“Help! I’m in a nutshell! How did I get into this nutshell? Look at the size of this bloody great big nutshell! What sort of shell has a nut like this? This is crazy!”
— Austin Powers
I’m going to attempt to give a concise summary of Stefan Molyneux’s theory of Universally Preferable Behavior.
First, the axioms:
- Morality is a valid concept.
- Moral rules are consistent for all mankind.
- Moral theory is self consistent.
- Moral theory is consistent with empirical observation.
- Ethics apply to situations that cannot be avoided.
Next, the seven ethical categories of behavior:
- Good. Universally preferable and morally enforceable through violence. E.g. preventing murder.
- Aesthetically positive. Universally preferable but not morally enforceable through violence. E.g. being on time.
- Personally positive. Neither universally preferable nor enforceable. E.g. eating ice cream.
- Neutral, or has no ethical or aesthetic content. E.g. running for a bus.
- Personally negative. E.g. eating broccoli.
- Aesthetically negative. E.g. rudeness.
- Evil. Universally proscribed. E.g. rape.
Then the coma test:
It is hard to imagine that any theory ascribing immorality to a man in a coma could be valid. Any ethical theory that posits a positive action as universally preferable faces the challenge of the coma test. If giving to charity is a moral absolute, then not giving to charity would be immoral. However, a man in a coma is unable to give to charity, and would therefore be classified as immoral. Similarly, one who has no money to give and one currently receiving charity would be immoral.
Finally, according to UPB:
- Rape is evil because it is unavoidable, and it is initiated by force
- Murder (as opposed to killing in self defense) is evil for the same reasons
- Theft is evil because it is unavoidable, and gives the thief a right to property while removing the victim’s right, making that right inconsistent
- Fraud is merely negative, because it can be avoided
- Lying is merely negative because liars can be avoided
I originally included the non aggression principle (or NAP, which is that initiating the use of force is morally wrong) was one of the axioms of UPB. After rereading more carefully, it is not. The NAP cannot be derived from the UPB, but individual acts of aggression can be shown to be morally wrong.