The following is a formulation of an argument in support of the claim that the right to bodily autonomy necessitates a right to immorality. A brief reasoning for this claim can be found here, in a video excerpt of one of George Carlin’s stand-up routines in which he advocates for unlimited rights, stating “I think either we have unlimited rights, or we have no rights at all. … I feel, for instance, that I have the right to do anything I please, but if I do something you don’t like, I think you have the right to kill me.” What Carlin is arguing for here is a right, not prescribed by authority but intrinsically natural, to amoral, personal autonomy. I will provide an explanation for the belief in an argument for the inherent amorality of autonomy in both a general and local conception, and the inherent immorality of punishment provided that bodily autonomy is a natural right.
While I acknowledge that it’s off-putting to suggest an unlimited right including a right to immorality, it must be known that morality is a system of judgment and evaluation, and never a means of determining what does or does not happen, or is/is not possible. Say you shoot someone for their opinion as Carlin described at the end of the video, assuming the non-aggression principle dictates what is moral and immoral and the right to autonomy makes self-defense intrinsically morally justified, does anyone else have an explicitly moral right to shoot you if you are committed to never continuing your aggression? Does anyone have a moral right to aggress you for your past action(s) and/or present opinion? If no, then why would one ever claim that the punishment of crime or immorality is in-itself moral? If yes, then local autonomy is not a respected right, regardless of whether it is a right.
If someone commits murder with no intention or plans to continue the injustice, their aggression has ended. You have every right to hate them and criticize them, but the murderer is not a threat to you or your autonomy, and there is therefore no grounds for claims of moral self-defense of one’s autonomy in seeking their punishment, a form of retributive “justice”. If what is defended on moral grounds in the event of aggression is autonomy generally, then people generally defending the right to autonomy have a moral precedent to defend themselves and each other’s autonomy against the aggressor. If what is defended is one’s own right to autonomy, or autonomy locally to the individual being aggressed, then the person being aggressed has a moral right to defend their own autonomy only, otherwise consensus could be used to deny others’ rights to autonomy. However, this issue of consensus also applies to the right to autonomy generally, creating a contradiction of moral principles.
If what is moral for you is not moral for another, and likewise what is immoral for you and another, then you can claim a right to deny another’s rights, and value differently the autonomy of select individuals. Self-defense is moral necessarily, and aggression is immoral necessarily, but morality only determines moral value. Justice, as the execution of morality over immorality, would paradoxically necessitate aggression in the case of a general right to autonomy. If one can claim a moral right to defend another’s autonomy on behalf of their self-defense, one can claim a moral right to aggress anyone who is actively aggressing so long as the person being aggressed consents to defense from another. This defensive action by a third party is not actually self-defense however, but defense of the principle of autonomy; this is the punishment of immorally violating autonomy.
It would seem morally perverse to suggest that you are immorally aggressing by defending another’s autonomy, but an individual being immoral is only relinquishing their right to autonomy insofar as their aggression is evoking another’s right to self-defense. If many individuals assume a moral right to deny the de facto local autonomy of an aggressor that only evokes a need for self-defense in a singular other, they are claiming a right to punish immoral autonomy generally. Furthermore, this is acceptable only if the immorality and aggression is presently being acted out as the mere fact of having committed aggression in the past does not evoke a right to counter the past aggression in present self-defense. Such an attempt would be retaliation or retribution, and therefore aggression.
If the aggression has passed, and aggression was committed but no longer occurs, what grants others the right to punish past immorality via present use of force with no certain expectation of further aggression? Grief? Loss? What would grant someone a moral right to punish immorality by aggressing others that are presently non-aggressive? Punishment is not identical to self-defense and lacks the basis for moral legitimacy as a form of self-defense, especially when executed by a third party. Assuming a right to punish immorality in defense of general autonomy is a denial of local autonomy, and therefore an act of aggression. Consequently, individual autonomy is an amoral right, permitting both moral and immoral actions, and the notion of defending general autonomy is a moralistic excuse to commit aggression which would be immoral per the right to maintain local, personal autonomy.
There is no such thing as moral laws governing behavior or reality, whether constructed or natural. The moral judgment relative to aggression and one’s right to personal autonomy has no binding, deterministic force on the actions one may voluntarily commit on the basis of that right. If justice is the prevailing of morality over immorality, then because we are free, there is no justice.
This argument could be contested, but not likely countered, if there were some metaphysical determinism that enforced impersonally and dispassionately punishment against immorality, such as condemnation to hell or inescapable suffering as a necessary consequence proportional to the immorality committed. However, if that were the case, humans would still have no moral ground for enacting punishment themselves, as that punishment would necessarily be immoral aggression. Unfortunately, or maybe not, it is very uncertain whether there is any necessary hell or negative karma that is forced upon the immoral individual. We are technically free to be as evil as we can get away with. Nothing limits the right to autonomy besides death and physics.
Featured Photo by cottonbro: https://www.pexels.com/photo/photo-of-person-holding-a-handgun-7265995/