Monday, May 21, 2012
I wanted to write a post about how libertarian definition of property is the only one morally acceptable, but then I decided first to explain what libertarians mean by their non-aggression axiom.
First, let's start with the following scenario:
Imagine I live in a state of nature. I live outside of any society, outside of any jurisdiction, on some deserted island, in the wilderness, on another planet, etc. I have a number of things that I use: my body, some sharpened rocks that I have found and sharpened myself, some sticks, some clothes that I made. I have nobody around me and, as a result, no conflict and no need for law.
Next, imagine yourself under the same circumstances. Perhaps on the same island or the same planet, but physically far enough from me that we should never meet each other or use the same resources. Both of us live in a state of nature.
Next, imagine we are picked up with all our belongings (all parts of our physical surroundings that we used in some way) and transported to another state of nature (another island), but now, in a very close proximity to each other. Now we may have need of some sort of laws or rules.
So, here is the libertarian axiom: Under such "state of nature", it would be wrong for me to take any of your belongings away from you without your permission (either using force or threat of force). It would likewise be immoral and unethical for you to do the same.
So, what do we mean when we say that it's an axiom? Is it some sort of self-evident truth? Is it something that we received from a prophet or an oracle? Is it a concept that we have developed from observation of the world?
Well, what are geometric axioms? When Euclid said that "all parallel lines don't intersect", what did he mean? I think he meant, at the time, that it was self-evident to anyone that parallel lines did not intersect. That's what being a parallel line meant. On the basis of that definition, all Euclidian geometry (the geometry on a flat piece of paper) is built.
A few millennia later, geometricians developed the geometry on a spherical surface. It turned out that on a sphere, "parallel" lines (or, what was defined as parallel lines — the meridians) always intersected. As a result, geometric figures on a sphere had different properties: for instance, if the sum of angles in a triangle drawn on a piece of paper is always 180 degrees, that's not the case for a triangle drawn on a sphere. The sum of angles could be 270 degrees:
Later, Lobachevsky surface was discovered: a surface, shaped like a saddle going out to infinity, on which lines could be non-parallel and non-intersecting.
So, what did the Euclidean axiom about parallel lines mean now? Well, it meant that whenever we are taking this axiom as truth, we are working on a flat surface. The axiom itself defined the reality about which we were talking at the time that the axiom was in use.
So, what does the libertarian axiom mean? What do we mean that a statement that "it would be wrong for me to take your belongings by force in a state of nature" is an axiom? We mean two things:
1. For most people, it's a self-evident truth. It might be because they grew up with it, or because their personal code of ethics tells them so, or whatever other reason. How they arrived at it is irrelevant for now.
2. When we take that statement as an axiom, we create (or define) the reality which we are talking about. I.e., what we mean is: we are talking about a society in which people would consider such a behavior unethical. (I don't mean aggression within society. I mean that the people living in our imaginary society would agree that if they were plucked out of it and transported to a state of nature, it would be unethical for them to commit such acts of violence.)
In a society in which the libertarian axiom is not accepted by the people (a society in which people would welcome aggression and violence, in which most people believed that might is right, or in which people were amoral), libertarianism would not necessarily hold true.
On the other hand, if a person did accept such an axiom as ethical and/or if he wanted to live in a society where people believed it to be ethical, then he would have to accept libertarian principles, especially, libertarian definition of property.
To be continued...
at 9:17 AM