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Aziz 2 Al-Jabir 2

Objectivist Theory on non-aggression, self-ownership and private property

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Hey everyone, I'm a libertarian who's been interested in objectivist philosophy lately. I understand that one of Ayn Rand's criticisms of libertarianism is that many of those in the libertarian movement treat the non-aggression principle as an axiom and do not necessarily attempt to justify it rationally making them "hippies of the right" so to speak. I do agree with her that it is important to have a moral justification for liberty at the end of the day, so how does an objectivist go about justifying concepts like non-aggression, individual liberty, self-ownership, property rights/homesteading, etc in a rational manner. I understand that life is the primary value in objectivism, but would like elaboration on how objectivists get from this point to justifying liberty and individualism as I think it would be helpful in combating statist views which deny non-aggression and liberty

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Briefly, the argument is:

Life is the highest value; if we are to enjoy it we must pursue it by deliberately exercising our rational judgement and acting on that judgement. To do this we must be free.

This is enough for me. You apparently aren't satisfied with it. What do you say it lacks?

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This might seem like nit picking, but I'm unaware of Ayn Rand ever even using the phrase "non-aggression" in her philosophical writings, let alone justifying it.

The reason why I'm pointing this out is that, while it's probably irrelevant to your question about the Objectivist justification for freedom, the belief that Objectivism is about non-aggression will seriously hinder you in understanding more detailed aspects of Objectivism. You will have a tough time even beginning to comprehend why Objectivists often support foreign military interventions (including some initiated by western countries), why Ayn Rand supported intellectual property (and the use of force to punish intellectual property theft), and lots of other stuff.

2 hours ago, Reidy said:

Briefly, the argument is:

Life is the highest value; if we are to enjoy it we must pursue it by deliberately exercising our rational judgement and acting on that judgement. To do this we must be free.

This is enough for me. You apparently aren't satisfied with it. What do you say it lacks?

For the record, that's a good two sentence description. Can't imagine anyone doing a better job, with that amount of words. But more words are needed: it lacks an explanation as to what it means to be free, and why.

Such an explanation would involve delving into epistemological concepts (such as what is principled thought and why it's important), moral concepts like individual rights, legal concepts like property, land ownership, intellectual property, and political concepts like the proper role of government.

In other words, as I'm sure you'd agree, a satisfactory answer to the OP's question would be a pretty long story, best learned by going to the source: Ayn Rand's philosophy.

P.S. When I say long, I don't mean to suggest it's long by philosophy standards. Her non-fiction is generally to the point, easy to follow, even easy to peruse or look up key points about (thanks to the free online Ayn Rand Lexicon...all the concepts I mentioned above are entries in that lexicon, for instance).

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While we're on the topic of what Rand said or not, I would point out that "self-ownership" appears nowhere in the Objectivist literature. If Al-Jabr wants to say that the notion is part of Rand's theory, then he will have to demonstrate it from what she and the people around her said. Otherwise the claim is an unwarranted conflation of Rand with (?) Rothbard.

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AJ, what's up. Unfortunately you're going to find a lot of nit pickers and Randroids on this forums, but alas there are many good posters. Whilst it is true Rand used her own terminology, most people recognize the resemblance of the non aggression principle with Rand's non initiation of force principle, and Rands right to life with the Lockean phrasing of self ownership and property rights. I think these are literally the same thing.

I also think that she is right, along with Rothbard and others, to criticize many other libertarians because they do not ground the axioms of libertarianism in a rational ethics. And many are just plain kooky and weird, but hey that applies doubly to many objectivists.

So I celebrate Rand's unique achievement in her melding of a neo-Aristotelian ethics of virtue with libertarian political philosophy.  I think these two both jointly supplement each other, and provide the best case for either.

Also note that Rand didn't have one argument for an NAP, one for self ownership, one for propert rights, etc, but since she believed in the Greek "unity of virtue" concept, her argument for one constitutes her argument for all.

And there's not just one single arguement for grounding the principle of rights, it is more a web of arguments, different strands depending on how you analyze different aspects of man's nature. 

There is the aforementioned aspect of her philosophical psychology, that she often posits that reason has to be an independent judgment, and that one cannot act on the basis of reason to the extent one is subjected to force, and that one needs moral autonomy to think and act independently. 

There is the trader principle, that is that living in a society can be of advantage to you, but only on certain conditions, eg., that you have the opportunity to trade, and that aggression is not a dependable and reliable means of obtaining values and so forth.

There is her observation that sustaining human life is impossible without appropriating and producing material values and one cannot reliably acquire or produce values for exclusive control under the threat of coercion, and that leads to homesteading and contractual trade and so forth.

She gives an argument based on the metaphysical equality of all men, eg., that after we have established a substantive ethics of long term happiness and well being, that if you recognize the requirements of yourself being free to act on your own reason and values, and that is a constitutive part of your own flourishing, then that commits you to valuing the same right of others to promote their well being (and this is part of her argument for the virtue of justice.)

It is in this sense a type of natural law argument, that reason shows us various aspects of man's nature has certain requirements for being able to achieve happiness and success in a social context, and that all of these things point to a thoroughly robust non aggression principle on egoistic grounds.

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22 hours ago, 2046 said:

AJ, what's up. Unfortunately you're going to find a lot of nit pickers and Randroids on this forums, but alas there are many good posters. Whilst it is true Rand used her own terminology, most people recognize the resemblance of the non aggression principle with Rand's non initiation of force principle, and Rands right to life with the Lockean phrasing of self ownership and property rights. I think these are literally the same thing.

I also think that she is right, along with Rothbard and others, to criticize many other libertarians because they do not ground the axioms of libertarianism in a rational ethics. And many are just plain kooky and weird, but hey that applies doubly to many objectivists.

So I celebrate Rand's unique achievement in her melding of a neo-Aristotelian ethics of virtue with libertarian political philosophy.  I think these two both jointly supplement each other, and provide the best case for either.

Also note that Rand didn't have one argument for an NAP, one for self ownership, one for propert rights, etc, but since she believed in the Greek "unity of virtue" concept, her argument for one constitutes her argument for all.

And there's not just one single arguement for grounding the principle of rights, it is more a web of arguments, different strands depending on how you analyze different aspects of man's nature. 

There is the aforementioned aspect of her philosophical psychology, that she often posits that reason has to be an independent judgment, and that one cannot act on the basis of reason to the extent one is subjected to force, and that one needs moral autonomy to think and act independently. 

There is the trader principle, that is that living in a society can be of advantage to you, but only on certain conditions, eg., that you have the opportunity to trade, and that aggression is not a dependable and reliable means of obtaining values and so forth.

There is her observation that sustaining human life is impossible without appropriating and producing material values and one cannot reliably acquire or produce values for exclusive control under the threat of coercion, and that leads to homesteading and contractual trade and so forth.

She gives an argument based on the metaphysical equality of all men, eg., that after we have established a substantive ethics of long term happiness and well being, that if you recognize the requirements of yourself being free to act on your own reason and values, and that is a constitutive part of your own flourishing, then that commits you to valuing the same right of others to promote their well being (and this is part of her argument for the virtue of justice.)

It is in this sense a type of natural law argument, that reason shows us various aspects of man's nature has certain requirements for being able to achieve happiness and success in a social context, and that all of these things point to a thoroughly robust non aggression principle on egoistic grounds.

Yeah, thanks. Makes a lot of sense. I recognize that Ayn Rand did use different terms but I agree that the same principle, that it is morally wrong to aggress against others and that each person is a sovereign entity unto himself, entitled to live freely, still exists in her philosophy. And I do like the way she uses some Aristotle's philosophy to justify the libertarian/objectivist principle of individual liberty. I do intend to learn more about Rand's philosophy as I think it is very important to justify any moral principle on rational grounds which she seems to do very well. 

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2046, I agree that a principle of non-initiation of force refers to the same thing as a principle of non-aggression. I am not aware of any difference, aside from Rand only phrasing it as the first. But I'd say self-ownership is a wholly incompatible concept for Objectivism, as it alters an Objectivist notion of property. Owning yourself is on the face of it impossible (WHAT is doing the owning?) and is an overemphasis on material aspects of reality. Nitpicks are sometimes important.

Second, this part: "if you recognize the requirements of yourself being free to act on your own reason and values, and that is a constitutive part of your own flourishing, then that commits you to valuing the same right of others to promote their well being"

Why does it commit you? In some sense, yes, we should value that others flourish so that we benefit from their well-being in a mutual way. You seem to be saying it along the lines of a categorical imperitive where it's right because we will it to be a rule that all will follow. This wouldn't be egoistic because it's not justified on grounds of your own well-being. I have a feeling you just need to bring out an egoistic foundation more.

The rest is pretty good I'd say.

Edited by Eiuol

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While not initiating force might be loosely looked at as a form of non-aggression, where would a policy of non-aggression leave you in abrogating force being initiated against you?

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13 hours ago, Eiuol said:

2046, I agree that a principle of non-initiation of force refers to the same thing as a principle of non-aggression. I am not aware of any difference, aside from Rand only phrasing it as the first. But I'd say self-ownership is a wholly incompatible concept for Objectivism, as it alters an Objectivist notion of property. Owning yourself is on the face of it impossible (WHAT is doing the owning?) and is an overemphasis on material aspects of reality. Nitpicks are sometimes important.

Second, this part: "if you recognize the requirements of yourself being free to act on your own reason and values, and that is a constitutive part of your own flourishing, then that commits you to valuing the same right of others to promote their well being"

Why does it commit you? In some sense, yes, we should value that others flourish so that we benefit from their well-being in a mutual way. You seem to be saying it along the lines of a categorical imperitive where it's right because we will it to be a rule that all will follow. This wouldn't be egoistic because it's not justified on grounds of your own well-being. I have a feeling you just need to bring out an egoistic foundation more.

The rest is pretty good I'd say.

1. I don't think self ownership commits you to some kind of metaphysical dualism. The political-ethical question of who should have control over my physical body and the metaphysical question of mind or mater ultimately exists are separate questions, though not unrelated. However you identify the ultimate foundations of the self, part of what rights are is precisely saying is that the self should be able to direct its own actions. No materialism necessary. In fact it's strengthened by an Aristotelian naturalist conception by noting that consciousness cannot exist separate from a biological organism with a body, and that this includes having needs to survive, etc.

2. I'm not saying why here, I'm just saying that was part of the arguments Rand has made. Branden also made the same argument. The argument is based on the metaphysical equality of all human beings. I'm just giving her argument here.

3. You are right that it is an appeal to a kind of Kantian consistency. Why should an egoist care, is a valid question but one that the argument itself is designed to answer (i.e., if you want your own rights recognized.) That's not to say that there are no counter arguments against this, but I imagine Rand would say "you are attempting to live in defiance of reality," (can't you hear the voice?) you can no longer claim the sanction of reason, etc., and that consistency is imposed by the law of identity and not by a categorical imperative. Again, I'm just trying to explain her argument, not give every counter argument in modern philosophy.

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