This puritanical libertarian operates under the following presuppositions: first, virtue is best. Second, liberty is a presupposition of virtue. I will argue for neither. Take them or leave them. From those points I examine the words of the sages and the moral judgments handed down.
Hammurabi’s Code and the later Hebrew Ten Commandments prohibit “bearing false witness”. Jesus says, “Let your yes be yes and your no be no.” Buddha says to engage in “right speech”. Socrates says “keep commitments”. Aquinas says that our rational nature is such that truth-telling is required. Kant says no “lying-promises”. All of these, and they are enough, hold before the one who wants to transcend the animal and embrace the best in humanity, the value of meaning what you say, of keeping to those sayings even when it is tough, of not misrepresenting our perceptions of reality. The question then emerges for me: Is this value universal and context-independent or not? And, if not, what conditions set it in operation?
Let me state the universal moral principle as generally as I can. I borrow from my time with Aquinas but it is not his alone. Do good and avoid evil. Let me rephrase: act rightly. Socrates says that right action brings health to the soul and wrong action mutilates the soul. I love the feedback loop insight between good (health) and acting rightly. It would be cozy and secure if such general principles resulted in universal context-less action guiding principles. I think they do. But, let us enter the swamp.
Socrates was a soldier. There is a legend of an instantiation of the Buddha killing to prevent mass-murder. Jesus put a whip to the money-changers. Aquinas defends self-defense (the natural inclination to preserve life, just war).Kant was no pacifist and defended capital punishment as well as defensive war. All of the sages, and the list is not complete, can be found to include in acting rightly what in other contexts would be viewed as wrong or evil. Thus, it is not the movement of the body in any particular way (stabbing with sword, pulling trigger, releasing guillotine, punching) that is problematic but the context.
So, let us divide action into two clear spheres: voluntary association and involuntary association. In the latter threat of or carrying out harassment, assault, theft, breach of contract. All of these are situations when one party would choose voluntarily to avoid engaging and the other party imposes itself involuntarily upon the body or property of the other.
Now, in order to make room for misrepresentation of truth, breaking contract, misleading, bearing false witness we simply need it to be the case that there is nothing special about speaking or writing which set it in a context-less category that ignores the presence or absence of involuntary association and aggression. As I stated in my last post (5.14) making bodily movements that normally amount to communication contextless would set limits on preservation of life or self-defense. But I can see no reason why what normally amounts to communication should be set aside and made special. It is a mode of activity that can be used to defend life like any other. So, it can be used for self-defense.
This puritanical libertarian does not claim to have filled in the details or handled all the hard cases. But as a general principle he cannot find an absolute context-less prohibition on lying. What he can find, easily, is a prohibition on lying in voluntary association. But that is too easy.
Finally, maybe I voluntarily made a contract that stipulated that I would never ever under any circumstances misrepresent the truth. I would then have given up my right to self-defense. But what rational creature would do such? I can find that I have made no such commitment anywhere to anyone. Multiple times though I have made commitments to defend–to the wife, to the children, and to a few close friends where there is much trust and rich association. But that is all I can find.
Let me repeat. When the meeting and association are under voluntary conditions lying is not permitted. Truth-telling is a condition of voluntary interaction and must be preserved. Hurt-feelings, offense, anger, frustration may all be “reasons” for disassociation but unless there is attack or breach of contract or other aggression I can see no reason for lying. What I can see reason for is disassociation.
The state offers no contract. It lets you think your body is yours, your property is yours, but try staying on your property without paying them what they decided without contract or even negotiation with you. Try engaging in mutually beneficial trade in areas where the state turns up its nose. Your body and property will not be treated as yours.
I can conceive of a situation in which restrictive covenants entered into voluntarily by property owners sign on the dotted line that this or that activity will not be engaged in in this or that delimited range of community. This makes sense. But that is not the situation we find ourselves in. And it is this pressure on bodies and properties which is more generative of trouble and harm than any other. The trickle down effect can hardly be measured given the size of the restrictions and aggressions have grown so large and yet so hidden. Such is life.
Buddha, Socrates, Jesus and others recommend how to live in such an environment. Preserve right action and healthy soul. Become internally powerful and then when one meets oppression one will have a profoundly significant impact when virtue meets aggression. Each of them have less to say about the details of self-defense. But self-defense starts with not soiling the soul with wrong action. This they all believed. And so, give to Caesar what is Caesar’s. But that answers NO questions about what is Caesars. It is just a basic property principle. Give a man what is his and leave him with it. Don’t steal! State, do you hear?