Murray Rothbard on the 3 Ethical Philosophies of LibertySubmitted by Marc Clair on Mon, 03/31/2014 - 12:10
Libertarians, more or less, believe in the non-aggression principle - the overall idea that human beings should not initiate violence against other human beings. Violence should be used only in self-defense; defense of one’s body or one’s property. Where libertarians often diverge is just how they arrive at this conclusion about how man should act towards one another. In Chapter 2 of For a New Liberty, Murray identifies three ethical philosophies that lead people to the embrace the libertarian ideal. These are the emotivist, utilitarian, and the natural rights viewpoint.
The simplest of these view points is the emotivists, whom according to Rothbard:
…assert that they take liberty or nonaggression as their premise purely on subjective, emotional grounds. While their own intense emotion might seem a valid basis for their own political philosophy, this can scarcely serve to convince anyone else. By ultimately taking themselves outside the realm of rational discourse, the emotivists thereby insure the lack of general success of their own cherished doctrine.
This essentially describes those who base their libertarianism on a feeling in their “gut”; the idea that they just “know” that it is wrong to aggress on others. There are good reasons for people to naturally feel this way, but it is not a convincing argument or consistent viewpoint in and of itself. If the emotivist suddenly started to “feel” that wanton murder was the right thing to do, would he suddenly became a mass murderer in keeping with his philosophy of listening to his “gut instinct?”
Next up, the utilitarians:
The utilitarians declare, from their study of the consequences of liberty as opposed to alternative systems, that liberty will lead more surely to widely approved goals: harmony, peace, prosperity, etc. Now no one disputes that relative consequences should be studied in assessing the merits or demerits of respective creeds. But there are many problems in confining ourselves to a utilitarian ethic. For one thing, utilitarianism assumes that we can weigh alternatives, and decide upon policies, on the basis of their good or bad consequences. But if it is legitimate to apply value judgments to the consequences of X, why is it not equally legitimate to apply such judgments to X itself? May there not be something about an act itself which, in its very nature, can be considered good or evil?