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No tolerance for intolerance

The Pope Benedict XVI knew very well what he was doing quoting Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Paleologu. Once more, with feeling…

Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.

The BBC’s correspondent in Rome, David Willey, suggests that Pope Benedict may have not understood the potential implications of his remarks. I beg to differ. The Vatican spends a fair amount of time and effort on other religions, both as part of its institutions and as a continuation of ecumenism so dear to John Paul II. I therefore doubt that Pope Benedict would be oblivious to the Muslim ‘sensitivities’. I suspect he understands rather well how modern victimhood assists Muslims in the West. In short, he has done a great service to the public debate about Islam, such as it is, by holding a mirror to those whose only response is to strike at it violently.

I am disappointed that the public figures defending him cannot do better than saying his speech was misunderstood (re German Chancellor Angela Merkel). Catholic Church for all its vilification throughout the ages, some of it deserved and a lot of it not, is the last remaining Western institution that holds values to be above public opinion(s). One of the values that the Church has paid dearly for acquiring and upholding is the understanding that spreading the faith through violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul…

Interestingly Pope Benedict’s lecture was about faith and reason. It was based around one of the central beliefs of Catholicism – that God is knowable through reason. His intention was to broaden our concept of reason and its application… not contrary to the scientific nature of Western philosophy but as a matter of rational and practical approach to the cultural and social problems that the West faces.

A reason which is deaf to the divine and which relegates religion into the realm of subcultures is incapable of entering into the dialogue of cultures.

I do not mean to exonerate the Pope from being ‘subversive’ of Islam as there is a bit in his lecture that I find more central to the debate than the infamous quote from 14th century:

But for Muslim teaching, God is absolutely transcendent. His will is not bound up with any of our categories, even that of rationality.

This is a far more damning statement than the one that caused all the commotion. There is not much tolerance these days in the Vatican for intolerance and, gasp, lack of reason.

71 comments to No tolerance for intolerance

  • Julian Taylor

    Finally. Thank you for an intelligent, objective, analytical and unhysterical view of the Papal statement Adriana. Certainly it is something that has been missing from much of the blogosphere, the DTP (dead tree press) and other media for the past few days.

    “God,” he [the emperor] says, “is not pleased by blood – and not acting reasonably is contrary to God’s nature. Faith is born of the soul, not the body. Whoever would lead someone to faith needs the ability to speak well and to reason properly, without violence and threats.”

    Put all of Manuel II Paleologus’ statements into context with modern (in particular) events and we see clear examples of exactly what he wrote and, dare I say, foretold. What is particularly of interest to me is how Paleologus’ rationale that “not to act in accordance with reason is contrary to God’s nature.” is rebuffed by the Persian simply using the Inshallah ‘coverall’, i.e. God is absolutely transcendent. His will is not bound up with any of our categories, even that of rationality. Putting it simply how do we, as a people educated to question everything, deal on equal terms with a religion that places every action and occurrence in life with the rather simplistic view of “It is within the will of God”.

    As a close friend of mine has recently observed,

    Dealing with Islamicism is rather like playing chess with an opponent who randomly moves pieces about the board in the sure trust that a deity will confound his opponent.

  • J

    I think you’ve got to the heart of the matter, although, from a purely theological point of view it’s not clear to me that “not to act in accordance with reason is contrary to God’s nature” is true. For a start it leaves one saying that earthquakes that kill thousands of innocent people happen not simply ‘for a higher purpose’ but as the result of some kind of rational thinking by God. I’m unconvinced.

    I dimly recall (_really_ dimly) that at least some of the great medeival philosophers considered God to be essentially unknowable, although curiously they did consider him to be constrained by logic (if not by reason) – thus he could not create thing that was unequal to itself etc.

    “His will is not bound up with any of our categories, even that of rationality.”

    That, to me, sounds like a much easier position to defend – reason is an extremely human construct. It’s hard to consider reason in the absence of, say, the passage of time. Since God is generally felt to exist simultaneously in all times at once, it’s hard to see how he would act with reason as we can conceive of it.

    If people would stick to these esoteric theological and doctrinal questions, and leave off blowing each other up, we would be better off. It is a sign of weakness in the muslim faith that they get so sensitive about these things…

  • Adriana, your final quotation requires specification, even though I agree that it is more damning a statement, at least from a rationalist’s point of view. The quote comes from a commentary by Theodore Khoury, which is paraphrased by the Pope.

    I share your analysis up to the point where you don’t reflect that the Pope talks of different kinds of Reason in his lecture. He rejects critical rationalism (because it has pushed faith into the subjective sphere?) only to advocate a reason which is to be based on faith – which is contrary to my point of view. But this transparency of argument is exactly the reason why his lecture is valuable, even though in more ways than foreseen by the (infallible??) author.

  • J, the links within the post should go some way (not all) towards dispelling the dimness around your recollections.

    You may be recalling Thomas Aquinas, who married Aristotelian philosphy with Christian theology. However, it was him who explored the relationship between faith and reason and provided the basis for one of the Catholic dogmas that God is knowable through reason in his Summa Theologica.

    What I think you find unpalatable about God’s ‘rationality in the face of natural disasters is called theodicy, the problem of evil. This covers a different theological debate from the nature of God and our ability to fathom the divine. Onwards and forwards, Google is your friend when it comes to esoteric (although not obscure) theological arguments. 🙂

  • Chris, I tried to make it clear that reason that the Pope is invoking is not the one used by positivistic Western approach. It is also linked in the post, so I found it redundant to go on about it as it’s clearly argued by the Pope himself.

    I do agree with you on why the lecture is meaningful, not only an address by a Pontiff. 🙂

  • Pa Annoyed

    “This is a far more damning statement than the one that caused all the commotion.”

    Yes, but not from the Muslim perspective. That’s just standard theology. I’d give you the quote from a standard work on Sharia law, Reliance of the Traveller (Umdat al Salik wa Uddat al Nasik by Ahmad ibn Naqib al Misri), but it’s even longer than the book’s title! Section a1.3 considers the role of reason in divine law and morality and concludes it can play no part. Because different people disagree on the rightness of actions, and individuals may be ambivalent, it is impossible for all to be right in the eyes of Allah, and so human reason cannot be relied upon. Therefore the only sure path to moral knowledge is the literal content of scripture. Deductions can be made from what is said explicitly, but Koran, Haddith, and Sunnah cannot be contradicted by reasoning external to them. No Muslim will find much wrong in this.

    I think it’s worth mentioning at this point that, technically, conversion by force of Christians and Jews is forbidden in Islam, although historically it has often been practiced. Officially, the options to avoid attack are conversion or humiliating submission to dhimmitude, after the attack women and children are automatically enslaved, men may be killed, enslaved, ransomed for money, prisoner exchange, or free release – whichever the Caliph thinks most beneficial for Islam. Thus, there are survivable alternatives to conversion, and this the Muslims say is therefore not compulsion. Islamic dominance, on the other hand, was most definitely spread by the sword.

    I’m quite sure the Pope knew this, but it’s a bit of a long piece of pedantry for what was supposed to be a subsidiary point.

    In any case, I do not believe the mobs are objecting that Benedict forgot the Pact of Omar. Or maybe, in a way, they are; one of the most important restrictions laid on non-Muslim dhimma by the Pact is not to criticise Islam or the Prophet. The penalty for doing so, as you might expect, is death.

  • “after the attack women and children are automatically enslaved, men may be killed, enslaved, ransomed for money, prisoner exchange, or free release – whichever the Caliph thinks most beneficial for Islam”

    This has less to do with Islam and more to do with an atavistic tribalism,thousands of years old,stemming from the early nomadic history of the human race.

  • Nick M


    But for Muslim teaching, God is absolutely transcendent. His will is not bound up with any of our categories, even that of rationality.

    I read the full transcript and I thought that was the dynamite statement. I’m glad you spotted it and posted it. An irrational God is a nonsense. Benedict XVI continued to say that if God is not constrained by reason and logic even idolatry is required if that be God’s will. Well, that’s a theological Enola Gay for Islam because of course idolatry (& the related polytheism) is like sin #1 for the Koranimals. Hoist on their own petard by a far more sophisticated theologian than Qom will ever produce.

    No wonder they’re taking it badly. It’s not like they have a counter argument do they?

    Reason and the passage of time. You a Socinian?

    BTW I’m an agnostic. But I’ve always had a lot of time for the Catholics. I admire their rigour and scientific outlook. It’s just their views on… Well you can guess the rest can’t you?

  • Scramaseax

    I find it amusing that none of the figures that turn up on the BBC or C4 to protest the Pope’s comments have actually offered a rebuttal, only complaining of the offense caused.

    Why is that I wonder?

  • For a start it leaves one saying that earthquakes that kill thousands of innocent people happen not simply ‘for a higher purpose’ but as the result of some kind of rational thinking by God.

    It suggests nothing of the sort. Rationality is a ‘human thing’, natural disasters just… happen.

  • Midwesterner


    it’s not clear to me that “not to act in accordance with reason is contrary to God’s nature” is true.

    It is a typical Deist view that to discover and obey the laws God created (gravity, a body in motion …, e=.., and others we think we know) is, itself, the very definition of ‘rational’, and to deny them is the complete definition of ‘irrational’. By this belief, to not act in accordance with reason is indeed to act contrary to God’s nature.

  • Howard R Gray

    “Pope Benedict XVI knew very well what he was doing”. Amen to that one! Parsing the detailed inferences and nuances of language are very dear to the Roman Catholic heart.

    Islam, on the other hand, doesn’t take enough care about meaning and a sense of conscience in responses to western commentary and notions. The lethality of Muslim interpretation of a smidgen of Pope Benedict XVI’s speech is unsurprising and, even less surprising, are the quixotic results of more Moslems dying than infidels following those choice words. Go figure?

    I wish I could care more about it, but I don’t. It is all now so predicatable for Islamic fundamenlists to behave unreasonably. We are, after all, infidels and therefore our opinions don’t matter. Debating them is quite simply pointless.

  • Well, that’s a theological Enola Gay for Islam because of course idolatry (& the related polytheism) is like sin #1 for the Koranimals.

    They react to idolatry because, like exposing the barbarity of Mohammed, it is their guilty conscience spiking them. Allah the moon god. Allah the rock in the Ka’aba. No wonder it is covered – it is (people suspect) a rough, pagan stone circle with the rock god Allah sitting there propped up on the edge like some Humpty in the set of Play School.

    Muslims are also told no prophet above others and yet, what do they do? More hypocracy! More unreason! It is a neat trick – BBB – so hatstand that the average Mo cannot reason it out (who could?) and so they keep schtum and wonder at the glory and subtlety and how ignorant and lowly they are. Insecurity built upon insecurity and ignorance. Start to shed light on that and the anger is not surprising.

  • Robert

    This has less to do with Islam and more to do with an atavistic tribalism,thousands of years old,stemming from the early nomadic history of the human race.

    Sorry, but I completely disagree with this, mostly because in islam it is fully codified and therefore transcends the tribal ‘this is just the way we do it’.
    When you produce a fully thought out join-the-dots system, you’ve made a conscious decision to act as you do.
    As regards the convert, dhimmify or die thing, there is the curiously unspoken option of ‘fight back’
    I believe it was Patton who said’ use those bastards guts to grease the treads of your tanks’. It is my belief that only by applying the brutal logic of the battlefield to ALL our dealings with islam will we ever know peace.
    While I will happily accept correction on this, I do not believe there has ever been a situation where islam has compromised or backed off, save when they were badly beaten or outgunned in some way.
    As one who is a confirmed hanger and flogger, and also a ‘run them over with a tank while laughing maniacally’ er, I believe our difficulties will not only continue but worsen, until we start kicking back – hard.

  • Gabriel

    On a side note, the idea that G-d is knowable through reason is patently absurd. All reason acts upon sense experience, G-d is (if He is anything) is not open to sense experience. Indeed claiming you can discover the mind of G-d through reason esentially means that you can make up whatever god appeals to you and worship it. It is worship of the self and/or idolotary.

    Sola Scriptura buddy.

  • Phil Hellene

    Just a thought – the Pope’s oblique invocation of Byzantium and its downfall at the hands of the Islamic barbarians is perhaps intended in part as Catholic outreach to Orthodoxy, like the Vatican’s previous apology for the sacking of Constantinople (by the very crusaders who were supposed to be defending the Eastern Christians from Muslim invasion). The great Greek-speaking ‘Roman’ civilisation of Asia Minor was destroyed in large part due to the failure of Catholicism and Orthodoxy to overcome their petty political / theological differences in the face of the real enemy – a historical lesson of which the current Pope is clearly keenly aware.

    Certainly no historically literate Greek (or Balkan Christian generally – or Armenian or Assyrian Christian for that matter) will have missed these implications.

    Obviously any hint at Muslim culpability for the devastation and enslavement of the ancient Byzantine Greek civilisation is going to enrage the proud ‘modern’ upholders of the barbarians’ legacy – and most especially the Turks, who still hold the Byzantine capital of Constantinople and the rest of their ill-gotten gains in Asia Minor by force of arms, having expelled or massacred most of the Greek inhabitants (the most recent pogrom in Constantinople itself having occurred as recently as the 1970s).

  • Of course the pope meant to mix it with the Islamistas. He has started a debate long overdue. Billions of people around the world have read that damning quote and it’s the equivalent of flicking on a light switch and exposing the sheer horror | for all to see.

    Now the genie is out of the bottle and the foam flecked ones will never put it back.

    Radio five at 9 am today was full of callers saying critical things about muslims I certainly have not heard expressed thus far.

  • Wye

    From the other side. Well, not quite the other side since he himself is quite critical of conservative Muslims.

  • All reason acts upon sense experience

    Nope. We cannot experience more than a small portion of reality via our senses, which is why we understand Quantum physics (for example) by using our reason rather than just our senses. Coming to the conclusion that there is a God is no different (I just happen to have come to the opposite conclusion personally but that is neither here nor there).

  • Gabriel

    Unless I’m very much mistaken looking at empirical evidence taken from, for example, a particle accelerator is recieved into the mind via sense experience. The only ‘science’ that doesn’t make use of sense experience in such a manner is made-up stuff like string theory.

    In any case I’d question whether anyone truly *understands* quantumn physics, which is why it is also described in terms of analogies, or something we can envisage (tiny balls orbitiing other tiny balls). These are images that we can understand because of sense experience (I have seen balls, I have seen small things and I combine the image).

  • Gabriel

    To clarify. In all fields we use reason AND our senses. Seeing as none of, except prophets, are capable of sensing G-d, the only sense-evidence we have, so to speak, is scripture.

    The idea that we can understand the mind of G-d by thinking about it hard enough and referencing Aristotle was nothing more or less than the idea that the church can understand G-d (because they were the most educated), hence they can tell everyone what to do. So if, by exercise of reason, they discover G-d wants everyone to give them shedloads of money, then everyone else has to pay up.
    It’s like Hegel’s crapolafest. Shoddy argumentation designed for a political purpose and STILL people actually believe it.

  • Steph

    Gabriel, Sola Scriptura is a protestant idea, the chatholics and orthodox don’t go for it.

  • Pa Annoyed

    “This has less to do with Islam and more to do with an atavistic tribalism,thousands of years old,stemming from the early nomadic history of the human race.”

    Yes and no. The razzia was a bedouin custom, that led to much division and strife in Arabia and kept them all poor and relatively harmless – like in the bucket-of-crabs analogy. Muhammad’s great achievement was to turn that outwards and channel it, by forbidding raiding, looting, and enslaving except in the cause of spreading Islam. It brought the Bedouin on board, motivated Jihad and indeed conversion as a source of vast wealth, security against being enslaved oneself, and created ever more followers who accelerated the process. It is almost certainly a deliberate and very clever strategy – a self-promoting meme.

    Slavery was not uncommon, but the positive feedback resulting from restricting it to outsiders was something new for the area, and expanded the religion and its economy exponentially. Islam was not just successful because it had a charismatic leader or got lucky, but because it had happened on one of those structural tricks that drive exponentially more complex societies. It brought organisation to the Arabian slave trade.

  • Midwesterner

    Gabriel, I can’t tell if your initial incomprehensible diatribe was aimed at me or someone else. If it was addressed to my comment, then the only intelligible interpretation I can make of it is of a strawman, countering a case I never made.

    You make the statement – “G-d is (if He is anything) is not open to sense experience”.

    I presume this is a claim for which you have proof?

    The case I was describing, that you apparently reject, is that, (if) God created all that we perceive, then the more one learns of the laws of science (creation), the more one learns of God. And if our interaction with existence is not a “sense experience” where are you coming from?

  • Pope Benedict XVI started turning Catholicism towards a critical approach to Islam over a year ago. Only those inside the Church who were *really* paying attention noticed. He is not now launching attacks on Islam. What he is doing is laying the groundwork for a rediscovery of the christian struggle in the East and *that* rediscovery will arm us all with the tools and knowledge to win.

    Who here had even heard of Manuel II Paleologos? Why not read up on him and his cruel fate? When he penned those now controversial words, he was on military campaign *with the Sultan* being forced to fight as a vassal for him, to even fight fellow christians in order to stave off collapse of Byzantium for just a bit more.

    You can’t understand the words properly without context. But how many have even made an effort to read the man’s biography?

  • Jim

    “On a side note, the idea that G-d is knowable through reason is patently absurd. All reason acts upon sense experience, G-d is (if He is anything) is not open to sense experience. ”

    God or transcendance is knowable through reason when reason acts on reason and deconstructs the categories it needs to function.

    Gatha gatha parisamgatha, buddy

    BTW, leaving the vowel out of “God” is poor English. It’s culturally inauthentic.

  • veryretired

    Context, context, context.

    JP2 spent an enormous amount of time and energy in the struggle against an atheist totalitarianism which he believed posed a dire threat to people of faith, esp. RC’s in Europe and Latin America. He also regularly criticized western, secular, materialist culture for its spiritual flaws.

    JP2 set an activist model for the papacy in the world arena of moral/political/cultural debate, and was revered by much of the Catholic world because of it, and many in the non-catholic world as well. Benedict was closely associated with all of this as a cardinal.

    Now Benedict looks around the world and sees another threat to Christendom in the form of Islamic fanatacism. He is an accomplished theologian, and the spokesman for a very specific religious viewpoint which makes no bones about being THE correct and only true church.

    I believe his purpose is twofold. One, to confront Islam with the self-destructive weakness of its absurd reliance on violent confrontation with a world that is only restrained from eliminating the problem by its own moral inhibitions, and 2, to remind the west that salvation lies in faith, not secular materialism.

    Whether one agrees or disagrees with either or both of these propositions, it is clear that B will be an activist in his own way, and is willing to provoke in order to be listened to. The danger is obvious, but Christians invented martyrdom, not muslims.

    With every violent response, Islam weakens itself by alienating a little bit more the very tolerant western people who are willing to restrain themselves from a cataclysmic response. At some point, if the violence continues, that restraint may finally end.

    These foolish people in their masks and protests and slogans don’t begin to understand what savagery is.

  • Be polite everyone.

    Sure we use our senses to inform our reason, but I can understand the concept of ultraviolet and infrared by using my reason without ever actually seeing them.

    In any case, everything we know is a falsifiable theory (and of course some of those theories are exceedingly robust ones, such as when I drop a pen, it will fall… bloody good theory), and we use reason to come up with the best theories to explain reality all the time… forming theories as to the nature of God is no different (for example, I have used my reason to form a critical preference for the theory that God most likely does not exist other than as a psychological artifice).

  • The only ‘science’ that doesn’t make use of sense experience in such a manner is made-up stuff like string theory.

    Even this part of science should (eventually) be subject to some sort of test that relies on perceptible physical effects to verify. Gabriel has the right idea about what sense-perception is – i.e. not just that which we can experience directly, but also that whose effects we have to study through a medium which we can experience directly. The existence of ultra-violet light, to continue an example, was hypothesized through reasoning over acquired sense data and then accepted by applying physical tests to confirm. We know it is there because we study its physical effects.

    However, there is a whole tradition in Philosophy which purports to “know” there is a God by reasoning – and this reasoning crucially depends on things which are not physically-verifiable knowledge. So, for example, that the causation principle holds (in the case of Acquinas) or that “I am” (in the case of Descartes). Each of these approaches takes as its starting point something which is known directly and not through the sense. (Whether one believes in such knowledge is, of course, up to the individual – but this is the sense in which theologians tend to mean “reason” when they use it in their writings – not reasoning about sense experiences, but reasoning about fundamental truths that we know a priori to all sense experience).

  • Nick M

    In any case, everything we know is a falsifiable theory.

    Naked Popperism! Falsifiability is a very useful heuristic in science but science isn’t everything and a very useful heuristic does not all of science make.

    Occam’s razor is also a very useful heuristic in science.

    But as I once heard a biologist remark, “In my subject Occam’s razor is likely to cut your own throat”.

    Perry, read Tom Kuhn.

  • Nah, Kuhn is too much a positivist, and I regard logical positivism as a complete intellectual train-wreck. That said, I (sort of) agree with the notion of paradigm shifts, but that is an observation, not a philosophy 😀

  • The fact that Benedict referenced a Byzantine emperor is, probably, in part an outreach to the Orthodox. It is well known that JP2 and B16 were and are both interested in reconciliation with the Easterners. After almost a millenium, it is overdue. The mutual threat we face from the Muslims only heightens the urgency. There has been much interesting speculation in the Catholic blogosphere about initiatives that Benedict may take. All very interesting. It is also true as Mr. Lutas notes that Benedict has been willing to ramp up the level of response to the islamic threat, though this not been widely noted. Not aminute too soon, either.

  • Wouldn’t be much of a house of God if the Catholic church follow every whim and fancy of public opinion, no?

  • Pa Annoyed

    Evidence of the senses is poor evidence. Optical illusions can be seen by everyone, without actually existing.

    For a scientific analogy to God, I prefer the value of money. It clearly does not exist in any physical or objective sense, except as a social convention. It is a shared illusion of something that only ‘exists’ precisely because everyone shares the illusion. Circular reasoning – everyone values it only because everyone values it.

    However, even scientist act as if cash had something attached to it, like charge or baryon number. You can measure it and study it and it obeys immutable laws. There are even people who worship the stuff…

  • Paul Marks

    There is indeed a conflict within Christianity over whether God supports what is right or whether something is right because God says it is.

    The traditional position of Calvinists (and some others) is that whatever God does or orders is right – because God has done it or ordered it (this leads to legal positivism of course – something is law because the legislature has made it, and we must obey it because it is the law).

    The mainstream Catholic position is that reason can find what is right and God supports what is right (i.e. there can be no conflict between divine will and reason, not because reason does not matter but because God created and supports reason).

    As in the old doctrine of most of the School Men that “natural law is God’s law, but if God did not exist natural law would be exactly the same”.

    Sadly Islamic thinkers tend to support the postion that whatever God does or commands is right BECAUSE God does it or orders it.

    Those within Islam who supported natural reason – morality (and with it agency) lost many centuries ago.

  • Paul Marks

    Actually Karl Popper did not hold that “everything we know is a falsifiable theory” – he was fond of listing a whole string of metaphysical beliefs that he held (which he did not hold were falsifiable).

    The Vienna Circle of logical positivists may have held that everything is either “science or nonsense”, but Popper believed that everything is either “science or non science” which, as he often pointed out, is quite different.

    Now I might not agree with Karl Popper’s definition of “science” (basically the scientifc method of the phyisical sciences – thus denying the word “science” to any subject for which this method is not suitable), but that is a very different argument from implying that Popper thought that anything that did not follow the scientific method (as he understood that method) was silly – he never held that.

  • Gabriel

    1) Jim, I write G-d because I’m Jewish, if that offends you go burn an effigy of something.

    2) Midwesterner. My incomprehensible diatribe was aimed at no-one in particular except the Pope. I don’t even know what you wrote that I am supposed to have replied to.

    3) Steph, well yeah that was rather the point.

    4)”However, there is a whole tradition in Philosophy which purports to “know” there is a God by reasoning – and this reasoning crucially depends on things which are not physically-verifiable knowledge. So, for example, that the causation principle holds (in the case of Acquinas) or that “I am” (in the case of Descartes). Each of these approaches takes as its starting point something which is known directly and not through the sense. (Whether one believes in such knowledge is, of course, up to the individual – but this is the sense in which theologians tend to mean “reason” when they use it in their writings – not reasoning about sense experiences, but reasoning about fundamental truths that we know a priori to all sense experience).”

    This is the tradition I was attacking. The tradition the Pope holds to and I do not hold (primarily because I’m English – but also because it’s absurd.)
    There is a good Hume quote which sums up this point, I’ll look it up tomorrow and post it.

    5) “but science isn’t everything”
    Some people should get that tattooed on their arm.

    6) “this leads to legal positivism of course – something is law because the legislature has made it, and we must obey it because it is the law”

    An unfortunate thing, but a real one nonetheless.

    7)”As in the old doctrine of most of the School Men that “natural law is God’s law, but if God did not exist natural law would be exactly the same”.

    Which in practical terms means “whatever the church decides to be correct (the practical definition of natural law) is the will of G-d.”

    “When the nature of the thing is incomprensible , I can acquiesce in the Scripture: but when the signification of words is incomprehensible I can not acquiesce in the authority of a schoolman”
    T. Hobbes

  • Midwesterner

    Gabriel, regarding “7)”,

    Which in practical terms means “whatever the church decides to be correct (the practical definition of natural law) is the will of G-d.”

    You are taking a statement of philosophy and rewriting it as an obeservation of error.

    Religion’s role in understanding natural law is no different than anyone else’s. It is one of discovery, not revelation. To the extent the church filters it through it’s own interpretations of revealed law to the detriment of observed facts, it is not natural law that they are following. They did this infamously with Galileo, placing their interpretation of revealed law over observed nature.

    They are exchanging the inherently flawed understanding of natural law for the imagined perfection of revealed law. Your conclusion amounts to a statement that ‘natural law = revealed law’. Nonsense.

  • Gabriel

    The Galileo affair, or indeed anything to do with scholastics, has precious little to do with revealed law. The Schoolmen rarely referenced scripture and, if they did, it was to support some conclusion they had previously derived from reading Aristotle or Galen or some other Greek.

    The Church’s tete a tete with Galileo had nothing to do with “revealed law vs. natural law” and everything to with “arguing from empirical evidence vs. arguing from reason based upon plausible sounding first principles”.

    Anyways the Hume quote, although it’s not nearly as good as I remember it, is this
    “To be a philisophical sceptic is, in a man of letters, the first and most essential step in being a sound, believing Christian.”

  • 6) “this leads to legal positivism of course – something is law because the legislature has made it, and we must obey it because it is the law”

    An unfortunate thing, but a real one nonetheless

    On the contrary, the law is just the product of a political process and if that product is unjust, we should try not obey it.

    However if we are compelled to, we must not fool ourselves or others that our actions are anything other than the consequence of threats. There is nothing moral about obeying an unjust law just because it is the law.

  • Gabriel

    I don’t have the choice of obeying the laws I like and not the others. Unless I’m willing to accept the consequences of life as an outlaw, which I most certainly am not, then I am duty bound to obey whatever the law happens to be.

    Or, to put it another way, I don’t want someone else to decide that it is just to rip out my liver, so I can’t, in all good conscience, decide to break the laws which I find unjust either.

  • I don’t have the choice of obeying the laws I like and not the others. Unless I’m willing to accept the consequences of life as an outlaw, which I most certainly am not, then I am duty bound to obey whatever the law happens to be.

    That is what the state would like everyone to think, and it does its best to enforce its writ whenever it can, but I for one accepted no ‘duty’ to obey a law I regard as immoral. Rosa Parks comes to mind.

    Or, to put it another way, I don’t want someone else to decide that it is just to rip out my liver, so I can’t, in all good conscience, decide to break the laws which I find unjust either.

    I would not wish to live in a society where the only reason people do not rip out my liver is that it is illegal. I mean no insult but your position is a cop-out. If you are willing to delegate the determination of what is and is not unjust to am imperfect political system, then I wonder if you lived in Chiana today, will you ‘do your duty’ and report your neighbours to the authorities if you discover they are members of the banned Falun Gong religion? I assume you take the view that even though you disagree (for purposes of argument) with religious persecution, the law is the law and if the law says you must report your neighbours, you have a duty to. Do you agree?

    If not, then sure you are indeed prepared to disobey a law you regard as unjust.

    Or would you say you must report them but if you disagree you should work to reform Chinese communism according to the rules (i.e. join the party, work yourself up in the heirarchy and make things better when you can via political action).

    What say you to those notions?

  • Gabriel

    If I lived in china I may very well decide that the bad consequences of becoming an outlaw are outweighed by the bad. In blighty I don’t think we’re anyway near that stage.
    In any case the analogy is slightly confused by the evident fact that the Chinese government doesn’t operate by the rule of law, so I can’t really decide whether to live under it or not. I could decide to live under the arbitrary will of whatever party functionary had power over me, but that’s a whole different matter.

    “I would not wish to live in a society where the only reason people do not rip out my liver is that it is illegal.”

    “All humans naturally desire liberty and dominion over others.” T. Hobbes
    This seems to me to be pretty accurate, just look at what happens when individuals are given licence to do what they want, be it in Somalia today or Russia circa 1930.

  • Well Somalia today or Russia circa 1930 is what happens when (respectively) no rational civil society exists (contrast Somalia with Somaliland, the stable and kritarchic ‘state’ to the north of Somalia) or in the case of Russia, the state nationalises morality and destroys what civil society remains… when the state disappears, people decide they can do anything because their is no law and the only reason they did not do anything was that they feared the state… and that is a natural consequence of the attitude you are espousing.

    As former Samizdata contributor Natalija once said to me regarding life in Croatia during the collapse of Yugoslavia, the reason most areas which fell into anarchy did not fall also into chaos was the influence of the Catholic Church’s morality (and she, like me, is not a religious person). But the vast majority of people in Croatia did not start killing and robbing (the ethnic conflict was quite another matter of course) when the state simply collapsed, because most people felt such behaviour was wrong, not for fear of the law… there was no law, at least for a while.

    States, like laws, come and go, they wax and wane… it is having a viable civil society that really matters because that is really what makes people less likely to rob and kill each other. I am not saying laws do not matter at all, just that it is foolish to allow so imperfect an institution as the state to nationalise your ability to act on the basis of what is and is not moral.

  • Gabriel

    I used to take a pretty positive of human nature, but every time I study a historical period I get yet more evidence that humans, all humans, are capable of untold evil whenever the lid is taken off. The size of the state is not so important in this regard (which is why I chose Russia and Somalia as my examples), it is simply that when people are told there is no law to hold them back, they surprise everyone with the evil they commit, especially themselves.

    I certainly would never deny the importance of civil society or religion (indeed I subscribe the antiquated view that only a religous people can be free), but I deny they are sufficient. Considering your example, Catholic morality was, perhaps, able to stop people from murdering and raping their neighbours, but, as you say, it proved singularly incapable of stopping them from wholesale murdering people of different ethnicities and culture.

    Returning to your original claim, which as I understand is, that you are justified in breaking any and every law that is immoral. First, you cannot grant yourself a right that you do not grant to everyone else, so everyone is equally justified in breaking any immoral law. Now, leaving aside the question of whether there is an objective morality, it is abundantly clear that different people have different ideas of what is and isn’t moral. It is just as clear that some, if only very few, think these include murder, robbery, pederasty (that would be 1.3 billion Muslims in fact). It is also the case that all humans are prone to err and will from time to time commit actions that, most of the time, they find to be immoral, even grossly so. Thus, by reserving the right to break laws you find unjust, you have given the right to others to break laws you think are just.

    The law isn’t the same thing as morality or justice, but it is the law and the only law we have and that alone is reason enough to obey it. When your house gets robbed and, one hopes, the case makes it to court, judge and jury aren’t going to rule based on whether the thief acted immorally (although he certainly did) or unjustly (same again), that is absolutely none of their business. They will rule based solely on whether he disobeyed the law. If you think that you have the right to break the law, then so does the he. He may be bad, he may go to hell, but there’s flip all you can do about it.

  • Paul Marks

    Gabriel you stress that you are Jewish. Well (in spite of family name) I am not – but I have always been told that the natural law tradition is as much part of Jewish thought as it is of Catholic thought.

    Spinoza may have been born a Jew – but his doctrines are not part of Judaism, and he was (rightly) rejected by the Jews of his time. Determinism (and other such) run opposite to the central principles of agency (“free will” or moral responsibility) and right reason which are central to Judaism.

    Something is not “the law” just because the ruler (be that ruler one person or a group of people) say it is – this legal positivism is the position of the great defender of tyranny, Thomas Hobbes.

    What do you think that a “Student of the common laws of England” (to use Hobbes’ name for his enemy in his work a dialogue between “A Philosopher and a Student of the Common Laws of England”) is trying to do? Or a scholar in the tradition of the Talmud is trying to do?

    Just find what previous people said (or judges ruled)?

    No, a thousand times no.

    They are trying to apply the principle of justice to the circumstances of time and place.

    That is “the law”.

    Otherwise such terms as “the rule of law” or “respect for the law” would be absurd.

    If the law is whatever ravings the people with the most armed force (the one person or group of people in control of this armed force) happened to produce then it would be the duty of people to oppose this “law” not obey it.

    The change in understanding of the High Court of the Monarch in Parliament into a “legislature” that somehow “makes” law is one of the great things that led the Founding Fathers of the United States to break with Britian (Jefferson and the others rejected Blackstone’s claim that Parliament could do whatever it liked and held to older opinions, not that Blackstone had any idea what use would eventually be made of his doctrine).

    That is why ALL the Founding Fathers (even Hamilton) held that a jury had the right and duty to “nulify” a statute (by finding the “guilty” person innocent) if this stature violated natual law.

    Of course today most “law” is not even the product of Parliament – it is a matter of arbitary regulations (statutary instruments) created by ministers and civil servants (this was first noted, in Britain, by Chief Justice Hewitt in his “The New Despotism” 1929).

    In the United States all nine Judges of the Supreme Court in 1935 (“liberals” and “conservatives”) did not rule that the “regulate interstate commerce clause power” did not apply to the Jewish butcher that the National Recovery Administration tried to apply it to – (that was not the issue) they ruled that a bunch of adminstrators could not just make up any set of rules they liked and call it “law” (under the vague “enabling act” that was the National Industrial Recovery Act). I know that a modern Supreme Court might not rule the same way – but that is what makes jury nulification (the refusal of ordinary people to support tryanny) all the more important.

    Are you saying that the “majesty of the law” applies to every arbitary dictate of every civil servant in the United Kingdom? Is this what was meant by the “rule of law”?

    If that is so such men as Hampden lived and died in vain.

    Law is not a matter of “will” – it is a matter of right reason, of applying the principle of justice (that someone may not violate the body or goods of other folk, and so on) to the circumstances of time and place.

    As for religion.

    As even Kant pointed out, the order to Abraham to murder his son could either not have come from God or was not meant to be obeyed.

    For God is good, NOT “whatever God wills is good”.

    That is not Jewish any more than it is Catholic.

    As for David Hume, the opinions of an athiest on religious doctrine do not carry great weight with me. Nor do (in my opinion) Hume’s rather tongue-in-cheek argument about the nature of law – I notice that he did not go and live in a nation where there was arbitary government power.

    Remember David Hume also argued (at various times) BOTH against the objective nature of the external world AND against the objective nature of the reasoning “I”.

    In short (if one takes him at his word) neither I nor the world exist. The world is just impressions in the mind – accept the mind does not exist either.

    David Hume did not really believe any of this. He just wanted to wake people up – to get them thinking about why they believed in the materiial world and in their own existance.

    Men like Thomas Reid (and the rest of the Common Sense tradition) took up the challenge (although they might have better to just say to David Hume “stop playing silly games”).

    But whatever the strength or weakness of the tradition from Reid and many others in the 18th century (and before him right to Aristotle – though he might not have liked to be told that) forward to Noah Porter and James McCosh in the 19th century (and Harold Prichard and Sir William David Ross in the 20th century), it is much better than the so called “main stream” of philosphy (“mainstream” only after World War II).

    Sir William Hamilton had many faults, but his philosophy was much better than that of John Stuart Mill who claimed to have refuted it (just as Richard Whately’s Aristotelian logic was much better than Mill’s logic, and J.S. Mill’s Political Economy of 1848 was a massive step backward in such things as the theory of value from what such men as Whately and Bailey [and many others] had taught in the 1820’s and 1830’s).

    The logical positivists (at least in the British representative A.J.A. – of “Language Truth and Logic”) claim to take Hume seriously (which I think would have amused Hume) and they “argued” (or rather ruled out of court) against all the basic elements of right reason.

    As C.E.M. Joad (of “A Critique of Logical Positivism” 1950) and many others, have pointed out, logical positivism (if examined carefully) is self refuting – as it undermines the basis for any rational argument at all (indeed of rationality itself).

  • Midwesterner

    Gabriel, Perry and Paul

    I’m following this thread closely because it is something that for me personally is not satisfactorily resolved yet. My rational opinion is with Gabriel based on (my own reason, not necessarily his) the principle of a constitutional government as a contract between many people. Viewed this way, tolerable laws that I view as immoral like income taxes, wage laws, and various compliance laws, are something I accept as part of the contract with the other citizens.

    I believe there are degrees of immorality and when there is a law, or laws that exceed my threshold, then the appropriate response is to withdraw entirely from the government (constitutional contract). I think a rational case can be made that to sellectively obey laws is to steal from other constituents. For example, as a contractor, when some other contractor decides his taxes are immoral and cheats on them selectively, he is stealing money from me, a tax payer when he underbids me and doesn’t pay his taxes. I’ve had customers try to talk me into not reporting income so that they can get a better price. I’m positive a lot of contractors do.

    When a government violates enough of it’s own constitution, then I view the contract as unilaterally broken. At this point I still see the advantages of US citizenship as far and away exceeding the downside so I obey all laws. I hope this thread addresses my reasoning’s soundness. If it’s flawed, I want to know.

  • Pa Annoyed

    You cannot assign moral value to moral systems; it is a confusion of levels of abstraction. Morality is defined within a moral system, as legality is within a legal system. Every consistent legal system is entirely legal by definition. Every consistent moral system is entirely moral by definition.

    The error of moral relativism is that while it is obvious that there is more than one moral system, it cannot consistently be said that it is ‘good’ that this be so, except from within another moral system not included in the judgement, as arbitrary as the rest.

    To claim that judging between good and evil is wrong is the equivalent of the liar paradox. Judgement is as instinctive as language. Moral judgement is distinct from self-interest.

    Game theory may tell you when obeying the laws is advantageous in the short or long term, but do not look to it for advice on when it is ‘right’.

  • Catholic morality was, perhaps, able to stop people from murdering and raping their neighbours, but, as you say, it proved singularly incapable of stopping them from wholesale murdering people of different ethnicities and culture.

    You have a very crude understanding of the war in the Balkans, which I might add I saw first hand over several years. In an ethnic conflict over land, Catholic morality does not say “allow the other side to take your land and kill you”. I also met Serbians serving in the Croatian Army and Croats serving in the Bosnian Army, so clearly ideas beyond doing what the laws of states demanded and beyond a Hobbsean chaos were at work here.

    Returning to your original claim, which as I understand is, that you are justified in breaking any and every law that is immoral. First, you cannot grant yourself a right that you do not grant to everyone else,


    so everyone is equally justified in breaking any immoral law

    That is exactly the point I have been making!

    Now, leaving aside the question of whether there is an objective morality,

    No, lets not, because that is at the very core of my views. Moral theories need to be based on objective reality, and although theories about the true nature of that objective reality may be conjectural, they are not simply a matter of subjective whim. So I do indeed take the position that things can (and usually are) objectively moral or immoral.

    If you think that you have the right to break the law, then so does the he. He may be bad, he may go to hell, but there’s flip all you can do about it.

    No, I can shoot them or hit them over the head with an brick or hire someone to kick their door in and get my stuff back. Why? Because I am objectively in the right and he is not and I do not need the law to conform or deny that (though obviously I would rather it did). Just because we both think we have a right to do something that does not mean we are both correct, and if the law fails to do what I need of it and is not realistically amenable to change, it is of no use to me and I will seek satisfaction from whoever has agrieved me via other means. People do it all the time.

  • Paul Marks

    There are indeed degrees of badness – for example a regulation that holds that one should not paint one’s house pink, is not as bad as one that holds that all people with brown eyes must be shot (not as odd as it sounds – after all many nordic parts of the world, such as Sweden at one time, once had regulations that people with brown eyes be sterilized).

    And (of course) how to apply the principle of justice (the nonviolation of the bodies and goods of others) in the circumstances of time and place (i.e. the law) is a matter of legitimate disagreement.

    Someone might indeed say to themselves “well I do not agree that theft of X amount of money should be punished by Y time in prison – but it is a judgement made by a constitutional government so I will go along with it”. Although one must remember that the contact view of the state is not credible (surely I do not have to go into the drill of saying “show me where I signed” and so on – nor is “you were born here and do not leave so that means you consent” a real argument).

    The very term “THE law” at least implies that there is something worthy about the law (that it is not just the arbitary acts of will of those with power), and there are times when the statutes of even an elected government must not be accepted as law.

    For example, if one was serving on a jury and someone was on trial (with the threat of death) for believeing that the world was not flat.

    The statute is plain – someone who believes that the world is not flat is to be executed.

    And the government was elected (big majority of the popular vote – and the proposed statute clearly stated during the election campaign).

    The evidence is also clear – lots of written documents in the handwriting of the accused giving his opinion tha the world is not flat.

    It would, of course, be absurd to convict this person – as the statute clearly violates natural law. So jury nulification (accepted even by Alexander Hamilton – as well as all the other Founders) would have to take place.

    An extreme example – certainly.

    However, take the example of a silly regulation that will bankrupt a business (there are tens of thousands of such regualtions – see, for example, Christopher Booker’s writings on such things over the last twenty years).

    A governement official decides to enforce the regulation (perhaps out of personal dislike for the person targeted). The businessman has done something which violates the regulation (most likely there was another regulation commanding him to do the thing that the other regulation forbad him to do – that is the way of the modern system).

    This violation of a regulation in no way violates anyone (neither their body nor their goods, there has been no force or fraud – no violation of the principle of justice at all).

    Does one convict the person and destroy their lives? Of course not – one finds him innocent (as juries often did in the 18th and early 19th centuries) because the regulation is absurd.

    The slavish idea that “any regulation is the law and we must convict” leads (logically enough) straight to slavery.

    After all there are a vast number of regulations, no doubt we are all “guilty” of violating some of them. So if they are all “the law” which (if on jury service) we must convict on the basis of – then we are all “criminals” and only the mercy of the all wise state keeps us all out of prison.

    It would be nice if the elected government confined itself to passing statutes that tried to apply the principle of justice to the circumstances of time and place (i.e. if it tried to pass only statutes that were in line with the principles of law – rather than vague Enabling Acts that allow Ministers and Civil Servants to pass a vast range of regulations that members of Parliament have never even read let alone voted on) – but that is not this world.

    In this world (if one were to take all the regulations seriously) most things are either forbidden or compulsory (and some things are BOTH forbidden and compulsory).

    I say again it would nice if government were to mend its ways – but as it will not, one (on jury service or whatever) must act in accordance with the principles of law (not treat every arbitary act of will, regulation or statute, as if it were “the law”).

    If this was 1866 (not 2006) I might go along with the idea that one can trust the government not to produce a vast number of absurd statutes and regulations – but it is not, and one must deal with reality as it is.

    “We must wait till government reforms itself” – I see, so if your daddy does not buy you a hat you let your head freeze.

  • Paul Marks

    “contract view of the state” not “contact view of the state”.

    And so on.

  • Gabriel

    Paul, your post is (very) long so I’ll try to adress the most pertinent points.
    1) As regards Judaism and Natural Law. As I’ve understood it, this is a Greek concept which is thoroughly alien to Judaism. We are, what Mr Ratzinger calls, one of the un-hellenized religions and proud of it. G-d is completely 100% transcendent and he created rationality as a facet of human nature. Now there’s some fairly intricate interpretations of Genesis 3 that can be added here, but I think that’s probably going too far off topic. I know nothing about Spinoza so I really can’t comment.
    2) I used to think Hobbes was persona non grata, but I read Oakeshott’s introduction to Leviathan, then the work itself and it really chaged my view. I still think that the doctrine he is most famous for, that all power must be vested in one man or body of men, is dead wrong, but I don’t think it follows from his other arguments at all. As an surveyor of human nature and the rule of law, he is good. (his scriptural commentary, whilst erratic, is always entertaining and erudite too).
    3)Are you saying that the “majesty of the law” applies to every arbitary dictate of every civil servant in the United Kingdom? Is this what was meant by the “rule of law”?
    No, it refers to laws expressly written by the legitimate legislative body.
    4) Kant’s view, assuming it is what you say, on the binding of Isaac, is perverse. Kierkegaard gets much closer to the truth.
    5) As for Hume on law, I’ll take your word for it. As for religion whether he was, in his heart, an atheist is not really important, I maintain that only revealed religion or atheism is consistent with empiricism. I have no doubts as to what side I am on.
    6) Talmudic “law” is a totally different beast from the Rule of Law. I would neve want to live in a country where talmudic law was backed up by coercive force, NEVER.

    Perry No, lets not, because that is at the very core of my views. Moral theories need to be based on objective reality, and although theories about the true nature of that objective reality may be conjectural, they are not simply a matter of subjective whim. So I do indeed take the position that things can (and usually are) objectively moral or immoral

    You think you are both clever and moral, that’s fine so do I. The unfortunate thing is everyone else does as well. As it happens I do believe in an objective morality, but I am not foolish enough to believe everyone else will abide by it . Nor do I have any wish to live in a state which is organised as a moral community, I’d prefer to form them myself.

    No, I can shoot them or hit them over the head with an brick or hire someone to kick their door in and get my stuff back. Why? Because I am objectively in the right and he is not and I do not need the law to conform or deny that (though obviously I would rather it did). Just because we both think we have a right to do something that does not mean we are both correct, and if the law fails to do what I need of it and is not realistically amenable to change, it is of no use to me and I will seek satisfaction from whoever has agrieved me via other means. People do it all the time

    I’ve never met you, so you may be the the 21st century’s answer to Goliath, but I’m guessing you’re not so it’s more likely (in the real world-the province of civil philosophy) that he’ll hit you on the head and take whatever he left in the original robbery. What you are advocating is nothing more than a war of all against all which will only resove itself in a thousand unlimited tyrannies of the strong over the weak. In a situation when all there is to bind is morality, the most immoral will always come out on top.

    The great thing about the Rule of Law is that it provides a minimum (and it should be minimum!) set of limits on how human beings can behave in relation to any other human being in the commonwealth, that doesn’t require any level agreement or friendhip. From then on we can set about setting up all the moral associations (or civil society, if you prefer that term) and enterprise associations we wish on the basis of voluntary exchange.
    Most errors in political philosphy stem from trying to turn the law of government’s into something it is not. Worst is when people want to turn it into the rules of an enterprise association [collectivism], but trying to turn it into the rules (or laws) of moral association is just as dangerous.
    Oakeshott says all this way better than me in an essay handily entitled “The Rule of Law”

  • Midwesterner

    Paul, thank you for answering many of my questions. I’m way outclassed in this discussion. All three of you have a much better command of what philosopher said what, when. Back when I was in highschool and learning to think, and quickly concluding against revealed knowledge, I had a two or three year bout of existentialism and read every thing I could find that Kirkegaard et el wrote. I ultimately rejected it but cannot begin to remember exactly why.

    Regarding “the contact view of the state is not credible”: Rationally, it is impossible to avoid the acceptance of “implied contract”. While we are undoubtably going as a society in the direction of every single possibility having to be covered in a signed waiver of liability, this course pursued to its logical fulfilment yields an absolutely untenable result where we would even need to sign a contract before shaking hands. I use that example because I once had a friend who thought to was funny to squeeze a hand offered to shake until the recipient was in pain. It was absurd but being a big strong guy, he could seem to ‘get it’ and continued to do it. The problem didn’t stop until I spent a summer vacation from highschool milking two cows by hand twice a day. I got fore arms like Popeye and returned the treatment to him that fall. To the best of my knowledge, he never did it again. This was Perry’s method of conflict resolution (see his comment at 2:11AM) but I think it more reasonable that if this guy had broken someone’s hand he would be financially liable for the consequences. Contract or not. There is a definite expectation of how someone will treat your hand if you offer it to them.

    By this same reasoning, as we accept the benefits of a particular government, we are entering into an implied contract. Everybody has the right to not enter into a contract, or to opt out if entered without their express consent, but by accepting the protections of the armed forces, the laws (such as they are) and all the rest of government, one is at least for the time being, accepting the contract. If someone is going to opt out of part of a government’s laws that one opposes, I think they are obligated to opt out of the ones they find beneficial also.

    Regarding jury duty: I regard that as acting as an officer of the government rather than as a subject of it, therefore I would restrain government from doing something I thought was immoral in that situation. I would, however, make certain that the court was aware of my belief before placing me on a jury. For example, while I have no philosophical qualm with the death penalty for murder, I do not trust the government with the power of execution. (I grew up in a state where people were discovered to have been sent to death row after being framed by officers of the government. Woops, the government’s officers were found not-guilty after the government paid over 7 figures in their legal defense fees. Hardly the kind of defense any of us could afford. In just the last few years in that state 18 death row prisoners have been released!) Therefore, I would have to make clear to the court that as a matter of moral conscience, I could not take any action that may enable an execution.

    In reference to Perry’s example “will you ‘do your duty’ and report your neighbours to the authorities if you discover they are members of the banned Falun Gong religion?” I will not take the role of an officer of the government to do something immoral. If the government compells me to do something immoral to another person, then I will reject my entire contract with that government. Those kind of actions against another human are in no way equivelent to breaking what one personally believes to be unjust laws of a government for personal gain. To conflate the two is inately self contradicting. Anyone who will not allow himself to be used by the government as a weapon against someone else, cannot with consistency accept benefits from a government that it takes unjustly from others. Yet this is what a tax cheat does while remaining a part of the overall system and accepting any benefits from it. Even one as fundamental as miltary defense.

    Gabriel “I maintain that only revealed religion or atheism is consistent with empiricism.” I hold precisely the opposite. That only agnosticism is consistent with empiricism. My view seems self evident to me, do you care to explain yours?

  • Pa Annoyed

    can consider the success of the West’s cooperative approach as a reflection of its generally libertarian moral system.
    (Which is nice, but the only real reason you need for speaking English is that you are an English-speaker.)

    This is to some degree (and simplifying grossly) at the core of my own views; that the nature and laws of societies are not set by its leaders, but grow from the “mob”. A Dictator is not defined as the one who gives the orders, but the one whose orders are obeyed.

    While you are busy watching governments, the rise or fall of society can only come from the ever moving morality of the people.

  • Moral theories are based on social realities, rather than objective ones.

    No, I would suggest social etiquette (in its broadest sense) and laws (which are products of political processes) are based on social realities, morality is quite a different matter.

    Moral theories and laws are an attempt to systematise and explain the prevailing morality, like grammar and style guides are for language

    Not really, laws are a social device for maintaining order and (ideally) facilitating social interactions, morality is about what is ‘right and wrong’… moral theories are what we form to try and determine if something is moral or immoral. Like all theories, they are falsifiable as we operate on the basis on imperfect knowledge and understanding by our very natures. But we form moral theories based on our best understandings of the way things are (i.e. what we understand about the nature of objective reality).

    Existence exists, reality is objective, but our understanding of it is conjectural… so we form a critical preference for the best theory currently available to explain reality and all manner of other consequential theories spring from that (such as moral theories).

    If there is no objective basis, however conjectural, for a moral theory then presumably one moral theory is much like another and we cannot really judge them in meaningful ways. But I would argue that moral theories can (and are) falsified by examining them against what we think we know about objective reality. The difference between justifiable homicide and murder is not just a social convention, it is based on compelling moral theories and without some objective basis to judge such issues, we slide into Plato’s world of morality being whatever society says it is. If society says slavery is OK, then slavery is OK. But if moral theories have an objective basis, then something can be legal, popular and commonly done and yet still be deeply immoral.

  • Pa Annoyed

    Thanks. I’m confident now that you’re definition of morality is different to mine, but I still don’t understand what yours is.

    I understand that morality is about ‘right’ and ‘wrong’, as linguistics is about ‘comprehensible’ and ‘incomprehensible’ (or ‘(mis)understood’). Linguistic theories are formed to try to determine the difference, and are falsifiable and based on imperfect knowledge/understanding.

    But at this point our paths diverge. I would study morality by introspection (what feels moral to me and how I decide) and by examining the similarities and differences between the moral judgements made by other individuals and societies, just as linguists study language. How do you determine them from the way things are?

    Presumably, if morality is based in objective reality, then you could design an instrument or an algorithm to measure good and evil. Such a device would be a tremendous boon to mankind, but I really don’t see how you can do it without it making reference to humans and their works.

    I would suggest that even without an objective basis, moral theories are not like one another (I have already mentioned how languages can have different advantages, the same would apply to moralities) and socially-based theories may be falsifiable (as they are in linguistics). I would on the other hand agree that this means you cannot judge them meaningfully, at least using ‘judgement’ to mean ‘ascribe a moral value to’. Judgements only exist inside moral systems, and cannot validly be applied self-referentially to the systems or collections of systems as a whole. This is the fallacy of the moral relativists.

    (You might consider the moral system containing only the belief that it is good to refrain from judgement. Is this a true moral when applied to itself? If it is not, and it is good to judge, then the rule seems to do just that and we have a false moral making a correct judgement, and its contrary vice versa. If on the other hand it is true, then it judges itself harshly, and we have a bad moral being true.)

    Your point about the difference between justifiable homicide and murder isn’t clear – what is ‘justifiable’ is different according to different moral systems – and the complaint about Plato’s world looks to me like argument from adverse consequences. Similarly, you give slavery as an example, presumably of legal and popular immorality, but you don’t say on what objective basis you determine it to be immoral. It is by no means obvious to me.

    Thanks for discussing this with me. This is a really interesting subject – I’m always keen to understand why people believe as they do, even if we don’t agree.

  • Midwesterner

    Pa Annoyed,

    I look at my best understanding of reality, including its potential futures.

    I make value choices. These are choices. There is no right and wrong. There is only mine and other’s.

    What advances the things and future I value are my morality.

    What obstructs or destructs things and future I value is my immorality.

    My im/morality is continually fine tuned to serve my value choices.

    My value choices are continually fine tuned to reflect improvements in my understanding of reality.

    WWI was an amoral war. Both sides were relatively similar in both understanding reality and value > moral choices.

    WWII was a moral war. Both sides had a good picture of reality, but extremely different values > morality.


  • Paul Marks

    By objective reality I mean (in this context) what governments do – if governments did not produce a vast web of absurd (and sometimes contradictory) regulations it might be practical to treat everything government produced as a law that one must obey and help enforce (the distinction between regulations and statutes, and the natural law would still exist – but it would not be important).

    However, this is not how governments (including elected governments) operate. In reality they do (these days anyway) produce a vast web of absurd and sometimes contradictory regulaions (which they have the bare faced cheek to call “the law”) which one should certainly not help enforce (indeed with the contradictory ones this is impossible anyway – if one regulation commands an action and another regulation forbids the same action, one can clearly not obey both).

    In the modern world no business can possibly obey all regulations (there are hundreds of thousands of regulations and many of them are written in such a vague way that it is impossible to understand them – see Christopher Booker, and many other writers, on this). Should one destroy a business (by convicting the owner) when they have done nothing wrong (i.e. they have not violated, by force or fraud, the bodies or goods of anyone) OF COURSE NOT (this should not even need to be said).

    Indeed treating every statute and regulation drawn from “enabling acts” as “law” – leads to a general contempt for law.

    It is no accident that the areas that have the most “laws”have the most corruption and lawlessness.

    No one can live obeying all the “laws” of a modern state so if they really are “laws” why should one obey any laws at all, including the laws against theft and murder?

    Only by keeping a clear distiction in one’s mind between “law” and law, is an honourable life possible.

    Oakeshott (mentioned by Gabrial), for all his dislike of the term “natural law” (and his love of Hobbes) is important here.

    If “the law” is to be treated as simply the rules of vast organization (as modern governments treat it) then civil society can not survive. The “enterprice association” conception of law (followed by modern governments) is not compatible with civil society (and was not meant to be, by the thinkers who developed the enterprise conception of law).

    Only seeing “the law” as an effort to apply the principle of justice (the civil association principle of the nonviolation of other peoples bodies and goods of others) to the circumstances of time and place is compatible with civil society.

    Seeing law as simply arbitary will is exactly what Jewish Talmudic tradition is AGAINST.

    I do not care if the term “natural law” is not used – it is the MEANING NOT THE WORDS that I am talking about.

    Of course the great weakness of M.J. Oakeshott is that he does not say what we are to do if government decides that it does not want to be the “governor” of a civil society, but prefers to be the manager of an enterprise association instead (perhaps being an admirer of Hobbes means he is at a loss when dealing with any question about what to do if the powers-that-be decide to be nasty).

    As for Hume – errr the person who had fun at least playing the part of athiest (as normal it is not possible to be certain what Hume believed, he was a game player, a very clever one, but still a game player,which makes it absurd to cite him on law, religion, the mind, the physical world, or anything else – although it might well have amused Hume that people cite him) was Hume himself.

    Indeed a crowd of people gathered outside his window when he was death bed to see whether an athiest would scream as he faced death. Actually Hume faced death calmly (so the crowd has to seek amusment elsewhere).

    Hume loved playing games (as I said above), but forgetting that he is playing games is very dangerious.

    For example, in his “History of England” Hume says that Chales I was executed because he used armed force against the people (in other places Hume says quite nice things about absolute monarchy – he is Whig baiting).

    In fact (as Hume knew perfectly well) Charles did not get killed because he used armed force – he got killed because he LOST (many Kings have not used armed force against people plotting against them – and that has not stopped those people killing them).

    However, Hume’s “History of England” was one of the favourate books of Louis XVI, and he got in to his head that if refused to use armed force his enemies would not be able use it (hence the order for the Swiss Guard to pull back and many of his other absurd actions) – because of this opinion in his head, Louis XVI lost his head (and so lots of people – and hundreds of thousands of other French people died in other nasty ways).

    Of course Hume once said that all government is based on “public opinion” (so there was no difference, in this, between England and the Ottoman Empire) – again he was game playing.

    Hume knew perfectly well that many governments are based on terror – but he could have said “well the terror is an opinion, and there is the opinion of the people who the government relies upon to inspire the terror and……”

    One either likes this sort of game playing or one does not – I do not, but others do.

    However, Hume could make a case (although his objective is simply to make a case, not to find the truth, that is why I dislike him).

    “Compatibalism” is the most extreme example of Hume’s game playering and paradox use.

    Moral responisiblity depends on one being able to choose to other than one has done – for example rape is an evil act because one could have choosen not to rape the victim. Morality depends on the ability to choose – on being an agent a subject (not just an object) on “free will”.

    Determinism is the doctrine that every event is in a series of causes and effects that could (in theory) be traced back to the start of time – and whilst “it seems” that someone has choosen to do something, “in fact” they could not have choosen otherwise (because of their genetic inheritance, their environment or whatever).

    Free will and determinism have been in conflict since the start of philosophy.

    So would it not be a jolly game to pretend that moral responbility and determinism are “compatible” – so that one can believe in both at the same time.

    It may have been jolly when Hume played this game, but it is not amusing when one comes upon philosphers teaching the doctrine with total seriouness.

    Perhaps I am being hard on Hume (his game playing and folk, years afterswards, taking it seriously are two different things). But I still find it irritating.

    My reaction to the man is rather like Dr Johnson’s reaction to him. I dislike people treating serious matters as a joke.

  • Paul Marks

    In my comment above I missed the “benefits” version of the implied contract theory of the state.

    No I do not have to (for example) have to hand over someone with brown eyes to be sterilized. And no this is nothing to do with Hobbes’ argument that self defence trumps obeying the state (the only exception to obeying the state he ever gives) as I have blue eyes.

    In fact my duty is to defend the person being attacked (by the democractically elected government – say in Sweden a few decades ago).

    Nor should I help convict a businessman (and destroy his business and his life) because he did not fill X number of forms (most of which he will never have heard of) or because he has done or not done something either commanded by some regulation or forbidden by one (or both). If he has not violated, by force or fraud, the bodies or goods of other folk the fact that that some arbitary regulation says he must be destroyed carries no weight.

    As for taxation – that is a separate argument which I will not get into here.

    As for my accepting a state education, or walking on a state provided street, or even accepting the help of state policeman if I am attacked – these things in no way change the above.

    This gets to the absurd level of “you walked to this court room on a state provided street, so you must ruin this person’s life by voting to convict him of violating this [absurd] regulation”, to which the correct response is to say “no”.

    “Implied contact” and so on, is just another version of the contract theory of the state, which is (at least in the case of all nations that I know of) false.

  • Pa Annoyed

    Thank you Paul,

    I think it’s fairly well accepted that morality is distinct, and at some point takes precedence over law. Law is fairly clearly defined (as such things go), but morality is more controversial. That’s why I was interested in Perry’s views on an objective determination.

    I think I might be able to argue with some of your points on law, but I’m not going to get sidetracked. I’m more interested in how you determine morality.

    You say “If “the law” is to be treated as simply the rules of vast organization… then civil society can not survive”. You seem to be hinting at another argument from adverse consequences: we must believe morals objective, because we wouldn’t know which laws to obey if they were merely rules. I propose this is also a false dilemma; there are other alternatives.

    To take my language analogy again; laws are like grammar and style guides: don’t split infinitives, don’t use cliches, don’t say “could of” when you mean “could’ve”. Morals are like how people really speak; the living language. The only time you are really expected to follow the “rules” is in an English exam. Language does not have to be defined objectively for people to know how to say what they mean.

    The meta-moral rule that moral responsibility (and hence punishment) relies on free will is common, but not universal. To the extent that the purpose of morality is to guide action, it has no useful function if there are no alternatives; but that has not stopped people holding such morals anyway. (For simplicity’s sake, I suspect. Punishment only when useful is on average more profitable, though.)

    And supposing free will to be an illusion, morality may still play a role. A computer program simulates alternatives and selects between them based on a calculated utility. It’s utility is based on its own wellbeing (simply because programs with such a relationship tends to survive more often). If its simulation knows that certain actions will lead to punishment, it will “tend to” choose other alternatives. (I say “tend to” because of course it has no choice. The outcome it determined by circumstances and the function.) If hard-wired elements of its utility function arbitrarily scores those actions low, the same function is served. A community of programs may thereby interact harmoniously to their mutual benefit. Everything is deterministic, but punishment and sin still serve the greater good.

    The ‘implied contract’ model is mis-named in my opinion. It is not a contract, but an offer to trade. “If you follow our rules, we promise not to try to put you in prison.” There is no ab initio reason they shouldn’t put you in prison anyway, it is as much a restriction on their freedom as the laws are on yours. The distinction between contract and trade is that you do not have to agree to the trade. The law merely sets a price. You can always choose to become a criminal, if you think the price set is worth it.

  • Paul Marks

    First on Gabrial’s religion point: Kant may well have made a mess of things (he often did), but the point remains regardless of Kant.

    If a being claiming to be God says “go and murder your son” (who has done nothing wrong) or orders you to commit some other evil act, then the being is either not God (perhaps it is just an illusion, such as the voices certain mentally ill people think they hear, or perhaps it is the Devil) or the order is meant not to be obeyed.

    God is good – not whatever God orders is good because God orders it. Simple as that – whether Kant said badly (or even if he did not say it at all).

    Perhaps I am being unfair when I think of the “whatever God says is good because God said it was” position as Calvinist – but they did seem to go that way (so do Muslims). A denial of both “moral sense” arguments and “moral reasoning” arguments (in practice the two sets of positions get mixed anyway – a human being feels and thinks).

    On Pa Annoyed’s points (or at least one of them):

    Yes I am saying that morality trumps both statutes and regulations derived from statutes.

    However, I only really dealt with one part of morality – the virtue of justice (the nonviolation of other folks bodies and goods) of which law (at least in the civil association, societas, lex [if we are to use Oakeshott language] conception of law) is an effort to apply the principle of justice in the circumstances of time and place.

    It would be nice if statutes and regulations were an effort to apply the principle of justice to the circumstances of time and place (as “judge made” common law was, and the work of other traditions of law), but these days at least statutes and regulations are arbitrary acts of will – they have very little connection with law (to modern “legislatures” and administrators, even to modern judges, – a work like Bastiat’s “The Law” would mean little or nothing).

    It is a bit like the arguments over taxation “we must have taxes to pay for national defence” say some people, “no, defence can be paid for in different ways” say other people – but (in reality) only a tiny proportion of government spending goes on national defence in most modern states anyway.

    As for morality, there are (of course) other virtues apart from the “negative” one of justice. For example, there is benevolence (the virtue of charity) – but although such things as the law of contract applies to charities, the virtue of charity is not really a matter of the law (compulsory charity is a contradiction – it is only charity if it is voluntary, otherwise it is not the virtue of charity).

    There is also (to give another example) the virtue of courage. Someone without courage is not going to be much good in enforcing the principle of justice (in protecting folk from aggressors, hunting down criminals and so on) – but it is still a seperate virtue.

    A just man may be a coward (in that he does not violate other people, but is not willing to protect them either – perhaps because he lacks courage, or perhaps because he does not see it as his task because he lacks benevolence).

    And a brave man may not be just. He may be a bandit who shows great courage in battle (or whatever).

  • Paul Marks

    To keep it simple (and to reduce the number of my typing mistakes that people are subjected to).

    To dignify the vast web of absurd (and sometimes contradictory) regulations with the name “the law” is daft.

    Either this web is the law – in which case the law is a (at best) a joke, and (at worst) a threat to both justice in individual cases and to the existance of civil society in general (civil society being civil interactions – the non violating cooperation of human beings).

    Or the law is something else – the effort to apply the principle of justice (the nonviolation of people’s bodies and goods) to the circumstances of time and place.

    “Positive law” (whether the judgements of judges, or the work of the High Court of the Monarch in Parliament) is either an effort to do this (an imperfect effort, as all human efforts are, but worthy of respect as at least an attempt to do right), or it is a mess of arbitary orders issued by a bunch of people who either do not know what the principles of law are, or do not care.

    Sadly most statutes and regulations from statutes (most “law” being statutory instruments and the like these days) in most nations, are in the latter camp.

    As for morality being objective – yes it is. Rape is wrong, and a rapist saying “it is not wrong” is not relevant. “Prove it is wrong” – I am not going to try and “prove” this anymore that I am going to try and prove that A is A or 1+1=2. These things just are and there is an end to it.

    I know some people go into long arguments showing things from the nature or man, or from human flourishing (and so on) and they may well have a good point. But I have never felt the need to use these arguments myself.

    If someone tells me that he did not know that (for example) torturing a child to death was wrong I am not likely to believe him – and even if I did believe him I would just say “well that is very interesting” – before I hanged him. I doubt that an argument from the nature of man as a rational being, or from the conditions needed for human flourishing would influence him in any way (although these arguments may be totally correct).

    As for a regulation or statute saying that such actions were “lawful” (perhaps compulsory) – well they are not lawful, so there is an end to that (although perhaps politicians are such big liars they might pretend to believe that such crimes as rape, murder and so on are “lawful” because they pass statutes saying they are lawful).

    Rape, murder and so on are crimes. They are crimes whether there are any statutes or regulations saying they are – and if there are statutes and regulations saying they are not crimes, this makes no difference.

    Statutes and regulations exist (if they should exist at all) to apply the principles of law to the circumstances of time and place (about which there can be legitimate disagreement).

    A Statute can not make a noncriminal act a “crime”, or make a crime a “lawful act” – such a position would be absurd.

    For example, it would mean a government could make being Jewish a “crime”, and make rape a “lawful act”. Seldon did not make rape in wedlock lawful – he made an error of legal judgement.

    Also if a group of people find themselves on a isolated island (where no people have gone before) or on another planet or whatever – the principles of law do not need to be “created” by a “legislature” there – they are already there (they are all over the universe).

    All a “legislature” exists for is to clarify details (unless this is done by judges or in some other way) – a “legislature” that thinks it can make whatever act of will it feels like a “law” (indeed can hand this power over to administrators so that they can make any act of will of there own “law” clearly has got too big for it’s boots.

    Certainly people can argue over (for example) over what the exact punishment for a certain crime may bein the circumstances of time and place. And certainly if I am against the general opinion on some matter of detail (such as whether death or life in prison is the correct pushishment for a certain crime) it may be best for me to give way (for the good of the general peace). But if people (the “legislature” or administrators or whoever) say (for example) that it is a “crime” to have brown eyes and that such people should be……. well then things have got silly (and evil). People who try and act on such “laws” are committing crimes and should be punished as the criminals they are.

    “But the statute told me to do it” is no excuse.

    Oh – “objective reality”.

    Yes I believe that the physical world exists independently of me, it is not a delusion. A tree is not “sense data”, a tree is a tree. The light bounces of the tree and goes in my eyes – then it gets turned into an electrical signal that goes down the optic nerve to my brain (which tries, as best it can, to make “sense” out of the “sense data” it gets – but it was a physical object that the light bounced off from).

    “Does a tree falling make a sound when there is no one there to hear it?” – Yes, if you mean an air pressure curve.

    “Prove that the physical world exits” – errr no, the burden of proof is on those people who claim it is an illusion.

  • Pa Annoyed

    “These things just are and there is an end to it.”

    Well, that’s clear enough. I suspect that’s the answer to all my questions. 🙂

    (By the way, 1+1 = 2 is finally proved from first principles over the first 360 pages of Russell and Whitehead’s Principia Mathematica.)

    Objective reality: If a tree falls in a forest and nobody is around to name it, is it still a larch?

    Can I argue that “it just is” a larch, or do I first have to argue that my names and categories are objective reality? And if this tree fell five million years ago before words like “larch” were invented, was its label somehow inherent in its objective nature even then? In English?

    So, if the tree falls over in the forest and no environmentalists are around to complain about deforestation, is that bad? And does it matter if you’re asking from the perspective of the tree, or the perspective of the fungus? For many centuries we thought chopping down trees was a good thing, nowadays many think it is a bad thing. Presumably one side or the other is correct, but besides “it just is”, how can we tell?

    You give examples like rape and murder as “obviously” bad, and being a jew and having brown eyes as “obviously” not, and while my own personal morals agree with the judgements, I’m not convinced the argument supports the assertion. I don’t find it obvious at all. I’m the sort of person who on being told that fox hunting is wrong, asks how they propose to stop the foxes doing it, then? I find all sorts of things obvious that other people don’t, and vice versa. We need a more objective way to tell.

  • Paul Marks

    Pa Annoyed:

    I have heard the Russel and Whitehead (I do not much care for these two F.D.R. supporters – but I suppose I must leave politics aside, 60% of Americans were F.D.R. supporters and an even higher percentage of British people like R. and W.) story before – and no they do not prove that 1+1=2.

    Because such a thing is not “proved” it just “is” – just as A is A.

    As for being a Jew not being a crime, and rape being one. This is nothing to do with “the arguments” – it just is.

    You “do not find it obvious at all” that such things as rape and murder are crimes (not just “wrong”, being mean is wrong, but it is not crime).

    Well I choose to believe that you are telling a lie (i.e. that you do know these things are obviously crimes, regardless of what the state says or even if it exists at all, and are saying thay you do not), however if I am wrong – fair enough.

    You can believe that (for example) violating and then mudering a child is not a crime unless the state says it is (indeed that it is a crime NOT TO violate and murder a child if the state passes a statute making it compulsory) – as long as you do not do anything. What you believe is really not my business – it is only if you try and act on these beliefs (which, I repeat, I do not believe you really hold) by, for example, trying to rape a child that I have a duty to put a bullet in you.

    However, at least what you say is internally consistent. With Gabriel I had a person who attacked the “enterprise” view of law, but also supported the view that the vast web of statutes and regulations from those statutes (covering every aspect of life) is “the law” – which IS the “enterprise” view of law.

    The “civil association” view of law (which Gabriel said he supported) is wildly different (as I have pointed out several times).

    Now Oakeshott claimed that Thomas Hobbes was a civil association man. Let us say, for the sake of argument, that Oakeshott was correct – Hobbes still does not tell us to resist if the government gives up the civil association definition of law and starts supporting the enterprise definition instead (as all major modern governments have).

    Indeed a basic point of the political philosophy of Thomas Hobbes is that one should do nothing (unless the state comes after us as an individual, in which case self defense is still allowed – we are just not allowed to help anyone else). M.J. Oakeshott also never (as far as I know) suggested what we should do if the state abandoned the the civil association definition of law and took up with the enterprise association definition of law.

    Now it is possible to claim that the state in Britian (broadly) held with the civil association definition when Oakeshott was born (1901 – although I could produce a long list of violations even for that time), but it is bullshit to claim that the British state (or the American Federal government, or any major modern government that I know of) holds to a civil association conception of law now.

    On the other matter:

    A tree is a tree (I do not care what word is used for this sort of life form – or if we play the “labels or categories” game).

    Would it still be a tree if there were no people? Well the word would not be used – but the tree would still be there.

    “prove it” – no, the burden of proof is on those who think that the physical world is an illusion.

  • Pa Annoyed

    I find this a fascinating case study in argumentative technique. The way Russell and Whitehead’s political views are found relevant to the correctness of their mathematics, that in contradistinction to three entire generations of mathematicians you have found them to be wrong, and that the way you know this is that “it just is”. Truly, I am awed.

    I assure you, without intending or taking offence, I am not lying. As I had already explained, I personally consider rape and murder to be wrong, but I do not find it obvious that this must be so, and I do not believe that “it just is” is the reason for it. However, we are evidently making no progress on that front, so I shall pass over any further comment.

    I’m not sure why you find Gabriel inconsistent. This is jumping into somebody else’s argument here, but it seems reasonable to define law as the rules set by the properly constituted legislative body, whether that body is founded on civil association or enterprise. Gabriel assertion that one obeys law on the basis that the state makes it inconvenient not to is purely pragmatic, it does not claim it is ‘right’ to do this. One can define a concept of law and obey it without supporting it. Beyond what Gabriel said, I don’t find it unreasonable to extend the definition to regulations either if they are backed up by enabling acts. The law doesn’t have to be right, good, justified, or even consistent. Law can be changed and the purpose of political philosophy is to suggest right, good, etc. ways to change it, but the law is the subject of discussion of political philosophy, not its content.

    While I would agree current government follows an enterprise approach, I am not convinced it was ever otherwise. I think they simply categorised their aims and imposed morals as natural or obvious, and only with those they disagreed did they see it as an imposition. For example, a civil association seeks to enable people to pursue their own ends, but that this is a good thing to do is itself a moral, which is imposed on society by this hypothesised government against the wishes of those whose morals are more evangelical. Why is a civil association good and an enterprise bad? I know, I know…, “it just is”.

    Whether you should resist it or not depends on your own personal morals. If you consider enterprises sufficiently evil for fighting them to be worth the penalties, then that is a moral choice. Islamists find that fighting to make God’s word uppermost over man’s to be the moral choice. Given that this is their aim, the law should (moral judgement!) impose only the minimum limitation to allow them to pursue it, without artificially imposing the goal of increased personal liberty on a society. If you want them to stop, then you can find some way to persuade them through the marketplace, not by government fiat. That is, if there’s any price they’ll accept.

    This was of course the point of the original post; how do you implement all your fine theories when the other players are playing a totally different game? One in which the rules say they’re right and they’re on top and you have no say in it, because “it just is”? If your rules are a matter of objective reality, then they ought to be able to cope with an anarchic reality in which it appears there are no rules except that you can do whatever you can get away with. The lion eats the gazelle because it can. The gazelle will get nowhere by arguing that this isn’t right. How does the gazelle persuade the lion to turn vegetarian? That is the true wonder of societies: that you can build such edifices on nothing.

    The answer of course is that in an anarchy like ours there is no rule to stop you imposing rules; and in particular, whatever rules you can get away with.

    I’m not sure why you persist in “refusing” to prove the physical world is an illusion, because I haven’t ever suggested it is. I have not said objective reality is illusory, I don’t believe it is illusory, and my argument does not rely on it being illusory. Neither do I consider morals to be illusory, only that they are not objective. This seems a bit of a straw man, unless I’m missing some subtle analogy here.

  • Paul Marks

    Gabriel contradicts himself because he says he supports the civil association conception of law (i.e. that law is an effort to stop people violating each other), but also says he accepts the vast web of regulations that violate almost every aspect of life as the law (i.e. the enterprise association conception of law).

    Of course one can say (as Oakeshott does) that the two conceptions are “sweet enemies” and that no state has been a totally pure example of either definition of law. But to muddle the two totally (as Gabriel does) is not acceptable – I remind you that it was he who brought up the language here and mentioned Oakeshott.

    That Thomas Hobbes choose to name any order of the government “law” (against the “students of the common law of England” that he so hated) just shows that if Oakeshott was correct about him being a civil association man, he was a very odd one (“tyranny is but the name of sovereignty” is one Hobbes quote that springs to mind).

    As for “we must have a government to preserve civil assciation, but if it decides it prefers the enterprise definition of law instread there is nothing we can do about it” (which I think is what you may be saying), well you may be correct – but that does not mean we have to agree with the enterprise association definition of law (i.e. law as whatever the politicians and administrators wish to order, in any aspect of life, even if contradicts some other order they come out with).

    Not being able to defeat the state in battle is not the same thing as having to go along with them in an computer disscussion. I am not asking you to die in battle – just to stop pretending that arbitary will is “law” and that such things as rape and murder are not crimes unless the state says they are.

    As for Russel and Whitehead – fair point. Just because the were statists does not mean their mathematics was wrong.

    [I must admit that once I find out something as drastic as someone (in the 1930’s) being an F.D.R. supporter, I tend to discount their judgement on other matters (or even take it as an indication that whatever they say on some other subjects must be false) – however I fully accept that this is not always so (although, odd though it may be, I have often found it to be correct).]

    However, I did not talk about their maths – I made the basic point that one does not prove that 1+1=2 (it is just is so – just as A is A).

    One stick laid on the floor and then another stick laid on the floor – now two sticks have been laid on the floor.

    Not a matter of “argument”, “proof” (even in the mathematical sense of proving an equation) – it is just is so. This is nothing to do with 300 odd pages.

    Just as rape is crime, regardless of what the state says – or even if the state did not exist. This you know perfectly well – although you continue to pretend that you do not know.

    I fully accept that you hold that physical reality exists. I am glad you are not playing the David Hume game of pretending to doubt all the basics – you are just pretending to doubt some of them (although one can actually make a better argument for claiming to believe that the physical world does not exist [it is all a sense data illusion and so on] than one can for claiming that violations are not crimes unless the state says they are – or that NOT violating the person or possessions of someone else is a “crime” if the state says it is).

    Of course it is possible that you really do doubt that (for example) rape is a crime (I may be wrong in my opinion of you).

    If this is so I would still advice you not to commit rape – regardless of what some statute or statutory instument (or other regulation – or “law” if you choose to hold to the enterprise association definition of law) tells you to do.

    Some people may wish to “prove” to you (via either moral sense or moral reasoning – or a mixture of the two) that natural law exists (via arguments about the nature of man, the flourishing of people and so on). I am not going to dispute such arguments – but giving “proof” that (for example) rape is a crime is not an interest of mine (even if it really is possible to “prove” such things to people who claim they do not know).

    For myself I am not even invested in the WORDS “natural law” – if you wish to reject them fine (the words carry little weight with me).

    As long as you accept that it is a crime for one person to aggress against another (even on a distant island where they meet for the first time and no state exists) I am quite content.

    Of course you could counter that I am investing too much in the word “crime”.

    However, there must be a clear seperation between crimes, actions that should be punished, and general moral sins, such as being unkind, that should not be punished.

    Perhaps you can come up with a different word to “crime” or “law”. In which case (if we are ever stuck on a otherwise unihabited island – or on a distant planet) I would go along with choice of words.

    However, I still object to whatever commands the statists come out with being called “law” – unless we are going to define this “enterprise association” conception of law as something like “evil thing, that it is the duty of human beings to fight against” – but even that would not cover that ghost of the civil association that still exists even in the modern state.

    After all most modern states do not make such things as muder or rape compulsory (or even officially “legal”) – so not all of the “laws” of the modern state fit in to the enterprise association conception of law (although, come to think of it, they might – the state [or rather the human beings that control the state] might be concerned that its human possessions were damaging each other and wish them not to do this for its own sake – rather than believeing in any nonaggression principle).

    However, I believe that the civil association (if we wish to use that term) conception of law still exists even in the modern state – it has just gone into a great decline. And the conception that “the law” is whatever command the state wishes to issue to control any area of life is much stronger than it once was, but it has not tottally gained control. So that such terms as “the rule of law” are not yet totally meaningless (or evil).

  • Pa Annoyed

    Yes, but “support” is not the same thing as “accept”.

    Acceptance does not imply support. Gabriel, I think, would say that the law is an enterprise model but that it shouldn’t be. To say otherwise would be to derive “is” from “ought”.

    “just to stop pretending that arbitary will is “law” and that such things as rape and murder are not crimes unless the state says they are”

    First, you have to distinguish law from morality. You appear to be using the language of the former as if it were the latter; this is a distinction that even proponents of natural law accept has to be asserted. Natural law is a philosophical position far from universally accepted; you cannot seriously believe that adherents of any other position must necessarily be lying.

    We class breaking rules of law as crimes, and breaking rules of morality as sins or evils. (‘Sin’ being slight abuse of the religious terminology, but commonly understood.) We would assert that rape is only a crime when the legislated law says it is. Rape may additionally be an evil independent of the law – it depends on morality.

    I am not talking about law. So arguing over the details of government and legislation has absolutely zero relevance to the discussion.

    I was talking about morality, and I do not and never have suggested that rape is not an evil unless the state defines it as such. I never mentioned the state; I was talking about society. The distinction is the same as that between the British government and the British people.
    (Or Europeans, or Westerners, or however you want to categorise it.)

    Having clarified that (I hope), we move on from what I think is misunderstanding to where I think we may genuinely disagree.

    My argument is that in the context of British values, rape is an evil because the British people have collectively come to believe it is. That it is classed as evil isn’t an illusion, or imaginary, or an option you can choose to subscribe to or not. It is clearly an observable fact, and not easily altered. But I submit that this is a feature that arises from the mutual interactions of the British people; from their culture.

    While as an inheritor of British culture I hold the same moral to be true, I can conceive that another culture could define it differently – for example, to say that it’s OK to have sex with your own slaves against their will because you own them, and ownership trumps personal liberty. That’s still wrong from my perspective, and it is a nonsense to claim that the mere existence of other moral systems gives them any right to exist, or weakens the rightness of the judgements of my own, but that they do exist can be clearly observed. And that their origins are much the same as for ours is simply human symmetry – they act similarly to us externally, so the causes of those actions are probably the same as ours internally.

    Mathematicians first discovered this effect with regard to the parallel postulate: in Euclid’s geometry, he said that through any point there is always exactly one line parallel to a separate given line. Obvious, everyone thought. “It just is”. Except that nobody was able to prove it. That doesn’t matter, you might well think, except that someone eventually realised that it doesn’t have to be true. If you assert that it isn’t true and assert for example there are zero such parallel lines, you do not come across any contradictions or problems. Instead, you proceed to generate a geometry with exactly the same rules as for points and great circles on a sphere. (Ironic, since Euclid’s ‘geometry’ originally meant measurement of the Earth.)

    Mathematicians had long realised that they had to start with a set of axioms – “it just is” statements – and generate everything else from them. Now they understood that you could take another set of axioms and generate another mathematics and it was just as logical and consistent as the first. Neither could be said to be “the truth”; you had to make your choices on other grounds, like whether it was useful or attractive. “Truth” was context-sensitive.

    They wrote Principia precisely because they wanted to be sure they could. They wanted to know that all their mathematics was part of the same axiomatic system; the same truth. Because despite what you think, there are mathematical systems where 1+1 is not 2, if you pick a different set of axioms.

    One temptation is to appeal to physics, but ultimately that is reliant on fallible and imprecise observation. Just as Euclid assumed the world was flat in picking his axioms, so you assume counting sticks works the way you think it does in taking your arithmetic axioms. As a matter of fact, you can never physically get just “one stick” or “two sticks” in quantum field theory – the number of sticks is always just a bit fuzzy. The difference is imperceptibly tiny for gigantic objects like sticks, but it makes a big difference for subatomic particles.
    But that would take me too long to explain any further, so I’ll leave it there.

  • Paul Marks

    Firstly I must apologize for using the word “lie”. It might be correct to say that you are “game playing” (which many hold to be a very useful method of discussion – “drawing out” other people to make them think).

    You attack my “argument” that 1+1=2 – but such self evident truths are not matters of argument. If someone wishes to deny a self evident truth (for example to say “A is not A”) no “argument” can be presented against him, but he is still wrong (and such people normally know they are saying something that is not true).

    Far from “tautologies” or “truisms” (or whatever term we wish to use) being unimportant, their violation can be very important indeed (think about what would happen if a person acted on the notion that 1+1=3). And if you like long books (and I agree that some can be good) have a look at how far Ludwig Von Mises gets with a few self evident truths in “Human Action” (stick to the 1949 edition – or to the new “scholars edition” if you can get to look at them).

    As for law, it strikes me that I am using extreme examples. Let us consider a milder example. Whether a person uses blue or black ink to write with is not a matter of morals – it is an “indifferent” (to use a word from theology) thing.

    However, then suppose a regulation is produced that demands that one should not use black ink (the regulation, or “law” if you wish, is produced by the sort of arbitrary whim that produces most modern “law”). One now has a moral duty to use black ink (even if one did not use it before) – as it is cowardly to give in to a threat (the regulation being backed by a threat of a fine or whatever). Is it not an odd conception of law that produces a moral duty to disobey it?

    Of course, as you rightly point out, one may make a calculation of prudence that one should not disobey a particular regulation, as one does not have enough armed force to defeat the powers-that-be (although that will not always be true, as it was not in America in 1776, such a calculation also applies if the powers-that-be do not include a King and are elected, see [for example] the Constitution of New Hampshire 1784).

    However, such terms as “the rule of law” or the “majesty of the law” or “our duty to obey the law” suggest a rather different conception of law.

    Of course even if law is treated as an effort to apply in the circumstances of time and place the principle of justice (i.e. the nonaggression principle), one may not always agree with the judgement of those who seek to apply the principle in terms of positive law.

    This is why it is good to have many different areas of rule – so that one can move (with less difficulty) to a place where most people’s judgement is closer to one’s own, and also so that people can see how things are done in other lands and learn from them.

    However, I also agree with you that one may always be wrong in these matters – and going along with the majority view (for example on how long a person should serve in prision for a particular offense – or whether there should be such a punishment as prison) may not be cowardly.

    Speaking of myself I am both a rather conformist and a rather timid (perhaps cowardly) person. I have only ever resorted to violence when I have been unable to find any honourable alternative at all.

    On civil association:

    It occurs to me that the language of Oakeshott (which I did not bring in to this discussion) may be confusing – for example it may be confused with “civilian government” or the “civil power” (or whatever).

    You most likely know what is meant by “civil association”, but I will explain just in case you do not.

    Civil association is the web of voluntary interactions between human beings (what is sometimes called “civil society” or what Oakeshott calls “societas”). Law (or what Oakeshott chooses to call “lex” to get away from the long disscussion we have just had) are the rules forbidding violations of other people (i.e. non civil [non voluntary] interaction).

    In the language of Hayek (or to move from Latin to Greek) civil association is an example of “cosmos” ( spontaneous order) and enterprise association is an example of “taxis” (planned order or control – I apologize if my spelling of the Greek word is wrong). It is only under the latter conception that law is a series of commands that can control any aspect of life.

  • Paul Marks

    On morality and law.

    As I have said several times, law (under the tradition of the concept that I follow) does not cover all of morality – far from it. Only the principle of justice (one of many virtues) is the province of law.

    Only violations (crimes) are a matter for the law. Not sins such as being unkind.

    For example, if I say “I hate black people, I will not employ or trade with one” this is not a matter for the law (whatever the statutes may say) although I have shown myself to be a bigot (a nasty man). But if I hit a black person in the face or steal his wallet, this is a matter for the law.

    A man may follow the principle of justice (he may not violate the body or possessions of anyone) and still be a deeply unpleasant person – being just is only one virtue (this “negative” virtue certainly does not cover all the things one needs to be to be a good man).

    Indeed justice without the virtue of courage can not even sustain itself (let alone anything else).

    Take the example of you being attacked. A just man walks by (he will not rob you himself), but he lacks either the virtue of courage (he is too scared to help you) or the virtue of benevolence (what used to be called the virtue of charity) – he just does not care to help you.

    If no one will enforce the law (because they lack the courage or whatever) then it will not help you.

    The role of statutes and other such in this is a matter of details (in fact such things as robbery were once convered by common law alone – statutes covering them did not exist, but that did not make them “legal”) – a matter this is robbery without violence (the pickpocket) this is robbery with violence…… and so on.

    If there were no statutes and no formal courts (say we both washed up on a previously undiscovered island) the principles of law would still be there. If I robbed you it would still be a crime.

  • Pa Annoyed

    Yes, that’s a very good point. There is a (small) moral value assigned to obeying even stupid laws. In my experience it is very small, and varies with the prejudices and mood of the listener. Equally, there is a negative moral value assigned to setting such laws.

    I would argue that people make distinctions between laws they take seriously and laws they don’t – even the courts do. They cannot do so on the basis of law – speeding is as illegal as murder – they do so on the basis of morality, so it is clear that morality is a different concept from law. There are also people as you say who place a positive moral value on disobeying stupid laws. However, law is merely a subject on which morality chooses to pronounce, like porn or recycling – it is not a relationship required by either concept.

    Personally, I feel that any such moral (either way) can only flow from other considerations – like avoiding unecessary and unproductive conflict, reducing risk, making a point, or whatever – there is no moral requirement to obey or disobey simply because it is the law, or simply because it is stupid. However, I know other people feel otherwise.

    Incidentally, your “black ink” example is a real one. The original Koran was written (in black ink) in a script that lacked vowels or indications that distinguished certain letters apart. As you can imagine, this made parts somewhat ambiguous. When they got around to inventing the needed additional symbology, it seemed an obvious step to fill in the Koran, but of course to do so would be a major sin – to alter the eternal text! So what they did was to write the other bits in different coloured inks – red and green. Thus, there are circumstances where it would be both sin and crime (for religious and civil law were not distinguished in Islam) to write in black ink, where you have to write in green. People holding such a view don’t see it as their duty to resist, in my experience.

    Thank you for the correction of civil society/enterprise. I had understood that the distinction between civil society and enterprise was that the civil society model imposed the minimum restriction to allow people to pursue their own ends, while the enterprise aimed to achieve a collective purpose or improvement in society. I’m not sure I follow your definitions, though. In one paragraph you talk about voluntary interactions versus imposed rules forbidding non-voluntary interactions. In the other you speak of spontaneous versus planned order. (I think.) One can plan voluntary interactions, and the mob can spontaneously forbid non-voluntary ones. I’m evidently still missing something.

  • Paul Marks

    No the moral value is the other way. If a regulation says “you must not write in black ink or you will be put in prison for X amount of time” that creates a moral duty to write in black ink (even if one did not do so before) – as the regulation (or “law” if you wish) has nothing to do with trying to enforce the principle of justice (the non aggression principle) in the circumstances of time and place, and is simply an example of a threat.

    To give in to a theat is cowardly (to fail to show the virtue of courage). One may make a calculation of prudence that one can not defeat the people making the threat – but that is nothing to do with “the law” – in the sense of “our duty to obey the law”, “the rule of law”, “the majesty of the law” and so on.

    It is true that the law only covers one part of ethics (the effort to enforce the principle of justice in the circumstances of time and place) and that there can be good faith disagreements about how to do this (which means both that it is good to have different ways of doing some things in different places, and that one may go along with the majority view in some matters without showing cowardice – simply because the majority may be right and I may be wrong over some dispute of detail), but to try and divorce the law from “moral language” is clearly an error (regardless of what Oakeshott said on this matter) as to divorce the law from all aspects of ethics (i.e., in the case of the law, from the principle of justice) is to reduce the law to the arbitary threats of thugs.