Tag Archives: morality

Libertarianism is an Ethical System

Murray Rothbard in 1989

Murray Rothbard in 1989

Libertarianism is a system for resolving conflict. In other words, it is an ethical system. Libertarianism simply tells you not to commit crimes like theft and murder. So, it only applies to how you interact with other people, and even then only sets some bare minimum of acceptable behavior.

This invariably leads people to ridicule libertarianism because it does not give any guidance on activities that are not crimes. Should you donate to charity? Libertarianism doesn’t say. People who don’t like libertarianism phrase this as, “libertarianism does not support charity, ” which is technically true but very misleading. Many libertarians give to charity, but they do not do it because they are libertarian. They have other codes of behavior that motivate them.

These other codes are called moral systems. They help people decide what is good and what is bad. For example, Jainism says that drinking alcohol is bad. Like libertarianism, a moral code might dictate how to interact with others. On the other hand, moral codes can also deal with how to behave when you are all alone. Continue reading

Can Good Be Accomplished Through Evil?

virgin_sacrificeA common attack on libertarianism is that it prohibits certain behaviors that seem to make sense from a utilitarian point of view. For example, if you could save your village from King Kong just by giving the beast one of the young women who live there, that might seem like a good idea, especially if the alternative is that everyone dies. So, while it might be evil to sacrifice her to the monster, maybe it is a good thing to do since you end up saving everyone else.

To fully appreciate this kind of argument, it is necessary to understand that the idea of evil is an objective quality of human interaction, while the idea of good is a subjective quality of any kind of behavior. Whether something is evil or not-evil can be defined in such a way that everyone can agree on what is evil and what is not. So the town saviour in our example could recognize that it is evil to sacrifice a young woman, but he might think that it is a good thing to do. There is no contradiction here because evil does not mean “very bad”. In fact, whether behavior is evil is totally independent of whether it is good or bad.

Just as Ayn Rand and Murray Rothbard might disagree on whether it is good or bad to smoke cigarettes, they would both agree that it is not evil. In the same way, anarchists and minarchists agree that stealing is evil, but anarchists believe that all taxes are bad and minarchists think that some low level of taxation is good. Continue reading

Good, Evil, and Ethics

jack o'lanterns

Jack o’ lanterns

Good and evil are often portrayed as opposing choices in an individual’s life, or opposing forces of history. Yet, good and evil are not opposites and this mis-characterization often leads to confused thinking on the part of philosophers, storytellers, and others.

The first thing that should be noted about good and evil is that they are adjectives that apply to different things. Good and bad can describe just about anything, but evil only applies to things that people do.  One might have a good apple or a bad apple, but one would never have an evil apple. On the other hand, one could say that what someone does is good, bad, evil or the opposites of those.

As examples, one might say that it is good to exercise, bad to over-eat, evil to murder and not-evil to read a book. Aside from evil and not-evil, these adjectives are not mutually exclusive. So one might say that it is good, bad and not-evil to eat ice cream. Something can be good and bad in different ways, so there is nothing wrong with describing eating ice cream as both good and bad.

Similarly, as good and evil are not opposites they can be used to describe the same thing. An action that someone takes might be good and evil at the same time. For example, murder is an archetypal evil. Yet, if a politician that a farmer does not like is murdered, the farmer might consider that a good thing, making the murder both good and evil. Another scenario might be if a man robs a bank to buy medicine for his sick mother. Continue reading