Re: Rights and Morality: The Primethic Decision

Gary Lloyd (
Thu, 2 Oct 1997 18:25:36 -0400 (EDT)

At 11:58 PM 10/1/97 -0700, Ken Wiebe wrote:
>At 08:31 PM 10/1/97 -0400, Gary Lloyd wrote:
>>OK, fair enough. Here are my definitions:
>>***"Defense" is an individual's proportionate resistance to a threat of
>>subjectively valued loss of life, liberty, or possessions, while
>>"aggression" is another individual's deliberate attempt to cause such
>>Note that my definitions describe objectively observable phenomena.
>Putting on my skeptic hat, I would make the following observations:
>Your definition of defense -
>>***"Defense" is an individual's proportionate resistance to a threat of
>>subjectively valued loss of life, liberty, or possessions,
>- relies on a number of other things whose definition can be contested.
>I'll just hit the high points here.
>'Proportionate' is a value judgement, and very subjective.
>'Threat' is in the eye of the beholder.
>'Possessions' is problematic, since some people (thieves) have possessions
>that they do not have ownership over. Defending stolen goods from a
>rightful owner is clearly wrong (immoral).

Clearly, recovering stolen goods is a proportionate response to a previous

>Your definition of 'aggression' -
>>"aggression" is another individual's deliberate attempt to cause such
>- could easily be interpeted to mean that a rightful owner attempting to
>recover stolen goods is acting aggressively.

See above.

>Or perhaps his idea of
>'proportionate' differs from somebody else's, so how do we determine what
>is (and is not) a correct proportionate response?

By agreement. See below.

>Anyhow, those are some of the responses I've seen, and they do need a good

A description of an objectively observable phenomenon must describe that
phenomenon as it is, not as the observer wishes it to be.

The distinction between "proportionate" and "disproportionate" is clear at
it's extremes, and ambiguous in the middle. Still, it must be a part of the
definition of A/D, because a disproportionate response transforms the
defender into the aggressor.

"Threat" is another term that is clear at the extremes and ambiguous in the
middle. It must also be a part of the definition of A/D, because individuals
clearly defend against credible threat.

Note also that my definition could be applied to non-human A/D, and yes,
defense against rising floodwaters, as well. The question is not whether we
like the definition or not, but whether it accurately describes the
phenomenon. If it does, then it is a universal definition.

What does this all add up to? A/D is clearly distinguishable at it's
extremes and ambiguous in the middle. All of the ambiguity must be worked
out by agreement. For this, we need the right to consent. The right to
consent comes from the primethic decision.

In unilaterally deciding that defense against aggression, in the human
context, is moral, and aggression, in the human context, is immoral, I am
claiming the right to consent for myself, and reciprocoly offering the same
right to all others, with the stipulation that I consider it moral to defend
myself against aggression.

If others make the same commitment (the primethic decision), we have the
basis (Schelling Point) from which to negotiate further agreements.

What falls out of the primethic decision is the basis of both rights and
morality. It might well be called the libertarian decision.

>>My criticism is not so much of your definitions as your tendency to regard
>>them as proof of your arguments. Why is aggression immoral? Your usual
>>response is to say that it is immoral by definition. Even if your definition
>>were standard, it still doesn't answer the question.
>I define it that way to distinguish aggression from violence. Essentially,
>aggression is the immoral use violence (or fraud or whatever) against a
>person who does not consent to the use of such violence. The usual example
>to illustrate this is: boxing matches. Boxers are intent upon initiating
>and inflicting injury each other - and usually do. Yet, it is not
>aggression. Somewhere in the definition of 'aggression' we need to include
>the notion of 'consent'.
>>I suspect you are trying to avoid the unavoidable, so let me answer the
>>question for you. Aggression, *in your opinion*, is immoral, because you
>>have made the primethic decision. Please correct me if I'm wrong.
>I don't know what a "primethic decision" is, or what factor(s) such a
>decision might be based on. I doubt that I can decide much of anything
>without first reasoning out the decision, and that can't happen if I don't
>know what factors are relevent. Consequently, I would have to say that I
>have made no "primethic decisions" whatsoever.

Does the above help?

When the boot of government is on your neck,
it doesn't matter if it's left or right.