I’m on a philosophy kick. I’m about two thirds of the way finished with the Praxis 30-Day Philosophy challenge, on about a 40-day Tom Woods Show podcast streak (often with rush hour traffic leading to multiple episodes per day), and just read the last 75 pages of Orwell’s 1984 in one sitting.
I’ve felt somewhat of a click and want to run with it. Here it goes.
The world exists. Independent of humans, reality is cold, hard, and always present. The physical reality of the world existed before humans and so must be independent of humans.
Humans too are part of that reality. Of that independently, objectively existing world. The nature of man began in our evolutionary ancestors and was refined and refined over different species until the physical and mental capacities were developed enough so that humans could be rightfully said to have arrived.
Man was made for this world. Our nature developed in a way which would give us the best evolutionary chance of surviving within it. The objective reality of living in this universe and on this earth is the root of everything for us. From the realities of scarcity, the need to eat and have shelter, to the fact that you are ultimately the final arbiter in any choice you make no matter what–it is the facts of our existence that ultimately determine what is good or bad for us. These realities affected our physical development, and dictate what is necessary for man to survive.
The necessities required for that survival, given the realities of the Earth, is the basis for natural or human rights. This is a key point. Your rights don’t stem from governments, constitutions, philosophers, or any other human institution or being. They are an objective necessity if you are to survive in this world, given the nature of our environment and our development.
But before I go further, I have to make one more point clear. All of this reasoning and analysis is predicated on a standard of value. For me, that value is man’s life. It only makes sense to talk about rights or morality or ethics if you have an aim. This is the only way you can answer the succession of “whys” that eventually get you to the heart of the matter.
Why do we have human rights? You could answer this in several ways. But any answer requires a standard of value to measure against. If you said, “Man has natural rights because God gave them to us”, you could still follow up that statement with, “Why did God give them to us?” A thoughtful answer would look something like, “God gave us natural rights because they are absolutely necessary for our survival”. It would be a bit pointless to create man but give him no way to survive in the world. The standard of value, then, would be man’s life.
The argument is the same if you take a less religious stance and argue that humans have natural rights by virtue of being human or being a sentient being. You could answer that with, “Why does being human entitle us to rights?”. That could then be answered with, “without them man would die and we hold man’s life as our ultimate standard of value.”
And to further clarify, I have been saying “human or natural rights” just because that is the normal convention. In reality, there is only one right–the right of property/ownership. This single right can, however, be broken down into two subsections, but it is still the same, singular right. Those two subsections are the right to self-ownership and the right to external ownership.
Both of these stem from the objective realities aforementioned. The right to self-ownership is a result of a paradox that prevents it from being any other way. The argument could be made that you could be completely under the control and power of another and still survive, if only due to your controller’s benevolence. But the paradox is the following: If you don’t own yourself, then who does? Absent some horrible future machine that controls your thoughts and all of your controllable bodily functions, you are the ultimate power in your mind and behind your choices. Even in 1984, Winston ultimately chooses to love Big Brother. In the face of great pain and fear sure, but he nonetheless chooses to accept the Party in his heart.
So you own yourself because it is essentially impossible for it to be any other way. You have a right to external property because if you don’t then you can’t survive. Even if an apple tree is “collectively owned” (forgetting for a moment that “collective ownership” without a clearly defined group of individuals with clearly defined ownership shares is an oxymoron), at some point that apple you are consuming for nourishment becomes your effective property. Whether it is when you pick it, bite it, or swallow it, it becomes your property at some point. Because the same apple or piece of an apple cannot be eaten more than once.
So we have established that you have a right to own yourself and a right to own external property. You have those rights by virtue of the objective reality of our world, our nature, and our place within that world given our nature. If we hold the idea that man’s survival is preferable to his death, then we concede that man’s life is our standard of value and we must accept that man must have the right of property ownership if he is to maintain that standard of value.
Now let’s move on to morality.
Morality is right and wrong. It’s about choice and, more specifically, the effect of your choice on other individuals. For this reason, it only makes sense to talk about morality if we are discussing more than one person. But what is right and wrong?
I already established that my standard of moral value is man’s life. I will go even further and say that man’s life is the objective standard of value in the world–not just my own. This is because, at the end of the day every healthy person values their own life and their own happiness above all else. To speak of the standard of value being the community or some collective doesn’t make sense because all collectives are ultimately just groups of independent individuals who own themselves and who are responsible for their own actions.
So let’s run through this real quick:
The standard of value with which to measure morality is man’s life and happiness, man needs property rights (both internal and external) in order to maintain his life and happiness, morality has to do with our actions as they relate to other people and can be defined as right and wrong, so moral actions are those that respect the property rights of others and immoral actions are those that don’t.
What is right is what allows man to survive and achieve his own happiness, and what is wrong is what prevents man from doing that. To interfere with another person’s actions–to initiate force against them–then, is wrong and immoral. Regardless of the particular situation and regardless of the circumstances.
Morality is objective. This is because it is based on our natural right(s), which is/are based on the objective reality and necessities of the world we inhabit. The overall implication of this is that we can judge actions independent of results, and regardless of time period, region, or majority opinion. That is a powerful thing.
“I am, therefore I think.”
We exist, the world exists, and we must use our reason–our most effective evolutionary tool–to understand the world, manipulate the world, and thrive in the world. We do this by living for ourselves, and allowing others to live for themselves.
This is the good.
This is the right.
This is the practical.
This is the moral.