Critique I

I opened Flipboard on my phone the other day to check on the headlines. An article under the topic of “philosophy” caught my eye right away; It’s Time for the Left to Stop Imposing its Morality on Everyone. Long and descriptive, I thought as I tapped on the article. It loaded The Federalist banner quickly, as the article took a few seconds. I knew after the first few lines I would be writing a response to Hrand Tookman’s article. So here is my critique. I tried very hard to find fault in his reasoning and arguments, rather than resort to ad hominem attacks.

If I were going to explain to a group of people why they should not impose their moral beliefs on me, I would define a few things. Here is a short list:

  • I should explain my understanding of their morality
  • I should explain the mechanism used to impose morality
  • I actually have to explain why they should stop forcing their version of morality on me

The Author’s understanding of “the Left’s” Morality

The author explains his understanding of “the Left’s” morality. Certainly, he thinks that “leftists” mean well, while they are forcing morality on everyone. He literality says that people on the Left “are operating from a place of good intentions”. He also says “we both want liberty and opportunity for all”, referring to people on either side of the political spectrum. However, he does not go further than saying their version of morality is simply “Giving is good”. I do not know who is giving what in this moral system, because the author does not mention it. He does eventually kind of hint that workers are the “who” and taxes are the “what”, but he does not clarify this.

Eventually, the author says “The bad news is that since they (Liberals) also believe the ends justify the means, they’re willing to create as much division, disparity, and destruction as necessary en route to achieving what they believe to be “good.””. Clearly, he believes that the ends do not justify the means. The phrase “the-ends-justify-the-means” is actually associated with a moral system known as consequentialism. The most basic form of this can be summed up as the following: the most moral action is one that results in the best consequence for all.

Oddly enough, consequentialism stands in opposition to philosophers such as John Locke and Immanuel Kant, who were deontologists. This form of morality is based in the motive behind an action, rather than the result.

Now, there are problems with both theories. Consequentialists have to deal with situations like the one that arise in the short story Those Who Walk Away From Omelas by Ursula K. Le Guin, where torturing one child provides complete peace and prosperity for a city. Of course, once this child dies, another is selected for the process to begin again. Deontologists must account for ill motives. They cannot do this without borrowing the ends-justify-the-means part of consequentialism.

As I mentioned, the author describes the Liberal’s system of morality. He does not do so in detail, nor does he give it a name. He simply describes a very basic definition of consequentialism.


“The Left’s” Mechanism of Imposing their Morality

Next, does the author explain how the Liberals are imposing their version of morality on everyone else? Again, he kind of clears this hurdle. Essentially, all the author says is that Liberals (and apparently, some Conservatives) are using the government to impose morality on everyone.

“The next time Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Barack Obama, Kasich, or Jeb Bush claim morality should guide the U.S. government and that forcing government-mandated charity and morality is good for everyone…”. In this quote, he illustrates his belief that Liberals want the government to impose morality on everyone, because it is “good” for them. He lists a few Conservatives as well, how they fit into this group, I am not entirely sure.

If the Liberals in congress want to draft a bill, concerning a moral issue, that attempts to create the most desirable outcome for as many people as possible, this would be wrong, according to the author. If the Conservatives in congress want to draft a bill, concerning a moral issue, that attempts to create the most desirable outcome for as many people as possible, this would also be wrong, according to the author, since they would be using the government to impose their view of morality on everyone.

His argument is easily flipped, and used against him here. If it is wrong for X to use the government to impose their morality, then it is wrong for Z to use the government to impose their morality.

The author brings up an interesting counter argument to the Left’s delivery mechanism of morality. He claims that we do not need government to sanction morality, because we already have it. However, it seems we have it because Thomas Jefferson quoted John Locke. This seed of morality does not appear in law, but rather in a list of complaints and a declaration of war.

The author writes: “Liberty is effectively free will, minus the right to infringe on others’ rights. It’s the sole conduit between your life and your pursuit of happiness. Embedded with an inherent moral good, it’s the single instance in our founding principles that actually “imposes” morality, and it does so not purposefully but incidentally. Virtually every other law we have, as noted, is about protecting your rights.”

Before getting to the question of how free will incidentally impose morality, what is free will?

Free will was never defined. It was expected the reader would know the precise definition the author intended to use. This is highly problematic because there are many different versions of free will. I expect the author wanted the readers to use the Libertarian version of free will. However, Libertarian free will does not impose morality, it allows for there to be morality because we are free agents. No events are predestined or pre-determined. Determinism certainly does not include morality, it rejects it. Compatibilism (which is sometimes called Soft-Determinism) allows for morality, just like Libertarianism. However, it does not impose morality. We cannot begin to talk about morality (that has been imposed) if we are unsure of the thing imposing morality! In this case, free will was the thing imposing morality. Therefore, we cannot talk about free will.

I believe this counter argument falls apart because the author does not clarify free will, nor does he clarify how free will imposes morality.


Why “the Left” Should not Impose their Morality

The author does say why the Left should stop imposing their morality on everyone. He wrote that “we should reject and oppose using the government to impose morality or legislate charity, foremost because in doing so we negate the very merits of both morality and charity”. He goes on to say that being forced to be charitable or moral means there is “no merit” in the act. Basically, he thinks that if someone forces you to do something, the action becomes void of any meaning, since you are not doing it on your own accord.

I will say that I agree that being forced to do something can strip away the merit of the activity. However, being forced to jog a mile does not remove the healthy qualities of the jog. The jogger would still burn calories, which is presumably the good elements of the activity.

Suppose an individual is not a good student, nor do they enjoy any activity other than playing video games all day. However, by law, they are forced to attend school, where they learn many different practical skills and facts. Reading and writing are just two of the benefits of K-12 education. Now, at the end of their public education career, suppose the individual dislikes going to school still, however they are motivated to attend college because they know they will get a better job if they have a degree. Is this individual being forced to attend college by economic pressures, or is their action explained by their motivation to have a better job?

If you think they are being forced into college, then obviously, their action is not free and a wrong will have been committed, since they are being forced to do something they do not like. If you say the individual has been motivated into going to college, you still have to explain why this motivation has reversed or superseded their dislike of school. This is of course another rendition of the battle between consequentialism and deontology, respectfully.


In the End

Overall, the author did an alright job at explaining why he thinks “It’s Time for the Left to Stop Imposing Its Morality on Everyone”. He did explain what his belief is, regarding the Liberal view on morality. He mostly explained how he thinks Liberals are (and want to continue) imposing their beliefs on everyone. However, his argument can be flipped around and used to explain why Conservatives should not use the government to impose their moral views on everyone. Lastly, he did state his belief on why the Left should not force their views on everyone. I agree with his point here. However, I must add a word of caution: this final point can be flipped around and used on him; the Right should not impose their moral views on everyone.


One comment

  1. Hey Patrick. I’m the author of that piece. I appreciate your thoughtful analysis. Just to be clear, I’m perfectly fine having my arguments used on conservatives/Republicans as well. As noted in my piece, I don’t think our laws are about enforcing morality — but in protecting individual rights. Murder isn’t illegal because “thou shalt not kill.” It’s illegal because individuals are entitled a right to life. Having said that, I’m trying to think of a scenario where ‘my side’ might impose morality/charity, and I’m coming up blank. I don’t know how I’ll be notified when/if you reply, but I’ll check back at some point to see if you have more thoughts to share. Thanks again.


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