3.5 Traditional Absolutism

In contrast to those who hold that ethics can be arrived at by human beings alone--either by logical deduction or by mutual agreement--traditional absolutists hold that ethics transcend not only human reasoning and society but humanity itself. In this view, right and wrong are meaningful even without reference to philosophy or culture. That is, moral ideas do not come from the human mind or from mutual agreement, but from somewhere else. Philosophers of these schools are agreed that moral principles are absolutes, but they differ on how it is that such principles are known or discovered. In this section, several such positions are examined. The first is based on the idea that every person apparently knows there is such a thing as right and wrong.

Position 1: Ethics are discovered by an inner sense that is capable of distinguishing right from wrong.

This widely held view has both great strengths and great weaknesses. Proponents can claim that defenders of pure reason will be liable to arrive at similar conclusions because each is directed by the same inner moral sense. They can say the same of utilitarians and situationists, who (they hold) ought normally to decide that the greatest good or the greatest love are whatever the idealized inner voice says they are.

Certain of the Eastern mystic and meditative religions have a view of morality that could in some ways be thought of as falling in this absolutist category--even though they are not always directly concerned with right and wrong in the same sense as Western philosophies and theologies. Rather, some of them stress being true to one's inner self, a self that is in some fashion part of a universal life force or flow in the universe. The inner being is, in effect, a god--or at least part of a god. Self-examination in the form of meditation, particularly if the physical body can be cast aside or ignored, leads to knowledge of deity within. A life of peace with all (for all share the life force) is assumed to be the consequence of such knowledge becoming universally experienced.

In one sense, this is an absolutist theory, for it asserts the connection of the inner voice to a universal "all." In another, it is relativistic, for each individual must find the inner voice alone, and no specific and reliable absolutes for moral conduct can be offered by those who have trod the path of enlightenment before, nor is any guidance offered for recognizing when the true self has been found.

Moreover, it is not actions that are the issue for these mystics but the process of meditation toward self-actualization itself. If there is a goal, it is a state of harmony rather than a behaviour. Because of the individualistic emphasis and their process orientation, theories like these have also recently become popular in the West, where they are often combined with astrology and spiritism as parts of the so-called New Age religions. It is too soon to judge whether this latest infusion of mysticism will have any long-term effects on Western thinking and society, or whether it will prove to be a passing fad. Note however, that this theory of goodness is also directly opposed to the Judeo-Christian one, which holds that God is entirely external to the created order, and is not in some fashion contained or created within the physical universe, or actualized only by each person's meditation.

The notion that good can be found through some inner sense--whatever that sense is called--is held as doctrine by many religions, though they disagree on the details. It is also held by secular philosophers, who give other explanations for it. Some of the Greek philosophers were inclined to this view with respect to questions of ordinary right or wrong, for they regarded these concepts as self-evident--matters of common (inner) knowledge, and so not the proper focus of philosophy, which ought rather to be goodness in the sense of the virtuous. These last concepts were worth putting under the microscope of logic, but everyday morality was obvious to all, and did not need to be questioned or examined in this way. All people knew about moral rightness; philosophers had more difficult and more interesting concerns to subject to the logos.

Likewise, since everyone in society supposedly has this inner voice, a social contract ethics is also easily arrived at. All would desire the same agreement, because all have (access to) the same inner knowledge.

The chief point of contention among those who hold this absolutist position has to do with the reliability of this inner knowledge of good and evil. If every human being has such an inner sense and the moral laws detected by the sense are indeed absolute, then everyone should access the same body of knowledge and produce the same results. However, people do not all act in a way consistent with there being a single set of moral imperatives. What can one say about this?

There are at least three answers to this objection. To understand the first, it is necessary to ask once again whether knowledge necessarily results in application. It is easy to see, for example, that the knowledge of scientific principles does not imply even the existence of an application, much less an exclusive or universal one. Two people who know the same theory will not necessarily discover identical applications.

Likewise, people often act contrary to all good advice, common sense, etiquette, and even the law of the land. They can and do contradict other voices; there is no reason to suppose that they could have an inner voice but simply refuse to listen to it. That is, Socrates was wrong--knowing the good does not always imply that a person will do it. Different actions do not mean that the right is not absolute or that it is not known, merely that a person has chosen not to perform it. Whenever theory is put into action, there is an act of the will to make a decision. That a human being is capable of willing to do good in agreement with conscience implies the possibility of willing to do otherwise.

It is in an effort to make wrong choices less likely that laws are instituted, both to codify the consensus and to mandate sanctions against violators. For the sake of long-term stability, then, law ought to conform to the broad and historical international consensus (many listeners to the inner voice), with such local modification as thought necessary to suit local conditions or emergent technology. Specific issues relating to law will be discussed in Chapter 9; for now, note that a narrow self-interest, whether by one person or one nation, is unethical according to the standards of this position (It contradicts hedonism).

Second, though the existence of a moral sense has long been widely believed to be true, the notion does have its critics. Those inclined toward moral relativism dismiss the whole idea, saying that no inner sense can exist to detect moral absolutes, for there are none to detect. That is, they say that if any voice is being heard, it is merely that of the majority custom of society.

There is a third answer to the difficulty of actions not following knowledge--a Judeo-Christian one. In this tradition, the inner voice of right and wrong was given by God in the context of the fall from grace into sin. Adam and Eve ate the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (i.e., of conscience) because they chose to disobey. However, since through their act the whole human race fell into sin and out of fellowship with God, conscience cannot be a reliable guide because it is corrupt. Indeed, no person out of fellowship with God can assume that conscience is trustworthy. Such a one may not even believe there is a voice of conscience, much less act upon it.

Nonreligious proponents of the inner sense idea have a more difficult time with the knowledge/action problem. The best answer may be that bad teaching and some wrong choices corrupt the inner voice and cause it to be more easily ignored, but this answer actually weakens their position. A critic might then ask, "How do you know that the inner voice is not just collected memories of parents teaching the behaviour they wanted?" One response in return is to observe that people seem to be able to apply this sense even to situations they did not face as a child.

A weakness of that response is there are sometimes two contradictory claims to conscience. For example, one person supports nuclear arms as a deterrent against war and a second opposes such weapons altogether. One person advocates funding recombinant DNA research and a second considers such work an abomination. Similar contradictory claims of conscience are made for the use of animals in research, in vitro fertilization, abortion, surrogate motherhood, artificial intelligence research, and many other contentious techniques. In each case, two sides cite the deep conviction of what they say is conscience and cannot understand how an opposing view can be held. One may try to overcome this problem by claiming that some of the issues cited here are questions of custom, and however dearly held, customs are not morals. Such a reply may be partially correct but still does not explain away all instances of contradictory conscience. Neither is such an explanation likely to be heard by either side of a dispute whose protagonists hear only their own inner voice, not that of any others. An assertion that conscience has become corrupt may help somewhat, but only if there is something besides conscience by which it in turn can be measured and corrected. Otherwise, there is at the present time no logical difference between a corrupt conscience and none at all. Moreover, if there was a point in history before which (or after which) conscience did not exist, there must at such times also have been (be) other standards by which good and evil can be distinguished (if they can be discriminated).

It is therefore possible to go at least part way toward meeting all but a last and most serious objection to the idea of an inner moral sense: its proponents are unable to prove logically that it even exists. Its secular proponents acknowledge this weakness when they call this theory intuitionism. Yet it nonetheless has the authority of both an extensive tradition and some practicality behind it. The inner voice theory is attractive because it seems to be true in the experience of most people, despite the difficulty in bringing forward logical arguments to demonstrate the existence of this sense. Perhaps most people would concede that there is such a thing as conscience, but also agree that it can neither be proven to be reliable nor be regarded as the exclusive source of ethics. Summarizing a modified form of this position:

Everyone has an inner, though possibly flawed, moral sense.

This principle has in its favour the independent belief in it by peoples of widely differing cultures and times. It has against it that conscience is used to justify widely varying and even contradictory actions, and these differences can only be explained in terms of flaws in conscience or by the existence of other absolutes with which conscience coexists or by which conscience is judged.

Position 2: Rules for human conduct are absolute and at least ideally nonconflicting.

The variations within this general group depend on the extent to which human conduct is covered by these rules. Staunch legalists may well have a rule for everything; others will offer far fewer. Some make no claims about the origin of the rules; others are sure that absolute rules can only come from Divine revelation. They may believe that religion is the authority for their moral code, and that they must adhere to the code approved by their god. This group believes that no moral rule can ever be broken without incurring guilt. In religious legalism, the basic set of god-revealed moral laws will often be augmented by a much larger codification of institutional (church) law that is continually being added to, much as are national laws.

Legalism in all its forms has a great attraction for many people. Neither philosophy nor conscience is much needed, for the rules are readily available for consultation. Furthermore, in very religious versions, fear of a god's punishment (or institutional rejection) for the slightest violation of these codes is a powerful incentive to obey.

The problem with legalism--and with any other theory that holds that absolute norms do not conflict--is that people nevertheless must sometimes have to choose between norms. A standard example is that of the spy who is caught and must when questioned either lie or be disloyal. To the classical legalist, this is a choice between evils, and the person who makes the choice is not absolved from guilt by the requirement that the choice is forced. The resulting guilt is real and must be confessed, repented of, and (possibly) atoned for.

Despite this problem, and regardless of the religious overtones, legalist positions have probably been the most popular of traditional absolutist moral theories in Western civilization and have served as the basis for many extensive national codes of law. The chief contribution of rule-based absolutism can be summarized by this statement:

There exist external and absolute rules for moral behaviour.

Also of interest here is that rule-based ethical systems are the most vulnerable in times of rapid technological change, for in such transitional periods there are always a large number of novel issues that arise in connection with the development and use of new technology and that defy analysis by the old interpretations of rules. Although there will be efforts to introduce new rules (such as Internet censorship), in the period before the rule makers catch up a kind of moral anarchy may prevail with respect to the new techniques. Because this aptly describes today's situation, the present sociotechnological difficulties serve as an excellent illustration of the difficulties with legalism. These problems lead to another absolutist position.

Position 3: Principles for human conduct are absolute. They exist in a hierarchy wherein the doing of a greater good absolves one from a conflicting choice of a lesser good.

Some of those holding this view would also (like the last group) state that the absolutes in question come only from God. One difference between this position and the last is immediately obvious. In the case where absolute norms come into conflict and a person must choose, no guilt is here attached for breaking the lesser of the norms (provided, of course, that the norm being rejected is indeed the lesser).

Arguments used against Nazi leaders at the Nuremberg war crimes trials after World War II fall into this category. To the claims of Nazis that they killed Jews because of a duty to follow orders, the prosecution replied that there was a higher natural legal order forbidding genocide that made their actions a crime against all humanity, and therefore punishable even though the defendants had broken no laws of their own country. The court accepted this argument, enshrining in international law the notion that there exists a hierarchy of values that can be used to judge even law itself, and that this is true even if the higher principles have not been formally codified by any country, much less by them all. That is:

Duty to all humanity is of a higher order than duty to one's country.

There are also overtones here of Plato's concept of an overarching justice that is above law, behaviour, and opinion.

Consider also the example of the captured spy cited in the last section. The situation would be interpreted quite differently from this point of view. The hierarchical moralist says that since the good to be done for a just cause is greater if the enemy is deceived than if told the truth, there is no guilt attached to breaking the lesser norm (lying) for the sake of fidelity to the higher (a just cause). Of course, if the spy is supporting the wrong cause...

Students of the Old Testament might be interested in consulting Joshua 2 for an example of this type. This is the story of Rahab the prostitute who lied to the soldiers of her own town of Jericho concerning the spies from Israel, throwing in her lot with the invaders. Despite betraying her city, she gains a high commendation, marries a prince of the realm, and becomes an ancestor of King David, and so also of the promised Messiah. There is more to this than just happening to pick the winning side; she chose the higher good by aligning herself with the forces of God and against those of idolatry.

Another very modern sounding instance of a hierarchy of values in the Bible concerns the issue of surrogate parenthood--not for the mother but for the father. Old Testament law forbade a man from having sexual relations with his brother's wife. However, if an oldest brother should die childless, the next brother was commanded to father his brother's children for him with the widow, so that the dead brother's name would be perpetuated. Evidently the issue of family continuance was sufficiently important to override the usual norm, and to do so even though it might cost the younger brother his own chance at the inheritance, as he preserved it for those who would be his older brother's legal children. So important was this obligation to redeem the name, land, and heritage of the heir that the duty passed to the nearest relative when no brother was available. When Ruth asked Boaz to become her husband and kinsman-redeemer, it was to perpetuate the name and line of Elimalech before establishing his own. In agreeing to this arrangement, they two also became a part of the line of the Messiah, as David was their direct descendant as well.

Workers in countless situations must trade off the values of company loyalty and the pragmatism of profit for professionalism in their work, safety considerations, and the quality of a product. Politicians must strike a balance between personal friendships, party loyalties, personal beliefs, and the need to govern a country. Athletes must choose between the value of winning and that of playing an honest game. Students may need to trade higher marks and better job potential for the same honesty in their writing.

Examples can be multiplied--in practice, people do prioritize their values. The difficult problem is to create an actual hierarchy of principles that incorporates, as much as possible, the important insights of the other theories but that still remains absolute.

What can a hierarchical ethicist propose as a suitable ordering of moral duties? Here is one of many possible outlines; this one is based on the discussions of this chapter. The first duty and possibly the second, are Judeo-Christian contributions. Some would omit both, but moralists with a religious background might argue that the first two are the only important part and that the rest depend on them to such an extent that they cannot be neglected. They encapsulate the idea that moral absolutes are not discovered or voted upon, but revealed by God as part of His character. The third one includes duties not previously emphasized in the chapter and does so in order to recognize the social contract and obligations to people, and also to place humankind in a context of life and even the inanimate environment.

An Ethical Hierarchy

First Principles:

1. Love of God comes before all else, for only in such love can one gain the good virtues and the ability to perform right actions, and only by God's revelation can one discover that there do exist external and absolute rules for moral behaviour.

2. Love of other people takes priority over love of self. This is an aspect of revealing the good character of God to others.

The origin of ethical principles:

3. Ethical norms are absolutes that are revealed by God as aspects of His character.

Resolution of conflicts between norms:

4. There is a duty to people; next there is one to animals, then to other living things, and finally to the inanimate world. This is an aspect of the stewardship God gave at creation.

5. Duty to many people supersedes duty to a few people, yet the many have a duty to protect the few who cannot protect themselves.

6. It is better to be a whole person than an incomplete person. This may be applied to self or to others.

7. Actions with foreseeable or demonstrable effects weigh more heavily than those with possible or theoretical effects.

8. People are more important than things, even if they are still in development, or otherwise incomplete. Duty is owed to people regardless of whether they are deemed to be completely developed mentally or physically.

New Situations:

9. When it is necessary to derive new ethical norms from the absolute principles because revelation is insufficient and does not cover new situations or technologies, one should adopt the following rules:

a. Act according to the inner voice (conscience) of virtuous people (not necessarily only one's own).

b. As far as possible, do what is the most loving thing, not ignoring conventional and prudent wisdom for emotion, nor following such customs blindly.

c. Act to maximize the benefit to the largest number of people (this includes their freedom).

d. Remember that each person has a social contract with other people, the biosphere, and the earth.

This is not a complete list, of course, because it reflects only the brief discussions in this chapter, with a few additions. It will do for illustrative purposes and will help in considering various cases later in the book. It should also be noted that after point two the ordering is mainly within the points rather than between them.

Apart from placing love of God and other people first and second (for those who require those points there), this list does not rank the persons or things to which duty is owed, only some of the duties themselves. Thus, one may wish to place duty to family before duty to the next-door neighbour, and duty to one's own nation before duty to people in other nations. Placing that hierarchy with this one would add another dimension to the obligations, as well as another set of potential conflicts to be resolved. Such complexities illustrate that the obligations that bind people to other people may be hierarchically ordered to some extent but are actually practised in a multidimensional network, rather than simply in a top-down fashion. Also, the attempt to express duty to humankind within the context of duty to God may be useful but in a rapidly changing society may appear for a time to be inadequate to explain all the details of interpersonal ethical obligation. This problem is not unique to ethical systems whose cultural heritage is religious; ethical responses may grow from various original principles, but the specifics of how they are worked out change as society and its technology do.

It can readily be seen from this discussion that hierarchical absolutism is not the same as rules-based absolutism. It reflects the complexity of moral choices and attempts to emphasize character rather than simply ritualistic obedience. That is, it suggests that the making of moral choices is required from without, learned from within, and applied as part of a dynamic growing maturity. This permits the hierarchist to adapt rules to situations rather than making them up on the spot and to respond with love without allowing feelings to supersede objective morality.

It is also expressed positively. The person who asks: "What is wrong with what I am doing?" is waiting until it is too late and then asking the wrong question. Rather, this hierarchy suggests that one should ask: "What is best about my possible choices for action?" and then have some measure of the mature character needed to discern or discover the answer. A Christian would do better still by asking: "What does God want to do, and how can I line up with that?"

Elements of this list are also reflected in some of the other nonhierarchist or even nonabsolutist philosophies, and this serves to illuminate what has been presented in this section. For instance, the situationists' law of love is incorporated by the second and last points, and Kant's categorical imperative is closely tied to the fourth. That ethical norms come from outside individuals or even whole societies is reflected in point three. Reflections of Plato's concepts of duty within the context of the state or society are found in point five, and this item together with the last also includes the notion of a social contract. The idea that a morally educated and informed person has a natural advantage over one who is not is covered in point six. It also suggests that actions that cause people to build or retain wholeness of mind or body are better than those that do otherwise. The calculation of relative goods is addressed by several points but embodied in a particular fashion in point seven and nine. Point eight asserts the primacy of people over things again and extends it even to the full potential of life for development of human life. Together with point four, it asserts, for example, that an undeveloped, uneducated, or otherwise helpless child is of more importance than, say, money. Point nine recognizes that hierarchical absolutism does not have a rule for every situation and must use every available tool to derive new rules from the old.

One must not suppose that this list agrees in every point with those that all or most hierarchical ethicists would provide, nor that it gives a complete statement of, say, Christian ethics, which, according to Carl Henry (Christian Personal Ethics), is best interpreted as hierarchical. Such a comprehensive undertaking would fill a far larger book than this one. However, as indicated, this list does provide a touchstone to important elements of several ethical systems. Although not everyone will agree with it in every respect, it is an attempt to order the contributions of the major ethical theories in a way that incorporates them into a non-legalistic absolutist position.

Christian Ethics and Legalism

Even by many of its professed supporters, Christian views of ethics have often been legalistic. However, if the Biblical documents (rather than institutional traditions) are taken as defining Christianity, then this religion claims both to explain and to set aside legalism. Those who followed Moses had a direct and special relationship with God. They were to strive for holiness, not for the sake of formal legalism, but as a witness to all other peoples and nations of the essential good character of God. That they bore His Name was significant; being His people meant being like Him.

New Testament doctrine holds that the Mosaic law was also intended to prove that God's standard (perfection) was too high for any human to achieve unaided. He is too holy to approach except in perfect holiness. In other words, achieving essential goodness through legalism is impossible. On the contrary, argues the New Testament, legalism can only condemn, because no person can obey a legal code faultlessly and without guilt. Thus, an entirely different view of access to the goodness of God is required.

The New Testament goes on to proclaim that Christ took all the punishment required by the holy God for the guilty upon himself during the torment of his crucifixion. Thus, those who believe in him and understand that his death was a personal substitution are set free from their guilt. In addition, believers are transformed and made fit for presentation to God by having Christ's perfect righteousness attributed to them at the same time that their belief in Christ sets them free from their guilt. Thus, for those who receive His grace, the condemnation of an impossible legalism is paid for and at the same time, Christ's real goodness is imputed to the believer. That is, goodness is a gift from God rather than a personal achievement.

Consequently, Christians do good actions not to gain God's approval, which God has given them without respect to merit, but as acts of gratitude for having already received his free favour. The result is supposed to be a living out of the goodness of the inner spirit of God in practical life and actions. This is possible for the faithful through God's power, despite a natural human inclination to do evil and despite a corrupted conscience. In this view, such a life is the only achievable human good, for goodness is a character attribute of God alone, discovered only by knowing God in a personal way and having God's goodness placed within oneself. Right actions then follow automatically, for they flow from a good heart, and are not a striving to gain favour. To put it another way, God gives his goodness to the believer, and this enables the person in question to do right actions.

In practice, this view of Christianity has only indirectly affected society. Attempts to codify specific rules for Christian behaviour seem invariably to lead to institutions that are to some degree legalistic. These organizations (whether churches or governments) when grown large enough, have exerted most of the actual religious influence on the culture and laws of the West. Still, Western legal heritage owes much to the influence of the Judeo-Christian scriptures, and this is no more evident than in such notions as human rights, which are often incomplete or missing in places that lack this influence.

This view of Christianity also suggests that although ethics must be practised in social and institutional contexts, the moral absolutes are practised expressed personally and individually as the outgrowth of a character directly impacted by that of God's Holy Spirit for His purposes--and not as part of ritual obedience to either the state or a church institution. Indeed, Christ condemns the Pharisees precisely for the error of turning what should have been a matter of character into a set of external rules.

Moving On

With the proposed hierarchy, it is time to conclude the subject of ethical theory and turn to more practical matters. From this point forward, theory will not be of foremost concern, but it will underlay many of the discussions in subsequent chapters. For the purposes of examining actual issues, the author will take the view that rules-based absolutism is both stifling and inadequate; that the non-absolutist positions all inevitably lead one to antinomianism and the destruction of the social fabric; and that only hierarchical absolutism is able to deal with the actual complexities of life. The hierarchy given here attempts to borrow and incorporate points from all the other theories, and will be used (whether implicitly or explicitly) to judge ethical problems throughout the rest of this book. Readers who come to different conclusions on specific points should at least be able to analyse their own reasoning and to know which moral philosophy they have been following to arrive where they did.

Profile On . . . Issues


Introduction: The people who make up a nation may have a variety of ideas and individual beliefs (religious, moral, political, and others). Since, for instance, there are many religions and political parties, such beliefs may contradict each other. In a stable society, there are certain "control beliefs" that characterize the dominant culture, form the basis of normal government policies and laws, are transmitted by its media, and generally present its public face. Tightly closed societies presuppose that all non-control beliefs ought to be suppressed. More open societies allow a plurality of beliefs some expression, even when these contradict the control beliefs.

A Definition: Toleration is a practice based on the higher value of freedom. It is the deliberate choice not to suppress the expression of beliefs or behaviour differing from or disapproved of by the tolerator.

Is this a moral issue? At the heart of toleration is the belief that other people are moral agents whose freedom to express that moral agency must be respected, even when the beliefs they profess are not given credence. Tolerance is designed to promote freedom, respect of persons, and the education of all who hear or express moral views. It also recognizes that the consequences of intolerance can be catastrophic for society, and is therefore in everyone's utilitarian self-interest to practice it.

Problem: If the control believers use the word "toleration" to imply the dogma that all expressions of belief are equally valid (equally likely to be true), then they will be intolerant of any claim to be right, that is, to know an absolute truth. Such a view of tolerance sounds very liberal and accepting, but when its own absolute is challenged by those who claim on any other grounds to know an absolute right or truth, the narcissism of this kind of tolerance causes it to self-destruct, sometimes in spectacular ways. In such cases, those who advocate any moral, religious, or political absolutes may find themselves under severe attack.

Is toleration absolute and unlimited? For the most part, tolerance theoretically cannot be selective and be itself. In practice, it is always exercised over some range of permitted dissent. For instance, if intolerance is one of the things allowed, and that becomes more persuasive than is tolerance, the latter may be obliterated. Although not to permit the expression of intolerance seems self-contradictory, tolerance must have some limits or it cannot survive, being quickly replaced by some form of intolerance.

Problem: By virtue of their dominant position, the control believers in a society are disinclined to tolerate challenges to any of their beliefs. If the control believers are certain of the rightness of their beliefs, those who question these moral, religious, or political absolutes will be at least marginalized, if not ghettoized.

Must all beliefs be tolerated? The holding of beliefs is not strictly in the category of things to which tolerance applies, for there is no way to know what a person is thinking until those beliefs are communicated. Toleration applies to the expression of beliefs; it makes no demands on an individual for intellectual conformance to the control beliefs.

Ought all expressions of belief to be tolerated? Even some of these are not in the proper category to which toleration applies. For instance, expressions that defame the character of or incite violence against a person or group violate the higher value of freedom on which tolerance is based.

Problem: If the control believers are dominant and powerful enough, they may come to define criticism of any of their beliefs as defamation and incitement, and so to be a threat that must be eliminated. This is when intellectual ghettoization becomes first physical segregation and then active persecution.

What are the limits of toleration for non-conforming actions?

1. Acts of violence or those taken in reckless disregard for the life and safety of others restrict the victims' freedom, and must be regulated.

Problem: A completely passive people is ripe to accept a dictator, or to be invaded by another nation.

2. A state has an obligation to be intolerant of expressions or actions that threaten its own existence.

Problem: Fear of subversion or invasion can be used to destroy all freedom in a state.

3. A state may have to restrict the ability of a group or individual to accumulate wealth or power, so as to avoid a threat to the well-being or freedom of others.

Problem: Some enterprises can only be conducted efficiently (or at all) with large accumulations of capital. Too many restrictions on this results in a lower standard of living for everyone.

4. Criminal acts are also presumed to be forbidden by higher principles and are therefore not in the category of the tolerable.

Problem: The greater the freedom, the more scope there is for terrorists and criminals. The more regulations there are to detect such activities, the less freedom there is.

5. Acts that endanger a person's own health or safety may place an economic burden on society. To the extent that this restricts the freedom of others, such acts may have to be regulated.

Problem: Sufficiently dominant control beliefs may make expressions of competing beliefs a criminal offence (This is how totalitarian rulers maintain power).

The Fourth Civilization Table of Contents
Copyright © 1988-2002 by Rick Sutcliffe
Published by Arjay Books division of Arjay Enterprises