Book:Universally Preferable Behaviour/4
With the UPB framework in place, we can now turn to an examination of how UPB validates or invalidates our most common moral propositions. If our “theory of physics” can explain how a man can catch a baseball, we have at least passed the first – and most important – hurdle, and struck our first and deepest blow against the beast.
The Seven Categories
As mentioned above, propositions regarding universally preferable behaviour fall into three general categories – positive, negative and neutral. To help us separate aesthetics from ethics, let us start by widening these categories to encompass any behaviour that can be subjected to an ethical analysis. These seven categories are:
- It is good (universally preferable and enforceable through violence, such as “don’t murder”).
- It is aesthetically positive (universally preferable but not enforceable through violence, such as “politeness” and “being on time”).
- It is personally positive (neither universally preferable nor enforceable, such a predilection for eating ice cream).
- It is neutral, or has no ethical or aesthetic content, such as running for a bus.
- It is personally negative (predilection for not eating ice cream).
- It is aesthetically negative (“rudeness” and “being late”).
- It is evil (universally proscribed) (“rape”).
Ideally, we should be able to whittle these down to only two categories – universally preferable and aesthetically positive – by defining our ethical propositions so that what is universally banned is simply a mirror image of what is universally preferable, and ditching merely personal preferences and neutral actions as irrelevant to a discussion of ethics.
For instance, the Non-Aggression Principle (NAP) states that the initiation of the use of force is immoral – thus the non-initiation of the use of force is universally preferable, while the initiation of the use of force is universally banned. If what is banned is simply the opposite of what is preferable, there is really no need for an additional category.
Furthermore, as moral philosophers, we must prioritise our examination of rational ethics by focussing on the most egregious violations. Clearly, the most immoral actions must be the violent enforcement of unjust preferences upon others. If actions such as “theft” or “murder” are defined as UPB, the examination of such definitions must be our very highest priority.
Thus we shall focus our efforts primarily on universally preferable and enforceable actions.
Virtue And Its Opposite
The opposite of “virtue” must be “vice” – the opposite of “good” must be “evil.” If I propose the moral rule, “thou shalt not steal,” then stealing must be evil, and not stealing must be good. This does not mean that “refraining from theft” is the sole definition of moral excellence, of course, since a man may be a murderer, but not a thief. We can think of it as a “necessary but not sufficient” requirement for virtue.
Each morally preferable action must by its very nature have an opposite action – because if it does not, then there is no capacity for choice, no possibility of avoidance, and therefore no capacity for virtue or vice. If I propose the moral rule: “thou shalt defy gravity,” then clearly morality becomes impossible, immorality cannot be avoided, and therefore the moral rule must be invalid.
If I propose the moral rule: “thou shalt not go to San Francisco,” this can be logically rephrased as: “thou shalt go anywhere but San Francisco.” In this way, the moral rule “thou shalt not steal” can be equally proposed in the positive form – “thou shalt respect property rights.” Since respecting property rights is a virtue, violating property rights must be a vice.
What Is Missing
Conspicuously absent from the above list are traditional virtues such as courage, honesty, integrity and so on – as well as their opposites: cowardice, falsehood and corruption.
It may seem that these virtues should fall into the realm of aesthetically positive behaviour, such as being on time, but I for one have far too much respect for the traditional virtues to place them in the same category as social niceties. The reason that they cannot be placed into the category of universally preferable is that, as we mentioned above, the framework of UPB only deals with behaviours, not with attitudes, thoughts, states of mind or emotions. The scientific method can process a logical proposition; it cannot process “anger” or “foolhardiness.” These states of mind are not unimportant, of course – in fact, they are essential – but they cannot be part of any objective system for evaluating ethical propositions, since they are essentially subjective – and therefore unprovable – states of being.
Thus UPB can only deal with objectively verifiable actions such as murder, assault and so on.
The First Test: Rape
Although it is an unpleasant topic to discuss, rape is without a doubt the least ambiguous action that any moral theory must encompass. Murder can be complicated by self-defence; theft by the problem of starvation or “stealing back” – but one can never rape in self-defence; it is by its very definition the initiation of aggression.
Let us then use the UPB framework to examine the logical consistency of ethical propositions regarding rape, with reference to these seven moral categories.
To take an absurd example, let’s imagine that we are reviewing an ethical theory that proclaims that rape is a moral good.
Clearly, if I proclaim that “X” is “the good,” then the opposite of “X” must be evil. If not raping is good, then raping must be evil. Conversely, if raping is good, then not raping must be evil.
Raping someone is a positive action that must be initiated, executed, and then completed. If “rape” is a moral good, then “not raping” must be a moral evil – thus it is impossible for two men in a single room to both be moral at the same time, since only one of them can be a rapist at any given moment – and he can only be a rapist if the other man becomes his victim.
That which enables virtue cannot be evil. “Freedom,” for instance, is a prerequisite for virtue – without freedom, we cannot be virtuous – thus “freedom” cannot be evil, since it is required for goodness.
If it is morally good to be a rapist, and one can only be a rapist by sexually assaulting a victim, then clearly the victim must be morally good by resisting the sexual assault – since if he does not resist, it is by definition not rape, and therefore not virtuous. In other words, attacking virtue by definition enables virtue. Thus we have an insurmountable paradox, in which the victim must attack virtue in order to enable virtue – he must resist sexual assault in order to enable the “virtue” of the rapist. Thus not only can the rape victim not be virtuous, but he must resist and attack “virtue” in order to allow it.
Insurmountable logical problems thus result from the proposition: “rape is moral.” Remember, we agreed that a rational theory cannot propose opposite states for the same situation. All other things being equal, a rock cannot fall both up and down at the same time, and a valid theory cannot predict that one rock will fall up, while another rock will fall down.
In the same way, two men in a room must be considered to be in the same situation. If only one of them can be good, because goodness is defined as rape, and only one of them can rape at any time, then we have a logical contradiction that cannot be resolved.
Also, if we recall that Universally Preferable Behaviour must be independent of time, then we also face a logical problem that, no matter what his physical virility, at some point the rapist will simply be unable to rape any more, because he will be physically unable to get an erection. At that point, his ability to perform the “good action” becomes impossible. Since “avoidability” is a key criterion for morality, but he is physically unable to be good – in other words, he is unable to avoid being evil – then he cannot be responsible for not raping the other man.
If a man hanging from a tree over a canyon lets go because he lacks the strength to continue holding on, we would not call that a suicide, since the choice to hang on was no longer available to him. If he lets go although he has the strength to continue holding on, the case would not be quite so clear.
The Coma Test
Intuitively, it is hard to imagine that any theory ascribing immorality to a man in a coma could be valid. Any ethical theory that posits a positive action as universally preferable behaviour faces the challenge of “the coma test.” If I say that giving to charity is a moral absolute, then clearly not giving to charity would be immoral. However, a man in a coma is clearly unable to give to charity, and thus would, by my theory, be classified as immoral. Similarly, a man who is asleep, or has no money to give – or the man currently receiving charity – would all be immoral.
This is another central problem with any theory that posits a positive action such as “rape” as moral. At any given time, there are any number of people who are unable to perform such positive actions, who must then be condemned as evil, even though they have no capacity to be “good.” However, if it is impossible to avoid being “evil,” then clearly evil as a concept makes no sense. In the example above of the rock crashing down a hill, the rock is not “evil” for hitting your car, since it has no capacity to avoid it of its own free will. If a man’s brakes fail right after they have been serviced, then it is not his responsibility for failing to come to a stop. If he has never once had his brakes serviced in ten years, then his irresponsibility is the proximate cause of his continued momentum, and he can be blamed.
In this way, the concept of “avoidability” retains its use. A man in a coma is unable to avoid lying in his bed, since he is in a state of quasi-unconsciousness. Since he is unable to avoid his actions – or inaction in this case – his immobility cannot be immoral.
At this point, the objection can quite reasonably be raised that if a man in a coma cannot be immoral, then he also cannot be moral. However, earlier we said that the opposite of an immoral action must be moral. If we propose the moral rule, “thou shalt not rape,” then can we call the man in a coma moral, since he does not rape?
The concept of “avoidability” works in the positive as well as in the negative. If I have lost my genitals in some ghastly accident, am I moral for refraining from rape? It would seem hard to argue that I could be, since genital rape at least is impossible for me. Similarly, we may call a man “generous” if he gives one hundred dollars to a beggar – however, we would doubtless revise our estimation if it turned out that he gave away his money while sleepwalking, and woefully regretted his action on waking.
Thus we can reasonably say that where choice is absent, or inapplicable, morality is also absent, or inapplicable. Thus the man in a coma, while his actions cannot be considered evil, neither can they be considered good. He exists in the state without choice, like an infant, or an animal – thus he can be reasonably exempted from moral rules, since there is a physical state that objectively differentiates him from a man who can choose, which is allowable under UPB.
With that in mind, let us continue our examination of rape.
Aesthetically positive actions (APAs) are universally preferable, but not enforceable through violence, since aesthetically negative actions do not initiate the use of force. As we discussed above, if I am late in meeting you, I have not initiated the use of force against you, and I have not removed your capacity to choose, or avoid the situation.
If we say that APAs can be enforced through violence, then we are saying that the initiation of violence is morally good.
If we propose a moral rule that the initiation of violence is morally good, then this rule faces all the same logical impossibilities as the rule that “rape is morally good.”
Two men in a room cannot be both morally good at the same time, since one of them must be initiating violence against the other, and the other must be resisting it – since if he is not resisting it, it is by definition not violence, as in the case of the surgeon we discussed above. Thus virtue can only be enabled by resisting virtue, and two men in the same circumstances cannot both be moral at the same time, and so on – all of which are violations of UPB.
Thus we know that rape cannot be an APA.
We can confirm this by reviewing the reasons why “being on time” is an APA.
First of all, we instinctively understand that it is more just to reject a friend for being perpetually late than it is to reject a friend for not liking ice cream.
Why is that?
Once again, the UPB framework comes to the rescue.
An APA is a non-coercive rule that can be rationally applied to both parties simultaneously.
For instance, if my APA is: “be on time,” then it can be a universal standard that can be totally avoided. I cannot forcefully inflict this APA on you because you do not have to be my friend, you do not have to be on time, you do not have to respect or follow my preferences in any way whatsoever.
If “being on time” is an APA, then it is possible for two people to achieve it simultaneously – if they are both on time.
With rape though, as we have seen above, it is impossible for two people to perform it at the same time. One must always be the rapist, and the other always the victim.
On the other hand, if I say that “liking jazz” is an APA, then I immediately run into a logical impossibility. Remember, APAs are non-coercive rules that can be rationally applied to both parties simultaneously – the correct formulation for “liking jazz” is: “subjective preferences are universally preferable.”
Not only is this a rank contradiction in terms of syntax, but it also immediately fails the test of UPB. If I prefer jazz to all other forms of music, but you prefer classical music to all other forms, and if personal preferences are universally preferable, then you should prefer jazz because I do, and I should prefer classical because you do. This, of course, is impossible, because it would require that we both simultaneously prefer both jazz and classical above all other forms of music. You must switch your preference to jazz, because of my preference – but I must at the same time switch my preference to classical, because of your preference. This is like saying that you must both throw and catch the same baseball at exactly the same moment – a logical and physical impossibility.
Since APAs are not enforceable through violence – you cannot shoot a man for being late – then rape cannot be an APA, since rape by definition is a sexual attack enforced through violence.
Thus rape cannot fall into the category of APAs.
Perhaps rape is akin to a merely personal preference.
The question then arises: can the classification of rape as a merely personal preference stand up to logical scrutiny?
If we propose the moral rule: “personal preferences must be violently inflicted upon other people,” how does that stand up to the framework of UPB?
Personal preferences cannot be justly inflicted upon other people, because that would create an insurmountable logical paradox.
If I say that liking the band Queen above all others is universally preferable behaviour, on what grounds could I justify that statement? Only by saying that all personal preferences should be inflicted upon other people. However, if my personal preferences can be inflicted upon you at will, then by the very definition of UPB, your personal preferences can also be inflicted upon me at will. Thus we cannot both be moral at the same time, since that would require that we both prefer our own bands while at the same time surrendering that preference to the preferred bands of each other. In other words, I must simultaneously think that Queen is the best band, and that The Police is the best band. This is a logical impossibility, which is a central reason why mere personal preferences cannot be universally enforceable.
Thus if rape is considered to be a merely personal preference, then it cannot logically be enforced upon anybody else. Again, thinking of the two men in a room, this would require that both men prefer to rape each other, but remain utterly unable to enforce that decision, which is not only illogical, but also fortunately completely impractical.
Finally, since personal preferences cannot be enforced on others, but rape is by definition the enforcement of a “preference” upon another, rape cannot be in the moral category of merely personal preferences.
As discussed above, rape cannot be a morally neutral action, since it is a preference that is enforced upon another.
Perhaps rape is a personally negative action, the opposite of number three. As an example, a criminal on the run would consider capture a personally negative action (PNA).
Personally negative actions (PNAs) by definition cannot be enforced upon another. Thus a man being raped would be wrong to “inflict” his preference for not being raped upon his rapist, in the form of self-defence. In this way, the initiation of violence – the enforcement of a personal preference – is moral, while self-defence – also the enforcement of a personal preference – is immoral. Thus we would have the same actions (the enforcement of a personal preference) classified as both moral and immoral, which cannot stand.
Perhaps rape is an aesthetically negative action, like “being late” – the flip-side of number two above. However, aesthetically negative actions (ANAs) cannot logically be violently enforced because by definition they can be avoided. Since I can freely choose to stop associating with a man who continually shows up late, I cannot shoot him for being late.
However, rape by definition cannot be avoided, since it is a sexual attack enforced through violence. Also, if I choose to stop being friends with the tardy man mentioned above, he cannot justly force me to be his friend by threatening me with violence, since that would rely on the principle that merely personal preferences can be enforced on others, which would run fruitlessly up against my ability to enforce my desire to drop his friendship. This kind of “Tarantino morality” always ends up with everyone in a state of mute paralysis, pointing guns at each other’s faces like frozen statues.
As we have already established, any universally preferable behaviour must be universal to all people in all places at all times – if ANAs allow for violent enforceability (i.e. I can shoot you for being late) – then if rape is defined as an ANA which can be enforced, then the rape victim who finds rape an aesthetically negative action has the right to shoot his rapist, which effectively affirms the principle of self-defence, but at the expense of also allowing gun play in the opposition of, say, rudeness.
Thus rape cannot be an ANA.
Which leaves only…
If rape is defined as evil, then it must involve the initiation of the use of force, which clearly it does. Also, the proposition: “rape is evil,” passes the “coma test,” insofar as it is impossible for a man in a coma to rape someone.
In addition, if rape is evil, then not raping must be good – in this way, two men in a room can both be moral at the same time, simply by not raping each other.
Since avoidability is one of the key differentiators between “unpleasant” and “immoral,” and rape is clearly an unavoidable behaviour, the definition of “rape as evil” also conforms to this distinction.
Also, since there are times when it is physically impossible to rape someone – for instance, when an erection cannot be attained – the definition of “rape as evil” solves the problem of people being involuntarily immoral, which is by definition impossible, due to the criterion of avoidability.
The rapist may justify his actions by avoiding the proposition “rape is good,” and instead substituting another proposition that supports his desire to rape, such as: “It is moral to take one’s own pleasure, regardless of the displeasure of others.”
This proposition also fails the most basic logical test of UPB. If Bob believes that he should take his own pleasure by raping Doug – regardless of Doug’s displeasure – then Bob cannot rationally elevate his preference to a UPB.
If everyone should take their own pleasure regardless of their victim’s displeasure, then Bob has no right to rape Doug, since although Bob prefers to rape Doug, Doug most certainly does not prefer to be raped. If everyone should take their pleasure regardless of the displeasure of others, then there is no rational reason why Bob’s preference to rape Doug should take precedence over Doug’s preference to not be raped, regardless of the displeasure that refusing to be raped would cause Bob.
Thus Doug can say to Bob: “It is morally good for me to rape you, because personal preferences can be violently enforced.” Bob, of course, can then reply: “It is then morally good for me to violently resist your attack, since my personal preference to not be raped can also be violently enforced.”
Of course, few rapists are philosophers, but as we mentioned above, the primary danger to human beings is not the individual criminal, but irrational and exploitive moral theories. For instance, incarceration is inevitably justified through an appeal to a moral theory – and incarceration causes far more people to be raped than private criminals could ever dream of. If the moral theory that justifies incarceration is incorrect, then correcting this moral theory should be by far the highest concern of anyone wishing to reduce the prevalence of rape.
Thus it would seem that the only logical possibility for rape is that not raping is universally preferable behaviour – or that rape is universally banned behaviour.
The fact that the UPB framework has logically and effectively validated the moral proposition that rape is evil – not “good,” or “aesthetically preferable,” or “personally preferable,” or “morally neutral” – is a very good sign. It does not prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that UPB will logically validate all “common sense” moral propositions, but the first hurdle has been passed, and that should give us great cause for celebration. If I were a physicist proposing a Unified Field Theory, and the application of my theory correctly predicted where a thrown baseball would land, I could justly be enormously pleased.
Einstein’s theory of relativity predicted that light would bend around a gravity well – when this was first confirmed, it did not prove his theory beyond a shadow of a doubt, but it did prove that the theory could be true, which was a great leap forward. The first validation is always the hardest, because it is so easy to get things wrong, and error always outnumbers accuracy.
The UPB framework has correctly validated our moral premise that rape is evil. This is a necessary – but not sufficient – criterion for proof, and fully supports additional investigation. Thus, let us continue…
The Second Test: Murder
Let us now test the UPB framework against moral propositions regarding murder, which here is defined as killing intentionally and with premeditation, not in self-defence.
Since we spent so much time dissecting the question of rape – and since many of the same arguments will apply here – this analysis can be much briefer.
Let us return to our two moral guinea pigs sitting in a room – we’ll call them Bob and Doug.
If murder is morally good, then clearly refraining from murder is immoral. Thus the only chance that Bob and Doug have to be moral is in the instant that they simultaneously murder each other. Physically, this is impossible of course – if they both stand and grip each other’s throats, they will never succumb to strangulation at exactly the same moment. If Bob dies first, his grip on Doug’s throat will loosen, thus condemning Doug to the status of immorality until such time as he can find another victim. Because Bob dies first – and thus cannot continue to try murdering Doug – Bob’s death renders him more immoral than Doug’s murder.
Intuitively, we fully recognise the insanity of the moral proposition that murder is good. Logically, we know that the proposition is incorrect because if it is true, it is impossible for two men in a room to both be moral at the same time. Morality, like health, cannot be considered a mere “snapshot,” but must be a process, or a continuum. The UPB framework confirms that Bob cannot be “evil” while he is strangling Doug, and then achieve the pinnacle of moral virtue the moment that he kills Doug – and then revert immediately back to a state of evil. Moral propositions must be universal, and independent of time and place. The proposition that murder is moral fails this requirement at every level, and so is not valid.
If murder were morally good, then it would also be the case that a man stranded on a desert island would be morally evil for as long as he lived there, since he would have no victims to kill. A man in a coma would also be evil, as would a sleeping man, or a man on the operating table. A torturer would be an evil man as long as he continued to torture – but then would become a good man in the moment that his victim died at his hand.
We can thus see that the proposition that “murder is good” is not only instinctively bizarre, but also logically impossible.
The other objections that applied to the proposition “rape is good” also apply here. Murder cannot be morally neutral, since morally neutral judgements or actions cannot be forcibly inflicted upon another, and murder by definition is forcibly inflicted upon another.
There is also a basic contradiction involved in any universal justification for the act of murder, just as there was in the act of rape. If Bob tries to strangle Doug, but Doug resists, how could Bob rationally justify his actions according to UPB?
Well, he could say something like: “a man’s life can be taken any time you want to” – but of course, since UPB is the only valid test of moral propositions, this justifies Doug killing Bob as much as it does Bob killing Doug. Thus Bob can only justify strangling Doug if Doug does not resist in any way – but of course if Doug does not resist, then can it really be considered murder?
Let us say that Bob then adjusts his premise to say: “I can shoot a man in his sleep any time I want.” The problem here is not only the sleep that Bob will lose based on his universal premise, but also the logical impossibility of reversing moral propositions based on the differences in the states of sleeping and waking. Biologically speaking, a man does not become the opposite of a man when he falls asleep, any more than gravity reverses when he blinks.
Since a man remains a man when he falls asleep, it cannot be the case that opposite moral rules apply to him in this state. Thus to say that it is immoral to murder a man when he is awake, but it is moral to murder a him when he is asleep, is to create a logical contradiction unsupported by any objective biological facts. A physicist may say that a rock falls down, but a helium balloon rises up – but that is because a rock and a helium balloon have fundamentally different properties. No credible physicist can say that one rock falls down, but that another rock with almost exactly the same qualities falls up. The same is true for moral theories – no credible philosopher can say that morality reverses itself when a man is asleep, since a man’s nature does not fundamentally alter when he naps.
In this way, if we cannot justly shoot a man when he is awake, we also cannot shoot him when he is asleep, since he is still a man.
Thus, since the statement “I can shoot a man in his sleep any time I want” cannot be validated according to UPB, it cannot be a true moral proposition.
Here again we find that the UPB framework holds true in terms of murder. The only possible valid moral theory regarding murder is that it is evil, or universally banned.
We could take the same approach to the question of assault, but the arguments would be identical to those of rape and murder, so for the sake of brevity, we shall continue.
Let us now turn to the question of theft. If this framework holds true here as well, then we have hit the perfect trifecta of our instinctual moral understanding, and found rational confirmation for our existing beliefs. We have discovered the maths that explains how we are able to instinctively catch a ball, and that is a necessary start.
We have skirted over the issue of self-defence with regards to murder, though it is scarcely necessary to examine it in the case of rape. This is not because the issue of self-defence is either self-evident or uncomplicated, but rather because the complications that exist can be dealt with more comprehensively after we look at the question of theft.
The Third Test: Theft
We will have to spend a little bit more time on theft, since it inevitably brings into the picture the question of property rights, which is highly contentious for some.
There are many ways of approaching the question of property rights, from “homesteading” to legal definitions to practical considerations etc. I will address none of those here, because the question of property rights must fall into the framework of UPB, if UPB is to stand as a rational methodology for evaluating moral propositions.
Clearly, the moral proposition with regard to property rights is this: either human beings have the right to own property, or they do not.
Now the first “property” that must be dealt with is the body. “Ownership” must first and foremost consist of control over one’s own body, because if that control does not exist, or is not considered valid, then the whole question of morality – let alone property – goes out the window.
UPB is a framework for evaluating moral propositions, or arguments about universally preferable behaviour for all mankind. First and foremost, a man must be responsible for his own actions if they are to be judged morally, since as we have argued above, the capacity to choose actions is fundamental to any ethical evaluation.
If a man has no control over his body, then clearly he has no responsibility for his actions – they are not in fact “his” actions, but rather the actions of his body. Now, no one would rationally argue that if a man strangles another man, it is the murderous fingers that should be put on trial and punished. Clearly, the body cannot entirely control itself, but rather must be to some degree under the direction of the conscious mind.
What this means is that a man is responsible for the actions of his body, and therefore he is responsible for the effects of those actions. A man is responsible for where he puts his penis, which is how we know that we can judge him for raping someone. He “owns” the actions of his body as surely as he owns his body. To say that a man is responsible for his body but not the effects of his body is to argue that a man is responsible for aiming and throwing a knife, but not for where it lands.
Also, arguing that a man is not responsible for the effects of his body is a self-detonating statement, similar to the ones we examined above. If I say to you: “Men are not responsible for the actions of their bodies,” it would be eminently fair for you to ask me who is working my vocal chords and mouth. If I say that I have no control over my speech – which is an effect of the body – then I have “sustained” my thesis at the cost of invalidating it completely.
If I am not at all responsible for my speech, then there is no point arguing with me. A tape recorder is also not responsible for its speech, which is why we tend not to get into virulent disagreements with magnetic strips. In cheesy horror films, young girls seem to be particularly susceptible to demonic possession – the inevitable priest who shows up always offers to talk to the demon in charge of the girl, at which point the girl starts making a sound like Don Ho gargling with ball bearings.
This ridiculous portrait is accurate in one sense though – if some other being is in full control of the girl’s vocal chords, it is that being which needs to be addressed, not the girl, who has no control over her responses.
Thus if I say to you that I do not have control over my speech, you can ask me: who does? If I reply that no one does, then it makes about as much sense to argue with me as it does to argue with a television set, or the aforementioned boulder as it bounces down a hillside towards you car.
Thus the very act of controlling my body to produce speech demands the acceptance of my ability to control my speech – an implicit affirmation of my ownership over my own body.
Now, if demonic possession were a valid occurrence, and a girl possessed by a demon spat on a priest, we would not call the girl rude, but would rather pity her for being inhabited by such an impolite demon. Whoever has control over the girl’s body is culpable for the effects of her actions – this is why we would not call a man who stole while sleepwalking “evil,” since he did not have full control over his own body (although we may restrain him in other ways). This is also the basis for the legal defence of “not guilty by reason of insanity,” which is that we assume that a man who is insane does not have full control over his actions.
Thus to reject the ownership of the body is to reject all morality, which, as we have seen above, is utterly impossible. Logically, since morality is defined as an enforceable subset of UPB, to reject morality is to say that it is universally preferable to believe that there is no such thing as universal preferences.
Finally, to use one’s ownership of one’s own body in the form of speech to reject the notion that one can control one’s own body, is a blatant and insurmountable self-contradiction.
It is in this way that any rejection of self-ownership can be utterly discarded.
Since we own our bodies, we also inevitably own the effects of our actions, be they good or bad. If we own the effects of our actions, then clearly we own that which we produce, whether what we produce is a bow, or a book – or a murder.
Property And UPB
Even if we reject the above, we can still use UPB to definitively assert the existence of universal property rights.
As mentioned above, either human beings have property rights, or they do not. Except for a few grey areas, which we will get to shortly, this remains a universal proposition.
If a man does not have the right to use property, then he does not have the right to use his own body. He does not have the right to use his own lungs, and therefore must stop breathing. Although this sounds silly, it is an immediate and inevitable result of the premise that human beings do not have property rights.
It is fairly safe to assume that anyone you are debating property rights with is drawing breath, and thus agrees with you that he has the right to use his own body at least.
The question then comes up whether or not human beings have the right to exclusive property use. For instance, property could be defined as a sort of time-share principle of ownership, insofar as everyone should have the right to own everything, on some schedule or another.
This means of course that a man with lung cancer has a right to at least one lung of a healthy person. Since all ownership starts with the body, if we do not have the right to exclusive ownership over our own body, then we must share our body with other people, or be immoral. The sick man has a right to one of our lungs, and if we withhold it from him, that is exactly the same as stealing it. Similarly, both you and I have the right to use Celine Dion’s singing voice, since it is wholly selfish of her to pretend that she has exclusive ownership of it.
If human beings do not possess exclusive ownership over their own bodies, then the crime of rape becomes meaningless, since a woman clearly does not exclusively own her vagina, and neither does a man own his own various orifices. If exclusive self-ownership is not an axiom, then even the crime of murder becomes meaningless.
It is no crime to commit suicide, any more than it is to set fire to your own house, since the destruction of one’s own property is a valid exercise of ownership. However, if exclusive self-ownership is invalid, then there can be no distinction between murder and suicide. If my liver is failing, and I have a right to take yours, then I can “repossess” it in perfect accordance with morality and honourable behaviour. If this procedure kills you, so what? Without exclusive self-ownership, there is no “you” to begin with…
Thus we can reasonably say that exclusive self-ownership is a basic reality – that all human beings at all times and in all places have exclusive ownership over their own bodies, and thus have exclusive ownership over the effects of their own bodies, both in terms of moral behaviour and property creation or acquisition.
The Grey Areas
Naturally, any statement such as the above brings the inevitable howls of “complexity,” which I fully agree with.
Let us say that I mean to give you five dollars as a gift, but by mistake I hand you a ten dollar bill, saying, “This is for you.” Few people would consider it theft if I said, the moment after I handed it to you: “Sorry, I meant to give you five dollars, not ten,” and took the larger note back, even though I am taking back property that I have voluntarily relinquished.
On the other extreme, if you are one of my sons, and I pay for your university education, and explicitly tell you that you never need to pay me back, my generosity will doubtless affect your spending habits. It would scarcely seem reasonable for me to clap my forehead after your graduation ceremony and cry, “Oh, I thought you were one of my other sons!” and demand repayment.
Similarly, it is generally accepted that children cannot enter into legal contracts, but that adults can. In many societies, the differentiating age is eighteen years. This means, of course, that at the stroke of midnight between a man’s seventeenth year and eighteenth birthday, his capacity to enter into legal contracts arrives fully formed. Has he gone through some massive biological transformation in that split second? Certainly not, although at eighteen he is biologically very different than he was at the age of ten, both in terms of physical and mental development.
For the sake of efficiency, if not perfect morality, arbitrary transitions are often placed between one state and another. Childhood is definitely one state; adulthood is quite another. The transition between childhood and adulthood is blended; it is not black and white, but rather like the day descending into dusk, and then night. Noon is definitely not night, and midnight is definitely not daytime, but there are times in between when it is harder to tell, although the direction of the transition is always clear.
In the same way, a man who is greatly mentally deficient can be considered far less responsible for his own actions. A man with an IQ of sixty-five is mentally scarcely more than a little child – a man with an IQ of one hundred is an average adult. If we say that a man with an IQ of eighty becomes responsible, then we are by definition saying that a man with an IQ of seventy-nine is not responsible – is that a clear, fair, and utterly objective demarcation? Certainly not, but in order for most concepts to be practical, the criterion of “good enough” and a reasonable cost/benefit analysis must be put into place. As mentioned above, no water is perfectly pure, but waiting for perfect purity would simply cause a man to die of thirst.
Given that the question of moral responsibility and intellectual capacity only applies to a very small percentage of people right on the border, and that creating objective and perfect tests is very likely to prove impossible, there will inevitably be some “rules of thumb” that win the day. We can only assume that, since biologists live with this kind of occasional subjectivism every day, moral philosophers can somehow survive as well.
Property As Universality
UPB thus gives us clear options with regards to property rights. It cannot be the case that some men have property rights, while other men do not. It cannot be the case that men in Washington have property rights, while women in Baltimore do not. It cannot be the case that men have property rights today, but not tomorrow, and so on.
It also cannot be the case that men have only fifty percent property rights.
If I argue: “Men only have fifty percent property rights,” then I create yet another insurmountable contradiction. You may well ask me which half of my sentence was not generated by me. If I only have fifty percent property rights, then clearly I only have fifty percent control over my own body – if I put forward the above sentence, then clearly I am only in control of fifty percent of that sentence, since I only have fifty percent control over my voice. Who, then, is responsible for the other fifty percent of my sentence?
This may sound esoteric, but it is a deadly serious question, for reasons that we will get to shortly.
Let us say that we can somehow magically bypass the “fifty percent ownership of the body” problem, and say that human beings only have fifty percent property rights when it comes to external objects.
How does that work in practice?
Well, if I have two lawnmowers and you have none, then clearly it would be logical for you to have the right to take one of my lawnmowers, since I can only ever own half of my lawnmower collection.
However, when you take possession of one of my lawnmowers, unfortunately you are only ever allowed to own half of that lawnmower, since we only have the right to fifty percent ownership over external objects. Thus you must immediately find somebody with whom you can share the lawnmower. This brings your “just” ownership down to twenty-five percent. However, your new co-owner cannot have the right to twenty-five percent of the lawnmower, because he only has fifty percent rights for whatever ownership he possesses – thus he must find somebody to take fifty percent of the twenty-five percent that he has – and so on and so on and so on.
The problem with any theory that argues for less than one hundred percent property rights is that it instantly creates a “domino effect” of infinite regression, wherein everybody ends up with infinitely small ownership rights over pretty much everything, which is clearly impossible. Thus it must be the case – both logically and practically – that we have full ownership over our own bodies, and over the effects of our bodies, in terms of external property. We do not need a homesteading theory, or other “just acquisition” approaches to justify property rights – they are justified because anybody who acts in any way, shape or form – including arguing – is axiomatically exercising one hundred percent control over his own body, and “homesteading” both oxygen and sound waves in order to make his case.
Thus, by combining this axiomatic reality with UPB, we can easily understand that since anyone debating property rights is exercising one hundred percent control over his own property, the only question is whether or not property rights vary from individual to individual – a question definitively settled by the axiomatic fact of self-ownership, as well as the UPB framework. Any moral proposition must be universal and consistent, and this is how we also know that everyone has one hundred percent property rights.
Any other possibility is logically and empirically impossible.
Let us return to our patient moral guinea pigs, Bob and Doug.
If theft is morally good, then once again we face the problem of the impossibility of simultaneous morality. If Bob has a lighter, and it is morally good to steal, then Doug must steal Bob’s lighter. However, the moment that Doug is stealing Bob’s lighter, Bob cannot himself be moral. The moment after Doug steals his lighter, Bob must then steal “his” lighter back – however, it is only “stealing” if the lighter is not legitimately Bob’s in the first place. When Doug steals Bob’s lighter, the lighter does not legitimately become Doug’s property, otherwise the concept of theft would make no sense. If, the moment I steal something, it becomes my legitimate property, then restitution would itself become theft. If, however, I do not establish legitimate ownership by stealing Bob’s lighter, then clearly it is impossible for Bob to “steal” the lighter back, because we cannot steal what we already own, and my theft has not invalidated Bob’s ownership of his lighter.
Thus, if stealing is good, then goodness becomes a state achievable only in the instant that Doug steals Bob’s lighter. In that instant, only Doug can be moral, and Bob cannot be. After that, goodness becomes impossible to achieve for either party, unless Doug keeps giving Bob’s lighter back and then snatching it away again.
Of course, it seems patently ridiculous to imagine that the ideal moral state is for one man to keep giving another man back the property he has stolen, and then immediately stealing it again. Thus logic seems to validate our instinctual understanding of the foolishness of this as a moral ideal – but let’s go a little further, to see if it still holds.
Remember, we are not particularly concerned with individual criminals, but rather with moral theories that justify violations of property rights. For instance, if Doug steals Bob’s lighter because Doug believes that “No property rights are valid,” then Doug’s moral theory instantly self-detonates.
If no property rights are valid, then stealing is a completely illogical action, since stealing is an assertion of the just desire to control property.
Property rights themselves are nothing more than the assertion of a just desire to retain control over assets. It is optional, insofar as you and I can join some hippie commune, and decide to never assert our property rights ever again. Or, if it becomes known in my neighbourhood that I am more than happy if somebody takes my property, it seems somewhat more likely that my lawnmower will go missing. Similarly, if I put a notebook computer on my front lawn with a sign saying “yours if you want it,” then I am clearly signalling that I have no desire to retain current or future control over the notebook.
If Doug steals Bob’s lighter, it is because Doug has a desire to gain control over the lighter – which is the very definition of property rights. If Doug steals Bob’s lighter because Doug believes that property rights are invalid, then what he is really saying is: “I want to gain control over Bob’s lighter because it is never valid to gain control over any object.”
If Doug does steal Bob’s lighter, but then defends his theft through a rejection of property rights, then clearly Doug cannot object to Bob taking his lighter back – since property rights are invalid, Doug now has no more valid claim to own the lighter than Bob did. Finally, if Doug steals Bob’s lighter under the principle “theft is good,” then clearly Doug could have no logical objection to someone else stealing the lighter immediately. However, it would make precious little sense for Doug to spend time and energy stealing Bob’s lighter if the moment he had it in his hot little hands, someone else snatched it away from him. In other words, working to gain control of a piece of property is only valid if you can assert your property rights over the stolen object. No man will bother stealing a wallet if he has certain knowledge that it will be stolen from him the moment he gets his hands on it.
In other words, theft in practice is both an affirmation of property rights and a denial of property rights. Any moral theory that supports theft thus both affirms and denies the existence of property rights – an insurmountable contradiction which completely invalidates any such theory.
If we look at the moral aspects of communism, for instance, property rights are explicitly denied for the individual. However, those individuals who call themselves “the government” do claim the right to control property. What this means in practice is that it is evil for some men to control property, but it is good for other men to control property. Since there is no biological distinction in terms of species between ruler and ruled, we can clearly see that here, for the same species, we have completely opposite moral rules, which cannot be valid. UPB explicitly demands that moral rules be consistent for all men, in all places, and at all times – saying that it is immoral for Ivan Denisovich to exercise his property rights – but moral for Joseph Stalin to exercise his property rights – creates a rank contradiction, akin to saying that pouring water into a swimming pool both fills it and empties it at the same time. Any physicist who proposed the latter would be laughed out of his profession – moralists, however, regularly propose the former, and are greeted with mysterious levels of respect.
The Forth Test: Fraud
Right at the edge of what is generally considered ethical sits the challenge of fraud.
Fraud is the obtaining of value through false representation. If I tell you that I will ship you an iPod if you give me two hundred dollars, and then take your money without shipping you the iPod, we instinctively understand that that is a form of theft.
Let us put the problem of fraud through the grinder of UPB, and see whether it holds up.
Clearly, fraud requires that one person not be engaged in fraud. In the above potential transaction, if I am hoping to steal your two hundred dollars, and you are hoping to steal my iPod, nothing will come of it. You will demand the iPod before providing payment, and I will demand payment before providing the iPod. We will be in a stalemate, utterly unable to defraud each other.
Clearly, for fraud to occur, one party must act in good faith. Thus the person who wishes to commit fraud relies on the fact that the other person does not wish to commit fraud, in order to prey upon him.
To return to our hapless moral guinea pigs, what would happen if we asked Bob and Doug to act on the moral principle that “fraud is good”? If Doug has twenty dollars, and Bob has a lighter, and Doug offers Bob twenty dollars for that lighter, and then takes the lighter but does not give Bob the twenty dollars, then Doug has been acting on the premise that fraud is good.
What happens then?
Clearly, the principle that “fraud is good” cannot be acted on by both Doug and Bob simultaneously – since in order to commit fraud, Doug must act dishonestly, and Bob must act honestly. Thus to enable Doug’s “moral” action, Bob must act “immorally.”
UPB destroys this possibility, since no valid moral theory can require opposite actions under the same circumstances.
If Doug commits fraud on Bob with the justification that “it is good to lie to get what you want,” then clearly it must also be good to be honest as well, since it is impossible to get what you want by lying unless other people are willing to assume your honesty. Thus the premise that it is good to lie to get what you want cannot be achieved unless other people act with integrity – thus lying and honesty are simultaneously required for the fulfilment of the moral principle. This cannot logically stand – that both an action and its complete opposite are simultaneously moral in the same place, for the same people, and at the same time.
This is how we know that fraud is wrong.
Again, knowing that fraud is “wrong” simply means that we know that any moral theory that justifies fraud is invalid, because it is self-contradictory. If we build a bridge, and the bridge falls down, we know that the bridge was “wrong” – but the most important thing that we can learn from this disaster is not that the bridge fell down, but to understand the flaws in the theory that caused us to build a bridge that fell down. Similarly, moral theories that cause disasters, such as communism, fascism and Nazism, are important to evaluate relative to UPB not only so we can understand how they went so wrong, but also how to fix our moral theories in the future. Since as a species, we will be forever building bridges, it is essential that we get our facts and theories right, or they will endlessly fall down around us.
However, the question remains whether fraud is evil, or just an aesthetically negative action (ANA).
Fraud is unusual compared to rape, theft and murder, insofar as it requires that the victim act positively to participate in the process. I can jump up behind you and strangle you without any participation on your part, but I cannot defraud you unless you participate to some degree. Thus fraud falls under the umbrella of “avoidability,” and so is in a fundamentally different category than rape, murder and theft. However, the degree of avoidability partly determines the degree of immorality involved. Sending your bank information to a Nigerian email spammer is certainly avoidable; being cheated by an eBay business with a perfect rating is far less avoidable.
There may be certain situations under which fraud is unavoidable, such as “bartering” for a life-saving medicine when no alternative exists, but that falls under the “grey area” that we have discussed above – these occurrences are so rare that they are to ethics as mutations are to biological species.
The Fifth Test: Lying
The question of lying is interesting because telling the truth is generally considered to be universally preferable, but not enforceable through violence.
It is generally considered more of a strict requirement than “being on time,” but less strict than “stealing.” What does the UPB framework have to say about this?
Naturally, any moral theory proposing “lying is good” immediately self-detonates, since if the man proposing it is lying – which is good – then lying is bad, because he’s told the truth that lying is bad.
Bob: Lying is always good.
Doug: Are you lying?
Doug: So lying must be bad, since you are lying about it being good.
Bob: Lying is always good.
Doug: Are you lying?
Doug: Thus lying is not always good, since you are telling the truth about lying being good.
Lying, however, does not require the initiation of force, and so does not violate the possibility of avoidability. Since liars can be avoided, they cannot logically be aggressed against.
Lying also fits more closely in the category of violence, insofar as it is moral to lie in self-defence, just as it is moral to use violence in self-defence It is hard to think of a situation where one would have to “be late” in self-defence, or “be rude.” However, if a man bursts into your house and demands to know where your beloved wife is so he can slap her around, it would seem a parody of integrity to refuse to lie to him. Lying in this case would be a form of third-party self-defence, and as morally acceptable as the use of violence in self-defence Similarly, if a man obtains a hundred dollars from us by lying, we may justly lie to him to get it back.
Thus we may justly lie to a liar, just as we may justly defend ourselves from a punch with a punch, but we would not exactly respect the escalating pettiness of “repaying” a tardy person by showing up even later.
The difference is that “being late” is not as actively destructive as lying. A tardy person is annoying, but does not fundamentally undermine your capacity to process reality. It’s one thing for me to show up an hour late for a meeting at seven o’clock in the morning – it’s quite another to attempt to convince you that we in fact scheduled the meeting for eight o’clock in the morning, when I know that this was not the case.
Attacking your confidence in your own mind is far more egregious than merely making you wait, since it is the act of using another’s trust in you to undermine his trust in himself, which is highly corrupt, since it is using a value to undermine a value, like counterfeiting. This is how UPB validates the illogic of the proposition “lying is good,” and confirms that the act of lying to someone is worse than “being late,” but better than “assault.”
More Challenging Tests Of UPB
We have now tested specific moral theories relative to the framework of UPB, and found that UPB validates our most commonly held moral beliefs, such as prohibitions against rape, murder and theft. By bringing the criterion of avoidability into our analysis, we have also helped differentiate between crimes that cannot be avoided, and crimes that must be enabled through positive action, such as fraud. Finally, we have divided “preferable behaviour” into three major categories – universal, aesthetic, and neutral (and their relevant opposites). Universally prohibited actions include rape, murder and theft, which force may be used to prevent. Aesthetically preferable actions include politeness, being on time and so on, which cannot be enforced through violence. Neutral actions include purely subjective preferences, or actions that have no moral content, such as running for a bus.
However, there remain many challenging moral tests that fall outside the examples we have dealt with above. We will only deal with a few of those here, to have a look at the framework of UPB, and see how it deals with these more challenging moral questions.
The concept of self-defence should not be taken for granted. If we assume that there is no such thing as self-defence, or that self-defence is never a valid action, then the framework of UPB undoes that assumption very quickly.
If there is no such thing as self-defence, then we are not talking about the initiation or the retaliation of the use of force, but rather just the use of force in any context. In other words, if we get rid of the concept of self-defence, the only question that we need to ask ourselves is: is it universally preferable to use force, or not?
If it were universally preferable to use force, then no human being should ever advance a moral argument, but should rather use force to achieve his ends. However, just as in the rape, theft and murder examples cited above, the claim that it is universally preferable to use force immediately invalidates itself. To be able to use force upon another person requires that that person submit to force – in other words, in order for one person to be moral, the other person must be immoral, which cannot stand. Also, if the other person submits to force, it is not force – thus he must resist, which requires that he resist virtue in order to enable virtue, which is self-contradictory.
In addition, if it is always preferable to use force, then crimes such as rape and murder become irrelevant, because if it is always preferable to use force, then love-making becomes immoral, and rape becomes moral – but only for the rapist, while submission to violence, rather than violence itself, becomes moral for his victim, which is a contradiction.
If, on the other hand, we say that violence is bad, then we open up the possibility of self-defence If it is a UPB-compliant statement to say that violence is evil, then we know that, since that which is evil can be prevented through the use of violence, the use of violence to oppose violence is morally valid.
Thus, since we know that violence is evil, we know that we may use force to oppose it. If we define an action as evil, but also prevent anybody from acting against it, then we are no longer moral philosophers, but merely judgemental archaeologists. This would be akin to a medical theory that said that illness is bad, but that it is evil to attempt to prevent or cure it – which would make no sense whatsoever.
Also, if human beings cannot validly act to prevent harm to themselves, then actions such as inoculations, wearing gloves in the cold, putting on sunscreen or insect repellent, building a wall to prevent a landslide, brushing one’s teeth, wearing shoes and so on are all immoral actions. If we return to Bob and Doug, and we give them the moral argument that self-defence is always wrong, what results?
Well, we create another paradox. Self-defence is the use of violence to prevent violence. If self-defence is always wrong, then it cannot be violently “inflicted” upon an attacker. However, preferences that cannot be inflicted upon others fall into the APA or morally neutral category. To place the violence of self-defence into these categories is to say that violence cannot be inflicted on others – but the very nature of violence is that it is inflicted on others, and thus this approach results in a surfeit of contradictions.
Self-defence cannot be “evil,” since evil by definition can be prevented through force. However, self-defence is a response to the initiation of force, and thus cannot be prevented through force, any more than you can stop the motion of a soccer ball by kicking it violently.
Self-defence also cannot be required behaviour, since required behaviour (“don’t rape”) can be enforced through violence, which would mean that anyone failing to violently defend himself could be legitimately aggressed against. However, someone failing to defend himself is already being aggressed against, and so we end up in a circular situation where everyone can legitimately act violently against a person who is not defending himself, which is not only illogical, but morally abhorrent.
If Bob attacks Doug, but it is completely wrong for Doug to use violence to defend himself, then violence ends up being placed into two moral categories – the initiation of force is morally good, but self-defence is morally evil, which cannot stand according to UPB.
However, you might argue, does not the proposition that self-defence is good also make violence both good and bad at the same time – the violence that is used to attack is bad, but the violence that is used for self-defence is good?
This is an interesting objection – however, if the initiation of force is evil, then it can be prohibited by using force, since that is one of the very definitions of evil that we worked out above.
Thus it is impossible for any logical moral theory to reject the moral validity of self-defence.
Instinctively, we generally understand that there is something quite wrong with parents who do not feed their babies. To conceive a child, carry a child to term, give birth to the child, and then leave it lying in its crib to starve to death, severely offends our sensibilities.
Of course, our offence is in no way a moral argument, but it is an excellent starting place to test a moral theory.
Before, when we were talking about UPB, we noted that, where there are exceptions in UPB, there must be objective differences in biology. Or, to put it more accurately, where there are objective differences in biology, there may be rational exceptions or differences in UPB. A child of five has a biologically immature brain and nervous system, and thus cannot rationally process the long-term consequences of his actions. It is the immature brain that is the key here, insofar as if an adult male is retarded to the point where his brain is the equivalent to that of a five year old, he would also have a reduced responsibility for his actions.
Thus when we point to situations of reduced responsibility, we are not taking away responsibility that exists, but rather recognising a situation where responsibility does not exist, at least to some degree. If I say that a man in a wheelchair cannot take the escalator, I am not taking away his right to take the escalator, but merely pointing out that he cannot, in fact, use it. When I say that UPB does not apply to the actions of a five year old, I am not saying that UPB is subjective, any more than a height requirement for a roller coaster somehow makes the concept of “tall” subjective.
If I voluntarily enter into a contract with you wherein I promise to pay your bills for a year, I have not signed myself into slavery, but I certainly have taken on a positive obligation that I am now responsible for.
If I run a nursing home, and I take in patients who are unable to feed themselves, then if I do not feed those patients, I am responsible for their resulting deaths. No one is forcing me to take in these patients, but once I have expressed a desire and a willingness to take care of them, then I am responsible for their continued well-being.
In the same way, if I borrow your lawnmower, I am obligated to bring it back in more or less the same state that it was when I borrowed it. Similarly, if I go to a pet store and buy a dog, I have taken on a voluntary obligation to take care of that dog. This does not mean that I am now the dog’s slave until the day it dies, but it does mean that as long as the dog is in my possession, I have a responsibility to try to keep it healthy.
These kinds of implicit contracts are quite common in life. We do not sign a contract with a restaurateur when we go to eat a meal in his restaurant; it is simply understood that we will pay before we leave. I have never signed a contract when I walk into a store promising not to shoplift, but they have the right to prosecute me if I do. I also have never signed a contract promising not to rape a woman if we go on a date, yet such a “contract” certainly exists, according to UPB.
If I run a nursing home, and disabled people rely on me to feed them, if I prove unable to feed them for some reason, then my responsibility is clearly to find somebody else who will feed them. The grave danger is not that I don’t feed them, but rather that everyone else thinks that I am feeding them, and so do not provide them food. This accords with an old moral argument about diving into a river to save someone from drowning. I am not obligated to dive into a river to save someone from drowning, but the moment that I do – or state my intention openly – then I am responsible for trying to save that person, for the very practical reason that everyone else thinks that I am going to save that person, and so may not take direct action themselves.
Thus it is assumed that parents will feed and take care of their newborn baby. If said parents decide against such care-giving, then they are obligated to give the child up to other people who will care for it, or face the charge of murder, just as the manager of a home for the disabled must either feed those who utterly depend on him, or give them up to someone who will. If I decide that I no longer want to take care of my dog, I must find him another home, not simply let him starve to death.
This all relies on the principle of third-party self-defence, which is fully supported by the framework of UPB, since the right of self-defence is universal. If I see a man in a wheelchair being attacked by a woman, I have the right to defend him – and this is all the more true if he lacks the capacity to defend himself.
Since children cannot feed themselves, earn a living or live independently, they are the moral equivalent of kidnap victims, or the wife we talked about before whose husband locked her in the basement. Children also lack the capacity for effective self-defence, due to their small stature and near-complete dependence upon their parents.
Thus since it is certainly the case that we have the right to act in self-defence for someone else – and that right becomes even stronger if that person cannot act in his own self-defence, it is perfectly valid to use force against parents who do not feed their children, just as it is perfectly valid to use force against the husband who is starving his wife to death by locking her in the basement.
As we also mentioned above, the less able a victim is to avoid the situation, the worse the crime is. Even the wife who ends up locked in the basement has at least some ownership in the matter, because she chose to marry this evil lunatic to begin with. Once she is locked in the basement, the situation is unavoidable, yet there were doubtless many clues hinting at her husband’s abusive nature, from the day she first met him.
Children, however, are the ultimate victims, because they never had any chance to avoid the situations they find themselves in. Thus we can logically establish the responsibility of parents towards their children by using the UPB framework. Since every person is responsible for the effects of his or her body, and children are an effect of the body, then parents are responsible for their children. Since everyone has the right to self-defence, for themselves and for others – since it is a universal right – then anyone can act to defend children. Since everyone must fulfil voluntary obligations, and having children is a voluntary obligation, parents must fulfil those obligations related to children. Since, through inaction, causing the death of someone completely dependent upon you is the equivalent of murder, parents are liable for such a crime.
We could of course put forward the proposition that parents do not have to take care of their children, but that is far too specific a principle to be a moral premise – it would be the same as saying “parents can murder,” which is not UPB-compliant, and so would require a biological differentiation to support an exception – and becoming a parent does not utterly overturn and reverse one’s biological nature.
Parents who starve a child to death are clearly guilty of murder. Children are born into this world in a state of involuntary imprisonment within the family – this does not mean that the family is evil, or corrupt – it is simply a statement of biological fact. Children are by the parents’ choice enslaved to the parents – this form of biological incarceration puts negligent parents in the same moral position as a kidnapper who allows his captive to starve to death, or a nurse who lets her utterly-dependent patients die of thirst.
"Don't Eat Fish"
What would be the status of the moral proposition: “It is evil to eat fish”?
Clearly, this proposition seems to satisfy at least some of the requirements of UPB – it appears universal, independent of time and place, and relatively objective.
Yet it seems hard for us to reasonably call this a truly moral theory – why?
First of all, “evil” encompasses actions that can be prevented through the use of force. Rape is “evil,” and so I can use force to defend myself against someone attempting to rape me.
Can I justly shoot someone who eats a piece of fish?
It would seem silly to argue that I can – but why?
There are some objective limits to the universality of this doctrine. For instance, some people may have no access to fish – they may live in a desert, say – while others live by a lake teeming with fish, and find it hard or impossible to survive without eating them. However, that can’t be quite enough, since we have already accepted the fact that the inability of a eunuch to rape does not invalidate the moral proposition “it is evil to rape.”
No, the “red herring” in the moral proposition “It is evil to eat fish” is the word “fish.”
A scientist cannot validly say that his theory of gravity only applies to pink rocks. Since his theory involves gravity, it must apply to all entities that have mass.
Similarly, in the example above, UPB accepts only the act of eating, and rejects what is being eaten, since what is being eaten is not an action, but rather what is being acted upon.
In the same way, an ethicist cannot validly put forward the moral proposition: “It is evil to rape the elderly.” “Rape” is the behaviour; whether the victim is elderly or not is irrelevant to the moral proposition, since as long as the victim is human, the requirement for universality remains constant. “Thou shalt not steal” is a valid moral proposition according to UPB – “thou shalt not steal turnips” is not, for the simple reason that theft is related to the concept of property – and turnips, as a subset of property, cannot be rationally delineated from all other forms of property and assigned their own moral rule.
The moral proposition “eating fish is evil” thus fails the test of universality because it is too specific to be generalised – it is like saying “my theory of gravity applies only to pink rocks.” If it is a theory of gravity, then it must apply to everything; if it only applies to pink rocks, then it is not a theory of gravity.
UPB also rejects as invalid any theory that results in opposing moral judgements for identical actions. “Assault” cannot be moral one day, and immoral the next. Thus we know that “eating” cannot be moral one day, and immoral the next.
Either “eating” is moral, immoral, or morally neutral. If eating is immoral, then a whole host of logical problems arise, which I am sure we are quite familiar with by now.
If, on the other hand, eating is moral, then it cannot be moral to eat a cabbage, and immoral to eat a fish, since that is a violation of universality, insofar as the same action – eating – is judged both good and bad.
It is in this way that we understand that the proposition “eating fish is evil” fails the test of UPB, and is not valid as a moral theory.
We do not have the time here to go into a full discussion of the question of animal rights, but we can at least deal with the moral proposition: “it is evil to kill fish.”
If it is evil to kill fish, then UPB says that anyone or anything that kills the fish is evil. This would include not just fishermen, but sharks as well – since if killing fish is evil, we have expanded our definition of ethical “actors” to include non-human life.
It is clear that sharks do not have the capacity to refrain from killing fish, since they are basically eating machines with fins.
Thus we end up with the logical problem of “inevitable evil.” If it is evil to kill fish, but sharks cannot avoid killing fish, then sharks are “inevitably evil.” However, as we have discussed above, where there is no choice – where avoidability is impossible – there can be no morality. Thus the proposition “it is evil to kill fish” attempts to define a universal morality that includes non-moral situations, which cannot stand logically.
Also, the word “fish” remains problematic in the formulation, since it is too specific to be universal. The proper UPB reformulation is: “it is evil for people to kill living organisms.”
If, however, it is evil to kill, we again face the problem of “inevitable evil.” No human being can exist without killing other organisms such as viruses, plants, or perhaps animals. Thus “human life” is defined as “evil.” But if human life is defined as evil, then it cannot be evil, since avoidance becomes impossible.
What if we say: “it is evil to kill people” – would that make a man-eating shark evil?
No – once again, since sharks have no capacity to avoid killing people, they cannot be held responsible for such actions, any more than a landslide can be taken to court if it kills a man.
UPB allows for exceptions based on objective and universal material or biological differences, just as other sciences do. The scientific theory that gases expand when heated applies, of course, only to gases. I cannot invalidate the theory by proving that it does not apply to, say, plastic.
In the same way, morality only applies to rational consciousness, due to the requirement for avoidability. If I attempt to apply a moral theory to a snail, a tree, a rock, or the concept “numbers,” I am attempting to equate rational consciousness with entities that may be neither rational nor conscious, which is a logical contradiction. I might as well say that the Opposite Angle Theorem in geometry is invalid because it does not apply to a circle, or a cloud. The OAT only applies to intersecting lines – attempting to apply it to other situations is the conceptual equivalent of attempting to paint air.
In other words, misapplication is not disproof.
There are many other “grey areas” that we could work on, from abortion to intellectual property rights to restitution and so on, but I think that it is far more important to take UPB out of the realm of abstraction, and begin applying it to the real world problems we face today.
- This is very different from a physical assault, which destroys your capacity for free choice.
- It cannot be argued that rape does not involve a preference, since rape is a behaviour and, as we have discussed above, all behaviours involve preference.
- Note that I cannot propose that “personal preferences may be violently inflicted upon other people, since that is a violation of UPB, which states that moral rules must be absolute and universal – if they are not, they fall into APA territory, and so cannot be inflicted on others.
- We can avoid situations which increase the likelihood of rape, but we cannot avoid a rape in progress.
- Sometimes called “gas-lighting,” after the old movie.