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Wealth from others = slavery?

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I encountered this attempt to equate capitalism with slavery today:

Production results through the act of labor.

Wealth results through the act of production.

Therefore, wealth results through the act of labor.

In a capitalist society, one may either gain a certain wealth through the act of investment or through the act of labor.

If one has gained a certain wealth through the act of investment, one has not gained that same wealth through the act of labor.

In a capitalist society, some have gained a certain wealth through the act of investment.

Therefore, in a capitalist society, some have not gained a certain wealth through the act of labor.

Slavery is the process of gaining wealth from the labor of someone else.

If slavery is wrong, then one should not gain wealth from the labor of someone else.

Slavery is wrong. (I hope we are both agreed on this issue.)

Therefore, one should not gain wealth from the labor of someone else.

If society is agreed that one should not gain wealth through the labor of someone else,

then gaining wealth through the labor of someone else can be considered immoral.

Society has agreed that one should not gain wealth through the labor of someone else.

Therefore, gaining wealth through the labor of someone else can be considered immoral.

Capitalism results in some people gaining a certain wealth through the act of other people's labor.

Therefore, capitalism can be considered immoral.

My response follows:

Your "argument" reminds me of the Russian revolutionaries who killed off industrial leaders on the assumption that the products could be made by anyone, only to quickly realize that there is quite a bit more to production than labor, that nobody knew how to run the factories, and that they would just have to do without.

Incorrect. You've confused a definition with a single characteristic of a concept. A definition is a statement that identifies the nature of the entities subsumed under a concept; a definition identifies the characteristics common to these entities, setting the concept apart from all others.

Now, the definition you attempted to provide is not sufficient to define slavery - i.e., it does not sufficiently identify the characteristics common among slaves, and set them apart from other concepts, such as "tree" or "car" -, and is thus not a definition of slavery.

It is one aspect of slavery, but not a defining aspect, in the same way that "red" is an aspect of "apple", but you could not rightly say, "An apple is anything red."

I believe I sufficiently rebutted his post, but would like to know if I correctly identified the error in his argument, and whether I explained his faulty reasoning clearly enough.

Edited by brian0918
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Maybe you could have provided him with a more accurate definition of slavery. For example, slavery is forcing an individual to work exclusively for your own benefit and not for his own, against his own judgment. Capitalism doesn't involve such force since it is, by definition, a system of voluntary interaction between free individuals. There are plenty of cases where one person could gain wealth from someone else's labour, to their mutual benefit, and the example of Russian revolutionaries seems appropriate in demonstrating this difference.

I think you identified his mistake correctly, you just didn't take it a step further to actually correct it.

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I think the focus has to be on completely chewing the concept of "labor". Once you do that, there will be two possible routes. Either, one will have to agree that capitalists deserve their money, or one will have to agree that wealth is not the product of labor alone.

Sometimes people equivocate on the term "labor". For instance, the truth is that most wealth does not come from physical labor, but from thinking. If you put this objection to some, they will agree, saying that (say) when Edison created his electric bulb, it was his labor. However, when they get down to laws, they switch back to using "labor" to mean only (or mostly) physical labor.

Consider this: suppose the great pyramid was built by 1 master-architect, 10 junior architects, 100 overseers and 1000 slaves. Where -- in this example -- is the labor that is being referred to, and in how much quantity? If they all work 10 hour days, is there one unit of labor contributed by the master architect and 1000 by the slaves? If we presume such an equivalence, would the pyramid building (the wealth) degrade just as much whether we remove the master-architect or whether we remove one slave?

how about something more personal. if the questioner has ever worked, do they think that every colleague, working the same number of hours, was producing just as much wealth as they were?

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Maybe you could have provided him with a more accurate definition of slavery. For example, slavery is forcing an individual to work exclusively for your own benefit and not for his own, against his own judgment.

But that does not account for someone who volunteers to sell himself into slavery. I would then have to get into the whole discussion of fundamental principles. Maybe David Odden is right - maybe that's where all responses should start, and doing anything less simply gives their argument undue credence by drawing out the discussion, making it look more like I am making it up as I go along.

Edited by brian0918
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Consider this: suppose the great pyramid was built by 1 master-architect, 10 junior architects, 100 overseers and 1000 slaves. Where -- in this example -- is the labor that is being referred to, and in how much quantity? If they all work 10 hour days, is there one unit of labor contributed by the master architect and 1000 by the slaves? If we presume such an equivalence, would the pyramid building (the wealth) degrade just as much whether we remove the master-architect or whether we remove one slave?

I like this approach because it is direct and requires him to fully clarify his views (and thus realize their absurdity). However, because what he has provided is a rationalization, and because rationalizations often lead to absurdities (and yet are still promoted as valid), he is not likely to simply discard his argument in the face of obvious absurdity - rather he will likely continue to prop it up as being sound.

Edited by brian0918
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Quoting from the original discussion...

Capitalism results in some people gaining a certain wealth through the act of other people's labor.

Therefore, capitalism can be considered immoral.

Um, some people?

How can one develop a definition when some parts are left as undefined as "some people"? And who would decide who those "some people" are? Would seem to be an early way to tear up the argument.

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Everyone should just go and hunt for their own meat make their own clothing write their own books etc.

Because anything less then that would obviously be slavery (aka gaining wealth from others).

Lets call this awesome new system STUPID!

Edited by FrolicsomeQuipster
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Quoting from the original discussion...

Um, some people?

How can one develop a definition when some parts are left as undefined as "some people"? And who would decide who those "some people" are? Would seem to be an early way to tear up the argument.

Good point. It bears pointing out - in a capitalistic enterprise, ALL PARTIES INVOLVED gain wealth through the act of someone's labor. The business owner certainly gains wealth via the employee's labor - but so do the employees.

In slavery, only the owner gains the wealth.

But that does not account for someone who volunteers to sell himself into slavery.

Can voluntary slavery really be called slavery?

I was enlisted in the USNR at 19. I sold myself to the Military, and was for all intents and purposes - property of the US Government.

Was I a slave? I don't think so. Maybe more of an indentured servant ...but not a slave.

Edited by Greebo
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Can voluntary slavery really be called slavery?

My point was that if I had provided the suggested definition of slavery, the responder would reply by saying, "what about if I volunteer myself to slavery, is that immoral?" - then I would have to respond with fundamental principles.

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In slavery, only the owner gains the wealth.

This isn't quite true, the slaves gain *some* wealth--as much as the slave owner decides is necessary to keep them alive and healthy enough to work. They don't *control* the wealth they produce.

A slave is someone whose product is exclusively *controlled* by someone else. It doesn't matter whether he has resigned himself to this system so force is no longer required to keep him in check, it doesn't matter if he's a doctor under socialized medicine or a pampered eunich in the seraglio. The point is that he has no property rights and thus NO rights.

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Can voluntary slavery really be called slavery?

I was enlisted in the USNR at 19. I sold myself to the Military, and was for all intents and purposes - property of the US Government.

Was I a slave? I don't think so. Maybe more of an indentured servant ...but not a slave.

Agreed, I knew what I was into when I enlisted in the Army National Guard at 17, with my parents signature also. Did I gain skills as a result? Yes.

Now, what if some of one's money is taken by force for someone else? Might not be all of it. Might be for a period of time. Is that really the intent of government? Taxation. No. But it is done. So, isn't the government of "democracy" more of the slave driver?

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Therefore, in a capitalist society, some have not gained a certain wealth through the act of labor.

Wrong. All wealth is the result of labor, it doesn't just exist in nature, growing on trees. Thinking is labor; it is quite hard work too. Tell this idiot to try it sometime, and let that be the entirety of your rebuttal.

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But that does not account for someone who volunteers to sell himself into slavery. I would then have to get into the whole discussion of fundamental principles. Maybe David Odden is right - maybe that's where all responses should start, and doing anything less simply gives their argument undue credence by drawing out the discussion, making it look more like I am making it up as I go along.

He is absolutely, 100% right. Any discussion of morality must tie situations to fundamental principles. As principles are universal truths upon which validity specific moral cases (like slavery) depend, the recognition of such principles must come first, and are used to determine the moral course of action. Ignoring principles, or treating them as optional considerations, necessarily obliterates morality, reducing it to a pragmatic, emotionalistic roll of the dice.

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Voluntary slavery defies the definition of slavery as pointed out in the original post. If I -want- to haul the rocks up the pyramid for free, I am not a slave. (Just an idiot.) You can't be a volunteer slave just like you can't be a bird and a rock. Individual rights. Capitalism is moral because it allows human beings to coexist for mutual benefit without the use of force.

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I encountered this attempt to equate capitalism with slavery today:

My response follows:

Incorrect. You've confused a definition with a single characteristic of a concept. A definition is a statement that identifies the nature of the entities subsumed under a concept; a definition identifies the characteristics common to these entities, setting the concept apart from all others.

Now, the definition you attempted to provide is not sufficient to define slavery - i.e., it does not sufficiently identify the characteristics common among slaves, and set them apart from other concepts, such as "tree" or "car" -, and is thus not a definition of slavery.

It is one aspect of slavery, but not a defining aspect, in the same way that "red" is an aspect of "apple", but you could not rightly say, "An apple is anything red."

I believe I sufficiently rebutted his post, but would like to know if I correctly identified the error in his argument, and whether I explained his faulty reasoning clearly enough.

Slavery involves the subjugation of other individuals for one's personal benefit. It would not ordinarily be assigned to workers in any system of production in which the worker's had a viable choice of work and were able to obtain a "fair" wage based upon the labor they offered and the level of skill which they provided. Since the definition of "fair" is subjective, it's difficult, but not impossible, to identify slavery in every instance. If capitalism resulted, for any individual, in a lack of a choice and an unfair wage, then irregardless of whether someone was paid something, I would classify that as slavery.

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Voluntary slavery defies the definition of slavery as pointed out in the original post. If I -want- to haul the rocks up the pyramid for free, I am not a slave. (Just an idiot.) You can't be a volunteer slave just like you can't be a bird and a rock. Individual rights. Capitalism is moral because it allows human beings to coexist for mutual benefit without the use of force.

If you have no choice but to haul the rocks up the pyramid and all they will pay you in return is a cup of water and piece of bread for every 1000 rocks you haul - this would be slavery. Slavery involves the elimination of choice and an unfair wage.

Capitalism is only moral while choice and a fair wage are inherent in the system. When those leave then it becomes slavery.

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If you have no choice but to haul the rocks up the pyramid and all they will pay you in return is a cup of water and piece of bread for every 1000 rocks you haul - this would be slavery.

Define "no choice".

Under your (implied) definition, we are all inevitably slaves to reality because we all must eat, drink, sleep, breathe, and poop just to stay alive, and reality doesn't pay us a "fair" wage for all of this work. The force presupposed by slavery is, exclusively, man-made force, NOT the requirements of reality that may lead us to take a job that *you* deem "unfair" by some undefined means.

If there is *man-made* force (i.e. violence) that drive you into a specific form of work, *that* is slavery. But if no one is threatening you with violence, there is no slavery nor possibility of slavery. You remain free to choose what you will do--whether you will take a job or relocate or find some uninhabited stretch of land or chase down a deer and eat its raw meat. You don't properly have the option to force other men to provide you some "minimum" level of sustenance because these men may not even exist or have sustenance to provide you. Morality doesn't start by assuming "other people have stuff, therefore they must give me stuff", because what possible use is such morality to you if you find yourself alone on a desert island? Are you going to complain that you're a slave because you now can't choose whether to have a coconut or a hamburger and the corals aren't providing you with a "fair" wage?

What a crock. A proper morality covers all possible situations, it doesn't start philosophizing in midstream talking about "employment" and "wages" as though they were primaries of existence--both are derivatives of derivatives and thus not fundamental conditions for determining the moral status of *anything*.

Edited by JMeganSnow
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Define "no choice".

Under your (implied) definition, we are all inevitably slaves to reality because we all must eat, drink, sleep, breathe, and poop just to stay alive, and reality doesn't pay us a "fair" wage for all of this work. The force presupposed by slavery is, exclusively, man-made force, NOT the requirements of reality that may lead us to take a job that *you* deem "unfair" by some undefined means.

If there is *man-made* force (i.e. violence) that drive you into a specific form of work, *that* is slavery. But if no one is threatening you with violence, there is no slavery nor possibility of slavery. You remain free to choose what you will do--whether you will take a job or relocate or find some uninhabited stretch of land or chase down a deer and eat its raw meat. You don't properly have the option to force other men to provide you some "minimum" level of sustenance because these men may not even exist or have sustenance to provide you. Morality doesn't start by assuming "other people have stuff, therefore they must give me stuff", because what possible use is such morality to you if you find yourself alone on a desert island? Are you going to complain that you're a slave because you now can't choose whether to have a coconut or a hamburger and the corals aren't providing you with a "fair" wage?

What a crock. A proper morality covers all possible situations, it doesn't start philosophizing in midstream talking about "employment" and "wages" as though they were primaries of existence--both are derivatives of derivatives and thus not fundamental conditions for determining the moral status of *anything*.

I accept your position that without force or violence that slavery is impossible. But then you have to define force and violence in order for me to understand at what level someone is a slave. Isn't the man who can't get any job other than grave digging "forced" to work as a grave digger?

Edited by amosknows
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I accept your position that without force or violence that slavery is impossible. But then you have to define force and violence in order for me to understand at what lever someone is a slave. Isn't the man who can't get any job other than grave digging "forced" to work as a grave digger?

No.

The only relevant force is man-made force, whereas the "force" being exerted on your hypothetical man are the metaphysical facts necessary for his existence. Suppose, as I've said elsewhere, that he's stuck on a desert island and his only option for survival is harvesting coconuts and fishing? Is he a slave *then*? To whom?

No, of course he's not a slave, the idea would be ridiculous. But by not understanding such things as the distinction between the metaphysical and the man-made and how that relates to the requirements for human survival, you're conflating a man-made condition (slavery) with a metaphysical one (need to produce). Outside its proper context, the term slavery is *meaningless*.

Let's take another example so you can see how this context thing works: some people conflate *not saving someone's life* with murder. Look at what this would mean in full application: if a dictator in some foreign country orders a man shot, *I* am guilty of murdering him because I didn't board a plane, fly there, and physically interpose myself between victim and firing squad. Anyone should be able to see that this is utterly absurd, but I didn't "save his life" so I *must* have "murdered" him.

A man offering you employment you don't like as a chance to save yourself from starvation is not enslaving you, he is your *benefactor*, enabling the continuation of your life where that was impossible to you before. That's not to say that you should love the work and cease striving to better yourself, merely that you should recognize that doing unpleasant work is better than the alternative.

You could properly call it slavery, however, if the alternative was death *because* the man threatened to shoot you if you *didn't* do what he told you to do. YOU could be growing potatoes or fishing or something to sustain your own life in those circumstances, if it weren't for this jackass standing between you and your judgment. *That* is the only meaningful definition and application of the term slavery.

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I accept your position that without force or violence that slavery is impossible. But then you have to define force and violence in order for me to understand at what level someone is a slave. Isn't the man who can't get any job other than grave digging "forced" to work as a grave digger?

A force is that which can cause an object with mass to accelerate. Force has both magnitude and direction, making it a vector quantity.

When we speak of force, we generally include the threat of force and violence as well. (for instance someone holding a whip or a gun to you, rather than actually moving your hands causing you to "work"). However, if someone is doing nothing, nor is he threatening to do anything, that is not force.

Also, this force needs an agent, someone who releases it on the object of the force. Since in Capitalism the government has no control over the economy, who would be this agent of force in your example?

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A force is that which can cause an object with mass to accelerate. Force has both magnitude and direction, making it a vector quantity.

When we speak of force, we generally include the threat of force and violence as well. (for instance someone holding a whip or a gun to you, rather than actually moving your hands causing you to "work"). However, if someone is doing nothing, nor is he threatening to do anything, that is not force.

Also, this force needs an agent, someone who releases it on the object of the force. Since in Capitalism the government has no control over the economy, who would be this agent of force in your example?

To add to your description, force in a moral context is an action that one takes against one's will, when to do otherwise would lead to one's harm. For example, I'm forced to give the mugger my wallet, because to do otherwise would mean I get shot. I'm forced to pay taxes, because to do otherwise means I go to jail.

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In the land that AmosKnows, when a man is presented with a problem he is unable to think, he is unable to act and he can only accept that he is forced, by the world, by existence by inequality, by the division of labour to wring his hands and cry aloud, "Woe is me!!!"

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I'm forced to pay taxes, because to do otherwise means I go to jail.

Exactly. Restriction of freedom.

Taxes are not necessary for one to live. But if one does not do as "required", one will loose property, more money, and/or be restricted in movement and work.

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To add to your description, force in a moral context is an action that one takes against one's will, when to do otherwise would lead to one's harm. For example, I'm forced to give the mugger my wallet, because to do otherwise would mean I get shot. I'm forced to pay taxes, because to do otherwise means I go to jail.

I don't think Ayn Rand defined force in a moral context. (nor do I think it would be useful to define it that way, thus "overwriting" the actual definition) The way I understand Objectivism, she used it as a metaphysical concept, meaning "physical force".

Obviously, in the context of politics, we are talking about "force inflicted directly or originated by a human being", but that isn't part of the definition of force. It is just the type of force that is relevant in a political context, because politics is the study of human interaction.

However, the nature of the force humans apply, and of the force a falling tree would apply are the same, so there is no reason for a separate definition.

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I don't think Ayn Rand defined force in a moral context. (nor do I think it would be useful to define it that way, thus "overwriting" the actual definition) The way I understand Objectivism, she used it as a metaphysical concept, meaning "physical force".

Ok, so your understanding is that Rand defined force as only physical?

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