A Critique of the Freenet Philosophy – A Response to the Reply by Ian Clarke

It could very well be the case that to indulge in child pornography may satiate the sexual desire of a paedophile and consequentially render that person less of a threat to other people; however, my argument is neutral to this. It merely relies on the fact that if there is greater consumption of such materials and therefore greater production, people will be harmed inherently by this production if not necessarily its consequences.

It is true that bad people could use any tool, absolute liberty included, to do bad things. Yet rational persons would never argue in favour of absolute liberty as it essentially entails a return to the Hobbesian state of nature. The prevention of the negative factors that it is possible for a state of affairs to bring about, by no means necessitates prevention of the positive. This is quite aside from the point that the Freenet tool itself is not specifically what is being challenged here, but the idea that the total and absolute negation of censorship will result, both directly and indirectly, in harm to people. If a tool is created specifically to further this end, then that action is ethically indefensible; or so the argument goes.

The examples of actions given, and asserted as showing the harm principle as unworkable, are, ironically enough, the very kind of actions that this principle seeks to protect. If harm is thought of, as you seem to suggest, as an almost infinitely broad and causally irrespective concept, of course it will be unable to offer rational ethical guidance; but the concept is far more specific, and relates to ideas such as the frustration of autonomy, security, basic human rights etc. So, under the harm principle, as long as your actions do not frustrate these interests in Bill or George (presuming you are not, by these actions, actively and directly defending your own such interests from frustration by these specific individuals), they are perfectly permissible. But of course, a means whereby child pornography, terrorism and other similarly harmful activities are able to operate relatively unhindered, does, directly or indirectly, violate some or all of the core tenets of this principle. It is also worth noting here that the harm principle is neutral to law, politics and economics; it is strictly a foundation of ethics.

I neither hold nor assert that all forms of government control should be tolerated. However, in an attempt to clarify my argument let me ask you to consider the following consequence:

  • C1: The unintentional provision of an authority with the ability, but not necessarily the intention, to abuse a power in such a way as to suppress legitimate free speech and distribution of content; two of the most vital means of effective democracy.

And secondly, the following two sets of circumstances:

  • Sc1: This set of circumstances harms people. In allowing an authority to prevent Sc1 we unavoidably invoke the consequence C1.
  • Sc2: This set of circumstances harms people. In allowing an authority to prevent Sc2 we unavoidably invoke the consequence C1.

If we simply hold that the consequence C1 is absolutely unacceptable, then one should assert that both Sc1 and Sc2 be tolerated despite the harm they cause to people. However, if one does not believe that such harm to people is worth such an absolute guarantee of free speech and distribution of content then one should assert that both Sc1 and Sc2 be authoritatively suppressed.

The following are descriptions as to what these two sets of circumstances are:

  • A: Child pornography, terrorism, etc. operating through electronic channels.
  • B: The acts of rape and murder.

I will let it remain unclear however, as to which set of circumstances (Sc1 or Sc2) definitions A or B pertain.

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2 Responses to “A Critique of the Freenet Philosophy – A Response to the Reply by Ian Clarke”


  1. 1 Ed November 13, 2006 at 2:57 pm

    [F]oundation of ethics

    Maybe you are using it as such, but it is not!


  1. 1 strange news stories Trackback on November 24, 2017 at 6:17 pm

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