Essay:Exceptions to ethical principles

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Exceptions to ethical principles abound. For example, the non-aggression principle states that the use of force is unacceptable, except in response to force initiated by others. Libertarian principles concerning property rights state that they are inalienable, except when the person alienates himself from his own property rights by engaging in a crime that makes restitution required.[1]

Statists often say that an exception to the principle that initiating force is wrong is when the state is the entity initiating the force. Or they simply say that the State's use of force does not count as initiation of force, because those who remain on the State's territory infringe the State's sovereign right to use of that territory unless they abide by the State's rules, including requirements to pay taxes and obey regulations.

Consequentialism answers the question of whether an exception is legitimate by examining whether the exception helps or hinders fulfilling the purpose of the ethical principle. For example, if the purpose of ethics is to promote the safety and happiness of people, then one would seek to determine the effect of the exception on those goals. Of course, some values are notoriously difficult to measure.


  1. Tannehill, Morris and Linda. "Man and Society". The Market for Liberty. "The beachcomer, by his initiation of force against and to the detriment of another man, has alienated himself from the right to that part of his life which is required to pay his debt. Rights are not inalienable, but only the possessor of a right can alienate himself from that right—no one else can take a man's rights from him."