I’ve recently read a lot of criticisms of Stefan Molyneux’s theory of Universally Preferable Behaviour. Most of them appear to be arguments from nihilism. For example, one of his critics proposed the follow (nihilistic) statement of ethics:
People should do what they have the power and desire to do without regard for any other moral considerations.
The critic went on to say:
It’s internally consistent. There’s no hypocrisy. UPB validates it. And, of course, it has virtually nothing to do with ethics as Molyneux describes them.
But UPB takes the non aggression principle (NAP) as proven. If I have the power and desire to take what is yours by force, clearly this violates the NAP, so the criticism is invalid. If you want to level the criticism that the UPB supports nihilism as well as it supports libertarian ethics, you must show that the NAP does not follow from UPB.
Can the NAP be derived from UPB?
The first statement Stefan makes about the NAP is:
Uniting the NAP with UPB allows us to [state that one of the following must be true]:
- It is universally preferable to initiate the use of force.
- It is universally preferable to not initiate the use of force.
- The initiation of the use of force is not subject to universal preferences.
Based on this, I stated in my summary of UPB, Universally Preferable Behaviour in a Nutshell, that I considered the NAP an axiomatic statement of UPB. I now think that I was incorrect. There is no complete derivation of the NAP from the UPB, but the NAP is not inconsistent with the UPB, and specific aggressive actions can be shown to be morally wrong (i.e. evil).
For example, here is my restatement of Stefan’s derivation from UPB of the NAP for the act of rape, which is a proof by contradiction:
- It is morally good to be a rapist
- One can only be a rapist by sexually assaulting a victim
- If the victim does not resist, the act is not a rape
- Therefore, resisting sexual assault must also be good
- But resisting goodness is by definition evil
- Therefore, rape cannot be morally good
This pretty much demolishes the “UPB supports nihilism” argument, IMO. Please comment if you find fault with this reasoning.
Is the NAP Empirically Correct?
- The Golden Rule (do to others what you would have them do to you) occurs in some form in nearly every religion and ethical tradition. If you accept that no one wants force to be initiated against them, then you can’t deny the NAP is correct without denying the Golden Rule.
- The UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person. If you accept that force cannot be initiated against you without infringing on these rights, the you can’t deny the NAP’s correctness without denying the justness of these rights.
“Oh dear,” said God, “I hadn’t thought of that,” and promptly vanished in a puff of logic.
“Oh, that was easy,” said Man, and for an encore went on to prove that black was white and got himself killed on the next zebra crossing.