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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/13064/lock-smith-marx-and-the-labor-theory-of-value/

Locke, Smith, Marx and the Labor Theory of Value

June 23, 2010 by

I am trying to research connections between Locke, Smith, and Marx regarding labor. If I recall, Rothbard and others have written about Smith’s views on labor influencing Marx. I’d appreciate any suggestions or discussion as to good references on this issue.

In addition to the Smith-Marx connection, It is also my view that Locke’s idea that homesteading rests on “ownership” of labor is mistaken–it’s an unnecessary step; you can show Lockean homesteading is justified without making the crankish assumption that you own your labor. But the assumption that you can own your labor, I believe, has led to (or supports) modern mistakes like reputation rights, intellectual property, and the like–it’s led to an overemphasis on the right to “own” whatever you “create” by your labor, without first asking whether the thing created/labored upon is ownable in the first place (see, e.g,. my posts Objectivists: “All Property is Intellectual Property”, Rand on IP, Owning “Values”, and “Rearrangement Rights”, and Thoughts on Intellectual Property, Scarcity, Labor-ownership, Metaphors, and Lockean Homesteading).

I’d like to investigate the extent to which Locke’s (and related) views about labor (and its role in homesteading) influenced Smith and the labor theory of value. Tim Virkkala tells me

I think it’s widely believed that the Lockean Theory of Land Acquisition gave weight to the Labor Theory of Value, though the two have almost nothing in common. … One is a theory of the justice of taking land out of “the commons” and respecting property rights; the other is a theory of how labor somehow effects prices and exchange ratios. Weird that it ever bled from one domain to the other. Rothbard charged that Adam Smith was unduly influenced by (to Rothbard) unspeakably vile Protestant views in Scotland. This seemed a tad strained to me. After all, I’ve read THE THEORY OF MORAL SENTIMENTS, and it’s not very Presbyterian.

Basically, I wonder if it can be shown that Locke’s misplaced and overly metaphorical emphasis on owning labor led not only to IP and related bizarre notions but also to communism. If anyone has any suggested references discussing this connection, please note or discuss in the comments.

Note: On an email list, David Gordon did mention this: “On the relation between Locke’s theory of property and the labor theory of value, R.L. Meek, Studies in the Labour Theory of Value, argues against a connection. G.A. Cohen, “Marx and Locke on Land and Labour” is a very good paper.” I’ve just ordered the former book as well as Cohen’s book in which his paper appears, but have not yet read them.

Legal and Logical Positivism

Incidentally, I am also interested in a separate question:

I believe I read long ago some intriguing analysis linking legal positivism with logical positivism–showing the commonalities and interrelationships. But I’ve long lost this reference and have not been able to find exactly what I’m looking for. If anyone knows of any good discussions about the links between legal positivism and logical positivism, I’d appreciate you sharing it.

I think it’s time for some libertarian to set the record straight on legal positivism, and to do this right I think its connections to logical positivism need to be analyzed as well. For legal positivism, as a libertarian this issue has always frustrated me. The natural law types seem to take a bizarre stance on it, speaking in overly metaphorical, colorful, non-rigorous, almost mystical language. For example they talk about how law and morals cannot be separated, which seems like a nonsense idea in the first place. A strict interpretation of this would mean we cannot even identify existing positive law as law if it is not just law (to make this worse, the standard of “just” for most natural lawyers is not libertarian; it is more procedural and/or religious/statist).

The common law court/militia nut types exemplify this by capitalizing the word “Law” when they speak of “just” or “valid” laws. They say that law is not a Law if it is not just, and so on, which seems needlessly semantically disingenuous and crankish to me. I’ve always thought that of course we can identify something as a law even if it is unjust, and thus we can and should distinguish between just law and unjust law (not that just any dictate of a state is law–as even H.L.A. Hart shows in The Concept of Law–some decrees can be so arbitrary and unlaw-like as to not even be law, but that does not mean that every law that is, is just). I’ve always thought that what is unlibertarian about legal positivism is not the idea that law can be “separated” from morals (i.e. that we can identify something as a law, even if it’s a bad law), but rather the assumption that law can be, or even must be, issued by some sovereign–namely the state, or its legislature. (And to be honest, I have always thought that natural law is legal positivist in this sense as well, by just pushing the ultimate law-maker back from the human legislature to God; but to my mind, the very idea that justice, goodness, true law can be decreed by any entity, even God, is fallacious and contrary to the notion or rightness and justice itself.) And I have an inkling that this form or aspect of legal positivism–the idea that law or morals can be issued by decree of some authority–the part I view as unlibertarian–is somehow linked with logical positivism/monism/empiricism/scientism. But I have struggled to make this connection just right in my mind, though I feel that it is there; and I believe I have read something on this by some acute observer in the past–some normal commentator, not even some libertarian with an axe to grind.

As above, if anyone has any suggested references discussing this connection, please note or discuss in the comments.

Update: in reply to the comment on my cross-post on my blog:

Thanks. Many people say legal positivism is just the idea that we can identify existing law without necessarily pronouncing on its legitimacy–its morality of justness. If that was all it was, I would hardly see what the debate is about, since we obviously can recognize law even if it is unjust law; there can be unjust law. This is especially so when law is made by legislative decree.

I think there is a something more to legal positivism, and this aspect is more troubling to libertarians and it is this aspect that I think makes it arguably have a connection to logical positivism. It is, as I said, the idea that law is or can, or really must, be decreed, by some law-maker, some authority. It is the idea that something cannot be a real law unless it has the blessing of the state. I suppose I see a possible connection here to logical positivism since it is monist. It is empiricist. The legal positivist seems to be monist, to me, too, in a sense, since he sees no “reality” to the normative realm. If I say this is a just law for such and such reason, and that is an unjust law, then he thinks this is mere unscientific metaphysics, since it does not have any teeth to it. He is like the empiricist-logical positivist in that he sees things as real only if they have direct or physical consequences, are testable, and so on. The logical positivist dismisses apriori and teleological reasoning as mere metaphysics or empty assertions. It’s only real to him if its formulated as a falsifiable law that can then be subjected to experiment and data and possible falsification. Likewise, the legal positivist only thinks of a rule as a “real” one if it is enforced and issued by some authority. This leads them to not only dismiss moral reasoning about “natural law” on the grounds that it’s mere babble or wordplay, it leads them to have little objective criticism of positive law that does exist. If you start to think of “real law” as only law that the sovereign decrees and enforces, then you start equating law with “whatever the sovereign does.” You see this mentality echoed all the time when people, like Rush Limbaugh, say, say that drugs should be illegal, because they are illegal.

And when you start to become (legal) positivist like this, you gradually erode any principled opposition to the positive law. Sure, your typical mainstreamer will have preferences as to what law or constitutional feature he wants. But his criticisms are ultimately flaccid and weak because they are inferior to the overarching legal positivistic assumptions. They can’t say that this positive law is unjust because it does not conform to this idea natural or moral law–since they have dismissed the latter as being unscientific and metaphysical. So they are left resorting to unprincipled, non-rigorous “balancing” tests, resort to democracy/majority vote, and utilitarian and wealth-maximization reasoning (X should be the law, not Y, because it generates more efficiency or wealth etc.).

And we see such things have increased with the rise of legislation as the supreme source of law. Nowadays even in common law countries legislation has come to dominate the common law as the primary source of law. In America, in a way it’s worse since at the “top” of the legislative and state-sovereignty pyramid is the Constitution. Sure, it’s said to be a “higher” law, and it’s more general, principled, and abstract than mundane statutes and legislation. But it’s just a written piece of legislation, all the same, and it enshrines in people’s minds the idea that law by its nature “comes from” the decree of some sovereign authority, namely the state and its Congress/legislature. (And as I mentioned above, a similar mistake is made by some natural law types when they say that it’s God, not the legislature, who makes the rules. This mistake is not as bad or insidious, but it’s still a mistaken notion about the nature of law, norms, and morals and right and wrong, in my view.) So then the debate becomes one about what this language in the Constitution means–not about what right and wrong is. Sure, normative and moral concerns affect the arguments they make, but they are basically arguing about what these written words mean–to determine the law.

As I noted in Another Problem with Legislation: James Carter v. the Field Codes, there is a fascinating paper published in 1884 by James C. Carter, The Proposed Codification of Our Common Law: A Paper Prepared at the Request of The Committee of the Bar Association of the City of New York, Appointed to Oppose the Measure. This paper was an attack on David Dudley Field’s attempt to (legislatively) codify New York’s common law. Carter opposed replacing case law with centralized legislation. Carter notes that caselaw precedents are flexible and allow the judge to do justice (see also John Hasnas’s classic The Myth of the Rule of Law), while statutes are applied literally, even where injustice is done or the legislator did not contemplate this result. Thus, Carter argues, one of the worst effects of legislatively codifying law–replacing organically developed law with artificial statutes–is that it changes the role of courts and judges from one in which the judge searches for justice into mere squabbles over definitions of words found in statutes. As he said at pp. 86-86:

At present, when any doubt arises in any particular case as to what the true rule of the unwritten [i.e., judge-found, common-law developed] law is, it is at once assumed that the rule most in accordance with justice and sound policy is the one which must be declared to be the law. The search is for that rule. The appeal is squarely made to the highest considerations of morality and justice. These are the rallying points of the struggle. The contention is ennobling and beneficial to the advocates, to the judges, to the parties, to the auditors, and so indirectly to the whole community. The decision then made records another step in the advance of human reason towards that perfection after which it forever aspires. But when the law is conceded to be written down in a statute, and the only question is what the statute means, a contention unspeakably inferior is substituted. The dispute is about words. The question of what is right or wrong, just or unjust, is irrelevant and out of place. The only question is what has been written. What a wretched exchange for the manly encounter upon the elevated plane of principle!

Or, as I note in “Legislation and the Discovery of Law in a Free Society,” Journal of Libertarian Studies 11 (Summer 1995), “Thus, previously, law was thought of as a body of true principles ripe for discovery by judges, not as whatever the legislator decreed. Nowadays, however, legislation has become such a ubiquitous way of making law that ‘the very idea that the law might not be identical with legislation seems odd both to students of law and to laymen.’” [Bruno Leoni, Freedom and the Law]

This is the aspect of legal positivism I despise–not the trivial idea that you can recognize a bad law as a law even though it’s bad.

For those who say legal positivism is only this trivial idea, they should read Hart’s The Concept of Law, and the various commentaries on the civil law itself. The western world’s major legal systems today are divided primarily into common-law based systems, and civil-law based systems. The civil law is based on various codification efforts, such as the French Napoleonic code, which itself was a codification of various evolved principles based ultimately on Roman law. In a sense, common law has more in common with Roman law than civil law does–both common law and Roman law were more or less decentralized, non-legislative systems–they were not dominated by legislation. The civil codes, while often elegant because they were scholarly codifications of decentrally-developed Roman law principles, exhibit a type of extreme legal positivism in that they enshrine legislation as the primary source of law–this is legislative supremacy. Sadly, however, even the elegance of the early codifications is being swamped by the rise of patchwork, artificial legislation; and even the common law is being gradually submerged in a sea of ad hoc statutes and regulations. Even in America, one of the primary “common law” countries, legislation has dwarfed it and in any case, as noted, our written Constitution at the top of the legal pyramid imbues the whole system with legal positivism similar to that of the civil law countries’ civil codes, so that the idea of natural justice and natural law and common law has become more marginalized.

For more commentary on this, see:

  • my “Legislation and the Discovery of Law in a Free Society,” at footnote 5 and accompanying text et pass.: “modern civil law principles are embodied in a statute called a Civil Code, and the civil law enshrines legislation as the primary source of law.5 … 5Legislative supremacy is announced in the very first articles of the Louisiana Civil Code. Article 1 provides that “The sources of law are legislation and custom,” but article 3 makes it clear that legislation is dominant and supreme: “Custom may not abrogate legislation.”
  • Yiannopoulos, A.N., The Civil Codes of Louisiana (“the Louisiana Civil Code differed from the Napoleonic Code in its approach to the fundamental matter of sources of law. The extreme legal positivism of the Code Napoleon that has elevated legislation to the status of the single source of law may be contrasted with the genius of the Louisiana Civil Code that has always recognized custom as an authoritative source of law and equity as a source for the resolution of disputes in the absence of a positive law or custom”);
  • Robert A. Pascal’s Book Review of Shael Herman, The Louisiana Civil Code: A European Legacy for the United States (1993) (“Professor Herman’s failure to see the Digest of 1808 and the Civil Code of 1825, and therefore the Revised Civil Code of 1870, as primarily Spanish law documents may be attributable to his evident passion for French Enlightenment thought, particularly its secularism, its rationalism, and its individualism, and the desire to have the Louisiana codifications envisioned in that light. It may very well be that without their rationalist spirit the French would not have attempted, much less succeeded, in stating their civil law so simply, so beautifully, and in such magnificently organized form as they did in the French Projet and in the French Civil Code. But that form could be utilized by Louisianians seeking to state the basically Spanish law as simply, as beautifully, and with as much organization, without in any way subscribing to French secularism and French
    legislative positivism.”);
  • Jean Louis Bergel, Principal Features and Methods of Codification, 48 La. L. Rev. 1073 (1988) (“A new code stems from the will of its authors to consecrate a doctrine and to translate a specific inspiration into positive law. Even though the innovative forces vary according to the circumstances, a true codification aims at instituting a coherent body of new or renewed legal rules destined to either establish a new legal order or to restore the preexisting order. It occurs only after a thorough research, a general reflection, and a creative effort through which choices have been made, guidelines laid down and, lastly, decisions taken. Thus, in France, the 1804 Civil Code was based on fundamental ideas which were quite new at the time: the uniformity of the law throughout the whole territory; the acknowledgement of legislation as the only real source of law; the comprehensiveness of the law regulating all social relations; the separation of law from morals, religion, and politics.”);
  • John Henry Merryman, The Civil Law Tradition: An Introduction to the Legal Systems of Western Europe and Latin America, 2d. ed. 1985
    • “Another dimension of the movement toward state positivism was provided by the secular character of the European revolution. Although there were variations in form and degree from nation to nation, the idea that law was of divine origin–whether expressed directly, as in divine (i.e. scriptural) law, or expressed indirectly through the nature of man as created by God, as in Roman Catholic natural law–now lost most of its remaining vitality. Formal respect might still be paid to the deity in the lawmaking process (as, for example, in the American Declaration of Independence), but henceforward the operating theory was that the ultimate lawmaking power lay in the state. Roman Catholic natural law had lost its power to control the prince. Secular natural law, while providing many of the ideas that were the intellectual fuel of the revolution, was ineffectual as a control on the activity of the state. It was backed by no organization and had no sanctioning power. The perennial controversy between natural lawyers and legal positivists (familiar to all students of legal philosophy) thus was decisively resolved, for operational purposes at least, in favor of the positivists. Consequently, although this debate still goes on, it has had a distinctly academic flavor since the emergence of the modern state. All Western states are positivistic.”
    • After the French Revolution, “one reason for the attempt to repeal all prior law, and thus limit the effect of law to new legislation, was statism–the glorification of the nation-state. A law that had its origins in an earlier time, before the creation of the state, violated this statist ideal.”
    • “We have seen that the role of the civil law judge is generally thought to be much more restricted and modest than that of the common law judge. It is reasonable to speak of the common law as a law of the judges, but no one would think of using such terms in speaking of the civil law. The image of the Roman iudex, the alleged abuses perpetrated by judges under the old regime, and the conce tion of the role of judges that emergcd in France during the revolution converge to limit what judges are supposed to do. Legislative positivism, the dogma of the separation of powers, the ideology of codification, the attitude toward interpretation of statutes, the peculiar emphasis on certainty, the denial of inherent equitable power in the judge, and the rejection of the doctrine of stare decisis–all these tend to diminish the judge and to glorify the legislator.”
  • Shael Herman, The Louisiana Civil Code: A European Legacy for the United States (1993) (Centralization of Governmental Authority: “Unification of law through codification also implied political centralization with legislation as the chief source of law. Napoleon himself had elevated the legislator to the pinnacle of government. “Who has the place of God on earth?” he asked. “The legislator.” Some historians have suggested that Napoleon was referring to himself. A virtual duplication of a provision of the French Projet du gouvernement of 1800, Article 1 of the original Louisiana Civil Code announced the doctrine of legislative supremacy: “Law is the solemn expression of the legislative will.” In accordance with the separation of powers proposed by Montesquieu in his Spirit of the Laws, the legislature made laws, the judiciary interpreted them, and the executive carried them out. We know that many of the French revolutionaries admired the philosophy of Jean Jacques Rousseau. Rousseau’s vision of legislation must have figured in Napoleon’s assumptions about codification. According to Rousseau’s Social Contract, the legislator expressed the citizens’ general will in positive enactments and transcended the competing demands of particular interests.”);
  • my post Homesteading, Abandonment, and Unowned Land in the Civil Law (discussing the legal positivism of the civil code regarding homesteading and property ownership)

{ 284 comments }

Vitor June 23, 2010 at 10:46 am

Good to know a guy like Kinsella seems to share my view that Rothbard was way too harsh towards Smith. And I often see people bashing protestant ethics as being worse than catholic ethics free-market wise only because of the spanish scholars. And they ignore the fact that the very catholic Spain and Portugal were much more interventionist and anti-semite than the protestant Netherlands.

Smith commited some mistakes, but his good deeds outweights those mistakes IMO. Bashing the guy because he is “mainstream” is lame

Stephan Kinsella June 23, 2010 at 11:51 am

When did I imply Rothbard was too harsh towards Smith? If Smith helped cause communism b/c of his LTV why does that work in his favor?

newson June 23, 2010 at 8:25 pm

with respect to smith and ltv, it’s instructive to look at the blog exchange between gavin kennedy and juan fernando carpio. kennedy makes his points very convincingly, as one of the preeminent scholars of adam smith.
http://blog.mises.org/7085/adam-smith-and-karl-marxs-basic-and-monumental-in-consequences-error/

Beefcake the Mighty June 23, 2010 at 9:43 pm

Interesting discussion there. Off-topic, but what do you think Kennedy means by “natural price?” I’ve never come across a good discussion of this term. As you note, Kennedy is pretty convincing on several topics, but does not seem (as far as I can tell) to clearly explain this. I am guessing Smithians mean something different than “equilibrium” price here, is that correct?

newson June 23, 2010 at 11:53 pm

i don’t know. i profess no great expertise on smith, but i’ve read all of kennedy’s criticisms of rothbard’s criticisms, and i’ve come away with much greater sympathy for smith than i used to have.

newson June 26, 2010 at 11:00 pm

i found this in ellen frankel paul’s “adam smith: a reappraisal” in the jls vol 1, no. 4:

“When it came to the actual exchange of goods
in the marketplace, Smith drew a distinction,
one which was later adopted by both Ricardo
and J. S. Mill, between natural price and market
price, the former being the long-range price
around which the market or actual price would
tend to gravitate. Natural price, as determined
by labor cost, rent, and profits (or what it really
cost the manufacturer to bring it to market),
would not be affected by factors of supply and
demand, while the variation in the market price
from this natural price would be solely
attributable to that source. There are problems
with this two-tier price system, as Malthus for
one realized, the principal one being that it
artificially excluded all questions of consumer
preference from the establishment of the
long-range or natural price. The natural price
notion seems to be a holdover from the medieval
notion of a “just price”.

newson June 23, 2010 at 9:06 pm

gavin kennedy does a robust job in defending smith from rothbard’s accusations here:
http://adamsmithslostlegacy.blogspot.com/2006/01/myths-of-murray-rothbard-no-6.html

(8?» June 25, 2010 at 12:38 pm

That should be an interesting read. Pity that Kennedy didn’t read Rothbard’s entire series before trying to refute it, as what I saw just now briefly glancing his blog was him dealing with the refuting Rothbard’s opinion of Smith, without having any understanding of the underlying reasons Rothbard felt as he did.

(8?» June 25, 2010 at 12:29 pm

Rothbard’s main criticism of Smith was that he took credit for others work without acknowledging their efforts, while adding little to no value to economic theory independently. His series, An Austrian Perspective on the History of Economic Thought sorts through these ideas over time, undermining claims of what Smith actually did to advance the understanding of economics.

Jonathan Finegold Catalán June 25, 2010 at 12:42 pm

Rothbard’s opinion of Smith is largely shaped on scholarship conducted by Schumpeter, and I’m sure Kennedy has read Schumpeter’s criticism.

J. Murray June 23, 2010 at 11:29 am

No amount of work will turn a mud pie into an apple pie.

Josh June 23, 2010 at 11:38 am

Check out “The Fabrication of Labor” by Richard Biernacki. It looks at how the different conceptualizations of labor in different national cultures affected how economists theorized about them.
http://www.amazon.com/Fabrication-Labor-Germany-Britain-1640-1914/dp/0520208781

Ryan June 23, 2010 at 12:12 pm

Labor Theory of Value was the field of Economics’ first attempt at any discussion of the source of value. Blasting Smith because he contributed to its formation (although the person you’re really after is David Ricardo) is utterly ludicrous. It took generations to understand the subjective theory of value, that doesn’t mean Smith helped create communism or Marxism. In reality, we all know that socialism of all forms existed long before Adam Smith.

But the real issue here to me is that Kinsella doesn’t seem aware of what Mises himself wrote about Smith, Ricardo, Marx, and the labor theory of value in Human Action. We could all benefit from his perspective on the intellectual contribution of his predecessors. Specifically with regard to Max Weber, Mises writes that we should take his legitimate contributions as such, and praise Weber for making them; and unduly toss away his false conclusions.

Weber, Ricardo, Smith, Locke, and many other early economists contributed greatly to the field of economics. They also all made errors that were not detected or corrected until later, by people who further advanced the field of economics. Such is the nature of any intellectual pursuit. Disparaging a great economist for his mistakes is as silly as cursing the Founding Fathers for not eliminating slavery.

At a certain point you have to acknowledge that no one man can solve ALL of the world’s problems.

And perhaps most importantly, it has nothing to do with communism. Communism existed in many forms prior to the labor theory of value, and it continues to exist despite the fact that no one other than a few ill-informed college students believe in the labor theory of value. Tying them together brings no new information to history, economics, or libertarianism.

J. Murray June 23, 2010 at 12:24 pm

Exactly. Socialism and Communism are the original governments of all human history. Blaming Adam Smith for something our tribal ancestors were already doing is silly.

Stephan Kinsella June 23, 2010 at 12:34 pm

Ryan, I’m not interested in demonizing Smith. I’m trying to show that and how the fallacious views of “labor” have persisted and led to error even today or in recent times–such as the confused arguments for IP, and also Marxian economics. It’s not about blame. It’s about getting the ideas right now, and understanding the genesis of erroneous views.

Ryan June 23, 2010 at 2:07 pm

Fair enough, but you did say: “If Smith helped cause communism b/c of his LTV why does that work in his favor?” Smith didn’t “help cause” communism. Marx’s preposterousness should not be attributed to a man who made a few legitimate errors during the course of his otherwise enlightening work. That Marx garbled-up Ricardo’s ideas is neither Ricardo’s fault nor Smith’s.

So I guess I see your point, but I don’t think it can be traced backto Smith or Locke, except in the same sense that Simonism can be traced to apes because they both share a common ancestor, if you catch my drift…

Perry Mason June 23, 2010 at 3:03 pm

“Labor Theory of Value was the field of Economics’ first attempt at any discussion of the source of value. ”

Your statement is false. The scholastics came very close to the subjective theory of value (at least with respect to ordinary commercial goods); please see Rothbard’s history of economic thought before Adam Smith.

The rest of your post is too wishy-washy to demonstrate your argument. I see nothing in Kinsella’s academic proposal that indicates he harbors ill will towards the economists you mention or that he disparages their good contributions.

Jonathan Finegold Catalán June 23, 2010 at 12:47 pm

Stephan Kinsella,

You write,

In addition to the Smith-Marx connection, It is also my view that Locke’s idea that homesteading rests on “ownership” of labor is mistaken–it’s an unnecessary step; you can show Lockean homesteading is justified without making the crankish assumption that you own your labor.

I admit to maybe not understanding (or knowing) Locke’s argument. I have personally never read Locke’s treatise, nor anything pertaining to it (except whatever Rothbard writes in his An Austrian Perspective on the History of Economic Thought).

I don’t understand why the notion that an individual owns his own labor is “crankish”. Who owns my labor, if not myself? In his concept of ownership, Karl Marx makes the mistake of not accepting the contract between employee and employer as a transfer of ownership. The employee is selling his labor for a certain wage. Before the labor is sold, though, it seems to me that the individual owns his labor (and thus is the only reason he can legitimately sell it).

Further, you write,

But the assumption that you can own your labor, I believe, has led to (or supports) modern mistakes like reputation rights, intellectual property, and the like–it’s led to an overemphasis on the right to “own” whatever you “create” by your labor, without first asking whether the thing created/labored upon is ownable in the first place…

While it may be true that the concept of self-ownership, and thus the ownership of one’s labor, has led to poorly developed property rights theory (such as intellectual property), it doesn’t make the concept itself wrong. I think it’s clear that if we are talking about writing a book, the physical book written belongs to the author. What doesn’t belong to the author are the words, and so by copying that book it’s not an infringement on that author’s property rights (unless the author and person X have previously decided on a contract agreeing to not copy the book—then it’s just a breach of contract). To clarify, the author is receiving the fruits of his labor.

Maybe I am missing something, though.

Scott D June 23, 2010 at 2:13 pm

I don’t understand why the notion that an individual owns his own labor is “crankish”. Who owns my labor, if not myself?

Owning your labor makes about as much sense as owning the light from your flashlight, or the velocity of your moving car. You could claim ownership of such things, but why bother? Consider your own statement:

Before the labor is sold, though, it seems to me that the individual owns his labor…

Let’s say I am bargaining with you on a price to paint your house. If I read you correctly, you are arguing that “the amount of labor sufficient to paint your house” is something that I own at this point, and that I am relinquishing ownership of that thing to you if we come to a deal. Doesn’t ownership of things that do not even exist physically and are only conceived of in the potential seem the least bit nonsensical to you?

Ryan June 23, 2010 at 2:21 pm

In your example, “labor” as you have described it complies with Ludwig von Mises’ definition of “technology” in Human Action. I’m not sure how that influences the matter at hand, but I think we all agree that we sell our labor on the labor market. How can something be sold if it cannot be owned?

Also, things like good will are often built into the valuation/selling price of a company or trademark (here I assume that no one will challenge the legitimacy of trademark ownership). These are intangibles and priced only according to their potential value to the buyer.

I think we all need to make sure we understand that just because the Labor Theory of Value is incorrect doesn’t mean that labor itself has no value or ownership. I think that’s Jonathan’s point, anyway…

Jonathan Finegold Catalán June 23, 2010 at 2:35 pm

Scott D.,

Doesn’t ownership of things that do not even exist physically and are only conceived of in the potential seem the least bit nonsensical to you?

No, why would it be nonsensical? There is no overarching point to the ownership of labor. I’m not trying to build a case for something else. My point is that I don’t see anything crankish in the concept of the ownership of labor. Nobody else owns my labor but myself. As Ryan says, just because the labor theory of value is wrong doesn’t mean that so is the idea of ownership of labor.

It seems to me that ownership of labor goes hand-in-hand with ownership of self (ownership of one’s own actions).

Thinking about it twice, though, it seems that when one exchanges labor for a wage one is not selling his labor, as much as he is selling the fruits of his labor for that wage (“you produce for me, and I will pay you for that production”). Nonetheless, I think the point remains that one owns his own labor, as one owns his own actions (and labor is just a general category of rational actions).

Owning your labor makes about as much sense as owning the light from your flashlight, or the velocity of your moving car. You could claim ownership of such things, but why bother?

I’m not sure what your point is (and don’t I own the light of my flashlight, given that I can choose to turn it off or on?). It seems to me that you believe I am implying something much greater than I actually intend to.

Scott Dysart June 25, 2010 at 1:08 am

Nobody else owns my labor but myself.

That statement, to me, is a signal that perhaps the question deserves a bit more thought. I could say that I own my thoughts, feelings, dreams, perceptions and sensations, but isn’t this just an expression of self-awareness? Does ownership have any meaning when the thing you claim ownership of does not even exist for anyone but yourself?

Thinking about it twice, though, it seems that when one exchanges labor for a wage one is not selling his labor, as much as he is selling the fruits of his labor for that wage…

Yes, exactly. The action of labor is always causally related to some change in the physical environment. Even a security guard who is paid just to watch a door has an effect, by altering the evironment to dissuade people from trying to sneak into the building.

I’m not sure what your point is (and don’t I own the light of my flashlight, given that I can choose to turn it off or on?). It seems to me that you believe I am implying something much greater than I actually intend to.

And you’ve hit upon my point exactly. You own the flashlight, but the light that it emits cannot be owned as a separate entity. You can’t sell the light from the flashlight. Oh, you can sell the flashlight. You could even get someone to pay you to shine your flashlight in a particular place, but are they actually buying light from you? It would seem to me that they are instead paying you for the service of shining your flashlight.

It is the same with labor. Your labor can have real effects whose outcome is deemed valuable, but you cannot separate your labor from you. Again, I am not claiming that you do not own your labor. Rather, I am saying that the concept of owning labor is meaningless, and as others have pointed out, leads to illogical conclusions.

Peter Surda June 23, 2010 at 2:15 pm

Well, I have not read either Marx or Locke (although I am familiar with their theories to a small extent), but maybe I can answer this based on my own reasoning:

Who owns my labor, if not myself?

This is a confusing way to put it. What does my labour actually mean? Is it the activity you do? You cannot own an activity, you can only act or not act. What you probably meant was Who owns the outcome of my labour? Well, what does that mean? From praxeological point of view, it can only mean things that are causally related to the act of labour. There is no way to narrow this down any more. This is why problems arise when you equate the outcome of one’s labour with property. You can see this both on Marxian theories as well as in many common IP theories, because this approach extends the definition of property beyond the scope of contracts. But the same assumption also means the demise of both theories. Causality extends to infinity. Once you cross the boundary of contracts, there is no place to stop. Without a place to stop, there are no boundaries. And without boundaries, the concept of property has no meaning.

(sorry for mixing your US spelling with my UK spelling, I prefer the UK one and want to remain consistent across my writings)

Ryan June 23, 2010 at 2:29 pm

Labor would obviously mean “the performance of an act.” One who performs an act cannot claim ownership over the activity, but can certainly claim ownership of the specific performance in question, even if the performance never actually takes place.

That’s my two cents anyway. I’ve made too many comments here now, so I will respectfully bow out and let others comment from here. Sorry everyone. :)

Peter Surda June 23, 2010 at 4:50 pm

[one] can certainly claim ownership of the specific performance in question, even if the performance never actually takes place.

But what does that actually mean? What is the scope of this “ownership”? That’s the problem. No matter how you formulate the definition of property, you need to define the scope thereof, and in my opinion, constructs like this don’t do that, they needlessly confuse instead. What is the scope of something that doesn’t take place? That makes no sense.

Ryan June 23, 2010 at 7:15 pm

I don’t understand what you don’t understand. :) The scope of the the ownership is the performance in question. “I will paint your fence beginning at noon on July 15th for $5000.” We’re talking about a one-time event at a known time, place, and date. Change any of the following, and you’re talking about a different performance: the actor, the location, the time, the date, the price, or the fence…

The scope of the ownership is determined by the contract, as Jonathan has implied, but not specifically noted. There is nothing abstract about it. The terms of the ownership are defined by the performance.

I am a semi-professional musician, so it is easy for me to see it this way. If someone hires me to play a specific piece on a specific date for a specific amount of money, then they are hiring my labor as a musician. If I violate the terms of that contract, then I have not fulfilled their order. But it is well within my power to deliver those terms, and as such I own my ability to do so.

The way you describe it, it’s almost as though you don’t see any employment contract as having any kind of validity beyond the abstract. In contrast, I see my ability to act as the fundamental unit of human ownership of anything at all. I believe Locke saw it this way, also.

But I do not believe that this is a justification for intellectual property or for the labor theory of value. On the contrary, I think this is a demonstration of Mises’ notion of technology (really, check it out in Human Action, he makes it pretty clear), and I think the key to understanding that it does not pertain to IP is understanding the difference between a performance of an activity and the activity itself in general.

Stephan Kinsella June 23, 2010 at 9:23 pm

To be able to perform an action, it is sufficient to own one’s body. So the rihgt to do X is just a consequence of body-ownership. To say there is a right to do X that is somehow independent of or in addition to the body-rights is confused. Likewise, Rothbard in Ethics of Liberty explians that all rights are property rights; that there is no independent right to free speech or press–that these rights are just consquences of having property rihgts. To talk of owning action is just crankish and confused.

Ryan June 24, 2010 at 7:33 am

Stephan – I can’t reply to your comment directly, so I’m replying here…

I agree with everything you said, except for the last sentence, where you called my thoughts crankish and confused. :)

I think we are essentially in agreement about what I’m saying, but you’re stopping short of the semantic nuance I’m trying to convey, or else I’m just not doing a good job of conveying it. There is nothing confused about what I’m saying, even if you disagree with it. You’re trying to boil everything down to property ownership, which I could just as easily call crankish and confused. Perhaps it would help to better understand what Locke meant when he used the term “property” in the first place. (Hayek wrote on that topic, too.)

If there can be no ownership of action, then what exactly is being sold on the labor market? What is an accountant or a lawyer selling? Services. Action. Performance.

I empathize with your endeavor here, but I think you’ll find it a hard sell. I recommend reviewing Mises’ treatment of “technology,” Hayek’s treatment of Lockean “property,” and Locke’s Second Treatise… I really don’t find this issue as confusing (or “crankish”) as some do.

Ryan June 24, 2010 at 7:51 am

Sorry – I just thought of something else. It is most certainly NOT sufficient to own one’s body in order to perform an action. One must also possess the knowledge and/or skill required to perform the act. In short, one must possess in addition to one’s own body what Mises called technology. An invalid cannot perform a gymnastics routine, an ape cannot win a world-championship chess tournament. Sooner or later you have to acknowledge that there is more to action than physical possession. I don’t think that’s confused, or crankish, and I also don’t think it supports the labor theory of value, communism, or intellectual property. (On this last point, consider that in order to claim IP over the performance of an action, you would have to attempt to prevent others from gaining your knowledge, which is impossible without government coersion.)

Stephan Kinsella June 24, 2010 at 2:24 pm

Ryan:

“I think we are essentially in agreement about what I’m saying, but you’re stopping short of the semantic nuance I’m trying to convey, or else I’m just not doing a good job of conveying it. There is nothing confused about what I’m saying, even if you disagree with it.”

The problem is it can lead to confusion. You can talk about free speech rights as long as you keep in mind this is not a separate right, but just a consequence of having property rights. But if you forget this, it leads to problems.

” You’re trying to boil everything down to property ownership, which I could just as easily call crankish and confused.”

Then Rothbard is too. SEe his discussion of Human Rights as Property Rights http://mises.org/rothbard/ethics/fifteen.asp

“If there can be no ownership of action, then what exactly is being sold on the labor market? What is an accountant or a lawyer selling? Services. Action. Performance.”

No. This is another misleading metaphor. See my Appendix: On the dangers of metaphors in scientific discourse to my post Objectivist Law Prof Mossoff on Copyright; or, the Misuse of Labor, Value, and Creation Metaphors). As for what you sell: You need to understand the title-transfer theory of contract of Evers-Rothbard–see my A Libertarian Theory of Contract: Title Transfer, Binding Promises, and Inalienability http://mises.org/journals/jls/17_2/17_2_2.pdf

Some contracts are exchanges of owned things: I give you my coin, you give me your chicken. Some are just one way, which means that I give you my coins, conditioned on your performing some action. Since you own your body, you have the right to choose to perform or withold the service desired. You can use this practical consequence of body ownerhsip to persuade me to give you my money. So it’s just one way. To call it a “sale” of service is okay if you are speaking casually or informaly and making an analogy to other bilateral property exchanges, but it’s dangerous if you forget that it’s only an analogy, bc it leads you to assume that you must own the thing sold–the labor. This is wrong. You don’t own labor. It’s what you do with your owned thing–your body.

Or, if you say you own your labor or actions–this is fine too if you are being metaphorical or illustrative and not rigorous–if you keep in mind that you are just using a colorful shorthand; if you keep in mind that this is not direct but only derivative of your primary right in your property/body, just as the right to freedom of the press is just a consequence of ownerhsip of property and the NAP.
“Sorry – I just thought of something else. It is most certainly NOT sufficient to own one’s body in order to perform an action.”

This doesn’t show you own the action. It shows that owning your body is one necessary thing you need to be able to engage in the action.

“One must also possess the knowledge and/or skill required to perform the act. In short, one must possess in addition to one’s own body what Mises called technology. An invalid cannot perform a gymnastics routine, an ape cannot win a world-championship chess tournament. Sooner or later you have to acknowledge that there is more to action than physical possession.”

Of course there is “more to it” but we do not OWN the technology or knowledge eitehr; this is the central mistake of IP; and your bringing it in here shows I’m right to show that there is a connection between crankish views about labor ownership and IP–it’s leading you to make this mistake before our very eyes. See the first three links in my post above.

Ryan June 25, 2010 at 6:05 am

Interesting, Stephan. I will have to read those things and consider the matter further. Thanks for the reading suggestions! :)

Jonathan Finegold Catalán June 23, 2010 at 2:43 pm

Peter Surda,

This sort of touches on my point. Marx and Locke are effectively talking about two different things, and Marx misunderstands Locke’s thesis. In a society with multiple individuals property rights are largely defined by contractual law, more than some objective natural law.* So, in industrial Germany a worker has no claim over his production, because that worker explicitly agreed to a contract in which he surrendered his production for a wage. So, I agree with your overall point.

My point in my opening post was nothing more than the fact that property rights are defined by contracts and not by one’s labor doesn’t mean that the act of providing labor, or producing, is not owned by the specific individual acting. In other words, I argue that the two are unrelated.

* I don’t believe in natural, or objective, law at all, other than perhaps the ownership of one’s self, but I don’t think a discussion of natural law is necessary in this particular case.

Peter Surda June 23, 2010 at 5:10 pm

My apologies for dragging the discussion out of way of the original one, but I think my point is important.

The problem is that arguments and definitions that refer to abstract concepts as being property are confusing and useless. Confusing because the can be interpreted in many ways, making debate problematic. Useless because abstract concepts lack boundaries.

Jonathan Finegold Catalán June 23, 2010 at 5:21 pm

I don’t think ownership of labor is abstract or confusing. Labor is nothing more than an action, and by definition you own your own actions (unless someone was to practice mind control over you). This, I think, is a foundation in the concept of ownership of self.

snargleson June 23, 2010 at 7:22 pm

i think it’s simpler to think of labor as time, which can be quantified as a finite resource. Acting under freewill we sell our time to our respective employers under the assumption that it will be used for the benefit of employer. I think it is somewhat related to the beginning of Rothbard’s treatise when he defines the individual’s lifetime as a resource and subject to scarcity, labor and liesure being the two uses for, and thus subject to marginal value theory.

Labor would equate to what Mises described in human action as technology, and depending on how you look at it might hold value because of higher skillsets garnishing higher wages; but looking at the last sentence it doesn’t really make sense to me.
What the F do I know, you guys figure it out.

Stephan Kinsella June 23, 2010 at 9:23 pm
SeanH June 24, 2010 at 1:45 am

I made some great cookies yesterday. Let me tell you, they were delicious. I know this because I ate them already (and have since gone to the bathroom). However, my labor in making those cookies is available on eBay. Minimum bid is $.44 (includes shipping.)

Kerem Tibuk June 26, 2010 at 8:10 am

“Ownership of labor is confused — see my reply above”

Only to a parasite getting ready to feed.

Andras June 24, 2010 at 7:47 am

I agree 100%. Kinsella is also right when he bring the question of “ownable” into the story. At the beginning I was also a believer in self-ownership and the idea that I own my labor… in the meantime I read a lot, and I discovered that the concept of ownership has no meaning in both of those cases. First the concept of ownership has some qualities (or call them properties) some of them may be optional but a number of them are required and if you can’t have those qualities of a class we call ownership then it isn’t ownership at all… and consequently the question of “ownability” arises. (The quotation marks are here because interestingly enough there is no mention of the words “ownable” and “ownability” in Oxford English Dictionary… I wonder why…)

I can say I own my car. I can use it, I can sell it, I can lend it, I can give it as a gift to someone, I can loose it, it can be destroyed, it can be replaced (the utility value at least), it can be stolen, &c…. I can’t do that with my labor nor with myself. The important thing to pay attention is that my car can exist independently of me, that is why it can be my ownership, that is why I can own it. My labor and certainly myself can’t exist independently of me.

I can’t answer Kinsella’s question (unfortunately) but I can tell something of a value instead (at least I hope so). People makes many mistakes in reasoning because they still try to build on Locke, Smith &c. While they works was and still are astonishing and valuable, they are a long time ago replaced with better works built on a top of them, works by Mises, Hayek, &c. I read Human Action regularly (twice a year) and between the readings I read a lot of other books, not necessarily “pure” Austrian/libertarian ones, like books from J.M.Buchanan, Michael Polanyi (I actually recommend his books Personal Knowledge and Meaning as a “must to read”), Karl Popper, &c. I do this because I know Mises, Hayek and all the others did the same, they was very familiar with all of these works, they didn’t come up with their ideas out of nothing by looking into the empty wall, they read all of those works and they combined the ideas and build on the previous ideas, correcting the errors they found along the way. Every time I read Human Action I understand it much better I see things I didn’t see before exactly because I learned some of the things Mises learned too. Human Action is an incredible masterpiece, it isn’t easy to understand, and I even believe that if I read it 100 times I will still be a little man who doesn’t understand it really.

So some of you can hate me because I say this, but the truth is that both economics and philosophy are hard areas, very hard areas, and I simple can’t understand why someone think he really command those things by quoting or believing some sentences written 200+ years ago. They are cute ideas, but that is all, most of them are primitive compared to the “upgraded” versions you can read from Menger, Mises, Hayek, &c. And even if you do, it is not easy to understand them really without understanding the underlying concepts which make possible real intellectual freedom and subsequently correct reasoning.

I always try to remember Michael Polanyi’s words: “The ideologies of the left and the right have no use for intellectual freedom.”

So at the end, it doesn’t matter who said what, we are not Marxist here, we don’t believe in something because some guy told us to do so, we try to find correct answers no matter who said it, when or why.

And this is why I agree with Peter Surda here, because he told us something very good, very real, and very correct, he was logical and also human. (I know this is actually a surprise especially for people who believe at least to some extent in positivist ideas, and most people does… unfortunately). A nonsense is a nonsense, no matter who said it, and ownership of labor or self ownership are exactly that… a nonsense. Nobody owns you not even you. Nobody owns labor, not even the guy who do the work. What you can own is the “fruit of your labor”… I’ll try to explain this a little better: we are all transformers, we transform matter from one form to another (using capital, knowledge and labor), so we actually don’t create things, we transform things hopefully from less valuable to more valuable forms.

What we can own is the “added value” not the labor. Before we start the transformation we have two different conditions, either we transform our property (we own the material we transform and the capital we need to do the work) or we transform somebody else property. In the first case, we own the property before the transformation (let say we own the wood and the glue) and after the transformation (we also own the chair we made). In the second case, we don’t own the product we only own the part of the “added value” of that property, in other words the product is now owned by the owner of the raw material, the owner of the capital (the tools we used) and we who transformed the wood and glue to a chair. We also must know that selling that product will require additional capital, knowledge and labor…

We are all “stakeholders” and after we sell the product we have a share of the property we owned together, the shares are determined by how the market value our stake. If there is a higher scarcity of raw materials than labor then the share of the raw material owner will be higher than our, if there is a higher scarcity of capital than labor then the share of the capital owner will be higher and if there is a higher scarcity of labor then the share of the labor provider (the worker) will be higher. The problem is that any of these stakeholders want to get the bigger stake, and that is why almost everyone is an enemy of the free market, because on the free market, none of them have control, all of them has opportunities and the freedom of choice, but they all want control not choice and not opportunities.

The labor theory of value is an idea that actually tells us that the market has no “right” to decide about value, this theory asserts that labor has value outside of the market. It doesn’t… I can work hard all day and produce no value, it is easy… I can also transform something of a more value to something of a less value so in that case my labor has negative value (loss). Do I believe that I own the loss? No I ask the government to bail me out… :)

But if I do that, I am not a stupid nor a bad man, no I just have a different experience based on the values and believes I hold and the tacit knowledge I posses. This is why the only way moving forward is to better our believes and knowledge, and rethinking our values all the time. If there is reasonable to hold to them, then we should, but if not, then we must find other more reasonable values. In a world where most people does worked with tangible (physical) things the concept of property was most of the time acceptable (this is why society accepted it), but now in the post-industrial world more and more people work with non-physical things, and some of them believe that the concept of property is acceptable as well (but society doesn’t accept that… that is why the majority downloads “illegal” stuff). The problem is that people used to live from capital and from labor (most of them mostly from labor) and they like to believe in a cute idea that they labor has value.

“IP” “laws” are here to give control to the provider of the idea (knowledge) based on the concept that an idea is a fruit of “labor”. It is a cute idea, but the problem is twofold, first as Peter Surda explained it has no logical sense, and as I like to say the “social phenomenon” part is also missing, in other words society doesn’t think it is the case. Why? Because society is about preserving the peace, the only “platform” acceptable for free enterprise and consequently the only way to use your capital, knowledge and labor in order to better yourself and rise your standard of living without harming other people… and if one side get privileges then peace is in danger.

That is why the majority of the people doesn’t care about the “IP” “laws”, because they have the tacit knowledge that “IP” “laws” hurts them… and people don’t accept anything that hurts them, what they really want in general, is that the market decide who’s stake will be higher today, not the “law”, not politics… unless they are 100% sure that the “law” and politics will give exactly to them the larger part. Of course this is not a zero sum game, but people tend to think of it as it is, because people tend to think only about already existing things, that is why they value an actual dollar today more than a hypothetical two dollars tomorrow, another thing in the story we are all tend to forget most of the time, and because of that all the answers are so cute to us that we accept them without really and critically thinking about them.

Now I admit I have no clue, so I get back to the reading… :)

michael June 24, 2010 at 10:25 am

JFC, you write ” I think it’s clear that if we are talking about writing a book, the physical book written belongs to the author. What doesn’t belong to the author are the words, and so by copying that book it’s not an infringement on that author’s property rights (unless the author and person X have previously decided on a contract agreeing to not copy the book—then it’s just a breach of contract). To clarify, the author is receiving the fruits of his labor.”

The physical book that appears in the store belongs to the publisher, who printed and distributed it. Once you buy it, it belongs to you.

The words belong jointly to the author and to the publisher. As the author normally gets a royalty on every copy sold, if you steal the words without paying for the book you have stolen from both the author and the publisher, who share the profits.

It’s the same in the music and film industries. Copyright protection tries to protect the intellectual property rights of both the studio and the artist from theft. There would be little incentive to produce and distribute works of art for public consumption if there were no intellectual property law.

If we transfer this kind of thinking to the world of paid labor, the principle still holds true– in a special way. The worker owns his labor until he sells it to another in return for wages. If that’s the entirety of the transaction, his employer now owns the fruits of those labors. (This is spelled out very specifically in many employment contracts where the worker is working in producing proprietary knowledge for the employer. As a condition of employment he has to sign an agreement that he will not, if he leaves the company, give any new employer the fruits of his labors at the old company, under penalty of judgment and heavy damages. Otherwise if your top research chemist ever decided to join the competition, you’d have to kill him!)

Ordinary labor normally has no claim to any additional compensation beyond the agreed-upon salary or wages. But in times where labor can command a premium, there are companies who skim off the top talent by also offering them stock options or a direct interest in the company. These plans go under the general designation of profit-sharing.

Frank June 23, 2010 at 1:24 pm

I suggest you read Intellectuals written by Paul Johnson, chapter 3 is on Marx. The rest of the book is quite enlightening. I would never compare Marx to an orthodox economist.

Perry Mason June 23, 2010 at 1:59 pm

You are right that the common law types on “Law” are crankish—they mean well, but they operate from a state of ignorance regarding philosophy and political economy. Generally, they see “common law” as emanating in the ether from the Constitution or Declaration, as if it were some metaphysical force that binds all; that even judges can only avoid by trickery, and not by merely ruling incorrectly.

It never occurs to them that the “common law” is just as de facto and positivist as a statute. Sure, historically, because of the nature of its development and its method, the common law was a better approximation of rules and their application in accordance with the libertarian standard of justice, but that doesn’t make it real or de jure.

I do think there is a discoverable “natural law”; that is a set of objective ethics whereby the failure of an individual to observe those ethics would be an irrational act (not on Humean grounds though, more Aquinas and Finnis), but that is a philisophical position with many nuances and open to debate.

As to the connection with logical positivism & empiricism, my first reaction is that those principles came to popularity in the West around the same time legal positivism did. In many ways it was a rejection of the medieval scholastic method and the Old World continental views, which admittedly had their flaws.

Fephisto June 23, 2010 at 3:39 pm

Mr. Kinsella,

To answer the original question you posed, I believe I remember Rothbard briefly mentioning how Smith and Ricardo encouraged the LVT in his one hour introduction to Austrian Economics http://mises.org/media/961.

Unfortunately, I don’t remember where in the video. Also, I do believe there is another article or video where he does go into more detail about it.

What’s the non-Lockean way of justifying homesteading? I thought Rothbard justified homesteading much the same way that Locke did?

Stephan Kinsella June 23, 2010 at 4:22 pm

I’m aware of the arguments connecting Smith/Ricardo and Marx. What I’m more interested in is any connection between Locke’s views on labor and is relation to homesteading, and Smith/Ricardo.

Lockean homesteading is basically right, in my view, but it doesn’t need to assume ownership of labor. It’s just an unnecessary assumption thrown in.

Russ June 23, 2010 at 4:57 pm

I don’t see what the labor theory of value and the labor theory of ownership (homesteading due to owning one’s own labor) have to do with one another. I also don’t see what an intellectual pedigree from Smith to Marx will accomplish. I just think you have to come up with a reasonable justification for homesteading that doesn’t involve the concept that one owns one’s labor.

Stephan Kinsella June 23, 2010 at 9:25 pm

Some see some connection–that is what I’m after. See e.g. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Labor_theory_of_value

The birth of the LTV

Benjamin Franklin in his 1729 essay entitled “A Modest Enquiry into the Nature and Necessity of a Paper Currency” is sometimes credited (including by Karl Marx) with originating the concept. However, the theory has been traced back to Treatise of Taxes, written in 1662 by Sir William Petty[15] and to John Locke’s notion, set out in the Second Treatise on Government (1689), that property derives from labor through the act of “mixing” one’s labor with items in the common store of goods, though this has alternatively been seen as a labor theory of property. Other writers (including Joseph Schumpeter) have traced back the concept even further to Ibn Khaldun, who in his Muqaddimah (1377), described labor as the source of value, necessary for all earnings and capital accumulation, obvious in the case of craft. He argued that even if earning “results from something other than a craft, the value of the resulting profit and acquired (capital) must (also) include the value of the labor by which it was obtained. Without labor, it would not have been acquired.”[16]”

At the very least, it seems that the errors in Locke and in Ricardo/Smith/Marx all stem from a confused understanding of what labor is.

Russ June 24, 2010 at 8:18 am

I agree that there is a lot of confusion regarding labor, and what labor does and does not do. My point was that if you simply avoid all that confusion, and successfully come up with a convincing justification for the homesteading of property that does not involve the notion of labor, you don’t really need to delve into all that confusion. You can bypass it. Besides, one right idea is more valuable than a whole geneology of bad ideas.

Stephan Kinsella June 24, 2010 at 2:29 pm

I think the basic libertarian homesteading view of Rothbard and Locke is fine but just does not need to even mention labor-ownership. Hoppe doens’t. For more: What Libertarianism Is, and How We Come To Own Ourselves and Defending Argumentation Ethics: Reply to Murphy & Callahan

nirgrahamUK June 23, 2010 at 6:48 pm

George Reisman has terrific stuff explaining how Marx fits into the classical tradition whose cornerstone was LTV.

Stephan Kinsella June 23, 2010 at 9:25 pm

In Capitalism, I assume. I’ll take a look. Thanks SK

Gil June 23, 2010 at 10:22 pm

I agree with S. Kinsella: wages are like any other price, it’s determined by supply and demand. Simple.

Troy Camplin June 24, 2010 at 4:48 am

While it is obvious that the subjective theory of value is correct and the labor theory incorrect, I think we need to think through the whole issue of “labor.” Of course there is no labor prior to the action of laboring. Part of the problem may be that we are thinking of “labor” as a noun and not, as it really is, a verb. It is an action, not a thing.

When we hire someone, what are we doing? Are we paying for their time? In part. But really, we are paying for the actions they will perform during that time. If they do not perform those actions to our satisfaction, we no longer want them to perform those actions for us. When we hire someone, we are thus paying them for their laboring activities.

So the real question is: can one own an activity? Can one own one’s actions?

Now, as for Locke and Smith, I can see how one gets from one to the other. Locke suggests that we own land we put labor into. When we work the land, we increase its value. What increased the value? The labor. Thus, labor creates value — and we get the labor theory of value.

The subjetive theory of value is a much better theory because it can explain what the above theory cannot, which is why a piece of land devoid of trees because someone removed the trees through their own personal labor is worth the same to a farmer as a piece of land devoid of trees because there were never any trees there (a piece of plains land, for example). The answer is that land without trees has more value to a farmer than one with trees. He could care less how the land became treeless. If (value of treeless land) > (value of labor to remove trees) + (value of land with trees), then someone will happily buy up land with trees and remove the trees to sell the treeless land. If not, then there is no incentive to clear land, and nobody will clear it. But more than that, if someone has a lot of tree-clearing equipment, he can clear it cheaper than someone who does not, so it might be worth it to let someone else clear the land if it is cheaper for them to do so. Is one person’s labor worth less than another? That makes no sense with a labor theory of value — only with a subjective theory of value.

I’m not sure how this relates to IP, though. Is phyiscal work, such as the mere repetition of movement one does on an assembly line, really the same as invention? Both are certainly kinds of activities, but they are also just as certainly on different levels of complexity. Invention is creative action. Is not creative action a different kind of action? One can steal an idea or an invention, but one cannot steal one’s labor (at least, not for long, anyway — as the laborer will stop working once they realize they have been doing so for free). This suggests they are different kinds of things.

As a writer, I can see a few points of view on this. If I write a poem, I want people to read it and, hopefully, be influenced by it. So I want it out there. Most poets have to give their poems away to literary magazines, though every once in a while, you can sell a poem. The right of the poem, even one that is sold, remains with the author. I can publish my poem elsewhere, for example (though the place that reprints the poem often want to know it has been published elsewhere). Now suppose that I write a poem:

On the Wealthy

We learned to hate the wealthy when
The wealthy were all thieves
And rulers with the strength to take
Whatever they should please.

The wealthy, when they gained their wealth
From voluntary trade,
Were thought to get their wealth the way
The ruler thieves were paid.

So then we turn back to the thieves
Who promise that they’ll take
The wealth from those who earned that wealth
Then lie: “It’s for your sake.”

We’ve come to trust the ones who made
Us never trust the rich
And, rather than take a hand up,
Lie beaten in a ditch.

Exchange is new and power’s old
So it feels natural –
But if we keep believing that,
We’ll live still in the Fall.

Now suppose that some other poet comes along and read my poem and changes just a word or two:

We learned to hate the wealthy ’cause
The wealthy all are theives
And rulers with the strength to take
Whatever they should please.

And then claims they are the original writer of the poem. What recourse do I have? I mean, it is one thing if the person does it to satirize my poem — so long as they acknowledge I am the original author. Unless the poem is protected somehow as my creation, what if any recourse could I have? I’ve never had a satisfactory answer to this.

But poems, like I pointed out, are often given away for free. Novels are typically written, then sold to a publisher, and the author is paid by the publisher for that first opportunity to publish the work. So, that is easy enough without IP. But plays are another creature entirely. Right now, theaters have to pay me to perform my plays. But without IP protection, all I have to do is send it to one theater, and it could potentially be sent to just about every theater in the world, and everyone could produce it, with no benefits to me (other than reputation — which is great, but it doesn’t exactly pay the bills, now does it?). Now, I would love to be independently wealthy and able to write and give away plays all day long (if I were, I would), but that is hardly the case. I have to receive some compensation in order to be in a position to be able to create more plays. Unless I become a successful playwright — meaning I am making money writing my plays — I probably won’t be able to write too many more. It’s a matter of time and money (if I have to spend all my time working at other jobs, like the hotel I am working at and writing from now, then I cannot write plays).

Painters do not have this problem. They have a unique physical object they are selling. But musicians and playwrights, on the other hand, face these kinds of problems. I would love to know what one could do to solve these problems without IP.

Russ June 24, 2010 at 8:29 am

“Unless the poem is protected somehow as my creation, what if any recourse could I have? I’ve never had a satisfactory answer to this.”

I think the reason you’ve never had a satisfactory answer is because you’ve decided ahead of time what answers you want. Therefore, any answer that says that there is no recourse if somebody attributes your poem to himself is immediately rejected.

Troy Camplin June 25, 2010 at 1:25 am

I don’t know what answers I want. I want an actual answer. Snide remarks aren’t an answer — and suggest you don’t have one.

Peter Surda June 25, 2010 at 7:32 am

Well, maybe if I make the question more generic it will be obvious. What recourse should you have when you are unhappy about something? This is the wrong question. Why should you have legal protection merely because you are unhappy?

Troy Camplin June 26, 2010 at 2:06 am

Just because you are unhappy with someone on your property, does that mean you have legal protection just because you’re unhappy? This is MY creation. It is MY poem. It is my property. Being robbed makes you unhappy — should we just say, “So what?” There’s more to this than unhappiness.

Fortunately for this topic, Kinsella gives actual answers. Because so far on this subthread, most people would dismiss oppoents of IP as cranks. Let’s try to come up with some real arguments.

Peter Surda June 26, 2010 at 3:23 am

This is circular reasoning, which is what Russ was pointing out in the beginning. You cannot define property by being unhappy about an activity. I am unhappy when people answer stupidly, does that mean they are violating my property? Of course, you should have a legal recourse when you are unhappy about a property rights violation, but that assumes the existence of the property rights over that in the first place. If immaterial goods cannot be owned, even if you are unhappy, there is no legal recourse, although you are still left with economic means of reaction.

Troy Camplin June 27, 2010 at 1:06 am

This isn’t about being unhappy. It’s about theft.

Joe B June 24, 2010 at 8:36 am

Nobody buys anyone else’s actions, they buy the product of those actions.

Contracts provide a means by which the price of a future product of an action can be established. Such a contract creates information that allows each party to act based on his understanding of the likely outcome of the action.

Labor performed without an agreed upon contract is an entrepreneurial act in which the laborer assumes the risk that he may be unable to secure a satisfactory price for his product. In fact, I would say that he doesn’t even own this product. A positive property rights regime might increase his chances of being paid for this product – or more accurately, it would enable him to more easily prevent others from using it unless he received a satisfactory price. However, absent such a regime, he must bear all costs of this protection.

Regardless of whether the product is a painted fence, and assembled widget, a or a script for a play, the contract serves the same purpose. A “creative” act with an intangible product is no different from any other act. If you create something prior to finding a buyer, you assume all risk that you won’t be able to recoup the opportunity cost of your time spent laboring.

The problem of IP, from a utilitarian standpoint, is incentivisation. Since IP is cheap to reproduce, it is difficult to protect once it has been created. This makes it difficult to profit as an entrepreneurial actor, creating a product prior to finding a buyer. The utilitarian pro-IP protection argument is that this entrepreneurship must be incentivised by granting the actor exclusivity over the act of reproducing the product, otherwise such entrepreneurship of intangible products will grind to a halt.

So how could this entrepreneurship be supported without positive IP rights? This is really a question of business models, not fundamental rights. You could write plays in order to build a reputation as a reliable playwright, in the hope that some producer will offer you a contract to write a new play in the future. You may not have complete creative control in this arrangement, because you are creating a product that someone else wants.

This is just one possible path to success – given the chance, I’m sure that many others would be discovered by entrepreneurs. If eliminating IP protection really does cause a collapse in supply, the most dedicated and talented playwrights who continue to produce regardless should find willing buyers who demand new content.

Only scarce goods can be valued and sold. Future goods are always scarce in the present. Present goods that can be easily reproduced are only scarce if they are withheld from distribution. If you expect financial profit from labor in any field, find a contractual buyer first or assume the risk of an entrepreneurial loss.

If you are unable to work full time in labor that you enjoy, welcome to the rat race!

Ryan June 24, 2010 at 9:54 am

You said: “Nobody buys anyone else’s actions, they buy the product of those actions.”

I disagree with this. This becomes really obvious in the realm of performing arts: music, dancing, stand-up comedy, acting, etc. When you hire a singer, you aren’t buying “a song,” you’re buying a specific performance by a specific individual. The action is the product; the product is the action. More complex examples, such as painting a fence or buying a computer stem from the most basic fundamental unit of the performance of a given action by a given individual. In my opinion, anyway.

Peter Surda June 24, 2010 at 12:24 pm

What you are buying in all cases is your satisfaction. The act of performance is a means to achieve that. To put it in differnet words, the performance is the condition of the contract. Or yet another way, the satisfaction is causally related to the act of performance.

Stephan Kinsella June 24, 2010 at 2:32 pm

I agree /w surda. But this is not necessary to decide legally, what it is you are buying. All we need to know is that for some motivation or end, you are willing to give away title to your money. You can condition this title transfer on whatever you want: on the other guy giving you title to his product; or on the other guy performing some action. For the former, the guy needs to own the product he is selling you. For the latter, the other guy just needs to be a free man who can perform the desired action.

Ryan June 25, 2010 at 6:09 am

Technically, every contract is a purchase of satisfaction, but only indirectly. Forget action and consider any physical transaction – satisfaction is implied. Moreover, satisfaction definitely cannot be “owned” (especially if you think a performance can’t be owned!).

Peter Surda June 25, 2010 at 6:45 am

I do not claim that satisfaction can be owned, but that it is the goal. You need to stop inserting “property” everywhere, it is deceptive :-)

Troy Camplin June 25, 2010 at 1:28 am

Creativity doesn’t work that way. You can’t be creative on demand, even if you are being paid to be creative. When a poem or a play or a short story comes to me, it comes to me. I write it down, or I lose it. I can’t sit around and wait for someone to pay me. More, nobody is going to believe I’m a poet if I haven’t written any poems. This is an unrealistic expectation when it comes to any kind of creativity, it seems to me.

Joe B June 25, 2010 at 7:55 am

I agree, but you also don’t have to share or promote your creation as soon as you create it. Your poem is a scarce good to everyone else until you decide to release it in some form. If you are able to build up a reputation (probably by seeking promotion rather than pay early in your career), you may be able to persuade fans to pay you in advance, or contract to pay for it and not reproduce it (which is not the same thing as a universal copyright law). Of course, they are then assuming the risk that the new unknown poem may not give them as much satisfaction as a previous one did.

Again, this is just one conceivable business plan, and it may not be suited to whatever ends you hope to achieve in your creative endeavors. If you are unwilling to sacrifice creative control for a paycheck, you probably get some satisfaction out of the act of creation itself. This doesn’t mean that it isn’t labor, only that any price you might receive for it is complemented by the satisfaction you have gained in creating it. Logically, this should mean that you are generally willing to accept a lower price for something in which you have full creative control.

As Peter Surda clarified, you don’t purchase someone else’s action, you purchase the satisfaction you hope to receive as a result of the performance. Exchange is a means to an end just as performing the song yourself with a hairbrush in front of a mirror would be. If you pay someone else to do it, you obvously expect to gain more satisfaction from their performance than from your own.

If someone else wants to pay you to create something, they either want you to use your own creative judgement, which they have presumably come to trust, or they want you to create something to their specification. In either case, they are seeking their own satisfaction, not yours. If you don’t like the terms of the contract based on creative differences or whatever, you don’t have to take the job. If they don’t think that you will deliver something to their satisfaction, what motive do they have for paying you?

The defining element of markets is exchange. This means that in order to participate you must produce goods that other people want, not just ones that you want. In order to be successful in exchange, you must identify what other people want, and find a way to secure payment while it is still a scarce good.

Troy Camplin June 26, 2010 at 3:30 am

All of this is true, but it doesn’t address the issue of the fact that someone can steal a poem in a way that is different from the way you can steal a shirt. I’m not talking about sending it around to people because you like it. By all means, do that. So long as you attribute the poem to me. How, without IP, can we ensure that my poem that I created will be attributed to me?

This is less a problem with a poem, for example, since we poets do in fact give those away most of the time. But one can become wealthy writing plays and movie scripts. Off of just one, in fact. Suppose I write a screenplay, and I can’t copywright it, because there are no IP laws, and someone gets ahold of my screenplay and sells it, claiming they wrote it? They get paid, I get nothing. I don’t even have legal recourse. I suppose someone could say, “Well, sometimes life’s not fair.” True enough. Think about that the next time you get robbed. Don’t worry about it, don’t report it to the police — after all, sometime’s life’s not fair. Nobody here’s going to accept that as an explanation for things you buy.

I want to know how my creation is protected. To say, “It shouldn’t be” won’t convince anyone who is an artist or inventor.

Peter Surda June 26, 2010 at 3:59 am

I want to know how my creation is protected.

Your creation is already protected by the (physical) property laws. You just want the protection to be extended onto a more abstract level.

Troy Camplin June 27, 2010 at 1:08 am

That makes no sense for a poem or a play. Those are reproducable words.

Peter Surda June 27, 2010 at 5:09 am

So, because the delimitation of rights does not fit into your business model, the rights should be changed?

Troy Camplin June 28, 2010 at 12:37 am

It doesn’t fit reality. That’s why I’m not yet comfortable giving up my IP rights. Address the concern. Deal with the reality of the thing at hand. It’s not an issue of it being a “business model,” but of physical reality. It is infinitely reproduceable — and more and more so as time passes. Land is not. We’re not dealing with the 19th century. We’re dealing with the 21st. Please join that reality in discussing these things.

Peter Surda June 28, 2010 at 1:56 am

It does fit reality, you just refuse to see it. IP, on the other hand, is all about imagination and interpretation.

Troy Camplin July 1, 2010 at 4:23 am

It’s not that I refuse to see it — it’s that irrefutable evidence has yet to be presented to me. Deal with the arguments. Don’t just lament the fact that I have yet to blindly become a true believer. Maybe I can’t see it because it’s not really there. Prove otherwise.

Peter Surda July 1, 2010 at 4:51 am

Well, I dealt with the facts, as opposed to imagination, for a long time and this is my conclusion. You have not dealt with the facts. Rather than me abandoning my “beliefs” (which are actually a conclusion of a long process of analysis and hard confrontations), it should be you who abandons yours and face the facts.

Troy Camplin July 2, 2010 at 3:03 am

You have presented no facts. You have merely made the contention that intellectual property isn’t property. I disagree. I propose that it has more complex existence than what are commonly understood to be “physical objects” and that you want to accept the existence of lower-complexity entities, but not of higher complexity entities. You disagree with me that a certain aspect of reality actually exists. But it exists whether you agree that it exists or not. That’s a fact.

Peter Surda July 2, 2010 at 3:37 am

You refuse to abandon your belief that your imagination is real.

Troy Camplin July 3, 2010 at 3:05 am

Yes, you amino acid, the cell is real. It actually exists. And the mind and imagination exists in the same relationship to the brain.

Peter Surda July 3, 2010 at 7:01 am

You are confusing physical objects with the categorisation thereof which happen in human minds.

Troy Camplin July 4, 2010 at 2:44 pm

This isn’t about categorization. It’s about the creation of new things through the organizing abilities of the mind. I don’t know what you’re talking about.

Peter Surda July 4, 2010 at 3:27 pm

The creation you are talking about only occurs in people’s minds, it is not an empirical phenomenon. On the empirical level, you merely alter existing objects, but your mind can interpret it as an act of creation. You mix metaphors with empirical phenomena, causing confusion.

Troy Camplin July 5, 2010 at 12:36 am

No, the creativity I am talking about has in fact been mathematically modeled, and is known as bios theory. I am pretty sure if you can model a process, that process has existence. And, as I have shown, physical things are in fact processes. You are merely rejecting as real a more complex level process while accepting as real less complex level processes. That is all.

Peter Surda July 5, 2010 at 3:03 am

You appear to be committing the same misinterpretation of my argument Kerem Tibuk does, only he has been stuck on it for a year. You on the other hand, have shown the ability to properly counterargue, as a true scholar. Thank you.

You seem to think that the strength of my argument lies in the denial of causality and similarity. However, that is not the point. The point is that they both extend to infinity, and in order to use them to define property, you need to divide them to two categories: the relevant and the irrelevant. It is this distinction that is unreal, subjective, and only exists in people’s minds. Therefore, you need to come up with a different factor that determines property boundaries.

My theory, on the other hand, is based on change. Change determines boundaries. Any change. There is no need to divide the changes into the relevant and irrelevant.

newson June 24, 2010 at 9:40 am

you’re assuming that the product you’re selling currently must find a market. imagine that a ip-free market will bear only old plays, where all the creative costs are sunk – well, playrights will go the way of wagon-wheel fabricators, and no one sings ballads about their demise.

more likely, however, is that there remains some appetite for new material, and consequently some writers will be able to insist on money up-front, or some other innovative pay model. reputation does pay many bills: see paris hilton and others, famous for being famous.

what if the arts market were slimmed down in line with consumers’ preferences, could you criticize them for their tastes?

Troy Camplin June 25, 2010 at 1:35 am

I would love for the arts market to slim down in line with customer’s preferences — I suspect I would do a lot better than many of the pomo work out there now. But that is less an issue with IP as with government subsidization of theaters.

newson June 25, 2010 at 1:52 am

true, but aside from subsidies, if the lack of government-sanctioned ip protection resulted in a smaller arts pie, would not that be a reflection on the sum of consumers’ wishes?

Troy Camplin June 26, 2010 at 2:09 am

Not necessarily. It might be a refleciton of artists’ unwillingness to release anything they can’t ensure is protected from theft.

newson June 26, 2010 at 2:26 am

then it’s on the artists to incorporate some protection device, and to bear the costs of this. much like i put up a fence at my own expense to deter pilferers, or mark the boundaries where i can defend what’s mine.

Troy Camplin June 26, 2010 at 3:00 am

And if you personally cannot defend what is yours? This ends up boiling down to “it’s yours if you can keep it,” and that’s no defense of property rights — of any kind.

newson June 26, 2010 at 4:23 am

“it’s yours if you can keep it”

fences may indeed provide physical protection, but in most cases the security is by virtue of people recognizing where someone’s claim is, in order not to involuntarily trespass. ideas are too amorphous to be claimed by any one person without others contesting their origins. even the most original literary work contains sentences, ideas, turns of speech etc that have appeared before, and so “originality” is established on purely arbitrary lines.

Troy Camplin June 27, 2010 at 1:23 am

Reality is ambiguous this way. And it’ s not arbitrary. A change that makes a difference is original. No change is theft. Period.

newson June 27, 2010 at 6:48 am

one comma omitted makes an “original” work. period.

Troy Camplin June 28, 2010 at 12:38 am

Wrong. Period. If I steal your car and paint it a different color, that doesn’t make the car mine.

Stephan Kinsella June 24, 2010 at 2:30 pm

SEe my reply above. You just condition the transfer of title to the money (payment) on the recipient’s performing certain actions. Easy. It’s a one-way transfer.

Troy Camplin June 25, 2010 at 1:54 am

Now this is a real answer to my question. Thank you. So basically you are suggesting that contract should replace IP. Maybe I’ve missed it, but in everything I have ever read here against IP, this is the first suggestion that contract law should and could replace IP, which makes a lot of sense when the idea is presented to me that way. Of course, this essentially acts as though there is intellectual property involved, even if it could do away with IP laws. My concern has been precisely with the problem of, if nobody considers the work I create to me somehow mine, then it can be spread around without my permission — and even without my name attached (which would make developing a reputation that could lead to more work possible). This idea involving the contracting out of one’s work with conditions regarding the use of that work — meaning, the prohibition of further circulation of that work if you argree to perform the work — seems to solve the problem.

The only problem it may not solve, though, now that I think about it, is the fact that if I publish my play now, under IP law, theaters still have to pay me for that production, even if they buy the work at a bookstore. Under the contract idea, playwrights would be discouraged from publishing their works, thus reducing potential circulation and production of their works. How would one solve this problem?

Peter Surda June 25, 2010 at 6:30 am

Dear Troy,

I replied to you about half a year ago: http://blog.mises.org/11035/if-you-believe-in-ip-how-do-you-teach-others/#comment-627638 exactly to clarify this, but apparently you haven’t read it. Market oriented IP opponents do not oppose contracts, left oriented IP opponents sometimes do. IP has nothing to do with contracts.

The problem with seeing abstract concepts such as IP as property is that they do not have boundaries and can’t be modified, so there is no way to tell if the equivalent of trespass occurred. Trespass of abstract concepts cannot be measured, it can only be interpreted. Which leaves you with defining boundaries in contracts, which eliminates the necessity of seeing them as property. It also shifts the comparative strength of your ability to influence the effects of your efforts from legal means to business means.

The existence of IP laws skewed the perception of a huge amount of people, who, having been exposed to these laws all their lives, cannot imagine how things would work without them. Just like the omnipresent existence of state makes it more difficult to imagine how the services provided by state would be provided without it. This is no argument, that is just a lack of imagination.

Troy Camplin June 26, 2010 at 3:17 am

I did miss your comment. But, to be honest, that wouldn’t have really clarified it. It seems to me that IP is a way of delineating the nature of contracts regarding something one has created. Now, one may disagree with those rules, which is fine — but I don’t know that it is anti-contract per se. But this is nit-picking that ventures dangerously close to snatching defeat out of the jaws of victory, as I am mostly convinced.

I think one problem is that too many of those who are against IP are themselves not really creators, and so don’t think IP is a real thing. I’m not talking about scholars — scholarship is a lot of hard work and good thinking, but it’s not imaginative/creative. I think one would have an extremely difficult time convincing inventors and creative artists that they should not have their inventions protected, that they can and should be open to any and all predation by others. A scholar wants their ideas and insights out there because the ideas are important. For the inventor (and I’m including artists in this term), getting their works out there is important, true, but you have to realize that that work is also deeply, intimately THEM. Every poem I write is me, and to violate that poem is to violate me. You won’t find an inventor who doesn’t see their work that way. As a scholar, I think it’s fun to see connections among this and that and to point them out — but my scholarship isn’t ME. I have a completely different relationship with my art. And it is that relationship between the creator and what (s)he creates that anti-IP people don’t seem to truly grasp. So unless and until it is made abundantly clear how my creative works can be as completely protected as possible (or more) without IP as with it, then you’re not going to convince the people who matter: the beneficiaries of IP. And understand: I want to be convinced. But I won’t be convinced just because I want to be.

Peter Surda June 26, 2010 at 3:57 am

It seems to me that IP is a way of delineating the nature of contracts regarding something one has created.

IP has nothing to do if contracts. IP is a way to prevent people who have not agreed to any contract from performing certain actions. It is the attempt to mimick the concept of trespass on immaterial goods. If you get another party to sign a contract, you can put whatever you want into it, it does not require any special laws or property.

I think one problem is that too many of those who are against IP are themselves not really creators, and so don’t think IP is a real thing.

I’m a programmer (mainly). I also have my own business. I don’t think I ever used IP in order to earn money (however, since I have only become full anti-IP-er about two years ago, I am not 100% sure).

I think one would have an extremely difficult time convincing inventors and creative artists that they should not have their inventions protected,

This is a false dichotomy. Inventions are already protected by the (physical) property laws. What you actually mean is that they need to be protected on a more abstract level. There are two main problems with this: less abstract level and more abstract level overlap (creating dual ownerships, so the more abstract level needs to take precedence, otherwise it would be pointless) and there is no way to determine which level of abstraction is the right one.

If you write a piece of software, it is potentially protected on three levels already. The computer it is stored on protected by (physical) property. The code of the software is protected by copyright, and some of the methods implemented may be protected by patents. But copyright and patents are merely an arbitrary subset of possible abstraction levels.

Why shouldn’t the human ancestor that discovered purposeful human action not have the right to own this abstract concept, thus owning all purposeful action of people that came after him?

Troy Camplin June 27, 2010 at 4:02 am

Your last statement makes no sense. Nobody “invented” purposeful action. It evolved. That aside, I think I see the problem here. Those against IP don’t think of the creations of the mind as material. I do. If our definition of “real” is the physically real, then living cells aren’t real, as they are a level of complexity greater than physical reality. The mind is a magnitude greater in complexity yet. Is the mind material? Does it have reality? I argue that it has MORE reality than the brain whose actions create the mind. The creations of the mind are, thus, real, and deserve proper protection.

Physical reality has the advantage of being incredibly easy to delineate. Biological reality, less so. Mental reality, even less so. Mental reality, and the products of the mind are incredibly difficult to delineate, true, but does that mean we should just give up on the problem because it’s hard? Of course not. But it does mean that we are going to have to deal with the ambiguities of that reality. We can’t just dismiss it or claim that it’s not really real.

I suppose a lot of people don’t like this problem, and seek to just dismiss it and get rid of it this way, precisely because such ambiguities result in what appear to be arbitrary delineations. What percentage of my poem must you change before it becomes yours? Can you take a line and use it? I would argue, yes. Can you change a line and claim it’s yours? Of course not. Can you change a few words to give it an oppostie meaning, in order to satirize it? Again, I would argue, yes. The arts are encessarily intertextual, and you’re not going to find any artists who will insist that their works of art emerged ex nihilo, without any influence from anyone. I would refer you to my essay on the spontaneous orders of the arts in regards to this issue:

http://www.studiesinemergentorder.com/PDF/SIEO%20Vol%203%20(2010)%20Camplin.pdf

In the end, the issue for me is that copywright protects my work as it was created from being stolen from anyone else. If someone comes along and tries to put out a play that is practically mine, I will hope to rely on reputation to mostly take care of such a thief. But for someone who steals my work, who performs it without compensating me for doing so — what recourse could I have without IP? Again, I think Kinsella’s suggestion of contract may be a good step in the right direction, but I still have concerns, as I pointed out to him.

Peter Surda June 27, 2010 at 5:43 am

Your last statement makes no sense.

It does, you just don’t get it.

Nobody “invented” purposeful action. It evolved.

There is no empirical distinction between the two (“evolved” and “invented”). It is a matter of interpretation, which is the main problem of IP.

That aside, I think I see the problem here.

I don’t think you do.

Those against IP don’t think of the creations of the mind as material. I do.

This is a confusing statement. I recognise that “creations of mind”, whatever that means, play an important role in economy. However, unlike you, I also recognise that one needs to build a proper theory before one can call immaterial goods “property”, and I claim that IP proponents haven’t done that.

Does it have reality? I argue that it has MORE reality than the brain whose actions create the mind. The creations of the mind are, thus, real, and deserve proper protection.

This is another false dichotomy. They already receive protection from physical property rights and contract law. What you are saying is that you do not find this adequate. This is, in general, fine, however for a proper theory you first need to solve the logical problem of non-existing boundaries.

I suppose a lot of people don’t like this problem, and seek to just dismiss it and get rid of it this way, precisely because such ambiguities result in what appear to be arbitrary delineations.

Ok, so at least you recognise the first step of the issue. Let me allow to guide you to the second step. I argue that this problem is unsolvable. From arguments of IP proponents I deduced that there are two criteria for delineation of immaterial goods: causality and similarity. I explained this several times in the comments to various blog posts on this site. Causality means that without the original, there is no copy, the copy is causally related to the original. Similarity means that on a certain abstraction level, the original and copy resemble each other.

From economic point of view, goods that fulfil these criteria are called externalities (for causality) and substitutes (for similarity). So, in order to close the argument, one needs to explain how to distinguish between externalities and property on the scale of causality, and substitutes and property on the similarity scale. I am unable to find such a distinction, therefore conclude that this is a completely arbitrary distinction. There are only two ways this can be made into a proper theory, either no causality/similarity is property, or all of them. The latter one, in my humble opinion, leads to absurdities just like the one with owning purposeful human action I mentioned earlier.

In the end, the issue for me is that copyright protects my work as it was created from being stolen from anyone else.

Again, you already have (physical) property rights and contracts. This is circular reasoning: you need to prove that immaterial goods can be owned before copying can be theft. Earlier in this thread I realised an important parallel between this argument and the marxian theory of labour. You claim that you should be rewarded for the “product of your labour” beyond the scope of the contracts which you voluntarily engage with. Marxians argue that workers should be rewarded for their “product of their labour” beyond the scope of the employment contracts which they voluntarily engage in. They call it exploitation, you call it theft. Both of these fail as a proper theory, because the effects of one’s labour extend to infinity and are therefore an inadequate criterion for delimitation of rights.

Stephan Kinsella June 27, 2010 at 10:10 am

Surda: “externalities (for causality) and substitutes (for similarity)” — this way of explaining it and looking at it is very interesting. Cool.

In my mind, however, the causality part if doubly problematic. Let’s say that a guy invents the transistor. Now for the next year or so you can say that he’s a but-for cause of people now knowing how to make transistors: without his invention, they would not have this transistor (even if someone else made it using the inventor’s ideas).

But how long does the causation last? Surely without his invention someone else would have invented it sooner or later (usually sooner). J. Neil Schulman, in his logorights theory, as best I can tell, thinks we can use “entropy” analysis and information theory to determine how long an IP right should last. If it’s likely that someoen else would have invented the transistor within, I suppose, 38 months, then that’s how long the “logoright” to the transistor lasts…. and …. we just plug some data into some official formula, and out pops our answer! In law school we call this punting difficult questions to the judge.

Troy Camplin June 28, 2010 at 1:10 am

There’s a huge difference between nonteleological evolution and teleological creation. So, no, it makes no sense.

As far as I can tell, traditional property rights for a play would only extend to what is stored in my computer and ink on paper. This is a fairly absurd way of understanding the nature of a play. A particular play script is the particular organization of words that constitute the play. It’s not really the same as the invention of the transistor or telephone (Bell got the patent because he was a few hours ahead of the other inventor of the phone), for example, which are phyiscal objects which have to obey the laws of physics and chemistry in order to do their work. Thus, there is a physical limit to invention that limits what can be physically made — so one can legitimately say that someone else could come along and invent the transistor later. This is patently untrue with artistic works.A great example of this absurdity can be seen in Borges’ work “Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote”, which is a fictional story about a man, Pierre Menard, a 2oth Century French writer, who decided that he was going to write the novel Don Quixote word-for-word just like the original. There’s quite a bit of humor in it from the narrator pointing out places where Cervantes was sincere, but Menard was clearly being ironic — both being word-for-word identical passages. But there’s also an absurd element in it from the fact that such an endeavor is understood to be quite literally impossible.With a work of art, the artist is actually creating a new entity, which is different from the inventor who transforms physical material. He must obey the laws of physics to be successful. The artist is creating new realities. We are comfortable with how we transform less complex entities, but we are not comfortable with how we create (potentially) more complex ones.I’m not denying that contract may in fact end up being the best way of protecting these newly invented entities, but I do not think that regular property rights are a reasonable form of protecting such things in the least. At least, nobody here has made the case that they are. So far, Kinsella has come closest to convincing me with the issue of contract — though I still think it would end up eliminating the publication of plays in book form until after the authors’ deaths. And I am still waiting for someone to give me a reasonable explanation of why I should not expect my works, which are the creations of my mind, to be able to be protected from theft. This isn’t an issue of a “labor theory of value,” but of the fact that they are exclusively my creation. The subjective theory of value of course comes into play for people wanting the poem, to see the play, etc. But just because you don’t subjectively value something of mine, that doesn’t mean it’s not stolen from me if you or someone else takes it and claims it as their own.

Peter Surda June 28, 2010 at 2:20 am

There’s a huge difference between nonteleological evolution and teleological creation. So, no, it makes no sense.

The difference is only relevant for the purposes of interpretation. It is not an empirical distinction.

As far as I can tell, traditional property rights for a play would only extend to what is stored in my computer and ink on paper. This is a fairly absurd way of understanding the nature of a play.

On the contrary. I do understand the nature of a play, I spent a several years analysing various aspects of IP and it took me a while to arrive to the current position. I also have been earning money with immaterial goods my whole career. My position is the outcome of a long process, during which logic forced me to eliminate some of the original assumptions which I believed in but later proved contradictory or unsubstantiated. I am afraid though that you do not understand the nature of property. Property requires boundaries and immaterial goods do not have them, their boundaries only exist within human mind.

A particular play script is the particular organization of words that constitute the play.

Again, this is a matter of interpretation and imagination. This is not an empirical phenomenon. “particular organisation of words” is an abstraction, i.e. an umbrella for other things. Why is then a translation covered by copyright then? If you extend the boundary of play to translations, you add another layer of abstraction to the definition of the good. Why shouldn’t the boundaries then be extended to infinity? The choice of a particular level of abstraction to define the boundaries of an immaterial good is based on the purpose for which one intends to use it. Why should the purpose be a relevant criterion for property rights?

You fail to see that you have not provided any theory that explains your viewpoint.
Until you do that, all the conclusions you draw are pointless.

Matthew Swaringen June 28, 2010 at 2:33 am

As someone who also programs a little (at work primarily) but has a pretty open-source mindset about things I’ve always been a bit bothered by the way artists are so damn haughty about what they do in comparison to the type of creativity and work that goes into code.

It’s a huge pet peeve of mine to see that the only people expected to share together are in the areas of software and science, but the artists want everything to be “theirs” for all time.

I think this probably has something to do with the difference in mindset that is common between artists vs that of software developers (not to say there aren’t many software developers who see things on this very much differently).

It’s not that I don’t understand the desire to call something “mine.” I take a bit of pride in doing something “cool” myself (wanting to brag about some neat functionality that was put together, etc.) I just don’t feel like I “own” something when I can only make it due to learning from every other human being out there. And art is not in any way fundamentally different in that regard. Neither software developers or artists are gods, we can only create by virtue of having seen what exists and learning from that.

I think perhaps software developers have a little better sense (usually) of the foundations of what they used as a basis since it’s more clear in structured language. Perhaps because art is more of an abstraction this seems less true there. I’d just say any writer/artist should point themselves over to TV tropes if they imagine that they are doing something entirely original. It’s not likely.

Troy Camplin July 1, 2010 at 4:34 am

Herein lies the problem, as I have pointed out before. You are rejecting a higher order reality and saying that only lower order reality has reality.

I do not deny that coding involves creativity. There is a certain relationship between understanding what another artist has done and then using that understanding to create a new work and understanding what another coder has done and using that understanding to create new code. (I would argue that science is different, in that you are using past discoveries to help you make new discoveries about what already exists — with both art and code, you are in fact creating something new.) But if we take a poem as an example, there is a difference between someone taking the poem and claiming it is there’s and being influenced by that poem (and others) to create a new poem. Are the boundaries fuzzy? I do not deny that. Too bad. That’s the nature of the beast. But that does not mean it’s not property. It just means it’s a harder problem to solve, is all. Why does its difficulty necessitate giving up? That, I don’t understand.

Also, I don’t see a lot of arugment among artists about whether they have been ripped off or if their work is simply influencing someone else. Why is it so obvious to us what the difference is?

Peter Surda July 1, 2010 at 5:03 am

You are rejecting a higher order reality and saying that only lower order reality has reality.

There is no “higher order reality”. What you are referring to is rather a mix of culture, state of knowledge, social norms and business practices. You fail to understand that these are all contextual and subjective, and therefore when you use them as a criteria to define property, you are facing difficult problems.

Rather than lamenting, you should counter by providing a usable definition of property, something which I discovered IP proponents actually lack. For example, if you recognise “higher order reality”, which of those higher levels is relevant as a property demaraction criterion?

Also, I don’t see a lot of arugment among artists about whether they have been ripped off or if their work is simply influencing someone else.

This is because they share some of the above (culture, norms, state of knowledge, business practices). That does not make it an objective criterion though.

Troy Camplin July 2, 2010 at 3:21 am

“What you are referring to is rather a mix of culture, state of knowledge, social norms and business practices. You fail to understand that these are all contextual and subjective, and therefore when you use them as a criteria to define property, you are facing difficult problems.”

Work of art is a product. It has material existence. Your argument is like saying that a lion doesn’t actually exist, because it is a mix of ecosystem, genetic information, and ability to get and assimilate food. For the lion to exist, it has to have had all of these elements, but that doesn’t mean there is no lion. In this sense, the lion is contextual (any particular one exists over a particular time period, and the species over a longer one). A work of art is similar. Yes, it comes into being at a particular time (and in a particular brain), in a particular culture, with a particular state of knowledge, etc. But what you are pointing to are evolutionary processes. They are faster than the ones involving physical property, but one could use these same arguments against physical property. After all, the land someone has their house on is made of soil created over time from rocks in other locations, washed and blown to this particular place at this particular time. If a wind storm comes and blows some of the soil from your land onto someone else’s land, do you have recourse to get it back? How would you be able to identify it? In other words, if we take these objections seriously, then physical property in the form of land begins to lose some of its “solidity” as well. I suppose one could then logically use this to argue against physical property rights.

The basic incoherence of the anti-IP argument comes out with the fact that the more this issue is argued, the less convinced I become. Kinsella almost had me convinced — and you have in turn convinced me that my original position in favor of IP was correct. In fact, I have developed through these arguments what I consider to be a pretty solid argument for IP in the realization that one is merely making a distinction between more and less complex entities.

The universe is constantly creating more and more new things. More kinds of molecules are made. Living cells push the boundaries especially of organic molecules. This in turn has led to the creation of more different kinds of living organism. The products of the brain are no different. They are evidence of the continuing creativity of the universe. They have as much physical reality as everything else which has evolved in the universe. It seems to me that my position is the one that is consistent with the reality of the nature of existence, while you are drawing what is in essence an arbitrary line. But one can draw arbitrary lines anywhere. And that’s the danger of it. The argument against IP could turn out to be an argument against property rights themselves.

Peter Surda July 2, 2010 at 4:08 am

You are mixing two different uses of a word, and therein lies your confusion. A painting, or a tiger, have an existence independent of people. However, their interpetations as art or an animal only exist in human mind. Merely because you are able to grasp a certain abstraction, does not mean it exists outside of your mind. Anyone can observe a painting or a tiger, they can interact with it. This requires no interpretation and is independently observable and measurable, because the interaction causes changes in the object in question. The abstractions, however, arise when a mind is trying to interpret the inputs it receives. You cannot measure them, you cannot interpret them. The use, consumption and copying of immaterial goods are all metaphors rather then empirical phenomena. We use the phrases to describe certain causal relationships, and they are always contextual and subjective.

If you want to use abstractions to define property, you will stumble over the problem of boundaries. Boundaries of physical property, as I said, are measurable based on the fact that you interact with them and the interaction changes them. Interacting with abstractions do not cause a change in them, so you cannot measure them and are stuck with an interpretation. The only criteria left to you are causality and similarity, which I have shown before, extend to infinity. Which is why if you want to have a legal recourse for other peoples activites’ regarding abstractions, you are stuck with contracts. Once you admit that certain abstractions can be trespassed, you are facing the unsolvable problem of the selection and the order of precedence.

It is you who is in error. Absent change, there is no measurability, there are no boundaries, and no property. If you want to use your imagination as a basis for your theories, that is fine, but please do not pretend it’s real.

I arrived at my conclusions independently and through a different angle than Stephan, I think his arguments are incomplete.

I would like to point out that, like all other IP proponents, you have failed to provide a definition of property, the main issue being how to distinguish it from externalities and substitutes.

Troy Camplin July 3, 2010 at 3:24 am

So far you haven’t given a definition of property, either. I have shown that physical property can and does have as ambiguous of boarders as “imagination,” which, as I note above, is in fact real. You seem to require an unchanging, atemporal property that inherently does not exist. I suppose that if you bought a cow, I could legitimately come and take it away from you 10 years later, as it would have changed out all its atoms, and is no longer the cow you bought — thus, not being the same cow, it is no longer your property, and it is up for grabs. This is the basic absurdity of your position. The “cow” is an abstraction in relation to its atomic constituents, but that doesn’t make it any less real. Cows in fact change constantly, which is what maintains their form as a living organism. You would have to deny the possibility of ownership of a cow to be consistent.

Peter Surda July 3, 2010 at 6:37 am

You appear to be processing my argument backwards, which of course leads to false conclusions. Merely the fact that object B is different in some aspect than object A, does not automatically mean that you cannot own both of them, rather that ownership of A it is an insufficient condition for ownership of B.

The quest for property is a very difficult endeavour, so I am afraid at this moment I am unable to provide a full definition. However, I can state that whatever it is, it must exist independently of individuals’ interpretations. This requires the ability to cause measurable changes in said property. This alone of course is still an insufficient condition for a proper definition, but we know it is a necessary one. Immaterial goods do not fulfil either of these criteria.

If you cannot cause a change in something, it cannot have boundaries, without boundaries there is no trespass, and without trespass there is no property.

If you disagree, then maybe you can explain how to define boundaries of something that cannot be changed without depending on individual’s interpretation. Maybe you remember in 2006, the IAU changed the definition of planet, thereby demoting Pluto to a new category of dwarf planet. That’s a good example of what I’m talking about.

Troy Camplin July 4, 2010 at 2:57 pm

Everything requires interpretation. At the most basic level — quantum physics — we have what is called “The Copenhagen Interpretation” that pretty much admits that at the most basic levels, interpretation of the data is needed. Property rights are necessarily defined in how they exist, and therefore are necessarily interpreted. Everything is information, everything is “text,” and thus everything is interpreted. You are comfortable with one interpretation, but not with another one. It’s becoming increasingly clear that this is much like arguing with someone who believes in the “literal interpretation” of the Bible, who fails to realize that “literal” and “interpretation” are contraries. It boils down for such people to the fact that they are comfortable with one interpretation, but not another. This (dis)comfort has no bearing on reality, though. Is macrophysical reality more or less real than less complex quantum physical reality? Is the cell more or less real than the biochemicals which make it? Different behaviors occur at different levels of complexity, but that doesn’t mean that each level isn’t real. You wish to deny reality to a certain level of complexity; I assert its reality. I have presented analogies demonstrating our relationship to that reality, precisely because our relationship to it is in fact like that of an amino acid to its cell, but if you refuse to recognize that reality, I suppose you cannot be convinced, any more than that amino acid could be convinced if it refused to believe in the cell. We all have ours faiths, I suppose. And we all have our blind spots, including blind spots to the existence of certain elements of reality.

Peter Surda July 4, 2010 at 3:20 pm

Determining whether changes occur in physical world does not require interpretation. Only if you want to go to a more finer detail of the change, interpretation might be necessary. On the other hand, immaterial goods require interpretation by their very essence, outside of the interpretation they have no meaning and no existence. That is all that is necessary for my argument to be valid. QED.

Troy Camplin July 5, 2010 at 12:48 am

Defining is interpreting. If you have a definition of property, you have an interpretation. You are simply showing preference for a slow process, and claiming that a faster processes doesn’t have reality. That’s like saying “It’s only a car if it goes 65 mph. Faster than that, it’s a rocket!” No, it’s still a car.

The problem is, what you think is well-defined is not, and what you think doesn’t need interpretation does. But I have found you can’t argue with the “literal interpretation” Bible fundamentalists, either.

I will say, though, that you have helped me to understand in a clear, unambiguous way why those against IP are deeply, inherently wrong in their position. So I have moved from a gut feeling that it’s wrong to having a clear idea of why it’s wrong. More, if one is opposed to IP, it is now clear to me why and how one is not too far away from arguing against all property rights.

In other words, Kinsella had almost persuaded me to support his anti-IP position, but you have managed to help me clarify why it would have been wrong for me to have been persuaded. I am now more convinced than ever that there should in fact been IP rights protections. The way we do it now may not be good (property rights too evolved over time), but that doesn’t mean we should abandon it — we should rather try to figure out how to make IP laws better.

Stephan Kinsella July 5, 2010 at 1:29 am

Camplin:
“I am now more convinced than ever that there should in fact been IP rights protections. The way we do it now may not be good (property rights too evolved over time), but that doesn’t mean we should abandon it — we should rather try to figure out how to make IP laws better.”

In other words: you don’t support current IP law. But you support IP law. You are just now sure what it would be. That is, you don’t know what it is you support. You would need to actually have a concrete pro-IP viewpoint to even disagree (or agree) with here.

Jay Lakner July 5, 2010 at 2:29 am

Troy,

An “idea” is, objectively, simply an arrangement that tangible materials can take. This manifests itself in the human brain as a pattern of firing neurons.
If we elevate ideas (possible arrangements of tangible materials) to the status of property, we encounter two distinctly different types of property.
The first type, tangible property, is scarce. ie only one person can alter its integrity at any one time. Tangible property has clear defined boundaries. If someone alters the integrity of this property, it is objectively measurable.
The second type, intangible property, is not scarce. Many different actors can all simultaneously make use of this property without in any way affecting the others. It is impossible to alter the integrity of intangible property. This leaves intangible property with no clear defined boundary. It comes down to subjective individual interpretation as to whether a tresspass has occurred.

If you write a poem and then afterwards I write a poem containing most of the content of your poem except a few words have been changed, have I tresspassed on your “intangible property”?
Objectively, the two poems are different. However you might argue that they are “similar”. But here is where the subjectivity of human interpretation comes in. You might consider the poems similar even if 99% of the world disagrees with you.
Next you might argue in terms of “causality”. However, at what point does a causally related action cease to be a property rights violation?
If I translate your poem into French and sell it in Europe, have I tresspassed on your property rights?
If I split your poem up into four parts and sell them individually, is that a tresspass?
If I write a short story which expands on the story and feel of your poem, is that a tresspass?
If I produce a painting which you perceive to be the embodiment of your poem, is that a tresspass?
Where in the causal chain does a property rights violation stop and an externality begin?

These problems are not present for tangible property. There is no need to make some arbitrary judgements on similarity or causality for tangible property. If someone violates your tangible property rights, then the integrity of the property in question has been compromised. There is an objective, measurable change in the arrangement of the tangible materials that make up your property.

It should be clear that there is certainly no similarity between the concepts of tangible and intangible property rights. The only thing they have in common is the word “property”. But this is like comparing apples and aeroplanes and saying they must be similar because they both start with the letter “a”.

When you say, “More, if one is opposed to IP, it is now clear to me why and how one is not too far away from arguing against all property rights”, I can’t help but feel that you have completely misinterpreted the arguments Peter has made.

Peter Surda July 5, 2010 at 2:58 am

I forgot to mention one important thing, which probably adds to the misunderstanding. In order to conclude trespass of physical property, you need to find change, whereas in order to conclude “trespass” of immaterial property, you need to find sameness. These are fundamentally different concepts, both philosophically and methodologically, which only accentuates the difference between normal property and IP.

It is indeed strange that your feelings toward IP have strengthened, despite the absence of a theory explaining them.

Troy Camplin July 8, 2010 at 1:14 am

Stephen,

One can realize that something is true without having a complete picture of it. Biologists are still hammering out the details of evolution — they don’t have a complete picture of it, but they do have something with which they are working, as incomplete as it may be. The generation of an idea is never so pretty as its final form. To be honest, this isn’t something I’ve given a lot of thought to — never, in fact, until I started reading mises.org regularly. The discussions against IP have always rubbed me the wrong way. I sometimes get the feeling that IP is opposed here primarily because IP protections are one of the primary barriers to support of anarchocapitalism (something I have a similar relationship to as I do with IP: I would like to be persuaded, but I’m not yet persuaded; and I won’t be persuaded just because I’d like to be, even as I will argue the anarchocapitalist position wherever possible).

Peter,

I’m not sure I’m following you with what you just said regarding change and sameness. If I have rights to a piece of property, it is a right to the same piece of property over time. For example, if someone takes my ink pen, and I ask for it back, and they give me another, though identical, pen, I am in the right to ask for my exact pen back. It is the particular pen that is mine (we’ll ignore for a moment the fact that I’m being incredibly petty in regards to the pen, just for the sake of the particular point I’m making), and not any pen that has a similar shape. My property rights extend to the same pen.

Now, of course, I understand that you are not using the word “same” in quite the same way — but at the same time, we have to acknowledge the sameness of the same words. Wherein lies that sameness? We are distinquishing between the same thing and the same kind of thing, are we not? Is not the copy of a poem the same as the original? Most certainly. It is the same thing, but not the same kind of thing. Two poems with fourteen lines written in iambic pentamter with a particular rhyme scheme are the same kinds of things — sonnets — but not necessarily the same things. It seems clear to me at least that the original poem deserves protection; the style does not. The particular poem is particular, unique; the style can have new words adapted to it, meaning it is general and generative. That is the difference.

Let us take an example. Suppose I have written a poem and posted it on a blog (this one or another). Now, obviously, I want to share my poem with others. If others want to reproduce my poem and share it with others across the internet, that’s fine with me (so long as they give me credit). But suppose that Halmark finds one of my poems and takes it and puts it in one of their cards. Worse, they do not attribute it to me. What recourse do I have against Halmark absent IP laws? Should I not be able to receive just compensation since the company took what I created and are making money from that creation? I do all the work, but I don’t get any compensation for having done the work? I’m pretty sure there’s a term for that.

Jay,

I would argue that everything you listed is permissible except for chopping up my poem and selling the parts. Please note that you have to use the language of physical properties to describe what is in fact objectionable. As regards changes to the poem, it would depend. Are the changes sufficient to render it unrecognizeable as my original work? Is the new work intended as a satire? (I know, you are now going to object that we cannot objectively determine intent — but satires are pretty obvious, and I am more than willing to be very generous with satire laws.)

Peter Surda July 8, 2010 at 2:33 am

Dear Troy,

the “sameness” is a combination of causality and similarity. I’ve been describing this is almost every post since the beginning, did you not read what I wrote? That is exactly the problem, you cannot narrow it down anymore and cannot distinguish it from externalities and substitutes. The view that two immaterial goods are “the same” is a purely human construct, it does not reflect reality. Immaterial goods are an abstraction. They arise when you see two physical objects and find attributes which they share and are important to you. The selection of the attributes is purely utility-driven, which precludes objectivity and therefore cannot be used to determine property boundaries. If you voluntarily enter into a contract, the objectivity doesn’t matter because the parties involved can agree on which attributes are relevant and which not.

So, will you finally confront my objection head on? How do you select which attributes are relevant and which not? How do you distinguish between immaterial property and externalities (on the causality scale) and substitutes (on the similarity scale)?

Why should you be granted the ability to use force to prevent people from doing something what does not damage your property? As Rothbard put it, all rights are property rights. If you cannot prove that others are damaging your property or violating contracts, there is no forceful recourse. You still have non-forceful recourses. A lot of people are angry about what others do and want to prescribe them who to do business with, what to imbibe and who to have sex with. Why is your desire any different? You do not have a theory that explains why copies are property.

Jay Lakner July 10, 2010 at 1:49 pm

Troy,

How do you decide what is a violation of intangible property rights and what is not?

With tangible property, the violation is obvious. If someone makes a measurable change in the integrity of your tangible property without your consent, a violation of your rights has occurred. This includes changing its location or orientation. The violation can be readily identified with your senses.

How do we know if a trespass of your intangible property has occurred? Intangible property cannot be altered or destroyed. It cannot be removed from your possession. You cannot look, hear, touch, taste or smell your intangible property to determine if a violation has occurred. What exactly do we measure and how do we measure it?

Kerem Tibuk June 26, 2010 at 8:21 am

“The problem with seeing abstract concepts such as IP as property is that they do not have boundaries and can’t be modified, so there is no way to tell if the equivalent of trespass occurred. ”

Aaah Peter, I see you still haven’t gotten around what ethics is and you still can not see that possible problems with enforcement are a non issue if there is a way to ebjectively determine whether a crime has been committed or not.

You either trespassed or you didnt. There is no other alternative.

If you did,

Either this trespass is noticed or it isnt. There is no other alternative.

If it is noticed a compensation is enforced or it isnt. There is no other alternative.

But this has nothing to do with ethics, in other words right or wrong.

Peter Surda June 26, 2010 at 9:07 am

I see you still don’t get the argument.

Stephan Kinsella July 8, 2010 at 1:42 am

Troy:

“Stephen,”

Are you replying to me? I’m Stephan, not Stephen.

Assuming you are:

“One can realize that something is true without having a complete picture of it. Biologists are still hammering out the details of evolution — they don’t have a complete picture of it, but they do have something with which they are working, as incomplete as it may be. ”

this is nonsnese. IP advocates do the same old dance. They can’t say what they want. It’s utter hogwash. The attempted analogy fails; we are not talking about causal but normative laws.

” The generation of an idea is never so pretty as its final form. To be honest, this isn’t something I’ve given a lot of thought to — never, in fact, until I started reading mises.org regularly. The discussions against IP have always rubbed me the wrong way.”

That is insufficient.

“I sometimes get the feeling that IP is opposed here primarily because IP protections are one of the primary barriers to support of anarchocapitalism”

No. I speak for myself only. I oppose it becaue I could not find a justification, and realized that IP always violates property rights (as does the staete)

” (something I have a similar relationship to as I do with IP: I would like to be persuaded, but I’m not yet persuaded;”

The burden is not on us to persuade you of anti-state or anti-IP. The burden is on you to validate these aggressive, horrible systems.

Troy Camplin July 9, 2010 at 4:58 am

Stephan,

The burden lies on both parties. If that is your argument, that the burden lies with me to defend them, then you are in a horrible rhetorical position, because you aren’t going to persuade anyone who isn’t already persuaded. If I believe that government is a necessary evil, but that a complete absence of government would result in an even greater evil, it actually is up to you to assuage my fears. At the same time, I certainly agree that I need to explain my fears. Or explain why your position goes against human nature, or whatever other arguments I may come up with.

So, yes, I do agree that there are huge problems with IP as currently practiced. Does that mean complete abolition of the idea, or mere reform of the institution? I don’t know. I haven’t been persuaded one way or the other yet. And when you say, “I oppose it becaue I could not find a justification, and realized that IP always violates property rights (as does the staete),” what you say in the brackets only confirms my comment that it seems that your opposition to it has as much to do with it being a barrier to anarchocapitalism being realized as anything.

Obviously, if I believe in IP rights, I cannot believe that it violates property rights — property rights violate property rights? That sounds absurd to me. Nor have I been convinced that higher levels of reality are less valid and less needing of property rights protections as lower levels of reality. You deny the reality of the creations of the mind; I assert them. Unless this basic conflict is resolve, I do not see how our disagreement on IP can be resolved. My ideas are mine to distribute (or not) as I wish. If I have a right to self-ownership, then those ideas, developed by me, are mine. This doesn’t deny the social element of creativity and more than it denies the social element of economic activity — both the economy and the arts are spontaneous orders (as I point out here: http://www.studiesinemergentorder.com/PDF/SIEO%20Vol%203%20(2010)%20Camplin.pdf ). But that social element doesn’t eliminate property rights protections, either.

mpolzkill July 9, 2010 at 6:12 am

Troy Camplin:

Obviously, if I believe in “negro” slave holder rights, I cannot believe that it violates property rights — property rights violate property rights?

“assuage my fears”

Some honesty, and a pure statement pointing to the root cause of the State, thank you.

“My ideas are mine to distribute (or not) as I wish.”

Yes, and once you let them out, your ideas, or corruptions of them, are mine.

“I do not see how our disagreement on IP can be resolved.”

Sure you do, you’ll call on guys with guns and badges to enforce your imaginary rights. They will oblige if it’s in their interest and if no bigger fish want to use the “product of your mind”.

(And of course, you should be more afraid of Stephan than of those guys.)

Stephan Kinsella July 9, 2010 at 9:05 am

Troy: “The burden lies on both parties.”

Being anti-IP or anti-state is not some positive position. It is simply a way of saying we are not persuaded that the forced needed to sustain the state or IP law is legitimate. That is all. If you think it’s legitimate, you have to explain why it is; why it is not aggression; why it is not unlibertarian.

” If that is your argument, that the burden lies with me to defend them, then you are in a horrible rhetorical position, because you aren’t going to persuade anyone who isn’t already persuaded.”

I don’t see the relevance of this. We libertarians are not “persuading” most people of the NAP. Does that prove we are wrong? If I murder someone does that “prove” he didn’t have a right to life? Did the civil war “settle” the issue of secession? Etc. But, as it happens, I have persuaded a great many people of my IP views.

“If I believe that government is a necessary evil, but that a complete absence of government would result in an even greater evil, it actually is up to you to assuage my fears.”

NO it is up to me to point out that what you are saying is unlibertarian and incompatible with the non-aggression principle. You are literally saying that you think aggression (by the minimal state) is justified for XYZ reason. Now, if you are abandoning the NAP and libertarianism, please make this clear so that I know who I am arguing with–it’s different arguing with a statist than with a libertarian. With the latter I can gently guide him to see that the policies he favors involve aggression, and that this is incompatible with the NAP that he presumably already accepts as valid.

“So, yes, I do agree that there are huge problems with IP as currently practiced. Does that mean complete abolition of the idea, or mere reform of the institution? I don’t know.”

My point is you don’t know what the idea IS. IP is an umbrella term that includes different artificial legal regimes: patent, copyright, and others. Are you or are you not in favor of patent and copyright? What about reputation rights? What about rights in abstract theories or laws of physics. What about rights in discoveries? Does copyright include derivative rights? Are these rights permanent or temporary? May they be enforced with lethal force or force at all? Are there rights in fashion designs or perfume smells–things which are currently not protected? I do not konw what you are for. At least someone like, say, J. Neil Schulman, lays out an ovearching idea: logorights: you have a “property” right in any logos–pattern–you originate. s this is open ended, and problematic, of course, and if implemented seriously would halt all human commerce and activity and life. Others pick and choose for utilitarian reasons, and don’t have any overall theory.

” I haven’t been persuaded one way or the other yet. And when you say, “I oppose it becaue I could not find a justification, and realized that IP always violates property rights (as does the staete),” what you say in the brackets only confirms my comment that it seems that your opposition to it has as much to do with it being a barrier to anarchocapitalism being realized as anything.”

This is not true at all. I brought the state up b/c you did. In my Against IP I don’t think I hardly mentioned the anarchy idea.

“Obviously, if I believe in IP rights, I cannot believe that it violates property rights — property rights violate property rights?”

If I believe in square triangles, I can prove all kinds of interesting things.

Troy Camplin July 11, 2010 at 4:02 am

Stephan,

To be perfectly clear, I’m about as libertarian as they come. As I’ve said before, I would like to be persuaded by anarchocapitalism, but I’m not — call me a minarchist, if you will. Spontaneous order democratic republican constitutionalist (with a severely restrictive constitution), if you will. The state is a recent invention, and there are many other forms of government. I oppose most of them. But there are a few things I do like having a government around for: and protecting property rights is one of them. Protecting my life and liberty are others. A government spontaneous order is certainly to be perfered over every other kind of government — and one that protects every other spontaneous order (and itself) from being turned into organizations. This is what I prefer.

Now, let us get to the details:

“patent, copyright, and others. Are you or are you not in favor of patent and copyright?”

Obviously from my arguments, I am in favor of copyright. No copies for profit without compensating the creator(s). Copyright should end with the death of the creator(s), but it could end earlier with the permission of the creator(s). As for patents, I believe inventors should receive payment for their work. If they are working for a corporation, and it is their job to invent, then they are receiving payment. No patent for the company, because the company didn’t invent anything. If an individual patents something, it should be freely available for production, with a percentage going to the inventor. What percentage — like the cost of anything — should be left up to the inventor, who can give it away if he wants, or screw himself over by charging too much, so nobody wants it. When he dies, patent is over.

” What about reputation rights?”

Reputation is very valuable. There are plenty of people who make their living on their reputations. If someone were to attribute something to them that they hadn’t said or written, that could ruin their reputation, and thus their ability to make a living. Of course, such things should be settled in a court of law. How much of what you do and the money you make is based on your reputation?

“What about rights in abstract theories or laws of physics. What about rights in discoveries?”

No rights in discovery. I think patenting genes is patently absurd. Why don’t I just patent granite, while we’re at it? I bet I could make a fortune that way. Discovery of something that already exists is completely different from invention/creation.

“Does copyright include derivative rights?”

If you attribute, then no. If you take something word for word without attribution, then yes. Extracting with attribution, no. Embedding where it is clear that you are embedding something (i.e., via brackets), no. Changing content to make it say something other than what the author had in fact written, yes. However, I could be persuaded that simply allowing the person who does this to take a blow to reputation, meaning they are likely to be fired from their (likely academic) job (if appropriate) and face censorship from journals for such actions is more than good enough. The problem for me comes with stealing someone’s ideas and presenting them as your own. I believe that real, permanent change occurs on the margins (I do believe in spontaneous order), so any change to an idea is a contribution — but there has to be a change to it for it to become yours. Stealing is stealing.

“Are these rights permanent or temporary?”

I already addressed this above: lifetime of the creator/inventor. No corporate rights.

“May they be enforced with lethal force or force at all?”

What do you think is a just reaction on your part to someone attempting to steal from you? Or let me ask the question this way: Suppose you have someone who plans to chop your arms off. He won’t kill you, just chop your arms off. Aside from the obvious physical harm and violence involved, such an action would also make certain work impossible. It would take away your ability to make a living for yourself. Do you use lethal force, or force at all, to prevent him from doing so? Are your arms worth someone’s life? If someone is just going to rob you, can you use lethal force? If someone is going to rape you, can you use lethal force? I ask because I want to know where your lines are being drawn here. Are their any non-lethal crimes against you that justify the use of lethal force against the criminal? If so, why? Why would an unarmed burglar be someone one can use lethal force against, but not the patent/copyright thief?

“Are there rights in fashion designs or perfume smells–things which are currently not protected?”

I’m surprised that fashion is not. Of course, fashion is so fast-moving on the margins, that it hasn’t needed to have such protections. “That is SO last year” kills copying. But as for perfume, it seems to me that unless you literally invented a new organic molecule unable to be found in nature, then it would fall under “discovery.”

I hope that clarifies my positions. I appreciate the challenge precisely because it does that.

Stephan Kinsella July 11, 2010 at 12:59 pm

Troy:

To be perfectly clear, I’m about as libertarian as they come. As I’ve said before, I would like to be persuaded by anarchocapitalism, but I’m not — call me a minarchist, if you will.

this is fine, and you are an ally, but you don’t need to be persuade by AC–rather, you need to persuade US that the aggression the minarchist state needs, is justifiable and does not conflict with the non-aggression principle.

Spontaneous order democratic republican constitutionalist (with a severely restrictive constitution), if you will. The state is a recent invention, and there are many other forms of government. I oppose most of them. But there are a few things I do like having a government around for: and protecting property rights is one of them. Protecting my life and liberty are others. A government spontaneous order is certainly to be perfered over every other kind of government — and one that protects every other spontaneous order (and itself) from being turned into organizations. This is what I prefer.

You can prefer what you like. But this does not justify the taxation and compulsory membership the minarchist state engages in and compels.

Obviously from my arguments, I am in favor of copyright. No copies for profit without compensating the creator(s). Copyright should end with the death of the creator(s), but it could end earlier with the permission of the creator(s).

But copyright does not end with the death of the creators, and there is no way to get rid of it. And it is not only literal copying that’s covered. So I take it you are basically against the modern copyright system. Or are you not sure what you are for?

“As for patents, I believe inventors should receive payment for their work.”

Should geniuses be paid for their genius?

“If they are working for a corporation, and it is their job to invent, then they are receiving payment. No patent for the company, because the company didn’t invent anything.”

This makes no sense at all.

“If an individual patents something, it should be freely available for production, with a percentage going to the inventor. What percentage — like the cost of anything — should be left up to the inventor, who can give it away if he wants, or screw himself over by charging too much, so nobody wants it. When he dies, patent is over.”

But patents currently last about 17 years. So you are against the patent system too?

“Reputation is very valuable. There are plenty of people who make their living on their reputations. If someone were to attribute something to them that they hadn’t said or written, that could ruin their reputation, and thus their ability to make a living. Of course, such things should be settled in a court of law. How much of what you do and the money you make is based on your reputation?”

saying it should be settled in court is just kicking the can down the road. Do you really think you have a property right in others’ brains? in what they think about you? Wow. Have you read Ethics of Liberty?

“No rights in discovery.”

check.

“I think patenting genes is patently absurd.”

check. We should just make you king, then. Then your arbitrary opinions can be implemented.

“Why don’t I just patent granite, while we’re at it? I bet I could make a fortune that way. Discovery of something that already exists is completely different from invention/creation.”

Really. I don’t think you undestand how the patent system works.

““Does copyright include derivative rights?”

“If you attribute, then no.”

Troy, not trying tobe rude, but I don’t think you have a clue as to what you are talking about. You don’t undersatnd th system, patent or copyright, and yet you pretend like you accept some of it, but you don’t know what.

“If you take something word for word without attribution, then yes. Extracting with attribution, no. Embedding where it is clear that you are embedding something (i.e., via brackets), no. Changing content to make it say something other than what the author had in fact written, yes. However, I could be persuaded that simply allowing the person who does this to take a blow to reputation, meaning they are likely to be fired from their (likely academic) job (if appropriate) and face censorship from journals for such actions is more than good enough. The problem for me comes with stealing someone’s ideas and presenting them as your own. I believe that real, permanent change occurs on the margins (I do believe in spontaneous order), so any change to an idea is a contribution — but there has to be a change to it for it to become yours. Stealing is stealing.”

This is just a mishmash of muddled confusion. You really are saying nothing but gibberish. None of this gibberish justifies the aggression that has to underlie the enforcement of even the minimal copyright you think you believe in.

“I already addressed this above: lifetime of the creator/inventor. No corporate rights.”

this is ridiculous. Life time is arbitrary: if I invent something at age 99 then I get 1 yeas; someone at 20 gets 80 years. why is this fair? And why no corporate rights? This is artificial, arbitrary, and uneconomic.
“Why would an unarmed burglar be someone one can use lethal force against, but not the patent/copyright thief?”

Exactly. I’m just trying to show how stupid and monstrous the system you are proposing is.

““Are there rights in fashion designs or perfume smells–things which are currently not protected?”

“I’m surprised that fashion is not.”

I’m not surprised you don’t know this; IP advocates seem to know almost nothing of the system they think they support. I don’t mean this rudely: but why do you even have an opinion, or weigh in in public if you don’t even know what you are talking about? Why not just lurk, learn, and figure it out?

“Of course, fashion is so fast-moving on the margins, that it hasn’t needed to have such protections. “That is SO last year” kills copying. But as for perfume, it seems to me that unless you literally invented a new organic molecule unable to be found in nature, then it would fall under “discovery.””

Again, you are reinventing the wheel, which is an unfortunate symptom of libertarians and engineers.

Troy Camplin July 12, 2010 at 12:57 am

Stephan,

You didn’t ask me what I knew or understood about the current copyright/patent system. You asked me what I would be in favor of. Those are two completely different issues.

Regarding reputation, I don’t care what anyone THINKS. I care about what people say and do that cause me harm. Your response to my comment make no sense.

Neither does your comment about patenting of genes and other things that already exist and that have been discovered. King? What sense does that answer make? A discovery of something that already exists is completely different from inventing something. They are different actions, different cognitively. Your response to my points seems to me to be an inconsistent mishmash. I can’t make heads nor tails of most of it.

I have never said I support the current system. I have consistently said I think the current system needs to be reformed. I have some examples of how I think it should be structures, as that is what you asked me to do. When I did that, you attacked me for not understanding the current system. But that’s not what you asked me to do. You didn’t ask me to critique the current system in a direct fashion. You asked me what I would do. I told you. Everything I said makes for a consistent system.

Of course, in truth, I don’t think either you or I have any business designing any such system. I think it should emeerge naturally in spontaneous order fashion. I think such a system is smarter and wiser than either of us. If you ask me what I think we should do, though, I am willing to engage in such immanent criticism. The willingness to do that, to say how you think the system should be like, is part of the spontaneous order itself, and does not in any way imply one wants to impose it, or be King. Libertarianism may be agnostic about the directions of the spontaneous orders, and they certainly would be against transforming them into organizations — but that does not mean that we have to refrain from criticism. That is an attitude many libertarians have that I have little use for, and which coincidentally turns many people off — this attitude that if you support people’s rights to do something, that means you have to defend the action itself. In other words, I can support drug legalization while at the same time thinking that drug users are irresponsible and that they shouldn’t do it. Thinking someone shouldn’t do something and using force to prevent them from doing something with which I disagree are two different things.

Still, this is different from theft. It seems that you advocate a system where my inventions aren’t protected from theft. A thief is engaging in an aggressive act. Yet, aggression against my creations seems fine with you. It seems that anything in the mental realm you are discrediting as real, while I say that the realm of the mental is the most real. Why not nonaggression against the mental? Why just a theory of nonaggression appropriate for dogs and cats, but which draws its lines precisely where humans are most human? That makes no sense to me.

Now, should you be paid for “being a genius”? Of course not. You should be paid for what you produce. Further, I never said anything of the sort. This seems to me that you’re just flailing in the dark when you say things like this.

Finally, you never answered my question about protection against thieves. Stealing my physical objects is aggression, but stealing my mental creations is not? Both are aggressive acts. The difference is that with the latter one, what you steal is my ability to make a living. In other words, chop off my arms and legs, but please don’t beat me up! It seems to me that you are picking and choosing in an arbitrary fashion what one can and cannot use aggression to get, while I consistently insist on protection against the initiation of aggressive acts, and reparations if such an initiation should occur.

I have no doubt you have studied this long and hard. I have no doubt that the system is terrible and corrupt and needs to be done away with in its current form. But I also have no doubt that you are throwing out the conceptual baby with the bathwater of particulars. It seems more sensible to come up with recommendations for a more sensibly designed system — you know, engage in a little immanent criticism. To simply suggest throwing out everything entirely smacks of either intellectual laziness (which I certainly don’t suspect you of) or an attempt to fit IP this into an particular ideology and, deciding it doesn’t fit, tossing it.

Now as for minarchy, with freedom of movement and government being almost entirely local, you can pick and choose where to live, and what if any fees you want to pay to live there. My brother lives in a housing development where he has to pay a fee to the homeowners’ association. He knew that before he bought the house. He didn’t have to buy the house. If he didn’t want to pay the fee, he didn’t have to live there. He could have done like me and moved into a house in a neighborhood without such an association so he didn’t have to pay a fee. And if he decides he doesn’t like it, he can always move. Or vote to reduce the fee. If the fee is reduced or eliminated, great. If not, he can leave. It’s all a choice. If people want to live in places where they pay fees for certain services, that’s their business, not mine. I don’t have to live there, and they don’t have to live where I live. Of course, like I said, this requires freedom of movement for everyone. And it requires that people be allowed to live in whatever small, local government system they choose, without anyone imposing it on them — not even an anarchist king.

Stephan Kinsella July 12, 2010 at 7:54 am

Troy:

“You didn’t ask me what I knew or understood about the current copyright/patent system. You asked me what I would be in favor of. Those are two completely different issues.”

You don’t seem to know what you are in favor of due to insuffucient familiarity with the IP system that you want to largely emulate. This is typical of IP proponents, I’ve noticed.

“Regarding reputation, I don’t care what anyone THINKS. I care about what people say and do that cause me harm.”

Ah. So they can believe what they want, they just can’t act on it. I see.

Causing harm is not the libertarian test. It’s okay to cause harm so long as it’s done rightfully–say, if I outcompete you or steal your girlfriend. Using “harm” as the standard is a way to sneak in the idea that there can be property rights in values rather than in the physical integrity to objective property borders. It’s equivocation.

“Neither does your comment about patenting of genes and other things that already exist and that have been discovered. King? What sense does that answer make?”

It implies you are just arbitraily picking what rules you favor, with no rhyme or reason. Just like Congress! So your position is incoherent and unprincipled.

“I have never said I support the current system.”

Yet you don’t want it abolished. Cake, have, eat?

“I have consistently said I think the current system needs to be reformed. I have some examples of how I think it should be structures, as that is what you asked me to do.”

Examples are fine but you have no principled basis for what IP is that I can discern. It’s us whatever you point to and decide arbitrarily, ad hoc.

“Of course, in truth, I don’t think either you or I have any business designing any such system. I think it should emeerge naturally in spontaneous order fashion.”

So you oppose legislation then? Good. Without legislation IP is impossible. My job here is done.

“Still, this is different from theft. It seems that you advocate a system where my inventions aren’t protected from theft.”

this is question begging since it’s not theft to use information to guide your actions.

“A thief is engaging in an aggressive act. Yet, aggression against my creations seems fine with you.”

Question-begging: it’s not aggression unless there is property rights in information.

“It seems that anything in the mental realm you are discrediting as real, while I say that the realm of the mental is the most real. Why not nonaggression against the mental?”

Why do you want to enforce your imaginary rights in the real world? If I “aggress” against your mental object, why do you need to use physical force ot take my physical money or issue an injunction against my own use of my physical body and physical property to perform certain actions with it? If your little mental realm is so “real” why not just enforce it there? No–you stoop “down” to the real world to enforce this b/c it is the real world. Yet you deny it’s the real world when you seek to assign rights to the imaginary realm.

“Now, should you be paid for “being a genius”? Of course not. You should be paid for what you produce.”

Einstein produced great theoretical physics results, right? So he should be paid for this. right?

“Finally, you never answered my question about protection against thieves. Stealing my physical objects is aggression, but stealing my mental creations is not? Both are aggressive acts.”

This is not an argument. You really think you can establihs something is property by saying it’s property in other words (that it’s aggression to “steal” it?).

“I have no doubt you have studied this long and hard. I have no doubt that the system is terrible and corrupt and needs to be done away with in its current form.”

The concentration camps need to be done away with–in their current form, of course. The drug laws need to be done away wiht-in their current form. The IRS needs to be one away with–in its current form. Government education and government war need to be done away with–in their current forms, at least!

Peter Surda July 15, 2010 at 4:07 am

No copies for profit without compensating the creator(s).

Ah, but without defining what a copy is, this demand is meaningless. It is already on the very first step, the definition of terms (e.g. use, copy, reputation, IP, …), or the lack thereof, where IP fails. In addition to that, all the other demands you make are also completely arbitrary. So I ask you, how are you different from the other control freaks that forcefully prevent others in acting the way they want?

How do you differentiate a copy from an externality and a substitute? How do you determine boundaries of immaterial goods?

jerry July 15, 2010 at 5:13 am

“without defining what a copy is, this demand is meaningless”

So I can better understand this, I have one very specific question. Is it the position of the anti-IPers that you cannot determine EVER whether or not someone “copied” something or not? That is, can we find a definition of the word “copy” that is suitable?

For example, if someone does a star jump, you can’t say he must have “copied” this dance move. But if someone does a 5 minute solo which is identical (in some agreed sense) to one you saw the evening before in a performance, you can say with what is essentially certainty, that they “copied” this move.

Or if I type “hello Harry” then you could not say I “copied” it (though I might have). But if I handed you a manuscript identical to the Harry Potter book except for an exclamation mark instead of a full stop in one position, then you could say with certainty that I “copied” it, in some sense.

That this is not trivial and that there are grey areas in between is not disputed. But is the anti-IPer’s position that there is DEFINITELY NOT any definition of copy that will satisfy these “obvious” cases, or is it your position that there is one but: well, who cares? You just can’t “own” dance moves and the ordering of words?

Peter Surda July 15, 2010 at 5:45 am

Is it the position of the anti-IPers that you cannot determine EVER whether or not someone “copied” something or not?

Well, I don’t know what “position of the anti IP-ers” is, I only know what my position is. I explained it several times. I analysed IP-er positions and derived two criteria they use to define property: causality and similarity. Usually, they use a mix of those. To put this into more explanatory terms, a copy would not exist without the original (causality), and can be used instead of original (similarity). The problem is that there already are economic terms to describe the goods that match these criteria: externalities and substitutes. Which, of course, are not property. Without the ability to distinguish, on the causality scale, between property and externality, and on the similarity scale, between property and substitute, the causal/similar approach to define property fails. Absent the distinction, the only logical conclusions are that these conditions are not property, or that there is no such thing as externalities and substitutes. When I challenge the IP proponents to provide a way to make the distinction, they do not show appreciation for the argument and do not respond to it.

Whether we can determine the presence of a causal relationship or whether it is possible to use the good as a substitute is not the core question of my argument. Rather, the ability to determine to what extent these are relevant is. Where do you draw the line? Externalities are omnipresent and unavoidable. Substitute is a subjective criterion: a collector, for example, might feel appalled at the idea of having a copy, while a casual consumer might find it perfectly adequate.

To summarise my argument, unless IP proponents can provide the distinction, the metaphors (e.g. use, copy) are subjective.

jerry July 15, 2010 at 6:58 am

I’ve read the arguments and with respect I’m not convinced by either case. Though I see better arguments from the anti-IP side, let’s act as if I’m an IP-er for the moment (though I’m certainly not in favour of what we have now of course). I’m still refining my theory – I’ve read all of the comments on this on this blog and haven’t as yet seen anyone discuss, let alone solve, what I think is the core issue.

“I analysed IP-er positions and derived two criteria they use to define property:”

I’m not defining “property” yet. In fact, I’m don’t understand why everyone just automatically thinks that your starting point is a definition of “property” – in fact I think this is the main communication barrier here (and is why it often seems to go around in circles). I think there are more fundamental things which need to be defined first (and that in fact I think have been defined already across many other fields) from which a definition of “property” will fall out, similar to how physicists worked with the calorific theory of heat for a while until they realised a better theory is to say that “heat” does not in fact exist at all as they thought (as a conserved entity) but it is instead a process, it is energy (something more fundamental which IS conserved) in transit.

As a thought experiment for discussion purposes to elaborate on what I asked, imagine that once you get someone’s dna, then you can do a calculation so that a certain very precise quantity of water, coffee grains, milk and sugar mixed together will kill them, but you need to analyse their dna to get this mixture exactly right.

I make someone a cup of coffee and they die. Did I kill them ie. did I violate this person’s “property” rights? This depends crucially on whether or not I went through a PROCESS of obtaining their genetic code or not – of somehow “copying” their genetic code. And do I need to violate their “property” rights to do this? They left a bit of skin on a glass and I used that – they do this all the time. So did I violate their property rights or not? Am I a murderer? If so, how do we tell?

Bala July 15, 2010 at 8:55 am

jerry,

You said

” I’ve read the arguments and with respect I’m not convinced by either case. ”

Hence, i thought I’ll give it a shot.

You also said

” In fact, I’m don’t understand why everyone just automatically thinks that your starting point is a definition of “property” ”

The reason for this “obsession”, as I understand the arguments, is that the core of the very concept “Intellectual Property” is the notion that ideas and patterns may be and in fact ought to be treated as “property”. This notion is important because the concept “property” includes the idea that the “owner” of a “property” may use force to exclude others from using the property and that such force would not be treated as initiation of force, i.e., a crime, by a proper judicial system.

IP laws are essentially about the notion of according the status of “retaliatory force” to force initiated to exclude others from the use of an idea to which one person has staked his claim and to undertake punitive action against the person and property of those using ideas to which someone else has already staked a claim of “ownership”.

Thus, the argument over IP reduces to the simple point that it is incorrect to treat ideas and patterns as “property”. If the status of “property” can thus not be accorded to ideas and patterns, the concept of IP turns out to be an oxymoron, i.e., if it is an idea or pattern, it cannot be treated as “property” and if it is “property”, it cannot be an idea or a pattern.

To do this, it is important to start from the definition of the concept “property” and clearly state what may and may not be treated as “property”.

I hope this helps.

jerry July 15, 2010 at 9:04 am

Bala

Ok – but i’ve heard/read all that before though I’m afraid. Rather than me waffle on about what you said, can you apply your theory of property rights to the coffee-drinking scenario I outlined?

Bala July 15, 2010 at 10:48 am

jerry,

The coffee drinking situation you have described is not, in my theory, one of property rights violation. It is a violation of the more fundamental “right to life”. The situation is that as a consequence of your action, another man has lost his life. Whether such an action is to be treated as murder or involuntary manslaughter depends on the facts of the case.

In either case, the basis of the retaliatory action is the principle that no man may take another man’s life. A man who takes another’s life may not seek defence on the basis of the same principle. Individual rights work only in reciprocity. One cannot claim for oneself the rights that one denies to others because that would be living out a contradiction, something reality does not permit.

p.s. I am not a libertarian. I do not hold the notion that all rights are property rights. I do not subscribe to the notion of self-ownership.

mpolzkill July 15, 2010 at 10:52 am

Bala, could you pretend to be a monkey for a moment and give him a non-religious answer?

jerry July 15, 2010 at 11:09 am

Bala

Well then we kind of agree that the notion of “property rights” (that in most areas of economic analysis is perfectly clear and useful as it is and on such subjects we would maybe not differ) is a bit less obvious in the case of “intellectual property” and is hard to apply to the coffee scenario. I think I have answers to all this but I want to hear what an anti-IPer/property rights advocate says first.

I understand the aim of your “right to life” argument in that it is something more fundamental than “property” (I can’t see how you can define property as it is used by the anti-IPers on this site) – I’ve seen this argument from you and others on the threads here. But I don’t think it good enough – over-simplifying greatly, you or any group of people working together do not have any right to violate the first and second laws of thermodynamics, no matter what anyone says or does or thinks. These two laws are in charge whether you like it or not. Maybe people think that is irrelevant – but I don’t.

Stephan Kinsella July 15, 2010 at 11:26 am

Bala:

“p.s. I am not a libertarian.”

Libertarians are those who oppose aggression. What aggression to you endorse?

“I do not hold the notion that all rights are property rights.”

All rights specify who can use a given scarce resource. If you don’t think all rights are property rights you think there are rights in non-scarce things. That is IP. I thought you rejected IP.

“I do not subscribe to the notion of self-ownership.”

Someone has the right to control your body. If it is not you, who is your owner?

Bala July 15, 2010 at 12:39 pm

Stephan,

I didn’t want it to come to this, but you tempt me once too often.

” Libertarians are those who oppose aggression. What aggression to you endorse? ”

Are you always this stupid? I agree that all libertarians oppose aggression. How does that translate into saying that if you are not a libertarian, you endorse some aggression? Or that if you oppose aggression, you are a libertarian, whether you acknowledge it or not? Logic 101 – that’s what you seem to be missing out.

” All rights specify who can use a given scarce resource. ”

Once again, I find it tough to digest the fact that anyone can be this consistently stupid. This is only by YOUR definition. I don’t agree. Puhleese…. Define “right” first without getting circular or begging the question. We can then have a discussion.

” If you don’t think all rights are property rights you think there are rights in non-scarce things. ”

I guess once you step onto the slippery slope of stupidity, there is no stopping. You know all my explanations and how I arrived from the right to life to the conclusion that ideas and patterns cannot be “property”. Please try digging it up and showing me where I went wrong in that. Failing that, you are making a fool of yourself on your own blog.

” Someone has the right to control your body. ”

Looks like all the slipping hasn’t taken you to the gates of wonderland yet. Since when did control become the same as ownership? Further, how does someone else “control” my body?

” If it is not you, who is your owner? ”

“Ownership” is a concept that makes sense ONLY when an alternative is possible. In this case, my body is one of my traits. The concept “I” includes the body and mind. It is in my nature to be autonomous. I do not own myself. I AM myself.

Bala July 15, 2010 at 12:41 pm

” could you pretend to be a monkey for a moment and give him a non-religious answer? ”

This is the problem with brain-dead monkeys. Logic appears like religion to them when the thought process goes beyond what they are ready to think of.

Bala July 15, 2010 at 12:48 pm

jerry,

” I can’t see how you can define property as it is used by the anti-IPers on this site ”

I can’t and I don’t. I find their definition fundamentally flawed. In fact, I think they do not have one at all.

” But I don’t think it good enough ”

It would help to see you explain why you think so.

” – over-simplifying greatly, you or any group of people working together do not have any right to violate the first and second laws of thermodynamics, no matter what anyone says or does or thinks. ”

I think your parallel is inappropriate. You are mixing up natural laws with moral concepts (as I see it, rights are moral concepts).

Stephan Kinsella July 15, 2010 at 1:09 pm

Bala,

I didn’t want it to come to this, but you tempt me once too often.

” Libertarians are those who oppose aggression. What aggression to you endorse? ”

Are you always this stupid? I agree that all libertarians oppose aggression. How does that translate into saying that if you are not a libertarian, you endorse some aggression? Or that if you oppose aggression, you are a libertarian, whether you acknowledge it or not? Logic 101 – that’s what you seem to be missing out.

Yes, if you oppose all aggression, you are a libertarian. That’s all we libertarians want. If you say you are not a libertarian that means you do not oppose all aggression, or that you favor some. I’m asking what aggression you favor.

” All rights specify who can use a given scarce resource. ”

Once again, I find it tough to digest the fact that anyone can be this consistently stupid. This is only by YOUR definition. I don’t agree. Puhleese…. Define “right” first without getting circular or begging the question. We can then have a discussion.

” If you don’t think all rights are property rights you think there are rights in non-scarce things. ”

I guess once you step onto the slippery slope of stupidity, there is no stopping. You know all my explanations and how I arrived from the right to life to the conclusion that ideas and patterns cannot be “property”. Please try digging it up and showing me where I went wrong in that. Failing that, you are making a fool of yourself on your own blog.

I’m just curious what non-scarce thing you think we have a “right” in.

” Someone has the right to control your body. ”

Looks like all the slipping hasn’t taken you to the gates of wonderland yet. Since when did control become the same as ownership? Further, how does someone else “control” my body?

You know, but hitting it, raping it, shooting it, putting it in jail.

Ownership is the right to control. Not control itself. See here http://mises.org/daily/3660#ref4 for example:

“As Professor Yiannopoulos explains:
Property may be defined as an exclusive right to control an economic good …; it is the name of a concept that refers to the rights and obligations, privileges and restrictions that govern the relations of man with respect to things of value. People everywhere and at all times desire the possession of things that are necessary for survival or valuable by cultural definition and which, as a result of the demand placed upon them, become scarce. Laws enforced by organized society control the competition for, and guarantee the enjoyment of, these desired things. What is guaranteed to be one’s own is property… [Property rights] confer a direct and immediate authority over a thing.’

A.N. Yiannopoulos, Louisiana Civil Law Treatise, Property (West Group, 4th ed. 2001), §§ 1, 2 (first emphasis in original; remaining emphasis added). See also Louisiana Civil Code, Art. 477 (“Ownership is the right that confers on a person direct, immediate, and exclusive authority over a thing. The owner of a thing may use, enjoy, and dispose of it within the limits and under the conditions established by law”).”

Make more sense now? Or is this “stupid” too?

” If it is not you, who is your owner? ”

“Ownership” is a concept that makes sense ONLY when an alternative is possible. In this case, my body is one of my traits. The concept “I” includes the body and mind. It is in my nature to be autonomous. I do not own myself. I AM myself.

This is just petulant evasion. You have a body. Or you “are” a body. Or a “body” is one of your traits–whatever. Who gets to decide who uses it? You, or someone else? It’s a simple question. Libertarians are not afraid to just answer it.

Bala July 15, 2010 at 1:34 pm

Bala,

” Yes, if you oppose all aggression, you are a libertarian. ”

Repeating the same stupid statement does not make it intelligent. All libertarians oppose all aggression. This does not mean that all who oppose all aggression are libertarian. Once again, Logic 101 is what you need.

” If you say you are not a libertarian that means you do not oppose all aggression, or that you favor some. ”

Are you trying to say that you cannot oppose all aggression and not be libertarian simultaneously? That’s some stupidity.

” I’m asking what aggression you favor. ”

None. How does that make me a libertarian? As I said, repeating stupid statements……

” I’m just curious what non-scarce thing you think we have a “right” in. ”

I asked for a definition with the specific condition that it not beg the question or be circular. Asking this question in response to that can only mean that you do not have a definition of the concept “right” and are trying to escape giving one by dragging me into a pointless discussion.

” You know, but hitting it, raping it, shooting it, putting it in jail. ”

How is any of this “controlling” my body? I see it all as initiating force against me.

” Ownership is the right to control. Not control itself. ”

Sorry. An important attribute of the concept “ownership” is the right to control.

” Property may be defined as an exclusive right to control an economic good ”

Circular. Question begging. Confusing specific (though critical) attributes for the definition.

” “Ownership is the right that confers on a person direct, immediate, and exclusive authority over a thing. The owner of a thing may use, enjoy, and dispose of it within the limits and under the conditions established by law” ”

Circular till you define what a “right” is.

” Make more sense now? Or is this “stupid” too? ”

No. It looks more stupid. Except that I now understand how you got this stupid.

” This is just petulant evasion. ”

Oh!! Describing things as I perceive them is petulant evasion? Define “evasion” and you will see that YOU are the one evading a definition of the concept “right” because you KNOW that your “definition” is circular.

” You have a body. Or you “are” a body. Or a “body” is one of your traits–whatever. Who gets to decide who uses it? You, or someone else? It’s a simple question. ”

The answer is simple too. I get to decide. But then that is a FACT, not a moral principle. There is no “ought”, only an “is”. No one else can do so without initiating force against me in the first place, i.e., without overcoming my volition, thus violating the fundamental moral principle that no man may initiate force against another.

” Libertarians are not afraid to just answer it. ”

It is not about being afraid but about knowing the difference between that which exists (“is”) and that which should (“ought”). You are being stupid enough to get the two thoroughly mixed up.

Bala July 15, 2010 at 1:41 pm

Stephan,

” Property may be defined as an exclusive right to control an economic good ”

This reminds me of the story of “The five blind men and the elephant”.

Peter Surda July 15, 2010 at 2:04 pm

I’m not defining “property” yet. In fact, I’m don’t understand why everyone just automatically thinks that your starting point is a definition of “property” – in fact I think this is the main communication barrier here (and is why it often seems to go around in circles).

Apparently, Rothbard once said that all rights are property rights. I subscribe to this point of view, as I explained elsewhere, as I found other approaches to the philosophy of rights inconsistent or insufficient.To debate the notion of IP without a theory of property is pointless. I mean, really, what is the point of such a musing?

I make someone a cup of coffee and they die. Did I kill them ie. did I violate this person’s “property” rights?

Well, someone does not die because you make a cup of coffee, they need to drink it obviously. To determine whether this violates property rights requires two things: we must have rules that define property and/or property rights violation, and we need to establish whether the facts in this situation fulfill these criteria.

This depends crucially on whether or not I went through a PROCESS of obtaining their genetic code or not – of somehow “copying” their genetic code.

Why does it depend on this? Either I offered him the drink or not. Either the drink killed him or not. Why should the exact procedure be relevant from the point of view of rights?

Stephan Kinsella July 15, 2010 at 2:32 pm

Bala:

” Yes, if you oppose all aggression, you are a libertarian. ”

Repeating the same stupid statement does not make it intelligent. All libertarians oppose all aggression. This does not mean that all who oppose all aggression are libertarian. Once again, Logic 101 is what you need.

Can you please explain how you can oppose all aggression, and yet not be a libertarian?

” If you say you are not a libertarian that means you do not oppose all aggression, or that you favor some. ”

Are you trying to say that you cannot oppose all aggression and not be libertarian simultaneously? That’s some stupidity.

Yes. For, to oppose aggression is what it means to be a libertarian.

” I’m asking what aggression you favor. ”

None. How does that make me a libertarian?

Because that’s what we are: those who oppose aggression consistently, and on principle.

” I’m just curious what non-scarce thing you think we have a “right” in. ”

I asked for a definition with the specific condition that it not beg the question or be circular. Asking this question in response to that can only mean that you do not have a definition of the concept “right” and are trying to escape giving one by dragging me into a pointless discussion.

Are there any non-scarce things in which there are rights? I’m looking for an example of a right that is not a property rights.

” You know, but hitting it, raping it, shooting it, putting it in jail. ”

How is any of this “controlling” my body? I see it all as initiating force against me.

It’s an unconsented to use of–and invasion of–your body. If you give someone permission to kiss you it’s not aggression if they do. If they kiss you after you deny them permission, it is aggression. In both cases there is an affect or use of your body; it’s invasion, aggresion, in the cases where permission is denied (denied by whom? why, by you, the owner … of … your… body. self-owner… get it?)

” Ownership is the right to control. Not control itself. ”

Sorry. An important attribute of the concept “ownership” is the right to control.

Yes, that’s what I just said.

” Property may be defined as an exclusive right to control an economic good ”

Circular. Question begging.

defining terms is … circular?

” Make more sense now? Or is this “stupid” too? ”

No. It looks more stupid. Except that I now understand how you got this stupid.

I am so happy that you have learned something today :)

” This is just petulant evasion. ”

Oh!! Describing things as I perceive them is petulant evasion?

I’m afraid so, Bala. I don’t make the rules–I just enforce ‘em. :)

” You have a body. Or you “are” a body. Or a “body” is one of your traits–whatever. Who gets to decide who uses it? You, or someone else? It’s a simple question. ”

The answer is simple too. I get to decide.

thanks. you are now a self-ownership favoring libertarian. Congratulations.

But then that is a FACT, not a moral principle. There is no “ought”, only an “is”.

If someone wants to have sex with your body, you are the one who SHOULD have the right to decide. If the legal system gives the right to decide to someone else–your husband, your master, whatever–then you are a slave, and this is a violatoin of your self-ownership rights. Keep trying, I have faith that you can finally understand these elementary points.

No one else can do so without initiating force against me in the first place, i.e., without overcoming my volition, thus violating the fundamental moral principle that no man may initiate force against another.

Or… without using your body without your consent. Which is not permissible … because … you are the one who owns it. Not them. See? :)

jerry July 15, 2010 at 5:53 pm

Peter

“To determine whether this violates property rights requires two things: we must have rules that define property and/or property rights violation, and we need to establish whether the facts in this situation fulfill these criteria.”

Well yes I agree – that’s what I’m trying to do. What are the rules that define property? The definition I just read above was

‘Property may be defined as an exclusive right to control an economic good …; it is the name of a concept that refers to the rights and obligations, privileges and restrictions that govern the relations of man with respect to things of value. People everywhere and at all times desire the possession of things that are necessary for survival or valuable by cultural definition and which, as a result of the demand placed upon them, become scarce. Laws enforced by organized society control the competition for, and guarantee the enjoyment of, these desired things. What is guaranteed to be one’s own is property… [Property rights] confer a direct and immediate authority over a thing.’

The important point about the scenario I described is that if I had murdered someone by getting their genetic information (from a hair they had shed say), making them a cup of coffee (which they asked for and then drank obviously) and then claimed that it was an accident

then

the only way to prove I murdered them would be to prove I went through the PROCESS of “copying” their genetic information. You can’t prove i murdered them by showing that I used “an economic good” that i didn’t have the “exclusive right to control” – because I didn’t.

Bala July 15, 2010 at 6:37 pm

Stephan,

” Can you please explain how you can oppose all aggression, and yet not be a libertarian? ”

I see a fundamental and deep confusion over the concept “definition”. For instance, if I define the concept “man” as “a rational animal” and tomorrow I come across another species that is different in a number of respects but is also a rational animal, do I call it also “man”? That’s how stupid your response is. You are confused about the very role of definitions in our cognitive development. It looks like the definition is everything to you. That can only be called arrested cognitive development.

I am just saying there is more to being a libertarian than just opposing all aggression. For instance, why do you oppose all aggression? My reasons for opposing all aggression could be very different from yours. So, could you please explain the libertarian reasons for abhorrence of all aggression? Links would do. Thanks in advance.

” Because that’s what we are: those who oppose aggression consistently, and on principle. ”

How does the principle become a principle? What is the libertarian reason for upholding this principle?

” Are there any non-scarce things in which there are rights? I’m looking for an example of a right that is not a property rights. ”

I asked the question first. Further, my question is more fundamental. What on earth is a “right”? It is absolutely important that you explain that first before we go on and discuss a right that is not a property right. I have so far asked you for the definition twice and you are still evading it. So, I record my request for the third time. Please define the concept “right”. In particular, how “rights” come to be, how they become a “principle” and how man becomes aware of his “rights”.

It is indeed a wonder that in one part of a post you evade an answer to a straight question and then in another, accuse me of evasion. You are only confirming my earlier accusation of intellectual dishonesty. Stop evading and answer the question straight. Since the answer is important, please do not try to escape any more.

” thanks. you are now a self-ownership favoring libertarian. Congratulations. ”

If this is your way of insulting me and continuing in your evasion, please go ahead. It does not matter the least bit for me. Please answer the questions I have posed in this post.

” you are the one who SHOULD have the right to decide ”

How dumb!! No one else can. Hitting or raping someone or imprisoning someone is not “using the body’ but doing something to the person against the person’s volition; harming the person; endangering the person’s life; The “right to decide” (….. puhleeese….. I am still waiting for the explanation of the concept “right”) is an important trait of what I call volitional consciousness.

” It’s an unconsented to use of–and invasion of–your body. If you give someone permission to kiss you it’s not aggression if they do. If they kiss you after you deny them permission, it is aggression. ”

So in your world, consensual sex is essentially about using the other person’s property (body) with their permission so that you may seek sexual gratification. There is nothing spiritual in it I guess. How interesting!!! What a nice world that must be to live in. (Thank goodness I am not a part of it)

” defining terms is … circular? ”

Yes.If you use the very term that you seek to define as part of your definition. Once again, please define the concept “right”. You are (mis-)using it in this definition making it (the definition) circular. At another level, giving this definition when I am asking you to define “right” is evasion and question-begging.

” If someone wants to have sex with your body, ”

Oof!!! I just saw this statement and was blown away. That someone would then be wanting to have sex with ME and not my body. There is no distinction between the two. Man….. your world sure is scary!!!!!

For the last time, stop evading and answer the straight question on defining the concept “right”. Failure to do so will confirm my accusation of intellectual dishonesty.

mpolzkill July 15, 2010 at 6:52 pm

“So in your world, consensual sex is essentially about using the other person’s property (body) with their permission so that you may seek sexual gratification. There is nothing spiritual in it I guess. How interesting!!! What a nice world that must be to live in. (Thank goodness I am not a part of it)… That someone would then be wanting to have sex with ME and not my body. There is no distinction between the two. Man….. your world sure is scary!!!!!”

Absolute delirium. I can’t even joke (though a dozen are going through my head), it’s all just too weird.

jerry July 16, 2010 at 3:34 am

And I am clearly defrauding the coffee-drinker by giving him what is not the random cup of coffee as he thought but in fact a special concoction which I know will kill him. As Kinsella says elsewhere

“Trademark law ought to be reformed by abolishing the right of trademark “owners” to sue “infringers” (except perhaps as proxy for customers, when consent can be presumed or proved), and treating this as a case of the customer’s right to sue a vendor who defrauds him as to the nature of the good purchased.”

I agree, this is a good idea. But again, the point in the coffee example is that it’s not like rolex watches, which you can compare to an original and so demonstrate the seller violated a trademark purely using an analysis of “property” (ie. scarce economic goods) – the deadly cup of coffee is IDENTICAL whether the precise proportions of ingredients were arrived at by accident or by design.

The only way to prove intent to to show that I went through some kind if process of accessing/copying the dead-coffee drinkers dna – which I can do without violating the drinkers property rights, according to the definition of property above.

jerry July 16, 2010 at 6:06 am

Or to ask a question instead, what precisely is the mechanism by which you determine someone violated the rolex trademark – that they sold you a rolex which was not “made” by rolex themselves? What would this mean? If I took a rolex and replaced one of the parts, can I still sell it as a “rolex” or am I violating trademarks now? Or if you then give the rolex to some independent expert along with a real one, see if he can tell the difference and if he can’t then you didn’t violate the trademark?

Or I suppose in fact you would need a licence from the trademark owner to sell anything with the trademark on it. In the event though that an independent expert cannot tell the difference between my copy and a rolex, this would seem a little odd – can I market it under a different trademark which boasts it is literally indistinguishable from a “real” rolex?

Peter Surda July 16, 2010 at 10:07 am

Dear jerry,

so far I wasn’t able to come up with a completely unambiguous definition of property, but the most approximate (from the point of view suitable for our debate) is probably that if something is your property, others may not modify it against your wishes. I consider the definition you quote (“exclusive control”) lacking, because “control” is too vague.

If you apply my definition to the example with the tea, you might notice that the exact method of killing is irrelevant to the rules. It does not matter what you call the process of gathering DNA and using it to make the tea. The permission to alter (in this example, kill) is absent. Of course, there is the matter of gathering facts and of interpreting them. But that is a separate question, the rules do not change depending on what facts are known to you, only one’s interpretation changes. The “proof” you are looking for is in the ability to determine whether the facts match the rules.

My anti-IP argument however is that the rules of IP theory (as I deduced them, since I don’t actually know of a proper definition of IP from the proponents thereof directly) themselves are too vague and it is impossible to determine whether a specific set of facts match them or not. They depend on arbitrarily dividing causality and similarity into property and non-property. Whether you can determine the facts is of course still necessary to come to a conclusion in a specific case, but that question lies farther on the argument chain. Some people mistakenly interpret my argument as a denial of causality, but, again, that is just conflating the two steps present in the whole procedure.

Peter Surda July 16, 2010 at 10:42 am

Dear jerry,

The only way to prove intent …

Ah, so the intent is what is worrying you? Then I can put your worries to rest. Intent might be relevant in the legal proceedings to determine appropriate remedy/punishment (which, again, is a completely separate issue), but it is completely irrelevant to the conclusion regarding the presence/absence of rights violation. In the current legal systems for example you have different types of killing, with different punishments: murder, voluntary manslaughter, involuntary manslaughter and negligent homicide. I don’t necessarily subscribe to a distinction like this, but it serves as an example.

Peter Surda July 16, 2010 at 10:57 am

Or to ask a question instead, what precisely is the mechanism by which you determine someone violated the rolex trademark – that they sold you a rolex which was not “made” by rolex themselves? What would this mean?

Looks like you are starting to ask the right questions, maybe you can now better understand the anti-IP arguments presented here.

The point of IP opponents is that the violation of an IP-less trademark is fraud that occurs between the copycat (B) and the customer (C), rather than a violation of something the producer of the original (A) owns. It is up to the seller (B) and buyer (C) to determine the scope of the contract, rather than a third party (the producer of the original, A). The fraud occurs when the copycat (B) claims to the buyer (C) that the watch was produced by the original producer (A) even though it wasn’t. It’s like claiming you are selling apples while actually giving your customers rocks. What A can do is to provide simple methods to determine whether the good in question was indeed produced by him, so that copycats have a lower chance of defrauding buyers. If the seller B however does not claim that the good was produced by A, then of course there is no fraud. What he calls the good and how much different it is from the original is, again, completely irrelevant.

jerry July 16, 2010 at 10:58 am

“if something is your property, others may not modify it against your wishes”

But this is only as begging the question. When have you “modified” something? You feeding my cow grass allows the cow to replenish dead cells with newly generated ones – the feeding process clearly “modifies” my cow in some sense but the properties I require of the cow (very likely) remain the same as they were before. So “modifies” only leads to another question, “what kind if modifications are ok?”.

There are other things you might do to the cow where it is less obvious that the cow retains the same properties that you desire of it – some framework is required to determine when “modifies” is ok and when it isn’t. And this framework must rest on something more fundamental than property rights if it is not to be circular.

In this case, the (say) milk rearing abilities of the cow are not changed by feeding it – and this is because the modifications move cells to one of the arrangement of that cow that still produces milk. A modification to an arrangement that doesn’t produce milk is what you consider a property violation.

I still don’t know what “property” is if you aren’t allowed to say information or patterns are involved.

Peter Surda July 16, 2010 at 11:25 am

So “modifies” only leads to another question, “what kind if modifications are ok?”.

Actually, it doesn’t. Any modification counts. That’s the beauty of my definition, unlike others there is no necessity to determine what extent is relevant.

You feeding my cow grass allows the cow to replenish dead cells with newly generated ones ..

Before that, however, the cow must chew the grass and swallow it, which is a modification too. If the cow does this on its own volition with your permission, then it is not me who is doing the change. If I stick the grass into the cow’s throat however, then it is me. Approximately. It can get complicated. However, before we get into the details: where did this feeding occur? How did the cow get there? These steps preceding the actual feeding must contain arrangements of some sort, which influence the rules of feeding, obviously.

There are other things you might do to the cow where it is less obvious that the cow retains the same properties that you desire of it …

The “desire” part is irrelevant for the presence/absence of modification, it is only relevant to determine, at the next step of the procedure, whether the modification occurred with the owner’s approval or not.

In this case, the (say) milk rearing abilities of the cow are not changed by feeding it…

“Milk rearing abilities” are a derived aspect of the cow rather than the cow itself. Derived aspects are a type of immaterial goods. If you want to be strict with your analysis, they change all the time. It is impossible for the cow to produce exactly the same amount of milk each day.

jerry July 17, 2010 at 4:54 am

Ok, let me think about that – still not totally convinced but there were a couple of things I was not clear about that I see now.

Peter Surda July 17, 2010 at 5:05 am

Take your time, this is a difficult topic, people usually start the debate having tons of assumptions.

Stephan Kinsella July 21, 2010 at 1:38 pm

Bala has a good article here on how he or she recanted. http://blog.mises.org/11162/an-objectivist-recants-on-ip/

michael June 24, 2010 at 5:49 pm

Troy: I’ll have to go with the subjective theory of value. An article of commerce is only ‘worth’ what someone’s willing to pay for it. But that’s quite a separate question from ‘asking price’. To compute the asking price, the manufacturer has to take into account all of his production costs. And among those, labor is very often the greatest one.

Also, a farmer would greatly prefer a field that had been cleared of trees to one that had always been treeless, for the reason that treeless land indicates a dry zone. And he would have to add the costs of irrigation to render the land usable. Whereas land cleared of trees should normally get plenty of rain. It is thus worth much more.

I’m just a big killjoy some days. Otherwise a very good post.

Troy Camplin June 25, 2010 at 1:31 am

Now we’re just nitpicking. :-) I eliminated any other considerations just to make the point that the subjective theory of value and not the labor theory of value is the correct one. Of course, all those other things would be taken into consideration.

frank July 5, 2010 at 5:40 am

“I’m just a big killjoy some days”

Once again michael, despite making an almost trivial post by his waffly standards, manages to insert himself into it, showing yet again what he is really here to do ie. talk about himself.

Carlos Castro June 24, 2010 at 5:13 am

With apologies, I’m a lawyer. I will unfortunately not be able to contribute to Stephan Kinsella’s original question because I don’t have the necessary background. However, the above discussion touches on a concept that, as a lawyer, I have not been able to understand: self-ownership. The reason why I don’t understand self-ownership is that, although from a legal perspective ownership of something is characterized by its owner’s ability to sell or otherwise dispose of the thing, that ability does not exist with respect to the owner’s self. Such an exception, in my lawyerly mind, completely undermines the concept of self-ownership and makes it impossible to understand.

In my opinion, pace Murray Rothbard, we should get rid of the concept of self-ownership in our analysis of property rights. I fully agree with Stephan Kinsella’s initial statement that “Locke’s idea that homesteading rests on ‘ownership’ of labor is mistaken–it’s an unnecessary step.” The approach I would take, and I confess that I have not had the time to fully explore what I’m about to suggest, would be to think about the owner’s own satisfaction as the basis of property rights. I apologize in advance for the lengthy posting that follows.

If we imagine a situation in which there is only one person in the world, property rights are so unnecessary that they would not event exist. That individual would not need to assert his or her rights against any other individual. It is possible, though, that the individual would need to defend certain things from the “competition” of animals. For example, the individual may have hunted a rabbit and there may be a hyena around trying to take that rabbit away from the individual. Or, a somewhat different example, the individual may have made a toy with some wood and stones, and a chimpanzee may be trying to take the toy away from the individual. In those situations, property rights would not be asserted, but instead violence might be resorted to. I would tend to believe that the individual would not be pleased if the rabbit or the toy were taken away from him or her. The individual’s level of satisfaction would be lower after the loss of the rabbit or the toy than it was before.

With one essential exception, the situation does not change much if there are two people in the world. Assuming that they live in the same area and can be in contact with each other, these two people will probably maintain the same type of relations that the original individual maintained with the hyena and the chimpanzee, one of violence. The second individual would be perceived by the first as posing the same kind of threat that the hyena and the chimpanzee posed, that is, the possibility of losing the rabbit the individual hunted or the toy the individual made, and of suffering the consequent loss of satisfaction.

However, and this essential exception is what makes the difference between human and non-human relations, it is possible for the two individuals to realize that they can work together to achieve objectives that they would not be able to achieve individually. If they come to that realization (and logic would indicate that such realization took place even before the dawn of civilization), those two individuals will start to cooperate with each other. But cooperation is impossible in an atmosphere of violence, and therefore each of the individuals will avoid triggering the violence that would arise, for example, if one of them tried to take away without consent the rabbits that the other hunts or the toys that the other makes.

A third individual can be added to the cooperating group, and a fourth and a fifth, each of them staying away from each other’s rabbits and toys. As the group increases in size, direct exchange arises and specialization improves productivity. At some point, the rabbit hunter starts exchanging rabbits for the toys of the toymaker, and their respective levels of satisfaction increase, all as wonderfully explained by Mises and Rothbard.

Eventually, however, given human nature, one of the members of the group, or maybe a person who is not a member of the group, will want to obtain a rabbit or a toy without hunting or making it or giving something in exchange for it. The rabbit hunter or the toymaker would likely want to keep the rabbit or toy, and violence would become almost unavoidable. As a result, the framework for cooperation would be weakened.

Recognizing, probably subconsciously, that it is not in their interest to resort to violence and weakening the framework for cooperation, because that weakening would result in lower productivity and therefore lower satisfaction, the members of the group find a solution that avoids violence: arbitration. They ask a third person, probably the oldest or the strongest of the group, to solve the dispute. And the arbitrator will most likely ask, “who hunted the rabbit/made the toy?”. The arbitrator will probably realize that losing the rabbit or toy against their will would result in loss of satisfaction on the part of the rabbit hunter or the toymaker, and will rule that the rabbit or the toy stays with the hunter or maker.

As the group becomes more complex, a violence-triggering situation will arise that involves a person who has not directly produced the item in question, for example if the person hunted a rabbit and then exchanged it for a hat. If the hat is the item in question, then the analysis of the situation can quickly become impossible. The performance of a complete analysis would require tracing the original item that was hunted or made and then given in exchange for something else that someone else hunted or made, with as many layers of hunting, making and exchanging as needed. To avoid this complexity, the question that the arbitrator needs to ask is no longer, “who hunted/made it?”, but rather, “who is entitled to it?”. Entitlement then would arise from hunting, making or exchanging something that one hunted or made for something else that someone else hunted, made or received in exchange, ignoring previous hunts, makings or exchanges that cannot be traced. As you can see from the complexity of the description of the analysis, way before the moment when a hundred exchanges have taken place it may no longer be possible in practice to ascertain all the transactions that resulted in the situation at hand.

I believe that the concept of property rights arose as a convenient tool to solve disputes. The above account makes logical sense to me, although I would be unable to prove it factually. That account would not explain ownership of land, although with more time and thought it may be possible to expand the theory to cover it (for example, as an evolution from reduced satisfaction for the loss of a crop to reduced satisfaction for the loss of the place where the crop grows). But the account might do away with the concept of self-ownership and ownership of one’s own labor as a basis for the theory of property rights. I hope that some of you find this approach interesting.

Stephan Kinsella June 24, 2010 at 2:34 pm

Re self-ownership: see my What Libertarianism Is and How We come to Own Ourselves , both at http://www.stephankinsella.com/publications/

Self-ownership is not hard to understand or justify. It just mean that you, as opposed to some outsider, has the right to control your body. It just means the opposite of slavery. This is not difficult at all.

Carlos Castro June 24, 2010 at 9:56 pm

Thank you, Stephan. I realize that you are trying to help me out here, and I appreciate that, but I’m afraid that I still need more help. To me, the opposite of slavery is freedom, not self-ownership. Also, ownership implies a separation between the owner and the owned thing (like, as newson suggests below, the owner’s bodily parts that can be separated from the rest of the owner’s body).

In the articles you point to above, you indicate that the basis of self-ownership is the direct and immediate control that each person has over his or her body. Yes, each healthy person has such a direct and immediate control, but think of the unhealthy person, someone, for example, in a coma. Would that person lose his or her property rights solely because that person no longer has direct and immediate control over his or her body and, therefore, lacks self-ownership, i.e., the basis of all property rights? I think that the answer would be in the negative.

I can see two scenarios in which an outsider acquires control of another person’s body: one in which the outsider and the other person have agreed that the other person will tolerate being controlled by the outsider, and another in which the outsider is applying violence for the purpose of controlling the other person’s body. The second scenario is in the long run incompatible with society and, as Keynes would say, in that long run we would all be dead. The first scenario, however, would in principle be compatible with society, but it strikes me as unlikely that someone will devote his or her life to the control of someone else’s body.

My main point is that property rights arise solely in human society as a useful tool to resolve disputes over scarce resources. Before any such dispute, property rights are irrelevant (except to the extent that someone’s ability to prove such property rights might discourage someone else from starting the dispute). To me, self-ownership does not make sense for several reasons. If we own our bodies, we own them even in a Robinson Crusoe situation. We are the owner and the owned, but we cannot sell ourselves, because there is no other person around who could buy us. Even if there was someone willing to buy us, the concept of selling oneself, even into slavery, does not make sense: we cannot separate ourselves from ourselves. Separation of the owned from the owner, also known as transfer of ownership, is an element of a sale, and the inability to sell oneself suggests to me that self-ownership may not exist. Another reason is that, if there is a dispute in which one person violates the self-ownership rights of another person (think of kids fighting in a schoolyard), the sensible resolution will not go through the concept of property rights, but rather through the prohibition of violence. Violence is prohibited because it is incompatible with cooperation, which is the basis of society, and not because, by owning our bodies, we are entitled not to be treated violently. That the government, the monopoly of violence, uses violence in many ways (e.g., by collecting taxes, drafting people into the army, etc.) against its subjects is just proof that the government is not compatible with society in the long run (witness all the civilizations that have disappeared from the face of the Earth, as to which Keynes was right). I think that the concept of self-ownership does not stand serious scrutiny, but that in fact we don’t need it for praxeological analysis.

Stephan Kinsella June 25, 2010 at 1:20 am

“To me, the opposite of slavery is freedom, not self-ownership.”

Freedom is amorphous. To me the question is: who owns this scarce resource–including your body? you, or someone else? That’s it.

“Also, ownership implies a separation between the owner and the owned thing”

I don’t get worked up about metaphysical issues like this. Do I, or you, have the right to control my body? That’s the question. The rest is distraction and hand-waving.

“My main point is that property rights arise solely in human society as a useful tool to resolve disputes over scarce resources. Before any such dispute, property rights are irrelevant (except to the extent that someone’s ability to prove such property rights might discourage someone else from starting the dispute). To me, self-ownership does not make sense for several reasons. If we own our bodies, we own them even in a Robinson Crusoe situation.”

No, because rights are social concepts. They have to do with justifying–to yourself, and maybe to others–your proposed use of force against someone who would infringe your putative rights. Rights require society, and an audience.

“We are the owner and the owned, but we cannot sell ourselves, because there is no other person around who could buy us.”

Ownership does not imply buying. Only ownership of acquired things–homesteaded, previoulsly unowned, objects. These thigns are acquired, and can be abandoned–or sold. But not because of ownership itself–only because of property rights as applied to *acquired* things.

” Even if there was someone willing to buy us, the concept of selling oneself, even into slavery, does not make sense: we cannot separate ourselves from ourselves.”

Sure, it makes perfect sense–but it is problematic for other reasons as I lay out in my Inalienability and Contract articles available for your closer examination at http://www.stephankinsella.com/publications.

Carlos Castro June 25, 2010 at 6:17 am

Thank you again, Stephan. I think that you and I have different visions of what rights are, even though we are in agreement as to some of the fundamentals.

To my comment that the opposite of slavery is freedom, not self-ownership, your response is, “Freedom is amorphous.” Freedom is indeed amorphous, but that is not enough to support the necessity of the concept of self-ownership. And you continue, “To me the question is: who owns this scarce resource–including your body? you, or someone else? That’s it.” I believe that your question assumes the existence of self-ownership, and therefore its answer can only be, “of course I own myself”. I am trying to go beyond that assumption by asking, “where do property rights come from?”, and my answer, which is in my initial posting above, does not support, or even require, the concept of self-ownership.

To my observation that ownership implies a separation between the owner and the owned thing, your response is, “I don’t get worked up about metaphysical issues like this.” With apologies, if my observation is correct, self-ownership could not possibly exist, so I believe that, even if the question is metaphysical, it is an important objection that needs to be refuted. You continue, “Do I, or you, have the right to control my body? That’s the question. The rest is distraction and hand-waving.” Again, your question assumes the existence of a right to control one’s body. Your explanation that people have such a right because people have direct and immediate control of their bodies is not sufficient, because that explanation would entirely do away with property rights on things other than one’s body: anyone in possession of a thing would have the right to control it, even if that possession was obtained by force.

I agree with you that rights are social concepts, but I partially disagree (and the partial disagreement may result from your phrasing, and not your concept) when you say that “[t]hey have to do with justifying–to yourself, and maybe to others–your proposed use of force against someone who would infringe your putative rights.” In my opinion, rights have to do with showing that whoever used force against another person was not justified in doing so and therefore acted against the interests of society. In other words, I believe that rights should be used as a shield, not as a sword. Again, violence is incompatible with cooperation, which is the basis of society, so rights should be used to protect oneself, not to aggress against others.

You say that “Ownership does not imply buying.” I agree, ownership can also arise from producing the thing, or even from receiving the thing by gift. But you continue, “Only ownership of acquired things–homesteaded, previously unowned, objects. These things are acquired, and can be abandoned–or sold. But not because of ownership itself–only because of property rights as applied to *acquired* things.” You seem to distinguish between “ownership” and “property rights as applied to *acquired* things”, which is a distinction I don’t grasp, unless you are referring to partial property rights such as usufruct, leaseholds and the like. Those partial property rights do not permit the disposition or sale of the item in question, and that distinguishes them from ownership. If the topic is self-ownership, and that type of ownership does not include the ability to sell or dispose of oneself, then we are in the presence of a partial property right, which makes the situation even worse, because that would imply that someone else has the right to sell or dispose of my body. Please explain.

This exercise is basically an attempt on my part to understand the concept of self-ownership, not to prove that I’m correct. The objections I am raising here are those that occur to me when I think about it. I would be thrilled to understand the concept, because then I would be better able to understand Rothbard’s Man, Economy and State, which I have not been able to read in full because the concept of self-ownership is in the way.

Peter Surda June 25, 2010 at 6:49 am

The concept of self-ownership is easy, actually, I imagine it is easier for someone with a background in law. If a body is damaged, who has the right to seek compensation? The owner.

Bala June 25, 2010 at 7:19 am

” If a body is damaged, who has the right to seek compensation? The owner. ”

This treatment is absurd if the “body” is a rational animal with a volitional consciousness.

Bala June 25, 2010 at 8:40 am

” If a body is damaged, who has the right to seek compensation? ”

And there is an artificial and non-existent mind-body dichotomy

Peter Surda June 25, 2010 at 9:01 am

Actually, what this demonstrates that you have two options:
- assume that all rights are property rights, and then you own your body
- assume there are at least two separate rights

So, you see, you cannot avoid the dual aspect. Just like you can claim I create a false dichotomy, I can claim that you create a false dichotomy. I think the assumption of separate rights leads to questions that are more difficult to solve (if possible at all). If the rights overlap, which of them takes precedence?

Stephan Kinsella June 25, 2010 at 11:12 am

Castro:

“To my comment that the opposite of slavery is freedom, not self-ownership, your response is, “Freedom is amorphous.” Freedom is indeed amorphous, but that is not enough to support the necessity of the concept of self-ownership.”

I know. But it is enough to show why I think it’s not rigorous to say that the opposite of slavery is freedom. In fact even slavery is not the problem–it’s legitimate to own others’ bodies, if they deserve it (say, criminals). The question is: who has the right to use and control your body? You, or someone else? The libertarian answer is: you do, unless you somehow forfeit that right by committing a crime. This is very simple and easy, IMO.

” And you continue, “To me the question is: who owns this scarce resource–including your body? you, or someone else? That’s it.” I believe that your question assumes the existence of self-ownership, and therefore its answer can only be, “of course I own myself”. I am trying to go beyond that assumption by asking, “where do property rights come from?”, and my answer, which is in my initial posting above, does not support, or even require, the concept of self-ownership.”

I think you are confusing the libertarian theory about *why* A owns his own body (as opposed to society or B etc. owning it), with the concept itself. People put up confused objections to the very concept of self-ownership, and that is what I was replying to.

Now, if you are objecting not to the coherence of the concept, but to its justification, that is another matter. In that case, if you object to the proposition that a person is a self-owner (in the default case), then that means you think someone other than A has a right to control A’s body. That means you are yourself endorsing some form of slavery. Why do you demand I justify that A owns his body, if you are asserting that B owns A’s body? Why don’t you try to justify THAT? Of course, you’ll find that you cannot justify the slavist-communist view. So that leaves the natural position of self-ownership. I confess I am utterly baffled at the inability of people to see this, to make this into some complex, confusing issue–especially libertarians, who should know better. Self-ownership is just about the most natural, obvious, simple, and intuitive normative concept there is, and it is the bedrock of libertarianism. I really think it’s just sophistry on the part of some, or it’s making something simple too complicated–which may be the fault of the mainstream statist views (which are complicated in order to obfuscate the slavery they advocate). So people like you, say, think, it can’t be that simple? But it is, of course. Libertarianism is very simple. Everything you need to know, you learned in kindergarten.

I dealt with this here: What Libertarianism Is, and, as I wrote in a letter in Liberty in response to criticism of my Intellectual Property and Libertarianism:

As for philosophical problems with the notion of “self-ownership” — self-ownership just means that you have the right to decide who touches or uses your body, not some other person. What could be more libertarian, or less controversial or problematic?
… Professor Yeager misunderstands my comments. I am, like him, nonreligious. Viewing the mind as distinct from (though not unrelated to or independent of) the brain, and the self as distinct from the body, does not imply a soul or ghosts or angels. It does not imply that there can be a self without the body, or a mind without the brain. It merely implies a distinction. One may think of the mind as an epiphenomenon of the brain, but it is not the brain itself. Likewise I can run and remember with my body but running and remembering are not the same as my body. The “silly wordplay” I referred to is the use of the trite observation that we “are” our bodies (in some real sense) to object to the idea of self-ownership. But atheism is not contrary to self-ownership. Self-ownership is the libertarian idea that you have the say-so over who uses your body — that others need your permission. Self-ownership is the rejection of slavery and aggression. It is perfectly compatible with the idea that there is no soul; that you die when your body dies. In any event, Yeager’s atheism does not prove there are intellectual property rights, or that we are not self-owners.

“To my observation that ownership implies a separation between the owner and the owned thing, your response is, “I don’t get worked up about metaphysical issues like this.” With apologies, if my observation is correct, self-ownership could not possibly exist,”

Self-ownership does not “exist”; it is a concept that refers to the belief that each person has the right to control his body, and to exclude others from using his body without his consent. If you say it does not “exist” I take it you think someone other than a given person has the right to control his body–that is, slavery. Why is that justified? Or, to put it in non-rigorous, colorful, overly metaphorical, potentially misleading lingo, why does slavery “exist”?

“so I believe that, even if the question is metaphysical, it is an important objection that needs to be refuted.”

Let me get this straight. You think that some overly complicated philosophical musing about “hey, I don’t see how we can own ourselves, man, doesn’t that imply, like, a separation between the body and the self, and that like, freaks me out, man”–justifies slavery–other-ownership of people. But maybe I missed a step.

“You continue, “Do I, or you, have the right to control my body? That’s the question. The rest is distraction and hand-waving.” Again, your question assumes the existence of a right to control one’s body.”

Again, you are equivocating between the justification for the idea of self-ownership, and the coherence of the idea. It is perfectly obvious that the idea is perfectly coherent. You cannot use your objection to self-ownership (really? really? do you really favor other-ownership of people? Really??) as a basis for attacking the coherence of the concept itself.

“Your explanation that people have such a right because people have direct and immediate control of their bodies is not sufficient, because that explanation would entirely do away with property rights on things other than one’s body:”

Now you are criticizing my argument justifying the right to control my body. Which discussion are we having? And why should I discuss peacefully and in a civilized manner with someone who does not recognize my right to own my body? Such people should be shot, not argued with. In fact, I am talking to you now only on the assumption that you of course do accept ownership rights in your own body, and must grant them to me too since I am no different than you. (This is all explained in Hoppe’s argumentation ethics; see my Defending Argumentation Ethics.) It is plain that both you and I DO accept the basic self-ownership norm. Clearly we do. (If you seriously want to argue for communism or slavery, please be explicit so I’ll know my charitable assumption is wrong.) Given this, why do you challenge me for why I believe in the same thing you do? Look inside and answer for yourself. The truth is the is-ought gap cannot be breached. Norms ultimately rest on fundamental or grundnorms that are voluntarily adopted (or not) by people. My view is that most people–certainly people like us civilized enough to have a peaceful discourse like this–have (for whatever reason) decided to adopt civilized grundnorms: peace, cooperation, etc. The rest of the libertarian normative corpus is implied by this. But it makes no sense for a participant in this civilized discursive endeavor, someone who has necessarily adopted the peaceful norms of discourse, to challenge others to justify this normative position. There is no justification for it other than the fact that it has to be presupposed as part of the very endeavor of argumentative justification itself. And the kicker is: you yourself accept these norms too (you must, if we are having a genuine argument–one where you respect my right to agree or not with you, to listen to you and consider your arguments, and to agree to disagree if it comes to that–i.e., where you are not coercing me, threatening to bash me over the head if I do not disagree). So why petulantly demand of me that I justify why you have adopted certain norms? Adopt them or not. Be civilized or not. If you do, you have joined the civilized team. If not, you are an outlaw, uncivilized, like an animal; and are merely a technical problem for the rest of us.

Hoppe has best elaborated this idea, but it is an intuitive and obvious one that others have seen aspects of or in more or less rigorous form. See, e.g, my Quotes on the Logic of Liberty, which includes:

“The only proof that can be offered for the validity of the liberal position is that we are discussing it and its acceptance is a presupposition of discussion, since discussion is the essence of the position itself.”
–Frank H. Knight, Freedom and Reform (Indianapolis: Liberty Press, 1982): 473=9674.

“[T]he various values defended by liberalism are not arbitrary, a matter of mere personal preference, nor do they derive from some natural law . . . . Rather, they are nothing less and nothing more than what could be called the operative presuppositions or intrinsic features and demands of communicative rationality itself. In other words, they are values that are implicitly recognized and affirmed by everyone by the very fact of their engaging in communicative reason. This amounts to saying that no one can rationally deny them without at the same time denying reason, without self-contradiction, without in fact abandoning all attempts to persuade the other and to reach agreement. . . . [T]he notion of universal human rights and liberties is not an . . . arbitrary value, a matter of mere personal preference . . . . On the contrary, it is nothing less and nothing more than the operative presupposition or intrinsic feature and demand of communicative rationality itself.”
–G.B. Madison, The Logic of Liberty (New York: Greenwood Press, 1986): 266, 269.

“[O]ur existence is due to the fact that we do not, indeed cannot accept a norm outlawing property in other scarce resources next to and in addition to that of one’s physical body. Hence, the right to acquire such goods must be assumed to exist.”
–Hans-Hermann Hoppe, The Economics and Ethics of Private Property: Studies in Political Economy and Philosophy (Kluwer: 1993): 185.

“[J]ust as one cannot win a game of chess against an opponent who will not make any moves–and just as one cannot argue mathematically with a person who will not commit himself to any mathematical statements–so moral argument is impossible with a man who will make no moral judgements at all . . . . Such a person is not entering the arena of moral dispute, and therefore it is impossible to contest with him. He is compelled also–and this is important–to abjure the protection of morality for his own interests.”
–R.M. Hare, Freedom and Reason (1963): A7 6.6

“When men hire themselves out to shoot other men to order, asking nothing about the justice of their cause, I don’t care if they are shot themselves.”
–Herbert Spencer, from Facts and Comments (1902)

“[T]he victim is entitled to respond according to the rule (‘The use of force is permissible’) that the aggressor himself has implicitly laid down.”
–John Hospers, “Retribution: The Ethics of Punishment,” in Assessing the Criminal: Restitution, Retribution, and the Legal Process, Randy E. Barnett and John Hagel III, eds., (Cambridge: Ballinger, 1977): p. 191.

“The injury [the penalty] which falls on the criminal is not merely implicitly just–as just, it is eo ipso his implicit will, an embodiment of his freedom, his right; on the contrary, it is also a right established within the criminal himself, i.e., in his objectively embodied will, in his action. The reason for this is that his action is the action of a rational being and this implies that it is something universal and that by doing it the criminal has laid down a law which he has explicitly recognized in his action and under which in consequence he should be brought as under his right.”
–G.W.F. Hegel, The Philosophy of Right A7 100 (T.M. Knox trans., 1969) (reprinted in Philosophical Perspectives on Punishment (Gertrude Ezorsky ed., 1972): 107 (Emphasis in last sentence added; brackets in Ezorsky)

“It is easier to commit murder than to justify it.”
–Papinian (Aemilius Papinianus), quoted in Barry Nicholas, An Introduction to Roman Law, p. 30 n.2 (1962).

Alternative quote to the above: “Papinian [a third-century Roman jurist, considered by many to be the greatest of Roman jurists] is said to have been put to death for refusing to compose a justification of Caracalla’s murder of his brother and co-Emperor, Geta, declaring, so the story goes, that it is easier to commit murder than to justify it.”
–Barry Nicholas, An Introduction to Roman Law, p. 30 n.2 (1962).

Old saying: “What you do speaks so loud I can’t hear what you are saying.”
–Quoted in Clarence Carson, “Free Enterprise: The Key to Prosperity”, in The Freedom Philosophy Vol. 27, 27 (1988).

“With him [an aggressor] we are returned to the first-stage state of nature and may use force against him. In so doing we do not violate his rights or in any other way violate the principle of right, because he has broken the reciprocity required for us to view such a principle [of rights] as binding. In this we find the philosophic grounding for the moral legitimacy of the practice of punishment. Punishment is just that practice which raises the price of violation of the principle of right so as to give us all good reason to accept that principle.”
–J. Charles King, A Rationale for Punishment, 4 J. Libertarian Stud. (1980): 154.

“In transgressing the law of Nature, the offender declares himself to live by another rule than that of reason and common equity . . . and so he becomes dangerous to mankind; . . . every man . . . by the right he hath to preserve mankind in general, may restrain, or where it is necessary, destroy things noxious to them, and so may bring such evil on any one who hath transgressed that law, as may make him repent of the doing of it . . . .” B6 11: A murderer “hath, by the unjust violence and slaughter he hath committed upon one, declared war against all mankind, and therefore may be destroyed as a lion or a tiger, one of those wild savage beasts with whom men can have no society nor security.”
–John Locke, The Second Treatise on Civil Government B6 8

“It has been noted that one who wishes to extinguish or convey an inalienable right may do so by committing the appropriate wrongful act and thereby forfeiting it.”
–Randy E. Barnett, “Contract Remedies and Inalienable Rights,” Social Philosophy and Policy 4 (Autumn 1986): 186, citing Diana T. Meyers, Inalienable Rights: A Defense (New York: Columbia University Press, 1985), p. 14.

“[W]hen someone is punished for having violated others’ rights, it is not the case that the criminal has alienated or otherwise lost his rights; rather, it is the case that the criminal’s choice to live in a rights-violating way is being respected.”
–Douglas B. Rasmussen & Douglas J. Den Uyl, Liberty and Nature: An Aristotelian Defense of Liberal Order (1991): 85

“[I]f someone attacks another, that act carries with it, as a matter of the logic of aggression, the implication that from a rational moral standpoint the victim may, and often should retaliate.”
–Tibor R. Machan, Individuals and Their Rights (1989): 176

“[T]hose who do not want peace, or want it only for others in relation to themselves rather than vice versa, are on their own and may in principle be dealt with by any degree of violence we like.”
–Jan Narveson, The Libertarian Idea (1988): 210

“What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence.”
–Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, (D.F. Pears & B.F. McGuinness trans., London & New York: Routledge, 1961): ¶ 7.0 (p. 74).

“[L]ife for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stroke for stroke.”
–Exodus 21:23-25, in God, The Jerusalem Bible: Reader’s Edition (1968). See also Deuteronomy 19:21; Leviticus 24:17-21.

“[T]he basic axiom of libertarian political theory holds that every man is a self-owner, having absolute jurisdiction over his own body. In effect, this means that no one else may justly invade, or aggress against, another’s person. It follows then that each person justly owns whatever previously unowned resources he appropriates or ‘mixes his labor with’. From these twin axioms– self-ownership and ‘homesteading’–stem the justification for the entire system of property rights titles in a free market society.”
–Murray N. Rothbard, “Law, Property Rights, and Air Pollution,” Cato Journal, Vol. 2 (1982): 60-61.

“When we say that one has the right to do certain things we mean this and only this, that it would be immoral for another, alone or in combination, to stop him from doing this by the use of physical force or the threat thereof. We do not mean that any use a man makes of his property within the limits set forth is necessarily a moral use.”
–James A. Sadowsky, “Private Property and Collective Ownership,” in The Libertarian Alternative, ed. Tibor R. Machan (Chicago: Nelson-Hall Co., 1974), 120=9621.

Bottom line: the concept of self-ownership is perfectly coherent and natural and obvious to everyone (even dogs), especially libertarians. And as for its justification: the justification is that it is the only norm consistent with the grundnorms necessarily presupposed as part of argumentative justification itself. Anyone I talk to already adopts the libertarian grundnorms, and thus has to accept that only the higher libertarian norms are argumentatively justifiable. And if you don’t, you are simply an outlaw.

“I agree with you that rights are social concepts, but I partially disagree (and the partial disagreement may result from your phrasing, and not your concept) when you say that “[t]hey have to do with justifying–to yourself, and maybe to others–your proposed use of force against someone who would infringe your putative rights.” In my opinion, rights have to do with showing that whoever used force against another person was not justified in doing so and therefore acted against the interests of society.”

Yes, showing this, to justify treating the aggressor as a means–to punish him, say.

” In other words, I believe that rights should be used as a shield, not as a sword.”

Not sure exactly what that means ,but I don’t see a reason to strongly object.

“You say that “Ownership does not imply buying.” I agree, ownership can also arise from producing the thing, or even from receiving the thing by gift.”

You misunderstand me. I mean that ownership implies the right to control a thing, but this does not directly imply the right to get rid of ownership of that thing. As I argued at length in my contract article, it so happens that ownership of once-unowned, homesteaded, external objects does imply the right to alienate it (which implies the rihgt to sell, to buy, etc.). But this is the combination of ownership rights with the nature of the alienable thing owned. This combination does not occur with one’s body. HEre, ownership means right to control and does not imply right to sell one’s body.

“You seem to distinguish between “ownership” and “property rights as applied to *acquired* things”, which is a distinction I don’t grasp, unless you are referring to partial property rights such as usufruct, leaseholds and the like.”

No. I’m talking about what ownership implies when it’s ownership of external objects, and what it implies for ownership of one’s body. I explain at length in A Libertarian Theory of Contract: Title Transfer, Binding Promises, and Inalienability.

” Those partial property rights do not permit the disposition or sale of the item in question, and that distinguishes them from ownership. If the topic is self-ownership, and that type of ownership does not include the ability to sell or dispose of oneself, then we are in the presence of a partial property right,”

No. Ownership means right to control. If you don’t have the power to sell your body it is precisely because you still have the right to control it. It is a mistake to automatically assume that “power to sell” is a necessary or inherent incident of ownership rights. It’s right to control, not to get rid of the right to control.

“This exercise is basically an attempt on my part to understand the concept of self-ownership, not to prove that I’m correct.”

No. You are objecting to the justification for self-ownership, under the guise of objecting to the concept itself–or vice-versa, I can’t tell, since you keep switching back and forth.

” The objections I am raising here are those that occur to me when I think about it. I would be thrilled to understand the concept, because then I would be better able to understand Rothbard’s Man, Economy and State, which I have not been able to read in full because the concept of self-ownership is in the way.”

gotcha. I hope the above helps. (Don’t take my comments above personally–no insult or rudeness intended. Just being blunt and direct.)

mr taco June 27, 2010 at 2:10 am

this is a long post lol

Bala June 25, 2010 at 1:56 am

The concept of “self-ownership” is an epistemological absurdity/monstrosity. It makes no sense because we first and foremost exist as rational animals with a volitional consciousness. “Ownership” is term that defines the relationship that an individual has with objects in his environment. It is fundamentally a moral “ought”.

When I say “I”, it includes everything about me including my mind and my body. You do not “own” yourself. You are what you are. Ownership is possible only to a rational animal with a volitional consciousness. The rest can have only possessions/territory that they defend using their might. The term “volitional consciousness” is a fundamental characteristic of human nature and self-explanatory. We do not require any concept of “self-ownership” to define man’s freedom of action.

Just to show why it is an epistemological monstrosity, try answering the question “How did you come to the conclusion that you own yourself?”. Also ask yourself the simple question “Is self-ownership axiomatic? In other words, is it a self-evident, primary aspect of reality that can only be perceived?”. The answer to the latter question is clearly “No”. Hence, it does not form a proper founding principle for a political theory. A political theory devoid of a rational moral foundation is not capable of withstanding the power of logical argumentation.

p.s. Having said this, I just went through your publication “How we come to own ourself. The best I can say for that is “extremely shallow and lacking in sufficient justification”. Nothing that you or Hoppe have said makes any sense because nothing in it is axiomatic. One of those times when I feel that you are making a big mistake by rejecting Ayn Rand’s ideas lock, stock and barrel. I do agree that she has made a couple of errors in the areas of IP and Anarchy. However, her morality provides the best foundation for Libertarian political theory (including Rothbardian Anarchism). You, unfortunately, have thrown the baby out with the bath-water.

Peter Surda June 25, 2010 at 5:27 am

The concept of “self-ownership” is an epistemological absurdity/monstrosity. It makes no sense because we first and foremost exist as rational animals with a volitional consciousness.

Well, maybe from the point of view of an objectivist. Let us then rephrase it to use the negative feature of property, i.e. trespass. If someone “trespasses” over your body and you would like to have a recourse, you need to define a right where you (subject) own your body (subject). If we agree with Rothbard, that all rights are property rights, so this is the only theoretical construct which allows such an outcome.

Bala June 25, 2010 at 7:15 am

” If someone “trespasses” over your body and you would like to have a recourse ”

This does not require any notion of “property rights”. It just requires a clear understanding of what constitutes the “victim”, an understanding of the concept “Right to Life” and an objective assessment of whether an action constitutes a violation of the Right to Life.

” If we agree with Rothbard, that all rights are property rights, ”

That’s precisely what I do not agree with. This statement is precisely what constitutes an epistemological monstrosity. This statement is non-axiomatic and it takes a fairly monumental blunder to treat it as the base of a political philosophy. That Rothbard has made the blunder does not make it a non-blunder.

Just as I was ready to acknowledge that Rand was indeed wrong on IP and anarchy, libertarians (and Rothbardians in particular) need to be gracious enough to acknowledge that Rothbard was wrong. All your (libertarian/Rothbardian) arguments on this issue are completely fallacious.

Peter Surda June 25, 2010 at 7:54 am

Well, if you disagree that all rights are property rights, then there must be at least two types of rights. If there are two types of rights, which one takes precedence if there is an overlap in their area of applicability? If there is no overlap, then why is it necessary to have a second type of right?

Bala June 25, 2010 at 8:08 am

” Well, if you disagree that all rights are property rights, then there must be at least two types of rights. ”

No. This statement reflects your utter failure to recognise that the concept “right to property” is little more than a logical corollary of the more fundamental “right to life”.

Peter Surda June 25, 2010 at 9:15 am

I am sorry, but to me “right to life” is too vague to be useful. As it is described here: http://www.suite101.com/lesson.cfm/17330/588/3 .The problem with this is that you cannot measure it, and if you cannot measure it, you cannot achieve the condition “our rights stop where the others’ begin” (quote from the same, which is coincidentally the only thing from the page I agree with). The condition of measurabilty is a necessary requirement for the condition of mutual exclusivity, or of the rights being disjunct sets.

Property rights are the only rights that are measurable, and only when you restrict them to physical/rival goods.

Bala June 25, 2010 at 10:07 am

Firstly, there is nothing vague about life. That’s exactly why Rand made it a point to start from first principles – defining the concept “life”. As she put it “Life is a series of self-generated, self-sustaining actions”. This definition was the basis of her definition of the concept “right to life”. Rather neat and concrete as I see it. Either there is action or there is not. It is either self-generated, self-sustaining action or it is not. I would like to see you point out what is vague and “immeasurable” in it.

It is this failure to grapple with basic definitions that forms the gaping hole in libertarian political theory. Simply put, it lacks an epistemological, metaphysical, philosophical and moral foundation. It is a floating abstraction with no mooring to reality.

Peter Surda June 25, 2010 at 10:56 am

There might be nothing vague about life, but there is vagueness in the right to life. Despite your objections about “epistemological, metaphysical, philosophical” aspects of the problems, the logical problems need to be solved first (I often wonder why objectivists have difficulties understanding this). I am a nitpicker that always looks for corner cases and wants to make sure the actual scope of validity is really the alleged scope of validity.

I assume by self-sustaining you mean the continuation of your life (as opposed to death).

So, I have a couple of questions to verify the corner cases. If you perform an action that is not self-sustaining, does it mean you do not have a right to it? If you do not have a right to it, are other people allowed to prevent you from performing it? If it is not known beforehand if the action is self-sustaining (e.g. there is a certain level of risk of harm or even death involved), do you have the right to it? What about smoking, which brings you a slow death? Can an action that does not violate property rights violate other rights? If you do not own yourself, can you sell parts of your body? If yes, do they become property, and when? Can you make a contract that specifies what should happen to your body after your death (e.g. used for medical purposes)? What if the only option of preserving your life is to violate a property right, which right takes precedence (the page I listed only deals with intra-type overlaps but not inter-type overlaps)? What are the boundaries of actions? If I pick an apple from a tree, is it one action, or are there separate ones: stretching the arm, grasping the apple, pulling it? Since everyone eventually dies, why shouldn’t you interpret the whole life as a single action that is not self-sustaining?

I am eagerly awaiting responses. Particularly the last one, because it’s the same objection I have against IP: absence of boundaries, you can stretch them to infinity.

So far I am unconvinced that you can build a usable theory based on the assumption that there are other rights than property rights. But, because of your otherwise quite reasonable arguments, I’m prepared to give you the benefit of doubt.

Stephan Kinsella June 25, 2010 at 11:24 am

Agreed w/ Surda: the “right to life” stuff of Rand is hopelessly muddled and vague. See Hoppe’s criticism of the natural law approach that I quoted in the comment above.

Bala June 25, 2010 at 1:35 pm

Peter,

” but there is vagueness in the right to life. ”

How dumb!!! As Rand worded it, rights are moral concepts defining and sanctioning man’s freedom of action in a social context. The essence of the “right to life” is simply that man needs to be free to act on his own volition. Seen the other way, it implies the primacy of the non-initiation of force because it is precisely force that it is necessary and sufficient to override a man’s volition. Either you initiate force or you do not. Please show me what is vague in this.

” If you perform an action that is not self-sustaining, does it mean you do not have a right to it? ”

This is a mighty dumb way of wording the question and shows that you have absolutely no comprehension of what Rand said (I suspect the same is true of Stephan who is criticising her). As Rand explained, acting thus only means that having made the choice to live (which is pre-moral), such an action contradicts that choice and is hence to be considered either immoral (if deliberate) or an error (if unwitting). In either case, it does not take the person in the direction of the original choice to live. The question of “right” does not enter this because rights are relevant ONLY in a social context. What a person does in his personal space does not come under the ambit of the concept “rights”.

” What about smoking, which brings you a slow death? ”

Peter…. you are really sounding dumb. If I know that smoking harms me, it would be an immoral choice to smoke. However, this does not come under the ambit of “rights” because, as I said earlier, “rights” are relevant ONLY in a social context.

” What if the only option of preserving your life is to violate a property right, which right takes precedence (the page I listed only deals with intra-type overlaps but not inter-type overlaps)? ”

This is what Rand called the life-boat example. Life does not happen on life-boats. Further, as you have presented this question, you seem to be thoroughly confused about the very concept of rights. At least, you have no clue how Rand explained it. In simple terms, violation of the right to property is a violation of the right to life because the right to property is a logical corollary of the right to life. If A implies B, B’ implies A’. So, I am only able to classify this as more brain-dead questioning.

” So far I am unconvinced that you can build a usable theory based on the assumption that there are other rights than property rights. ”

This is where your error is apparent. Rand did not say that the Right to Life is a separate class of rights. She said it is the fount of all rights and that the right to property is their ONLY logical implementation. However, as she explained it, the right to property flows from the right to life and not the other way. If you do not recognise the axiomatic nature of the right to life, you cannot have a defensible concept of right to property. This was the essence of Rand’s theory of rights. It all starts with life and the choice to live rather than die.

p.s. I am sorry if I am sounding a little harsh, but your arguments show that you have (much like Stephan) not bothered to even try to understand what Rand has to say but you are ready to criticise her. It just irks me when intelligent people refuse to apply their mind to understand something as fundamental as what she explained. That too because they have lost their mind to a third-rate approach like Argumentation Ethics.

Peter Surda June 25, 2010 at 2:21 pm

Dear Bala,

one last attempt.

The essence of the “right to life” is simply that man needs to be free to act on his own volition.

If we take the whole set of possible actions and subtract those that are a violation of rights, in the remaining ones there is still a leftover subset of actions in the social context that are unavailable to you. This is why I reject the definition, it does not cover the whole and needlessly confuses.

acting thus only means that having made the choice to live

Since all of us will die anyway at some time, this definition is equally useless as nonsensical. All choices will in the end result in death.

The question of “right” does not enter this because rights are relevant ONLY in a social context. What a person does in his personal space does not come under the ambit of the concept “rights”.

The question of right indeed enters into the situation whenever you confront your choices with others. If your choice does not lead to life, then your right thereon cannot be derived from the choice to live. And since you say that all rights are derived from the choice to live, it is not a violation of your rights if others prevent you from acting in that way.

This is what Rand called the life-boat example. Life does not happen on life-boats.

So on a lifeboat, you have different rights than elsewhere?

In simple terms, violation of the right to property is a violation of the right to life because the right to property is a logical corollary of the right to life. If A implies B, B’ implies A’. So, I am only able to classify this as more brain-dead questioning.

To put this into exact terms, you say that the right to property is a subset of the right to life. Logically then there must be other subsets of the right to life, which are not the right to property. So, it is up to you to demonstrate that either these subsets are disjunct sets or explain which one takes precedence in case of an overlap.

I am sorry if I am sounding a little harsh, but your arguments show that you have (much like Stephan) not bothered to even try to understand what Rand has to say but you are ready to criticise her.

I can only repeat that logic is the king. You cannot refute logic by anything else. You entangle yourself in complicated constructs while failing to address the basics. What Rand has to say is only relevant after all the logical errors have been eliminated.

Bala June 25, 2010 at 3:26 pm

Peter Surda,

My last attempt too.

” If we take the whole set of possible actions and subtract those that are a violation of rights, in the remaining ones there is still a leftover subset of actions in the social context that are unavailable to you. ”

Rather absurd. The “right to life” is by definition self-limiting. It is a right applicable to every human being – as much to you as I think to me. So, the right to life of every other person I interact with limits the range of actions I ought to consider myself free to undertake.

That apart, what is this loose phrase “violation of rights”? What rights are you talking of? Taking it one step further, what are rights? How do we come to recognise the concept “rights”? Unless you first define the concept “rights”, how are you in a position to talk about “violation of rights”? I see a lot of unjustified assumptions all over the place.

” This is why I reject the definition, it does not cover the whole and needlessly confuses. ”

More failure to think. Any action that is an initiation of force against another is proscribed by my recognition of the right to life. What is left to be objectively determined is whether an action constitutes initiation of force or not. So, that it does not cover the whole is a baseless claim.

” ince all of us will die anyway at some time, this definition is equally useless as nonsensical. All choices will in the end result in death. ”

This one rather blew me away by the sheer magnitude of the stupidity. It is not the action that results in death but the biological nature of man. The action can sustain life or fail to do so.

” If your choice does not lead to life, then your right thereon cannot be derived from the choice to live. ”

Are you by any chance under the illusion that Rand said man is infallible? That apart, rights do not derive from the choice to live but from life and the nature of man as a rational animal with a volitional consciousness whose values are not automatic or given but need to be produced.

” And since you say that all rights are derived from the choice to live, it is not a violation of your rights if others prevent you from acting in that way. ”

Since I did not say that (rather you twisted what I said), this is just more rubbish.

” So on a lifeboat, you have different rights than elsewhere? ”

You fail to understand that lifeboat situations eliminate before-hand the possibility of coexistence through cooperation. So, to use them to buttress your “argument” is stupid at best and dishonest at worst.

” To put this into exact terms, you say that the right to property is a subset of the right to life. Logically then there must be other subsets of the right to life, which are not the right to property. So, it is up to you to demonstrate that either these subsets are disjunct sets or explain which one takes precedence in case of an overlap. ”

There aren’t. At least not in the Objectivist concept of individual rights. The only recognised rights are the ones to life, liberty, property and the pursuit of happiness. The yardstick for precedence is the right to life. Initiation of force being barred, it becomes the disqualifying criterion. Why is this so difficult to comprehend?

” can only repeat that logic is the king. You cannot refute logic by anything else. ”

I am not refuting logic but the foundation of your logic. I am saying that your axiom is not really an axiom and that hence, your argument can easily be destroyed by someone who disagrees with the actual source of your axiom (or should I say non-axiom). I am saying that your theory is weak because it stands on a non-foundation. Your conclusions are OK (as exemplified by Austrian economics and by your conclusions on IP and anarchy) because you have (quite by chance) chosen the only logical implementation of the right to life as the basis of your theory. However, you are not in any position to argue with anyone who contests the validity of the right to property.

Peter Surda June 25, 2010 at 4:08 pm

Rather absurd.

It is the logical outcome of your own assumptions. If it is absurd, then your assumptions are absurd.

It doesn’t look like you are going to address the logical errors in your arguments, so I don’t see a point in a further debate. I was hoping to learn something, but it doesn’t look like there is anything to learn.

Bala June 25, 2010 at 4:53 pm

” It is the logical outcome of your own assumptions. If it is absurd, then your assumptions are absurd. ”

This is ridiculous. I take the pains to show that you have taken a stupid and convenient interpretation of my assumptions and drawn a fool’s conclusion. That was what I referred to as absurd. And you insist that it is the logical conclusion of my assumptions. i now feel I am talking to a stone wall.

That apart, your claim of wanting to learn is absolutely hollow. For if it were not, you would have read a few books of Rand by now. Your statements reflect that you have not and that in turn reflects the basic dishonesty and pretence in your statement.

Your entire “argument” is based on straw-men. You keep taking caricatures of my assumptions, pretend to have demolished them and them claim that you have demolished my argument. Rather cheap, but expected from a libertarian when it comes to these issues. After all, when your fundamental philosophy is flawed and you have no intention of acknowledging that, what else can one expect?

Peter Surda June 25, 2010 at 5:23 pm

What you call caricature, I call reductio ad absurdum. What you call refutation of the foundation of my logic I call polylogism.

Bala June 25, 2010 at 7:40 pm

How convenient!!! When I said “caricature”, I meant that your wording of my assumption was not the same as my assumptions. In other words, I meant that you are misrepresenting my assumptions. Under no circumstances, however absurd can my assumptions be mistaken for your wording of my assumptions. What you have done is therefore not reductio ad absurdum but a straw-man argument.

Similarly, it is hilarious seeing you claim I am engaging in polylogism when I say that your axiom is non-axiomatic and hence a poor basis for a political theory. You have an obligation to explain, failing which I will have to add you to the list of dishonest, name-calling cranks who use smear to get out of tight spots in an argument.

Peter Surda June 26, 2010 at 2:55 am

They are not strawmen, they are the only logical interpretation of your assumptions. They demonstrate that you are unaware of the full consequences of your assumptions. There are no boundaries between actions and everyone eventually dies. That makes any definition that requires the choice to live useless.

Why don’t you answer my questions? You conveniently dodge them. I’m mainly interested in this one:

Since everyone eventually dies, why shouldn’t you interpret the whole life as a single action that is not self-sustaining?

Bala July 1, 2010 at 5:55 am

Peter,

You are revealing your lack of thinking in its full glory (or the lack of it). Let me answer your question since you insist.

” Since everyone eventually dies, why shouldn’t you interpret the whole life as a single action that is not self-sustaining? ”

Rarely do I seen anything as dumb and brain-dead as this. Firstly, life is not an action, at least the way i explained it. It is a state of existence that is identified by the existence of self-generated, self-sustaining action.

Secondly, that everyone eventually dies is a characteristic of the state of existence called “life”. Death is simply the cessation of life. The very concept “death” requires a clear definition of the concept “life” for it to have any meaning.

Please tell me by what contorted logic you call day-to-day human action such as consuming food, getting oneself an education, etc as actions aiming at the cessation of life, i.e., death.

Normal people act with the full knowledge of their own impending death. To twist this to say that the action is directed towards death requires either utter stupidity or complete insanity. Take your pick.

Please say something sensible (if you can). As of now, you are sounding extremely foolish.

Peter Surda July 1, 2010 at 7:03 am

Dear Bala,

I am afraid you are comitting the a very similar error as Troy Camplin in other part of the thread. From the fact that you consider your actions purposeful (and see other people doing the same) you incorrectly deduce that the boundaries defined by the purpose of those actions are objective. They are not, they depend on interpretation and imagination. Outside of those, they do not have an existence or a meaning. From empirical point of view, the only thing we can definitely say that, no matter what your actions are, in the end you will die. Purpose is not an empirical phenomenon. Which is why I conclude that the definitions provided by Ayn Rand are not objective but depend on interpretation, which is why, regrettably, I have to reject them.

You rush towards your conclusions and miss the gaps you leave on the way there. Patience, discipline :-).

Bala July 1, 2010 at 7:57 am

Peter,

More rubbish. Please define the term “objective”. I am quite certain that your definition will reveal your “concrete-bound” mentality and your complete inability to deal with the abstract.

” From empirical point of view, the only thing we can definitely say that, no matter what your actions are, in the end you will die. ”

What nonsense is this and what relevance does this have to my point? Does the fact that we will all eventually die mean that all our actions are aimed at death? That, incidentally, is what your statement means. Why are you putting in this much effort to show how hare-brained your ideas are?

This is what comes out of accepting something non-axiomatic as the axiom of your philosophy. You have to be a contortionist to make the smallest argument.

Peter Surda July 1, 2010 at 8:28 am

Dear Bala,

perhaps the word “objective” was not the best choice, as you might have a different understanding of it. I was struggling a bit with what to use, but in the end settled with “objective” despite the risk, because I couldn’t find a better word.

My point is that boundaries of actions require context, which is something that happens in one’s mind. I define the word “subjective” as dependent on the state of one’s mind, and the word “objective” as independent of the state of anyone’s mind. You might have different definitions. To a certain extent, we can replace them with “theoretical” and “empirical”, maybe tha will allow you to understand it better. Now, the phenomena of the first category are different for each person. If you try to use them within a definition, that definition is useless, because it means something else to everyone. To apply this back to the “action”, the boundaries thereof are different for everyone (plus they depend on the context). The same action can have different boundaries, depending on the interpretation of the observer, his own purposes for the observation, his job and his knowledge.

Without boundaries, a definition is pointless, as demonstrated on the reductio ad absurdum argument.

Bala July 1, 2010 at 8:54 am

Peter,

” My point is that boundaries of actions require context, ”

My point too, which is precisely why I am saying that the first of your sins is context dropping. Once you have committed that sin, the rest of your “argument” is nothing short of utter nonsense.

” I define the word “subjective” as dependent on the state of one’s mind, and the word “objective” as independent of the state of anyone’s mind. ”

The divergence is clear. This is not too different from the variance between Mises’ use of the word “subjective” and Rand’s use of the same word.

“Objective” means “perceived using the senses and integrated using reason”. Once reason enters the picture, the “state of a person’s mind” is not a factor in the understanding of the concept “objective”. Different people may come to different conclusions only to the extent of the difference in their sensory information. You are confusing the point that not everyone equally consistently applies reason for the random variations across a set of people.

It is the failure to understand this point that underlies your overall failure.

” Now, the phenomena of the first category are different for each person. ”

A very good example of your failure. There are correct theories and there are wrong theories. Those based on the proper application of reason to perceptual concretes obtained through sensory impulses received from reality are, more often than not, right. Those that spring solely from a person’s mind based on arbitrary constructs with no necessary connection to reality and without the proper application of reason are, more often than not, wrong. I find this statement of yours surprising considering that you consider Austrian Economics to be sound theory and Keynesian Economics to be unsound theory.

In simple terms, that they are different for different people does not mean that they are all equally right. Those who work on the basis of sound theories come up with sound conclusions (like Austrian economists do). Those who work on the basis of unsound theories come up with unsound conclusions (like Keynesian economists do).

” If you try to use them within a definition, that definition is useless, because it means something else to everyone. ”

It is precisely for this reason that in “Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology”, Rand emphasised the role of concepts in cognitive development and the role of definitions in the process of concept formation. There is no such thing as “your definition” and “my definition”. There are ” sound definitions” and “unsound definitions”. Once again, given that you are an Austrian emphasising the point that the Austrian definition of inflation is sound while the mainstream definition of inflation is unsound, it is strange to see you make this kind of argument.

” To apply this back to the “action”, the boundaries thereof are different for everyone (plus they depend on the context). ”

Only if you say that there is no such thing as a sound definition. If you reject the statement that there are sound definitions and unsound definitions, you need to stop being an Austrian who rejects mainstream economic “principles”. Further, you need to insist on dropping the context.

” The same action can have different boundaries, depending on the interpretation of the observer, his own purposes for the observation, his job and his knowledge. ”

Not if your definitions are sound and you are committed to using reason.

” Without boundaries, a definition is pointless ”

Sound definitions have their boundaries well-defined. It is your rejection of the concept that there are sound definitions and unsound definitions that lies at the heart of your misunderstandings and misinterpretations.

It is indeed amazing how you still remain an Austrian.

Peter Surda July 1, 2010 at 9:38 am

Dear Bala,

I am happy we seem to agree on the definitions, at least. I think I was able to narrow down the problem in your argument to an even smaller area. My objection is not in the validity of the hypothesis that an observer has regarding something he observes, but rather in the subjectivity of the context. Those two are independent categories. A physicist, a biologist and a sociologist observing a human, for example, may all have a correct hypothesis regarding his actions, but still interpret the boundaries of the actions differently, based on their own needs. Which is why the boundaries cannot be objective. You allege they are objective, so, let us eliminate first those interpretations which are false. The remaining (correct) ones, still differ. So, which of those takes precedence over the others?

Bala July 1, 2010 at 10:56 am

Peter,

You are repeatedly asking me an utterly meaningless question and are insisting that I answer it.

” You allege they are objective, so, let us eliminate first those interpretations which are false. The remaining (correct) ones, still differ. So, which of those takes precedence over the others? ”

Define the concepts “man”, “action”, “value”, “life” and “rights” and then we can have a discussion. It is precisely vagueness and errors in your definitions (which you have not even realised) that prompt you to ask these questions.

Let me give it my shot
Man – Rational animal with a volitional consciousness
Action – The volitional, self-actuated use of one’s mind and body to change the configuration of oneself and of one’s environment
Value – That which you act to gain or keep
Life – The characteristic of a specific class of existents to self-generate self-sustaining actions
Rights – A recognition of a condition of existence essential for the survival of man qua man (as per the definition of the concept “man” as given above); A moral concept defining and sanctioning man’s freedom of action in a social context.

I would like to see your definitions.

Donald Rowe July 1, 2010 at 11:46 am

“There are correct theories and there are wrong theories.”
Personally, I’d rather opt for: “There are wrong theories and there are ‘not even wrong’ theories.”
Good discussion.

Peter Surda July 1, 2010 at 11:52 am

Dear Bala,

You are repeatedly asking me an utterly meaningless question and are insisting that I answer it.

I’m trying to get you to confront earlier stages of an argument chain with objections, which show gaps in logic. I’ll pick some of the definitions and try to demonstrate the gap.

Action – The volitional, self-actuated use of one’s mind and body to change the configuration of oneself and of one’s environment.
Life – The characteristic of a specific class of existents to self-generate self-sustaining actions.

In order to determine if an action is “self-sustaining”, you need context (or in other words, boundaries). The problem is twofold: context is subjective, and you do not define it.

Let me tell you a joke, maybe then you’ll get it. A biologist, an engineer and a mathematician are sitting in front of a cafe and are observing a house on the other side of the street. They see that two people enter the house, and some time later, three people leave. They comment on the situation as following:
Biologist: They procreated.
Physicist: There was a measurement error.
Mathematician: If exactly one person enters the house, it will be empty again.

Now, aside from the humorous errors caused by their unfounded assumptions, they all consider the situation from a different perspective. They all gathered the same amount of data, and considered different parts of it relevant for their own purpose. You are facing the same problem if you consider the phrase “self-sustaining” as your criterion. Given the same data, a physician, an economist, an artist, and an engineer might arrive at completely different conclusions regarding how many actions are present in the same data and if they are self-sustaining, without any of them being incorrect. So I ask you again: whose opinion regarding the boundaries of actions and their self-sustainability takes precedence?

Peter Surda July 1, 2010 at 12:00 pm

There are wrong theories and there are ‘not even wrong’ theories.

As a fan of Popper’s falsifiability, I tend to agree, however I do not want to drag the discussion into this direction as it is not relevant. Last time I did something like this, it caused my opponent to get stuck in a misinterpretation of a very specific, but irrelevant, aspect of the problem, and I’ve unable to move forward in the original argument with him for a year.

Bala July 1, 2010 at 3:11 pm

Peter,

Firstly, I requested you to tell me how you would define each of the terms I identified so that we can have a meaningful discussion. Please do so ASAP.

Secondly, jokes apart, “self-sustaining” needs to be seen in the context of the definition of man that I had provided – rational animal with a volitional consciousness (Here you go context dropping as usual). Man’s rationality includes his cognitive faculty that enables him to form a wide range of concepts including of time. As a result, man does not act just for the range of the moment but even for a life-time and beyond. The man engaging in the action is the best and only judge of the self-sustaining nature of the action. If he judges right, he thrives. Else, he suffers. That’s his lot in life. Further, he chooses his values and acts to gain/keep them. No one else is in a position to know his hierarchy of values. Others observing him will usually not be in a position (unless observer and observed are both being absolutely rational) to judge whether his actions are in consonance with his values or not and hence whether they are self-sustaining or not. Hence, your example (I don’t have the heart to call that pathetic attempt a joke) is way way off the mark (as usual). You have once more exposed your inability to think beyond perceptual concretes by linking “self-sustaining” to the physical level.

To make your inability clearer, let me define death – it is the permanent inability to self-generate actions required to sustain one’s own life. Does that make things any clearer for you?

Further, I would like you to show how “self-generated” is vague. As I understand it, it either is or is not self-generated.

At the end of the day, your concrete-bound mentality that prevents you from grappling with abstractions is showing.

Peter Surda July 1, 2010 at 4:10 pm

Dear Bala,

I did not address your other definitions because they are irrelevant to my objection. Almost everything that you say is irrelevant to my objection. How does any of what you say refute my argument? It doesn’t. I have provided you enough information to show that the concepts of self-sustainability and boundaries of actions is subjective, and therefore inadequate for proper definitions. You, instead of showing which of the options is the objective one, keep avoiding the answer. You are attempting to build a house (philosophy) with an incomplete foundation (logic). You behave the same way as Mark Hubbard in the IP debates, you repeat mantras and keep laughing on the absurdities of my claims, not recognising they are the logical consequence of your assumptions, rather than mine.

Bala July 1, 2010 at 9:22 pm

Peter,

This

” So I ask you again: whose opinion regarding the boundaries of actions and their self-sustainability takes precedence? ”

is the question you claim that I am avoiding, right?

” you repeat mantras and keep laughing on the absurdities of my claims, not recognising they are the logical consequence of your assumptions, rather than mine. ”

This is what you say is the logical consequence of MY assumption, right? This is what points out the error in my thinking, right? So let me show you what a an unthinking fool you are.

As usual, you ask a stupid question. It is not “whose opinion” but “on what basis” and “by what standard”. “Objective” means that it is not dependent on anyone’s opinion but derived by a proper application of reasoning to the material provided by our senses. I gave this definition earlier but it does not seem to have made any headway (meaning an entry into your thick skull).

When you say “whose opinion” you have completely abandoned an objective answer to the question. You have already presumed that it is impossible to arrive at an objective assessment and that we are left to grapple with the different subjective assessments of different individuals.

This only shows that you have no clue of what “objective” means and what “reason” is. If you work with my definition of “objective” (which you still haven’t given a viable alternative to), the logical implication is simply that any number of people thinking completely rationally on the basis of the same sensory percepts will arrive at the same conclusion. Please remember that when I say working rationally, all the other concepts they use in the process of reasoning should also be formed similarly. Nothing can make up for a previous failure of rationality.

So, firstly, that puts paid to your idiotic “whose opinion”. Secondly, it shows that you are incapable of thinking of what your opponent is saying while in the middle of a discussion. Thirdly, it shows you as incapable of reasoning even when the perceptual material has been provided to you. That’s why I call people like you “concrete-bound”.

Now that I have addressed the “opinion” issue, I’ll come to the next point. If it is not competing opinions, then how are the boundaries of actions decided and how is one to decide whose freedom of action takes precedence.

Once again, you ask stupid questions and expect me to answer them. More important than how boundaries of action are decided and how precedence is identified, it is important to understand what sets the boundaries and decides precedence. In this question, once again, you have revealed your the error in your thinking that all these decisions are subjective. No, you fool, it is Objective once again.

At the end of the day, it is “reality” that sets the boundaries and decides whose freedom of action takes precedence. No individual does so. Individuals only “recognise” and “identify” reality. It is the failure to understand this that lies at the bottom of all your misunderstandings.

Very simply put, rights are a moral concept. Recognising them means recognising them not just for yourself but recognising them per se. This is called “acting on principle”. Concrete-bound mentalities like yours cannot recognise this. That means recognising that ever rational animal with a volitional consciousness, i.e., man, has the same rights. It further means that when one acts to violate one’s own rights, one loses any moral stand from which to claim the preservation of one’s own rights. One therefore cannot have a legitimate objection when one’s own rights are subsequently violated by others.

Peter Surda July 2, 2010 at 1:47 am

Yeah, bla bla bla, no answer, I’m out.

Bala July 2, 2010 at 9:33 am

Peter,

” Yeah, bla bla bla, no answer, ”

A nonsensical question like the one you posted does not deserve an answer. You insist that I answer your nonsense with sense. That is humanly impossible. Unless you understand all the stupidities inherent in your position, there is indeed no way we can have a discussion.

” I’m out. ”

So am I. Thanks however for showing me how ridiculous your arguments are. You are the most intellectually incompetent and dishonest person I have ever met. I see no point in discussing anything at all with you. Any agreement I may have with you is coincidental and on account of the fact that you have arbitrarily and without the least bit of justification taken as your axiom a (non-axiomatic, derived) principle that I consider the only logical implementation of individual rights.

You have shown why libertarianism is a dangerous idea. Thanks for making it fully clear.

Peter Surda July 2, 2010 at 10:03 am

Why do you bring up “libertarianism”? What does it have to do with the problem? Absolutely nothing. This is about logic. If I show that something is subjective and challenge you to show otherwise, you go on a tirade about how it makes no sense to you, because you are dragging a huge baggage of assumptions behind you. Questioning your assumptions, rather than dogmatism, that is the normal process of an scientific discourse.

Bala July 2, 2010 at 10:35 am

” This is about logic. ”

And I say this is about reason. This is why we shall never agree. Your insistence that logic is everything is as stupid as stupid can be.

” If I show that something is subjective and challenge you to show otherwise, ”

And I showed why it is NOT subjective but objective. I did so by showing that by deliberately wording the question in a twisted way, you were making what is objective to appear as something subjective.

” because you are dragging a huge baggage of assumptions behind you. ”

My “assumptions” are self-evident aspects of reality. That you are too dumb to understand this is not my problem but yours.

” Why do you bring up “libertarianism”? ”

Because it is the disease that has infected you. It is the philosophy that rejects reason and tries to replace it with logic.

Peter Surda July 2, 2010 at 11:12 am

And I showed why it is NOT subjective but objective.

No, you did not, rather you referred to two assumptions, one of them correct and one of them wrong, assuming only the correct one is present. You commit a basic logic error. You incorrectly assume that theory that is correct is also complete. Let us omit some of the deeper philosphical aspects of the problem, and look at how it relates the the problem of contexts. Even if you have an underlying correct theory, you can still pick an infinite amount of contexts, without any of them being more “objective” than the others. Both because your theory is incomplete and because contexts are something that people make up. If you make something up, how can it be objective? That stands in direct contradiction with the definition of the word objective.

Without objective context, there are no definitions, yadda, yadda, yadda.

Rather than facing your challenger, you retreat to random jabs of irrelevance.

Bala July 3, 2010 at 6:28 am

” If you make something up, how can it be objective? ”

Oh my gawd!!!! Anything that we “make up” using our mind is not objective? So the human mind is not capable of being “objective”? This is way beyond anything I can handle.

Thanks for the additional post after “getting out”. The complete hollowness of your philosophy is revealed in its full “glory”. I just wanted to bring it out. Happy I managed to achieve it.

Peter Surda July 3, 2010 at 7:10 am

Send me a postcard from your annual dadaism conference, will you?

Bala July 3, 2010 at 10:03 am

Peter,

What makes you think I have any interest in sending post cards to nut jobs who say that using the mind to make up something means that it is non-objective? I have no interest in engaging raving lunatics who have forgotten that one ceases to be human when one ceases to think, i.e., to use one’s mind.

Bala June 25, 2010 at 1:36 pm

Stephan,

And you just see my criticism of Hoppe’s Argumentation Ethics on earlier threads (sorry I am not able to link it up). In simple terms, AE is circular reasoning and a lot of question begging.

Seattle June 25, 2010 at 5:00 pm

Ethics is not a part of AE.

Bala July 1, 2010 at 10:53 am

Peter,

You are repeatedly asking me an utterly meaningless question and are insisting that I answer it.

” You allege they are objective, so, let us eliminate first those interpretations which are false. The remaining (correct) ones, still differ. So, which of those takes precedence over the others? ”

Define the concepts “man”, “action”, “value”, “life” and “rights” and then we can have a discussion. It is precisely vagueness and errors in your definitions (which you have not even realised) that prompt you to ask these questions.

Let me give it my shotMan – Rational animal with a volitional consciousness
Action – The volitional, self-actuated use of one’s mind and body to change the configuration of oneself and of one’s environment
Value – That which you act to gain or keep
Life – The characteristic of a specific class of existents to self-generate self-sustaining actions
Rights – A recognition of a condition of existence essential for the survival of man qua man (as per the definition of the concept “man” as given above); A moral concept defining and sanctioning man’s freedom of action in a social context.

I would like to see your definitions.

mpolzkill July 2, 2010 at 11:00 am

Thanks, Surda, for showing that one can be a complete and perfect (and incredibly patient) gentleman and still receive heaps of abuse from this strange little man.

Wolff July 2, 2010 at 11:26 am

I’m convinced Bala is playing a joke on everyone by playing a Randroid caricature in an attempt to discredit Rand’s ideas.

Bala July 2, 2010 at 11:43 am

Hi brain-dead monkey,

It sure is fun to see you back. That apart, could you please show how Peter has effectively addressed my rejection of his claim that the issues concerned are subjective? The truth is, not at all. Of course, those who follow the “monkey see and monkey do, the monkey does the same as you” epistemology cannot understand what I am saying.

mpolzkill July 2, 2010 at 12:11 pm

Wolff, haha, I think just an average (albeit older than average) Rand fan with a wicked case of logorrhea.

- – - – -

Yeah, “hi” back at ya, Mr. Congeniality. Always here enjoying everyone, just got it through my thick head that Statists and full fledged human beings are probably born, not made. No use in arguing.

Sorry, I barely followed your genius that you so kindly rain down upon us (such beneficence!). I think Kinsella put it (what I think started all this) well just below when he basically says, who cares what words are used to get others off your back. Jefferson always used nice ones: “the mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately”

Jay Lakner July 3, 2010 at 1:43 am

A very entertaining exchange between Bala and Surda. Somehow it seems fitting that Mpolzkill should enter at the end and give his 2 cents. Thanks for the good read everyone. I like Kinsella’s response to all of this (below).

Bala July 3, 2010 at 7:26 am

Hey you brain dead monkey,

Your hero (Kinsella) is yet to respond to my request to start a discussion where I promised to show the utter stupidity and imbecility of Argumentation Ethics. It’s now over 5 days and he is yet to take it up. This is the second time he has refused to take up my challenge. So much for his brilliant reply.

Peter Surda July 3, 2010 at 7:33 am

Tough luck, you fail to explain how to pick one “objective” item out of a set of an infinite possible choices.

Bala July 3, 2010 at 9:59 am

Oh Peter!!

” you fail to explain how to pick one “objective” item out of a set of an infinite possible choices. ”

The answer is simple. Use your mind to evaluate the options by understanding the consequences of selecting and rejecting each, understand which serves your long-range self-interest best and take it.

Oops!! I forgot that using your mind to make it up thus makes it non-objective….

Incidentally, do you use your mind or do you reject the conclusions of your mind saying that they are non-objective and hence arbitrary?

Peter Surda July 3, 2010 at 10:39 am

You are committing the same error all over again. You think that a correct theory eliminates all choices apart from one. It doesn’t.

Bala July 3, 2010 at 10:43 am

Peter,

Puhleese spare me. You were the one who said that it is not objective if it is made up by the mind. I just happened to remember what you said mid-post.

” You think that a correct theory eliminates all choices. ”

Where did I say that? Please point it out without talking in riddles (because that’s all you have been doing).

Man…. have you given me a laugh!!

Jay Lakner July 3, 2010 at 10:48 am

Bala,

You continue to assert that the “right to life” is the starting point, yet “right to life” can be derived from the concept of self-ownership.
I’m sure you already know my views on the subject, but I’ll summarise them anyway.

The universe consists of tangible entities in different arrangements.
Action is the process of altering the integrity of an entity.
Alteration of the integrity of an entity involves simply changing the spacial arrangement of it’s component parts.
Humans act by making purposive choices in accordance with their value scales.
All entities are scarce, that is, it is impossible for more than one human being to alter the integrity of an entity simultaneously.
If two or more humans exist and gain greater satisfaction through cooperation than through conflict, then a system of property rights must form.
All tangible entities (scarce entities) need to have an owner assigned to them. The owner of an entity is the only person with the right to alter the integrity of that entity.
One such system of property rights, the position adopted by libertarians, is based on the principle of homesteading. The earlier possessor of an entity is the more rightful owner of that entity.
Since the earliest possessor of a human body is the consciousness controlling that body, then every individual owns their own body.
This self-ownership logically implies that the only person with the right to alter the integrity of a human body is the human themself. ie every human being has a “right to life”.

If you elevate “right to life” to the position of axiom, you encounter all sorts of problems. Lifeboat situations are a prime example.
Earlier you wrote: “You fail to understand that lifeboat situations eliminate before-hand the possibility of coexistence through cooperation.”
But don’t you see that here you are admitting that there must exist a more fundamental starting point. Your starting axioms must logically lead to both lifeboat and non-lifeboat situations depending on the circumstances. Since “Right to life” only begins after a non-lifeboat situation has formed, then clearly “right to life” cannot possibly be an axiom.

Neither “self-ownership” nor “right to life” can be considered axioms. They are rights that logically result from more fundamental axioms. However, the concept of “property rights” leads to the concept of “self-ownership” which leads to the concept of “right to life”.
The reverse is not true. “Right to life” does not logically lead to other property rights. All sorts of illogical and contradictory conclusions can abound such as ownership of intangible entities and the requirement of a state. Furthermore, you end up with two different types of rights (“right to life” and “right to property”) which may result in contradictions due to overlaps.

But what do I know, right? I’m only a brain-dead monkey.

Peter Surda July 3, 2010 at 12:48 pm

Maybe you should familiarise yourself with formal logic and the set theory, you seem to be completely oblivious to both. The requirement for objectivity is the absence of choice, not merely the correctness of underlying assumptions leading to the decision. The presence of multiple options leads to subjectivity, nay is the subjectivity itself.

Peter Surda July 3, 2010 at 1:01 pm

Furthermore, you end up with two different types of rights (“right to life” and “right to property”) which may result in contradictions due to overlaps.

Oh, your attempts to use logic are futile, his handwavium arrogantus ignoratio defeats that. Been there done that didn’t work.

Bala July 3, 2010 at 1:56 pm

Jay Lakner,

Interesting attempt. However, you are only making Peter’s errors of reasoning more obvious by making them in full view of everyone. As your post is full of errors, I will point out just the most fundamental and critical.

” Humans act by making purposive choices in accordance with their value scales. ”

What is the “purpose” of those “purposive actions”? How do humans decide the “purpose” of those “purposive actions”?

What are “values”? Where do they originate from? How does man even become aware of “value”? How does man judge the “value” of anything? What is the measure of “value”? What is the standard of “value”? How, therefore, do “values” get organised on a “value scale”?

” All tangible entities (scarce entities) need to have an owner assigned to them. ”

Why do they (tangible entities) “need” to have an owner assigned to them? Whose need is it and why is this need legitimate? Who “assigns” ownership?

” Since the earliest possessor of a human body is the consciousness controlling that body, then every individual owns their own body. ”

This is clearly the most laughable. Wake up buddy! There can only be one possessor of a human body. Options do not exist. The possessor or his consciousness cannot be seen separate from the body. They form different aspects of the entity called the “person”. Someone else can gain “control” over “the body” (or parts of it) by initiating force/coercion against the “person”. The “force”/”coercion” is exerted on the mind and not on the body. Sorry to bust your bubble (of non-thinking).

” “Right to life” does not logically lead to other property rights. All sorts of illogical and contradictory conclusions can abound such as ownership of intangible entities and the requirement of a state. ”

First define the terms “right”, “life”, right to life”, “property” and “right to property” and you will find that the flow is very very smooth. A lot of errors can of course be made in the process of reasoning, but that is not the fault of the underlying method but of the person making the errors (like yourself).

Peter,

” The requirement for objectivity is the absence of choice, not merely the correctness of underlying assumptions leading to the decision. ”

Taking one’s own life as the standard of value actually eliminates choice. Different options serve one’s life differently, some better and some worse. Once I make this evaluation, my choice is based on whether I want to act in my own best interests or not. The so-called illusory choice is thus eliminated. Therefore, it is the standard of value, i.e., the decision-maker’s own life, that is objective and makes the choice objective.

Of course, if you have an alternative to propose for the standard of value, I am all ears.

I am too sleepy for more for and from the lot of you. Good night.

Peter Surda July 3, 2010 at 2:34 pm

Taking one’s own life as the standard of value actually eliminates choice.

Well then, what is this only choice? Especially considering that in the end, you will die anyway.

Different options serve one’s life differently, some better and some worse.

Options do not serve “life”, they serve “needs”, which are subjective. What is the only choice of defining planets?

Once I make this evaluation, my choice is based on whether I want to act in my own best interests or not.

Needs, subjective, duh.

Of course, if you have an alternative to propose for the standard of value, I am all ears.

That is my whole point. Value is subjective. It does not exist outside of people’s heads.

Bala July 3, 2010 at 8:07 pm

Peter,

I don’t know if you are really this dense, but this

” Options do not serve “life”, they serve “needs”, which are subjective. ”

convinces me that you really are. After all, what is the source of needs? Man’s life.

Frankly, the real problem is your approach that anything that springs from man’s mind is subjective and that man’s mind is not capable of being objective. You are in effect dismissing the possibility that man is capable of being objective and that all of man’s choices are subjective.

” Well then, what is this only choice? ”

Once again, how dense you are is showing. My statement does not imply an “only choice”. It only means that among the set of options available, application of reason with one’s own life as the standard of value will lead a person to only one choice. For that person, the choice is made through a very objective process.

” What is the only choice of defining planets? ”

Once again, you are making the same mistake. Whether a celestial body is a planet or not depends on the criteria used by the specific scientist concerned and the data related to the specific celestial body. When many scientists wish to speak the same language, they may come to a common understanding on these criteria.

The issue here is not why something was defined as a planet or not but why some factor was taken as a part of the criteria or not. That too is in turn related to the relevance it has for the purpose of scientific study. I don’t understand it. Maybe the scientists who study it do. But there is no denying the fact that the final choice is rather arbitrary.

The point to note is that whether you call it a planet or not has no direct significance to human life. Hence it does not matter if the choice is made rather arbitrarily.

I suggest that you take up an example that has a bearing on human life and we can then set about understanding if it is objective or subjective. However, I would still like to remind you that it is the process of reasoning and the objective nature of the standard that makes a choice an objectively derived one.

Your problem seems to be that different people make different choices and you say “hence subjective”. That’s why I am repeatedly pointing out that your definition of “objective” is completely flawed and is the reason for our rather ungentlemanly argument.

To understand this, you need to bear in mind that each decision a person makes is based on the body of concepts he has formed. The latter, in turn, depends on what experiences and exposure he has had in his life till date. So, different people with different experiences and exposure could have an entirely different body of concepts. Hence, it is possible for different people, being equally rational in their thinking process to come up with different choices.

You are seeing the end result and saying “subjective”. I am seeing the process and saying “objective”. I am also saying that your approach of looking at the end result to define the process is completely flawed.

I think you are also completely missing Mises’ interpretation and use of the word “subjective”. As I understand it, his point was simply that for the purpose of Economics or Catallactics, it is irrelevant to discuss why something is a better choice than something else. He used the word “subjective” to denote the fact that the choices of different people are indeed different (and probably will always be) and that these specific different choices are the primary facts of reality to an economist. It is from these that an economist should develop his theory.

Your error is to extend this to philosophy. This is what I meant when very early on (in a very early discussion of mine on these boards) I said “this is what comes out of economists sitting and developing a philosophy on the same premises as those of their economics”. Philosophy operates on premises different from those of economics. When you are ready to appreciate the difference, we can have a meaningful discussion. Until then, sayonara.

Stephan Kinsella July 3, 2010 at 10:03 pm

Bala, your criticism about AE is not germane here. My criticism of the creationist view of rights doesn’t rest on Hoppean AE. Further, I spend more time than most responding to critics, and in fact have been traveling all day.

Bala July 3, 2010 at 10:24 pm

Sorry Stephan,

My criticism is very germane as I am essentially saying that your theory of property rights is utterly hare-brained and that you have no locus standi to criticise any theory.

Further, it is precisely to be fair to you (factoring in the possibility that you may be caught up with other work) that I did not comment on your lack of response for over 5 days. So, “traveling all day” is no excuse for refusal to engage on an objection this serious. Of course, if you have been traveling all 5 days, I withdraw my charge of refusing to engage.

Stephan Kinsella July 3, 2010 at 10:50 pm

Bala, honestly, your comments about AE border on the incoherent. In any case, I have responded countless times, exhaustively, to critics, as has Hoppe. Google it. I don’t intend to reply to you.

Bala July 3, 2010 at 11:37 pm

“Incoherent”

Very interesting. Incidentally, that is YOUR judgement. That only means that you did not understand it.

Incidentally, my criticism of AE was simply that it does not contain a proper definition of property but instead assumes a definition and then claims to have proven it. My criticism, therefore, was (and is) that it is question-begging and circular reasoning.

If that is incoherent, then I fail to understand what is “coherent” to you.

That apart,

” I don’t intend to reply to you. ”

this response only means that you are as intellectually incompetent and dishonest as Peter Surda out here. My only request to you is to please refrain from using that note I wrote ever again. I am not going back on what I said, but I would rather that my name not be associated with someone as dishonest and incompetent as you.

Sayonara. Happy question begging, false theorising and misleading.

Stephan Kinsella July 4, 2010 at 12:28 am

Bala, “this response only means that you are as intellectually incompetent and dishonest as Peter Surda out here.”

It’s not incompetent or dishonest to have no time or interest to rehash old arguments with you.

“My only request to you is to please refrain from using that note I wrote ever again. I am not going back on what I said, but I would rather that my name not be associated with someone as dishonest and incompetent as you.”

I don’t know what note you’re talking about. Your insults here are utterly outrageous. Shame.

Bala July 4, 2010 at 3:19 am

Stephan,

” It’s not incompetent or dishonest to have no time or interest to rehash old arguments with you. ”

You never had any “old arguments” to rehash. The last time Russ and I challenged you and you were pushed into a corner, you just refused to answer. So, it remains dishonest.

” I don’t know what note you’re talking about. ”

Look how quickly you proved your dishonesty. Remember “An Objectivist Recants on IP”? That you e-mailed me asking me to put down my thoughts? That I then sent you a note which you promptly put out on this very site and on your own blog?

Man!! You really are far worse than I had imagined.

” Your insults here are utterly outrageous. Shame. ”

And you know no shame. Intellectually dishonest and brazen about it. Goodbye forever.

Jay Lakner July 4, 2010 at 3:28 am

Bala wrote:
“What are “values”? Where do they originate from? How does man even become aware of “value”? How does man judge the “value” of anything? What is the measure of “value”? What is the standard of “value”? How, therefore, do “values” get organised on a “value scale”?”

A man’s values are dependent on his genetics, his evironment and his experiences. Values do not originate from the choice to live. You insist that this is the starting point. This is poppycock, balderdash, flummery, claptrap, tomfoolery, randian ridiculousness.
In many cases a man may find that death is lower on his scale of values than other ends. For example, many parents would give their lives to save the life of their child. By your very principles, one who values their child’s life above their own is committing an immoral act.
Face it, your entire “right to life” and “choice to live” approach to ethics is flawed. Both these concepts are derived from a more fundamental starting point. In fact it can be seen clearly that both can be logically deduced from the concept of “self-ownership”.

Bala wrote:
“Why do they (tangible entities) “need” to have an owner assigned to them? Whose need is it and why is this need legitimate?”

This was explained when I said, “All entities are scarce, that is, it is impossible for more than one human being to alter the integrity of an entity simultaneously.”
I structured my summary so that later points were a logical consequence of previous points. I thought that was obvious.

Bala wrote:
“There can only be one possessor of a human body. Options do not exist. The possessor or his consciousness cannot be seen separate from the body. They form different aspects of the entity called the “person”.”

Why do you define the whole body as being equivalent to the consciousness controlling it? I can cut my leg off and still be conscious. I can remove a kidney and still live. You are the one who needs to wake up.
If person X removes person Y’s kidney and surgically implants it into person Z, who has the most rightful claim to the kidney? Y or Z? Yes an act of aggression has occurred, but it was X who committed that act, not Z. Z is an innocent third party. The only way to resolve this case is to say that Y was the earlier possessor of the kidney and it is therefore Y’s property. Z will need to give the kidney back to Y. It is very easy to see that in the future just about all body parts (maybe even the brain) will be transplantable.

Bala you are going to have to concede this point. Self-ownership makes perfect sense.

Peter Surda July 4, 2010 at 5:14 am

The point to note is that whether you call it a planet or not has no direct significance to human life.

You yourself admit that there are questions which lead to answers that have no impact on one’s life. But how can any option have an impact on one’s life, if everyone eventually dies anyway? The prerequisite leaves zero options left. To invalidate this conclusion, you need to insert a subjective element into the argument, which of course refutes the claim that there exists such a thing as an objective decision.

Alternatively, you need to come up with an objective way of determining which decisions have an effect one “one’s life” and which don’t. This is the same unsolvable problem as IP proponents face when to determine at what stage of causality property becomes externality.

Another example of contradiction:

My statement does not imply an “only choice”. It only means that among the set of options available, application of reason with one’s own life as the standard of value will lead a person to only one choice. For that person, the choice is made through a very objective process.

The usage of condition “for that person” invalidates the claim of objectivity. Objectivity requires that the conclusion is true outside of the scope of that person. “For that person” requires that the conclusion is subjective. What you actually want to say is that the correct decision must come as a result of his own requirements. Again, you are conflating objectivity and correctness. These are separate criteria. Objectivity requires that the needs of a conclusion do not depend on the person itself.

Hence, it is possible for different people, being equally rational in their thinking process to come up with different choices.

This is only one of the issues, however quite irrelevant for the purposes of this dispute. The problem is not only in the incompleteness of knowledge, but the very inability to avoid subjective factors in any decision whatsoever.

mpolzkill July 4, 2010 at 8:43 am

Jay: “many parents would give their lives to save the life of their child.”

Heresy! Do you not condemn that parent as immoral, Jay? It sounds like you are defying the Church of Ego. Silence the heretic!

Stephan Kinsella July 4, 2010 at 9:56 am

Bala, you really are acting lke a petulant brat. I and others like Hoppe have defined property many times in our writings. Google it. I don’t owe you a personalized course every time you get into it. It’s not dishonest. Your comments are disrespectful and rude. I am sorry I do not have time or interest right now to hash out AE wiht you. Maybe some other time when it’s the focus of a topic, but only if you have changed your attitude and your tone.

Bala July 5, 2010 at 10:53 pm

Stephan,

I don’t care what you think of me or whether you bother to respond, but since you suggested that I google Hoppe’s definition of property, I did and went to this link.

http://www.lewrockwell.com/hoppe/hoppe11.html

And if what I read there is what you meant, I am now absolutely convinced that I am right and you (and Hoppe) are wrong. Here’s why.

Hoppe is wrong right up there in the very definition of the problem. The problem is not one of “social order” but of “individual choice”. You (and Hoppe) still need to explain why “social order” (or whatever else you want to call it) is necessary for the individual.

Hoppe (and you) have mistaken an incidental effect to be the primary justification. If that is not puerile, I wonder what is.

This is very much the same argument I would use to junk every “argument” of Jay Lakner. Why is conflict avoidance a fundamental criterion? (He has placed it at the base of his argument)

And for Peter Surda, I just want to recall a dialogue from the movie “The Matrix” (the first part).

Morpheus asks Neo “What IS “real”? If you mean what you can touch, smell, taste, then “real” is only electrical impulses interpreted by the brain”.

In effect, everything you know is made up by the mind. Therefore, by your definition (if it is made up by the mind, it is not objective), there is nothing and there can never be anything “objective”. Even logic is a construct of the human mind. Every concept that you use, whether from the real world or in the abstract, is made up by your mind. Every conclusion you draw using logic is made up by the human mind. So, logic is also (by your definition) a non-objective tool. Therefore, nothing you say or think is “objective” as per your definition. In effect, by your definition, objectivity is impossible and all we are left to deal with are subjective interpretations and silly discussions about which subjective interpretation to work with. That must be a wonderful world to live in.

So buckle your seatbelt Dorothy, because Kansas is going bye bye.

Peter Surda July 6, 2010 at 2:10 am

I remember another scene from Matrix. The one with the blabbering Architect.

Jay Lakner July 6, 2010 at 2:20 am

Bala wrote:
“Why is conflict avoidance a fundamental criterion?”

Multiple human beings cannot simultaneously use the same resource. Person A and person B both cannot simultaneously alter the integrity of resource X. It is impossible.
A and B have two choices available to them: Cooperate or do not cooperate.
If cooperation is higher on the value scales of both parties than conflict, then they will need to come to some sort of agreement as to who gets to use resource X.
They will need to decide who has the “right” to use resource X and who does not have this “right”.
This is the entire starting point of the concept of “property”.

It ultimately stems from the choice of both A and B to cooperate. This is where Argumentation Ethics begins. Both parties will need to put forth their arguments and acknowledge the other’s arguments.

Why is this so hard for you to follow?

I begin with the nature of existence, that it’s composed of tangible materials.
I couple that with the nature of man, ie the Action Axiom.
I consider a specific situation, the existence of more than one man.
I use the action axiom to determine each man’s possible choices.
I then ask the question, given that each man chooses cooperation, what must be the result?
The answer is “property”.

Bala, if this is wrong, please identify the exact point where it is wrong and offer thoughtful and logical reasons why. Please try to avoid ambiguous answers, an emotionally charged tone and straight out insults. They do not help the discussion.

Bala July 6, 2010 at 2:50 am

Jay Lakner,

” I then ask the question, given that each man chooses cooperation ”

How did that become a given? Why should each man choose cooperation? Why should one or both not choose conflict? Unless you can give a proper reason for this that is independent of man’s life and his choice to act to sustain his own life, your theory has no legs to stand on.

Peter Surda,

As of now, you are the one sounding like the babbling Architect. In fact, you are sounding more like The Smith.

Peter Surda July 6, 2010 at 4:41 am

The apparent paradox of incomplete knowledge was solved by Karl Popper: you can’t know what’s true, but you can know what’s false. That is why challenging assumptions comes so natural to me.

Jay Lakner July 6, 2010 at 5:35 am

Bala,

You don’t seem to understand.

I am not saying that they will definitely choose cooperation. They don’t always choose cooperation.
I am pointing out that if, and only if, both men choose cooperation does the concept of property emerge.
If one chooses not to cooperate then there will be a conflict between them over who gets to use the resource. This may be a fight to the death or it may be simply that one overpowers the other. “Property” in this situation does not exist.
This situation is virtually inevitable in lifeboat situations, where one man may only be able to live at the expense of another man.

It is only when both parties judge they will receive greater satisfaction from cooperating with each other that they begin reasoning with one another over ownership of resources.

This is a very simple demonstration, using the nature of existence and the nature of man, of how and why “property” comes to exist.

Bala July 6, 2010 at 6:18 am

Jay Lakner,

” I am pointing out that if, and only if, both men choose cooperation does the concept of property emerge. ”

This is the problem with the fanciful theory of Argumentation Ethics. It starts with a big IF but then proceeds as though the condition (choice of cooperation) has been satisfied. You still have to show why men will choose cooperation over conflict without referring to individuals valuing their own life and making the choice to live.

In effect, your answer has failed to address my criticism of your theory. Hence, I am left with no option but to continue to regard AE as balderdash.

This is apart from my fundamental criticism of AE that it has defined the problem wrongly. It would help if you try to address that. Just to repeat what I said, the problem is not of social order but of individual choice. The premises of AE do not give sufficient explanation of why individuals would value social order while using the maintenance of social order as the starting point of the definition of property. Hence, AE is absolutely meaningless for definition of the concept “property” or to understand “property rights”. I would like to see you refute this.

Peter Surda,
You are getting more incoherent with every passing post. The best thing to do is to address my criticism of your definition of the concept “objective”. As of now, you are doing nothing related to that.

Bala July 6, 2010 at 6:37 am

Jay Lakner,

I just realised another fundamental problem with your statement.

” I am pointing out that if, and only if, both men choose cooperation does the concept of property emerge. ”

Men do not need to choose cooperation. If conflict is what they wish to avoid, the absence of conflict is what they should choose. Absence of conflict does not mean cooperation. It means refraining from doing that which triggers conflict. This is what I am calling the principle of non-initiation of force. The converse of this is the Right to Life.

Further, you are deliberately ignoring that important faculty of man that makes it possible for him to recognise the benefits of absence of conflict – his rational faculty that helps him form concepts and attain a higher state of cognitive development. It is his rational faculty that enables man to act on principle. Absent that faculty, man is as much a wild animal as every other one on this planet and like tigers, lions and other animals, he too will fight for territory or submit to brute force/better fighting skills.

Once the non-initiation of force/Right to Life principle is understood, it is a simple logical process to understand how the concept “property” evolves.

Now, why is this simple point this difficult for you to follow?

Peter Surda July 6, 2010 at 6:54 am

You conflate validity with objectivity. That’s the error in your claim. You also contradict your own definition of objectivity: if something is valid only for a specific person, it cannot at the same time be independent from that person’s opinion. You also haven’t answered any of the other problems, such as the absence of action boundaries and the absence of choice that does not result in death. The effects of any action extend to infinity, but before you reach infinity, you reach death, just like your theory reaches the end of a falsification chain and is thus irrevocably refuted.

Jay Lakner July 6, 2010 at 7:16 am

Bala,

Your objections make no sense.

Most humans value their life higher than anything else. Therefore they are unwilling to commit actions that risk their lives. You may call this a “choice to live”. But “choice to live” is not the fundamental starting point. The Action Axiom is.

Man “chooses” whatever is highest on his value scales.

At any point in time a man may decide he wants a particular resource so badly that he is willing to risk his life for it. In this situation, any notion of “property” in his mind disappears. This man will not reason with you. If the resource in question is the highest on his scale of values, he will commit any act whatsoever to get it.

“Property” exists only if cooperation exists. When cooperation breaks down, property rights break down. While the condition of “mutual cooperation” remains intact, property rights continue.

Bala, what exactly is your objection?

Are you saying that all men “choose to live”? This is balderdash. I have already pointed out that many parents would give their lives to save their child’s life. Suicide bombers gladly give their lives for whatever cause they believe in. There are countless examples of self-sacrifice throughout history.
It’s not a black and white case of man either choosing to live or not choosing to live. It’s a case of where their own life ranks on their scale of values. For most people it’s number 1 on their list. For others maybe number 2 or 3.
It’s not at all necessary to add this “choice to live” nonsense. If men are cooperating then it means they value cooperation over conflict. End of story. We don’t need to know why. We can’t possibly know why. Is it because life is number 1 on their list? Maybe, but not necessarily. They might value their reputation ahead of their life. It doesn’t necessarily mean they won’t choose cooperation ahead of conflict.

The fundamental starting point is the Action Axiom. The nature of acting man. Anything else we try to use is either a derivative of this, or just plain wrong.

Jay Lakner July 6, 2010 at 7:35 am

Bala,

I see you’re going to force me to go into further detail. I didn’t think I’d need to go to these lengths.

Person A and person B both want entity X.
There are actually 4 possibilities:
1. A does not wish to fight. B does not wish to fight.
2. A does not wish to fight. B does wish to fight.
3. A does wish to fight. B does not wish to fight.
4. A does wish to fight. B does wish to fight.

Scenario 1 leads to A and B communicating and reaching some agreement. They will come to some compromise as to who get’s to have X.
Scenario 2 leads to B taking X by force of coercion.
Scenario 3 leads to A taking X by force of coercion.
Scenario 4 leads to A and B fighting it out. The winner gets to have X.

Scenarios 2 and 3 probably sound familiar. They occur every time you pay your taxes.
Scenario 4 pretty much sums up war.
Scenario 1 is what leads to the concept of “property”. It’s easy to imagine A and B further communicating and devising a system to prevent future conflicts.

Jay Lakner July 6, 2010 at 8:01 am

Bala wrote:
“Once the non-initiation of force/Right to Life principle is understood, it is a simple logical process to understand how the concept “property” evolves.”

“Non-initiation of force” cannot be the starting point because you have a problem with the very definition of “force”.
At some point you need to refer to the tangible materials that make up the human body. That is, you are already assuming that you can use your body and nobody else can. Why? Why would you make this assumption? I haven’t made this assumption.

“Right to life” also has it’s problems. It does not explain situations where a man can only live at the expense of another man’s life. If instead you follow my logic, you can see very clearly what happens in these situations.

Can’t you see that your approach does not explain where property comes from at all. You are not starting at the fundamental beginning, the nature of man.
You have come in halfway down the chain of logic, conveniently leaving out any explanation whatsoever for lifeboat situations or self-sacrificing acts, and then tell us all that “self-ownership” is an absurd concept. It is even abundantly clear that this “absurd” concept logically leads to the “non-initiation of force” principle and the “right to life”, yet you call it absurd anyway.

It’s time to drop the Randian philosophy and move on to greener pastures I think.

Bala July 8, 2010 at 9:17 pm

Jay Lakner,
That was a fantastic Suslov manoeuvre. Suslov would be proud of you.

Stephan Kinsella June 25, 2010 at 10:22 am

“The concept of “self-ownership” is an epistemological absurdity/monstrosity.”

This is the problem with Objectivism. It leads you to say ridiculous things like this. First, WHO CARES if it’s an epistemological absurdity, whatever the hell that means? Still, in real life, you have cases where A wants to use B’s body without B’s approval. Who has the right to use B’s body in such a case? A, or B? That is it. It is a simple question. The libertarian answer is: B, unless B has committed aggression against A and A’s use of B’s body is some kind of proportional retaliation or defense against B. Now, we have a concept here, and an important one: the concept related to the principle that B has the right to control his body, and A does not. Now being humans with language, we find it convenient to use what we call “words” to denote certain concepts. I don’t give a rat’s ass what “words” you use for this concept, but if the words are “self-ownership,” who cares? The words that we use don’t create any “epistemological absurdity”. This is a ridiculous complaint. This is what makes people ridicule “Randroids.”

Bala June 25, 2010 at 10:58 am

” Still, in real life, you have cases where A wants to use B’s body without B’s approval. ”

Your habit of insisting on separating the body from the person never seems to vanish. Unless you are talking of B being in an unconscious state, your stupid example of A “using” B’s body is A initiating force against B, thus violating his right to life. A is not “using” B’s body (though concrete-bound mentalities like libertarians can see only that much) but coercing B to act in a way that goes against B’s choice. In the process, if he hurts B, he is committing the obvious crime of initiating force.

I do understand that libertarians cannot comprehend this simple point and insist on bringing in brain-dead mind-body dichotomies.

And then you call us “Randroids”

Incidentally, “epistemology” is the science that studied how we know what we know. Concepts that do not have a sound epistemological basis are nothing more than monstrosities. Concepts that do not have any basis in reality are epistemologically unsound.

In this case, “self-ownership” has no basis in reality. Hence it is epistemologically unsound. Hence it is an epistemological monstrosity. I do understand why libertarians who have swallowed too much of Rothbard’s “self-ownership” cannot comprehend this elementary point.

Peter Surda June 25, 2010 at 11:09 am

Self-ownership is a construct that is used to avoid the problems that follow from accepting other rights than property rights. It is the logically necessary piece to make the puzzle complete. That is why I (and I suspect Stephan too) insist upon it.

Logic trumps everything. Not liking it is not an argument, even (or especially) for objectivists. I am prepared to abandon everything I believe to be true, should the logic require it. Are you?

Stephan Kinsella June 25, 2010 at 11:49 am

“Your habit of insisting on separating the body from the person never seems to vanish. ”

I’m not separating the body from the person, but they are distinct concepts. I’m not advocating some supernatual view that you are really the soul (though rand does talk metaphorically about one’s soul!) that “has” a body. I’m talking about YOUR OWN DAMNED BODY. Why is this so hard? You have a body. You get to decide who uses it, not someone else. End of story.

Elsewhere you write: “”If a body is damaged, who has the right to seek compensation?’
“And there is an artificial and non-existent mind-body dichotomy”

Bala, why not just answer the question? If some girl is raped, and she complains that someone used her body without her consent, do you reply that she is engaging in an epistemological error? Get a a grip, man. You are so wrong here.

Bala June 25, 2010 at 1:12 pm

Stephan,

” If some girl is raped, and she complains that someone used her body without her consent, do you reply that she is engaging in an epistemological error? ”

This is the epitome of stupidity. Rape is fundamentally a form of initiation of force like every other crime is. The real problem is not the “use of the body” but the initiation of force. That the girl decides to use language that you find convenient does not make it any more sensible.

It’s a wonder that with this kind of a nonsensical approach, you have the nerve to say I don’t have a grip.

Bala June 25, 2010 at 1:14 pm

Peter,

” Logic trumps everything. ”

Except reality. Logic used within the framework of reality is reason. Everything other use of logic is insanity. I am sorry to say that you are dabbling in insanity.

This very statement of yours (which forms the basis of your “thinking”) damns you and everything you have to say.

Peter Surda June 25, 2010 at 1:44 pm

I am sorry but I had higher expectations of you. I see now you retrogressed to the same level other objectivists did, by claiming that you can refute logic by something else.

Bala June 25, 2010 at 1:58 pm

Peter Surda,

I am not saying that logic can be refuted by “something else”. I am saying that the starting point of reason is percepts received from reality. These form our axiomatic concepts (of existence, identity and consciousness). Logic applied to our percepts based on a strong foundation of axiomatic concepts gives us knowledge. This is what you are failing to understand and instead insist that logic stands apart from reality and is not affected in any way by it. It is I who should be disappointed, not you.

Peter Surda June 25, 2010 at 2:33 pm

You are confusing. Previously, you said:

In this case, “self-ownership” has no basis in reality.

What does it mean? It does not mean anything. I can just as well claim that rights other than property rights have no basic in reality. Makes as much sense and is equally irrelevant to the problem at hand.

Jay Lakner July 3, 2010 at 1:57 am

Bala wrote: ““self-ownership” has no basis in reality”

What exactly is Bala trying to argue here?
That “right to life” has a basis in reality while “self-ownership” does not?

Stephan Kinsella June 25, 2010 at 11:22 am

Re Rand: yes she was wrong on IP and anarchy (and these are huge mistakes). But in my view, her ethical justificaiotn of rights is too dependent on vague natural law thinking — see my post here http://www.stephankinsella.com/2005/10/11/slavery-inalienability-economics-and-ethics/

as Hoppe has pointed out, and as I agree,

Agreeing with Rothbard on the possibility of a rational ethic and, more specifically, on the fact that only a libertarian ethic can indeed be morally justified, I want to propose here a different, non-natural-rights approach to establishing these two related claims. It has been a common quarrel with the natural rights position, even by sympathetic readers, that the concept of human nature is far “too diffuse and varied to provide a determinate set of contents of natural law.”

Furthermore, its description of rationality is equally ambiguous in that it does not seem to distinguish between the role of reason in establishing empirical laws of nature on the one hand and normative laws of human conduct on the other.

See Hoppe’s Economics and Ethics of Private Property, at 313 (quoting Gewirth); also A Theory of Socialism and Capitalism, note 7, p. 235.

Or as Hoppe elaborates elsewhere:

The relationship between our approach and a “natural rights” approach can now be described in some detail, too. The natural law or natural rights tradition of philosophic thought holds that universally valid norms can be discerned by means of reason as grounded in the very nature of man. It has been a common quarrel with this position, even on the part of sympathetic readers, that the concept of human nature is far “too diffuse and varied to provide a determinate set of contents of natural law” (A. Gewirth, “Law, Action, and Morality” in: Georgetown Symposium on Ethics. Essays in Honor of H. Veatch (ed. R. Porreco), New York, 1984, p.73). Furthermore, its description of rationality is equally ambiguous in that it does not seem to distinguish between the role of reason in establishing empirical laws of nature on the one hand, and normative laws of human conduct on the other. (Cf., for instance, the discussion in H. Veatch, Human Rights, Baton Rouge, 1985, p. 62-67.)

In recognizing the narrower concept of argumentation (instead of the wider one of human nature) as the necessary starting point in deriving an ethic, and in assigning to moral reasoning the status of a priori reasoning, clearly to be distinguished from the role of reason performed in empirical research, our approach not only claims to avoid these difficulties from the outset, but claims thereby to be at once more straightforward and rigorous. Still, to thus dissociate myself from the natural rights tradition is not to say that I could not agree with its critical assessment of most of contemporary ethical theory; indeed I do agree with H. Veatch’s complementary refutation of all desire (teleological, utilitarian) ethics as well as all duty (deontological) ethics (see Human Rights, Baton Rouge, 1985, Chapter 1). Nor do I claim that it is impossible to interpret my approach as falling in a “rightly conceived” natural rights tradition after all. What I claim, though, is that the following approach is clearly out of line with what the natural rights approach has actually come to be, and that it owes nothing to this tradition as it stands.

A Theory of Socialism and Capitalism, note 7, p. 234-35; see also Economics and Ethics of Private Property, p. 313 n. 15.

But what is interesting about Rand’s argument for rights is that it is, at essence, hypothetical: it basically says that the choice to live is a-moral. but IF you choose life, then certain consequences follow. (See my post Mises and Rand (and Rothbard) http://www.stephankinsella.com/2010/01/16/mises-and-rand-and-rothbard/ — go to the part w/ Binswanger discussed.) This is structrually similar to Hoppe’s method, except that it’s less rigorous since it uses these amorphous natural law concepts. Hoppe’s is more rigorous and focuses on ethical implications and presuppositions of a certain class of action (argumentative discourse and justification).

Bala June 25, 2010 at 1:16 pm

I have already spent enough time on earlier threads showing why Hoppe’s Argumentation Ethics is stupid and a form of circular reasoning and question begging. I have no intention or the time either to go through it all over again.

Bala June 26, 2010 at 12:12 am

Just picking this from your article “Mises and Rand (and Rothbard)” (which I think is quite good)

” By combining and synthesizing elements found in Austrian economics, Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism, and the closely related philosophy of human flourishing that originated with Aristotle, we have the potential to reframe the argument for a free society into a consistent reality-based whole whose integrated sum of knowledge and explanatory power is greater than that of its parts. ”

I am not sure if you agree with this (considering these were not your words but the abstract of someone else’s article), but frankly, this is all I am saying. I think integration and not splintering is the correct way forward. Clearly, such integration means that incorrect elements (wherever they may be) ought to be removed.

IMO, while the elements from Rand’s ideas that need to go are the ones relating to IP and anarchy, the elements that needs to go from the Rothbardian side is the statement that all rights are property rights and the concept of self-ownership (which I see as meaningless in any case). Rand’s conception of individual rights provides a far better basis for the development of a political theory, especially the moral justification it gives for the absolute sanctity of property rights. From thereon, Rothbard’s contribution to the development of a political framework based on property rights and specifically to concepts such as anarchy/abolition of the State and the elimination of IP laws would be extremely valuable in this entire approach.

I think the critical requirement to do this is the preparedness to work in an integrative manner rather than towards greater fragmentation and building up of animosities. I don’ know how prepared you are to do this. Just my thoughts (for what they are worth).

Stephan Kinsella June 26, 2010 at 12:43 am

Bala, I’m increasingly skeptical of the global Randian approach … OTOH there is something to it that helps convert people into our movement (I am an example). As for the basics: since I’ve been about 17 (1982 or so), I have believed in the basic tenets of Objectivism, as summarized below. I agree with all of them, properly considered. I think they imply anarchy and anti-IP, despite what Rand said and some Randians insiste.

http://www.aynrand.org/site/PageServer?pagename=objectivism_intro

1. Metaphysics Objective Reality
2. Epistemology Reason
3. Ethics Self-interest
4. Politics Capitalism

If you want this translated into simple language, it would read: 1. “Nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed” or “Wishing won’t make it so.” 2. “You can’t eat your cake and have it, too.” 3. “Man is an end in himself.” 4. “Give me liberty or give me death.”

If you held these concepts with total consistency, as the base of your convictions, you would have a full philosophical system to guide the course of your life. But to hold them with total consistency—to understand, to define, to prove and to apply them—requires volumes of thought. Which is why philosophy cannot be discussed while standing on one foot—nor while standing on two feet on both sides of every fence. This last is the predominant philosophical position today, particularly in the field of politics.

My philosophy, Objectivism, holds that:

1. Reality exists as an objective absolute—facts are facts, independent of man’s feelings, wishes, hopes or fears.
2. Reason (the faculty which identifies and integrates the material provided by man’s senses) is man’s only means of perceiving reality, his only source of knowledge, his only guide to action, and his basic means of survival.
3. Man—every man—is an end in himself, not the means to the ends of others. He must exist for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself. The pursuit of his own rational self-interest and of his own happiness is the highest moral purpose of his life.
4. The ideal political-economic system is laissez-faire capitalism. It is a system where men deal with one another, not as victims and executioners, nor as masters and slaves, but as traders, by free, voluntary exchange to mutual benefit. It is a system where no man may obtain any values from others by resorting to physical force, and no man may initiate the use of physical force against others. The government acts only as a policeman that protects man’s rights; it uses physical force only in retaliation and only against those who initiate its use, such as criminals or foreign invaders. In a system of full capitalism, there should be (but, historically, has not yet been) a complete separation of state and economics, in the same way and for the same reasons as the separation of state and church.

Bala June 26, 2010 at 1:42 am

Stephan,

Disagreeing with or being skeptical of the global Randian approach does not preclude integrating the basic premises that make sense into a comprehensive philosophical-social-political-economic theory.

” OTOH there is something to it that helps convert people into our movement (I am an example) ”

What is that something? That, I think, is a very important question to ask and try to answer because therein could lie the key to taking the movement for a free society far and wide.

IMO, the reason for Objectivism’s ability to “convert” people lies in its strong emphasis on morality. Ordinary people, in their day-to-day lives, have a crying need for a philosophical framework that helps them make simple and complex decisions with the aim of enhancing their own well-being. People generally tend to be and even try their best to be rational (though many often fail at it). Objectivism’s morality of rational selfishness provides these ordinary people with a very good framework for these day-to-day decisions. It comes across in sharp contrast to prevalent moral codes (social and religious) that somehow seem to be either impossible to live by or inimical to the well-being of the individual.

As a person who trains thousands of aspiring managers every year and meeting and even training some of the finest minds in my country year after year, I have seen the extent to which Ayn Rand’s works inspire people to make something more of their lives than they would have otherwise. For the last 10 years, I have been using Rand’s principles of rational selfishness to counsel these same finest minds and help them clarify their thoughts and find the inspiration to move on to big (at their level) things in life. I have therefore personally seen and used its power to inspire.

When you reject Rand outright, that is what you reject. That precisely is what I am cautioning you about.

In particular, I also think Rand’s framework of individual rights makes a lot of sense and has a lot to offer to the libertarian movement. I fail to see what you see as the problem with it. I would be happy to see your explanation of your objections and why you think her ideas are “muddled up”. At the same time, I find it hard to believe that someone like you can fail to see the obvious flaws in Argumentation Ethics and make a song and dance over a fundamentally flawed theory. When I say “epistemologically unsound”, I mean that it is fatally flawed and unfit for human consumption.

The concept of “self-ownership” is just the best example of the flaws. “Ownership’ represents a relationship, that too a moral one, between a man and objects in his environment. Further, the concept “ownership” requires a proper understanding of “self”, the object and the moral train that leads one to arrive at the relationship. ‘Self” includes mind and body as an integrated whole. They do not exist independent of each other.

“Self-ownership” is stupid and contorted in many ways. For instance, does the body own the body? Or is it the mind that owns the body? Is it the body that owns the mind? But if the mind and the body are part of the same entity and cannot be separated, how can one own the other? Therefore, the concept makes no sense unless you are ready to create a mind-body dichotomy and see an independent existence for each. That is the metaphysical blunder of Argumentation Ethics. I could go on but will stop with this for now.

Across posts, you have also displayed and continue to display a marked disregard for metaphysical, epistemological and philosophical issues. I do not think that such an approach is conducive to the development of a comprehensive political theory (which you seem to be trying to do. Pardon me if I have guessed wrong).

I think that philosophy forms the foundation of all our knowledge and only a strong philosophical foundation (including epistemology, metaphysics and ethics) can lead one to a well-formed political theory.

Bala June 27, 2010 at 7:49 am

Stephan,

” Furthermore, its description of rationality is equally ambiguous in that it does not seem to distinguish between the role of reason in establishing empirical laws of nature on the one hand and normative laws of human conduct on the other. ”

Why does “not distinguishing the role of reason in establishing empirical laws of nature on the one hand and normative laws of human conduct on the other” make the description of rationality ambiguous (equally or otherwise)?

To me, this statement makes no sense. It seems like the gripe of a person who has completely failed to understand the reasoning behind the whole framework.

” It has been a common quarrel with the natural rights position, even by sympathetic readers, that the concept of human nature is far “too diffuse and varied to provide a determinate set of contents of natural law.” ”

Laughable. I do understand that there are many different claims to the definition of human nature (most of them wrong for the basic reason that their definition of the concept “man” was flawed). I am unable to see how that makes the concept “human nature” too diffuse and varied to provide a determinate set of contents of natural law. For instance, Ayn Rand gave a definition of the concept “man” as “rational animal with a volitional consciousness”. Please tell me what is diffuse about this and why the contents of natural law cannot be derived from this.

In sum, Hoppe’s reasons for faulting natural law theory appear completely puerile (unless of course you are able to show otherwise).

Stephan Kinsella June 27, 2010 at 10:11 am

Hoppe’s argument is “puerile”? I don’t think so. It’s serious and sincere. He cites various other scholarly works that support his view here–whcih is just an extended footnote. He was explaining why he’s not making the typical natural law argument.

Bala June 27, 2010 at 10:41 am

Stephan,

I have raised 2 specific objections to Hoppe’s objections. That is the basis of my calling it puerile. How about trying to address them? I am quite confident it won’t take me long to show that I am right.

Bala June 27, 2010 at 11:04 am

Stephan,

” He cites various other scholarly works that support his view here–whcih is just an extended footnote. ”

Two ways of looking at this. In one, this is little more than appeal to authority. In another, this is no way to have a discussion. I mean to say that trying to tell me that I need to go through all the other scholarly works and the footnotes before engaging in a discussion is as good as telling me that you do not want a discussion. I think my objection is to Hoppe’s premises. So, there is no need to go through the rest of the work.

p.s. I have gone through Chap 10 of “The Economics and Ethics of Private Property”. I did so the last time we had a discussion of sorts on this. That was a few months ago. I still stand by my charge.

Bala June 27, 2010 at 11:51 pm

Just saw your post “Rand’s immortal robot and values”. Thanks for the good laugh. It was truly absurd. Shows the weakness of your epistemology rather clearly. It also shows how poorly you have understood Rand and hence why my conclusion that your criticisms are the criticism of the ignorant is absolutely spot on.

That apart, your mutual-admiration-society (MAS) sure did give me a lot of laughs. Nowhere in that piece of yours have you given a shred of an argument to show that the immortal robot can have time preference. However, your MAS was ready to give its stamp of approval to your arguments, or should I call them unjustified assertions?

I am bringing this up because the more I read of your writings, the more I am realising that you are just making a lot of assertions without bothering to justify them. On top of it all, you take them to be valid once a lot of people agree with them or if you have enough citations to “support” your claims and then use them to draw further conclusions. This, to me, appears to be a substantial weakness in all that you write. Your “arguments” do not have the force of reasoning behind them.

Incidentally, how does anyone at all “know” that they are immortal? How does anyone “know” anything at all? What is the base of man’s knowledge? Answering these questions will show how your approach too is rather puerile.

newson June 24, 2010 at 9:24 am

selling one’s kidney, cornea, blood, semen, hair, breast-milk…isn’t that self-ownership in glorious action?

Carlos Castro June 24, 2010 at 9:56 am

newson, I would believe that the examples you provide above do not relate to the concept of self-ownership as used by Locke and Rothbard, which is what I was referring to. What you suggest seems to relate more to the ownership of parts of the seller’s body, or of the metabolic production of the seller’s body, than to the Lockean and Rothbardian concept that, because a laborer owns himself or herself, by mixing the laborer’s labor with land, the result of that mixture is then owned by the laborer.

Bala June 25, 2010 at 2:01 am

It reflects the action of a rational animal with a volitional consciousness. It is only because you are able to form various concepts that you are able to form the concept of surviving with one kidney less (for instance). Tigers can’t and do not volunteer their kidneys for other tigers. There is, therefore, no need to refer to “self-ownership” to understand these choices made by people.

Martin June 24, 2010 at 9:33 am

Sorry if this has already been said, I haven’t yet had time to read all the comments to this post.

I recently finished reading The Wealth of Nations in Liberty Fund’s excellent two volume addition. Although Smith seems at times to be ambiguous regarding the relationship between labor and value, I got the distinct impression that, fundamentally, he saw labor as a means of measuring the value of goods, as opposed to all the value of goods being derived from labor. He clearly states (I don’t have the exact quote in front of me) that the exchange value of goods is determined on the market by forces of supply and demand aggregated from all the various economic actors. His discussion of “natural price” and its relation to labor is fuzzy, and although at times he seems to be implying that the natural price of a good is somehow tied to labor, at other times he goes in the other direction.

My personal thinking is that (1) he had not clearly worked out the implications of this theory, thus leading to ambiguity in his explanations, and (2) his stressing of labor is a direct result of his laudable efforts to demonstrate the value of the division of labor, both domestically and internationally.

In the Locke’s Second Treatise, it is clear that Locke takes a much more hardcore view of the labor theory of value, stating that the vast majority of all “value” of goods comes from labor. Even this statement, however, must be qualified. Looked at in context, he is attempting to illustrate the degree to which human labor can transform the natural world to meet the needs of man. Cultivated land bears more fruit than wild land. Looked at in this light, it is true in a certain sense that labor makes things valuable, or, to be more precise, things which man has labored on are more likely to be valued by others than raw nature.

Both Smith’s and Locke’s views on labor were early attempts to understand highly complex phenomena in a new and emerging science. Although their ambiguity allows for a lot of misunderstanding and even perversion, I think it is a bit unfair to attack them so vehemently as Rothbard has done, simply because they made errors in a new field. Additionally, I believe that is unfair to blame someone because of what later thinkers did with their ideas (or unfair to blame them to such an extent as Rothbard has done).
After all, we do not vilify Copernicus because, despite his invaluable contributions to modern science, he still made many mistakes. Smith and Locke, I would argue, deserve a bit more leniency than has often been given them by their critics.

Martin June 24, 2010 at 9:49 am

“I’m aware of the arguments connecting Smith/Ricardo and Marx. What I’m more interested in is any connection between Locke’s views on labor and is relation to homesteading, and Smith/Ricardo.
Lockean homesteading is basically right, in my view, but it doesn’t need to assume ownership of labor. It’s just an unnecessary assumption thrown in.” -SK

(1) How exactly do you see Locke’s conception of “owning” labor as connected or potentially connected with Smith? (Sorry if I’m asking to repeat yourself)

(2) In Locke’s chapter on Property in the Second Treatise, his most extensive discussion of labor runs parallel to his account of how man leaves the State of Nature and moves into “civilized” society. I think that, when he looks at a hypothetical “natural” world and his modern day England, and asks how that change could have come about, human effort is what he hones in on.

With regards to “owning labor”, I think that Locke is trying to create a justification based on Natural Law to get rid of the idea of any kind of natural slavery. Since, according to him, each man is living his life on loan from God (which is why suicide is not OK for him, since you are damaging God’s property), and his labor is not separable from himself, his labor (in this life) is his own. This premise also makes freedom of contract more easily defensible.

Although this may not be completely necessary to account for homesteading, it plays an important role in Locke’s overall understanding of Natural Rights. He needed to establish a natural, non-conventional justification connecting a man with his property, prior to the intervention of society and its laws.

Stephan Kinsella June 24, 2010 at 2:36 pm

“(1) How exactly do you see Locke’s conception of “owning” labor as connected or potentially connected with Smith? (Sorry if I’m asking to repeat yourself)”

I’m trying to figure it out. They both seem to make the mistake of assuming that labor is something you own. For Locke, he uses this confused notion as part of his homesteading theory, and makes the mistake of thinking that his theory needs it. For Ricardo, Smith, even Marx, in the labor theory of value, again, they assume you own it and then they say you have to get it back from employment or something, if not you are cheated or exploited. I am not sure about all this. I am trying to sort it out. NOt many people think clearly about this so I am having little luck finding someone else who has already done the work here.

Martin June 25, 2010 at 12:00 pm

I’m not certain that there is a direct connection between Smith’s ideas of “owning” labor and Locke’s, for two reasons. First, Smith doesn’t cite Locke as far as I remember (I could be wrong). Second, the idea of someone owning his own labor is common enough that it is not necessary to assume that Smith must have gotten the idea from Locke.

That aside, however, I’m also not sure whether the idea of owning labor is really the crucial issue for Smith and later Marx (I think it is pretty important for Locke). Is there a particular reason why you see the idea of owning labor, as passed down from earlier generations up to Marx, as the significant factor, as opposed to some other economic fallacy (or misrepresented truth)?

michael June 24, 2010 at 10:40 am

Looking over all these comments, I’m thinking there’s general agreement that one can own labor. And can sell that labor on the open market. Also that one owns oneself. Therefore it should be possible and legal, in a libertarian society, to sell oneself to another and to be that person’s slave.

What would possess one to do that? Duress. Let’s say that the clearly evil avenue of discharging one’s debts to another through personal bankruptcy is considered to be theft from that other, in this perfect society we posit. And so bankruptcy is rightly outlawed. Then it would only seem natural that when one accrues a legitimate debt to another, and can’t pay, that he either be imprisoned for theft (we can send him to a poor farm or a debtor’s prison) or he can avoid such a fate by selling himself to his creditor and existing thereafter as his legal slave.

Can anyone find a flaw in that theory?

Martin June 24, 2010 at 10:50 am

I think we need to distinguish between different kinds of slavery. For example, there may be stipulations in a contract that, in the event one party cannot pay, he will be subject to a certain kind of servitude for a certain length of time.

This is not the same as me simply selling myself into completely slavery for an indefinite period of time, with no qualifications. I see the big differences between the two scenarios as follows. In the first case, there is no complete surrendering of the will of the debtor. My servitude to the other party may involve certain kinds of labor, but limits would be set on the length and/or nature of my servitude. In the second case, I am attempting to completely alienate not only my own labor, but my WILL, which is simply impossible.

Needless to say, this is not a complete explanation, but I think that the basic distinction exists.

Matthew Swaringen June 28, 2010 at 2:21 am

Well, I think you’ve set up an interesting situation, but I think there are some issues with the scenario posed here.

1) Supposing the debt is on a loan or credit extension the stipulations of violations of that contract would be set up in the contract itself theoretically (or if they were not, a court would need to arbitrate to decide the punishment to suit that crime).

2) It seems that whether the contract or arbitration decided the punishment it’s almost certainly not anything like debtor’s prison. Why? Because absent government the only way to pay debtors prison is for the company to put up the dollars to leave the debtor in prison. And no court would be ok with killing the man or putting him in poor conditions, the whole grounds for libertarianism being Non-Aggression Principle it’s difficult to imagine anyone deciding this is the correct punishment for not repaying a loan.

So the only way for me to go along with the whole slavery scenario here is to imagine that the contract stipulates that prison (or slavery itself) is the outcome of not repaying the loan. If this were clear before the contract was signed and agreed upon by both parties, I’d say the agreement should be honored. However, provided that the nature of slavery/prison was not defined, I’d say there would at least be arbitration for what was meant by that in terms of how many hours of labor/etc. The decision would be based on the situation and limitations on servitude would be in keeping with that.

Matthew Swaringen June 28, 2010 at 2:23 am

I think it’s important to check other parts of the premise here as well. While “bankruptcy law” would not exist, debt forgiveness would likely still occur in many cases. The amount would not be worth collecting if it were too low, and also the costs of litigation might also exceed the amount to be recovered.

I work at a finance company and there are amounts we regularly waive that have nothing at all to do with government policy.

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