Now Available at Amazon!

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Libertarianism 101

If you agree with this statement:
If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong. (Lincoln)
You have to agree with this statement:
If self-ownership is not right, nothing is right.
(Suggested reading: Michael Huemer, "Moral Knowledge," excerpted from Ethical Intuitionism. Also, Murray N. Rothbard, The Ethics of Liberty.)


Colombo said...

I never understood the concept of self-ownership.
I've heard many times, from very different libertarians, thatall libertarian political philosophy starts with self-ownership.

1) I didn't create my body, nor I designed it.
2) I didn't buy it, nor I stumbled upon it and homestead it.
3) I wasn't given my body.
4) I cannot sell my body because I cannot separate myself from my free will.

Why does it have to be either "I own my body" or "someone else owns my body"? I claim that these two ideas are wrong. Not owning my body is not the same as "someone else owns by body", so the non-contradiction principle does not apply to those two statements.

I diasgree also with the view that ownership means just full control over something, because I don't have full control over my body. I don't control my heart, or my adrenal glands, and I cannot control what my ears and eyes perceive. Perhpaps after sixty years of hardcore yoga and isolation from the world I could gain control over autonomous bodily functions, but I don't think that is likely to happen.

There are things which are wrong, like slavery, which proves that positive rights are bullshit. There are things which are right, like defending a person that is being ostracized because of their sex, because of being overweight, or being too thin, or being too muscular, or their ignorance. For me, it doesn't matter if Epictetus is a cripple because of an accident or because he was imprudent or because he was beaten up, people don't have a right to laugh at him, to scorn him, or to say he is wrong because of his physical defect.

I'm a libertarian who is against the foundation of libertarianism, in favor of the non-aggression axiom, and against the idea of limiting free association.

Sheldon Richman said...

You're you. That's what it means.

Colombo said...



Sheldon Richman said...

Colombo, as Gilbert Ryle said, some tautologies are worth being reminded of.

Self-ownership is a succinct expression of individuals' equality of authority. It expresses a condition opposite of slavery. You're making it more complicated than it is. It does not indicate that A (the self) owns B (the body). Individuals are integrated wholes, greater than the sum or their parts. Self-ownership is a reflexive expression.

It is legitimate to ask who owns a person because life and flourishing require continuous action and someone must decide how any given individual will act. Ownership refers to use and disposal, in this case the use and disposal of a person's energy, time, labor, etc. Who decides? We have only a few choices and only one emerges from scrutiny unscathed. Rothbard takes this up in The Ethics of Liberty.

Moreover, self-ownership is a robust moral intuition -- we "perceive" it directly rather than inferentially -- that withstands the challenges which moral intuitions can be subjected to. It is not a conclusion; it is a starting point.

I hope that clarifies.


Sheldon Richman said...

The Rothbard material is in chapter 8 (PDF).

Colombo said...

It does clarify, thanks, and I like the "moral intuition" part, but still I am not persuaded.

I understand that it is pointless to try to prove an axiom or a principle. But I've read many times the argument "I own my body" in informal conversations. To me it is a silly argument, and I assumed that the premise (self-ownership) must be wrong. Wrong assesment misled by a wrong argument. Mostly my fault.

One can easily find thousands of super-intelligent persons who believe as an indisputable and self-evident truth that taxation is not theft, and that there is no violence involved in it. After all, who would pay for those expensive laboratory toys.

At this point and after many setbacks, I don't have any faith left in tautologies as they come in contact with the real world. Reality is too queer. My faith is that mind constructs always fall short. I'm a little tired of idealistic arguments. I aspire to a plainer philosophical arguments.

Today biology-based arguments are in vogue. Is it possible that in order to understand that the self-ownership principle is self-evident one needs to have a special gene or set of genes? Are libertarians mutants, or are they the pure-bred humans? The existence of many myths of the Golden Age could be used to argue that the original human is libertarian and the mutants are not. But I don't believe in determinism, especially not in DNA-determinism. For me, there are no genes for worldview, sexuality, intelectual ability or philosophy. Call me a DNA-libertarian.

Perhaps I'm just being stubborn. I'll play along with this principle of self-ownership, just because it seems to be so necessary to everything else that is important, like the NAP.

It might be that the idea is too succint for these days. Many libertarians believe that the Non-Aggression Principle is not enough. And I have seen long, formal definitions of what libertarianism that seem to be a very expanded version of Rothbard's formulation. Why do new generations want more verbosity? Is it just that the younger philosophers are not constrained by the cost of ink and paper and can use a liberal amount of words, or is it that people demand longer definitions in these digital times?

Thanks for your effort. I'll wrestle with Rothbard's arguments more intensely and I'll stop nagging you.