Jump to content
Objectivism Online Forum
Sign in to follow this  
Hotu Matua

Should Children pay for their Parent's sins?

Rate this topic

Recommended Posts

A owns land and begets A'.

B uses violence to rob A his land, bribes a judge and makes the robbery look legal. B begets B'.

Both A and B die without having told their children what happened. B' inherits the land from B.

Later on, A' and B' discover (after reading documents, letters, contracts, talking to the old judge, etc.) what happened.

B' thinks that, should his father never robbed A, A' would have inherited the land. B' cannot be 100% sure about it, but reasonably sure.

Must B' give back to A' the land that B robbed to A?

Must B' give A' some of the production, revenues or benefits derived from the ownership of the land?

Edited by Hotu Matua

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
A owns land and begets A'.

B uses violence to rob A his land, bribes a judge and makes the robbery look legal. B begets B'.

Both A and B die without having told their children what happened. B' inherits the land from B.

Later on, A' and B' discover (after reading documents, letters, contracts, talking to the old judge, etc.) what happened.

B' thinks that, should his father never robbed A, A' would have inherited the land. B' cannot be 100% sure about it, but reasonably sure.

Must B' give back to A' the land that B robbed to A?

Must B' give A' some of the production, revenues or benefits derived from the ownership of the land?

Yes, so long as there is a law prohibiting transfer of stolen property to others, and it is within the timeframe of the law wrt statutes of limitation. In a perfectly Objectivist society there would be no statute of limitation but nevertheless there would also not be things like ex post facto laws, IE laws that go into effect retroactively.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

But in that case the child is not atoning for the parents sin, just righting a wrong.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
In a perfectly Objectivist society there would be no statute of limitation ...
I see no reason why this should be so. Laws relating to bankruptcy and limitations arose to fulfill a real human need to be able to plan and to count on certain things. Edited by softwareNerd

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I think some statutes of limitation also deal with how long an eye witness account would be accepted because after so long, details of memories might get too fuzzy to be reliable if that is all there is to go on. I don't think that 30 years down the line I'd want somebody coming forward to say they saw a kid in red baseball cap steal a pack of gum and they think that kid looked like you.

I agree B' should give A' the land though, but I don't think B' should have to give A' any vegetables they may have grown on the land or revenues from growing and selling the vegetables. The land we can safely enough assume should go to A' as A' would have been legally the next of kin to inherit pretty much anything from A. I think only if A had legally changed who was appointed next of kin should it not go to A' and in which case the land should go to whoever now is next of kin. This land transfer would be no more a punishment for the "sins of their parent" than having to give up a TV your neighbor gave you when you found out it was stolen would be a punishment for your neighbor's sins. B' didn't personally earn that land and the one who gifted it to them had no right to do so, so it isn't as if anybody - B' or B - is having any kind of rights violated by the lang being transfered back. However, I don't think B' owes A' any products or profits from that land created while B' was working on it not knowing it was stolen because B' did do the work to create that extra value, it wasn't something that came along automatically with the land and would have been there had A' inherited it rightfully from the beginning.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

It's impossible to answer this kind of question, which demands reference to specific details, without those specific details. What we can do is look at the general principles, and you can determine how those principles apply to the particular case that you have in mind.

Start with the question of whether A properly owns the land -- did he legally purchase it from a rightful owner or did he lay claim to unowned land in a particular legal context? Or, did he himself steal the land; or buy the land from someone who stole the land? The principle is that a man may rightly lay claim to something which was not property thus making the land become property. A man may transfer his property to someone else (making it the transferee's property). If a man steals another man's property, that does not extinguish the owner's right to the property.

Both the moral decision and the legal decision must be made with reference to a full knowledge context. It must be decided whether it is a fact that A is the proper owner of the land, that B did steal the land, and that A would have transferred ownership to A'. If these three things are clearly true, then A' has a right to the land. If they are clearly false, he does not. When the evidence is mixed -- and assuming that there is no realistic hope of finding more evidence -- one must balance the evidence and make a decision. However, real estate is divisible, and a just decision could be that the evidence for either claim is equal, and that it is impossible to derive a conclusion that is "proven", so the claim to the property can be divided.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
It must be decided whether it is a fact that A is the proper owner of the land, that B did steal the land, and that A would have transferred ownership to A'. If these three things are clearly true, then A' has a right to the land.

To add to David's point: It would be relatively easy to establish the first two facts (that A was the proper owner, and that B stole the land). But, it would be interesting to think how would the truth of the third claim be ascertained.

My suggestion would be to collect evidence if A' inherited other property that A owned. If A gave his property equally to A' and A'', then I would do the same for the land that B' has right now.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
It would be relatively easy to establish the first two facts (that A was the proper owner, and that B stole the land).
It could be easy. In the context of modern society where real estate transfers are clearly recorded, the matter of transfer is easy to ascertain. However the original creating of property is often a remote historical event extending past reasonable records. When an area has been inhabited for millenia, the foundational assumption "Original A properly took ownership of unowned land" cannot be validated, which leads to all sorts of irrational arguments about land ownership and ethnicity, i.e. "The Kolami people originally owned this land".

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
It could be easy. In the context of modern society where real estate transfers are clearly recorded, the matter of transfer is easy to ascertain. However the original creating of property is often a remote historical event extending past reasonable records. When an area has been inhabited for millenia, the foundational assumption "Original A properly took ownership of unowned land" cannot be validated, which leads to all sorts of irrational arguments about land ownership and ethnicity, i.e. "The Kolami people originally owned this land".

This brings the question on whether property rights exist idependently of the way they are documented/ascertained or not.

In the cases of rights that have to do with my body, and the way my mind expresses itself through my body (speech, creative work, etc.) the rights are self-evident, as I don't need to get a paper to confirm that this is really my body, this is really my mind, and that this work is actually being performed by my muscles, joints, or my brain.

But in the case of property rights, what is the objective proof really needed to declare them existent?

In the case of advanced civilizations in Mexico, some private property existed alongside communal property. Some lands were owned by nobles, priests or warriors. The ownership was verbally attested by their particular judges, old wise men, etc. and this knowledge was transmitted from generation to generation. So, the concept " Tizoc owns the land that lies between that river, that hill on the west, that hill on the east and the big rock overther to the north" was pretty clear for everyone in their community for all practical purposes. If any had any doubt, they could go to the priest/ judge/ chief, and know from their lip what the common knowlegde was.

But for the Spaniard conquerors, that couldn't be enough. They would have requested to see a document, which did not exist. A documented evidence is far more exact and objective than a verbal evidence. Spaniards have a better way to attest land ownership... which does not imply that Aztec one was non-existent.

Now, suppose that some intelligent beings from other planet visit ours and find out that we have these contracts in paper, but nothing close to the digital, satellite-directed way they have to attest land ownership with a precision of micrometers, and by which owners were identifed not by means of a signature, but based on digital scanning of their genes. In their view, our ownership rights would be so ambiguous, so primitively stated compared to theirs, that they could think we basically do not have property rights.

Edited by Hotu Matua

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
This brings the question on whether property rights exist idependently of the way they are documented/ascertained or not.
Rights exist in an objective context, which is in part social. So when the king declares that all gold belongs to him, then an individual's right to their own gold is not recognized in that society, which is not a fully rights-respecting society. But he man does objectively has a right to his property.
In the case of advanced civilizations in Mexico, some private property existed alongside communal property. Some lands were owned by nobles, priests or warriors. The ownership was verbally attested by their particular judges, old wise men, etc. and this knowledge was transmitted from generation to generation.
That could be, and there could be (well, obviously was), a conflict between societies where valid rights were not recognized for whatever reason. I don't know the details of the conquest and Spanish practice, but I don't find it to be a stretch to think that rights were denied because there was not a papally-authorized document written in Spanish.
intelligent beings from other planet visit ours....

In their view, our ownership rights would be so ambiguous, so primitively stated compared to theirs, that they could think we basically do not have property rights.

I doubt that, for the following reason. It's hard to imagine a metaphysical fact that would show that digital documentation is essential to the concept "rights", so the conclusion would not be a reasonable one. It would be possible though irrational, for volitional beings. I am skeptical that the level of technology required to enable interplanetary space travel would be possible in a primitive society (e.g. medieval Spain, the Mongol Empire etc). It is certainly possible, for volitional beings who live by reason, to nevertheless deny reason. That's what I find to be so implausible about intergalactic space invaders sci-fi.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Rights exist in an objective context, which is in part social.. It is certainly possible, for volitional beings who live by reason, to nevertheless deny reason. That's what I find to be so implausible about intergalactic space invaders sci-fi.

You're right. Now I understand this better. Thanks, DavidOddean.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Well according to some 5700 year old but supposedly BS tradition the answer to this question is twofold:

Children do pay (metaphysically given) for their forefathers' sins,

but,

Children should not pay or be held responsible (legally, given by men) for their parents sins

-

Not an Objectivist answer but some background couldn't hurt...

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The commandments say that the children of those who either abide or break the law of God will be blessed or punished for several generations (North Korea style).

The Torah says that children should not pay for their parents sins, meaning that each person is unique among men and no men (only God) may execute the "sentence".

If you replaced the word god by "no men but nothing less than men" then a lot of theology makes a lot of sense for their time and explains a lot of our evolution. Yes I am aware of the contradictions and the blatantly ridiculous taboos, but if you put all of that in context, discard what doesn't apply anymore (maybe most) then I assure you, one may find a lot of wisdom in pathetic irrational ancient proto-philosophy.

God was a useful shortcut!

Edited by volco

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

and you ought to replace "no men but nothing less than men" for "all that a man can be". Ayn Rand personified her concept of the ideal man, of no existing man but one that could be, in John Galt.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

What if B's son inherits the land and invests his time, money and energy into building a massive skyscraper? Obviously, if B had built property on the land, or otherwise increased the value, it would belong to A's heir as B knew he was building on stolen land.

Any thoughts?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
What if B's son inherits the land and invests his time, money and energy into building a massive skyscraper? Obviously, if B had built property on the land, or otherwise increased the value, it would belong to A's heir as B knew he was building on stolen land.

Any thoughts?

In this situation B' can offer the full property to A', and ask A' to pay for only the value added by B'. It would be a win-win.

If you want to take this further, I can play B' and you play A', and see how we can resolve the issue.

Edited by Saurabh

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
What if B's son inherits the land and invests his time, money and energy into building a massive skyscraper? Obviously, if B had built property on the land, or otherwise increased the value, it would belong to A's heir as B knew he was building on stolen land.

Any thoughts?

Time muddies issues of who owns what and who owes what to whom, because values aren't static. There are also laws on inheritance to consider, since for all anyone knows A would have prefered his estate have gone to someone else or given to charity rather than inherited by A'. But assuming that A' would inherit the whole of estate A, the principle remains that A' should get either the specific value that A would leave to A' or as close as possible to it with just restitution. The hard part is implementing it in any given case. If A' and B' don't come to some private settlement (eg B' pays A', or admits co-ownership to some percentage, etc) then a judge will have to figure out something. What, I don't know. Like David said, you'd need to know a lot more about the specifics, and in this case it would include specifics about what has been done with the property (particularly regarding land).

Extending your point (and thus taking it to the slavery-reparations debate which I imagine this thread was originally intended to lead to), by the time of many generations separation from the original crime the value of the property in the present in most cases has little to do with what it had 100+ years ago at the time of the crime. After that kind of passage of time the 4'th or 5'th generation heir has inherited something whose value has no discernible part originating in the the initial value stolen. Hence while A certainly has full claim against B, and A' has a significant claim against B', 100 years later we generally find that A''''' has no claim against B'''''. The application of the principle, however, will depend on the concretes of the value in question (as well as due consideration for inheritance law in general), as in some cases the original value may well still exist essentially unchanged, eg specific items of jewellery or artworks (see the Nazi stolen art problem, now in its 3rd and 4th generations stage) or other items with very long life-times versus things that require constant oversight and maintenance, such as farmland a building or an amount of cash or stocks or bonds. By 100 years the original value is gone, where what is left behind is mere historical physical connection to that value. It would be unjust for B''''' to be made to pay anything to A'''''. In other words, slavery reparations (whether US chattel slavery or German slave-labour or other past episode of slavery) are unjust, even when "the same corporation" still exists, when the original value cannot objectively be said to still exist.

Going back to A' and B', the issue is also part of something broader. Consider this: what is the principle of settling a dispute between two innocent parties regarding the same one value where a third party stole it from one and transferred ownership by lawful means to the other? This case of inheritance is in the same vein as when B steals something from A and who then sells it to C. Consider the trade in stolen cars, for instance. If the court lets C keep the car then A is the unrestituted victim of B's crime, while if A gets the car back the value then C is the unrestituted victim. In some jurisdictions (IIRC, plus IANAL and all that), the law generally says C keeps the car and A remains the original victim. I don't know what the moral outcome should be, though I lean towards agreeing with this on the purely pragmatic grounds of not throwing the entire practice of trade into extreme doubt by overturning what was otherwise a legitimate transaction plus consideration for that A already self-recognises as a victim while C does not. But, precisely because that is mere pragmatism only, I wont hold to that particuarly strongly - indeed, in many of those same jurisdictions the opposite is required to be done by the courts in the case of land, ie A regains possession (the South Australian system of Torrens Title for lands was created to try to deal with injustice in this regard, and has since been copied by a number of jurisdictions around the world). I would be nice if an Objectivist lawyer who also deals with philosophy of law in detail would offer an opinion, and try to tie it back to a broader principle of justice that includes the inheritance application (and others) plus proper consideration for the concrete natures of the values in question.

JJM

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest
This topic is now closed to further replies.
Sign in to follow this  

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

×
×
  • Create New...