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Clerisian

Objectivism And Tainted Holdings

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It was suggested to me by Felipe that I come in and have a look at this thread and perhaps discuss it. This will be my first post in quite some time, and I don't mind disclosing that part of the reason for my extended absence (after a very short presence) is summed up very well in this post from Hal.

Owning property isnt about use. Property involves who is entitled to use objects in the future, not just who is using them at a specific time. It is this 'continuity of usage' that needs to be legitimately grounded, not a particular instance.

Thank you Hal for your comments on property, you are entirely correct, property rights are not a function of use, they have nothing to do with whether you use the property or not, and nothing to do with whether you use that property to further your own life or not. Unfortunately, you seemed to have skimmed my blog article a little too quickly, and you missed this reminder which was directed to the non-Objectivists, and which is quite poignant at this juncture:

"(A small clarification for those non-Oists reading this, "property" above refers to that to which property rights pertain, ie. the product of a man's effort.)"

Virtually the entire discussion in my blog post (including the two examples that you quoted above) are concerning natural resources and land, not property. Furthermore, the article is in fact specifically addressing the essence of how land and natural resources can be considered as property, what the requirement for them to be considered as such is. And yet here you are, quoting two sections from my blog talking explicitly about land and natural resources, and then applying the stolen concept of property to each and equating my points to the moral or immoral use of a hammer or factory.

Nothing in my article applies to anything which is already property (ie. was the product of man's effort). So a hammer, a factory, heroin tools, none of these are relevant (or meaningful) examples to cite in any criticism.

Your subsequent claims stacked up on top of these errors are substanceless. Your "tent in the garden of the holidayers" example demonstrates such a massive ignorance of any of the points I covered in my blog post that I struggle to believe that you read any of the article at all, certainly it's clear that you didn't read the many sections of it that already deal with that scenario soundly.

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Okay, but legal claims aside, do you think that Daniel has a moral claim on the property? That is, it could be the case that some degree of mixation of labor is a sufficient condition for owning a piece of property, as a matter of objective fact, but that we live in a country where this is not respected, but instead some other principle is used, such as need-based principles. Whether or not I can feign need sufficiently well to get the government to allow me to steal your property is relevant to the legal issue but not the moral one.

Daniel has no direct moral claim to the property because it was not a product of his own effort. However, if there was a legal will bequeathing the property to Daniel then that constitutes moral ownership for Daniel. A will is just a trade, one party gives their property to another as a demonstration of appreciation and value in that other person.

Given the above caveat (that a will existed, which implies legal ownership can be demonstrated by Alan), I propose that justice is most closely approached in such a situation by encumbering Charlie with a debt to Daniel of the amount of the original property stolen, plus market rates for the time value of that property, under my proposed LFC system Charlie would also be required to settle the debt with the government for apprehension and judicial costs (should there be any, see ** below).

Now, I can hear the "Reply" buttons being clicked already, but hold your horses. I know that this is "not fair" to Charlie, but the thing to remember is that that's not Daniel's business. Charlie was wronged by the actions of Bob, not by the actions of Daniel.

An important aspect that it's easy to trip over here is that in our existing societies justice has come to mean only punishment, for the most part the only form of justice that our legal systems exact is punitive. The essence of justice however, is payback. And that doesn't (or shouldn't) mean that the victim "gets payback on" the criminal, it means simply that the victim is paid back what is owed.

Justice is an attempt to balance the scales, to correct an imbalance that was caused by force. Assuming demonstrable ownership by Alan and rightful will to Daniel, then that property still belongs to Daniel, it is still his property. Justice will attempt to restore that situation as close as it can.

It doesn't matter if Charlie was unaware of his father's crime. We're not seeking to punish Charlie, we're just paying Daniel back the property that was stolen from him (and yes, stolen from his father when there's a will in place, is being stolen from him). When Charlie accepted property from Bob he engaged in a trade, he bears the responsibility of ensuring that the property was Bob's to trade, as do all traders.

** In all likelihood, such a situation would be settled out of court by Daniel and Charlie's lawyers. Charlie would probably see that his case was unwinnable and negotiate with Daniel who may choose to take only part of what he would get in court in order to receive his owings immediately.

Or, for example, if Charlie was a bum and had gambled all Bob's money away, then Daniel may choose to establish some payment plan to be repayed rather than (as would happen under my system) pursuing the matter in court after which Charlie would be sent to prison to work off his debt to Daniel (which may end up taking much longer, depending on Charlie's out-of-prison earning capacity).

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Bison are a resource of a piece of land. Why is hunting bison for food not an example of mixing one's labor with a piece of land, but drilling for oil an example? It seems like you have to say that there is a minimum level of labor mixation, as Myself suggests. Either that, or I can lay claim to a piece of land whose owners have developed it less than I plan to, which is pretty close to the new eminent domain ruling.

I'm assuming you've already read my blog article, if not then this post may not make as much sense as it will once you have.

Hunting bison for food is definitely an example of land use, and performing such an action does constitute moral ownership of that land. I would refute anyone's claim to begin mining oil on that land while you're hunting your bison.

I think, though, that bison being what they are, a relatively mobile animal, that I could quite easily scare your bison onto some land that I am not interested in mining, at which time you would no longer be using this (pointing at the piece of land previously occupied by bison and hunter) piece of land, and hence your moral claim to it based on your use of that land to further your life, ends. It's now a good-old-fashioned natural resource, owned by no one, and so I begin drilling for oil.

Now, an oil drill is a mechanism that is installed on the land, it doesn't scare so easily, and worst of all, the drill itself is property - to which my property rights pertain. So, once your bison are scared off, and I establish my oil drill, this land is morally mine until I stop using it.

Therein lies the problem of a nomadic people, once they move off a piece of land, they no longer have a moral claim to that land, I build my home there, and by they time they nomad their way back to it again it's Detroit.

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Alan ... comes to own a fair amount of property....

Bob somehow steals all of Alan's property....

Bob later has a son, Charlie, and wills all Alan's property to Charlie, concealing the theft from him...

Charlie ...manages to make a great deal of money from Alan's property...

Daniel, Alan's son,...believes he is entitled to some of the property that Charlie now has.

Gaps in the scenario have to be filled first. For this to make any sense, Bob must have stolen the property undetected and untraceably, so presume the property is not real or incorporeal. It's ridiculous (and irrelevant) to assume that somebody can steal all of a person's property untraceably, so let's change that to some. We assume that Alan and Bob are dead and the estates have been settled. It matters whether Alan knew of the theft, and what the fate of the property would have been (e.g. he could have decided to sell it, or to will it to a cousin; or he could have done something to harm the cash value of the property). Alan's will might say "all of my property" but only on the presumption that he no longer owns the valuable widget (since it was stolen years ago and lost forever), where he might have had no intention of transferring ownership of the widget to his son. Since it is impossible to know for certain what "would have happened", Daniel cannot assert an absolute right to the property. You may stipulate that Alan "would have" succeeded in keeping the item in good shape, that doing so would not have otherwise substantially decreased his assets (hence the value of the estate), and would not have willed it to someone else: but I can equally stipulate that Alan would have dropped it in the river, spent all of his money maintaining the object, or would have willed it to a neighbor or a museum.

You also need to clarify how this stolen property was used by Charlie to make a profit. Charlie has done no wrong at all so he deserves no punishment. If he sold the widget to Chris for a million bucks, then he no longer has the widget, and Daniel's case is against Chris (recall, the wrongdoer is dead) who, innocently, received remotely stolen goods. Since you didn't mention that, I assume you mean that this is a useful widget which Charlie used for manufacturing, for example it's a chop saw. At most, Daniel is entitled to reclaim the chop saw (assuming that he can prove that he would have legitimately inherited the saw had it not been stolen -- that's a powerful burden to shoulder). Dead Bob bore responsibility for the theft and deserved whatever punishment objective law metes out to thieves which could include compensation plus (for example, a portion of the profits from the use of the stolen goods), but Charlie is an innocent, which limits Daniel's claim to nothing more than the chop saw itself.

Consider for a moment the problem of lost property: if A loses his property and B finds it, should B reject the found property on the grounds that "it must belong to someone else"?. Worse, what if A drops his property when defending himself from an attack -- should B reject any found property on the grounds that it might be the fruits of a rights violation? Lost property is often hard to distinguish from unowned property, viz. something that never was owned or something that was deliberately abandoned. Even if Alan purchased the saw legitimately from Smith, we don't know whether Smith acquired it legitimately in the first place. The irony is that in reality, Smith stole the saw from Jones, who was Bob's father, and therefore via inheritance, Bob is really the "rightful" owner. These epistemological hurdles are the essential reason why there are statutes of limitation -- they limit the extent of obsessive-compulsive behavior mandated by law for moral people. The saw essentially becomes lost property.

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Given the above caveat (that a will existed, which implies legal ownership can be demonstrated by Alan)...
Remember, this isn't about what Daniel is lawfully entitled to. It's about what he deserves, given his moral claim to Alan's property.

I propose that justice is most closely approached in such a situation by encumbering Charlie with a debt to Daniel of the amount of the original property stolen, plus market rates for the time value of that property

There's another question this brings up: is Charlie entitled to the product of his labor using someone else's capital? However, I'm leaning towards "yes," as it's not clear who else would be entitled to it.

I know that this is "not fair" to Charlie, but the thing to remember is that that's not Daniel's business.  Charlie was wronged by the actions of Bob, not by the actions of Daniel.
I think it's incredibly fair to Charlie. Charlie would have had nothing, and in virtue of Bob's theft, he had use of the stolen wealth long enough to make his fortune. Bob's actions were wrong, but they did not wrong Charlie.

Assuming demonstrable ownership by Alan and rightful will to Daniel, then that property still belongs to Daniel, it is still his property.

But it would have been Daniel's property, as a matter of fact, whether or not ownership was demonstrable. If Bob stole it so well that nobody could catch him, it would still be theft.

Nonetheless, I agree with the thrust of your argument.

I'm assuming you've already read my blog article, if not then this post may not make as much sense as it will once you have.

No, it makes perfect sense. I agree, except that I don't think that you scaring my bison is fair. If my bison move, and I follow them, then I lose my right to the land. But scaring my bison is damage to my property, which is something you have no right to do. You might offer me some oil in exchange for the right to chase my bison away, but I would have to be in on it.

Edited by Clerisian

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Gaps in the scenario have to be filled first. For this to make any sense, Bob must have stolen the property undetected and untraceably, so presume the property is not real or incorporeal. It's ridiculous (and irrelevant) to assume that somebody can steal all of a person's property untraceably, so let's change that to some.

Why you find it necessary to make a hypothetical scenario reasonable is beyond me, but even so, your assumptions are unwarranted. Bob might have stolen the property right out in the open, perhaps by using his friends in Washington and the new eminent domain ruling. Or, he might have secretly given Alan false memories, as in Ghost in the Shell, which caused Alan to believe that Bob deserved the property.

We assume...absolute right to the property.
So in other words, you are taking the position on my original sticking point that when I will something to you, if I do not change my will, I have not transferred moral ownership of it?

I can...stipulate that Alan would have dropped it in the river, spent all of his money maintaining the object, or would have willed it to a neighbor or a museum.

You have got to be kidding me. Alan could explicitly claim up to his death that he would never do anything but give the object to Daniel. Why the possibility that he might have dropped it in the river if he had it negates Daniel's moral claim is beyond me.

You also need to clarify how this stolen property was used by Charlie to make a profit.
He juggled it in a carnival and collected tips in his hat. Who cares?

Charlie has done no wrong at all so he deserves no punishment.

But as smathy points out, this isn't about whether or not Charlie deserves punishment. Charlie was not entitled to his property in the first place. When I take it away from him, I don't so much punish him as right a wrong. He may feel punished, but that's because of a mistake on his part.

If he sold the widget to Chris for a million bucks, then he no longer has the widget, and Daniel's case is against Chris (recall, the wrongdoer is dead) who, innocently, received remotely stolen goods.
You're mistaking civil issues for criminal ones. Yes, Chris is innocent, but that doesn't mean he's entitled to anything. Also, his name should have been Edward or something.

Since you didn't mention that, I assume you mean that this is a useful widget which Charlie used for manufacturing,

The widget was your idea. I assumed it was a bunch of property that Charlie could borrow against and use for business operations.

At most, Daniel is entitled to reclaim the chop saw (assuming that he can prove that he would have legitimately inherited the saw had it not been stolen -- that's a powerful burden to shoulder).

That's because chop saws don't tend to accrue interest.

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Why you find it necessary to make a hypothetical scenario reasonable is beyond me . . .

This was not addressed at me, but I will respond nonetheless. The purpose of a hypothetical is to use a specific factual context to help you discover, refine, or test a general principle. Why must it be reasonable? Because if it isn't, it won't help you discover, refine, or test anything useful. That is, of course, assuming that finding something useful is one's purpose.

I see the rest of your post contains some more sarcastic remarks. I suggest that you choose your words more carefully. Rudeness is not tolerated on this forum.

Regarding your character Daniel, the fact that he is a beneficiary in a will does not give him a claim to that property until the testator (the person who wrote the will)dies. And I'm talking morally. Why not? A very simple reason. Because so long as the testator is alive, the property is still his.

Things in a will are conditional gifts. What's the condition? The testator's death. Before that condition is satisfied, the testator, morally, can do what he wants with the property absent something like a promise to the beneficiary to hold it for him and keep it in good condition. But there we'd be talking about things like gifts, not wills.

If you want to say the testator is dead (as you may already have), go ahead and say that.

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Remember, this isn't about what Daniel is lawfully entitled to. It's about what he deserves, given his moral claim to Alan's property.

As I said in the opening paragraph, Daniel has no moral claim to any of Alan's property without demonstrable ownership by Alan, and rightful will to Daniel. The property of a father is not his son's by right. Only the product of your own efforts is yours by right. The only other way to obtain moral ownership of property is by trade, which is what the will constitutes (a will that would require both a political context and demonstrable ownership).

As soon as you introduced the contention between Alan and Bob the context became political (see Tom's excellent post on politics)

There's another question this brings up: is Charlie entitled to the product of his labor using someone else's capital? However, I'm leaning towards "yes," as it's not clear who else would be entitled to it.

Charlie is entitled to everything he has once he has paid back Daniel.

I think it's incredibly fair to Charlie. Charlie would have had nothing, and in virtue of Bob's theft, he had use of the stolen wealth long enough to make his fortune. Bob's actions were wrong, but they did not wrong Charlie.

Well, in your particular scenario it may not be as obvious as if Charlie had created nothing from the property Alan gave to him, gambled it away, was in enormous debt, and then ends up in prison to pay back Daniel.

No, it makes perfect sense. I agree, except that I don't think that you scaring my bison is fair. If my bison move, and I follow them, then I lose my right to the land. But scaring my bison is damage to my property, which is something you have no right to do. You might offer me some oil in exchange for the right to chase my bison away, but I would have to be in on it.

They're not "your" bison unless you penned them or branded them or something. If you have injected your effort somehow into the bison then sure, they're yours. Otherwise they're just bison, yet another natural resource.

If I shoot one then it's mine, if you shoot one then that's yours. While they're unowned bison, I certainly can scare them or do whatever I want with them morally as long as it is in the furtherance of my own life. Certainly if I was clearing the bison off land in order to build an oil well, that would be in the furtherance of my own life. The resolution of competing moral claims, as I spend a long time talking about in my blog article, brings in a context of politics. Under that context, sure, ownership may begin prior to you actually shooting the bison, but without that - we each have the same rights to do with those bison anything that furthers our own lives.

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The purpose of a hypothetical is to use a specific factual context to help you discover, refine, or test a general principle.  Why must it be reasonable?  Because if it isn't, it won't help you discover, refine, or test anything useful.

I disagree with your justification. If a principle is a general principle, then it must be applicable to any situation, no matter how unreasonable, so long as the situation is logically possible and relevant to the principle (for instance, if the principle has a conditional form, then the antecedent must be satisfied).

I see the rest of your post contains some more sarcastic remarks. I suggest that you choose your words more carefully. Rudeness is not tolerated on this forum.
I agree that my remarks may have been sarcastic, but that doesn't mean they weren't honest statements of what I believe to be the case. I made a joke about Charlie juggling the stolen property in a carnival, because it is my position that what he was doing with the stolen property to earn money has absolutely no relevance to the issues at hand, in particular whether or not Daniel has a claim to the property. The Edward thing was just a joke, but don't think it was worthy of condemnation. Nonetheless, I will respect the rules of the forum.

so long as the testator is alive, the property is still his. 

Things in a will are conditional gifts.  What's the condition?  The testator's death. 

I agree, but I claim that conditional gifts are real gifts, and give Daniel a real claim when the condition is satisfied.

Before that condition is satisfied, the testator, morally, can do what he wants with the property...If you want to say the testator is dead (as you may already have), go ahead and say that.

Good point, it may be unclear. So, when Daniel goes to Charlie with his moral claim, Alan is dead, and never changed his will. He also expressed his hope that someday Daniel would be able to recover his property, because Alan wants him to have it.

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As I said in the opening paragraph, Daniel has no moral claim to any of Alan's property without demonstrable ownership by Alan, and rightful will to Daniel...The only other way to obtain moral ownership of property is by trade, which is what the will constitutes (a will that would require both a political context and demonstrable ownership).

Here's the problem: I claim that the sanction of government of ownership and contracts is irrelevant to their normative force. If Alan has a moral right to his property, but not a legal right, then he is still morally entitled to will or trade it, because when you steal something from me you don't change the fact that I'm entitled to it. It sounds like you might be disputing this, but I can't tell.

They're not "your" bison unless you penned them or branded them or something.  If you have injected your effort somehow into the bison then sure, they're yours.  Otherwise they're just bison, yet another natural resource.

I concede the point. Now it's just a matter of what could count as pre-bison-shooting labor mixation, which doesn't interest me terribly.

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I agree, but I claim that conditional gifts are real gifts, and give Daniel a real claim when the condition is satisfied.

By using the word "but" you are suggesting that what I said is different from what you now say. Reread what I said carefully:

"Regarding your character Daniel, the fact that he is a beneficiary in a will does not give him a claim to that property until the testator (the person who wrote the will) dies."

Does anything in there contradict what follows your "but"?

Additionally, I agree with SN's earlier comment that bringing an inheritance in the mix complicates matters unnecessarily. Reread his remarks and consider revising your inquiry to bring it in line with his suggestions.

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Why you find it necessary to make a hypothetical scenario reasonable is beyond me, but even so, your assumptions are unwarranted.
I was trying to make the best I could out of your hypothetical, giving you the benefit of the doubt. Your original scenario was unrealistic to the point of rendering it invalid. As you've been informed, the function of a hypothetical is to test a principle to see if it yields a valid conclusion. Errors and lacunae in your hypothetical made it valueless as a test of any principle. For example, suppose the property had been real property -- then there would be a clear indication of original ownership and the son could not have been an innocent inheritor. The innocence of Charlie is a fundamental assumption in the hypothetical.

Your hypothetical depends on contradictions. You can present a hypothetical that is consistent, if you're unhappy with my repairs, but none of your complaints address the fundamental flaws in your question, in the first place. Similarly with the eminent domain option. A private citizen cannot confiscate property under eminent domain -- it has to be stolen by the state. A claim against a thief must actually be against the thief, not some innocent bystander.

So in other words, you are taking the position on my original sticking point that when I will something to you, if I do not change my will, I have not transferred moral ownership of it?
No, and nothing I said could possibly lead you to conclude that I think that.
Alan could explicitly claim up to his death that he would never do anything but give the object to Daniel.
This is irrelevant, since he didn't do so. Decades passed between the theft and his death, and people have the right to change their wills even up to the last minute. Do you have a better description of the hypothetical that would bring this back to reality? What exactly can Alan do to deny his free will?
Why the possibility that he might have dropped it in the river if he had it negates Daniel's moral claim is beyond me.
Because Daniel has no moral claim at all to the object. It never was his property, and Alan had the right to dispose of it any way he wanted to. If he had actually given it to his son before his death, that would have made all the differnce in the world. But wait -- he couldn't, because he didn't have it to give anymore.
He juggled it in a carnival and collected tips in his hat. Who cares?
As I explained, but you clearly could not understand this point, Daniel could not possibly have any claim on the procedes of the sale of the object, only on the object itself. So the putative claim Daniel has depends on who has the originally stolen item.

If you want to play the tainted property game, it's much simpler to frame it in terms of innocently receiving stolen goods. The baroque twists in the original hypothetical detract from whatever point you may have had to make. The answer remains the same, though: the owner has a right to compensation from the wrong-doer, and that is as far as it goes.

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Does anything in there contradict what follows your "but"?

I will take that as agreement.

Additionally, I agree with SN's earlier comment that bringing an inheritance in the mix complicates matters unnecessarily.  Reread his remarks and consider revising your inquiry to bring it in line with his suggestions.

But inheritance is an important part of the problem. When I started this thread, I wrote

1. Is Daniel entitled to *all* of Charlie's property? Just what was stolen? What was stolen plus interest? Nothing? What?

2. If the answer to (1) is not nothing, and we have reason to believe that a good deal of the property now owned has been unfairly taken from someone at some point, how do we rectify this situation? Must we do anything?

Now, smathy has answered "What was stolen plus interest" to (1). This is important because, if all of the people who had stuff stolen from them in the distant past were dead, then even if we had good reason to believe that much of the current property was stolen, it wouldn't matter because there would be no reason to give it to anyone else if the answer to (1) was "Nothing." I don't think that any justice is served by taking a thief's stolen goods and giving them to a random person not involved in the theft (who is no more entitled to them than the thief), and there certainly isn't any justice served by doing this to a person who merely bought the stolen goods from the thief. Basically, what (2) is about is whether or not historical injustices should have an effect on whether or not we are entitled to our current goods. If inheritance is not a valid way to transfer moral claims to property, then whether or not such historical injustices occured is irrelevant.

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If inheritance is not a valid way to transfer moral claims to property, then whether or not such historical injustices occured is irrelevant.
If you're only interested in whether inheritance is a valid form of gaining ownership, you could try the direct approach of asking "Is inheritance a valid form of gaining ownership?". Of course it is: it's a special case of making a gift. Ownership means you can do as you witsh with the property, including giving it away.

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Here's the problem: I claim that the sanction of government of ownership and contracts is irrelevant to their normative force. If Alan has a moral right to his property, but not a legal right, then he is still morally entitled to will or trade it, because when you steal something from me you don't change the fact that I'm entitled to it. It sounds like you might be disputing this, but I can't tell.

Certainly I agree that stealing from someone does not alter their moral claim to that property, but you cannot analyse your scenario in the absence of a political context.

To illustrate what I'm trying to get at, let me paint a scenario. Assume no political, legal or government environment, the proverbial desert island. You and I (with one son each) are wrecked there. We go about our daily duties, every product of each of our efforts, our food, water, shelter, clothing, is each of our own property by moral right.

You are an industrious survivor and work hard to build a bamboo pipeline to channel water from the mountains, you build pens for animals, and farms for vegetables. This is all yours as a result of your property rights, moral context. I am a mindless brute, who performs the same rote actions each day, never building anything beyond my immediate needs.

What's yours is yours by right, what's mine (not much) is mine by right.

As soon as you wish to trade with your son, to transfer ownership to him, you introduce a political context. I refer you to Tom Lahti's excellent post on politics All Relationships Are Politics. Any trade between two people, any interaction with another introduces a political context. This context, to be just, should be based on the moral concepts of property rights, specifically all trading between men should be voluntary. But the context itself is still political.

In your scenario, the theft itself introduces a political context to the discussion, the wills certainly do, and the subsequent contesting of the ownership by Daniel certainly involves a political context. The only just political context is laissez-faire capitalism, ie. voluntary trade between the owners of property (the possessors of the property rights, ie. the original producer of that property). You cannot get the property from the father to the son without introducing a political context.

A just legal system only precludes the use of force, ie. it ensures the voluntary participation by possessors of property rights during the trading of that property with each other. You cannot resolve an issue of theft without that legal context (which stems from a just political context of laissez-faire capitalism) because theft is an interaction between two men, hence it introduces the political context and the way to resolve any use of force within that context is to use the prevailing legal system.

So, back to your scenario, Bob used force against Alan from that moment on there is an implicit debt owed by Bob to Alan. This debt survives Bob's death (and can only be eliminated by a statute of limitations, something which I'm still undecided about the morality of), and is an implicit debt owed by Bob's estate to Alan's.

One last comment, your point about politics not requiring government sanction (and hence legal context) is correct. In the absence of a government, Alan (and Daniel) morally have the right to use retaliatory force to reclaim what is theirs. That has obvious implications for a civilised society in that each man would himself make his own, potentially flawed judgement, and would use what he considered to be necessary force in achieving justice. For this reason I (and I think you'll find virtually anyone else you talk to) will always imply a government/legal context when we talk of political contexts.

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Your original scenario was unrealistic to the point of rendering it invalid.

Not at all. "Invalid" is term from logic, and refers to an argument where the truth of the premises do not imply the truth of the conclusion. Since the scenario was supposed to act as a premise in an argument about my original two questions, it cannot be the case that any amount of unrealism on the part of the scenario would render the argument invalid, as invalidity is something we talk about after we premises (that is, that the scenario occured) to be true. Also, the term "invalid" does not apply to premises. Premises are true or false.

As you've been informed, the function of a hypothetical is to test a principle to see if it yields a valid conclusion. Errors and lacunae in your hypothetical made it valueless as a test of any principle. For example, suppose the property had been real property -- then there would be a clear indication of original ownership and the son could not have been an innocent inheritor. The innocence of Charlie is a fundamental assumption in the hypothetical.

I don't think you want to assume that there would necessarily be an indication of original ownership, as that is clearly not true. Perhaps you think that it is highly likely that there would be such an indication. Perhaps you are right. However, I don't think it matters. I said

If a principle is a general principle, then it must be applicable to any situation, no matter how unreasonable, so long as the situation is logically possible and relevant to the principle

Do you disagree with this claim? If you do not, then it follows that the scenario, since it is not self-contradictory, is an acceptable test of the principle.

In addition, thanks to the helpful discussion we've had here, I've come to question whether or not Charlie's innocence is a fundamental assumption. The real question seems to be, "Does Daniel have a claim to the property?"

Your hypothetical depends on contradictions.

Unlikelyhoods are not contradictions. Your example was "It cannot be the case that Charlie is innocent, and it must be the case that Charlie is innocent." The first is obviously not true, which is enough to show that there is no contradiction, and I have serious doubts about the second.

Similarly with the eminent domain option. A private citizen cannot confiscate property under eminent domain -- it has to be stolen by the state. A claim against a thief must actually be against the thief, not some innocent bystander.

If I use influence I have with the state to have a state official steal property and give it to me, I am guilty of theft.

Decades passed between the theft and his death, and people have the right to change their wills even up to the last minute. Do you have a better description of the hypothetical that would bring this back to reality? What exactly can Alan do to deny his free will?
I don't really understand what you're objecting to here.

Because Daniel has no moral claim at all to the object. It never was his property, and Alan had the right to dispose of it any way he wanted to. If he had actually given it to his son before his death, that would have made all the differnce in the world. But wait -- he couldn't, because he didn't have it to give anymore.

I disagree. Daniel has a conditional moral claim to the object, which is a real claim. If Alan willfully chose to dispose of the object, that would constitute an implicit revocation of the conditional moral claim. If Alan accidentally lost the object, then unless he revoked the claim somehow, Daniel would still have the conditional claim to the object, only Alan wouldn't be able to have it given to him when the condition was satisfied. If it was ever found, Daniel would still have a moral claim to it. You don't really think that if you lose your walkman, you stop having a right to it, do you? I think confusion may have arisen because you interpreted "dropping in the river" as "means of wilfull disposal," while I interpreted it as "unfortunate accident."

As I explained, but you clearly could not understand this point, Daniel could not possibly have any claim on the procedes of the sale of the object, only on the object itself.
I see how I misunderstood this now.

If you want to play the tainted property game, it's much simpler to frame it in terms of innocently receiving stolen goods. The baroque twists in the original hypothetical detract from whatever point you may have had to make.

I can see now that I made it unnecessarily complicated, and that this led to problems.

The answer remains the same, though: the owner has a right to compensation from the wrong-doer, and that is as far as it goes.

Okay, but smathy seems to think that I don't just have a moral claim to a piece of property, I have a moral claim to its time value too. If I have a moral claim to its time value, then the innocent recipient has taken that along with the property, and must return it iff he is obligated to return the property itself. Do you disagree?

Apart from all that, I'm still curious what responses people have to the second question.

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"Invalid" is term from logic...

...it cannot be the case that any amount of unrealism on the part of the scenario would render the argument invalid

...If a principle is a general principle, then it must be applicable to any situation

A few brief comments here -- first, I'm familiar with the technical use of "invalid" symbolic logic where it has taken on that particular meaning, and I don't use it that way (nor does any Objectivist that I know of). Surely you know what the word "invalid" means: it means "having no value for a given purpose". If you'd like to start a separate thread on logic, that would be an appropriate place to discuss what constitutes a legitimate inference in a logical deduction, and how your scenario requires formally invalid inferences, in order to be stated (the way you put it). Another correction: premises are either true, false, or arbitrary. Your mention of "logical possibility" indicates that you're allowing arbitrary statements to be introduced freely -- not that you're alone in doing that, but it's also "not allowed". But let's do that thread another day. My purpose was to weed out all of the arbitrary or false statements, and we came up with a factual context where there is a real issue, so you should stick with an example that doesn't contradict reality, if you want to check for the consequences of a principle.

I assume you're not familiar with how context plays a role in Objectivism; so the best translation that I can suggest is that you simply haven't identified the correct general principle which you're trying to test. In truth, the function of the hypothetical is at least 50% to determine what restrictions have to be put on the principle (or, to look at it your way, to discover how to restate the principle).

If I use influence I have with the state to have a state official steal property and give it to me, I am guilty of theft.
If you actually induce the state to confiscate property, yes. But that's a public act that leaves blatant traces, which defeats the purposes of Charlie being innocent as opposed to being a co-conspirator. If Charlie is a co-conspirator, the answer is rather different.
I disagree. Daniel has a conditional moral claim to the object, which is a real claim.
I have no idea what you mean by a "conditional moral claim", but interpreting that expression compositionally, he has no "conditional moral claim" to the property, since he is not the owner of the property. If you mean that he has an imaginary moral claim, I accept that, since it's a claim that's based on an imaginary universe where events transpired differently -- i.e. if the world had been different then he could have a claim.
Okay, but smathy seems to think that I don't just have a moral claim to a piece of property, I have a moral claim to its time valuetoo. If I have a moral claim to its time value, then the innocent recipient has taken that along with the property, and must return it iff he is obligated to return the property itself. Do you disagree?
That's hard to answer since I reject the initial premise, but playing along, I would still disagree. It amounts to imposing a penalty on an innocent person, which is a travesty of justice. When you catch a thief and take back the stolen object, that is simply returning the object to its owner. Taking more than what he stole is a penalty, and a rightful one at that when deal with a thief. Punishments are an essential part of justice in a civilized society, since they provide the deterrent needed to make it clear that a life of crime will not pay. Imposing punishments without mens rea is evil, because it perverts the deterrent function of punishments. Rather than providing a clear, in-your-face reason to not commit crimes, it supports an insane society where every citizen should live in mortal terror of the possibility that they have unwittingly benefited from some theft, and will have to pay the price plus. At this very moment, you are undoubtedly in possession of tens of thousands of dollars worth of stolen goods that you don't know about. Check your shoes, for example. Made with stolen goods, assembled by slave labor in a factory built on stolen land. You owe more than the cost of the shoes -- ther's a lot of interest accruing from these crimes.

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Wrong. Justice is dealing with others exactly as they deserve. There is no balancing of scales to be considered.

"As they deserve" is balancing the scales if it is done after an action where someone was not dealt with as they deserved.

I was really only talking of justice in the context of it being applied to a wrong-doing, where it is the balancing of the scales. You are correct, that justice exists outside of this context and dealing with others as they deserve is certainly a more general essence of the word.

Justice, in the context of post-wrong-doing, is reversing (as much as possible) by force if necessary, the wrong. If someone acts by force and receives more property than they deserved, and the victim therefore now has less property than they deserve, then justice is (as you say) treating each as they deserve, this is a process of balancing the scales, of returning to the victim that which is his by right, and of taking from the other party that which is not his by right, ie. that which he only has as the result of force.

My point in this was that usually, that other party is the perpetrator, but that even in this case, where it is not, the role of justice is still valid in taking from Charlie and returning to Daniel (assuming all my assumptions about wills and demonstrable ownership etc.) because Charlie has that property as a result of force.

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"As they deserve" is balancing the scales if it is done after an action where someone was not dealt with as they deserved.

I was really only talking of justice in the context of it being applied to a wrong-doing, where it is the balancing of the scales.  You are correct, that justice exists outside of this context and dealing with others as they deserve is certainly a more general essence of the word.

Justice in a legal sense must be sought by the wronged individual, who, in this case, is Alan. Alan has the right to seek redress for having his property stolen. If he does not choose to do so for any reason then NO ONE has the moral or legal right to seek redress FOR him, regardless of whether this would give that person a later claim on some of Alan's regained property. If ALAN doesn't challenge Bob's theft of his property, then he is EXPLICITLY giving his permission for the loss of that property. His reasons for doing so are immaterial.

An analogous situation would be a trial lawyer suing the fast food industry on the behalf of obese people everywhere, taking 50% of the billion dollar settlement, and mailing forty bucks to a bunch of random fat people. The trial lawyer has NO RIGHT to seek redress for the wrongs done to others.

It is NO ONE's responsibility to seek some kind of bizarre abstract "justice" for people that have know comprehension of the term. Justice in the MORAL sense means that YOU give to people what they deserve from YOU, not that you see to it that they get what they really OUGHT to deserve from everyone else with or without any effort on their part or even the understanding of the fact that they actually deserve it. Guaranteeing that everyone gets what they deserve from the universe is IMPOSSIBLE. All you can do is make sure that YOU act justly and demand justice when YOU are wronged.

So, Daniel has no claim. If Alan is dead and failed to seek redress while he was alive for whatever reason, his claim to the property goes out of existence when he does. If he DID attempt to seek redress and his efforts were ongoing, Daniel could continue those efforts in his name and THEN gain a claim on the property, which might be returned to Alan posthumously, in which case the court would most likely consider Alan's property as analogous to investment capital, which must be repaid. They'd probably just give him some interest, order Charles to pay it (which might take a while, depending) and then leave the matter at that.

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Justice in a legal sense must be sought by the wronged individual, who, in this case, is Alan.

Only Alan? Daniel's not wronged because the theft affected a death-suriving contract that he had in place with Alan?

Alan has the right to seek redress for having his property stolen.  If he does not choose to do so for any reason then NO ONE has the moral or legal right to seek redress FOR him, regardless of whether this would give that person a later claim on some of Alan's regained property.

Agreed, while Alan is alive Daniel has no claim to any of Alan's property (assuming that the will is the only agreement in place).

If ALAN doesn't challenge Bob's theft of his property, then he is EXPLICITLY giving his permission for the loss of that property.  His reasons for doing so are immaterial.

You fall a long way short of demonstrating that Alan gave permission for Bob to keep his property explicitly. If anything is explicitly expressed by Alan's actions it is a moral default on his property rights, ie. through inaction he is allowing another to control and dispose of his property. But to make the link between that immorality and the dissolution of Alan's rights to that property is something that you have not done.

Alan can dispose of the property any way he chooses, but he didn't choose to have the property stolen. Until he acts in the positive to declare that he waives his rights to that property then Alan's rights to that property persist indefinitely. They are inalienable.

He cannot dispose of his property rights through inaction, this is not some lump of natural resource that he has yet to inject any of his effort into, this is the result of his own efforts, his property, by right - he does not need to do anything in order to maintain that right. That property is still his until he dies, at which time the will transfers those rights over to Daniel, who can certainly choose to then pursue the matter of the theft on his own behalf. The simple fact that Bob possesses Alan's property at the time of Alan's death does not mean that Bob now owns that property. By what principle does such a transfer of rights happen?

Let's paint a scenario, say I own the title and deeds to a block of land, I bequeath that property to my son. In a home invasion a thief forces me to sign over that title and deed to them. I decide not to pursue the matter because I'm old and near death, and I'm financially comfortable in my life. I do not sanction the thief's actions in any way, it's just not a priority to pursue that property right now. I still maintain that it's rightfully mine, but I have other priorities at this late stage in my life.

Besides, I'm sure that once the will is executed that my son can pursue the matter if he wishes - I have a closed circuit TV system so proving the crime will be a simple matter for him. I die a few weeks later, and you say that the legal and moral ownership of that property is transferred to the thief? Despite the clear evidence of demonstrable ownership, will, and the crime of force? Please tell me what principles you base that on?

An analogous situation would be a trial lawyer suing the fast food industry on the behalf of obese people everywhere, taking 50% of the billion dollar settlement, and mailing forty bucks to a bunch of random fat people.  The trial lawyer has NO RIGHT to seek redress for the wrongs done to others.

Your analogy is flawed. I agree that your scenario illustrates the improperness of such a situation as unrepresentational legal proceedings, but that has nothing to do with this situation. Daniel is not Alan's lawyer, AND, Alan is aware of Daniel's existence.

So, Daniel has no claim.  If Alan is dead and failed to seek redress while he was alive for whatever reason, his claim to the property goes out of existence when he does.

Again, by what principle? Where does it say that property rights are rights to the product of man's effort as long as he retains possession or seeks to resume possession of that property if it is stolen?

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Justice in a legal sense must be sought by the wronged individual, ...

If he does not choose to do so for any reason then NO ONE has the moral or legal right to seek redress FOR him, regardless of whether this would give that person a later claim on some of Alan's regained property.

......

If Alan is dead and failed to seek redress while he was alive for whatever reason, his claim to the property goes out of existence when he does.

So, if I rob someone, then I should kill him also because that would extinguish any claims against me for the robbery and murder?

You are failing to recognize that claims can be inherited even if the person from whom they were inherited did not have an opportunity to explicitly assert them and bequeath them before his death.

The class-action lawsuit abuse is an entirely different matter.

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So, if I rob someone, then I should kill him also because that would extinguish any claims against me for the robbery and murder?
You shouldn't kill him, because murder will be against the law in any decent legal system. You'd be better off hoping he accidentally dies. There is a difference between an aggrieved person seeking redress for his losses, and punishment given to a person for criminal violation of rights.

Focusing on the word seek in Jennifer's post, all of the relevant distinctions can be made in terms of the basic concept that distinguishes property from a stick that you happen to pick up to whack a slug -- do you work to keep it? If you accidentally leave a book on the bus, you may either work to keep that book, by later searching for that bus, checking the lost and found, posting fliers, asking regular riders... or, you can fergeddaboudit and abandon the possession. Same thing goes for the bike which some jerk stole from me 15 years ago: I did what I could within reason, and eventually abandoned further efforts at recovery as irrational. Instead, I took the insurance check and got a new bike. (Note to audience: if Alan collected insurance, the stolen items no longer belong to him, and any claim for recovery would have to be made by the insurance company). Even if I had not collected insurance, my utter lack of action means that I have abandoned the property, and no reasonable person could think that after those 15 years, I am still seeking to recover my property. Remember, property is not an effortless perpetual entitlement.

The "claim" itself is not inheritable, rather, the property is. Under the particular (lousy) hypothetical we're dealing with, Alan does not own the property anymore since he has apparently abandoned the property after it was stolen. That was his right, just as it is the right of persons in so-called legal class to opt out of the action.

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Only Alan?  Daniel's not wronged because the theft affected a death-suriving contract that he had in place with Alan?

A will is not a contract that the deceased has with his survivors, it is a contract the deceased has with the GOVERNMENT to provide for the disposition of his property. The only right involved in the disposition of property after death is the right of the person that produced said property value.

David addressed the remainder of your post.

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A will is not a contract that the deceased has with his survivors, it is a contract the deceased has with the GOVERNMENT to provide for the disposition of his property.

Just because the contract is registered with the government, that doesn't mean that it's a contract with the government. The contract is between the willer and his heirs. Clearly they are the two parties in the contract. Some wills even stipulate specific actions that the heirs must perform in order to attain their inheritence (reach a certain age, marry, have children). The only reason one would need a contract with the government is if by right, the ownership of the property passed to the government upon death, then the will would state that the government agreed to distribute that property to the named heirs. Such a suggestion is anti everything I know to be true about moral governance.

The only right involved in the disposition of property after death is the right of the person that produced said property value.

I don't know what this means. If you're saying that Daniel has no rights to pursue the stolen property after Alan's death (again) then perhaps this is because you think that a will is a contract between the willer and the government. It's an ordinary contract, between the willer and his heirs. He is trading his property, under certain conditions (at least his death) for the benefit he receives from them during his life (companionship, friendship, whatever). It's a trade, like any other.

David addressed the remainder of your post.

No he didn't. David said:
Remember, property is not an effortless perpetual entitlement.
I remember no such thing. Property rights stem from the effort involved in the creation of that property, not from any effort involved in the continued use of that property. This is not some natural resource, like land, that needs to be continually used in order for ownership to be maintained. This is property, like money, that Alan produced through his effort. He does not need to continue to use that money in order to maintain ownership of it. His rights to that property stem from the fact that it was his effort that produced that property.

My comment to you, is the same comment to David:

Again, by what principle? Where does it say that property rights are rights to the product of man's effort as long as he retains possession or seeks to resume possession of that property if it is stolen?

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