Tom

Initiation of Force: When is it permissible?

33 posts in this topic

Force is a political subject, but I am thinking about it in a more moral context (if that is possible.)

I understand that humans must use reason to pursue and achieve and keep values, and that force is the opposite of reason. Force is permissible in situations of self-defense when force has been initiated against oneself. And ideally, the state will handle retaliatory use of force. However, are there situations when initiation of force is possible?

If we take, as a hypothetical, a situation in which two people are poisoned and locked into a room with an antidote dose large enough for only one person, and both people wish to continue existing, is it moral to initiate force to obtain the antidote?

I have been thinking of this situation, among others, and considered a few things:

  1. These kinds of hypotheticals are vacuous or impossible in some way, but how?
  2. What role does conscience play in moral decisions? Surely most people might feel guilt enough to ruin quality of life after, but if conscience is not a major factor, does this mean it would be moral to initiate force to attain a value?

I'm usually able to think through these, but I got stuck on this one and can't quite see what premises I'm depending on here.

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The context for a moral code is a normal life where options are available to interact with others without the use of force. The scenario you put forward removes those options, and the situation is one of emergency. Normal ethics cannot apply to non normal situations, that is emergency situations. What does one do then? What standard does one make decisions by in that non-normal context? My answer: the one you can live with, which is judged by the sum of your values..

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I disagree with Arnold that normal ethics does not apply in non-normal situations. Ethics does apply in those contexts. The error that Tom brings up in his example is that ethics does not begin with non-normal situations. One cannot put people in a non-normal situation and then ask "which action is ethical?" Look at the context that is omitted. How did the 2 people come into a situation where they were both poisoned? Who poisoned them? Was the poisoning justified? Where did the antidote come from? Why is there only enough for 1 person? What prevents another antidote from being given to the other person? Who is withholding the additional dose of antidote?

In any situation where there are no alternative actions that will affect the outcome, then no ethical issues apply. The context for ethics is "choice" and "life".

“My morality, the morality of reason, is contained in a single axiom: existence exists-and in a single choice: to live.
(from Galt's speech)

One cannot start with a situation in which death is one of the "choices": Either die from the poison or die at the hand of the other person. This is not a moral context and morality does not apply. So the use of force is amoral, and killing the other person to stay alive is the only thing to do.

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Force is a political subject, but I am thinking about it in a more moral context (if that is possible.)

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Force is wider than that. The initiation of force is an epistemological issue. It divorces man's mind and its judgments from the actions that are required to be taken based upon those judgments. Reason is non-functional when an individual is confronted with force.

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Force is a political subject, but I am thinking about it in a more moral context (if that is possible.)

----------

Reason is non-functional when an individual is confronted with force.

But you disagreed with me on that, and you said that normal ethics does apply in non normal situations (where options have been removed). If reason is non functional how do you have normal ethics? Could you clarify just what you disagree with then?

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When an attack on life and limb is highly probably, preemptive force is not only permissible, it is required for survival. Think of the 6 day war of 1967.

Allowing the enemy the first spear thrust for the sake of "not initiating force" is stupid and most likely fatal.

ruveyn

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The context for a moral code is a normal life where options are available to interact with others without the use of force. The scenario you put forward removes those options, and the situation is one of emergency. Normal ethics cannot apply to non normal situations, that is emergency situations. What does one do then? What standard does one make decisions by in that non-normal context? My answer: the one you can live with, which is judged by the sum of your values..

Yes, this does make sense. I am curious though, in that there does appear to be an alternative available: Kill or die or try to persuade the other person. As an emergency, with hours to make a decision, and with alternatives available, how does this fail to be a moral situation?

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I disagree with Arnold that normal ethics does not apply in non-normal situations. Ethics does apply in those contexts. The error that Tom brings up in his example is that ethics does not begin with non-normal situations. One cannot put people in a non-normal situation and then ask "which action is ethical?" Look at the context that is omitted. How did the 2 people come into a situation where they were both poisoned? Who poisoned them? Was the poisoning justified? Where did the antidote come from? Why is there only enough for 1 person? What prevents another antidote from being given to the other person? Who is withholding the additional dose of antidote?

In any situation where there are no alternative actions that will affect the outcome, then no ethical issues apply. The context for ethics is "choice" and "life".

“My morality, the morality of reason, is contained in a single axiom: existence exists-and in a single choice: to live.
(from Galt's speech)

One cannot start with a situation in which death is one of the "choices": Either die from the poison or die at the hand of the other person. This is not a moral context and morality does not apply. So the use of force is amoral, and killing the other person to stay alive is the only thing to do.

The hypothetical does seem vacuous. I am thinking of the movie Saw, for example. Let's say they are in this situation because of a sociopath and it is a senseless crime against two people who are locked in a room and poisoned with one antidote available.

Can you expand on how death is not an alternative? The alternative is die from the poison (die), die from the other person (die), make no attempts at all (die), try to persuade the other person (maybe live), or kill the other person (live). I suppose in all situations it leads to death, is this what you mean? Can you explain that more? What if it is the other person who dies and oneself lives, is that still a death-only set of alternatives? How so?

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When an attack on life and limb is highly probably, preemptive force is not only permissible, it is required for survival. Think of the 6 day war of 1967.

Allowing the enemy the first spear thrust for the sake of "not initiating force" is stupid and most likely fatal.

ruveyn

Well said ruveyn. There are some seriously unbalanced, irrational and emotionally disturbed individuals in our society. While a lot of them are easy to spot you can't always tell who they are at first glance. About 5 years ago I worked with a guy for 6 weeks during a maintainence shut down at the local refinery. He was assigned to me as my welders helper. Based on this work experience with him I formed a very favorable opinion of the man. He had a very positive attitude toward the job and was enjoyable to work with. About 6 months later he bludgeoned the woman he was living with to death and comitted suicide.

Just last week another local man I knew got him self shot and killed. This guy had some what of a track record of being abusive to others (especially when drinking). In the past he's been told to leave from the local Tavern for unacceptable behavior. First time I had any contact with him there about 2 years a go I had some what of a problem with him. Fortunetly he just stood off at a distance and ran his mouth. If he would have tried to move in close to me though I'm afraid I would have felt the need to attempt a little preemptive violence. He's come in there several times since then while I was there and never given me any trouble. My guess would be that he doesn't even remember the incident.

While the guy that shot him is claiming self defense and is out on bail, from the few details I've heard it doesn't sound to me like it's going to be found to be a legally justifiable use of deadly force. That being said though, with the exception of the family no one else seems to be all that up set that he won't be around any more.

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The context for a moral code is a normal life where options are available to interact with others without the use of force. The scenario you put forward removes those options, and the situation is one of emergency. Normal ethics cannot apply to non normal situations, that is emergency situations. What does one do then? What standard does one make decisions by in that non-normal context? My answer: the one you can live with, which is judged by the sum of your values..

Yes, this does make sense. I am curious though, in that there does appear to be an alternative available: Kill or die or try to persuade the other person. As an emergency, with hours to make a decision, and with alternatives available, how does this fail to be a moral situation?

By definition I would say. Morals are the code we use to decide our life choices in normal circumstances, where we are free to consider options that are beneficial to life. Such options do NOT involve harming others. Life is the basis for morals and are not a detached code of commandments. Thus, if life is your standard, then in order to survive in an emergency, it would be moral to steal food, say from an empty holiday home.

Once one has a situation where one cannot make a choice without causing another harm, you have left the realm where normal ethics can function. You have only to decide if you can live with whatever limited "choice" you make. In your example, the other party may be your child, and you decide you wouldn't care to live with her death. In that case your standard is still your life and what it would mean to your life. Whatever your "choice", morality is not involved here. The choice of death had been made by someone else, your decision could not be made by normal ethics, but what you could salvage from the situation. It is not a moral choice because there are no rules possible when the option of survival is to cause harm.

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Well, we are on the life boat again. So what one can do in emergency situation? Should he just initiate force in order to save his life and to kill everybody else in the process. And why to construct such a complicated scenario with poison and antidote? Here is much simple and real situation: two people on the desert island, no chance of rescue in sight and absolutely no food or water. In the face of the imminent death would it be a moral thing to kill the other one, to drink his blood, to eat his flesh and to get some chance to survive? I think that the mere introduction of the concept of morality in such a situation is odious. Morality is a code of values which guide man's life. How one can apply such a concept where man is reduced to the level of an animal?

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I have it! Declare an Emergency and anything goes.

ruveyn

Wrong.

Saying an emergency exists is a value judgement. Like all value judgements, it has the potential for being wrong. One man's emergency is another man's nervous twitch.

ruveyn

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Saying an emergency exists is a value judgement. Like all value judgements, it has the potential for being wrong. One man's emergency is another man's nervous twitch.

ruveyn

Saying the world is not flat would fall into that category then. After all, one can never be certain when one will be proved wrong?

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Saying an emergency exists is a value judgement. Like all value judgements, it has the potential for being wrong. One man's emergency is another man's nervous twitch.

ruveyn

Saying the world is not flat would fall into that category then. After all, one can never be certain when one will be proved wrong?

When we have to make grave decisions with incomplete information we run the risk of error. Besides working under stress can also produce error. Human beings are not omniscient, so having a sense of caution about one's conclusions is not a bad habit to cultivate. By all means come to a conclusion but always be ready to check when additional facts become known.

Besides, tyrannical government just love to declare emergencies. All the better to deprive us of our liberties and deny us our rights.

Exercise caution and care, and be alert to danger.

ruveyn

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I have it! Declare an Emergency and anything goes.

ruveyn

Wrong.

Saying an emergency exists is a value judgement. Like all value judgements, it has the potential for being wrong. One man's emergency is another man's nervous twitch.

ruveyn

This is subjectivism and is irrelevant to the ethical question under discussion.

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ruveyn ben yosef : "I have it! Declare an Emergency and anything goes."

You can declare whatever you please, but remember that words have a meaning.

"An emergency is an unchosen, unexpected event, limited in time, that creates conditions under which human survival is impossible—such as a flood, an earthquake, a fire, a shipwreck. In an emergency situation, men’s primary goal is to combat the disaster, escape the danger and restore normal conditions (to reach dry land, to put out the fire, etc.)."

The Ethics of Emergencies, The Virtue of Selfishness, 47

As you may understand, nobody can declare unchosen, unexpected event. In such a situation the moral and rational thing to do would be to save as many lives as possible. But if a situation is really hopeless as you and I described, then you have only one moral choice: you can die qua man or live qua beast. So suit yourself.

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Force is a political subject, but I am thinking about it in a more moral context (if that is possible.)

----------

Reason is non-functional when an individual is confronted with force.

But you disagreed with me on that, and you said that normal ethics does apply in non normal situations (where options have been removed). If reason is non functional how do you have normal ethics? Could you clarify just what you disagree with then?

Perhaps my wording was not precise. "Confronted with" should have been "subjected to". In an emergency (one which has some likelihood of actually happened to someone), such as being in a fire or a flood, it is certainly pertinent to apply reason. Such rational actions would be things like preparedness like having fire extinguishers in the house, or building a house on stilts in flood zones, or having sump pumps to pump out water when a pipe may burst, or smoke alarms. The "emergency" that Tom's example present is not an emergency in the context that Leonid quotes Rand, above. Tom's example in the first post illustrates the false alternative that is often presented to introduce ethics as a choice between improbable and ethically irrelevant situations.

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Tom's example in the first post illustrates the false alternative that is often presented to introduce ethics as a choice between improbable and ethically irrelevant situations.

I think it is good to deal with these questions to make it clear what ethics entails. I tried to answer that by showing where ethics has or has not relevance. Of course one uses reason when all hell is breaking around one in a life and death situation. That is because as long as options exist, a reasoned ethics exists.

His question bypassed all the options where reason could apply, and I then made the point that once that happened, ethics was impossible to formulate. All that was left was how you could live with your decision.

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I should also point out that reason is not only applicable to preparing for an emergency but also is applicable during and emergency. One must assess the situation and consider alternate actions to escape the situation.

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I should also point out that reason is not only applicable to preparing for an emergency but also is applicable during and emergency. One must assess the situation and consider alternate actions to escape the situation.

That is because as long as options exist, a reasoned ethics exists.

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So, as this is an emergency situation which I've brought up, normal ethics do not apply?

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So, as this is an emergency situation which I've brought up, normal ethics do not apply?

Cannot apply because the requirements are not there. No normal options exist.

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So, as this is an emergency situation which I've brought up, normal ethics do not apply?

Perhaps you didn't understand, but your example is not an emergency situation. It is an amoral situation.

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