G E Morton:
But mere effects, per se, do not require justification. The only effects which require justification are those which impose injury or loss upon other moral agents, i.e., they violate others' rights.
You probably think I'm being pedantic or getting hung up on semantics here - or just waffling. But I think all actions and words (at least theoretically) have to be assessed to find out whether their effects are benign or impose injury/loss. It is in that sense that actions such as speaking have to be "justified". Clearly there are some acts of speaking that do
cause injury/loss or violate others' rights and are
therefore proscribed. Libel or incitement to violence, for example. So speech is not really fundamentally different from other types of action. They all have to be justified in the sense that they all have to be shown not to violate the rights of others.
But I guess you would reply that the difference is in the initial presumption: innocent until proved guilty. All acts, including the act of speaking, are assumed to be harmless to others unless shown to be harmful. Clearly some are obviously harmful so that process is instantaneous. I agree that you are right about that.
You are certainly not required to "justify" your speech merely because it discomfits or offends someone. Other people's opinions of and emotional reactions to your speech are their problems, not yours.
Yes. I agree.
The same holds for other, non-speech behaviors. If they impose no injury or loss on anyone else, they require no justification, no matter how many others find them ridiculous, unseemly, distasteful, "unnatural," blasphemous, "politically incorrect," shocking, or offensive. No one has a right not to be offended, and no one has any duty to conform his lifestyle to other people's tastes, preferences, or dogmas.
Seat belt laws can be justified on the grounds that they reduce the risks to others, such as passengers in your car and other drivers, by helping you maintain control of your vehicle.
And, as I said, they can be justified on the grounds that if I die horribly in a car crash, even if nobody else is involved, there is an emotional and financial cost to my family, to some paramedics who have to scrape my remains off the road, to society in bearing the cost of treating me, etc. When all of those, sometimes deeply hidden or delayed, costs to others are factored out, if we still think that seat-belts should be compulsory (to stick to this example) then we are saying that there is an element of that law that is purely intended to protect us from our own actions. I think there is. I think that when you boil off all direct and indirect effects on others you're not quite left with zero. If you see what I mean.
But Western governments have indeed enacted many Nanny State laws --- laws intended to "protect" persons from themselves --- since the middle of the last century. No such laws are morally defensible (and most are counter-productive)..
We'd probably have to argue about individual cases involving particular examples of these "Nanny State" laws. Once the effects on others had been factored out ("boiled off"), we might still disagree on at least some of them but I don't know for sure. I personally am not wholly opposed to the concept that is sometimes characterised using that phrase "Nanny State". But I suspect a lot of discussion would first take place as to the extent that laws which appear at first glance to be pure "Nanny State" laws (designed purely to prevent self-harm) actually have a large element of protecting society from the indirect and hard-to-pin-down consequences of our actions.
If I went through that process it's possible that I will find that I actually agree with you in principle and that my reason for supporting a particular "Nanny State" law was actually because of these kinds of indirect effects on others. But I also suspect that you might find that, due to the complex webs of inter-dependency, there are far fewer acts that harm only ourselves than we think there are. In which case it's not black and white. There's always going to be a judgement call as to how far we go in assessing the harmful effects of our actions. The world doesn't divide cleanly into "acts that harm only ourselves" and "acts that harm others". It's a greyscale.
Many people, including myself, would take into account the effect on society as a whole of some actions: the kind of society that we regard as "healthy". For example, although I wouldn't class myself as a socialist and I don't regard inequalities in material wealth as inherently wrong, I do think that extremes
of material inequality in a society can have a tendency to harm all, both rich and poor - high crime rates, the necessity for gated communities and so on. So such things as taxation to fund public services like health and education can be justified using a long-term argument about harm to society as a whole, even if they can't be justified by an individual-to-individual action-causes-harm argument. I suspect you disagree?
That is the standard utilitarian justification for free speech (e.g., Mill's). It is sound, but superfluous. Speaking is an innate ability with which nearly all persons are naturally endowed. There is no a priori need to morally justify the exercise of natural abilities. We need not justify walking or sleeping in most cases either; they only require justification when they result in loss or injury to others. Someone who proposes a restriction on one of those abilities, on the other hand, must justify that action, since it prima facie imposes a loss on the person so restricted.
Yes so I think what you're talking about is essentially burden of proof. Innocent until shown to be guilty. OK, I agree, but with all the provisos in my previous comments!
That is a non sequitur. You cannot deduce "X must be restricted" from, "X affects other people." You'll need a whole lot of moral argument to link that conclusion to your premise. Specifically, you'll need to show that the effects in question are morally relevant, i.e., that they impose injuries or losses to someone.
Yes and, as I said above, this is where we have to make a judgement call (i.e. a somewhat arbitrary decision based on personal preference) as to how far we go in assessing the consequences of actions. What about cases where the injury or loss is so broad or intangible that we can't unambiguously tie one individual's acts to another individual victim of those acts?
I guess another classic example might be something like climate change. Leaving aside any detailed technical/scientific argument about the extent to which climate change is (a) harmful and (b) caused by human actions with viable alternatives. Do you think, as a general rule, that legislation to penalise CO2
emissions can be justified in your libertarian (if I can call it that) world view?
No. It's a difference in the nature of the weapons. If I justifiably shoot a burglar, I impose no loss or risk on anyone else. But I could not use a nuke (or even a hand grenade, in most cases) for that purpose without inflicting injuries on many others.
But you haven't used your WMD. You've just bought it. You say that it would be irrational to buy a WMD without intending to ever use it, but (in a libertarian world) who am I to judge your motives as irrational? Until you actually use it, your motives are entirely your own business aren't they?
And what about weapons somewhere in between small firearms and WMDs? How about, say, assault rifles? In deciding whether the use of a weapon is likely only to serve the purpose of personal protection, how far do you think we ought to go and what ought we to take into account? Should we, for example, take into account the purpose for the weapon that was intended by the manufacturer?
No, it isn't a speculation. The proposition, "If Alfie uses his nuke, injuries to others will result," is a certainty. The antecedent "Alfie uses his nuke" is not certain, but that is irrelevant. I assume Alfie wishes to own that weapon because he foresees possible future uses for it. If none of them are allowed because injuries to others will result, then Alfie's desire to own it is irrational.
Yes, the proposition "If Alfie uses his nuke, injuries to others will result," is a certainty. But as you said, the premise "Alfie uses his weapon" is not. As I said above, in a libertarian world, why should our assumptions about what Alfie wishes to do in the future and our opinions about his rationality be used to confiscate his property? For all we know, he might just admire the weapon's design. Until he actually commits a crime, isn't that none of our business?