Morality is doing what is right regardless of what you are told. Religion is doing what you are told regardless of what is right.

Is objective morality possible?

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.

Morality is doing what is right regardless of what you are told. Religion is doing what you are told regardless of what is right.
It’s not quite so simple, but religion has definitely muddled up the moral debate by inserting irrelevant commandments as morality. Without a doubt however, Statism should also be classified as religion.

Indeed, one could break down the arguments against coercive authority as two-fold:

  1. Arguments from morality.
  2. 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.

2 thoughts on “Is objective morality possible?”

  1. I think there is a great deal of misunderstanding surrounding UPB and I’ve read a lot of criticisms of it (I’m commenting on the link to, “The Molyneux problem”) and I think it mostly comes from the bad and overly complicated explanation Molyneux puts forward. It took me a long time to wrap my head around it but it and still can’t really understand the book because it jumps around a lot but how about this;

    Two men in a room. They both think that rape is good. If one man rapes the other, it’s not rape because rape is defined as unwanted sex.

    That’s the key point which I think Molyneux could do a much better job of explaining. If something is, in it’s very definition, “unwanted” then you can’t also say that it’s wanted. To say that something is good is to say that it is wanted… Not required, just wanted. Giving to charity is good = I want to give to charity.

    For our two guys above, if one rapes the other then the other must say to himself, “Rape is good. I am being raped. That must be good.” which is why there’s a logical contradiction. He is no longer being raped when he wants it. That’s what happens when you universalise a principle like, “rape is good”…

    Now, you can say, “rape is bad” and that can be universalised. I could also say that, “baking cakes is bad” and that universalises fine. It doesn’t say anything about whether you should or shouldn’t do it but it’s a test to see whether something can be claimed as good and we can at least say rape is not good/acceptable because in it’s definition it’s unwanted. We can go into what is not good/wanted but acceptable/neutral another time.

    I really hope you’ll add me on Skype some day so that we can chat this out. 😛 I’m sure you know who this is. I mean, we set up and literally built a shop together and had to resolve disputes over property.

  2. >IF we assume the validity of the Non-Aggression Principle

    Then validity is nothing but consensus. But subjectivity of morality means there could be no common ground for moral consensus, in other words might is right. And you seem to agree with it. I see a contradiction in your logic.

    There is another approach. The objective common ground for moral concensus exists. It is freedom. Freedom is the essence of being human. Morality is impossible without freedom. Freedom is an objective property of reality just like determinism but determinism (ie following own instincts or external forces) has obviously nothing to do with morality. If you are interested in this topic, there is a book “Cult of Freedom & Ethics of Public Sphere” describing the objective moral system. It is available at http://ethical-liberty.com. Thanks.

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