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Universal Physical and Moral Laws, With No Lawgiver – Video by G. Stolyarov II

Universal Physical and Moral Laws, With No Lawgiver – Video by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
May 20, 2015

Mr. Stolyarov endeavors to refute the common argument that any law, be it a physical law or a law of morality or justice, requires a lawgiver – an intelligent entity that brought the law into being. While some laws (termed manmade or positive laws) do indeed have human lawmakers, a much more fundamental class of laws (termed universal or natural laws) arise not due to promulgation by any intelligent being, but rather due to the basic properties of the entities these laws concern, and the relations of those entities to one another. To the extent that positive laws are enacted by humans, the purpose of such positive laws should be reflect and effectuate the beneficial consequences of objectively valid natural laws.


– “Universal Physical and Moral Laws, With No Lawgiver” – Article by G. Stolyarov II –

– Formula for the Universal Law of Gravitation: F = G*m1*m2/r2, with F being the force between two masses, m1 and m2 being the two masses, r being the distance between the centers of the two masses, and G being the universal gravitational constant.

– “Commonly Misunderstood Concepts: Happiness” – Essay by G. Stolyarov II

– “Commonly Misunderstood Concepts: Happiness” – Video by G. Stolyarov II

– “Indiana Pi Bill” – Wikipedia

Universal Physical and Moral Laws, With No Lawgiver – Article by G. Stolyarov II

Universal Physical and Moral Laws, With No Lawgiver – Article by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
May 13, 2015

Here I endeavor to refute the common argument that any law, be it a physical law or a law of morality or justice, requires a lawgiver – an intelligent entity that brought the law into being. While some laws (termed manmade or positive laws) do indeed have human lawmakers, a much more fundamental class of laws (termed universal or natural laws) arise not due to promulgation by any intelligent being, but rather due to the basic properties of the entities these laws concern, and the relations of those entities to one another. To the extent that positive laws are enacted by humans, the purpose of such positive laws should be to reflect and effectuate the beneficial consequences of objectively valid natural laws. For instance, it is a natural law that each human being possesses a right to life. A positive law that prohibits and punishes murder of one human being by another would reflect the natural law and therefore be desirable. On the other hand, if any positive law were to mandate murder (as various edicts by tyrannical regimes throughout history, targeting political dissidents or disfavored minority groups, have done), then that positive law would be contrary to the natural law and therefore illegitimate and harmful.

The physical laws of nature pertain to all entities, including humans, and describe the regularities with which these entities will behave within applicable situations. Examples of physical laws include Newton’s Three Laws of Motion, the law of gravitation, the law of conservation of matter and energy, and the law of conservation of momentum. If it is asserted that these laws require a lawgiver, then the lawgiver would hypothetically be able to alter these laws on a whim at any time, thereby depriving them of their universality and predictable application. Such a state of affairs would not only be highly inconvenient (to say the least), but also completely incompatible with the reality that these laws are derived from the nature of entities as they are.

We can draw upon ubiquitous observation and the fact that these laws of nature can indeed be harnessed so precisely that every functional technology ever invented works because it takes advantage of them. The argument that the laws of nature could change tomorrow depends on a false perception of what those laws are – a kind of Platonic view that the laws of nature are superimposed upon the world of objects. In reality, however, objects (entities) and their qualities and relationships are all that exist at the most basic level. The laws of nature are relationships that are derived from the very properties inherent to objects themselves; they are not some higher layer of reality on top of the objects that leads the objects to behave in a certain way. That is, the laws of nature are what they are because the things whose behavior they describe are what they are.

The truth that the laws of nature are a function of the objects whose behavior they describe pertains to fundamental physical laws, such as the law of gravitation. While the law of gravitation and the equation [1] describing that law apply universally, the very existence of the law is dependent on the existence of entities that have mass and therefore exhibit gravitational attraction. Were there no entities or no entities with mass (incidentally, both logically impossible scenarios), then the concept of gravity would not have any relevance or applicability. Likewise, the amount of mass of particular entities and their distance of separation from one another will determine the extent of the gravitational force exerted by those entities upon one another. The gravitational force arises because the entities are as massive as they are and located where they are relative to one another; it does not arise because a supernatural lawgiver imposed it upon entities who would otherwise be completely static or random in their behavior in relation to one another.

The key parallel with the laws of morality is that, as the laws of gravitation stem from the objective properties of entities themselves (i.e., that they have mass – which is a universal property of all entities), so do the laws of morality stem from the objective properties of human beings themselves – namely, the biological and physical prerequisites of human survival and flourishing. Different specific decisions may be the appropriate moral decisions in different contexts, but because of the essential similarities of humans along many key dimensions, certain general moral truths will hold universally for all humans.  But again, were there no humans (or similar rational, sentient, volitional beings) with these essential attributes, the concept of morality would have no relevance.

Neither morality nor gravitation require the existence of entities outside of those exhibiting moral behavior or gravitational attraction. A system of physical or moral laws is not dependent on an outside “lawgiver” but rather on the objective natures of the entities partaking in the system. Objective moral laws include the principles of ethics, which address how a person should behave to maximize possible well-being, as well as the principles of justice, which address how people should relate to one another in respecting one another’s spheres of legitimate action, rewarding meritorious conduct, and punishing destructive conduct against others. There is a natural harmony between adherence to objective moral laws and the attainment of beneficial consequences for one’s own life, material prosperity, and happiness – provided that one adheres to a view of long-term, enlightened, rational self-interest, which does not allow one to sacrifice the lives, liberty, or property of others to achieve a short-term gain.

Some would assert that principles of behavior that tend to maximize well-being and serve one’s rational self-interest may be part of prudent or practical conduct, but are not the same as morality. In the minds of these individuals, morality (typically, in their view, willed by an external lawgiver) is independent of practical means or consequences and often (as, for instance, in Immanuel Kant’s outlook on morality) inherently divorced from actions conducive to self-interest. I, however, strongly reject any notion that there might be a dichotomy between morality and practicality, happiness, or prosperity – when a long-term, enlightened, and multifaceted outlook on the latter conditions is considered. Some might be so short-sighted as to mistake some temporary advantage or fleeting pleasure for true fulfillment or happiness, but the objective cause-and-effect relationships within our physical reality will eventually disappoint them (if they live long enough – and if not, their punishment – death – will be even greater). If some or even many humans might be drawn toward certain pleasurable feelings for their own sake (which is an evolutionary relic of a very different primeval environment inhabited by our ancestors – but a tendency ill-adapted to our current environment), this is not the same as achieving truly sustainable prosperity and happiness by using reason to thrive in our current environment (or to create a better environment for human flourishing). One of the objectives of a good moral system is to guide people toward the latter outcome. My essay and video “Commonly Misunderstood Concepts: Happiness” offer more detailed thoughts on key elements of a life of flourishing and the concept of eudaemonia – the actualization of one’s full potential, as Aristotle and later virtue-oriented philosophers described it.

Objective moral law, derived from the fundamental value of every innocent rational, sentient being’s life, posits an essential harmony of the long-term, enlightened self-interests of all who earnestly pursue truth and goodness. Unlike many proponents of an externally legislated moral framework (for which the alleged lawgiver might be a supernatural being, a single human ruler, or a collective of humans), I would not consider self-sacrifice to be a component of morality. I align more with Ayn Rand’s view of sacrifice as a surrender of a greater value (e.g., one’s life) to a lesser value (e.g., abstractions such as nation-states, religions, or perceived slights from another nation-state or religious or cultural group). A person can behave morally – promoting his own life, respecting the rights of others, and contributing to human flourishing – without ever surrendering anything he values (except as an instrument for obtaining outcomes he might justifiably value more). Morality should therefore not be seen as the subordination of the individual to some higher ideal, be it a divine order or a manmade one. Rather, the individual is the ideal for which moral behavior is the path to fulfillment.

A person who behaves morally advances himself while fully respecting the legitimate prerogatives of others. He improves his own life without damaging anybody else’s. In the process of pursuing enlightened self-interest, he also benefits the lives of others through value-adding interactions. Indeed, he may enter into an extensive network of both formal and informal reciprocal obligations with others that result in his actions being a constant, sustainable source of improvement in others’ lives. The virtue of honesty is part of objective ethics and impels a moral individual to strive to honor all commitments once they have been made. The key to a morality based on objective, natural law, however, is that these obligations be entered into freely and not as a result of the self being compromised in favor of an alleged higher ideal. Consequently, a key component of natural law is the liberty of an individual to evaluate the world in accordance with his rational faculty and to decide which undertakings are consistent with his enlightened self-interest. When positive laws are crafted so as to interfere with that liberty, positive law becomes at odds with natural law, leading to warped incentives, institutionalized sacrifices, and painful tradeoffs that many individuals must make if they seek to abide by both natural and positive laws.

Objective natural laws – both physical and moral – do not require a lawgiver and antecede manmade, positive laws. Some natural laws, however, may require positive laws – such as prohibitions on murder, theft, and slavery – in order for the desirable outcome brought about by the natural laws to be reflected in actual (rather than simply hoped-for) human behavior. In order to improve human well-being, positive laws should be developed to advance and effectuate natural laws, instead of attempting to resist them or contravene them. Just as a law that redefines the value of pi as 3.2 (one actually unsuccessfully attempted in Indiana in 1897) is rightly seen as absurd on its face, even if a majority votes to enact it, and would result in many failed constructions if implemented by engineers and designers of machines, so would a law that abrogates the natural liberty of individuals to peacefully pursue their own flourishing result in damage to good human beings and increases in physical harm, suffering, and injustice. A good human lawmaker should respect pre-existing objective natural laws and not attempt to contradict them.

[1] F = G*m1*m2/r2, with F being the force between two masses, m1 and m2 being the two masses, r being the distance between the centers of the two masses, and G being the universal gravitational constant.

This article may be freely distributed, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which requires that credit be given to the author. See Mr. Stolyarov’s biographical information here.

Responses to an Inquiry on Ethics, Human Purpose, and the Future of Humanity – Article by G. Stolyarov II

Responses to an Inquiry on Ethics, Human Purpose, and the Future of Humanity – Article by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
September 5, 2013

A recent philosophical exchange with reader Elu Sive on TRA’s “About Mr. Stolyarov” page was sufficiently interesting and constructive that I have decided to post it here for a general audience. Elu Sive raised ten points of view and requested my feedback, which I subsequently provided. Here, I will cite each of the points and my response.

Elu Sive Point 1: “There is an objective reality.”

My Response: I agree in full.

Elu Sive Point 2: “The purpose of democracy is mainly a means of fighting corruption and promoting the interests of the people as opposed to those in power. It is not a valid method to select the correct answer among alternatives and should never be used as such.”

My Response: I agree. The will of the majority does not determine truth, nor does it necessarily coincide with good policy. Moreover, most decisions should be left up to individuals to implement, so long as such implementation can be done non-coercively. Democracy is only useful in the highly limited context where conflicts of preference are unavoidable and necessarily involve some people’s preferences being overridden. For instance, if only one person can be the neighborhood sheriff, then it makes sense to put the issue to a majority vote. However, even then, the powers of the neighborhood sheriff should be highly limited to the protection of individual rights, and not their violation.

Elu Sive Point 3: “Science is the best method we have for evaluating what is true and not.”

My Response: I agree, especially when science is defined broadly to include logic and mathematics. More generally, rational inquiry based on real-world observation and logical deduction therefrom is the best method we have for evaluating what is true and not.

Elu Sive Point 4: “Our human existence is only meaningful in our social contexts, to our selves and to future generations (our existence is not meaningful in universal or spiritual fashion).”

My Response: Here I disagree. Our existence is meaningful per se and as the antecedent to all meaning and value. My video series “Life as the Basis of Morality” (see Part 1 and Part 2) explains my reasoning. I agree with Ayn Rand’s statement: “I need no warrant for being, and no word of sanction upon my being. I am the warrant and the sanction.”

Elu Sive Point 5: “We should place a greater emphasis on our social context and future generations than on our selves. We should favor altruism over self-reliance.”

My Response: Here I also disagree. While I advocate considering the future and taking a longer-term view of one’s actions, as well as considering one’s impact on the world and on others, all of this should be done to promote one’s own enlightened, rational self-interest, particularly in the continuation of one’s own life and flourishing. Each individual is, by nature, best suited to promote his own well-being. In promoting his own well-being, the individual should be concerned about the well-being of others and should seek ways to exchange values with others to promote mutual flourishing. Complete autarky is impossible and undesirable; we can gain great values and improve our lives tremendously by interacting with others. However, each individual’s moral self-reliance – in the sense of thinking for oneself, acting out of one’s own initiative, and valuing one’s own productive work and independence from subjugation to the arbitrary dictates of others – is paramount for creating a world where human flourishing is maximized to the extent possible.

Elu Sive Point 6: “What classifies as common good depends on circumstances and must be continuously re-evaluated.”

My Response: What is good for people does depend on the specific context, but it is still rooted in objective requirements of human survival and flourishing. As a simple example, there are some items that can give our bodies energy if we consume them, while there are others that would poison us. The objective requirements of human survival and flourishing depend on the laws of nature, which are universally valid, though their applicability will differ based on the context. The correct answer in a given situation is like the correct choice of tool for constructing a building; it depends on what part you are working on, with what materials, in what setting, and for what goal (in terms of the values you are trying to realize). Multiple answers will be good enough for a particular problem, but some answers are clearly superior to others in achieving human survival and flourishing. That being said, it is important to continually use one’s rational faculty to evaluate the soundness of possible approaches on a case-by-case basis.

Elu Sive Point 7: “Our social context is only meaningful in the long-term context of supporting and improving human civilization, or a possible post-human civilization.”

My Response: I agree with the goal of improving human and possibly post-human civilization (though I prefer the term “transhuman”, since I think that technological transformations will amplify and supplement our humanity, enabling us to transcend existing limitations, rather than take our humanity away). I think that human societal interactions can serve multiple valuable purposes both in the immediate term and in the long term. In the immediate term, it is certainly good that grocery stores exist in one’s vicinity to enable one to obtain food and other conveniences. The shorter-term interactions, as long as they are compatible with long-term perspectives and values, can certainly be of value as well.

Elu Sive Point 8: “The defining character of our age as judged by future civilization will be: short-shortsightedness and extreme individualism.”

My Response: I agree that there is considerable short-sightedness in our era, though it is probably less than in previous eras, when the average human lifespan was several times shorter than today. The extreme individualism, though, is not a phenomenon that I observe. I see all too many people bound by thoughtless traditions and norms, while refusing to think about matters on principle (instead of being attached to the concrete institutions and thought patterns that are fed to them by “opinion leaders” and the surrounding culture). The true individualist, who takes charge of his own life and is willing to engage in innovative thinking which transforms the world, is quite rare still. If asked to characterize our era, I would describe it as a time when the knowledge to solve many of the world’s problems is already available and accessible, but the willpower to solve these problems and overcome the constraints of obsolete institutions is lacking. I also see our era as characterized by a race between accelerating technological progress and increasingly outrageous authoritarian intervention.

Elu Sive Point 9: “We should practice future-oriented altruism: just as we care for others in our immediate vicinity in order to create a better life for everyone, we should care for our [descendants] as predecessors have, or we wish them to have had.”

My Response: I agree that we should look forward into the future and consider how life would be then, and how our current actions would affect future living conditions. I do not think that our focus should solely be on future beings, though. I hope to personally see a better future, and to structure my actions to maximize my chances. I am, though, happy to have been born into a world where the many generations of humans before me have already created an infrastructure of knowledge and capital to enable a relatively comfortable way of life. The great challenge of our time is to secure our lives against the still-omnipresent forces of ruin, death, and decay.

Elu Sive Point 10: “We should aim to replace humanity with post-human beings, remedied from most of the flaws that plague the human psyche and physiology today and in the past.”

My Response: I agree with remedying existing human flaws and transcending human limitations, with the important caveat that I consider such actions to be consistent with and to amplify humanity. Importantly, I think that we ourselves should be the beneficiaries of these improvements, through new medical treatments and augmentations (especially radical life extension), as well as the eventual integration of biological and non-biological components.

On Moral Responsibility in General and in the Context of Voting – Article by G. Stolyarov II

On Moral Responsibility in General and in the Context of Voting – Article by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
November 3, 2012

Here, I aim to briefly outline the general nature of moral responsibility as well as its implications for how a person ought to approach voting in an election.

Moral Responsibility in General

The source of all morality is the life of the human individual. As I explain in my video series, “Life as the Origin and Basis of Morality” (see Part 1 and Part 2), the life of the individual is the necessary precondition for any moral system, and therefore the preservation of that life is the foremost moral principle. The principle has to be universalizable to all individuals, or else one’s claim to the legitimacy of protection for one’s own life would be arbitrary and simply a matter of “might making right” (that is, if one can protect oneself against stronger individuals who do not recognize this legitimacy). If, however, one recognizes that the moral primacy of life is an abstract principle that can be applied to every person, then one can justly claim the moral high ground in defending one’s own right to life as an implication of this principle.

The existence of moral responsibility arises from two facts: (i) human beings can choose their actions, and (ii) various human actions can have varying degrees of beneficial or harmful consequences to human life. An action is moral if it benefits the life of any human being (including the actor) without harming any other human being. An action is immoral if it directly and unavoidably harms the life and infringes on the legitimate prerogatives of any human being – even if some other party might benefit from the action. Because each individual human being is an end in him- or herself, no action that “benefits” some people by harming others can be considered moral.  The deliberate and direct infliction of harm upon any person trumps any possible benefit that can be gained from an action. Furthermore, in reality (contrived hypothetical “train-track” scenarios notwithstanding), it is causally impossible for a harm to result in a benefit and for genuine benefit to be unachievable without harm.

Moral responsibility can be a source of both praise and criticism. A person should be praised if he is morally responsible for a beneficial action. A person should be criticized if he is morally responsible for an accumulation of sufficiently harmful actions. It is possible for a generally good person to be morally responsible for a harmful action. This alone does not make the person evil, and a person may compensate for a harmful action through restitution to its victims. Once appropriate restitution has been made, the harmful action should cease to adversely affect our judgment of the perpetrator. However, restitution to persons other than the victims would not suffice, because the benefit of one person cannot outweigh the harm done to another. If irreversible harm has been done, the moral wrong cannot be fully righted, and therefore the perpetrator must always bear some degree of moral responsibility. However, the adverse judgment of the perpetrator can be mitigated if the victim remains alive and decides that the perpetrator can confer a certain alternative benefit that would compensate for the harm without undoing it.

To clarify, this principle does not prohibit or denounce the use of force in order to defend oneself against harm or to punish a wrongdoer who has inflicted harm, as long as the punishment is proportional to the harm and has the effect of preventing future harm committed by such a wrongdoer. However, the retaliatory use of force is only appropriate if directed against genuine wrongdoers, exercised with extreme care for its proportionality, exercised lawfully, and performed without “collateral damage” to innocents. Infliction of harm upon an innocent person is never morally justified, for any goal.

A person is only morally responsible for actions directly within his or her control. A person does not bear any share of “collective guilt” for the actions of others whom somebody deems to be “similar” to that person in some respect. Neither does a person bear any “blood guilt” for the actions of ancestors or descendants. Sometimes a person’s actions may contribute to a larger harm – as when large numbers of people make poor decisions that result in a combined substantial damage to the lives of some innocents. In that case, each person whose actions directly contribute to the harm bears some degree of moral responsibility, in proportion to his or her contribution to the harm. However, in such cases, it is extremely difficult to isolate the contribution of any particular individual, and so the most practical remedy is not restitution, but rather the persuasion of individuals to desist from continuing to contribute to the harm.

Because moral responsibility relates to actual benefit and harm to human beings, there can be no moral responsibility for “victimless” actions, though one can bear moral responsibility for either benefiting or harming oneself. The moral responsibility for harming oneself can only be compensated for through reparations to oneself – i.e., through performance of actions that benefit oneself and undo the harm. Thus, actions that harm oneself alone cannot be undone by adhering to the dictates of others, and so no prohibition or external punishment can ever be appropriate for such actions. This is why a legitimate legal system would only prohibit and punish harm inflicted by an individual upon others and would allow an individual to harm himself without legal penalty. In this way, a class of immoral actions (harms to oneself) ought to be entirely legal. If an action does not damage the life of either oneself or others, then it can be neither illegal nor immoral.

While morality ultimately focuses on consequences, an individual’s intent in carrying out an action can have long-term effects on that individual’s moral standing. It is possible to have ill intent in carrying out an action but, through good fortune, to end up harming no one. In that case, no moral responsibility can exist because no one has been harmed. However, a person who continues to act upon ill intent is extremely likely to cause actual harm through repeated action. Therefore, acting with ill intent is like a game of Russian roulette as far as moral responsibility is concerned. One might escape moral responsibility any given time, but the probability of incurring it in the future is close to certain. Furthermore, acting with ill intent ultimately damages the individual’s capacity to choose morally, as it results in the reinforcement of habits of thought which oppose the preservation of human life and the cultivation of human civilization.  Likewise, good intent can assist an individual in committing moral actions by cultivating habits of thought that render moral choices easier. However, good intent must be reflected in benefits to human life before an action can be considered moral. Good intent cannot absolve a person of moral responsibility for a harmful act, though it should (if aided by an understanding of cause and effect) assist the person in avoiding similar harmful acts in the future.

 Moral Responsibility and Voting

In any scenario of voting, the individuals who participate are numerous, and the outcome results from an aggregation of individual votes. No given person can be said to specifically be responsible for the outcome of the election being one way or another, even if the outcome results from a difference of one vote (because anyone else’s one vote would have had the identical impact). Nonetheless, if the outcome of an election is the rise to office of politicians who perpetrate harmful actions, then the people who voted for those politicians share some of the moral responsibility in the harms – since, without the vote, those politicians would most likely not have come to power (unless they staged a coup). A clear case of this is the moral responsibility of the Germans in 1933 who gave Hitler’s Nazi Party the plurality of the vote. Were it not for this moral sanction, the harms committed by the Nazi Party would never have come to pass. Of course, the moral responsibility of the typical German voter who supported Hitler was slight compared to the moral responsibility of the actual Nazi leaders and their followers who actually partook in carnage and destruction. Nonetheless, by committing an action that clearly demonstrated support for the Nazi Party, even the otherwise peaceful Germans who voted for it helped to make its atrocities possible.

A person who does not vote for a winning candidate (either by voting for a losing candidate or by not voting at all) cannot have moral responsibility for what transpires when the winning candidate is elected, because he did not grant support to and sometimes explicitly opposed the winning candidate. He can therefore justifiably say, of what transpires afterward, that it did not transpire with his approval or assistance. In electoral situations, it is seldom the case that a single person can make all the difference (unless he is exceptionally good at persuasion of vast numbers of people), but a single person can choose not to be part of the problem. This is why a person should always vote his conscience (if he votes at all) and should never support a candidate who might commit incremental harm relative to the status quo, in that person’s view. However, a person could justifiably support a candidate who might bring about incremental benefit, even if that benefit is not as comprehensive as the voter might desire.

It is important to note that voting for a candidate who would commit incremental harm is not justified by the presence of a candidate whom one expects to commit even greater harm. Because harm can never bring benefit, it should follow that the infliction of lesser harms can never avert greater harms. The person who actively supports a move in the direction of harm (relative to the status quo) simply legitimizes the political system’s infliction of harm upon himself and others. By signaling to the political system that he will tolerate a certain degree of incremental worsening of his situation, he invites politicians to gradually ratchet up the degree of harm they cause, as long as they can claim (justifiably or not) that their opponents would bring about even greater harm.

In this case, what is the nature of the moral responsibility of the person who votes for a “lesser evil” in his mind? If the “lesser evil” loses, then there is clearly no moral responsibility if the person did not otherwise engage in harmful behavior to promote the “lesser evil” or to damage those who criticized the “lesser evil.” However, support for a losing “lesser evil” can lead to unfortunate habits of thought that would leave one vulnerable to the entreaties of politicians who intend to inflict harm. Just like ill intent in committing an action leaves one vulnerable to committing harm in the future, voting for a losing “lesser evil” leaves one vulnerable to voting for a winning “lesser evil” in the future. If one votes for an incrementally harmful candidate who wins, then one does share in the moral responsibility of those actions which a reasonable person could have anticipated on the basis of the candidate’s past record, rhetoric (including any tendencies for duplicity and lies contained therein), and character. This moral responsibility is clearly not of the same caliber as the moral responsibility of the politician who actually inflicts the harms, or the enforcers who act on his behalf. Furthermore, because the moral responsibility of voters is always highly dispersed, it is impractical to design appropriate restitution for it. Rather, the sole practical remedy is for the voters in question to recognize the mistake of their prior actions and, in the future, to work to the extent of their abilities to undo the harms of the winning candidate’s actions in office. For instance, a person who recognizes that he was deceived into supporting a “lesser evil” who won can focus his efforts on defeating this politician or similar politicians as the next election approaches. This person could also work at persuading others not to make similar mistakes.

The most reliable way to avoid adverse moral responsibility in voting is to vote for a candidate whom one considers to be an improvement over the status quo in absolute, not relative, terms – and without regard for how others might vote. Morality is not based on consensus, but on objective truth. One’s own understanding of objective truth, and the continual pursuit of improving that understanding, is the best path to moral action and the habits of thought that facilitate it.

As the survey of voter preferences shows, if voters truly voted in accordance to their understanding of the most preferable courses of action, the American electoral landscape in 2012 would be quite different. For one, the 2012 Presidential contest would clearly be between Gary Johnson and Barack Obama, rather than between Obama and Mitt Romney.

An Open Letter to John R. Phillippe, RNC Counsel, Regarding the Nevada State Republican Convention

An Open Letter to John R. Phillippe, RNC Counsel, Regarding the Nevada State Republican Convention

May 3, 2012

Mr. John R. Phillippe Jr.
Chief Counsel
Republican National Committee
310 First Street, SE
Washington, D.C. 20003


Dear Mr. Phillippe:

I am writing to you to address the erroneous interpretation of the Nevada Delegate Binding Rules for 2012, which you expressed in your May 2, 2012, letter to Nevada Republican Party Chairman Michael McDonald. Your interpretation of these rules manufactures a meaning that is not present in the rules’ plain text. I emphatically urge you to recall your letter and to issue a formal apology on behalf of the Republican National Committee for your advocacy of a course of action that would clearly contravene the rules that have been developed in a fair process, as well as the outcome at the State Convention that would result from the legitimate decisions of duly elected delegates.  Please note that the present communication is an open letter and will be available on the Internet to a broader audience.

Your letter suggests that the delegates that are allocated in proportion to the final results of the February 4, 2012, Nevada Presidential Preference Poll must “actually support” the candidate for whom they would be pledged to vote on the first ballot at the Republican National Convention. You go beyond this to suggest that a delegate pledged to a particular candidate must be “approved by an authorized representative of the candidate he or she professes to support” and that, if this does not turn out to be the case, “grounds for a contest may exist.” Your letter continues in stating that you “believe it is highly likely that any committee with jurisdiction over the matter would find improper any change to the election, selection, allocation, or binding of delegates, thus jeopardizing the seating of Nevada’s entire delegation to the National Convention.” In short, you explicitly state that the Republican National Committee would consider overturning the results of a procedurally fair delegate election at the Nevada State Republican Convention, if the election does not produce the hoped-for outcome of a majority slate of Romney supporters. This is unacceptable and entirely contrary to a system that is supposed to produce a representative government in accordance with general rules developed in a fair process and agreed upon in advance.

Before I demonstrate the specific errors of your position, allow me to be forthright regarding my motivations. I am a duly elected delegate to the Nevada State Republican Convention. Furthermore, I write this letter while having no ambition to be nominated as a delegate to the Republican National Convention in Tampa. I do, however, intend to attend the State Convention and cast my votes for the prospective national delegates whom I consider to be the most worthy and principled among the options available. Since I will not personally become a national delegate, I do not have any ulterior motives in this communication. I only desire fair adherence to the legitimate delegate-selection process.

I proudly acknowledge that I am a supporter of Ron Paul and a person committed to procedural fairness and adherence to the rules as actually written. Following a set of rules agreed upon in advance through an equitable procedure is key to a system that avoids arbitrary decision-making and arbitrary power concentrated in the hands of a connected oligarchy. To be non-arbitrary, a process must be adhered to, irrespective of the particular outcome it generates. To only adhere to a process when it generates one’s favored or expected outcome is to turn the process into a mere veneer for a particular agenda.

I think I can speak for other supporters of Ron Paul when I say that there is no intention among any who wish to become delegates to the National Convention to do so in a manner that violates the rules of the Nevada State Republican Convention. Any insinuation that anything other than complete fair play may be the intent of a sizable portion of the delegates to the State Republican Convention is deeply offensive to these men and women of conviction and integrity – who have followed all of the rules of the process up to now and do not intend to suddenly stray from that course.

It is instructive to examine what the actual rules – rather than your deeply erroneous interpretation thereof – state. In your letter, you cite Sections 1, 4.2, 4.3, and 4.4 of the Delegate Binding Rules for 2012, without actually reproducing the text of these sections. A detailed analysis of the text will show that it is incompatible with your viewpoint.

Section 1 Text: Pursuant to § 15(b) of the Rules of the National Republican Committee, in Presidential election years, National Delegates and Alternates shall be allocated proportionally based  on the final results of the Nevada Presidential Preference Poll, rounded to the nearest  whole number. National delegates shall be chosen at the Nevada Republican Convention by election. Any candidate who receives less than the percentage required for one Delegate will receive no Delegates.

Comments: This section only discusses how and in what proportions National Delegates and Alternates shall be allocated to a candidate, not whether such Delegates and Alternates must “actually support” the candidate to whom they were allocated. Nothing in the language of this section would suggest that a test of a Delegate’s thoughts or beliefs would be required as a precondition for a Delegate’s selection or allocation to a particular candidate. There is already a rigorous test for selecting a National Delegate. It is voting by the other delegates at the State Convention.

Section 4.2 Text:The NRP Secretary shall allocate National Delegates to the candidate of their choice by first allocating the three automatic delegates (Nevada Republican Party Chair, National Committeeman and National Committeewoman) to their preferred candidate.

Comments: The interpretation of this section should not be controversial. There are to be three automatic delegates, who will each be allocated to the candidate of his or her choice. Please note that there is also no test stated in the section regarding what must be done to verify that a particular candidate is these delegates’ “preferred candidate.” Your interpretation states that “The three RNC members, who are automatic delegates, should each be allocated and bound to their preferred presidential candidate.” I would like to clarify that the words “bound to” only apply to the first round of voting at the Republican National Convention. There is no requirement in any set of rules for any National Delegate to be bound to any candidate on a subsequent round of voting. This distinction is critical.

Section 4.3 Text: The NRP Secretary will next allocate the three prospective delegates from each congressional district receiving the highest number of votes to their preferred candidate to comply with RNC Rule 13 (a) (3).

RNC Rule 13(a)(3) Text (pp. 14-15 of the linked document): “Subject to the provisions of Rule No. 16, the membership of the next national convention shall consist of:

(a) Delegates. […]

(3) Three (3) district delegates for each Representative in the United States House of Representatives from each state.”

Comments: Section 4.3 and RNC Rule 13(a)(3) say nothing about delegates being subjected to a loyalty test for a particular candidate. They simply state that three delegates shall be allocated for each district in such a manner that there would be three delegates for every Representative in the US House of Representatives.

Furthermore, the text of Section 4.3 states that “The NRP Secretary will next allocate the three prospective delegates from each congressional district receiving the highest number of votes to their preferred candidate” [Emphasis added]. Note that this applies to delegates “receiving the highest number of votes” in an absolute sense – not “receiving the highest number of votes among the delegates who support a particular candidate”.

To repeat: It is clear from the text that the delegates that must be allocated are those delegates that receive the highest number of votes in total, not the highest number of votes among those who support a particular candidate.

For instance, suppose delegates who support Mitt Romney were to receive the 2nd, 4th, and 5th-highest vote totals, while delegates who support Ron Paul were to receive the 1st, 3rd, and 6th-highest vote totals for a particular Congressional District. Furthermore, suppose that the allocation of delegates were required to be such that two delegates would be bound to vote for Romney, and one delegate would be bound to vote for Paul at the first ballot of the National Convention. It is clear that the highest total vote-getters would need to be selected as National Delegates – i.e., the 1st and 3rd-place finishers who support Ron Paul and the 2nd-place finisher who supports Mitt Romney. The 1st-place finisher would have the choice to be allocated to Ron Paul, the 2nd-place finisher would presumably choose to be allocated to Mitt Romney, while the 3rd-place finisher would be bound to vote for Mitt Romney in the first ballot of the National Convention, despite his or her support for Ron Paul. It would emphatically not be the case that the NRP Secretary would be permitted to bypass the duly elected 3rd-place finisher, simply because of that finisher’s sympathies for Ron Paul, and select the 4th-place finisher who is sympathetic to Romney to attend the National Convention as a Delegate.

Your letter is thoroughly mistaken in stating that “A nomination to fill a Congressional district delegate slot shall only be in order if the person’s preferred candidate has available delegate slots to fill. The preferred means to ensure that no presidential candidate receives more than his allocated slots is to conduct the congressional district delegate selections sequentially, and if a candidate has reached his allocation, no further nominations for delegate candidates who support said presidential candidate shall be in order.”

Your statement is contrary on its face to the plain text of Section 4.3 and would have the effect of disenfranchising the delegates at the State Convention in casting ballots for the National Delegates of their choice. The application of your interpretation would have the effect of ignoring delegates who obtain higher absolute vote counts, in favor of some who obtain lower absolute vote counts, simply on account of the ideological positions expressed by such delegates. This ideological particularism is contrary to the principles procedural fairness which underlie any meaningful electoral system and which are essential to the American system of representative government.

Section 4.4 Text: The Secretary will then allocate the remaining delegates for each candidate, beginning with the prospective national delegate for a given candidate receiving the most votes, followed by the prospective national delegate for said candidate receiving the second highest number of votes and continuing in descending order of votes received until the number of delegates and alternates earned by each candidate in the Presidential Preference Poll has been allocated. The delegate slots for each candidate will be filled by the prospective national delegates receiving the highest number of votes, and the alternate slots will be filled by the prospective delegates receiving the next highest number of votes after the delegate slots are filled.”

Comments: Section 4.4 addresses the allocation of National Delegates, other than the automatic delegates and the delegates for each Congressional District. The text clearly states that “The delegate slots for each candidate will be filled by the prospective national delegates receiving the highest number of votes, and the alternate slots will be filled by the prospective delegates receiving the next highest number of votes after the delegate slots are filled.” This again refers to the highest number of total votes cast, not the highest number of votes cast for delegates who personally support a particular candidate. There is again no mention of any kind of loyalty test in order to become a “national delegate for a given candidate”. Rather, this section would allow delegates who receive the highest number of votes to have the first preference regarding which candidate they will be allocated to. If the Ron Paul delegate slots are exhausted by many of the highest vote-getters, then the next-highest vote-getters would need to agree to be bound to vote for Mitt Romney on the first ballot of the National Convention, irrespective of their personal views regarding the candidates. The personal views of these vote-getters should not determine their eligibility if they have been duly elected by the delegates at the State Convention.

Your interpretation is thoroughly in error in stating that “At-large (statewide) prospective delegates should be elected by determining how many delegate slots each presidential candidate has available after processes 1 and 2 above have been completed, and allocating to each available slot the highest vote-receiving prospective delegate that supports the candidate with an available slot. So, for example, if Ron Paul has 2 slots available after processes 1 and 2 above, the two highest vote-getters that support Ron Paul should be allocated to him. And if Mitt Romney has 4 slots available after processes 1 and 2 above have been completed, the 4 highest vote-getters that support Mitt Romney should be allocated to him.”

Your statement above is directly contrary to Section 4.4, which clearly requires that the delegates allocated to all candidates be the absolute highest vote-getters. Contrary to your example, if Ron Paul has 2 slots available after the automatic and District delegates have been selected, and Mitt Romney has 4 slots available, then the top six absolute vote-getters must become the National Delegates, such that two of them are bound to vote for Ron Paul in the first ballot of the National Convention, while the remaining four are bound to vote for Mitt Romney in the first ballot. The highest absolute vote-getter would have the option to select to be bound to either Paul or Romney – and then a similar option would be offered to the second-highest vote-getter. Once any two of the highest six vote-getters have selected to be bound to Paul, the delegates in the remaining slots among the top six vote-getters would be automatically bound to Romney on the first ballot.

Section 5 Text: All National Delegates and Alternates, ex officio, At Large and Congressional District, shall be required to vote for the Presidential Candidate to whom they are bound. This requirement applies only to the first candidate vote at the Republican National Convention.

Comments: While your letter inexplicably omits mention of Section 5, this section is indispensable to understanding the context of the other provisions cited above. If the requirement of voting for a particular candidate only applies to the first vote at the Republican National Convention, then a loyalty test for that candidate cannot make sense and cannot be countenanced. The rules explicitly permit the delegates to vote their consciences after the first round of the National Convention, if subsequent rounds are necessary. Requiring a loyalty test would effectively bind the delegates on the subsequent rounds, contrary to the letter and intent of Section 5. The duty to vote for a candidate on the first round must not extend to the duty to think a certain way or to an inexhaustible claim on the delegates’ future decisions, actions, and beliefs.


I again urge you to acquiesce to the principles of objectivity, fairness, and a literal reading of the rules – and, accordingly, to withdraw your letter of May 2, 2012, and to publicly apologize on behalf of the Republican National Committee for urging and lending an official air to the clear contravention of a fair process and of rules developed pursuant to such a process. If you do not withdraw your letter, then it will be legitimate to perceive your and the RNC’s actions as an attempt to interfere with a neutral and impartial process, simply because the outcome of that process may not be to the liking of the Mitt Romney campaign. To only respect the rules when they are in one’s favor is deeply contrary to every principle on which the American system of representative government stands. Such a double-standard would nullify the will of duly elected delegates and replace it with the imposed preferences of a self-appointed oligarchy of kingmakers. I hope that you will find the strength of conviction to step back from this dangerous precipice.


Gennady Stolyarov II, CPCU, ARe, ARC, AIS, AIE

Editor-in-Chief, The Rational Argumentator