Tuesday, December 06, 2016

John Locke, Natural Moral Law, and Human Moral Convention

264 days until I am sitting in my first class.

Time keeps on slipping by.

I have a few people looking at “A Motive Consequentialist Theory of Condemnation and Punishment”. We will see what I get back in terms of edits. Once those edits are in, then I will distribute it to a wider audience.

In the meantime, I have been looking at what I should write next – and it seems like it may be something of practical political importance. With the election of Donald Trump, I am thinking that some things need to be said about reforming the political system to prevent the harms that the current systems inflict on innocent people.

As I see it, the current system is leading to the establishment of “corporate feudal fiefdoms” where those who have the money to hire batteries of lawyers and “public relations” forms are setting themselves as – literally – owners of the Earth to whom the rest of us must either agree to be servants or . . . well . . . be invited to leave (or, what amounts to the same thing, to go off into some corner and die).

My reason for writing it is that this simply seems to be what is on my mind recently. In it, I am combining many of the claims that I have made here and on Facebook since Trump’s elections (and some themes I have discussed before that).

Part of my inspiration for this comes from John Locke’s Two Treatises of Government - which I have now read once and I am going through a second time to try to make sure that I capture important points.

Indeed, one of the things that I am going to put into this paper as I write it is a criticism of some of Locke's main points

Here's the biggest difference between Locke and myself.

Locke believes that there are intrinsic moral values - some things are just intrinsically good. He calls this the "law of reason" and - one of the dictates of the law of reason - is that it is intrinsically wrong for one person to take the property of another. This violates a law of nature and is to be considered as a declaration of war on the part of the taker against the original owner of the property. Locke also states that if the taker takes even a single grain of wheat to eat or crumb of bread from one who has plenty, this is comparable to threatening to kill the owner and it becomes legitimate, in turn, to kill the would-e thief for protection.

I deny that there are any intrinsic values. There are, instead, the rules that people agree upon for their mutual well-being. This may very well include a rule to take some grains of wheat from those who have plenty - and to give those grains of wheat to those who have none. If those who have plenty want to complain about the rule - let them return to a state of nature where they have nobody from which to trade or to bargain, and survive by their own effort. The fact that the substantial portion of their possessions (more than enough to see them fed, clothed, and well taken care of) are secure in a state of civil society should be sufficient incentive to agree to the bargain.

Besides, people in a state of nature have no reason to agree to a set of rules that makes a small portion of humanity the owners of everything - or nearly everything - forcing the vast majority of humanity to serve substantially as their servants for food and medical care - and to be discarded (left without food or medical care) if it should be the case that those who own the planet and all things on it have no interest in their welfare, or cannot find a use for them.

The sentiments from which Locke draws his rules of property are certainly sentiments that the very wealthy would like all of us to have - a sentiment by which we agree that there is a natural and intrinsic right that they own the bulk of the Earth and that the rest of us have a duty to be their servants for scraps. And they have the money to promulgate this view and to create and reinforce these sentiments within us. However, they are just sentiments, and they do not, in fact, identify an intrinsic moral law. It is just a way of seducing us into a set of beliefs that make us peaceful and obedient servants - as opposed to free and independent people demanding a different set of rules where the earth and its products are more evenly divided.

The arguments for this position are going to find their way into this new paper that I am writing. It will effectively be a treatise - like Locke's treatise - regarding the rules by which we should regard each other and the attitudes we should take towards the government and its laws - and those who manipulate the structure of institutions to make themselves masters of the Earth and the rest of us their servants.

No comments: