15 votes

Murray Rothbard on the 3 Ethical Philosophies of Liberty

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?

Continue Reading

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.

Free info


He starts out against the emotivists, so called, but at the bottom he claims violent interference against others is bad because it is profoundly contrary to man's needs and nature... Despite this being false scientifically and historically-empirically, even if it were true, it would more or less support the emotivist claim that the basis is just in the humans own internal moral compass.

What's truly without merit is any ethical system that claims to be objective or binding logically rather than just a system of moral assertions and unjustified demands.

The utilitarian also has a sound argument, unlike the ethicist or natural rights advocate, in that he can first define the good he is after and then persuade people to agree with that good and to see that that good is most likely attained by this or that means.

No one is obligated to agree with the utilitarian, but at least he has a valid argument. The ethicist is just making moral demands but without ever justifying them.

Me thinks

you need to put more thought into this if you believe that an ethical system cannot be "objective" or "binding logically". There is quite a logical progression from discovering and understanding the nature of man and natural rights.

A great book on this is Shayne Wissler's "Reason and Liberty. I highly recommend it.

*Advancing the Ideas of Liberty Daily*

No, there isn't.

All attempts to derive a moral ought from a descriptive is statement fail. It doesn't matter what you think the nature of man is, that does not impose any ought. And the need for such a moral ought is evidence that the man who needs it is not by nature agreeable to it, undercutting even the claim that the nature of man is somehow hospitable to belief in X system of ethics.

If there is indeed a crisp logical progression from the is description of human nature to an ethical system of oughts, you... ought to be able to type out this logical formula relatively easily. Don't hold back. What is the logical progression?

You forgot

The contractarians. They don't use agression because they inherently believe they have previously agreed not to do so. Any breach of contract (or constitution) would be authorization, but a mandate, to use agression.


What contract

What contract did they sign stating they would not use aggression? That's certainly a great contract to sign, but it shouldn't require a contract to not aggress on others. And aggression should be and is wrong regardless of contract. I've never heard that argument (note: I realize you are not the one making it)

*Advancing the Ideas of Liberty Daily*

Murray bump

Always good to spread the Rothbard love.

i take your bump

and double it, for the afternoon crowd.

*Advancing the Ideas of Liberty Daily*

bump bumpidity bump