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  1. #1 is an intrusion into the neighbor's life in my opinion. How so ? Instead of being totally free to move around her house as she sees fit, she now has to take into account that I might be watching her. So for example, say she is a scientist thinking about a difficult problem while she's at home, naked on her bed. Suddenly she wants to go swim in her pool, but wait, she thinks that "that creepy neighbor might be watching me" and she puts on a swimsuit and loses her train of thought, rather than just going to her pool while continuing to think about her problem. The case could also be made that this is a case of stalking, and that there is an implicit threat when you follow someone around. This is how I would justify it. #2 is clear-cut. I can't stop anyone from moving around. #3 is morally repugnant, but I concede this one and I agree Ellsworth Toohey should have the political right to do it. Unless, as has been pointed out by a previous poster, he is in cahoots with the mugger(s). #4 is not obvious because some modern lawnmowers are relativily silent and because I said 6 am. But what about 120 db noise at 3 am ? It would clearly disrupt anyone's life even if they were awake. You have to draw the line somewhere. In any case, most neighborhoods have voluntary agreements between residents for these, in which case it would simply be a breach of contract. #5 is hard for me to decide because I am personally not affected by seeing nudity at all, but some people clearly are. I would tend to answer that yes, I can be naked. Unless of course I entered into a voluntary agreement with other residents when I bought the house. In any case, my main interest wasn't questions 1-8, but the root principle that would ground the reasoning of a jurist thinking about those kind of questions. I now understand the principle, and that it is objective. 99% of rights violations are by government, and are instances of direct threats of force. If we just removed those, we would live in a society that would be so much better that it is hard to imagine. Questions 1-5 are not the main issue but bells and whistles in my opinion.
  2. 2046, thanks for your answer, it shed a new light on my error. Before reading your post, I hadn't fully understood what Dr Salmieri meant by "rights are to force what inference rules are to logical validity". It's much clearer to me now. As you point out, the mistake I was making is, in essence, just another instance of the mind-body dichotomy. I keep falling into this one over and over for some reason. MisterSwig, the supermodel reference was a failed attempt at humor.
  3. I apologize if the meaning of my first post wasn't entirely clear. Bear with me, I'm not a native english speaker. To clarify, my confusion was not between what is right morally and what I have the right to do politically. And questions 1-8 weren't my primary purpose, since I have already answered them for myself (1-4 no 6-8 yes 5 not sure). What worried me is that my answer to these questions was purely subjective, without any basis in reality. If I use Dr Binswanger's definition "force is an actual or threatened nonconsensual physical contact with another person or his property", it doesn't work for most of the examples I gave, or for libel/slander. But if I define force as "force is what violates rights", well then, what is a right and is it objective ? And before I reread Dr Salmieri's essay, I didn't see a way out of this. Concerning the right to privacy, I live in the EU and the privacy laws are a major annoyance, I am 100% against them. In my opinion, the problem isn't use of my data that I have consented to contractually, but nonconsensual intrusions into my life, such as mass surveillance programs. Lastly, this is a minor point but I object to the use of the words "utopian society". That suggests that a capitalist society is an unachievable, unrealizable, imaginary construct. I certainly hope that there will be in my lifetime a capitalist society that I can emigrate to.
  4. Thanks for the answers, this was really helpful to see the kind of reasoning needed to sort through particular examples. After my first post, I reread parts of "Foundations of a free society" carefully. I had actually read it from cover to cover but I hadn't fully understood it. Dr Salmieri's essay "Selfish regard for the rights of others", in particular, was a gold mine. Several quotes from the essay: As I understand it, to exercise physical force is simply to act on someone without her consent—to interfere in her life. That there is such a phenomenon can be understood without the concept of rights, and often instances of this phenomenon can be recognized without recourse to the concept. However, in many contexts we need the concept of “rights” in order to distinguish between consensual interactions and initiations of force. This is not because of a lack of clarity in the meaning of “force” but because the boundaries of an individual human life are often unclear, particularly in cases involving the complex interactions among individuals living together in a society. The principle of rights enables us to definethese boundaries and thereby to grasp that certain actions that do not involve bodily contact nonetheless intrude into someone’s life. When people share a common environment, they interact with it and with one another in intricate and overlapping ways that make the boundaries of individual lives difficult to determine. As a result, one cannot undertake complex projects without fear of interference by (even well-intentioned) others. In order for people who share an environment to ensure that all of their interactions will be consensual, leaving each free to lead his own life by his own judgment, we must demarcate the boundaries of our lives. This means explicitly identifying a range of activities that each individual can take unilaterally without intruding on anyone else’s life, and recognizing that interference by anyone else in these activities constitutes force initiated against him. This is the function served by the concept of rights. These rights serve as guides to people in the formation of a government and legal system through which an individual’s rights can be further specified by defining procedures for such things as the acquisition and transfer of property and the formation, dissolution, and adjudication of contracts. Absent such a government, the boundaries between one person’s life and another’s are ill defined, with the result that there is only a very small range of activity a person can safely take without expecting to come into conflict with others. A legal system that implements and elaborates the concept of rights brings nuanced clarity to the distinction between voluntary and forced interactions. This enables progressively more complex and more intricately interconnected forms of human action. The result is an ever grander scale of life available to every individual. The process will continue as technology progresses, giving rise to new forms of property. Corresponding to each new form of property will be a new way in which one person can initiate force upon another. But, however remote these rights violations may be from the perceptibly obvious case of bodily assault, what it is for them to be initiations of force remains the same. They are instances of intruding against someone’s will into the process by which he produces and enjoys the values by which he sustains his life. Thus, when faced with the question of whether some newly declared putative right really is a right, we can answer by determining whether violating it would constitute intruding in this manner into anyone’s process of self-sustaining, self-generated action. The end of the last quote is in principle, the answer to the question I asked in my first post. Finally, let me offer my thoughts on privacy. Initially I was against a right to privacy, because I thought that law abiding citizens have nothing to fear from government snooping (assuming a capitalist society). Then last week, as I was thinking about initiations of force, I wondered about children and consent since they are not rational beings yet and therefore cannot consent. So I decided to search the web for "initiation of force children" but then paused... what if someone from the government spies on me and misinterprets my search ? Rather than risk being branded a pedophile, I abandonned my search and the train of thought that went with it. So my thinking was actually hobbled by knowing of the all pervasive surveillance programs. In the same way, knowing you could be watched changes your behavior and therefore is an impediment to free thought. For this reason, I am in favor of a right to privacy now, because I see society as a herd of hobbled horses whose minds need to be let loose.
  5. So first of all, what are rights ? The good life consists of thinking, acting on those thoughts, and then enjoying the rewards when those actions are successful. Anything that hinders that process is bad, i.e. anti-life. The initiation of force is evil because force hobbles the mind in one way or another. But how do you define force ? According to Dr Peikoff in the 1976 lectures with Ayn Rand sitting at the back, force is "the involuntary, executed by physical means". In OPAR, he defines force similarly as "coercion by physical agency". So let's say I build a house and A) a hurricane destroys it; B ) the house is on my property and a government bureaucrat has it demolished because it's not built up to regulations; C) I built the house on someone else's property, and that person demolishes the house. A is not force because there is human agency involved. B is the initiation of force, because I was entitled to build a house on my property. C is retaliatory force, because the property owner was entitled to dispose of his property and I wasn't entitled to build a house on it. But B could be also retaliatory force: for example, what if my house is poorly built and threatening to crumble at any moment and therefore damage the adjacent houses ? It seems clear to me from the example above and many other I can think of that what is and isn't an initiation of force depend on the antecedent concept of what I'm entitled to do, i.e. on the concept of rights. In VOS, Rand says that rights sanction an individual's freedom "to take all the actions required by the nature of a rational being for the support, furtherance, the fulfillment, and enjoyment of his own life". So far so good, and rights seem like an objective concept. If I see my life as think + act + benefit from the resultant values, a lot of the examples that come to mind are easy: regulations, murder, kidnapping, battery hinder me at the action level; taxation, theft, vandalism, slander, libel, intellectual property theft hinder me at the benefitting-from-the-resultant-values level; fraud, breach of contract, privacy intrusions hinder me at the thinking level. What I don't understand is: where exactly is the boundary between my sphere of freedom and another person's sphere of freedom ? In other words, where is the boundary between my rights and his/hers ? For example: 1) assume there is a 10 feet wall between my neighbor's property and mine. Can I fly a drone above my property and use it to snoop on my neighbor ? 2) assume my girlfriend comes to my house and we have a fight, and she decides to leave. Can I stand in my driveway to prevent her car from going out ? (just standing there imploring her to stay, non-threateningly). 3) assume I meet a tourist couple and they ask me for directions to a museum. Instead of the museum, can I send them to an unsafe part of the city where they might be mugged ? 4) assume it is 6 am. Can I mow my lawn ? 5) assume that I'm not a supermodel. Can I full-body sunbathe on my property where the neighbors can see me ? 6) assume that my neighbor is disgusted by homosexuality. Can I kiss a person of the same sex on my property in plain view of my neighbor ? 7) assume that I'm a store owner in a sundown town. Can I close my store in the middle of the day when I see a black person parking her car nearby ? 8) assume that I own a company and that an employee has been an asset to the company for 20 years. Can I fire him and replace him with my nephew because my sister has been pestering me about it ? All the dicey cases are usually dismissed by Objectivists as properly belonging to the philosophy of law. But how would a legal scholar go about thinking any of the hard cases ? The reason this matters to me is that rights can't be an elastic and fluid concept. If they were, then eventually the statists are going to manage to make pseudo-rights look like rights. The boundary between my sphere of autonomy and the next person's needs to be clear and objective. I am stumped by this, so any help is welcome. To repeat, the question is: how would a legal scholar establish an objective line of demarcation between my rights and the next person's, in order to decide if an initiation of force has taken place or not ?
  6. To softwareNerd: I am refering to the essay "man's rights" in the virtue of selfishness and to chapter 10: "government" subchapter "individual rights as absolute" in objectivism: the philosophy of Ayn Rand. To DavidOdden: thank you! That was clarifying to me. I had been struggling with the issue of rights for weeks and it all makes sense now. Until I read your comment about a pile of atoms, I wasn't even aware of the implicit mind/body dichotomy in my first post. I realize now that the rights to property and to the pursuit of happiness are two sides of the same coin, property in the material realm and pursuit of happiness in the spiritual realm. Even if the rights to life, liberty, property are recognized, I see now that a majority could vote that the purpose of my actions has to be for god or for society instead of for myself, which would be evil.
  7. My understanding of Ayn Rand is that individual rights are there to protect the individual from the collective. From that perspective, it is obvious that my right to life has to be a right. Otherwise, a majority could vote to kill me, just as the Athenians voted to kill Socrates. The right to liberty also has to be a right, because otherwise a majority could vote to put me in jail even if I haven't infringed on anyone else's rights. The right to dispose of the product of my work must be a right as well. What good is it if I am free to think and act on my thoughts, but if a majority votes to confiscate everything I produce ? This would be incompatible with the requirements of life. So far, so good. What I have trouble understanding is why the right to the pursuit of happiness has to be a right. I don't see what a majority could vote that would prevent me from pursuing my happiness if I already have the rights to life, liberty, property. Was Ayn Rand only trying to echo the declaration of independence ? Or is there a better reason ? Thanks in advance to anyone who could explain it to me, or point me to another thread if the question has already been answered. And sorry for any language mistake as I am not a native english speaker.
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