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DavidV

Merge: Rights, Property

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I’m unclear on just what the concept subsumes. The closest thing to a definition of “property” I can find is in CUI, p122. Ayn Rand defines “property rights” as “Any material element or resource which, in order to become of use or value to men, requires the application of human knowledge and effort should be private property – by the right of those who apply the knowledge and effort.”

Would this be a correct definition of “property”: “An object or idea created or discovered by the application of mental and physical effort to make it a value to a rational being’s life.”

So, a potentially valuable object in nature doesn’t become property until someone derives a value from it, right? Or is it just “unclaimed property” until then?

Also, under this definition, any valuable idea we think up becomes our property. But this sometimes conflicts with the legal definition of property – for example, we can’t profit from an invention we think up on our own if there is already a patent on it. Also, we can’t profit from any scientific laws or abstract ideas we invent (such as the philosophy of Objectivism.) Sure, you could sell books about it, but someone is free to write and profit from your abstract ideas as well. Finally, when you do get a patent for something, you may only do so for a limited amount of time.

Obviously, this is because it is impractical and in fact impossible to enforce all instances where a person derives a benefit from a value another individual has created. Does this mean that moral ideals must be compromised by practical considerations in the realm of politics? If so, it would seem that we have a moral obligation to “pay” even when practical considerations prevent that obligation from being enforceable. Let me give an example: I owe a great debt to Ayn Rand for improving my life by providing me with a rational philosophy. I don’t think this means that I should send bags of $ to AR even if she was still alive, but do I have some sort of non-material debt – such as promoting her philosophy? I certainly do spend time and money to promote Objectivism, but I do because of the various benefits I derive from doing so -- my intellectual education, the friends I make, the value of a more rational society, etc. What do you think?

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Guest Marshall

Where's RadCap on this one? He's stated EXPLICITLY that he understands the concept of property and how it relates to man's life.

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There are like 10 threads in that post. :)

I'll try to make a start, though. The definition of property... I think the first dictionary definition I came across is right: "something owned." So, what kinds of things does one own? The primary things are the products of one's effort, but you can also own gifts, products you've traded for products of your own effort, etc.

In regards to the comment about unclaimed property, keep in mind that nothing is an actual value until someone applies effort to make it a value. (I think you understand this.) I think you can call all of nature a "potential value", but it seems confused somehow to call anything "unclaimed property." "Potential property" might be more accurate, but there are some things in nature, i.e., other people, that can be a value to you but cannot be your property.

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I would suggest something like this as a proper definition of property:

Property - Any material element or resource to which mental and physical effort have been applied.

In the Objectivist Newsletter, May 64 and later in CUI (both under the title "Patents and Copyrights") AR stated:

"Every type of productive work involves a combination of mental and physical effort: of thought and of physical action to translate that thought into a material form. The proportion of these to elements varies in different types of work. At the lowest end of the scale, the mental effort required to perform unskilled manual labor is minimal. At the other end, what the patent and copyright laws acknowledge is the paramount role of mental effort in the production of material values; these laws protect the mind's contribution in its purest form: the origination of an idea."

She further states:

"An idea as such cannot be protected until it has been given a material form. An invention has to be embodied in a physical model before it can be patented; a story has to be written or printed. But what the patent or copyright protects is not the physical object as such, but the idea which it embodies. By forbidding an unauthorized reproduction of the object, the law declares, in effect, that the physical labor of copying is not the source of the object's value, that that value is created by the originator of the idea and may not be used without his consent; thus the law establishes the property right of a mind to that which it has brought into existence."

Now, working backwards in response to previous posts:

Matt - while ownership is indeed a concept linked TO the concept property, it is not specifically included in that concept. Ownership pertains to WHO has rightful possession of property. While the definition of property implicitly answers that question, such an answer must be explicitly applied somewhere besides a fundamental definition (just as the definition "selfishness: concern with one's self" does not answer whether that is a moral act or not IN the definition).

GC - While I would say your definition is on the right track, I would also say it is carrying too many baggage cars. First off, AR explicitly stated (in the above referenced article) that discoveries cannot be considered private property:

"A scientific or philosophical discovery, which identifies a law of nature, a principle or a fact of reality not previously known, cannot be tthe exclusive property of the discoverer because: (a) he did not create it, and (b ) if he cares to make his discovery public, claiming it to be true, he cannot demand that men continue to pursue or practice falsehoods except by his permission."

Of course one can discover new lands, and thus claim them. But since this is only one aspect of the concept 'discovery', that term simply does not belong. It is too broad a concept to validly be included. Furthermore, what is properly included from the concept 'discovery' is already covered under the general definition. So, besides including improper applications of the concept, it is also redundant.

Another piece of extra baggage is: "...to a rational being’s life." The inclusion of this 'clause' is again either redundant (implicit in the definition, since a rational animal is the only being which can value) OR is a loophole. It places a condition upon property that it must be a value TO a RATIONAL being life. Whereas the first interpretation references metaphysics, someone could interpret it to reference epistemology or ethics (ie sanity or proper philosophy). Thus such a definition could be seen to exclude the insane and/or those who do not follow a proper philosophy (ie Christians follow an irrational philosophy, thus what they create with the effort of their mind and body is not a value to a RATIONAL being's life. Therefore those creations are not their property).

Either way - be it redundancy or exclusion - the 'clause' does not belong.

That leaves the rest of your definition with similar intent to the one I posted. However, I'm not certain you have fully grasped what you yourself have written. You ask:

"... a potentially valuable object in nature doesn’t become property until someone derives a value from it, right?"

Actually, a thing becomes property when, as YOU state, an individual engages in the "APPLICATION of mental and physical effort" in regards to it (emphasis added of course). Until such an application, it is not property at all but simply a material element or resource.

You further say:

"...under this definition, any valuable idea we think up becomes our property."

This is not true either, even according to your own definition. Merely thinking of an idea ("valuable" or not) does not make it property. Again, as you say, property requires the "application of mental AND physical effort" (emphasis added). In other words, one must have and idea and THEN apply that idea TO some matter. A thought MUST be manifested physically in order to become property. For, just as man an indivisible combination of mind and body, so too is property - it is the embodiment of that indivisible whole.

Additionally, there is no conflict with a proper legal definition of property (in fact, considering property is a political concept, I don't know that there IS any other proper definition of property EXCEPT a "legal" one - ie the one I have given). For reasons I indicated earlier in this post, discoveries are NOT property. This includes the discoveries of the principles of Objectivism - ie the discoveries of principles of reality. And the fact that someone else thinks of an idea but renders it physically LATER than another does not somehow create a conflict in*definition* - any more than someone seeing a plot of land and attempting to claim it as his own does not create a conflict in definition, even if somone else already owns that property. Someone simply beat him to it.

As to patents (and copyrights etc) being "limited" in time, I do not see how this is a conflict in the definition. You need to explain further (though I would suggest reading the referenced article first. It may answer that question for you).

All of this means that your question:

"Does this mean that moral ideals must be compromised by practical considerations in the realm of politics?"

is invalid because it is based on an erroneous premise (conflict between definitions). And thus the example you give suffers the same problem as well because it proceeds from the same faulty premise.

One does not promote the idea that the earth is round as a debt to those who discovered that fact of reality. One promotes that idea because it is true. The same is true of Objectivism. One promotes Objectivism, not because of any debt one has to AR for discovering it (though one does owe her a debt - that of gratitude AND of recognition for the discovery), but because one is a rational being who wishes to live, and who realizes that to do so requires an understanding of reality (ie WHERE one lives). In other words, one promotes Objectivism because it describes existence accurately - and thus serves YOUR ends, not the ends of someone else.

--

Hope all that helps :blink:

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Matt - while ownership is indeed a concept linked TO the concept property, it is not specifically included in that concept. Ownership pertains to WHO has rightful possession of property. While the definition of property implicitly answers that question, such an answer must be explicitly applied somewhere besides a fundamental definition (just as the definition "selfishness: concern with one's self" does not answer whether that is a moral act or not IN the definition).

This was helpful. While I was formulating a response to this most of my objections dissolved. I still think ownership has to be explicitly included in the definition, or else this concept isn't differentiated enough from "value." Aren't *both* ownership and effort essential aspects of property? Can you really speak of property apart from ownership, like you can speak of selfishness apart from morality?

(I do not have a regular net connection now, so I'll be slow to respond.)

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Actually, AR defined a value as "that which one acts to gain and/or keep." (VOS: "The Objectivist Ethics"). It is NOT a requirement of property that one act to gain or keep it. In fact, when one seeks to sell one's property, an individual is implicitly indicating that such property no longer has value to him. In other words, while it is still your property, it is not something you are seeking to gain or keep any longer.

Additionally, the concept "value" applies to MORE than just material elements or resources. Individuals act to gain and/or keep NON-material things as well (ie - they seek to gain or keep their integrity, their reputation, their self-esteem, the love of their mate, etc.). Obviously the concept "property" would not apply to these things at all (and nor would the concept "ownership").

Thus, while the concept "value" CAN, in some circumstances, overlap with the concept "property," they are NOT the same. They are separate concepts. As such, the addition of the concept "ownership" to the concept "property" is not required, as you suggest, in order to distinguish "property" from "value." They are already different concepts without such an addition.

As to your question: "Aren't *both* ownership and effort essential aspects of property?" I would suggest you are inadvertently engaging in package-dealing. The concept property neither dictates who owns a thing, or even IF that thing is owned at all (don't forget the concept "abandoned property"). In other words, while effort may have been applied TO a material element or resource, thus making it property, such property does not have to remain owned.

This is why I say that, while the concepts "property" and "ownership" are logically linked, they are indeed separate concepts.

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Alright, I understand this even more now. I have a related question. Is "intellectual property" a non-standard version of property? I had always thought the adjective just specified a special kind of property that was already included in that concept (property). But the phrase could just be a new concept altogether, designating patents and copyrights. I'm asking because this seems at odds with property being material.

(I don't disagree with your definition anymore, I'm just trying to integrate it.)

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Alright, I understand this even more now. I have a related question. Is "intellectual property" a non-standard version of property? I had always thought the adjective just specified a special kind of property that was already included in that concept (property). But the phrase could just be a new concept altogether, designating patents and copyrights. I'm asking because this seems at odds with property being material.

(I don't disagree with your definition anymore, I'm just trying to integrate it.)

If I may jump in here, recall the quote from Ayn Rand that RadCap gave in his first post:

"Every type of productive work involves a combination of mental and physical effort: of thought and of physical action to translate that thought into a material form. The proportion of these to elements varies in different types of work. At the lowest end of the scale, the mental effort required to perform unskilled manual labor is minimal. At the other end, what the patent and copyright laws acknowledge is the paramount role of mental effort in the production of material values; these laws protect the mind's contribution in its purest form: the origination of an idea."

If I have a great idea for a new kind of engine, I can't patent it until I've built a prototype. If I have a great idea for a novel, I can't copyright it until I've got it down on paper. Before an idea has been given physical form, it's just something floating around in your mind, so to speak. The material form also serves as proof that you DID have the idea. Otherwise, people could just go around claiming that they already had it first whenever someone else came up with a great new idea.

So why can the idea behind it be protected then, and not just the physical form? That is, even if they can't steal the physical prototype of my engine, why couldn't someone use the idea for my engine to create one of their own? Or why can't someone download music off the internet without paying for it? Because property (of all kinds) is the result of a combination of both physical and mental effort--but the mental effort is primary. The idea has to exist before it can be given physical form. And in the cases of new ideas, the mental effort must be protected as well as the physical effort, or else the person who created it would not be able to profit from their idea (and we'd end up with Marxism, the idea that physical labor is the ultimate source of all values--and we know the kind of contradictions that involves, and what it leads to in practice).

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Remember, "property" is the application of BOTH mental AND physical effort to some material element or resource. This concept neither dictates the proportions of the effort applied, nor assigns value to either proportion.

The modifier "intellectual" serves this function. It is used to identify the general proportions of this effort and to attribute value primarily to one of those two efforts - in this case to the "mental effort." In other words, the concept "intellectual" is combined with the concept "property" to identify forms of property in which value is attributable primarily to the mental (as opposed to physical) effort that has been applied to a material resource.

For instance, the value of a book does not come primarily from the binding of printed pages. Its value is not derived from the physical effort that goes into its creation. It's value is derived from the ideas which are imprinted ON those pages. It's value is derived primarily from the mental effort that has gone into the particular material resource.

Put simply, "intellectual property" is still 'property'. It is still the application of mental and physical effort to some material element or resource. The term 'intellectual' simply *identifies* the proportions (and their subsequent value) involved in the creation of that property. Nothing more.

As such, the concept "intellectual property" is neither a "non-standard" version of the concept "property", nor is it at odds with property being material.

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Patents and copyrights are the application of the right to property to a specific type of property. So yes, they are rules which recognize and protect intellectual property.

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Put simply, "intellectual property" is still 'property'.  It is still the application of mental and physical effort to some material element or resource.  The term 'intellectual' simply *identifies* the proportions (and their subsequent value) involved in the creation of that property.  Nothing more.

Aside from the erroneous concept of the "public good" and allowing works to enter the "public commons" (which I do not accept), are there any objectively defendable reasons for the expiration of patents and copyrights? If so, what makes these forms of property different from physical property, i.e. my house, that is mine forever?

Ryan

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This may seem trivial but I am going to ask anyway.

Is it all right for me to go on someone's property and knock on someone's door, if they do not state whether they want you to or not?

Edited by JMeganSnow

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Guest jrshep
This may seem trivial but I am going to ask anyways.

Is it al right for me to go on someones property and knock on someones door, if they do not state wethere they want you to or not?

Yes. It's alright. But it depends.

However, I don't really understand why you would ask. Perhaps if your would explain why you're asking, what particular situation you have in mind, it would help to get the answer you're after.

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Is it al right for me to go on someones property and knock on someones door, if they do not state wethere they want you to or not?

Yes: if there is no clear indication they the owners categorically do not tolerate uninvited people on their land, it is acceptable to go up the walkway to the front of the house and knock on the door. Keep Out signs are evidence to the contrary, as is a locked gate (which is different from a closed gate). They have the right to order you off their property if they choose, but you should assume that they observe the community standards of hospitality unless they explicitly override that standard. The standard in big cities is not the same as in rural Arkansas, so brush up on local customs if in doubt.

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Guest jrshep
The standard in big cities is not the same as in rural Arkansas, so brush up on local customs if in doubt.

The essential point is that one doesn't have a right to be on someone else's property without permission, but that in certain contexts permission, within limits, is implicit. I don't have a right to be inside Wal-Mart; I have an implicit permission, and welcome, by virtue of their being open for business to the general public. If they decide that they don't want to allow me there, it's certainly within their right to ban me from their property.

And Dave is right, you should make a point of knowing local customs. There's now a creek on that river used in the filming of "Deliverance" which is called "Sodomy Creek," I believe. Some places you're more than welcome to trespass. :yarr:

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Say someone owns a piece of land on which he has built a single story house. Next to this block of land is a vacant block. Someone else purchases this vacant block of land and builds a massive three story house on it. Consequently, the owner of the single story house is unhappy because the three story house blocks off much of the natural light that he used to get in the house. Because of this, the value of his property decreases. The owner of the three story house basically argues that since he rightfully owns the block of land, he is entitled to do whatever he likes on it.

What would be the solution to this problem?

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In today's legal climate, the problem would be a "zoning" issue, and rules for what a property owner could do with their property would be determined by a central planning agency. Yuck...

However, at common law and in a free society the issue would be left primarily to real covenants. Real covenants are a type of contract that run with the land. For example in your scenerio it would probably be the case that the first home owner when he bought his house would have bought it with a covenant governing the area that only houses of a certain specification could be built; ie that no skyscrapers could be erected depriving him of sunlight. It would be a system merging property and contracts. Virtually no piece of property would be without covenants establishing specifications for that area. If a person wanted to change the covenants, then he would have to do so by negotiating with the real estate developer or 'home associations' that would be responsible for maintenance and repair, etc of the development. The mechanism would be consenutal behavior between private citizens and corporations, not force wielding central planning beauracrats.

That would handle the bulk of it. There are other common law doctrines that would apply; ie nuisance laws, easements, and legal doctrines such as 'first in time.'

Here is a good article by an Objectivist that offers an alternative to zoning:

http://www.capmag.com/article.asp?ID=637

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The standard solution is to purchase that which you value (wish to keep). The single-story house owner made a fundamental mistake by not buying the vacant lot when he had the chance, which I would take to be clear evidence that he did not particularly value the view. When you buy property based on view considerations, you have to keep in mind that you can lose the view for a number of reasons. Trees die, the lovely meadow becomes a WalMart, and Weyerhauser may decide to harvest that 40 acres of theirs which you thought looked so nice. Property values can go up and down at the drop of the hat. Apparently in NYC people sell "air rights" above their buildings, esp. in prime view territory, which effectively limits how tall a building you can build. That's the way to go: buy the view.

I would be cautious about buying property that is restricted by covenant, or buying property on the assumption that some other property was restricted by covenant.

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I would be cautious about buying property that is restricted by covenant, or buying property on the assumption that some other property was restricted by covenant.

I don't disagree and your points are well taken. But I think in a free market covenants in the form of home or development associations would play a major role. Most people cant afford to buy not only their lot (or house) but the 40 acre forest across the street. So people would seek out development communites where they knew in advance what the layout of the area would be like and would continue to be like.

I think a system of real estate covnenants would be a form of private zoning, all done on the basis of persuasion.

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I don't disagree and your points are well taken. But I think in a free market covenants in the form of home or development associations would play a major role. Most people cant afford to buy not only their lot (or house) but the 40 acre forest across the street. So people would seek out development communites where they knew in advance what the layout of the area would be like and would continue to be like.

I think a system of real estate covnenants would be a form of private zoning, all done on the basis of persuasion.

The thing I would be concerned with is the revocability of the covenant sometime down the line. I've never looked at one of these things up close, except for one that was declared illegal (based on racial exclusion). Something that looks like a good idea today might be a bad idea 20 years later. Ultimately, I suppose my objection to those things is that they amount to only conditionally owning your property, subject to the whims of the people in your association. But I agree that they are the free market way to accomplish zoning.

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I see how these covenants are the capitalist alternative to zoning. However, what is the real difference between a person with more wealth building a huge house next to your smaller one and a company like Walmart opening a huge store right next to a 'ma and pa' store?

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However, what is the real difference between a person with more wealth building a huge house next to your smaller one and a company like Walmart opening a huge store right next to a 'ma and pa' store?

Ma and Pa could stay abreast of economic trends, exercise some forethought, buy up the property next door, eventually sell it to WalMart at a huge profit, and retire in style. :yarr:

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However, what is the real difference between a person with more wealth building a huge house next to your smaller one and a company like Walmart opening a huge store right next to a 'ma and pa' store?

The creation of the huge house wont result in me no longer being able to afford my own house and having to instead rent a room within the bigger house in which to live.

I understand the point youre getting at here but this is a really terrible analogy.

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