The Voluntary Life: 153 Your Own Moral Compass Part 3

4 May 2014

153 Your Own Moral Compass Part 3

Part three in a series on developing your own independent moral compass. Here is a summary of the ideas covered:
  • Moral behaviour evolved as an evolutionary adaptation to gain the advantages of the division of labour that come from peaceful cooperation.
  • The act of peaceful communication logically contains and implies the criteria for moral rules.
  • There are four rules for avoiding conflict over scarce resources that are valid according to the criteria of universality, logical coherence and non-contradiction by behaviour.
  • The rules are inherent in the nature of peaceful communication and can't be argued against without self-contradiction.
  • Rule 1: Each individual has exclusive control of his or her own physical body.
  • Rule 2:  The exclusive control of a previously unowned scarce resource belongs to the first person to "homestead" the resource.
  • Rule 3:  The exclusive control of a newly produced scarce object belongs to the person to created the object (as long as they owned the component resources that they made it from).
  • Rule 4:  Justly acquired control over scarce resources can be given away or traded by voluntary agreement.
  • These four rules together comprise the non-aggression principle.
Protecting yourself from straightforward aggression is a practical matter. Protecting yourself from aggression that is disguised with bogus moral justifications is more complex: you need your own moral compass to avoid confusion. The purpose of this series has been to outline the principles necessary to reconstruct valid moral rules for yourself, so that you are not duped by bogus moral justifications.

Show Notes:

Listen to Episode 153


  1. Thanks Jake for another great episode. I do like the wholistic approach of discussing morality within the context of a peaceful, productive society.

    I would be really happy to discover an unbroken chain of logical argument starting from the desire for peaceful interaction in the context of scarce resources, and ending with the rules of the non-aggression principle. Unfortunately I can't get there by using the criteria established in the previous episode.

    I come unstuck already at Rule 1 ("Each individual has exclusive control of his or her own physical body") and Criterion 4 ("any rule can't involve a performative contradiction"). You stated that one can't argue against Rule 1 because it's inherent in peaceful communication to recognise each other's exclusive control of their own bodies. Unfortunately I think it works in exactly the opposite way: for peaceful communication to take place, I must use my speech to create vibrations in your eardrum (and vice versa). We cannot engage in a discussion unless we each exert a physical effect on the other person's eardrum. We cannot engage in a discussion whilst retaining exclusive control over our own eardrums. If we remove ourselves from this physical effect in order to have exclusive control over our own bodies, then we are no longer having a discussion.

    To avoid a performative contradiction, the rules that are "inherent in the nature of peaceful communication and can't be argued against without self-contradiction" would need to start with "Rule 1: No individual can have exclusive control of his or her own physical body".

    I'd love to discover that my reasoning is flawed, because most people support the idea of peaceful coexistence in the presence of scarce resources. If there was a clear logical path from that to the NAP then I could show it to those people.

    1. Interference with control is usually defined by an act of physical invasion (which means the use of physical force), or the threat of it. If you say something and I hear it, you aren't interfering with my control of my body by any reasonable definition. If you threatened me with a huge sound machine that would blow my eardrums out, that would be a different matter.

  2. Oh, sound waves are definitely physical force. It's only a difference of degree, not a difference of kind, between using a sound machine to vibrate your eardrums enough that they cause bleeding, and using my voice to vibrate your eardrums enough that they cause electrical and chemical changes in your brain.

    1. It's "only a difference of degree" between lightly tapping someone on the arm and punching them, but I don't believe you seriously worry about the problem of how to tell the difference. There are many things that are differences of degree and many objective ways to determine where the difference matters in regard to the question at hand, which is how people can agree rules with each other to avoid fighting over resources. 'Nuff said.


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