Explaining Rights to Libertarians (e.g. Bill Glod)

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Marvin_Edwards
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Re: Explaining Rights to Libertarians (e.g. Bill Glod)

Post by Marvin_Edwards » May 18th, 2020, 10:13 am

GE Morton wrote:
May 17th, 2020, 1:59 pm
Marvin_Edwards wrote:
May 13th, 2020, 2:11 pm
Bill Glod has a video called “The Nature of Rights” on the libertarianism.org website. He explores two views of rights.
That video is here, for anyone interested:

https://www.libertarianism.org/media/ar ... ure-rights

While Blod does a fairly good job of explaining the differences between the consequentialist and deontological approaches to morality, he does not at all make it clear just what "rights" are, or how they can be derived from either of them.

The term "rights" --- as it is understood in most of the West --- does not have its origin in philosophy, but in law, particulary English common law, primarily in cases involving disputes over property --- whose claim to this cow, this tract of land, this wagon, this game animal, should be considered valid? I.e., who should be considered the rightful owner of that thing? When the facts of the case lead to the conclusion that Alfie, not Bruno, is the rightful owner, that his claim and not Bruno's is valid, then we attach a pseudo-property to Alfie to mark that fact --- we say that Alfie has a "right" to the cow. We speak of that fact about him and his relationship to the cow as though it is a property he has.

What are the facts that give rise to a decision in favor of Alfie's, and not Bruno's claim to the cow?

Nearly always, it is the fact of first possession, or first occupancy. The legitimate claimant to any disputed good is the person who either first had possession of it, or who acquired it via a "chain of consent" from that first possessor. Normally, one becomes the first possessor of a thing by either discovering it or creating it. If I find a deposit of gold on unowned land, then it becomes my property the moment I unearth it and state a claim to it. If you fashion a spear from an unowned, unclaimed stick you found in the forest, it becomes your property the moment you find it aand take possession of it. I have a right to the gold, you have a right to the spear.

So questions about who has rights to what, and what rights anyone has, are not moral question, but factual ones. The real moral question is, What duty does anyone have to honor others' rights?

Those questions cannot be answered by working backwards from some moral preconception or theory. Someone who approaches the such questions from that direction does not understand what the term "rights" means, historically speaking. Rights are not things people ought to have, or ought to be granted to them, because it would be "good" for them to have them, per someone's notion of what counts as a good, or someone's moral intuitions. They denote, instead a historical fact about that person and the things to which he claims rights.

Blod also declares himself to be mystified by the term "natural rights." There is nothing mysterious about that term. Rights, remember, are claims to things of which the claimant is the first possessor. Most such things are things which, as mentioned, were either discovered or created by the claimant. But one is also the first possessor of certain other things he did not discover or create --- instead, they are things he brought with him into the world, things with which he was born --- his natural possessions, such as his life, his body and all its parts, his natural talents and capacities and abilities. Rights to those things are the natural rights.

Though they do not have their origin in moral philosophy, rights, as classically understood, do have a powerful moral justification: if you are the first possessor of something, then you will have acquired it without inflicting any loss or injury on any other moral agent, since no one could possibly have benefited from that thing until it was discovered or created. Your possession of it is innocent. Anyone who subsequently takes it from you, on the other hand, does inflict a loss or injury on someone --- you.
The notion of "right" derives from a sense of how things ought to be. It is not derived from issues of property. For example, if Alfie punches Bruno in the nose, for no reason, that is considered wrong. And it is not "wrong" because Bruno "owns" his nose. It is wrong because Bruno was unjustly harmed.

In Alfie and Bruno's argument over the cow, it was properly settled in a court of law. That the court would be the means of settling disputes was by common agreement. Both Alfie and Bruno must agree to the court's authority if the matter is to be settled.

All rights arise by agreement.

In your second example, where you discover gold on unowned property and claim ownership of the gold, and I create a spear and claim ownership of the spear, what is it that prevents me from using my spear to take your gold?

It is our mutual agreement that we should each have a right to what we discover or create. Without that agreement, and a community to enforce it, your gold becomes mine.

In the case I presented earlier, where one person claims sole ownership of a natural resource (water) that everyone needs to survive, that right of ownership can only be sustained as long as everyone has sufficient water to thrive. Once that ownership is abused, and used to enslave others, that right of ownership is gone.

It has always been the right of the public, through its elected representatives, to forge agreements into law, and to provide a court system to enforce them.

The history of the claims of the public against the claims of private owners is filled with precedents where the private owner has abused his property rights at the expense of others. The rights of a manufacturer to hire children at low pay to do dangerous work and discard them when they are injured was abolished by laws preventing child labor, minimum wage laws, workman's compensation, and other rules guaranteeing the rights of workers.

The rights of owners of public accommodations, like restaurants and hotels, to refuse service on the basis of race has also been abolished.

All rights arise from agreements.

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Re: Explaining Rights to Libertarians (e.g. Bill Glod)

Post by GE Morton » May 18th, 2020, 11:33 am

Marvin_Edwards wrote:
May 18th, 2020, 10:13 am

The notion of "right" derives from a sense of how things ought to be. It is not derived from issues of property.
I agree. But "rights" (the noun denoting pseudo-properties attaching to a person), and "right" (the adjective whose antonym is "wrong") are two different terms. There is a relationship between them, of course, but they are not equivalent.
For example, if Alfie punches Bruno in the nose, for no reason, that is considered wrong. And it is not "wrong" because Bruno "owns" his nose. It is wrong because Bruno was unjustly harmed.
The concept of "ownership" entails the concept of harm. Taking or damaging anything owned by another is presumptively a harm to him. To say that someone owns something says two things --- that Alfie acquired his nose without harming anyone else, and that damaging it will harm him. Alfie's nose is his property, as is the rest of his body. To say that someone has a "right" to, or that he owns, something X is just to say that taking, or damaging, X will harm that person.
In Alfie and Bruno's argument over the cow, it was properly settled in a court of law. That the court would be the means of settling disputes was by common agreement. Both Alfie and Bruno must agree to the court's authority if the matter is to be settled.
Oh, no. There is rarely any "common agreement" between a thief and his victim regarding the aauthority or jurisdiction of a court. The thief is forced to submit to that authority; he doesn't agree to it. Similarly with the defendant in a civil suit.

There is, however, a common --- indeed, nearly universal --- understanding of the basis for property claims, accepted in nearly all cultures and eras, i.e., the first possession principle.
All rights arise by agreement.
Agreement among whom? The existence of an agreement requires some evidence. What evidence do you have for that claim? There is no universal agreement about rights, Marvin --- in fact, there is ubiquitous and sometimes violent disagreement, not only regarding who has rights to what, but what rights are.
In your second example, where you discover gold on unowned property and claim ownership of the gold, and I create a spear and claim ownership of the spear, what is it that prevents me from using my spear to take your gold?
Nothing. Rights don't prevent anyone from doing anything. They only serve notice that certain acts would be morally wrong, and they morally justify acts by others to punish and rectify that wrong.
It is our mutual agreement that we should each have a right to what we discover or create. Without that agreement, and a community to enforce it, your gold becomes mine.
If such an agreement existed, Marvin, thefts would never occur.
In the case I presented earlier, where one person claims sole ownership of a natural resource (water) that everyone needs to survive, that right of ownership can only be sustained as long as everyone has sufficient water to thrive. Once that ownership is abused, and used to enslave others, that right of ownership is gone.
Oh, no. The right does not disappear simply because it is violated. Whether Alfie has a right to X depends solely upon whether he was the first possessor of X and has not subsequently transferred it to another, which are historical facts. No criminal actions by others can alter those facts. There is no such thing as "abuse of ownership." Your presumption there seems to be that someone who owns something has some duty to make it available to meet someone else's "needs." That presumption is false. Or, at least, you'll need some cogent argument establishing its truth.
It has always been the right of the public, through its elected representatives, to forge agreements into law, and to provide a court system to enforce them.
What is the origin of that "right"? Don't confuse the power to exert force with the right to exert it.
The history of the claims of the public against the claims of private owners is filled with precedents where the private owner has abused his property rights at the expense of others. The rights of a manufacturer to hire children at low pay to do dangerous work and discard them when they are injured was abolished by laws preventing child labor, minimum wage laws, workman's compensation, and other rules guaranteeing the rights of workers.
Again, what is the basis, and the origin, of these presumed "rights"? You now seem to be speaking of the fiat rights mentioned earlier --- "rights" arbitrarily conjured from thin air by politicians and other power-mongers.
The rights of owners of public accommodations, like restaurants and hotels, to refuse service on the basis of race has also been abolished.
The legal right to do so has been abolished. Legal rights are fiat rights; they can be created and abolished at will by the decree of any despot holding sufficient power to enforce them. Legal rights per se have no moral import. But the common right --- the right understood in the common law tradition --- has not, and cannot be abolished.
All rights arise from agreements.
That is empirically and historically false, Marvin. Please set forth the evidence for such an agreement.

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Re: Explaining Rights to Libertarians (e.g. Bill Glod)

Post by GE Morton » May 18th, 2020, 11:45 am

Steve3007 wrote:
May 18th, 2020, 7:31 am

The description of rights that you've set out in the post which ended with the above quote broadly makes sense. But in previous conversations, in related topics, the disagreement with other posters has usually arisen when the concept of "commons" is considered. At that point, arguments usually break out as to what should be considered to be a "common" and to what extent we should regard individuals as inadvertently interdependent. I think Marvin's increasingly imaginative thought experiment vaguely touches on that.
Historically in practice a "common" is any resource that has been used by everyone in the neighborhood in common since "time immemorial." The atmosphere, the oceans and rivers (for fishing and transportation), various tracts of land, etc., are examples. An individual may not lay a personal claim to portions of such a common.

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Re: Explaining Rights to Libertarians (e.g. Bill Glod)

Post by Marvin_Edwards » May 18th, 2020, 4:59 pm

GE Morton wrote:
May 18th, 2020, 11:33 am
Marvin_Edwards wrote:
May 18th, 2020, 10:13 am

The notion of "right" derives from a sense of how things ought to be. It is not derived from issues of property.
I agree. But "rights" (the noun denoting pseudo-properties attaching to a person), and "right" (the adjective whose antonym is "wrong") are two different terms. There is a relationship between them, of course, but they are not equivalent.
One is a grammatical transformation of the other, so the underlying function is identical. For example, to say that a person "has a right" to vote implies that it would be wrong to prevent him from voting. To say that "it is right that everyone should vote" implies an obligation to participate in elections. The right to vote, the right to speak without political censorship, the right to worship or not as one chooses, etc. imply what is right and what is wrong, and none of them involves the ownership of property.
Marvin wrote:For example, if Alfie punches Bruno in the nose, for no reason, that is considered wrong. And it is not "wrong" because Bruno "owns" his nose. It is wrong because Bruno was unjustly harmed.
GE Morton wrote:
May 18th, 2020, 11:33 am
The concept of "ownership" entails the concept of harm. Taking or damaging anything owned by another is presumptively a harm to him. To say that someone owns something says two things --- that Alfie acquired his nose without harming anyone else, and that damaging it will harm him. Alfie's nose is his property, as is the rest of his body. To say that someone has a "right" to, or that he owns, something X is just to say that taking, or damaging, X will harm that person.
Not just ownership, but all rights entail the notion of potential harm to the victim who is denied his rights or whose rights are violated, even if there is no physical harm involved.

Damaging Alfie's nose is a physical harm, and he has a right under law not to be assaulted (unless Alfie himself is assualting someone else). Alfie did not "acquire" his nose. It came with the rest of him.
Marvin wrote:In Alfie and Bruno's argument over the cow, it was properly settled in a court of law. That the court would be the means of settling disputes was by common agreement. Both Alfie and Bruno must agree to the court's authority if the matter is to be settled.
GE Morton wrote:
May 18th, 2020, 11:33 am
Oh, no. There is rarely any "common agreement" between a thief and his victim regarding the aauthority or jurisdiction of a court. The thief is forced to submit to that authority; he doesn't agree to it. Similarly with the defendant in a civil suit.
I suppose that may be true in some cases, especially when the thief's nature is incorrigible. Which is why force is employed to arrest and imprison the thief.

The same would apply to the libertarian who refuses to pay his taxes under the odd misconception that the money he earns is all his, despite his obligations to pay his mortgage, his plumber, and his taxes.
GE Morton wrote:
May 18th, 2020, 11:33 am
There is, however, a common --- indeed, nearly universal --- understanding of the basis for property claims, accepted in nearly all cultures and eras, i.e., the first possession principle.
In those cases where a "first possession principle" applies, it will only apply because we have agreed to apply it to those cases. It will not apply in those cases where we have agreed that other principles should take precedence.
Marvin wrote:All rights arise by agreement.
GE Morton wrote:
May 18th, 2020, 11:33 am
Agreement among whom? The existence of an agreement requires some evidence. What evidence do you have for that claim? There is no universal agreement about rights, Marvin --- in fact, there is ubiquitous and sometimes violent disagreement, not only regarding who has rights to what, but what rights are.
Well, in the United States, the basic agreement is the one that constituted the nation. As Jefferson said in the Declaration of Independence, "to protect these rights, governments are instituted". The constitution is an agreement between each citizen and every other citizen. And it outlines a representative legislative branch which has the authority to reach further agreements on behalf of the citizens they represent.

So, both the national and the state constitutions are the documented evidence of an agreement between us. And the laws passed are the documented evidence of subsequent agreements.
Marvin wrote:In your second example, where you discover gold on unowned property and claim ownership of the gold, and I create a spear and claim ownership of the spear, what is it that prevents me from using my spear to take your gold?
GE Morton wrote:
May 18th, 2020, 11:33 am
Nothing. Rights don't prevent anyone from doing anything. They only serve notice that certain acts would be morally wrong, and they morally justify acts by others to punish and rectify that wrong.
The commitment of each citizen to their agreement--to respect and protect certain rights for each other--is our only practical protection for our rights. If someone is stealing my neighbor's car, and I fail to call the police, then his right to his property is merely rhetorical. If I call the police and they catch the thief, then my neighbor's right is real.
Marvin wrote:In the case I presented earlier, where one person claims sole ownership of a natural resource (water) that everyone needs to survive, that right of ownership can only be sustained as long as everyone has sufficient water to thrive. Once that ownership is abused, and used to enslave others, that right of ownership is gone.
GE Morton wrote:
May 18th, 2020, 11:33 am
Oh, no. The right does not disappear simply because it is violated. Whether Alfie has a right to X depends solely upon whether he was the first possessor of X and has not subsequently transferred it to another, which are historical facts. No criminal actions by others can alter those facts. There is no such thing as "abuse of ownership." Your presumption there seems to be that someone who owns something has some duty to make it available to meet someone else's "needs." That presumption is false. Or, at least, you'll need some cogent argument establishing its truth.
The fact that Alfie discovered the only source of fresh water on the island does not confer upon him any right to deny water that is necessary to the survival of the other inhabitants of the island. Why? Because unnecessarily harming others is immoral. And the criterial of moral judgment is "the best good and least harm for everyone". That is the final judge of the rightness of any "right".
Marvin wrote:It has always been the right of the public, through its elected representatives, to forge agreements into law, and to provide a court system to enforce them.
GE Morton wrote:
May 18th, 2020, 11:33 am
What is the origin of that "right"? Don't confuse the power to exert force with the right to exert it.
The origin of all rights is the agreement of the citizens to respect and protect those rights for each other. Hopefully, the majority of citizens are people of good will, and good moral character.
Marvin wrote:The history of the claims of the public against the claims of private owners is filled with precedents where the private owner has abused his property rights at the expense of others. The rights of a manufacturer to hire children at low pay to do dangerous work and discard them when they are injured was abolished by laws preventing child labor, minimum wage laws, workman's compensation, and other rules guaranteeing the rights of workers.
GE Morton wrote:
May 18th, 2020, 11:33 am
Again, what is the basis, and the origin, of these presumed "rights"? You now seem to be speaking of the fiat rights mentioned earlier --- "rights" arbitrarily conjured from thin air by politicians and other power-mongers.
The nice thing about living in a democratic republic is that the politicians and power-mongers only get one vote, the same as me. Hopefully, the citizens will have sufficient intelligence and moral character to elect representatives who also have character. If not, then as Pogo said, "We have met the enemy, and he is us".
Marvin wrote:The rights of owners of public accommodations, like restaurants and hotels, to refuse service on the basis of race has also been abolished.
GE Morton wrote:
May 18th, 2020, 11:33 am
The legal right to do so has been abolished. Legal rights are fiat rights; they can be created and abolished at will by the decree of any despot holding sufficient power to enforce them. Legal rights per se have no moral import. But the common right --- the right understood in the common law tradition --- has not, and cannot be abolished.
And yet, what is the source of that "common law tradition"? Is it not based upon the agreements reached by the people living at those times? If not, then explain their source.

Marvin wrote:All rights arise from agreements.
GE Morton wrote:
May 18th, 2020, 11:33 am
That is empirically and historically false, Marvin. Please set forth the evidence for such an agreement.
I hope you can see that I just did that.

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Re: Explaining Rights to Libertarians (e.g. Bill Glod)

Post by Ecurb » May 18th, 2020, 8:28 pm

GE Morton wrote:
May 17th, 2020, 9:41 pm


Whether some item of property "cares" about who owns it is not the criterion for determining whether there is a relationship between it and its owner. If P is the discoverer or creator of x, that is a relationship between P and x.

.
Obviously. in our capitalist system of property, "creating" something does not confer "ownership". The laborer making shoes in the shoe factory would be arrested and thrown in prison if he tried to keep one of the shoes he created. Some ancient groups did ascribe property rights in this way -- some Vikings would send a dead body out to sea in the burning boat that he built himself, which was stacked high with his other creations. Our concept of property is more complicated. As I said, the only thing property rights entail (the only thing they CAN entail) is the obligation (it can be moral or legal) on the part of other people to respect other people's "property". Marx pointed this out, and we need not be Marxists to see that he's not only right, but that his position on this matter is inarguable.
.

Yes. That is their purpose --- to constrain the actions of other moral agents with respect to you and those things to which you have rights. They do not constrain or apply to the workings of natural laws, "acts of God," or the fickle finger of fate.....


Oh, no. Good laws enforce rights, but the concept of a right precedes any laws. We need to know what rights people have BEFORE we can enact any morally defensible laws.
That's reasonable. However "rights' may precede laws, they involve nothing more than obligations: The right to life obliges other people not to kill you; the right to free speech obliges other people not to throw you in prison for speaking your mind; property rights oblige other people to refrain from trespassing (clearly controversial -- why should one person be able to control another's "right" to walk where he wants on God's green Earth? Native Americans couldn't comprehend this one.).

When it comes to natural law and its relation to rights, what is "natural" about creation or discovery (even if we ascribe property rights on their bases, which we don't) allowing on person to control the movements of other people? Certainly the modern concept of property has not been universally followed by most human groups throughout history and prehistory. The "divine right of kings" used to determine land ownership in Europe. In most hunter-gatherer societies, the hunter who kills the game is required by custom to share with the group. He doesn't get to control who eats simply because he "created" or "discovered" the dead meat.

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Re: Explaining Rights to Libertarians (e.g. Bill Glod)

Post by Ecurb » May 18th, 2020, 8:42 pm

One question: is there an "edit" function on this board? None of my mistakes above are horrid, except that they make me appear illiterate, which probably horrifies no one but me.

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Re: Explaining Rights to Libertarians (e.g. Bill Glod)

Post by GE Morton » May 18th, 2020, 9:32 pm

Ecurb wrote:
May 18th, 2020, 8:28 pm

Obviously. in our capitalist system of property, "creating" something does not confer "ownership". The laborer making shoes in the shoe factory would be arrested and thrown in prison if he tried to keep one of the shoes he created.
The laborer working in a shoe factory is not creating shoes. The factory is creating them. He is paid for the value of the service he provides to that factory. If he opens his own shop, pays the rent, pays for the power, buys the raw materials, tools, machinery, pays for the marketing, shipping, etc., then he can claim he is creating shoes.
As I said, the only thing property rights entail (the only thing they CAN entail) is the obligation (it can be moral or legal) on the part of other people to respect other people's "property". Marx pointed this out, and we need not be Marxists to see that he's not only right, but that his position on this matter is inarguable.
Well, no, they entail more than that. To say that someone owns something, that it is his property, implies that he acquired it legitimately, i.e., without inflicting loss or injury on anyone else. That is typically because he is the first possessor --- the creator or discoverer --- of that good. It is that fact upon which the moral obligation you mention rests.
Oh, no. Good laws enforce rights, but the concept of a right precedes any laws. We need to know what rights people have BEFORE we can enact any morally defensible laws.
That's reasonable. However "rights' may precede laws, they involve nothing more than obligations: The right to life obliges other people not to kill you; the right to free speech obliges other people not to throw you in prison for speaking your mind; property rights oblige other people to refrain from trespassing (clearly controversial -- why should one person be able to control another's "right" to walk where he wants on God's green Earth? Native Americans couldn't comprehend this one.)
Rights are empirical facts with moral import. The empirical fact being that the good was acquired without inflicting loss or injury. It has moral import because avoiding or preventing loss or injury has moral import.

Many Native American (and other pre-agricultural peoples) do not recognize property rights in land. It is all considered a common. That tends to change when they begin to develop agriculture.
When it comes to natural law and its relation to rights, what is "natural" about creation or discovery (even if we ascribe property rights on their bases, which we don't) allowing on person to control the movements of other people?
Natural law (as articulated by the Scholastics) has little to do with natural rights. I gave a definition of natural rights above --- they are simply the rights one has to one's natural possessions, one's life, body, talents and abilities, etc. Property rights are not natural rights; they are "common rights." However, everyone has a natural right to seek, acquire, and defend one's property, subject to the "no harm" caveat mentioned above. That activity is embraced in the natural right to deploy and exercise one's natural talents and abilities.
Certainly the modern concept of property has not been universally followed by most human groups throughout history and prehistory. The "divine right of kings" used to determine land ownership in Europe.
Actually, the so-called "divine right of kings" is consistent with the first possession criterion for determining ownership of property. Per this theory "God" is the owner of the Earth, being its creator. He then transferred title to it to Adam and Eve, which title via a convoluted series of subsequent transfers, ended up in the hands of the monarchs and other nobles. Locke himself makes that primordial assumption, but disputes the validity of those subsequent transfers. His claim is that God transferred the Earth to "mankind in common." But that assumption is baseless, resting as it does upon a supernatural fiction. The Earth, until some portion of it is occupied and claimed by someone, is res nullius (unowned).
In most hunter-gatherer societies, the hunter who kills the game is required by custom to share with the group. He doesn't get to control who eats simply because he "created" or "discovered" the dead meat.
That is all well and good, if there is some agreement to that effect in a given group. There is no such agreement among the peoples of modern civilized societies.

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Re: Explaining Rights to Libertarians (e.g. Bill Glod)

Post by GE Morton » May 18th, 2020, 9:37 pm

Ecurb wrote:
May 18th, 2020, 8:42 pm
One question: is there an "edit" function on this board? None of my mistakes above are horrid, except that they make me appear illiterate, which probably horrifies no one but me.
Nope. But I share your pain. :-)

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Re: Explaining Rights to Libertarians (e.g. Bill Glod)

Post by Terrapin Station » May 19th, 2020, 7:29 am

GE Morton wrote:
May 18th, 2020, 11:33 am

I agree. But "rights" (the noun denoting pseudo-properties attaching to a person), and "right" (the adjective whose antonym is "wrong") are two different terms. There is a relationship between them, of course, but they are not equivalent.
On Marvin_Edwards view, "right," in a moral sense, refers to ANY scenario where one consequence would be recommended over another. So, for example, it's morally right on his view to not butter bread before putting it in the toaster, or, it's morally right on his view to place toothpaste on the bristles of a toothbrush rather than on the handle.

So he's not using "right" with the normal connotations.

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Re: Explaining Rights to Libertarians (e.g. Bill Glod)

Post by Ecurb » May 19th, 2020, 9:26 am

GE Morton wrote:
May 18th, 2020, 9:32 pm


The laborer working in a shoe factory is not creating shoes. The factory is creating them. He is paid for the value of the service he provides to that factory. If he opens his own shop, pays the rent, pays for the power, buys the raw materials, tools, machinery, pays for the marketing, shipping, etc., then he can claim he is creating shoes.

Well, no, they entail more than that. To say that someone owns something, that it is his property, implies that he acquired it legitimately, i.e., without inflicting loss or injury on anyone else. That is typically because he is the first possessor --- the creator or discoverer --- of that good. It is that fact upon which the moral obligation you mention rests.
I'll agree that property rights suggest the legitimacy of the owner's control over other people vis a vis the property. In reality, property confers obligations (legal and possibly moral) on the owner, as well as on everyone else. I own a house. I am obliged to pay property taxes; I am obliged not to raise pigs in my back yard; etc. etc.

I'm not sure I buy your "creator or discoverer" notion. Unless we interpret these words in abstract and abstruse ways, I didn't create or discover any of my property (with a few minor exceptions). Instead, I bought it. If I had built it myself, it wouldn't be up to code, and the government wouldn't let me live there.

Rights are empirical facts with moral import. The empirical fact being that the good was acquired without inflicting loss or injury. It has moral import because avoiding or preventing loss or injury has moral import.


Natural law (as articulated by the Scholastics) has little to do with natural rights. I gave a definition of natural rights above --- they are simply the rights one has to one's natural possessions, one's life, body, talents and abilities, etc. Property rights are not natural rights; they are "common rights." However, everyone has a natural right to seek, acquire, and defend one's property, subject to the "no harm" caveat mentioned above. That activity is embraced in the natural right to deploy and exercise one's natural talents and abilities.

.
This sounds reasonable, although one's "natural talents and abilities" are generally not natural at all. They are learned. If we see further than others (acc. Isaac Newton) it is because we stand on the shoulders of giants. That's why "intellectual property" can be problematic. I'm not an expert in property law, but patents and copyrights are routinely doled out to those who BELIEVE they have created something new, and (in fact) HAVE created something, but have done so only with the assistance of tens of thousands of predecessors who don't reap the financial benefits. My point here is not to suggest we eliminate intellectual property, but merely to suggest that the notion that it results from a "natural right" is dubious. We should allow intellectual property rights when we think they benefit society as a whole, not because we see them as some sort of moral imperative based on "natural rights".

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Re: Explaining Rights to Libertarians (e.g. Bill Glod)

Post by Marvin_Edwards » May 19th, 2020, 2:02 pm

Ecurb wrote:
May 18th, 2020, 8:42 pm
One question: is there an "edit" function on this board? None of my mistakes above are horrid, except that they make me appear illiterate, which probably horrifies no one but me.
Yeah, that's a weakness on this platform. Loved your comments anyway.

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Marvin_Edwards
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Re: Explaining Rights to Libertarians (e.g. Bill Glod)

Post by Marvin_Edwards » May 19th, 2020, 2:11 pm

Ecurb wrote:
May 19th, 2020, 9:26 am

...This sounds reasonable, although one's "natural talents and abilities" are generally not natural at all. They are learned. If we see further than others (acc. Isaac Newton) it is because we stand on the shoulders of giants. That's why "intellectual property" can be problematic. I'm not an expert in property law, but patents and copyrights are routinely doled out to those who BELIEVE they have created something new, and (in fact) HAVE created something, but have done so only with the assistance of tens of thousands of predecessors who don't reap the financial benefits. My point here is not to suggest we eliminate intellectual property, but merely to suggest that the notion that it results from a "natural right" is dubious. We should allow intellectual property rights when we think they benefit society as a whole, not because we see them as some sort of moral imperative based on "natural rights".
Excellent points. And patents are socially desirable incentives to invention. The inventor is allowed a brief period of production and profit to pay for his otherwise unpaid time and effort to bring about the invention.

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Re: Explaining Rights to Libertarians (e.g. Bill Glod)

Post by GE Morton » May 19th, 2020, 3:33 pm

Marvin_Edwards wrote:
May 18th, 2020, 4:59 pm

One is a grammatical transformation of the other, so the underlying function is identical. For example, to say that a person "has a right" to vote implies that it would be wrong to prevent him from voting. To say that "it is right that everyone should vote" implies an obligation to participate in elections.
Quite true. But to say "it is right that everyone should vote" does not imply a right to vote.
The right to vote, the right to speak without political censorship, the right to worship or not as one chooses, etc. imply what is right and what is wrong, and none of them involves the ownership of property.
Oh, no. Having the right to speak or worship implies nothing about whether it is right to speak or worship. Both of those rights do, however, involve a right to property --- namely, to your own body and mind, to use them as you choose (subject, of course, to the "do no harm" constraint). But perhaps a clarification of what counts as "property" is in order. "Property" is anything, tangible or intangible, to which you have a right, i.e., which you've acquired without inflicting loss or injury on anyone else, and which you have not abandoned or conveyed to someone else. Your mind, body, talents, skills, abilities physical or mental, are all your property.

What of the right to vote? That is legal right, one of a subcategory of those usually called "civil rights." Those are rights derived from the hypothetical "social contract" establishing a republican form of government. They deal primarily with the government's obligations to its citizens and their obligations to it. Other rights in that subcategory include the right to stand for public office, the right to trial by jury, the right to just compensation for seized property, etc.

Legal rights are neither natural rights (rights to one's natural possessions), or "common rights" (rights to things acquired after one's arrival in the world, by creating or discovering them). They are (formally) contractual rights, privileges, prerogatives, or guarantees granted per the terms of that (imaginary) "social contract." Most legal rights are fiat rights --- invented rights created by decree of some lawgiver and having no objective basis --- which does not necessarily mean they are not morally defensible. Some are, some aren't.
Not just ownership, but all rights entail the notion of potential harm to the victim who is denied his rights or whose rights are violated, even if there is no physical harm involved.
True; "harm" covers more territory than physical injuries. Any loss of welfare is a harm. And if you're speaking of real (natural or common) rights, then, yes, any violation of them inflicts a harm. That is not the case, however, for most fiat "rights."
Damaging Alfie's nose is a physical harm, and he has a right under law not to be assaulted (unless Alfie himself is assualting someone else). Alfie did not "acquire" his nose. It came with the rest of him.
Being born with it is one means of acquiring something.
Marvin wrote:In Alfie and Bruno's argument over the cow, it was properly settled in a court of law. That the court would be the means of settling disputes was by common agreement. Both Alfie and Bruno must agree to the court's authority if the matter is to be settled.
The same would apply to the libertarian who refuses to pay his taxes under the odd misconception that the money he earns is all his, despite his obligations to pay his mortgage, his plumber, and his taxes.
Well, I know of no libertarians who harbor any such "misconception," i.e., who would argue that someone has no obligation to pay his mortgage or a plumber he hired. But yes, the money he earns is his --- until he freely exchanges some of it for some good or service, such as hiring a plumber or contracting to buy a house. He also has an obligation to pay taxes, to the extent he benefits from the government services those taxes underwrite.
In those cases where a "first possession principle" applies, it will only apply because we have agreed to apply it to those cases. It will not apply in those cases where we have agreed that other principles should take precedence.
We need to clarify what constitutes an "agreement," Marvin. You need to mind the distinction between de facto and de jure agreements. The former are agreements that occur by accident, by chance or coincidence. Alfie in Seattle and Bruno in Atlanta may agree that Babe Ruth was history's greatest baseball player. But Alfie and Bruno do not know each other, have never met, and have certainly never discussed baseball and arrived at a consensus regarding who was the greatest player.

De jure agreements are different animals entirely --- they are schema for concrete, explicit, specific courses of action adopted by specific people for specific purposes, usually reached after discussion and deliberation among the parties involved. They are contracts, and are binding upon their signatories once reached.

There is clearly no de jure agreement among all people concerning the basis for rights. There is not even a de facto one (as this very thread demonstrates). This "agreement" to which you keep appealing doesn't exist, Marvin --- it is a synonym for that hypothetical "social contract" ubiquitous in the Western liberal tradition. It is an artifact of contemporary social mythology.
Well, in the United States, the basic agreement is the one that constituted the nation. As Jefferson said in the Declaration of Independence, "to protect these rights, governments are instituted". The constitution is an agreement between each citizen and every other citizen. And it outlines a representative legislative branch which has the authority to reach further agreements on behalf of the citizens they represent.
There is no such agreement, Marvin. There was an agreement among the delegates to the Constitutional Convention and the state legislators who subsequently ratified the Constitution, but 99+% of the country's citizens at the time never signed, or otherwise agreed to, anything. Many of them opposed it, for one reason or another. Obviously no one now alive signed it either. Most people today probably disagree with parts of it and agree with other parts --- that latter being a de facto, not a de jure agreement. The former, unlike the latter, bind no one, not even the parties to those agreements. The fact that Alfie and Bruno above agree as to who is the greatest baseball player imposes no duties or obligations on either of them.
The commitment of each citizen to their agreement--to respect and protect certain rights for each other--is our only practical protection for our rights. If someone is stealing my neighbor's car, and I fail to call the police, then his right to his property is merely rhetorical. If I call the police and they catch the thief, then my neighbor's right is real.
His right is real if it rests on first possession. That a right is not enforced or not universally honored does not extinguish it. That is true of every other moral principle as well. Lack of compliance does not render the principle invalid or unsound.
The fact that Alfie discovered the only source of fresh water on the island does not confer upon him any right to deny water that is necessary to the survival of the other inhabitants of the island. Why? Because unnecessarily harming others is immoral. And the criterial of moral judgment is "the best good and least harm for everyone". That is the final judge of the rightness of any "right".
I'm puzzled. If Alfie's newly discovered source is the only source of water on the island, how have those other inhabitants survived until now?

But, yes, if Alfie discovered a source of water it indeed does confer upon him a right to deny it to anyone he pleases. Every right confers that power --- the right to resist trespasses and other attempted violations. That is the very essence of a right. As Blackstone put it, "There is nothing which so generally strikes the imagination, and engages the affections of mankind, as the right of property; or that sole and despotic dominion which one man claims and exercises over the external things of the world, in total exclusion of the right of any other individual in the universe."
(Blackstone, Commentaries, Bk II, Ch. 1).

BTW, Alfie does not "harm" anyone by withholding his water. A harm is a reduction in an agent's welfare. Alfie does not reduce anyone's welfare. Their plight is not of his doing; it would be the same if he and his discovery never existed. A failure to relieve suffering is not the same as causing suffering --- though that failure may also be immoral in some cases.

Having a right to something does not always entail that one acts rightfully, in the moral sense, by withholding it from someone who needs it. What it does entail is that the decision as to whether or not to withhold it is the owner's to make --- not that of the needy person or of any third party.
The origin of all rights is the agreement of the citizens to respect and protect those rights for each other. Hopefully, the majority of citizens are people of good will, and good moral character.
I think we've covered that. There is, and has never been, any such agreement.
The nice thing about living in a democratic republic is that the politicians and power-mongers only get one vote, the same as me. Hopefully, the citizens will have sufficient intelligence and moral character to elect representatives who also have character. If not, then as Pogo said, "We have met the enemy, and he is us".
It always amazes me that so many seem to believe that "democracy," or the will of a majority, somehow confers some sort of moral legitimacy on acts which, if taken by an individual, would be quickly and widely condemned as immoral. That is, of course, logically impossible. If Bruno has no right to seize Alfie's water, Chauncey has no such right, Dudley has no right, etc., then all of them together can have no right either. Democratic governments are agents of their citizens; they enforce the rights any citizen could morally enforce if no government existed. If no citizen has a right to Alfie's water then neither do all of them collectively. One million times zero is still zero.
GE Morton wrote:
May 18th, 2020, 11:33 am
The legal right to do so has been abolished. Legal rights are fiat rights; they can be created and abolished at will by the decree of any despot holding sufficient power to enforce them. Legal rights per se have no moral import. But the common right --- the right understood in the common law tradition --- has not, and cannot be abolished.
And yet, what is the source of that "common law tradition"? Is it not based upon the agreements reached by the people living at those times? If not, then explain their source.
No, it is not based on any agreement; at least not a de jure agreement. People who have never before encountered one another will observe that principle automatically, even people from radically different cultures. It is what Blod called a "moralized emotion," based on an instinctive understanding that taking something in another's possession will elicit a violent and possibly lethal response. It is an instinct that even many animals recognize --- a hungry tiger does not attempt to steal another tiger's kill, or prey on her cubs. Each person must find ways to meet his needs without inflicting losses or injuries on someone else.

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Re: Explaining Rights to Libertarians (e.g. Bill Glod)

Post by Marvin_Edwards » May 19th, 2020, 6:30 pm

GE Morton wrote:
May 19th, 2020, 3:33 pm
Marvin_Edwards wrote:
May 18th, 2020, 4:59 pm

One is a grammatical transformation of the other, so the underlying function is identical. For example, to say that a person "has a right" to vote implies that it would be wrong to prevent him from voting. To say that "it is right that everyone should vote" implies an obligation to participate in elections.
Quite true. But to say "it is right that everyone should vote" does not imply a right to vote.
The right to vote, the right to speak without political censorship, the right to worship or not as one chooses, etc. imply what is right and what is wrong, and none of them involves the ownership of property.
Oh, no. Having the right to speak or worship implies nothing about whether it is right to speak or worship.
I agree that "having the right to vote" does not imply that "it is right that everyone should vote". They are two distinct moral statements as to how things ought to be. My point is that both are moral assertions as to what is "right" and what is "wrong". The use of the term "right" in both cases carries the meaning of "how things ought to be".

When we say "Alfie has the right to vote" we are asserting that it would be morally wrong to prevent Alfie from voting.

When we say "it is right that everyone should vote" we are asserting that it would be morally wrong for Alfie to fail to vote.

Now, one may disagree with either moral assertion, nevertheless, the use of "right" in both cases carries a moral assertion as to "how things ought to be".

To say that people have the right to speak or the right to worship makes the assertion that it would be "wrong" to prevent them from speaking or worshiping.

I suspect that all of the uses of the term "right" carries this implication of "things as they ought to be", even right-handed versus left-handed. I understand that schools used to force left-handed people to write with the right hand.
GE Morton wrote:
May 19th, 2020, 3:33 pm
Both of those rights do, however, involve a right to property --- namely, to your own body and mind, to use them as you choose (subject, of course, to the "do no harm" constraint). But perhaps a clarification of what counts as "property" is in order. "Property" is anything, tangible or intangible, to which you have a right, i.e., which you've acquired without inflicting loss or injury on anyone else, and which you have not abandoned or conveyed to someone else. Your mind, body, talents, skills, abilities physical or mental, are all your property.
But they are not property. And that is the problem with the libertarian theory of rights. It attempts to shoehorn every right we have, like the right to assemble and speak, into some form of property. Even the person's nose must be viewed as his property before it can be protected from harm.
GE Morton wrote:
May 19th, 2020, 3:33 pm
What of the right to vote? That is legal right, one of a subcategory of those usually called "civil rights." Those are rights derived from the hypothetical "social contract" establishing a republican form of government. They deal primarily with the government's obligations to its citizens and their obligations to it. Other rights in that subcategory include the right to stand for public office, the right to trial by jury, the right to just compensation for seized property, etc.
The contract I have in mind is not "hypothetical". The Constitution of the United States is an agreement to constitute a nation out of the several states. It says so right there in the beginning, "We the People ... yada yada yada ... do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America." It is a legal agreement (de jure) between each citizen and every other citizen, you know, we, the people. And each state has a similar agreement between their citizens.
GE Morton wrote:
May 19th, 2020, 3:33 pm
Legal rights are neither natural rights (rights to one's natural possessions), or "common rights" (rights to things acquired after one's arrival in the world, by creating or discovering them). They are (formally) contractual rights, privileges, prerogatives, or guarantees granted per the terms of that (imaginary) "social contract." Most legal rights are fiat rights --- invented rights created by decree of some lawgiver and having no objective basis --- which does not necessarily mean they are not morally defensible. Some are, some aren't.
Nature confers no rights, respects no rights, and protects no rights. Nature would just as soon wash your property away in a flood or destroy it with a tornado.

Your right to your property, if it is to exist at all, can only be conferred, respected, and protected by the rest of us.

There are no rights given by fiat. Rights de jure are, by definition, given by law. Laws are given by legislatures. Legislatures are elected by citizens.
GE Morton wrote:
May 19th, 2020, 3:33 pm
...He also has an obligation to pay taxes, to the extent he benefits from the government services those taxes underwrite.
It is not necessary that he personally benefit. He will share in the cost of building road and bridges even if he has no car. But he will usually benefit indirectly from the trucks that bring food to his grocery store. He may not have any kids in school, but he will benefit indirectly from an educated citizenry.
GE Morton wrote:
May 19th, 2020, 3:33 pm
.. De jure agreements are different animals entirely --- they are schema for concrete, explicit, specific courses of action adopted by specific people for specific purposes, usually reached after discussion and deliberation among the parties involved. They are contracts, and are binding upon their signatories once reached.
And that is precisely what national and state constitutions are, legally binding contracts between the citizens of a nation or state. You are not required to "sign on the dotted line", but your citizenship is a gift we give you when you're born here. However, your continued presence here and your claim to citizenship imply your assent to the agreement.

After all, without the contract there would be no nation for you to be a citizen of.
GE Morton wrote:
May 19th, 2020, 3:33 pm
... There was an agreement among the delegates to the Constitutional Convention and the state legislators who subsequently ratified the Constitution, but 99+% of the country's citizens at the time never signed, or otherwise agreed to, anything. ...
Voting rights evolved over time. A quorum of eligible voters at that time ratified the agreement.
GE Morton wrote:
May 19th, 2020, 3:33 pm
Many of them opposed it, for one reason or another.
And that is always the case. There is seldom if ever unanimous agreement. Yet agreements must be forged nonetheless.
GE Morton wrote:
May 19th, 2020, 3:33 pm
Obviously no one now alive signed it either.
That is unnecessary, because it was specifically covered in the preamble by this clause: "and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity". Their posterity is us.
GE Morton wrote:
May 19th, 2020, 3:33 pm
His right is real if it rests on first possession. That a right is not enforced or not universally honored does not extinguish it. That is true of every other moral principle as well. Lack of compliance does not render the principle invalid or unsound.
The rights based upon the principle of first possession are a rhetorical claim. Whether it is a practical claim or not depends on whether the rest of us agree to apply it to certain cases, or not. It may indeed apply to certain cases of property rights, but it is insufficient to support any other rights, such as the right to vote, the right to speak, the right to worship, and on and on.
GE Morton wrote:
May 19th, 2020, 3:33 pm
But, yes, if Alfie discovered a source of water it indeed does confer upon him a right to deny it to anyone he pleases.
That right, if abused, may be removed by the agreement of the rest of us. The same applies to a person's right to carry a gun, which may also be removed if it is abused.
GE Morton wrote:
May 19th, 2020, 3:33 pm
Every right confers that power --- the right to resist trespasses and other attempted violations. That is the very essence of a right. As Blackstone put it, "There is nothing which so generally strikes the imagination, and engages the affections of mankind, as the right of property; or that sole and despotic dominion which one man claims and exercises over the external things of the world, in total exclusion of the right of any other individual in the universe." (Blackstone, Commentaries, Bk II, Ch. 1).
And, it should be clearly apparent that Blackstone was speaking rhetorically. Just like Jefferson was speaking rhetorically when he said "they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." The Creator, like Nature, does not confer, respect, or protect any rights for us. It is totally up to us to secure our rights by the laws we forge.
GE Morton wrote:
May 19th, 2020, 3:33 pm
Having a right to something does not always entail that one acts rightfully, in the moral sense, by withholding it from someone who needs it. What it does entail is that the decision as to whether or not to withhold it is the owner's to make --- not that of the needy person or of any third party.
Any right that you claim to anything at all is merely rhetorical if it lacks the agreement of others to respect and protect that right for you.
GE Morton wrote:
May 19th, 2020, 3:33 pm
...If Bruno has no right to seize Alfie's water, Chauncey has no such right, Dudley has no right, etc., then all of them together can have no right either. Democratic governments are agents of their citizens; they enforce the rights any citizen could morally enforce if no government existed. If no citizen has a right to Alfie's water then neither do all of them collectively. One million times zero is still zero.
Well, if its just you and your gold and me and my spear, then the only thing that protects your right to your property is that Alfie, Bruno, Chauncy, and Dudley will come to your aid to protect that right. But if you have no agreement with them to do so, then your gold is mine.
GE Morton wrote:
May 19th, 2020, 3:33 pm
... People who have never before encountered one another will observe that principle automatically, even people from radically different cultures. It is what Blod called a "moralized emotion," based on an instinctive understanding that taking something in another's possession will elicit a violent and possibly lethal response. It is an instinct that even many animals recognize --- a hungry tiger does not attempt to steal another tiger's kill, or prey on her cubs. Each person must find ways to meet his needs without inflicting losses or injuries on someone else.
Sure. There are moral judgments that become ingrained due to their success in aiding survival. For example, monkeys will get upset if you give their neighbor a tastier reward for performing the same task. There is a sense of fairness that comes built into the species. And that sense of fairness would not allow someone to monopolize the only source of drinkable water and charge exorbitant prices that reduces everyone else to the status of slaves.

Ecurb
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Re: Explaining Rights to Libertarians (e.g. Bill Glod)

Post by Ecurb » May 19th, 2020, 7:48 pm

GE Morton wrote:
May 19th, 2020, 3:33 pm
Oh, no. Having the right to speak or worship implies nothing about whether it is right to speak or worship. Both of those rights do, however, involve a right to property --- namely, to your own body and mind, to use them as you choose (subject, of course, to the "do no harm" constraint). But perhaps a clarification of what counts as "property" is in order. "Property" is anything, tangible or intangible, to which you have a right, i.e., which you've acquired without inflicting loss or injury on anyone else, and which you have not abandoned or conveyed to someone else. Your mind, body, talents, skills, abilities physical or mental, are all your property.

What of the right to vote? That is legal right, one of a subcategory of those usually called "civil rights." Those are rights derived from the hypothetical "social contract" establishing a republican form of government. They deal primarily with the government's obligations to its citizens and their obligations to it. Other rights in that subcategory include the right to stand for public office, the right to trial by jury, the right to just compensation for seized property, etc.
I don't think "property rights", as normally understood, include minds, talents or skills. There is a sense in which any constituent of a thing is called a "property" of that thing, as in, "One property of 20 is that it is divisible by 10." That's not what we're talking about, though. We're talking about ownership, which involves one person's right to control other people vis a vis the property. In general, property can be bought or sold. You can sell products of your mind (intellectual property), but you can't sell your mind, or your abilities.


Civil rights are not forms of property, so property is not anything to which you have a right. If we muddle definitions, we will never get anywhere. It seems to me that you are conflating things that are intrinsic to a person (his skills, mind and talents) to those which are extrinsic (his house or car). I suspect that you do this to argue that property is natural and, somehow, an intrinsic part of a person's "relationship" with a house or a car. But it isn't.

Property is what we define it to be. If (as I insist is true historically and prehistorically) different societies have had vastly different notions of what constitutes "property", can it be likely that modern capitalist (or Libertarian) property is some sort of natural right? Prohibitions against incest or murder are human universals; property law differs dramatically from one culture to the next.

So it appears societies can decide to define property however they wish, generally attempting to manipulate the definitions to conduce human well-being and happiness. Nor is this differentiation some relic from a primitive past. Communism was a leading economic system in recent times.

Since we can define property how we will, we need not concern ourselves with the notion that it is somehow natural for the owner of land to be able to exercise control over other people vis a vis the land, but somehow unnatural for the public (government) to demand some control over the property owner. Without the laws, jails and billy clubs of the government there would be no property, or, at least, no property law. Since property rights derive from the State, it is fair that the State gets its cut.

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