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Why should the non-aggression principle (or any philosophy for that matter) guide mankind in his actions? Shouldn't we just use our best judgement and reasoning skills to skeptically determine the best course of action in our political, economic, and personal lives based on the value we can extract from said actions rather than abstract ideas?

Example: If it were unequivocally, scientifically demonstrated that state healthcare, in light of a vast quantity of data and information, even when placed within the context of the rest of the economy (to please the Austrian economist), is the best healthcare option for improving life, shouldn't we accept it based on those grounds?

Edit: By the way I still think capitalism has a very very good empirical case for functioning well and think there is a very good case for it being mostly free of regulation (the argument could be made for environmental/climate protection and central banking)

asked Dec 31 '13 at 02:36

TheBucket's gravatar image


edited Dec 31 '13 at 12:37

Greg%20Perkins's gravatar image

Greg Perkins ♦♦

Besides Ideas' answer below you can also get Peikoff's lecture on Why one act on principle.

(Jan 01 '14 at 14:02) Humbug Humbug's gravatar image

Principles are only good because they work. If the non-aggression principle led to bad outcomes, we should abandon it.

But it doesn't.

If it were '''unequivocally, scientifically''' demonstrated that state healthcare...is the best healthcare option for improving life... Then I'd have to seriously check my premises and resolve a whole bunch of seeming-contradictions. I'd have to reevaluate nearly everything I know in light of this new information. I'd have to, among other things, reevaluate my principles.

But that's not going to happen.

(Jan 01 '14 at 17:40) anthony anthony's gravatar image

What about this?


It basically contends that most economist agree that minimum wages benefits for fighting poverty outweigh the losses in jobs. Of course this is a nuanced discussion and it's easy to go overboard with the minimum wage (I think it would be best implemented at more local and state levels).

(Jan 05 '14 at 00:16) TheBucket TheBucket's gravatar image

"most economist agree" is neither unequivocal nor scientific. There's nothing contradictory between my belief that we should never violate the rights of some people in order to provide money to some other people and the fact that most economists apparently think it is sometimes proper to sacrifice some people for the sake of some other people. It just means, if true, that most economists have bad moral/political philosophies.

I went along with your impossible premise because you asked a hypothetical, but maybe I should have just said "that's impossible" and left it at that.

(Jan 05 '14 at 12:57) anthony anthony's gravatar image

Rand's political philosophy is built on her moral philosophy. That is, in fact, the proper hierarchical relation on which any philosophy should be built. Rand's moral philosophy is one of rational self-interest, and is definitely not utilitarian. The idea that we should weigh the happiness of one person against the happiness of another, in order to maximize happiness by taking from some and giving to another, seems to stem from a utilitarian moral philosophy.

Trying to build Rand-style capitalism on top of a utilitarian moral philosophy doesn't work.

(Jan 05 '14 at 13:32) anthony anthony's gravatar image

TheBucket, your comments imply principles you hold, even though you don't realize it. Your statement "most economist agree that minimum wages benefits for fighting poverty outweigh the losses in jobs." implies principals of egalitarianism and redistribution (most likely). You can argue that those are right and true principles (and I would disagree), but you can't argue that there are no principles implicit in your statements.

(Jan 07 '14 at 11:32) Raman ♦ Raman's gravatar image
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This question is superbly answered in the excerpts in The Ayn Rand Lexicon under the topic of "Principles" (link). Here is a summary of the key points that can be found in those excerpts:

  • Principles are not optional. For man, principles are inescapable. Man is not cognitively equipped to live without them. Man's only choice is whether the principles that shape his life are good for him or bad for him, and whether or not he knows consciously what principles he is following.

  • To live effectively over the span of a lifetime, man needs to think and act long-range. He needs "to plan his future and to achieve it," which depends on an integrated course of action conceived and followed consistently throughout his life. It is principles that allow man to do that. A principle subsumes and integrates a great number of concretes. "It is only by means of principles that one can set long-range goals and evaluate the concrete alternatives of any given moment." The lead Lexicon excerpt describes the impracticality of trying to drive from New York to Los Angeles without a map (or equivalent, such as GPS). The course of a lifetime depends even more crucially on utilizing a "roadmap" that principles can provide. "Concrete problems cannot even be grasped, let alone judged or solved, without reference to abstract principles."

  • It isn't easy to act on principles, but it's impossible to act consistently without them.

  • It is also only "fundamental principles, rationally validated, clearly understood and voluntarily accepted, [that] can create a desirable kind of unity among men."

The question mentions "what works." How can one identify "what works" without principles?

The question mentions:

...the best course of action in our political, economic, and personal lives based on the value we can extract from said actions rather than abstract ideas

How can one identify what is "best" without principles? Why are "abstract ideas" necessarily disconnected from and inapplicable to practical living? If life is the standard of value, why is that not considered to be an important principle for choosing one's values and identifying what is of "value" and what isn't? How else could one identify "value" without some kind of principle?

If "what works" is held to mean, "what sustains and strengthens man's life," then one is acting on a principle, although one will need to be rigorously clear about whose life one is talking about -- namely, one's own life, with respect for the lives of others ("non-aggression" principle), by the standard of man's life qua man, applied to all men, with no exceptions allowing some to be sacrificed for the benefit of others.

If it is claimed that "the many" may be able to benefit by sacrificing "a few," one will not be able to stop the inexorable logic of principles from spreading relentlessly to encompass a society's moral "right" to sacrifice anyone to anyone if the society deems it "expedient" to do so. Surely "life as the standard of value" could not be held to claim that it can be in a person's interest to be subjected to physical force in order to be sacrificed to others. Initiation of physical force is the opposite of sustaining and strengthening the life of the victim or anyone else.

It might be asked why principles necessarily spread when acted upon (implicitly or explicitly). As a simple illustration, suppose one performs action 'X' in response to situation 'Y,' and the outcome is evaluated as "good." A new situation, 'Z,' arises and is seen to be very similar to 'Y' -- the same as 'Y' in essence. Sooner or later, one way or another, man irresistibly asks why 'X' shouldn't be applied to 'Z', just as it was in the same kind of situation 'Y' in the past.

...mostly free of regulation

The question is correct in identifying that the "mostly free" (but partly unfree) approach conflicts with "the non-aggression principle." Regulation in this usage means violating someone's individual rights. In principle, any violation of individual rights is a rejection of all individual rights, replacing them with a system of acting only by permission from the state. It is not practically possible to contain a principle of that kind to a limited range of application, as already noted -- except by means of some other principle, which then raises all sorts of questions about why one principle is necessarily "better" than another, and why, i.e., by what principle.

...the argument could be made for environmental/climate protection and central banking

No rational argument can be made for these policies. The evidence and principled reasoning against them are overwhelming. At most, laws against pollution can be justified in terms of protecting individual rights, as noted in the topic of "Pollution" in the Lexicon. No such case can be made for anything resembling government-imposed "central banking."

The Lexicon topic of "Principles" also includes a brief excerpt describing what happens when one tries to compromise on one's principles. Again, principles are everywhere; man can't escape them.

answered Jan 01 '14 at 13:04

Ideas%20for%20Life's gravatar image

Ideas for Life ♦

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Asked: Dec 31 '13 at 02:36

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Last updated: Jan 07 '14 at 11:32