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danielshrugged

Voluntary Slavery

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Harry Binswanger, in his Harvard debate about selfishness, stated that there is no right to be a slave. Even if a person signed a contract with another making himself a slave, that contract would be void whenever that person wanted to end his slavery.

I don't understand this. Doesn't the right to one's life mean one has the right to do with one's own life what one pleases. If one wants to commit suicide, one has that right. If one wants to destroy one's own property, one has that right. If one wants to be a slave, one has that right. If I sign a contract to be a slave, what exactly is politically wrong with that contract?

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A "slave" by definition is someone who was forced into working for his master without his consent. If you "sell yourself" into doing anything for anyone, then you are selling yourself into a contract, not slavery.

You could of course sell your labor to be done in any way your emloyer chooses, without pay even, for any number of years. When immigrants came over to America in the 1700's, this was properly called "indentured servitude", not slavery.

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Actually, a slave has no legally recognized rights. If someone therefore attempted to sell himself into slavery, he would be declaring he has no rights - including the right to change his mind about being a slave.

Since man has a specific nature, no matter what one declares, that does not change the fact that rights are inherent because of that nature. The ONLY way one can eliminate those rights is by eliminating the life from which they are derived - which is one of the reasons suicide can be moral whereas slavery never can be. Another reason is that suicide is you disposing of your body. Slavery is someone else disposing of your body. The difference is ownership. You own your body in the former. Someone else owns it in the latter. And because man is an entity of unified body and mind, such ownership of the body cannot validly be separated from the consciousness which inhabits the body. Again, it stands in opposition to the nature of man.

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Actually, a slave has no legally recognized rights.  If someone therefore attempted to sell himself into slavery, he would be declaring he has no rights - including the right to change his mind about being a slave.
No, it would be an affirmation of the person's rights. I have the right to do with my own body and life what I want, even to give my life to someone else.

You own your body in the former.  Someone else owns it in the latter.

I own my body NOW. Since I own it, why can't it do what I want with it, if that means to become a slave?

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I believe that David posted the correct answer to your question.

I believe your confusion comes as the result of not understanding the terms contract and slavery correctly.

A slave, by definition, is physically forced to work for another individual against his own will. Thus, agreeing to be a slave does not make any sense, it is a contradiction in terms. One can not agree to be a slave while being physically forced to work for another individual against their own will.

A contract, by definition, is a legally protected agreement between two or more individuals in which all of the participants voluntarily choose to enter in said agreement. As I already stated, a slave is a person who is physical forced to work for another individual, against their own will. As such, it is a contradiction to say that an individual can "agree to be a slave."

You can agree to provide certain services to another individual, without payment on their part, but such an agreement can not be referred to as "agreeing to be a slave," but rather it is a contractual agreement.

An individual has the right to engage in such a contractual agreement, but the individual at the end of that agreement DOES NOT have the right to turn such an agreement into slavery, which is, by definition, forcing one individual to work for another against their own will.

I believe that this is what Mr. Binswanger meant when he said that no one has the right to be a slave (such a concept makes absolutely no sense since it is a contradiction).

If you could provide us with an actual transcript of the quote in which he stated this, or at least some of the context behind this statement, perhaps we would be better able to answer your question.

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Then I'm using the word slave loosely, if you like. What I mean by it, and what I think Dr. Binswanger meant by it, is indentured servitude. However, Dr. Binswanger did call it slavery, even though he was only referring to such a contractual agreement. I will look for the relevant part of the tape later today and get you some quotes and context.

You can agree to provide certain services to another individual, without payment on their part, but such an agreement can not be referred to as "agreeing to be a slave," but rather it is a contractual agreement.
That's precisely what I'm talking about. I don't understand why Dr. Binswanger would say such a contractual agreement is not a valid one.

the individual at the end of that agreement DOES NOT have the right to turn such an agreement into slavery, which is, by definition, forcing one individual to work for another against their own will. 

Your meaning here isn't clear. You are claiming that if the person changes his mind about such a contractual agreement, it becomes slavery? That would be along the lines of Dr. Binswanger's claim. But, according to the contract, the person is willing to be forced, should his will change in the future.

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Your meaning here isn't clear. You are claiming that if the person changes his mind about such a contractual agreement, it becomes slavery? That would be along the lines of Dr. Binswanger's claim. But, according to the contract, the person is willing to be forced, should his will change in the future.

No one has the right to initiate force against ANYONE. Thus, no one has the right to enter an agreement in which one individual will initiate force against the other.

One CAN enter a contract by which one individual is giving his services for nothing in return, but in such an agreement, there is no initiation of force on anyone's part but rather it is a voluntary agreement.

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No one has the right to initiate force against ANYONE.  Thus, no one has the right to enter an agreement in which one individual will initiate force against the other. 

Well, it isn't really an initiation of force if a person agrees to the conditions.

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If a man is forced to be a slave, then force is being initiated against him.

THAT is the argument FOR the claim.

--

BTW - daniel said:

"I have the right to do with my own body and life what I want..."

Actually, man's nature is metaphysically given. As such, it is not subject to your whim ("I want"). Since rights are derived from the nature of man, while it is true you may have the ABILITY to act in opposition to the nature of man, you do not have the RIGHT to act in opposition to that nature. Such a claim is a contradiction in terms.

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If a man is forced to be a slave, then force is being initiated against him.

THAT is the argument FOR the claim.

Now that is complete rationalism. The man is NOT forced to be a slave. It is a voluntary, contractual agreement. The man later would like to end the agreement, but it is voluntary, since he agreed to it in the first place. Thus, the man is not forced to be a slave, and no force is being initiated against him. Once again, what I'm asking for is the argument, preferably an inductive one, to the contrary.

Actually, man's nature is metaphysically given.  As such, it is not subject to your whim ("I want").  Since rights are derived from the nature of man, while it is true you may have the ABILITY to act in opposition to the nature of man, you do not have the RIGHT to act in opposition to that nature.  Such a claim is a contradiction in terms.

More rationalism. Man's nature is given, and as a result, if man wants to live, he must act a certain way. Rights are derived from the nature of man in that man cannot function under force. But this means precisely that man DOES have the right to act contrary to his own nature. Man DOES have the right to starve himself. Man DOES have the right to be irrational. Man DOES have the right put food in his ear rather than his mouth. If, as you say, man had no right to act in opposition to his nature, then selfishness would have to be forced onto people (which would be impossible).

I'm arguing not that to agree to be a slave, if you permit the loose language, isn't self-destructive or contrary to man's nature. I'm arguing that there is no initation of force, and thus one has the right to do it, and the owner of the slave has the right to treat the person, for as long as the owner chooses, as a slave.

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If I understand the claim being made correctly, then I am in complete agreement with Dr. Binswanger (although it would be helpful to know exactly what he said, and the context in which he said it).

Allow me to point out a closely analogous situation that might help clear up some confusion.

A dictator who takes power by force (obviously) has no right to such power. But a dictator who has been elected by the common consent of the citizens of the nation also has no such right to that power. Even though he was freely elected, the people have the right to remove him from power whenever they change their mind.

The reason I say this is a closely analogous situation is because a dictatorship is simply slavery on a national scale. Even if the slaves initially "agreed" to it, that doesn't legitimize it. The relationship of the dictator to his subjects violates the very principle of rights, and therefore there can be no right to set up such a relationship--it would be an express contradiction.

For the same reason, the relationship between a slave-owner and his slaves contradicts the very principle of rights. No one has the right to own slaves. If one's life (the ultimate value and the source of all values, including rights) is owned by someone else, then the concept of rights is undercut at its foundation. The right to enslave is therefore a contradiction in terms--whether it is performed by force, or if one "voluntarily" consigns oneself to it. Therefore, even if one has signed such a contract, it is invalid by its very self-contradictory nature--and one may change one's mind at any time and opt out of the contract (just as the citizens of a nation may--and should--remove the dictator at any time, even if they put him there to begin with).

Also, as a tangent, I'm not so sure that one could voluntarily consent to be a slave. Seeing as there is no objective, valid reason to want to be a slave, I think one would have to be mentally deficient in some way or coerced somehow to "agree" to such a contract. The whole thing also violates the trader principle--the reason free trade is a value to man is because it is supposed to be conducted by mutual consent to mutual benefit. But, in principle, no such benefit can be had on the part of the slave, this invalidating the whole trade.

Hope that helps.

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That's the claim. What I'm looking for is an argument for the claim.

Daniel

Neither were rationalism, the latter was the reason for the former. And Ash makes clear the point I was making in the latter.

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Hypothetical situation:

Suppose some Christian or Muslim fundamentalists decided that when they got married, the wife should be "owned" by her husband. If she agreed to "sell" herself to her husband (in slavery, servitude, whatever) -- would that be a valid contract? How far would that go? (Note that in many parts of the world this happens already, although the wife doesn't always "agree" to the deal even if she says so.)

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Guest mattbateman

I think the problem might be in the nature of a contract.

As I understand it, a contract, by its nature, is delimited. It must involve an exchange of specific values.

Slavery is not an agreement to do some specific thing, it's an agreement to do whatever someone else says. It's not an agreement for a specific time, it's an agreement for the rest of your life. Slavery is not an exchange of values, it's an "exchange" of one's individual rights, which is not the same thing.

The government would have no objective way of enforcing such a contract. It has no way of determining the rights of the parties involved--since one of the parties has no rights. Contract law would have no way of accomodating and arbitrating either party's claims.

For example, how could the government determine that the entering of the contract wasn't coerced in the first place? Now one party doesn't even have a right to ask the police to investigate that issue. It would be impossible in practice to arbitrate a contract into slavery.

That's my stab at reduction. I certainly don't fully understand the issue, or philosophy of law, but it's a slightly different angle and I thought I'd offer it. Like Daniel I am having some trouble integrating/reducing this point.

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A dictator who takes power by force (obviously) has no right to such power.  But a dictator who has been elected by the common consent of the citizens of the nation also has no such right to that power.  Even though he was freely elected, the people have the right to remove him from power whenever they change their mind.
Unfortunately, this does not help. It merely shifts the argument to another level. Before, I wanted to know why one man cannot give his life to another. Now, you answer: because many men cannot give their lives to another. This is not an answer. Nobody has given me a reason yet.

Even if the slaves initially "agreed" to it, that doesn't legitimize it.  The relationship of the dictator to his subjects violates the very principle of rights, and therefore there can be no right to set up such a relationship--it would be an express contradiction.

Okay, this is good in that it is an attempt at providing such a reason. However, I don't understand why or how the relationship "violates the very principle of rights". If did, then of course there would be no right to set up the relationship. So why, exactly, does it violates the principle of rights?

If one's life (the ultimate value and the source of all values, including rights) is owned by someone else, then the concept of rights is undercut at its foundation.
Once again, one can become a slave because one own's one life. And one who owns one's life has the right to give it up.

(Clearly, your deductive arguments aren't helping me. How about some reality?)

Also, as a tangent, I'm not so sure that one could voluntarily consent to be a slave.  Seeing as there is no objective, valid reason to want to be a slave, I think one would have to be mentally deficient in some way or coerced somehow to "agree" to such a contract.  The whole thing also violates the trader principle--the reason free trade is a value to man is because it is supposed to be conducted by mutual consent to mutual benefit.  But, in principle, no such benefit can be had on the part of the slave, this invalidating the whole trade.

I could imagine some situations. Suppose a man is dying and needs an expensive new operation. A doctor is willing to perform it on him if he becomes his slave. I could come up with more of these. I know it's not a major problem, but I suspect this issue can shed some more light on the nature of rights in general.

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I thought the dictatorship analogy would be helpful, Daniel. I'm sorry that it wasn't.

Tell me, then, do you think that the people of a nation would not have the right to remove a dictator if they had voluntarily put him into power to begin with?

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Guest toolazytoregister

Alright, I've thought about this a little more.

The principle is: one cannot use a right derived from one's right to life to negate one's right to life. Because you have a right to your life, you can do anything you want with it, including end it. But the right to life does not give you the ability to change the source of your rights: your nature.

You can give up your life, but not your right to it. Just like you can give up your property, but not your right to property.

These latter instances are just metaphysical impossibilities. It's possible for others to not recognize those rights, but its not possible to give them up any more than its possible to sign a contract to remove your conceptual faculty.

The contradictions in reality that arise when you violate this principle are similar to the one I described above. How could a government possibly deal with such a contract? The logical (metaphysical) contradictions would make it impossible. The example I gave above is pretty good, but here is the supreme example:

How could the government enforce a contract between two individuals--if one of them does not have the right to make contracts?

It would be impossible. No objective law could be written on the subject. You'd have to ignore either the identity of man and the identity of contracts or both.

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I was about to make a similar post, but I see that Matt has already beaten me to it and done a better job of it than I probably could have.

Once again, I agree with Matt.

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Tell me, then, do you think that the people of a nation would not have the right to remove a dictator if they had voluntarily put him into power to begin with?

First of all, each person would have to agree to have the dictator. Whether they would be able to remove the dictator would depend on the terms of the agreement. If they signed a contract with the dictator saying, "Anyone who agrees to live under this dictator may not change his mind," then they could not remove him. In reality, however, not everybody agrees to the dictator, and the ones who remove him are the ones who didn't want him to begin with.

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How could the government enforce a contract between two individuals--if one of them does not have the right to make contracts?
How does this differ from something like a will, which IS enforced after a person's death? It seems the government is enforcing the contract of the person who had rights, with the consequence that his future rights are taken away.

The principle is: one cannot use a right derived from one's right to life to negate one's right to life. Because you have a right to your life, you can do anything you want with it, including end it. But the right to life does not give you the ability to change the source of your rights: your nature."

Hmmm. I think I get the general argument, and this is along the lines of what I thought would be the argument in the beginning; however, I find it unconvincing. Perhaps I need a concretization. But this way of putting it does make some sense.

I'm going to go back and look at your post about contracts.

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Daniel, I'm sorry, but that is absolutely ridiculous.

First of all, when people "choose" a dictator in some third world country, usually, there is a threat of force involved if the person does not choose that dictator (such as Saddam Hussein being "elected" in Iraq).

Secondly, NO INDIVIDUAL HAS THE RIGHT TO TAKE AWAY ANOTHER INDIVIDUAL'S RIGHTS, whether it be by force or by voluntary consent. You have the right to your own life, even if you do not recognize that you do (and even if the government you live under does not recognize that you do).

The only way to give up your life is to commit suicide. Just as you can give away all of your property and still have the right to property, so you can give away your life to another individual and still have the right to your own life.

Also, as others have commented, a proper government COULD NOT recognize such a contract as an agreement of one person to be enslaved by another. The purpose of a proper government is to recognize that every individual has the right to their own life (and all of its consequences and corollaries) and protect that right to life.

A contract is an agreement between two or more parties, in which the government recognizes that ALL of those parties have the right to their own life (and thus, the right to voluntarily trade with whomever they want).

The government can not recognize a contract in which you give up your right to life. They can recognize that you are giving your services for nothing in return, but only as long as you choose to continue to do so.

I think this is a rather ridiculous point. I can see someone agreeing to give their services in exchange for some emergency medical procedure, or some other emergency situation, but who in their right mind would want to just give away their right to life? A person who wants to die. The government should have absolutely nothing to do with that. If a person wants to die, they can put a gun to their head or go to the private sector and have it done for them.

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