We have begun the argument that each man has natural rights to his justly acquired property. However, there is a problem.

Let’s call a society “small” if it consists of only a few people, such as solely of Crusoe and Friday. Let’s call a real-world society “large.”

In presenting the argument, we have demonstrated that in a small society (SS), violating Friday’s natural rights is directly and immediately irrational for Crusoe. He fails to use Friday in an appropriate way and suffers here and now. From this we extrapolated that even in a large society (LS) all people have Friday’s natural rights by virtue of their humanity.

But we can easily see that in LS when Smith mugs Jones, the harm to Smith from this unnatural use of Jones is minimal. Society will not crumble from a single criminal act, yet Smith is enjoying his stolen cash. Committing a crime in LS is no longer self-evidently irrational.

Now this does not invalidate the logic of the argument. But it does show that while in SS, intellectual apprehension that “theft is wrong” is immediate grounds for not engaging in theft, this connection is severed in LS. Theft may be wrong, and Smith may know this, but he can still seemingly have his own reasons for stealing. Knowledge that theft is wrong in LS need not motivate a person to abstain from this wrongful act.

Therefore, it seems that the proposition “theft is wrong” has different grounds for it in SS and LS. In LS, theft is wrong, because the state will punish one for stealing. A thief is an outlaw, rejected, hunted, pushed out by society into wilderness. The threat of punishment for Smith in LS substitutes for or mimics the natural incentives to Crusoe in SS.

Categories: Metaethics


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