RE: Another stab at "The Rules"

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From: John Hall (
Date: Mon May 14 2001 - 16:33:50 PDT

I almost picked up a book on philosophy the other day which asserted that
there were only a few standards that people picked. The first three were
Hedonism, Utilitarianism, and Justice.

This is an example of Justice.

Within Justice, there is a big difference between distributive justice and
retributive justice. The first is about distributing goods and the latter
about making sure that people get what is coming to them.

The libertarian thesis (which strongly resembles Jeff Bone's rules) is often
confused as a retributive justice model, but it isn't (according to that
author). What it does is to distribute freedom as the ultimate ideal, even
if that results in someone with questionable morality getting more than they

Jeff: I'm exceptionally attracted to models like yours. I always have been.
But my vision of moral agents that obey these rules is something like the
'head of household' model of Locke. My version applies to adult moral
agents dealing with non-family members.

But it seems to me that different rules are required within families. The
pure libertarian ideals don't seem to bear the burden of their own
recreation. By that I mean that moral agents aren't born, and the methods
of turning a child - savage into a properly civilized moral agent doesn't,
and can't use these rules.

And at the level of the nation state, I think that a hobbesian state of
nature is the best way to view it.

So, my ideal system seems to be sandwiched between two different systems.
That it is still the main one, or should be the main one, doesn't mean that
the other systems shouldn't exist or that a proper boundary between them is
a big point of contention.

Moreover, there is an opposite vision. The vision you espouse views things
like freedom and power in ways that I believe are not only correct, but
accord with the common meanings of the terms. But there is an opposite

The opposite view holds that freedom FROM isn't nearly as important as
freedom TO. To be brutal about it, they would say that a starving man isn't
free if he doesn't have the freedom TO take your food. Similarly, they call
your ability to do things with your money power, and see little difference
between the fact you can buy what you want and a mugger taking your stuff
because he wants it. Note: it should be clear I don't like those ideas very
much. (An understatement: in some cases I believe that killing a communist
is justifiable homicide.)

In addition to these big fights, there is an ancient one that has concerned
the proper nature of a government since Plato's republic. Namely, is it the
business of the state to inculcate or mold the virtue of its citizens? In
point of fact our founding father's assumed that this was the case. I'm a
libertarian with the heart of a social conservative. And I am afraid that
the social conservatives, with their focus on molding the character of
citizens, might have a point. I say 'afraid' because I wish it were
otherwise. I practice in my life things that are historically considered
ruinous to proper morality. It isn't in my direct interests for them to be
right about some of these things. But I'm still afraid they have a point.

Over the last few years on FoRK, we've made several attempts to
define a minimal agreeable set of "The Rules" by which society could
function. Here's another strawman:

* If you threaten me, I will stop you.
* If you wish to trade with me, I may choose to do so.
* If you need help and I can provide it, I may choose to do so.
* Otherwise, I will leave you alone.
* I expect the same in return.

In the above, "threat" should be understood to mean "anything that
without my explicit consent limits my life, liberty, property, and
pursuit of happiness." "Stop" means "take any action necessary to
prevent." "Trade" means "any mutually consensual exchange of
value." "Help" means "any unidirectional transfer of value." "Leave
you alone" means "not interfere with your own life, liberty, and
pursuit of happiness."

If we all --- and all our laws --- functioned from this simple set of
rules, wouldn't we all be better off?


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