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Is it consistent to be a libertarian while opposing suicide on moral grounds?

Is it consistent to be a libertarian while opposing suicide on moral grounds?

Typically, a libertarian (in the domain of politics; "libertarian" is also the label for someone who adopts a view in philosophy of mind or action theory involving free will) is someone who believes that societies should have a government that is the smallest possible in order to protect certain basis rights (perhaps a proper government should, on the grounds that persons have the right to life, prohibit murder and seek to prevent it). A libertarian might (on rare occasions) support some publicly funded health care, but he or she would (ideally) like such matters to be funded by individuals voluntarily by the individuals themselves. So, what about libertarians and suicide? If the libertarian believes that a minimal government should prohibit and prevent murder and she believes that suicide is wrong because it is a case of self-murder, then she may consistently support the government's prohibition and prevention of suicide. However, she may be "opposing suicide on" different moral grounds, e.g. she thinks it is prohibited by God or she thinks that in almost all cases suicide is ruled out on Kantian or utilitarian grounds. For the most part, libertarians do not think these religious or philosophical judgments of these kinds should be employed by the state to control its citizens. So, in this case when suicide is deemed wrong but not as grave a wrong as murder, a libertarian may well contend that suicide is indeed wrong (persons who commit suicide are doing something morally wrong), only adding that it is not within a government's right to make suicide illegal.

There is one additional side to things: while a libertarian may oppose there being an overall, federal government that makes suicide illegal (assuming suicide is not self-murder), her moral objections to suicide may motivate her to join a society voluntarily that makes suicide prohibited. Without knowing the details, I imagine that most Christian monasteries and Muslim communities have rules that forbid suicide (e.g. they would not fund or support the "physician-assisted suicide" of one of its members). A libertarian might join some such organization while still not supporting a governmental prohibition of suicide.

I'm no expert on libertarianism in political philosophy, but I think I can answer this one: Yes. As I understand it, political libertarianism is a position concerning the legitimate power of the state. One can consistently oppose suicide on moral grounds while maintaining that the state has no business interfering with suicide. One can consistently think that, for various reasons, one morally ought not commit suicide while also thinking that the law should keep out of it. Indeed, a particularly strong distinction between "immoral" and "illegal" seems to lie at the heart of the libertarian outlook.

Is an act less moral if it is done by a Christian to an atheist? It seems to be

Is an act less moral if it is done by a Christian to an atheist? It seems to be this way because Christians only act morally because they're told to by god. Atheists have no need to be good but seem to act that way because they logically realise that it is the right thing to do. Not from fear of god/hell.

On this question, I doubt I can do better than to recommend to you an excellent article written by Professor Donald Hubin, available at this link: http://www.researchgate.net/publication/264974452_Empty_and_Ultimately_Meaningless_Gestures

Why do we consider lying to be illogical even when it can produce good? I can

Why do we consider lying to be illogical even when it can produce good? I can think of many examples where lying can do more good than harm especially when its used for the benefit of others and not for selfesh gain. CAL

I'm not sure that most people consider lying to be illogical even when it can produce good. More likely they consider lying to be presumptively immoral, and they allow that the moral presumption against lying is overridden in some circumstances. Take a case of the kind you described: imagine lying to a known murderer about the (nearby) location of the next innocent person he's seeking to murder. In that case, I'd agree that the moral presumption against lying is overridden by the good of protecting the innocent person. All else being equal, one shouldn't lie. But sometimes all else isn't equal.

Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) is a famous philosopher who holds that lying is never morally okay: that the moral presumption against lying is never overridden. In fact, he argues that lying is illogical in a particular sense. I don't find his argument compelling, but you can learn more about it in this SEP entry; see especially section 5.

I'm not sure that most people consider lying to be illogical even when it can produce good. More likely they consider lying to be presumptively immoral , and they allow that the moral presumption against lying is overridden in some circumstances. Take a case of the kind you described: imagine lying to a known murderer about the (nearby) location of the next innocent person he's seeking to murder. In that case, I'd agree that the moral presumption against lying is overridden by the good of protecting the innocent person. All else being equal, one shouldn't lie. But sometimes all else isn't equal. Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) is a famous philosopher who holds that lying is never morally okay: that the moral presumption against lying is never overridden. In fact, he argues that lying is illogical in a particular sense. I don't find his argument compelling, but you can learn more about it in this SEP entry ; see especially section 5.

If it is not immoral to shoot dead an intruder into one's house without asking

If it is not immoral to shoot dead an intruder into one's house without asking questions, why would it be immoral to shoot dead an intruder into one's country?

Some folks are enamored of the idea of “shooting dead an intruder in one’s house without asking questions,” but I’m not one of them.

Necessary self-defense has always been a basic part of common law, but it is quite another thing to kill a man or woman on the sole pretext that that person is an intruder, whether or not the person constitutes a genuine threat to anybody in particular. Even jurisdictions that have stand-your-ground laws, or “castle” laws, generally require that you have a genuine fear of harm, or at least a genuine fear of a serious felony, before you are justified in using deadly force. And even then, the level of force must be necessary. Stephen Maitzen is entirely right when he points out that an undocumented alien is almost certainly not a genuine and immediate threat to you. Beyond this point, however, the notion that you can lawfully kill someone just because that person has intruded into your home now circulates broadly, and it is, in fact, legally false. You have no such legal right. The notion is also morally pernicious, because it has encouraged a number of gun owners to commit murder—for which they have rightly been prosecuted.

(I say this, by the way, as someone who enjoys shooting guns—indeed, I never saw a gun I didn’t want to shoot. And I admit that there can be circumstances where there is simply no opportunity to talk and where you must fire to protect yourself or others. But guns should be kept out of the hands of fools. Many developing nations have higher homicide rates than the U.S. does, but among developed countries, the U.S. per-capita homicide rate stands alone, and so does the ease with which Americans obtain guns.)

John Locke discusses the use of deadly force as a means of necessary self-defense in his Second Treatise of Government, and he has at least two memorable lines that seem relevant here: “When all cannot be preserved, the safety of the innocent is to be preferred.” And yet, “Even the guilty are to be spared, where it can prove no prejudice to the innocent.” (These lines appear in paragraphs 16 and 159.)

I presume that by "an intruder into one's country" you mean an illegal immigrant rather than, say, an invading enemy soldier. Otherwise, I'd answer differently. Does one own one's country in the way in which one owns one's house? I think not, or else I own much more real estate than I thought. Moreover, an intruder into one's house can plausibly be assumed to be a serious threat to oneself. I don't think this assumption is as plausible in the case of an illegal immigrant, all else being equal.

If someone were presented the option to permanently undo a major aspect of their

If someone were presented the option to permanently undo a major aspect of their own life, and "rewrite history", would it be morally wrong to do this? Consider the following scenario: a person dedicates their life to an ideal such as justice or peace or any morally sound ideal such as those. They sacrifice so much of their time, energy, life, and sanity to the fulfillment of this ideal. However, due to unforeseen circumstances their actions lead to an outcome they were unsatisfied with. Would it be wrong for this hypothetical person to change their entire life to avert this terrible fate?

Before I could consider the ethics of this scenario, I'd have to satisfy myself that it's a coherent scenario. Let's call the person in question "Jane." The scenario seems to require that something like the following be true: "Jane sacrificed much of her time and energy to achieve justice, but because her sacrificial actions led to an unsatisfying outcome Jane didn't sacrifice much of her time and energy to achieve justice." I can't see how such a scenario is comprehensible enough to be assessed ethically.

The question also arises whether Jane's sacrificial actions contributed so much to Jane's identity -- to who she now is -- that it's incoherent to ask what Jane's life would be like now had she not made those sacrifices: we wouldn't be asking about Jane but about a numerically different person.

Before I could consider the ethics of this scenario, I'd have to satisfy myself that it's a coherent scenario. Let's call the person in question "Jane." The scenario seems to require that something like the following be true: "Jane sacrificed much of her time and energy to achieve justice, but because her sacrificial actions led to an unsatisfying outcome Jane didn't sacrifice much of her time and energy to achieve justice." I can't see how such a scenario is comprehensible enough to be assessed ethically. The question also arises whether Jane's sacrificial actions contributed so much to Jane's identity -- to who she now is -- that it's incoherent to ask what Jane's life would be like now had she not made those sacrifices: we wouldn't be asking about Jane but about a numerically different person.

There seems to be a popular form of virtual atheism where the person says: I don

There seems to be a popular form of virtual atheism where the person says: I don't believe in god, but I don't accept that 'everything is permitted.' And then they grin in an idiotic way. If 'everything is permitted' means exactly the same thing as there are no laws but man made laws, what can they mean? All laws are arbitrary unless they where given by some power from above, or if the very universe is 'good.' What else can they mean? If it is some kind of conditioned response or Freudian figure (which leads to the belief in goodness and guilt), that is ultimately based on meaningless phylogenetic antecedents. So if someone says that don't they just mean they don't like to admit morals are meaningless or radically arbitrary? Perhaps because they are confused.

You seem to be arguing for this claim: Atheism implies that everything is morally permissible.

In the view of many philosophers, myself included, that claim is false. These philosophers argue that objective truths about moral right and wrong not only needn't be God-made (or man-made) but couldn't be God-made (or man-made). I recommend reading Wes Morriston, "God and the Ontological Foundation of Morality," and Erik J. Wielenberg, "In Defense of Non-Natural, Non-Theistic Moral Realism".

On the issue of whether all laws require a lawgiver, please see my response to Question 5619.

You seem to be arguing for this claim: Atheism implies that everything is morally permissible. In the view of many philosophers, myself included, that claim is false. These philosophers argue that objective truths about moral right and wrong not only needn't be God-made (or man-made) but couldn't be God-made (or man-made). I recommend reading Wes Morriston, "God and the Ontological Foundation of Morality," and Erik J. Wielenberg, "In Defense of Non-Natural, Non-Theistic Moral Realism" . On the issue of whether all laws require a lawgiver, please see my response to Question 5619 .

An acquaintance believes that mandatory vaccination laws are "immoral." Her

An acquaintance believes that mandatory vaccination laws are "immoral." Her basic argument, as best I understand it, is that even if vaccines benefit almost everyone, there IS a risk -- however small -- that someone may be injured or even killed by a vaccine. Therefore, to force someone to get a shot that might possibly be hurtful is immoral. Somehow she equates mandatory vaccination to slavery -- something being imposed on people against their will. I don't think mandatory vaccination laws are immoral in the least. Her argument seems pretty wrong to me. Is it?

If your acquaintance argues that mandatory vaccination is immoral because it exposes people, against their will, to the risk of injury or death, you might ask her if she thinks a mandatory seat belt law is also immoral, because on rare occasions seat belts cause injury or even death.

Surely it matters how likely it is that people will be harmed by obeying the vaccination law or the seat belt law, compared to the likelihood that they'll be harmed by not getting vaccinated or not wearing a seat belt. In the case of seat belts, I take it that the latter risk is much higher. I presume the same holds for vaccination.

There's another factor to consider: mandatory vaccination isn't just paternalistic intervention for the sake of those getting vaccinated. It also protects others from infection, including others who can't take the vaccine because they are (known to be) allergic to one of its ingredients. So even someone opposed in principle to paternalistic laws needs another argument against mandatory vaccination.

If your acquaintance argues that mandatory vaccination is immoral because it exposes people, against their will, to the risk of injury or death, you might ask her if she thinks a mandatory seat belt law is also immoral, because on rare occasions seat belts cause injury or even death. Surely it matters how likely it is that people will be harmed by obeying the vaccination law or the seat belt law, compared to the likelihood that they'll be harmed by not getting vaccinated or not wearing a seat belt. In the case of seat belts, I take it that the latter risk is much higher. I presume the same holds for vaccination. There's another factor to consider: mandatory vaccination isn't just paternalistic intervention for the sake of those getting vaccinated. It also protects others from infection, including others who can't take the vaccine because they are (known to be) allergic to one of its ingredients. So even someone opposed in principle to paternalistic laws needs another argument against mandatory...

Is there any way to ultimately resolve, by reason or evidence, the conflict

Is there any way to ultimately resolve, by reason or evidence, the conflict between moral relativism and moral realism? Reading about this issue makes me feel unsure about the real status of morality. Any suggestion would help.

If by "ultimately resolve by reason or evidence" you mean "offer reasons or evidence sufficient to get everyone to accept one side of the debate," then an ultimate resolution of any issue seems very unlikely, just as a matter of social psychology. If, instead, you mean "discover reasons or evidence sufficient to make up my own mind about this issue," then I hold out much more hope. I recommend starting with the SEP entries on moral realism, moral relativism, and moral anti-realism if you haven't yet read them. Each contains detailed discussion and lots of citations to further reading.

When assessing criticisms of any view, it's of course essential to be as clear as possible about the content of the view being criticized and to make sure that the view being criticized is one that's actually held rather than a "straw man."

If by "ultimately resolve by reason or evidence" you mean "offer reasons or evidence sufficient to get everyone to accept one side of the debate," then an ultimate resolution of any issue seems very unlikely, just as a matter of social psychology. If, instead, you mean "discover reasons or evidence sufficient to make up my own mind about this issue," then I hold out much more hope. I recommend starting with the SEP entries on moral realism , moral relativism , and moral anti-realism if you haven't yet read them. Each contains detailed discussion and lots of citations to further reading. When assessing criticisms of any view, it's of course essential to be as clear as possible about the content of the view being criticized and to make sure that the view being criticized is one that's actually held rather than a "straw man."

During a discussion in the pub the other day my friend suggested that morality -

During a discussion in the pub the other day my friend suggested that morality -- and the associated concepts of right and wrong, good and bad -- doesn't objectively exist, and that the universe is therefore essentially indifferent and meaningless. Any meaning or idea of "rightness" or "wrongness" that we perceive is a completely subjective human construct. This seems to me to be intuitively incorrect, but is there a way to effectually counter this view?

Philosophers have been debating this issue for about 2500 years. As things now stand, most academic philosophers deny, or are inclined to deny, that moral rightness and wrongness are purely subjective: in the recent PhilPapers survey, a majority of "target faculty" favored moral realism over moral anti-realism. But it's an area of robust philosophical debate. You might start by looking at the SEP entries on moral realism and moral anti-realism. They contain careful discussions and lots of references to further reading.

Philosophers have been debating this issue for about 2500 years. As things now stand, most academic philosophers deny, or are inclined to deny, that moral rightness and wrongness are purely subjective: in the recent PhilPapers survey , a majority of "target faculty" favored moral realism over moral anti-realism. But it's an area of robust philosophical debate. You might start by looking at the SEP entries on moral realism and moral anti-realism . They contain careful discussions and lots of references to further reading.

Is murder illegal because its wrong?Or is murder wrong because its illegal?

Is murder illegal because its wrong? Or is murder wrong because its illegal?

a great question -- a deep one, and an old one -- basically grounded in the classic theistic question addressed by Plato (in Euthyphro) and many others since -- does God command us not to do things (such as murder) because they're wrong, or are they wrong (simply) because God commands us not to do them ... Stephen's response is excellent, but I'll offer another angle. Re the first half -- is murder illegal b/c it's wrong -- no doubt those legislators who have illegalized murder are at least partly (maybe primarily/exclusively) motivated by its wrongness (that's the sociological/empirical question) -- but presumably your question is meant to be more general, i.e. not merely restricted to murder, whose 'wrongness' most everyone can agree to (though not everyone). If you were to ask 'of all those things that are illegal, are they illegal b/c they are wrong?' surely for many/most of them the answer would be 'no.' It's illegal to go through a red light, not b/c going thru red lights is morally wrong but b/c the powers that be, in their wisdom, have established various conventions for the smooth/safe running of society, so they've set up traffic laws to that end -- just which legislation is motivated by morality and which by (say) the need for societal conventions is an empirical question -- but no doubt both factors play at least some role in much legislation ... (and other factors as well) ... re the sec on half -- 'is murder wrong b/c it's illegal' -- Stephen is right to stress the fundamental distinction between law and morality, but I'll just add one point -- the case might be made that, in general, it's morally wrong to break the laws of your society (all else being equal) -- so at least PART of the wrongness of murder (perhaps a very small part) would consist in the fact that committing it is to break the laws ... (again, generalizing the topic: running a red light IS probably wrong precisely because it's illegal ...) Now of course there are some important complicated cases -- for example, civil disobedience -- in some cases you might argue it's 'right' to break the law -- if you think the law itself is morally wrong -- but that's handled by the 'all else being equal' clause I mentioned ....

hope that's useful!

ap

Your first question -- Why is murder illegal? -- is a sociological and/or historical question about the law and therefore a question on which philosophers, as such, aren't experts. Nevertheless (!) I feel confident in saying that the answer is yes : the direction of explanation goes from moral wrongness to illegality. Murder is a form of homicide meeting various conditions, such as being intentional and being done "with malice aforethought." Why does modern society outlaw murder but not, say, an adult's listening to "Baby" by Justin Bieber? Both actions reflect badly on the agent, but only the former is regarded as a serious moral wrong. When they start making things illegal, liberal societies tend put actions meeting that description at the top of the list. Your second question is more properly philosophical, and I think the answer is clearly no . It's at least imaginable that a society's legal regime might outlaw some things but not outlaw murder. Yet murder would remain morally wrong:...

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