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Trapped Man Problem

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Hi, I'm trying to understand more about objectivist philosophy, specifically the issue of the limits of property rights.

what will happen in a scenario such as this:

A man (person A) buys all the property surrounding another mans house (person B ). Person A later forbids person B from stepping on his property. Now, person B never bothered securing easement, so he cannot get out of his house without trespassing. In an objectivist society, will the government use force to give person B right of way through the property of person A against the will of person A?

Edited by bob333

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If a tyrant (person A) declared himself owner of a country, and told all his 'citizens' (persons B ) they could not step from their property, how long before economic reality imposed itself on person A via lack of food, water, electricity etc.

Why on earth, assuming rational people of course, would such a scenerio as you suggest come about, presuming, of course, that the society you are advocating is based on objective principles?

Edited by dream_weaver

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Now, person B never bothered securing easement, so he cannot get out of his house without trespassing.
Nobody has the right to take another person prisoner. You can think of it as an unwritten easement if you like, but A has no such right of imprisonment in the first place.

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Nobody has the right to take another person prisoner. You can think of it as an unwritten easement if you like, but A has no such right of imprisonment in the first place.

so the government will allow person b to walk through the property of person a without his consent? That is not a violation of property rights? How? What if the goal is not to imprison person b? Maybe person A just feels uncomfortable whenever someone else is on his property?

In another scenario, what if person A wants to charge money to anyone who walks through any of his properties. Person b can only afford to pay the fee once, so he can leave but he cannot return to his house again, woul the court give him right of way to enter and exit his house as he pleases?

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so the government will allow person b to walk through the property of person a without his consent? That is not a violation of property rights? How? What if the goal is not to imprison person b? Maybe person A just feels uncomfortable whenever someone else is on his property?

In another scenario, what if person A wants to charge money to anyone who walks through any of his properties. Person b can only afford to pay the fee once, so he can leave but he cannot return to his house again, woul the court give him right of way to enter and exit his house as he pleases?

Yes, the Court would mandate that there should be a road across Person A's property, giving Person B free access. And no, that isn't a violation of property rights.

But, to understand why it isn't, you'll have to understand what rights are. Rights, including property rights, aren't the right to objects, they are the right to action. Property rights are the right to use material goods. But it's the right to use them for self sustaining action, not to imprison someone. When people use their property to violate someone else's rights (be it intentionally or not), they are acting outside their rights.

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so the government will allow person b to walk through the property of person a without his consent?
In the scenario you describe, yes. That does not mean he can go trample on A's roses while doing so.... unless A plants roses all over and the only way to walk through is to trample them.

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"Rights, including property rights, aren't the right to objects, they are the right to action. Property rights are the right to use material goods. But it's the right to use them for self sustaining action"

"Bear in mind that the right to property is a right to action, like all the others: it is not the right to an object, but to the action and the consequences of producing or earning that object. It is not a guarantee that a man will earn any property, but only a guarantee that he will own it if he earns it. It is the right to gain, to keep, to use and to dispose of material values."

Just wondering if you derived your answer from this quote as the wording is similar. Because if you did, I think you misinterpreted it. All Ayn Rand is trying to say here is that no one has the obligation to give you anything, if you want property you have to earn it yourself. In fact, I think this quote would contradict your claim as easement is a type of property right and this qoute would mean that no one has the obligation to give it to you, you have to earn it yourself. If you got it from somewhere else, can I see your source?

"When people use their property to violate someone else's rights (be it intentionally or not), they are acting outside their rights."

What specific right is violated in this scenario?

Edited by bob333

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"In the scenario you describe, yes. That does not mean he can go trample on A's roses while doing so.... unless A plants roses all over and the only way to walk through is to trample them."

Thanks for the answer but my purpose is to understand objectivist philosophy, so if you can explain why this is not a violation of property rights and hopefully cite writings of Ayn Rand to back it up, I'd appreciate it. In the scenario described person A doesn't seek to take anyone prisoner, he just doesn't want anyone in his property.

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"There is no conflict of interests among men who do not desire the unearned, who do not make sacrifices nor accept them, who deal with one another as traders, giving value for value.

The principle of trade is the only rational ethical principle for all human relationships, personal and social, private and public, spiritual and material. It is the principle of justice." ~ Trader Principle, Ayn Rand Lexicon

In purchasing his property, Person A has effectively taken Person B's right of way (to B's property) without the consent of Person B or the local authority, which maintains a right to access all property for utilities, emergencies, etc. In reality, your scenario cannot have occurred; an easement of some kind must have been granted. However, for the sake of argument, the Objectivist principle being violated is the Trader Principle (see above). Person A hasn't earned the right to confine Person B to his property by purchasing A's property. Presuming Person B desires to come and go from his property, Person A must deal with person B as a trader and negotiate a right of way.

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In the scenario described person A doesn't seek to take anyone prisoner, he just doesn't want anyone in his property.
Well, he should have thought of it before he took A prisoner.

As for why it is not a violation of rights: A never had the right in the first place.

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"In the scenario you describe, yes. That does not mean he can go trample on A's roses while doing so.... unless A plants roses all over and the only way to walk through is to trample them."

Thanks for the answer but my purpose is to understand objectivist philosophy, so if you can explain why this is not a violation of property rights and hopefully cite writings of Ayn Rand to back it up, I'd appreciate it. In the scenario described person A doesn't seek to take anyone prisoner, he just doesn't want anyone in his property.

If you're just gonna wait for random strangers to explain Oism through short quotes, you're not gonna understand Oism. Ayn Rand's Ethics (including the moral principle of individual rights) is described in a short book called "The Virtue of Selfishness", and her theory of government in "Capitalism:The Unknown Ideal".

In my estimation, most people answering these types of questions on this board have never actually read either of those books.

Edited by Nicky

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... In the scenario described person A doesn't seek to take anyone prisoner, he just doesn't want anyone in his property.

Regardless of what he knew or wanted, he created a hostage situation. That is the objective, full context description of the new property status between A and B. The correction of this situation is an easement by necessity, issued by a court order. It is exactly this situation which justifies the easement. Before a property becomes landlocked there is no need or justification for an easement to be negotiated "just in case".

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"The edict by the owner of the surrounding property would constitute an initiation of force. Not a problem for Objectivism."

Asking people not to trespass on your property is an initiation of force? From what I've understood, based on what I have read so far it is the trespasser who is initiating force by violating the rights of the property owner. If person A has violated any of the rights of Person B then please state which right is violated, it would make things a lot clearer because from what I understand so far, none of the rights of person B are violated in this situation.

"the Objectivist principle being violated is the Trader Principle (see above). Person A hasn't earned the right to confine Person B to his property by purchasing A's property. Presuming Person B desires to come and go from his property, Person A must deal with person B as a trader and negotiate a right of way."

How is it violated by person A? He is only asking that his property rights be respected. The way I understand the Traders principle, person B would be violating it by ignoring the property rights of A, he is giving himself easement unearned! He never worked to secure easement and the court will give it to him for free? Isn't that an unearned gain? I'm sorry but the way I understand it so far is that if the court gives person B easement through the property of person A - this would be equivalent to providing welfare - the court would be providing B with an unearned gain (easement) at the expense of violating the property rights of person A in oder to improve the life of person B. Also, the way I understand it is that in the situation I gave, none of the rights of person B have been violated.

Edited by bob333

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"The correction of this situation is an easement by necessity, issued by a court order."

Well, that's exactly what i'm trying to figure out. Is easement by necessity justified by objectivist principles? Ayn Rand has said that there are no exemptions to rights (including property rights) even in an emergency. Wouldn't giving an easement by necessity be giving an exemption to property rights?

"You cannot say that 'man has inalienable rights except in cold weather and on every second Tuesday,' just as you cannot say that 'man has inalienable rights except in an emergency,' or 'man’s rights cannot be violated except for a good purpose.' Either man’s rights are inalienable, or they are not. You cannot say a thing such as 'semi-inalienable' and consider yourself either honest or sane. When you begin making conditions, reservations and exceptions, you admit that there is something or someone above man’s rights, who may violate them at his discretion."

-Ayn Rand

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"The correction of this situation is an easement by necessity, issued by a court order."

Well, that's exactly what i'm trying to figure out. Is easement by necessity justified by objectivist principles? Ayn Rand has said that there are no exemptions to rights (including property rights) even in an emergency. Wouldn't giving an easement by necessity be giving an exemption to property rights?

Ayn Rand derived, defined and justified rights. When the conditions that justify rights are absent they cannot apply. Nothing is above rights, but there are things before rights.

A “right” is a moral principle defining and sanctioning a man’s freedom of action in a social context. There is only one fundamental right (all the others are its consequences or corollaries): a man’s right to his own life. Life is a process of self-sustaining and self-generated action; the right to life means the right to engage in self-sustaining and self-generated action—which means: the freedom to take all the actions required by the nature of a rational being for the support, the furtherance, the fulfillment and the enjoyment of his own life. (Such is the meaning of the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.)

A man's right to act to his own advantage for his own life is the fundamental right. Setting a derivative right such as property rights against the right to life is a contradiction, in fact it is the stolen concept problem.

Also note that an easement is merely a right-of-way, it is not a transfer of possession and ownership of a portion of another's property.

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"A man's right to act to his own advantage for his own life is the fundamental right. Setting a derivative right such as property rights against the right to life is a contradiction, in fact it is the stolen concept problem."

Would this then justify stealing? If someone was about to die and he does not have enough money for medicine that will save him, can he steal to save his life?

Secondly, the problem doesn't say that the person doesn't have resources to sustain his life within his property, maybe he has a vegetable garden. If he did, then is person A's action justified?

Thirdly, I thought that rights in objectivism are negative obligations upon others only? You have the right to sustain your life without demanding anything from others? Is that correct? You cant demand that someone give you food, you cant demand that they give you shelter, why then can you demand that they give you right of way? Wouldn't you have to pay or negotiate for it?

"Ayn Rand derived, defined and justified rights. When the conditions that justify rights are absent they cannot apply. Nothing is above rights, but there are things before rights."

What are the things that come before rights and what are the conditions that justify rights? Is there any link you can provide to an article on this?

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"A man's right to act to his own advantage for his own life is the fundamental right. Setting a derivative right such as property rights against the right to life is a contradiction, in fact it is the stolen concept problem."

Would this then justify stealing? If someone was about to die and he does not have enough money for medicine that will save him, can he steal to save his life?

Secondly, the problem doesn't say that the person doesn't have resources to sustain his life within his property, maybe he has a vegetable garden. If he did, then is person A's action justified?

Thirdly, I thought that rights in objectivism are negative obligations upon others only? You have the right to sustain your life without demanding anything from others? Is that correct? You cant demand that someone give you food, you cant demand that they give you shelter, why then can you demand that they give you right of way? Wouldn't you have to pay or negotiate for it?

"Ayn Rand derived, defined and justified rights. When the conditions that justify rights are absent they cannot apply. Nothing is above rights, but there are things before rights."

What are the things that come before rights and what are the conditions that justify rights? Is there any link you can provide to an article on this?

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What are the things that come before rights and what are the conditions that justify rights? Is there any link you can provide to an article on this

Last things first: a primary source is the full essay by Ayn Rand Man's Rights. A big part of chapter 10 of OPAR (Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand by Leonard Peikoff) covers this also:

Turning now to the question of logical validation: since they are not primaries, man's rights require proof through the appropriate process of reduction. In the Objectivist approach, the nature of such reduction is readily apparent. Each of man's rights has a specific source in the Objectivist ethics and, beneath that, in the Objectivist view of man's metaphysical nature (which in turn rests on the Objectivist metaphysics and epistemology). Man is a certain kind of living organism—which leads to his need of morality and to man's life being the moral standard—which leads to the right to act by the guidance of this standard, i.e., the right to life. Reason is man's basic means of survival—which leads to rationality being the primary virtue—which leads to the right to act according to one's judgment, i.e., the right to liberty. Unlike animals, man does not survive by adjusting to the given—which leads to productiveness being a cardinal virtue—which leads to the right to keep, use, and dispose of the things one has produced, i.e., the right to property. Reason is an attribute of the individual, one that demands, as a condition of its function, unbreached allegiance to reality—which leads to the ethics of egoism—which leads to the right to the pursuit of happiness.

Right after this is a series of paragraphs amplifying certain of these points:

All rights rest on the fact that man's life is the moral standard. ...

All rights rest on the fact that man survives by means of reason. ...

All rights rest on the fact that man is a productive being. ...

All rights rest on the ethics of egoism. ...

Would this then justify stealing? If someone was about to die and he does not have enough money for medicine that will save him, can he steal to save his life?

I'll answer by quoting from OPAR:

The right to life is the right to a process of self-preservation; it does not mean that other people must give a person food when he is hungry, medicine when he is sick, or a job when he is unemployed. The right to liberty does not mean that others must satisfy a person's desires or even agree to deal with him at all. The right to property does not mean the right to be given property by the government, but to produce and thereby earn it. The right to the pursuit of happiness is precisely that: pursuit is not necessarily attainment. Otherwise, one could claim that his fellows, by withholding their favors, are destroying his happiness and thereby infringing his rights. What then would become of their rights?

In a life or death emergency it is moral to trespass or steal property to save your life so long as you provide restitution after the emergency is over. Examples used for this are: you are hiking in the mountains and a blizzard comes up, you find a cabin that could provide shelter but its locked and empty. Or: somehow you wound up swimming in the ocean alone. After a period of drifting and swimming at sea you come across a small island, but it is clearly marked "PRIVATE PROPERTY NO TRESPASSING". Do you obey the sign and die or disregard the sign and live? The rational thing to do in both cases is to take what you need, and only what you need, and pay for it later.

Secondly, the problem doesn't say that the person doesn't have resources to sustain his life within his property, maybe he has a vegetable garden. If he did, then is person A's action justified?
Person B needs to have liberty to dispose of his property as he sees fit, such as selling excess vegetables in exchange for new clothing or metal tools. He cannot do that if he is trapped on his land plot.

Thirdly, I thought that rights in objectivism are negative obligations upon others only? You have the right to sustain your life without demanding anything from others? Is that correct? You cant demand that someone give you food, you cant demand that they give you shelter, why then can you demand that they give you right of way? Wouldn't you have to pay or negotiate for it?

A right of way is not a thing, a positive value. A right of way merely provides a means to travel without interference, it is a negative obligation. No one can have a right to interfere with another man's travel to point of completely trapping him. One man's rights end where another man's rights begin. If trapping were not the issue then an easement which was somehow more desireable (such as more convenient or it accessed a different roadway) would have to be negotiated and paid for somehow.

Also related to the general problem of the trapped man is the nuisance problem, which has long been resolved with the common law "coming to the nuisance" doctrine. A 4 part series of short articles at Capitalism Magazine advocates reliance on the "coming to the nuisance doctrine" to resolve many forms of property disputes because of its objectivity.

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.

There is another old thread that centers on Rand's article "The Ethics of Emergencies"

Is it OK to steal/kill to save the life of your child?

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What are the things that come before rights and what are the conditions that justify rights? Is there any link you can provide to an article on this?

I'm pretty sure that by "before", Grames means that they are its logical precedents. He doesn't mean "more important".

When suggesting that a person has the absolute control over a patch of land, no matter the context, you are treating property rights in the Libertarian sense of a logical primary and a concrete. In Objectivism, rights are an abstract principle and a consequence of deeper philosophical premises. There's a reason for them, and they exist only when that reason applies. When it doesn't (and in fact the opposite applies - instead of being a tool of someone's freedom to act rationally, control of a patch of land becomes a tool for that person imprisoning another), the control of that land, in that specific context, isn't justified by the principle of individual rights.

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I'm pretty sure that by "before", Grames means that they are its logical precedents. He doesn't mean "more important".

When suggesting that a person has the absolute control over a patch of land, no matter the context, you are treating property rights in the Libertarian sense of a logical primary and a concrete. In Objectivism, rights are an abstract principle and a consequence of deeper philosophical premises. There's a reason for them, and they exist only when that reason applies. When it doesn't (and in fact the opposite applies - instead of being a tool of someone's freedom to act rationally, control of a patch of land becomes a tool for that person imprisoning another), the control of that land, in that specific context, isn't justified by the principle of individual rights.

I can respond to Nicky's post by adding precision to what I have written. Ayn Rand identifies one fundamental right: the right to a man's own life. That invokes the Rule of Fundamentality. No other right can be properly understood apart from the fundamental right.

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@bob333, if you're arguing that, according to Objectivism, it is improper for the government to stop person A from doing this to person B, either you think that (1) person A is not infringing the rights of person B or (2) you think that person A is infringing the rights of person B but that person A somehow has a right to do so.

If (1), then you must show how it is possible that the actions of person A do not infringe the rights of person B when, on the face of it, they do.

If (2), then you must show how it is possible to have a right to infringe rights when, logically, this seems impossible.

Edited by Alfred Centauri

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A man's right to act to his own advantage for his own life is the fundamental right. Setting a derivative right such as property rights against the right to life is a contradiction, in fact it is the stolen concept problem.

Your premise is false. A man does not lose his right to life when he is not allowed to cross another's property. His right to life is not impeded when told that he cannot enter another's property. I think you should do some deeper thinking before claiming to speak for Objectivism.

Also note that an easement is merely a right-of-way, it is not a transfer of possession and ownership of a portion of another's property.

The fact that an easement is "merely a right-of-way" and not a transfer of possession and ownership makes it a worse violation of rights as defined by Objectivism. A transfer of ownership and possession would at least involve compensation to the owner who is being forced to sell part of his land to another, where easements are not only a denial and violation of property rights, but they add insult to injury by not even compensating the victim of the property violation.

J

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Person B needs to have liberty to dispose of his property as he sees fit, such as selling excess vegetables in exchange for new clothing or metal tools. He cannot do that if he is trapped on his land plot.

Then his only option is to live off of his excess vegetables. He has the right to his life and his property, and to the fruits of his labors expended on his property. Anything beyond that must be through voluntary consensual exchange with others. He does not have the right to have access to others via someone else's property.

Anyway, Grames, I've been reading your posts on this and the other similar current thread and trying to figure out how you've come to hold such anti-Objectivist positions while imagining that you're defending Objectivism. I suspect that the problem is that you've always lived in a society which doesn't respect property rights, and you've become accustomed to receiving the benefits of such statism, and you want to continue receiving those benefits, so you've made the mistake of starting with that desired outcome and then you've tried to twist Objectivism around to fit it.

J

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... Ayn Rand identifies one fundamental right: the right to a man's own life...

"Though the earth, and all inferior creatures, be common to all men, yet every man has a property in his own person: this no body has any right to but himself. The labour of his body, and the work of his hands, we may say, are properly his..." ~ John Locke, 2nd Treatise of Civil Government, Chap. 5, Sect. 27

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