“It is not difficult to avoid death, gentlemen;
it is much more difficult to avoid wickedness,
for it runs faster than death.”
– Socrates, Apology
The nature of the manifesto is to inform others. To profess some great insight, motivation, or cause, in a manner that is both poignant and powerful. Our goal with this piece is to do just that, for an ethical theory known as “Anti-Subjectivism”, a theory that not only offers a normative framework for determining the “rightness” or “wrongness” of a given set of actions, but also a meta-ethical logic used to evaluate all ethical theories, and a growing breadth of creators and philosophers developing applied instances of the theory.
The term Anti-Subjectivism in modern philosophy holds deep connotations to the moral realist positions on the nature of ethical truths – this is not a position of the Anti-Subjectivism we here shall propose, rather this theory was constructed under the notion that ethical realism is an unfounded position, and as a result, none of our arguments will rely on a conception of any ethical “truths” woven into reality, nor power beyond our comprehension which has created any such “truths”. Our goal is not to dupe, swindle, trick, or manipulate our way into a popular adoption of any of these ideas, instead, we would like to present to you the arguments which have compelled us by the force of reason alone to construct this manifesto for you today. But before we dive into the discussion of Anti-Subjectivism directly, we feel it important to lay out some basic statements about reality that may be useful to help contextualize this philosophy.
Establishing the Requirements for Functional Ethics
We believe there to be three key aspects of the universe and our existence in it that must be directly addressed and agreed on before any ethical theory can be built:
- Reality exists objectively.
- The three laws of logic are a necessary foundation for any ethical theory.
- The default ethical environment of all living creatures is amoral.
1. Reality exists objectively.
For the first claim, it is necessary for any system of normative ethics to accept, even if done so arbitrarily, that reality exists in an objective manner. There exist large swathes of claims in support to the contrary of this position, however, none of these claims bridge the inability for solipsistic (or ideologically similar) worldviews to facilitate any ethical theories. Our response to any individual who would reject this assertion of objective reality is a simple one – there is no amount of argumentation, logic, reasoning, or civil conversation that could bridge the gap between the claims presented in this essay, and a rejection of reality wholesale. If any reader exists as a solipsist and would like to participate in a consistent ethical theory with their imaginary companions, we encourage them to continue reading and perhaps live this theory out in their own world, however, this manifesto will prove highly lacking in cogency and explanatory power for any with a preexisting perspective as such.
“Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.”
– Philip K. Dick
2. The three laws of logic are a necessary foundation for any ethical theory.
Regarding the second claim, without the ability to apply logic and rationalization in a consistent manner, there is no way to construct any ethical theory. Without the laws of identity, non-contradiction, and excluded middle reigning supreme, argumentation, claims, and truth have no meaning. As these laws are necessarily axiomatic, they must be adopted without a logical proof justifying them in themselves. The law of identity, A equals A, for example, does not exist because some other aspect of reality has allowed us to derive this concept and to verify its authenticity outside of itself – the law can only be verified by its lack of a counterexample. From the laws of logic, what truths there are of reality can be derived because they are necessarily products of these laws. Any theory of any sort which either does not consider these laws, or either intentionally or unintentionally violates one of the laws of logic, cannot be seriously stated to have any substantive explanatory power or founded basis requiring its existence.
“To argue with a man who has renounced the use and authority
of reason is like administering medicine to the dead, or
endeavoring to convert an atheist by scripture.”
– Thomas Paine
3. The default ethical environment of all living creatures is amoral.
Finally, for the third claim, the term “state of nature” exists as this amoral environment with a large historical context grounding it firmly in the minds of many philosophers. We will be dedicating a large section of this manifesto to properly outlining the “state of nature” as viewed by Anti-Subjectivists, however, for those with prior knowledge on the topic, it can be tacitly conflated with the Hobbesian conception, still, it is important to note they are not identical. Several key points of differentiation between the Hobbesian and Anti-Subjectivist interpretation of the “state of nature” include the expansion of the “state of nature” to all living creatures in nature- the term nature being synonymous with existing in reality. Be it ant, deer, or human, and the affirmation that no living being is born with any objective moral authority over any other living being thereby, evolving Hobbes’ claim of there being no natural tyrants in a physical sense to a moral sense.
Any ethical theory without a proper conception of the “state of nature” which is appropriately addressed is omitting, by their own volition, the most basal state of existence for any living creature which we can directly observe and evince. As the “state of nature” is the broader context from which any ethical theory ought to be in direct consideration when developing both its justifications and claims, Anti-Subjectivism naturally places a large focus on the topic. There is no accurate description of existence where the “state of nature” is omitted, and as such, we believe it to be highly telling of both the credibility and explanatory power of any ethical theory when it fails to address this massive elephant in the room; akin to designing a submarine with no mention of water.
Ethical philosophies all begin with, whether they realize it or not, the hypothetical imperative that people’s goal is to live above the “state of nature”, the reality in which they are subjected to the force of “might makes right”. On the other hand, science begins with the laws of logic derived from the consistency of the universe and disallows irrational or arbitrary selections in any given theory. Non-arbitrariness ensures that the results of such theories will not produce unforeseen conflict when applied in reality; if the logic of the theory is sound, it stands to reason it will produce the expected outcomes. For ethical theories that wish to accomplish their fundamental goal the same is true. In order to ensure that any given ethical theory will continually facilitate an individual’s existence above the “state of nature” we must subject philosophy to the same primacy of logic and absence of arbitrariness utilized by the sciences, thus preventing ourselves from developing theories that when applied in reality prescribe mutually exclusive or conflict-generating behaviors (might-based).
Arbitrary selections are, by definition, selections made with no rational basis. Our ability to rationalize is our sole valid tool for making sense of the universe, and a key product of this ability is our capacity to contrast sense data with proposed concepts to identify contradictions. The ability to notice when what is being presented does not match with reality. It is from the rules of logic that we know contradictions cannot exist in reality and with the rules that we are able to identify them. A cannot equal both A and Not-A; consequently, any contradiction with reality must be a problem with the concept and not with reality. To give an example, if Fred was to believe that the Earth is flat and presented with the wealth of evidence that exists today demonstrating that the Earth is spherical, it is neither the evidence, nor the fact that the Earth is spherical that is the contradiction, but Fred’s conception of the flat earth itself.
The relationship between arbitrary selections and their proclivity for contradictions is simple. An arbitrary selection is, by definition, unfounded, and thereby it does not require adherence to the laws of logic. As we’ve demonstrated, if a concept is in line with the laws of logic it cannot be the source of any contradiction, but when arbitrariness is asserted the risk for contradictions is undefinable because there is no metric by which to measure a claim made without rational justification. If we arbitrarily assert that 2 + 2 = 5, we are obviously wrong, but only if you were to scrutinize my claim utilizing the rules of mathematics (logical symbology) to do so. On the other hand, if we were to arbitrarily claim that the highest of all goods is the reduction of harm, the claim becomes much more difficult to casually dismiss. The claim is no less arbitrary than my poor mathematical assertion, but when couched in a sea of pseudo-rationalizations that ultimately are defined by subjective preference, the obviousness of the break with rationality is better hidden from those not looking closely. It is this link between arbitrariness and subjective preferences that facilitated the adoption of the name of Anti-Subjectivism. If an act is deemed “good” or “evil” merely because one asserts that it is ipse dixit, then you have made “good” and “evil” ethically meaningless terms, and in so doing robbed very important concepts of any onus to be regarded seriously by those striving toward rationality.
An arbitrary selection is subjective, the reason any person would make any given arbitrary choice is definitionally absent any sort of objective justification, these claims are made because they “feel” right, “seem” like the correct course of action, or “might” be close to the truth, but none of them are founded in any sense that a person striving to be a rational individual would be able to logically validate or to test for soundness. Not all arbitrary selections are something that ought to be avoided. Your favorite tie, Metallica album, flavor of ice cream, and sports team, are all, for most people, arbitrary selections, but it is not the objective of Anti-Subjectivists to rob you of these personal pleasures. When the discussion turns to ethics however, it is another matter entirely.
Arbitrary selection in the context of ethics, either normative or applied (the process for determining what is “good” and “evil” and how to live these determinations in reality), have ramifications that extend past your preference of Tom Brady or Dak Prescott jersey. If an ethical theory makes an arbitrary selection to demand all able-bodied men fight a wild grizzly bear barehanded upon turning eighteen or else be considered “bad”, there are legitimate ramifications to such a prescription. Suddenly, without any approval from the individuals in question, in order to be considered “good” they are required to participate in the mass mauling of the youth, or else. ‘Who would ever enforce that?’ We hear you ask – anyone who arbitrarily chooses to do so. Throughout history, arbitrary ethical theories in the form of various superstitions, religions, and even “scientific” conclusions have been indoctrinated into the masses. Everything from Hitler’s Übermensch to “purify” the human race to the child sacrifices of the Aztecs to bring the rains exist in this category and were adopted and enforced en masse to terrible effect. The existence of an arbitrary element in an ethical theory necessarily introduces the opportunity for further arbitrariness, and this can result in detrimental consequences to those who are expected to live under such circumstances.
“The uncontested absurdities of today are the accepted slogans of
tomorrow. They come to be accepted by degrees, by precedent, by
implication, by erosion, by default, by dint of constant pressure on
one side and constant retreat on the other– Until the day when they
are suddenly declared to be the country’s official ideology.”
– Ayn Rand
The chain of pseudo-rationalizations must start with an arbitrary selection. If there is no arbitrary rule demanding bouts with bears, there can be no false rationalization that someone ought to enforce the rule. We do not believe it to be hyperbolic in stating that unmitigated usage of arbitrariness is the ultimate downfall of the overwhelming majority of modern ethical theories if not all of them. When arbitrariness is allowed to fester in places that have no (and can never have) rational justifications for their insertion it is a catalyst for any number of adverse reactions, interpretations, and results.
Make no mistake, Anti-Subjectivism as an ethical theory is not a moral realist position. We do not advocate for, believe in, or provide justification towards an objective moral truth, and because of this, we believe that even the act of following a moral theory is an arbitrary, and thus subjective, preference. This may come as a bit of a shock considering how the beginning of this manifesto has spent the majority of its time lambasting the usage of arbitrariness, but recall the opening statement. “Non-arbitrariness ensures that the results of such theories will not produce unforeseen conflict when applied in reality.” There is a distinction between the fundamental premises any and all systems, be they philosophical or scientific, must initially accept before they can be built and the mechanics of the system itself. This presents the idea of foundational arbitrary selections, the necessary platforms that facilitate the development of all rational systems, in mathematics, science, philosophy, or any other. Reality is real, the rules of logic are sound, our existence ought to be elevated above the state of nature – these are all examples of foundational assumptions that any and every ethical theory must (and do) make in order to function in reality, to satisfy logical functions such as Hume’s Law, which prevent one from rationally deriving an ought from an is. If this accusation against Anti-Subjectivism is considered sufficient to defeat it, then so too are all other ethical theories defeated along with it. Ideas such as Hume’s law are necessarily inescapable and thus far unconquerable. Unlike other contemporary philosophies that are ignorant to, or worse, hand wave away these requirements, we choose to embrace them. This however does not necessitate or justify the free reign of arbitrariness in ethics, any arbitrary statement is subjective after all, which means that any of them could be dismissed for any reason. Our goal is to take the arbitrary foundation that all ethics, and even all sciences and rational debate, must prop themselves upon and add not a single additional arbitrary premise.
The rules of logic and the existence of reality are typically upheld by most able-minded individuals you will meet on a day-to-day basis (even if they do not always act in a manner that suggests so). No one bound to reason and evidence expects or believes that their wallet may magically transform into some sort of other object or exists superimposed as both a Ferrari and a wallet at the same time; they know that these things do not, and cannot, happen. It is the desire to elevate oneself above the “state of nature” that is perhaps the least obviously accepted notion, and as such deserves more of our attention today.
First, a brief explanation of the state of nature qua ethics. The state of nature exists as the most basal and only objective layer of reality. You might have colloquially referred to it as “the animal kingdom”, “the rule of the wild”, or “the law of the jungle”, these all essentially encompass the same idea– might makes right, and nothing else. This is the default existence of all living creatures on Earth; deer, ants, panthers, vipers, and even mankind, are all born into this reality and it alone. The moral valuation of the state of nature is null as there is no evidence to support any prevailing moral truths or conceptions that any decision must be made in accordance with, so it is best described as an amoral existence. Because of this, the state of nature is, as you can imagine, a grueling place. There is no popular conception of right or wrong. There are no deontological limitations on an individual’s actions. There is no preference towards one who would wish to act in line with their own sensibilities. There is only survival or death.
In the state of nature, there are no rights. Humanity as a species has spent the last six thousand or more years attempting to separate itself from the state of nature because of these facts of existence, hindered all along the way by arbitrarily asserted higher moral authorities of one manner or another, from gods, to kings, to cults, and collectivizations. This state of nature and the sycophants who have worked to hold people in it are the banes of peaceful successful coexistence at large. The temptations and capacity for an individual to return to this moral null are always a single decision away, a mere temporary disregard of the primacy of the moral concepts they hold.
Earlier we briefly touched on the idea of “the desire to elevate oneself above the state of nature” being an arbitrary selection. It is a subjective choice to choose to limit one’s actions whether by whim or to uphold one’s preferred ethical theory. This fact helps explain the seemingly unending prevalence of “bad actors” in society at large. We can all think of someone who acts with disregard towards any ethical theory or a person’s selective adherence towards one or another. The doorstep package thief, the conman, the murderer, the rapist – all of which have a singular trait in common. They individually made the choice to step back into the realm of the state of nature, the realm of might makes right, the realm absent ethical concepts and considerations to achieve some personal goal, others be damned. In the future you may hear a reference to a “state of nature being”, these are those beings. The ones who, for their own expedience or pleasure alone, decide to eschew the conventions of otherwise polite society and return to the realm of the beasts.
One more key fact about the state of nature that is of value to our discussion is the concept of the lack of inherent moral authority in any individual. To rephrase this, there are no natural-born leaders, kings, or tyrants in the state of nature. No one who, by natural or supernatural process, holds an inherent moral authority over others. All creatures have a moral authority of null, no more, no less, and the exact same as any other living creature. For thousands of years of monarchs and divine rulers, the burden of proof in this regard has been unfairly shifted onto their subjects, however, this rationally cannot be the case. A lack of individual moral superiority is merely a matter of absence of evidence to the contrary, but it holds massive ramifications for ethical theories in their construction of society.
From all of this we are presented with the first true question of Anti-Subjectivism; how do we elevate ourselves above the state of nature without introducing further arbitrariness? Thankfully on this occasion reality has provided us with enough facts to discern exactly what it is we are trying to avoid, the “might makes right” reality of the state of nature, so the first step is to identify what it is it is about this existence we are trying to escape from. There are many preferential answers that can help to frame this idea, “I want to be able to feel safe in my town.”, “I don’t want my things to be taken.”, “I would like to avoid being swindled.” And many more ideas such as this, but all of them have a single connecting thread – some sort of violation of personal autonomy and/or property. This is what “might makes right”, the acts that are justified merely by the power to commit them; acting on other people and their property without their consent. What most distinctly separates the state of nature and existence above it is this conception of the “self”, “mine”, that which is rightly yours or a part of your existence, and your “right” to maintain those aspects until you choose to part with them. In the state of nature, no such idea exists- it cannot exist in a world where you are but a clubbing away from losing your own life and where no system exists by which to dissuade anyone from doing so. But, for the sake of logical rigor, let’s approach this from another angle.
If it is the rule of the state of nature for might to make right, it is logical to assume that the negation of the state of nature would be the negation of this idea, might does not make right. The question then becomes, what does this negation mean in practice? If before it was permissible to take your neighbors coconuts by force to quench your thirst merely because you were strong enough to do so, in the negation it is no longer permissible to do so. The opposite of taking by force is trading consensually (taking without force). Consent is the negation of force, the negation of the state of nature. The state of nature cannot coexist with consent. Given the options of violent and consensual actions towards the coconut owner and their property, only the latter choice would be permissible under this context. We can condense this negation and all of its ideas into a more operable phrase, the initiation of force is not permissible, or to put it yet another way, all ethical interactions must be consensual. This is the normative ethical claim of Anti-Subjectivist ethics.
Consent is defined here as one’s agreement or permission for something to happen to or be done to their person and/or property. This idea is universalizable, which is a key component of its function inside a non-arbitrary framework of morally equal individuals. All individuals, at all times, in all places, must be engaged with consensually, unless that individual had returned to the state of nature by failing to reciprocate the primacy of consent. This is because the only way someone could act on others in violation of consent (ex: to act violently) whilst still demanding that others continue to observe and respect their own consent would be if they based that demand on a claim that they somehow possessed greater moral authority; a claim that we’ve already established cannot and has never been substantiated. A violent person has no rational defense to others not treating them likewise. Consent is universalizable because it is impossible for it to be otherwise and as such, if one wishes to remain above the state of nature they must engage in consent reciprocally. On top of this, there are no additional claims that can be extracted from the state of nature as it is defined by the singular “might makes right” attribute, and as such, consent is the only normative claim of the theory. There is nowhere else to build additional rules that other individuals ought to conform to so that they may live above the state of nature without further arbitrary selections. Consent is king.
And that’s the end of the road.
“What?!” We hear you cry, “There’s plenty of theories that take consent into account!” We’re inclined to agree to an extent. There are a number of theories that, to some degree, facilitate consensual interactions between individuals – but not without further arbitrary claims that allow for consent to be violated. Let’s take, for example, Act Utilitarianism, not because this theory is widely prevalent or accepted, but because its simple formulation allows us to dissect this observation more clearly. Under Act Utilitarianism the fundamental principle is to minimize harm towards the maximal number of individuals. On the day-to-day under this rule, you could engage in several consensual interactions, a casual conversation with your neighbor, trading some fruit from your garden for a fresh cut of beef – however, this rule also facilitates an unfathomably large number of nonconsensual actions as well, and this is the primary distinction between Anti-Subjectivism and the rest of ethics. For anti-subjectivism, consent is the rule, for the other theories, consent is merely a temporary phenomenon facilitated by other arbitrary rules.
Consent is the most antithetical concept to the state of nature imaginable. As we have already beaten the horse to death regarding the intricacies of the state of nature, we’ll skip the lengthy tirade one could derive simply from this relation, and instead move towards the implications of this idea. If consent, as the negation of the state of nature, is the path by which we elevate ourselves above it, we have presented a whole swathe of applied ethical necessities into our day-to-day interactions with others, and the work on the applied ethics is already vast, but there is one key advantage to the focus on consent that we believe is too often overlooked in the conversation. Flexibility.
Under the Anti-Subjectivist theory, your capacity to live your life with others is limited only by your capacity to maintain consensual relations. This means your arbitrarily preferred society is merely an agreement away. If you would like to live in a community much like that which you live in today, where the town pays for garbage service, has regular patrols of security, a designated body that organizes the infrastructure and education – all of this is a few handshakes away. If you would like to live in a commune, pooling the resources of your community’s labor and dividing them equally across the members in order to achieve total equilibrium – as long as all the individuals involved continue to provide their consent, it too is a few handshakes away. We will state it again, whatever society you would like to live in, Anti-Subjectivism is limited only by your capacity to find others who wish to join you and to leave those who don’t, who do not or who no longer consent, completely out of it.
As we begin to close, we find it important to note that this is not some utopian idea to end all the woes of mankind on Earth. There will be state of nature beings who violate others’ consent, there will still be those with less and those with more, there will still be pain, suffering, misery, and strife, some aspects of reality we cannot simply wave away with ideas and words typed on a keyboard. However, unlike what the rest of ethics can provide you, you will have true autonomy that you can utilize and rightly defend from those who would wish to take it from you. Many will critique Anti-Subjectivism as regressive – a notion we won’t even stress in dismissing. If the claim is that Anti-Subjectivism could lead society away from the arbitrary rules, guides, or standards that result in the daily violations of personal consent we see today, then it is certainly regressive, and regressive in the best way possible, regressive in the same way we’ve already regressed from slavery, child sacrifice, and the ideas of the Übermensch.
Answering the Call of Consent
We will end with a call to action if you will. Even if you are unconvinced with the claims provided in this manifesto, the next time you are engaged in thought or conversation over ethics, play a game of “spot the arbitrariness”. There are a number of understandable and empathic reasons why one might be opposed to connotations or applied ethics of Anti-Subjectivist theory, but it is up to each of us to determine what is important. Consent is something that the vast majority already claim to value both in word and action, it is up to you whether you choose to run that line of thought to its logical conclusion or to reject reason by arbitrary justification toward arbitrary ends. Regardless of your decision, we will continue to respect the consent of all the people we meet and interact with that reciprocate such respect toward ours. Our only hope is that you will join us, and help us to build a community of like-minded individuals above the state of nature, as individuals connected by a common cause. Consensually, of course.
For more information visit AntiSubjectivism.com