Life, Liberty, Pursuit of Happiness, but Not Property

Many libertarians, Objectivists, and other defenders of free-market capitalism think property is on the list with life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It’s not. And it shouldn’t be.

Rights

Your rights are what it would be wrong for someone to stop you from doing. If you have a right to vote, it would be wrong for someone to stop you from voting.

Even the right to a thing is really just the right to actions—the right to gain, keep, use, and dispose of the thing.

Rights are the opposite of the wrongs delimited by the non-aggression principle. So that statement—“Rights are what it would be wrong for someone to stop you from doing.”—is really an abbreviation. The full form is “Rights are what it would be wrong for someone to initiate the direct or indirect use of physical force to stop you from doing.” I’ll usually just use the short form.

Inborn Rights and Civil Rights

Some rights are inborn, timeless, inalienable. Violating them is morally wrong. The rights cited in the Declaration of Independence are of this sort: “all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

You, me, an ancient Egyptian, a medieval serf, and a child born tomorrow in North Korea all had, have, or will have exactly the same inborn, inalienable rights.

The Declaration continues, “To secure these rights, governments are instituted among men.” All people, just by being people, have certain rights. Their government’s job is to secure those inborn rights. A good government does this by, among other things, creating civil rights. Rights to vote and to a jury by trial are not inborn rights. They are man-made rights, created to protect citizens’ natural-born rights.

Property Rights in General

The right to property is not an inborn right. It is a civil right—the first and most fundamental civil right but a civil right nonetheless. And like other civil rights, it is specific to social, economic, cultural, and technological conditions at a given time.

It is wrong to initiate the direct or indirect use of physical force against someone. Property rights are the main tool for addressing indirect uses of force. Imagine yourself in a primitive society. You take actions to maintain and advance your life, but someone immediately reverses everything you do. You plant corn, he digs it up. You assemble a raft, he disassembles it. You kill some animal for food, but the other fellow takes the carcass while you sleep. These are indirect uses of force.

The way to stop this is to say: Let’s treat some things as if they were as proper to you—“proper” in the old Latin sense—as a part of your body. That is, the carcass, the raft, and the planted corn will be considered as much yours as your arm is. It will be wrong for someone to smash the boat or take the carcass just as it is for him to assault you or remove a part of your body.

You had an inborn right to take actions that advance your life. Now you also have a man-made right to some planted seeds, the dead carcass, and that raft.

But Property Rights in What?

Property rights are the most fundamental man-made right, but defining them well is not trivial. It is relatively easy to determine what would count as assault. It can be much more difficult to determine what should count as theft.

Should you be given rights to the planted seeds, the dirt around them, the rain that falls on the dirt, the air above it? How far around, how far above? If land is plentiful, seeds are few, and society is primitive, maybe there is no need to “propertize” the land. Maybe it’s enough to say the planted corn is yours but someone else can hunt on the land.

Consider the “enclosure movement” in England. At some point, it became no longer sufficient to allow title just to urban plots and to rural livestock. For sheep herders to benefit from the fruits of their labor, all land had to be turned into titled property. Since then, property rights to land have become very sophisticated. We now have surveys, boundaries, deeds, easements, titles, tenement, collateral, bequests, probate, encumbrances, estates, tenancy, licenses, water rights, use rights, air rights, and so on.

What should be made property depends on social, economic, cultural, and technical conditions. England didn’t need property rights in rural land and then it did. Currently, we have no need to grant property rights to air far above my home or far below it. Maybe someday we will.

A Legitimate Government Function

Defining property rights well is a complex and important business—and should be an ongoing one. In fact, governments don’t do it often enough. And when they do it, they often do it badly.

Two hundred years ago, you could shake a magnet at a coil of wire as much as you wanted and not interfere with another fellow doing the same across town. But then some people discovered radio waves and made them valuable. After that, someone shaking his magnet in a certain way could directly unmake the value another fellow created—like following behind the farmer and digging up the seeds.

The best way to ensure the value-creators rightly received the benefits of the value they created was to codify and defend property rights in radio-wave broadcasts. And that is a very complex technical project.

When confronted by one of these problems of the commons (as they are called), too many people think, “Property rights worked well enough for pasture land, but this is just too complicated. How would you ever define property rights in this?!” I often have no idea and I say: “I have no idea. But my ignorance is irrelevant. Someone figured out how to have property rights in radio waves. Radio waves, for God’s sake! Radio waves! When I first heard of condominiums, I thought they were a fraud. Owning a few rooms but not the building?! But someone figured that out. In New York City, where I live, people buy and sell air rights. I could buy rights to the tenth-floor space over a two-story building. Now that is weird. If there is a legitimate moral reason to do so, we can figure out how to propertize just about anything. We could propertize lakes, rivers, rain, the ocean floor, the oceans, even land on the moon. We could propertize all sorts of intellectual products. I saw that Greg Salmieri says we could propertize the pollution-neutralizing capacity of the environment.* Now that is the right way to think about pollution.

Too often governments don’t even try to propertize. They try solving the problem of the commons with regulations. They shouldn’t. They should figure out how to propertize.

And they should do so because of what property rights are. They are not grants. They are not gifts from the government. Property rights are not permissions; they are protections. They are not optional. Once the social, economic, cultural, and technical conditions demand it, property rights are necessary instruments of good governing. A government that fails to codify and secure property rights when the time comes is failing in its responsibilities, that is, failing to protect the natural born rights of its citizens.

That is this civil right’s only, sufficient, and necessary justification.

Kennon Gilson
Hmmm. My understanding is that Libertarianism maintains that rights are inherent in the person, and thus exist before society or others, let alone governments, which in US Law at least have nothing to do with discovering or defining rights. I think this is correct, and I think Rand made the point they’re conditions of existence inherent in survival. Rights begin and perhaps are a way of re-stating ownership of oneself. There is another social sanction sense, so there is confusion.
I believe that Jefferson originally wrote in ‘right to property’ in the Declaration following several past colonial charters and statements, and that was changed.

Samson Corwell
Interesting, but I don’t think you answer many questions here sufficiently. *Why* should the oceans be privatized? *Why* shouldn’t we try open spectrum instead of assigning “property rights” to the airwaves? My broadcast interferes with yours. So what? That’s no reason for assigning any kind of exclusivity.

‘The full form is “Rights are what it would be wrong for someone to initiate the direct or indirect use of physical force to stop you from doing.”’

Not necessarily. Pick pocketing involves no violence, nor does breach of contract or using a person’s photo without their permission. “Initiate” is also a bit sneaky here. Sometimes you can “initiate force” and still be in the right (e.g., getting something back from someone who took it from you or compelling witness testimony).

‘You kill some animal for food, but the other fellow takes the carcass while you sleep. These are indirect uses of force.’

Only if you wish to redefine “force”.

‘Consider the “enclosure movement” in England. At some point, it became no longer sufficient to allow title just to urban plots and to rural livestock. For sheep herders to benefit from the fruits of their labor, all land had to be turned into titled property.’

I damned sure they had property rights all along. This idea that there was some significant difference before and after enclosure…eh, I just don’t see it.

John P. McCaskey, reply to Samson Corwell
For my explication of indirect uses of force (including breach), see my Initiation of the Use of Physical Force.

RNPT
Ok, I still have some other comments, but let me shift gears here and try a different tack:

You write: “You plant corn, he digs it up. You assemble a raft, he disassembles it. You kill some animal for food, but the other fellow takes the carcass while you sleep. These are indirect uses of force.”

How do you reach the conclusion that any of these are examples of the initiation of physical force against another person? No one stopped anyone else’s physical actions. The first person engaged in some physical actions on inanimate matter; and then, when he was finished, the second person engaged in some physical actions on that inanimate matter. How do you conclude that any physical force *against another person* was involved in these examples? Where’s the force?

Scenario 1:
You planted corn here? Yes, I saw you spreading seed. And because I never initiate physical force, I didn’t interfere at all, I left you fully free to engage in those actions. You completed your little planting project, and then you went on your merry way. Done. Over. End of story. When I saw you were finished, I brought my sheep here to pasture. Wait, you’re physically shoving me off this land? *You* are initiating physical force against *me*!

Scenario 2:
You go around planting your corn, and because the dirt is soft, you leave footprints in the soil. I follow around after, and fill in all your footprints. I’ve reversed some of your actions! On a purely *physical* level (which is all we’re allowed to consider if you’re only allowing us the non-initiation of physical force principle) – is this any different from following you around and digging up the seed? How so? In both cases, I’ve physically undone what you physically did. Have I used force against you in both cases?

John P. McCaskey, reply to RNPT
No, no, don’t shift gears. Stay. We’ve beat me up enough. Let’s take a break. Assume all your polemics have succeeded and I’m left with nothing to say.

The floor is now yours. Show how your version of “If I make something valuable, it’s mine” avoids the classic problems with other formulations of that idea, problems that the NIP so nicely avoids.

Without appealing to the NIP, show why we shouldn’t take from Peter and give to Paul when it was Paul’s action that made Peter’s property valuable.

RNPT, reply to John P. McCaskey
Don’t worry, I’ll continue that line of argument in the earlier thread of comments below 🙂

My point here is to emphasize: if *all* you’ve got is the NIP, then you’ve got nothing; the NIP by itself gives you no answers.

*If* you’ve got property rights already defined, by some other means, *then* you can use the NIP to help identify when such rights have been violated. But the NIP by itself provides no guidance in specifying and defining property rights in the first place.

But those are exactly the most important cases the government needs to determine: defining new property rights; and ruling in cases where the property rights are unclear. Those are the cases that end up in court. There is no possible issue of the initiation of force, unless and until the property rights have first been specified.

For example, there’s a famous fox-hunting case: “The plaintiff, Post, was pursuing a fox across an unowned stretch of beach with his hounds when Pierson, almost from nowhere, rode up to capture the fox, which he kept even after Post demanded it be handed over. Post then sued Pierson claiming that Pierson had “indirectly” injured Post by taking the fox into his possession. For the purposes of the argument, it was assumed, but not demonstrated, that the fox was unowned before the incident took place. The question was whether Post could get back “his” fox (or its value) from Pierson.” [There’s the additional fact that Post had already wounded the fox.]

http://chicagounbound.uchicago…

Did Pierson initiate force against Post? We simply don’t know, until we know who has the *property right* in the fox. NIP doesn’t tell us that. It only comes into play *after* we’ve established the property right. *If* it’s correct that the property right to the fox belongs to Post, *then* it’s the case that Pierson initiated force against Post and should be held liable.

You write: “Without appealing to the NIP, show why we shouldn’t take from Peter and give to Paul when it was Paul’s action that made Peter’s property valuable.”

Well, I *can* appeal to the NIP, it’s part of the system (in a subsidiary role). It’s just not the primary thing that establishes property rights in the first place. *Once* an object has been established to be someone’s property, by right, (which cannot be done with NIP), thereafter it is wrong to take it from him by force. But more on that later, below…

John P. McCaskey, reply to RNPT
RNPT, you never came back with the “more on that later.” Or did you mean it to be your posting on my other blog entry? There you just repeated stock material on topics tangential to the one here. You haven’t gotten to the hard part about property.

How do you establish property rights in the first place? on what moral grounds? Even if it’s easy to say someone shouldn’t take the corn you planted, on what moral grounds do you start giving people title to plots of land? (Where do you even get the concept of “title”?) If you say it’s because they made that land valuable (as you have tried), then you need to say why you won’t always let title go to the one who makes something valuable.

That’s the hard part.

A guest
How do you square your view of rights with Ayn Rand’s views: “[T]he right to life is the source of all rights, including the right to property… man has to work and produce in order to support his life. He has to support his life by his own effort and by the guidance of his own mind. If he cannot dispose of the product of his effort, he cannot dispose of his effort; if he cannot dispose of his effort, he cannot dispose of his life. Without property rights, no other rights can be practiced.”

I read her as saying: if you don’t have the right to property, then you don’t have the right to life.

Also: I think she views *all* rights as *objective*; they are a joint product of man’s mind, and reality. They all have this dual aspect. Every right (including property) is “inborn”, in the sense that it is based on fundamental metaphysical and moral facts of reality. And every right (including life and liberty) has the aspect of being “man-made”, in the sense that the underlying metaphysical and moral facts have to be *discovered* by men, and then recognized and codified within a social system, in order to have any ‘reality’, i.e., any real aspect of guiding and protecting men’s actions.

John P. McCaskey, reply to A guest
“if you don’t have the right to property, then you don’t have the right to life.”

No, you would still have the right to life, but it would not be protected. If you had no right to property, your right to life would be constantly violated.

“Every right (including property) is ‘inborn’”

I say the right to vote is not inborn. The right to trial by jury is not inborn. The right to deduct mortgage interest on your income taxes is not inborn. The right to purchase 30 shares of GE stock on April 30 for $25 a share is not inborn.

A guest again, reply to John P. McCaskey
I don’t see the basis for your distinction between “inborn” vs “man-made” rights.

Your basis seems to be: that “inborn” rights are absolute and context-free (applicable to all people at all times), while “man-made” rights are contextual and specific.

But the real issue is that the right to life is a massively wide *abstraction*. Qua abstraction, it encompasses and denotes *all* the specific rights and specific activities, across all people and all times, which are merely instances of it. But it is not something different, or apart from those.

The right to life doesn’t simply mean ‘the right to remain alive’ or ‘the right not to be killed’; while other rights cover other topics. The right to life means: the right to take all those *concrete* actions proper and necessary to man (given his metaphysical nature) to support his life. The right to life is nothing other than the right to engage in all those *concrete* activities.

Yes, it’s a proper role of government to hammer out the specifics of how to apply the right to life to the variety of existing and new contexts that arise (and that’s just as true and just as complex for ‘assault’ as it is for ‘property’). But that doesn’t make those applications “man-made”. They are simply *applications* or specifications of the “inborn” right to life.

Is the right to purchase 30 shares of GE stock on April 30 for $25 a share “inborn”? Absolutely; it is an instance of the right to engage in voluntary exchange; which is an element of the right to liberty; which is an aspect of the right to life.

Again, the crucial perspective which I think you’re missing here is the *objective* perspective. Rights are neither a feature of reality per se, nor of consciousness per se, but a recognition of certain facts of reality (i.e., man’s “inborn” metaphysical nature) as cognized and then codified by “man-made” laws. *Every* right is both “inborn” and “man-made”, except that I wouldn’t use those terms, I’d just call them “objective”.

Another important point: rights only pertain to (and only arise in the context of) a society with a government. There are no “rights” in the state of nature. There is still *morality*, but not rights. The metaphysical facts of man’s nature, which, in society, *give rise* to the concept of rights still exist. But not the concept of rights.

I’m not sure if part of your distinction is meant to imply that the right to life always applies, even apart from society; while the right to property only applies within society. If so, that’s not a correct application of the concept of rights, and not a valid distinction. A man in the state of nature may say that things done to him were “unjust”, “dishonest”, “immoral”, etc. But it would be utterly meaningless for him to complain: ‘my rights were violated!’

John P. McCaskey, reply to A guest again
Guest, could you tell us who you are?

“Yes, it’s a proper role of government to hammer out the specifics.” Yes. So we are trying to determine the principles by which government should do that. What principle do you propose?

I am saying there are such things as a natural-born inalienable rights, and that a government’s job is to protect those rights, and that a proper government does so by creating other rights.

The right to life and the right not to have someone initiate the use of force against you are inborn. The right to a trial by a vote of your peers and the right to habeas corpus are man-made.

You say, “rights only pertain to (and only arise in the context of) a society with a government.” Within the context of a society, yes. Within the context of a government, no.

Do tell, if you don’t recognize inborn inalienable rights, where do you begin? You decide to form a government. Will you say, as America’s founders did, “People already have some rights and our job is to find ways to protect those rights. We’ll need laws. So we’ll give people the right to vote. We need a judicial system. Let’s create a right to trial by jury.”

Or will you say, “Let’s create a government. Why? Because that would be fun. OK, now people have rights. Where did they get these rights? Oh, yes, from our creating a government.”

Unless people have rights that need protecting, on what moral grounds will you create any government?

Dare Balogun, reply to John P. McCaskey
I don’t think the right to life is in-born. What you might be trying to capture is a reason for protecting a life which has not accumulated any property. Natural Right always stems from (human) action. As I understand it, Aristotle distinguished between two forms of action: action-as-motion and action-as-actuality. Examples of action-as-actuality are seeing, understanding, being, and living well. Action-as-actuality is its own end, and has no limit; it is a self-contained action.[1] Action-as-motion is a means to an end, an end which is the limit of the action. An example would be the action(s) required to build a house.

Since, for Objectivism, life is an end in itself, this would mean life is a type of action-as-actuality (as Aristotle defines it). Therefore, the right to life is conditionally-necessitated by the end-in-itself, which is successful maintenance of that life. The right to life is brought into existence on the condition that a life – an action-as-actuality – requires the right in order to exist and function (in a social context). The right is not “in-born” but only seems so.

The right to liberty is conditionally-necessitated by the fact that human beings have free-will and must voluntarily deliberate over alternate possibilities. The natural requirement that a human life (in a social context) be able to “act otherwise” given various alternatives is what gives rise to the right to liberty. Notice again the emphasis on *action*.

The right to property is conditionally-necessitated by the fact that human beings have to act to acquire property in order to survive. Life is action, and maintaining it requires some form of property, even on a most basic level (such as an apple for nourishment; you can only eat it if it’s yours, whether earned or gifted).

As I suggested earlier, rights are demonstrable from final causation (goal-directed action) and hypothetical (i.e. conditional) necessity [2][3]. If we take a given action-series, from the starting-point of deliberation to the end-point of result, we see all the rights arise. For instance, an action-series would be hunting for food on an desert island. This is a series of actions “for the sake of” [i.e. goal-directed towards] an end, an end which is getting food in order to support an ultimate end, one’s life. It is right to hunt for this food since the preservation of my life is the moral standard. So, this action-series is a series of rightful actions. To hunt for food on a desert island, I would need to deliberate over various alternatives. What kind of creature? Fish, bird, or land animal? What type of implement would I need? Only a wooden one? or is some other material required for effectiveness? and so on. This deliberation requires free-will, since it is free-will that activates the conceptual faculty. Reason is activated by volition [a volition is an act of will]. Then once a decision is made, I would take all the actions necessary for the end of catching my prey. Fashioning the implement and catching the prey mean that those items become my property. All these actions in the action-series are rightly taken in the support of an ultimate end, which is my life. But, what if someone else on the island is also hunting? We are likely to come into conflict. So, the need to broadly stipulate inviolable paths of action arises. That is, the need for moral-rights principles – broad stipulations of inviolable paths of rightful action – arises.

The right to life arises from two main facts: that life is an end in itself and that this life can come into conflict with other lives. These facts (i.e. maintenance of this life in a social context) necessitate the condition that is the right.

The right to liberty arises from the fact that a life’s actions taken in support of that life can come into conflict with other lives’ actions and the fact that the conceptual activity of deliberation requires free-will. Free will is freedom of the will, and the alternatives deliberated presuppose that at least some of those alternatives are capable of being actualized in action. So, the individual needs freedom of action – that is, the moral right to take right action in support of his life. The fact that right actions must be capable of actualization necessitates the condition that the actor have a right to liberty.

During action – action *for the sake of* that life – property is typically required. So, there has to be a moral right to property in case the actor needs to acquire, use, keep, or dispose of property. The right to property arises from the fact that a life’s property claims can come into conflict with other lives’ property claims and the fact that the life needs to acquire, use, keep, or dispose of property in maintenance of the life.

But why are these actions necessary? In order to make and maintain a successful life. Life is to be enhanced and made more abundant – as it is an end in itself and an ultimate end. For this reason, life is a state that needs to be “fed” by continually successful action (the acquisition and realization of values, etc). Life “grows” this way. So, eudaimonia, the state of successful life, is the end of life. The fact of the existence of the life and the fact of the life’s success are two aspects of the same fact: the life. All these right actions and the moral principles sanctioning these right actions are necessitated by the pursuit of eudaimonia. The fact of life-long pursuit of successful life (eudaimonia) conditionally necessitates the right to pursue eudaimonia (flourishing/”happiness”).

———–

[1] “Since of the actions which have a limit none is an end but all are relative to the end, e.g. the removing of fat, or fat-removal, and the bodily parts themselves when one is making them thin are in movement in this way (i.e. without being already that at which the movement aims), this is not an action or at least not a complete one (for it is not an end); but that movement in which the end is present is an action. E.g. at the same time we are seeing and have seen, are understanding and have understood, are thinking and have thought (while it is not true that at the same time we are learning and have learnt, or are being cured and have been cured). At the same time we are living well and have lived well, and are happy and have been happy. If not, the process would have had sometime to cease, as the process of making thin ceases: but, as things are, it does not cease; we are living and have lived. Of these processes, then, we must call the one set movements, and the other actualities. For every movement is incomplete-making thin, learning, walking, building; these are movements, and incomplete at that. For it is not true that at the same time a thing is walking and has walked, or is building and has built, or is coming to be and has come to be, or is being moved and has been moved, but what is being moved is different from what has been moved, and what is moving from what has moved. But it is the same thing that at the same time has seen and is seeing, seeing, or is thinking and has thought. The latter sort of process, then, I call an actuality, and the former a movement.” (Aristotle, Metaphysics, Bk. IX, Part 6)

[2] “As regards what is ‘of necessity’, we must ask whether the necessity is ‘hypothetical’, or ‘simple’ as well. The current view places what is of necessity in the process of production, just as if one were to suppose that the wall of a house necessarily comes to be because what is heavy is naturally carried downwards and what is light to the top, wherefore the stones and foundations take the lowest place, with earth above because it is lighter, and wood at the top of all as being the lightest. Whereas, though the wall does not come to be without these, it is not due to these, except as its material cause: it comes to be for the sake of sheltering and guarding certain things. Similarly in all other things which involve production for an end; the product cannot come to be without things which have a necessary nature, but it is not due to these (except as its material); it comes to be for an end. For instance, why is a saw such as it is? To effect so-and-so and for the sake of so-and-so. This end, however, cannot be realized unless the saw is made of iron. It is, therefore, necessary for it to be of iron, it we are to have a saw and perform the operation of sawing. What is necessary then, is necessary on a hypothesis; it is not a result necessarily determined by antecedents. Necessity is in the matter, while ‘that for the sake of which’ is in the definition.

“Necessity in mathematics is in a way similar to necessity in things which come to be through the operation of nature. Since a straight line is what it is, it is necessary that the angles of a triangle should equal two right angles. But not conversely; though if the angles are not equal to two right angles, then the straight line is not what it is either. But in things which come to be for an end, the reverse is true. If the end is to exist or does exist, that also which precedes it will exist or does exist; otherwise just as there, if-the conclusion is not true, the premiss will not be true, so here the end or ‘that for the sake of which’ will not exist. For this too is itself a starting-point, but of the reasoning, not of the action; while in mathematics the starting-point is the starting-point of the reasoning only, as there is no action. If then there is to be a house, such-and-such things must be made or be there already or exist, or generally the matter relative to the end, bricks and stones if it is a house. But the end is not due to these except as the matter, nor will it come to exist because of them. Yet if they do not exist at all, neither will the house, or the saw-the former in the absence of stones, the latter in the absence of iron-just as in the other case the premisses will not be true, if the angles of the triangle are not equal to two right angles.

“The necessary in nature, then, is plainly what we call by the name of matter, and the changes in it. Both causes must be stated by the physicist, but especially the end; for that is the cause of the matter, not vice versa; and the end is ‘that for the sake of which’, and the beginning starts from the definition or essence; as in artificial products, since a house is of such-and-such a kind, certain things must necessarily come to be or be there already, or since health is this, these things must necessarily come to be or be there already. Similarly if man is this, then these; if these, then those. Perhaps the necessary is present also in the definition. For if one defines the operation of sawing as being a certain kind of dividing, then this cannot come about unless the saw has teeth of a certain kind; and these cannot be unless it is of iron. For in the definition too there are some parts that are, as it were, its matter.”

(Aristotle, Physics, Bk. II, Part 9)

[3] “We call ‘necessary’ (1, a) that without which, as a condition, a
thing cannot live; e.g. breathing and food are necessary for an animal;
for it is incapable of existing without these; (b) the conditions
without which good cannot be or come to be, or without which we cannot
get rid or be freed of evil; e.g. drinking the medicine is necessary
in order that we may be cured of disease, and a man’s sailing to Aegina
is necessary in order that he may get his money.-(2) The compulsory
and compulsion, i.e. that which impedes and tends to hinder, contrary
to impulse and purpose. For the compulsory is called necessary (whence
the necessary is painful, as Evenus says: ‘For every necessary thing
is ever irksome’), and compulsion is a form of necessity, as Sophocles
says: ‘But force necessitates me to this act’. And necessity is held
to be something that cannot be persuaded-and rightly, for it is contrary
to the movement which accords with purpose and with reasoning.-(3)
We say that that which cannot be otherwise is necessarily as it is.
And from this sense of ‘necessary’ all the others are somehow derived;
for a thing is said to do or suffer what is necessary in the sense
of compulsory, only when it cannot act according to its impulse because
of the compelling forces-which implies that necessity is that because
of which a thing cannot be otherwise; and similarly as regards the
conditions of life and of good; for when in the one case good, in
the other life and being, are not possible without certain conditions,
these are necessary, and this kind of cause is a sort of necessity.
Again, demonstration is a necessary thing because the conclusion cannot
be otherwise, if there has been demonstration in the unqualified sense;
and the causes of this necessity are the first premisses, i.e. the
fact that the propositions from which the syllogism proceeds cannot
be otherwise.

“Now some things owe their necessity to something other than themselves;
others do not, but are themselves the source of necessity in other
things. Therefore the necessary in the primary and strict sense is
the simple; for this does not admit of more states than one, so that
it cannot even be in one state and also in another; for if it did
it would already be in more than one. If, then, there are any things
that are eternal and unmovable, nothing compulsory or against their
nature attaches to them.”

(Aristotle, Metaphysics, Bk. V, Part 5)

MSB, reply to John P. McCaskey
I find this post a bit confusing. I see at least two different things going on here that might be going on that I don’t think have been brought up, so maybe this will help.

First, it seems like there are two different views of how a fundamental right can give rise to dependent rights.

On what I think is John’s view, the fundamental right to life is always there and then can be harnessed to cause (?) other rights to come into existence, perhaps by considering certain actions from a certain perspective. On this view the fundamental right is separable from dependent rights in a way that makes them civil rights. It seems like the model on this view is as of a chain of events, where property rights are set in motion by the right to life.

The competing view is that there is a fundamental right to life, but what that right means is going to look different in different circusmtances. In social circumstances of any complexity, what it means to have a right to life is to have a right to property. Property is a necessary component of life in these circumstances so it’s not really separable. The model on this view is the part-whole relation, that property rights compose a right to life.

It’s probably obvious from how I described it, but I think the second view the right one.

Second, there is the issue, raised by “a guest”, of certain rights being more abstract than others. I think this is right and that this helps us disentangle some of the issues here. But there’s a way that the right to life is less abstract than particular rights, because I think one has to grasp is (perhaps implicitly) prior to the discovery of other rights.

The right to life is more abstract only in the sense of being more general. Our concept of the process of life also subsumes subprocesses that we engage in in order to live like respiration and production etc., as a guest says.

So the order and generality of abstractions comes apart. So maybe some of the confusion is in wondering how life can be prior in the order of justification (more “inborn”, though I don’t ilke that terminology because it’s misleading). Yet in wondering how things that are posterior to it, like property, can also be “included” in it, both causally and conceptually. But there’s no problem here, this happens all the time.

Property isn’t a merely civil issue, it is inseparable from life. Metaphysically property is a component of the nature of human life. Conceptually property rights are both subsumed under and justified by the right to life.

For the limiting circumstances in which human life exists without the issue of property rights arising, one should think about it in terms of potentiality and actuality. Gaining things like radio technology is analogous to a fetus switching over from placental exchange to normal respiration. It’s the process of life entering into a new stage, one that there was potential for, and in which certain new processes/protections are now a necessary component. (And of course in the case of rights we have to recognize/conceptualize/implement/institutionalize these rights.)

John P. McCaskey, reply to MSB
MSB,

As you point out, the more basic point of disagreement is how, if at all, we can think of a hierarchy of rights. I don’t think my view fits either school you describe. I thought mine was a straight-up Objectivist view:

The fundamental task of government is to protect citizens from an initiation of the use of physical force. The “right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” isn’t a right to minimal food, shelter, health care and vacation time. It’s simply the right to be free from initiated force. Everything a legitimate government does must be with reference to this principle.

What will such protection require? There will need to be objective laws, objective ways to enforce those laws, and objective ways to adjudicate disagreements. Why? In order to secure freedom from initiated force. There will need to be a monopoly on the use of retaliatory force. Why? In order to secure freedom from initiated force. There will need to be a military. Why? In order to secure freedom from initiated force.

Maybe the government will hold elections and people will have a right to vote. Why? In order to have objective laws that secure freedom from initiated force. Voting age will be set at 18. Why? To ensure voters have the maturity to understand their task is to secure freedom from initiated force.

And we’ll need to protect from both direct and indirect uses of force. So we’ll need protection from threat. We’ll need to determine whether fraud is more fundamental than contract or vice versa. Etc.

Only if that kind of hierarchy makes sense at all can we discuss how to justify, say, the right to exclusively use some of the earth’s surface and how we should even define one.

I don’t see how, without a hierarchy of dependencies, you could connect freedom from initiated force with the right to preclude someone from broadcasting on your radio frequency. You can’t just say, “Oh, that’s just one piece of a big inseparable whole,” or “That’s just an instance of one principle.” Of course. But how so? What is the hierarchy that leads back to that one whole principle? And what, if any, subordinate rights must be identified to retrace that connection?

Objections to my presumption that there is a deep hierarchy to rights are more fundamental than my little proposal about where “rights to property” fit in.

MSB, reply to John P. McCaskey
Yes, it’s Matt (I figured you’d be able to see my email address, which includes my full name).

I don’t have time to respond to this fully any time soon. Very briefly:

There is a hierarchy of dependencies. Conceptually life is the right to life is prior to property rights, which is prior to the rights-relevant conceptualizations of radio wave technology. You can’t justify anything further down the chain without what came earlier.

But that doesn’t mean that life and society aren’t a causally interconnected wholes. They are, and that affects how we should conceptualize things, including what it means that there is a hierarchy of dependencies in justification. Inventing radios is just part of a life of a certain sort, which is part of the reason why, for lives of that sort, you can’t have a conceptually prior right to life without the conceptually posterior right to broadcast on a certain frequency in some spatiotemporal region.

Dare Balogun, reply to John P. McCaskey
“The right to purchase 30 shares of GE stock on April 30 for $25 a share is not inborn.”

Isn’t this right – an economic right – one covered by a moral right to property though exercised as an economic right? By this I mean that the moral right to property is the overarching principle operating, and the exercise of this moral right is an instance of the principle. The economic right to purchase 30 shares is an action instance of the moral right to property in principle.

[I wrote “economic right” above on purpose. I know Ayn Rand came out fiercely against “economic rights” (as used by the Left) in her essay on Man’s Rights in VOS. I used the term here in the way it should be properly used. Here is the full quote from Ayn Rand’s essay:

“Property rights and the right of free trade are man’s only “economic rights” (they are, in fact, political rights). There can be no such thing as “an economic bill of rights.” But observe that its advocates are the vociferous enemies of and have all but destroyed those two authentic rights.

“Political rights pertain to the organization of a society, to the establishment of a social system, a government, and a legal code. As such, they are validated by reference to the facts of reality: to man’s nature and to the metaphysical conditions of his life on earth—and they establish basic principles for the creation of a rational, morally defensible society, i.e., a society appropriate to the requirements of man’s survival.

“But the concept of “economic rights” is a mystics’ flight from reality. It is an attempt to extort from some men (from the ablest and most productive) a security which is metaphysically impossible: the security of a guaranteed, automatic, effortless, unearned survival. Glance back at that Democratic Party platform [of 1960] and observe such eloquent touches as “the right to enjoy good health” and “the right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accidents and unemployment.” It is an attempt to change the nature of the universe by bureaucratic edict, by the power of the coercive mechanism of the absolutist state, by the omnipotent power of a gun—and by the grace of those nameless victims who are to perish in that attempt and whose existence must never be acknowledged. It is an attempt to gain freedom from reality—from nature, from reason, logic, thought, effort or work. But there is no such thing as freedom from reality. (Cut from “Man’s Rights.” Written in 1963. See The Virtue of Selfishness.)”]

Dare Balogun, reply to John P. McCaskey
But, couldn’t we say that a moral right to property exists as a pre-legal condition? The individual on the desert island has to fashion survival implements like spears and arrows to fish and hunt, and may we not call these implements his property? Couldn’t we say that he has a moral right to his property, which would then be legally recognized by government on the formation of civil society?

A guest
> It is relatively easy to determine what would count as assault. It can be much more difficult to determine what should count as theft.

I don’t think this is true. We have a large section of criminal law that has to deal with all the complex nuances of what constitutes assault.

As just one example, when is rape, rape? Sure, it’s clear-cut when a stranger grabs a woman off the street and attacks her. What about when two people are acquainted and in an amorous situation? What constitutes consent? What if the woman is drunk – has she given consent? How drunk does she have to be, before she’s judged not to have been in a state capable of granting consent? Passed out? Merely incoherent?

Or let’s take the case of a stranger walking up to someone and punching him in the face for no reason. That seems clearcut. But what if the ‘punchee’ made inflammatory remarks? What if the punchee made remarks to the effect that he clearly intends to harm the puncher? Then – who is assaulting whom? What if the punchee was approaching the puncher, with a menacing look on his face and holding a gun, but had not yet laid a hand on the puncher? Etc., etc., etc.

John P. McCaskey
Greg Salmieri ( https://www.facebook.com/gsalm… ) posted this on Facebook and said I could repost it here:

—————-

I don’t have time to go into all the details, but I think that this post rests on a series of confusions. And that the impression that the right to liberty is “in born” while the right to property is man-made is produced by considering the right to property in greater detail and in a more sophisticated form than the right to liberty is considered in. (For example: think about what precisely it would mean to respect the right to liberty if you were stranded with a few people on a desert island and you suspected one of them of being a murderer. If you had the means could you just imprison him or are there steps you’d need to take before depriving him of liberty? What steps and would it be possible to take them without forming some sort of proto-government? ) Both rights are “in-born,” “natural,” or metaphysical in the sense that they are identifications conditions required by human nature for a human being to live successfully in a society. And both are man-made in the sense that it we must identify the relevant conditions and then create laws and instructions to implement them. Neither can be fully implemented except by means of a government, but there are rudimentary applications of each that could be implemented by people interacting sporadically on a desert island.

Also: I think the attempt to derive property rights from the “indirect use of force” is a mistake. First of all, how is smashing the raft I built or felling the tree in planted any less direct a use of force against me than the acts by which some one world deprived me of my liberty? More deeply: it’s a hierarchy inversion to try to derive the content of our rights from the principle that the use of force may not be initiated against someone. It is the principle of rights that by defining a person’s proper sphere of action establishes what uses of force count as initiations of it against him.

Re the hierarchy inversion point: Suppose that there is a narrow path along which you would like to walk but that I am baring you from doing so by standing along it in front of you, so that you would need to attack and defeat me to pass. Am I, by doing this, using force against you? If you fought me, would you be initiating or retaliating? It depends entirely on whether you have a right to traverse this path. If you do then by standing here imposingly I am initiating force and you would be retaliating by forcibly removing me. On the other hand, if traversing this path is not within your rights and if I am within my rights to exclude others from it, then I am not using force against you by standing here, and you would be initiating the use if force by trying to move me.

John P. McCaskey, reply to John P. McCaskey
“it’s a hierarchy inversion to try to derive the content of our rights from the principle that the use of force may not be initiated against someone.”

I do that only for civil rights, not inborn rights. My core claim is that the hierarchy is: Inborn rights lowest (your “right to liberty”), then the principle against initiation of force, then the recognition of indirect uses of such force, then civil rights (habeas corpus, trial by jury, etc.) And then the question I want to explore is: Where should we put, say, your right to own a plot of land? Is it like the inborn right to liberty or is it like a right to habeas corpus?

I take “direct use of physical force” against you to involve real contact with your body. Destroying something you built is, therefore, not direct use of physical force against you. It is indirect.

I claim that the reason we have and need the concept of “property” is that we need a way to protect you from indirect uses of physical force. We don’t need the concept in order to protect you from direct uses.

You plant the seed. Now what exactly would constitute indirect use of force against you? Taking the seed? Redirecting the groundwater? Taking the grown plant? Hunting animals on the same land? Entering the land where the seed is planted? The answer will depend on technical, economic, and other conditions specific to this society at this time and place. So, by definition, whatever right you could have will not be an inborn and timeless one. And whatever it is, there will need to be a way for you to register your exclusive claim (it’s not attached to your body after all and so not obviously yours) and a way for the community to accept and enforce that claim. These processes are what make the claim a property right, are not needed to have a right to liberty, and are what make property rights essentially similar to civil rights.

Bottom line: It is the concept of indirect uses of physical force that makes the concept of personal property possible and necessary. And then, I think, the features of any right to property make such rights a kind of civil right rather than a kind of inborn and timeless right.

Greg Salmieri, reply to John P. McCaskey
I know that’s what you think, but I’ve given you several related reasons for thinking it’s a mistake–that the allegedly innate right to liberty and the allegedly man-made right to property only seem to be different because you’re treating the one right in a much vaguer way than the other. “A guest” showed the same thing in his discussion of assault.

You haven’t responded to these arguments.

If you think in greater detail about the (allegedly in-born) right to liberty and about what is involved in either violating or respecting it in the sorts of cases we have raised, you will see that it requires answering a question that you’re ignoring: viz. what range of actions must a person be free to take and how does one determine this? You need to answer that question to know what is not an initiation of force (even in a context where we are not yet concerned with property rights). And once you do answer it, you have all the resources you need to see how property is a right on the same order as liberty.

John P. McCaskey, reply to Greg Salmieri
Cf. my reply to MSB.

If you do think there is a hierarchy, you need some ultimate standard. To “spell out” the contents of any right is to trace out that hierarchy. What will be the government’s ultimate charter—to secure freedom from initiated force? to ensure domestic tranquility? to ensure citizens receive minimum food, shelter, and health care needed to live?

I think “right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” IS just the right to be free from initiated force. And yes I also think you have a right to use a raft you built or eat corn you sowed. Maybe I’m wrong to say it’s best that the term “property” mean more than that. But either way, the right to eat the corn or to have exclusive use of a plot of land or of a radio frequency needs to be reduced to some ultimate moral principle. I haven’t seen any such reduction to a principle other than the right to be free from initiated force. And I find the reduction to that principle to be straightforward.

RNPT (formerly, “A Guest”), reply to John P. McCaskey
[John McCaskey]: “I think “right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” IS just the right to be free from initiated force.”

I think this point might be the crux of our differences.

Rather than the way you put it, I would put it: The “right to life” is the
right to take all those actions necessary and proper to a rational being to
support his life. That’s the essence and the principle of the right.

Or as Ayn Rand puts it in “Man’s Rights”:
“A “right” is a moral principle defining and sanctioning a man’s freedom of action
in a social context. There is only one fundamental right (all the others are
its consequences or corollaries): a man’s right to his own life. Life is a
process of self-sustaining and self-generated action; the right to life means
the right to engage in self-sustaining and self-generated action—which means:
the freedom to take all the actions required by the nature of a rational being
for the support, the furtherance, the fulfillment and the enjoyment of his own
life.”

It’s a distinct (and logically later and logically dependent) insight to realize:
hey, the only way a man can be blocked from engaging in those actions, is by
the initiation of physical force.

(And we only *care* about force inasmuch as and insofar as it blocks a man from acting on his own judgement in the sphere of life-supporting activities. That’s the indispensable context for any consideration or discussion of force.)

Peikoff initially discusses the right to life this way (OPAR p. 352):

“The right to life means the right to sustain and protect one’s life. It means the
right to take all the actions required by the nature of a rational being for
the preservation of his life. To sustain his life, man needs a method of
survival—he must use his rational faculty to gain knowledge and choose values,
then act to achieve his values. The right to liberty is the right to this
method; it is the right to think and choose, then to act in accordance with
one’s judgment. To sustain his life, man needs to create the material means of
his survival. The right to property is the right to this process; in Ayn Rand’s
definition, it is “the right to gain, to keep, to use and to dispose of
material values.” To sustain his life, man needs to be governed by a certain
motive—his purpose must be his own welfare. The right to the pursuit of
happiness is the right to this.”

Note: nowhere here does he bring up the non-initiation of force, in this initial
discussion of the basic principles of the right to life.

In fact, it’s not until 7 pages later (p.359), toward the end of the section, that
he even really delves into this topic: “The rights of man, Ayn Rand holds, can be violated by one means only: by the initiation of physical force (including its indirect forms, such as fraud).”

[John McCaskey]: “…needs to be reduced to some ultimate moral principle. I haven’t seen any such reduction to a principle other than the right to be free from initiated force.”

The correct principle to reduce to is: the right to take all those actions necessary and proper to a rational being to support his life. And that principle is further reduced to principles of ethics and man’s nature.

OPAR p. 353 (and following):
“Turning now to the question of logical validation: since they are not primaries, man’s
rights require proof through the appropriate process of reduction. In the
Objectivist approach, the nature of such reduction is readily apparent. Each of
man’s rights has a specific source in the Objectivist ethics and, beneath that,
in the Objectivist view of man’s metaphysical nature (which in turn rests on
the Objectivist metaphysics and epistemology).”

For a couple of pages thereafter, Peikoff does a systematic reduction of rights
to principles in ethics and man’s nature. But he does *not* reduce them to the non-initiation of force principle.

The principle that rights can only be violated by the initiation of physical force
is of course an indispensable aid to *fully* grasping, specifying, and
implementing rights. But it is not the core principle of rights.

John P. McCaskey, reply to RNPT (formerly, “A Guest”)
RNPT, one more question:

Ayn Rand says the right to property is “the right to gain, to keep, to use and to dispose of material values.” That’s a fairly conventional description, used across the philosophical spectrum. More is needed to make it do the work you want. From it, how do you get to the tricky part, namely: WHICH material values? If you say, “the ones the person creates,” you’ll get stuck where you don’t want to be (such as in the labor theory of value of Marx and the classical economists). You need a way to demarcate which material values a person may properly gain, keep, use, and dispose of.

RNPT, reply to John P. McCaskey
Right, you can’t derive much from it alone, it’s not a standalone principle, and its meaning cannot be understood as an isolated principle. Much more *is* needed, and what’s needed is: the philosophic context within which it is stated (without which, out of context, it could just sound like a fairly conventional, generic description.)

We’d need to bring in the concept of “production” (‘the application of reason to the problems of man’s survival’), and keep in mind that for AR “production” means production of *value* (not material objects per se).

Note that she uses the term “material values” — not “material objects”. It’s not about material objects per se; it’s about material objects qua values.

But where do values come from?

We’d have to bring in the principle that reason is man’s basic means of survival; that reason is an attribute of the individual; and the principle that all value is *objective* (not intrinsic to physical objects), i.e., that value is discovered and *created* by the individual human mind. The basic metaphysical/ethical point that underlies the right to property is: that the individual mind who *creates* a new value, is the one who deserves it and should have the right to retain and benefit from it.

I’m not sure why you say this would get us stuck in the labor theory of value? For AR ‘property’ is not about ‘mixing your labor with the land’; it’s about using your mind to create values. And one important point: while material objects are of course not created ex nihilo, value *is* created ex nihilo. At first, the value doesn’t exist; then an individual mind discovers and produces it, bringing the value into existence. The one who brings a value into existence, is the one who deserves the value.

The above defines and demarcates the principle of the right to property. Then, it’s a logically separate and derivative issue to ask: how can such property rights be violated? How can that link be broken, that the person who creates a value should get to own and keep it? Only by the initiation of physical force. Ok, so *given* this demarcation of property rights, no one will be allowed to use physical force to deprive someone of his thus-defined property.

It would be completely backwards to try to define the right to property purely in terms of the non-initiation of physical force; the NIP only has meaning in relation to the prior demarcation of property rights. Otherwise it becomes: “No one can use the initiation of physical force to deprive another of ” Of what? Of objects in his possession? But “possession” does not equal “property”, of course. The whole point of the “property” concept is to distinguish mere possession and use from *rightful* possession and use. But if “property” is just to be defined in terms of the non-initiation of force, then the principle: “No one can use the initiation of physical force to deprive another of his property” reduces to: “No one can use the initiation of physical force to deprive another of his right to be free from the initiation of physical force.”

John P. McCaskey, reply to RNPT
“I’m not sure why you say this would get us stuck in the labor theory of value?” Because of this: “the individual mind who *creates* a new value, is the one who deserves it and should have the right to retain and benefit from it” Are you willing to say any value I create is mine to dispose of as I see fit?

Say that, by yourself, your brute manual labor is of no value. But I know how to make it valuable. Do I now have the right to your manual labor? Your appendix might be useless to you but highly valuable to a scientist who can use it to save lives. Does he have the right to your appendix? In the middle ages, smart people figured out how to make ammonia from urine. They would purchase urine. Should they have had to? I open factories and stores in your neighborhood and thereby make your useless plot of land valuable. Is your land now mine?

RNPT, reply to John P. McCaskey
“Are you willing to say any value I create is mine to dispose of as I see fit?”

Yes, but again we need to hold the *full context* of what this means.

The essence of how man survives is:
– Use his mind to think and discover values
– Act on the basis of his thinking, to create those values in material reality
– Survive by consuming those material values he has created

All those steps are necessary to man’s survival. Block any of those steps, and you sabotage man’s survival. And the right to self-preservation simply means the right to all those steps.

Yes, you own the values *once you’ve brought them into material existence*. It’s not the mere idea, per se, existing only in your head, that gives you ownership.

Now, if the requisite ‘materials’ to which you give value were previously unowned, there is no issue: e.g., wilderness land in 17thC America; oil under the Saudi desert; radio frequencies in the 19thC. You take control of the unowned materials, you give value to them, and you now own them.

Of course, it’s a different context if the materials in question are already owned by someone else.

“Say that, by yourself, your brute manual labor is of no value. But I know how to make it valuable. Do I now have the right to your manual labor?”

Of course not — that violates the whole context we’re talking about, that *each* man’s survival requires that he be sovereign to use his own thinking to govern his own actions in the pursuit of values. But what it does mean is that if I hire your brute labor at minimum wage, and show you how to spin straw into gold (while I sit in my office twiddling my thumbs), *I* created all that value, not you — even though your brute labor was the direct efficient cause of the straw turning into gold. Thus, I morally own and deserve the full profits (value) therefrom. It’s my property. (And it’s my property not because it was a “voluntary” transaction, per se; that is not the *fundamental* reason (that’s the libertarian argument). It’s my property because I was the ultimate *cause* of the value-creation.)

The appendix case and the urine case are the same issue: ignoring the basic context in which this whole discussion takes place, man’s metaphysical survival requirements. That in order to survive, the individual has to be sovereign over his own mind, body and actions in the pursuit of values. None of this discussion has any meaning or makes any sense absent that context.

“I open factories and stores in your neighborhood and thereby make your useless plot of land valuable. Is your land now mine?”
No, because the ‘material’ in question, the land, was not previously unowned. Different context. Such “externalities” of value-creation happen all the time in a free market. But if I, in anticipation of opening a factory, buy your land for pennies per acre, and then later sell it for hundreds of dollars per acre — you have no basis to complain “I was robbed! My land was worth hundreds and that thief *knew* it, but he only paid me pennies for it!”

John P. McCaskey, reply to RNPT
The crow is breaking. Why not just tell the legislators to ensure no one initiates the use of force? You’re removing any value from the non-initiation principle, making it just a slogan. When real work needs to be done, you set the slogan aside and go digging deeper. Do you think your deep-dive and the NIP will ever lead to different answers?

I think they will if you treat “if I create the value, it’s mine” as more fundamental than NIP.

Stay with the example. If you get title to land and I make it valuable by building factories, houses, and stores in the neighborhood, then why don’t I have a moral right to the value I created? Because you *owned* the land and we can’t take people’s land? They have a right to it? But then you’re saying the NIP ranks higher than your “if I create the value, it’s mine” principle—exactly the opposite of what you wanted.

RNPT, reply to RNPT
Oops, that second appearance of “undefined” (at the end of the post) was not me — that got added by the program! (I guess I must have inadvertently used an HTML code in my use of “undefined”…)

John P. McCaskey, reply to RNPT (formerly, “A Guest”)
Thanks, RNPT. That is helpful. (And thanks for getting a handle.) Let me think about whether I’m bounding the term “property” the same way Ayn Rand does. While I consider that, can you tell me:

If in my country the government is tasked with, and with nothing other than, protecting people from the initiation of the use of physical force, would my government make different laws than would the government you’d create?

RNPT, reply to John P. McCaskey
Well, if that’s *all* it has to work with, just the principle of non-initiation of force, then yes. I think your government would have trouble properly identifying and defining the initiation of force, without first defining that sphere of action within which a man has the ‘right’ to be free from the initiation of force. Your government would (sooner or later) go off the rails.

The non-initiation of force is just the *negative* principle. Qua negative principle, you can only fully grasp it by grasping what it’s *negating*. It only makes sense and only can be properly understood and interpreted in the context of the *positive* principle: “the right to take all the actions required by the nature of a rational being for the preservation of his life”. Once you’ve identified what that set of actions is (and we use the whole hierarchy of rights to specify, in different areas of life, with varying degrees of precision, exactly what that set of actions is) – then the government can say: “For this set of actions, every man’s judgement and choice is sacrosanct. You are not allowed to interfere with them by means of physical force. If you do, you will be stopped. (But, feel free to ‘interfere’ by means of persuasion.)”

If this were not so, then the Libertarians would be right; you wouldn’t need a full philosophical system as the context. You could just take the non-initiation of force principle as a standalone ‘axiom’, and build a government on that.

John P. McCaskey, reply to RNPT
Of course you need a whole philosophical system to justify, defend, grasp, understand, interpret, and apply the principle that the government should ensure no one initiates the direct or indirect use of physical force (the NIP, non-initiation principle). But that is the case with any abstract principle.

Are you also saying there must be some other principle, separate from the NIP (that is, not just a restatement of it) and hierarchically parallel to it (that is, not one on which the NIP fully depends or that fully depends on the NIP, not one hierarchically above or below it) that should be part of a government’s charter?

I say there is not, that the NIP is the government’s only charter.

RNPT, reply to John P. McCaskey
Also, one more clarification:

[John McCaskey] “Of course you need a whole philosophical system to justify, defend, grasp, understand, interpret, and apply the principle that the government should ensure no one initiates the direct or indirect use of physical force.”

Just to make sure we’re both fully on the same page here: I’m not merely saying that you need a full philosophic system to justify and defend the principle “that the government should ensure no one initiates physical force.” I’m saying that you need a full philosophic system even to understand what “the initiation of force” means at all. (Which is why you can’t take NIP as an isolated standalone principle, and say to the government: “here, make sure that no one is subject to the initiation of physical force; that’s all you need to know.” That’s the Libertarian mistake. It’s not that they can’t and don’t *justify* the principle properly; it’s that they can’t even *understand* what “initiation of force” is, without a philosophic system.)

Peter Schwartz puts it this way (in his “Libertarianism” essay, Voice of Reason p. 316):
“In logic, there is no way to comprehend the **meaning** of the principle of the non-initiation of force without a philosophic foundation. And there is no way to apply the principle in a political context without formulating a code of *rights*, particularly property rights. Without such a base, liberty could mean anything… But a code of rights cannot be established except by reference to a code of ethics…” [my double-emphasis added]

Is it your view, though, that “the initiation of force” does have meaning and can be understood on its own terms — apart from any philosophic system? (That’s the sense I got from reading your Nov. 13th blog post… but I’m ready to stand corrected…)

John P. McCaskey, reply to RNPT
“Is it your view . . . that ‘the initiation of force’ does have meaning and can be understood on its own terms—apart from any philosophic system?” No, no more than “selfishness” or “reason” can be. But “be rational” packs everything that is needed at that point in the philosophic hierarchy. We don’t need “be rational, but since that doesn’t contain everything we need, also be _____.” No, we just need “be rational—with everything that contains and entails.”

You are convincing me to change my “the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness IS just the right to be free from initiated force” to “freedom from initiated force is all you need to have your right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness protected.” But I’d still maintain a one-to-one relationship. I’d still say all your derivative rights will be protected if your right to freedom from initiated force is protected.

I agree or disagree with Schwartz, depending what he means. I agree if he means “a code of rights cannot be established except by reference—*direct or indirect*—to a code of ethics.” Indirect could be through the NIP.

I think you are saying we should codify all rights with reference not to the negative NIP but to the positive principle “the right to take all the actions required by the nature of a rational being for the preservation of his life” and then note that the NIP would ensure protection of these. Yes?

Is that how you’d get to the right to a trial by jury? to habeas corpus? to voting at 18?

But, more importantly, that positive principle is normally used to defend the Marxist creed: If you need something, you have a right to take it; you have a right to obtain, keep, use, and dispose of whatever you need to survive; need determines rights.

Without the NIP, how will you identify not just civil rights but which material values someone has a right to?

RNPT, relpy to John P. McCaskey
“But, more importantly, that positive principle is normally used to defend the Marxist creed: If you need something, you have a right to take it; you have a right to obtain, keep, use, and dispose of whatever you need to survive; need determines rights.”

Well, yes, again, if we take that sentence as a standalone principle, out of context, it’s possible to misunderstand it in any number of ways!

But we can’t take it out of context. Borrowing from my other post a short while ago, Ayn Rand’s context is:

The essence of how man survives is:
– Use his mind to think and discover values
– Act on the basis of his thinking, to create those values in material reality
– Survive by consuming those material values he has created

All those steps are necessary to man’s survival. Block any of those steps, and you sabotage man’s survival. And the right to self-preservation simply means the right to all those steps.

It’s clear from this context that the right to self-preservation means the right to *create* values. Not the right to seize the values that other men have created (sabotaging their survival, and ultimately your own).

“I think you are saying we should codify all rights with reference not to the negative NIP but to the positive principle “the right to take all the actions required by the nature of a rational being for the preservation of his life” and then note that the NIP would ensure protection of these. Yes?”

Yes, correct.

“Is that how you’d get to the right to a trial by jury? to habeas corpus? to voting at 18?”

Yes, definitely. (But not “directly”, only through the conceptual hierarchy of rights, which ‘carves up’ the right to life into more specific spheres and aspects. It’s the exact same issue as the virtues. We don’t just say “be rational” and leave it at that. We specify: “To be rational in this kind of context, means to be independent; to be rational in this sphere means to be productive; etc.” Similarly, “the right to take all the actions required by the nature of a rational being for the preservation of his life” *means* (when taken down through the conceptual chain of more specific rights to the specific context in which the question arises): the right to trial by jury.)

RNPT, reply to John P. McCaskey
If I’m understanding what you’re asking: yes, I’m saying there must be some other principle to guide the government, distinct from NIP, and that principle is: the concept of individual rights. If the government’s job is to protect “individual rights” — to apply the concept in writing new laws, and refer to it in properly executing existing laws — then the government must have and use the concept of individual rights.

But I’m also saying that the concept of individual rights is not merely *equal* to the NIP (as I’ve argued above). The core principle of individual rights is: “the right to take all the actions required by the nature of a rational being for the preservation of his life”. That’s not the same principle as the NIP. Are you still maintaining that the ““right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” IS just the right to be free from initiated force”?

As Peikoff puts it on page 359 of OPAR:
“Ayn Rand’s discovery that rights can be violated only by the use of physical force is historic. It is essential to the proper *completion* of the theory of rights, giving men, for the first time, the *means to implement* the theory objectively.” [My emphasis added]

The NIP serves to *complete* the theory of rights, and serves in implementing them. It would make no sense to say that, if rights were nothing but the NIP. In fact, using your view, AR’s very principle “that rights can be violated only by the use of physical force”–rather than being a powerful insight and important integration–would amount to a barren redundancy: “The right to be free from the initiation of force can only be violated by the use of physical force”.

[I’m not sure what you’re trying to get at, in requiring a hierarchically parallel principle? The concept of individual rights is logically prior to the NIP–which is dependent on it and *inseparable* from it. That’s why the government can’t use NIP as a standalone principle).]

John P. McCaskey, reply to Greg Salmieri
“You haven’t responded to these arguments.”

Sorry, Greg, I had a hard time parsing out the arguments. In the first paragraph, there are a couple typos and ambiguous references. And I couldn’t see an argument in the parenthetical and hypothetical questions. I thought the essence of your objection was your nicely essentialized “More deeply” part about hierarchy. I still think it is.

And I do think I responded to that—but by assuming a premise we may not share: Are you saying that all rights are on the same level, that some are just considered with more sophistication?

Are you saying that, e.g., the right to be free from initiated force, the right to own land, and the right to trial by jury are all, and all equally, inborn and man-made, that there is no hierarchy of dependence, that no rights depend on other rights, and that none are institutional inventions designed to protect others?

I say the right to habeas corpus depends on (1) the right to be free of initiated force and (2) a bunch of social conditions. It is created by prople considering (2) in their effort to secure (1). I’d say the right to habeas corpus is man-made but the right to be free of initiated force is not.

You’d say otherwise?

Greg Salmieri, reply to John P. McCaskey
I think there is a hierarchy, with life being more fundamental than the other rights, but the others aren’t exactly means to life: they’re spellings out of the content to a right to life. And I’m not conviced that there liberty is prior to property. If it is prior, it’s because it’s more abstract, rather than (as you think) because property depends on civil institutions. I think (tentatively) that there is a distinct category of civil rights, but that it applies only once one gets down to a level of detail where one is dealing with optional decisions made by a society about how to implement rights. So property wouldn’t be a civil right, and I don’t think the right to a jury trial would be. But the right to a certain number of appeals would be, or the right of disclosure before the trial.

Raman Gupta
This is a followup to some comments on Facebook, posted here by request of Dr. McCaskey:

Eric Dennis wrote:

> Perhaps it would be instructive, first, to say why and how you would form any concept of “rights” were you alone on a desert island. I don’t see any facts, in that case, that “rights” would help you to understand or integrate.

On a desert island with one as the sole inhabitant, the “inborn” rights of life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness have no meaning either. So property rights cannot be distinguished from inborn rights using that example. I’m not sure if this was a response to my FB comment, but if it was, I’m not sure how it is instructive.

John P. McCaskey wrote:

> Raman, I’m saying you have an inborn right to have and eat that corn but that (if there are people around who might want the corn) a property right is required to secure that more fundamental right to have and eat. There would need to be a way to register with the others that you planted this corn, a way for you to relinquish your right to eat it (Is setting it aside sufficient or must you put it in the trash heap?), a way to procure access to other things you need to grow the corn (land? water? rain? all of it?). All these are what distinguishes rightfully having from actually owning, i.e., what are part of the concept of property.

If I understand this correctly, you are saying that property rights follow from the inborn right to have/eat the corn, but are not themselves inborn because the property right(s) depend on a man-made understanding (and codification) of how “ownership” of the corn is to be defined based on what is currently known about corn and its growth, storage, use, etc.

Thanks for helping to elucidate some difficult concepts!

Guest
Dr. McCaskey,

Thank you for taking the time and trouble to present your thinking on the issue. I am a “follower” of yours on FB. My FB name, a shortening of my real name, is Kunle Oguns.

I have not yet done a thorough reading of all the relevant rights theorists, but my understanding of natural right on a still-incomplete reading of Locke, two brief summaries of Grotius, and a great deal of Rand, is that all rights arise from logical [or hypothetical/conditional] necessity on the Aristotelian conception. Rights arise, for Grotius, from the “social need,” which is something like, but not quite the same as, what we might call “social necessity” on an Objectivist conception. By social necessity, I mean the

As I understand the “bio-centric” approach of the Aristotelians, it is the final causation of the living organism or entity that gives rise to its need to accumulate properties and other survival implements. For human beings, moral values (knowledge of method and virtues) enable the successful pursuit of food, shelter, romance, friendship, career, and other acquired values. All these acquired values are only made possible by foundational economic values (e.g. money, flat, house, car); these economic values may be earned by the parent/guardian of the individual or by the individual.

It seems to me that attributes of a biological entity are biological properties of the entity. Just as sight and hearing are biological properties of the person which enable that person’s survival, acquired economic values are also properties which enable the person’s survival. Eyes are for the sake of seeing, which is for the sake of survival. So also, a meal or house or car is irreducibly for the sake of the possessor’s survival. So, the eyes and ears and meal and car and house are all properties of the individual. Since the acquired properties are earned by action, such properties are the possessor’s by moral right. Right, here, is not inherent, but only necessitated by the end, which is successful life. By the use of “properties” here, I don’t intend to suggest that “everyman owns his body.” Property, as used in “property right,” is not quite the same “property” in “biological property.” A biological property is not acquired, so it is not “owned.”

On the establishment of society (for the sake of the survival of the individuals comprising it), the possessor’s moral and economic right(s) to these acquired properties are protected by the political right(s) established by government. This, I think, is how conditionally-necessitated rights straddle the moral and political realms.

Where am I wrong? 🙂

Dare Balogun, reply to Guest
[I wrote “economic right(s)” above on purpose. I know Ayn Rand came out fiercely against “economic rights” (as used by the Left) in her essay on Man’s Rights in VOS. I used the term here in the way it should be properly used. Here is the full quote from Ayn Rand’s essay:

“Property rights and the right of free trade are man’s only “economic rights” (they are, in fact, political rights). There can be no such thing as “an economic bill of rights.” But observe that its advocates are the vociferous enemies of and have all but destroyed those two authentic rights.

“Political rights pertain to the organization of a society, to the establishment of a social system, a government, and a legal code. As such, they are validated by reference to the facts of reality: to man’s nature and to the metaphysical conditions of his life on earth—and they establish basic principles for the creation of a rational, morally defensible society, i.e., a society appropriate to the requirements of man’s survival.

“But the concept of “economic rights” is a mystics’ flight from reality. It is an attempt to extort from some men (from the ablest and most productive) a security which is metaphysically impossible: the security of a guaranteed, automatic, effortless, unearned survival. Glance back at that Democratic Party platform [of 1960] and observe such eloquent touches as “the right to enjoy good health” and “the right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accidents and unemployment.” It is an attempt to change the nature of the universe by bureaucratic edict, by the power of the coercive mechanism of the absolutist state, by the omnipotent power of a gun—and by the grace of those nameless victims who are to perish in that attempt and whose existence must never be acknowledged. It is an attempt to gain freedom from reality—from nature, from reason, logic, thought, effort or work. But there is no such thing as freedom from reality. (Cut from “Man’s Rights.” Written in 1963. See The Virtue of Selfishness.)”]

Dare Balogun, reply to Guest
I want to state here that I had been editing this post (it is mine) but then decided to delete it. The deletion does not seem to have gone through completely, but the state of my edit remains.

John Kranz
I’m not comfortable with your interstice between life, liberty, pursuit of happiness and property rights.

I hold that we have an inborn property right in our own persons — JS Mill and Ludwig von Mises put it much more eloquently that I. From that right, we have right to things we create. From that, I have an inborn right that to those things which I obtain from my creations by trade.

To put this in the “other” pile is to allow the government to make me beg for license to own my person, my creations and my property. Do I misread you?

John P. McCaskey, reply to John Kranz
Yes, John, I am intentionally rejecting that hierarchy. I claim it is wrong to say that you own your arm or that you have property rights in your own person.

There is no owning and no property without a government. The concepts “to own” (the verb) and “property” depend on legal concepts. But no inborn inalienable right depends on any legal system or any legal concepts. The inborn rights are the more fundamental. They exist even when there is no government. That’s why they can be the standard for legal and political rights.

If you need to beg for property rights, you have a crummy government, just as you do if you have to beg the police to stop a thief. Property rights are protections, not permissions. They are instruments for protecting your inborn rights. If your government refuses to use the instruments correctly, it is just like the government misusing billy clubs, like any misuse of power.

To fix that government, you need to have the correct hierarchy. If you invert the hierarchy, if you insist the fundamental starting point is ownership of your body, then your critic just says, “OK, then you have no rights at all until we work up this institution you call ownership. Then we’ll consider your piss-ant little claim to have inborn rights.” At that point you have no moral grounds by which to beg or even to ask politely.

For what you want, you need some rights that are prior to any owning and any property.

(Mill, of course, ended up an enemy of individual liberty. Mises’ student Hayek bought into what you say his teacher taught and concluded—rightly given the premise—that the idea of a government dedicated to protecting pre-existing rights is simply a logical fallacy, a confusion in one’s hierarchy of knowledge. For Hayek, there are no inborn rights.)

bildanielson, reply to John P. McCaskey
Greetings John. I am curious about the notion of a “hierarchy of rights.” On this view one can discover basic,or most fundamental, human rights. I would be curious to know how one can reconcile the right to life, for example, as a basic inalienable right when it clearly conflicts with other’s right to the same? Shouldn’t one of the key characteristics of any basic right be that it cannot conflict with another right, nor can it conflict with another’s exercise of it? For example, my right to life can conceivably conflict with another human being’s right to life in certain circumstances. Point being here isn’t that life is a right of all humans, but that it might not be a basic right. More fundamental concepts such as knowledge, autonomy, and justice may in fact be more “basic” human rights on a hierarchy with life being one step removed. Thoughts?

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