Roderick Long has written his argument for "natural law". We should first note that the term "natural law" has multiple definitions. Even Long himself confused the definitions.
Now we can see where Rollins' critique has gone wrong. Rollins is thinking of natural rights as if they were a special kind of legal right — a right legislated by God or Nature rather than by the state. Given that assumption, what he says makes sense: legal rights are of little value unless they are also de facto rights. (When Rollins refers to "real rights" as "those rights actually conferred and enforced by the laws of a State or the customs of a social group," he clearly has in mind de facto rights.) Just as it does me no good to have a legal right on paper that the state pays lip service to in theory but systematically ignores in practice, so it does me no good to have a natural right inscribed in the Law of Nature if no one is willing or able to enforce that right.
But this is the wrong way to think about natural rights. A natural right isn't a legal right, it's a normative right. To claim that natural rights don't protect anything is to miss the point; natural rights are supposed to receive protection, not to provide it. Likewise, the function of Natural Law is not to protect any claims, but rather to tell us which claims deserve protection. As normative concepts, natural rights provide guidance for people's conduct. Blaming natural rights for not protecting us is like blaming a cookbook for not making dinner. Cookbooks don't make dinner for us; their purpose is to teach us how to make dinner for ourselves. Likewise, Natural Law doesn't lead our lives for us; its purpose is to guide us in the living of our own lives.3
Long here wins the first argument.
However, Long had used a different definition of "natural rights" than what Rothbard uses. In addition, he has conflated "natural rights" and "natural law," which could mean two distinct topics.
A user named "wilderness" at the Mises Community has made the same mistake.
Taken to the further extreme it's why some can't figure out why protecting somebody's natural rights is in each individuals best interest. It's why somebody comes along and states, they "don't give a damn about liberty"... it's sickening. And why they can't understand murder, rape, and theft is not helpful. Secondly, cause of somebody like Rollins who is really confused.
Wilderness has conflated the "natural rights" written in the U.S. Constitution with the "natural law" of Rothbard.
Rollins is more willing than most critics of Natural Law to face the logical consequences of his position. But if morality is merely a tool for manipulating other people into doing what one wants, one wonders why people ever wrestle privately with moral dilemmas, why they ever find themselves compelled by conscience to do something that is unwelcome not only to themselves but to those around them.
More importantly, though, the question is why we should accept Rollins' claim that nothing is right or wrong and nothing is entitled to reverence. These are extraordinary claims, claims that run contrary to our ordinary beliefs and practices, and so the burden of proof rests with the person making such claims.
Long used a different definition of 'morality' than Rollins. Rollins does not reject 'morality' in the sense what Long uses. Therefore, Long made a strawman argument.
Long argues this from the "performative contradiction." Some self-identified "objectivists" use performative contradiction argument to criticize "subjectivism." They argue that "subjectivists believe that everything originate from subjective preference, but deny subjectivism itself as a subjective preference." However, the self-identified "objectivists" use a different definition of "subjectivism" than what the self-identified "subjecitivists" themselves do. The self-identified "subjectivists" could refute that argument by showing that each side uses a different definition of "subjective." They use the term "subjective" to mean beliefs and values in the mind.
Although we should not reject the "performative contradiction" as a valid argument, the performative contradiction argument has potential flaws. Its flaws stem from the soundness of its premises. The soundness of a performative contradiction argument depends on the soundness of its premises.
Some examples of performative contradiction arguments:
- It is self-contradictory to reject the Aristotelian laws of identity, the excluded middle, and non-contradiction.
- It is self-contradictory to reject Ludwig von Mises' law of human action.
- It is self-contradictory to reject Ludwig von Mises' psychological egoism.
- It is self-contradictory to reject "cogito, ergo sum."
- It is self-contradictory to reject Murray Rothbard's argument for self-ownership.
- It is self-contradictory to reject Hans-Hermann Hoppe's argumentation ethics.
- It is self-contradictory to reject Stephen Kinsella's estoppel argument.
- It is self-contradictory to reject Stefan Molyneux's universally preferable behavior.
- It is self-contradictory to reject Ayn Rand's, Douglas Rasmussen's, and Douglas Den Uyl's attempts to derive "ought" from "is."
Long conflated five different definitions of "amoralism."
In the moral case, for example, Rollins, a self-proclaimed "amoralist," chooses to hold on to what most would view as a highly implausible belief — the belief that there is nothing wrong with "murder, rape, robbery, or torturing children" — and to reject more plausible beliefs whenever they come into conflict with that one.
The first definition of "amoralism" signifies the descriptive notion that "rights do not tangibly exist." In the second sense, the term "amoralism" functions as a mere synonym for "quasi-realism" or "moral fictionalism." The third sense signifies the notion that using terms such as "right" and "wrong" in describing ethical commands can create conflicts between the interpretation of rights and grey areas. In the fourth sense "amoralism" signifies that "I do not feel any empathy for others. Therefore, I want to legalize rape and murder." The fifth sense of "amoralism" signifies irrelevant to morality, for example, "science is amoral because it does not deal with normative opinions."
Rollins probably used "amoralism" in the third sense, while Long probably used "amoralism" in the fourth sense.
We may think of our evolutionarily-implanted normative impulses as playing a role in moral reasoning analogous to the role that sensory experience plays in scientific reasoning. The data of the senses are one of the most important sources of our beliefs about how the universe works. But we are not confined to the sensory level. Our capacity for reason drives us to try to build up a conceptual picture of the universe that makes sense; and although we rely heavily on sensory data in building that picture, if we have to sacrifice some sensory data in order to achieve a scientific picture that makes a little more sense — if we have to decide that, despite initial appearances, the earth isn't flat, the sun doesn't circle it, and tables aren't continuously solid all the way down — then some of what the senses tell us may have to be scrapped for the sake of a more intellectually satisfying theory.
Long has used confusing terms such as "sensation," "perception," and "conception." He then equivocates "evolutionarily-implanted normative impulse" with the "sensory level." He has failed to define these three terms.
Likewise, our evolutionarily-implanted moral impulses are one of the most important sources of our beliefs about how we ought to live. But we are not confined to the instinctual level. Our capacity for reason drives us to try to build up a conceptual picture of right and wrong that makes sense; and although we rely heavily on innate impulses in building that picture, if we have to disregard some of our innate impulses in order to achieve a moral picture that makes a little more sense — if we have to decide that, despite our initial impulses, we shouldn't kill animals for food — then some of what our moral instincts tell us may have to be scrapped for the sake of a more intellectually satisfying ethic. Once again, a purely evolutionary account of our sense of morality, however illuminating, will be importantly incomplete.
Long presupposes a dichotomy between "innate impulse" and "reason." He then equivocates "innate impulse" with "evolutionarily-implanted normative impulse." I believe that Long has used a strawman argument against Rich Hammer. Hammer does not want to abolish "ethical reasoning" altogether in place of "evolutionarily-implanted normative instincts." If Hammer however wanted to abolish "ethical reasoning" altogether, then he would not have written his book.
This article is yet another example of how terminological differences can create chaos. Just imagine if we had resolved all of our terminological differences...