Sep 18 2015

Compelling the Behavior of Another

The “Golden Rule” can be phrased in two forms:

  • As a positive – Treat others the same way you wish to be treated
  • As a negative – Do not treat others in ways you wish to not be treated

The same basic principle has also been expressed as, “Do no harm”. That may not be enough. Some philosophers have noted that given different points of view and values, different people may wish to be treated differently. Immanuel Kant suggested that a universal version could be, “Act only in accordance with that maxim through which you can at the same time will that it become a universal law.”

A more simple way to express this would be to say that we should not compel the behavior of others. But we can agree that there are circumstances where we feel justified in compelling the behavior of another person. When another threatens our survival, we have a right to self defense. Even when self defense is accomplished with care to not harm the attacker, it usually involves some direction of force that compels their behavior to end the attack. We need to define the criteria for when we feel that we have the right to compel the behavior of others. There are certainly some clear cut cases, but there are also many circumstances and criteria that are not absolute.

Throughout history, the effort to define when and how we will agree to justify using force to compel behavior has produced moral and legal codes and systems of justice. These codes and laws have evolved over time and will continue to evolve into the future as we constantly redefine the limits of individual liberty and rights. The Acaranga Sutra from Jainism says, “Nothing which breathes, which exists, which lives, or which has essence or potential of life, should be destroyed or ruled over, or subjugated, or harmed, or denied of its essence or potential.”

Thou Shalt Not Steal
Government is Force
Urakagina’s Code
Code of Hammurabi
Laws of Reform by Solon
Law of the Twelve Tables – 449 BC
Code of Justinian