Brian Smith

Rights, moral claims, and immoral acts

232 posts in this topic

It's a little astonishing to me that anybody here is granting the benefit of the doubt to what, in this case, amounts to no more than armed thugs enforcing totally non-objective law by breaking down the door of a 92 year old woman at night. Not one news report has even hinted that they even had a correct address ...

CBS news

Neighbors and relatives said it was a case of mistaken identity, but Atlanta police say there was no mistake concerning the address of the house, reports CBS Radio News' Pete Combs. [bold added.]

Anyway, an alternative description to "armed thugs" is lawfully empowered police officers, armed with a proper search warrant, were fired upon, injuring three officers, in the midst of doing their lawful duty. (Note: I too object to drug laws.)

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OK. I assumed you read the story in the link. I'm sure there will be a comprehensive investigation.

Happy Thanksgiving.

You too! Gobble Gobble

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(Note: I too object to drug laws.)

As do I. I had even originally written a caveat into my original response to that effect. But I reconsidered, thinking it wasn't necessary to make such a fact explicit - at least not on this forum. B)

In case everyone is busy with the holiday tomorrow, I'll wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving now!

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Neighbors and relatives said it was a case of mistaken identity, but Atlanta police say there was no mistake concerning the address of the house, reports CBS Radio News' Pete Combs.

Yes, I was aware of that (I think I mentioned it in my first post), but what I mean by correct address is one that actually made any sense. I don't doubt that bureaucratically they arrived at the address specified on a search warrant, I do doubt that that address contained anything criminal, even by the twisted standards of the drug laws. They scared the hell out of a 92 year old woman - the few which exist are typically in nursing homes and aren't exactly the epitome of clear thinkers - who then out of fear fired at the intruders. If they hadn't shot her, the stress would most likely have given her heart failure.

Their insistence that it was the "correct address" just reinforces the irony, to me. Were they simply ignorant of the identity of the occupant, or did they go in prepared for WW3 because of the terrible 92 year old desperado? Either answer is hardly complimentary to their competence and intelligence, but then I find that consistent with my "armed thug" characterization.

Having a badge and blindly following orders didn't excuse the men judged at Nuremburg and it doesn't excuse those in the police force today who are following in their footsteps - the same kind of men who abducted Elian Gonzalez and handed him back to their kindred spirits in Cuba, all under the aegis of lawfully empowered American police.

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Yes, I was aware of that (I think I mentioned it in my first post), but what I mean by correct address is one that actually made any sense. I don't doubt that bureaucratically they arrived at the address specified on a search warrant, I do doubt that that address contained anything criminal, even by the twisted standards of the drug laws.

According to the report,

Police who shot and killed a 92-year-old woman after she wounded three officers were looking for a man who sold drugs to undercover agents at her home earlier that day, authorities said Wednesday.

The agents got a search warrant after buying drugs Tuesday afternoon from a man in Kathryn Johnston's home, Assistant Police Chief Alan Dreher said.

Now please show me where anything in this was illegal. No matter how much you dislike drug laws, it is not proper to fire on police without expecting return fire, and I don't care how old someone is.

They scared the hell out of a 92 year old woman - the few which exist are typically in nursing homes and aren't exactly the epitome of clear thinkers - who then out of fear fired at the intruders. If they hadn't shot her, the stress would most likely have given her heart failure.

Their insistence that it was the "correct address" just reinforces the irony, to me. Were they simply ignorant of the identity of the occupant, or did they go in prepared for WW3 because of the terrible 92 year old desperado? Either answer is hardly complimentary to their competence and intelligence, but then I find that consistent with my "armed thug" characterization.

There is no evidence in the story to suggest that the police knew who was shooting at them. They entered the house with a proper search warrant and shots were fired at them. They returned fire.

------------------

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Now please show me where anything in this was illegal. No matter how much you dislike drug laws, it is not proper to fire on police without expecting return fire, and I don't care how old someone is.

First of all, my reaction isn't fundamentally about "drug laws" if that implies that my concern is making them legal. They *should* be, though that doesn't make druggies and dope peddlers any less contemptible. My (and many others) fundamental concern about the "drug laws" is that they give the police virtually unlimited powers.

So an undercover cop bought drugs from some low life in the house where a 92 year old woman lived. Ok. So rather than investigating whether the low life strong armed this woman into letting him into her house for that purpose (I know that's inconceivable), they storm in prepared for WW3. Makes sense to me. The important thing is the drugs, not protecting the rights of some old woman!

Somebody quoted a news report saying that she fired when they were approaching. Most of the reports I've read indicate something quite different:

"You don't know who's in the house until you open that door," [Assistant Police Chief] Dreher said Wednesday. "And once they forced open the door, they were immediately fired upon."

Again, were they totally unaware of the normal occupant of the house, or didn't that matter? Did the 92 year old acquire a gun in order to defend herself against low lifes strong arming her? And this 92 year old is supposed to tell the difference between a local drug dealer and his cronies, and non-uniformed police bashing in her door at night?

I certainly understand that it's logical for police to shoot back at somebody shooting at them. The issue is the context in which they created that situation: the non-objective laws they enforce, their ability to conduct raids that resemble the actions of lawless gangsters (not in uniform, acting at night deliberately, etc.), the obvious thuggish stupidity of disregarding the rights and mental state of a 92 year old occupant in order to make their next bust and get more loot to confiscate for the department.

I wouldn't have much sympathy for the woman if a uniformed police officer calmly knocked on her door in the daytime, such that she could clearly see who it was, if she had taken shots at him. But that was not the context.

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There is no evidence in the story to suggest that the police knew who was shooting at them. They entered the house with a proper search warrant and shots were fired at them. They returned fire.
Actually, according to the additional excerpts you originally posted to me, it appears she started firing at them -before- the police 'knocked', before they identified themselves as police, and before they were able to show her the warrant:

"As the officers approached the house around 7 p.m., a woman inside started shooting, striking each of them, said Officer Joe Cobb, a police spokesman."

This is one of the reasons I said I would reserve my conclusion for a proper investigation. We do not know what events (inside or out) transpired before the police entered the house, nor do we know the physical and mental state of the quite aged woman. As I indicated originally, this is a news story, not a criminal investigation. There are quite a few salient facts which have not been included. As such, one cannot justly come to definitive conclusions about the case.

Having a badge and blindly following orders didn't excuse the men judged at Nuremburg and it doesn't excuse those in the police force today who are following in their footsteps - the same kind of men who abducted Elian Gonzalez and handed him back to their kindred spirits in Cuba, all under the aegis of lawfully empowered American police.

The United States is not a dictatorship. Thus the reference to Nuremburg is not a valid analogy. In a free or even semi-free society, a police force is a valid and necessary element of the government. And, in such a society, they are not properly charged with the making of laws, but simply the enforcement of laws. They do not get to pick and choose the laws they will or will not enforce.

The fact that it is a semi-free society means that the honorable men who validly wish to serve justice face an impossible choice - enforcing some bad law with the good, or enforcing no law (exiting the service), thus leaving the innocent to suffer. That is one of the problems of a semi-free society. Thus I agree with Stephen when he says:

an alternative description to "armed thugs" is lawfully empowered police officers, armed with a proper search warrant, were fired upon, injuring three officers, in the midst of doing their lawful duty.

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The United States is not a dictatorship. Thus the reference to Nuremburg is not a valid analogy.

I should have elaborated more on my analogy. I don't think the cops who shot the woman were literal Nazis. I was referring specifically to the notion that anything is ok as long as you're wearing a badge while you do it, under the aegis of following orders. At the Nuremberg trials, from what I've read about them, a common excuse was "I was just following orders." It is that (well known) part to which I referred - because personal responsibility is not eliminated simply because one is following orders, including the enforcement of non-objective law. i.e., "I didn't feel it was right to bash down the door of the 92 year old woman at night, given that that alone would probably give her a heart attack, but I was ordered to do it, so I had to."

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"I didn't feel it was right to bash down the door of the 92 year old woman at night, given that that alone would probably give her a heart attack, but I was ordered to do it, so I had to."
I have said all I wish to say about this example. I stand by my original observation that we do not have enough information to rationally reach valid conclusions about the specific case. In the absence of such facts, any speculation about what was or was not known or what should or should not have been known are simply arbitrary assertions.

I also stand by my statements concerning the problem of law enforcement and semi-free societies.

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I do not understand this claim. Can an act be immoral, even if the one who acts is not acting immorally? I have in mind a simple accident in which, say, another person's property is damaged. If the act was truly an accident -- not intentional and could not be reasonably forseen -- then the one who acts cannot be deemed immoral. Yet, surely the damage to the other person's property is a violation of that person's rights.

Stephen,

That last is specifically the position I am arguing against in my essay. For details as to why, I do not think there is an alternative to reading it in full, and in context.

I am sorry that I did not become aware of this thread on the Forum until this morning. The individual who started it several days ago did not make the participants on NoodleFood aware that he was doing so until now. Had I known about it, I would have made an effort to participate and defend my thesis if necessary.

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Stephen,

That last is specifically the position I am arguing against in my essay. For details as to why, I do not think there is an alternative to reading it in full, and in context.

I am sorry that I did not become aware of this thread on the Forum until this morning. The individual who started it several days ago did not make the participants on NoodleFood aware that he was doing so until now. Had I known about it, I would have made an effort to participate and defend my thesis if necessary.

Tony, there are a HUGE number of posts there on this subject, and, as far as I can tell, quite a few from you. I glanced at some of the comments the other day, and it looks like the subject morphed into a whole bunch of branches. So, perhaps you can, freshly, just state your position here, and that way any criticisms of your view will be less likely to be dismissed as straw man arguments.

As an incentive to stating your view here, you may get challenges to that view you have not received before, or, conversely, support from a different perspective. In any case, I personally would be interested in hearing your view, directly from you.

p.s. A belated HAPPY THANKSGIVING.

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After skimming the thread, I don't have anything to add at this time. At least so far, the comments here that have referred to my essay do not appear to have addressed the arguments and reasons for my view that I presented in it. I'll check back periodically and respond as necessary if that changes.

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Tony, there are a HUGE number of posts there on this subject... So, perhaps you can, freshly, just state your position here, and that way any criticisms of your view will be less likely to be dismissed as straw man arguments... I personally would be interested in hearing your view, directly from you.

Stephen,

Thanks for the invitation! As I commented in my last post, I don't think the central argument presented in my essay has been addressed yet on this thread. So I think that for the most part reference to the ongoing discussion is probably premature, and the best way to start it is simply to refer to the essay itself, in full. It can be found here:

Tony Donadio on the Violation of Rights:

http://www.dianahsieh.com/blog/2006/11/ton...-of-rights.html

In my view, the best replies have been from Adam Mossoff and Greg Perkins:

Adam Mossoff on intrinsicism in the understanding of rights:

http://www.dianahsieh.com/cgi-bin/blog/com...5553786327206#6

Greg Perkins on the implications of my view for "strict" vs. "negligent" liability:

http://www.dianahsieh.com/cgi-bin/blog/com...553786327206#39

Greg Perkins, and my followup, on the epistemological issue underlying my view:

http://www.dianahsieh.com/cgi-bin/blog/com...553786327206#70

http://www.dianahsieh.com/cgi-bin/blog/com...553786327206#75

Also, I want to stress that my essay represents a presentation of my understanding of how Objectivism should be properly applied to this issue. I don't have anything personal at stake in this debate, and I would not be averse to deferring to an argument that can demonstrate flaws in my reasoning. So far, however, I don't believe that I've seen such, and I think that most of the best arguments that I have seen have been in support of my thesis.

Also, and for the record: due to my assessment of Mr. Smith's behavior toward me on the thread that led to my essay, I have not been responding to his comments, and for the most part not even reading them. That won't change if I begin discussing my essay here.

p.s. A belated HAPPY THANKSGIVING.

Thanks, and to you and your family as well!

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Here is the full text of my original essay, for the benefit of anyone who wants to discuss it here.

----------

Fred Weiss recently wrote the following:

Tony said: "if someone mistakenly thinks you're about to kill his wife, and shoots you to prevent it, he is
not
wrong, and has
not
violated your rights,
if the circumstances are such that his mistaken belief is objective and rationally justified
."

Brian's reply to this was correct. It is a violation of rights, but the motivation and intention based on the error can constitute mitigation... In any event, whatever led to your action, you have violated the victim's rights. Your context of knowledge or motivation doesn't change that fact.

I briefly stated that I think this analysis implicitly rests on a mistaken understanding of the nature and justification of rights, and one that is inconsistent with the Objectivist view. I'll defend that position in the following post. (Warning in advance: to treat this issue properly, this post will have to be long.)

Let me preface my remarks by saying that of course I do not intend that statement as an attack on or a disparagement of anyone -- neither Fred, nor anyone else who may agree with him. I would have thought that would go without saying, but if it doesn't, then by all means let me say it. I certainly wouldn't take it as a disparaging reflection on myself if someone turns out to be able to argue that it is my understanding of this issue is in error. That is entirely possible, and it wouldn't exactly be the first time that it has happened. :)

Let me start by positing two nearly identical scenarios. You are armed, and you witness a man you do not know behaving erratically, brandishing a toy gun, and shouting about how he is about to kill your spouse -- who is well within firing range, and with no cover. You have your weapon aimed at him, when he begins to raise his gun toward your spouse's head. You fire, and kill him.

The two scenarios are identical, except for the following, single difference:

Scenario 1. You know that the man's gun is a toy.

Scenario 2. You do NOT know that the man's gun is a toy.

I would argue that in Scenario 1, you have at the very least committed manslaughter, if not murder -- since there was in fact no real threat to your spouse's life, and you knew it. In that case, I would agree that you have violated the man's right to life. In the second scenario, by contrast, you were acting entirely and legitimately in self-defense. You were entirely justified in believing that your spouse's life was in danger. In an emergency situation, if the police are not present, you have a right to act in self-defense, and there is no legitimate argument to be made that you ought not to have shot him. Had the gun in fact been real and loaded, no rational jury in the world could (or should) convict you.

Fred states explicitly that: "...whatever led to your action, you have violated the victim's rights. Your context of knowledge or motivation doesn't change that fact." On that premise, I see only three possible positions to take with regard to these two examples -- since the only difference between them lies in your context of knowledge.

1. In both scenarios, you have violated the victim's rights, and are morally culpable in the victim's death.

2. In both scenarios, you have not violated the victim's rights -- irrespective of your knowledge or lack thereof about the gun.

3. In both scenarios, you have violated the victim's rights, but in scenario 2 that violation of rights is somehow "OK" or "justified" by the mitigating circumstances.

From my reading of your objection, Fred, I'm assuming that it is position 3 that you would defend. I state the others just for the record.

(To anticipate one objection relevant to argument 2: I do not think it is legitimate to posit that by his actions, the man has forfeited his right to life in both scenarios. The fact that you have the right to use force in self-defense, and in an emergency situation, does not entitle you to use force when you know that your self-defense does not require it, and when you know that you are not in an emergency situation. Doing so would make you an objective threat to the lives and safety of others, who would be justified in treating you accordingly.)

Why do I think that position 3 is wrong? This is where I think the Objectivist definition and defense of the nature of rights comes in. According to Objectivism, "A right is a moral principle defining and sanctioning a man's freedom of action in a social context." There are two aspects of this definition that I want to focus on in making my point. The first is that a right is a moral principle. As such, like every other principle, it is contextual -- that is, it has a context in which it applies, and there are also contexts in which it does not apply. The second is that it is a "sanction to independent action." What this means is that a right is a moral claim upon the actions of others -- specifically, a claim that they not interfere with your exercise of independent action. I think it follows from this that because rights are moral claims upon the actions of others, that a violation of someone's rights is necessarily an immoral act.

Thus, it doesn't make sense to me to talk of a rights violation that is nevertheless "OK" because of mitigating circumstances. If you violated someone's rights, then the victim had a moral claim on you not to have acted as you did, and what you did was wrong; that's what I understand a right to mean. But if what you did was "OK" because of mitigating circumstances, then he didn't have a moral claim against your actions, under those circumstances. That's why I think that position 3 entails a contradiction. It's one thing to argue (as an earlier poster did, and I would agree) that mitigating circumstances mitigate the severity of the moral breach involved in a rights violation, and thus the appropriate punishment. It's another to say that mitigating circumstances somehow make the rights violation "OK." In order for that to be the case, you would have to have stepped outside the context in which the moral principle in question (the right) applies, and thus you would not be talking about a rights violation at all -- in that context.

I think it is helpful in trying to identify whether something is or is not a rights violation to always ask the question: "What did the victim have a moral claim against the perpetrator not to have done?" -- in other words, "What ought the perpetrator to have done differently?" When I apply that question to the second scenario above, I can't see a legitimate answer. The man can't have a moral claim on you to hold your fire, given that you have legitimate cause to believe that someone's life was in immediate danger. To say that he does is to ask the impossible -- namely, that you divine causelessly (by "noumenal insight," so to speak) that the gun was fake. A rational and objective view of rights cannot be based on moral claims that demand the impossible.

I think that most of us (myself included) were probably raised (thanks to the influence of religion) with a view of rights that is colored by an intrinsicist perspective. Certainly I think that is the predominant mindset within which most people understand the meaning of rights. In that mindset, rights are a kind of "inalienable possession" that all of us "have" as part of our natures, and which others violate or "take away" from us by certain actions. This is a mindset that I've specifically had to work to overcome over the years, and one which I've found tended to lead me to certain errors in thinking about rights. One of these was to lose sight of the issue of rights as moral claims, and instead to focus on the loss of something that one is "entitled to by right" as the defining element of a rights violation.

I don't want to ask anyone to wear this shoe if it doesn't fit, but it seems to me that something like this is implicit in statements like "...whatever led to your action, you have violated the victim's rights." These place a focus entirely on the outcome, and the facts regarding what the victim has "lost," rather than on what moral obligations the alleged perpetrator can reasonably be expected to have had under the circumstances. The facts of the outcome, and what the victim has "lost," however, cannot be the sole and defining element of a rights violation. If they were, then a rock falling on you during an avalanche would be a "rights violation" as well -- and never mind the fact that moral claims that recognize context of knowledge cannot reasonably be made of inanimate nature.

That's an outline of my basis for thinking that context of knowledge has to be an important factor in defining when something is and is not a rights violation. I'm certainly interested in what others think, in particular about whether there may be any flaws in my reasoning. As Diana said, being wrong isn't a moral failing, and I won't object if anyone can make a case for why I am. :)

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Stephen,

Thanks for the invitation! As I commented in my last post, I don't think the central argument presented in my essay has been addressed yet on this thread. So I think that for the most part reference to the ongoing discussion is probably premature, and the best way to start it is simply to refer to the essay itself, in full. It can be found here:

Tony Donadio on the Violation of Rights:

http://www.dianahsieh.com/blog/2006/11/ton...-of-rights.html

Okay. In that post you present the following:

You are armed, and you witness a man you do not know behaving erratically, brandishing a toy gun, and shouting about how he is about to kill your spouse -- who is well within firing range, and with no cover. You have your weapon aimed at him, when he begins to raise his gun toward your spouse's head. You fire, and kill him.

The two scenarios are identical, except for the following, single difference:

Scenario 1. You know that the man's gun is a toy.

Scenario 2. You do NOT know that the man's gun is a toy.

[...]

I see only three possible positions to take with regard to these two examples -- since the only difference between them lies in your context of knowledge.

1. In both scenarios, you have violated the victim's rights, and are morally culpable in the victim's death.

2. In both scenarios, you have not violated the victim's rights -- irrespective of your knowledge or lack thereof about the gun.

3. In both scenarios, you have violated the victim's rights, but in scenario 2 that violation of rights is somehow "OK" or "justified" by the mitigating circumstances.

I think all three of these positions are wrong. My view would be:

4. In scenario "2." you used proper retaliatory force, but in scenario "1." your overreaction was itself an initiation of force. [*]

[*] That is, assuming that the man with the toy gun was not objectively a threat to the life of your wife. I assume this, because, otherwise, I see no point in having introduced two scenarios.

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I think all three of these positions are wrong. My view would be:

4. In scenario "2." you used proper retaliatory force, but in scenario "1." your overreaction was itself an initiation of force. [*]

[*] That is, assuming that the man with the toy gun was not objectively a threat to the life of your wife. I assume this, because, otherwise, I see no point in having introduced two scenarios.

That's right, and making that point was my intent in presenting those scenarios.

Bear in mind that the three positions I presented were the only three possible, given the statement of Fred's that I was disagreeing with. As I pointed out to him when he offered the same reply that you did above:

The problem with this "position 4" that you are trying to take is that it contradicts your explicitly stated principle that: "...whatever led to your action, you have violated the victim's rights. Your context of knowledge or motivation doesn't change that fact."

But as I stipulated it, your context of knowledge is the ONLY difference between scenarios 1 and 2. Your statement above thus precludes you from taking different positions regarding whether scenarios 1 and 2 constitute a violation of rights. If you want to modify or qualify that position, then by all means do so. But demonstrating that that position was mistaken and had to be modified or qualified was the point of my analysis to begin with.

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Just to clarify: I agree with Stephen's assessment (what I described above as "position 4"). As I stated in my original essay:

I would argue that in Scenario 1, you have at the very least committed manslaughter, if not murder -- since there was in fact no real threat to your spouse's life, and you knew it. In that case, I would agree that you have violated the man's right to life. In the second scenario, by contrast, you were acting entirely and legitimately in self-defense...

Fred states explicitly that: "...whatever led to your action, you have violated the victim's rights. Your context of knowledge or motivation doesn't change that fact."
On that premise
, I see only three possible positions to take with regard to these two examples -- since the only difference between them lies in your context of knowledge [emphasis added]."

On re-reading, I see that I neglected to emphasize that "being justified" in scenario 2 means that I don't regard that scenario as one in which a violation of the man's rights occurred. I think that is clear from the full context of my other remarks, but let me make sure to emphasize this for the record.

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I think all three of these positions are wrong. My view would be:

4. In scenario "2." you used proper retaliatory force, but in scenario "1." your overreaction was itself an initiation of force. [*]

[*] That is, assuming that the man with the toy gun was not objectively a threat to the life of your wife. I assume this, because, otherwise, I see no point in having introduced two scenarios.

That's right, and making that point was my intent in presenting those scenarios.

Tony, it is my view that your stated position mixes categories -- mixes perspectives on the facts -- and I introduced my "4." with those mixed categories in the hope of having you address the points made earlier in this thread, points which you said "do not appear to have addressed the arguments and reasons for my view that I presented in it."

If you are willing to accept one view stated here, then I would hope you would address a contrary perspective. You were quoted as saying "if someone mistakenly thinks you're about to kill his wife, and shoots you to prevent it, he is NOT wrong, and has NOT violated your rights, *if the circumstances are such that his mistaken belief is objective and rationally justified*," to which I responded:

I disagree with this.

Perhaps it will be illustrative to remind ourselves about one aspect of "truth." The concept of "truth" identifies a type of relationship between a proposition and the facts of reality (OPAR, p. 165). In that sense "truth" is partly epistemological, and partly metaphysical. If we were rationally justified in identifying a truth, only to later find out we were mistaken, i.e., that the metaphysical component, the fact of reality, was not the case, then we never really had the truth. We thought we had the truth, but, in fact, what we thought to be true had no correspondence to reality.

Likewise, in the shooting circumstance quoted above, the shooter was rationally justified in thinking that he was using retaliatory force. But, as it turns out, he was mistaken, and his use of force was not, in fact, retaliatory, and was itself an initiation of force. Just as with "truth," he was acting on a justified belief, but the facts of reality trump any belief.

If you do not accept what I say in this short statement, then, succinctly, in what way is it in error?

Also, I now see that a quote earlier given was actually a quote of yours. You said:

"I think it follows from this that because rights are moral claims upon the actions of others, that a violation of someone's rights is necessarily an immoral act." (Bold added.) I think this is a very crucial part of your argument, one with which I disagee. In fact, I responded to this by saying:

I do not understand this claim. Can an act be immoral, even if the one who acts is not acting immorally? I have in mind a simple accident in which, say, another person's property is damaged. If the act was truly an accident -- not intentional and could not be reasonably forseen -- then the one who acts cannot be deemed immoral. Yet, surely the damage to the other person's property is a violation of that person's rights. To claim, then, in those circumstances, an immoral act, is to claim that the act is immoral even though the one who acts is not acting immorally. That I do not understand.

And, I amplified by generalizing the issue:

For clarity, let's remove the accidental and consider instead, honest disagreements among men in contractual disputes. If these are honest disagreements then neither party in the dispute can be said to be acting immorally. But if the basis for the dispute does not involve an issue of rights -- more specifically, a violation thereof -- then what justification would there be for a government to act? My understanding of a proper government is that the philosophical basis for the protection and enforcement of contracts under civil law -- and, more generally, all law itself -- is the protection of individual rights. If rights have not been violated, either criminally or civilly, then on what basis would a proper government act in the legal realm?

That is why I think that a violation of rights act can occur without the one who acts being immoral, whether the circumstances are accidental or just honest disagreement. But, as I said previously, I have never thought much about this issue before, and the issue itself is far from my important interests or expertise, so I welcome any corrections to my argument.

This argument gets to the heart of my second disagreement with your position. I have here given my arguments against your view, and would be interested in hearing your response.

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Because of a friend's personal emergency, I do not know how much time I will have to devote to this thread. I thought I wouldn't have any at all, but given the number of tests we are waiting on, I have much more time to do absolutely nothing but wait than I expected. Instead of twiddling my thumbs here, I thought I would take my mind off things and respond:

Tony's original example was:

if someone mistakenly thinks you're about to kill his wife, and shoots you to prevent it, he is not wrong, and has not violated your rights, if the circumstances are such that his mistaken belief is objective and rationally justified.

This example is one where an error has been made by the shooter. He "mistakenly thinks" another man is initiating force against his wife. As such, he thinks his force is retaliatory force. In fact, thought, it is not. It is the shooter who is initiating force. Tony's claim was that, even though the dead man had force initiated against him, the dead man's rights had not been violated. And he claimed the dead man's rights had not been violated because the -shooter- didn't think he was initiating force at the time.

I disagreed, stating the dead man's rights had been violated.

Ultimately, Tony presented a new example to address this claim. However, this new example never addressed the issue originally under dispute. In the new example, there is no question as to who is initiating force. The "erratic man" is explicitly threatening to initiate force. That is a violation of the wife's rights. As Stephen pointed out, in all the examples, the husband is responding to the initiation of force (or threat thereof). He is responding to the violation of his wife's rights. His force is "retaliatory" not an initiation.

So in this new example, we have a situation where there is no 'mistake'. The "erratic man" is the one who introduced force to their interaction with his threat to kill the wife. The only question remaining, as I pointed out, is what qualifies as a just response to this violation. But, as I also pointed out, regardless of that response, the fact remains that the "erratic man" has violated the wife's rights.

--

In his reply, Stephen does make an interesting point. He says:

"1." your overreaction was itself an initiation of force. [*]

I think I might know where you are going here, but I have a question about this statement. How is an action which you specifically identified as a "reaction" - ie specifically identified as a -response- to the initiation of force - also identified as an initiation? If someone is indeed responding to force, then force has in fact already been initiated in their interaction, has it not?

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Also, I now see that a quote earlier given was actually a quote of yours.
Yes. As I indicated to Paul in Post 12, my attribution of the quote to Tony did not work for some reason - and I didn't notice this fact until Paul pointed it out. Obviously it was not my intent to present a position I was actively arguing against as my own position. Again, I apologize for the confusion this may have caused.

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I agree completely with the following statement, but I would like to explain, briefly, why I agree with it. (This statement apparently was put forth by Tony, according to Fred Weiss, as quoted by Tony.)

"if someone mistakenly thinks you're about to kill his wife, and shoots you to prevent it, he is not wrong, and has not violated your rights, if the circumstances are such that his mistaken belief is objective and rationally justified."

There is a hierarchical connection between rights and physical force. Stephen Speicher hinted at this in his 6:10am response today. In Tony’s discussion, however, I see an emphasis on rights and their definition rather than on physical force and its relation to rights. Basically, as I understand the relationship, the purpose of rights is to protect people from those who would initiate physical force against them. It is man’s need for freedom from physical force that gives rise to the existence and nature of individual rights.

Furthermore, one cannot arrive at an understanding of what physical force is or isn’t, without first grasping the concepts of property, values, and “rightful ownership” of values (including property). By "rightful" here I mean morally right. Physical force is described in OPAR [p. 310] as follows:

“Physical force is coercion exercised by physical agency, such as, among many other examples, by punching a man in the face, incarcerating him, shooting him, or seizing his property.”

My own elaboration of this description of physical force is: depriving someone of a value to which he is rightfully entitled, by physical means and without the victim’s consent. This description covers mere vandalism as well as theft and/or assault and battery, and it applies to initiation of physical force as well as retaliatory physical force. The distinction between initiation and retaliation enters the analysis when we begin to judge whether or not the use of physical force is proper, and under what circumstances.

So, if someone is threatening to kill your wife and brandishing a weapon with which to do it, you’re entitled to retaliate, as I see it. The aggressor’s action constitutes physical force, and it’s an initiation of physical force against you if you haven’t engaged in any directly connected prior physical force against him. If you somehow happen to know that the alleged “weapon” is really just a harmless toy that cannot pose any real threat, then the aggressor is not subjecting you to physical force – or, at least, not to anywhere near the degree that would justify shooting him in retaliation (although aggressive movement toward you or your wife, even without a weapon of any kind, could be sufficient justification for whatever degree of forcible resistance it takes to defend yourself, your loved ones, and your property).

Questions about what “rights” refer to and when they have been violated are, in my opinion, magnificently resolvable by “’physical force analysis.” As OPAR explains [p. 359]:

“Ayn Rand’s discovery that rights can be violated only by the use of physical force is historic. It is essential to the proper completion of the theory of rights, giving men, for the first time, the means to implement the theory objectively.”

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In his reply, Stephen does make an interesting point. He says:

"1." your overreaction was itself an initiation of force. [*]

I think I might know where you are going here, but I have a question about this statement. How is an action which you specifically identified as a "reaction" - ie specifically identified as a -response- to the initiation of force - also identified as an initiation? If someone is indeed responding to force, then force has in fact already been initiated in their interaction, has it not?

I do not consider the use of retaliatory force to be a blank check on one's actions (not to imply that Brian does). An act of force that goes beyond what in fact is justified as retaliatory, is just as much an initiation of force as if retaliatory force was never at first justified. To give an extreme example: If a child breaks a window of my house while he is playing ball in the street, and if the parent refuses to pay for the damage, I have no right to shoot him. I do, however, have every right to request retaliatory force be used by the state to enforce my rightful claim against the parent. For that, the state has established legal procedures to adjudicate and enforce my claim.

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Tony, it is my view that your stated position mixes categories -- mixes perspectives on the facts...

I don't see how my position "mixes categories" or perspectives on the facts. Can you clarify this point?

The two scenarios I presented are identical except for the actor's context of knowledge. In one case, he knows that the gun is fake, and in the other, he doesn't. I agree that this difference makes a world of difference in one's evaluation of the situation, but that was my point -- that the actor's context of knowledge is crucially relevant in evaluating whether or not a rights violation has occurred. Is this what you have in mind when you write about "mixing categories," or do you intend something else?

With regard to your comments about the nature of truth: if I understand you correctly, what you are trying to do is to reduce the issue only to the question of whether or not an initiation of force occurred "in fact," independent of the actor's context of knowledge. What I am arguing is precisely that an in-context evaluation of whether or not a rights violation has occurred involves more information than this. Consequently, absent a specific objection to the logic of my argument, I'm not sure how to respond except by repeating that argument.

Clearly, you agree that there is an important difference between the two scenarios I presented. If I understand you correctly, you agree that in the first scenario, you are violating the man's rights, and in the second, you are not. But also, and again if I understand you correctly, you are saying that the issue of whether or not an initiation of force occurred in fact does not differ between these two cases. If I'm describing your position correctly, then what that should imply is that whether an initiation of force occurred, "in fact" and considered independently of the context of knowledge of the actors, is not sufficient to determine whether or not a violation of rights has occurred. Since that was my thesis, I have to assume that I'm mischaracterizing your position at some point in the foregoing. Can you help identify where we're writing at cross purposes here?

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There is a hierarchical connection between rights and physical force. Stephen Speicher hinted at this in his 6:10am response today. In Tony’s discussion, however, I see an emphasis on rights and their definition rather than on physical force and its relation to rights.

Exactly. And my reason is that I think that the former are more fundamental to the meaning and nature of rights than the latter. They are what provide the reasons for and the context which delineates the applicability of the latter principle.

Basically, as I understand the relationship, the purpose of rights is to protect people from those who would initiate physical force against them. It is man’s need for freedom from physical force that gives rise to the existence and nature of individual rights.

I agree, but your second sentence suggests the reason why I would have stated the first one slightly differently. The purpose of rights is to guide mens' actions in a social context, to enable them to take the actions necessary to sustain human life. This latter depends, at root, on the ability to think and to act on the basis of that thinking to create life-sustaining values -- to which the initiation of force is fundamentally opposed.

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I do not consider the use of retaliatory force to be a blank check on one's actions (not to imply that Brian does).

Quite correct. I do not consider the use of retaliatory force to be a blank check on one's actions. In fact I had given a similar example as you provided to make just that point.

An act of force that goes beyond what in fact is justified as retaliatory, is just as much an initiation of force as if retaliatory force was never at first justified.
This is what I asked about in my previous question. I understand you to be saying here that the response is an initiation. My point is that this is a seeming contradiction. An initiation of force is the introduction of force where it previously was not being used. It is the -beginning- of the use of force. Force used in response is force used -after- force has already been introduced. It is the -continuation- of the use of force. How is a continuation of the use of force the beginning of the use of force?

With the example of the child, I think you have introduced an element which confuses the issue because it did not exist in the previous example. In the child example, you have delegated the right to respond by force in this type of instance to someone else - ie to the government. In other words, you have introduced an element where both parties are no longer using force (or making threats thereof) and have delegated to government the right of judgment and response. Put simply, neither is in physical contact with the other without consent. Voluntary interaction has been restored. Thus any force they use which occurs after the voluntary interactions were restored qualifies as a new case of force. It qualifies as a new interaction between them. And thus whoever began the use of force in this new interaction is properly identified as the initiator of force here.

In the example of the "erratic man" who is threatening to kill the wife, however, there has been no cessation of force. There has been no return to voluntary interaction between the parties. Thus, to reiterate, I certainly agree one's response to this initiation of force can be unjust (and that one should be held responsible for it). But I am not yet sure how the response to the initiation is itself classified as an "initiation" of force, since the force has yet to be stopped - ie since voluntary interaction between them has yet to be restored.

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