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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 aynrandstampObjectivism 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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January 6, 2017 - Posted by | philosophy | , , ,

4 Comments »

  1. 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 the concept of “natural” can properly be applied to a phenomenon, then yes, by the Law of Excluded Middle, that phenomenon is either natural or non-natural. But if the concept cannot properly be applied, because the concept’s context is not met by the phenomenon, then one can’t say that either the concept or its opposite applies to the phenomenon. If you say that that boulder over there is either moral or immoral, and by the Law of Excluded Middle, you have to pick one, I would tell you that the boulder does not meet the context for the concept of morality to apply to it. The boulder is “non-moral” only in the trivial, uninformative sense that the concept of morality does not apply to it.

    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 be have to be a supra-natural or completely arbitrary basis.

    The opposite of “natural” is not “supra-natural” or “arbitrary.” The opposite is “artificial.” Natural does not designate everything in reality. (If it did, we wouldn’t need the concept.) Natural designates a phenomenon that is the way it is, without the intervention of human choices. It is the metaphysically-given, as opposed to the man-made.

    So is the principle of individual rights natural or artificial? The principle is based on metaphysical facts (the natural.) But as with any artifice, it required human choices to define and implement it in a government. It has elements of both. It is not some phenomenon out in the physical world, but is a means of human cognition, and a guide to human action. I would say that the terms “natural” and “artificial” only apply to aspects of the universe outside human cognition. In the realm of human cognition and principles, the relevant classification is objective vs. non-objective. The attempt to divide principles into “natural” and “artificial” provokes the specter of the false dichotomy between intrinsicism and subjectivism.

    Now regarding self-ownership:

    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.

    I wouldn’t use that definition, because I think the notion of self-ownership is incoherent, like the notion of “supernatural.” The concept of ownership arises in the context of a relationship between my self and some other thing. It is a binary relationship. How can I “own” myself? I am myself. My body is one part of myself, so I don’t think it really makes sense to say I own my body, either.

    But even if we speak in terms of owning our own bodies, where does that get us, intellectually? The proper moral-legal foundation for ownership of property is provided by the rights to life and liberty. These rights cover the idea that no one should be allowed to attack, abuse or imprison my body.

    Those who have traditionally used “self-ownership” have done so in an attempt to wring a theory of property rights out of an intrinsicist worldview. Self-ownership is the “property” in each individual that somehow rubs off on the things that each individual interacts with. It’s like moral fairy dust: there’s a store in oneself, and laboring on things sprinkles that fairy dust onto those things, giving the laborer ownership. That’s definitely not the Objectivist case for the origin of property rights.

    Comment by Sword of Apollo | January 6, 2017 | Reply

  2. That is exactly right, Sword of Apollo!

    Comment by Louise | January 6, 2017 | Reply

  3. boycott reddit for censorship

    Comment by Todamont | January 6, 2017 | Reply

  4. OMG “If the concept of “natural” can properly be applied to a phenomenon, then yes, by the Law of Excluded Middle, that phenomenon is either natural or non-natural.”

    Really ethics cannot be based on nature? That appears to be the whole basis of your argument. Clearly you have not read Rand or understood her. Everything Rand states starts with nature- reality Your argument is absurd.

    :”The opposite of “natural” is not “supra-natural” or “arbitrary.” The opposite is “artificial.” Natural does not designate everything in reality.l.”

    Again you do not understand basic logic.

    Comment by dbhalling | January 6, 2017 | Reply


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