Objective morality is somewhat of a holy grail for a lot of people, especially libertarians.
And if you’ve read a few of my articles, you may have noticed that a large portion of the criticism I level against the State is that its very existence is predicated on the use of coercive force. Besides its definition as a territorial monopoly on the legitimate use of force, the State can also not exist without funding, and its funding is derived from taxation – institutionalized theft supported by an initiation or threat of violence.
Indeed, one could break down the arguments against coercive authority as two-fold:
- Arguments from morality.
- Arguments of a practical nature.
Taking the government’s provision of police as an example, I might argue from a moral perspective that any police officer tasked with protecting my life and property, who must also, in order to subsist, violate my life and property through taxation, is demonstrably incapable of performing his task with any moral consistency.
Now you might notice that for this argument to hold, no concept of objective morality was necessary – only the idea that morality ought to be consistently applied to everyone.
Arguing from a practical point of view, I might mention that any monopoly will always be less efficient in providing a service than firms competing among one another. Since government’s monopoly police will always have customers regardless of their performance, whereas free market security firms must compete for our currency or face unemployment – it becomes obvious which system of organization possesses the better incentives.
So is objective morality possible?
Now back to the original point. Do I consider objective morality to be a possibility? No. Absolutely not.
When I point out the forcible expropriation of people as an evil, I don’t do it from the point of view of some sort of system of objective morality. No such moral system exists, and all attempts to prove it have failed spectacularly.
A moral system is a system of rules that govern our behavior. These are rules that we ourselves choose to follow, or that some people try to impose on others. But since these are not some kind of inviolable biological imperatives, they are entirely subjective. When I call out coercion as an evil, I do it based on the moral system I have chosen to follow.
I could argue that only the libertarian Non-Aggression Principle provides a cogent framework from which to derive rules against murder, rape, assault, theft, and other such (fairly) universal moral no-nos, but that doesn’t mean people MUST follow these rules.
As far as recorded history dates back, men have killed, raped, and pillaged others, yet no divine retribution struck them down – nor did they suddenly stop breathing and collapse. In fact, many men have made fortunes or obtained great power through the deaths of others. To me, objective morality is just another case of wishful thinking.
My moral reasoning is very simple:
IF we assume the validity of the Non-Aggression Principle, and all of its derivative moral rules regarding murder, rape, etc.
THEN in order to be consistent, we must apply those rules equally to everyone, whether they’re regular people like you and me, or policemen wearing funny hats.
That’s all there is to it. If you believe theft is wrong and you want to be consistent about it, you have to repudiate all forms of coercive government.
If however you are morally flexible, and are willing to have moral double standards (often existing in a state of cognitive dissonance about it), that is your prerogative. Most people believe in some form of morality, but they don’t realize the moral double standards they’ve been taught to think, so pointing it out can help – even if they get defensive at first.
And if thirdly you have no such moral principles, then obviously my arguments from morality will have no effect on you. Maybe you’ll care about all the wasted human potential instead, and how we could all be living in a far more prosperous society absent systematic expropriation of people who produce value.
In my experience, a majority of people exist in the second category. I would very much like them to become more consistent and move to the first.
But false concepts of objective morality that use obscure or strange argumentation are probably more of a disservice than anything else. They serve to further muddle, rather than clarify, a person’s thinking.