Here are some ethical conundra Ive been pondering. Thoughts?
1. Consider the following three cases:
a. I invite you to my house for dinner. When you arrive, I serve you a casserole made from (what I know to be) poisonous toadstools. You eat it, and consequently die.
b. We encounter each other in the forest. You mention that youre hungry. I point to (what I know to be) poisonous toadstools, and ask why you dont eat some of those. You say you cant tell which things of that sort are safe to eat and which arent. Oh, Im an expert, I assure you, and I can guarantee that those ones are safe. So you eat some, and consequently die.
c. I post a picture of (what I know to be) poisonous toadstools on my blog, and announce: Some people think these are poisonous, but in my opinion theyre perfectly safe. So when you come across some toadstools that match the picture I posted, you eat them, and consequently die.
Lets say (though of course you neednt) that I violate your rights in case (a), where I lead you to eat a poisonous substance without your knowledge, but not in case (c), where I merely exercise my right of free speech to state my opinion, and leave you to make your own judgment.
But what about case (b)? Does it involve a rights-violation or not? In other words, is it more like case (a), or more like case (c)?
On the one hand it seems more like (a), because Im offering you a kind of assurance. Yet its not exactly a contract; I receive no good or service in trade from you. And what about:
d) I tell you, Ive received a revelation from Zeus, and if you recite the following formula for 90 minutes a day, I can guarantee that youll get into heaven when you die. So you waste 90 minutes every day reciting my formula and when you die you go to hell like the stinker you are.
Have I violated your rights in case (d)? If not, how is case (b) different? (Do reasonable expectations as to what people are in a position to guarantee come into it?)
2. The usual libertarian explanation as to why its a rights-violation to yell fire! in a crowded theatre is that doing so violates the theatre owners property rights. Or, if the owner is the one doing the yelling, then her doing so violates her implicit contract with the customers.
But what if the theatre is unowned? What if its even a never-homesteaded natural structure some sort of narrow, thickly wooded canyon through which a bunch of (non-contractually-bound) people are travelling where yelling fire! would have the same destructive effects as in a theatre?
And is this like case (1b) above, or are they different?
3. For this one, assume IP is illegitimate. You write a novel, and Warner Bros. makes a movie out of it without your permission.
Is it wrong for you to sue the studio, because youd be practicing censorship? Or is it okay for you to sue them, because they sue people over IP all the time (and indeed will sue unauthorised distributors of this very movie), so youre just giving them a taste of their own medicine or liberating some illicitly held property?
And does it make a difference whether youre suing to demand a) money, b) an injunction to prohibit the film, or c) the films release under a Creative Commons license?
Case b) is more like c) than a) because there’s nothing significant about saying the mushrooms are poisonous on a blog vs saying it in person. I’m unsure about a) though – the main difference between it and the other two is it’s more specific (talking to an individual vs an anonymous readership of a blog) and it takes place in your property. Something about that makes it a rights-violation, but I can’t put my finger on it.
I’m not sure I understand your motives in cases 1 a), b), and c). Are you saying that, in cases a) and b), you are deliberately trying to kill me? And that, in case c), you are trying to kill a lot of random people? If you have made the casserole with the intent to kill me then I see case a) as first-degree murder. Cases b) and c) could be statements you’re making in jest. I don’t know what the motives are.
Regarding #3, I’d say the fact that IP law exists in the first place is the problem, not the actual lawsuits. So I have little problem with them, although I wouldn’t personally sue.
If I wrote a novel and someone made a hit movie out of it, it would almost certainly be very good for me because the novel would become more popular, and I might enter into a business arrangement with a studio to supply them with first crack at a movie from my next novel.
I say these are not ethical problems but ‘problems’ in political philosophy. In either case, you violate your natural moral duties and obligations to treat all with equal concern and respect, your natural duty to treat all in ways that respect their human dignity (Kateb?). Now, whether these violations of duty have corresponding violations of rights, is a separate political question. From an ethical standpoint, you screwed the pooch irrespective of enforceable rights.
Well, I think rights theory is part of ethics; I see ethics and political philosophy as overlapping, and rights theory is one of the places they overlap. In calling something a rights-violation, we’re saying (something like): a) it’s wrong to do it, and b) it’s permissible to use force to stop it. And both (a) and (b) describe duties of individuals, not just of legal institutions.
1b and 2, dick move. If not rights violations, definitely dick moves. Those people should be ostracized. I think this a bit more of a violation than “letting die”, but still not up to “killing”.
Only usual to those peculiar libertarians that elevate respect for property above human life.
Either the yeller of “Fire!” is correct and the lives they’ll save outweigh the harm of panic, or they are mistaken, but may be forgiven, or they are malicious, and have endangered life (interrupting the performance comes well down the list).
Even if they yell “Shakespeare sucks!” the most the theatre owner (or homesteading audience) can do is eject them. I’m curious as to what kind of contract you’d have the audience party to (implicitly?) that would have different consequences.
You seem to be assuming that “X is a rights-violation but Y is not” implies “X is morally worse than Y.” But it doesn’t seem to imply that, and certainly libertarians generally don’t take it to imply that.
You also seem to be assuming that people guilty of violating property rights can’t be held liable for the harmful consequences of such violations. That seems less than obvious also.
I’m not so sure about that. In fact I recall that being a point of contention between left-libertarianism (or at least your left-libertarianism, specifically) and mainstream libertarianism (if there is such a thing).
Mainstream libertarians usually don’t hold that position explicitly and consciously. They do often slide into it in certain (not all) contexts.
Remember whose rights are in danger of being violated, i.e. the right to life of each audience member.
The danger of violating the right to privacy of the theatre owner (the right to exclude others) and derivative property rights to its fabric (in danger of damage due to a panicked crowd), is inferior to the endangerment of life – it certainly isn’t the cause.
I am not assuming “X is a rights-violation but Y is not” implies “X is morally worse than Y.”
I simply recognise the right to life as superior to the right to privacy (& property).
It seems perverse to explain the endangerment of the audience’s lives via a property rights violation. If this is how you do it, it’s alien to my understanding of natural rights libertarianism.
Yelling “Fire!” may instil panic and endanger life – probably sanctioned if there is a fire. It is the authority of the speaker that gives weight to their alarm and thus culpability if they are malicious. Thus a child is likely to be ignored until corroborated. First and foremost it is the yeller and the effect of their yell upon other individuals that should be considered. If the theatre owner’s property rights are also impinged upon as a consequence of a disturbance or stampede so caused that is a secondary issue.
It is strange why you suggest I am “assuming that people guilty of violating property rights can’t be held liable for the harmful consequences of such violations.”. This seems to indicate that the ‘usual explanation’ involves the yeller being culpable for any harm to the audience only because to yell ‘Fire!’ violates the theatre owner’s property rights. This is perverse – an indication of an erroneous ethical framework. This is no doubt why you then wonder how to explain it in a space or enclosure that isn’t someone’s property. You don’t need a property owner to analyse the ethics of an individual instilling panic in a crowd.
I suspect that ‘property’ has been incorrectly elevated somewhere in certain libertarian teachings. Human beings are where rights come from, not property.
Owning a theatre doesn’t mean you have the power to control the speech of your guests within it. Liberty is inalienable, not checked in at the door.
Depending on the framework for libertarianism one goes by, those things are not only not mutually exclusive, but are mutually inclusive.
I think libertarians do a poor job of framing things like this but the libertarian framework, properly understood (I think), doesn’t say that guests on your property lose any rights at all. If I should choose to threaten to (or actually ) expulse you from said property for acting or speaking in a certain way then it is an expression of my control over the property, not you or your freedom of speech.
He’s not inquiring about the general ethical nature of the hypothetical actions in question. They are almost all dubious on that front – or at least that seems to be the intentional implication. If you read carefully he’s asking, more specifically, which hypothetical actions constitute a rights-violation.
crossofcrimson, It’s this extension of ‘self’ into ‘property’ that’s at the root of it I suspect. Sight is lost of the human being in focussing upon their property as an extension of the individual. The property becomes detached as a proxy, takes upon a life and power of its own.
Moreover, any sanction for unlimited force in protection of property is seductive.
If you invite guests into your dwelling they do not lose their liberty, nor equality. Speech is no greater offence within a private dwelling than without it. The householder doesn’t magically get to decide that anything they don’t like constitutes an offence against their property and thus sanction for lethal force. Otherwise a man’s home is literally their castle and micro-principality with attached torture chambers and oubliette. I would fear to be a guest of such a ‘libertarian’.
This non-force initiation principle seems to mask a violent undercurrent of unlimited retaliatory force (instead of proportionate force).
crossofcrimson, it may well be within an individual’s right to privacy to eject guests (without needing reason), but this doesn’t require a violation.
I’m worried that some may believe that they can take offence arbitrarily (upon disobedience or breaking an ‘implicit contract’) in order to claim a violation of their ‘property right’ in order to then sanction unlimited force against (aka violence).
“Sight is lost of the human being in focussing upon their property as an extension of the individual. The property becomes detached as a proxy, takes upon a life and power of its own.”
I don’t think this follows. The strong property-rights framework for libertarianism emanates from the self-ownership rights of human beings. They can’t be separated under that framework. And in that way, actually, libertarians are often pushing an inverse version of your statement; reminding people that by ignoring property-rights they are losing sight of human beings, precisely, with respect to their rights and obligations.
“Moreover, any sanction for unlimited force in protection of property is seductive.”
There is some contention here within the libertarian ranks, but most radical libertarians I know certainly don’t give sanction for unlimited force in protection of property.
“The householder doesn’t magically get to decide that anything they don’t like constitutes an offence against their property and thus sanction for lethal force.
I’m worried that some may believe that they can take offence arbitrarily (upon disobedience or breaking an ‘implicit contract’) in order to claim a violation of their ‘property right’ in order to then sanction unlimited force against (aka violence).”
I think, again, this is a misunderstanding of the libertarian claim. The “offence” (against the property-owner) would be remaining on said property without the owner’s consent. How or why that consent is given or removed is another question entirely. The owner may withdraw their consent because a guest is perceived to be rude or malicious towards others. On the other hand, the owner may remove his consent by deciding to roll a pair of dice and evicting the party in question upon a roll of seven or more. Or one could simply remove consent by default, without inviting such a person over; as is the standing relationship between many property-owners and strangers. The removal of consent requires no volition on behalf of the second party.
And, even then, it is certainly not a settled matter that lethal force is appropriate to enforce said property-rights. In fact, many libertarians would find that not very libertarian at all…
crossofcrimson, so by itself “Fire!” does not violate the theatre owner’s property right. Though consequential damage through stampede may (if the yell was negligent or malicious). However, the facial rights violations are of the audience (given negligence or malice), their right to life (against harm) and truth (against deceit), and no theatre owner is required for them to be violations.
Let us say that the scene on stage/screen is of a firing squad facing someone about to be executed, and someone in the audience cannot resist interrupting the suspense by pre-empting the captain’s command to shout “Fire!”. No right of the audience is violated. Nor is any right of the theatre owner. However, the theatre owner may well decide that such exuberance is unwelcome and require the member of the audience to exit the building. Assuming they do, no rights have been violated at all, despite someone shouting “Fire!” in a crowded theatre.
” However, the facial rights violations are of the audience (given negligence or malice), their right to life (against harm) and truth (against deceit), and no theatre owner is required for them to be violations.”
I believe this is precisely what Professor Long is attempting to unravel – what actual rights (enforceable obligations) are being violated. You’ve offered what you believe to be two here explicitly, so let’s take a look:
“Right to Life” – In most rights-frameworks (and particularly in libertarian rights-frameworks) the right to life seems to be a reasonable assumption. for the libertarian, this extends (as all rights do) from self-ownership, and the negative obligation others have to cede to the self-ownership of others. If people trample you to death in a crowded theater, then those people have certainly violated obligations related to your self-ownership. The poignant question, however, is who is actually then the violater of such a right; those who undertake such volition or other parties which have influenced a decision which resulted in said volition. And that brings us to the next “right”…
“Right to Truth” – Is there a “right” to truth? It certainly seems there is a strong reason to believe we’re obligated to be truthful (much in the same way we’re obligated to not hate someone based on their race alone) – but is such an obligation enforceable? In many instances it would seem not. Many people heed the advice of religious and scientific cranks alike – many of which intentionally mislead their audience to increase their favor or further an agenda. However, these don’t particularly seem like rights-violations per se. They may be ethically obligated to dispense of their use of falsehoods, but it doesn’t seem like we can justify putting preachers and nutty professors in cages for misleading the public – even if done intentionally.
The interesting question, however, is how we treat the obligation of truth or honesty when it seems to be acting as a lynch-pin with respect to what would be an actual violation of rights (from a libertarian perspective) – a failure with respect to our negative obligation to respect self-ownership. If I, for instance, tell you that you should kill Person X based on Lie Y and Lie Z, and tomorrow you do, indeed, kill Person X because I have convinced you of Lie Y and Lie Z, it would seem to most of us that I’ve certainly failed certain ethical obligations I have to both you and Person X. It would also seem as though you have certainly violated the “rights” of Person X. What’s less clear is whether or not I have violated the “rights” of Person X.
I’m not saying, for sure, what the answer to such a question is. I think it’s actually fairly complicated, if not generally fuzzy in some respects. But I think this is the kind of context Professor Long is presenting the problems in.
Natural rights must represent the nature of human beings, not perfectly logical carbon based computing devices.
We could say that all speech must be considered unreliable, and all speakers therefore non-culpable for any calamitous actions their speech persuades others to take as a result. However, human beings don’t operate that way, nor can we change human nature to do so.
This is why I recognise the right to truth – against negligent-wilful impairment of the individual’s apprehension of the truth. Remedies should be proportionate to the degree of negligence/malice and repercussion, e.g. a false yell of “Fire!” is dangerous vs “Stand Up For The Queen!” is mischievous albeit benign.
Deceiving children to believe in Santa Claus is not that likely to lead them to climb onto the roof to the chimney in the hope they can ride on his sleigh, but it remains possible.
In any case, a right to truth is necessary to protect the rights to life and privacy, else we can all lie about who did what to whom.
I beg to differ. Obviously this depends on the person and/or situation, but unless we’re denying any prospect of cognitive agency of any kind this idea seems pretty contentious. We’re bombarded with various presentations of truth and falsehood every single day, and, in most instances, the onus seems to be on us, as individuals, to discern what is true and what isn’t.
If someone tells me to step off a ledge because there is an invisible walkway, it would seem to me, given that I’m not some kind of automaton, that I am at least nominally responsible for making a judgment with respect to whether that statement is true or not. If someone tells me that I should kill someone because that person has murdered my family, it seems incumbent upon me to verify such a statement before deciding to do so. And, even if I did not attempt to verify such a statement, it would still seem odd to me to say that such a statement “made” me do something – looking at it in such a way would seem to imply there was no room for agency at all on my behalf.
Let’s pose a hypothetical:
Let’s say that I, somehow knowing what I say to be wrong but pushing it nonetheless, tell you that there is a mystical invisible figure who, upon your death, will judge you. And this judgment will decide whether you enjoy eternal bliss or damnation. I tell you that you can avoid eternal damnation by sacrificing all your wordily time and wealth to me. You do so, but after thirty years and some serious thought you realize that I’ve lied to you.
So, here I have intentionally (maliciously even) lied to you. The consequences of you believing my lie seem pretty great – in fact, they seem like they could be greater than the material harm (broken leg, etc.) you might have suffered by the “consequences” of lies told in a crowded theater. Have I violated your rights? I’ve certainly broken certain ethical obligations towards you, but have I actually violated your rights?
And, even if we discern that truth, somehow, is a “right”, and that we have some kind of automatonic relationship with the words of others, trying to unwind the concepts of intention and truth with regards to language seems like a fairly daunting task…
If I believe God will punish us for doing X, is that true? What if I believe it to be true? What if others believe it to be true? If I spread something I believe to be true, but which isn’t, am I as culpable as the man who spreads it while knowing it isn’t true? Can we objectively discern what people believe? What if people discern the belief of another as truth? If I say that all humans are murderers, am I responsible for a vigilante who reacts by killing innocent people? Is it even clear what I meant by my statement? If I say that we need to murder the political opposition next fall and then someone assassinates a politician, am I culpable as a matter of rights-violation? If I lie to a home-invader by telling him that no children are present in the house, have I violated his or her rights?
It does seem that you’re trying to reconcile some of the fuzziness by putting rights-violations within a spectrum; saying that lies about Santa Claus are not as bad as yelling, “Fire!” (falsely) in a theater. That’s fine as far as it goes. But, it still seems as though, if you’re declaring truth to be a right (enforceable obligation) of its own, then we would be justified in punishing parents for saying such things, or at least using force to stop them. The magnitude of such punishment or restraint may not be as large as with other lies that could be told on this hypothetical spectrum, but nevertheless specifying truth (in itself) as a right would seem to lead one to say force is justified in at least stopping lies.
This doesn’t seem to hold water (ethically) – at least from my perspective. I’m not saying that lying could never constitute a rights-violation (that is, after all, what we’re exploring). But I certainly don’t believe that all lies constitute rights-violations. I don’t believe we have an absolute (enforceable) obligation to tell the truth in all instances.
Human beings are indeed more than mechanical automata, we are intelligent beings. This is why mechanical force is insufficient to define our rights. After all, nature also comprises information as well as matter.
Natural rights are the vital powers of human beings, recognised as imbued by nature in all in equal measure.
We have a right to life in that the health and integrity of our minds & bodies is vital (necessary for life) and we have the power/ability and imperative to defend our life.
Similarly, for a secondary right to privacy, to exclude others from the objects we possess and spaces we inhabit and can secure. It is from the right to privacy that property derives. Moreover, privacy delimits a physical boundary to information as well as matter.
The right to truth is a ternary right. We have a vital power to apprehend the truth.
Liberty is the residual right.
The right to truth is not necessarily violated by another’s falsehood. It is only violated by another’s impairment of our natural ability to apprehend it. If we have no natural ability to apprehend the truth of something, then it cannot be impaired. Moreover, life and privacy take precedence over our right to truth.
Thus, since we have no natural ability to apprehend the truth of that which is private from us, the right to truth is not a means of invading another’s privacy, e.g. “Did you have sex with Monica Lewinsky?”
Our ability to apprehend the truth is resilient to falsehood, so impairment of this ability does not necessarily always occur simply because someone is lying to us, e.g. “I’m actually 500 years old”.
Then there are unfalsifiable assertions, and of course we have no ability to apprehend the truth of them, therefore our ability to do so is not impaired by preachers, e.g. “There is a god and you will burn in hell unless you attend church every morning”.
The speaker however is culpable if they should have recognised they are deceiving a gullible child or the feeble minded, and they are indeed impairing their ability to apprehend the truth “God has just told me that you must do me a favour…”.
So the right to truth is only violated by someone who actually impairs another’s ability to apprehend the truth (save in defence of rights).
I have so many questions regarding the assertions made in your response that I have a hard time figuring out exactly where to start. And beyond that (and for the sake of time) I’m not sure it would be fruitful to take everything apart and address each statement individually. I suppose I’m failing to understand the principles which define your conception of rights.
For libertarians, all rights derive (ultimately) from self-ownership. So there is a boundary (although, sometimes fuzzy) between violating negative obligations to respect self-ownership and positive obligations which may be consistent with the root of those obligations. I want to say that a right, properly understood, denotes something we have a moral claim over, an obligation which can be justly enforced. But, looking over your claims, rights (within your conception) do not derive from a common central right or principle (whatever they may derive from at all). And, because of that, it seems that there are cases where rights actually conflict; which has seemingly pushed you into making those rights-claims transient or ordinal (EG: our “right” to truth only holds in some limited set of cases while our “right” to property is not only separate from but secondary to our “right to life”). To my mind, “rights” that are conditional or conflicting don’t make sense in the context of the word itself. Whichever “moral claim” that would take precedence would seemingly and necessarily push the other claims back into the realm obligation (albeit, apparently strong obligations).
This isn’t to say that you’re wrong or that there isn’t a strong argument for your conceptual framework for rights. I’m just confused as to the seemingly conflicted state of claims that seem to stem from such an approach. My guess is that I would at least understand your views a little better if I understood the framework that underlies it – if you could point me in such a direction it might make further conversation(s) more productive.
Given natural rights are supposed to be self-evident, if I am unable to explain my understanding of natural rights to anyone in this forum of natural rights experts without being asked for a reference to an external explanation then this indicates that my understanding cannot be of rights that are self-evident.
Hmmm…I’m not sure if this response is a not-so-clever attempt to parry my inquisition or a general misunderstanding of my question(s).
Natural rights are “self-evident” by definition. They are also, by definition, inalienable (which would seem to call the transient and ordinal nature of the rights-system you seem to suggest into question). But this does not mean that we all agree on precisely what is “self-evident.” Both Hobbes and Locke believed in natural rights (self-evident and inalienable), and still their conceptual frameworks for establishing such rights and what they believed to be rights were very different.
In short, there are different ideas regarding what constitutes natural rights. Libertarians famously adhere to frameworks that are similar to Locke or Rothbard (rights that emanate from self-ownership and equal authority). So while I might believe that those frameworks approximate the correct theory of natural rights, they certainly don’t constitute the only theory of natural rights.
If you want to delve deeper into the a priori reasoning for my believing that framework to be correct, the link I previously provided contains more than enough information on the foundation(s) of something pretty close to the justification of the natural rights theory I subscribe to. So I don’t think it’s too forward of me, particularly in this conversation, to ask precisely what natural rights framework delineates the rights you previously claimed.
While I agree with almost everything CrossOfCrimson said, looking back up the thread I am in sympathy with Crosbie Fitch because his initial response seems to be purely a reaction to the claim that most libertarians would condemn the yeller of “Fire!” on the owner’s property rights rather than the right to life of the individuals. While I don’t really think that is what Long was claiming, I nearly parsed it that way myself. He clearly limited it to a question of “rights-violation” rather than an ethical one. But even acknowledging that, I’m disturbed that he thinks such an approach is “usual”. He interacts with more libertarians than me, so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt, but I, for one, would agree with Crosbie Fitch that the rights-violation of the audience is paramount and should be considered first. However, I also note that Long went on to pose the question in such a manner that the owner’s property rights couldn’t even come into it. Including that context, I see that he is asking the very question that Crosbie Fitch and I are aghast to think wouldn’t be the first question ANY libertarian would ask…were the rights of the audience infringed by the ne’er-do-well’s shouting “Fire!”?
My answer was yes. My thoughts went along these lines…
There are numerous cases where lying can do more physical harm than direct physical threat. When harm results from someone’s malicious action, they are responsible. So if they took action (yelling) knowing that people would be hurt (trampled) then they violated the victims’ rights.
But am I forgetting free will here? After all, one could use this same argument to claim that example 1c is a rights violation. It seems as though I’m throwing away, or at least disregarding, free will. So here’s my answer to that…
Yes, I believe we have free will. Therefore, to some extent, we have the ability to choose not to do something suicidal, even if someone has lied and told us it is safe. Likewise, we can evaluate the cry of “Fire!” and try not to panic. But free will must be applied to a rational standard. How much time did the person have to make a decision? Which facts were known to them? Which were unknown? How avoidable was the entire situation in the first place? Was the conclusion they came to reasonable given all of the facts and context? At the end of that, we have to make a judgement call on where the burden of responsibility lay. In the case of yelling fire, I judge the yeller to be more at fault. In the case of eating poisonous mushrooms based on nothing more than a blog entry, I believe the eater to be more at fault.
Rights violation is always a judgement call that we all have to make. That might sound less comforting than a black and white proclamation, but I don’t really believe there is another option. I don’t think that you can resolve this deontologically, because if you make “free will” one of the rules to be applied in a deontology logic puzzle then you have to follow it into the world of physical force and you end up claiming silly stuff like “well, yes, I shot him, but he didn’t have to be here for me to kill. He could have gone somewhere else today and then he’d still be alive…”, etc. At that point, you’ve pretty much reduced the meaning of rights to something useless for application.
I’m fairly sympathetic to your response here. I might have been a bit too defensive (and, perhaps, verbose) in my attempt to straighten out the argument as well as attempting to clean up a few misconceptions. I think all of us here agree that all of the hypotheticals involve a failure to meet obligations to our fellow man. But, within a system of rights that stem from self-ownership, I think (fuzzy as it may be) drawing the contours of actual rights-violations is a much trickier thing than simply appealing to obligations.
And, while there may not be black and white boundaries, I would like to think there are consistent principles with which we could sketch such boundaries. A good part of my subsequent responses were an attempt to refute, what I felt were, unsubstantial markers for said boundaries – namely a tangential “right to truth”. I could think of (and so provided) many a lie for which force seemed to be an inadequate answer. I could also think of instances in which lying saves people from harm, and in which doing so would seem far less ethically questionable than not doing so. So, in short, I think pushing the hypotheticals under the rubric of “rights-violations” by creating “rights” to truth seems a little short-sited.
What you seem to be putting forth seems like something closer to what I want to say is at least something that might hold up. You don’t say as much explicitly, but it seems as though you are defining boundaries around an obligation for which failing to meet it would reliably result in a rights violation – an obligation to refrain from acts which may lead to others hurting themselves or one another. Such an obligation would seem relative and maleable. It could call for one to honor other obligations (in the case of yelling, “Fire!” in a theater it would call for you to fulfill your obligation to be truthful), but, on the other hand, it could call for you to actually break those obligations in the right context (in the case of a murderer asking where your significant other is it would call for you to not be truthful). So maybe this would be something that’s stronger than a normal obligation but less strong but less strong than our negative obligation to respect the rights of others? Something between the two?
(Can you tell I’m not a philosopher?)
In any case, these are kind of random ramblings here. My point is that I certainly don’t have an answer (if, indeed, there is an answer to be had). And I don’t think Crosbie Fitch was out in left field regarding his contentions. I just don’t (personally) believe that some of what he or she was offering held up to further scrutiny.
Interesting array of problems here…
I have predispositions that lead me in certain directions regarding the answers, but nothing is clearly jumping out at me. On the contrary, I’m actually inclined to provide additional cases to give a couple of the problems more context:
Add a case; a2. – We are strangers. I swiftly run past you by chance on a street corner. As I do so, I gently toss a poisonous toadstool to you, saying nothing of it. I continue running and as I eventually fade from your view you look down at the curious fungus and partake. You subsequently die from it.
Add a secondary example – You, on un-homesteaded land, begin a discussion with a stranger. You tell him that you had a miraculous vision in which the Archangel Michael appeared before you. You tell the stranger that the archangel had anticipated your meeting him (the stranger) and that you were chosen to give him a message. The message is that this stranger must sacrifice his firstborn child to prevent the forthcoming destruction of mankind. That night the stranger kills his firstborn son.
Add a tertiary example – You, on un-homesteaded land, tell a group of strangers that Ananke has appeared before you in a miraculous vision. She has revealed, according to you, that world markets will tank in less than a week. Some of the strangers, in a panic, move to liquidate all of their assets and purchase stockpiles of resources to weather the impending economic collapse…..but the collapse never happens.
These types of questions were addressed in some of the debate between Block and Kinsella (“behaviorist” legalism) and van Dun (natural law jurisprudence), in JLS some years back.
pg. 33, for example
by the way Roderick, can you think of any other books from an Aristotelian/Thomist approach that can counter the semiological reductionism or Derridiean Deconstructionism besides the volume Wittgenstein: Key Concepts that you recommended. John Deely seems the best I can find but I’d be more interested in other literature. Seems pretty fundamental, and worth addressing. If language and it’s signifiers don’t latch onto “reality” and the signified then what can we argue with? I don’t follow this line, but it should be addressed more fruitfully, it seems to me.
Perhaps Roderick will have some better tips, but I can’t think of much work by metaphysical realist neo-Aristotelians that directly engages with Derrida. I’m inclined to say that this is mostly because Derrida has no arguments with which to engage, and that you’d be better off looking for Aristotelian/Thomist critiques of anti-realism more generally or at critiques of Derrida by philosophers who aren’t card-carrying Aristotelians. For the latter, see just about anything by Hilary Putnam (e.g., Reason, Truth, and History) — though, funny enough, Putnam is (or was, who can keep up?) not a metaphysical realist, but he makes short shrift of Derridean views on language.
There is a short and suggestive but not especially detailed rejection of Derrida in particular in MacIntyre’s lecture “First Principles, Final Ends, and Contemporary Philosophical Issues,” available either as a small stand-alone paperback or in his more recently issued collection of essays The Tasks of Philosophy.
Or one can just go all the way back to Aristotelian critiques of Kant and fight the disease at its roots.
I don’t think Derrida is devoid of arguments (or that Kant per se represents a disease). But I do think externalism about meaning, whether in Wittgenstein’s or Putnam’s version, shows that worries about our words’ being able to latch onto reality is confused. McDowell’s Mind and World is a good one too.
1. Yes, B violates my rights. I don’t want to say that all forms of lying count as aggression, so I need some standard for my claim. I would say that a lie counts as aggression when a reasonable person could see that your lie is (a) highly likely to influence my actions, and (b) the actions resulting are highly likely to result in harm coming to me.
I would probably even go a further notch and insist that (c) I was not likely to take that action without your lie. If it was something I was going to do for sure either way, then it would certainly reduce your culpability (especially if you knew that for certain). At that point you might be more guilty of a morbid sense of humor than any true aggression. Arguably, (C) isn’t a third point so much as a more careful wording of what is meant by “influence” in (a)
2. Yelling “Fire!” when there is none in a crowded area with few exits is aggression, plain and simple. Saying that you didn’t “know for sure” that anyone would be hurt is akin to Geiger counter bomb example I heard you give elsewhere. Sure, there’s some “chance” involved, but anyone with reason would know what the likely result is. I would say this is a lot like 1b because (a) you know your lie is likely to influence people’s actions, and (b) it is likely that harm will come to someone. I would, however, say that the crime needs to be judged in context. I mean, not all physical aggression is considered equally wrong (e.g., pinching someone is not as bad as stabbing them). So, too, with lying/fraud type aggression. The more likely the people are to believe you and stampede in panic-stricken fashion, the more wrong it is, etc.
3. I think it’s wrong for you to sue. There is a sense in which Warner Brothers was wrong to do it, especially without consulting you, but it falls a bit closer to rudeness than a rights violation. You put the idea out there, and they simple grabbed it and ran with it.
Now, I’m ok with force in response to aggressive force. And if you were the one being sued unjustly by them then a countersuit might be legitimate in some sense, but I doubt it would make the point you really want to make about their suing you being unjust. Probably an organized boycott would be more appropriate.
As for your second question, I think all three are wrong, but in some sense you could speak of suing for money being “more wrong” than to prohibit, and that in turn being “more wrong” than the Creative Commons license. But I think they are all wrong and that suing would not be the correct form of answer. Simply making it clear that you were the author of the idea and that you disapprove of the movie being made without your involvement ought to be enough to get some peole not to watch it and still more not to pay for it.
I may be misunderstanding contracts, but could I not contract with you to perform a service (e.g. mow your lawn) for no fee? If so, then failing to perform the service would violate the contract, and so, I assume, your rights, even though there was no trade.
If the above is possible, then I think (1b) is a violation of my rights on the basis of the following hazy comparisons. You are in fact offering a guarantee. That guarantee is promise-like. And promises are contract-like. I’m not sure I want to say that your guarantee *is* a promise or that promises *are* contracts, so I will put it in the weaker way for now. But I do think that there is something genuinely contract-like about a promise, especially an accepted promise. If a promise isn’t accepted, then I think it’s less clear whether the promiser is bound by the promise. I’m not sure you can promise without some ‘acceptance’ from the other side; at least, it’s less clear whether you have really promised. This intuition may play a role in explaining why promises seem to have a contract-like feel to me.
So that’s a suggestion of how (1b) is a rights-violation. I don’t see exactly how this applies to (1a) except that perhaps offering food is itself offering a guarantee that it is safe. And what is your explanation of the rights-violation of (1a)? It’s wrong, but what is the contract? And does there need to be a contract for there to be a rights-violation?
As for (d) [I assume you do this with the knowledge that the formula doesn’t work and that the person will go to hell], I think it is less likely to be a rights-violation, for the reason you mentioned. I think it is because of reasonable expectations of what people are in a position to guarantee or promise, as you suggest. But what is reasonable might depend upon the context. Suppose you tell this to a child, and the child does what you say and goes to hell. Perhaps it’s not true that the child bore the epistemic responsibility of questioning whether you could guarantee what you offered to guarantee. If that’ s right, then perhaps you do violate the child’s rights. Children will believe that the sky’s name is “Bob”. Are they to be blamed for this?
(2) Does yelling fire endanger the personal belongings of the individuals in the canyon (belongings in which they have property rights)? If so, could a similar argument not be made, except this time it has to do with the property rights of the individuals rather the theater owner?
(3) I assume that in this counterfactual world:
(i)) I have no legitimate IP in my book.
(ii) The movie studio has no legitimate IP in their movie.
(iii) IP is legally recognized, even though it is in truth illegimate. I assume that if I were giving the studio a taste of their own medicine, it’s a taste of their own medicine in that world, not our world. I also assume that IP would be my basis for the suit. In suing for release under a Creative Commons license, I assume that I could not do so on the grounds that IP is illegitimate.
My intuition is that it would be wrong in all of these cases to knowingly use an illegitimate property concept to achieve those ends. (If it would bring about world peace, then it would be okay.) If it’s open to me to challenge IP in the courts (and perhaps it could), then I think it would be morally permissible to sue the movie studio to have them release the movie under a Creative Commons license on the grounds that IP is illegitimate.
You can certainly promise to perform a service without any contemplated exchange, but on a plausible theory of contract you wouldn’t be making an enforceable contract by doing so. Put another way: all contracts are promises (explicit or implicit), but not all promises are contracts. In the lawn-mowing example, what would be the remedy for failure to perform in the absence of any exchange? If there is a contemplated exchange, then the remedy will be non-payment of the contemplated fee; if there’s a completed exchange, but no performance, then the (enforceable) remedy will be return of the payment plus reasonable costs of recovery. But in the case you’ve envisioned, it seems as if the remedy would have to be either (a) the use of force to compel specific performance or (b) the use of force to take from the non-performer the amount needed to pay someone else to mow the lawn. Both options seem problematic on libertarian (and non-libertarian) grounds.
I don’t think it’s helpful to say that contracts are promises, simply because a promise often means to alienate oneself from one’s future liberty (as opposed to one’s future property).
I cannot exchange my future action without alienating myself from my liberty not to perform that action. Therefore my future action can only be a condition of a contract, it cannot actually be exchanged in advance.
There’s nothing wrong with people making promises, but ‘promise’ shouldn’t imply a contract. To default on a promise has a repercussion only for one’s reputation.
If we do say that contracts are promises, then people (and judges) begin to get comfortable with the idea that promises (in contract form) can be enforced, that people can indeed alienate themselves from their liberty.
Better to say that a contract is not so much a promise as an agreement as to what may be equitably exchanged subject to conditions (which may specify future events/actions).
Do you think contracts aren’t commitments but are instead just observations about the market? Surely I might agree with you that my A is equitable to your B without thereby contracting with you to exchange them. If a contract is nothing more than this agreement, then that statement would be wrong. If contracts are nothing more than agreements about what would be equitable to exchange, and we agree, then we have made a contract. But again, could we not agree that a certain exchange would be equitable between us without thereby agreeing to so exchange and therefore without entering into a contract?
Matt, I don’t think contracts create their own coercive imperative to complete the exchange. Both parties agree as to what may be exchanged and either exchange or do not (and part-failure can be remedied by completion or reversal, or arbitration as to how to otherwise restore equity).
Agreeing that my cow is worth two of your sheep is not a contract, it’s just an agreement. A contract is an agreement to exchange (a cow for two sheep), and the period in which the exchange may take place may be a condition, but it cannot become coercive.
Thank you for the link, Gary. That is a very helpful paper.
In the IP scenario it seems to me that since the author has no right to restrict anyone from making and profiting from a film based on his novel, there are no damages and he has no justification to sue Warner Bros. for money*. But the author (and anyone else) is justified in preventing Warner Bros. from enclosing the film based on said work using any justified means; if it’s the case that it’s justifiable to use state courts to pursue just ends, then it’s the case that it’s permissible to use the courts to get the film released under a Creative Commons license. The only difference between the author and “anyone else” is that the author is uniquely situated in the current legal regime to accomplish such a thing.
*Unless you take the Kinsella route and say that using the state against statists is justified, which sort of undermines the case against statism by making almost all of its victims – arguably exactly all of them – deserving of whatever the state does to them in the first place. (Which then undermines itself again because if all the state’s looting and kidnapping is justified because the victims/users are all thieves and kidnappers then its victims/users aren’t thieves and kidnappers for using it, and so on all the way down.)
So, X is a rights-violation if it is wrong to X and if it is permissible to use force to stop someone from X’ing. Okay.
Why, then, should I even be inclined to think that 1c is not a rights-violation? To disseminate ‘information’ that one knows to be false and to have potentially dangerous (in this case, fatal) consequences for those who act on the assumption that it is true certainly seems, both at first blush and on reflection, to be wrong; there also seems to be no good reason why it should be impermissible per se to use force to stop someone who refuses to remove and/or correct the misinformation.
One might worry that if we say that 1c is a rights-violation, we would be committed to endorsing censorship or to legitimating the use of coercive state measures against lying. I don’t think this is a serious worry. For one thing, few proposed cases of censorship are really directed at lying or even at the spread of what is obviously misinformation. Even egregious sins against rationality, such as young earth creationism, do not require misinformation for their expression — one simply acknowledges the opinions of scientists but refutes them by pointing out that Satan is responsible for the fossil record. Moreover, even many cases of outright misinformation do not seriously endanger people.
Most importantly, though, even if it is permissible per se to use force to stop an act of a certain sort, it may be impermissible (or otherwise practically unreasonable) to use force to stop it for other, incidental reasons. In particular, nothing follows about what policies a state may legitimately adopt (as I’m sure anarchists will agree, since they don’t think states can legitimately adopt any policies!). In my view, it is at least in some cases permissible to use force to stop someone from killing herself; it does not follow that the state should institute laws against suicide, or even “assisted suicide”; nor does it follow that one is always justified in using force to stop someone from killing himself.
So I don’t think there’s any danger that admitting 1c to be a rights-violation will commit us to any legitimating any terrible injustices by the state or anyone else. Given that, I’m not sure why we should deny that 1c is a rights-violation if all that entails is that it’s wrong and that it would be legitimate for someone to use force to stop it.
I could be wrong, but I think Long only meant that 1c is not a right’s violation. I’m pretty sure he would condemn it morally. It seems to me that the two often overlap. 1a and 1b seem to me to be both rights violations and morally contemptible. But 1c is merely the latter.
I can see many cases like this of something being wrong (morally) without being a rights violation. Can anyone conceive of something that was right (morally) but IS a rights violation? On the surface that seems less plausible.
HumorMe, I suspect you have kidnapped someone, burgle your house, and discover you are indeed holding someone captive. I have violated your right to privacy, but by doing so, help remedy your violation of your captive’s right to liberty.
Perhaps, but I think that burgling action is either (a) morally wrong as well as violating my rights (this would hold, say, if you had no good reason for your suspicion), or (b) morally right and therefore not a violation of my rights (this would hold, say, if you knew with quite reasonable certainty that I was holding a prisoner unjustly). Unless of course you want to call retaliatory force a “violation of rights” but I’m not sure how useful that kind of thinking would be.
But it does get hazy in the middle when you have some reason to believe it, but not overwhelming proof. At that point, there is certainly some value in thinking of tresspassing as a violation of my rights, to be weighed against the immorality of doing nothing and leaving my possible victim at my mercy.
I guess the counterargument might be that both actions are immoral (tresspassing and letting the person suffer unjustified incarceration). The first one is a violation of rights, and the second one is not. I’d probably lean that way. I think it’s better to always think of force as immoral until you have a reasonable degree of certainty that it is purely defensive. However, you might still choose the immoral, rights-violating action over the passive doing nothing if you think the latter is *more* immoral than the tresspassing.
Determining what someone did or did not mean to do seems important here.
Is the statement about the healthiness of the mushrooms an honest one in error, or a deliberate effort to cause harm? Same for the invitation to dinner, yelling “theater” in a crowded fire, etc.
Harming someone is a violation of rights. The point of order is, to me, was it done by accident (I didn’t know), negligence (I should have known), or malice (I knew and did it anyway)?
At least in the cases you’ve presented, there’s are a couple of very important difference between (1b) and (1c):
: in (1c) you’re stating your opinion as an opinion whereas in (1b) you’re stating your opinion as an expert.
: in (1c) you’re stating your opinion in a context where deciding whether to take your advice or not is not of immediate concern, whereas in (1b) you’re advising someone on an issue of immediate concern.
Consider a similar case to (1b): you have just broken a limb and I maliciously tell you that it will be fine if you just amputate it with a rusty blade and add, “Trust me, I’m a doctor!”
The rights-violation in that case and in (1b), I think, is a case where custom dictates that someone representing themselves as an expert in a case where serious injury or death may occur is implicitly offering a binding contract. This is one of the cases where custom sets implicit contracts, similar to how (as you mentioned in one of your lectures) you implicitly agree to pay for any food you order just by walking into a restaurant.
Roderick, a few things. First, have you seen how Reinach sets out many similar hypos in “On the Concept of Causality in the Criminal Law”?
Second, like you I think the concept of “assurance” is of doubtful relevance. I tend to think (b) is more like (c) if and to the extent you can classify the action as causal, along the lines Tinsley and I argue in “Causation and Aggression“. Did you select a means to achieve the end of harming your “victim”? that is the question.
“2. The usual libertarian explanation as to why it’s a rights-violation to yell “fire!” in a crowded theatre is that doing so violates the theatre owner’s property rights. Or, if the owner is the one doing the yelling, then her doing so violates her implicit contract with the customers.
But what if the theatre is unowned? What if it’s even a never-homesteaded natural structure – some sort of narrow, thickly wooded canyon through which a bunch of (non-contractually-bound) people are travelling – where yelling “fire!” would have the same destructive effects as in a theatre?”
Again, it’s a causal question. Speech can play a causal role in harm to others in many cases–the President saying “drop the bomb on Nagasaki”, a firing squad captain saying “ready, aim, fire,” a guy inciting a mob by saying “There he is! Lynch him!”; someone lying on the witness stand to convict an innocent person of a crime.
“Is it wrong for you to sue the studio, because you’d be practicing censorship? Or is it okay for you to sue them, because they sue people over IP all the time (and indeed will sue unauthorised distributors of this very movie), so you’re just giving them a taste of their own medicine – or liberating some illicitly held property?”
Seems to me this is more of a moral question not a libertarian one. And it’s a question of how we live in an unfree world. Most people are compromised to varying degrees. Of course it’s a dangerous principle to say we can disregard rights if anyone is tainted at all. The better view is that we should shun such state lawsuits. That was statism lies.