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Rand's dismissal of the hypothetical from The Mike Wallace Intervi

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brian0918
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Yup, it's absurd. Not only would it be impossible for us to separate U-235 from U-238 even if we had the uranium because we'd be nuclear morons, and for that matter there would be no nuclear weapons because the Elbonians, who have all of the world's uranium, just don't have the technology to smelt metal, much less make A-bombs, but it now also requires us to buy into an insane set of assumptions where the entire world is populated by vampires and werewolves just waiting to pounce.... what are they waiting for?? How did this "America" come into existence in a universe that is completely, totally and utterly irrational and yet somehow timid enough that they didn't destroy us decades ago with dynamite? Anyhow, in the scenario that you invented, we're dead already, so there's no point in invading his farm to confiscate his uranium farm.

Also note that there are many types of explosive device that do not require uranium. There is no physical or statutory law that requires us to respond to a nuclear threat with only nuclear weapons.

Maybe you'd care to comment on my variation on it. I also don't feel any country would be comfortable defending itself against a hostile nation with nuclear capability with only the technology to build conventional explosives.

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Well, all altruistic/colelctivist philosophies break down under every circumstance. So yes.

No one can possibly anticipate every contingency, every problem, every development and every possible outcome of every situation. Neither can any philosopher.

The matter of absurd hypotheticals boils down to: "See? Your principles don't apply to every situation, therefore they are not valid because the truth is unknowable and reason is limited." That's ridiculous. Therefore the way to deal with such hypotheticals is to dismiss them. A whole raft of popular ones start with "If you were in a life boat..." Well, so what? We're talking about a philosophy to deal with everyday life to its full extent. Most people, no doubt you've noticed, don't spend the majority of their time living in lifeboats, or dealing with an irrational property owner who's essential to millions of people.

As to exceptions, how far would medicine advance if instead of studying all people, doctors only studied left-handed dwarves? Well, for one thign you, and just about everyone else you know, would be too tall and neeed to be cut down to size.

Maybe he's a peacenik who hates the idea of nuclear weapons. Maybe he's getting a better deal selling it to other countries or on the black market. I don't think you need to brush him off as necessarily irrational.

Your analogy with the dwarves, although humorous, is irrelevant. It is useful to explore the outer limits of any idea, including Objectivism.

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It was equally absurd to consider the possibility that, in reality, a man would never come in contact with another human being, but this did not stop AR from using it to demonstrate the objective, personal need for language. As a philosophical exercise, the question had value precisely because it helped to strenghten, not weaken, core Objectivist principles . I agree with the sentiment expressed that principles should not be derived from exceptions and I sympathize with AR for dismissing Wallace's question as, hyperbolically "absurd", but I do not think think it valueless.

Yes, within the terms by which Wallace phrased the question (the "common interest" v. individual rights), Objectivism contradicts itself. But the primary virtue of Objectivism is not independence, it is rationality. That means to recognize reality and to act accordingly - including the recognition that without one's life, one's independence (or private property) is not possible. Thus, assuming that the threat posed by foreign aggression is objectively demonstrable, and assuming that this man's uranium is in fact all is available in the country (or in the time alloted to counter the aggression), the owner of the uranium who refuses to sell (or surrender) it, is not practicing the virtue of independence, but indulging in the vice of irrationality.

This is not a question of the "collective" against the individual, as Wallace would have you believe, but a question of the rights of one rational individual against the rights of one irrational individual. A man of virtue (or a million of them) should not be forced to decide between his own life and the life of a man of vice. Of course, the primary blame belongs to the aggressor nation - which is guilty of a far greater irrationality than the stubborn land owner - but that does not absolve the land owner of any blame. He is guilty of abbetting evil - and inviting his own destruction - for the sake of a political right which he would not posses were it not for his government's (read: fellow countrymen's) ability to defend it

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The question does not apply to life on this earth so is invalid to the study of ethics. Besides rewriting reality to eliminate 99% of the Uranium stocks on earth, it also assumes there is no Plutonium, lethal biological and chemical agents, or Green Berets (who would be able to elimintate the leadership of assumed aggressor powers). As it happens, the US has enough WMD to destroy the world several times over.

We could come up with hypothetical realities all day that would invalidate ethics. What if, instead of being men, we were a race of floating heads powered by Michael Jackson music? What if you were immortal? What if everything you touched turned to Skittles??

Although you can perform these thought experiments, it does you no good to learn that within an impossible context Objectivist ethics (which were developed for actual reality) will not help you.

Edited by SkyTrooper
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Maybe he's a peacenik who hates the idea of nuclear weapons. Maybe he's getting a better deal selling it to other countries or on the black market. I don't think you need to brush him off as necessarily irrational.

A peacenik is irrational. A man who'd sell stuff to others wo they can nuke him is irrational, too.

But let me re-issue this challenge: name one instance in history when the fate of a nation (or even a small village) depended on a crucial resource found only on th eproperty of one man. Since this is a question you seem to think is worthy of consideration, I'm sure it must have happened before.

Your analogy with the dwarves, although humorous, is irrelevant. It is useful to explore the outer limits of any idea, including Objectivism.

You can learn from exceptions, of course. But you do not determine your baseline with them, and you do not build a comprehensive view of the world based on them either. Now, have you ever heard of partial twins (there may be a technical term for that)? Sometimes conjoined twins form but one doesn't fully develop, instead it gets integrated as part of the other twin. there was one recently in the news, a girl with four legs (two from the twin). Medicine can help, in some cases, the formed twin live better. It can do absolutely nothing for the unformed twin. Would you cite that as a failure of medicine? Would you support massive research efforts to find a way to finish developing the unformed twin somehow? Or would you say the unformed twin is a non-problem and we should focus on the formed half of the pair, the one who will live and deserves a chance at a normal life?

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Although you can perform these thought experiments, it does you no good to learn that within an impossible context Objectivist ethics (which were developed for actual reality) will not help you.

Again, the original hypotheticals are not impossible, but unlikely. Why you rush to label unlikely events as impossible, I am not sure.

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Ok, all that aside, what if it's a genuine (and genuinely weird) emergency? We, in the tiny nation of Objectivsylvania, somehow irked the world to the point of having a gazillion nukes aimed at our heads. We have exactly one doomsday machine, and it runs only on a battery made of Unobtanium. Farmer Bob is hiding the Unobtanium because... who the hell knows. What do we do?

I can't capitalize this enough. WE TAKE THE FRICKIN' UNOBTANIUM.

Moral principles are for living life, long-range. Rights are for dealing with others, long-range. Y'know what makes things not so long-range? An imminent apocalypse tends to do that, for one. If we have a gazillion frothy-mouthed statists with a gazillion nukes ready to blow tomorrow, there is no long-term. It's an emergency. In an emergency, you *end* the emergency, then you clean up the mess once things are back to normal. (In this case, maybe some sort of restitution for Farmer Bob.)

You are not violating his right to the Unobtanium because he doesn't *have* a right to Unobtanium. Not in that context.

--SpiralTheorist--

So rights may vary according to circumstances, specifically the needs of some versus others? In the context of Objectivsylvania’s not needing Farmer Bob’s Unobtanium, Bob has an absolute right to it. But once Objectivsylvania’s vital need arises, Bob’s right suddenly vanishes?

Rand wrote an essay called "The Ethics Of Emergencies." I don't think I have to explain what it is about. As for the rest, dismissing an absurd question is not an evasion.

I think most of us are familiar with that essay. Unfortunately, it does not address the issue we are concerned with here: are there no circumstances under which government should not respect private property rights?

In her conversation with Wallace, Rand dismissed the question by denying the possibility of a monopoly on uranium. But ruling out that possibility does not eliminate all other scenarios in which a free society would have to choose between its continued existence or the violation of the rights of one or a few of its citizens.

Yes, within the terms by which Wallace phrased the question (the "common interest" v. individual rights), Objectivism contradicts itself. But the primary virtue of Objectivism is not independence, it is rationality. That means to recognize reality and to act accordingly - including the recognition that without one's life, one's independence (or private property) is not possible. Thus, assuming that the threat posed by foreign aggression is objectively demonstrable, and assuming that this man's uranium is in fact all is available in the country (or in the time alloted to counter the aggression), the owner of the uranium who refuses to sell (or surrender) it, is not practicing the virtue of independence, but indulging in the vice of irrationality.

This is not a question of the "collective" against the individual, as Wallace would have you believe, but a question of the rights of one rational individual against the rights of one irrational individual. A man of virtue (or a million of them) should not be forced to decide between his own life and the life of a man of vice. Of course, the primary blame belongs to the aggressor nation - which is guilty of a far greater irrationality than the stubborn land owner - but that does not absolve the land owner of any blame. He is guilty of abbetting evil - and inviting his own destruction - for the sake of a political right which he would not posses were it not for his government's (read: fellow countrymen's) ability to defend it

I hope I understand you correctly. Are you suggesting that property rights can in some instances be limited to those who use them rationally? If Farmer Bob behaves irrationally by not selling Unobtanium to Objectivsylvania, does the government become the rightful owner of Bob’s property?

Could we not also say that in time of war, while the primary blame belongs to the aggressor nation, citizens in the defender nation who do not volunteer their needed wealth and labor are “abbetting evil - and inviting [their] own destruction”? Would they lose their rights to those who are acting rationally?

I note that you have not explicitly endorsed a policy of seizing needed goods from the irrational. But would you?

Although you can perform these thought experiments, it does you no good to learn that within an impossible context Objectivist ethics (which were developed for actual reality) will not help you.

It is appropriate to comment on the probability of a hypothetical premise in a question. However, it would be inaccurate to characterize all the “what ifs” raised here as “impossible.”

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Again, the original hypotheticals are not impossible, but unlikely. Why you rush to label unlikely events as impossible, I am not sure.

Ok. Suppose the US, or even a tiny country like Guatemala, faces imminent invasion. The country needs lots and lots of tanks, hummers, APCs, airplanes, choppers and drones. To make them (let's assume the factories are there) they'll need a few kilos of platinum for some parts required in most internal combustion engines.

Alas, Young Punk Mouch owns the only source of platinum in the country. There are other platinum mines in the world, but none are willing to sell your country as much as a picogram for all the money in the Mint; and neither is any black market merchant. You're doomed to be enslaved by Mexican thugs, Belizean dictators or Canadian liberals.

Do you still think this isn't impossible?

Of course, since there was no usable platiunum anywhere in the country, why with it being the sole province of Young Mouch and black hearted black marketers or stupid foreign bureaucrats, there wouldn't be an industry which requires it, would it? Of course, you could set one up in a hurry (of course) and start expliting the platinum quickly once you do, and make thousands of tanks, planes, hummers, drones and APCs (and a bike or two for show) in nothing flat, win the war eventually and go back to business as usual, as soon as you forcefully violated the Young Punk's property rights.

No, nothing impossible about all that. To quote Eddie Murphy "This sort of things happens to me every day."

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Ok. Suppose the US, or even a tiny country like Guatemala, faces imminent invasion. The country needs lots and lots of tanks, hummers, APCs, airplanes, choppers and drones. To make them (let's assume the factories are there) they'll need a few kilos of platinum for some parts required in most internal combustion engines.

Alas, Young Punk Mouch owns the only source of platinum in the country. There are other platinum mines in the world, but none are willing to sell your country as much as a picogram for all the money in the Mint; and neither is any black market merchant. You're doomed to be enslaved by Mexican thugs, Belizean dictators or Canadian liberals.

Do you still think this isn't impossible?

Of course, since there was no usable platiunum anywhere in the country, why with it being the sole province of Young Mouch and black hearted black marketers or stupid foreign bureaucrats, there wouldn't be an industry which requires it, would it? Of course, you could set one up in a hurry (of course) and start expliting the platinum quickly once you do, and make thousands of tanks, planes, hummers, drones and APCs (and a bike or two for show) in nothing flat, win the war eventually and go back to business as usual, as soon as you forcefully violated the Young Punk's property rights.

No, nothing impossible about all that. To quote Eddie Murphy "This sort of things happens to me every day."

The difference is that one nuclear warhead is all you need to serve as a deterrent. I can easily envision a small country get ahold of the necessary equipment to launch that missile, but being unable to get that rarest of elements necessary to make the missile dangerous. This does not seem impossible, and certainly vastly more likely than the hypotheticals to which this situation has been compared (a civilization of heads powered by Michael Jackson music, turning things into Skittles with your touch, etc).

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This is not a question of the "collective" against the individual, as Wallace would have you believe, but a question of the rights of one rational individual against the rights of one irrational individual. A man of virtue (or a million of them) should not be forced to decide between his own life and the life of a man of vice. Of course, the primary blame belongs to the aggressor nation - which is guilty of a far greater irrationality than the stubborn land owner - but that does not absolve the land owner of any blame. He is guilty of abbetting evil - and inviting his own destruction - for the sake of a political right which he would not posses were it not for his government's (read: fellow countrymen's) ability to defend it

I have to take issue with that particular statement. Rights in Objectivist philosophy are emphatically NOT secondary to a government that secures them. They exist regardless, as a function of man's nature, and are secured by a proper government.

I do agree that the hypothetical holdout land owner is irrational if he doesn't recognize his interest in upholding and preserving the system that secures his rights.

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Because you haven't proven that they are possible.

No object in the hypothetical is impossible. There are no square circles or magical situations requiring future technology (such as would be required to turn objects into Skittles). The objects, when connected together, create an unlikely situation, but because the different components of the situations are themselves possible, the situation itself, however unlikely, is possible.

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So rights may vary according to circumstances, specifically the needs of some versus others? In the context of Objectivsylvania’s not needing Farmer Bob’s Unobtanium, Bob has an absolute right to it. But once Objectivsylvania’s vital need arises, Bob’s right suddenly vanishes?

See?

I think most of us are familiar with that essay. Unfortunately, it does not address the issue we are concerned with here: are there no circumstances under which government should not respect private property rights?

Let's try a plausible scenario. The police needs your apartment to set up an observation post for a stakeout accross the street. They ask your permission and offer a token payment. You refuse. The people they're staking out are dangerous (escaped convicts, psychotic killers, terrorists, whatever). Shoudl the cops simply burst into your apartment and take over the room they need?

Of coruse not. They should come back with a court order giving them the right to occupy the room they need for a limited, if indeterminate, lenght of time and for a specific purpose, paying a just compensation for such use. You retain the right to sue the cops, too, for violating your rights, even if it was an emergency and even if a court sided with the police.

The cops, for their part, must be as little a nuissance as they can manage, be respectful of your privacy, take care not to damage your property, etc etc.

That's worlds removed from the simple-minded "Ah, so the government can violate your rights!"

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The difference is that one nuclear warhead is all you need to serve as a deterrent.

Really? Some countries wouldn't be deterred by a dozen warheads, never mind one. Suppose the USSR had 11,000 warheads (it had more at one point) and America had two. The Soviets can anihilate you, you can destroy two cities. That's not a deterrent.

Hell, the rulers of Japan refused to surrender after being hit with two atomic bombs. They looked forward to dying honorably fighting the Americans and the Soviets. It was Hirohito who had to reign them in and order them to surrender.

I can easily envision a small country get ahold of the necessary equipment to launch that missile, but being unable to get that rarest of elements necessary to make the missile dangerous.

While uranium isn't the most abundant element (sillicon is), it isn't that rare or hard to get. I think platinum is rarer. In fact, with advanced chemistry and a lot of money you could mine uranium traces from common minerals such as granite.

BTW did you know all the Helium existing on Earth comes from the decay of Uranium? Well, guess which country has large Helium reserves? I'll give you a hint, it stars with United and ends with America. So in the cas eof America it is absolutely impossible for one man to own all the uranium there is.

As for other countries, say Belize this time, do you really think they couldn't get a few tons from the open market, the black market, spent fuel from commercial powerplants (spent fuel has some plutonium and lots of unconsumed uranium, which is why they can be reprocessed for more fuel)?

I'll repeat my challenge: name one instance of hsitory where even a small village's fate in war depended on the resources found only in one mans' property. One.

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BTW did you know all the Helium existing on Earth comes from the decay of Uranium? Well, guess which country has large Helium reserves? I'll give you a hint, it stars with United and ends with America. So in the cas eof America it is absolutely impossible for one man to own all the uranium there is.

I'm referring to small countries or principalities, such as Galt's Gulch, Sealand, or the Maldives.

As for other countries, say Belize this time, do you really think they couldn't get a few tons from the open market, the black market, spent fuel from commercial powerplants (spent fuel has some plutonium and lots of unconsumed uranium, which is why they can be reprocessed for more fuel)?

They can't afford the black market price.

I'll repeat my challenge: name one instance of history where even a small village's fate in war depended on the resources found only in one mans' property. One.

I don't have to. It's a hypothetical. It doesn't have to have previously occurred for one to address it. That is the whole point of hypotheticals. Either show it is impossible or address it on its own terms using your reasoning abilities. It does not involve square circles or magical future Skittle-converting technology, or another other impossible component. It is unlikely but not impossible. Rand dismissed it as impossible without explaining why. Can you explain why?

Edited by brian0918
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I haven't seen your proof of that. You understand what "possible" means, and how it's different from "imaginary". Show me that your scenario isn't a contradiction: show me the evidence that it's real.

A small country is possible. A nuclear missile is possible. A country wanting to invade another country is possible. A country wanting to defend itself is possible. A missile lacking the nuclear material necessary to make it dangerous is possible. Placing all of these things together is possible. Unlikely, but not impossible. Do you disagree with any of this? If not, then how is the hypothetical not possible?

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I'm referring to small countries or principalities, such as Galt's Gulch, Sealand, or the Maldives.

I don't suppose it's impossible to invade an imaginary country. As for the Maldives, why bother?

They can't afford the black market price.

So for your hypothetical to wrok, you must summarily evade all other possible solutions.

Sure, that makes it possible. It also makes it so ridiculous a 16 year-old fanboy wannabe pulp writer would be embarrased to seriously consider it.

Either show it is impossible or address it on its own terms using your reasoning abilities.

I have. As have others on the thread.

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While uranium isn't the most abundant element (sillicon is), it isn't that rare or hard to get. I think platinum is rarer. In fact, with advanced chemistry and a lot of money you could mine uranium traces from common minerals such as granite.

A not-really-relevant nit: the most common element in the earth's crust, by number of atoms, is (wait for it....) oxygen! Obviously as a constituent of minerals like SiO2 (quartz) and CaCO3 (calcite). I imagine silicon might outweigh oxygen, it being a heavier atom--so if you go by weight (and you probably did), it is indeed silicon.

Uranium is, as you suspected, more common than platinum, in fact it is more common by at least a factor of 1000. It's about 1/10th as common as tin, and about equivalent to tunsten or molybdenum. Assuming my eyes didn't cross as I read the graph.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Relativ...of_elements.png (the graph actually is a USGS document).

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I don't suppose it's impossible to invade an imaginary country. As for the Maldives, why bother?

Sealand is not imaginary, nor is the Maldives. As to the reasons to invade, that is up to the tyrannical country doing the invading, and has no bearing on the hypothetical situation. Irrationally tyrannical countries that want to invade other countries for no particular reason except control are possible, have existed, and probably exist now.

So for your hypothetical to wrok, you must summarily evade all other possible solutions.

It's not evading. That's the reality of the hypothetical, and has been from the beginning. The country is unable to get the uranium from any other source but the private owner's property. That has always been the hypothetical. We are three pages into this discussion and are back where we started. Either show that is impossible, or address it on its own terms.

Sure, that makes it possible.

So it is possible. Now please address the situation and explain what would or should happen.

I have. As have others on the thread.

You just said it was possible, now you say it is impossible. Which is it? Who else has shown it is impossible? DavidOdden has asked me to show it is possible, but that is it so far. Others have shown how other situations are impossible, or how they can modify this situation to make it impossible, but nobody has yet addressed the situation on its own terms:

Suppose an Objectivist country lacks only the nuclear material necessary to deter a tyrannical invading nuke-bearing power, and is unable to pay what other countries are asking for the material; within this country, this material is only available on one private property, and the property owner is also asking a price the government could not afford. Should the government forcibly take the property? Would it be morally justified in doing so?

Edited by brian0918
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That's the reality of the hypothetical, and has been from the beginning. The country is unable to get the uranium from any other source but the private owner's property.... Either show that is impossible, or address it on its own terms.

I contest that this is possible. In a free system no one man could gain a monopoly on that nuclear material. Can you point to any time in history that one man had a (non-government enforced) monopoly on a needed resource? Do you have any evidence to indicate there is a shortage of Plutonium or Uranium?

I can assume this impossible world, build a system of ethics based on it, then determine an answer to the dillema. Just as I can assume the Platonic Forms and then prove that the only proper political system is Dictatorship. However, I don't see the purpose of doing so and can only guess it is something sinister.

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I contest that this is [im]possible. In a free system no one man could gain a monopoly on that nuclear material.

He did not gain the monopoly. It became a monopoly when it was discovered on his property. It hasn't been found anywhere else in that country (as stated in the original hypothetical). How is this impossible?

Can you point to any time in history that one man had a (non-government enforced) monopoly on a needed resource?

Again, I don't have to. What makes a hypothetical possible or impossible is unrelated to whether a similar event has occurred in the past, because the event may be unlikely yet still possible. Do you disagree?

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A small country is possible.
Luxemburg.
A nuclear missile is possible.
The US has many
A country wanting to invade another country is possible.
Germany invaded Poland
A country wanting to defend itself is possible.
The US defended itself from attack by Japan
A missile lacking the nuclear material necessary to make it dangerous is possible.
NASA has such missles
Placing all of these things together is possible.
But not in the way that you described it. The specific assembly contains implicit contradictions, and I've even mentioned them.
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