Ayn Rand’s Ethics: Natural Rights and Self-Ownership
There seems to be a lot of confusion on the issues of whether Rand’s ethics is (or is consistent with) a natural right ethics and the idea of self-ownership. These issues seem to bring up a lot of hidden assumptions and emotions.
Natural Rights: Any logical analysis of whether Objectivist ethics can be classified as a natural rights ethical system has to start with some definitions. The word “rights” here means that this term is only concerned with the ethical interaction between people. Usually, this is even further limited to the ethical basis of governments or political systems. Objectivist ethics covers more than just natural rights.
Natural means that the ethical system is based on nature or reality. Logically, a “rights” system is either natural or unnatural there are no other choices. That is basic logic and is called the law of the excluded middle. (If you comment that there is some third choice, expect a harsh reply explaining that you do not understand basic logic. If you double down on this irrationality, expect an even harsher reply).
The question then boils down to whether Objectivist ethics is based in nature (reality) or whether it has a non-natural basis and the only non-natural basis would have to be a supra-natural or completely arbitrary basis.
It is clear to anyone who has studied Rand’s ethics that it is based in nature, specifically the nature of man. I have written on this extensively, see here. It is clear that Rand’s ethics is in the broad category of Natural Rights.
If you want to argue that Rand’s formulation of rights is different than the Founding Fathers or Locke’s or other natural rights philosophies, that is fine, but that is not the question. Do not comment that Harry Binswanger or Leonard Peikoff or someone else disagrees. Objectivism is about reason, not about ordained leaders. Arguing from authority, without providing a rational argument, is dishonorable to Objectism, Rand, and turns Objectivism into a religion.
Self-Ownership: Once again we start with a definition. Self-ownership is defined as having ethical and legal control over one’s body and mind. If you disagree with this definition then you need to provide you own and you need to explain why you are not using the standard definition, which has been around for hundreds of years.
Based on the definition above it is clear that Rand’s ethical system is consistent with self-ownership. If you argue it is not, then you do know what a definition is or alternatively what Rand said on the subject (expect harsh replies if you argue this irrational position).
Now you might argue that “self-ownership” is not axiomatic (or a fundamental observation) of Rand’s ethics and you would be correct. Technically, it is not an axiom in Locke’s formulation of natural rights either.
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