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In the non-initiation of force rule, what constitutes force from gentle actions? If I tap you on the shoulder to get your attention, is that force?

And is direct physical force the only force referred to? Does psychological, political, fincancial or otherwise manipulation constitute a force not to initiate?

And is retaliation allowed? And what level of force is allowed? Do you make them your enemy and not blink to initiate force on future encounters? Or does the aggressor receive forgiveness eventually? When?

asked Dec 27 '11 at 23:21

Adeikov's gravatar image


edited Dec 28 '11 at 01:13

Greg%20Perkins's gravatar image

Greg Perkins ♦♦

Adeikov, you ask some questions that could be answered by reading Rand's book, Objectivist Ethics. With regards to the other questions you ask, as Peikoff wrote in OPAR, pages 319-320, "[t]he task of defining the many forms of physical force, direct and indirect, including all the variants of breach of contract, belongs to the field of law."

Objectivism is a philosophy which makes it clear that the initiation of physical force is evil. It is the field of law which is tasked with listing the many ways this evil is achieved.

(Dec 27 '11 at 23:40) JK Gregg ♦ JK%20Gregg's gravatar image

That may be true, but it is useful to those asking similar questions.

(Dec 27 '11 at 23:44) Adeikov Adeikov's gravatar image

When you take someone else's life, or his control of his life, into your own hands, that is physical force. I'm not sure I'd call this a definition of physical force, but I might. If you stop a person from living his life -- when you take control of his life -- that is physical force.

Physical force is understood by ostensive definition (and perhaps painfully). If you've ever been punched, or physically harmed (against your will -- we aren't talking about being cut for the sake of surgery) by another person, you know an example of physical force. If you've been defrauded, or had your property stolen, you know another example. If you've ever had a gun (which you had every reason to believe was loaded) pointed at you, you know another example. If you've ever been locked in a closet against your will, or tied up against your will, you know another example.

As for indirect force, fraud, i.e. misrepresentation in trade, is a form of it. As well, lots of forms of physical force do not require physical contact, but instead involve the credible threat of physical harm.

"Does psychological, political, fincancial or otherwise manipulation constitute a force not to initiate?"

Psychological manipulation (a term which requires some extensive clarification) is not a form of physical force. Mere lying (which is more direct than psychological manipulation) is not physical force. Lying about terms offered in trade is.

"Financial manipulation" is force only if it means fraud.

"Manipulation" as such is a vague term. Some forms of it might constitute fraud (and therefore force), but most are probably not force.

Regarding retaliation: it is a form of self-defense. The principle I hold is that each individual has a right not to have his life threatened. Each person has a right to use the minimum amount of force, in self-defense, which will certainly eliminate a threat to his life, in the context of the actual threat.

So, if you are a small woman with a gun, and you are attacked by a big man who is unarmed, you have a right to shoot the man, perhaps lethally, to mitigate the threat -- because for you to fight him bare-fisted would not certainly protect you.

When you are protecting your life, the last thing you should be thinking about is whether you should eventually forgive your aggressor. Whether you forgive him is his problem.

The issue of the proper response to physical force does not involve fear of making enemies. If you fear making an enemy by means of your retaliation, that means you seriously contemplate appeasing your aggressor. To appease your aggressor is to accept an injustice, and the result of doing that is to embolden your aggressor, causing yourself more future problems, not fewer.

A passive response to aggression does not melt an evil will.

answered Dec 30 '11 at 16:51

John%20Paquette's gravatar image

John Paquette ♦

John, why isn't a big man with a gun morally right to defend his life with his gun when attacked by an unarmed man. At least, this is what is implied by your example.

(Feb 08 '12 at 14:37) Marnee Dearman ♦ Marnee%20Dearman's gravatar image

Good question. It's because a big man can (presumably) defend himself without resorting to lethal force. To be a big man (as a victim) reduces the severity of the threat. If a punch will certainly eliminate the threat, there's no justice in firing a gun and killing the attacker.

The code "you don't shoot an unarmed man" is generally an honorable one. Of course, if that unarmed man already has both his hands around your neck, and you are choking to death, then I could understand shooting him -- because you are out of other options.

(Feb 08 '12 at 19:26) John Paquette ♦ John%20Paquette's gravatar image

How do I determine if I am out of other options? How much smaller than my attacker do I need to be before it's ok to use lethal force? Do you see where I am going? The rule is too vague to be useful.

(Feb 08 '12 at 20:23) Marnee Dearman ♦ Marnee%20Dearman's gravatar image

What's vague? Self-defense is the minimum amount of force that will certainly neutralize a threat. There's nothing vague about that.

If you go beyond that, you become an aggressor, for using excessive force -- force that was clearly not necessary.

(Feb 09 '12 at 20:26) John Paquette ♦ John%20Paquette's gravatar image

Clearly in a borderline case you would be justified in erring on the side of protecting yourself. As in many areas of the law self defense will be judged by a "rule of reason"--i.e., what action was reasonable, given all the circumstances (including your knowledge and other attributes). I take John's point to be that when it is clear that (1) less-than-deadly force is sufficient to protect you or (2) you have successfully defended yourself and you no longer are in any danger (e.g., the dude is unconscious), then you need to pull in the reins. If its not clear, then do what you gotta do.

(Feb 09 '12 at 21:59) ericmaughan43 ♦ ericmaughan43's gravatar image

Eric is right. Certainty is objective and contextual, not intrinsic. When you are being attacked, it is your certainty about the situation that determines what you should do. No policy about self-defense should require you think so long that you end up dead. But also, one should not pretend that it is impossible to know that non-lethal force is sufficient.

You can't just say "I have a gun so I should use it." You must think. Not endlessly, but you must think.

(Feb 10 '12 at 12:59) John Paquette ♦ John%20Paquette's gravatar image
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In addition to John's excellent answer, consider this angle. To understand the non-initiation-of-force principle, one must keep in mind the context from which it arose. Rand first recognized that rationality is Man's primary virtue and that exercising one's rational faculty is Man's only means of living. Rand recognized as a moral principle that it is good for people to be free to use their rational faculty to further their lives and that it is bad for people to be prevented from doing so.

She then looked out at the world and identified ways that people might be prevented from using their rational faculty to further their lives. From these diverse facts she formed, via induction, the generalization that is the non-initiation-of-force principle. She noted that all the instances of people being prevented from using their rational faculty to further their lives had something in common: the direct or indirect initiation of physical force against that person. She noted that force paralyzes Man's rational faculty:

To interpose the threat of physical destruction between a man and his perception of reality, is to negate and paralyze his means of survival . . . .

To force a man to drop his own mind and to accept your will as a substitute, with a gun in place of a syllogism, with terror in place of proof, and death as the final argument—is to attempt to exist in defiance of reality. Reality demands of man that he act for his own rational interest; your gun demands of him that he act against it. Reality threatens man with death if he does not act on his rational judgment; you threaten him with death if he does.

Ayn Rand, Galt’s Speech, For the New Intellectual, p. 133.

Thus the meaning of "force" as used in the non-initiation-of-force principle is not necessarily the same as the meaning of "force" as used in physics. "Force" as used in the principle may include instances of indirect force like fraud (i.e., not force in the physics sense), and may exclude some instances of applying force in the physics sense like a hand-shake. The core meaning of the concept is clear---hitting, shooting, stabbing, etc. As one moves toward the borderline of the concept, keeping the context in mind can help determine which side of the border the case falls on. The essential question to be asked is "would this action negate Man's ability to use his rational faculty?" Asking this question can help clear up some of the border-line cases that exist.

For example, consider an embrace between lovers---force is applied by each to the other. Is that a rights violation? What is the difference between an embrace and battery/sexual assault? To answer this, consider the question noted above---would the action negate the mind? In the case of lovers, clearly not, but in the case of a rapist it clearly would. You can consider other examples, and as you do you will see another pattern appearing: application of physical force in the physics sense of the word is not an initiation of force in the rights-violating sense of the word if the object of the force has consented to the force.

This sub-principle of consent can also help clear up your question about a tap on the shoulder. In our society there is a default assumption that such contact is consented to unless one explicitly makes known otherwise. This "implicit consent" operates around us all the time. When you get on the subway you will get jostled around by dozens of people, but none of those people have battered you because you have implicitly consented to such incidental contact by riding the subway where such contact is unavoidable. One is always free to revoke this implicit consent explicitly (although in the case of the subway, one might have to avoid riding it to do so). Such narrow applications of the principle are worked out by the specialized field of the law.

As for psychological, political, financial, or other manipulations, one can similarly examine them by asking whether they negate Man's ability to use his rational faculty. On a first look, they share some of the characteristics of the core meaning of force. In each of these cases one presents a person with a choice between something they do not want to have happen and compliance. However, there is an important difference: the thing threatened is of a different kind than that threatened by physical force. With physical force the threat literally negates the mind because the victim's alternatives are death or compliance. Because death is obviously unacceptable, one really has no choice but to comply (i.e., suspend one's rational judgment). The alternatives presented with psychological, political, financial, or other manipulations do not rise to the same level---they may be undesirable, but they are not irresistible.

answered Jan 05 '12 at 18:03

ericmaughan43's gravatar image

ericmaughan43 ♦

edited Jan 05 '12 at 18:05

Yes. It becomes clear once you see force as the negation of the application of one's rational faculty. Force is the override of consent.

(Jan 05 '12 at 20:50) John Paquette ♦ John%20Paquette's gravatar image

In the non-initiation of force rule, what constitutes force from gentle actions? If I tap you on the shoulder to get your attention, is that force?

No, a tap is not "force."

Force is: harm to your body or property, or the threat of such harm.

Property is included because you require property to live -- so a threat to your property is effectively a threat against your life.

And is direct physical force the only force referred to? Does psychological, political, fincancial or otherwise manipulation constitute a force not to initiate?

Psychological "manipulation" should be considered force if it prevents you from functioning in a complete and healthy way. As such, it would become a form of bodily harm.

Political and financial "manipulation" usually comes down to fraud, which is basically deception for the purpose of profit -- which is ultimately a form of damage or threat to your property, and so would be considered force.

And is retaliation allowed? And what level of force is allowed?

Retaliation is allowed in the heat of the moment, at a level high enough to make the offending party stop hurting you. If someone punches you and runs away, it's not allowable to hunt them down and kill them. If someone is standing next to you threatening you with a weapon, then a lethal response is entirely appropriate.

Retaliation outside of the heat of the moment is one of the things that we should delegate to government. That's effectively what government does when they protect our individual rights.

Do you make them your enemy and not blink to initiate force on future encounters? Or does the aggressor receive forgiveness eventually? When?

If someone were to hurt me, I might be able to trust them at some future stage (or at least not cringe in their presence), but it would be highly dependent on the circumstances, the nature of my relationship with the person (if any), and many other factors. My attitude is that someone who lies or initiates force against others generally does so due to having a faulty philosophical foundation, so unless that foundation changes, I have no reason to believe their future behavior will be materially different than their past behavior, and I would treat them accordingly.

answered Jan 07 '12 at 10:29

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Rick ♦

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Asked: Dec 27 '11 at 23:21

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Last updated: Feb 10 '12 at 12:59