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Deriving Ethics from Reality

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@Hairnet: I don't think it does at all. I am really just trying to say that psychological health as measured by mental health professionals can be demonstrated to be directly tied to philosophical development. Effective psychological treatments actually tend to bring people more in line with Objectivism despite the philosophical underpinnings of those treatments not being identified as Objectivist.

Since one of my main intellectual interests is in relating Objectivist ideas to non-Objectivists I am interested when useful mental tools are not explicitly Objectivist. I can better positively influence someone with a background in mindfulness therapy, for example, by helping them refine what is useful in that approach without needing for them to have read Rand as a precondition to useful discussion.

I suppose my theory boils down to this: if Objectivism is philosophically perfect or quite close to it, then we should never need to discuss it explicitly as distinct from any other field. We should just have conversations about whatever non-Objectivists are interested in and demonstrate our philosophy's effectiveness with our words and actions on a level others can relate to.

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@Hairnet: I don't think it does at all. I am really just trying to say that psychological health as measured by mental health professionals can be demonstrated to be directly tied to philosophical development. Effective psychological treatments actually tend to bring people more in line with Objectivism despite the philosophical underpinnings of those treatments not being identified as Objectivist.

Since one of my main intellectual interests is in relating Objectivist ideas to non-Objectivists I am interested when useful mental tools are not explicitly Objectivist. I can better positively influence someone with a background in mindfulness therapy, for example, by helping them refine what is useful in that approach without needing for them to have read Rand as a precondition to useful discussion.

I suppose my theory boils down to this: if Objectivism is philosophically perfect or quite close to it, then we should never need to discuss it explicitly as distinct from any other field. We should just have conversations about whatever non-Objectivists are interested in and demonstrate our philosophy's effectiveness with our words and actions on a level others can relate to.

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There's an interesting aspect of property rights, as proposed by Locke, that one can only claim as much property as one can use without waste; waste being an infringement on other individuals use and appropriation of common resources. In this context, property rights remain legitimate with limitations based on recognizing that all individuals require some ability to acquire property in order to validate private ownership as an individual right. Essentially, an individual right to property presumes additional property remains for other individuals to acquire.

A society of subsistence farmers dealing with a finite amount of arable land is a society where property is a zero-sum game, where there is a "conservation of value" principle at work guaranteeing that for every winner there is a loser. Fortunately we do not live in that society.

DA- I don't understand how that would work in practice. Would I only be able to buy a small amount of property so that everyone else also has the opportunity to buy land? That makes me wonder... who is 'everyone else'? What is each individual's limit? Wouldn't that depend on each individual's earnings (ie: you can buy as much as you want or as much as you can afford)? As a seller, I don't care who buys my property, as long as the person who buys it can afford it. I don't see how a buyer who pays for a large amount of land is infringing upon other individuals rights. If other individuals wanted the land and could afford it, they should have bid higher and bought it.

It seems that Locke is saying, 'It's okay to take a little sliver of cake for yourself. But make sure you leave plenty for everyone else. You don't want to overindulge.' Overindulge is only defined as 'not leaving enough for everyone else,' and 'everyone else' is defined as all the people in the world who don't have cake.

Grames- Can you explain how property can be a 'zero-sum game'?

Edited by mdegges
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Grames- Can you explain how property can be a 'zero-sum game'?

It can't, it is the faulty premise behind certain theories. In general what is important is value, and value is never zero-sum even on a desert island, or in a society of subsistence farmers. Not only do we not live in that society now, no one ever did or ever will.

Locke's theory that one can only claim as much property as one can use without waste assumes a certain natural pre-industrial limitation to the amount of land one man could put to plough or to graze. Technology has greatly increased the ratio of farmland per farmer so that it not even remotely plausible today that everyone can be allocated as much land as one can use without waste.

Equating property entirely or for most part with land is also obsolete.

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It seems that Locke is saying, 'It's okay to take a little sliver of cake for yourself. But make sure you leave plenty for everyone else. You don't want to overindulge.' Overindulge is only defined as 'not leaving enough for everyone else,' and 'everyone else' is defined as all the people in the world who don't have cake.

Locke's goal was to prove a natural right to property which established a legitimate claim and an ethical limitation. He begins by claiming we are naturally entitled to the preservation of our lives, which implies a right to acquire property in order to live...

"Sec. 25. Whether we consider natural reason, which tells us, that men, being once born, have a right to their preservation, and consequently to meat and drink, and such other things as nature affords for their subsistence..."

... and later suggests that legitimate acquisition implies a duty not to claim so much that others are left without an ability to acquire property for their preservation...

"Sec. 31. It will perhaps be objected to this, that if gathering the acorns, or other fruits of the earth, &c. makes a right to them, then any one may ingross as much as he will. To which I answer, Not so. The same law of nature, that does by this means give us property, does also bound that property too..."

"Sec. 33... No body could think himself injured by the drinking of another man, though he took a good draught, who had a whole river of the same water left him to quench his thirst: and the case of land and water, where there is enough of both, is perfectly the same."

So yes, there is an ethical limitation to how much property, i.e. objects of nature that sustain life, one can legitimately acquire without undermining the very legitimacy of acquiring it. However, Locke isn't implying a duty to calculate acquisition based on the availability of common resources, so much as pointing out that one's own right to acquire property largely depends on everyone having a similar right to acquire property. His argument is worth reading in its entirety, and holds up well by substituting reference to God, as Nature's God (a la Jefferson), or simply Nature, as in, "to be commanded, must be obeyed"

http://www.constitution.org/jl/2ndtr05.htm

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Locke's theory that one can only claim as much property as one can use without waste assumes a certain natural pre-industrial limitation to the amount of land one man could put to plough or to graze. Technology has greatly increased the ratio of farmland per farmer so that it not even remotely plausible today that everyone can be allocated as much land as one can use without waste.

I believe Locke's point was that "Life, Liberty and Property" isn't justified to the exclusion of others. Within his argument, he also accounts for methods of plowing, grazing, harvesting, but more importantly getting one's goods to market to avoid waste, thereby increasing one's wealth (property).

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I was thinking about how to respond to this while I was having a convo with Eiuol. Maybe it will be of some use- we tried to play Devil's Advocate. :stuart:

Edit: Link to part of the convo on pastebin. (Puns included)

OK, so that was an interesting conversation, but neither of you got around to actually refuting Locke's point that a right to acquire finite (perishable) property, founded on a premise of survival (right to life), implies that waste infringes on others same right to survive.

Unless you're prepared to argue that a right to life is unilateral, e.g. first come - first served, then taking more than you need to survive, such that finite (perishable) life sustaining property is wasted, infringes on others same right to acquire life sustaining property. There's no duty to provide for others; just not to get in the way of their ability to provide for themselves according to the same right you claim for yourself. In your desert example, if someone arrives first and claims all the available water by some right to survive, e.g. "I got here first and figured out how to take it all", and proceeds to tell other arrivals, "Sorry, it's all mine now; go find another desert", the right being claimed isn't just (justified) if there's more than enough water to sustain other lives.

Edited by Devil's Advocate
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I’d be more curious to hear where you are going with this argument. Exactly how do you propose to institute Locke’s argument into a LFC society?

As I said elsewhere, the finite argument falls flat since everything is finite. The fact that all resources, goods, and capital are finite is what defines economics. If something was infinite there would be no supply or demand, no pricing, no economics, and someone would have immediate gratification of a want.

So I do not understand why you are categorizing certain things as being finite in a special way separate from everything else that is finite. Are we giving them special consideration in economics? Under the law? Who gets to decide that? Who gets to add or remove things from this list as technology advances?

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I’d be more curious to hear where you are going with this argument. Exactly how do you propose to institute Locke’s argument into a LFC society?

OK, I'll give it a shot, but first... what's a LFC society?

Here's a summary of Locke' argument for reference:

All individuals have a right to the property of their own person, and a right to their own preservation.

Natural life sustaining resources, e.g. air, water, edible plants and animals, are common to all individuals because they are not created by individuals.

The labor required for one individual to obtain a particular common resource, e.g. a nut, fruit or rabbit, being their own labor, is sufficient to claim that particular resource as their own property, because it isn't possible to obtain every individual's consent to a particular common resource prior to taking it. However taking a common resource and allowing it to go to waste, i.e. not using it to preserve ones own life, infringes on the same right of others to claim that same resource by their labor to preserve their life.

The issue of waste is avoided by bartering perishable goods for durable goods, e.g. fruit for nuts, olives for olive oil, surplus land for gold or silver. Therefore a legitimate title to property, founded on ones right to life and preservation, is made illegitimate by intentionally wasting common resources, thereby impeding the life and preservation of others.

http://www.constitution.org/jl/2ndtr05.htm

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I'm going to go out on a limb here and guess that your LFC means Laissez Faire Capitalism...

As I mentioned to Grames, Locke's point is that "Life, Liberty and Property" isn't justified to the exclusion of others. In order for a right to life to legitimize a right to property, said property must necessarily be identifiable as life sustaining, and common to all. It means little to assert a right to life and property that excludes life and property from others. In terms of Laissez Faire Capitalism, it means little to assert a "free market" that excludes others from participation.

As I said elsewhere, the finite argument falls flat since everything is finite. The fact that all resources, goods, and capital are finite is what defines economics. If something was infinite there would be no supply or demand, no pricing, no economics, and someone would have immediate gratification of a want.

We can agree that nothing is infinite, but some goods are perishable, e.g. meat, vegetables, etc., and some are durable, e.g. lumber, masonry, rare metals, etc. Locke points out that where resources are plentiful, no one really cares how much a particular person claims for their own use. But where life sustaining resources are limited, i.e. finite, claiming more of a common resource than one can use and allowing the surplus to rot, impedes the right of others to sustain their lives by their own labor, by reducing or eliminating an otherwise common resource. One can easily avoid this by bartering away perishable goods for durable ones in a free market.

Again, Locke isn't promoting a Marxist theory of transfer from ability to need, but simply recognizing that a legitimate right to life and property cannot be maintained to the exclusion of others. So it's OK to claim personal property from common resources by laboring to sustain your life, but not OK to prevent others from doing the same.

Edited by Devil's Advocate
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That is what I meant by LFC.

I get the base idea but I’m getting the direction here, or should I say I’m coming up with a direction but I don’t think it is what you intended.

A right to your life legitimizes a right to property because property rights are a consequence of man’s need to live. It is man’s need to take his thoughts and recreate it in realty as life sustaining action. If man doesn’t have a right to his effort, he does not have a right to the purpose of that effort – His life – Since you are restricting his ability to use his tool of survival (his mind) and the result (property). The argument for a right to property is not because the property needs to be life sustaining, but because the actual use man’s mind being recreated into reality is itself life sustaining.

It’s the process and result, not simply the utility of the object.

Next, how does “wasting” affect another’s right to life? If living is thinking and working to create the means of survival (property) then if I waste my means of survival it does not translate into wasting another’s means of survival. If I grow an orchard of apples and my neighbor grows a field of wheat, and I waste some of my land by not using it I don’t see how it can be construed to hurt my neighbor. He can use his property to live just the same no matter what I do with mine. Only I’m hurt since I underutilized my own property.

Are you claiming that this hurts my neighbor because they could utilize the land better than me? Like they have a priori claim to it and I violated a contract by not fulfilling an obligation? This would appear that everyone has “a right” to property up front but only gets to have it based on a promise of use, like some social contract, which can be nullified since someone else could have used it better than you.

Who gets to decide what is the “proper utilization” of property? Who gets to decide who gets it after confiscation? Outside of the morality of such an idea, which is very bad if you are entering in social contract territory, I still don’t see how you could even begin to start or manage such a concept without going down a very slippery slope whose destination is the exact opposite of LFC.

Thoughts?

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In your desert example, if someone arrives first and claims all the available water by some right to survive, e.g. "I got here first and figured out how to take it all", and proceeds to tell other arrivals, "Sorry, it's all mine now; go find another desert", the right being claimed isn't just (justified) if there's more than enough water to sustain other lives.

Well, in that conversation I wasn't trying to refute Locke at all. Refutation would take a different approach. I am pointing out what I see to be what leads to the welfare-state. What I quoted here is exactly the point, as there is no justification to deem what is "enough" for others. Isn't a claim to surplus food then unjustified by your reasoning because that deprives people starving in Africa of food that they'd love to have? Or in your own town?

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There's no duty to provide for others; just not to get in the way of their ability to provide for themselves according to the same right you claim for yourself.

From the source listed, these arguments from Macpherson make the most sense:

"On Macpherson's interpretation, Locke is thought to have set three restrictions on the accumulation of property in the state of nature: 1) one may only appropriate as much as one can use before it spoils (Two Treatises 2.31), 2) one must leave “enough and as good” for others (the sufficiency restriction) (2.27), and 3) one may (supposedly) only appropriate property through one's own labor (2.27). Macpherson claims that as the argument progresses, each of these restrictions is transcended.

The spoilage restriction ceases to be a meaningful restriction with the invention of money because value can be stored in a medium that does not decay (2.46–47). The sufficiency restriction is transcended because the creation of private property so increases productivity that even those who no longer have the opportunity to acquire land will have more opportunity to acquire what is necessary for life (2.37). According to Macpherson's view, the “enough and as good” requirement is itself merely a derivative of a prior principle guaranteeing the opportunity to acquire, through labor, the necessities of life. The third restriction, Macpherson argues, was not one Locke actually held at all. Though Locke appears to suggest that one can only have property in what one has personally labored on when he makes labor the source of property rights, Locke clearly recognized that even in the state of nature, “the Turfs my Servant has cut” (2.28) can become my property." [Source]

One can easily avoid this by bartering away perishable goods for durable ones in a free market.

That's true- If you're a farmer growing vegetables, it's likely that you'll eat some and sell the excess at the market in order to buy other goods/supplies. But should you be forced under law to sell your excess perishables? No. And are you being immoral if you don't? No.

Another thought: Even if you are forced to sell your excess perishables, who decides the price? I can comply with the law by selling my organic onions for $100 a piece- but if no one wants to buy them, they will all go to waste. Under Locke's theory, I would be infringing on others "rights to life" (food) by selling my onions at a price higher than anyone can pay. This is a problem you'd have to sort out in this society. I don't see any other way to do it except to regulate prices (or apply price caps)- which itself would be immoral.

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Well, in that conversation I wasn't trying to refute Locke at all. Refutation would take a different approach. I am pointing out what I see to be what leads to the welfare-state. What I quoted here is exactly the point, as there is no justification to deem what is "enough" for others. Isn't a claim to surplus food then unjustified by your reasoning because that deprives people starving in Africa of food that they'd love to have? Or in your own town?

The only justification of what is enough, is conservation of a natural resource that others, like yourself, depend on to live. A claim to surplus food (which is allowed to waste) from a common resource,and by "common" Locke means that which is was created by Nature without anyone's effort, is unjustified if results in people starving who otherwise (by their own labor) could have claimed food to survive.

In my town, for example, there are some community gardens, in which the property owner consents to the use of an otherwise vacant lot so that neighbors can plant vegetables, and the harvest is distributed according to labor spent maintaining the garden. I doubt if anyone would starve for want of these gardens, but everyone involved certainly has a greater respect for the land, and the effort it takes to produce goods. I consider this to be a good example of Locke's principle in action.

Edited by Devil's Advocate
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... If you're a farmer growing vegetables, it's likely that you'll eat some and sell the excess at the market in order to buy other goods/supplies. But should you be forced under law to sell your excess perishables? No. And are you being immoral if you don't? No.

The issue of force is double edged, but I certainly agree that forcing someone to relinquish perishables earned by their own labor is unjustified. However withholding perishables obtained from a common resource with the intent to allow them to rot rather than bartering them away for durable goods is unethical, because it willfully destroys that which others, by their own labor, depend on to survive.

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It’s the process and result, not simply the utility of the object.

Hmmm... I get your point, and agree, but let's be more specific about "utility of the object"...

A lake for example, represents a natural object not produced by man, the utility of which contains water and fish people depend on to survive, but again no one but Nature creates the "utility of the object". We can agree that an individual may own the lake as property, but that person certainly didn't create the lake, much less the water and fish it contains (not talking about man made reservoirs now). Add into the mix water and fish being delivered by a river from mountains, both of which are outside the property of the lake. Now consider a drought which deprives neighbors from obtaining water and fish from the river, and the lake owner's refusal to barter water or fish from "his" lake, because he can "legitimately" do so by law...

Does the lake owner's right to impede his neighbors' efforts to obtain life sustaining property by their own labor from a natural resource (privately owned) remain justified ethically??

Edited by Devil's Advocate
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Does the lake owner's right to impede his neighbors' efforts to obtain life sustaining property by their own labor from a natural resource (privately owned) remain ethically legitimate??

Yes. Unless your scenario rises to an end-of-the-world emergency, but in that case all that matters is how long the lake owner's ammo supply holds out.

Lifeboat ethics are deprecated.

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Yes. Unless your scenario rises to an end-of-the-world emergency, but in that case all that matters is how long the lake owner's ammo supply holds out.

Lifeboat ethics are deprecated.

I had edited the word "legitimate" and replaced with "justified" in order to change the focus from "by legal statute" to "what is morally right and fair"; that may alter your response...

However, I would point out that ethics that depend on one's ammo supply holding out, imply a policy of Might Makes Right. I believe Locke's premise is superior because it recognizes that a right to life and property cannot be maintained by dismissing the same right to others; starving, destitute neighbors invite war...

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I had edited the word "legitimate" and replaced with "justified" in order to change the focus from "by legal statute" to "what is morally right and fair"; that may alter your response...

However, I would point out that ethics that depend on one's ammo supply holding out, imply a policy of Might Makes Right. I believe Locke's premise is superior because it recognizes that a right to life and property cannot be maintained by dismissing the same right to others; starving, destitute neighbors invite war...

I would not change my response as it was centered on ethics already. Lifeboat emergency situations teach nothing that can be generalized to everyday ethics.

The threat of the starving and destitute neighbors is itself a recourse to 'might makes right', so the question as to who would be initiating force in this situation has to be 'the neighbors'.

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A lake for example, represents a natural object not produced by man, the utility of which contains water and fish people depend on to survive, but again no one but Nature creates the "utility of the object". We can agree that an individual may own the lake as property, but that person certainly didn't create the lake, much less the water and fish it contains (not talking about man made reservoirs now). Add into the mix water and fish being delivered by a river from mountains, both of which are outside the property of the lake. Now consider a drought which deprives neighbors from obtaining water and fish from the river, and the lake owner's refusal to barter water or fish from "his" lake, because he can "legitimately" do so by law...

Does the lake owner's right to impede his neighbors' efforts to obtain life sustaining property by their own labor from a natural resource (privately owned) remain justified ethically??

No, people create the utility of an object. Utility is only possible if you figure out how to use what you find. You are right that an individual didn't create the lake, but an individual figured out how to use the lake. The lake owner can impede in any manner, as it is a judgment of how to use the lake. The lake owner can fish in any manner he sees fit, whether with fishing nets, fishing poles on a rowboat, or using a spear. During a drought, using the property may include not allowing anyone to use water or fish from his lake, in order to maintain a delicate ecosystem. Whether you, the starving neighbor, thinks this is irrational is a separate question, but the lake owner has a different context of knowledge. From the your (the neighbor's) perspective, the lake owner might be impeding on a right to obtain life sustaining property during a drought. From the lake owner's perspective, the you might be impeding on a right to maintain life sustaining property - if the ecosystem collapses, not even the lake owner gets fish. Because no one is omniscient, we ought only make judgments of violating rights based on preventing someone from using their mind as they see fit. Unless you'd like some philosopher kings (and onward to tyranny).

Edited by Eiuol
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I would not change my response as it was centered on ethics already. Lifeboat emergency situations teach nothing that can be generalized to everyday ethics.

The threat of the starving and destitute neighbors is itself a recourse to 'might makes right', so the question as to who would be initiating force in this situation has to be 'the neighbors'.

I would argue that the "threat" is created by the owner of the lake mismanaging his "property"; he is in effect forcing his neighbors into the lifeboat. The lake owner may recognize his neighbors' equal right to preserve their lives without surrendering his right to property and profit from it, or he can pick them off as they are forced to cross his property line in order to eat and drink. The former way acts to prevent war; the latter invites it.

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No, people create the utility of an object. Utility is only possible if you figure out how to use what you find. You are right that an individual didn't create the lake, but an individual figured out how to use the lake. The lake owner can impede in any manner, as it is a judgment of how to use the lake. The lake owner can fish in any manner he sees fit, whether with fishing nets, fishing poles on a rowboat, or using a spear. During a drought, using the property may include not allowing anyone to use water or fish from his lake, in order to maintain a delicate ecosystem. Whether you, the starving neighbor, thinks this is irrational is a separate question, but the lake owner has a different context of knowledge. From the your (the neighbor's) perspective, the lake owner might be impeding on a right to obtain life sustaining property during a drought. From the lake owner's perspective, the you might be impeding on a right to maintain life sustaining property - if the ecosystem collapses, not even the lake owner gets fish. Because no one is omniscient, we ought only make judgments of violating rights based on preventing someone from using their mind as they see fit. Unless you'd like some philosopher kings (and onward to tyranny).

So... this guy finds a lake and it's filled with something wet, and he thinks, "hmm... I bet I could figure out a way to drink this stuff, that no one has thought of before..."

Is that your justification for excluding everyone else from a natural resource as a right to property? Really??

How is that different than simply adopting a policy of first come - first served, enforced by might makes right??

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So... this guy finds a lake and it's filled with something wet, and he thinks, "hmm... I bet I could figure out a way to drink this stuff, that no one has thought of before..."

Is that your justification for excluding everyone else from a natural resource as a right to property? Really??

How is that different than simply adopting a policy of first come - first served, enforced by might makes right??

Might makes right is when a right to property derives from the ability to defend what you have. If someone overpowers you, too bad. Simple as that.

My position is different because the right to property derives from the ability to use what's in front of you, and in large part if you reach it first. We can get into how *much* of a lake you can claim - just fishing in Lake Erie doesn't mean you own all of Lake Erie - but what you can claim is based on your ability to know how to use the lake. Knowing how to use something in a particular way also implies some amount of planning long-range, so even if people cry that denying access to water is unfair, that doesn't mean they're being denied a right to life. Other people determining how you must use your property infringes on your ability to think (i.e. they'll raid your lake in response to a perceived rights violation), while your possession of the only well or lake during a drought doesn't infringe on another person's ability to think if they're not allowed to use it.

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To clarify, I'm using Locke's premise applied to the lake owner example to demonstrate an ethical limit to acquiring ownership of a natural resource...

The lake in question is replenished with fish and water from a common natural resource (a river). Clearly the lake owner benefits from this natural arrangement without laboring to discover or maintain any use of his lake. Additionally, he has benefited from his neighbors not constructing a dam or rerouting the river's course to avoid his property. No one cares or challenges the lake owner's title to property because river water and fish are plentiful until a drought occurs, resulting in a real threat to the neighbors ability to survive by their wits and labor, which the lake owner remains exempt from... Without any innovation or property improvements on his part, he now has title to surplus property that his neighbors will perish for want of.

Either the lake owner can allow access to his neighbors, even profit from it, or he can maintain his right to deny access, thereby relying on his neighbors to respect his right to surplus property at the expense of their own lives. Don't try to wriggle out with some excuse about life boats and neighbors being able to wander off into the desert in search of more natural resources; scouts have been dispatched and none have survived the search. Of course it will rain again some day, but the neighbors will be dead by then...

So... at what point, if ever, does a legal title to surplus natural resources justify denying the right of others to their preservation by wasting it?

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