The meaning of "natural" in natural rights

Tom Burroughes's picture
Submitted by Tom Burroughes on Tue, 2012-04-03 18:59

Legal activist, scholar and Rand fan Timothy Sandefur has an interesting response here (http://sandefur.typepad.com/fr...) to an article by Craig Biddle of The Objective Standard. Essentially, Biddle and Sandefur are having a slight disagreement (only slight, though) about the expression, "natural rights". Tim reckons is this is a useful term, that rights are inherent (NOT intrinsic) to humans based on the kind of beings that humans are. He also disagrees that "natural rights" is a term that should be avoided because some religious people once favoured the term.

I recommend reading the original article and Tim's own response. Here's a key set of paragraphs:

"The confusion, of course, arises from the abuse of the term “natural” rights to refer to supernatural rights theories—the idea that man has rights because God says so. Of course, as with all such claims about the will of God, this renders rights arbitrary, groundless, and subjective. Man’s rights are then a matter of mere whim or supernatural diktat—God could just as easily have chosen otherwise—so that rights bear no necessary relationship to the qualities of being a human being. To refer to this as a “natural” rights theory is to exploit a characteristic Enlightenment ambiguity—that is, it makes sense only if one assumes a sort of deistic or pantheistic unity of God and nature which (like all such deistic or pantheistic theories) renders God surplus to requirements."

"Biddle answers as follows: rights are not a physical characteristic of man, “like bones or lungs,” but are “mental integrations of observed facts.” Rights, as principles, relate to abstractions which are not “natural” because they do not exist in physical reality. Rights relate to the universals, the generalizations, which are a process of abstraction, integration, and so forth. Thus the term “natural” is inapposite."

"I don’t buy this. The same can be said of all concepts—indeed, “[e]very word we use (with the exception of proper names) is a symbol that denotes a concept, i.e., that stands for an unlimited number of concretes of a certain kind.” If I say that “calcium is naturally a component of human bone,” nobody would object—and yet “human bone” does not exist in nature. Only particular bones do. Yet “human bone” does have a nature: those qualities or characteristics that define the concept itself. And those qualities or characteristics are certainly not conventional or ipse dixit assertions: they’re real, they’re natural. If I say “lungs are of such a nature that they will not work in a vaccuum,” I am making a claim about the kind of things that lungs are—regardless of what people think or say about them—and about how they work or don’t work. I believe Rand’s theory of rights makes the same kind of claim about human beings. Man needs rights (in a social context) because of the kind of being that he is. That’s an etiological account of rights reached by a process of abstract reasoning, but it’s no less naturalistic for that."

Read the whole thing.


God-given is NOT natural

Leonid's picture

Good-given is not equivocal to natural . These two concepts in fact oppose each other. What's natural about God? However, if you deny your introspective knowledge that you own your life by right and not by permission, then you deny your self-consciousness, identity, your "I". Then your life could be offered to you.

Listen

Ross Elliot's picture

Previously:

"Many don't. Hence the importance I attach to this discussion. I don't mean just this thread on SOLO, but right throughout Objectivism. Many Objectivists come to Objectivism from religion, and bring their intrinsicist baggage with them. The need to banish intrinsicism from rights theory is long-standing."

If a subscriber to Objectivism comes from the baggage of religion, and they still can't drop their baggage and get beyond the idea of God-given or natural rights, then they're not an Objectivist. It's just that simple.

"Rights are "constructs." But they're not "artificial." They're "constructed" on reality: the reality of man's consciousness being conceptual and volitional."

Well said. But that's not a concept you have to convince an Objectivist of, is it? You can't say that it's a problem with Objectivism, since no Objectivist claims any such thing. Oh, they do? Fine, but then they don't *get* Objectivism.

Again, the problem is not *within* Objectivism, it's within those who pretend to understand it.

Response to Shayne...

Michael Moeller's picture

I am not an anarchist

Shayne Wissler's picture

When Hogeye called me an anarchist I knew where he was coming from. In his mind, no system of government is based on consent of the governed. He actually read my book carefully, and I make a case that very clearly and strictly shows how to construct systems of government based on true consent, ergo he erroneously concluded that I must be an anarchist.

And I also know where Greg Davis is coming from. It's an unsavory, anti-intellectual, collectivist, dishonest place. He can't win in the field of rational debate, ergo he is grasping for an ad hominem attack.

As it happens, the above quote is taken out of context. In my book I argue for two basic kinds of governance: natural law governance, and local governance. The natural law governance is what our Federal government should be -- a system that is purely about protecting natural rights and nothing more. Local governance can be about more things. Anarchists recognize this with their HOA ideas, but really the ideal implementation of these is in a city-state. So, my view is that we should have a federation of city states, which is very similar to the Founding Father's idea of a federation of States. (I know that instead of reading my book people like Greg and Mike will pretend to be able to fill in all the blanks I've left unstated here, but they do not speak for me and you can be guaranteed that their presumptions will be wrong).

I wrote an essay, "Against Anarchism", which gives my true view on anarchism: http://www.forindividualrights... . I'm sure this far exceeds Greg's reading comprehension level so I don't necessarily recommend that he read it.

Michael: re-Intrinsicism

Leonid's picture

"Intrinsicism Writ Large, Indeed"

You and Lindsay use this term as a floating abstraction, in the best case. ( the worse-derogatory term). Therefore the meaning of this term needs clarification. In his lecture about intrinsicism Leonard Peikof wrote:

" The intrinsicist says, " Reality is crucial; reality is the sole factor in cognition. Consciousness contributes, essentially, nothing to the process. Consciousness is only an empty mirror. It has no nature of its own, no effect on the process of cognition...Reality is the only key factor; consciousness contributes nothing but passive receptivity...Consciousness is nothing; existence is all" ( Understanding Objectivism, pg's 177, 179, 181)

Everything I posted so far completely opposes this notion of intrinsicism. I said that consciousness is the source of right to live and we learn this via introspection. Besides, I reject the intrinsicist dichotomy between consciousness and reality, between spiritual and metaphysically given. Such a dichotomy is a pure mysticism. Consciousness is part of reality and as reality it is also metaphysically given. If you think that my position is that of intrinsicism, then you don't understand my position or you don't understand the Objectivist meaning of intinsicism.

Michael

Leonid's picture

You are right : the moral principle of protection of right to live derived from the human nature which is metaphysically given. Part of this nature is self-awareness of the ownership on one own life, in other words-right to live. This right, therefore is metaphysically given, but it is not a physical existent like limb or DNA. It is a cognitive existent which pertains to human consciousness, it's faculty of self-awareness, like mind or volition. We have no argument.

Predictably

gregster's picture

Shayne's opposition to intellectual property stems from his particular anarchist view of the world. I won't say anarcho-capitalist because according to Hogeye Bill, Shayne also proposes;

"His "foreign policy" is (as it is for all anarchists) panarchy. "Citizens of the government may have consented to a wide variety of abridgments (either themselves or by virtue of a previous land owner who transferred ownership with certain constraints). Everything ranging from a free market system to a kind of commune are legitimate. A system of social "safety nets" and a general property tax to pay for them are legitimate. So all the usual arguments people have about what kind of government they want become moot: if they don't like their current form, they would be free to alter it according to their previously agreed upon rules, or repatriate, or even strike out on their own in the vast unowned wilderness and make up their own laws. Such a system would result in a healthy competition between governments to discover the best sorts of laws that humans can create."

Copied to new thread.

New thread

Tom Burroughes's picture

I am starting a new thread.

Smiling

Linz

Shayne Wissler's picture

Just state your position.

What aspect of my position is unclear to you?

The most basic point that anyone should grasp on this issue is that the burden of proof is on the person who claims that patents are legitimate. This is a basic legal concept that I'm sure the lawyer won't begin to grasp (indeed, he doesn't need to because our court systems do not recognize it), but the second inventor is innocent until proven guilty. And this means, importantly, that the standard itself must be proven. You don't just get to fabricate the notion of patents as if they were some kind of self-evident fact and then make everyone comply (just as you can't fabricate the concept of the feudal form of land ownership and thereby make it be legitimate); you must make a solid case for them, rooted in natural rights.

Making a case rooted in natural rights means, among other things, pointing precisely to where the initial act of interference happened. Did it happen when the second inventor thought of a similar idea? When he started to build it? When it first functioned? When he first sold it? Where exactly did it happen? Depending on how one answers, there are other questions regarding identifying the locus of interference. For legitimate rights its easy to answer such questions for basic cases, but I think it's impossible to coherently answer them for patents. For example, if a man picks up an unclaimed rock and starts building a house, and then another man starts to take that house apart, then we can point to every action that moved the rocks off of the house. That's exactly where the right violation happened.

Once the locus of interference is identified, then we need to identify why it's interference with a legitimate right.

But I don't think we even get that far with patents. I don't think patent defenders can even point to when and where the right violation happened coherently. Oh, they can point to something, but it won't stand up to questioning. So perhaps they weasel out, and say that it isn't correct that there is a locus of interference where legitimate rights are concerned. So they have to make the case that a right violation happened, but they don't know where, that it's ineffable. It might be amusing to see someone try to do this. Or maybe they say "at the point of sale." At which point one would ask them just what it is that they are claiming to own: the invention, or the buyer's right to choose who he trades with? For if there was no right violation when the inventor possessed the invention embodied in his physical property, and if owning property means, among other things, that one can trade it, then how can it be that what was legitimately his before he traded it suddenly became stolen property once he traded it? The variations are limited only by the creative dishonesty of the patent advocate. Who knows what they will come up with next?

Come on Shayne

Lindsay Perigo's picture

Enough of the snorting, stomping, snarling and strutting. Just state your position.

Shayne

Michael Moeller's picture

I am not going to apologize when I don't know if I should be apologizing. That is, until you make your positions clear, how can I tell if I've argued against the wrong thing? I can't, obviously, as much as that may hurt your feelings and offend your delicate sensibilities.

And you are already looking foolish by not simply answering the questions and instead engaging in continual whining, hate to tell you.

Let's take the guess work out of it. If you state explicitly your arguments against IP, then there will be no cause for you to say: "I didn't say that". And any misrepresentations on my part will be plain as day. I'll get you started:

Copyright is not a valid form of property because...

Patents are not a valid form of property because...

You're on, Ace. Hit it!!

Michael

Advice

Shayne Wissler's picture

If you really want to try to make me look bad, drop that worthless lawyer spin of yours, actually stop being presumptuous, obnoxious, and rude, stop putting words in my mouth, apologize for your behavior thus far, etc. I have already said that if you start behaving like a civilized person I'll answer your questions, so if you do so and then I don't answer you, then I'll look quite bad. But as it is it just looks like you're continuing to act like the juvenile asshole that you are, and it looks to a reasonable person that, for that very reason, I'm continuing to not answer any more of your questions.

But that's just some friendly advice, take it or leave it.

Riiiiiiiiiight, pal

Michael Moeller's picture

So instead of presenting your arguments explicitly to us -- and in which I am ready and willing to concede that I may not have argued against a position that is yours -- you insist on clinging to he-said she-said stuff?

Why not just clear it up for us by stating why **exactly** you reject copyright and patents? Independent creation? Time limitations? Scarcity theory of property?

Lay it out and let there be no doubt as to your position.

What are you so afraid of?

Michael

Michael

Shayne Wissler's picture

I am simply trying to figure out what you ARE saying. ... I have no idea what your actual stance is at this point with all the bobbing and weaving.

You perceive contradiction because are narcissistically fixated on your own views. You can't entertain a new thought without lurching into your own bad guesses at every step about what a statement of mine logically implies or how it relates to other things. You are presumptuous, arrogant, and rude. All this puts a burden on me at every step to say "no, I didn't say that, no I don't think that, no that doesn't imply that..." And to top it all off, you refuse to take any responsibility for your presumptuousness. You accuse me of "bobbing and weaving" when the only thing "bobbing and weaving" is your next imminent bad guess; its a mirage your own presumptuousness has created.

So, it is simply too much work to try to convey my position to you.

Shayne

Michael Moeller's picture

I am simply trying to figure out what you ARE saying. First you use the independent creation argument against IP. Then you apparently discard that when it comes to copyright. Then you say copyright shouldn't be treated in the same category as patents (meaning what, exactly?). I have no idea what your actual stance is at this point with all the bobbing and weaving.

I have no problem at all admitting I was wrong about one of your positions. If I am wrong, then straighten me out. Give me your actual rejections for patents and copyright. That way there will be no confusion of who said what.

I think that is fair, no?

Bottom line: I don't really care about a he said-she said argument. Just give me your arguments as to why you reject patents and copyright explicitly, and I will rebut those. If you want apologies, then one thousand apologies for whatever you perceive as a misrepresentation (which, in truth, was me simply trying to come to grips with what your position actually IS).

Just lay it out so there is no question about your arguments against IP. For now, I will accept all responsibility if I was arguing against a position that was not yours.

Michael

Michael

Shayne Wissler's picture

Are you seriously going to maintain that in this whole exchange, you have never made a misrepresentation of my view that you should apologize for? I know that lawyers are never supposed to admit it when they've been wrong, but this is real life, not law school. And in real life when someone repeatedly does something wrong that costs someone else time, they are expected to apologize and try to do better. If you can't bring yourself to do this then I'm finished.

Apologize for WHAT????

Michael Moeller's picture

One of your arguments against IP was "independent creation", which is a common argument. Then you stated that "one cannot accidentally create Atlas Shrugged". Further, you argued for not uniting copyrights and patents under IP (although they should be).

Thus, if you have a rejection for copyright, it does not appear to be independent creation and my question was a valid one, namely:

"Do you now acknowledge (which you didn't before) that copyright is a valid property right?"

Do you? You reject it, but not based on the independent creation argument? If not, based on what, then?

You are dancing all over the place and constantly modifying your arguments while blaming me.

Fine, just set me straight. What are your specific arguments against patents, and against copyright? Then there will be no confusion over what you said and what you didn't say.

Michael

Michael

Shayne Wissler's picture

But you are backtracking a bit here on copyright

You indicated you were a lawyer, is this a lawyer tactic? Won't work with me.

And I have about had it with your misrepresentations and distortions. If you want to know what I think, you will apologize for this, and then when I point out your other misrepresentations and you can't prove they are based in fact, you will apologize for those too.

Otherwise this little engagement is over. I only re-engaged with you because it looked like you were putting in an honest effort, but remarks like this show that there was indeed effort, but the effort is not honest, that you are just a time-wasting troll.

Not Paying Attention

Michael Moeller's picture

Shayne wrote:

"I said that Rand was abjectly pragmatic because of the time frames,..."

And as I told you, she justified why IP should have time limitations, but this was not her principle justification why IP is valid per se.

Again, you are treating her arguments for why IP should have a time frame as her principle argument for why IP rights are valid per se, i.e. as a product of one's effort, like all other property rights broadly falling under the Lockean conception. If you spent 5 minutes with her article on the matter, you would realize that.

Do you want to attack her actual argument, or continue to misrepresent "arbitrary time frames" as her principle argument for IP? Let me repeat again: her argument for why IP is valid as property is a different argument from why said property right should be restricted in time.

Get it?

Oh, we do get some insight into why you reject IP:

"The reason why patents are invalid, as I have said before, is that it interferes with the individual sovereignty of creative man. "

Indeed it does, but not in the way you are presenting. In the case of patents, ripping off the product of hundreds of millions in the research of a drug certainly interferes with the "individual sovereignty of creative man", no? Somebody copying Atlas Shrugged and distributing it without Rand's consent certainly interferes with "individual sovereignty of creative man", don't you agree, Shayne? Do tell.

But you are backtracking a bit here on copyright. You seem to be at least acknowledging that Atlas could not be independently created, and I think we are advancing a bit here.

Do you now acknowledge (which you didn't before) that copyright is a valid property right?

As to patents, one may independently invent the same object, but does this deny patents as property rights altogether? Or is it an argument that an independent creator should be granted property rights?

As a follow-up, I am interested in your speculations if the first inventor was not granted property rights in their invention. Is it more likely that the second "inventor" would independently create the same invention, or that a horde of parasites would simply reverse-engineer the product of the first inventor's efforts? Do tell, as I think this will get us somewhere, just like copyright.

Michael

You continue to distort and misrepresent

Shayne Wissler's picture

God man, have you no shame? Even when it's right there in front of your face? I said that Rand was abjectly pragmatic because of the time frames, I didn't say that the time frames meant that IP was invalid. IP would certainly not be valid regardless of whether time frames were involved. I would never make an argument against IP on such a non-fundamental point.

The reason why patents are invalid, as I have said before, is that it interferes with the individual sovereignty of creative man. You are the one with the burden of proof here, because you wish to attack people who happened to think of the same thing you did. The prima facie case here is that you are the criminal and they are the victim, regardless of any chest-beating about something you thought of or filed with the government.

Note: I do not like grouping copyright and patent under a single heading "IP". Copyright pertains to specific works that very much are works of a single person. One can't accidentally rewrite Atlas Shrugged. But patents pertain to broad ideas that people easily can and often do happen to recreate.

Shayne

Michael Moeller's picture

Previously you wrote:

"I have yet to hear an Objectivist defense of IP. Rand's "argument" is abjectly pragmatic given its arbitrary time frames based on nothing but hand-waving, and certainly doesn't qualify as a principled Objectivist argument."

You are clearly rejecting Rand's argument for IP based on "arbitrary time frames". First, this is not the basis of Rand's arguments for IP. Secondly, the time frames are not "arbitrary", as I will get to in a second.

Lastly, why does time frame matter? Her principle justification was that it is the product of one's mental effort, thus expanding Locke's notion that property rights are assumed with a mixing of labor with the land to include mental labor.

So what is the pertinence of your "arbitrary time frame" argument, if not to reject IP based on time frame? This is a common argument of anti-IP advocates, but no justification of why IP should be rejected based on time frame is ever given.

Are you going to give it a go, or simply concede that this is no basis for rejection?

Michael

The lesson...

Shayne Wissler's picture

What I *am* asking you for as why time limitations disqualify IP as property. You have given us no reason. You just assert it. Well....???

I think your lesson for today is to post less and to read more carefully, because I never made such an argument. That is just your distorted version of something I said.

Get your facts straight Michael

Shayne Wissler's picture

YOU rejected IP as invalid because perpetual transfer is not a requirement.

No, I did not. Get your facts straight, "Ace."

You're bumbling and clumsy with what people have said, and yet you are arrogant and self-righteous at the same time. Are you aware that these are annoying traits? Please demonstrate some competence, then your show-off personality might not come across as so obnoxious.

Nope

Michael Moeller's picture

I said *I* regard it as property, not that you do. I gave my basic definition of property and justified why it should be subject to the same requirements of exclusive use, possession, and disposal.

Let me repeat this point: I never said you regard IP as property. Obvious enough, considering that is the question under dispute.

What I *am* asking you for is why time limitations disqualify IP as property?

You have given us no reason. You just assert it. Well....???

Michael

Backwards

Michael Moeller's picture

Shayne, you are evading the question. YOU rejected IP as invalid because perpetual transfer is not a requirement. YOU called it "pragmatic" and a sign of "abject amorality" on Rand's part.

What is conscpiously missing, however, is any explanation as to why perpetual transfer is necessary for something to be considered property. You gave no justification whatsoever, you just asserted it.

It is your reason why IP should not be considered property. Thus, it is incumbant on you to justify why the fact that IP is not perpetually transferred disqualifies IP as property. Assertion is not enough, unfortunately.

Are you going to tell us why?

To answer your question, yes, one has the right to transfer property. And so is the case with IP. Let me repeat that, IP can be transferred just like real property with license or assignment. Time limitation simply restricts the allotted time in which this transfer can be performed. The wheels are coming off, Ace.

Michael

Question begging

Shayne Wissler's picture

You are arbitrarily defining a category of "ordinary property" that excludes IP.

I see that you lack the basic competence required to even have this discussion. Please study the fallacy of question begging very carefully and then get back to me. But obviously (to those who possess the requisite skill), if I don't regard IP as property, I am not going to refer to IP by the term "property". And since the idea of designating IP is a kind of property is the contention at issue, it is question begging for you to presume I should do otherwise.

Shayne

Michael Moeller's picture

You wrote:

"Note the equivocation: He uses the term "property rights" here to refer both to patents (the legitimacy of which is precisely what he is trying to argue for, hence he is begging the question), and to ordinary property. "

No equivocation at all. You are arbitrarily defining a category of "ordinary property" that excludes IP. One of your reasons is time limitations, but you give no reason at all why time limitations are essential in order for something to be considered property.

I am saying both the physical object that you possess and my IP are forms of property. And what you fail to take account of is that property rights have a negative limitation on the actions of others.

For instance, the exclusive use of my land prevents you from dumping your junk on it, or even entering my land without my permission. Are you going to reject the rights in my real property because this is a negative limitation on you? That is, you cannot dump your junk on my lawn, so are my real property rights invalid because it restricts your "ordinary property"? Of course not.

Similarly, because Rand created a story called Atlas Shrugged and embodied it in the material form of a book, the fact that the use of your paper and ink to copy and recreate the same object is restricted does not negate her property rights. She owns the copy and distribution rights because it is the product of her creation, the product of her effort. That you cannot reproduce it (read: steal) with your paper and ink is not a restriction of your property rights. If you would be allowed to do so, it would be a restriction of hers.

And let's dispense with the ridiculous strawmen arguments as evidenced below. Nowhere did I make any of those statements, so how about you attack the statements and arguments I actually, k?

"Since the patent advocate cannot make principled arguments, he engages in sophistry instead. He accuses his opponent of "rationalism", ironically twisting the meaning of that term in the Objectivist sense. Or he makes sarcastic and anti-intellectual remarks, such as "I guess I can steal your book." Or he appeals to the mob, saying "well, a lot of smart people think patents are A-OK." The one thing he does not appeal to is truth and principles and reality. And so, again, I sympathize with his plight."

Michael

Bottom line: Michael should ask questions before shooting

Shayne Wissler's picture

Bottom line: Shayne's problem is one of rationalism.

No, ironically enough Michael, you're the rationalist here. I can answer all your questions by reference to principle. And if you have questions about those, I can answer them too. So, I'm very much unlike you here. So stop being so arrogant and learn how to learn.

Why should a "principled" advocate of property rights reject IP because of there is no perpetual transfer? Shayne offers no reason, he just asserts it.

Enough of your pointless chest-beating. The fact is that I just referred to the property transfer without substantiating it because I thought it was obvious. How am I to be able to predict what is and what is not obvious to you? Unlike you, I don't pretend to be a mind-reader. So no, I'm not a rationalist. I simply don't know what you need to be taught and what you don't need to be taught.

What theory of property rights says that perpetual transfer is a sine qua non of the right to property? Not mine. Perhaps Shayne can explain why perpetual transfer is a necessity for something to be considered property. I am certainly curious as to his answer.

Your question starts off with a non-sequitur. Just because transfer of property is an attribute of ownership of it does not mean that it is the "sine qua non." Your second question is equally fallacious. So let us rephrase your question into something meaningful: Why is it that if one owns something, one also has the right to transfer that ownership to another person? Would you accept my formulation of your question?

I think at this point it will be clearly evident to many why I thought this was obvious, but if it's still not obvious to you and you accept my formulation I can elaborate.

Leonid

Michael Moeller's picture

You write:

"So what existents we observe and what units we integrate in order to create the concept of rights? According to you this concept appears out of the thin air, without any observable, metaphysically given existents."

Where, oh where, did I ever say such a thing? You are just plain making that up.

In fact, I said that rights do "stem" from man's nature as a rational being capable of self-directed action. But rights themselves are NOT physical existents. They are moral principles derived from man's nature, but are not metaphysically given.

For an epistemological analogy, I observe men, objects, that they can trade those objects, etc. I formulate the concept of "economic system" based on the observation of those entities and their actions, but there is no existent "economic system". It is derived from existents, but is not an existent in and of itself.

You are creating a false dichotomy. Either the concept has a direct metaphysical referent (like a tree), or it is created out of thin air. No, you need a refresher on O-ist epistemology, as abstractions can be derived from other abstractions and have no specific referent/existent (eg. economic system, community, political platform, etc etc etc) but are ultimately derived from basic observations of existents.

End of story, Leonid.

Michael

Part II -- Shayne, IP, and Pure Rationalism

Michael Moeller's picture

I know Linz wants the IP arguments moved to another thread, but I think Shayne's arguments here are a prime illustration of how rationalism becomes a necessary tool for intrinsicists. Shayne wrote:

"A person who is attempting to be principled is either going to hold that IP lasts as long as it is not abandoned, such that it can be perpetually inherited or bequeathed, or will hold that IP is not a natural right."

Why should a "principled" advocate of property rights reject IP because of there is no perpetual transfer? Shayne offers no reason, he just asserts it.

What theory of property rights says that perpetual transfer is a sine qua non of the right to property? Not mine. Perhaps Shayne can explain why perpetual transfer is a necessity for something to be considered property. I am certainly curious as to his answer.

Shayne simply observes that real property and personalty can be perpetually transferred, and seeks to reject IP on the basis that perpetual transfer is not a characteristic of IP. This is basic epistemology -- for something to be united under a more general concept, it does not have to exhibit all the same characteristics, just the same essential characteristic. A concept can be united under a more general concept (eg. furniture) without sharing all the same characteristics (eg. table, chair, etc.).

Shayne is treating perpetual transfer as an essential characteristic, but again offers no reason why. If he wants to use this as an argument, he needs to justify it, not simply assert it.

Bottom line: Shayne's problem is one of rationalism. He fails to take account of the fact that different types of property are not the same in all respects, but those differences do not automatically disqualify each type as property. Real property and personal property are not the same in all respects, but that does not mean each is not a valid form of property.

In regards to property, the essentials are the exclusive possession, use, and disposal of the products of one's effort.

Shayne, however, is blissfully unware of the differences between the different types of property. Real property and personalty can have only one possessor (or multiple possessors of the ONE whole), as there is only one whole piece of land or physical object.

By contrast, IP can have multiple possessors. Somebody else reproducing a copy of Atlas Shrugged does not diminish my possession of a copy of Atlas. What it does diminish, however, is Rand's exclusive right to use, possess, and dispose of the product of her effort if it is done without her consent.

Being the product of her mind and effort, does Shayne propose that the copying and distribution of Atlas Shrugged is not Rand's exclusive right and can be done by anybody? If so, does he propose that writings, innovations, etc will continue apace if somebody can merely copy and distribute creations, such as Rand's, with the creator's consent? Do tell, Shayne.

The problem with Shayne's argument is that he is treating IP as if it were the same as real property or personalty. As I just explained, there is only one piece of land or one object in the case of real property or personalty. There is a natural physical exclusion with real property and personalty.

However, there is no natural exclusion to somebody simply copying the formula for my drug, or making a copy of Atlas Shrugged. I cannot physically exercise that exclusion, as I can with real property and personalty.

Thus, a government grant is not the result of "whining" or any other of Shayne's silly assertions, but rather a recognition that there is a difference in the types of property. While both are a product of one's effort, one's exclusive possession, use, and disposal has no natural physical exclusion in re IP (as opposed to real property and personalty) and therefore must be protected with legal grant.

Shayne takes no account for this essential difference. He just moves on to time limitations, observes that IP is unlike real property or personalty, and declares IP rights are invalid because of time limitations. However, time limitations also stem from the nature of the property, and I'll get to that next. But what is important to note here is that Shayne is oblivious to the nature of the different types of property, and thus the reason why IP has different requirements (eg. legal grant and time limitations).

Michael

Michael Moeller

Leonid's picture

Concept of rights indeed is not metaphysically given but what is concept? In Objectivism " concepts “represent classifications of observed existents according to their relationships to other observed existents.” (IOE 97-98) .

"A concept is a mental integration of two or more units which are isolated by a process of abstraction and united by a specific definition" (TRM, 17)

So what existents we observe and what units we integrate in order to create the concept of rights? According to you this concept appears out of the thin air, without any observable, metaphysically given existents. I claim that this concept is an integration of self-evident right of ownership on one's own life observable by introspection. This right is not in DNA but intrinsic part of man's consciousness and self-awareness, like mind and volition. It has nothing to do with intrinsicism in the Objectivist sense, which is a negation of the active role of consciousness and in fact a variant of empiricism. Freedom of action is a derivate of such a right, not its cause. If one doesn't own his life by right, by what right he has freedom to act? To be precise, the moral principle doesn't define rights but their protection.

"Man holds these rights, not from the Collective nor for the Collective, but against the Collective—as a barrier which the Collective cannot cross; . . . these rights are man’s protection against all other men" (Textbook of Americanism,” The Ayn Rand Column, 83. )

That is-this principle has nothing to do with the rights per se, but with society. In Ayn Rand words it is a principle which subordinates society to the moral law. Right to live is the only basic natural right which even Natives of North America possessed together with the most primitive tribes of Africa, long before Locke and Ayn Rand. Evidently these people defended themselves when attacked and murder was a crime already in the Biblical times and even before. The rest of rights-freedom to act in social context, property rights etc... are corollaries. Without natural right the development of political and moral concept of protection of these rights from society would be impossible. There is no doubt that Ayn Rand recognized this fundamental natural self evident right to live as a basis of this moral concept. Let me repeat this small quote from Atlas Shrugged:

"Mr. Thompson

Without me, you couldn’t get out of this room. What I’ve got to offer you is your life.

Galt:- It’s not yours to offer, Mr. Thompson."

How interesting! Mr. Thompson, the Head of State with all his enormous power doesn't own Galt's life! Who does, then? God, society, class, the neighbor next door? From the context of the novel we understand that this is not what Galt means. Evidently he means that his life belongs only to him. If it so, then please tell me, by what right Galt owns his life and why Mr Thompson cannot own Galt's life? If right to live is not intrinsic to each and every man, then it wouldn't make any difference, wouldn't it? But we all know that this is not a case.

I sympathize...

Shayne Wissler's picture

I am impressed that Michael has gone past his initial Peikovian "get out of jail free card" (namely, calling me a "rationalist" and leaving it at that) and is actually seemingly attempting to argue his case.

Unfortunately, he accuses me of stealing the concept "property" and backs it up by begging the question, equivocating, and missing the point:

But the real problem with this argument is that it assumes valid property rights in the second inventor, while trying to deny the same in the first inventor.

Note the equivocation: He uses the term "property rights" here to refer both to patents (the legitimacy of which is precisely what he is trying to argue for, hence he is begging the question), and to ordinary property. He misses the point because he does not recognize that the property of the second inventor that I was referring to was not his alleged "intellectual property", but the real physical property that would be stolen by the first inventor during a patent suit, in time lost, penalties paid, lawyer fees paid, and license fees paid or revenues denied.

Three fallacies in one sentence. What a head-spinningly perfect example of how to reason poorly. Frankly, I am amazed at what he pulled off, but what he pulled off wasn't, in fact, a coherent argument.

But I sympathize with his plight. On the one hand, he thinks he bases his conclusions on reason, and he thinks he can argue for what he believes in. On the other hand, he believes in patents.

Unlike actual natural rights, such as the right to one's self, freedom of travel, property in physical objects, the right to continue using the mediums of water and air, the right to acquire land, the right to create contracts with one's fellow men, the right to justice -- the so-called "right" to patents cannot be rooted in basic principles.

We can make common-sense arguments for the view that (for example) if one man picks up an unclaimed rock and starts to build a house on unclaimed land, that another man who walks up and grabs the rock is interfering and the first man is right to retaliate.

But, if one man thinks of a clever way to build a house, and then starts building it that way, and independently, another clever man builds his own home in the same clever way, then it is impossible to see how the first clever man, having come upon the second clever man and his creation, has any right to demand anything from the second clever man, whether it be proof that he invented his house first, licensing fees and damages, forcibly being dragged into court to account for his cleverness, etc. It is likewise impossible to justify the extent in either time or space to which the first clever man can subject other clever men to his rule. Does it extend to the next town, the next continent, to the entire planet, to aliens on all planets in the universe? Just how far does this megalomaniacal claim to the actual physical works of others go?

Since the patent advocate cannot make principled arguments, he engages in sophistry instead. He accuses his opponent of "rationalism", ironically twisting the meaning of that term in the Objectivist sense. Or he makes sarcastic and anti-intellectual remarks, such as "I guess I can steal your book." Or he appeals to the mob, saying "well, a lot of smart people think patents are A-OK." The one thing he does not appeal to is truth and principles and reality. And so, again, I sympathize with his plight.

"Rights are "constructs." But

Tom Burroughes's picture

"Rights are "constructs." But they're not "artificial." They're "constructed" on reality: the reality of man's consciousness being conceptual and volitional. I suspect the only other person here who truly gets this is Moeller. Whatever, it's terribly, terribly important. For rights to prevail, they must have an intellectually unassailable foundation. Intrinsicism is not only not unassailable, it's lethally assailable."

I agree 100%. The word "artificial" was not the right one for me to use. I think the trouble with that word is that it implies something meretricious, or subjective, or arbitrary. That is not quite how I was trying to argue it through. I guess this is always a reminder of how ruthless clarity in language is crucial.

Michael, interesting thoughts on IP. I am looking forward to Part 2.

Excellent discussion!

Shayne and IP -- Part I

Michael Moeller's picture

Shayne wrote:

""But I thought of it first" like a pouting two-year-old does not create a natural right to someone else's property regardless of what bureaucrat you went and whined to. Ayn Rand never made a case for why someone else should benefit from the independent thinking and work of a second inventor, she simply stated her lack of concern for the second inventor's property rights and that was sum total of her argument. This is not only pragmatic, it's viciously amoral as well."

Well, what about the first inventor's property rights?!? I mean, a drug company can spend hundreds of millions on research, and somebody can come along and usurp the product of that effort by easily reverse engineering the chemicals in a particular drug? There goes innovation, under such a theory.

So what of Shayne's argument that a second inventor may come along and independently invent the same drug? This is a good example of concept-stealing.

Wouldn't a third inventor's independent creation moot the property rights of the second inventor? And the fourth inventor of the third? And so on ad infinitum? The fallacy of infinite regress.

But the real problem with this argument is that it assumes valid property rights in the second inventor, while trying to deny the same in the first inventor.

In other words, if intellectual property was invalid, why would it matter if the second inventor invented the same drug independently, or merely reverse engineered the drug from the first inventor? By this logic, the second inventor's inventive action no more confers property rights than the first inventor's inventive action.

It is clear why anti-IP advocates focus on independent invention and ignore the possibility of simply copying or reversing engineering the efforts of the first inventor. This argument allows the appearance of the second inventor gaining property rights in the same way as the first inventor (i.e. through their own intellectual effort and research), while at the same time trying to deny the same rights to the first inventor.

But again, under a theory that inventive actions do not create any IP, it would not matter whether the second inventor independently invented a device, or simply reverse-engineered or copied it. The theory denies such actions as a valid method of obtaining property rights in the first place. The second inventor, according to the theory of anti-IP advocates, could simply copy the application of ideas of the first inventor and there would be no violation of property rights.

Again, raise your hand if you think usurping the ideas of inventors will promote innovation, and is not a form a theft? And Shayne calls Rand's position "abjectly amoral"? How about the abject immorality of his position!

Time limits, which I will speak about more in a moment, exist because of the fact that somebody could independently create the same invention. But Shayne denies time limits too, as a form of pragmatism.

Anyway, the fact that somebody could independently invent, does not mean somebody will independently invent the same object. The bottom line is that the first inventor should be protected against the usurpation of the product of his efforts, which when it comes to IP can be easily copied or reverse engineered.

At best, independent invention is an argument for vesting a second inventor who can prove independent invention with property rights, most definitely NOT an argument to deny IP rights altogether. As just shown, this argument is clear concept-stealing.

Michael

Intrinsicism Writ Large, Indeed

Michael Moeller's picture

Leonid wrote:

"The right to self-defense based on the right to live, but amount of the retaliatory force which one should use is a legal problem which pertains to the field of morality, that is-justice; this problem is beyond the scope of our discussion. For us it would be sufficient to establish that such a right exists and its foundation is man's right to own his life, that is-right to live."

Yes, the legal problem DOES pertain to the field of morality, and that morality is circumscribed by a theory of rights. As Rand properly stated, rights are moral principles. You are clearly rejecting her formulation by treating them as the metaphysically given. Like all principles, moral principles are not metaphysically given. That should be the end of the discussion, but you are building a whole arbitrary construct to protect the idea that rights are metaphyically given.

Furthermore, your statement treats rights as residing over here in my DNA (nice phrase by Tom), and the legal issues residing over there somewhere to be worked out by lawyers.

No, no, no, sir. Not only are rights the result intellectual innovation over time, but they are also dynamic. You are constantly exercising these principles, which, again, were developed intellectually over time. And like all concepts, they expand to incorporate new factual situations (eg. IP, securities, free speech on the internet, etc etc).

Remember that all rights are a right to action, and are in no way metaphysically given. It may be convenient for you to hand wave away difficult factual circumstances (like IP or securities) where it is not metaphysically given where my rights end and your rights start. But your hand waving does not get around the obvious point that the principles were developed intellectual and over time, i.e NOT metaphysically given.

Let's take property rights as an example. Again, this right to action is dynamic, not somewhere over there to be worked out by lawyers. A broad formulation of property rights is the exclusive right to possess, use, and dispose of the product of one's effort.

When you lock your car or the door to your house, you are exercising exclusivity. When you wear a watch, you are possessing your property. When you drive your car to work, you are using your property. When you buy an item at the store, you are disposing of your property. These rights are dynamic and you are constantly exercising this right to action.

And note, none of these essential aspects are given. These essential aspects of property rights were NOT formulated until the 18th and 19th centuries, and, as a matter of fact, are still in dispute today. As Linz noted, why would we have disagreements and problems formulating the boundaries of property rights if rights were simply metaphysically given? We wouldn't.

As is obvious, the right to exclusively possess, use, and dispose of the products of my efforts was an intellectual theory developed during the Enlightenment. And you can see it manifest at the time. When the Europeans settled in America and began fencing off property and exercising continual use and possession of the land, they ran into huge problems with Native Americans.

The Native Americans really had no concept of exclusive use and possession. Even in the cases of agriculture, they would use the land for a period of time, then abandon it and cultivate a new piece of land. They did not understand property rights as exclusive use, possession, and disposal, and thus would often later try to reclaim the land where Europeans DID exercise their rights in this manner.

Ergo, if property rights are a metaphysical given, why did the Native Americans not understand these basic aspects of property rights and continue to run into conflict with European settlers?

The reason is obvious: they had not intellectually developed a concept of property rights. While both groups were alive and could grasp that fact as self-evident, the nature of rights -- the nature of where their actions infringe upon the rights of others -- was not any sort of given. It was intellectually developed by the Europeans, but not by the Native Americans.

Leonid, you are indeed running amok with intrinsicism, and then using deduction after deduction after deduction to get around the obvious fact that rights are the product of intellectual development and innovation. In short, you haven't gotten out of the philosophical armchair.

Michael

Tom

Michael Moeller's picture

Don't give up on patents so easily:-)

Seriously, though, Shayne's arguments are common arguments against IP. Unfortunately, said arguments are pure rationalism, and I am not saying that just because I am an IP lawyer.

Michael

Irrelevant? Or just pointless?

Shayne Wissler's picture

If people are too stupid to comprehend how "but I thought of it first" is not a legitimate basis for clubbing your neighbor over his head and taking his property, then it's pointless to try to talk about natural rights theory. It's not off topic -- certainly it's germane to the subject of natural rights whether one is created by merely thinking of something -- but indeed, it is pointless, as pointless as trying to explain to a gorilla why calculus is useful, or why righteous indignation at a gross injustice is not the same thing as petulance.

PS: If the culture is too depraved to reward creators for their work, then handing illegitimate powers to government to try to rectify this depravity is not going to improve matters.

Tom

Lindsay Perigo's picture

You're quite right. But I'm not sure you realise it! Eye The application of the principle of rights requires no end of concrete-based "soiling," such as time limits in the (horreurs!) real world (such as would cause intrinsicists like Leonid and Shayne to lay eggs). BUT SO TOO DOES THE DISCOVERY THEREOF. I don't mean to scream, but this must be screamed from the rooftops. The concept of rights comes a posteriori from living. And that's the issue your post raises. DO NOT RESILE FROM IT!

Part of the reason I got bent out of shape earlier was that you appeared to be a drive-by poster with your initial post: post something important and then duck for cover!

Rights are "constructs." But they're not "artificial." They're "constructed" on reality: the reality of man's consciousness being conceptual and volitional. I suspect the only other person here who truly gets this is Moeller. Whatever, it's terribly, terribly important. For rights to prevail, they must have an intellectually unassailable foundation. Intrinsicism is not only not unassailable, it's lethally assailable.

Sorry for going off the track

Tom Burroughes's picture

Lindsay, sorry if you think I got side-tracked. I wanted to mention IP if only to illustrate this problem of when people throw around "nature" as an argument in favour of a particular notion of say, property rights, since this deals with the issue of when people claim that rights are "artificial" or "social constructs" (as collectivists do) rather than "natural". Anyway, I am sure we can continue on another thread.

A shame ...

Lindsay Perigo's picture

... this thread has been sidetracked onto the IP issue when there are already a zillion threads here on that. The starting point originally was the status of rights. Leonid's responses to me are Intrinsicism Writ Large and reveal the very deep problem Objectivist thinkers have not adequately addressed—as does the fact that Leonid is blissfully unaware that intrinsicism is a problem, its manifestation in this instance being his view that the fact of being alive contains ineffably within itself the right to live. I am looking forward to Moeller catching up on all this!

Patents and copyrights are a derivative issue. Shayne and Tom, may I suggest repairing to one of the old threads, or starting a new one?

Oh you are naughty, Gregster!

Tom Burroughes's picture

In fairness to Shayne, I do know of IP opponents who join "open source"-style arrangements, such as "creative commons" licenses and so on, for their works. I think anyone who seriously claims to hate IP in the sort of language that some people use should insist on such arrangements. After all, they would not want to be accused of hypocrisy.

Knowing the difference

Tom Burroughes's picture

Shayne, that sentence was clumsy on my part; I should have said IP rather than patents as I mentioned creative works and inventions in the same line. But give me a bit of respect here; I know the difference between patents and copyright. (And I haven't even mentioned trademarks and trade secrets, two other forms of IP).

And the point about "getting there first" as an objection to patents in the context of the independent invention issue is a point I thought worth picking up on, whether you think I misattributed what you said or not. It is one of the factors that people object to in patents and I actually went to a fair bit of trouble to quote from critics of IP to expand on the point.

Shayne, you are adopting a

Tom Burroughes's picture

Shayne, you are adopting a petulant tone here. It was not just Rand who defended IP, as I said, but plenty of other very serious defenders of the classical liberal, free market tradition. And I do have my problems with IP, so in case you wondered, I am not slavishly trotting out a defence of AR's views, but I gave them as an example of how, when talking about natural rights and what we mean when we say "natural", that this sort of issue arises. Some very smart believers in the free market have defended IP, many of whom were not objectivists or "amoral" or "vicious".

I'll look around..

gregster's picture

.. for a free download of your book Shayne. I'm sure you won't mind?

The moral is the practical

Shayne Wissler's picture

Unlike many of her goofball fans, I actually agree with her that the moral is the practical (and the workable -- so long as amoralists aren't getting in the way), that A is A, and that when you've done a poor job identifying what's what, then it might seem to you that you have to toss morality by the wayside, but really, you're just wrong and are too dishonest to admit it.

A man has a right to think and act independent of other men. Without a prior agreement, he has no moral burden of proving he didn't copy from them. Patents usurp that right. They are obviously immoral according to Ayn Rand's most basic premises. So she was not only being abjectly amoral, she was also being a hypocrite when she wrote that article about patents.

But I know, it's useless to argue this with Objectivists. That's because Ayn Rand eviscerated the movement from any true rational thinkers by her dogmatic insistence that everyone agree to everything she said or to go their own way. So the only people who remained were those who could not or would not think.

Ergo, I should go.

Shayne

gregster's picture

Ayn Rand never made a case for why someone else should benefit from the independent thinking and work of a second inventor, she simply stated her lack of concern for the second inventor's property rights and that was sum total of her argument. This is not only pragmatic, it's viciously amoral as well.

It wasn't about being pragmatic. It is about being practical and workable. So "viciously amoral" is garbage. What about the third to miss patent, and the fourth, and the fifth..?

Tom

Shayne Wissler's picture

Shayne, I had [read you] you carefully.

No, and for the second time in a row. You misattributed something I said about Rand's view on patents to something else I said about temporariness. On top of that you're being obstinate about being corrected.

But it at least makes sense in part now:

Now I appreciate that patents are different in that we are talking about inventions and creative works like books and music, not physical stuff.

Please learn the difference between patents and copyrights before engaging in public debate about them.

I'm going back to lurk mode now, don't have time for this nonsense. Ciao.

Getting their first

Tom Burroughes's picture

Shayne, I had you carefully. And just because I don't see patents as a "tyranny" does not mean I am wrong in how I think. We disagree.

Let's focus on this issue of "getting there first". You object to patents in general - fair enough - and a lot of people dislike the idea that a person who successfully gets a patent on an idea X first ahead of someone else gets the whole shebang. But consider this point about physical property: if a person homesteads a piece of previously unowned land, say (think of the sort of John Locke/Rothbard et al type arguments), he or she is the first to do so, and so, according to many defences of "initial appropriation" I have read, this person gets the property as a result.

Now I appreciate that patents are different in that we are talking about inventions and creative works like books and music, not physical stuff. But consider the issue a bit more: a person gets a 20-year patent on an invention for being first. A person homesteads a 1,000 acre chunk of land for getting it first, and there is no time-limit in how long the government will protect the ability of the landowner to hold it, and of course bequeath it, transfer it, etc. But the patent runs out after a couple of decades, under current laws. If a first-to-homestead rule is okay for physical land and that land, thus acquired, can be held in perpetuity, why are people so irate about a first-to-patent rule when that patent runs out pretty soon, particularly if independent inventors could do their stuff without having to prove their independence unless challenged?

One of the benefits of patents, some say, is that by propertizing inventions, it means inventors can then sell them and a market is created. Patents are also a record; without IP, arguably, people would instead keep ideas as secret as possible to frustrate competitors, and it is folly to think this would not pose different types of problems.

On the independent inventor issue, I like this point by Michelle Boldrin and David Levine in their book, Against Intellectual Monopoly, page 249-250:

"Also of great significance is the proposal of Gallini and Scotmer to allow the independent invention defense to patent claims. That is, they would allow proof that an invention was independently derived and not obtained directly or indirectly as a consequence of a similar invention that was patented first as a defense against patent infringement...That would not only relief the innovator from concern that in his ignorance he would run afoul of some existing patent but also make it substantially more difficult to engage in submarine warfare, as the inventor who is torpedoed by the submarine could argue, and prove, that the invention was independent. This reform, alone, would be of great social value and would enormously reduce the burden of intellectual monopoly. As we have illustrated repeatedly, simultaneous or independent inventins are almost the rule, rather than the exception......"

My reading level....

Ross Elliot's picture

...aside, what's your point?

I'm sure I'll understand. I'll try. I really will.

Reading comprehension...

Shayne Wissler's picture

Rights that don't interfere? Rights that do?

No. How old are you? You have the reading comprehension of a 5-year-old, but your attitude doesn't quite match that age.

Speaking of embolisms, it appears as if he's already had one or more in the past.

Bullshit

Ross Elliot's picture

'those actions that interfere with the non-interfering actions of others, and those that do not. The latter I designate as "natural rights," "

C'mon, get a grip.

Rights that don't interfere? Rights that do? It doesn't matter either way. As soon as you come into contact with another, you need to define the ground rules. That's where rights originate. Who cares if what you do doesn't interfere with me? Answer: no fucker.

The only definition of "natural" in relation to "rights" that I subscribe to is that which enables the life of the individual *within* society.

Christ, I feel an embolism coming on. And I'm not sure I don't welcome it.

Tom: Please read more carefully

Shayne Wissler's picture

As to the idea that the temporariness of IP, for the reasons I have given, is "viciously" amoral, I disagree.

Please read more carefully. I never said that the temporariness was viciously immoral, what I said was that Ayn Rand's support of the stripping of a second inventor's property away because someone whined "but I thought of it first" was viciously amoral. It was a viciously amoral attitude on her part and a reprehensible bit of writing on her part.

There is nothing complicated to be "circumspect" about here; patents are a black and white issue. The obvious fact is that the second inventor used his mind independently, he therefore earns the right to the property that is created therefrom. The fact that he has thought independently does not earn the burden which in principle is to be paid to every man in the universe for something he didn't steal in the first place just because he happened to think of something second, nor does he owe the burden of sifting through thousands of patents to find out what the self-entitled whiners thought they thought of first.

Regarding the "solution" of putting the burden of proof on the second inventor to prove that he didn't "steal", that clearly violates the innocent until proven guilty principle and is a non-starter. Indeed, the very notion of patents violates the burden of proof principle, since no one has ever proven that the second inventor owes anything whatsoever to the first known inventor (actually, the first known filer with bureaucrats).

Patents are obviously a tyranny, and if a thinker can't figure that out, something is wrong with the way they think.

Shayne, I know my example was

Tom Burroughes's picture

Shayne, I know my example was a theoretical one, so the points about third parties are good ones, hence why I said such contracts, in reality, would be hard to enforce in any event. But the point I was making was that in theory, the idea of such a contract was not, as such, some sort of outrageous piece of "pragmatism". I am well aware of the "independent inventor" objection to patents; in my view, a very straightforward solution has been provided by Boldrin and Levine in their book, Against Intellectual Monopoly, in which they argue that claims of independent invention should be allowed in cases where a person credibly claims he invented X independently of a second person, and so on. Patents are, for various reasons in my view, the least credible of IP forms and I see the force of getting rid of them or substantially weakening protection of said both on grounds of justice and for economically utilitarian grounds.

As for the supposed arbitrariness of a government refusing to protect property rights beyond a specified period, the whole point is that it is understood that given the nature of what IP is, and why it exists, it is permissable, so the argument goes, to time-limit government protection of said, for reasons very different from the right of a person, say, to go about his or her life unmolested from murderers and thieves of his or her physical property. The time-limit issue plays on the view that IP is unusual, as it involves a person creating something new and special (like a work of art or whatever), that sooner or later might have been created by someone else (unlike ownership of a piece of land or a car, which is a excludable good), but during a period of time when that independent invention/creation does not occur, the owner of said has a property right over it.

As to the idea that the temporariness of IP, for the reasons I have given, is "viciously" amoral, I disagree. The whole point of this thread is that, as we can see from the disagreements here between some on this board, it is one thing for a person to state that "X is a natural right", and then quite another to be able to reason it all in the fine particulars of certain cases and do so consistently. And I think you will find there are plenty of Objectivists, or even those not quite so close to Rand's body of thought, who think it is "viciously amoral", for example, for a person to copy another's creative work and then sell it without the slightest pang of bad conscience of doing anything wrong. This is a complex issue, which is why I tend to be pretty circumspect in making harsh judgements on it one way or the other.

Tom

Shayne Wissler's picture

consider if it would be possible, under a purely contractarian system of privately enforced law, for persons to agree on binding contracts under which, say, I could not re-sell a book to someone else without first paying a small fee to the original seller until a time period had elapsed.

It's true that you could make such a contract, but you could not bind third parties to it. Even if you could, I still wouldn't see what you think this has to do with the subject.

So in that sense, there is nothing "abjectly pragmatic" about a person agreeing to a time-limited intellectual property form.

Again, this seems like a non-sequitur. This is not about someone agreeing to time-limitation on their alleged "property rights"; it's about government refusing anyone protection beyond a certain point and it's about Ayn Rand standing behind the government's refusal to defend these alleged "property rights."

Do you think if you lived past a certain age, where your self-defense requirements were deemed too onerous, that the government should then stop protecting you from thieves? This is precisely your line of reasoning. Either the government should protect your rights or it shouldn't; it shouldn't make some pragmatic cost calculation and refuse to defend your rights because the average person deems your rights not worth it.

this is a perfectly coherent extension the right of Man, in accordance with his nature, to propertise the things he creates for a certain period of time

This is a different subject from the one I raised, but the key problem with patents is that it makes property of another person's creations. "But I thought of it first" like a pouting two-year-old does not create a natural right to someone else's property regardless of what bureaucrat you went and whined to. Ayn Rand never made a case for why someone else should benefit from the independent thinking and work of a second inventor, she simply stated her lack of concern for the second inventor's property rights and that was sum total of her argument. This is not only pragmatic, it's viciously amoral as well.

Lindsay

Leonid's picture

Life is precondition of any choice. Precondition of man's life qua man is self-awareness. By means of introspection man knows that he is alive, conscious, has volition and his life is his own, belongs to him by the virtue of been alive.He knows that he lives not by permission but by right. Man knew this long before he even attempted to construct any moral theories. That why murder was a punishable crime even in the most primitive, prehistoric societies. That why man knows he has right to defend himself and usually does so, no matter what kind of moral philosophy he upholds. Even Islamogoblinist or Christian fundamentalist would fight against those who attempt to kill him or to rob him of his property. This means that awareness of right to live is a natural part of human consciousness. Man knows that life is good, belongs to him and nobody has right to take it away. Even the worst murderer, a dictator who killed millions knows how to appreciate his own life. The awareness of right to live is invariant, independed of any philosophical or moral system, this is a natural right.
You use the word intrinsicism almost as a derogatory term. But dictionary defines intrinsic as " belonging to the essential nature or constitution of a thing " ( Merriam-Webster). In this sense even according to what you've said so far, human rights are intrinsic, they belong to the essential nature of man.

In the article " Introducing Objectivism " Ayn Rand wrote:

"America's political philosophy was based on man's right to his own life...which means : on man's right to exist for his own sake."(The Voice of Reason, pg 4)

Observe that she never said that political philosophy defines right, she said it based on rights. That alone would indicate that AR considered right as a precondition to the proper political philosophy, not other way around as you presented it. Rights exist naturally not like rocks or limbs, but rather like mind and volition, they are not metaphysical entities or imperatives but faculty of man's self-awareness. If this is intrinsicism, then so is consciousness, mind and volition.

" I agree there are no other objective standards available. But that doesn't mean life automatically is the standard of value. We have to choose it. That choice is not an intrinsic, inexorable metaphysical given."

This is true, but the people who choose anti-life morality commit the fallacy of evasion. Suicide bombers aside, even they cannot completely defeat their implicit knowledge of the right to live. They live by mixed premises and often by double standards. Altruists think that they don't have right to live but all others do and criminals think that only they have such a right. Both live in contradiction and eventually their life doesn't befit man, it's miserable and not sustainable in the long run. That why in the Peikoff's statement " A right is a prerogative that cannot be morally infringed or alienated." the word " morally" is redundant. One cannot violate rights with impunity as one cannot violate with impunity any natural law. Such a violation would render his own rights unprotected, and his life vulnerable, short and brutish.

I am not sure that Rand's use

Tom Burroughes's picture

I am not sure that Rand's use of time-frames (patents get 20 years, copyright gets 70, etc) is "abjectly pragmatic", for consider if it would be possible, under a purely contractarian system of privately enforced law, for persons to agree on binding contracts under which, say, I could not re-sell a book to someone else without first paying a small fee to the original seller until a time period had elapsed.

Now such contracts might be very hard to enforce, and as we know, enforcement of IP is often hard, so much so that the cost of it is a major reason why some free marketeers want to reform or remove the system as it stands. But in principle at least, there is no reason why such an agreement, between consenting parties, could not be made. So in that sense, there is nothing "abjectly pragmatic" about a person agreeing to a time-limited intellectual property form.

The anarcho capitalist and libertarian, Lysander Spooner, did actually defend IP as something that could hold until abandonment; there are other objectivists that I know of, as the legal arbitrator and scholar Bryan Niblett, who have defended IP on more constrained grounds and argued that this is a perfectly coherent extension the right of Man, in accordance with his nature, to propertise the things he creates for a certain period of time. I find this a fiendishly difficult subject to get absolutely clear about, but I am not sure that I can share your view that Rand got this wrong, at least not without thinking through it a lot more.

Leonid

Lindsay Perigo's picture

Life IS standard of value and this IS a tablet in stone simply because there are no other objective standards available.

Here I think we're at the nub of it. I agree there are no other objective standards available. But that doesn't mean life automatically is the standard of value. We have to choose it. That choice is not an intrinsic, inexorable metaphysical given. And so it is with rights, which flow (are derived from) life as the standard of value. They are required by our nature but not in our nature. They are metaphysical imperatives, not metaphysical entities. They do not come into being because of a commandment from a mountaintop but because humans have, after painful millennia, recognised that if—if—they are to live as humans (as opposed to, say, Islamogoblins), they must be free to live by their own judgment (and not free to prevent others from doing so). But saying we must be free doesn't mean we will be free. Rights are an "ought," not an "is."

Re "inalienable," I note Peikoff's wording in OPAR:

A right is a prerogative that cannot be morally infringed or alienated. Factually, criminals are possible; innocent men can be robbed or enslaved. In such cases, however, the victim's rights are still inalienable: the right remains on the side of the victim; the criminal is wrong.

Which is my "may not be violated with moral impunity" with one important distinction: Leonard says "cannot" instead of "may not." And he's right. It's impossible, not merely impermissible, to violate rights with moral impunity. My version was a redundancy: it's impermissible to do the impermissible. I should have said, "may not be violated" and stopped right there.

Now, as long as we understand "inalienable" to mean this, "cannot be infringed with moral impunity," then I'm fine with it. But of course it's actually understood as precisely the rights-are-entities-that-already-exist-ready-formed, tablet-of-stone intrinsicism that Leonard openly avows. And the problem with that is, it's so clearly a fiction, "nonsense on stilts," by means of which we surrender the argument to the subjectivists (who are, of course, merely variants of the intrinsicists).

Rand on IP

Shayne Wissler's picture

I have yet to hear an Objectivist defense of IP. Rand's "argument" is abjectly pragmatic given its arbitrary time frames based on nothing but hand-waving, and certainly doesn't qualify as a principled Objectivist argument.

A person who is attempting to be principled is either going to hold that IP lasts as long as it is not abandoned, such that it can be perpetually inherited or bequeathed, or will hold that IP is not a natural right.

Re: copyrights

Leonid's picture

If you create an intellectual property-a book, a song, a movie etc...would you consider it as yours? If so, then by what right? To know that you are the rightful owner do you really need such a concept as copyright, or you assert the ownership on this property simply by the natural right of creation? I think that the first man who invented the first wheel knew that this invention is rightfully his. This knowledge is the only basis for the concepts as copyrights, patents, trademarks etc...these concepts don't create the rights of inventors but protect them. This is the meaning of rights in the social context-protection of natural rights. But if there are no natural rights, if your property and your very life is not rightfully yours, then there is nothing to protect, your copyrights become arbitrary constructions, they don't pertain to any metaphysical reality and could be granted or revoked any time. Evidently this is not a case. Even if your copyrights or patents expired, that is-became unprotected public domain, you know that your book, song, formula or symphony is yours by the natural right.

Intellectual innovation

Tom Burroughes's picture

I should have commented earlier, but that is a great point about intellectual innovation, Michael.

And that leads me to this point: As many of us know, Rand was a defender of intellectual property rights (patents, copyright, trademarks and so on). This is a good example of how it can be dangerous to make the assertion that "rights" are embedded in our nature like our DNA. IP does not exist in nature, like trees or rocks or human limbs. People had to think about the concept of "copyright" and "patent" and "trademark"; and as we know from how even fiercely pro-free market people argue about IP, it is a controversial subject in some quarters. Some people (like Timothy Sandefur, whom I quoted) say that because IP is not a "natural right" (due to such supposedly "artificial" things like time-limits. And yet a right's artificiality need not be fatal to it. For Man is a creature who can fashion concepts such as rights. And the IP example is a perfect example of this sort of issue, in my view.

Lindsay

Leonid's picture

"If life is the standard of value—the life of man qua man—then certain things are required, including a concept (and its implementation) identifying and ratifying each individual's capacity for autonomy, which we observe, as Shayne quite correctly notes, empirically. If! This is not a tablet in stone."

Life IS standard of value and this IS a tablet in stone simply because there are no other objective standards available. Only living being faces the alternative between life and death and needs values to support his life. That why the right to live, the right to pursue goals and obtain values is unconditional, non-transferable ( inalienable) and natural. The failure to recognize this basic intrinsic fact of nature and to conceptualize it as a moral law, the moral conditionality or relativism makes the life "brief, unpleasant and unfree indeed."-as it happened throughout the human history and as it's happening today. The human choices evidently aren't metaphysically given, but the consequences of these choices are.

Metaphysical and ethical intrinsicism

Leonid's picture

In ethics intrinsicism means that an entity is an end and value in itself, divorced from the valuer. This is obviously wrong. Ayn Rand first question would be " Value for whom and for what?" But in metaphysics it would mean that entity is what it is, and exists independently of any judgement or valuation. This is a premise of primacy of existence and Law of Identity-Objectivist axiomatics. So Objectivism is based on the metaphysical intrinsicism. I cannot see any epistemic error in this.

Objectivism & intrinsicism

Shayne Wissler's picture

Objectivism rejects ethical, not metaphysical intrinsicism.

Primarily what Objectivism attempts to reject is intrinsicism as a method for reaching any conclusion, it's an epistemological concept not a metaphysical one.

Unfortunately I don't think Objectivism quite pulls it off; there is still intrinsicism in Rand's method. Presumably no one would argue with the fact that intrinsicism has been rampant among Objectivists. Peikoff admits this in his UO course, I'd go a small step further and suggest that this isn't accident; it's due to errors in Rand's epistemology. I won't make the case for that here.

Rand and Mises and Austrians and Intrincisism

Jmaurone's picture

If anyone's interested...I haven't read this yet, but plan to, just having finished Human Action.

Subjectivism, Intrinsicism, and Apriorism: Rand Among the Austrians?
by Richard C. B. Johnsson

Right.

Leonid's picture

Right. Objectivism rejects ethical, not metaphysical intrinsicism. We discuss here the metaphysics of rights. It's not the same. Man owns his life simply by the virtue of been born. His life belongs only to him as his birthright. This is a natural state. Metaphysically man has right to live because he's already alive. The moral concept of rights, however, could be good if it based on the recognition of this objective reality, or bad if it isn't. This is the meaning of AR words you quoted: "If a man believes that the good is intrinsic in certain actions, he will not hesitate to force others to perform them". This is true. Life is end in itself, intrinsically good and this is the reason we use force to protect right to live.

Let's Check

Jmaurone's picture

Linz: "Objectivism rejects intrinsicism, last time I checked."

Leonid: "Check again. Anybody who is familiar with " Fountainhead" and " Atlas Shrugged" knows that Objectivism rejects the notion of second-handiness, a situation in which man voluntary forfeits the ownership on his own life and lives trough the others. Such an ownership is a recognition of the metaphysically given fact that man's life belongs to him by inalienable right. This right is inalienable because one cannot take it away without to kill the owner. So inalienability is not a protection against killers. Objectivist rejection of altruism is also based on the premise that man's life belongs only to him as his birthright. So Objectivism supports metaphysical intrinsicism of right to live. Such a right in Objectivism is unconditional, part of the human nature, metaphysically given."

Rand:
"There are, in essence, three schools of thought on the nature of the good: the intrinsic, the subjective, and the objective. The intrinsic theory holds that the good is inherent in certain things or actions as such, regardless of their context and consequences, regardless of any benefit or injury they may cause to the actors and subjects involved. It is a theory that divorces the concept of 'good' from beneficiaries, and the concept of 'value' from valuer and purpose—claiming that the good is good in, by, and of itself."

Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal

“What Is Capitalism?”
Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, 21

The intrinsic theory holds that the good resides in some sort of reality, independent of man’s consciousness.

Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal

“What Is Capitalism?”
Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, 22

If a man believes that the good is intrinsic in certain actions, he will not hesitate to force others to perform them. If he believes that the human benefit or injury caused by such actions is of no significance, he will regard a sea of blood as of no significance. If he believes that the beneficiaries of such actions are irrelevant (or interchangeable), he will regard wholesale slaughter as his moral duty in the service of a “higher” good. It is the intrinsic theory of values that produces a Robespierre, a Lenin, a Stalin, or a Hitler. It is not an accident that Eichmann was a Kantian.

Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal

“What Is Capitalism?”
Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, 22

http://wiki.objectivismonline....

Rights as nonsense on stilts

Shayne Wissler's picture

If one thinks of rights only as a moral principle (the genus in Rand's definition), then rights are a belief, and therefore exist only in your head. They are a thought, an idea, not an existent. So it is indeed "nonsense on stilts" for someone who only means what Rand means by the word "right" to claim "I have inalienable rights." No, in fact what you have is a belief, nothing more nor less. The belief may well be true, and you can indeed be said to "have" your belief, but to propound that this belief is "inalienable" is pure poetry and pure gibberish.

If you restrict yourself only to sense 3 (rights as moral principle), then whenever you say "I have a right", you are merely saying "I have a belief," and it sounds very much like a religious testimony.

But if you accept sense 1, then when you say "I have a right" you are saying "I have a capacity for non-interfering action" and "your interfering action is a crime against me." You are saying that rights in this sense are part of man's nature, and not merely an idea you have chosen to believe (however consistent that idea is with man's nature is beside my point).

And no, this definition of rights does not by itself make a case for what kinds of actions should be regarded as rights and what kinds should be regarded as crimes. It doesn't apply itself automatically to decide who is guilty of a crime. It is a definition, not an argument.

Lindsay

Leonid's picture

"Objectivism rejects intrinsicism, last time I checked."

Check again. Anybody who is familiar with " Fountainhead" and " Atlas Shrugged" knows that Objectivism rejects the notion of second-handiness, a situation in which man voluntary forfeits the ownership on his own life and lives trough the others. Such an ownership is a recognition of the metaphysically given fact that man's life belongs to him by inalienable right. This right is inalienable because one cannot take it away without to kill the owner. So inalienability is not a protection against killers. Objectivist rejection of altruism is also based on the premise that man's life belongs only to him as his birthright. So Objectivism supports metaphysical intrinsicism of right to live. Such a right in Objectivism is unconditional, part of the human nature, metaphysically given.

"
The source of man’s rights is not divine law or congressional law, but the law of identity. A is A—and Man is Man...Rights are conditions of existence required by man’s nature for his proper survival." (GS) .

Condition of existence is a metaphysical term. We need to recognize such a condition trough the process of conceptualization and present it as a moral concept of rights. Without it life really would be short and miserable, inalienable rights notwithstanding. So Objectivism recognizes rights both on metaphysical and political level.

"A “right” is a moral principle defining and sanctioning a man’s freedom of action in a social context... Individual rights are the means of subordinating society to moral law." ( VOS 92-93)

It is clear that if man doesn't possesses his life by intrinsic right then freedom of action would be meaningless. As everything else in Objectivism, morality of rights based on their metaphysics and epistemology.

What Objectivism rejects is a moral intrinsicism, the notion that a value could be divorced from the valuer, the value which is an end in itself. Such a notion obviously couldn't be applicable to life which is end in itself, but cannot be divorced from the valuer-that is, a living being.

So Objectivism in regard to rights supports metaphysical intrinsicism and rejects ethical intrinsicism . I understand your difficulty to distinguish between them. Your obsession with Islam is obviously doesn't help. Nothing of what we discussed so far has to do with Islam or appeasement of it. If you are still itching to discuss this issue, why not to start another thread? To me it's boring. However you are right in one sense-your and Peikoff's proposals in this regard and their implementation at least in spirit by the certain Muslim, Barak Hussein Obama shows that since the time of Founding Fathers there is a huge decline in the attempt " to secure these rights"

http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/po...

http://usawatchdog.com/nationa...

Leonid

Lindsay Perigo's picture

If you don't own your life, then mind, volition and freedom of action in the social context become meaningless. Rights designate your ownership on your life and if life is a supreme value, a standard of all values, then your right to live is intrinsic and inalienable as your life itself.

This is nonsense on stilts, and is exactly what enabled Bentham to say rights were nonsense on stilts. An intrinsicist view of rights is nonsense on stilts. Objectivism rejects intrinsicism, last time I checked.

To say "your right to live is intrinsic and inalienable as your life itself" is nonsense on mega-stilts. Your life itself is neither intrinsic (whatever that might mean) nor inalienable. It simply is. Without a concept of rights and its implementation—and concepts also are neither intrinsic nor inalienable—your life might be very very brief, unpleasant and unfree indeed. "Nasty, solitary, brutish and short," probably. By contrast, as I observed earlier, if our rights were truly inalienable, we wouldn't have to worry, would we?!

But there is a ray of progress in your formulation. The word "if." This may indeed be the key to resolution here. Intrinsicist and rationalist Objectivists morbidly overlook conditionality. They don't like it because it doesn't satisfy their mystical wish for a priori absolutes. If life is the standard of value—the life of man qua man—then certain things are required, including a concept (and its implementation) identifying and ratifying each individual's capacity for autonomy, which we observe, as Shayne quite correctly notes, empirically. If! This is not a tablet in stone. It's an idea we must embrace and effect by choice after the event, so to speak. That's the reality.

One instructive aspect of this discussion, Leonid: your intrinsicist view of rights explains your inability to comprehend the correctness of Peikoff's contextualist view of the Mosque, and your appeasement of Islamofilth generally.

Michael

Leonid's picture

Yes, complex property rights are not self-evident. What is self-evident is right to live which is a foundation of all other rights. Rights pertain to the genus of ownership, that is-right to live means that man owns his life as quote from AS highlights. If your life belongs to you, then by what right? Is this right given to you or you possess it simply by the virtue of been alive? If you own your life by right, then this right is inalienable. If you don't own your life, then mind, volition and freedom of action in the social context become meaningless. Rights designate your ownership on your life and if life is a supreme value, a standard of all values, then your right to live is intrinsic and inalienable as your life itself. The meaning of " inalienable" is "That cannot be transferred to another or others: inalienable rights." ( American Heritage, Merriam-Webster). Contrary to Linz, that doesn't mean that they cannot be violated. One can violate man's right to live, to infringe, to curb it or even to take the life itself away, but one cannot own somebody else life, even of the slave. As long as man is alive, he owns his life by right. The right to self-defense based on the right to live, but amount of the retaliatory force which one should use is a legal problem which pertains to the field of morality, that is-justice; this problem is beyond the scope of our discussion. For us it would be sufficient to establish that such a right exists and its foundation is man's right to own his life, that is-right to live.

Linz

Shayne Wissler's picture

Thanks for the welcome!

All I meant to convey is that the principle and prerogative are eternally true, and since rights in these two senses do not exist except in the mind (rights in these senses are indeed not metaphysical), they cannot be alienated. I don't think it is "incoherent" when viewed from the proper perspective, but yes it is poetry. In other words, it is not incoherent to say that the law of gravity is invoilable; likewise, it isn't incoherent to say that rights (understood in the sense of being an eternally true principle) are invoilable. But in my sense 1, they indeed can be violated.

Yours would appear to be that because we act we have a right to act (non-interferingly), that because our actions are "natural" and "metaphysical" (actually, they're not metaphysical, when you think about it, since they're the result of choice) so too is our right to perform the actions. Have I got that right?

No. I start with the field of all human action (potential or actual). This is an empirical process in principle. Look at every possible human action, and divide them into two categories: those actions that interfere with the non-interfering actions of others, and those that do not. The latter I designate as "natural rights," the former as "natural crimes." This is what I mean by "primary sense of rights" or "sense 1". The genus of these are action, so by my definition, rights exist (or they potentially exist), which is what I mean when I say that rights are metaphysical.

Note that this is my definition. You can claim that rights in your sense of the term do not exist, and I would agree, but I don't think you can say that they do not exist in my sense. One can argue (wrongly in my opinion) that one ought not mean what I mean by sense 1, that one must only mean sense 3 (Rand's sense, which I accept as a legitimate sense but not the primary sense), but one cannot say that rights in my sense are not metaphysical.

Shayne

Lindsay Perigo's picture

Hello stranger! Welcome back.

You say:

it was always wrong for your rights [sense 1] to be alienated; no power in the universe can override the prerogative and the principle of individual rights.

But it can, you see, and often does, which is why this discussion is needed. A principle is not some ineffable a priori thing that resides in us blissfully unaffected by external events such as incarceration or execution. The requirement that we be free is, but not the principle that recognises and gives effect to that requirement. The requirement that we be free is not the same as the right to be free—it's what prompts us to form the concept of that right. The requirement is metaphysical, the concept epistemological/ethical/political. Thus to speak of "inalienable rights" is incoherent.

A recurring synonym for "inalienable" in all the dictionaries is "inviolable"—incapable of being violated. If that were literally true we wouldn't have to worry, since the violation of rights would be impossible. I suppose what's meant is that even when our rights are violated, we're still not alienated from them. But that's not strictly true either. We are not alienated from the requirement to be free, but we are most certainly alienated from its recognition and implementation. That's why I've suggested dropping "inalienable" or defining it as "may not be violated with moral impunity." It's also why I have no problem with the term "natural rights" since the noun part of that term is derived from the adjective part, our natures. But we have to get away from the idea that rights are untouchable things planted inside us.

That's my position thus far. Yours would appear to be that because we act we have a right to act (non-interferingly), that because our actions are "natural" and "metaphysical" (actually, they're not metaphysical, when you think about it, since they're the result of choice) so too is our right to perform the actions. Have I got that right?

The primary sense of rights is metaphysical

Shayne Wissler's picture

Michael,

If you notice I gave you 3 different senses of the word "right." If you look at a dictionary you can find ~60 more. There is no one intrinsic meaning of that word. (But one can talk about which sense is more fundamental than another.)

"My simple point was to illustrate concrete circumstances as to why that is not the case."

The sense in which you use the word "right" may well not be metaphysical. If you are like Rand then you use sense 3 exclusively. I'm more flexible; depending on the context, a word may mean one thing or another and there is no contradiction. (I'm less flexible about which is the most important and fundamental sense of the term).

Shayne

Michael Moeller's picture

Sorry for the misspelling of your name.

The subject of your post was "Why Rights Are Natural and Metaphysical". My simple point was to illustrate concrete circumstances as to why that is not the case.

The principles, in both circumstances, used to define the contours of rights and potential rights violations are conceptual. There is nothing "natural" or "metaphysical" about the answers. As you admit, one has to reason to find the answers, which is a conceptual task. That is, the question of rights in those contexts is one of epistemology, not of metaphysics.

Michael

Michael

Shayne Wissler's picture

I don't know if your "Shane" post was directed at me (my name is Shayne), but regarding your statement "but nowhere is he given what type of actions will constitute a rights violation in a social context", I never said nor implied otherwise.

Neither did I say nor did I imply that discerning whether human actions are rights is always obvious, nor did I say nor imply that it might not require a careful and possibly difficult analysis of the context. On the contrary, sometimes it is quite difficult and entails a sophisticated reasoning process.

So perhaps you weren't responding to me, if not, my apologies.

Shane

Michael Moeller's picture

Indeed, man has the capacity for self-directed action, but nowhere is he given what type of actions will constitute a rights violation in a social context. These have to be reasoned out with concepts and principles. Man does not have this type of innate conceptual knowledge.

Let me give you a couple of examples.

Say that I have a vacation property that keeps get burglarized. I decide to set up a spring-gun on one of the windows so that it will fire when somebody opens it. I find out that a burglar opened said window and it blew off his arm. I am now being sued by him for the intentional tort of battery and being criminally charged with battery.

Whether this is a violation of his rights -- i.e. my alleged use of excessive force -- is "metaphysically given"? I think not. Whether I have used excessive force is reasoned from principles about the use of force in response to the initiation of force. That's why we go to court and argue based on the legal principles involved, as they are not "metaphysically given".

Or say that I have a contract with Acme to deliver Widget X, and I will deliver payment upon receipt of the goods. The goods are destroyed in a truck accident by a third party carrier, and now Acme is suing me for payment and I refuse to pay. You mean to tell me that it is "metaphysically given" whether I have violated his rights by non-payment?

Um, ok.

Michael

Leonid

Michael Moeller's picture

You wrote:

"Epistemologically rights are self-evident and observed by simple introspection-I live by right because I'm alive and my life belongs to me as my birthright."

Rights are "self-evident"? Huh?

Think of a complex property right like a security interest, you know the contours of a security interest simply by "introspection"? You mean to tell me you know the order in which creditors will get paid simply by "introspection"? Of course not! Security interests as a type of property right certainly were not "self-evident" to primitive tribal societies!!

Security interests did not even exist for almost all of human history, but were a financial tool later used to give a creditor backing on a loan. No primitive tribal society could even conceive of this right, let alone did it come to them by "introspection". That's just plain absurd.

Again, we agree to the extent that man's capacity to reason and for action is metaphysically given. But how this action plays out in a social context is a matter for concept formation. (eg. Can I use force against another? What if I am being attacked? How much force can I use if somebody is breaking into my house while I am home? What type of force could I use as a booby-trap against somebody breaking into my home? And on and on and on). As Rand rightly stated, rights are moral principles, and one forms these principles with conceptual identification.

The various concepts for protecting individual rights are written down as concepts, as embodied in any valid statute that you read. Statutes protecting individual rights did not spring forth from the foam like Aphrodite. Concepts and principles are NOT metaphysically given, if that is not obvious enough already.

Really, I think this is at an impasse because the fact that concepts/principles are not metaphysically given is plain as day to me, which explains why it took so much intellectual innovation to come to political system of individual rights and why for almost all of human history these concepts were not laid out.

And, once more, this does not equate to the government giving them by "permission". If an proper law, an objective law, protects man's freedom of action, there is NO "permission". "Permission" and freedom of action are mutually exclusive in that context.

Michael

Why natural rights are natural and metaphysical

Shayne Wissler's picture

I joined today to remark on this topic because it is one I have spent a lot of time thinking and writing about. I have had hit and miss success in actually convincing Objectivists of my theory of rights, but I thought I'd offer my ideas in case anyone might be interested:

My basic idea for grounding rights in the empirical is simple: rights exist and are natural, because they are human action. The substance of a "right" is a human doing something: thinking, breathing, talking, working. To say "it is my right to speak my mind" is to say that "speaking my mind is a right" which is to say that a right is a kind of human action, that it exists and is natural.

Also, while I regard rights as human action to be the fundamental sense of the term, I recognize other senses as well (note: a common dictionary has something like 60 different senses). There are three primary senses on my view:

Sense 1: A right is a human action that does not interfere with the non-interfering actions of another. (This is the sense above).

Sense 2: A right is a moral prerogative to take any action but those that interfere with the rights [sense 1] of another.

Sense 3: A "right" is a moral principle defining and sanctioning a man’s freedom of action.

With all three senses, one might logically say: One has a right [second sense] to exercise his rights [first sense] because of the principles of rights [sense 3]. Reducing these through their genus: One has a prerogative to exercise certain actions because of certain principles. Or: principles assign the prerogative to take certain actions. Which is to say that: rights assign the right to rights -- a confusing statement if you don't know what sense is meant at each place in the sentence, but perfectly clear if you do see each sense.

In my book, "For Individual Rights", I had wanted to emphasize very strictly and as the highest possible priority the "first sense" of rights, namely that they refer to human action. Why? Because this is heart of our existence. We are our actions, we are nothing less, and nothing more. And I think that's a fine reason to put this sense of right on the pedestal. In the book, I do not explicitly identify or define sense 3 above, but I certainly explicate the principles that lead to the prerogative to take actions that do not interfere with others.

A remark regarding "inalienable rights". In sense 1 of rights, yes, they are alienable, because your life is alienable. Once you are dead, your action no longer exists, ergo no potential for action exists either. However, in sense 2 & 3, they are not alienable -- it was always wrong for your rights [sense 1] to be alienated; no power in the universe can override the prerogative and the principle of individual rights.

Yes it would

Ross Elliot's picture

"Ross, would a cigar clinch the deal?"

But it would have to be excessively large. I draw deeply and I doubt you could deliver. Although an eight inch Cuban may suffice.

Ladies, be in no doubt, I hold all of you in the highest regard.

I'm very uncomfortable....

Ross Elliot's picture

...with this:

"Ross and Tom, I wronged you both, and I unreservedly withdraw and apologise. I was a prize jerk and a major moron. "

I accept Lindsay's apology and his offer of $10,000 reparation, but I think I would rather still enjoy an irrational slug fest. It's not in my nature to repose so quietly. I feel somehow robbed.

Whose this life is, anyway?

Leonid's picture

Concept of rights is man-made as all other concepts, it belongs to the field of morality. But rights themselves are part of metaphysically given human nature. Mind and volition are not ends in themselves-they are tools to sustain man's life. If right to live is not intrinsic then mind and volition have no value whatsoever. This is why in the non-sapient nature rights don't exist, but human nature is quite different. Bacteria and animals simply live, but man possesses self- consciousness, he's aware of the fact that his life is HIS life, rightfully belongs to him by the virtue of been alive. Epistemologically rights are self-evident and observed by simple introspection-I live by right because I'm alive and my life belongs to me as my birthright. This is also a basis for intrinsic right for self-defense. We do conceptualise these rights in order to secure them and submit society to the moral law. The Founding Fathers were right in everything except one-they considered these rights as granted by Deity and not as part of human nature. If rights are not metaphysically given then they have to be granted, which is contradiction in terms. If rights ( not concepts of rights) are not metaphysical , then they are man -made, contingent and arbitrary, created by class struggle, decree of any dictator, president or king or simply by majority vote. If rights are given and not inalienable, they could be removed any time. I'm pretty sure that all participants in this discussion know that they live by natural inalienable right and if somebody will ever attempt to alienate them from this right, they will struggle to their last breath. Life is inseparable from the right to live, it belongs to man by this very right. As AR put in in AS:

"Mr. Thompson : Without me, you couldn’t get out of this room. What I’ve got to offer you is your life.

Galt : It’s not yours to offer, Mr. Thompson."

True. By right it is only his.

Oh, have no fear....

Ross Elliot's picture

"My first premise was, here comes Ross again, out to get me."

...I am out to get you.

You see, Lindsay's a prick, and not always in a good way. He often says things that make him King Prick of the Prick People. At some point this tendency ceases to be endearing and makes him truly despicable.

This means that any time he fucks up, I try to toast his ass. You understand that this is not a game. He truly deserves it. He deserves it in the most egregious manner. No, it's not friendly. He really is a prick. He can't help it. Many people make excuses for his behaviour but I don't. He's not lovable. He'll kill you if he can.

But argue the point, not the man.

Yes they do

Ross Elliot's picture

"Many Objectivists come to Objectivism from religion, and bring their intrinsicist baggage with them."

I never had that baggage. I was brought up in a home where my Catholic mother and my Protestant father couldn't quite come to grips with their contradiction and therefore left me to my own devices. God bless them.

But for those that do reject their religious upbringing, it is a sore trial, and they deserve some credit. The psychological damage done by religion, especially the Catholic, is great. It forms a part of their being and is hard to dismiss. It's often reverse-Pavlovian in degree. The sin occurs, the confession bell rings.

Ross

Lindsay Perigo's picture

Jesus suffering fuck, doesn't any Objectivist get this?

Many don't. Hence the importance I attach to this discussion. I don't mean just this thread on SOLO, but right throughout Objectivism. Many Objectivists come to Objectivism from religion, and bring their intrinsicist baggage with them. The need to banish intrinsicism from rights theory is long-standing.

I can't believe that any bright mind thinks that morality exists within nature.

A PhD in Philosophy (as distinct from a bright mind) has argued on this very site that if mankind were obliterated, morality would still exist. A morality made by man for man cannot be considered morality, according to him, because it is made by man for man. Of course, his view is widespread and uncontroversial. That's what we're up against.

Of course

Ross Elliot's picture

"I do not have a good term to reframe it myself. Your proposal of "inviolable" or "inalienable" to mean that rights cannot be violated without moral impunity is a good suggestion."

Jesus suffering fuck, doesn't any Objectivist get this?

The idea of inviolability depends, wholly, upon the idea of consequences. I can't believe that any bright mind thinks that morality exists within nature. We have to discover moral conditions. This is the goal of philosophy. We take our natural state and proceed from there. We discover that certain conditions are proper for our survival and happiness.

I have never thought that Locke, et al or the Founders thought that rights existed prior to the fact of existence or prior to the necessity of humans having to live together.

In fact, even Deism, despite it's failings, means if nothing else, that we are set free to organise ourselves as we can best do. And that implies rights. Actually, Deism was a pretty good step forward. It allowed the minds of the time to separate super-naturalism from the needs of day-to-day life, and that lead to rationality within morality.

Mises on Christian Reformers

Jmaurone's picture

Reed: "Justice is the Christian concept roughly equivalent to rights - the main difference being a matter of perspective.

"Where did the concept of rights originate?"

Mises:

"The advocates of a Christian social reform pretend that their ideal of greed and profit-seeking tamed and restrained by conscientiousness and compliance with the moral law worked rather well in the past. All the evils of our day are caused by defection from the precepts of the church. If people had not defied the commandments and had not coveted unjust profit, mankind would still enjoy the bliss experienced in the Middle Ages when at least the elite lived up to the principles of the Gospels. What is needed is to bring back those good old days and then to see that no new apostasy deprives men of their beneficent effects.

"There is no need to enter into an analysis of the social and economic conditions of the thirteenth century which these reformers praise as the greatest of all periods of history. We are concerned merely with the notion of just prices and wage rates which was essential in the social teachings of the doctors of the church and which the reformers want to raise to the position of the ultimate standard of economic conduct.

"It is obvious that with theorists this notion of just prices and wage rates always refers and always referred to a definite social order which they considered the best possible order. They recommend the adoption of their ideal scheme and its preservation forever. No further changes are to be tolerated. Any alteration of the best possible state of social affairs can only mean deterioration. The world view of these philosophers does not take into account man's ceaseless striving for improvement of the material conditions of well-being. Historical change and a rise in the general standard of living are notions foreign to them. They call “just” that mode of conduct that is compatible with the undisturbed preservation of their Utopia, and everything else unjust."

Ludwig VonMises (2012-02-20T16:59:07+00:00). Human Action: A Treatise on Economics (Kindle Locations 15240-15246). Ludwig Von Mises Institute. Kindle Edition.

More from Mises

Jmaurone's picture

"There is, however, no such thing as natural law and a perennial standard of what is just and what is unjust. Nature is alien to the idea of right and wrong. “Thou shalt not kill” is certainly not part of natural law. The characteristic feature of natural conditions is that one animal is intent upon killing other animals and that many species cannot preserve their own life except by killing others. The notion of right and wrong is a human device, a utilitarian precept designed to make social cooperation under the division of labor possible. All moral rules and human laws are means for the realization of definite ends. There is no method available for the appreciation of their goodness or badness other than to scrutinize their usefulness for the attainment of the ends chosen and aimed at.

"From the notion of natural law some people deduce the justice of the institution of private property in the means of production. Other people resort to natural law for the justification of the abolition of private property in the means of production. As the idea of natural law is quite arbitrary, such discussions are not open to settlement."

Ludwig VonMises (2012-02-20T16:59:07+00:00). Human Action: A Treatise on Economics (Kindle Locations 15110-15116). Ludwig Von Mises Institute. Kindle Edition.

Justice is the Christian

reed's picture

Justice is the Christian concept roughly equivalent to rights - the main difference being a matter of perspective.

Where did the concept of rights originate?

Are rights a Greek concept?

No worries Lindsay - just buy me a beer when I visit NZ

Tom Burroughes's picture

Lindsay, thanks for your gracious words of apology - I wondered whether you had got my comments misinterpreted. Like a twat I thought of flouncing off, but that would have been really dumb. I enjoy hanging out here.

Meanwhile, there are goblins to smite!

No Leonid!

Lindsay Perigo's picture

The concept of rights doesn't designate a metaphysical entity. It identifies, integrates, and sanctions the implications of, the facts of volition and reason. It's a concept!!! Concepts are not metaphysical givens. There is no right to live in nature. There is simply life. We humans latch on to the fact that if we are to live as humans we must conceptualise and effect a right to life. But nature, much less a non-existent goblin, doesn't decree that we have an inherent entitlement to live as humans.

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