Initiation of the Use of Physical Force

It is wrong to initiate the use of physical force against another person. It is wrong to approach some random fellow and punch him in the face. But the injunction applies much more broadly. It is an injunction not only against direct physical assault but also against theft, fraud, and breach of contract. Let us see how that can be.

Ayn Rand was right to say that force is a very low-level concept, one grasped perceptually, or almost so. When asked to define it after a Ford Hall Forum lecture, she held up her fist and said, “This.” Punching a man, throwing a baseball, holding a weight aloft, and dragging a log or a drunk buddy are all applications of force. A resistance is always involved, and so we sometimes extend the meaning to cover, say, the force of an argument or a motivating force. To distinguish these from the more fundamental concept, we call the basic one “physical force.”

The moral doctrine is this: It is wrong, (1) in dealing with someone else, to (2) initiate the (3) use of (4) physical force. Though we often leave the components unsaid and rely on context to silently provide them, all four are crucial.

Dealing with Someone Else (1)

The first is plain: Hammering a nail is an initiation of physical force, but it is not by itself immoral. It is not an interaction with another person.

Let us work backwards through the other three.

Physical Force (4)

Physical force is pushing, pulling, hitting, shoving, lifting, twisting, etc. For every physical force, there is also an equal and opposite physical resistance. This physical resistance could be that of a log resisting my pull or of a man doing the same.

Use: Direct and Indirect (3)

Directly using physical force against someone requires physical contact. But there can be indirect applications of physical force, too.

Cartoon of one man punching anotherDirect

: ‘Direct Use of Physical Force’

Cartoon of man dropping a rock on anotherIndirect

: ‘Indirect Use of Physical Force’

Direct and indirect uses of force. Here, a rock is the intermediary.

I hold the bat and swing at someone: I applied my force to the bat, the bat applied force to the man. I drop a rock on him: I released the rock. He died not from that directly, but from the physical force of the rock on his head. The intermediary could be a bat, a rock, a gun, an automobile, or a paid assassin. These examples of indirection are easy enough to grasp, but uses of force can be even more indirect.

A threat, for example, is also an indirect use of force. “Give me your wallet or I’ll shoot you,” is an indirect use of force, even if the mugger never fires the gun. Here, in fact, there are two levels of indirection—the threat is one and use of the gun, as opposed to a direct punch in the face, is another.

Another indirect use of force is to directly thwart someone’s action. I turn the rock to give myself shade and you immediately turn it back. I plant seeds; you follow me and dig them up. Everything I do, you directly undo. You would be indirectly using physical force against me, thwarting my every decision.

To prevent this, we designate some things as private property. The right to property is not a native inalienable right, but it is the most important mechanism we have for protecting such rights. We designate some kind of thing, say, land or material goods, as being individual (“proper” in the old sense of the term) to a person and we say that for legal purposes, this property will be treated as if it were part of the person’s body. Actions against the property will be treated as actions against the person. Kidnapping is a crime, and now so is stealing. Assault and battery are crimes, and now so are forced entry and burglary.

Cartoon of a man stealing a bicycle

: ‘Indirect Use of Physical Force’

Stealing is an indirect use of physical force.

Acts involving indirection in uses of physical force have now increased tremendously.

But let’s return to the simpler baseball bats and guns. These could be the intermediaries—but so too could another person. An assassin is an example. But consider this. I lie to a neighbor boy. I say, “Yesterday, I bought Jack’s bicycle, but I haven’t picked it up yet. He’s not in the yard right now. Go get the bike for me.” The boy (innocently) becomes the crook’s agent. He applies the physical force. He takes the bicycle from Jack.

Cartoon of man lying to child

: ‘NAP4a’

Cartoon of a child taking someone’s bicycle

: ‘NAP4b’

Here, a duped agent is the intermediary.

Now here is a dastardly thing to do: Make the victim himself the instrument of the action. Instead of lying to the neighbor boy, concoct some lie that would get Jack to deliver the bicycle to you himself. That’s what fraud is: deceiving a victim to get him to deliver to you some material value. It is as much an indirect use of force as getting the kid to go steal the bike for you. The victim instead of the boy is your agent, applying force to something he himself owns and delivering it to you.

Breach of contract works the same way. The perpetrator uses the victim himself as the agent, as an instrument in an indirect use of physical force. That’s dastardly.

So there can be indirect uses of physical force in which there is no physical contact between the perpetrator and the victim or between the perpetrator and the victim’s property. The physical contact is between victim and his own property. He himself is the go-between, the bad guy’s agent, the instrument of physical force. He lifted his own bicycle and gave it to the perpetrator.

Cartoon of man getting another to sign a contract

: ‘NAP5a’

Cartoon of man giving a bicycle to another

: ‘NAP5b’

The duped agent of force could be the victim himself.

If I pay a man and he doesn’t deliver what he promised, the physical force was my taking the money from my pocket and giving it to him. That physical force was used by the scoundrel who tricked me into handing over the money.

Initiation (2) versus Authorization or Retaliation

It is wrong to initiate the direct or indirect use of physical force, but it is not wrong to retaliate or otherwise take action authorized by the other person, even if the person resists at the time of the action.

Examples: If I am attacked, I can fight back. If you phone me and yell, “Get over here now!” I may be authorized to break down your door when I arrive. If you tell me to take your car keys if you drink too much, I will, no matter how hard you fight back. A boxer is physically forced up against the ropes, but he consented to the match, so the force was not initiated and his rights were not violated. Criminal punishment is a kind of authorization: by forcing others, the criminal authorizes others to do the same to him.

Whether a particular use of physical force is authorized or initiated can be a complex question, both legally and morally. If a husband says, “Force me to take the medicine, even if I don’t want to,” what prevails—this instruction, his physical resistance when the time comes, a signed power-of-attorney, promises made on the couple’s wedding day, or conflicting instructions the husband gave to his brother? When the wife pours the medicine into her husband’s mouth, was there consent or was she initiating physical force against him? The matter can be even more complex when physical property is involved.


So it is wrong to initiate the use of physical force against someone. Doing so violates his or her rights. But the principle is not limited to punching strangers. It covers threats, theft, destruction of property, fraud, breach of contract, and other indirect uses of physical force, even ones where the victim is the agent of the criminal’s act. The principle’s requirement of initiation is also crucial, and determining  whether an act was initiated or authorized can be a complex matter.

My Formulation Versus Others

All this differs from libertarian presentations of the non-aggression principle. But it also differs from standard Objectivist presentations. The main difference is that I give heavier weight to all components of the phrase “initiation of the use of physical force.” Other Objectivist presentations roll much more into “physical force” than I do.

NAP1.150x150Many Objectivists think Ayn Rand must have given some special meaning to “physical force.” She directly denied doing so.

A Single Meaning for “Physical Force.”

I have one meaning for “physical force.” Many Objectivists hold that Rand maintained two separate concepts of physical force, one the concept used in physics, the other the concept used in moral and political philosophy. The first is the common, everyday concept. It is, or is nearly, grasped perceptually. It is defined ostensively, by pointing to instances of pushing, pulling, hitting, etc. The second is more abstract and is idiosyncratic, a technical term of art. It considers whether the one being pushed, pulled, or hit consented.

I don’t see this distinction in Rand’s works. When she made her fist to define force, she was being asked about force in censorship, that is, about force in a moral-political context. She hadn’t been discussing physics.

The distinction is also difficult to maintain in careful discussions about ethics and rights. Such discussions require both concepts and using the same word for both is confusing. Heated arguments I’ve had have come down to misunderstandings about which concept was meant by “physical force.”

I always mean the nearly perceptual, ostensively definable concept, the same concept used in physics. I say a man being grabbed is the object of physical force—whether he is victim of a crime, a boxer who agreed to the match, a pedestrian pulled from the path of a car, a drunk being rescued by a friend, or a criminal being arrested. Many Objectivists say that in some of these, physical force is not applied.

An Emphasis on “Use of”

When Rand gave full formulations she said “initiation of the use of physical force.” In Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand, Leonard Peikoff drops “use of” (e.g., pp. 310 and 359). I think it should be retained, for it is what allows us to understand breach, fraud, extortion, etc. Rand wrote, “Breach of contract involves an indirect use of physical force. . . . Fraud involves a similarly indirect use of physical force. . . . Extortion . . . an indirect use . . . .” (“The Nature of Government,” my italics). In my formulation and Rand’s, a sequence of events ending in physical force is an indirect use of such force. Adopters of Peikoff’s formulation speak instead of direct and indirect physical force, characterizations that are inappropriate if physical force is the perceptual-level concept. [ * ]

I treat a threat or extortion as an indirect use of force. Some Objectivists say the threat of force is force. But this usage again necessitates giving one word multiple meanings in a single discussion.


Canonical Objectivist treatments make lack of consent the essential element that makes physical force in the physical sense also physical force in the moral. The process is to espy a case of physical force in the physical sense and then determine whether the person forced had consented or not. If he did—as the boxer or the person calling for help or a pedestrian not seeing an oncoming car—then what was physical force in the physical sense was not physical force in the moral-political sense. This frequently leads to claims that what appeared to be force was not “really” force. I reject that locution.

Authorized force

I allow, and treat as important, authorized uses of physical force. In Objectivism (and I think this is in Rand and not just her followers), the use of physical force is either initiated or retaliatory. There is no other choice. If several men force another to the ground and haul him away, we ask whether he was kidnapped or arrested. If the first, criminals initiated physical force; if the second, the police used physical force in retaliation. There is no separate language in Objectivism for saying this was a drunk who authorized his friends to force him out of the bar.

Cases where there are overlapping or competing indications of consent are, in conventional Objectivist presentations, ignored or dismissed as peripheral. Yet in day-to-day life, as the wife caring for her husband, these are often the cases that we need to stop and think about. I believe we need language with which to think about them.

Different Formulations of Fraud and Breach of Contract

Fraud and breach have often challenged Ayn Rand’s readers. If I pay a man to meet me at 8:00am and he fails to appear, there is a breach of an agreement. But how would this be an initiation of physical force? The conventional Objectivist explanation is that lying in bed constituted a forceful withholding of some material value. That is, the perpetrator’s not doing anything constituted an initiation of force. That’s just hard to get one’s head around.

In my formulation the victim was the instrument of the perpetrator (as the boy was in the earlier example), and the relevant physical force was not the man staying in bed, but the victim reaching into his pocket, taking out the money, and handing it over for a service that would not then be delivered.

No Support for Arguments Based on Economic Power

Saying an employee is initiating force by not getting out of bed encourages us to think that Objectivism gives “force” a fluid, metaphorical meaning. It then becomes a fair question to ask why a buyer or employee isn’t said to be forced by his inferior economic situation—when, after all, the term can be extended even to the actions of a sleeping man.

My formulation blocks this line of argument. Physical force means what it does in physics. No extended meanings of force are needed or allowed. If someone wants to argue that those with superior economic power violate the rights of those with less, appeal must be made to “use of” or “initiation,” not to “physical force.”

Rand Had It Right

Ayn Rand’s formulation of what the non-aggression principle disallows—“the initiation of the use of physical force”—was good, and not just better than, say, John Locke’s, Murray Rothbard’s, or Robert Nozick’s, but also better than Leonard Peikoff’s in Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand.

She was right to indicate that “physical force” here is the same thing physicists mean. And Peikoff’s dropping “use of” and Objectivists speaking of two kinds of physical force make, I think, Rand’s doctrine about individual rights harder to conceptualize; more difficult to apply to threat, theft, breach, extortion, and cases with conflicting indications of consent; and more susceptible to the claim that it should be expanded to cover trade when one party has superior economic power.

I think it would be better for Objectivism to bring back “use of,” stick to one concept for “physical force,” make “direct” and “indirect” again the modifiers of “use” not of “force,” recognize the possibility of authorized force, and associate consent with “initiation” not with “force.” Doing so would help us better understand individual rights—and also stay truer to Rand’s own formulation.

I think you’re misconstruing Rand’s position here.

It’s a mistake to take ‘physical force’ as the primary, and then start slicing and dicing that into distinctions and categories.

Yes, the initiation of physical force is wrong, but why? In what context does it arise?

You write: “Many Objectivists hold that Rand maintained two separate concepts of physical force, one the concept used in physics, the other the concept used in moral and political philosophy.” There aren’t two meanings of *physical* force, but there are at least two meanings of *force*. The meaning we primarily care about is “compelling someone against their will”. (We colloquially use the word ‘force’ this way all the time: My boss forced me to work overtime. My wife forced me to turn off the football game. The bad economy forced me to take a second job.)

Why do care about cases of “compelling someone against their will”? Because of Ayn Rand’s identification that reason is man’s means of survival; that man must think for himself and then act on that thinking, in order to survive. If we interfere with that, if we compel a man to act against his thinking, then we interfere with his survival.

But that raises an important question: what kinds of things can prevent a man from acting on his own thinking?

Let’s say you’ve decided, based on your own thinking, to do X and not Y. I rationally persuade you to do Y instead. Have I overridden your thinking? What if I emotionally browbeat you into doing Y? What if I threaten to withhold something from you – friendship, money, a job – if you don’t do Y? Have I compelled you to act against your thinking? What if I put a knife to your throat and push you into doing Y?

Ayn Rand’s answer is: *only* physical force can ultimately compel a man to act against his own thinking. So the initiation of physical force must be banned from a society if men are to survive in that society. (Emotional browbeating may also be morally wrong; but it doesn’t ultimately prevent a man from acting on his thinking, so it is not a metaphysical threat.)

The fundamental issue is: consent. And the only thing that can ultimately abrogate consent, is physical force. If you use physical force against me or my property, without my consent, you’ve violated my rights. If you do have my consent, then there is no issue to be considered.

The reason Ayn Rand only talks about initiatory or retaliatory force is that we only *care* about physical force used to override someone’s consent. If consent is given, then there are no issues to wonder about.

In the retaliatory case, we *are* using physical force on someone against his consent; does that violate our principle (as pacifists hold)? No, here it’s ok, because we’re doing so only to stop him from initiating physical force to override someone else’s consent. We’re actually upholding the principle, by using retaliatory force.

We use physical force against a drunk to snatch his keys (whether he asked us in advance or not) because his rational faculty is no longer in a position to judge or give consent.

The distinction between direct and indirect force is not about physical instrumentality. On your view, if I punch you in the face with my knuckles, that’s direct force; but if I punch you in the face with *brass* knuckles, that’s indirect force, because there’s a half-inch of metal between my skin and your skin? Surely that’s a distinction without a difference? (And lengthening the distance or intermediation still makes no difference.) The point is: I initiated something that resulted in physical force being applied to your body (or property) without your consent.

Cases of indirect force (e.g. fraud, breach of contract) are different in this regard: Here, I nominally *obtain* your consent, in order to seize your property. I don’t use force up-front to seize it. You agreed to the fraudulent transaction; but it turns out later that what you thought you agreed to, is not in fact what you got. You didn’t consent to what in fact was transacted. Ditto with a breach of contract.

The force involved is not, as you put it, the physical agency of the victim himself handing over his money. The force involved is the perpetrator *keeping* the money, which still morally/legally belongs to the victim. You write: “The conventional Objectivist explanation is that lying in bed constituted a forceful withholding of some material value. That is, the perpetrator’s not doing anything constituted an initiation of force.” But it’s not the ‘lying in bed’ that constitutes the forceful withholding; it’s using force to withhold it. If I said ‘give back my money’, and you did, there’d be no problem. If I said ‘give back my money’, and you reply ‘no’, you’re signaling your intention to use force to prevent me from retrieving my money. If I reach for your wallet, and you block me –you’ve used force to prevent me from accessing my property.

Look how AR explains indirect force (“The Nature of Government”):

“A unilateral breach of contract involves an indirect use of physical force: it consists, in essence, of one man receiving the material values, goods or services of another, then refusing to pay for them and thus keeping them by force (by mere physical possession), not by right—i.e., keeping them without the consent of their owner….”

She doesn’t mention anything about physical intermediation.

You write: “Canonical Objectivist treatments make lack of consent the essential element that makes physical force in the physical sense also physical force in the moral… This frequently leads to claims that what appeared to be force was not “really” force. I reject that locution.”

I don’t think the claim is that “physical force wasn’t really physical force”. The claim is: yes, it’s physical force; but since consent was granted, it doesn’t constitute forcing someone to act against his thinking, and therefore it does not violate his rights.
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dogmai, reply to RNPT
I agree completely with RNPT, his comments reflect my understanding of the Objectivist position on this issue as well.
Mr. McCaskey’s post is very thoughtful, and I can see why it may be compelling to use a strict Newtonian conception of force but doing so drops the moral context that makes this discussion meaningful and necessary in the first place. Indeed, I think the very reason why there seems to be a “fluid” or “metaphorical” usage of the concept is due to the prominence of moral element contained in those concrete instances where a Newtonian concept of force is lacking and less prominent, as in the case of a lazy employee.
We have to remember that morality, and thus rights, have both a metaphysical AND an epistemological component, it cant be one without the other. The obviousness of the moral and physical status of a punch in the face is perceptually and intellectually similar. Both elements are pronounced, while the hard cases, drunks with friends and lazy employees, are defined when one element is more pronounced, and may overshadow, the other. Perhaps this is a limitation of the language and we need a new concept but I we have to be careful not to lose sight of the moral/epistemological component in these concepts.

Roland Horvath
A very well-written article, and I agree wholeheartedly with your point about “use of,” but I have to disagree on the equivalence with the scientific concept of force. I do not think the fist symbolizes the kind of Newtonian force that the Sun exerts on the Earth, or sound waves exert on your eardrum, or as a matter of fact, the kind of force that light waves exert on your retina. That would mean that talking to you, or even walking by in front of you, would require some kind of authorization. I rather see the fist as symbolizing the alternative to dealing with other individuals by reason as traders–which is dealing with them by force, treating them as prey like the lower animals do. “Physical force” enters the picture because you are relying on you being stronger than your victim, which is typically a precondition for predation.

One thing that is not immediately clear from your line of reasoning is why the use of force, the way you define it, would be immoral to initiate, and why the government ought to ban doing so. Could you elaborate on that? I have always thought of force as being hierarchically *preceded* by the concept of rights, and being basically an equivalent of the violation of rights–which would make its immorality a simple corollary; you seem to be deriving the concept of rights *from* the concept of force, though.

John P. McCaskey, reply to Roland Horvath
Thank you, Roland, for the thoughtful comments.

My goal here is limited. I merely want to indicate how Ayn Rand’s formulation of the non-aggression principle allows the principle to cover threat, theft, fraud, breach, and so on. For defense of the principle itself, I refer you to her and Leonard Peikoff’s writings on the subject. You will not find there the hierarchy you describe.

One would definitely need to look at the principle’s defense when writing it into law, especially when determining where to draw de minimis boundaries on “use of physical force.” I do think it is the de minimis principle that addresses your concern about light waves, sound waves, and gravity. I am inclined to include all those in “physical force” and put the burden of excluding some on “use of.”

For example, sound waves indeed exert a “physical force” in the Newtonian sense and so are included here, but most sound waves would not rise above the de minimis threshold for “use of physical force.” Sounds that were so loud, or lights that were so bright, as to impede thinking would exceed that threshold.

John P. McCaskey
* One reader has rightly pointed out to me that Leonard Peikoff’s formulation, “initiation of physical force (including its indirect forms)” amounts to the same thing as what I understand by Ayn Rand’s “initiation of the [direct and indirect] use of physical force” if “its indirect forms” is taken to mean “by using intermediate instruments.”

Stuart Hayashi
Dr. McCaskey, I hope it isn’t coming across as though I am asking questions that have already been answered in the main essay. Sometimes someone explains something and I don’t initially understand it, and a rephrasing of the explanation helps me better-understand what had already been explained. I hope my questions aren’t pedantic.

If I understand you correctly, authorized uses of force are justified uses of force. Retaliatory force is authorized, but so is another sort of use of force. You used the example of my asking you to protect me from harm, and then of your busting down my door to enter the room and save my life. I did not specifically consent to the specific act of your breaking down the door, but, in the wider context, I did authorize your use of force against that property of mine. I authorized it when I sincerely asked you for help. Still, in such a context, why is it better to use the term “authorized” rather than “consented”? Why is it better to say that I have “authorized” your destruction of my door, rather than saying I have “implicitly consented” to your destruction of my door?

Again, thank you for your time. 🙂

John P. McCaskey, reply to Stuart Hayashi
I prefer “authorized” because I want a word up on a level with initiate and retaliate. Consent, however, is involved at all levels. A locked door indicates a withholding of consent. Signing a contract indicates consent. The call for help indicates consent. Physical resistance indicates lack of consent. Etc.

I want a word for what you called “the wider context.” To determine whether some use of force is “authorized,” we sort out conflicting indications of “consent.” I prefer to say it that way than to use “consent” in both places.

Stuart Hayashi, reply to John P. McCaskey
Thank you for this clarification as well. 🙂

How does walking around turn into the initiation of the use of physical force once you cross onto private property?

John P. McCaskey, reply to Francesca
By design. See paragraphs 4 and 5 under Use: Direct and Indirect (3) above.

Re: the lazy employee, AR definitely thought that this sort of thing was a withholding of a material value where she wrote about it explicitly. She thought of it as a sort of transfer of property (or services), to which one party then applied force via withholding.”A unilateral breach of contract involves an indirect use of physical force: it consists, in essence, of one man receiving the material values, goods or services of another, then refusing to pay for them and thus keeping them by force (by mere physical possession), not by right—i.e., keeping them without the consent of their owner.” The next sentence indicates that she thought the same thing applied to fraud (fraud is “similarly indirect”).

That said, I think there is value is formulating the defrauding of someone as a victim being tricked into using force against themselves, and I’ve used the analogy of unwitting accomplices before myself. But I’m unconvinced that there is any real contradiction with typical Objectivist thinking here, or that there are multiple concepts of force at play. Maybe some more specific examples of this confusion, or a fuller argument that there is some sort of confusing implication, might help?

John P. McCaskey, reply to MSB
I too am not sure Ayn Rand’s statement there contradicts mine. But I do find it pretty hard to get one’s head around the idea that a guy asleep is initiating physical force or that not providing a service is forcefully withholding it. (Where is the equal and opposite reaction?)

Those formulations prompt us to give “physical force” a non-physical, non-Newtonian, metaphorical meaning. That gets us to distinguishing “non-physical physical force” and “physical physical force.” I find it much more straightforward to say the victim was an unwitting accomplice (thanks, I’ll use that) tricked into physically handing over money.

Avoiding the extended meaning of “physical force” also blocks criticisms based on other extended meanings, such as criticisms based on a poor person being “forced” to work.

John P. McCaskey, reply to MSB
That Objectivism requires two conceptions of physical force is a position regularly expressed on HBL (, by Dr. Binswanger, Peter Schwartz, and others, whenever the topic comes up. Peter LePort takes it in his comments to my blog post “It’s for Your own Good.”

But now that I think of it, I can’t recall where Leonard Peikoff says this. So I have changed “Peikoff’s dropping ‘use of’ and speaking” to “Peikoff’s dropping ‘use of’ and Objectivists speaking” in case he in fact disagrees with the others.

Stuart Hayashi
May I ask you more about your emphasis on “the use of” in “initiation of the use of physical force”?

OK, in Scenario 1, I am in a hailstorm. A huge block of ice falls on my head and injures me. That is literally physical force that has harmed me. However, because it was not a person who initiated *use* of the ice block to harm me, I cannot rightfully blame anyone else for the hail falling on me. The hail falling on me is just a consequence of metaphysically-given nature.

By contrast, in Scenario 2, I am walking on the ground and someone on a balcony, about a story above me, deliberately drops an icicle on my head. This, again, is literally physical force harming me. But, more than that, it involves a second party initiating the use of the icicle to harm me. The icicle falling on me was not merely a consequence of metaphysically-given nature; my intended assailant took the initiative to use this physical force to harm me.

In both scenarios, I was harmed by literal physical force. However, it was only in the second scenario that a sapient party initiated the use of physical force upon me.

Is this another example of why it is important to emphasize *the use of* in “initiation of the use of physical force”?

John P. McCaskey, reply to Stuart Hayashi
Yes, “use of” is required to handle the ice and “initiation” to handle the assailant.

Stuart Hayashi, reply to John P. McCaskey
Thank you for the clarification. 🙂

But what if I were driving recklessly and, as a consequence, I accidentally crashed into your home and damaged your property? That would be an (accidental) initiation of physical force that harms you, but it would not be the initiation of *intended use* of physical force against you. And when you sue me for restitution, that would be the retaliatory use of physical force on your part.

If you engage in the retaliatory use of physical force by suing me for property damage, is it still proper to say that my accidental initiation of physical force against you was also an initiation *of the use of* physical force?

Stuart Hayashi
Dr. McCaskey, do you consider patent infringement, copyright infringement, and trademark infringement to be initiations of the use of physical force?

How can a student of Objectivism argue this point? Most libertarians, such as Timothy Sandefur and the Cato Institute’s Tom Palmer, say that if Mr. X makes an unauthorized copy of Mr. Y’s artwork or patented design, that does not deprive Mr. Y of the units of artwork or machinery that Mr. Y already has. They say that intellectual property infringement therefore does not inflict physical damage to the life of the holder of intellectual property. What do you think?

Joshua, reply to Stuart Hayashi
It seems like the primary issue there is what constitutes a valid claim of property.

One analogy that is of note is if someone goes swimming in a pond I own. I still have the pond, yet most people would agree that it was still a violation of my property. The question is whether control of the use of certain ideas is a valid form of property

John P. McCaskey, reply to Stuart Hayashi
I haven’t worked on intellectual property enough to say anything. If and when I do, I’ll start with the writings of Adam Mossoff. He is definitely the go-to guy on IP.

Stuart Hayashi, reply to John P. McCaskey
Thank you for telling me. 🙂

Stuart Hayashi
Thank you for the explanations. They make a lot of sense. 🙂

The way I have long described fraud is a “premeditated breach of contract.”

Who drew the illustrations? 🙂

John P. McCaskey, reply to Stuart Hayashi
Cartoons were drawn by Jennifer Cabatuan.…

Stuart Hayashi, reply to John P. McCaskey
Thank you for informing me. ^_^

3 thoughts on “Initiation of the Use of Physical Force

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  • Aug 14, 2016 at 7:34 pm

    I think these sorts of formulations have it the wrong way round.

    I think it’s more a question of when the use of force is justified and when it has to be justified. Making the criterion sheer temporal precedence is misleading, but it’s getting at something, I just think it’s not quite clear.

    The key idea is kind of similar to the idea of inertia in physics, the idea being that a human being has the right to go their rational (self-motivated, self-governing) way un-interfered-with (which often includes some items in the world that are in a natural relationship of control, i.e. property), and the burden of proof, the burden of justification, is on the one who would interfere with that course in some way.

    It comes down to this, for a right to be in effect, it means that everyone else has to be taking on the concomitant duty (universalizeable, rational duty) not to interfere, i.e. to allow others to rationally self-govern. So justification has to be a response to the question, “Why did you interfere?”, i.e., “Why did you in this instance, NOT follow the rational duty not to interfere with this person’s own government of their life, ongoing control of stuff, etc.?”

    IOW what has to be justified is the SUSPENSION in universalizeable duty that creates the pattern of rights. It’s that gap that seems like an “initiation of the use of force”, but actually although it can be that in many cases (e.g. robbery) it’s not that in all cases, and the strain of the criterion shows in cases like fraud. But fraud is a good example of DIRECTLY interfering with the course of someone’s self-governance, throwing it off course, so to speak, in this case SIMPLY by lying (without any need to psychologize the effect back to the victim being puppeteered in some sense, rather it’s just the misinformation that throws the person off course, a misinformation coming out of the perp’s mouth that’s the sole thing under THEIR control). Lying is the act of the person who’s suspended his universalizeable duty not to interfere with the defrauded’s life. But there’s no justification for that suspension.

    IOW, initiation of the use of force is ONE TYPE of suspension of the universalizeable duty not to interfere with others’ lives and ongoing control of stuff (the design they have on stuff). What I’m calling “suspension” is the broader category, and that can include things that aren’t violent (like lying, misleading, cheating, etc.) and you don’t need a strained interpretation to make them somehow kinda-sorta seem like force.

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