Non-Aggression Principle and Stoicism

A lot  of (but not all) right-libertarians and anarcho-capitalists believe in NAP or non-aggression principle.   The non-aggression principle is deontological in that it is a universal commanding principle with no exceptions that states one should never initiate aggression.  Of course it’s ok to use aggression in self-defense when someone has initiated aggression against you.  Some people believe the non-aggression principle is the only moral dictum you need in your life.

There’s only one problem:  the non-aggression principle isn’t an all encompassing ethical theory.  Suppose you’re walking home from school and you see someone drowning.  Naturally, if you’re an empathetic person, you’d want to do something to help.  Well according to the non-aggression principle, by itself, there is no moral obligation to help.  The drowning person isn’t harming you, no one is initiating aggression against the drowning person, no one is being aggressive towards you.  It wouldn’t be a form of self-defense to help the drowning person.  So what do you do?  Well, the non-aggression principle essentially doesn’t tell you what to do.  If you believe only in the NAP, then you can either just walk on by or proceed to try to help.

But there’s something really wrong with this picture of total supremacy of NAP.  It seems like you’re morally obligated to help the drowning person or try to help.  You don’t want to drown along with the other person while trying to save the drowning person obviously, so you grab a long stick and you tell the person to grab on.  Or maybe it’s just a kid that weighs significantly less than so it would be easy to swim to the kid and save the kid without much risk of you both drowning.  Or maybe yell for help or call for help if you can’t swim and there’s hardly any feasible way for you to help the person drowning.

Stoicism explains our gut feeling of why we feel we should save someone drowning.  Stoicism says we have social ethical duties to help others when they’re in need if we can help.  We are obligated to help people whether or not there is an issue of violence at hand.  The NAP is simply too limited of an ethical principle to explain our gut feelings about how we should help others in need.  It simply only cares about the need for aggression only in self-defense against a person who wrongly initiated the aggression.

Stoicism can do a lot more for us than what the NAP can accomplish.  The NAP means you only care about aggression so you don’t necessarily care about types of behaviors that aren’t aggressive but what others would find wrong like lying.  Lying isn’t a clear aggressive act so it seems like it’s permitted by the NAP.  But most people do not like lying liars.  They understand lying to help others but they don’t understand people who lie for themselves or their reputation.  And the NAP could easily be interpreted to allow for self-interested forms of lying.  You’re not actually initiating aggression by telling a falsehood purposely to trick someone.  It’s just semantics and syntax at play.

If you had to choose between ethical theories, you would fair much better with Stoicism than the NAP by itself.

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2 thoughts on “Non-Aggression Principle and Stoicism

  1. For me, as one whose duty it is to intervene for others and to proactively seek out the bad guys, this is an interesting post. Thanks.


  2. I consider myself both a stoic and anarchist. I think this view of the NAP is incorrect.

    While you say “some” anarchist think the NAP is the only moral dictum I have not met any such person.

    The NAP is still universal but not all encompassing. In this example I think it is wrong to not help a drowning child. That is not derived from the NAP. But it would be immoral of me to kidnap the person who did not help the child and lock them in a cage. That is derived from the NAP

    From a stoic perspective I think that is consistent. The child is dead and harming this person cannot bring them back. Further that person being imprisoned won’t save future children.

    Libertarian-anarchist talk often about austracism as a means of discouraging unsociable behaviour. There would be no point to this if we felt that the NAP was the only goal. We may create a covenant in our region that enforces laws outside of the NAP. Such as requiring home owners to be quite after 11:00 pm. Or cutting off people who allow children to die from social function. While we cannot force these NAP extra ideals on others we encourage their pursuit through volintary association.

    As a stoic I would pick a particular set of people to live around with morals similar to my own. Attempting to be in the crowd but not of the crowd. In theory the market place of ideas is opened by following the NAP stoicism being so useful may flourish because of people following the NAP. The NAP allows these ideas to compete and for individuals to pursue what they believe is moral. Allowing humans to best meet there ends. It’s a means to find the end not the end in itself.

    The NAP is a universal statement of what not to do, it says nothing about what one should do. Stoicism complements this by proposing certain ideal behaviour it is not in contradiction.

    I can say universally all water is wet. That doesn’t mean wine is not wet because it is not water.

    Simmilarly the NAP universally says using violence against peaceful people is immoral. That however does not mean all nonviolent acts are moral.


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