Today, on the Foundation for Economic Education’s website, Max Borders and I debate the question of whether liberty is best defended by reference to a single, demonstrably true moral foundation or a diversity of moral perspectives. Each of us was allotted only 1,000 words, so our arguments are quite compact. Check out the debate, and vote for the side you think makes the most sense.
My argument begins as follows:
There is only one demonstrably true moral foundation for liberty: rational egoism. It consists of many integrated principles, but it is a single foundation.
Why should people be free? Observe that “should” is a moral concept. Either it is true that people should be free, or it is not. If it is true, and if we want to defend this truth, we need to understand and articulate why it is true.
People should be free because people have a moral right to live their lives as they see fit (life), to act in accordance with their own judgment (liberty), to keep and use the product of their effort (property), and to pursue the goals and values of their choice (pursuit of happiness). This is the principle of individual rights.
Where does this principle come from? Why do individuals have rights? We have rights because rights are requirements of human life in a social context. Man’s basic means of living is his reasoning mind. We live by using reason, observing reality, identifying the nature of things, making causal connections, integrating these into concepts and principles, and acting in accordance with our consequent knowledge. To the extent that we are forced to act against our judgment, we cannot live fully as human beings; we are relegated to “living” as puppets, serfs, or slaves.
If someone points a gun at Max’s head and tells him to shut up, or to hand over his wallet, or to “choose” a different career or a different lover or the like, Max cannot act fully on his judgment; thus he cannot live fully as a human being. A human life is a life guided by the judgment of one’s own mind.
This is why initiating physical force against people is morally wrong and properly illegal: It stops them from employing their basic means of living.
What’s so important about acting on one’s judgment and living fully as a human being? That is, as a matter of fact, what each individual morally should do. We can see this by going still deeper into the philosophic foundation. . . .
This is a great opportunity to reach active-minded youth who advocate liberty on economic or pragmatic grounds but have not yet heard the Objectivist argument for liberty on moral grounds—and who might be moved by this debate to investigate further.