Since the concept of self-ownership is usually rejected by social anarchists, its interesting to see that at least one, Lëv Tolstoj, embraced the idea. But unlike most self-ownership theorists, Tolstoj invokes self-ownership not as a foundation for property rights to external objects, but on the contrary, precisely to rule out such rights. In his 1886 What is To Be Done? (the second of three famous works by that title), Tolstoj writes:
What then is property?
People are accustomed to think that property is something really belonging to a man. That is why they call it property. We say of a house and of ones hand alike, that it is my own hand, my own house.
But evidently this is an error and a superstition.
We know, or if we do not know it is easy to perceive, that property is merely a means of appropriating other mens work. And the work of others can certainly not be my own. It has even nothing in common with the conception of property (that which is ones own) a conception which is very exact and definite. Man always has called, and always will call, his own that which is subject to his will and attached to his consciousness, namely, his own body. As soon as a man calls something his property that is not his own body but something that he wishes to make subject to his will as his body is he makes a mistake, acquires for himself disillusionment and suffering, and finds himself obliged to cause others to suffer.
A man speaks of his wife, his children, his slaves, and his things, as being his own; but reality always shows him his mistake, and he has to renounce that superstition or to suffer and make others suffer.
In our days, nominally renouncing ownership of men, thanks to money and its collection by Government, we proclaim our right to the ownership of money, that is to say, to the ownership of other peoples labour.
But as the right of ownership in a wife, a son, a slave, or a horse, is a fiction which is upset by reality and only causes him who believes in it to suffer since my wife or son will never submit to my will as my body does, and only my own body will still be my real property in the same way monetary property will never be my own, but only a deceiving of myself and a source of suffering, while my real property will still be only my own body that which always submits to me and is bound up with my consciousness.
Only to us who are so accustomed to call other things than our own body our property, can it seem that such a wild superstition may be useful, and can remain without consequences harmful to us; but it is only necessary to reflect on the reality of the matter to see that this superstition, like every other, entails terrible consequences. …
What then does property mean? Property is that which belongs to me alone and exclusively, that with which I can always do just what I like, that which no one can take from me, which remains mine to the end of my life and which I must use, increase, and improve.
Each man can own only himself as such property.
I don’t know how I feel about self-ownership. It seems like kind of a bizarre concept to me. Ownership implies that a thing is externally controlled and that you can lose what you own. If the body is “owned”, what is it owned by? Is it owned by the mind? What part of the mind? It’s very confusing.
Why does it imply that? Admittedly it’s true of most of the things you own that they’re external and you can lose them. But I can’t see that that’s any part of the concept of ownership. To own X is simply to be the one who’s entitled to make decisions about X. Nothing about whether it’s internal or external or can or can’t be lost is specified by that definiiton.
Are you assuming that the owner and the owned have to be distinct? Again, that’s not implied in the definition. My own view is that a human being is an indissoluble unity of body and mind. I don’t see why an an indissoluble unity of body and mind can’t own its body. And its mind.
There are some relations that a thing can bear to itself (e.g., “being the same size as,” “being the killer of”) and some relations that a thing can’t bear to itself (e.g., “being the mother of,” “resting on top of”). I don’t see why ownership can’t be in the first category rather than the second.
I agree, but… the possibility of someone else making decisions about X, or stated differently: that you can lose X (to someone else) is part of what makes ownership interesting.
Likewise the reason that you can lose yourself, all together if you are murdered, partly/temporarily if you are raped, battered, enslaved, abducted etc., is part of what makes self-ownership important.
I like Tolstoy’s remarks, and yours. But body and mind are hardly an indissoluble unity. If I chop off my own hand, and burn the hand in a fire, are the ashes still part of me as a human being? Not in any meaningful sense. Are they my property? It doesn’t seem important.
If I replace the hand with a conventional prosthesis, I suspect most will recognize the prosthesis as my property, though not part of my body since it is of foreign origin and detachable. If I replace it with a bionic hand, does that change matters?
If I were, as postulated by a freshman philosophy exercise, merely a brain in a tank supported by external apparatus and fed perceptions via same, is that apparatus part of my body? Do I own it? If my consciousness is transcribed into patterns of electrical impulses on silicon, can I be said to have a body, or to own the silicon? Once that’s accomplished, what about copies of “me”?
Not that it’s particularly relevant to the philosophical question, but this reminds me of the difference between “mín hönd” and “mér höndin” in Old Norse. The first means “my hand”, but it only refers to ownership; it might come from Egill’s body, but by golly it’s yours now. The second (“to me the hand”), however, refers to “inalienable possession”; it’s YOUR hand, even if Hervor cuts it from your arm and ferries it away to Iceland. Lots of languages mark the same distinction, of course, but I learned it in Old Norse with these examples.
And back to your discussion…
Well, I’m an Aristotelean about the relation between mind and body, so I follow him in saying that a severed hand is no longer part of my body (and no longer a hand, except homonymously) — and likewise that a person’s corpse is not the person or the person’s body, except homonymously. (In Shakespeare’s words: “To die is to be a counterfeit, for he is but the counterfeit of a man who hath not the life of a man.”) But of course that confirms rather than disconfirms the indissolubility of mind and body. If the severed hand were still part of my body despite no longer being connected to my mind, then we’d have a counterexample to the claim that mind and body are indissoluble.
I’m inclined to think it’s part of your body while it’s attached. Again, as an Aristotelean I think body parts are defined by their functions rather than their material composition. (Of course the prosthetic hand is your property whether it’s part of your body or not.)
If the interface is merely one-way — i.e. the brain receives inputs from the apparatus but cannot control it — then I think the thought-experiment is incoherent, since for Wittgensteinian reasons I don’t think anything counts as perception or conscious experience except as part of a larger ensemble involving action and interaction with the world. (To put it another way: brains don’t think, whole people think.) If the interface is two-way, then yes, the apparatus does seem to be the body.
Same story as above.
If the copy is an independent agent then I’d say you can’t own it.
Incidentally, and ironically, Descartes (letter to Mesland, 9 February 1645) gives a very nice explanation of the Aristotelean conception of body. I say ironic because Descartes is usually considered the extreme opposite of the indissoluble-unity approach. But while Descartes disagrees with Aristotle as to whether the soul can exist without the body, he agrees with Aristotle that the body cannot exist without the soul:
Thanks for the extended reply. I guess I find myself to be a dualist here, in contrast with your view, in that I believe mind to be separable from body. I think of mind as a pattern, one which arises from matter (mass-energy) and changes over time but a pattern which could also be frozen at a given moment, moved to a different material substrate, and restarted. No ecology of souls for me, however; I have no need of that hypothesis.
Does it even make sense to say that “a consciousness can be transcribed into a pattern of electrical impulses”? Doesn’t that pressupose the reducibility of mental language to physical language?
Since this has become the subject of the topic, I’d like to hear roderick’s take on Dennett’s “Where am I?” ( http://www.newbanner.com/SecHumSCM/WhereAmI.html )
I suspect there are some incoherencies going on there, but I can’t accurately say where they are.
Well, as it stands, it’s underdescribed, so I can’t tell whether it’s coherent.
In the first part of the story, I’d say that Dennett (and/or Dennett’s body) is stretched out across both Hamlet and Yorick; after the loss of Hamlet he’s stretched out across Fortinbras and Yorick. I’m inclined to think that if Yorick had been gradually replaced by Hubert — a few neurons at a time, say — then Dennett might have ended up stretched out across Fortinbras and Hubert. (Analogously, Theseus’ ship survives when rebuilt plank by plank, but not if one replaces all planks at once.)
Do you think it makes sense to say that the mental state expressed by “This peanut butter tastes good” could be transcribed into a pattern of electrical impulses, for example? I think that’s kind of what Gogulski is saying… though I might be wrong.
I also think that’s the same thing Dennett is saying in his article, when he supposes one could have all the inputs and outputs involved in the functioning of Hamlet & Yorick specified in some kind of computational/physicalist language (how else could a computer be said to have the exact same inputs and outputs?).
Well, I don’t know what “transcribed” means. Do I think a sentient being could be made of metal and plastic instead of meat? Sure. Do I think a mental state can be completely specified in reductive physical terms (be they meat-terms or metal-and-plastic terms)? No.
I assume Tolstoy dabbled in Buddhist studies? The history of hippy cranks must go back further than I first thought.
In talking about sexual ethics, St. Paul says that our bodies belong to God. We should therefore treat our bodies with respect and in a way that honors God. He writes, “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.” Scriptural writers often use this imagery of ownership: we all belong to God.
Tolstoy is very explicitly a *Christian* anarchist. In the Kingdom of God is Within You and What I Believe, he bases his social philosophy on his reading of the Gospels. I haven’t read What is to Be Done?, though. Does he talk about the idea that we do not belong to ourselves, but to God?
Notice St. Paul says that “you are not your own; you were bought at a price.” That might be a metaphor that means “Consider what Christ has done to redeem you and your body when you do these things!” If property is “that with which I can always do just what I like,” then St. Paul is saying that since you cannot just do what you like with *yourself*, you do not belong to yourself.
Well, presumably Paul would say that everything belongs to God. So that would be as good a reason to say you don’t own your shoes as to say you don’t own yourself — unless ownership is here being understood strictly as vis-à-vis other people, in which case there’s no objection to saying we own our shoes or ourselves.
In What I Believe, Tolstoy denies that people deserve rewards proportionate to the work that they do. He says, “This belief is based on a hypothesis and on rights, which we imagine that we have; but man has no rights and can never have any rights; he is only a debtor for the happiness given to him, and therefore he has no right to expect anything. Even if he gives up his whole life, he cannot give back what he has received…” It is striking that he says “man has no rights and can never have any rights” and that he is a “only a debtor” for his happiness and his life. So, I suppose an alternative reading of Tolstoy on self-ownership is that he is arguing that the whole notion of property is absurd, and that the only thing it would be applicable to would be ourselves. In What I Believe, Tolstoy is almost saying our lives are on loan from God. Do you see this as a reasonable alternative interpretation? I don’t know what else Tolstoy says in What Is To Be Done?.