such a move would be irrational. It is not part of my position. It is not even how the real world works. You have to sign on for benefits, they are not simply given to you when you become poor enough.

Richard said:
October 3, 2012
9:04 am

Alex – Let me just repeat my last comment where incidentally I quoted a comment you made

“The reason that I would not want people to opt-out is that I believe that having an opt-out for taxation would render effective redistribution of resources extremely difficult if not impossible. ” – It would make it impossible to redistribute to people in poverty who have opted out, yes. I don’t understand why you wouldn’t want to give people in poverty a choice.

To clarify – The opt out option for those in poverty entails them not paying taxes in return for not receiving benefits on condition they can opt back in whenever they want.

Would you want to give people in poverty the choice to opt out?

Alex Green said:
October 3, 2012
10:16 am

Opt out of benefits, yes. Opt out of taxes, no. For the reasons I have already explained.

Richard said:
October 3, 2012
11:51 am

Alex – “Opt out of benefits, yes. Opt out of taxes, no. For the reasons I have already explained.” – Sorry, you have not explained why those in poverty should be forced to pay taxes. You said something about redistribution which has nothing to do with those in poverty who have opted out.

Alex Green said:
October 3, 2012
12:18 pm

My reason for why all people need to contribute in taxes is that taxation only works effectively without an opt-out. This is a factual assumption on my part. If it is wrong then we can go about addressing it. None of this stops the poor paying less tax, or virtually none (or even none at all). There is a difference between a zero rate and no rate at all. The former implies that they are still part of the redistributive system.

Richard said:
October 3, 2012
12:54 pm

Alex – “My reason for why all people need to contribute in taxes is that taxation only works effectively without an opt-out. ” – What? Even people who are net receivers? If so, how?

How do net receivers of benefits (who want to stop paying taxes and receiving benefits) make the tax system more effective if they are part of it?

Alex Green said:
October 3, 2012
1:19 pm

Your question answers itself. They are net receivers because redistributive justice requires that they be so. They have not lost out through participation. Not only are they contributing to a collective exercise of redistribution but they are also being supported by it. They do not need to be one or the other. They can be both.

Everyone needs to be a part of the redistribution or the system itself will stop functioning fairly. The whole point of redistributive justice is that it is a collective redistribution that no one is outside of. People may choose not to take advantage of the resources they are given but they should not have the option to opt-out of their duty to contribute. If they are net beneficiaries at that moment in time it is evidence that the system is working. You must remember that this is a system in which resources will move over time. So just because someone is poor today does not mean that they will be tomorrow (and vice versa). Voluntary trade as well as bad and good luck still exists within this system after all.

Richard said:
October 3, 2012
1:51 pm

Alex – ” They are net receivers because redistributive justice requires that they be so. ” Its justified to force aid on people who dont want it and to force them to contribute if they are not in a position to? I think you need to accept & respect that someone in abject poverty may have a different idea of justice to you.

“So just because someone is poor today does not mean that they will be tomorrow ” – So do you concede in a hypothetical situation, the day/hour/minute they are a beneficiary they should have the right to opt out and the moment they are in a position to be a net contributor they are forced back into the system.

That way everyone is contributing and the only people giving and taking (but being net beneficiaries) are there out of choice. That is acceptable to you?

Im not sure but I think your having difficulty getting around the possibility that some people who are beneficiaries might prefer to get out completely, no taxes no benefits.

Alex Green said:
October 3, 2012
2:12 pm

Richard, I am afraid that by quoting parts of what I say out of context you risk time and again misinterpreting my position. For the third time: I am happy with people not taking benefits but not with them refusing to pay taxes. Someone can pay no taxes at all and still be within the taxation system: there is a conceptual difference between a zero rate under a particular redistributive framework and no rate at all. If you are describing a zero rate then yes I would be fine with that. But a zero rate is not an opt out, which is to say the removal of rates from an individual. It is the difference between being within a collective and being treated a certain way and not being in that collective at all. This is a logical distinction because, as I have said, people’s resources fluctuate. At no stage have I argued that the poorest should pay taxes to a level that negates their capacity to collect benefits. That would be utterly pointless.

On justice: A redistributive justice argument is geared towards supporting an interpretation of justice where redistribution is morally required. The whole point of backing it up with coercion is that people might not comply voluntarily. I fully accept that people might want to opt out and that people might disagree with my views on justice. These facts in themselves do not persuade me that we should allow opt outs or that my views on justice are wrong. I have given several reasons why opting out of taxation (not benefits, I stress for the fourth time) should not be allowed. Simply repeating that people might want to opt out is not an argument against me. If you want to convince me you must show me why my argument stems from an inconsistent interpretation of justice. Furthermore, how can I but advocate my own view of justice? To just accept other people’s views if I do not agree with them would be bad faith. The interesting question is under what circumstances I am prepared to coerce based on my own views. I believe that taxation is one such area in which we should be so prepared. I believe I have sketched my reasons for this already.

Richard said:
October 3, 2012
2:45 pm

Alex – Zero rate. Okay that is something, unfortunately it doesn’t exist but at least we have a goal to work towards….

“The whole point of backing it up with coercion is that people might not comply voluntarily.” – I hope you are never confronted with a tax rate which you think is unjust or unfair or worse still unacceptable…..

“To just accept other people’s views if I do not agree with them would be bad faith” – Its worse that bad faith, you want to put them in prison! I am positive you do not understand the consequences of what you are saying

The interesting question is under what circumstances I am prepared to coerce based on my own views. I believe that taxation is one such area in which we should be so prepared. – Again, I hope you are never confronted with a tax rate which you “view” as unfair/unjust/immoral/oppressive etc etc…

Actually I am interested to know. What would your reaction be if you were confronted with a personal tax burden which you viewed to be unjust/unfair/immoral?

Alex Green said:
October 3, 2012
3:23 pm

Thanks Richard. On zero rate, I am not sure that a totally zero rate would be justified in all but the most extreme circumstances (no job, totally homeless etc.) but yes, I think it is all a matter of what should be expected to contribute proportionate to their resources.

On what happens when I face a tax I find unjust: you know already right? I suck it up and pay.

But seriously, I think it is all a matter of degree. Some taxes are more or less reasonable than others. We can have an argument about what taxes are appropriate and at what rates but that is not an argument against redistribution. If I was taxed 99% of my personal resources I would probably be in for some serious civil disobedience. I believe in the importance of certain types of private ownership. I think Rawls’ Theory of Justice is a good place to start but I haven’t really made up my mind what form of redistributive justice I support. If my objection to a tax is little more than mild annoyance then as a practical matter I am prepared to just get on with it. What concerns me far more is how tax money is used. Assuming that it all went into some form of welfare I would have little to complain about. Bailing out banks or financing illegal wars? Not so sure. Again: to the picket lines I might have to go.

As for throwing people in prison, it needn’t come to that. Coercion for tax avoidance can take the form of incarceration of course, but it needn’t. Fines, community orders or some other form of coercion might work just as well, if not better (and have the advantage of not wholly limiting liberty). I am not sure that relying on coercive measures to enforce taxation ties me down to any particular theory of punishment. My scepticism about prison as an effective form of punishment is set out in another blog entry on this site (and tested very helpfully by senex72 in the comments): http://socialjusticefirst.com/2012/09/24/why-do-we-punish-war-criminals/

However, in the present circumstances I accept that prison is a likely option. I also think that it is appropriate in some circumstances. My point about bad faith isn’t really about moral harm, at least not exclusively. It is rather based on an epistemological understanding of morality that assumes that moral truth can only be achieved if we approach the enquiry in good faith: I simply have to pursue the arguments that seem good to me. Once again, see the comments in the above cited post. Perhaps it extended our discussion too much to include the bad faith point in my reply. I will try to stay on topic.

Richard said:
October 3, 2012
4:05 pm

Alex – I would probably be in for some serious civil disobedience. – So your disobedience is triggered by the amount of taxation and not the principle of force, in other words it is a personal judgement call.

Following on

You think that it would be unjust for you to go to prison for your disobedience?

Or do you think your imprisonment would be just?

And would your views being in the minority/majority enter into your decisions?

Alex Green said:
October 3, 2012
4:59 pm

Richard, I fail to see why holding that the use of force is illegitimate is any less of a judgement than the notion that certain levels of taxation are appropriate. They are both judgements; personal by virtue of the person making them. You seem to be denigrating my argument as subjective whilst upholding yours as objective. (If I have misunderstood I apologise.) My argument about taxation is a deontic one: Rawls famously argues for a similar position from principle rather than consequence. I am supposing that there is an interpretive concept of justice that we can examine in light of other moral concepts in order to determine what just redistribution requires. There is no subjectivism or relativism implied in my approach to appropriate levels of taxation. I differentiate between the 99% tax and the slight inconvenience because of my contemplated civil disobedience. I freely admit that all human beings can hold false moral beliefs. If I am going to engage in civil disobedience I want to be sure that the thing I am protesting about is wrong. I admit that sometimes my judgements are mistaken. However, I think that it is clear that a 99% tax on all resources would be far too extreme to justify in almost all situations. I would therefore be far more comfortable protesting against it or refusing to pay than I would against a more moderate tax. This is because I believe that more moderate taxation better corresponds to redistributive justice. This is the same sort of judgement as you make when you hold that you should not pay tax because it rests upon the employment of coercion: a practical moral judgement about how to respond to collective redistribution. They are both judgements about how to act based on prior conclusions about the rightness or wrongness of something. They both assume the objectivity of their conclusions. It would be wrong to dismiss complex distinctions as mere opinions purely by virtue of their complexity. True, your coercion distinction is a brighter line than the one I take. That fact alone does not give you a better claim to truth however.

I can answer your majority/minority question quite easily, with a complex caveat (what a lawyer’s answer!). Numbers do not impact on the rightness or wrongness of my judgement. Where they might become relevant is the question of proof. In all modesty I might have cause to doubt a judgement I haven’t taken time to think through exhaustively if the vast majority of people disagree with me. However, I think that where I can make a better argument for my position than the majority, I will have discharged that burden and I would feel justified in working against them. This is very thorny territory I admit. How do we judge the quality of an argument? Certainly we have to try: this is just the predicament we find ourselves in. We can only make decisions based on what we think is right and wrong. However, we can check our beliefs for several kinds of inconsistency. I discuss this in the first section of my paper: http://www.ejls.eu/8/103UK.pdf. Despite the difficult nature of such decisions, I think we can reach a point where our beliefs are defensible enough to act on.

The question you raise about whether I should be punished is a very interesting one. To be honest I haven’t really made up my mind about this. On the one hand it seems that if I am in the right I should not be punished. On the other hand there are important considerations of public safety and order that need to be considered before we just allow civil disobedience to be treated lightly in every situation. A lot depends upon the nature of my disobedience of course; it might be legitimate to protest about taxation in certain circumstances but not to refuse to pay. Sometimes it might be necessary to go further. I hope I would be brave enough to simply refuse to pay a 99% resource tax. If this results in going to prison, the question must be asked if that type of coercion is proportionate to the disobedience. In England there is something of a tradition of giving peaceful civil disobedience a light touch when it comes to sentencing (there are some particularly fine judgements by Lord Hoffman about this, but I can’t quite recall the name of the cases). If I had to give you answer right now, I would say that it would be unjust to send me to prison for refusing to pay the 99% tax. I think the judge should refuse to impose prison in virtue of the public spirited nature of civil disobedience to a clearly immoral tax. This judgement may very well be wrong but the point I want to emphasise is that by making it I am trying to reflect the complexities of the situation, rather than simply drawing a bright line between easy cases or moral paradigms. I am afraid I cannot give you a better answer to this point right now, as civil disobedience is an incredibly complex moral problem as a result of its practical nature.

Richard said:
October 3, 2012
6:55 pm

Alex – I am trying to understand your position, the mechanics behind it. Not intended to be a denigration of your opinion. Like I said before, its a bit scary but……..

“This is the same sort of judgement as you make when you hold that you should not pay tax because it rests upon the employment of coercion:” – My problem is coercion I have no issue giving money to the government, voluntarily.

“How do we judge the quality of an argument? Certainly we have to try: ” – I would say our opinion of ourselves is the only thing that should concern us, which takes us back to altruism and also your belief that no matter if the majority think 99% is right you do not.

“I think we can reach a point where our beliefs are defensible enough to act on.” – you wont hear any argument from me on this, but whose belief system are you referring to? In all your comments so far I have understood the majority rules as far as your concerned but that does not make it right re your last comment. Again I agree. Its too complex.

“If I had to give you answer right now, I would say that it would be unjust to send me to prison for refusing to pay the 99% tax. I think the judge should refuse to impose prison in virtue of the public spirited nature of civil disobedience to a clearly immoral tax. This judgement may very well be wrong but the point I want to emphasise is that by making it I am trying to reflect the complexities of the situation, rather than simply drawing a bright line between easy cases or moral paradigms. I am afraid I cannot give you a better answer to this point right now, as civil disobedience is an incredibly complex moral problem as a result of its practical nature.” – thank you for giving your time, in my opinion this is an awesome answer. A couple of points about it.

Hopefully a jury of your peers will be deciding!

If I can continue on the point, assuming the judge and the jury find you guilty, from what you wrote, I don’t think it would change your opinion?

So where does that leave us?

The government has imposed a tax you feel is immoral
You have protested by not paying the full amount (lets assume you pay 70%, in the eyes of the government it makes no difference)
Your peers have found you guilty and have sentenced you to prison
You feel you were right in your decision and that you should not have been imprisoned even though the majority is against you.

Ultimately it has come down to opinion/morals/beliefs/principles etc. Of the majority if you want, you say it makes no difference and I agree.

My point is, when you give other people the monopoly on force, and fundamentally the use of force comes down to opinion/morals/ethics etc. Your only saviour from prison/punishment is if your parents have brought you up with the idea that 99% is right. Where does that take parenting? The best parents/public schools are the ones who instill the 99% “ethic”? Or the ones at 98% etc. (What incentive does this give government? But I digress).

Is it not dangerous to put the monopoly of force in the hands of other people, other people who may have a different opinion/belief system to you. ESPECIALLY when we are talking about an * infinitely* complex environment/situation as you highlight in most if not all of your comments. And I again, I agree it is impossibly complex.

The very fact it is so complex is the reason why I think the use of force is a bad idea. Why I am opposed to capital punishment? We could make a mistake.

You have a high threshold at 99% and you think this is probably the line for you but what about the people whose line is at 98% or 98.5%. Are their opinions any less valid than yours?

I would say no but you say you want oppose your will on them, by force if necessary, just because their internal belief system differs from yours, regardless of whether they are as passionate about 98 as you are about 99. Personally, I might not like it but I cant judge strangers can I? I know I do not want to.

I am not sure if this comes across as hypothetical but I don’t think it is, there are plenty of people who have felt the wrath of government on the points we discuss.

About your paper, I wont pretend that I read it all but if I can say this, inflicting force on people who have done something and inflicting force on people who have NOT done something is two completely different subjects.

Alex Green said:
October 3, 2012
8:00 pm

Richard, I don’t know where you got the idea that I was backing majority rule. I have explicitly said that it does not matter in terms of moral truth and only ever gives us a common sense reason to question our beliefs. At no stage have I said that what the majority agrees with is right by definition. That view is madness. If you are arguing with this, fine. But you are not arguing with me.

Your point about systems of belief: I don’t believe we think in terms of systems of belief, if by that you mean in terms of applying pre-set rules, when we think morally. Sociologists tend to assume we do because their business is seeing society as a system. The best that can be said, I think, is that certain abstract traditions might have hard and fast rules (for example traditional cultures or religions). I do not believe hard and fast rules have any place in morality when we are trying to find the right answer abstract from such traditions however. Instead we are reflective and form moral beliefs through a system akin to interpretation. This is all in the first section of my article (it is largely taken from Dworkin’s moral theory) but I don’t expect you to read all that! All I am advocating is that trying to find the right answer to moral questions is a moral responsibility placed upon individuals. Such responsibility can however lead to the conclusion that collective decision making is necessary or that coercion must be used in certain circumstances. We must pursue good arguments wherever they lead. In my case, I am arguing that some redistributive system is morally required. Sometimes it is appropriate to put the good of the many before the good of the few. Sometimes the inverse is the case. It all depends on the complexities of the justificatory values and principles that form our process of moral reasoning. That is why I can be a deontologist without wanting or needing to adopt simple maxims and definitions of, for example, property. I know there is a lot of jargon in there but that is the best I can do in this little space!

I don’t know what you mean when you link altruism to someone’s opinion of themselves. I also do not think that the only relevant moral consideration is what we think of ourselves. You seem to agree with me, in that I take you to be agreeing that we can sometimes coerce the harmful acts of others.

On that point, the action/omission distinction is a popular one but again I think it is too simplistic. For a start, coercion can be used to require people to do certain things that do not fall easily into our intuitive distinctions between action and omission. I can, I think, be legitimately coerced not to be negligent in respect of the safety of others. This might take the form of forbidding me from throwing my Steinway from a third story window. However, such a rational might also require a factory owner to spend money in order to render a working environment safe. The justification for both of these duties stems from the same basis but one requires omission and the other requires action. Another famous example is the way we deontologist fret over the ticking bomb scenario. Intuitively the idea of killing one person to save a hundred feels right but it seems on first glance to be contrary to principle (treating the one as a means not an end). But consider this: In one variant of the trolley problem, Costa argues that by sending a train down a track where it will kill one person rather than the five it will kill if we do nothing, we are permitted to count numbers because what ever we do we will be allowing human(s) to die for the sake of other human(s). Contrast this with the killing of one person, who would not otherwise die, for the saving of a greater number. The distinction here is one of diverting, rather than creating, harm. The question of resource distribution is similar to Costa’s example because in a system that allows for certain individuals to suck up resources and others to have none, someone is always going to lose out. By understanding justice so as not to allow for such disparity we are avoiding or ameliorating the harm that would otherwise occur. Coercing people into redistributing their resources is therefore justified. Obviously this is only a sketched argument but it illustrates the way in which I think we ought to think. Action and omission is too simplistic a distinction upon which to base our moral duties and in turn those which merit coercion.

Moving away from pure philosophy, I agree that the model I am proposing will result in illegitimate coercion being used some of the time. Collectives, just like individuals, make mistakes. What I would say is that any system of governance is open to this possibility. Certainly libertarianism would limit the illegitimate uses of coercion through the very simple mechanism of limiting coercion. I accept this as well. What I do not accept is that it is worth it. There are other wrongful and bad things out there aside from illegitimate coercion and the limitation of freedom. Poverty, inequality, starvation, death, ignorance and the like are all things we need to address and I believe that a system based on a less rigid, more redistributive understanding of justice is better disposed to deal with these problems. We might not get everything right and we will make mistakes. However, I believe that by not drawing hard lines, by not being afraid to put ourselves out there and make decisions about right and wrong, we will end up doing more good than ill. I’m sure we could go too far, like in the example of the 99% tax. We don’t have to do so though: nothing needs to be a matter of extremes.

Based on what I have said above (about action/omission and morality as interpretation) I believe that it is just a fact of life that we will have to judge others in some sense. That does not mean being judgmental or intrusive. I firmly believe in the importance of autonomy and having a private life. I think where we disagree is once more a matter of extent. My belief is that justifications such as liberty only reach so far and in certain circumstances things that might be argued private, for example money: the subject of our own disagreement, do not always fall within this protected sphere. I would absolutely refute that this is just my opinion. It is my opinion to be sure but I would not have it as such if I did not also believe that it was the absolute and universal truth. Having said this, I am quite prepared to be proven wrong and indeed take pause before taking steps to coerce. I’m not advocating we be gung-ho but let us not be timid either. Whilst the rhetorical force of libertarianism is appealing, I think that it masks a great deal of complexity and as I have tried to show in my discussions with you, this over simplification can lead to injustice beyond that which it comprehends.

Small sidebar: I don’t think that capital punishment is wrong because of our capacity for mistakes. I think it is axiomatically wrong because it creates harm in the way I described above. It uses an individual as a means to an end in the most inhuman way possible without cause to do so. I would be against it if there was a 0% chance of error in fact finding.

Richard said:
October 4, 2012
9:03 am

Alex – Okay, majority is irrelevant, I agree ” I don’t know where you got the idea that I was backing majority rule. ”

“At no stage have I said that what the majority agrees with is right by definition” – Okay

“I do not believe hard and fast rules have any place in morality when we are trying to find the right answer abstract from such traditions however.” – I am not saying rules, things far too complex for rules. Fundamental principles on the other hand…

“Instead we are reflective and form moral beliefs through a system akin to interpretation.” – Im with you

“All I am advocating is that trying to find the right answer to moral questions is a moral responsibility placed upon individuals. ” – As long as you are only concerned with yourself of course. Like you say, things in out own life are complex enough. To judge people you don’t even know, would be foolish and dangerous in my opinion.

“Such responsibility can however lead to the conclusion that collective decision making is necessary or that coercion must be used in certain circumstances.” – There is no responsibility, unless of course someone asks you. You then go back to majority, something which you say you don’t back. You agree everyone is different and you acknowledge the tyranny of the majority – So I don’t know on what basis you are using coercion?

“I am arguing that some distributive system is morally required. ” – You also acknowledge that it is impossible to judge “morally” because no hard and fast rules exist. So again, I don’t know what you are basing your system on.

“Sometimes it is appropriate to put the good of the many before the good of the few.” – 2 Things. 1. You just said you didn’t back majority rule and second you also say there are no hard and fast rules so again, how do you judge what is good? Because its the majority?

“Sometimes the inverse is the case. ” – Your over thinking this massively in my opinion. Its not black or white, its not yes or no, people can have and do anything they want as long as they don’t stop other people doing the same. When you do this you no longer need to make judgments about other people or deal with impossible moral questions, it really is that simple.

” I also do not think that the only relevant moral consideration is what we think of ourselves. ” – I’m not saying relevant, I saying it is the only thing we can claim to have enough information about to be able to make a moral judgment. That is hard enough but judging for people we never meet…..

“I can, I think, be legitimately coerced not to be negligent in respect of the safety of others.” – I’m afraid you cant, your only negligent if something happens. But feel free to give other examples

“This might take the form of forbidding me from throwing my Steinway from a third story window. However, such a rational might also require a factory owner to spend money in order to render a working environment safe. The justification for both of these duties stems from the same basis but one requires omission and the other requires action. ” – Sorry, your interpretation is not correct. In both cases you want to coerce people not to do something. This “something” being to stop potential harm.

“Costa argues that by sending a train down a track where it will kill one person rather than the five it will kill if we do nothing, we are permitted to count numbers because what ever we do we will be allowing human(s) to die for the sake of other human(s). Contrast this with the killing of one person, who would not otherwise die, for the saving of a greater number. The distinction here is one of diverting, rather than creating, harm” – You get to the core of the issue here. I am saying Costa has to do what he thinks is right, you (with your view of coercion being acceptable) want to tell Costa what to do even though you don’t have to live with the consequences.

“because in a system that allows for certain individuals to suck up resources and others to have none, someone is always going to lose out.” – I’ve seen systems with government and ones without and the ones without share the resources much more evenly. You can also use the animal kingdom if you want for a system without government. In short I have seen zero evidence, zero, that supports the notion that a government distributes wealth more evenly than no government. Not even communism. In fact what I have read of the USSR the wealth distribution was even worse than in the UK.

“By understanding justice so as not to allow for such disparity we are avoiding or ameliorating the harm that would otherwise occur. ” – Our goals are the same, our methods differ completely.

” Coercing people into redistributing their resources is therefore justified. ” – On what are you basing this decision? The levels, who gets it etc etc.

“Action and omission is too simplistic a distinction upon which to base our moral duties and in turn those which merit coercion.” – Again, you massively over-thinking. You live on principles which are simple. And you use these principles to analyse situations as you come across them. As you said yourself, morals are far too complicated for rules. But I think this is your goal, to make rules to govern moral judgments hence why everything gets so complicated.

“Collectives, just like individuals, make mistakes.” – Im not disputing that or saying it is wrong, as long as everyone is there voluntarily. Again, god forbid you send an innocent man to prison against you will.

” There are other wrongful and bad things out there aside from illegitimate coercion and the limitation of freedom. Poverty, inequality, starvation, death, ignorance and the like are all things we need to address ” – Again, I agree with you. My position is that coercion creates the very things you are seeking to stop. Again I have seen no evidence of a lack of coercion causing the things you highlight. What we have both seen is all of the points you highlight come to fruition when coercion is on the table. Please give an example of where lack of coercion has created what you describe.

” I believe that a system based on a less rigid, more redistributive understanding of justice is better disposed to deal with these problems” – it doesnt get less rigid than freedom. Again we are back to whose justice we are talking about, the person who want 100% taxation or the one that wants 98%?

“We might not get everything right and we will make mistakes.” – Exactly my point for not having coercion

“However, I believe that by not drawing hard lines, ” – But you don’t believe hard and fast rules have any place in morality which is correct.

“by not being afraid to put ourselves out there and make decisions about right and wrong, we will end up doing more good than ill.” – Yeah on subjects you understand ie things in your life. And even then its not perfect. Why do you think you can make decision for people you will never meet (through your coercion)?

“I’m sure we could go too far, like in the example of the 99% tax.” – But you know 99% is not enough for some people. And why would you want to tell them they are wrong as long as they are not coercing you. Let them get on with it.

“We don’t have to do so though: nothing needs to be a matter of extremes. ” – Again we come back to judgments, morals and ethics where there are no hard and fast rules. 70% might be extreme for one 20 for another etc etc

” I believe that it is just a fact of life that we will have to judge others in some sense. ” – How can you judge someone you dont know? And you say yourself you are exposing yourself to judgment of other who may have different moral standards to you. Why would you want to do that? As I have said above. The evidence I see is that coercion leads to the world you want coercion to protect you from. Again, I’m open to examples of the contrary.

“That does not mean being judgmental or intrusive. I firmly believe in the importance of autonomy and having a private life.” – When there is coercion in your life you do not have autonomy and your private life is altered in ways you cannot comprehend unless you have lived in a society without coercion. To give the UK for example, conservatively, at a minimum we pay a 50% tax rate, what effect do you think that has on your private life? All the extra hours you have to work for an example.

“My belief is that justifications such as liberty only reach so far” – You cant get a little bit pregnant. Your either free or you are not. Little bit of freedom entails control of your life by the judgement of a stranger which is not freedom.

“Whilst the rhetorical force of libertarianism is appealing, I think that it masks a great deal of complexity ” – it does the exact opposite. It acknowledges and embraces the infinite complexity of life and does not try to simplify it into rules and regulations and then enforce these rules and regulations with physical violence.

“this over simplification can lead to injustice beyond that which it comprehends” – Again, I would love some examples

“It uses an individual as a means to an end in the most inhuman way possible without cause to do so. I would be against it if there was a 0% chance of error in fact finding.” – There are stages, first stage is can we even be sure what we think happened, happened. If the answer is not 100% then I don’t take it further into the areas you rightly highlight. But I do find it slightly ironic that you don’t think a life should be taken but you do think it is right to take chunks of peoples lives away through coercion (in the form of forced labour).

I think fundamentally our disagreement comes down to what can be achieved with an organisation that can use force and one that does not use force.

Ill be honest though, for me it is a slightly absurd notion to believe that an organisation that has to use coercion and physical force to get what it wants is morally superior to *everything* else that does not.

Ultimately if and when we can agree that coercion is not the future and that coercion can lead to the very things we are both trying to avoid, it takes us on to why governments exist in the form they do and specifically why they are so interested in becoming involved in social security/healthcare/pensions etc. The USA gives us very recent evidence of how the world can be pre and post government involvement and even the UK can give us a picture pre and post NHS for example.

This page gives some interesting links http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=537494

Alex Green said:
October 4, 2012
11:04 am

Richard, your last post was very long but I think that most of your comments boil down to three main arguments. The first is that I can only judge what is moral for me and not what is moral for other people. You seem to think that anything other than this conclusion necessitates majority rule being dispositive of right and wrong. The second is that you seem to believe that a completely free market will give rise to a more just distribution of resources than a regulated market. The third is that freedom is indivisible and that to restrict someone’s freedom to act or not act in any respect is to remove their freedom altogether. I will try to address all of these beliefs in turn and show you why you are mistaken in all three. I emphasize that once more I can only sketch my arguments here due to the constraints of space and time, but that I am hoping to convince you that there is at least enough merit in them to make you pause and reconsider your own beliefs.

On the first point, your position amounts to a denial of universal morality. If this is not what you mean I apologise but I am not sure how else to read arguments such as ‘we can only make moral judgments about ourselves and our own actions’. There is a very simple reason that this cannot be right: the argument that no one can legitimately coerce another person is a moral argument that purports to provide a restriction upon the actions of others. Therefore you are assuming that your belief that I should not coerce others into paying tax is binding on me even though I don’t hold it myself. This shows that you simply cannot argue against my position based on the idea that it is merely a belief that I hold about how I should act. Your argument is itself a belief about how people have to act and mine is exactly the same in that respect. If this is true and I think that it must be, then your argument is an exercise in judging other people in exactly the same way that mine is. Its logical conclusion is that if any person coerces any other person then that person has done wrong. This is anonymous judgment par excellence. My argument is essentially that if a person refuses to contribute to a just redistributive tax system then they have committed a moral wrong in the same way.

Connected to this is your misunderstanding of the act/omission point I was making. Firstly, your opinion on negligence is wrong in law. This is not an important point but it stands correction. Under the English law of Tort I will have committed a wrong by risking those in the street below by throwing my Steinway out of the window but that wrong will not be actionable without harm arising. The negligence is one component of the tort of negligence but it is not the only component. My duty is not to be negligent and not, as you seem to think, not to negligently cause harm to others. This is a distinction as old as Roman law between what they called injuria and damnam. Secondly, your restatement of my examples of negligence as duties not to do something is purely semantic. I could correctly say that the duty to pay a welfare tax is a duty to refrain from allowing people to starve. This is a negative semantic proposition. In the same way I could say that you have a duty to actively refrain from punching someone in the face. This is positive semantic proposition. You are confusing the semantic form of ‘duties to’ and ‘duties not to’ with the substance of those duties: requiring action or inaction. It is simply the case that if an employer has to spend money to make his factory safer he is acting rather than a refraining from action. This is yet another reason why the action and omission distinction doesn’t hold up to scrutiny.

I am also afraid that your belief that anyone lives by simple principles is just plain wrong. Once again, these complexities are explained in the paper I linked you to and also in another paper by me in the European Human Rights Law Review called “A Philosophical Taxonomy of European Human Rights Law” (sorry I couldn’t find a pdf to link you to). I am afraid that this is too complex a philosophical issue to canvass in the space I have but please give them a read if you are interested. The general theory is called ‘value holism’; perhaps a google search would help? The thesis refutes the notion that hard and fast rules are required to provide objective and universal moral answers.

The conclusion that you seem to reach from your views on morality is that any system that does not allow people to decide what is right and wrong in a vacuum requires majority rule to be dispositive of what is morally right and wrong. For a start this is simply not so. Dictatorship does not employ majority rule but does require people to conform to collective moral standards. I do not take this to be the sort of distinction you would disagree with however.

Rather, I understand you to be arguing that because majority opinion is not relevant to questions of right and wrong, it should not be employed to determine them. My problem with this is that it implicitly assumes that I am wrong when I argue that some form of collective redistribution should be enforced. The difficulty with such an assumption is that if I am correct then such a system needs to be both defined and implemented. To my mind the only way to do this fairly would be through some form of collective decision making. Decision making does not in itself make redistributive taxation morally right but it is required in order to ensure that all relevant considerations are taken into account when attempting to plan it out.

For present purposes I will separate implementation from definition. Firstly, there is a distinction between whether some state of affairs is morally required and what steps should be taken to implement that state of affairs. It would be wrong to argue that because I do not believe that majority rule gives rise to what is right that I cannot also believe that majority rule is required as a procedural safeguard when organising the facilitation of what is right. This distinction is why I can believe that the procedure giving rise to the 99% tax was fair and still refuse to pay it because it is unjust. As to the question of definition, if it is clear that some form of enforceable redistribution is required but there is disagreement about the nature of that redistribution, we are collectively faced with a problem we must solve. In these circumstances we can use majority rule, not as a show of hands but rather as a discursive process, to determine the manner of redistribution that we are going to enforce. At this stage it is participation in the process that justifies using majority rule to draw a conclusion. I would stress that this is only ever a second best to everyone just accepting the rightness of something on their own. However, it is a practical necessity when communities reach a certain size and depend on each other for the implementation of the controversial details in common plans. This should also help explain why I am prepared to accept a tax that might be slightly disproportionate but not one that is clearly inappropriate. Perhaps the solution is not to have communities on that scale. However, at that stage we are arguing in terms of anarcho-communism or some similar theory of governance. This I take to be well outside the context of our present discussion.

On the second point, I simply do not agree that a free market will give rise to a more just distribution of resources than a regulated one. Now I am part philosopher part lawyer and I think that an economist is better placed to argue the instrumental workings of an economy with you. Putatively, if your beliefs about a free market giving rise to a just distribution of resources correspond to fact then I would have no problem at all with a totally unregulated market. What I can say is that one need only compare the wealth gaps and access to healthcare in the US with the same in more socialist European countries, including the UK, to see that the former’s freer market does a poor job in ensuring an equal distribution by comparison.

Your third point about the indivisibility of freedom is something that I feel I am better equipped to address. I read you as arguing that any restriction on freedom is a removal of freedom because freedom is a state of being. My first point is that you clearly do not believe this argument yourself, as you advocate coercing people to prevent them from coercing others. As I understand it, this is the role of law in a libertarian system of governance. Under such a system you would clearly not be free to murder. If your argument is to be believed then the conclusion would be that a society that forbids murder is not a free society. That is clearly nonsense and I wouldn’t suspect that you believed it for a second. Rather, I believe that your statement about the indivisibility of freedom is a rhetorical spin on a particular understanding of the limits of freedom, to emphasize that those limits cannot be infringed one way or the other. I think our disagreement is better characterized as one concerning exactly what limits on individual freedom are morally appropriate. You say less, I say more. What I am concerned with in the context of redistributive justice is liberty as opposed to freedom; liberty being the appropriate levels and modalities of freedom within the context of a just community. I am afraid your example of pregnancy is a terrible one. Freedom is a moral concept and pregnancy is a physical state. They are not analogous.

Richard said:
October 4, 2012
1:28 pm

Alex – “On the first point, your position amounts to a denial of universal morality.” Not in the slightest, not even a hint, not at all, no way. The whole foundation of what I have been saying is that there is in most things, hence no need for coercion. I’m not sure how you could understand the exact opposite but I apologise.

On the other hand. Your position comes across to me as if you believe there is ONLY universal morality. If you don’t believe that then I’m at a loss of how you can justify coercion. Specifically coercion in getting people to do things they do not want to do.

At this point I have to say you are suffering from a severe cognitive bias “If this is true and I think that it must be, then your argument is an exercise in judging other people in exactly the same way that mine is. Its logical conclusion is that if any person coerces any other person then that person has done wrong. This is anonymous judgment par excellence. ” – If I say I dont want to be coerced by you then I am coercing you into not coercing me? Your joking right?

“My problem with this is that it implicitly assumes that I am wrong when I argue that some form of collective redistribution should be enforced. The difficulty with such an assumption is that if I am correct then such a system needs to be both defined and implemented.” – Alex, this keeps coming up. You acknowledge that morals are not universal re your first comment and you acknowledge that the majority is not the judge of morality – Given that how do you judge what is “correct” for other people as a population?

I would say you cant which is why you shouldn’t do it!

“This is a negative semantic proposition. In the same way I could say that you have a duty to actively refrain from punching someone in the face. ” – Again on what are you basing your judgment and what makes you think your opinion is more important than mine? Do you know the other person? Do you know what they did or are doing?

” You are confusing the semantic form of ‘duties to’ and ‘duties not to’ with the substance of those duties: requiring action or inaction. It is simply the case that if an employer has to spend money to make his factory safer he is acting rather than a refraining from action. This is yet another reason why the action and omission distinction doesn’t hold up to scrutiny.” – Alex your in too deep. The employer making the factory the safer is not the issue, in anyway whatsoever, none gives a stuff except those interested in policing pre-crime ie the regulators. The only issue is if people get harmed in any way, mentally or physically and if they do there are laws. The laws are the regulation for incorrect/dangerous/wrong behaviour, social exclusion and/or punishment is the deterrent, there is no need for a government bureaucracy, the legal system has it covered 100%. There are not enough resources on the planet to deal with the what ifs. Unless the possibility for what ifs are reduced which means poverty.

“What I can say is that one need only compare the wealth gaps and access to healthcare in the US with the same in more socialist European countries, including the UK, to see that the former’s freer market does a poor job in ensuring an equal distribution by comparison. ” – the US system is in no way free market, not even close. it is worse than the UK i agree

“As I understand it, this is the role of law in a libertarian system of governance. Under such a system you would clearly not be free to murder. If your argument is to be believed then the conclusion would be that a society that forbids murder is not a free society. ” – We have being going back and forth about how I think people being coerced into DOING something is bad. From that it crossed you mind that this position could condone murder in a “free” society. Let me repeat. This entire conversation, from my point of view at least, is about the immorality of forcing people to DO something against their will AND people not being permitted to restrict the freedom or cause harm to other people. Thats it, simples.

Alex Green said:
October 4, 2012
2:25 pm

Richard, thank you for your reply but I am afraid that you are misinterpreting me once more. I do indeed believe that there is only universal morality, albeit an incredibly complex universal morality, because I do not believe that we can engage properly with moral questions unless we believe this. This is simply because we always need to ask questions about what arguments justify our beliefs. Criticism of my argument that assumes any relativism or skepticism on my part is therefore a misfire.

You also seem to be assuming that I believe my opinion to be more important than yours. This is not so. It has nothing to do with it being my opinion, or indeed the opinion of anyone in particular. My claim is a universal one: that the justification, the argument I am making is better than yours. It would be just as good if my mother was making it, or Mitt Romney, or Jesus Christ. (Well…perhaps not Mitt Romney.)

In addition, you have failed to address the salient point in my argument about the universal nature of libertarianism as a political ideology. Asking me if I am joking is not a counter argument I am afraid. My argument is this:

1) Libertarianism is a theory of governance.
2) Theories of governance are designed to order a society.
3) Libertarianism (as you have defined it at least) proposes that the coercion of others for any reason be illegal.
4) Coercing another is an exercise of one’s freedom.
5) Preventing the coercion of another by any means is therefore a limitation of the potential coercer’s freedom.
THEREFORE: Libertarianism proposes certain limits on freedom.

AND THEREFORE:

1) In a libertarian society a person who tried to coerce another would need to prevented from and/or punished for doing so.
2) Preventing and/or punishing someone from an action requires coercion of some sort.
THEREFORE: Libertarianism endorses coercion for the prevention and/or punishment of coercion.

So yes, requiring me not to coerce you under a libertarian framework requires coercion. No, I am not joking.

Finally, you seem to have completely misunderstood my argument against the action/omission distinction you make. Either that or you have chosen to avoid it, which I assume is not the case. For the second time now, you have implied that I am over thinking things. I can only take this to be an assertion that I have not accepted your argument as axiomatically true. To that extent I agree with you. You have however not answered my counter-argument that duties can be either phrased positively or negatively in order to promote certain states of affairs. From this I conclude that it cannot be whether one is required to do something or refrain from something that is the issue but exactly what steps one is being asked to take. If you believe that the formation of the duty as positive or negative is at all important, please show me why. You have also not answered the challenge of Costa’s trolley problem by showing me why it is appropriate (or why it is not) to kill one to save five there but not in the case of the out and out sacrifice. The conclusion I derived from the important distinction between diverting and creating harm on this point was that redistributive taxation was an instance of diverting, and not of creating, harm when it deprives a person of wealth. These two arguments together are designed to show that your strict distinction between action and omission is not a sound justification of the proposition that classifying something as a duty not to do something is the only appropriate limitation of freedom. The challenge you have to answer is that one.

Given this, I cannot see why you seem to believe that there is no moral duty on the factory owner to make his factory safe to work in. You claim such things only matter to regulators. Surely this cannot be so. I for one would not like to work in a factory where life and limb were at risk. It cannot be that punishment (of which I take social exclusion to be a form) can address such concerns as effectively as what you rather mystifyingly call ‘pre-crime regulation’. I would have thought that the justification for requiring the factory owner to spend money to make his factory safe was precisely that we want to avoid harm being caused. If you agree with this but still think that the distinction between action and omission holds, then you must address the two arguments I pose in the paragraph above.

Richard said:
October 4, 2012
4:57 pm

Alex – Come again? ” I do indeed believe that there is only universal morality, albeit an incredibly complex universal morality,” – what happened in court? You rebelled against the 99% tax and you peers sent you down. Where is the universal morality?

I just want to quote something you said

“incredibly complex universal morality, because I do not believe that we can engage properly with moral questions unless we believe this. ” see my first point

” Coercing another is an exercise of one’s freedom.” – as long as there is not force I agree! And we are talking about punishing people for NOT doing something here. Nothing else. Like you said, our lives are finite.

“You have also not answered the challenge of Costa’s trolley problem by showing me why it is appropriate (or why it is not) to kill one to save five there but not in the case of the out and out sacrifice.” – Like I said, it is Costa in the impossible position not me, its up to him to decide not us.

About the factory. Let the law deal with it. I’m prepared to go on a case by case basis, you want blanket rules. Blanket rules for something you say it super complex. I don’t understand this position.

“1) Libertarianism is a theory of governance.
2) Theories of governance are designed to order a society.
3) Libertarianism (as you have defined it at least) proposes that the coercion of others for any reason be illegal.
4) Coercing another is an exercise of one’s freedom.
5) Preventing the coercion of another by any means is therefore a limitation of the potential coercer’s freedom.
THEREFORE: Libertarianism proposes certain limits on freedom.

AND THEREFORE:

1) In a libertarian society a person who tried to coerce another would need to prevented from and/or punished for doing so.
2) Preventing and/or punishing someone from an action requires coercion of some sort.
THEREFORE: Libertarianism endorses coercion for the prevention and/or punishment of coercion.

So yes, requiring me not to coerce you under a libertarian framework requires coercion. No, I am not joking.” – As long as I am free to not submit to the coercion and that I can take you to court if I think you are harassing me, then sure.

“Finally, you seem to have completely misunderstood my argument against the action/omission distinction you make.” – Yes I explained why, we are talking about initiating force on someone for not doing something you think they should be doing. Like we both said, time is finite

“Given this, I cannot see why you seem to believe that there is no moral duty on the factory owner to make his factory safe to work in. ” – I said that, where? I know what I think he should be doing but I don’t think I have the right to imprison him for not doing it

I think its a simple concept that I am outlying here. ie it is not “moral” in the universal sense of the word to punish someone for not doing something I think they should be doing from a moral point of view, . And that’s it. 2 sentences.

If someone disagrees they are free to do so and they can take the guy to court if they want for emotional, physical or economic harm. I dont think it gets fairer than that.

This is the point where we diverge ie first principles. We cant take it any further than this very simple idea if we are in disagreement.

You’ve acknowledged and the rescinded your agreement that everyone has different moral judgments and that the majority is not always correct. For your position, if you don’t have the moral authority through universality or the majority where exactly does your authority come from? Give me something new

And something sort of related

/em>

Alex Green said:
October 4, 2012
6:16 pm

Richard, the reason I can feel confident that my civil disobedience is right is because it is not just my opinion that the 99% tax is wrong, it is objectively wrong because it is based on an unsound conception of justice. Every moral opinion held by everyone is claim to universal truth. They all boil down to the formula that “when X is the case, Y should happen” and are universal by virtue of that. The fact that the content of X might alter drastically does not change that they are universal in character. Moral opinions are not expressions of taste. People who assert moral opinions do not assert mere opinions but truth claims. You are confusing moral disagreement with moral indeterminacy and incorrectly assuming that one proves the other.

Perhaps it is best to just drop the particular arguments I used about the irrelevance of the distinction between action and omission, as you don’t seem to want to engage with them other than to say that you disagree because there is an action/omission distinction. You are stating your conclusion as its own justification. I will try another approach and do what I never usually do: quote your words, rather than try to understand the spirit of your argument:

“…it is not “moral” in the universal sense of the word to punish someone for not doing something I think they should be doing from a moral point of view.”

Firstly, do not forget that I am talking about coercion rather than punishment. Punishment is a type of coercion but coercion is broader than punishment and includes enforceable compensation, enforceable restitution and enforceable specific performance.

With this in mind, let me ask you some questions. Would be immoral to coerce a parent as a result of them not feeding their child? Would it be immoral to coerce someone into give back property they were mistakenly given as a gift? Would it be immoral to coerce someone into paying the amount they owed under a contract? Would it be immoral to coerce a trustee into surrendering trust property to a beneficiary upon request when that person had come of age? Would it be immoral to coerce someone following a refusal to allow a black person into their school because they were black? Would it be immoral to coerce someone into offering a job to a woman after they had refused because that person was female? Would it be immoral to punish someone for not telling the truth in court? There are a million and one instances in which intuition and reason both indicate that it is justifiable to coerce someone into take a positive step.

I think the contract example is a good one, as it shows that business would be very difficult to engage in without the coercive enforcement of positive obligations. As I have stated already, it is entirely possible to rephrase any obligation so that it reads either positively or negatively. Doing so is completely pointless however and proves nothing. The fact of the matter is that in order to comply with contractual duties one needs to take positive steps: one must actively do something, whether this is handing over money, an item of property or signing off on a land register. If one fails to do so, the coercion that would be employed would be that of forcing someone to take those steps or providing the other party with compensation or restitution. This would be done by a court order that could then be enforced by punitive measures if disobeyed. If there were no repercussions for failing to do such things then contracts would be unenforceable and it would be very difficult to organise any market, let alone the free market you desire. Saying that those who have breached contractual duties are in fact being coerced into refraining from breaching the contract is just playing with words: it a semantic reformulation of no real importance (and in any event gets civil procedure and the law of remedies all wrong). The enforceable positive obligations of contract law are different from the enforceable negative obligations of certain torts, which require you refrain from action, for example punching me in the face. They are both as well justified as each other however and the fact that one is an act and the other an omission does not and cannot impact upon the fact that they should be enforceable by resorting to coercion. If you agree with me in this conclusion then you cannot maintain your strict act/omission distinction. Simply restating that there is one will not do. If I am right and no strict act/omission distinction exists when it comes to when coercion should be applied then what we should be doing is working out which acts and omissions justify coercive enforcement. My position is that redistributive justice is one such instance.

Thank you for the link by the way, I will listen to it later this evening.

Richard said:
October 5, 2012
8:46 am

Alex – ” it is not just my opinion that the 99% tax is wrong, it is objectively wrong because it is based on an unsound conception of justice. ” – We keep coming back to this. On what basis is it an unsound concept of justice? You didn’t specify.

“Would be immoral to coerce a parent as a result of them not feeding their child? Would it be immoral to coerce someone into give back property they were mistakenly given as a gift? Would it be immoral to coerce someone into paying the amount they owed under a contract? Would it be immoral to coerce a trustee into surrendering trust property to a beneficiary upon request when that person had come of age? Would it be immoral to coerce someone following a refusal to allow a black person into their school because they were black? Would it be immoral to coerce someone into offering a job to a woman after they had refused because that person was female? Would it be immoral to punish someone for not telling the truth in court? ” – I thought I answered this in my previous comment. There is a legal system to sort these out on a case by case basis.

Contracts – I have absolutely no idea why you are talking about contracts where both parties agree to be bound by the terms.

“The enforceable positive obligations of contract law are different from the enforceable negative obligations of certain torts,” – I’m no legal expert but it sounds your talking about something that happens in court re emotional, economic or physical harm. I have no beef with this.

Like I said, things concerning physical, emotional and economic harm should be dealt with in court on a case by case basis.

And if there is any dispute of whether an action or inaction is responsible or not for the economic,physical, emotional harm, again, there is a court of law to decide who is correct.

In summary, why do you think it is right to use physical force without first going to court?

Alex Green said:
October 5, 2012
10:14 am

I have answered you on moral objectivity already. What makes an unsound concept of justice is the lack or inadequacy of a justificatory moral reason supporting it. It is moral justification that makes a moral argument true or false. If that were not so then our entire discussion up to this point would be meaningless: neither of us could support the positions we believe in. My justification for why my account is correct and yours is not is the reasons I have advanced for why your arguments are not good ones. I am making a truth claim about what is moral by advancing the position I am advancing. I don’t see what could be confusing about that idea.

What is it about going to court that you think makes the use of force morally permissible? Simply saying that there is a court system to deal with the questions I asked does not answer them. Courts have to make decisions based on what is right or wrong as a matter of law. They have to find the answers to such questions before ruling on them. No law applies itself. Even legal starting points like statutes are the products of collective moral conclusions about what should and should not be the case.

What if the parties to the contract change their minds and no longer want to be bound by the contract? This happens all the time. Why should the fact that they promised to do something mean that they should be coerced into doing it? I thought that you believed that people should never be forced to take positive action just because others believe they should. Isn’t that exactly what court enforcement of contractual obligations amounts to? The law states that contracts must not be breached and can be enforced by a court when they are breached. Incidentally, if you disagree with this last couple of points then I have no idea what you mean when you use the words ‘court’, ‘contract’ and ‘law’ because any definitions that do not account for this role would just not correspond with reality.

Incidentally, courts deal with taxation disputes all the time as well. The law imposes levels of taxation on individuals. Does that mean that the courts’ conclusions regarding taxation justify coercion in the same way that they do when considering contracts? If you agree with that then you agree with taxation.

Finally, I don’t recall saying that contracts should be enforced without a court, however I am pleased that you seem to have abandoned your strict distinction between action or inaction in your penultimate paragraph. What I would say however is that in certain circumstances physical force without going to a court must be justified. Saving someone’s life by knocking out a murderer in the act or defending oneself from assault are two clear examples. I do not believe that tax should be enforced extra-judicially and have never said so. That is indeed a matter for court enforcement. Courts are not the only organs involved in making law however. That is why we make abstract arguments about things like contracts and taxation: to decide what laws the courts should enforcing.

Richard said:
October 5, 2012
10:55 am

“Courts have to make decisions based on what is right or wrong as a matter of law. ” – That’s my point, you have your day in court.

“I am making a truth claim about what is moral by advancing the position I am advancing” I’m saying it is up to our peers to judge on a case by basis. It is not up to a party with the monopoly on force to judge.

“What is it about going to court that you think makes the use of force morally permissible? ” – because in a court people are judged by their peers on a case by case basis. We are talking about court so I presume you agree that everyone should have their day in court before force is initiated against them? If not, why are we talking about court?

“Simply saying that there is a court system to deal with the questions I asked does not answer them. ” Sorry, you missed the point of my reply. I know it does not answer your questions, that was the point, it is not up to ME to judge. The whole case needs to be laid out and judged by our peers. You understand what I mean?

“I thought that you believed that people should never be forced to take positive action just because others believe they should.” First of all a court should decide. What a court can do is an entirely different subject. If we are talking about court, then you agree that everyone should have their day in court before force is initiated against them?

Can we agree here? That at the very least, before force is initiated then it should be first heard by a court on a case by case basis?

“The law imposes levels of taxation on individuals.” – At no point have I said courts should deal with taxation. You say taxation is required because of the harm physical, emotional or economic caused if you don’t pay taxes. I’m saying a court should decide if harm is caused on a case by case basis.

And then I think you contradict yourself, I’m sure you didn’t intentionally, if you can explain.

“. What I would say however is that in certain circumstances physical force without going to a court must be justified. ” (I’m assuming your referring to the party with the monopoly on force being justified) And you think they should be held accountable after the fact if someone feels wronged?

“I do not believe that tax should be enforced extra-judicially and have never said so. That is indeed a matter for court enforcement. ” (And a court judges and then enforces if required, nothing is a forgone conclusion).

And your final comment

“That is why we make abstract arguments about things like contracts and taxation: to decide what laws the courts should enforcing” – I don’t think this is correct. We decide on what *basis* they should be enforcing. And please tell me what laws are not judged and enforced by the courts?

senex72 said:
October 5, 2012
11:11 am

I am miles out on this discussion, but perhaps the following is relevant:-

Taxation and State Regulation is usually regarded as morally justified by its purposes, which would be (a) covering the costs of defence, law and order and administration – which must be compulsory to avoid the “free rider” tactic (b) to maintain social justice by sustaining overall demand and employment, protecting citizens from exploitation, fake goods (H & S etc) and taxing away contrived rents disguised as profits (monopoly banks, landlordism, commodity price manipulation etc) to redistribute the rent-income (c) taxing to correct for external diseconomies and so visit the costs on the perpetrators (dangerous fumes emission, endangering sea defences by gravel extraction, destroying businesses by unproductive financial activity in the derivatives market in the City, rate manipulation etc.).

When it comes to force, the modern State normally claims a monopoly over the legitimate use if force; however under Magna Carta there is a right to bear arms and rebel against illegal executive judgements,and fines; and under the 1689 Settlement there should be no standing army (because it is an instrument of potential repression) so citizens bear arms in national defence – all of which seems contentious but may be updated by regarding citizens as having a duty to rebel if the social contract s broken.

If we abandon the State’s claim to monopoly in the use of force then I suspect government would revert to a system if patronage, with the Great Lords or financial aristocracy stumping up to meet defence costs as in Medieval times or Early Republican Rome, while extracting rents from the plebs.
This may of course be an entirely unhelpful contribution, if so I apologise..

Richard said:
October 5, 2012
11:29 am

senex72 Bonjour! – “(a) covering the costs of defence, law and order and administration – which must be compulsory to avoid the “free rider” tactic ” – Your assuming people what to involve the legal system! Im not sure how people could ride freely. They pay to play, just like they do now through taxation.

“(b) to maintain social justice by sustaining overall demand and employment, protecting citizens from exploitation, fake goods (H & S etc) and taxing away contrived rents disguised as profits (monopoly banks, landlordism, commodity price manipulation etc) to redistribute the rent-income ” – I would say this is taken care of by the law and consumers.

“(c) taxing to correct for external diseconomies and so visit the costs on the perpetrators (dangerous fumes emission, endangering sea defences by gravel extraction, destroying businesses by unproductive financial activity in the derivatives market in the City, rate manipulation etc.).” – again, I would look to the courts. Class action suits and so on.

” If we abandon the State’s claim to monopoly in the use of force then I suspect government would revert to a system if patronage, with the Great Lords or financial aristocracy stumping up to meet defence costs as in Medieval times or Early Republican Rome, while extracting rents from the plebs.” – plebs paying by force? again the courts. Defence costs? Defence of what? The country? I would look to Switzerland’s model.

Alex Green said:
October 5, 2012
11:54 am

Senex I think that you are more or less bang-on when you say that state use of force prevents people from using force against others. That is what I have been trying to get across for ages. I do not really agree with social contract theories of state but that is probably best left as an argument for another time. I would also generally agree that taxation is justified on the basis of securing some end, however I would say that a potential end could be just distribution of resources, which is a deontological proposition.

Richard, have you considered how courts make decisions? If they are applying the law then they cannot be deciding purely on a case by case basis: they are applying standards that purport to be general. That is what law and morality are. If they are deciding on an ad hoc basis then it is simply an instance of one group of people arbitrarily deciding on how to use coercion against another person, which is what I thought you wanted to avoid. Courts have to judge moral questions because someone has to in order to get things done. The moral arguments I am making are abstract versions of the reasoning process a court will go through when it decides. As I said before, it is the argument that makes something right, not who makes it.

If all you are saying is that I should not be the dictator of the world and that some participatory process is needed to ensure justice is appropriate then of course I agree. I do not see how that in any way touches upon the truth of my arguments about taxation.

Of course I agree that when a court is deciding on an issue the effected parties should be able to present arguments. Who wouldn’t? But there are clearly instances where force must be used without a court: this is not a contradiction I’m afraid. We simply cannot have courts dealing with emergency uses of force, such as in the examples I provided. Courts cannot be used to sanction every use of force. That would quite simply not work. That is what I mean by the non-judicial use of force being legitimate in certain circumstances. As for how this relates to tax, coercion is only ever employed for tax evasion after a court hearing. Individual arbitration complements general policy in questions of redistributive justice.

About taxation in general: let us assume for the sake of an argument that some redistributive tax is required because everyone has a moral duty to contribute some appropriate amount to support the collective. If that is so, how would we define and organize this? We cannot hold court cases in respect of each person. What we would do is make a collective decision on some taxation policy. (Just in case you mistake this statement for an endorsement of the Westminster system, let me state that it is not. We can imagine a direct democracy of, say one thousand people doing just this.) If particular individuals feel that it is unfair to them then they can question this in court. The presumption is that they should pay because this is what justice seems to require. Once again, individual arbitration complements collective decision making.

If you want to argue against the notion that redistributive taxation is not morally required then you need to address my general arguments about why there should or should not be redistribution. You have not done so. Just to remind you, these are the argument that justice requires that people have a fair distribution of resources and that you cannot rule out taxation because it requires someone to actively do something.

If you are simply going to repeat that taxation should not exist because it is a general policy, or that it is not our place to judge, then we really have nothing to discuss. By doing so you would be avoiding my arguments rather than disproving them. The fact of the matter is that the question of whether or not we should redistribute needs to be answered. Your strategy seems to be one of saying that we cannot discuss the question because only courts can make judgments about justice and that courts cannot deal with taxation issues because they are general policies. That is argumentative slight of hand and not an engagement with the issue: my argument is that redistribution of some kind is morally justified.

You are asking me what law is not justiciable and I have no idea why (other than to score some kind of rhetorical point). Of course the courts decide matters of law. Law needs to come from somewhere though. That is why legislation exists and why moral arguments give us abstract principles of reason. Courts could not function without these things. I simply do no know what you mean by the ‘basis upon which courts should be deciding’. If you mean what counts as law then I think that courts are as involved in that process as legislatures. It seems to me as though you are imagining some non-existent legal system. Such a system might be a good system but you need to explain more clearly what it is.

Richard said:
October 5, 2012
3:02 pm

Alex – “Senex I think that you are more or less bang-on when you say that state use of force prevents people from using force against others. ” – I agree that is the rhetoric

“Richard, have you considered how courts make decisions? ” – So again, you agree everyone should have access before they are acted upon? Lets agree a matter should go to court before force is exercised. if we cant get that far I don’t see the point in discussing courts if you don’t want to use them.

” If they are applying the law then they cannot be deciding purely on a case by case basis: they are applying standards that purport to be general. ” – From my understanding you contradicted yourself in one sentence. They apply general law/general standards on a case by case basis.

“If all you are saying is that I should not be the dictator of the world and that some participatory process is needed to ensure justice is appropriate then of course I agree. ” – Hallelujah!

“We simply cannot have courts dealing with emergency uses of force, such as in the examples I provided. Courts cannot be used to sanction every use of force. That would quite simply not work. ” Sanction, not all, but they can and do hold accountable parties to account after the fact. In short, they are involved always, at least they would be if some party was not granting themselves to be morally superior to another and therefore immunity and by “party” I mean The G.

” We cannot hold court cases in respect of each person.” – Why not? Please don’t tell me you believe courts are the way to go in an ideal world but the cost of doing so is prohibitive. This would mean you want to do what is right but the resources simply don’t exist to make sure you are correct. If your talking about physical violence I would say you need to be sure before you act. To simply say the resources don’t exist to enforce the policy fairly and that therefore there will have to be some collateral damage for the good of the majority, is, in my opinion, not acceptable, there has to be a better way and until we find it lets agree to not base any current/new concept on violence. I’m not saying it is realistic considering where we are today. What I am saying is that it is the road we should be going down, the goal we should be working towards. But to start on that road we should, as a individuals, start to acknowledge that the current system is not fair (at best) and brutal (at worst).

“If you want to argue against the notion that redistributive taxation is not morally required then you need to address my general arguments about why there should or should not be redistribution. ” – I am saying *voluntary* redistribution is something that I think most of us believe is the right thing to do. Would you agree?

” The fact of the matter is that the question of whether or not we should redistribute needs to be answered. ” I’m up for redistribution just not at the business-end or trigger-end of a gun.

“Your strategy seems to be one of saying that we cannot discuss the question because only courts can make judgments about justice” – I’m not saying courts are the be all and end all, just the fairest thing I can think of. If we are talking about force, fairness is my number one priority.

“and that courts cannot deal with taxation issues because they are general policies. ” – You lost me a bit here. Courts can deal with taxation issues sure. But taxes dont exist for the sake of taxes. They have a purpose, I am using courts as the judge of whether taxes in individual cases serve the purpose they were designed for. You say I am simplifying things. I would say the exact opposite. I am trying to highlight how infinitely complex things are, or should be in a fair society and how blanket rules which effect everyone as a whole is a fundamentally unfair concept, especially when you are backing up this concept with physical violence if people disagree.

“my argument is that redistribution of some kind is morally justified.” – If you didnt condone force to impose moral standards I would agree. Do you believe redistribution can only occur with force?

Also, you mentioned something about not wanting to quote what other people wrote, I’m not sure why but I don’t mean to offend when I quote you.

Joshua Mellors said:
October 5, 2012
12:30 pm

Haha senex72 great comment!

Like you say this is what the state is ‘supposed’ to do. But in fact (as I presume you well know) it taxes rents very little, very little indeed, preferring to punitively tax labour and business. And defence is of course in our case a euphemism for offense The external economies taxation you speak of which would be desirable is also clearly lacking…

Again Richard, this consumer fetishism of yours is beyond belief ridiculous. Are you claiming that ‘consumers’ have the power to tax away rents? Please can you just drop the dogma.

Richard said:
October 5, 2012
1:42 pm

Joshua – Its dogma to not support this? “And defence is of course in our case …… offense ” – Guilty as charged

Richard said:
October 5, 2012
3:36 pm

Joshua – I have to revisit your comment, my response did not do it justice. “Like you say this is what the state is ‘supposed’ to do. But in fact (as I presume you well know) it taxes rents very little, very little indeed, preferring to punitively tax labour and business. And defence is of course in our case a euphemism for offense ”

You acknowledge that the state is not acting in the way it is supposed to. That is basically your beef? The state as it exists now is a sound concept you just want it to behave slightly differently?

About consumers, last time I checked they were also voters, voters supposedly put in people to look after their interests in a democratic way (and please don’t tell me the people they are voting in are qualified for their positions).

So where exactly does the link between voters and consumers breakdown in your eyes?

Voters are educated enough to vote for a system which has the monopoly on force and all its consequences but not educated enough to vote on the best shampoo, car or financial product.

Voters are educated enough to vote for a system which at a minimum takes away 50% of their property & labour for their entire working life but they are not educated enough to buy something which costs them a fraction of that, a car for example.

Voters are educated enough to vote for a military industrial complex that can kill millions of people but as consumers they are not able to judge what is healthy food or good medicine.

Please tell me where the breakdown is or maybe I am looking at it in the wrong way?

Alex Green said:
October 5, 2012
4:37 pm

Richard, I think we are fast approaching the point where our disagreement is becoming intractable. The entire context of this argument is that I was proposing that taxation was justified. Not charity, taxation. Switching topics to voluntary redistribution is just dodging the issue. I have already set out above the reasons why I think enforceable redistribution is just and necessary. There is no point in me doing so again.

I have never said that I should be the sole arbiter of anything. You have completely missed my point if you thought this and I can only suggest that you read what I wrote again with this in mind. I was making the point that moral arguments are either true or false and that if we are to implement them we need to do so and not shy away because some people disagree. That is not the same as making a claim about how this implementation should be conducted.

I have told you that force should be used in emergency situations without resorting to courts. The examples I used were those such as intervening to prevent a murderer in the act. I did not extend my argument beyond that. I was merely trying to show that resort to courts is not always possible. You are trying to find something to disagree with for the sake of it.

You also now seem to be agreeing that certain taxes are just and that courts can make rulings about them. I agree with you on this. I am confused as to how this fits in with your conclusion that it would be immoral to force someone to do something because a judgment has been made that they should do it. This is what happens when courts rule in favour of the tax. That you have a chance to participate in the hearing does not alter that aspect of the ruling. If you agree that some form of redistributive tax can be just then we aren’t actually disagreeing at all.

That aside, an argument for access to the courts to review a tax is not an argument against the idea that a tax should exist. Such an argument would need to address the morality of taxation. Incidentally, it would be very difficult for a court to review a taxation policy if that policy did not exist in the first place.

In connection to this, you have misunderstood my position on courts. The law consists of general standards. Courts apply the law. Courts therefore apply general standards to specific cases. What you cite as a contradiction is exactly the same as the apparently contrary position that you pose. To decide a case on an individual basis implies looking at it abstracted from general standards: that is to say without the law. There is a legal term for this called deciding ‘ex aequo et bono’. That is the sense in which I was speaking.

You say that you are concerned primarily with procedural fairness. If this is so then you should be happy with an enforceable taxation policy adopted by a simple vote that could then be applied by the courts if disputes about it subsequently arose. This is a perfect instance participatory fairness. It is also an instance of a priori law making rather than simply waiting for a dispute to occur in relation to a non-existent tax policy. As a small side note I also don’t understand why you are placing so much faith in courts to decide things correctly. As a lawyer I can tell you that judges and juries routinely get things wrong, just like any other public decision making body. Jeremy Waldron has some very interesting books on this problem called: ‘The Dignity of Legislation’ and ‘Law and Disagreement’. I think they are worth considering before simply dismissing a priori law making in favour of ex posteriori review as you seem to be suggesting. I am not even sure how courts would apply the law without law making bodies to produce it.

It would be impossible to have one decision making body decide if each person should pay tax by looking at their situation in turn. This might work in a society of ten people but at the scale we are talking about then the resources (not to mention the time) required would be insane. Litigation cost a lot in both resources and time. To say that resources are morally irrelevant clearly begs the question of redistributive justice doesn’t it? We wouldn’t be having this discussion if we had enough resources to do anything. Everyone would just take whatever they needed. That would be an ideal world. In an ideal world we wouldn’t dispute anything so courts, democracy and any other form of collective governance would be unnecessary anyway.

By the way: you didn’t offend me, I just prefer to try to understand exactly what the other person is saying rather than just picking out phrases and commenting on them. I quoted from your post above, so was just explaining why I didn’t usually do that. No worries!

Richard said:
October 5, 2012
6:00 pm

Alex – I apologize, I thought you were talking about using taxation in order to benefit those who need assistance. “The entire context of this argument is that I was proposing that taxation was justified. Not charity, taxation.”

Your view is that forcing people to do something can be justified even if you have no knowledge of a persons circumstances and their moral beliefs are irrelevant. And court for each individual case is unfeasible if desirable. I get it.

Get the latest updates in your inbox

I